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

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The Foundation of the Theory of the Vibhuti

The special sense of the Vibhuti is a being who manifests in a predominant way one or more of the outstanding qualities of the Divinity, whether knowledge, love, or some force of action, and who thereby aids in the evolutionary development of consciousness, and thereby fulfill the divine intention in the world. The potentiality for the development is within each being, but it remains latent or only partially manifested until it is fructified and energized by the action of the Vibhuti and can thereby emerge. Sri Krishna’s action is illustrative as he liberates Arjuna from his conventional thought processes and guides him to a higher order of understanding and a greater force of action based thereon.

Sri Aurobindo describes the process by which the habitual level of expression is burst so as to open up the growth and development that represents the next stage for the being. “A highest Godward tension liberates the mind through an absolute seeing of knowledge, liberates the heart through an absolute love and delight, liberates the whole existence through an absolute concentration of will towards a greater existence. But the percussion and the delivering shock come by the touch of the Divine on our actual nature which directs the energy away from its normal limited separative action and objects towards the Eternal, Universal and Transcendent, orientates it towards the infinite and absolute Godhead. This truth of the dynamic omnipresence of the divine Power of being is the foundation of the theory of the Vibhuti.”

It takes the power of the sun to awaken the energy of life out of the earth, and it is the power of the Vibhuti to break through the shell of our ordinary existence and energize our hidden, latent and, in some cases, unexpected powers of consciousness. The intensity stirs those subjected to the Presence to strive, to break free of the limiting bonds of the ordinary life, to strive to realise something more and higher, to become that which they come to respect and adore.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 9, The Theory of the Vibhuti, pg. 357

The One Truth That Makes All Others Possible

The Gita has provided a basic understanding of the universal manifestation and the causes and reasons of its existence, with a view toward widening the viewpoint away from the narrow and limited mental framework of the normal human standpoint, to aid in the shifting of the view to a new vision and understanding based on the standpoint of the divine Being.

This standpoint leads the liberated soul to a new relationship with the creation. Sri Aurobindo describes this new way of seeing and understanding that opens up for the soul that has gained this realisation: “He will have first the knowledge of the unity of existence and the regarding eye of that knowledge. He will see all around him as souls and forms and powers of the one divine Being. Henceforward that vision will be the starting-point of all the inward and outward operations of his consciousness; it will be the fundamental seeing, the spiritual basis of all his actions. He will see all things and every creature living, moving and acting in the One, contained in the divine and eternal Existence. But he will also see that One as the Inhabitant in all, their Self, the essential Spirit within them without whose secret presence in their conscious nature they could not at all live, move or act and without whose will, power, sanction or sufferance not one of their movements at any moment would be in the least degree possible. Themselves too, their soul, mind, life and physical mould he will see only as a result of the power, will and force of this one Self and Spirit. All will be to him a becoming of this one universal Being. Their consciousness he will see to be derived entirely from its consciousness, their power and will to be drawn from and dependent on its power and will, their partial phenomenon of nature to be a resultant from is greater divine Nature, whether in the immediate actuality of things it strikes the mind as a manifestation or a disguise, a figure or a disfigurement of the Godhead. No untoward or bewildering appearance of things will in any smallest degree diminish or conflict with the completeness of this vision. It is the essential foundation of the greater consciousness into which he has arisen, it is the indispensable light that has opened around him and the one perfect way of seeing, the one Truth that makes all others possible.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 9, The Theory of the Vibhuti, pp. 353-354