A personal understanding of Chapter 15-Purushottama Yoga
By Srishti Agarwal
When I read the Bhagavad Gita and reflect about how God created this universe, everything else seems so superfluous. ~ Albert Einstein.
If you were to read only one spiritual text in your life, let it be the Bhagavad Gita. The Bhagavad Gita summarises the most fundamental aspects of existence as laid out in our Itihasa Puranas (historical texts). Chapter 15 from it captures the essence of the Bhagavad Gita. So in a way, this is THE gold standard. In case you haven’t got around to reading and understanding it yet, here is a sneak peak to increase your FOMO. If this kindles your interest, you may read the chapter here: https://www.holy-bhagavad-gita.org/chapter/15
The fundamental principle that drives it all
Is it possible that this entire creation with innumerable galaxies, galactic arms, suns, stars, planets just came to exist of its own accord without a governing intelligence? Well, may be. But, maybe not, when you consider how a tree is contained within a tiny seed, the interdependent survival and harmony of species in an evergreen forest, millions of years of evolution happening in a mere 9 months in a human womb, the high and low tide occurring with the moon’s phases, intricacies of the movement of the earth around the sun.
- The Supreme Consciousness (aka Absolute Reality, Para-Brahma, Paramatma, Truth, Sat, Supersoul) is the defining principle or substratum through which this entire creation exists. It would help to think of this not in human-centric terms, but zooming out to see the larger picture at play.
- This principle, through the process of manifestation, or Maya, leads to the creation of this reality. The Jivatma (eternal individual soul, or Atman) is a part (amsha) of this Supreme principle, which brings to life all beings. For instance, the Jivatma combines with the six senses and the mind to activate them. This inner truth is of the form of bliss and can be seen as the Anandamaya Kosha (you can read more about the Panchakoshas (five sheaths) here: https://www.sivanandaonline.org/public_html/?cmd=displaysection§ion_id=775
- This principle manifests as energy that drives the universe and all activities on it. For instance, the light energy that comes from the Sun, and is in the moon and fire, comes from that. It gives the vital life force, that nourishes all plants, which eventually nourish all other beings. This can be seen as the Annamaya Kosha.
- Give this a thought – The food that you eat turns into ‘you’ eventually. This transformation is possible because of the Supreme intelligence that enables the digestive process by manifesting as the digestive fire and uniting with the vital breaths (Prana and Apana) in the body. This can also be seen as representing the Pranamaya Kosha.
- The inner psyche of all beings, memory, knowledge and forgetfulness (for only by forgetting / putting aside old learnings, can you grasp new things) are governed by this Truth. This can be seen as the Manomaya and Vijnanamaya Kosha.
Kshara (temporal), Akshara (eternal) Purusha (Divine being) and Ishvara (eternal Lord)
There are two types of entities in the universe, first is the Kshara Purusha, which is the temporal Divine being, subject to wear and tear, change and death.
The other is the Akshara Purusha, which is the eternal unchanging Being (the Jivatma).
As the Jivatma moves from one Kshara Purusha (body) to the next (after death of a physical being), it carries along with it the six sensory faculties of hearing, touch, sight, taste, smell, and mind, just as the wind carries fragrance from a flower. This discarding and remanifesting from one body to the next happens because of the cycle of Karma and Karmafala (cause and effect), through attachment to the senses and creation of desires. More about this in the next section. Since this is non self-evident, not everyone will recognise this process because of which we are overly attached to the physical bodies.
Beyond the Kshara and Akshara Purusha, and supreme to them, is the eternal Lord (Ishvara), which sustains both the Kshara and Akshara Purushas and pervades all Lokas (planetary spheres). This is the Supreme Being or the Absolute Truth.
The Ashwattha tree
All of life and existence (Maya) has been depicted in the Gita in the imagery of the Ashwattha (Peepal) tree. The root of this tree is the Parabrahma, which is invisible to us as it is non self-evident. Its branches spread downward to all of cosmos to create this existence. The tree grows and is nourished by the three Gunas (Sattva, Rajas, Tamas) which are also considered the fundamental drivers of life according to Ayurveda. The sense pleasures that we run and spend our whole lives after, are its sprouts, and its secondary roots are ego and desires. These are the ones that cause Karmic bondage and cause one to be reborn time and again and go through the birth-death cycle. Vedas are its leaves, and the knower of the Vedas or Divine knowledge can break free from this cycle and gain freedom.
What is the aim of life?
Since this process of rebirths is so binding and unending, if one develops the need to get free of it, one must trace the root of the tree, realize the self as one with the cosmos, as themselves being the Divine principle in manifest form at play. Here, there is no separation. This is seen as self-realisation or God-realisation, which is seeking that Supreme Abode of Paramatma. Once there, one can remain in that blissful realized state, and does not need to return to and identify with this world of Maya.
Only those who have developed the eyes of wisdom by detachment, controlling of the senses and other paths laid out in our Shastras, will be able to grasp this Truth (Sat). The yogis and wise ones, who realise this Truth, constantly dwell in and behold the Paramatman even while living through this Maya. For the ignorant and unpurified psyche, this Truth will not be visible, and they will not see the Jivatma either when it is in the body, and even when it departs to another body. This causes attachment leading to misery.
How to get there?
Luckily for us, the Gita also describes practical steps to self-realisation. Become free of pride and delusion. We go through life claiming things to be ‘mine’ – my family, my success, my contribution. We are attached to our sense of self (Ahankara), our physical bodies, our thoughts, our pride. Through self-knowledge and detachment, we need to recognize that all of this creation is unified, with one primal entity driving it. There is no separation, and all is born of the same Divine love. Take conscious steps to recognize this, zoom out from a shallow point of view and be inclusive in your worldview. One can start by sharing more, wishing well for others, trying to accept people as they are.
Detach, from the constant slavery of our senses (hunger, thirst, sleep, avoiding pain, etc.), so that we can dedicate our life to something larger and not be caught up in mere fulfilment of our desires (Kama). A step to start off would be to develop some Niyamas (rules) to suit you, like waking up at a fixed time (control over sleep), observing a fast on certain days or after evenings (detaching from hunger).
Make yourself capable of bearing dualities of pleasure and pain, heat and cold, with the same equanimous feeling, instead of creating desire for the good and aversion to the so-called bad. One can start with a sense check of their comfort zone and start by pushing the boundary to increase it. Small starters could help, like having a cold water if you’re not used to it, having a food item that you dislike, keeping a tech fast by not using your phone / laptop for a day.
Limit your desires. From the time we wake up, to when we sleep and even in dreams, we are constantly creating desires – I want to have this food, I wish I didn’t have to do this work, if only I had a life like him, I wish more people praised me, etc. Whether small or big, whatever desires we genuinely create will be fulfilled, either now or later in this lifetime, or in future lifetimes. So, be careful what you wish for! Think whether the desire is actually serving your higher self. If not, cancel it. This constant churning of desires and attachments is what keeps us going on a never stopping treadmill across lifetimes. Imagine stopping this, and breaking free of it. What would that be like? To not be bound, to be absolutely free, to act not out of compulsion but love, to be one with the Supreme Divine. Well, you need not imagine much, because you are already that. Just a flip is needed – from focusing on the outer world to realizing inner truth that is operating through each of us.