Marionettes are referred to in the Gita

The yogi will attain supreme peace

The marionettes are referred to in verse 61 of chapter 18 of the Gita, and this our teacher’s translation. ‘The Lord rules the hearts of all beings dwelling therein, causing them to revolve like a machine by His Maya, His magic power’.  The next verse is, ‘The yogi must take refuge in Him with all his heart instead of trusting his lower self which expresses itself in ambition, material desires, attraction and aversion, and other limitations which end in despair. By His grace, the yogi will attain supreme peace, the highest state. The result of contact of the lower self with the Supreme Being is the transformation of the conditioned self into the Infinite’.  In these verses two things are given. One is that the Lord whirls the beings through His magic power as if they were puppets on a machine and, secondly, that through devotion to the Lord – the Yoga of devotion, which includes the discipline and the meditation and knowledge – the lower self, the puppet, becomes one, or is one, with the Supreme Being.

It is thought that the puppet theatre in India is very old and that it had two forms, as perhaps it has today. There is the form in which the puppets are manipulated by strings from above. We know this phrase, ‘Oh, he is pulling strings’, which means he has secret and invisible methods of influencing people. This comes from the picture of the puppet master who is above the stage, looking down – and with the machinery he has, he manipulates the arms, legs and bodies of the puppets.  Then, a second form of the machine is one that we also see, sometimes in amusement arcades, where the puppets, so to speak, are like posts. They are mounted on rods and by manipulating those rods, you can make the puppets move in a series of fixed actions. You can make them turn that way, make them kick or lift a hand, but their actions are mechanical.

It is thought that, here in the Gita, Shankara’s commentary refers to ‘posts’ – the dolls are like carved posts mounted on a platform. It is thought that these were dolls, painted and decorated to look like various characters in a drama, and that they were on rods.  Underneath there was a great wheel which revolved and the wheel had small projections which would push certain rods, so that a particular character would turn.  The narrator would narrate the story and when Ravana came in and drew his sword and lifted it, Sita would turn away from him and reject him – and the narrator would explain that.

The actions are completely limited. The original Sanskrit says, “He is whirling them. The Lord dwelling in their heart is whirling them round as if they were mounted on a machine,” and it is thought the whirling refers to this great wheel.  There’s a Vedanta Sutra saying, “From the Lord are bondage and release; not only release, but bondage also is from the Lord.” In this verse in the Gita, he says clearly, “I make the beings revolve, whirling them round, by my Maya, my magic power”.  Elsewhere in the Gita, the Lord says, “Alas, my Maya, my magical power of illusion, is hard to cross”. Shankara says, “The Lord laments that the beings don’t see Him, but on the other hand, it is from the Lord Himself that there are bondage and release”.

He says in Chapter 10 there are certain aspects of the world in which it is easy to see the Lord and one of them is the fascination of an addiction, “I am the gambling of the…,” well, the word is something like a ‘card-sharper’. It has got a sense of cheating or being very ‘keen’, as the saying is today. It is an addictive gambler, who is not above cheating to win.  People who are not subject to gambling find this difficult to understand – the fascination of gambling. There is a hymn in the Vedas to the dice, the magic in the dice. The Indians were particularly susceptible to gambling, which we don’t have here so much.  There have been gamblers here. Some of the sporting squires, they used to make large bets on all sorts of fantastic things.  The famous squire, Oswald Easton, made a heavy bet on a cricket match with two players on each side. When the day came, he was extremely ill and he asked for a postponement of the match, but his opponent, equally sharp, said, “No, play or pay.” The squire got up from bed, and although he was very ill, his partner was extremely skilful and they managed to win. He was willing to risk his life in order not to lose that bet.

Recently, a Yorkshire businessman, went over to America with $5,000, borrowed $500,000 and set up a company selling computer technology. He said, “It is like playing double or quits again and again, with your life. You can’t do that in Britain, but in America it is quite the thing to do and you feel stimulated by it.”  Habitual gamblers tell you that it is only then that they really feel alive, not when they’re gambling for what they can afford, but when they are gambling for far more than they can afford.

In India, this was said to be a great test of character. They had a habit, as a thank you present, of telling the other party to ask for a boon – and that meant anything.  It wouldn’t be very common for people here to be prepared to risk allowing somebody to demand anything, even the life of the one who is granting the boon.   King Dasharatha offered Queen Kaikeyi a boon, which at first she reserved, but then later on claimed it – which was to disinherit the heir to the throne.   A great emphasis was laid on keeping the exact words of the boon, so his word had to be kept.  Prince Rama, although he could easily have avoided it, insisted on following out the words of his father.

© Trevor Leggett

Talks in this series are:

Part 1: Marionettes are referred to in the Gita

Part 2: We are whirled by Maya like marionettes

Part 3: Habitual likers and dislikers of illusion

See also: Marionettes and Free Agents



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