We were talking of synthesis last time.
So, we had spoken of the present crisis in which a synthesis is inevitable and therefore we turn to the Gita in order to see whether there is in it any secret of the synthesis. And knowing that secret, whether we can apply it to the present needs. It is in that context that Sri Aurobindo speaks of the synthesis that Indian culture has already had at least at four important stages. And the first was the Vedic synthesis of which we spoke last time. The second was the synthesis of the Upanishads, the third is the synthesis of the Bhagavad Gita and the fourth is the synthesis of the Tantra. And now, we are going to build a new synthesis.
Now, what is the synthesis of the Upanishads?
The synthesis of the Upanishads was built upon the crowning experience of the Veda. It is as if it takes over what the Veda had to give at its crowning point and on that the Bhagavad Gita builds up another synthesis—not necessarily as vast as the Vedic—but in a somewhat specialised manner. It specialises in the methods of the knowledge of the Brahman, the disciplines by which the Brahman can be realised, and there are many methods by which you can do so, and various Rishis who had worked on this, both in the Vedic times as also in the times of the Upanishads. All these were synthesised in the Upanishads.
Let us repeat. First there was a crowning experience of the Veda which was that of a 'Reality' which was the 'supreme Being', most transcendental, universal and individual, an experience of the Supreme which could be said to be transcendental of any possible description. There are many descriptions in the Veda. The Supreme is described as 'He', described as 'She', described also as tat, 'that', simply -tat satyam. It was also described as priyam, 'full of sweetness', madhu, 'full of honey'.
Many concepts which we have in the Veda such as hiranyagarbha etc, this great concept of hiranyagarbha, the concept of virat, the concept of the 'Reality' as prajapati, as the brother, as the friend, as something luminous, powerful. Now these are the various descriptions that we get of the highest experience of the reality.
Now, all these concepts were put together in the Upanishads and we get the following formula in more clear terms: ekam eva advitiyam (chand.6.2.1). This is one of the concepts in the Upanishads: "The One without the second". The One which was even described as asat: one that is 'sat', 'that which is', is also 'asat' in the sense that even to call it ‘sat’ is to limit it. Therefore how to deny that that limitation is not to be applied to it? So you call it asat.
But when somebody is confused about asat, thinking that it means 'non-being', it corrects and says: how can 'being' come out of 'non-being'? Therefore it contradicts its own statement saying that asat is not at the beginning, sat is the beginning. But having said this, it says, it is neti neti, it is something that cannot be described as either 'this' or 'that', na iti na iti. You describe anyway but it is to be rejected—any description that you will give will be rejected. This is the concept of the Brahman. It is in this concept of the Brahman that you have the synthesis of the concept of virat, hiranyagarbha and prajna, the three great concepts of the Upanishads.
We also have the three concepts of atman, purusha, isvara. The same reality is described and synthesised so that you have a clear perception of that Reality. We have also in the Upanishads a synthesis of the concepts of maya, prakriti and sakti. Corresponding to the concept of 'He' and 'She' in the Veda, we have now here in the Upanishads a clear synthesis of the concepts of Brahman-Purusha-Ishvara, Brahman or Atman, Purusha and Ishvara; concept of virat, hiranyagarbha and prajna; and the concept of Maya, Prakriti and Shakti. This is the most comprehensive and synthetic concept that we find in the Upanishads.
You just said neti neti to the sat and the asat. But is not neti neti talked of in the relevance to virat, hiranyagarbha and prajna . So, which is the correct thing?
Everything is correct and yet it is to be minused out. You describe him as virat and you say neti neti, describe him as hiranyagarbha and it is neti neti. Any statement you make about the Reality in the highest terms of philosophy is called "the Reality is indeterminable". It's a philosophical concept which answers to the question of neti neti; na iti na iti which means you cannot describe it, it is indescribable; you cannot determine it, it is indeterminable.
Question: My question was when you said sat and asat, is not the three states in the preview of the sat, when you say the non-being and...
No... I can't... but there is a difference here which is not very clear to me. As you said that in the Vedanta it is not that complete... that way it is not a complete sentence. When they say neti neti, negating all this you come to the Reality. It is not clearly formed.
When it formulates itself, you ask me. O.K.
But at the moment my only point is that the Reality described in the Upanishads is ultimately cancelled by saying that whatever description you give of it, it is not valid of that Reality. The supreme Reality is therefore indefinable, indescribable, ineffable, indeterminable; therefore whatever you say of it, falls short of it. It can even be said algebraically, it is "x". Simply, by whatever you mean, it is "x".
When you say it is not describable, does it mean it is nothing? That also, you have to take care of; but it is something that is so powerfully 'real' that any statement about it will really diminish its reality. It is something that cannot be limited by any description. Anyway this is the kind of a synthesis that the Upanishads give first of the crowning experience of the Veda: it gives this formulation. It also formulates this Reality, having said it is indeterminable, it says also, it is iti iti, again to point out that merely saying it has no limitations, it does not mean that it is incapable of limitation because that also will be a limitation. Therefore, it is also to be described as iti iti, but at every iti iti, you say: no it is not; it is neti neti. You have the series of neti neti, and the series of iti iti. Then by combination of these two you really describe that 'that' is the reality.
The other three great words used for describing that reality in iti iti is Sachchidananda: sat, chit, ananda. In the Veda, you are only told it is a triple Reality but there is no use of the word Sachchidananda in the whole of the Veda. It is in the Upanishads that we get the description of the Reality as Sachchidananda. But in the Veda it speaks of a triple reality; it is a reality which is triple in character. So that is drawn out as it were from the Veda and now given a formulation in the Upanishads. It is Sachchidananda: it is the highest possible description. If you want to give any positive description of the reality, it is Sachchidananda, beyond which you have to say: "it is not", "it is not", "it is not". And then, whatever you can conceive is that Reality.
Apart from this ...in fact there are twelve principal Upanishads which open out a door to the knowledge of the Reality, the emphasis in the Upanishads is on the 'knowledge' of the Reality. It does not mean that it does not speak of Karma and Bhakti; there is a synthesis of karma, bhakti and jjnana in the Upanishads. But instead of emphasising that synthesis, it emphasises the disciplines of Knowledge of the Eternal and the synthesis of these disciplines.
Let us elucidate this point:
If you read the Isha Upanishad—which is one of the earliest Upanishads because it is also the last part, the 40th chapter of Yajur Veda, the whole of the Isha Upanishad is the 40th chapter of the Yajur Veda, so you might say that it is the last portion of the Veda and the earliest portion of the Upanishads. Now, this Upanishad speaks of Karma: (insert Sanskrit quotation) "It is by doing actions that you should aspire to live for hundreds years..."; (insert Sanskrit quotation)"...and you arrive at an action which does not bind you". So, the theory of Karma which is liberating in character,—that is: 'Even in the state of liberation you can still be in the state of action.' That proposition is to be found in the Isha Upanishad.
In the body of the Isha Upanishad a large portion is devoted to avidya and vidya, what is called ignorance and knowledge. And you might say that this is the profoundest Upanishad on the subject of ignorance and knowledge, and their interrelationship, and the synthesis of avidya and vidya. In fact the whole of the Upanishad is a tremendous synthesis; at every step there is a contrast of two opposites and a synthesis: tena tyaktena bhunjitha is one of the first contrast that you get in the Isha Upanishad (1.1, line2): "you renounce and you enjoy". So the synthesis between renunciation and enjoyment is the very starting point and the very first verse of the Isha Upanishad.
विद्याञ्चाविद्याञ्च यस्तद्वेदोभयं सह।
अविद्यया मृत्युं तीर्त्वा विद्ययाऽमृतमश्नुते ॥
The Upanishads 1.11
Avidya is the method by which you cross over death but it is by vidya that you enjoy immortality. So, this kind of a contrast between avidya and vidya and the need of one with the other ...if you pursue only avidya, you enter into darkness; but if you pursue only vidya, you enter into a greater darkness. That is why you should pursue both avidya and vidya, and then when you do that, you attain to immortality. This is another synthesis that you find.
If you take the Kena Upanishad, (1.2), you find a synthesis of an approach to the ultimate Reality by exploring the knowledge by the senses, knowledge through the life processes, and knowledge through the mind: pranasya prana. "There is a Life behind life, there is a Mind behind the mind and there is sense behind the senses”; strotasya srotam, chakshuh chakshu, "There is an Ear behind the ear and there is the Eye behind the eye". So this reconciliation of the lower means of knowledge and the higher means of knowledge, this is the whole theme of the Kena Upanishad.
And as you go on with Upanishad after Upanishad, you find varieties of knowledge, as in Katha Upanishad the knowledge that is given: what happens to one when one dies. Is death really the death? The entire knowledge, the secret of the soul, the secret of the soul's passage through the body which dies, and the passage of the soul towards immortality, that whole secret knowledge is given by Yama to Nachiketas in the Katha Upanishad. Again the emphasis upon the knowledge!
If you come to Chandogya Upanishad, you have first the conversation between Sanatkumar and Narada, where Narada possessed of all kinds of knowledge which he describes first of all to his teacher,—and if you see the list of the disciplines of knowledge that he describes, there is nothing that he does not know—and yet he says, "Yet I am not free from sorrow, therefore give me that knowledge by which I can be liberated from sorrow." And then Sanatkumar gives that knowledge by which sorrow can be transcended. Or you hear the story of Satyakam Jabali and when he attains the knowledge, the knowledge of the Brahman blows on his face, as the teacher himself points out to him. Or you hear the conversation between Aruni and Shvetaketu. And Svetaketu is a young man possessed of all the knowledge that his teacher had already possessed and therefore possessed of the belief that there is nothing left for him to know, or even that he now surpasses his own father. This is the description of Svetaketu when he returns from his teacher's house. And then Aruni asks the question, "What is it knowing that by which everything can be known?" And it is this question which develops into a dialogue and by giving various kinds of analogies, the knowledge that is imparted is: tat tvam asi, (Chand. Upanishad Vl. 8.7) "Thou art that".
Or you come to Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and the dialogues between Yajnavalkya and Maitreyi. Or you can come to Mundaka Upanishad or Mandukya Upanishad. The Mandukya Upanishad(n°3,4;5) gives the description of the state of jagrata, waking consciousness; the description of the dream state, the swapna avastha; the state of sleep, sushupti avastha ; and a fourth state, the turiya avastha. And a secret knowledge of how aum corresponds to these three states, and how at the end of ma there is still something left which is turiya, correspondent of turiya avastha.
So in this way, the Upanishads even while synthesizing Karma, Jnana and Bhakti, the emphasis is not upon that synthesis. Again in the Veda the emphasis was upon the gods and the man, and their relationship, not that this again is absent.
In the Isha Upanishad we have the worship of sun or Pushan, worship of Agni; in Kena Upanishad, we find reference to Agni, Vayu and Indra. So references to gods are not absent, but you can definitely see a kind of a departure from the earlier preoccupation with the gods and the Upanishadic occupation with something much different from the gods. Even the gods of the Vedas and the gods of the Upanishads are not on the same plane. The gods of the Upanishads like Indra, Varuna and Agni, can forget the Divine, in the Vedas, gods never forget the Divine. In the parable of the gods in the Kena Upanishad, these gods had won the battle—but they believed that they had won -, and that is why the Supreme manifests itself, to remind them. But even then, they are not reminded, and the intervention of Uma, the Hemvati, was necessary to reveal to them that it is the Supreme Lord who is behind them, it is He who has brought them the victory. So you can see the difference between the gods in the Vedas and the gods in the Upanishads. But even then, Kena Upanishad(II, n°1, line2) says: Yadasya tvam yadasya devamvatha . There are two ways by which you can approach the Divine, you can approach the Divine through the gods yadasya devamvatha, or you can approach Him—Yadasya tvam, or you can approach through yourself. You go within yourself, deeper and deeper in yourself, and conquer the kingdom of your body, life and mind by the powers of the soul; or else you enlarge yourself and see the movement of gods on the Earth, gods in the antariksha, gods in the sky, gods of all the levels of existence and you discover behind them the Supreme Lord. So, Yadasya tvam yadasya devamvatha. And there is a synthesis of these two powers of knowledge in the Kena Upanishad.
So, you will see in the Upanishads therefore, a synthesis of disciplines of knowledge. There are negative disciplines and positive disciplines of knowledge. The negative disciplines of knowledge tell you that, 'you are not the body, you are not the life, you are not the mind'. This is the knowledge. Normally, we think we are the body, life and mind—we are identified. Therefore the negative part of the discipline of knowledge is to say, "I am not the body, I am not the life, I am not the mind, I am not the ego." But "I am the Brahman, the Sachcidananda, Sachidanand rupoham shivoham shivoham -, this is the positive method. The negative method is to say, 'I am not this, I am not this, I am not this'. The positive method is to say, 'I am this, I am this, I am this'. So, the positive method and the negative method, both are reconciled and synthesized in the Upanishads. This is the great synthesis that you find in the Upanishads which got into the background. And there came about even a greater and greater emphasis, not on synthesis, but even on exclusive method of knowledge to emphasize that Reality can be attained only by the process of knowledge, and Karma and Bhakti are subordinated.
A stage was reached in India and if you study the Bhagavad-Gita, you will find that the perplexity of Arjuna is centred on this important question: Is not the path of Knowledge the supreme path, the only path? Is not renunciation the only path? And he argues in favour of that because in the environment of the Mahabharata this theory must have been very prominent, otherwise why should Arjuna be so perplexed about it? It is because in the course of time, from the Upanishads, even when Karma, Jnana and Bhakti were synthesized, there was a gradual emphasis on Knowledge. And it became so powerful, as to say that all other methods may prepare you, but they do not deliver you. It is the Knowledge which can deliver you. And as a result of that, there was some kind of ambiguity in the atmosphere, and people were arguing in favour of this, or that, or that... And if you read the Bhagavad-Gita you will find a tremendous churning of various trends of thought. There was a belief that without Vedic karma you cannot attain the highest; this also was a theory present and that is why Sri Krishna deals with that problem also: the distinction between Vedic karma and the real Karma.
At that time there was a kind of a conflict between Sankhya and Yoga. Yoga was supposed to be the path of action, and Sankhya was supposed to be the path of knowledge. In the Bhagavad-Gita, the words Sankhya and Yoga do not mean the same as what they now mean. In due course of time, the meanings of these words Sankhya and Yoga have changed. But in the Bhagavad-Gita the word Sankhya means the path of Knowledge and Yoga means the path of Action which is consistent with Knowledge and Bhakti. But these two elements are subordinated.
But that we shall see when we come to further details of the Bhagavad-Gita. For the moment it is important to notice that by the time of the Bhagavad-Gita, the time of Mahabharata, the prevailing idea was that knowledge was the real method of salvation, of liberation, and that all others had to be subordinated or to be surpassed. This theory had become very prominent, so prominent that Arjuna's main difficulty arose from it. He wanted to renounce the battlefield on the plea that the battlefield is a field of action, and action ultimately is to be of no consequence, it does not lead you to the ultimate goal. Therefore, he said, "I leave it and 1 will take sannyasa, I'll renounce the world and enter into the path of knowledge and attain to the highest".
That was his basic argument. And Sri Krishna deals with this question in depth, and while dealing with this question—and this is the speciality of the Bhagavad-Gita -, it synthesizes knowledge, action and devotion. This synthesis of Karma, Jnana and Bhakti, with a special emphasis upon action, you will not find anywhere else in the history of the world. As Sri Aurobindo says, the Bhagavad-Gita is the highest gospel of Karmayoga. You will never find anywhere the statement of Karmayoga as clearly and as potently as it is in the Bhagavad-Gita. So this is a new synthesis which you do not find either in the Veda or in the Upanishads. It is a new synthesis required by the needs of the time.
In due course however, even this synthesis went into the background and then arose a conflict of different claims. The Bhaktas claimed that Bhakti is the only path; the Jnanis claimed that Jnana is the only path; Vedkandis believed that only karmakanda is the only path; or Karmayogis believed that only Karma is the only path. So there was a period of great conflicts, claims and counterclaims. Even today this conflict subsists in a very powerful manner. Even the Bhagavad-Gita's teaching has been interpreted by Bhaktas as a teaching of Bhakti only. Bhagavad-Gita is told in such a way as to say that it teaches only jnanamarga or others who say that it teaches only karmamarga. So even Bhagavad-Gita's syntheses have now come to be so interpreted as to become an exclusive teaching, either for this or for that.
In the meantime there arose in Indian history another synthesis, the synthesis of "Tantra°. The speciality of Tantra is a synthesis of the Supreme as both masculine and feminine principles of existence which was present in the Veda. As I said, the Veda described the Reality both as He and She, both as Vrishabha and Dhenu,—Vrishabha is the bull and Dhenu is the cow. But in the Veda 'that' synthesis was not so marked out, so very emphasized, as the Tantrics came to do who came to emphasize that Reality is 'dual' in character although it is 'one'. And not only that, it came to emphasize a further point: that it is a feminine principle which can ultimately take you to the Supreme Lord. If you want to enter into the portals of the Supreme Lord you can do so only with the Grace, with the favour, kripa, of the Supreme Mother, of the Divine Mother. Therefore the entire worship of the Mother is a special characteristic of Tantra.
So, there is a synthesis, no doubt, of the Supreme Lord and the Divine Mother but this synthesis has got one kind of emphasis. In fact there is one school of Tantra which says that the Supreme Mother is even superior to the Lord because the Lord is entirely at the mercy of the Supreme Mother. The Supreme Lord will do nothing unless He is completely controlled by the Supreme Mother. So even in Tantra, there are various kinds of formulations and one of them again becomes exclusive to the extent of emphasizing that everything must pass only through the Divine Mother. In fact the main distinction between the Vedantic Yoga and the Tantric Yoga rests on this: that according to Vedantic Yoga the emphasis falls upon the principle of the soul and the Self for entering into the higher from the lower. In the Tantra, the emphasis falls upon the power, not soul and self, but upon power, upon Shakti; it is through Shakti and by the development of Shakti that you enter into the Supreme Lord. It is almost a kind of a reflection of the true powers of which we spoke in the Kena Upanishad, Yadasya tvam yadasya devamvatha , both the paths were there but here it is even much more manifestly said in the Tantra.
The Tantra also discovered the sleeping Shakti in our own body, called kundalini, and points out that this Shakti is already in you, and if you can awake it, this kundalini, then by a very special process, it can rise and join with the supreme Shakti that is above. And through that realisation of the joining of the union, you can then enter into the portals of the Supreme Lord. So this is a very special method that you find in the Tantric Yoga: the awakening of kundalini assisted by the methods of Hathayoga and Rajayoga.. These two Yogas also are united and the entire process of kundalini is awakening assisted by the methods of Hathayoga and Rajayoga. It also unites the processes of Jnana, Bhakti and Karma because the worship of Shakti requires the worship of the Jnana Shakti, Karma Shakti and also the Shakti which comes by devotion. So an emphasis upon a synthesis of Jnana, Bhakti and Karma, a synthesis of Raja Yoga and Hathayoga, and a very bold experiment in which the so-called obstacles in the Yoga were themselves utilized as aids in Yoga.
The theory is that whatever the obstacles in the path, instead of avoiding the obstruction you embrace it and take out the truth of it, utilize it for your higher development. If 'anger' is your obstruction, then develop the Anger that is behind anger, develop kalibhava; instead of being angry now and then, develop the kalibhava—which is a very great achievement. If you have a kalibhava which does not have any kind of obstacle, any kind of impurity whatsoever, with a sword you stand and impetuously fight and destroy the enemies. Even anger can be used if you develop this power as your method of liberation. So, with a powerful attitude, whatever your obstacle, you take it in your hands and liberate its power, develop its power, because there is no obstacle which has no power behind it. And that power ultimately is a divine power. Therefore take it with extreme logic and develop it. It is a powerful experiment made by Tantrics: develop your body, develop your life, develop your mind capacities, develop Jnana, Bhakti and Karma, awaken Kundalini and achieve a very powerful development in which Shakti and Purushottama stand together and you become the vehicle of that supreme Purusha and Prakriti.
Question: Is not there a great risk in the first stages of the journey?
A very great risk of course! Not only a small risk, it is a complete risk! That is why people do not recommend Tantra normally. And Tantrics themselves test you tremendously before admitting you to Tantra because it is very, very dangerous, very risky. But it was bold because it undertook this experiment. India's greatness is that there is nothing which it did not attempt. Like scientists of highest order, they said, "if these are the problems, let us face them, and make tremendous experiments whatever risks are incurred in the process". How many failures must have been in this process! Even to develop this theory; today we can talk of this theory as if it is a child's play, to speak with assurance that these obstacles can be turned into opportunities, can be turned into means of your achievement, today we say so confidently, but how can you say it without experimenting! Can you imagine what a tremendous experiment India must have attempted, and how much achievement India must have done to say today with confidence: 'if you do this, this should be the result' This is what was done by the Tantrics; that is why also Tantra failed, because to sustain the Tantra very few can be a fit for it. But considering the dangers in it, when you try to popularize it, people succumb also, and that is why Tantra went into disrepute. But there are three elements of this great experiment which can be regarded as a kind of a synthesis.
First, a synthesis of this concept of the Divine as the Male and the Female at the same time. Secondly, the synthesis of Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Hatha Yoga, and Raja Yoga. And third, the synthesis of the powers of the body, life and mind with the powers of the Supreme Shakti, and even the idea of the perfectibility of man so that on all sides the human being can be integrated. And finally, a synthesis between the idea of individual liberation and collective liberation. These are the elements of synthesis that you find in the Tantra.
But even this synthesis is not enough for the present day. The kind of synthesis that we now need is a total synthesis because even the small emphases that were put—like in the Upanishads those syntheses of disciplines of Knowledge—are but emphases on Knowledge. That has to be worked out as to bring it into a greater synthesis: synthesis of Knowledge, the synthesis of Karma with the synthesis of Bhakti and the kind of synthesis that we find in Tantra also has to be synthesized with this: a total synthesis.
That is why Sri Aurobindo says in the last paragraph of this chapter that the kind of synthesis that we need is unprecedented. A total synthesis of all the parts of the being, of all aspects of reality, of all the methods of Yoga, and the achievement not only of human perfectibility but even surpassing of humanity to emphasize that human problems of today cannot be resolved even by human perfection. We require a new kind of perfection, a supramental perfection. This is the need. So when we are trying to make a preparation for that great synthesis, in that process, our understanding of the Gita will play a major role. It is not as if the study of the Gita is enough; the study of the Gita will give you a kind of a key which will be extremely important. In fact towards the end of the book, Sri Aurobindo says it is not as if all the solutions that you are looking for are in the Gita, but the central key is there, and we must find out what is this central key, uttama? rahasyam, that is there, in the Bhagavad-Gita (Chap.IV, n°.3). And unless you discover that uttamam, that supreme secret, you will not be able to make the kind of synthesis that we want to have. Let us now read the last two paragraphs of this first chapter, page 7-8, or 9 according to your books.
There have been other syntheses in the long history of Indian thought. We start with the Vedic synthesis of the psychological being of man in its highest flights and widest rangings of divine knowledge, power, joy, life and glory with the cosmic existence of the gods, pursued behind the symbols of the material universe into those superior planes which are hidden from the physical sense and the material mentality. The crown of this synthesis was in the experience of the Vedic Rishis something divine, transcendent and blissful in whose unity the increasing soul of man and the eternal divine fullness of the cosmic godheads meet perfectly and fulfil themselves. The Upanishads take up this crowning experience of the earlier seers and make it their starting-point for a high and profound synthesis of spiritual knowledge; they draw together into a great harmony all that had been seen and experienced by the inspired and liberated knowers of the Eternal throughout a great and fruitful period of spiritual seeking. The Gita starts from this Vedantic synthesis and upon the basis of its essential ideas builds another harmony of the three great means and powers, Love, Knowledge and Works, through which the soul of man can directly approach and cast itself into the Eternal. There is yet another, the Tantric, which though less subtle and spiritually profound, is even more bold and forceful than the synthesis of the Gita,—for it seizes even upon the obstacles to the spiritual life and compels them to become the means for a richer spiritual conquest and enables us to embrace the whole of Life in our divine scope as the Lila of the Divine; and in some directions it is more immediately rich and fruitful, for it brings forward into the foreground along with divine knowledge, divine works and an enriched devotion of divine Love, the secrets also of the Hatha and Raja Yogas, the use of the body and of mental askesis for the opening up of the divine life on all its planes, to which the Gita gives only a passing and perfunctory attention. Moreover it grasps at that idea of the divine perfectibility of man, possessed by the Vedic Rishis but thrown into the background by the intermediate ages, which is destined to fill so large a place in any future synthesis of human thought, experience and aspiration.
We of the coming day stand at the head of a new age of development which must lead to such a new and larger synthesis. We are not called upon to be orthodox Vedantins of any of the three schools or Tantrics or to adhere to one of the theistic religions of the past or to entrench ourselves within the four corners of the teaching of the Gita. That would be to limit ourselves and to attempt to create our spiritual life out of the being, knowledge and nature of others, of the men of the past, instead of building it out of our own being and potentialities. We do not belong to the past dawns, but to the noons of the future. A mass of new material is flowing into us; we have not only to assimilate the influences of the great theistic religions of India and of the world and a recovered sense of the meaning of Buddhism, but to take full account of the potent though limited revelations of modern knowledge and seeking; and, beyond that, the remote and dateless past which seemed to be dead is returning upon us with an effulgence of many luminous secrets long lost to the consciousness of mankind but now breaking out again from behind the veil. All this points to a new, a very rich, a very vast synthesis; a fresh and widely embracing harmonisation of our gains is both an intellectual and a spiritual necessity of the future. But just as the past syntheses have taken those which preceded them for their starting-point, so also must that of the future, to be on firm ground, proceed from what the great bodies of realised spiritual thought and experience in the past have given. Among them the Gita takes a most important place.
Our object, then, in studying the Gita will not be a scholastic or academical scrutiny of its thought, nor to place its philosophy in the history of metaphysical speculation, nor shall we deal with it in the manner of the analytical dialectician. We approach it for help and light and our aim must be to distinguish its essential and living message, that in it on which humanity has to seize for its perfection and its highest spiritual welfare.
So this is our starting point of the study of the Gita, this is the spirit in which we are going to study. And now, we come to the real beginning, but the real study of the Gita is prefaced by three important propositions, because there are three most important elements in the Gita: the Teacher, Sri Krishna himself; Arjuna, the Pupil; and the occasion, the battle of Kurukshetra. And all the three have symbolic meanings and significance, and also the significance of their actuality. The actuality of the situation is to be measured by the fact that the Bhagavad-Gita is a part of a great battle, and it is directly related to our life because we ourselves are in a battle. Not many people realise the force of the battle in which we are gripped today, but whether we like it or not, we are in a battle, and that is why wherever you turn, there are a series of problems. We resolve one problem and another faces us, and so on. Why is it that we are living in a world with this pressure on problems one after the other? And we do not know how to deal with these series of problems. It is almost like Abhimanyu going into the seven circles: you pass one, you come to the second; you come to the second, you go to the third; and even if you read the savants you do not know how to return. Such is the present situation and that is why the significance of the Gita for us. Why is the Gita so near to us? Because the Gita is not written as a book, like the Upanishads or the Veda, which are the tranquillity of your hours of life you can turn to, meditate and contemplate. Here you do not even have the time to contemplate; you are in the midst of the battle. Arjuna was given no time at all to face the problem and to find the solution to the problem, something like what we are obliged to do in our life. So the occasion, the actuality, in which the Gita is fixed, is presented, is a very dynamic reality, and the problem that has been raised in the Gita is not an ordinary problem. As Sri Aurobindo says, no such great book like the Gita could have been written if it was to solve an ordinary problem. It is only because this problem is one of the knottiest problems that a great teaching burst out to solve it. So this occasion, however, has two important figures involved in it.
Historically we might say there is a warrior and a charioteer, a warrior who was convinced that the problems that are faced by him, by his family, by his clan, by his nation, by the country, by the people, could be resolved only if he fought out a war. He was convinced of this. And it is with that conviction that Arjuna, the great warrior, enters into the battlefield and with a heavy and proud head, he asks his charioteer, Sri Krishna, to place him at a point where he can see all the armies which were arranged in the battle and with whom he has to fight and to slay. And Krishna is the advisor, inspirer but a charioteer in a sense the closest to the warrior, even physically; nobody can be so close to a warrior unless he becomes his charioteer. Happily such a relationship was obtained.
Now there are many questions which have been raised and as Sri Aurobindo says, we shall not deal with those questions because they are not of great significance to us. One question was: did Mahabharata take place at all? Is it simply a dramatic fiction written by some author or by several authors? And did it actually take place? And on this so much has been written that if we enter into that field our main purpose in reading the Gita will be lost. And we need not deal with it because even if such a war did not take place, even if you take it as a dramatic fiction, what is important is 'what the Gita teaches'. On the occasion that it paints, even if it may be an imaginary painting, the important point is whether such a problem that Arjuna faced would not realistically face anybody in the world? And if that is sure to be true, it is enough for us that there, such a problem did arise even to an imaginary character like Arjuna, and that this problem was dealt with with a great force of knowledge and power, even though an imagination. But if that knowledge and power are really verifiable, 'experienceable', and if it is really going to help us, then even if it is a dramatic fiction, it does not matter at all. Why should we waste our time in discussing whether it did happen or not? Not that that problem is of no importance, but we are not concerned with it, we are not turning to the Gita for that purpose. That is we. As Sri Aurobindo says, our demand and need from the Gita is not from that point of view, it is a historical discussion which is always good, you can have a hundred scholars put up and see the Bhagavad-Gita, see the archaeological excavations and so on, you can make lots of enquiries about it, compare one history with the history of another country, and so on. Fine! But that is not our purpose.
There is a question whether the Bhagavad-Gita was a part of the original Mahabharata, or whether it was interpolated into the Mahabharata, this is also another question, and many scholars debate on it. Some believe that Mahabharata, as originally written, did include Bhagavad-Gita as its part. Some believe that later on as the story developed gradually, some philosopher wrote the Bhagavad-Gita, and in order to give a great value to it, he interpolated his whole book into the Mahabharata.
And that is how they believe that actually speaking the value of the Bhagavad-Gita is reduced because it was not a part of the original Mahabharata. Also, it is claimed that there would have been no time left at the time of the war, where Arjuna could have put this question and then Sri Krishna took him aside, and had the time and patience to give a discourse on such a very difficult subject which even we would take years to understand, and that is supposed to be done even before the war actually started, when all the warriors were ready to fight. So this question also has been raised.
Now, this can be answered in many ways. It can be said that the dialogue originally may be very short and that afterwards the author wrote at length. Another is that there are many dialogues which take place internally, just as in a dream, the dream may last only two minutes, but it may take a look as if only two hours' events can take place in two minutes' dream. That also is possible. Or it may be that really when you write down what has happened it may look long but actually that conversation does not take so long. We know that if we write the minutes of a particular meeting, they may run into a hundred and fifty pages for an account of only one hour. Reading fifty pages may take two or three hours but actually when it happens, it takes only one hour.
It is also quite possible that it happened in the same way. But Sri Aurobindo says that all these questions are not important for us.
What is important is whether the questions and answers which are recorded in the Gita are significant questions and significant answers, whether these questions echo your questions arising out of your situation, arising out of your need, and whether the answers given give you any guidance. If this is so, it is enough for us to study the Gita and that is why we study it. There is also a question whether Sri Krishna ever lived on the earth. That also is another question. Because people say that if Krishna never existed at all, the question of Mahabharata does not arise, the question of war does not arise, the question of question does not arise, the question of answering it does not arise. The whole Gita seems to be only a kind of a literature, a dramatic fiction, which can be studied if you have leisure and time, but otherwise it has no significance. Just as the questions that have been raised about Jesus. Reading the whole New Testament, many people ask the question whether Jesus ever existed, whether Jesus was born here or there at Bethlehem or Jerusalem, or wherever. Or whether He was really charged with sedition and ultimately was crucified. All these questions have been raised even about Christ. And Sri Aurobindo's answer is that even this question is not so relevant to us. The question again is whether a personality like Sri Krishna can really exist or not; whether Krishna described as Avatar can possibly exist or not; whether the Avatar itself is a concept which is justified or not. And if the Avatar ever existed—not Sri Krishna—but if Avatar can come into existence anywhere, then by his actions you can explain to us what is the purpose of the Avatar and what is His role in the history of the world, if at all there is any role. It is that inner question which is most important. And therefore when we turn to the Gita, we need not waste our time on these questions.
Sri Aurobindo points out one or two important facts, and He gives his own view, He says first of all that the Bhagavad-Gita is not an interpolation. If you read the Bhagavad-Gita, you find that it is so woven with the entire book, it does not look as if it were an outer organ and transplanted into the centre of the Mahabharata. Or he says that even if it is an outer thing, it is interwoven so powerfully that the occasion is constantly referred to in the Bhagavad-Gita, the occasion of the war and the insistence of Sri Krishna that the war is on, and that he has to take part in it, reminding the reader, reminding Arjuna all the time of the occasion in which it arose. It is not as if somebody wrote some poem outside and then he just apposed it into it. Again Sri Aurobindo says that Sri Krishna was certainly a historical figure in the history of India. If you take for example the Chandogya Upanishad, which is quite an independent source, there, there is a mention that a Rishi called Ghora Angirasa, who gave knowledge to Sri Krishna, the son of Devaki, which is clearly mentioned. In the same Upanishad the name of Dhritarashtra also occurs; so it means that historically these two personalities who were so closely associated with each other in the Mahabharata are independently corroborated in this Upanishad.
In fact, I thought that it might interest you to get an exact quotation from Chandogya Upanishad, where this particular mention of Krishna is made.
What was the knowledge which you talked about which was given to Sri Krishna?
That is why I brought the text here, precisely for the reason that you may like to know what was the knowledge that was given to Sri Krishna by Ghora. If you read page 115, verse n°6, this is taken from Chandogya Upanishad.
"Ghora, son of Angiras, having explained this subject to Krishna, son of Devaki, said as follows:..."
Now what has gone before is explained, and which I am not at present reading out to you because it is a symbolic writing, and may require another kind of explanation and detailed understanding but we shall see later on, if necessary. But what is important now is this. He said:
"He, who knows this should at the time of his death repeat these three Yajurvedic mantras: 'Oh, thou art un-decaying, thou art unchanging, thou art the true essence of life.' Hearing this, He [that is Sri Krishna] lost all desire for other knowledge, He was illumined."
And about it, there are these two Rigvedic stanzas. This is a very significant thing to make us understand what was the knowledge that was given to Sri Krishna and which is actually contained here:
"Sages behold the glory of the first cause as enveloping all like the day and shedding radiance from the Heaven above. Having beheld that exquisite light, high above all darkness, and having beheld it also in our own hearts, we attain to that God of gods, and noblest of all like the Sun, the noblest of all lives.
This translation is according to me very inadequate, it does not bring out very fully but this is the one sentence in Sanskrit we shall read first:
उद् वयं तमसस् परि ज्योतिष् पश्यन्त उत्तरम् |
देवं देवत्रा सूर्यम् अगन्म ज्योतिर् उत्तमम् ||
ud vayaṃ tamasas pari jyotiṣ paśyanta uttaram |
devaṃ devatrā sūryam aganma jyotir uttamam ||
The Veda 1.50.10
This is the Sanskrit text.
Tamasam pari, that is to say: beyond the darkness; jyotir pasyanta uttamam, there was a higher life: uttara means "higher" uttama is the "highest". Beyond the darkness was perceived; pasyanta uttaram jyotir , was perceived the higher light. That was the first step.
This was the description of the Vedic knowledge that there is darkness in this world, but the Vedic Rishis made experiments and found out that this is not the end of the world. There is Darkness, but there is also a kind of a Knowledge: there is light of which we are not aware but if you make an experiment, you will see the Light. This is the first secret which is given. Then:
Ud vayam tamasam pari, pasyanta uttaram, jyotir, then, **Devam devatra suryam aganma: beyond jyoti is surya, that is to say: beyond jyoti which is just beyond the darkness, which is also called svaha. If you read the whole sentence, you will see the word svaha is also there. So, there is svaha, it is from this that the word svarga has come. So, beyond this world of darkness there is a realm of jyoti, of light. But beyond that, Devam devatra suryam aganma, but then the gods were approached and the Supreme God was approached, which is described as surya, the supreme light, jyoti? uttamam. If you see the last phrase: jyotir uttamam iti jyotir uttamam iti, the uttama light, not only uttara light, but uttama light; the supreme light was seen.
It is a revelation of three things: the world is a world of darkness; beyond that there is a world of light; but beyond that, there is a world of the supreme light. It is when you realise these three things that you do not need anything more to know. All that is to be known is known, knowing which everything is known: yasmin vijnate sarvam jnatam bhavatti.
शौनको ह वै महाशालोऽङ्गिरसं विधिवदुपसन्नः पप्रच्छ।
कस्मिन् नु भगवो विज्ञाते सर्वमिदं विज्ञातं भवतीति ॥
The Upanishads 184.108.40.206
There is a distinction between the 'higher light' and the 'highest light'—this is a distinction which is very important to make. Not many people make a distinction: when they see light, they say I have seen light as if it is the final term. But to know that there are different grades of light as in the Isha Upanishad (Isha U. 15), it is said that there is a 'Golden Lid' which is hiding the Supreme light and that supreme light is the light of the sun, pushannapavranu, it is addressed to pushan, which is the growing sun. As in the Isha Upanishad the highest knowledge is given, where the supreme form of light was made effulgent by breaking the 'Lid' which was golden, and you might be tempted not to break it, because it seems so bright and so beautiful: hiranmayena patrena, it was so much golden that to break it was a great task. So svaha jyoti? is the jyoti of this golden lid. And beyond that is the highest light. It is this knowledge which Sri Krishna was given by Ghora and having got it, he said, "I am now illumined".
This is given in the Chandogya Upanishad itself. So there was a Krishna, who was the son of Devaki (chand. U.111,17,6) and who was that illumined man and in a sense you might say that if the Bhagavad-Gita has a supreme secret, this is the supreme secret. And the whole Bhagavad-Gita's real teaching is contained here itself. Sri Krishna gave this teaching to Arjuna that there is "guhya? " rahasyam, there is "guhyatara? " rahasyam, and there is "guhyatama? " rahasyam. These are the three secrets of the Gita and they sum up the whole of the Gita. So the guhyam rahasyam is only this that what you are seeing is not all; guhyataram rahasyam is that there is a higher light, svaha; guhyatamam **rahasyam means that there is a supreme light which is the light of the sun. If you want to understand the significance of the word "sun", then of course you will need to read the whole of the Veda. It is because this knowledge was prevalent at that time and whenever the word "sun" was used it was understood what was the meaning of "sun". It is a sun in which all the rays of light can be combined together like a laser beam. Today if you speak of laser, people will understand the meaning of it; similarly at that time the sun was one in which all the rays of light can be marshalled together. And when you attain to that knowledge there is nothing which is dark, the darkness is completely dispelled.
Now, this is a historical fact given in the Upanishad which is an independent body; therefore, there will be no surprise that if Krishna existed, that if He was the son of Devaki, and if He happened to give a knowledge on the battlefield to Arjuna, there would be no surprise at all, even historically. And if the knowledge which is contained in these words of the Chandogya Upanishad is actually the substance of the whole of the Gita; if this is a fact, then why should there be any doubt about the fact that Sri Krishna gave this knowledge to Arjuna?
I think we shall stop here today.