The Eleventh Teaching
The Cosmic Vision
Graciously you revealed to me the ultimate secret is known when one knows the Self, and by your words have dispelled my confusion.
I heard from you in detail how creatures come to be and die, Krishna, and about the self in its immutable greatness.
Just as you have described yourself, I wish to see for myself the splendor of your supreme form.
If you think I can see it, reveal to me your immutable self, Krishna, Lord of discipline.
Arjuna, see my forms in hundreds and thousands; diverse, divine, of many colors and shapes.
See the sun gods, gods of light, howling storm gods, twin gods of dawn, and gods of wind, Arjuna, wondrous forms not seen before.
Arjuna, see all the universe, animate and inanimate, and whatever else you wish to see; all stands here as one in my body.
But since you are not able to see me with your mortal eyes; I will grant you divine sight to see the majesty of my power.
(Saying this, Krishna the great lord of discipline, revealed to Arjuna the true majesty of his form.
It was a multiform, wondrous vision, with countless mouths and eyes and celestial ornaments, brandishing away divine weapons.
Everywhere was boundless divinity containing all astonishing things, wearing divine garlands and garments, anointed with divine perfume.
If the light of a thousand suns were to rise in the sky at once, it would be like the light of that Great Spirit.
Arjuna saw the entire universe in its many ways and parts standing as one in the body of god of gods.
Then filled with amazement, his hair bristling on his flesh, Arjuna bowed his head to the god, joined his hands in homage and spoke.
I see the gods in your body, O God, and hordes of varied creatures: Brahma, the cosmic creator, on his lotus throne, all the seers and celestial serpents.
I see your boundless form everywhere, the countless arms, bellies, mouths and eyes, Lord of All; I see no end, or middle or beginning to your totality.
I see you blazing through the fiery rays of your crown, mace, and discus, hard to behold in the burning light of fire and sun that surrounds your measureless presence.
You are to be known as supreme eternity, the deepest treasure of all that is, the immutable guardian of enduring sacred duty; I think you are man’s timeless spirit.
I see no beginning or middle or end to you; only boundless strength in your endless arms, the moon and sun in your eyes, your mouths of consuming flames, your own brilliance scorching this universe.
You alone fill the space between heaven and earth, and all the direction; seeing this awesome, terrible form of yours, great Soul, the three worlds tremble.
Throngs of gods enter you, some in their terror, make gestures of homage to invoke you; throngs of great sages and saints hail you and praise you in resounding hymns.
Howling storm gods, sun gods, bright gods, and gods of ritual, gods of the universe, twin gods of dawn, wind gods, vapor-drinking ghosts, throngs of celestial musicians, demigods, demons and saints, all gaze at you amazed.
Seeing the many mouths and eyes of your great form, its many arms, thighs, feet, bellies, and fangs, the worlds tremble and so do I.
Vishnu, seeing you touch the sky, clouds with flames of countless colors, your mouths agape, your huge eyes blazing, my inner self quakes and I find no resolve or tranquility.
Seeing the fangs protruding from your mouths like the fires of time, I lose my bearings and I find no refuge, be gracious, Lords of Gods, Shelter of the universe.
All those sons of the blind king Dhritarashtra come accompanied by troops of kings by the generals Bhishma, Drona, Karna, and by our battle leaders.
Rushing though your fangs into grim mouths, some are dangling from heads crushed between your teeth.
A roiling river waters stream headlong toward the sea, so do these human heroes enter into your blazing mouths.
As moths in the frenzy of destruction fly into a blazing flame, worlds in the frenzy of destruction enter your mouths.
You lick at the worlds around you, devouring them with flaming mouths; and your terrible fires scorch the entire universe filling it, Vishnu, with violent rays.
Who are you in this terrifying form? Be gracious Lord; grant me even a glimmer of understanding to prop up my staggering mind. I want to know you as you are in your beginning. I do not comprehend the course of your ways.
I am death, time grown old, the shatterer of worlds, I annihilate all things; with or without you all these warriors arrayed in hostile ranks will cease to exist.
Therefore arise and win glory! Conquer your foes and fulfill your kingship! They are already killed by me. Be just my instrument, the archer at my side!
Drona, Bhishma, Jayadratha, and Karna, and all the other battle heroes, are killed by me. Kill them without wavering; fight and you will conquer your foes in battle!
(Hearing Krishna’s words, Arjuna trembled under his crown, and he joined his hands in reverent homage; terrified of his fear, he bowed to Krishna and stammered in reply.)
Krishna, the universe responds with joy and rapture to your glory, terrified demons flee in far directions, and saints throng to bow in homage.
Why should they not bow in homage to you Great Soul, Original Creator, more venerable than the creator Brahma? Boundless Lord of Gods, Shelter of All That is, you are eternity, being, nonbeing and beyond.
You are the original god, the primordial spirit of man, the deepest treasure of all that is, knower and what is to be known, the supreme abode; you pervade the universe Lord of Boundless Form.
You are the gods of wind, death, fire and water; the moon; the lord of life; and the great ancestor. Homage to you, a thousand times homage! I bow in homage to you again and yet again.
I bow in homage before you and behind you; I bow everywhere to your omnipresence! You have boundless strength and limitless force; you fulfill all that you are.
Thinking you a friend I boldly said, “Welcome, Krishna! Welcome, cousin, friend!” From negligence, or through love I failed to know your greatness.
If in jest I offended you alone or publicly, at sport, rest, sitting, or at meals, I beg your patience, unfathomable Krishna.
You are father of the world of animate and inanimate things, its venerable teacher, most worthy of worship, without equal. Where in all three worlds is another to match your extraordinary power?
I bow to you, I prostrate my body, I beg you to be gracious, Worshipful Lord-as a father to a son, a friend to a friend, a lover to a beloved, O God, bear with me.
I am thrilled and yet my mind trembles with fear at seeing what has not been seen before. Show me, God, the form I know-be gracious, Lord of Gods, Shelter of the world.
I want to see you as before, with your crown and mace, and the discus in your hand. O Thousand-Armed God, assume the four-armed form embodied in your totality.
To grace you, Arjuna, I revealed through self-discipline my higher form, which no one but you has ever beheld-brilliant, total, boundless, primal.
Not by sacred lore or sacrificial ritual or study or charity, not by rites or by terrible penances can I be seen in this form in the world of me by anyone but you, Arjuna.
Do not tremble or suffer confusion from seeing my horrific form; your fear dispelled, your mind full of love, see my form again as it was.
(Having spoken thus to Arjuna, Krishna once more revealed his mild and pleasant form; resuming his gentle body, the great spirit let the terrified hero regain his breath.)
Seeing your gentle human form, Krishna, I recover my own nature, and my reason is restored.
This form you have seen is rarely revealed; the gods are constantly craving for a vision of this form.
Not through scared lore, penances, charity, or sacrificial rites can I be seen in the form that you saw me.
Only by single-minded devotion alone can I be known and seen, as I really am, and entered into, Arjuna.
Acting only for me, intent on me, free from attachment, hostile to no creature, Arjuna, a man of devotion comes to me.
As I Understand It:
Krishna makes Arjuna understand the real purpose of the life of a devotional man, one lesson at a time. Krishna tells Arjuna that he must know who he is and know who Krishna is. In this chapter he reveals to Arjuna his divine power. Arjuna sees the divine vision of Krishna in his full glory as the Lord of the Universe.
When Arjuna asks Krishna to show himself as he really is Krishna does not hesitate. He feels that Arjuna is ready to see Him. But not before granting Arjuna the vision by help of which he gains a super-conscious mode of knowing.
So far, Arjuna had known Krishna in his human manifestation. But when he receives the divine “eye” he is able to see unfathomable visions: universe disappearing into God, the warriors on the battlefield being slain and burn in the universal fire, creatures rushing to destruction like moths into a flame and the supernatural fire consuming the entire phenomenal world. Arjuna sees the whole world in the body of Krishna. This supreme vision dazzles him with the blinding splendor of a thousand suns. He sees God’s radiance as both a great light and burning fire.
Arjuna sees Krishna as the Great God Vishnu with his traditional weapons, the mace and the discus, and wearing a crown. When this vision gets intense Arjuna feels afraid. Terrified, he wants to know the identity of this awesome God who is nothing like his teacher and friend Krishna. He asks, “Who are you?”
Krishna says, “I am time, the destroyer of all; I have come to consume the world. Even without your participation, all the warriors gathered here will die.” He says death devours all creation as does time. Arjuna does not lose consciousness or break down. He praises the awesome manifestation of Krishna and then asks for forgiveness. He says if he has said or done anything to offend the Lord, mistaking him as a mere human friend, it was done in ignorance. Though he has experienced deep peace and great joy during the time he has had the vision of the Lord he is also terrified. He wishes to see Krishna’s human face.
Krishna grants Arjuna’s wish and returns to his gentle aspect. He says only those with pure devotion can have the vision of his exalted form as the Lord of the universe.
The rest of the Gita teaches Bhakti Marg-the path of devotion, complete surrender to God.
The Bhagavad Gita, Translated for the Modern Reader with general introduction by Eknath Easwaran, chapter introductions by Diana Morrison. Nilgiri Press, Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, California.1996 (1st Pub. 1985).
The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna Counsel in Time of War, Translation and Introduction by Barbara Stoler Miller. Bantam Doubleday Dell Group, Inc. New York. Bantam Books, 1986.
Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation, Stephen Mitchell, Three Rivers Press, New York, 2000.