Sunday, August 09, 2009

Some notes on Chapter 11 of Bhagavad Gita based on Advaitic Commentaries

Om vishvarUpAya namaH


Reading Chapter 11 of Gita raises a lot of questions in the seeker: "Who saw what and when and how?". The following is a summary of the Advaitic position as per my understanding of Shankara's and Madhusudana's commentaries.



The post has the complete translations by Swami Gambhirananda, of all the verses used in the text,


  1. Arjuna's Vision



    1. What did he see?

      The description by Arjuna of what he saw in the chapter matches the words in Vedic purushha sUkta and the sUkta from taittarIya mahanArayaNa upanishhad, commonly known as Narayana Sukta. (Incidentally, the Rishhi for the Rig Vedic purushha sUkta (10.90) is nArAyaNa, with the devata being purushha!)

    2. The vision of Arjuna had a beginning and end. Not the source:

      Though it is commonly understood that the Lord shows His cosmic form to Arjuna, it does not mean that the cosmic form had a beginning in time or space or causality. The request by Arjuna made him see the eternal form of saguNa brahman or Ishvara. Ishvara is anAdi (beginningless in time and space) and exists without any other causal effect and is shaasvata as extolled by Arjuna himself. Ishvara is the primal cause of everything else and not caused by anything.

      Thus, the granting of divine eyes (divya chakshu) by the Lord in 11.8 "I grant you the supernatural eye" (divya.n dadaami te chakshuH) is the beginning of Arjuna's vision and not of the Lord's Cosmic Form which is eternal. The Lord Himself says at the end of chapter 10: "I *remain sustaning* this whole creation in a special way with a part (of Myself)" (ekaaa.nshena sthito jagat.h 10.42), and it is the whole that Arjuna desired to see at the beginning of Chapter 11. The whole neither has a beginning nor an end. The vision of the whole, depending on the limitations of seeker, and his desires, has a beginning and end accordingly. These above two statements have close relationship with the limitations of nAma-rUpa (name and form) and the eternality, which is beyond nAma-rUpa.

    3. The apparent cause of the cosmic form is Lord's maaya.

      Further, Arjuna sees the form only because of Lord's yoga, with the word in this context meaning mAya or divine power, or 'the power of accomplishing the impossible' (meaning of aishvaram by Madhusudana). Twice does Lord Krishna explain to Arjuna how he (Arjuna) could see the Cosmic Form. In 11.8, He says "behold My divine Yoga" (pashya me yogamaishvaram.h) while in 11.47 He says: "This form ... has been shown to you by Me through the power of My own Yoga" (ruupaM paraM darshitamaatmayogaat.h). These two references point out that it is maaya is Ishvara's cosmic power that is the material cause for the Cosmic Form, while He (Ishvara) is the nimmita kaaraNa.

      Lord Krishna briefly describes to Arjuna, in three verses 11.5-11.7 what Arjuna would see. In 11.8, He explains to him what made the cosmic form possible and then grants him the divine eyes. Here are the verses:

      pashya me paartha ruupaaNi shatasho.atha sahasrashaH .
      naanaavidhaani divyaani naanaavarNaakR^itiini cha .. 11.5..

      O son of Prtha, behold My forms in (their) hundreds and in thousands, of different kinds, celestial, and of various colours and shapes.

      pashyaadityaanvasuun.hrudraanashvinau marutastathaa .
      bahuunyadR^ishhTapuurvaaNi pashyaashcharyaaNi bhaarata .. 11.6..

      See the Adiyas, the Vasus, the Rudras, the two Asvins and the Maruts. O scion of the Bharata dynasty, behold also the many wonders not seen before.

      ihaikastha.n jagatkR^itsnaM pashyaadya sacharaacharam.h .
      mama dehe guDaakesha yachchaanyad.h drashhTumichchhasi .. 11.7..

      See now, O gudakesa, O Gudakesa (Arjuna), the entire Universe together with the moving and the non-moving, concentrated at the same place here in My body, as also whatever else you would like to see.

      na tu maa.n shakyase drashhTumanenaiva svachakshushhaa .
      divya.n dadaami te chakshuH pashya me yogamaishvaram.h .. 11.8..

      But you are not able to see Me merely with this eye of yours. I grant you the supernatural eye; behold My divine Yoga.

    4. If Arjuna's vision was limited, it was because of his desire:

      In 11.7, Lord Krishna mysteriously says to (yachchaanyad.h drashhTumichchhasi) that "He would would show Arjuna what ever else he would like to see". From this, we understand that the vishvarUpa that Arjuna sees in this chapter is according to what Lord Krishna explains in the above three verses (11.5-7) and according to what he (Arjuna) had *already* desired in his mind to see. Shankara points out the above in his commentary for 11.7 and hints at it in 11.26.

      This is the reason for Arjuna being shown only a limited future, that too only till the end of the war and its result. Though he was shown in 11.26-27, the death of the warriors of the opposite side, he was not shown the coronation of Yudhishtara, or other later events like cosmic dissolution as seen by Markandeya in Chapter 12 of Srimad Bhagavatham for example.

      So, the other vishvarUpa-s seen by other devotees in mahAbhAratha/purANa-s are different from this particular vishvarUpa only in this aspect. The same vishvarUpa seen by different seekers, at different levels of Vedantic maturity (adhikAra) from different source texts may be fallacious reasoning.

    5. Arjuna experiencing fear when he saw the vishvarUpa was because of the fear of second entity:

      Primarily we know the advaitic answers to the fear that Arjuna saw in other beings (in 11.21, 11.23 or 11.36), or later experienced by himself (11.45). It is the following Upanishadic statements "Fear indeed arises from a second entity" (dvitIyAd vai bhayam bhavati Br. Up. 1.4.2) and "If he makes the slightest differentiation in It, there is fear for him. That (Brahman) becomes (the cause of) fear for knower (of differentiation) who does not reflect" (etasminnudaramantaraM kurute atha tasya bhayaM bhavati tatveva bhayaM vidushho.amanvaanasya tadapyeshha shloko bhavati Tai. Up. 2.7.1).



  2. What did 'others' see? (Others means devata-s (members of higher worlds: indra, rudra-s and so on), the members of the three worlds, raakshasa-s and Sanjaya)

    In 11.20, Arjuna says that the three worlds saw the Cosmic Form and are running away from it with fear.

    dyaavaapR^ithivyoridamantara.n hi
    vyaapta.n tvayaikena dishashcha sarvaaH .
    dR^ishhTvaad.hbhutaM ruupamugra.n tavedaM
    lokatrayaM pravyathitaM mahaatman.h .. 11.20..

    Indeed, this intermediate space between heaven and earth as also all the directions are pervaded by You alone. O exalted One, the three worlds are struck with fear by seeing this strange, fearful form of Yours.

    This is also supported by his words in verses 11.21-11.23 where Arjuna says that the members of the three worlds (lokatrayaM), along with devata-s (rudra-s, aaditya-s, vasu-s etc.), also saw the Cosmic Form.

    amii hi tvaa.n surasaN^ghaa vishanti
    kechidbhiitaaH praaJNjalayo gR^iNanti .
    svastiityuktvaa maharshhisiddhasaN^ghaaH
    stuvanti tvaa.n stutibhiH pushhkalaabhiH .. 11.21..

    Those very groups of gods enter into You; struck with fear, some extol (You) with joined palms. Groups of great sages and perfected beings praise You with elaborate hymns,saying 'May it be well!'


    rudraadityaa vasavo ye cha saadhyaa
    vishveshvinau marutashchoshhmapaashcha .
    gandharvayakshaasurasiddhasaN^ghaa
    viikshante tvaa.n vismitaashchaiva sarve .. 11.22..

    Those who are the Rudras, the Adityas, the Vasus and the Sadhyas [sadhyas: A particular class of celestial beings.-V.S.A.], the Visve (-devas), the two Asvins, the Maruts and the Usmapas, and hosts of Gandharvas, Yaksas, demons and Siddhas-all of those very ones gaze at You, being indeed struck with wonder.


    ruupaM mahatte bahuvaktranetra.n
    mahaabaaho bahubaahuurupaadam.h .
    bahuudaraM bahuda.nshhTraakaraalaM
    dR^ishhTvaa lokaaH pravyathitaastathaaham.h .. 11.23..

    O mighty-armed One, seeing Your immense form with many mouths and eyes, having numerous arms, thighs and feet, with many bellies, and fearful with many teeth, the creatures are struck with terror, and so am I.

    Further, Arjuna begins his well known prayer (verses 11.36-11.46) in verse 11.36 saying that raakshasa-s are running away from the Cosmic Form and the siddha-s are praising Him. So, even here, he says that raakshasa-s (ones who live in nether worlds) as well as devata-s saw the cosmic form.

    sthaane hR^ishhiikesha tava prakiirtyaa
    jagatprahR^ishhyatyanurajyate cha .
    rakshaa.nsi bhiitaani disho dravanti
    sarve namasyanti cha siddhasaN^ghaaH .. 11.36..

    It is proper, O Hrsikesa, that the world becomes delighted and attracted by Your praise; that the Raksasas, stricken with fear, run in all directions; and that all the groups of the Siddhas bow down (toYou).

    But, the above verses would raise the following question: why are others in the three worlds, including the lower forms like raakshasa-s (11.36) are able to see the Lord when Arjuna alone asked for it, and was gifted divya chakshu-s (divine eyes) as a gift from Lord Krishna specifically for that purpose? Also, how do the above verses go together with the following verses, where Lord Krishna says that "this vision has not been seen by anyone before (11.6)", "the form has not been seen by anyone before other than you (11.47)", "the form is not achievable through any human effort (like , veda-study, yaGYa, daana etc.) other than you (11.48)", "this form, which you have just seen is very difficult to see. Even deva-s are ever desirous of a vision of this form" and again "not through any human effort (veda study, tapa, daana etc.) can I be seen as you have seen me (11.53)". Here are the verses:

    pashyaadityaanvasuun.hrudraanashvinau marutastathaa .
    bahuunyadR^ishhTapuurvaaNi pashyaashcharyaaNi bhaarata .. 11.6..

    See the Adiyas, the Vasus, the Rudras, the two Asvins and the Maruts. O scion of the Bharata dynasty, behold also the many wonders not seen before.


    mayaa prasannena tavaarjunedaM
    ruupaM paraM darshitamaatmayogaat.h .
    tejomayaM vishvamanantamaadya.n
    yanme tvadanyena na dR^ishhTapuurvam.h .. 11.47..

    Out of grace, O Arjuna, this supreme, radiant, Cosmic, infinite, primeval form-which (form) of Mine has not been seen before by anyone other than you, has been shown to you by Me through the power of My own Yoga.


    na veda yaGYaadhyayanairna daanaiH
    na cha kriyaabhirna tapobhirugraiH .
    eva.nruupaH shakya ahaM nR^iloke
    drashhTuM tvadanyena kurupraviira .. 11.48..

    Not by the study of the Vedas and sacrifices, not by gifts, not even by rituals, not by severe austerities can I, in this form, be perceived in the human world by anyone ['By anyone who has not received My grace']. other than you, O most valiant among the Kurus.


    sudurdarshamidaM ruupaM dR^ishhTvaanasi yanmama .
    devaa apyasya ruupasya nitya.n darshanakaaN^kshiNaH .. 11.52..

    This form of Mine which you have seen is very difficult to see; even the gods are ever desirous of a vision of this form.


    naahaM vedairna tapasaa na daanena na chejyayaa .
    shakya eva.nvidho drashhTuM dR^ishhTavaanasi maa.n yathaa ..
    11.53..

    Not through the Vedas, not by austerity, not by gifts, nor even by sacrifice can I be seen in this form as you have seen Me.


    Further, perplexing are the following statements from Advaitic Commentaries:

    Shankara in His commentary for 11.6 notes that it is a form 'not seen before-by you or anyone else in the human world'.

    Further, He says in His commentary for 11.52 that "The idea is that though they want to see, they have not seen in the way you have, nor will they see!" (devaaH api asya mama rUpasya nityaM sarvadA darshanakAMkshiNaH, darshanepsavopi na tvamiva drushhTavantaH, na drakshyanti cha iti abhipraayaH).

    Clearly, the word nitya in 'nitya.n darshanakaaN^kshiNaH' in the above verse (11.52) has been interpreted by Shankara as meaning eternal or forever, thereby meaning that the gods are forever desirous of the form. Madhusudana also writes similarly.

    Couple of questions arise (i) what was the need for the commentators to interpret the nitya as forever (meaning eternally impossible) and (ii) how can the commentary be interpreted along with their commentaries for 11.20-23 and 11.36-37, where it was interpreted that the other beings: celestial beings or members of the three worlds or and members of the nether wordls, saw the Cosmic form.

    A simple interpretation is that the commentators read these verses (11.52-53) in a pedagogic sense, implying that they are a eulogy of bhakti, which has been extolled in 11.54-55 and thereby setting stage for the next chapter of Gita (12), which has usually been called as bhakti-yoga. Here are the verses:

    bhaktyaa tvananyayaa shakya ahameva.nvidho.arjuna .
    GYaatuM drashhTu.n cha tatvena praveshhTu.n cha para.ntapa .. 11.54..

    But, O Arjuna, by single-minded devotion am I-in this form-able to be known and seen in reality, and also be entered into, O destroyer of foes.

    Tu, but, O Arjuna; bhaktya, by devotion-. Of what kind? To this the Lord says: Ananyaya, by (that devotion which is ) single-minded. That is called single-minded devotion which does not turn to anything else other than the Lord, and owing to which nothing else but Vasudeva is perceived by all the organs. With that devotion, aham sakyah, am I able; evamvidhah, in this form-in the aspect of the Cosmic form; jnatum, to to known-from the scriptures; not merely to be known from the scriptures, but also drastum, to be seen , to be realized directly; tattvena, in reality; and also pravestum, to be entered into-for attaining Liberation; parantapa, O destroyer of foes.

    matkarmakR^inmatparamo madbhaktaH saN^gavarjitaH .
    nirvairaH sarvabhuuteshhu yaH sa maameti paaNDava .. 11.55..

    O son of Pandu, he who works for Me, accepts Me as the supreme Goal, is devoted to Me, is devoid of attachment and free from enmity towards all beings-he attains Me.

    Such an explanation would also go along with the eulogical terms with which Shankara has introduced 11.55 "essential purport of the whole scripture, the Gita, which is meant for Liberation, is being stated by summing it up so that it may be practised"

    But a deeper meaning of Shankara's words in the commentary for 11.52 may have to do with Cosmic maaya using which Lord Krishna has shown the divine form. As written above, twice does Lord Krishna say that it is due to His maaya alone that He has been able to show the Cosmic Form. So, though Lord Krishna may have allowed for Arjuna to extoll him by saying that the Cosmic Form has been seen by others too, actually, from a pAramArthic point of view (Krishna's point of view), after the Cosmic Form has been withdrawn, it is just a magic-show or drama, for Lord Krishna, with He being the divine magician or actor!!! Ths spirit is much alike the verse 2 of Shri Dakshinamurthy stotram: "by whose magic this was transformed (manifested) in various forms, by His own will similar to a great-yogi's" (maayaaviiva vijR^imbhayatyapi mahaayogiiva yaH svechchhayaa). Hence, Shankara's and Madhusudana's commentaries for 11.52-53, along with their commentaries for the earlier verses 11.20-23 and 11.36 are completely justified and are true to the actual spirit of Advaita which Lord Krishna was teaching all along.

    (ii) Sanjaya's vision: This is a very easy as explained by Sanjaya's account to Dhritarastra at the end of chapter 18 (18.77), where he clearly says that he is "rejoicing by repeatedly recollecting the extraordinary form of hari" (adbhuta-rUpam), which could only mean the Cosmic Form.

    tachcha sa.nsmR^itya sa.nsmR^itya ruupamatyadbhutaM hareH .
    vismayo me mahaanraajanhR^ishhyaami cha punaH punaH .. 18.77..

    O king, repeatedly recollecting that greatly extraordinary form of Hari, I am struck with wonder. And I rejoice again and again.

    And, rajan, O King; samsmrtya samsmrtya, repeatedly recollecting; tat, that; ati-adbhutam, greatly extraordinary; rupam, form, the Cosmic form; hareh, of Hari; mahan vismayah me, I am struck with great wonder. And hrsyami, I rejoice; punah punah, again and again.

  3. What are the various forms that Lord Krishna takes in Gita

    First of all, we should note that Lord Krishna is aatma and truly beyond forms and anything that follows in this section is merely a textual interpretation.

    Lord Krishna, who was initially in the normal human form (with normal for Lord Krishna, may not being the same as normal for humans) at the beginning
    of the teaching, chapters 1-10 showed the cosmic form in Chapter 11 and resumed to His "divine form" (deva-rUpam) or "form with four hands" (chaturbhuja-rUpam), as requested by Arjuna in 11.46. The narrator Sanjayasays that the Lord took a "serene form" (saumya-rUpam) and later in 11.51, Arjuna says that he is pacified by seeing the human form 'maanusha rUpam'. So perhaps there was a quick transition from Cosmic Form to divine-form (or chaturbhuja-form) to human form. (I have used Swami Shri Vidyaprakashananda's suggestion in annotating the rUpam in 11.45 with the word deva, which is different from Swami Gambhirananda's translation below.)Here are the verses:

    arjuna uvaacha .

    adR^ishhTapuurva.n hR^ishhito.asmi dR^ishhTvaa
    bhayena cha pravyathitaM mano me .
    tadeva me darshaya deva ruupaM
    prasiida devesha jagannivaasa .. 11.45..

    I am delighted by seeing something not seen heretofore, and my mind is stricken with fear. O Lord, show me that very form; O supreme God, O Abode of the Universe, be gracious!

    kiriiTinaM gadina.n chakrahastaM
    ichchhaami tvaa.n drashhTumahaM tathaiva .
    tenaiva ruupeNa chaturbhujena
    sahasrabaaho bhava vishvamuurte .. 11.46..

    I want to see You just as before, wearing a crown, wielding a mace, and holding a disc in hand. O You with thousand arms, O You of Cosmic form, appear with that very form with four hands.

    shriibhagavaanuvaacha .

    maa te vyathaa maa cha vimuuDhabhaavo
    dR^ishhTvaa ruupaM ghoramiidR^iN^.hmamedam.h .
    vyapetabhiiH priitamanaaH punastva.n
    tadeva me ruupamidaM prapashya .. 11.49..

    May you have no fear, and may not there be bewilderment by seeing this form of Mine so terrible Becoming free from fear and gladdened in mind again, see this very earlier form of Mine.

    sa.njaya uvaacha .

    ityarjunaM vaasudevastathoktvaa
    svakaM ruupaM darshayaamaasa bhuuyaH .
    aashvaasayaamaasa cha bhiitamenaM
    bhuutvaa punaH saumyavapurmahaatmaa .. 11.50..

    Thus, having spoken to Arjuna in that manner, Vasudeva showed His own form again. And He, the exalted One, reassured this terrified one by again becoming serene in form.

    arjuna uvaacha .

    dR^ishhTvedaM maanushhaM ruupaM tava saumya.n janaardana .
    idaaniimasmi sa.nvR^ittaH sachetaaH prakR^iti.n gataH .. 11.51..

    O Janardana, having seen this serene human form of Yours, I have now become
    calm in mind and restored to my own nature.

    kiriiTinaM gadina.n chakrahastaM
    ichchhaami tvaa.n drashhTumahaM tathaiva .
    tenaiva ruupeNa chaturbhujena
    sahasrabaaho bhava vishvamuurte .. 11.46..

    I want to see You just as before, wearing a crown, wielding a mace, and holding a disc in hand. O You with thousand arms, O You of Cosmic form, appear with that very form with four hands.

    Also, Arjuna in his prayer (11.36-46), when he asks for apology for referring to Lord Krishna as kRishhNa, yaadava and sakha, is recognizing that Lord Krishna is truly beyond forms, in the true spirit of 7.24 and 9.11. Here are the verses:

    sakheti matvaa prasabhaM yaduktaM
    he kR^ishhNa he yaadava he sakheti .
    ajaanataa mahimaanaM tavedaM
    mayaa pramaadaatpraNayena vaa.api .. 11.41..

    Without knowing this greatness of Yours, whatever was said by me (to You) rashly, through inadvertence or even out of intimacy, thinking (You to be) a friend, addressing (You) as 'O krsna,' 'O Yadava,' 'O friend,' etc.-.


    avyaktaM vyaktimaapannaM manyante maamabuddhayaH .
    paraM bhaavamajaananto mamaavyayamanuttamam.h .. 7.24..

    The unintelligent, unaware of My supreme state which is immutable and
    unsurpassable, think of Me as the unmanifest that has become manifest.

    avajaananti maaM muuDhaa maanushhii.n tanumaashritam.h .
    paraM bhaavamajaananto mama bhuutamaheshvaram.h .. 9.11..

    Not knowing My supreme nature as the Lord of all beings, foolish people disregard Me who have taken a human body.



  4. What form does the Ishvara take? Arjuna asked for a specific form of the Lord. Lord Krishna took that form. It shows that Ishvara, though formless, takes the form that the devotee requests Him. Here are the verses.

    maa te vyathaa maa cha vimuuDhabhaavo
    dR^ishhTvaa ruupaM ghoramiidR^iN^.hmamedam.h .
    vyapetabhiiH priitamanaaH punastva.n
    tadeva me ruupamidaM prapashya .. 11.49..

    May you have no fear, and may not there be bewilderment by seeing this form of Mine so terrible Becoming free from fear and gladdened in mind again, see this very earlier form of Mine.



An initial version of this post appeared on advatin list. Here is the link. It is also suggested to read the entire thread.


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