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Gods and Heroes of The Bhagavad-Gītā

An asterisk (*) preceding a Sanskṛt word herein means ‘derived from the verbal root …’



Achyuta The unfallen, i.e., the imperishable: a philosophical term about which H. P. Blavatsky writes: “Achyuta is an almost untranslatable term. It means that which is not subject to fall or change for the worse: the Unfalling; and it is the reverse of chyuta, ’the Fallen.’ The Dhyānis who incarnate in the human forms of the Third Root-Race and endow them with intellect (Manas) are called the chyuta, for they fall into generation.” (S.D. II, 47) Achyuta is applied to Viṣṇu, and to Kṛṣṇa in his avatāric aspect of Viṣṇu: not, however, as an individualized entity but in respect to the condition or state of essential Cosmic Being. (comp. a, not; chyuta from *chyu, to move to and fro, to fall, to fade. Bh.G. 132)

Adhibhūta lit. ’Original Element,’ i.e., the primordial substratum or element of matter and all objects, in its cosmic aspect. (comp. adhi ’above,’ therefore implying superiority; bhuta, a word frequently used for ‘element.’ Bh.G. 57)

Adhidaivata lit. The original or primordial divine, i.e., the divine agent operating in and through beings and objects. A generalizing adjective applying to the divine part of any being from the hierarchical standpoint: applicable to Adhyatman (q.v.). (comp. adhi above, therefore implying superiority; daivata, divine. Bh.G. 57)

Adhiyajña lit. ’Primordial sacrifice.’ Cosmologically this refers to the Cosmic Logos, which in the Esoteric Philosophy is represented as in a sense sacrificing itself for the benefit of the world; because due to its own coming into manifestation it enables the waiting hosts of monads to come into being. In the small, every Avatara repeats the sacrifice for the benefit of all that lives. The Bhagavad-Gītā refers to this in the words “Adhiyajñā is myself in this body,” i.e., Kṛṣṇa the Avatara in a physical body. (comp. adhi upper, paramount; yajña, sacrifice. Bh.G. 58)

Adhyātman lit. ‘The Supreme or Original Atman,’ the highest of a hierarchy, equivalent to Paramatman. (comp. adhi above, therefore implying superiority; atman, Self. Bh.G. 57)

Ādityas The twelve great gods of the Hindu pantheon, sometimes also reckoned as seven (as in early Vedic times, and named, Varuṇa, the chief, Mitra, Aryaman, Bhaga, Dakṣa, Anśa, Sūrya): sons of boundless infinitude (Aditi). These great gods have been known under many names in different kalpas: they are the eternal sustainers of the divine life which exists in all things. “The wise call our fathers Vasus; our paternal grandfathers Rudras; our paternal great grandfathers, Adityas; agreeable to a text of the Vedas.” (Manu iii, 284) Astronomically, the seven Adityas are the regents of the seven planets. (S.D. I, 99) (m. belonging or coming from Aditi. Bh.G. 73)

Ādityavarṇam Luminous like the Sun; the Sun (Āditya) (Bh.G. VIII.9)

Agni The god of fire: one of the most important of the Vedic deities, to whom the greatest number of hymns are addressed, for he presides chiefly over the earth, and is regarded as the mediator between men and the gods, as protector of men and their homes, and as witness of all their actions. Fire is regarded in three phases: in heaven as the sun, in the air as lightning, and on earth as ordinary fire. Agni is represented as clothed in black, having smoke for his standard and head-piece, and carrying a flaming javelin; he has four hands and seven tongues, with which he licks up the butter used in sacrifices. His chariot is drawn by red horses; the seven winds form the wheels of his car, and he is followed by a ram. Esoterically Agni represents the divine essence present in every atom of the universe, the Celestial Fire; hence in its manifestations Agni is often used synonymously with the Adityas (q.v.) or our spiritual Pitṛs (q.v.). In this sense Fire is spoken of as the PRIMARY in the Stanzas of Dzyan: “The Spirit, beyond manifested Nature, is the fiery BREATH in its absolute Unity. In the manifested Universe, it is the Central Spiritual Sun, the electric Fire of all Life. In our System it is the visible Sun, the Spirit of Nature, the terrestrial god. And in, on, and around the Earth, the fiery Spirit thereof – air, fluidic fire; water, liquid fire; Earth, solid fire. All is fire – ignis, in its ultimate constitution, … the three Vedic chief gods are Agni (ignis), Vāyu (q.v.), and Sūrya – Fire, Air, and the Sun, three occult degrees of fire.” (S.D. II, 114) (Bh.G. 85)

Ahaṅkāra (or Ahaṁkāra) Egoism, the sense of personality or ‘I-am-I-ness’: in its lower aspect in man it is the egoistical principle which produces the notion of the personal ego as being different from the Universal One-Self. Kosmically speaking, Ahaṅkāra is “that which first issues from ‘Mahat’ or divine mind; the first shadowy outline of Self-hood, for ‘pure’ Ahaṅkāra becomes ‘passionate’ and finally ‘rudimental’ (initial); . . .” (S.D. I, pp. 452-3). (comp. aham, I; kāra, doer, maker; from *kṛ to do. Bh.G. 53)

Airāvata The elephant produced by the gods at the time of the churning of the ocean. (See Ananta.) He became the special charge of Indra and one of the eight Lokapalas. These latter are the cosmical spirits who preside over the eight points of the compass (Airāvata guards the east), and are closely akin to the four Maharajas – the four ‘Great Watchers.’ Although the Lokapalas are represented as ‘elephants,’ H. P. Blavatsky remarks that “all of them have an occult significance.” (S.D. I, 128) (m. produced from the ocean, from iravat, the ocean. Bh.G. 74)

Ākāśa The Fifth Kosmic Element: the spiritual Essence which pervades all space; in fact it may be called imbodied universal Space – in this aspect known as Aditi. It is the substratum for the seven Prakṛtis (roots) of all in the universe; thus in one sense is Mūlaprakṛti (the Kosmical Root-Substance). The word itself, without its philosophical meaning, signifies the sky, the open space, hence it is often rendered ‘ether’ in translations from the Sanskṛt works, but as H. P. Blavatsky pointed out, Ākāśa “is not that Ether of Science, not even the Ether of the Occultist, who defines the latter as one of the principles of Ākāśa only” (S.D. I, 296). In the Brahmanical scriptures the term is used in the same manner that Northern Buddhists employ Svabhavat – more mystically Ādi-Buddhi. Some have associated the Astral Light with Ākāśa, but the former is but a reflection of the latter: “To put it plainly, ETHER is the Astral Light, and the Primordial Substance is ĀKĀŚA, the Upādhi of DIVINE THOUGHT.” (S.D. I, 326) (* kas, to shine, to appear. Bh.G. 53)

Ambā The eldest daughter of the king of Kāśī (Varāṇasi). Through the fault of Bhīshma she was rejected by her suitor, whereupon she withdrew to the forest and after practicing severe penances she ended her life on the funeral pyre, and was then reborn as Sikhandin (q.v.). The word in the text (last line of p. iii Bh.G.) should read Ambikā (q.v.) – the second daughter of the king.

Ambalikā The third daughter of the king of Kasi given by Bhīshma in marriage to his half brother Vichitravīrya. After the latter’s death she was wedded to Vyāsa, and became the mother of Pandu (q.v.). (Bh.G. p. iii)

Ambikā The second daughter of the king of Kāśī wedded to Vichitravīrya. After his death she was married to Vyāsa, and gave birth to Dhṛtaraṣṭra (q.v.). (Bh.G. p. iii)

Amṛta The nectar of the gods, by quaffing which immortality was attained; hence called the waters of immortality or the elixir of life. The Amṛta was produced when the gods used Ananta (q.v.) for churning the ocean. In the Vedas, Amṛta is applied to the mystical Soma (q.v.), which makes a new man of the Initiate. “Amṛta is beyond any guṇa [quality], for it is UNCONDITIONED per se”; (S.D. I, 348). Mystically it is the drinking of the water of supernal wisdom and the spiritual bathing in its life-giving power. (comp. a, not; mṛta, dying. Bh.G. 74)

Ananta The name of the serpent Śeṣa, represented as seven-headed and forming the couch of Viṣṇu (q.v.), on which he reclines during the pralayas. Śeṣa, is called Ananta (meaning the unending, the infinite) because he perdures through manvantaras as well as during the pralayas, i.e., during the periods of activity and quiescence. Ananta is represented as carrying a plow and a pestle, for during the churning of the waters for the purpose of making Amṛta (q.v.), the gods used Śeṣa as a great rope, twisting his tail around the mountain Mandara, and thus using it as a churn. Ananta is also the symbol of eternity, i.e., a serpent in the form of a circle. In the Purāṇas Śeṣa is said to have a thousand heads – an expansion of the legend. The seven beads of the serpent “typifies the Seven principles throughout nature and man; the highest or middle head being the seventh.” (S.D. I, 407) (comp. an, not; anta, ending. Bh.G. 74)

Ananta-Vijaya The name of the conch-shell of Yudhiṣṭhira. (m. eternally victorious. Bh.G. 4)

Arjuna The hero of the Bhagavad-Gītā depicted as the disciple of Kṛṣṇa is one of the most interesting and lovable characters in the Mahābhārata. He is the third of the Pāṇḍava brothers, the son of Indra by Pṛthā (or Kuntī) – hence referred to throughout the poem as the son of Pṛthā, or again as the son of Kuntī (in Sanskṛt Partha and Kaunteya). His individual exploits are related at great length in the epic, each one being of interest. As the warrior-hero par excellence, his achievements are foremost in the martial line; thus Arjuna is represented as the favorite pupil of Drona (q.v.), as being instructed in arms by the gods themselves (from whom he obtained celestial weapons as well as his remarkable bow, Gāndīva, q.v.). By means of his prowess in arms he was chosen by Draupadi (q.v.) as husband at her svayamvara (‘self-choice’). During a self-imposed exile, Arjuna traveled to Patala (the Antipodes, the name by which America was known in ancient Hindusthan) and there was wooed by the princess Ulupi who wedded him (see S.D. II, 214).
Arjuna is best known in his relationship with Kṛṣṇa: the manner in which Kṛṣṇa became Arjuna’s charioteer is related as follows. When it became apparent that a war was to be waged between the Kurus and the Pāṇḍavas, both Duryodhana and Arjuna hastened to Kṛṣṇa in order to obtain his aid. Duryodhana arrived first, but Kṛṣṇa was in bed asleep: he was still reposing when Arjuna reached the palace, so he stationed himself at the foot of Kṛṣṇa’s bed, so that upon awaking his eyes rested on his brother-in-law (Arjuna was married to Kṛṣṇa’s sister, Subhadra). Immediately each hero implored Kṛṣṇa to aid his cause: but the latter declared that he would not fight in the coming battle, that he would act solely as an advisor; and as each was entitled to his help, Kṛṣṇa gave his petitioners the choice of his splendidly equipped army to the one side, and to the other himself as advisor. Duryodhana having arrived first was given first choice, and he chose the army, whereupon Arjuna was overjoyed to accept Kṛṣṇa as his advisor, and the latter agreed to act as his charioteer in the battle. Because of this Arjuna was victorious.
Of especial interest is the fact that there is a second dialog between Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna in the Mahābhārata, known as the Anu-Gītā, which is even more philosophical and more occult than the first dialog, but as it is more difficult of comprehension and deals with more abstruse subjects it is not so well known. (See S.D. I, pp. 94-6.)
“Arjuna, who was called Nāra, was intended to represent the human monad.” (N.Bh.G. 11)
“Kṛṣṇa is the seventh principle in man, and his gift of his sister in marriage to Arjuna typifies the union between the sixth and the fifth.” (N.Bh.G. 9) (m. white, clear; cf. rijra and *raj or *ranj, to redden, to glow, also illuminate. Bh.G. 2)

Ārya A respectable, honorable, or faithful man; also an inhabitant of Āryavarta (or India). In later times the word is used as a title for the first three castes of ancient India. *ri to rise, to tend upwards. Bh.G. p. iii)

Aryaman The chief of the Pitṛs (q.v.). Also the name of one of the Ādityas (q.v.). (m. a bosom friend. Bh.G. 75)

Aryana (see Aryaman)

Asat Not-being, non-being: applied in Hindu philosophy to the manifested universe as being illusory, unreal, false, in contradistinction to Sat – Be-ness, Reality. In this sense Asat is “Nature, or the illusive shadow of its one true essence.” (Theos. Gloss. 33) (comp. a, not; sat, being, be-ness. Bh.G. 119)

Asita One of the Vedic Ṛṣis, a descendant of Kasyapa, closely associated with Devala (q.v.). (Bh.G. 72)

Asura Originally the word stood for the supreme spirit (being so used in the Rig-Veda), and equivalent to the Zoroastrian Ahura Mazda; then it became applied to deities, such as Indra, Agni and Varuṇa; later still it denoted a class of elemental beings evil in nature, and consequently Asuras are termed demons. The Taittiriya-Brahmana represents the Asuras as being created from the breath of Brahma-Prajāpati likewise the Laws of Manu, but the Purāṇas indicate that they sprang from his thigh. “Esoterically, the Asuras, transformed subsequently into evil Spirits and lower gods, who are eternally at war with the great deities – are the gods of the Secret Wisdom. … They are the sons of the primeval Creative Breath at the beginning of every new Māhakalpa, or Manvantara; … Evidently they have been degraded in Space and Time into opposing powers or demons by the ceremonialists,” (S.D. II, pp. 500-1). (*as, to breathe. Bh.G. 65)

Aśvattha The pippala, the sacred Indian fig-tree, Ficus religiosa. In Buddhism called the Bodhi-tree – the tree under which the Buddha received full illumination. Mystically, the ‘Tree of Life,’ the great World Tree, symbolic both of the vital structure of the universe and of the cosmic hierarchies in all their various interrelations. The roots of the Aśvattha “represent the Supreme Being, or First Cause, the Logos; but one has to go beyond those roots to unite oneself with Kṛṣṇa, … Its boughs are … the highest Dhyan Chohans or Devas. The Vedas are its leaves. He only who goes beyond the roots shall never return, i.e., shall reincarnate no more during this ‘age’ of Brahmā.” (S.D. I, pp. 406-7) (See Bh.G. 105.) (m. ‘under which horses stand’: aśva, a horse; ttha from stha, to stand. Bh.G. 74)

Aśvatthaman The son of Drona and Kripa (sister of Kripa, q.v.): one of the generals in the army of the Kauravas. He was one of the three surviving warriors at the end of the war, and was then made commander. (Bh.G. 3)

Aśvins (or more correctly Aśvinau, the word itself meaning ‘the two horsemen’). Two Vedic deities represented as twin horsemen, harbingers of Ushas, the dawn. They appear in the sky in a chariot drawn by golden horses, or again by birds. Their attributes pertain to youth and beauty. They are regarded as the physicians of the gods, and avert from mankind sickness and misfortune; hence many Vedic hymns are addressed to them. Yaska, the celebrated commentator of the Vedas, referring to the ‘twin horsemen’ as precursors of light and the dawn, held that they represent the transition from darkness to light, and the intermingling of both produces that inseparable duality which is expressed by the twin nature of the Aśvinau. H. P. Blavatsky remarks: ” … these twins are, in the esoteric philosophy, the Kumara-Egos, the reincarnating ‘Principles’ in this Manvantara.” (Theos. Gloss. 41) (Bh.G. 78)