In chapters IX and X of the Bhagavad Gita, there is a flood of pictures for meditation and devotion. The aspects of the Lord are not restricted in time or place. There are some Indian references, but they are incidental; the main presentation is in terms of the whole world. This is not worship in a Kṛṣṇa cult. There are no accounts of incidents in the life of Kṛṣṇa as a personal avatar, such as are needed for the basis of a cult of one particular divine incarnation.
Important verses are IX.17 and 19:
17 I am the father of this world, the mother, the establisher, the grandsire,
The aim of knowledge, the purifier, the syllable OM, and sacred hymns and chants.
19 I give heat, I hold back and send rains. Both immortality and death, the existent and non-existent, am I.
Verse IX.19 refers to the so-called laws of nature. It is an entirely unjustified assumption that they are largely mechanical, and that we already know all the main ones. The Gītā vision shows divine direction and supervision of the world-process. Verse 17 has declared that the ultimate purpose of the cosmic projection is love, like the love of parents. But that world-process includes the replacement of the old forms by new ones: I am immortality but also death.
In chapter X are given meditations on the Lord as the best and highest in each class of beings. Of bodies of water, He is the ocean: of mountains, the Himalaya. Much of the list consists of allusions requiring a knowledge of Indian myths. (To give an idea of the poetical swing of the devotional verses of the original, I give now a few verses from chapter IX of Sir Edwin Arnold’s translation which he called The Song Celestial. The old English suits the subject here.)
I am the Sacrifice! I am the Prayer!
I am the Funeral-Cake set for the dead!
I am the healing herb! I am the ghee,
The Mantra, and the flame, and that which bums!
I am –of all this boundless Universe –
The Father, Mother, Ancestor, and Guard!
The end of Learning! That which purifies
In lustral water! I am OM! I am
Rig-Veda, Sama-Veda, Yajur-Ved;
The Way, the Fosterer, the Lord, the Judge,
The Witness; the Abode, the Refuge-House,
The Friend, the Fountain and the Sea of Life
Which sends, and swallows up; Treasure of Worlds
And Treasure-Chamber! Seed and Seed-Sower.
Whence endless harvests spring! Sun’s heat is mine;
Heaven’s rain is Mine to grant or to withhold;
Death am I, and Immortal Life I am,
Arjuna! SAT and ASAT, Visible Life,
And Life Invisible!
from chapter X:
I am the Spirit seated deep in every creature’s heart;
From Me they come; by Me they live; at My word they depart!
Vishnu of the Ādityas I am, those Lords of Light;
Marīchi of the Maruts, the Kings of Storm and Blight;
By day I gleam, the golden Sun of burning cloudless Noon;
By Night, amid the asterisms I glide, the dappled Moon!
Of Vedas I am Sāma-Ved, of gods in Indra’s Heaven
Vāsava; of the faculties to living beings given
The mind which apprehends and thinks; of Rudras Śaṇkara.
But in one place the Lord says: ‘Of the Vṛṣṇi clan, I am Vāsudeva; of the Pāṇḍdava brothers, I am Dhanañjaya.’ Vāsudeva is Kṛṣṇa himself, and Dhanañjaya is a familiar name for Arjuna as master archer. The supreme Lord who is proclaiming himself is now saying: ‘I am You.’ This is the highest declaration of Knowledge, but Arjuna makes no comment, here or later. He simply does not notice it. The instinct for preservation of individuality prevents him from taking it in, although he thinks, and later says, that he has understood it all – ‘my delusion has vanished’ (XI.l).
Arjuna is overwhelmed by the majesty and splendour of the revelations. He uses many terms of adoration, and not the familiar salutation ‘Kṛṣṇa’, as he asks to hear yet more of the glories, so that he can know the Lord in truth by meditating on them. This is a central point in the practice of karma-yoga: meditation on the Lord in glory, is a direct means to knowledge of the Lord as the Self.
At the end of chapter X he feels in ecstasy, and at the beginning of XI he asks to see directly –and without the process of meditation –the universal form of the Lord. He believes that all his delusions have gone, and that the vision will simply confirm for him the conceptions he has built up from what he has heard. But he does not realize what has been said. He must have smoothly accepted ‘I am immortality, I am death’ as a theoretical concept, for he made no reaction to it. He had not taken in what he heard, because he had not meditated upon it. He is going to have a shock.
© Trevor Leggett