Acharya Vinoba Bhave

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11. Vision Of The Cosmic Form Of God

55. Arjuna’s Eagerness To Behold The Cosmic Form Of God.

  1. Brothers, last week we learnt how to recognise divine presence in the countless things in this universe and how to let that comprehension sink deep into us. We saw that one should discern divinity step-by-step, first in the simple and the gross and then in the complex and the subtle manifestations of the Lord. One should thus see God everywhere, realise Him and through constant practice, learn to see the whole creation as the Self.

Now we turn to the Eleventh Chapter. In this Chapter the Lord has showered His highest grace on Arjuna by showing him His divine cosmic form. Arjuna had expressed a desire to see the Lord in His fullness, in the form in which all His splendour and glory are fully manifest. What Arjuna sought was to behold the cosmic form of the Lord.

  1. Our world is only a small part of the universe, and we do not have an adequate understanding of even this small part. In relation to the universe this world, which appears so vast to us, is quite insignificant. If we look up at the night sky, we see it dotted with innumerable points of light. Do you know the real nature of those festoons of light hung up in the sky, those lovely little flowers, those millions of twinkling stars?  They are actually many times bigger and brighter than the sun. And they are countless. Even the naked eye can see thousands of them; a telescope would reveal them in millions. With an advanced telescope, trillions could be visible. There seems to be no end to them. Our world is but a tiny fragment of this boundless creation; still we find it so vast!

  2. This vast creation is but one aspect of the Lord. Another aspect is that of time. If we consider the past, our knowledge of history goes back at most to ten thousand years. Of the future, we know nothing. Span of known history is ten thousand years, and our own lifespan is of hardly hundred years!  Time is, in fact, without beginning and without end. It is impossible to count the time that has passed into the past. It is equally impossible to have any idea of the time that is yet to come. Just as our world is insignificant compared to the universe, the ten thousand years of known history are insignificant compared to the infinite time. The past is without a beginning and the future is without an end. As for the infinitesimal present, it is slipping into the past every moment. Even as we try to point out a finger at its presence, it has already passed into the past. This fleeting present is all that is with us. I am speaking now, but the moment I utter a word, it becomes a part of the past. The stream of time is flowing continuously. We know neither its beginning nor its end. What comes to our view is just a tiny portion of that stream in the middle.

  3. Thus, when we look at creation we find a vast expanse of space on one hand, and on the other there is flow of time that has neither beginning nor end. It then becomes clear that howsoever much we stretch our imagination, we can never see the limits of it. In Arjunas mind arises a desire to have a vision of the Lord in His omnipresent and all-pervading form, the form that fills all the three-dimensional space and all the three-dimensional time. He wants to see Him all at once, at the same moment. This Chapter has its genesis in that desire.

  4. Arjuna was very dear to the Lord; so dear that, in the Tenth Chapter, while mentioning different manifestations in which He is to be contemplated, the Lord has said, Among the Pandavas, contemplate Me in the form of Arjuna. Can love ever be more crazy? This is the height of madness in love. The Lord’s Love for Arjuna knew no bounds. The Eleventh Chapter is the blessed gift of that Love. The Lord endowed Arjuna with the divine vision and fulfilled his desire to see His cosmic form.

56. Full Vision Even In A Small Image

  1. This Chapter contains the beautiful and magnificent description of that supreme divine form. However, I am not particularly enamoured of it. I am quite happy with the small and lovable form which I see. I have learnt to appreciate the beauty therein. The Lord is not made up of a number of parts. It does not appear to me that what I see is only a part and the rest of Him is somewhere else. The Lord who pervades this vast universe is present in His fullness in a small idol; and even in a speck of dust. He is not a bit less there. An ocean of nectar and a drop therein have the same sweetness. I am inclined to enjoy the sweetness in the little drop of nectar that I have got. I have purposely chosen the example of nectar and not that of milk or water. The sweetness that is in a cup of milk is certainly there in a jar of milk; but the nourishment they provide is not the same. But such is not the case with nectar. Even a drop of nectar will make you immortal.

In the same way, the divinity and sanctity that are present in the Lord’s supreme form are there even in a small idol. If I cannot judge the quality of wheat from a handful of grains given to me as a sample, how can I judge its quality from a sackful of it?  If I fail to recognise Him in His small form that is before my eyes, how can I recognise Him in His cosmic form?  Hence I am not eager to have the vision of His cosmic form; nor am I worthy, like Arjuna, to ask for it. Moreover, what I see is not a part of the cosmic form. We would not have an idea about the whole of a photograph from its fragment. But the Lord is not made up of parts. He has not been cut up and divided into fragments. He is fully there even in a small form. What is the difference between a small photograph and its enlarged copy?  Everything that is there in the big photograph is there in the small photograph too. The latter is not a fragment of the big photograph. A word may be printed in big type or small type; this makes no difference as far as its meaning is concerned. Idol-worship has its basis in this way of thinking.

  1. Many people have assailed idol-worship. Many thinkers from India and abroad have found fault with it. But the more I think of it, the more I realise its beauty. What does idol-worship signify?  It is the art of learning to experience the whole universe in a small object. Is it not right to learn to see the whole universe in a small village?  It is not mere fancy; it is a matter of experience. That which inheres in the cosmic form is there in a small idol as well. The world is in a grain of sand. In a small theatre troupe, the same set of actors play a variety of roles. The Lord does likewise. Like a playwright who acts in a play written by him, the Lord writes innumerable plays and enacts innumerable roles in them. Recognising Him in one role is as good as recognising Him fully.

  2. The basis of idol-worship is the same as that of similes and metaphors in poetry. A circle or a sphere is nice to see, as there is order and symmetry in it, and these are divine attributes. The Lords creation is beautiful in all respects. There is order and harmony in it. A sphere is an image of the shapeliness of the Lord. A twisted and disorderly tree in a forest is also His manifestation; therein you find the Lord’s freedom. That tree knows no constraints; and it is true of the Lord as well. The unconstrained and self-willed Lord is there in that unshapely tree. A straight column shows His straightness. In a pillar with decorative engraving we see the Lord who decorates the sky with stars. We see His restraint in a well-laid out garden and in a primeval forest we see His freedom and grandeur. We experience joy in a forest as well as in a well-maintained garden. Is it strange?  No. It happens because divine attributes are visible in both of them. An idol may be smooth or misshapen; nevertheless, the divinity therein is the same. I would not, therefore, mind if I could not get to see the cosmic form of the Lord apart from His presence in the creation.

  3. It is because the Lord is present in different objects as different attributes that we find joy in them and feel a kind of relationship with them. The joy is not without a cause; it is there because we are somehow related to them. A child is a source of joy to his mother, as she knows the kinship. So, relate every object to the Lord. Realise that the Lord within you is there in that object too. As this realisation grows, your joy too will increase. There is no other source of real joy. Start establishing relationships of love and see the wonderful results. You will then see in every speck of dust the Lord who is immanent in the whole creation. Once one gains this realisation, what more would one ask for?  But, for this purpose, the sense-organs must be disciplined and trained. When the lust for sensual pleasures gives way to the pure spirit of love, you will find Him and Him only in each and every object. There is a beautiful description of the colour of the soul in an Upanishad. What could be its colour?  The sage says lovingly, यथा अयं इंद्रगोपः (The soul is like an indragop’)1. The sight of an indragop fills us with immense joy. Why? Because that which exists in me exists in the indragop too. Had there been no relation with it, I would not have felt such joy. The indragop too has the same beautiful soul that I have. That is why the simile of indragop is given. Why do we use similes?  Why do we find joy in them?  A simile pleases us as there is some similarity between the objects compared; otherwise it would not be pleasing. If somebody says that salt is like pepper, we would call him crazy; but if somebody says that the stars are like flowers, we see the likeness and appreciate the simile. We find nothing common between salt and pepper; but if someones vision has become broad enough to see that the Lord who is present in salt is present in the pepper too, he would be delighted with the statement that salt is like pepper.’  What all this means is that everything in the world is filled with the Lord’s presence. To realise this, one need not have the vision of the cosmic form.

57. Vision Of The Cosmic Form Is Difficult To Bear

  1. Besides, how can I bear the vision of that cosmic form?  That form may not perhaps give rise to the same feelings of love and tender intimacy that I have for a small, beautiful and saguna form. It happened with Arjuna too. He started trembling and beseeched the Lord to assume the familiar and lovable form again. Arjuna is thus cautioning us from his own experience that we should not have the desire to see the cosmic form. It is good for us that the Lord is distributed over the entire three-dimensional space and three-dimensional time. If He were to condense Himself and appear before us as a glowing and fiercely hot ball of fire, what would our plight be?  The distant stars appear tranquil. They seem to speak to us. But what would happen if a star that soothes the eye from afar were to approach us closely?  It is a ball of fire which is sure to burn us down. Let all things in the cosmos remain where they are; what is the sense in bringing all of them in a single room?  One feels strange in watching thousands of pigeons packed in a small aviary. What freedom do they have?  It is good that the creation is spread all over the space.

  2. What is true of space is true of time too. We do not remember the past and have no idea of the future; and that is good for us. The Holy Koran has mentioned five things which are exclusively under the control of God, and man can do nothing about them. Knowledge of the future is one of those things. We can at best make a guess; but a guess is not knowledge. It is indeed a happy situation that we do not have knowledge of the future and forget most of the past. Even if a bad man becomes good, we remember his past and do not respect him. We cannot forget his past sins, howsoever hard he may try to convince us about his transformation. It is only when the person dies and is reborn in a different form that the world will forget his sins.

Remembrance of the past causes attachment and contributes to the growth of passions. All our problems will be solved  when all the memories and perceptions of the past are forgotten. There must be some way of forgetting all the sinful and meritorious deeds. Death is such a way. When we cannot endure the suffering in this birth, why rake up the muck of the past births?  Is the muck in this birth not enough?  We even forget most of our childhood years, and it is good that we forget them. For instance, the only means to achieve Hindu-Muslim unity is to forget the past. Yes, Aurangzeb did commit atrocities; but how long are we going to harp on them?  There is a famous garba song by Ratanbai in Gujarati. It says at the end, In this world, what good the people achieve will be remembered; their sins will be forgotten.  Time is sifting everybodys deeds. We should take only what is good from history and cast off what is evil. It would indeed be wonderful if one remembers the good only. But alas!  It does not happen. Hence forgetting is extremely necessary. God has created death for this purpose.

  1. In short, the world, as it is, is auspicious. There is no need to pack this vast world of time and space into a little spot. Excessive familiarity is not good. We should be intimate with some things and maintain a distance from some things. We respectfully keep a distance from the teacher, but would love to sit in the mothers lap. There is an appropriate way to behave with anybody and deal with anything. A flower may be taken in the hand, but fire should be kept away. The beauty of the stars can be admired from a distance only. It is true for all creation. It is not that something that gives delight from afar will give more delight when brought near. Let the things remain where they are. It is in our interest to let them be at a proper distance, appreciate them from a distance and derive joy from them, rather than trying to bring them near in a clumsy and overbearing manner for the sake of excessive familiarity.

  2. Thus, it is good that we do not live in Time in all its aspects—past, present and future. Knowledge of all of it is not necessarily pleasing or beneficial. Arjuna beseeched the Lord with love, and He fulfilled his desire by revealing to him His cosmic form. But for us, His small form is sufficient. It is not, after all, a part of the Lord; the whole of the Lord is present therein. Even if it is only a part, I would consider myself blessed if I could have a glimpse of even that part. This is what experience has taught me. When Jamnalalji Bajaj opened the Laxminarayan temple at Wardha to the untouchables, I too had gone there. My gaze was fixed on the idol for some fifteen or twenty minutes. I was as if in a state of samadhi. Beholding the Lord’s image from tip to toe, my eyes finally rested at His feet. There was no thought in my mind except गोड तुझी चरणसेवा. (Sweet indeed is Your humble service!’)  If the great Lord cannot be contained in a small form, it is enough to behold His feet. Arjuna pleaded for the vision of the cosmic form. He was worthy enough to ask for it. How intimate was his relationship with the Lord!  What claims can I have?  If I could see His feet, it is enough for me; I deserve nothing more.

58. The Quintessence Of The Gita

  1. I am not at all inclined to use my reason or intellect in analysing the description of that divine cosmic form; that would be a sacrilege. We should instead recite those holy verses again and again and purify ourselves. To analyse the cosmic form would be a monstrosity. It would be like following in the footsteps of the aghorpanthis who go to the cremation grounds and mutilate the corpses to gain occult powers. We should instead recite those holy verses that describe the Lords grand and infinite form, which has also been described as विश्वतश्चक्षुरुत विश्वतोमुखो विश्वतोबाहुरुत विश्वतस्पात्2 (The one whose eyes are everywhere, whose mouths are everywhere, whose hands are everywhere, whose legs are everywhere...’) and make our mind sinless and pure.

  2. In this description, there is only one point at which the mind begins to think. The Lord has said to Arjuna, All these warriors are going to die. Be only an occasion, an instrument. I have already slain them. These words keep ringing in the ears. When the idea that I should become His instrument arises in the mind, one begins to think. How to do it?  How could I become the Lord’s flute?  To become His flute, I shall have to become hollow; then only He can produce sweet tunes through me. I shall have to be free from all passions, vices and evil propensities. If I am fully stuffed with them, how can He play melodious tunes through me?  I am stuffed with ego. I must purge myself of that and become hollow. But, in fact, it is preposterous of me to aspire to become His flute. Even if I wish to become the sandals on His feet, it is not easy. The sandals should be so soft that they do not pinch or otherwise cause any pain to His feet. So I would have to become soft. I would have to protect His feet from the thorns. I would have to cure and make myself firm and strong, yet supple and soft. It is not thus easy to become His sandals. If I want to become His weapon, I must not just be a lump of iron; I must sharpen myself through penance so that I could become a sword in His hands. This thought reverberates in my mind and I lose myself in it.

  3. The Lord has Himself told, in the last verse of this Chapter, how to do it, how this can come about. Shankaracharya has, in his commentary on the Gita, called this verse the quintessence of the Gita

मत्कमकृन्मत्परमो मदभक्तः सड्गवर्जितः

निर्वैरः सर्वभूतेषु यः स मामेति पाण्डव  ।।

He who is free from enmity to all creatures, who is ever engrossed in serving the world impartially without any expectations, who dedicates all his actions to the Lord, who is full of devotion, who forgives all and is detached and full of love, becomes an instrument of the Lord. This is the essence of the Gitas teaching.  



  1. Indragop is an extremely beautiful insect with bright red velvet-like skin.  It appears at the beginning of the rainy season.

  2. Rig Veda, Mandal 10


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