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Strength sans attachment, and the limits of the material || Acharya Prashant, on Bhagavad Gita(2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
12 min
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बलं बलवतां चाहं कामरागविवर्जितम् ।

धर्माविरुद्धो भूतेषु कामोऽस्मि भरतर्षभ ।। 7.11 ।।

balaṁ balavatāṁ chāhaṁ kāma-rāga-vivarjitam

dharmāviruddho bhūteṣhu kāmo ’smi bharatarṣhabha

And of the strong, I am the strength, which is devoid of desire and attachment, among the creatures I am the desire, which is not contrary to righteousness, O scion of the Bharat dynasty.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 7, Verse 11

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ये चैव सात्त्विका भावा राजसास्तामसाश्च ये ।

मत्त एवेति तान्विद्धि न त्वहं तेषु ते मयि ।। 7.12 ।।

ye chaiva sāttvikā bhāvā rājasās tāmasāśh cha ye

matta eveti tān viddhi na tvahaṁ teṣhu te mayi

Those things that indeed are made of Sattva and those things that are made of Tamas, know them to have sprung from me alone. However, I am not in them; they are in me.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 7, Verse 12

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Questioner (Q): What is the significance of “strength devoid of desire and attachment” and “desire un-opposed to Dharma”?

Also, what does Krishna mean by saying, “They are in Me, yet I am not in them,” as his statement seems to contradict the verses 8 to 10, where he says, “I am the light in the sun and the moon, I am the pure smell in the Earth, and life principle in all being”?

Acharya Prashant (AP) : So, verse 8, 9, 10 have also been quoted. And the verses from 8th to 10th say:

रसोऽहमप्सु कौन्तेय प्रभास्मि शशिसूर्ययो: ।

प्रणव: सर्ववेदेषु शब्द: खे पौरुषं नृषु ।। 7.8 ।।

पुण्यो गन्ध: पृथिव्यां च तेजश्चास्मि विभावसौ ।

जीवनं सर्वभूतेषु तपश्चास्मि तपस्विषु ।। 7.9 ।।

raso ’ham apsu kaunteya prabhāsmi śhaśhi-sūryayoḥ

praṇavaḥ sarva-vedeṣhu śhabdaḥ khe pauruṣhaṁ nṛiṣhu ।। 7.8 ।।

puṇyo gandhaḥ pṛithivyāṁ cha tejaśh chāsmi vibhāvasau

jīvanaṁ sarva-bhūteṣhu tapaśh chāsmi tapasviṣhu ।। 7.9 ।।

O’ son of Kunti, I’m the taste of water, I’m the effulgence of the moon and the sun, the letter Om in the Vedas, the sound in space, and manhood in men. I’m also the sweet fragrance in the earth, I am the brilliance in the fire, the life in all beings, and I am the austerity of the ascetics.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 7, Verse 8-9

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बीजं मां सर्वभूतानां विद्धि पार्थ सनातनम् ।

बुद्धिर्बुद्धिमतामस्मि तेजस्तेजस्विनामहम् ।। 7.10 ।।

bījaṁ māṁ sarva-bhūtānāṁ viddhi pārtha sanātanam

buddhir buddhimatām asmi tejas tejasvinām aham

O Partha, know me to be the eternal seed of all beings. I am the intellect of the intelligent, I’m the courage of the courageous.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 7, Verse 10

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So, here Shri Krishna is talking as if he is present in all beings. In Sun he is present as brightness or brilliance, in Moon he’s present as effulgence, in water he’s present as taste, in the Vedas he’s present as Aum (praṇava). He says, “In the Earth I am present as the sweet fragrance.”

And then, very quickly he seems to contradict himself in verses 11 and 12 where he says, “They are in Me, yet I am not in them.” Has to be understood.

Everything in the universe, in Prakriti exists by virtue of the fundamental element. That fundamental element here is Krishna. Everything in the universe exists by virtue of the fundamental element. The fundamental element expresses itself in all things, but no particular thing expresses the fundamental element in its totality.

Are you getting it?

You see, when you stand under a shady tree on a sunny day, don’t you see a lot of little, brilliant dots on the earth below the shade? What are those little brilliant dots or spots? They are images of Sun. The tiny spaces between the leaves of the tree are acting as pinholes, and the entire mechanism is acting as a pinhole camera. It’s a thick tree. The foliage is quite thick.

So, there are these little gaps from where the sunlight is passing and the sunlight, when it hits the earth after passing through those little pinholes, creates on the earth images of Sun itself. Not sunlight, Sun itself.

Now, are those images, the various images, the hundreds of images, Sun, actually? No, they are not Sun. None of them is Sun. But all of them are due to the Sun, and all of them are images of the Sun and all of them represent the Sun. That’s what Krishna is saying here. He’s saying, “Everything that you see in the universe has been powered by Me. It represents Me. But nothing captures Me fully.” Right? So, “They are in Me, I am not in them.” Read it to say, “I’m not fully in them. Partially, yes. All of them carry Me. But no thing can carry me fully, because everything is finite, everything is limited. I am infinite, limitless—how can any thing then carry Me?” Are you getting it?

So, you get to see two things here.

One: it has been a tradition in India to worship everything as a representation of the Ultimate. At the same time, nothing has been worshipped as the Ultimate. Nothing has been worshipped as the Ultimate. Therefore, there is Īśvara, and there is Brahma.

You can worship everything as a lord, as a small god, as a devaḥ. You can attach the word ‘bhagavan’ to a lot of entities because there is a lot that represents godliness. But then, you do not do these things with Truth or Brahma. You can take a tree and worship it as a devaḥ, but you will not take a tree and worship it as Brahma.

So, there is acceptance of everything as a representative of godliness. At the same time, there is a clear realization that nothing can be a substitute for the Truth.

While everything has Bhāgavatta, the god element, yet there is nothing that can be taken as Truth almighty itself. Things are admirable, respectable, worthy of worship because they act as a door; they can take you beyond—but no thing is the beyond itself. Therefore, the distinction between Īśvara and Brahma.

Is that clear?

Then the first part of the question. “What is the significance of ‘strength devoid of desire and attachment’ and ‘desire un-opposed to Dharma’?” Krishna’s saying here, “And of the strong, I am the strength which is devoid of desire and attachment.”

In general, where does our strength come from? Our strength itself is powered by desire and attachment, no? The more desirous you are, the more strong—or the more headstrong—you become, don’t you? Have you seen how one-pointed people become in pursuit of their desires? Have you seen how energetic a man becomes when possessed by desire? Right? Have you seen how motivated we are when in the grip of attachment?

So, in general, all our energy flows from just the wrong places. When you find a man very energetic, you can almost be assured that he is operating from the wrong center.

There are so many energetic people in the world. What are they energetic for? In general, most people are energetic to pursue their own narrow self-interests. The moment we find that it is possible to further our personal welfare through a certain course of action, we find that we are full of energy. It is as if energy starts springing from some hidden sources within us just so that we can proceed to meet our desire, right? Even the laziest person becomes super active and agile, brimming with movement, and enterprise, when he wants to get something, no?

Shri Krishna is saying something different here. He’s saying, “I’m that strength which is devoid of desire and attachment.” Where does this strength come from? This strength comes from seeing the ill-effects of desire and attachment. One says, “I can see what desire and attachment have done to me and to the world, and I now refuse to submit to my old fate. I will now strongly and staunchly resist falling into the same traps that had hitherto snared me.” This is the form and declaration of that strength.

So, there is the strength, there’s an energy, there is a resoluteness that comes from being possessed by desire, and there is a strength that comes from seeing the ill-effects of desire. You see that the enemy is just around the corner, and you remember what the enemy was able to do the last time he overpowered you. So you are ten times more determined now. Krishna is talking of that strength.

You are saying, “I know you are very powerful, and I know that you totally trample me when you’re able to win me over. I will not allow that to happen this time, so I am pretty unflappable now.” This is the strength that Krishna is talking of.

So, there is a strength that has the seed of Maya over it, and there is a strength that says, “I resist Maya. I want to go directly to Krishna.” Both these are quite strong, but needless to say, if these two are matched against each other, the right strength prevails. The right strength prevails. Right?

Then he says, “What is meant by desire unopposed to Dharma?”

So, again you can see that there are two kinds of desires. Mostly our desire stands in opposition to Dharma. Is that not our usual experience? Krishna’s saying, “No, I’m not that desire. I am the desire that moves towards Dharma. I am the desire that is aligned with Dharma. That’s what I am.” You getting it? He has to specify because mostly our strength, our resolution, our desires, they all arise from the wrong places. Rare is the man whose desire is towards Dharma. So much so that the word ‘desire’ itself has turned into some kind of an abuse in spiritual practice. Not because desire is condemnable per se, but because most people practice just the wrong type of desire. It is not desire that in itself is a vice; it depends on the desirous one.

Depending on the orientation of the desirous one, desire will take its direction. Desire could be either towards Dharma, towards Liberation, towards Truth, or desire could be totally opposed to Dharma and Satya.

Overwhelmingly we find the evidence that desire is opposed to Truth. So, we have started saying that desire itself is the culprit, which it really is not. There is a clear possibility, as Shri Krishna puts here, to be desirous of Krishna himself. That’s when desire is your friend. Otherwise, desire is your enemy. Have the right desire. Right?

People often come and ask about desirelessness. Desirelessness means nothing. Desirelessness is actually just another name for being free of the desire of the wrong kind. Right? So, I am desireless in the sense I do not have desire. What kind of desire do I not have anymore? The wrong desire. That is desirelessness.

So, desirelessness really then does not mean to not to have any desire. Desirelessness then actually means to have the right desire.

The added advantage here in having the right desire is that right desire can actually get fulfilled. Wrong desire is such a losing endeavour, that you can never succeed with it. You will keep desiring and the desire will never really reach completion. Right desire can actually reach completion. And once it reaches completion, is there the desire or the desiring one left? No. Both are gone.

So, now it is desirelessness in the true sense of the word. Because the desire is now fulfilled, truly completed, so the desire and the desirous one both are gone. This you can call as 'desirelessness'. Right? But this is the highest definition of desirelessness. In general, when as a seeker, as a practitioner you practice desirelessness, what should it mean to you? It should mean being free of desire of the kind that spells bondage. That is desirelessness in a practical sense.

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