by Swami Krishnananda
If we can recollect the procedure that we have been following in our studies, we will remember that the sociological situation in which the individual finds himself becomes the foremost subject for study and consideration. The very first chapter of the Bhagavadgita places us in a sociological complex with which the human being is confronted in many ways. The involvement of the individual in society is so complete that our thoughts are practically sociological, and the aims and objectives of the individual get merged in the complexity of sociological demands. It happened to Arjuna. His personality was lost completely in the tremendous panorama of social conflict that was presented before him, and whatever he spoke was from the point of view of society and the relationship of individuals in light of what we call human society. There is no mention of the higher type of welfare of the individual as such. We have dealt with this subject in some detail in our earlier studies, and I am mentioning it only as a kind of recapitulation of this theme for the purpose of following the thread of the argument of the eighteen chapters of the Bhagavadgita.
From the immense involvement of the individual in the requirements of the social structure, portrayed before us in a picturesque manner in the first chapter of the Gita, we are led along the other chapters, beginning from the second onwards, where the emphasis is on the individual rather than society, because the confrontation of the individual in respect of society has much to do with the internal structure of the individual himself. What we call human society is a kind of mutual individualistic reactions among human units, and these reactions are nothing else but projections of the human psyche in different ways. The study of society cannot be independent of the study of the human individual in its internal characteristics or components. So the emphasis, right up from society in the first chapter, is towards the individual essence known as the Atman, which is taken into consideration for discussion from the second chapter onwards. But the Atman is not brought to the light of day at the very commencement. There is a gradual extrication of the individual from the clutches of society. It is not done immediately and at once, as a sort of wrenching of the individual from the atmosphere of social relationship; there is no question of ‘wrenching’ in the practice of yoga. Everything is a very harmonious, gradational and healthy movement, as in the growth of an individual from babyhood into adulthood, etc. We do not jump to the sky in the practice of yoga. There is no revolution of any kind. There is an imperceptible, gradational, organismic rise from the lower stage to the higher stage.
So even in the second chapter of the Gita, where we are led away from the social complex mentioned in the first chapter, an aroma of society is present, by which the argument which was to counteract the misgivings of Arjuna takes into consideration the reaction of the individual upon society once again—such as prestige, one’s own duty in society, etc. This theme was touched upon in the second chapter also, notwithstanding the fact that the intention of the second chapter is to raise the individual from externalised relationships of every kind to the internal structure of the individual. We have now gradually moved onwards from the first chapter, wherein we have followed the method of the great Teacher of the Bhagavadgita for the purpose of a complete integration of the individual, which is the highlight of the sixth chapter. The meditation or dhyana, which is the subject of the sixth chapter, is nothing but the theme of the mustering in of all the forces constituting the individual, so that they form one whole compound and not a complex of diverse constituents. There is no mention of the Creator or God up to the sixth chapter. It is all society and the individual—nothing but that. A great psychologist indeed is the Teacher of the Gita, and no better psychologist can be found. We should not thrust God into the minds of people when they are not ready for it. The great Master knows the needs of the various layers of the human personality, and so layer after layer has to be peeled off until the internal kernel is reached. We have to find out, gradually, what that kernel is, as we proceed further.
While it is true that society is constituted of individuals, and there is an inviolable and inextricable relationship of the individual with what is known as society, the individual is not complete and is not the apex of creation. Man is not the final end result in the chain of the development of the cosmos known as evolution, and many a time we make the mistake of imagining that we have reached the end of evolution—man is the crowning edifice of the whole of this universe. It is a mistaken notion of man. The individual is related to the cosmos in a more tangible and meaningful manner than the individual is related to society. This subject has to be taken up for discussion when the individual is ready for it, and not before that. To say anything at the wrong hour, even if it is the right thing, becomes the wrong thing. Even the right thing cannot be said at the wrong hour—that is not the proper way of teaching.
It is true that God exists and the universe is a vast field of completion, but this cannot be told at a wrong moment when there is no receptive capacity in the individual. Now the individual will be ready to receive the lesson on account of the collectedness of the various ingredients of the personality, which has been effected by the practice of yoga, known as dhyana, meditation, that has been propounded, elucidated in the sixth chapter. The cosmological principles, the creational process are discussed in the seventh chapter. The very idea of creation implies the idea of a Creator. There cannot be a creation without a maker of the creation, and therefore we are told that the Creator projected the universe of the five elements by the power of His own Being. The idea of the Creator is the beginning of religion. Devotion to God is the immediate consequence of the very recognition of the existence of a Creator above the whole of creation. While up to this time it was all psychology and psychoanalysis, if we would like to call it so, now we are entering into cosmology and the deeper implications of philosophy, metaphysics, or what nowadays people call ontology, etc. The Creator cannot be regarded as identical with creation, on account of the concept involved in the confrontation of the universe by the individual. We always imagine that the cause is different from the effect. The very term ‘cause’ implies its distinctiveness from the effect which it produces.
When we speak of God as the Creator of the universe we do not imagine, even with the farthest stretch of our minds, that God does not retain His transcendentalness. So in the seventh chapter, and even in the eighth chapter, and to some extent in the ninth chapter, the transcendent aspect of God is maintained—God is above the universe. He is an unreachable magnificence, a tremendous force that attracts our awe and admiration, and frightens us with its might and greatness. We are afraid of God in the beginning. The very idea of God frightens us because of the force, the power and the immensity that is associated with God’s existence. There are two kinds of devotion—aishwarya pradhana bhakti and madhurya pradhana bhakti. Devotion that is associated with a sense of awe, admiration and fear is known as aishvarya pradhana bhakti. We admire God, we fear God, and we adore God because of His largeness, His greatness, His magnificence, His transcendentalness, and the tremendous difference between Him and ourselves, which is automatically accepted by our finitude and His infinitude. If this is the case, how can we reach God? Here is the central theme of the eighth chapter, which we have been discussing for some time. The cosmology is continued in the eighth chapter also, in the earlier verses, which we have discussed previously. God created the world and He is immensely present in the various facets of creation—as adhyatma, as adhibhuta, as adhyajna, as adhidaiva, and everything connected with these concepts. The destiny of the soul seems to be very precarious and awe-inspiring. There is a fear in us—what will happen to us after we shed this body?
It is very clear to every finite human being that God is unreachable for all practical purposes, because of the transcendentalness which is implied in His existence. He is far above the whole of creation. The arms of man cannot touch His Being. But, if this is the circumstance in which the finite individual is placed, it is really a matter of concern for everyone. So the eighth chapter retains the transcendentalness of God, but does not discourage us with any kind of negative philosophy or theology, as if we are damned forever. There is a hope for even the finite individual. God can be reached after the shedding of this body by deep concentration, and the last thought is supposed to be the force that decides the nature of the experiences of the soul in the hereafter.
Now, the passage of the soul after the disassociation of itself from this body is the subject of various branches in philosophy. “One who is wholly absorbed in the thought of God reaches God,” says the eighth chapter. Anta-kale ca mam eva smaran muktva kalevaram, yah prayati sa mad-bhavam yati nasty atra samsayah. Om ity ekaksaram brahma-vyaharan mam anusmaran, yah prayati tyajan deham sa yati paramam gatim. The supreme stage is reached by that individual or soul who is enabled to entertain the thought of the Supreme Being. Kavim puranam anusasitaram anor aniyamsam anusmared yah, sarvasya dhataram achintya-rupam aditya-varnam tamasah parastat.A glorious description of the Supreme Being, shining like the sun beyond the darkness of ignorance. If such meditations would be possible at the last moment, as the result of our devout life that we have led in this sojourn on earth, the attainment of God is certain. There is no doubt about this. If that is not to be attained, if there is any obstacle, if for some reason or the other it has not become possible for an individual to retain the thought of God, because it is not possible for everyone to retain the thought of God at the moment of passing—what happens to such a person? Such a person will be involved in the lower planes of existence, from which there is a reversion into the level from which one has risen. There is temporality infecting every layer of the cosmos. There is only one timeless existence, the supreme Absolute, and whoever finds it difficult to reach this state of timeless eternity, which is God-Being, finds himself in the process of time. Abrahma-bhuvanal lokah punar avartino’rjuna, mam upetya tu kaunteya punar janma na vidyate: One may reach any plane of existence, even if it be higher than the earthly one—that cannot be regarded as the salvation of the soul. Wherever there is a compulsion exerted upon us by a procession of powers or forces, where the evolutionary urge pulls and pushes us in the direction in which it moves, we remain not a master of ourself. One who is not a master of himself is not an independent person, and one who is not independent has not attained freedom, and freedom is salvation. So whoever is involved in the process of the universe cannot be regarded as a liberated spirit.
There are various layers of the cosmos, just as there are layers of the individual inside. We call them five koshas—annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnanamaya, anandamaya—the physical sheath, the vital sheath, the mental sheath, the intellectual sheath and the casual sheath. Corresponding to these sheaths there are the planes of existence—outwardly, cosmicly, universally—and these are the lokas or the regions into which the soul enters as a denizen thereof. Rebirth need not necessarily mean coming back to this world. Rebirth is a compulsion to take a form and the inability to exist as the formless Absolute. The necessity to enter into a form arises on account of the impulsions of desire which are the forces that constitute the individuality of a person. A desire is a power or force which asserts the need to retain individuality in some manner or other. The individuality need not necessarily be of a physical type. There are various degrees of individuality—nevertheless they are individualities, and the degrees vary according to the degree of the particular plane of existence into which the individual is thrown by the power of the evolutionary process itself, which is called rebirth. So rebirth is not necessarily a coming back to this world. It may be that, or it may not be that. It can be a higher ascent also, but even then it is rebirth. Anything is rebirth if it is short of God-realisation, and so the verse of the Bhagavadgita here says: Abrahma-bhuvanal lokah punar avartino’rjuna. Even if one reaches the highest seventh plane of the cosmos, which here is called the region of the Creator, there is a necessity to come back.