WAR and post-war periods tend to bring into prominence the value of sciences,
especially their practical applications. These are important for the conduct of
wars and the comfort of citizens in peace. But if we have to give largeness and wisdom to men's outlook on life,
we should lay stress on humanities also. The relation of sciences to humanities
may be stated roughly to be one of means to ends. In our enthusiasm for the means
we should not overlook the ends. The concepts of right and wrong do not belong
to the sphere
of science; yet it is, on the study of the ideas centering round these concepts,
that human action and happiness ultimately depend. A balanced culture should bring
the two great halves into harmony. The Bhagavadgītā is a valuable
aid for the understanding of the supreme ends of life. There are many editions
of the Bhagavadgītā and several There are many editions of the
Bhagavadgītā and several good English translations of it and there would
be no justification for another, if all that was needed for English readers was
a bare translation. Those who read the Gītā in English need notes at
least as much as those who read it in Sanskrit, if they are not to miss their
way in it. The classical commentaries indicate to us what the Gītā meant
to the commentators and their contemporaries. Every scripture has two sides, one
temporary and perishable, belonging to the ideas of the people of the period and
the country in which it is produced, and the other eternal and imperishable, and
applicable to all ages and countries. The intellectual expression and the psychological
idiom are the products of time while the permanent truths are capable of being
lived and seen by a higher than intellectual vision at all times. The vitality
of a classic consists in its power to produce from time to time men who confirm
and correct from their own experience truths enunciated in it. The commentators
speak to us from experience and express in a new form, a form relevant to their
age and responsive to its needs, the ancient wisdom of the scripture. All great
doctrine, as it is repeated in the course of centuries, is colored by the reflections
of the age in which it appears and bears the imprint of the individual who restates
it. Our times are different; our habits of thought, the mental background to which
we relate our experience, are not quite the same as those of the classical commentators.
The chief problem facing us today is the reconciliation of mankind. The Gītā
is specially suited for the purpose, as it attempts to reconcile varied and
apparently antithetical forms of the religious consciousness and emphasizes the
root conceptions of religion which are neither ancient nor modem but eternal and
belong to the very flesh of humanity, past, present and future. History poses
our problems, and if we restate old principles in new ways, it is not because
we will to do so but because we must. Such a restatement of the truths of eternity
in the accents of our time is the only way in which a great scripture can be of
living value to mankind. From this point of view, the general Introduction
and the Notes may perhaps be found useful by the intelligent reader. There
are many points in the detailed interpretations of the Gītā where there are differences among scholars. I have not done more
than call attention to them in the Notes as the book is intended for the general
reader who wishes to enlarge his spiritual environment rather than for the specialist.
A translation to serve its purpose must be as clear as its substance will
permit. It must be readable without being shallow, modern without being unsympathetic.
But no translation of the Gītā can bring out the dignity and
grace of the original. Its melody and magic of phrase are difficult to recapture
in another medium. The translator's anxiety is to render the thought, but he cannot
convey fully the spirit. He cannot evoke in the reader the mood in which the thought
was born and induce in him the ecstasy of the seer and the vision he beholds.
Realizing that, for me at any rate, it is difficult to bring out, through the
medium of English, the dignity of phrase and the intensity of utterance, I have
given the text in Roman script also so that those who know Sanskrit can rise to
a full comprehension of the meaning of the Gītā by pondering
over the Sanskrit original. Those who do not know Sanskrit will get a correct
idea of the spirit of the poem from the beautiful English rendering by Sir Edwin
Arnold. It is so full of ease and grace and has a flavour of its own which makes
it acceptable to all but those who
are scrupulous about scholarly accuracy.
I am much indebted to Professor M. Hiriyanna who read the
typescript and Professor Franklin Edgerton who read the proofs for their valuable
advice and help. S.R.
List of Abbreviations
I. The Hesitation
and Despondency of Arjuna 79
II. Sarnkhya Theory and Yoga Practice 98
III. Karma Yoga or the Method of Work I3I
IV. The Way of Knowledge 15I
V. True Renunciation I74a
VI. The True Yoga I87
VII. God and the World 2I2
VIII. The Course of Cosmic Evolution 226
IX. The Lord is more than His Creation 237
X. God is the
Source of All; to know Him is to know All 256
XI. The Lord's Transfiguration 269
XII. Worship of the Personal Lord is better than 29I
of the Absolute
XIII. The Body called the Field, the Soul called the Knower
of the Field and Discrimination between Them 300
XIV. The Mystical Father of All Beings 314
XV. The Tree of Life 326
XVI. The Nature of the Godlike and the Demoniac Mind 334
XVII. The Three
Modes applied to Religious Phenomena 342
Mahatma Gandhi on THE BHAGAVADGĪTĀ
Taught by the blessed Nārāyaṇa Himself to Arjuna, compiled
by Vyāsa, the ancient seer, in the middle of the Mahabharata, I meditate
on Thee, O Mother, O Bhagavadgītā , the blessed, of eighteen
chapters, the bestower of the nectar of non-dualistic wisdom, the destroyer of
"This famous Gītā śāstra is an epitome of the essentials
of the whole Vedic teaching. A knowledge of its teaching leads to the realization
of all human aspirations.2
"I find a solace in the Bhagavadgītā that I miss even
in the Sermon on the Mount. When disappointment stares me in the face and all
alone I see not one ray of light, I go back to the Bhagavadgītā .
I find a verse here and a verse there and I immediately begin to smile in
the midst of overwhelming tragedies and my life has been full of external tragedies
and if they have left no visible, no indelible scar on me, I owe it all to the
teachings of the Bhagavadgītā ." M. K. Gandhi, Young
India (1925), pp. 1078-1079.
I auṁ pārthāya
pratibodhitāṁ bhagavatā nārāyaṇena svayam
vyāsena grathitāṁ purāṇamuninā
amba tvām anusandadhāmi bhagavadgīte
I. Importance of the Work
The Bhagavadgītā is more a religions classic than a philosophical
treatise. It is not an esoteric work designed for and understood by the specially
initiated but a popular poem which helps even those "who wander in the region
of the many and variable." It gives utterance to the aspirations of the pilgrims
of all sects who seek to tread the inner way to the city of God. We touch reality
most deeply, where men struggle, fail and triumph. Millions
of Hindus,1 for centuries,
have found comfort in this great book which sets forth in precise and penetrating
words the essential principles of a spiritual religion which are not contingent
on ill-founded facts, unscientific dogmas or arbitrary fancies.
1: The Gītā
has exercised an influence that extended in early times to China and Japan
and latterly to the lands of the West. The two chief works of Mahāyāna
Buddhism, Mahāyānaśraddhotpatti (The Awakening of
Faith in the Mahāyāna) and Saddharmapuṇḍarīka (The
Lotus of the True Law) are deeply indebted to the teaching of the Gītā
. It is interesting to observe that the official exponent of "the German
Faith," J. W. Hauer, a Sanskrit scholar who served for some years as a missionary
in India, gives to the Gītā a central place in the German faith.
He calls it ''a work of imperishable significance." He declares that the
book "gives us not only profound insights that are valid for all times and
for all religious life, but it contains as well the classical presentation of
one of the most significant phases of Indo-Germanic religious history .... It
shows us the way as regards the essential nature and basal characteristic of Indo-Germanic
religion. Here Spirit is at work that belongs to our spirit." He states the
central message of the Gītā in these words: "We are not
called to solve the meaning of life but to find out the Deed demanded of us and
to work and so, by action, to master the riddle of life." (Quoted in the
Hibbert Journal, April 1940, p. 34I.) The Gītā
, however, bases its message of action on a philosophy of life. It requires
us to know the meaning of life before we engage in action. It does not advocate
a fanatical devotion to the practical to the disparagement of the dignity of thought.
Its philosophy of the practical is a derivative from its philosophy of spirit,
brahmvidyāntargatakarmayogaśāstra. Ethical action is derived
from metaphysical realization. S. urges that the essential purpose of the Gītā
is to teach us a way out of bondage and not merely enjoin action, śokamohādisamāirakarmanivṛtyartham
gītāsastram, na pravartakam.
Page I2. The Bhagavadgītā
With a long history of spiritual power, it serves even today as a light to
all who will receive illumination from the profundity of its wisdom which insists
on a world wider and deeper than wars and revolutions can touch. It is a powerful
shaping factor in the renewal of spiritual life and has secured an assured place
among the world's great scriptures.
The teaching of the Gītā is not presented as a metaphysical
system thought out by an individual thinker or school of thinkers. It is set forth
as a tradition which has emerged from the religious life of mankind. It is articulated
by a profound seer who sees truth in its many-sidedness and believes in its saving power. It represents
not any sect of Hinduism but Hinduism
as a whole, not merely Hinduism but religion as such, in its universality, without limit of time or space,1 embracing within its synthesis the whole gamut of the human
spirit, from the crude fetishism of the savage to the creative affirmations of
the saint. The suggestions set forth in the Gītā
about the meaning and value of existence, the sense of eternal
values and the way in which the ultimate mysteries are illumined by the light
of reason and moral intuition provide the basis for agreement in mind and spirit
so very essential for keeping together the world which has become materially one
by the universal acceptance of the externals of civilization.
As the colophon indicates, the Bhagavadgītā is both metaphysics
and ethics, brahmavidyā and yogaśāstra, the science
of reality and the art of union with reality. The truths of spirit can be apprehended only
by those who prepare themselves for their reception by rigorous discipline. We must cleanse
the mind of all distraction and purge the heart from all corruption, to acquire
1 Cp. Aldous Huxley: "The Gītā is one of the clearest and most
comprehensive summaries of the Perennial Philosophy ever to have been made.
Hence its enduring value, not only for Indians, but for all mankind .... The Bhagavadgītā
is perhaps the most systematic
spiritual statement of the Perennial Philosophy." Introduction to the
Bhagavadgītā, by Svami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood
2 Cp. Jyotir ātmani nānyatra samaṁ tat sarvajantuṣu
svayaṁ ca śakyate draṣṭuṁ
"Gods light dwells in the self and nowhere else. It shines alike in
every living being and one can"see it with one's mind steadied."
Introductory Essay 13
Again, the perception of the truth results in the renewal of life. The realm
of spirit is not cut off from the realm of life. To divide man into outer desire
and inner quality is to violate the integrity of human life. The illumined soul
acts as a member of the kingdom of God, affecting the world he touches and becoming
a saviour to others.1 The two orders of reality, the transcendent and the empirical, are closely
related. The opening section of the Gītā raises the question
of the problem of human action. How can we live in the Highest Self and yet continue
to work in the world? The answer given is the traditional answer of the Hindu
religion, though it is stated with a new emphasis.
By its official designation,2 the Gītā is called an Upaniṣad,
since it derives its main inspiration from that remarkable group of scriptures,
the Upaniṣads. Though the Gītā gives us a vision of truth,
impressive and profound, though it opens up new paths for the mind of man, it
accepts assumptions which are a part of the tradition of past generations and
embedded in the language it employs. It crystallizes and concentrates the thoughts
and feelings which were developing among the thinking people of its time. The
fratricidal struggle is made the occasion for the development of a spiritual message
based on the ancient wisdom, prajñā purāṇī, of the Upaniṣads.3
The different elements which, at the period of the composition
of the Gītā , were competing with each other within the Hindu
system, are brought together and integrated into a comprehensive synthesis, free
and large, subtle and profound. The teacher refines and reconciles the different
currents of thought, the Vedic cult of sacrifice, the Upaniṣad teaching
of the transcendent Brahman, the Bhāgavata theism and tender piety, the Sāṁkhya
dualism and the Yoga meditation.
saviour to others.1: IV. 34.
Bhagavadgītā verse 4.34. Learn that
by humble reverence, by inquiry and by service. The men of wisdom who have seen
the truth will instruct thee in knowledge.
official designation,2: Cp. the colophon; bhagavadgītāsu upaniṣatsu.
of the Upaniṣads.3: The popular verse from the Vaiṣṇavīya
Tantrasāra makes out that the Gītā restates the central
teachings of the Upaniṣads, The Upaniṣads are the cows and the cowherd's
son, Kṛṣṇa, is the milker; Arjuna is the calf, the wise man
is the drinker and the nectar-like Gītā is the excellent milk.
sarvopaniṣado gāvo dogdhā gopālanandanaḥ.
pārtho vatsaḥ, sudhīr bhoktā dugdhaṁ gītāmṛtaṁ
I4 The Bhagavadgītā
He draws all these living elements of Hindu life and thought into an organic
unity. He adopts the method, not of denial but of penetration and shows how these
different lines of thought converge towards the same end.
2. Date and Text
The Bhagavadgītā is later than the great movement represented
by the early Upaniṣads and earlier than the period of the development of
the philosophic systems and their formulation in sūtras. From its archaic
constructions and internal references, we may infer that it is definitely a work of the pre-Christian
era. Its date may be assigned to the fifth century B.C., though the text may have received
many alterations in subsequent
We do not know the name of the author of the Gītā . Almost
all the books belonging to the early literature of India are anonymous. The authorship
of the Gītā is attributed to Vyāsa, the legendary compiler
of the Mahābhārata. The eighteen chapters of the Gītā
form Chapters XXIII to XL of the Bhīṣmaparvan of the Mahābhārata.
It is argued that the teacher, Kṛṣṇa, could not have recited
the seven hundred verses to Arjuna on the battlefield. He must have said a few
pointed things which were later elaborated by the narrator into an extensive work.
According to Garbe, the Bhagavadgītā was originally a Sāṁkhya-yoga
treatise with which the Kṛṣṇa-Vāsudeva cult got mixed up
and in the third century B.C. it became adjusted to the Vedic tradition by the
identification of Kṛṣṇa with Visnu. The original work arose
about 200 B.C. and it was worked into its present form by some follower of the
Vedanta in the second century A.D. Garbe's theory is generally rejected. Hopkins regards the work as "at
present a Kṛṣṇaite version
of an older Viṣṇuite poem and this in turn was at first an unsectarian
work, perhaps a late Upanisad."2
alterations in subsequent times.I: I.P.,
Vol. I. pp. 522-5.
a late Upanisad."2 Religions of India (1908), p. 389.-Farquhar writes
of it as ''an old verse Upaniṣad, written rather later than the śvetāśvatara,
and worked up into the Gītā in the interests of Kṛṣṇaism
by a poet after the Christian era.'' Outline of the Religious Literature of
India (I920), Sec. 95.
Introductory Essay 15
Holtzmann looks upon the Gītā as a Viṣṇuite remodelling
of a pantheistic poem. Keith believes that it was originally an Upaniṣad
of the Svetāśvatara type but was later adapted to the cult of
Kṛṣṇa, Barnett thinks that different streams of tradition became
confused in the mind of the author. Rudolf Otto affirms that the original Gītā
was "a splendid epic fragment and did not include any doctrinal literature."
It was Kṛṣṇa's intention "not to proclaim any transcendent
dogma of salvation but to render him (Arjuna) willing to undertake the special
service of the Almighty will of the God who decides the fate of battles."1 Otto believes that
the doctrinal treatises are interpolated. In this he is in agreement with Jacobi
who also holds that the original nucleus was elaborated by the scholiasts into its present
form. These different opinions seem to arise from the fact that, in the Gītā,
are united currents of philosophical and religious thought diffused along
many and devious courses. Many apparently conflicting beliefs are worked into
a simple unity to meet the needs of the time, in the true Hindu spirit, that over
all of them broods the grace of God. The question whether the Gītā
succeeds in reconciling the different tendencies of thought will have to be
answered by each reader for himself
after he completes the study of the book. The Indian tradition has always felt
that the apparently incongruous elements were fused together in the mind of the
author and that the brilliant synthesis he suggests and
illuminates, though he does not argue and prove it in detail, fosters the
true life of spirit.
For our purposes, we may adopt the text followed by Śaṁkara in
his commentary as it is the oldest extant commentary on the poem."2
3. Chief Commentators
The Gītā has been recognized for centuries as an orthodox
scripture of the Hindu religion possessing equal authority with the Upaniṣads
and the Brahma Sūtra and the three together form the triple canon
fate of battles."1: The Originai Gītā : E.T. (1939), pp.
oldest extant commentary on
the poem.2: The few variations of the text which
we find in the Kashmir Rescension do not affect the general teaching of the Gītā.
See F. A. Schrader: The Kashmir Rescension of the Bhagavadgītā
16 The Bhagavadgītā
The teachers of the Vedanta are obliged to justify their special doctrines
by an appeal to these three authorities and so wrote commentaries on them expounding
how the texts teach their special points of view. The Upaniṣads contain
many different suggestions about the nature of the Absolute and Its relation to
the world. The Brahma Sūtra is so terse and obscure that it has been
used to yield a variety of interpretations. The Gītā gives a
more consistent view and the task of the commentators, who wish to interpret the
texts to their own ends, becomes more difficult. After the decline of Buddhism
in India, different sects arose, the chief being Advaita or non-dualism, Viśiṣṭādvaita
or qualified non-dualism, Dvaita or dualism and Śuddhādvaita or pure
non-dualism. The various commentaries on the Gītā were written
by the teachers in support of their own traditions (saṁpradāya)
and in refutation of those of others. These writers are able to find in the
Gītā their own systems of religious thought and metaphysics,
since the author of the Gītā suggests that the one eternal truth
which we are seeking, from which all other truth derives, cannot be shut up in
a single formula. Again, we receive from the study and reflection of the scripture
as much living truth and spiritual influence as we are capable of receiving.
The commentary of Saṁkara
(A.D. 788-820) is the most ancient of the existing ones. There were other
commentaries older than his, to which he refers in his Introduction, but they
have not come down to us.I Saṁkara affirms that Reality or Brahman is one without a second. The
entire world of manifestation and multiplicity is not real in itself and seems
to be real only for those who live in ignorance (avidyā). To be caught in
it is the bondage in which we are all implicated. This lost condition cannot be
removed by our efforts. Works
are vain and bind us firmly to this unreal cosmic process (saṁsāra),
the endless chain of cause and effect.
I: Ᾱnandagiri in his comment on S.B.G., II, 10, says that the Vṛttikāra,
who wrote a voluminous commentary on the Brahma Sūtra also wrote a
Vṛtti or gloss on the Gītā urging that neither knowledge
(jñāna) nor action (karma) by itself leads to spiritual freedom and a combined
pursuit of them takes us to the goal.
Introductory Essay 17
Only the wisdom that the universal reality and the individual self are identical
can bring us redemption. When this wisdom arises, the ego is dissolved, the wandering
ceases and we have perfect joy and blessedness.
Brahman is definable only in terms of being. As It is above all predicates,
especially all distinctions of subject, object and the act of cognition, It cannot
be regarded as personal and there
can be no love or reverence for It.
Saṁkara holds that while action is essential as a means for the purification
of the mind, when wisdom is attained action falls away. Wisdom and action are
mutually opposed as light
and darkness.1 He rejects the view of jñānakarma samuccaya.2 He believes that Vedic rites are
meant for those who are lost in ignorance and desire.3 The aspirants for
salvation should renounce the performance of ritual works. The aim of the Gītā
, according to Saṁkara, is the complete suppression of the world of
becoming in which all action occurs, though his own life is an illustration of
activity carried on, after the attainment
Saṁkara's views are developed by Ᾱnandagiri, who is probably as
late as the thirteenth century, Śrīdhara (A.D. I400) and Madhusūdana (sixteenth century), among
others. The Maratha saints, Tukārām and Jñāneśvar, are great
devotees though they accept the position of Saṁkara in metaphysics. .
century A.D.), in his commentary, refutes the doctrine of the unreality
of the world and the path of renunciation of action. He follows the interpretation
given by Yamunācārya in his
Gītārthasaṁgraha. Brahman, the highest reality, is Spirit, but not without attributes. He has
self-consciousness with knowledge of Himself and a conscious will to create the
world and bestow salvation on His creatures.
light and darkness.1:
IV, 37; IV, 33.
jñānakarma samuccaya.2: tasmād gītāsu kevalād eva tattvajñānān
mokṣaprāptih, na karma samuccitāt. S.B.G., II.11. Even if karma may not be the immediate
cause of liberation, still it is a necessary means for acquiring saving wisdom.
ignorance and desire.3: avidyākāmavata eva sarvāṇi
I8 The Bhagavadgītā
He is the sum of all ideal predicates, infinite and eternal, before and above
all worlds, without any second. The Vedic gods are His servants created by Him and appointed in their places to perform their ordained
duties. The world is no deception or illusion but is genuine and real. The world
and God are one as body and soul are one. They are a whole but at the same time
unchangeably different. Before creation, the world is in a potential form, undeveloped
into the existing and diversified manifestations.
In creation, it is developed into name and form (nāmarūpa). By representing
the world as the body of
God, it is suggested that the world is not made from something alien, a
second principle but is produced by the Supreme out of His own nature. God is both the instrumental and
the material cause of the world. The analogy of soul and body is used to
indicate the absolute dependence
of the world on God even as the body is absolutely dependent on the soul. The
world is not only the body of God but His remainder, Īśvarasyaśeṣa,
and this phrase suggests the complete dependence and contingency of the world.
All consciousness presupposes a subject and an object which is different from
consciousness which is regarded by Rāmānuja as a dependent substance
(dharmabhūtadravya), capable of streaming out. The ego (jīva)
is not unreal and is not extinguished in the state of liberation. The Upaniṣad
passage, tat tvam asi,
thou," means that "God is my self" even as my soul is the
self of my body. God is the supporting, controlling principle of the soul, even
as the soul is the supporting principle of the body. God and soul are one, not
because the two are identical but because God indwells and penetrates the soul.
He is the inner guide, antaryāmin,
who dwells deep within
the soul and as such is the principle
of its life. Immanence, however, is not identity. In time as well as in eternity,
the creature remains distinct from the Creator. Rāmānuja develops in his commentary on
the Gītā a type of personal mysticism. In the secret places of
the human soul God dwells but He is unrecognized by it so long as the soul does
not acquire the redeeming knowledge. We acquire this knowledge by serving God with our whole heart and soul.
Introductory Essay Page 19
Perfect trust is possible only for those who are elected by divine grace. Rāmānuja admits that the paths of knowledge,
devotion and action are all mentioned in the Gītā, but he holds
that its main emphasis is on devotion. The wretchedness of sin, the deep longing
for the Divine, the intense feeling of trust and faith in God's all-conquering
love, the experience of being divinely elected are stressed by him.
The Supreme is Visnu, for Rāmānuja. He is the only true god who will not share
His divine honours with others. Liberation is service of and fellowship with God
in Vaikuntha or heaven. Madhva
(A.D. I199 to 1276) wrote two works on the Bhagavadgītā, called
the Gītā Bhāṣya and Gītātātparya.
He attempts to derive from the Gītā tenets of dualistic (dvaita) philosophy. It is self-contradictory,
he contends, to look upon the soul as identical with the Supreme in one sense
and different from Him in another. The two must be regarded as eternally different
from each other and any unity between
them, partial or entire, is untenable. He interprets the passage "that
art thou" as meaning that we must give up the distinction between mine and
thine, and hold that everything is subject to
the control of God.1 Madhva contends that devotion is the method emphasized in
Nimbārka (A.D. II62) adopts the theory of dvaitadvaita
(dual-non-dual doctrine). He wrote on Brahma Sūtra and his
disciple Keśavakāṣmīrin wrote a commentary on the Gītā
called Tattvaprakāśika. Nimbārka holds that the soul
(Jīva), the world (jagat) and God are different from each other; yet the
existence and activity of the soul and the world depend on the will of God. Devotion
to the Supreme is the principal theme of Nimbarka's writings.
Vallabha (A.D. I479) develops what is called śuddhādvaita or pure non-dualism. The ego
(Jīva) when pure and unblinded by illusions and the Supreme Brahman are one.
Souls are particles of God like sparks of fire and they cannot acquire the knowledge
necessary for obtaining release except by the grace of the Supreme. Devotion to
God is the most important means of obtaining release.
iti bhedam apahāya sarvam Īśvarādhīnam iti sthitiḥ.
20 The Bhagavadgītā
Bhakti is truth associated with
There have been several other commentators on the Gītā and
in our own time, the chief are B. G. Tilak and Sri Aurobindo. Gandhi has his own
The differences of interpretation are generally held to be differences determined
by the view-point adopted. The Hindu tradition believes that the different views
are complementary. Even the systems of Indian philosophy are so many points of
view or darśanas (=
opinion; doctrine, philosophical system) which are mutually complementary and not contradictory. The Bhāgavata
says that the
sages have described in various ways the essential truths. A popular verse
declares: "From the view-point of the body, I am Thy servant, from the view-point
of the ego, I am a portion of Thee; from the view-point of the self I am Thyself.
This is my conviction." God is experienced as Thou or I according to the
plane in which consciousness centres.
4. Ultimate Reality
The Gītā does not give any arguments in support of its metaphysical
position. The reality of the Supreme is not a question to be solved by a dialectic
which the vast majority of the human race will be unable to understand, Dialectic
in itself and without reference to personal experience cannot give us conviction.
Only spiritual experience can provide us with proofs of the existence of Spirit.
The Upaniṣads affirm the reality of a Supreme Brahman, one without a
second, without attributes or determinations, who is identical with the deepest
self of man. Spiritual experience centres round a sovereign unity which overcomes
the duality between the known and the knowing. The inability to conceptualize
the experience leads to such descriptions as identity, pure and simple. Brahman,
the subsistent simplicity, is its own object in an intuition which is its very
It is the pure subject whose existence cannot be ejected into the external
or objective world. Strictly speaking we cannot give any description of Brahman.
The austerity of silence is the only way in which we can bring out the inadequacy
of our halting descriptions
and imperfect standards.1 The Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Up. says: "Where
everything indeed has become the Self itself, whom and by what should one think?
By what can we know the universal knower?2 The duality between knowing and knowable characteristic
of discursive thought is transcended. The Eternal One is so infinitely real that
we dare not even give It the name of One since oneness is an idea derived from
worldly experience (vyavahāra). We can only
speak of It as the non-dual,
advaita.3 that which is known when all dualities are resolved in the Supreme Identity.
The Upaniṣads indulge in negative accounts, that the Real is not this, not
this (na iti, na iti), "without sinews, without scar, untouched by evil,"4 "without either shadow or darkness, without a (continued
on page 22)
I Cp, Lao Tze: "The Tao which can be named is not the true Tao. "The
reality of the formless, the unreality of that which has form is known to all.
Those who are on the road to attainment care not for these things, but the people
at large discuss them. Attainment implies non-discussion; discussion implies non-attainment.
fested Tao has no objective value; hence silence is
better than argument. It cannot be translated into speech; better, then, say nothing
at all. This is called the great attainment." Soothill: The Three Religions
of China, second edition (I923), pp. 56-7. The Buddha maintained a calm silence
when he was questioned about the nature of reality and nirvana, Jesus maintained
a similar silence, when Pontius Pilate questioned him as to the nature of truth.
Cp. Plotinus: "If anyone were to demand of nature
why it produces, it would answer, if it were willing to listen and speak: You
should not ask questions, but understand keeping silence as I keep silence, for
I am not in the habit of speaking."
2 II, 4, 12-14.
3 Cp. Kulārṇava Tantra.
advaitam kecid icchanti dvaitam icchanti. ca'pare
mama tattvaṁ vijānanto dvaitādvaita
Some editions read for vijānantah, na jānanti.
4 Īśa Up.8.
The Supreme, tad ekam, is without qualities and attributes, "neither
existent nor non-existent." Ṛg. Veda, X, 129. The Madhyamika Buddhists call
the Ultimate Reality void or sunya, lest by giving it any other name they may be betrayed into limiting it.
For them it is that which shall be known when all oppositions
are resolved in the Supreme Identity. Cp. St. John
of Damascus: "It is
impossible to say what God is in Himself and it is more exact to speak of Him
by excluding everything. Indeed He is nothing of that which is ... above
within or a without."I The Bhagavadgītā supports this view of the Upaniṣads
in many passages. The Upaniṣads to be "unmanifest, unthinkable and unchanging, 2 neither existent
nor nonexistent.''3 Contradictory predicates are attributed to the Supreme to
indicate the inapplicability of empirical determinations. "It does not move
and yet it moves. It is far
away and yet it is near.4 These predicates
bring out the twofold nature of the Supreme as being and as becoming. He is para or transcendent and apara or immanent, both inside and outside
The impersonality of the Absolute is not its whole significance. The Upaniṣads
support Divine activity and participation in nature and give us a God who
exceeds the mere infinite and the mere finite. The interest which inspired Plato's
instruction to the astronomers of the Academy "to save the appearances,"
made the seers of the Upaniṣads look upon the world as meaningful.
In the words of the Taittirīya Up., the Supreme is that "from
which these beings are born, that by which they live and that into which, when departing, they enter." According
to the Veda, "He is the God who is in fire, in water, who pervades
the entire universe; He who is in plants, in trees, to Him we make our obeisance
(continued on page 23)
Up., III, 8, 8. In the M.B. the Lord who is the teacher tells Narada that
His real form is "invisible, unsmellable, untouchable, qualityless, devoid
of parts, unborn, eternal, permanent and actionless." See Sāntiparva,
339, 21-38. It is the "cloud of unknowing" or what the Areopagite
calls the "superluminous darkness," "the silent desert of the divinity
... who is properly no being" in the words of Eckhart. Cpa Angelus Silesius:
"God is mere nothing ... to Him belongs neither now nor here." Cp. also
Plotinus: "Generative of all, the Unity is none of all, neither thing nor
quality, nor intellect nor soul, not in motion, not at rest, not in place, not
in time; it is the self-defined, unique in form or better formless, existing before
Form was or Movement or Rest, all of which are attachments of Being and make Being
the manifold it is." (Enneads,
E.T., by Mackenna, VI, 9.).
2 II, 25. 3 XIII, IZ; XIII, I.5-I7.
Up., 5: see also Muṇḍaka Up., II, I, 6-8; Kaṭha
Up., II, 14: Bṛhadāraṇyaka Up, II, 37: Svetāśvatara Up., III, 17. 5 bahir antaś
ca bhūtānām, XIII, 15
Introductory Essay 23
He who is in plants, in trees, to Him we make our obeisance again and again."1 "Who would have exerted, who would have lived, if this supreme bliss had not been in the
heavens?"2 The theistic emphasis becomes prominent in the Svetāśvatara
Up. "He, who is one and without any colour (visible form), by the manifold
wielding of His power, ordains many colours (forms) with a concealed purpose and
into whom, in the beginning and the end, the universe dissolves, He is the God.
May He endow us with an understanding which leads to good actions.3 Again "Thou art the woman, thou art the man; thou art the youth and also
the maiden; thou as an old man totterest with a stick, being born. Thou art facing all directions."4 Again, "His form is not capable of being seen; with the eye no one sees
Him. They who know Him thus with the heart, with the mind, as abiding in the heart, become immortal."5 He is a universal God who Himself is the universe which He includes within
His own being. He is the light within us, hṛayantar jyotiḥ. He
is the Supreme whose shadow
is life and death.6
In the Upaniṣads, we have the account of the Supreme as the Immutable
and the Unthinkable as also the view that He is the Lord of the universe. Though
He is the source of all that is, He is Himself unmoved for ever.7 The Eternal Reality not only supports existence but is also the active power
in the world. God is both transcendent, dwelling in light inaccessible and yet
in Augustine's phrase "rnore intimate to the soul than the soul to itself."
The Upaniṣad speaks of two birds perched on one tree, one of whom
eats the fruits and the other eats not but watches, the silent witness withdrawn
from enjoyment.8 Impersonality and (Continued
on page 24)
I yo devo'gnau yo'psu yo viśvam bhuvanam āviveśa
yo oṣadhiṣu yo vanaspatiṣu tasmai devāya namonamaḥ.
2 ko hyevānyāt kaḥ prāṇyāt
yad eṣa, ākāśa ānando na syāt?
3 IV, I. 4 IV, 3. 5 IV.
6 Ṛg. Veda, X, 121, 2:
see also Kaṭha Up., III, I. Cp.Deuteronomy: "I kill and
make alive," xxxii. 39.
7Cp. Rūmi: "Thy light is at once joined to all
things and apart from all." Skams-i-Tabriz (E.T. By Nicholson), Ode
8 Muṇḍaka Up., III, I, 1-3. Cp. Boehme: "And the deep of the darkness is as great as
the habitation of the light; and they stand not one distant from the other but
together in one another and neither of them hath beginning nor end." Three
Principles, XIV, 76.
The Bhagavadgītā page 24
personality are not arbitrary constractions or fictions of the mind. They
are two ways of lookmg at the Eternal. The Supreme in its absolute self-existence
is Brahman, the Absolute and as the Lord and Creator containing and controlling
all, is Isvara, the God. "Whether the Supreme is regarded as undetermined
or determined, this Siva should be known as eternal; undetermined He is, when
viewed as different from the creation and determined,
when He is everything.1 If the world is a cosmos and not an amorphous uncertainty, it is due to the
oversight of God. The Bhagavadgītā
makes out that the one Reality which is of the nature of undivided consciousness
is called Brahman, the Supreme Self or God.2 He is the ultimate principle, the real self in us as well
as the God of worship. The Supreme is at once the transcendental, the cosmic and
the individual reality. In Its transcendental aspect, It is the pure self unaffected
by any action or experience, detached, unconcerned. In Its dynamic cosmic aspect,
It not only supports but governs the whole cosmic action and this very Self which is one in all and above all is present
in the individual.3
Īśvara is not responsible for evil except in an indirect way. If
the universe consists of active choosing individuals who can be influenced but
not controlled, for God is not a dictator, conflict is inevitable. To hold that
the world consists of free spirits means that evil is possible and probable. The
alternative to a mechanical world is a world of risk and adventure. If all tendencies to error, ugliness and evil are to be excluded,
there can be no seeking of the true, the beautiful and the good. If there is to
be an active willing of these ideals of truth, beauty and goodness, then their
opposites of error, ugliness and evil are not merely abstract possibilities but
(continued on page 25)
ceti śivo jñeyaḥ, sanātanaḥ,
nirguṇaḥ, prakṛter anyaḥ, saguṇas sakala smṛtaḥ.
2vadanti tat tattvavidaḥ
tattvaṁ yaj jñānam advayam
brahmeti paramātmeti bhagavān iti sabdyate.
utpattiṁ ca vināśam ca bhūtānāṁ āgatiṁ
vetti vidyām avidyāṁ ca sa vācyo bhagavān iti.
3 Cp. S. on
Bṛhadāraṇyaka Up ; III, 8, 12. Roughly we may say that
the Self in its transcendental, cosmic and individual aspects answers to the Christian
Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
Introductory Essay page 25
positive tendencies which we have to resist. For the Gītā, the
world is the scene of an active struggle between good and evil in which God is
deeply interested. He pours out His wealth of love in helping man to resist all
that makes for error, ugliness and evil. As God is completely good and His love
is boundless, He is concerned about the suffering of the world. God is omnipotent
because there are no external limits to His power. The social nature of the world
is not imposed on God, but is willed by Him" To the question, whether God
is omniscient includes a foreknowledge of
the way in which men will behave and use or abuse their freedom of choice, as
we can only say that what God does not know is not a fact. He knows that the tendencies
are indeterminate and when they become actualized, He is aware of them, The law
of karma does not limit God's omnipotence. The Hindu thinkers even during the
period of the composition of the Ṛg Veda, knew about the reasonableness
and lawabidingness of nature. Ṛta or order embraces all things. The reign of law is the
mind and will of God and cannot therefore be regarded as a limitation of His power.
The personal Lord of the universe has a side in time, which is subject to change.
The emphasis of the Gītā is on the Supreme
as the personal God who creates the perceptible world by His nature (prakṛti).
He resides in the heart of
every being.1 He is the enjoyer and lord of all sacrifices.2 He stirs our hearts to devotion and grants our prayers.3 He is the source and sustainer of values.
He enters into personal relations with us in worship and prayer.
The personal Īśvara is responsible for the creation,
preservation and dissolution
of the universe.4 The Supreme has two natures, the higher (Para) and the lower (apara).5 The living souls represent the higher and
the material medium the lower. God is responsible for both the ideal plan and
the concrete medium through which the ideal becomes the (Continued on page 26)
1 XVIII, 61. 2 IX, 24. 3 VII,
4 Cp. Jacob Boehme: "Creation was the act of the Father; the incarnation
that of the Son; while the end of the world will be brought about through the
operation of the Holy Ghost." 5 VII, 4-5.
The Bhagavadgītā Page 26
actual, the conceptual becomes the cosmic. The concretization of the conceptual
plan requires a fullness of existence, an objectification in the medium of potential
matter. While God's ideas are seeking for existence, the world of existence is
striving for perfection. The Divine pattern and the potential matter, both these
are derived from God, who
is the beginning, the middle and the end, Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva.
God with His creative ideas is Brahmā. God who pours out His love and works
with a patience which is matched only by His love is Viṣṇu, who is
perpetually at work saving the world. When the conceptual becomes the cosmic,
when heaven is established on earth, we have the fulfilment represented by Śiva. God is at the same time wisdom, love and perfection.
The three functions cannot be torn apart. Brahma, Viṣṇu and Śiva
are fundamentally one though conceived in a threefold manner. The Gītā is interested in the process of redeeming the world. So
the aspect of Viṣṇu is emphasized. Kṛṣṇa represents the Visnu aspect of the Supreme.
Viṣṇu is a familiar deity in the Ṛg. Veda. He is
the great pervader, from
viṣ, to pervade.1 He is the internal controller who pervades the whole universe.
He gathers to Himself in an ever increasing measure the position and dignity of
the Eternal Supreme. Taittirīya Āraṇyaka says: "To
Nārāyaṇa we bring worship; to Vāsudeva our meditations and
in this may Viṣṇu
Kṛṣṇa,3 the teacher of the Gītā, becomes identified with Viṣṇu, the ancient Lord
of the Sun, and Nārāyaṇa, an (continued in page 27)
1 Amara states,
vyāpake parameśvare. It is traced also from viṣ,to
enter. Taittirīya Up. says: "Having created that world, he afterwards
entered into it." See also Padma Purāṇa. Viṣṇu
as the Lord entered into prakṛti, sa eva bhagavān Viṣṇuḥ,
2. X, I, 6.
nārāyaṇāya vidmahe vāsudevāya dhīmahi tan
no viṣṇuḥ pracodayāt. Nārāyaṇa says:
"Being like the Sun, I cover the whole world with rays, and I am also the
sustainer of all beings and am
hence called Vāsudeva." M.B., XII, 34I, 4I.
sarvaṁ krṣṇaḥ. He who attracts all or arouses devotion
in all is Kṛṣṇa. Vedantaratnamañjuṣā (p. 52)
says that Kṛṣṇa is so called because he removes the sins of
his devotees, pāpaṁ karṣayati, nirmūlayati. Kṛṣṇa
is derived from Kṛṣ, to scrape, because he scrapes or draws
away all sins and other sources of evil from his devotees. kṛṣater
vilekhanārthasya rūpam bhaktajanapāpādidoṣakarṣaṇāt
krṣṇaḥ. S.B.G., VI. 34.
Introductory Essay Page 27
ancient God of cosmic character and the goal or resting place of gods and
men. The Real is the supracosmic, eternal, spaceless, timeless Brahman who supports
this cosmic manifestation in space
and time. He is the Universal Spirit, Paramatman, who ensouls the cosmic forms
and movements. He is the Parameśvara who presides over the individual souls
and movements of nature and controls the cosmic becoming. He is also the Puruṣottama,
the Supreme Person, whose dual nature is manifested in the evolution of the cosmos.
He fills our being, illumines our understanding and sets in motion its hidden springs.I
All things partake of the duality of being and non-being from Puruṣottama
downwards. Even God has the element of negativity or māyā though He
controls it. He puts forth his active nature (svāṁ prakṛtīm)
and controls the souls who work out their destinies along lines determined by
their own natures. While all this is done by the Supreme through His native power
exercised in this changing world, He has another aspect untouched by it all. He is the impersonal Absolute as well as the immanent
will; He is the uncaused cause, the unmoved mover. While dwelling in man and (Continued on page 28)
1 He brings
to the ignorant the light of knowledge, to the feeble the power of strength, to
the sinner the liberation of forgiveness, to the suffering the peace of mercy,
to the comfortless comfort.
Cp. also "Thou
art joy and bliss, Thou the abode of peace: Thou dost destroy the sorrow of creatures
and give them happiness."
Thou art the refuge of the weak, the saviour of the sinful,"
See also: "Thou who art radiance, fill me with radiance, Thou who art
valour, fill me with valour, Thou who art strength, give me strength, Thou who
art vitality, endow me with vitality, Thou who art wrath (against wrong), instil
that wrath into me, Thou who art fortitude, fill me with fortitude." Śukla
Yajur Veda, XIX, 9.
28 The Bhagavadgītā
nature, the Supreme is greater than both. The boundless universe in an endless
space and time rests in Him
and not He in it.I The God of the Gītā cannot be identified with the cosmic
process for He extends beyond
it.2 Even in it He is manifest more in some aspects than in others. The charge
of pantheism in the lower sense of the term cannot be urged against the Gītā view.3 While there is one reality that is ultimately perfect, everything
that is concrete and actual is not equally perfect.
5. Kṛṣṇa, the teacher
So far as the teaching of the Bhagavadgītā is concerned,
it is immaterial whether Kṛṣṇa, the teacher, is a historical
individual or not. The material point is the eternal incarnation of the Divine,
the everlasting bringing forth of the perfect and divine life in the universe
and the soul of man. There
is, however, ample evidence in favour of the historicity of Kṛṣṇa,
The Chāndogya Up. refers to Kṛṣṇa,
devakīputra, the son of Devakī, and speaks of him as the pupil of Ghora Āṅgirasa4 who is a priest of the sun, according to Kauṣītaki Brahmaṇa.5 After interpreting the meaning of sacrifice and making out
that the true payment for the priests is in the practice of the virtues of austerity,
charity, uprightness, non-violence
and truthfulness,6 the Upaniṣad
continues "When Ghora Āṅgirasa explained
this to Kṛṣṇa, the son of Devakī, he also said, that, in
the final hour, one should take refuge in these three thoughts. "Thou art
the indestructible (aksita), thou art the immovable (acyuta), thou
art the very essence of life (pral}.a).'t'7 There is a great similarity between
the teaching of Ghora Angirasa in the Upaniṣad and that of Kṛṣṇa
in the Gītā.
Kṛṣṇa plays an important part in the story of the M.B. where
he is presented as the friend of Arjuna, Panini refers to Vāsudeva and Arjuna
as objects of worship.8 Kṛṣṇa
(Continued on page 29)
1 IX, 6, 10.
2 X, 41-2. 3 X, 21-37
4 III, 17, 6.
5 XXX, 6.
6 tapa dānam
ārjavam ahiṁsā satyavacanam. See B.G., XVI, 1-3.
7 Cp, B.G.,
VIII" 11-13. He possibly composed hymn 74 of the 8th mandala of Ṛg,
Veda as he is called in Kauṣītaki Brāhmaṇa.
Kṛṣṇa Āṅgirasa, XXX, 9. 8 IV, 3, 98.
Introductory Essay Page 29
belonged to the ancient Vṛṣṇi or Sātvata branch of
the family of Yadu, whose home was perhaps in the neighborhood of Mathurā,
a town with which Kṛṣṇa's name has been associated in history,
tradition and legend. Kṛṣṇa was opposed to the sacerdotalism
of the Vedic religion and preached the doctrines which he learnt from Ghora Āṅgirasa.
His opposition to the Vedic cult comes out in passages where Indra when vanquished, humbled
himself before Kṛṣṇa.I The Gītā has references to those who complain about Kṛṣṇa's
teaching and express their
lack of faith in him.2 M.B. has indications .that the supremacy of Kṛṣṇa
was not accepted without challenge. In that epic Kṛṣṇa is represented
both as an historical individual3 and as an incarnation (avatāra), Kṛṣṇa
taught the Sātvatas the worship of the Sun and the Sātvatas perhaps
identified the teacher with
the Sun he taught them
to worship.4 By the fourth century before Christ, the cult of Vāsudeva
was well established. In the Buddhist work, Niddesa (fourth century B.C.)
included in the Pāli Canon, the writer refers to the worshippers of Vāsudeva
and Baladeva among others. Megasthenes (320 B.C.) states that Herakles was worshipped by the Saurasenoi
(Sūrasenas) in whose land are two great cities, Methora (Mathura) and Kleisobora
(Kṛṣṇapura). Heliodorus, the Greek Bhāgavata from Taxila,
calls Vāsudeva, devadeva (god of gods) in the Besnagar inscription (180 B.C.).
The Nānaghāt inscription, which belongs to the first century before
the Christian era, mentions Vāsudeva among the
deities invoked in the opening verse. Some of the principal personages like
Rādhā, Yaśodā and Nanda figure in Buddhist legends. Patañjali,
in his Mahābhāsya, commenting on (continued
on page 30)
I "I am Indra
of the devas but thou hast gained Indra's power over the cows. As Govinda the
people will ever praise thee. Harivaṁśa, 4004 ff.
2 III.32; IX, I I; XVIII, 67.
3 The story of his
early life with legendsand fancies is found in the Bhiigauata and the Hariuamsa.
4 According to Bhāgavata, the Sātvatas worship the Supreme
as Bhagavān and as Vāsudeva. IX. 9, 50. Yāmunācārya in
his Ᾱgamaprāmāṇya says that those who worship God in purity of spirit
are called Bhāgavata and Sātvata: sattvād bhagavān
paraḥ, pumān te sātvatā Bhāgavatā ity ucyante
Page 30 The Bhagavadgītā
Pāṇini, IV, 3, 98, calls Vāsudeva
Bhagavat. The book is called Bhagavadgītā because Kṛṣṇa
is known In the Bhāgavata religion as Śri Bhagavān. The doctrine
which he preaches is the Bhāgavata creed. In the Gītā Kṛṣṇa
says that he is not expressing any new view but is only repeating what has been
preached by him to Vivasvān and by Vivasvān to Manu and by Manu to Ikṣvāku.1 M.B. says that "the Bhāgavata religion has been
traditionally handed down by Vivasvān to Manu and by Manu to Ikṣvāku.2 The two traditions similarly propagated must have been the same. There are
other evidences also. In the exposition of the Nārāyaṇīya or the Bhāgavata religion, it is said
that this religion
was described by the Lord previously in the Bhagavadgītā.3 Again, it is declared that it
"was taught by the Lord when, during the fight between the Kauravas and the
Pāṇḍavas, both the armies had got ready for war and Arjuna had become
depressed.4 This is the religion of monotheism (ekāntika).
In the Gītā Kṛṣṇa is identified with the
Supreme Lord, the unity that lies behind the manifold universe, the change less
truth behind all appearances, transcendent over all and immanent in all. He
is the manifested Lord,5 making it easy
for mortals to know, for those who seek the Imperishable Brahman reach
Him no doubt but after great toil. He is called Paramātman which implies
transcendence; he is jīva-bhūta, the essential life of all.
How can we identify an historical individual with the Supreme God? The representation
of an individual as identical with the Universal Self is familiar to Hindu thought.
In the Upaniṣads, we are informed that the fully awakened soul, which
apprehends the true relation to the Absolute sees that it is essentially one with
the latter and declares itself to be so. In the Ṛg. Veda, IV, 26,
Vāmadeva says: "I am Manu, I am Sūrya, I am the learned sage Kakṣivān,
I have adorned the sage Kutsa, the son of Arjuni. I am the (Continued on page 31)
I IV,1,3. 2 Sāntiparva 348, 5I-2.
3 kathito harigītāsu" Sāntiparva, 346, 10.
4 Sāntiparva, 348, 8. 5 XII, 1 ff.
Introductory Essay 31
wise Usāṇā ; look at me.... " In the Kauṣītaki
Up. (III), Indra says to Pratardana '' I am the vital breath. I am the conscious
self. Worship me as life, as breath. He who worships me as life, as immortality,
obtains full life in this world. He obtains immortality and indestructibility
in the heavenly regions.1 In the Gītā, the author says: "Delivered from passion, fear and
anger, absorbed in Me, taking refuge in
Me, many purified by the austerity of wisdom have
attained to My state of being.2
The ego holds something other than itself, to which it should
abandon itself. In this abandonment consists its transfiguration. A liberated
soul uses his body as a vehicle for the manifestation of the Eternal. The divinity
claimed by Kṛṣṇa is the common reward of all earnest spiritual
seekers. He is not a hero who once trod the earth and has now left it, having
spoken to His favorite friend and disciple, but is everywhere and in everyone
of us, as ready to speak to us now as He ever was to anyone else. He is not a
bygone personality but the indwelling spirit, an object for our spiritual consciousness.
God is never born in the ordinary sense. Processes of birth and incarnation
which imply limitation do not apply to Him. When the Lord is said to manifest
Himself at a particular (Continued on page 32)
I S. commenting on this, observes: "That is, Indra,
a deva, looking on his own self as the Supreme Brahman by the vision of the sages
according to the Śāstras, says, 'Know me' just as the
sage Vāmadeva seeing the same
truth, felt, 'I am Manu, I am Sūrya.' In the Sṛuti (that is the Bṛhadāraṇyaka
Up.) it is said, 'The worshipper becomes one with the god he truly sees.'
2 IV.10. Jesus spent his life in solitary prayer, meditation
and service, was tempted like any of us, had spiritual experiences like the great
mystics and in a moment of spiritual anguish, when he
lost the sense of the presence of God,
cried out, "My God" my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mark
xv, 34). Throughout he felt his dependence on God. "The father is greater
than I": (John xiv,
28). "Why callest thou me good?
None is good, save one, even God" (Luke xviii, I9). "But of that
day and that hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son
but the Father"
(Mark xiii, 32). "Father, into Thy hands
I commend my spirit" (Luke xxiii, 46). Though conscious of his imperfections,
Jesus recognized the grace and love of God and willingly submitted himself
entirely to Him. Thus delivered from
all imperfection and taking refuge in Him, he attained to a divine status. ''I
and the Father are one" (John X, 30).
The Bhagavadgītā page
time, on a particular occasion, it only means that it takes place with reference
to a finite being. In Chapter XI the whole world is seen in God. The subjective
and the objective processes of the world are only the expressions of the higher
and lower natures of the Supreme; yet in whatever is glorious, beautiful and strong,
God's presence becomes more manifest. When any finite individual develops spiritual
qualities and shows large insight and charity, he sits in judgment on the world
and starts a spiritual and social upheaval and we say that God is born for the
protection of the good, the destruction of the evil and the establishment of the
kingdom of righteousness. As an individual, Kṛṣṇa is one of
millions of forms through which the Universal Spirit manifests Itself. The author
of the Gītā mentions Kṛṣṇa of history as one of many forms
along with his disciple Arjuna.1 The avatāra is the demonstration of man's spiritual resources and latent
divinity. It is not so much the contraction of Divine majesty into the limits
of the human frame as the exaltation of human nature to the level of
Godhead by its union with the Divine.
Theism, however, makes out that Kṛṣṇa is an incarnation
(avataraṇa) or descent of the Divine into the human frame. Though the Lord
knows no birth or change, He has many times been born. Kṛṣṇa
is the human embodiment of Viṣṇu. He is the Supreme who
appears to the world as though born and embodied.2 The assumption of
human nature by the Divine Reality, like the creation of the world, does not take
away from or add to the integrity of the Divine. (continued on page
I X. 37.
2S. writes: aṁśena sambābhūva does
not mean that Kṛṣṇa is born of a part or is a partial incarnation.
Ᾱnandagiri interprets aṁśena to mean "in a phenomenal
form created by his own will" svecchānirmitena māyāmayeṇa
svarūpeṇa.. While the Apostle's Creed lays stress on the human
nature of the Son of God, "who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the
Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate was crucified, dead and buried,"
the Nicene Creed adds that he "came down from heaven and was made flesh."
This coming down or descent of God into flesh is the avataraṇa.
Introductory Essay Page 33
Creation and incarnation
both belong to the world of manifestation and not to the Absolute Spirit.1
If the Infinite God is manifested in finite existence throughout time, then
Its special manifestation at one given moment and through the assumption of one
single human nature is but the free fulfilment of that same movement by which the Divine
plenitude freely fulfils itself and inclines towards the finite. It does not raise
any fresh problem apart from that of creation. If a human organism can be made
in the image of God, if new patterns can be woven into the stuff of repetitive
energy, if eternity can be incorporated in these ways into succession, then the
Divine Reality can express His absolute mode of being in and through a completely
human organism. The scholastic theologians tell us that God is present in the
creatures, "by essence, presence, power." The relation between the Absolute,
infinite, self-existent and immutable and the finite human individual who is enmeshed
in the temporal order is unimaginably intimate though difficult to define and
explain. In the great souls we call incarnations, God who is responsible for the
being and dignity of man has more wonderfully renewed it. The penetration of successiveness
by the Eternal which is present in
every event of the cosmic is manifested
in a deeper sense in the incarnations. When once God has granted us free will,
He does not stand aside leaving us to make or unmake ourselves. Whenever by the
abuse of freedom unrighteousness increases and the world gets stuck in a rut,
He creates Himself to lift the world from out of its rut and set it on new tracks.
Out of His love He is born again and again to renew the work of creation on a
higher plane. According to a passage in the M..B., the Supreme who is ever ready
to protect the worlds has four forms. One of them dwells on earth practicing penance;
the second keeps watch over the actions of erring humanity; the third is engaged
in activity in the world of men, and the fourth is plunged in the slumber of a thousand years2. (Continued on page 34)
I Cp, Hooker:
"This admirable union of God with man can enforce in that higher nature no
alternation because with God there is nothing more natural than not to be subject
to any change." Ecclesiastical Polity (1888 ed.), vol. ii, p. 234.
2Droṇaparva, XXIX, 32-34
Page 34. The Bhagavadgītā years.
"Absolute impassivity is not the only side of Divine nature. The Hindu
tradition makes out that the avatāras are not confined to the human level.
The presence of pain and imperfection is traced not to man's rebellious will but
to a disharmony between the creative purpose of God and the actual world. If suffering
is traced to the "fall" of man, we cannot account for the imperfections
of innocent nature, for the corruption that infects all life, for the economy
of disease. The typical question, Why is there cancer in the fish? cannot be avoided.
The Gītā points out
that there is a Divine Creator who imposes His forms on the abysmal void. Prakṛti
is the raw material, the chaos out of which order is to be evolved, a night which
is to be illumined. In the struggle between the two, whenever a deadlock is created,
there is Divine interference to release the deadlock. Besides, the idea of one
unique revelation is hardly consistent with our present views of the universe.
The tribal God gradually became the
God of the earth and the God of the earth has now become the God of the universe,
perhaps only one of many universes. It is inconceivable that the Supreme is concerned only with one part of one of
the smallest of planets.
The theory of avatāra is an eloquent expression of the law of the spiritual
world. If God is looked upon as the savior of man, He must manifest Himself, whenever
the forces of evil threaten to destroy human values. An avatāra is a descent of God into man and not
an ascent of man into God, which is the case with the liberated soul. Though every
conscious being is such a descent, it is only a veiled manifestation. There is
a distinction between the self-conscious being of the Divine and the same shrouded
The fact of descent or avataraṇa indicates that the Divine is not opposed
to a full vital and physical manifestation. We can live in the physical body and
yet possess the full (Continued
on page 35)
1ntroductory Essay page 35
truth of consciousness.
Human nature is not a fetter but can become an instrument of divine life. Life
and body with us, ordinary mortals, remain ignorant, imperfect and impotent means
of expression but they need not always be so. The Divine Consciousness uses these
for Its purpose while the unfree human consciousness has not this absolute control
over the physical, vital and mental forces.
Though the Gītā accepts the belief in avatāra as the
Divine limiting Himself for some purpose on earth, possessing in His limited form
the fullness of knowledge, it also lays stress on the eternal avatāra, the
God in man, the Divine consciousness always present in the human being. The two
views reflect the transcendent and the immanent aspects of the Divine and are
not to be regarded as incompatible with each other. The teacher, who is interested
in the spiritual illumination of the human race, speaks from the depths of the
Divine in him. Kṛṣṇa's avatāra is an illustration of the
revelation of the Spirit in us, the Divine hidden in gloom. According to the Bhāgavata1 "at midnight, in the thickest darkness, the Dweller in every heart revealed
Himself in the divine Devakī for the Lord is the self hidden in the hearts of all beings."2 The glorious radiance
arises from the blackest of black nights. In mysteries and revelations the night
is rich. The presence of night does not make the existence of light less real.
Indeed but for night there could be no human consciousness of light. The meaning
of the birth of Kṛṣṇa is the fact of redemption in the dark night. In the hour of (continued on page 36)
tamodbhūte jāyamāne janārdane
devakyāṁ devarūpiṇyām Viṣṇuḥ
vasudevagṛhe sākṣāt bhagavān puruṣaḥ,
paraḥ, janiṣyate. Bhagavata.
Cp. what is said about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ: "Whilst all things
were in quiet silence and night was in the midst of her swift course; thine Almighty
Word leapt down from heaven out of thy royal throne. Alleluia." The doctrine
of the Incarnation agitated the Christian world a great deal. Arius maintained
that the Son is not the equal of the Father but created by Him. The view that
they are not distinct but only different aspects of one Being is the theory of
Sabellius. The former emphasized the distinctness of the Father and the Son and
the latter their oneness. The view that finally prevailed was that the Father
and the Son were equal and of the same substance; they were.. however, distinct
2 X, 20; XVIII,
10.20 I, O Guḍākeśa (Arjuna), am the self,
seated in the hearts of all creatures. I am the beginning, the middle and the
very end of beings.
The world is a living whole, a vast interconnectedness,
a cosmic harmony inspired and sustained by the One Supreme.
18.6I The Lord abides in the hearts of all beings, O Arjuna,
causing them to turn round by His power as if they were mounted on a machine.
The Bhagavadgītā page 36
calamity and enslavement the
Savior of the world is born.
■Kṛṣṇa is said to be born of Vāsudeva and Devakī.
When our sattva nature is
purified,1 when the mirror of understanding is cleansed of the dust of desire, the light
of pure consciousness is reflected in it. When all seems lost, light from heaven
breaks, enriching our human life more than words can tell. A sudden flash, an
inward illumination we have and life is seen fresh and new. When the Divine birth
takes place within us, the scales fall from our eyes, the bolts of the prison open. The Lord abides in the heart
of every creature and when the veil of that secret sanctuary is withdrawn, we
hear the Divine voice, receive the Divine light, act in the Divine power. The
embodied human consciousness
is uplifted into the
unborn eternal.2 The incarnation of Kṛṣṇa is not so much the conversion of
Godhead into flesh as the taking up of manhood into God.
■The teacher slowly guides his pupil to attain the status which he has, mama
sādharmyam. The pupil, Arjuna, is the type of the struggling soul who
has not yet received the saving truth. He is fighting with the forces of darkness,
falsehood, limitation, and mortality which bar the way to the higher world. When his whole being is bewildered,
when he does not know the valid law of action, he takes refuge in his (continued on page 37)
viśuddhaṁ vasudeva śabditam. Bhāgavata. Devakī
is daivī prakṛti, divine nature.
2This, to my
mind, is the meaning of the Christian doctrine of resurrection. The physical resurrection
of Jesus is not the important thing but the resurrection of the Divine. The rebirth
of man as an event that happens within his soul, resulting in a deeper understanding
of reality and a greater love for God and man, is the true resurrection which
lifts human life to an awareness of its own Divine content and purpose. God is
perpetual creativity, ceaseless action. He is the Son of Man for in man is God
reborn. When the veil between the eternal and the temporal is lifted, man walks
with God and as He directs. Cp. Angelus Silesius:
Though Christ a thousand times
In Bethlehem be born, If He's not born in thee
Thy soul is still forlorn. The Cross on Golgotha
Will never save thy soul, The Cross in thine own heart
Alone can make thee whole.
Introductory Essay Page 37
higher self, typified as Kṛṣṇa, the world teacher, jagadguru1 and appeals for the grace of enlightenment. "I am thy disciple. Illumine
my consciousness. Remove what is dark in me. Give me that which I have lost, a
clear rule of action."
■The rider in the chariot of the body is Arjuna but the charioteer is Kṛṣṇa
and He has to guide the journey. Every individual is a pupil, an aspirant for
perfection, a seeker of God and if he seeks earnestly, with faith, God the goal
becomes God the guide. It is of little moment, so far as the validity of the teaching
is concerned, whether the author is a figure of history or the very god descended
into man, for the realities of spirit are the same now as they were thousands
of years ago and differences of race and nationality do not affect them. The essential
thing is truth or significance; and the historical fact is nothing more than the image of
6. The Status of the World and
the Conception of Māyā
If the fundamental form of the Supreme is nirguṇa, qualityless
and acintya, inconceivable, the world is an appearance which cannot be
logically related to the Absolute. In the unalterable eternity of Brahman, all
that moves and evolves is founded. By It they exist, they cannot be without It,
though It causes nothing, does nothing, determines nothing.
I Cp. I bow to
the divine teacher, who opens the eyes of one blinded by the disease of ignorance
by means of the principle (collyrium) of knowledge.
"It is not in the least needful for salvation to know Christ according to
the flesh; but concerning that so-called eternal Son of God (de aeterno illo Dei
filio), that is, God's eternal
wisdom, which is manifested in all things, and chiefly in the mind of man,
and most particularly in Christ Jesus, the case is far other wise. For without
this no man can arrive at a state of blessedness,
inasmuch as nothing else can teach him what is true or false, what is good
or evil.'' Thus Spinoza distinguishes between the historical Jesus and the ideal
Christ. The divinity of Christ is a dogma that
has grown in the Christian conscience. Christological doctrine is the theological
explanation of the historic fact. Loisy observes: "The Resurrection of Jesus
was not the last step of His terrestrial career,
the last act of His ministry amongst men, but the first article of the faith
of the Apostles and the spiritual foundation of Christianity." Maude Petre:
Loisy (1944). pp..65-66.
The Bhagavadgītā Page
While the world is dependent on Brahman, the latter is not dependent on the
world. This one-sided dependence and the logical inconceivability of the relation
between the Ultimate Reality and the world are brought out by the word, "māyā."
The world is not essential being like Brahman; nor is it mere non-being. It cannot be defined as either
being or non-being. I The sudden discovery through religious experience of the ultimate reality
of spirit inclines us sometimes to look upon the world as an illusion rather than
as a misapprehension or a misconstruction. Māyā does not imply that the world is an illusion
or is non-existent absolutely. It is a delimitation distinct from the unmeasured
and the immeasurable. But why is there this delimitation? The question cannot
be answered, so long as we are at the empirical level.
■In every religion, the Supreme Reality is conceived as infinitely above our
time order, with its beginning and end, its movements and fluctuations. God, in
the Christian religion, is represented as without variableness or shadow of turning.
He dwells in the eternal now seeing
the end from
the beginning. If this were all, there would be an absolute division between
the Divine life and this pluralistic world, which would make all communion between
the two impossible. If the Supreme Reality were unique, passive and immobile,
there would be no room for time, for movement, for history. Time, with its processes
of change and succession, would become a mere appearance. But God is a living principle, a consuming fire.
It is not a question of either an Absolute with an apparent multiplicity or a
living God working in this pluralistic universe. The Supreme is both this and
Eternity does not mean the denial of time or of history. It is the transfiguration
of time. Time derives from eternity and finds fulfilment in it. In the Bhagavadgītā,
there is no antithesis between eternity and time. Through the figure of Kṛṣṇa
the unity between the eternal
and the historical is indicated. The temporal movement is related to the inmost
depths of eternity.
■The Spirit which transcends
all dualities, when looked at from the cosmic end becomes sundered into the transcendental
subject facing the transcendental object. Subject and (Continued on page 39)
Introductory Essay Page 39
object are the two poles of the one Reality. They are not unrelated. The principle
of objectivity, mūla-prakṛti, the unmanifested (avyakta) potentiality
of all existence is of the very nature of the creative Logos, Isvara, The eternal
"I" confronts the pseudo-eternal "not I," Nārāyaṇa
broods over the waters. As the "not-I,' prakṛti, is a reflection of
the Self, it is subordinate to the Self. When the element of negation is introduced
into the Absolute, its inwardness is unfolded in the process of becoming. The
original unity becomes pregnant with the whole course of the world.
■Cosmic process is the interaction between the two principles of being and
non-being. God is the upper limit with the least affection by and complete control
of non-being and matter or prakṛti is the lower limit with the least affection
by being. The whole cosmic process is the Supreme God working on prakṛti
which is conceived as a positive entity because it has the power of resistance. As resisting form, it is evil. Only
in God is it completely penetrated and overcome. In the rest of the created world,
it is there in some degree or other, obscuring the light.
does not uphold a metaphysical dualism; for the principle of non-being is
dependent on being. Non-being is a necessary moment in reality for the unfolding
of the Supreme. If the world is what it is, it is because of the tension. The
world of time and change is ever striving to reach perfection. Non-being which
is responsible for the imperfections is a necessary element in the world, for
the material in which the ideas
of God are actualized.1 The Divine forms (Puruṣa) and matter (prakṛti) belong to one spiritual whole. When the whole world is delivered from
bondage, when it is lifted into incorruption, when it becomes completely illuminated,
the purpose of the Supreme is realized and the world is restored to its origin
in pure Being, above all distinctions.
■Why is there non-being? Why is there the fall or the precipitation from absolute
being to becoming? This is to ask why is there the world with its perpetual strife
between being and non-being? Absolute being, the one Godhead, is behind (Continued on page 40)
I Cp. Proclus who regards matter as a "child of God"
which is bound to be transformed into spirit.
The Bhagavadgītā page 40
and beyond the world and in the world; He is also the Supreme Living God,
loving the world and redeeming it by His grace. Why is the world what it is with its graduated hierarchy? We can only say it is the
nature of the Supreme to express Itself in this way. We cannot account for the
fact of the world but can only construe its nature, which is a strife between
being and non-being in the process of
becoming. Pure being is above the world and pure non-being is below the lowest
existent. If we go lower still we have nothing, it is absolute non-entity. In
the world of true becoming, saṁsāra, we have the conflict between the
two principles of being and non-being.
■The first product of the interaction is the cosmic egg (brahmāṇḍa)
which includes within itself the totality of manifested being. All later developments
are contained within it in a germinal form. It contains the past, the present
and the future in a supreme now. Arjuna sees the whole Viśvarūpa, world-form,
in one vast shape. He sees the form of the Divine bursting the very bounds of
existence, filling the whole sky and the universe, worlds coursing through it
■Those who look upon the Supreme as impersonal and relationless regard the
conception of Īśvara with his power of self-manifestation as the result of ignorance
(avidyā).1 The power of thought
that produces forms which are transient and therefore unreal compared with the
Eternal Reality, this power of producing appearances is called avidyā, But
avidyā is not something peculiar to this or that individual. It is said to
be the power of self-manifestation possessed by the Supreme. The Lord says that
though He, in reality, is birthless, He comes to birth by His own power atmamāyayā.2 Māyā is
derived from the root, ma, to form, to build, and (Continued
on page 41)
I Śaṁkara says: "The names and forms imagined to exist in the
Supreme Īśvara as a result of the ignorance of the nature of the Atman,
of which it is not possible to say whether they are different, or nondifferent
from the Supreme are in Śṛuti and Smṛti texts called māyā,
śakti, prakṛti of the
all-knowing Paramesvara." S.B., II, I, 14.
2 IV, 6. "The Supreme Lord chose to sport in the exercise of His power
bhagavān api rantuṁ manascakre yogamāyām upaśṛtaḥ.
Bhāgavata X, ,29. I. Divine activity is not undertaken for the fulfilment
of any purpose of his own, because God is nityatrpta (eternally
satiated). This feature of disinterestedness is brought out by the use of
the word sport. lokavat tu līlā kaivalyam. Brahma Sūtra, II,
I, 33. Rādhā, Up. says that the One God is eternally at play
in the varied activities of the world. eko devo nityalīlānuraktaḥ.
Introductory Essay 4I
originally meant the capacity to produce forms. The creative power by which
God fashions the universe is called yoga māyā. There is no suggestion
that the forms, the events and the objects produced by māyā or the form-building
power of God, the māyin,
are only illusory.
■Māyā is sometimes said to be the source of delusion (moha). "Deluded
by these threefold modes of nature (guṇa), this whole world does not recognize Me who am above
them and imperishable."1 Through the force of māyā we have a bewildering partial consciousness
which loses sight of the reality and lives in the world of phenomena. God's real
being is veiled by the play of prakṛti and its modes. The world is said
to be deceptive because God hides Himself behind His creation. The world is not
a deception but the occasion for it. We must shatter all forms, get behind the
veil to find the reality. The world and its changes constitute the self-concealment
of God (tirodhāna)
or obscuring of the Creator by His creation. Man is inclined to turn towards
the objects of the world instead of directing his mind to the Creator. God seems to be the great deceiver
as He creates the world and its sense objects and turns our senses outward.2 The proneness to self-deception lies in the desire for the
things of sense which actually leads man away from God. The glamour of the world
casts its spell on us and we become slaves to its prizes. The world or objectivized
nature or saṁsāra is fallen, enslaved, alienated and it is full of
suffering, as alienation from inward being is suffering. When it is said that
"this divine māyā of mine is hard to overcome,'' (continued on page 42)
I VII, 13. Cp,
Nārada Pañcarātra. "One only is the Lord always, in all
and in each. All beings come into existence by His action; but they are deceived
by His māyā." II . I, 22. In M.B. it is said: O Narada, that which
you see is the māyā. which has been created by Me. Do not think that
I possess the qualities, which are to be found in the created world."
māyā hy eṣa mayā sṛṣṭā yan māṁ
sarvabhūtaguṇair yuktaṁ naiva tvaṁ jñātum arhasi.
Sāntiparva, 339.. 44·
2 Katha Up., IV, I
The Bhagavadgītā page 42
it means that we cannot
easily pierce behind the universe and its activities.1
■We may here distinguish the different senses in which the word "māyā"
is used and indicate its place in the Gītā . (I) If the Supreme
Reality is unaffected by the events of the world, then the rise of these events
becomes an inexplicable mystery. The author of the Gītā does
not use the term, "māyā," in this sense, however much it may
be implied in his views. The conception of a beginningless, and at the same time
unreal, avidyā causing the appearance of the world, does not enter the mind
of the author. (2) The personal Īśvara is said to combine within Himself,
sat and asat, the immutability of Brahman as well as the mutation of becoming.2 Maya is the power which enables Him to produce mutable nature.
It is śakti or the energy of Īśvara, or ātmavibhūti,
the power of self-becoming, Īśvara and māyā in this sense are mutually dependent
and beginning-less.3 This power of the Supreme is
called māyā in the Gītā .4 (3) Since the Lord
is able to produce the universe by means of the two elements of His being, prakṛti
and Puruṣa, matter and consciousness, they are said to be māyā (higher and lower)
of God.5 (4) Gradually, māyā. comes to mean the lower prakṛti, since
Puruṣa is said to be the seed which the Lord casts into the womb of prakṛti
for the generation of the universe. (5) As the manifested world hides the real from the vision of
mortals, it is said to be delusive
in character.6 The world is not an illusion, though by regarding it as a mere mechanical determination of nature
unrelated to God, we fail to
perceive its Divine essence. It then becomes a source of delusion. The Divine
māyā. becomes avidyāmāyā. It is so, however, only
for us mortals, shut off from the truth; to God who knows all and controls it,
it is vidyāmāyā. God seems to be enveloped in the immense cloak of māyā.7 (6) Since the
world is only (Continued
on page 43)
I VII. 14; see
also Īśa up.16. 2 IX, 19.
3 See Sāṇḍilya
Sūtra, II, 13 and 15; Svetāśvatara Up., IV, 10.
4 XVIII, 6I;
IV, 6. 5 IV, 16. 6 VII, 25 and 14. ,
which does not produce avidyā is said to be sāttvikī māyā.
'When it is polluted, it breeds ignorance or avidyā. Brahman reflected
in the former is Īśvara, while that reflected in the latter is Jīva,
or the individual self. This is later Vedanta; see Poñcadaśi, I.15-17-
Gītā is not aware
of this view.
Introductory Essay 43
an effect of God, who is the cause and since everywhere the cause is more
real than the effect, the world as effect is said to be less real than God the
cause. This relative unreality of the world is confirmed by the self-contradictory
nature of the process of becoming. There is a struggle of opposites in the world
of experience, and the real
is above all opposites. I
7. The Individual Self
Reality is, in its own nature, infinite, absolute, untrammeled, inalienably
possessed of its own unity and bliss. In the cosmic process, dualities and oppositions
which obscure the infinite undivided reality arise. In the terms of the Taittirīya
Up. the cosmic process
has assumed the five stages of matter 2 (anna), life (prāṇa), mind (manas), intelligence (vijñāna)
and bliss (ānanda). There is an inner direction given to things by reason
of their participation in the creative onrush of life. The human being is at the
fourth stage of vijñāna or intelligence. He is not master of his acts. He
is aware of the universal reality which is operating in the whole scheme. He seems
to know matter, life and mind. He has mastered, to a large extent, the material
world, the vital existence and even the obscure workings of mentality but has
not yet become the completely illumined consciousness. Even as matter is succeeded
by life, life by mind and mind by intelligence, even so the intelligent man will
grow into a higher and divine life. Progressive self-enlargement has been the
impulse of nature. God's purpose for the world or the cosmic destiny for man is
the realization of the immortal aspiration through this mortal frame, the achievement
of the Divine life in and through this physical frame and intellectual consciousness.
■The Divine dwells in the inmost being of man and cannot be extinguished. It
is the inner light, the concealed witness, that which endures and is imperishable
from birth to birth, untouched by death, decay or corruption. It is the principle
of the Jīva, the psychic person which changes and grows from life to life
and when the ego is completely harmonized by the Divine, it ascends into spiritual existence which is
(Continued on page 44)
1 II, 45: VII,
28; IX, 33. 2 Literally food.
44 The Bhagavadgītā
its destiny and until
this happens it travels between birth and death.
■All forms of existence are found in each being for, under the well-fixed traits
of the human form, are the contours of materiality, organization and animality.
The matter, life and mind that fill the world are in us as well. We partake of
the forces that work in the outer world. Our intellectual nature produces self-consciousness;
it leads to the emergence of the human individual from its original solidarity
with nature. The security which he derives from the instinctive adherence to the
group is lost and has to be regained at a higher level without the elimination
of his individuality. By the integration of his self, his unity with the world
has to be achieved in a spontaneity of love and unselfish work. Arjuna, in the
opening scene, faces the world of nature and society and feels utterly alone.
He does not wish to buy inward security by submission to the social standard.
So long as he looks upon himself as a Kṣatriya required to fight, so long
as he is chained to his station and its duties, he is unaware of the full possibilities
of his individual action. Most of us, by finding our specific place in the social
world, give a meaning to our life and gain a feeling of security, a sense of belonging.
Normally, within limits, we find scope for the expression of our life and the
social routine is not felt as a bondage. The individual has not yet emerged. He
does not conceive of himself except through the social medium. Arjuna could have
overcome his feeling of helplessness and anxiety by submitting completely to the
social authority. But that would be to arrest his growth. Any sense of satisfaction
and security derived by submission to external authority is bought at the price
of the integrity of the self. Modern views like the totalitarian declare that
the individual can be saved by his absorption into society. They forget that the group
exists only to secure the complete unfolding of human personality. Arjuna
disentangles himself from the social context, stands alone and faces the perilous
and overpowering aspects of the world. Submission is not the human way of over
coming loneliness and anxiety. By developing our inner
spiritual nature, we gain a new kind of relatedness to the
world and grow into the freedom, where the integrity of the (Go to page 45)
Introductory Essay 45
self is not compromised. We then become aware of ourselves as active creative
individuals, living, not by the discipline of external authority but by the inward
rule of free devotion to truth.
■The individual self is a portion
of the Lord, 1 a real, not an imaginary form of the Supreme, a limited
manifestation of God. The soul which derives from the Supreme Īśvara
is not so much an emanation as a member of the Supreme. It draws its ideal from
this superior principle which is like a father who has given it existence. The
soul's substantial existence springs from the Divine intellect and its expression
in life is effected by virtue of its vision of the Divine who is its father
and its ever-present companion. Its distinctiveness is determined by the divine
pattern and the context of the senses and the mind which it draws to itself. The universal is embodied in a
limited context of mental-vital-physical sheath. 2 No individual is quite like his fellow; no life repeats
another and yet a single pattern runs through them all. The essence of the ego,
the distinguishing characteristic of human personality is a certain creative unity,
an inner purposiveness, a plan which has gradually shaped itself into an organic
unity. As our purpose is, so is our life. Any form which the individual assumes
is bound to be superseded, for he always tries to transcend himself and this process
will continue till becoming reaches its end in being. The jīvas are movements
in the being of God, individualized. When the ego is lost in a false identification
with the not-self and its forms, it is bound; but when through the development
of proper understanding, it realizes the true nature of the self and the not-self
and allows the apparatus produced by the not-self to be illumined completely by the self, then it is freed. This
realization is possible through the proper functioning of buddhi or vijñāna.
■The problem facing man is the integration of his personality, the development
of a divine existence in which the spiritual principle has the mastery over all
the powers of soul and body. This integral life is created by the spirit. The
distinction between soul and body which links man with the life of nature is
not an ultimate one. It does not exist in the (Go to page 46)
1 xv. 7. Many
names are given to this divine essence of the soulapex, ground, abyss, spark, fire, inner light.
2 XIII, 21.
verse 13.21 as below (introduced by Veeraswamy Krishnaraj)
puruṣaḥ prakṛtistho hi bhuṅkte prakṛtijān
kāraṇaṁ guṇasaṅgosya sadasadyonijanmasu 13.21
hi3 bhuṅkte4 prakṛtijān5 guṇān6
asya9 sad-asad-yoni-janmasu10 13.21
(2I) The soul
in nature enjoys the modes born of nature. Attachment to the modes is the cause
of its births in good and evil wombs. Translation by Dr. Radhakrishnan.
The Bhagavadgītā page 46
radical sense in which Descartes affirmed it. The life of
the soul permeates the life of the body, even as the bodily life has its effect
on the soul. There is a vital unity of soul and body in man. The real dualism
is between spirit and nature, between freedom and necessity. In the integrated
personality we have the victory of the spirit over nature, of freedom over necessity.
The Gītā, which looks upon both these as aspects of the Supreme, affirms
that we can spiritualize nature and communicate another quality to it. We need not crush or destroy nature.
■The problem of freedom
vs. determinism has meaning only with reference to human individuals. It
has no application to the Absolute which is above all opposites or to the sub
human species of plants and animals. If man is but the simple creature
of instinct, if his desires and decisions are only the resultants of the forces
of heredity and environment, then moral judgments are irrelevant. We do not
condemn the lion for its ferocity
or praise the lamb for its meekness. Man is the possessor of freedom. I After describing the whole philosophy of life, the teacher
asks Arjuna to do as he chooses. 2 The whole teaching of the Gītā requires man to choose the good and realize it by conscious effort.
There are however many impediments to this freedom of choice.
■Man is a complex multi-dimensional
being, including within him different elements of matter, life, consciousness,
intelligence and the divine spark. He is free when he acts from the highest level
and uses the other elements for the realization of his purpose. But when he is
on the level of objective nature, when he does not recognize his distinction from
not-self, he becomes a slave to the mechanism of nature. But, even when he falsely
identifies himself with the objective universe, and feels that he is subjected
to the necessities of nature, he is not without hope, for the One Spirit operates
at all levels of being. Even matter is a manifestation of the Supreme. There is
an element of spontaneity and creativity inexplicable in terms of mechanical forces
even in the lowest forms of nature. Each plane of our being has its own consciousness,
its surface thoughts, its habitual ways of feeling, thought and action. The ego
should not persist in retaining (continued on page 47)
kartā. 2 XVIII, 63.
Bhagavadgītā verse 18.63
कुरु ॥१८- ६३॥
iti te jñānam ākhyātaṁ guhyād guhyataraṁ mayā
vimṛśyaitad aśeṣeṇa yathecchasi tathā kuru 18.63
iti1 te2 jñānam3 ākhyātam4
guhyāt5 guhyataram6 mayā7
aśeṣeṇa10 yatha11 icchasi12
tathā13 kuru14 18.63
iti1 = Thus; jñānam3 = knowledge; guhyataram6 = more secret; guhyāt5 = than the most secret; ākhyātam4
= has been related; te2 = to you; mayā7= by Me. vimṛśya8 = Reflect; etat9 = on this; aśeṣeṇa10 = fully; [and] kuru14 = do; yatha11 = as; icchasi12 = you wish; tathā13 = likewise. 18.63
18.63. Thus has wisdom more secret than all secrets, been
declared to thee by Me. Reflect on it fully and do as thou choosest.
Introductory Essay Page 47
its obscure and limited consciousness, which is a distortion of its true nature.
When we subdue the senses and keep them under control, the flame of spirit burns
bright and clear "like a lamp in a windless place." The light of consciousness
stands in its own nature and the empirical self with its shifting tides of experience
is controlled by buddhi in which is reflected the light of consciousness. Then
above the play of prakṛti and see the real self from which creative
forces arise; we cease to belong to that which is moved about and are no more
helpless tools of nature. We are free participants of the world above into the
world below. Nature is an order of determinism but not a closed order. Forces
of spirit may break upon it and change its course. Every act of the self is a
creative one, while all acts of the not-self are truly passive. It is in our inner
life that we confront primary reality, the deeps of being. The law of karma holds
in the realm of the not-self where heredity, biological and social, holds but
in the subject is the possibility of freedom, of triumph over the determinism
of nature, over the compulsion of the world. Man, the subject, should gain mastery
over man, the object. Object indicates determinism from without; subject means
freedom, indetermination. The ego, in its self-confinement, in its automatism,
psychical and social, is a distortion of the true subject. The law of karma can be overcome
by the affirmation of the freedom of spirit. In several passages 1 the Gītā affirms that there is no radical dualism between the supernatural and the natural.
The cosmic forces to which man is exposed represent the lower prakṛti.
But his spirit can burst the circle of nature and realize its kinship with
the Divine. Our bondage consists in our dependence on something alien. When we rise above it, we can make our nature
the medium for the incarnation of the spiritual. Through struggle and suffering,
man can pass from his freedom to choose good or evil to the higher freedom that
abides in the steadfastly chosen good. Liberation is a return to inward being,
to subjectivity; bondage is enslavement to the object world, to necessity, to
Neither nature nor society can invade our inner being (continued on page 48)
I See VII, 5.
Bhagavadgītā verse 7.5
मे पराम् ।
apareyam itas tvanyāṁ prakṛtiṁ viddhi me parām
jīvabhūtāṁ mahābāho yayedaṁ dhāryate
aparā1 iyam2 itaḥ3
tu4 anyām5 prakṛtim6 viddhi7
yayā12 idam13 dhāryate14 jagat15
7.5 This is my lower nature. Know my other and higher
nature which is the soul, by which the world is upheld, O mighty-armed (Arjuna).
The Bhagavadgītā Page
without permission. Even God acts with a peculiar delicacy in regard to human
beings. He woos our consent but never compels. Human individuals have distinctive
beings of their own which limit God's interference with their development. The
world is not fulfilling a prearranged plan in a mechanical way. The aim of creation
is the production of selves who freely carry out God's will. We are asked to control
our impulses, shake off our wanderings and confusions, rise above the current
of nature and regulate our conduct by reference to buddhi or understanding, as
otherwise, we will become the victims of "lust which is the enemy of man on earth.'' 1 The Gītā lays stress on the individual's
choice and the way in which he exercises it. Man's struggles, his sense of
frustration and self-accusation are not to be dismissed as errors of the mortal
mind or mere phases of a dialectic process. This would be to deny the moral urgency
of life. When Arjuna expresses his sense of awe and dread in the presence of the
Eternal, when he asks for forgiveness, he is not acting a part but passing through
a crisis. Nature does not absolutely determine. Karma is a condition, not a destiny.
It is only one of the five factors involved in the accomplishment of any act,
which are adhiṣṭhāna or the basis or center from which
we work, kartṛ or
doer, karaṇa or the instrumentation of nature, ceṣṭā
or effort and daiva
or fate. 2 The last is the power or powers other than human, the cosmic
principle which stands behind, modifying the work and disposing of its fruits
in the shape of act and its reward. We must make a distinction between that part
which is inevitable in the make-up of nature, where restraint does not avail and
the part where it could be controlled and moulded to our purpose. There are certain
factors in our lives which are determined for us by forces over which we have
no control. We do not choose how or when or where or in what condition of life
we are born. On the theory of rebirth, even these are chosen by us. It is our past karma that determines our ancestry,
heredity, and environment. But when we look from the standpoint of this
life, we can say that we were
not consulted about our nationality, race, parentage or social status. But subject
to these limi- (Continued
on page 49)
1 III, 37; VI,
5-6. 2 XVIII, 14.
13.37: Sri Bhagavan said: This is desire; this is anger born
of the mode of Rajas (passion), all devouring and greatly sinful. Know this as
the enemy here (on earth).
seat of action and likewise the agent, the instruments of various sorts, the many
kinds of efforts and providence being the fifth.
Introductory Essay Page 49
tations, we have freedom
of choice. Life is like a game of bridge. We did not invent the game or design
the cards. We did not frame the rules and we cannot control the dealing. The cards
are dealt out to us, whether they be good or bad. To that extent, determinism
rules. But we can play the game well or play it badly. A skilful player may have
a poor hand and yet win the game. A bad player may have a good
hand and yet make a mess of it. Our life is a mixture of necessity and freedom,
chance and choice. By exercising our choice properly, we can control steadily
all the elements and eliminate altogether the determinism of nature. While the
movements of matter, the growth of plants and the acts of animals are controlled
more completely, man has understanding which enables him to co-operate consciously
with the work of the world. He can approve or disapprove, give or withhold his
consent to certain acts. If he does not exercise his intelligent will, he is acting
in a way contrary to his humanity. If he acts blindly according to his impulses
and passions, he acts more like an animal than a man. Being human, he justifies
■Some of our acts are ours only seemingly. The sense of spontaneity is only
apparent. We sometimes carry out suggestions given to us in the hypnotic condition. We may believe that we think, feel
and will the acts but in so doing we may be giving expression to the suggestions
conveyed to us during the hypnotic state. What is true of the hypnotic situation
is true of many of our acts which may seem
spontaneous but are really not so. We repeat the latest given opinions and
believe that they are the result of our own thinking. Spontaneous acting is not
compulsive activity to which the individual is driven by his own isolation and
helplessness. It is the free acting of the total self. The individual should
become transparent to himself and the different elements should reach a fundamental
integration for spontaneous or creative activity to be possible. It is man's duty to control his rajas and tamas
by means of his sattva
nature which seeks for the truth of things and the right law of action. But even when we act under the influence of our sattva nature we are not entirely
free. Sattva binds us quite as much as rajas and tamas. Only our desires for (Continued on page 50)
Page 50 The Bhagavadgītā
truth and virtue are nobler. The sense of ego is still operative. We must
rise above our ego and grow into the Supreme Self of which the ego is an expression.
When we make our individual being one with the Supreme, we rise above nature with its three
modes, become triguṇātīta.1 and freed from the bonds of the world. (Triguṇas = Sattva, Rajas and Tamas = Virtue, motion
and passion, and darkness)
Every system of Indian philosophic thought gives us a practical way of reaching the supreme ideal. Though we begin
with thought, our aim is to go beyond thought to the decisive experience. Systems
of philosophy give not only metaphysical theories, but also spiritual dynamics.
It may be argued that, if man is a part of the Divine, what he needs is not redemption
as an awareness of his true nature. If he
feels himself a sinner estranged from God, he requires a technique by which
he reminds himself that he is essentially a part of God and any feeling to the
contrary is illusory. This awareness is not intellectual but integral; so man's
whole nature requires overhauling. The Bhagavadgītā gives us
not only a metaphysics (brahmavidyā) but also a discipline (yogaśāstra).
Derived from the root, yuj, to bind together, yoga
means binding one's psychic powers, balancing and enhancing them. 2 By yoking together and harnessing our energies by the most
intense concentration of personality, we force the passage from the narrow ego
to the transcendent personality. The spirit tears itself away from its prison
house, stands out of it and reaches
its own innermost being.
gives a comprehensive yoga-śāstra, large, flexible and many-sided,
which includes various phases of the soul's development and ascent into the Divine.
The different yogas are special applications of the inner discipline which leads
to the liberation of the soul and a new understanding of the unity and meaning
of mankind. Everything that is related to this discipline is called a yoga such
as jñāna-yoga or the way of knowledge, bhakti-yoga or the way of devotion,
karma-yoga or the way of action. (Continued on page 51)
The Character of Him Who is Beyond the Three Modes
14. 21.By what marks is he, O Lord, who has risen above the three modes characterized?
What is his way of life? How does he get beyond the three modes?
2 It is used in different senses; yujyate etad iti yogaḥ; (ii)
yujyate anena iti yogaḥ; (iii) yujyate tasminn iti yogaḥ
Introductory Essay Page 51
Perfection at the human level is a task to be accomplished
by conscious endeavor. The image of God operating in us produces a sense of insufficiency.
Man has a haunting sense of the vanity, the transience and the precariousness
of all human happiness. Those
who live on the surface of life may
not feel the distress, the laceration
of spirit, and may not feel any urge to seek their true good. They are human animals
(puruṣapaśu), and like animals they are born, they grow, they
mate and leave offspring and pass away. But those who realize their dignity as
men are acutely aware of the discord and seek a principle of harmony and peace.
Arjuna typifies the representative human soul seeking to
reach perfection and peace but in the opening section we find that his mind is
clouded, his convictions unsettled, his whole consciousness confused. Life's anxieties
touch him with a gnawing distress. For every individual there comes an hour sometime
or other, for nature is not in a hurry, when everything that he can do for himself
fails, when he sinks into the gulf of utter blackness, an hour when he would give
all that he has for one gleam of light, for one sign of the Divine. When he is
assailed by doubt, denial, hatred of life and black despair, he can escape from
them only if God lays His hand on him. If the divine truth which is free of access
to all mankind, is attained only by a few, it shows that only a few are willing
to pay the price for it. The sense of insufficiency, of barrenness and dust, is
due to the working of the Perfection, the mystery that lurks at the heart of creation.
The invisible impulse to seek God produces the agony that inspires heroic idealism
and human fulfilment. The
image of God in us expresses itself in the infinite capacity for self-transcendence.
1 (Continued on page
1 "There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, which
in different places and ages hath had different names; it is, however, pure and
proceeds from God. It is deep, and inward, confined to no forms of religion,
nor excluded from any, where the heart stands in perfect sincerity. In whomsoever
this takes root and grows, of what nation soever, they become brethren in the
best sense of the expression." John Woolman, the American Quaker saint.
Page 52 The Bhagavadgītā
9. Jñāna or Saving Wisdom
How is the goal of perfection to be attained? Saṁsāra is historical
becoming. It is the temporal procession of changes from one state into the next.
What keeps the world going is action or karma. If the world is nothing but ebb
and flow, continual becoming, it is due to action. At the human level action is
caused by desire or attachment, kāma. The root cause of desire is avidyā
or ignorance of the nature of things. The roots of desire lie in the ignorant
belief in the individual's self-sufficiency, in the attribution of reality and
permanence to it. So long as ignorance persists, it is not possible to escape
from the vicious circle of becoming. We cannot cure desires by fresh desires;
we cannot cure action
by more action. The eternal
cannot be gained by that which is temporal. I Whether we are bound by good desires or bad desires, it is still a question
of bondage. It makes little difference whether the chains which bind us are made
of gold or of iron. To escape from bondage we must get rid of ignorance, which
is the parent of ignorant desires and so of ignorant actions. Vidyā or wisdom
is the means of liberation from the chain of avidyā-kāma-karma.
■Wisdom is not to be confused with theoretical learning or correct beliefs,
for ignorance is not intellectual error. It is spiritual blindness. To remove
it, we must cleanse the soul of its defilement and kindle the spiritual vision.
The fire of passion and the
tumult of desire must be suppressed. 2 The mind,
inconstant and unstable, must be steadied so as to reflect the wisdom from above.
We must control the senses,
possess the faith which no intellectual doubts disturb and train the understanding
■Wisdom is direct experience which occurs as soon as obstacles to its realization
are removed. The effort of the seeker is directed to the elimination of the hindrances,
to the removal of the obscuring tendencies of avidyā, According to Advaita
Vedanta, this wisdom is always present. It is not a thing to be acquired; it has
only to be revealed. Our casual apprehensions, backed by our wishes and prejudices, do not reveal reality. Utter
silence of the mind and (Continued
on page 53)
Up., II. 10.
2 IV, 39.
Faith is Necessary for Wisdom
4.39. He who has faith, who is absorbed in it (i.e. wisdom) and who has subdued
his senses gains wisdom and having gained
wisdom he attains quickly the
Introductory Essay Page 53
the will, an emptying of the ego produces illumination, wisdom, the light
by which we grow into our true being. This is life eternal, the complete fulfilment of our capacity of
love and knowledge, "the completely simultaneous and perfect possession of
unlimited life at a single moment," to use the words of Boethius.
■Jñāna and ajñāna,
wisdom and ignorance are opposed as light and darkness.1 When wisdom dawns, ignorance dies and the evil is cut off at the root. The
liberated soul overcomes the world. There is nothing to conquer or create. Action
no more binds. When we grow
into this wisdom, we live in the Supreme. 2 This consciousness
is not an abstract one. It is "that by which thou shalt see all existences
without exception in the Self, then in Me." The true human individual pursues this ideal of
perfection with a devotion similar to that which he offers to an adored woman.3
10. The Way of Knowledge: Jñāna-mārga
We can reach the goal of perfection, attain the saving truth in three different
ways, by a knowledge of Reality (jñāna) or adoration and love (bhakti) of
the Supreme Person or by the subjection of the will to the Divine purpose (karma).
These are distinguished on account of the distribution of emphasis on the theoretical,
emotional and practical aspects. Men are of different types, reflective, emotional
or active but they are not exclusively so. At the end, knowledge, love and action
mingle together. God Himself is Sat, Cit and Ᾱnanda, reality, truth and
bliss. To those seeking knowledge, He is Eternal Light, clear and radiant as the
sun at noonday, in which is no darkness; to those struggling for virtue, He is
Eternal Righteousness, steadfast and impartial; and to those emotionally inclined,
He is Eternal Love and Beauty of Holiness. Even as God combines in Himself these
features, man aims at the integral life of spirit. Cognition, will and feeling,
though logically distinguishable, are (Continued on page 54)
or the Real as consciousness
always is. Its constant presence does not dispel, according to Advaita
Vedanta, ajñāna or ignorance. It rather reveals it. Wisdom as sākṣātkāra
is a vṛtti and so an effect like any other kind of jñāna.
2 v. 20.
The Bhagavadgītā. Page 54
not really separable in the concrete life and unity of mind. They are different aspects of the
one movement of the soul. I Jñāna as the intellectual pathway to perfection is different from
jnana as spiritual wisdom. The spiritual apprehension of the real is not an act
of service or of devotion or for hat
matter, of cognition, however much these acts may lead up to it. As the same
word "jñāna" is employed for both the goal of perfection and the
way to it, for the recognition of reality as well as the scheme of spiritual knowledge,
some are led to think that the
intellectual path is superior to the other methods of approach.
■Wisdom, pure and transcendent, is different from scientific knowledge, though
it is not discontinuous from it. Every science expresses, after its own fashion,
within a certain order of things, a reflection of the higher immutable truth of
which everything of any reality necessarily partakes. Scientific or discriminative
knowledge prepares us for the higher wisdom. The partial truths of science are
different from the whole truth of spirit. Scientific knowledge is useful since
it dispels the darkness oppressing the mind, shows up the incompleteness of its
own world and prepares the mind for something beyond it. For knowing the truth,
we require a conversion of the soul, the
development of spiritual vision. Arjuna could not see the truth with his naked
eyes and so was granted the divine sight.
I CP. Plotinus: "There are different roads by which this end (of
spiritual apprehension) may be reached; the love of beauty which exalts the
poet; that devotion to the one and that ascent of science which make the ambition
of the philosopher; that love and those prayers by which some devout and ardent
soul tends in its moral purity towards perfection. These are the great highways
conducting to that height above the actual and the particular, where we stand
in the immediate presence of the Infinite, who shines out as from the deeps of
the soul." Letter to Flaccus.
Madhusūdana holds that to attain the perfect Godhead who is of the nature
of Being, Wisdom and Bliss, the Vedas are of three sections, dealing with action,
worship and knowledge; similarly these three sections are embodied in the eighteen
chapters of the Gītā.
Ascent to higher levels of being, losing oneself to find the higher self can
be achieved through jijñāsā
or disinterested passion for knowledge. It lifts man out of his narrow
limits and makes him forget his self in the contemplation of the universal principles
of existence. Knowledge pursued for the sake of power or fame does not take us
far. It must be sought for attaining truth. The metaphysical creed accepted by
the Gītā with certain fundamental modifications is that of the
Sāṁkhya philosophy. Profound faith in God and belief in redemption
require us to assume three entities, the soul which has to be redeemed, the fetter
which binds it, from which it has to be redeemed, and God, the Being who releases
us from this bondage. The
Sāṁkhya philosophy elaborates the dualism between Puruṣa (self)
and prakṛti (not-self); only the Gītā makes them both subordinate
to God. The selves are many and remain forever separate. The self is the
permanent entity behind all the changes of conscious life. It is not the soul
in the usual sense but the pure, inactive, self-luminous principle, which is not
derived from or dependent on or determined by the world. It is unique and integral.
Man is not self but possesses self and can become self. Not-self or prakṛti
is another ultimate principle which is conceived as being at first undifferentiated
matter with all its constituents in equilibrium. As such, it is the unmanifested
or the avyakta. All mental and material phenomena are explained as the outcome
of the evolution of prakṛti, It has three modes or guṇas, literally
strands of a rope. These, by appearing in different proportions, produce the variety
of actual existence. With reference to matter, they act as lightness (sattva), movement
(rajas) and heaviness (tamas). As forms of mental
phenomena, they act as goodness,
passion and dullness respectively. When the self realizes that it is free
from all contact with prakṛti, it is released. The Gītā accepts
this account with the fundamental modification that the dualities of Sāṁkhya,
Puruṣa and prakṛti, are the very nature of the Supreme Principle,
■Evil is caused by the bondage
to the guṇas. It arises because the seed of life or the spirit cast into
matter becomes fettered by the guṇas, According to the preponderance of
( Continued on page 56)
Page 56 The Bhagavadgītā
one or the other of the guṇas the soul rises or falls. When we recognize
the self as distinct from prakṛti with its guṇas, we are released.
Metaphysical knowledge 1 is transformed into realization 2 by means of yoga or the method of concentration. From the earliest times,
yoga has been employed to describe practices and experiences of a special kind
which have been later adapted to the teachings of the different methods, jñāna,
bhakti and karma. Each of them uses the practices of dhyānayoga or the
way of meditation. Yoga is
the suppression of the activities of the mind, according to Patañjali. 3 Muṇḍaka Up says, "As fire deprived of fuel is extinguished
in its own hearth, so when mental activities are suppressed (vṛttikṣayāt),
citta is extinguished
in its own seat."4 It is by a mighty
exercise of will that we can achieve this suppression of the clamor of ideas and
of the rabble of desires. By
ceaseless action the yogi is called upon to achieve control. 5
■Man knows only a part of his being, his surface mentality. There is a good
deal beneath the surface of which he has no knowledge though it has effects on
his conduct. We are some times completely overcome by emotions, instinctive and
involuntary reactions that upset the rule of conscious reason. While the lunatic
is completely overcome by them, many of us are also subject to their influence,
though such conditions are temporary with normal individuals. Under the stress
of strong emotions of love or of hatred, we say or do things which we regret afterwards
when we regain control. Our language, "He is beside himself," "He
forgot himself," "He is not himself," suggests the truth of the
primitive view that the man
who is overcome by a strong emotion is possessed by a devil or a spirit. 6 When strong
emotions are aroused, we become increasingly suggestible and all sorts of wild
ideas take possession of us. Normally the subconscious collaborates with the conscious
and we do not even suspect (continued
on page 57)
3 yogas cittavrttinirodhaḥ,.
4 VI, 34. cittam
5 nirvukāreṇa karmaṇā. Harivaṁśa. XI, 736.
bewitchment, loss of soul, possession and so on are clearly phenomena of dissociation,
repression and suppression of consciousness by unconscious contents." Jung:
The Integration of the Personality. E.T. (1940), p. 12.
Introductory Essay Page 57
its presence but if we get off the track of our original instinctive pattern,
we realize the full force of the subconscious. Unless the individual has complete
self-awareness, he cannot become master of his life. Besides, body, life and mind
require to be integrated. As a self-conscious being, man is actually aware of
the deeper discords in him. He generally resorts to working compromises and leads
a precarious life. But until a perfect harmony, an organic balance, of his many-sided
possibilities is achieved, he is not fully master of himself. The process of integration
is never completed, so long as he is subject to temptations as Arjuna was. A growing
personality requires unceasing care and fostering. By developing purity of intention, passions directed towards
mundane objects die, producing tranquility of mind which in turn gives rise to
the inward silence in which the soul begins to establish contact with the Eternal
from which it is sundered, and experience the presence of the Indwelling God.
In stillness which is the rest of the soul from earthly encounter, insight is
born and man becomes what he is.
■Our consciousness when united with the body is turned outward in order to
accomplish its work of controlling the outer world by means of the senses. In
its outward functioning, it employs concepts to achieve an understanding of the
sensible. By turning inward, it normally gets an inferential apprehension of the
self, through the acts which are apprehended immediately, in the sense that the
objects apprehended are known by no other intermediary than the apprehension
itself. All this does not tell us what the self, in its essential nature, is.
We know about the phenomena of the self but not of the self itself. To get at
the existential experience of the self, we should get free from the diversity
of objects, external and internal, which impedes and prevents the direct or intuitive
vision of the essence of the self. Normally, the phenomenal content, external
and internal, occupies the stage and the self is not perceived in its essentiality.
The more we obscure ourselves psychologically, that is, through introspection
or reflection, the more are we in contact with the phenomenal manifestations
of the self. We should adopt a different discipline, if we are to confront the
Supreme Self in us. We must fold up the phenomenal series, (continued on page 57)
Page 58 The Bhagavadgītā
go against the grain
of our nature, strip ourselves naked, escape from the apparent ego and get at
the abyss of pure subjectivity, the Absolute Self.
■The Bhagavadgītā describes to us how the aspirant avoids
bodily excesses of indulgence or abstinence, goes to a place free from external
distractions, chooses a comfortable seat, regulates his breathing, focuses his
mind on one point and becomes harmonized (yukta) and detached from all desire
for the fruit of action. When he attains this unity, he arrives at a perfect understanding
with his fellow beings through sympathy and love and not because it is a matter
of duty. We have the example
of Gautama the Buddha, the greatest jñāni or seer whose love for humanity
led to his ministry of mankind for forty years. To know the truth is to lift up
our hearts to the Supreme and adore Him. The knower is
also a devotee and the best
of them. 1
■The systematic cultivation of yoga results incidentally in the development
of supernatural powers but to practise yoga for the sake of obtaining these powers
is vain and futile. Often it results in
neurosis and failure. The aspirant for spiritual life is warned about the attraction
of the supernatural powers. They may lead us to worldly advancement but are not
directed to saintliness. They are spiritually meaningless and irrelevant. The
occultist, who is able to see hyperphysical spheres, has developed certain potentialities
which put him above the ordinary human beings even as those who are familiar with
modern technology are better equipped than the primitive peasants. But the advance
is in the
external direction and not in the interiorization of the soul. Yoga is to
be practiced for the sake of attaining truth, of gaining contact with Reality.
the lord of yoga (yogeśvara) 2 who
helps us in our life to
save ourselves. He is the supreme lord of spiritual experience who conveys those
moments of celestial glory when man gets beyond the veil of the flesh and also
indicates their true relation to the problems of daily existence.
II. The Way of
Bhakti or devotion is a relationship of trust and love to a personal God.
Worship of the unmanifested (avyaktopāsana) (continued on page 59)
1 VII. 17.
(BG 7.I7) Of these the wise one, who is ever in constant
union with the Divine, whose devotion is single-minded, is the best. For I am supremely dear
to him and he is dear to Me.
So long as we are seekers, we are still in the world of
duality but when we have attained wisdom, there is no duality. The sage unites
himself with the One Self
2 XVIII, 78.
(BG 18.78) Wherever there is Kṛṣṇa, the lord of yoga, and
Pārtha (Arjuna), the archer, I think, there will surely be fortune, victory,
welfare and morality.
Introductory Essay 59
is difficult for ordinary human beings, though there are instances of great
advaitins (non-dualists) who have given to the Impersonal Reality a warm emotional content.1 Worship of the Personal God is
recommended as the easier way open to all, the weak and the lowly, the illiterate
and the ignorant.2 The sacrifice of love is not so difficult as the tuning
of the will to the Divine purpose or ascetic discipline or the strenuous effort
■The origin of the way of devotion is hidden in the mists of long ago. The
praises and prayers of the Ṛg, Veda, the upāsanas of the Upaniṣads
and the ardent piety of the Bhāgavata religion influenced the author
of the Gītā. He struggles to develop an order of ideas belonging
to the religious side of the Upaniṣads to which they were not able to give free and unambiguous
utterance. The Supreme is not a God who sleeps in serene abstraction while hearts
heavy laden cry out for help, but a saving God of love believed and experienced
as such by the devotee. He bestows salvation on those who believe in Him. He declares:
(continued on page 60)
1 The devotees
dismiss the Advaita emphasis on knowledge as a damnable heresy or a soul-killing
error, though S. recognizes
the value of devotion as a preparation for gradual release.
2 IX, 32; see
also XI, 53-4; XII, I-5. "What were the good practices of Vyādha.? What
was the age of Dhruva? What was the learning of Gajendra? What was the prowess
of Ugrasena? What was the beauty of Kubjā ? What was the wealth of Sudāma].
The Lord, who is the lover of devotion, is pleased with devotion and does not
bother about (other) qualities."
A verse attributed to S. reads: "Let the state of birth be that of a
man or an angel or of a beast of the hill and the forest, of a mosquito, of the
cattle, of an insect, of a bird or such others, if the heart longs to revel incessantly
in this life in the contemplation of Thy lotus feet that flood of supreme bliss,
how does the embodiment matter?"
This is rather an exaggerated way of emphasizing the importance
The Bhagavadgītā Page
"This is my word of promise, that He who loveth me
shall not perish." 1
■Bhakti is derived from the root, bhaj, to
serve, and means service
of the Lord. It is loving attachment to God. Nārada defines it as intense love for God. 2 For Śāṇḍilya, it is supreme longing
for God, 3 for its own sake.4 It is surrender in trusting appropriation of the grace of the Lord. It is
Īśvarapraṇidhāna of Yoga Sūtra, which,
according to Bhoja, is "the love in which, without seeking results, such
as sense enjoyment, etc., all
works are dedicated
to the teacher of teachers.' 5 It is a profound
experience which negates
all desire and fills the heart with love for God. 6 Advocates of the way of devotion are not interested so much in supramundane
redemption as in absolute subjection to the abiding will of God. The human soul
draws near to the Divine by contemplation of God's power, wisdom and goodness,
by constant remembrance of Him with a devout heart, by conversing about His qualities
with others, by singing His
praises with fellow men and by doing all acts as His service.7 The devotee directs his whole being to God. Adoration is the essence of religion.
It involves a duality between the worshipper and the worshipped. If a philosophy
of immanentism is so interpreted as to destroy man's sense of creatureliness or
God's trans- (continued on
1 IX.3I. 2 paramapremarūpa. 3 sā parānuraktir
Īsvare. I, I.2.
ahetukavyavakitā yā, bhaktiḥ, puruṣottame: see also
B.G., XII, 5; IX, 17-18.
Cp. Caitanya: "I desire not, O Lord, wealth or retinue or a beautiful
woman or poetic genius; I pray for spontaneous devotion to the Supreme in every
birth of mine." ~ paramapremarupa.
na dhanam na janam sundarim kavitam va jagadisa kjj,may~ mama janmani janmani'svare bhavatad bhahtir ahaituki tuay«.
5 I, 23. It is buddhānusṛti of Mahāvastu.
6 Cpo Narada:
7 Nnrada Sūtra,
16-18. The Bhāgavata
describes the nine stages of bhakti: Śravaṇam, Kīrtanaṁ
viṣṇoḥ, Smaraṇaṁ, pādasevanam, arcanaṁ,
vandanaṁ, dāśyaṁ, sakhyam, ātmanivedanam.
Again: "I abide not in heaven nor in the hearts of
yogis; I dwell where My devotees sing My glory."
Introductory Essay page 61
cendence, it has no place
for devotion and worship. The distinction between creature and creator is the
ontological basis of the religion of bhakti. The Eternal One is viewed in the
Bhagavadgītā not so much as the God of philosophical speculation
as the God of grace such as the heart and the soul need and seek, who inspires
personal trust and love, reverence and loyal self-surrender. "Before the
knowledge, duality is misleading but when our understanding is enlightened,
we perceive that duality
is more beautiful than even non-duality and is conceived so that there might be
worship."1 Again, "The truth is non-duality; but duality is for the sake of worship;
and thus, this worship is
a hundred times greater than liberation." 2
■Bhakti, in the Gītā, is not an amor intellectualis which
is more reflective and contemplative. It is sustained by know ledge but is not
knowledge. It involves no reference to yoga technique or longing for speculative
knowledge of the Divine. Śāṇḍilya argues that it gives us
spiritual peace even without
knowledge as in the case of milkmaids.3 The devotee has a sense of utter humility, In the presence
of the Ideal, he feels that he is nothing. God loves meekness,4 the utter prostration of the self.
■As a rule, the particular qualities associated with bhakti, love and devotion,
mercy and tenderness are to be found more in women than in men. As bhakti emphasizes
humility, obedience, readiness to serve, compassion and gentle love, as the devotee
longs to surrender himself, renounce self-will and experience passivity, it is
said to be more feminine in character. Women expect, suffer, hope and receive.
They long for compassion, mercy, peace. Femininity is in all beings. In the Bhāgavata,
it is said that the girls prayed to the Supreme Goddess, Kātyāyanī,
to get for them Kṛṣṇa as their husband. 5
When they are most truly themselves, women give everything,
(Continued on page 62)
dvaitam mohaya bodhat prak jatc bodhe manisaya
bhaktyanham kalpitam dvaitam advaitad, api sumdaram.
advaitam dvaitam bhajanahetave
tadrisi yadi bhaktih, syat sa tu muktisatadhika.
3 ata eva tad abhtavad vallavinam.
Narada Sutra, 27.
5 katyayani mahamaye mahayoginy adhisvari:
nandagopasutam devi patim me kuru te namaḥ. . X, 22 4.
The Bhagavadgītā page
claim nothing; they want to love and be loved. Rādhā typifies the
loving soul. In relation to God, bhaktas are more like women. "The Supreme
Lord is the only man; all others from Brahma downwards are like women (who long to be united with Him)."1
■When the soul surrenders itself to God, He takes up our knowledge and our
error and casts away all forms of insufficiency and transforms all into His infinite
light and the purity of the universal good. Bhakti is not merely the "flight
of the alone to the Alone," the soul's detachment from the world and attachment
to God, but is active love for the Divine who enters into the world for redeeming
■The view that we cannot win the grace of the Lord by our own efforts results
in an intense emotional pietism. While bhakti requires faith and love, in prapatti
we simply surrender ourselves to God, place ourselves in His hands leaving it
to Him to deal with us as He elects. It stresses the simple and austere purity
of the relationship of surrender in a humble and direct attitude of trust. It
perceives genuine piety in the completeness of the surrender rather than in the
intensity of the bhakti discipline. When we are emptied of our self, God takes
possession of us. The obstacles to this God-possession are our own virtues, pride,
knowledge, our subtle demands and our unconscious assumptions and prejudices.
We must empty ourselves of all desires and wait in trust on the Supreme Being.
To fit God's pattern, all
our claims are to be surrendered. 2 The difference
between bhakti and prapatti is symbolized by the ape way (markaṭakiśoranyāya)
and the cat way (mārjārakiśoranyāya).
The young ape clings fast to the mother and is saved. A little effort on the
part of the young is called for. The mother cat takes the young in her mouth.
The young one does nothing
to secure its safety. In bhakti the grace of God is earned to an extent; in prapatti
it is freely bestowed. There is no reference in the latter to one's own worthiness
or the service performed.3 This view finds support
in the earlier tradition, "When alone this Self (continued on page 63)
I sa eva
vasudevo'sau saksat puruaa ucyate,
striprayam itarat sarvam jagad brahmapurassaram.
2 XVIII, 66.
3 prapatti has
the following accessories: good will to all (ānukūlyasya saṁkalpaḥ); (ii) absence of ill will (prātikūlyasya varjanam: (iii) faith
that the Lord will protect (rakṣisyatīti viśvāsaḥ,);
to Him as saviour (goptṛitva varaṇam); (v) a sense of utter
helplessness (kārpaṇyam); (vi) complete self-surrender (ātmanikṣepaḥ).
The last is traditionally regarded as equivalent to prapatti which
end and aim aṅgin while the remaining five are accessories aṅgas.
Cp, the statement ṣaḍvidhā śaranāgatiḥ
which is explained on the analogy of aṣṭāṅga-yoga
where samādhi is really the end and the other seven are aids to
Introductory Essay page 63
chooses, by him can He
be reached, to him the Self shows His form." 1 Arjuna is told that the Divine Form was revealed to him by the grace of the Lord. 2 Again, it is said, "From
Me are memory and knowledge as well as their loss.'' 3 Even Saṁkara
admits that the Supreme alone
can grant us the saving wisdom.4 The distinction
of prapatti and bhakti relates to the issue in Christian thought which is as old
as St. Augustine and Pelagius, whether man as a fallen creature is to be saved
only by the grace of God or whether he can make something of himself and contribute
by his own effort to his salvation.
■Pelagius believed in free will, questioned the doctrine of original sin and
asserted that men acted of their own moral effort. Augustine disputed the Pelagian
theory and taught that Adam before the Fall had possessed free will, but after
he and Eve ate the apple, corruption entered into them and descended to all their
posterity. None of us can abstain from sin of our own power. Only God's grace
can help us to be virtuous. Since we have all sinned in Adam, we are all condemned
in him. Yet by God's free grace some
of us are elected for heaven, not because we deserve it or we are good but because
God's grace is bestowed on us. No reason except God's unmotived choice can be
given as to why some are
saved and others damned.
Damnation proves God's justice because we are all wicked. St. Paul, in some passages
of the (continued on page
Up., II, 23. 2 XI, 47. 3 XV, 15.
4 tad anugranahetukenaiva
ca vijñānena mokṣasiddhir bhavitum arhati S.B. The first verse
of the Avadhuta Gītā reads:
Īśvarānugrahād eva puṁsām advaitavāsanā.
mahadbhayaparitrāṇāt viprāṇām upajāyate
It is only with the grace of God that in men with knowledge
is born the inclination for nondual experience which protects them from great
danger. Another reading for the second line is mahābhayaparitrānā
The Bhagavadgītā page 64
Epistle to the Romans, St. Augustine and
Calvin adopt the view of universal guilt. That in spite of it some of us are saved
shows God's mercy. Damnation and salvation both manifest the goodness of God,
his justice or mercy. The Gītā is inclined to the Pelagian doctrine.
■Man's effort is involved in the total surrender to the Supreme. It cannot
be unintentional or effortless. The doctrine of grace is not to be interpreted
as one of special election, as such a conception conflicts with the general trend
of the Gītā that the Supreme is "the same to all beings." 1
■Faith (śraddhā) is the basis of bhakti. So the gods in whom people
have faith are tolerated. Some love is better than none, for if we do not love
we become shut up within ourselves. Besides, the lower gods are accepted as forms of the One Supreme.
2 There is insistence
on the fact that, while other devotees reach other ends, only he who is devoted to the Supreme
reaches infinite bliss.3 So long as worship
is done with devotion, it purifies the heart and prepares the mind for the
higher consciousness. Every one shapes God in the likeness of his longing. For
the dying, He is ever lasting life, for those who grope in the dark, He is the light.4 Even as the horizon remains at a level with our eyes, how ever high we may
climb, the nature of God cannot be higher than the level of our consciousness.
In the lower stages we pray for wealth and life and the Divine is regarded as
the provider of material needs. Later it is meditation where we identify ourselves
with the good cause which is God's cause. In the highest stages, God is the final
satisfaction, the other which completes and fulfils the human spirit. Madhusūdana
defines bhakti as a mental
state in which the mind moved by an ecstasy of love assumes the shape of God.
5 When (continued on page 65)
I IX, 29: cp.
Yogavasistha. II, 6, 27.
2 IX; 23. 3 VII, 2I.
4 Cp. 'rujasu nathak, paramam hi bhesajam tamah pradipo
bhayesu raksa vyasanesu
bandhavo bhavaty agadhe visayambhasi plavah.
ha manaso bhagavadakarata savikalpaka vrttirupa bbaktih
Introductory Essay page 65
the emotional attachment to God becomes highly ecstatic, the devout lover
forgets himself in God.1 Prahlāda in
whom we find the spiritual condition of complete concentration in God expresses
his unity with the Supreme Person. Such self-forgetful ecstatic experiences cannot
be regarded as supporting advaita metaphysics. In aparokṣānubhava
or the ultimate state
in which the individual is absorbed in the Absolute, the separate individual as
such does not survive.
■Bhakti leads to jñāna or wisdom. For Rāmānuja, it is smṛtisantāna.
Even prapatti is a form of jñāna, When the devotion glows, the Lord dwelling
in the soul imparts to the devotee by His grace the light of wisdom. The devotee
feels united intimately
with the Supreme, who is experienced as the being in whom all antitheses vanish.
He sees God in himself and himself in God. Prahlāda says that the supreme
end for man is absolute
devotion to God and a feeling of His presence everywhere. 2 "For her who loves, it is the same whether she, in the ardor of love,
plays on the bosom of the lover or whether she caresses with tenderness his feet.
Thus to him who knows, whether he remain in a superconscious ecstasy or serves God with worship, the
two are the same. "3 For the devotee,
the higher freedom is in
surrender to God.4 Participation in God's work for
the world is the duty of all devotees.5 "Those
who give up their duties and simply proclaim the name of the Lord, Kṛṣṇa,
Kṛṣṇa, are verily the enemies of the Lord and sinners for the
very Lord has taken birth
for protecting righteousness."6 When
the devotee truly surrenders
himself to the Divine, God (continued
on page 66)
Vṛṣṇis ... lost themselves in thought about Kṛṣṇa
and completely forgot their own separate existence." Bhaktiratnavali.
2 ekantabhaktir govinde yatsarvatra tad iksanam.Bhagavata VII, 7, 35
va khelatu premaritya, padayugaparicaryam preyasi va vidhattlim
uiharatu. viditartko nirvikalpe samadhau nanu bhajanavidhau va tulyam. etad
haripadabje muktir ity adhidhiyate.
5 Cp, Majjhima
Nikaya: yo man passati sa dhammam passati. He who sees me sees dharma.
6 svadharmakarmavimukhah. Kṛṣṇakrsnetiaidinah
te harer dvesino mudhah
dharmartham janma yad hareh.
See also B.G., IX, 30; cp. I John ii, 9-11, iv, 18-20;
cp. "Not everyone that calls 'Christ' Lord, but he that does the will
of the Father, shall-enter into the kingdom of Heaven."
The Bhagavadgītā page 66
becomes the ruling passion of his mind, and whatever the devotee does, he
does for the glory of God. Bhakti, in the Bhagavadgītā, is an
utter self-giving to the Transcendent. It is to believe in God, to love Him, to
be devoted to Him, to enter into Him. It is its own reward. Such a devotee has
in him the content of the
highest knowledge as well as the energy of the perfect man. I
12. The Way of
In determining the purpose of any treatise, we must see the question with
which it opens (upakrama) and the conclusion to which it leads (upasaṁhāra),
The Gītā opens with a problem. Arjuna refuses to fight and raises
difficulties. He puts up a plausible plea for abstention from activity and for
retreat from the world, an ideal which dominated certain sects at the time of
the composition of the Gītā.
To convert him is the purpose of the Gītā . It raises the
question whether action or renunciation of action is better and concludes that
action is better. Arjuna declares that his perplexities are ended and he would
carry out the command to fight. Right through, the teacher emphasizes the need for action.2 He does not adopt the solution of dismissing the world as an illusion and
action as a snare. He recommends the full active life of man in the world with
the inner life anchored in the Eternal Spirit. The Gītā is therefore
a mandate for action. It explains what a man ought to do not merely as a social
being but as an individual with a spiritual destiny. It deals fairly with the
spirit of renunciation as well
as with the ceremonial
piety of the people which are worked into its code of ethics. 3 The Sāṁkhya, which is another name (continued on page 67)
says that "devotion directed to Lord Vāsudeva produces soon dispassion
and wisdom by which the vision of the Supreme is obtained."
vasudeve bhagavati bkaktiyogaḥ, prayojitaḥ
vairāgyaṁ jñānaṁ yad brahmadaśanam.
Viṣṇu Puṛāna, III, 7.
2 II, 18,37;
111,19; IV,I5; VIII, 7; XI, 33; XVI, 24; XVIII, 6; 72.
3 Cp. M.B.,
Sāntiparva 348, 53.
Introductory Essay page 67
for jñāna in the Gītā , requires us to renounce action.
There is the well-known view that created beings are bound bv karma or action and are saved by knowledge.1 Every deed, whether good
or bad produces its natural effect and involves embodiment in the world and is
an obstacle to liberation. Every deed confirms the sense of egoism and separateness
of the doer, and sets in motion a new series of effects.
Therefore, it is argued, one must renounce all action and become a saṁnyāsin,
Saṁkara, who upholds the method of jñāna as a means of salvation, argues
that Arjuna was a madhyamādhikāri
for whom renunciation was dangerous and so he was advised to take to action.
But the Gītā adopts the view developed in the Bhāgavata
religion which has the twofold
purpose of helping us to obtain complete release and do work in the world.2 In two places, Vyāsa tells Śuka that the most ancient method of
the Brāhmin is to obtain
release by knowledge and perform actions.3 Īśa Up. adopts a similar view. It is incorrect to assume that Hindu thought strained
excessively after the unattainable and was guilty of indifference to the problems
of the world. We cannot lose ourselves in inner piety when the poor die at our
doors, naked and hungry. The Gītā asks us to live in the world
and save it.
■The teacher of the Gītā points out the extreme subtlety of the problem
of action, gahanā karmaṇo gatiḥ.4 It is not possible for us to abstain from action. Nature
is ever at work and we are deluded if we fancy that its process can be held up.
Nor is cessation from action desirable. Inertia is not freedom. Again, the binding
quality of an action does not lie in its mere performance but in the motive or
desire that prompts it. Renunciation refers, not to the act itself but to the
(Continued on page 68)
2 M.B., Santiparva,
347, 80-1. Again ibid., 217, 2.
3 M.B., Santiparva,
237.. I; 234, 29. See also Īśa Up., 2, and Viṣṇu Purāṇa, VI, 6, 12.
4 IV, I7.
The Bhagavadgītā Page
frame of mind behind the act. Renunciation means absence of desire. So long
as action is based on false premises, it binds the individual soul. If our life
is based on ignorance, however altruistic our conduct may be, it will be binding.
The Gītā advocates
detachment from desires and not cessation from work.1 When Kṛṣṇa advises Arjuna to fight, it does not follow
that he is supporting the validity of warfare. War happens to be the occasion
which the teacher uses to indicate the spirit in which all work including warfare
will have to be performed. Arjuna takes up a pacifist attitude and declines to participate in a fight for truth and
justice. He takes a human view of the situation and represents the extreme of
non-violence. He winds up:
"Better I deem it, if my kinsmen strike,
To face them weaponless,
and bare my breast
To shaft and spear, than answer
blow with blow."2
■Arjuna does not raise the question of the right or wrong of war. He has faced
many battles and fought many enemies. He declares against war and its horrors because he has to
destroy his own friends and relations (svajanam).3 It is not a question of violence or non-violence but of
using violence against one's friends now turned enemies. His reluctance to fight is not
the outcome of spiritual development or the predominance of sattvaguṇa but
is the product of ignorance and passion.4 Arjuna admits
that he is overcome by weak
ness and ignorance.5 The ideal which the Gītā sets before
us is ahimsa or non-violence and this is evident from the description of the perfect
state of mind, speech and body in Chapter VII, and of the mind of the devotee
in Chapter XII. Kṛṣṇa advises Arjuna to fight without passion
or ill-will, without anger or attachment and if we develop such a frame of mind
violence becomes impossible. We must fight against what is wrong but if we allow
ourselves to hate, that ensures our spiritual defeat. It is not possible to kill
people in a state of absolute
serenity or absorption in (continued
on page 69)
I Arjuna says:
gacchan nissaṅgo muktabandhanaḥ
samah śatrau ca mitre ca sa vai mukto mahīpate. M.B., XII. 18, 31.
2 I, 46. Edwin Arnold's E.T. 3 I, 31; I,
27; I . 37: 1. 45 4 XVIII, 7, 8. 5 II. 7.
Introductory Essay Page 69
God. War is taken as an illustration. We may be obliged to do painful work
but it should be done in a way that does not develop the sense of a separate ego.
Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna that one can attain perfection even while
doing one's duties. Action done devotedly and wholeheartedly, without attachment
to the results makes for perfection. Our action must be the result of our nature.
While Arjuna is a householder belonging to the warrior caste, he speaks like a
saṁnyāsin not because he has risen to the stage of utter dispassion
and love for humanity but because he is overcome by false compassion. Everyone
must grow upward from the point where he stands. The emphasis of the Gītā
solidarity, requires us to change the whole pattern of our life. We are kindly, decent
men who would be shocked and indignant if a dog is hurt, we would fly to the protection
of a crying child or a maltreated woman and yet we persist in doing wrong on a
large scale to millions of women and children in the comforting belief that by
doing so, we are doing our duty to our family or city or the state. The Gītā
requires us to lay stress on human brotherhood. Whereever the imperative to
fight is employed; Saṁkara points out that it is not mandatory (vidhi),
but refers only to the prevailing usage.1 The Gītā
belongs to a period of upheaval through which humanity periodically passes
in which intellectual, moral, social and political forms are at strife and when
these are not properly adjusted, violent convulsions take place. In the conflict
between the self-affirming law of good and the forms that impede it, force is
sometimes necessary to give the law of good a chance of becoming a psychological
fact and an historic process. We have to act in the world as it is, while doing
our best to improve it. We should not be defiled by disgust even when we look
at the worst that life can do to us, even when we are plunged in every kind of
loss, bereavement, and humiliation. If we act in the spirit of the Gītā
with detachment and dedication, and have love even for our enemy, we will
help to rid the world of wars.2 (continued on page
yuddhasvety anuvādamātram, na vidhiḥ; na hyatra yuddhakartavyatā
vidhīyate.S.B.G., II, 18.
2 Cp. the Vedic prayer: "Whatever here is heinous, cruel
and sinful, may all that be stilled, may everything be good and peaceful to us.''
yad iha ghoram, yad iha krūram, yad iha pāpam tac chāntaṁ
tac chivaṁ sarvam eva samastu naḥ.
The Bhagavadgītā page
If we cultivate
the spirit of detachment from results and dedication to God, we may engage in
action. One who acts in this
spirit is a perpetual saṁnyāsin.2 He accepts things as they come and leaves them without
regret, when necessary.
■If there is hostility to the method of works, it is not hostility to work
as such but to the theory of salvation by works. If ignorance, avidyā, is
the root evil, wisdom or jñāna is the sovereign remedy. Realization of wisdom
is not what is accomplished in time. Wisdom is ever pure and perfect and is not
the fruit of an act. An eternal attainment devoid of change cannot be the result
of a temporary act. But karma prepares for wisdom. In his commentary on Sanatsujātīya,
Saṁkara says: "Liberation is accomplished by wisdom, but wisdom does not spring without the purification of the heart.
Therefore, for the purification of the heart one should perform all acts of speech, mind
and body, prescribed in the
Śṛutis and the sṁṛtis,
dedicating them to the Supreme Lord." 2 Work done
in such a spirit becomes a yajña or sacrifice. Sacrifice is a making sacred to
the Divine. It is not deprivation or self-immolation but a spontaneous self-giving,
a surrender to a greater consciousness of which we are a limitation. By such a surrender, the mind becomes purified of its impurities
and shares the power and knowledge of the Divine. Action performed in the spirit
of a yajña or sacrifice ceases to be a source of bondage.
■The Bhagavadgītā gives us a religion by which the rule of karma, the natural order of deed and consequence,
can be transcended. There is no element of caprice or arbitrary Interference of
a transcendent purpose within the natural order. The teacher of the Gītā
recognizes a realm of reality where karma does not operate and if we establish
our relations with it, we are free in our deepest being. The chain of karma can
be broken here and now, within the flux (continued on page 71)
I V, 3: cp,
also Yājñavalkya Smṛti where, after an account of the state
of the renouncer (saṁnyāsin) it is said, that even the house holder
who is a devotee of knowledge and speaks the truth attains release (without taking
saṁnyāsa), III, 204-5 .
2 jnanenaiva moksah siddhyati kimtu tad eva jnanam sattvasuddhim vina notpadyate....
tasmat sattvasuddhyartham sarvesvaram uddisya sarvani vanmanahkayalaksanani srautasmartani
Introductory Essay page 71
of the empirical world. We become masters of karma by developing detachment
and faith in God. For the wise sage who lives in the Absolute, it is contended
that nothing remains to be
done, tasyakāryaṁ na vidyate. 1 The seer of truth has no longer the ambition to do or to
achieve. When all desires are destroyed, it is not possible to act. Uttaragītā
states the objection thus: "For the yogi who has become accomplished
as the result of having drunk the nectar of wisdom, no further duty remains; if
any remains, he is not a
real knower of truth.'' 2 All knowledge, all striving is a means to attain to this ultimate wisdom,
this last simplicity. Every act or achievement would be less than this act of
being. All action is defective.3
■Saṁkara admits that there is no objection to the performance of work
until one reaches death, even after the attainment of wisdom.4 Such a one
is said to be above all duties only from the theoretical standpoint.5 This means that in principle there is no contradiction between spiritual
freedom and practical work. Though, strictly speaking, there is nothing that remains
to be done by the wise sage as by God, yet both of them act in the world, for
the sake of world-maintenance and progress, lokasaṁgraha, We may even say
that God is the doer, as
the individual has emptied himself of all
desires.6 He does nothing,
na kiñcit karoti. As he has no ulterior purpose, he lays claim to nothing
and surrenders him- (Continued
on page 72)
1 Ill, 17.
2 jananamrtena trptasya krtakrtyasya yoginah,
na casti kincit kartavyam asti cen na sa tattvavit. I, 23
3 Nyaya Sutra,
I, I, 18.
4 S.B., III,
3, 32; S.B.G., II, II; III, 8 and 20. There is a natural shirking from outward
works by those who are afraid of being distracted from their contemplation of
hi ayam asmakam yad brahmatmavagatau satyam
sarvakartavyatahanih.S.B., I, I, 4. .
6 Jaminiya up.:
Thou (God) art the doer thereof: tvaṁ vai tasya
kartāsi. "We have the mind of Christ" (Cor. ii, I6);
I live, yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me" (Gal. ii, 20). Tauler:
"By their works they cannot go again. . . . If any man is to come to God,
he must be empty of all works and let God work alone." Following of Christ,
16, I7, St. Thomas Aquinas: "The works of a man who is led by the Holy
Ghost are the works of the Holy Ghost rather than his own." Summa Theol.,
II, I, 93, 6 and I.
The Bhagavadgītā page 72
self to spontaneity. Then
God acts through him and the question of right and wrong does not arise, though
it is impossible for such a one to do any wrong. 1 Poised in the serenity of the Self, he becomes the doer of all works, kṛtsnakarmakṛt. He knows that he is only the instrument
for the work of God, nimittamātram. 2 When the long agony of Arjuna had borne its fruit, he learned that in God's will is his peace.3 Under the control of the Lord, nature (prakṛti) carries
on its work. The individual intelligence, mind and senses function for the great
universal purpose and in its light. Victory or defeat does not disturb, as it
is willed by the Universal Spirit. Whatever happens, the individual accepts
attachment or aversion. He has passed beyond the dualities (dvandvātīta)
He does the duty expected of him, kartavyaṁ karma, without travail and with freedom and spontaneity.
■The man of the world is lost in the varied activities of the world. He throws
himself into the mutable world (kṣara). The quietist withdraws into the
silence of the Absolute (akṣara) but the ideal man of the Gītā
goes beyond these two extremes and works like Puruṣottama who reconciles
all possibilities in the world without getting involved in it. He is the doer
of works who yet is not the doer, kartāram akartāram. The Lord
is the pattern of an unwearied and active worker who does not, by His work forfeit
His integrity of spirit. The
liberated soul is eternally free like Kṛṣṇa and Janaka.4 Janaka carried on his duties and was not per- (continued on page 73)
1 Cp, St. John's words: "Whosoever is born of God doth
not commit sin."
2 XI, 33.
3 XVIII, 73.
Up. asks us to look upon the
whole world as dwelling in the Supreme and to perform actions, as such actions
do not bind us: na karma lipyate nare. Cp. yaḥ kriyāvān
sa pangitaḥ. M.B., Vana parva, 312; 108. Ᾱnandagiri
in his comment on S. on Kaṭha Up., II 19. says:
vivekī sarvadā muktaḥ kurvato nāsti kartṛtā
alepavādam āśritya śrīkṛṣṇa janakau yathā.
In the Adhyātma Ramāyaṇa, Rāma tells Lakṣmaṇa
: "He who has fallen in the stream of this world remains unsullied even though
he may outwardly perform all kinds of actions.''
pavahapatitah karyam kurvann api na lipyate
bahye sarvatra kartrtvam
avahann api rāghava.
Introductory Essay Page 73
perturbed by the events of the
world.1 The freed souls work
for the guidance of men who follow the standards set by the thoughtful. They live
in the world but as strangers. They endure all hardships in the flesh 2 and yet they live not after the flesh. Their existence is on earth but their
citizenship is in heaven. "As the unlearned act from attachment to their
work, so should the learned also act but without any attachment, with the desire to maintain the world-order.
■While the Buddhist ideal exalts a life of contemplation, the Gītā
attracts all those souls who have a relish for action and adventure. Action
is for self-fulfillment. We must find out the truth of our own highest and innermost
existence and live it and not follow any outer standard. Our svadharma, outward
life, and svabhāva, inner being, must answer to each other. Only then will
action be free, easy and spontaneous. We can live in God's world as God intends
us to live only by keeping alive the precious unearthly flame of uniqueness. By
placing ourselves in the hands of the Divine, by making ourselves perfect instruments
for His use do we attain the highest spiritual wisdom.
■ Karmayoga is an alternative method of approach to the goal of life according
to the Gītā and culminates in wisdom.4 In this sense, Saṁkara is correct in holding that karma and bhakti are means to spiritual
freedom. But spiritual freedom is not inconsistent with activity. Duty as such. drops away
but not all activity. The activity of the liberated is free and (continued on page 74)
indeed is my wealth of which nothing is mine. If Mithilā is burnt, nothing
that is mine is burnt."
anantam bata me vittaṁ yasya me nāsti kiñcana
mithilāyāṁ pradīptāyāṁ na me kiṁcit
pradahyate. M.B... Sāntiparva, VII. I.
Saṁkara says that the saints, the great ones, live in peace. Like the
spring season, they confer good on the world. Themselves having crossed the mighty
ocean of samsara, they enable others to cross the same, with no apparent motive
in doing so.
santa mahānto nivasann santāḥ vasantaval lokahitam carantaḥ
tīrṇāḥ svayaṁ bhīmabhavārṇavaṁ
janān ahetunānnyānapi tārayantaḥ,
2 Cp Bhāgavata:
The good people suffer tor the sorrows of the world. They consume themselves
in order that they may light the world.
3 III .. 25. 4 IV, 33. 74
The Bhagavadgītā page 74
spontaneous and not obligatory. They act for the sake of the welfare of the world even though
they have attained wisdom. 1 Work is not practiced
as a sādhana but becomes a lakṣaṇa. Even when we
accept the saṁnyāsa āśrama, the duties of the other āśramas
are abandoned but not those of the saṁnyāsa. The common virtues (sādhāraṇadharma)
obligatory on all, such as the practice of kindness, are adopted. So work and liberation are not
inconsistent with each other.2
■The Gītā takes up the various creeds and codes that were
already competing with each other and transforms them into aspects of a more inward
religion, free, subtle, and profound. If popular deities are worshipped, it must be understood that they are only varied
manifestations of the One Supreme.
If sacrifices are to be offered, they must be of the spirit and not of material
objects. A life of self-control or disinterested action is a sacrifice. The Veda
is of use but it is like a tank when compared to the widely spreading flood of
the teaching of the Gītā. The Gītā teaches the
doctrine of the Brahman-(continued
on page 75)
I S.B.G., III. 20.
Miśra in his Brahmasiddhi mentions seven different theories about
the relation of karma and jñāna. (I) The injunctions in the ritual part of
the Veda tend to turn men away from their natural activities in the direction
of meditative activity enjoined for the realization of the self. (2) These injunctions
are intended to destroy desires through a process of enjoyment and thus prepare
the way for meditation leading to knowledge of the self. (3) The performance of
karma is necessary to discharge the three debts (ṛṇatraya) which is the essential
prerequisite for self-knowledge. (4) The activities prescribed have a dual function
of leading to the fulfilment of desires expected of them and of preparing for
self-knowledge. (5) All karma is intended to purify men and prepare them for self-knowledge.
(6)That self-knowledge is to be regarded as a purificatory aid to the agent, serving
the requirements of the various activities prescribed in the karmakāṇḍa,
(7) Karma and jiiana are opposed to each other.
■Mandana Misra is inclined to accept the views indicated in 4 and 5. The performance
of rites is a valuable accessory to the contemplation on the content of verbal
knowledge (śabda jñāna)
arising from the great texts (mahāvākyas) of the Upaniṣads in
bringing about the final manifestation (abhivyakti) of the eternally self-luminous light
of atman. While the saṁnyāsins reach realization of self exclusively
through contemplative discipline with the performance of scriptural rites, the
reach the goal through the performance of rites, etc.
Introductory Essay PAGE 75
Atman which the followers of the Upaniṣads seek and proclaim. The yoga
of concentration is useful but the Supreme is the Lord of yoga. The dualism of
the Sāṁkhya is taken over into non-dualism, for Puruṣa and prakṛti
are the two natures of the Supreme Lord, Puruṣottama. He alone dispenses grace. He is the true
object of devotion. For Him must all work be done. Saving wisdom is of
Him. The traditional rules of dharma are to be followed because He established
them and He upholds the moral order. The rules are not ends in themselves, for
union with the Supreme is the final goal. The teacher of the Gītā
reconciles the different systems in vogue and gives us a comprehensive eirenicon (sic, ?) which
is not local and temporary but is for all time and all men. He does not emphasize
external forms or dogmatic notions but insists on first principles and great facts
of human nature and being.
13. The Goal1
The Gītā insists on the unity of the life of spirit which
cannot be resolved into philosophic wisdom, devoted love or strenuous action.
Work, knowledge and devotion are complementary both when we seek the goal and
after We attain it. We do not proceed
on the same lines but that which we seek is the same. We may climb the mountain
by different paths but the view from the summit is identical
for all. Wisdom is personified as a being whose body is knowledge and whose
heart is love. Yoga, which has for its phases, knowledge and meditation, love
and service is the ancient road that leads from darkness to light, from death
■The goal of transcendence is represented as the ascent to the world of the
or the attainment of the status of the Impersonal Supreme (brahmabhāva or brāhmīsthiti).
One side of it is isolation from the world (kaivalya). The Gītā mentions all these views. Many passages (continued on page 76)
I The end of
perfection is called the highest (III, 19), emancipation (III, 31; IV, 15), the
eternal state (XVIII, 56). the path from which there is no return (V, 17) perfection
(XII, 10), the highest rest (IV, 39), the entering into God (IV, 9, 10 and 24),
contact with God (VI, 28), rest in Brahman (II, 72), transformation into Divine
existence (XIV, 26), transmutation into Godhead (V,24).
The Bhagavadgītā Page
suggest that, in the state of release, duality disappears and the released
soul becomes one with the Eternal Self. It is a condition beyond all modes and
qualities, impassive, free and at peace. If we have a body clinging to us, nature
will go on acting till the body is shaken off as a discarded shell. The jīvanmukta
or the freed soul possessing the body reacts to the events of the outer world
without getting entangled in them. On this view, spirit and body are an unreconciled
duality and we cannot think of any action of the released soul.
■The main emphasis of the Gītā. is not on such a view. For
it, the state of spiritual freedom consists in the transformation of our whole
nature into the immortal law and power of the Divine. Equivalence with God (sādharmya) and
not identity (sāyūjya)
is emphasized. The freed soul is inspired by Divine knowledge and moved by the Divine will. He acquires the
mode of being (bhāva)
of God. His purified nature is assimilated into the Divine substance. Anyone
who attains this transcendent condition is a yogin, a siddhapuruṣa, a
realized soul, a jitātman,
a yuktacetas, a disciplined
and harmonized being for whom the Eternal is ever present. He is released from
divided loyalties and actions. His body, mind
and spirit, the conscious, the pre-conscious, and the unconscious , to use
Freud's words, work flawlessly together and attain a rhythm expressed in the ecstasy
of joy, the illumination of knowledge and the intensity of energy. Liberation
is not the isolation of the immortal spirit from the mortal human life but is
the transfiguration of the whole man. It is attained not by destroying but by
transfiguring the tension of human life. His whole nature is subdued to the universal
vision, is wrought to splendor and irradiated by the spiritual light. His body,
life and mind are not dissolved but are rendered pure and become the means and
mould-of the Divine Light, and he becomes his own masterpiece. His personality
is raised to its fullness, its maximum expression, pure and free, buoyant and
unburdened. All his activities are for the holding together of the world, cikīrṣur lokasaṁgraham.I The liberated souls take upon themselves the burden of the
redemption of the whole world. The end of the dynamic of (Continued on page 77)
Introductory Essay page 77
the spirit and its ever new contradictions can only be the end of the world,
The dialectic development cannot stop until the whole world is liberated from
ignorance and evil. According to the Sāṁkhya system, even those persons
who are qualified for the highest wisdom and liberation on account of their solicitousness
for the good of others do not give up the world. Merging themselves in the body
of prakṛti and using its gifts, these prakṛtilīna selves serve the interests
of the world. The world is to move forward to its ideal and those who are lost
in ignorance and bewilderment are to be redeemed by the effort and example, the illumination and strength of
the freed.1 These elect are the
of mankind. Anchored in the timeless foundation of our spiritual existence,
the freed soul, the eternal
individual works for the jīvaloka;2 while possessing
individuality of body, life and mind he yet retains the universality of spirit.
Whatever action he does, his
constant communion with the Supreme is undisturbed.3 As to what happens if and when the cosmic process reaches its fulfilment,
when universal redemption takes place, it is difficult for us to say. The Supreme,
which is infinite possibility, may take another possibility for expression.
■The Gītā admits that the Real is the absolute Brahman, but
from the cosmic point of view, it is the Supreme Īśvara. The latter
is the only way in which man's thought, limited as it is, can envisage the highest
reality. Though the relation between the two is inconceivable by us from the logical
standpoint, it is got over when we have the direct apprehension of Reality. In
the same way, the two views of the
ultimate state of freedom are the intuitional and the intellectual representations
of the one condition. The freed spirits have no need for individuality but still
assume it by self-limitation. Both views agree that so long as the freed spirits
continue to live in the world, they are committed to some action or other. They
work in a freedom of the spirit and with an inner joy and peace which does not
depend on externals for its source or continuance.
The Gītā represents brahmaloka or the world of God,
not as itself the Eternal, but as the farthest limit of manifes- (Continued on page 78)
1 IV, 34. 2 XV. 7. 3 Vl.31.
The Bhagavadgītā page 78
tation, Ananda is the limit of our development and we grow into it from the
level of vijñāna. It belongs to the cosmic manifestation. The Absolute is not the ānandamaya
ātmā, not the divinized self.1 The pure Self is different
from the five sheaths.2 When the purpose
of the cosmos is reached, when the kingdom of God is established, when it is on
earth as it is in heaven, when all individuals acquire the wisdom of spirit and are superior to the levels of
being in which birth and death take place, then this cosmic process is taken over
into that which is beyond all manifestations.
1 Nor is this
ānandamaya self the Supreme Spirit since it is subject to conditions and
is a modification of prakṛti, an effect and the sum of all the results of
good acts. Vivekacūḍāmaṇi, 2I2.
End of introductory Essay on Bhagavadgītā
by Dr. Radhakrishnan.
Prepared and published on November 3, 2013 Veeraswamy Krishnaraj, bhagavadgitausa.com