Seeing God in Illusion (Gita 10.17)

Arjuna asks, “O Kṛṣṇa, O supreme mystic, how shall I meditate on you? In what various forms are you to be contemplated, O Blessed Lord?”

The Sanskrit for this is:

kathaḿ vidyām ahaḿ yogiḿs
tvāḿ sadā paricintayan
keṣu keṣu ca bhāves
cintyo ‘si bhagavan mayā

kathaḿ how vidyām know ahaḿ I yogiḿs yogi. Tvāḿyou

O mystic being, How can I know you?

sadā always paricintayan wrap my thoughts around you

O mystic being, how can I know you
In such a way that my thoughts always revolve around you?

keṣu keṣu ca this and that bhāveṣu situation

In any and every situation.

cintyo ‘si to contemplate bhagavan Supreme Personality of Godhead mayā by me

O mystic being, O supreme personality,
how can I know you
In such a way that my thoughts always revolve around you
Contemplating you in any and every situation?

Any and Every Situation

“Any and every situation” (Kesu kesu bhaveshu) really sets up the huge section that will soon follow in this chapter. What is coming up soon, for the rest of the chapter is a huge list of descriptions of how to appreciate and remember Kṛṣṇa in each and every situation that we encounter in life.

The idea is not to withdraw to a cave… not to ignore our parents, our families our friends because “we want to concentrate on Kṛṣṇa.” The idea instead is how to concentrate on Kṛṣṇa by interacting with any and every situation. That is the gift given to you by Kṛṣṇa in the 10th chapter of Bhagavad Gita, the blueprint by which this becomes possible.

God’s Illusion

It is essential to read A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swāmī  Prabhupāda’s commentary on this text:

First of all he points out something amazing. He says in the first line that Godhead is covered by maya. However this is a special maya, yoga-maya. Misled philosophers also think that Godhead is covered by maya, but this is an entirely different idea that Prabhupāda presents. These misled persons think that when God incarnates in the world God becomes limited by the material names and forms it adopts and in this way is limited or covered by maya. This is a very childish way to think. The absolute being does not need to become subordinate to his own rules! Even when he plays along with those rules he does so out of free choice and is never bound to or by them.

Prabhupāda presents the idea that God is covered by illusion – but in a different sense. He says that because God is covered by illusion, only those who are free from illusion can directly perceive, understand and interact with him. This is what he says in the first two sentences of his comment on this text.

Thus, the way that God is “covered” by illusion is identical to the way a cloud “covers” the Sun. It is only from the point of view of a person below the cloud that the “covering” takes place.

Illusion (called “maya”) has two functions:

1.       To keep those below it from directly encountering God (maha-maya)

2.       To facilitate those above it from falling away from their direct encounter with God (yoga-maya)

When we desire to imitate God by having a self-centered life, the illusion keeps us below the clouds. We are like fireflies desiring to be the bright sun. So a great, thick, impenetrable cloud appears to blot out the real sun. This is Maha-maya – the great illusion.

When we lovingly desire to center our lives on God, the same power that formerly kept us in darkness now pulls us up above the cloud. This is called yoga-maya – the magic that causes union.

Yoga maya remains a thick cloud, a cloud so thick it becomes solid ground. Therefore we cannot fall away from our direct experience of Godhead. She places us on the ground above her and supports our relationship to God with a divine magic that permits us to experience Kṛṣṇa well beyond any rational limitations.

Arjuna addresses Kṛṣṇa as the “great mystic,” the yogi, because he is in full control of the power of illusion (yoga-maya and maha-maya). He uses his control of this power to fulfill his desires. What desire can God possibly have? None, he is selfless, he is full of love. Therefore he desires to please his parts and parcels, us. He does so in multifarious ways using his mastery of divine “magic.” Thus he is the supreme yogi.

Seeing God in Nature

The trip from being under the cloud of maha-maya to being above the cloud of yoga-maya is rapid, but not instantaneous. When the ascent begins, we desire to better center ourselves on God, but still have much residual selfishness in our character. In this condition it is very helpful to connect the world of maha-maya directly with God.

This is what “keshu keshu ca bhaaveshu” means. Arjuna specifically askes, “Please tell me how to constantly remember you even when I am still in material consciousness. How can I see you in each and every aspect of this illusion?”

Very soon, in just a few verses, Kṛṣṇa will elaborate a beautiful answer.

This way of linking our material experience to Kṛṣṇa is called vibhuti-yoga. It is the main subject of the 10th Chapter of Gita.


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