Srimad Bhagavad-gita Study Group
- Chapter 11 -
The Vision of the Universal Form
The Virat-rupa or the Universal Form of the Lord is described in this chapter. The Lord with eyes, ears, faces, arms and feet, marvels, dresses, ornaments and divine weapons everywhere, shows His all-pervading Universal Form of the Supreme Lord. Arjuna beholds all beings emanating from the Lord and simultaneously entering His mouths and are completely absorbed in Him. He is unable to perceive any beginning, middle or end to this Virat-rupa. Seeing this Arjuna loses his equilibrium and in great fear he observes the assembled great warriors Bhisma, Drona, Karna and all the other kings and chiefs of both sides entering the mouths of the Universal Form and are crushed between His terrible jaws. Overwhelmed with fear in seeing this dreadful form Arjuna prays to the Lord and entreats Him to withdraw this frightful Virat-rupa and again assume the agreeable humanlike form that was familiar to him. Thereafter the Lord consoles Arjuna by firstly showing His four armed Visnu form and then His two armed form of Reality the Beautiful, Shyamasundar which even a glance of that form is coveted by the gods like Brahma and Shiva. No amount of Vedic study, performance of sacrifice, giving in charity or severe austerity is sufficient to behold that all-attractive humanlike form. But he who worships Him with single-minded devotion, bears no malice to anyone and who has transcended the dualities of the world, is enabled to realise His eternal, transcendental, all-blissful, ever youthful, exquisitely beautiful form of Sri Krishnachandra in the divine realm.
Useful Acronym to remember the chapter contents:
The Sanskrit word rupa means “form”. One of biggest theological debates among great thinkers has gone on for centuries; the question over whether God is personal or impersonal. Some argue that accepting a personal form of God amounts to anthropomorphic projection of our qualities onto Him. Krishna, however, confirms in numerous passages of the Bhagavad-gita that He manifests in many ways, impersonally and personally. He also categorically states that the personal is the original form and the basis of the impersonal. This is further confirmed in this chapter after Krishna displays another of his innumerable forms known as the vishva-rupa, the universal form.
U Universal Form
P Prayers of Arjuna
A Armed Form
R – Request (Verses 1-4) - Arjuna requests to see the universal form. One may ask why he makes such a request since he can see Krishna and is completely satisfied (as confirmed in the previous chapter). Clearly Arjuna doesn’t have any personal agenda in seeing the universal form, but he requests the vision for other reasons. Firstly, he wants to prove without doubt Krishna’s position as the source of everything, and secondly set a standard for anyone in the future who claims to be God to show similar opulence. Unfortunately, our modern world is nevertheless plagued with so-called incarnations and God-men claiming to be the latest saviours of society by dint of the fact that they have mustered up some popularity or mastered a few magic tricks.
U – Universal Form (Verses 5-14) - Krishna grants Arjuna’s request and shows His universal form. While God is the source of this universe, He is simultaneously the universe itself in the sense that He is present within His own creation. For example, in my writings you can probably understand something about me – the effect (writings) tell us something about the cause (the author) and in that sense the cause is present within the effect. Similarly, God is the source of the universe, but is simultaneously encompassing the universe – that is the universal form. It’s not that God is the sum of the parts, but rather that everything is contained within God. In that fearful vision of the universal form, Arjuna could see all living beings, all material objects, and the entirety of past, present and future.
P – Prayers of Arjuna (Verses 15-45) - Arjuna falteringly prays to the universal form, awed by the greatness of Krishna, and begs forgiveness for having previously treated Him with familiarity and friendship. Most religious traditions do not go beyond this majestic understanding of God – God who is the creator, the all-knowing and the infallible. It often leads to a fearful exchange with God, lacking intimacy, sweetness and personal relationship. Having seen enough, Arjuna anxiously requests Krsna to once again reveal His two-armed form so that he can again relish the intimacy of that interaction.
A – Armed Form (Verses 46-55) – Arjuna requests to see the manusimrupa, the human-like form of Krishna, around whose neck is swinging a garland of flowers beautified with the moon-locket, whose two hands are adorned with the flute and jewelled ornaments, and whose graceful threefold-bending form attracts the minds of His devotees. Ancient Sanskrit texts describe Krishna as raso vai sah – the very embodiment of affectionate relationships, loving relish, and transcendental sweetness. God is a person who is full of colour, character and bliss. He knows how to have a good time and is much more interested in relishing the sweetness of pure love than the ritualistic worship of those who
approach Him in awe and reverence.
Questions on Chapter 11
Chapter 11 slokas to learn:
na tu māṁ śakyase draṣṭum anenaiva svachakṣuṣā
divyaṁ dadāmi te chakṣuḥ paśya me yogam aiśvaram 
tu–But; anena–with these; svachakṣuṣā eva–present eyes of yours; (tvam)–you; na śakyase–cannot; draṣṭum–see; mām–Me. dadāmi–(So) I give; te–you; divyam–divine; chakṣuḥ–eyes. paśya–Behold; me–My; aiśvaram–opulences; yogam–of divine potency. 
8 But you cannot see Me with these eyes, so I give you divine vision. Behold My divine opulences.
namaḥ purastād atha pṛṣṭhatas te
namo ’stu te sarvata eva sarva
sarvaṁ samāpnoṣi tato ’si sarvaḥ 
(he) sarva–O embodiment of all existences; namaḥ–my obeisances; te–unto You; purastāt–from the front; atha–and; pṛṣṭhataḥ–from the rear. namaḥ astu–I offer obeisances; te–unto You; eva–indeed; sarvataḥ–from all directions. (he) ananta-vīrya–O Lord of infinite potency; amita-vikramaḥ–of immeasurable prowess; tvam–You; samāpnoṣi–pervade; sarvam–all; tataḥ–therefore; asi–You are; sarvaḥ–all. 
40 O embodiment of all existences, my obeisance unto You from the front, behind, and all directions. O Lord of unlimited potency and immeasurable prowess, You pervade all, therefore You are all.