To understand the doctrine of the Bhagavad Gita, it is necessary to understand the doctrine of incarnation. Not re-incarnation, but incarnation, and when we have understood the doctrine of incarnation we shall also understand the true meaning of Christianity, Judaism and other great religions. On several occasions Shri Krishna mentions his incarnation. At one place He says, ‘When virtue begins to decline and righteousness predominates, then, O Arjuna, I am born to protect the righteous and punish the wicked’. Now it is on this theme that I venture to address you in some detail.
At the back of all phenomena there is one existence which is eternal, immortal and without a second. This is the truth which we can never afford to forget. We have to remember it all the time, and if there is any doctrine which conflicts with this truth, it is to be taken as a preliminary doctrine and not as truth of the highest type. The highest truth is that there is nothing but God, who is consciousness absolute, without any attributes, above all subject-object relationship, the one existence, consciousness and truth, or bliss; He alone exists and nothing else.
There are not two existences, not two ultimate principles, but only one ultimate principle. This is the highest truth and there is no truth beyond this truth. When the mind realizes this truth then it becomes no-mind, that is, it becomes God. When the mind has become God, then the final problem of life has been solved, then all the knots of the heart have been pierced, all doubts have been dissolved and one great inundation of light floods the soul. This is the background to the philosophy of religions and of the Gita in particular.
When we postulate a philosophical doctrine, it should provide an answer to the questions: What is truth? What is the world? The duty of philosophy is to understand the world, and if a philosophy is not able to afford a complete and satisfactory explanation of it, then there is something wanting in it. Even the crudest of religions gives some explanation as to the origin of the world, as to its purpose, its maintenance and its final destiny. Man is included in the world. When people have understood what man is, they will have understood what the world really is, and when they have understood what the world is they will also understand what man is.
Apart from man, the world consists of time, space and the law of cause and effect. All the categories of Aristotle are included in these three. God, or Truth, is not to be sought in this world, but He is to be sought in the element which is more than the world, which existed before the creation of the world and which will continue to prevail when the solar systems have collapsed and have become dirt and dust, when the earth and all the satellites of the solar luminary have been reduced to nothingness; even then the Father in Heaven will continue to rule as He rules today.
This is the basis of philosophy, a belief in the non-dual principle. It is not only a matter of faith, but by cogent logical and discursive reasoning this doctrine can be established. It does not fight shy of scepticism, materialism and other systems of pseudo- philosophy. Therefore, my friends, this is the rock- bottom truth on which we have to stand. If there are any who can understand this truth, the fundamental, basic and rock-bottom truth, that is, the identity of the localized spirit in man with the supreme and absolute spirit, he needs no prayers and no rituals.
When we find this hard to understand, to realize, then we need the subsidiary doctrine, and not otherwise. You will say why? Because when our mind is tranquillized and purified of all desires, good and evil, both, and is completely detached from anything in the world, be it a husband, a kingdom or a country, it is then and only then that the infinite spirit reflects itself in the intelligence and the intelligence is borne up and the finite is absorbed in the infinite. This is the holy doctrine, the basis of the yogic teachings and the basis of each and every great religion.
Man consists of the body, the mind and the divine ray which is called the monad. St Paul has said that man is a triple alliance of body, mind and spirit, and this is the same doctrine which is explained in the Gita.
Take the case of Christ, or of Rama and Krishna. They did not evolve, they were never ignorant but came independent of any reason: the divine ray descended, created that particular body, created that particular mind and dwelt in it, all-perfect in knowledge, in morality and in power, and this is what we call a permanent Incarnation of God.
It is believed that the body of Christ was not like our body; it was the divine body, it was the divine mind, and the spirit in Him was ever enlightened. We hope to be enlightened one day by His grace, but He was ever enlightened and He descended directly from the primordial source of consciousness. A man today is bound but he will one day be freed by his own exertion. An Incarnation is never bound and He is not freed by his own exertion. He is perfect in every possible way and there is no sin in Him, and He is not influenced by any of His actions. This is called Incarnation.
Krishna says in the Gita: ‘O Arjuna, I am born in this world again and again’. And Arjuna asks: ‘How am I to know this?’ Krishna replies: ‘O Arjuna, I know all the lives, thou knowest them not, I know them all and I will continue to come. Whenever virtue is on the decline and evil in the ascendant, in order to restore the balance of virtue I take birth again and again’.
Who is this ‘I’ who takes birth? It is the Lord omniscient and omnipresent, called Ishwara, God the Father. It is He who is saying so. Brahman, the infinite, immortal, absolute, has no death and no birth, but He has a second phase by means of which we explain the world — Ishwara, the personal God, and it is He who says ‘I am born again and again’.
This is an explanation of the verse: ‘He who knows my body and my actions to be divine, he goes beyond this world into the realm of light’. It is an act of supreme sacrifice on the part of the divine to appear as man. People remember only one sacrifice, the sacrifice which Christ made on the Cross, but that was the last sacrifice. There was a sacrifice greater than that: it was the eternal, immutable, infinite, incarnating in the body.
A yogi serves God. What is the meaning of service of God? First, doing good deeds without any selfishness and offering their results to God. Man has not accomplished the purpose of life unless he has done good to other creatures unselfishly and offered that good to God to be utilized as He likes. Secondly, control of the mind. Thirdly, tranquillization and enrichment of the mind by means of knowledge of the holy truth, by prayers and devotion, by higher contemplation and by acquiring that state of indisturbability of the mind that, whatever may happen, it is never puzzled, never in doubt.
The first essential of life is service of God. Service of God does not consist in going to Church once a week with polished shoes and a Spring hat, but it is the mind which has to be dyed in the colour of divinity, to imitate the attributes of the avatar, to imitate his fortitude, his forgiveness, his refusal to censure anybody. If I were to describe Christ in one sentence I would say, ‘He is a praying being’. Therefore it is essential that every man should be a praying man, in order to go beyond this life of darkness and death.
Just as a piece of iron when brought into the proximity of fire receives the fire and grows hot, so when man through rigid self- control, meditation, abstraction and withdrawal, brings his mind closer and closer to God within, it begins to get the warmth of God, and that warmth is called other-worldliness. St John of the Cross mentions it. It comes and goes. Why? Because it depends upon us. If we withdraw a ball of iron from the fire for a little while, it will begin to cool off. If we forget God and our main duty in the world we will suffer relapses in spirituality.
Whatever we do we have to do every day and solemnly. I am a scholar, but if I do not study for a month I find that that element in me which I call scholarly will diminish. Unless a musician practises every day, he will lose his art. How do we expect that by thinking of God for ten or fifteen minutes a day we will acquire any great proficiency? Those who are devoted to God and Guru, who devote every minute of their life to the remembrance of the Lord, to the practice of virtue, to the study of the holy truth and who are devoted compassionately to others, they are the people who will see God face to face in this very life.
If you know how to focus the mind unselfishly, some aspects of God will be revealed to you through it. Therefore it is our duty to imitate the Incarnation and live as Christ lived. If any of you have not got The Imitation of Christ, I ask you to get that book and read it with fervour. There is some magic in it, and when you read it you feel, at least for the time being, athis is reality, this is peace, this is truth. Let me live according to it’.
Let us every day try to imitate Christ in his fervent love for his Father in Heaven and in his indifference to temporal objects. To serve Him means to carry on his mission. Christ lived only for one thing and that was to relieve the ills of humanity. How do people live now? They become healers, they become augmenters of their own illnesses. It is by acquiring his knowledge and distributing it to others, by inviting the attention of the people towards the Lord and his avatars that we serve Him. Finally, we meditate on Him.
The universal life — your life, my life, Napoleon’s life, the life of St Francis, the life of Christ — are all one. All life is one, and therefore if you harm anybody you are harming yourself, whether you know it or not. The most important doctrine is the doctrine of universal life. All life is divine and it all belongs to God. He has given life to us on trust so that we may purify it and finally offer it as a sacrifice to Him — that is the purpose of life.
What is the meaning of purity of life? Life should be kept on a sattvic (righteous and harmonious) plane. If you keep it on a sattvic plane you will receive inspiration. If you do not keep your life pure, inspiration will be short-lived. The inspiration of Aristotle still lives because there is not a better man than Aristotle in Greek history. Such also was Goethe in modern times. He has put the world under an obligation for thousands of years; people have not yet realized the greatness in this man, but one day they will realize it.
Perpetual loving meditation on an avatar is the highest aspect of life. Progress in life means progress in virtue, in tranquillizing the mind, in devotion to God, in meditation and so forth. The great mistake which the Christians have made is that they think Christ is the only avatar of God. Do they really believe that in the eighteen million years of the life of man he has been left by God without a guide. In what respect was Moses not an avatar of God?
When one has meditated on an avatar, then one will be able to meditate on the attributeless, on the abstract, on the absolute; but for the highest good of man, meditation on an avatar is essential and it also shows results very soon. Therefore it is necessary that we should worship an avatar. ‘O Arjuna, he who knows my birth and actions as divine, he goes beyond this life’.
It is in order to concentrate his mind that a Buddhist contemplates an image of Buddha. It is only a matter of concentration. Now the question comes: Christ left the world, Krishna left the world, Rama left the world. What is the use of worshipping them now and thinking of them? There is a sect which says: ‘I will not worship anything which dies’. What dies? Nothing dies in the world. Christ and Buddha are here today. They may not be within sight, but their rays are here now, and if you piously attune yourselves to those rays you will get the same benefit as those who lived in their time and who talked with them.
Electricity was present in nature in ancient times. In the same way, God always lived, and so all the avatars are here, and when your heart is attuned to them you know them. They are here today. It is a fact, my friends, that many people do see Jesus today, as they do see Krishna and Rama: there is no room for agnosticism or scepticism here. This point can be argued on the highest basis of philosophy, but when you have seen an avatar, you know that your heart is highly purified. Surrender your soul to be tuned and played upon by the avatar, like a flute, and then you will hear the music, Tat Twam Asi’ (That thou art) issuing from it.