In my previous article on introduction to Bhagavad Gita, I had concluded that one must understand Bhagavad Gita as Arjuna understood it. We now begin our short journey through the vast ocean of knowledge that is the Bhagavad Gita.
There are five basic truths that Bhagavad Gita addresses.
1. Īśvara – Supreme Lord, the supreme controller, the supreme soul
2. Jīvas – the living beings that are controlled, spirit souls.
3. Prakṛti – the material nature
4. Kāla – Time
5. Karma – Activity
Can anyone point the odd one out in the above? No? Well, the Supreme Lord, the spirit souls, material nature as well as Time are all eternal. Karma is the only one that is temporary.
Srimad Bhagavad Gita establishes the superiority of Īśvara above everything else. And Lord Krishna is established as the Supreme Controller of everything that is there, throughout Gita. Krishna himself declares it in Chapter 10, verse 8:
ahaḿ sarvasya prabhavo
mattaḥ sarvaḿ pravartate
iti matvā bhajante māḿ
“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who perfectly know this engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.”
In fact, Arjuna understood this perfectly. And that is the reason why we should try to understand Bhagavad Gita in a submissive mood, as a devotee of Lord Krishna, accepting him as the Supreme God (even if just theoretically), because otherwise the import of his teachings will be lost.
Next in line come the Jīvas, the living entities or spirit souls. While the subject of Īśvara is dealt in detail only at a later stage, the subject of the spirit soul is dealt with by Krishna in Chapter 02, verses 11 to 31. It is explained in Bhagavad Gita, as well as by the stalwart Acharyas, that each of us is a spirit soul (atma), infinitesimal sparks that are qualitatively the same as Īśvara, God. But just as a water droplet from the ocean of water cannot compare to the ocean itself even though being qualitatively same, we cannot compare ourselves to God in any manner. We are subordinate to the Supreme Lord and as such do not have the capabilities attributed to him.
Then we come down to Prakṛti or material nature. Bhagavad Gita clearly establishes that material nature is completely controlled by the Supreme Lord. In Chapter 09, verse 10, Krishna states this:
“This material nature, which is one of My energies, is working under My direction, O son of Kuntī, producing all moving and nonmoving beings. Under its rule this manifestation is created and annihilated again and again.”
Previously, he also states in Chapter 07, verses 4 and 5:
bhūmir āpo ‘nalo vāyuḥ
khaḿ mano buddhir eva ca
ahańkāra itīyaḿ me
bhinnā prakṛtir aṣṭadhā
“Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego — all together these eight constitute My separated material energies.”
apareyam itas tv anyāḿ
prakṛtiḿ viddhi me parām
yayedaḿ dhāryate jagat
“Besides these, O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is another, superior energy of Mine, which comprises the living entities who are exploiting the resources of this material, inferior nature.”
Here, Krishna states that he is the Lord of the material nature and makes a clear distinction between himself and his energy (people must note this point). He also states that the living entities, the Jivas, are part of his superior energy whereas material nature is part of his inferior energy. Now, since the Jivas are part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, they have the (however miniscule) tendency of trying to lord over the material nature. The only problem is that they are not the Supreme Lord and hence cannot exercise full control over it.
So, that brings us neatly to our next item: Time. Krishna mentions in Chapter 10, verse 30 that “kālaḥ kalayatām aham”, meaning “of the subduers I am Time”. As energy of the Supreme Lord, Time wears down everything. We see time only in relation to existence and movement in the material nature, whereas it does not have an end or a beginning. Because this is very difficult to understand at the outset, we will deal with this as and when we encounter it during the course of our study.
Last in line is Karma or activity, and by the laws of which our enjoyment and suffering are determined. Karma is affected by all the eternal entities. Activities arise due to the effect of combinations of 3 mode of Material nature (Goodness (Sattva), Passion (Rajas) and Ignorance (Tamas)), along with the influence of time. Also, Karma, though its effects can stretch across millennia, is still temporary. Since we do have the ability to change our karma, therefore we can change the reactions to our Karma, based on perfection of our knowledge. Chapter 05 of Bhagavad Gita talks about Karma and Karma Yoga in detail and I will present that in due course of time.
How does one go about getting this knowledge perfectly?
If you want to learn or earn a degree in physics or nuclear medicine, I think you would pretty much know how to go about it. One has to go through 14 years of schooling, 4 years of college, another 2 years as post grad, and probably a Ph.D, before one can be considered as an expert in that field. Now, it so happens that for learning Spiritual science, there is a process to be followed. One must be humble in searching for the truth, must be able to identify a bonafide Guru, render service to him and inquire from him submissively. If you are wondering “Oi… hold it! That’s all? Are you sure you aren’t making this up?” Well, here’s what Krishna says in Chapter 4, verse 34:
tad viddhi praṇipātena
upadekṣyanti te jñānaḿ
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.”
There. Satisfied? But note that I never said this is easy, since most of us (including me) fail miserably in the first criteria, which is humility. It is only by the mercy of our teachers that we are somehow dragged in to a higher level of understanding, regardless of whether we are taught modern science or spiritual science.