Krishna expounds on the depths of his power and the extent of his domain. He says that the gods and sages do not know his origins, for he is the source of all these deities. All the qualities of human beings - wisdom, understanding, forgiveness, pleasure, pain -- all come from him as well. He bore the earth and all its natural laws from his own mind.
Arjuna asks Krishna to tell him of all his glories, of everything he could possibly do. Krishna responds by saying he is the true Self of every being, as well as the most glorious of every sphere on Earth and in the Heavens. He is Vishnu, the sun, Marichi, Mount Meru, the Ganges, Om. He is birth, death, and every other ritual that is trusted and venerated. He is the judge, jury, and executioner. But Krishna tells Arjuna that there is no end to his divine attributes, so there is no reason to enumerate them. Instead, he says, "just know I am everywhere where there is strength, beauty, and spiritual power" - and that he can support the cosmos with a fraction of his being.
Arjuna asks Krishna to show him his immortal self, so that he might see Krishna out of human form - in his ultimate incarnation as the divinity. Krishna obliges and allows Arjuna to see him in his most majestic power, and appears with "an infinite number of faces, ornamented by heavenly jewels, displaying unending miracles, and countless weapons of his power." He reveals himself as the source of all wonder, with the power of a thousand suns.
Arjuna recounts everything that he sees, as he looks at Krishna in his ultimate form -- and sees him as the creator and destroyer of everything on Earth. Arjuna is rightfully in awe, and clearly anxious at the sight of Krishna in his most powerful avatar. He apologizes for ever treating Krishna too casually in his human form, and acknowledges
him as the father of the universe who must be treated with ultimate respect. Krishna, sensing Arjuna's fear, returns to his normal form.
Krishna tells Arjuna, now back in his human form, that he is lucky to have seen what he has, because even the gods have longed to see Krishna in his ultimate form. No matter what a person does -- even if he achieves the highest power of yoga, meditation, etc. -- he cannot see Krishna in his godly form. But he revealed himself to Arjuna so he may understand the true power of the divinity. Arjuna is thankful for
what he has seen.
Arjuna asks who is more self-realized - those who try to find union with Krishna or those who search for the formless reality beneath the surface. Krishna says that those who focus on him, the divine, and put all their devotion and faith into him will find peace first. He says there are many paths to yoga -- worshiping him, finding peace in the
unknown, selfless service, or even a simple abdication of results -- but to find love of the divinity is to truly put yourself on the path to yoga.
Krishna says that he himself loves those incapable of ill will, who are friendly and compassionate, beyond the I, me, and mine, which corrupt souls. The truly wise person is detached, pure, efficient, never anxious, and a pure devotee to God. Those who are truly self-realized meditate upon this immortal dharma - full of faith, seeking God as their ultimate goal.
The pattern of the previous chapters breaks slightly here, as Krishna offers details on the extent of his power, followed by proof. It's an unusual stretch in the Gita, because Krishna is obviously a major proponent of faith in the divine and the unknown -- and here he is extremely concerned with evidence, hard facts that suggest he is the
divine. But rather than see it as an inconsistency, it seems more likely that Krishna is explaining the hierarchy of the cosmos here. He literally is all the things we revere the most, because he is the source of all things. All things human, all things divine, all concepts, all ideas -- they come from his mind, and from his desire for "lila" or "play."
Arjuna asks Krishna to reveal his immortal self in the next chapter, which falls in line with Arjuna's need for proof he can see. Arjuna as a character is not one who learns easily or takes things on faith -- he needs Krishna to package concepts a few different ways, make hierarchies, and lay out a systematic plan for achieving salvation. Perhaps one of the reasons the Gita is such a seminal text is because it's so undeniably clear. While analysis helps us make sense of the subtextual connections between concepts, Krishna presents a quite literal path for salvation that any reader can follow.
The chapter when Krishna reveals himself as a cosmic vision is "the most exalted chapter of the entire Gita... It is difficult to see at first why the ultimate spiritual vision should be granted to Arjuna at this point," since he hasn't put his learnings into practice, nor shown much concern for his spiritual nature (Easkaswaran 147). In other words, we're not quite sure what he should 'do' with this revelation. But in a way, Krishna is simply ending the string of circular questions from Arjuna by revealing the ultimate manifestation of his power. Krishna, after all, keeps answering all of Arjuna's questions by arguing that all he must do is meditate on him, and his divine powers -- and now, for the first time, Arjuna truly understands why.
Perhaps it is fruitful at this point to compare the Gita and the Book of Job in the Hebrew Bible. In both stories, the protagonists struggle to accept that which seems unjust, but which has divine approval. Job, too, undergoes a sequence of cyclical questioning. God's ultimate answer to Job is to display his powers, in the form of a whirlwind. Just as it does for Arjuna, this display of divine power awes Job into acceptance of ways that he cannot understand. In both texts, the descriptions of divine magnificence are literary embodiments of omnipotence: though we can never see Krishna or Yahweh ourselves, we can experience such an awe-inspiring spectacle vicariously, through literature. Thus we too may be awed into submission.
Arjuna asks an interesting question -- whether one is more destined for achieving yoga through worship of Krishna's divine form or through the search for "eternal formless Reality." Krishna answers that the former is more powerful, and at first we see it as an unjustified claim, since he argues that he can provide a faster path to salvation through a swift "rescue from the fragment's cycle of birth and death, for their consciousness has entered into me." What Krishna is truly saying, however, is not to blindly choose him over worshiping the unknown, but rather to understand that he created this eternal formless Reality. In other words, to worship the Unrevealed isn't enough, because it isn't the supreme goal. There is a higher power.
The concept of love, finally, is presented as a two-way relationship. Krishna loves those who meditate upon him, without desire for results or the rajas that leads to fear, anger, possessiveness. And those who truly know love absolve themselves of material ties, the pain that comes with ego, and offer themselves up to the creator with the purest form of devotion. In that, he says, love is the ultimate form of faith.