Śrī Kṛṣna was satisfied with this entreaty; Arjuna had been put on the path; his internal transformation was complete. Bhagavān felt certain that Arjuna was ready to perform the requisite deeds.
mā te vyathā mā ca vimūḍha-bhāvo
dṛṣṭvā rūpaṃ ghoram īdṛṃ mamedam |
vyapeta-bhīḥ prīta-manāḥ punas tvaṃ
tad eva me rūpam idaṃ prapaśya ||
“Be free of worry and confusion. You were frightened because of the vision of my terrifying form. Be free of fear. Have a happy mind. Witness again that old pleasant form of mine.”
Bhagavān was pacified and assumed his human form. Arjuna said --
dṛṣṭvedaṃ mānuṣaṃ rūpaṃ tava saumyaṃ janārdana |
idānīm asmi saṃvṛttaḥ sachetāḥ prakṛtiṃ gataḥ ||
“ O Janārdana, I am relieved now after seeing your benign human form. My mind has gained its normal composure.”
Bhagavān now said - “Arjuna, you have witnessed a special form that cannot be attained by the merits gained from the Vedas, Yajñas, charity and other penances. The only path towards an experience of the divine being is bhakti - single-minded Bhakti.
mat-karma-kṛin mat-paramo mad-bhaktaḥ saṅga-varjitaḥ |
nirvairaḥ sarva-bhūteṣu yaḥ sa mām eti pāṇḍava ||
“O Pāṇḍava, He who performs my (Bhagavān’s) works and thinks of me as the Supreme, that bhakta, who gives up association with non-bhaktas and is not opposed to any living being, he will attain me.”
The vision of the universal form enabled a great inner experience in Arjuna. But it should not be forgotten that behind that universal form exists a supra-universal principle that is the basis of even the universal form. Both the universe and the supra-universe have to be borne in mind. They are not really two - but one. The universe has form and so can be seen. The supra-universe is formless and therefore cannot be seen.
A form is marked by a well-established boundary — a defining line, a perimeter that limits an area. Any form therefore, is finite. But pure existence is infinite, limitless. How does one bring form to it? An appearance of a finite form makes infinity disappear. Thus the supra-universe cannot be grasped by sense organs such as the eyes and the ears. How does one experience it then? It can be seen when the manas and buddhi meditate upon it. The tapas of the manas and buddhi is Bhakti. However, that tapas needs an easily attainable focus. A form or a mūrti facilitates this. Just as the pradakṣiṇa of a temple has a mūrti of the divine as its centre, the manas and buddhi of normal people have the viśva-mūrti (Bhagavān in the form of the universe) as their object. The service of this visible universe, considering it as a form of Bhagavān, is dharma. The service of the supra-universal principle is adhi-dharma. The one who lives a “universal life” is able to experience the supra-universal as well. The universe is the bridge that takes the jīva to the supra-universal.
Viśvātītānubhūti samanikumadariṃ ।
gīśvaranugrādbhutākṛtiya kāṇisidaṃ ॥
The experience of the universal form
leads to the experience of the supra-universal.
And therefore to nourish the bhakti of Arjuna,
Īśvara showed him the terrific and wondrous form!
At the beginning of our study, we had asked a question - “Isn’t the Gītā a śāstra? How did it become a song?” We have seen an answer to that question to some extent in this chapter. Gītā or a song is a literary category. The arrangement of words accompanied by music, that causes waves of feeling to rise in the listener’s psyche and causes satisfaction, is a song. The song has to cause a uniquely pleasurable experience that calms our minds. By the vision of the viśva-rūpa, Arjuna lost his grief and worry; and attained happiness and a definite understanding with the exit of fear and doubt. Suppose a lone traveller on his way to a distant land gets caught in a murky jungle and loses his sense of direction. He is distressed, tired and is almost resigned to the fate that a wild animal will end his existence. What if a friend brings light to him and gets him to his destination on an easily traversable path? The feeling that our poor traveler might have experienced upon reaching the destination is similar to what Arjuna felt now. This emotional experience is conveyed to our minds by the masterful words of Vyāsa. Śānta (tranquillity or peace) is the key rasa in this episode. It is nourished by the sub-emotions of karuṇa and adbhuta. There is a lingering debate on the question whether śānta is indeed a rasa. This, however, is not a place for that discussion. Arjuna’s words and behaviour show us that śānta is not just a rasa, but that it is the parama-rasa or adhi-rasa — Supreme rasa or a supra-rasa. The rasa śānta is uniquely different from all other rasas in an aspect. It is not a rasa that can be achieved by all like śṛngāra and other rasas. Only those tormented by aśānti (disturbance, anxiety) can appreciate the nature of the śānta-rasa. Can’t feelings such as separation or loss of money be considered aśānti? Yes - but those are fleeting and limited feelings that can be neutralised by trivial profits and dalliances. The aśānti that afflicted Arjuna was unlike this - it shook the very foundations of his existence. This aśānti was not based on the desire for some object, but about the fundamental meaning of life. The Gītā gives tranquillity to those tormented by questions such as - “What is the essence of life? What is its goal? How does one attain fulfillment?” The raison d’être for the śānti that the Gītā bestows upon its votaries is not based on scriptural exegesis or debates that are solely intellectual. It is an all-encompassing unique inner experience. The buddhi is merely the gateway to the inner world. When the teaching entered the heart through the buddhi, it became a śāstra. When that instruction took over all the sense organs and the instruments of knowledge such as the manas and buddhi and established the entire inner-kingdom in that Great Vision, it became poetry. The supreme effect of poetry is this achievement of engrossment. The same will be explored in a future chapter.
The main topic of this chapter is the virāṭ (the visible all-encompassing) form of Brahma. This description of the virāṭ is found in several places in the Veda. We indicate two of the important portions here. The first one is the Puruṣa-sūkta.
sahasra-śīrṣā puruṣaḥ sahasrākṣaḥ sahasra-pāt ।
sa bhūmiṃ viśvato vṛtvā aty-atiṣṭhad-daśāṅgulam ॥
We can consider the tenth and eleventh chapters of the Bhagavad-Gītā as an extension of the Puruṣa-sūkta. The origins of the section seen in the third chapter of the Gītā —
sahayajñāḥ prajāḥ sṛṣṭvā |
can be seen in the puruṣa-sūkta.
yat-puruṣeṇa haviṣā devā yajñam-atanvata ||
The other place where the universal form of Bhagavān is extolled is the Śata-rudrīya which declares that all the visible groups of animals and the myriad facets and deeds of humans are but a (līlā) pastime of Bhagavān.
nama ākkhidate ca prakkhidate ||
Even those grieving and howling “Ho!” are aspects of Bhagavān!
namo vaḥ kirikebhyo devānāgṃ hṛdayebhyo..||
Those with staccato laughs and those who are possessed by devas are also endowed with divine presence!
taskarāṇāṃ pataye namaḥ ।
vañcate parivañcate stāyūnāṃ pataye namaḥ ॥
Cheats and thieves are also Bhagavān’s forms!
Just as Bhagavān is ghora (frightful), rudra (violent), bhīma (terrifying) and ugra (ferocious), he is also śiva (auspiciousness itself) and mṛḍa (compassionate). Everything from one end to the other is within him!
vrīhayaś-ca me yavāś-ca me māṣāś-ca me
tilāś-ca mudgāś-ca me ॥
Give me grains of rice, barley, black grams. Sesame seeds, green gram for me.
He gives us everything. Bhagavān is endowed with everything!
The rudrādhyāya and the camakādhyāya form excellent additional study material to this chapter of the viśva-rūpa. They expound upon the secret of Brahma through things and objects that are familiar to us.
bhīṣmādbhutacitramèndu kaṇgòppisutaṃ ।
Showing directly the insurmountable divine plan,
And his terrifying and wondrous form,
The immeasurable one firmed up devotion
Through the universal form in the eleventh.
anupamitan-ameyaṃ veṇugāna-anumeyam ।
kavibudhajanageyaṃ kṛṣṇanasmatsahāyam ॥
Beauty in all the three worlds, whose frame is embraced by Rukmiṇī,
Beyond compare and measure, but inferred through the music of the flute!
The maker of myriad illusions, yet untouched by the universal māyā!
Exalted by poets and seers, Kṛṣṇa is our companion!
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.