53. Aspects of God, the Supreme Being, in the Bhagavadgita

Bhagawan Sri Krishna

by Jayaram V

Notes: I have translated the Bhagavadgita twice. The first one was a loose translation. The second one was a word to word translation with a detailed commentary. The commentary is however different from what you will find here. In this section I will share with you my thoughts about the knowledge, philosophy and wisdom of the Bhagavadgita as I understand it from my perspective. Jayaram V


Synopsis: In this essay we examine the idea of God and his predominant aspects according to the Bhagavadgita.


In the Bhagavadgita, you will find many descriptions of Brahman, the Supreme Being, personified by Lord Krishna. He is frequently addressed in it as Bhagavan, the resplendent God. Bhagavadgita means the song of God. It is a discourse by God for his devotees teaching them how they should live in the battlefield of life in his service as part of their Dharma, performing selfless actions as an offering or sacrifice, and work for their liberation

The scripture clearly states that all this is God. There is nothing other than him. Since he creates things and beings out of himself and in himself, everything here is infused with his presence. While we experience duality and delusion, he is free from them. He is both the subject and object, creator and the created, and cause and effect. In the discourse, however,

Lord Krishna as the human incarnation speaks about Brahman in both the first person (I and Me) and the second person (He and Him). He also reveals to Arjuna his Universal Form as Kala, the destroyer. Krishna’s state in the discourse is similar to that of a seer who has merged his identity in that of Brahman, but has to resort to the duality of subject and object to make sense to common people.

The main purpose of the Bhagavadgita is to let people know their spiritual nature and their true purpose, which is to acquire the secret knowledge which is hidden in it to engage in righteous actions, without incurring karma and sin and attain liberation through purity (sattva), austerity, knowledge, righteous conduct, intelligence, renunciation, devotion and selfless service.

God, the Self, their relationship and the means to attain liberation are the predominant themes of the scripture. Many explicit and implicit ideas about God are hidden in it. In the following discussion, we will focus upon the predominant ideas of God which are presented in the Bhagavadgita. They serve as ideal starting points for the aspirants on the spiritual path for contemplation and study to cultivate faith, resolve and devotion, and stabilize their minds in the thoughts of God or the Self.

1. God as the embodied Self

In the opening chapter, the Bhagavadgita draws a clear distinction between Krishna and Arjuna as separate individuals, Krishna as the charioteer and Arjuna as the warrior who was about to engage in the war. In reality, Krishna was the Supreme Being, and Arjuna was an embodied soul who was caught in the cycle of births and deaths (samsara). In our daily lives, we do not perceive the oneness of existence. We see people and objects as distinct and separate. This is the ordinary state or the state of duality, in which, because of delusion and ignorance, we do not recognize God, who is hidden in all or our own divine nature.

The Bhagavadgita clearly states (15.7) that the embodied Self (jivatma or dehatma) is an aspect of God only. There may be differences between different schools of Hinduism regarding whether the Self is the same as God, but all of them agree that the Self is pure consciousness, eternal and divine even in the bound state. Although it is surrounded by impurities, it is never tainted by them. The scripture concurs with this assertion.

In the mortal world, all are embodied souls (jivatmas), or God in a state of ignorance and bondage. Presiding over the senses and organs in the body, he enjoys the sense objects. Residing in the body and becoming the digestive fire, he digests four kinds of food. The deluded ones do not see him when he is present in the body, or when he departs from it. Only the pure ones who are endowed with eyes of wisdom see it

God as the pure Self (aham atma)

The Bhagavadgita repeatedly affirms that you are an eternal Self, and in your purest state you are not different from God. He is everywhere and in everything (sarvatra samavastitam), as the inmost, eternal Self (antrayami), who can be discerned only when you are pure with the predominance of sattva and when you stabilize your mind and senses in the thoughts of God by withdrawing them. The Self, which is another name for God (Isvara) is indestructible, infinite, pure, all knowing and all pervading.

Hence, having realized that he is eternal and indestructible, a seeker should worry about neither death nor destruction nor the impermanence of life. Instead, for purification and liberation he should engage in righteous actions and contemplate upon the Self as the inmost being, Lord, enjoyer, observer, controller, witness, supporter, Lord of the elements, Lord of the sacrifices, and knower of the field. Unfortunately, many people find it difficult acknowledge their own divinity and eternal nature. Hence, they see themselves from a narrow perspective and experience mental afflictions.

Although it is passive and uninvolved, the Self is the support for the physical self and all the happenings in the field of Nature. Because of the Self the organs function, breath flows in the body and the body itself remains alive and active. At the time of death, the Self departs from here to the other worlds according to the karma accumulated by the being. Upon attaining liberation, he becomes one with God or returns to his purest, blissful state. If not, he goes to the ancestral world and remains there until his karma is exhausted and returns to earth to continue his mortal existence. The idea that God is Self in the body is mentioned in the scripture both explicitly and implicitly. Lord Krishna vouches that he is the Self (aham atma).

God as the Supreme Self (paramatma)

In the Bhagavadgita, Lord Krishna states several times that he is the Supreme Being (Purushottama), the supreme Lord (paramatma), who upholds the three worlds, pervading them, and who remembers all his deeds, teachings and incarnations. In the past, he taught the same secret knowledge which he taught to Arjuna to several worthy people. He is the creator, upholder and destroyer, and responsible for both bondage and liberation.

According to the scripture Nature (Prakriti) is his lower aspect, and the Self (pure consciousness) his higher. There is nothing higher than him. Although he is unborn and imperishable and the lord of all beings, he occasionally manifests in the world by his own power of Maya, presiding over her, for the protection of the good and destruction of the wicked and to establish the Dharma. Those who worship gods and other divinities go to them, but those who worship him attain him only. He is the merciful Lord who reciprocates the love and devotion of his pure devotees.

Lord Krishna further states that ignorant people, deluded by the gunas, fail to recognize him when he is amidst them, or they may disrespect him, not knowing his supreme state. Even gods and seers do not know his true origin because he was before all. He is unborn, without a beginning and end, lord of the worlds (loka maheswaram) and first among the gods.

He is both manifested and unmanifested. His unmanifested aspect is difficult to attain. However, he is attainable to his dear devotees through purity, knowledge, faith and devotion. He pervades the whole creation in his unmanifested from (avyakta), while in his manifested form he is the controller of all. All the beings exist in him, but he does not exist in them. His manifestations are numerous and infinite, which he upholds with a fraction of himself.

God as the source of all (aham sarvasya prabhava)

The Bhagavadgita (9.5) emphatically states that God is the creator and the inexhaustible source of all things. He is the eternal seed (bijam) of all beings (sarva bhutanam), the intelligence of the intelligent, the brightness of the brightest, the fragrance in the earth, the brilliance in the fire, the strength of the strong and the desire in all beings. He is present in them as their very essence. The tree of life whose branches are in the worlds below and the roots in heaven, draws its nourishment from him only.

The four castes are created by him for the order and regularity of the world. He is the ultimate cause of both birth and death, bondage and liberation, the sacred knowledge of the Vedas and the eternal laws that govern the worlds. He is also the source of spiritual heat (tapah) and rain. With Nature under his control, he brings forth all things and beings at the beginning of creation and withdraws them into Nature at the end of it.

The Bhagavadgita states that God is also the source of universal abundance and the ultimate cause of all actions. Hence, no one should claim ownership or doership to avoid the consequences and the resultant karma. Because of him only qualities such as beauty, prosperity and energy do manifest in creation. Different states of virtue such as nonviolence, equanimity, contentment, austerity charity, fame, infamy also arise from him only. The seven great seers, the four Manus were born from his mind. Knowing thus, the wise ones worship him with intense fervor as the source of all.

God as the highest goal (parandhama)

The purpose of human life is to realize the Self, who is but God himself and attain oneness with him. Even if you consider the Self separate from the Supreme Self, he is but an aspect of God only. Therefore, the Bhagavadgita clearly affirms Brahman (God) as the highest goal (parandhama). He is to be realized through contemplation upon the Self or upon God. Liberation is the ultimate aim (parmartha) of human life, but God is the ultimate goal.

The scripture states that liberation is the highest state (nirvana parmam). For that one should attain Brahman, who is the highest, by practicing the various Yogas. The foundation of it is excellence in actions, knowledge and virtue. One progresses on the path by becoming established in the higher knowledge (jnana nishta). Endowed with pure intelligence (visuddha buddhi), restraining oneself with resolve, giving up sense objects, attachments and aversion, dwelling in solitude, eating little, controlling his passions and desires, and practicing meditation, the yogi attains Brahman and becomes blissful within.

According to the scripture, devotion is the culmination of perfection in all other yogas. Whoever worships him in whatever form, God strengthens their faith in that. Whoever uninterruptedly contemplates upon him, for that reverent yogi he is easy to attain. To the devotee who sees God everywhere and all things in him God never ceases to exist for him, nor he for God. He becomes his goal and his support. He takes care of their lives and their welfare. Therefore, a devotee should take refuge in him only and worship him with utmost devotion stabilizing his mind in his contemplation, with no other thought, and regarding him only as his ultimate goal.

Other aspects

The aspects which we have discussed so far are the different states (bhavas) of Brahman. Apart from them, the Bhagavadgita also mentions other aspects and functional roles of Brahman, some of which are presented below.

  1. God as the upholder of Dharma
  2. God as the creator, sustainer and destroyer
  3. God as the teacher and revealer of secret knowledge
  4. God as the protector of the pious and the devoted
  5. God as the punishing and enforcing power
  6. God as Time and Death
  7. God as the Lord of the sacrifice
  8. God as the concealer and deluder
  9. God as the manifested and the unmanifested
  10. God as the nourisher and friend in need

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