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The Celestial Eye

Nathan Spoon,  Thursday, December 09, 2010 11:20 AM
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‘You cannot see Me with your terrestrial eyes. So I will give you a divine eye.’


In chapter eleven of the bhagavadgItA, Arjuna requests to see Lord Krishna’s Cosmic form. Krishna agrees to show him, but first says (in verse eight), ‘You cannot see me with your terrestrial eyes. So I will give you a divine eye.’ This promise from Krishna is central to the entire gItA, which presents the principle -yoga-s of karma, bhakti and j~nAna.

To meditate on the gItA is to put ourselves in the place of Arjuna. As we read along, and due to their universal nature, we discover that Arjuna’s questions are, in fact, our own burning questions. Central to these questions, of course, we want to know about this ‘divyaM’ - ‘celestial, heavenly, divine’ eye. What is it? And how are we helped once we see the cosmic form of the Lord?

Arjuna’s Asking

Before considering these questions, however, we will first consider how Arjuna put his request to Sri Krishna. In verses one through four of chapter eleven we read the account of Arjuna’s request. Specifically in verse three Arjuna says, ‘I desire to see your divine form.' And in verse four we read that Arjuna says, ‘If you consider it possible for me to see this, O Lord and Prince of yoga, then let me see your imperishable Self.' Although he is very straightforward in asking (‘I desire to see your divine form’), the notable humility and deference Arjuna shows toward Krishna is very important.

How many times, despite our wish for mumukShutvam, do we fail to show humility and deference and instead act as if we already know everything? Such behavior is due to lack of purity within the antaHkaraNa, by which is meant mental purity. On the other hand, the disposition of Arjuna indicates purity of the antaHkaraNa. As Sri Abhinava Vidyatirtha reminds us, ‘Human minds are varied in nature. A mind which is cultured due to the presence of good tendencies is quite distinct from the one that is bereft of such vAsanA-s. We must always keep our antaHkaraNa, the inner instrument, pure. (...) It is only with a pure antaHkaraNa that we can grasp the essence of what is taught in the shAstra-s and not otherwise.’ [http://www.jagadgurus.org/Component/VT-Pearls-of-Wisdom]

With a purified antaHkaraNa, we are ready for the revelation of what is precious and indescribable.

manas, buddhi and ahaMkAra

On this topic of the antaHkaraNa we will want to consider, for the purposes of our meditation, three of its aspects. These are manas, buddhi and ahaMkAra. 

manas is our conventional mind. We use this mind to assess practical matters. Useful as it may be, however, this mind is actually not capable of realizing Atma-brahman

We realize brahman only after opening the buddhi, which is our intellect, our inner eye of intellective-intuition. The buddhi is central to this passage we are meditating on, because this inner eye is the celestial eye referred to by Lord Krishna!

On this topic of the intellect, the great Western Sage Meister Eckhart has written, ‘There is something in the soul which is uncreated and uncreatable...and this is the intellect.’ Eckhart’s statement is in harmony with our gItA passage.

Also, we can consider that the bRRihadAraNyaka upaniShad says, ‘He, who inhabits the intellect, who is inside the intellect, whom the intellect does not know, whose body is the intellect and who controls the intellect from within, is the antaryAmin or Internal Ruler; He is your imperishable Atma.’ [Edifying Parables, Sri Vidyatheertha Foundation, 2000]

This passage is pointing out that the buddhi merely reflects the light of the Atma. It is not itself the Atma.

Since the buddhi, in and of itself, is not the Atma, simply opening it is not enough. We have to train our inner eye on revelation.  This revelation is known as sabda-brahman, or word - brahman. But training our inner eye on revelation is not something esoteric; it is a simple matter of repeatedly meditating on the scriptures (upaniShad-s, bhagavadgItA and brahmasUtra-s) and other wise words. 

In answer to our first question, presented in the opening passage, the buddhi is that faculty by which a given human being may gaze toward the Inexpressible.

Finally, we can consider ahaMkAra. This word is comprised of two words: ‘aham’ which means ‘I’ and ‘kAra’ which means ‘maker’. So ‘ahaMkAra’ is the ‘I-maker’ or, as Sri Ramana Maharshi taught, the ‘I-thought’. 

There seems to be a fair amount of confusion about whether the ahaMkAra is positive or negative. Accordingly, the following story may be helpful. 

Once Bhrigu - a Sage who had the peculiar feature of an eye on the bottom of his left foot - participated in a debate about who among the trimUrti (of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) is greater. Other Sages felt that it would be foolish to test the trimUrti-s. Bhrigu, however, asserted that he could judge who was superior to whom. When the other RRiShi-s asked him how, he replied that ‘the one who would treat RRiShi-s with respect was the superior and that those who failed to honor RRiShi-s were bad and inferior.’

Bhrigu first visited Brahma and when he attempted to get Brahma’s attention, he was ignored. This made Bhrigu angry and so he cursed Brahma and went on his way. 

Next, Bhrigu visited Shiva, but he was unable to see Shiva and while the Lord’s gaNa-s (attendants) all danced in spiritual ecstasy, nobody paid any attention to Bhrigu. He shouted in anger and still was not heard. So he cursed the gaNa-s so that they would become wanderers.

Lastly, when Bhrigu reached Vishnu he was also unable to question this Lord, since Vishnu was sleeping. Bhrigu tried many times, but was unable to wake Vishnu up. 

Completely dejected, Bhrigu decided that it depended on him to correct the insensitive behavior of the trimUrtI-s. He thought to himself, ‘Since even shouting is to no avail, then clearly it is time to use force!’ So, for starters, he kicked Vishnu hard as he could in the chest. Vishnu immediately got up and began massaging Bhrigu’s feet, just in case one of them was hurt during the kick. Bhrigu was grateful for Vishnu’s well-mannered response. 

He then proceeded to abuse Shiva and Brahma, assuring Vishnu that he could correct them as well. Due to the respect that Vishnu showed him, Bhrigu felt that this Lord was superior to the others. 

During the unfolding of these events, Vishnu lovingly destroyed the eye on the bottom of Bhrigu’s foot. Since this eye indicated Bhrigu’s false ego, the Sage was immensely grateful to Vishnu for the boundless compassion the Lord had bestowed upon him, despite the arrogance and pride he had shown to all the trimUrti-s.

This story illustrates how our ahaMkAra is false when equated with the limitations of manas. However, when this same I-thought uses the buddhi to gaze toward the infinite, unlimited and inexpressible Atma, the false ego is subsequently destroyed.

Krishna’s Giving

This story also answers our second question regarding how Arjuna (who represents ourselves) is helped when Lord Krishna ‘gives’ him (in fact he has had it all along, only it has been turned the wrong direction) the celestial eye. 

Since our gItA passage is contained within the portion covering bhakti yoga (chapters seven through twelve), it will be helpful to consider this teaching from Sri Bharathi Tirtha, the current Jagadguru of Sringeri:

Disciple: Some religions maintain that bhakti is superior to j~nAna. Is it right?

HH: That bhakti is the most essential factor is very true but it can never contradict the fact that j~nAna is a must for attaining mokSha. What is bhakti?  BhagavatpAda has said in vivekachUDAmaNi that bhakti is the greatest material aid for achieving mokSha. To this the Guru has added, ‘continuous contemplation of one’s own true nature (that one is, in reality, the brahman) is said to be bhakti.’ Does this not prove beyond doubt that true bhakti consists in the shravaNa (hearing), manana (reflection) and nidhidyAsana (contemplation) of the truth expounded by the upaniShad-s? [Inspiring Saint, K. Suresh Chandar, Sri Vidyateertha Foundation, 2002]

In this passage the illustrious Guru points out in a straightforward manner that there is an essential value to bhakti. On this point, we must keep in mind that it is not possible to live rightly and truly if we are negligent with regards to the essential.  In the same way that one would not expect the body to live without adequate food, one cannot expect to live spiritually without taking proper spiritual sustenance.

It is for this reason, if for no other, that bhakti, as explained by shrI shaMkarAchArya (BhagavatpAda), is referred to as essential.  And it is due to this gift of the vision of Lord Krishna’s cosmic form, which he receives, according to subsequent verses in this chapter, that Arjuna is able to not only ‘be’ what he is in terms of the absolute; he is additionally able to become what he is on the relative level, and so reflect within his own life something of the immeasurable splendor of the great avatar of Vishnu, who is momentarily in the guise of his own charioteer.

Or, to put it another and perhaps more simple way: by giving this vision of the cosmic form of himself, Lord Krishna is giving to Arjuna, and so potentially to each one of us, nothing other than himself.


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About Nathan Spoon

Nathan is an avid DIYer, painter and poet.  He currently teaches vedAnta in an unlikely setting, maintaining that spiritual life can transform a weekly Starbucks gathering into satsa~Nga.

Nathan's advaita path is largely inspired by the Italian master Raphael and the teachings of Sri Sringeri Sharada Peetham.