The Bhagard-Gita Essay

This essay has a total of 7713 words and 42 pages.

The Bhagard-Gita

THE BHAGAVAD-GITA

1. The God Krishna

The god Krishna has his origins in the non-vedic (non-Aryan) religion of the Satvatas, a
tribe in northern India, whose principal deity was Krishna Vasudeva. This tribe eventually
was incorporated into the caste system as ksatriya status and their god Krishna was
incorporated into the Vedic pantheon. The Satvatas continued their devotion to Krishna and
he became over time the only supreme god; also they maintained their distinctive religious
practise and belief (referred to as the Vaisnava tradition) against the Brahmins.


This leads to a consideration of the Bhagavad-Gita. This work represents the synthesis in
Indian religion of the Vaisnava tradition with the Upanishadic tradition. Krishna becomes
Brahman but retains his nature as a personal god: there is a fusion of monism and
monotheism in this work. Eventually Krishna is identified with Vishnu, thus connecting it
with the Vedic pantheon and therefore with popular "Hinduism."



2. Introduction to the Bhagavad-Gita

Although it can and does exist as an independent text, the Bhagavad-Gita, meaning "Song of
the Lord" (i.e, Lord Krishna) is actually part of the much larger epic poem called
Mahabharata; this epic poem relates a feud over succession in the ancient kingdom of
Kurukshetra; the rivals factions are two sets of cousins who are descended from king
Bharata. In the Bhagavad-Gita the two rival factions have met on the battle field; Arjuna
is one of the conbattants. Although he is initially ready and willing to do combat, Arjuna
falls into a state of despair at the prospect of killing his own kinsmen; he confesses his
reluctance to Krishna, his charioteer. Thus the stage is set for the philosophical
dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna. (Actually, the reader soon discovers that Krishna is
more than he appears.) The narrator of the poem is Sanjaya, who is the charioteer for
another warrior.


Two fundamental questions are raised and answered in the Bhagavad-Gita. First, what is the
nature of the Self? The question of the Self is also the question of the nature of the
Absolute. Second, how does one attain to the knowledge of one's true nature, which will
bring release from the cycle of birth and death? This is the question of the methodology
to be employed to reach the philosophical or religious goal. All of the philosophical
content of the text relates to the answering of one or both of these questions. It must be
noted that the Bhagavad-Gita tends to be eclectic, drawing upon various traditions within
Indian religion and harmonizing them. This results in some obscurities and tensions within
the work.


There is significant conceptual overlap between the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads.
Nevertheless, in the Bhagavad Gita there are two modifications of the the philosophical
stance represented by the Upanishads. First, Brahman is identified with the god Krishna,
which means that, as a personal god, Krishna can become an object of devotion. In the
Bhagavad Gita, Krishna reveals himself in his true nature of all-encompassing reality,
but, because Krishna incarnates himself either as a god or even, as in the Bhagavad Gita,
as a man, a person can relate to him as a person. In fact, Krishna recommends devotion to
him as a means of release. Second, the preferred path to perfection is that of action
detached from concern about the results of action; the path of renunciation of action is
not as recommended.



3. Selective Passages from the Bhagavad Gita Illustrative of Its Central Philosophical Ideas

1. Bhagavad Gita 2.11-30

The Supreme Lord said: You grieve for those who are not worthy of grief, and yet speak the
words of wisdom. The wise grieve neither for the living nor for the dead. (2.11)


There was never a time when I, you, or these kings did not exist; nor shall we ever cease to exist in the future. (2.12)

Just as the Atman acquires a childhood body, a youth body, and an old age body during this
life, similarly Atman acquires another body after death. The wise are not deluded by this.
(See also 15.08) (2.13) (Atman means consciousness, spirit, soul, self, the source of life
and the cosmic power behind the body-mind complex. Just as our body exists in space,
similarly our thoughts, intellect, emotions, and psyche exist in Atman, the space of
consciousness. Atman cannot be perceived by the senses, because, the senses abide in
Atman.)


The contacts of the senses with the sense objects give rise to the feelings of heat and
cold, and pain and pleasure. They are transitory and impermanent. Therefore, (learn to)
endure them, O Arjuna. (2.14)


Because the calm person, who is not afflicted by these feelings and is steady in pain and
pleasure, becomes fit for immortality, O Arjuna. (2.15)


There is no nonexistence of the Sat (or Atman) and no existence of the Asat. The reality
of these two is indeed certainly seen by the seers of truth. (2.16) (Sat exists at all
times -- past, present, and future. Atman is called Sat. Asat is a notion that does not
exist at all (like the horn of a rabbit, or the water in a mirage). The one that has a
beginning and an end is neither Sat nor Asat. The body is neither Sat nor Asat, or both
Sat and Asat, because, it has a temporary existence. Mithya is the one that appears Sat at
first sight, but is really Asat. Body, like the universe or Jagat, is called Mithya.)


Know That, by which all this (universe) is pervaded, to be indestructible. No one can
destroy the indestructible (Atman) . (2.17)


Bodies of the eternal, imperishable, and incomprehensible soul are said to be perishable.
Therefore, fight, O Arjuna. (2.18)


The one who thinks that Atman is a slayer, and the one who thinks that Atman is slain,
both are ignorant, because Atman neither slays nor is slain. (2.19)


The Atman is neither born nor does it die at any time, nor having been it will cease to
exist again. It is unborn, eternal, permanent, and primeval. The Atman is not destroyed
when the body is destroyed. (2.20)


O Arjuna, how can a person who knows that the Atman is indestructible, eternal, unborn,
and imperishable, kill anyone or cause anyone to be killed? (2.21)


Just as a person puts on new garments after discarding the old ones, similarly Atman
acquires new bodies after casting away the old bodies. (2.22)


Weapons do not cut this Atman, fire does not burn it, water does not make it wet, and the
wind does not make it dry. (2.23)


This Atman cannot be cut, burned, wetted, or dried up. It is eternal, all pervading,
unchanging, immovable, and primeval. (2.24)


The Atman is said to be unmanifest, unthinkable, and unchanging. Knowing this Atman as
such you should not grieve. (2.25)


If you think that this (body) takes birth and dies perpetually, even then, O Arjuna, you
should not grieve like this. (2.26)


Because, death is certain for the one who is born, and birth is certain for the one who
dies. Therefore, you should not lament over the inevitable. (2.27)


All beings, O Arjuna, are unmanifest before birth and after death. They are manifest
between the birth and the death only. What is there to grieve about? (2.28)


Some look upon this Atman as a wonder, another describes it as wonderful, and others hear
of it as a wonder. Even after hearing about it no one actually knows it. (2.29)


O Arjuna, the Atman that dwells in the body of all (beings) is eternally indestructible.
Therefore, you should not mourn for any body. (2.30)


In this passage, Krishna discourses on the Self or Atman. He says that Atman is
"indestructible, eternal, unborn, and imperishable." Atman cannot not be ("There is no
non-existence of the Sat nor existence of the Asat"), which means it is necesarily
existent. It dwells in the body, but is not the body; rather, remaining the same,
self-identical, it transmigrates from one body to another: "Just as a person puts on new
garments after discarding the old ones, similarly Atman acquires new bodies after casting
away the old bodies." Therefore, Arjuna should not be concerned with the killing of the
body, since it is not the true Self. The constant flow of ever-changing sense perceptions
is not the operation of Atman; rather sense perception arises with the contact of bodily
sense organs with sense objects. Atman is ever calm and undisturbed, and the one who knows
Atman as such and remains unattached to the flow of sense perceptions has reached the goal
of immortality: "Because the calm person, who is not afflicted by these feelings and is
steady in pain and pleasure, becomes fit for immortality, O Arjuna."


2. Bhagavad Gita 2.54-72

Arjuna said: O Krishna, what is the mark of a person whose Prajna is steady and merged in
superconscious state? How does a person of steady Prajna speak? How does such a person sit
and walk? (2.54) (Prajna means consciousness, mind, intellect, judgment, discrimination,
and wisdom.)


The Supreme Lord said: When one is completely free from all desires of the mind and is
satisfied in the Self by the (joy of) Self, then one is called a person of steady Prajna,
O Arjuna. (2.55)


A person whose mind is unperturbed by sorrow, who does not crave pleasures, and who is
free from attachment, fear, and anger; such a person is called a sage of steady Prajna.
(2.56)


Those who are not attached to anything, who are neither elated by getting desired results
nor troubled by undesired results, their Prajna is deemed steady. (2.57)


When one can completely withdraw (or restrain) the senses from the sense objects as a
tortoise withdraws its limbs (into the shell), then the Prajna of such a person is
considered steady. (2.58)


The desire for sensual pleasures fades away if one abstains from sense enjoyment, but the
craving (for sense enjoyment) remains. The craving also disappears from the one who has
seen (or known) the Supreme. (2.59)


Restless senses, O Arjuna, forcibly carry away the mind of even a wise person striving for perfection. (2.60)

Having brought the senses under control, one should fix one's mind on the Self. One's
Prajna becomes steady whose senses are under control. (2.61)


One develops attachment to sense objects by thinking about sense objects. Desire for sense
objects comes from attachment to sense objects, and anger comes from unfulfilled desires.
(2.62)


Delusion arises from anger. The mind is bewildered by delusion. Reasoning is destroyed
when the mind is bewildered. One falls down (from the right path) when reasoning is
destroyed. (2.63)


A disciplined person, enjoying sense objects with senses that are under control and free
from likes and dislikes, attains tranquillity. (2.64)


All sorrows are destroyed upon attainment of tranquillity. The intellect of such a
tranquil person soon becomes completely steady. (2.65)


There is neither Self-knowledge nor Self-perception to those whose senses are not under
control. Without Self-perception there is no peace; and without peace there can be no
happiness. (2.66)


The mind, when controlled by the roving senses, steals away the Prajna as a storm takes
away a boat on the sea from its destination, the spiritual shore. (2.67)


Therefore, O Arjuna, one's Prajna becomes steady whose senses are completely withdrawn from the sense objects. (2.68)

A yogi is aware of the thing (or Atman) about which others are unaware. A sage who sees is
unaware of the experience (of sense objects) about which others are aware. (2.69)


One attains peace in whose mind all desires enter without creating any disturbance, as
river waters enter the full ocean without creating a disturbance. One who desires material
objects is never peaceful. (2.70)


One who abandons all desires and becomes free from longing and the feeling of 'I' and 'my' attains peace. (2.71)

O Arjuna, this is the Braahmee or superconscious state. Attaining this (state), one is no
longer deluded. Gaining this state, even at the end of one's life, a person attains
oneness with the Supreme. (2.72)


The religious goal is to have one's Prajna (mind or consciousness) in a steady state, for
in such a state one is aware of one's true Self or Atman: "When one is completely free
from all desires of the mind and is satisfied in the Self by the (joy of) Self, then one
is called a person of steady Prajna, O Arjuna." The natural state of the consciousness is
to be restless, roving and agitated as it comes into contact with its objects, about which
it is concerned. In other words, consciousness is directed outwards towards the world
(maya), where inevitably it will find no peace: "One develops attachment to sense objects
by thinking about sense objects. Desire for sense objects comes from attachment to sense
objects, and anger comes from unfulfilled desires." Thus, one must bring the senses under
control by withdrawing one's consciousness from the external world towards one's true
Self: "Having brought the senses under control, one should fix one's mind on the Self.
One's Prajna becomes steady whose senses are under control." The realization of one's true
Self, Atman, leads one no longer to identify with one's body, sensations and individual
mind. Krishna says, "A yogi is aware of the thing (or Atman) about which others are
unaware. A sage who sees is unaware of the experience (of sense objects) about which
others are aware." This true Self-knowledge is the presupposition of Karma-yoga. (See also
Chapter 6)


3. Bhagavad Gita 3.3-26


The Supreme Lord said: In this world, O Arjuna, a twofold path of Sadhana (or the
spiritual practice) has been stated by Me in the past. The path of Self-knowledge (or
Jnana-yoga) for the contemplative, and the path of unselfish work (or Karma-yoga) for the
active. (3.03) (Jnana-yoga is also called Saamkhya-yoga, Samnyasa-yoga, and yoga of
knowledge. A Jnana-yogi does not consider oneself the doer of any action, but only an
instrument in the hands of divine for His use. The word Jnana means metaphysical or
transcendental knowledge.)


One does not attain freedom from the bondage of Karma by merely abstaining from work. No
one attains perfection by merely giving up work. (3.04)


Because no one can remain actionless even for a moment. Everyone is driven to action,
helplessly indeed, by the Gunas of nature. (3.05)


The deluded ones, who restrain their organs of action but mentally dwell upon the sense
enjoyment, are called hypocrites. (3.06)


The one who controls the senses by the (trained and purified) mind and intellect, and
engages the organs of action to Nishkaama Karma-yoga, is superior, O Arjuna. (3.07)


Perform your obligatory duty, because action is indeed better than inaction. Even the
maintenance of your body would not be possible by inaction. (3.08)


Human beings are bound by Karma (or works) other than those done as Yajna. Therefore, O
Arjuna, do your duty efficiently as a service or Seva to Me, free from attachment to the
fruits of work. (3.09) (Yajna means sacrifice, selfless service, unselfish work, Seva,
meritorious deeds, giving away something to others, and a religious rite in which oblation
is offered to gods through the mouth of fire.)


Brahmaa, the creator, in the beginning created human beings together with Yajna and said:
By Yajna you shall prosper and Yajna shall fulfill all your desires. (3.10)


Nourish the Devas with Yajna, and the Devas will nourish you. Thus nourishing one another
you shall attain the Supreme goal. (3.11) (Deva means a deity, a demigod, a celestial
person, the agent of God, one who fulfills desires and protects.)


The Devas, nourished by Yajna, will give you the desired objects. One who enjoys the gift
of the Devas without offering them (anything in return) is, indeed, a thief. (3.12)


The righteous who eat the remnants of the Yajna are freed from all sins, but the impious
who cook food only for themselves (without sharing with others in charity) verily eat sin.
(3.13)


The living beings are born from food, food is produced by rain, rain comes by performing
Yajna. The Yajna is performed by doing Karma. (See also 4.32) (3.14)


The Karma or duty is prescribed in the Vedas. The Vedas come from Brahman. Thus the
all-pervading Brahman is ever present in Yajna or service. (3.15)


The one who does not help to keep the wheel of creation in motion by sacrificial duty, and
who rejoices in sense pleasures, that sinful person lives in vain, O Arjuna. (3.16)


The one who rejoices in the Self only, who is satisfied with the Self, who is content in
the Self alone, for such a (Self-realized) person there is no duty. (3.17)


Such a person has no interest, whatsoever, in what is done or what is not done. A
Self-realized person does not depend on anybody (except God) for anything. (3.18)


Therefore, always perform your duty efficiently and without attachment to the results,
because by doing work without attachment one attains the Supreme. (3.19)


King Janaka and others attained perfection (or Self-realization) by Karma-yoga alone. You
should perform your duty (with apathetic frame of mind) with a view to guide people and
for the universal welfare (of the society). (3.20)


Because, whatever noble persons do, others follow. Whatever standard they set up, the world follows. (3.21)

O Arjuna, there is nothing in the three worlds (earth, heaven, and the upper regions) that
should be done by Me, nor there is anything unobtained that I should obtain, yet I engage
in action. (3.22)


Because, if I do not engage in action relentlessly, O Arjuna, people would follow My path in every way. (3.23)

These worlds would perish if I do not work, and I shall be the cause of confusion and
destruction of all these people. (3.24)


As the ignorant work, O Arjuna, with attachment (to the fruits of work), so the wise
should work without attachment, for the welfare of the society. (3.25)


The wise should not unsettle the mind of the ignorant who is attached to the fruits of
work, but the enlightened one should inspire others by performing all works efficiently
without attachment. (See also 3.29) (3.26)


Krishna distinguishes two ways to perfection: "In this world, O Arjuna, a twofold path of
Sadhana (or the spiritual practice) has been stated by Me in the past. The path of
Self-knowledge (or Jnana-yoga) for the contemplative, and the path of unselfish work (or
Karma-yoga) for the active." Of the two, the path of unselfish work (karma yoga) is to be
preferred, since the one who imagines that he can abandon all action is in error. (The
theory behind the abandonment of all doing is that, since all action is rooted in maya,
recognizing maya as nonultimate reality or illusion should lead one to total inaction.)
Since it is impossible to renounce all work or action, since it is is the nature of human
beings "to do," it is better "to do" in such as way as to be indifferent to or detached
from the results of one's actions. In other words, one acts in such a way as to be
unconcerned about the results of one's actions, for one has no need of "the fruits of
work," since such are illussory anyway. The only goal of the work of the wise is for the
welfare of others, but even to this goal the wise is no attached. To act in this way is to
attain the Supreme Krishna himself follows the way of karma-yoga, because without his
sustaining of the universe all existence would cease: "These worlds would perish if I do
not work, and I shall be the cause of confusion and destruction of all these people."


4. Bhagavad Gita 4.5-15

The Supreme Lord said: Both you and I have taken many births. I remember them all, O
Arjuna, but you do not remember. (4.05)


Though I am eternal, imperishable, and the Lord of all beings; yet I (voluntarily)
manifest by controlling My own material nature using My Yoga-Maya. (See also 10.14) (4.06)
(Yoga-Maya is same as Maya; the supernatural, extraordinary, and mystic power of Brahman.
The word Maya means unreal, illusory, or deceptive image of the creation. Due to the power
of Maya one considers the universe as existent and distinct from Brahman, the Supreme
spirit. Brahman is invisible potential energy; Maya is kinetic energy, the force of
action. They are inseparable like fire and heat. Maya is a metaphor used to explain the
visible world or Jagat to common people.)


Whenever there is a decline of Dharma and the rise of Adharma, O Arjuna, then I manifest
(or incarnate) Myself. I incarnate from time to time for protecting the good, for
transforming the wicked, and for establishing Dharma, the world order. (4.07-08)


The one who truly understands My transcendental birth and activities (of creation,
maintenance, and dissolution), is not born again after leaving this body and attains My
abode, O Arjuna. (4.09)


Freed from attachment, fear, and anger; fully absorbed in Me, taking refuge in Me, and
purified by the fire of Self-knowledge, many have attained Me. (4.10)


With whatever motive people worship Me, I reward them (or fulfill their desires)
accordingly. People worship (or approach) Me with different motives. (4.11)


Those who long for success in their work here (on the earth) worship the demigods (or
Devas). Success in work comes quickly in this human world. (4.12)


The four Varna or divisions of human society, based on aptitude and vocation, were created
by Me. Though I am the author of this system, one should know that I do nothing and I am
eternal. (See also 18.41) (4.13)


Works do not bind Me, because I have no desire for the fruits of work. The one who
understands this truth is (also) not bound by Karma. (4.14)


The ancient seekers of liberation also performed their duties with this understanding.
Therefore, you should do your duty as the ancients did. (4.15)


Krishna describes himself as having undergone many past incarnations in order to help in
times of spiritual decline; he is in effect the incarnation of Brahman. The person who
recognizes Krishna as God and Krishna's sacrifice (i.e, his work in his many incarnations)
will no no longer go from death to death, but go to Krishna, i.e., not be reborn. It is
advised that, in his action, a person imitate Krishna: "Works do not bind Me, because I
have no desire for the fruits of work. The one who understands this truth is (also) not
bound by Karma." (4.14). To be free from desire for the fruits of work is to be unattached
to one's actions, not to care one way or the other about the results of one's actions.
Only adopting this attitude will result in not being bound by Karma, which means that one
will escape the consequences of willful or intentional action, which is continuation in
samsara, the cycle of birth and death.


5. Bhagavad Gita 5.1-11
Continues for 21 more pages >>




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