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At the Feet of The Mother

VI. THE GITA. Sanjaya’s Gift of Divine Vision (VII)


Invasion of the Divine Maya

Arjuna first describes the state of his dejection. By the sudden revolt of affection and self-pity, the mighty hero Arjuna is overwhelmed and vanquished. All the strength of his body has dried up in a moment, his limbs have grown weary, he has no power to move about, his strong arm is incapable of holding the Gandiva bow. The sensation of heat produced by grief exhibits the signs of fever. The body feels weak, the skin is burning as if in flames, the mouth has dried up within, the body trembles violently all over, the mind is as if whirling under that attack. On reading the description of this state, we are at first satisfied only by enjoying its poetic beauty and regard it as an inordinate expression of the poets imaginative power. But on looking at it with close scrutiny, a deeper meaning of this description comes to mind.

Arjuna has fought the Kurus before this, but such ideas have never occurred to him. Now, at Krishna’s will, suddenly there is this inner disturbance. There are lying hidden within Arjuna’s heart many of the most powerful instincts of mankind dominated and restrained by his Kshatriya training and high ambition. The heart is not purified by repression, the purification comes through self-control with the help of discrimination and a purified understanding. All the repressed instincts and feelings come up some day from the heart, either in this life or in another, invade the understanding and on winning it over drive all action along paths favourable to their own self-expression. This is the reason why one who in this life is full of kindness becomes cruel in another life, one who in this life is a vicious lustful man becomes pure and saintly in the next. Instead of repression, the impulses have to be rejected with the help of the discrimination and a purified understanding; this is how the heart can be purified. This is what is called self-control. Self-control becomes impossible until the tamasic feelings are discarded through the influence of knowledge. That is why Sri Krishna is wanting to purify the heart by removing the ignorance and awakening the dormant power of discrimination. But if the undesirable movements are not raised up from the heart and presented before the understanding the latter does not get a chance to reject them. Besides, it is only through a struggle that the inner enemies, the Daityas and Rakshasas, are killed and then the discrimination makes the understanding free.

In the first stages of Yoga, all the evil propensities that have taken root in the heart invade the understanding with great force and overwhelm the unwary seeker with fear and grief. This is what is known in the West as the temptations of the devil, these are the attacks of Mara, the Evil One. But the fear and the grief are the products of ignorance, the temptation is not of the devil but of God. The WorldTeacher dwelling within us calls on those propensities to attack the aspirant, not for doing harm but for his good, for the purification of the heart.

Just as Sri Krishna in his physical body and in the visible world is the friend and charioteer of Arjuna, so he is within him the formless Godhead and the indwelling Lord. It is he who threw with great force the hidden movements and feelings all at once upon the understanding. At that terrific blow the understanding lost its balance and the acute mental disturbance was revealed instantly through the symptoms in the physical body described by the poet. We know that an acute unexpected grief or pain manifests thus in the body, this is not beyond the common experience of mankind.

Arjuna was overwhelmed in a moment by the divine Maya of the Lord with its entire force, hence this acute disturbance. When evil takes on the guise of tender feelings like love and kindness, when ignorance comes masquerading as knowledge, when the thick darkness of the Tamasic mode pretends to a bright and clear purity and says, “I am Sattwic, I am knowledge, I am virtue, I am the cherished messenger of God, I am virtue incarnate, I come to establish the reign of Law”, then it is to be understood that the divine Maya of the Lord has shown itself in the understanding.


The Signs of the Divine Maya

The main weapons of this divine Maya are affection and pity. In the human race, love and affection are impure movements; owing to distortions produced by the body and the vital sheath the purity of the love and compassion is tarnished and deformed. The inner movements have their seats in the basic mindstuff (citta), the vital being (prāṇa) is the field of enjoyment, the body is the instrument of action, the understanding (buddhi) is the domain of thought. In a state of purity, all of these have their separate and yet mutually uncontradictory movements. Ideas and feelings arise in the mind, action takes place accordingly through the body, in the understanding there are thoughts in that connection, the vital being takes the pleasure of those feelings, action and thought, the soul (jīva) remains a witness and feels joy in looking on this delightful play of the outer nature (prakṛti). In the impure state, the vital becoming eager for physical or mental pleasure makes the body a means of enjoyment, the body becomes attached to enjoyment and clamours again and again for physical pleasures, the mind becomes engrossed with the desire for physical enjoyment and can no longer accept pure ideas and feelings, impure ideas and feelings stained with desire create disturbances in the mind-ocean, the understanding is overwhelmed and perplexed by that clamour of desires and is no longer capable of receiving pure and calm infallible thought, comes under the control of the unquiet mind-stuff and becomes blinded by delusions, confused thinking and the power of falsehood. The soul too forfeits its Knowledge through this failure of the understanding, is deprived of the poise of witness and its sense of pure delight; it accepts its identity with the outer man, and under the mistaken notion that “I am the life-being, I am the citta, I am the understanding”, it takes pleasure and feels pain in mental or physical pain and pleasure. It is the unpurified citta that lies at the root of this confusion, hence the purification of citta is the first step to progress. This state of impurity does not stop with spoiling the tamasic and rajasic movements alone, it pollutes the sattwic movements as well. Such and such a person provides material for my physical and mental enjoyment, he pleases me, I must have him and no other, I feel unhappy in his absence — all this is impure love, it is a distortion of pure love through a pollution of the mind, body and life. As a result of this impurity, the understanding becomes confused: it says, “Such and such is my wife or brother or sister, relative, friend or close companion, they alone should be the objects of love, that love is sacred, if I act contrary to that love, it is sin, it is cruelty, it is unlawful.” This kind of impure love gives rise to such a strong sense of pity that it seems preferable to throw overboard the law of right living rather than let the dear ones be aggrieved or harmed. In the end, we come to justify our weaknesses by calling the law of right living an injustice because it deals a blow to this sense of pity. The proof of this kind of Divine Maya can be had in every word of Arjuna.


The Littleness of Divine Maya

The first words of Arjuna are, “These are our ‘own people’, they are our kin and objects of our love, what good of ours will be served by killing them in battle? The pride of the victor, the glory of kingship, the rich man’s joy? I do not wish for all these hollow selfish ends. Why do kingship and enjoyment and life become dear to men? All these pleasures and greatnesses are tempting things because there are the wives and sons and daughters, because these will enable us to maintain in comfort our dear ones and relatives, because we shall be able to share our days with friends in the joy and comfort of wealth. But the very persons for whom we want kingship and enjoyment and pleasure are come as our foes in war. They would much rather kill us in battle than share the kingship and pleasure together with us. Let them kill me, but I can never kill them. Could I obtain possession of the kingdom of the three worlds, by killing them, even then I would not do it; undisputed empire on earth is a mere trifle.”

A superficial observer, enchanted with the words,
na kāñkṣe vijayaṁ kṛṣṇa na ca rājyaṁ sukhāni ca (1. 31)


etānna hantumicchāmi ghnato’pi madhusūdana (1. 34)

api trailokyarājyasya hetoḥ kiṁ nu mahīkṛte (1. 35)

would say, “Oh, how noble and high, how unselfish an attitude on the part of Arjuna, how full of love! To him defeat, death and eternal suffering are more desirable than an enjoyment and pleasure tainted with blood.” But if we examine Arjuna’s state of mind, we come to know that this attitude of his is extremely mean, a sign of weakness, fit only for a coward. To give up one’s personal interests for the benefit of the clan, for the love of dear ones, under the influence of pity or for fear of bloodshed may be a high and noble attitude for one who is not an Aryan man; but for an Aryan, it is not the best attitude, to give up one’s interests for the sake of the right and for the love of God is the highest attitude. On the other hand, to give up the right law of living for the benefit of the clan, for the love of dear ones, under the influence of pity, for fear of bloodshed is the worst attitude. To keep the feelings of affection, pity and fear under control for the sake of the right law and for love of God is the true Aryan way.

In order to defend this low attitude of mind, Arjuna says again pointing to the sin of killing one’s kin, “What pleasure, what satisfaction of mind can be ours by the killing of Dhritarashtra’s sons? They are our friends, our kith and kin. Even if they commit injustices and act as our enemies, rob us of our kingdom, break their promises, to kill them would bring us sin, will not give us happiness.” Arjuna had forgotten that he was fighting a righteous war, was engaged by Sri Krishna in the slaughter of Dhritarashtra’s sons not for his own happiness or for the happiness of Yudhishthira; the object of this war was to establish the rule of law, the fulfilment of the Kshatriya’s duties, the founding of a great empire in India based on the law of right living. To achieve these ends by forsaking all happiness, even by undergoing life-long suffering and pain was Arjuna’s duty.


The Question of the Ruin of Clans

But Arjuna finds another, a nobler argument in support of his weakness. “This war will lead to the ruin of clans and nations, therefore this war is not a righteous war but an unrighteous war. This fratricide implies an animosity towards friends; that is, it means doing harm to those who are naturally in our favour and help us. Moreover, it will lead to the destruction of that clan of ours, that is, the Kshatriya family and clan-nation named Kuru from which both sides have sprung.” In ancient times, the nation was frequently based on blood-relationships. A large clan when it expanded grew into a nation. For example, particular clans such as the Kurus and the Bhojas included within the Bharata nation became each a powerful nation. The internal strife and mutual wrong-doing within the clan were what Arjuna described as the animosity of friends. On the one hand, this kind of animosity is a heinous sin from the moral point of view; on the other hand, from the economic point of view, this great evil is the inevitable fruit of the deterioration of clans implied in such animosity.

The proper observance of the old established laws of the clan is the mainstay of its progress and continuity. The clan undergoes a downfall through a departure from the high ideals and a slackening of the disciplines which the ancestors have laid down and maintained with regard to the life of the householder and in the political field. These ideals and disciplines are maintained as long as the clan remains fortunate and strong. When it suffers deterioration and becomes weak, there is a slackening of the great ideals through the spread of tamasic ideas; as a result, evils like immorality and anarchy enter the clan, the women of the clan lose their virtue and the clan loses its purity, to the noble clan are born sons of persons of a low character and birth. In consequence of this cutting off of the ancestors from the true line of their progeny, the destroyers of the clan find themselves in hell. And through the spread of unrighteousness, the moral degradation following the admixture of castes, the pervasion of low qualities and because of anarchy and such other evils, the entire clan is ruined and becomes fit for hell. With the ruin of the clan, both the law of the nation and the law of the clan come to an end; by the law of the nation is meant the old established ideals and disciplines come down through the generations among the great collectivity of the nation formed of all the clans.

Arjuna thereupon threw up at the very moment of battle his Gandiva bow and sat down in the chariot, having proclaimed once again his initial decision and the resolution as to how he should act. In the last verse of this chapter, the poet has left a hint that Arjuna was determined to act in this un-Aryan manner unworthy of a Kshatriya because there had been a confusion in his understanding on account of grief.


The Knowledge and the Ignorance

In Arjuna’s words about the ruin of clans, we find the trace of a very high and large idea; it is extremely important for the interpreter of the Gita to consider the serious question involved in that idea. On the other hand, if we look only for the spiritual significance of the Gita, if we make a complete break between the law of living propounded by the Gita and our national, domestic and personal, our mundane acts and ideals, we shall be denying the greatness and importance of that idea and that question, it will be to limit the universal application of the Gita’s law.

Shankara and others who have interpreted the Gita were men of knowledge or devotion, other-worldly philosophers intent on spiritual knowledge; they were content with seeking in the Gita and finding therein whatever knowledge or ideas that were important to them. Those who are at once men of knowledge, devotion and works are alone fit for the innermost teaching of the Gita. The speaker of the Gita, Sri Krishna, was a man of knowledge and works, the recipient of the Gita, Arjuna, was a devotee and man of action; it was in order to open his eye of knowledge that Sri Krishna propounded this teaching in Kurukshetra. A mighty political conflict was the occasion for the propagation of the Gita, its object was to induce Arjuna to fight as an agent and instrument for the carrying out of a great political purpose in this conflict, the battlefield itself was the venue of the teaching. Sri Krishna was a supreme fighter and master of political science, to establish the rule of law was the prime object of his life; Arjuna too was a Kshatriya prince, war and politics were works proper to his nature. How should it be possible to interpret the Gita by ignoring the purpose of the Gita, its speaker, the recipient of the knowledge, the reason for its propagation?

There are always present in human life its five principal supports: the individual, the family, the clan, the nation and the human collectivity. The law of right living is also based on these five supports. The object of that law is to reach God. There are two paths to reach God: to possess the Knowledge and to possess the Ignorance. Both are means to Self-knowledge and God-realisation. The path of the Knowledge is to reject this Creation full of Ignorance though a manifestation of the Supreme, and to realise Sachchidananda or merge in the Supreme Self. The path of the Ignorance is to see the Self and God everywhere and to realise the Supreme Lord who is Knowledge, Power and Good incarnate, as friend and lord, teacher, father and mother, son and daughter, and servant, lover, husband and wife. Peace is the object of the Knowledge, love the object of the Ignorance. But the Divine Nature is made of both the Knowledge and the Ignorance. If we follow the path of the Knowledge alone, we shall realise the Supreme in his form of Knowledge; if we follow only the path of the Ignorance, we shall realise the Supreme in his form of Ignorance. He who can possess both the Knowledge and the Ignorance alone realises Vasudeva in his entirety; he crosses beyond the Knowledge and the Ignorance. Those who have reached the final goal of the Knowledge have possessed the Knowledge with the help of the Ignorance.

This great truth has been revealed in the Isha Upanishad in very clear terms, as follows:

  1. andhaṁ tamaḥ praviśanti ye’vidyāmupāsate
    tato bhūya iva te tamo ya u vidyāyāṁ ratāḥ
  2. anyadevāhurvidyayā’nyadāhuravidyayā
    iti śuśruma dhīrāṇāṁ ye nastadvicacakṣire
  3. vidyāccāvidyācca yastadvedobhayaṁ saha
    avidyayā mṛtyuṁ tīrtvā vidyayāmṛtamaśnute

 “Into a blind darkness they enter who follow after the Ignorance, they as if into a greater darkness who devote themselves to the Knowledge alone.”

“Other, verily, it is said, is that which comes by the Knowledge, other that which comes by the Ignorance; this is the lore we have received from the wise who revealed That to our understanding.”

“He who knows That as both in one, the Knowledge and the Ignorance, by the Ignorance crosses beyond death and by the Knowledge enjoys Immortality.”

The entire human race is progressing towards the Knowledge through its experience of the Ignorance; this is the true evolution. Those who are the best, the aspirant and the yogin, the man of knowledge and devotion, the doer of the Yoga of works, are in the vanguard of this march. They reach the far goal at a quick pace, they come back and make the human race hear the gospel, show it the path, distribute power. The incarnations and emanations of God come and make the path easy to tread, create favourable conditions, destroy the obstacles. To realise the Knowledge in the midst of the Ignorance, renunciation in the midst of enjoyment, the ascetic spirit while living in the world, all beings within the Self, the Self in all beings, — to have this realisation is the true knowledge, this precisely is the path laid down for the human race to march to its destination. The limitations of one’s self-knowledge are the main obstacles to progress; the identification of self with the body and the sense of egoism are root causes of those limitations; hence, to look upon others as one’s own self is the first step to progress. Man’s first preoccupation is with the individual, he is engrossed in his own individual bodily and mental progress, he devotes himself to his own body and mind, to their progress, enjoyment, and the development of their powers. “I am the body, I am the mind and vital being; the aim of life and the highest condition of progress are to secure the strength and beauty and happiness of the body, swiftness and clarity and delight of the mind, prowess, enjoyment and cheerfulness of the vital being” — this is the first egoistic form of knowledge in man. This too has a utility; it is after achieving the development and fullness of body, mind and life in the first instance that one should use that fully developed power in the service of others. That is why the egoistic development of power is the first stage of human civilisation; the animal, the ogre the demon and the titan, even the goblin find their play in human mind, action and character, express themselves through these. Afterwards man widens his self-knowledge and begins to see others as his own self, learns to submerge his self-interest in the interests of others. At first, he looks upon his family as his own self, gives up his life for saving the lives of his wife and children, throws away his own happiness to secure the happiness of his wife and children. Thereafter, he comes to regard the clan as his self, gives up his life in order to save the clan, sacrifices himself, his children and his wife, throws away his own happiness and that of his wife and children. Afterwards, he considers the nation as his own self, gives up his life for the safety of his nation, sacrifices himself, his wife and children, his family and clan, even as the Rajput clans of Chitore sacrificed themselves repeatedly of their own accord for the safety of the entire Rajput nation; out of regard for the happiness and glory of the nation he throws away the happiness and glory of his clan, his wife and children and himself. Finally, he sees the entire human race as himself, gives up his life for the progress of the human race, sacrifices himself, his wife and children, his clan and nation, throws away for the happiness and progress of mankind, the happiness, glory and advancement of himself, his wife and children, his clan and nation. Thus to see others as one’s own self and to sacrifice himself and his happiness for the sake of others have been the main teachings of Buddhism and of Christianity which had Buddhism for its parent. The moral progress of Europe has been along these lines. The men of ancient Europe learnt to submerge the individual in the family, the family in the clan; the modern Europeans have learnt to submerge the clan in the nation, to submerge the nation in the human collectivity is considered by them as a difficult ideal. Thinkers like Tolstoy and supporters of the new ideal like the Socialist and the Anarchist parties are now anxious to put this ideal into practice. Europe has been able to move thus far. Europeans are devoted to the Ignorance, they are not aware of the true Knowledge. “Into a blind darkness they enter who follow after the Ignorance.”

In India the sages have mastered both the Knowledge and the Ignorance. They know that apart from the five bases of the Ignorance, there is God who is the foundation of the Knowledge; unless we know Him, the Ignorance too is not known, cannot be mastered. Therefore, instead of seeing only others as self, they have seen God in others as within themselves, ātmavat paradeheṣu. “I shall better myself, my betterment will lead to the betterment of my family; I shall help improve the family, with the improvement of the family the clan will be improved; I shall help advance the cause of the nation, the advancement of the nation will make for the advancement of the human race”: this knowledge lies at the root of the Aryan social system and the Aryan discipline. Renunciation of personal self is for the Aryan a habit ingrained in his very bones — renunciation for the sake of the family, renunciation in the interests of the clan, the society, the human race, renunciation for God. The deficiencies or faults that are observed in our education are the results of certain historical causes. For instance, we see the nation as a part of society, we are used to submerge the interests of the individual and the family in those of the society, but the development of the political life of the nation was not accepted as a main element included in our law of right living. This teaching had to be imported from the West. Nevertheless, the teaching was there in our country itself, in our ancient education, in the Mahabharata, the Gita, in the history of Rajputana, in Ramdasa’s Dasabodha. We could not develop that teaching because of excessive devotion to the Knowledge, for fear of the Ignorance. Because of this fault, we were overcome by tamas, we deviated from the right law of national life, fell a prey to abject slavery, suffering and ignorance. We could not master the Ignorance, were on the point of losing the Knowledge as well. tato bhūya iva te tamo ya u vidyāyāṁ ratāḥ.

(to be continued…)

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