The chapter begins with Arjuna’s confident belief that his delusion has been dispelled. He has by now heard the supreme mystery of adhyātma, in the Lord’s declarations of his own glories. Arjuna has forgotten that in Chapter VIII the adhāyatma was explained as the self-nature (sva-bhâva) in every man, not only the Lord outside. Again, he has heard the Lord say (X.20) ‘I am the Self in the heart of all beings, ‘but he could not incorporate that into his experience. There was an unspoken reservation: ‘but not in me.’ He could not apply the divine adhyātma glory to his own inner self. Similarly in II.17 it is said that the Self is everywhere: but in nearly all hearers there is an inner whisper: ‘Yes, but not exactly here.’
Arjuna asks to see the universal form of the Lord directly. He assumes that what he will see will be somewhat as he has imagined it from the descriptions. The Lord gives him the divine sight which can see universal things; it is this same divine sight which Sañjaya the seer is using to witness and report the whole scene. These are not private trances, for both Arjuna and Sanjaya speak and move in the world while seeing the vision.
XI.7 Behold now the whole world of the moving and unmoving, united in my body;
And whatever else you may desire to see.
9 With these words, O king, the great Lord of yogic power
Showed to Arjuna his supernal form as Ruler God:
10 Of many mouths and eyes, of many wonderful forms,
With many marvellous ornaments, with many marvellous weapons poised,
XI.11 Wearing marvellous garlands and garments with wonderful perfumes and unguents,
All wonderful, divine, infinite, facing all directions.
12 As if the light of a thousand suns should suddenly burst forth in the sky,
Such was the light of that supreme One.
13 Arjuna was beholding in the body of the God of Gods,
The whole world united, yet divided into many.
Arjuna cries out spontaneously in adoration:
18 You are the imperishable, the supreme One whom we seek;
You are the ultimate support of this whole universe;
You are the immortal guardian of the eternal right;
I see that you are the everlasting Spirit.
The Lord now gives an additional grace to Arjuna: ‘And behold whatever else you may desire to see’, as he had just promised. The unspoken desire turns out to be the course and end of the coming battle. After the wonders of the main vision, the second part brings into focus the immediate future of Arjuna, his friends and his opponents. The future is partly determined and partly undetermined: for instance, the deaths of certain warriors are certain, but it is not certain who will kill them.
The vision becomes terrifying:
24 Touching the sky, aflame, of many colours, with yawning mouths and blazing enormous eyes,
Truly, seeing you so, my inmost self is shaken, and I find no rest or peace, O Lord.
26 Into those mouths are rushing helplessly all the warriors and hosts of kings,
Bhīṣma, Droṇa and that son of a charioteer too;
And the chiefs of our own side likewise.
The Lord says:
32 I am time, poised to destroy and take away them all:
Even without you, these warriors in their ranks shall all be killed.
XI.33 So arise, win heroic glory, conquer the enemies and enjoy rulership.
Already have they been slain, by Myself; do you be simply the instrument.
34 Droṇa and Bhīṣma and Jayadratha and Karṇa, and the other heroes,
Do you slay They are already slain by Me. Do not hesitate! Fight and conquer the enemy in battle.
Arjuna is aghast at this part of the vision. He had previously heard the Lord say, ‘None but I am immortal Time’ (X.30) and ‘I am death that carries off all’ (X.34), but when he sees Time engaged in killing those whom he knows well, he cannot bear it. He begs for the vision to be removed, and the Lord reappears in his familiar human form as the charioteer.
An important point is made here, by one of the Gītā master-strokes of insight. Sañjaya, the seer, is not emotionally shattered by the details of the vision, as is Arjuna the fighter. At the very end of the Gītā, Sañjaya says:
As I recall again and again that most wondrous form of the Lord,
Great is my amazement, and I thrill with joy again and again.
Sañjaya sees, and remembers, the universal vision with joy, because he is independent; Arjuna, as shown by his contemptuous reference to Karṇa as ‘that son of the charioteer’, is still caught up in the web of relationships.
Chapter XI ends with a verse which Śankara says sums up the message of the Gītā, beginning with karma-yoga. The Lord speaks:
55 Doing My work, intent on Me, devoted to Me, free from attachment,
Without hatred for any being – who is so, goes to Me.
The verse is taken up immediately in the next chapter.
© Trevor Leggett