Credit ISKCON
                                  Credit ISKCON

The popular saying goes, to see is to believe. We all want and need to have a vision, be it at the cinema, the TV, a photograph, or best, in real just looking around at the beautiful world and its beautiful inhabitants. Like, if the subatomic world is a reality, I must look at it through the microscope to satisfy myself that it is. It is through the telescope that we get a vision of what the galaxy and the solar system and beyond may be like.

When all the discourses were done, knowledge imparted of the here and beyond, Gita’s  hero Arjun turned to his dear friend Krishna and expressed a simple but fundamental wish. The abundant information, wisdom and insights remained somewhat academic to him. All the metaphysical, philosophical and poetic explanations failed to satisfy the urge to experience the truth by being afforded a grand vision of that reality –  we cannot blame him for his childlike desire to see it. In such a circumstance we would too.

Arjun here is being real cute and careful in his pleadings. first with a hint of flattery, he expresses his profound gratitude for the discourses. He acknowledges this lovingly, by calling Krishna ‘lotus eyed’ , then summoning courage he blurts out: ‘yet I desire to see your sovereign form’. then he is afraid he may have asked too much and qualifies it by adding: ‘ if you O lord think it possible for me to see it, then do… show me your eternal form.’

”But you cannot see me with these eyes of yours” replies Krishna.

Here I am reminded of ‘The Black Cloud’, a Science Fiction novel by astrophysicist Fred Hoyle about a mysterious cloud that arrives above the Earth. Scientists struggle to decipher its message and finally receive from it the technology to communicate with it. They set up the apparatus as instructed. It wishes to communicate knowledge about itself and the mysterious universe to any representative. A volunteer is seated before the instrument panel and he is connected to it. As the information comes in, the volunteer’s brain cannot handle the complexity and overload, resulting in his brain short circuiting into insanity.

Likewise, limited by our mental capabilities, one can only absorb so much of reality and make sense of it. Scientists are familiar with the mysteries of Quantum Physics but can they truly comprehend it to make sense of it for us in our daily lives? Astronomers can conceptualize Black Holes and Supernovas but can they comprehend them in their totality? When a concept goes beyond our understanding we seek to symbolize it mathematically as a convenient way of simplifying the ultra-complex. A simple equation, E=MC square, makes us feel we have understood the inconceivable.We need giant telescopes to look at distant cosmic phenomena, electronic microscopes to look at the subatomic world, computers to engage in complicated math to understand Quantum facts.

No wonder Krishna realizes the severe limitations not only of human vision but of the human mind as well. He alone ‘knows Himself by Himself’ as Arjun puts it. But Arjun is a dear disciple and friend and his request has to be honoured. Therefore through his generosity and magical Yogic powers (Yoga Kshemum), Krishna confers divine sight on him – celestial eyes (Divyam Chakshuhu).

 Then, before him, now looking through the divine protective facility of celestial eyes, Arjun sees his friend and companion the charming Avatar Krishna begin to metamorphose into a cosmic colossus with hundreds of thousands of shapes glowing with a myriad colours. He sees the whole universe and everything else there is to see integrated within the form. One of the most beautiful passages of the Gita follows:

” If the splendour of a thousand suns were to blaze forth all at once in the sky, that would be like the splendour of that mighty being. There in the body of the God of Gods he then saw the whole universe with its many divisions drawn together into one” (Ch. XI- 12/13)

 Even the one sun in our world is so brilliant that were we to stare at it we would be blinded, though we like to bask in its light and warmth. The radiance of a thousand suns shining at once is beyond conception – it would be death to look upon such brilliance. Therefore Arjun was fortunate to have the filter of divine sight to sustain the experience and enjoy such mind-blowing brilliance of the Super Conscious Essence.

 The form adopted to show Arjun the universal vision was necessarily anthropomorphic, with eyes, mouths, heads, hands and legs, the multiple colossi stretching all ways. Doubtless to safeguard against jolting him into insanity like the one suffered by our Science fiction volunteer with the mysterious cloud. But in fact a form was not relevant to the content which conveyed the substance of the message of divine reality. Arjun remarks that he sees an infinity of forms on all sides without a beginning a middle or an end. We cannot then think in terms of one form only. He sees the ‘sun and the moon in the eyes’, in other words the planetary systems and the physical universe. He sees beings flowing into him in the fires of dissolution and beings flowing out in the catharsis of creation.

 Arjun is overwhelmed and fearful and his hair stands on end (Romanchit). Trembling, he confesses that looking upon this awesome reality he is bewildered and fearful. Yet he is courageous enough to ask:

”Who are you, I know not your purpose and desire to know you”. The vision has not sated his curiosity, rather he now dares to ask that cosmic colossi ‘without beginning or middle or end’ and planetary systems orbiting in what must be His eyes, who He is! Like a courageous soldier he demands to know Him. For that mighty eternal colossus the impertinence of the puny but brave soul must have been endearing.

From that radiating cosmic vision comes a deep sonorous reply:

”I am the mighty world destroying time”

 He doesn’t say much more. In the Gita, rather than the universal form speaking of His infinite greatness, it is Arjun who overawed, begins to describe Him. Wide eyed he calls out: ” You are the primal cause, abode of the universe, the imperishable, the being and the non-being, the primal god, the ancient one, the one who pervades the universe, the adorable, the greatest Guru and implores his forgiveness for his inadvertent transgressions and presumptuous behavior as a friend, asking the Lord to be compassionate ”as a father to a son, a friend to a friend and as a lover to his beloved”( not overawed enough to give up friendship and love).

 He admits that while he ”rejoices” at having seen what has never been seen before he is confounded with fear at what he is witnessing and can no longer bear to look upon such immense glory and fearful splendour and pleads that he would once again like to see his mortal friend. How very touching the melodramatic scene must have been.

 Thereupon the Great Lord, as it were, collapses in a moment the ‘Virat’ form with the brightness of a thousand suns resuming his mortal form of the Avatar, the gentle Krishna, touchingly consoling and comforting the terrified Arjun. The wonderful Arjun, quite like a Greek hero, courageous and righteous, rejoices on seeing his own familiar gentle friend Krishna once again.

The cosmic vision may appear weird to those not brought up in Hindu culture, but we must remember that it was explained in an indian scripture for an Indian audience over 2000 years ago. The vision would have been different, say like Michelangelo’s Last Judgement, painted at the Sistine Abbey, if a disciple of Christ had asked him the same question. In the Gita Krishna clarifies this in a simple verse:

‘In whatever way men seek me, in the same way do I carry out their desires, men pursue my path O Arjun, in many ways.

‘Whatever divine form any devotee with faith wishes to worship, the same faith in him I make unwavering.’

‘Endowed with that faith, he engages in the worship of that form and from it obtains his desires, which are actually ordained by Me.’

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