17 March 2009

The Bhagavad Gita (Summarised)

It is time we start getting into the text which guides us on how to lead life. People may wonder why we need to get into scriptures for guidance. If anyone of you has faced the mid-twenties problem of being lost in a crowd and not being able to ask anyone for guidance, or faced a mid-life crisis of your own worth, you know why you need wisdom of the ages. The people who collated and put into context the thought, knowledge and wisdom of the forefathers have been looked upon as Gods and gurus. It doesn’t harm any of us to get a gist of what all is contained in those voluminous and definitely useful texts. Today we start with a brief of what all is there in the Holy Bhagavad Gita, through the words of Lord Shri Krishna.

The Bhagavad Gita is a dialogue on dharma. It enshrines the essential values of the Vedic and Upanishadic traditions of shruti (the revealed) and smriti (the remembered). Its structure is informal question and answer; its mode is enquiry and search; its goal is self-discovery and illumination. It offers the student the two subtlest concepts of Upanishadic philosophy: Purusha (Male/Soul) & Prakriti (Female/Matter) and Kshetra (Field) & Kshetrajna (Knower of the Field). Both concepts are linked and the clear awareness of their meaning and implications is the knowledge that must be known


Is it reasonable, is it practical to expect Arjuna, trained as a Kshatriya, expert in the arts of war, to fight without the desire to win?


The Gita consists of eighteen chapters in total:

  1. Chapter I. The Yoga of Arjuna’s Despair (Arjunavishadayoga)
    Arjuna requests Krishna to move his chariot between the two armies. When Arjuna sees his relatives on the opposing army side of the Kurus, he loses courage and decides not to fight.


Arjuna gives three reasons for his pacifism:

1)      Sva-jan (one’s own people) are to be respected and loved not wasted

2)      Even if others are blinded by greed, mutually assured destruction is not the civilized way of responding to aggression

3)      Killing is the ultimate crime, it is better to be killed weaponless.


It is told that family dharma disappears when family breaks up, adharma takes over. That is when women are corrupted and heritage is destroyed.


Krishna says, without action, no life is possible. Three kinds of action are possible:

1)      Ritual action (for the physically inclined)

2)      Spiritual action (for the religiously inclined)

3)      Reasoned action (for the intellectually inclined)


  1. Chapter II. The Yoga of Knowledge (Sankhyayoga)
    After asking Krishna for help, Arjuna is instructed that only the body may be killed, while the eternal self is immortal. Krishna appeals to Arjuna that as a warrior he has a duty to uphold the path of dharma through warfare.


Krishna tells Arjuna not to be a hridaya-durbala (coward) referring to his indecisiveness resulting from confusion and an erroneous sense of insecurity. It is a moral paralysis of will. He should shake off his weakness and rise. Do not mourn those who do not deserve mourning. The man who is steady in ephemeral pain and pleasure with time and age, is the man who achieves serenity. You have no reason to grieve for any creature if you think of your own dharma and do not hesitate from action. Shame is worse than death to a man of honour. Equating pain & pleasure, loss & gain, defeat & victory there is no blame and this dharma removes all fear. A single-minded will without attachment is the stability of Yoga which releases you from good and evil.


Arjuna responds by wrapping it up in sthita-prajna (the steady minded person). Arjuna asks, “Who is the man of poise”. Krishna responds, “The man without desire is steady.” Meditation on objects breeds attachment, attachment leads to covetousness, which in turn breeds anger. Anger leads to confusion that kills discrimination because of which making a choice is impossible. When moral choice is gone, man is doomed.


  1. Chapter III. The Yoga of Action (Karmayoga)
    Arjuna asks why he should engage in fighting if knowledge is more important than action. Krishna stresses to Arjuna that performing his duties for the greater good, but without attachment to results is the appropriate course of action.


Arjuna argues, “If a steady minded person is superior because he thinks clearly, and mind, reason, thought, knowledge are so superior why fight? Why not just think?” Krishna answers as shreyam-svadharma (one’s own dharma is best). No one reaches perfection through inaction. Except disciplined deeds, all deeds are traps as they are not selfless. People will always imitate a superior. One’s own dharma, however imperfect, is better than another’s, however perfect. In a conflict, a man is caught in four dharmas:

1)      Sva-dharma (self preservation)

2)      Kula-dharma (family preservation)

3)      Yuga-dharma (spirit of the age preservation)

4)      Sanatana-dharma (mankind’s eternal values preservation)


Krishna’s advice is to remember the hierarchy – lowest is the flesh, then come senses, then the mind/emotions, the intellect/the atman. Steady yourself with your self and choose – that is the right choice. First control the senses as greed destroys judgement and kills knowledge. Strengthened by pure consciousness, destroy the great enemy called kama!


  1. Chapter IV. The Yoga of Knowledge, Action, and Renunciation (Jnanakarmasanyasayoga)
    Krishna reveals that He has lived through many births, always teaching Yoga for the protection of the pious and the destruction of the impious and stresses the importance of accepting a guru.


Since there are four dharmas simultaneously operating with no guarantee that people will make the right choice, ups and downs in the course of overall Dharma are inevitable. However, the cosmos is fitted with a self-correcting mechanism. Karma plays through the effect of Maya. There is always a divine presence for anyone ready to receive spiritual guidance. Important thing to realize is that all action must be treated as yagna (ritual) not as sensual. The secret is to see inaction in action (ritual unselfconscious action brings no good or bad fruits) and action in inaction (selfish knowledge brings both good and bad fruits). Discipline shows the face of Brahma, the product of action. There is no purifier like knowledge in this world. Find strength in discipline and rise.


  1. Chapter V. The Yoga of Renunciation (Karmasanyasayoga)
    Arjuna asks Krishna if it is better to forgo action or to act. Krishna answers that both ways may be beneficent, but that acting in Karma Yoga is superior.


Krishna says, “Renunciation and activity both liberate, but to work is better than to renounce.” He asks to abandon greed. Restlessness is the product of sensual joys that are impermanent. The wise commands his senses, mind and intellect rid of lust, anger and greed. Krishna brings in the Upanishadic concepts of the Witness and the Participant. Watch life detachedly. Enjoy it coolly. Savour your deeds as you would the performer of an actor in a play. Be involved, yet be free.


  1. Chapter VI. The Yoga of Meditation (Dhayanayoga)
    Krishna describes the correct posture for meditation and the process of how to achieve samadhi.


Krishna says, “What matters in Yoga, is not success but sincere effort. Peace of mind is not a goal but a process. To begin with the aspirant must discipline desire, discover the pleasures of solitude, perform daily physical yoga to discipline his body, practice principle of golden mean in every activity and he must look on delight and suffering of everywhere as his own. Such effort and empathy characterize the true Yogi. Success comes by slow degrees. Without determination, no man can reach Yoga. A Yogi has to persevere. The supreme bliss is not a product of the determined seeking after it, but a by-product of the honest yogic effort to improve the quality of one’s humanity.”


  1. Chapter VII. The Yoga of Knowledge and Specialized Knowledge (JnanavVijnananyoga)
    Krishna teaches the path of knowledge (Jnana Yoga).


Earth, water, fire, air and ether/sky; mind, intellect and egoism – these eight constituents make up Nature. The  three gunas (states) of sattva, rajas and tamas  deceive the world through maya. The reward for men of small intelligence is small as the wise men are closer to God.


Only the wise man is secure in the knowledge that wisdom is an end in itself. He has seen through the four dangling carrots of sex, money, power and fame. It is wisdom through reason to know the Adhyatman, the Adhibhuta, the Adhidaiva, and the Adhiyagna.


  1. Chapter VIII. The Yoga of the Indestructible Brahman or God Supreme (Aksharabrahmayoga)
    Krishna defines the terms brahman, adhyatma, karma, atman, adhibhuta and adhidaiva and explains how one can remember him at the time of death and attain His supreme abode.


Adhyatman is the pervader of the atman, Adhibhuta is the pervader of all creatures, Adhidaiva is the pervader of the gods, Adhiyagna is the pervader of ritual deeds. This quartet constitutes the quintessence of natural and supernatural knowledge which, intelligently filtered in a receptive mind, becomes wisdom. The Brahman is the energizing principle behind the individual atman, the fire of which the atman is the spark.


Brahman is the supreme indestructible and its existence in separate persons is Adhyatma, the destructible is Adhibhuta, the male principle is Adhidaiva, and God is the Adhiyagna in the human body. Purusha, the male principle is all-knowing, lord of all, the ancient, smaller than an atom, incomprehensible of form, dazzling as the sun, and free from the veiling darkness of maya. The Brahman explained in the Vedas is achieved through the self control of brahmacharya and the power of Yoga. ‘OM’ is the symbol of Brahman.


  1. Chapter IX. The Yoga of Royal Knowledge and the Royal Yoga (Rajavidyarajayoga)
    Krishna explains panentheism, "all beings are in Me" as a way of remembering Him in all circumstances.


Logic, reason, discussion, dialogue, question and answer go as far as the limits set by the human brain. At a certain point, the queries stop, the imagination falters, the heart remains unsatisfied. The conviction is partial, not total, because the analytic method has not been fulfilled by the mystic vision and intuitive insight. The magical word is shraddha, of which the closest English equivalent is faith. But shraddha has associations with darshan, and worshipping a physical image of a non-physical divinity is a form of darshan provided it is done with shraddha. No shraddha is refused.


Brahman vitalizes the Prakriti and the swarm of beings is evolved, all subordinate to Prakriti. But Brahman is to be pursued with single minded devotion as the goal of knowledge, as OM and the three Vedas. Brahman is what is and what is not.


  1. Chapter X. The Yoga of Glory of Greatness of God (Vibhutiyoga)
    Krishna describes how He is the ultimate source of all material and spiritual worlds. Arjuna accepts Krishna as the Supreme Being, quoting great sages who have also done so.


Ladder of reason is a prelude to the leap of faith and devotion. What faith provides is an experience that reason can only indicate or describe. Connected with shraddha (faith) is bhakti (devotion). Bhakti is the very opposite of desire. When faith and devotion join hands, compassion is born like a glowing lamp of wisdom scatters the ignorant darkness of any.


Intellect, knowledge, vision, perseverance, truth, renunciation, gentleness, joy, sorrow, birth, death, awe, fearlessness, equanimity, penance, charity, fame and sense of shame – these states arise from Brahman alone. Brahman is the source of everything and nothing. Brahman is the germ of life, nothing animate or inanimate has existence without it. Of the faculties, Brahman is intelligence and the consciousness of the world’s creatures. Among the wisdoms, Brahman is the knowledge of the atman and is truth among disputes. The man who knows the difference between illusion and reality is the yogi.


  1. Chapter XI. Revelation of the Cosmic Appearance of God Himself (Vishwadarshanayoga)
    On Arjuna's request, Krishna displays His "universal form" (Visvarupa), a theophany of a being facing every way and emitting the radiance of a thousand suns, containing all other beings and material in existence.


To many, the Vishva-rupa-darshan is the pinnacle of the Gita, the poem’s dazzling hard-core truth, its quintessence. To others it is a betrayal of confidence, with Krishna stunning Arjuna with magic when all that Arjuna wanted was logic. To each his own. The stepping stone of reason has led to the threshold of faith.


Arjuna asks Purushottama to give him revelation. What he sees is nothing less than everything. Arjuna saw the separate universes united and resting. Were a thousand suns to explode suddenly in the sky, their brilliance would approximate the glory of the sight. Brahman is the supreme reality, then end of knowledge, the protector of dharma, the ancient Purusha without start or growth or end, deathless, omnipotent. Brahman fills the interworld space and all things else, he is time, Kala, real and unreal and what is beyond these. Brahman is the first god, the primal Purusha, the knower and the known, the ultimate end, the Prajapati, the all. Krishna gave Arjuna peace. Krishna tells him to destroy the enemies without desire or anger for their death is ordained and he is just the immediate cause.


  1. Chapter XII. The Yoga of Devotion (Bhaktiyoga)
    Krishna describes the process of devotional service (Bhakti Yoga).


Krishna describes the good points of an ideal devotee (Bhakta): compassion for all creatures, absence of egotism, patience, fortitude, equanimity, freedom from jealousy, fear and worry, self-sufficiency, indifference to ups and downs, self-control, determination, decisiveness, impartiality to friend and foe, equal-mindedness in devotion, praise and blame, silence, satisfaction, single-mindedness in devotion.


Those who follow the Vedas and worship the Brahman, they subdue their senses and seek the welfare of all but their problems are greater as is it difficult for the finite beings to attain the infinite. If the art of good habit is difficult, learn to do everything for God’s sake as that will suffice. Knowledge is superior to good habit, meditation is superior to knowledge, and giving up the fruits of actions is superior to meditation.


  1. Chapter XIII. The Yoga of the Field and Knowledge of the Field (Kshetrakshetrajnavibhagayoga)
    Krishna describes nature (prakrti), the enjoyer (purusha) and consciousness.


Krishna offers the two subtlest concepts of Upanishadic philosophy: Purusha (male/spirit/soul) & Prakriti (female/nature/matter), and Kshetra (field) and Kshetrajna (knower of the field). Purusha informs, permeates, energizes and shines through Prakriti. Prakriti is primordial, undifferentiated nature. Under the spiritual influence of Purusha, Prakriti produces the universe, the raw and the refined, teeming, variegated life of the cosmos. However, Purusha, the activating agent remains unaffected and pure. Though involved in Prakriti, Purusha is detached, supreme witness and not participant.


Another way of looking at it is to describe Prakriti, in its differentiated form as the Kshetra, the field, the body, the ground of Karma’s fruits. The Kshetrajna is the knower of the body, the atman, the witness, the uninvolved participant, always pure, always free, so long as it knows the truth about itself and Prakriti. Prakriti and Purusha are without any beginning, and all the interplay of the senses is the result of Prakriti. Purusha is the light of lights, shining through darkness, it is the only knowledge worth knowing, it is the end of knowledge, and it exists in everyone’s heart.


The qualities of the field are – elements, egoism, intellect, invisible mind, ten senses, lust, anger, pleasure, pain, intelligence, patience and the sum of all these. Knower of the field consists of – humility, non-pride, dignity, tranquility, homage, chastity, self-control, steadfastness, abandonment of sensual desires, absence of egoism, meditation, non-attachment, single-minded faith in God, pilgrimage to places of quiet, persistence in spiritual struggle, awareness of the end of knowledge, the opposite of all ignorance. What must be known is neither being nor non-being, it is outside and inside life, it is animate and inanimate. His vision is clear who sees Brahman as equal in all beings, as the non-material in material. He sees all actions as the work of Prakriti, and the atman as unaffected and becomes the Brahman himself.


  1. Chapter XIV. Yoga of the Qualities of Goodness (Gunatrayavibhagayoga)
    Krishna explains the three modes (gunas) of material nature.


Prakriti, both crude and subtle, consists of three gunas or qualities which in unite the body to the atman – sattva, rajas and tamas. Very simply, sattva is the quality of light, goodness, knowledge, vitality. Rajas is the quality of grayness, amorality, curiosity, physical strength. Tamas is the quality of darkness, immorality, ignorance, laziness. The permutations and combinations are endless and each person is dominated at different times by one or the other of these gunas, which provide the unique stamp of individuality, of character and of personality. But this personality is Prakriti-based, it is grounded in a mix of raw and refined tendencies, inclinations, proclivities, behaviour patterns. They are not the real person, the Purusha. He who behaves detachedly, knows the gunas are working and remains steady is the one who is said to have transcended the gunas.


  1. Chapter XV. The Yoga of the Supreme Soul (Purushottamayoga)
    Krishna describes a symbolic tree (representing material existence), its roots in the heavens and its foliage on earth. Krishna explains that this tree should be felled with the "axe of detachment", after which one can go beyond to his supreme abode.


Krishna introduces the concept of the cosmic fig-tree Ashvattha with roots above, shoots mid-space, and fruits below. The network of Karma produced by Prakriti involves Kala. He asks Arjuna to cut down this tree with the sword of detachment and stand up!


Krisha explains the Purusha Trinity. One Purusha is embedded in the body and is the perishable spirit. The second Purusha is the imperishable atman which enters the body but leaves it like a breeze carrying the fragrance of flowers. The third Purusha is Paramatma Purusha which is attained when the tree of Karma is sliced with the sword of non-attachment. It is the light living in the sun which illuminates the world, nourishing the earth energy, sustaining life and also in the fire. Brahman/Purusha is the knowledge of the Vedas and the knower of the Vedas.


  1. Chapter XVI. The Yoga Dividing the Virtuous and the Wicked; a Code of Morals (Daivasurasampathvighagayoga)
    Krishna tells of the human traits of the divine and the demonic natures. He counsels that to attain the supreme destination one give up lust, anger and greed, discern between right and wrong action by evidence from scripture and thus act rightly.


This sermonizing seems to be a bit of an anti-climax. But the practical reason for meticulous detailing of the divine nature and anti-divine nature is to calm Arjuna who is wondering if there is any hope left for him for attaining the highest Purusha. The Hindu hell is temporary and very easy to enter. It has three gates of lust, anger and greed which can be avoided by giving up all three and getting absorbed in self improvement. What really matters is whether a person is well meaning or not. This is the ultimate, and only signification distinction.


Courage, compassion, patience, purity are the signs of divine nature. Pride, obstreperousness, vanity, anger, boorishness, ignorance are the marks of anti-divine nature. The anti-divine neither have virtue, nor good conduct, nor truth and say the world is false and immoral, godless and born of lust. With these beliefs, these unfortunate people become the world’s enemies and potential destroyers. The scriptures tell you what should be done and what avoided, your actions should conform to the truths of the scriptures.


  1. Chapter XVII. The Triad of Beliefs; The Faith Makes the Man (Shradhatriyabibhagayoga)
    Krishna tells of three divisions of faith and the thoughts, deeds and even eating habits corresponding to the three gunas.


A man is what his faith is. The sattvika man gives for the sake of giving, the rajsika  is reluctant in giving and expects return, the tamsika gives with contempt and without concern. But is faith enough? No, says Krishna. More important is the Truth That Is (OM TAT SAT). OM is the all-embracing sacred syllable, TAT is that which is mysteriously vague, SAT is IS, ‘Isness’. Brahman, Vedas and rituals proceed from Truth That Is. Chant OM TAT SAT and put feeling in the faith and the chanting. Giving without feeling, action without feeling, discipline without feeling is unreal and useless.


  1. Chapter XVIII. The Yoga of Renunciation for Emancipation (Mokshasanyasayoga)
    In conclusion, Krishna asks Arjuna to abandon all forms of dharma and simply surrender unto Him. He describes this as the ultimate perfection of life.


The Gita is a gospel of action to be a karma-yogi. No action is complete or desirable without knowing why, how and when to act. Krishna places a very high value on knowledge that crystallizes into wisdom. The Gita is a gospel of knowledge to be a jyana-yogi. But knowledge is not complete or desirable without shraddha, spontaneous feeling, which in its best form becomes bhakti. The Gita is a gospel of faith and devotion to be a bhakti-yogi.


There is nothing that is not the product of the three gunas. Each following his conscientious duty finds perfection when he dedicates his work to Brahman. Conscience is what matters. Follow your duty surrendering the ego and selfishness as they can lead to moral ruin. ‘I’ and ‘mine’ disappear and peace is attained as preconditions for achieving Brahman.


One must act, but act only after learning from the Sankhya philosophy that work is ruled by five causes – matter, agent, motive, motion, fate. And finally have faith in Brahman. That is the secret which enables a person to discover true self dharma. This is the subtle wisdom. Think it over. You are free to choose. If the ultimate goal is freedom, the means to it must be freedom to choose. I am convinced that where Krishna, lord of yoga is, where Arjuna the weilder of the bow is, are victory, success, prosperity and law.



1.      Overview of chapters from http://www.freebooknotes.com/wiki/Bhagavad-Gita & http://www.kamat.com/baba/geeta/ ;

2.      Summary from ‘The Bhagavad Gita’ by Dr. P. Lal.)


As the last part says, think over what you have read. You are free to choose. Maybe choose those parts that you like and try to bring them to your life each day. The parts you don’t like or understand fully, leave them for a later day. Take a step ahead and the Gita will help you outrun far ahead of the maddening crowd.




  1. this is sheer amazing stuff...

    God Bless

  2. Amazing....I will recommend this link to my father.

  3. gr8 sir....... u r proud of our IIIT ALLAHABAD... God Bless U!!!!!!!!

  4. Simply amazing work. Reading Bhagvadgita is one feat and summarizing it is another feat. Both were accomplished beautifully.

  5. Wonderful post on the philosophical masterpiece.