The World is an Upside-Down Tree!

 

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Banyan Tree in Lahaina

Krishna: They say this world is a Banyan tree whose roots are above and branches below, and whose attractive leaves are promises of enjoyment. He who knows this tree well knows the methods of gaining such enjoyment.

 

Watered by the three qualities of nature, its branches expand in all directions, upwards and downwards, finally producing buds of enjoyable sense objects. From these branches, roots also fall downwards and find nourishment in the selfish deeds of the mortal world.

 

The real tree is elsewhere, and this is merely a reflection, with no end, no beginning, and no real substance. This Banyan cannot be uprooted, but it must be tenaciously cut down with the axe of indifference to it.

 

Once it is felled, you must search out what is beyond it; some place from which no one ever strays. There, finally, seek for that Original Person – the ancient one from whom the true tree grows – and give yourself to him.

 

Arjuna: How can I succeed in such an amazing quest?

 

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Krishna: Be free from the intoxication of honor and cast off your faulty entourage. Dwell always in yourself, and curb down external lusts. Free yourself from dualities like pleasure and displeasure. Then you can attain that foolproof, eternal destination.

 

Arjuna: Can you say something more about this destination?

 

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Krishna: The sun does not shine there, nor the moon, nor fire. In that place from which no one strays, I am the supreme illumination.

 

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Spiritual Equality

Excerpt from my forthcoming rendition of Bhagavad-Gita. Chapter 13, from text 28 till the end – a bit abridged.

Krishna: “The Supreme Master is equally situated in all entities. Things which appear to be destroyed are indestructible.” They see this, because they truly see.

Arjuna: There are so many different people and things – how is it possible to see oneness and equality?

Krishna: These differences are in the field only, not in the field-knower. All deeds and endeavors occur in, and by, the field. The field-knower, however, is not truly involved in any of it. That is real vision, try to see it.

Arjuna: Why should I give more preference to the field-knower, the “true self.” Why not focus on its identity as a participant in the field?

Krishna: Even if you focus upon the field, you will find it is all essentially one, despite the infinite variations in its appearance. All the very different external manifestations of things are simply expansions from the singularity of the field. Try to see the truth of this theory and you will have a spiritual vision of the world.

Arjuna: But why shouldn’t I focus upon the being the self becomes when it mixes with its field?

Krishna: Arjuna, the field-knower dwells within the body, but does not blend into it and does not truly do anything with it; because it is a causeless entity, beyond delimitations, inexhaustible, and superior to the field.

Arjuna: How can the soul be within the body, yet not blend into it and become implicated in it?

Krishna: Because it is a substratum, like space. Isn’t space everywhere, yet unblended and quite distinct from everything as well? Similarly, the soul is spread all throughout the body, yet remains distinct and unblended.

Arjuna: If it does not blend with the body, what is the point of spreading through it?

Krishna: To spread the illumination of consciousness! Just as one sun illuminates the entire world, the field-knower illuminate the entire body with consciousness.

The True Object of Knowledge

From Gita’s 13th chapter…

Arjuna: What truly is the object of knowledge?

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Krishna: When you come to know the true object of knowledge, you will experience immortal bliss. It is the beginningless spiritual energy that descends from me, described as beyond both existence and non-existence.

Arjuna: To be beyond both existence and non-existence is inconceivable. How then will I be able to perceive the object of knowledge?

14-18

Krishna: Its hand and feet are everywhere. Its eyes, heads, and faces are everywhere. It hears through every ear. It surrounds and permeates everything.

It is the power of illumination in all your senses, yet it is far away from all your senses. It has no affections, yet it certainly cares for everyone. It is beyond qualification, yet completely qualified.

It is within all living beings, yet beyond all of them. It is immovable, yet it moves. It is beyond full comprehension, because it is so subtle. It is very far away, but also very close.

It is indivisible, yet divided within everything. That object of knowledge creates, maintains, and destroys all things.

It is certainly the luminosity within all luminous things, described as “beyond darkness.” It is knowledge. It is the object of knowledge. And, within the hearts of all beings, it is approached through knowledge.

Arjuna’s eyes were wide with wonder and no words came from his mouth.

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Krishna: So far, I’ve answered your questions about the “field,” and have explained that the field-knower is the spirit. I explained that the supreme spirit is the ultimate object of knowledge; and I have described the process of attaining this knowledge.

Arjuna [still stunned]: Yes… but who can fully understand what you have said?

Krishna: Someone like you. Those who have true devotion to me can comprehend all this in their effort to attain my intimate association.

 

Knowledge and the Object of Knowledge

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Krishna: Knowledge begins with humility and sincerity.

Arjuna: What comes next?

Krishna: Humility and sincerity make us patient and honest. This makes us good students who learn well.

Arjuna: What do good students learn from their teachers?

Krishna: First, we learn self-control, beginning with cleanliness and regularity.

Arjuna: What are other aspects of self-control?

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Krishna: The essence of self-control is to diminish the ego and control its desire to exploit the sensual world.

Arjuna: How does the teacher help us do this?

Krishna: By teaching us to be aware of the miseries inherent in it: that birth leads to death, after dragging us through age and illness.

Arjuna: What happens when we diminish the ego and thus slacken our passion to enjoy the sensual world?

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Krishna: It is like being freed from an all-consuming addiction. We then loosen our compulsive embrace on objects of pleasure, like children, spouses, and homes.

Arjuna: What is the experience like?

Krishna: You will feel your mind become ever-balanced, regardless of obtaining desired or undesired results.

Arjuna: Is this peace the goal, or is there something even more worthy beyond it?

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Krishna: This peaceful detachment from the interaction of the fields is the beginning of the greatest joy: true love. At this stage you can turn to me and form an uninterrupted link of pure divine love, without any ulterior motive.

Arjuna: How does the person at this stage of knowledge begin to develop that connection with you?

Krishna: Losing all interest in common people and places, you will seek a quiet, solitary residence.

Arjuna: Why seek solitude?

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Krishna: You will want to be free from interruptions to your contemplation of the true self. You will not want to see anything except the object of true knowledge.

Arjuna: Is this the culmination of knowledge and education?

Krishna: Yes. Beginning from humility and ending at uninterrupted intimacy with the object of true knowledge – these are the constituents of knowledge and education. Anything outside these principles is ignorance.

Know Your Field

Having heard Krishna express how attracted he is to those who are equipoised towards all things, Arjuna desired to gain better understanding of the knowledge that enables such a perception of the world.

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Arjuna: Dear Krishna, I want to understand a few pairs of concepts: prakriti and puruṣa; kṣetra and kṣetra-jña; and jñāna and jñeya. Please explain these terms.

Krishna: Kṣetra means “field.” In philosophy the term refers to your body and its world, which is your “field of activity.”

Kṣetra-jña means “field-knower.” In philosophy this refers to the consciousness that acts within your body, the “field.” Kṣetra-jña refers not only to you, the individual consciousness aware of a single field, but also to me, the super-consciousness aware of all fields.

As for jñāna, that term means “knowledge.” In my opinion, “knowledge” consists of understanding the field and the field-knower.

Arjuna: Please explain more about the field and the field-knower, so that I might become wise with knowledge.

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Krishna: Listen carefully to what I have to say about the field, how it works and what it does; and the powers of the field-knower. I will summarize the many different teachings of the sages, the scriptures, and the philosophical codes.

Arjuna: Certainly, I will listen very carefully.

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Krishna: Your field-of-activity can be summarized as the interactions between various elements.

Arjuna: What elements?

Krishna: First the five tangible elements: solids, liquids, gasses, energies, and space. And then, the sense of ego, which makes one feel important enough to control and exploit these elements.

Arjuna: Are there more elements in the field-of-activity?

Krishna: Yes, many more. There is intellect, the immediate tool of the ego. And there is the unseen background nature, of which the ego is the immediate tool.

Arjuna: What is the tool of the intellect?

Krishna: It has eleven tools, the eleven senses. The most important is the mind. Then there are the five senses of input (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skin) and the five senses of output (voice, hands, legs, genital, and anus).

Arjuna: What are the tools of these senses?

Krishna: The five sense-objects: form, sound, scent, taste, and touch.

Arjuna: Is there anything else in the field?

Krishna: No. These 24 items sufficiently summarize the ingredients on the field-of-activity.

How Can Krishna be God?

This is from Bhagavad-Gita, Chapter 9, texts 11-19

Arjuna: But here you are standing in front of me with two arms and two legs. How can you be the source of everything in the universe?

Krishna: Fools think that I am limited within the shelter of a human body. You are not such a fool, Arjuna.

Arjuna: How do you know I am not?

Krishna: Because such fools take shelter of the material world. Intoxicated by it they become ungodly, wild, and mindless. They develop useless ambitions, useless endeavors, and useless understandings.

You, on the other hand, are a great soul: you take shelter of the spiritual world, and adore me without ulterior motive, because you understand that I am the inexhaustible origin of everything.

Arjuna: How are you so sure of this?

Krishna: One’s heart is obvious in one’s actions.

Arjuna: What actions of mine convince you that I am such a great soul?

Krishna: The great soul always strives with determined commitment to constantly perform kīrtana: constantly glorifying me and constantly offering me affectionate respect and worship.

Arjuna: Are there other ways to worship you?

Krishna: Most people worship me indirectly in many different ways; for example, in the effort to gain understanding, as the oneness uniting plurality, and as the personification of the universe itself.

Arjuna: Is this less perfect than the great soul who constantly strives to do your kīrtana?

Krishna: Yes, because it tends to distract people away from the essence.

Arjuna: What is the essence?

Krishna: I am.

I am the ritual. I am the sacrifice. I am the ancestor’s offering. I am the sacred herb. I am the mantra. I am the oil, the fire and the offering. I am father, mother, provider and grandfather. I am the objective of “oṁ,” which purifies the Ṛg, Sāma and Yajur Vedas. I am the goal, the husband, the lord, the witness, the home, the shelter, and the sweetheart. I am creation, destruction, and existence. I am the original seed. I am warmth. It is I who withhold and send forth the rains. I am immortality and death. I am the real and unreal.

7 ~ The Yoga of Divine Love

Krishna: There is another, far more certain way to attain yoga, my friend. Listen carefully, I will teach you how to absorb your mind in me by the power of emotional attachment to me.

Arjuna: Please tell me elaborately about this!

Krishna: I will explain it fully. I won’t stop until you fully understand and realize it. Nothing will be left unknown.

Out of thousands of people, does even one strive for perfection? Further, out of thousands of people who have achieved perfection, does even one know the truth about me?

Arjuna: Please explain the truth about you!

Krishna: This world is made of my eight separated energies, called earth, water, fire, air, space, mind, intellect, and especially ego. But these are inferior to my other, superior, energy: lifeforce itself, the energy that animates and utilizes every other energy in the world.

Everything that exists comes from these energies, and these energies all come from me. Ultimately, it is I who animate both of them. Everything comes from me, and everything returns to me.

Krishna describes the eight inert energies as “separated” because ego makes them seem to have existence independent from their divine source.

Arjuna: Where do you come from? What animates you?

Krishna: My friend, nothing at all is beyond me!

Arjuna: You are the causeless cause of everything?

Krishna: Yes! Everything rests on me, like a necklace of pearls on a thread.

The underlying thread of a pearl necklace is not obviously visible. Similarly, divine presence is not always directly obvious in the eight separated energies of this world.

Arjuna: How can we be more aware of the thread of this necklace? How can we better perceive your underlying presence everywhere?

Krishna: When you taste pure water, you taste me. When you see the light of the Moon and Sun, you see me. When you hear “Om” pervading the Vedic mantras, you hear me.

I am sound vibrating in space. I am the human-ability in every human. I am the pure fragrance of the earth. I am the power of fire. I am the eternal seed of all beings and all states of being, my friend.

I am the life of the living. I am the struggle of the struggling. I am the genius of the intellectual. I am the might of the mighty. I am the strength of the strong. I am the power to forego desires and attachments for the sake of morality, yet I am also the power of lust!

Everything of goodness, passion, or ignorance certainly comes from me. Yet I am not contained within them!

Everything comes from Krishna, but Krishna is distinct from and superior to everything. The Sun, for example, is nothing but Krishna – yet Krishna is far more than just the Sun.

Arjuna: This is a beautiful way to see the world. But why is it so difficult to see it this way?

Krishna: The threefold qualities of illusion – goodness, passion, and ignorance – bewilder everyone in the world. Under their spell, no one can perceive the infinite that is above and beyond them: me.

Arjuna: How can we get free from this illusion?

Krishna: This threefold illusion is my own powerful, insurmountable energy. Therefore, only those who come to me for shelter can pass beyond it.

Arjuna: That doesn’t seem so difficult. Why don’t more people do so?

Krishna: Only the vilest people, villainous fools, do not take shelter of me. Illusion hijacks their “knowledge” and they instead take shelter of a very dark mentality.

Arjuna: What type of person does seek shelter in you?

Krishna: Four types of good people: the needy, the curious, the ambitious, and the wise.

Arjuna: Which type achieves your shelter most fully?

Krishna: A wise person, who always comes to me only out of love, is very special. Oh, I am her beloved and she is also my beloved!

Arjuna: Are the others not dear to you also?

Krishna: They are all special, but I hold that wise soul as dear as my own self. He is grounded in spiritual union with me, and achieves the very highest goal. Such a great soul is very rare! Only after many births does one become wise and seek my shelter, knowing, “Vāsudeva is all there is.”

Arjuna: Why are the others not as dear to you?

Krishna: They have ulterior motives. So, they will be distracted to ulterior shelters, under the sway of their own desires.

Arjuna: They will worship other gods, other beings, other things?

Krishna: Yes.

Arjuna: Are you jealous?

Krishna:No. I help them. I give them to the firm faith to dedicate themselves to whomever or whatever they are inspired towards. Taking that faith, they worship whatever or whomever they are inclined to worship and fulfill their selfish desires. All of this is arranged by me alone.

Arjuna: Then do they finally take shelter of you directly?

Krishna: No, because their meager intelligence doesn’t perceive any of this, being obsessed merely with its temporary objective. Those who worship other gods go to other gods. Those who love me alone, come to me.

Arjuna: What about the “curious”? Why are they not as dear to you as the wise?

Krishna: They are a little less than wise, so they tend to think that I am merely a “manifestation of the unmanifest.” They do not understand that I personally am infinite and unsurpassed.

Arjuna: If you are everything you say you are, why wouldn’t we all know it?

Krishna: I do not exhibit myself to everyone! These masses of fools are eclipsed by their union with illusions. They are incapable of perceiving that I am beginningless and infinite.

Krishna is not on exhibit in Macy’s window. He is not desperate. When souls desire of their own accord to comprehend him, then he begins to reveal himself. Until that time, he stays out of the way of our precious illusions.

I know the past, present and future of all living beings, but no one knows me!

Arjuna: At what point did the living entity lose awareness of you?

Krishna: From the very beginning, Arjuna! As soon as they were created they experienced the duality of selfish desire and repulsion, from which illusion arises, and by which all living beings are intoxicated.

Arjuna: Then how does anyone manage to gain awareness of you?

Krishna: By being responsible and dutiful, their misfortune gradually comes to an end. As they become free from duality, their illusion subsides and they become very intent upon developing a loving relationship with me, and getting free from things like old age and death.

Thus they come to fully and completely understand “spirit”, “soul”, and “karma.” They understand me to be the essential reality of every object, of every divinity, and of every effort. Their thoughts are united with me, even up to the moment of death.

All Paths Lead to Krishna?

Continuing in the 4th Chapter of Bhagavad Gita…

“If you really understand that my birth and my deeds are spiritual, you will come to me and not take another birth when you leave your body.  Many people did so in the past: With their hearts enrapt in knowing me, they could tolerate desire, fear, and anger; so they became liberated and attained me.” [9-10]

Arjuna will want to know, “What about someone who tries to tolerate selfish desires but without any specific interest in you personally?”

So Krishna says…

“Every human walks on my path, and I give each one the reward that they come to me for.” [11]

Arjuna will say, “But it doesn’t seem that way. Many people seem to walk a path that doesn’t include you at all.”

So Krishna says…

“People who desire material success make various sacrifices. Through the gods I quickly grant worldly success to their endeavors. From me spring the four occupations, distinguished from one another on the basis of practical qualifications. I myself work within this system, even though I am the transcendental non-doer.” [12-13]

Everyone walks Krishna’s path, and Krishna grants the rewards of everyone’s efforts. But he is not personally involved in every neighborhood through which the innumerable branches of that path meander. He can be found personally only at the very apex and cynosure of all sub-paths.

The neighborhoods through which the byways wander are maintained by Krishna’s agents, the many gods (devas). The people walking the streets here are interested in selfish objectives, and are therefore unfit to interact directly with Śrī Krishna, the entity of supra-concentrated selfless divine love. Instead they interact with his various powers with varying degrees of awareness of the divinity in them.

The people on these sidewalks are of four divisions: a few are philosophical and intellectual (brāhmaṇa), some are ambitious rulers and enforcers (kṣatriya), many others work for wealth and resources (vaiṣya), while the main bulk simply work with modest survival as their goal (śūdra).

These terms may ring an unfriendly bell, for this is indeed the seed of the deplorable, debilitating “caste system.”  The clear and all-important difference between the original system and its ruined pre-modern farce, however, is that the original is based on practical qualifications (Gītā 4.13 explicitly says: “guṇa-karma-vibhāgaśa”) while the farce is based solely on birth (“janma-vibhāgaśa”). The caste system is therefore the ball and chain of a hereditary oligarchy, while the original “Catur-varna” system is a practical and natural social blueprint.

At this point, Arjuna posed a new argument, “If the social principles of the four occupations are inferior byways on the road that leads to you, let me give them up! Let me give up my duties as a warrior and go straight to the apex of all paths by directly meditating on your transcendental nature!”

To this Krishna replied, “Not everyone on these sidewalks is materialistic! I already told you that great spiritualists also walk these paths, for the sake of inspiring others with an appropriate example.”

To add emphasis, he continued, “I myself walk the path of a warrior and a king – even though you know that I am transcendental and uninterested in material things!”

This brings the conversation back into the flow of the main topic of this section of Bhagavad Gītā; but he exciting new theme briefly introduced here – the personality of Krishna and the possibility of attaining him – will return and be fully explored in chapters Seven through Twelve.