By practice the great Self can be seen
Well, this instruction is given to Arjuna, but he’s not able to actualise it. He says, “Frankly, it’s impossible. You can’t bring the mind to a stop.” and, again, Shankara has pointed out that he speaks for the people. But Krishna said, “Impossible? No – difficult, but by regular practice, practice at regular times, long continued, then it can be done.” Arjuna still isn’t convinced at all. He does something which all teachers of all subjects know when there’s a sort of will to fail. He said, “Well, what happens if I don’t manage to pull it off? I’ll have wasted a lot of time, won’t I? I won’t have got that, and then there are all the things in the world I might have been doing, and I won’t have done them either.” Teachers all know this.
Krishna meets it patiently, and he says, “Well, if you make great efforts, you will set going a dynamism, which will carry you forward, if necessary, into new births.” Then he passes on to chapter seven, after Arjuna’s disbelief in chapter six, and a new method is opened up. This is the method of devotion to God as the universe. The Gita is universal. It doesn’t recommend any cult of an avatara or some great figure, or of the personality of the teacher. There is nothing like this. Krishna hardly mentioned himself at all, and no characteristics are given for worship. Our teacher said that the worship of a great avatar or a great saint is one of the spiritual methods, but in this Gita text, it’s universal, and the descriptions of the Lord given for devotion are universal. But we’re expected to go into them deeply; not just think, “Oh, how beautiful,” and then pass on. The verses have a depth in them, which we can penetrate.
For instance, there is one verse which is translated by our teacher. “There is nothing beyond God. All this exists and receives its support from Him. Like the beads on a thread, He is both the material and the efficient cause of the universe.” It’s a beautiful example to think of pearls on a string – the Lord, invisible, penetrating the universe. Then people say, “Yes, but then that’s a sort of get-out, isn’t it? It’s invisible. The example is chosen of something that’s invisible. How do we know it’s there? We can see the beads, but it’s exactly the string that you can’t see.” It’s this sort of example that we’re expected to penetrate. In one way, we do perceive the thread, and we’re quite aware of the thread because if it wasn’t there, the pearls would scatter. If we penetrate this deeply enough, we would see that the universe would scatter – there would be no order in the universe without this invisible thread of intelligence holding it together.
Shri Dada, who was the teacher of our teacher and not a learned man, was asked this point once. He answered in two sentences. He said, “Well, what maintains order in the universe?” and the sceptical objector said, “Well, it’s the laws of nature, of course.” Shri Dada said, “Were those laws there before the universe, or did they come afterwards?” Richard Fenynman, the Nobel Prize winner, asked this very point. He makes the same point in his book, ‘The Laws of Physics’. He says, “What physics has to enquire into is whether the laws of nature were there before or came after, and why these laws of nature and no others?” It’s now being studied and being investigated, that the laws are peculiarly favourable for human life.
Then the path of devotion continues that the Lord is seen, sometimes as the most beautiful, the most powerful, the most glorious, the most profound of things – and most easily meditated on, it’s true. Krishna has given us an example – Krishna in the tribe of Vrishnis; then he says, “… of warriors I am Rama”, another incarnation; and he says of the Pandavas – that’s Arjuna’s clan – “I am Arjuna.” There’s no personality expressed; it’s a universal manifestation in the different places. Arjuna is very convinced by the beauty and the power of the exposition and he said, at the end of chapter 10, “Well, now, I have understood. Now, my delusion is gone.” He thinks that he has realisation, because he thinks it is a wonderful and elevating idea – and the Lord then chose him, one of his forms, and Arjuna finds that his whole idea collapses. The reason it collapses is given in the Gita: because he hasn’t, in fact, cleared his mind of all the prejudices and preconceptions which he has. When he sees, in the universal form, his enemy, Karna, he makes a derogatory comment, even at that moment of divine vision. He doesn’t see the Lord in Karna; he only sees a contemptible enemy. So he’s unable to bear the vision, and the Lord withdraws it.
There’s an important hint in chapter eight, which is on the strength of Yoga. The Lord says, “By practising repeatedly, your yoga will attain strength.” We say, “Well, what does it mean?” Ideas can be exalting and wonderful and inspiring, but if they have no strength, they’re liable to change and collapse. One Buddhist priest in the Far East said, “You know, people come on the day of the worship, and they come along the street. I see them talking. A couple of them are talking, and then, when they come to the gate, the tradition is, as they come onto the stepping stones, into the peace of the temple, they’re absolutely silent. They take part in the service with great devotion and reverence, and they go out silently and calmly.” He said, “And the moment they’re outside the gate, one says, ‘… and another thing…’ They have been devout, but it had no strength.” So the meditation has to be pursued until it is, in the technical terms of the Shankara, ripened, matured. It’s one of his terms in his Gita commentary. It has to be matured by long practice, and it has to be continued outside the meditation period.
© Trevor Leggett
Talks in this series are:
Part 1: Marionettes and Free Agents
Part 2: People who can’t see the great self
Part 3: By practice the great Self can be seen
Part 4: Teaching of devotion