Gita Wisdom: Chapter Eleven Commentary

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

tvam ādidevaḥ puruaḥ purānas

tvam asya viśvasya para nidhānam

vettāsi vedya ca para ca dhāma

tvayā tata viśvam anantarūpa

You are the primal God, the most ancient Person. You are the ultimate resort of the entire universe. You are the knower, the object of knowledge, and the Supreme Abode.  O Lord of the infinite form, You pervade the entire universe. 11.38 Trans. Prasad

In the eleventh chapter, Shri Krishna reveals his true form to Arjuna, who is over-awed by the Lord’s presence.  Arjuna is one of the few who see God face-to-face in a moment of incredible clarity.  We may find ourselves wanting such a revelation of God’s true form, and, indeed, such a vision is never far from us.  We prevent ourselves from seeing this dazzling reality through our habitual ways of thinking, which surround the ego in a comfortable cocoon of mundane reality.  We don’t see God, because it is disturbing, challenging, uncomfortable to do so.  It is much easier to just fill our minds with trivia than to seek the beatific vision.

Americans often go on a sort of secular pilgrimage to the Grand Canyon, to look out across its vastness and the beautiful strata of ancient rock.  Such an experience makes one feel small and insignificant in comparison to the vastness of space and the depth of geological time.  In this way, one goes back to daily life with various problems and concerns put into perspective.  But suppose that, instead of looking out on the canyon, a tourist were to only look back at the highway and the gift shop.  Suppose that person did not even see the canyon at all.  Suppose that person mumbled, “Where is this canyon?  Where? I only see a road and a gift shop.”

This is the situation in our lives.  We become so enamored with the world that we forget God.  Of course, the world is in God and God in the world, but that knowledge can be difficult to understand and even more difficult to realize.  Even those who truly want illumination can have a hard time finding it, mostly due to the pressures of contemporary life.  Never before have people been so assaulted with information and advertisements; never before has so much work been required to earn a decent living; never before have traditional ways of living been so eroded.  This is why Hindus call this the Kali yuga, the dark age, or what we might call the age of confusion. We find ourselves in the odd position of having to learn how to see what is right in front of our faces.

Some thoughts on how to see this incredible divine brilliance in the world follow.  First, the best and most costly teacher is silence.  Silence comes in two forms, interior and exterior, each dependent on the other.  Without a quiet heart, it will do no good to have the exterior form.  Likewise, exterior silence can help to raise consciousness of the noise and conflict within.  Master one kind of silence, and you have a better shot at attaining the other.  It helps to find a distraction-free or at least distraction-minimized environment and to do things slowly and deliberately, with an attitude of patient listening.

Next, mantra, literally, “that which takes away the mind,” can help with restless thinking processes.  One can use a mantra related to a favorite divinity, or one can use a verse from scripture, like the one above.  Using a mala to count repetitions will lessen the need to count mentally.  Once the feeling and attitude of the mantra has been absorbed, it will be good to take a pause for silent contemplation.  One may also pause on the initial, or guru, bead, to petition the deity to take away any distractions for the next round of recitation.  If the mantra doesn’t seem to be working, try more repetitions, say even 10 or 20 malas a day.  This will be necessary to jump-start the practice if it feels sluggish in nature.

Of course, we could name many other yogic practices, but that will have to wait for another time.  To just address another question, “What happens if you sincerely seek the divine, with all energy and devotion, and still nothing happens?”  The bhakti saints of Hinduism use that sense of absence, of duality, and make that, too, into a vehicle for seeking God.  Take that sorrow, that pain of separation from the Beloved, and refuse to fill your aching heart with anything else.  Do not drown the pain in worldly enjoyment, as that simply prolongs it.  Argue with God and make demands.  Become more fervent and more fervent still.  If you refuse to let go over a long enough time, the vision will dawn.  Just keep in mind that you will never be the same once that happens.