Then Árjuna said: O Lord of the earth, Krishna!
Draw up my chariot between the two armies, O Áchyuta,
Krishna tried to remain impartial in the conflict between the two sets of brothers. To do so, he had offered Duryódhana, the leader of the Kauravas, a choice as to how he was to be involved in the great battle itself. Duryódhana was to receive the support of Krishna’s entire army (he was a king of a separate kingdom) OR have Krishna’s personal help but not both. Krishna also said that he would not directly fight, whatever side he ended up on. Duryódhana showed both his greed and his spiritual ignorance by choosing to have the support of Krishna’s huge army over his personal presence. Krishna then agreed to drive the chariot of his good friend Árjuna, opposing his own army.
so that I may observe those who stand here eager for battle and
so that I may know with whom I should fight in this toil of war.
Because Krishna (who many within the Mahabharata acknowledge as God incarnate) had vowed not to fight directly, Árjuna was considered the most fearful warrior on the battlefield. Previously he had accomplished nearly unbelievable military victories, defeating hundreds of thousands of warriors by himself, alone. Many felt the whole battle depended on his performance. He was the main reason many tried to convince Duryódhana not to go to war with the Pandavas.
Let me look on those who are assembled here ready to fight,
eager to accomplish in battle what is dear to the evil-minded son of Dhritarashtra, Duryódhana.
Dhritarashtra is Árjuna’s uncle who took over the kingdom when the first king, Árjuna’s father, died. Dhritarashtra’s eldest son, Duryódhana, has taken over the kingdom from his father despite the fact that it really doesn’t belong to him according to the current rules and regulations.
thus invoked by Árjuna,
Hrishikesha (Lord Krishna),
having drawn up the magnificent chariot between the two armies and
opposite to Bhishma, Drona and all the kings,
said: Árjuna! Behold these Kurus gathered together.
-24 & 25-
Sánjaya, a royal attendant, is narrating the entire Bhagavad Gita to the Kaurava king Dhritarashtra because Dhritarashtra is blind and so can’t go to the battlefield. Through a magical gift from a Mahatma, Sánjaya is able to see the whole battle in a vision and then narrate all the events directly to his king.
Bhishma is the general of the Kaurava army and also a grandfather-type figure of legendary proportions to Árjuna and his Pandava brothers. Drona is the man who personally taught Árjuna how to fight when he was a young man. Thus, Drona is the martial arts guru of Árjuna and all his brothers.
Árjuna saw there before him uncles and grandfathers, teachers, maternal uncles,
brothers, sons and grandsons and many friends as well.
Árjuna and his brothers grew up alongside their cousins, the Kauravas. They played with them and had the same teachers. Now, those same former playmates are leading a massive army that is threatening to charge from the opposite side of the battlefield.
Then that son of Kunti (Árjuna), seeing all these kinsmen thus present,
possessed by extreme compassion, spoke thus in grief:
“Krishna, seeing all my friends and relatives assembled for battle, ready to fight,
makes my limbs quiver and my mouth dry up.
My body is trembling and my hair is standing on end.
“My bow, Gandíva, is slipping from my hand and my skin is burning all over.
I can’t stand up and my mind is numb.
-29 & 30-
Never before has Árjuna hesitated for a moment before a fight. He is the most legendary warrior of the day. Many believed he could defeat an entire army by himself, so great is his prowess. Clearly it is not fear that is stunning him. He has been taught that family is the highest; that duties to one’s family comes first.
O my dearest Késhava (Krishna),
I see no point in killing my own family in war!
I am filled with a sense of impending evil.
O Govinda (Krishna), of what use is winning a kingdom
when I have to kill those with whom I would enjoy that kingdom
in order to get it?
I do not want a victory nor a kingdom nor any pleasures that are just for me.
What do I and my brothers really need a kingdom for?
Árjuna is not a selfish person. He has always sought to do his duties as a prince and a warrior. Countless times he has defended his country, his family and other righteous, good people, from evil, from wrong-doers. Doing anything that brings benefit to him but not to his relatives makes no sense to him. Doing the right thing, doing his duty, is more important to him than gaining wealth and renown in the world.
Those for whose sake my brothers and I desire a kingdom, pleasures and comforts
are here on this battlefield!
I see our teachers, uncles, their sons and grandfathers, our cousins and their families.
-33 & 34-
O Madhusudana, even if they want to kill me
I wouldn’t want to kill them even for all the kingdoms of Heaven,
how much less for the sake of this earthly one!
Árjuna rejects the way of life ruled by “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” His cousins, the Kauravas, led by Duryódhana, have betrayed and insulted him many times and have even tried to stealthfully assassinate him but he still refuses to retaliate.
They insulted and shamed his wife, they tried to kill his mother and have schemed to humiliate him in front of his peers yet he would rather die by their hands than stoop to their level.
What happiness could come to us from killing the sons of our uncle, Dhritarashtra,
O great Janárdana (Krishna)?
Even though they are evil, great sin would occur upon killing them.
Árjuna knows that actions count more than for their immediate results. Árjuna knows that actions incur karma even past this life and into future ones. If he does something improper now, he or his loved ones might suffer for it in the future. That is the law of karma: what you do to others comes back to you in the future.
How should we be happy after killing our own people, O Mádhava?
Árjuna wonders how he could kill his relatives, even if they are evil, and not suffer from a bad conscience afterwards.
Even though these kinsmen are blinded by greed and see no harm in ruining the whole family,
and see no fault in betraying friends,
why shouldn’t we know not to follow down the path
that their actions have created, Janárdana (Krishna)?
-38 & 39-
Árjuna is pulled between duty to nation and duty to family. Can he fight his own family even if it benefits the larger nation to do so? He knows that if his cousins take the throne uncontested many people will be affected by their evil-minded decisions. But on the other hand, to kill a family member negatively affects the social fabric as well.
The tradition of righteousness is lost
when a family is broken up and destroyed.
Once its sense of correct behavior is lost
harmful, selfish behavior becomes the norm.
If Árjuna doesn’t set the right example now will not his sons and their sons makes even worse decisions in their lives?
Without upholding the family tradition of virtue
vice takes over.
O Varshnéya (Krishna), when there are no role models of virtue
women are misled down corrupt paths
and choose unworthy and inappropriate partners.
Árjuna shares traditional Indian family wisdom here that is worth pondering in relation to modern relationships. Men might make proposals to women for relationships but women have a choice to make as well. Arjuna is saying that the health of society is based on women’s choices. If women don’t feel empowered, by positive examples set by their parents, to choose the right man then everyone suffers.
When women make inappropriate marriage choices
unwanted and unworthy children are produced.
Eventually the essential rites of religion are abandoned because of it.
We all learned when we were young, O Janárdana,
that families and their forebears who forget their religious duties end up in hell.
-42 to 44-
Today religious duties are usually on the low end of most people’s “to do” lists. But aren’t those who have families whose lives are filled with strong, vibrant religious duties to be envied? Isn’t that happy cohesiveness that religion brings to a family what we all would like deep down?
Woe has beset us!
We are about to commit a grave crime,
about to slaughter our kinsmen over a kingdom and its pleasures!
It might be better for me to be killed by Dhritarashtra’s sons right now,
unarmed and unresisting!
-45 & 46-
Árjuna is mourning over the moral decline that his actions might bring to his forebears and he is ready to sacrifice himself in order to avoid that tragedy.
Sañjaya said to Dhritarahstra:
Árjuna, having thus spoken passionately to Krishna,
dropped his bow and arrows
and slumped down on the seat of the chariot, overcome with sorrow.
OM TAT SAT. That concludes the FIRST CHAPTER of the Bhagavad Gita entitled “Arjuna’s Dilemma.”
The chapter divisions in the Bhagavad Gita have been inserted into the text hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years ago to assist the reader. The verses identified as the second chapter deal with non-dualism or Advaita Vedanta or “self-inquiry,” as it is commonly known.
In many translations of the Bhagavad Gita this chapter is most often entitled “Sankhya” yoga after the type of Indian philosophy it is connected to. But what Krishna describes in the first half of this chapter is what many of us are already familiar with as the process of “self-inquiry” made famous through the teachings of the great sage Ramana Maharshi.
Self-inquiry involves inquiring into the “Self;” that is, learning the truth about who we really are. This search is a process of using close and careful scrutiny of the facts of life and death in order to determine how best to behave. It is intense introspection, usually (but not necessarily) with the aid of meditation.
In this chapter Krishna explains the results of such an examination of the nature of life. We know that his summary is correct by how self-evident it appears after he has shared it. One of the great wonders of being human is why such simple, clear and logical thinking is so difficult for us to arrive at on our own.
Sañjaya continued his narration of the events on the battlefield to his king, Dhritarashtra:
Krishna then said to Árjuna, whose eyes were blurred by the tears of sorrow:
Árjuna was struck dumb with sorrow over having seen his own relatives on the opposite side of the battlefield.
Where did this faintheartedness come from, Árjuna, arriving now at this inopportune time?
This attitude is disgraceful for a warrior and earns no spiritual merit, either.
Shake off this miserable weakness of the heart and get up,
you destroyer of foes!
Árjuna appears to be choosing non-violence which we might think is the highest spiritual ground. Krishna goes on to explain how the situation is more complicated than that. We must remember that Árjuna is a member of a royal family who has a great responsibility towards a large number of people who are dependent upon him. He is also a highly trained and decorated warrior. If he does not fight, his evil half-brother, Duryódhana, has a much greater chance of being victorious and ruling over a vast kingdom. They have already tried every way they could think of to settle the conflict peacefully.
Looking up, Árjuna said:
How can I fight men like Bhishma and Drona, O Madhusudana (Krishna)?
They are my revered elders,
my teachers and forebears!
It would be better to be a beggar in the streets
than to kill these men,
for even though they are on the side of greed,
killing them would permanently taint my future.
In ancient India culture asking for things was considered a weakness both spiritually and socially. Beggars were the lowest of the social classes. Even if you were a priestly monk (which was the highest social class) and you had no possessions you still did not ask for food directly when you were hungry. You simply held out your bowl and accepted whatever was put into it.
We really don’t know whether it would be better to defeat them
or be defeated by them.
We stand face to face with Dhritarahstra’s sons today
but if we kill them we will not want to live.
I feel weak and confused, I truly do not know what is right.
Please, tell me for sure what is best.
I am your disciple, I take refuge in you!
The statement that Árjuna makes here is strong and pivotal. For most of the Mahabhárata (which contains the Bhagavad Gita within it) Árjuna has treated Krishna more like a friend or a comrade than a Teacher, Master or an incarnation of God.
Technically Krishna is Árjuna’s brother-in-law so there has been an easy familiarity between them. Of course, Árjuna has asked Krishna for his advice many times but in the Mahabhárata this doesn’t necessarily mean much. Dhritarahstra, the misguided king of the Kauravas, himself routinely asked most people around him for advice but followed little of it.
Árjuna does not want to fight but here he surrenders his feelings to Krishna’s advice, acknowledging his own weakness and pledging to follow Krishna’s guidance. In this verse, Árjuna shows humility and submission to Krishna despite the strength of his emotions. The teachings that make up the Bhagavad Gita may not have been shared with him if Árjuna had not shown such humility and commitment to learn from that embodiment of Perfection, Krishna.
Indeed, it feels like nothing can dispel my sorrow,
even were we to win all the kingdoms on this earth and in heaven.
The first requirement for the highest of spiritual teachings that Krishna is about to share is humility and surrender and the second is dissatisfaction with life as we normally see it. If Árjuna had not been paralyzed by the unwinnable circumstances of this battle he would not have been ready for transcendental knowledge. If Árjuna had not reached a place where he truly did not know what to do, where every alternative seemed a bad one, where he realized that his normal way of making decisions had failed him then he might have been content plodding along in life as he always had. Instead, Árjuna became disgusted with life as he currently saw it and so became ready for a new and elevated way of looking at life.
After speaking these words, Gudakesha (Árjuna),
the famous punisher of enemies,
mumbled “I will not fight” and fell silent.
Standing in the midst of both armies, Hrishikesha (Krishna) spoke, with a loving smile, to the distressed hero.
The Blessed Lord said:
You have spoken wise words but you grieve for those for whom there should be no grief.
Wise men don’t grieve for either the dead or the living.
Krishna liked his compassion and his fear of wrong-doing but knew that emotions were clouding Árjuna’s mind.
This verse is the first out of many to come in the Bhagavad Gita that begins with the Sanskrit “śrī bhagavān uvāca. . . .”
I have chosen the translation “The Blessed Lord said . . .” for this Sanskrit phrase but there are many other possibilities. None of the English approximations, however, fit the Sanskrit exactly.
Some alternative translations in use are “The Lord said . . ,” “The Illustrious Lord said . . ,” “The Respected Supreme Divinity said . . ,” “The Supreme Personality of Godhead said . . ,” “God said . . .” Some texts even use the original Sanskrit without translation: “Śrī Bhagavān said . . .”
One of the problems with “Lord” (or even the word “God,” for that matter) is that it implies the masculine whereas “Śrī Bhagavān” combines both masculine and feminine. “Bhagavān” means “transcendent masculine god” and “Śrī” completes it with the feminine sense of prosperity, success and abundance.
So the Sanskrit “Śrī Bhagavān” ascribes both material AND spiritual glory to God, or in this case, to Krishna as God, and this is considered the harmonious union between the male and the female. A God that is male only would be considered incomplete in Hindu thinking.
Despite these misgivings, I have chosen to use the somewhat inadequate “The Blessed Lord said . . .” because I want this version of the Bhagavad Gita to be completely open and comfortable for westerners with no background or even interest in all things Indian. This is central to my belief that the Bhagavad Gita is actually a universal text, equally applicable to humans all around the globe who are searching for fulfillment.
I ask all readers, therefore, to keep in mind that the use of the word “Lord” or “God” is not meant to imply that God is exclusively male from either my point of view or from the original Sanskrit text.
There was never a time when I was not, nor you, nor these other rulers of men.
Nor will there ever be a time when any of us shall cease to be.
Krishna is not contradicting the birth certificates of these specific men, rather he is alluding to something essential within them that is not subject to death. He is introducing Árjuna to the difference between what is eternal and what is not and beginning to teach him how to pay attention to the first and ignore the second.
Just as the embodied soul passes through childhood, youth and old age,
so does it pass from one body to the next.
A wise person isn’t confused by this.
Our identity continues from one life to another. This is the reincarnation of the soul.
Joy, sorrow, heat and cold are temporary experiences
arising out of contact between the senses and their objects.
Bear them patiently, O descendant of Bhárata.
The knowledge of reincarnation frees us from the fear of death and without fear of death we develop patience. We know that every specific type of experience is a temporary one. Everything passes but life goes on.
The wise man whom these contacts don’t disturb,
to whom pain and pleasure are one and the same,
is fit for immortality, O best of men.
Here we receive the first hint that although everyone reincarnates again and again there is some other transcendent state that a wise man can achieve. That transcendent state is connected to both wisdom and equanimity.
Wisdom is the sought-after result of Self-inquiry or Jñana yoga: direct knowledge of our eternal nature. So in this verse Krishna clearly states what the practical end result of Self-inquiry is: equanimity in the face of pleasure and pain due to an embodied knowledge of our eternal essence.
Those achieving such equanimity are then eligible for something even greater, which Krishna calls “immortality” in this verse.
The unreal has no being; the real never ceases to be.
Those who see the truth see the boundary between the two.
For the Self-inquirer this is one of the simplest and most profound verses of the Gita. A “Jñani” is one who “sees” the truth of this verse directly.
Looking into the difference between what lasts and what does not leads the Self-inquirer to ask the question “who am I” over and over again, in many different ways and in many different circumstances.
Krishna tells Árjuna what the end result of such a relentless study is: the certainty that I AM what lasts and I AM NOT what is transitory. What is transitory is unreal. The “I AM,” however, does not change and is not just inside of me; the same “I AM” is inside every sentient thing in the same exact unchanging form.
So you should know that what pervades all this is indestructible.
No one can destroy the immutable, imperishable I AM.
Only the bodies of this eternal, indestructible and infinite Beingness
come to an end.
Therefore, get up and fight, O descendent of Bhárata!
I use the word “Beingness” here following the MAM translation (see “About This Blog” tab for the list of references used). Many others use the word “soul” but I believe that this word is misleading and forced. Krishna says the “soul” is subject to reincarnation but he also tells us that the wise man can reach an understanding beyond this. The wise man becomes aware of something essential, common to all souls, that is not subject to reincarnation because it was never born. To use the word “soul” for this essence is misleading.
Some texts use the phrase “true Self,” with a capital “S,” but this also sounds like something with specific characteristics that identifies it as my, as opposed to others’, true Self.
Many texts use the word “Brahman” to indicate this essential nature but that is also confusing because there is a specific god named Brahma in the Hindu pantheon of gods. A reader could easily confuse “Brahma” and “Brahman.” For this reason, the Buddha warned yogis of his day not to use the word “Brahma” to indicate this essential Beingness, or I AM, because it is then too easy to think, mistakenly, that the essence of everything is a specific god named “Brahma” with specific characteristics.
The word “Beingness” or the phrase “I AM,” however, is clearly something held in common with all things and does not contain any specific traits that I could call my own. Coming into direct knowledge of this “Beingness” is what delivers the wise man to a transcendent state and is the summation of the Self-inquiry practice.
Whoever thinks this Beingness could kill or be killed, doesn’t know the full truth.
The wise person knows that he or she IS ONLY this Beingness and knows that this Beingness can neither kill nor be killed. As Krishna stated earlier, everything else is unreal.
Some deluded interpretations of this verse use it to justify egoistic sensual indulgences or selfish acts of violence. If the Truth within everyone cannot kill or be killed, so this false analysis claims, then I can do whatever I want to anyone and anything. It’s all unreal. This is where intellectual understanding falls immeasurably short of direct realization.
Someone who has direct knowledge of the eternal Beingness identifies with that Beingness in others much stronger than the Beingness inside him or her. Therefore someone who truly knows the truth of these verses could never take advantage of another for personal benefit.
It is unborn, eternal, permanent, and primordial;
it is not killed when the body is killed.
This verse translation is directly from the Clay Library edition (CLAY).
If someone knows that they are indestructible, everlasting, unborn, undying,
how can that that person, O my dear Partha (Árjuna),
think they can kill or be killed?
Who is there that they might kill?
A wise person knows that he or she is only Beingness and also knows that everyone else is only Beingness therefore, who is left over to feel sorry for?
Árjuna’s enemy, Duryódhana, is clearly an evil man with evil intentions and everyone in his army is supporting his cause. Árjuna’s duty is therefore to oppose Duryódhana. Knowing that Duryódhana will reincarnate according to his karma AND that Duryódhana’s true essence is eternal and cannot be killed will help Árjuna do what he has to do with equanimity.
Just as someone might take off worn out clothes in order to put new ones on
the eternal dweller in the body sheds worn out bodies
in order to acquire new ones.
The translation of this verse comes directly from the MAM version which uses “dweller in the body” to point directly to the unified Beingness that is the true Self or the I AM. This is distinct from the “soul” which reincarnates, carrying some traits of one life into the next and undergoing constant changes.
Karmic reincarnation of the soul is like a photocopy machine in which the new copy looks a lot like the old one but still, it is an entirely new piece of paper. In the same way the soul reincarnates with much of the same information from the old life imprinted on it but in a new body. Both the old life and the new one are changing and transitory.
Krishna is teaching Árjuna about something more essential than the soul, however, something that doesn’t die or get born or ever change.
Weapons can’t cut it; fire can’t burn it; water can’t wet it; wind can’t dry it.
It is eternal, all-pervading, fixed, immovable and everlasting.
It is said to be unseeable, unknowable and unchangeable.
So, knowing it as such, you should not grieve.
Ironically, being unknowable naturally limits our ability to know it by simply talking about it. It must be known directly not just intellectually.
Even if you think of the yourself as continually being born and dying
you still do not have any reason to feel self-pity.
Here Krishna subtly points out that our mind is constantly looking for opportunities to feel sorry for ourselves for our unfair life. He knows that even with this profound and joyous teaching the mind will look for some way to feel sad about it.
Krishna stops Árjuna’s mind in advance from feeling self-pity over the fact of reincarnation by reminding him that he is just looking for an excuse to complain. You can look at reincarnation as either a glass half full or a glass half empty. We could either celebrate the fact that death is not the end or we could mourn the fact that we can’t escape the repercussion of our mistakes even in death.
Death is certain for those who have been born and birth is certain
for those who have died;
so, to grieve the inevitable makes no sense.
Krishna calls upon all Self-inquirers to stop complaining about or fearing death. The Self-inquirer is an investigator, a logician, who aspires to deductive reasoning. Krishna says that all true logic leads to fearlessness in the face of death because to fear the inevitable is the height of faulty reasoning.
It doesn’t make any sense to be afraid of what you cannot avoid. Isn’t that kind of fear the greatest waste of precious energy?
Creatures are unmanifest in the beginning, manifest in the middle,
and unmanifest again at the end, O Bhárata.
What is there to mourn for in this?
Before birth we were dwelling in a place without a physical body and after death we return there. What about this is worth getting so worked up about, Krishna asks.
Some have seen the mystery of the True Self, some have talked of the mystery of the True Self,
and others have heard about the mystery of the True Self.
Yet even after seeing, talking and hearing of the mystery
it remains a mystery.
The Self inquirer, after great effort, has a direct realization that he or she is only the “I AM” or essential consciousness. At that point the search is over. There is nothing more to be known. The everyday life questions of how, why, what and where remain a mystery that do not need to be solved. The mystery of life can then be appreciated and marveled at without the egoistic need to decode or scientifically understand it. Life no longer needs to be pondered over. You know that you created it all and that you are it all. Where would the desire to manipulate things using science come from after that realization?
The man or woman who has completed the Self-inquiry process knows that the drive to scientifically understand everything is egoistic and based in fear. The man or woman who knows the Self has nothing left to fear or desire because he or she knows without a doubt who he or she truly is and that this will never change no matter what.
Either way, the true in-dweller of the body is eternal and invulnerable,
so you shouldn’t grieve for any creature.
You should attend to your responsibilities and stand firm,
because there is nothing better for a warrior
than to fight for justice and righteousness.
Life is simple for the Jñani, the knower of the True Self. What is happening right now, the Jñani asks? A warrior is standing on the brink of battle, opposing a greedy selfish enemy who will not respond to diplomacy. What to do? Fight, of course.
Happy are the warriors who find such a battle, O Partha,
for it is an open door to a heavenly after life and
a greater rebirth.
Krishna is saying to Árjuna, “even if you are identified with the body; that is, you see yourself as just a royal warrior on a battlefield; you have good reason to fight this holy war.” A trained warrior who fights for a good cause after earnestly trying every peaceful option earns good karma and a greater rebirth.
If you don’t seize this opportunity to fight for what is right
as a warrior should,
then you will be considered a coward
and go down in disgrace and shame.
History will record you as a failure and to a man of such high standing
and honor as yourself, what is worse than that?
Happiness comes through Self-inquiry but your daily activities come from your social duties. There is no reason to shrink from your social duties once you know what is real versus unreal. The more abilities you have, the greater others respect you, the greater the scope of your duties.
Duties involve giving back within your areas of success. Such a gift acknowledges the many others who have helped you become successful. And so, a rich person has a social obligation to give money to help others. An educated person has a social obligation to teach wisdom. A famous person has a duty to use that influence to increase tolerance and virtue. An artist has a social duty to create inspiring images. Social duty comes from the gifts or skills that you have been given.
The great warriors will think that you fled the battle out of fear.
They who once held you in esteem will belittle you.
Your enemies will insult you, disparaging your prowess,
and what greater pain is there than this?
Spiritual success does not deny or negate worldly success. Árjuna does not have to retire his weapons and retreat to a cave in disgust in order to achieve the highest levels of spirituality.
Slain, you will reach heaven; victorious you will enjoy the earth.
Therefore, O son of Kuntí, stand up and fight!
Prepare yourself for battle by viewing as the same
both joy and sorrow, victory and defeat, gain and loss.
With such a mindset you will be forever beyond reproach.
Keep the mind focused on the I AM principle; the truth that you ARE eternal unborn BEINGNESS; and use the peace that results from that single-pointedness of mind to do your duty joyfully.
Thus, I have given you the practice and fruits of Sankhya philosophy [also called Self-inquiry].
Now I will speak to you of pure Yoga or union.
It is through this Yoga that you will be freed from karmic bondage.
Self-inquiry is a philosophically grounded spiritual approach that leads to the end of all investigative knowing but there is something else to practice in order to reach the highest level of perfection and purity. Krishna’s uses the simple word, Yoga, to describe this highest of all practices.
This word, Yoga, has come into everyday usage today in the western world so we must keep in mind that what Krishna is referring to here as “Yoga” is something different from the common use of the word.
Within the Hindu religion various different spiritual paths are recognized as valid, each one capable of leading to the highest level of perfection for a human being. The different paths fit different personalities so that everyone can find the right fit.
Some human beings think a lot while others live life primarily through emotions or feelings that they don’t feel a need to analyze. Some others are strong willed and forcefully direct their lives and others lives as well, without thinking too much or getting overly emotional. There are even people who don’t think much, aren’t very emotional nor are they strong willed but instead, focus all their energy on helping others to solve problems.
Hinduism offers a different spiritual path for each of these types, recognizing them as equally valid and equally profitable. For each of these types Hinduism offers Jñana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Rasa (sometimes called Kriya) Yoga and Karma Yoga, respectively.
What Krishna is about to teach Árjuna, however, is the essence or culmination of each of these individual Yogas. This Yoga is the end state or fruition of any and all of these individual Yogic paths.
The Bhagavad Gita is a culmination teaching and includes the perfection of all the individual paths within it. So far the fulfillment of Jñana Yoga has been described and now Krishna will introduce parts of the other branches.
In this Yoga no effort is fruitless for there are no failures.
Even a little exposure to this Yoga protects you from harm.
This Yoga produces a one-pointed mind,
while other paths are known for their many variations.
A one-pointed mind could also be described as the end of scattered thinking.
Many undiscerning spiritual seekers
are caught in the letter of Vedas,
speak flowery words
and declare that there is nothing beyond this.
In Krishna’s times the upper class of Brahmins or priests were in charge of applying and fulfilling the many rules and regulations that the Vedas prescribed for society. The Vedas are the main religious texts that give very precise directions on how to do everything from cooking to eating to taking baths. The Vedas also contained instructions for the proper way to live life for the other social classes as well: the warrior ruling class, the merchants, the laborers and so on.
Only the priestly Brahmins were to actually read the Vedas and hand out its rules and injunctions. This kept ancient Indian society functioning smoothly and harmoniously but, as Krishna states here, the rules of the Vedas could be overemphasized and the power of the Brahmin priests could be abused.
Krishna instructs Árjuna to do his duty as dictated by the Vedic instructions for his social class but the Bhagavad Gita is largely empty of the life micro-managing orientation of the Vedas.
The Bhagavad Gita is therefore a very empowering text. It effectively authorizes anyone or any social class to practice its teachings and potentially reach the highest state of perfection. Here Krishna directly criticizes overly arrogant priests who are not taking his directions as the highest. During a time when the Brahmin priests had a monopoly on most everything holy this text is therefore radical, even revolutionary.
These confused people are actually filled with desires, are themselves scheming to reach Heaven, promise good rebirth for specific actions and prescribe special rituals for the attainment of worldly enjoyment and power.
The main idea behind religious rituals is sacrifice, as Krishna will explain in detail later on in the Gita. Here he criticizes priests who have lost the sense of sacrifice and instead see rituals as a way of personal gain and so, sell them as such.
In the minds of these pleasure and power addicts steadfast wisdom capable of revealing the Truth is never generated.
I use the phrase “steadfast wisdom” where other translations use various other phrases; such as, “a mind made clear by meditation” (SM) or “devotional service to the Supreme Lord” (ISKCON).
The Vedas give an accurate description of the transitory. Go beyond the transitory, Árjuna! Become indifferent to the pairs of opposites that make up this fleeting life. Free yourself from thoughts of acquisition and comfort. Concentrate on the true Self alone.
Krishna is not throwing out the Vedas, he is just putting them in their proper place. The Vedas hold society together and prescribe the rites and injunctions that keep everything healthy. The Vedas minimize suffering in life but Krishna is teaching a Yoga that leads to the absolute end of suffering.
For any knower of the Truth the Vedas are like a well of water in the middle of a flooded town.
The central well in an Indian town is important to all its citizens but during a flood no one goes near it because the same water is now available in every direction. The Vedas are a tool to acquire the holiness and health that the knower of the Truth already has.
You have a right to the work but not to the results.
Therefore do not pin your happiness to the results of your labors nor abandon them out of frustration either.
Forgoing the right to have your actions work out in the way that you want them to is the same thing as letting go of control in life in the largest sense. It is not easy.
According to Krishna it is a huge accomplishment even if limited to only one single moment. This is because doing work without attachment to what the results will be imbues your work with a true sense of sacrifice and service.
Some translations and commentaries declare that forgoing your expectations for the results of your work is the quintessential act of devotional service to God in its Absolute un-nameable Oneness form. This is because such a surrender is impossible to do without a very positive outlook on life. How can you give up attachment to your own ability to make things happen in life without a belief that there is something/someone else who will take care of things?
Some texts say that this act of surrender and faith is nearly impossible for a human to do alone and so, Absolute Spirit incarnated in the form of Krishna (or Jesus or . . .) to make it easier. To give us someone pure to rely upon.
If, however, you are one of those rare souls who is actually doing work that makes you happy and it is work that is meant to better the lives of other people as well, then you could see this verse as the greatest cause for joy in the whole world.
For such a person, this verse says, just do your work and do as much of it as you can and don’t worry about whether you are respected for it or not, you will eventually be rewarded. The work itself is holy if done with the right attitude. This is a green light to let go of how your work is received. Just do it as best as you can with a desire to serve.
Engage yourself in your duties with a single-pointed mind focused on this Yoga, O Dhanamjaya (Árjuna).
Abandon attachment to results and so, gain an equanimity amidst success or failure.
This equanimity is Yoga.
Equanimity is this Yoga and equanimity is not possible without a surrender of the results of our actions and that surrender is not possible without some degree of faith. So be persistently positive, Krishna teaches, and gain equanimity while you do your work.
There is no action that is as important as Yogic equanimity.
Take refuge in a clear vision of the Truth.
Pitiful are the lives of those tied to the results of their actions.
The alternative to surrender is pitiful, Krishna explains. What is the alternative? What most of us are already doing; depending on our own abilities and struggling through life experiencing elation when we are successful and experiencing depression when we are defeated. Believing that everything depends on our own abilities we are stressed, frantic even, with no hope of that ever ending.
He whose mind is focused on this Yoga
abandons the idea that there is such a thing
as good versus bad results from an action.
Therefore devote yourself to this Yoga because Yoga makes all actions skillful, healthy and easy.
The way that Krishna explains it is so simple. Abandon the path of fruitless, endless struggle, he says, take up this Yoga and turn to the Eternal omnipresent I AM for all things. Do your best and leave the results of your actions to the one who is really in control. This is faith, “shraddha” or persistent positivity.
The wise, their intellect fixed one pointedly on the I AM, having renounced the fruits of action, escape the wheel of rebirth and go beyond all suffering.
In verse 50 Krishna taught that this Yoga leads to skillfully performed actions within a healthy and easy life. That alone seems good enough for me.
In this verse however, he adds that the benefits go way beyond success and happiness in this life. Here he says that we can go beyond karma forever through this Yoga. Going beyond karma must mean some unimaginable level of freedom since it is only the reactions from our past misdeeds (which is karma) that limit us either internally or externally right now. Going beyond karma is going beyond limits.
In chapter 4 Krishna will go into greater detail about karma and its cyclic wheel of suffering.
When your intellect crosses beyond the taint of illusion then you will reach the end of knowledge and be indifferent to any further learning.
Krishna says that through this Yoga we can have a direct and irrefutable experience of the Absolute Truth concerning who we are and what everything in life is all about. After this experience we don’t have to worry about knowing anything ever again.
This is worth pondering over for a while. What would it look like to not NEED to know the facts of our life or the facts of our environment in any given moment?
What would life be like without the stress of having to KNOW where my car is, where my wallet is or where the rent money will come from? Is it possible to even imagine such a state?
When your intellect is focused solely on the truth, on the true Self, unaffected by any passing opinions,
then you will obtain this Yoga.
We are all taught from an early age what we are supposed to think about, what is important in life. Part of that training involves automatically evaluating our life on the basis of what other people think. But Krishna says that we have to let go of other people’s opinions in general in order to practice this Yoga.
Árjuna then asked:
How can such a person be recognized, O Keshava?
How does he speak? How does he walk? How does his sit?
This question is in itself an important teaching within the Bhagavad Gita, maybe the most central one. This question teaches us how important “satsang” is to happiness and spiritual progress.
Árjuna asks Krishna, how do I find people who can help me progress with this Yoga? In other words, he asks Krishna how he can find satsang.
Satsang is a meeting of people who want to discuss Truth and help each other to find and follow it. The quality of a satsang is based on the presence of wise people. So how do we recognize and identify wise people, Árjuna asks?
The Blessed Lord replied:
When a person sheds even the deepest seated desires, O my dearest Partha (Árjuna),
when his soul is satisfied by Beingness alone,
then he or she can be called Perfected in this Yoga.
The one whose mind is not agitated in misfortune,
whose desire for pleasures has disappeared,
whose passion, fear and anger have dissolved,
can rightly be called a sage.
The one who has no real fondness for anything,
who neither celebrates nor is depressed by any outcome,
can be called established in wisdom.
When the intellect withdraws completely from the senses and their objects, just as a tortoise does its limbs,
then this sage is unassailable.
The sense objects disappear for the one who is disciplined and withdrawn but the taste for them remains.
Only after direct realization of the Supreme Truth does the desire itself for sense objects also fall away.
This verse appears at first to be a further description of the sage but hidden within it is also further instruction for Árjuna.
Krishna teaches Árjuna in this verse that disconnecting from the senses and their impressions must precede the direct realization of Truth which is the fruit of this Yoga. He re-emphasizes here the importance of getting free of the push and pull of the senses.
We smell something and we say “Mmmmmm . . .” and then we smell something else and we say “Uuugghhhh . . . .” We see something and we think “Mmmmmm . . .” and then we see something else and we turn away in disgust. We feel a soft sweater and purr and then we step into a cold shower and scream.
Krishna teaches that we cannot disconnect our taste for certain things and our aversions to others but we CAN refuse to revel in them. We can resist moving towards objects, smells, sounds that draw us and we can stop ourselves from moving away from what repulses us. This is self-control and it is crucial for entering into the Yoga Krishna is teaching.
This is also why Karma Yoga (or doing good deeds) is so helpful to the spiritually aspiring person. By vowing to do what is right, what it is our duty to do, we can practice non attachment to the senses because in doing our duty we will most likely have to do something that our senses resist and give up some things that our senses crave.
O son of Kuntí, the turbulent senses carry away the mind even of the striving, discerning spiritual seeker.
But control them he or she should, with a mind single-pointedly fixed on Me, while sitting in meditation.
Wisdom gets established with the sense organs under control.