by Swami Krishnananda
Mighty-faced forms reveal themselves in every atom of space. Solar rays, as it were, burst forth through every speck of the atmosphere, and the poet tells us that it is difficult to say what sort of light it was. It was not like the light we have ever seen or can imagine in our minds. Well, the most brilliant light that we can think of in this world is sunlight; we do not know any light which is superior to sunlight. So, to drive home into our minds the infinite superiority of this divine light, the author tells us to imagine the extent of the brilliance of a thousand suns rising at once in the sky. Can we imagine what it could be—thousands of suns rising suddenly in the sky at one stroke? If we can imagine such a glare and brilliance, that perhaps can be an apology of comparison to this brilliant light that splashed forth before the intuitive perception of Arjuna, the seeker. He is told that with these eyes he cannot behold this. The physical eyes are shut and an integrated vision begins to operate as the blessing of God Himself. Divyam dadami te caksuh pasya me yogam aisvaram: Look at this glory, the yoga of the mighty Absolute, through the faculty which is of the soul and not merely of the mind or the reason.
The whole universe was there in a comprehensive totality as a minute fraction, as it were, of this immense infinitude. This unthinkable vastness of the cosmos, which can frighten us even by the thought of it, was there to be beheld as a minute fraction of the glorious immensity of the divine. In a few verses the great Lord Himself is made to explain what that magnificence is. But it comes to us in the words of Sanjaya, who tells Dhritarashtra what it was that Arjuna beheld. The poet’s intention seems to be to make our hair stand on end, and therefore he uses the best of expressions possible. When he says that faces were everywhere, eyes were everywhere, hands were everywhere, feet were everywhere and everything was everywhere, what else can we say except to describe it in this poetic manner? How could it be possible that eyes are everywhere and legs are everywhere at the same time? Can we imagine two things being at the same place? But here were eyes, and ears, and feet, and hands, and mouths, and teeth and what not—all everywhere. Everything, everywhere, in every form could be visualised, so that one cannot say what is where. The self is possessed and inundated and invaded by the Absolute. It is shaken from its very roots, and the death knell is struck when the Absolute reveals Itself to the ego of the individual. Fear takes possession of the human individual. There is a cry of agony as if one’s throat is being choked, or the god of death has caught hold of a person and he is going to be annihilated in a moment. The agony of the possibility of self-annihilation is unthinkable, though it is to be succeeded by a glory that is to pass all human understanding.
At this moment of the vision of the Almighty, the soul is made to sing a hymn, not in the words of human language, but in the surge of the spirit in the language of the soul, which cannot be expressed in words, of course. And yet it had to be told to us in some way or the other, and therefore the poet goes on with the great hymnology of Arjuna, which is not Arjuna speaking any more. He melted away into this omniform, and we do not know who was speaking there, in regard to which object. In a particular place the soul is made to say: Nantam na madhyam na punas tavadim pasyami. “I cannot see where this begins, where this ends or where its middle is.” That form had no beginning, no end, and no middle. It was a formless mainfestation, told to us only in the language of forms. It is the height of mystical vision, not to be attained by any kind of human effort. Oftentimes we are told that only the grace of God is the means to this cognition of the Absolute. No teacher of religion, no spiritual genius has been able to explain to us satisfactorily as to how this vision comes at all. We stumble on this theory and that theory, and finally are forced to come to the conclusion that perhaps it is not the consequence of any effort on our part, though it appears as if we have struggled hard to achieve this great attainment.
We shall be told by the great Lord Himself that this vision cannot be had by any kind of human effort, because the finite cannot manufacture the Infinite. A cause that is finite cannot have an infinite result or effect. If the vision of the Absolute is to be the effect or the consequence of an effort, how could that effort be an emanation from the finite who is the individual? How could I or you, as finite individuals, be the producers of this vision which is infinite and surpasses the cause? The cause is supposed to be larger than its effect in its comprehension. The effect cannot be more minute, and if the effect is infinitude of experience, how could the cause be finitude? Hence it is said that no activity of any kind, no effort of any sort, nothing that anyone does in any manner whatsoever can be regarded as adequate for the purpose. Na veda-yajnadhyayanair na danair na ca kiryabhir na tapobhir ugraih: Even the highest incalculable intensities of austerity and asceticism cannot be adequate for the purpose. Any mortification of the flesh, in any way whatsoever, cannot be regarded as a means to the attainment of the Absolute. It is God that beholds God—not a man seeing God. Such a thing does not exist.
Wonderful indeed is this vision! How could God see God, and where are we at that moment—we cease to be. We are not even earlier, and we shall not be at the time of the vision. That which was not, will be revealed to be non-existent. Even a semblance of the ego of human individuality will not be there. It was not there even earlier, and even now we do not exist, really speaking. Our non-existence will be revealed in its glory when we are awakened to that higher wakefulness, wherein the whole universe will appear as a dream object. The dream objects do not exist; we know that very well. They are phantasms, but they appear to be hard, concretised objects when we are in the state of dream. They are as hard as stone or flint, but when we wake up, they appear to vaporise into nothingness. So shall be the fate of this universe of hardness, concreteness and substantiality when God-vision is attained. The so-called solidity of the universal will melt away as if it has been cast into a melting crucible. Together with the melting of objects, the perceiver also melts away, so that in this infinitude of object experience, the subject vanishes into the object. This is called samadhi in the language of yoga, especially of Patanjali, for instance, where there is a coming together of the subject and the object. The object assumes an infinitude of comprehension, says Patanjali in one of his sutras. The infinitude of comprehension or the comprehensiveness of the object is such that the subject cannot be there any more, because the Infinite includes everything and anything. So, even the perceiver or cogniser should be inside the object.
Jnanasya anantyat jneyam alpam, says the sutra of Patanjali. Knowledge becomes all-inclusive, so that externality ceases totally, together with which the externality of the perceiving individual also goes. Hence, human effort of any kind appears to be a semblance of a necessity at the earlier stages, but later on we are taken away by the current of a higher law which operates in a totally different manner altogether. The gravitational pull of the Absolute takes up the whole matter in its hand, and as stones fall down to the earth automatically on account of the earth’s gravitational pull, we are rocketed up, as it were, to the Absolute, by the force with which it draws the soul when it crosses the barrier of the earth’s pull due to the melting away of human desires. It is for this reason we are told that all human effort is only an apology finally—it is no more a reality. The reality is Grace. Bhaktya tu ananyaya sakya: Only by utter surrender and devotion can this attainment be possible, and not any kind of effort in the sense of a personal agency in action.
Sudurdarsam idam rupam drstavan asi yan mama: Most difficult is this form to be perceived. It is hard to attain this vision. Not even the gods or the angels in heaven can perceive this, because they are still individuals though ethereal and fiery in body. What good is it to be in paradise if we are still to maintain our individuality and isolatedness and enjoy the pleasures of sense in a heightened form? So not even the angels in heaven can have this vision, is the declaration. Deva apy asya rupasya nityam darsana-kanksinah: Even the gods are yearning, as it were, to behold this form. The same thing is told to us in the Katha Upanishad: “Even gods are racking their heads to understand what this can be.” Subtle is this vision, difficult it is to understand, and harder it is to have the attainment of it.
But a whole-souled devotion, which implies an utter dedication of oneself to the last remnant of one’s personality, becomes the means to this attainment. Jnatum drastum ca tattvena pravestum ca parantapa: The vision has to be experienced in stages—it has to be known, it has to be seen and it has to be entered into. Arjuna did not enter this vision. He came back, repelled from that Form. He had the glorious vision, no doubt, and he was also given the knowledge thereof. Jnana and darshana were there, but not pravesha—he did not dissolve himself in the Absolute. He was impeded from that melting away of himself into the universal vision.
So there was a terrifying experience where the vision is had but the entry is not permitted, and that strikes like a thunderbolt on the very head of the ego. The soul cries, “Enough of this vision! May I be brought down once again to the level of ordinary knowledge and empirical consciousness.” The fear is such and so awful, so inexplicable and frightening that we have enough of it. We have enough of even God-vision if it is to strike like a thunderbolt on the ego. So the vision is made to vanish, giving a taste of the experience, allowing a remainder of the memory of this experience in the mind of the experiencer with a final message: “One cannot easily have this vision except by a special Grace.” One cannot know how this Grace descends. It is a mystery, it is an ascharya, it is a wonder, a miracle by itself. One who works in this world for the sake of God, one who considers God as the supreme aim of life, one who wholly surrenders oneself to God, one who is not attached to anything in this world, one who has no love or hatred for anything—such a person is fit to attain God. This is the culminating message of the eleventh chapter.