Bhagavad Gita: Why Read It?
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna flatly asserts to Arjuna that the most sacred, most important information of the entire sacred text is revealed in Chapter 15. He refers to this chapter as the greatest secret:
Iti guhyatamam sastram idam uktam mayanagha, etad buddhva buddhiman syat krita-krityas cha bharata (15.20):
Our common English translation of the sentence above follows:
“It is not an ordinary secret, it is not a great secret, but it is the greatest secret that I have told you. Really you will be wise after having known the import of this teaching; and you have done what you wanted to do, you have known what is to be known, and you have obtained what is to be obtained.”
So, Krishna told Arjuna that simply being completely versed in this one simple Chapter would answer the totality of the Great Mystery, succinctly and clearly.
Shankara said that, in the 15th chapter, the meaning of not only the entire Gita, but also all that is known in the entirety of the Vedas, is presented briefly and completely.
This greatest secret of all is veiled in the very best hiding place: the seeker himself.
The process of negation (neti, neti) eventually reveals what the secret truly is. What the seeker who continues the search for Truth, for Bhagavan, discovers, is ‘that which seeks’ is ‘that which is sought’. It does not matter whether we search inside or out, God remains hidden because he is in the very seeker that seeks. The shruti bluntly puts it to the seeker: “You are the Sought.”
In truth, the “cosmic tree” unfolded in Chapter 15 of the Bhagavad Gita represents nama-rupa, name and form; there is no tree at all. This is true of all objects.There is only the one consciousness, Caitanya. So, it is important to note that the entire tree is mythia, sometimes defined as “illusion”, “apparent reality" or “dependent reality” or “seemingly real”.
In Chapter 9 of the Bhagavad Gita, mythia is described thus: the world rests in Brahman (Consciousness) but, Brahman does not rest in the world. The second part of this statement underscores the absolute position, denying the presence of the world in Brahman; in this way, it reveals that the world is just an appearance of Consciousness. Without Consciousness, there is no world possible to appear. Thus, Consciousness is all.
Shankara described samsara as dreamlike or mirage water; independent of knowledge, it appears to be real, but, when closely investigated it is seen that it has no reality of it’s own, it has no being. At the same time, it is not correct to say it is without roots, as it’s root alone is Consciousness, or Truth. Everything else is a superimposition on it.
Every name and form, every phenomenon, whether gross or subtle, arises from this one construct, Brahman, and resolves upon inquiry back into it revealing the object as nothing other than projection. All name and form, including the sense of agency ( a “me” who witnesses) are superimpositions on Consciousness itself, not two, due to ignorance, the “ignoring” of what is.
What we refer to as samsara, then, is nothing more than projected differentiation of knower, the instruments of knowledge (senses, etc), and known. The Svetasvatara Upanishad recants even the attribution of “knower” to Brahman. Brahman only remains the knower with the instruments of knowledge (the senses); without the instruments of knowledge, it never becomes the known. Without the known, Braham is released from it’s designation even as knower.
Now an important point: the empirical view that the world and it’s laws, karma, cause and effect, knowledge, waking, dream, deep sleep and all other phenomenon are real and binding is simply not true. It is simply the view possible from the tree of samsara using an empirical lens. From the absolute Reality, from Truth itself, it simply does not exist. Consciousness alone is. As Gaudapada said in the Mandukya Upanishad,
“That which did not exist before and that which will not exist later, does not exist now.”
Or as the famous Gita quote 2:16 states, ”That which is, never ceases to be; that which is not, never comes into being.”
Here is the point: To mistake a rope for a snake, there first must be a rope. The rope is true; the snake is not. But, how is this differentiated? First, it must be seen that the rope is more real than the snake. Once the rope is seen to be real, the snake eventually evaporates entirely.
Such is the dissolution of ignorance. First, it is seen that Consciousness, the changeless element, is more real than that which it perceives. From this initial clarity, the house of cards begins to collapse.
Objects are seen as having no reality independent of Consciousness. Then, it is realized that no boundary can be found for Consciousness -- it is not contained. Not being contained, the sense of agency, the “me”, loses it’s individuality, it’s limits, it’s locatability and it’s authority. The notion of separate self slowly resigns it’s leadership role. No longer having any roots, conditioned beliefs rise only to meander briefly and, without sustenance, die. In this dissolution, what remains is best described as Self-Knowing Beingness. It carries with it a distinct aroma of the Perfume of Silence.
How can samsara be negated for once and for all? What is needed, says Krishna, is the axe of detachment, a deep inquiry distinguishing between subject and object until identification with the physical body, senses, and mind are severed. This process -- not this, not that, (neti neti) – is pursued with single-minded determination, to it’s logical end. Anything less than complete and intricate inspection of sensory perception, bodily sensation, thoughts, beliefs and feelings, bears no fruit until “seeing” occurs; it is the inquiry into what is and is not self. This is how the tree of samsara is felled.
My teacher once told me, “Until there is nothing of this world, nothing of this body, and nothing of this mind that will ever satisfy you, you will never be free.”
For this journey, desire for truth must become burning and singular. The deeper the investigation, the more provocative and disorienting the questions become: what made me think that the sensation in the hand belonged to a Chris while the sound of the fan across the room did not? Were they not both experienced in the same spaceless space -- by the same Awareness that I am? These type of questions beg final answers. Lip service does not do.
Detachment, asanga, is necessary. The old adage says that whatever you want more than enlightenment, you will get. Each time we run away from fear, we turn our back on Grace. Each time we resist criticism or adversity, we decline an invitation specifically designed to lead us Home. Everything we encounter, then, is all prasad; particularly those events we wish to resist.
Attraction and aversion pull us back towards objects, or repel us from them; in either case, fear and desire both reinforce our attachment to Maya. They incite behavior that is selfish and exclusive, or cause us to avoid events altogether, which, otherwise, might disintegrate the blockade to our successful return Home.
As opposed to an unflinching stand in equanimity, all resistance and attraction demonstrate belief in duality. As such, these hidden beliefs perpetuate suffering. Our rightness comes at the highest price; our smug resistance denies the fruition of our highest wish: returning Home.
Looking into oneself, detachment is gained. Our attachments and aversions are nothing more than thoughts with a “me” attached to them. Even our agitation concerning "external" objects -- people, jobs, families, illness, etc -- all reduce to perceptions occurring only in mind. And, what perceives the contents we call mind?
In the Birhad-arayaka Upanishad (4.5.6) Yajnavalkya states:
“Everything becomes dear for it’s own sake.”
This is a simple restatement of fact: The Self is the same in all bodies and it is the same Self that is shining in all bodies, in all persons, in all beings. And, it is this Self, in actuality that we adore, not the object. Our quest is to know this Self in all bodies.
The inquiry must be firm, repetitive and consistent. The Bhagavad Gita, points to proper inquiry, parimargana. The reference to “pari” means with the help of the shastra, or scripture and a qualified teacher to equate the cause of creation to the Self. Later, we will discuss the importance of the karana guru, and why, in most cases, he is essential to the ultimate re-discovery.
Shankara says that firmness in inquiry is required due to the human pursuit; living in samsara, you cannot release yourself from samsara. Hopefully, the aspirant develops a desire for moksha, liberation. But, this desire, in itself, is not enough, either; desire for liberation must fructify into the desire to know. This desire drives the inquiry, "What am I? What is the Self and what in not the Self?" No single blow can fell the Tree of Samsara. Repetitive attempts, abhyasa, are required. Sadly, many who begin the inquiry abandon it before the axe of inquiry accomplishes it’s goal.
This persistent critical observation results in a loosening of the sense of ownership, mamakara, and, closely behind this, the sense of “I” itself, called ahankara. It is this transition and eventual disappearance of the “I" that is so beautifully described in the previous article, The Tree of Samsara, which details the profound experience of my teacher.
What are the qualifications of those who gain that from which there is no return? Here, Krishna succinctly answers: Nirmanamohas, those that are free from manas and mohas.
Manas is simply our desire to be respected and admired by others. In other words, manas are our demands for approval from others. It is the sense of lack born of ignorance, the sense of inadequacy and low self worth which permeates our behavior. Clamoring for approval from "others" maintains the spell of separation. Perhaps, manas is better known as pride.
By mohas, we refer to our expectation that objects have value that they do not possess. It is our incessant superimposing of qualities onto the objects we see and desire: attaching love to an object like a relationship, or happiness to a thing acquired -- like a career, money, food, sex, health, cars, a belief, etc. This process of projection keeps us looking to objects to complete us, thus relieving our deeply rooted sense of lack. Moha is literally nondiscrimination. This aggressive, and confident pursuit of objects is meant to heal our sense of lack. This lack is, once again, born of the belief in separation.
Manas and mohas, when taken together, are the fuel of likes and dislikes, attraction and repulsion, fear and desire. They are the chains with which we bind ourselves. The release from these faults of association is called jita-sanga-dosah. Any object without which we feel incomplete is one to which you have sanga: attachment. Jita means conquered, in this case, through inquiry and self knowledge.
Free of pride and nondiscrimination, Love finds it’s mark and Grace can enter. The path becomes clean, clear and complete.
Consciousness requires no light to illuminate itself; it is self-luminescent. Every other “thing”, subtle or gross, requires the presence of awareness; thinking, sensing, and perceiving all derive their substance from it. In a well known verse, shared also in the Katha Upanishad, it states:
“There the sun, moon and stars do not shine. The lightning does not shine. What can we say about fire?”
Illumination by "sun" light may be the universal source for the eyes; but, what of perception of an object by the mind itself? The eyes can observe an object in the mind by light, as a thought form, vritti in sanskrit; but, what enlightens mind?
It’s source is fundamental, unique: thus, we refer to it as Atman, the eternal Presence of Awareness. It is self-effulgent: it lights itself, it is not dependent on anything.
“As rivers, flowing down, become indistinguishable on reaching the sea by giving up their names and forms, so also the illumined soul, having become freed from name and form, reaches the self-effulgent, Supreme Self.” – Mundaka Upanishad
Ignorance fails to recognize the boundless, formless reality which supports all perception. It validates the belief in agency, a “me”, an experiencer, rather than identifying as the substrata, Consciousness. It is a creation made up out of whole cloth. It mistakes the wave for the Ocean.
We resist this conclusion. In this "seeing” rests the extermination of our self-created images as individual and unique, as any “thing” at all.
“There is no such thing as an enlightened human being.”
As Atmananda Krishna Menon so eloquently put it, regarding the sanskrit term, Jivan Mukta:
“This is a misnomer, because jiva (personality) is perceptible to the external senses alone and mukta (that which is free) to the internal eye alone. The two are on entirely separate planes, and as such, can never meet. So, if someone is a jiva (a person), he cannot at the same time be a mukta (one who is free); vise versa. Therefore, the term “jivan-mukta” (free person) is a misnomer.”
Belief in separation permits the apparent independent existence of the mind, body, and world. Self-ignorance births the agent, karta in sanskrit, and the experiencer, bhokta, in a unique body-mind. The agent is merely a notion. a thought, which can only exist through mind and ignorance. Coming and going, appearance and disappearance are it’s fruits. Consciousness is never opposed to ignorance; it is the very substratum of it. A hand is never thought of as an object other than ourselves.
The space contained within a pot is not truly limited or separate from the totality of space. The pot is “uphadi”, a superimposition -- an external disguise for true reality. The fundamental understanding comes when the space is seen for what it is, in it’s Eternity, apart from the apparent limitation placed on it by the pot. One never returns from this understanding.
There is no-thing. No-thing has no boundary. No thoughts or beliefs are owned by a “me”, no thought, sensation or perception belong to any thing other than Experiencing itself.
Preference is impossible, as is resistance. Issues of like and dislike are Maya’s gifts, enabling us to see the truth of our own delusion: our preferences point to our belief in separation.
This is not to say that the body, mind and world do not exist; a more mature understanding is that they have no existence independent of Consciousness, apart from the awareness that births them.
Only a limited entity can form an association with an object. Being born of the same level, association is possible, but, being limited in time, disassociation is inevitable.
Ignorance is different. In the case of belief in separation, two different orders of reality are established: one is real (unchanging and independent) and the other, dependent ,or less than real. The body, mind, and world have no independent existence; Consciousness does.
Thus, Paramatma, the core of the “individual” jiva.
As the Atma eats the fruits, karma, Paramatman is the silent observer of it all. The jiva, with it’s sense of agency is only an apparent reality; it has no real existence outside of Consciousness. Paramatma is self-evident behind every sensory and mental appearance; it is not uncovered due to lack of discrimination caused by the overwhelming love for the seen and unseen decoys of fear and desire. If the mission of human life is awakening, it is our love affair with enjoyments, binding likes and dislikes, that keep us from uncovering the obvious.
It is both the presence of pain and our ability for discrimination which sets the stage for liberation. The subject-object discrimination, the sorting of what is “not I”, births the false belief of being human, the recurring belief in agency and the addicted role of the enjoyer. This investigation uncovers the reality of the “I” sense as nothing other than Consciousness itself, never contained, never identified, assuming fictional roles as form.
Just as the driver of a car might say that, “I was going 80 miles per hour," while knowing that he,h imself, did no such thing, so is the discrimination between body-mind and the “I” principle. I may claim that I did this or that; in fact, it is known that nothing could be further from the case; I am not the agent.
The world is comprised of the manifest, ksara, the destructible, the world -- the temporal and the unmanifest, aksara -- the eternal. Both are terms describing Maya, in it’s manifest form as jagat and it’s unmanifest as the causal body. Both have no independance; they are superimpositions of the uttama purusa, the ultimate Self, Paramatman, Consciousness itself.