[Edited by Elithe Nisewanger]
The Theosophical Publishing House - Adyar, Chennai 600020, India
Know Me, O Partha, as the eternal seed of all beings. I am the Reason of the Reason endowed, the splendour of splendid things am I.
Bhagavad Gita, VII, 10.
[Page v] DURING the summer of 1946, following his election as President of the Theosophical Society, Mr. C. Jinarajadasa spent two months at Bangalore, South India, in order to escape the excessive heat of Madras, and to gain a slight relaxation from the demanding duties of administration at the international Headquarters of the Society. However, it was not a vacation in the ordinary sense, for in common with other notable Theosophical leaders and lecturers, a change of work was usually regarded as the only kind of vacation or recreation that was wanted or required. Thus, he continued to carry on the Society's administration through correspondence, and also delivered numerous lectures, both to members of the Society and the public in Bangalore.
This series of six Discourses on the Bhagavad Gita comprised one group of talks delivered during that period. In addition to duties as secretary to the President, it was also my custom to take verbatim shorthand reports of all his talks and [Page vi] lectures; hence, these discourses were recorded and immediately transcribed. Many of his listeners urged the lecturer to publish them, and his secretary's voice was added to this number, both at Bangalore and later at Adyar. However, he always demurred, on the grounds that “they are not really worth publishing — anyone can give discourses on the Gita", and further, that he was too occupied with official matters to give time to editing the transcriptions.
It was the latter objection which really weighed in his refusal to consider publication. Mr. Jinarajadasa, on the whole, followed a much more informal style of lecture delivery than other well-known Theosophical lecturers. Consequently, he felt the need for rather extensive and careful editing and revision, to attain a more finished literary form before he released his talks and lectures for printing. And since he was most conscientious and thorough in any editing he undertook, it was indeed a time-consuming task for one who, as President of the Society, had all too little time to spare from official duties for literary inclinations. Nevertheless, his secretary-reporter continued to feel that there was a certain worth in publishing these particular Gita discourses, and set them aside for that purpose, [Page vii] even if that might only be after Mr. Jinarajadasa's death and in unrevised form. I am most grateful to Radha Sri Ram Burnier for her helpful collaboration in preparing the material for publication at this time.
Naturally no one could adequately edit any lecture or writing of another person, unless he were able to enter completely into the mind and thought of that other person. Hence, any editing of the discourses here presented makes no pretension toward achieving the scholarly or literary effect the lecturer-reviser himself might have produced. On the other hand, it seems not without value to leave them largely in their original phraseology and style, somewhat informal and unsatisfactory though that may appear from a purely literary standpoint. Mr. Jinarajadasa undoubtedly had his own particular mode of interpretation and presentation, and many are those who have appreciated it. In the course of more than fifty years of writing and speaking, he has also dealt with a vast range of subjects, but his interpretations of teachings as given in the Bhagavad Gita do not appear previously to have reached the printed page. ( A lecture on the Bhagavad Gita, from an entirely different approach, was printed in 1904, as Adyar Pamphlet No.59.) [Page viii]
This booklet is offered with no apologies, then, but in the hope that it will give
pleasure to those who have long valued Mr. Jinarajadasa's presentation of the
age-old truths and their implications for our own times, and who may find in these
discourses yet another absorbing facet of his wide interests and distinctive
Kotagiri, South India,
September 15, 1953
of the most interesting facts with regard to the Gita is that it enables
everyone who has studied it and has striven for the spiritual life to give
a discourse on the Gita. Our daily life has often been said to be very
much like a Kurukshetra, each one of us playing the role of an Arjuna,
except that we do not quite have the privilege that was his of having the
Lord equally by our side on life's battlefield. We have to work out the
daily problems in a way somewhat similar to Arjuna's, but obviously without
the direct inspiration which he gained. [Page 2]
I want here to deal with the Gita from an angle somewhat different, however. The book is intensely fascinating to the scholar, for instance, but I will not touch upon that aspect to any extent, beyond saying that it is quite generally agreed that the Gita in its present form is an expansion of the original work. The marvel of it is that its gospel has united all the sects and philosophies of Hinduism since the time the book was composed. It is, I think we may say, the one book which is reverenced by everyone in India, because it is a book that unites. And it is because of that supreme characteristic that the various schools of Hindu religious thought can all give discourses on the Gita.
I do not know when and where popular discourses on the Gita were first given, but it is a striking fact that almost anywhere in India, even today, one can find an audience for a Gita discourse. I heard recently from a member of the Jhansi Theosophical Lodge in the United Provinces that the secretary of that Lodge was giving in Hindustani a series of talks on the Gita, and that many women also came to hear them. He remarked that more people attended those discourses than the classes in Theosophy. That is but natural, for theosophical studies might be regarded as more for those who are [Page 3] seeking Truth, and not, shall I say, so much for those who are seeking faith, whereas often the characteristic of one who devotes himself to the Gita is largely the endeavour to make himself stronger in the quality of bhakti, or devotion.
But as a preliminary to any real study or understanding of the Bhagavad Gita, it is necessary to go back in imagination to the time when it was put together in its present form, that is, what we may call the second edition in several hundred verses, as we have it now. As we read the Gita we can see that even then Hinduism was very old. There was a marked quality in many followers of the religion, a quality which still exists today and can be described in a western phrase which expresses a kind of desire to escape from life. That idea of “escapism", as it is called, was very strong. Everyone was born into a certain dharma or duty, but to many there came an urge to leave the affairs of the world and to become the sannyasi, the ascetic.
As we know, the word sannyasa means 'renunciation', a renunciation of everything the world can give, in order that one may go on a search. This ancient search is well known, as shown in the oldest of the scriptures. There is a phrase in the Upanishads which describes the road one has to [Page 4] tread as being narrow and sharp as a razor's edge. For the whole attempt, the search, is to know for oneself what is the Ekam Advaityam, the One without a second. The individual lives in a world of manifold attributes, and the Hindu was involved in certain caste duties. On all sides there was the clamour of many philosophies, many saints expounded various ways to salvation, and yet it was made quite clear that behind all this diversity of manifestation there is only the One.
It is interesting that the old religious tradition has mapped out how man is to come to the beginning of the search for the One. Of Course it was taken for granted that the search could not begin till the character was ready. And it is explained that through a series of incarnations the seeker is being prepared: first, as the one who serves under the orders of another; then comes the second stage or division, where responsibility is thrust upon the individual to make a success in life; then comes the third stage, that of the warrior when something of the idea of selflessness begins; and finally, the fourth stage, of the one who gave of his knowledge.
In the first two divisions, as the manual worker, the Shudra, and as the merchant, the Vaishya, the dharma was to gain wealth. But it was understood [Page 5] that wealth was gained in order that it might be distributed for the good of others. The worker and the merchant would earn enough for the family, for those directly dependent upon them, but it was understood that when they became rich, they held the wealth as almoners of God. When we read of the old civilization, one of the beautiful things we note is the description not only of the temples built, but of the dharmasala, the planting of trees by the roadside for travellers, of all kinds of ways in which wealth was used by the rich men, indicating that there was constantly the feeling that while God gave them wealth, they were only God's almoners to help the world.
But when it came to the Kshatriya, the warrior, there was a new idea given – that one's life is not his own. There can be nothing more precious to us than life, but the moment one became the warrior he was the king's man. As is said in the Gita, there is no greater spiritual benefit than to be called upon to fight for a righteous cause, and in all such fighting there could not be any attempt to save one's own life, unless the Kshatriya dharma were broken. The individual lived for the king and, amplifying the thought, he lived to protect the people from oppression and entered into his career by devoting his life to [Page 6] and for the cause. Already, then, there entered into the Kshatriya stage the idea that the warrior himself was not on his own; he was a servant of the king, as the king himself was the servant of God.
final stage was that of the Brahmana and in the old ideal days he
had no wealth. He was given what he required by those who needed his spiritual
services. Now and then a king might bestow a gift, but the Brahmana's distinct
duty was to keep open the channel of communion between man and the devas.
All his ceremonies were intended to keep these channels open, in the same
kind of way as when an irrigation system is established it is the duty
of the irrigation officer to see that the channels are kept free from obstructions.
The Brahmana was supposed to be poor, but he
gave of his knowledge for nothing. He was living the life, then, and trying
to understand in what way he might be a part of the mechanism of the dynamo
of God. All
ceremonies in the early days were understood from that standpoint.
Now it might happen that there had been born into any of the castes, but particularly into the Brahmana caste, one who in his past lives had performed all that was necessary to bring him to the entrance to the Path. Therefore, the arrangement [Page 7] of the four ashramas was made. First, there was the stage of the student, the brahmachari, who went to the Guru's home and lived with him, perhaps from the age of twelve years onwards, learning whatever was necessary. All were taught the technique of their career, and those of the priestly caste were taught the necessary Vedic verses. During that first period, all lived the life of the student. All the Pandavas, Arjuna and his brothers in the Gita story, went to their Guru, Dhrona.
In the second of the four ashramas there came the period where the social organization was definitely entered, as the grihastha, the one who stands in the home. The individual became the householder, a part of the family organization, and took upon himself clearly marked responsibilities as a member of the family, performing all the various daily sacrifices, tending the sacred fire, and so on. There was ceremony after ceremony to be performed, all to a certain time schedule, and later on as more and more ceremonies were added, there was no opportunity for the performer to understand the meaning of everything recited.
Then came the period of the vanaprastha, when the householder was perhaps forty-five years old, when the son was grown and had finished his university career, and it was understood that the [Page 8] administration of all the householder's worldly affairs would be passed on to the son. The householder became the vanaprastha for a period of perhaps fifteen or twenty years, the one who lived in the wood: not necessarily a wood in the ordinary sense, but somewhere in the family homestead there would be built a small hut for dwelling. The sons and grandchildren provided the daily food, but the vanaprastha no longer took on any obligations of the family. He might be consulted on various matters, but was free to commune with the nature of the Divine. Whereas in the Brahmana caste many ceremonies had to be performed, the arrangement in the third stage was that the vanaprastha was not obliged to perform the ceremonies, but the intention was that they should be recited in the mind, and as they were so performed the aim was to try to penetrate into the mystery: Why do I repeat these verses, why do I perform this or the other ritual action, what is the meaning of it all ? Thus, the intention in the third stage was that the vanaprastha should live back his life and try to understand what was the nature of this work given to man of being a channel of the spiritual forces of God, so that they might be distributed to mankind.
The last stage was that of the sannyasi. As I have indicated, that word means one who renounces. [Page 9] Everything was to be renounced — the family, the individual's name (though he might take a spiritual name), any slight caste duty that had previously remained, and the long comradeship of the spouse. For the individual was then going out to seek the Ekam Advaityam, the One without a second, and on that search there could be none of those memories, no scripture, no Guru. The sannyasi had to come into direct communion with Life. The life in the jungles, the villages, the cities is all one; the life of the devas, of men, of beasts is all one life. And the sannyasi was to go out into the world, renouncing everything of the past, leaving no notification as to where he could henceforth be found, but going out with his staff and begging bowl. India is a land of intense charity and has reverence for holy men, so the daily food would not be wanting. As the sannyasi went from place to place he would travel on foot, sleeping, it might be, in some shrine or wherever he found himself at nightfall. He could not even defend himself, for his life was regarded as no longer his own. He was going out to commune with Life, to learn what was the mystery of death, what was the mystery of suffering, what was behind all that seems, from one angle, such horror in life, why there are all the earthquakes, famines, wars. [Page 10] If God is Love and is Omniscient, how is it that He tolerates all these things, what is the meaning of it all? The sannyasi might in the earlier stages have studied the Upanishads and sacrificed to the devas, but the time had come to renounce all that and try to get at the mystery directly for himself. For there is Ekam Advaityam. and there was very clearly the idea that the final mystery cannot be realized with the help of anyone outside, for the help must come from within oneself.
interesting element in this search of the sannyasi as
he went from place to place seeking to unravel the deep mystery of Life,
is what I have mentioned – he
must not protect himself. He might die of starvation; if so, that was the
way God released him and brought him to the goal. He might die as the prey
of some wild
animal; but everything was left in the hands of God. There is a very striking
story that illustrates this about an incident that took place in the time
Indian Mutiny. The
British soldiers went about putting down the enemy, and one came across a
man seated cross-legged. Knowing nothing of Indian customs, the soldier
did not realize that this was a holy man who had nothing to do with the
turbulence, but took him to be one of the enemy, charged at him and [Page 11] bayonetted him. The
story goes that the yogi was in rapt meditation, but as he heard the
soldier coming to slay him, he whispered: “Even thou art He" — accepting
the idea that it was God coming in the guise of a soldier to give him Moksha,
Now this conception, which might be mis-labelled escapism from life, also had linked with it a very curious conception, which will be found in the old books. It was the conception of a personal immortality, the idea that if one performed great sacrifices, incredible feats of tapas or asceticism, he might thereby force Indra, God of Heaven, to give him personal immortality, so that in that very physical body he might become immortal. From this queer idea there was developed this later exaggerated conception of tapas, quite different from the original grand idea which carried with it the sense of voluntary action through will or determination, and sacrifice. It was only the later idea of tapas which involved the performance of certain austerities, which were described in some of the sacred books. Later still this developed in the most exaggerated form in some of the Hatha Yoga practices.
Today if one goes to some mela, spiritual pilgrimage, it is possible to see certain men practising [Page 12] various austerities, as sleeping on beds of nails, holding an arm up in the air hour after hour, or by some sheer physical suffering trying to gain immortality. All that idea was very prevalent, but it is a completely mistaken idea of what is real Yoga, which as we know means “union". It carries no thought whatsoever of such austerities, but means to be one with Ekam Advaityam.
At the time the Gita was written, many people were full of false ideas of yoga and sannyasa, going to the extent that they disdained all kinds of activity. There was the very old idea of karma, that action is inevitably followed by a result, and that so long as there is any result to be worked out, one must continue to reincarnate either to enjoy or to suffer the result. Therefore arose what seemed to be the logical conclusion — if one wanted to be free, the best way was to do nothing at all. Hence, then, the gospel of inaction. We have in India perhaps five million sadhus, all fed by the charity of 225 millions of Hindus. Again, at a mela, as at Allahabad, one can see hundreds of these men who have escaped from life by doing nothing, who have become a kind of parasite on the social system and should be put to work. There is nothing the least spiritual about them; indeed, many certainly have the appearance of [Page 13] cut-throats, and I should not like to trust my life to some of them. What are such so-called sadhus giving in return for the charity they receive from devout Hindus ? Some sadhus undoubtedly are great centres of spiritual force. They spend their lives in meditation and hold the loftiest of aspirations. Though they do not travel, though they do not give discourses, though they may not utter a single word, nevertheless they are like spiritual dynamos, creating a magnetism that affects the whole community. But there was very prevalent in India, then, this conception of inaction as a way to Liberation.
Now, the chief theme of the Bhagavad Gita is to show that there can be no such thing as inaction, that God himself is always acting. As is said, with one part of Himself He descends, He acts, but there is the other part of Himself which remains in the transcendental realm. This brings us to a Christian mystical doctrine which is very illuminating. Most Christians think of God as having created the world once and for all, and then sitting apart and watching to see what mankind is doing with the world. Along that line of reasoning many Christian thinkers have found great difficulties in understanding what is the true spiritual life. Some of them conceive of God as do we in Indian philosophy, that is, as the [Page 14] manifested and the unmanifested. They use the two terms, God as Transcendental and God as Immanent. Following the ancient ideas, we know that the One, BRAHMAN, is in the stone, in the outcaste, in the greatest saint, in each particle of dust. We cannot conceive of any place or point in time where Divinity is not existing, and, as we will see from the teaching of the Gita, where Divinity is not at work. That is the supreme teaching of the great Teacher , Shri Krishna, that He too, though He could live as the transcendence and not be obliged by any outside force to create a universe, yet He voluntarily does so. And not only does He do so, but He maintains that world in a certain order, and if He were not to maintain the world through His great tapas, the whole world would vanish, with all of us, like a dream in the night.
The problem is, then, not a question of inaction, but of what is the right action. We have to discover the distinction between action that binds and action that does not bind. Action that binds brings man back into incarnation. One may go on performing all kinds of good works, but so long as at the back of the mind there is any idea of phala, fruit, or punya, reward or merit, at once the link is made between the action as it is done, and the result [Page 15] of that action as it will be some day. I have said that the true sannyasi, who is rapt in contemplation of God, is a centre of spiritual force. He is acting, but he is acting in an impersonal way. And throughout the Gita it is proclaimed that man is to act either as the sannyasi or as the yogi.In the olden days there were six schools of thought, numbering among them the school of the Sankhya, and the school of the Yoga. The school of Yoga was often misinterpreted as giving that exaggerated teaching of complete inaction; the school of the Sankhya was highly intellectual and wonderful, as I shall try to show you later. These two were sometimes considered as opposed one to the other. But Shri Krishna came to show that they were not opposed, any more than the two sides of a coin are separable one from the other in reality. They are certainly facing in opposite ways, but both the obverse and the reverse make one coin. Similarly, there is a unity in the idea of true action.
There is action that does not bind. What is the action that does not bind ? First obviously, it is action which is righteous action and it must be performed from one of two standpoints. The standpoint which is now emphasized in India is to lay the action at the feet of God as an offering. Because [Page 16] of worship, because of devotion offered to Shri Krishna, the true bhakta who understands lays everything on the altar of God. It is that doctrine of an offering that is best known throughout the length and breadth of India, and I suppose we may say this aspect of the teaching gained its greatest impetus from the work of Shri Ramanujacharya.
The other possible line of action that does not produce reaction was that of pure sannyasa. Thus, duty was done as duty, not thinking of any Divinity to whom it was offered. Duty is duty, it must be done, and it is the sannyasi's enormous obligation that once he has seen clearly that there is a duty to be done, it must be done. He could not think of any reward; he should be of the Sankhya temperament which did not visualize any Avatara who was a means of grace.
In the Bhagavad Gita, then, there are these two ideas: first, of the sannyasi who performed each action because it is dharma, and the second type, the bhakta yogi who performed action as an offering to God. Now , the hardest thing for all of us is to perform an action without any thought of reward. After all, we have behind us, each one, along training in individualism. We have grown to know ourselves, to be what we are through struggle, by [Page 17] ambition by clamouring for reward. It is in those ways that we have become strong. Thus, when we come now to the opening of the Path, we have instinct within ourselves the thought that there must be some reward: Here am I going to sacrifice myself. What am I going to gain out of it ? The whole idea of punya, which meant in a way a business deal, with karma, is still at the back of the mind, however spiritual we may seem to be. We have raised our conception of punya or phala so that it is not so much as regards worldly wealth, but for other things; to put it in its highest form, for recognition by God that we are serving Him. But that clamour, that praying for grace is in itself an expression of wanting reward.
If you read of the saints. you will find they are all pouring out their bhakti, but there are few who are pure bhaktas, those who pour out their devotion without thinking of any grace returning to them. I happen to have some verses of one of the South Indian saints, Thirunavukarasu, a hymn that has been translated by English missionaries. This hymn expresses a very subtle form of philosophy. In it the sense of sinfulness is exaggerated, as an effort to come nearer to God. The same thing is to be found in [Page 18] Christianity. The whole nature is underlined and scored, in order that by a rebound one may feel that there is unsinfulness within himself. This particular hymn is called “The Soul's Bitter Cry ":
In right I have no power to live,
Day after day I'm stained with sin.
I read, but do not understand;
I hold Thee not my heart within.
O light. O flame, O first of all,
I wandered far that I might see,
Athihai Virattanam's Lord,
Thy flower-like feet of purity.
Daily I'm sunk in worldly sin;
Naught know I as I ought to know;
Absorbed in vice as' twere my kin,
I see no path in which to go.
O Thou with throat one darkling gem,
Gracious, such grace to me accord,
That I may see Thy beauteous feet,
Athihai Virattanam's Lord.
The bond of lust I cannot break;
Desire's fierce torture will not die;
My soul I cannot stab awake
To scan my flesh with seeing eye.
I bear upon me load of deeds,
Load such as I can ne' er lay down.
Athihai Virattanam's Lord.
Weary of joyless life I've grown.
My fickle heart one love forsakes,
And forthwith to some other clings;
Swiftly to some one thing it sways,
And e' en as swiftly backward swings.
O Thou with crescent in Thy hair,
Athihai Virattanam's Lord,
Fixed at Thy feet henceforth I lie,
For Thou hast broken my soul’s cord. [Page 19]
That is a beautiful way of looking forward to the fruit, but still there is not that
characteristic of a pure devotion which rises like a great flame, grows and grows,
and only knows the end of the flame, which is to go to the feet of God.
Our difficulty in this Kurukshetra of daily life is to be in the world, and yet not of it. Because we have obligations we must of course plan for reward, we must save and invest, attend to various duties. Yet at the same time we have to live in that other world, not seeking any reward at all. And that is the hardest of problems.[Page 20]
Gita is a work on which it is easy to speak, but at the same time very
hard. It has perfectly simple teachings which anyone of a devotional frame
of mind can expound, yet at the same time it deals with such deep and metaphysical
ideas that one would need to spend almost a lifetime trying to expound
them. This is what two of the greatest philosophers of India, Shri Shankaracharya
and Shri Ramanujacharya, did. The story of the Gita indicates that it was
an independent work on philosophy which was later incorporated into the Mahabharata. We
know that there were several such, as the story of Nala and Damayanti,
which were incorporated when the Mahabharata was arranged in its
present third edition. What is really artistic and calls out wonder in
us is the way that the writer of the Gita, a poet, a bhakta, and
a philosopher, brings in the story so dramatically.
Many know the general idea in the Gita story, that there was division between two branches of one [Page 21] great ruling family, and in order finally to overthrow the usurper the two sides had to fight it out. It is narrated how the grandfather of most of the warriors on both sides, Dhritarashtra, was blind, but he knew that a battle was going to take place. He had by his side Sanjaya, who in these days one would say was a clairvoyant, who saw what was happening at a distance. The story begins right in the middle of the battle action, with Dhritarashtra saying, “ What did my people on the holy plain, on the field of Kuru, gathered together, eager for battle, what did they, O Sanjaya, my people and the Pandavas ?" Then, Sanjaya describes the two armies arrayed, one opposite the other, with the warrior-prince Arjuna in one, having Shri Krishna as his charioteer. And Arjuna asks his charioteer: Will you drive me a little to the front of the armies so that I may see who is arrayed against us ? Shri Krishna does so, and Arjuna is appalled at the sight that he sees before him, because he realizes that if his side wins, the result will be the slaughter of those who are linked to him — teachers, fathers, sons, as well as grandfathers, mothers' brothers, fathers-in-law, grandsons, brothers-in-law and other relatives - and he says, “These I do not wish to kill". Then begins the great dialogue.[Page 22]
it is obvious that, that dialogue is intended to be an allegory, in the
sense that we cannot imagine that a great discourse which covers eighteen
chapters would have been delivered actually on the battlefield. But that
is the artistic mode of presenting it, and that is why the composer of
the Gita is so wonderful. He dramatizes the whole scene. Of course very
quickly one completely forgets all about the two armies. Later on, in Chapter
XI, we have once again an allusion to the fighters, but very quickly the
problem is lifted from that of two armies at warfare into one of the acutest
of human problems. And
the acute human problem is so universal because it happens to everyone
of us — that the Gita has been translated into millions of copies,
for peoples of every land and of every religion find themselves wrapped
in the problem which faced Arjuna.
That problem, very briefly, is what Arjuna asks; What am I to do ? Here are people before me. It is my duty as a Kshatriya, for I am born into the Kshatriya caste, to slay those who oppose me. Yet is it right to kill ? These that I am going to slay are linked to me. And particularly Arjuna asks “ What of the terrible effects on the life of my community when those who are the upholders of [Page 23] our caste duties are slain ? There will be all kinds of complications that surely cannot be good for civilization. Arjuna is confused but, mind you, he knows perfectly clearly what is dharma, he knows what he ought to do; there is no question of groping in the dark as to what he should do, for he knows it. Nevertheless there is a vacillation in his mind because there is a contradiction between the duty imposed upon him, shall I say, by popular opinion or by his own karma, and what he feels intimately, as something different from this hard life to which he is called. It is not that Arjuna was not willing to be killed, for it is the duty of the Kshatriya to be ready at any moment to be slain in doing his duty. But the problem was; What am I to do when I see all the consequences of this terrible catastrophe ? Is all civilization to be thrown in the balance on the result of a mere fratricidal struggle as between two groups of cousins ?
This position of mental confusion as between say, a religious tradition and one's own interpretation has come up again and again in the West. In Christianity the doctrine is perfectly clear that a man must not slay, and Christ is called the Lord of Love. Nevertheless, a large part of Christian history is full of the struggles between Christian [Page 24] nations. A few centuries ago there arose in England a group of Christians who called themselves the Society of Friends. They are well-known today under the designation “Quakers". They took the stand that they must literally obey the Gospel. For instance, in one place Christ says, Tell the truth, but do not swear by any Divinity. There was a law in England that when anyone had to make a statement in giving evidence in some court, he had to preface it by saying, 'I swear by God', but the Quakers would not do so. They protested: I will tell the truth, but I will not swear. They were persecuted, therefore, sent to jail because they took the stand that the human conscience had an inalienable right of interpreting the ancient teachings each for himself, and not according to the religious doctrines of a church. But little by little the Quakers came to be tolerated and highly respected, because it was found that once they had given their word they would never swerve from it. They are recognized in the business world as people of the highest ethics.
When the first great World War began and there was conscription of young men above a certain age, the Quakers said: We will not fight. But they nevertheless did something to relieve the suffering of [Page 25] war, for they joined the Red Cross, which, as is well known, has nothing whatever to do with active fighting. The man who wears the red cross or the red crescent on his arm has the task, for instance, of giving succour to everyone who is wounded, whether of his or the opposing army. The Quakers, then, went in to perform this high duty of healing. Some of them, knowing the intense tragedy of everybody in England because of the want of food, joined and helped in the Land Service, thus having nothing to do with fighting, but helping to lessen the suffering of humanity. All of you may have read how the Quakers were to the fore in relief following the recent great Bengal famine. Even during the last War they have sent expeditions to give help to distressed peoples, as a branch of the Red Cross, but having nothing to do with warfare. So, the Quakers have solved the problem of helping mankind, following the law of Christ, but having nothing whatever to do with active warfare.
Different from the Quakers were those who are called pacifists, who object to war
on principle. There have been several groups of them, some of whom have said: I
will have nothing whatever to do with war. They were conscripted and told to do
certain things, though not necessarily on the [Page 26] battlefield. But they refused,
and they would not even take part in Red Cross work, for they said: If I have helped
this or that soldier, how do I know he will not be back in the ranks, fighting
again ? They have stood firmly and have suffered for it.
Then there was another group of pacifists who would have nothing to do with war, and did not in the least mind being sent to jail for a number of years for their refusal to fight. Yet some of these have done one of the most heroic actions possible. In the United States a group offered themselves to doctors for making certain experiments with vaccines and so on, undergoing fevers and other reactions from tests, in order to gain information to help lessen human misery.
We see, therefore, that this problem, “What am I to do ?", crops up in the life of each one of us. Recently I had a letter from a lady who has come into touch with theosophical ideas and knows something about karma and reincarnation, but she is under very serious conditions of family life. The husband is out of work, though he has tried to get something and has failed. She has three children, and is trying to start a small magazine in order to bring in some money. She describes how she has to go to town to get advertisements, but often has no money for [Page 27] bus-fare to get back home. At the end she puts in this plea, so intensely pathetic because it is an example of what is happening in many places every year, but pathetic, too, because there is so little one can do to help:
Please give me your best advice, as things are worse than ever. I feel sure that I cannot live like this much longer. Please look into my life and direct me for the best results. I have no desire or wish to evade Karma (I know that even if I wished it, it could not be done) But I wish I did not have to pay so heavily at one time. It is really more than I can bear now.
I shall have to write to that lady suggesting a way whereby she will discover more
strength. I shall have to work out the psychological problem, suggest in what way,
with her temperament and her difficulties, she may find that there is more strength
to go through with her battle.
It is perfectly true that each of us has our religion, but when there come these times of having to pay so heavily, we do not know what is the way, and we need more strength to bear our karmas. We know what is the answer given by religion, whether eastern or western. Where a religion proclaims the existence of God, it will exhort, Pray to God. Here in India where we believe in many gods, we say: Let. us have a puja, let us go to some place of pilgrimage [Page 28] and vow to do this or the other. Much money is spent in this way. I have not taken statistics of pujas to know how much response there is from the gods. But the gods themselves are working under the law of Karma. They may give one strength, and if in the least part of one's karma there is some advantage to come, it may be hastened. But it does not at all follow that if one spends money on pujas, the desired result will come about.
speaking, then, the advice of religion is: Pray to God, pray, pray. That
advice is helpful, provided there is an aptitude for prayer. A person can
bhajanas to Shri Krishna, can wrap himself in an intensely devotional
mood and thereby gain a certain amount of strength to go through his
karma. Not that the karma is lessened, but there is more strength to
face it, which, after all, is one of the important factors in a difficult
I want here to mention one very striking and wonderful teaching, about which much ought to be known here in India, but very little is known. We have about ninety million Muslims, and yet very little is known of the fundamental teachings of Muhammad. But one striking fact in Islam is this, that no prayers are offered to God. When all of life crushes one, when, to use our theosophical [Page 29] terms, karma has nearly annihilated one, there is no God to whom a prayer can be addressed. Allah exists, but Allah's Will is so perfect that one can never imagine Allah as doing a cruel or unjust thing. Therefore, what seems the uttermost cruelty must enshrine in it somewhere the Will of Allah. So in Islam the whole tradition of the teaching is to train the character, to bow the head and say, “Islam" — Thy Will be done. (Incidentally, in the word “Islam" there are the same consonants that we find in “Salaam" — Peace.) Islam, then, is resignation; and not the slightest prayer or asking, but the attempt— which is the very wonderful part of Islam — of making the little human will reflect the Divine Will, so that when karma crushes a person, he should feel somehow that it is his own will. Here is, then, another approach, completely different from that of the religion which says: Pray, pray.
Now let me come back to the Gita, to that intensely dramatic situation where Arjuna has the anxiety of seeing before him his own relations, whom it is his duty to slay. It is a quarrel or a disaster in which he is not really involved, except that he has his duty to his kingly chieftain. Arjuna sees all this and feels it is a ghastly problem. How does the great Teacher , Shri Krishna, meet the situation ? [Page 30] First of all by pointing out what is obvious to any Hindu who believes in reincarnation, that the man who is slain is reincarnated again. We have it in the very simple words:
As a man, casting off worn-out garments, taketh new ones, so the dweller in the body, casting off worn-out bodies, entereth into others that are new.
The English poet, Sir Edwin Arnold, has made a beautiful translation from the Sanskrit of the Bhagavad Gita, which he has called The Song Celestial. In a remarkable way he has entered into the depth and mystery of the teachings in the Gita, and he has phrased his translation in the most exquisite poetic form. What I have just read to you in a rhythmical and clear prose translation is put by Arnold thus;
, but as when one layeth
His worn-out robes away,
And, taking new ones, sayeth,
“These will I wear today!".
So putteth by the spirit
Lightly its garb of flesh,
And passeth to inherit
A residence afresh.
So the first element of the situation is that those who are going to be slain will be reborn again. Death is not the end. But beyond that Shri Krishna comes at once to this tremendous teaching [Page 31] of the unity of life. Here we have a very, very old teaching going, one hardly knows how far back, a teaching that seems to have existed in South India long before the Aryans came. There is one word to describe the Supreme Mystery, and it was the simple neuter pronoun, Tat — THAT. Now THAT is not a male divinity, is not a female divinity; Tat goes beyond all these possibilities that one can think of as revelations or Avataras of Divinity, to the absolute, the Unity. Then says Shri Krishna, this Tat— let us call it the spirit, with the highest possible conception attributable to it — the Spirit always exists, it cannot be slain. All of us are but embodiments, in the same way that each drop of water is only the embodiment of a cloud. It may be absorbed into the earth, then rise again as moisture and go back to the clouds again. But each drop is not different from the substance of the cloud. So, says Shri Krishna, there is the imperishable One, and that is Tat :
Know THAT to be indestructible by whom all this is pervaded.
Nor can any work the destruction of that imperishable One.
These bodies of the embodied One, who is eternal,
indestructible and immeasurable. are known as finite.
are finite beings in time and space, but we are only like the drops that
have fallen from the clouds. [Page
Now with regard to these embodied ones:
He who regardeth this as a slayer. and he who thinketh he is slain, both of them are ignorant.
In other words: If you, Arjuna, think you are the killer, if you think your relative who may be killed is the killed, you are both wrong, for both of you are that Supreme Existence, and there is therefore neither killing nor being killed.
Then comes a verse which is evidently older than the Gita, for it appears in the Kathopanishad. I want you to note here one important point, and that is that in the Gita there are two streams of teaching running parallel side by side, sometimes intermingling for awhile and then separating once again. One is an old, old teaching with regard to this Tat, which is impersonal, which is Brahman. All the time there is the proclamation of the One Supreme Existence, of Parabrahman. But side by side there is a parallel teaching of the Avatara, Shri Krishna, and Shri Krishna at times speaks as the Avatara, the Saviour who will lift the individual into salvation, provided he gives all of himself to Him, just as Jesus Christ said in Palestine, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I wilt give you rest," just as similarly in every religion where there is an Avatara the same words are [Page 33] spoken, “Come to Me", so says Shri Krishna: Come to me, give yourself to me and all your problems will be solved, provided you become one with Me through Yoga.
But side by side there is that other teaching wherein there is no indication whatsoever of giving the faith to an Avatara, of appealing to any kind of an incarnation of Divinity for strength, but a determination is made: There is one Spirit that cannot be slain, that is not the slayer. I am that Spirit, everything that exists is that Spirit and there is nothing outside. This is the vision that comes in the Gita:
He is not born, nor doth he die; nor having been, ceaseth he any more to be; unborn, perpetual, eternal and ancient, he is not slain when the body is slaughtered.
Whenever I have to refer to this particular teaching, I always quote Edwin Arnold's lines, for with the intensity of his poetic conception he brings out the real spirit of the Gita in a way that no merely literal unpoetic translation can do:
....That which is can never cease to be:
that which is not Will not exist.
To see this truth of both
Is theirs who part essence from accident,
Substance from shadow. Indestructible,
Learn thou! the Life is, spreading life through all;
It cannot anywhere, by any means, [Page 34]
Be anywise diminished, stayed, or changed.
But for these fleeting frames which it informs
With spirit deathless, endless, infinite,
They perish, Let them perish, Prince! and fight !
He who shall say,. ."Lo! I have slain a man!
He who shall think. .."Lo ! I am slain! , those both
Know naught ! Life cannot slay. Life is not slain !
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 !
Hence, there is no killing, though the body is slain. For if life is one, it is very
much like the sun which is always shining, but because the earth turns towards
the East, there comes a time of darkness, though we know the sun is still shining.
So similarly there can be no slaying, no slain. Obviously this would seem to some
Christian people a terribly cruel doctrine, one which Hitler might have adopted,
because it appears to give perfect freedom for one to impose his own will on others.
Nevertheless, there is the great teaching given to Arjuna; Remember, if you have
your duty to do and your dharma is to slay, you must know there is no slaying.
Shri Krishna says definitely, as He is teaching Arjuna this conception of the Unity of all life which [Page 35] cannot be diminished, which cannot be slain, which cannot be separated into slayer and slain, that He is giving the teaching from, shall I say, one angle of vision. He says: “This teaching set forth to thee is in accordance with the Sankhya; hear it now according to the Yoga." There is therefore another point of view possible. The greatness of the teaching is that it is not one-sided. It sees the problem of life from the standpoint of the Absolute with which the sannyasi tries to be united. When everything of mine and thine has been renounced, when all clinging to your own self as the ‘ I ' , is renounced, when the problem is simply to understand the working of THAT, then there is the high teaching of the Sankhya.
We have to be indifferent alike to pleasure and pain. But how can we, we who are human beings ? Nevertheless, there is the ancient teaching that there is a way to solve all the problems that come up in life, that we can know what we are to do, provided we follow the line of the Sankhya, that there is no division between ourselves and THAT. It requires, of course, very deep thinking. The whole commentary of Shri Shankaracharya on the Gita is along that line, that if a person thinks he has a separate individuality, he is mistaken; there is [Page 36] only BRAHMAN. Then there came the other teacher, Shri Ramanujacharya who brought forward the doctrine of bhakti, or as it is put in the Gita, the doctrine of Yoga. I will continue next time with this teaching. [Page 37]
Then we have a situation
throughout India which causes, tremendous agitation. People are told that such
and such a thing is their national duty; that it is their duty to join the Congress
or the Muslim League; and when they have joined the Congress or the League and
subscribed to certain rules, they will be told it is their duty to obey. And the
nationalist may announce: I am a soldier in the army of this Congress, and I must
therefore obey. Thus, whatever may be the personal judgment of an individual may
have to be renounced for what he considers duty.
That was more or less the principle underlying the beginning of Arjuna's quandary. He knew he was a Kshatriya and that therefore it was his duty to fight for his king. But he had also to consider: Was there any kind of duty superior to this duty imposed upon him by caste ? For he had before him his own cousins and other relations whom he would have to slay. Did not an individual have an even higher duty than that imposed upon him by his religious tradition ? Now, in the course of the teaching given, [Page 39] where Arjuna is told that he must fight, that he must be true to his honour as a Kshatriya, various ideas are presented in the three chapters which concern the high philosophical attitude: that it is necessary for a man to have a pure manas, and then go beyond that into a higher, impersonal conception of things by means of the purified mind, which is called buddhi. When all these things were explained to Arjuna, he was yet puzzled, and so after having listened to the philosophical discourse, he asks:
it be thought by Thee that knowledge is superior to
action, O Janardana. why dost Thou, O Keshava, enjoin
on me this terrible action ?
With these perplexing words Thou only confusest my
understanding: therefore tell me with certainty the one
way by which I may reach bliss.
Arjuna's problem is
our own problem all the time. When there is a conflict of what appears to be duty,
how can we see that which is the right duty ? We recognize the problem before Arjuna,
but I want now to narrate to you this problem as it came to an American boy about
twelve years old, as told in a famous story of Mark Twain. This boy, Huck Finn,
was a fairly tough character. He did not like school, so he ran away, and in the
course of his adventures he suddenly met a negro slave whom he [Page 40] had known in his little home town. These two were on a raft going down the Mississippi
River. Some weeks passed, and then it occurred to Huck Finn to ask the negro slave
how it happened that he was not back home. Somewhat with fear and trembling the
slave replied that he had run away, and he explained his reason, which seemed fairly
logical and understandable. But the boy Huck became vexed by a tremendous problem.
He was a white boy; he had a white man's duty. All slaves are considered property,
and it was his duty to denounce Jim, the slave, at the nearest landing-stage. He
knew perfectly clearly that public opinion expected that of him, that even his
dearest friend, Tom Sawyer, would despise Huck Finn if he did not do his duty by
denouncing the runaway slave, and handing him back to the authorities. Huck Finn
saw all this perfectly clearly, but there was the other side of the problem. This slave boy had been extremely kind to him, and on one occasion
had saved his life during the night travels. Also as they went down the river on
the raft, with the swift river current they had to keep certain hours of watch,
but when Jim found that Huck Finn was tired and sleeping, he took on the extra
period. In all kinds of ways, as Huck considered the problem, here was a person
who had [Page 41] done everything that was kind towards him, and yet his duty said that he must denounce
Jim and give him back again into slavery. There is one very graphic description
where Huck Finn's conscience was all the time urging him, “You, Huck Finn, are a white boy, and you must do this and that and the other which
is the white man's duty". Huck Finn then spoke very strongly about consciences in general, as being the most
troublesome thing we all possess. But as Huck Finn, the boy, he felt that if he
did not do his duty as it had been taught him, then he would go to eternal hell-fire — as had also been told him from his childhood was the fate of those who did not do
the right thing. Nevertheless, he faced right about, and finally decided that though
he might go to hell for it, he was not going to give up the slave. In other words,
he threw his conscience out of the window, and found what a relief it is to be
done with the conscience. All the problems had disappeared once he had decided
he would be willing to go to hell, rather than hand over the slave.
This problem of duty came in a different way to an Englishwoman in the first world War. She was in Belgium as a nurse committed to the Red Cross service, but she also helped certain of the English soldiers secretly to escape when they were [Page 42] in danger from the enemy. She was breaking her duty to the Red Cross, because as a nurse in that organization she might have nothing whatever to do with warfare itself. Eventually her activities were discovered by the Germans and she was shot by them. In a letter that she left, describing everything, she wrote a phrase that has puzzled many Englishmen, and will probably continue to do so. On a statue erected in London to the memory of Nurse Edith Cavell this same phrase is inscribed — “ Patriotism is not enough". Western nations have long had a strong sense of patriotism, such as we in India are developing today, and the highest duty is regarded to be the duty to one's people or nation. But Edith Cavell has put on record that there is something greater even than that duty. She has not explained what that something is, but the general idea is that one must have something beyond patriotism, a certain spiritual conception of life, within which patriotism is enshrined.
In the face of that problem, “What is my duty?" very many people here in India say, “Let me go to the Guru and ask him what is my duty". Let me tell you that one considerable part of my correspondence is to answer these questions, when people write and ask, “What is my duty ?" I have no right [Page 43] to tell anybody what to do, naturally, for if I give an instruction, the karma is also mine, and I shall not finally be helping that person. He may seem to solve the problem with my help, but it will come up again in some other form in this or another life. Each will have to solve the problem by himself. The Guru may give certain general ideas, but each one of us must regroup and rearrange them to discover, as it were, the true North and the South.
me here again mention that two types of philosophy are presented in the Gita,
and that they seem to go at cross-currents to one another. One is the philosophy
of what is called the Sankhya, according to which the highest object of
contemplation must be the Absolute Nature of Divinity, call it Tat —THAT, Parabrahman or
what you will,. and the supremest duty in life is to find out one’s
relation to that highest Principle in existence. But at the same time we
find, seemingly quite contradicting this philosophy of an impersonal dedication
to Brahman, a teaching wherein the Divine Himself appears and says, “I
am the Way. Offer yourself to me and I will save you".
It is as if we were to have two axes, one the vertical (call it the Sankhya), and at right [Page 44] angles to it another axis, the horizontal ( which is Bhakti). The striking thing in the Gita is that these two viewpoints are inter-blended. We read a certain number of verses which are from the vertical standpoint, and then suddenly we come across other verses which are from the horizontal standpoint, where there appears a personal God who will save by His act of grace. I will not go further into this problem than to mention that there are these two axes, yet if the angle is changed by forty-five degrees, what was the horizontal becomes the vertical, and vice-versa. Thus there are in the Gita these two viewpoints, which it is intensely fascinating to try to blend, if one can do so.
In this problem, “What is my duty?", the first point made clear is that it is necessary to realize what is not one's duty. Just as in a journey through a jungle there are innumerable vines and twigs which must be cut away in order to find a clear way through without any injury, so the first thing in determining where lies one's duty is to find out what is not one's duty. And thus we have these words very clearly put in the Gita:
Better one’s duty though destitute of merit, than the duty of another, well discharged. Better death in the discharge of one's own duty; the duty of another is full of danger. [Page 45]So, when others come and insist, “This is your dharma", it is necessary for each one of us to find out for himself what is his own dharma. Some of you will immediately think of the difficulties that arise in your own home lives, when your relations and others come round you and insist that it is your dharma to do this or the other thing which they regard as your duty. You feel, very often that if you were to follow their advice, you would, be unjust to others of whom they have not taken any account. One of the most difficult things, then, is to find out what is your own dharma.
All the Vedas are as useful to an enlightened, Brahmana as is a tank in a place covered all over with water.
If there is water on all sides, is there any need to go to a particular tank ? There
is, then, the proclamation that each individual can come directly to the
truth through his own spiritual efforts. It is a profoundly inspiring doctrine
which insists that each must discover the Way for himself. He certainly will
be helped by a Guru, he may be helped by samskaras, “sanctifying ceremonies", etcetera, but it is the testimony of all the saints of all the religions, that
in the final analysis real peace and happiness come only when the problem
is solved directly by oneself, and not in the light of any spiritual revelations,
not even in the light of a teaching received from a Guru.
It is here that Shri Krishna speaks from the standpoint of that vertical axis. In this vertical [Page 50] axis the main teaching is that there is only one Existence, there is the Atman, a word in Hindu philosophy that is almost undefinable in its vastness, but which, curiously, has an extreme value because it has a dual meaning. Sanskrit scholars are not agreed upon the origin of the word. But one thing we all know is this, that the word “atman" means “I", the personal pronoun. But also it is used for the Supreme TAT , the Indescribable Existence. We have the well-known Sanskrit phrase “Atmana atmanam pashya“ , — Look at the Atman by the atman, discover the Great Atman by the atman in yourself. So it can either be interpreted as the discovery of the Supreme Mystery by its nature in man, or it can be translated purely as the pronoun “I", meaning “myself". It is the same as the Greek phrase, “Know thyself“ know yourself through your own personal efforts and discoveries. In the same way, this phrase “Atmana atmanam pashya" can be translated, “ Discover the Great Atman by yourself".
This is particularly interesting because it is the way that the ancient word “Atman" is interpreted in all Buddhist teachings, and it is found again and again in the Gita — the Self in you. Note, for instance Chapter VI, the 5th verse, [Page 51]
Let him raise the self by the SELF and not let the
self become depressed; for verily is the SELF the
friend of the self, and also the SELF the self's enemy.
We are almost involved in a kind of labyrinth. To put the statement in plain terms:
Do not be discouraged. Raise yourself by the Self. That great Self is your
friend. But then comes something unexplainable: that great Self is also your
self's enemy. I am merely taking this to show, that one line of solution concerning
dharma is along that vertical axis— to become one with the Supreme Atman. That Atman is the friend of the little atman, the friend in whom the little atman is finally vanquished by the great Atman. But full of enmity to the unsubdued little atman is the great Atman. If one is rebellious in his nature as the little self, naturally
he finds that the dictates of the higher Self are inimical to the fulfilment
of his lower desires. So we have to see duty along this line of the vertical,
also, as we shall see it later along the line of the horizontal.
But there is given a clear principle, which is like a great tone that resounds throughout all the verses of the Gita. I have said that Shri Krishna insists that man must act, that the way of inaction does not lead to Liberation. But He also explains [Page 52] what is right action. Now He gives the axiom concerning all right action:
Thy business is with action only, never with its fruits;
so let not the fruit of action be thy motive, nor be thou to inaction attached.
Then He works it out for Arjuna:
Perform action, O Dhananjaya, dwelling in union with the divine.
Dwell in Yoga, that is, union with the Divine. And it is from that standpoint that Shri Krishna says to Arjuna, “therefore stand up, O son of Kunti"; resolute to fight".Here we have a doctrine which can easily be misunderstood to imply that one is to do things and not think of the consequences. But that is never the idea in the Gita, which is trying to win people away from the idea of punya, or merit, the idea of performing certain ceremonies to the Gods so that they will reward. This involves an idea that it is possible to come to a kind of business arrangement with the Gods; thus the religion stands away from the conscience of man, and he becomes involved in business transactions, with the fear that if he does not do this or the other thing, all kinds of dire calamities will come. But as Shri Krishna says, one has to perform duty with no thought of reward. [Page 53]
I mentioned in an earlier discourse, this teaching is completely antagonistic
to our training of past lives, for we have evolved our individual characters
by struggle against others, by aiming at success, by using our highest intelligence
for some fruit or reward. Even in this life we know we must fight and struggle.
We have those dependent upon us, and it is not possible to live as the sannyasi, without seeking any reward. And yet what is it that is expected of us ? If we are
following the line of the vertical path, then there is only One Existence,
and that is the Atman. And so it is that Shri Krishna taught Arjuna: Never the spirit was born, the spirit
does not die; if the slayer thinks he slays, if the slain thinks he is slain,
neither rightly understands. For truly there is no slayer or slain when you
see there is but the One Existence. But that is indeed a very hard teaching
We find that along that line of the vertical axis we have only the One Existence. We have to consecrate ourselves to act along that vertical path, and the theme of that action has to be Sacrifice. The greatest mystery in Hinduism lies in that word “Yagna" (Sacrifice), which does not mean the samskaras, but something so profound in the [Page 54] individual that through much suffering he comes to understand the meaning. But once he has discovered, then says the Gita:
All's then God!
The sacrifice is Brahm, the ghee and grain
Are Brahm, the fire is Brahm, the flesh it eats
Is Brahm, and unto Brahm attaineth he
Who, in such office, meditates on Brahm.
So then if, as we look on all sides, there is but the Atman, how can there be a slayer or a slain ? All is one, but that means we have to accept life in all its phases as life comes to us. You will recall the story I told you of that sannyasi rapt in meditation in the time of the Indian Mutiny, who when he perceived the soldier coming to kill him, whispered, “ Even thou art He". Having renounced all to discover God, he could regard his slayer as God coming to release him.
there is that other teaching wherein Shri Krishna points out that everything
is He. The moment a man has commited himself to the Lord, there is no karma
in his actions, for it becomes His great karma. He is not bound by any law
which impels Him to manifest, yet as an act of supreme Yoga He has so manifested,
and in that manifestation He has enabled you and me to appear as individualized
fragments of the Supreme Atman. [Page
55] From that
moment, provided one's duty is realized, the sacrifice is to Him. Then all
that is done is no longer a part of individual karma, but it is His karma.
Thus, when Arjuna is capable of so offering himself to the Lord, it will
not be Arjuna who slays, but
the Lord, in the working out of His purpose.
Therefore, we will see that from the standpoint of the one who offers everything to Shri Krishna, who has eliminated completely any thought of seeking a reward, as he lives and acts, while he performs his dharma, there is no karmic reaction, for all that reaping goes into the stock of reaping by the Lord. When there is established that great unity, the individual, while remaining the individual, has become just like a tiny facet in a great Light. Just as when the sun shines one can take a burning-glass and make from the rays thus concentrated a miniature sun which will set, say, fuel ablaze, so the individual who is the pure bhakta has ceased to be the individual as such, to become a concentration, a channel for the object of his devotion, his sacrifice. He lives on till he is released from that physical incarnation, but there is no more re-incarnation for him, since all his actions which would normally bring him into incarnation again have ceased to have any effect; they have become one with the Divine Action. [Page 56]
YOU will recall that several times in the past meetings I have had to bring up the question. “What is one's duty ? “ A very striking case is reported in this morning's HINDU regarding something that happened in England as follows:
Mahommed. an Indian living at Deal, Kent told
the Deal Magistrate on July 4th that he met two escaped
German war prisoners late at night and took them to his
home. where his wife fed them. says a London report.
Dost Mahommed. who was sentenced to three months'
imprisonment on each of two charges accusing him of
harbouring and unlawfully giving assistance and thereby
hindering the apprehension of prisoners, said: ..“I am a
Muslim and my religion says that I must help people who
There we observe a clash of duty. I do not think we have the full story, because if he had been wise he might have fed the prisoners, and while the wife was serving them he could have gone to the police station to report, so that he could have combined both duties. He probably gave them hospitality for the night. Again and again in civic life there comes up a conflict between what religion ordains is our [Page 57] duty and what the law ordains shall be our duty. I do not know how anyone of us would have acted in the position of Dost Mahommed. Those are the kind of instances where we cannot prophesy how we would act in similar circumstances. Over and over situations suddenly come up, and all depends on what has been the past training, what has been the way of thinking, as to what will be the action in any given emergency. This is merely by the way, but something similar to what was reported in England is all the time happening in our lives, that is to say, situations where we must ask, “ What is my duty?"
To come back to the line of thought I have been expounding, one of the first ideas that is presented to people who read the Gita is that the Divine is acting all the time, that there is never any moment when God is not at work with and in His universe. I will read here what Shri Krishna himself says quite early in the Third Chapter, when He is trying to make Arjuna realize that it is impossible in life to stand midway between action and inaction, that in a crisis time cannot be spent in looking up all the ethical principles about what should be done. There are times when one must act, and in trying to illustrate this, Shri Krishna, as the Divine, and [Page 58] following the old Indian ideas, shows that God is not quiescent but that God is ever active. So He says:
There is nothing in the three worlds, O Partha, that
should be done by Me, nor anything unattained that might
be attained; yet I mingle in action.
Here is, once again, one of those deep mysteries, to ponder over. If God cannot in any way add to His own height of Divinity by creating a universe, if He is all-perfect, why then does He descend from His perfection into this imperfect world which He creates ? Now says Shri Krishna:
For if I mingled not ever in action unwearied, menThat is to say, if He did not act, man would not act, either.
all around would follow My path, O son of Pritha.
These worlds would fall into ruin, if I did not perform action; I should be the author of confusion of castes, and should destroy these creatures.So then, action on the part of the Divine is in some mysterious way action by ourselves. I do not know that anyone of us can sit down and explain that great. mystery.
The two ways of approach, as I have pointed out previously, are designated in the Gita by the terms Sankhya and Yoga. We can represent them by two other words— Dharma, duty, and Bhakti or devotion. [Page 61] According to his temperament is the mode in which man will act. The action must be performed without any thought of reward, so that it is action parallel to the Divine Action or, more truly, is one with the Divine Action. In this vertical line of the Sankhya, whose keynote is duty to what is necessary, abides the purest selflessness. There has to be cast out completely all that knows itself as “I" and yet there has to be action at the same time. Now that, very briefly, means that the individual places before himself an impersonal ideal of what is the only duty possible and then at the cost of every sacrifice he remains loyal to the ideal and acts accordingly.
With men of a certain temperament to whom the idea of God is vague, – though they may go to church and subscribe to certain formalities of religion – the real motive of the highest action possible to them is not a dedication to a Divine Purpose but a complete self-forgetfulness in dedication to an ideal of today. We have had hundreds and thousands of cases in the men and in the women in the last World War. I have had to read constantly the obituary notices in the LondonTimes. One senses the grief there, but also feels that those who have lost are proud, for again and again are the words [Page 62] in proud and loving memory, proud memory that their beloved did a great deed. Similarly, too, now and then letters from these men who have died have been published, and you find in them a very high idea of devotion, not to God, but to an ideal of today. There are some in whom the sense of attachment to their country is so strong that they go forward almost rejoicing to give their lives, if the war so necessitates it “for hearth and home". It is the sense of a perfect duty that is before them, and they do not flinch in the least. But there is nothing, shall I say, of a religious emotionalism about it. Those are the men who are realizing by dharma the unity of their action with the Divine Action. They have placed before them a certain ideal. Such men never talk about these things. They are so imbued with the sense of the job, as they sometimes call it, that there is no sentiment about it, but they go out constantly to do it. That instant action on their part towards the realization of an ideal deep within them is one mode of the highest spiritual life. As I see it, knowing that those who die come back again, reincarnating, whoever has so died with that spirit of sacrifice has attained to a high level of spiritual possibility. When such men come back they will have another environment, and then perhaps because [Page 63] their spiritual sense has been awakened through action along that vertical axis, they may then respond to a line of action of devotion as well. But mostly we are deep down, either of the dharma temperament or of the bhakti temperament.
group of men who are most interesting to watch are the modern scientists.
The greatest of them have a very high sense of duty to what may be called
the discovery of knowledge. They will sacrifice their lives for It. I suppose
many of us have not heard of some of the sacrifices of the men in the early
days of research in X-ray, who
not knowing of its dangers, went on experimenting with the rays, and often
their fingers had to be amputated, their hands and even their arms and limbs
cut off. Nor have all of us heard of the two Japanese scientists who were
fever in Brazil, and sacrificed their lives for it; or of others who sacrificed
their lives in the researches and investigations into sleeping sickness.
They have realized the
dangers, but knew there was a work to be done and they do it, going straight
forward with no thought of consequences to themselves.
At the Poona Institute there was one scientist who finally worked out the serum against plague, but before he announced it he had used the serum on [Page 64] himself first, had the fever and nearly died, but eventually recovered. After his recovery he was able to say, “Here is a serum that has been tested and will produce a cure, at least in a certain percentage of cases". There are some scientists who having this sense of duty, have also a deep religious sense, and then we have the curious mystery that they live, as it were, in two halves of their brains. They go to church not as a mere formal act, but believe in and worship God. And yet the moment they enter into the laboratory all those ideas they have accepted concerning Jesus Christ and the traditions of religion are put aside, and they will go on discovering the processes for making an atomic bomb, not calculating the repercussions on humanity later. Nevertheless, there is their high sense of duty and readiness to give everything so that truth may be gathered in larger measure.
pass on to what is much more immediate to most of us, and that is action
that will unite us with God, along the line of the horizontal axis. This
horizontal axis, as I have said, is that of bhakti, or devotion to
God. We all know that the word, ‘God', has many meanings. According
to the level of our intuition, according to the amount of experience we have
had in this and past lives, is [Page
interpretation we give to the word “God". There
are two main lines of thought concerning God. One is that He is necessarily the
mover of all things in the totality of the universe. From the axiom that God
is All and in all, obviously we cannot think of His action as confined merely
upon this little globe. In all those millions of stars, where there surely are
planets and, who knows, humanities too, it is God who must be at work. It is
this conception that we have in Hinduism in that old Sankhya teaching,
and Divinity is described in the one word –
OM — Om, Tat, Sat, “God, That Existence." In
that one phrase is summed up the conception
of God as the totality of the universe, whom we cannot understand by any operation
of the mind, except in a very fragmentary way.
We know in Hinduism of course that this Absolute, BRAHMAN, is stated to reveal itself as Ishvara, the Lord who is the trinity of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer. But Ishvara is an emanation from Parabrahman, and when we think of God in the highest and most philosophical sense, including the totality of the universe, we cannot limit ourselves to any kind of a God under a symbol or an image. [Page 66]
It is interesting to note that Christianity, which also proclaims the trinity of God — Father, Son and Holy Ghost — has also a certain number of adherents who cannot admit God as expressing Himself in any other way than as the totality of the universe. There is a body of Christians called Unitarians who completely deny the nature of God as a Trinity; to them God is One, and there is no division of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, or to use our Hindu terms, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. That is, then, one conception — God the Totality.
But there is another conception of God which we find in both Hinduism and Christianity, where in some mysterious way this totality of the universe, with its millions of stars, descends, and the word for the descent is the Avatara. How this vast totality can ever be contained in one human being born of woman is a mystery that one has to put aside, but there is definitely the conception that for His own purposes Divinity concentrates Himself and descends to this globe of ours as an Avatara. Many are mentioned in Hinduism, but the one most significant is the descent as the Avatara of Vishnu, of God the Son, as Shri Krishna. The term used in Christianity is not “the descent", but the conception that God who lives in a transcendental nature “puts on flesh". [Page 67] So great is this mystery that when, for instance in the Roman Catholic Mass this mystery is mentioned in the Latin words, Verbum caro factum est “And the Word was made flesh", ( the Word, the Logos, the Divine Man) — all kneel, for that is the supremest mystery, that God was made flesh.
There is one factor which we have to bring in when considering this mystery, and that is, if there is an incarnation, an Avatara, with all its significance for the universe, that significance must also include the farthest star as well. If Christ was born on earth, the appearance could not be only for this little globe, not even for the largest of the planets. It must also be linked to something needed for the whole universe. Along that line I think we will have to postulate that there exists an Avatara-Principle in Divinity, and that this Principle appears time after time. As said Shri Krishna himself:
there is decay of righteousness,
O Bharata, and there is exaltation of unrighteousness,
then I Myself come forth;
there is the same thing in the idea in Christianity, that when the world
needs salvation, then there comes the incarnation of God.
I want to point out now the fact that the Gita has been translated into many languages — I have done [Page 68] translations into Italian, and there are translations in French, Dutch, Spanish – and naturally it is a great gospel of inspiration especially to Theosophists in all these many lands. But when my Italian or Spanish friends read a literal translation of the Gita, they do not have in their minds the picture of Shri Krishna that you have here in India, of the child or of the youth Shri Krishna. All those conceptions are completely vague and foreign to them; nevertheless, the Gita has for them a message of pure bhakti, but naturally the Christian Theosophist takes it as the purest bhakti to his Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.
To the Theosophist who may not be particularly inclined to the Christian conception, it is a pure devotion to a principle of philanthropy, the helping of mankind. The Gita, then, has a universal message. And why ? For the reason that I have mentioned, that in some mysterious way wherever there is any kind of bhakti poured towards Divinity from any star, the end of that bhakti must be the same, that is, that all come to the One. It is this that we have so clearly stated in the Gita in that verse which we use again and again:
men approach Me, even so do I welcome them,
for the path men take from every side is Mine. O Partha. [Page 69]
The Gita was put together in its present form somewhere about one thousand or more years before Christ, and at that time the population of India was certainly not the 350 millions of Hindus, as today. The message of the many paths that lead to Him did not refer merely to the paths then existing. The Lord says, “The paths that men take from every side". If then there is the true path of bhakti from Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism or any other religion, there can only be one final goal of that bhakti. It is this that the Lord speaks of later:
also who worship other gods with devotion,
full of faith, they also worship me.
So when we are dealing with bhakti, it is not merely bhakti to the child Shri Krishna or the youth Shri Krishna, or to all those pictorial forms which we have in India, but we are dealing with something far more wonderful in conception. And we find this same idea in Christianity also. The average Christian does not read all the verses of the Bible carefully. In the Gospel of St. John, in some ways the greatest and most spiritual of all the Gospels, Jesus Christ speaks of himself as one who has come to gather the people. As He is giving the message to the people, He says: [Page 70]
other sheep I have which are not of this fold.
Them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice,
and there shall be one fold and one Shepherd.
then, there is in Christianity something which, if rightly understood, certainly
would contradict all the missionary effort. If the Lord says there are other
sheep in other folds whom He is bringing to Himself, and that someday they
shall make one fold, then we have to rise to a conception of Christianity
where there is not an exclusive Christianity but an inclusive Christianity,
though that may seem a contradictory phrase to the ordinary Christian.
I want now to point out to you that wherever there is bhakti, there is the identical quality of outpouring present. You know the hymns of the Alwars here in South India where the bhakti is poured out to Vishnu as one of the Avataras — Shri Rama or Shri Krishna. What Mirabai sings of devotion, what all the saints of India sing, so do the devotees sing in other lands. Let me read you one very beautiful hymn of a Christian writer, Dr. Bonar. You will see right throughout an expression of the purest bhakti, equal to any that the greatest saints in India could have:
way, not mine, O Lord,
However dark it be:
Lead me by Thine own hand,
Choose out the path for me. [Page 71]
Smooth let it be or rough,
It will be still the best:
Winding or straight, it leads
Right onward to Thy rest .
I dare not choose my lot:
I would not, if I might:
Choose Thou for me, my God:
So shall I walk aright.
The kingdom that I seek
Is Thine: so let the way
That leads to it be Thine,
Else I must surely stray.Take
Thou my cup, and it
With joy or sorrow fill,
As best to Thee may seem:
Choose Thou my good and ill .
Choose Thou for me my friends,
My sickness or my health:
Choose Thou my cares for me,
My poverty or wealth.
Not mine, not mine the choice
In things or great or small:
Be Thou my guide, my strength,
My wisdom, and my all.
Could you imagine any hymn in any language more pure in its nature of bhakti ? I will take now another; and this is written by a Scottish clergyman in Edinburgh, who as a boy became blind, yet went on with his studies, was ordained and became the minister of one of the greatest and most influential churches in Edinburgh, Dr. Geo. Matheson: [Page 72]
Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee;
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
O Light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to Thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in Thy sunshine- blaze, its day
May brighter, fairer be.
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to Thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be.
Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life's glory dead
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.
one knows what is the purest bhakti, he finds that it is universal.
If one is the
bhakta on the farthest star, the same message will be given. Not
necessarily in outpourings to Shri Krishna or Jesus Christ, but some
revelation from the heart that there
is a Source to which bhakti flows.
This same Rev. Matheson, the blind minister, was a great student of the Bhagavad Gita, and hence we have another famous hymn of his. But before I read it, I want to point out one phrase to which he refers. In that same Gospel of St. John. [Page 73] Jesus Christ says, “In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you, I go to prepare a place for you." Now , Dr. Matheson who loved, the Gita, wrote his famous hymn called “Gather us in". Mind you, this was a Scottish clergyman.
us in, Thou Love that fillest all,
Gather our rival faiths within Thy fold;
Rend each man' s temple's veil, and bid it fall,
That we may know that Thou hast been of old.
Gather us in; we worship only Thee;
In varied names we stretch a common hand,
In diverse forms a common soul we see;
In many ships we seek one spirit-Iand.
Thine is the mystic life great India craves,
Thine is the Parsi's purifying beam;
Thine is the Buddhist's rest from tossing waves,
Thine is the empire of vast China's dream.
Thine is the Roman's strength without his pride,
Thine is the Greek's glad world without its slaves;
Thine is Judea's law, with love beside,
Truth that enlightens, charity that saves.
Each sees one colour of Thy rainbow light,
Each looks upon one tint and calls it heaven;
Thou art the fullness of our partial sight,
We are not perfect till we find the seven.
Some seek a Father in the heavens above,
Some ask a human image to adore;
Some crave a spirit vast as life and love,
Within Thy mansions we have all and more. [Page 74]
One verse, the last, was added by a Theosophist who knew one particular phrase in the Gita, which is brought in thus:
glorious Triune God, embracing all,
By many paths do men approach Thy Throne:
All Paths are Thine: Thou hearest every call:
Each earnest seeker has Thee for his own.
That is the pure bhakti. Next time I will continue this same theme of the purest bhakti of the saints, and suggest how we have to try to reach it. [Page 75]
THERE are, as I have said, many who expound the Gita, not only in India but also in other lands. But I think you will understand that my angle of vision would be different from that of most other exponents. My vision concerning the Gita and its supreme doctrine of bhakti, or devotion, comes not alone from what is found in Hinduism, for I am familiar with many religions. One great truth obvious to me, and indicated in my last discourse, is that wherever there is devotion to God, it is not found as the exclusive characteristic of any one religion alone. That is apparent if we think a bit deeply of what is said by Shri Krishna himself in the Gita. We have in the Fourth Discourse this often-quoted phrase, which I have used earlier:
men approach Me. even so do I welcome them,
for the path men take from every side is Mine.
since from the beginning of civilization there have been religions, it is
obvious that the [Page
of the Way to God cannot have been instituted solely by Hinduism nor by Christianity
or by any other religious tradition.
If one conceives of God as the Creator, then from the moment any soul appeared, God must have been planning for the salvation, the liberation, the uniting of that soul with the Divine Nature. Let me quote again another verse from the Gita which is very familiar:
there is decay of righteousness. O Bharata,
and there is exaltation of unrighteousness, then I Myself come forth;
There is, then, the teaching that there are periods in the world's history when unrighteousness (Adharma) prevails, when the Path to God is confused, and then it is that the Lord appears once again to establish Dharma.
This conception of successive revelations to re-establish righteousness is very well known in Buddhism. A list is given of about twenty-eight Buddhas of past cycles, and the fourth of our particular cycle is the Lord Gautama Buddha, who says again and again that He does not come to proclaim anything new; that He comes to re-proclaim the ancient truths concerning righteousness. If one accepts that conception of God and His work, then it [Page 77] follows that He must be supervising all stages of civilization, and that as one civilization after another recedes and the truths concerning Him and man's highest nature vanish into the background and become vague, then God must begin to act to reveal Himself once again.
Of these modes of revelation, there is the one which is profoundly characteristic of this little manual, the Gita; it is bhakti, in which the underlying thought is devotion". That word comes from the Latin devoto, as an act of vowing, “I vow myself", to some action; from the moment of that vow, devotion begins. In the Gita what is so powerfully and inspiringly evident is that God continually proclaims Himself as an Avatara, as one who has descended to put on human form so that He may reveal Himself to mankind, not as a Divinity far away, but as Divinity in actual semblance like all other men, though inwardly of the full nature of God.
is exactly the same teaching given in Christianity concerning Jesus Christ,
that He too is an Avatara or a descent of the complete Godhead who has
put on a human vesture, and that He has opened a road to God through Himself.
When Christ says: [Page
unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
How is it that throughout the world we find a recurring similarity of teaching when we come to deal with the intimate relation of the soul of man to God ? We find many contradictions and variations as we look at what may be called the outer aspects of religion — the ceremonies, the creeds, the traditions, all those things which are apt to appear contradictory — but go behind the worship performed in temples or churches, all that we may call ecclesiasticism, and then we discover that there is an undercurrent right throughout all the religious life of the world. Just as we may have a river in which seemingly there is only a very slow movement on [Page 79] the surface, yet having underneath a deep current which is not seen, so similarly is it with regard to the religions of the world. Go behind them all and there is noted what has been termed “mysticism".
It is when we realize there is everywhere this deep undercurrent of mysticism, that we begin to see the full significance of the teaching of bhakti as something not circumscribed by anyone religion, but as a mode of universal revelation from God.
You will recall that I used the simile of the two axes, the vertical and the horizontal, and mentioned that in the Gita there were propounded two ways to Liberation, first the way of the vertical axis wherein one performs duty as duty, where one realizes that his highest mode of life must be a spirit of consecration to the purpose of God. Along the line of the Sankhya the teaching is concerned with an Absolute Existence called TAT, or BRAHMAN, and there is no doctrine of an Avatara to whom one can link himself, who will be the guide that will bring one to salvation. Along this line of the vertical axis there is indeed a powerful form of bhakti, but it is an impersonal form of bhakti, which it is difficult to conceive. The very nature of bhakti is usually regarded as something greatly personal, directed [Page 80] towards. A personal creator this impersonal bhakti is the true offering of the highest in man to BRAHMAN, the Absolute Godhead, as so finely expressed in the verse where Divinity speaks of Himself as in all things, so that there is nothing conceivable that can be outside Him. There is used the simile taken from the Hindu daily ceremonial where the priest, with Vedic chants, lights the sacred fire, pours on ghee, the melted butter, and then performs the sacrifice. Now says the Gita:
Brahman the oblation
Brahman the ghee
Brahman is offered in the fire by Brahman
To Brahman he goes who sees Brahman in each action.
is the powerful form of devotion offered directly to God. It is a form of bhakti in
which there is no Saviour, no Avatara, there is no need for any image
or any kind of representation of God, but the soul pours itself out directly
But there is, too, the bhakti along the horizontal line, where definitely an Avatara is conceived as the approach, the gate to God. That gate, in the Gita, is the last of the Avataras, Shri Krishna. We know too that a previous Avatara is Shri Rama, but Avataras previous to Him have disappeared from human consciousness and no offering is now made to Them. But Shri Krishna is the powerful motive [Page 81] for bhakti for millions in this land of India. Similarly, in Christian lands it is Jesus Christ. So, then, we have the bhakti in which devotion is poured out to an Avatara or an incarnation.
Now I want to examine briefly how emotionalism is necessary, is absolutely inseparable from this type of bhakti. There are many types of emotionalism. There can be a profound emotionalism, as that of some of the great saints, who did not go into wild rapture, as do some of the bhaktas in both Christianity and Hinduism. That profound feeling of the saints is something very powerful and quiet, but so charged with power that it can never be revealed in any adequate way here below. But some types of bhakti need songs and hymns, and in the form which arose a few centuries ago in Bengal, in the movement initiated by Shri Chaitanya, there was also dancing, with the devotees going through the streets singing and dancing. Something not at all dissimilar once characterized the work of the Salvation Army. They were dealing with what we might call – though I do not like the phrase – the “lower classes" of the English, and the high emotionalism of the Church of England did not appeal to those. On the other hand, the message that there was salvation for all, as proclaimed by the Salvation [Page 82] Army at street corners with their band, their drums and singing, displayed all that sensational emotionalism that is so distasteful to thousands of people in western lands. Perhaps now they have rather lessened that excessive emotionalism with which they began. But these emotional expressions are considered absolutely necessary in certain kinds of bhakti.
This morning I read something that rather amused me. A swami of North India in talking about yoga and meditation prescribed this peculiar mode for meditation:
Place a picture of the Lord Jesus in front of you.
Sit in your favourite meditative pose.
Concentrate on it with open eyes till tears come in the eyes.
emotionalism is considered absolutely necessary. We have it in all kinds
bhajans, and we find it in an exquisite form in all the hymns
of the South Indian saints, the Alwars. Take those hymns of the South
Indian saints, and then read the hymns in the Christian hymn books, and
you will find there is the same kind of feeling expressed.
But for the moment I want to draw your attention to this curious fact, that many people can only be moved to emotion along a sort of lower mode; they must cry before they feel it penetrates. So, among [Page 83] Roman Catholics on Good Friday between three and six 0' clock the worshippers make the journey round the Stations of the Cross in the church. In every Roman Catholic church certain pictures depict what happened to the Christ on each of those last days of His life, and the people are encouraged to go about and slowly work themselves up into a state of weeping. It is true your heart will go out to Christ as He suffered; but after that was over, He arose from the dead, ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God in glory. All that tragedy from the past has completely faded away, and yet the Roman Catholic church thinks it is not possible to have anything of real devotion until the people are stirred up, until they begin to weep. And there are many people who can feel religious only if the tears will come. I have had people write asking why it is that when they meditate the tears come. It is nothing more than a want of adjustment between the nervous system and the sympathetic system. Weep if you like, but do not imagine because you weep, therefore you are nearer to God!
I cannot help thinking of the day of All Souls in Christian lands, when people go to the cemeteries and place flowers on the graves. I saw in Brazil on that day, all the women dressed in black, going [Page 84] out with flowers. They had decorated the graves and were then having a good weeping, and that weeping was a kind of psycho-therapy, a clearing-away of the emotional tensions. You can imagine that all that has nothing whatever to do with the real bhakti.
What is real bhakti ? Real bhakti is inseparable from a spirit of offering. You offer, but first, there can be no thought of any return from God to you. The moment there is any thought of phala, fruit of devotion, a certain decay, as it were, has come into, the purity of the devotion. Therefore, the offering must be absolutely pure, completely without any thought whatever of any reward. There are many types of offering, but since in the Gita we are dealing with an appeal to Hindu modes of thought, certain types of sacrifice are described. Says the Teacher:
Many and various sacrifices are thus spread out before Brahman. Know thou that all these are born of action, and thus knowing thou shalt be free.
Better than the sacrifice of any objects is the sacrifice of wisdom, O Parantapa. All actions in their entirety are contained in wisdom.
That is, pure communion with the Divine comes through understanding the Divine Mind.
Some Yogis offer up sacrifice to the gods,
all those sacrifices when the image of the god is taken from the temple and goes in procession. [Page 85]
sacrifice only by pouring sacrifice into the fire of Brahman;
Some pour as sacrifice hearing and the other senses into the fires of concentration;
that is, they retire from life and concentrate and are no longer listening to and seeing what is happening in the outer worlds.
pour sound and the other objects of sense into the
fires of the senses as sacrifice;
Others again into the Wisdom kindled fire of union attained by self-control, pour as sacrifice all the functions of the senses and the functions of life;
Yet others the sacrifice of wealth, the sacrifice of austerity, the sacrifice of yoga, the sacrifice of silent reading and wisdom, men concentrated and of effectual vows;
so on. We have described, then, the spirit of sacrifice of many types.
But there are other types elsewhere in the world than those described in the Gita or those you will find in India. The spirit of self-sacrifice is the same, there is the same pouring out of the soul in its fullness of rapture and dedication to God. Look to the West, or for that matter to wherever there is a Christian convent. If you could enter into the spirit of a woman who takes the veil and becomes a nun, you would find absolutely the same spirit of sacrifice. She renounces everything, her head is shaved. Before entering the convent she comes to [Page 86] the church dressed as a bride, all in white. Then she retires from the world, and from the time she takes her full vows in the robes of a nun there is used the mystical phrase that she is “the bride of Christ". There are two types of these nuns and monks – the one type that pours out bhakti along the vertical line direct to God, and others who pour it out along the horizontal line, to Jesus Christ as the Saviour.
There is nothing, then, to distinguish the quality of bhakti in the West from that of the East. There could be nothing more beautiful, as characteristic
of the highest form of bhakti, than this familiar sentence of the Christian Saint Augustine, “Our hearts are ever restless till they find their rest in Thee". There is the clue to the purest and most powerful form of devotion.
I want here to give you an example from the West of two manifestations of the spirit of bhakti. One of the great saints of Christendom is called St. John of the Cross, who was full of intense and powerful emotionalism. He pours himself out in imagery that almost verges on erotic symbolism. Let me read you one of his well-known descriptions of the love of God, as felt by the mystic:
O, sweetest love of God, too little known; he who has found Thee is at rest; let everything be changed, [Page 87] O God, that we may rest in Thee. Everywhere with Thee, O my God, everywhere all things with Thee; as I wish, O my Love, all for Thee, nothing for me – nothing for me, everything for Thee. All sweetness and delight for Thee, none for me — all bitterness and trouble for me, none for Thee. O my God, how sweet to me Thy presence, who art the supreme God ! I will draw near to Thee in Silence, and will uncover Thy feet, that it may please Thee to unite me to Thyself, making my Soul Thy bride; I will rejoice in nothing till I am in thine arms. Lord, I beseech Thee, leave me not for a moment, because I know not the value of my own Soul.
I want now to read you a few verses of a famous poem of a Spanish saint, St. Theresa of Jesus. She has written of her own life. She founded an order of nuns, but she was also, like Mirabai, a poet. There is in all these verses a refrain, “I die because I do not die". So powerful is the longing to be one with the Lord that she dies every day because she does not die to this physical world:
live without any life in me, and such high life I hope for
that I die because I do not die.
This divine union with love in which I live makes God my prisoner. but it gives freedom to my heart. But so great is my pain to see God my prisoner that I die because I do not die.
how long is this life and how painful this exile, this
prison and these chains with which the soul is bound.
Only in the confidence that I shall die, I live; for when dying my hope gives me certainty to see Him. O, death which by living I approach, do not delay, for I await thee, for I die because I do not die.
O, life, what can I give to my Lord who lives in me, except to lose all life in order to delight in Him more ? I long to die to come to Him, for He alone is Him I love, and I die because I do not die.
You will not understand the simile there unless I give an explanation. It is a doctrine of the Roman Catholics, and the holiest manifestation of Christian forms of worship, that there is a certain ceremony which every priest must perform daily, which is called the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. With bread and wine he goes through a ceremony, and at a particular moment the priest uses words that the Christ directed should be said: “This is my Body" and “This is my Blood". Those are, so to say, the mantras, and Catholics say that from that moment the substances, which are the wafer of wheat and the juice of the grape, are no longer the physical substance. There is a transubstantiation, and in ways which the eyes cannot see a mystery has taken place, and Christ himself is present as the Body and the Blood; from that moment the little wafer is called the Lord, and whenever it is there upon the altar, all who pass in front of it kneel. So St. Theresa says: [Page 89]
When, O Lord, I contemplate Thy presence in the Holy Sacrament, my pain becomes less, yet it gives me greater pain that I shall not be lovable to you. On all sides there is pain because I do not see Thee as I long, and I die because I do not die.
is the testimony of all mystics that they have had certain periods when
God seems to be far away, when in spite of all their rapture they cannot
reach Him. This has
been called, in the words of St. John of the Cross, “The dark night of
St. Catherine of Siena, in Italy, had the experience of this darkness, of being
utterly left alone, perfectly miserable, as if God had cast her out into some
kind of perdition. The mood passed, and then she says she communed with the
Lord, and speaking to Him, she asked:
O Lord, where wert Thou when my heart was so vexed with foul and horrible temptations ? and the Lord replied, “Daughter, I was in thy heart". So we have this curious mystery, that even during the dark night of the soul one cannot be separated from the Lord to whom the devotion has been offered.
It was also St. Catherine who wrote to one of her correspondents:
I see that our Lord at your entreaty has given me a longer time of affliction in this life, which I am glad of for the love I bear you. [Page 90]
the deepest nature of ourselves is the source, of bhakti. Those people
not capable of the highest bhakti may need some image, some picture,
songs, or bhajanas, but
within the soul of man is the Godhead.
There is this same truth coming from Persia, along the line of the Sufi teachers:
Abu Yazid Albistami once being asked how he had attained to his stage in Sufism, answered; “I cast off my own self as a serpent casts off its skin. Then I considered my own self, and found that I was He (God)".
There is, as I have said, the testimony of all the saints and mystics that they invariably have these ups and downs in their religious life. Why ? Why cannot one be all the time pouring out bhakti to God? For a reason that every true bhakta understands. I have used a phrase in one of my lectures, “The true bhakti appears when the bhakta disappears; true love appears when the lover disappears." When one is so full of the conception of bhakti that the thought of “I" has gone, then that is the true the creative bhakti. Every form of Divine energy creates, transforms. It is said that God is Brahma, the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer, and every manifestation of the Divine Life is always creating, preserving and destroying. [Page 91] But the particular point I want to emphasize is that true bhakti is always creative, that when the true bhakti is contacted, the role as the bhakta is not to sit and sing bhajans to God, but to call out bhakti in others. That is the life story of all the saints.Why do we call them saints ? Because they remind men that saintship is possible for all. When there is bhakti that is creative, then there are not those ups and downs. It is in those moments when you have retired into your own self that there begins the dark night of soul.
IN this final address on the Gita I want to bring together all the threads in my past discourses. Last time I quoted two sayings from the Christian saints, one that exquisite saying of St. Augustine describing our aspirational nature in the well-known words: “Our hearts are ever restless till they find their rest in Thee," and the second a saying of St. Catherine of Siena in Italy. She alluded to the fact that many a time, though she was ever full of love for her Lord, there were periods of spiritual dryness, so she asks. “Where hast thou been these many days that I have sought thee sorrowing?" and receives the reply. “My daughter all the time I was hidden in thy heart."
It is obvious that from the first realization by a mystic of his link with the Divine, that link can never be broken. Nevertheless it is the experience of all who aspire profoundly that there are those “dark nights of the soul" when everything that inspired to living of the spiritual life appears purely mechanical, the bhakti is mechanical, so is the puja; [Page 94] there is no longer new life, or that sense of an intense stream of vitality. Indeed it is as if, while one lives the life of inspiration, there is a spring bubbling up from some deep underground pressure within, and daily there is delight in feeling the new outpouring of the spiritual life. But there comes a time when the water no longer appears and it is as if the spring had dried up. It is at such times that the true mystic has to realize that the link between him and God can never be broken. How is he then to find the inspiration which is lacking ?
Here it is that he needs to have a larger conception of the purposes of God than the mystic usually possesses. The mystic is apt to be very much concentrated, not to look outside the particular path he has selected. Not infrequently men of religion who accept the orthodox creeds given to them are very much like the horses who wear blinkers on each side of the eyes. The driver will say that if the horse did not wear them, he would become frightened by many things he sees. And so the religious man is given these religious “blinkers" — if I may be pardoned for using this word — and he will only look at the things of his religion from that limited outlook, The priests will say: Do not look outside, for that will only confuse you. [Page 95]
But when the mystic comes to the “dark night of the soul". he will have to understand that God does not reveal Himself only in the particular ways of his own religion. Let me here draw attention to what is said in the Gita. In the Ninth Chapter, the Lord speaks, saying:
By Me the whole vast universe of things is spread abroad, by Me the unmanifested; in Me are all existences contained, not I in them.
Here we touch upon that mystery of the manifested universe and the unmanifested Divine Nature from which it has issued, a mystery which is on the whole foreign to Christian ways of thinking, though it does occasionally appear, because Christian thinkers have found they cannot fully explain all the mystery of life if they separate God from the world that He has created. The idea of a cosmic God leads to various difficulties in philosophical thinking, and hence the conception in Christianity of the transcendental Godhead living in Heaven — God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost— far away from earthly concerns, and at the same time that of the Immanent Godhead, the expression of the Divine Nature, in some manner not to be fully understood, within the Christ. This conception of the nature of God in all things is well known, so that everything is conceived as God; it is called pantheism. [Page 96]
After saying that He is the Divine who is the Unmanifest, nevertheless has created everything, Shri Krishna goes on:
One force in every place, because manifold. I am the sacrifice. I am the prayer, I am the funeral cake for the dead. I am the healing herb, the ghee also am I; I am the fire and I the offering.
Along that line of thinking, one has to realize that nothing that exists can be outside of the Divine Consciousness, could not have appeared without His nature immanent in it. If that is the case, the God whom we worship is not only in the temple, is not only reflecting Himself through the image, but He is everywhere. It is therefore necessary to become sensitive to the manifestations of God everywhere. Here unfortunately, the Indian temperament is particularly unawakened, is insensitive to certain aspects of the Divine Nature, the aspect of God as Nature — the Himalayas, the sunrises and sunsets, God as the flower, God as the stone. Wherever there is any aspect of His activity, there He is. Western peoples, particularly a poet like Wordsworth, are very sensitive to God as He reveals himself in all the ways of Nature.
Suppose religion no longer inspires, though it did once, suppose all those gorgeous ceremonies and [Page 97] music no longer call out the sense of admiration and wonder. Then go about among the hills, and if there is the right sensitiveness, something mysterious will be felt. Wordsworth mentions how at daybreak he would go into the fields when everything is perfectly still, and there is dew on the blades of grass, for all Nature to him then was like a mirror onto which was reflected something of God. And so throughout, wherever there is Nature in the various manifestations in the physical world — grass, lakes, pools, waterfalls, mountains, sunsets, — all are revelations of God, and if one becomes sensitive to them, then during the periods of spiritual dryness one begins to commune with God in a new way.
we have to train ourselves to know that God is in every man — the
rich, the poor, the high, the low. We are capable of realizing it through
our Indian tradition of realizing God as the Guru; we say the Guru is Brahma,
Vishnu, is Mahadev, is
Parabrahman himself, that is, that our spiritual teacher is a mirror
of the Divine in its purest, but we have also to realize that every man
here below can play that role. Here we have another aspect of this same
truth concerning man, but coming from Christianity.
In the Gospels, Christ describes that last day when He will come to Judge the righteous from the [Page 98] unrighteous. Then He tells the righteous that they shall stand on His right hand. Some of the righteous ask, “But, Lord, why? " And Christ says, “I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty and ye gave me, drink: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. But the righteous ask, “Lord when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee, or thirsty, and gave thee drink ? " And this is the answer: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me". This is a wonderful teaching, that when one performs an act of charity as a true Christian, something can be realized of the nature of the Lord manifest in the poor man that is fed, the sick who are visited, the prisoner to whom some comfort is given. All mankind round us are linked, as each one of us who is an aspirant is linked to God. Therefore, if we can worship God and come near to Him through bhakti, it is possible to see something of his revelation in the men and women round us.
of the very striking things that is happening today is that there is a recognition
of anew revelation of God for people to see, and that is, God as the child.
To those who have a special kind of sensitiveness there are new chapters
of the Holy Scriptures being written in the lives of children. [Page
Similarly it is that during those periods of spiritual dryness we can, if we have so trained ourselves, commune with God through various forms of Art, for Art fundamentally is a revelation of the Divine Nature, it reveals what Plato called the Idea or the Archetype. The ancient Greeks were particularly sensitive to this aspect of Art. If they looked at a statue of Apollo, the sun-god, it was not merely to them a statue of some handsome youth, but there radiated from the statue a mysterious influence, so that they came to feel the influence of God. Similarly with the goddess Minerva; they felt, when there was an adequately beautiful image in a temple, that somehow as they offered their adoration to it, the image was like a wonderful window through which they looked into the Divine Nature.
Here too it is that everyone who is sensitive to the Divine Nature, as it descends along that line of Art, knows that the highest type of music reveals His nature almost better than any other form of Art.
So throughout in all true artistic manifestation, in the creations of great artists, we are dealing with a revelation of another aspect of the Divine Nature different from that of mountain ranges and seas, different from what we find in humanity, the men and women and children round us. [Page 100]
Suppose you have trained yourself, as the Theosophist, to know the mystery of God,
that He manifests in many ways. Then you will find you are consoling and comforting
yourself during those periods of spiritual dryness, you do begin to feel inspiration
through Art, through Nature — though not so profoundly as Wordsworth would have felt. As you contemplate the flower,
the fields, you do gain some inspiration and you know that you are not living
in a completely “dark night of the soul".
What has been happening during this time? To go back to my simile of the bubbling well whose water came out above the surface of the ground, but then ceased to bubble, what happens is that during a period of spiritual dryness that pool, which had emptied itself, has been filling itself again, and the time comes when once more the fountain flows and there is again the full communion with God along one's own line of bhakti.
The message of God all throughout is that man, should live a life of action, but with a new spirit, and that spirit is one of pure offering. I lay emphasis on the word “pure", because “purified" means asking for no reward whatsoever, not even recognition by God that you are His devotee, and so He will send you in return His Grace. You, [Page 101] must be so firm in your bhakti that even if you feel there is no return whatsoever, you have pledged your life to your Lord and you go on pouring out your devotion all the time.
Shri Krishna, in that portion of the Ninth Chapter which I read, says that He is the Unmanifest, the transcendent Divinity, but that He creates the universe with a part of Himself. According to your nature, your offering will be either to the Manifest or to the Unmanifest. I want here to read to you first the prose translation of the Gita where Shri Krishna describes the types of offering that were possible in His day. These types will be according to the civilization, according to religion, according to the individual, but fundamentally there is an offering. In the Twelfth Discourse, says Shri Krishna:
verily who renounce all actions in Me and make Me
supreme, who, worshipping, meditate on Me, with no other
These I speedily lift up from the ocean of death and existence. O Partha, their minds being fixed on Me.
Place thy Manas in Me, into Me let thy Buddhi enter; then doubtless thou shalt abide in Me on high hereafter.
Yet if thou hast not strength firmly to place thy mind in Me. then by constant practice in Yoga seek to reach Me, O Dhananjaya.
also thou art not equal to constant practice, perform
to do this even thou hast not strength, take refuge in
union with Me; thus renouncing all fruit of action, act thou
with the self controlled .
Better indeed is wisdom than constant practice; than wisdom, meditation is better; than meditation, renunciation of the fruit of action; on renunciation, close follows peace.
Now , I want to read to you that same portion of the Gita, but translated by the English poet Edwin Arnold:
travail is for such as bend their minds
To reach th’ Unmanifest, That viewless path
Shall scarce be trod by man bearing the flesh!
But whereso any doeth all his deeds
Renouncing self for Me, full of Me, fixed
To serve only the Highest, night and day
Musing on Me – him will I swiftly lift
Forth from life's ocean of distress and death,
Whose soul clings fast to Me, Cling thou to Me!
Clasp Me with heart and mind! so shalt thou dwell
Surely with Me on high, But if thy thought
Droops from such height; if thou be'st weak to set
Body and soul upon Me constantly,
Despair not ! give me lower service I seek
To reach Me, worshipping with steadfast will;
And, if thou canst not worship steadfastly,
Work for Me, toil in works pleasing to Me!
For he that laboureth right for love of Me
Shall finally attain ! But, if in this
Thy faint heart fails, bring me thy failure !
words “bring me thy failure" are not in the Gita, but are an addition
of the poet, the only addition which contains that thought in its supremest
grandeur. For not many of us have anything much [Page
offer but our failure. We strive, and yet if we have nothing to offer of
achievement, at least, believing that He understands, we offer to the Lord
As I have pointed out before, one form of offering is to an Avatara or incarnation, it may be to Shri Krishna or to Sri Rama; it does not matter what form is the incarnation. God is the same everywhere. It was He who as Jesus Christ said, “Come unto Me, all ye who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest", and “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of me....For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light". Look throughout all the Scriptures of the world where there is any conception of God revealing Himself as an incarnation, then you have the road to God through that incarnated Divinity, and it is the offering to the manifested Godhead. In that, even when you feel you have nothing to offer, you can at least offer your failure. But said Shri Krishna, it is travail for those to reach the Unmanifest, nevertheless the Spirit of life is offering.
What is the spirit of life for a man who cannot believe in God, who yet has a high, pure and noble nature, who is completely unselfish, yet, do what he will, he cannot believe in any Scripture ? Are we [Page 104] to say that there is only perdition in the future for him, that God has so arranged things ( since it was God who made his soul) that God is going to condemn a man who by his very nature is not able to understand? "Offer", said the Gita. There are ways of offering to reach the Unmanifest, and, mind you, those who so offer do not know they are doing so, but they are offering nevertheless.
I want to mention one who was considered an atheist, Charles Bradlaugh, who could not believe in God, but did believe in human rights. And one of the rights that he claimed was to be a member of Parliament. In England there was a law that one must affirm in a phrase mentioning God — “I swear by Almighty God, etc.," Bradlaugh said, “I am an elected member of Parliament, but I do not believe in God, so I will affirm that I will obey the laws of the land". Parliament was rigid and said “No", and declared his seat vacant. There was another election, Bradlaugh was elected and came back once again, and without being introduced in the proper way he went to the clerk's table and began to affirm. He was promptly stopped, and once again declared to be no member of Parliament. For the third time he was elected. and because he insisted on his right as a representative of the people to be there in the [Page 105] House of Commons, poor Mr. Gladstone, the Prime Minister, did not know what to do. Bradlaugh was sent to a room in the Tower as a prisoner, waiting for them to discuss and decide what was to be done with him. Finally, he was let out, and the law of England had to be altered, and ever since that action of Bradlaugh any man has the right, not only in Parliament but anywhere, merely to affirm that he will tell the truth. Bradlaugh is forgotten except by a few, but in the constitutional history of England Bradlaugh struggled to attain that particular liberty for the people. He has done something which has thrown open the doors of freedom in a fine way; he did not believe in God, nevertheless all his life was one of service.
want to go back further another character, Giordano Bruno, a Catholic
monk who could not believe in certain things set forth as truth in his day.
His mind began analyze the great doctrines of physicists, and particularly he
idea Copernicus was true, sun centre solar system earth went round it. When he
began to uphold this idea, the catholic church came down on him as a heretic,
for the doctrine was that the earth
is the centre, all else moves round it. He was thrown
into prison by [Page
Inquisition, kept there for eight or nine years. and finally, because he
still stood for liberty of thought and these great ideas of science, he
was ordered to be burnt at the stake. He said then something
significant — “To know how to die rightly in one century is to live
in all centuries to come". That is why Giordano Bruno, who gave to us
an ideal of freedom of human thought, lives still.
There are, then, the two possible ways of offering, and I return to my simile of the vertical and the horizontal axes. You can offer to an ideal which you do not crystallize in any particular form except duty: “I am for the freedom of the people, I will fight oppression, I am for the liberty of mankind."That is an offering along the vertical line. But equally, along the horizontal you can make an offering to an Avatara, to Shri Krishna, to Jesus Christ, or to Kwan Yin — it does not matter to whom.
I return again to the great problem before Arjuna. You will remember that Arjuna asked how was it possible for him in the performance of his duty to go to battle and kill his own uncles, cousins and relations; how was it possible that duty should call upon him to slay, and bring about with that slaying great confusion within the family and throughout the kingdom ? In the course of the dialogues between [Page 107] Shri Krishna, the Teacher, and Arjuna, not only is Arjuna told that again and again the Divine, as Shri Krishna, comes to re-establish Dharma; not only does he hear in detail of the glory and omniscience of the Lord of Lords; but finally he asks the great boon of seeing God as God, and Shri Krishna gives him “the divine eye", that is, clairvoyant sight in order to behold the very nature of Deity. In the eleventh Chapter of the Gita, Sanjaya the narrator describes what Arjuna saw as he gazed upon the Lord in His supreme Imperishable, Omnipotent Form. In the whole of the book there is no chapter so lofty in its phrasing, in its beauty and grandeur, as that description of Arjuna's vision of Almighty God. I want to quote the part which describes what Arjuna saw, and even before the great battle was fought:
Lo! I to the cavern hurled
Of Thy wide-opened throat, and lips white-tushed,
I see our noblest ones,
Great Dhritarashtra's sons,
Bhishma, Drona, and Karna, caught and crushed!
The Kings and Chiefs drawn in,
That gaping gorge within;
The best of both these armies torn and riven!
Between Thy jaws they lie
Mangled full bloodily,
Ground into dust and death!
that vision Arjuna sees the Lord as the Universe, but he also sees the Lord
as Time: [Page
brings everything to naught. The Lord appears as some monstrous creature
into whose jaws all mankind is being dragged to destruction and death,
yet even before that awesome spectacle Arjuna craves that he might know the
inner Being, the meaning of it all. Then the Lord explains that He is Time
the Destroyer, exhorts Arjuna to fight and conquer his foes, for all the
warriors are slain by the Lord in reality, and not by Arjuna, who is only
the outward cause of the slaying.
What does it all mean ? This: that all which happens is in the Mind of God, that nothing can happen without His Will. This same idea is beautifully expressed in the Christian scripture: “Not a sparrow falls without the knowledge of your Father". Everything is within Him.
How are we to understand that all the horrible wars and cruelties are a part of the Divine Plan ? How could Arjuna understand that it was part of the Divine Plan that those relations of his should be killed ? When the vision was given to him, then it was he knew that in slaying he was not the slayer. You will remember also that other part of the teaching, that none is the slayer and there is none who is slain. One only – God – is the Slayer. So we have that most difficult part of the Divine Vision, [Page 109] the revelation that even all that which is regarded as evil is in reality of the nature of God. It will require long, long study to unravel even a little of that mystery.
I come now to another part of this problem, and that is: In what way are we to commune with God when, as not infrequently happens, this, communion seems rather dry and abstract ? To many a man today, and I think I might say to the vast majority of youth in the world, religion no longer appeals. Not that they have any distrust of religion, but they do have distrust of the priests and ceremonies, with the result that there is a certain hunger in their hearts, yet they do not know in what way to satisfy it. It is a fact that will be attested to by thousands in any religion — that there is no, message in the temples. Where, then, are they to find the message? I recall here the verse which comes from Omar Khayyam, the poet of Persia:
And this I know: whether the one True Light
Kindle to Love, or Wrath-consume me quite,
One flash of it within the tavern caught
Better than in the Temple lost outright.
is not to say we must go to the tavern, but it is true that sometimes in
unexpected ways one will find the light outside the temple
Especially we will find that light in the faces of men. There are two verses I quote again and again [Page 110] in my lectures dealing on this theme, that if you cannot find God in the temple, as you go about the streets, as you ride in the bus or train, see if you cannot find something of Him in your brother-man who is by your side. Here are two beautiful verses by the Scottish poet, George MacDonald:
O all wide places, far from feverous towns!
Great shining seas! pine forests! mountains wild!
Rock-bosomed shores! rough heaths! and sheep-cropt downs!
Vast pallid clouds! blue spaces undefiled!
Room! give me room! give loneliness and air!
Free things and plenteous in your regions fair.
O God of mountains, stars and boundless places!
O God of freedom and joyous hearts!
When Thy face looketh forth from all men's faces,
There will be room enough in crowded marts;
Brood Thou around me, and the noise is o'Er,
Thy universe my closet with shut door.
The last line is an allusion to a saying of Christ to one who offers prayer, to go into the closet, the praying place, and there pray; so MacDonald says, "Thy universe my closet with shut door." In the faces of your fellowmen you can once again feel something of those streams of bhakti.
But I would remind you of what I said before, that pure bhakti, as pure love, only appears when the bhakta or devotee disappears, when the lover vanishes. When every fragment of "I" consciousness[Page 111] as the bhakta or lover has vanished in one perfect act of self-sacrifice to God or to the beloved, then it is you who can begin to see something of what God has for you, and you can see it not only through the saints and the Scriptures but through every man. Then you live communing with God, sometimes in the temple, sometimes by the hillside, sometimes sitting at the root of a tree, sometimes looking at the face of a child with love and admiration, sometimes gazing at a lotus or at the tiniest of wild flowers - you can commune with Him in innumerable ways, and achieve harmony with the Divine Life.
We have this life of communion described very beautifully by a Christian poet Keble:
There are in this loud stunning tide
Of human care and crime
With whom the melodies abide
Of the everlasting chime
Who carry music in their heart
Through dusky lane and wrangling mart,
Plying their daily task with busier feet
Because their secret souls a holy strain repeat.
in your own secret soul there is singing and you have created the holy strain
To conclude I want to read two poems which give two aspects of the same problem. One is the problem that continually, as we are the true bhakta [Page 112] and till actually we come to the gate of Liberation there will be struggle after struggle. It is as if before we could be used as an instrument we have to be shaped in the heat of the fire and sharpened. But when we are the right instrument, then we become something used by the hand of God, and we rejoice that the message written is not our message, but His. Everyone who has had any kind of message to give has gone through this experience, which is inevitable. An American woman has written quite a short poem, not very deep or beautiful in phrasing, but very significant of how each one of us must be fashioned. The poem is called “The Flail", the flail being the instrument used to separate the chaff from the wheat:
What do I care for sorrow,
What if my heart is wrung!
There are words that must be written
Songs that must be sung. ..
lay down in Newgate,
Raleigh went to gaol,
Shakespeare, Dante, many yielded
Under sorrow's flail.
could a little tinker
Ever hope to sing
Without prison or, at least
Grief and suffering. ..
Travail is a bitter thing,
Let my heart be wrung –
There are words that must be written.
Songs that must be sung. [Page 113]
requires a great act of heroism to say “Let my heart be wrung".
Now, coming back to the thought that the nature of the Divine is everywhere. There lived and died not long ago an English poet called Francis Thompson. After he died there was found among his papers the rough draft of a poem which he had not finished, but it has been published as it is. Naturally he is full of Christian imagery, particularly concerning Palestine, but he lived in London, through which the river Thames flows. This poem is called “In No Strange Land":
world invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!
Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air –
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumour of thee there ?
Not where the wheeling systems darken
And our benumbed conceiving soars -
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.
The angels keep their ancient places;
Turn but a stone, and start a wing!
'Tis ye, tis your estranged faces,
That miss the many-splendoured thing.
But (when so sad thou canst not sadder )
Cry; – and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob's ladder
Pitched between Heaven and Charing Cross.[Page 114]
Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry,— clinging Heaven by the hem,
And lo, Christ walking on the water
Not of Gennesareth, but Thames.
The miracle of Christ walking on the water can happen even on the Thames at Charing
Cross. There is the message: that all the things we read in the Scriptures are
not of the past, but they can be living, provided each one of us gives life to
them. That is why all suffering is necessary. The karma of evil things done by
us comes back upon us in pain and suffering till it teaches each of us to join
wholeheartedly in work with others.
In all these ways, here is the life for each today, but just as the ladder that stretches from earth to heaven can be exactly where you are — in Bangalore Cantonment, and not necessarily in places of pilgrimage as Benares or Hardwar where you in India think you must go to contact God – it is God here and now.
I have touched but briefly upon this exquisite scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, full of a message for all religions and all mankind, and in it we have the Song of the Lord. It is said in one of our theosophical manuals that though life as we sense it sounds like a cry of anguish, though in all life there seems [Page 115] nothing but trials and suffering, yet if we look deep down there is a chanting, a song. And it is the Song of a great Singer who patiently waits to achieve a perfect universe out of the present imperfect one. He has a Plan, and is waiting till each can and will listen to His song and sing with Him, but also work with Him.
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