top of page

Bhagavad Gita



Like the Sermon on the Mount, it has an immediacy that sweeps away time, place, and circumstance. Addressed to everyone, of whatever background or status, the Gita distills the loftiest truths of Indian's ancient wisdom into simple, memorable poetry that haunts the mind and informs the affairs of everyday life.

Historians surmise that like the Iliad, the Mahabharata might well be based on actual events, culminating in a war that took place somewhat around 1,000 B.C. - close to the very dawn to recorded Indian history. This guess has been supported by excavations as the ancient city of Dvaraka, which, according to the Mahabharata, was destroyed and submerged in the sea after the departure of its divine ruler, Krishna. Only 500 years or so before this, by generally accepted guess, Aryan tribes originally from the area between the Caspian Sea and the Hindu Kush mountains had migrated into the Indian subcontinent, bringing the prototype of the Sanskrit language and countless elements of belief and culture that have been part of the Hindu tradition ever since. The oldest part of the most ancient of Hindu scriptures, the Rig veda, dates from this period - about 1,500 B.C., if not earlier.

Yet the wellspring of Indian religious faith, I believe, can be traced to a much earlier epoch. When the Aryans entered the Indian subcontinent through the mountains of the Hindu Kush, they encountered a civilization on the banks of the Indus riverthat archeologists date back as far as 3,000 B.C. Roughly contemporaneous with the pyramid-builders on the Nile, these Indus-dwellers achieved a comparable level of technology. They had metalworkers skilled in sheet-making, riveting, and casting of copper and bronze, crafts and industries with standardized methods of production, land and sea trade with cultures as far away as Mesopotamia, and well-planned cities with water supply and public sanitation systems unequaled until the Romans. Evidence suggests that they may have used a decimal system of measurement. But most remarkable, images of Shiva as Yogeshvara, the Lord of Yoga, suggests that meditation was practiced in a civilization which flourished a millennium before the Vedas were committed to an oral tradition.

If this is so, it would imply that the same systematic attitude the Indus Valley dwellers applied to their technology was applied also to study of the mind. This was brahmavidya, the "supreme science" - supreme because where other sciences studies the external world, brahmavidya sought knowledge of an underlying reality which would inform all other studies and activities.

Whatever its origins, in the early part of the first millennium B.C. we find clearly stated both the methods and the discoveries of brahmavidya. With this introspective tool the inspired rishis (literally "seers") of ancient India analyzed their awareness of human experience to see if there was anything in it that was absolute. Their findings can be summarized in three statements which Aldous Huxley, following Leibnitz, has called the Perennial Philosophy because they appear in every age and civilization:

(1) there is an infinite, changeless reality beneath the world of change;

(2) this same reality lies at the core of every human personality;

(3) the purpose of life is to discover this reality experientially: that is, to realize God while here on earth.

These principles and the interior experiments for realizing them were taught systematically in "forest academies" of ashrams - a tradition which continues unbroken after some 3,000 years.

The discoveries of brahmavidya were systematically committed to memory (and eventually to writing) in the Upanishads, visionary documents that are the earliest and purest statement of the Perennial Philosophy. How many of these precious records once existed no one knows; a dozen that date from Vedic times have survived as part of the Hindu canon of authority, the four Vedas. All have one unmistakable hallmark; the vivid stamp of personal mystical experience. These are records of direct encounter with the divine. Tradition calls them shruti: literally "heard," as opposed to learned; they are their own authority. By convention, only the Vedas (including their Upanishads) are considered shruti, based on direct knowledge of God.

According to this definition, all other Indian scriptures - including the Gita - are secondary, dependent on the higher authority of the Vedas. However, this is a conventional distinction and one that might disguise the nature of the documents it classifies. In the literal sense the Gita too is shruti, owing its authority not to other scriptures but to the fact that it set down the direct mystical experience of a single author. Shankara, a towering mystic of the 9th century A.D. whose word carries the authority of Augustine, Eckart, and Aquionas all in one, must have felt this, for in selecting the minimum sources of Hinduism he passed over almost a hundred Upanishads of Vedic authority to choose ten central Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita.

The Gita, I would argue, is not an integral part of the Mahabharata. It is essentially an Upanishad, and my conjecture is that it was set down by an inspired seer (traditionally Vyasa) and inserted into the epic at the appropriate place. Other elements were added in this way to the Mahabharata, and to other popular secondary scriptures; it is an effective way of preserving new material in an oral tradition. There is also traditional weight behind this idea, for as far back an anyone cane trace, each chapter of the Gita has ended with the same formula: "In the Bhagavad-Gita Upanishad, the text on the supreme science (brahmavidya) of yoga, this is the chapter entitled..."

Only great genius would have placed the Gita in such a dramatic setting, but it stands out from the rest as a timeless, practical manual for daily living. To those who take this dramatic setting as part of the spiritual instruction and get entangles in the question of the Gita justifying war, Gandhi had a practical answer; just base your life on the Gita sincerely and systematically and see if you find killing or even hurting others compatible with its teachings. The very heart of the Gita's message is to see the Lord in every creature and act accordingly, and the scripture is full of verses to spell out what this means.

Scholars can debate the point forever, but when the Gita is practiced, I think, it becomes clear that the struggle the Gita is concerned with is the struggle for self-mastery. It was Vysasa's genius to take the whole great Mahabharata epic and see it as metaphor for the perennial war between the forces of light and the forces of darkness in every human heart. Arjuna and Krishna are then no longer merely characters in a literary masterpiece. Arjuna becomes Everyman, asking the Lord himself, Sri Krishna, the perennial questions about life and death - not as a philosopher, but as the quintessential man of action. Gita is not an external dialogue but an internal one; between the ordinary human personality, full of questions about the meaning of life, and our deepest Self, which is divine. This is not literary or philosophical conjecture; Krishna says as much to Arjuna over and over: "I am the Self in the heart of ever creature, Arjuna, and the beginning, middle, and end of their existence" In such statements the Gita distills the expense of the Upanishads, not piecemeal but comprehensively, offering their lofty insights as a manual not of philosophy but of everyday human activity - a handbook of the Perennial Philosophy unique in world history.

From the earliest times, Hinduism has proclaimed one God while accommodating worship of him/her. "Truth is one," says a famous verse of the Rig veda; " people call it by various names." In the Gita - in fact everywhere in Hindu myth and scripture - we also encounter "the gods" in the plural. These are he devas, deities which seem to have come in with the Aryans and which have recognizable counterparts in other Aryan-influenced cultures: Indra, god of war and storm; Varuna, god of waters and a moral overseer; Agni, god of fire, the Hermes-like intermediary between heaven and earth; and so on. The Gita refers to the devas as being worshipped by those who want to propitiate natural/supernatural powers, in much the same way that ancestors were worshipped. In modern terms, they can best be understood as personifying the forces of nature.

Atman and Brahman

The Upanishads are not systematic philosophy; they are more like ecstatic slide show of mystical experience - vivid, disjointed, stapes with the power of direct personal encounter with the divine. If they seem to embrace contradictions, that is because they do not try to smooth over the seams of these experiences. They simply set down what the rishis saw, viewing the ultimate reality from different levels of spiritual awareness, like snapshots of the same object from different angles: now seeing God as utterly transcendent, for example, now seeing God as immanent as well. These differences are not important, and the Upanishads agree on their central ideas:

Brahman, the Godhead;

Atman, the divine core of personality;

dharma, the law that expresses and maintains the unity of creation;

karma, the web of cause and effect;

samara, the cycle of birth and death;

moksha, the spiritual liberation that is life's supreme goal.

Even while ancient India was making breakthroughs in the natural sciences and mathematics, the sages of the Upanishads wee turning inward to analyze the data that nature presents to the mind. Penetrating below the sensed, they found not a world of solid separate objects but a ceaseless process of change - matter coming together, dissolving, and coming together again in a different form. Below this flux of things with "name and form," however, they found something changeless: an infinite, indivisible reality in which the transient data of the world cohere. They called this reality Brahman: the godhead, the divine ground of existence.

This analysis of the phenomenal world tallies well enough with contemporary physics. A physicist world reminds us that the things we see "out there" are not ultimately separate from each other and from us; we perceive them as separate because of the limitations of our senses. If our eyes were sensitive to a much finer spectrum, we might see the world as a continuous field of matter and energy. Nothing in this picture resembles a solid object in our unusual sense of the word. "The external world of physics," wrote Sir Arthur Eddington, "has thus become w world of shadows. In removing our illusions we remove the substance, for indeed we have seen that substance is one of the greatest of our illusion." Like the physicists, these ancient sages were seeking an invariant. They found it in Brahman.

In examining our knowledge of ourselves, the sages made a similar discovery. Instead of a single coherent personality, they found layer on layer of components - senses, emotions, will, intellect, ego - each in flux. At different times and in different company the same person seems to have different personalities. Moods shift and flicker even in those who are emotionally stable; desire s and opinions change with time. Change is the nature of the mind. The sages observed this flow of thoughts and sensations and asked, "Then where am I?" The parts do not add up to a whole; they just flow by. Like physical phenomena, the mind is a field of forces, no more the set of intelligence than radiation or gravity is. Just as the world dissolves into a sea of energy, the mind dissolves into a river of impressions and thoughts, a flow of fragmentary data that do not hold together.

Western philosophers have reasoned their way to a similar conclusion, but with them it was an intellectual exercise. David Hume confesses that whenever he was forced to conclude that his empirical ego was insubstantial, he went out for a walk, had a good dinner, and forgot all about it. For these ancient sages, however, these were not logical conclusions but personal discoveries. They were actually exploring the mind, testing each level of awareness by withdrawing consciousness to the level below. In profound meditation, they found, when consciousness is so acutely focused that it is utterly withdrawn from the body and mind, it enters a kind of singularity in which the sense of a separate ego disappears. In this state, the supreme climax of meditation, the seers discovered a core of consciousness beyond time and change. The called it simply Atman, the Self. I have described the discovery of Atman and Brahman - God immanent and God transcendent - as separate, but there is no real distinction. In the climax of meditation, the sage discovered unity: the same indivisible reality without and within. It was advaita, "not two." The Chandogya Upanishad says epigrammatically, Tat tvam asi: "Thou art That." Atman is Brahman: the Self in each person is not different from the Godhead.

Nor is it different from person to person. The Self is one, the same in every creature. This is not some peculiar tenet of the Hindu scriptures; it is the testimony of everyone who has undergone these experiments in the depths of consciousness and followed them through to the end. Here is Ruysbroeck, a great mystic of medieval Europe; every word is most carefully chosen:

The image of God is found essentially and personally in all mankind. Each possesses it whole, entire and undivided, and all together not more than one alone. In this way we are al one, intimately united in our eternal image, which is the image of God and the source in us of all our life.


In the unitive experience, every trace of separateness disappears; life if a seamless whole. But they body cannot remain in this state for long. After a while, awareness of mind and body returns, and then conventional world of multiplicity rushes in again with such vigor and vividness that the memory of unity, though stamped with reality, seems as distant as a dream. The unitive state has to be entered over and over until a person is established in it. But once established, even in the midst of ordinary life, one sees the One underlying the many, the Eternal beneath the ephemeral.

What is it that makes undivided reality paper to be a world of separate, transient objects? What makes each of us believe that we are the body rather than our own Self? The sages answered with a story still told after thousands of years. Imagine, they said, a man dreaming that he is being attacked by a tiger. His pulse will race, his fuss will clench, his forehead will be wet with the dew of fear - all just as if the attack were real. He will be able to describe the look of his tiger, the way he smelled, the sound of his roar. For him the tiger is real, and in a sense he is not wrong: the evidence he has is not qualitatively different from the kind of evidence we trust when we are awake. People have even died from the physiological effects of a potent dream. Only when we wake up can we realize that our dream-sensations, thought real to our nervous system, are a lower level of realitythan the waking state.

The Upanishads delineate three ordinary states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep. Each is real, but each has a higher order of reality. For beyond these three, the upanishads say, is the unitive state, called simply "the fourth": turiya. Entering this state is similar to waking up out of dream sleep: the individual passes from a lower level of reality to a higher one. The sages called the dream of waking life - the dream of separate, merely physical existence - by a suggestive name, maya. In general use the word meant a kind of magic, the power of a god or sorcerer to make a thing appear to be something else. In the Gita, maya becomes the creative power of the Godhead, the primal creative energy that makes unity paper as the world of innumerable separate things with "name and form."

Later philosophers explained maya in surprisingly contemporary terms. The mind, they said, observes the so-dolled outside world and sees its own structure. It reports that the world consists of a multiplicity of separate objects in a framework of time, space, and causality because these are the conditions of perception. In a word, the mind looks at unity and sees diversity; it looks at what is timeless and reports transience. And in fact the percepts of its experience are diverse and transient; on this level of experience, separateness is real. Our mistake is in taking this for ultimate reality, like the dreamer thinking that nothing is real except his dream.

Nowhere has this "mysterious Eastern notion" been formulated more succinctly than in the epigram of Ruysbroeck: "We behold what we are, and we are what we behold." When we look at unity through the instruments of the mind, we see diversity; when the mind is transcended, we enter a higher mode of knowing - turiya, the fourth state of consciousness - in which duality disappears. This does not mean, however, that the phenomenal world is an illusion or unreal. The illusion is the sense of separateness. Here again we can illustrate from physics: the world of "name and form" exists only as a condition of perception; at the subatomic level, separate phenomena dissolve into a flux of energy. The effort of maya is similar. The world of the senses is real, but it must be known for what it is: unity appearing as multiplicity.

Those who misidentify themselves with the conditions of perception in maya wake up into a higher mode of knowing in which the unity of life is apprehended directly. The disciplines for achieving this are called yoga, as is the state of union: the word comes from the root yuj, to yoke or bind together. The "experience" itself is called samadhi. And the state attained is moksha or nirvana, both of which signify king beyond the conditioning of maya -time, space, and causality. In this state we realize that we are not a physical creature but the Atman, the Self, and thus not separate from God. We see the world not as pieces but whole, and we see that whole as a manifestation of God.

Dharma, Karma, Rebirth, and Liberation

It has been said that if you understand just two words, dharma and karma, you will have grasped the essence of Hinduism. Both are deeply embedded in Hindu thought, and the Gita, like other Hindu scriptures, takes them for granted, not as theoretical premises but as facts of life that can be verified in personal experience. The word dharma means many things, but its underlying sense is "that which supports," from the root dhri, to support, hold up, or bear. Generally, dharma implies support from within: the essence of a thing, its virtue, that which makes it what it is.

An old story illumines this meaning with the highest ideal of Hinduism. A sage, seated beside the Ganges, notices a scorpion that has fallen into the water. He reaches down and rescues it, only to be stung. Some time later he looks down and see the scorpion thrashing about in the water again. Once more he reaches down to rescue it, and once more he is stung. A bystander, observing all this exclaims, "Holy one, why o you keep doing that? Don't you see that the wretched creature will only sting you in return?" "Of course, the sage replied. "It is the dharma of a scorpion to sting. But it is the dharma of human being to save."

On a large scale, dharma means the essential order of things, an integrity and harmony in the universe and the affairs of life that cannot be disturbed without causing chaos. Thus it means rightness, goodness, purpose rather than chance. Underlying this idea is the oneness of life; the Upanishadic discovery that all things are interconnected because at its deepest level creation is invisible. This oneness bestows a basic balance on the whole of nature such that any disturbance in one place has to send ripples everywhere as a perfect bubble, touched lightly in one place, trembles all over until balance is restored.

There is an ancient Sanskrit epigram, Ahimsa paramo dharma: the highest dharma is ahimsa, nonviolence, universal love for all living creatures; for every kind of violence is a violation of dharma, the fundamental law of the unity of life. Thus every act or thought has consequences, which themselves will have consequences; life if the most intricate web of interconnections. This is the law of karma, one of the most important and least understood ideas in ancient Indian thought. Karma is repeated so often in Gita that I want to illustrate it in some detail: some intuitive sense of karma as an organic law makes Krishna's teachings a good deal clearer.

Literally, the Sanskrit karma means something that is done. Often it can be translated as deed or action. The law of karma states simply that every event is both a cause and an effect. Every act has consequences of a similar kind, which in turn have further consequences and son on; and every act, every karma, is also the consequence of some previous karma. This refers not only to physical action but to mental activity as well. In their analysis of the phenomenal world and the world within the sages of the Upanishads found that there is not merely an accidental but an essential relationship between mental and physical activity. Given appropriate conditions to develop further, thoughts breed actions of some kind, as a seed can grow only into one particular kind of tree. The law of karma states unequivocally that though we cannot see the connections, we can be sure that everything that happens to us, good and bad, originated once in something we did or thought. We ourselves are responsible for what happens to us, whether or not we can understand how. It follows that we can change what happens to us by changing ourselves; we can take our destiny into our own hands.

The physical side of karma, however, only touches the surface of life. To get an inkling of how karma really works, we have to consider the mind. Everything we do produces karma in the mind. In fact, it is in the mind rather than the world that karma's seeds are planted. Aptly, Indian philosophy compares a thought to a seed: very tiny, but it can grow into a huge, deep-rooted, wide spreading tree. I have seen places where a seed in a crack of a pavement grew into a tree that tore up the sidewalk. It is difficult to remove such a tree, and terribly difficult to undo the effects of a lifetime of negative thinking, which can extend into many other people's lives. But it can be done and the purpose of the Gita is to show how.

The sages of the Upanishads saw personality as a field of forces. Packet of karma to them are forces that have to work themselves out; if the process is interrupted by death those forces remain until conditions allow them to work again in a new context. Sleep can illustrate the dynamics of this idea. In sleep a person passes in and out of two stages, dreaming and dreamless sleep. In the first, consciousness is withdrawn from the body and sensed but still engaged in the mind. In dreamless sleep, however, consciousness is withdrawn from the mind as well. Then the thinking process - even the sense of "I" - temporarily suspended, and consciousness is said to rest in the Self. In this state a person ceases to be a separate creature, a separate personality. In dreamless sleep, the Upanishad say, a king is not a king nor a pauper poor; no one is old or young, male or female, educated or ignorant. When consciousness returns to the mind, however the thinking process starts up again, and personality returns to the body.

According to this analysis, the ego dies every night. Every morning we pick up our desires where we left off: the same person, yet a little different too. The Upanishads describe dying as a very similar process. Consciousness is withdrawn from the body into the senses, from the senses into the mind, and finally consolidated in the ego; when the body is finally wrenched away, the ego remains, a potent package of desires and karma. And as our last waking thoughts shape our dreams, the contents of the unconscious at the time of death - the residue of all that we have thought and desired and lived for in the past - determine the context of our next life. We take a body again the sages say, to come back to just the conditions where our desires and karma can be fulfilled. The Self-realized person, however, has no karma to work out, no personal desires; at the time of death he or she is absorbed into the Lord.

Such a person, the Upanishads stress, can actually shed the body voluntarily when the hour of death arrives, by withdrawing consciousness step by step in full awareness. Some of the Gita's most fascinating verses, for those who can interpret them, are Krishna's instructions on how to die.

Yoga Psychology

In trying to describe their discoveries, the Upanishadic seers developed a specialized vocabulary. their terms were later elaborated by mystics who were also brilliant philosophers - Kapila, Shankara, and others, the ancient Indian counterparts of authorities like Augustine and Aquinas in the West. The most useful part of this vocabulary comes from Sankhya, the philosophical system whose practical counterpart is the school of meditation called Yoga. Both are traditionally traced to one towering authority, Kapila, and have much in common with Buddhist philosophy. An ancient saying celebrates their practicality: "There is no theory like Sankhya, no practice like Yoga." The Gita does not belong to the Sankhya school or to any other; it is as comprehensive as the Upanishads. But Sankhya provides a precise vocabulary for describing the workings of the mind, and the Gita draws on that vocabulary freely.

Sankhya philosophy posits two separate categories: Purusha, spirit, and prakriti, everything else. This is not the Western mind-matter distinction. Prakritiis the field of what can be known objectively, the field of phenomena the world of whatever has "name and form": that is, not only of matter and energy but also of the mind. As physics postulates a unified field from which all phenomena can be derived, Sankhya describes a field that includes mental phenomena as well. Mind, energy, and matter all belong to a field of forces. Purusha, pure spirit, is the knower of this field of phenomena, and belongs to a wholly different order of reality. Only Purusha is conscious - or, rather, Purusha is consciousness itself. What we call "mind" is only an internal instrument that Purusha uses, just as the body is its external instrument. For practical purposes - at least as far as the Gita is concerned - Purusha may be regarded as a synonym for Atman. Purusha is the Self, beyond all change, the same in every creature.

Sankhya's way of looking at the mind is very different from our usual physical orientation, and therefore impossible to absorb without reflection. Sankhya's hallmark is a list (sankya means counting or listing) of 24 principles or tattvas ("suchness") which trace the steps by which unitary, primordial prakriti becomes manifested as the countless forms of mind, matter, and energy that make up the world we live in. The tattvas are listed in the Gita:

The field, Arjuna, is made up of the following: the five areas of sense perception; five elements; the five sense organs and the five organs of action; the three components of the mind: mamas, buddhi, and ahamkara; and the undifferentiated energy [prakriti] from which all these evolved. (13:5)

I know of no English words to use for most of these 24 constituents. Manascorresponds roughly to mind the way that word is commonly used; buddhi is the discriminative faculty, intellect; ahamkara, literally "I-maker", is the sense of ego. I have used such rough labels in the translation which follows, but really they are technical terms with precise definitions, each associated with a specific function and level of consciousness. Approximations are misleading because they bring in associations from Western philosophy, which has a wholly different orientation. Behind all these categories lies a powerful, practical assumption: Sankhya is not trying to describe physical reality; it is analyzing consciousness, knowledge, for the sole purpose of unraveling the human being's true identity. So it does not begin with the material universe as something different and separate from the mind that perceives it. It does not talk about sense objects outside us and senses within and then try to get the two together. It begins with one world of experience. Sense objects and senses are not separate; they are two aspects of the same event. Mind, energy, and matter are a continuum, and the universe is not described as it might be in itself, but as it presents itself to the human mind. As they say in the "new physics," it is not just an observable universe but a participatory universe.

A brilliant neuroscientist I was reading recently say something similar in contemporary language: we never really encounter the world; all we experience is our own nervous system. When the Gita says that the material world is made up of five "material elements," then, it is talking about the world as we perceive it through our five senses. The objects of this world are in the mind, not outside. "Physical objects" in this sense require a mental component also: five "essences" or mental conditions of perception, each corresponding to one of the five senses. From these five derive on the one hand the five sense organs, and on the other hand the five material elements. You can see that the number five and the correspondences of Sankhya are not arbitrary, but reflect the ways we have of sorting electrical information supplied to the brain.

Four of these elements have names similar to those from ancient philosophy in the West - earth, air, fire, and water. But if we remember that we are talking about principles of perception rather than "earth-stuff", "fire-stuff," and so on, it should become clear that this is not an antiquated theory left behind by the progress of physical science. It is quite sophisticated and accommodates contemporary physical thought rather well, for it recognizes that in the act of knowing, the mind conditions what is known. Senses and sense objects, then, are very intimately related. There is a causal connection for example, between the things we see and the physical organ of seeing, the eye and its related branches of the nervous system: both depend on the underlying form in the mind that conditions how we perceive light. The objects we see are shaped by the way we see. So senses and sense objects "make sense" only together: each is incomplete without the other. That is why there is such a strong pull between sense and sense objects.

On the other hand, the Gita says, this pull has nothing to do with us - the Self, the knower. When Krishna keeps telling Arjuna to train his mind to be alike in pleasure and pain, he is simply being practical: to discover unity, consciousness has to be withdrawn from the hold of the senses, which ties it to duality.

When the senses contact sense objects, a person experiences cold or heat, pleasure or pain. These experiences are fleeting; they come and go. Bear them patiently, Arjuna. Those who are not affected by these changes, who are the same in pleasure and pain, are truly wise and fit for immortality. (2:14-15)

The sensory attraction of pleasure is just an interaction between inert elements of similar stuff, very much like a magnetic pull between two objects. We are not involved. In that way I can enjoy what my seses report without ever having to act compulsively on their likes and dislikes.

Sankhya's explanation of mind and body has profound implications for psychosomatic medicine. In a system where mental phenomena and biochemical events take place in the same field it is much easier to account for how ways of thinking affect the body. If one idea is central to yoga psychology, it is that thoughts are real and have real, tangible consequences, as we saw in the discussion of karma. Sankhya describes thoughts as packets of potential energy, which grow more and more solid when favorable conditions are present and obstacles are removed. They become desires, then habits, then way of living with physical consequences. Those consequences may look no more like thoughts than an oak tree looks like an acorn, but the Gita says they are just as intimately related. Just as a seed can grow into only one kind of tree, thoughts can produce effects only of the same nature. Kindness to others, to take just one example, favors a nervous system that is kind to itself.

Sankhya describes prakriti as a field of forces called gunas - a concept that gets a good deal of attention in the Gita. According to Sankhya, the evolution of primordial prakriti into mind and matter begins when the euilibrium of prakriti is disturbed. In Hindu myth this is the dawn of the Day of Brahma (8:17-21), a period of explosive expansion not unlike the Big Bang of modern cosmology. At his instant of creation thrown into imbalance, prakriti differentiates itself into three basic states or qualities of primordial energy. These are the gunas. Every state of matter and mind is a combination of these three:

tamas, inertia,

rajas, activity, and

sattva, harmony or equilibrium.

These are only rough translations, for the gunas have no equivalent in any other philosophy I know.

The gunas can be illustrated by comparison with the three states of matter in classical physics: solid, liquid, and gas. Tamas is frozen energy., the resistance of inertia. A block of ice has a good deal of energy in the chemical bonds that hold it together, but the energy is locked in, bound up, rigid. When the ice melts some of that energy is released as the water flows; rajas, activity, is like a swollen river, full of uncontrolled power. And sattva, harmony, can be compared with steam when its power is harnessed. These are very imprecise parallels, but they convey an important point about the gunas; all three are states of energy, and each can be converted into the others. Guna means strand, and in the Gita the gunas are described as the very fabric of existence, the veil that hides unity in a covering of diversity. Tamas is maya's power of concealment, the darkness or ignorance that hides unitive reality; rajas distracts and scatters awareness, turning it away from reality toward the diversity of the outside world. Thus the gunas are essentially born of the mind. When the mind's activity is stilled, we see life as it is.

We can also think of the gunas as different levels of consciousness. Tamas, the lowest level, is the vast unconscious, a chaotic dumping ground for the residue of past mental states. "Unconscious" in this sense has something in common with Jung's collective unconscious, in that it is the repository not only of past experiences but also of our evolutionary heritage, the basic drives of the human being's animal past. This record is shared, of course, by all human beings, and at its deepest levels the unconscious is universal. There is no choice in tamas, no awareness; this complete ignorance of the unity of life, ignorance of any other need than one's own basic urges. Rajas is what we ordinarily mean by mind, the incessant stream of thought that races along, desiring, worrying, resenting, scheming, competing, frustrating and getting frustrated. Rajas is power released, but uncontrolled and egocentric. Sattva, finally, is the so-called higher mind - detached, unruffled, self-controlled. This is not a state of repressive regulation, but the natural harmony that comes with unity of purpose, character, and desire. Negative state of mind do still come up, prompted by tamas and rajas, but there is no need to act on them.

According to Sankhya, everything in the world of mind and matter is an expression of all three gunas, with one guna always predominant. This becomes particularly interesting in describing personality as a field of forces. The raja sic person is full of energy; the tamasic person is sluggish, indifferent, insensitive; the sattvic person, calm, resourceful, compassionate, and selfless. Yet all three are always present at some level of awareness, and their proportions change: their interplay is the dynamics of personality. But Self is not involved in the guna's interaction; it is witness rather than participant.

The Essence of the Gita

The Gita does not present a system of philosophy. It offers something to every seeker after God, of whatever temperament, by whatever path. The reason for this universal appeal is that it is basically practical: it is a handbook for Self realization and a guide to action. Some scholars will find practicality a tall claim, because the Gita is full of lofty and even abstruse philosophy. Yet even its philosophy is not there to satisfy intellectual curiosity; it is meant to explain to spiritual aspirants why they are asked to undergo certain discipline. Lake any handbook, the Gita makes most sense when it is practiced.

As the traditional chapter titles put it, the Gita is brahmavidyayam yogashatra, a text book on the supreme science of yoga. But yoga is a word with many meanings - as many, perhaps, as there are paths to Self-realization. What kind of yoga does the Gita teach? The common answer is that it presents three yogas or even four - the hour main paths of Hindu mysticism. In jnana yoga, the yoga of knowledge, aspirants use their will and discrimination to misidentify themselves from the body, mind, and senses until they know they are nothing but the Self. The followers of bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion, achieve the same goal by identifying themselves completely wit the Lord in love; by and large, this is the path taken by most of the mystics of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Karma yoga, the yoga of selfless action, the aspirants dissolve their identification with body and mind by identifying with the whole of life, for getting the finite self in the service of others. And the followers of raja yoga, the yoga of mediation, discipline the mind and senses until the mind-process is suspended in a healing stillness and they merge in the Self. Indians like to classify, and the 18 chapters of the Gita are said to break into 3 parts (6 chapters each):

the first third deals with karma yoga,

the second with jnana yoga, and

the last with bhakti yoga.

The Gita begins with the way of selfless action, passes into the way of Self-knowledge, and ends with the way of love. This scheme is not tight, and non-Hindu readers may find it difficult to discover in the text. But the themes are there, and Krishna clearly shifts his emphasis as he goes on using this one word yoga. Thus the Gita offers something for every kind of spiritual aspirant, and for 2,000 years each of the major schools of Indian philosophy has quoted the Gita in defense of its particular claims. This fluidity sometimes exasperates scholars, who feel the Gita contradicts itself. It also puzzled Arjuna, the faithful representative of you and me. "Krishna," he says at the beginning of chapter 3, "you've been telling me that knowledge [jnana] is better than action [karma]; so why do you urge me into such terrible action? Your words are inconsistent; they confuse me. Tell me one path to the highest good" (3:1-2). No doubt he speaks for every reader at this point, and for those who go on wanting one path only, the confusion simply grows worse.

For those who try to practice the Gita, however, there is a thread of inner consistency running through Krishna's advice. Like a person walking around the same object, the Gita takes more than one point of view. Whenever Krishna describes one of the traditional paths to God he looks at it from the inside, extolling its virtues over the others. For the time being, that is the path; when he talks about yoga, he means that one particular yoga. The Gita brings together all the specialized senses of the word yoga to emphasize their common meaning: the sum of what one must do to realize the Self.

The thread through Krishna's teaching, the essence of the Gita, can be given in one word: renunciation. This is the common factor in the four yogas. it is a bleak word in English, conjuring up the austerity and self-deprivation enjoined on the monastic orders - the "poverty, chastity, and obedience" so perfectly embodied by Francis of Assisi. When the Gita promises "freedom through renunciation," the impression most of us get is that we are being asked to give up everything we want out of life. But this is not at all what the Gita means. It does not enjoin material renunciation, although it certainly encourages simplicity. As always, its emphasis is on the mind. It teaches that we can become free by giving up not material things, but selfish attachments to material things - and, more important, to people. It asks us to renounce not the enjoyment of life, but the clinging to selfish enjoyment whatever it may cost others. It pleads, in a word, for the renunciation of selfishness in thought, word, and action - a theme that is common to all mystics, West and East alike.

Mahatma Gandhi encapsulates the Gita's message in one phrase: nishkama karma, selfless action, work free from any selfish motives. In this special sense, whatever path the Gita is presenting at a given time, it remains essentially a manual of karma yoga, for it is addressed to the person who wants to realize God without giving up an active life in the world. In the Gita the four traditional yogas are not watertight compartments, and in practice, all of them blend and support each other on the path to Self-realization. Nishkama karma means literally work that is without karma, that is, without selfish desire. Karma is not desire; it is selfish desire. The Buddha calls it tanha, "thirst": the compulsive craving for personal satisfaction that demands to be slaked at any cost whether to oneself or to others. Thus the concept also includes what Western mystics call self-will --- the naked ego insisting on getting what it wants for its own gratification. The Gita teaches simply that this selfish craving is what makes a person feel separate from the rest of life. When it is extinguished - the literal meaning of nirvana - the mask of the transient, petty empirical ego falls, revealing our real Self.

Work hard in the world without any selfish attachment, the Gita counsels, and you will purify your consciousness of self-will. This is a mental discipline. Nishkama karma is not philanthropic activity; work can benefit others and still carry a substantial measure of ego involvement. Such work is good, but it is not yoga. Everything depends on the state of mind. Action without selfish motive purifies the mind. In the Gita this is said in many ways, and from differences in language it may seem that Krishna is giving different pieces of advice. In practice, however, it becomes evident that these are only various ways of saying the same thing. To begin with, Krishna often tell Arjuna to "renounce the fruits of action" (karma-phala):

You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself - without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind. (2:47-48)

What Krishna means is to give up attachment to the results of what you do: that is, to give your best to every undertaking without insisting that the results work out the way you want, or even whether what you do is pleasant or unpleasant. "You have the right to action, but not to the fruit of action": each of us has the obligation to act rightly, but no power to dictate what is to come of what we do. Mahatma Gandhi explains with the authority of his personal experience:

By detachment I mean that you must not worry wether the desired result follow from your action or not, so long as your motive is pure, your means correct. Really, it means that things will come right in the end if you take care of the means and leave the rest to Him. But renunciation of fruit in no way means indifference to the result. In regard to every acton one must know the result that is expected to follow, the means thereto, and the capacity for it. He who is without desire for the result and is yet wholly engrossed in the due fulfillment of the task before him, is said to have renounced the fruits of his action.

This attitude frees us completely. Whatever comes - success or failure, praise of blame, victory or defeat - we can give our best with a clear, unruffled mind. Nothing can shake our courage or break our will; no setback can depress us or make us feel "burned out." Clearly, as the Gita says, "Yoga is skill in action" (2:50). Only the person who is utterly detached and utterly dedicated, Gandhi says, is free to enjoy life. Asked to sum up his life "in 25 words or less," he replied, "I can do it in 3" and quoted the Isha Upanishad: "Renounce and enjoy."​ Krishna tells Arjuna repeatedly, "Fill your mind with me, focus every thought on me, think of me always"; then "you will be united with me" (see 9:34). The same injunction was given to Moses and reiterated by Jesus and Mohammed. In practical terms, it means that awareness will be integrated down to the deepest recess of the unconscious, which is precisely the significance of the word yoga.

Meister Eckhart says eloquently of this state:

Whoever has God in mind, simply and solely God, in all things, such a man carries God with him into all his works and into all places, and God alone does all his works. He seeks nothing but God; nothing seems good to him but God. He becomes one with God in every thought. Just as no multiplicity can dissipate God, so nothing can dissipate this man or make him multiple.

Thus we arrive at the idea of "actionless action": of persons so established in identification with the Self that in the midst of tireless service of those around them, they remain in inner peace, the still witness of action. They do not act, the Gita says; it is the Self that acts through them: "They alone see truly who see that all actions are performed by prakriti, while the Self remain unmoved" (13:29). Again , this is a universal testimony. Here is one of the most active of mystics, St. Catherine of Genoa:

When the soul is naughted and transformed, then of herself she neither works nor speaks nor wills, nor feels nor hears nor understands; neither has she of herself the feeling of outward or inward, where she may move. And in all things it is God who rules and guides her, without the mediation such utter peace and tranquility that it seems to her that her heart, and her bodily being, and all both within and without, is immersed in an ocean of utmost peace .... And she is so full of peace that though she press her flesh, her nerves, her bones, no other thing comes forth from them than peace.

Again, when the Gita talks about "inaction in the midst of action" (4:18, etc.), we can call on Ruysbroeck to illumine the seeming paradox. The person who has realized God, he says, mirrors both His aspects: "tranquility according to His essence, activity according to His nature: absolute repose, absolute fecundity." And he adds:

The interior person lives his life according to these two ways; that is to say, in rest and in work. And in each of them he is wholly and undividedly; for he dwells wholly in God in virtue of his restful fruition and wholly in himself in virtue of his active love.... This is the supreme summit of the inner life.

This is the only kind of inaction the Gita recommends. It is action of the most tireless kind; the only thing inactive is the ego. To live without the daily sacrifice (yajna) of selfless service - to work just for oneself, or worse, to do nothing at all is simply to be a thief (3:12). It is not possible to do nothing, Krishna says; the very nature of the mind is incessant activity. The Gita's goal is to harness this activity in selfless service, removing the poisonous agency of the ego: "As long as one has a body, one cannot renounce action altogether. Meister Eckhart explains,

To be right, a person must do one of two things: either he must learn to have God in his work and hold fast to him there, or he must give up his work altogether. Since, however, man cannot live without activities we must learn to keep God in everything we do, and whatever the job or place, keep on with him, letting nothing stand in our way.

Krishna wraps all this up in one famous verse: "Abandon all supports and look to me for protection. I shall purify you from the sins of the past; do not grieve" (18:66). Krishna is the Self; the words mean simply to cast aside external props and dependencies and rely on the Self alone, seeking strength nowhere but within. Why does selfless action lead to Self-realization? It is not a matter of "good action being divinely rewarded. Selfless work purifies consciousness because when there is no trace of ego involvement, new karma is not produced; the mind is simply working out the karma it has already accumulated.

Shankara illustrated this with the simile of a potter's wheel. The ego's job is to go on incessantly spinning the wheel of the mindand making karma-pots; new ideas to act on, fresh desires to pursue. When this pointless activity stops, no more pots are made, but for a while the wheel of the mind goes on spinning out of the momentum of its past karma. This is an anguishing period in the life of every mystic: you have done everything you can; now you can only wait with a kind of impatient patience. Eventually, for no reason that one can understand, the wheel does come to a stop, dissolving the mind-process in samadhi.

A Higher Image

Perhaps the clearest way to grasp the Gita is to look at the way it describes those who embody its teachings. There are portraits like this at the beginning of the Gita, the middle, and the end, each offering a model of our full human potential. The first is given at the end of chapter 2 (2:54-72), verses which Gandhi said hold the key to the entire Gita. Arjuna has just been told about Self-knowledge; now he asks a very practical question: when a person attain this knowledge, how does it show? How do such people conduct themselves in everyday life? Krishna delivers a surprise: the surest sign is that they have banished all selfish desires. Their senses and mind are completely trained, so they are free from sensory cravings and self-will. Identified completely with the Self, not with body or mind, they realize their immortality here on earth.

The implications of this are not spelled out; we have to see them in a living person. G. K. Chesterton once said that to understand the Sermon on the Mount, we should look not at Christ but at St. Francis. To understand the Gita I went to look at Mahatma Gandhi, who had done his best for 40 years to translate those verses into his daily life. Seeing him, I understood that those "who see themselves in all and all in them" would simply not be capable of harming others.

Augustine says daringly, "Love, then do as you like": nothing will come out of you but god ness. I saw what it means to rest in the midst of intense action. Most important, I grasped one of the most refreshing ideas in Hindu mysticism: original goodness. Since the Self is the core of every personality, no one need to acquire goodness or compassion; they are already there. All that is necessary is to remove the selfish habits that hide them.

12:13-20, 12:13-14, and 18:49-50, all three passages describe one person: vital, active, compassionate, self reliant in the highest sense, for he looks to the Self for everything and needs nothing from life but the opportunity to give.

This is not running away from life, is it is so often claimed. It is running into life, open-handed, open-armed: "flying, running, and rejoicing," says Thomas A Kempis, for "he is freed and will not be bound," never entangled in self-doubts,conflict, or vacillation.

This is what it means to be fully human; our ordinary lives of stimulus and response, getting and spending, seem by comparison as faint as remembered dreams. This flowering of the spirit appeals, I think, to everyone. "This is the true joy in life," says Bernard Shaw:

the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one;..... the being a force on Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

One of the most appealing features of Gita for our times is that it clears up misunderstandings about the spiritual life and show it for what it is: active, joyful, intentional, a middle path between extremes that transfigures everyday living.

Faith and Spiritual Evolution

One last untranslatable concept and I will let the Gita speak for itself. That concept is shraddha, and is nearest English equivalent is faith. I have translated it as such, but shraddha means much more. It is literally "that which is placed in the heart": all the beliefs we hold so deeply that we never think to question them. It is the set of values, axioms, prejudices, and prepossessions that colors our perceptions, governs our thinking, dictates our responses, and shapes our lives, generally without our even being aware of its presence and power.

Shraddha is not an intellectual abstraction. It is our very substance. The Gita says, "A person is what his shraddha is" (17:3). The Bible uses almost the same words: "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." But there is nothing passive about shraddha. It is full of potency, for it prompts action, conditions behavior, and determines how we see and therefore respond to the world around us.

When Norman Cousins talks about a "belief system" analogous to the body's organ systems, that is one aspect of shraddha; he is referring to the power to heal or harm that is inherent in our ideas of ourselves. One person with a serious illness beliebes he has a contribution to make to the world and so he recovers; another believes his life is worthless and he dies; that is the power of shraddha. Similarly, self-image is part of shraddha. One person believes she will succeed in life and overcomes great obstacles; another, who believes she can do nothing, may by more gifted and face fewer difficulties but accomplish very little. What we strive for shows what we value; we back our shraddha with our time, our energy, our very lives.

Thus shraddha determines destiny. As the Buddha puts it, "All that we are is the result of what we have thought. We are made of our thoughts; we are molded by our thought." As we think, so we become. This is true not only of individuals but of societies, institutions, and civilizations, according to the dominant ideas that shape their actions. "Right shraddha," according to the Gita, is faith in spiritual laws: in the unity of life, the presence of divinity in every person, the essentially spiritual nature of the human being. "Wrong shraddha" is not necessarily morally wrong, merely ignorant.

The purpose of karma is to tach the consequences of shraddha, so that by trial and error, life after life, the individual soul acquires the kind of faith that leads to fulfillment of life's supreme goal. It is not exclusive to the Gita or to Hinduism. Whether you like it or not, whether you know it or not," says Meister Eckhart, "secretly Nature seeks and hunts and tries to ferret out the track in which God may be found." Every person seeking satisfaction in the world outside - pleasure, power, profit, prestige - is really looking for God.

Ultimately, the Gita is not a book of commandments but a book of choices. It does mention sin, but mostly it talks about ignorance and its consequences. Krishna concludes, "Now, Arjuna, reflect on these words and then do as you choose" (18:63).

Choices are posed every moment. Every life offers no fiercer battle than this war within. Thus the Gita places human destiny entirely in human hands. We shape ourselves and our world by what we believe and think and act on. In this sense the Gita opens not on Kurukshetra but on dharmakshetra, the field of dharma, where Arjuna and Krishna are standing for us all.


Chapter 2 SELF-REALIZATION (Eknath Easwaran's version)


1 These are the words that Sri Krishna spoke to the despairing Arjuna, whose eyes were burning with tears of pity and confusion.


2 This despair and weakness in a time of crisis are mean and unworthy of you, Arjuna. How have you fallen into a state so far from the path to liberation? 3 It does not become you to yield to this weakness. Arise with a breve heart and destroy the enemy.


4 How can I ever bring myself to fight against Bhishma and Drona, who are worthy of reverence? How can I, Krishan? 5 Surely it would be better to spend my life begging than to kill these great and worthy souls! If K killed them, every pleasure I found would be tainted. 6 I don't even know which would be better, for us to conquer them or for them to conquer us. Tho sons of Dhritarashtra have confronted us; but why should we care to live if we killed them?

7 My will is paralyzed, and I am utterly confused. Tell me which is the better path for me. Let me be your disciple. I have fallen at you feet give me instruction. 8 What can overcome a sorrow that saps all my vitality? Even power over men and gods or the wealth of an empire seem empty.


9 This is how Arjuna, the great warrior, spoke to Sri Krishna. With the words, "O Krishna, I will not fight," he fell silent. 10 As they stood between the two armies, Sri Krishna smiled and replied to Arjuna, who had sunk into despair.


11 You speak sincerely, but your sorrow has no cause. The wise grieve neither for the living nor for the dead. 12 There has never been a time when you and I and the kings gathered here have not existed. 13 As the same person inhabits the body through childhood, youth, and old age, so too at the time of death he attains another body. The wise are not deluded by those changes.

14 When the senses contact sense objects, a person experiences cold or heat, pleasure or pain. Those experiences are fleeing; they come and go. Bear them ptiently, Arjuna. 15 Those who are unaffected by these changes, who are the same in pleasure and pain, are truly wise and fit for immortality. Assert your strength and realize this!

16 The impermanent has no reality; reality lies in the eternal. Those who have seen the boundary between those two have attained the end of all knowledge. 17 Realize that which pervades the universe and is indestructible; no power can affect this unchanging imperishable reality. 18 The body is mortal, but that which dwells in the body is immortal and immeasurable. Therefore, Arjuna, fight in this battle.

19 One believes he is the slayer, another believes he is the slain. Both are ignorant; there is neither slayer nor slain. 20 You were never born; you will never die. You have never changed; you can never change. Unborn, eternal, immutable, immemorial, you do not die when the body dies. 21 Realizing that which is indestructible, eternal, unborn, and unchanging, how can you slay or cause another to slay?

22 As one abandons worn-out clothes and acquires new ones, so when the body is worn out a new one is acquired by the Self, who lives within.

23 The Self cannot be pierced by weapons of burned by fire; water cannot wet it, nor can the wind ry it. 24 The Self cannot be pierced or burned, made wet or dry. It is everlasting and infinite, standing on the motionless foundations of eternity. 25 The Self is unmanifested, beyond all thought, beyond all change. Knowing this, you should not grieve.

26 O mighty Arjuna, even if you believe the Self to be subject to birth and death, you should not grieve. 27 Death is inevitable for the living; birth is inevitable for the dead. since these are unavoidable, you should not sorrow. 28 Every creature is unmanifested at first and then attains manifestation. When its end has come, it once again becomes unmanifested. What is there to lament in this?

29 The glory of the Self is beheld by a few, and a few describe it; a few listen, but many without understanding. 30 The Self of all beings, living within the body, is eternal and cannot be harmed. therefore, do not grieve.

31 Considering your dharma, you should not vacillate. For a warrior, nothing is higher than a war against evil. 32 The warrior confronted with such a war should be pleased, Arjuna, for it comes as an open gate to heaven. 33 But if you do not participate in this battle against evil, you will incur sin, violating your dharma and your honor.

34 The story of your dishonor will be repeated endlessly; and for a man of honor, dishonor is worse than death. 35 These brave warriors will think you have withdrawn from battle out of fear, and those who formerly esteemed you will treat you with disrespect. 36 Your enemies will ridicule your strength and say things that should not be said. What could be more painful than this?

37 Death means the attainment of heaven; victory means the enjoyment of the earth. Therefore rise up, Arjuna, resolved to fight! Having made yourself alike in pain and pleasure, profit and loss, victory and defeat, engage in this great battle and you will be freed from sin.

39 You have heard the intellectual explanation of Sankhya, Arjuna; now listen to the principles of yoga. By practicing these you can break through the bonds of karma. 40 On this path effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure. Even a little effort toward spiritual awareness will protect you from the greatest fear.

41 Those who follow this path, resolving deep within themselves to seek me alone, attain singleness of purpose. For those who lack resolution, the decisions of life are many-branched and endless.

42 There are ignorant people who speak flowery words and take delight in the letter of the law, saying that there is nothing else. 43 Their hearts are full of selfish desires, Arjuna. Their idea of heaven is their own enjoyment, and the aim of all their activities is pleasure and power. The fruit of their action is continual rebirth. 44 Those whose minds are swept away by the pursuit of pleasure and power are incapable of following the supreme goal and will not attain samadhi. 45 The scriptures describe the three gunas. But you should be free from the action of the gunas, established in eternal truth, self-controlled, without any sense of duality or the desire to acquire and hoard.

46 Just as a reservoir is of little use when the whole countryside is flooded, scriptures are of little use to the illumined man or women, who sees the Lord everywhere.

47 You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. 48 Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself - without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind.

49 Seek refuge in the attitude of detachment and you will amass the wealth of spiritual awareness. Those who are motivated only by desire for the fruits of action are miserable, for they are constantly anxious about the results of what they do. 50 When consciousness is unified, however all vain anxiety is left behind. There is no cause for worry, whether things go well or ill. Therefore devote yourself to the disciplines of yoga for yoga is skill in action.

51 The wise unify their consciousness and abandon attachment of the fruits of action, which binds a person to continual rebirth. Thus they attain a state beyond all evil.

52 When your mind has overcome the confusion of duality you will attain the state of holy indifference to things you hear and things you have heard. 53 When you are unmoved by the confusion of idea and your mind is completely united in deep samadhi, you will attain the state of perfect yoga.


54 Tell me of those who live established in wisdom, ever aware of the Self, O Krishna. how do they talk? How sit? How move about?


55 They live in wisdom who see themselves in all and all in them, who have renounced every selfish desire and sense craving tormenting the heart. 56 Neither agitated by grief nor hankering after pleasure, they live free from lust and fear and anger. Established in meditation, they are truly wise. 57 Fettered no more by selfish attachments, they are neither elated by good fortune nor depressed by bad. Such are the seers.

58 Even as a tortoise draws in its limbs the wise can draw in their senses at will. 59 Aspirants abstain from sense pleasures, but they still crave for them. These cravings all disappear when they see the highest goal. 60 Even of those who tread the path, the stormy senses can sweep off the mind. 61 They live in wisdom who subdue their senses and keep their minds ever absorbed in me.

62 When you keep thinking about sense objects attachment comes. Attachment breeds desire, the lust of possession that burn to anger. 63 Anger clouds the judgement; you can no longer learn from past mistakes. Lost is the power to choose between what is wise and what is unwise, and your life is utter waste. 64 But when yo move amidst the world of sense, free from attachment and aversion alike, 65 there comes the peace in which all sorrows end and you live in the wisdom of the Self.

66 The disunited mind is far from wise; how can it meditate? How be at peace? when you know no peace, how can you know joy? 67 when you let your mind follow the call of the sensed, they carry away your better judgement as storms drive a boat off its charted course on the sea.

68 Use all you power to free the senses from attachment and aversion alike and live in the full wisdom of the Self. 69 Such a sage awakens to light in the night of all creatures. That which the world calls day is the night of ignorance to the wise.

70 As rivers flow into the ocean but cannot make the vast ocean overflow, so flow the streams of the sense-world into the sea of peace that is the sage. But this is not so with the desirer of desires.

71 They are forever free who renounce all selfish desires and break away from the ego-cage of "I", "me," and "mine" to be united with the Lord. 72 This is the supreme state. Attain to this, and pass from death to immortality.



(Stephen Mitchell) (Eknath Easwaran)

1 Arjuna's Despair The War Within

2 The Practice of Yoga Self-Realization

3 The Yoga of Action Self-Service

4 The Yoga of Wisdom Wisdom of Action

5 The Yoga of Renunciation Renounce & Rejoice

6 The Yoga of Meditation The Practice of Meditation

7 Wisdom and Realization Wisdom from Realization

8 Absolute Freedom The Eternal Godhead

9 The Secret of Life The Royal Path

10 Divine Manifestations Divine Splendor

11 The Cosmic Vision The Cosmic Vision

12 The Yoga of Devotion The Way of Love

13 The Field and Its Knower The Field & the Knower

14 The Three Gunas The Forces of Evolution

15 The Ultimate Person The Supreme Self

16 Divine Traits and Demonic Traits Two Paths

17 Three Kinds of Faiths The Power of Faith

18 Freedom Through Renunciation Freedom & Renunciation


CHAPTER 2 THE PRACTICE OF YOGA (Stephen Mitchell version)

The blessed Lord Said:

1 Although you mean well, Arjuna, our sorrow is sheer deletion. Wise men do not grieve for the dead or for the living.

2 Never was there a time when I did not exist, or you, or these kings; nor will there come a time when we cease to be.

3 Just as, in this body, the Self passes through childhood, youth, and old age, so after death it passes to another body.

4 Physical sensations - cold and heat, pleasure and pain - are transient: they come and go; so bear them patiently, Arjuna.

5 Only the man who is unmoved by any sensations, the wise man indifferent to pleasure, to pain, is fit for becoming deathless.

6 Nonbeing can never be; being can never not be. Both these statements are obvious to those who have seen the truth.

7. The presence that pervades the universe is imperishable, unchanging, beyond both is and is not: how could it ever vanish?

8. These bodies come and end; but that vast embodied Self is ageless, fathomless, eternal. Therefore you must fight, Arjuna.

9 If you think that this Self can kill or think that it can be killed, you do not well understand reality's subtle ways.

10 It never was born; coming to be; it will never not be. Birthless, primordial, it does not die when the body dies.

11 Knowing that it is eternal, unborn, beyond destruction, how could you ever kill? And whom could you kill, Arjuna?

12 Just as you throw out used clothes and put on other clothes, new ones, the Self discards its used bodies and put on others that are new.

13. The sharpest sword will not pierce it; the hottest flame will not singe it; water will not make it moist; wind will not cause it to wither.

14 It cannot be pierced or singed, moistened or withered; it is vast, perfect and all-pervading, calm, immovable, timeless.

15. It is called the inconceivable, the Unmanifest, the Unchanging. If you understand it in this way, you have no reason for your sorrow.

16 Even if you think that Self is perpetually born and perpetually dies - even then, Arjuna, you have no reason for your sorrow.

17. Death is certain for the born; for the dead, rebirth is certain. Since both cannot be avoided, you have no reason for your sorrow.

18. Before birth, wings are unmanifest; between birth and death, manifest; at death, unmanifest again. What cause for grief in all this?

19. Some perceive it directly in al its awesomeness; others speak of it with wonder; others hear of it and never know it.

20. This Self who dwells in the body is inviolable, forever; therefore you have no cause to grieve for any being, Arjuna.

21 Know what your duty is and do it without hesitation. For a warrior, there is nothing better than a battle that duty enjoins.

22 Blessed are warriors who are given the chance of a battle like this, which calls them to do what is right and opens the gates of heaven.

23 But if you refuse the call to a righteous war, and shrink from what duty and honor dictate, you will bring down ruin on your head.

24 Decent men, for all time, will talk about your disgrace; and disgrace, for a man of honor, is a fate far worse than death.

25. These great heroes will think that fear has driven you from battle; all those who once esteemed you will think of you with contempt.

26. And your enemies will sneer and mock you: "The mighty Arjuna, that brave man - he slunk from the field like a dog." What deeper shame could there be?

27 If you are killed, you gain heaven; triumph, and you gain the earth. Therefore stand up, Arjuna; steady your mind to fight.

28. Indifferent to gain or loss, to victory or defeat, prepare yourself for the battle and do not succumb to sin.

29. This is philosophy's wisdom; now hear the wisdom of yoga. Armed with this understanding , you will shatter your karmic bonds.

30 On this path no effort is wasted, no gain is ever reversed; even a little of this practice will shelter you from great sorrow.

31 Resolute understanding is single-pointed, Arjuna; but the thoughts of the irresolute are many-branched and endless.

32 Foolish men talk of religion in cheap, sentimental words, leaning on the scriptures: "God speaks here, and here alone."

33 Driven by desire for pleasure and power, caught up in ritual, they strive to gain heaven; but rebirth is the only result of their striving.

34 They are lured by their own desires, besotted by the scriptures' words; their minds have not been made clear by the practice f meditation.

35. The scripts dwell in duality. Be beyond all opposites, Arjuna: anchored in the real, and free from all thoughts of wealth and comfort.

36. As unnecessary as a well is to a village on the banks of a river, so unnecessary are all scriptures to someone who has seen the truth.

37. You have a right to your actions, but never to your action's fruits. Act for the action's sake. And do not be attached to inaction.

38. Self-possessed, resolute, act without any thought of results, open to success or failure. This equanimity is yoga.

39. Action is far inferior to the yoga of insight, Arjuna. Pitiful are those who, acting are attached to their action's fruits.

40 The wise man lets go of all results, whether good or bad, and is focused on the action alone. Yoga is skill in actions.

41The wise man whose insight is firm, relinquishing the fruits of action, is freed from the bondage of rebirth and attains the place beyond sorrow.

42. When your understanding has passed beyond the thicket of delusions, there is nothing you need to learn from even the most sacred scripture.

43. Indifferent to scriptures, your mind stands by itself, unmoving, absorbed in deep meditation. This is the essence of yoga.

Arjuna Said:

44. How would you describe the man whose wisdom is steadfast, Krishna? How does the wise man speak? How does he sit, stand, walk?

The Blessed Lord Said:

45. When a man gives up all desires that emerge from the mind, and rests contented in the Self by the Self, he is called a man of firm wisdom.

46 He whose mind is untroubled by any misfortune, whose craving for pleasures has disappeared, who is free from greed, fear, anger, who is unattached to all things, who neither grieves nor rejoices if good or if bad things happen - that man is a man of firm wisdom.

47 Having drawn back all his senses from the objects of sense, as a tortoise draws back into its wheel, that man is a man of firm wisdom.

48. Sense-objects fad for the abstinent, yet the craving for them continues; but even the craving vanishes for someone who has seen the truth.

49. At first, although he continually tries to subdue them, the turbulent senses tear at his mind and violently carry it away.

50. Restraining the sensed, disciplined, he should focus his whole mind on me; when the senses are in his control, that man is a man of firm wisdom.

51. If a man keeps dwelling on sense-objects, attachment totem aides; from attachment, desire flares up; from desire, anger is born; from anger, confusion follows; from confusion, weakness of memory; weak memory - weak understanding; weak understanding - ruin.

52. But the man who is self-controlled, who meets the objects of the senses with neither craving nor aversion, will attain serenity at last.

53 In serenity, all his sorrows disappear at once, forever; when his heart has become serene, his understandings steadfast.

54. The undisciplined have no wisdom, no one-pointed concentration; with no concentration, no peace; with no peace, where can joy be?

55 When the mind constantly runs after the wandering senses, it drives away wisdom, like wind blowing a ship off course.

56. And so, Arjuna, when someone is able to withdraw his senses from every object of sensation, that man is a man of firm wisdom.

57 In the night of all beings, the wise man sees only the radiance of the Self; but the sense-world where all beings wake, for him is as dark as night.

58. The man whom desires enter as rivers flow into the sea, filled yet always unmoving - that man finds perfect peace.

58. Abandoning all desires, acting without craving, free from all thought of "I" and "mine," that man finds utter peace.

59. This is the divine state, Arjuna. Absorbed in it, everywhere, always, even at the moment of death, he vanishes, into God's bliss.

bottom of page