Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Canto XI : the Cosmic Multi-revelation

Canto XI is the vishva-rupa-darshan, the mystic cosmic multi-revelation of Divinity. To some, it is the pinnacle of the Gita, the poem's dazzling hard-core truth, its quintessence. To others, it is a betrayal of confidence, with Krishna stunning Arjuna with magic when all that Arjuna wanted was logic. To each his own. What matters is that the Canto flows naturally and effortlessly out of Canto X. The stepping stone of reason has led to the threshold of faith. What Arjuna 'sees' is nothing less that everything : birth/death, creation/dissolution, Kala the preserver and Kala the destroyer, Krishna calamitous and Krishna compassionate. He had earlier begged Krishna not to 'bewilder' him with confusing speech : 'Tell me that one truth (tadekam vada) by which I may know you.' This then is that one truth, simultaenously freeing and fearful, a horripilating experience of the unity that underlies the multitudinosity of reality.

The key shloka of Canto XI cannot be any but number 12 : 'Were a thousand suns to explode suddenly in the sky, their brilliance would approximate the glory of the sight'. This shloka was quoted in its entirety by E.Robert Oppenheimer when the first nuclear device was exploded in the Nevada desert (Oppenheimer had studied Sanskrit in his college days).

The 'beatific' vision brings a sea-change in Arjuna, and he asks no more questions. Prostrating himself before Krishna in total anjali, he receives the rest of the Gita with a newly discovered spiritual humility.

Arjuna said :

You have destroyed my doubts with your compassionate words, full of wisdom about the nature of Brahman.

I have heard of your greatness, I have heard of the birth and death of creatures.

And there is truth in your words, O Parameshvara ! I ask you, Purushottama, give me revelation !

If you think me worthy, Krishna, I beg of you, Yogeshvara, give me revelation !

Krishna said :

Look, Arjuna, at my divine forms, various-coloured, various-shaped, in a bewildering panorama.

See the Adityas, and the Vasus, the Rudras, the Ashvins and the Maruts; see also glories you have never witnessed before.

See the entire universe revolving in me, the animate and the inanimate -- see whatever else you wish to see.

I will grant you super-sensuous sight to witness my glory -- your mortal eyes are unable to behold it.

Sanjaya reported :

Then Krishna the Lord of yoga revealed his supreme form --

Possessing numerous mouths and eyes, glittering with divine ornaments, displaying divine signs,

Divinely garlanded, divinely scented, all-shaped, all-powerful, transcendent and limitless.

Were a thousand suns to explode suddenly in the sky, their brilliance would approximate the glory of the sight.

And in the body of Krishna, Arjuna saw the separate universes united, and resting.

Struck with awe, his hair on end, horripilating, he bent his head and offered pranama.

Arjuna said :

I see all the gods in your body, O Vishveshvara, all variety of life. I see Brahma on the lotus, the saints, and the nagas.

I see your form stretching on every side, arms, stomachs, mouths and eyes, without beginning, middle, or end.

I see your crown, your chakra, your mace, your gathered radiance covering the three worlds.

You are the supreme reality, the end of knowledge; the shelter of the three worlds, the protector of dharma, the ancient Purusha.

I see you without start or growth or end, many-armed, omnipotent. The sun and the moon are your eyes, the flame in your mouth burns the three worlds.

You will the interworld space and all things else; I shake with fear, the three worlds shake, witnessing your awesome form.

These countless gods merge into you, singing your praise with palms joined; Svasti ! Prosper ! is the chant of the saints and the yogis.

The Rudras, the Adityas, the Vasus, the Ashvins, the Maruts, the Gandharvas, the Yakshas, the anti-gods and the Siddhas -- all marvel, they all are spellbound.

Seeing your limitless form, many-mouthed, many-eyed, many-armed, many-thighed, -bellied, and -footed, the worlds are spellbound, and I am spellbound.

I see you reach the sky, glorious with colour, with mouths agape, and wide red eyes, and my heart knows fear, my steadfastness disappears : O Krishna, peace deserts me.

Take pity, O God, Lord of the three worlds. Seeing your mouths, vivid with teeth glowing like fires on the day of dissolution, my head whirls. O Krishna, peace has deserted me.

Bhisma, Drona and Karna, Dhritarashtra's sons, kings and warriors,

Sweep into your mouth; between your teeth their heads protrude, dreadfully crushed.

Like many streams rushing into the ocean, these heroes rush into your flaming mouths.

Like moths rushing to the fatal flame, these heroes rush into your flaming mouths.

And you chew the worlds in you flaming mouths, and lick your lips; O Krishna, your shafts of flame brighten the universe.

Tell me who you are, O fiery-formed. O Krishna, have pity. How can I know you ?

Krishna replied :

I am Time, Kala, supreme destroyer of the three worlds, here visible in the three worlds. Even if you refuse to fight, none of these soldiers will live.

Wake up Arjuna, and win glory ! Destroy your enemies and enjoy your kingdom ! Their death is ordained -- you are only the immediate cause.

All have already been killed by me -- Drona and Bhisma, Jayadratha, Karna and the others. Fight ! the day is yours.

Sanjaya reported :

Hearing this Arjuna, shaking, prostrated himself before Krishna.

Arjuna said :

It is in the fitness of things, Krishna, that the world rejoices and sings your praises, the rakshasas scatter in fear, and bands of devotees stand in silent supplication.

Why shouldn't they ? Why shouldn't they worship the creator of Brahma, the lord of Brahma, the Infinite, the God of gods, the refuge of the three worlds ? You are deathless, you are real, you are unreal, you are what is beyond these.

You are the first God, and the primal Purusha, the refuge of the three worlds, the knower and the known, the ultimate end. O Infinite form, the universe is rich with you !

You are the god of wind, fire, and death, you, are Prajapati; I worship you a thousand times, and a thousand times again.

May homage flow to you from all quarters! Your boundless power sweeps the universe. You are all.

And I have presumed, from love and casual regard, and called you Krishna, Yadava, and friend, thinking you a friend, unmindful of your glory.

I have lowered your in laughter, in resting, eating and walking, alone and in company. Forgive me, Krishna.

For you are the world's father, the goal of its supplication, the most mighty. The three worlds do not know your equal -- who can surpass you ?

I bend my body to your glory, I beg forgiveness of you, my lord ! Be merciful to me, as friend to friend, lover to beloved, father to son.

Though terror shudders in my heart, my joy brims over. O refuge of hte worlds, O God of gods, I beg your grace. Reveal to me your form !

Let me see you with crown, mace, chakra. I long to see you! O thousand-armed, show me your four-armed form!

Krishna said :

My love shows this supreme revelation, Arjuna; none has seen this before.

Neither study of Vedas, sacrifices, gifts, ceremonies, nor the strictest penance wil reveal me in this form to any other person.

Forget your fear and bewilderment. Throw off your terror, be glad of heart -- and look !

Sanjaya reported :

Krishna graced Arjuna with a vision of his peaceful form. Krishna gave Arjuna peace.

Arjuna said :

Seeing your peaceful form, Krishna, my peace returns, I am normal again.

Krishna said :

It is very difficult to see what you have seen; even the gods hunger for such a vision.

Neither the Vedas nor penance, charity, nor sacrifice, can make men see me as you have seen me.

Single-minded devotion alone can make this form appear.

He reaches me who struggles for me, who has me as an ideal, who is free from desire and is unaffected by anger.

extract from Brighter than a Thousand Suns by Robert Jungk

By two o'clock in the morning, all those taking part in the experiment where in their places. They were assembled in the Base Camp, some ten miles from Point Zero where there stood the high scaffolding on which the new, still untested weapon had been placed -- the bomb on which they had been working for the last two years and had now finally brought to completion. They tried on the dark glasses with which they had been provided and smeared their faces, by artificial light, with anti-sunburn cream. They could hear dance music from the loudspeakers distributed throughout the area. From time to time the music was interrupted with the news of the progress of the preparations. It had been arranged that the shot should take place at 4 a.m.But the bad weather rendered a postponement necessary.

At the control point, slightly over five and a half miles from the scaffolding, Oppenheimer and Groves conferred about whether the test should be put off altogether. Groves reports : "During most of the time, we were strolling about in the dark, outside the control building, looking up at the stars. We kept assuring each other that either one or both of the two stars visible had grown brighter." After consultation with the meteorological experts it was eventually decided to explode the experimental bomb at 5:30 a.m.

At ten minutes past five, Oppenheimer's deputy, the atomic physicist, Saul K. Allison, one of the twenty people in the control room, began to send out time signals. At about the same time Groves, who had by then left the control point and had returnded to the Base Camp, something over four miles further back, was giving the scientific personnel waiting at the Camp their last instructions. They went to put on their sun-glasses and lie down on their faces with their heads turned away. For it was considered practically certain that anyone who tried to observe the flames with the naked eye would be blinded.

During the ensuing period of waiting, which seemed an eternity, hardly a word was spoken. Everything was giving free play to his thoughts. But so far as those who have been asked can remember, these thoughts were not apocalyptic. Most of the people concerned, it appears, were trying to work out how long it would be before they could shift their uncomfortable position and obtain some kind of view of the spectacle awaited. Fermi, experimental-minded as ever, was holding scraps of paper with which he meant to gauge the air pressure and thereby estimate the strength of the explosion the moment it occured. Frisch was intent on memorising the phenomena as precisely as possible, without allowing either excitement or preconceived notions to interfere with his faculty of perception. Groves was wondering for the hundredth time whether he had taken every possible step to ensure rapid evacuation of a disaster. Oppenheimer oscillated between fears that the experiment would fail and fears that it would succeed.

Then everything happened faster than it could be understood. No one saw the first flash of the atomic fire itself. It was only possible to see its dazzling white reflection in the sky and on the hill. Those who then ventured to turn their heads percieved a bright ball of flame, growing steadily larger and larger. "Good God, I believe that the long haired boys have lost control !" a senior officer shouted. Carlson Mak, one of the most brilliant members of the theoretical division, actually thought -- though his intelligence told him the thing was impossible -- that the ball would fire would never stop growing till it had enveloped all heaven and earth. At the moment everyone forgot what he had intended to do.

Groves writes : "Some of the men in their excitement, having had three years to get ready for it, at the last minute forgot those welders' helmets and stumbled out of the cars where they were sitting. They were distinctly blinded for two to three seconds. In that time they lost the view of what they had been waiting for over three years to see."

People were transfixed at the power of the explosion. Oppenheimer was clinging to one of the uprights in the control room. A passage from the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred epic of the Hindus, flashed into his mind : If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst into the sky, that would be like the splendour of the Mighty One ---

Yet, when the sinister and gigantic cloud rose up in the far distance over Point Zero, he was reminded of another line from the same source : I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds.

Sri Krishna, the Exalted One, lord of the fate of mortals, had uttered the phrase. But Robert Oppenheimer was only a man, into whose hands, a far too mighty instrument of power had been given.

[pages 182 - 183]

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