by Swami Krishnananda
A direct entry into religion proper is made in the ninth chapter of the Bhagavadgita, where the concept of God assumes a concrete form. A living presence begins to be propounded, over and above the gospel of action and psychological integration which was explained in the earlier chapters, especially up to the sixth. The rise of the consciousness of the human being to the state of perfection, by gradual stages, passes through a phenomenon known as religion, and the ninth chapter devotes itself to the exposition of a universal religion for humanity as a whole. The chapter begins with the words: Raja-vidya raja-guhyam pavitram idam uttamam, pratyaksavagamam dharmyam susukham kartum avyayam. A royal secret, as it were, is going to be expounded. It is the kingly quintessence of knowledge, which is to be acquired by personal experience, and is not capable of acquisition merely by verbal testimony, sensory perception or logical reasoning. This wisdom, this knowledge which has to be acquired by direct contact of Being with Being, intuition or experience, is the essence of what is known as dharma—pratyaksavagamam dharmyam.
The word dharma is now here revealed in its true colours—not as a cult, creed, law, rule, or principle of action in a human world—but a supreme system according to which the whole universe operates. The word dharma is interpreted in the most general manner, and comprehensive enough to absorb into its connotation everything that we regard as right, virtuous or righteous.
Now, the great Teacher of the Bhagavadgita takes us right into the heart of the matter when He directly declares at once what this dharma is, on what it is rooted and what it is expected to reveal in the lives of people in the world. Maya tatam idam sarvam jagad avyakta-murtina: This half-verse is the rock bottom of all expressions of law and rule going by the name of dharma, in one way or the other. Any rule, law, or principle is a method or manner in which we accommodate ourselves into the existing order of things. This capacity of self-accommodation in respect of the existing order of things is not only obedience to law, abidance by rules, but it is equivalent to righteousness. This is what we call virtue, goodness and so on.
Conformity to reality is dharma, and anything opposed to it is adharma. The principle of reality is what determines the nature of dharma or virtue, goodness or righteousness, or rectitude in action, conduct, behaviour, thought and feeling. So a person who does not have a correct idea of what reality is cannot be really virtuous or righteous. Our social forms of goodness and virtue, rectitude and legality are relative to the conditions in which we are placed, and inasmuch as they have no reference to the ultimate reality of things, we have to go on changing our colours like chameleons from day to day. But there can be harmony between the relative forms of dharma and the ultimate form of it. Our daily conduct may vary according to the needs of the hour. Seasons, social circumstances, the state of one’s health and various other requirements of the time may demand a relative expression of conformity, all which has to be in harmony, finally, with a principle motive which cannot change.
So dharma or righteousness is of two types, known as vishesha dharma and samanya dharma. Abidance to law, which is relative to historical, social, or political conditions is vishesha dharma, and abidance to the law that is eternally operating in the whole of the cosmos is known as samanya dharma. While the way of living of people in different times and climes may vary according to these times and climes, there is a general regulating principle behind humanity as a whole. Though it is true that one person need not necessarily think identically like another person, there is a basic equality of human ideology and aspiration. So there is a vishesha dharma, or a particular requirement of the time, and there is a basic conditioning factor which is the inviolable dharma, or what is sometimes called sanatana dharma. It is operative eternally and works with impunity with everything throughout the cosmos, and it decides what sort of relative expression this law has to take under historical conditions that change from time to time.
The basic dharma is described in this half-verse of the ninth chapter of the Bhagavadgita, which goes as: maya tatam idam sarvam jagad avyakta-murtina. The Absolute Almighty pervades every nook and corner of the universe. Every nook and cranny is permeated by the presence of the Supreme Being. The consciousness of the presence of the Almighty inseparably in every little thing in the whole of creation is the ultimate constitutional dharma. It is the central constitution of the cosmos, and all local and provincial laws follow from it. Political laws, social laws, family laws, personal laws, physical laws, psychological laws, and what not—all these are expressions according to the requirement of the particular state of affairs of that eternal deciding factor which is the presence of one common Being everywhere, equally, unanimously, perpetually in everything. The presence of God is defined here as an invisible presence, an unmanifested existence—avyakta-murtina. It is not a gross, visible, sensory presence. The presence of God is to be conceived in a manner quite different from our idea of the existence of concrete objects, like a brick wall, a pebble or a stone, or the human beings that we see in the world. Everything that is concrete is capable of isolation from other things that are concrete. The idea of substantiality or concreteness is associated with duality, disassociation, difference, etc.
Therefore it is made out that inasmuch as the Supreme Being is above every dualistic concept, inasmuch as He is present unanimously and uniformly everywhere, He has to be impervious to the ken of the senses. The senses are outer expressions in space and time in terms of objects which are hard and concrete, and therefore, to the senses, the Creator of the cosmos is invisible. It is not that He is invisible under every condition; under the conditions in which we are living today God is invisible, just as high voltage and high frequency light waves may be invisible to the condition under which our eyes operate at present. It need not mean that they are invisible under every condition, because if the frequency of our capacity to perceive through the eyes is raised up to the high level frequencies of light, the eyes may perceive and ears may hear such ultrasonic waves. So, the imperceptibility of God’s Being is not a negation of the possibility of experience of God’s Being. It is a description of the inadequacy of sense power in respect of God experience.
Mat-sthani sarva-bhutani na caham tesv avasthitah is another descriptive epithet which is added to this definition of God’s invisible presence in all things. All things are rooted in God, but the wholeness of God cannot be comprehended by any finite object. That means to say, though everything is in Him, He cannot be wholly contained in anything. All things can be contained in Him, but He cannot be contained in anything exclusively, because while the part can be contained by the whole, the whole cannot be contained by the part. So it is a futile attempt on the part of the human reason, for instance, finite faculty as it is, to imagine that it can know the secrets of the world. The scientific adventures and rational philosophies of humanity are incompetent to fathom the depths and the mysteries of the cosmos, because the wholeness of reality is not capable of being contained in the finitude of human understanding, or in anything finite, for the matter of that. There is nothing in this world that is capable of being an instrument in the knowledge of God. Hence, the world is called a relative world. There is nothing absolute here, because the Absolute is only One, while the relative parts can be many. While the entire relative world is contained in God and the relative is in the Absolute, the Absolute is not in the relative, because there is a distracted differentiation of particulars in the world of relativity; and in this distractedness of finitude, the Infinite cannot be wholly present. That is the meaning of this phrase, na cham tesv avasthitah.