The next chapter tells us about material world as a prison – a comparison we’ve heard many times already but this time we get to hear it in terms of Sāṅkhya. As expected, the goal proposed here is to learn the truth about nature and reality. In devotional circles it would be about restoring our relationships with God but Sāṅkhya is a description of the material world, not a science of bhakti. Thankfully, we know what to do with Sāṅkhya next so it’s not a problem and I, just like everyone else, would skip over “nature of truth and reality” without being afraid it might mislead us. It won’t – because the nature of truth and reality is that absolutely everything is connected to God.
Material world is, therefore, not only a prison but an educational institution, too. We learn our lessons here and depending on whether we pay attention to what is being taught we get to graduate to the next class or stay back and repeat it.
We are limited in our understanding of the truth because the truth is an abstract and we are contingents. The truth is bigger than us, we are just one instantiated case of it. The whole truth won’t “fit” into our consciousness. We can’t understand even our world, for that matter, what to speak of God. When we talk about full knowledge, therefore, we don’t literally mean all knowledge but rather our place in it, the trail up the semantic tree from us to Kṛṣṇa. Even in the spiritual world we won’t know all of Kṛṣṇa’s qualities but we need to know those that are related to us in our service.
The consciousness that knows the whole universe is God. He is the most abstract reality and He is the knower of that reality. The knowledge of the entire material creation is self-knowledge for God – because it grows out of description of His qualities. When this knowledge is divided various universes are produced and then we become part of that small reality. We’ll never learn the rest of it but we can learn our way to Kṛṣṇa, all of our way.
When we know ourselves as part of God’s creation we can then perform our functions as part of His whole. Like our legs and hands are parts of our body that perform functions in the whole body’s interest, we’ll then become functional parts and parcels of God. Do our legs know they are part of our bodies? Most of the time they follow OUR desires so, in general, they behave like they do. Do we fulfill Lord’s desires in our current state? In general – we don’t, we take part in the creation for our own pleasure, not for the Lord’s. And at the same time we are forced to do the same things as if we were working for the Lord anyway – we just don’t accept who the real enjoyer is and this acceptance will be discussed in the next chapter.
Lord Mahā Viṣṇu treats the creation as a dream and then Lord Śeṣa treats the universes as mustard seeds. From their positions the universes look distant and all their details abstracted. Each successive form of the Lord gets closer and closer, and then the living beings get really involved with the creation. At our stage the full knowledge is not necessary to operate in our fields so we can afford to be ignorant. The Lord never becomes ignorant and therefore there are no lessons to be learned for him, and therefore no karma.
Btw, it’s not in the book but the Lord never becomes ignorant because even in His last form, the Supersoul, He is still aware of all the going ons in our universe. He might not be aware of other universes but karma only works here, ignorance of other universes doesn’t affect our Supersoul. This is an interesting question – does our Supersoul know all the other universes as well as ours? Is it the Supersoul for the rest of the creation, too? The way the process is described in our literature this might not be the case, but does that equal to Supersoul’s ignorance? That would be a pretty bold statement to make and I don’t want to be the first one making it.
And then we come to the next chapter that sheds more light on workings of the guṇas. This time guṇas are said to condition our choices. Remember how I made it into the issue with the free will a few posts back? Once you bring guṇas into our decision making our responsibility apparently shrinks but that is not actually the case because we usually go along with the guṇas so even if they condition our choices, responsibility is still ours.
Among three guṇas sattva is the best and it accepts the reality as it is – because it knows the reality and realizes that there aren’t any flaws in it. Choices made in sattva lead to knowledge and peacefulness. Next best guṇa is rajas and rajo-guṇa directs our consciousness to some aspects of the reality neglecting others. We see it as a need to fix the world to become happy. These fixes and improvements are seen as progress in modern culture and, if you listen to people, they always propose new things to fix some supposedly broken ones. Sometimes they even joke about “solutions seeking for problems” when someone wants to sell something but is not sure what it is supposed to fix (except the problem of his income, of course).
Under the influence of tamo-guṇa we reject the reality altogether, being either ignorant or dismissive of it. It brings us into a depressive state of not liking the reality and not trying to improve it, so we just whine and suffer and refuse to do anything.
Three guṇas here perform three functions – accept, direct, and reject. I’ve never heard of them presented like this before and I find it very insightful.
Among the three the acceptance is the best but simply accepting things doesn’t tell us how we should act. To start acting there must be direction, rajas, and rajas always lead to frustration – tamas. We can achieve “balance” by not falling into tamas in the end but rather accepting the outcomes of our actions whatever they are and returning back to sattva instead. If we are smart then we avoid “sinful” activities which we know will force us to suffer and this course of action can then be described as karma-yoga. It’s not an easy task – avoiding frustration in the end, and most people would rather commit some sinful activity if it promises them fulfillment of their desires.
Our Kṛṣṇa conscious solution, which is called non-material in the book, is to accept work under the order of our abstract entity – guru, and direct our energy towards goals set by him, and we keep rejecting sinful and unfavorable things. Because guru, our abstract, acts in the same way, the ultimate director is Kṛṣṇa. All three modes are still present – accept, direct, and reject, but they are not material and do not produce disappointments anymore. It is also acting in knowledge of our connection to the Absolute, there are no gaps between us and the truth, no lessons to learn and there’s no karma to be accrued.
All in all – a very cool presentation in these two chapters.