The Path – November 1887

THE BHAGAVAD-GITA: II — William Brehon

(Continued from April number.)

In the few introductory lines with which I took up this subject, it was stated that not being a Sanskrit scholar I did not intend to go into the commentaries upon the poem in that language. The great mass of those commentaries have looked at the dialogue from various standpoints. Many later Hindu students have not gone beyond the explanations made by Sankaracharya, and nearly all refuse to do more than transliterate the names of the different personages referred to in the first chapter.

But there is the highest authority for reading this poem between the lines. The Vedas themselves say, that what we see of them, is only "the disclosed Veda," and that one should strive to get above this disclosed word. It is here clearly implied that the undisclosed Vedas must be hidden or contained in that which is apparent to the outer senses. Did we not have this privilege, then surely will we be reduced to obtaining true knowledge solely from the facts of experience as suffered by the mortal frame, and fall into the gross error of the materialists, who claim that mind is only an effect produced by the physical brain-molecules coming into motion. We would also have to follow the canonical rule, that conscience is a safe guide only when it is regulated by an external law such as the law of the church, or of the Brahmanical caste. But we very well know that within the material, apparent — or disclosed — man, exists the real one who is undisclosed. This valuable privilege of looking for the inner sense, while not straining after impossible meanings in the text, is permitted to all sincere students of any holy scriptures, Christian or Pagan. And in the poem itself, Krishna declares that He will feed the lamp of spiritual wisdom so that the real meaning of his words may be known; so too the Upanishads uphold the existence of a faculty together with the right to use it, whereby one can plainly discern the real, or undisclosed, meaning of holy books. Indeed, there is a school of occultists who hold, as we think with reason, that this power may be so developed by devoted persons, that even upon hearing the words of a holy book read in a totally unfamiliar language, the true meaning and drift of the strange sentences become instantly known. (1) The Christian commentators all allow that in studying their Bible, the spirit must be attended to and not the letter. This spirit is that undisclosed Veda which must he looked for between the lines.

Nor should the Western student of the poem be deterred from any attempt to get at the real meaning, by the attitude of the Brahmins, who hold that only Brahmins can be told this real meaning, and, because Krishna did not make it plain, it may not be made plain now to Sudras, or low caste people. Were this view to prevail, then the whole Western body of theosophists would be excluded from using this important book, inasmuch as all persons not Hindus are necessarily of Sudra caste. Krishna did not make such an exclusion, which is only priestcraft. He was himself of shepherd caste and not a Brahmin; and he says that any one who listens to his words will receive great benefit. The sole limitation made by him is that one in which he declares that these things must not be taught to those who do not want to listen, which is just the same direction as that given by Jesus of Nazareth when he said, "cast not your pearls before swine."

But as our minds work very much upon suggestion or clues, and might in the absence of any hints as to where those clues are placed, be liable to altogether overlook the point, we must bear in mind the existence among the Aryans of a psychological system that gives substance and impulse to utterances declared by many Orientalists to be folly unworthy of attention from a man of the nineteenth century civilization. Nor need we be repulsed from our task because of a small acquaintance with that Aryan psychology. The moment we are aware of its existence in the poem, our inner self is ready to help the outer man to grasp after it, and in the noble pursuit of these great philosophical and moral truths, which is only our eternal endeavor to realize them as a part of our being, we can patiently wait for a perfect knowledge of the anatomy and functions of the inner man.

Western Sanskritists have translated many important words into the very lowest of their real meanings, being drawn away from the true by the incomplete Western psychological and spiritual knowledge, or have mixed them up hopelessly. Such words as Karma and Dharma are not understood. Dharma means Law, and is generally turned into duty, or said to refer merely to some rule depending upon human convention, whereas it means an inherent property of the faculties or of the whole man, or even or anything in the cosmos. Thus it is said that it is the duty, or Dharma, of fire to burn. It always will burn and thus do its whole duty, having no consciousness, while man alone has the power to retard his "journey to the heart of the Sun," by refusing to perform his properly appointed and plainly evident Dharma. So again, when we read in the Bhagavad-Gita, that those who depart this life, "in the bright half of the moon, in the six months of the sun's Northern course" will go to eternal salvation, while others "who depart in the gloomy night of the moon's dark season while the sun is in the Southern half of his path," ascend for a time to the moon's region, to be reborn on this earth, our Orientalists tell us this is sheer folly, and we are unable to contradict them. But if we know that the Aryans with a comprehensive knowledge of the vast and never inharmonious correspondence reigning throughout the macrocosm, in speaking thus meant to admit that the human being may be or not in a state of development in strict conformity to the bright or dark moon, the verse becomes clear. The materialistic critic will take the verse in the fourth chapter which says that, "he who eats of the ambrosia left from a sacrifice passes into the supreme spirit," and ask us how the eating of the remnants of a burnt offering can confer salvation. When, however, we know that Man is the altar and the sacrifice, and that this ambrosia is the perfection of spiritual cultivation which he eats or incorporates into his being, the Aryan is vindicated and we are saved from despair.

A strange similarity on one point may be noticed between our poem and the old Hebrew record. The Jews were prepared by certain experiences to enter into the promised land, but were unable to do so until they had engaged in mighty conflicts with Hivites, Jebuzites, Perizites, and Amalakites. Here we find that the very opening verse signalizes a war. The old, blind king Dhritarashtra asks his prime minister to tell him what these opposing forces of Pandoos and Kooroos have been doing assembled as they are resolved upon war. So too the Jews assembled upon the borders of the promised land, resolved on conflict, and sustained in their resolve by the declarations of their God who had brought them out of the darkness of Egypt, carried on the fight. Egypt was the place where they had, in mystic language, obtained corporification, and stands for ante-natal states, for unformed chaotic periods in the beginning of evolution, for the gestation in the womb. We are on the eve of a gigantic combat, we are to rush into the midst of "a conflict of savages." If this opening verse is understood as it was meant, we are given the key to a magnificent system, and shall not fall into the error of asserting that the unity of the poem is destroyed.

Dhritarashtra is blind, because the body, as such, is blind in every way.

Some one has said — Goethe I think — that the old pagan religions taught men to look up, to aspire continually toward the greatness which was really his to achieve, and thus led him to regard himself as but little less, potentially, than a God; while the attitude of man under the Christian system is one of humility, of bowed head and lowered eyes, in the presence of his God. In approaching the "jealous God" of the Mosaic dispensation, it is not permissible to assume an erect position. This change of attitude becomes necessary as soon as we postulate a Deity who is outside and beyond us. And yet it is not due to the Christian scriptures in themselves, but solely to the wrong interpretation given them by priests and churches, and easily believed by a weak humanity that needs a support beyond itself on which to lean.

The Aryans, holding that man in his essence is God, naturally looked up to Him and referred everything to Him. They therefore attributed to the material of the body no power of sight or feeling. And so Dhritarashtra, who is material existence, in which thirst for its renewal inheres, is blind.

The eye cannot see nor the ear hear, of themselves. In the Upanishads the pupil is asked: "What is the sight of the eye, and the hearing of the ear?" replying, that these powers reside solely with inner organs of the soul, using the material body as the means for experiencing the phenomena of material life. Without the presence of this indwelling, informing, hearing and seeing power — or being — this collection of particles now deified as body is dead or blind.

These philosophers were not behind our nineteenth century. Boscovitch, the Italian, Faraday, Fiske and other moderns, have concluded that we cannot even see or know the matter of which these bodies and the different substances about us are mule up, and that the ultimate resolution is not into atoms finely divided, but into "points of dynamic force"; and therefore, we cannot know a piece of iron, we only know the phenomena it produce? This position is an ancient Aryan one, with another added — that the real perceiver of those phenomena is the Self.

It is only by an acceptance of this philosophy, that we will ever comprehend the facts of nature which our science is so laboriously noting and classifying. But that science ignores a large mass of phenomena well known to spiritualists here and to ascetics in Asia, because the actual existence of the Self as the final support of every phase of consciousness is denied. "The disappearance of the ascetic is a possibility." But the West denies it, while it is doubtful if even spiritists will admit that any living man can cause that phenomena known as "form" to disappear. They are, however, willing to grant that a "materialized spirit form" may disappear, or that some mediums are living who have disappeared while sitting in a chair, either as an actual dissipation of molecules or by being covered as with a veil. (2)

In those instances the thing happened without knowledge or effort on the part of the medium, who was a passive agent. But the Eastern ascetic possessing the power of disappearing, is a person who has meditated upon the real basis of what we know as "form," with the doctrine ever in view, as stated by Boscovitch and Faraday, that these phenomena are not realities, per se, and adding that all must be referred to the Self. And so we find Patanjali in his compilation of Yoga aphorisms stating the matter. In his twenty-first aphorism Book III, he says that the ascetic being aware that form, as such, is nothing, can cause himself to disappear. (3) It is not difficult to explain this as a species of hypnotism or psychologizing performed by the ascetic. But such sort of explaining is only the modern method of getting out of a difficulty by stating it over again in new terms. Not until it is admitted that the Self eternally persists and is always unmodified, will any real knowledge be acquired by us respecting these matters. In this Patanjali is very clear in his seventeenth Aphorism, Book IV., where he says: "The modifications of the mental state are always known, because the presiding spirit is not modified."

We must admit the blindness of Dhritarashtra, as body, and that our consciousness and ability to know anything whatever of the modifications going on in the organism, are due to the "presiding spirit."

So this old, blind rajah is that part of man, which, containing the principle of thirst for existence, holds material life. The Ganges bounding his plain on one side typifies the sacred stream of spiritual life incarnated here.

At first it flows down unperceived by us, through the spiritual spheres, coming at last into what we call matter, where it manifests itself — but yet remains unseen, until at last it flows into the sea — or death — to be drawn up again by the sun — or the Karma of reincarnation. The plain is sacred because it is the "temple of the Holy Ghost." Kuru-Kshetra should then read: "The body which is acquired by Karma." So the King does not ask what this body itself has been doing, but what have the followers of material existence, that is the entire host of lower elements in man by which he is attached to physical life, and the followers of Pandu, that is the entire set of spiritual faculties, been doing on this sacred plain.

It follows then that the enumeration of generals and commanders gone into by the prime minister in reply to the king, must be a catalogue of all the lower and higher faculties in man, containing also, in the names adopted, clues to powers of our being only at present dimly guessed at in the West or included in such vague terms as Brain and Mind. We find these generals given their appropriate places upon either side, and see also that they have assigned to them various distinctive weapons, which in many cases are flourished or exhibited in the preliminary movements, so that our attention may be drawn to them.

(To be continued.)


1. We have in mind an incident where a person of some slight development in this direction, heard read several verses from the Vedas in Sanskrit — with which he had no acquaintance — and instantly told what the verses were about — B. (return to text)

2. For an instance see Olcott's "People from the other world," respecting a female medium. — W. B. (return to text)

3. The Aphorism reads: "By performing Sanyama — restraint (or meditation) — about form, its power of being apprehended (by the seer's eye) being checked, and luminousness, the property of the organ of sight, having no connection with its object (that is the form), the result is the disappearance of the ascetic." — W. B. (return to text)

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