Culture

The Bhagavad Gita: A Life-Changing Conversation

Beginning this Saturday, FO° will publish excerpts from Niyogi Books, an independent publishing house based in New Delhi, India. In this piece, Vandana R. Singh expounds the 12th chapter of the classic Hindu scripture, Bhagavat Gita. In this chapter, Krishna teaches Arjuna about bhakti, or devotion, and the many ways in which human beings approach the divine. Each is legitimate in its own way.
By
The Bhagavad Gita

© Niyogi Books / niyogibooksindia.com

January 27, 2024 07:08 EDT
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Chapter 12: The Power of Love and Devotion

In the twelfth chapter, Krishna elaborates on the visible versus the invisible in response to Arjuna’s question. One of the shortest chapters of the Gita, the stress here is on devotion and dedication. People dedicate themselves to different missions and each one of us has a unique way of being devoted. While some may work for the needy by actually visiting their homes, others may raise funds for them, sitting in their own homes. Doctors cure patients by prescribing medicines but scientists help in the process by researching on drugs. People from varied cultures have their own way of praying, and follow different protocols for worship or offering prayers. All paths of bhakti, or devotion, that are adopted lead to the same destination; the routes, however, may be different from one another and thus give way to misconceptions about the goal of the journey.

Some of the areas Krishna throws light on in the conversation here are:

  • the significance of focus
  • visible vs. invisible
  • degrees of devotion
  • devotees and devotion
  • meditation as a tool
  • deliverance as a reward
  • restraining the mind
  • striving for perfection

A phrase often used in translation is ‘surrendering of the intellect’. It may be useful to clarify here that, this by no means implies taking leave of one’s senses or indulging in mindless devotion. What surrender here stands for is complete acceptance and confluence of thought processes to focus on one idea, or reality.

Human beings are favourably inclined towards creating symbols for ideas. We go to the extent of personifying abstractions and emotions and like to keep photographs of loved ones close to us as we find this reassuring and heart-warming, especially so in case of those who may be far away, and, over a period of time the once familiar faces may start to become hazy in our minds.

A case in point is the ever-growing popularity of audio-visual learning for children. Present day learning outcomes are a considerable improvement on the days of yore when a black and white textbook was the only source of learning for children. Does the same hold good for keeping faith, and focusing on the greatest abstraction of them all—God himself? Probably yes. This explains the tendency to hold sacred a stone, a river or a mountain—indeed sometimes entire cities. Humanisation of the gods seems to work for us because that is the only form we can identify with and make our own.

So far so good. But trouble starts when we want our neighbour to also see divinity in the same tree as we do, or to feed the same animal that we do. We frequently forget and fail to understand, that others could be having their own symbols that could be as sacred to them as ours are to us.

Creating symbols for the purpose of better focus and identification is an innocuous activity per se. But it can become problematic when we try to convince the world that our symbol is better than theirs. If each devotee were to nurture a particular image of God and keep it strictly personal, the world might be a better place to live in.

Reverting to the narrative, by now Arjuna has recovered from his state of nervousness and despondency, and wants to know more from the fountain of knowledge, Krishna.

12.01: Arjuna enquired: Which is preferred—those who are sincerely devoted to your worship or those who worship the unmanifested form? Who do you consider to be more perfect in yoga?

In the previous chapter, Arjuna sees the cosmic form of the Lord, which encompasses the entire universe. Fascinating though the sight was, Arjuna is overwhelmed and he voices his preference for the more human form of the Lord and his wish is granted. Regaining his composure and accepting the reality that his friend Krishna was much more than what he appeared to be, now Arjuna wishes to know about the kind of devotees Krishna looks at more favourably. Some individuals worship the visible form of the Supreme Power as he appears on earth. As an extension of this, they may also see God in everything around them. Belief in idol worship, offering prayers to trees, rivers and nature as a whole are well-known phenomena.

There are others who do not follow this path and focus on the invisible, the unmanifested form of God. Such devotees may create their own image of the Lord, or simply pray to the invisible Force and chart their own path of devotion.

Arjuna is curious to know which of these devotees Krishna prefers, and subsequently bestows his blessings on. God has both aspects—the omnipresent and omniscient power, as also the incarnation in human form on earth. The latter has a specific palpable form which for mere mortals might be easier to relate to, while the former is invisible and thus for some might be difficult to focus on. 

This duality could well be compared to our own existence. While no one has ever seen or felt the soul, the human body is tangible and can be seen, felt and heard and so appears more real than the soul. But the reality is that both exist, the body and soul.

[Niyogi Books has given Fair Observer permission to publish this excerpt from The Bhagavad Gita: A Life-changing Conversation, Vandana R. Singh, Niyogi Books, 2022.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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