Krishna continues the dialogue in the 9th chapter, without any interception or fresh enquiry from Arjuna. He is tempted, he says, to disclose the deeper and fuller measure of Knowledge (jnana with vijnana). By imbibing the wisdom in its full dimension, he points out, Arjuna will be redeemed from all the adverse, inauspicious fates.
Obviously it is something distinct and subtle that Krishna intends to reveal. Devotees generally have a vague idea about God, accompanied by a host of feelings and emotions. No one is generally inclined to take up any serious analysis or enquiry about what in reality is life, what the world is, and how it should be dealt with. Conflicts and the resultant consequences naturally occur, though they are often ignored or not recognized. It is only when devotion is enriched by intelligence that devotional refinement and elevation will result. Intelligence stands as the most creative part in humanhood.
In such a context, thoughts on God must closely bear upon the world and the devotee’s life in it. In making religious concepts relevant like this, lies the role of Knowers and exponents like Krishna.
The regal pursuit
As a true allusion to the vijnana he proposes to disclose, Krishna in the 2nd verse, highlights how regal, holy, and yet experiential is the knowledge he shares with Arjuna, and how it is also very pleasant to pursue:
The knowledge I shall disclose, is sovereign, both in the status it holds and the secrecy it carries. It is supremely holy and most sublime. Its effects are directly experiential. Also it is very pleasant to pursue and is Imperishable.
This statement deserves deep consideration and introspection. Mostly people miss the great import of these initial words of description and how they are related to the pursuit of Brahmavidya. On first hearing, they sound like eulogism, arthavada. But, are they?
The three distinct notes Krishna emphasizes are all equally important, enriching the whole spiritual science, Soul-wisdom and its practical relevance.
Rajavidya literally means the knowledge that kings must possess and master. Why so? Arjuna was a king, and so too Krishna. Spiritual wisdom and its close pursuit, Krishna says, are something the kings always need and have traditionally held, to make royal life possible, effective and fulfilling. But for its greatness and power, no good king would have a peaceful heart or a stable mind and intelligence. The living proof was Krishna himself who, all along displayed his mastery of Rajavidya.
The notoriety of public administration, calling for stern punishment to the wrong doers and graceful reward to the virtuous, is so burdensome and taxing that it makes life painful for a true King who loves his subjects. The sentimental mind and the rational intelligence are both often sandwiched between the call of duty and the threat of religious consequences as, for instance, Arjuna faces in Kurukshetra.
No less a person than Bheeshma, his beloved grandfather, stands before Arjuna surely to be pierced by arrows. Close by is the teacher. Neither holds any enmity towards Arjuna or disapproval of his life and mission. Nor has Arjuna himself any ill-will for them. Yet, they are to fight against each other! The enigma subdued Arjuna’s mind persuading him to retreat. This and even more may transpire in a KÀatriya’s life. Krishna himself, very early in age, had to contend Kamsa, his uncle, and despatch him to Yama’s abode. Could anyone greet such an encounter? Krishna did that, and even more!
Spiritual wisdom is, no doubt, best possessed and mastered by sagely life, by devout ascetics, preferably in the gentle, amiable environment of solitude and unsullied greenery of the forests. Not much ado will intrude such sublime seclusion. Krishna himself knows how he spent his younger days as a student with Sage Sandeepani, dutifully serving the Teacher while joyously imbibing the precepts of Kingly life.
As for Arjuna, he had just returned from the long twelve-year forest life, though in exile. Compared, or contrasted with these, what does the Kurukshetra scene echo? In the next eighteen days, eighteen akshouhinis (nearly 45 lakhs) of people are to be killed. Both sides will be dying in the hands of each other. Is the episode, encounter, by any standard simple, easy, gentle or routine? To see one’s own kith and kin die one after the other and that too at one’s own hands, is most abhorrent and unthinkable.
Neither then nor now, a situation of this kind and magnitude is faced by anyone. Yet, the vast millions of the human society cannot have the desired freedom for life and its callings, except when ruled by powerful hands of a strong administration. In those days, nay even till recently, the onus often rests upon singular kings and their powerful men.
Arduous nature of administration
In this country, there were powerful but righteous Kings, who would often move incognito to know first hand, people’s thoughts and moves. During these expeditions, the king himself would instantly punish the crimes encountered. It was once the lot of such a king of Kerala, to deal with his own trusted commander. The commander had misbehaved with a female subject and the victim herself brought the grievance to the notice of the King. Moving swiftly and incognito, the King caught the commander right in the grip of his design with the young girl, and instantly put him to death. “Burn him alive and beat the drums loudly, so that his screams will not be heard by anyone around, ” was the Royal diktat to his men.
What an exemplary punishment to warn would be offenders! Can a Master punish his own servant’s crime so harshly? Yet, this is the call of duty of a just King! The Ruler embracing a large multitude, has to be ready to dismember the vile few. The mind that responds to the kingly sense of justice, has also to heed the call of friendship and fondness. Can loyal sentiments be buried or disowned? Where to seek redemption then?
In the prelude to Bhagavad Gita, we find Dhrtarashtra losing heart on hearing that Bheeshma, the great, had fallen – hit by Arjuna’s arrows. He wondered and sank crestfallen. Unbelieving, he again asked Sanjaya, “How could such notoriety be inflicted by the rightful Pandavas? My balance is lost. I am drowned in affliction. I have no power to hear your narration at all. Tell me first something, which will restore my mind, and make me stable and poised. Did not the warfield Kurukshetra, holy as it is, echo any spiritual message, which, would give the mind the vision, depth and balance, to sustain any gruesome fate?”
It was only then, on the 10th day of the war, that Sanjaya narrates to the blind King the spiritual dialogue that transpired on the first day, before the discharge of arrows began – the gospel that gave Arjuna the peace, poise and confidence to withstand the heart-rending episode of Kurukshetra!
The throne is not an abode of luxury and power, it is verily a seat of great responsibility and burden. Alert like the earth, fast like lightning, the Lord of the throne has to reach anywhere, any time. Family and wife, sleep and pastime, friends and relations, nay all else, have to be sternly pushed into the background if the power and majesty of the throne have to be upheld. This is what Sri Rama, Janaka and the rest of rulers had done before Krishna’s advent. How could this seemingly impossible be attempted and actualized? Where lay the means for it, and how did our kings access it?
The secret lies in the great, powerful raja-vidya. It is like the tapasvi-vidya, the ascetic knowledge. In the ascetics, it is the stunning step of leaving, and living a life of seclusion, harming none, and usurping nothing.
For the kings, they too have to take stern decisions, leave, abandon or kill and yet adorn the throne. Krishna himself, in the end, had to mastermind the total extinction of his whole clan! Can such stunning levels of great fruition and fulfillment be thought of?
Rarity of spiritual wisdom
This is where one can discover the roots of kingly knowledge. Mind is mind, anywhere, be it on the throne or in the hermitage. Its thoughts, memories, reflections and other tribulations can hardly be shunned. Its task, enjoined by nature is to bring pulsations of the past, present and future. It is natural that it sometimes makes the possessor even yell under the impact! But should not Great Nature provide a relief too? Krishna says, “‘Yes, and here I disclose it to you.”
The raja-vidya is thus not a choice, but a compulsion. It is not an imaginary relief but a lofty resort. It is a heritage that the kings of this land always cherished, preserved and bequeathed. As Krishna already reminded (4.2, 4.3) Arjuna, this great treasure held by the Kings somehow got lost. “I am re-instituting that great legacy, at a time when you need it most to go ahead with the kingly task, ” he told Arjuna. Besides this, it is also a vidya that is as hard to access as any treasure of the king. Thus the next word makes the message even clearer and more compulsive: Raja-guhyam. It means that, what Krishna would disclose belongs to the category and level of a Royal secret.
Life is a gross fact. Its physical compulsions are enormous, and often too paradoxical. They can at times be excruciating, as is the Kurukshetra scene itself. Nevertheless, none, born in this world, can eschew life or ignore it. From birth, the individual is led to actions, responses, impacts, motivations, considerations, reasons, proprieties, and contradictions. If a thinking mind tries to weigh and balance the worth and relevance of all these, it will reach nowhere. Nothing permanent will be found. So complex, confusing and inconclusive are the norms and values of the world. The moral codes, when applied in full, become often inadequate. The ethical codes serve no better.
A good and rational soul may find shortcomings and constrictions in his parentage. On that ground, can he disown his parents? The defective and troublesome individuals also seek conjugal life. Even those with defective brain choose to be parents of others. Should and can it be avoided? None waits for the question or the answer. Before everything, the alliance is sought or thrust, and the consequence also invited. Is it right?
The whole thing is a rigmarole. Some minds get stifled with the question, or at least the subject. The ultimate question is: Why is one born at all into this seemingly disordered world? That means, why this world at all? Naturally, it leads to questioning the very Creator, or Creative Source. Will the Creator come for a dialogue or debate? Yet, life endures.
Bhagavad Gita has something quite sacred to say in answer. The first is that in reality there is neither death, nor killing. Life of any form, in essence, when deeply felt and perceived, displays eternality, not ephemerality. The ever fleeting cannot ever be. The eternal alone can manifest and be (2.16). If one thinks he kills, as in a war, or another thinks he is getting killed, both do not know the real fact, the truth. For none here is ever a killer, nor is anyone slain (2.19). Is this not a great secret – the most stunning, and imposing?
When will any news be best received, honoured and preserved in all sacredness? When it is declared and found to be a secret! Human mind has a natural penchant for listening to secrets with fondness! Receive it will, though not preserve, at times.
Universal aspects of the Gospel
Another secret Krishna placed before Arjuna is that the Lord of the Universe does not pronounce or institute any kind of doership on anyone. He equally does not enjoin anything called duty on anyone. It is likewise wrong to assume that He marks any particular result for any action, making one enjoy or suffer from it:
He went a step further: “The Almighty does not take away anyone’s sin or virtue. All ideas and prayers in this context are just a display of ignorance. Right knowledge gets covered by its wrong counterpart. And humanity suffers under the distortion.” The effects of ignorance are colossal. The only course is to make knowledge blaze forth, like smokeless fire. That will then bring the supreme Truth into full focus. Everything will become clear to the intelligence and heart. The delusion that has befallen the intelligence, has to be cleared by intelligence alone. The potential for it is hidden within the human (5.15-16).
That means all the religious presumptions about God, His supremacy as also His intent for humanity, are unfounded. What then is in force? Krishna says, ‘it is Nature – individual, collective and universal’. The nature of each is juxtaposed with the others’, and all thrive like concentric circles. It is ignorance to look beyond oneself for an external controlling authority.
In humans a significant addition is there – a thinking mind and a reasoning intelligence. Like the body, these too are Nature’s evolution. Each mind, alone or led by another, thinks and formulates its fancies. The intelligence goes a step further. And the spiral they make extends.
The earth has existed quite long, for its denizens to have grown in mental and intelligential enrichment. And in this holy land, the introspection, analysis and perceptions reached a certain acme, which has since been found sufficient to welcome, treat and dispose of every conceivable question on the fundamental three pillars of creation:
The perceptional and experiential subtlety and precision took the thinkers to arrive at the same substratum in all the three. Thus the culture grew and became eternal.
In all this, the last level of approach remains as a secret. It totally invalidates and eliminates all the previous thoughts and notions. Ultimately is it not from zero that the whole process of calculation commences and in the same zero it all ends?
Krishna thus makes Arjuna’s mind sensitive and sharp to absorb what he would be revealing as Truth. Then comes the redeeming and reassuring description: This vidya is the most holy and purifying indeed. Each of the four words of the second half of the verse is even more profound and meaningful.
What Krishna shares with Arjuna is not something like the heaven and other lofty abodes of the sky extolled in the Vedas and allied scriptures. It is directly experiential. Once it is absorbed and pursued, the seeker will not need anything else to be righteous, morally excellent and effective.
And as for the pursuit, Krishna says it is extremely pleasant to practice. This cuts across all the roots of delusion and misconceptions about spiritual life and its varied practices, which, somehow are stamped as extremely hard and even painful. For one sitting in darkness, seeing light even at a distance is brilliant, reassuring. What is it then to bask under the direct illumination?
May be, earnest seekers and pursuers of spiritual wisdom sooner or later fell in love with asceticism, austerity and stunning simplicity of life. That is because of the merit of spiritual pursuit and its wholesome reward. It began to fill them with so much of delight, enchantment and enrichment that the whole glare and glitter of the world stood as a mere shadow. Filled to the brim within, they naturally distanced themselves from the visibles. In stripping their mind off all the erroneous allurements of the senses, they found a natural harmony and fulfillment.
But that only speaks of the matchless beauty, charm and supremacy of spiritual wisdom. One cannot and should not conclude that to pursue and be benefited by spiritual wisdom, forest life or asceticism alone is the way. Krishna is the shining example of spiritual wisdom in its active and involvemental splendour. He was neither an ascetic nor one given to solitude of the forests. Nor was Arjuna such a one. Bheeshma, Rama, Janaka and the rest were also not ascetics or dwellers of the forests. They lived in the world and faced its challenges wholeheartedly, efficiently. Yet, what shone amidst all the external flair of the royal lives was the crowning inner fulfillment they had, which spiritual wisdom alone can bestow.
Krishna is emphasizing this great fact first, before proceeding to disclose a set of truths to relieve and reward the seeking mind and the questioning intellect.
(From Essential Concepts In Bhagavad Gita - Volume 4)