Symbols of the world's religions



Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 11

Arjuna said:

My Lord! Your words concerning the Supreme Secret of Self, given for my blessing, have dispelled the illusions which surround me.

Oh Lord! Whose eyes are like the lotus petal! You have described in detail the origin and the dissolution of being, and Your own Eternal Majesty.

I believe all as You have declared it. I long now to have a vision of Your Divine Form, O You Most High!

If You think that it can be made possible for me to see it, show me, O Lord of Lords! Your own Eternal Self.

Lord Shri Krishna replied:

Behold, O Arjuna! My celestial forms, by hundreds and thousands, various in kind, in color, and in shape.

Behold the Powers of Nature: fire, earth, wind, and sky; the sun, the heavens, the moon, the stars; all the forces of vitality and of healing; and the roving winds. See the myriad wonders revealed to none but you.

Here, in Me living as one, O Arjuna! Behold the whole universe, movable and immovable, and anything else that you would see.

Yet since with mortal eyes you cannot see Me, lo! I give you the Divine Sight. See now the glory of My Sovereignty.

Sanjaya continued:

Having thus spoken, O King! The Lord Shri Krishna, the Almighty Prince of Wisdom, showed to Arjuna the Supreme Form of the Great God. (1)

There were countless eyes and mouths, and mystic forms innumerable with shining ornaments and flaming celestial weapons.

Crowned with heavenly garlands, clothed in shining garments, anointed with divine unctions, He showed Himself as the Resplendent One, Marvelous, Boundless, Omnipresent.

Could a thousand suns blaze forth together, it would be but a faint reflection of the radiance of the Lord God.

In that vision Arjuna saw the universe, with its manifold shapes, all embraced in One, its Supreme Lord.

Thereupon Arjuna, dumb with awe, his hair on end, his head bowed, his hands clasped in salutation, addressed the Lord thus:

Arjuna said:

Oh Almighty God! I see in You the powers of Nature, the various Creatures of the world, the Progenitor (2) on his lotus throne, the Sages, and the shining angels. (3)

I see You, infinite in form, with, as it were, faces, eyes, and limbs everywhere; no beginning, no middle, no end; O Lord of the Universe, whose Form is universal!

I see You with the crown, the scepter, and the discus; (4) a blaze of splendor. Scarce can I gaze on You, so radiant You are, glowing like the blazing fire, brilliant as the sun, immeasurable.

Imperishable are You, the Sole One worthy to be known, the priceless Treasure-house of the universe, the immortal Guardian of the Life Eternal, the Spirit Everlasting.

Without beginning, without middle, and without end, infinite in power. Your arms all-embracing, the sun and moon Your eyes, Your face beaming with the fire of sacrifice, flooding the whole universe with light.

Alone you fill all the quarters of the sky, earth, and heaven, and the regions between. O Almighty Lord! Seeing Your marvelous and awe-inspiring Form, the spheres tremble with fear.

The troops of celestial Beings enter into You, some invoking You in fear, with folded palms; (5) the Great Seers (6) and Adepts (7) sing hymns to Your Glory, saying "All Hail."

The Vital Forces, (8) the Major Stars, Fire, Earth, Air, Sky, Sun, Heaven, Moon, and Planets; the Angels, the Guardians of the Universe, the divine Healers, the Winds, the Fathers, (9) the Heavenly Singers; and hosts of Mammon-worshippers, (10) demons as well as saints, are amazed.

Seeing Your stupendous Form, O Most Mighty! With its myriad faces, its innumerable eyes and limbs and terrible jaws, I myself and all the worlds are overwhelmed with awe.

When I see You, touching the Heavens, glowing with color, with open mouth and wide-open fiery eyes, I am terrified. O my Lord! My courage and my peace of mind desert me.

When I see Your mouths with their fearful jaws like glowing fires at the dissolution of creation, I lose all sense of place; I find no rest. Be merciful, O Lord in whom this universe abides!

All these sons of Dhritarashtra, with the hosts of princes, Bhisma, Drona, and Karna, as well as the other warrior chiefs belonging to our side;

I see them all rushing headlong into Your mouths, with terrible tusks, horrible to behold. Some are mangled between Your jaws, with their heads crushed to atoms.

As rivers in flood surge furiously to the ocean, so these heroes, the greatest among men, fling themselves into Your flaming mouths.

As moths fly impetuously to the flame, only to be killed, so these men rush into Your mouths to court their own destruction.

You seem to swallow up the worlds, to lap them in flame. Your glory fills the universe. Your fierce rays beat down upon it irresistibly.

Tell me then who You are that wear this dreadful Form. I bow before You, O Mighty One! Have mercy, I pray, and let me see You as You were at first. I do not know what You intend.

Lord Shri Krishna replied:

I have shown Myself to you as the Destroyer who lays waste the world, and whose purpose now is destruction. (11) In spite of your efforts, all these warriors gathered for battle shall not escape death.

Then gird up your loins, and conquer. Subdue your foes and enjoy the kingdom in prosperity. I have already doomed them. Be My instrument, Arjuna!

Drona and Bhishma, Jayadratha, and Karna, and other brave warriors — I have condemned them all. Destroy them; fight and fear not. Your foes shall be crushed. (12)

Sanjaya continued:

Having heard these words from the Lord Shri Krishna, the Prince Arjuna, with folded hands trembling, prostrated himself and with choking voice, bowing down again and again, and overwhelmed with awe, once more addressed the Lord.

Arjuna said.

My Lord! It is natural that the world revels and rejoices when it sings the praises of Your glory; the demons fly in fear and the saints offer You their salutations.

How should they do otherwise? O Supremest Self, greater than the Powers of creation, the First Cause, Infinite, the Lord of Lords, the Home of the universe, Imperishable, Being and Not-Being, yet transcending both.

You are the Primal God, the Ancient, the Supreme Abode of this universe, the Knower, the Knowledge, and the Final Home. You fill everything. Your form is infinite.

You are the Wind, You are Death, You are the Fire, the Water, the Moon, the Father and the Grandfather. (13) Honor and glory to You a thousand and a thousand times! Again and again, salutation be to You, O my Lord!

Salutations to You in front and on every side, You who encompass me round about. Your power is infinite; Your majesty immeasurable; You uphold all things; yea, You Yourself are all.

Whatever I have said unto You in rashness, taking You only for a friend and addressing you as "O Krishna! O Yadava! (14) O Friend!" in thoughtless familiarity, not understanding Your greatness;

Whatever insult I have offered to You in jest, in sport, or in repose, in conversation or at the banquet, alone or in a multitude, I ask Your forgiveness for them all, O You who are without an equal!

For You are the Father of all things movable and immovable, the Worshipful, the Master of Masters! In all the worlds there is none equal to You; how then superior; O You who stand alone, Supreme.

Therefore I prostrate myself before you, O Lord! Most Adorable! I salute You, I ask Your blessing. Only You can be trusted to bear with me, as father to son, as friend to friend, as lover to his beloved.

I rejoice that I have seen what never man saw before; yet, O Lord! I am overwhelmed with fear. Please take again the Form I know. Be merciful. O Lord! You who are the Home of the whole universe. (15)

I long to see You as You were before, with the crown, the scepter, and the discus in Your hands; in Your other Form, with your four hands, (16) O You whose arms are countless and whose forms are infinite.

Lord Shri Krishna replied:

My beloved friend! It is only through My grace and power that you have been able to see this vision of splendor, the Universal, the Infinite, the Original. Never has it been seen by any but you.

Not by study of the scriptures, not by sacrifice or gift, not by ritual or rigorous austerity, is it possible for man on earth to see what you have see, O foremost hero of the Kuru clan!

Be not afraid or bewildered by the terrible vision. Put away your fear and, with joyful mind, see Me once again in my usual Form.

Sanjaya continued:

Having thus spoken to Arjuna, Lord Shri Krishna showed Himself again in His accustomed form; and the Mighty Lord, in gentle tones, softly consoled him who lately trembled with fear.

Arjuna said:

Seeing You in Your gentle human form, my Lord, I am myself again, calm once more.

(1) Although Krishna grants Arjuna's request for a vision of his divine form, some commentators emphasize that such miraculous experiences are not the goal of spiritual life. Srila Prabhupada, for example, points out that the close devotees and companions of Krishna were indifferent to displays of mystical power, because their attention was focused solely on their Divine Beloved. They loved him because he was intrinsically lovable, not for any mystical experience or blessing he might grant them.    BACK

(2) Progenitor: Brahma, the Creator (not to be confused with Brahman, the Absolute).    BACK

(3) Shining angels: literally, divine or celestial serpents (uraga divya). Yogananda identifies the celestial serpents as the "creative forces that have their origin in the kundalini, the coiled life energy in the base center of the spine."    BACK

(4) The discus (chakra, "wheel") is an ancient Indian weapon, and Krishna's favorite. It had a hole in the center and was usually twirled rapidly around the finger and then hurled.    BACK

(5) Folded palms: palms joined in a gesture of reverence known as anjali mudra. Modern Hindus use this gesture, with the palms held at the level of the heart, as a greeting (known as namaskar), which signifies, "The Divine in me greets the Divine within you." When greeting a spiritual personage, the palms are held at eye level, and when making reverent salutation to a deity or the Divine, they are held above the head" (Feuerstein).    BACK

(6) Great Seers: maharishis.    BACK

(7) Adepts: siddhas. A siddha is "one who has succeeded" and is often know for supernatural powers.    BACK

(8) Vital Forces: minor deities and celestial beings.    BACK

(9) Fathers: spirits of the dead; ancestors.    BACK

(10) Mammon-worshippers: yakshas (ghostlike beings, sometimes benevolent, sometimes not) and asuras (demons who are antigods).    BACK

(11) This verse brings to mind a famous episode in history, the first atomic bomb test, at Almagordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945. Robert Oppenheimer,the scientist in charge of the Manhattan Project, which built the bomb described how, in the solemn moments after the detonation, he recalled this verse, which he knew in another translation: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." The word used in the original Sanskrit is kala, which can mean either Death or Time (since Time devours all creatures). "Destruction is always a simultaneous or alternate element which keeps pace with creation, and it is by destroying and renewing that the Master of Life does his long work of preservation" (Aurobindo).    BACK

(12) "By this Krishna meant that the death of Arjuna's antagonists...was karmically ordained, and that Arjuna would only be an instrument in carrying out the divine law" (Yogananda).

"Krishna, as the Avatar, was not only spiritually perfect by Perfection personified. He was also perfect in everything. If He had wanted to, He could have shown Himself as a perfect drunkard, a perfect sinner, a perfect rogue, or a perfect murderer; but that would have shocked the world. Though possessed of perfection in every respect, it was not necessary for Him to exhibit it in fulfilling His mission...Krishna proved to Arjuna, who was His devotee, that His apparent bringing about of the physical and mental annihilation of the vicious Kauravas was for their spiritual salvation. Perfection might manifest itself through killing or saving according to the spiritual demands of the situation." Meher Baba

"The Self is universal: so all actions will go on whether you strain yourself to be engaged in them or not. The work will go on of itself. Thus Krishna told Arjuna that he need not trouble to kill the Kauravas; they were already slain by God. It was not for him to resolve to work and worry himself about, but to allow his own nature to carry out the will of the Higher Power." Ramana Maharshi    BACK

(13) The "Father" is Prajapati, an aspect of Brahma, the Creator. Shankara says that "Grandfather" means the father even of Brahma. "Father and Grandfather" may be understood as the primal ancestors of humanity.    BACK

(14) Yadava: "descendant of Yadu," an ancient king.    BACK

(15) "The hidden truth behind these terrifying forms is a reassuring, a heartening and delightful truth. There is something that makes the heart of the world to rejoice and take pleasure in the name and nearness of the Divine. It is the profound sense of that which makes us see in the dark face of Kali the face of the Mother and to perceive even in the midst of destruction the protecting arms of the Friend of creatures" (Aurobindo).    BACK

(16) Krishna's divine form as Vishnu, cherished by Arjuna, has four hands, holding a conch, a scepter, a discus, and a lotus. Another distinctive feature of Krishna's form as seen in traditional art is his blue skin, representing "the color of his aura when he manifests" (Aurobindo). Blue is a symbol of spiritual infinity.    BACK


BHAGAVAD GITA Annotated & Explained, trans. Shri Purohit Swami, pp. 87-97
Annotation by Kendra Crossen Burroughs
Annotation and introductory material © 2001 Kendra Crossen Burroughs


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