Chapter XVIII, verse 61 of the Gita (and this is our teacher’s translation) says:
“The Lord rules the hearts of all beings dwelling therein, causing them to revolve like a machine by Maya, His magic power.”
Then the next verse is:
“The yogi must take refuge in Him with all his heart, instead of trusting his lower self which expresses itself in ambition, material desires, attraction and aversion, and other limitations which end in despair. By His grace the yogi will attain supreme peace, the highest state. The result of contact of the lower self with the Supreme Being is the transformation of the conditioned self into the Infinite.”
In these verses two things are given. One is that the Lord whirls the beings through His magic power, as if they were puppets on a machine. And secondly that through devotion to the Lord – the yoga of devotion, which includes the discipline and meditation and knowledge – the lower self, the puppet, becomes one, or is one, with the Supreme Being.
It’s thought that the puppet theatres in India were very old and they’d had two forms, as perhaps they have today. There’s the form in which the puppets are manipulated by strings from above – we know the phrase, “He’s pulling strings”, which means he has secret, invisible methods of influencing people. This comes from the picture of the puppet master, who’s above the stage and looks down with the machinery he’s got to manipulate the arms and legs and bodies of the puppets. The second form of the machine is one that we also see, sometimes in amusement arcades, where the puppets, so to speak, are like posts. They’re mounted on rods and by manipulating those rods you can make the puppets move in a series of fixed actions. You can make them turn that way, or make them kick or lift a hand, but their actions are mechanical. It’s thought that in the Gita – Shankara’s commentary refers to ‘posts’, the dolls like ‘carved posts’ mounted on a platform – these were dolls, painted and decorated to look like various characters in a drama; and that they were on rods and underneath there was a great wheel which revolved; and the wheel had small projections which would push certain rods, so that a particular character would turn. Then the narrator would narrate the story – and when Ravana came in and drew his sword and lifted his sword, Sita would turn and then turn away from him, reject him – and the narrator would explain. The actions are completely limited and the original Sanskrit says He’s whirling them. The Lord dwelling in their heart is whirling them round as if they were mounted on a machine, and it’s thought the whirling refers to this great wheel.
There’s a Vedanta Sutra saying, “From the Lord are bondage and release – not only release but bondage also is from the Lord.” In this verse in the Gita, He says clearly, “I make the beings revolve, whirling them round, by my Maya, my magic power”. Elsewhere in the Gita, the Lord says, “Alas, my Maya, my magical power of illusion, is hard to cross”. Shankara says, “The Lord laments that the beings don’t see Him, but on the other hand it’s from the Lord Himself that there are bondage and release. And He says in Chapter 10 there are certain aspects of the world in which it is easy to see the Lord and one of them is the fascination from an addiction; “I am the gambling of the – well, the word is something like a – card-sharper.” It’s got a sense of cheating or being very ‘keen’, as the saying is today. It’s an addictive gambler who’s not above cheating to win. People who are not subject to gambling find this difficult to understand – the fascination of gambling. There’s a hymn in the Vedas to the dice, the magic in the dice. The Indians were particularly susceptible to gambling, which we don’t have here so much. There have been gamblers here. Some of the sporting squires used to make large bets on all sorts of fantastic things and the famous squire Oswald Easton made a heavy bet on a cricket match with two players on each side. When the day came he was extremely ill and he asked for a postponement of the match, but his opponent, equally keen, said, “No – play or pay!” So the squire got up and though very ill, his partner was extremely skilful and they managed to win. He was willing to lose his life in order not to lose that bet. And recently a Yorkshire businessman went over to America with five thousand dollars, and he borrowed 500,000 dollars and set up a company selling computer technology. He said, “It’s like playing double or quits again and again, with your life. You can’t do that in Britain, but in America it’s quite the thing to do and you feel stimulated by it.” Habitual gamblers tell you that it’s only then that they really feel alive – not when they’re gambling for what they can afford, but when they’re gambling for far more than they can afford.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 1: Yoga in Troubled Times
Part 2: We are whirled by Maya
Part 5: Shankara says we are puppets
Part 6: The highest service