Gita Talk #12: Does the Infinitely Wondrous Universe Give a Damn About You and Me?

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Does the infinitely wondrous universe give a damn about you and me?

Yes and no.

On one hand, the universe (Krishna) is beyond all caring and concern about human beings, and even our existence:

You gulp down all worlds, everywhere
swallowing them in your flames,
and your rays, Lord Vishnu, fill all
the universe with dreadful brilliance.   (11.30)

And the universe also has a little bit different sense of time:

all beings remain within me.
They are gathered back into my womb
at the end of the cosmic cycle—
a hundred fifty thousand
billion of your earthly years—   (BG 9.7)

That’s the “No” part.  The universe doesn’t give a damn.

But at the same time, the universe (Krishna) is also everything moral and human, too:

Understanding and wisdom,
patience, truth, peace of mind,
pleasure and pain, being
and nonbeing, fear and courage.

nonviolence, equanimity,
control, benevolence, fame,
dishonor—all these conditions
come forth from me alone.   (10.4-5)

Whatever in this world is excellent
and glows with intelligence or beauty—
be sure that it has its source
in a fragment of my divine splendor.   (10.41-42)

This all makes sense, if you think about it.

On one hand, the universe looks upon the earth as if from a distant galaxy.  If an asteroid destroyed all humanity tomorrow, the universe would remain essentially unchanged.

On the other hand, the wondrous universe (Krishna) is also the smallest cell in our body, and it’s everything we feel and do, including love, morality, and all we hold most dear:  I am the source from which gods and sages emerge.  (BG 10.2)

That’s the “Yes” part.  Not only does the universe care, we ARE the wondrous universe.

Does the Infinitely Wondrous Universe Give a Damn About You and Me?

Yes and no!

Chapters 10 & 11 of the Bhagavad Gita are one of the high points of world literature and spirituality.  The energy, the power, the vision, the message, all are unsurpassed.  In these chapters we have the clearest statement yet of the central message of the Gita, and of Yoga itself:

–The universe is infinitely wondrous.
–Each of us is an integral part of that infinite wonder.
–To realize that infinite wonder all we have to do is to lovingly focus our minds on it.

He who can understand
the glory of my manifestations
is forever united with me
by his unwavering love.

I am the source of all things,
and all things emerge from me;
knowing this wise men worship
by entering my state of being.   (BG 10.7-8

What do you you think of Chapters 10 & 11?
What are your favorite passages?
What questions do you have?
What comments would you like to make?

Please see
Welcome to Gita Talk
for all Gita Talk blogs and general information.
Jump in anytime and go at your own pace.

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anonymous Jan 23, 2011 11:22pm

[…] Gita Talk #12: Does the Infinitely Wondrous Universe Give a Damn About You and Me? […]

anonymous Oct 26, 2010 10:48pm

[…] Where Do We Fit In? Gita Talk #12: Does the Infinitely Wondrous Universe Give a Damn About You and Me? […]

anonymous Jul 13, 2010 7:24pm

As I understand it The Universe care alot about all of us and wants us to get and experience all that we want. Its us misunderstanding and complicating things with our fears and analyzing. The Universe is not "non-caring" when "bad things happen", instead it has the bigger view where we are all eternal and "bad things" just seem that way when you dont have the distance to it (upeksha).
Thats my understanding of it.

anonymous Jul 13, 2010 7:17pm

The description in chapt.10 (of the Blessed Lords beingness) is more of my taste than in chapt.11. Chapt.11 was to me a lil boring meanwhile chapt 10 was very enjoyable.

anonymous Jul 13, 2010 2:21pm

About chapter 10.__I love the 10.8, ending with "…by entering my state of being" – which I see as you enter your own center of being where your soul-feelings/qualities resides (and is the Universe at the same time as its your own center "within").__Also loving the description of "who/what" the blessed Lord is, starting 10.19.____will be back commenting chapt.11 :)____

    Bob Weisenberg Jul 13, 2010 2:28pm

    Thanks for writing, paramsangat. Yes, this is wonderful spiritual poetry, isn't it?

    Bob W.

anonymous Jul 11, 2010 1:44am

[…] until a recent debate began between myself and Bob Weisenberg on the comment thread of one of his Gita Talks posts. The debate broke off after I wrote a length reply that got lost in the commenting system. I will […]

anonymous Jul 9, 2010 8:37am

In these chapters i like when Arjuna has seen Krishnas divine form and then starts to recount what he has seen and says "Seeing your billion fanged mouths blaze like the fires of doomsday I faint i stagger i despair ……."its like when i come up against some hardship or some obstacle, i react like Arjuna, running away, instead of seeing the obstacles as part of my journey, this chapter shows me that everything, all forms, everything i can think of that exists and more are part of the divine conciousnes or God and that when i see differances, likes and dislikes then i'm creating suffering and despair for myself.

    Bob Weisenberg Jul 9, 2010 12:09pm

    That's a very interesting way to look at it Sevapuri. Thanks for writing.

    Bob W.

anonymous Jul 9, 2010 5:55am

Hmm. I think all religions can be improved. One way to do that is to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the religions. You seem to equate that with judging and condemning. That isn't how I would characterize my thoughts posted here. I think you have to observe from many perspectives to find truth.

anonymous Jul 9, 2010 4:31am


I am not advising others about their spirituality. I'm having a public discussion about spirituality and what constitutes an authentic experience. What others choose to do with those ideas once they have heard them is totally up to them.

I will also disagree with your belief that highly rational people can simultaneously lack morality and love. Genuine morality and love are highly rational and principled. Without those qualities love and morality fall into one sided passion and self-serving dogma – exactly what the Gita opposed when it was written.

    Bob Weisenberg Jul 9, 2010 5:13am

    Hi, YogiOne.

    You're right. Instead of the phrase "advising others" I should have said "making judgments" about their spirituality. Then my sentence would have been I'm not prepared to make judgments about anyone else on what their spirituality should be. I'm not saying you can't make these judgments, just that I can't.

    I think we agree on many things, as outlined in our exchange above, but we do have a huge honest disagreement about religion and its role in human affairs.

    No problem with disagreeing. It's always a great discussion with you.

    Bob Weisenberg

anonymous Jul 7, 2010 5:52pm


Much of what is found in religious texts of all sorts reflects simple wish fulfillment fantasies. We want to be safe and cared for, so we project those ideas onto the world and we do our best to create a world that fulfills those needs. Having evolved within this ecosystem and having adapted ourselves and the environment itself so that we are safe here (for the most part), it is easy to see the universe as naturally "giving a damn" about us. I'd say that is an illusion we have created and one that takes us away from our true nature. If you doubt this, put on a backpack and hike out into true wilderness for a few days. Try to provide for yourself there with none of modern civilization's infinite wonders. You will come away with a very different understanding of the universe and how much we have modified the natural world for our own purposes. Often what we take for Grace nowdays is simply the work of the many generations who have come before.

    Bob Weisenberg Jul 7, 2010 3:50pm

    Good thoughts, YogiOne. I think for someone deeply into Yoga it's quite enough infinite wonder just to be part of this universe. I assume you also agree that all things human are also infinitely wondrous, as I've quoted the Gita saying above. One can find the wonder inside ourselves as much as in unspoiled nature.

    On one hand, beyond caring,
    On the other, Krishna IS caring.

    On one hand beyond love,
    On the other, Krishna IS love.

    On one hand, beyond you and me,
    On the other, Krishna IS you and me.

    I am That.

    Thanks for writing.

    Bob Weisenberg

      anonymous Jul 7, 2010 11:24pm

      Wonder, yes. That wasn't the question though. The question was whether the universe itself cares about us. Some parts do, others…not so much. I can love it that way just fine. I don't have to make up universal consciousness and other fantasies to be head over heels in love with it.

        Bob Weisenberg Jul 7, 2010 8:33pm

        Astute observations, as usual. Thanks for writing.

        For me personally, I'm with you 100%. However, I don't share your dismissal of other varieties of spiritual experience, even those that are irrational by our estimation. I know too many wonderful people, including most of my family (my parents, my sisters, and my children) who are deeply religious and it's part of what makes them the wonderful people they are.

        There is lots of variety, even in my immediate family. My sisters are devout Catholics. They believe and they live morally and lovingly according to the best teachings of Jesus. One of my sons is Music Director for a very traditional synagogue in Brooklyn. In his religious world, there is no dogma at all, only a deep and abiding focus on how we should make the world a better place right now, today. Funny thing is, both systems lead to the same kinds of ethics and loving action.

        I think the Gita acknowledges that many people will prefer to personify the universe into a human form, whether it's done as metaphor or believed as fact. In fact that's exactly what Krisha does in the bulk of the Gita! He becomes a person to better relate to Arjuna and to us. And the Gita is very explicit in welcoming all forms of religious experience, as long as it leads to ethical and loving action.

        It's this universality of the Gita that is one of the things I find most appealing about it: I am the source from which gods and sages emerge. (BG 10.2) (and in many other passages throughout the text.) I share this view of religion, even though religion has certainly been used to fuel some horrendous abuses over the course of history.

        I hope we can get some other opinions on this. Thanks again for writing.

        Bob Weisenberg

          anonymous Jul 7, 2010 9:43pm


          Mathematicians create non rational numbers and entire systems of mathematics that they know don't reflect reality. These systems function just fine within their own rules and some of their creations are even useful in solving real world problems. The mathematicians never confuse real world math with their non-rational cousins. It is also true that people create some pretty bizarre beliefs to deal with overwhelming situations like divorce or the death of a loved one which in retrospect were complete bs, but which helped the individual through a tough time. So, some delusions may be functional. However, if you can get to the same place without the delusion, why cling to it? There are reasons other than the atrocities committed in the name of religion to see clearly the truth about the mythology on which many of them are based.

            anonymous Jul 8, 2010 3:53am

            One of the processes that we practice in yoga is Satya, or truthfulness. Arjuna is faced with having to see a truth that was overwhelming and life-changing and which he knew would forever change the way he saw the world. To accept this truth, he would have to leave behind some very strongly held beliefs about how to be in the world. That isn't easy and I think most people won't even consider it because it inevitably leads to a period of loss of faith and nihilism. When you go through that phase, it seems like a permanent loss, but really, it is just the 40 days in the wilderness. You come out the other side with a deeper understanding of the world and a deeper understanding of your purpose in life. You also own it at that point because you have earned it.

              anonymous Jul 8, 2010 4:08am

              The battle that Arjuna is being prepared for could be seen as his personal battle for truth. In that battle, you may have to lose friends, family, teachers in order to be true to the path. For genuine spiritual insight, you may have to completely lose yourself and everything you hold precious to find yourself. It can be soul rending to look upon the true nature of god. For many, you have to give up your religion to find god and that was exactly what Arjuna did when he chose Krishna himself over Krishna's army (followers).

                Bob Weisenberg Jul 7, 2010 10:20pm

                Hi, YogiOne. I understand your point of view, I really do. I think the way you do myself.

                But I'm not prepared to advise anyone else on what their spirituality should be. I have great respect for any religious or spiritual system that leads its believers to be highly moral and loving beings. "God" knows there are certainly plenty of highly rational a-religious people who are not.

                And while, as usual, one can pull many different contradictory messages out of any ancient spiritual text, I would say one overwhelming message of the Gita is the embrace all Gods and all religions under its philosophy.

                Bob Weisenberg

                anonymous Jul 9, 2010 8:48am

                Really nicely said and you can hear in the Gita Arjunas despair and confusion at the loss he is about to undergo in the battle, and in these chapters after seeing all the forms of Krishna , the universal conciousness, Arjuna says he "feels at ease, and once more I am myself," which highlights your point of losing youself to find your Self 🙂

    anonymous Jul 10, 2010 10:34pm

    Some would say the "concrete jungle" of civilization is every bit as terrifying and wonderful as the wilderness. I myself have found myself lost and in danger in both environments. It has to do with context and what is familiar.

    I'm curious about your notion of our "true nature." What is our true nature?

      Bob Weisenberg Jul 10, 2010 5:29pm

      Oh, you are absolutely right, IH. I spent 25 years as a software entrepreneur, and I did find infinite wonder there just as I do in nature.

      Bob Weisenberg

        anonymous Jul 11, 2010 1:03am

        That's because the wonder is in you, Bob. Wonder, like terror, is a response to things, not a property of the things…
        (and I use the term "things" loosely… please don't make me define it! : )

          Bob Weisenberg Jul 11, 2010 2:51am

          Thanks, svan. An interesting way to look at it!

      anonymous Jul 12, 2010 1:43pm


      In the context of the discussion we were having, the question was about whether the Universe as a whole actively cares about us. Being integrated into a society where plenty is taken for granted, it could be easy to see that as so. In the concrete jungle, the dangers are entirely of our own making and reflect our own preditory nature. In the wilderness, we are rarely in danger of attack. You quickly find however, that nature is largely indifferent to you. When you are out there and life is stripped down to its basics, you are bound to learn about yourself. Out there, assuming you left your ipod at home, you hear your internal voice, the sounds of nature and hopefully nothing else. You begin to see the environment around you and how you fit or don't fit into it. There, illusions are stripped away in ways not often found in a yoga studio. Rather than tell you what you will find out about your true nature there, I will simply suggest you go. Engage the process yourself. Go far enough that you can't walk out in a single day if something bad happens. Take only the bare necessities.

        anonymous Jul 12, 2010 2:06pm

        Again, in the context of this discussion, Bob points out that we are part of the Universe, and that the Gita points out that all "good" flows from Krisha/The Universe.

        Whatever in this world is excellent
        and glows with intelligence or beauty—
        be sure that it has its source
        in a fragment of my divine splendor

        Contrasting how we see ourselves when we are within our culture versus when we are stripped of all the conveniences civilization offers is instructive not only about What our true nature is, but in How it manifests. It doesn't arise magically out of flesh itself. For humans, it is inextricably tied to cooperation. That is, working together as a team toward common goals. Choose your teams wisely.

        anonymous Jul 12, 2010 8:59pm

        Again, it's all relative. The dangers of the concrete jungle aren't necessarily one of our own making–especially if you are a stranger to a particular city. I am rarely in danger of attack in most cities I visit (taking care to not visit the more dangerous sections) just as I am rarely in danger in the wilderness–even though the possibility of a cougar attack is a very real one.

        Because my father was a logger, I was raised in the Idaho/Montana wilderness and I've been lost more than once in the woods by myself. I agree about the general indifference of nature, but there are predators there as well: cougars, mosquitoes, ticks, etc. and there are simple natural hazards: rocks, snags, cold, heat, etc.

        I agree in general with what you are saying–the bombardment of noise from civilization is different than nature and it is perhaps easier to find your "self" there in some respects. But I think one has to be careful not to idealize nature as being necessarily less nasty and brutish than civilization.

        The terrifying aspect of civilization seems to be ego (whether it is the ego of nationalism, corporations or persons) combined with misuse of technology resulting in nuclear weapons, oil spills, etc. Since nature of self/ego is important to the Gita, that is why I was intrigued by the notion of a "true nature," especially in this new context of technology.

          anonymous Jul 12, 2010 10:52pm

          What I meant regarding the dangers of the city was "our" as in "human." Dangers of the city are human made. Otherwise I think we are mostly in agreement. Most people who can survive just fine for years in the city will meet their demise fairly quickly if they have to rely only on themselves in a wilderness setting. They generally would simply starve to death or die of dehydration and/or exposure to the elements rather than being eaten.

    anonymous Jul 13, 2010 3:32am

    Well said YogiOne.

    18 months ago we moved to live in a fairly remote village close to nature. I watch things grow, I watch cows graze … and from this perspective Bob, I gotta tell you, that neither the "Wondrous Universe" nor the cows seem to be busy giving a damn or not giving a damn about anything 🙂 They just do what they do …

      Bob Weisenberg Jul 12, 2010 11:00pm

      Hi, Ronen.

      Unfortunately or unfortunately, deluded or not, people like me who are into the infinite wonder of the universe find it everywhere. I can assure you, I would find these cows infinitely wondrous. But then I feel the same way, like Einstein would, about a rock:

      Science and Yoga
      Are soulmates.
      Both find
      Infinite wonder
      Awesome mystery
      And unanswerable questions
      Even in the simplest things
      We see all around us.

      How do the
      Molecules and atoms
      Protons, electrons, and quarks
      Of a rock
      Know how to be
      A rock?

      Science and Yoga
      Both inflame our awareness
      As much by marveling
      At what we don’t know
      As what we do.


      You know what? I'm guessing Pirsig would like this poem. It expresses his own deep interest in left-brain vs. right brain thinking and integrates the two, much like his concept of quality.

      Bob Weisenberg

        anonymous Jul 13, 2010 6:16am

        I apologize if any personal disrespect came through my words. None was intended.

        The life I've lived so far has not endowed me with an experience of "infinite wonder of the universe … everywhere". I don't buy it. It may be there – but I do not believe it is human nature to experience it continuously. As long as we are human we are slaves to the body and the senses … and we carry inside us something eternal as well 🙂 Life is a mixed experience of the two.

        My teacher said (excluding my shaky memory) that when Krishnamacharya was once asked about Samadhi – he replied "Death".

          Bob Weisenberg Jul 13, 2010 1:03pm

          Not to worrry, Ronen. I didn't take any personal disrespect at all from your words, just a very interesting difference of opinion. Not the slightest problem. I always learn a lot more from people who have a different view than I do than from those that agree with me. So I'm actually grateful when someone disagrees. (It's also my idea of fun.)

          Bob W.

Bob Weisenberg Jul 6, 2010 9:05pm

That's fascinating, Nadia. Have you written on you blog or elsewhere about that time in your life? I'd love to read more. Is there perhaps a website about the Vedanta Order?

I have a deep interest in all current manifestations of ancient Yoga philosophy. Right now I'm just learning about how it first came to America in The Subtle Body–The Story of Yoga in America. Right now it's talking about Los Angeles, where I know you've spent some time.

Do you happen to remember what the other texts besides the Gita your studied?

As for the philosophy, the "first test" certainly sounds like the Gita One of my favorite passages is:

However men try to reach me,
I return their love with my love;
whatever path they may travel,
it leads to me in the end. (BG 4.11)

Thanks again for taking the time to write. I'm looking forward to your new project. I can't wait to see what your new project is all about. I didn't miss it, did I?

Bob Weisenberg

Bob Weisenberg Jul 6, 2010 11:34am

Hi, Nadia. Thanks for writing. Good thoughts.

You don't have to look far to find the place where "Krishna tells Arjuna that the ways of the Universe/God are too immense for us to fathom." This idea is laced throughout the Gita as one of its most important themes, and it comes to a poetic climax in the very chapters at hand here, 10 & 11.

If you have a moment, I would love to hear more about the "monastic path" and how the Gita and other Yoga texts were worked in.

Great to hear from you.

Bob Weisenberg

    anonymous Jul 6, 2010 8:23pm

    You are welcome, Bob.

    As for the monastic path, I was initiated into the Vedanta Order with a focus on Buddhism. I almost took final vows but decided that I was not ready to give up on the concept of marriage. I easily could give up everything else but marriage was something my heart needed and wanted to experience. So I left the Order.

    While on the path, I studied all religions. In order to get initiated, you have to pass certain tests. So they give you a couple of holy texts to study and then they question you. Based on your answers, you are then accepted or not. The key of the first test is to be aware of the fact that all roads lead to the same destination. Meaning all religions are one.

    From there, you go through a very powerful ceremony and the intense training begins from hours of meditation to hours of study. It was a wonderful experience and I am so happy I did it. I learned so much and am still learning because I recently was given a chance to take my studies higher even though I am no longer on the monastic path. I am very grateful for this opportunity.

    If you have any more questions, just contact me. Btw, I met my husband a year after I left the monastic path. So it worked out well. 🙂

anonymous Jul 6, 2010 5:20pm

Hi Bob,

It was interesting to read your perspective on this section of the Gita.

When I was on the monastic path, we had to study the Gita in detail and were tested on what we read. Your comment as to whether or not the Universe gives a damn about us is rooted (in my mind) in what we deem to be "us". If we view ourselves as being our titles, our bank accounts and so on….yes, the Universe does not give a damn about those things. However, when we view "us" from a Divine perspective…meaning we are our deeds, thoughts and soul…then yes, the Universe gives a damn about us.

The problem is that we often think we are the labels that are placed on us by ourselves and our society. However, we are more than that. Also, I forget where in the Gita it is said but Krishna tells Arjuna that the ways of the Universe/God are too immense for us to fathom.

anonymous Jul 5, 2010 11:09pm

Krishna to Arjuna: "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."

Arjuna to Krishna: "O Krishna, it is right that the world delights and rejoices in your praise, that all the saints and sages bow down to you and all evil flees before you to the far corners of the universe. . . . Changeless, you are what is and what is not, and beyond the duality of existence and nonexistence."

We want "the Universe" (or its functional equivalent, a personal God) to care for us in the way that we understand caring: to keep us safe, healthy, happy, etc. We don't want the warriors to die (unless they're the "bad guys" in our eyes).

So simple in theory but so difficult to put into practice: to face all the things that we don't want to have happen to ourselves and the world and to still connect to and celebrate Spirit or whatever you want to call it . . . I believe in it, but it's not easy.

Thanks, Bob, for your post. It got me to read the Gita in a way that I haven't for a very long time.

    Bob Weisenberg Jul 5, 2010 6:01pm

    Hi, Carol. Thanks for your thoughts. I once suggested the following bumper sticker to summarize the Gita:

    If You Can't Beat the Universe Join It.

    Does the idea of see ourselves as infinitely wondrous along with the rest of the universe work for you? That was the breakthrough for me. Once I converted the idea of "divine" into "infinitely wondrous" everything fell together. (See my website below for a complete exposition of this idea.)

    May I ask, which version of the Gita is that? What stages have you gone through in your understanding of the Gita?

    Bob Weisenberg

      anonymous Jul 6, 2010 1:55pm

      Bob, thanks for your reply. I love the bumper sticker.

      Re version of Gita: Eknath Easwaran trans., Shambhala 2004. Re stage I'm in: have only scratched the surface & familiarized myself with the basics. Baby beginning stage – that's it.

      Re the "infinitely wondrous" – love it but doesn't address my particular stumbling block. I've always been a very social justice oriented type person. What I have a hard time with are questions like: why are even little children routinely abused, raped, abandoned? Such horrors happen every day.

      I've never found a religious or spiritual "explanation" that works for me. So I turn to radical acceptance – but still with difficulty, which was the emotion driving my previous post. I also draw a lot of inspiration from others who have dealt with suffering in a serious way and come out brighter, lighter, more beautiful people. I am blessed to know quite a few and there's no doubt in my mind that it's possible.

        Bob Weisenberg Jul 6, 2010 8:57am

        Yes, there is no explanation for that. I like Yoga Philosophy because for me it's a healthy combination of radical self-acceptance and selfless action, kind of a "Do the best you can in dealing with life, get outside your own ego, and, while you're at it, don't miss out on the infinite wonder of just being here."

        P.S. Love your Facebook page and you website . Lots to explore. I'm in the middle of "The Subtle Body–The Story of Yoga in America" right now. Really good. There's a whole chapter about Pierre Bernard, and one about Theos, too. I was just in Chicago meeting Yoga blogosphere friends for the first time:

        Bob Weisenberg

        anonymous Jul 7, 2010 11:29pm

        Well, there is an explanation. Not everything in life is good. Some are quite bad. Any authentic, genuine spirituality needs to accept and integrate that fact. Spirituality that denies reality is delusion.

anonymous Jul 5, 2010 9:42pm

Very much enjoyed this post – thank you – somehow so calming and reassuring to realize how small we are in the greater scope of things. I especially liked the pointer to the "smallest cell in the body" 'n thought you might enjoy another blog looking for tie-ins of biology and science in reference to the yoga sutras –

anonymous Jul 5, 2010 4:44pm

Yes, Bob, your reading seems quite strong. In The Stranger, by Albert Camus, humanity turns its back on the protaganist, leaving him utterly unloved… "and gazing up at the sky with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe."

    Bob Weisenberg Jul 5, 2010 9:03pm

    Hi, Jelefant.

    Have you heard alternative points of view to the one I present above? For example, I read one book that considered this the low point of the Gita, not the high point, because it portrays Krishna as a terrifying uncaring impersonal God.

    This commentator (I'll have to go look and see who it was) then rejoiced at Krishna's return to the loving human form at the end of chapter 11. To him it's almost like an "Old Testament"/"New Testament" dichotomy of God.

    Bob Weisenberg

anonymous Jul 4, 2010 9:38pm

[…] Gita Talk #12: Does the Infinitely Wondrous Universe Give a Damn About You and Me? Gita Talk #12: Does the Infinitely Wondrous Universe Give a Damn About You and Me? […]

anonymous Jul 5, 2010 3:09am

I think I'm with you (and your reading of the Gita on that, Bob.
"The universe," as many yoga and new age folks tend to use the term, tends to be simply a less controversial term for a parental "God" outside of ourselves that looks after us and gives us what we need or want, and doesn't give us more than we can take (which, apparently, is why nobody ever has a breakdown or dies), or attract to ourselves by positive or negative thoughts (just like when Anne Frank kept a positive attitude and wrote that she believed people were still basically good despite everything, the kind and loving universe responded by…oops…).
But, at the same time, if we view ourselves *as* the universe…things are, to say the least, a whole lot more complex and interesting…

    Bob Weisenberg Jul 5, 2010 9:13pm

    Hi, Jay. Yes, I understand what you are saying about "a whole lot more complex and interesting".

    That said, what ultimately attracts me personally to this philosophy is its sublime simplicity and rationality. I don't have to twist my mind into any kind of unlikely knots of belief to embrace this spirituality, which is why it's so similar to the religion of scientists like Einstein.

    At the same time, I also like it because its not in the least exclusionary of whatever anyone else chooses to believe in. It truly is universal. Quite remarkable, really. (If you knew what a grand leap it is for me to truly embrace any spiritual system…It's just not like me. Generally I prefer the complex scope and rambunctiousness of literature.)

    Bob Weisenberg

    Bob Weisenberg Jul 5, 2010 9:26pm

    Jay. Also wanted to ask you how you see "spiritual literature" relating to "world literature". Can a work like the Gita live in both worlds? Obviously, many great authors deal with spiritual matters, directly or indirectly. How do you, as an Professor of Literature, decide when a primarily spiritual work deserves to also be considered a great work of literature?

      anonymous Jul 6, 2010 3:37am

      Well, to me the distinction is pretty hazy. Looking at the plays of Sophocles, Aristophanes, and Euripides and the sacred festivals they were writted for, you can see what we in the west think of as "theatre" emerging from religious ceremony. And, then, most of the ancient sacred texts essentially mark the point when ever-changing oral mythic traditions got written down and prevented from continuing to grow and change, becoming "religion." Usually, though, they involve all kinds of great poetry and metaphors…which is exactly why, in my opinion, it's so unfortunate that so many people insist on taking them literally–thus taking, for instance, the incredible wealth of metaphor in the creation story from Genesis and reducing it to a completely ludicrous (not to mention sexist) explanation for the origins of humanity.

        anonymous Jul 6, 2010 3:38am

        Then, most sacred texts, including the Gita, tend to be mishmashes of poetry and flat out dogma, which, arguably, is neither particularly "literary" nor particularly "spiritual" (and we can all come up with our own theories for why that happens). And, at the same time, Leaves of Grass, Moby Dick, the Brothers Karamazov, Les Miserables, House Made of Dawn, and countless other modern "literary" works are as "spiritual" to me as anything.

          Bob Weisenberg Jul 6, 2010 4:19am

          Makes sense to me. Thanks for taking the time for this thoughtful reply. Guess that explains why for long periods of my life literature was my spirituality (during those times when it wasn't more pointedly music.)

          Bob Weisenberg

    anonymous Jul 10, 2010 10:23pm

    I appreciate what you are saying Jay, but I've found that when I really listen to many of the yoga and new age folks, these people–even those who appear to be equating the universe with a "parental God"–often have a more profound and less anthropological outlook than I originally thought. It's just that language fails many of them when they are trying to explain that sense of wonder.

    Perhaps a good litmus test is to look for signs of literalism and fundamentalism in their stated beliefs?

      Bob Weisenberg Jul 10, 2010 5:25pm

      I have had the same experience. A lot of deeply religious people are also highly rational, but they get so used to speaking in the rich metaphors of their faith that it's easy to be misled. Often when questioned directly, they readily say, Oh yeah, this is all just elaborate metaphor, but it really helps me live a good and loving life. It really doesn't matter if it's literally true or not. What's important is the results. It helps me be the person I want to be.

      That said, I have learned to have great respect for anything that helps someone be a highly moral and loving person, whether it involves what to me are irrational beliefs or not. I do believe that religion has this affect for a great many people, so I have a great respect for religion.

      Bob Weisenberg

Bob Weisenberg Jul 6, 2010 1:10am

I found the book, in case anyone is interested: Gita Wisdom by Joshua M. Greene. This is actually an excellent book overall, with lots of great insights. I think it just reflects the flexibility of the Gita.

I'm not sure, but I think our special guest Graham Schweig might hold a similar point of view. He seems to emphasize Krishna as a warm personal loving God, but this might be his strong metaphorical approach. He's going to come back in a few weeks to talk about how his view of the last six chapters of the Gita differs from Mitchell's. That's going to be very interesting.

Thanks for writing, Jelefant. It's good to have you here.

Bob Weisenberg

Bob Weisenberg Jul 6, 2010 8:01am

Hi, Ronen. Thanks for your very interesting comments. Here is my personal perspective, and only that!

Interestingly enough, I agree with your premise about spirituality, but it leads me to the opposite conclusion. I'm don't like Samkhya precisely because it pretends to know far more about reality that we can ever really know, thus violating its own principles.

Usually when I talk about the "infinite wonder of the universe", I include the word "unfathomable", as in the "the infinitely wondrous unfathomable life-force of the universe". "Unfathomable" means exactly that. Even to separate matter from that life force into a separate category, as Samkhya does, is, to me, pretending to know more than we can. This is why Mitchell and others feel Chapters 13-18 of the Gita, which are heavily influenced by Samkhya, are so out of keeping with the rest of the Gita.

You will note that I don't really try to answer the question in the title (unless one considers "yes and no" an answer), because it is unanswerable, as you say. I ask it not because it's answerable, but because it's what's on many people's minds.

However, I disagree that contemplating it is not "practical". For me personally, at least, it has very practical significance in my everyday life to think of myself as the ocean and not just the wave, to feel "infinitely wondrous", including my physical existence.

Samkhya philosophy would deny me this, because it insists on separating my spirit and body, which I personally feel is a distortion of reality in itself, or at least a speculative stretch from what we can really know! As I wrote to YogaforCynics above:

That said, what ultimately attracts me personally to this philosophy [Yoga of the Gita] is its sublime simplicity and rationality. I don't have to twist my mind into any kind of unlikely knots of belief to embrace this spirituality, which is why it's so similar to the religion of scientists like Einstein.

What do you think? What do you other readers think?

Thanks again for writing, Ronen. I found you links above, and your whole website, very interesting and helpful.

Bob Weisenberg

Bob Weisenberg Jul 12, 2010 12:36pm

Hi, iamronen. Here's the reply I wrote on your website:.

Thanks for this very clear overview of Samkhya and how you see it relating to the Yoga Sutra.

My own reading of the Yoga Sutra is that it's a detailed exposition of one aspect of the the Bhagavad Gita–the aspect of meditation.

Personally I'm not attracted to Samkhya because it is determinedly dualistic, and I can't think of any rational justification for the separation of spirit and matter (which as you know, is not just matter but also many non-material things like ego and emotions as well–the entire mind), especially with all the latest discoveries about quantum physics.

But that's just me. You have certainly made a very good case for Samkhya and it's connection to the Yoga Sutra above.

There are six chapters in the Gita (13-18) that are largely about Samkhya, too, but many analysts think they were added on later as a result of the rising popularity of Samkhya. Some analysts suggest ignoring them, and others suggest that the duality of these chapters is just a stepping stone to the passionate non-duality of the rest of the Gita. Still others don't see any conflict at all, just two ways of looking at the same reality.

All these variations in interpretation is one of the things that makes Yoga so fascinating.

Thanks for educating us.

What I meant by "Samkhya precisely because it pretends to know far more about reality that we can ever really know, thus violating its own principles" is that, while part of Samkhya's appeal is supposed to be that it is dispassionate and rational, I don't find it to be so, myself. It deals as much as any other religious system on highly speculative elaborations on reality.

I personally prefer a spirituality, like Einstein's, that draws a strict line between fact and speculation, and embraces everything else about the universe with the infinite wonder it evokes just from observing it non-judgmentally. Under this form of spirituality there is no need to try to eliminate our ego or our emotions, only to be able to observe them objectively as they are.

By scientific standards, it's objective fact that I am both the wave and the ocean, because I'm simply talking about the fact that I am made up of the same stuff as the rest of the universe. with which my stuff is in continual interchange. It's as much a fact as the wave being part of the ocean.

Anything beyond that is speculation, but it does seem quite logical to think that whatever unfathomable life-force that's behind the millions of stars in a distant galaxy is the same life-force that's behind the millions of cells within my own body.

I can't answer your question about "tainted perception" because I don't understand what that means. But if your saying that joyful emotions are tainted in some way, but cold hard speculative philosophy is not, then I couldn't disagree more.

Finally, I don't at all agree that "satisfaction doesn't really foster growth". In my experience one needs a healthy combination of satisfaction and dissatisfaction to foster growth. Neither works very well by itself.

Thanks so much for engaging me in this most interesting discussion. Even though we seem to have very different perspectives, I hope we are both learning from it. I know I am.

Bob Weisenberg

anonymous Jul 12, 2010 9:15pm

These debates are as old as the hills…The various philosophies of Indian thought place different emphasis on various aspects of reality. Samkhya and the Yoga Sutras have strengths in their emphasis on the duality of Purusa and Prakrti (on Shiva and Shakti if we use Tantric terminology). Some argue that Samkhya's limitation is that it does not point to a direct practical route to the Divine, to Ishvara, to God, to Non-dualism. Philosophically this is Samkhya's limitation. A Yogi, a Tantric, using Samkhya will argue that this is not necessary as it is, after all, meditation, practice, spiritual experience that counts. Vedanta's weakness, some will argue, is that it does not emphasize the world, energy, prakrti, the objective. Thus many Vedantists proclaimed this world to be unreal and this may have severe socail and political consequences. The Tantrics of the Brahman-is-composed-of-Purusha-and=Prakrti=school, the idea that duality is inherent in non-duality, and that one can reach nonduality by transforming duality, will often proclaim they have the superior philosophy, the bridge between Vedanta and Samkhya, as philosophically both non-duality and duality is spelled out and their relations clearly understood. And that is my own preferred philosophical school, but in practical spiritual terms it may not matter much which school we adhere to. Many Vedantic people are not seeing this world as an illusion, or at least not acting as if it is, and many who adhere to Samkhya through Yoga or Ayurveda, do not behave or practice spirituality in dualistic ways. What counts ultimately is if one's spiritual endeavors foster nonduality, or Oneness, Spirit, or whatever you may call it. Here the proof is certainly in the pudding. Many sublimely spiritual saints have no philosophy whatsover. And often too much intellectual baggage can be a hindrance to experience the deep wonder of the mystic Soul of existence.

Bob Weisenberg Jul 12, 2010 4:04pm

Hi, Ramesh. Thanks for this profound and fascinating response. I'm with you all the way.

One of the things that struck me as I was reading this is how thoroughly the Bhagavad Gita covers all of these seemingly competing philosophies and ties them up in nice spiritual bow. It's almost as though the author(s) of the Gita were sitting right here thinking exactly what you're thinking above and saying to themselves, How can we tie all this together in a way that makes sense and is really going to turn the reader on?

I'm thinking they did a pretty good job myself (although to some this array of seemingly contradictory philosophies in the same text seem like just an incompatible mish-mash.) I like the Gita because to me it takes all these things and hammers into a sublimely simple rational philosophy I can embrace wholeheartedly in my everyday life. But it did take some time, patience, and study for it to look like that to me.

I love studying the complexity of Yoga history and philosophy, but my day-to-day spirituality has to be sublimely, almost ridiculously simple, for it to be any use to me. I personally see this same spiritual approach in the Gita.

Bob Weisenberg

anonymous Jul 12, 2010 10:52pm

Exactly, Bob. Krishna as spiritual personalty, and Gita as philosophy, inhabits all these sacred philosophical elements, because Krishna explained all these and how they are all tied together as strings of Divine and mundane knowledge. In Him, duality and nonduality merges in exquisite wondrous Oneness. That is why Krishna and the Gita as practical life philosophy is way beyond all these–Vedanta Samkhya, Yoga Sutras. In a sense, Krishna says to us all: philosophy does matter, worldview does matter. Study my ideas and you will learn the middle way, the way to cut through to the core of it all. But what matters most is love for That, love for that infinite wonder of Spirit, that mystical flame of Oneness.
Moreover, Gita as poetry, as devotional text, as sacred musings stirs our souls, brings out our heartfelt passions, churns our egos, transmutes and integrates our being into awe-inspiring love of life, of Spirit like no other philosophy can. Bob, my five cents worth on this mighty topic!!

Bob Weisenberg Jul 13, 2010 2:20am

Yep, beautifully said, Ramesh.

That's certainly why I love the Gita, and Yoga/Tantra in general.

Bob Weisenberg

Bob Weisenberg Jul 12, 2010 10:46pm

Hi, Ronen. Thanks very much for participating in this discussion.

I appreciate your different point of view. After all, if everyone agreed on everything there would be no need for all these competing philosophical systems!

Regarding Einstein's spirituality, please see Albert Einstein as Yoga Sage. I'm reading his biography now, and there is a whole chapter called Einstein's God that reinforces this brief summary blog.

As I've mentioned before, Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was one of the most formative books in my life when it first came out. I haven't been back to it lately, but it still resonates very powerfully in my mind. I used to do the same thing as you–substitute Pirsig's "quality" for "God". I've never tried to relate Pirsig to Yoga philosophy, so it was very interesting to hear your thoughts about this.

I'm not sure what you mean when you say the Gita is not strictly a Yoga text. Could you help me out with that? In mind it is the seminal and central Yoga text, one of the big three along with the Upanishads and the Yoga Sutra. But I'm very interested in hearing why you see it otherwise.

Thanks again for being a part of this very interesting exchange of ideas. It's very enjoyable and informative for me.

Bob Weisenberg

anonymous Jul 13, 2010 6:07am

I have marked Einstein for reading … will get back to you on that.

The Gita, as I know it, is later day rehashing of Vedic knowledge. Yoga & Samkhya, along with other Vedis systems of philosophy, predate it. It does not, in my mind, stand shoulder to shoulder with the Yoga Sutra or the Upanishads (of which I don't know enough to relate to with any authority). The Gita is, in my mind, close to a bible – though then I can relate to it more then the one my Jewish heritage carries – it is in that category. I do not experience nor view it as an authoritative text.

Your suggestion that it has parts which seem slightly ouf of tune with other parts reminds of of echoes I carry of similar relationships between the different parts of the Torah.

The Yoga Sutra, on the other hand, has substantial intenral integrity to it – it is a tight work – and I believe that some of that is inherited from Samkhya.

I feel I can teach a lifetime of Yoga without mentioning the Gta. It is a nice-to-have.

But that's just me 🙂

Bob Weisenberg Jul 13, 2010 8:14am

Yes, we have refreshingly diverse points of view on this.

To me the Gita is the ultimate Yoga text, even though, the Upanishads and Yoga Sutra are indispensable as well. If you had to choose one of the three, the Gita is the only one that encompasses them all. (Some theorize that the only reason the Yoga Sutra's so surgically cold is that Patanjali assumed familiarity with the other two and was just trying to fill in some procedural blanks.)

To me, compared to the Torah (which I also happen to be intimately familiar with) the Gita seems like a model of cohesive logic!

Thanks for writing.

Bob Weisenberg Jul 13, 2010 2:52pm

It probably won't surprise you to learn that my favorite Jewish writer is Heschel, who's spiritual anthology is called I Asked for Wonder.

Bob Weisenberg

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