The Bhagavad Gita says that a person in godly consciousness will naturally feel sympathy and compassion for others. The sufferings of others he will feel like his own. The Gita, however extends this ideal of compassion not only for one’s fellow humans but for all living beings. The person in true spiritual consciousness sees all living beings with equal vision. Although seeing the outward differences between the physical forms of women, men, animals, fish, insects, trees and so on, the self-realized person sees that within each dwells an eternal atma, a spiritual spark of consciousness, and that the atma within all living beings is of the same nature. Not that there is one kind of atma within the butterfly, another within the horse, a third within a human being. The bodies, of course, are entirely different, but the atma – the spark of consciousness is the same.
Our desires send us running after enjoyment; whatever enjoyment we find, we become attached to; and our attachments pull us forward into another round of birth and death. The Bhagavad Gita says:
puruṣaḥ prakṛti-stho hi bhuṅkte prakṛti-jān guṇān
kāraṇaṁ guṇa-saṅgo ’sya sad-asad-yoni-janmasu
” When a living being standing in the world of matter tries to enjoy the qualities to which matter gives rise, this quest becomes the cause of his clinging to those qualities in birth after birth, higher or lower.”
ye hi saṁsparśa-jā bhogā duḥkha-yonaya eva te
ādy-antavantaḥ kaunteya na teṣu ramate budhaḥ
” Enjoyments born of the contacts of senses with their objects are themselves the very sources of distress. Not knowing this – being in ignorance – we try to enjoy and so bring suffering upon ourselves.
Both the Buddha and the Gita say that we need to become free from desires and ignorance to become free from miseries. But the Gita points towards purification of self, while the Buddha rejects the self. According to the Gita, I am covered with ignorance and afflicted with material desires, but by self-purification I can attain spiritual knowledge and transform my desires from material to spiritual. But the Buddha says that “I” is illusory. The “I” is an ever-changing assemblage of body, sensation, perception, mental formation and consciousness. And nirvana is the cessation of “I”. In fact ” I” never exists according to the Buddha, we falsely think “I” exists and once we realise “I” does not exist, then suffering ceases. Furthermore, according to the Buddha, nothing exists independently. If “I” does not exist, then what gets reborn? The solution that the Gita offers is better: The way to freedom from ignorance and material desires is not to negate or cancel out or obliterate the self or to suppose that it never existed but rather to purify and enlighten the self. As long as I – the self – falsely identifies with the material body, race, financial status, physical stature, age or whatever, I am ignoring my spiritual nature, and so I will drift about in material desires. But when I realize my eternal nature as a spiritual being, and especially when I realize my relationship with the supreme living being, or Krishna, my thoughts and desires become spiritual. To do that, the Vedas recommend chanting of spiritual mantras that redirect and purify the mind.
Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita: One cannot even maintain one’s body without work. But how we work matters. If we do not work properly, we will never get anything done. This is the mode of ignorance. If we work with desire, we get embroiled in greed and fear, happiness and sadness. This is the mode of passion. If we work, free from attachment to the results of his work, and he works without false ego, understanding that he alone cannot determine the outcome of his work, that everything ultimately depends on higher arrangement, on the will of the Divine. And so neither success or failure affects him, he works unchanged among both. This is the mode of goodness and knowledge develops when we work in this way.
The senses will never be satisfied, no matter how much you give them. Such is the opinion of the Vedic sages.
The three material qualities are likened to a triple cord that binds a living being to the world of lifeless matter. The quality of goodness, Krishna says, binds one to happiness, the quality of passion binds one to work, and the quality of darkness, covering one’s knowledge, binds one to madness. We keep shifting between the various modes and these three qualities bind spirit to matter, strap spiritual living beings to material minds and bodies, enforcing the illusion that these are the self, and imprison us so tightly that we have no way to escape. Krishna says: By the states of being brought on by these three modes, the whole world is bewildered. Illusioned by these three, we don’t know who we are, we can’t make head or tails of the world we live in, let aside understanding God. Krishna then says: So the world fails to understand Me, who stand above these three modes as supreme and inexhaustible.
The three modes are supernaturally powerful because they are the energies of the Divine. For souls who turn their gaze from reality to illusion, from spirit to matter, from the eternal to the temporary, these three modes of maya are insurmountable. But Krishna says: One who surrenders to Me can easily cross beyond them. The various methods of Yoga are ultimately meant, therefore, to bring one to the point of surrender to Krishna, or the Supreme.
According to Vedic civilization, it is essential for the king to be guided by learned and saintly advisers. The king provides executive power, and the advisers provide clear vision, both practical and spiritual. Power without vision will be aimless, misdirected and dangerous; vision without power will be ineffective and merely theoretical. The right combination: strong power, with pure and intelligent guidance.
It is important to listen, to hear. A student gains knowledge by carefully hearing from the qualified teacher, and this is true both in ordinary education and on the spiritual path. The Vedanta Sutras say: anavrittih sabdat anavrittih sabdat: By sound one becomes liberated. By sound one becomes liberated. One can become free from illusion by hearing from the self-realised soul. One then acts in compliance not with the binding force of material motives but with the liberating wisdom of spiritual sound.
That God can express his divinity in more than one role at once, that he can simultaneously rule as a king and play as a cowherd, or teach as a sage, or meditate as an ascetic, or even adopt extraordinary guises in forms other than those of a human being or, moreover, that he can appear diffuse as an all-pervading presence while at the same time dwelling within everyone’s heart and yet all the while live personally beyond the universe in a specific and definite locale – all this is part of the Vedic understanding of God.