The object that is water, is H2O for a chemist, and ambrosia for a thirsty man. The satiating and refreshing potential imperceptible in hydrogen and oxygen was perceived by the mind of a thirsty man when they together touched his tongue.
Beauty is also the perceived state of “avyakta”. Eyes, ears, mouth, nose, cheeks and hair — these are present for all faces. All bodies are equally made of skin, blood vessels and bones to a surgeon. A chemist does not see the difference in the physical makeup of one person from that of another. Can a connoisseur of beauty accept this? A face is beautiful if it has a quality that transcends that of organs, something that cannot be obtained by the analysis of a mere surgeon or a chemist; otherwise it is ugly. That quality might be a kind of brightness, movement, or expression. A frowning face might become gracious and pleasant on seeing someone. A plain face may appear beautiful to someone; it is the good fortune of the seer! The beauty that was hitherto imperceptible becomes known to the inner workings of the beholder’s mind.
This, then, is avyakta. It remains hidden always and shows itself and influences us from time to time. It is the innermost motion of prakṛti.
To the innumerable avyaktas we see in the world, we can add the results of the development of human intellect. Steam power, petroleum energy, electricity were not known — were avyakta — a couple of hundred years ago. As human intellect developed and spread, scientific research was accelerated, it discovered and honed the “avyakta” energies and made them clearly perceptible. Train, ship, car, aeroplane, the Sputnik — all these are examples of avyakta manifesting in front of us.
Sweetness is avyakta in a raw mango. As time goes by, sweetness gradually expresses itself. Taste and digestibility are avyakta in freshly harvested rice. The same rice becomes tasty and easily digestible in a few months.
Thus, avyakta is that quality of prakṛti that is hidden in the beginning and shows itself as time goes by. We can call it the root—prakṛti, or the embryo—state of prakṛti.
Avyakta is the immense, unfathomable energy of prakṛti that lays hidden. The world is forever new because of it. It can also be described as the energy of prakṛti that rejuvenates the universe.
There are other inner workings and experiences that should be added to the twenty four concepts listed above.
icchā dveṣaḥ sukhaṃ duḥkhaṃ saṅghātaś-cetanā dhṛtiḥ ॥
Saṇghāta means a collection or a cluster, the various functions that happen along with the body. Cetanā is the energy that courses through the limbs. Dhṛti means steadfastness towards a motive.
etat kṣetraṃ samāsena savikāram (udāhṛtam) ॥
Thus, after the forms and attributes of the body are described — before the characteristics of the paramātmā who gives the jīvātmā the ability to know him are described — Bhagavān elucidates the preparation required for such knowledge. This is because the knowledge of ātmā and Brahma will remain mere phrases for someone who does not undergo spiritual instruction and internal purification; they can never be an experienced truth to him.
Among the preparations, some are dos and some are don’ts. Some are thus —
amānitvam adambhitvam ahiṃsā kṣāntir-ārjavaṃ ।
ācāryopāsanaṃ śaucaṃ sthairyam ātma-vinigrahaḥ ॥
Amānitva: Pride means to think of oneself as the best, and gives rise to arrogance. Amānitva is giving it up. That is humility, and willingness to be led.
Adambhitva: the desire to show off one’s own qualities and possessions that are deemed valuable by others is dambha. This should be given up.
Ahiṃsā, kṣamāguṇa, ārjava — mean that one’s conduct is not crooked, but is simple and straightforward. Performing service to the Guru, maintaining purity of body and mind, steadfastness, giving up impulsiveness and never being distracted and inattentive, not hankering after carnal pleasures and not thinking only of oneself all the time, not being captivated by wives and children or land and wealth, not swaying according to one’s own whims — these are some don’ts.
Dos are as follows —
Mayi cānanya-yogena bhaktir-avyabhicāriṇī ।
Devotion to nothing else but Bhagavān, being away from worldly flurry and tumult, practising silence and solitude.
adhyātma-jñāna-nityatvaṃ tattva-jñānartha-darśanam ।
etad-jñānam iti proktam ajñānaṃ yad-ato’nyathā ॥
Here, “jñānam” is the means to knowledge, the device through which knowledge is obtained. What is meant by “tattva-jñānārtha-darśanam”? The meaning of jñāna-nityatva (or niṣṭhatva) may be understood as firmly rooted in knowledge or proficiency in learning. What does “artha-darśanam” mean? It means the direct experience of the meaning of the subject being learnt, bringing the concepts learnt by the buddhi into daily life and practising it. Reciting verses and explaining their meaning is not experiencing it. It is not enough if Philosophy is outwards, it should make one look inwards.
If someone asks us to prove philosophical concepts and to show evidence about the existence of Brahma, we should show the above list and ask them what qualities among them they have practised. If they have not passed the above exam, let them prepare themselves first. Of what use are spectacles to someone whose eyes are bandaged because of disease?
locanābhyāṃ vihīnasya darpaṇaḥ kiṃ kariṣyati?
[To a blind man what use would a mirror serve?]
The qualities of amānitva, adambhitva and ārjava are not easy to follow. We miss our steps because of transgressions that might appear small and insignificant. A man who commits a colossal offence might attain sadgati sooner. Ravana and Hiraṇyakaśipu were released quickly of their mortal coils. We are scared of committing big crimes, but overlook small snafus. We easily lie in small matters, and think that they will not affect anyone. Small corruptions deform the jīva and crumple it. The jīva is like a string. It can be easily bent, but cannot be straightened again with the same ease. The jīva is like paper; it is easy to fold it, but it is difficult to get rid of the creases. Those who want to experience paramātmā should first lose their crookedness and deformities. The don’ts in the above list demand long and careful practice. If we want to understand the supreme tattva, we should first make our jīva get rid of its bad habits. Therefore, the first step to philosophy is self-examination and self-inquiry.
After explaining the devices to obtain knowledge comes the description of that which has to be known — jñeya. What is that? It is the basis of all knowledge that principle which is known as paramātmā. Svāmī now alludes to it. It is only an allusion, not description. It is so subtle that description and explanation are impossible —
sūkṣmatvāt tad-avijñeyam ॥
We saw in the chapter of karmayoga —
prakṛteḥ kriyamāṇāni karmāṇi ॥
guṇā guṇeṣu vartante ॥
On the one hand are the qualities of prakṛti, visible externally. On the other hand are past notions and perceptions, and inclinations internal to oneself. Life in the universe is constant engagement and skirmish between these two. The ātmā is an impartial witness.
yathā sarvagataṃ saukṣmyāt ākāśaṃ nopalipyate ।
sarvatrā-vasthito dehe tathā’’tmā nopalipyate ॥
Ākāśa, even though it subtly pervades everything everywhere, is not touched by anything. In the same way, even when ātmā is present in all bodies, it is not affected by any aspect or activity of any part of the body.
yathā prakāśayaty-ekaḥ kṛtsnaṃ lokam imaṃ raviḥ ।
kṣetraṃ kṣetrī tathā kṛtsnaṃ prakāśayati bhārata ॥
“Just as one Sun lights up the whole world (even if he touches it, it cannot touch him), the kṣetrī (ātmā) lights up everything by virtue of its energy; still it is not affected by it”.
Let us summarize and recall the points in our discussion so far. They are four.
- Prakṛti: The material of the universe that is made of the five elements, it shelters other aspects; the body and its attributes; by itself it is inanimate.
- Jīva: It is the animate aspect that lives in the inanimate universe, and consumes the fruit of its actions, and it is directed by the guṇa-triad.
- Īshvara: It is present in all inanimate energies and is also present externally as an authoritative factor, and rules over the universe and the jīva. It is the thread on which the universe and jīvas are strung together. This is called kārya-brahma or the śabala-brahma.
- Parabrahma: It is that, whose tiniest part of energy is the cause of all the activities of the universe, from whose immeasurable sunlight one single ray sustains life in all universe — that eternal and fundamental energy. This is also called kāraṇa-brahma or śuddha-brahma.
Thus, there are four aspects to the para-tattva. These four do not have any beginning. The former among them pales in front of the latter. From the first three arises saṃsāra which deviates from Brahma. When the jīva meets Brahma, that saṃsāra ceases to be experienced. A person who knows Brahma looks at saṃsāra as a playful sport rather than a laborious task that has been imposed upon him. That is, even though all the above four are without any beginning, the attachment of the first three to saṃsāra is not eternal. The dominance of the first three is ended by the fourth.
ya evaṃ vetti puruṣaṃ prakṛtiṃ ca guṇaiḥ saha ।
sarvathā vartamāno’pi na sa bhūyo’bhijāyate ॥
“One who has understood the nature of the jīva (puruṣa), and the qualities of prakṛti, is not born again whatever condition he may be in; that is, he is selfless and without ego and therefore he is free of worldly bondage”.
dhyānenātmani paśyanti kecid-ātmanam ātmanā ।
anye sāṅkhyena yogena karma-yogena cāpare ॥
“Some comprehend the paramātmā by practising dhyāna; some through their manas; yet others by applying their buddhi to analyse the universe and other such exercises of sāṇkhya-yoga, and others by practising karma-yoga”.
anye tvevamajānantaḥ śrutvā’nyebhya upāsate ।
te’pi cāti-tarantyeva mṛtyaṃ śruti-parāyaṇāḥ ॥
“Even if those who are not capable of gaining the knowledge of ātmā by meditation or intellect or karma listen and learn from others (say, from gurus or friends) of its greatness and splendour, they will also cross this mortal universe”.
Devoted practice is more important than anything else. The meaning of the Saṃskṛta word “upāsana” is to be near. We saw the word “samakṣatābhyāsa” earlier — that is upāsanā. When the mind always dwells near the object of love and devotion, that is upāsanā. “Hājar bhāṣi” — practice of the presence of God — that is upāsanā.
As devotion towards Bhagavān grows, the yearning for worldly experiences lessens and the experience of Brahma floods our being.
Sarasada nadi jīva-vasati tannātmavan-ār ॥
parisaradiṃ pratyekisi ।
nirupādhiyoḻ-irisal-aritano muktanavaṃ ॥
The river where sport puruṣa and prakṛti
Is the dwelling of all beings — one who separates
His ātmā from the surrounding chaos and
Lies it in the Brahma, free he is.
kṣetraṃ kṣetrajñaṃ prabhu- ।
vī tryaṃśagaḻa svarūpa-saṃbaṃdhagaḻaṃ ॥
vistāradi peḻvudī trayodaśa-Gītāṃ ॥
Kṣetra, kṣetrajña and Īśvara
The nature and relationship of these three,
Are explained in song thirteenth, along with
paramātmā who doesn’t have any of the qualities three.
nyūnādhikyaṃgaḻaṃ Kṛṣṇaṃ saṃskarikke-mmoḻāvagaṃ ॥
Acyuta, the wise who knows the deep-set
actions, inner and outer, a human secret
May he, Kṛṣṇa, purify the lapses
Of our thoughts, as also the excesses.
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.