Chapters V and VI of the Bhagavad Gita have been mainly on samādhi-meditation. For karma-yogins, it was described as performed by individual effort: for Knowledge-yogins, it is a natural continuation of their realization. The four chapters that follow, VII to X, are mainly for karma-yogins who cannot find the resources in themselves to control their passion or inertia. They are to regulate the feelings by concentrating them on the Lord, whose perfection will naturally attract and refine them.
At the beginning of Chapter VII, the Lord states that the revelations now given are to be understood theoretically, and then experienced practically in yoga meditation. What is first a matter of faith must become direct experience.
An example is this. The Lord describes his projection of the world, and says that he is its dissolution too. He continues:
VII.7 There is nothing higher than I
On Me all this is strung, like chains of pearls on a string.
The simile is one of faith, but not of blind faith. One of the points is, that the string is invisible, being hidden by the pearls strung on it. But a second point is that the string is known to be there; otherwise the pearls would not remain in order but would be scattered. In the same way the order in the world shows that there is an underlying intelligence which holds it together, which integrates it. Perhaps some scientists are beginning to recognize this. And if the pearl chain is minutely examined, there are tiny glimpses of the string. There are such glimpses of the cosmic string in meditation, and perhaps in some delicate experiments in physics which have puzzling results.
The Lord goes on to describe himself as the essential quality in things – the taste in water, light in moon and sun.
VII.9 Both the fragrance in earth and the brilliance in fire am I;
Life in all beings, and austerity in ascetics am I.
Śankara interprets this chain of verses in another, deeper sense, as describing what the yogin sees when his meditation has been successful. He says that it becomes a unity: it is not that austerity in the ascetics is visible (like the pearls), and the Lord inspiring it is invisible (like the string), but that the Lord is both the austerity and the ascetics practising it: ‘In Me as austerity the ascetics are woven.’ In this realization, the ‘pearls’ are really knots in the string itself, which from a little distance look like separate things, held together by something underlying them.
In III.27–29 there was a brief mention of the three strands or energy- qualities (guṇa) of material nature (prakṛti). The Lord now describes in detail, with beautiful similes and illustrations, this nature. It is divine, and he calls it his māyā (trick-of-illusion). Dr Shastri in his writings on the Gītā often referred to these passages, as showing that the world is not evil, but a magic show put on by the Lord. True, there is a deception, but it is like the deception put on by actors in a classical drama, and voluntarily accepted by the audience, who feel the beauty in even tragic drama. However, their acceptance of the deception should not become involuntary: if it does, they will suffer. They must not give the stage show independent existence, so that they cannot dissolve its reality at will. They must see the Lord in all.
On Me all this universe is strung,
Like chains of pearls on a string.
The Gītā repeatedly states that these descriptions are to be taken as meditations; again and again it speaks of the yogin-devotee as ‘yukta’, which means literally ‘yoked in yoga’. Yukta is in fact the same word as the English ‘yoked’. Sankara regularly glosses it as samādhi.
The chapters give warnings against taking the world as independently real, and against worship of some limited aspect of the Lord in order to get things desired. Such worshippers, if they have purity and faith, do indeed get what they have prayed for, though it may be only after a long time. It depends on the intensity and continuity of the prayer. But such selfish results can be only temporary, and they will have strengthened their own illusion.
Verses 16–18 give an early hint at the devotion of the one on the Path of Knowledge, who now seeks Freedom in the being of God:
VII.16 Four kinds of men worship Me, all virtuous people: those in distress, those seeking knowledge, those seeking success, and the Knowers.
17 Of them, the Knower, ever set in yoga with One-pointed devotion, is highest;
Very dear to the Knower am I, and he is dear to Me.
18 All of them are noble, but the Knower I take to be my very self;
Firm in yoga he strives to reach Me, as the highest goal.
How is it that a Knower, who knows his Self to be the all-pervading creator-Lord already, can be said to strive to reach the Lord? This verse shows him striving, by yoga and devotion, to reach the Lord whom he already knows to be his own Self. It seems a contradiction, but this effort, this striving, is to remove memories of the past, which cloud his present direct awareness of identity. It is not to reinforce his Knowledge of the identity, which is an unshakable fact.
How is it that the fact seems to be shaken? Śaṇkara explains the point in detail in Chapter XIII, and elsewhere. For the moment it may be enough to recall that Napoleon, after he had become Emperor, was always rather nervous about his behaviour, though he knew that all he did would be accepted with fulsome praise. Similarly Nero, after becoming Emperor, was very nervous of failing in musical contests, though he knew that the judges would award him the victory. He knew, and yet memories of the past, before he was Emperor, somehow shook that knowledge, though they could never actually destroy it.
© Trevor Leggett