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Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha

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The distinction between Sat and Asat (the Real and Unreal) as set forth in the earlier verse ( Gita II-16) leads one to the conclusion that the whole existence spread out before the senses is something totally indescribable. Being neither the Real (Sat) nor again the Unreal (Asat) it cannot but be regarded as a ‘sheer illusory phenomenon’.

Naturally a question arises: Why should such illusoriness be there at all? What fruitful purpose can such a phenomenon serve, if it proves to be merely a fiction or myth? We have to ascertain whether it serves any purpose of the Sat? Or can it be that it comes as an active help for the seeker in his sustained enquiry? So, the next verse clarifies the riddle very effectively:

अविनाशि तु तद्विद्धि येन सर्वमिदं ततम् ।
विनाशमव्ययस्यास्य न कश्चित् कर्तुमर्हति ।।
avināśi tu tad-viddhi yena sarvam-idaḿ tatam ।
vināśam-avyayasyāsya na kaścit kartum-arhati ।।
(Bhagavad Gita 2.17)

            “Know that to be indestructible, by which all this stands permeated. None has the power to destroy it.”

These words of Krishna are quite emphatic can pregnant. They reveal the relationship between illusoriness as such and its base. For a reader who earnestly reflects upon the proposition, the reason why Sat and illusion coexist will become clear.

The illusory manifestation does not, at any rate, offer any conflict or contradiction to the Sat or its natured and purpose, although a measure of paradox is there about it. But Such a paradox is more to be rightly unraveled than condemned. Illusoriness, we will find, is in fact a full complement to the nature of Sat and its proper revelation. This is a point, which many thinkers are, however, prone to miss as a rule.

All forms of existence, express before our sense, are essentially a resultant of two opposing or mutually opposite features. There is nothing like a singular or unitary existence anywhere. Think of the minutest atom. Is it not always a beautiful combination of the revolving electron and the stationery nucleus? The stationariness of one is what enables the rotation or motion of the other. The two are fully interdependent. If one of the two were not there, the other too would not have been!

A state of ‘absolute oneness’ would thus be impossible inconceivable. Even if it were to be, it would, by its very nature, remain indistinguishable – not perceptible at all. That is how the world or universe, visible to our senses, becomes, in every facet of it, a result of ‘mutual opposites’. The multitude of these mutual opposites alone constitute the objective illusory display, the grand objectude that surrounds us now.

The principle of mutually opposite complementarity does not end there. Extend it to the entire objectivity, and enquire as to what makes the whole illusory display possible and perceptible. In other words, with reference to which does the objective multiplicity prevail? The opposite of multiplicity is evidently singularity. And the opposite of objectivity is subjectivity. Thus the factor complementary to illusory display must be subjective as well as singular. Is there something like that?

Gita describes the avinasi in such a context of mutual complementariness. Avinasi means indestructible. It is the opposite of vinasi. Everything in the world, big or small, is changing. To change means to be subject to destruction. Whatever is present now, be that form, appearance, structure or otherwise, should cease to be, and something different must come to be in its place. Only then it is called a change. In the process therefore transpires a destruction. Everything changeful equally becomes destructible. How do the destructibles derive their existence or expression? The destructibles can have a mutual complement only in the avinasi. And that avinasi must be subjective, because all destructibles are also objective. When Krishna says that the Indestructible is that which permeates all this, the destructible, is he not presenting the one single subject, around which all changefuls and destructibles prevail and continue?

The changeful and the changeless, the destructibles and the Indestructible, are thus indispensable complements – a beautiful, harmonious set of dvandvas. In the two there abides a beautiful relationship. Perception of the external destructibles takes place readily by our senses. And the search for what permeates it internally follows through the buddhi, as a subject of enquiry. Sensory external perception first, and intelligential internal probe following it, thus become quite natural, compulsive and fulfilling to each other.

In fact, the relationship between the Soul and the body is exactly like this. The Soul itself has created the constantly changing body and the Soul itself reigns permeating it, making it functional every moment. If the Soul were not there, the body too would not have been born at all. Equally so, if the body were not there alive, the Soul would not have become definable or identifiable at all.

Now, what relevance does this elucidation have to the torments of Arjuna, which he confessed to Krishna right in the beginning? Is the discussion becoming purely academic, or does Krishna still remain within the orbit of Arjuna’s crisis and enquiry?

Understanding the mutually opposite and complementary character of the Avinasi (the permeating Soul) and the Vinasi (the permeated visibles) will alone, emphasizes Krishna, imbue a seeker with the strength to withstand the problems and grief of the mind, and provide clarity for the intelligence, to outlive the delusion. In the very thought of destruction of the body, the vision of the indestructible Soul should also be implied. If thus along with the grieving mind, the reflective intelligence also gets activated, in place of the ‘miserable dual’ it would be a beautiful ‘fulfilling pair’!

Krishna then emphasizes how the truth about the indestructible Soul should empower Arjuna to fight, which is the one purpose for which he had come to Kurukshetra after a prolonged preparation:

अन्तवन्त इमे देहा नित्यस्योक्ताः शरीरिणः ।
अनाशिनोऽप्रमेयस्य तस्माद्युध्यस्व भारत ।।
antavanta ime dehā nityasyoktāḥ śarīriṇaḥ ।
anāśino'prameyasya tasmād-yudhyasva bhārata ।।
(Bhagavad Gita 2.18)

The insight about the indestructible Soul should enable one to face all challenges in the interactions with the world. In it reigns the full redress to all problems of life. Krishna specifically relates the message of the Indestructible to the warfront. But it should not be forgotten that the message by itself is quite comprehensive and relevant to all contexts and situations of life. Everywhere the agitated mind has to be sustained by the reflective intelligence. And nothing but the indestructible Soul can offer endless invigorating reflection.

But why should one fight at all, becomes a relevant question. Krishna clarifies the position by pointing out that the bodies, which the Soul permeated have certainly their destined outcome. In fact, the body meets its last visible change only when death befalls it. This is not incoherent with the body’s character or rate. The endful bodies have to be inevitably led to their final visible fate. For kshatriyas (warriors), what better end can there be than to fight for the cause of Dharma and either fall dead in the process or win gloriously in the end, vindicating the cause of the society? An idle life or one of escape in doubt and fear, is unthinkable for a dutiful kshatriya.

Death in pursuit of a righteous war is for the kshatriya as holy and harmonious as it is for a brahmana in the midst of austerities. The end must always be a natural sequence of whatever one pursued or is called upon to fulfil.

Where then is the insufficiency in reconciling with the natural, unalterable course of life? It lies in the failure to assess the fate of one’s own self. The trouble and disharmony arise only if the fate of death of the changeful body is extended to embrace the changeless Soul too.

Bheeshma and Drona who stand in the opposite camp do know clearly that their side should not and will not win the war. It is clear that they will have to drop their own bodies in fighting. Yet do they find any confusion or reluctance? Obviously their vision is quite clear; they do not take the fate of the body as befalling the Soul. No disharmony can therefore intimidate their mind.

"You too, Arjuna," exhorts Krishna, "must be like them poised, determined and clear-seeing. Fight the endful bodies with your perishable body. Let in the process either of two – their bodies or yours – meet death, the kshatriya’s destined end. Do not be ruffled. Understand that the endfuls alone are driven to meet their destined. The Indestructible Soul, permeating all these, cannot be involved the least in the process. In the same way as ‘dying’ is an unalterable fact with the body, ‘immortality’ is the supreme truth about the Soul. Freely give the body its place. And assign to the Soul its singular sovereignty.

The perception of the Soul.

“The Soul is only one. The bodies it permeates are many. Overcome the idea of differences and plurality about the Soul. Even if all the bodies assembled in Kurukshetra were to meet their endful fate, the single indestructible Soul would not stand to lose the least. It can neither diminish nor swell. The permeating Soul reigns ever the same. It survives always, outliving all the fates of the permeated. Let this truth be the vision and strength for you,” says Krishna.

“Therefore, fight with poise and determination,” is the summary instruction of Krishna in this verse as in many others. Krishna does not get the least away from the crisis engulfing Arjuna. Whatever be the thought process he tries to instil in Arjuna, he persists in clearing Arjuna’s grief and confusion with all the precision and force.

That the Soul is but one is a point the Bhagavad Gita stresses repeatedly. And other point of view is only subsidiary and tentative.

Why Philosophy?

It should not be forgotten that both Arjuna and Krishna are in Kurukshetra for furthering a secular task of rightful administration. While discussing the problems and implications of such an earthly social venture, why should any body suddenly step into the lofty spiritual heights of Vedanta and philosophy? Is it that any secular discussion, when done faithfully and taken to its finer and subtler levels, will inescapably lead to the sphere of philosophical vision and sublimity? Or is it just a matter of personal preference to become philosophical while discussing the subject of human life and its implications? 

The point needs to be clarified, both for evaluating the Gita dialogue and grasping the true relevance and application of philosophy, particularly Vedanta, to our life.

True, Arjuna’s problem is worldly and social, and it also relates to his secular task of vindicating the throne and fulfilling the objectives of kingly administration. But the fact is that when any subject of human life and its compulsions is taken up for proper study, the thinkers of Bharat cannot help moving into the sublime realm of the spirit or the Soul. For them the Soul is not a heavenly concept or a speculative indulgence. It is instead the fulcrum and pivot of the human personality.

For people of this land, Soul is a far greater fact and reality than what the body may seem to be. While the body merely stands as a perceived object, dependent on the perceiver, the Soul shines ever as the independent perceiver. Without such a Subject first abiding independently, how can any object be ever thought of? The object can and does cease to be, but the Subject will not and does not. For instance, in sushupti (deep sleep) do not all objects including the body suddenly cease to exist? At the same time, does the Subject, who knows the sushupti state, ever cease to be? Is it not this perceiving Subject that makes waking itself possible and brings about all the wakeful interactions regularly?

Whenever there is an instance of sorrow or doubt and it has to be redressed or resolved, the thinker of this land is irresistibly led to investigate into the plight in all thoroughness. And the attempt inevitably compels him to enquire as to what or who it is that sorrows and doubts. Such a subjective linkage is inescapable and natural for his mind.

An action can proceed only from the actor. So too any experience will become possibly only when the experiencer is first there. This actor and this experiencer remains obviously common, nay identical. As does he sorrow and doubt, so does he also rejoice and know. In being the source for both sorrow and happiness, doubt as also wisdom, does it not reveal distinctly a state of unaffectedness and impersonality? Where is the question then of any one getting either lost in sorrow and doubt, or swept by happiness and knowledge?

Both sorrow and doubt on one hand, and happiness and knowledge on the other, are transitory experience or outcomes. And they are equally instrumented by the same neutral core. In seeking redemption from any plight whatsoever then, not to speak of sorrow and doubt alone, will not the devout thinker be obliged to delve into the innermost impersonal sphere? Unless he does so with faith and resolve, how can his investigation be complete and meaningful?

It is such an earnest causal as well as comprehensive thinking that leads our thinkers to the sphere of the constantly present. Self-subsisting Subject. Such a sequence of thought and enquiry, which we find in Bhagavad Gita, is a distinction that calls for adequate evaluation. The notes of sublimity and transcendence that guide the process are but natural to the dedication and faithfulness, which should adorn such thinking. As a result, if the thoughts become deep and philosophical, the enrichment is to be specially appreciated. Rather than regarding it as anything disharmonious or contradictory, it should be held to be distinct complement to the whole process of investigation and finding.

The thinkers of this land have come to pronounce the entire creation as a mystifying spiritual process in such a unique background. Earth is undoubtedly the planet, which hosts us all, providing shelter, food, clothing and nourishment for each. Does not the planet, at first looks, strike us as fully inert? But when one begins to relate matters with deeper observation, the birth, growth and interactions of the different forms of life do strike us with supreme wonder. Are not all these sentient? How can earth, the mother of them all, be inert at all?

The relationship between cause and effect is quite intrinsic and cannot be doubted or dismissed. Should not the source of all this sentient beings also be sentient? The inert looks of earth have thus to be dismissed by the enquiring intelligence, and the process of sentience to be ascribed to everything, including mother earth.

The entire world, creation, has thus been viewed in this lands as verily divine and sublime, as sang Angiras in Mundakopanishad: “Purusha evedam Sarvam – all this is verily the Supreme Purusha (Lord)”. This kind of extensive and comprehensive thinking, the note of absoluteness and finality, is characteristic of Bharat’s thought and analysis. 

True to Bharat’s heritage, Krishna cannot stand as any exception. From the initial words of reprimand of his, in which he accused Arjuna of impropriety and infamy (anarya-jushtam, asvargyam, akeertikaram), Krishna had thus to strike the lofty levels of spiritual sublimity and philosophy, just as a matter of pure rational sequence and rhythm. And this elevating note of the dialogue goes on steadily gaining momentum, as we proceed with the next.

(Part of the Series Essential-Concepts-In-Bhagavad-Gita)