The Bhagavad Gita is a real dialogue between two personalities five thousand years ago, and it is also symbolic of the dialogue which happens in the life of everybody who is a seeker.
The dialogue takes place when two great armies are about to fight with each other. Krishna was the charioteer and Arjuna, the commander-in-chief of an army. Compelled by hatred and vengeance, the two armies were arrayed against each other. Soldiers were about to shoot, horses were excited, elephants were shrieking and crying. This was the setting of the Bhagavad Gita.
It is not a gospel preached in a temple, monastery or in the solitude of a forest. It is not even a gospel between two pious, religious souls. It took place amidst great tension, where death was about to dance, where thousands of people were about to die, and where everybody was filled not with love and compassion, but with hatred and a thirst for blood, planning to kill as many as possible.
In the eighteen chapters of the Bhagavad Gita there is every aspect of yoga in relation to practical human life. It is intimately related to each and every human being because we are at war and in constant conflict with hatred, jealousy and greed. This is one aspect of the Bhagavad Gita.
The second aspect is still more real. The dialogue is narrated to a blind king seated in a palace. His sons are notorious rascals and leading one of the armies. The king knows that his sons are on the battlefield, so he calls a clairvoyant and asks him (1:1),
Dharmakshetre kurukshetre samavetaa yuyutsavah
Maamakaah paandavaashchaiva kim akurvata sanjaya.
On the battlefield of Kurukshetra, what is happening between my sons and the other party who are about to fight with each other? Please tell me what is happening on the battlefield.
Dhritarashtra is the blind king, Sanjaya is the clairvoyant courtier and Kurukshetra is the name of the battlefield. The first meaning of Kurukshetra is historical. It is a place in the north of Delhi, where this battle was fought five thousand years ago. The second meaning of kurukshetra is more important and symbolic.Kshetra means zone, place or dimension and kuru means action.Kurukshetra means the zone of action, and the body is also kurukshetra because one is performing all actions through the body.
Dharmakshetra is the first word, and dharma means higher action.Karma means ordinary action which one does everyday, but when one performs a higher type of action, it is called dharma. Dharma does not mean religion. It is the property of something. The property or dharma of fire is to burn; the property of water is to flow; the dharma of the body is to grow and die. The battlefield is a dharmakshetra because on the battlefield the case will be decided and injustice, cruelty and atrocities finished. The body is also a dharmakshetra, because it is in and through the body that one can perform higher virtues and higher actions. The body is the dharmakshetra and also the kurukshetra where the battle within is taking place.
The six hundred and ninety-nine slokas of the Bhagavad Gita are narrated to the blind king in the court. It is a textbook for the blind, and we are blind. Why are we blind? There are two areas of perception, the objective and the subjective. What is outside is objective and what is inside is subjective. The world of objects begins with the senses, indriyas. If we had no senses, we would have no objective perception; if we had no eyes, we could not see form; if we were deaf, we could not hear sound. The objective world is totally dependent on the senses. The subjective world begins with the mind and through the mind we turn inside. This subjective world is the basis of the objective world.
Greek philosophers thought that the objective world was the basis for subjective knowledge. However, the rishis and sages of India said that the subjective world was the basis for the objective world. Therefore, it follows that if we cannot see what is within us, we are blind. We cannot see our thoughts - unconscious, subconscious, or inner visions. That means the inner eye, the third eye is closed. The objective world outside is called the cosmos and the world inside, which we can't see, is called the universe. The cosmos is where everything is diversified and the universe is where everything is unified.
Everyone is a universe. Even as an atom is a model for the whole solar system, the whole cosmos is unified in us, and your universe and my universe are not different. There is an absolute unity between any two, three or four people. Therefore, we should be able to experience this inner universe. A person who cannot experience it is blind. TheBhagavad Gitais a teaching given by a man with special vision to a man who is blind.
The title of the first chapter is 'Yoga of Depression'. In fact yoga begins here. When you are angry or worried, what do you try to do? Unconsciously you try to improve the situation and control the mind. When you are terribly nervous, you try to find a way to manage yourself. This act of balancing in life is called yoga.
When your mind is on the negative side, you try to bring it to the positive side, but when your mind is on the positive side, do you ever try to bring it to the negative side? Therefore, yoga does not begin when you are happy, because nobody tries to balance in happiness. Yoga begins when you are unhappy and you try to come out of the unhappiness.
Arjuna told Krishna, "Take my chariot in between both armies. I want to see with whom I have to fight and who I have to kill." Krishna drove his chariot into the centre between the gigantic armies. Arjuna stood up in his chariot, looked around and saw his own kith and kin in front of him. He became so nervous that his hands began to tremble, his body began to perspire, he couldn't stand up, the skin of his body began to burn and he dropped his bow.
Nervous breakdown is exactly the situation of every individual unable to face the nakedness of life. We try to escape from the realities of life, thinking it will be a permanent escape. The conflict within each one of us is very acute. We do not know it because we are too busy with external life, which is only a reflection of what is going on within us. Our external life is a projection of the quality of our inner life.
The last sloka of the Bhagavad Gita says, "Where there is Krishna, where there is Arjuna, there is victory and there is happiness." Arjuna represents jiva, the individual soul; Krishna represents atma, the higher soul. The chariot represents the physical body, driven by five horses, the five karmendriyas and five jnanendriyas. If our horses are disciplined, the chariot will be all right, but if the horses are not disciplined and obstinate, then we will have an accident.
The battlefield is our life and existence, which we face in every incarnation. Many people are not aware of this battlefield, but sincere aspirants become aware of it and the conflicting armies, known as dharma and adharma.
The two forces are the spiritual and materialistic forces. One force drags us down into the world of attachment and another elevates us to spiritual awareness. It happens every day that sometimes we are elevated, sometimes we are depressed; sometimes we are engrossed in matter, sometimes we think about spiritual topics. Therefore, this battlefield must be conquered.
The most important message in the Bhagavad Gita is summed up in one sloka (2:47), "You are concerned only with action. You are not at all concerned with the consequences and results. Therefore, do not identify yourself with the fruits of your actions."
You should not remain action-less, because the present experience is the result of previous karma. There is no renunciation; nobody can escape from karma. A monk who lives in a monastery without family is doing karma. The external actions of everyday life are not the real karma. You have a family and therefore you work, earn money and take care of the children. This is not karma, it is dharma. There is a clear difference between action and duty. When you take care of the family, children or parents, it is your dharma. Dharma means those actions which are sanctioned by duty.
Karma is the desire which you entertain in your mind. The mind makes sankalpa and vikalpa. Sankalpa is the process of thinking, vikalpa is the process of counter-thinking - the two forces of mind in everyone. When there is a great tug-of-war between sankalpa and vikalpa, there is conflict. Sometimes sankalpa and vikalpa become antagonistic to each other and schizophrenic behaviour can be seen. Through sankalpa and vikalpa you have desires and when the desires are not fulfilled, then you have frustration. When you have frustration, there is a natural tendency to become angry, and when you become angry, the mind is deluded, hypnotized, and loses sight of reality, and the discriminating power is destroyed. When the discriminating power is destroyed in life, then everything is destroyed.
Desires are connected with sense objects. If you can introspect honestly, you will realize that you have desired your whole life. These desires are karma. If an action is propelled by desire, it is karma, and if an action is propelled by responsibility, it is dharma. If you do not desire and still perform karma, it is called sannyasa.
There are four desires which are important for everyone to understand. The first is the desire for children, progeny, tribe and race, which creates karma and the chain of cause and effect. The chain of cause and effect keeps on building because desire for progeny, for family, for tribe is the instinctive desire in man. Nature has established this desire in the animal kingdom as well. The desire for progeny is rooted in the deep consciousness of man. Even if your children are a problem, you still want them, because you are compelled by the force of nature. It is one source of karma.
The second type of desire is to have friendship with the opposite sex. It can be in the form of friendship, marital or sexual relationship. The relationship between the opposite sexes is again guided by the laws of nature, sometimes instinctively, sometimes intellectually. Animals desire instinctively. During the infertile period animals live separately, but during the mating season they always come together under the compulsion of nature. You do not have to bring them together. Nature has provided them with certain smelling capacities, so they can find their mate. In animals it is guided by instinct, but in human beings it is guided by mind, intellect and desire.
Desire in the mind is in conscious motion, but if you analyse it, you will never know exactly why you desire because the cause is controlled by natural instinct. It is not possible to be without desire. If you do not desire, you are abnormal, or a jivanmukta, a liberated person. The first two forms of desire help each other. Many animals mate and separate immediately, like cows and horses, but some animals like tigers, lions and birds live together for a certain period.
The desire for wealth, property, money and gold is the third type of desire. Ordinary people desire a house and bank account, but in some special people the desire is for acquisition of kingdom and empire. This third form of desire is unique to human beings. In raja yoga it is called parigraha, acquisition, aggrandizement, collecting and keeping. In animals and birds one rarely finds this desire manifested. There are certain creatures like rats, bees and ants which store and accumulate, but big animals do not.
These three forms of desire propel everyone to do karma. The fourth desire is for name, fame and power, which does not apply to everyone.
Desires are the root cause of one's suffering and reincarnation. The Bhagavad Gita is trying to solve this problem. Cause and effect are so integrated that one does not know which is the cause and which the effect. The law is universally operative and binding in each and every speck in the cosmos, not only in the karma of human bodies but also in human thinking and suffering, and not only in human beings, but also in chemicals. The law of cause and effect can be found in everything, and scientists have studied it for many hundreds of years.
There is nothing accidental or random, yet the interlinking process between cause and effect is so mysterious. Supposing I received some good news and I am very happy. Is the happiness a consequence of the result of receiving the news in the morning, or is the happiness due to a good deed done two thousand years ago? The good news in the morning may only be an instrumental cause and not the effective cause. Therefore, if we worry about a bad result from karma, then we are a fools. We human beings have limited understanding and vision and try to create a convenient link between cause and effect. The Bhagavad Gita says that the process of karma is very person thriving; a murderer having his hay days and a saint undergoing difficulties. Therefore, we should try to understand the philosophy of karma in relation to happiness and unhappiness.
As long as the chain of cause and effect continues we will have to undergo suffering and happiness. The Bhagavad Gita is trying to suggest ways and means to overcome the effects of karma.
It proposes that karma has a spiritual purpose. Whether one desires a mate, wealth or fame, desire and karma have a spiritual purpose. Every spiritual aspirant has to realize this, because present karma comes in order to purify the karmas of the past. The present karma that one is undergoing is like a perfume coming from a bottle. As long as the liquid is in the bottle there will be fragrance. Therefore, the present karma is an effect of some remote cause, and if one wants to transcend this life one will have to face it, but not like an ordinary person. There is a special way of going through life, and the central philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita is that there is action and involvement in life, but without attachment.
Anasakti is a technique of karma which one should evolve in life. Anasakti means one is involved physically, monetarily and mentally but not emotionally. Ego and personality are not involved. If one can evolve the technique of detachment, then one can fulfil the purpose of nature also. People who meditate without fulfilling the purpose of nature do not succeed. If one gives up one's duties and meditates the whole day in a cave, one will experience great darkness and not see the light.
Meditation alone will lead a person who has not completed or fulfilled the purpose of nature into darkness. It is the central teaching of the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads and Hindu dharma. There is a universal nature trying to make an individual enlightened, but before nature gives enlightenment, the primordial karma and samskaras must be eliminated.
There are two types of karma - the karma one is performing in this conscious life, and the primordial karma, which in the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads is known as anadi vasana, beginningless vasana. Vasana is the latent potential, and one does not know where it begins. If five kilograms of plain soil without anything in it is put in a box and watered every day, after five days one will find a little grass growing. Where did the grass come from? The cause of the grass was latent in the quality of the soil. This is primordial vasana, the prakriti, or universal nature, which is very powerful.
Krishna asks Arjuna, "Don't you want to work?" Arjuna says, "No, because, if I do karma it is either a good or a bad karma. If I do bad karma I have the result, and if I do good karma, still I have the result. How can I decide which karma is really good and which one bad? I will go to a monastery, stop work and read the scriptures. I will not have to tell a lie, hate, fight or kill anybody. I will not have to have passion or worry. The whole day I will be in meditation."
Krishna says, "No, this is not the way for most people." Millions of people cannot achieve it, because the human mind is under the sway of the three gunas _ sattwa, rajas and tamas. Only sattwic people have exhausted their karma and fulfilled the purpose of prakriti, nature. They have no desires. Even if there is a lot of money or beautiful men and women, they remain unaffected. It is alright if they have something, and it is alright if they do not. Such people are very few. People under the sway of rajo guna are active, aggressive and dynamic, and they want everything. If rajasic people renounce or give up karma, they will just go mad. Tamasic people are lazy, lethargic, indolent and procrastinating. If they do not work, they do not evolve.
Krishna tells Arjuna that it is safer for everybody to perform karma, whether through the body, mind, or buddhi, intellect. If one is free from attachment, then karma becomes the tool for purification. The karma which one thinks is binding can also liberate. There are two strikingly intelligent definitions of karma yoga in the Bhagavad Gita: Karma yoga is efficiency of action and balance of mind. A person who is endowed with efficiency of action and balance of mind can practice karma yoga. Karma yoga is the foundation, whether one is a sannyasin or householder. Karma relates to the activities of the universal nature, and one can do any karma without being bound.
A swami lived in an ashram where the whole day kirtan used to be sung. On the opposite side of the road, there lived a prostitute. The whole day the prostitute listened to the kirtan. Her whole mind used to be on kirtan and the desire to participate, but she was not sure if she would be welcome.
In the ashram, the guru used to see men going to her. He used to open his window in the middle of the night and watch, thinking, "Ah, this wretched girl is a sinner, I do not like it." That was his karma and that was her karma.
After they died they were taken before the Lord of Death. Sitting on his throne he was dispensing with everyone's karma like a federal court judge. He called the prostitute and asked her lawyer, "Tell me about her." He said, "Profession, prostitute; sex, female; died, eighty years; temperament, devotional; body, in the brothel house; mind, always in the ashram; consciousness, always in kirtan." The Lord of Death said, "Send her to heaven."
The swami was called next. His lawyer said, "Profession, swami; age, eighty years; body, in the ashram; mind, thinking of the prostitute; consciousness, in the brothel." The Lord of Death said, "Send him to hell." The swami was angry, saying, "For eighty years I have been singing kirtan; I am vegetarian and celibate; I have not been dishonest or spoken a lie. I get up every morning and sweep the whole ashram. My karmas are so good, while that lady was sleeping with other men. Her body is corrupt. Why do you send her to heaven and me to hell?" Lord Yama said, "Listen, one is not paid according to karma, one is paid according to one's consciousness."
This is the philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita. One can live anywhere, do anything, but one should be sincere in one's aspiration to spiritual life. The inner motives must be totally dedicated to the purpose of Brahman. If the motives are totally dedicated to that supreme experience, then one is like an ocean. For a person with higher consciousness, all desires and passions are consumed and find resort in that consciousness.
Arjuna wanted to have the divine experience of the total universe. Krishna said that it was not possible but Arjuna insisted. When Krishna gave him the cosmic experience, it was so staggering that Arjuna could not face it.
On 16th July 1945, the first atomic explosion took place in New Mexico. Before this event the atom was considered to be the final particle of matter. From the time of Democritus to Isaac Newton, scientists thought there was nothing beyond the atom, but with that first explosion two thousand five hundred years of Western science and the philosophy of Democritus, Pythagoras, Aristotle, Plato and their successors was finished.
When the atomic explosion took place scientists were watching from a distance. They saw smoke rising and brilliant light and they were terrified because that was their first experience. The experiment went against the ancient scientific philosophy which asserted that an atom is an atom and indivisible. At that time the director of the project, Dr Oppenheimer, was also a Sanskrit scholar. When the explosion took place he wrote this sloka in his diary (11:12):
Divi sooryasahasrasya bhavedyugapadutthitaa
Yadi bhaah sadrishee saa syaad bhaasastasya mahaatmanah
In the sky, the light shone as if thousands of suns were shining at one time.
That is the brilliance which Arjuna experienced within himself. Did Arjuna have a nuclear explosion in his brain? Arjuna experienced exactly the same thing which happened in that explosion in 1945, which means the atom is not necessarily just a physical particle of matter. The atom is much subtler and therefore it should be related with the mind and chitta. A thought is a vibration, a perception which one has is a vibration and dreams are vibrations. When one experiences them there are radiations or emanations. Radiation is a kind of emanation of light which one experiences, like radiation of heat and sunlight.
Behind vibrations there is something called bindu or particle. This particle is the nucleus, chitta shakti. Arjuna had this experience when he experienced within himself the whole universe _ death, destruction, war; and the whole passage of time, past, present and future. Krishna tells him, "Ah, you are so ignorant. You think that you do these things. You do nothing; you are an instrument; at least you should realize that you are an instrument. How can you talk of realization of instrumentality when you think you are the doer?"
There is another realm of the universe where events have already happened and what is going to happen now is a projection of what has happened. When one sees a film on the film screen, one feels that the film is real, but in fact the perception of the drama on the film screen is not real. It is a projection. Therefore, scientists ask, "Is there another universe, another cosmos, another world of which this world is a projection? Is there another time, another space?" One is only concerned with what is happening on the screen, but one does not know that there is a director, a writer and a script. Is this external life totally real and independent or is it dependent on something existing behind?
This is the puzzle which physicists are going to confirm in another forty or fifty years. Modern physics is trying to explain the nature of all that exists with its theories and philosophies, but it is finding it very difficult and contradicts itself.
In Vedanta philosophy the material world does not exist. The absolute alone exists; the material universe does not exist. Forty years ago if I had told any scientist that, they would have said, "This man has gone crazy. How can one say that this stone is not real?" If one studies modern physics and the nature of the universe - from the theory of relativity of Dr Einstein, or from the point of view of Neils Bohr and the theory of complementarity - one will come to the same conclusion: The matter which one sees does not really exist.
L'Hermitage, France, August 1984