This summary is from the book “Srimad Bhagavat Gita – The Scripture of Mankind” a translation by Rev Swami Tapasyanandaji, published by Sri Ramakrishna Math – Chennai.
This book provides introductory summary of each chapter, the Text in Devanagari, its transliteration into Roman script, word by word meaning, running translations, and annotations wherever necessary. The running translations given in the book are published as a pocket edition of the Gita.
Swami Tapasyanandaji was the Vice-President of the Sri Ramakrishna Order. He has written several books on Spiritual Life. There are books recording his conversation with various spiritual aspirants and dynamic youth also. He has translated several spiritual classics like Adyatma Ramayana, Soundarya Lahari, Sivananda Lahari, Sri Lalitha Sahasrama and Sri Vishnu Sahasranama. He was the editor of Vedanta Kesari, the monthly magazine of the Ramakrishna Order. His editorials were eagerly awaited every month by thousands of people, and some of them have found their way into other books.
In this article, we give an introduction to the Gita, which are slightly modified excerpts form the book. These will be followed by excerpts from the chapter summaries. These form a small and representative portion of the book, and give a good coverage of the subject. Please refer to the book for a more detailed coverage.
The Bhagavat Gita is one of the most popular texts. Next to the Bible it is the most widely translated of scriptural texts. This tremendous appeal of the Gita is because it deals with a practical problem of life, namely, how a man can discharge his duties as the member of an imperfect social order and at the same time attain the highest degree of perfection. The Gita begins with this ethical problem and in solving this problem, a noble devotional philosophy is expounded.
This problem is graphically depicted at the outset through the predicament of Arjuna. Arjuna is the leader of the Pandava host, and his whole life has been a preparation to meet his cousins, the Kauravas, in battle, defeat them, and wrest from them the kingdom that they had usurped from himself and his brothers. The scene is cast in the battlefield of Kurukshetra, where the armies of both the sides have gathered and Arjuna is called upon to fulfil his historic mission by leading his men against the Kauravas. Arjuna realises at this critical moment that it is a fratricidal war, and that its consequence will be the destruction of the very friends and relatives for the sake of whom men usually seek wealth and kingdom, as well as social chaos consequent on the holocaust of the flower of Kaurava and Pandava chivalry. A war-weariness and a world-weariness together come upon him with a dramatic suddenness. Under their impact he forgets all his social and family obligations, and wants to take to an ascetic life instead of indulging in what he conceives to be a senseless carnage under the guise of duty. He becomes a pacifist and a quietist all of a sudden.
The conflict here is between a sudden and purely personal inclination bursting in one’s mind and a social duty, the avoidance of which under that inclination would have meant ruin to a whole community that had laid its trust in one. Sri Krishna, though God incarnate, is Arjuna’s close friend, charioteer and spiritual counsellor, and is called upon to resolve the conflict in Arjuna’s mind and restore him to a sense of moral equilibrium by finding a new sanction for action.
Inevitability of action
Though the answer to Arjuna’s problem is given only at the end, Arjuna is prepared for it by a series of talks on the inexorable nature of work in the life of man and the utter futility of Arjuna’s resolve to withdraw from a life of action.
Man’s body and mind are parts of Prakrti (Nature) which is dynamic in constitution. As a product of Prakrti, action is the law of life for the mind and the body, and the very process of living is impossible without it. And so, its elimination can only mean practice of idleness according to one’s convenience, and he who attempts it under a false impression of his spiritual greatness, will end in rank hypocrisy and spiritual stagnation. Only one, who has overcome the body idea completely and is established in the sense that he is not the body but the immortal, ever-conscious and ever-blissful Atman, can be actionless; for, he no longer identifies himself with the body and mind, the products of Nature.
Besides, from the ethical point of view, everyone with a body-consciousness has to remember that he is living in a community of similar beings governed by a cyclic law of mutual exchange of services and commodities. If he does not contribute his share to it by means of work but enjoys the benefits of others’ work for the maintenence and comfort of his own body, he lives the life of an exploiter and a thief. He has no moral basis and hence no spiritual progress.
Even in the case of a person who has been emancipated from identification with the body, it is better that he works. He has not the compulsion of duty as in the case of the ignorant man, but he may feel the compulsion of love, which makes one work for lokasamgraha (world-welfare). His actions are not self-centred and so have no binding effect on him. Work therefore is the law of life for the ignorant, and an expression of love for the enlightened, the work of the former being self-centred and the latter God-centred.
Necessity of the Doctrine of Nishkama Karma
Actions like leading men in war have many evil consequences, though they may be a part of one’s duty. Is not avoidance of such duties better than doing them and incurring sin? How can their performance promote spiritual life at all? This question is answered by Krishna.
The ideal of a person who is absolutely indrawn and unperturbed, who is the master of the senses and mind – is so far removed from that of a soldier engaged in the form of a dreadful action like war, that it looks incredible that action of that type can ever lead a man to that state if spiritual excellence. This doubt persists in Arjuna’s mind in spite of Krishna’s exhortation to action.
In answer to this Sri Krishna propounds the doctrine of Nishkama-karma – the doctrine of actions done with detachment and dedication to the Lord. Actions in themselves are amoral, if we eliminate the self-centered agent from them. Nature’s cataclysms with their terribly destructive effect cannot be classified as moral or immoral. They are amoral. All actions are a mixture of beneficence and destructiveness as far as their effects are concerned. They are like the brilliance of fire accompanied by the obscuring cloudiness of smoke.
Work at the human level has various ramifications. There is work done under compulsion like slave labour, which may be charecterised as submoral in its effect on the worker. Higher than that is work prompted by the profit-motive (kaamya karma), on which human civilisation as constituted today is based. Kaamya karma can take two forms: On one hand there is anti-social work which is technically denoted as Vikarma or Adharma or Nisiddha-karma; on the other hand there is socially oriented work which is termed as Dharma. Anti-social work is done by persons with demoniac nature. Everything they do is for ostentation and self-aggrandisement and no form of cruel exploitation and selfish indulgences is repungent to them, provided their pleasure, profit and ambition are promoted thereby. Such anti-social beings are endowed with Asuri-sampat (demoniac nature) characterised by pride, greed, passion and cruelty. Moral and spiritual degradation is the wage for their actions.
In contrast are men with Daivi Sampat (divine nature), who follow dharma or socially oriented action. They too are self centered and seek pleasure and power, the good things of life, but their pursuit of these is socially oriented and is regulated by norms that take others and their needs too into consideration. In return for what they seek and take, they are ready to give away what is due from them. They observe the law of Yajna (sacrifice). They are Dharmikaas, men who too pursue pleasure and power but always subordinate such pursuit to a code of give and take based on a sense of collective good and of moral responsibility. When their sense of obligation to society dominated overwhelmingly over the demand for individual fulfillment, they become elevated into patriots, philanthropists and votaries of similar other noble values.
Arjuna was in his early life a Dhaarmika of this type, when he found himself all of a sudden in the predicament described earlier, wherein the old sanctions for action like swadharma (discharge of one’s duty), socially approved pursuit of power and pleasure, communal welfare, patriotism etc become meaningless as inducements of action. A new sanction has to be found if Arjuna were to take part in action, and this sanction, different from even the one applicable to the Dharmikas, is expounded by the Lord. It is the doctrine of Nishkama-karma, the doctrine of work without desire, applicable to men who seek only liberation. In expounding it, a sublime theology and a devotional metaphysics are propounded as the spiritual rationale of such desireless action. Without the spiritual basis, desireless action will only be an incomprehensible and a puzzling concept, as we cannot think of an action devoid of the promoting of some desire or other.
Doctrine of Nishkama Karma
Arjuna is shown the Cosmic Order of the Universe in which he sees that all the Kauravas are being destroyed. Krishna tells Arjuna, “Even without you, all these warriors will be destroyed; you merely be an instrument in the hands of Nature.”
The experience of the Cosmic Order of the Universe opens up a new dimension before Arjuna. It resolves the difficulty that he is faced with. Till now his life had been like that of an individual cell in a body which thinks, out of ignorance that it is an independent entity, functioning on its own, while in truth it has been but a conduit and in fulfillment of whose purpose it has been functioning. Arjuna now realises that he is neither a solitary individual, nor merely a member of a society, but a cell in the Universe with an apportioned piece of work to perform, not for his own sake, not even for the community or country, but for the sake of the Supreme (God) to whom everything and everyone ultimately belongs.
In light of this enlarged world-view, work gains a new sanction and a new significance. Neither self-aggrandisement, nor even the service of any worldly cause is its ultimate purpose. The purpose is the spiritual development of man – to be freed from the hold of the body and realise one’s kinship or unity with the Divine. For he, the jiva (individual soul), is a spark from the divine fire, but identification with the body has effaced the sense of his inherent divinity. This predicament of man, called ignorance, must be due to the will of the Divine, and only by the will or the Grace of the Divine can he be redeemed. This grace descends on him who resigns himself to Him with his entire being-body, mind and soul, and does his duty as an offering to the Cosmic order. Discharge of the work that devolve on one as duty without any self centered motive but as an offering to unto the Divine – to start with, of all results and finallly of the agency too – is the way of this total resignation.
Work cannot be accepted or shunned by any mere momentary considerations of their being good or bad, agreeable or disagreeable. All works, however good at first sight, carry some bad effects too. In the world there are four character types – Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra – depending on the Swadharma (natural duty based on natural tendency). These are not castes as they are seen today and are neither based on hereditary factors. The Brahmana is the introvert type, reflective, intellectual and self-restrained. The Kshatriya is extrovert, flamboyant, lordly, chivalrous and possesses the qualities of leadership in him. The Vaishya is the acquisitive type, industrious, organising and enterprising. The Sudra is the dull type without enterprise or initiative, requiring directions and fit for routine subordinate work.
Work and way of living, suited to these natures and in the line of their evolution, are their Swadharma inspite of what some may consider good or bad. For one who accepts and contemplates on the world-view and the destiny of man as presented in the Gita, the performance of such Swadharma with detachment and as an offering to the Divine is a potent means to spiritual evolution. By offering the fruits of his works, man’s sinful tendencies born of physical nature are effaced, and when he is able to resign his sense of agency too, he realises his unity with the Divine.
In the language of the Gita – “From whom proceeds the activity of all beings and by whom all this is pervaded, worshipping Him through one’s Swadharma a man attains perfection. Better is one’s Swadharma, though defective, than another’s duty, apparently well performed. Doing the duty ordained by one’s nature, one incurs no sin. One should not relinquish the duty born of one’s nature, although it may be attended by evil; for all undertakings are covered by defects. If Arjuna refuses to fight today, that resolve is in vain as his very nature will compel him to fight. Fettered by duties born out of his nature Arjuna will have to fight.”
The doctrine of Nishkama karma therefore says that do your duties according to your Swadharma as an offering to the Divine, which may also be identified as the Cosmic Order. Offering the fruits of the action and finally the agency also to the Divine, one attains perfection.
Significance of the opening chapter
The first chapter, depicting Arjuna’s grief, is meant to show under what conditions man opens himself to the voice of the Spirit. A crisis is often required to make him turn his eyes to the spiritual reality. Often it is the impact of death, loss, disease, faithlessness of man, or any other such bitter experience of life that causes the awakening.
In the case of Arjuna, the hero who forms the central figure in this philosophical poem, it is not any of these but the naked display of man’s cupidity and heartlessness that brings about the change of outlook. Trained to the profession of arms, and accustomed to the pursuit of power and pleasure, Arjuna has till now led the life of a respectable man of the world, seeking the good things of life and doing his ordained religious duties. Now when he is called upon to perform his historic duty of leading the armies of his clan against the usurping Kauravas, the moment of disillusionment comes to him on reflecting on the consequences of the fratricidal war and on the sordid and bloodstained prizes for which it is fought. He seeks shelter in his Divine Teacher Krishna, who has been for him a friend and counsellor till now.
Now, we start the first chapter of the Bhagavat Gita. The first chapter, as we saw in the last part, sets up the stage. Being a part of the epic Mahabharata, this chapter requires a minimal knowledge of the story. The other chapters do not require this exposure. Still, it is better to read the Mahabharata, because the Mahabharata is the best commentary on the Gita. Every idea in the Gita is exemplified in the Mahabharata.
Here is a brief overview of the story. The Mahabharata is said to be the largest single plot ever written by mankind. Only the minimal information required to appreciate the first chapter is given here.
Dhrtarashtra and Pandu were the sons of Vichitravirya, the king of Hastinapura, one of the most powerful kingdoms of the Indian subcontinent in those times. It was a custom that the responsibility of ruling the kingdom belongs to the royal family and not to any individual. Thus, these brothers were incharge of the kingdom. As Dhrtarastra was blind, Pandu was taking care of most of the affairs of the state and was popular among the people and the officals due to his benovelent and just nature. They were assisted by their grandfather, Bheeshma, who had voluntarily denied the luxuries and power of ruling a kingdom, but had also promised to serve the state till his death. The Kauravas were children of Dhrtarashtra and the Pandavas were children of Pandu. Yudhistra, a son of Pandu was the eldest of the Kauravas and the Pandavas, and so the legal heir to kingship. Pandu died in the peak of his youth. Dhrtarashtra was very attached to his sons and wanted his eldest son, Duryodhana, to become the next king. This was objected by Bheeshma and other officials of the kingdom, but the king was adamant. Duryodhana was jealous of the Pandavas, who exceled him and his brothers in virtue and valour. His jealousy and his father’s greed, combined with his father’s position as the king became threats not only to the future kingship of Yudhistra, but also the very lives of the Pandavas and their supporters. The enemity reached its peak, and finally the kingdom had to be divided so that both can live in peace.
The Kauravas continued to rule from Hastinapura. The Pandavas formed a capital and named it Indraprasta. Krishna was the prince of the kingdom of Yadavas, another powerful kingdom. Yudhistra’s mother Kunti was the sister of Krishna’s father Vasudeva. Krishna was a close friend of the Pandavas and the latter sought his advice on all personal and royal affairs. Thanks to Krishna’s support and the inherent strength of the Pandavas, they florished in their newly formed kingdom. Several kings supported them and soon Indraprasta became one of the most powerful and influencial kingdoms. Duryodhana could not stand it. With the help of his uncle Sakuni, he devised plans to usurp Indraprasta. He invited Yudhistra to a game of dice. As was the custom among kings in those days, Yudhistra could not refuse. In the game, he was led into staking his riches, his kingdom, his brothers, himself and even his wife Draupati, losing them all one by one. Finally, the Pandavas and Draupati were banished into the forest for 13 years. A
condition was laid that they have to spend the 14th year incognito. If they were located and recognised, then they will have to spend another 13 years in the forest and try again to be incognito the 14th year. The Pandavas went through all these ordeals and successfully spent the 14th year incognito too.
Still Duryodhana did not want to part with Yudhistra’s kingdom. Krishna tried to mediate. Krishna asked for atleast five villages. Even that was denied. Duryodhana refused to give even the span of land occupied by a needle-point. He was ready to meet the Pandavas and their allies in war. With the help of Krishna, Pandavas gathered a huge army of 7 akshauhinis (one akshauhini comprises of 21870 chariots, 21870 elephants, 65610 horses and 109350 men). The Kauravas were able to gather a much bigger army of 11 akshauhinis. Being on the side of truth and justice, and with Krishna on their side, the Pandavas were confident of winning the war. Being loyal to Hastinapura, all the officals and elders of the kingdom, whom the Pandavas held at great respect and admiration were against them in the war. Though the Pandavas had the blessings of these elders, the Pandavas will have to kill them in the war, and they have to give their life for the sake of the state. Krishna, though a close friend of the Pandavas, was a well-wisher of the state of Hastinapura. In this peculiar position, he promised not take up arms in the war, but to help the Pandavas in all other possible ways. He took up the position of the charioteer of Arjuna, a younger brother of Yudhistra and the greatest archer of the time.
Arjuna and Krishna were close friends right from the former’s childhood. Though an ardent follower of righteousness, he was not as clear-headed in these matters as his elder brother Yudhistra. He was a man of great achievements in the world. When the Pandavas established their kingdom, he subdued almost all the kings in the Indian subcontinent and made them vassals of Indraprasta. At the end of the period of living incognito in the kingdom of Virata, he faced and routed the whole army of Hastinapura single-handedly. In that battle he had defeated the army led by the same leaders – Bheeshma, Drona (the teacher of secular and military skills of the Kauravas and Pandavas), Duryodhana, Karna (a friend of Duryodhana and a mighty warrior) and others. Now, with the support of his brothers and other powerful kings like Drupada, Virata and Kuntibhoja, defeating the army arrayed is not a difficult task for Arjuna.
The scene is laid on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, also described as Dharmakshetra, where the armies of the Kauravas and the Pandavas are arrayed in the battle formations to settle finally by the might of arms their respective claims on the common ancestral kingdom. After the first few verses, wherein a brief review of the leaders on both sides is made by Dhuryodhana, Arjuna appears on the scene in a chariot driven by Krishna. Stationed in his chariot between the two armies, he finds on both sides close kith and kin and venerated persons like teachers and grandfathers standing ready to kill one another for the sake of power and self. The frightful consequences of a fratricidal war dawn on him in all vividness, and he feels it better to eat a beggar’s food than enjoy wealth stained with the blood of persons related to him as sons, fathers, uncles, brothers-in-law, friends, grandfathers and teachers. Shocked at the prospect of a senseless carnage in which his own near and dear ones are going to be the victims, Arjuna decides to lay down arms, surrender the kingdom to the kauravas, and even court death at their hands, or, if he were to survive, to become and ascetic. He drops his weapons in a mood of depression caused by utter confusion as to what his duty is under such circumstances.
Arjuna seeking refuge in Krishna (Chapter 2 verses 1-16)
To Arjuna thus overcome with pity for his doomed kith and kin, Sri Krishna administers a strong dose of reprimand, saying that his attitude befits only a enuch and not a hero. But Arjuna’s sorrow and confusion are so deep rooted that the reprimand has no effect on him, and he continues in his attitude of self-pity, and finally takes refuge in Krishna as a disciple, seeking solace and instruction.
The Immortal Atman (Chapter 2 verses 17-25)
Sri Krishna recognises that Arjuna’s recoiling from his duty of leading his forces stems from two presumptions in his mind. First, the people threatened with destruction are his own kith and kin. This in turn has its basis in his blindness to the essential spiritual nature of man. Ignorance makes him equate man with his visible body, which in turn makes him think of death as total destruction. But the truth is that man’s spirit is indestructible. Until man lives by this truth, there can be no abiding virtue in him. In order to bring this home to Arjuna, Krishna, at the very start of his discourse, expounds the high philosophy of the Atman in the following words: You pretend to be a wise man in speech, but your behaviour is like that of the most ignorant. Your sorrow is for persons who are not in need of it. A wise man takes death as a trifle. For, he knows that the essence is the atman, the birthless, the deathless, the eternal spirit whom weapons cannot cleave, fire burn or air dry. Birth and death are only of the body and not of the atman, and the body in relation to the atman is like clothes one puts on and throws away; or like the passing stages of life like childhood, boyhood, youth and old age. Pleasant and painful experiences of life are passing episodes. A man who knows this and is never moved by pleasure and pain, by life and death, is alone wise and fit for spiritual freedom.
Death from the worldly point of view (Chapter 2 verses 26-39)
Even from the point of view of a worldly wise man, you need not feel sorry for these men. Death is natural to all embodied beings, and there is not use in sorrowing for this unavoidable occurrence. From the Unknown life comes; for a short time it remains in the field of the known; and to the Unknown it goes back again. Of what use is man’s wailing over this eternal process? On the other hand, if you avoid your responsiblities in this righteous war – a veritable portal to heaven for the valiant kshatriyas – every one will say that you have tucked tail for fear of death and fled away for life like a coward. To survive with the stigma of cowardice is worse than a hundred deaths. Dead in the field of battle, you will attain heaven, victorious, you will enjoy the earth. So arise and fight! And if you can practice even-mindedness in pain and pleasure, in success and failure, you shall not incur any sin by slaughter in battle.
The Gospel of dedicated work (Chapter 2 verses 40-53)
Having reminded Arjuna of the real nature of man as the eternal Spirit, Sri Krishna now proceeds to declare the disciplines by which one could gradually realise this Divinity inherent in oneself. For, it is a matter of realisation, and not mere talk. Sri Krishna therefore teaches further as follows: “I taught you till now about the philosophy of the Atman. Now hear from me about the doctorine of communion through work. Man is generally after many worldly enjoyments and ambitions, and hearing that they can be secured through Vedic ritualism, he performs various ritualistic works, one after another, hoping for success. Though they may look like acts of piety, they are only expressions of pure worldliness. They make the mind restless and scattered. But if you can work without an eye on their fruits, your mind will get more and more ingathered and concentrated gradually. The more we are motivated by selfish gains in our work, the more we get steeped in worldliness; and the more we work in a spirit of duty without caring for gains, the more we shall get spiritually oriented. You have therefore got the right only to work as a matter of duty, and not to expect any selfish gain from it, if you want to evolve spiritually. But lack of interest in selfish returns should never make you lethargic or slipshod in your work. For, communion through work (Karma Yoga) consists in maximum efficiency combined with detachment. It is for this reason that Karma Yoga is described as “skill in action”. A man who discharges his duty in the manner described, acquires neither merit nor demerit, but evolves spiritually and becomes fit to realise his real nature as the immortal and impervious Atman. He attains to liberation from the trammels of ignorance. When one is free from longings for worldly enjoyments, one gains spiritual conviction and one’s intelligence is established in steadiness.”
A Man of Steady Wisdom (Chapter 2 verses 54-72)
Arjuna thereupon asks Krishna how he could recognise a man who has attained to the state of “steadiness of intelligence”. Krishna replies: “Such a person, having abandoned all desires from his heart, is ever satisfied with the bliss that is in his higher self. Nothing external attracts him. He is unperturbed in misery and happiness alike. He is free from all attachments, fear and anger. He has such control over his senses that he can withdraw them inward in the presence of the objects that excite them, as a tortoise withdraws its limbs into its shell. The hold of the senses on an ordinay man is very powerful. As a ship on the high seas is at the mercy of the winds, so is the intelligence of man at the mercy of the sense objects. One who thinks longingly of sense objects develops attachment for them. Attachements, in turn, grow into strong desires and infatuation. Infatuation effaces man’s sense of distinction between the proper and the improper, and he becomes a slave of his animal instincts – in fact loses his rationality. So the control of the senses is a pathway to spiritual advancement, and the lack of it, to spiritual ruin. And he who is the absolute master of the senses – into whom the stimuli from sense objects can enter without causing any perturbation, as the rivers into the brimming ocean – he attains to peace that passeth understanding. That is what is meant by being established in Brahman consciousness. Attaining to it man is never born again.”
Conflict between Work and Contemplation (Chapter 3 verses 1-2)
Hearing the discourse on ‘Ideal of the man of steady wisdom’, Arjuna’s confusion only increases. If that state of inwardness and serenity depicted in the above ideal is the end for man to seek, how could its pursuit be reconciled with the life of action to which Krishna has been simulataneously exhorting him, especially when that action is participation in a terrible holocaust like a fraticidal war? He therefore poses this question before Krishna, and rest of the chapter is Krishna’s answer to it.
The two paths (Chapter 3 verses 3-8)
Sri Krishna says that there are two path for attaining perfection – the Path of Knowledge and the Path of Devotion-cum-Action(Yoga). They appear different, the difference is only apparent and they can be reconciled. The Path of Action is currently the subject of discussion.
By merely abstaining from actions, man does not gain that serenity of spirit, the unperturbed state of the Sthithaprajna. He will only be relapsing into idleness thereby. For one thing, it is impossible for any man to live for even a minute without any action; for, man is physically a part of Nature, and Nature is ever active. He is therefore compelled to act. So sitting quiet and thinking that one has attained to that unperturbed state of the spirit is rank hypocrisy. For, such a person’s mind will be very busy thinking of the objects to which he is attached. So the way of spiritual development for him lies not in abstinence from action but only in action performed without attachments and under proper regulation of the senses.
The law of Yajna (Chapter 3 verses 9-18)
God created man with the law of Yajna as the means for his worldly prosperity and for his higher spiritual evolution. Yajna means self-sacrifice – the offering of what one considers precious, for the service of God and one’s fellow beings. If our fellow beings can be looked upon as the very tabernacle of the Divine – for God dwells in everything and everything is the body of God – this service becomes the highest form of worship too. Yajna, at the lower levels is one of give and take. Man lives in community which can thrive only by the exchange of commodities and services among its members. Each gets certain services from others and gives back certain other services in return. One who fails to do his part of the work but insists on getting his share of the good things of social life, is an exploiter and a thief. He violates the law of Yajna and gets morally degraded. Rights and duties therefore go together, and to claim the former without due insistence on the latter, begets corruption and decadence and leads to ruin ultimately. The Vedic fire sacrifice, where thanks giving offerings are made to the Devas for the benefits that they have bestowed on man through Nature, is symbolic of this great law of life. Both the ritual Yajna, and Yajna in a social sense consisting in the discharge of ones duties to the body politic, are based on action. And one who gives up action will be abandoning yajna too and thus violating the basic commandment of the Creator – the ethical law of a life of non-exploitation.
Enlightened Ones too should work (Chapter 3 verses 19-26)
There may however be some rare individuals who have risen above all personal wants. They may be able to withdraw themselves from society, and live a life of self-contentment without depending on the services of others. Even they should work without attachment or desire for the fruits of work. For, by doing so one progresses spiritually and attains Perfection. Just as socially-oriented work makes man ethical, work done without any thought of selfish gain, as an act of pure service of God and Man, raises him to spiritual heights. Purely unselfish action without any thought of returns or obligations, is the higher aspect of law of Yajna. So Janaka and other great Rajarishis continued to be in the field of action and attained Perfection through a life of disinterested action.
There is also another reason why all, including men of higher spiritual attainment, should work; for, otherwise they will be setting a bad example for the unenlightened men, who, without a proper understanding of their mental state, would surely imitate their external behaviour, and relapse into abandonment of their duties, ending in pure idleness. A leader has always to be careful about the example that he sets. So an enlightened man, though he might have risen above the considerations of self-interest, should work unattached and without any return in view, but at the same time evincing just the same zeal and energy with which a man desirous of selfish return works. Otherwise he will be creating conflict of ideas and ideals among common people.
Wisdom is not to be confused with inactivity (Chapter 3 verses 27-35)
The difference between the wise man and the ignorant man consists in this: the former is established in the experience that all actions that are supposed to be his, are only movements of the Prakruthi and that the ‘real He’, the Self, is the uninvolved witness. The ignorant man, on the other hand, being absolutely involved in, and identified with, the movements of Prakruthi feels that he is acting and enjoying. The way to attain detachment is not by keeping quiet without doing anything, but by discharging all one’s duties, surrendering their fruits and the sense of agency to the Supreme. Non-attached work (Karma Yoga) and discriminative understanding of one’s basic nature as the ‘unattached Self’ (Jnana Yoga) are not contradictory but complimentary. For, non-attachment in work is impossible unless one practises simultaneously the understanding that one is basically the ‘unattached self’. And, except in the case of a few rare aspirants, the
practice of such discriminative understanding about the Self, without the support of unselfish work, will end up in pure idleness and failure to do one’s duty. One who fails to do his duty and runs after ways of life that are alien to his inherent nature and aptitude, only incurs sin. For, to do what one ought to do, is virtue and avoiding it out of idleness, or cupidity, or base passions, is sin.
What is Sin (Chapter 3 verses 36-48)
Arjuna thereupon asks the question, why man commits sin, even though he may not want to. And Sri Krishna answers: It is desire(lust) and anger that appear as sin and compel man to undesirable action. The seats of these positions are the senses, mind and intellect. So, to avoid sin man must learn to control the senses first, but this cannot be achieved merely by supression. One has to bring to bear the light of the Self, the Divine spark in one, on the intellect, the mind and senses. Thus should one conquer man’s great enemy sin, the combinations of lust and anger.
The Doctorine of Incarnation (Chapter 4 verses 1-16)
Shri Krishna tells Arjuna: I have revealed this spiritual knowledge in different ages for the benefit of man. Whenever unrighteousness prevails I embody Myself as the Incarnate for the protection of the good and the destruction of the wicked. By comtemplation on the deeds and teachings of these Incarnations man can attain salvation.
In whatever way men worship Me, I approach them in that very aspect. Those who have worldly desires, worship various deities who are aspects of the Divine. But true worship consists in reflecting on the Divine in oneself. I, the Supreme Divine, have created both the Orders of Nature and of Society but I am not in the least affected by these actions, because I have no attachment to them. Those who contemplate on Me as the Great Creator without attachment, will free themselves from attachments and gain liberation.
The true meaning of actionlessness (Chapter 4 verses 17-35)
Nonaction or Nishkamya karma, which is the characteristic of the Soul, does not mean inactivity. It means being established in pure awareness without involvement in any kind of change. Among embodied beings, he who has attained to that spirit-consciousness by virtue of which he is ever established in this uninvolved Atman-awareness and is free from any egotistic impulse even while his body and mind are carrying out all their characteristic movements, he is the really wise man, not the one who by the effort of his will, keeps aloof from external action, but inwardly remains subject to attachments and egotistic motivation. The former is an enlightened man while the latter is a mere idler.
This state of actionlessness in the sense of non-attachment is attained only through long and steadily practiced discipline of dedicated action, combined with the discriminative understanding of one’s being basically the ‘non-attached Self’. Such knowledge based yajna is the highest form of yagna in the Vedic tradition.Yagna can take various forms. It may be with material ingredients, or it may take the form of austerity, or of practice of concentration, or of control of the senses, or of control of Prana, or of scriptural study, or of practice of discrimination. The peak of yagna discipline is reached when an aspirant sees the acts, the means of actions, the things acted upon and the process of action as but different manifestations of Brahman. This is called attainment of Samadhi in action. All action has Jnana or wisdom as its end – the wisdom that enables one to experience everything as resting in Me who form the innermost soul. This knowledge has to be sought by serving wise teachers.
The Power of Enlightenment(Chapter 4 verses 36-42)
This Jnana most powerful of the purifiers, so that it is said that even the erstwhile sinner becomes a saint instantaneously on its onset. This wisdom comes naturally to one who becomes perfect in the discipline of the disinterested action. One who has attained this is no more bound by any action, as even in the midst of all action he is established in the sense that he is the pure detached and unaffected Atman. Doubts and delusions about his spiritual identity no longer assail him. Service of the teacher, faith and control of the senses are indispensable aids to the acquisition of this wisdom.
The harmony of the paths of work and knowledge (Chapter 5 verses 1-7)
Feeling confused, Arjuna asks the Lord again: You seem to advocate the abandonment of all Karma in one breath and in the next praise the discharge of all actions in a disinterested manner. Which of these two should I follow for my good?
To this Sri Krishna replies: A contemplative life, characterised by the abandonment of all actions externally too, as also the discharge of all actions with detachment – are both valid spiritual paths leading to an identical spiritual goal. As paths they may look different, but in the end they are the same. There is, however, this important link between them. Without undergoing the discipline of detached action, it is vain to abandon all external action; for it will result only in idleness and hypocrisy. To an average aspirant it is a mere pitfall, while discriminative wisdom combined with detached action will take him forward gradually. So it comes to this, that the attainment of detachment in action is the very essence of spiritual life, and once this is acquired, it is immaterial whether one abandons actions externally or continues to perform them. For, one who is truly detached becomes, through that detachment, fit to be united with the Self of all – the Supreme Being who is the goal of all spiritual striving. He is no longer affected by action.
The way of the illumined ones (Chapter 5 verses 8-29)
A truth knower with such detachment feels: “I do nothing in all the movements of the body, even in the very winking of the eyes.” Having abandoned all actions mentally, he rests in the nine-gated citadel of the body, undisturbed by the hurry and bustle of the activities of its members. In all his bodily and mental activities, his detachment is so complete that he feels that it is Nature, of which the body-mind is a part, that works and reaps the fruits, not he, the Spirit, who is only the unconcerned witness if all these movements of Nature. Remaining in that Spirit-consciousness, he is unperturbed by all experiences of life, pleasant or unpleasant. And in his dealings with all fellow beings – high and low, holy and unholy, men and animals – he has a sense of equality, knowing, as he does, that they are all the unaffected Spirit, and not the bodies to which alone the distinction of purity and impurity applies. Even in the embodied state, he is able to contain the pull of passions and the senses. Knowing that contactual joys only bring suffering in the end, he turns for satisfaction inward to the Bliss of the Supreme Spirit, of whom he is a part. He becomes an adept in the practice of samadhi, and at any time he can withdraw himself from the surface of the body and be merged in the Bliss of the Spirit within.
Knowing Me, as the friend of all, and at the same time the maker and the master of everything – to whom all worship and austerities have to be offered – man attains Supreme Peace.
Detached work leads to Enlightenment (Chapter 6 verses 1-9)
Shri Krishna said: The real sannyasin and yogi is the man who works with detachment in mind, not one who puts on the symbols of renunciation and avoids work. Real sannyasa and real karma yoga are not so different as people think. Both have the common point that the mind should have the capacity to abandon all the hankerings and attachments, hopes and expectations. The only difference is that, to one who is in the early stages of the discipline, struggling to gain this non-attached condition, work in a literal sense is essential, because he would otherwise lapse into idleness and hypocrisy. Along with work he should practice introspection and meditation also; for without that he cannot keep up the sense of detachment, dedication and desirelessness while working. Work or Karma becomes yoga, only under this condition of supplementing work with meditation. But, for one who has become established in this detachment, introspection becomes the main means for further progress. The test of having reached this state is that there is no expectation of the fruits and no sense of agency. One with such attainment can abandon actions without any fear of degeneration, but need not necessarily do so. While practicing the introspective discipline intensively, he can engage himself also in actions that are contributive to the welfare of the world. Whereas action is a ‘must’ for the former, it is only a ‘may’ for the latter. But the cultivation of a detached mind free from hopes and expectations, is common and essential to both.
Practice of Meditation (Chapter 6 verses 10-32)
The practice of meditation is as follows: The mind of one who has succeeded is compared to a steady flame undisturbed by winds. He becomes established in the experience that he is the Spirit and not the body, and consequently he is steeped in the non-contactual, intellectually intuited Bliss that is of the nature of the Spirit. It is a state, on being established in which nothing else is felt as attractive or valuable, and one is not in the least distracted even by great worldly sorrows. An adept in it also attains to a new vision of the totality of existence, the experience of the Divine as residing in all entities and all entities residing in the Divine.
The Difficulty of inward concentration (Chapter 6 verses 33-47)
Arjuna now raises two questions: As the mind is very unsteady the work of making it steady is as difficult as stilling the air. How could this then be accomplished? Also what is the fate of one who attempts this very difficult discipline and fails to achieve much success even by the end of his life? Is he to be a lost soul, his whole life’s effort having ended in failure?
To these doubts Shri Krishna answers: Though the mind is difficult to control, this can be done by steady practice and cultivation of dispassion for worldly enjoyments, coupled with strong aspiration for higher life. If the latter is not present, practice alone will not be of much use. Failure in Yoga is largely due to the absence of the latter quality. But there is no absolute failure in Yoga. If a person dies before attaining success in it, he carries the legacy of his present life into his next embodiment. He will be born under conditions that are very favourable to spiritual development. With the power of his earlier practice as his background, he will strive forward, life after life, until success is attained. Thus nothing is lost by one striving in the spiritual path.
One practicing the discipline of concentration is immensely greater than one engaging himself entirely in scripture-ordained works, or in intellectual studies of Vedanta. But the practice of concentration should be accompanied with intense faith and devotion to the Lord. Then Yoga becomes the most potent spiritual discipline.
The lower and the higher prakrithis (Chapter 7 verses 1-6)
The Lord speaks to Arjuna about Divine Knowledge thus: Among men there are only a few who aspire and strive to know Me, and even from among them, only a few succeed after many births. I have two powers of manifestation(prakrithi), the lower and the higher. The lower prakrithi is material nature consisting of the earth, water, fire, air, sky, mind, intellect and egoity. The higher prakrithi is my manifestation as jivas or centers of consciousness. The former is My unconscious nature and the latter Conscious Nature. It is My conscious nature that supports and sustains the world made of unconscious nature, because the evolution into various spheres and numerous species of beings is for jivas to reap the fruits of their karma and gradually evolve into perfection.
The All Embracing Divine (Chapter 7 verses 7-11)
There is none higher than Me, or outside My Being, limiting Me. As a string supports all the beads in a necklace, so are all things sustained by Me. My immanent Self is the essence of all entities, manifesting as their characteristic nature and function – in water as taste, in earth as smell, in fire as heat, in all beings as life, in the thoughtful as intellect, in the strong as strength, in the embodied beings as desire conducive to growth and so on.
Who transcends Maya: The four types of devotees (Chapter 7 verses 12-19)
All beings high and low have originated from Me and are contained in Me, but they do not limit Me. No being subject to My Maya constituted of the three gunas, can know Me, the immanent yet transcendent Being. For, this Maya that obstructs their vision is My power, and only by surrendering to Me with one’s whole being can one get across its obstruction and know Me. But so long as man is dominated by evil tendencies and is a slave of demonic nature, he does not devote himself to Me. Four types of persons become devoted to Me – the sufferer, the enquirer, the boon-seeker and the knowing one. Though they are all to be considered noble and virtuous, the knowing one is to Me like My very self. His love stems from his sense of innate unity with Me, and is therefore unmotivated and constant. To him I am dearer than anything else, and so is he to Me. It is only after many births of spiritual striving that man is established in this form of love based on the knowledge that it is Me alone who is seen as this world of multiplicity.
The One God forms the object of all worship (Chapter 7 verses 20-30)
In whatever aspect devotees adore Me, I strengthen their faith in that aspect and approach them in that form. To those who worship Me in the form of various deities for attaining worldly fulfillments, I who indwell these deities, strengthen their faith in their objects of worship and grant them their prayer; but they attain to only those deities, and the fruit they get is of short duration. Not understanding Me as the Universal Being, indwelling even the deities, they adore particularised and limited deities. Due to the obstruction of My Maya, men do not understand Me as the unborn and the undecaying. I know all beings, present past and future, but none knows Me. For their body-consciousness and passions based on it, obstruct men’s understanding from the very start. It is only those whose sinful tendencies have been counteracted by good works, that worship Me with steadfastness of mind. Those who thus worship Me for liberation from the cycle of births and deaths, come to know that I am the sole existence, as also the sole doer and the sole enjoyer.
Divine Immanence and Transcendence (Chapter 8 verses 1-4)
Explaining the Divine mystery, Shri Krishna says: I am the Supreme Imperishable Brahman. My Inherent Nature is what manifests as the Indwelling spirit and as the Creative Act which brings forth all beings into existence. There is also My perishable manifestation as the great elements; there is My presence in them as the Purusha (Immanent Self) guiding their evolution. And in all individual beings I am present as the Lord of Sacrifice, the generator and enjoyer of all actions.
Remembering of the Lord at Death (Chapter 8 verses 5-14)
Whoever leaves the body thinking of Me alone, attains to My state undoubtedly. It is only those who think of Me intently during their life-time who will have the good fortune of remembering Me at death. Therefore remember Me always and do your duty in life. Practice the discipline of concentration on Me, the omniscient, the eternal, the Foundational Being, whose spiritual radiance dispels all darkness of ignorance. The syllable Om is My sound symbol. With that as the support, draw the mind into your innermost being and then concentrate on Me, the subtlest of entities and the seed of all forms.
Creative Cycles (Chapter 8 verses 15-22)
For those who attain to Me through the practice of this all-absorbing devotion, there is no return to this mortal sphere in the course of this endless cosmic cycles. For a thousand divine years, which is the day-time of Brahma, the creator, the Universe is manifest, and during the succeeding thousand years, the night of Brahma, it lies latent in Me. Thus all beings upto Brahma dissolve in Me and come out into manifestation. Only the devotee whose mind is ever fixed on Me, is able to come out of this eternally recurring cyclic process, fraught with impermanence and suffering. The manifested universe is My gross form, and the subtle state into which it relapses in dissolution is the casual state of that form of Mine. Transcending this universe in its gross and subtle conditions, but at the same time containing and indwelling them, is My supreme aspect, attainable by single minded and whole-hearted devotion.
The life hereafter (Chapter 8 verses 23-28)
There are two paths by which embodied beings depart after death – the dark path and the radiant path. Those who are attached to worldly values go along the dark path and come back to this world again at the exhaustion of the effects of their Karma. Those who are unattached and practice whole hearted devotion to the Supreme Being, go along the bright path and never return.
Devotion as the highest value (Chapter 9 verses 1-3)
Shri Krishna said: The doctrine of devotion is the noblest and the profoundest of all sciences. Experience is its proof. It is easy to practice and it is contributive to human welfare. Those who neglect it will be subject to the cycle of births and deaths, and will not attain to Me.
Devotion and understanding of the divine mystery (Chapter 9 verses 4-10)
Devotion is generated by the contemplation of My mystery and My transcendent glory. See how I am the Indwelling Spirit in all; but they do not contain Me; it is I who contain them. Yet in another sense it is not true that they rest in Me, because I, the pure and incorruptible Spirit, remain absolutely unaffected by their presence. Contemplate on this divine mystery-to be the creator and the container of this mighty universe and yet be not affected by it, as space is not by the fast and powerful winds that blow through it. My Power projects and withdraws into itself this extensive universe in Time’s endless cyclic process. I remain the unaffected Overseer and Witness of this eternal process which my Prakruthi executes.
The Divine in all his aspects (Chapter 9 verses 11-19)
When I incarnate Myself as a man, foolish people disdain Me, not recognising My transcendent nature, even as they do not recognise it behind this mighty manifested Nature. This is due to the dominance of demonical tendencies in them. But great men endowed with godly tendencies get an understanding of My Divine mystery as the creator and as the incarnate, and thrilled by that knowledge, devote themselves to Me with an undivided mind. They sing my praise always, they prostrate to Me in loving adoration. Others worship Me with wisdom-sacrifice, communing with Me as the non-dual Self or as the distinct Divine Person or as the Immanent Spirit manifested through all. I am the father, witness, support and resting place of everything. All the universe is My manifestation, and I direct its evolution and its destiny. I am both immortality and total destruction, both Being (manifested effect state) and Nonbeing (unmanifested casual state).
The true worship of the divine (Chapter 9 verses 20-28)
Those who adore Me with sacrifices desiring heavenly regions attain to them, but they have to return when the sacrificial merits are exhausted. But those who have no desire and think of Me alone always, are ever under My protection, and their welfare here and hereafter will be looked after by Me. Even persons who worship various Deities, are in fact worshipping Me alone, as I am their soul and they, My bodies; only their worship is crude and uninformed. My worship, however is very simple. Very little of rituals and ingredients are required for it. A few flowers, water and leaves will do. If these offerings are sweetened with whole-hearted devotion, I consume them eagerly. But all external worship is only a symbol of the total sacrifice and dedication one should practice. Whatever you make – all should be done as an offering unto Me. You should feel that the agency in respect of them as also their fruits are Mine and not yours. This is real Sanyasa, renunciation, and no action will then bind you with their good or bad effects.
Redemption open to all (Chapter 9 verses 29-34)
All are alike to Me, and to none am I hostile. If you find a difference in My relationship with devotees, it is only because the devotees cling to Me, and so I to them also. However degenerate a man may be, he is free to devote himself to My worship. One who is firmly resolved to do so, is on the path of moral and spiritual fulfilment, which will be his without much delay. Thus in the past, countless men, though lowborn and sinful, have attained to Me through whole-hearted self-surrender. How much more easily will well-born and righteous persons like you do so! Therefore love Me and surrender yourself to Me, body, mind and soul, and you will surely attain to Me.
Contemplation on the Divine Excellences: (Chapter 10, 1-11)
As an aid to devotion and self-surrender, the Lord expounds the Divine majestics and excellences, by contemplating on which the devotional mood is reinforced. The Lord says to Arjuna: No person, however great, knows Me; for I pre-exist all. Knowing Me as the unoriginated and external Lord of all, man becomes sinless and free from delusions. All the higher faculties of man are but a faint reflection of My excellences. All great men, saints and saviours, are indeed projections of My thought. To contemplate on Me as the source of all this world-manifestation, to recognise My essence in all that is glorious and impressive, is the way to get thrilled with the devotional experience and attain perpetual communion with Me. To those whose very vital energy is drawn to Me through devotion, I bring the illumination of spiritual insight; I light within them the lamp of wisdom, revealing Myself as the Soul of their soul.
The Vibhutis (Chapter 10 verses 12-42)
Moved by the utter reverence springing from an apprehension of the divine mystery, Arjuna now wants to know about the Bhagavan’s glorious manifestations in life and in Nature, and the Lord lists some of them for the edification of Arjuna. He says: I am what manifests as the Self in all beings. Among Adityas, I am Vishnu; among luminaries, the Sun; among the maruts, Mareechi; among the stars, the moon; among the vedas, Sama; among the Devas, Indra; among the senses, the mind; in living creatures, consciousness; among mountains, Meru; among the priests, Bruhaspathi; among the commanders, Skanda; among water reserviours, the ocean; among Maharishis, Brighu; among sounds, Omkara; among Yajnas, japa yajna; among immobile entities, the himalayas; among the trees, the peepal tree; among devarishis, Narada; among Gandharvas, Chitraratha; among perfected beings, Kapila; among horses, Uchaishravas; among elephants, Airavata; among men, the king; among weapons, the thunderbolt; among cows, the Kamadhenu; among progenitors, Cupid; among serpents, Vasuki; among Nagas, Ananta; among aquatic residents, Varuna; among Pithrus, Aryama; among enforcers, Yama; among daityas, Prahlada; among measuring agents, time; among animals, the lion; among birds, Garuda; among the fish, Makara; among rivers, the Ganga; among forms of knowledge, the knowledge of the Self; among letters, the letter A; among compound word formations, the dvandva form; among destroyers, death; among months, Margashirsha; among seasons, spring; among deceitful ways, the game of dice; of the powerful, their power; of the meritorious, their virtues; among the Vrishnis, Krishna; among the Pandavas, Arjuna; among sages, Vyasa; among poets, Shukra; in the disciplinarians, the sense of discipline; among the factors for success, justice; in the knowing ones, knowledge – in short I am the seed of everything, and without Me nothing can exist. There is no end to My manifestations. Wherever you see anything powerful, good and glorious, know that to be a manifestation of an atom of My power. But why these details! Suffice for you to understand that with an atom of My being, I prevade and sustain everything.
The Vision Described (Chapter 11 verses 1-55)
Arjuna now wants to have a direct experience of the Divine Majesty, the source and support of all that exists. The Lord gives him a new power of insight with which Arjuna becomes capable of having a direct experience of the Divine. The Lord reveals to him His cosmic form in which he finds in an instant all that exists, past, present and future, spread out as it were as part and parcel of an all-comprehending Whole, a Divine Person, whose awful Majesty and stupefying splendour are too much for him to bear. He finds that all beings are helplessly drawn and absorbed into His being – by inexorable Time, with which He declares His identity. Arjuna experiences that there is only one Will, namely the Divine will, and that the will of all the centers of consciousness included in His being are but instruments for serving Him and accomplishing His purposes. He finds that all the armies mobilised and arrayed for battle have already been destroyed by the Lord’s will, and that he himself is just an occasion for this.
Tranformation of Arjuna (Chapter 11 – After the vision)
The experience shakes Arjuna to the very core of his being and he loses himself in utter self-abnegation and devotional absorption. At the end of it, Arjuna is informed by the Lord that such an experience as he has had is very rare, and only through unswerving devotion can man achieve this. So he is exhorted to be a devotee of a Lord, carrying out His will, looking upon Him as the highest, and having attachment for nothing but the Lord.
The Impersonal and the Personal (Chapter 12 verses 1-7)
Arjuna now wants to know who is better Yogi – the one who follows the path of devotion, looking upon God as the Supreme Person, or the one who looks upon Him as the Impersonal Absolute. Shri Krishna answers: All who worship Me with intense faith and adore Me, are praiseworthy. Of the two paths, that of the Impersonal Absolute is too difficult for men who are entrenched in body-consciousness. Besides, in this path one has to depend on one’s effort alone. The devotee has the advantage that, as he depends on Me and not on his effort alone, I am always at his back to lift him out of the ocean of Samsara.
The Practice of Devotion (Chapter 12 verses 8-12)
Therefore let men practise whole-hearted devotion to Me. If their mind does not automatically flow towards Me, they can try Yoga practices and gain concentration. If they cannot do that, they can engage themselves in works that are devoted to Me and are pleasing to Me. If even that is not possible, let them abandon the fruits of all works to Me. Such abandonment in truth and in reality is very potent; for it can bring peace instantaneously.
Who is a Bhakta? (Chapter 12 verses 13-20)
The qualities of an ideal Bhakta are then described. It can be studied in comparison with the ideal of the Sthitaprajna as described in Chapter 2. He is the friend of all, free from self-centeredness, unaffected by vanity and pride, ever cheerful, patient in all circumstances and situations, firm in his resolves, absolutely self-surrendered to the Lord, attracting the love and affection of all, unperturbed, pure, indifferent to worldly values, devoid of the feeling that he is the doer of anything, alike to friend and foe, alike in praise and insult, and looking on the whole world as his home.
The field and its knower (Chapter 13 verses 1-6)
The Lord said: There are two categories in the consciousness of man – the object and the subject, the ‘seen’ and the ‘seer’. The ‘seen’ is in the field, the body: the ‘seer’ is the Spirit, the Jiva. The body-mind is the ‘field’, because it is the environment in association with which the ‘seer, the Jiva, enjoys the fruits of his actions and also undergoes spiritual evolution. Thus the body-mind is its adjunct, the instrument through which the Spirit contacts objects. Still, it is only the ‘seen’, the ‘object’, because the ‘seer’, the Jiva, is not part of it but distinct from it and master of it.
In a broader sense the field is not merely the individual body, but the Universal Nature, of which the individual body is a part. This Universal Nature, the Field, is constituted of the following: The great elements, Egoity, Intellect, the Unmanifested State, the eleven organs, the five objects of perception, will, aversion, joy, sorrow, combination, life and vitality. All the individual fields are made of the combination of these, and in all of them the Seer is Myself (My part or reflection in them)
Knowledge and its means (Chapter 13 verses 7-11)
The Seen and the Seer, the body and the Spirit, are inextricably mixed up in man in the state of ignorance. To know them in their distinctiveness is knowledge, and this knowledge grows by the cultivation of the following disciplines: Absence of pride and vanity, non-injury, patience, perseverance, service of the teacher, self-control, revulsion of tempting objects of senses, reflection on ephemerality of life, non-attachment, non-entanglement with the family, imperturbability, intense devotion to Me, frequenting solitude, steady pursuit of spiritual enquiry, and strong aspiration for the Truth. These constitute knowledge or spirituality, and the opposite is ignorance or unspirituality.
The object to be known (Chapter 13 verses 12-15)
The object to be known is the Supreme Being, who cannot be described by words like ‘existent’ and ‘non-existent’. He enfolds everything in Himself and also indwells everything. Though devoid of senses He enlivens all sense powers; though unattached and unrelated, He supports everything; and though beyond the Gunas of Prakruthi, he is the enjoyer of all Gunas. He is both far and near, and because of his subtlety, He appears, to be not. He is the originator and the consumer of everything. He is the Lord of all and remains undivided in the apparently diversified phenomena. He is the ultimate consciousness that reveals everything. The source of all light and life and the centre to which all spiritual quest is directed, He verily resides in the heart of all.
Knowledge as discovery of one’s spiritual identity (Chapter 13 verses 16-34)
Thus there are two aspects in man – the body-mind which is a part and parcel of Universal Nature, and the Spirit which is ultimately one with Me, the Supreme Subject. Not aware of his real nature, the Spirit identifies with the properties of material nature and becomes embodiment to repeated embodiments in Samsara. Identification makes him the enjoyer of what is really of the body-mind. But there is present in the embodied being another Purusha, the witness of all, the sanctioner of all, the Lord and Support of all, the Master of Soul and Matter. It is the Paramatman. Let the aspirant, overcoming the identification of the Spirit with material Nature, find his identity in Me, the Supreme Lord, who is always the nearest and closest to him – who is, as it were, his matrix, who is the One spiritual Sun reflecting all the individual Spirits in the reflector of the body-mind, and then he shall instantly be redeemed. Real Knowledge consists in understanding of this distinction between Nature and Spirit, and the Spirit’s absolute freedom from Nature.
The Lord as the Universal Father (Chapter 14 verses 1-5)
Shri Krishna said; I shall declare to you that knowledge by which you can attain unity in nature with Me. My Nature is the universal womb in which I place the seed. From this all beings are born and therefore know that beings born of all wombs, are born of my universal womb, and I am their originating father.
The Three Gunas of Nature and their functions (Chapter 14 verses 6-20)
This Nature of mine has three aspects known as Gunas – Constituents or Dispositions – Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, charecterised by expressions like purity, passion and dullness i.e., happiness, energy and delusion respectively. Everything in life is bound and dominated by these Gunas, and man’s life and action, and his progress hereafter, are determined by the ramifying influence of these on him. He is the wise man who is able to perceive that all the movements of his body-mind are really the movements of these Gunas of which it is constituted, and that he, the real he, trancends them. When this illumination dwans, the Jiva is fit for the Immortal State. One who has thus risen above the Gunas is called Trigunatita.
Who is a Trigunatita? (Chapter 14 verses 21-27)
Arjuna now asks what are the signs of a Trigunatita, and the account given in reply is not much different from that of Sthitaprajna (Chapter 2 verses 55-72) and the Bhakta (Chapter 12 verses 13-20). The Trigunatita is thus described: He never identifies himself with the passing moods of elation, excitement and depression, which are the characteristics of the body-mind. In all disturbances of the mental and physical environment, he remains unperturbed, seeing in them only movements of Prakruthi and not of himself. He is alike in pleasure and pain, to friend and foe, and he never feels he is the doer of anything. It is only one who serves Me with unswerving and exclusive devotion that can thus hope to overcome the dominance of the Gunas; for I, the Lord of all, is the one on whom the Brahman-state has its foundation.
The Mystic Ashvatha tree (Chapter 15 verses 1-3)
Shri Krishna said: The created world is like a mighty peepal tree, rooted above in the unseen, with the branches apreading everywhere in the world of the seen. Entangled in its branches, no one understands its source, nor does one grasp the utter flimsy and momentary nature of the values it yeilds. With the powerful weapon of non-attachment, cut, O man, the taproots that bind you to it, and go to the empyrean heights to seek Me, its source – the Supreme Purushottama.
Trancendence and immanance of the Divine (Chapter 15 verses 4-15)
I am trancendent, beyond time and space, but yet immanent in Nature and in all beings – as light in the sun and other luminaries, as gravitation that keeps the galaxies in
position, as fertility in soil, as the digestive powers in all living beings, and above all in the hearts of all as the living spirit from whom life, memory, knowledge and everything else proceed.
The Purushottama (Chapter 15 verses 16-20)
My being has a threefold aspect. As the changeful Matter I constitute the bodies of all (Kshara Purusha), As the unchanging Witness Consciousness, the Jiva, I dwell in all these bodies (Akshara Purusha). But I am, above all, the Purushottama (the Supreme Purusha), who manifests all these, supports all these, indwells them all, and yet remains the Trancendent Spirit, and iota even of whom is not affected by all these manifestations. He who contemplates on this mystery that I am the Supreme Purushottama, he understands all and offers himself to Me with his whole being.
The Divine and the Diabolic types (Chapter 16 verses 1-18)
The Lord said: In creation there are two character types – the Asuric and the Daivic. The former is hostile to all spiritual values, while the latter is fully receptive to them. The Asuric type makes no distinction between the righteous and the unrighteous, the pure and the impure, truth and untruth. In their world view there is no place for God, the abiding spiritual background for this world of change. Pursuit of lust and lucre is their supreme quest in life, and success in this, the only criterion of respectability. “Who is equal to Me?” is their watchword; and to amass wealth, to destroy their enemies, to satisfy their lusts, to acquire name and fame by any means, fair or foul, is their sole object in life. With such and outlook they exploit and oppress all their fellow beings, as also the Lord who is immanent in all. Such persons go down in the spiritual scale.
As distinguished from this is the divine or the spiritual type. They are pure, fearless, full of spiritual aspiration, self-controlled, generous, loving, truthful, patient, benevolent and free from pride and vanity.
The Gateway to Hell (Chapter 16 verses 19-24):
Those who want to rise spiritually should follow these divine ideals, and shun the Asuric traits. Sexuality, anger and greed are the factors that make man more and more Asuric. They are the gateways to hell. Let all the right thinking men avoid them. Sexuality, anger and greed are natural to the unregenerate man. Regulating and overcoming them is morality, the gateway to spirituality. For this, man has to depend on the guidance of a Shastra, a scripture. For, left to his own unguided intelligence, his tendency will be only to yeild to the evil in him and not to master it. So man requires an external authority, prescribing what to do and what not to do. That authority is called a scripture, a text believed to have the sanction of God. Unless guided by an objective authority to whom sanctity is attached, man in his natural state will degenerate into a slave of passions.
While many other chapters of the Gita are of great metaphysics and devotional significance and deserve close study, this particular chapter specially calls for the attention of every man. The Asuric tendency analysed and criticised in it, has a home in the hearts of most people, and to be aware of this fact is the first step to master it and lay the foundation for the edifice of spiritual life.
Faith as rooted in the Gunas (Chapter 17 verses 1-22)
The Lord now speaks of Faith (Shradha), the inner intuition and natural receptivity of the mind to ideals, which ultimately settles man’s preference for the scripture. “Man is verily constituted of his Faith, and he is what his Faith is.” Man’s faith is determined by the dominance of one or the other of the three qualities of Nature – Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. His preference in respect of objects of worship, food activities etc., will depend upon his Shradha. Whatever is done without vanity, but is motivated by the good of others and has the grace of God in mind, is Sattva. Whatever is sought or done with desire, vanity and for self-glorification is Rajas and whatever is done indifferently, with evil motives, thoughtlessly and in a grumbling spirit is Tamas. Such conduct is futile in respect of man’s higher evolution.
Om Tat Sat (Chapter 17 verses 23-28)
Om Tat Sat are the holy syllables indicating the sacrificial mentality. Whatever man does as an offering unto God with the utterance of these syllables, promotes his spiritual evolution. All sacrificial rites, all austerity practised, all charity done are of no spiritual efficacy if they are not supported by Faith.
The Abandonment (Chapter 18 verses 1-12)
As in the previous chapter, the early sections of this last chapter also emphasise the part played by the three gunas of Prakruthi in all human affairs. It opens with a question by Arjuna about the distinction between Sanyasa and Tyaga. The Lord replies: Abandonment of ritualistic works with promises of specific rewards is called by the sages as Sanyasa, while performance of all action without an eye on their fruits is called Tyaga. Some say that all actions are to be abandoned because there is some element of evil in every action, but others are of the opinion that actions like yagna, charity austerity etc., are never to be abandoned. My view is that actions like yagna, charity and austerity are never to be abandoned, because they purify man when performed without attachment and desire for fruits. To abandon a duty because of fear of difficulties involved, is positively bad. It is impossible for any embodied being to abandon all work. So true abandonment had to be taken to mean work without attachment to fruits and without the sense of ego. Actions done in that spirit never bind.
How the bondages of Actions is overcome (Chapter 18 verses 13-18)
In all actions there are five factors involved – the body, the I-sense of the performer, senses, expression of energy through them, and as the fifth, the unknown and the incalculable factor.All these factors belong to prakrithi. Behind it is the pure light consciousness, the Atman, who is unaffected witness. In ignorance, this pure witness identifies himself with these factors external to him and their performances, and creates bondage for himself. So if the actor has no feeling like ‘I am doing’, and no attachment to the fruits accruing, it can be said that he does not act, even if all the world sees him acting in the physical plane.
The Three Gunas as the determinative factors (Chapter 18 verses 18-39)
Dispositions of Prakrithi – sattva, rajas and tamas – determine the nature of knowledge, action and agent.
Sattva: Knowledge dominated by sattva leads to the understanding of unity in diversity; actions dominated by it tend to detachment and freedom from passionate affliations; a doer dominated by it is comparatively free from ego-sense and attachment but yet does not lack enthisiasm an intrest in the work; the intelligence dominated by it is always accompanied by moral sensibility and an eye to the spiritual side of things; strength of mind dominated by it is expressed as control of the senses and the mind; and as strict adherence to principles; and experience dominated by it is painful in the beginning due to difficulties of discipline, but ends in great bliss.
Rajas: Knowledge dominated by rajas directs attention to the diversity of things and not their unity; work dominated by it results in actions done with great attachment, egotism and expenditure of energy; an agent dominated by it is greedy, cruel, attached and subject to elation and depression; intelligence dominated by it is riddled with confusion about right and wrong and has little sense of duty; strength dominated by it is under the sway of ambitions, desires, and worldly status; and happiness dominated by it is extremely attractive in the beginning due to sensual excitement but in its final result brings about suffering.
Tamas: Knowledge dominated by tamas sees mere side issues as the whole truth and doggedly holds on to them without due thought, under the prompting of passions; action dominated by tamas is undertaken thoughtlessly without any estimate of one’s capacity or resources, and is prompted by delusions and cruel motives; the agent dominated by tamas is fickleminded, insolent, exploiting, procastinating and slipshod in his methods; intelligence dominated by tamas sees unrighteousness as righteousness and takes the wrong side of everything; strength or determination dominated by tamas is always subject to depression, vacillation and overbearing insolence; and pleasure dominated by tamas is from the beginning to the end riddled with delusion, lethargy and needlessness.
Gunas and Character types (Chapter 18 verses 40-44)
Everything in Nature being thus dominated by the Gunas, the character types – Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra – and the duties pertaining to them are also no exception to this domination. Intellectualism and introspectiveness; dynamism and leadership; industry and productiveness; discipline and service at all levels – these are the duties of the four character types based on their natural constitutions.
Work as Worship (Chapter 18 verses 45-49)
Knowing all one’s endowments are derived from universal Nature, which is the Lord’s power of manifestation, man must worship that Supreme Being with the faithful and non-attached discharge of duties that devolve on him. That is real worship, and by that man evolves spiritually. By the mere fact that there are some defective elements in a work one’s duty cannot be abandoned. For, defects are natural to all works as smoke is to fire. If discharged in a dedicated and detached spirit, as an offering to the Lord who manifests as society, all blemishes are overcome.
Spiritual fulfillment through total abandonment (Chapter 18 verses 50-56)
For men who have grown mature through devotion and dedicated work and attained to detachment and dispassion, there are two courses open. Those who are favourably situated for it may take to a pure ascetic life in solitude, and devote themselves to the practice of pure introspection. Such practice endows him with motiveless love of the Lord – a love not influenced by any of the forces of Nature (Nirguna Bhakti). By such love he attains to a comprehensive and intuitive understanding of the Divine and realises himself as a part and parcel of the Divine Life.
Spiritual fulfillment through resignation (Chapter 18 verses 56-66)
Those who have not that facility for complete withdrawal from social life, can continue to do their swadharma with complete dependence on Me, the Lord of all. Such a one should mentally renounce all sense of agency for the works that flow through him, and externally he should have no longing or attachment for the fruits of his actions. One who thus infills his mind with Me, overcomes all difficulties and attains to the highest spiritual fulfillment. For the truth is that all beings are like the objects placed on a wheel and I alone turn the wheel. Those on the wheel, if they think they are turning it, are in utter ignorance. Seek shelter in Me with your whole being, and you shall attain peace. This profoundest spiritual Gospel I reveal to you now. Be filled with Me; worship Me; make prostrations to Me. Abandoning dependence on every kind of ego-centered support, seek Me alone as your refuge. I shall save you from the life of ignorance and sin.
To whom the Gita is relevant (Chapter 18 verses 67-68)
This great spiritual doctrine is to be taught only to those who are spiritually inclined. Such teaching is highly pleasing to Me, as they are thereby worshipping Me with Jnana Yagna.
Conclusion: Wherever Krishna, the Lord of Yoga, and Arjuna, the enforcer of Dharma, function unitedly, there will reign both Prosperity and Spirituality.
Based on “Srimad Bhagavat Gita – The Scripture of Mankind” a translation by Rev Swami Tapasyanandaji, published by Sri Ramakrishna Math – Chennai. http://www.sriramakrishnamath.org/