THEOSOPHY, Vol. 39, No. 2, December, 1950
(Pages 78-81; Size: 12K)
(Number 14 of a 24-part series)

[Compiler's Note: All 24 articles have the same name.]

"THE BHAGAVAD-GITA" -- INFORMAL ESSAYS

ON EVERYDAY QUESTIONS

IT is in the Eighth Chapter that we may both encounter and resolve the question of whether or not Krishna's doctrine is meant to lead the disciple forever beyond further incarnations. This is the most widely prevailing interpretation among devotees of orthodox Hinduism, just as of Buddhists, though it is not H. P. Blavatsky's teaching of Theosophy.

Among the fringe students of Eastern occultism the word "Nirvana" has received a psychological identification with freedom from life in the manifested universe. Attainment of the state of Samadhi is also conceived as an ultimately desirable break from contact with any field of consciousness wherein the law of Karma operates. We may suspect, then, that the majority of human beings nurture, deep within some portion of their nature, a desire to escape; the oversimplification of the Christian's heaven may be more rightly regarded as an extension of this instinct than as an historical accident of doctrine.

Unfortunately, even in the Gita, it seems easy to justify a belief that man's chief work in life is to pass beyond the struggles, limitations and confusions of physical existence:

All worlds up to that of Brahman are subject to rebirth again and again, but they, O son of Kuntî, who reach to me have no rebirth.... That called the unmanifested and exhaustless is called the supreme goal, which having once attained they never more return -- it is my supreme abode. This Supreme, O son of Pritha, within whom all creatures are included and by whom all this is pervaded, may be attained by a devotion which is intent on him alone.
The student of Theosophy may at this point wonder why the Gita unequivocally repeats and repeats such statements, since the evolutionary goal posited by H. P. Blavatsky is a continuous one, with no end to incarnations. We find in The Secret Doctrine, for instance, that even at the end of a Maha Pralaya -- the rest-interval between greatly extended periods of manifestation -- not even "the essence of the personality" is lost. Instead, it is implied that all things and beings are once again reborn, to undertake another spiral in the evolutionary path.

Here William Q. Judge's insistence upon the dual meaning of the Gita assumes great importance. The Gita, said Judge, like all ancient scriptures, contains both exoteric and esoteric doctrines in the same words and passages. While it is plain that Krishna declares disciples may obtain release from cycles of birth as we presently know and experience them, this may be seen to be a reference to only one kind of birth. For instance, when he tells Arjuna that "This collection of existing things having thus come forth, is dissolved at the approach of the night, O son of Pritha; and now again on the coming of the day it emanates spontaneously," Krishna is saying that in this vast assemblage of beings the general rule is spontaneous re-embodiment for most humans, as for all forms of non-self-conscious life. "Spontaneously" apparently here means, in turn, "automatic" or without the quality of self-direction.

This is the sort of common birth also described poetically by Edwin Arnold in The Light of Asia:

So wax the passions, envies, angers, hates;
    So years chase blood-stained years
With wild red feet. * * *

And, drugged with poisonous drink, the soul departs,
    And, fierce with thirst to drink, Karma returns;
Sense-struck again the sodden self begins,
    And new deceits it earns.

From such births both Krishna and Buddha declare man must escape -- births where the lordship is "karma's" and not the man's, where the mechanical monster of habit directs one's coming to life and one's going from it.

Yet this is but one half of the Buddha's teaching on incarnation, as we have already indicated is the case with the first Gita passage quoted. Later, in the Dhammapada, we discover the implication that "sorrow's ceasing" is not attained by the extinction of individual will, but rather by extension of one's perceptive faculty to a more universal realm:

Let us, then, free from hate, live happily among those who hate; among men filled with hatred, let us dwell free from hatred. Let us, then, free from ailments, live happily among those who are ailing; among men afflicted with ailments, let us dwell free from ailments. Let us, then, free from lust, live happily among those who are filled with lust; among the lustful, let us dwell free from lust. Let us, then, live happily; we who own nothing can call nothing our own; let us be like the Shining Ones who are nourished on love (piti). * * * He who has enjoyed the flavor of solitude and the sweetness of tranquility is unperturbed and free from sin as he drinks in the sweetness of devotion for the doctrines.
Arnold's rendition of the Buddha's sermon will again suffice here:
For love, to clasp Eternal Beauty close;
    For glory to be Lord of self; for pleasure
To live beyond the gods; for countless wealth
    To lay up lasting treasure

Of perfect service rendered, duties done
    In charity, soft speech, and stainless days:
These riches shall not fade away in life,
    Nor any death dispraise.

That Edwin Arnold caught the spirit of Theosophical yoga is clearly attested by his inclusion of both psychological elements of the Buddha's liberation doctrine.

Now let us return to another passage of the Gita wherein Krishna places a qualification on freedom from rebirth: "Those great-souled ones who have attained to supreme perfection come unto me and no more incur rebirths rapidly revolving, which are mansions of pain and sorrow." If we give particular attention to the phrase, "rebirths rapidly revolving," we may conclude that these are the births referred to in the first passage from The Light of Asia --that is, "rapidly revolving" because, the power of self-determination not being present, men are drawn back inexorably to meet on this plane the effects of all actions engendered by material motivations.

Nor can we neglect Krishna's description of divine incarnations. Speaking as a great-souled teacher, Krishna says, "I incarnate from age to age for the preservation of the just, the destruction of the wicked, and the establishment of righteousness." These are volitional incarnations, such as only a being who has mastered the turbulence of kama-manasic energy can obtain. Further, Krishna implies in an earlier chapter that the sincere devotee does not pass directly from suffering to the extinction of suffering, but moves gradually along the path of deepening perception and extended self-mastery. We will remember that those whose true devotions have continued through life go "to the regions of the righteous" where they dwell for an "immensity of years," and are then "born again on earth in a pure and fortunate family; or even in a family of those who are spiritually illuminated." And then Krishna adds that "such a rebirth into this life as this last is more difficult to obtain." Gradually goes the successful warrior of the spirit, making but one conquest at a time. He will be slowly freed from "rebirths rapidly revolving," from "spontaneous" involvement in matter. Then he approaches, also slowly, the realm from which come the Divine Incarnations.

So we must consider that what is said about "freedom from incarnation" really means freedom from a certain kind of incarnation -- not escape from life, but more deeply entering into the aspiring spiritual currents found somewhere in all creatures. But why, then, should so much be written about the need for release from incarnation? Even Plato's description of reincarnation, for instance, stresses the inexorable return of men to conditions prepared by themselves. It may be that such emphasis is chosen by the Buddhas, Krishnas, and Platos because most men in Kali Yuga will first acquire a desire for "liberation," through the extent of their suffering. Even the Buddha, it is said, once longed for liberation, and only later gave up this striving when he saw that the true liberation existed in attainment of Spiritual Vision. The desire for liberation is two-fold. It need not mean escapism, but may instead represent an "over-simplified intuition" that the aspirant to spiritual progress must break with most of the familiar forms of thinking and living.

"Taking control of my own nature I emanate again and again this whole assemblage of beings," Krishna declares. "I established this whole universe with a single portion of myself, and remain separate." Here Krishna is the one who participates fully in all incarnations, yet "remains separate" in the sense that his power of perception is never confused nor embroiled by particular circumstances. He is never reborn because he never dies. He is never obliged to take a new form, since his Divine Form forever endures.


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"THE BHAGAVAD-GITA" -- INFORMAL ESSAYS
ON EVERYDAY QUESTIONS
(Part 15 of a 24-part series)

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ON EVERYDAY QUESTIONS
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