as a Spiritual Battle
| Transformative Literature
|| Concise Summary
|| Aurobindo Commentary
|| Background of the Gita
Every philosophical masterpiece1 contains two elements. The first is time-bound and transient, belonging to the thought-forms and sensibilities of the era when it appears. The other is timeless and imperishable, possessing new meanings for all succeeding ages.
We can never be quite certain that we grasp the full meaning that a philosophical masterpiece possessed for its initial audience. But that is largely beside the point, for what is important is the meaning we discover in the masterpiece for ourselves and our contemporaries.
The mark of a philosophical masterpiece is its power to enable us to develop an entirely new understanding of Reality, relative to our time and place and powers of discernment. It serves as a spiritual microscope with which to delve into the inner microcosm of our metaphysical worlds and as a spiritual telescope to expand our vision to the far reaches of the super-sensory macrocosm. At the same time, a philosophical masterpiece is like a spiritual magnifying glass, enabling us to discern the external and internal elements that cloud our vision and bring error to our understanding.
When re-reading a philosophical masterpiece, we often feel that it is an entirely new book. We can hardly believe that there is all this startling new meaning in a work we believed we had previously so thoroughly, so exhaustively mined. Of course, the newness is in our capability of comprehension which has evolved and expanded in the interim.
This is so much the case, that one test of our continuing spiritual growth is the new and enlarged meaning we uncover at each reading of a masterpiece. If a philosophical masterwork seems to have no new meaning, if it seems stale and lackluster, confined to meaning we had previously discovered, then there is likely some blockage present in our spiritual development.
What we find in philosophical masterworks are living truths which speak to the mundane problems as well as the spiritual needs of our day. Persons who are growing spiritually are able to interpret and transmit masterpieces in words and tones that resonate with the minds and hearts of their contemporaries.
Such persons make their mental and spiritual home in the atmosphere of great masterpieces, finding as much truth in them as their level of understanding allows and receiving precisely the spiritual assistance they need.
"Only those Scriptures, religions, philosophies which can be thus constantly renewed, relived, their stuff of permanent truth constantly reshaped and developed in the inner thought and spiritual experience of a developing humanity, continue to be of living importance to mankind. The rest remain as monuments of the past, but have no actual force or vital impulse for the future." 2
What distinguishes the Bhagavad Gita as a philosophical masterpiece is that it does not represent itself as a religious "scripture" resulting from the life of a teacher such as Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, or Mohammed. Its focal point is the epic history of nations at war, and in particular, the critical moment in the life of a warrior in the midst of a terrifying civil war.
The Bhagavad Gita is written in the form of a philosophical dialogue, similar to the classical format of Platonic dialectic. The Gita appears to have been written about the same time Plato was writing his dialogues. The Gita is not a series of teachings by a recognized teacher to a group of people, but the self-revelation of God in the midst of ordinary life through a common human being--in this case, a charioteer. It is an allegory depicting humankind's life-situation and our realization of the divine in human experience.
One of the reasons why the Bhagavad Gita speaks so eloquently and familiarly to us is that we can identify with the central human figure, Arjuna the warrior. Here is no reclusive philosopher nor imperious king offered as the representative type of humankind, but a familiar, active human being, with all our common feelings, shortcomings, thoughts, and aspirations.
We are suddenly thrown into the terrifying, cacophonous Pandemonium of a battlefield, with Arjuna and his charioteer Krishna riding into the melee. Here in the midst of this turmoil, Arjuna, the human prototype, is suddenly startled into the awareness that his charioteer, Krishna, is actually the Godhead itself. And in the midst of this frighting chaos of war, the Godhead proceeds to instruct Arjuna as to the ultimate nature of reality.
Our Own Civil War
As we explored in the lead essay in this series, Americans in the twenty-first century are engaged in a new civil war against a demonic capitalist cabal which has seized political and economic control of the nation. Like Arjuna, we're embroiled in an internecine conflict and wonder how we can carry out this struggle for humankind's betterment in such a way as to sustain our nation's values and our own moral honor.
In our American civil war we see the minds of millions of our fellow citizens deliberately deranged by the forces of ignorance, delusion, and destruction. These unbalanced, addled minds then become the unknowing cannon fodder for the enemy forces. We're tempted at times to feel hopeless when mindless Americans march off to die in senseless imperialistic wars, while those at home swallow the lies and corruption of the self-proclaimed leaders.
Even when the corrupt cabal's actions result in widespread unemployment, lack of medical assistance, the utter destruction of our educational system, and the obliteration of our entire way of life, the crazed enemy combatants embrace their suicidal ignorance and delusion.
Like Arjuna, we're tempted to throw up our hands, claiming that all struggle is senseless, that we cannot hope to make any discernible difference in this vast conflagration. It is at this critical point within our experience when God makes clear to us His presence in our lives and His divine plan for humankind. Krishna reveals himself as the Divine One who controls all human history, past and present, the Godhead in whom all persons live and move and have their being. As the Supreme Creator of the universe, He discloses Himself when tyranny threatens to undermine humankind.
"When goodness grows weak,
When evil increases,
I make myself a body.
In every age I come back
To deliver the holy,
To destroy the sin of the sinner,
To establish righteousness."
The Divine-made-human also reveals Himself as the Higher Consciousness within us. He makes clear to us that human life is for the purpose of discovering our inner Divine Soul and progressively identifying with our Higher Being.
The first lesson we must learn is that in our struggle for the betterment of humankind we are not to have an egoistic involvement in the fruits of our labor. Our responsibility is to carry out what we are assigned to do, according to our lights and gifts, in such a manner that they have the best chance for success. But it is not for us to complain when our actions do not result in immediate or discernible differences, as it is equally counterproductive to become puffed up with personal pride when our struggles prevail. Acting in concert with God's overall plan as best we understand it, we are to work for the preservation and betterment of humankind, not our own personal self-satisfaction and conceit.
The Allegorical Types 3
Arjuna, the disciple, receives his initiatory instruction on the battlefield of life itself: in the midst of his human experience. He represents the human who has fulfilled his common responsibilities, has developed a nearness to the divine Self both in himself and in others, and is thus prepared to receive further revelatory knowledge.
"Arjuna . . . is the representative man of a great world-struggle and divinely-guided movement of men and nations; in the Gita he typifies the human soul of action brought face to face through that action in its highest and most violent crisis with the problem of human life and its apparent incompatibility with the spiritual state or even with a purely ethical ideal of perfection." 4
This allegory concerns the inner life of humankind as experienced by a person developing spiritual understanding through his actions as well as his thoughts. He is the type of person who unswervingly performs his duty according to the best principles of his time. He is a soldier carrying out his military duties as best he knows how. Arjuna develops spiritually through his subjective reactions to what he is doing as a warrior, his moral revulsion at the senseless carnage of warfare.
Arjuna is a highly principled, self-disciplined, chivalrous warrior leader who in fulfilling his duty suddenly realizes he is enmeshed in a horrendous civil war involving his entire culture which must lead to the utter destruction of countless people and threatening civilization with chaos and collapse.
Arjuna has placed himself smack in the middle of this terrifying civil war to contemplate its full meaning. And he suddenly realizes, with full clarity for the first time, that he is involved in a struggle against friends, acquaintances, even family, people of all kinds who believe themselves to be fighting for the right. His immediate reaction is complete revulsion at the senseless destruction which purports to be for the purpose of preserving principles of truth and justice, which are in fact being decimated. He feels his whole moral universe undercut by the monstrous carnage of civil war.
It is at this point that Arjuna's charioteer and friend reveals himself as the Godhead. God chooses to reveal himself to a single person in the midst of human life and as incarnated in a charioteer."Such then is the divine Teacher of the Gita, the eternal Avatar, the Divine who has descended into the human consciousness, the Lord seated within the heart of all beings. He who guides from behind the veil all our thought and action and heart's seeking even as He directs from behind the veil of visible and sensible forms and forces and tendencies the great universal action of the world which He has manifested in His own being." 5
When we are able to pierce through the illusion of our conception of common life and see God in everyone and everything and in all times, we suddenly discover Him in ordinary people and events.
"Everything stands for God and you see only God in all the world. . . If this is lacking, if you are not looking for God and expecting him everywhere, and in everything, you lack the [inner] birth."
Having penetrated the web of illusion, we can then realize our Higher Consciousness as unified with the Lord of our being, surrender our egos to our Inner Self, and merge our existence in the Higher Being and the plenitude of His increate Bliss. The fact that this all seems rather grandiose to us merely reveals the paucity of our conception of human life.
Instead of embracing this vision of human existence as the ideal, we have diminished life to a banal world of sensory experiences involving exclusively physical realities. "Can you prove to me that God is a reality like the reality of the objects of my common experience?" we ask the Gita (and all other philosophical masterpieces). If we start from a distorted and paltry view of existence, holding onto it as the criterion of truth and reality, then it's impossible to ascend to a higher view of human life as presented in the Gita--and all other masterpieces within the Perennial Tradition.
We might think that once the Divine Lord has revealed himself to Arjuna in his full Godhead that Arjuna would be so overwhelmed that he would merely acquiesce to everything Krishna tells him. But the Gita, like all teachings within the Perennial Tradition, requires that the initiate retain his Reason as one of his standards against which to measure all claims to truth--even revelation. The destructive counterfeit called orthodox Christianity has created a depraved dogma that something is true because it is absurd, that only the Church can adjudicate the truth.
Arjuna asks Krishna for a new, superior Law by which he can act on a higher plane, and thus escape the presumed iniquity of participating in the carnage of civil strife. You must act, says Krishna, according to your lights; there is no way to escape your moral dilemma through pretending to exist on a higher plane of scholastic or religious detachment. We are not to retreat to a Himalayan cave and become a recluse, or pretend to dwell above the fray of the world struggle for human betterment through sanctimonious detachment. Our responsibility is to do whatever we can to preserve and advance the ongoing struggle for human evolution.
The teaching of the Gita is that humankind must remain in the world of human endeavor and struggle, while continually developing a more comprehensive understanding of and unity with the Higher Consciousness--with God. True seekers do not struggle for humankind's evolution for the purpose of gaining the personal reward of realization of their Higher Consciousness, they surrender their actions to the Supreme Being, thereby becoming a part of His Divine Plan for all the universe. Even while working to achieve unity with the One Quintessence, we gain the understanding that we are actually not the ultimate "doers" of our own actions, that our very lives are an expression of the Higher Being.
We attain such higher understanding of our participation in Higher Being by achieving a transcendent perspective that allows us to view our lives and the whole panorama of human existence from a more than personal viewpoint.
The majesty of the Bhagavad Gita is the image of a Deity who communicates with humans, cares for their well-being, and loves them as a part of Himself. He reveals Himself in all objects, events, and persons; He IS All Reality. And from the transcendental splendor of His Being, he speaks to us:"Precious thou art to Me; right well-beloved!
Listen! tell thee for thy comfort this.
Give Me thy heart! adore Me! serve Me! cling
In faith and love and reverence to Me!
So shalt thou come to Me! I promise true,
For thou art sweet to Me!
And let go those-
Rites and writ duties! Fly to Me alone!
Make Me thy single refuge! I will free
Thy soul from all its sins! Be of good cheer!" 6
1 A philosophical masterpiece is one form of transformative art.
2 Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita
3 I am using the word "type" in a very specific manner, referring to "the general form, character, or structure distinguishing a particular kind, group, or class of beings or objects; hence, a pattern or model after which something is made." [Oxford English Dictionary]
4 Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita
5 Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita
6 The Bhagavad Gita, translated by Edwin Arnold, 1885
Reference:Edwin Arnold's translation of the Bhagavad Gita