Enlightenment culminates not just in comprehension but also in wonder

The Bhagavad-gita’s ending reveals two facets of enlightenment: one expressed by Arjuna and the other by Sanjaya.

After Krishna finishes speaking (18.72), Arjuna responds that his illusions have been destroyed, and that he would do Krishna’s will (18.73). That his doubts are destroyed means that comprehension has dawned in him. He comprehends Krishna’s position not only as the Absolute Truth but also as the ultimate well-wisher of everyone. Arjuna’s comprehension manifests in his action: when he understands that Krishna’s will is the best course of action for us, souls, who are his eternal parts, he naturally surrenders.

In Sanjay’s ensuing speech (18.73-78), well-known is his concluding prophecy of the victory of the Krishna-Arjuna duo (18.78). Lesser known are the preceding verses, which convey his vision of enlightenment: he is thrilled on contemplating Krishna’s words (18.76) and form (18.77).

Thrill conveys a sense distinct from comprehension – whereas comprehension connotes a sense of knowing and understanding, thrill connotes a sense of astonishment and excitement at glimpsing a newer, bigger, finer aspect of something thought to be known.

We can reconcile these two aspects of enlightenment when we appreciate the unlimitedness of the object of enlightenment: Krishna. Become enlightened by comprehending him is not a finite intellectual challenge like, say, solving a crossword puzzle; once it’s done, it’s done, and we look elsewhere for stimulation. Becoming enlightened is an endless journey of ecstatic absorption.

Once we are enlightened in the sense of Arjuna, understanding Krishna to be the supreme reality and the pivot of all reality, then we focus undistractedly on him. With such focus, we appreciate his glories more and more. As he is unlimited, we keep appreciating him endlessly. Thus, we become enlightened in the sense of Sanjaya, being filled with wonder at Krishna’s inconceivable infiniteness, immeasurable greatness and inexhaustible sweetness.

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