Notes on the Bhagavad-Gītā: chapter 7, part 1 (Paramahamsa Vijñāna Yoga – Knowledge of the Ultimate Truth)

26 March 2013

those who worship little gods get little things

This the tenth post in a series that memorialize a study by a friend and me of multiple translations of the Bhagavad-Gītā­ (including Prabhupāda’s As It Is edition and commentary)[1]. This is a partial commentary on chapter 7.

KrishnaOther resources for chapter 7 may be found here, along with the following summary of the chapter:

In chapter seven Lord Krishna gives concrete knowledge of the absolute reality as well as the opulence of divinity. He describes His illusory energy in the material existence called Maya and declares how extremely difficult it is to surmount it. He also describes the four types of people attracted to divinity and the four types of people who are opposed to divinity. In conclusion He reveals that one in spiritual intelligence takes exclusive refuge of the Lord without reservation in devotional service. Thus this chapter is entitled: Knowledge of the Ultimate Truth.

Commentary

The basic point of this chapter is two-fold: (1) the names and forms that humans use to refer to the Inconceivable are not the important part; (2) in particular attraction and aversion generate delusion.

Satchidananda (1988),[2] speaking (and writing) to a Christian-raised audience, uses a biblical illustration to make the second point. Adam is forbidden by YHWH in Eden to eat from the tree because by so coming to a knowledge of the good this would perforce necessitate the distinction of evil as well. Hence,

Why did Adam reach out for the fruit? He forgot that he was the image of God, that he already was happy. Because he was the image of God, he didn’t need the fruit to be happy. But when he forgot that, he thought, “Ahh, by eating this fruit, I’ll be wise because it’s the Tree of Wisdom (114).

As Jung (1977)[3] notes:

The division into two was necessary[4] in order to bring the ‘one’ world out of the state of potential into reality. Reality consists of a multiplicity of things. But one is not a number; the first number is two, and with it multiplicity and reality begin (Mysterium Coniunctionis, ¶659).

In terms of Eastern philosophy, then, attraction and delusion generate delusion because it amounts to preferentially reaching for the good and consequently decrying something else as not to be reached for; we do this in ignorance of the fact that we were already always okay. But this point, whatever its merits in itself, gets fatally distorted by Satchidananda’s generous attempt to cast it in a biblical example.  In his sweetness, Satchidananda misreads Jesus’ statement “none shall come unto the father but through me” as the equivalent of Kṛṣṇa saying “A devotee may select any name or form as the object of his worship” (Bhagavad-Gītā, VII.21);[5] or, as Satchidananda notes:

Kṛṣṇa, representing the Divine essence, doesn’t say, “You have to worship only this way or that way. It can’t be otherwise.” Instead he says, “Worship me in any form” (105).

This is distinctly not the biblical position, i.e., “thou shalt have no other gods before me,”[6] and “no one comes to the Father except through me”[7] &c. Nor is this the same as claiming, “Then when he worship with steady faith the form he has chosen, he gets what he wants. But actually, I am the one fulfilling his desires” (Bhagavad-Gītā, VII.22).[8]

The Indian position begins from an acknowledgment of multiplicity and ends by working backward to an Absolute Source as the ground of all of the multiplicity’s emanations; the biblical position begins with a tacit if grudging acknowledgement of multiplicity (“thou shalt have no other gods before me”) and ends by denying not only the efficacy but even the reality of all other deities (“no one comes to the Father except through me”). Of this, one may compare Kṛṣṇa’s next observation: “However, those of limited understanding obtain limited satisfaction. Those who worship the gods (devas) to go the gods; my devotees come to me” (VII.23).[9]

The crucial error in Satchidananda’s generous attempt to speak to his biblical audience is the miscomparison of the gulf in metaphysics that lies between the Indian and biblical conception of the Absolute. In Jung’s (1952)[10] “Answer to Job,” this gets made in the most unambiguous way, in Jung’s assertion that YHWH, though omniscient in principle, does not act so in practice. More briefly, YHWH is unconscious, and it is exactly for this very reason that humankind must necessarily be created, so that YHWH can come to consciousness of Himself. It is this idea that Jung is echoing when he writes that “one is not a number; the first number is two, and with it multiplicity and reality begin” (Mysterium Coniunctionis, ¶659). In this way, YHWH did not know, because he did not consult his omniscience, that Eve would be tempted by the serpent into eating the fruit and thus Adam after her.

So Satchidananda’s assertion, “Why did Adam reach out for the fruit? He forgot that he was the image of God” is accurate, but not in the sense he intends. If indeed Adam is the image of YWH, this is also in the unconsciousness of YHWH as well. In the case of YHWH, we may be baffled why he fails to consult his omniscience; the mystery is not so baffling with Adam, who has clearly (per Indian metaphysics) forgotten his own divine self, his Atman. We can understand why Adam fails to realize his omniscience, because we are accustomed to thinking of him as mortal and limited; this is not so easy to remember for YHWH. But in point of fact, epistemologically the two figures re identical: Atma Brahman.

Amongst the Indian pantheon, there is no shortage of devas (demigods) who would most assuredly be as equally ignorant of their ultimate reality as any mortal, as so we see here such a demigod—one who is small-minded enough to insist that there must be no other gods before him:  sure sign of psychological inferiority.

It is kind of Satchidananda to try to find the light in the ignorance of biblical religion; and indeed, one may understand that Adam fell into delusion by reaching for the distinction of good, thus engendering its opposite, i.e., maya, or the illusion of distinctions. In so reaching, he did indeed forget that he is already his Self, his atman—Satchidananda uses the phrase “happy” but one might also say “enlightened”. Unsurprisingly, one may extract this out of the story of Eden because the Indian analysis of the human condition is so thorough-going. But what is missing from Satchidananda’s observation, perhaps out of kindness, perhaps so as not to offend his biblical audience, or perhaps because he cannot penetrate the darkness of biblical religion, is the further point that the demigod who established Eden is himself an emanation of the Absolute who has forgotten His divine nature as well.

Endnotes

[1] All references to this commentary will refer henceforth to the online PDF of the text and commentary found at http://ebooks.iskcondesiretree.info/pdf/00_-_Srila_Prabhupada/Bhagavad_Gita_As_It_Is.pdf

[2] Satchidananda (1988). The living Gita: the complete Bhagavad Gita, Buckingham, VA: Integral Yoga Publications.

[3] Jung, CG (1977). Mysterium coniunctionis: an inquiry into the separation and synthesis of psychic opposites in alchemy. 2d ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

[4] We can quibble about the “necessity” of this as Jung calls it, but one may also say that whether it was necessary or not, that seems to be the way things have worked out.

[5] (from here): “Whichever demigod a particular devotee desires with faith to worship, I surely sustain firmly that faith in him”

[6] לא יהיה־לך אלהים אחרים על־פני (Exodus 20:3, Deuteronomy 5:7)

[7] John 14:6.

[8] (from here): “Endowed with that firm faith the devotee executes worship of this demigod and sanctioned by Me solely obtains that which he desired from that demigod”

[9] (see here): “the result of those with insufficient understand is temporary; the votaries of the demigods obtain the demigods, but My devotees obtain Me.”

[10] Jung, CG (2010). Answer to Job. (Intr. Sonu Shamdasani, paperback Fiftieth Anniversary Edition). Reprinted from Jung, C.G. (1968). Psychology and religion: West and East. (Vol. 11, Collected Works., 2nd ed., Trans. R.F.C. Hull). Princeton: Princeton University Press, i–xvii, 1–121. The essay was first written in 1952.

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