God: Autobiographical Fragments from the Bhagavad Gita
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God: Autobiographical Fragments from the Bhagavad Gita
The Bhagavad Gita consists of seven hundred verses. Out of these,
a massive 574 have been uttered by Krishna himself, giving us an
unparalleled insight into the true nature of divinity. The title
of the poem too suggests this, meaning the song (Gita) of God
For example, at one point Krishna says:
'Amongst the great sages (maharishis) I am present as Bhrigu.' (10.25)
Now this sage named Bhrigu has an interesting history. Once, in
order to test Vishnu's greatness, he charged up to the latter's
abode and found him resting (as usual), on the coils of a
venomous snake, with his wife Lakshmi lovingly massaging his feet.
Incensed that the Lord did not get up to welcome him, the saint
mounted the serpent and planted a strong kick on Vishnu's chest.
Bhrigu's temerity in doing so is however eclipsed by Vishnu's own
reaction: He immediately got up and softly rubbed the aggressor's
heels, saying: "O dear sir, my chest is hard and your legs soft.
I hope I did not hurt you. I am blessed to have been so honored
by your lotus feet whose imprint will always remain on my body."
To this day, Vishnu carries on his chest this mark, known in
popular parlance as the Shrivatsa. (Bhagavata Purana 10.89)
It is well established that Krishna is an incarnation of Vishnu;
in fact, in many instances, they are indistinguishable. As for
Bhrigu, he is venerated in ancient texts as a guru who exposes
his disciples to torment and suffering, making them resilient and
amenable to the inevitable ups and downs of life.
Thus does God inspire us to maintain equanimity in the face of
"The calm man is completely composed in heat and cold, pleasure
and pain, honor and dishonor." (6.7)
"One who deals equally with friend and foe, who is free from
attachment, he who takes praise and reproach alike, is silent and
content with his lot (santushta), without a sense of ownership
(for his house etc), and of a steady mind, such a devotee
(bhaktiman) is dear to Me." (12.18-19)
"He who regards a clod of earth, a stone and gold as being of
equal worth, is wise and views censure and praise as alike.."
Why does Krishna have to subject himself to this apparent insult?
To set an example, because:
"Whatever the best one does, that others also do. Whatever
standards he sets, the world follows. For me, in all the three
worlds, there is nothing that I lack. Yet I am ever engaged in
action (karma). For if I did not continue to work with alertness,
humans would in every way follow my example. If I did not perform
karma, these worlds would be ruined.." (3.21-24)
Here it needs to be observed that in the above narrative, God is
both the tormentor (Bhrigu) and the tormented (Vishnu).
The God of Suffering
Krishna's autobiographical intent is not restricted to a specific
humiliating circumstance. His wish is to encompass the entire
spectrum of human suffering:
"Among the Rudras, I am Shankara." (10.23)
Shankara is a synonym for Shiva, who is the God of destruction in
the Hindu pantheon. Rudras are the class of deities responsible
for making humanity grieve (rud: weep). Shankara is their leader
and his name literally means one who grants welfare (sham). This
verse is illustrative of the Hindu penchant for glorifying the
enriching potential of suffering and indicates that adverse
circumstances in life are as much a gift of God as are favorable
ones. In fact, the philosophers of yore stated that it was only
those who were his favorite did God thus bless, much like a
mother who knows when it is best to shower her child with
affection and when to yield the stick, both of which are
necessary for the potential flowering of the infant's character.
Only she knows when to apply which principle. She may distribute
sweets equally to all children playing in a group; but will not
chastise them in equal measure when they misbehave. Only her own
beloved child has a right over her rod. Thus does Krishna also
ensure our lasting welfare (Shankara), by exposing us to the
rudras of life.
Significantly, Vishnu (Krishna) here identifies himself with
Shiva. This seems a contradiction in terms since the former is
credited with the creation of the world and the latter with its
destruction (death). However, God clarifies matters:
"I am immortality (amrita) as well as death (mrityu)." (9.19)
"I am the all-depriving death and also the source of all future
In Indian philosophy, death is not the opposite of life but its
timely fulfillment. Destruction is not the end of creation, but
the beginning of a fresh cycle.
Later, Krishna identifies himself with another, slightly
different instrument of destruction:
"Of weapons I am the thunderbolt (vajra)." (10.28)
The vajra is no ordinary weapon, having being created when all
other means failed to restrain the forces of evil wreaking havoc
on the world. It was carved out of the bones of the celebrated
saint Dadhichi, who readily gave up his mortal form for the
divine cause. As the king of the positive forces in the world, it
was the privilege of Indra to wield the thunderbolt.
In fact, God also says:
Amongst the demigods "I am Indra" (10.22) and "amongst the finest
of elephants (gajendera) I am Airavata" (10.27). The latter was
recovered when the demons and gods churned the ocean together to
retrieve the nectar of immortality. It was later handed over to
Indra as his mount.
Not surprisingly, there is a marked preference for Indra, whose
name literally means 'one who has conquered the sense organs
(indriya)', an attribute which God immensely appreciates:
"One who has controlled the sensory organs is superior." (3.7)
The God of Evil
What however, about the question of evil? Krishna states:
"Everything is God" (Vaasudev Sarvam 7.19).
Hence, whatever is present in this world is charged with God's
own dynamism and the latter has no qualms about declaring:
"Of the demons (rakshasas) and yakshas I am Kuvera (Vittesh)."
A rakshasa is someone who protects (raksha: protection). Here,
Krishna is referring to those of us who lord over our wealth,
jealously guarding it with our lives, inhibiting its circulation.
A yaksha is one who is not of a clenched fist, but nevertheless
uses money solely for his or her own consumption, without any
intention of sharing it. In the latter case, though there is a
flow of prosperity, since one man's expense is another's gain,
nevertheless, because of the absence of altruistic intentions it
lacks in spiritual merit (punya). Indeed, money can have only one
of the following three kinds of mobility (it cannot remain immobile):
1). Charity (daana)
2). Selfish pleasure (bhoga), or
3). Dissolution (naash).
It would have been hardly surprising if Krishna had identified
himself with the first characteristic. He however, speaks
otherwise, saying that he is present in those individuals who
consume money selfishly and also those of us who do not let a
penny escape, thus affecting the dynamics of nature adversely,
ultimately leading to the annihilation of wealth.
The name Kuvera literally means one who has an ugly (ku) body
(vera). Legend has it that he was born extremely poor but by
extreme penance managed to please Lord Shiva who made him the
guardian of the world's wealth. Our prosperity too is a boon of
God and we may justify our conduct taking cue from Krishna above.
It must be remembered however that the result is obvious for all
of us to see. True to their names, Kuvera (and the yakshas), have
been given grotesque horrifying forms in the Indian art tradition.
The God of Deception
"Among deceitful practices I am dicing (gambling)." (10.36)
The Bhagavad Gita is presented in the form of a dialogue between
Krishna and his friend cum disciple Arjuna. The latter had
suffered lifelong due to his elder brother's irresistible urge to
indulge the dice. Thus Krishna here has a chosen a particularly
potent metaphor, lightening the serious mood of philosophical
discourse with the warmth of human interaction. This was one evil
element Arjuna could easily relate to. Though he and his brothers
lost their kingdom because of the deception of the group playing
opposite, the end result was the destruction of the villains, the
establishment of dharma, and the icing on the cake - a pertinent
opportunity for God to deliver the discourse of the Gita.
Truly God is present in all that is good and bad. The choice
however remains ours. Being subject to the inexorable laws of
karma, we will reap what we choose to sow. That is the reason he
points out to us various specific and temporal manifestations of
his otherwise endless and eternal glory. By following their
biographical narratives to their logical conclusions, expressed
through an autobiographical discourse in God's own voice, we gain
a clearer roadmap for identifying, and making the correct choices
in our own lives.
The Female God
"In women, I am virtuous reputation (kirti), fortune (Shri),
speech (vak), memory (smriti), ability to imbibe things (medha),
constancy (dhrti) and forgiveness (kshama)." (10.34)
A well-known piece of humor has it that we can get a taste of
heaven on earth if we have the following:
1). An American salary to take home.
2). Chinese food to eat.
3). A British home to live in, and,
4). An Indian wife to go home to.
It is perhaps this fame of the virtuous Indian woman that Krishna
is talking about. The reasons are not far to seek. When the Gita
itself says that God resides in the steadfast woman, who lets
only one man live in her memory (smriti), much like the goddess
Shri (Lakshmi), the prosperity of one who has her for a consort
is assured. Indeed, it is a belief in India that when a man and
woman are bound in holy matrimony, it is a conjoining of their
fortunes, and all sin (paap) and merit (punya) acquired by either
is shared equally between the two. The lips of such a woman speak
(vak) of no other than the one she has chosen to give herself up
completely to. Since her very childhood it has been imbibed in
her to remain committed to one only, till this chaste ideal
becomes as integral a part of her character as much as her breath
is to her physical existence. It is her infinite capacity to
forgive and the forbearance inherent in womanhood that lets such
a divine relationship blossom on earth.
I am Me, You are also Me
In the tenth chapter God says:
"In the tribe called Vrishni, I am Krishna and amongst the five
Pandava brothers, I am Arjuna." (37)
Meaning, the one narrating the Bhagavad Gita (Krishna), is also
the one listening to it, namely Arjuna.
God in The Philosophy of Language
"Amongst alphabets, I am the letter A, and of the different kinds
of compounds in grammar, I am the copulative compound." (10.33)
'A', pronounced as the first sound in the word 'amuse', is the
immediate sound that springs from the mouth as soon as it is
opened, even though it comes from the deepest levels in the
throat. It is hence naturally the first letter of the Sanskrit
alphabet and is a grammatical reminder that God is the origin of all.
The second part of the statement refers to the fondness of the
Sanskrit writer to make new, bigger words, by fusing together two
or more of them. These combinations are of four types:
1). Avyayibhava (Adverbial compounds): In this fusion, the first
word retains its primary importance, while the latter may be
reduced to a prefix. For example:
vanasya (forest) samipam (near) becomes upvanam.
2). Bahuvrihi (Possessive): None of the original words remain
important, but a new one emerges, meaning something other than
neelam (blue) kanttham (throat) yasya (one who possesses) becomes
Neelkanth (Lord Shiva)
3). Tatpurusha (Determinative): The second word retains primacy:
rashtrasya (of nation) pati (lord) becomes rashtrapati
4). Dvandva (Copulative): Both the constituents retain equal primacy.
Ram and Lakshman becomes Ramlakshmanau (au denotes duality).
Evidently, the copulative compound in Sanskrit is also the most
democratic, giving equal weightage to both its constituents,
knitting them together in one 'advaita' identity, without
destroying their individuality.
The Fire in the Belly
"I am fire" (9.16)
"Know the fieriness of fire to be mine." (15.12)
"Abiding in all living beings as the fire of life, conjoined with
the two kinds of breaths (inhalation and exhalation), I digest
the four kinds of food." (15.14)
Ancient philosophy divides food (anna), into four categories;
namely that one can chew, drink, swallow or lick. In all cases it
is God, existing in our body as the warmth of life, generating
the metabolic heat digesting it. He carries out this task not
only in humans, but in every being (praninam).
All fire needs air for ignition. Likewise, inflamed by the
incoming breath (apana), and the other, which is expelled
(prana), flushing out the residue from the furnace, the fire of
life continues to pulsate in us.
Truly, we have to be very careful with what we eat. It is not
ourselves but God we are feeding, who consumes what we intake,
much as the fire in the Vedic sacrifice devours the sacred fuel
The Topsy-Turvy World of God
"Of all trees I am the banyan (peepal)." (10.26).
Krishna mentions the banyan tree again:
"The wise speak of the imperishable banyan tree (ashvattha),
which has its roots above and branches below. Its leaves are the
Vedas and he who knows this is the knower of the Vedas. Its
branches extend all about; nourished by the three attributes of
nature (luminescence, mobility and lethargy), the sensory objects
are its shoots and below, in the world of men, its secondary
roots stretch forth, binding them in karma. Its real form (rupa)
is not perceived here, nor its end nor beginning nor its
foundation. Let man first hew down this firm rooted banyan tree
with the strong weapon of detachment." (15.1-3)
The banyan tree is unusual in that it can send forth from its
branches secondary roots, often reaching down to the ground.
This is a daring, almost surrealistic metaphor - a tree with
roots above and branches below. At the top of such a tree resides
God and in the trunk is Brahma, responsible for the creation of
all manifested existence. We are however accustomed to a very
different kind of tree, exactly the opposite of the one thus
described. Hence are appearances deceptive. Things are not what
they seem at first sight. The richest are the poorest inside.
Those who are seen smiling outside, feel terrible within, and the
one successful is only sitting over his mound of failures. Once
we gain this discriminating vision, what Krishna calls the "divya
chakshuh" (11.8), only then can we see through appearances and
perceive the root cause common to all - God.
The farther we move (evolve) away from the top of the cosmic
tree, the more distant we are from God himself and what we
normally feel to be progression is in spiritual terms regression.
Nevertheless, even though the branches and leaves may spread out
far and wide, they are always joined to their root cause (mula),
and therefore never separated from God, although perhaps at a
remote distance from him.
What we are able to see in the world is in truth the exact
opposite of how things actually are. Conforming to this flawed
vision our priorities too have become inverted. For example,
spiritual activity is thought to be the opposite of worldliness.
For those of us who have understood the true nature of the tree
of life, living life inside out is the correct way to progress on
the spiritual path. God acknowledges this when He says:
"What is night for all beings is the time of waking for the
disciplined soul; and what is the time of waking for all is night
for the sage with vision." (2.69)
How can we gain this vision? By standing detached from the world,
very much like a person on the moon, who would perceive all the
trees of the world to be hanging upside down, as they actually
are, only because he stands apart from it all. Somewhat like
Archimedes, when he said: "Give me a firm spot on which to stand,
and I will move the earth." The eagerly sought spot is however
not a geographical location separate from where we already are.
It is the mental condition of unattached (asanga) equanimity,
with which we need to cleave the flawed tree of our distorted
The Silent, Secret God
"In things mysterious, I am silence." (10.38)
"The silent one (mauni) is dear to me." (12.19)
"Silence is the penance of mind." (17.16)
A typical malady of the modern era is mankind's inner turmoil,
the offshoot of an unnaturally fast pace of life. Silence (maun),
means quietening this turbulence by withdrawing from activity and
turning all effort inwards. The internal dialogue quietens
gradually; and then, when the silence becomes profound, the voice
of God speaks.
Thus, the more we come near to hearing God's own voice, entering
the ultimate of mysteries, our own need to speak becomes lesser.
Shri Ramakrishna compared this to the honeybee, which hums only
while hovering over a flower. No sooner than it lands and begins
to suck the nectar, all humming ceases.
The Serpentine God
"Among snakes (sarpas), I am Vasuki." (10.28).
"Among serpents (nagas), I am Ananta." (10.29)
In consecutive verses, Krishna identifies himself with two
different serpents. There is a fine distinction between them.
While the sarpas are single-hooded and live on land, the
multi-headed nagas dwell in water.
Specifically, Vasuki adorns Lord Shiva's finger as a ring and
served as a rope during the churning of the ocean. Ananta is the
serpent on whom Vishnu reclines during his yoga-nidra (sleep).
Metaphysically, Ananta represents the infinite potential energy
lying dormant in us (Kundalini); and Vasuki, with one head, its
The Bhagavad Gita is in many ways God's picture album filled with
self-portraits. However, his voice is different from ours, and
identification with one is not the negation of the other. When he
says, "In the rivers I am Ganga" or "amongst birds I am Garuda",
it is the underlying qualities making these manifestations
special that he is calling to attention. The Great Teacher knows
that human intellect is but naturally attracted to what it
perceives to be extraordinary. This is made explicit when he
defines himself to be "the brilliance of all that is brilliant
and the splendor of all that is splendid." He is the invisible
infinite, whose essence permeates all finite things, much as
"gems beaded on a string" (7.7), poetically revealed as "the
flavor (rasa) of water" (7.8).
(This article is dedicated to the memory of Swami Ramsukhdas, who
was never photographed and whom the author never met. He died
early this year.)
References and Further Reading:
Bhagavadgita, Srimad with English translation and transliteration
(4th ed.): Gorakhpur, 2004.
Chaitanya, Krishna. The Gita for Modern Man (3rd ed.): Delhi,
Chinmayananda, Swami. The Holy Geeta (8th ed.): Mumbai, 2002.
Easwaran, Eknath. The Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living (3 vols.)
(5th ed.): Mumbai, 2005.
Goyandka, Jayadayal. Shrimadbhagavadgita with word-to-word
translation (54th ed.): Gorakhpur, 2004.
Goyandka, Jayadayal. Srimadbhagavadgita Tattvavivecani (English
Commentary) (19th ed.): Gorakhpur, 2004.
Goyandka, Shri Harikrishandas (tr.) Shrimadbhagavadgita with the
Commentary of Shankaracharya (25th ed.): Gorakhpur, 2004.
Grimes, John. A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy
(Sanskrit-English): Madras, 1988.
Osho. Gita Darshan (Discourses on the Bhagavad Gita) (8 vols.)
(3rd ed.): Pune, 2003.
Radhakrishnan, S. The Bhagavadgita (21st ed.): New Delhi, 2004.
Ramsukhdas, Swami. Gita Darpan Essays on the Gita (18th ed.):
Ramsukhdas, Swami. Gita Gyan Praveshika (11th ed.): Gorakhpur,
Ramsukhdas, Swami. Gita Prabodhni (4th ed.): Gorakhpur, 2005.
Ramsukhdas, Swami. God is Everything (4th ed.): Gorakhpur, 2003.
Ramsukhdas, Swami. Sadhaka Sanjivani Commentary on the Bhagavad
Gita (2 vols.) (5th ed.): Gorakhpur, 2005.
Ramsukhdas, Swami. Sadhan Sudha Sindhu A Collection of
Benedictory Discourses (17th ed.): Gorakhpur, 2003.
Rangacharya, M. The Hindu Philosophy of Conduct Essays on the
Bhagavad Gita (4 vols.) (2nd ed.): Delhi, 1989.
Ranganathananda, Swami. Universal message of the Bhagavad Gita (3
vols.) (2nd ed.): Kolkata, 2003.
Saraswati, Swami Akhandananda. Bhaktiyoga (Discourses on the 12th
chapter) (5th ed.): Varanasi, 1997.
Saraswati, Swami Akhandananda. Gyan Vigyan Yoga (Discourses on
the 7th chapter): Varanasi, 1999.
Saraswati, Swami Akhandananda. Shri Purshottam Yoga (Discourses
on the 15th chapter) (4th ed.): Varanasi, 1999.
Saraswati, Swami Akhandananda. Vibhuti Yoga (Discourses on the
10th chapter) (2nd ed.): Varanasi, 2004.
Tapasyananda, Swami. Srimad Bhagavata: The Holy Book of God (4
Vanamali. Nitya Yoga Essays on the Sreemad Bhagavad Gita: New
Warrier, Dr. A.G. Krishna (tr.) Bhagavad Gita Bhasya of Sri
Sankaracharya: Chennai, 2002.
Yogananda, Sri Sri Paramahansa. God Talks with Arjuna (2 vols.)
(2nd ed.): Kolkata, 2002.
The illustrations along with the text can be read at the
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