11. The Teaching of the Initiates

Krishna was greeted by the anchorites as the anticipated, predestined successor to Vasichta. They performed the srada or funeral ceremony for the holy old man in the sacred forest, and Devaki's son received the staff with its seven nodes as a sign of command, after having performed the sacrifice of fire in the presence of the three eldest anchorites who knew the three Vedas by heart. Then Krishna withdrew to Mount Meru to think upon his teaching and the way of salvation for all men. His meditation and austerities lasted seven years. At the end of that time he felt that he had subdued his earthly nature through his divine nature, and that he had become sufficiently identified with the son of Mahadeva to merit the name, the son of God. Then only did he call to him the anchorites, young and old, in order to reveal his teaching to them. They found Krishna purified and matured; the hero had changed into the saint; he had not lost his lion's strength, but he had gained the gentleness of the dove. Among those who hastened to Krishna, the first to come to him was Arjuna, a descendant of the solar kings, one of the Pandavas dethroned by the Kuravas, or lunar kings. Young Arjuna was full of fire, but was easily discouraged and inclined to doubt. He became deeply attached to Krishna.

Seated under the cedars of Mount Meru, facing the Himavat, Krishna began to speak to his students about truths inaccessible to men who live in slavery to the senses. He taught them the doctrine of the immortal soul, its rebirths and its mystic union with God. The body, he said, covering of the soul which makes its home there, is a finite thing, but the soul which inhabits the body is invisible, imponderable, incorruptible and eternal. Earthly man is threefold, like the divinity he reflects: spirit, soul and body. If the soul unites with the spirit, it attains Satwa, wisdom and peace; if it remains wavering between spirit and body, it is ruled by Raja, passion, and goes from object to object in a fatal circle; if it gives itself over to the body, it falls into Tama, irrationality, ignorance and temporary death. Every man can observe this in himself and in those around him.

"But," asked Arjuna, "what is the fate of the soul after death? Does it always obey the same law, or can it escape it?"

"It never escapes it, but always obeys it," answered Krishna. "This is the mystery of rebirth. As the depths of heaven open to the lights of the stars, so the depths of life are illumined in the light of this truth. When the body is dissolved, when Satwa, wisdom, has the upper hand, the soul flies to the regions of those pure beings who have knowledge of the Most High. When the body experiences this dissolution while Raja, passion, rules, the soul comes again to live among those who have become attached to the things of earth. Likewise, if the body is destroyed when Tama, ignorance, predominates, the soul, overshadowed by matter is again attracted by irrational beings."18

"That is right," said Arjuna. "But tell us now, in the course of centuries what becomes of those who have followed wisdom, and who go to live in the divine worlds after death?"

"Man, overtaken by death during devotion," answered Krishna, "having enjoyed the rewards of his virtues in the higher regions for several centuries, finally returns again to inhabit a body in a holy and respectable family. But that kind of regeneration in this life is very difficult to obtain. The man so born again finds himself with the same degree of application and advancement as regards the understanding that he had in his first body, and again he begins to work in order to perfect himself through devotion."

"So then," said Arjuna, "even the good are required to be born anew, to begin the life of the body again! But tell us, O Lord of Life, for the one who seeks after wisdom is there no end at all to everlasting rebirths?"

"Listen," said Krishna, "to a very great and deep secret, to the sovereign, sublime, and pure mystery. In order to reach perfection it is necessary to acquire knowledge of oneness, which is above wisdom; it is necessary to lift oneself to the divine Being who is above the soul and even above intelligence. Now this divine being, this sublime friend, is in each one of us. For God dwells within every man, but few know how to find Him. And this is the way to salvation. Once you have seen the Perfect Being Who is above the world and within you, resolve to leave the enemy which takes the form of desire. Overcome your passions. The joys of the senses are like the matrices of sorrows to come. Not only do good, but be good. Let the motive be in the deed, not in the reward. Renounce the fruit of your works, but let each of your acts be like an offering to the Supreme Being. The man who sacrifices his desires and works to the Being in Whom the beginnings of all beings originate, and by Whom the universe was formed, obtains perfection through his sacrifice. Spiritually integrated, he attains that spiritual wisdom which is above the cult of offerings, and experiences a divine happiness. For one who finds his happiness and his joy within himself and within himself finds light as well, is at one with God. Now, hear this: The soul which has found God is freed from rebirth and death, from old age and pain and drinks the water of immortality."

Then Krishna explained his teaching to his students and through inner contemplation he lifted them gradually to the sublime truths which had been unfolded to him in the experience of his vision. When he spoke of Mahadeva, his voice became more serious, his countenance was illuminated. One day, filled with curiosity and boldness, Arjuna said to him, "Let us see Mahadeva in his divine form! Cannot our eyes behold him?"

Then Krishna, standing, began to speak about the Being Who breathes in all beings, the Being with a hundred thousand forms, innumerable eyes, faces turning in all directions, and Who nevertheless is greater than they by all the heights of infinity; Who in His motionless, limitless body contains the moving universe with all its divisions. "If in the heavens the splendor of a thousand suns glittered at the same time," said Krishna, "this would hardly resemble the splendor of the only All-Powerful." While he thus spoke of Mahadeva, such light streamed from Krishna's eyes that his students could not bear its brightness, and knelt at his feet. Arjuna's hair stood up on his head, and bowing deeply, he said, "Master, your words frighten us and we cannot bear the sight of the Great Being you portray before our eyes. It overwhelms us."

Krishna continued, "Listen to what He tells you through me. You and I have had several births. Mine are known only to me, but you do not know yours. Although by my nature I am not subject to birth or death, and although I am the master of all creatures, nevertheless, since I command my being, I become visible through my own power. Every time virtue wanes in the world and vice and injustice are victorious, I become visible, and thus I appear from age to age for the salvation of the righteous, the destruction of the wicked and the reestablishment of virtue. One who really knows my nature and my divine work, upon leaving his body does not return to a new birth, but comes to me."

Speaking thus, Krishna looked upon his students with tenderness and kindness. Arjuna cried out, "Lord! You are our Master, you are the son of Mahadeva! I see him in your kindness, in your ineffable charm, even more than in your terrible brightness! It is not in the overpowering heights of infinity that the Devas seek you and want you! It is in human form that they love and adore you. Neither penitence nor almsgiving, nor the Villas, nor sacrifice are worth a single one of your glances. You are truth! Lead us to the fight, to the battle, to death! Wherever it is, we will follow you!"

Smiling and enraptured, the students pressed closer to Krishna, saying, "Why didn't we recognize it sooner? Mahadeva is speaking through you!" Krishna answered, "Your eyes were not open. I have given you the great secret. Tell it only to those who can understand it. You are my chosen ones. You see the purpose; the crowd, sees only the end of the road. And now let us preach to the people the way of salvation!"


Notes for this lecture:

18. The statement of this doctrine, which later became Plato's, is found in the first book of the Bhagavad Gita in the form of a dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna.


12. Triumph and Death

The Great Initiates