Bhagavad Gita

|| भगवद्गीतासारः ||
Vishwaroopadarshana Yoga

(M. R. Dwarakanath)

Introduction: This chapter marks the dramatic highpoint of the Gita. Thus far, the Gita has been a dialog between Arjuna and Sri Krishna in the style of Upanishads where the teacher imparts knowledge to the student in the form of a dialog. Chapter 10 set the stage for the present chapter where Krishna gave an account of his Vibhutis; the many manifestations of one. In turn this chapter sets the stage for the following chapter that deals with Bhakti. What can be more evocative of Bhakti than a direct experience of God in his most majestic and powerful form! He can at once be most beguiling and fierce of form. Even though, there is not much by way of metaphysical instruction, it graphically displays earlier teachings of the one and the many, life and death, sentience and insentience, action and inaction, and their inevitability. A central goal is to rid Arjuna the notion of his agency and associate merit or sin; that role belongs to God and god alone. He is a mere instrument to carry out the inevitable. Does this imply the loss of free will?

The cosmic form of Sri Krishna is a vivid depiction of Vedantic teaching about oneness. Brahman or Ishwara is the substratum of reality. Krishna as Ishwara is the substratum with the entire world projected on Him like a speed up motion picture. It depicts unity in diversity or more precisely diversity in the unity of the Lord. Ultimately, all is Ishwara who appears as multiplicity with various names and forms.

This vision is not accessible to all and sundry; it is only possible by divine grace. Here, it is the grace of the teacher and the Lord – Krishna who enlightens the prepared student using various methodologies or Prakrias. Arjuna is ready for a new Prakria! The Divya-Caksus or divine sight is the ability of a masterful teacher to make his pupil see the truth!

Arjuna’s Plea: Having heard of Krishna’s glories in the earlier chapter – Vibhuti Yoga, Arjuna no longer regards Krishna as a mere charioteer and a personal friend. Krishna’s teachings have cleared his mind for the most part of his earlier confusion and opened his eyes to the real nature of Krishna. Being convinced of Krishna’s divinity he wishes to see his divine form; his arrogance a distant memory. He supplicates to Krishna to show him the cosmic form if he were so eligible.

Krishna consents to show him his cosmic form of the entire world of celestial beings, of animate and inanimate objects, of wonderful never before seen forms. All this is supported on his body. This is not accessible to all; only to those chosen because of their readiness for such knowledge. Krishna grants him the unique capacity to perceive this vision. The vision is also accessible to Sanjaya, the narrator, with a boon received earlier from Vyasa.

Sanjaya’s Narration: Sanjaya begins his description to Dhrtarashtra, far from the battlefield, of Krishna’s revelation of numerous divine forms – awe inspiring celestials with numerous faces and eyes, wearing the most beautiful garlands and ornaments, anointed with unguents and raised arms. The spectacle according to Sanjaya resembled the simultaneous dawn of a thousand suns. Such was the glory of the Lord. What puzzles one is an utter lack of any reaction from Dhrtarashtra. No sense of wonder or worry or inquisitiveness on his part, even at the prospect of all his children are soon destined to die!

Arjuna’s Vision: He sees the entire universe as one yet divided into various names and forms. He narrates the sights he sees starting with the most wonderful and pleasant of sights. He sees an undivided infinite, all powerful Lord illumining the entire universe. He sees Krishna as infinite, without a beginning, middle or an end. He sees Krishna enveloping all space between the earth and the heavens, effulgent and colorful. Even as he sees this transcendent form of Krishna, the picture turns dark. The Lord has become the destroyer of the universe. He gets a glimpse of the future where the great warriors on both sides of the epic battle are consumed by Krishna in gruesome ways. He is frightened and confused about this new form of Krishna that prompts him to ask who this fierce form belongs to! This vision is a telling rebuttal of Arjuna’s concern about having to kill his dear and revered teachers. Arjuna is a mere accessory in the hands of the Lord who has mapped out the future of the war. The antagonists’ fate is sealed.

Krishna has all along coaxed, cajoled and even shamed Arjuna to fight and not eschew the battle. If Arjuna has remained unconvinced thus far, this vision is intended to eradicate all doubt about duty, sin and most importantly agency. If Arjuna was not swayed by the teachings of Sankhya and Yoga to act, this would be the clincher!

The Cosmic vision is at once most enchanting and frightening as life often is. It depicts God as creator, sustainer and destroyer of dualities. Arjuna can handle only so much of this frightful spectacle and wants to return to familiar ground. He wants to see the divine form of Krishna with four hands!

Bhakti – Devotion: The earlier chapter – Vibhuti Yoga and the present are quintessentially devotional in their drift. It extols a God, all powerful – Krishna who is both omnipotent and omniscient. He is all pervading. He elicits both love and fear; grist for hymns and paeans. Only a personal god – sublime and fearsome – can make an emotional connection with the votary. Arjuna, naturally breaks into praise of the Lord over ten verses. Arjuna is blessed to see this unique sight that even the Gods have not been blessed to see. Arjuna is the chosen one.

Agency: It appears that Arjuna is a mere puppet in the hands of Krishna. Krishna has decided the future course of events and Arjuna is asked to play the part assigned to him. Is Arjuna free to act otherwise?

To answer this question, it helps to refer to Gita 18.59. Here, Krishna says: If one decides to act against Dharma out of personal Ego, then nature will thwart such a move. The natural instinct is dictated by Ishwara, the Lord of the Universe; who is both creator of the universe and enforcer of its laws. No one may violate these laws without paying a penalty. For instance, the law of gravitation dictates that one may not fall from a great height without serious consequences. When one looks down a precipice, a chill runs down the spine alerting to the danger of falling down it. This is nature’s way of alerting against a false step. If one is intent on committing suicide, nature tries to prevent the impulse through fear, responsibility and other emotions. But, free will remains. In other situations, it could be the idea of duty, shame or sin that try to prevent bad acts. However, one can ignore these warnings and exercise free will to defy nature; but there is a price to pay. Arjuna could have disobeyed and stayed passive and Krishna would have implemented plan-B and Arjuna would have committed the ultimate sin of not upholding Dharma for a Kshatriya. Similarly, he would suffer the ignominy of a coward. It is thus both true that the future is for the most part determined; yet, one is free to act differently with disastrous consequence to bear.

The Vision: The Bhagavadgeeta which so far has focused on teaching Metaphysics now has taken to demonstrate God’s transcendence, Omnipotence etc. This raises a number of questions. Is the spectacle a magic show? Are there two distinct Bheeshmas, Dronas etc. one on the battlefield and the other in the cosmic vision? If yes, what is their ontological status? The vision of an infinite universe in a finite Krishna the charioteer is like seeing into a kaleidoscope; variegated images in a finite kaleidoscope! The vision is not static as Arjuna sees events unfolding before him. The past, present and the future are simultaneously seen. Space and time have been transcended. This is the power of an able guru to make the prepared student realize the truth.

It is not entirely clear who all were blessed to see this divine manifestation. Arjuna refers to the celestials witnessing the cosmic vision in reverence with folded hands but Krishna seems to refute the idea by expressing what Arjuna has witnessed was not even accessible to the gods. At an earlier time, Krishna as a child, showed the cosmos to his mother Yashoda.

॥ सर्व श्रीकृष्णार्पणमस्तु ॥


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