Conversation held on Thursday April 5th, 2018 at 12 Noon EST.  

“All this is strung on me as reals on are strung on a string.”

Chapter 7 and 8 (pages 99-105 Van Buitenen) 

Opening Question

How do we read the line that says “I am not in them, but they are in me”? (between line 10-15, Ch 7)  What does it mean, and what difference does it make that Krishna adds the qualification “I am not in them…”?

Observations and Reflections

We resorted to several analogies to try to understand this statement. The first one was the ocean – Krishna is like the ocean, whereas all the molecules of the ocean are the separate beings of the universe. On this reading, the whole is not in the part, but the part is in the whole.  A reservation about this analogy was brought up that the molecules, or parts, are not not sentient – capable of being deluded about their condition as molecules, no capable of the opposite.

Another image was offered: trees rooted in the ground. The ground is not in the tree, but the trees are in the ground.  There is an essential relationship between the trees and the soil; but they are not mixed up together into something undifferentiated; they are not an undifferentiated whole.

Krishna claims the entirety of created being originates in him and is dissolved back into him. The underlying question is about the relationship between Krishna and the totality of created being.

In a striking passage, Krishna claims that he is the essences of certain created things – the light of the sun and moon; the strength in the strong, unsullied by passion or ambition; desire that does not go contrary to law. He is the “sacrificial” in the body, what makes something worth sacrificing. He is the strength of faith itself, no matter what god one is putting ones faith into.   It seemed to some that these essences might good things, but perhaps not in the sense of ‘moralistic’ goods. 

The distinction that Krishna draws between himself and created being (including the three gunas) might be important with respect to the problem of evil.  If all is one, evil comes from Krishna – or Krishna actually does bad things.  On our reading of the text, Krishna’s teaching is that evil does not have an essential reality, but arises from the action of the impersonal forces of the three gunas, as well as delusion and desire.  People who are taken in by the illusion of Krishna’s yoga are led to do bad or harmful things – or continue to remain in bondage to karman. 

“Think only of me,” Krishna says (Chapter 8 between lines 10-15).  The practice Krishna is prescribing – his “yoga” – looks one of two ways: on the one hand, there is a practice of restraining all thought, of thinking nothing else but Krishna alone. One is to sit comfortably, moderately, not in an ascetic fashion, and fix ones mind unwaveringly on Krishna. So there is a way in which the mind is empty, no thinking is taking place. But a natural question arises as we attempt to fix our minds on Krishna: who do we understand Krishna to be? Is he the man in the chariot? The first eight chapters shows us a much larger and more subtle picture of who Krishna is. For example, Krishna says he is the light of the sun and the moon (c.f. Chapter 7, lines 5-10), the clear taste of the water, and so on. Nothing outside common or familiar experience is presented in this passage. Following this, it is an open possibility for the practice of the yoga Krishna presents to set the mind on these things – on many familiar beings of the world and their essences. The mind is empty only the relative sense of being empty of all other thoughts that distract attention away from the true nature of Krishna and reality.  To get this right – the question who Krishna is – would seem to be the question of highest importance for the practice. Pursuing and answer to the question may in fact be part of the practice itself.

Next week we continue with Chapter 9 and 10

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