The State of Īśvara
From the perspective of the visible world, the invisible and divisionless part of the universe, Supreme Brahman is known as Īśvara or Parameśvara. When the pure, formless, and actionless Brahman assumes the position of the universal controller, it is known as Parameśvara. There are no differences such as the ruler and ruled in the transcendental state of Brahman. When that consciousness exists as part of the world and is seen as the ruler of the universe, it is known as Īśvara.
This cursory explanation is a necessary introduction to the following topic. Our subsequent inquiry will become easy if we know at least the broad meaning of terms such as jīva, jagat, Īśvara, ātmā and Brahman. Let us now return to the treatise.
The thing we know directly is the world. That indeed is Prakṛti. Śāstric deliberation begins with this. Prakṛti is of two kinds - aparā or inferior and parā or superior. The former (and visible aspect) is better known to us. It has eight parts to it.
bhūmirāpo’nalo vāyuḥ khaṃ mano buddhireva ca
ahaṃkāra itīyaṃ me bhinnā prakṛtiraṣṭadhā
Earth, water, fire, air, and the sky are the five primordial elements. Their respective qualities - smell, taste, light, touch and sound are experienced by the mind, the intellect and ego - which constitute the antaḥkaraṇa. Thus these eight (five sense organs and three mental components) are the components of Prakṛti which form the functional implements of the power of the Supreme Brahman.
The first five of these elements combine and work with external facing sensory organs - the nose, tongue, eyes, skin and the ear. The mind (manas), intellect (buddhi) and ego (ahaṇkāra) are antaḥkaraṇa.
There is a school of thought that there are four antaḥkaraṇa. This school includes citta (thought, intention) as the fourth organ. But if we were to add something like this, we should add many more components such as memory. Such issues are best dealt with by considering all such components as parts of the manas.
The function of the manas is to know the objects of the world. The buddhi processes the information given by the manas and decides what is suitable or not. Ahaṇkāra assigns an objective to the buddhi. Whenever an object is perceived, it is natural to consider the question, "What of it to me?" This natural practice of extending the personal ‘I’ during the perception of every object with is ahaṇkāra. (There is a separate appendix that deals with the topic of ahaṇkāra).
Thus the universe comprises the five primordial elements, five organs of sensory perception and the three antaḥkaraṇa. Adding the five organs of action (speech, hands, legs and the two nether orifices) to the mentioned makes up the eighteen important parts of human life. This world is thus the arena of action of these eight or eighteen parts.
Kālidāsa describes the eight bodies of the supreme Śiva by replacing manas, buddhi and ahaṇkāra with the sun, moon and the yajamāna (the performer of a yajña). Śaṅkarācārya, like Kālidāsa, praises Lord Dakṣiṇāmūrti in the following verse.
bhūrambhāsyanalo’nilo’mbaramaharnātho himāṃśuḥ pumān
ityābhāti carācarātmakamidaṃ yasyaiva mūrtyaṣṭakam
Amarasimha, the creator of the Amarakosha, accepts the primacy of the eight-fold form of the Supreme Śiva.
aṣṭamūrtyahirbudhnyo mahākālo mahānaṭaḥ
The previous section dealt with the eight parts of the aparā or inferior prakṛti that is deemed inferior as it is insentient and not independent. Manas, buddhi and ahaṇkāra are also insentient as they are incapable of doing anything without contact with the jīva. They act only when the jīva-consciousness enters them. This is why the jīva is regarded as belonging to the parā category or superior prakṛti.
apareyam-itas-tvanyāṃ prakṛtiṃ viddhi me parām
jīvabhūtāṃ mahābāho yayedaṃ dhāryate jagat
The world is of the jīva and for the jīva. The world does not exist without the jīva. There is no reason for the world to exist without the jīva. The world consists of the implements needed to satisfy the reason for a jīva’s existence. The world is the arena of opportunity for the jīva. The jīva lacks fulfillment without the world. Thus the world and the jīva are symbiotically related. They constitute the top and the bottom of the body of prakṛti.
The jīva is a subject in the empire of prakṛti. The five primordial elements and others constitute its officials. Who is its king? Parameśvara - the Supreme controller - the aspect of Supreme Brahman that controls - whose functional forms are Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva.
ahaṃ kṛtsnasya jagataḥ prabhavaḥ pralayastathā
Both the world and the jīva are endowed with form. Hence they undergo various modifications such as birth and death. Īśvara is not subject to birth and death. While he himself is without birth or death, Īśvara is the reason behind the modifications of the world and the jīva such as birth and death. Thus Supreme Brahman is of the form of the trinity of Brahmā (the creator), Viṣṇu (the preserver) and Śiva (the destroyer).
The Marks of Brahman
How is one to recognise the existence of Īśvara? The characteristics of the presence of Īśvara are described in the four verses beginning from "raso’hamapsu" to "dharmāviruddho bhūteṣu".
raso’ham apsu kaunteya prabhāsmi śaśi-sūryayoḥ
praṇavaḥ sarva-vedeṣu śabdaḥ khe pauruṣaṃ nṛṣu
puṇyo gandhaḥ pṛithivyāṃ ca tejaś-cāsmi vibhāvasau
jīvanaṃ sarva-bhūteṣu tapaś-cāsmi tapasviṣu
bījaṃ māṃ sarva-bhūtānāṃ viddhi pārtha sanātanam
buddhir-buddhi-matām asmi tejas tejasvinām-aham
balaṃ balavatāṃ cāhaṃ kāma-rāga-vivarjitam
dharmāviruddho bhūteṣu kāmo’smi bharata-rṣabha
The taste in food and drink, the light in the sun and the moon, enterprise in humankind, effulgence in fire, life in organisms, the austerity among the austere, the intelligence of the intelligent, the strength of the strong that is devoid of selfishness, the desire of those who do not perform adharma - all of these show the power of Brahman. Whatever is excellent in the world are all marks of the greatness of Brahman.
Thus, svāmī here has mentioned only those qualities that are essentially the best because he wants to enumerate the salient signs and not everything. Even though all, including greed and the inclination for evil, is Brahman, Bhagavān here talks only about the important marks. Adhārmic works come under the purview of Brahman but do not constitute its main markers. "Dharma + aviruddho bhūtesu" (that which is not against dharma). The same expression is seen in the tenth chapter as well.
yad-yad-vibhūtimat sattvaḿ śrīmad-ūrjitam eva vā
tat-tad-evāvagaccha tvaḿ mama tejo’ḿśa-sambhavam
Whatever in this world is glorious, auspicious, and brilliant is to be known as a mark of Brahman. There is a certain value associated with every single thing in this world. Whatever quality endows a thing with usefulness and value belongs to the power of Brahman. The Veda describes the same as follows.
ya evaṃ veda
kṣema iti vāci
yogakṣema iti prāṇāpānayoḥ
iti mānuṣīḥ samājñāḥ
yaśa iti paśuṣu
Whatever is tranquility in speech, whatever is acquiring and preservation in the incoming and outgoing of breath, whatever is the ability to do things with the hands, whatever is the power of movement in the legs, whatever is the power of satiation in rain, the energy in lightning (electricity) that is capable of many things, the handsome appearance in domestic animals, light in the stars - all these manifest Parabrahman. They are to be worshipped considering that Brahman is in them.
The Element of Asat in the World
As we just saw, the divine manifests in both human and superhuman activities. Just as what is considered useful has a place in our lives, even that which we consider useless has a place in our life’s arena. Even those seemingly devoid of value are divine in nature.
nilayanaṃ cānilayanaṃ ca
vijñānaṃ cāvijñānaṃ ca
satyaṃ cānṛtaṃ ca
He became the well-founded and that without a foundation, the intelligent and the non-intelligent, the true and the untrue.
The above Śruti text has the same gist.
ye caiva sāttvikā bhāvā rājasās tāmasāś ca ye
matta eveti tān viddhi na tvahaṃ teṣu te mayi
Whatever is endowed with the qualities of sattva, rajas, or tamas, have all emanated from Brahman. But Brahman is not in those guṇas and their modifications. The guṇas, however, are in Brahman.
The ocean has water-bubbles and foam in it. But the foam does not contain the ocean in it. The sky contains clouds that are formed of water droplets; but the sky is not in the cloud. The body contains so many substances that are not really parts of the body. Hair and nails arise from the body, but are not necessary for the maintenance of life. Similarly, in prakṛti - the body of Brahman - many things occur such as the imbalances of the guṇas such as exuberances in rajas and tamas. But those are not characteristics of Brahman. Brahman is not ‘present’ in them.
The Necessity for the Imbalance of the Guṇas
The quality of asat - that which is not sāttvika - which refers to rājasa and tāmasa are needed for the functioning of the world. Just sattva by itself is insufficient. The śāstras have mentioned these three guṇas at every step.
Why three guṇas? Why not just two? Or four for that matter? Conflict in this world becomes possible because of an "odd" number. No conflict is possible with only one. If there are two, one can defeat the other. A third is needed to separate the two. This imbalance has to exist constantly. The world cannot exist without this imbalance. For the world’s existence, that is, for the world’s activities to take place, a conflict amongst these three guṇas is fundamentally necessary. Prakṛti has established this in her creation. "O Human, I have set up this conflict amongst these three guṇas. Overcome them if you can", is a challenge that prakṛti has thrown at us.
To be continued...
The present series is a modern English translation of DVG’s Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award-winning work, Bhagavad-gītā-tātparya or Jīvana-dharma-yoga. The translators wish to express their thanks to Śatāvadhāni R Ganesh for his valuable feedback and to Hari Ravikumar for his astute edits.