By the Brahmins, reverence of masters is considered the most sacred
of duties. Thee, therefore, first most holy prophet, interpreter of the Deity, by whatever name thou wast called
among mortals, the author of this poem, by whose oracles the mind is rapt with ineffable delight to doctrines
lofty, eternal, and divine.
[Page 3] THE
Bhagavad-Gîta or song of the Blessed One — Gita
meaning song, and Bhagavad, Lord — one
of the names of Krishna, forms part of the Mahâbharata, one of the two well-known national epics of India.
The former is said to have been written by Vyasa at an unknown date. The Brahmans hold the Bhagavad-Gîta
in the greatest reverence, notwithstanding its teaching being Unitarian in aim and clashing with idol-worship,
and being also in opposition to later Brahmanical interpretations of the Vedas, and our opening quotation from
Schlegel shows that respect for it has not been confined to India. The great Initiate, Sankarâcharya, calls
the Gîta the collected essence of all the Vedas, and no doubt this is true, when we consider the sublime
ethical character of its teaching, and the splendour of the ideals set forth in it. We have said that the date
of the Gîta is unknown; but if the arguments of Indian scholars like Mr. Telang, are sound, and personally
we have no doubt of it, the Gîta could not have been composed since the second century B.C.; nor is this
all that can be said in favour of the antiquity of the teachings of the Gîta, now we know the close relationship
existing between them and the doctrines of the old Wisdom Religion, now called Theosophy, the enormous antiquity
of the latter being undeniable. This question of the age of the Gîta would have been hardly worth raising,
but for its bearing on the controversy between some missionaries and Pundits in India, on the point whether "the
author of the Gîta borrowed from Christian sources, or the evangelists and apostles from him". That
the former was the case we must deny, in view of the light thrown by the Esoteric Philosophy on the origin of
the chief doctrines of Christianity, although this contention on the part of Christians is not surprising, " so
striking are some of the moralities inculcated in the Gîta, and so close the parallelism — ofttimes
actually verbal — between its teachings and those of the New Testament ", to quote Sir Edwin Arnold,
and also remembering that the story of Krishna bears a remarkable resemblance in several-particulars to that
The Gîta is divided into eighteen chapters, each describing a particular phase of human, life. The first is introductory, second to fifth inclusive [Page 4] deals with five different theories, from sixth to twelfth Krishna points out the best path to attain liberation from the ills of conditioned existence, and thirteenth to eighteenth are devoted to metaphysics. In Western eyes the divine poem, dealing as it does with the grandest philosophy of life, opens with incidents of an extraordinary character; we find ourselves on a battlefield in presence of two hosts about to join in conflict, and the teachings of the poem are given in a discourse which takes place between the Pandava chief Arjuna, and his charioteer Krishna, before the battle commences. But this peculiar setting of the philosophical jewels of the Gîta, has a profound significance, as we shall presently see, and forms an essential part of the lesson delivered to humanity by the poem. As the Gîta is undeniably an Esoteric work, the contained teachings present many aspects, and to deal adequately with any or all of these requires an Adept of high standing; it is needless to say that we have no such qualifications, and can only gather a few hints of the meaning by the light of the Esoteric philosophy, and the observations of some capable and learned students who have commented upon it. It will be advisable to deal with the historical aspect first.
The battle-field mentioned at the opening of the poem is called Kurukshetra,
or plain of the Kurus, and is believed to be near modern Delhi. The Kurus appear to have been a tribe of ancient
India, divided into two parties, one retaining the primitive name of the tribe, the other called Pandavas;
the first named branch of the tribe having dispossessed the latter of its rightful inheritance, the Pandavas,
after long wanderings and hardships, return, collect their forces, and offer battle to their oppressors; the
battle itself however and the result are not given in the poem. Despite this, we by no means agree with those
writers who consider the opening incidents as being merely pegs on which to hang the teaching afterwards given
in the Gîta; on the contrary we hold
with the declaration of a Hindoo scholar, that "there is nothing in external nature which is not an
idea objectified, and the whole world may be said to be a huge allegory"; and, as another student remarks, "Man
is continually imitating the higher spiritual planes". These ideas are in conformity with the teaching
of the Esoteric Philosophy, which states that " every event of universal importance, involving a great change
each time in mankind, spiritual, moral and physical, is precogitated and preconcerted, so to say, in the sidereal
regions of our planetary system ".[“Secret Doctrine”, Vol II, p 500] We therefore
regard the events narrated in the Gîta, as not only historically true, but the drama said to have been
played out upon the plain of the Kurus, as a representation or reflection of the events upon earth enacted upon
higher planes of existence. It will be well to now attempt an explanation of some of the names giver from a Theosophical
standpoint. [Page 5]
We learn on good authority that the term Kuru means eternal; the Kurus therefore are Eternal Men. The plain of the Kurus is called sacred, because it is the temple of Spirit, the body encasing it and being its material vehicle during the conditioned existence on earth of the "Immortal Pilgrim". The Ganges bounding the sacred plain on one side "typifies the sacred stream of spiritual life incarnated here". The Kurus represent material line of evolution in us, while the Pandavas stand for spiritual; that is, Arjuna, the great chief of the Pandavas, represents the incarnate ray from the immortal Manas. The long wanderings and hardships of the Pandavas represent spirit imprisoned in matter, caused by necessities of evolution, before gaining control of man; this refers also to cyclic rise and fall of nations and races, whilst the hostile armies represent two collections of human powers, the higher and lower; the battle refers to the struggle between these two forces in man taken as a whole or individually. In short the story of the Gîta is that of man in his evolutionary development. The king of the Kurus, whose name is Dhritarâshtra, is said to be blind, as he corresponds to the human body, which is senseless matter and therefore incapable of governing without Manas or mind. The numbers given of the chiefs on both sides are blinds, thus seven is a disguise for the three higher principles in man, and eleven for the four lower. In Hindoo philosophy Krishna is considered to be one of the Avatars or Saviours of Humanity who appear at certain necessary periods on earth in order to assist humanity in its upward struggle to the light. It will be noted in the poem that Krishna speaks as the Universal Ego or Deity, but this conception of God, although that of Unity, in our opinion should not be identified with that of Absoluteness. For " in Occult metaphysics there are properly speaking two 'Ones' — the One on the unreachable plane of Absoluteness and Infinity on which no speculation is possible, and the second 'One' on the plane of Emanation. The former can neither emanate nor be divided, as it is eternal, absolute, and immutable." [“Secret Doctrine”, Vol I, p 130] This view was also held by that eminent Vedantin scholar, the late T. Subba Row, and if it be correct, and there are certainly some passages in the Gîta that support it, although the exact meaning is often badly interpreted by translators, then Krishna may be considered as the First or Unmanifested Logos, or the Higher Self in man, and therefore Arjuna is the Lower. In Hindu phraseology there are two Hamsas, one Jiva, and his friend Ishwara. We may now proceed to the consideration of the first chapter.
At the outset, a general description of the opposing forces having been given, Arjuna, to whom Krishna acts as charioteer, showing that Deity can be conquered by love alone, requests him to station the chariot between the [Page 6] two armies in order to view the enemy; this being done Arjuna, seeing that the latter were all kinsmen and friends, in the words of the text, was overcome by excessive pity and spake thus despairingly: —
It is not good, O Keshav, nought of good
Can spring from mutual slaughter. Lo, I hate
Triumph and domination, wealth and ease
Thus sadly won.
And goes on to say that he will not kill his friends, though they kill him. Arjuna's fear shows want of endurance, he shrinks from killing his friends as we shrink from killing our passions. His despondency is shared by every student of Occultism, when his inner nature becomes the battleground of two opposing forces, which he has aroused and forced into action by his efforts and aspirations towards a higher life. With reference to the evils that Arjuna foresees as the result of the civil war, such as the destruction of families and intermingling of castes, etc., it is certain, however foreign to our Western ideas, that a great deal can be said in favour of this institution as established in Ancient India, and when the abuses now existing in connection with it had not grown up. After indulging in these desponding utterances, Arjuna casts his bow upon the battle-field, thus indicating his resolve to adopt the life of a religious mendicant, he falls back on his higher nature and then hears the voice of Krishna-Christos, the Higher Self.
The second chapter commences with Krishna's reply to the lamentations of Arjuna, and the former says: "How comes it that this delusion, O Arjuna, which excludes from heaven and occasions infamy, has overtaken you in this place of peril. Cast off this base weakness of heart". Arjuna in reply throws himself upon Krishna's, indulgence and asks for advice. Then Krishna declares Arjuna's arguments to be those of the letter of the law only, and that Arjuna grieves needlessly. For "wise men grieve not for the living nor the dead. Never did I not exist, nor you, nor these rulers of me; nor will any one of us over hereafter cease to be". Krishna here speaks from the standpoint of the spiritual reality underlying all transient forms, the plane of the noumenal as distinct from that of phenomena. This teaching corresponds to that given by Carlyle in " Sartor Resartus", the philosophy of clothes. "There are two things apparently, the soul which is indestructible, and the feelings of pain, etc., which come and go. The true philosopher knows that the former only is real and exists, and that the latter is unreal. He therefore does not mind the latter." To quote Sir Edwin Arnold's beautiful poetical translation: —
" Never the spirit was born; the spirit shall cease to be never;
Never was time it was not; End and Beginning are dreams,
Birthless and deathless and changeless remaineth the spirit for ever;
Death hath not touched it at all, dead though the house of it seems."
The spirit incarnate in the body is One, but when viewed in relation to [Page 7] a variety of bodies, this One spirit appears as separated owing to the difference between bodies, as light from one source appears as varied, owing to the differences in reflecting surfaces. This is the I or Ego, which everyone takes to be his own.
Arjuna is advised to act upon the ideas presented to him, and to fight regardless of both possible victory or defeat, for if he abstains he will incur everlasting dishonour. Krishna's conception of duty here, is that which has been always held up as the highest before soldiers, and is quite consistent with the loftiest moral teaching. For however much some of us may condemn war from the point of human evolution we have now reached, yet it must be remembered that a majority of so-called civilized nations have not attained this height, and until they have done so, war appears inevitable as a state, through the sufferings of which the human race will finally appreciate the blessings of peace and harmony. Having thus advised Arjuna, according to the ancient Sankhya philosophy, Krishna says: "Now hear that relating to the Yoga or practical devotional. In this path to final emancipation even a little of this form of piety protects one from great danger". Piety or knowledge here means real spiritual intuition, and not acquirements of intellect, whilst deliverance from great danger may be understood to refer to conditioned existence, or reincarnation in a physical body. Krishna then goes on to say that the unwise prefer the transient enjoyments of that state known in Esoteric Philosophy as Devachan, or the period of bliss between two human incarnations. In other words such people make good Karma only, and therefore continue to be reborn on earth. "Do you, Arjuna, rise above those effects of the three qualities and be free from the pairs of opposites".[Meaning heat and cold, pain and pleasure, and so forth.] Krishna here compares the Vedas to a reservoir providing water for various special purposes, and therefore not pointing out the highest path.
Arjuna then enquires what are the characteristics of a truly wise man, and Krishna replies: "He whose heart is not agitated in the midst of calamities, who has no longing for pleasures, and from whom the feelings of affection, fear and wrath have departed, is called a sage. His mind is steady, who, being without attachments anywhere, feels no exultation and no aversion on encountering the various agreeable and disagreeable things of this world". As Krishna repeats this teaching in a later chapter, we need not deal with it now. He then proceeds: " The man who ponders over objects of sense forms an attachment to them; from that attachment is produced desire ; and from desire anger is produced ". This means that from opposition to desire anger arises, and the further statement is made that spiritual matters are dark as night to ordinary men whilst they are wise in worldly pursuits. In the case of sages the position is reversed. [Page 8] Also those whose desires enter their minds as fresh waters enter without affecting the sea, have obtained mental peace.
At the outset of Chapter III., Arjuna inquires why Krishna impels him to the fight, and at the same time places devotion above action. The latter then declares that there are two paths to emancipation, that of the exercise of reason in contemplation and Yoga, or that which is devotion in the performance of action, and then says that no one can remain an instant without acting in some way mentally or physically, meaning that these tendencies to action proceed from causes started in past incarnations. He then states that all actions should be performed as duties, the performer at the same time having no desires in connection with the results. The teaching being that all actions performed other than as sacrifices to the "Higher Self" bind the actor. He who acts therefore entirely from a paramount sense of duty, being confident that the Perfect Law will adjust all things rightly, is quite free from selfishness, and in harmony with the One source of all things. The further statement made that man should offer food sacrifices to the gods, means the same unselfish performance of the acts of eating, &c., and has also reference to the fact that man's thoughts have a potent influence upon his material surroundings, the harmony or discord within being reflected without, in nature. Krishna then goes on to say that only the ignorant consider themselves the doers of actions, which are in reality due to the qualities of nature, which is the totality of all qualities, self being quite distinct from this, as spirit is from matter. A wise man seeks for spirit, avoiding all attachments to sensuous things. It should be remembered that the devotion so often mentioned in the Gîta means aspiration, and that worship is the dedication of all actions to the Supreme, all other religious services being forms and nothing more. Also we should always perform our own duty, even if badly, and leave that of others alone, with which we have no concern. Arjuna next asks what it is that seems to impel man to sin, although unwilling. Krishna replies that it is Rajas, the active driving power in nature; in Occult Philosophy this is called the Kama principle. This has its seat in the senses, and desire awakens from the perception of an object, and pondering over it with the lower mind. But, says Krishna, great as are the senses, the mind is greater still, and Buddhi, or the spiritual soul, is above that, whilst highest of all is Universal Spirit. "Thus knowing that which is higher than the understanding and restraining your lower self by your higher self destroy this unmanageable enemy in the shape of desire".
Commencing Chapter IV., Krishna says this eternal spiritual truth was known to the first manifestation of divine wisdom, at the dawn of the present life cycle. "This spiritual truth is the right performance of action which by purification of the nature of man renders him fit for the [Page 9] reception of spiritual illumination", and was lost owing to want of fit recipients, but Arjuna having his lower nature under control is a fit individual to receive it, and Krishna calls him friend, meaning that he was a co-worker with the divine Law of Harmony. The latter then states that he has passed through many successive lives, which he remembers, thus bringing in the doctrine of reincarnation, which, explained from the cosmic standpoint, in this case would mean that the Universe of forms, born through the thought of the Logos, appears and disappears alternately, such phenomena being known in the East as the Days and Nights of Brahma. Krishna also says that at certain critical periods he is born on earth for the protection of the good and the destruction of the wicked. This is a statement of the Occult doctrine concerning the appearance of Avatars or Saviours, who come to the assistance of humanity at such times as named, such Divine guides probably being great Adepts overshadowed by the Logos or World-Soul. It seems that even sages are confused "as to what is action, what inaction", or what should, and what should not be done. But he is wise among men, who, possessed of aspirations towards the Divine, performs all actions from a sense of duty, and remains free from desire as regards their fruit, and spiritual knowledge burns to ashes all binding effects of actions. "Destruction of action" means that the thorough identification of the actor with the Supreme One destroys all earthly tendencies of actions in connection with the performer. The "sacrifice of sound in the fire of senses" here means applying the senses to their appropriate objects only . "Those who eat the nectar-like leavings of the sacrifice repair to the eternal Brahman". Nectar left does not refer to actual food, but to state of life enjoyed by devotee after the performance of duty, and the sacrifice through spiritual knowledge is superior to sacrifice made with material things. The practices here mentioned relating to the regulation of the breath, etc., pertain to a branch of mysticism which requires special study for their proper comprehension, says a student; for being founded on a profound knowledge of Occult physiology, and of the magnetic currents of the body, any attempts to imitate them, especially by untrained dabblers in the Occult in the West, are likely to have disastrous consequences to them. Krishna further says that those who really wish to know the truth will be taught it by the Nirmânakâyas, or those great Adepts who "prefer to remain invisibly (in spirit, so to speak) in the world, and contribute towards man's salvation by influencing them to follow the Good Law, i.e., lead them on the path of Righteousness". [Voice of the Silence, p 95] "Having learnt the truth, Arjuna, you will not again fall into error; and by means of it, you will see all beings, without exception, first in yourself, and then in me"; that is, spiritual knowledge shows everything in Self and then in Higher Self [Page 10] Krishna further adds, "As a fire reduces fuel to ashes, so the fire of knowledge reduces all actions to ashes", fuel to ashes is action as fuel of Karma, as ignorance is at the base of wrongdoing, and spiritual knowledge purifies everything, therefore those who have acquired it are called fires.
Commencing Chapter V., Arjuna asks which is superior, renunciation of actions or pursuit of them, as Krishna had praised both. The latter replies: "Renunciation of action and devotion through action are both means of final emancipation, but devotion through action best of two. Only result of action as such is action. Renunciation of action will at last lead by experience to the proper performance of action; Sankhya and Yoga doctrines as regards action are in reality the same, although the watchword of the former is renunciation of all action and reliance on knowledge only, and that of latter, practice of action with devotion. Practice of Yoga devotion proves proper renunciation, since this is not renunciation of action itself but of worldly interest in acting. Action rightly performed produces the same result as renunciation, but without the same hardship. Renunciation is of two kinds, one accompanying true spiritual knowledge and the other without such knowledge, the last-named is inferior to right performance of action". Also "senses and organs move by natural impulse to their appropriate objects". The aspirant must purify his body and mind, and will escape rebirth here by being free from selfish desires. Krishna says that Deity or the Logos is not the cause of actions amongst men, such proceeding from the workings of nature only. The specific nature of an act is not the purifying agent, but the mental state of the performer is such. The wise look upon all things alike as manifestations of the One reality, though of different qualities and classes. All are the same in essence although differing in appearance. The spiritually wise have conquered death, and their consciousness is therefore unbroken, and remains the same on both sides of the grave. All the pleasures of existence born of contact between the senses and their objects, quickly breed misery as they are always changing, and have a beginning and end. A profound philosophical truth is here expressed, as happiness and misery are a pair of opposites and either pole constantly attracts the other, as on the physical plane the positive pole of one magnet draws the negative of another, action and reaction being always equal and opposite. True happiness therefore, or rather blessedness, cannot be obtained on this plane of transitory existence, but is to be found on the contrary in union with the Supreme alone, That which alters not, the One Truth.
In Chapter VI., Krishna says that the devotee is superior to all others, for he has devotion or aspiration in addition to all other virtues. "A man should elevate his self by his self; he should not debase his self, for even a man's own self is his friend, a man's own self is also his enemy". This play [Page 11] upon the word self means that the lower nature of man is the enemy to his higher nature, and is also an enemy to its own welfare, through its downward characteristics. The aspirant should attain the acme of renunciation from desires, a state in which even the intention of renouncing desires, is itself renounced. Then follow some directions for meditation, which we need not specify, as they are for those who have retired from the world, having reached such a point in the course of their development that they may legitimately do so. In Western eyes this looks very much like entire selfishness, but it is nothing of the kind when viewed from the position taken up by Occult Philosophy. For the latter asserts that the thoughts of a highly developed and trained mind and will, can greatly influence humanity for both good and ill, therefore the work of a high sage on the mental plane alone is of the utmost importance, and more useful to humanity at large, because it is accomplished under conditions free from the obstacles produced by a gross physical environment. We may here remark that in the description of a magnetically arranged seat given in this chapter, Kusa grass forms the base; this grass is said to have great occult qualities. The meditator is said to look at the tip of his nose, but this is done, says a commentator, "in order to prevent the sight from rambling, a total closing of the eyes being objectionable as leading to sleep". Krishna says that the true aspirant observes the golden mean in food, exercise, sleeping and waking, and all the practical affairs of life. "That devotee is deemed to be the best, who looks alike on pleasure or pain, whatever it may be in all creatures". This does not mean that a sage is indifferent to all suffering, but that he does not allow any useless emotions to distract his mind, whilst doing his utmost for all beings. Arjuna thinks it very difficult to govern the lower mind, it being fickle, strong and obstinate, as he says. Krishna replies that although difficult, the lower mind can be restrained by constant practice and indifference to worldly objects. Arjuna then asks what happens to those who, working half-heartedly on the path to emancipation, fall short in their aim. Krishna says "none who perform good deeds come to an evil end", they attain the state of bliss between two incarnations known in the Esoteric philosophy as Devachan, and after dwelling therein for a long period, are reborn in a holy family, and coming again into contact with Occultism, are led on by their old desires and finally achieve freedom. The man of meditation is superior to men of penance, learning, and action.
Having now in the first six chapters described individual spirit and the duty of man in connection therewith, Krishna goes on to teach of the Supreme. According to his statements, the whole universe of objects are but manifestations of the One spiritual principle behind phenomena, and that only a few men really know this Truth. Earth, water, fire, air, [Page 12] Akasa, Manas, Buddhi, and egoism, the last being the perfection of all the others on the phenomenal plane. This is the lower part of the Divine nature, and higher than this, is that known in Occult philosophy as the One life, through which everything is animated and exists. The whole of creation, deluded by being enveloped in gross matter, is unable to recognise this fact, with the exception of those spiritually enlightened. But whatever form of religious faith is sincerely practised, the devout reap a reward commensurate with their ideal. Thus we each make our own Heaven and dwell therein, but as these mental states fall short of the Supreme they are but transitory, and subject those who have progressed no higher to rebirth under material conditions, as soon as the effects of our efforts are exhausted. At the end of the seventh chapter Krishna says: "Those who know me know the Brahman, the whole Adhyâtma, Karma, and the Adhibhûta". Brahman is the Supreme, Adhyâtma is the name of my being manifesting as the individual Self, and Adhibhûta is the Supreme Spirit dwelling in all elemental nature, whilst Karma here is, so to say, the action of the Supreme, which is seen in manifestation throughout the evolution of the objective worlds".
The eighth chapter commences by a question of Arjuna's respecting the nature of Deity when manifested as stated above. For "Brahma has two aspects: viz., with the totality of nature as attribute, and without as supreme Reality". Krishna in replying describes these aspects and repeats the advice given in former chapters as to the method for obtaining union with Supreme Spirit, and states that all the worlds below Brahma are only temporary, and not everlasting, but he says: "After attaining to me, there is no birth again. Those who know a day of Brahma to end after one thousand ages and the night to terminate after one thousand ages, are the persons who know day and night". This is a reference to what are known in the Esoteric Philosophy as Manvantaras and Pralayas or the Days and Nights of the Universe. According to this teaching the lower planes of Kosmic Consciousness, or the phenomenal worlds, appear and disappear during alternate periods of about 311,040,000,000,000 human years. This doctrine applied to the Universe, corresponds to the Law of Periodicity, or Rhythm of Motion, discovered by physical scientists, acting in many departments of Nature. "But there is another invisible eternal existence, superior to this visible one, which is not destroyed when all entities are destroyed. It is called the unperceived, the indestructible; they call it the highest goal. Attaining to it none returns. That is my supreme abode"' If the true interpretation of the above quotation is that those who attain Nirvâna never return to conditioned existence, then the teaching of the Esoteric Philosophy is opposed to it. For it holds that there are many Nirvânas, or states of spiritual enlightenment attainable by entities in the [Page 13] course of their upward progress; but that from such states the Nirvânees do return to conditioned existence when a new life cycle commences". Once a Dharmakâya, or Nirvânee, an Adept leaves behind every possible relation with, or thought for this earth. Thus, to be enabled to help humanity, an Adept who has won the right to Nirvâna renounces the Dharmakâya body in mystic parlance; and remains in his Nirmânakâya body [ “Voice of the Silence” p 97]. It follows from this teaching that the Nirmânakâyas are superior to the Nirvanees, the former having sacrificed their state of bliss in Nirvana in order to benefit humanity, while the latter are called Pratyêka Buddhas, a synonym of spiritual selfishness. Krishna proceeds: " I will state the times at which devotees departing from this world go, never to return. The fire, the flame, the day, the bright fortnight, the six months of the northern solstice, departing from the world in these, those who know the Brahman go to the Brahman. Smoke, night, the dark (unlucky) fortnight, the six months of the southern solstice (dying) in these the devotee goes to the lunar light (astral light), and returns."Fire, flame, day, smoke, night, etc., are all names of various deities which preside over the Cosmo-psychic powers. Sankara says fire means a. deity presiding over time. With these verses the mystic sense of the solar and lunar symbols are connected. The Pitris are lunar deities". [“Secret Doctrine”, Vol I, p 86. The student seeking further light on this part of the teaching of the Gîta may profitably consult the “Secret Doctrine” on the part played by the Solar and Lunar Pitris during human evolution]
The chapter just passed is stated to be for those of moderate spirituality, and the succeeding one for those lower still in the scale of spiritual progress.
The ninth chapter states the relations between supreme spirit and the manifested universe. "All entities live in me but I do not live in them. Nor yet do all entities live in me. See my divine power. Supporting all entities and producing all entities, myself lives not in those entities. As the great and ubiquitous atmosphere always remains in space, know that similarly all entities live in me", said Krishna. Mr. Telang, in his commentary on this apparent contradiction of all things living and yet not living in the One, remarks that because Deity is untainted by anything, as space is untainted and unaffected by the air, which remains in it, therefore the entities do not live in Deity, although all things are supported by the divine power of Deity. No doubt Eastern metaphysicians are prepared to justify the subtle views here expressed on the difference between spirit and matter, but a special treatise would be required to adequately present them to Western students. We may here state, however, that the Western orthodox idea of creation, or that of Deity creating the universe from nothing, is quite unknown in Sanscrit literature, the only idea in the latter [Page 14] relating to this matter being that of emanation. "Whatever you do, O Son of Kunti, whatever you eat, whatever sacrifice you make, whatever you give, whatever penance you perform, do that as offered to me". This means that the commonest actions of life are sacrifices to supreme Deity if performed without interestedness in a devotional spirit.
In the tenth chapter Krishna says that for the advantage of Arjuna he will continue his explanation. "Not the multitudes of the gods nor the great sages know my source. The seven great sages, and likewise the four ancient Manus, whose descendants are all these people in the world, were all born from my mind". The seven great sages refers to seven great rupa or form Hierarchies of Dhyan Chohans; the Esoteric philosophy teaches the existence of many such classes of celestial beings or Gods, who must certainly exist in the Kosmos if spiritual evolution be a fact. The four ancient Manus referred to in the text mean the four progenitors and guides of the four past root races, as in Esoteric history we find that four such races have come and gone, whilst the fifth or the Aryan lives now. "Krishna or Logos is the universal principle represented by all of the Divine powers born of its mind, or the Intellectual Breaths". Krishna goes on to enumerate some of his chief emanations, amongst others he says, I am Garuda among birds, the Garuda or eagle meaning the whole Manvantaric or life cycle of the manifested universe.
In the eleventh chapter Arjuna wishes to see the divine form of Krishna, accordingly the latter shows him in a vision the Divine form including all forms, this being an attempt to symbolize the universal presence of Deity. A commentator says that the discus seen in the Divine vision signifies the whirling wheel of spiritual will and power, and that the mouths filled with flame also observed, are typical of the material essence in which all things are reabsorbed at the time of the night of Brahma. Arjuna also sees the warriors and chiefs of the opposing army destroyed in these mouths of flame, and remembering that these stand for the passions which revel in the lower nature of man, their destruction here means their conquest by aid of the Higher Self. Arjuna then being sorely dismayed by this spectacle, asks Krishna to reassume his old form as charioteer. The latter consents. Then
These words to Arjuna spake
Vâsudev, and straight did take
Back again the semblance dear
Of the well-loved charioteer;
Peace and joy it did restore
When the Prince beheld once more
Mighty Brahma's form and face
Clothed in Krishna's gentle grace.
Krishna then says that it is only by devotion to the Supreme or the One that he can be truly known.
At the outset of the twelfth chapter Arjuna inquires which is the best [Page 15] path of devotion. This "difficulty of devotion to the Unmanifested One is caused by the personality (or brain consciousness) inducing the illusion of separateness, devotion to the manifested therefore easier". This means that it is not easy for ordinary men to follow the highest possible religious ideal, hence the various anthropomorphic ideas of Deity, which have a prominent place in all exoteric religions, and which are corruptions foreign to truly spiritual conceptions of the divine. Krishna, in replying, points out that knowledge is superior to continuous meditation, concentration is superior to knowledge, whilst renunciation of the fruits of actions is the best course to pursue.
The teaching of the thirteenth chapter is very instructive to students of Occult Philosophy, the great distinction between the body called Kshetra in the text, and the Kshetragna or spiritual mind [The supervising principle within one] is prominently brought forward, to quote from Sir Edwin Arnold's version: —
Yea, Son of Kunti: for this flesh ye see
Is Kshetra, is the field where Life disports;
And that which views and knows it is the soul,
Kshetrajana. In all "fields", thou Indian prince!
I am Kshetrajna. I am what surveys !
Only that knowledge knows which knows the known
By the knower.
A commentator also says, "O mind, body is, as has been before said, a battle-field; and the intelligent principle which exists within every human being — that which knows itself and things around it — that I am myself. The knowledge of these two, acquired by mind through actions, is the spiritual knowledge by which emancipation is attained". The Kshetra is said to he made up of the personal consciousness, the principle of life, the senses, and the various passions and desires of which the lower nature of man is composed, together with the subtle or root elements in nature. Obviously the Kshetra is here what is known in the Occult classification as the lower Quaternary of the human principles; also the inclusion of the root nature elements or noumena of Earth, Air, Fire, Water, etc., correspond with the occult teaching that man is the microcosm of the macrocosm, and as such contains within himself the potentialities of all nature. Krishna then says that wisdom is,
Humbleness, truthfulness, and harmlessness,
Patience and honour, reverence for the wise.
Purity, constancy, control of self,
Contempt of sense-delights, self-sacrifice,
Perception of the certitude of ill
In birth, death, age, disease, suffering, and sin;
Detachment, lightly holding unto home,
Children and wife, and all that bindeth men;
An ever-tranquil heart in fortunes good
And fortunes evil, with a will set firm
To worship Me; endeavours resolute
To reach perception of the Utmost Soul
And grace to understand what gain it were
So to attain, this is true Wisdom, Prince !
And what is otherwise is ignorance !
[Page 16] "Indifference to nearest relatives means that where one's salvation requires it, the nearest earthly ties must be disregarded". In the text following, Deity is said to be "within all things and without them, it is movable and also immovable; it is unknowable through its subtlety; it stands afar and near. Not different in different things, but standing as though different". Explaining this Mr. Telang says: "Everything being really one, the various manifestations of the Brahman are really one in essence, though apparently different, like foam and water". "Krishna in his individuality is separate from matter, but in his universality exists within it". Matter and spirit are both without beginning, and all qualities belong to matter or nature, which is the cause of the actions and desires of the body and senses, whilst Purusha or spirit is an aspect of individual spirit in humanity, and the cause of experiences of pleasure and pain through its connection with the bodily nature, although spirit not being active, is not polluted by the natural qualities, but merely influenced through the body.
The fourteenth chapter, called "Religion by separation from the qualities", deals with the attributes of matter and the obstacles arising therefrom in the path to emancipation. Krishna explains that Deity is the source of all intelligence, or the soul of the Universe. The Esoteric philosophy states that from the Unmanifested Logos springs the subjective side of manifest being, and the objective side of things, or material forms, from mulaprakriti, or the essence of matter. Mind and matter co-exist, and are inseparable during manifestation. The three qualities of matter are said to be in this chapter: Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas, or passiveness, restlessness, and grossness. All matter is said to exist subject to these three states, in varying degrees. "Goodness, badness, and indifference, — the qualities thus called, sprung from nature, influence the imperishable soul within the body. Of these, goodness is lucid and free from disease, on account of its spotlessness, and implicates the soul by means of connection with the pleasant, and connection with knowledge. Know that badness, being of the nature of desire, arises from appetite and propensity. This implicates the soul by connection with action. But know that indifference, arising from ignorance, is the delusion of all mortals. This implicates the soul by means of folly, idleness, and sloth. Goodness connects the soul with pleasure, badness with action, but indifference surrounding knowledge connects it with folly". The quality of sattva or goodness here means the highest part of material things, attachment to which draws the mind away from spirituality; if the mind therefore identifies itself with these material qualities, it will be bound to rebirth in the world of matter. "When a right seeing person sees none but the qualities to be the doers of all action, and knows what is above the [Page 17] qualities, (or the Kshetragna), he enters into my essence", says Krishna. That is, whoever has conquered the allurements of sensuous objects, is henceforth free from the bondage of conditioned existence.
The fifteenth chapter opens with a description of the Asvattha tree. This is the symbol of the Universe. " Its branches growing out of the three qualities, with the objects of sense as the lesser shoots and roots, ramnify below in the regions of mankind, are the connecting bonds of action". Accurately understanding the great tree of which the unperceived (Occult nature the root of all), is the sprout from the seed (Parabrahman), which consists of the understanding, (Mahat or the Universal intelligent Soul) as its trunk, the branches of which are the great egoism (Ahamkara, that Egoship which leads to every error), in the holes of which are the sprouts, viz., the senses, of which the great (Occult, or invisible) elements are the flower bunches. (The elements are the five tanmâtras, the producers of the grosser), the gross elements (the gross objective matter) the smaller boughs, which are always possessed of leaves and flowers. This is the tree of life, the Asvattha tree, only after the cutting of which the slave of life and death, man can be emancipated, [Secret Doctrine, Vol I, p 536] "An eternal portion of me it is, which, becoming an individual soul in the mortal world, draws to itself the senses with the mind as a sixth. Whenever the ruler of the bodily frame obtains or quits a body, he goes taking these with him", says Krishna. We may interpret this to mean, that a ray from the Divine incarnates in man, this is unaffected by sensuous things, and the wise perceive the Higher Self in all beings, the latter are differentiated, whilst the former is indivisible or Unity.
The sixteenth chapter commences with a fine description of those who are on the path to emancipation from conditioned existence, which it may be well to give in the words of the Song Celestial.
Fearlessness, singleness of soul, the will
Always to strive for wisdom; opened hand
And governed appetites; and piety,
And love of lonely study; humbleness,
Uprightness, heed to injure nought which lives,
Truthfulness, slowness unto wrath, a mind
That lightly letteth go what others prize;
And equanimity, and charity
Which spieth no man's faults; and tenderness
Towards all that surfer; a contented heart
Fluttered by no desires; a bearing mild,
Modest, and grave, with manhood nobly mixed
With patience, fortitude and purity;
An unrevengeful spirit, never given
To rate itself too high; such be the signs,
O Indian Prince, of him whose feet are set
On that fair path which leads to heavenly birth.
Having thus described divine men, Krishna goes on to delineate the undivine. "Men of infernal nature do not comprehend either the nature, [Page 18] of action, or that of cessation from action. They possess neither purity nor truthfulness. They deny that the Universe has any truth in it, or possesses a Lord, or that it has arisen in certain succession, or anything else save that it is there for the sake of enjoyment. Till their last moments thinking of making new acquisitions and preserving old ones, given up to the enjoyment of objects of desire, being resolved that that is all, given up to anger and desire, they wish to obtain heaps of wealth unfairly for enjoying objects of desire. These enemies of God, I continually hurl down to these worlds into demoniac wombs."
The Doors of Hell
Are threefold, whereby men to ruin pass,
The door of Lust, the door of Wrath, the door
Krishna then says that such men never come to him. This teaching appears to be the same as that of the Esoteric Philosophy, which states that a long course of persistence in evil, throughout in fact many incarnations, must finally result in the annihilation of the self-consciousness of the personal man, through the separation of the three higher principles from the lower four; the latter being then identified with matter, are absorbed into it and thus lost.
In the seventeenth chapter, faith is said to be of three kinds, and the result of actions in previous lives. Faith is here considered as the dominant principle in man, and he is good, passionate, or ignorant accordingly. Thus "men in whom disposition of Sattva or goodness predominates worship the Gods. Others of Rajas, or passion, the passionate powers, whilst those of Tamas or Ignorance worship the elemental forces and the ghosts of dead men. Religious penances and rites practised with hypocrisy for sake of fame and favour is Rajas, whilst the same practised to hurt oneself from false judgment, or for hurting others, is Tamas".
Om, Tad, Sat is said to be the triple designation of Deity. These words are used by the devout during the performance of actions to signify that the acts and all are offered to the Supreme One.
The last chapter or the eighteenth now claims attention. Arjuna said: I wish to know the exact truth about abandonment, and renunciation. Krishna in his reply enters into a close analysis of actions and causes of action, which we will endeavour to follow. The latter said, "by renunciation the sages understand the rejection of actions done with desires. The wise call the abandonment of the fruit of all actions by the name of abandonment. Some wise men think an action must be avoided like a crime, whilst others say, the action in sacrifice, almsgiving, and mortification should not be avoided. As to that abandonment listen to my decision, for abandonment is threefold in its nature. The actions of sacrifice, gift, and penance should not be abandoned; they must needs be performed, for [Page 19] sacrifices, gifts, and penances are means of sanctification to the wise. But even these actions should be performed abandoning attachment and fruit". Those who neglect the performance of any duty, because it is difficult and troublesome to themselves, are selfish and act under the influence of the Rajas quality, whilst those who reject duties through ignorance of their importance act under Tamas. On the other hand, whoever performs necessary actions, because they must be done, and putting aside all self-regard for the fruits of such actions, is quite disinterested, and "this is deemed to be a good abandonment". Since no beings can quite give up actions, the proper thing to do is to perform them in the manner last indicated. The threefold results of actions, viz., the wished for, unwished for, and a mixture of both, accrues in postmortem states and in subsequent lives on earth, but no such results follow the actions of those who perfectly renounce all attachment to the fruits. The factors that enter into the performance of all actions are five, viz., the method, the agent, the various organs employed, the distinct movements, and the presiding forces. It is only the ignorant who see th' Immortal or Higher Ego, as the actor. He who does not identify himself as the doer of actions, is not involved in the results whether good or bad, and is therefore free. “Knowledge, the object of knowledge, the knower — threefold is the prompting to action: knowledge, i.e., that something is a means to what is desired; object is the means ; the knower is he who has this knowledge. When these co-exist we have action." In brief, action is threefold, the senses, the action, and the agent. That knowledge is good which sees everything as One. That action is of the quality of Sattva or goodness which is done from a sense of duty only, whilst that performed on account of desire for the fruits is of Rajas or passion, and that done carelessly and without regard of consequences to others is of Tamas or ignorance. There is no entity either on earth or among the lower gods, that is free from the three qualities born of nature. It is better to perform one's own duty badly, than that of another's well. In every condition of life seek for wisdom, and as the first step on the road avoid vanity, whilst aiming at the highest ideal possible to you. If, however, one wishes to postpone the conflict with his lower nature on account of the painful nature of the effort, he will have to undertake it in a future incarnation, perchance under worse conditions, for such is the law of existence. Again, Krishna says, "place your mind on me", aspire to union with the Higher Self, and you will obtain the peace of the Divine, the eternal seat. The celestial poem then concludes.
Hide, the holy Krishna saith
This from him that hath no faith,
Him that worships not, nor seeks
Wisdom's teaching when she speaks;
Hide it from all men who mock,
But, wherever, 'mid the flock
Of my lovers, one shall teach
This divinest, wisest speech
Teaching in the faith to bring
Truth to them, and offering
Of all honour unto Me,
Unto Brahma cometh he.
Nay, and nowhere shall ye find
Any man of all mankind
Doing dearer deed for Me;
Nor shall any dearer be
In my earth. Yea, furthermore,
Whoso reads this converse o'er
Held by Us upon the plain,
Pondering piously and fain
He hath paid Me sacrifice.
(Krishna speaketh in this wise)
Yea, and whoso, full of faith,
Heareth wisely what it saith,
Heareth meekly, — when he dies,
Surely shall his spirit rise
To those regions where the Blest,
Free of flesh, in joyance rest.
[Page 20] We have now passed in brief review the eighteen chapters of the Gîta, and in conclusion may call attention to a few points of interest in connection with its teaching. It will have been observed that there is a large amount of repetition in the poem, but this arises from the fact that Krishna after explaining various lower ideals or paths ultimately leading to emancipation, always returns and points out the highest and best road to freedom. We can also note that the Gîta condemns no religious opinions or creeds as entirely wrong or useless, all have their place, however far removed from the most exalted of human aspirations, and this wise tolerance may well be copied by the votaries of every creed. It is also apparent that there are several inconsistencies in the Gîta, and although some eminent scholars have given it as their opinion that we now have the text of the poem almost exactly in the condition in which it was when it left the author's hands, we beg leave to doubt it, for as the Gîta is an exoteric work, the text cannot now be pure, considering that all know or should know, that there is not a single sacred book in circulation now, either in the East or West, without many corruptions of text and serious departures in its teaching from the original. Despite these blemishes, however, the Bhagavad Gîta fully deserves the high compliments paid it by Schlegel and others; it is indeed a unique work, to follow its lofty ideals is to mount the steps leading to the temple of Wisdom, the portal to the realms of the Gods, attaining which emancipated man can say to the transient experiences of conditioned existence :
Broken thy House is, and the Ridge pole split.
Delusion fashioned it. Safe pass I thence, deliverance to obtain.
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