Arjuna gets allured by mystic grandeur
The eleventh chapter marks a very significant but intriguing and alluring transition in the battlefield dialogue. It carries the much coveted title ‘visvarupa darsana’ – the vision of the Universal Form’.
In reading or commenting upon the contents of this picturesque chapter, every one easily gets tantalised and carried away by its mystic grandeur. For, it requires ample clarity of thought and great confidence for anyone to perceive beyond what is apparent in the narration, and arrive at the lasting message. If only a proper look is taken as to how the Kurukshetra dialogue began, wherefrom Krishna commenced his tuition and developed the theme in subsequent chapters, it will lead one to evaluate the meaning and message of this chapter appropriately, divesting it of all miraculous and mystical overtones.
It is very clear that all in this chapter is not to be taken literally, nor it need be. Nevertheless, what is conveyed basically and ultimately in the verses, is quite relevant and useful. The narration offers enough food for the emotionally devout. It equally echoes the profound philosophy of the supreme Reality – the foundation of the world. Keeping this in mind, one has to get to the contents and message of the chapter.
Arjuna was obviously overawed by Krishna’s description of the representative powers, excellences and grandeur of the supreme Reality. Krishna has clearly said that ‘sensory perceptions’, however gross they may seem, are verily not authentic or factual (9.4, 5). How can such an illusory ‘creation’ ever be, should be the first consideration in any committed seeker. But Arjuna strikes a significant difference, because he allows himself to be enticed by the illusory glories and wishes to see them as if they were all wholesomely real!
The reader should remember what Arjuna had said, when, confessing his delusion, he sought from Krishna the best way to attain sreyas, everlasting joyful freedom. Arjuna also explained, in the same breath, what he verily meant by sreyas: “I do not see any purpose in winning unrivalled emperorship on this earth or even Indra’s abode in the heavens. For, neither of them has the potential to relieve me of the grief, scorching my whole being.” (2.8)
Does this not show unmistakably how Arjuna stood indifferent to the bounties of the visible world as well as of the imagined heavens? He has already heard from Krishna how the entire visible display is but illusory, and the supreme Reality – which is truly beyond the ken of space and time – alone is the real source of everything. Should the glories of the Supreme, as described by Krishna, then cause any allurement for him? Or, should he have disposed them of at one stroke, as did young Nachiketas, when Yama tried to allure him with most covetable earthly and heavenly gifts? Alas, what happened to Arjuna’s discrimination, which Krishna strove so hard to build up and strengthen throughout the earlier part of the dialogue?
A caution to seekers – delusion is difficult to overcome
The manner in which the chapter begins, together with the prelude Arjuna provides, calls for special attention:
यत्त्वयोक्तं वचस्तेन मोहोऽयं विगतो मम ।।
By the supreme spiritual words of truth you have uttered with a view to bless me, my delusion is gone.
Arjuna agrees that what Krishna said in the earlier chapter is the very core of spiritual wisdom. He also submits that it has driven away his delusion well enough. When the delusion is removed from a seeker, what other than an intensified urge to realize the supreme Truth and be free forever, can his mind aspire for? But, alas, Arjuna speaks in the next few verses in an entirely contrasting note!
It only confirms that even staunch seekers may fall into the trap of delusion and miss their objective. This only cautions that viveka, the sense of discrimination, should be kept strongly vibrant at all times. Loss of viveka can result in grave decline even at the last minute!
After having heard, says Arjuna, about the evolution and dissolution of beings in the imperishable Supreme, and what the glories and excellences of the Supreme are, the urge to see that mystic process of ‘universal evolution and dissolution’ has become strong in him. A doubt also arises as to whether he has the requisite ability to perceive the grandeur. Thus he pleads that Krishna need consent to his wish only if he is fit for the purpose. Addressing Krishna as Yogesvara, Arjuna waits to witness whatever would follow (11.2, 3 & 4).
The compassionate Teacher obliges the zealous seeker
Vyasadeva, the author of Mahabharata, of which Bhagavad Gita is but a part, tells us that Sri Krishna instantly sensed Arjuna’s aspiration as well as predicament. He then spoke with a matching tone to empower Arjuna with further enlightenment. In Krishna’s reply, it is psychological excellence that glitters more than spiritual Truth or philosophical profundity.
Whether the words of the Text were uttered by Krishna himself, or they are Vyasadeva’s thoughtful creation, is a matter of conjecture any time. The poetic author has his own characteristic freedom while treating the subject with a style and purpose he fosters. However, when the spirit of the dialogue, right from the second chapter, and the ‘interactional philosophy’ Krishna built up thereafter, including the sthita-prajna and sthitadhi descriptions, are taken into account, the visvarupa darsana narration appears to be more as Vyasadeva’s portrayal excellence, aimed at generating abundant awe, admiration and piety, with a philosophical undertone.
The pious and simple minds would generally want to cling to heroic feats. For them, this chapter is immensely alluring and arresting. Cast in mythical terms or eulogistic notes, Vyasadeva’s description of visvarupa darsana is a discussion of the truth about creation, preservation and dissolution.
Sanjaya tells Dhrtarashtra as to how Krishna spoke to Arjuna, while revealing the great vision: “See now, Arjuna, hundreds and thousands of forms and features, imbued with astounding divinity, embodying a great variety of shapes and colours. You may equally see whatever else you want to, all inhering in the same single source. Suns, wind, multiple forms and figures not seen or heard by any – see all of them right in your front.”
The words employed, the zeal with which they are expressed – all have their profound contribution in rendering the message philosophically precise and psychologically elevating. This is where the Indian scriptures excel in their role, content and message.
Though the dialogue transpired in the Kurukshetra battlefield, the occasion was the interaction between a seeker and his Master, under whom the seeker had sought full refuge. Any such event is bound to have its sublimity and wholesomeness. Arjuna is poised for getting his relief and enlightenment, preferably with the additional note of inspiration and assurance from Krishna.
Krishna, the Teacher, is also determined to take the student’s mind to the heights of clarity, illumination and expanse. How best and effectively this fusion can be achieved is the only consideration before both. It is an unfailing law that everything around will combine unpredictably before the zealous seeker and the obliging Knower, to further the great mission of dispelling the seeker’s doubts.
Usage of imagery makes message vibrant
Where intelligence proves inadequate, imagination will have to provide its might. The human personality is susceptible to intellectual fete as well as emotional exuberance. Both together, when properly aroused, fulfill the seeker’s aspirations. In such a background Krishna’s words become quite paramount:
मम देहे गुडाकेश यच्चान्यद्द्रष्टुमिच्छसि ।।
See now in my body the entire universe, consisting of the mobile and immobile, as inhering in one source. See also whatever you further desire to see.
Krishna is asking Arjuna to look intently and see for himself all that his mind yearns for, obviously all the imagery Krishna described for him, as inhering in the Supreme. The intensity of Teacher-student (Guru-sishya) relationship often kindles the Teacher to invoke an incredible measure of divinity, authority and mission, holding intense appeal to the disciple’s mind and heart.
What Arjuna or anyone else can see in another standing close by, is the other’s body. The soul in anyone is imperceptible. Eyes, and also the other senses, are meant to perceive only grossness of objects. “See Arjuna,” says Krishna, “the whole jagat (world) consisting of animate and inanimate creation.” Creation, however plural, has only a single foundation, source. The entire multitude of objects is rooted to one central source. Krishna has taken pains to explain this singular nature of the existence right from the 7th chapter (7.4, 5 & 6). The same truth he re-stresses now, with an additional visual focus.
Krishna asks Arjuna to see in front whatever he wished to see additionally. This means that the vision would consist of factual phenomena as well as imaginary creations. Mixing thus the facts with fiction is characteristic of the human mind, as you find in literature and poetry of all times.
Human mind is not merely a conventional instrument, working only with the help of the bodily senses. It has its intrinsic capacity to perceive independently, creating the necessary objectivity around, all by itself. Its power is incredible.
That is what happens in the dream state, which is the mind’s own handiwork. How does the mind, at one stroke, bring about, within the body, a new world consisting of earth, water, air and sky, together with all the beings and things to be interacted with? It is the same mind that now works in Arjuna. The degree of its attunement decides the intensity of visualization. Arjuna and Krishna obviously are an ideally matched pair in this.
Such instances of a devotee visualizing wonderful things in and around his Guru are not very uncommon. The magnitude and excellence of the episode will differ, that is all. The more important part is that some one should be there to describe the episode in a lasting manner. That author must also possess the exalted insight to picture the imagery arrestingly.
Something more is there. One important characteristic of scriptural narrations like Ramayana, Mahabharata, etc., is arthavada, meaning eulogy. After all, the very purpose of a creative writing is to evoke abundant admiration and interest in the readers or listeners, and lead them to a worthy goal. Arthavada or exaggeration becomes necessary in such a context. An elephant with one head is not worth mentioning at all. But if there is one with a hundred heads, it becomes incredibly alluring and arresting to the mind. Of course, such an elephant can be gifted only by creative imagination and enticing narration.
When its purpose is to inculcate great ideals and values, the mission becomes laudable. That is how exaggeration came to be a well-thought out embellishment for epic writing. It brings enlightenment making the message vibrant and interesting.
Vyasadeva safeguards the whole episode with sufficient forethought, by highlighting the incompetence of the normal eyes and the need for a special supra-physical vision for the purpose:
दिव्यं ददामि ते चक्षुः पश्य मे योगमैश्वरम् ।।
You cannot verily see with your external eyes the universal magnitude. So I bestow a divine vision, by which you can see my majestic and magnificent power.
Our biological eyes will suffice only to look at the wide world as it is, in three dimensions. But when it comes to perceiving the very source of the entire creation, we have to transcend the senses and their range, and get into an altogether new dimension. That is how Vyasadeva speaks of a higher vision in the matter. In fact, the efforts and goal of spirituality are to elevate oneself to such an exaltedness.
Although more and more advanced gadgets are inducted to enhance the range of visual perception, the limitations of the eye still prevent us from perceiving the loftier, subtler levels of existence. Naturally, to gauge the universal magnitude, of the kind Arjuna seeks and Krishna bestows, will clearly mean transcending the senses and stepping into the exclusive inner realm of the mind!
In this, the inadequacy of idol worship is quite illustrative. Those who flock to the temple have the main aim of focusing their eyes with full concentration on the Idol installed in the sanctum sanctorum. But, when it comes to a question of seeing the Idol as representing the Universal Presence, every one seems to be failing miserably. What the Idol is meant to represent, the Idol-worshippers are unable to visualize. Is there any greater travesty?
To ‘see’ the widespread manifold existence as inhering in a single source is physically impossible. The manifoldness around is a matter of our visual perception. But to link this visual multiplicity to the conceptual plane of singularity or oneness, the source, is the effort of the discerning mind. While the former is the work of the external (gross), the other is the gift of the internal (subtle). What is needed is a unique grand fusion of the senses and the mind, the external and the internal, the gross and the subtle. The seeker or disciple alone will not be able to achieve this. But the benevolent Teacher can induce it in a sublime mood of affinity and attunement. Sage Vyasa is trying to accomplish this rare magnificence, keeping Arjuna and Krishna before us!
The Sage author graced with both literary profusion and imagery excellence, employs such words and messages that his great purpose stands fulfilled in abundant measure. For the likes of Arjuna, age after age, the depiction stands as an incomparable treasure. The inspiration and motivation this scene infuses into the otherwise spirituo-philosophical dialogue, far exceed the enlightening clarity it bestows. Krishna thus evokes the inner magical expanse in Arjuna, whereby he would be able to see the universal magnitude, with all the complexity it contains and displays.
At this point, it is significant that Vyasadeva brings Sanjaya to the scene, as if to provide a timely interception. In response to Arjuna’s appeal and submission, Krishna poses himself magnificently. Moved deeply by it, Arjuna too stands in full piety and resignation to see what Krishna would do. His ordinary vision is replaced by the new perception gifted by Krishna. What follows is highly exciting, exhilarating, impregnated with lofty message and import. Sanjaya says:
दर्शयामास पार्थाय परमं रूपमैश्वरम् ।।
O King! Stating thus, Lord Hari, who is the great Yogesvara, revealed to Arjuna, the son of Prtha, that supreme divine form.
Sanjaya speaks to Dhrtarashtra, who in the beginning had intercepted him by enquiring, “Tell me what transpired in the battlefield, between my sons and those of Pandu”. What would the soldiers assembled in a war field do, except battling? But Dhrtarashtra was not obviously wanting to know whether they did fight or not. For the war had already begun and some crucial days had also passed in fighting. The King’s enquiry therefore virtually meant “what other than fighting did take place in Kurukshetra, as a prelude or otherwise”.
Sanjaya, in answer, relates the exceptional course of events that transpired after the last minute war cries were raised by both parties, and the discharge of arrows was about to commence. Arjuna who had Krishna as his charioteer, suddenly changed his mood and began to wonder about the very nature and consequences of the war. This led to an array of moral and philosophical doubts and questions in him. It was in pursuit of addressing this sudden crisis of Arjuna, that the Bhagavad Gita dialogue became necessary.
The Sage Author, before the war became an event, felt it expedient to gift Sanjaya the special power to see – without being himself seen by others – all the events on the battlefield. As a result, Sanjaya started moving freely everywhere in Kurukshetra to find out what all was going on overtly and covertly in both sides. In the process, he also was an observer of the Arjuna-Krishna dialogue, of which Visvarupa pradarsana was an integral part.
Sanjaya’s comments and description are very suggestive: In the Krishna-body, Arjuna witnessed magnificent Divinity manifesting the Universal Expanse, with its infinitude and profundity. He saw innumerable mouths, eyes and other wondrous notes. The Form had exquisitely rare ornaments on it. It wielded endless number of special weapons, garlands and clothes. Sandal paste was smeared all over Its body. The Universal Form’s face was turning in all directions. Everything that Arjuna saw, struck him with wonder and admiration.
Such stunning brilliance It shed, as if a thousand suns had instantly appeared on the sky. In that body of Krishna, adds Sanjaya, Arjuna saw how the whole universe was inhering in a single source. The entire plurality, such a strong fact all around before the senses, stood negated. Arjuna could understand the truth of oneness about existence.
Vyasadeva wants to take the readers and listeners to a refined level of spiritual introspection, when he describes what followed instantly.
प्रणम्य शिरसा देवं कृताञ्जलिरभाषत ।।
It was then that Arjuna, overwhelmed by wonder, hairs standing on their ends, fell at Krishna’s feet and, with folded hands, began to speak.
What Arjuna’s eyes saw in front steeped him in ineffable wonder. His body was filled with horripilation. He was unable to stand the vision. Prostrating before Krishna, folding his hands, he submitted his mind’s pulsations.
(From Essential Concepts in Bhagavad Gita - Volume 4)