Bhagavad - Gita

This paper, originally presented to the Committee on the Study of Religion, at the University of California at Los Angeles, examines five topics in the Bhagavad-gita. The first two of these topics the strong monotheism of the Gita, and the distinction between Krsna and the individual souls appeared in Part 1. Now the paper continues.


3. God Is The Controller

BECAUSE GOD, Krsna, is one, and eternally separate from the individual soul, it follows that He is the Lord and controller of all that be. Lord Krsna delineates a bipartite notion of causality in which material nature is the cause of the physical workings of the world whereas the living being is the cause of his own enjoyment and suffering.  (karya-karana-kartrtve hetuh prakrtir ucyate purusah sukha-duhkhanam bhoktrtve hetur ucyate (Bg. 13.21)) Nature responds to the soul's attempts to exploit the illusory material world by entangling the soul in the web of maya. Perhaps the greatest illusion is the soul's false perception that he is performing those physical events, such as moving of the body, that in fact are done by nature.  (prakrteh kriyamanani gunaih karmani sarvasah ahankara-vimudhatma kartaham iti manyate (Bg. 3.27)) Nature in turn is directly under the control of the Supreme Lord, and the entire cosmos turns by His command. (mayadhyaksena prakrtih … hetunanena kaunteya jagad viparivartate (Bg. 9.10)) Thus the causal chain originates in Krsna, who states: "I am the Lord of all beings, and I stay in their hearts, causing all beings, who are mounted on the machine (of the body), to wander in this world in illusion."  (isvarah sarva-bhutanam hrd-dese 'rjuna tisthati bhramayan sarva-bhutani yantrarudhani mayaya (Bg. 18.61))

Krsna is a living God who orders, punishes, and reclaims the fallen souls, who are eternally part and parcel of Him. Thus Krsna declares, "Those who always faithfully abide by My injunction, without envy, are freed from all karmic acts. But those who are envious and do not abide by My injunction you should know to be mindless and lost, for they are confused about all that is knowledge."  (ye me matam idam nityam anutisthanti manavah sraddhavanto 'nasuyanto mucyante te 'pi karmabhih (Bg. 3.31)ye tv etad abhyasuyanto nanutisthanti me matam sarva-jnana-vimudhams tan viddhi nastan acetasah (Bg. 3.32))

This same point is driven home at the end of the Gita: "If then because of false ego you will not hear, then you will perish."  (atha cet tvam ahankaran na srosyasi vinanksyasi (Bg. 18.58)) We will understand Krsna without doubt and fully, Krsna declares, by hearing from Him.  (asamsayam samagram mam yatha jnasyasi tac chrnu (Bg. 7.1))

One achieves real peace by recognizing that Lord Krsna is the great Lord of all the worlds.  (sarva-loka-mahesvaram … jnatva mam santim rcchati (Bg. 5.29)) Similarly, one who knows that Krsna is the great lord of the worlds, and that He is unborn and beginningless, is himself unbewildered among mortal beings and is freed of all sins. (yo mam ajam anadim ca vetti loka-mahesvaram asammudhah sa martyesu sarva-papaih pramucyate (10.3)) Arjuna acknowledges Lord Krsna to be the "controller of all beings" and the "Lord of the universe."  (bhutesa … jagat-pate (Bg. 10.15))

Finally, the entire eleventh chapter of the Bhagavad-gita demonstrates in an unforgettable way that the whole universe can be devoured in an instant by Lord Krsna. His control is absolute, for all beings exist within Him: "When you have thus learned the truth you will never again fall into illusion, for by that knowledge you will see that all living beings are in the Soul that is, they are in Me."  (yaj jnatva na punar moham evam yasyasi pandava yena bhutany asesani draksyasy atmany atho mayi (Bg. 4.35))

4. Krsna Is Everything

Lord Krsna strongly and repeatedly declares in the Bhagavad-gita that He is the source of all that be. It follows that God is not only distinct from His creative energies but is also one with them, since they are eternally resting on Him. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu thus stated that the philosophy of the Gita is acintya-bhedabheda-tattva, which means that God is inconceivably one with, and simultaneously different from, His creation. We shall survey Krsna's statements that He is the source of everything, and then see how this claim is logically linked to the claim that "all things are Krsna."

Sri Krsna declares in the Bhagavad-gita: "I am the source of everything; from Me everything emanates."  (aham sarvasya prabhavo mattah sarvam pravartate (Bg. 10.8)) Similarly, He states: "I am the origin and the annihilation of the entire cosmos."  (aham krtsnasya jagatah prabhavah pralayas tatha (Bg. 7.6)) Krsna goes on to say, "There is nothing else beyond Me, O Dhananjaya. All this world rests on Me like pearls strung on a thread."  (mattah parataram nanyat kincid asti dhananjaya mayi sarvam idam protam sutre mani-gana iva (Bg. 7.7)) And as previously quoted, "Neither the hosts of gods nor the great sages know My origin, for in all respects I am the origin of the gods and great sages."  (ne me viduh sura-ganah prabhavam na maharsayah aham adir hi devanam maharsinam ca sarvasah (Bg. 10.2)) Krsna is the source not only of the living beings, but of their qualities as well: "Intelligence, knowledge, freedom from confusion [and ten other qualities], in their various types, are states of being of the living entities, and they all come from Me." (buddhir jnanam asammohah … bhavanti bhava bhutanam (Bg. 10.6)) "The seven primordial sages and the four Manus owe their existence to Me for they are born of My mind."

Let us now examine the tenth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, wherein Lord Krsna claims (Bg. 10.20-38) to be the superlative exemplar in seventy categories. Here is a sample verse from that section: "Of the Adityas I am Visnu; of lights I am the radiant sun; of the Maruts I am Marici; of stars I am the moon."  (adityanam aham visnur jyotisam ravir amsuman maricir marutam asmi naksatranam aham sasi (Bg. 10.21)) (18) To read monism into all of this would be a transparent misreading of the text, for a serious look at the entire chapter makes abundantly clear what Krsna is actually saying.

First, we notice that most of Krsna's statements, cited above, to the effect that He is the source of everything come from this same tenth chapter, namely verses Bg. 10.2, Bg. 10.4-5, Bg. 10.6, and Bg. 10.8. Krsna precedes, then, His identification of Himself with the greatest items of this world by emphasizing that He is the source of all these things. Recall that in the seventh chapter Krsna stated that all the things of this world are His energy, or prakrti (Bg. 7.4-6) and that He is therefore the source of all that be.

That Krsna is referring to the same ontological state of affairs becomes clear when we notice the repeated use here of the word vibhuti, which indicates the following: glory, expansion, great power, manifestation of might, etc. Arjuna introduces this term when he says to Krsna: "You should speak about Your own divine glories, those by which You pervade these worlds and abide in them." (vaktum arhasy asesena divya hy atma-vibhutayah yabhir vibhutibhir lokan imams tvam vyapya tisthasi (Bg. 10.16)) The word for "glories" here is vibhutayah, the plural form of vibhuti. But that is just the beginning of this word's career in the tenth chapter of the Gita. Arjuna then says,"O Janardana [Krsna], please describe again, and extensively, Your mystic power and might, for as I listen to this ambrosia, I find no satiation."  (vistarenatmano yogam vibhutim ca janardana bhuyah kathaya trptir hi srnvato nasti me 'mrtam (Bg 10.18)) Again, the word for "might" is vibhutim. Lord Krsna then answers, agreeing to explain His own divine opulences, and again the word used (Bg. 10.19) is vibhutayah, the plural of vibhuti. In the very next sloka, the Lord begins His identification of Himself with the seventy categories mentioned above. At the end of the narration, Krsna says, "O burner of the foe, there is no end to My divine powers, and so I have given some example of the extension of My glory."  (nanto 'sti mama divyanam vibhutinam parantapa esa tuddesatah prokto vibhuter vistaro maya (Bg 10.40)) Predictably the word vibhuti is used twice in this verse, and it is repeated in the following verse, where-in Lord Krsna says: "Whatever glorious, beautiful, or mighty being there may be, understand that it is born of but a spark of My splendor.  (yad yad vibhutimat sattvam srimad urjitam eva va tat tad evavagaccha tvam mama tejo-'msa-sambhavam (Bg 10.41)) Here the word vibhutimatmeans "that which possesses vibhuti that is: power, glory, etc.

By using the word vibhuti no less than six times, Lord Krsna makes clear that He is talking about His powers, His properties, His opulences, etc. In the seventh chapter, there are three "identification verses" (Bg.7.9-11) which exactly resemble in meter, language, and content the "identification verses" of the tenth chapter (Bg. 10.20-38). These three verses, as in the tenth chapter, are preceded by an elaborate analysis of how Lord Krsna is the source of all, matter and spirit being His superior and inferior potencies. At the conclusion of Bg. 7.9-11, Krsna declares that all these opulences with which He has identified Himself come in fact from Him, and are resting in Him, but He is not in them.  (matta eveti tan viddhi na tv aham tesu te mayi (Bg. 7.12))

It also bears mentioning that one who rightly understands the sense in which Krsna is the source of everything does not then consider all beings to be God, but rather worships the real God with wholehearted devotion: "I am the source of all. From Me all proceeds. Knowing this, the wise worship Me with all their being."

The purpose of the identification verses is to nourish the devoted theists, as Krsna explains in the verse that follows the one cited above: "Their minds in Me, their lives dedicated to Me, the devotees enlighten one another, always speaking about Me, and thus they are satisfied and rejoice." (25) Further, Arjuna explicitly states that it is just to help such meditation on the Lord that he is requesting Krsna to describe His glories: "Always thinking of You, O Yogin, how can I know You? In which various forms, my Lord, am I to think about You? Describe to me at length Your glories … etc."  (katham vidyam aham yogims tvam sada paricintayan kesu kesu ca bhavesu cintyo 'si bhagavan maya (Bg. 10.17)) There is hardly a doctrine of pantheism in the Bhagavad-gita. The real message is quite clear: surrender to Krsna.

Lord Krsna says that after many births, one in knowledge surrenders to the Lord, realizing that "Vasudeva (Krsna) is everything." (bahunam janmanam ante jnanavan mam prapadyate vasudevah sarvam iti … (Bg. 7.19)) Arjuna tells Krsna, "You cover everything and thus You are everything."  (sarvam samapnosi tato 'si sarvah (Bg. 11.40))These verses offer devastating evidence against the impersonal, monistic interpretation.

In the first instance, Lord Krsna's statement comes in the midst of a discussion of four types of people who do not surrender to God, and four types who do. Krsna's point in the verse we have cited (Bg. 7.19) is that surrender to Krsna is the sign that one is actually in knowledge, after many lifetimes of seeking the truth. In fact, the learned one who realizes that Krsna is everything belongs to one of the four classes of men who surrender to the Lord.

We have already explained at length the many verses in chapter seven, preceding Bg. 7.19, which claim that Krsna is the source of everything, and that He is identical with the opulent features of this world in the sense that such items, composed of the inferior modes of nature (sattva, rajas, tamas), are but expansions of the Lord's power. And the verses following Bg. 7.19 emphasize that it is Krsna alone who is to be worshiped, and not other gods. In other words, the topic under discussion is nothing but surrender to Krsna, and an elaborate ontological explanation in this very chapter has clarified that Krsna is to be identified with the wonderful things of this world only in the sense that such items rest on Him. It was explicitly stated that Krsna is simultaneously aloof, that He is "not in them."  (na tv aham tesu te mayi (Bg. 7.12))

Similarly, Arjuna declares to Krsna: "You are everything because You entirely possess everything."  (sarvam samapnosi tato 'si sarvah (Bg. 11.40)) Arjuna's statement is in response to the cosmic vision of God, in which Krsna devours all the universe, and all beings are subdued by the Lord's omnipotent feature of time. That is, it is in the context of God's absolute domination of the subordinate living beings that Arjuna utters His prayer, "You are everything!"

Still, it is worthwhile to take a closer look at the somewhat complex ontology operating here, and Krsna Himself provides us such a focused metaphysical analysis in the ninth chapter (Bg. 4-10), where He intentionally speaks in apparently contradictory language: "By Me in My unmanifested form, this whole universe is pervaded. All beings are situated in Me, but I am not situated in them. The beings are also not situated in Me. Behold My mystic power. I am the maintainer of all beings; I am also not situated in them. My self is the source of the beings. Understand that just as the great wind, which goes everywhere, is situated in the sky, so all beings are situated in Me."

Lord Krsna here makes several ontological distinctions between Himself, God, and the many living beings like us:

1. Krsna states that He individually pervades the entire universe. There is no similar claim for any of the individual living beings. (Bg. 9.4)

2. All beings are situated in Krsna, but He is not in them. (Bg. 9.4)

3. Krsna is the maintainer of all beings, but not they of Him. (Bg. 9.5)

4. Krsna is the source (bhavana) of all beings, but not they of Him. (Bg. 9.5)

5. Lord Krsna compares Himself to the sky, and the living beings to the air, which moves within the sky but does not mix with it. (Bg. 9.6) This metaphor is further developed at Bg. 13.33, wherein Krsna compares the sky to the soul, which does not mix with the body. Krsna states at Bg. 13.33 that although the sky extends everywhere (sarva-gatam), because of its subtlety (sauksmyat) it does not mix with anything, and hence nothing can taint it (nopalipyate).

At Bg. 9.6, then, Krsna means to state that although the great winds blow throughout space or the sky, the sky is never covered by the air. By analogy, then, although God contains all living beings within His existence, because of His being superior He cannot be affected by the inferior qualities of the beings He contains. Indeed, Krsna states that in an unmanifest form (avyakta-murtina) He pervades the universe. Here the term avyakta, "unmanifest," is clearly related to the concept of subtlety in Bg. 13.33. This sense of subtlety as a cause or condition of imperceptibility is explicitly given at Bg. 13.16, where it is said that the Absolute "is incomprehensible because of its subtlety."  () (32) This very word suksmatvat is given at Bg. 13.33 to mean "because of its subtlety."

Thus the analogy of the sky and the air (Bg. 9.6) is meant to explicate the same message given at Bg. 9.4-5: Although Krsna is all-pervading, and although all beings live and exist within His existence, He is always distinct and superior, and is never affected by the inferior qualities of the living beings He contains. Thus it is very difficult to mount anything like a serious argument for monism from the statements of the Bhagavad-gita.

(continued in the next issue.)