After enunciating the 20 virtues, excellences, that verily engender and strengthen true spiritual wisdom and realization, Krishna now expounds, in six verses, the nature of the supreme Reality, using very lofty, profound words, but with practical all-fold relevance.
To the devotionally inclined, Krishna’s exposition should serve as a timely enlightenment and singular guidance. In reality, is the Almighty the way the devotees generally imagine and worship? Does the Supreme have a variety of physical features, as popularly believed? Or is the supreme Reality more a substance or source, which can be compared and contrasted with the pancabhutas?
As a devotee progresses in his devotion, his mind and intelligence must evolve steadily and imbibe higher dimensions, higher qualities. Sri Krishna has emphatically declared that the twenty virtues constitute knowledge. All else is ignorance alone!
A question arises: Does spiritual life end in the cultivation of good qualities, virtues or excellences? Or, is there a goal, something distinct, like the supreme Reality, the ultimate Source? Is that goal something the mind and intelligence can grasp clearly? Can it be approached confidently to get a very vital personal, experiential truth or realization? Does it equally have the power and potential to bestow fulfillment? Krishna answers all these questions with a clear “yes”. And that is the pivot of the entire spiritual life and pursuit! Thus, his next exposition commences with the words jneyam yat tat pravakshyami:
I shall now describe clearly that great Knowable, knowing which one attains immortality. It is the beginningless, supreme Brahman, which is neither existence nor nonexistence.
Realization – an inner process
All the disciplines and regulations, refinement and sublimation the seeker aims at, pursues and embodies are towards an ultimate goal. And this goal is in the nature of a perception, realization of the supreme Reality, Brahman.
In all sensory perceptions, perceiving is really an inner process, done by mind and intelligence. The same inner mind and intelligence have to perceive the Supreme, as well and as naturally as they do external objects. But generally they are unable to do so.
Why is it that our mind and intelligence do not bring about this? Kathopanishad explains it very beautifully, holding that the plight is squarely due to the Creator:
The self-manifested Lord rendered the senses outgoing. Therefore, one perceives the outer things and not the inner Self.
So, the entire effort of the seeker should be to overcome this handicap and enrich, equip and empower the mind-intelligence duo to gain the great inner perception. And this is the sole purpose of spiritual sadhana.
Thus the seeker must test his inner purity and refinement by finding out whether Krishna’s words on the ultimate Reality make meaning, relevance and inspiration to him. Krishna asserts that knowledge of the ultimate Reality alone will shower immortality on the seeker.
In knowing anything whatever, we must first have a proper description about it. With regard to instances transpired long ago, we only have a rendering of the events and episodes before us. Nevertheless, it is through such historical narration that we can access the past and draw our lessons for the present.
Here, it is not history, but the one great source of all, the supreme Reality, that permeates and surrounds every form of animate and inanimate existence. It is this supreme Reality that we have to perceive and realize. The effort will be properly guided only with the apt descriptions about it.
Probing the Source of Existence
Krishna begins his depiction with anādimat. It is beginningless. Anadi is a very common word in spiritual parlance, often used without any deliberate attempt to reflect upon its import. What is its deeper significance?
The whole world is an outcome, a becoming. In fact, this process of becoming is ceaseless. The entire phenomenon consists of cause and effect. Think of a tree. First a seed is sown in the soil. Necessary moisture and nutrition are provided to it. It then sprouts and grows steadily. To the extent the new growth has taken place, the source substances, namely nourishment from earth, air, light, heat, etc. will also be depleted as an inevitable counter and complement.
Cause-effect relationships are inseparable. Matter gets converted, energy is transformed. There is a measure of equalness, balance, in the cause and effect transformation.
Keeping this common ground before us, we have to probe into the very source of existence, the ultimate Reality. We are born of earth. But where from was earth born? What about water, air, fire and ultimately space itself?
If all these have come from another source, what is that other source from which this source has derived its emergence? Can such an investigation be extended endlessly? Then it will lead, ad infinitum, to a situation that will make our search fruitless and abortive.
Is there not an original source, which itself does not have any cause for its being? That first thing thus transcends the cause-effect sequence. Remaining independent by itself, it gives rise to the others, subjecting all thereafter to the cause-effect links. While cause-effect sequences govern all the other things, this one Supreme source reigns beyond them all.
Such a line of thinking cannot be avoided. That is how religious people conceive of God as inevitable and ineffable, possessing all the mastery to bring about any phenomenon any time because, the entire visible creation, in its full splendour, has sprung up from a previous ‘nothing’. Naturally, it stands to reason that what has progenitated such emergence must and will have the same potential to give rise to anything, anytime, anywhere.
To conceive of this stupendous creation, its Source must inevitably have ‘all-knowledge’. Thus it becomes omniscient. The visibles are endless; their Source too should be endless and ‘all-pervading’, omnipresent. As we find countless qualities and powers imbued with the world constituents, their great Source too has to be ‘all-powerful’, omnipotent.
Religionists thus prefer to regard their God as omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. At first look, it may appear to be mere eulogistic supplication. But on deeper examination, it is true to the letter. Krishna then says It (such a Source) is neither sat, existence or being, nor asat, non-existence or non-being. An intriguing statement, no doubt, at least on first hearing!
Think well, and reflect deeply. We are first of all born physically into the visible world. Thereafter through the bodily limbs and senses, we interact with the objects around and gain knowledge. Every word denoting anything is formed, derived, expressed and conveyed like this. So the whole knowledge we have gained is based on the existence around.
This existence is subject to change. That is, everything is getting continuously destroyed and also equally replaced.
This means that the visible existence is not the be all and end all. It is preceded by non-existence and succeeded by extinction. Thus existence and non-existence become relative and mutual. Neither has absolute status.
Not only that. The very idea of existence arose only after creation emerged from its source. That source thus is pre-existence and post-extinction. Thus Krishna says that the supreme Reality, Brahman, is neither existence nor non-existence. For both these have their relevance only after creation emerges and is in force.
What does Krishna aim at by thus describing the supreme Reality and designating it as the Knowable? To think about, reflect upon, enquire into or explore such a concept will, in effect, be to instill into the mind and intelligence lofty dimensions of absorption and delight. When the mind expands and intelligence becomes increasingly perceptive, it will elevate the seeker’s personality.
Normally the things of the world allure the mind, making one deluded and dislodged from his moorings. This plight will change when the supreme Reality is contemplated upon and by that, the mind and intelligence grow, shedding their delusion. About the source of joy too, a new discovery takes over. Compared to the delight the Supreme can bestow directly through the mind and intelligence, the joy from the sensory objects will appear trifling.
Dispassion is an indispensable virtue of seeking and a sure associate of the spiritual seeker. The joy of wisdom is another associate of the seeking mind. Both start welling forth from within by contemplating upon the jneya, the Knowable, as Krishna describes it.
Comprehending the Universal Sentience
In the next few verses Krishna brings forth the magnitude, untaintedness, subtlety, all-comprehensiveness, indivisibility, and all-powerfulness of the ultimate Reality. Each verse has its distinct relevance and import:
With hands and feet, eyes, head, face and ears everywhere, it stands embracing all.
Revealing all sense-objects, though itself devoid of senses, it is dis-attached, sustainer of all, attribute-free, yet the enjoyer of all qualities (sarva-bhrt and guna-bhoktr).
External and internal in beings, mobile and immobile alike, it remains incomprehensible due to subtlety. It is far away and also close alike.
Verse 13.13 echoes the pronouncements in the Vedic Purushasuktam. The ability to act, think, understand and create, found in any life-form on the earth or anywhere in the universe, has its source in the ultimate Reality. As the creation is endless, the capacity displayed by it is also endless. These skills become manifest everywhere.
Somewhere in the universe hovers our earth. We, its denizens display animation, consciousness and intelligence. Naturally our source also must have these in far greater measure. Seemingly the earth, our progenitor, is not animate. From such inanimate earth all the living beings around us have come to be. Unless the ultimate Reality, the Source of all, from which has emerged our earth, embodies all these qualities and powers, how can it host the beings living upon it?
Myriad planets and bodies are floating in the sky throughout the universe. Every one of them must potentially have the creative and animating qualities, although they are manifest only in a few.
Thus the supreme Source is supremely Intelligent, creative and potent, and these qualities are, in fact, present everywhere in creation, no matter whether it appears to be inert or sentient.
Next comes a logical consideration. If the ultimate Source is intelligent and creative, like us, does it have any constrictions – mental, intellectual or sensory – as we seem to be suffering from? Krishna makes it clear that though associated with sensory powers, the supreme Source is equally dissociated from them. It does not therefore suffer from any note of attachment or identity, as we humans do. Involved, associated with, it is equally dis-involved and dis-associated too. It is full of qualities and equally rid of them all.
Is it not because of this distinction that all kinds of contradictions and opposites are displayed abundantly in this world? An animal cruelly preys upon another. The gentle is killed, making the killer cruel. At the same time both are manifestations of the same Supreme. The ultimate Source is neither affected by cruelty nor graced by gentleness. It does not ratiocinate.
But will the human psyche be able to remain unaffected like this? Herein lies the difference.
Krishna then points out how full and complete the presence of the Supreme is. It is external and internal alike (bahir-antasca). It is mobile and immobile, sentient and insentient (acaram caram eva ca) alike. Why are we missing such an ever-present and everywhere-present Reality? It is solely because of its extremely subtle nature!
Among the pancabhutas, which are discernable to our senses, space is invisible. However with a little effort we are able to infer the prevalence of space, grasp it by the power of intelligence. What to speak then of the ultimate Reality, which is even more invisible to the senses (sukshmatvat tad-avijneyam)?
Space, akasa, is unlike the other four elements. All the four are restricted in their form and permeation. Space alone remains full and everywhere. It reigns in and through the other four. Likewise, it is inside as well as outside of every small and big form of existence. How all-permeating should the spiritual presence, Brahman, then be? The fact that Brahman is sentience, Consciousness, makes it infinitely so.
The differentiation as mobile and immobile, sentient and insentient is prima facie, superficial. It is primarily meant for comparison and contrast, to facilitate interactions. On probing into them further, both will reveal as existence, permeated equally by the Spiritual presence. But this is a truth, not understood initially. The mind has to expand and intelligence has to become more perceptive in order to strike at this higher dimension.
To be sukshma, subtle, is to be ‘indistinct’ before the senses. Such indistinctness instantly makes Brahman unintelligible, imperceptible, too. That does not mean Brahman’s existence cannot be comprehended. Our mind, intelligence and ego are themselves imperceptible to the senses. Yet, are they incomprehensible? If one does not feel the presence of these himself, can he live and move at all?
Mind, intelligence and ego can be felt only by oneself. Just like the senses have the power to perceive external gross objects, our inner faculty has the ability to perceive these subtle inward entities. Thus Brahman, despite its extremely subtle and omnipresent nature, is fully accessible. Buddhi-grahyam, atindriyam is how Krishna described it earlier (6.21).
Krishna adds that its extensive range and endless magnitude make it amazingly distant, very far (durastham). But, because of its omnipresence, it is also very close, nay the closest within (antike ca)!
We tend to think of anything that is all-pervading as more distant from us than near. Our immediate thoughts will be on its vastness and hence inaccessibility. Even though close, its closest nature is missed!
Suppose you stand on the seashore and look at the sea. The vastness of the sea, endlessness, will be the first to strike your attention. But, remember, your feet are already in the sea-waters. Vastness and closeness are both equally applicable. More so is the case with Brahman, the universal sentience.
True seeking is Knowledge-oriented
By describing jneya, the thing to be known (the Knowable), and clarifying that a proper knowledge of it alone will fetch immortality (am¤ta), Krishna adds a Vedic note to his discourse. He thereby makes the dialogue comprehensive and authoritative. Two points are to be specially noted here:
(1) The supreme Reality is something to be known and is not so much to be worshipped or seen or propitiated, as many seem to think. God is to be inquired into, reflected upon, understood and realized. Knowledge of any kind resides within. External senses do act as a help in bringing about knowledge, but knowledge every time is undoubtedly an inner fruition.
All devotional practices are only preliminary, leading to cardinal spiritual search or seeking. True devotion as explained in the 12th chapter, rests solely upon mind and intelligence (12.8). Mind does its work by thoughts, feelings and imaginations. Intelligence, on its part, does the probing. That is why the study and understanding of Scriptures becomes supreme in the Hindu way of life.
(2) Immortality does not mean that the seeker will continue to live in his body indefinitely. As the mortal body overpowers one with the sense of transience and mortality, the inner spiritual realization will crown him with Immortality.
Birth, growth, decline and death apply only to the body. The Soul manifesting in the body, animating it, is birth-free, growth-free, decline-free and death-free. The realization of this freedom is the core of immortality. Sanatana dharma is so called because it is a dharma (pursuit) that makes its practitioner sanatana (immortal).
Arjuna himself exemplifies this when he pleads Krishna to instruct him on the path of sreyas. Krishna began to instruct him. Arjuna too became a zealous participant in the dialogue, which rested primarily upon the mind and intelligence of both.
External focus may mark the beginning of religious pursuit, as found even in Vedas, which array a number of Deities like Indra, Varuna and Agni. But all these recede gradually, inducing the Vedic practitioner to withdraw and delve within himself, employing solely his mind and intelligence. When the religious effort itself thus becomes inner, involving the mind and intelligence alone, will not its ultimate fruition also be inner?
That means it is in the nature of Knowledge-discovery, Knowledge-attainment. Is this not what the ancient Rgveda also reveals in prajnanam Brahma, the first of the four Mahavakyas? It means that Brahman, the supreme Reality, is verily prajnanam (Knowledge). It is a fruition wherein the mind and intelligence will stand engulfed by the Subject. By such realization alone, is immortality gained.
Indivisible and homogeneous aspect of Reality
The whole of this transition transpires in the mind and intelligence. So, to imbue immortality in Arjuna, what Krishna had to do was to enlighten him with the knowledge of the supreme Reality. And the Master Teacher excels in this:
Though indivisible, it appears divided in beings (with their individual ego-centre). It is to be known as the originator, preserver and dissolver of all.
As is space, so is the Supreme undivided (avibhaktam). Yet, it is felt as distinct, making each person think of himself as a separate individual (vibhaktam iva sthitam). This separateness of objects in general is what makes vyavahara (interaction) possible and relevant. The ego that every individual carries with him, enables the preservation of the body, mind and intelligence in a composite manner.
The indivisibility of the Supreme does not prevent one from having a personal identity, the ‘I’-sense. By the word ‘I’, all refer to the same Source, same Presence. This one Source is the sustaining force for the whole creation (bhuta-bhartr). It equally destroys everything (grasishnu), momentarily and also periodically, in shorter and longer cycles, en masse as well as in the end. Needless to say, it is the Creator (prabhavishnu) too.
Creation, sustenance & destruction – three-fold power of Brahman
How to know that Brahman has the three-fold power of creation, sustenance and destruction? It is vast, inaccessible, and imperceptible. Can one yet say that its powers are all-fold, so far as phenomenal existence is concerned?
Yes. Of the three inner states we have, the dream-state is both specific and conclusive in pointing out this great fact. On entering into sleep-state, one loses all object-connections, including those of his gross body. The mind and ego are also lost. Right then springs the dream-state – a sudden emergence of objects, space and time and the consequent interactions as in wakeful state.
How and from where do all these issue forth? Who or what sustains them? And then quite instantly where does the whole display dissolve, disappear? Dream world being quite parallel to the wakeful world, its Creator, Sustainer and Dissolver must be alike in status and power. Thus Brahman’s all-fold powers stand directly proved.
Here a question may be raised: Is not dream merely an instance, which can at best serve as an example for the purpose? Can we take it as proving any proposition conclusively?
The answer is an unconditional ‘yes’. All kinds of knowledge and conclusion, in any field whatsoever, are based upon observation and inference. In science too the constant effort is to experiment and research into matters. First comes our direct perception and then follow analysis and inference.
Our senses alone are the instruments for observing external facts and phenomena directly. The world around us is endless, infinite. For anyone born into this world any time, it would remain an already existing fact, phenomenon. There will not obviously be anyone who could have been present during the emergence of the world to see the process as well as its source. Naturally, the origin of the world, its source, will ever remain imperceptible to humanity of all times.
The same is the truth about the world’s dissolution too. None can hope to witness the process. Thus both the evolution and dissolution of the universe are indisputably beyond our direct experience. What other means is there then to access this area judiciously and satisfy our quest?
Besides direct experience (pratyaksha), inference alone is available. But, for making inferences there must first be some directly perceived data. Only then, we can relate matters and arrive at conclusions. It is in such a delicate but inevitable premise that the dream creation and dissolution come up with forceful indisputable evidence.
In the object universe, infinite and various in every way, we cannot think of another object as the cause. For, that cause too would then stand included in the universe. Think well. If no object cause can be there, what are we left with any time? The only course will be for a non-object to act as the cause. Besides objects we can only think of the Subject. So, only the Subject can be the cause. The question is whether there is anything like the Subject, which possibly can help and fulfill our quest? Where does such a Subject reign? Can it be sufficiently felt, experienced and proved?
Our whole life is a constant subject-object interaction. In this the position of the endless world is but that of object. The question then arises instantly: To what, which or whom is the world an object? Evidently it is to the one who perceives and interacts with it.
Everything in the world including our body is objective. The core of our being is the one Subject. This Subject reigns clearly within. Being different from the body, it is supra-material in nature. It transcends the body and its materiality. That is the one to bestow the identity ‘I’ to every one. All thoughts, feelings, emotions proceed from it. Sleep, dream and wakefulness are its expressions. One wakes up to the world, the world does not wake up anyone.
Dream is an instance wherein this one Subject suddenly reveals its supreme potential and brings about a full world and begins to interact with it. All the interactional consequences characteristic of the wakeful world also prevail there. And the subject also dissolves the entire display into itself.
Now, think well. Can the Source of the world be more than one? The Supreme has no parallel. That is how it is called non-dual. The Subject in us exhibits the powers we are searching for, namely creation, preservation and dissolution. Naturally the dream-cause, its source, must as well be the wakeful world-source also. Source being only one, once it is traced anywhere, it will equally be the source for all.
Other than dream, do we and can we ever have any premise for making our search and inference? This dream phenomenon does not stand as a mere example, but it reigns as the only available ground for conducting our search into the Supreme reality, the Source of creation.
This conclusion rests upon the same observation and inference, upon which is built the entire material science itself. To grasp the truth and carry it with conviction is indeed rare.
Do we go inward to the “I” from the object world? Or do we come to the object world from the “I”? The question is fundamental.
Knowledge – the source and brilliance of Universe
It is the effulgence of all brilliant luminaries. It is said to be beyond darkness. It is Knowledge, the one to be known and can be reached by knowledge alone. It is established in everyone’s heart.
Now Krishna concludes his enunciation of the Knowable by designating it as the supreme brilliance, the brilliance of all the brilliant things (jyotisham api taj-jyotih). It reigns beyond darkness (tamasah param), says he. Darkness too is discernable to the eyes just as light is. Hence, darkness too is a kind of brilliance.
Brilliance is a term that generally denotes light, in the presence of which objects become perceptible. But the word has to be viewed in its totality. Like the eyes see, the ears also hear, the nose smells. In whose presence do all these transpire? In a dead body, the ears will not hear. In a sleeping person, the senses do not perceive at all. What is that presence due to which the internal awareness also is enabled?
That is the ultimate ‘I’, which empowers all perceptions, external or internal, and itself remains independent. This ‘I’ remains as a main referral point for us. In the spiritual seeker this awareness grows, changes and assumes an altogether wholesome importance. It is the final brilliance due to which thoughts, emotions, feelings, knowledge and the rest take shape and are preserved. It is no more an interactional, referral ‘I’, but is the most original brilliance, due to which the whole universal splendour has its existence and revelation.
What is darkness? Darkness too is a kind of ‘illumination’, as our eyes alone see and identify it. Eyes cannot see except in the presence of light. When the visible existence ceases to be and yet the seeker persists with his enquiry, he will be led to this higher perception, beyond darkness.
The Supreme is verily jnana, knowledge. This is a very profound statement. We know of knowledge as a subtle outcome of intelligence with regard to any object or matter. Like brilliance of fire, it is thus thought of as a property or quality alone. But here, says Krishna, Knowledge is the supreme Reality. This means it is that source from which the whole of existence, the amazing creation, has emerged. That will designate knowledge no more as a mere quality, but as the seed of entire existence, the one great source of them all!
By existence, we generally mean something that is evident to perception – earth, water, air, energy and finally space. Is Knowledge also something similar to them? Will not that make knowledge akin to matter or any other existing thing? Can knowledge be so? It defies our normal notions!
Knowledge belongs to living beings. And in the human it is fully manifest. All other forms of life do have the rudimentary measure of knowledge. In its fullness of articulation and creativity, it manifests in humans alone. Knowledge inheres within our body in a level transcending both matter and energy.
Do Krishna’s words then mean that this inward Knowledge in man is the progenitor and preserver of the whole creation? That would put man, with his knowledge potential and status, in a pedestal far beyond what he is taken to be!
I don’t think anywhere else in the world has Knowledge been spoken of so convincingly and logically as the source of the universe. Rgveda has clearly declared “Prajnanam Brahma”. Non-dual knowledge is the supreme Reality, the first and last of existence. When the knowledge in us stands revealing the objects as well as their Subject (the perceiver), then it is wholesome in every way. That state when the objects as well as the Subject stand covered by knowledge, thereby giving no room for anything else to be present or revealed, is called Prajnana. This transpires within man, in his consciousness by dint of his seeking.
That is why the Vedas say that the sabda (word) alone is the means for spiritual revelation. Brahman is thus something to be known by knowledge and the knowing process alone. Brahman is not the object seen, but the ‘seeing’ Subject. The probe into the Subject is also a knowing process, a journey through consciousness, inward, direct, personal, and experiential.
Knowledge is centred within the individual, the seeker. Once this is so, the spiritual probe has solely an inner focus. That focus alone leads to and ends up with the discovery and realization of the supreme Source, Brilliance. Thus, the omnipresence is located, felt and embraced in one’s own heart, not a hairbreadth away.
With this, Krishna has presented briefly the Upanishadic Brahman in its full creative, sustaining as well as destructive aspects, power and brilliance. These verses, when recited and contemplated upon, are profoundly inspiring as well as enlightening. They will undoubtedly bring in lofty dimensions to the mind and intelligence. The inner personality of the seeker will begin to rise from its conventional earthly levels and notions.
The spiritual growth first begins with spiritual ideas. It leads to powerful and expanding contemplation. That instills perceptions, climaxing in realization. It is then that the seeker’s personality blossoms, and he becomes a siddha. The irresistible process is personal, inner, resting upon the mind, intelligence and heart. The object world remains the same. But the perceptions and truths it reveals become drastically different. The whole materiality vaporizes and in its place shines spirituality, direct, wholesome and endearing.
Go on reciting these verses with vigour, inspiration, feeling and depth. And see what happens.
(From Essential Concepts in Bhagavad Gita - Volume 5)