The Path – December 1887

THE BHAGAVAD-GITA: III — William Brehon

(Continued from November number.)

Salutation to Krishna! the Lord of Devotion, the God of Religion, the never failing help of those who trust in him.

We now have discovered that the poem is not disfigured by this account of a conflict that begins in the first chapter; to be then dropped while the two great actors retire to their chariot for a discussion. This description of forces, and the first effect on Arjuna of his survey, show us that we are now to learn from Krishna, what is the duty of man in his warfare with all the forces and tendencies of his nature. Instead of the conflict being a blemish to the poem, it is a necessary and valuable portion. We see that the fight is to be fought by every human being, whether he lives in India, or not, for it is raging on the sacred plain of our body. Each one of us, then, is Arjuna.

In the Sanscrit, the first chapter is called "Arjun-Vishad," which in English means, "The despair and despondency of Arjuna." Some have called it "The Survey of Army"; but while truly an Army is surveyed, that is not the essential meaning intended. It is the result of the survey we are to consider; and that result upon Arjuna, who is the person most interested — the one who is the chief questioner and beneficiary throughout the whole action of the poem — is despondency.

The cause of this despondency is to be inquired into.

Arjuna, in the flush of determination, and before any analysis of either the consequences to himself or to others who might become involved, entered the conflict, after having chosen Krishna as his charioteer. The forces are drawn up in line of battle, and he rides out to survey them. At once he sees ranged against him, relatives of every class, in their turn preparing to destroy others, their relatives, friends and acquaintances as well as Arjuna's, who are enlisted on his side. Turning to Krishna, he says that he cannot engage in such a war, that he perceives only evil omens, and that even if the opposers, being ignorant, may be willing to fight with such dreadful consequences in view, he cannot do so, but must give up the battle 'ere it is begun. Thereupon:

"Arjuna, whose heart was troubled with grief, let fall his bow and arrows, and sat down on the bench of his chariot."

Every student of Occultism, Theosophy or true religion, — all being the one thing — will go through Arjuna's experiences. Attracted by the beauty or other seductive quality, for him, of this study, he enters upon the prosecution of it, and soon discovers that he arouses two sets of forces.

One of them consists of all his friends and relations who do not view life as he does, who are wedded to the "established order," and think him a fool for devoting any attention to anything else, while the general mass of his acquaintances and those whom he meets in the world, instinctively array themselves against one who is thus starting upon a crusade that begins with his own follies and faults, but must end in a condemnation of theirs, if only by the force of example. The other opponents are far more difficult to meet, because they have their camp and base of action upon the Astral and other hidden planes; they are all his lower tendencies and faculties, that up to this time have been in the sole service of material life. By the mere force of moral gravity, they fly to the other side, where they assist his living friends and relatives in their struggle against him. They have more efficiency in producing despondency than anything else. In the poem, it is referred to in the words addressed by Arjuna to Krishna:

"I am not able to stand; for my understanding, as it were turneth round and I behold inauspicious omens on all sides."

All of us are brought to this study by our own request made to our Higher Self, who is Krishna. Arjuna requested Krishna to be his charioteer, and to drive him forth between the two armies. It does not matter whether he now is consciously aware of having made the request, nor whether it was made as a specific act, in this life or in many another precedent one; it was made and it is to be answered at the right time. Some of us have asked this many times before, in ancient births of ours in other bodies and other lands; others are making the request now; but it is more than likely in the case of those who are spurred on to intense effort and longing to know the truth, and to strive for unity with God, that they have put up the petition ages since. So now Krishna, the charioteer of this body with its horses — the mind — drives us forth so that we may stand with our Higher Self and all the tendencies connected with it on one side, and all the lower (but not all necessarily evil) principles on the other. The student may, perhaps, with ease face the crowd of friends and relatives, having probably gone through that experience in other lives and is now proof against it, but he is not proof against the first dark shadow of despair and ill result that falls upon him. Every elemental that he has vivified by evil thinking now casts upon him the thought,

"After all, it is no use; I cannot win; If I did, the gain would be nothing; I can see no great or lasting result to be attained, for all, all, is impermanent."

This dreadful feeling is sure in each case to supervene, and we might as well be prepared for it. We cannot always live on the enthusiasm of heavenly joys. The rosy hue of dawn does not reach round the world; it chases darkness. Let us be prepared for it, not only at the first stage, but all along in our progress to the Holy seat; for it comes at each pause; at that slight pause when we are about to begin another breath, to take another step, to pass into another condition.

And here it is wise, turning to the 18th, and last, chapter of the poem, to read the words of the Immortal Master of life:

"From a confidence in thy own self-sufficiency thy mayest think that thou wilt not fight. Such is a fallacious determination, for the principles of thy nature will compel thee. Being confined to actions by the duties of thy natural calling, thou wilt involuntarily do that from necessity, which thou wantest through ignorance to avoid."

In this, Krishna uses the very argument advanced by Arjuna against the fight, as one in its favor. In the chapter we are considering, Arjuna repeats the Old Brahmanical injunction against those who break up the "eternal institutions of caste and tribe," for, as he says, the penalty annexed is a sojourn in hell, since, when the caste and tribe are destroyed, the ancestors being deprived of the rites of funeral-cakes and libations of water, (1) fall from heaven, and the whole tribe is thus lost. But Krishna shows, as above, that each man is naturally, by His bodily tendencies, compelled to do the acts of some particular calling, and that body with its tendencies are merely the manifestation of what the inner man is, as the result of all his former thoughts up to that incarnation. So he is forced by nature's law — which is his own — to be born just where he must have the experience that is needed. And Arjuna, being a warrior, is compelled to fight, whether he will or no.

In another chapter, the institution of caste is more particularly referred to, and there we will have occasion to go into that subject with more detail.

As stated in the last paper, the substratum, or support, for the whole Cosmos, is the presiding spirit, and all the various changes in life, whether of a material nature or solely in mental states, are cognizable because the presiding spirit within is not modifiable. Were it otherwise, then we would have no memory, for with each passing event, we, becoming merged in it, could not remember anything, that is, we would see no changes. There must therefore be something eternally persisting, which is the witness and perceiver of every passing change, itself unchangeable. All objects, and all states of what western philosophers call Mind, are modifications, for in order to be seen or known by us, there must be some change, either partial or total, from a precedent state. The perceiver of these changes is the inner man — Arjuna-Krishna.

This leads us to the conviction that there must be a universal presiding spirit, the producer as well as the spectator, of all this collection of animate and inanimate things. The philosophy taught by Krishna, holds, that at first this spirit — so called, however, by me only for the purpose of the discussion — remained in a state of quiet with no objects, because as yet there was no modification. But, resolving to create, or rather to emanate the universe, IT formed a picture of what should be, and this at once was a modification willingly brought about in the hitherto wholly unmodified spirit; thereupon the Divine Idea was gradually expanded, coming forth into objectivity, while the essence of the presiding spirit remained unmodified, and became the perceiver of its own expanded idea. Its modifications are visible (and invisible) nature. Its essence then differentiates itself continually in various directions, becoming the immortal part of each man — the Krishna who talks to Arjuna. Coming like a spark from the central fire, it partakes of that nature, that is, the quality of being unmodifiable, and assumes to itself — as a cover, so to speak — the human body (2) and thus, being in essence unmodified, it has the capacity to perceive all the changes going on around the body.

This Self must be recognized as being within, pondered over, and as much as possible understood, if we are to gain any true knowledge.

We have thus quickly, and perhaps in an inadequate way, come down to a consideration of Arjuna as composed of all these generals and heroes enumerated in this chapter, and who are as we said, the various powers, passions and qualities included in the Western terms, "Brain and Mind."

Modern, physical, mental and psychological sciences, have as yet but scratched the surface of that which they are engaged in examining. Physical science confessedly is empiric, knowing but the very outposts of the laws of nature: and our psychology is in a worse state. The latter has less chance for arriving at the truth than physical science, because scientists are proceeding to a gradual demonstration of natural laws by careful examination of facts easily observable, but psychology is a something which demands the pursuit of another method than that of science, or those now observed.

It would avail nothing at present to specify the Aryan nomenclature for all the sheaths — as they call them — that envelope the soul, because we as yet have not acquired the necessary ideas. Of what use is it to say that certain impressions reside in the Anandamaya sheath. But there is such an one, whether we call it by that name or by any other. We can, however, believe that the soul, in order to at last reach the objective plane where its experience is gained, places upon itself, one after the other, various sheaths, each having its peculiar property and function. The mere physical brain is thus seen to be only the material organ first used by the real percipient in receiving or conveying ideas and perceptions; and so with all the other organs, they are only the special seats for centralizing the power of the real man in order to experience the modifications of nature at that particular spot.

Who is the sufferer from this despondency?

It is our false personality, (as it has been called in Theosophical literature) as distinguished from Krishna — the higher self — which is oppressed by the immediate resistance offered by all the lower part of our nature, and by those persons with whom we are most closely connected, as soon as we begin to draw them away from all old habits, and to present a new style of thinking for their consideration.

For Arjuna, sinking down upon the seat of that chariot which is his body, fell back upon his own nature, and found therein the elements of search and courage, as well as those previous ones of gloom which arise first, being nearer the natural man. Reliance and pressure upon our own inner nature, in moments of darkness, are sure to be answered by the voice of Krishna, the inner guide.

The first consequences of the despondency

Are, to make us feel that the battle we have invited ought not to be carried on, and we then are almost overwhelmed with the desire to give it up. Some do give it up, to begin it again, in a succeeding life, while others like Arjuna, listen to the voice of Krishna, and bravely fight it out to the end.

"Thus, in the Upanishads, in the holy Bhagavad-Gita, in the science of the Supreme Spirit, in the Book of Devotion, in the colloquy between the Holy Krishna and Arjuna, stands the first chapter by name:

"THE DESPONDENCY OF ARJUNA."

Salutation to the God of battles, to the charioteer, to him who disposeth the forces aright, who leadeth us on to victory, with whom alone success is certain: that he may guide us to where the never-dying light shineth: Om!

(To be continued.)

FOOTNOTES:

1. This reference by Arjuna is to the immemorial custom of the son, or descendants, offering to the departed, at stated times, funeral-cakes and water, called "Shradda and Pinda" — one of the so-called superstitions of the Hindus.

It has always been a grave question with me, whether the boasted "freedom from superstition," of Western 19th century civilization is an unmixed good, or any evidence of real progress. All such ancient forms have been swept away, and with them nearly every vestige of true religious feeling, leaving only an unquenchable thirst for money and power. In the present ignorance of the true reason at the bottom of these forms, the assertion is made that they mean nothing whatever. But in the Catholic church it is continued, and to some extent believed in, as is shown in their masses for the dead; surely these masses would not be offered if supposed to have no effect on the state of those for whom they are offered.

Although greatly corrupted and debased, it is in this church alone that these old practices are preserved. Shradda and Pinda are now neglected, because the inner constitution of man, and the constitution of the Macrocosm, are not understood in such a way as to make the ceremony of the slightest use. — W. B. (return to text)

2. It is also, of course, inherent in all nature. — W. B. (return to text)


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