Perennial Psychology of the Bhagwad Geeta

  • By Swami Rama
  • January 2002
Knowledge of the Field and the Knower

1. I wish to know your primordial nature (Prakriti) and your conscious principle (Purusha)-the field and the field-knower, knowledge and the knowable-O Krishna.

The Blessed Lord said

2. O Son of Kunti, this body is called a field. He who knows this, him the experts in this matter call the field-knower.

After imparting the knowledge of Bhakti yoga, the yoga of divine love, Sri Krishna explains to Arjuna that the body is like field that yields the ambrosial fruit. When the aspirant knows the importance of his field and knows the difference between the field and its knower, he finally realizes the Self. It is essential to have profound knowledge of the body and to look after it with utmost care. One who knows the importance of this body and knows that it is in the possession of Atman is wise indeed. Such an aspirant uses his body as an instrument to attain the purpose of life. In this chapter the word kshetra (field) is used to signify the body and kshetrajna (field knower) the individual soul. It is the duty of every human being to fully know the field in the form of the body. The field is both an individual’s body and the body of the Lord. When one is realized, he is aware that the whole universe is his body.

The Lord alone is the proprietor of all the bodies in the universe, for He alone pervades all the bodies and has profound knowledge of them. The infinite bodies of this universe are like fields of one farmer, the Lord. There is nothing that is not known by the Lord. The inner dweller in the human body is Atman, which is eternal and infinite in its essential nature. When the aspirant realizes his true Self, such a Purusha (individual soul) becomes a


(the best of souls), for he attains Godhood. When the aspirant knows that there is no difference between himself and the universal form of the Lord, he realizes that he is Atma and that the whole universe is his field. The same Atman that dwells within him dwells in all of the universe. The relationship between Atman and the body, the knower and the field, and that between Atman and the universe is the same. Every aspirant should acquire knowledge of this relationship. If that knowledge is not gained, one’s knowledge is false knowledge or illusion. Ordinary human beings suffer because of such false knowledge. Sri Krishna explains to Arjuna that the body is like a field, and the individual soul is the knower. Only the knowledge of both is considered to be true knowledge. Atman is the Lord of the body. As the beads of a necklace have a thread that passes through them, so the multifaceted universe has the universal Self running through and sustaining it.

Body and individual soul are related to one another in the same way that Prakriti is related to Purusha. The universe is the outcome of two fundamental principles of one Absolute without a second: Purusha (consciousness) and Prakriti (primordial matter). From Prakriti and Purusha all the animate and inanimate forms of the world are both, maintained, and destroyed. Nothing can exist without the Lord’s Prakriti. All the manifestations in the universe are diverse forms of Prakriti.

5. As sung of by the sages variously and by manifold Vedic mantras in different ways, as well as by the words of the sutras that teach about Brahman and that are definitive and logical.

6. The five great elements, ego, intelligence, and the unmanifest, the ten and one senses, as well as the five pastures of the senses;

7. Desire, aversion, pleasure, pain, the whole organism, awareness, sustenance-this is illustrated briefly as the field together with its products.

In these verses Sri Krishna lists all of the components of Prakriti, the field. They are the constituents of the human body and the universe: earth, water, fire, wind, and space; ego sense; intelligence; non-manifest Prakriti; the senses of smell, taste, sight, touch, and hearing; the mouth, hands, feet, and the organs of procreation and excretion; mind the five objects of the senses (smell, taste, form, touch, and sound); desire; hatred, Pleasure and pain; the organism- aggregate of all; sentience; and sustenance. With these last seven entities Prakriti becomes thirty-one fold, and that thirty-one fold Prakriti is called the field. All of its constituents go through modification and change by intermixing and are thus able to create different forms. These modifications are constantly changing into various forms. They are the components from which the universe is built.

8. Absence of self-praise, freedom from hypocrisy, non-violence, forgiveness, simplicity, service to the teacher, purity, stillness, self control;

9. A dispassionate attitude toward the objects of the senses, as well as the absence of ego, observing the flow of painfulness in birth, death, old age, and illness;

10. Freedom from attraction, freedom from attachment toward progeny, spouse, home, and so forth, and ever remaining toward progeny, spouse, home, and so forth and ever remaining even-minded when confronted with desirables or undesirables;

11. Undeviating devotion toward Me with single-minded yoga, fondness for solitary places, not delighting in gatherings of people;

12. Always dwelling in spiritual knowledge, insight into the meaning of true nature-this is said to be knowledge. Other than this is ignorance.

These verse focus on putting knowledge into practice. To merely know something intellectually is not to have profound knowledge of it. We all know what to do and what not to do, but we do not know how to actualize that knowledge. Each of us understands certain fundamental truths about how to live; yet we do not know how to put them into practice. It is important to understand those truths from a practical viewpoint. In childhood one is instructed in all the fundamentals: to be good, nice, kind, and gentle. Yet he is not taught how to bring them into practice. Practicing truth is different from learning to know truth. These five verses describe qualities that are systematically developed in the path of yoga.

Pride, conceit, and thoughts of hurting and injuring others are characteristics of the ignorant. Kindness, gentleness, love, forgiveness, straightforwardness, service to one’s elders and preceptors, and the steady practice of spiritually are the virtues and characteristics of the wise aspirant. If those qualities are lacking, one remains ignorant. All the virtues and weaknesses should be understood, and the virtues should be cultivated with all sincerity and firmness of will.

The student should practice these principles, which will enable him to expand his consciousness and to fathom the higher levels of consciousness. Then he is clearly treading the path of spirituality. For example, if one wants to practice loving others he should understand and practice

-non-harming, non-injuring, and non-hurting. If he is still running after sense enjoyments, craving the pleasures of the world, attached and haunted by worldly desire, then he is ignorant. That is not the path of spirituality. The first step of knowledge makes one aware of his shortcomings, and in the second step he learns to remove them. In the third step he acquires virtues like ahimsa, which is the singular expression of love. In the fourth step one completely abstains from those actions that are injurious to his growth.

18. That light of lights is said to be beyond darkness. The knowledge yet the object of knowledge, the goal of knowledge. It is established in the heart of all.

19. Thus briefly I have stated the field as well as knowledge and the objects of knowledge. Knowing this My devotee becomes ready for becoming Me.

20. Know the primordial nature Prakriti as well as the conscious Principle Purusha both to be beginningless. Know the gunas as well as the products (vikaras) to be born of Prakriti.

21. Prakriti is said to be the cause in the matter of effect, instrument, and agency. Purusha is said to be the cause in apperception of pleasures and pains.

When the aspirant understands the temporal and the Absolute, the field and the knower, he attains the highest state of truth. Compared to the knower (the Self), the field (the body) does not last for a long time. But that does not mean that the aspirant should not understand the body or that he should ignore it and not look after it, for the kshetra is the field of action through which creativity, arts, and the sciences find their expression. It is important to understand both units of life: the temporal (body, breath, sense, and mind) and the Self.

The yogi should learn to keep his body healthy

so that he can attain the goal of life. Knowledge and the field of its expression should be understood clearly. The body can become a means but if not looked after, it can create a stumbling block and barrier. Loving the Self does not mean ignoring the body any more than living someone means hating others. Our master used to say that the real Self should be loved, but at the same time hatred should not be created for the body. When the students goes to the deeper levels of his being, there is a tendency to ignore the body. But he should not forget that a healthy body is always a means, whereas a sickly body demands the attention of the sadhaka and interferes with his practice. Both a healthy body and a sound mind are essential for the sadhaka.

Sri Krishna reminds Arjuna that Purusha and Prakriti, the Lord and His power of manifestation, are ancient and without beginning. The student should know the modifications arising out of Prakriti and should know that effect and cause reside together in the causal form in Prakriti. When the individual soul becomes attached to the desire to experience pleasure, it also experiences misery, for in the absence of one other exists. These two pairs of opposites arise from a single cause; that which is the cause of pleasure is also the cause of misery.

22. The conscious spirit Purusha, only dwelling within Prakriti, perceives the Prakriti-bound gunas. The cause of His birth in the good and bad bodies is His connection with the gunas.

23. Close observer, consenter, bearer and experiencer is the great Sovereign. The supreme Spirit in this body is also called the supreme Self, Parama-atman.

In these two verses the student is asked to be a witness exactly as one’s real Self is a witness. When the student practices meditation and withdraws the senses from the external world, his mind is not distracted and disturbed by the dissipation of the senses. But even at that stage he has to encounter the flow rushing from the unconscious, which is the reservoir of all memories, impressions, samskaras, and merits and demerits of one’s current and previous lives. How can one deal with such thoughts when they present themselves during meditation? If the meditator learns to observe his thoughts and all that comes from the unconscious-symbols, ideas, fancies, and fantasies-and does not become involved or identify himself with them, he can remain a witness. Without attaining that state, meditation is incomplete. The One who dwells in the heart of the cosmos is the same One who dwells in the body. In the individual body He is the master, and He is the same master and knower of the universe. Just as one and the same space is in the cup, in the room, and outside, the all-pervading Self is everywhere.

When the student is firmly established in the knowledge that the inner dweller, Atman, the supreme Self, resides in the body and also knows the external, mundane, and temporal world well, then whatever actions he performs do not create bondage for him. The aspirant who knows the pure Self, its manifestation and its qualities and then learns to live in the world is free from the necessity of rebirth.

24. He who knows the conscious spirit Purusha as well as the primordial nature Prakriti together with the attributes (gunas), even though operating in every way, he is not bound again.

25. Some see the Self by the Self within the Self through meditation; others by Samkhya or by yoga and yet others by the yoga of action.

26. Others not knowing thus, worship upon hearing from others. They too, intent upon learning from others, yet certainly conquer death.

Sri Krishna distinguishes between four paths and says that Self-realization can be attained by each of those paths. On one path the aspirants practice the yoga of meditation to attain samadhi. In that path the journey from the gross self to the subtlemost Self is trodden systematically by the raja yogis and dhyana yogis. Those yogis practice ashtanga yoga,

The eight limbs of yoga:

yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi Yama consists of five practices that help one relate to others with a sense of oneness, and niyama is comprised of five practices that lead to self-purification. Asana helps one to prepare the body for meditation through physical postures. Through pranayama one regulates the lungs, breath, and vital energy. Thus one prepares himself through his actions, postures, and breath to enable him to sit for meditation without being distracted by such things as the remembrance of deeds improperly performed, discomfort of the body, or irregular breathing. The aspirant next learns how to withdraw his senses (pratyahara) and then to concentrate his mind (dharana). Prolonged one-pointed concentration leads to meditation (dhyana), and prolonged steady meditation leads to samadhi.

Other aspirants tread the path of knowledge. They study the scriptures attentively and contemplate on the teachings of the Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra, and Bhagavad Gita. When their contemplation is strengthened by pure reason, their buddhi becomes discriminative, and they understand the difference between the pure Self and the mere self. That is the path of knowledge, which finally leads the aspirant to Self-realization.

There is another group of aspirants who attain spiritual heights by performing their duties and dedicating all the fruits of their action. They understand the nature of Prakriti and its gunas: Sattva, rajas, and tamas. They perform their actions without any attachment and thus reach the highest level of consciousness. The fourth group of aspirants is not learned. They depend on the teachings imparted to them by the sages, and they strictly follow that knowledge with full faith and devotion. Their path is the path of devotion and faith, and it is faith that leads them across the mire of delusion. Having a pure heart and unflinching faith, they reach the shore of life. Various are the paths followed by the many aspirants for attaining spiritual knowledge. All those who make sincere efforts reach the summit.

27. So long as any entities, moving or unmoving, are born, know that to be through the union of the field and the field-knower, O Bull among Bharatas.

28. Dwelling alike in all beings, the supreme Sovereign, not perishing among the perishing things-he who sees Him, he truly sees.

Teaching the yoga of equanimity, Sri Krishna says to Arjuna that whatever we find in the world, animate and inanimate, is the creation of the Self, Purusha, and its power of manifestation, Prakriti. The Self is the knower, the supreme reality, and Prakriti is its field, the manifestation that we see in various names and forms all over the universe. All that comes into existence, whether sentient or insentient, arises from the union of Purusha and Prakriti.

These two fundamental principles are the principles of the one Absolute without a second.

Purusha controls Prakriti as the body is controlled by its knower. This very Purusha is called Atman.

Atman dwells equally everywhere in all things and beings of the universe. The aspirant who has the profound knowledge of the unchanging, everlasting, and eternal knows the Truth. He sees Truth everywhere and in everything. He remains undisturbed, for he has attained the state of equanimity.

30. He alone sees who sees the Self as not a doer, and who sees that all acts are performed by Prakriti alone in every way,

The wise person knows that Atman is not the doer, that all actions are carried by Prakriti. It is the material nature that is responsible for all the actions and happenings going on in the universe and in the individual. Atman remains the witness. One who has attained this knowledge has realized the Self.

Here ends the thirteenth chapter, in which the knowledge of the Self and the body, the universe and its Knower, the supreme Self is described.

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