The Bhagavad Gita and the Epistles of Paul. Lecture 3 of 5.
Rudolf Steiner, December 30, 1912:
The whole meaning of a philosophical poem such as the Bhagavad Gita can only be rightly understood by one to whom such things as are laid down therein, or in similar works of the world's literature, are not merely theories, but a destiny; for man's conceptions of the world may become destiny.
We have in the last few days made acquaintance with two different conceptions of world-philosophy (not to mention a third, the Vedantic), two different nuances of world-philosophy which, if we look at them in the right way, show us most strikingly how a world-philosophy may become a destiny for the human soul. With the concept of the Sankhya philosophy one may connect all that a man can attain to in knowledge, perception of ideas, survey of the world-phenomena; all in which the life of the soul expresses itself. If we describe that which at the present day still remains to the normal man of such knowledge, of a world-philosophy in which the concepts of the world can be expressed in a scientific form, if we describe that which stands at a lower level spiritually than Sankhya philosophy we may say that even in our own age, in so far as our destiny permits, we can still feel the effects of Sankhya philosophy. This will, however, only be felt by one who, as far as his destiny allows him, gives himself up to a one-sided study of such a branch of world-philosophy; a man of whom it might in a certain respect be said: He is a one-sided scientist, or a Sankhya philosopher.
How does such a man stand as regards the world? What does he feel in his soul? Well, that is a question which can really only be answered by experience. One must know what takes place in a soul that thus devotes itself one-sidedly to a branch of world-philosophy, using all its forces to acquire a conception of the world in the sense just characterized. Such a soul might study all the variations of form of the world-phenomena, might have, so to say, the most complete understanding of all the forces that express themselves in the world in the changing forms. If a soul in one incarnation confines itself to finding opportunity through its capacities and its karma so to experience the world-phenomena that, whether illuminated by clairvoyance or not, it chiefly acquires the science of reason, such a tendency would in all circumstances lead to a certain coldness of the whole soul life. According to the temperament of that soul, we shall find that it took on more or less the character of ironical dissatisfaction concerning the world phenomena, or lack of interest and general dissatisfaction with the knowledge that strides on from one phenomenon to another. All that so many souls of our time feel when confronted with a science consisting merely of learning — the coldness and barrenness which then depresses them — all this we see when we investigate a soul-tendency such as is presented here. The soul would feel devastated, uncertain of itself. It might say: What should I have gained if I conquered the whole world, and knew nothing of my own soul, if I could feel nothing, perceive nothing, experience nothing; if all were emptiness within! To be crammed full of all the science in the world and yet to be empty within; that, my dear friends, would be a bitter fate. It would be like being lost among the world phenomena; it would be like losing everything of value to one's own inner being.
The condition just described we find in many people who come to us with some sort of learning or of abstract philosophy. We find it in those who, themselves unsatisfied and realizing their emptiness, have lost interest in all their knowledge, and seem to be suffering; we also meet it when a man comes to us with an abstract philosophy, able to give information about the nature of the Godhead, cosmology, and the human soul in abstract words, yet we can feel that it all comes from the head, that his heart has no part in it — his soul is empty. We feel chilled when we meet such a soul. Thus Sankhya philosophy may become a destiny, a destiny which brings man near being lost to himself, a being possessing nothing of his own and from whose individuality the world can gain nothing.
Then again let us take the case of a soul seeking development in a one-sided way through Yoga, who is, so to say, lost to the world, disdaining to know anything about the external world. “What good is it to me,” says such a person, “to learn how the world came into existence? I want to find out everything in my own self; I will advance myself by developing my own powers.” Such a person may perhaps feel an inward glow, may often appear to us somewhat self-contained and self-satisfied. That may be; but in the long run he will not always be thus; on the contrary, in time, such a soul will be liable to loneliness. When one having led a hermit's life while seeking the heights of soul-life goes forth into the world, coming everywhere in contact with the world-phenomena, he may perhaps say: “What do all these things matter to me?” and if then, because of his being unreceptive to all the beauty of the manifestations and not understanding them he feels lonely, the exclusiveness leads to a fateful destiny! How can we really get to know a human being who is using all his power toward the evolution of his own being and passes his fellow human beings by, cold and indifferent, as though he wished to have nothing in common with them? Such a soul may feel itself to be lost to the world; while to others it may appear egotistical to excess.
Only when we consider these life-connections do we realize how the laws of destiny work in the conceptions of the world. In the background of such great revelations, such great world-philosophies as the Gita and the Epistles of St. Paul, we are confronted by the ruling of these laws of destiny. We might say: if we look behind the Gita and the Epistles of St. Paul, we can see the direct ruling of destiny.
How can we trace destiny in the Epistles? We often find indicated in them that the real salvation of soul-development consists in the so-called “justification by faith” as compared to the worthlessness of external works; because of that which the soul may become when it makes the final connection with the Christ-Impulse, when it takes into itself the great force that flows from the proper understanding of the Resurrection of Christ. When we meet with this in the Epistles we feel, on the other hand, that the human soul may, so to say, be thrown back upon itself, and thus be estranged from all external works and rely entirely on mercy and justification by faith. Then come the external works; they are there in the world; we do not do away with them because we turn from them; we join forces with them in the world. Again destiny rings out to us in all its gigantic greatness. Only when we look at things in this way do we see the might of such revelations to mankind.
Now these two revelations to humanity, the Bhagavad Gita and the Epistles of St. Paul, are outwardly very different from one another; and this external difference acts upon the soul in every part of these works. We not only admire the Bhagavad Gita for the reasons we have briefly given, but because it strikes us as something so poetically great and powerful; because from every verse it radiates forth to us the great nobility of the human soul; because in everything spoken from the mouths of Krishna and his pupil, Arjuna, we feel something which lifts us above everyday human experiences, above all passions, above everything emotional which may disturb the soul. We are transported into a sphere of soul-peace, of clearness, calm, dispassionateness, freedom from emotion, into an atmosphere of wisdom, if we allow even one part of the Gita to work upon us; and by reading the Gita we feel our whole humanity raised to a higher stage. We feel, all through, that we must first have freed ourselves from a good deal that is only too human if we wish to allow the sublime Gita to affect us in the right way.
In the case of the Pauline Epistles, all this is different. The sublimity of the poetical language is lacking, even the dispassionateness is lacking. We take up these Epistles and allow them to influence us, and we feel over and over again how what is wafted toward us from the mouth of St. Paul comes from a being passionately indignant at what has happened. Sometimes the tone is scolding or — one might say — condemnatory; in the Pauline Epistles this or that is often cursed; there is scolding. The things that are stated as to the great concepts of Christianity, as to Grace, the Law, the difference between the law of Moses and Christianity, the Resurrection — all this is stated in a tone that is supposed to be philosophical, that is meant to be a philosophical definition but is not, because in every sentence one hears a Pauline note. We cannot in any single sentence forget that it is spoken by a man who is either excited or expressing righteous indignation against others who have done this or that; or who so speaks about the highest concepts of Christianity that we feel he is personally interested; he gives the impression that he is the propagandist of these ideas. Where could we find in the Gita sentiments of a personal kind such as we find in the Epistles in which St. Paul writes to this or that community: “How have we ourselves fought for Christ Jesus! Remember that we have not become a burden to any, how we have labored night and day that we might not be a burden to any.” How personal all this is! A breath of the personal runs through the Pauline Epistles. In the sublime Gita we find a wonderfully pure sphere — an etheric sphere — that borders on the superhuman and at times extends into it.
Externally, therefore, there are powerful differences, and we may say that it would be blindest prejudice not to admit that through the great Song that once was given to Hinduism flows the union of mighty fateful world-philosophies, that through the Gita something of a noble purity, quite impersonal, calm, and passionless, was given to the Hindus; while the original documents of Christianity — the Epistles of St. Paul — bear, as it were, an entirely personal, often a passionate character, utterly devoid of calm. One does not attain knowledge by turning away from the truth and by refusing to admit such things, but rather by understanding them in the right way. Let us, therefore, inscribe this antithesis on a tablet of bronze, as it were, during our subsequent considerations.
We have already pointed out in yesterday's lecture that in the Gita we find the significant instruction of Arjuna by Krishna. Now who exactly is Krishna? This question must, above all, be of interest to us. One cannot understand who Krishna is if one does not make oneself acquainted with a point which I have already taken the opportunity of mentioning in various places: that is, that in earlier ages the whole system of giving names and descriptions was quite different from what it is now. As a matter of fact, it does not now in the least matter what a man is called. For we do not in reality know much about a man in our present time by learning that he bears this or that well-known name, that he is called Miller or Smith. We do not really know much about a man — as everyone will admit — by hearing that he is a Privy Councillor, or anything else of the kind. We do not necessarily know much about people because we know to what social rank they belong. Neither do we know much of a man today because he has to be addressed as “Your Honor” or “Your Excellency” or “My Lord”; in short, all these titles do not signify much; and you may easily convince yourselves that other designations that we make use of today are not very important either. In bygone ages this was different. Whether we take the description of the Sankhya philosophy or our own, we can start from either and make the following reflections.
We have heard that, according to Sankhya philosophy, man consists of the physical body, the finer elemental or etheric body, the body that contains the regular forces of the senses, the body which is called Manas, Ahankara, and so on. We need not consider the other, higher, principles, because they are not, as a rule, developed yet; but if we now consider human beings such as we see them in this or that incarnation, we may say: Men differ from each other, so that in one that which is expressed through the etheric body is strongly predominant, and in another that which is connected with the laws regulating the senses, in a third that which pertains to the inner senses, in a fourth Ahankara. Or, in our own language, we may say that we find people in whom the forces of the sentient soul are particularly prominent; others in whom the forces of the intellectual or mind-soul are more particularly active; others in whom the forces of the consciousness soul predominate, and others again in whom something inspired by Manas plays a part, and so on. These differences are to be seen in the whole manner of life which a man leads. They are indications of the real nature of the man himself.
We cannot at the present time, for reasons which are easily understood, designate a man according to the nature which thus expresses itself; for if one were, for instance, to say at the present day, men's convictions being what they are, that the highest to which a man could attain in the present cycle of humanity was a trace of Ahankara, each one would be convinced that he himself expressed Ahankara more clearly in his own being than other people did, and it would be mortifying for him if he were told that this was not the case, that in him a lower principle still ruled. In olden times it was not thus. A man was then named according to what was most essential in him; especially when it was a question of putting him over others, perhaps by giving him the part of a leader, he would be designated by dwelling especially on the essential part of his being just described.
Let us suppose that in olden times there was a man who, in the truest sense of the words, had brought Manas to expression within him, who had certainly in himself experienced Ahankara, but had allowed this as an individual element to retire more into the background and on account of his external activity had cultivated Manas; then according to the laws of the older, smaller, human cycles — and only quite exceptional men could have experienced this — such a man would have had to be a great law-giver, a leader of great masses of people. And one would not have been satisfied to designate him in the same way as other men, but would have called him after his prominent characteristic, a Manas-bearer; whereas another might only be called a senses-bearer. One would have said: That is a Manas-bearer; he is a Manu.
When we come across designations pertaining to those olden times, we must take them as descriptive of the most prominent principle of a man's human organization, that which most strongly expressed itself in him in that particular incarnation. Suppose that in a particular man what was most specially expressed was that he felt divine inspiration within him, that he had put aside all question of ruling his actions and studies by what the external world teaches through the senses and by what reason teaches through the brain, but listened instead in all things to the Divine Word which spoke to him, and made himself a messenger for the Divine Substance that spoke out of him! Such a man would have been called a Son of God. In the Gospel of St. John, such men were still called Sons of God, even at the very beginning of the first chapter.
The essential thing was that everything else was left out of consideration when this significant part was expressed. Everything else was unimportant. Suppose we were to meet two men; one of whom had been just an ordinary man, who allowed the world to act upon him through his senses and reflected upon it afterwards with the intellect attached to his brain; the other one into whom the word of divine wisdom had radiated. According to the old ideas we should have said: This first one is a man; he is born of a father and mother, was begotten according to the flesh. In the case of the other, who was a messenger of the Divine Substance, no consideration would be given to that which makes up an ordinary biography, as would be the case with the first who contemplated the world through his senses and by means of the reason belonging to his brain. To write such a biography of the second man would have been folly. For the fact of his bearing a fleshly body was only accidental, and not the essential thing; that was, so to speak, only the means through which he expressed himself to other men. Therefore we say: The Son of God is not born of flesh but of a Virgin, he is born straight from the Spirit; that is to say: What is essential in him, through which he is of value to humanity, descends from the Spirit; and in the olden times it was that alone which was honored. In certain schools of initiation it would have been considered a great sin to write an ordinary biography, which only alluded to everyday occurrences, of a person of whom it had been recognized that he was remarkable because of the higher principles of his human nature. Anyone who has preserved even a little of the sentiments of those old times cannot but consider biographies such as those written of Goethe as in the highest degree absurd. Now let us remember that in those olden times mankind lived with ideas and feelings such as these, and then we can understand how this old humanity was permeated with the conviction that such a Manu, in whom Manas was the prevailing principle, appears but seldom, that he must wait long epochs before he can appear.
Now if you think of what may live in a man of our present cycle of humanity as the deepest part of his being, which every man can dimly sense as those secret forces within him which can raise him up to soul-heights; if we think of this, which in most men exists only in rudiment, becoming in a very rare case the essential principle of a human being — a being who only appears from time to time to become a leader of other men, who is higher than all the Manus, who dwells as an essence in every man, but who as an actual external personality only appears once in a cosmic epoch; if we can form such a conception as this, we are getting nearer to the being of Krishna. He is man as a whole; he is — one might almost say — humanity as such, thought of as a single being. Yet he is no abstract being. When people today speak of mankind in general, they speak of it in the abstract, because they themselves are abstract thinkers. The abstract being is we ourselves today, ensnared as we are in the sense-world, and this has become our common destiny. When one speaks of mankind in general, one has only an indistinct perception and not a living idea of it. Those who speak of Krishna as of man in general, do not mean the abstract idea one has in one's mind today. “No,” they say, “true, this Being lives in germ in every man, but he only appears as an individual man, and speaks with the mouth of a man, once in every cosmic age.” But with this Being it is not a question of the external fleshly body, or the more refined elemental body, or the forces of the sense-organs, or Ahankara and Manas, but the chief thing is that which in Buddhi and Manas is directly connected with the great universal cosmic substance, with the divine which lives and weaves through the world.
From time to time beings appear for the guidance of mankind such as we look up to in Krishna, the Great Teacher of Arjuna. Krishna teaches the highest human wisdom, the highest humanity, and he teaches it as being his own nature, and also in such a way that it is related to every human being, for all that is contained in the words of Krishna is to be found in germ in every human soul. Thus when a man looks up to Krishna he is both looking up to his own highest self and also at another: who can appear before him as another man in whom he honors that which he himself has the predisposition to become, yet who is a separate being from himself and bears the same relationship to him as a God does to man.
In this way must we think of the relationship of Krishna to his pupil Arjuna, and then we obtain the keynote of that which sounds forth to us out of the Gita; that keynote which sounds as though it belonged to every soul and can resound in every soul, which is wholly human, so intimately human that each soul feels it would be ashamed if it did not feel within it the longing to listen to the great teachings of Krishna. On the other hand, it all seems so calm, so passionless, so dispassionate, so sublime and wise, because the highest speaks; that which is the divine in every human nature and which yet once appears in the evolution of mankind, incorporated, as a divine human being.
How sublime are these teachings! They are really so sublime that the Gita rightly bears the name of the “Sublime Song” or the “Bhagavad Gita.” Within it we find, above all, teachings of which we spoke in yesterday's lecture, sublime words arising from a sublime situation; the teaching that all that changes in the world, although it may change in such a way that arising and passing away, birth and death, victory or defeat, appear to be external events, in them all is expressed something everlasting, eternal, permanently existent; so that he who wishes to contemplate the world properly must raise himself from the transitory to this permanence. We already met with this in Sankhya, in the reasoned reflections as to the permanent in everything transitory, of how both the conquered and the victorious soul are equal before God when the door of death closes behind them.
Then Krishna further tells his pupil, Arjuna, that the soul also may be led away from the contemplation of everyday things by another path, that is, through Yoga. If a soul is capable of devotion, that is the other side of its development. One side is that of passing from one phenomenon to another and always directing the ideas, whether illuminated by clairvoyance or not, to these phenomena. The other side is that in which a man turns his whole attention away from the outer world, shuts the door of the senses, shuts out all that reason and understanding have to say about the world, closes all the doors to what he can remember having experienced in his ordinary life, and enters into his innermost being. By means of suitable exercises he then draws up that which dwells in his own soul; he directs the soul to that which he can dimly sense as the highest, and by the strength of devotion tries to raise himself.
Where this occurs he rises higher and higher by means of Yoga, finally reaching to the higher stages which can be attained by first making use of the bodily instruments; he reaches those higher stages in which we live when freed from all bodily instruments, when, so to say, we live outside the body, in the higher principles of the human organization. He thus raises himself into a completely different form of life. The phenomena of life and their activities become spiritual: he approaches ever nearer and nearer to his own divine existence, and enlarges his own being to cosmic being, enlarges the human being to God inasmuch as he loses the individual limitations of his own being and is merged in the ALL through Yoga.
The methods by which the pupil of the great Krishna may rise by one of these ways to the spiritual heights are then given. First of all, a distinction is made between what men have to do in the ordinary world. It is indeed a grand situation in which the Gita places this before us. Arjuna has to fight against his blood-relations. That is his external destiny, it is his own doing, his karma, which comprises the deeds which he must first of all accomplish in this particular situation. In these deeds he lives at first as external man; but the great Krishna teaches him that a man only becomes wise, only unites himself with the Divine Eternal, if he performs his deeds because they themselves in the external course of nature and of the evolution of humanity prove to be necessary; yet the wise man must release himself from them. He performs the deeds; but in him there is something which at the same time is a looker-on at these deeds, which has no part in them, which says: I do this work, but I might just as well say: I let it happen. One becomes wise by looking on at what one does as though it were being done by another; and by not allowing oneself to be disturbed by the desire which causes the deed or by the sorrow it may produce.
“It is all one,” says the great Krishna to his pupil Arjuna, “whether thou art in the ranks of the sons of Pandu, or over there among the sons of Kuru; whatever thou doest, thou must as a wise man make thyself free from Pandu-ism and Kuru-ism. If it does not affect thee whether thou art to act with the Pandus as though one of them, or to act with the Kurus as though thou were thyself a son of Kuru; if thou canst rise above all this and not be affected by thine own deeds, like a flame which burns quietly in a place protected from the wind, undisturbed by anything external: if thy soul, as little disturbed by its own deeds, lives quietly beside them, then does it become wise; then does it free itself from its deeds, and does not inquire what success attends them.” For the result of our deeds only concerns the narrow limitations of our soul; but if we perform them because humanity or the course of the world require them from us, then we perform these deeds regardless as to whether they lead to dreadful or to glorious results for ourselves.
This lifting oneself above one's deeds, this standing upright no matter what our hands may carry out, even — speaking of the Gita situation — what our swords may carry out or what we may speak with our mouth; this standing upright of our inner self regardless of all that we speak with our mouth and do with our hands, this it is to which the great Krishna leads his pupil Arjuna. Thus the great Krishna directs his pupil Arjuna to a human ideal, which is so presented that a man says: “I perform my deeds, but it matters not whether they are performed by me or by another — I look on at them: that which happens by my hand or is spoken by my mouth, I can look on at as objectively as though I saw a rock being loosened and rolling down the mountain into the depths. Thus do I stand as regards my deeds; and although I may be in a position to know this or that, to form concepts of the world, I myself am quite distinct from these concepts, and I may say: In me there dwells something which is, it is true, united to me and which perceives, but I look on at what another is perceiving. Thus I myself am liberated from my perceptions. I can become free from my deeds, free from my knowledge, and free from my perceptions.”
A high idea of human wisdom is thus placed before us! And finally, when it rises into the spiritual, whether I encounter demons or holy spirits, I can look on at them externally. I myself stand there, free from everything that is going on even in the spiritual worlds around me. I look on, and go my own way, and take no part in that in which I take part, because I have become a looker-on. That is the teaching of Krishna.
Now having heard that the Krishna teaching is based upon the Sankhya philosophy, it will be quite clear to us that it must be so. In many places one can see it shining through the teaching of Krishna; as when the great Krishna says to his pupil: The soul that lives in thee is connected in several different ways; it is connected with the coarse physical body, it is connected with the senses, with Manas, Ahankara, Buddhi; but thou art distinct from them all. If thou regardest all these as external, as sheaths surrounding thee, if thou art conscious that as a soul-being thou art independent of them all, then hast thou understood something of what Krishna wishes to teach thee. If thou art aware that thy connections with the outer world, with the world in general, were given thee through the Gunas, through Tamas, Rajas, and Sattva, then learn that in ordinary life man is connected with wisdom and virtue through Sattva; with the passions and affections, with the thirst for existence, through Rajas; and that through Tamas he is connected with idleness, nonchalance, and sleepiness.
Why does a man in ordinary life feel enthusiasm for wisdom and virtue? Because he is related to the basic nature characterized by Sattva. Why does a man in ordinary life feel joy and longing for the external life, feel pleasure in the external phenomena of life? Because he has a relation to life indicated through Rajas. Why do people go through ordinary life sleepy, lazy, and inactive? Why do they feel oppressed by their corporality? Why do they not find it possible continually to rouse themselves and conquer their bodily nature? Because they are connected with the world of external forms which in Sankhya philosophy is expressed through Tamas.
But the soul of the wise man must become free from Tamas, must sever its connection with the external world expressed by sleepiness, laziness ,and inactivity. When these are expunged from the soul, then it is only connected with the external world through Rajas and Sattva. When a man has extinguished his passions and affections and the thirst for existence, retaining the enthusiasm for virtue, compassion, and knowledge, his connection with the external world henceforth is what Sankhya philosophy calls Sattva. But when a man has also become liberated from that tendency to goodness and knowledge, when, although a kindly and wise man, he is independent of his outward expression even as regards kindness and knowledge; when kindness is a natural duty and wisdom is as something poured out over him, then he has also severed his connection with Sattva. When, however, he has thus stripped off the three Gunas, then he has freed himself from all connection with every external form; then he triumphs in his soul and understands something of what the great Krishna wants to make of him.
What, then, does man grasp, when he thus strives to become what the great Krishna holds before him as the ideal — what does he then understand? Does he then more clearly understand the forms of the outer world? No, he had already understood these; but he has raised himself above them. Does he more clearly grasp the relation of the soul to those external forms? No, he had already grasped that, but he has raised himself above it. It is not that which he may meet with in the external world in the multitude of forms, or his connection with these forms, which he now understands when he strips off the three Gunas; for all that belongs to earlier stages. As long as one remains in Tamas, Rajas, or Sattva, one becomes connected with the natural rudiments of existence, adapts oneself to social relationships and to knowledge, and acquires the qualities of kindness and sympathy. But if one has risen above all that, one has stripped off all these connections at the preceding stages. What does one then perceive, what springs up before one's eyes? That which one perceives and which springs up before one is what these are not. What can that be which is distinct from everything one acquires along the path of the Gunas?
This is none other than what one finally recognizes as one's own being, for all else which may belong to the external world has been stripped away at the preceding stages. In the sense of the foregoing, what is this? It is Krishna himself; for he is himself the expression of what is highest in oneself. This means that when one has worked oneself up to the highest, one is face to face with Krishna, the pupil with his great Teacher, Arjuna with Krishna himself: who lives in all things that exist and who can truly say of himself: “I am not a solitary mountain; if I am among the mountains I am the largest of them all; if I appear upon the Earth I am not a single man, but the greatest human manifestation, one that only appears once in a cosmic age as a leader of mankind, and so on; the unity in all forms, that am I, Krishna.” — Thus does the teacher himself appear to his pupil, present in his own Being.
At the same time it is made clear in the Bhagavad Gita that this is something great and mighty, the highest to which a man can attain. To appear before Krishna, as did Arjuna, might come about through gradual stages of initiation; it would then take place in the depths of a Yoga schooling; but it may also be represented as flowing forth from the evolution of humanity itself, given to man by an act of grace, as it were, and thus it is represented in the Gita. Arjuna was uplifted suddenly at a bound, as it were, so that bodily he has Krishna before him; and the Gita leads up to a definite point, the point at which Krishna stood before him. He does not now stand before him as a man of flesh and blood. A man who could be looked upon as other men would represent what is nonessential in Krishna. For that is essential which is in all men; but as the other kingdoms of the world represent, as it were, only scattered humanity, so all that is in the rest of the world is in Krishna. The rest of the world disappears and Krishna is there as ONE. As the macrocosm to the microcosm, as mankind, as a whole, compared to the small everyday man, so is Krishna to the individual man.
Human power of comprehension is not sufficient to grasp this if the consciousness of it should come to man by an act of grace; for Krishna, if one looks at the essential in him — which is only possible to the highest clairvoyant power — appears quite different from anything man is accustomed to see. As though the vision of man were uplifted above all else to perceive the vision of Krishna in his highest nature, we catch sight of him for one moment in the Gita, as the great Man, compared with whom everything else in the world must appear small; He it is before whom stands Arjuna. Then the power of comprehension forsakes Arjuna. He can only gaze and haltingly express what he beholds. That is to be understood: for by means of the methods he has used until now, he has not learned to look at such as this, or to describe it in words; and the descriptions that Arjuna gives at this moment when he stands before Krishna must be thought of thus.
For one of the greatest artistic and philosophical presentations ever given to humanity is the description of how Arjuna, with words which he speaks for the first time, which he is unaccustomed to speak, which he has never spoken before because he has never come within reach of them, expresses in words drawn from the deepest parts of his being what he feels on seeing the great Krishna: “All the Gods do I perceive in Thy body, O God, so also the multitude of all beings. Brahma the Lord, on His Lotus-seat, all the Rishis and the Heavenly Serpent. With many arms, bodies, mouths, and eyes, do I see Thee everywhere, in countless forms; neither end, middle, nor beginning do I see in Thee, O Lord of everything! Thou appearest to me in all forms, Thou appearest to me with a diadem, a club, a sword, as a flaming mountain radiating out on all sides; thus do I see Thee. My vision is dazzled, as radiant fire by the brilliance of the Sun, and immeasurably great. The Everlasting, the Highest that can be known, the Greatest Good: thus dost Thou appear to me in the wide universe. The Eternal Guardian of the Eternal Right art Thou. Thou standest before my soul as the Eternal Primeval Spirit. Thou showest me no beginning, no middle, and no end. Thou art eternally everywhere, infinite in force, infinite in the distances of space. Thine eyes are as big as the Moon, yea, as big as the Sun itself, and out of Thy mouth there radiates sacrificial fire. I contemplate Thee in Thy glow and I perceive how Thy glow warms the universe which I can dimly sense between the ground of the Earth and the breadth of heaven; all this is filled with Thy power. I am alone there with Thee, and that world in Heaven wherein the three worlds dwell is also within Thee, when Thy wondrous, awful Figure displays Itself to my sight. I see whole multitudes of Gods coming to Thee, singing praises to Thee, and I stand there afraid, with folded hands. All the hosts of seers call Thee blessed, and so do the multitude of saints. They praise Thee in all their hymns of praise. The Adityas, Rudras, Vasus, Sadkyas, Vishvas, Ashwins, Maruts, Ushmapas, Ghandarvas, Yakshas, Siddhas, Asuras, and all the saints praise Thee; they look up to Thee full of wonder: Such a gigantic form with so many mouths, arms, legs, feet; so many bodies, so many jaws filled with teeth — the whole world trembles before Thee and I too tremble. The Heaven-shattering, radiating, many-armed One, with a mouth working as though it were great flaming eyes, thus do I behold Thee. My soul quakes. I cannot find security or rest, O great Krishna, Who to me art Vishnu Himself. I gaze into Thy menacing innermost Being, I behold It like unto fire, I see how It works, how existence works, what is the end of all times. I gaze at Thee so, that I can know nothing of anything whatever. Oh! be Thou merciful unto me, Lord of Gods, Thou House in which worlds do dwell.”
He turns towards the sons of the race of Kuru and points to them: “These sons of the Kuru all assembled here together, this multitude of kingly heroes, Bhishma and Drona, together with our own best fighters, they all lie praying before Thee, marveling at Thy wondrous beauty. I am fain to know Thee, Thou Primal Beginning of existence. I cannot comprehend that which appears to me, which reveals itself to me.”
Thus speaks Arjuna, when he is alone with Him Who is his own being, when this Being appears objectively to him. We are here confronted with a great cosmic mystery, mysterious not on account of its theoretical contents, but on account of the overpowering sensations which it should call up within us if we are able to grasp it aright. Mysterious it is; so mysterious that it must speak in a different way to every human perception from how anything in the world ever spoke before.
When Krishna Himself caused to sound into the ears of Arjuna that which He then spoke, it sounded thus: “I am Time, which destroys all worlds. I have appeared to carry men away, and even if thou shalt bring death to them in battle, yet all these warriors standing there in line would die even without thee. Rise up, therefore, fearlessly. Thou shalt acquire fame and conquer the foe. Exult over the coming victory and mastery. Thou wilt not have killed them when they fall dead in the battle; by Me they are all killed already, before thou canst bring death to them. Thou art only the instrument, thou fightest only with the hand the Dronas, the Jayadanas, the Bhishmas, the Karnas, and the other warrior heroes whom I have killed, who are already dead — now kill thou them, that my actions may appear externally when they fall dead in Maya; those whom I have already killed, kill thou them. That which I have done will appear to have been done by thee. Tremble not! Thou art not able to do anything which I have not done already. Fight! Those whom I have already killed will fall by thy sword.”
We know that all there given in the way of instruction to the sons of Pandu by Krishna to Arjuna is related as though told by the charioteer to Dritarashtra. The poet does not directly relate: “Thus spake Krishna to Arjuna ”; the poet tells us that Sandshaya, the charioteer of Dritarashtra, relates it to his blind hero, the king of the Kurus.
After Sandshaya related all this, he then spoke further: “And when Arjuna had received these words from Krishna, reverently with folded hands, tremblingly, stammering with fear and bowing deeply, he answered Krishna: 'With right doth the world rejoice in Thy glory, and is filled with reverence before Thee. The Rajas [these are spirits] flee in all directions, furious. The holy Hosts all bow down before Thee.'"
Wherefore should they not bow down before the First Creator, Who is even greater than Brahma? Truly we are confronting a great cosmic mystery; for what says Arjuna when he sees his own self before him in bodily form? He addresses this own being of his as though it appeared to him higher than Brahma Himself. We are face to face with a mystery. For when a man thus addresses his own being, such words must be so understood that none of the feelings, none of the perceptions, none of the ideas, none of the thoughts used in ordinary life must be brought to bear upon the comprehension. Nothing could bring a man into greater danger than to bring feelings such as he may otherwise have in life to bear upon these words of Arjuna. If he were to bring any such feelings of everyday life to bear upon what he thus expresses, if this were not something quite unique, if he did not realize this as the greatest cosmic mystery, then would lunacy and madness be small things compared to the illness into which he would fall through bringing ordinary feelings to bear upon Krishna, that is to say, upon his own higher being.
“Thou Lord of Gods, Thou art without end, Thou art the Everlasting, Thou art the Highest, Thou art both Existence and Non-existence, Thou art the greatest of the Gods, Thou art the oldest of the Gods, Thou art the greatest treasure of the whole universe, Thou art He Who knowest and Thou art the Highest Consciousness. Thou embracest the universe; within Thee are all the forms which can possibly exist; Thou art the Wind, Thou art the Fire, Thou art Death, Thou art the eternally moving Cosmic Sea, Thou art the Moon, Thou art the highest of the Gods, the Name Itself, Thou art the Ancestor of the highest of the Gods. Worship must be Thine, a thousand, thousand times over, and ever more than all this worship is due to Thee. Worship must come to Thee from all Thy sides; Thou art everything that a man can ever become. Thou art full of strength as the totality of all strength alone can be; Thou perfectest all things and Thou art at the same time Thyself everything. When I am impatient, and taking Thee to be my friend I call Thee Krishna, call Thee Yiva, Friend — ignorant of Thy wonderful greatness, unthinking and confiding I so call Thee, and if in my weakness I do not reverence Thee aright, if I do not rightly reverence Thee in Thy wanderings or in Thy stillness, in the highest Divine or in everyday life, whether Thou art alone or united with other Beings, if in all this I do not reverence Thee aright, then do I implore pardon of Thy Immeasurableness. Thou Father of the world, Thou Who movest the world in which Thou movest, Thou Who art more than all the other teachers, to Whom none resembles, Who art above all, to Whom nothing in the three worlds can be compared — prostrating myself before Thee I seek Thy mercy, Thou Lord, Who revealest Thyself in all worlds. In Thee I gaze at That which never has been seen, I tremble before Thee in reverence. Show Thyself to me as Thou art, O God! Be merciful, Thou Lord of Gods, Thou Primal Source of all worlds!”
Truly we are confronted with a mystery when human being speaks thus to human being. And Krishna again speaks to his pupil: “I have revealed Myself to thee in mercy. My highest Being stands before thee; through My almighty power and as though by enchantment it is before thee, illuminating, immeasurable, without beginning. As thou now beholdest Me no other man has ever beheld Me. As thou beholdest Me now, through the forces which by my grace have been given to thee, have I never been revealed, even through what is written in the Vedas; thus have I never been reached by means of the sacrifices. No libation to the Gods, no study, no ceremonial whatsoever has ever attained unto Me; no terrible expiation can lead to beholding Me in My form as I now am, as thou now beholdest Me in human form, thou great hero. But fear must not come to thee, or confusion at the sight of My dreadful form. Free from fear, full of high thoughts thou shalt again behold Me, even as I am now known unto thee, in My present shape.”
Then Sandshaya further relates to the blind Dritarashtra: When Krishna had thus spoken to Arjuna, the Immeasurable One — without beginning and without end, sublime beyond all strength — vanished, and Krishna showed Himself again in his human form as though he wished by his friendly form to reassure him who had been so terrified. And Arjuna said: “Now I see Thee once more before me in Thy human shape, now knowledge and consciousness return to me and I am again myself, such as I was.”
And Krishna spoke: “The shape which was so difficult for thee to behold, in which thou hast just seen Me, that is the form for the sight of which even Gods have endlessly longed. The Vedas do not indicate My shape; it will neither be attained by repentance, nor by charity, neither by sacrifice, nor by any ritual whatsoever. By none of these can I be seen in the form in which thou hast just seen Me. Only one who knows how to go along the way in freedom, free from all the Vedas, free from all repentances, free from all charities and sacrifices, free from all ceremonials, keeping his eyes reverently fixed upon Me alone, only such a one can perceive Me in such a shape; he alone can recognize Me thus, and can also become entirely one with Me. Whosoever behaveth thus, as I put it into his mind to behave, whosoever loveth and honoreth Me, whosoever doth not care for the world, and to whom all beings are worthy of love, he comes to Me, O thou, My son of the race of Pandu.”
We are confronted with a cosmic mystery of which the Gita tells us that it was given to mankind at a most significant cosmic hour, that significant cosmic hour when the old clairvoyance, which is connected with the blood, ceases, and human souls must seek new paths to the everlasting, to the intransitory. Thus this mystery is brought to our notice so that we may at the same time realize by means of its presentation all that can become dangerous to man when he is able to see his own being brought to birth out of himself.
If we grasp this deepest of human and cosmic mysteries — which tells of our own being through true self-knowledge — then we have before us the greatest cosmic mystery in the world. But we may only put it before us if we are able to reverence it in all humility. No powers of comprehension will suffice, none will enable us to approach this cosmic mystery; for that the correct sentiment is necessary. No one should approach the cosmic mystery that speaks from out the Gita who cannot approach it reverentially. Only when we can feel thus about it do we completely grasp it.
How, starting from this point of view, one is able in the Gita to look at a certain stage of human evolution, and how, just by means of what is shown to us in the Gita, light can also be thrown upon what we meet with in a different way in the Epistles of St. Paul — that it is which is to occupy us in the course of these lectures.
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