(M. R. Dwarakanath)
Jnana-Vijnana: The title of the seventh chapter is Jnana-Vijnana Yoga. It comes directly from Lord Krishna’s promise to Arjuna in the 2nd verse where he assures him that after this exhaustive instruction, there will be nothing further left for him to know. However, this is not the first time Krishna is addressing the subject of Jnana. His opening words in Sankhya Yoga starting from verse 11 in chapter II is all about Jnana. Again, he instructs briefly about Jnana in the 4th Chapter.
Jnana, in the context of Vedanta refers to knowledge of Brahman or Paramatman, the individual souls, the phenomenal world and their interrelationships. The 18 chapters of the Bhagavadgita are said to be divided into 3 Satkas of 6 chapters each. The 2nd Satka is considered to focus on the nature of Brahman. This chapter marks the beginning of the second Satka – a detailed inquiry into the nature of Brahman and his relationship to the cosmos and individual souls. The Jnana discussed in chapter II was a terse introduction to be elucidated later. Vijnana ( Vishesa Jnana) can be taken to mean special knowledge of a more detailed nature or in-depth knowledge. It is worth observing that this chapter also marks the beginning of a theistic thread in the Gita. The personal pronoun I, in its various case terminations, appears in all the verses except in #20 and 27. This thread continues throughout the Satka and beyond. Krishna says that He is the personal God head responsible for this creation and one should strive to know and surrender to Him alone for his grace and final beatitude.
Jnana-Vijnana Yoga begins with an exhortation by Krishna to Arjuna that he should totally surrender to him and carefully listen to his teachings, and in return promises Arjuna that he will completely reveal himself and all aspects of knowledge with nothing left to be known. This is a rare opportunity for Arjuna as only a small fraction of people make any effort to realize Him and of those few who do make an effort, fewer still get to know him in his essence.
Prakrti – Nature: Having promised Arjuna that he would completely reveal himself, he begins by describing his nature. The personal pronoun my in ‘my nature’ opens up two possible interpretations. Is one to regard this Krishna’s innate nature or is it about nature that is his domain, in the sense of his possession? He invokes two types of nature – a lower and a higher. The lower nature is eight fold; it constitutes: the 5 elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space) Mind, Intellect and Ego. These are also recognized by Sankhya which views them as Jada Prakrti or insentient matter. It is this inert nature that does not fit well as Krishna’s innate nature; rather one may regard these as his domain of lordship.
The Higher Prakrti, different from the lower eight, is seen as the sentient principle by which the entire cosmos is supported. Krishna adds that all life forms have evolved out of these two Prakrtis. After all, life forms involve both sentient and insentient matter. Krishna is the source of this entire creation and at involution, they dissolve back into him. This too lends to two interpretations. In one view, according to monists, there is only one reality – Krishna or Brahman which manifests as this world at the time of creation and withdraws into Krishna at the time of involution. ‘There is nothing besides Me’ supports this interpretation. Another view by Dvaitins is: Krishna is the efficient cause of the universe who has available to him both matter and spirit for his sport of creation and withdrawal. ‘There is nothing greater than me’ can be taken to support this idea.
Transcendence, Immanence and Splendor: There exists nothing superior to Krishna – He is transcendent! Everything that exists, exist as beads on a string in Him. He is the string that pervades the beads. He is the indweller in water as its taste, the indweller in the sun and the moon as its luster. Similarly, he is the Pranava in the Vedas, the sound in space, virility in men, the fragrance in earth, the effulgence in fire, life force in beings, austerity in ascetics, the seed in all creation, intellect among the sentient, strength in the strong, untainted desire in beings while being himself free from attachment and desire like the lotus leaf in pond water. This is a short preview of more glories (Vibhutis) of the Lord to come later in chapter 10.
These beings, be they of good (Sattvik,) active (Rajasik) or dull / inert (Tamasik) origin, all have evolved from him alone. However, he is not in them nor or they in him. This statement is somewhat problematic as it seems to disclaim immanence and goes counter to his Vishwaroopa where they are all seen to be in him. One way to navigate this difficulty is to regard the statement as denying any physical or Karmic association and thus any taint like the Padmapatra metaphor. Another view is to regard it all as merely appearance and superposition.
This world and all creation therein are products of this divine Maya, with the triple Gunas (characteristics) of Prakrti, which is very difficult to penetrate. These beings, so deluded, do not recognize the Lord (Me) as the ultimate immutable principle. Only those who are fully devoted to the Lord are able to cross this veil of Maya. However, the wicked, the fools, lowly humans, those whose discrimination has been robbed by Maya and demonic natured souls do not reach the Lord. This Maya also allows for dual interpretation as the veiling ignorance or as a divine sport – Leela, depending on one’s philosophic proclivity.
Four types of devotees: Krishna classifies noble devotees into four categories. They are: the afflicted looking for relief, the inquisitive inquirer desiring to know, the transactional devotees looking for exchange of favors and finally the knower of truth. Among them, the best is the knower who is constantly engaged and steadfastly devoted to Krishna. Such a devotee is extremely dear to the Lord and the Lord to him. Indeed, all devotees are exalted; however, the Jnani is the very self of the Lord. He remains engaged in the Lord for the highest spiritual result. The one endowed with knowledge reaches Krishna after many life cycles. The noble soul who regards Vasudeva as the totality is indeed a rare person. The use of Vasudeva is particularly pregnant. It means the granter of wealth – the ultimate wealth – beatitude!
Anyadevatas – Other deities: Krishna appearss to make a distinction between him and other deities. In particular, he is referring to Kamya Karmis who worship different deities for specific benefits. It is well known that people worship, following set procedures, certain deities for specific benefits – Mahalakshmi for wealth, Saraswati for knowledge, Ganapati for removal of obstacles etc. In all these instances, the votary is driven by a particular desire and its fulfillment. These are merely transactional devotees. Their wisdom is overpowered by desires that are in accord with their innate tendencies. Whosoever worships whatever deity with faith and devotion, Krishna says that he will instill unwavering faith in such a deity. When the votary worships with firm faith, he obtains the desired fruits from that deity as ultimately conferred by Krishna himself. The fruits obtained by dimwits are transitory. Those who follow other deities reach only those deities but those who surrender to Krishna reach Krishna. This idea of rewards being suitable to the mode of worship was mentioned in passing in Gita: 4-11 and reappears in Gita: 9-23 where worship of Anyadevatas is discussed.
Krishna appears to preach polytheism with numerous gods each holding specific portfolios with Krishna presiding over them all like a CEO. However, in 9-23, Krishna says when the votary worships other deities the votary is mistaken, and is in fact worshipping Krishna though not following the correct protocol for the deity worshipped. A similar idea is expressed in सर्वदेव नमस्कारः केशवं प्रतिगच्छति। What is the implication here? Are the other deities merely mediators for Krishna / Keshava who convey the prayers of the votary to Krishna and take back Krishna’s bounty to the votary? This too allows for both a dualistic interpretation as well as a monist one.
Inscrutable and Transcendent Lord: Krishna says that foolish people mistakenly think of him as just another human being not recognizing his true nature which is most exalted and immutable. Being cloaked in Yoga Maya, he does not reveal himself to everyone. The ignorant fail to recognize the unborn, supreme being. Krishna reminds Arjuna, as he said at the beginning of chapter 4, how he knows all; past, present as well as future but none know him in his true essence. This ignorance is due to delusion caused by the dualities of desire and hatred which ensnare all beings. If one regards Anyadevatas as arising from Krishna’s Yoga Maya, then we reach the monist interpretation that these deities are illusory and Krishna stands as the substratum of all.
Enlightenment: Persons of virtuous disposition, whose sins (Karma) have been exhausted, released from the clutches of dualities, worship the Lord with firm faith. Those who strive for release from the cycles of birth, old age and death, take refuge in the Lord, get to know the Lord. They also know Adhyatma – the life principle, about all action, the Adhibhuta – the supreme spirit, Adhidaiva – the presiding deity, Adhiyajna – the sacrificial principle. Those who engage their spirit in the Lord at the time of death also get to know the Lord. As Krishna introduces new concepts in this last verse, naturally leads Arjuna to ask for further elucidation which becomes the subject matter of the next chapter.
Summary: This chapter marks the beginning of the second Satka of the Gita where the focus is on Brahman’s nature and the means to realize Brahman. The ideas contained here, taken literally, are very theistic with emphasis on a personal god – Krishna. The chapter begins with a promise to impart complete knowledge and moves on to a discussion of two Prakrtis – a lower and higher. Krishna both transcends this world of objects and yet activates them by his presence within. He talks about his special power of Maya which shields him from the ignorant and fools. He characterizes his devotees as belonging to one of four types and the best are those who worship him with knowledge, faith and understanding. He next talks about worship of other deities with specific portfolios and how Krishna is the supreme god head who works through these deities and yet he asserts that worshipping these deities is no different from worshipping him! He says that he is out of the reach of fools and ignorant people but very much accessible to those who understand his supremacy. This all important chapter about right knowledge is amenable to multiple interpretations. A straightforward reading suggests a dualist, theistic philosophy. However, Krishna hints at a monist reading ultimately.