How is Brahma?
sarvataḥ pāṇipādaṃ tat sarvatokṣi-śiro-mukham ।
sarvataḥ śrutimalloke sarvam āvṛtya tiṣṭhati ॥
“Its limbs are everywhere, as are its eyes and heads. It ’sarvam āvṛtya tiṣṭhati’ — pervades everything”. Here, we are reminded of the line “sahasraśīrṣā puruṣaḥ” from the Puruṣasūkta and the eleventh chapter of the Gītā.
sarvendriya-guṇābhāsaṃ sarvendriya-vivarjitam ।
asaktaṃ sarvabhṛt-caiva nirguṇaṃ guṇa-bhoktṛ ca ॥
“It shines in all works of the senses. But it does not have sense organs. It is not attached to anything, but still sustains everything. It is without any qualities, but experiences them.
avibhaktaṃ ca bhūteṣu vibhaktam iva ca sthitam ।
bhūta-bhartṛ ca tat jñeyaṃ grasiṣṇu prabhaviṣṇu ca ॥
“It is whole, but seems as though it is divided among all creatures. It bears all creation and nurtures them. It consumes them and gives birth to them again”.
jyotiṣāmapi tat jyotiḥ tamasaḥ param (ucyate) ॥
“It is the light of all lights. It is farther and beyond all darkness”.
This is what we have set out to understand — something that cannot be defined, something that is not accessible to description. Which student of poetry can claim that the above lines are not poetry?
What is the source of knowledge? What is the one that reveals everything? What is that energy that reveals everything to everyone?
yathā prakāśayatyekaḥ kṛtsnaṃ lokamimaṃ raviḥ ।
kṣetraṃ kṣetrī tathā kṛtsnaṃ prakāśayati bhārata ॥
“Just as one Sun lights up the whole world, the kṣetrī (one who is the lord of the kṣetra, that is ātmā) lights up the whole field”.
“How do we see one another? We think it is because of our eyes. However, mere eyes are not enough. On the night of Amāvāsyā, when there is no external light, we cannot see one another. If our eyes have to work, they need a common agent such as the Sun or a lamp that can communicate between the eyes and the object to be seen. The brightness of the eyes mingles with the light from the Sun or the lamp and impacts the mind. How does the mind attain the capability to sense and perceive this impact? From the paramātmā who is inside. Therefore the ātmā that dwells inside a body is called parañjyoti. In the Bṛhadāraṇyaka, this concept is established thus —
atrāyaṃ puruṣaḥ svayaṃ jyotirbhavati ॥
In a small verse of this chapter called jyotir-brāhmaṇa in the same upaniṣad, this theory is crystallized:
kiṃ jyotis-tava bhānu-mān ahani me rātrau pradīpā-dikam ।
syād-evaṃ ravi-dīpa-darśana-vidhau kiṃ jyotir-ākhyahi me ॥
cakṣus-tasya nimīlana-ādi samaye kiṃ dhīr-dhiyo darśane ।
kiṃ tatrā-ham ato bhavān paramakaṃ jyotis-tad-asmi prabho ॥
The guru asks his disciple:
Q: With the help of which light do you view objects?
A: With the help of the Sun
Q: In the night?
A: Lamp, fire, etc
Q: That is right, but with which light do you view the Sun and the lamp?
A: With the eyes.
Q: When you have closed your eyes, how do you recognize objects?
A: With my buddhi.
Q: How do you recognize the buddhi?
Q: With the light of the ātmā within me.
Q: Then you are parañjyoti — supreme light, are you not?
A: Yes. I am parañjyoti.
A slightly changed version of the above verse can be found in the śataślokī, ascribed to Śaṅkarāchārya.
The Gītācārya says the following about this Supreme being :
jñānaṃ jñeyaṃ jñānagamyaṃ hṛdi sarvasya viṣṭhitam ॥
Knowledge (jñāna), that which has to be known (jñeya) and jñānagamya (attainable by knowledge) are present in the hearts of everyone.
This concept has to be examined a little carefully.
Jñāna is the means or technique to obtain true knowledge. These means are elucidated as principles such as “amānitvaṃ”, adambhitvaṃ”, etc. Personal practices like śama, dama and societal ones like yajña, dāna and tapas are meant here. Therefore, jñāna here means the self-discipline required for gaining true knowledge.
Jñeya : This is the object of knowledge.
Jñeyaṃ yat tat pravakṣyāmi yad jñātvā’mṛtam aśnute ।
anādimat paraṃ brahma na sat tannāsaducyate ॥
The supreme tattva is that, on understanding which all our questions will be answered. That is jñeya.
kasminnu bhagavo vijñāte sarvamidaṃ vijñātaṃ bhavati ॥
yenāśrutaṃ śrutaṃ bhavaty-amataṃ matam avijñātaṃ vijñātam ॥
ātmano darśanena śravaṇena matyā vijñānenedaṃ sarvaṃ viditam ॥
“Sarvaṃ” here means all that which we understand to be existing, not excluding even the tiniest, most insignificant bit. When we understand the nature of the ātmā completely, we can understand the nature of other things from that. That ātmā is Parabrahma. That itself is jñeya. It is the basis of all sattā or existence. When its nature is understood, the form of all things, the actions of all jīvas can be understood really and wholly. That fundamental knowledge is jñeya. It is Parabrahma.
3. jñāna-gamyam: What is the use of understanding the ātmā? If the nature of that which is the basis and the raw material of all life is understood, the righteous or wrong way of leading a life will also be understood; the understanding of making life productive will also be understood. The discernment of dharma, adharma and adhidharma is the prime use of studying philosophy.
Thus, it is necessary to understand the following three things —
- Readiness for knowledge
- The supreme principle, which is the object of knowledge
- dharma, adharma and adhidharma — which are the result of knowledge.
At the beginning of this chapter, we used the words kṣetra and kṣetrajña. We have seen the use of some of their synonyms. Let us recall these technical terms once.
|2||deha (body)||embodied jīva (dehī)||jīvātma|
|3||śarīra (body)||embodied jīva (śarīrī)||jīvātma|
We have seen in the upaniṣads that Brahma is understood by us in two forms.
etatsarvaṃ yanmūrtaṃ cāmūrtam ॥ (Praśnopaniṣat)
ḍve vāva brahmaṇo rūpe । mūrtaṃ caivāmūrtaṃ ca ॥
We have seen that the same has been reiterated in the 12th verse of this chapter, as—
na sat tat । na asat ॥
Prakṛti is alluded to in “na sat” and puruṣa (jīvātma) in “na asat”. The same deliberation continues now.
prakṛtiṃ puruṣaṃ caiva viddhyanādī ubhāvapi ।
vikārāṃśca guṇāṃścaiva viddhi prakṛti-saṃbhavān ॥
“Just as the parabrahma which is the basis of all universe is without beginning, its manifestations — prakṛti and puruṣa also do not have a beginning. Understand that all changes in the universe, all its qualities and influences are from prakṛti”.
Anādi means that without beginning — therefore it is not affected by the vagaries of time.
When is the birthday of prakṛti or the universe? They are not born at all; they exist — svata eva — by themselves.
If they are not born, will they not die either? No, they do not die, but their death is as true and as real as their birth. This means that birth and death are small alterations but not the real form of the parabrahma.
To the eyes of someone who has understood parabrahma, creation and destruction are the momentary magnificent manifestations of prakṛti, which is the formidable strength of Parabrahma. That is māyā. At once, exists and does not exist — it depends on the knower. We have seen this idea earlier.
What is the greatness of prakṛti?
kārya-kāraṇa-kartṛtve hetuḥ prakṛtir-ucyate ॥
All the qualitative and and operational attributes of the universe belong to the jurisdiction of prakṛti. The action of the strength of parabrahma is fundamental for all instruments and all doings.
Then what is jīva? It is described thus—
puruṣaḥ sukha-duḥkhānāṃ bhoktṛtve hetur-ucyate ॥
Jīva is the one that experiences joy and sorrow. Prakṛti inspires and excites. With this inspiration and excitement, a human acts with or without discernment and acquires joy or sorrow accordingly.
puruṣaḥ prakṛtistho hi bhuṅkte prakṛtijān guṇān ।
karaṇaṃ guṇasaṅgo’sya sad-asad-yonijanmasu ॥
“When a man is enamoured by prakṛti, he experiences the qualities of prakṛti. The form that he chooses to take in this world and the family where he chooses to be born show what qualities of prakṛti he chooses to accept”.
Thus the future of puruṣa — or jīva — depends on his discernment and discrimination of right and wrong, and his ability to critically examine virtues and vices.
We have seen the inspiration of prakṛti and the responsibility of the jīva. That is our life. We have to next examine the Īśvara-tattva or the Puruṣottama-tattva.
upadraṣṭā’numantā ca bhartā bhoktā maheśvaraḥ।
paramātmeti cāpyukto dehe’smin puruṣaḥ paraḥ ॥
The supervising agency — the one who ensures that the fruit of an action reaches the doer — is Maheśvara. He does not need anything for himself. He does not say no to anything either. Therefore, he is “Anumantā”, meaning that he remains aloof and approves of everything. He says “Do whatever you want, and partake of the fruit of what you have done”. He looks as though he is incarnating as a jīva, performs actions in this world and experiences the results of his actions. Still, he is the master of all; he is not subordinate to anything. That Maheśvara himself is the supreme being that is in the body. This is unaffected by the state of the body. We call him the Paramātmā.
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.