The dialogue now takes us to the fourth chapter, marking a significant phase in the whole text. Whatever Krishna had to convey as an eternal message, a timely instruction for what Arjuna – or any one for that matter – should do when faced with an interactional crisis as in Kurukshetra, has all been stated with clarity, precision and persuasiveness. Krishna now wants to conclude the dialogue by relating the source and lineage of the instructors, who embodied and imparted the message right from the beginning. Narrating thus the parampara (the lineage of instructors) marks the finale of instruction, according to tradition.
But in the course of divulging the message, as is unique with whatever Krishna does, he reveals some lofty dimensions of his perception, thereby bestowing a note of eternality and beginninglessness to what he says. This is, in fact, characteristic of real Knowers of Truth of this land. Only in the jnanins, Knowers, one can find this kind of an ageless identity. It makes them and their message ancient and unnegatable as the very creation itself, as true as the Supreme Reality.
Apart from what many regard Krishna to be, he was verily a unique Self-knower, a matchless Teacher of Yoga. This human excellence of Krishna should not be missed. Only then both Bhagavadgita and Sri Krishna become accessible and actualizable to the seekers and students.
I alone imparted this instruction to Vivasvan, the Sun. Vivasvan instructed it to Manu (the first man), Manu handed it down to Ikshvaku. From Ikshvaku dynasty of Treta Yuga, it was in succession imparted to those of Dvapara Yuga. Thus the great bequest was always held by the Seer Kings (rajarshayah), as an inevitable complement to their ruling skill and excellence. Due to the passage of Time, the all-powerful, this great possession went out of vogue. It is the same generally hidden, Brahmavidya, Yoga, that I have imparted to you today, considering you to be a devotee as well as an intimate friend.
Why does Krishna refer to Sun as the first recipient of Brahmavidya from him? Can this be a merely eulogistic reference? Or, is there enough of depth and purpose in what Krishna states?
Normally any human lineage or heredity will be traced up to the first human. Whereas Krishna, not stopping even with mother earth from which mankind as well as the rest of the beings have emerged, goes back to the Sun and claims his identity to be as old and ancient as to be the Instructor for the Sun! Is he merely driving home how ancient is Brahmavidya, or is there something more for the seeker to reflect upon?
Spiritual words and expositions always have a hidden, profound import. Spiritual truths are experiential, realizable. Thus, what exactly is the experiential link in Krishna’s enunciation is something that we cannot afford to miss.
The only subject exposed in Bhagavadgita is Brahmavidya. Whether explained as sankhya-yoga first and karma-yoga next, or dhyana-yoga subsequently and bhakti-yoga still later, the theme Krishna discusses in all chapters is essentially the same, namely Brahmavidya. That is why all the chapters carry the colophon “Brahmavidyayam yoga- sastre……”. What is this Brahmavidya? Where lies its source?
Brahman denotes the Supreme Reality. Vidya means knowledge. Brahmavidya is that unique knowledge which relates solely to the Supreme Reality. Even though the knowledge is conceived and expressed by humans, the fact remains that Brahmavidya is not restricted to any particular creature or to any specific age or period.
Thus, when Krishna conveys to Arjuna that he first imparted this Brahmavidya to Vivasvan (Sun), he apparently wants to impress on Arjuna that the source of Brahmavidya, if properly reflected upon, is not any one person in particular. Man’s personality itself, is not something bhautik, physical; it is completely spiritual. Sushupti (deep sleep) is a regular instance, when everyone verily experiences extinction of his body, and instead feels the presence of something else. In fact during deep sleep, the Real Subject is realized by all doubtlessly. The experience of deep sleep, wherein bodily existence ceases to be, is obviously not had by the body or its part. It is an experience that the Subject alone gains, all by itself, without any object medium whatsoever. Body is actually an object, which the Subject experiences, in wakeful hours alone.
Even a bacterium has its experience and knowledge or awareness. Or else how does it move and react? It may not have the mouth and tongue to speak. Speaking and expressing are a pronounced display of Consciousness which goes inseparably with existence. It is the self-revealing property of existence. In fact, any form of existence is but a becoming or manifestation of Consciousness itself.
Rigveda, the oldest of Vedas, reveals this truth in its mahavakya (cardinal statement): “Prajnanam Brahma”. This means “Brahman, the Supreme Reality or Ultimate Existence, is no other than Knowledge itself”. That Knowledge is the ultimate source of existence itself, is a unique revelation. Whether anywhere in the world a similar revelation has been made either in religious literature or even in the field of science, remains to be seen.
It is this truth – “Prajnanam Brahma” – that Krishna too discusses as Brahmavidya in the whole dialogue. Krishna wants Arjuna to grasp this fundamental point. Arjuna should not think that Krishna has discovered something new or is imparting an altogether new message, with a view to somehow appease and embolden the listener’s enfeebled mind. The message is the only truth of life, or existence, at any time. It is the only knowledge worth gaining, and which, when gained, will wipe off all psychological ills. As for the authenticity of this Brahmavidya, Krishna wants Arjuna to understand that it is as ancient as existence itself.
“Ajo nityah sasvato’yam puranah” (unborn, eternal, ever-the-same, ancient) were the words he had used in the second chapter (verse 20) while describing the Self. Brahmavidya rests upon Brahman itself, the only Subject in creation, not on any object at all. As is heat inseparable from fire, brilliance from the sun – the independent luminary nearest to earth – so is this Brahmavidya inseparable from Brahman, from existence as such.
People generally think that sentience is evolved from the earth alone, as we find sentient beings only upon the earth. In beings, we generally recognize only the evolution of materiality. The panca-bhutas are combined and evolved into beings, which display a certain sequence, order and gradualness. But even behind this orderliness or evolution, there is the power and presence of original sentience, but for which the insentient matter would not have been animated and organized into any viable, sustainable biological process or aggregate.
Our earth, when we look at it, seems to be insentient, judged on the basis of the sentient-insentient division of existence. But is that so? Think deeply about its place, potential and nature. Then the initial idea is bound to change. On the earth so many sentient beings have emerged and have been surviving. Being the cause and support for all these, can it, the causal source, be insentient? So sentience goes back to the earth, and for the same reason further beyond.
Sun is a luminous body. Its luminosity is inseparable from itself. That brilliance is a becoming of the Consciousness, which Brahman is. Self is Consciousness. Whoever realizes his identity with Consciousness, becomes verily the essence of the Sun’s brilliance (chapter 10, verse 21). The words revealing that he had taught Brahmavidya first to Vivasvan (Sun) are to be understood in such a perspective. Instead of tracing the antiquity to some human in Krtayuga, or even to a sage of the Vedic period, Krishna confidently asserts that any one can go back to any length of time and evolution and identify the source with anything in the universe. You will find that every existence carries knowledge in its core. In fact, Brahman, in other words Prajnanam, is the only Source, the causeless Cause.
At no time can knowledge of any kind emanate from any object whatever. When Newton saw the apple fall and began to wonder why it did so, was it not the Subject in this body that made the enquiry, and that too into its own within? And the answer that he finally found was also not from the apple or its fall, nor from the air or earth around, but from his own Consciousness, Prajnanam. To seek or search is the Subject’s task and to get illumined in the process is also its own fruition. The source, medium and the outcome are all unmistakably the Subject itself.
Does not Krishna say later, in chapter 15: “I alone am the source of memory, forgetfulness as well as wisdom – mattah smrtir jnanam- apohanam ca”? Is this not a clear reference to the Self of man being the real source of all processes of experience as well as knowledge? Whether it is existence or knowledge, or the expression of either or both, understand that Brahman, which is Prajnanam (knowledge), is the source, content and expression. The Teacher-taught relationship is only relative and occasional. There are many instances of original discoveries in science. Is there any Teacher as such in those cases, coming in the actual discovery? The searching individual, his consciousness alone, acts as the enquiring part first, and thereupon as the enlightening counterpart next, to become the discovery and discoverer ultimately.
This impersonality of man, along with the sentient nature of the whole existence, is the one ultimate message of Brahmavidya. In asserting “Aham Brahmasmi”, the Yajurvedic mahavakya meaning “the ‘I’ alone is the Supreme Reality”, is not such an absolute, indivisible, unnegatable position made clear? A seeker of Brahmavidya will complete his seeking and become a knower of Brahman only when he traces Consciousness as the only source, content and medium of whatever he is, irrespective of what he encounters during his life of experience and interaction. And this Consciousness is not alone in the beings of the earth, like cells, animals, birds or mankind. It is there far beyond. It was still earlier, in fact ever and ever.
Krishna wants the Bhagavadgita students to break all the barriers in their perception and visualize the singular subjective fullness of the whole creation. Knowledge is the only content of this fullness. Brahmavidya stands to represent and convey this and this alone.
The reference Krishna makes to the line of heredity and Maharshis equally calls for special attention. Krishna reminds Arjuna that the heritage of Brahmavidya rested specially with the Raarshis. A Raja (King) will become a Rishi (Seer) only when he possesses Brahmavidya and is enriched by its power and lustre. This confirms again that the ascetic sages were not the only custodians of spiritual wisdom of the land. The administrators or rulers were also equally well versed in this knowledge. In fact, to sit on the throne verily meant the compulsion to gain the treasure of spiritual wisdom.
The righteous ruler’s mind must have the sharpness of a sword as well as the softness of butter. He must be as stern with the wicked as he is kind to the virtuous. To punish the cruel and to reward the virtuous, remaining free of either weakness or pride, the royal mind should display exemplary vastness and impersonality.
To rule a whole multitude of people, even today, calls for immense self-control. Self-pity or carelessness has no place in a King’s life. One who is watchful about his own thoughts, actions and behavior can alone be so with regard to the ways and movements of his subjects. How many mutually opposite qualities together must adorn the throne to make it worthy of its task! When Krishna enumerates the spiritual qualities of the seeker and Knower, do they not aptly fit in with those of the throne?
Thus the great rulers of this land took special pains to gain spiritual wisdom and be under its unique grace. Janaka was an illustrious King of this great dimension. Ikshvaku dynasty had preserved a distinguished spiritual heredity, says Krishna. But in Dasaratha was a gloomy contrast. His son, Sri Rama, like Sri Krishna himself, excelled in the merits of spiritual wisdom, shining always with his timely resolve, wholesome resignation and stunning renunciation, whereas his father in crucial moments crumbled with indecision, attachment and possessiveness, the noted curses of ignorance.
Dasaratha was equally present when Sage Vasishthadeva instructed Sri Rama, sitting in the palace of Ayodhya, about the science of the Immortal Soul. But it was of no avail to the elderly King! When Kaikeyi, his Queen, claimed the boons promised to her by him in the past, the King lost his heart and mind, fell on the ground, drenching himself in tears and showering abuses on Kaikeyi!
In utter contrast, when the step-mother confessed her heart to Rama, the prince with no doubt or remorse instantly resolved to abandon the palace and live in the forest for any length of time. Who won in the encounter and who lost? Unable to resist the evil counsel of Manthara, Kaikeyi presents a more illustrious contrast in front of Bharata, her son. Bharata condemned his mother, refusing to imbibe her wicked heredity.
Are these not enough instances to make any one think of the truth of what Krishna states? The great heritage was available to all, but some neglected its bounties altogether.
Krishna points out that such deviations are havoc worked by time. Time, the inexorable force, is noted to cause sometimes grave deviations or even perversions in whatever is present. Even the great legacies prove no exception to the invasions of Time. Thus the good is forced to change into bad in the powerful hands of Time. Sri Rama, when called upon by Vasishthadeva to relate the sufferings of his heart on looking at the complexities of the world, says, in Yogavasishtha Ramayana, that the course of the world is immensely intriguing. He states: “prakrtah prabhrtam yatah, sarvamavartyate jagat – the undeserving rustics suddenly become lordly and resourceful; everything in the world is given to cyclic changes.”
In fact, the nature of events that overtook the Kuru dynasty resulting in the unprecedented Kurukshetra war leading to the emergent scene that evoked the Bhagavadgita dialogue, is itself immensely revealing. Was it not under the same great Bheeshma, with his self-imposed life-long celibacy as well as matchless spiritual wisdom, that the Pandava and Kaurava brothers grew up alike? While the Yudhishthira brothers wanted to be scrupulously governed by the resolve of righteousness and sacrifice, why did the Duryodhana brothers insist on following the accursed path of greed, possessiveness and stealth? Did not both of them have the same great legacy? The conflict and confrontation only grew in intensity as decades passed.
Krishna was equally related and available to both the groups; but his greatness was spurned by Duryodhana. Instead of welcoming him and listening to his wise words when he arrived in Hastinapura with the message of a peaceful pact from Yudhishthira, Duryodhana wickedly hatched a plot to bind Krishna and take him a captive. What except the sheer ravage of Time is at the back of all these developments?
Though Arjuna was righteous and moral in his thoughts and views, he still lacked Brahmavidya, which his grandfather and other elders were amply gifted with. Krishna significantly points out that what he was instilling in Arjuna was thus the same vision and strength which the best of rulers in his own clan had gained and which he failed to imbibe in time.
The effort Arjuna should have made earlier, in a quiet atmosphere of study and seeking, he was now forced to undertake in total haste and strife. Even then, better late than never. As Krishna has already clarified in the last verse of the second chapter: “sthitvasyam anta-kale’pi brahma-nirvanamrcchati – even if one is able to stabilize himself in this knowledge at the fag end of his life, he will still be benefited by its grace and merits, and enjoy the relief and ecstasy they offer”.
Krishna brings in another dimension in the dialogue. He says: “bhakto’si me sakha ceti rahasyam hy-etad-uttamam – you are devoted to me, and you are equally an intimate friend; that is why I disclose to you this highest secret.” What does he highlight in these words? Is not spiritual wisdom, like any other knowledge meant for man, to be openly laid before the seeker? What secrecy does Krishna allude to in imparting it? Where comes the relevance of devotion in receiving the message?
To impart the Soul-science is not a commonplace task. Nor is it easy to do so effectively. The atmosphere calls for the most sensitive response from the bestower as well as the receiver. Krishna emphasizes that it means disclosing or divulging a great secret from its guarded source. The message will have its destined effect only when the giver and the receiver have a full bond of fondness, trust and confidence. It is meant to lead man to the very core of his being – the impersonal, neutral and unaffected identity that he verily is – lifting him away from the sensory and sentimental ties and relationships.
The supreme reliance which adorns the mind and heart of a devotee, the unshakeable trust and confidence which governs the relationship between him and the Teacher, will alone make true spiritual instruction wholesome, powerful and ready to assimilate.
(From Essential Concepts of Bhagavad Gita - Book 2)