The Vision of the Destroyer of Worlds

Even when we acknowledge that there is only One truth and One existence, and that “The Spirit who is here in man and the Spirit who is there in the Sun,lo, it is One Spirit and there is no other,” (Taittiriya Upanishad, Bhrigu Valli, Chapter 10), we still try to separate the “good” from the “evil” and attribute the “good” to God and the “evil” to something “else”, whether we call it “devil”, “original sin”, or “illusion” or “samsara”. The Bhagavad Gita directly confronts this issue and unflinchingly accepts that our interpretations of events or circumstances notwithstanding, it is nevertheless all ONE creation and ONE being.

Arjuna’s vision therefore encompasses not just the vastness, serenity and beauty, but also the immediacy and power of destruction of this One Being. Sri Aurobindo describes this aspect of the vision: “But in the greatness of this vision there is too the terrific image of the Destroyer….This Godhead who embraces the worlds with his numberless arms and destroys with his million hands, whose eyes are suns and moons, has a face of blazing fire and is ever burning up the whole universe with the flame of his energy. The form of him is fierce and marvellous and alone it fills all the regions and occupies the whole space between earth and heaven….It has enormous burning eyes; it has mouths that gape to devour, terrible with many tusks of destruction; it has faces like the fires of Death and Time.”

But this vision is not just one of the cosmic or the universal. It also embraces the individual level and the destruction waiting before Arjuna on the battlefield: “The kings and the captains and the heroes on both sides of the world-battle are hastening into its tusked and terrible jaws and some are seen with crushed and bleeding heads caught between its teeth of power; the nations are rushing to destruction with helpless speed into its mouths of flame like many rivers hurrying in their course towards the ocean or like moths that cast themselves on a kindled fire. With those burning mouths the Form of Dread is licking all the regions around; the whole world is full of his burning energies and baked in the fierceness of his lustres.”

The sages, the whole world are terrified and in pain, and this pain is shared by Arjuna as he experiences the vision in its intensity. “He cries to the dreadful Godhead, ‘Declare to me who thou art that wearest this form of fierceness. Salutation to thee, O thou great Godhead, turn thy heart to grace. I would know who thou art who wast from the beginning, for I know not the will of they workings.’ ”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 10, The Vision of the World-Spirit–Time the Destroyer, pp. 365-366

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The Vision of the World-Spirit

Sri Krishna reveals to the inner eye of Arjuna the vision of the world-spirit. At once overwhelming and terrifying, it overpowers his senses and normal way of relating to the world. Sri Aurobindo describes the experience: “It is that of the infinite Godhead whose faces are everywhere and in whom are all the wonders of existence, who multiplies unendingly all the many marvellous revelations of his being, a world-wide Divinity seeing with innumerable eyes, speaking from innumerable mouths, armed for battle with numberless divine uplifted weapons, glorious with divine ornaments of beauty, robed in heavenly raiment of deity, lovely with garlands of divine flowers, fragrant with divine perfumes. Such is the light of this body of God as if a thousand suns had risen at once in heaven. The whole world multitudinously divided and yet unified is visible in the body of the God of Gods. Arjuna sees him, God magnificent and beautiful and terrible, the Lord of souls who has manifested in the glory and greatness of his spirit this wild and monstrous and orderly and wonderful and sweet and terrible world, and overcome with marvel and joy and fear he bows down and adores with words of awe and with clasped hands the tremendous vision.”

The experience itself is far outside the normal human state of consciousness, extremely disorienting and it leaves the soul who has it with a sense of the immensity and unity of all creation, as well as a deep feeling of reverence. Through history, those who have had this vision and then related the experience have always spoken in an extraordinary power of language with descriptions that are impossible to translate perfectly into human speech. What one is left with is the force of the experience. “I see…all the gods in thy body, O God, and different companies of beings, Brahma the creating lord seated in the Lotus, and the Rishis and the race of the divine Serpents. I see numberless arms and bellies and eyes and faces, I see thy infinite forms on every side, but I see not thy end nor thy middle nor they beginning, O Lord of the universe, O Form universal….hard to discern because thou art a luminous mass of energy on all sides of me, an encompassing blaze, a sun-bright fire-bright Immeasurable.”

This and much more pours forth from the soul of Arjuna in a high and moving poetry far outside his normal cadence or mode of speech or thought.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 10, The Vision of the World-Spirit–Time the Destroyer, pg. 365

Seeing With the Divine Eye, Not the Human Vision

Arjuna, thus far, has looked upon the world with the normal human sight. He sees the separate beings and forms, and he sees the oppositions. the separations and the fragmentation; he has accepted the Oneness intellectually, but has not “seen” it or experienced it with the revelatory vision that makes it more than an idea or a belief. That is about to change. Sri Krishna responds to Arjuna’s request by agreeing to it, and indicates that it is not with the human vision that one can see this, but only with the “inmost seeing” of the “divine eye”. This divine eye experiences all forms as part of one larger unified Being, moved by the Will of that being, and acting under the impulsion and intention of that Being. Sri Aurobindo describes it thus: “Thou shalt see many wonders that none has beheld; thou shalt see today the whole world related and unified in my body and whatever else thou willest to behold.”

“It is the vision of the One in the Many, the Many in the One,–and all are the One. It is this vision that to the eye of the divine Yoga liberates, justifies, explains all that is and was and shall be. Once seen and held, it lays the shining axe of God at the root of all doubts and perplexities and annihilates all denials and oppositions. It is the vision that reconciles and unifies.”

Sri Aurobindo points out that while Arjuna has this experience and this vision, he still lives in the human standpoint and thus, he is overwhelmed and experiences terror at the sight. The Taittiriya Upanishad reminds us that if we make even a little bit of difference in the Eternal, then we will experience fear, but when we live in the consciousness of Oneness, then the basis for fear disappears. It is clear that Arjuna therefore is seeing the Divine Vision from the basis of his experience of separateness, and there are further steps of development for him thereafter to harmonize and unify that new standpoint as an operative basis for his future life and action.

“The soul admitted to the divine knowledge which beholds all things in one view, not with a divided, partial and therefore bewildered seeing, can make a new discovery of the world and all else that it wills to see…; it can move on the basis of this all-relating and all-unifying vision from revelation to completing revelation.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 10, The Vision of the World-Spirit–Time the Destroyer, pp. 364-365

Arjuna Asks To See the Divine Form of the Universal Being

The Bhagavad Gita is literally translated as “The Lord’s Song”. It is written in verse and has two predominant metres. The predominant metre runs throughout the entire 18 chapters, except for a short, but intense section of the 11th Chapter when it abruptly and dramatically changes. This chapter relates the experience of Arjuna when he undergoes the vision of the world-spirit, and the change coincides with his relating of what he is seeing and experiencing. This vision represents an emotional and spiritual high point in Arjuna’s seeking, and one can tell from the power and beauty of the poetry in the Sanskrit original that something very extraordinary is being related. The insertion of this inspired passage clearly is intended to have the seeker recognize that this teaching is not about intellectual exercise or philosophical pursuits; rather, it is intended to radically change the standpoint and the basis for action of those who practice the yoga of the Gita.

Sri Aurobindo explores the role that this powerful vision plays in the exposition of the Gita: “The vision of the universal Purusha is one of the best known and most powerfully poetic passages in the Gita, but its place in the thought is not altogether on the surface.”

Arjuna has received thus far a wide-reaching grounding in the standpoint and background that moves him beyond the duality and limitations of the mental consciousness. He recognizes, at least intellectually, the Oneness of all creation and the manifestation of the Supreme through Nature. Arjuna however still wants and requests something more: to have the Divine Being revealed to him in a real and palpable sense. The teaching of the Gita is not “other-worldly” so Arjuna’s request is not to experience a profound depth of silence or abstraction from the energy of the creation: “Not, evidently the formless silence of his actionless immutability, but the Supreme from whom is all energy and action, of whom forms are the masks, who reveals his force in the Vibhuti,–the Master of works, the Master of knowledge and adoration, the Lord of Nature and all her creatures. For this greatest all-comprehending vision he is made to ask because it is so, from the Spirit revealed in the universe, that he must receive the command to his part in the world-action.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 10, The Vision of the World-Spirit–Time the Destroyer, pp. 363-364

The Transfiguration of Arjuna

In the Gita, we see Arjuna undergoing a transformation, what we may actually call a transfiguration, by moving away from the normal human way of seeing and acting, to an understanding and mode of action that comes from a recognition of the Divine Reality and its omnipresence in the transcendent, the universal and the individual. To some degree this involves the ability to hold two apparently conflicting ideas at the same time, and recognize that each of them has its truth and that they are truly complementary rather than conflicting. Thus, the sense of equality of everything being the Divine must coexist with the sense of love between the personal Divine and the devotee, the enlightened human being who has turned his focus and attention on the divine manifestation.

Arjuna’s role requires him to transcend all the norms of human life. He recognizes the paradox between the preservation of the values of society and the need to destroy beloved family and friends in an enormous holocaust which threatens to undermine the very roots of society. He must see with the eyes of the Divine the “long vision” of the necessity and unavoidable nature of the action he is about to undertake, and he must understand that the entire weight of human endeavor and evolution has caused this event to occur, and thus, as Sri Krishna advises, these great warriors are already killed and Arjuna is the instrument of an action long foreseen and ordained by the weight of necessity.

Leo Tolstoy in War and Peace points out that the great war of 1812 which engulfed Europe and Russia was not caused by nor controlled by any one leader, or hero, but was part of a dynamic movement in which masses of humanity were driven to move, first East and then back West again, concurrently abrading the long established norms and customs of the societies of the times, with the result that a new impetus, a new direction could emerge. Similarly, Sri Aurobindo explains about Arjuna: “He is the instrument of a great work, a work terrible in appearance but necessary for a long step forward in the march of the race, a decisive movement in its struggle towards the kingdom of the Right and the Truth…. The history of the cycles of man is a progress towards the unveiling of the Godhead in the soul and life of humanity; each high event and stage of it is a divine manifestation.”

In order to carry this out, the human representative must be prepared for a great transcendence of his human capacity by becoming conscious and shifting his standpoint to that of the Divine. “He is called to self-knowledge; he must see God as the Master of the universe and the origin of the world’s creatures and happenings, all as the Godhead’s self-expression in Nature, God in all, God in himself as man and as Vibhuti, God in the lownesses of being and on its heights, God on the topmost summits, man too upon heights as the Vibhuti and climbing to the last summits in the supreme liberation and union.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 9, The Theory of the Vibhuti, pp. 361-362

The Hero and the Godhead

The strong and charismatic leader, the brilliant intellect, the pre-eminent in any field have always held the fascination of people throughout the world. As with any truth, it is important to recognize both the right place and the correct balance for looking to the leaders among humankind without turning this into a worship of naked power or domination that oppresses more than it leads. History tends to fixate on these powerful leaders, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Charlemagne, Julius Caesar, but also Krishna and Rama, Jesus Christ, Buddha, Moses, Beethoven, and Leonardo da Vinci, to name a few. We certainly can see that blind obedience or worship of the great leaders of history can bring about many issues, and modern-day humanity is rightly skeptical of this type of hero-worship if it has devolved into a focus on the human leader rather than the truth that the Gita has tried to bring out, the reality of the manifestation of the Godhead through these powerful forms and beings to break out of the limitations and advance our progress to the next evolutionary level.

The Gita’s view, which is a confirmation of the meaning of the Vibhuti, is explained by Sri Aurobindo: “It must be based on the recognition of the divine self in all men and all creatures; it must be consistent with an equal heart to the great and the small, the eminent and the obscure manifestation. God must be seen and loved in the ignorant, the humble, the weak, the vile, the outcast. In the Vibhuti himself it is not, except as a symbol, the outward individual that is to be thus recognised and set high, but the one Godhead who displays himself in the power.”

“Each great being, each great achievement is a sign of her power of self-exceeding and a promise of the final, the supreme exceeding. Man himself is a superior degree of natural manifestation to the beast and reptile, though in both there is the one equal Brahman. But man has not reached his own highest heights of self-exceeding and meanwhile every hint of a great power of the Will-to-be in him must be recognised as a promise and an indication. Respect for the divinity in man, in all men, is not diminished, but heightened and given a richer significance by lifting our eyes to the trail of the great Pioneers who lead or point him by whatever step of attainment towards supermanhood.”

This is a vastly different vision than the Nietzschean “superman” that, through his will-to-power has the right to control, dominate and even oppress. It puts before us the guidance, the leadership, the possibility and even the certainty of a greater future for all humanity.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 9, The Theory of the Vibhuti, pp. 360-361

God As Power in Manifestation

Those who focus on the power of creation in the world, the Divine Shakti, have seized upon a truth that needs to be incorporated as part of an integral understanding of the meaning and purpose of the Divine Manifestation. The Gita validates both the Vedantic emphasis on the pure Existence and the Tantric emphasis on the power that manifests all beings and forms in the world, through its balanced approach based on accepting Transcendent, the Universal and the Individual forms and beings as one divine Existence. While the one tended to fixate more on the unmanifest or the transcendent, the other tended to worship the power in manifestation. In fact, both are two sides or aspects of the divine Reality, the Being and its Becoming, the Existence and its Power of manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo explains: “The Divine is being, consciousness and delight, and in the world all throws itself out and finds itself again by energy of being, energy of consciousness and energy of delight; this is a world of the works of the divine Shakti. That Shakti shapes herself here in innumerable kinds of beings and each of them has its own characteristic powers of her force.”

This means that every form we see, with whatever powers it expresses, whether those of knowledge, or beauty, or might, is an expression of that divine Shakti. Therefore, “It is the Godhead who manifests himself in the great thinker, the hero, the leader of men, the great teacher, sage, prophet, religious founder, saint, lover of man, the great poet, the great artist, the great scientist, the ascetic self-tamer, the tamer of things and events and forces.”

This understanding is the basis for the concept known as the special manifestation of pre-eminent power called the “Vibhuti.” Whenever we see something that attracts us with its force of manifestation, we are recognizing therein the “Divine in manifestation.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 9, The Theory of the Vibhuti, pg. 360