reading paper


t h e b h a g a va d g i t a ╯

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. (2:40)

Also in Th is Series

t h e d h a m m a p a d a

t h e u p a n i s h a d s

Th e Bhagavad Gita ╭

Introduced &

Translated by

E k n at h E a s wa r a n

Nilgiri Press

© 1985, 2007 by Th e Blue Mountain Center of Meditation

All rights reserved. Printed in Canada

Second edition. First printing May 2007

i s b n – 1 3 : 978–1–58638–019–9

i s b n – 1 0 : 1–58638–019–2

Library of Congress Control Number: 2006934966

Printed on recycled paper

Eknath Easwaran founded the Blue Mountain Center of

Meditation in Berkeley, California, in 1961. Th e Center

is a nonprofi t organization chartered with carrying on

Easwaran’s legacy and work. Nilgiri Press, a department

of the Center, publishes books on how to lead a spiritual

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Easwaran’s Eight Point Program for spiritual living at

retreats worldwide.

For information please visit, call

us at 800 475 2369 (USA and Canada) or 707 878 2369

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╭ Table of Contents

Foreword 7

Introduction 13

1 The War Within 71

2 Self-Realization 83

3 Selfl ess Service 99

4 Wisdom in Action 111

5 Renounce & Rejoice 123

6 The Practice of Meditation 133

7 Wisdom from Realization 147

8 The Eternal Godhead 157

9 The Royal Path 169

10 Divine Splendor 179

11 The Cosmic Vision 191

12 The Way of Love 203

13 The Field & the Knower 211

14 The Forces of Evolution 221

15 The Supreme Self 229

16 Two Paths 235

17 The Power of Faith 243

18 Freedom & Renunciation 251

Notes 267

Glossary 277

Index 289

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f o r e w o r d

╭ The Classics of Indian Spirituality

I m a g i n e a va s t hall in Anglo-Saxon England, not long aft er the passing of King Arthur. It is the dead of winter and a fi erce snowstorm rages outside, but a great fi re fi lls the space within the hall with warmth and light. Now and then, a sparrow darts in for refuge from the weather. It appears as if from nowhere, fl its about joyfully in the light, and then disappears again, and where it comes from and where it goes next in that stormy darkness, we do not know.

Our lives are like that, suggests an old story in Bede’s medi- eval history of England. We spend our days in the familiar world of our fi ve senses, but what lies beyond that, if anything, we have no idea. Th ose sparrows are hints of something more outside – a vast world, perhaps, waiting to be explored. But most of us are happy to stay where we are. We may even be a bit afraid to venture into the unknown. What would be the point, we ask. Why should we leave the world we know?

Yet there are always a few who are not content to spend their lives indoors. Simply knowing there is something un-

known beyond their reach makes them acutely restless. Th ey have to see what lies outside – if only, as George Mallory said of Everest, “because it’s there.”

Th is is true of adventurers of every kind, but especially of those who seek to explore not mountains or jungles but con- sciousness itself: whose real drive, we might say, is not so much to know the unknown as to know the knower. Such men and women can be found in every age and every culture. While the rest of us stay put, they quietly slip out to see what lies beyond.

Th en, so far as we can tell, they disappear. We have no idea where they have gone; we can’t even imagine. But every now and then, like friends who have run off to some exotic land, they send back reports: breathless messages describing fan- tastic adventures, rambling letters about a world beyond ordi- nary experience, urgent telegrams begging us to come and see. “Look at this view! Isn’t it breathtaking? Wish you could see this. Wish you were here.”

Th e works in this set of translations – the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Dhammapada – are among the earli- est and most universal of messages like these, sent to inform us that there is more to life than the everyday experience of our senses. Th e Upanishads are the oldest, so varied that we feel some unknown collectors must have tossed into a jumble all the photos, postcards, and letters from this world that they could fi nd, without any regard for source or circumstance.

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Th rown together like this, they form a kind of ecstatic slide- show – snapshots of towering peaks of consciousness taken at various times by diff erent observers and dispatched with just the barest kind of explanation. But those who have traveled those heights will recognize the views: “Oh, yes, that’s Ever- est from the northwest – must be late spring. And here we’re south, in the full snows of winter.”

Th e Dhammapada, too, is a collection – traditionally, say- ings of the Buddha, one of the very greatest of these explorers of consciousness. In this case the messages have been sorted, but not by a scheme that makes sense to us today. Instead of being grouped by theme or topic, they are gathered according to some dominant characteristic like a symbol or metaphor – fl owers, birds, a river, the sky – that makes them easy to com- mit to memory. If the Upanishads are like slides, the Dham- mapada seems more like a fi eld guide. Th is is lore picked up by someone who knows every step of the way through these strange lands. He can’t take us there, he explains, but he can show us the way: tell us what to look for, warn about missteps, advise us about detours, tell us what to avoid. Most important, he urges us that it is our destiny as human beings to make this journey ourselves. Everything else is secondary.

And the third of these classics, the Bhagavad Gita, gives us a map and guidebook. It gives a systematic overview of the territory, shows various approaches to the summit with their benefi ts and pitfalls, off ers recommendations, tells us what to

pack and what to leave behind. More than either of the oth- ers, it gives the sense of a personal guide. It asks and answers the questions that you or I might ask – questions not about philosophy or mysticism, but about how to live eff ectively in a world of challenge and change. Of these three, it is the Gita that has been my own personal guidebook, just as it was Mahatma Gandhi’s.

Th ese three texts are very personal records of a land- scape that is both real and universal. Th eir voices, passion- ately human, speak directly to you and me. Th ey describe the topography of consciousness itself, which belongs as much to us today as to these largely anonymous seers thousands of years ago. If the landscape seems dark in the light of sense perception, they tell us, it has an illumination of its own, and once our eyes adjust we can see in what Western mystics call this “divine dark” and verify their descriptions for ourselves.

And this world, they insist, is where we belong. Th is wider fi eld of consciousness is our native land. We are not cabin- dwellers, born to a life cramped and confi ned; we are meant to explore, to seek, to push the limits of our potential as human beings. Th e world of the senses is just a base camp: we are meant to be as much at home in consciousness as in the world of physical reality.

Th is is a message that thrills men and women in every age and culture. It is for such kindred spirits that these texts were originally composed, and it is for them in our own time that

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Th e Bhagavad Gita ╯

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I undertook these translations, in the conviction that they deserve an audience today as much as ever. If these books speak to even a handful of such readers, they will have served their purpose.

13 ╯

i n t r o d u c t i o n

╭ The Bhagavad Gita

M a n y y e a r s a g o , when I was still a graduate student, I traveled by train from central India to Simla, then the summer seat of the British government in India. We had not been long out of Delhi when suddenly a chattering of voices disturbed my reverie. I asked the man next to me if something had happened. “Kurukshetra!” he replied. “Th e next stop is Kurukshetra!”

I could understand the excitement. Kurukshetra, “the fi eld of the Kurus,” is the setting for the climactic battle of the Mahabharata, the vastest epic in any world literature, on which virtually every Hindu child in India is raised. Its char- acters, removed in time by some three thousand years, are as familiar to us as our relatives. Th e temper of the story is utterly contemporary; I can imagine it unfolding in the nuclear age as easily as in the dawn of Indian history. Th e Mahabharata is literature at its greatest – in fact, it has been called a literature in itself, comparable in its breadth and depth and character- ization to the whole of Greek literature or Shakespeare. But

╭ 14

what makes it unique is that embedded in this literary mas- terpiece is one of the fi nest mystical documents the world has seen: the Bhagavad Gita.

I must have heard the Gita recited thousands of times when I was growing up, but I don’t suppose it had any special signifi cance for me then. Not until I went to college and met Mahatma Gandhi did I begin to understand why nothing in the long, rich stretch of Indian culture has had a wider appeal, not only within India but outside as well. Today, aft er more than thirty years of devoted study, I would not hesitate to call it India’s most important gift to the world. Th e Gita has been translated into every major language and perhaps a hundred times into English alone; commentaries on it are said to be more numerous than on any other scripture. 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 loft iest truths of India’s ancient wisdom into simple, memorable poetry that haunts the mind and informs the aff airs of everyday life.

Everyone in our car got down from the train to wander for a few minutes on the now peaceful fi eld. Th ousands of years ago this was Armageddon. Th e air rang with the conch-horns and shouts of battle for eighteen days. Great phalanxes shaped like eagles and fi sh and the crescent moon surged back and forth in search of victory, until in the end almost every war- rior in the land lay slain.

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“Imagine!” my companion said to me in awe. “Bhishma and Drona commanded their armies here. Arjuna rode here, with Sri Krishna himself as his charioteer. Where you’re standing now – who knows? – Arjuna might have sat, his bow and arrows on the ground, while Krishna gave him the words of the Bhagavad Gita.”

Th e thought was thrilling. I felt the way Schliemann must have when he fi nally reached that desolate bluff of western Turkey and knew he was standing “on the ringing plains of windy Troy,” walking the same ground as Achilles, Odys- seus, Hector, and Helen. Yet at the same time, I felt I knew the setting of the Gita much more intimately than I could ever know this peaceful fi eld. Th e battlefi eld is a perfect backdrop, but the Gita’s subject is the war within, the struggle for self- mastery that every human being must wage if he or she is to emerge from life victorious.


Historians surmise that like the Iliad , the Mahabharata might well be based on actual events, culmi- nating in a war that took place somewhere around 1000 B.C.

– close, that is, to the very dawn of recorded Indian history. Th is guess has recently been supported by excavations at the ancient city of Dvaraka, which, according to the Mahabharata, was destroyed and submerged in the sea aft er the departure of its divine ruler, Krishna. Only fi ve hundred years or so before

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this, by generally accepted guess, Aryan tribes originally from the area between the Caspian Sea and the Hindu Kush moun- tains 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. Th e oldest part of the most ancient of Hindu scrip- tures, the Rig Veda, dates from this period – about 1500 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 river that archeologists date back as far as 3000 B.C. Roughly contemporaneous with the pyramid-builders on the Nile, these Indus-dwellers achieved a comparable level of technology. Th ey had metalworkers skilled in sheet-making, riveting, and casting of copper and bronze, craft s and indus- tries 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 sys- tems 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, suggest that meditation was practiced in a civilization which fl ourished a millennium before the Vedas were com- mitted to an oral tradition.

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If this is so, it would imply that the same systematic atti- tude the Indus Valley dwellers applied to their technology was applied also to study of the mind. Th is was brahmavidya, the

“supreme science” – supreme because where other sciences studied 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 fi rst millen- nium B.C. we fi nd 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. Th eir fi ndings 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 infi nite, 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. Th ese principles and the interior experi- ments for realizing them were taught systematically in “forest academies” or ashrams – a tradition which continues unbro- ken aft er some three thousand years.

Th e discoveries of brahmavidya were systematically com- mitted to memory (and eventually to writing) in the Upani- shads, visionary documents that are the earliest and purest

Th e Bhagavad Gita ╯

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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 hall- mark: the vivid stamp of personal mystical experience. Th ese 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 (includ- ing their Upanishads) are considered shruti, based on direct knowledge of God.

According to this defi nition, all other Indian scriptures – including the Gita – are secondary, dependent on the higher authority of the Vedas. However, this is a conventional dis- tinction and one that might disguise the nature of the docu- ments it classifi es. 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 ninth century A.D. whose word carries the authority of Augustine, Eckhart, and Aqui- nas all in one, must have felt this, for in selecting the mini- mum sources of Hinduism he passed over almost a hundred Upanishads of Vedic authority to choose ten central Upani- shads and the Bhagavad Gita.

Th e Gita, I would argue, is not an integral part of the Mahabharata. It is essentially an Upanishad, and my con- jecture is that it was set down by an inspired seer (tradition-

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ally 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 eff ective way of preserving new material in an oral tradition. Th ere is also traditional weight behind this idea, for as far back as any- one can 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 chap- ter entitled . . .”

Finally, by way of further support, we can observe that except for its fi rst chapter, which sets the stage, the Gita not only does not develop the action of the Mahabharata but is rather at odds with it. Battle lines are drawn – the climax of decades of dissension – and on the eve of combat, Prince Arjuna loses his nerve and asks his charioteer, Krishna, what to do. Th en what? Krishna – no ordinary charioteer, but an incarnation of God – enters into some seven hundred verses of sublime instruction on the nature of the soul and its relation to God, the levels of consciousness and reality, the makeup of the phenomenal world, and so on, culminating in a stu- pendous mystical experience in which he reveals himself to Arjuna as the transcendent Lord of life and death. He coun- sels Arjuna to be compassionate to friend and enemy alike, to see himself in every person, to suff er others’ sorrows as his own. Th en the Gita is over, the narration picks up again, and battle is joined – a terrible, desperate slaughter compromising

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everyone’s honor, by the end of which Arjuna’s side emerges victorious. But almost every man of fi ghting age on both sides has been slain. 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 spiri- tual instruction and get entangled 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 fi nd killing or even hurting others compatible with its teach- ings. (He makes the same point of the Sermon on the Mount.) Th e 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:

I am ever present to those who have realized me in every creature. Seeing all life as my manifestation, they are never separated from me. Th ey worship me in the hearts of all, and all their actions proceed from me. Wherever they may live, they abide in me. (6:30–31)

When a person responds to the joys and sorrows of others as if they were his own, he has attained the highest state of spiritual union. (6:32)

Th at one I love who is incapable of ill will, who is friendly and compassionate. (12:13)

Th ey alone see truly who see the Lord the same in every

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creature, who see the deathless in the hearts of all that die. Seeing the same Lord everywhere, they do not harm themselves or others. Th us they attain the supreme goal. (13:27–28)

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 Vyasa’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 liter- ary 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. Th us read, the 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.

Th ere is, in fact, no other way to read the Gita and grasp it as spiritual instruction. If I could off er only one key to under- standing this divine dialogue, it would be to remember that it takes place in the depths of consciousness and that Krishna is not some external being, human or superhuman, but the spark of divinity that lies at the core of the human personality. Th is is not literary or philosophical conjecture; Krishna says

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as much to Arjuna over and over: “I am the Self in the heart of every creature, Arjuna, and the beginning, middle, and end of their existence” (10:20).

In such statements the Gita distills the essence of the Upa- nishads, not piecemeal but comprehensively, off ering their loft y insights as a manual not of philosophy but of everyday human activity – a handbook of the Perennial Philosophy unique in world history.


Th e Gita, naturally enough, takes for granted that its audience is familiar with the basic ideas of Hindu reli- gious thought, almost all of which can be found in the Upa- nishads. It also uses some technical vocabulary from yoga psychology. All this needs to be explained in contemporary terms if the modern reader is to grasp what is essential and timeless in the Gita’s message and not get bogged down in strange terminology.

First, however, the non-Hindu faces a third obstacle: the multiplicity of names used for aspects of God. From the ear- liest times, Hinduism has proclaimed one God while accom- modating worship of him (or her, for to millions God is the Divine Mother) in many diff erent names. “Truth is one,” says a famous verse of the Rig Veda; “people call it by various names.” Monastic devotees might fi nd that Shiva embodies the austere detachment they seek; devotees who want to live

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“in the world,” partaking of its innocent pleasures but devoted to service of their fellow creatures, might fi nd in Krishna the perfect incarnation of their ideals. In every case, this clothing of the Infi nite in human form serves to focus a devotee’s love and to provide an inspiring ideal. But whatever form is wor- shipped, it is only an aspect of the same one God.

In the Gita – in fact, virtually everywhere in Hindu myth and scripture – we also encounter “the gods” in the plural. Th ese are the devas, deities which seem to have come in with the Aryans and which have recognizable counterparts in other Aryan-infl uenced cultures: Indra, god of war and storm; Var- una, god of waters and a moral overseer; Agni, god of fi re, the Hermes-like intermediary between heaven and earth; and so on. Th e Gita refers to the devas as being worshipped by those who want to propitiate natural and supernatural powers, in much the same way that ancestors were worshipped. In mod- ern terms, they can best be understood as personifying the forces of nature.

Th is question out of the way, we can proceed to the Upani- shadic background the Gita assumes.

Atman and Brahman

Th e Upanishads are not systematic philosophy; they are more like ecstatic slide shows of mystical experience

– vivid, disjointed, stamped with the power of direct personal encounter with the divine. If they seem to embrace contra-

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dictions, that is because they do not try to smooth over the seams of these experiences. Th ey simply set down what the rishis saw, viewing the ultimate reality from diff erent levels of spiritual awareness, like snapshots of the same object from diff erent angles: now seeing God as utterly transcendent, for example, now seeing God as immanent as well. Th ese diff er- ences 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 eff ect; sam- sara, the cycle of birth and death; moksha, the spiritual libera- tion that is life’s supreme goal.

Even while ancient India was making breakthroughs in the natural sciences and mathematics, the sages of the Upa- nishads were turning inward to analyze the data that nature presents to the mind. Penetrating below the senses, 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 diff erent form. Below this fl ux of things with “name and form,” however, they found something changeless: an infi nite, indivisible reality in which the tran- sient data of the world cohere. Th ey called this reality Brah- man: the Godhead, the divine ground of existence.

Th is analysis of the phenomenal world tallies well enough with contemporary physics. A physicist would remind us that the things we see “out there” are not ultimately separate

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from each other and from us; we perceive them as separate because of the limitations of our senses. If our eyes were sen- sitive to a much fi ner spectrum, we might see the world as a continuous fi eld of matter and energy. Nothing in this picture resembles a solid object in our usual sense of the word. “Th e external world of physics,” wrote Sir Arthur Eddington, “has thus become a world of shadows. In removing our illusions we remove the substance, for indeed we have seen that sub- stance is one of the greatest of our illusions.” Like the phys- icists, these ancient sages were seeking an invariant. Th ey found it in Brahman.

In examining our knowledge of ourselves, the sages made a similar discovery. Instead of a single coherent personal- ity, they found layer on layer of components – senses, emo- tions, will, intellect, ego – each in fl ux. At diff erent times and in diff erent company, the same person seems to have diff erent personalities. Moods shift and fl icker, even in those who are emotionally stable; desires and opinions change with time. Change is the nature of the mind. Th e sages observed this fl ow of thoughts and sensations and asked, “Th en where am I? ” Th e parts do not add up to a whole; they just fl ow by. Like physical phenomena, the mind is a fi eld of forces, no more the seat 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 fl ow of fragmentary data that do not hold together.

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Western philosophers have reasoned their way to a simi- lar conclusion, but with them it was an intellectual exercise. David Hume confesses that whenever he was forced to con- clude 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. Th ey 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 with- drawn 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. Th ey called it sim- ply 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 sages discovered unity : the same indivisible reality without and within. It was advaita, “not two.” Th e Chandogya Upa- nishad says epigrammatically, Tat tvam asi : “Th ou art Th at.” Atman is Brahman: the Self in each person is not diff erent from the Godhead.

Nor is it diff erent from person to person. Th e Self is one, the same in every creature. Th is is not some peculiar tenet of the Hindu scriptures; it is the testimony of everyone who has

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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:

Th e 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 all 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 sep- arateness disappears; life is a seamless whole. But the body cannot remain in this state for long. Aft er a while, awareness of mind and body returns, and then the 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. Th e unitive state has to be entered over and over until a person is established in it. But once estab- lished, 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 appear to be a world of separate, transient objects? What makes each of us believe that we are the body rather than our own Self? Th e sages answered with a story still told aft er thousands of years. Imagine, they said, a man dreaming that he is being attacked

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by a tiger. His pulse will race, his fi sts will clench, his fore- head 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 diff erent from the kind of evidence we trust when we are awake. People have even died from the physi- ological eff ects of a potent dream. Only when we wake up can we realize that our dream-sensations, though real to our nervous system, are a lower level of reality than the waking state.

Th e Upanishads delineate three ordinary states of con- sciousness: 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.

Th e 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 some- thing else. In the Gita, maya becomes the creative power of the Godhead, the primal creative energy that makes unity appear as the world of innumerable separate things with “name and form.”

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Later philosophers explained maya in surprisingly contem- porary terms. Th e mind, they said, observes the so-called out- side 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 diver- sity; 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 for- mulated 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. Th is does not mean, however, that the phenomenal world is an illusion or unreal. Th e illu- sion 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 fl ux of energy. Th e eff ect of maya is similar. Th e world of the senses is real, but it must be known for what it is: unity appearing as multiplicity.

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Th ose who disidentify 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. Th e 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. Th e “experience” itself (properly speaking, it is beyond experience) is called samadhi . And the state attained is moksha or nirvana, both of which signify going 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. Once identifi ed with the Self, we know that although the body will die, we will not die; our awareness of this identity is not ruptured by the death of the physical body. Th us we have realized the essential immortal- ity which is the birthright of every human being. To such a person, the Gita says, death is no more traumatic than taking off an old coat (2:22).

Life cannot off er any higher realization. Th e supreme goal of human existence has been attained. Th e man or woman who realizes God has everything and lacks nothing: having this, “they desire nothing else, and cannot be shaken by the heaviest burden of sorrow” (6:22). Life cannot threaten such a person; all it holds is the opportunity to love, to serve, and to give.

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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. Th is is a simplifi cation, but it would be diffi - cult to exaggerate the importance of these concepts. 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 verifi ed in personal experience.

Th e 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 scor- pion that has fallen into the water. He reaches down and res- cues it, only to be stung. Some time later he looks down and sees 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 do 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 a human being to save.”

On a larger scale, dharma means the essential order of

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things, an integrity and harmony in the universe and the aff airs of life that cannot be disturbed without courting chaos. Th us it means rightness, justice, 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 indivisible. Th is oneness bestows a basic balance on the whole of nature such that any distur- bance in one place has to send ripples everywhere, as a perfect bubble, touched lightly in one place, trembles all over until balance is restored. Th e implications are caught perfectly by those famous lines from John Donne, which deserve to be read now with a fresh eye as not merely great rhetoric but a faithful representation of reality:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

Th ere is an ancient Sanskrit epigram, Ahimsa paramo dharma : the highest dharma is ahimsa, nonviolence, univer- sal love for all living creatures; for every kind of violence is a violation of dharma, the fundamental law of the unity of life.

Th us every act or thought has consequences, which them-

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selves will have consequences; life is the most intricate web of interconnections. Th is is the law of karma, one of the most important and least understood ideas in ancient Indian thought. Karma is repeated so oft en in the 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. Oft en it can be translated as deed or action. Th e law of karma states simply that every event is both a cause and an eff ect. Every act has consequences of a similar kind, which in turn have further consequences and so on; and every act, every karma, is also the consequence of some previous karma.

Th is refers not only to physical action but to mental activ- ity 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 the same kind, as a seed can grow only into one particular kind of tree.

Baldly put, the law of karma says that whatever you do will come back to you. No one, of course, has the omniscience to see the picture fully. But the idea of a network of connec- tions, far from being occult, is natural and plausible. Th e 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

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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.

Th e physical side of karma, however, only touches the sur- face 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 dif- fi cult to remove such a tree, and terribly diffi cult to undo the eff ects 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.

Karma is sometimes considered punitive, a matter of get- ting one’s just desserts. Th is is accurate enough, but it is much more illuminating to consider karma an educative force whose purpose is to teach the individual to act in harmony with dharma – not to pursue selfi sh interests at the expense of others, but to contribute to life and consider the welfare of the whole. In this sense life is like a school; one can learn, one can graduate, one can skip a grade or stay behind. As long as a debt of karma remains, however, a person has to keep coming

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back for further education. Th at is the basis of samsara, the cycle of birth and death.

A good many wrong and misleading words have been writ- ten on this subject, largely because of the fascination it seems to hold in the West. Rightly understood, however, reincarna- tion is not exotic but quite natural. If personality consists of several sheaths, the body being only the outermost, there is no reason why personality should die when the body is shed. Th e sages of the Upanishads saw personality as a fi eld of forces. Packets of karma to them are forces that have to work them- selves out; if the process is interrupted by death, those forces remain until conditions allow them to work again in a new context.

Again, 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 fi rst, consciousness is withdrawn from the body and senses but still engaged in the mind. In dream- less sleep, however, consciousness is withdrawn from the mind as well. Th en the thinking process – even the sense of “I”

– is 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 Upanishads 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.

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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 diff erent too. Th e Upanishads describe dying as a very similar process. Consciousness is withdrawn from the body into the senses, from the senses into the mind, and fi nally consolidated in the ego; when the body is fi nally 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 con- ditions where our desires and karma can be fulfi lled. Th e Self- realized person, however, has no karma to work out, no per- sonal desires; at the time of death he or she is absorbed into the Lord:

But they for whom I am the supreme goal, who do all work renouncing self for me and meditate on me with single-hearted devotion, these I will swift ly rescue from the fragment’s cycle of birth and death, for their consciousness has entered into me. (12:6–7)

Such a person, the Upanishads stress, can actually shed the body voluntarily when the hour of death arrives, by with- drawing 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 (8:12–13).

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Y O G A P S Y C H O L O G Y In trying to describe their discoveries, the Upa-

nishadic seers developed a specialized vocabulary. Th eir terms were later elaborated by mystics who were also bril- liant philosophers – Kapila, Shankara, and others, the ancient Indian counterparts of authorities like Augustine and Aqui- nas in the West. Th e most useful part of this vocabulary comes from Sankhya, the philosophical system whose practi- cal 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: “Th ere is no theory like Sankhya, no practice like Yoga.”

Th e 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: Puru- sha, spirit, and prakriti, everything else. Th is is not the West- ern mind-matter distinction. Prakriti is the fi eld of what can be known objectively, the fi eld 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 unifi ed fi eld from which all phenomena can be derived, Sankhya describes a fi eld that includes mental phenomena as well. Mind, energy, and matter all belong to a fi eld of forces. Puru-

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sha, pure spirit, is the knower of this fi eld of phenomena, and belongs to a wholly diff erent 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.

Matter and Mind

Perhaps I should confess at this point that the paragraphs that follow in this short section are somewhat technical and not necessary for understanding the Gita. Th ey can be skipped by anyone who fi nds them dry. I include them simply because Sankhya’s explanation of mind and matter, when properly understood, makes sense of many subjects in the Gita that might otherwise seem arbitrary: maya, the sur- vival of personality aft er death, the way karma works through the mind. It accommodates modern physics perfectly and off ers promising explanations of mind-body relationships in health and disease. However, Sankhya’s way of looking at the mind is very diff erent from our usual physical orientation, and therefore impossible to absorb without refl ection.

Sankhya’s hallmark is a list ( sankhya means counting or listing) of twenty-four principles or tattvas (“suchnesses”) which trace the steps by which unitary, primordial prakriti

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becomes manifested as the countless forms of mind, matter, and energy that make up the world we live in. Th e tattvas are listed in the Gita:

Th e fi eld, Arjuna, is made up of the following: the fi ve areas of sense perception; the fi ve elements; the fi ve sense organs and the fi ve organs of action; the three components of the mind: manas, buddhi, and ahamkara; and the undiff erenti- ated energy [prakriti] from which all these evolved. (13:5)

I know of no English words to use for most of these twenty- four constituents. Manas corresponds roughly to mind the way that word is commonly used; buddhi is the discrimina- tive faculty, the discriminating 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 techni- cal terms with precise defi nitions, each associated with a spe- cifi c function and level of consciousness. Approximations are misleading because they bring in associations from Western philosophy, which has a wholly diff erent orientation. Behind all these categories lies a powerful, practical assumption: Sankhya is not trying to describe physical reality; it is analyz- ing consciousness, knowledge, for the sole purpose of unrav- eling the human being’s true identity. So it does not begin with the material universe as something diff erent 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

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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 participa- tory universe.

Let me illustrate. Th is morning I had a fresh mango for breakfast: a large, beautiful, fragrant one which had been allowed to ripen until just the right moment, when the skin was luminous with reds and oranges. You can see from that kind of description that I like mangoes. I must have eaten thousands of them when I was growing up, and I probably know most varieties intimately by their color, shape, fl avor, fragrance, and feel.

Sankhya would say that this mango I appreciated so much does not exist in the world outside – at least, not with the qualities I ascribed to it. Th e mango-in-itself, for example, is not red and orange; these are categories of a nervous system that can deal only with a narrow range of radiant energy. My dog Bogart would not see a luscious red and orange mango. He would see some gray mass with no distinguishing features, much less interesting to him than a piece of buttered toast. But my mind takes in messages from fi ve senses and fi ts them into a precise mango-form in consciousness, and that form

– nothing outside – is what I experience. Not that there is no “real” mango! But what I experience, the objects of my sense

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perception and my “knowing,” are in consciousness, nowhere else. A brilliant neuroscientist I was reading recently says 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 fi ve “material elements,” then, it is talking about the world as we perceive it through our fi ve senses. Th e objects of this world are in the mind, not outside. “Physical objects” in this sense require a mental component also: fi ve “essences” or mental conditions of perception, each corresponding to one of the fi ve senses. From these fi ve tanmatras derive on the one hand the fi ve sense organs, and on the other hand the fi ve material elements. You can see that the number fi ve and the correspon- dences of Sankhya are not arbitrary, but refl ect 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, fi re, and water. But if we remember that we are talking about principles of perception rather than “earth-stuff ,” “fi re-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 sophis- ticated 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.

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Th ere 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 under- lying form in the mind that conditions how we perceive light. Th e objects we see are shaped by the way we see. So senses and sense objects “make sense” only together: each is incom- plete without the other. Th at is why there is such a strong pull between senses 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 experi- ences cold or heat, pleasure or pain. Th ese experiences are fl eeting; they come and go. Bear them patiently, Arjuna. Th ose who are not aff ected by these changes, who are the same in pleasure and pain, are truly wise and fi t for immor- tality. (2:14–15)

Th e sensory attraction of pleasure is just an interaction between inert elements of similar stuff , very much like a mag- netic pull between two objects. We are not involved. When I look at a fresh, ripe mango, it is natural for my senses to respond; that is their nature. But I should be able to stand aside and watch this interaction with detachment, the way

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people stand and watch while movers unload a van. In that way I can enjoy what my senses 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 fi eld, it is much easier to account for how ways of thinking aff ect the body. If one idea is central to yoga psychol- ogy, it is that thoughts are real and have real, tangible con- sequences, 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. Th ey become desires, then hab- its, then ways of living with physical consequences. Th ose consequences may look no more like thoughts than an oak tree looks like an acorn, but the Gita says they are just as inti- mately related. Just as a seed can grow into only one kind of tree, thoughts can produce eff ects only of the same nature. Kindness to others, to take just one example, favors a nervous system that is kind to itself.

Th e Forces of Evolution

Sankhya describes prakriti as a fi eld of forces called gunas – a concept that gets a good deal of attention in the Gita.

According to Sankhya, the evolution of primordial prakriti

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into mind and matter begins when the equilibrium 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 this instant of cre- ation, thrown into imbalance, prakriti diff erentiates itself into three basic states or qualities of primordial energy. Th ese are the gunas. Every state of matter and mind is a combination of these three: tamas, inertia, rajas, activity, and sattva, har- mony or equilibrium. Th ese are only rough translations, for the gunas have no equivalent in any other philosophy I know.

Th e 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 fl ows; rajas, activity, is like a swollen river, full of uncontrolled power. And sattva, harmony, can be compared with steam when its power is harnessed. Th ese are very imprecise paral- lels, 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

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distracts and scatters awareness, turning it away from real- ity toward the diversity of the outside world. Th us 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 diff erent levels of con- sciousness. 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. Th is record is shared, of course, by all human beings, and at its deepest lev- els the unconscious is universal. Th ere is no choice in tamas, no awareness; this is 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, resent- ing, scheming, competing, frustrating and getting frustrated. Rajas is power released, but uncontrolled and egocentric.

Sattva, fi nally, is the so-called higher mind – detached, unruffl ed, self-controlled. Th is is not a state of repressive regulation, but the natural harmony that comes with unity of purpose, character, and desire. Negative states 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

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and matter is an expression of all three gunas, with one guna always predominant. Th is becomes particularly interesting in describing personality as a fi eld of forces. Th e rajasic person is full of energy; the tamasic person is sluggish, indiff erent, insensitive; the sattvic person, calm, resourceful, compas- sionate, and selfl ess. Yet all three are always present at some level of awareness, and their proportions change: their inter- play is the dynamics of personality. Th e same individual will have times when he is bursting with energy and times when inertia descends and paralyzes his will, times when he is thoughtful and other times when he is moving so fast that he never notices those around him. Th e person is the same; he is simply experiencing the play of the gunas. As long as he iden- tifi es with his body and mind, he is at the mercy of this play. But the Self is not involved in the gunas’ interaction; it is wit- ness rather than participant:

Without senses itself, it shines through the functioning of the senses. Completely independent, it supports all things. Beyond the gunas, it enjoys their play. (13:14)

Th e gunas form the basis of the most compassionate account of human nature I have come across in any philoso- phy or psychology, East or West. Th ey not only explain dif- ferences in character; they describe the basic forces of per- sonality and allow the possibility of reshaping ourselves aft er a higher ideal. Because personality is a process, the human being is constantly remaking himself or herself. Left to itself,

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the mind goes on repeating the same old habitual patterns of personality. By training the mind, however, anyone can learn to step in and change old ways of thinking; that is the central principle of yoga:

Reshape yourself through the power of your will; never let yourself be degraded by self-will. Th e will is the only friend of the Self, and the will is the only enemy of the Self. (6:5)

Th e Gita speaks of this kind of growth as part of spiritual evolution. In its natural state, consciousness is a continuous fl ow of awareness. But through the distorting action of the gunas, we have fallen from this native state into fragmented, sometimes stagnant awareness. Seeing through a divided mind, we see life divided wherever we look: separate selves, antagonistic interests, confl icts within ourselves. Evolution, according to the Gita, is a painfully slow return to our native state. First tamas must be transformed into rajas – apathy and insensitiveness into energetic, enthusiastic activity. But the energy of rajas is self-centered and dispersed; it must be harnessed to a higher ideal by the will. Th en it becomes sat- tva, when all this passionate energy is channeled into selfl ess action. Th is state is marked by happiness, a calm mind, abun- dant vitality, and the concentration of genius.

But even this is not the end. Th e goal of evolution is to return to unity: that is, to still the mind. Th en the soul rests in pure, unitary consciousness, which is a state of permanent joy.

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In the still mind, in the depths of meditation, the Self reveals itself. Beholding the Self by means of the Self, an aspirant knows the joy and peace of complete fulfi llment. (6:20)


Th e Gita does not present a system of philoso- phy. It off ers something to every seeker aft er God, of whatever temperament, by whatever path. Th e 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 fi nd practicality a tall claim, because the Gita is full of loft y 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 disciplines. Like any handbook, the Gita makes most sense when it is practiced.

As the traditional chapter titles put it, the Gita is brahma- vidyayam yogashastra, a textbook on the supreme science of yoga. But yoga is a word with many meanings – as many, per- haps, as there are paths to Self-realization. What kind of yoga does the Gita teach?

Th e common answer is that it presents three yogas or even four – the four main paths of Hindu mysticism. In jnana yoga, the yoga of knowledge, aspirants use their will and discrim- ination to disidentify themselves from the body, mind, and

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senses until they know they are nothing but the Self. Th e fol- lowers of bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion, achieve the same goal by identifying themselves completely with the Lord in love; by and large, this is the path taken by most of the mystics of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. In karma yoga, the yoga of selfl ess action, the aspirants dissolve their identifi cation with body and mind by identifying with the whole of life, for- getting the fi nite self in the service of others. And the follow- ers of raja yoga, the yoga of meditation, 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 eighteen chapters of the Gita are said to break into three six-chapter parts. Th e fi rst third, according to this, deals with karma yoga, the second with jnana yoga, and the last with bhakti yoga: that is, the Gita begins with the way of selfl ess action, passes into the way of Self-knowledge, and ends with the way of love. Th is scheme is not tight, and non-Hindu readers may fi nd it diffi cult to discover in the text. But the themes are there, and Krishna clearly shift s his emphasis as he goes on using this one word yoga . Here he focuses on transcendental knowledge, there on selfl ess action, here on meditation, there on love.

Th us the Gita off ers something for every kind of spiri- tual aspirant, and for two thousand years each of the major schools of Indian philosophy has quoted the Gita in defense of its particular claims. Th is fl uidity sometimes exasperates

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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 high- est 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. Th us “this ancient word” yoga, says Gandhi’s intimate friend and secretary, Mahadev Desai,

is pressed by the Gita into service to mean the entire gamut of human endeavor to storm the gates of heaven. . . . [It means] the yoking of all the powers of the body and the mind and soul to God; it means the discipline of the intel- lect, the mind, the emotions, the will, which such a yoking presupposes; it means a poise of the soul which enables one to look at life in all its aspects and evenly.

Th e Gita brings together all the specialized senses of the

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word yoga to emphasize their common meaning: the sum of what one must do to realize the Self.

Th e thread through Krishna’s teaching, the essence of the Gita, can be given in one word: renunciation. Th is is the com- mon factor in the four yogas. It is a bleak word in English, con- juring 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 prom- ises “freedom through renunciation,” the impression most of us get is that we are being asked to give up everything we want out of life; in this drab state, having lost whatever we value, we will be free from sorrow. Who wants that kind of freedom?

But this is not at all what the Gita means. It does not even enjoin material renunciation, although it certainly encour- ages simplicity. As always, its emphasis is on the mind. It teaches that we can become free by giving up not material things, but selfi sh attachments to material things – and, more important, to people. It asks us to renounce not the enjoy- ment of life, but the clinging to selfi sh enjoyment whatever it may cost others. It pleads, in a word, for the renunciation of selfi shness 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, selfl ess action, work free from any selfi sh motives. In this special sense, whatever path the Gita is presenting at a given time, it remains essentially a manual

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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 com- partments, 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 kama, that is, without selfi sh desire. Th is word kama – indeed the whole idea of desire in Hindu and Buddhist psychology – is frequently misunderstood. Th ese religions, it is sometimes held, teach an ideal of desireless action, a nirvana equated with the extinction of all desires. Th is drab view is far from the truth. Desire is the fuel of life; without desire nothing can be achieved, let alone so stupendous a feat as Self-realiza- tion. Kama is not desire; it is selfi sh desire. Th e Buddha calls it tanha, “ thirst”: the fi erce, compulsive craving for personal satisfaction that demands to be slaked at any cost, whether to oneself or to others. Th us the concept also includes what Western mystics call self-will – the naked ego insisting on get- ting what it wants for its own gratifi cation. Th e Gita teaches simply that this selfi sh 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 selfi sh attachment, the Gita counsels, and you will purify your consciousness of

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self-will. In this way any man or woman can gradually attain freedom from the bondage of selfi sh conditioning.

Th is is a mental discipline, not just a physical one, and I want to repeat that to understand the Gita, it is important to look beneath the surface of its injunctions and see the mental state involved. Nishkama karma is not “good works” or philan- thropic activity; work can benefi t others and still carry a sub- stantial measure of ego involvement. Such work is good, but it is not yoga. It may benefi t others, but it will not necessarily ben- efi t the doer. Everything depends on the state of mind. Action without selfi sh motive purifi es the mind: the doer is less likely to be ego-driven later. Th e same action done with a selfi sh motive entangles a person further, precisely by strengthening that motive so it is more likely to prompt selfi sh action again.

In the Gita this is said in many ways, and from diff erences in language it may seem that Krishna is giving diff erent pieces of advice. In practice, however, it becomes evident that these are only various ways of saying the same thing.

To begin with, Krishna oft en tells 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 – with- out selfi sh attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind. (2:47–48)

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“Fruits,” of course, means the outcome. 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 fruits 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 whether the desired result follows 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,” Gandhi warns,

in no way means indiff erence to the result. In regard to every action one must know the result that is expected to follow, the means thereto, and the capacity for it. He who, being thus equipped, is without desire for the result and is yet wholly engrossed in the due fulfi llment of the task before him, is said to have renounced the fruits of his action.

Th is attitude frees us completely. Whatever comes – suc- cess or failure, praise or blame, victory or defeat – we can give our best with a clear, unruffl ed mind. Nothing can shake our courage or break our will; no setback can depress us or make

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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 dedi- cated, Gandhi says, is free to enjoy life. Asked to sum up his life “in twenty-fi ve words or less,” he replied, “I can do it in three!” and quoted the Isha Upanishad: “Renounce and enjoy.” Th ose who are compulsively attached to the results of action cannot really enjoy what they do; they get downcast when things do not work out and cling more desperately when they do. So the Gita classifi es the karma of attachment as pleasant at fi rst, but “bitter as poison in the end” (18:38), because of the painful bondage of conditioning.

Again, Krishna repeatedly tells Arjuna to surrender every- thing to him in love. But this is not diff erent advice, merely diff erent words. Krishna is asking Arjuna to act entirely for His sake, not for any personal gain. Th e whole point of the path of love is to transform motivation from “I, I, I” to “thou, thou, thou” – that is, to surrender selfi sh attachments by dis- solving them in the desire to give.

Krishna puts this most beautifully in the famous verses of Chapter 9 which begin, “Whatever you do, make it an off er- ing to me” (9:27). Do it, that is, not for personal reward but out of love for the Lord, present in every creature. “Whatever you eat, whatever worship you perform, whatever you give, whatever you suff er”: everything is to be done and given and

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endured and enjoyed for the sake of the Lord in all, not for ourselves. Manmana : this is the refrain of the Gita. 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). Th e 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 deep- est recesses of the unconscious, which is precisely the signifi - cance 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.

Th us we arrive at the idea of “actionless action”: of per- sons so established in identifi cation with the Self that in the midst of tireless service of those around them, they remain in inner peace, the still witness of action. Th ey do not act, the Gita says; it is the Self that acts through them: “Th ey alone see truly who see that all actions are performed by prakriti, while the Self remains unmoved” (13:29). Again, this is a universal testimony. Here is one of the most active of mystics, St. Cath- erine of Genoa:

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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 of any creature. And the state of this soul is then a feeling of 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 fl esh, 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. Th e 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,

Th e 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. . . . Th is is the supreme summit of the inner life.

Th is 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 sacrifi ce ( yajna ) of selfl ess ser- vice – to work just for oneself, or worse, to do nothing at all

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– 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 activ- ity. Th e Gita’s goal is to harness this activity in selfl ess service, removing the poisonous agency of the ego: “As long as one has a body, one cannot renounce action altogether. True renunci- ation is giving up all desire for personal reward” (18:11). Meis- ter 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, how- ever, man cannot live without activities that are both human and various, 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.

It would be diffi cult to fi nd a better summary of the Gita’s message anywhere – and this, incidentally, from someone considered to represent the path of knowledge.

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 selfl ess action lead to Self-realization? It is not a matter of “good” action being divinely rewarded. Self-real-

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ization is not some kind of compensation for good deeds. We can understand the dynamics if we remember that the Gita’s emphasis is on the mind. Most human activity, good and bad, is tainted by ego-involvement. Such activity cannot purify consciousness, because it goes on generating new karma in the mind – in practical terms, we go on getting entangled in what we do. Selfl ess work purifi es 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 illustrates this with the simile of a potter’s wheel. Th e ego’s job is to go on incessantly spinning the wheel of the mind and 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. Th is 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.


Perhaps the clearest way to grasp the Gita is to look at the way it describes those who embody its teachings.

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Th ere are portraits like this at the beginning of the Gita, the middle, and the end, each off ering a model of our full human potential.

Th e fi rst 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 practi- cal question: when a person attains this knowledge, how does it show? How do such people conduct themselves in every- day life? We expect a list of virtues. Instead, Krishna delivers a surprise: the surest sign is that they have banished all selfi sh desires. Th eir senses and mind are completely trained, so they are free from sensory cravings and self-will. Identifi ed com- pletely with the Self, not with body or mind, they realize their immortality here on earth.

Th e 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 forty years to translate those verses into his daily life. Seeing him, I under- stood 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 goodness. I saw too what it meant to view one’s body with detachment: not indiff erence, but compassionate

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care as an instrument of service. 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 good- ness. Since the Self is the core of every personality, no one needs to acquire goodness or compassion; they are already there. All that is necessary is to remove the selfi sh habits that hide them.

Chapter 12 gives another portrait in its closing verses (12:13– 20), and here we do get an inspiring list of the marks of those who follow the path of love:

Th at one I love who is incapable of ill will, who is friendly and compassionate. Living beyond the reach of I and mine and of pleasure and pain, patient, contented, self-controlled, fi rm in faith, with all their heart and all their mind given to me – with such as these I am in love. (12:13–14)

And fi nally comes the passionate description with which the Gita ends, when Krishna tells Arjuna how to recognize the man or woman who has reached life’s supreme goal:

One who is free from selfi sh attachments, who has mastered himself and his passions, attains the supreme perfection of freedom from action. Listen and I shall esplain now, Arjuna, how one who has attained perfection also attains Brahman, the supreme consummation of wisdom. (18:49–50)

Th ese are not separate paths, separate ideals. All three pas- sages describe one person: vital, active, compassionate, self-

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reliant in the highest sense, for he looks to the Self for every- thing and needs nothing from life but the opportunity to give. In brief, such a person knows who he is, and in that knowing is everything.

Th is is not running away from life, as is so oft en claimed. It is running into life, open-handed, open-armed: “fl ying, run- ning, and rejoicing,” says Th omas à Kempis, for “he is free and will not be bound,” never entangled in self-doubts, confl ict, or vacillation. Far from being desireless – look at Gandhi, Cath- erine of Siena, St. Teresa, St. Francis – the man or woman who realizes God has yoked all human passions to the overrid- ing desire to give and love and serve; and in that unifi cation we can see, not the extinction of personality, but its full blos- soming. Th is 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. Th is fl owering of the spirit appeals, I think, to everyone. “Th is 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 of Nature instead of a feverish selfi sh little clod of ailments and grievances com- plaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

Instead of “Nature” with a capital N, of course, the Gita would say “an instrument of the Self ”; but that is the only dif- ference. One of the most appealing features of the Gita for our

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times is that it clears up misunderstandings about the spiri- tual life and shows it for what it is: active, joyful, intentional, a middle path between extremes that transfi gures everyday living.


One last untranslatable concept and I will let the Gita speak for itself. Th at concept is shraddha, and its 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.

Th is may sound philosophical, but shraddha is not an intellectual abstraction. It is our very substance. Th e Gita says, “A person is what his shraddha is” (17:3). Th e Bible uses almost the same words: “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Shraddha refl ects everything that we have made our- selves and points to what we have become. But there is noth- ing 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” anal-

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ogous to the body’s organ systems, that is one aspect of shrad- dha; he is referring to the power to heal or harm that is inher- ent in our ideas of ourselves. One person with a serious ill- ness believes 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 be more gift ed and face fewer diffi culties but accomplish very little.

Yet shraddha is not brute determination or wishful think- ing. When St. John of the Cross says “We live in what we love,” he is explaining shraddha. Th is is our world. Our lives are an eloquent expression of our belief: what we deem worth hav- ing, doing, attaining, being. What we strive for shows what we value; we back our shraddha with our time, our energy, our very lives.

Th us 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 thoughts.” As we think, so we become. Th is is true not only of individuals but of societies, institutions, and civilizations, according to the dominant ideas that shape their actions. Faith in technology, for example, is part of the shraddha of modern civilization.

“Right shraddha,” according to the Gita, is faith in spiri- tual laws: in the unity of life, the presence of divinity in every

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person, the essentially spiritual nature of the human being. “Wrong shraddha” is not necessarily morally wrong, merely ignorant. It means believing that there is no more to life than physical existence, that the human being is only a biochemi- cal entity, that happiness can be got by pursuing private inter- ests and ignoring the rest of life. Such beliefs are misplaced: we have attached our shraddha to beliefs that life cannot bear out. Sooner or later they must prove false, and then our shraddha changes. Like our thinking, therefore – like we our- selves – shraddha evolves. Th e purpose of karma is to teach the consequences of shraddha, so that by trial and error, life aft er life, the individual soul acquires the kind of faith that leads to fulfi llment of life’s supreme goal. Krishna explains the dynamics:

When a person is devoted to something with complete faith, I unify his faith in that. Th en, when faith is completely unifi ed, one gains the object of devotion. In this way, every desire is fulfi lled by me. (7:21–22)

Th is is perhaps the most compassionate insight into human evolution ever expressed. Th e Gita is steeped in it, but 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.” Th e whole purpose of every experience, every activity, every faculty, is to turn the human being inward and lead each of us back to our divine

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source. Th us every person seeking satisfaction in the world outside – pleasure, power, profi t, prestige – is really looking for God: “As they approach me, so I receive them. All paths, Arjuna, lead to me” (4:11).

Two forces pervade human life, the Gita says: the upward thrust of evolution and the downward pull of our evolution- ary past. Ultimately, then, the Gita is not a book of command- ments but a book of choices. It does mention sin, but mostly it talks about ignorance and its consequences. Krishna tells Arjuna about the Self, the forces of the mind, the relation- ship between thought and action, the law of karma, and then concludes, “Now, Arjuna, refl ect on these words and then do as you choose” (18:63). Th e struggle is between two halves of human nature, and choices are posed every moment. Every- one who has accepted this challenge, I think, will testify that life off ers no fi ercer battle than this war within. We have no choice about the fi ghting; it is built into human nature. But we do have the choice of which side to fi ght on:

Remembering me, you shall overcome all diffi culties through my grace. But if you will not heed me in your self- will, nothing will avail you. If you egotistically say, “I will not fi ght this battle,” your resolve will be useless; your own nature will drive you into it. (18:58–59)

Th erefore, remember me at all times and fi ght on. With your heart and mind intent on me, you will surely come to me. (8:7)

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Th us the Gita places human destiny entirely in human hands. Its world is not deterministic, but neither is it an expression of blind chance: we shape ourselves and our world by what we believe and think and act on, whether for good or for ill. In this sense the Gita opens not on Kurukshetra but on dharmakshetra, the fi eld of dharma, where Arjuna and Krishna are standing for us all.

t h e b h a g a va d g i t a ╯

Translated by Eknath Easwaran

Chapter Introductions by Diana Morrison

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c h a p t e r o n e

╭ The War Within

S R I K R I S H N A c o n s o l e s and instructs Prince Arjuna as he is about to go into battle against family and friends to defend his older brother’s claim to the ancient throne of the Kurus. Th us the great scripture called Bhagavad Gita, the “Song of the Lord,” begins. Sri Krishna is Bhagavan, “the Lord,” the mysterious incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the aspect of God who fosters and preserves the uni- verse against the forces constantly working to destroy and corrupt it. Krishna has appeared on earth as a royal prince of the house of the Yadavas; thus he combines earthly maj- esty with a hidden spiritual power. Most know him only as an unimportant prince, but the wise have seen him reveal his power to destroy evil and protect the good.

Th e battle of the Bhagavad Gita is not Krishna’s fi ght, how- ever; it is Arjuna’s. Krishna is only Arjuna’s charioteer and advisor. He has promised Arjuna that he will be with him throughout the ordeal, but much as he passionately hopes for Arjuna’s victory, he has sworn to be a noncombatant in

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the struggle. A charioteer’s position is a lowly one compared to the status and glory of the warrior he drives, but Krishna assumes this modest role out of love for Arjuna. As chario- teer, he is in a perfect position to give advice and encourage- ment to Arjuna without violating his promise not to join the fi ght himself.

To secure their claim to the throne, Arjuna and his broth- ers must fi ght not an alien army but their own cousins, who have held the kingdom for many years. Tragically, the forces against them include their own uncle, the blind king Dhrita- rashtra, and even the revered teachers and elders who guided Arjuna and his brothers when they were young. Arjuna, of course, wants to win the throne for his brother, who is the rightful heir to the Kuru dynasty and has endured many wrongs. But he is dismayed at the prospect of fi ghting his own people. Th us, on the morning the great battle is to begin, he turns to Krishna, his friend and spiritual advisor, and asks him the deeper questions about life that he has never asked before. Th e Bhagavad Gita is Krishna’s answer.

Other warriors who appear elsewhere in the drama are mentioned in this fi rst chapter of the Gita. To Indians these are familiar fi gures from the legendary past, but to most West- ern readers they will be unknown and even unpronounceable names. Arjuna and his brothers are known as the Pandavas, “the sons of Pandu”: Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Sahadeva, and Nakula. Th e other side is called the Kauravas, “the sons

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of Kuru.” Th is is somewhat misleading, for both sides of the royal family are Kurus by birth. But the Pandavas are now in the position of appearing to be the dissident faction, so they are called “sons of Pandu” to distinguish them from the larger family.

Pandu was once king of the kingdom of Hastinapura, but he retired into the forest on spiritual retreat and died young. His elder brother, Dhritarashtra, was blind since birth, so he was never named ruler, but he did share power with his brother. When Pandu died his eldest son, Yudhishthira, should have succeeded him; but because Yudhishthira was only a boy, Dhritarashtra continued on aft er Pandu’s death.

As time passed, however, Dhritarashtra’s attachment to his own eldest son, Duryodhana, gradually overcame him. Instead of rising to royal impartiality and allowing Yud- hishthira his fair claim, the old, blind king began to connive at his son’s demand to succeed to the throne. Actually, the line of succession had grown convoluted over several generations, and it was not unthinkable that Duryodhana should rule next. But Yudhishthira’s outstanding qualities and Duryod- hana’s corruption gradually decided the issue, at least from the moral point of view. For Duryodhana, the confl ict could be resolved only on the battlefi eld.

Other warriors are mentioned briefl y in chapter 1. Two particularly important fi gures in the Mahabharata story are Drona and Bhishma. Drona was born a brahmin, a member

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of the priestly caste, but in search of wealth he took up the way of the warrior and excelled in the knowledge of arms. He was the teacher, the guru, of all the royal princes in their youth, the sons of Pandu and the sons of Dhritarashtra alike. Th us it was he who taught both sides the skills of war – an irony which sharp-tongued Duryodhana points out in verse 3. Arjuna was Drona’s best pupil when it came to the bow, excelling even Drona’s own son, Ashvatthama.

Bhishma, “the grandsire” of both sides, is not actually the princes’ grandfather but a respected elder statesman. As Dhritarashtra’s advisor of many years’ standing, he considers it his duty to stand by his king and try to protect him from his weaknesses and wrong decisions.

Another fi gure introduced in chapter 1 is Sanjaya, who nar- rates the entire Gita to the blind king Dhritarashtra. Sanjaya is not present on the battlefi eld, but the text tells us that the sage Vyasa, the composer of the Gita, has given him divine sight so that he can see and report everything.

Chapter 1 leaves us acutely aware that we are on a battle- fi eld, waiting for a catastrophic war to begin; but once Krishna begins his instruction, we leave the battlefi eld behind and enter the realms of philosophy and mystical vision. Th e fi rst chapter is but a bridge to the real subjects of the Gita, and thus need not detain us too long in our study of the poem.

Yet the fi rst chapter has caused a great deal of debate, largely because of what it has to say about the morality of war.

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Basically there have been two points of view, which are almost (but perhaps not completely) irreconcilable. First, there is the orthodox Hindu viewpoint that the Gita condones war for the warrior class: it is the dharma, the moral duty, of soldiers to fi ght in a good cause, though never for evil leaders. (It should be added that this is part of an elaborate and highly chival- rous code prescribing the just rules of war.) According to this orthodox view, the lesson of the Mahabharata (and therefore of the Gita) is that although war is evil, it is an evil that cannot be avoided – an evil both tragic and honorable for the war- rior himself. War in a just cause, justly waged, is also in accord with the divine will. Because of this, in the Mahabharata, Yudhishthira and his noble brothers fi nd their peace in the next world when they have fi nished their duty on earth.

Th e mystics’ point of view is more subtle. For them the battle is an allegory, a cosmic struggle between good and evil. Krishna has revealed himself on earth to reestablish righteousness, and he is asking Arjuna to engage in a spiri- tual struggle, not a worldly one. According to this interpre- tation, Arjuna is asked to fi ght not his kith and kin but his own lower self. Mahatma Gandhi, who based his daily life on the Gita from his twenties on, felt it would be impossible to live the kind of life taught in the Gita and still engage in vio- lence. To argue that the Gita condones violence, he said, was to give importance only to its opening verses – its preface, so to speak – and ignore the scripture itself.

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For some, it helps clarify this question to look upon the Gita as an Upanishad, a mystical statement from the Vedas, that was incorporated into the warrior epic of a later age. Chapter 1 of the Gita then forms a rather perilous bridge between the warrior’s world and the essential part of the Gita – Sri Krishna’s revelations of spiritual truth.

– d.m.

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1 ╭ Th e War Within

d h r i ta r a s h t r a

1 O Sanjaya, tell me what happened at Kurukshetra, the fi eld of dharma, where my family and the Pandavas gathered to fi ght.

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2 Having surveyed the forces of the Pandavas arrayed for battle, prince Duryodhana approached his teacher, Drona, and spoke. 3 “O my teacher, look at this mighty army of the Pandavas, assembled by your own gift ed disciple, Yudhishthira. 4 Th ere are heroic warriors and great archers who are the equals of Bhima and Arjuna: Yuyudhana, Virata, the mighty Drupada, 5 Dhrishtaketu, Chekitana, the valiant king of Kashi, Purujit, Kuntibhoja, the great leader Shaibya, 6the powerful Yudhamanyu, the valiant Uttamaujas, and the son of Subhadra, in addition to the sons of Draupadi. All these command mighty chariots.

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7 “O best of brahmins, listen to the names of those who are distinguished among our own forces: 8 Bhishma, Karna, and the victorious Kripa; Ashvatthama, Vikarna, and the son of Somadatta.

9 “Th ere are many others, too, heroes giving up their lives for my sake, all profi cient in war and armed with a variety of weapons. 10 Our army is unlimited and commanded by Bhishma; theirs is small and commanded by Bhima. 11 Let everyone take his proper place and stand fi rm supporting Bhishma!”

12 Th en the powerful Bhishma, the grandsire, oldest of all the Kurus, in order to cheer Duryodhana, roared like a lion and blew his conch horn. 13 And aft er Bhishma, a tremendous noise arose of conchs and cow horns and pounding on drums.

14 Th en Sri Krishna and Arjuna, who were standing in a mighty chariot yoked with white horses, blew their divine conchs. 15 Sri Krishna blew the conch named Panchajanya, and Arjuna blew that called Devadatta. Th e mighty Bhima blew the huge conch Paundra. 16 Yudhishthira, the king, the son of Kunti, blew the conch Anantavijaya; Nakula and Sahadeva blew their conchs as well. 17 Th en

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the king of Kashi, the leading bowman, the great warrior Shikhandi, Dhrishtadyumna, Virata, the invincible Satyaki, 18 Drupada, all the sons of Draupadi, and the strong-armed son of Subhadra joined in, 19 and the noise tore through the heart of Duryodhana’s army. Indeed, the sound was tumultuous, echoing throughout heaven and earth.

20 Th en, O Dhritarashtra, lord of the earth, having seen your son’s forces set in their places and the fi ghting about to begin, Arjuna spoke these words to Sri Krishna:

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21 O Krishna, drive my chariot between the two armies. 22 I want to see those who desire to fi ght with me. With whom will this battle be fought? 23 I want to see those assembled to fi ght for Duryodhana, those who seek to please the evil- minded son of Dhritarashtra by engaging in war.

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24 Th us Arjuna spoke, and Sri Krishna, driving his splendid chariot between the two armies, 25 facing Bhishma and Drona and all the kings of the earth, said: “Arjuna, behold all the Kurus gathered together.”

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26 And Arjuna, standing between the two armies, saw fathers and grandfathers, teachers, uncles, and brothers, sons and grandsons, 27in-laws and friends. Seeing his kinsmen established in opposition, 28Arjuna was overcome by sorrow. Despairing, he spoke these words:

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O Krishna, I see my own relations here anxious to fi ght, 29 and my limbs grow weak; my mouth is dry, my body shakes, and my hair is standing on end. 30 My skin burns, and the bow Gandiva has slipped from my hand. I am unable to stand; my mind seems to be whirling. 31 Th ese signs bode evil for us. I do not see that any good can come from killing our relations in battle. 32 O Krishna, I have no desire for victory, or for a kingdom or pleasures. Of what use is a kingdom or pleasure or even life, 33 if those for whose sake we desire these things – 34 teachers, fathers, sons, grandfathers, uncles, in- laws, grandsons, and others with family ties – are engaging in this battle, renouncing their wealth and their lives? 35 Even if they were to kill me, I would not want to kill them, not even to become ruler of the three worlds. How much less for the earth alone?

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36 O Krishna, what satisfaction could we fi nd in killing Dhritarashtra’s sons? We would become sinners by slaying these men, even though they are evil. 37 Th e sons of Dhritarashtra are related to us; therefore, we should not kill them. How can we gain happiness by killing members of our own family?

38 Th ough they are overpowered by greed and see no evil in destroying families or injuring friends, we see these evils. 39 Why shouldn’t we turn away from this sin? 40 When a family declines, ancient traditions are destroyed. With them are lost the spiritual foundations for life, and the family loses its sense of unity. 41 Where there is no sense of unity, the women of the family become corrupt; and with the corruption of its women, society is plunged into chaos. 42 Social chaos is hell for the family and for those who have destroyed the family as well. It disrupts the process of spiritual evolution begun by our ancestors. 43 Th e timeless spiritual foundations of family and society would be destroyed by these terrible deeds, which violate the unity of life.

44 It is said that those whose family dharma has been destroyed dwell in hell. 45 Th is is a great sin! We are

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prepared to kill our own relations out of greed for the pleasures of a kingdom. 46 Better for me if the sons of Dhritarashtra, weapons in hand, were to attack me in battle and kill me unarmed and unresisting.

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47 Overwhelmed by sorrow, Arjuna spoke these words. And casting away his bow and his arrows, he sat down in his chariot in the middle of the battlefi eld.

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╭ Self-Realization

A S A R J U N A ’ S s p i r i t ua l teacher, Sri Krishna’s task now is to rouse Arjuna from his despair and set him on the way to Self-realization.

Arjuna is essentially a man of action, renowned for his bravery, nobility, and skill in the arts of war – intelligent, but not given to refl ection. Yet in his present crisis, he fi nds that the active life is not enough. He is forced to ask the perennial questions about life and death: Does he have a soul? Does it survive death? Is there a deeper reality than we perceive in the world around us? If so, is it possible to know it directly, and (for Arjuna is always practical) what eff ect does such know- ing have in everyday life?

In his answer, Krishna touches on almost all the main themes and concepts of the Gita. Chapter 2 is thus a kind of overview of the sixteen chapters to come.

Sri Krishna begins by reminding Arjuna of his immortal nature: his real Self, the Atman, never dies, for it is never born; it is eternal. Th us the Gita does not lead us from stage to stage

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of spiritual awareness, but begins with the ultimate premise: the immortal soul is more important than the passing world.

Knowing he is out of his depth in these inner realms of the mind and spirit, Arjuna formally asks Krishna to be his spiri- tual teacher or guru . Th is is a basic prerequisite of a disciple’s initiation in the Hindu tradition, where it is believed that vir- tually all seekers need the guidance of an experienced teacher. Arjuna is no exception, and he is fortunate to have Krishna himself as his guru. In the allegorical sense, Krishna is a sym- bol of the Atman, Arjuna’s deepest Self.

Th is chapter introduces the idea of rebirth or samsara . Th e Self wears the body as a garment; when the garment is old, it is cast aside and a new one is put on. Th us the soul, or jiva , travels from life to life. Just as death is certain for the living, rebirth is certain for the dead. Krishna assures Arjuna that his basic nature is not subject to time and death; yet he reminds him that he cannot realize this truth if he cannot see beyond the dualities of life: pleasure and pain, success and failure, even heat and cold. Th e Gita does not teach a spirituality aimed at an enjoyable life in the hereaft er, nor does it teach a way to enhance power in this life or the next. It teaches a basic detachment from pleasure and pain, as this chapter says more than once. Only in this way can an individual rise above the conditioning of life’s dualities and identify with the Atman, the immortal Self.

Also, the Gita does not teach an enlightenment based on

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a knowledge of the scriptures. Th e important thing is direct mystical experience, which Krishna will later urge Arjuna to acquire for himself.

Th is chapter establishes the various defi nitions of yoga taught in the Gita. Here the word does not refer to the physical postures and exercises ( hatha yoga ) it connotes in the West; it refers primarily to disciplining the mind. “Yoga is evenness of mind”: detachment from the dualities of pain and pleasure, success and failure. Th erefore “yoga is skill in action,” because this kind of detachment is required if one is to act in freedom, rather than merely react to events compelled by condition- ing. Krishna is not trying to persuade Arjuna to lead a diff er- ent kind of life and renounce the world as would a monk or recluse. He tells Arjuna that if he can establish himself in yoga – in unshakable equanimity, profound peace of mind – he will be more eff ective in the realm of action. His judgment will be better and his vision clear if he is not emotionally entangled in the outcome of what he does.

Arjuna now asks his fi rst question as Krishna’s student. His teacher has been talking about spiritual wisdom: direct, experiential knowledge of the immortal Self. Arjuna wants to know what diff erence this kind of wisdom makes in everyday life. If a person establishes an ever-present awareness of the core of divinity within himself, how does it aff ect the way he lives? Arjuna is not interested in what people believe, but in how they conduct themselves in life.

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Krishna’s answer (2:55–72) is one of the most quoted pas- sages in the Gita. Mahatma Gandhi said these verses contain the essence of the Gita: if the rest of the scripture were lost, this passage alone would be enough to teach a complete way of life. Th ose who are established in wisdom ( sthita-prajna ) live in continuous, unbroken awareness that they are not the perishable body but the Atman. Further, they see the same Self in everyone, for the Atman is universally present in all.

Such a one, Krishna says, does not identify with personal desires. Th ese desires are on the surface of personality, and the Self is its very core. Th e Self-realized man or woman is not motivated by personal desires – in other words, by any desire for kama , personal satisfaction. Th is idea is perhaps foreign to modern ways of thinking, but basic to the Gita – and, indeed, to mystics of all traditions.

More specifi cally, the word kama refers to any gratifi cation of the ego or the senses that entangles us in the world of sam- sara, and thus draws us away from the core of our being, the Self. Th ose established in Self-realization control their senses instead of letting their senses control them. If the senses are not controlled, Krishna warns, the mind (or emotions) will follow wherever they lead. Eventually a person following the senses loses strength of will and unity of purpose; his choices are dictated by his desires. When the will is led astray by the desire for pleasure, the mind becomes confused and scattered. Ultimately, Krishna warns, this leads to spiritual destruction:

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When you keep thinking about sense objects, attachment comes. Attachment breeds desire, the lust of possession that burns to anger. Anger clouds the judgment; 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. (2:62–63)

Yet the Gita does not recommend asceticism. It is more a matter of training the body, mind, and senses.

At the very close of the chapter, Krishna introduces the idea that it is not enough to master all selfi sh desires; it is also necessary to subdue possessiveness and egocentricity. If this ultimate bourne can be passed, then the seeker will know the true, immortal Self within. Th is is the mystics’ supreme goal: knowing their real nature, they know their own immortality and realize their union with eternal Being.

– d.m.

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2 ╭ Self-Realization

s a n j aya

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

k r i s h n a

2 Th is 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 brave heart and destroy the enemy.

a r j u n a

4 How can I ever bring myself to fi ght against Bhishma and Drona, who are worthy of reverence? How can I, Krishna? 5 Surely it would be better to spend my life begging than to kill these great and worthy souls! If I killed them, every pleasure I found would be tainted. 6 I don’t even know which would be better,

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for us to conquer them or for them to conquer us. Th e sons of Dhritarashtra have confronted us; but why would 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 your 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.

s a n j aya

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

k r i s h n a

11 You speak sincerely, but your sorrow has no cause. Th e wise grieve neither for the living nor for the dead. 12 Th ere has never been a time when you and I and the kings gathered here have not existed, nor will there be a time when we will cease to exist. 13 As the same person inhabits the body through childhood, youth, and old age, so

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too at the time of death he attains another body. Th e wise are not deluded by these changes.

14 When the senses contact sense objects, a person experiences cold or heat, pleasure or pain. Th ese experiences are fl eeting; they come and go. Bear them patiently, Arjuna. 15 Th ose who are unaff ected by these changes, who are the same in pleasure and pain, are truly wise and fi t for immortality. Assert your strength and realize this!

16 Th e impermanent has no reality; reality lies in the eternal. Th ose who have seen the boundary between these two have attained the end of all knowledge. 17 Realize that which pervades the universe and is indestructible; no power can aff ect this unchanging, imperishable reality. 18 Th e body is mortal, but that which dwells in the body is immortal and immeasurable. Th erefore, Arjuna, fi ght 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

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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 Th e Self cannot be pierced by weapons or burned by fi re; water cannot wet it, nor can the wind dry it. 24 Th e Self cannot be pierced or burned, made wet or dry. It is everlasting and infi nite, standing on the motionless foundations of eternity. 25 Th e 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 fi rst and then attains manifestation. When its end has come, it once again becomes unmanifested. What is there to lament in this?

29 Th e glory of the Self is beheld by a few, and a few describe it; a few listen, but many

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without understanding. 30 Th e Self of all beings, living within the body, is eternal and cannot be harmed. Th erefore, do not grieve.

31 Considering your dharma, you should not vacillate. For a warrior, nothing is higher than a war against evil. 32 Th e 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 Th e story of your dishonor will be repeated endlessly: and for a man of honor, dishonor is worse than death. 35 Th ese 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. Th erefore rise up, Arjuna, resolved to fi ght! 38 Having made yourself alike in pain and pleasure, profi t

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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 eff ort never goes to waste, and there is no failure. Even a little eff ort toward spiritual awareness will protect you from the greatest fear.

41 Th ose 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 Th ere are ignorant people who speak fl owery words and take delight in the letter of the law, saying that there is nothing else. 43 Th eir hearts are full of selfi sh desires, Arjuna. Th eir idea of heaven is their own enjoyment, and the aim of all their activities is pleasure and power. Th e fruit of their actions is continual rebirth. 44 Th ose whose minds are swept away by the pursuit of pleasure and power are incapable of following the supreme goal and will not attain samadhi.

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45 Th e 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 fl ooded, scriptures are of little use to the illumined man or woman, 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 selfi sh 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. Th ose 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 unifi ed, however, all vain anxiety is left behind. Th ere is no cause for worry, whether

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things go well or ill. Th erefore, devote yourself to the disciplines of yoga, for yoga is skill in action.

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

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

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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?

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55 Th ey live in wisdom who see themselves in all and all in them, who have renounced every selfi sh desire and sense craving tormenting the heart.

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56 Neither agitated by grief nor hankering aft er pleasure, they live free from lust and fear and anger. Established in meditation, they are truly wise. 57 Fettered no more by selfi sh 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. Th ese 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 Th ey 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 burns to anger. 63 Anger clouds the judgment; 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 you 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.

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66 Th e 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 senses, they carry away your better judgment as storms drive a boat off its charted course on the sea.

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

70 As rivers fl ow into the ocean but cannot make the vast ocean overfl ow, so fl ow 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 Th ey are forever free who renounce all selfi sh desires and break away from the ego- cage of “I,” “me,” and “mine” to be united with the Lord. 72 Th is is the supreme state. Attain to this, and pass from death to immortality.

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╭ Selfl ess Service

T H E T I T L E o f this chapter in Sanskrit is Karma Yoga, “Th e Way of Action,” and here we take an appar- ently sharp turn away from the subject of the previous chap- ter. In fact, Arjuna changes the subject completely. Krishna has been trying to convince him that he has an immortal soul, but Arjuna continues to worry about his immediate predica- ment. It is not that he is uninterested in mystical enlighten- ment, but his main concern at the moment is just what he is supposed to do next.

Or, he asks, perhaps what he does is not so important aft er all. Has Krishna been telling him to concentrate on acquiring spiritual wisdom and to forget about his apparent duties in the world?

Krishna replies that there is no way Arjuna can avoid the obligation of selfl ess action, or karma yoga. Arjuna must act selfl essly, out of a sense of duty. He must work not for his own sake, but for the welfare of all. Krishna points out that this is a basic law underlying all creation. Each being must do its part

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in the grand scheme of things, and there is no way to avoid this obligation – except perhaps by the complete enlighten- ment which loosens all the old bonds of karma.

Here the Gita refers to the doctrine of karma, one of the basic teachings in all Hindu and Buddhist scriptures. Karma literally means deed or action; what is sometimes called the “law of karma” refers to an underlying law of cause and eff ect that is seen to permeate all existence. Th e idea is that every action leads to a reasonable result – and, consequently, that everything that happens can be traced to something done in the past. Actions determine destiny: this is the basic idea of karma. If anything happens to us that is truly good, we must have done something in the past to deserve it; if something ill befalls us, then at some time in the past we did something that was not so meritorious. Th is is a basic moral law that all great spiritual traditions share: the belief that we reap what we sow.

Th e Hindu tradition gave a great deal of thought to this problem of moral cause and eff ect, and generation aft er gen- eration of spiritual teachers fathomed its depths and implica- tions. One fear that developed over time was that all action was in a sense an open door to bondage: anything a person did would bind him to the endless cycle of cause and eff ect. Some “fruits” of action would of course be pleasant – not all karma is painful. But even this pleasure could be a trap, because we would seek it compulsively, tying ourselves tighter and tighter

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to the responsibilities and opportunities of the worldly life and forgetting our spiritual dimension altogether.

In chapter 3 Krishna begins to tell Arjuna the way out of this maze of cause and eff ect. It is not to avoid work, especially the duties required by his station in life, but to perform those duties without selfi sh attachment to their “fruit,” or outcome. If Arjuna follows this path of selfl ess work, Krishna explains, he will enjoy this world as well as the next. More important, he will gain a spiritual blessing and will be lessening his debt of karma. Only when he is free from every bond of karma – every consequence of past action – can he achieve life’s ulti- mate goal.

Th e world is bound in its own activity, for all creatures except the illumined man or woman work for their own plea- sure and gain. Because they act selfi shly, they are bound by the results, whether good or bad. We must act in a selfl ess spirit, Krishna says, without ego-involvement and without getting entangled in whether things work out the way we want; only then will we not fall into the terrible net of karma. We cannot hope to escape karma by refraining from our duties: even to survive in the world, we must act.

True, the Hindu scriptures do hold out another path – jnana yoga, the path of wisdom – which does not enjoin action. But Krishna does not really off er this to Arjuna as an alternative; it is acknowledged and then dropped. Perhaps

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Krishna knows that Arjuna is not the type to disengage him- self and go off on a search for the mystical vision. For Arjuna, the active life is essential.

Th e danger, of course, of a life of active engagement in the world is that Arjuna will get caught up in his actions and begin to act out of selfi sh motives. If this were to happen, he would be doomed to spiritual failure.

Having a good deal of self-knowledge, Arjuna senses this danger. He asks Krishna a fundamental question: What power binds us to our selfi sh ways? Even if we wish to act rightly, so oft en we do the wrong thing. What power moves us?

Krishna replies that anger and selfi sh desire are our great- est enemies. Th ey are the destructive powers that can compel us to wander away from our purpose, to end up in self-delu- sion and despair.

Here it is necessary to introduce two technical terms from Hindu philosophy. Th e Gita is not an academic work of phi- losophy, but a poetic, practical text. Still, it does refer from time to time to Sankhya, one of the six traditional schools of Indian philosophy. In Sankhya, the phenomenal world of mind and matter is described as having three basic qualities or gunas : sattva – goodness, light, purity; rajas – passion, activity, energy; and tamas – darkness, ignorance, inertia. According to Sankhya, spiritual evolution progresses from tamas to rajas to sattva, and fi nal liberation takes the soul beyond the three gunas altogether.

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Here Krishna warns Arjuna to beware the pitfalls of rajas, for it is from rajas that anger and selfi sh desire arise. Arjuna must realize that his true nature, the Atman, is above entangle- ment in the gunas. Th e gunas act and react upon one another, but Arjuna’s inner being is not aff ected. If he cannot reach this detachment, he will be always caught in the emotional storms of passion (rajas) or the quagmires of inertia (tamas) which alternate in dominating the mind and body.

Krishna off ers Arjuna the example of King Janaka, well known from holy legend, as a model for the princely estate. Janaka was a king who ruled well and did not shirk his responsibilities, yet he was detached and worked from a sense of duty, not for personal gain or enjoyment. He was revered as a royal sage who pursued his enlightenment not by renounc- ing the world, but by working in it and contributing to its wel- fare, thus enjoying the best of both worlds.

– d.m.

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3 ╭ Selfl ess Service

a r j u n a

1 O Krishna, you have said that knowledge is greater than action; why then do you ask me to wage this terrible war? 2 Your advice seems inconsistent. Give me one path to follow to the supreme good.

k r i s h n a

3 At the beginning of time I declared two paths for the pure heart: jnana yoga, the contemplative path of spiritual wisdom, and karma yoga, the active path of selfl ess service.

4 One who shirks action does not attain freedom; no one can gain perfection by abstaining from work. 5 Indeed, there is no one who rests for even an instant; all creatures are driven to action by their own nature.

6 Th ose who abstain from action while allowing the mind to dwell on sensual pleasure cannot

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be called sincere spiritual aspirants. 7 But they excel who control their senses through the mind, using them for selfl ess service.

8 Fulfi ll all your duties; action is better than inaction. Even to maintain your body, Arjuna, you are obliged to act. 9 Selfi sh action imprisons the world. Act selfl essly, without any thought of personal profi t.

10 At the beginning, mankind and the obligation of selfl ess service were created together. “Th rough selfl ess service, you will always be fruitful and fi nd the fulfi llment of your desires”: this is the promise of the Creator.

11 Honor and cherish the devas as they honor and cherish you; through this honor and love you will attain the supreme good. 12 All human desires are fulfi lled by the devas, who are pleased by selfl ess service. But anyone who enjoys the things given by the devas without off ering selfl ess acts in return is a thief.

13 Th e spiritually minded, who eat in the spirit of service, are freed from all their sins; but the selfi sh, who prepare food for their own satisfaction, eat sin. 14 Living creatures are nourished by food, and food

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is nourished by rain; rain itself is the water of life, which comes from selfl ess worship and service.

15 Every selfl ess act, Arjuna, is born from Brahman, the eternal, infi nite Godhead. Brahman is present in every act of service. 16 All life turns on this law, O Arjuna. Th ose who violate it, indulging the senses for their own pleasure and ignoring the needs of others, have wasted their life. 17 But those who realize the Self are always satisfi ed. Having found the source of joy and fulfi llment, they no longer seek happiness from the external world. 18 Th ey have nothing to gain or lose by any action; neither people nor things can aff ect their security.

19 Strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world; by devotion to selfl ess work one attains the supreme goal of life. 20 Do your work with the welfare of others always in mind. It was by such work that Janaka attained perfection; others too have followed this path.

21 What the outstanding person does, others will try to do. Th e standards such people create will be followed by the whole world. 22 Th ere is nothing in the three worlds for me to gain, Arjuna, nor is there

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anything I do not have; I continue to act, but I am not driven by any need of my own. 23 If I ever refrained from continuous work, everyone would immediately follow my example. 24 If I stopped working I would be the cause of cosmic chaos, and fi nally of the destruction of this world and these people.

25 Th e ignorant work for their own profi t, Arjuna; the wise work for the welfare of the world, without thought for themselves. 26 By abstaining from work you will confuse the ignorant, who are engrossed in their actions. Perform all work carefully, guided by compassion.

27 All actions are performed by the gunas of prakriti. Deluded by identifi cation with the ego, a person thinks, “ I am the doer.” 28 But the illumined man or woman understands the domain of the gunas and is not attached. Such people know that the gunas interact with each other; they do not claim to be the doer.

29 Th ose who are deluded by the operation of the gunas become attached to the results of their action. Th ose who understand these truths should not unsettle the ignorant. 30 Performing all actions for my sake, completely absorbed

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in the Self, and without expectations, fi ght! – but stay free from the fever of the ego.

31 Th ose who live in accordance with these divine laws without complaining, fi rmly established in faith, are released from karma. 32 Th ose who violate these laws, criticizing and complaining, are utterly deluded, and are the cause of their own suff ering.

33 Even the wise act within the limitations of their own nature. Every creature is subject to prakriti; what is the use of repression? 34 Th e senses have been conditioned by attraction to the pleasant and aversion to the unpleasant. Do not be ruled by them; they are obstacles in your path.

35 It is better to strive in one’s own dharma than to succeed in the dharma of another. Nothing is ever lost in following one’s own dharma, but competition in another’s dharma breeds fear and insecurity.

a r j u n a

36 What is the force that binds us to selfi sh deeds, O Krishna? What power moves us, even against our will, as if forcing us?

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k r i s h n a

37 It is selfi sh desire and anger, arising from the guna of rajas; these are the appetites and evils which threaten a person in this life.

38 Just as a fi re is covered by smoke and a mirror is obscured by dust, just as the embryo rests deep within the womb, knowledge is hidden by selfi sh desire – 39 hidden, Arjuna, by this unquenchable fi re for self-satisfaction, the inveterate enemy of the wise.

40 Selfi sh desire is found in the senses, mind, and intellect, misleading them and burying the understanding in delusion. 41 Fight with all your strength, Arjuna! Controlling your senses, conquer your enemy, the destroyer of knowledge and realization.

42 Th e senses are higher than the body, the mind higher than the senses; above the mind is the intellect, and above the intellect is the Atman. 43 Th us, knowing that which is supreme, let the Atman rule the ego. Use your mighty arms to slay the fi erce enemy that is selfi sh desire.

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╭ Wisdom in Action

K r i s h n a i s e a g e r to grant Arjuna knowledge of the highest spiritual truths, or even a rare mys- tical vision; but Arjuna has been asking for Krishna to simply get him out of his present diffi culties. Of course these diffi cul- ties are not minor – he is caught in a family tragedy that has developed into a vicious confl ict. If he cannot extricate him- self, he knows that he will have to take part in a catastrophic battle that no one wants.

So when Krishna begins to tell Arjuna about the “secret teachings” he will be privileged to hear because he is Krish- na’s favorite devotee and friend, it hardly registers in Arjuna’s consciousness. His reply is confused. “How could you have taught any secret wisdom to the sages of old?” he asks.

At this point Krishna reminds Arjuna again of the process of rebirth. Th ey have both been reborn many times, but natu- rally Arjuna does not remember his past lives because he has no access to this kind of knowledge. Krishna remembers his former births, but he is no ordinary being. He reveals that he

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has chosen to take on human birth many times for the wel- fare of the world. Whenever dharma, the law of life’s unity, declines, he wraps himself in his maya and takes on a fi nite form. Th us he returns age aft er age.

Vishnu, the preserving or sustaining person of the Hindu Trinity, is not mentioned here, but Krishna is usually looked upon as an incarnation of this aspect of God. As the Lord, Krishna explains, he dwells in every being, but he is mani- fested with special power in his incarnations or avatars . Ava- tara literally means descent: Vishnu is believed to descend and incarnate himself on earth from age to age to reestablish divine law (dharma). Without such intervention the entire created universe would go into decline. Th e natural course of creation is to go through cycles of regeneration and decay, but Vishnu – Krishna – has compassion for all the suff ering of the world, and comes himself to protect the good and destroy evil. Th us Vishnu has a special relationship with all beings: he personifi es the aspect of God who so loves the world that he comes into it to reestablish the purity and happiness of the Golden Age.

Krishna here reveals a little of his hidden, divine nature. He tells Arjuna that mystical union with him is possible through devotion, by which one can enter the state of divine love in which one sees God in every creature. Krishna also takes on the role of creator. It is he who has patterned the world along the lines of guna and karma.

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Th is mystic aspect of Krishna’s being dominates the Gita. In the Mahabharata, Krishna is a princely ally who is wise and daring in his support of his friend Arjuna. But the author of the Gita is not concerned with this Krishna; he turns his atten- tion to the mystery of Krishna’s divine nature as an aspect of Vishnu. In this sense Krishna is the inner Self in all beings. His name comes from the Sanskrit root krish, “to draw to one- self, to attract.” He is the “attractive one,” the “Lord of loving attraction.” By another etymology, the word Krishna means “the dark one.” Th e author of the Gita sees revealed in him the ultimate Godhead, the supreme being. But this reality is oft en veiled, and then Krishna is seen as an ordinary human being – or, rather, as an exceptionally gift ed man, but not as God.

Many of Krishna’s words make most sense when we real- ize that when he speaks of himself, he is oft en not describing a transcendental reality so much as trying to tell Arjuna about the Self in every human being. When he says, for example, “Actions do not cling to me because I am not attached to their results,” he means, “Arjuna, actions do not cling to your real Self.” Th e Self in us is not touched by action; whatever we do, it remains unsullied. “Th ose who understand this” – about themselves – “and practice it live in freedom.”

Th e latter part of this chapter turns from loft y mystical top- ics back to Arjuna’s immediate problem. Krishna begins to talk about action, and work, and things that should be done and should not be done. It is essential, he reminds Arjuna, to

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act wisely, with detachment. Th e wise never act with selfi sh attachment to the fruit of their labor; they give their best in fortune and misfortune alike. Such people act in freedom.

Th e next section deals with the various kinds of yajna – worship or off ering – that may be performed by spiritual aspi- rants of diff ering temperaments. Hindu rituals oft en involve making an off ering to the gods by pouring an oblation into the sacred fi re. Here the image is the same: whatever is off ered is symbolically thrown into a consuming fi re that carries the off ering to God. Th e off ering may be as obvious as worldly goods, or as subtle as knowledge or meditation: in any case it requires a measure of self-sacrifi ce. Yajna is a basic action, necessary to life, and those who do not perform some kind of selfl ess service fi nd no home in this world or the next.

Th e fi nal verses of chapter 4 introduce a new principle. In the last chapter, Krishna mentioned the path of spiritual wis- dom as an alternative to the path of action or karma yoga. Now he reveals that wisdom is the goal of selfl ess action: knowing is the fruit of doing. Th e goal of all karma yoga or yajna is lib- eration and spiritual wisdom. Th e fi re of spiritual awareness burns to ashes even a great heap of karma; thus true knowl- edge is the greatest purifi er of the soul.

Krishna ends by exhorting Arjuna to cut through the doubts that still stifl e him. Th is is the fi rst – but not the last – mention that Krishna makes of Arjuna’s doubting heart. Th ere has been no indication so far that Arjuna has taken in

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and accepted Krishna’s words. But even though Arjuna con- tinues to drag his feet, Krishna does not abandon him.

– d.m.

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4 ╭ Wisdom in Action

k r i s h n a

1 I told this eternal secret to Vivasvat. Vivasvat taught Manu, and Manu taught Ikshvaku. 2 Th us, Arjuna, eminent sages received knowledge of yoga in a continuous tradition. But through time the practice of yoga was lost in the world.

3 Th e secret of these teachings is profound. I have explained them to you today because you are my friend and devotee.

a r j u n a

4 You were born much aft er Vivasvat; he lived very long ago. Why do you say that you taught this yoga in the beginning?

k r i s h n a

5 You and I have passed through many births, Arjuna. You have forgotten, but I remember them all.

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6 My true being is unborn and changeless. I am the Lord who dwells in every creature. Th rough the power of my own maya, I manifest myself in a fi nite form.

7 Whenever dharma declines and the purpose of life is forgotten, I manifest myself on earth. 8 I am born in every age to protect the good, to destroy evil, and to reestablish dharma.

9 Th ose who know me as their own divine Self break through the belief that they are the body and are not reborn as separate creatures. Such a one, Arjuna, is united with me. 10 Delivered from selfi sh attachment, fear, and anger, fi lled with me, surrendering themselves to me, purifi ed in the fi re of my being, many have reached the state of unity in me.

11 As they approach me, so I receive them. All paths, Arjuna, lead to me.

12 Th ose desiring success in their actions worship the gods; through action in the world of mortals, their desires are quickly fulfi lled. 13 Th e distinctions of caste, guna, and karma have come from me. I am their cause, but I myself am changeless and beyond all action. 14 Actions do not cling to me because I am

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not attached to their results. Th ose who understand this and practice it live in freedom. 15 Knowing this truth, aspirants desiring liberation in ancient times engaged in action. You too can do the same, pursuing an active life in the manner of those ancient sages.

16 What is action and what is inaction? Th is question has confused the greatest sages. I will give you the secret of action, with which you can free yourself from bondage. 17 Th e true nature of action is diffi cult to grasp. You must understand what is action and what is inaction, and what kind of action should be avoided.

18 Th e wise see that there is action in the midst of inaction and inaction in the midst of action. Th eir consciousness is unifi ed, and every act is done with complete awareness.

19 Th e awakened sages call a person wise when all his undertakings are free from anxiety about results; all his selfi sh desires have been consumed in the fi re of knowledge. 20 Th e wise, ever satisfi ed, have abandoned all external supports. Th eir security is unaff ected by the results of their action; even while acting, they really do nothing at all. 21 Free from

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expectations and from all sense of possession, with mind and body fi rmly controlled by the Self, they do not incur sin by the performance of physical action.

22 Th ey live in freedom who have gone beyond the dualities of life. Competing with no one, they are alike in success and failure and content with whatever comes to them. 23 Th ey are free, without selfi sh attachments; their minds are fi xed in knowledge. Th ey perform all work in the spirit of service, and their karma is dissolved.

24 Th e process of off ering is Brahman; that which is off ered is Brahman. Brahman off ers the sacrifi ce in the fi re of Brahman. Brahman is attained by those who see Brahman in every action.

25 Some aspirants off er material sacrifi ces to the gods. Others off er selfl ess service as sacrifi ce in the fi re of Brahman. 26 Some renounce all enjoyment of the senses, sacrifi cing them in the fi re of sense restraint. Others partake of sense objects but off er them in service through the fi re of the senses. 27 Some off er the workings of the senses and the vital forces through the fi re of self-control, kindled in the path of knowledge.

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28 Some off er wealth; others off er sense restraint and suff ering. Some take vows and off er knowledge and study of the scriptures; and some make the off ering of meditation. 29 Some off er the forces of vitality, regulating their inhalation and exhalation, and thus gain control over these forces. 30 Others off er the forces of vitality through restraint of their senses. All these understand the meaning of service and will be cleansed of their impurities.

31 True sustenance is in service, and through it a man or woman reaches the eternal Brahman. But those who do not seek to serve are without a home in this world. Arjuna, how can they be at home in any world to come?

32 Th ese off erings are born of work, and each guides mankind along a path to Brahman. Understanding this, you will attain liberation. 33 Th e off ering of wisdom is better than any material off ering, Arjuna; for the goal of all work is spiritual wisdom.

34 Approach those who have realized the purpose of life and question them with reverence and devotion; they will instruct you in this wisdom. 35 Once you

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attain it, you will never again be deluded. You will see all creatures in the Self, and all in me.

36 Even if you were the most sinful of sinners, Arjuna, you could cross beyond all sin by the raft of spiritual wisdom. 37 As the heat of a fi re reduces wood to ashes, the fi re of knowledge burns to ashes all karma. 38 Nothing in this world purifi es like spiritual wisdom. It is the perfection achieved in time through the path of yoga, the path which leads to the Self within.

39 Th ose who take wisdom as their highest goal, whose faith is deep and whose senses are trained, attain wisdom quickly and enter into perfect peace. 40 But the ignorant, indecisive and lacking in faith, waste their lives. Th ey can never be happy in this world or any other.

41 Th ose established in the Self have renounced selfi sh attachments to their actions and cut through doubts with spiritual wisdom. Th ey act in freedom. 42 Arjuna, cut through this doubt in your own heart with the sword of spiritual wisdom. Arise; take up the path of yoga!

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╭ Renounce & Rejoice

At t h e b e g i n n i n g of this chapter, the traditional approach to the spiritual life – that is, “leaving the world,” retiring from the ordinary aff airs of job and family – is contrasted with working in the world with detachment. Th e general term for retiring from the world is san nyasa, “renunciation.” Traditionally, sannyasa meant renouncing all worldly ties and attachments. Th e person undertaking the vow of sannyasa would leave home, family, and occupation to pursue a strict contemplative life.

Th is was a path chosen by very few, even in ancient India. Yet we shouldn’t forget that surprising numbers of people in traditional societies, both in the East and the West, have cho- sen a monastic life removed from the turmoil of the world. In India, the Compassionate Buddha provides the classic exam- ple of one who leaves the comforts and fulfi llments of family and worldly life to seek the lonely way to Self-realization. Th e story is well known throughout Asia. Siddhartha Gautama was a prince with every worldly satisfaction within his reach,

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who left his palace to fi nd a way to lead the world beyond suf- fering and death. He became a wandering sannyasi, a lonely, austere monk. Only aft er he had attained to complete enlight- enment did he return to society, to teach others of the peace of nirvana.

Th ough Krishna acknowledges here that this way of san- nyasa can lead to the goal, he recommends the path of self- less action or selfl ess service as the better way. He contrasts the way of Sankhya – which in this context means knowledge of the Self in a general way – to the way of yoga, which here means the way of action. Th is term yoga presents diffi culties in the Gita because it means diff erent things at diff erent times, and many defi nitions are given of this all-purpose term. But for several chapters the topic under discussion has been the active spiritual life, or karma yoga, and that is clearly what is meant in this context. Sankhya and yoga might also be trans- lated as “theory and practice.”

It would seem that at the time of the Gita the path of wis- dom was regarded very highly, while the path of action may have been looked upon as an adulteration of the spiritual life. It is even possible that the Gita was the fi rst Hindu scripture to introduce the novel idea of combining karma yoga with the pursuit of Self-knowledge. Krishna says that only immature, inexperienced people look upon the paths of knowledge and action as diff erent. Th e true goal of action is knowledge of the

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Self. Following either path faithfully will lead to the complete spiritual vision.

It is essential in karma yoga that the selfi sh ego not expect gratifi cation from the work. When there is no selfi sh involve- ment in work, the worker does not come to spiritual harm. Th e example is the lotus: it spends its life fl oating in water, yet the drops of water roll off its leaves without ever wetting them. Similarly, as long as the karma yogis do not expect reward or recognition, any evil that might stain them has nowhere to cling. Such yogis are said to be detached from the outcome or fruits of their actions ( karma phala ).

Krishna warns Arjuna that a life of work, even success- ful work, cannot be fulfi lling without Self-knowledge. Ulti- mately, the true Self within him is not aff ected by what he does, whether good or bad. Only knowledge of the Self, which rises like the sun at dawn, can fulfi ll the purpose of his life and lead him beyond rebirth.

Th is knowledge of the Self or Atman is, by its very nature, also knowledge of Brahman, the all-pervading, immanent and transcendent Godhead. Krishna says that the illumined person sees this divine essence in all beings. He or she has “equal vision” and sees the divine Self in all, regardless of the outer aspect.

Th e last three verses of the chapter describe a state of pro- found meditation called samadhi. When meditation becomes

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very deep, breathing becomes slow, steady, and even, and the windows of the senses close to all outward sensations. Next the faculties of the mind quiet down, resting from their usually frantic activity; even the primal emotions of desire, fear, and anger subside. When all these sensory and emo- tional tides have ceased to fl ow, then the spirit is free, mukta – at least for the time being. It has entered the state called samadhi.

Samadhi can come and go; generally it can be entered only in a long period of meditation and aft er many years of ardent endeavor. But one verse (5:28) adds the signifi cant word sada, “always.” Once this state of deep concentration becomes established, the person lives in spiritual freedom, or moksha, permanently. Th is is extremely rare. Mystics of the West as well as the East have attained brief glimpses of unity, but very few can be said to have dwelt in it permanently, as if it were their natural habitat. In the West the most prominent fi gures are Meister Eckhart, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. John of the Cross, though there have been others. In the Hindu tradi- tion there is a long line of saints and mystics who have tried to communicate something of the nature of this union with Reality or God, from the unknown recorders of the Upani- shads through the Buddha, Shankara, and Meera, to Rama- krishna and Ramana Maharshi.

– d.m.

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a r j u n a

1 O Krishna, you have recommended both the path of selfl ess action and sannyasa, the path of renunciation of action. Tell me defi nitely which is better.

k r i s h n a

2 Both renunciation of action and the selfl ess performance of action lead to the supreme goal. But the path of action is better than renunciation.

3 Th ose who have attained perfect renunciation are free from any sense of duality; they are unaff ected by likes and dislikes, Arjuna, and are free from the bondage of self-will. 4 Th e immature think that knowledge and action are diff erent, but the wise see them as the same. Th e person who is established in one path will attain the rewards of both. 5 Th e goal of knowledge and the goal of service are the same; those who fail to see this are blind.

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6 Perfect renunciation is diffi cult to attain without performing action. But the wise, following the path of selfl ess service, quickly reach Brahman.

7 Th ose who follow the path of service, who have completely purifi ed themselves and conquered their senses and self-will, see the Self in all creatures and are untouched by any action they perform.

8 Th ose who know this truth, whose consciousness is unifi ed, think always, “I am not the doer.” While seeing or hearing, touching or smelling; eating, moving about, or sleeping; breathing 9 or speaking, letting go or holding on, even opening or closing the eyes, they understand that these are only the movements of the senses among sense objects.

10 Th ose who surrender to Brahman all selfi sh attachments are like the leaf of a lotus fl oating clean and dry in water. Sin cannot touch them. 11 Renouncing their selfi sh attachments, those who follow the path of service work with body, senses, and mind for the sake of self-purifi cation.

12 Th ose whose consciousness is unifi ed abandon all attachment to the results of action and attain

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supreme peace. But those whose desires are fragmented, who are selfi shly attached to the results of their work, are bound in everything they do.

13 Th ose who renounce attachment in all their deeds live content in the “city of nine gates,” the body, as its master. Th ey are not driven to act, nor do they involve others in action.

14 Neither the sense of acting, nor actions, nor the connection of cause and eff ect comes from the Lord of this world. Th ese three arise from nature.

15 Th e Lord does not partake in the good and evil deeds of any person; judgment is clouded when wisdom is obscured by ignorance. 16 But ignorance is destroyed by knowledge of the Self within. Th e light of this knowledge shines like the sun, revealing the supreme Brahman. 17 Th ose who cast off sin through this knowledge, absorbed in the Lord and established in him as their one goal and refuge, are not reborn as separate creatures.

18 Th ose who possess this wisdom have equal regard for all. Th ey see the same Self in a spiritual aspirant and an outcaste, in an elephant, a cow, and

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a dog. 19 Such people have mastered life. With even mind they rest in Brahman, who is perfect and is everywhere the same. 20 Th ey are not elated by good fortune nor depressed by bad. With mind established in Brahman, they are free from delusion. 21 Not dependent on any external support, they realize the joy of spiritual awareness. With consciousness unifi ed through meditation, they live in abiding joy.

22 Pleasures conceived in the world of the senses have a beginning and an end and give birth to misery, Arjuna. Th e wise do not look for happiness in them. 23 But those who overcome the impulses of lust and anger which arise in the body are made whole and live in joy. 24 Th ey fi nd their joy, their rest, and their light completely within themselves. United with the Lord, they attain nirvana in Brahman.

25 Healed of their sins and confl icts, working for the good of all beings, the holy sages attain nirvana in Brahman. 26 Free from anger and selfi sh desire, unifi ed in mind, those who follow the path of yoga and realize the Self are established forever in that supreme state.

27 Closing their eyes, steadying their breathing, and focusing their attention on the center of spiritual

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consciousness, 28 the wise master their senses, mind, and intellect through meditation. Self- realization is their only goal. Freed from selfi sh desire, fear, and anger, they live in freedom always. 29 Knowing me as the friend of all creatures, the Lord of the universe, the end of all off erings and all spiritual disciplines, they attain eternal peace.

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╭ The Practice of Meditation

T h i s i s s u r e ly one of the most intrigu- ing chapters of the Gita, for here we are given a detailed expla- nation of meditation addressed to the layperson. Th e same meditation techniques are given in more esoteric writings, such as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, but the Gita does it more simply, without any unnecessary mystery or complexity.

Th is chapter also explores the question, “Who is the true yogi?” Th is word yogi may bring to mind images of amazing people who do strange contortions with their bodies. Yogis are still thought of as standing on their heads or reclining on a bed of nails. It is true that there are many practitioners of a kind of yoga that involves physical exercises and postures; and there are those who have achieved remarkable feats like lying on beds of nails, or even being buried alive and surviving. But this physical side of yoga (called hatha yoga, “the yoga of force”) is not what is meant in the Gita. In fact, though physi- cal techniques have a place, the Gita regards undue emphasis

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on them as outside the normal course of spiritual develop- ment.

In the Gita, the word yogi oft en has a more modest defi ni- tion: it can mean a person who does his or her job with detach- ment from the rewards (6:1), or it can be rendered as “one who has attained the goal of meditation.” For yogi literally means “one who is accomplished in yoga,” and yoga means “integra- tion of the spirit.” In this sense, yoga means wholeness or the process of becoming whole at the deepest spiritual level. Th e word yoga is also oft en used as a synonym for raja yoga, the practice of meditation as taught by Patanjali; for meditation is the direct means of becoming integrated, united with one’s truest, deepest Self. Th us a yogi, among other things, is a per- son who is an adept at meditation.

Until now, Krishna has been instructing Arjuna in the need for karma yoga, the active life of service. Now Krishna is ready to initiate him into the practice of the more interior dis- ciplines of the spiritual life. Karma yoga, he says, is the path for those who wish to climb the mountain of Self-realization; for those who have reached the summit, the path is shama, the peace of contemplation. At the beginning of the spiritual life, great exertion is required; as the summit is approached, though the climb gets no easier, the dimension of contempla- tion or stillness is added. Many spiritual traditions, of course, use this image when speaking of the religious quest. Th e mountaintop is the place where the holy, like Moses, com-

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mune with God; and St. John of the Cross speaks of climbing the mountain of Carmel.

In climbing this mountain, willpower, self-help, and intense personal eff ort are absolute essentials. Th e literal translation of verse 5 is “one should lift oneself up by one’s Self ” – a play on the word atman, which can mean the highest Self as well as self in the ordinary sense. One’s self is thus one’s friend or one’s own enemy. Th e “lower self ” is self-will – will in the negative, selfi sh sense. An unruly will twisted toward self-aggrandizement is an enemy lurking right inside the fort, where it can do the most damage. But those who “have con- quered themselves by themselves” have their truest friend in the Self. Only those who have genuine self-discipline, who are “self-conquered,” live in peace.

Th ese, Krishna says, are true yogis. Th ey cannot harbor any malice, cannot even bring themselves to look upon anyone as an enemy. Th ey are samabuddhi, “of equable mind.” Th e true yogis, who are fully integrated on all levels of consciousness, feel everyone’s joy and sorrow just as if it were their own. Th ey see the Self in all beings, everywhere.

How is this self-conquest to be made? Very simply, the Gita teaches that the mind must be made one-pointed through the practice of meditation. Th is is the basic technique. In the Gita we do not see the tendency for elaboration, for rit- ual and mystery, that we sometimes fi nd in the Hindu tradi- tion. Krishna simply tells Arjuna, fi rst, that he must fi nd an

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appropriate place to meditate. A suitable spot for his practice will be clean and comfortable. In a nod to tradition, one verse recommends the meditation seat be covered with kusha grass and a deerskin – the traditional seat of the yogi. Th e impor- tant thing, however, is not how the meditation seat is made, but what is going on in the mind. Meditation is an internal discipline to make the mind one-pointed, absolutely concen- trated.

Second, Krishna instructs Arjuna to hold the body, head, and neck in a straight line. Th is may seem esoteric – a refer- ence to the contortion-school of yoga – but it has a practical purpose. Sitting absolutely straight, with the spinal column erect, prevents drowsiness. Also, in advanced stages of medi- tation, it allows for the free fl ow of vital energy or kundalini (see glossary).

Th en practical advice is given: moderation is the path. Neither extreme asceticism nor indulgence will aid medita- tion. An initial acquaintance with Hindu culture may give the impression that it fosters either the sensuality of the Kama Sutra or the asceticism of the hermit. It is true that in Indian civilization we can easily see the development of the sensual and artistic in many manifestations – in painting, sculpture, music, and dance. And Indian cuisine is famous for its vari- ety of fl avors and spices. India also presents us with the aus- tere simplicity of the wandering holy man or sadhu . Th e Gita,

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however, recommends the middle path. Success in medita- tion, Krishna says, comes neither to those who eat or sleep too much nor to those who eat or sleep too little. Th e body should be neither overindulged nor treated harshly – the same rec- ommendation the Buddha off ers.

Th is chapter contains the famous verse (6:19) comparing the mind to a steady fl ame. By its very nature the untrained mind is restless, constantly wandering here and there trying to fulfi ll its desires. It fl ickers wildly like a fl ame in a storm – never blown completely out, yet at the mercy of the wind. Wherever the mind wanders, Krishna says, it must be brought back to its source; it must learn to rest in the Self. Once it is at home in the depths of contemplation, the mind becomes steady, like an upright, unfl ickering fl ame in a windless place. In this deep meditation, and only there, can the human being fi nd true fulfi llment. Th en “the still mind touches Brahman and enjoys bliss.”

Now Arjuna asks an inevitable question. Krishna is far ahead of him, and the struggling disciple simply can’t catch up. He says, “My mind is so restless and unsteady that I can- not even comprehend anything about this state of mystic peace you are talking about.” Th e mind is so powerful, so tur- bulent, that trying to bring it under control is like trying to catch the wind.

Krishna admits that the mind is terribly hard to train, but

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he maintains that it can be done through regular practice if one has detachment. It is interesting that he does not off er to help Arjuna here; that will come later. For now, he tells Arjuna that he must do it for himself, through hard work and detach- ment from private, personal motives.

Th en Arjuna asks a rather surprising question: what hap- pens to the person who believes in a spiritual goal but does not pursue it to the end? What if one of his more powerful compulsive desires gets the better of him, scattering his reso- lution the way a cloud is scattered by the wind? Either Arjuna is not prepared to seek Self-realization or he is afraid that somehow he might fail if he tried. If he were to fail, he asks, would he have lost everything – all that he had given up in worldly life as well as his goal of self-fulfi llment?

Aff ectionately, Krishna assures Arjuna that no attempt to improve his spiritual condition could be a wasted eff ort. Even looking ahead to the next life, he has nothing to lose and everything to gain. He will be reborn in a household suitable for taking up his quest where he left off . In his next life, he will feel drawn to the spiritual goal once again, and he will have a head start.

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6 ╭ Th e Practice of Meditation

k r i s h n a

1 It is not those who lack energy or refrain from action, but those who work without expectation of reward who attain the goal of meditation. Th eirs is true renunciation. 2 Th erefore, Arjuna, you should understand that renunciation and the performance of selfl ess service are the same. Th ose who cannot renounce attachment to the results of their work are far from the path.

3 For aspirants who want to climb the mountain of spiritual awareness, the path is selfl ess work; for those who have ascended to yoga the path is stillness and peace. 4 When you have freed yourself from attachment to the results of work, and from desires for the enjoyment of sense objects, you will ascend to the unitive state.

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5 Reshape yourself through the power of your will; never let yourself be degraded by self- will. Th e will is the only friend of the Self, and the will is the only enemy of the Self.

6 To those who have conquered themselves, the will is a friend. But it is the enemy of those who have not found the Self within them.

7 Th e supreme Reality stands revealed in the consciousness of those who have conquered themselves. Th ey live in peace, alike in cold and heat, pleasure and pain, praise and blame.

8 Th ey are completely fulfi lled by spiritual wisdom and Self-realization. Having conquered their senses, they have climbed to the summit of human consciousness. To such people a clod of dirt, a stone, and gold are the same. 9 Th ey are equally disposed to family, enemies, and friends, to those who support them and those who are hostile, to the good and the evil alike. Because they are impartial, they rise to great heights.

10 Th ose who aspire to the state of yoga should seek the Self in inner solitude through meditation. With body and mind controlled they should constantly

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practice one-pointedness, free from expectations and attachment to material possessions.

11 Select a clean spot, neither too high nor too low, and seat yourself fi rmly on a cloth, a deerskin, and kusha grass. 12 Th en, once seated, strive to still your thoughts. Make your mind one-pointed in meditation, and your heart will be purifi ed. 13 Hold your body, head, and neck fi rmly in a straight line, and keep your eyes from wandering. 14 With all fears dissolved in the peace of the Self and all actions dedicated to Brahman, controlling the mind and fi xing it on me, sit in meditation with me as your only goal. 15 With senses and mind constantly controlled through meditation, united with the Self within, an aspirant attains nirvana, the state of abiding joy and peace in me.

16 Arjuna, those who eat too much or eat too little, who sleep too much or sleep too little, will not succeed in meditation. 17 But those who are temperate in eating and sleeping, work and recreation, will come to the end of sorrow through meditation. 18 Th rough constant eff ort they learn to withdraw the mind from selfi sh cravings and absorb it in the Self. Th us they attain the state of union.

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19 When meditation is mastered, the mind is unwavering like the fl ame of a lamp in a windless place. 20 In the still mind, in the depths of meditation, the Self reveals itself. Beholding the Self by means of the Self, an aspirant knows the joy and peace of complete fulfi llment. 21 Having attained that abiding joy beyond the senses, revealed in the stilled mind, they never swerve from the eternal truth. 22 Th ey desire nothing else and cannot be shaken by the heaviest burden of sorrow.

23 Th e practice of meditation frees one from all affl iction. Th is is the path of yoga. Follow it with determination and sustained enthusiasm. 24 Renouncing wholeheartedly all selfi sh desires and expectations, use your will to control the senses. 25 Little by little, through patience and repeated eff ort, the mind will become stilled in the Self.

26 Wherever the mind wanders, restless and diff use in its search for satisfaction without, lead it within; train it to rest in the Self 27 Abiding joy comes to those who still the mind. Freeing themselves from the taint of self-will, with their consciousness unifi ed, they become one with Brahman.

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28 Th e infi nite joy of touching Brahman is easily attained by those who are free from the burden of evil and established within themselves. 29 Th ey see the Self in every creature and all creation in the Self. With consciousness unifi ed through meditation, they see everything with an equal eye.

30 I am ever present to those who have realized me in every creature. Seeing all life as my manifestation, they are never separated from me. 31 Th ey worship me in the hearts of all, and all their actions proceed from me. Wherever they may live, they abide in me.

32 When a person responds to the joys and sorrows of others as if they were his own, he has attained the highest state of spiritual union.

a r j u n a

33 O Krishna, the stillness of divine union which you describe is beyond my comprehension. How can the mind, which is so restless, attain lasting peace? 34 Krishna, the mind is restless, turbulent, powerful, violent; trying to control it is like trying to tame the wind.

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k r i s h n a

35 It is true that the mind is restless and diffi cult to control. But it can be conquered, Arjuna, through regular practice and detachment. 36 Th ose who lack self-control will fi nd it diffi cult to progress in meditation; but those who are self-controlled, striving earnestly through the right means, will attain the goal.

a r j u n a

37 Krishna, what happens to one who has faith but who lacks self-control and wanders from the path, not attaining success in yoga? 38 If he becomes deluded on the spiritual path, will he lose the support of both worlds, like a cloud scattered in the sky? 39 Krishna, you can dispel all doubts; remove this doubt which binds me.

k r i s h n a

40 Arjuna, my son, such a person will not be destroyed. No one who does good work will ever come to a bad end, either here or in the world to come.

41 When such people die, they go to other realms where the righteous live. Th ey dwell there for countless years and then are reborn 42 into a home

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which is pure and prosperous. Or they may be born into a family where meditation is practiced; to be born into such a family is extremely rare. 43 Th e wisdom they have acquired in previous lives will be reawakened, Arjuna, and they will strive even harder for Self-realization. 44 Indeed, they will be driven on by the strength of their past disciplines. Even one who inquires aft er the practice of meditation rises above those who simply perform rituals.

45 Th rough constant eff ort over many lifetimes, a person becomes purifi ed of all selfi sh desires and attains the supreme goal of life.

46 Meditation is superior to severe asceticism and the path of knowledge. It is also superior to selfl ess service. May you attain the goal of meditation, Arjuna! 47 Even among those who meditate, that man or woman who worships me with perfect faith, completely absorbed in me, is the most fi rmly established in yoga.

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╭ Wisdom from Realization

I n S a n s k r i t t h i s chapter is called “Th e Yoga of Wisdom and Realization” – or “Th e Yoga of Wisdom from Realization.” Th e term used for wisdom is jnana ; for realization, vijnana . Th ere is room for confusion in this terminology, as jnana and vijnana are open to diff ering interpretations. Both words are from the root jna, “to know,” which is related to the Greek word gnosis . Th e prefi x vi added to a noun usually intensifi es its meaning; so vijnana could mean to know intensely or to a greater degree. In this con- text, however, jnana is the standard term for the highest kind of knowledge: not scholarship or book-learning but direct knowledge of God, spiritual wisdom. If we take jnana in this sense, we are not left with an obvious meaning for vijnana, a “more intense kind of jnana.” Ramakrishna takes vijnana to mean an intimate, practical familiarity with God, the abil- ity to carry through in daily aff airs with the more abstract understanding that is jnana . Ramakrishna says, “One who has merely heard of fi re has ajnana, ignorance. One who has

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seen fi re has jnana . But one who has actually built a fi re and cooked on it has vijnana .”

In this chapter we fi nd ourselves following several trails and sometimes lose the unifying theme, which is knowledge of the supreme reality underlying nature. Eventually, how- ever, we come back to the starting point: knowledge con- trasted with ignorance, transcendent reality as opposed to the phenomenal world.

But to pursue the byways. First, Krishna’s “two natures” are discussed. On the one hand, he has created out of himself the elements and all things that make up the phenomenal world. Beyond this is Krishna’s spiritual nature as the transcendent Lord of the universe. Here the Gita is referring to a concept that later became a basis of the Sankhya school of Hindu phi- losophy. Sankhya recognized two fundamental principles underlying all things: prakriti, the principle of mind and matter, and Purusha, the principle of pure spirit. Th e union of these two eternal, fundamental forces sets in motion the creation of the world as we know it. Th eir union also shapes and defi nes all ordinary human experience. In Sankhya, the goal of Self-realization is seen as the fi nal freeing of the spirit (Purusha) from its fl irtation with mind and matter (prakriti).

Unlike Sankhya, however, in the Gita it is Krishna who is behind both prakriti and Purusha. In this chapter, Krishna is presented as the Creator of the world. His divine nature can be glimpsed in his bewildering and wonderful creation. In much

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Hindu mythology, it is the god Brahma who takes credit for creating the world. It is he, the four-faced deity, who has fl ung forth the manifold worlds of this and former (as well as future) universes. But in the mythology of Vishnu, Brahma is born in the lotus that grows from Vishnu’s navel. Th e lotus is Vishnu’s womb. In it Brahma is born, and at Vishnu’s urging he cre- ates the worlds. Vishnu is the real Creator; Brahma is a demi- god born of Vishnu’s will to create. Here in the Gita Krishna directly assumes all the roles and honors usually shared with the other aspects of God worshipped in the Hindu faith. It is not that these other divine personifi cations are rejected, but simply that all attention is on Krishna. For the author of the Gita, Krishna is the form of God to be worshipped, and for the time being all other forms of God disappear. Krishna alone is. In fact, one verse states that whatever other god one seems to worship, one is in reality approaching Krishna him- self. Worshipping him, knowing him, enables the devotee to attain the goal.

Th ough the word is not used in the Gita, the idea of the world as Krishna’s lila, his play, became a cherished theme of later Hinduism. Krishna, it is said, created the world in play: just as a child might desire to have companions to play with, Krishna desired companions, and made the world. Krishna participates in the game of life; his divine qualities shine through in the world wherever there is excellence of any kind. He is, he tells Arjuna, the essence of every created thing: the

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sapidity of water, the brightness of fi re, the eff ort of the spiri- tual aspirant. Th is may be what is meant by the vijnana of our title – the mystic’s vision of the divine as present here and now is perhaps the real meaning of the term.

Th e word maya appears here, though not for the fi rst time in the Gita. Just as the concepts of prakriti and Puru- sha are later developed in Sankhya philosophy, maya is later built into the formal structure of Vedanta, another of the six major schools of Indian philosophy. Th e word maya comes from the root ma, “to measure out,” and originally meant the power of a deity to create, especially to create what Indian philosophy calls “name and form”: matter and its percepts. Maya was the magical capacity to create form and illusion – a god’s divine power to put on a disguise, or to fl ing forth world aft er world of life. Maya is also the outward look of things, the passing show that conceals immortal being. Maya can be both delightful and dangerous, alluring and yet treacherous. Th e gunas, the three basic qualities of all created things, swirl within the world of maya. Crossing over the ocean of maya is the goal of the wise voyager, and one boat is devotion. In this chapter the Gita begins to stress the importance of love and devotion – themes that later become dominant.

Krishna’s true nature is hidden by maya (7:25). Th e dan- gers of maya are not depicted strongly in this chapter, but the “delusions” – moha – of life in maya’s world are hinted at; they are, essentially, the self-centered attachments Krishna

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has been warning against. Moha, which means confusion or delusion, is something like dreaming while awake, “living in a dream.” Th e duality of attachment and aversion (love and hate) beguiles the mind into this moha -swoon right at birth (7:27). Knowing Krishna, and devotion to him, is the way beyond this delusion. Th us chapter 7 contrasts wisdom ( jnana and vijnana ) with the delusion ( moha ) of spiritual ignorance.

We fi nd here many seminal ideas that are elaborated in the later philosophies of Sankhya and Vedanta. Th ese concepts of prakriti, Purusha, and maya do not originate with the Gita, however. Th e word maya appears in the Rig Veda, the most ancient of the Vedas, and Purusha is a recurring theme in the Upanishads. Th e Gita is a halfway point between the sponta- neous insights of the Upanishads and the later, highly formal- ized philosophical systems. In the Gita we fi nd an organized presentation of these and other key concepts without a cum- bersome technical explanation.

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7 ╭ Wisdom from Realization

k r i s h n a

1 With your mind intent on me, Arjuna, discipline yourself with the practice of yoga. Depend on me completely. Listen, and I will dispel all your doubts; you will come to know me fully and be united with me.

2 I will give you both jnana and vijnana. When both these are realized, there is nothing more you need to know.

3 One person in many thousands may seek perfection, yet of these only a few reach the goal and come to realize me. 4 Earth, water, fi re, air, akasha, mind, intellect, and ego – these are the eight divisions of my prakriti. 5 But beyond this I have another, higher nature, Arjuna; it supports the whole universe and is the source of life in all beings.

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6 In these two aspects of my nature is the womb of all creation. Th e birth and dissolution of the cosmos itself take place in me. 7 Th ere is nothing that exists separate from me, Arjuna. Th e entire universe is suspended from me as my necklace of jewels.

8 Arjuna, I am the taste of pure water and the radiance of the sun and moon. I am the sacred word and the sound heard in air, and the courage of human beings. 9 I am the sweet fragrance in the earth and the radiance of fi re; I am the life in every creature and the striving of the spiritual aspirant.

10 My eternal seed, Arjuna, is to be found in every creature. I am the power of discrimination in those who are intelligent, and the glory of the noble. 11 In those who are strong, I am strength, free from passion and selfi sh attachment. I am desire itself, if that desire is in harmony with the purpose of life.

12 Th e states of sattva, rajas, and tamas come from me, but I am not in them. 13 Th ese three gunas deceive the world: people fail to look beyond them to me, supreme and imperishable. 14 Th e three gunas make up my divine maya, diffi cult to overcome. But they cross over

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this maya who take refuge in me. 15 Others are deluded by maya; performing evil deeds, they have no devotion to me. Having lost all discrimination, they follow the way of their lower nature.

16 Good people come to worship me for diff erent reasons. Some come to the spiritual life because of suff ering, some in order to understand life; some come through a desire to achieve life’s purpose, and some come who are men and women of wisdom. 17 Unwavering in devotion, always united with me, the man or woman of wisdom surpasses all the others. To them I am the dearest beloved, and they are very dear to me. 18 All those who follow the spiritual path are blessed. But the wise who are always established in union, for whom there is no higher goal than me, may be regarded as my very Self.

19 Aft er many births the wise seek refuge in me, seeing me everywhere and in everything. Such great souls are very rare. 20 Th ere are others whose discrimination is misled by many desires. Following their own nature, they worship lower gods, practicing various rites.

21 When a person is devoted to something with complete faith, I unify his faith in that. 22 Th en, when

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faith is completely unifi ed, one gains the object of devotion. In this way, every desire is fulfi lled by me. 23 Th ose whose understanding is small attain only transient satisfaction: those who worship the gods go to the gods. But my devotees come to me.

24 Th rough lack of understanding, people believe that I, the Unmanifest, have entered into some form. Th ey fail to realize my true nature, which transcends birth and death. 25 Few see through the veil of maya. Th e world, deluded, does not know that I am without birth and changeless. 26 I know everything about the past, the present, and the future, Arjuna; but there is no one who knows me completely.

27 Delusion arises from the duality of attraction and aversion, Arjuna; every creature is deluded by these from birth. 28 But those who have freed themselves from all wrongdoing are fi rmly established in worship of me. Th eir actions are pure, and they are free from the delusion caused by the pairs of opposites.

29 Th ose who take refuge in me, striving for liberation from old age and death, come to know Brahman, the Self, and the nature of all action. 30 Th ose who see me ruling the cosmos, who see me in

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the adhibhuta, the adhidaiva, and the adhiyajna, are conscious of me even at the time of death.

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╭ Th e Eternal Godhead

T h i s c h a p t e r a l l u d e s briefl y to several important concepts presented more fully in the Upa- nishads, and it will be helpful to quote the Upanishads to elu- cidate these points. Also, this chapter presents a very ancient view of the soul’s journey aft er death. Th ese ideas about the aft erlife did not originate in the Gita, and are even more ancient than the Upanishads. Another ancient concept here is that of a cyclical universe, which is elaborated in other Hindu scriptures in great detail; this chapter merely refers to it in passing.

Th e chapter begins with Arjuna asking what appear to be questions of theology, but the role of theologian does not fi t him naturally. Th ese questions are asked in response to the technical terms mentioned in the last verse of chapter 7. Th e sense of Krishna’s answer is in accord with what he said ear- lier about his maya: he is God immanent in all things as well as God transcendent.

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But it is Arjuna’s other question that determines the direc- tion the discourse now takes. Arjuna asks how Krishna can be known at the hour of death. Here, of course, Arjuna means Krishna in his cosmic, mystical aspect, so he is asking in essence, “How can the Self-realized person enter the supreme state of immortality at the time of death?” Krishna replies that whoever remembers him at the time of death will enter madbhavam, “my being.” If Arjuna can remember Krishna in the hour of death, he will be united with Krishna and enter into immortality.

In fact, whatever it may be, the content of the mind at the hour of death directs the soul in its journey to rebirth. Th us the mind infl uences the evolution of the soul as it moves into the next life. Whatever a person thinks about in life – his or her deepest motivations – are likely to be the last thoughts at the time of death. So there is a continuity between this life and the next, and all the baggage of desire and motivation goes right along with the soul. But here Krishna is talking about the person – he hopes Arjuna will be such a one – who has no worldly baggage, who will remember Krishna at the fi nal hour.

To ensure he will focus his devotion on Krishna at the hour of death, Arjuna should make a practice of remembering him continually now. If he makes his mind one-pointed in medi- tation and learns to focus his being on Krishna, then naturally

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at the time of death he will think of nothing else. Otherwise, in the chaos of death, he will panic and lose his way.

Krishna describes in detail what happens to conscious- ness at the moment of death (8:12–13). Th ese verses actu- ally describe the yogis as being in control of the process of death. Directing their consciousness step by step through the diffi cult ordeal of leaving the body, they attain the supreme goal. Th is idea is also accepted by one of the greatest teach- ers of meditation in ancient India, Patanjali, who says in the Yoga Sutras that the yogi dies at will. Similar descriptions of the death process occur in the Upanishads, though there the dying person is not necessarily in control. Th e Upanishads give a detailed account:

When the Self seems to become weak and sink into uncon- sciousness, the vital breaths gather to him. Th en he takes with him those particles of light and descends into the heart. When the consciousness that is in the eye turns back, the dying person no longer sees any form. “He is becoming one,” they say; “he does not see.” “He is becoming one,” they say; “he does not smell.” “He is becoming one,” they say; “he does not taste.” “He is becoming one,” they say; “he does not speak.” “He is becoming one,” they say; “he does not hear.” “He is becoming one,” they say; “he does not think or touch or know.” Th e point of his heart lights up, and by that light the Self departs, either through the eye, or the skull, or through some other door of the body. And when he departs,

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life departs: and when life departs, all other vital forces depart aft er it. He is conscious, and with consciousness he leaves the body. Th en his knowledge and his works and his previous impressions go along with him. (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad iv.4.1–2)

First consciousness is withdrawn from the senses. Th e dying no longer hear or see what is going on around them. Th ey are still conscious, but the “light” of consciousness has been withdrawn from the senses, here called the “gates” of the body. Th ere are said to be nine such gates: two eyes, two nostrils, two ears, the mouth, and the organs of generation and excretion. Sometimes two more are added: the navel and the sagittal suture, located at the top of the skull and called in Sanskrit brahmarandhra, “the aperture of Brahman.”

When consciousness has been withdrawn from these gates, Krishna says, “the mind is placed [“locked up”] in the heart.” (8:12) Here, as in Christian mysticism, it is the heart and not the head that is taken to be the home of the soul. Probably what is meant is the heart chakra, the center of consciousness corresponding to the center of the chest. Prana (vital energy) and awareness have been withdrawn from the outer frontiers of personality and consolidated within. At this stage of the death process an ordinary person has no access to the will; but it is just here that prana, with conscious awareness, must be made to move upwards to the head. If prana leaves the body

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through the brahmarandhra, there will be no rebirth: that is, the dying person will enter samadhi at the time of death. In samadhi, prana is withdrawn from lower levels of aware- ness to rush upwards to the seventh center at the crown of the head. Th is is possible only for the yogi who has thoroughly mastered meditation and the control of prana. If prana exits through some other one of the eleven doors of the body, the Upanishads say, the state of immortality will not be gained:

When he departs from this body, he ascends with the rays of the sun, repeating the syllable Om . As soon as he thinks of it, he comes to the sun. Th at, indeed, is the door to the next world. Th ose who know enter; those who do not know are stopped. Th ere is a verse:

A hundred and one subtle tracks lead from the heart; One of these goes upwards to the crown of the head. Going up by it, he goes to eternal life. Others depart in various directions. (Chandogya Upanishad viii.6.5–6)

In the Gita, as well as in this passage from the Chandogya Upanishad, the mantram Om is used. If the yogis can remem- ber the mantram even as consciousness itself is departing the body – and, the Gita adds, if they can meditate on Krishna – they will go to the “highest goal.” Relinquishing the body in a state of samadhi, they attain the mystic eternity that is union with Krishna.

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In this chapter the Gita alludes to the two paths, “north- ern” and “southern,” that the soul may take aft er death. Verses 24–25 present in abbreviated form what the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad spells out in obscure detail:

Th ose who know this, who meditate upon Truth with faith while living in the forest, go to the light, from light to day, from day to the fortnight of the moon’s waxing, from the waxing fortnight to the six months of the sun’s northern journey, from those six months to the world of the devas, from the world of the devas to the sun, from the sun to the lightning. Th en a spirit approaches them and leads them to the world of Brahman. In that world they live for eternal ages. Th ey do not return again.

But those who conquer worlds through sacrifi ce, charity, and austerity pass into the smoke, from the smoke into the night, from the night into the fortnight of the waning moon, from the fortnight of the waning moon into the six months of the sun’s southern journey, from there into the world of the ancestors, from the world of the ancestors into the moon, . . . and from there to rebirth. (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad vi.2.15–16)

“Northern and southern paths” refers to the path of the sun, which seems to move northward aft er the winter solstice and southward aft er the summer solstice. To die during the period in which the sun is moving southward was consid- ered inauspicious; dying during the period aft er the winter solstice, when the sun is moving back north, meant the soul

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might take the northern path which leads to immortality. In the Gita and the Upanishads, this “northern path” has come to signify that the soul has been released from karma and need not be reborn. Th e southern path, by contrast, leads the soul to a new birth in this world, a birth suitable to its karma. Th is view of the soul’s journey aft er death has a primordial quality about it, giving the feeling that it far predates even the Upani- shads. Perhaps it is a belief of very ancient times that found its way into the Upanishads, which say that the spiritually ready soul makes the journey of the northern route while those who have only practiced rituals take the southern.

Th is chapter also briefl y alludes to the Days and Nights of Brahma. Brahma is the Creator of the Hindu trinity, who brings forth the cosmos at the will of Vishnu. But Brahma in a sense is not in control of this creative process. Just as day fol- lows night in eternal, unvarying rhythm, so does the entire universe undergo cycles of creation, death, and new birth. As the Day of Brahma dawns, the cosmos comes into being; as the Day comes to an end, the entire creation dies and ceases to exist. Th en, for a Night as long as the cosmic Day, the uni- verse rests. It ceases to be – or, rather, it continues only in a subtle, unmanifest form, a dream in the mind of Vishnu, who lies sleeping on the waves of the cosmic ocean. Th en, with- out deviating from the eternal rhythm, the cosmos is reborn when the Night is over. Th e new universe dawns, and Brahma once again moves into his active, creative Day.

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Scholars have noted that this grand vision of the cosmos being born, dying, and being reborn for eternity – cosmos aft er cosmos arising from the black immensity of nothingness – is quite similar to modern theories of the expanding and contracting universe put forward by contemporary cosmol- ogy. Th e vast time spans accepted by present-day physics are also similar to the cosmic Days and Nights of Brahma. Each Day lasts for a thousand yugas, which equals 4,320,000,000 years. For this near-eternity of time the universe lives and grows; then it dies and lies dormant for an equal time, before the new Day dawns.

Th ere is a state of being, however, that is higher than the perishable cosmos, which is not born and does not die the cosmic death. Here (8:20) it is called simply avyakta, the Unmanifest. Th is is the supreme goal of all living things, and it is Krishna’s home (8:21). Returning to this fi nal resting place, the soul enters into immortal bliss and is not reborn.

– d.m.

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a r j u n a

1 O Krishna, what is Brahman, and what is the nature of action? What is the adhyatma, the adhibhuta, the adhidaiva ? 2 What is the adhiyajna, the supreme sacrifi ce, and how is it to be off ered? How are the self-controlled united with you at the time of death?

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3 My highest nature, the imperishable Brahman, gives every creature its existence and lives in every creature as the adhyatma. My action is creation and the bringing forth of creatures. 4 Th e adhibhuta is the perishable body; the adhidaiva is Purusha, eternal spirit. Th e adhiyajna, the supreme sacrifi ce, is made to me as the Lord within you.

5 Th ose who remember me at the time of death will come to me. Do not doubt this. 6 Whatever occupies the mind at the time of death determines

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the destination of the dying; always they will tend toward that state of being. 7 Th erefore, remember me at all times and fi ght on. With your heart and mind intent on me, you will surely come to me. 8 When you make your mind one- pointed through regular practice of meditation, you will fi nd the supreme glory of the Lord.

9 Th e Lord is the supreme poet, the fi rst cause, the sovereign ruler, subtler than the tiniest particle, the support of all, inconceivable, bright as the sun, beyond darkness. 10 Remembering him in this way at the time of death, through devotion and the power of meditation, with your mind completely stilled and your concentration fi xed in the center of spiritual awareness between the eyebrows, you will realize the supreme Lord.

11 I will tell you briefl y of the eternal state all scriptures affi rm, which can be entered only by those who are self-controlled and free from selfi sh passions. Th ose whose lives are dedicated to Brahman attain this supreme goal.

12 Remembering me at the time of death, close down the doors of the senses and place the mind

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in the heart. Th en, while absorbed in meditation, focus all energy upwards to the head. 13 Repeating in this state the divine name, the syllable Om that represents the changeless Brahman, you will go forth from the body and attain the supreme goal.

14 I am easily attained by the person who always remembers me and is attached to nothing else. Such a person is a true yogi, Arjuna. 15Great souls make their lives perfect and discover me; they are freed from mortality and the suff ering of this separate existence. 16 Every creature in the universe is subject to rebirth, Arjuna, except the one who is united with me.

17 Th ose who understand the cosmic laws know that the Day of Brahma ends aft er a thousand yugas and the Night of Brahma ends aft er a thousand yugas. 18 When the day of Brahma dawns, forms are brought forth from the Unmanifest; when the night of Brahma comes, these forms merge in the Formless again. 19 Th is multitude of beings is created and destroyed again and again in the succeeding days and nights of Brahma. 20 But beyond this formless state there is another, unmanifested reality, which is eternal and is not dissolved when the cosmos is destroyed. 21 Th ose who realize life’s supreme goal know that

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I am unmanifested and unchanging. Having come home to me, they never return to separate existence.

22 Th is supreme Lord who pervades all existence, the true Self of all creatures, may be realized through undivided love. 23 Th ere are two paths, Arjuna, which the soul may follow at the time of death. One leads to rebirth and the other to liberation.

24 Th e six months of the northern path of the sun, the path of light, of fi re, of day, of the bright fortnight, leads knowers of Brahman to the supreme goal. 25 Th e six months of the southern path of the sun, the path of smoke, of night, of the dark fortnight, leads other souls to the light of the moon and to rebirth.

26 Th ese two paths, the light and the dark, are said to be eternal, leading some to liberation and others to rebirth. 27 Once you have known these two paths, Arjuna, you can never be deluded again. Attain this knowledge through perseverance in yoga. 28 Th ere is merit in studying the scriptures, in selfl ess service, austerity, and giving, but the practice of meditation carries you beyond all these to the supreme abode of the highest Lord.

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╭ The Royal Path

T h i s c h a p t e r p r a i s e s Krishna as the Supreme Being who has created the world and dwells immanent in his creation. Krishna’s exalted nature is stressed, and warning is given to those who think that God is limited to his creation. It is true that Krishna has taken on a human form, but those who see only a limited human being and show him disrespect are courting great spiritual harm. Th ese verses contain a warning for those who would underestimate Krish- na’s divine power.

In this chapter Krishna replaces the many gods and god- desses of the usual Hindu pantheon, each of which represents a diff erent divine power; here Krishna is seen as containing within himself all such powers. It is Krishna and Krishna alone who is to be worshipped: he is the goal, the support, the only refuge, the one true friend; he is the beginning and the end (9:18).

It follows that those who practice a ritual religion, off ering the ritual sacrifi ces ordained by the Vedas, do not attain the

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true goal of their lives. True, they do enjoy heaven aft er death. But when their store of merit is used up, they are born again in order to have another chance at turning away from per- sonal gain and aiming at life’s supreme goal. So long as they are motivated only by self-centered desires they must be born again and again, and their spiritual evolution either stands still or they make very little progress.

Even these souls, however, are really worshipping Krishna, though they do not know it. Th ey seek Krishna, the Supreme Being, in all their wanderings through many, many lives and even in their sojourns in heaven, where they enjoy the reward of their good deeds. Because they do not know his real nature, however, they will not attain the goal, but will be reborn.

An endless round of rebirths may seem like a living dam- nation of the struggling soul – a harsh note that would be uncharacteristic of the Gita. But this is not a question of dam- nation. Th e purpose of life is to realize God, and until this is done, the soul cannot escape creating more karma which has to be worked out, however many lives it might take. Th e choice to turn toward Self-realization is always open.

Th e Gita does not dwell on the obstacles, however, but quickly goes on to reveal Krishna’s more compassionate nature. It makes the point that whatever a person deeply desires – whatever he or she worships – will eventually be attained, in some life or other. In particular, to have real, self- less love, regardless of the object, is to love Krishna, the ulti-

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mate good. Th is kind of love, called bhakti , is far more potent than observances and rituals – a point the Gita is slowly revealing. But to have this devotion without understanding Krishna’s nature is not enough. In the end, to attain his goal, Arjuna must have devotion and understand it is Krishna’s universal aspect that he loves. Th en he will truly attain the eternal, immortal state.

Th is chapter contains a famous and very popular series of verses:

Whatever you do, make it an off ering to me – the food you eat, the sacrifi ces you make, the help you give, even your suff ering. In this way you will be freed from the bondage of karma, and from its results both pleasant and painful. (9:27–28)

Krishna accepts every off ering made to him in the right spirit; he assures Arjuna of this. Th en he demands that Arjuna make everything – every act, every meal, every sacrifi ce, every gift , even his suff erings – an off ering to God. He demands this so that Arjuna can be released from the bondage of karma. Th is is a new emphasis, a new way. If Arjuna can live in com- plete union with Krishna’s will, doing everything for Krishna alone, then by that very purity of will he will be free from self- ish motives and thus released from karma. His spirit will be free, and he will attain his goal of mystic union with Krishna.

Krishna declares that he is impartial to all creatures: he neither favors nor rejects anyone. It is their sincere love that

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is important. Th ose who are truly devoted to Krishna live in him, and he abides in them. With some daring, probably at the risk of discomfort to the more orthodox, Krishna adds that even a sinner who takes wholehearted refuge in him becomes good. Th e word used is sadhu, which literally means a good person but has come to signify one who leads the spiritual life, giving up all selfi sh desires to achieve the fi nal goal. Th e word for sinner, sudurachara, should not be passed by either. Su is literally “good”; dur is “bad”: thus “one whose conduct is really bad,” as we might say “good and hot” to mean really hot.

Krishna promises that his devotees must attain peace at last. No one who has genuine love and devotion can perish. Th e meaning here is taken to be “perish” in a spiritual sense, come to spiritual harm. Th e message of this chapter is simple. It contains no philosophy and only a little theology. Th e one message is: anyone who has real love, love for the Lord of Love who is in all creatures, will in the end attain the goal. Th is is the royal secret that Krishna had promised to reveal.

– d.m.

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k r i s h n a

1 Because of your faith, I shall tell you the most profound of secrets: obtaining both jnana and vijnana, you will be free from all evil.

2 Th is royal knowledge, this royal secret, is the greatest purifi er. Righteous and imperishable, it is a joy to practice and can be directly experienced. 3 But those who have no faith in the supreme law of life do not fi nd me, Arjuna. Th ey return to the world, passing from death to death.

4 I pervade the entire universe in my unmanifested form. All creatures fi nd their existence in me, but I am not limited by them. 5 Behold my divine mystery! Th ese creatures do not really dwell in me, and though I bring them forth and support them, I am not confi ned within them. 6 Th ey move in me as the winds move in every direction in space.

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7 At the end of the eon these creatures return to unmanifested matter; at the beginning of the next cycle I send them forth again. 8 Controlling my prakriti, again and again I bring forth these myriad forms and subject them to the laws of prakriti. 9 None of these actions binds me, Arjuna. I am unattached to them, so they do not disturb my nature.

10 Under my watchful eye the laws of nature take their course. Th us is the world set in motion; thus the animate and the inanimate are created.

11 Th e immature do not look beyond physical appearances to see my true nature as the Lord of all creation. 12 Th e knowledge of such deluded people is empty; their lives are fraught with disaster and evil, and their work and hopes are all in vain.

13 But truly great souls seek my divine nature. Th ey worship me with a one-pointed mind, having realized that I am the eternal source of all. 14 Constantly striving, they make fi rm their resolve and worship me without wavering. Full of devotion, they sing of my divine glory.

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15 Others follow the path of jnana, spiritual wisdom. Th ey see that where there is One, that One is me; where there are many, all are me; they see my face everywhere.

16 I am the ritual and the sacrifi ce; I am true medicine and the mantram. I am the off ering and the fi re which consumes it, and the one to whom it is off ered.

17 I am the father and mother of this universe, and its grandfather too; I am its entire support. I am the sum of all knowledge, the purifi er, the syllable Om ; I am the sacred scriptures, the Rig, Yajur, and Sama Vedas.

18 I am the goal of life, the Lord and support of all, the inner witness, the abode of all. I am the only refuge, the one true friend; I am the beginning, the staying, and the end of creation; I am the womb and the eternal seed.

19 I am heat; I give and withhold the rain. I am immortality and I am death; I am what is and what is not.

20 Th ose who follow the rituals given in the Vedas, who off er sacrifi ces and take soma, free

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themselves from evil and attain the vast heaven of the gods, where they enjoy celestial pleasures. 21 When they have enjoyed these fully, their merit is exhausted and they return to this land of death. Th us observing Vedic rituals but caught in an endless chain of desires, they come and go.

22 Th ose who worship me and meditate on me constantly, without any other thought – I will provide for all their needs.

23 Th ose who worship other gods with faith and devotion also worship me, Arjuna, even if they do not observe the usual forms. 24 I am the object of all worship, its enjoyer and Lord. But those who fail to realize my true nature must be reborn. 25 Th ose who worship the devas will go to the realm of the devas; those who worship their ancestors will be united with them aft er death. Th ose who worship phantoms will become phantoms; but my devotees will come to me.

26 Whatever I am off ered in devotion with a pure heart – a leaf, a fl ower, fruit, or water – I partake of that love off ering. 27 Whatever you do, make it an off ering to me – the food you eat, the sacrifi ces you make, the help you give, even your suff ering. 28 In this way you will be

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freed from the bondage of karma, and from its results both pleasant and painful. Th en, fi rm in renunciation and yoga, with your heart free, you will come to me.

29 I look upon all creatures equally; none are less dear to me and none more dear. But those who worship me with love live in me, and I come to life in them.

30 Even sinners become holy when they worship me alone with fi rm resolve. 31 Quickly their souls conform to dharma and they attain to boundless peace. Never forget this, Arjuna: no one who is devoted to me will ever come to harm.

32 All those who take refuge in me, whatever their birth, race, sex, or caste, will attain the supreme goal; this realization can be attained even by those whom society scorns. 33 Kings and sages too seek this goal with devotion. Th erefore, having been born in this transient and forlorn world, give all your love to me. 34 Fill your mind with me; love me; serve me; worship me always. Seeking me in your heart, you will at last be united with me.

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╭ Divine Splendor

K r i s h n a g o e s d e e p e r into the rev- elation of his divine being, revealing himself as the source from which all things come, the One who is the reality behind the many. Th ough the source of all virtues, he is also the ulti- mate reality that transcends all opposites. Th us he is both happiness and suff ering, birth and death, being and nonbe- ing. Like the Brahman of the Upanishads, he is beyond dual- ity, utterly beyond the constricting categories of the things of this world. His true nature is beyond the reach of thought. He can only be known in the state of samadhi, where knower and known become one.

Arjuna calls Krishna Purushottama, “the supreme Puru- sha, the supreme Person.” Krishna is now no human chari- oteer but Bhagavan, “the munifi cent Lord”; and Arjuna, leav- ing his warrior persona behind, now stands revealed as a seeker aft er truth. At Arjuna’s request, Krishna now reveals a few of his divine powers and attributes ( vibhutis ).

From this point on the chapter becomes diffi cult because

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of the many unfamiliar names that are mentioned. In what- ever category, Krishna is the chief, the best, the most intense, the most beautiful, the most awesome, the essence. Many of the allusions will be familiar – for example, among rivers Krishna is the Ganges. But many of the names come from Hindu mythology and are not well known. Th ere is no room here to explain every name, but the following paragraphs will highlight a few of importance.

First, Krishna is the Atman, the inner Self in all beings. It is fi tting that this be mentioned fi rst, for of all his myriad mani- festations this is the most important, at least to the struggling spiritual aspirant that is Arjuna. Krishna is Arjuna’s inner- most Self, and that is how he is to be known in contempla- tion. Of all the forms in which to meditate upon Krishna, the Atman is mentioned fi rst.

Krishna is Vishnu, the great compassionate, sustaining God of the Hindu faith. It is Vishnu who cares so much about the suff erings of Mother Earth and her children that he comes to earth again and again, in age aft er age, to relieve oppression and renew righteousness.

Krishna is the sun, worshipped in India since ancient times. He is Indra, the chief of the Vedic gods, the lord of storm and battle, who hurls the thunderbolt against the ene- mies of the gods. In Vedic religion he is a mighty lord, not to be trifl ed with, but later on he must admit defeat at the hands

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of Krishna, who protects the people from Indra’s stormy wrath.

Krishna is also Shankara, the more benefi cent aspect of the awesome deity Rudra, better known as Shiva. Among mountains Krishna is Meru, the high mountain home of Shiva and the other gods, the highest peak and center of the world. Krishna is consciousness, the syllable Om, and the mantram or holy name. He is the mythic horse and the fabu- lous elephant that were produced when the cosmic ocean was churned for the elixir of immortality.

Krishna is Ananta, the cosmic serpent on which Lord Vishnu sleeps. He is Varuna, Vedic god of the oceans, and Yama, the god of death; among demons ( asuras ) he is Prahlada, who, though born in the race of demons, was devoted to God and never swayed in his love, even when his own father tried to kill him. And of course Krishna is Rama, the great warrior-prince – also an incarnation of Vishnu – whose exploits are told in the immortal epic, the Ramayana.

Of all fi elds of knowledge, Krishna says, he is knowledge of the Self. Th e study of Sanskrit and its grammar were impor- tant in ancient India, and Krishna doesn’t neglect this fi eld. He is A among letters; among compound words he is the dvandva, which joins equals. He is the Gayatri – a particular meter found in the poetry of the Vedas, but generally taken to be a famous prayer from the Rig Veda (iii.62.10) composed in

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that meter, which has been chanted every morning by count- less worshippers for three thousand years.

It is fi tting that among seasons Krishna is the spring, the season of fl owers. Less easily understood is his claim to be the gambling of gamblers. Krishna has a sense of play, and as gambling is the obsession of the gambler, it seems natu- ral that Krishna might claim this as a vibhuti . Also, in ancient India gambling was considered a royal pastime, and no king of repute would refuse a friendly game of dice.

In the human realm, Krishna is the “son of Vasudeva,” a prince of the Vrishni line – in other words, the human form that is Arjuna’s friend and charioteer. He is also Arjuna! And he is Vyasa, the composer of the Gita – indeed, of the whole Mahabharata.

Wherever Arjuna fi nds strength, beauty, or power, Krishna concludes, he should recognize it as coming from a spark of Krishna’s glory. Th en, aft er overwhelming Arjuna with this stupendous list of divine powers and revelations, Krishna asks casually, “But what use is it to know all of these details? Th e important fact is to know that I am, and that a tiny por- tion of my being supports all things.”

– d.m.

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10 ╭ Divine Splendor

k r i s h n a

1 Listen further, Arjuna, to my supreme teaching, which gives you such joy. Desiring your welfare, O strong-armed warrior, I will tell you more.

2 Neither gods nor sages know my origin, for I am the source from which the gods and sages come. 3 Whoever knows me as the Lord of all creation, without birth or beginning, knows the truth and frees himself from all evil.

4 Discrimination, wisdom, understanding, forgiveness, truth, self-control, and peace of mind; pleasure and pain, birth and death, fear and courage, honor and dishonor; 5 nonviolence, charity, equanimity, contentment, and perseverance in spiritual disciplines – all the diff erent qualities found in living creatures have their source in me.

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6 Th e seven great sages and the four ancient ancestors were born from my mind and received my power. From them came all the creatures of this world. 7 Whoever understands my power and the mystery of my manifestations comes without doubt to be united with me.

8 I am the source from which all creatures evolve. Th e wise remember this and worship me with loving devotion. 9 Th eir thoughts are all absorbed in me, and all their vitality fl ows to me. Teaching one another, talking about me always, they are happy and fulfi lled.

10 To those steadfast in love and devotion I give spiritual wisdom, so that they may come to me. 11 Out of compassion I destroy the darkness of their ignorance. From within them I light the lamp of wisdom and dispel all darkness from their lives.

a r j u n a

12 You are Brahman supreme, the highest abode, the supreme purifi er, the self-luminous, eternal spirit, fi rst among the gods, unborn and infi nite. 13 Th e great sages and seers – Narada, Asita, Devala, and Vyasa too – have acclaimed you thus; now you have declared it to me yourself.

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14 Now, O Krishna, I believe that everything you have told me is divine truth. O Lord, neither gods nor demons know your real nature. 15 Indeed, you alone know yourself, O supreme spirit. You are the source of being and the master of every creature, God of gods, the Lord of the universe.

16 Tell me all your divine attributes, leaving nothing unsaid. Tell me of the glories with which you fi ll the cosmos. 17 Krishna, you are a supreme master of yoga. Tell me how I should meditate to gain constant awareness of you. In what things and in what ways should I meditate on you? 18 O Krishna, you who stir up people’s hearts, tell me in detail your attributes and your powers; I can never tire of hearing your immortal words.

k r i s h n a

19 All right, Arjuna, I will tell you of my divine powers. I will mention only the most glorious; for there is no end to them.

20 I am the true Self in the heart of every creature, Arjuna, and the beginning, middle, and end of their existence.

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21 Among the shining gods I am Vishnu; of luminaries I am the sun; among the storm gods I am Marichi, and in the night sky I am the moon.

22 Among scriptures I am the Sama Veda, and among the lesser gods I am Indra. Among the senses I am the mind, and in living beings I am consciousness.

23 Among the Rudras I am Shankara. Among the spirits of the natural world I am Kubera, god of wealth, and Pavaka, the purifying fi re. Among mountains I am Meru.

24 Among priests I am Brihaspati, and among military leaders I am Skanda. Among bodies of water I am the ocean.

25 Among the great seers I am Bhrigu, and among words, the syllable Om; I am the repetition of the holy name, and among mountains I am the Himalayas.

26 Among trees I am the ashvattha, the sacred fi g; among the gandharvas , the heavenly musicians, I am Chitraratha. Among divine seers I am Narada, and among sages I am Kapila.

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27 I was born from the nectar of immortality as the primordial horse and as Indra’s noble elephant. Among human beings, I am the king.

28 Among weapons I am the thunderbolt. I am Kamadhuk, the cow that fulfi lls all desires; I am Kandarpa, the power of sex, and Vasuki, the king of snakes.

29 I am Ananta, the cosmic serpent, and Varuna, the god of water; I am Aryaman among the noble ancestors. Among the forces which restrain I am Yama, the god of death.

30 Among animals I am the lion; among birds, the eagle Garuda. I am Prahlada, born among the demons, and of all that measures, I am time.

31 Among purifying forces I am the wind; among warriors, Rama. Of water creatures I am the crocodile, and of rivers I am the Ganges.

32 I am the beginning, middle, and end of creation. Of all the sciences I am the science of Self- knowledge, and I am logic in those who debate. 33 Among letters I am A ; among grammatical

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compounds I am the dvandva. I am infi nite time, and the sustainer whose face is seen everywhere.

34 I am death, which overcomes all, and the source of all beings still to be born. I am the feminine qualities: fame, beauty, perfect speech, memory, intelligence, loyalty, and forgiveness.

35 Among the hymns of the Sama Veda I am the Brihat; among poetic meters, the Gayatri. Among months I am Margashirsha, fi rst of the year; among seasons I am spring, that brings forth fl owers.

36 I am the gambling of the gambler and the radiance in all that shines. I am eff ort, I am victory, and I am the goodness of the virtuous.

37 Among the Vrishnis I am Krishna, and among the Pandavas I am Arjuna. Among sages I am Vyasa, and among poets, Ushanas.

38 I am the scepter which metes out punishment, and the art of statesmanship in those who lead. I am the silence of the unknown and the wisdom of the wise.

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39 I am the seed that can be found in every creature, Arjuna; for without me nothing can exist, neither animate nor inanimate.

40 But there is no end to my divine attributes, Arjuna; these I have mentioned are only a few. 41 Wherever you fi nd strength, or beauty, or spiritual power, you may be sure that these have sprung from a spark of my essence.

42 But of what use is it to you to know all this, Arjuna? Just remember that I am, and that I support the entire cosmos with only a fragment of my being.

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╭ Th e Cosmic Vision

T h i s i s t h e most exalted chapter of the entire Gita, for here Arjuna sees the divine vision of Krishna in his full nature as God himself, Lord of the Universe. It is diffi cult to see at fi rst why the ultimate spiritual vision should be granted to Arjuna at this point. We must remember that Krishna and Arjuna have been companions for many lives. Yet at the opening of the Gita, Arjuna is a warrior, little con- cerned with mystic visions. Step by step Krishna has led him to an understanding of the real purpose of his life – to know who he is and to know also who Krishna is. In the last chapter, Krishna had reached the point where he was willing to reveal to Arjuna the manifestations of divine power. Arjuna had not only asked about those powers, but had even wanted to know in which forms he might meditate on Krishna – the fi rst time Arjuna had spoken of contemplation.

Now, in chapter 11, Arjuna asks to see Krishna as He really is. His desire is granted, and in essence the rest of the chap- ter describes Arjuna’s samadhi. Samadhi is the word used by

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Patanjali in his classic work, the Yoga Sutras, to describe the fi nal stage in meditation, in which the mind is completely concentrated and a superconscious mode of knowing comes into play. Patanjali speaks of many diff erent kinds of samadhi, but for practical purposes we may speak of two: savikalpa and nirvikalpa . Arjuna’s vision begins with savikalpa samadhi, in which he sees God in a personal manifestation. Th en, as he passes into nirvikalpa samadhi, Arjuna sees all forms disap- pearing into God, until only a supernatural fi re consuming the entire phenomenal world is left .

Th is supreme vision dazzles Arjuna with the blinding splendor of a thousand suns. Mystics have oft en described their experiences in terms of light. In an ancient prayer of the Veda, the poet asks for divine wisdom to dawn in his heart just as the sun rises in the sky. And in the West we have count- less testimonies like that of St. Teresa of Avila:

When the soul looks upon this Divine Sun, the brightness dazzles it. . . . And very oft en it remains completely blind, absorbed, amazed, and dazzled by all the wonders it sees.

As this vision begins to unfold, Arjuna sees the whole world in the body of Krishna and he begins a hymn of praise. He sees Krishna as Vishnu with his traditional weapons, the mace and the discus, and wearing a crown.

As the vision becomes more intense, Arjuna begins to feel afraid. He sees the light of God become a fi re that burns to consume all things, as if at the end of time. All the warriors on

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the battlefi eld are mortals, and Arjuna sees them slain, burn- ing in the universal fi re. All creatures rush to destruction like moths into a fl ame. God’s radiance is both a great light and a burning fi re.

Terrifi ed, Arjuna wants to know the identity of this awe- some God, who bears no resemblance now to the Krishna he had known as his teacher and friend. In answer to the question, “Who are you?” Krishna’s reply is the verse (11:32) that burst into Robert Oppenheimer’s mind when he saw the atomic bomb explode over Trinity in the summer of 1945: “I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds. . . .” But the word kala means not just death but time, which eventually devours all.

Arjuna is brave, and worthy of this vision, for he does not lose consciousness or completely break down. He praises Krishna and then asks for forgiveness if during their long friendship he has ever said or done anything to off end the Lord through mistaking him for a mere human being. Finally, the vision is too much for Arjuna. Th ough he experiences the deep peace and joy of samadhi, he is terrifi ed at the same time. He wishes to see the more human face of God.

Krishna grants his desire and returns to his gentle, normal aspect. He tells Arjuna how very diffi cult it is to see him in his exalted form as the Lord of Yoga, the God of gods. Only pure devotion attains this vision. Th is theme dominates the remaining chapters of the Gita: it is devotion that is all-impor- tant on the spiritual quest. – d.m.

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a r j u n a

1 Out of compassion you have taught me the supreme mystery of the Self. Th rough your words my delusion is gone. 2 You have explained the origin and end of every creature, O lotus-eyed one, and told me of your own supreme, limitless existence.

3 Just as you have described your infi nite glory, O Lord, now I long to see it. I want to see you as the supreme ruler of creation. 4 O Lord, master of yoga, if you think me strong enough to behold it, show me your immortal Self.

k r i s h n a

5 Behold, Arjuna, a million divine forms, with an infi nite variety of color and shape. 6 Behold the gods of the natural world, and many more wonders never revealed before. 7 Behold the entire cosmos turning within my body, and the other things you desire to see.

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8 But these things cannot be seen with your physical eyes; therefore I give you spiritual vision to perceive my majestic power.

s a n j aya

9 Having spoken these words, Krishna, the master of yoga, revealed to Arjuna his most exalted, lordly form.

10 He appeared with an infi nite number of faces, ornamented by heavenly jewels, displaying unending miracles and the countless weapons of his power. 11 Clothed in celestial garments and covered with garlands, sweet-smelling with heavenly fragrances, he showed himself as the infi nite Lord, the source of all wonders, whose face is everywhere.

12 If a thousand suns were to rise in the heavens at the same time, the blaze of their light would resemble the splendor of that supreme spirit.

13 Th ere, within the body of the God of gods, Arjuna saw all the manifold forms of the universe united as one. 14 Filled with amazement, his hair standing on end in ecstasy, he bowed before the Lord with joined palms and spoke these words.

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a r j u n a

15 O Lord, I see within your body all the gods and every kind of living creature. I see Brahma, the Creator, seated on a lotus; I see the ancient sages and the celestial serpents.

16 I see infi nite mouths and arms, stomachs and eyes, and you are embodied in every form. I see you everywhere, without beginning, middle, or end. You are the Lord of all creation, and the cosmos is your body.

17 You wear a crown and carry a mace and discus; your radiance is blinding and immeasurable. I see you, who are so diffi cult to behold, shining like a fi ery sun blazing in every direction.

18 You are the supreme, changeless Reality, the one thing to be known. You are the refuge of all creation, the immortal spirit, the eternal guardian of eternal dharma.

19 You are without beginning, middle, or end; you touch everything with your infi nite power.

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Th e sun and moon are your eyes, and your mouth is fi re; your radiance warms the cosmos.

20 O Lord, your presence fi lls the heavens and the earth and reaches in every direction. I see the three worlds trembling before this vision of your wonderful and terrible form.

21 Th e gods enter your being, some calling out and greeting you in fear. Great saints sing your glory, praying, “May all be well!”

22 Th e multitudes of gods, demigods, and demons are all overwhelmed by the sight of you. 23 O mighty Lord, at the sight of your myriad eyes and mouths, arms and legs, stomachs and fearful teeth, I and the entire universe shake in terror.

24 O Vishnu, I can see your eyes shining; with open mouth, you glitter in an array of colors, and your body touches the sky. I look at you and my heart trembles; I have lost all courage and all peace of mind.

25 When I see your mouths with their fearful teeth, mouths burning like the fi res at the end of time,

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I forget where I am and I have no place to go. O Lord, you are the support of the universe; have mercy on me!

26 I see all the sons of Dhritarashtra; I see Bhishma, Drona, and Karna; I see our warriors and all the kings who are here to fi ght. 27 All are rushing into your awful jaws; I see some of them crushed by your teeth. 28 As rivers fl ow into the ocean, all the warriors of this world are passing into your fi ery jaws; 29 all creatures rush to their destruction like moths into a fl ame.

30 You lap the worlds into your burning mouths and swallow them. Filled with your terrible radiance, O Vishnu, the whole of creation bursts into fl ames.

31 Tell me who you are, O Lord of terrible form. I bow before you; have mercy! I want to know who you are, you who existed before all creation. Your nature and workings confound me.

k r i s h n a

32 I am time, the destroyer of all; I have come to consume the world. Even without your participation, all the warriors gathered here will die.

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33 Th erefore arise, Arjuna; conquer your enemies and enjoy the glory of sovereignty. I have already slain all these warriors; you will only be my instrument.

34 Bhishma, Drona, Jayadratha, Karna, and many others are already slain. Kill those whom I have killed. Do not hesitate. Fight in this battle and you will conquer your enemies.

s a n j aya

35 Having heard these words, Arjuna trembled in fear. With joined palms he bowed before Krishna and addressed him stammering.

a r j u n a

36 O Krishna, it is right that the world delights and rejoices in your praise, that all the saints and sages bow down to you and all evil fl ees before you to the far corners of the universe.

37 How could they not worship you, O Lord? You are the eternal spirit, who existed before Brahma the Creator and who will never cease to be. Lord of the gods, you are the abode of the universe. Changeless, you are what is and what is not, and beyond the duality of existence and nonexistence.

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38 You are the fi rst among the gods, the timeless spirit, the resting place of all beings. You are the knower and the thing which is known. You are the fi nal home; with your infi nite form you pervade the cosmos.

39 You are Vayu, god of wind; Yama, god of death; Agni, god of fi re; Varuna, god of water. You are the moon and the creator Prajapati, and the great-grandfather of all creatures. I bow before you and salute you again and again.

40 You are behind me and in front of me; I bow to you on every side. Your power is immeasurable. You pervade everything; you are everything.

41 Sometimes, because we were friends, I rashly said, “Oh, Krishna! Say, friend!” – casual, careless remarks. Whatever I may have said lightly, whether we were playing or resting, alone or in company, sitting together or eating, 42 if it was disrespectful, forgive me for it, O Krishna. I did not know the greatness of your nature, unchanging and imperishable.

43 You are the father of the universe, of the animate and the inanimate; you are the object of

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all worship, the greatest guru. Th ere is none to equal you in the three worlds. Who can match your power? 44 O gracious Lord, I prostrate myself before you and ask for your blessing. As a father forgives his son, or a friend a friend, or a lover his beloved, so should you forgive me.

45 I rejoice in seeing you as you have never been seen before, yet I am fi lled with fear by this vision of you as the abode of the universe. Please let me see you again as the shining God of gods. 46 Th ough you are the embodiment of all creation, let me see you again not with a thousand arms but with four, carrying the mace and discus and wearing a crown.

k r i s h n a

47 Arjuna, through my grace you have been united with me and received this vision of my radiant, universal form, without beginning or end, which no one else has ever seen.

48 Not by knowledge of the Vedas, nor sacrifi ce, nor charity, nor rituals, nor even by severe asceticism has any other mortal seen what you have seen, O heroic Arjuna.

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49 Do not be troubled; do not fear my terrible form. Let your heart be satisfi ed and your fears dispelled in looking at me as I was before.

s a n j aya

50 Having spoken these words, the Lord once again assumed the gentle form of Krishna and consoled his devotee, who had been so afraid.

a r j u n a

51 O Krishna, now that I have seen your gentle human form my mind is again composed and returned to normal.

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52 It is extremely diffi cult to obtain the vision you have had; even the gods long always to see me in this aspect. 53 Neither knowledge of the Vedas, nor austerity, nor charity, nor sacrifi ce can bring the vision you have seen. 54 But through unfailing devotion, Arjuna, you can know me, see me, and attain union with me. 55 Th ose who make me the supreme goal of all their work and act without selfi sh attachment, who devote themselves to me completely and are free from ill will for any creature, enter into me.

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╭ The Way of Love

T h i s s h o r t c h a p t e r focuses upon the supreme importance of devotion and faith in spiritual development. Here love, or personal devotion, is the most powerful motivation in spiritual life.

Th e world’s great religions agree on this point. All religions allow for a way of devotion, and millions of men and women have found spiritual fulfi llment in devotion to Christ, the Buddha, or Muhammad. Hinduism has allowed a place for the path of knowledge as well as the path of devotion; here, however, the Gita stresses the effi cacy of devotion.

Th e Upanishads, the fi nal word on mystic experience uttered by the Vedas, stressed the ultimate reality, the eternal truth behind the ephemeral things of this world. Th e teachers of the Upanishads told their students to seek knowledge of the Atman, their true Self. Th e consummation of this knowledge was to know that the Self within was one with Brahman, the ultimate reality pervading all things. Th is was encapsulated in the statement Tat tvam asi, “You are that” – that imper-

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ishable being, that immortal Reality. Brahman, the nameless, formless Godhead, could be known only in the supercon- scious state.

Th e Gita moves away from such an approach to religion. For as Krishna says, seeking an eternal, indefi nable, hid- den Godhead is rather a tall order for the average (or even above average) person. In fact, in this chapter it is said to be beyond the reach of practically all “embodied beings” ( deha- vat, “those who have bodies”). Th is path of wisdom may be just too “spiritual” for earth’s children, because those who identify to a large degree with their physical nature fi nd the way of knowledge too steep a climb. We can turn to one of the Western followers of this path to see why; this is Dionysius the Areopagite, a Christian monk of the fi ft h century, sound- ing remarkably like verses 3–4 of this very chapter:

Th en, beyond all distinction between knower and known, the aspirant becomes merged in the nameless, formless Reality, wholly absorbed in Th at which is beyond all things and in nothing else. . . . Having stilled his intellect and mind, he is united by his highest faculty with Th at which is beyond all knowing.

Fortunately there is the path of love; for when God is loved in personal aspect, the way is vastly easier. According to the Hindu scriptures, God can be loved as a merciful father, a divine mother, a wise friend, a passionate beloved, or even as a mischievous child.

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We might turn to the Christian mystics for help here, for most of them have walked the way of love. Th e medieval Christian work called Th e Cloud of Unknowing states that love is the sure, safe path to God: “By love He can be gotten and holden, by thought never.” In a well-known passage in the New Testament, St. Paul puts love above knowledge and even above miraculous powers: “But I shall give you a more excel- lent way. . . . Love never faileth. But whether there be proph- ecies, they shall fail. Whether there be tongues, they shall cease. Whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” And St. John of the Cross tells concisely why the vast majority of human beings fi nd it easier to overcome their weaknesses through love than through knowledge:

In order to overcome our desires and to renounce all those things, our love and inclination for which are wont to infl ame the will that it delights therein, we require a more ardent fi re and a nobler love – that of the Bridegroom. . . . if our spiritual nature were not on fi re with other and nobler passions, we should never cast off the yoke of the senses.

But such love is oft en not forthcoming in the struggling soul, even in one like Arjuna. So Krishna says that if Arjuna is not able to focus his devotion, he should learn to do so through the regular practice of meditation. Even love and devotion can be cultivated through regular practice; they needn’t be regarded as mysterious forces, divine gift s of the spirit.

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If even the attempt at regular practice should fail, Krishna is still not ready to let Arjuna admit defeat. He should, Krishna says, work selfl essly without desire for the fruits of his labors. But real peace of mind comes only from renunciation. Th e word tyaga here seems to mean renunciation or abandon- ment of self-will more than anything else. Such self-surren- der may be a last resort, but if it is genuine it brings immedi- ate peace.

Verses 13–20 describe the characteristics of the genuine lover of God. Such a saintly person, Krishna points out, is greatly loved and dear to Krishna himself.

– d.m.

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a r j u n a

1 Of those steadfast devotees who love you and those who seek you as the eternal formless Reality, who are the more established in yoga?

k r i s h n a

2 Th ose who set their hearts on me and worship me with unfailing devotion and faith are more established in yoga.

3 As for those who seek the transcendental Reality, without name, without form, contemplating the Unmanifested, beyond the reach of thought and of feeling, 4 with their senses subdued and mind serene and striving for the good of all beings, they too will verily come unto me.

5 Yet hazardous and slow is the path to the Unrevealed, diffi cult for physical creatures to tread. 6 But they

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for whom I am the supreme goal, who do all work renouncing self for me and meditate on me with single-hearted devotion, 7 these I will swift ly rescue from the fragment’s cycle of birth and death, for their consciousness has entered into me.

8 Still your mind in me, still your intellect in me, and without doubt you will be united with me forever. 9 If you cannot still your mind in me, learn to do so through the regular practice of meditation. 10 If you lack the will for such self-discipline, engage yourself in my work, for selfl ess service can lead you at last to complete fulfi llment. 11 If you are unable to do even this, surrender yourself to me, disciplining yourself and renouncing the results of all your actions.

12 Better indeed is knowledge than mechanical practice. Better than knowledge is meditation. But better still is surrender of attachment to results, because there follows immediate peace.

13 Th at one I love who is incapable of ill will, who is friendly and compassionate. Living beyond the reach of I and mine and of pleasure and pain, 14 patient, contented, self-controlled, fi rm

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in faith, with all their heart and all their mind given to me – with such as these I am in love.

15 Not agitating the world or by it agitated, they stand above the sway of elation, competition, and fear: that one is my beloved.

16 Th ey are detached, pure, effi cient, impartial, never anxious, selfl ess in all their undertakings; they are my devotees, very dear to me.

17 Th at one is dear to me who runs not aft er the pleasant or away from the painful, grieves not, lusts not, but lets things come and go as they happen.

18 Th at devotee who looks upon friend and foe with equal regard, who is not buoyed up by praise nor cast down by blame, alike in heat and cold, pleasure and pain, free from selfi sh attachments, 19 the same in honor and dishonor, quiet, ever full, in harmony everywhere, fi rm in faith – such a one is dear to me.

20 Th ose who meditate upon this immortal dharma as I have declared it, full of faith and seeking me as life’s supreme goal, are truly my devotees, and my love for them is very great.

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╭ The Field & the Knower

T h i s c h a p t e r p r e s e n t s us with two sweeping categories: the “fi eld” and the “knower of the fi eld.” To simplify, we may think of the fi eld as the body and the knower of the fi eld as the Self that resides in the body. Th is chapter, then, is about the duality between “soul and body.” Th is duality is seen as eternal, a basic division of all things – a fundamental concept elaborated in Sankhya philosophy.

We said that the “fi eld” is the body, but this is not precise enough. Th e fi eld also includes the mind: in fact, it comprises all the components of prakriti including ahamkara – the awareness each of us has that we are an individual ego, from aham “I” and kara “maker.” Ahamkara is the basic awareness of separateness: that which makes me “I,” a being separate from the rest of creation. In this wide sense the fi eld encom- passes everything, except for the elusive consciousness that “knows” the fi eld. Th e fi eld is the object; the knower is the subject. Krishna is the hidden knower of the fi eld: that is, the Self.

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Th is term “fi eld” is a surprisingly modern one, for it describes what today we might call an extension of the con- tinuum of mass, energy, time, and space to include the strata of mind as well – in other words, a fi eld of forces both physi- cal and mental. Just as physics no longer regards matter and energy as essentially separate, the Gita would not regard mat- ter and mind as separate; they are diff erent aspects of prakriti, the underlying “stuff ” of existence.

Another dimension of Krishna’s use of the word “fi eld” is brought out by a traditional Hindu anecdote. A wander- ing sadhu or holy man is asked what his work in life is; he replies, “I’m a farmer.” When the questioner looks surprised he adds, “Th is body of mine is my fi eld. I sow good thoughts and actions, and in my body I reap the results.” Th e Buddha explains, “All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts; it is made of our thoughts.” What we think, we become, for as Emerson says, the ances- tor of every action is a thought. Th us our thoughts, taken together, bear fruit in the actions, decisions, and desires that shape our lives. In part, the body bears the fruit of what we think insofar as our way of thinking aff ects our health and safety. But in a larger sense, the whole fi eld of human activ- ity (indeed the whole of prakriti) is also a “fi eld of karma” – where, for example, the global environment is shaped by the sum of what its inhabitants do, which in turn is shaped by

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how they think. Th is idea will be picked up and elaborated on in detail in the concluding chapters of the Gita.

Verses 7–11 then describe the person who understands his or her own true nature. Th is is an attractive picture of the modest, truly wise person who is in control of his or her own life. One implication of these verses is that it is quite an achievement to understand the diff erence between the fi eld and the Self, the knower. Most people confuse the two, taking the body and mind to be who they are. In the usual course of events, we may be totally unaware that there is a Self, a con- sciousness underneath the surface awareness of a separate “I.” Verses 12–17 describe the ultimate underlying reality: Brah- man, pure, undiff erentiated consciousness, the divine ground of existence.

Verse 19 returns us to the discussion of the basic duality of mind/matter and spirit (Self). Again the technical terms prakriti and Purusha are used. Purusha is the knower and prakriti the fi eld. From the union of these two all things are born. Both prakriti and Purusha are essential to the creation of the world: nothing could exist without the spiritual basis of Purusha, and nothing could develop in a manifest form with- out the mind and matter of prakriti.

With its need to think of abstract principles in human terms, Hinduism embodies these two eternal principles in the fi gures of Shiva and Shakti, the divine Father and Mother. Th e

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Gita does not mention these two because it comes essentially from the Vishnu tradition, but in the other great stream of the Hindu faith, Shiva is the eternal Spirit, the Absolute, rep- resented as dwelling aloof on the mountain peak of spiritual peace. Shakti, the Divine Mother, is his creative partner, and without her, Shiva could never have created the world. Shakti – she has many names in her various manifestations – rules in the realm of birth and death; Shiva, Purusha, lives in the realm of the immortal. Together the two represent Brahman, the attributeless Godhead, and the creative power of the God- head called maya. Th us it is in the union of Shiva and Shakti that all things are born.

Th is chapter emphasizes that the Self, the real knower, is ever uninvolved in the shift ing forces that play over the fi eld. Th ere is no possibility of any soul being eternally lost, for all beings partake of the immortal, pure nature of Purusha. We may endure countless eons of birth and death, but we must fi nally fi nd our rest in the eternal spirit. By defi nition, noth- ing taking place in the realm of prakriti can aff ect Purusha; but the exact nature of the interaction of these two is a pro- found mystery.

Verse 32 explains this mystery by drawing a comparison with akasha, the subtlest element recognized by the ancient philosophers. Akasha is space itself. Just as space pervades the cosmos, yet remains pure even in the midst of impure things, so the Self remains completely pure, even though it dwells in

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all things. Th ough it seems to live in the land of mortals and to undergo change and death, the real knower in every crea- ture is deathless, “hidden in the heart.”

– d.m.

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k r i s h n a

1 Th e body is called a fi eld, Arjuna; the one who knows it is called the Knower of the fi eld. Th is is the knowledge of those who know. 2 I am the Knower of the fi eld in everyone, Arjuna. Knowledge of the fi eld and its Knower is true knowledge.

3 Listen and I will explain the nature of the fi eld and how change takes place within it. I will also describe the Knower of the fi eld and his power. 4 Th ese truths have been sung by great sages in a variety of ways, and expounded in precise arguments concerning Brahman.

5 Th e fi eld, Arjuna, is made up of the following: the fi ve areas of sense perception; the fi ve elements; the fi ve sense organs and the fi ve organs of action; the three components of the mind: manas, buddhi, and ahamkara ; and the undiff erentiated energy from

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which all these evolved. 6In this fi eld arise desire and aversion, pleasure and pain, the body, intelligence, and will.

7 Th ose who know truly are free from pride and deceit. Th ey are gentle, forgiving, upright, and pure, devoted to their spiritual teacher, fi lled with inner strength, and self-controlled. 8 Detached from sense objects and self- will, they have learned the painful lesson of separate birth and suff ering, old age, disease, and death.

9 Free from selfi sh attachment, they do not get compulsively entangled even in home and family. Th ey are even-minded through good fortune and bad. 10 Th eir devotion to me is undivided. Enjoying solitude and not following the crowd, they seek only me. 11 Th is is true knowledge, to seek the Self as the true end of wisdom always. To seek anything else is ignorance.

12 I will tell you of the wisdom that leads to immortality: the beginningless Brahman, which can be called neither being nor non-being.

13 It dwells in all, in every hand and foot and head, in every mouth and eye and ear in the universe. 14 Without senses itself, it shines through the

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functioning of the senses. Completely independent, it supports all things. Beyond the gunas, it enjoys their play.

15 It is both near and far, both within and without every creature; it moves and is unmoving. 16 In its subtlety it is beyond comprehension. It is indivisible, yet appears divided in separate creatures. Know it to be the creator, the preserver, and the destroyer.

17 Dwelling in every heart, it is beyond darkness. It is called the light of light, the object and goal of knowledge, and knowledge itself.

18 I have revealed to you the nature of the fi eld and the meaning and object of true knowledge. Th ose who are devoted to me, knowing these things, are united with me.

19 Know that prakriti and Purusha are both without beginning, and that from prakriti come the gunas and all that changes. 20 Prakriti is the agent, cause, and eff ect of every action, but it is Purusha that seems to experience pleasure and pain.

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21 Purusha, resting in prakriti, witnesses the play of the gunas born of prakriti. But attachment to the gunas leads a person to be born for good or evil.

22 Within the body the supreme Purusha is called the witness, approver, supporter, enjoyer, the supreme Lord, the highest Self.

23 Whoever realizes the true nature of Purusha, prakriti, and the gunas, whatever path he or she may follow, is not born separate again.

24 Some realize the Self within them through the practice of meditation, some by the path of wisdom, and others by selfl ess service. 25 Others may not know these paths; but hearing and following the instructions of an illumined teacher, they too go beyond death.

26 Whatever exists, Arjuna, animate or inanimate, is born through the union of the fi eld and its Knower.

27 Th ey alone see truly who see the Lord the same in every creature, who see the deathless in the hearts of all that die. 28 Seeing the same Lord everywhere, they do not harm themselves or others. Th us they attain the supreme goal.

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29 Th ey alone see truly who see that all actions are performed by prakriti, while the Self remains unmoved. 30 When they see the variety of creation rooted in that unity and growing out of it, they attain fulfi llment in Brahman.

31 Th is supreme Self is without a beginning, undiff erentiated, deathless. Th ough it dwells in the body, Arjuna, it neither acts nor is touched by action. 32 As akasha pervades the cosmos but remains unstained, the Self can never be tainted though it dwells in every creature.

33 As the sun lights up the world, the Self dwelling in the fi eld is the source of all light in the fi eld. 34 Th ose who, with the eye of wisdom, distinguish the fi eld from its Knower and the way to freedom from the bondage of prakriti, attain the supreme goal.

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╭ The Forces of Evolution

T h e l a s t c h a p t e r gave us the dis- tinction between Purusha and prakriti. Th is chapter will tell us in more detail about the nature of prakriti – the basis of the world of mind and matter. Here the Gita explains human experience in terms of the three qualities of prakriti, known as gunas : sattva, rajas, and tamas . When the soul attains illu- mination it goes beyond the confi nes of prakriti into the spir- itual realm of Purusha. But until then, the soul must learn to deal with these three all-powerful forces.

No single English word can be given to translate the words sattva, rajas, and tamas . Th e quality of sattva combines good- ness, purity, light, harmony, balance. In terms of evolution, sattva is on the highest level. Rajas is energy – or, on the human level, passion – which can be both good and bad. In personality rajas may express itself in anger, hatred, or greed; but it also provides motivation, the will to act. Rajas is ambi- tious, which is not altogether a bad thing for the evolution of the soul. It is defi nitely superior to the third guna, tamas,

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which combines inertia, sloth, darkness, ignorance, insensi- tivity. Th is is the lowest state in terms of evolution; for tamas means a dead stability, where nothing much happens for good or ill. Worse, tamas can mean not just stability but a sliding backwards in the struggle of evolution, where to stand still may mean to be left behind (14:18).

In any given personality or phenomenon all the three gunas are likely to be present. It is the mix of the three that colors our experience. Sattva may be dominant, with an admixture of rajas or tamas. Or perhaps rajas dominates, with a little sat- tva and a good measure of tamas. Finally, the personality may be basically tamasic, with a few rays of the light of sattva and a little of the heat of rajas. In any case, no mix of the three gunas is stable, for it is the very nature of prakriti to be in con- stant fl ux. Th e gunas are constantly shift ing, always changing in intensity.

It is essential that the gunas, even the purity and goodness of sattva, be transcended if the soul is to attain its fi nal release. For the three gunas are forces that operate within the world of prakriti: in fact, their three strands make up the whole fab- ric of the phenomenal world. Liberation lies beyond the con- ditioning of prakriti, in the realm of Purusha. When Arjuna asks Krishna to describe the person who has gone beyond prakriti’s net, Krishna replies that such a person is detached from the constant shift ing and interaction of the gunas. Iden- tifi ed with the Self, he or she realizes that the gunas and their

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play are external – even the emotions and thoughts that seem so personal, so interior, are really only the play of prakriti. Th oughts and emotions, and ahamkara itself, stop at the gate of the inner Self. Th e Self abides in the inner chamber of the heart, always at peace, whatever forces of prakriti may storm outside. Th e illumined man or woman maintains a joyful evenness of mind in happiness and sorrow.

At the end of the chapter, again reminding him of the power of devotion ( bhakti ), Krishna says that Arjuna can transcend the gunas through steadfast love. If he has devo- tion and has gone beyond the three gunas, then he will be fi t to know Brahman.

– d.m.

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14 ╭ Th e Forces of Evolution

k r i s h n a

1 Let me tell you more about the wisdom that transcends all knowledge, through which the saints and sages attained perfection. 2 Th ose who rely on this wisdom will be united with me. For them there is neither rebirth nor fear of death.

3 My womb is prakriti; in that I place the seed. Th us all created things are born. 4 Everything born, Arjuna, comes from the womb of prakriti, and I am the seed-giving father.

5 It is the three gunas born of prakriti – sattva, rajas, and tamas – that bind the immortal Self to the body. 6 Sattva – pure, luminous, and free from sorrow – binds us with attachment to happiness and wisdom. 7 Rajas is passion, arising from selfi sh desire and attachment. Th ese bind the Self with compulsive

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action. 8 Tamas, born of ignorance, deludes all creatures through heedlessness, indolence, and sleep.

9 Sattva binds us to happiness; rajas binds us to action. Tamas, distorting our understanding, binds us to delusion.

10 Sattva predominates when rajas and tamas are transformed. Rajas prevails when sattva is weak and tamas overcome. Tamas prevails when rajas and sattva are dormant.

11 When sattva predominates, the light of wisdom shines through every gate of the body. 12 When rajas predominates, a person runs about pursuing selfi sh and greedy ends, driven by restlessness and desire. 13 When tamas is dominant a person lives in darkness – slothful, confused, and easily infatuated.

14 Th ose dying in the state of sattva attain the pure worlds of the wise. 15 Th ose dying in rajas are reborn among people driven by work. But those who die in tamas are conceived in the wombs of the ignorant.

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16 Th e fruit of good deeds is pure and sattvic. Th e fruit of rajas is suff ering. Th e fruit of tamas is ignorance and insensitivity.

17 From sattva comes understanding; from rajas, greed. But the outcome of tamas is confusion, infatuation, and ignorance.

18 Th ose who live in sattva go upwards; those in rajas remain where they are. But those immersed in tamas sink downwards.

19 Th e wise see clearly that all action is the work of the gunas. Knowing that which is above the gunas, they enter into union with me.

20 Going beyond the three gunas which form the body, they leave behind the cycle of birth and death, decrepitude and sorrow, and attain to immortality.

a r j u n a

21 What are the characteristics of those who have gone beyond the gunas, O Lord? How do they act? How have they passed beyond the gunas’ hold?

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k r i s h n a

22 Th ey are unmoved by the harmony of sattva, the activity of rajas, or the delusion of tamas. Th ey feel no aversion when these forces are active, nor do they crave for them when these forces subside.

23 Th ey remain impartial, undisturbed by the actions of the gunas. Knowing that it is the gunas which act, they abide within themselves and do not vacillate.

24 Established within themselves, they are equal in pleasure and pain, praise and blame, kindness and unkindness. Clay, a rock, and gold are the same to them. 25 Alike in honor and dishonor, alike to friend and foe, they have given up every selfi sh pursuit. Such are those who have gone beyond the gunas.

26 By serving me with steadfast love, a man or woman goes beyond the gunas. Such a one is fi t for union with Brahman. 27 For I am the support of Brahman, the eternal, the unchanging, the deathless, the everlasting dharma, the source of all joy.

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╭ Th e Supreme Self

T h i s i s a diffi cult chapter, for it deals essentially with questions of theology and ultimate mystical experience.

Krishna reveals that he transcends not only the world of mat- ter but also the immortal Atman that dwells as the conscious “knower” within all beings. Krishna has said that he is the Atman; but the paradox is that he also transcends the Atman. In this highest aspect Krishna is Ishvara, the cosmic Lord, who abides in his own mystery. Th e liberated Self enjoys union with Krishna and lives in Krishna’s highest home. But the Self does not become Krishna: the immortal soul, even when liberated from its mortal journeying, does not become God.

Th e chapter opens with the image of an upside-down tree, a world-tree rooted in Brahman which branches out into a manifold creation in this realm below. Th is is said to be an ashvattha or pipal tree, a kind of fi g. Like the banyan, it sends out roots into the air, spreading above and below.

In this chapter about Krishna’s most exalted nature, it

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is appropriate that his “home,” the highest goal of all, is described. It is an abode of light and eternal life. By its very nature, it is beyond the description of human language. Verse 4 uses an elemental and ancient word for the ultimate real- ity that defi es all description, all human thought: Tat, which means simply “that” or “it.” Here the Gita personalizes Tat to the extent of giving It a home: avyayam padam, the immortal home, the eternal goal. Pada also means foot or step, and it is of interest here to recall a myth from the Vedas. At the begin- ning of time Vishnu took three steps that measured out the entire cosmos. Th e third and highest step became a heavenly world, the realm of the blessed. In the Rig Veda (I.154.5), the poet longs to fi nd himself in this home of the god:

May I go to his blessed world Where those who love the gods rejoice; For there, truly, is the company of the far-stepping god, A fountain of honey in the highest step of Vishnu.

Th e Gita describes Krishna’s home as a realm of light beyond the light of the sun (15:6). Here we might compare the Gita with the Katha Upanishad (5:15):

Th ere shines not the sun, neither moon nor star, Nor fl ash of lightning, nor fi re lit on earth. Th e Self is the light refl ected by all. He shining, everything shines aft er him.

Even here, though, we are reminded that Krishna lives not just in this highest realm but also in the world below, where

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both darkness and light coexist. In his divine mystery he sends fragments of himself to become the inner Self in each creature. In this sense the Self enters the body at conception, dwells in the body, and then departs at death. Krishna is the prana – the breath or vitality – of the body. Th e Upanishads speak of fi ve pranas; here the Gita mentions the two most prominent: the prana by which we breathe and the prana that digests food.

– d.m.

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15 ╭ Th e Supreme Self

k r i s h n a

1 Sages speak of the immutable ashvattha tree, with its taproot above and its branches below. On this tree grow the scriptures; seeing their source, one knows their essence.

2 Nourished by the gunas, the limbs of this tree spread above and below. Sense objects grow on the limbs as buds; the roots hanging down bind us to action in this world.

3 Th e true form of this tree – its essence, beginning, and end – is not perceived on this earth. Cut down this strong-rooted tree with the sharp ax of detachment; 4 then fi nd the path which does not come back again. Seek Th at, the First Cause, from which the universe came long ago.

5 Not deluded by pride, free from selfi sh attachment

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and selfi sh desire, beyond the duality of pleasure and pain, ever aware of the Self, the wise go forward to that eternal goal. 6 Neither the sun nor the moon nor fi re can add to that light. Th is is my supreme abode, and those who enter there do not return to separate existence.

7 An eternal part of me enters into the world, assuming the powers of action and perception and a mind made of prakriti. 8 When the divine Self enters and leaves a body, it takes these along as the wind carries a scent from place to place. 9 Using the mind, ears, eyes, nose, and the senses of taste and touch, the Self enjoys sense objects.

10 Th e deluded do not see the Self when it leaves the body or when it dwells within it. Th ey do not see the Self enjoying sense objects or acting through the gunas. But they who have the eye of wisdom see.

11 Th ose who strive resolutely on the path of yoga see the Self within. Th e thoughtless, who strive imperfectly, do not.

12 Th e brightness of the sun, which lights up the world, the brightness of the moon and of fi re – these are my

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glory. 13 With a drop of my energy I enter the earth and support all creatures. Th rough the moon, the vessel of life-giving fl uid, I nourish all plants. 14 I enter breathing creatures and dwell within as the life-giving breath. I am the fi re in the stomach which digests all food.

15 Entering into every heart, I give the power to remember and understand; it is I again who take that power away. All the scriptures lead to me; I am their author and their wisdom.

16 In this world there are two orders of being: the perishable, separate creature and the changeless spirit. 17 But beyond these there is another, the supreme Self, the eternal Lord, who enters into the entire cosmos and supports it from within.

18 I am that supreme Self, praised by the scriptures as beyond the changing and the changeless. 19 Th ose who see in me that supreme Self see truly. Th ey have found the source of all wisdom, Arjuna, and they worship me with all their heart.

20 I have shared this profound truth with you, Arjuna. Th ose who understand it will attain wisdom; they will have done that which has to be done.

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╭ Two Paths

I n t h i s m o s t unusual chapter, the Gita departs from a loft y view of human nature and describes two opposing forces. Th e higher tendency, the divine, leads to increasing happiness in the course of the soul’s evolution, and eventually to its liberation; but there is also a downward current leading to suff ering and enslavement of the spirit. Th is chapter is unusual in giving equal, if not in fact more, attention to this dark side of human nature. Here we get a detailed description of the divine qualities that liberate and the “demonic” qualities that enslave (16:5).

In a rare somber tone, Krishna describes the sinful person, the individual of a demonic kind – and it seems he knows what he is talking about. But fi rst he assures Arjuna that he is of the divine type, so he shouldn’t be alarmed.

Th e “demonic” personality is basically atheistic. For such people life does not originate in God or a divine reality but is grounded in biology, in sexual desire. Taking a low view of human nature, such people cause suff ering to themselves

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as well as others. Th ey are arrogant and have many insatiable selfi sh desires, and they do not hesitate to do anything that will get them what they want. Krishna grants that they may attain their desires, enjoying wealth and power, but their des- tination is hell – a hell of their own making, oft en in this very life, as their karma bears fruit.

One of the least likable characteristics of “demonic” per- sonalities is their sense of self-importance. Th ey like to give gift s ostentatiously and off er ritual sacrifi ces; this legitimizes their wealth and makes them feel respectable and esteemed. Th ey like being generous if it will make them look good.

Krishna does not disguise his aversion to cruel people. He tells Arjuna that he arranges for them to be born again and again in a harsh world. Such souls cannot seem to purify their sinful hearts; repeating the same selfi sh ways, they sink lower and lower. Th is is a bleak picture, which the Gita dwells on only in this chapter. But even here, amidst the gloom, Krishna will not say that such a soul is eternally damned. It may be that such a sinful creature is condemned to birth aft er birth in harsh, unfavorable circumstances, sinking into more and more hellish states of mind; but the cycle goes on, the choice to change direction is always open, and the Atman itself can never be stained.

Lust, anger, and greed are the three doors to hell that Arjuna must at all costs not enter. Th e person who enters will

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not only fail to reach life’s fi nal goal, but will not achieve any measure of lasting happiness and prosperity.

In Sanskrit this chapter is called the “Way of Divine and Demonic Destinies.” Th e words deva, god, and asura, demon, are not to be taken too literally here. Th e Hindu scriptures oft en tell stories of the battles between the gods and the demons; thus they dramatize the struggle between good and evil in the world. No divine character from Hindu myth escapes a challenge from some demon. Usually the god or goddess is victorious; but oft en the demon will win a battle or two, though not the fi nal victory. Krishna has a long battle record, celebrated by epithets like Madhusudana, “slayer of the demon Madhu.” Rama, another incarnation of Vishnu, had to confront and kill Ravana. Th e stories go on. Th e gods never seem to rest for long: there is always a new challenge to their authority, a new source of malignant evil to be destroyed.

Th e Mahabharata and the Gita do not dwell on these myth- ical battles. Here the interest is more frankly human, and when Krishna discusses the “divine” and “demonic” qualities, he speaks not of gods and demons but of human good and evil.

– d.m.

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16 ╭ Two Paths

k r i s h n a

1 Be fearless and pure; never waver in your determination or your dedication to the spiritual life. Give freely. Be self-controlled, sincere, truthful, loving, and full of the desire to serve. Realize the truth of the scriptures; learn to be detached and to take joy in renunciation. 2 Do not get angry or harm any living creature, but be compassionate and gentle; show good will to all. 3 Cultivate vigor, patience, will, purity; avoid malice and pride. Th en, Arjuna, you will achieve your divine destiny.

4 Other qualities, Arjuna, make a person more and more inhuman: hypocrisy, arrogance, conceit, anger, cruelty, ignorance.

5 Th e divine qualities lead to freedom; the demonic, to bondage. But do not grieve, Arjuna; you were born with divine attributes.

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6 Some people have divine tendencies, others demonic. I have described the divine at length, Arjuna; now listen while I describe the demonic.

7 Th e demonic do things they should avoid and avoid the things they should do. Th ey have no sense of uprightness, purity, or truth.

8 “Th ere is no God,” they say, “no truth, no spiritual law, no moral order. Th e basis of life is sex; what else can it be?” 9 Holding such distorted views, possessing scant discrimination, they become enemies of the world, causing suff ering and destruction.

10 Hypocritical, proud, and arrogant, living in delusion and clinging to deluded ideas, insatiable in their desires, they pursue their unclean ends. 11 Although burdened with fears that end only with death, they still maintain with complete assurance, “Gratifi cation of lust is the highest that life can off er.”

12 Bound on all sides by scheming and anxiety, driven by anger and greed, they amass by any means they can a hoard of money for the satisfaction of their cravings.

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13 “I got this today,” they say; “tomorrow I shall get that. Th is wealth is mine, and that will be mine too. 14 I have destroyed my enemies. I shall destroy others too! Am I not like God? I enjoy what I want. I am successful. I am powerful. I am happy. 15 I am rich and well-born. Who is equal to me? I will perform sacrifi ces and give gift s, and rejoice in my own generosity.” Th is is how they go on, deluded by ignorance. 16 Bound by their greed and entangled in a web of delusion, whirled about by a fragmented mind, they fall into a dark hell.

17 Self-important, obstinate, swept away by the pride of wealth, they ostentatiously perform sacrifi ces without any regard for their purpose. 18 Egotistical, violent, arrogant, lustful, angry, envious of everyone, they abuse my presence within their own bodies and in the bodies of others.

19 Life aft er life I cast those who are malicious, hateful, cruel, and degraded into the wombs of those with similar demonic natures. 20 Birth aft er birth they fi nd themselves with demonic tendencies. Degraded in this way, Arjuna, they fail to reach me and fall lower still.

21 Th ere are three gates to this self-destructive hell: lust, anger, and greed. Renounce these three.

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22 Th ose who escape from these three gates of darkness, Arjuna, seek what is best and attain life’s supreme goal. 23 Others disregard the teachings of the scriptures. Driven by selfi sh desire, they miss the goal of life, miss even happiness and success.

24 Th erefore let the scriptures be your guide in what to do and what not to do. Understand their teachings; then act in accordance with them.

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╭ The Power of Faith

At t h e e n d of the last chapter, Krishna told Arjuna to look to the scriptures to guide his actions, so that he can avoid the lower road that leads backwards to a less evolved state. Now Arjuna wants to know about those who do not follow the orthodox way set down in the scriptures, but who nevertheless off er some kind of worship with faith in their hearts.

In reply Krishna goes into greater detail about the three gunas – sattva, rajas, and tamas. He also stresses the impor- tance of shraddha or faith. Th is is a diffi cult word. “Faith” is not an adequate translation, and the etymology of the word is obscure; it probably has an underlying meaning of “what is held in the heart.” We might say that our shrad- dha is the sum total of our values, what we really hold to be important in our lives. Every human being, Krishna says, is shraddhamaya, “made up of faith” – as the Bible puts it, as we think in our heart, so we are.

Here, as elsewhere in the Gita, shraddha is a positive qual-

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ity. It is good to have faith; yet faith can be of diff erent kinds, diff erent qualities. Sattvic faith is the most evolved, the most pure. Rajasic faith is dynamic, evolving, yet tainted with self- ish motives. Tamasic faith goes astray in a spiritual desert.

To illustrate this, Krishna tells Arjuna that sattvic people worship the devas – the gods of heaven, of light. Th e raja- sic worship yakshas and rakshasas . Th e yakshas are servants of the god of wealth; rakshasas are powerful, fearsome spir- its driven by the lust for power and pleasure. Finally, tamasic people worship the spirits of the dead and ghosts.

In a practical digression, Krishna describes the diff erent kinds of food liked by the sattvic, the rajasic, and the tamasic. Th en he applies the three gunas to the act of worship and sac- rifi ce or selfl ess service ( yajna ).

Verses 14–16 turn to the important question of tapas or sadhana, the disciplines undergone for the sake of spiritual growth. Th e Gita holds that no lasting progress is possible on the spiritual path without self-discipline. Th e root of the word tapas is tap, to be hot or to suff er pain; and in fact tapas can also mean heat or suff ering. When certain spiritual practices are mastered, they create a feeling of heat in the body, which is a sign of increased spiritual potency. Tapas also refers to the power gained through spiritual austerity. Krishna dispels the mistaken belief that tapas means mortifying or torturing the body, and points out that spiritual disciplines can be sattvic, rajasic, or tamasic. Th e sattvic kind of tapas is off ered for a

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truly spiritual goal; rajasic tapas is performed to gain a selfi sh end, probably the admiration of others. Deluded by tamas, a person will undergo painful, foolish practices to try to gain power over, or even to injure, others.

Changing course for a moment, Krishna discusses the mantram Om Tat Sat . Om is the most ancient of Hindu mantrams; it is the sacred syllable that is Brahman, the cos- mic sound heard in the depths of meditation. Tat is “Th at,” the supreme reality beyond what language can describe or thought can think. And sat means both “that which is” and “that which is good.” Th e mantram Om Tat Sat affi rms that only the good really exists; the opposite word, asat, implies that evil is transient and therefore is not ultimately real.

Th e last verse concludes that no act or intention can add to spiritual growth if it is “faithless.” An act done without shrad- dha is asat, unreal; it cannot have meaning either in this world or the next.

– d.m.

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17 ╭ Th e Power of Faith

a r j u n a

1 O Krishna, what is the state of those who disregard the scriptures but still worship with faith? Do they act from sattva, rajas, or tamas?

k r i s h n a

2 Every creature is born with faith of some kind, either sattvic, rajasic, or tamasic. Listen, and I will describe each to you.

3 Our faith conforms to our nature, Arjuna. Human nature is made of faith. A person is what his shraddha is.

4 Th ose who are sattvic worship the forms of God; those who are rajasic worship power and wealth. Th ose who are tamasic worship spirits and ghosts. 5 Some invent harsh penances. Motivated by hypocrisy and egotism, 6 they torture their innocent bodies and

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me who dwells within. Blinded by their strength and passion, they act and think like demons.

7 Th e three kinds of faith express themselves in the habits of those who hold them: in the food they like, the work they do, the disciplines they practice, the gift s they give. Listen, and I will describe their diff erent ways.

8 Sattvic people enjoy food that is mild, tasty, substantial, agreeable, and nourishing, food that promotes health, strength, cheerfulness, and longevity. 9 Rajasic people like food that is salty or bitter, hot, sour, or spicy – food that promotes pain, discomfort, and disease. 10 Tamasic people like overcooked, stale, left over, and impure food, food that has lost its taste and nutritional value.

11 Th e sattvic perform sacrifi ces with their entire mind fi xed on the purpose of the sacrifi ce. Without thought of reward, they follow the teachings of the scriptures. 12 Th e rajasic perform sacrifi ces for the sake of show and the good it will bring them. 13 Th e tamasic perform sacrifi ces ignoring both the letter and the spirit. Th ey omit the proper prayers, the proper off erings, the proper food, and the proper faith.

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14 To off er service to the gods, to the good, to the wise, and to your spiritual teacher; purity, honesty, continence, and nonviolence: these are the disciplines of the body. 15 To off er soothing words, to speak truly, kindly, and helpfully, and to study the scriptures: these are the disciplines of speech. 16 Calmness, gentleness, silence, self-restraint, and purity: these are the disciplines of the mind.

17 When these three levels of self-discipline are practiced without attachment to the results, but in a spirit of great faith, the sages call this practice sattvic. 18 Disciplines practiced in order to gain respect, honor, or admiration are rajasic; they are undependable and transitory in their eff ects. 19 Disciplines practiced to gain power over others, or in the confused belief that to torture oneself is spiritual, are tamasic.

20 Giving simply because it is right to give, without thought of return, at a proper time, in proper circumstances, and to a worthy person, is sattvic giving. 21 Giving with regrets or in the expectation of receiving some favor or of getting something in return is rajasic. 22 Giving at an inappropriate time, in inappropriate circumstances, and to an unworthy person, without aff ection or respect, is tamasic.

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23 Om Tat Sat : these three words represent Brahman, from which come priests and scriptures and sacrifi ce. 24 Th ose who follow the Vedas, therefore, always repeat the word Om when off ering sacrifi ces, performing spiritual disciplines, or giving gift s. 25 Th ose seeking liberation and not any personal benefi t add the word Tat when performing these acts of worship, discipline, and charity. 26 Sat means “that which is”; it also indicates goodness. Th erefore it is used to describe a worthy deed.

27 To be steadfast in self-sacrifi ce, self-discipline, and giving is sat . To act in accordance with these three is sat as well. 28 But to engage in sacrifi ce, self-discipline, and giving without good faith is asat, without worth or goodness, either in this life or in the next.

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╭ Freedom & Renunciation

T H I S F I N A L C H A P T E r of the Gita roams over many subjects, beginning with a discussion of the merits of renunciation versus the life of personally involved action. To begin with, Arjuna asks about two words com- monly used for renunciation in Sanskrit, sannyasa and tyaga . Both words come from roots meaning to give up or abandon. Sannyasa acquired the specialized meaning of giving up ordinary life to live the austere, wandering life of a homeless pilgrim. A sannyasi is a monk: one who does not participate in family life and has withdrawn from society. In a sense, he has withdrawn from life. Krishna does not recommend this kind of renunciation. In fact, he says it is impossible for any- one to “give up” in this way, for as long as we have a body, we have to do a certain amount of work just to maintain it. Krishna does not advise dropping out of life, and the Gita is primarily aimed at people who live “in the world” yet desire genuine spiritual fulfi llment.

Th e kind of renunciation Krishna recommends is tyaga,

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where it is not activity but selfi sh desire for the rewards of action – of work, of life – that is to be renounced. Arjuna is advised to fulfi ll all his responsibilities, but without a selfi sh motive. In particular, he should not give up the three great virtuous works – sacrifi ce, giving, and spiritual disciplines.

Having made plain to Arjuna that renunciation is essential, Krishna goes on to explain that renunciation can be of three kinds, depending upon the guna that dominates the indi- vidual’s personality. As may be expected, rajasic and tamasic renunciation leave something to be desired.

Many times Krishna has said that renunciation of the fruits of work is essential. Perhaps the verse in chapter 2 said it best – that we have control over our work and actions, but we have no command of the results. Th e word karma-phala- tyaga appears again and again, and the literal translation is “renunciation of the fruits of action.” In this fi nal chapter, lit- erally “Th e Freedom [moksha] Th at Comes from Renuncia- tion,” Krishna sums up his teaching that in work, in life, one must not be driven by a selfi sh desire for any kind of reward, for such compulsive work can only stunt full spiritual devel- opment. In addition, Krishna points out, when we act out of selfi sh attachment, we must fully partake of the result, the karma, of every thought, word, and deed; and although these results may be what was desired, they may also be something not desired at all, or a little of both (18:12). In this life we can never be sure that things will turn out as planned.

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In verse 13 the Sankhya philosophy is again mentioned. Scholars believe that at the time the Gita was composed the Sankhya school was at an early stage of development, yet even here we see the characteristic method of thorough categoriz- ing. Using the Sankhya categories of the three gunas, the Gita goes on to give more detail about work, which is of three kinds – sattvic, rajasic, and tamasic. Similarly, the doer of the work is shown to be dominated by one of these all-pervasive quali- ties. In a very interesting passage Krishna talks of three kinds of happiness – a practical application of the abstract theories of Sankhya (18:36–39).

Pursuing the world of work, and how it contributes to spiritual growth, the Gita gives a short explanation of caste in this chapter. Th e Gita is not especially interested in caste – the social hierarchy of Hindu society – but we do fi nd a short explanation here. Th e sannyasi, the renouncing monk, has left society and therefore belongs to no caste, but Krishna does not point out that course to Arjuna. Rather, he wants Arjuna to lead an active life. Krishna tells him that devotion to his own duty is best. It is better to do one’s own work, even if imperfectly, than to try to take on some other work. Th e work proper to each of the four castes is then described. In general, the Gita takes a liberal view of caste, and it would be wrong to interpret this chapter as supporting a rigid caste system.

Th e fi nal part of this chapter, verses 50 and following, give a picture of the person who has attained siddhi – success or

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perfection – in the spiritual life and who goes on to union with Brahman.

In verse 61 Krishna returns to a favorite topic – the Lord dwelling in the hearts of all beings. But here he adds a star- tling revelation: the Lord dwells in all, yet he “whirls them around” through maya as if they were toys mounted on a machine. Having jarred Arjuna with this amazing image, Krishna reassures him that he can escape from the machine, the wheel of time, through devotion to God. If he wholeheart- edly takes refuge in the Lord within, then through Krishna’s grace he will fi nd peace.

As his all but fi nal word, Krishna reminds Arjuna that he holds him very dear. Th rough devotion, Arjuna will be able to fi nd his way, and he should not forget that Krishna feels deep love for him.

Th e relationship between the teacher and student is given a parting word, partially of warning. Krishna does not want these profound truths told to anyone who is not ready. Any- one lacking devotion or self-control, who does not want to hear spiritual instruction or who scoff s at it, should not be accepted as a student. Th e sacred act of giving spiritual instruction cannot be undertaken lightly. It is the highest work, and the man or woman who does it is most dear to Krishna.

Finally, Krishna asks Arjuna if he has understood. Arjuna says yes, his confl icts are over; he is ready to follow Krishna’s

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instructions. Th is concludes the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna and the instruction of the Gita proper. Sanjaya, who has been narrating the poem to blind king Dhritarash- tra, adds a few fi nal verses of benediction. He has “seen” this dialogue through his mystic vision, granted by the grace of Vyasa. Just recalling this wonderful conversation makes his hair stand on end in ecstasy, and when he remembers Krishna’s wonderful beauty, his joy is boundless.

– d.m.

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18 ╭ Freedom & Renunciation

a r j u n a

1 O Krishna, destroyer of evil, please explain to me sannyasa and tyaga and how one kind of renunciation diff ers from another.

k r i s h n a

2 To refrain from selfi sh acts is one kind of renunciation, called sannyasa; to renounce the fruit of action is another, called tyaga.

3 Among the wise, some say that all action should be renounced as evil. Others say that certain kinds of action – self-sacrifi ce, giving, and self-discipline – should be continued. 4 Listen, Arjuna, and I will explain three kinds of tyaga and my conclusions concerning them.

5 Self-sacrifi ce, giving, and self-discipline should not be renounced, for they purify the thoughtful.

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6 Yet even these, Arjuna, should be performed without desire for selfi sh rewards. Th is is essential.

7 To renounce one’s responsibilities is not fi tting. Th e wise call such deluded renunciation tamasic. 8 To avoid action from fear of diffi culty or physical discomfort is rajasic. Th ere is no reward in such renunciation. 9 But to fulfi ll your responsibilities knowing that they are obligatory, while at the same time desiring nothing for yourself – this is sattvic renunciation. 10 Th ose endowed with sattva clearly understand the meaning of renunciation and do not waver. Th ey are not intimidated by unpleasant work, nor do they seek a job because it is pleasant.

11 As long as one has a body, one cannot renounce action altogether. True renunciation is giving up all desire for personal reward. 12 Th ose who are attached to personal reward will reap the consequences of their actions: some pleasant, some unpleasant, some mixed. But those who renounce every desire for personal reward go beyond the reach of karma.

13 Listen, Arjuna, and I will explain the fi ve elements necessary for the accomplishment of every action, as taught by the wisdom of Sankhya. 14 Th e body,

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the means, the ego, the performance of the act, and the divine will: 15 these are the fi ve factors in all actions, right or wrong, in thought, word, or deed.

16 Th ose who do not understand this think of themselves as separate agents. With their crude intellects they fail to see the truth. 17 Th e person who is free from ego, who has attained purity of heart, though he slays these people, he does not slay and is not bound by his action.

18 Knowledge, the thing to be known, and the knower: these three promote action. Th e means, the act itself, and the doer: these three are the totality of action. 19 Knowledge, action, and the doer can be described according to the gunas. Listen, and I will explain their distinctions to you.

20 Sattvic knowledge sees the one indestructible Being in all beings, the unity underlying the multiplicity of creation. 21 Rajasic knowledge sees all things and creatures as separate and distinct. 22 Tamasic knowledge, lacking any sense of perspective, sees one small part and mistakes it for the whole.

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23 Work performed to fulfi ll one’s obligations, without thought of personal reward or of whether the job is pleasant or unpleasant, is sattvic. 24 Work prompted by selfi sh desire or self-will, full of stress, is rajasic. 25 Work that is undertaken blindly, without any consideration of consequences, waste, injury to others, or one’s own capacities, is tamasic.

26 Sattvic workers are free from egotism and selfi sh attachments, full of enthusiasm and fortitude in success and failure alike. 27 Rajasic workers have strong personal desires and crave rewards for their actions. Covetous, impure, and destructive, they are easily swept away by fortune, good or bad. 28 Tamasic workers are undisciplined, vulgar, stubborn, deceitful, dishonest, and lazy. Th ey are easily depressed and prone to procrastination.

29 Listen, Arjuna, as I describe the three types of understanding and will.

30 To know when to act and when to refrain from action, what is right action and what is wrong, what brings security and what insecurity, what brings freedom and what bondage: these are the signs of a sattvic intellect.

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31 Th e rajasic intellect confuses right and wrong actions, and cannot distinguish what is to be done from what should not be done. 32 Th e tamasic intellect is shrouded in darkness, utterly reversing right and wrong wherever it turns.

33 Th e sattvic will, developed through meditation, keeps prana, mind, and senses in vital harmony. 34 Th e rajasic will, conditioned by selfi sh desire, pursues wealth, pleasure, and respectability. 35 Th e tamasic will shows itself in obstinate ignorance, sloth, fear, grief, depression, and conceit.

36 Now listen, Arjuna: there are also three kinds of happiness. By sustained eff ort, one comes to the end of sorrow. 37 Th at which seems like poison at fi rst, but tastes like nectar in the end – this is the joy of sattva, born of a mind at peace with itself. 38 Pleasure from the senses seems like nectar at fi rst, but it is bitter as poison in the end. Th is is the kind of happiness that comes to the rajasic. 39 Th ose who are tamasic draw their pleasures from sleep, indolence, and intoxication. Both in the beginning and in the end, this happiness is a delusion.

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40 No creature, whether born on earth or among the gods in heaven, is free from the conditioning of the three gunas. 41 Th e diff erent responsibilities found in the social order – distinguishing brahmin, kshatriya, vaishya, and shudra – have their roots in this conditioning.

42 Th e responsibilities to which brahmins are born, based on their nature, are self-control, tranquility, purity of heart, patience, humility, learning, austerity, wisdom, and faith.

43 Th e qualities of kshatriyas, based on their nature, are courage, strength, fortitude, dexterity, generosity, leadership, and the fi rm resolve never to retreat from battle. 44 Th e occupations suitable for a vaishya are agriculture, dairying, and trade. Th e proper work of a shudra is service.

45 By devotion to one’s own particular duty, everyone can attain perfection. Let me tell you how. 46 By performing one’s own work, one worships the Creator who dwells in every creature. Such worship brings that person to fulfi llment.

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47 It is better to perform one’s own duties imperfectly than to master the duties of another. By fulfi lling the obligations he is born with, a person never comes to grief. 48 No one should abandon duties because he sees defects in them. Every action, every activity, is surrounded by defects as a fi re is surrounded by smoke.

49 One who is free from selfi sh attachments, who has mastered himself and his passions, attains the supreme perfection of freedom from action. 50 Listen and I shall explain now, Arjuna, how one who has attained perfection also attains Brahman, the supreme consummation of wisdom.

51 Unerring in discrimination, sovereign of the senses and passions, free from the clamor of likes and dislikes, 52 such a one leads a simple, self-reliant life based on meditation, controlling speech, body, and mind.

53 Free from self-will, aggressiveness, arrogance, anger, and the lust to possess people or things, they are at peace with themselves and others and enter into the unitive state. 54 United with Brahman, ever joyful, beyond the reach of desire and sorrow, they have equal

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regard for every living creature and attain supreme devotion to me. 55 By loving me they come to know me truly; then they know my glory and enter into my boundless being. 56 All their acts are performed in my service, and through my grace they win eternal life.

57 Make every act an off ering to me; regard me as your only protector. Relying on interior discipline, meditate on me always. 58 Remembering me, you shall overcome all diffi culties through my grace. But if you will not heed me in your self-will, nothing will avail you.

59 If you egotistically say, “I will not fi ght this battle,” your resolve will be useless; your own nature will drive you into it. 60 Your own karma, born of your own nature, will drive you to do even that which you do not wish to do, because of your delusion.

61 Th e Lord dwells in the hearts of all creatures and whirls them round upon the wheel of maya. 62 Run to him for refuge with all your strength, and peace profound will be yours through his grace.

63 I give you these precious words of wisdom; refl ect on them and then do as you choose. 64 Th ese are the

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last words I shall speak to you, dear one, for your spiritual fulfi llment. You are very dear to me.

65 Be aware of me always, adore me, make every act an off ering to me, and you shall come to me; this I promise; for you are dear to me. 66 Abandon all supports and look to me for protection. I shall purify you from the sins of the past; do not grieve.

67 Do not share this wisdom with anyone who lacks in devotion or self-control, lacks the desire to learn, or scoff s at me. 68 Th ose who teach this supreme mystery of the Gita to all who love me perform the greatest act of love; they will come to me without doubt. 69 No one can render me more devoted service; no one on earth can be more dear to me.

70 Th ose who meditate on these holy words worship me with wisdom and devotion. 71 Even those who listen to them with faith, free from doubts, will fi nd a happier world where good people dwell.

72 Have you listened with attention? Are you now free from your doubts and confusion?

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a r j u n a

73 You have dispelled my doubts and delusions, and I understand through your grace. My faith is fi rm now, and I will do your will.

s a n j aya

74 Th is is the dialogue I heard between Krishna, the son of Vasudeva, and Arjuna, the great- hearted son of Pritha. Th e wonder of it makes my hair stand on end! 75 Th rough Vyasa’s grace, I have heard the supreme secret of spiritual union directly from the Lord of Yoga, Krishna himself.

76 Whenever I remember these wonderful, holy words between Krishna and Arjuna, I am fi lled with joy. 77 And when I remember the breathtaking form of Krishna, I am fi lled with wonder and my joy overfl ows.

78 Wherever the divine Krishna and the mighty Arjuna are, there will be prosperity, victory, happiness, and sound judgment. Of this I am sure!

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╭ Notes


1 Th e phrase “on the fi eld of dharma” ( dharma-kshetre ) gives a hint that the battle is to be an allegorical one, a fi ght of dharma, justice, against adharma, evil. Th e battle takes place not only at Kurukshetra, the “fi eld of the Kurus,” but also on the elusive “fi eld of dharma,” the spiritual realm where all moral struggles are waged.

40–44 Th ese verses are particularly diffi cult to translate, because they revolve around the complex word dharma : law, justice, or simply something’s inner nature. To try to capture the word in English we might say “God’s law” or “eternal truth.” Dharma is divinely given; it is the force that holds things together in a unity, the center that must hold if all is to go well. Th e oppo- site of dharma is adharma : evil, injustice, chaos. In these verses Arjuna gives expression to his fears of a coming chaos, an evil world where good people will be confused and violated. “Sense of unity” here translates dharma ; the phrase “loses its sense of unity” would be more literally translated as “is overcome by adharma. ”

Th e translation speaks in a general way of the chaos that over- comes society when dharma is weak – when ancient spiritual

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truths are ignored. Th us varna-samkara, literally “confusion of caste,” is more meaningful as “society [is] plunged into chaos.” Th e subject here is not the observance of caste restrictions, but the essential cohesion of the social fabric.

42 Th e Sanskrit refers to the ancient pinda rites that off er hom- age to dead ancestors. Th ese rites maintained the traditions of the family by respecting and worshipping those who had gone before. Again, the rather liberal rendering “the spiritual evo- lution begun by our ancestors” seems preferable to a narrower translation.


17 Tat, “that,” is an ancient name for Brahman, the supreme real- ity. Brahman is neither masculine nor feminine; in fact, it has no attributes at all. It is impossible to describe Brahman in words, so it is simply pointed to: tat .

72 Th e state of immortality is brahma-nirvana, “the nirvana that is Brahman.” Th is is the state of release or liberation, union with the divine ground of existence. Th e word nirvana comes from the Sanskrit root va “to blow” with the prefi x nir “out”; it means “to extinguish,” as a fi re is said to be “blown out.” Th us it indi- cates the extinction of the old, limited personality. By adding the word brahman, complete union with the universal Godhead is indicated. Brahma-nirvana then means the mystic state of extinction of self in the union with God. Nirvana is a Buddhist term as well. Some misconceptions are unfortunately current about this rather esoteric concept. Nirvana is wrongly presented as a kind of empty nothingness, even a spiritual death. We get exactly the opposite impression if we approach the Hindus and Buddhists themselves. It is true there is much talk of extinguish- ing the petty ego and going beyond self-will – the mask that

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hides the creative, wise, loving Self underneath. Th is “death” of the old person to make way for the new is one purpose of spiri- tual disciplines. It can be painful, but the death of the old does not lead to annihilation but to a spiritual rebirth.


9 Here and later yajna is translated as “selfl ess work” or “selfl ess service.” Th e literal meaning is sacrifi ce: essentially, self-sac- rifi ce, giving up something one greatly values for the sake of a higher purpose. Some translators give a very narrow translation of yajna as a ritualistic sacrifi ce, but this is inaccurate.

39 Kama can be translated as selfi sh desire or pleasure, and oft en carries a connotation of sensual desire or sexual passion. It means essentially a personal desire for ease or pleasure, not “desire” of a more altruistic kind.


37 Th is is a well-known verse. Th e meanings of karma are com- plex, but the verse is widely taken to mean that true knowledge destroys the eff ects of past errors, which generate further karma. When consciousness is unifi ed and illumined, one is released from the bondage of karma.


6 Yoga has many meanings in the Gita. Here yoga is translated as “action” and “selfl ess service” because a contrast is being made between Sankhya and yoga: that is, between philosophical explanation and the actual practice of the spiritual life.

9 Th e word for “senses” in Sanskrit is indriya, literally “faculty” or “power.” Th e indriyas are not only the fi ve faculties of percep- tion (seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting) but also

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those of action, whose organs are the hands, the feet, the tongue, and the organs of excretion and reproduction.

13 “Th e city of nine gates” is the body. Th e gates are the two eyes, the two nostrils, the two ears, the mouth, and the organs of excre- tion and reproduction. In some lists these gates are expanded to eleven by adding the navel and the brahmarandhra or sagittal suture, the opening at the top of the skull.

27–28 Th e area “of spiritual consciousness” between the eyebrows is one of the seven centers of awareness or chakras described in yoga literature. Th ese seven chakras, though not physical, are said to lie along a channel for awakened spiritual energy ( kundalini ) that corresponds with the spine; the chakras are located at the level of the anus, sex organs, stomach, heart, throat, eyebrows, and the top of the head. Kundalini circulates among these cen- ters, but it is usually confi ned to the lowest three chakras, cor- responding to the main preoccupations of life on the physical level. In yogic concentration the vital energy (kundalini) rises; samadhi is said to take place when it reaches the chakras at the brow or head.


11 Th is describes the traditional seat used for meditation. Th e Gita is not concerned with the outer forms of the spiritual life, but here we do get a mention of the grass and deerskin used by the ancient sages. Perhaps the point is that they used what was avail- able in their forest retreats, and that the seat should be what Patanjali calls sukhasana : comfortable enough to forget about your body.

14 “All actions dedicated to Brahman” is a literal translation of the

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Sanskrit word brahmacharya, a life of self-control and sense restraint.


16 Artharthi has given translators some diffi culties. “Th ose who desire to achieve their purpose” captures the basic meaning of the word. Artha is goal or purpose; the second word of the com- pound, arthi, means “one who has a goal.” So artharthi prob- ably refers to those who take to the spiritual life with a particular purpose in view. Artha also means wealth or worldly goods, but to translate this phrase as “those who desire wealth” would go against the entire tenor of the Gita.

23 “Th e gods” here are the devas, the lower, celestial deities such as Indra.

30 Th ese obscure terms ( adhibhuta, adhidaiva, and adhiyajna ) are taken up in the next chapter.


6 Whatever is the content of the mind at the moment of death determines the direction of the soul’s rebirth. Th e implication is that whatever has been the bedrock of consciousness during life will be remembered at the time of death and lead the soul on to fulfi ll that desire in the next life.

9–10 Th e eyebrow center is discussed in the note to 5:27–28.


5 Yoga here means “mysterious power.” Th is is yet another mean- ing attached to the word yoga, for those who practiced yoga were sometimes thought of as concealing within themselves extraor- dinary powers developed through their disciplines. Th e folklore

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of India relates many stories about mysterious yogis who have strange, divine powers.

Krishna speaks here of his yoga aishvaram, his mysterious and majestic power. Ishvara means “lord” and aishvaram “lordly”: Krishna’s yoga is something he uses as Ishvara, the Lord of the world. Now he begins to show Arjuna something of the nature of the mystery.

17 Rig, Yajur, and Sama are the principal Vedas, the ancient scrip- tures that are Hinduism’s orthodox authority.

20–21 Th ese verses repeat the idea that heaven itself is an imperma- nent state. Aft er exhausting the store of their good karma, the blessed souls in heaven must be reborn on earth. Only the liber- ated soul, the one who has found union with Krishna or brah- manirvana, escapes the round of rebirth and death as a separate, mortal creature.


Th is chapter contains many Sanskrit names, which are briefl y identifi ed in the glossary (see p. 279).

18 Amrita, “immortal,” comes from a “not” and mrita “mortal.” Th e Greek word ambrosia is cognate and has the same mean- ings: amrita is the ambrosia of the gods, the drink that makes them live forever, and in a general sense it means sweet or nectar-like. So the translation could also be “your words, which are like ambrosia.”

22 Th e mind ( manas ) is here taken to be one of the senses or indri- yas of perception; for example, it is really with the mind rather than with the eye that we see.

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33 Th e Sanskrit alphabet, too, begins with the letter a ; perhaps this is why Krishna declares that among letters he is a, the fi rst. Another possible reason is that a is the most frequent sound in Sanskrit.


14 Here Arjuna presses the palms of his hands together in the ges- ture called anjali, like the Western gesture of prayer. Th is is the usual form of respectful greeting in India, as well as being used in worship and prayer.

15 Brahma, the Creator (not to be confused with Brahman, the attributeless Godhead, which is beyond the Trinity of creation, preservation, and destruction) sits within a lotus that grows from the navel of Lord Vishnu.

17 Here Arjuna sees not his friend Krishna, but the Lord incar- nate in Krishna: Vishnu, armed with his traditional weapons, a club (or mace) and a discus. Not mentioned in this verse are the two benign symbols he carries in his other hands, a conch and a lotus.


1 Arjuna is asking which path is superior, that of knowledge (jnana yoga) or love (bhakti yoga).


5 Th is is a list of all the twenty-four categories given in Sankhya philosophy to describe phenomena in the fi eld of prakriti.


1 Th e ashvattha is the sacred pipal tree, a kind of fi g oft en grown in temple compounds in India. Th e idea of a “world tree” appears

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in many ancient cultures. Here the Gita uses the image of the tree as “upside down,” drawing on the fact that the pipal sends out aerial roots, making “branches above and below.” Th e image illustrates the phenomenal world, rooted in Brahman, complete unity, and branching out into the apparent diversity of life.

13 Rasatmaka soma is here translated as “life-giving fl uid,” the nourishment of plants. In Hindu mythology it is the moon, sometimes called Soma, that nourishes plants, as the source of the life-giving nectar called Soma. In the Vedas, soma is an intoxicating, invigorating drink distilled from a plant grown high in the mountains and drunk by participants in a sacred rit- ual. Scholars have tried to discover what the soma plant might have been, but so far no conclusive identifi cation has been made. Soma also appears as an important god in the Vedas.


27–28 Sat means that which is real or true and that which is good; it derives from the Sanskrit verb as, to be, and is directly related to our English word is . It is noteworthy that this word sat links reality and goodness, refl ecting the idea that good is eternal; it is merely covered from time to time by asat, evil, which is tem- porary and in that sense unreal. Asat is formed from sat by the addition of the prefi x a “without,” very much the way English forms words like amoral .


1 Sannyasa and tyaga both mean renunciation, sannyasa from the root as “to cast aside” and tyaga from tyaj “to give up.” Th e dis- tinction between these two is clarifi ed in the introduction to this chapter.

14 “Th e divine will” is a translation of daivam, which comes from

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the word deva, “god.” Daivam is sometimes translated as “fate,” but this is inappropriate in the Gita, which is not at all fatalistic. Th e Gita does, however, allow a place for God’s will or Provi- dence in the aff airs of humankind – though of course the domi- nant force is usually karma, not daivam.

34 Th is verse uses the phrase dharma-kama-artha, “duty, pleasure, and wealth,” traditionally considered the three goals of ordinary human life. Th e fourth and highest goal is moksha, salvation. Th e rajasic personality, as this verse points out, pursues the fi rst three worldly goals; moksha is ignored.

41 Th e Vedas establish the fourfold division of society into the classes of brahmin, kshatriya, vaishya, and shudra – roughly priests and intellectuals; warriors and rulers; businessmen, farmers, and craft smen; and workers and servants.

66 Dharma is not used here in the usual sense of law or inner nature, but in a rarer meaning: a thing’s attribute, condition, or conditioning. Usually dharma is used in this sense only in the plural, as here: thus dharma is divine law; dharmas are the innu- merable beings, things, emotions and mental states that make up everyday existence as we experience it. Here, following the root meaning ( dhri, to support or hold up), sarva-dharman is translated as “all your supports,” in the sense of external props, conditioned dependencies. Another translation would be: “Cast off your dependency on everything external, Arjuna, and rely on the Self alone.”

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╭ Glossary

Th i s b r i e f g l o s s a r y is a guide only to Sanskrit terms used in this volume. Words used once and explained in context are not included. As a rough guide, Sanskrit vowels may be pronounced as in Italian or Spanish. Th e combinations kh, gh, th, dh, ph, and bh are always pro- nounced as the consonant plus a slight h sound: th as in hot- head (not as in thing); ph as in haphazard (not as in phone).

Every Sanskrit vowel has a short and a long form, the long pronounced for twice as long as the short. Th e diphthongs – e, ai, o, au – are also long. To simplify the spelling of Sanskrit words in this glossary we have retained only the long mark (¯) for the long vowels, omitting the other diacritics sometimes used to spell Sanskrit words in English.

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adharma “Not dharma.” Injustice, evil, anything which goes against moral laws.

advaita Having no duality; the supreme Reality, which is the “One without a second.” Th e word advaita is especially used in Vedanta philosophy, which stresses the unity of the Self (Ātman) and Brahman.

ahamkāra [ aham “I”; kāra “maker”] Self-will, separateness. ahimsā [ a “not”; himsā “violence”] Nonviolence, doing no injury,

wishing no harm. ākāsha Space, sky; the most subtle of the fi ve elements. akshara Th e eternal; the syllable Om . Ananta Th e cosmic serpent on which Vishnu reclines in rest. apara [“not transcendent”] Lower knowledge; intellectual knowl-

edge. Arjuna One of the fi ve Pāndava brothers and an important fi gure in

Indian epic and legend. He is Srī Krishna’s beloved disciple and friend in the Bhagavad Gītā.

Aryaman “Th e noble one,” a Vedic god, revered as an ancestor of mankind.

asat [ a “not”; sat “truth, goodness”] Untruth; anything unreal, untrue, or lacking in goodness.

ashvattha Th e pipal tree, a kind of fi g; it is regarded as holy and oft en grows in temple compounds.

Ashvatthāma A great archer and warrior who is Drona’s son. asura In Hindu myth, a demon; fi guratively, a being with an evil

nature. Ātman “Self ”; the innermost soul in every creature, which is divine. avatāra [ ava “down”; tri “to cross”] Th e descent of God to earth;

the incarnation of Vishnu on earth; the birth of divine con- sciousness in the human heart.

avidyā [ a “not”; vidyā “wisdom”] Ignorance, lack of wisdom, want of knowledge.

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avyaya Th e eternal, the changeless. Bhagavad Gītā [ Bhagavat “lord”; gītā “song”] “Th e Song of the

Lord,” name of a Hindu scripture which contains the instructions of Srī Krishna.

bhakti Devotion, worship, love. bhakti yoga Th e Way of Love. Bhīshma A revered elder of the Kaurava dynasty who allows

himself to be killed by Arjuna in the Mahābhārata battle.

Bhrigu A sage famous in ancient legend. Brahmā God as creator, one of the Hindu Trinity; the others

are Vishnu, the Preserver, and Shiva, the Destroyer. Brahmā should not be confused with Brahman . (See entry below.)

brahmacharya “Conduct leading to God,” self-control, purity. Brahman Th e supreme reality underlying all life, the divine ground

of existence, the impersonal Godhead. brahmanirvāna “Nirvana in Brahman,” the fi nal state of spiritual

fulfi llment: eternal union with Brahman, the ground of all being.

Brahmavidyā Th e science of knowing Brahman. brahmin [Skt. brāhmana ] Literally, a person who strives to know

Brahman; in traditional Hindu society, a person of the priestly or learned class.

Brihaspati Th e guru or priest of the gods. Buddha [from budh “to wake up”] “Th e Awakened one,” the title

given to the sage Siddhārtha Gautama Shākyamuni aft er he obtained complete illumination. Th e Buddha lived and taught in North India during the sixth century B.C.

buddhi Understanding, intelligence; the faculty of discrimination; correct view, idea, purpose.

Chitraratha “Having a bright chariot,” the king of Gandharvas.

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daivam Divine will; destiny. deva A divine being, a god. Th e devas of Hindu mythology resem-

ble the Olympians of the ancient Greeks – extraordinary, immortal, yet not unlike mortal men and women in their behavior. Th e feminine is devī , “goddess.”

dharma Law, duty; the universal law which holds all life together in unity.

Dhritarāshtra Th e king of the Kurus. He has been blind since birth and has therefore never been enthroned as the rightful king, but he serves as de facto ruler. Th e entire Bhagavad Gītā is a narration told by Sanjaya to the blind king, whose sons are the Kauravas.

Draupadī Th e royal princess who became the wife of each of the fi ve Pāndava brothers.

Drona A learned brahmin who became a warrior, and eventually general of the Kaurava army. Th e preceptor of the royal princes, he taught the heroes of the Mahābhārata the skills of war.

duhkha Pain, suff ering, sorrow. Duryodhana Th e oldest son of Dhritarāshtra and the chief enemy

of the Pāndavas and Srī Krishna. dvandva In Sanskrit grammar, a kind of compound that combines

two or more words as a pair or group. Gandharva Heavenly musicians who are demigods, rather touchy

and proud, handsome and amorous. Gāndīva Arjuna’s bow, which was a gift from the god of fi re. Ganges [Skt. gangā] A major river of northern India, revered as a

sacred symbol. Garuda Th e great eagle that is Vishnu’s vehicle. gāyatrī A meter used in Vedic hymns; a prayer to the sun composed

in this meter. Gītā “Th e Song,” a shorter title for the Bhagavad Gītā.

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guna Quality; specifi cally, the three qualities which make up the phenomenal world: sattva , law, harmony, purity, goodness; rajas , energy, passion; and tamas , inertia, ignorance. Th e corresponding adjectives are sattvic , rajasic , and tamasic .

guru A spiritual teacher. Hari Name of Vishnu or Krishna. Hastināpura “City of the elephants,” an important city in ancient

India, located about sixty miles northeast of the modern Delhi. It was the capital of the Pāndavas and their line.

Himālaya [ hima “snow”; ālaya “abode”] Th e great mountain range which stretches across the northern border of India, impor- tant in mythology as the home of Shiva and other gods.

Ikshvāku Th e son of Manu, and founder of the Solar Dynasty of kings.

Indra Th e god of storms and battle. In the Veda, Indra is the chief of the gods (devas) and an important deity; later his role is greatly diminished.

Īshvara Th e Lord; God. Janaka A king of ancient times who was both an eff ective ruler and

a holy sage. Janārdana “He who stirs up the people,” name of Krishna. jīva Living being; the living soul; the fi nite, individual soul that is

identifi ed with separate existence, as opposed to Ātman, the eternal Self.

jnāna [from jnā “to know”] Wisdom; higher knowledge. jnāna yoga Th e Way of Wisdom. kalpa A period in cosmic time equaling one Day of Brahmā or

1,000 “great yugas” – a total of 4,320 million years. See also yuga .

kāma Selfi sh desire, greed; sexual desire, sometimes personifi ed as Kāmadeva.

Kāmadhuk “Th e cow of wishes,” who in legend fulfi lls all desires.

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Kapila Name of a sage, fi rst teacher of the Sānkhya philosophy. karma [from kri “to do”] Action; former actions which will lead to

certain results in a cause-and-eff ect relationship. karma yoga Th e Way of Action; the path of selfl ess service. Karna A brave warrior who plays an important role in the larger

epic, but is only mentioned in passing in the Gītā. Kauravas “Th e sons of Kuru,” Duryodhana and his brothers, who

are the enemies of the Pāndava brothers. Kripa A revered teacher of the royal family who also serves as a

warrior. Krishna [“black”; or from krish “to draw, to attract to oneself ”]

“Th e Dark One” or “He who draws us to Himself,” name of an incarnation of Vishnu. Vishnu, the cosmic force of goodness, comes to earth as Krishna to reestablish dharma, or law. Krishna is the friend and advisor of the Pāndava brothers, especially Arjuna, to whom he reveals the teachings of the Bhagavad Gītā. He is the inner Lord, who personifi es spiritual love and lives in the hearts of all beings.

kshatriya A warrior or prince; a member of the ruling class of tradi- tional Hindu society.

kshetra A fi eld; a place; a sacred place or temple. Kubera God of wealth. kundalinī “Th e serpent power,” spiritual or evolutionary energy. In

yoga literature, kundalinī is described as a force coiled at the base of the spine. Kundalinī may be aroused through meditation and the practice of yoga; then it rises up through the subtle body, awakening the higher centers of consciousness.

Kurukshetra “Th e fi eld of the Kurus,” where the Mahābhārata battle takes place. It is north of the modern city of Delhi.

līlā Game; the divine play of the Lord disguising himself as the many beings of this world.

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Mādhava Another name for Krishna, “of the Madhava clan.” Madhusūdana “Slayer of Madhu,” a name for Krishna, who killed

the demon Madhu. Mahābhārata Name of the great Indian epic composed some 2,500

years ago, traditionally attributed to the sage Vyāsa. It relates the confl ict between the descendants of Pāndu (the forces of light) and those of Dhritarāshtra (the forces of darkness).

manas Th e mind; specifi cally, the faculty which registers and stores sensory impressions.

mantram [or mantra ] A holy name or phrase; a spiritual formula. Manu Th e father of the human race, the Hindu equivalent of Adam

or the fi rst man. Mārgashīrsha Th e lunar month that falls in November – December. Marīchi A Vedic demigod. Th e name means “particle of light.” Māyā Illusion; appearance, as contrasted with Reality; the creative

power of God. Meerā A woman saint of medieval India remembered for her songs

to her beloved Krishna. Meru A mythical mountain said to stand at the center of the world

or cosmos. Th e gods dwell on Meru in beautiful cities, amidst fl owering gardens.

moksha Liberation, salvation, illumination. Nakula One of the junior Pāndava brothers. Nārada Th e divine musician and sage who is a devotee of Sri Krishna. Nirvāna [ nir “out”; vāna “to blow”] Complete extinction of self-will

and separateness; realization of the unity of all life. (See also Notes, p.268.)

nirvikalpa samādhi A state of spiritual awareness in which there is no perception of duality, of inside or outside, of subject and object; merger in the impersonal Godhead.

Om [or Aum ] Th e cosmic sound, heard in deep meditation; the

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Holy Word, taught in the Upanishads, which signifi es Brah- man, the divine ground of existence.

Pāndavas “Th e sons of Pāndu,” a collective name for Arjuna and his four brothers, Yudhishthira, Bhīma, Nakula, and Sahadeva. Th e Pāndavas are in confl ict with the Kauravas; both claim the ancient throne of Hastināpura. Th e Gītā is placed on the eve of the battle that will decide this confl ict. Th e Pāndavas are looked upon as the forces for good and the Kauravas as wicked usurpers.

Pārtha “Son of Prithā,” a name for Arjuna – or for his brothers Bhīma and Yudhishthira.

Patanjali Th e author of the Yoga Sūtras , a classic description of the way to Self-realization through meditation. Patanjali lived around the second century B.C., and his method is some- times referred to as rāja yoga .

Pāvaka “Th e purifi er,” a name for the god of fi re. Prahlāda A demon prince who was greatly devoted to Vishnu. Prajāpati “Lord of off spring,” the creator of all beings. Indian myth

encompasses many creation stories, and sometimes one great Father, or Prajāpati, is mentioned; sometimes there are seven or more fathers or sages who created all living creatures.

prajnā [from jnā “to know” ] A transcendental mode of knowing developed in deep meditation.

prakriti Th e basic energy from which the mental and physical worlds take shape; nature.

prāna Breath; vital force. Prithā Arjuna’s mother (also called Kuntī). Arjuna is called Pārtha,

“son of Prithā.” Purusha [“person”] Th e soul; the spiritual core of every person. In

the Gītā, the terms Ātman and Purusha are virtually inter- changeable.

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Purushottama “Highest Person,” Supreme Being, God. rāja yoga “Th e Royal Path”; the path of meditation taught especially

by Patanjali in the Yoga Sūtras . rajas See under guna . Rāma “Prince of Joy,” name of the son of Dasharatha, who was king

of Ayodhyā. Rāma was the famous prince who killed the evil demon Rāvana to reclaim his wife Sītā. He is regarded as an incarnation of Vishnu.

Rig Veda Th e oldest of the four Vedas, the most ancient and sacred Hindu scriptures.

Rudras A group of gods associated with storm and destruction. Sometimes the Rudras are mentioned as a group; at other times they are thought of as a single god, Rudra. In later Hinduism, Shiva is called Rudra.

sādhana A body of disciplines or way of life which leads to the supreme goal of Self-realization.

sādhu A holy man, sage. Sahadeva One of the junior Pāndava brothers. Sāma Veda Th e Veda of songs and chants. One of the four Vedas. samādhi Mystical union with God; a state of intense concentration

in which consciousness is completely unifi ed. samsāra Th e world of fl ux; the round of birth, decay, death and

rebirth. Sanjaya Th e sage who divinely perceives what is taking place on the

battlefi eld and reports it to the blind king Dhritarāshtra. Sānkhya One of the six branches of Hindu philosophy. Sānkhya

seeks to liberate the individual Purusha (spirit) from prakriti (mind and matter).

sannyāsa Renunciation. sat [from as “to be”] Th e Real; truth; goodness. sattva See under guna . satya Truth, truthful; good, the Good.

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savikalpa samādhi [ sa-vikalpa “having distinctions” or “admitting separateness”] Samādhi in which some duality of subject and object remains, the devotee being absorbed in meditation without becoming completely identifi ed with the object of contemplation; union with the personal God.

Shakti Power; God’s feminine aspect; the Divine Mother. shama Peace; the peace of deep meditation. Shankara “Giver of peace,” a name of Shiva. Shiva Th e third person of the Hindu Trinity, the other two being

Brahmā, the Creator, and Vishnu, the Preserver. Shiva destroys, but he also conquers death.

shraddhā Faith. shūdra Th e fourth Hindu caste; a worker or servant. Skanda A god of war, the son of Shiva; general of the divine forces

when they go into battle against the demons. soma A drink used in Vedic ritual; the drink of the gods. Srī [pronounced shrī ] A title of respect originally meaning

“auspicious” or “holy.” svadharma Th e duty appropriate to a particular person, one’s own

individual dharma. tamas See under guna . tapas Austerity, control of the senses; the spiritual power acquired

through self-control. tyāga Renunciation. Upanishads Ancient mystical documents found at the end of each

of the four Vedas. Ushanas A sage and poet who appears in the Vedas. varna Caste or class. Varuna God of waters and the ocean; in the Vedas, the moral over-

seer of the world.

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Vāsuki Th e king of the serpents, he lives in the underworld and bal- ances the earth on his serpent hood.

Veda [from vid “to know”] “Knowledge”; the name of the most ancient Sanskrit scriptures, considered to be a direct revela- tion from God to the mystics of the past.

vidyā Knowledge, wisdom; a science or branch of study. vijnāna Knowledge, judgment, understanding. Vishnu Second in the Hindu Trinity; the Preserver who incarnates

himself in age aft er age for the establishment of dharma and for the welfare of all creatures.

Vivasvat Th e sun god, the father of Manu, the ancestor of mankind. Vrishni Name of an important clan of ancient north India. Accord-

ing to legend the Vrishnis all perished at the end of Krish- na’s life when their city, Dvāraka, sank in the sea.

Vyāsa Th e sage revered as the author of the Mahābhārata and the Gītā. He was the father of both Dhritarāshtra and Pāndu, and he gave Sanjaya the power of mystic vision so that he could behold the dialogue between Srī Krishna and Arjuna.

yajna Off ering, sacrifi ce, worship. Yajur One of the four Vedas. yoga [from yuj “to unite”] Union with God, realization of the unity

of all life; a path or discipline which leads to such a state of total integration or unity. Yoga is also the name of one of the six branches of Hindu philosophy, and as such is paired with Sānkhya.

yogī A person who practices spiritual disciplines. Yudhishthira Arjuna’s elder brother, famous for his adherence to

dharma at all times. yuga An age or eon. In Hindu cosmology there are four yugas, rep-

resenting a steady deterioration in the state of the world from age to age. Th e names of the yugas are taken from

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a game of dice. Krita Yuga is the age of perfection, fol- lowed by Tretā Yuga. Th e incarnation of Srī Krishna is said to mark the end of the third yuga, Dvāpara. We are living in the fourth and fi nal yuga, Kali, in which the creation reaches its lowest point. Th e world goes through 1,000 such yuga-cycles during one kalpa or Day of Brahma.

289 ╯

action, see selfl ess action adharma, 267 advaita, 26 Agni, 23 ahamkara, 39, 211, 223 ahimsa, 32 ajnana, 147 akasha, 214 Ananta, 181 anger, 87, 102, 103, 126, 221 Aquinas, St. Th omas, 18, 37 Arjuna: background, 15; becomes

seeker aft er truth, 179; concern over how to act, 99; doubting heart, 114–15; family tragedy, 72, 111; and Krishna, 15, 19, 21–22, 71–72, 84, 171, 191–93; as man of action, 21, 83, 102; portrayal in Bhagavad Gita, 71–72; real Self, 83–84

Aryan tribes, 16, 23 asat, 245 ashrams, 17 ashvattha, 229 Ashvatthama, 74 asuras, 181, 237 Atman: at climax of meditation, 26;

defi ned, 24; Krishna as, 180, 229; play on word, 135; relationship to Brahman, 26; as Self, 30; transcended by Krishna, 229; in Upanishads, 24, 203; see also Self

attachment, 54–55, 61, 87, 101, 114, 123, 153

Augustine, St., 18, 37, 60 avatara, 112 avyakta, 164 avyayam padam, 230

Bede, St., 7 Bhagavad Gita: about, 9–10, 14, 113;

as an Upanishad, 18–19; as book of choices, 66; chapter-ending formula, 19; contrast with rest of Mahabharata, 19–20; essence, 48–59; heart of message, 20–21; and issue of self-mastery, 15, 21; and Kurukshetra, 14–15; multiple gods in, 23; setting, 15–22; as shruti, 18; as spiritual instruction, 21–22; types of yoga in, 48–50; way of love in, 204–6

Bhagavan, 71, 179 bhakti, 171 bhakti yoga, 49 Bhima, 72 Bhishma, 15, 73, 74 Brahma, 149, 163–64 Brahman: about, 24; defi ned, 24, 213;

knowledge of, 125; and Om, 245; and process of death, 160; relationship to Atman, 26; and still mind, 137; union with, 254; in Upanishads, 24, 179, 203–4; and world-tree, 229

brahmarandhra, 160, 161 brahmavidya, 17 Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 162

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Buddha, 123–24, 126, 137, 203, 212 buddhi, 39

castes, 253 Catherine of Genoa, St., 56–57 Catherine of Siena, St., 62 cause and eff ect, see karma chakras, 160 Chandogya Upanishad, 161 Chesterton, G. K., 60 Christ, 56, 203 Christian mystics, 205; St. Augustine,

18, 37, 60; St. Catherine of Genoa, 56–57; St. Francis of Assisi, 51, 60, 62; St. John of the Cross, 64, 126, 135, 205; St. Paul, 205; St. Teresa of Avila, 62, 126, 192

Th e Cloud of Unknowing, 205 consciousness: as divine ground of

existence, 213; dreaming as state of, 28; dreamless sleep as state of, 28; human exploration, 8, 10; impact of selfl ess work on, 59; Krishna as, 181; in meditation, 26; at moment of death, 159–61; natural state, 47; and Sankhya, 39–41; and self-will, 53; as setting for Bhagavad Gita, 21–22; and sleep, 28, 35; states of, 28; testing levels of awareness, 26; unitary, 47; waking as state of, 28; withdrawing from hold on senses, 42; see also mind

cosmology, 44, 164 Cousins, Norman, 63 creation: and Brahman, 229; cycles of

regeneration and decay, 112, 163; and Day of Brahma, 44; and dharma, 24; indivisible, 32; and Krishna, 112, 148, 169; and union of prakriti and Purusha, 148

cyclical universe, 157, 163–64

Day of Brahma, 44, 163, 164 death: Arjuna’s questions, 158; and

Brahman, 160; consciousness at moment of death, 159–61; and karma, 163; Krishna’s instructions, 36; and rebirth, 158; role of yogis,

159–60, 161; Upanishad account, 36, 159–60, 161

dehavat, 204 Desai, Mahadev, 50 desire, 52 detachment, 54–55, 60–61, 84, 85, 114,

125, 134, 138 devas, 23, 237, 244 devotion, 112, 193, 203–6, 254; see also

bhakti yoga Dhammapada, 9 dharma, 24, 31–32, 75, 112 dharmakshetra, 67 Dhritarashtra, 72, 73, 255 Dionysius, 204 Donne, John, 32 Drona, 15, 73–74 Duryodhana, 73 dvandva, 181 Dvaraka, 15

Eckhart, Meister, 18, 56, 58, 65, 126 Eddington, Arthur, 25 ego, 26, 36, 39, 52–53, 57, 87 Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 212 evolution, 47, 65

faith, see shraddha fi eld of forces, 25, 35, 37, 43, 46, 212 fi elds, 211, 212, 213 fi g tree, 229 forest academies, 17 Francis of Assisi, St., 51, 60, 62

gambling, 182 Gandhi, Mahatma: and Bhagavad

Gita, 10, 14, 20, 60, 75, 86; and detachment, 54–55; as fully human, 62; and selfl ess action, 51

Ganges, 180 gayatri, 181 gunas: defi ned, 43, 44; as fabric

of existence, 44–45; and faith, 243, 244–45; and maya, 150; and personality, 46–47; as qualities of prakriti, 221–23; and Sankhya philosophy, 102–3, 253; transcending, 222–23

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guru, 74, 84

Hastinapura, 73 hatha yoga, 85, 133 hell, 236 Hinduism: dharma and karma in, 31;

multiple gods in, 23; multiplicity of names for aspects of God, 22–23; and path of knowledge, 203; and path of moderation, 136; proclaims one God, 22; Shiva and Shakti in, 213

holy name, see mantram Hume, David, 26 Huxley, Aldous, 17

Indra, 23, 180 Ishvara, 229

Janaka, 103 Jesus Christ, 56, 203 jiva, 84 jnana, 147, 148 jnana yoga, 48, 50, 101–2 John of the Cross, St., 64, 126, 135, 205

kala, 193 kama, 86 Kama Sutra, 136 Kapila, 37 karma: about, 33–34; in Bhagavad Gita,

100–101; and consequences of shraddha, 65; defi ned, 24; and hell, 236; and process of death, 163; and rebirth, 170; and selfi sh attachment, 101, 252; in Upanishads, 24

karma phala, 53, 125, 252 karma yoga: and Bhagavad Gita, 49, 50,

51–52; defi ned, 49; goal of, 114; as selfl ess action, 99–103, 124–25, 134

Katha Upanishad, 230 Kauravas, 72 Kempis, Th omas à, 62 knower of fi eld, 38, 211, 213, 214, 229 knowledge: of Brahman, 125; as fruit of

doing, 114; of Self, 60, 124–25; see also jnana yoga

Krishna: and Arjuna, 15, 19, 21–22, 71–72, 84, 171, 191–93; as Atman,

180, 229; in Bhagavad Gita, 19, 149, 169; as Creator, 148–49; deep revelation of his divine being, 179– 82; divine nature, 112–13, 191–93; exalted nature, 169–72, 230; home of, 164, 230–31; as Lord, 21; as name for aspect of God, 23; need for devotion to, 171–72; and prakriti and Purusha, 148–49; as prana of body, 231; and rebirth, 111–12; remembering at hour of death, 158– 59; and renunciation, 55–56; reveals divine powers and attributes, 179–82; role in Bhagavad Gita, 15, 19, 71–72; royal secret, 172; as Self, 22, 58, 180, 181, 229; transcends Atman, 229; “two natures” of, 148; as Vishnu, 192; and yoga in Bhagavad Gita, 49, 50

kundalini, 136 Kuru dynasty, 13, 71, 72–73 Kurukshetra, 13, 14–15

lila, 149 lotus, 125, 149 love: of God, 204–6; selfl ess, 170

madbhavam, 158 Madhusudana, 237 Mahabharata: basis in actual events,

15; defi ned, 13; and human good and evil, 237; Krishna in, 113; and Kurukshetra, 13, 14–15; as metaphor, 21; and morality of war, 75; relationship of Bhagavad Gita to, 14, 18–20

Mallory, George Leigh, 8 manas, 39 mantram: Krishna as, 181; Om as, 161,

181, 245; Om Tat Sat as, 245 maya: about, 28–30; in Bhagavad Gita,

150; defi ned, 28, 150; and Krishna, 112, 150; in Rig Veda, 151; in Sankhya philosophy, 150; in Vedanta, 150; and wheel of time, 254

meditation: consciousness in, 26; evidence in Indus Valley, 16; fi nal stage, 26, 192; fi nding place for,

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135–36; and one-pointed mind, 135, 136; reasons for doing, 134, 205; as samadhi, 125–26; unity within, 26; and yoga, 134; see also raja yoga

Meera, 126 mind: and change, 25; comparing

to fl ame, 137; as fi eld of forces, 25, 37, 43, 46, 212; in fi nal stage of meditation, 26, 192; at hour of death, 158–59, 160; impact of selfl essness on, 53, 59; levels of awareness, 26; making one-pointed, 135, 136; and material elements, 41; and renunciation, 51; role in directing the soul toward rebirth, 158; and Sankhya, 37, 39–40; still, 47–48; training, 87, 137–38; see also consciousness

moha, 150–51 Mohammed, 56, 203 moksha, 24, 30, 126, 252 morality of war, 74–75 Moses, 56, 134 Muhammad, see Mohammed mukta, 126

Nakula, 72 nirvana, 30, 52 nirvikalpa samadhi, 192 nishkama karma, 52, 53

off erings, 114, 171; see also yajna Om (mantram), 161, 181, 245 Om Tat Sat (mantram), 245 Oppenheimer, Robert, 193

pada, 230 Pandavas, 72, 73 Patanjali, 133, 159, 192 Paul, St., 205 Perennial Philosophy, 17, 18, 22 physics, 24–25, 29, 37, 44, 164 pipal trees, 229 Prahlada, 181 prakriti: about, 37, 43–44, 56; aspects

of, 212; components of, 211; as fi eld, 212, 213; and gunas, 43, 221–23; and

karma, 212; nature of, 221–23; in Sankhya philosophy, 148; union with Purusha, 148

pranas, 160–61, 231 Purusha: defi ned, 37, 38; as knower,

213; liberation from gunas, 222–23; in Sankhya philosophy, 148; Shiva as, 214; union with prakriti, 148; in Upanishads, 151

Purushottama, 179

raja yoga, 49, 134; see also meditation rajas: defi ned, 44, 45; as one of three

gunas, 44, 46, 102, 103, 243, 244– 45; as quality of prakriti, 221, 222; transforming tamas into, 47; and work, 253

rakshasas, 244 Rama, 181, 237 Ramakrishna, 126, 147–48 Ramana Maharshi, 126 Ramayana, 181 Ravana, 237 realization, see Self-realization; vijnana rebirth, 84, 111–12, 170 reincarnation, 35; see also rebirth renunciation: and Bhagavad Gita, 51,

53–54; defi ned, 58; as essence of Bhagavad Gita, 51; and gunas, 252; as path to real peace of mind, 206; sannyasa type vs. tyaga type, 251–52

Rig Veda, 16, 22, 151, 181, 230 rishis, 17, 24 Rudra, 181 Ruysbroeck, Jan van, 27, 29, 57

sada, 126 sadhana, 244 sadhu, 136, 172, 212 Sahadeva, 72 samabuddhi, 135 samadhi: Arjuna’s, 191–93; defi ned, 30;

at moment of death, 161; nirvikalpa, 192; potter’s wheel analogy, 59; savikalpa, 192; as state of profound meditation, 125–26, 179

samsara, 24, 35, 84, 86

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Sanjaya, 74, 255 Sankhya philosophy: about, 37–38;

categories of gunas in, 102–3, 253; defi ned, 37; and mango analogy, 40; mind and matter, 38–43; prakriti and Purusha in, 37–38, 148; vs. yoga, 37, 124

sannyasa, 123, 124, 251; see also renunciation

Sanskrit language, 16 sat, 245 sattva: defi ned, 44, 45; harnessing energy

of rajas into, 47; as one of three gunas, 44, 46, 102, 243, 244; as quality of prakriti, 221, 222; and spiritual disciplines, 244; and work, 253

savikalpa samadhi, 192 Self: Atman as, 30; at climax of

meditation, 26, 48; at conception, 231; and gunas, 46; and Krishna, 22, 58, 180, 181, 229; relationship to action, 56, 113; see also Atman

self-discipline, 135, 244 Self-knowledge, 60, 125 Self-realization, 58–59, 83–87, 134 self-will, 52–53 selfi shness, 51, 102; see also renunciation selfl ess action, 51–52, 53, 99, 124–25; see

also karma yoga selfl ess love (bhakti), 170 selfl ess service, 57–58, 99–103, 114, 124,

244 senses: as “gates” of body, 160; and sense

objects, 41–43; training, 87 Sermon on the Mount, 14, 20, 60 Shakti, 213–14 shama, 134 Shankara, 18, 37, 59, 126, 181 Shaw, Bernard, 62 Shiva, 16, 22, 181, 213, 214 shraddha, 63–65, 243–44 shruti, 18 siddhi, 253–54 soul, see jiva sudurachara, 172

tamas: defi ned, 44, 45; as one of three

gunas, 44, 46, 102, 103, 243, 244, 245; as quality of prakriti, 221–22; transforming into rajas, 47; and work, 253

tanha, 52 tanmatras, 41 tapas, 244–45 Tat, 230, 245 tattvas, 38–43 Teresa of Avila, St., 62, 126, 192 Troy, 15 turiya, 28, 29–30 tyaga, 206, 251–52

unity: in climax of meditation, 26; discovering, 42; glimpsing, 126; as goal of evolution, 47; as multiplicity, 29–30; as state of consciousness, 28; unitive state, 27, 28

universe, cyclical, 157, 163–64 Upanishads: about, 8–9, 23–24; account

of death process, 36, 159–60, 161; as background for Bhagavad Gita, 22–36; discoveries of brahmavidya in, 17–18; as minimum sources of Hinduism, 18; and Perennial Philosophy, 18; and pranas, 231; Purusha in, 151; states of consciousness in, 28; in Vedas, 18; vs. Bhagavad Gita, 22, 203–4

Varuna, 23, 181 Vasudeva, 182 Vedanta, 150 Vedas, 18, 169–70, 181, 203, 230 vibhutis, 179, 182 vijnana, 147, 148, 150 Vishnu: as Creator, 149; defi ned, 112;

Krishna as, 71, 112, 113, 180, 192; measuring cosmos, 230; role of Brahma in, 149; Shiva and Shakti, 214

Vrishni, 182 Vyasa, 19, 21, 74, 182, 255

wheel of time, 254 wisdom, see jnana; vijnana

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work, see selfl ess action world-tree, 229 worship, see yajna

Yadavas, 71 yajna, 57, 114 yoga: and Bhagavad Gita, 22, 48–49;

bhakti, 49; central principle, 47; common meaning, 51; defi ned, 30, 85, 134; jnana, 48, 50, 101–2; karma, 49, 50, 51–52, 99–103, 114, 124–25,

134; raja, 49, 134; signifi cance of word, 56; vs. Sankhya, 124

Yoga, as school of meditation, 37 Yoga, Lord of, 16, 193 yoga psychology, 37–48 Yoga Sutras, 133, 159, 192 Yogeshvara, 16 yogis: in Bhagavad Gita, 133–35; defi ned,

134; role in process of death, 159–60, 161; true, 135

Yudhishthira, 72, 73 yugas, 164

T h e C l a s s i c s o f I n d i a n S p i r i t u a l i t y

Introduced & Translated by E k n a t h E a s w a r a n

T h e B h a g a v a d G i t a T h e D h a m m a p a d a T h e U p a n i s h a d s

“No one in modern times is more qualifi ed – no, make that ‘as qualifi ed’ – to translate the epochal Classics of Indian Spirituality than Eknath Easwaran. And the reason is clear. It is impossible to get to the heart of those Classics unless you live them, and he did live them. My admiration of the man and his works is boundless.”

– h u s t o n s m i t h , author of Th e World’s Religions


Publisher’s Cataloging-In-Publication Data (Prepared by Th e Donohue Group, Inc.)

Bhagavadgītā. English. Th e Bhagavad Gita / introduced & translated by Eknath Easwaran. -- 2nd ed. p. ; cm. -- (Classics of Indian spirituality)

Includes index. ISBN–13: 978–1–58638–019–9 ISBN–10: 1–58638–019–2

I. Easwaran, Eknath. II. Title.

BL1138.62 .E5 2007 294.5/924 2006934966

  • Table of Contents
  • Foreword: The Classics of Indian Spirituality
  • Introduction: The Bhagavad Gita
    • The Gita and its Setting
    • The Upanishadic Background
    • Atman and Brahman
    • Maya
    • Dharma, Karma, Rebirth, and Liberation
    • Yoga Psychology
    • Matter and Mind
    • The Forces of Evolution
    • The Essence of the Gita
    • A Higher Image
    • Faith and Spiritual Evolution
  • 1: The War Within
  • 2: Self-Realization
  • 3: Selfless Service
  • 4: Wisdom in Action
  • 5: Renounce & Rejoice
  • 6: The Practice of Meditation
  • 7: Wisdom from Realization
  • 8: The Eternal Godhead
  • 9: The Royal Path
  • 10: Divine Splendor
  • 11: The Cosmic Vision
  • 12: The Way of Love
  • 13: The Field & the Knower
  • 14: The Forces of Evolution
  • 15: The Supreme Self
  • 16: Two Paths
  • 17: The Power of Faith
  • 18: Freedom & Renunciation
  • Notes
  • Glossary
  • Index