by Swami Krishnananda
Yesterday we deliberated on what the Gita has to say in the Eighteenth Chapter about the nature of action or work. We dilated upon yajna, dana and tapas as obligatory duties on the part of everyone, the meaning of which we tried to understand.
The Gita has been insisting on a combination of knowledge and action. It started by saying Yoga should be rooted in Sankhya, with Yoga being the expertness in the performance of action, and Sankhya being the knowledge on which this action has to be rooted. This has been the viewpoint of the Gita throughout. Work, of course, is obligatory on your part, but not just any kind of work. It is work based on a correct understanding of your position in this universe, which is called Sankhya. Thus, knowledge is as important as the impulsion or obligation to work. Neither can you work in a haphazard manner, nor can you be free from it. Knowledge-based action is the message of the Gita.
But what is knowledge? Again here in the Eighteenth Chapter, a distinction is made among three kinds of knowledge – the worst kind of knowledge, the medium type of knowledge and the highest kind of knowledge. The worst knowledge is the idea of any person in regard to a particular object in the world, to which one clings as if it is the be-all and end-all of all things. If any particular thing is the object of attraction wholly and entirely, then one concentrates the entire universe of values on that object, which happens many a time when people are infatuated over something. It is that infatuated, erroneous knowledge in regard to any object, by which you wrongly think that it is all-in-all for you. The mother says, "Oh my dear child, you are heaven for me!" If a couple has had no children for years and years and then a child is born, that child is heaven, God Almighty Himself. They go on hugging it and kissing it, and thinking that there is nothing else in the world except this little baby that has come. There is nothing else in the world. That is the highest treasure. That is called infatuation – wrongly thinking that one particular thing is everything – and if that is lost, you begin to feel that everything is lost. The whole world becomes meaningless, and you would like not to exist anymore.
This is attachment, an emotionally charged notion, and is not knowledge at all. This is the worst kind of understanding that you can have, where you cling to one thing. It may be to money, to property, to some person, or it may be to some position that you are apparently occupying in human society. Any attachment where one particular situation, event or thing is considered as everything is the worst, lowest kind of understanding. This is the fool's point of view – the ignorant, uneducated, uncultured person's point of view.
Higher than that is world-understanding, where you do not cling only to one particular thing, and begin to appreciate the value of other things also. Everything in the world is interconnected like threads in a fabric, into which everyone and everything is woven. No thread in the cloth is less important or more important than other threads. This is the scientific point of view, where the scientist does not cling to any particular thing. All things are equally good for him because of the interrelation of things in the cosmos. The causation and the production of effect in the world is a process that is interconnected so that in this world, according to the scientific point of view, nothing individually, particularly, can be considered as a cause of anything. Because of the interrelation of things, anything can be regarded as a cause and also as an effect. There is a cosmic give-and-take policy, as it were, among things in the world. One influences the other, and therefore nothing can be regarded as a cause or an effect. While a cause has an influence upon a particular effect, that effect may be a cause of some other effect, so that everything is a cause in some way and also an effect in another way.
If the interrelation of things in the cosmos frees a person from attachment to particular objects only, that person is broadminded – we could say educated, cultured, and a gentleman. That is a higher kind of knowledge, a medium kind of knowledge – interconnectedness. But there is a knowledge higher than that, also.
The idea of the interrelation of things is again dependent upon the notion of the duality and plurality of things. The items of the world are considered as bits of process which act and react upon one another, and therefore it is that sometimes we feel there is an organic relation among things in the world. Everything is different from everything else; this is the lowest kind of knowledge. That everything is connected to everything else is the medium kind of knowledge. The highest knowledge is something quite different from both of these.
What is that highest knowledge? A question will arise in your mind, "How does one know that one thing is different from another thing?" Who told you that everything is different from everything else? And who is telling you that things are interconnected, that one thing is hanging on something else? A particular thing which is hanging on something else cannot know that it is so hanging. The differentiated objects cannot know the difference at all. The isolation of things as well as the interconnection of things is a knowledge that has to be attributed to something which is neither isolated nor interconnected. There is something that is superior to both these notions, a transcendent presence which is consciousness.
Sarvabhūteṣu yenaikaṁ bhāvam avyayam īkṣate, avibhaktaṁ vibhakteṣu taj jńānaṁ viddhi sāttvikam (Gita 18.20). Sattvic knowledge, the highest kind of knowledge, is described in this verse of the Gita as that which beholds one thing everywhere. Even if there is an apparent interconnection, as it were, from the point of view of the notion of the reason and the mind, truly speaking such interconnection cannot become an object of anyone's awareness unless one stands above this concept of interconnection. So there is an absolute indivisibility of consciousness. The Supreme Almighty is there, before which nothing can stand, outside which nothing exists, and within which there is no difference. It is not different from anything else as one thing is different from other things in the world, because outside this Absolute there is nothing. Therefore, there cannot be external differentiation in the Absolute. There also cannot be internal variety in it, because it is indivisible; it is not internally divided.
Our body is not an indivisible whole. We feel that it is indivisible; we do not go on thinking that the body is made up of different physiological or anatomical parts. Because of the pervasion of consciousness through every limb and organ of the body, we do not feel the differentiation among the organs or limbs. An anatomist or a physiologist will not observe our body in the way we feel about it, but as a scientist would see it.
Differences are of three kinds, none of which can apply to the Absolute as indivisibility. There can be a difference among dissimilar things, there can be difference among similar things, and there can be difference within one's own self. These are the three kinds of difference that we can observe in the world. A tree is different from a stone. This is difference between dissimilar things, external variety. But one branch of a tree is different from another branch of a tree. This is difference among similar things, internal variety. And the variety that is felt in one's own self is a third category – svagata bheda, as it is called. In Sanskrit these differences are called sajatiya, vijatiya and svagata. But none of these is applicable to the Absolute Being. There is nothing similar to the Absolute, there is nothing dissimilar to it, and there is no internal variety. Such a knowledge of this great, Indivisible Being should be regarded as the highest kind of knowledge, for which we have to aspire.
The Bhagavadgita concludes with a message of meditation. It is Yoga. The Bhagavadgita is a scripture of Yoga, the art of union with Reality. At the end of each chapter we are told, ōm tat sad iti srimad bhagavadgītāsu upaniṣatsu brahmavidyāyām yogaṣastre sri krishnārjunasamvāde mokshasannyasayogo nāma ashtādaso'dhyāyah: The Bhagavadgita, which is Brahmavidya, a Yoga Sastra, and the dialogue between Sri Krishna and Arjuna, is now concluded with the Eighteenth Chapter, called Moksha Sannyasa Yoga.
Now, these three terms Brahmavidya, Yoga Sastra, and Krishna-Arjuna Samvada refer to the three aspects of the importance of the message of the Gita. It is the science of the Absolute. Therefore, it is called Brahmavidya. It is the highest metaphysics and philosophy, beyond which nothing can be seen. All that you are expected to know, you will find in the Gita. After knowing this, there is nothing more to know. Therefore, it is called Brahmavidya, the science of the Supreme Being. It is not merely a science, it is also a practical application of this science in daily life. Therefore, it is called Yoga Sastra. It is a scripture of the practice of union with Reality.
So again here we have an insight into the insistence on knowledge and action going together, or rather, metaphysical insight going together with practice of meditation. Yoga Sastra is the scripture of the art of meditation, which the Bhagavadgita is, and it is also the system of the Absolute, so it is Brahmavidya.
What is the purpose of this practice of Yoga? What do you gain by the knowledge of this Brahmavidya? What are you aiming at, finally? The aim is Krishna-Arjuna Samvada, the dialogue between man and God. It is the direct confrontation by man of the eternity and the infinity that is before it. It is the entry of the soul into the Absolute. This is Krishna-Arjuna Samvada. So the Bhagavadgita is a science, an art, and a mystical text of union of the soul with the Supreme Being.
Towards the end, as a concluding recipe, as it were, the Gita tells something very interesting for us, whose meaning it is essential for us to appreciate correctly. Yatra yogeśvaraḥ kṛṣṇo yatra pārtho dhanurdharaḥ, tatra śrīr vijayo bhūtir dhruvā nītir matir mama (Gita 18.78): Wherever is Krishna, the master of Yoga, wherever is Arjuna, the wielder of the bow, there is certain to be firm qualities, happiness and prosperity.
In the beginning, in the first verse of the Gita, a question is raised by Dhritarashtra to Sanjaya: Dharmakṣetre kurukṣetre samavetā yuyutsavaḥ, māmakāḥ pāṇḍavāś cai 'va kim akurvata sańjaya (Gita 1.1). "What is happening in the field of Kurukshetra?" is the question raised in the first verse. The answer is the last verse: "What shall I tell you? You are asking me what is happening. I shall tell you what is happening. Wherever Krishna and Arjuna are united together, there is victory. Why should I tell you something more than this?"
Nara-Narayanana are symbols of Krishna and Arjuna. In the Srimad Bhagavata, in the Vishnu Purana, in the Mahabharata, mention is made of the manifestation of the Supreme Being as the twin realities called Narayana and Nara, who are supposed to be invisibly practising meditation in holy Badrinath for the welfare of everybody. The Mahabharata says their light envelopes the whole universe. Such is the glory and the power of Narayana and Nara.
They are also to be compared to the two birds whose story is found in the Munkada Upanishad. Two birds are sitting on the same tree. This tree can be the society outside, the universe of nature, the entire creation, or your body. Any one of these can be considered as the tree. And the two birds are there in yourself. You have got two persons inside, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Narayana and Nara are within – God and demon, man and Super-man, we can say. They are within this body. They are in human society as conflicting or cooperating media. They are in the world of nature, and the supreme vastness of creation. Therefore, the two birds refer to the higher principle which is merely conscious of its being, and the lower principle which is not only conscious of itself, but is also conscious of somebody else outside. The Supreme bird has no consciousness of anything external to it. It is satisfied with itself. It does not eat the fruit of the tree, says the Upanishad. Anaśnann anyo'bhicakaśīti (Mundaka 3.1.1): It simply gazes, and feels satisfied merely by looking on. God merely knows, sees, and is. That itself is the blessedness of God. He need not have to see something; He sees Himself only. That is Narayana. And Nara is the segregated individual.
Krishna and Arjuna are supposed to be the manifestations of the blessedness of humanity of Narayana and Nara. Eternal principles are Narayana and Nara. They are even now in Badri-Narayan. Whoever goes to Badrinath can receive their blessing. They cannot be seen with your eyes, as mortal eyes cannot behold immortal essences. Tradition says that there are two mountains, and those who have gone to Badri would have seen two mountains, one on one side, another on the other side, between which the river Alakananda flows. That mountain, at the root of which is the temple of Badrinath, is called Narayana Mountain. They say Narayana himself is appearing as the mountain, as he will not give darshan as he is in himself because of the impurity of the observers. The other is Nara Parvata, Nara Mountain. So Narayana and Nara are today in the form of two hills in Badrinath. Though you cannot see them in their divine essences, still they are there. You can touch the feet of the mountains; that is sufficient.
Great power, great glory is associated with these presences. In a story from the Mahabharata there was a king called Damodava. He wanted to conquer the whole world, and had no peace of mind even for a single day unless he had somebody to conquer. He went on warring with all people, and one day he found there was no one to fight with because he had overcome everybody in the world. But still he was restless: "I have nothing to conquer. This is a miserable life. I must conquer something." So he went to Brahma, the Creator, and said, "I want to conquer, but I'm feeling very unhappy because there is nothing to conquer. I have already conquered everything."
Brahma said, "What kind of man you are! There is somebody I know of. You go to him, and he will be equal to you in war."
"Eh? There is somebody still whom I have not conquered? I thought I had conquered the whole world," said Damodava.
"There is somebody whom you have not seen. Perhaps he will be equal to you, and teach you a good lesson. Nara and Narayana are in Badrinath. Go and meet them, and you can fight with them if you like," said Brahma.
"Is it so? Then I shall see to it," he said.
Damodava went to Badrinath with a large army, and Narayana and Nara were seated in meditation with closed eyes. He made a big noise. "Hello!"
They both opened their eyes. "What is the matter with you?"
"I have come to give battle," said Damodava.
Nara replied, "This is not a place for war. Here nobody fights. This is a peaceful abode of meditation. It is a divine, holy spot. We are engaged in meditation. You have come to the wrong place. We request you to go away from here, as we do not fight anybody. This is a peaceful area."
"No, it is not like that," Damodava said. "Brahma has told that you are equal to me, and I want to fight with you. I want to wage a war."
Again Nara, the younger one, said, "This is not a place for war." But Damodava went on insisting, and he would not budge from that place. Then Nara took a blade of grass and charged it with a vehicle called Brahmastra, and let it off. One became two, two became four, four became eight, eight became sixteen. They went on multiplying. Ferocious beams of fire started darting forth and entered the eyes and every pore of the body of every soldier, every limb and every organ, so they felt they were all perishing in one second. The entire army cried, and the king also wailed.
"Oh please," Damodava said. "Please withdraw this."
Nara withdrew the whole thing and said, "In the future, don't come here. Go back. Don't be so egoistic."
Even Brahma is supposed to pay obeisance to Narayana and Nara. One day Brahma was holding assembly in his abode, and all the gods were seated there. Everyone stood up and offered prayers and salutations to Brahma. Suddenly these two entered the hall and passed through it, not recognising the presence of anybody there – not even Brahma himself. All were surprised. Brahma was seated there on the pedestal, divinities were in the audience and these two persons crossed the audience, going to the other side. The people were shocked and asked Brahma, "What is this kind of behaviour?"
Brahma said, "I will tell you who they are. The whole world cannot stand before them. They are Narayana and Nara, whose light it is that is enveloping the whole universe. No one can be regarded as superior to them, and nothing is equal to them. These are Krishna and Arjuna, who piloted the entire process of the Mahabharata battle. Wherever Krishna and Arjuna stand together in a single chariot, there shall be victory."
This is a message for each one of us also. You are sure to have success in your walk of life if the Krishna in you and the Arjuna in you work together in this single chariot of your life. Your life is this bodily existence, this social existence, and also this cosmic existence. In these three layers, may Krishna and Arjuna work in a state of harmony. Krishna is God, Arjuna is man. Krishna is grace, Arjuna is effort. Krishna is knowledge, Arjuna is action. Krishna is the universal, Arjuna is the particular. Krishna is the macrocosm, Arjuna is the microcosm. These are certain epitaphs we may employ to describe the relationship between Krishna and Arjuna. One simply is, the other is incessantly active. In the war of the Mahabharata, every minute Arjuna was active, Sri Krishna was sitting quietly. This is the relationship between God and the human individual. Incessantly active and very much concerned with all things is the human individual. Concerned with nothing is God Almighty. He is just concerned with His existence. These two realities have to blend into a single focus of attention for the purpose of success of any kind in this world.
Here again we are coming to the question of the union of Sankhya and Yoga, the essence of Sankhya being Krishna, the essence of Yoga being Arjuna. Work and knowledge, action and understanding, the individuality of a person and the cosmicality in which it is involved should go together in a harmonious setting. Then the energy of the cosmos enters into the individual, as the power of Krishna was always within Arjuna. The energy of Arjuna, with which he lifted the Gandiva bow, arose from the personality of Krishna, who was sitting there. Like a solar orb which is giving energy to the entire space – without acting in any other way, merely by existing it is giving this energy – so by the mere existence of this super-individual essence, Arjuna wrought everything in the war. And the success went to whom? We may say that Arjuna, with his dextrous moves, conquered the Kauravas. The soldiers had won victory. But from where did the soldiers get the strength to lift their arms? The energy came from another source altogether.
In this way we have to live in this world by bringing the God element into our personality, and not excessively asserting our individuality. The Gita is a reiteration of this incumbent process in which we have to be involved every day, that we cannot miss the awareness of God for a second. Sa hanisthan maha chidhram sa ch antha jada moodatha, yan muhurtham kshanam vapi Vasudevam na chinthayeth (Pandava Gita 70). This is the Pandava Gita. That is veritable hell for you, that is mischief, and that is the source of every kind of trouble. What is 'that'? It is that moment when you forget your relationship to that Universal Reality. The moment you begin to assert yourself as an independent person, trouble has already started brewing. Therefore, the study of the Bhagavadgita is not merely an academic enlightenment or learning. It is an entry into the very system of living in the world. It is a practical practice, not merely a theory that you can learn and then give it up. This is the Bhagavadgita.
Where Krishna and Arjuna are together in one place, there is victory. Where the individual is in union with God, where you are in a state of perfect internal harmony with your great Master Supreme, you shall have every kind of blessedness.