Bhagavad Gita






Over the vast subcontinent of India, when the monsoon rains have ceased and the harvest has been gathered in, there is a lull in the goings and comings of human life. At such a season, when the clear starry nights are neither too cold nor too warm, the time is favourable for people, young and old to foregather after nightfall and engage their leisure hours in entertainments or in stimulating or elevating occupations. Popular dances and pageantry are naturally included. The stories of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata (in which the Bhagavad Gita is set), the great epics of India, offer them an endless mine of material from which to draw inspiration and joy.

Such is the natural setting into which the name "Bhagavad Gita" (Song of God) has to be related, before one can understand how this great masterpiece of contemplative philosophy came to be known as a song. Whether we take it to be a “celestial” or  “divine” or a  simple  song sung by God Himself, whether we take the two adjuncts in “God's Song” as equally applicable as a double epithet to a favourite philosophical work so popular with the masses of India (these interpretations being equally permissible according to the rules of Sanskrit grammar), the main fact for the lay reader to recognize would be that, in the Gita we have a highly philosophical work which has gained the status of an elevating scripture on a par with the Vedas and the Upanishads.

The Gita itself refers to other similar writings of seers (rishis) under the description of a "song ":

"Sung by rishis in many ways, severally and distinctly in [different] metres, and also in the aphoristic words of the Brahma-Sutras, replete with critical reasonings and positively determined ". (XII 4.)

The Gita, therefore, is a very popular well-known song, lulling and elevating, at once soothing and exalting, which has


for its subject-matter wisdom-teaching of a very rare and superior order. We can more easily understand the figurative sense in which the Gita is a song when we remember that even in the West, writers like Plato have referred to  Dialectic as a hymn (in The Republic, 532 A to C), and that even Dante calls his epic La Divina Commedia -the Divine Comedy. No better example of a text suitable at once for a song and a study in the field of what is called "the wisdom of the East" can be found in such a compact and convenient form.

The Gita may be said to be the finest flowering of wisdom, pure or applied, which is sublime and precise at once. Its growing popularity through the centuries and even in modern times is sufficiently explained, not so much by its cherished position among the religious textbooks of the Indian people in any closed or static sense, but because it highly deserves, by its universal appeal and by the high hope it holds out to all mankind, a permanent place among works referring to perennial and contemplative wisdom which can know no barrier of race, religion or tradition.



By popular assent the authorship of the Gita is attributed to Vyasa, also called Veda Vyasa, or Krishna Dvaipayana. He is also reputed to be the author of the Brahma-Sutras (“Aphorisms on the Wisdom of the Absolute”) and alluded to under the name Badarayana. As Dvaipayana he was known to be of black colour as suggested by the name Krishna (black) usually applied to him. His father, Parasara, was the son of a woman of lowly birth while Vyasa himself had a fisher-damsel for mother.

Though surrounded by a certain amount of mystery, the name of Vyasa, as it appears in the various scriptures of Hinduism, still occupies a central position as one of the most important revaluators of spirituality. Whenever the flow of the most subtle aspects of "Hindu" doctrines were threatened with any kind of danger or disaster, whether theoretical or actual, we find Vyasa appearing on the scene to save the situation. Historically, whenever there was the danger of interruption in the continuity of the most precious esoteric heritage of wisdom in India; whenever the continuity and flow of the wisdom traversing the barriers of one generation after another was likely to be broken or to become extinguished, the same mystic


and mysterious figure of Vyasa is seen, as mentioned in many of the puranas (legends), emerging into the situation to save wisdom from decay or destruction. Even the physical parenthood of some of the most important custodians of the spiritual heritage of Hindus is often attributed to Veda Vyasa. Vyasa, therefore, occupies a central key position in Indian spirituality. The whole of the vast body of literature constituting the Mahabharata is attributed to Vyasa.

The Mahabharata itself has been considered by certain authors as an aggregate of traditional lore which accumulated through a long period of history with the possibility of various interpolations and later accretions and additions.

The Gita appears in the Bhishmaparva section of the Mahabharata   (L 830-153 0).  It is in the light of the habit so prevalent among ancient classical Writers in India of submerging their own identity in favour of some great name belonging to hoary Indian tradition itself, such as that of a Vasishta or a Narada, that we have to fix the authorship of the Gita, vague as it already is, on to the generic and mysterious personage of Vyasa, rather than on a specified or actual person. Vasishta as the author of the Yoga Vasishta and Narada as the author of the Bhakti Sutras and even Patanjali's name, associated with the Yoga Sastras on the one hand and the Mahabhasya (Great Commentary) on Panini's Grammar on the other, offer problems of no less mystery. We shall not therefore linger long here in our futile effort to fix with precision the authorship of the Gita, except to say that some particular Vyasa, though not the Vyasa, wrote it.



Scholars have suggested that it is the result of the readjustment of Samkhya thought to the Vedic tradition, and that this took place about the third century B.C.E., It is also further suggested that although the original was composed then, it was brought to its present form by some follower of the Vedanta in the second century A.D. The famous Orientalist, R. Garbe, is responsible for these suggestions, to which J. N. Farquhar adds the suggestion that the Gita could be considered "an old verse Upanishad written rather later than the Svetasvatara and worked up into the Gita in the interests of Krishnaism by a poet after the Christian era"[1]. These speculations by


Western scholars may be set off against the opposite tendency of writers like B. G. Tilak who, in their orthodox religious devotion to the book, tend to exaggerate the antiquity of the work beyond all limits that sane and critical scholarship can appreciate. Tilak for example, puts the date as 3100 B.C.[2]

In the present work we do not wish to fix finally either the date or the authorship of the Gita. We believe that it would not be far wrong even to suggest that the Indian mind loves to retain the mystery rather than to lay it too bare. There is even a vernacular proverb which says it is wrong to trace the ancestry of a sage or to follow up a river to its very source. Seeing that many reputed scholars have applied their critical acumen and erudite imagination to this subject in vain and, out of deference also to the delicate sentiments of the popular Indian mind, we prefer, in this matter, to leave the subject there. Scholars and religionists are free to have their say in this highly speculative domain, while we retain for ourselves an open mind.



That the Gita has enjoyed an honoured place in India goes without saying. More than the appreciations shown by individuals sensitive to wisdom-values, the teaching of the Gita may be said to have influenced indirectly the whole population of India, generally enriching and nourishing its love of truth and justice during the last fifteen centuries. Although it is difficult to gauge in terms of actuality what service it did to the people of India, its general effect in raising the standard of thought towards a true and contemplative order can by no means be considered negligible. Rather, it can easily be visualized as having been truly momentous in effect, even when we make due allowance for the paradox involved in the Gita teaching.

Such a far-reaching influence was not at all confined to the limits of India. As early as 1785, Charles Wilkins translated the work into English and printed it in quarto form in London. This was followed by a French translation by Emile Burnouf in 1861.Various other translations followed in the


West and the whole story of the rapid popularity gained by the Gita is mentioned in a brochure published by an esteemed friend of the present writer, Mr. Paul Hubert, under the title “Histoire de la Bhagavad-Gita”. This places on record how the reputation of the Gita spread throughout the world from 1785 to the present day. In his study in Paris Mr. Hubert actually had round him as many as 132 different editions of the Gita, in various languages - English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Polish, Swedish, Czech, Serbian, Russian, Hungarian, Esperanto, etc.

Considering the above facts, it is clear that the appeal of the Gita has some element of universality implicit in it, for the appreciation of which one has no need to discard one's own more limited loyalty of civilization or of religion. Without any doubt the appeal of the Gita is human and universal.



A book can be admired for wrong or inferior reasons, just as it is possible for a saint or philosopher to be misrepresented by his own disciples. Such a possibility is what made some of them cry out in despair, "God defend me from my friends!" as the proverb puts it. The Gita has suffered from various grades of appreciation or respect shown for it. Some have considered the Gita as a kind of amulet. Miniature editions have been enclosed in small cases to be worn round the neck as a religious charm. This is true not only of orthodox Hindus but of others outside that fold, like a young American lady who was known to carry the Gita always with her for reasons of auspiciousness or safety.

There are others only one degree removed from this extreme case who treat the Gita as a holy object or as having hierophantic value. Others, still more reasonable, have appreciated the Gita in a slightly improved form. They have often selected their favourite verses for private prayers or for being used at family gatherings. Most persons belonging to this category have tended to treat the Gita as consisting of seven hundred separate spiritual thoughts more or less aphoristically stated in verse form. The very mention of the word "Gita" is sufficient for such persons to feel that special numinous thrill which religious people often experience and to which they might have been previously conditioned in their own group life. Krishna's various promises, even to save the sinner, and parts


of the vision contained in the eleventh chapter, appeal to their devotional temperaments. Verses of ethical import or divine protection may also be included in such appreciations of a childishly religious order.[3]

Favourite collections of Gita verses of this type have been compiled even in the name of great or reputed spiritual leaders or personalities such as Mahatma Gandhi or Ramana Maharishi. Some of these stress practice, others renunciation and there are a few, who even think that the Gita preaches outright politics with all its evils such as war and wholesale slaughter. These preferences as a rule reflect the temperaments of those who select them and could even be used for diagnosing the types to which they consciously or unconsciously belong. The Gita itself enunciates the law of mutual accord as follows: "That which one's faith is, one is even that". (XVII, 3.) The variety and number of such appreciations are far too great for us to attempt a passing reference to all of them.



Fortunately, the Gita has had more serious minds to appraise its value. Highly intelligent praise has been showered on the Gita in India. Two such instances are in verse form. The Gita Mahatmya is one of these, found in the Varaha Purana. It is often prefixed to Indian editions of the Gita. This particular composition is based on the practice of the Gita teaching in connection with worship or recitation. The various grades of spiritual merit that could accrue from the study or reading of the Gita are all mentioned in it in detail. For example, it says in the twelfth verse:

"By reading of a third part one obtains the same merit as bathing in the Ganges."

Although the appreciation is on the lines of Vedic orthodoxy, still, it is relieved by statements such as "The Gita is my Supreme Science, it is verily the form of Brahma", and in Verse 9 it adds significantly, " It is the three Vedas, the final bliss, the exposition of knowledge of first principles (tattva)."


Another favourite composition in verse, and which is found prefixed to most Indian editions of the Gita, is called the Gita Dhyana (Meditation on the Gita). It is from the Vaishnavya Tantrasara. It goes into the authorship and subject matter with much greater penetrating contemplative insight than the Mahatmya, which only treated the Gita as a holy book.

Here, in the Gita Dhyana[4], the Gita is called the Mother - presumably of wisdom-teaching, and justified all the more with the feminine gender of the word Gita ending with a long vowel in Samskrit. In a striking metaphor, it compares all the Upanishads to cows, the milker is the joy of the cow-herds (Krishna). Arjuna is the calf and men of high intelligence are those who enjoy the nectar milk which is the Gita teaching. This allegorical method is developed in this poem in some detail in an eloquent and classically antique style. Bhishma and Drona, the two Gurus beside the Absolutist Guru Krishna, are compared to the two banks of the battle-river, and various other characters of the Mahabharata war are compared to rocks, billows, alligators and a whirlpool. The last figure of speech is applied to Duryodhana, the leader of the Kaurava army. The lotus flower (meaning the whole of the Mahabharata epic) has a perfume which is compared in the subtle import of the words of the son of Parasara (Vyasa). Yogis, it concludes, see the bright sun towards which the lotus unfolds its petals. The secondary anecdotes within the lotus epic are the stamens, surrounding the teaching which is the very core of the flower.



The estimations of the worth of the Gita from intelligent persons outside India have been both penetrating and unstinted in praise. The French Orientalist, Emile Burnouf, after praising the Gita as uniting within its scope " the most noble sentiments of human nature with the Stoic law of detachment," recommends the book to Westerners with these characteristic words: " One sees that there have been men who could think better than us and who have traced the way of salvation". The appreciation coming from the German poet F. Von Schlegel as early as 1823 is marked by wholeheartedness and spontaneity.


In his eloquent Latin, quoted by Sir Edwin Arnold, Schlegel apostrophizes Vyasa, as follows:

"O thou venerable first of poets, interpreter of the numinous, whatever be thy name among mortals, O Author of this Song whose maxims transport the spirit to the eternal and divine heights of an inexpressible felicity; I incline myself profoundly before thee in one everlasting adoration for thy sacred words".

To the long list of early admirers of the Gita may be added the name of Victor Cousins who masterfully summarized its message in his lectures on philosophy at the University of Paris in 1841 - Sir Edwin Arnold, the famous English poet who rendered the Gita into English verse, compares it with the New Testament, without, however, suggesting as some others have done, that it might have borrowed its teaching from the Bible, a notion which is hardly worth treating seriously.

From the remarks of the French psychologist, T. A. Ribot which appeared in “La Revue Philosophique” in 1894, it is clear that he was able to enter more deeply into, the nature of the Gita. He wrote:

"Its philosophy is not that of discursive reflection and implies views which should be systematized by a knowledge of mysticism and of intuitive penetration. To see in the Gita other specific developments of thought would be an inadequate method for its exposition. Its teachings should be considered more as alluding to degrees of realization of the Self as they have been recommended in the various schools of asceticism as inculcated by different mystical disciplines rather than as seeking any logical consistency or even dialectical penetration."[5]

Except in the last-mentioned reference to dialectics we can agree with this estimate of a first-rate thinker belonging to the strictly academic circles of the West. As we shall try to show in the sections that follow, dialectics is a little-understood way of arriving at philosophical certitude. For the present reserving what we have to say on this one point, we can confidently state here that in the estimate of Prof. Ribot we have


one which comes closest to our own basis of discussion in the commentary of this volume.



Before passing on to serious commentaries such as that of Sankara it would be natural to make a passing review of some of the editions, traditions and commentaries which have appeared in English in recent years.

Politicians like Tilak (1935) and Gandhi (1946), academic professors like W. D. P. Hill (1928),  F. Edgerton (1944) and S. Radhakrishnan (1948), leaders of esoteric thought like Mrs. Annie Besant and Bhagavan Das (1905) and those who claim to be integral Yogis such as Sri Aurobindo (1928) have all made their contributions, each in a different way, to the growing body of current literature on the Gita. At least two poetic renderings have appeared since the publication of “The Song Celestial” by Sir Edwin Arnold (1885). The first of these is the verse rendering by Prof. Edgerton in which he has wonderfully succeeded in retaining the quatrain stanza almost as directly as possible conforming to the words of the original Sanskrit. The other is by Christopher, Isherwood and Swami Prabhavananda (1945). The best qualification of this rendering is that it is readable, though in doing so it often sacrifices subtle mystical doctrine in the name of modern plainness. If we should include in this review the editions which have appeared in the various Indian languages during recent years, the list would swell to hundreds.

Generally speaking, most of such editions may be said to look upon the Gita as a canonical or authoritative scripture of the Hindus. Whether the Gita could be strictly called the scripture of any particular religious expression is a question which we shall have to discuss in some detail more than once in the sections below, because the value of the comments in the present work will depend much on coming to a proper decision on this point. Even Dr. Radhakrishnan treats the Gita, erroneously, more as a work on religious life rather than as one dealing with philosophy. The very last sentence of his Introduction to his translation and commentary reads "The Bhagavad Gita is more a religious classic than a philosophical treatise."[6] Another eminent Indian writes, "We may


accordingly conclude that the central pivot of the teaching is activism or, to use the expression of the Gita, karma-yoga …“devotion to the discharge of social obligations”[7], and again: “It [the Gita] emphasizes the social character of man and generally speaking declines to look upon him apart from the community of which he is a member.”[8] Prof. F. Edgerton of Harvard also considers the Gita to have a theistic character.

B. G. Tilak has devoted two laborious volumes to what he calls Gita Rahasya (The Secret of the Gita) in which he has much useful information to give. Translated from the Marathi original, the two volumes represent a monumental attempt wherein the author's earnestness and energy are evident on every page, not unmixed with much erudition. His attitude of a religious Hindu of an active temperament is unmistakable from what he has to say. From the vast body of his writing we extract the following for illustration: "In short it is perfectly clear that the proper preaching of the Gita in this place would be “Energism” (pravritti) and that, as all others are only supporting Energism, that is as they are all auxiliary, the purport of the Gita religion must also be to support Energism; that is to support Action."[9] Even Mahatma Gandhi, with whose general conclusions we have, independently of the Gita, a great desire to agree, does not examine the Gita teaching impersonally, but instead, much of his personal dogma, consciously or unconsciously, is seen to take much place in it. He would put ahimsa (non-hurting) above everything else. We read in his own words: "Thus the author, of the Gita by extending meanings of words has taught us to imitate him. Let it be granted that, according to the letter of the Gita, it is possible to say that warfare is consistent with renunciation of fruit, but after forty years unremitting endeavour fully to enforce the teaching of the Gita in my own life, I have in all humility felt that perfect renunciation is impossible without perfect observance of ahimsa in every shape and form." [10]

Prof. D. S. Sarma in his Bhagavad Gita (1945) stresses the fact that its central teaching is "its simple lesson of yoga or union with God and bidding every one of us to look upon his duty as something sacred, something inviolable-in fact as the only way to infinite life."[11] Like most others who treat


the Gita as a sacred text of Hinduism he sees obligation where the fullest freedom is alone implied.

Mrs. Besant's translation with the notes and comments in collaboration with Sri Bhagavan Das[12] is free from one-sided exaggerations, although the tendency to see more esoteric secrets in it than what seems warranted could have been avoided in certain places.

Professor O. Lacombe of Paris comes nearest to our own standpoint in the present work when he writes:

"The Bhagavad Gita appears to us at once as a literary expression of the most ancient form of Ekanthika Dharma, and also as being the least particularized and the least sectarian; it does not intend to be a book of any determinate school but of all orthodox schools. Round the personality of Krishna it sounds a recall of all traditional forces for a new life impetus and this is what explains its universal value in Hinduism.”[13]

Sri Aurobindo's “Essays on the Gita, I and II Series” (Calcutta 1928) represent the point of view of a Hindu of modern times who has had the full benefit of an intellectual formation of the West, as also a religious background which is deeply emotional and intuitive. Temperamentally uncompromising and absolutist in his ways, it is no wonder that he thought in very realistic and living terms regarding the Absolute, and there is no mistaking that Sri Aurobindo took the teaching of the Gita to heart with the utmost earnestness. Its sentiments and attitude found echo in his own heart and he was able therefore to penetrate more deeply into the spirit of the teaching of the Gita than most other critics, especially in those living or active aspects of the Absolute which agree with his own deeply mystical and actively patriotic temperament. Although Sri Aurobindo is as capable of appraising its teachings as any scholar or academic professor, he does not desire to do so, but prefers to take the attitude of a person who merely seeks, as he says, "Help and light" from it. He is interested in what he calls its "essential and living message" which has to be “spiritual”.

We know from the other writings of Sri Aurobindo what pattern of spiritual life or teaching is his.


His profuse writings leave us in no doubt in regard to this. He often speaks of the supra-mental power which can descend to manifest itself in actual terms, and there is also the ascent of human beings to the divine status which is also possible and can transform men into superior or divine personalities. From our own remarks in this introduction and in the text of the commentary it is easy to see that we too take a similar position without, however, resorting to theological or dogmatic expressions like God or divinity. We have taken special pains to show that the Gita teaching is not theistic or deistic. Divested of this quasi-theological or mythological vesture, the truths underlying the writings of Sri Aurobindo could support our own position to a large extent. Let us quote extracts from Sri Aurobindo to bring out both the agreement and the difference that we refer to. He writes:

“It [the Avatar) is the manifestation from above of that which we have to develop from below; it is the descent of God into that divine birth of the human being into which we mortal creatures must climb; it is the attracting divine example given by God to man in the very type and form and perfected model of our human existence."[14]

"The union of the soul with the Purushottama by a Yoga of the whole being is the complete teaching of the Gita and not only the union with the immutable self as the narrower doctrine which follows the exclusive way of knowledge."[15]

At the very beginning of his Essays on the Gita Sri Aurobindo states:

"Our object then in studying the Gita, will not be a scholastic or academic scrutiny of its thought nor to place its philosophy in the history of metaphysical speculation nor shall we deal with it in the manner of the analytical dialectician”[16]

The two quotations that we have selected to begin with are enough to convince anyone that, regardless of this modest statement; he does have very profound and subtle doctrines of a metaphysical order to derive from the teachings of the Gita.


It is true he avoids giving his doctrines a dialectical, academic or scholarly form. This, however, is wilfully and consciously done by him, as we have stated. A close scrutiny of the implications of the two quotations we have selected will, however, convince the careful reader that they bear resemblance, though not directly, to dialectical modes of theorization at least to esoteric schools such as the Hermetics. While the kinship of his doctrines to the Tantra school of Bengal is not indiscernible, the roots of such theorization in the Indian soil are not readily traceable, especially because, as hinted at in the second quotation above, Sri Aurobindo has a lurking mistrust for anything that is of the nature of pure knowledge, which he refers to as the "narrower doctrine". These "narrower" doctrines however, we note on the other hand, tally with the standpoint of Sankara, the most respectable of Gita commentators. However, we can discern implicit in Sri Aurobindo's standpoint, in spite of its tantric and esoteric form, the same dialectics that we are to explain in some of the sections of this Introduction, as forming the key to the enigmas and problems of the Gita.

Sri Aurobindo’s own philosophy, according to us, has kinship with the realism of the Sanjaya section of the eleventh chapter of the Gita, and more pointedly to the last line of Chapter XVIII, 75, where Krishna's divine presence is referred to as nothing more or less than actual. An Avatar who helps the establishment of Dharma, and Arjuna fulfilling his own Dharma refer, according to Sri Aurobindo, to the core of the subject-matter of the Gita, for he writes:

"Dharma in the language of the Gita means the innate law of the being and its works and an action proceeding from and determined by the inner nature, swabhavaniyatam-karma . . . the rest of the Gita is written to throw a fuller light on this immortal Dharma."[17]

Having been an active politician, interested in the liberation of India from foreign rule, Sri Aurobindo retained, even after he became a Yogi of Pondicherry (as made very evident in his message of Independence Day in India, on August 15, 1947) those aspects of spiritual or contemplative life which refer to active realities. The Gita, at least in its peripherally placed teachings, does lend support to such an attitude.


We have, however, preferred to treat the Gita as a purer form of contemplative text based on dialectics.

Among recent editions of the Gita, special and honourable mention has to be given to a translation of Jnâneshwar Maharaj’s great opus on the Gita. This great Mahratta Sage lived in the early part of the 4th century. The original is a record of a spoken discourse which has been translated into English, with great pains and attention to detail, by Mr. Manu Subedar, under the title, “The Gita Explained by Dnyaneswar Maharaj”.

The method adopted by the Sage in this work, which enjoys rare popularity among great numbers of devotees of the Gita in the Maratha region of India, is to have a running commentary in a simple, mystical-contemplative style in which the Gita's teaching is presented in a homely, intimate, form with a richness of supplementary examples and explanatory instances. Even the devotee who may not be too erudite is led by the hand, as it were, to the deepest secrets which, like rare gems of mystical, contemplative or truly devotional doctrine, lie hidden in the teachings of the Gita. The avoidance of all hair-splitting and eyebrow-knitting by the adoption of a free and easy popular style is the chief merit of this work which by itself has attained a status similar to the Gita itself in the popular mind. A quiet contemplative flavour pervades the work as a whole and the reputation it has built for itself is likely to be as extensive as it is lasting.

It is not necessary for us to quote at length from the Jnaneshwari, as the work is endearingly referred to by those who practice its daily reading. To justify our foregoing remarks we shall content ourselves with one representative passage to reveal the homeliness and popular appeal of the work which, however, does not compromise the soundness of the doctrines involved, although the implications of subtle dialectics of the Gita as a Shastra (textbook) may not always be fully evident therein. Here then is a passage, referring to the negative state of the spirit of Arjuna which Krishna wants to correct (it is from the beginning of the second chapter):

“Shri Krishna says to Arjuna:

What is the matter with you? Why have you lost courage? You are a great hero, a model Kshatriya with an unsullied name. Your attitude at the call of battle is as incomprehensible as darkness covering the sun, nectar meeting with death, wood absorbing fire, salt dissolving water, the frog swallowing the serpent, or the fox defying the lion. You are a sensible man. Wake up.


Take courage. War is not made with rose-water. Live up to your reputation and get rid of these silly ideas. Kindness towards opponents in battle is misplaced... Did you not know hitherto that the Kauravas were your kinsmen? "[18]

The latest example of a Gita commentary where the message of the Gita may be seen to be narrowed down and bent for the purpose of workers in the field of social reform and politics or both, is to be found in Acharya Vinoba Bhave's “Gita Pravachana” which has gained wide publicity in many of the vernaculars of India. Samya is the central value that Vinobaji rightly sees implied in the Gita message; but this samya and samya-yoga are directly meant by him to promote the free gift policy of giving lands called Bhoodan in which he is personally intent. It need not be pointed out that samya or "sameness" or "identity" is a philosophical expression belonging to yoga or dialectics, which it would be unfair to limit and degrade for supporting a localized cause in a spirit of excessive zeal, however much the laudable end of Bhoodan might seem to justify such an interpretation.



(Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva)

The classical commentators of the Gita are many. Among them we have the great names of Sankara (788-826 A.D.), Ramanuja (1017-1137 A.D.), and Madhva (1199-1317?). Although there are other names such as those of Vallabhacharya, Nimbarka, Sridharaswami and Anandagiri, whose opinions and comments find place in Gita literature; in the present commentary we propose to give prime importance only to Sankara. Ramanuja and Madhva were founders of religious groups who based their comments largely on the point of view of Sankara; whether by differing considerably from him or by travelling with him on similar lines in revaluation and estimation of the Gita. All three, Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva, were orthodox Vedantins of what are known as the Advaita (non-dualist), Vishishtadvaita (more specifically non-dualistic) and the Dvaita (dualistic) schools. The last two names are those of Gurus who belonged to the Vishnu context and who may be said to be representatives of the religious tradition of the Bhagavata religion also associated with the Pancharathras and the Narayaniya sects whose origins are


lost in antiquity. On the other hand, Sankara follows the equally ancient Siva tradition, although accepting and adoring all the other gods of the Indian pantheon in a graded, critical, and comparative manner. The Vaishnavite Gurus were theologically minded, while Sankara gave primacy to wisdom (jnana), discrediting ritual and totally averse to treating action and wisdom as both important to adopt in spiritual life.



Sankara, therefore, although recognized as a Guru of the Smartha sect in South India at the present time, was more of a philosopher than a religious leader. This is not to say, however, that he did not himself influence spiritual life. Indeed, Sankara's is the greatest single philosophical influence prevailing to the present day in India as a whole. He was undoubtedly the greatest of the interpreters of the ancient wisdom of India, and the respect that he enjoys in India and among thinkers in the world outside India acquainted with Vedanta is very considerable and in many respects unrivalled. The difference between him and the other two Gurus who have commented on the Gita is one of methodological and epistemological outlook. Vedanta in the hands of Ramanuja and Madhva has a more theistically religious complexion, while Sankara, like his predecessor Gaudapada, of the same rational tradition, remains more purely philosophic. Sankara thus occupies a key position in regard to the prevailing spiritual pattern of Indian life as a whole. Sankara is equally well recognized in the North of India and in the South. Although he was himself mistrusted in his own time as being a "Buddhist in disguise," because of the great importance he gave to reason, yet, when it comes to naming a single personality who may be said to represent the best philosophic tradition which has survived and is still in vogue among the intelligent section of the people of India to the present day, Sankara's name has undoubtedly to be given all primacy.



About the period when the Guptas ruled, when Buddhism was in decline in India, largely owing to political reasons, there was a spiritual vacuum in the land. The monastic life of the Buddhists had to give way to a revalued and readjusted


form of spiritual life. The heterodox rationalism of the Buddhists had come to be discredited and there was no valid philosophy to displace it. In its latest form, the Gita was itself a fulfilment of the spiritual need of the times and Sankara's commentary on the Gita came just at that period when there was a certain anarchy and confusion of spiritual values in the mind of the ordinary people. Vedic ritualism also tended to be discredited among the masses and the regulating influence so necessary to keep people from falling into an era of decadence of norms and standards of a just or truthful life was absent[19]. By his comments, Sankara was able to give stability and continuity to the flow of righteous teaching down through the succeeding generations. His importance as a commentator of the Gita is thus unique, representative and comprehensive. In our own commentary, Sankara's position is the only one we have treated with any seriousness, whether to agree with or to differ from.



Even with this single representative we have not found much need to enter into any strikingly different point of view. When they concern philosophical doctrines, Sankara's conclusions are, on the whole, acceptable to us. However, when he tends to look on the Gita as a book laying down religious obligations, or rules of life and conduct, treating it as a dharma shastra (textbook on right ways of life) or a smriti (wisdom teachings applied to the practical life, incorporating dharma shastra), and not as a purely contemplative text, we tend to differ from him.

How the Gita is far from coming under the category of smartha (obligatory religious) literature, will be evident both from our former remarks on this subject, and what we have to say below as also from the remarks that we have made by way of comment when such aspects of spirituality come to be treated in the text. That Sankara himself does not treat the Gita seriously as a smriti or book of obligatory conduct, should be evident from his definite remark in commenting on Chapter II, 10, as follows:

"The conclusion therefore, of the Bhagavad Gita is that salvation is attained by knowledge alone and not by


knowledge conjoined by works. That such is the teaching of the Gita we shall show here and there in the following sections according to the context." [20]

That knowing cannot be considered an obligation or an action should be clear to anyone. That action belongs to one plane and knowing belongs to another is stated in the beginning of Sankara's Vivekachudamani in very unequivocal terms. Although some scholars, on the basis of certain references such as "Moreover it is so stated in smriti" (Brahma Sutras, ii, III , 45) and "(These details are recorded by Smriti with reference to the Yogins; and both (Sankhya and Yoga) are smriti (only) ", (Brahma Sutras, IV, ii, 21), found in Sankara's comments on the Brahma Sutras, where the word smriti is used by Badarayana still persist in thinking that the Gita is a smriti (work of obligatory religious tradition), and though Sankara as commentator is only indirectly responsible for so treating the Gita, we can only say here that any text teaching Brahma-Vidya (the Science of the Absolute) as the Gita itself avowedly claims to be (as stated at the end of every chapter), cannot be a smriti, more especially in the light of the very conclusive statement of Sankara himself which we have quoted above. Leaving the controversy for the moment, we can state here that we take the Gita to be a book devoted to the wisdom of the Absolute, with no mandatory reference to obligatory action or traditional conduct in it. We have the support of the greatest commentator on the Gita in this appraisal of the nature of the Gita.

So far, we have been able to see from the spontaneous appreciation of the Gita in India and outside, from scholars, from the commentaries of founders of religious groups and from philosophers, that the Gita is a highly treasured book of ancient wisdom of a contemplative, intuitive and mystical order. In the Gita, closed and static tendencies have been subjected to a dialectical revaluation, making them open, universal and dynamic. It cannot be said to be the scripture merely of any one particular religious expression, whether of Hinduism, the Bhagavata cult or of Vaishnavism of a later date. Its outlook is universal and fully philosophical in the best sense of the term. Fuller justification of these claims will be found in this


introduction and in the body of the commentary itself according to the occasion.



From what we have said it will be sufficiently evident that the Gita has drawn to itself the attention of many masterminds of the world during the last fifteen centuries. The great commentaries themselves have been interpreted by the disciples of the various Gurus in works which themselves have become classics. Different philosophies have been derived by each according to the background to which each belonged. In India, whenever a man of intelligence had any pretensions for religious leadership or for Guruhood, one of the first qualifications considered desirable by himself or by the public was a reputation based on an interpretation of the Gita.

It has therefore to be stated in advance here that the present commentator has no such ambitions or pretensions. A few friends and disciples of the present writer happened to evince a keen interest in the way the Gita was interpreted by him. The volume and intensity of such interest became enlarged from day to day and the demand for a complete statement of such views and meanings on the Gita as a whole became very pressing and imperative. These circumstances have been sufficiently explained in the Preface of this book.



If we ask why the contents of the eighteen chapters and the 700 verses of the Gita have been so puzzling that most commentators have tended to treat it as a book on obligatory, religious or traditional lore, instead of treating it, as it highly deserves to be, on a par with the most authoritative writings pertaining to pure contemplative wisdom, the reasonable answer is that the author of the Gita was faced with taking cognizance of the existing schools of spiritual thought and practice of his own time, like any other writer.

Such a body of anterior opinion (known in India as purva paksha) happened to be, by necessary historical and ideological circumstances, the inevitable background of the Gita.


References had to be made to such opinions, not with a view to recommending a new set of religious or philosophical obligations or doctrines in their place, but to expound the open and dynamic metaphysics of wisdom itself. This is sufficiently clear from the text itself:

"Abandoning all duties, come to Me, the One, for refuge: I shall absolve you from all sins; do not despair ". (XVIII, 66)

The Gita's own teaching, however, belongs to the context of contemplative mysticism based on an intuitive approach rather than on reason or logic in the ordinary sense. What the Gita wants to emphasize is repeated twice (in IX, 34 and in XVIII, 65):

"Become one in mind with Me; be devoted to Me; sacrifice to Me; bow down to Me; unifying thus yourself, you shall surely come to Me. . ."



Throughout the Gita we are able to recognize a certain antique and somewhat outmoded, yet time-honoured, type of reasoning known as Dialectics which has close similarities to the method of Yoga as intended by the author of the Gita. Yoga and Dialectics have very much in common. When the dialectical character of the treatment of the Gita is understood, a door then opens automatically leading to the solution of many enigmas that have puzzled commentators throughout history. The yogic method of equating, balancing, or cancelling out the counterparts belonging to an argument or a situation in life has a tradition dating back to antiquity in India and to pre-Socratic times in the West. The paradoxes of Zeno and the dialectical method of Parmenides, which were present in the writings of Plotinus 1500 years later, and which have at least a theoretical kinship another 1500 years later in our own times in Hegel and Bergson, have a mystical intuitive, contemplative approach to wisdom or happiness which is the way of perennial philosophy none other than the Yoga of the Gita.

Each of the eighteen chapters of the Gita has been called a Yoga. Indeed, the very first chapter has the enigmatic title,


“The Yoga of the Conflict (vishada) of Arjuna”. Conflict or suffering itself here becomes elevated to the status of a Yoga. It is not merely practical aspects of spiritual life or discipline that have been thus called Yoga, but even chapters devoted to theoretical problems of philosophy, such as Chapter XIII (“The Yoga of the Distinction between the Actual and the Perceptual”). It is only in the sense of Dialectics that such a term as Yoga in these titles has meaning.

In giving due credit to the author of the Gita in this matter of understanding the term “Yoga” as the author himself understood it, or intended it, to mean consists, therefore, of another important reason which justifies the need and enhances the value of the present commentary. Numerous enigmas and unexplained portions are found in almost every commentary which is available to the present day. In the light of a truer, larger and more comprehensive concept of Yoga as here accepted, it has been possible to delve deeper into the methodology, epistemology and scheme of values which the Gita represents.



The polemical pattern adopted by Sankara and the other classical commentators has followed the usual norms and methods of logical reasoning. With Sankara in particular, it has been a method of successively discrediting a series of supposed anterior sceptics called purva-pakshin.

The Gita, on its part, however, uses a dialectical method to determine a scale of values in life, rather than teaching a particular doctrine. This series of values in the Gita culminates in that supreme Value called the Absolute or the Brahman. The Gita is a textbook on the Science of the Absolute (Brahma-Vidya). As Prof. Ribot has been able to recognize in his appreciation of the Gita already quoted, “discursive reflection” does not belong to the Gita. Rather its style is one of “mysticism and of intuitive penetration."

The supreme Value implied in the Gita teaching is attainment of identity with the Absolute personified in the Guru here, who happens to be Krishna. That the Guru and the Absolute are one is not a new proposition in Vedanta. Stress on devotion to a Guru cannot be considered a form of theism but is only normal to wisdom teaching in India. The


twice-repeated verse quoted above, occupying key positions at the end of Chapter IX, which marks the centre of the work, and near the end of the last chapter, respectively, fixes for us the simple truth that the Gita is meant by the author to teach one doctrine only. This teaching is that of a complete bi-polar affiliation between the contemplative and the pure Absolute as one of the most important prerequisites for attaining to full wisdom of the Absolute.



The key to the proper appraisal of the Gita consists in the recognition of the Gita as a dialogue between a wisdom teacher and a disciple, a Guru-sishya samvada. All wisdom teaching implies a representative questioner or a doubter who is sceptical of the doctrine propounded. Such a person typifies and sums up in himself the position in regard to the wisdom in question, and is known in Vedantic literature as the purva-pakshin (anterior sceptic), as we have already said. The Guru himself, who gives the revised, revalued or restated version of the wisdom in question, represents the siddantin, the one of finalized or accomplished view. Between the two poles represented by the Guru and the sishya there takes place what we call the dialectical revaluation of the wisdom.

Such dialogues are not altogether unknown in the West where we have those of Socrates recorded by Plato. The Socratic method is that of rejecting a number of opinions of Athenian young men such as Glaucon or Timaeus and thereby arriving at what is knowledge and not mere opinion. In Buddhist literature such dialogues are very common, as in “The Milinda Questions” where Nagasena is questioned by King Milinda. We have the “Yoga Vasishta”, which treats of wisdom in the same dialogue form. Instead of Arjuna who is the questioning disciple in the Gita, we have Sri Rama in the Yoga Vasishta, and not as a warrior but as a seeker of Vedantic wisdom. Many of the Upanishads have the same literary device. It is perhaps the most suitable way to strike the delicate contrast so often implied in the revaluation of wisdom implied in the text. Young Nachiketas and Yama form the typical disciple and Guru of the “Katha Upanishad”. Nachiketas resembles Arjuna in the type of doubt that he represents in his person.


The core of the Gita therefore consists of a dialogue on the most secret aspects of Upanishad wisdom. If the Upanishads are considered as original wisdom texts or shrutis, there is no reason to exclude the Gita from such a category of literature, when we know that Vyasa inserted this dialogue between Guru and Sishya in a larger epic poem, the “Mahabharata” for other reasons.



It is easy to imagine how Vyasa was obliged to resort to some literary devices so that a wisdom dialogue could be fitted into an epic text in the most unobtrusive manner possible. These literary devices (mentioned in more detail later) are introduced in a graded order of actual or perceptual value and help to merge the contemplative context lodged at the core of the epic. There is a perfect symmetry of construction, and whatever artificial elements are introduced at the beginning of the work are again resorted to in inverse order, before the event of the dialogue is left behind normally for the continuation of the narrative proper of the Mahabharata itself.



If, in spite of its clear character as a wisdom text, some persons still persist in calling the Gita a religious book of obligations, it must be because of their inability to separate the painting from the canvas, or the wall from the picture drawn thereon. The epic is the wall on which the picture is the wisdom teaching of Vyasa. If it is not ignorance that makes them call the Gita an epic or traditional lore of religious obligation (smriti), the persistent wilfulness must be attributed to the fact that orthodoxy still secretly nourishes the idea of having chosen preserves or private domains into which they do not wish the generality of the people to walk as freely as they like. This tendency is not unknown in respect of orthodoxies other than Hinduism. We can only say, by way of a note of warning, that such closing tendencies are neither possible nor compatible with the free and open way of unity and human solidarity towards which all thinking men and women are turning their eyes at present.



Vyasa's name occurs thrice in the text. He is first mentioned as a seer (rishi) in X, 13, and again as a silent recluse (muni) in X, 37; but in XVIII, 75, Vyasa is referred to as having to do with the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna. In this last instance, the use of his name has a definite purpose which should not be missed. After the various literary devices have been discarded, and before closing the work, Vyasa puts his own real signature to the treatise, just as an artist might initial the corner of a painting. Indirectly, he wants to make it clear that all that was reported by Sanjaya to the blind king Dhritarashtra as actually having transpired objectively, had its original prototype in the words of Vyasa himself. In other words, if we consider it as a dramatic piece rather than a narrative poem, Vyasa himself appears before the close of the drama, from behind the drop curtain in which Sanjaya is seen reporting the events of the Mahabharata war to the king. Vyasa thus explicitly intends to claim the authorship of the Gita.



It should further be noticed that in the verse (XVIII, 74), just preceding the verse mentioned, there is the use of the word samvada (dialogue). That this dialogue was not intended to be merely one between the charioteer Krishna and the warrior Arjuna is made sufficiently clear to the reader as early as II, 7, where Arjuna refers to himself as a sishya or disciple: "I am your disciple; do discipline me, coming thus for refuge to you". The Guru is not so directly mentioned there, but only in another context in XI, 43: "You are the supreme Guru "; but given the disciple, the teacher is to be understood. The situation demands him, by implication. Thus, although Krishna is successively a Charioteer, Friend, Adviser, Divine Person or Representative of the Absolute Principle, there is no violation of meaning to call him Guru over and above and inclusive of all the other relationships.

He is not, however, a Guru like Bhishma or Drona who are referred to as Gurus in II, 5, but a Guru in a more absolute sense. He is called the Lord of Yoga (Yogeshvara) in XVIII, 78, which is also not inconsistent with Guruhood. Krishna refers to himself as representing the Absolute in its different


aspects in XIV, 3 " My womb is great Brahma-supreme Deity " and XIV, 27 " For I am the basis of the Absolute and the unexpended nectar of immortality, and the eternal way of right conduct, and of lonely final happiness," and in many  other places.

These indications are more than sufficient to justify our taking the Gita as a dialogue on wisdom between a Guru and his sishya.

This dialogue portion occupies the centre of the Gita and covers the greater portion of the work. If the Gita is to be compared to a lotus flower (it is called Bharata Pankajam, "Lotus of the Bharata" in the “Gita Dhyana” already referred to), such a lotus would have many protective petals covering its heart. The core of the Gita with its fragrance would represent the dialogue portion set down by the son of Parasara (Vyasa) which contains the wisdom of the Absolute stated as revealing itself to the supreme Sun. Protecting such a precious teaching are the outer features that accompany the teaching only indirectly, and which refer to the epic's war situation. These latter have to be treated as incidental to the Gita teaching, although not to be treated as having nothing to do with the rest or as being totally extraneous to the subject-matter of the Gita.



How these peripheral chapters are related organically with the central chapters of the Gita will become clearer after we have been able to discuss the internal structure of the Gita as a whole. It is sufficient for us to recognize here that there are three different grades of contents in the Gita, marked out by the author through literary devices at the beginning and at the end, and even in the middle of the book, in Chapter XI.

Sanjaya, the charioteer of the blind king Dhritarashtra, speaking to his sire is the front curtain, as it were. Here the actualities of war are dealt with in the words of Sanjaya. This is device or curtain No. 1.

When the dialogue is between Arjuna as the warrior speaking to Krishna, his relation or charioteer, a more philosophical or religious attitude is reflected, though still of the relativist order. This is device or curtain No. 2.

Then, when Krishna speaks to Arjuna as a teacher of Absolute Truth after being called a Guru by Arjuna, the


subject-matter attains to the purity of the white light of Vedantic Wisdom in its best sense. The Vedanta as presented in the Gita, however, has an original ring, which is different from the academic and theoretical versions of later exponents such as Gaudapada or Sankara, where it is based on states of consciousness only. In the Gita it retains its Upanishadic ontological character, closely resembling the later Upanishads such as the Svetashvatara which encompass all life values, ontological and teleological, more comprehensively. Where Krishna thus reaches wisdom to Arjuna is the core of the Gita, or device or curtain No. 3.

How these three curtains are raised or dropped in the actual text has been indicated in detail in the course of our comments on the verses. It is unnecessary to refer to them here.

There is yet another separation, filtration or elimination to be effected before we arrive at the central, doctrinal core of the Gita. Many matters are treated as anterior opinion (purva-paksha) which must be kept apart from the proper teaching of the Guru. This is the first filtration.

Then, even in the words of the Guru, we have to distinguish between what is referred to as permissive only, coming as it does from the background of the spiritual life of India, which is merely incidental to the discussion, and the independent original teaching. This is the second filtration. The conclusive teachings are always underlined sufficiently clearly by Vyasa and attributed to the Guru Krishna. Such finalized doctrines are further distinguished by certain peculiarities of expression (such as the one in XVIII, 6: "This is my decided and best conviction") meant for explicit reference by him, and consciously employed. We shall refer to these in the body of the commentary.

Thus in trying to arrive at the very central core of the teaching of the Gita, we have to keep in mind three curtains and two filtrations, to rid it of all matter extraneous to the teaching proper, and which are like the outer packing protecting its precious inner content.



When all the precautions mentioned above have been taken in trying to arrive at the core of the teaching of the Gita, the careful reader will find there are still kinds, degrees or gradations


of secret teachings alluded to by means of the words of Krishna or Arjuna, whether at the ends or beginnings of chapters. Each of the eighteen chapters has a separate frame of reference enshrining a unitive value, within whose four walls the reasoning lives and moves. Moreover, the validity of a certain statement, even by the Guru Krishna, would seem to be contradicted in a different chapter. No such contradiction will be found within the same chapter, except in the second and last ones where the structure is complex, and where the literary devices and some philosophical considerations tend to mix different points of view. The details of such peculiarities of structure will be noted in the commentary and in the section below, when we come to deal with the inner structure of the Gita in greater detail. Here it is sufficient for us to note that each chapter of the Gita, as a rule, should be regarded as a distinct unit, though not as a separate philosophical vision (darshana) altogether. Each chapter is like a differently shaped stone forming the archway that the total eighteen chapters together may be likened to. The early and later chapters have to rest on pillars that touch the ground. Hence, they are conceived in a more actual matter-of-fact or earthy spirit, actuality and realism being retained side-by-side with thorough-going Absolutism, as far as they are in keeping with the scheme of contemplative values conceived by the author of the Gita.



As far as the wisdom teaching is concerned, Chapters IX and X occupy a key position. The end of Chapter IX contains that famous verse, which we have said sums up the Gita doctrine, and this verse is repeated almost verbatim in XVIII, 65, which is the end of the teaching. The end of Chapter IX is thus the middle of the Gita taken as a whole. A careful study of the contents of Chapters IX and X will show that they hold many secrets into which we cannot enter in this precursive introduction. We should note, however, that in IX, 2 the distinction of this chapter is very openly indicated:

"Royal Science, Crowning Secret, purificatory is this, superior, objectively verifiable, conforming to right living, very easy to live, (and) subject to no decrease ".


The first verse of Chapter X likewise refers to the further superiority of the contents of that chapter even to Chapter IX:

"Again, 0 Mighty-Armed, listen to My supreme Word, which I, desiring your well-being, shall tell you, so dear (and favourably disposed)"

When chapter X ends, Arjuna is made by the author to refer backwards (to the two Chapters IX and X) in XI, 1, as pertaining to adhyatma (having the Self for subject), helping us to determine the status of these two chapters, as intended by the author:

"Arjuna said: By that speech which has been spoken by you, out of favour for me, the highest secret known as pertaining to the Self, this, my confusion, has vanished."



We know that the cosmology of the Upanishads, which began with the worship of the phenomenal gods of the Vedas, found maturity in the course of the history of thought and arrived at wisdom having its centre in the Self of man. The Self was finally equated to the Absolute and spoken of as a supreme value referred to as Ananda (Happiness).

It is this same central and neutral value which the Gita places at the core of its teaching in these most centrally placed Chapters, IX and X. How these two chapters are complementary to each other would require a detailed examination of their contents, a task we have reserved for our commentary on the text itself. It is enough here to say that the most valuable contemplative teaching of the Gita should be sought in these central chapters. Even here, Chapter IX is conceived asymmetrically and negatively, as compared with Chapter X, which refers to a more positive aspect of the Absolute.

The neutral Absolute is not discussed at all. It is left as a numinously silent factor implied or hidden in the two chapters taken together. Like the verb in a sentence, the keystone of the Gita arch is almost invisible - an ineffable presence - and left to the intuitive imagination of the seeker for wisdom to realize or experience. He is free to see a golden or green leaf which contains the Verb of verbs or the Word of words - representing the Absolute as the Self or as a unique Value


between the two chapters as a correlating principle hidden between them, if he so likes. This is as much as to say that the Gita teaching in its essence is the same as that of the Maha-Vakyas (great dicta) of the Upanishads and the Vedanta generally. Vedism and Rationalism meet in the Gita teaching without conflict, through dialectics, which is the same as Yoga.



A well known Sanskrit verse of the Mimamsakas (doctrinal critics) lays down seven lingas (indications) by which to determine the subject-matter of a shastra (text-book):

"Commencement and end, repetition, originality, utility, critical discussion and legitimacy of conclusion are the indications in determining the meaning." [21]

The beginning and the end are the two first mentioned among them, and when a statement is repeated many times (abhyasa), that should also be taken to indicate the original contribution or the finalized doctrine of the work. The finding and the contribution of the Gita as a whole has therefore to be determined by some similar methodical approach.

A careful study of the structure of the last chapter gives up to us many indications of value regarding what is intended to be taught finally in the Gita. It is sufficient to note here that the very topics which have concluded Chapter IX are found at the conclusion of Chapter XVIII. Moreover, the reference to samnyasa (renunciation) at the beginning of the last chapter repeats a subject which has found prominent mention quite early in the work in III, 4; V, 1; and VI, 1 and 2. The last chapter returns to the same subject.

From the repeated return to the same topic, taken together with the reference to renouncing the world and living a life of begging, mentioned by Arjuna himself as early as II, 5 (which is really the proper beginning of the dialogue), we can discover that the discussion and revaluation of the Gita is round the topic of what constitutes proper renunciation.

The last chapter helps us to determine the matter beyond doubt. Tyaga (relinquishment) is the revised idea that the Gita recommends for the generality of aspirants, although the


possibility of full-fledged samnyasa (renunciation) is not ruled out as in XVIII, 49:

"He whose reason is unattached in situations whose Self has been won over, from whom desire has gone, by renunciation (samnyasa) he reaches the supreme perfection of transcending action "

As Ramakrishna, the saint of Bengal, is said to have put it, the Gita teaches tyaga (relinquishment), and fast repetition of the word Gita (gitagitagita ... ) results in the reversed syllabic formation of the word tyagi or tagi -as near as is natural to the pronunciation by a Bengali.

In the essential wisdom which the Gita teaches in common with the rest of the Upanishads and in its own original revaluation of the notion of that particular contemplative pattern of behaviour known as samnyasa (renunciation) we have two of the main contributions of the Gita teaching. If to these we add the third item which is the method of attaining to wisdom by establishing a strict bipolar relationship with the Absolute (in IX, 34 and. XVIII, 65), we would have touched on all the chief items of the teaching that the Gita represents.



In our commentary we have introduced each chapter with prefatory remarks. A rapid review of the chapters, however, will help us to arrive at a preliminary precision regarding the structure of each. This survey will also help to clarify in advance certain other matters of importance, regarding peculiarities of reasoning, style and construction of the Gita which must be discussed in the remaining part of this introduction.

Chapter 1. The Dialectical Conflict of Arjuna (Arjunavishada-yoga): The first curtain is raised in the middle of Verse 21, where Arjuna is introduced and asks charioteer Krishna to “stop my chariot right in the middle between the two armies ". The second curtain is introduced in the middle of Verse 28 and remains to the end of the chapter, when the first curtain drops again. No wisdom proper is intended to be discussed here, yet, regardless of this fact, we note that the author does not intend it to be outside the scope of the work. It has as respectable a title as the other chapters, being called a Yoga. This Yoga does not refer to a state of happiness as should be


expected from the definition of Yoga in the Gita itself - “disaffiliation from the context of suffering " (VI. 23) - but here, even referring to agony or unhappiness, it is still called a Yoga. The agony of Arjuna is not the plight of a coward in the face of imminent danger. Note the phases of his despondency, beginning with pity and proceeding to philosophical, religious and humanitarian considerations - all of a very respectable order. Although Krishna laughs at Arjuna, in the remainder of the Gita we find no contradiction of Arjuna's opinions, but rather a revalued statement of Arjuna's position in absolutist terms.

The only possible fault of Arjuna's attitude lurks in the expression "my own people" (svajana) in Verse 28 where he starts his arguments. Ancestor worship, considerations of caste or clan, the non-hurting principle and the principle of renunciation, are not against the spirit of the Gita as a whole, but Arjuna thinks as a relativist in these matters, while Krishna teaches an absolutist revision of them.

The first chapter is thus the only one which contains the problems of the Gita stated correctly before the discussion by the Guru Krishna. This chapter therefore requires the closest attention. And yet, oddly enough, commentators even like Sankara, have almost ignored it or even treated it as superfluous. Sankara's commentary begins only with Verse 10 of Chapter II, and he dismisses what precedes in a summary fashion not at all in proportion with the rest of his labours. The remaining seventeen chapters of the Gita make an attempt to dialectically revalue these same problems. It is therefore very important not to leave unnoticed even those minor peculiarities of this chapter in which the author hides here and there certain indications for the guidance of the intelligent reader.

We should note that a secondary literary device consisting of Duryodhana, the ruler, speaking to Drona, the Vedic type of Guru, and reporting himself to Bhishma, the patriarchal type of Guru, is found between Verses 2 and 12, hidden as it were, as a device No. 1 (a), within the device No. 1 of Sanjaya. The object must be to bring out the contrast existing even in the relativist and actual world of this impending battle. Vedic values, referring to the way of the shining phenomenal gods (deva-yana), have to be contrasted with ancestral values, referring to the way of the forefathers (pitri-yana), and Duryodhana as the chief goes from Drona to Bhishma who respectively


represent these sets of values. King Duryodhana needs Sanjaya's enumeration of the names of heroes for purposes of clear classified recognition (samjnartham) as stated in Verse 7, i.e. to relate the contending parties to the sets of values which each represents.

Contemplation is not different from common sense in its keenness of the sense of the actual. Lazy indifference to actuality is not the kind of mysticism upheld in the Gita. This secondary device underlines the need for seeing things as they actually are before the contemplative life is recommended, so that no escapism may be implied in the teaching. This attitude is further evident in the qualification “expert” (daksha) as applied to a yogi in XII, 16, which is again found in XVIII, 43 included among the virtues of a true fighter.

Verses 13 to 20 describe the actualities of the war situation again as seen by Sanjaya according to curtain device No.1.                                                                                                           Verses 21 to 28 continue curtain device No.1, and when curtain device No. 2 is revealed in the middle of Verse 28 it continues to the end of the chapter. At the end of this section Arjuna attains to a state of intransigence rather than the state of pity with which he began. He throws away the bow and arrow instead of merely letting the bow slip from his hands (Verse 30). The feeling of pity which was vague is backed by a definite attitude which leads into the maturely formulated dilemma, to ripen further into the dialectically formulated doubt brought out in the next chapter. Only after all these stages does Arjuna become qualified, according to the secret scheme of the author, to call himself a disciple of the Guru Krishna.

This chapter, therefore, is meant to indicate the nature of' Arjuna's spiritual agony which, by the end of the chapter, attains the status of a religious conflict based on sin. Arjuna's scruples are vague, but they still have the strength and virility of a representative sceptic of his time. As the anterior prerequisite for the whole teaching to follow, Arjuna's conflict deserves to be treated as a Yoga.

Chapter II. Unitive Reasoning (Samkhya-Yoga): The Sanjaya curtain device No. 1 opens with Verse 1, but in Verse 2 the second curtain device appears where the dialogue between the charioteer Krishna and the friend is given. This continues up to Verse 9 where the first curtain drops for a moment, to be raised again in Verse 11. Arjuna has now been able to formulate his doubt properly to form the anterior sceptic's


position which Krishna begins to answer seriously. The actual teaching of the Gita pertains to wisdom from this point. Practical wisdom is added on after Chapter IX only. What is most significant here is that Krishna gains the full status of a Guru after the discipleship of Arjuna has been expressed by him in Verse 7. Arjuna's doubt is given the same rank as that of a Nachiketas or a Svetaketu of the Upanishads. Curtain device No. 3 is thus revealed from Verse 11.

In passing we should particularly note Verse 39, where there is a change over from the two sections of this chapter; from the first part called Samkhya-buddhi (Rationalism revalued) to the second part, called Yoga-Buddhi (Unitive discipline) in most commentaries, but which is one of vital importance to the understanding of the method and teaching of the Gita. Although internally divided into these two sections, the title Samkhya-Yoga (Unitive Reasoning) is justified. Samkhya (Rationalism), when treated unitively, attains the status of a Yoga, and Buddhi (Pure Reason), when employed to reconcile counterparts, also attains the same Yoga status. That Samkhya and Yoga are the same has been plainly stated in V, 4 and 5:

“That Samkhya (Rationalism) and Yoga (Unitive Self-discipline) are distinct, only children say, not the well-informed (pandits); one well-established in any one of them obtains the result of both.            .

“That status attained by men of Samkhya (rationalist persuasion) is reached also by those of the Yoga (Unitive Self-disciplined persuasion) Samkhya and Yoga as one - he who thus sees, he (alone) sees ".

Chapter III . The Unitive Way of Action (Karma-Yoga): From this chapter to XI, 9, curtain device No.1 is abandoned. This is to indicate that it is idealistic, perceptual or conceptual aspects of wisdom alone, as opposed to practical, objective or actual features of reality, that have been included within these limits. This chapter treats of “Necessity," in the form of an urge to action in life, prompted by desire, as a negative yet imperative or eternal value in human life. Verse 41 refers to desire as the enemy. A person under the sway of desire is condemned at the end of Chapter XVI. In that chapter as here, desire is named as the enemy. Here it is to be fought by Arjuna within his own nature; there, in Chapter XVI the man


of desire is to be punished by an  angry god, representing the Absolute, conceived dualistically. In that later chapter the corrective principle is spoken of as an outside factor, while it resides, though also dualistically, within the nature of Arjuna himself, in chapter III . The explanation of this difference will be clearer as we examine the other chapters where the author's architectural design becomes manifest. Here, meanwhile, action is raised to the status of a supreme Necessity, as in its symmetrically placed counterpart, Chapter XVI.

Chapter IV. Unitive Wisdom (Jnana-Yoga): This chapter belongs to the curtain device No.3. Whereas the last chapter gave primacy to action in the form of Necessity with a capital N, this chapter shows a complete turnabout by giving primacy to wisdom in its concluding verses. This apparent adoption of two opposing standpoints in two adjacent chapters will be explained when, in the next chapter, the unitively revalued attitude to Samkhya (Rationalism) and Yoga (Unitive Self-discipline) is stated in emphatic terms, as we quoted above, under Chapter II.

The wisdom referred to in this chapter is not plain knowledge arising out of reason in the logical sense, but a timeless or unitive wisdom belonging to the context of the Absolute. In the last verse, it is disclosed that there is still a victory to be won by the wise man against his own ignorance. The actual enemy was subjectively referred to in Chapter III . Here the enemy has a more theoretical status. Actual fighting is not referred to at all, but a positive attitude is given to Arjuna to "stand firm in the unitive way (Yoga) and stand up, O Bharata (Arjuna)!" in Verse 42. Thus the call to actual warfare fades off into the background as the chapter-stones in the archway we have spoken of are placed nearer to the crowning keystone.

Chapter V. Unitive Action and Renunciation (Karma-Samnyasa-Yoga): Yoga as a practical discipline is all that is alluded to as action here. Supreme peace is the note on which this chapter ends. To obey Krishna, it is hardly necessary for Arjuna to stir from his posture of sitting.

Chapter VI. Unitive Contemplation (Dhyana-Yoga): This chapter finally arrives at treating the subject of Yoga as a personal discipline. In Verse 6:

"The Self is dear to one (possessed) of Self, by whom even the Self by the Self has been won, for one not (possessed)


of Self, the Self would be in conflict with the very Self, as if an enemy ".

The two selves mentioned implies giving equal and opposite status to the contingent and the necessary aspects of the personality. The avoidance of conflict between the actor and the action is the yoga here. Yoga is a unitive discipline wherein opposing tendencies in life are cancelled out in the neutrality of the Absolute. Verses 20 to 23, where happiness is stressed and disconnection is defined as Yoga, are a revaluation of the Yoga more dualistically treated by Patanjali and others. The question of any social duties does not even remotely arise here.

Chapter VII. The Unitive Way of Wisdom-Synthesis (Jnana-Vijnana-Yoga): The synthesis of subjective and objective attributes of the Absolute, without any trace of duality between them, is the peculiarity of this fully philosophical chapter. These aspects of the Absolute, distinguished as “higher” and “lower” are referred to in Verses 4 and 5:

"Earth, water, fire, air, sky, mind, reason also, and consciousness of individuality, thus here divided is my eight- fold nature.

"This is the non-transcendental (apara-immanent). Know the other to be My nature, which is transcendental, constituting life, O Mighty-Armed (Arjuna), by which the phenomenal world is sustained."

The synthesis is clear from Verse 24:

"Unreasoning persons consider Me as the unmanifest come to manifestation; not knowing My supreme (Value), unexpended, with no superior."

The subjects covered in this chapter are indicated in the last verse (30):

"Those who know Me, taking together what refers to existential (adhibhuta), hypostatic (adhidaiva) and sacrificial aspects (adhiyajna), they know Me in a unitive spirit, even at the time of their departure."

The purely philosophical and non-social nature of the teaching of the Gita becomes more and more evident as we


approach the central chapters. No bow and arrow or even “standing up” is required of Arjuna here!

Chapter VIII. The Unitive Way in General Spiritual Progress (Akshara-Brahma-Yoga): The fighting referred to in verse 7 of this chapter:

"Therefore at all times remember Me and fight: when your mind and intelligence are surrendered to Me, you shall come to Me; (have) no doubt."

has been made a secondary matter to the contemplation of the Absolute. Some vestige of the necessary aspects of life might still cling to a person who might have attained to the wisdom of the Absolute. Such a vestigial factor makes the path of the aspirant tend to the dark or bright ways mentioned in Verse 26:

"These, the white and the black, are known to be in this world the twin perennial paths; by one of them one attains to non-return, while by the other one comes back."

Yet, in spite of this reference to two paths leading to worlds dark or bright, this chapter is a purely spiritually conceived one, leading to unitive values in the next two chapters. But before coming to them, this chapter answers many theoretical questions synthetically.

Chapter IX . Unitive Contemplation as a Royal Science and Crowning Secret (Raja-Vidya-Raja-Guhya-Yoga) : The pure, neutral and impersonal Absolute to be thought of as the highest of Values in spiritual or contemplative life is clearly evident from Verses 4 and 5:

"By Me all this world is pervaded, My form unmanifested; all beings have existence in Me and I do not have existence in them.

"And further, beings do not exist in Me - behold My status as a divine Mystery; further, Myself remaining that Urge behind beings, bear them but do not exist in them either."

"The foolish misunderstand Me because of My adopting the human form, ignorant as they are of My being that is beyond, as the Lord of all beings."

This should be read with Verse 11 in the first instance:

"The foolish misunderstand Me because of My adopting the human form, ignorant as they are of My being that is beyond, as the Lord of all beings."


and with the series of verses from Verse 13 to 19:

"But those of Great Self, O Partha (Arjuna), affiliated to My divine nature, adore with mind exclusive of all extraneous interests, having known Me as the Unexpended Primal Source of all beings.

"Always singing praises of Me, ever striving, firm in vows and saluting Me devotedly, they are ever united in worshipful attendance.

"Others also, sacrificing with the wisdom-sacrifice, unitively, dualistically, as also in many ways facing universally everywhere, worshipfully attend on Me.

I the ritual action, I the sacrifice, I the ancestral oblation, I the potent medicinal herb, I the holy formula, I also the melted butter, I the fire, I the offering.

"I the Father of this world, the Mother, the Supporter, and the Grandsire (Ancestor), the Holy One that is to be known, the Purifier, the syllable AUM, as also the (Vedas called) Rik, Sama and Yajus.

"I the Goal, the Supporter, the Lord, the Witness, the Abode, the Refuge, the Friend, the Becoming, the Dissolution, and Ground of being, ontological Basis, and never- expended Seed.

"I radiate heat (and) I rain; I withhold and I send forth; I am immortality and death, as also being and non-being, O Arjuna."

This series enumerates all possible contemplative values, ending with that neutral Absolute which is both existing and non-existing (sat and asat). Not only is the Absolute free from all taint of action, but the status of the worship- per and the worshipped here becomes equal, as verse 29 puts it:

"I (regard) all beings equally. To Me there is none hateful or dear. They however who worship with devotion, they are in Me and I too am in them."

There is a note of hope for all irrespective of any conduct   or class of society as stated in Verses 30 and 31:

"Even if one of very evil actions should worship Me with a devotion exclusive of all else, he should be accounted to


be good all the same, merely by the fact that he has a properly settled determination.

"Instantaneously he becomes established in his own right nature and enters into eternal peace. Believe Me in all confidence, O Son of Kunti (Arjuna) that one affiliated to Me with fidelity knows no destruction."

Social obligations are declared to be not binding on anybody at all in the next verse (32):

"They too who resort to Me for refuge, O Partha (Arjuna), whoever they might be, (whether) women, workers (shudras), as well as farmer-merchants (vaishyas), (all) of sinful origin, they too attain to the supreme Goal ".

Verse 34 gives that secret code indication that the first half of the discussion of contemplative wisdom is over. A scanning of the items of values implied in Verses 16 to 19 inclusive (given above) will, however, reveal that more objective or positive values are reserved for the next chapter, where the specialized aspects of the Absolute overtly intruding into the visible world of values (though only partially representative of the Absolute universal Principle) are enumerated. This chapter may thus be considered "negative-subjective", compared with the next chapter which becomes "positive-objective". The later chapters maintain this positive character to a greater and greater degree.

Chapter X. The Unitive Recognition of Positive Values (Vibhuti-Yoga): We have now passed the zenith of the teaching of the Gita. Here objective values of the nature of presences or numinous factors, still of a contemplative rather than of a public or socialized order, are enumerated first. Verses 4 and 5 have the complete series of the innermost of contemplative values which could also be virtues:

"Reason, wisdom, non-delusion, patience, truth, self- restraint, calmness, pleasure-pain, becoming and non- becoming, sense of danger-security,

"Non-hurting, balance, contentment, austerity, benevolence, fame-shame, are the various distinct attitudes arising from Me alone."


The overt aspects of the contemplative presences are enumerated in the latter half of the chapter. The Absolute has an urge, a force of becoming, exerting its pressure on the flux of life. This creative becoming in its most potent expression has three grades which are called "having specific character (vibhutimat)", "having value here and now (shrimat)"and"expressing a radical stability (urjitam)." This last-named aspect of the Absolute, which emerges again in XIV, 27, is the foundation aspect from which the notions of justice and duty have their source.

Chapter XI. The Unitive Vision of the Absolute (Vishvarupa- Darshana-Yoga): Leaving "objective" behind, a bolder, yet positively objective vision of the Absolute is given in three different sub-sections in this chapter. There is the Sanjaya version of Arjuna's vision which belongs to curtain device No. I, and there is also the vision as seen by Arjuna which belongs to curtain device No. 2, and there is the vision as explained by Krishna which belongs to curtain device No. 3 or the wisdom-discourse proper, the samvada.

Arjuna's request for a vision of a theological deity (in the conventional device No.1 relativist context of a Sanjaya) is significantly not granted by Krishna. He prefers to assume his ordinary form after discarding the vision aspect, thus ruling out a theistic god from the Gita teaching altogether. Arjuna himself wavers between the status of a contemplative disciple and that of a mere friend of Krishna as revealed in Verse 41.

What we should by no means fail to notice in this chapter is that the author goes out of his way to introduce curtain device No.1 in referring to the terrible and destructive aspect of the Absolute. It is the actual warfare that is terrible and not the idea of it. When Krishna refers to himself as representing time, it is not pure Time that is meant, but actual time, like that kept by a ticking clock. Actual time is filled with terrible events which need not at all terrify a wise man who is capable of looking at the same Time in a more conceptual or purer manner.

When Krishna refers to himself as engaged in the destruction of the people it is the actuality of war that is portrayed in a lively and imaginative manner. Arjuna is asked to be only the incidental outward cause of the killing. Because even this encouragement to incidental or pretended fighting as seen in Verse 30 belongs only to the Sanjaya or curtain device No.1, it need not be taken as belonging to the serious


philosophical doctrine of the Gita. The epic canvas has cruder necessary features which do not and are not meant by the author to belong to the contemplative picture that he wishes to paint thereon.

The need for introducing Sanjaya in the middle of the chapter thus becomes justified and necessary to explain the nature of the subject under reference. The concluding verse of the chapter marks the return to the normal contemplative style of the Gita. Values like devotion and non-hatred, which are again introduced, have nothing in common with the spirit of the battlefield.

Chapter XII. Unitive Devotion and Contemplation (Bhakti-Yoga): This chapter has no reference to warlike attitudes at all, but refers to two degrees of contemplative life: the personal and the impersonal, of which the former is easy but inferior and the latter difficult but superior. Curtain device No. 3 of normal dialogue continues unbroken from here till we reach almost the end of the Gita, where Sanjaya alone comes on the stage again in XVIII, 74. All the teaching to that point has thus to be taken as belonging to the contemplative order

Chapter XIII. Unitive Understanding of the Distinction between the Actual and the Perceptual (Kshetra-Kshetrajna- Vibhaga-Yoga): This chapter is devoted to methodology and epistemology. The "actual" and the "perceptual" aspects of the Absolute should never be mixed up in the mind of the contemplative if he is to be able to recognize higher contemplative values. Verse 26 enunciates the law that all beings are born of the union of these two aspects.

The Kshetra (the actual field) and the Kshetrajna (the perceptual Knower of the field) are dialectical counterparts, first to be distinguished but later to be equated one with the other to make the Paramount Spirit of Chapter XV emerge.

Chapter XIV. The Unitive Way of Transcending the Three Nature-Modalities (Guna-Traya-Vibhaga-Yoga): In II, 43 Arjuna was asked to discard the Vedas because they had to do with the three gunas or modalities of nature. How have they become in the present chapter so respectable in the eyes of Vyasa? The answer is that here the gunas are used more as symbols or signs of a diagnostic nature for the comparison of contemplative values, after the synthesis between the higher and lower notions of the Absolute has been sufficiently explained.

The last verse here makes it clear that it is the foundation aspect of the Absolute which is given prime place, belonging


with equal status to its transcendental or supreme aspect. Irrespective of their relative superiority or inferiority, the modalities have all to be transcended, as stated in Verse 20, while neutralization is the revision given by Krishna in Verse 22 to 25 inclusive. The yogi so capable of neutralizing the modalities, as they act on him from the foundation aspect of the Absolute which he represents in himself by the knowledge of the supreme Value of the Absolute, is "fit to become the Absolute Itself " as stated in Verse 26.

Chapter XV. The Unitive Approach to the Paramount Person (Purushottama-Yoga): All Vedic values are here discarded by the fusion of the two persons which forms the subject matter of this chapter. The difference between these two personal factors here, and the two philosophical concepts of Chapter XIII, consists in that here two sets of personal values are synthesized, while in chapter xiii the object was for philosophical concepts of methodological importance to be defined and discussed. Values pertain to consciousness and the objectivity or subjectivity of values is only important for guidance in correct philosophical thinking. The Paramount Person of this chapter represents the Absolute unitive notion of Value. No reference to any war situation is even distantly suggested or implied here where the subject is one dealing purely with contemplative or perennial philosophy alone.

Chapter XVI. The Unitive Way of Discrimination between Higher and Lower Values (Daivasura-Sampad-Vibhaga-Yoga): Two types of persons attached to sets of values that are ambivalent and wide apart in the scale of human values are discussed in this chapter. Ethics is dealt with, though not social ethics, but rather a new variety of contemplative or personal ethics. The lower virtues or personal endowments, when subjected to the sublimating influence of contemplation within birth limitations, yield the higher virtues of endowments. The Dharma shastras (Codes of Conduct), such as that of Manu, discuss ethics from the angle of relationships between individuals. But here we find it is the individual himself, isolated from his social environment, as a contemplative ought to be, who is kept in the mind of the author. From strength to ignorance is the range of these virtues, as seen from Verses 3 and 4. Though born to be only a kshattriya (fighter), and not a brahmana or a samnyasi, Arjuna is admitted to the group of persons endowed with the higher series of virtues (Verse 5). A non-sublimated or a non-contemplative kshattriya


(fighter) could be one of demoniac endowment. Arjuna, being a disciple of Krishna in the wisdom context, is admitted to the higher group. The greater part of this chapter is devoted to the strong condemnation of the person with demoniac endowments. Duryodhana perhaps comes under this category; at least in so far as he is not affiliated to Absolute wisdom but only to relativist notions of religious holiness or life values.

Chapter XVII. The Unitive Recognition of the Three Patterns of Faith (Shraddha-Traya-Vibhaga-Yoga): That the personality of man is determined by what he believes is the dictum (Verse 3) on which this chapter is based. The good, indifferent and bad forms of faith are graded and discussed here under the categories of faith which are mainly sacrifice, austerity and offering (or giving). All three types are discussed finally as conforming to the most sacred of patterns known in India, whether in the context of the Vedas or of the larger Upanishadic teaching of the Vedanta based on the great philosophical AUM-TAT-SAT (AUM- that is Real "). Religion and philosophy are equated here. Religion consists of philosophy and philosophy consists of religion. The contemplative personality of man has its character fixed by the supreme faith in the Absolute at three levels represented by the secret meaning of the Mahavakya above. AUM represents affiliation to the Absolute; TAT represents freedom from benefit-motive; and SAT the Reality that is basic and goodness in general. Dedication to the Absolute becomes confirmed at three levels to determine the perfected type of spiritual man who is to be discussed in the final chapter.

Chapter XVIII. The Unitive Way in Behaviour Patterns. (Samnyasa-Yoga). This last chapter has two different grades of conclusions to arrive at. First there is the particular conclusion resulting from the discussion after Chapter IX (which concluded already the theoretical discussion of contemplative philosophy without its applied aspects), and secondly, there is a general conclusion belonging to the whole work, dealing with applied aspects and reaching the discussion of actual patterns of behaviour. Even here no social obligation is involved, but only an intelligent and free recognition by oneself of what one's own personality fits one to play a particular role in life, on a given or particular occasion.

Arjuna is a free man having divine endowments and already aware of the theoretical implications of wisdom of the most secret kind. Necessary action in the form of patterns of


behaviour, each implying its own personal attitude, is already there in the world that Arjuna is facing. As in the case of faith that is ready-made with its own patterns of sacrifice, austerity and offering, so at that historical epoch in India there were ready-made moulds of available patterns of behaviour such as that of the renouncer (samnyasi), the relinquisher (tyagi), and those statically codified patterns well known as the brahmana (priest), the kshattriya (fighter), the vaishya (businessman) and the shudra (worker). Each of these static forms of rigid obligatory religious tradition is here taken up by Vyasa and boldly revalued. Neither heredity nor the dead weight of obligation statically and narrowly conceived are allowed to vitiate the question of the free choice of models of active life from the available range open to every man.

When the concluding position has been brought to this important and still philosophical question of matching inner and outer factors in life, there is still left the particular case of Arjuna on the battlefield to which such a theory is to be applied.

The Gita takes up the challenge of referring even to the problem of Arjuna in philosophical and contemplative terms. Firmness on a battlefield is a value that could be brought within the contemplative order, as seen in Verses 33 and 43:

"The firmness by which the activities of the mind, vital functions and the senses, O Partha (Arjuna), are kept from deflecting (from the true path) by Yoga, is pure (sattvik)."

"Prowess, brightness, firmness, skill, and also never- absconding, generosity and dignity of men refer to the (pattern of) activity of the kshattriya, born of his own nature."

The happiness of a warrior who has done what he should normally do on a given occasion is also another similarly contemplative value as precious as life itself to one whole-heartedly affiliated to the Absolute, as mentioned in Verse 36. Just as in the case of a would-be mother caught in the labours of childbirth, it would be futile and absurd at the last moment not to permit her, by wrong philosophy of any kind, to obstruct her free fulfillment of her particular life-activity at that particular moment, so Arjuna is advised by Krishna not to have false scruples of a negative order in fully living according to the pattern of life meant for him by nature and


circumstances which are, in his case, of an absolutely imperative character. He is still treated as a free man in Verse 63:

"Thus has wisdom more secret than all that is secret been declared to you by Me; (critically) scrutinizing all, omitting nothing, do as you like."

Vyasa takes care to put the reply of Arjuna at the very limit of the part which belongs to the dialogue. The very next verse brings in the epic context in which Sanjaya enters again. Whether Arjuna's obedience of Krishna led to killing on the part of Arjuna, is not stated in the Gita, as such a subject would not be respectable within a contemplative text. Moreover, in an extra section ranging from Verses 50 to 53 Vyasa opens up the possibility of a pattern of life for Arjuna which would be quite outside the harsh context of war, if Arjuna liked to avoid it. This alternative course, which is more truly contemplative, further proves that social obligations are not binding on Arjuna any more than they are binding generally in the wisdom context. Contemplation belongs to the domain of contingent freedom and not to the necessary obligations of the spiritual life of man.

In keeping with the two trends of the discussion, one more quietly contemplative, and the other more overtly or actively contemplative, we have two different grades of secrets referred to in Verses 63 and 64. We have sacrifice to me; already quoted Verse 63 above. Verse 64 says:

“Listen to My supreme word, the most secret of all…”

These two lines of contemplative life come to a grand conclusion in that famous Verse 65, repeated almost verbatim from IX, 34, which brings the Gita teaching to its supreme culminating point:

“Become one in mind with Me: be devoted to Me; sacrifice to Me; bow down to Me; you shall come to Me alone; I promise you (in) truth; you are dear to Me”.

The non-religious and non-obligatory character of the Gita as a whole is evident from Verse 66, where the Absolute is given primacy over all other considerations in the contemplative


or spiritual life, which in the Gita is meant to be free and open, while yet offering the highest hope for man:

"Abandoning all duties, come to Me, the One, for refuge: I shall absolve you from all sins; do not despair!"



Every chapter of the Gita has at its end what corresponds to a terminal chapter description (not strictly a colophon)[22] which indicates clearly that it is a particular "yoga" giving primacy to one unitive notion pertaining to the wisdom of the Absolute by means of a dialogue which of course, is that between Krishna the Guru and Arjuna the disciple. The terms Brahma-Vidya (wisdom-science of the Absolute), Yoga-Shastra (scientific textbook of contemplative discipline), Krishna-Arjuna-samvada (dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna) and the naming of the Bhagavad Gita (Song of God) and its qualification as a series of Upanishads (Vedic philosophical instructions), in the plural, are expressions common to every such terminal chapter description.

It is legitimate to expect from this description which belongs to the work itself, as handed down at present, that (1) the Bhagavad Gita is an Upanishad series, (2) that it treats of the wisdom of the Absolute, (3) that it is in the form of a dialogue wherein anterior opinion is revalued in terms of finalized knowledge and (4) above all, that it is a Yoga Shastra, i.e. a systematic and exactly conceived text in the science concerning contemplation.

We have already shown how this work is a song and given justification for most of the other descriptions enumerated above. It remains to examine its claims to be an exact science dealing with Yoga.



As we have seen, the Gita does not employ reasoning or arguments of the usual ratiocinative or discursive type. Though it has seemingly much in common with schools of philosophy such as that of the Samkhyas (who in turn had much of their


own method depending on the Nyaya-Vaiseshika school), the logic of the Gita in many respects is its own. It is not altogether its own, but has a very ancient or rather perennial tradition behind it. The author Vyasa himself is aware of this when, in the words of Krishna, he says:

" Thus handed down the line in succession, this (wisdom) the King-Sages (Raja-Rishis) understood; by great lapse of time here (however), this unitive wisdom (Yoga) came to be lost, 0 Paramtapa (Arjuna)." IV, 12. There is a yet more direct reference to Samkhya in XVIII, 13.

Each chapter of the Gita being a Yoga, and the conflict of Arjuna being itself called a yoga in the first chapter, it is easy to see that the word “Yoga” is used in the Gita in a very extended, comprehensive and exactly conceived sense. It is not limited to Patanjali Yoga, and the familiar states of progression in yogic practice mentioned in Patanjali's Yoga-Sutras are glaringly absent in the Gita. The Gita has its own definitions and implied descriptions of persons of yogic perfection here and there all over the work, which distinguishes the unique, secret and special character of the Yoga meant in the Gita beyond all doubt. It is a perennial way of wisdom based on intuitive reasoning, covering practical and theoretical aspects of contemplative life, in which the method consists of equalizing counterparts of an argument or situation, e.g.:

“Arjuna said: That Yoga which you have outlined as consisting of sameness, o Madhusudana  (Krishna) VI,33.

Yoga has an ascent and a descent as mentioned in VI, 3:

"The yoga of a man of self-control who is still an aspirant for it, is said to have action as its motive-principle (karana); for the same person, when he has ascended to the unitive state (of Yoga), tranquility is said to be its motive-principle."

The secret of Yoga which is to be learnt front very rare philosophers is alluded to in IV, 34:

"Learn this by prostration, by searching questioning and by service; they will instruct you (duly) in wisdom, those wise men who can see the basic principles."


The rarity, value and extreme secrecy which yoga in the Gita is meant to imply finds profuse mention all over the work. Even to desire to know of Yoga promotes a man beyond the Vedic Absolute, as claimed in VI, 44:

"By the former practice itself he is drawn on though disabled, as one merely desiring to know of Yoga, he transcends the Absolute of sound (shabda-Brahma)."

That Samkhya and Yoga have much in common or almost all in common, is to be inferred from V, 4 and 5, [23] The doctrinal or philosophical aspects of Yoga as understood in the Gita are the same as found in the ancient writings of the rishis (seers) including the Brahma-Sutras, presumably of Badarayana-Vyasa, as stated in XIII, 4:

"Sung by Rishis (seers) in many ways, severally and distinctly, in (different) metres, and also in the aphoristic words of the Brahma-Sutras replete with critical reasonings and positively determined."           I

Further, Yoga is also spoken of as the cause or source of the emergence of entities such as the manifestation of the Absolute itself. Yoga and maya are almost interchangeable terms in such expressions as Yoga-maya (VII, 25) and Atma-Maya (IV, 6). Krishna as representing the Absolute is also referred to as Yogeshvara (the Lord representing the Principle of Yoga).



The relation that exists between dialectics as in Parmenides and Zeno in the West and the methodology and epistemology proper to Yoga, as understood in its wide range of uses and implications indicated above, has already been mentioned. Yoga here, however, in the Gita combines religion and philosophy, cosmology and psychology, austerities and dispositions. To match a proper occupation to a corresponding person is also within the scope of Yoga as seen in the last chapter. From the extreme idealism or rationalism of the early chapters to the pragmatism or realism of the last chapters, yoga is


employed as a common method or correlating epistemological factor.

The author of the Gita is not to blame if the idea of Yoga is still vague in the mind of the reader. He has taken care to explain sufficiently clearly, even in the early chapters, what Yoga as used by him implies. Yoga is a dialectical approach to contemplative life and, as such, is concerned with personal spiritual emancipation through the appreciation of all unitive values that normally have a place in human life.

The pre-Socratic philosophers who used dialectics may or may not have had such a personal emancipation in view, but in Plato's "Republic" (534) we come to passages in which dialectic is referred to as a hymn which

". . . is a strain of the intellect only. . . When a person starts on the discovery of the Absolute by the light of the reason only, without the assistance of the senses, and never desists until by pure intelligence he arrives at the perception of the Absolute Good, he at last finds himself at the end of the intellectual world as in the case of sight at the end of the visible. . . Dialectic then, is the coping-stone of the sciences, and is set over them; it would not be right to place any other science higher, the nature of knowledge cannot further go."

That even Plato envisaged spiritual value factors within the scope of the use of dialectics is evident from his words (Republic, 533):

"Dialectic alone carries back its hypotheses to the first principle of all in order to make her ground secure; the eye of the soul, which is literally buried in an outlandish slough, is by her gentle aid lifted upwards; and she uses as handmaids and helpers in the work of conversion the sciences we have been discussing." [24]


The Neo-Platonic philosopher, Plotinus, employed this method of dialectics almost as in the Gita, unitively bringing together matter and spirit. In modern times Bergson also understood and employed dialectics in developing his metaphysical ideas.


Thus we would be in good company still when we say that dialectics is a secret time-honoured way of perennial mysticism or philosophy which is based on intuition rather than reason. It yields unitive results consisting of values in life ranging from the most commonplace to the highest.

All values in life could be strung by dialectics into a gar- land of human values, each precious in its own context. The eighteen chapters of the Gita string together different values in life through its own notion of the Absolute - the Absolute being the correlating Principle as mentioned in VII, 7:

"In Me all this is strung as a classified series (ganah) of precious beads on a string."

A sample of the dialectical method of reasoning is given by Vyasa in that symmetrically balanced Verse II, 16:

"What is unreal cannot have being and non-being cannot be real: the conclusion in regard to both of these has been known to philosophers."

This method and the three definitions of Yoga in the following verses taken together is meant to explain what the word Yoga means in the Gita:

"Engage in activity, O Dhanamjaya (Arjuna), taking your stand on the unitive way (of Yoga) discarding attachments and capable of regarding both attainment and non-attainment as the same: in sameness consists the unitive way (of Yoga)." II, 48.

"Affiliated to reason one leaves behind here both meritorious and unmeritorious deeds. Therefore affiliate yourself to the unitive way (of Yoga): Yoga is reason in action, (savoir faire, know-how)." II, 50.

"That should be known by the name of yoga-disaffiliation from the context of suffering. Such a Yoga should be adhered to with determination, free from spiritual regret" VI, 23.

Yoga refers to the Absolute and yields unitive interests in every department of life. It implies detachment from the outside world of sense activity.



That each chapter should be looked upon as having its own frame of reference has been explained already. Here we shall mention some of the further peculiarities of chapter construction, beginning with the unitive concepts of each chapter.

Chapter 1: The counterparts here are the values represented by Bhishma and Bhima, both of whom are prehistoric stalwarts. Verse 10 brings them together:

"This army of ours which is under the care of Bhishma is insufficient but that army of theirs which is under the care of Bhima is adequate ".

In the sub-section of this chapter where Duryodhana speaks to Drona and Bhishma, the two sets of religious values represented by each of them are the counterparts to be unitively revalued from the Absolutist point of view. Both of these are referred to clearly in II, 4:

"Arjuna said: How could I, O Slayer of Madhu (Krishna) encounter with arrows in battle Bhishma and also Drona who are worthy of worship, O Slayer of Foes (Krishna)?"

and even in I, 8:

"You and Bhishma, and Karna, and also Kripa, the Victor in war, Ashvatthaman and Vikarna and also the son of Somadatta."

At the end of the chapter these two value-representatives have to be fought by Arjuna who is about to be taught by Krishna. Verses 21 and 24 make pointed reference to placing the chariot in the middle "between the two armies", and in Verse 27 to the two armies taken together “in both the armies”.

That the revaluation is dialectical and neutrally poised between opposing standpoints, as in the example which is given in II, 16, is hinted at even in this first chapter. The conflict of Arjuna has the same contemplative or yogic character, though taking the form of an agony for the present, within the limits of this chapter. The very first word of the Gita is dharma (right life that is in keeping with wisdom) which is to be set off against the merely historical actuality of the Kuru


battlefield. The latter has to be revalued in terms of the form by the battle about to begin. Absolute Necessity or Urgency in the Actual has to be understood in the light of the highest Absolute sense of intelligent and normal living by Arjuna. He is called upon to be a man of unitive life without conflict, which is that of a yogi.

Chapter II: The unitive concept is now Reason. Reason in contemplative life has an anterior tradition in the school known as Samkhya. There is a more pragmatic tradition of yoga discipline. It is more orthodox. Both these kinds of reasoning are stated in revised terms in the two parts of this chapter which is divided by Verse 39:

"What has just been taught is reason according to Samkhya; but hear now of the same according to Yoga, attaining to the unity of which reasoning you will be able to throw off the bondage of works."

Both these counterparts, which are based on an ontological or a here-and-now approach to life, are revalued and restated in terms of what is called the Brahma-sthithi (state of reasoning established in the Absolute) referred to in the last verse of the chapter:

"This is the state of being in the Absolute, O Partha (Arjuna), on reaching which one suffers from delusion no more. Established in this at the very last moments of life, one reaches that final state of pure being (nirvana) in the Absolute ".

Chapter III : Here a revised and eternal status is first given to Necessary Action. Action is inevitable to man. Its tradition is also hoary, as hinted in Verse 20:

"Janaka and such others reached perfection even performing acts."

Necessary Action is unavoidable and absolutely necessary. It has to be met by a factor which is even beyond the ontological reasoning of the Samkhyas and the Yogis of the earlier chapter. This is indicated in the last verse of this chapter where a neutral immobilization of spirit is recommended:


"Thus knowing Him to be beyond reason, immobilizing the Self by the Self, 0 Mighty-Armed (Arjuna), kill that enemy in the form of desire (so) difficult to encounter."

Chapter IV: This chapter shows that secret, perennial and timeless wisdom can treat action and inaction as its counterparts and thus cancel, neutralize, equate or harmonize one by the other by the true technique of yoga, as in Verse 18:

"One who is able to see action in inaction and inaction in action, he, among men, is intelligent; he is one of unitive way (a yogi), while still engaged in every (possible) kind of work."

This is a rare secret, as mentioned in Verse 34:

"Learn this by prostration, by searching questioning, and by service; they will instruct you (duly) in wisdom, those wise men who can see the basic principles."

Action in this chapter has no reference to actual action, but has a perennial symbolic value which was developed in the previous chapter. This is evident from the implication of the last verses read together:

"For one of unitively-renounced action (by Yoga), who by wisdom has sundered doubts, and come to full self- possession, works can no more bind him, O Dhanamjaya (Arjuna).

"Therefore, sundering with the sword of Self-Knowledge this ignorance-born doubt residing in your heart, stand firm in the unitive way (Yoga) and stand up, 0 Bharata (Arjuna)".

Chapter V: Here the anti-ritual rationalist who resorts to quietism is treated as the counterpart of an active contemplative who is able to treat Reason on a par with Action. The edge of action is taken off and the actor even goes to the extent of being able to deny the actuality of action:

“ “I do nothing at all” - saying thus, he of unitive ways, who is a philosopher (too), should think and, (while) seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, going, sleeping, breathing, speaking, excreting, grasping, opening and closing the eyes, treating the senses to be (merely) related to their (corresponding) sense-objects". (V, 8, 9.)


The action in the Self is countered by the wisdom in the Self and thus is transcended. In other words, action is raised to the status of ignorance. Peace results from such a harmony established between the counterparts of Action and Reason, as seen in Verse 29:

"Having known Me as the Enjoyer of ritual sacrifices, the Acceptor of austerities, the great Lord of all worlds, and the Friend of all beings, one reaches peace."

Chapter VI: There is here more than neutrality maintained between Activity and Reason. Action as "means" must have corresponding "ends" in the form of benefits, results, or "fruits" called karma-phalam (resulting benefit of an act). When the actor's Self is self-sufficient without this benefit, we again attain to a neutralized state which is the state of harmony or yoga. Arjuna refers to the balancing of counterparts in this kind of Yoga in Verse 33: "That Yoga you have outlined as consisting of sameness…”

That Yoga involves practice or an ascent of some sort is implied in Verse 3 (quoted earlier on Page 46). The essentials of the practice in which the counterparts are the Self and the Self without interference with any horizontal factor called benefit-motive (phala) and resulting in a Self that is unitive and without conflict is implied in Verses 29 to 32:

"One whose Self is united by Yoga sees the Self as abiding in all beings and all beings as abiding in the Self, everywhere seeing the same.

"He who sees Me everywhere, and sees everything in Me, to him I am not lost, and he is not lost to Me.                                    

"That yogi who honours Me as abiding in all beings, established in unity, remaining as he may, in every (possible) way, he abides in Me                                                                                    

“By establishing an analogy with the Self, he who sees equality everywhere, O Arjuna, whether in pleasant or painful (situations ), he is considered a perfect yogi”.

Yoga conceived in the Absolute way knows no setback and is the supreme perfection here raised above all others.


The need for the establishment of a bipolar relation with the Absolute is here treated in advance as belonging to Yoga. This statement (Verse 47)

"Of all yogis, he who with inner Self is merged in Me, full of faith, devoted to Me, is considered by Me the most unitive (yuktah tamah)."

puts the doctrine here in line with the doctrines stated at the end of Chapter IX, and repeated at the end of the Gita, XVIII, 65:

"Become one in mind with Me - be devoted to Me; sacrifice to Me; bow down to Me; you shall come to Me alone; I promise you (in) truth; you are dear to Me."

Chapter VII: In this chapter the counterparts extend from life here to values in the hereafter. The hylozoic, cosmological, and transcendental value factors of the “here” and the “hereafter” are equated and harmonized by a notion of the Absolute which is ontological and teleological at once. Positive wisdom is referred to in Verse 2:

"I shall teach you this (pure) wisdom together with this (applied) knowledge, without any omission, knowing which, there will be nothing more here left over that should be known."

And the need for establishing bipolarity with Absolute wisdom is implied in the very opening verse of the chapter:

"Krishna said: Having a mind attached to Me, O Partha (Arjuna), and joining unitively through Yoga, and having Me as refuge, how you will know Me without any doubt, comprehensively, that do hear."

Chapter VIII:  Here the synthetic revaluation of all interior stands of spiritual life known at the time of the Gita is put on one side and the yogi himself as understood in the Gita and raised to the status of the Absolute through wisdom is the counterpart placed on the other side, and then both are brought unitively together.

Chapters IX and X: These together constitute the key chapters of the whole work. The Absolute attains perfect


unity of value as the highest object of meditation by the contemplative. In Chapter X, the unitive values involved are actual presences or value factors belonging to the universe, into relationship with which we can enter. These values range from reason to personal honour in the first instance, and continue into objectified values or presences. These result from the same unitive Absolute. The difference between the values of the two chapters is very subtle and negligible. We can only generalize and say that those of the earlier chapter are more conceptual than perceptual.

Chapter XI: Here the Absolute is viewed as existing between the past and the future in the positive actuality of the present, which itself is represented as in a state of flux or becoming. Conventional theological notions are subjected to revaluation in terms of the Absolute. The author takes advantage of the tragic aspect of the Absolute to refer to the actual waging of war by Arjuna, justifying it on the ground that in the general flux of becoming all but the pure Absolute suffers change.

Chapter XII: The contemplative has two alternative counterparts to choose from: the Manifested Absolute and the Unmanifested. The Manifested is the value recommended in the name of facility in establishing the bipolarity which is the essence of the Yoga of the Gita. Those who are able to fulfill the condition of bipolarity even with an abstract notion of the Absolute are considered all the better in the last verse:

"But they who cherish devotedly this righteous immortal value, as stated, endowed with faith, with Me for Supreme, those devotees are exceedingly dear to Me”.

Chapter XIII: In this chapter the counterparts are the Field and the Knower of the Field. A delicate unity is established between these two philosophical aspects of reality.

Chapter XIV: Here the lower Self, still within the sway of the three modalities of nature (gunas), is on one side, and the higher Self which is its own counterpart is on the other side, to be equated together unitively to yield a neutral state in the Absolute Self.

Chapter XV: Here the synthesis of the two aspects of the Person is more complete and helps in the formulation of the Absolute as a Paramount Person representing the most Supreme of Values.


Chapter XVI: Now the problem of evil in the world is faced squarely, though still in a contemplative manner. Men are divided into two distinct groups as good and bad. Evil does exist in this world as part of the foundation aspect of the Absolute referred to in the last verses of the previous chapter. To avoid evil, the shastras (texts) are to be relied on, as stated in the last verse of the present chapter:

"Therefore the scripture is your authority in deciding what should and should not be done. Understanding what is indicated for guidance in scripture, it is right you should work here."

Chapter XVII: This chapter deals with ready-made patterns of contemplative behavior (as a form of action) open to men to choose from, and the contemplative is helped to guide himself wisely between forms of belief by a graded theory based on the modalities of nature (gunas), used diagnostically.

Chapter XVIII: The ready-made patterns of behaviour open to a contemplative to conform to or to select, are discussed here on the same basis of the three modalities of nature (gunas) used diagnostically. Arjuna can put on the armour of a warrior or don the mantle of a quieter contemplative pattern, as he likes. Whether he fought and felt happy only by killing is left an open question. The decision on this point, however, is not important for those who do not have exactly the same temperament as Arjuna, and who are not placed exactly in the same circumstances. To the last, Arjuna is left a free man in the Gita. He can act as he likes, as we see from Verse 63:  “scrutinizing all, omitting nothing, do as you like”. A true contemplative, free of war-mindedness, faced with a pattern of true and calm contemplative behaviour, is outlined in Verses 50 to 53 inclusive:

"How he who is ascended to Perfection thereby obtains the Absolute, that supreme consummation of wisdom, that do you learn from Me, O Son of Kunti (Arjuna) in brief;

"Endowed with pure Reason, restraining the Self with firmness, detaching oneself from sound and other sense-objects, and casting out liking and disliking;

"Dwelling in solitude, frugal in diet, controlling speech, body and mind, ever in meditation and contemplation, resorting to dispassion;


"And relinquishing egoism, power, arrogance, desire, anger, possessiveness, free from ownership, and tranquil; he is worthy of becoming the Absolute."

Thus each chapter of the Gita has a central value and value counterparts referring to the life of contemplation. Some are conceived dualistically, though still subjectively; others are conceived objectively. When there are two value components, they should be treated as counterparts to be coordinated or accorded one with the other, according to the requirements of an Absolutist outlook. This Absolutist outlook could be conceived in the general terms of a philosophical theory; or in the most specific particularized terms of a positive or a fully-lived life.



When we examine the structure of individual verses, we find this same method of juxtaposing counterparts and equalizing them is strikingly employed. We have already referred to the example in II, 16 which states the case of dialectics in as clear a manner as possible:

"What is unreal cannot have being, and non-being cannot be real: the (unitive) conclusion in regard to both these has been known to philosophers."

Here we have two propositions stated together, one being the counterpart of the other. This is not a type of reasoning which is strictly syllogistic. There is no middle term and the principle of contradiction is not availed of, nor that of an excluded middle. If we try to place this form of argument in the context of the Tarka Shastra (Textbook on Logical Reasoning Method) of Annam Bhatta of the Nyaya-Vaiseshika school, we find that instead of abhava (non-being) postulated by them, we have here a vague middle term entity which is admitted  and put forward by implication as possible. None of the dualistic schools could be meant here by the reference to philosophers. This way of reasoning has its background in the Upanishads and the Vedas themselves. To cite but one instance, we have the famous reference to vidya (science) and avidya (nescience) which are taken up in the Isha Upanishad for dialectical treatment side by side with the parallel example


of the two concepts of sambhuti (becoming) and vinasha (extinction). There is reference to ancient philosophers even there, who were capable of treating these two counterparts together as implied in the expression ubhayamsaha (bearing both) used there. The expression ubhayam (both) is the characteristic of this rare type of philosophical reasoning employed also in the Gita.

Let us take another example, XVIII, 12, from the Gita, which shows the special character of this kind of argument:

"Pleasant, unpleasant and mixed benefits accrue in the spiritual progress beyond of the non-relinquisher (atyagi) but none anywhere for the renouncers (samnyasis)."

Here the question involved is one of comparing the renouncer (samnyasi) with the relinquisher (tyagi). But instead of more simply and directly accomplishing this task by taking a relinquisher and a renouncer, both of whom have points of similarity, this verse takes the non-relinquisher and compares him with a renouncer. The atyagi has nothing in common with the samnyasi, but there is a common ground to the imperfect, humanly conceivable samnyasi and a tyagi who is quite advanced in spirituality. So by opposing the full samnyasi and the non-tyagi, we arrive at a conclusion where the samnyasi and the tyagi have a common ground wherein one is as good as the other. The method implied here may be said to be that of DIALECTICAL REVALUATION of both renunciation (samnyasa) and relinquishment (tyaga) in the light of the neutral Absolute. The middle way, common to both the tyagi and the samnyasi is the path recommended by the Gita.

In IV, 18 we have another striking example of the use of subtle dialectics in the Gita, (this type is representative of others, such as II, 69 and VI, 6) as an interesting sample:

"One who is able to see inaction in action and action in inaction, he among men is intelligent; he is the one of unitive way (yogi) while still engaged in every (possible) kind of work."

The relation between action (karma) and inaction (akarma) cannot be here one of complete mutual exclusion without any middle ground between them. There is here a possibility implied that action and inaction could exist neutrally in one


and the same person. For examples we should have to turn to the paradoxes of Zeno, the pupil of Parmenides. Very clever commentaries have been lavished by intelligent thinkers on the possible meaning of these contradictory requirements. Some explain it dualistically; others insist on giving a strictly non-dualistic meaning.

The neutral Absolute is attainable only to a certain rare type of reasoning, sometimes called intuition and at other times direct awareness. Sankara refers to this faculty by the term uha-poha, a double way of thinking where there is a forward and a backward movement employed in arriving at certitude. When the methods of comparison and contrast are employed together in a certain organic way that would correspond to what this way of reasoning represents. Apparent paradoxes give up their intrinsic verity and are solved by the same intuitive method. The term nearest to this type of reasoning is "dialectics" which we have already explained. More examples of this subtle use of dialectics abound throughout the Gita, and will be found dealt with in the body of the commentary.



Enigmatic Paired Compounds: If we focus our attention more minutely on the constituent elements of structure making up certain expressions peculiar to the Gita, we discover the same dialectics employed by the author. Many of the enigmas of the Gita become understandable. As a supreme example of this, we could take the expression in the second Sanskrit line of XV, 15:

"And I am seated in the heart of all; from Me are memory and (positive) wisdom and its negative process; I am that which is to be known from all the Vedas; I am indeed the Vedanta-Maker and the Veda-Knower too."

Reference is made here to the Absolute unitively conceived, both as the Vedanta-Maker (vedanta-krit) and the Veda- Knower (vedavit). It is well known that Vedanta teaches wisdom and involves no action and, on the other hand, it is also well known that the Vedas are full of injunctions and mandates of an obligatory nature referring to various actions of ritual or of religious observance in general.


But we find here in the combined expression made up of the two expressions above, that the term which should normally apply to Veda is applied to Vedanta, and vice-versa.

The explanation can only be in the light of dialectics. In the revalued Vedanta of the Gita we find there are practical aspects referred to as abhyasa, (practice), e.g.:

"By practice ...  and by dispassion (the mind) is held (together) ", VI, 35.

"Meditating with the mind engaged in the yoga involving positive effort . . he goes to the Supreme Person. . ." VIII   , 8.

"If you are unable to fix your thoughts steadily on Me, then by means of unitive ascent (Yoga of practice) seek to reach Me. . ." XII, 9.

Again, the expression vedavit is a similar enigma. Veda is what gives importance to obligatory injunction (vidhi) and tabu (nisheda) which refer to actions. At the end of chapter XVII, however, the Gita accepts in a revalued form the great dictum Aum-Tat-Sat (Absolute-Word, That which is Real) as in XVII, 23 where the Vedas are directly referred to:

"Aum-Tat-Sat - this has been known in the past as designating the Absolute. The scriptures (called) Brahmanas, the Vedas and Sacrifices also by this were prescribed of old."

The Vedas are dialectically revalued so as not to enter into conflict with free contingent wisdom. It is this revalued Vedic spirituality which is referred to as the Veda to be known - not practiced - in the expression Veda-Vit as used here. Both the expressions - Vedanta-krit and Veda-vit - together refer to the unitively revalued notion of the Absolute of the Gita teaching.

Double-Edged Recommendations: In certain chapters of the Gita we find double recommendations such as, “Remember Me; fight also " (VIII, 7) and "Repeating the one syllable Aum and remembering Me" (VIII, 13) - In such cases the instructions or recommendations must be thought of as referring to two aspects of the personality. The ambivalent concept of the Self is implied in many parts of the Gita, as in III , 39, where the enemy of wisdom in the form of desire is likened to an eternally insatiable fire. Ambivalent tendencies are also implied in XIV, 18.


"Those who abide in the pure-clear modality (sattvik) go upwards; the affective-active (rajasik) dwell in the middle, and the inert-dark (tamasik) abiding in the functions of the lowest modality of nature, go downwards."

and in the discussion of the two Persons of XV, 16:

"There are two Persons in the world, the Changing and the Changeless; the Changing comprises all beings, and the Mysteriously fixed is called the Changeless."

There are many other references where the two aspects of the Self have to be postulated to yield any cogent meaning at all, as in VI, 5 and 6:

“By the Self the Self must be upheld; the Self should not be let down; the Self indeed is (its own) dear relative; the Self indeed is the enemy of the Self.

"The Self is dear to one (possessed) of Self, by whom even the Self by the Self has been won, for one not (possessed) of Self, the Self would be in conflict with the very Self, as if an enemy."

The dualism of the Gita is very marked in the early chapters. In the last chapters again the dualism tends to be accentuated. The thorough-going Samkhya reasoning of Chapter II, which even denies the extinction of the army when killed, refers at the same time to the shame of dishonour for Arjuna. Here contingency and necessity come together. However they come closer together in later chapters and then in the middle chapters, the two are blended. The duality is later accentuated in the further chapters, and in the last chapter action gains an objective status as a pattern of behaviour which is to be fitted like a cap on the person of the spiritual aspirant.

In the particular instance above, where Arjuna is asked to remember Krishna and also fight, the remembering gains the foreground and fighting recedes to the background. In the last chapter, however, the behaviour pattern into which fighting fits gains the foreground and contemplation is taken for granted as implied in the person of the contemplative. The actual and the perceptual are separated by less and less degrees of implicit duality as the chapters approach the centre


of the work, while they tend to widen out again towards the second and later half of the work, coming round once more to the position of the starting chapters. To extract the full meaning of the double expressions and recommendations given throughout the Gita, this peculiarity of the construction has to be kept in mind.



Spread over the whole range of the Gita we find smaller expressions such as cha (also), api cha (and also), and eva cha (even also). These are the most used of all the expressions in the Gita. In the light of the statement in the Gita itself, that the Absolute is the grammatical dual compound called dvandva (mentioned in X, 33), it is easy to see the importance of dvandva usage for the dialectical method of the Gita, so that thereby two propositions can be spoken of together instead of alternatively. This is the essence of dialectics to deal with two propositions together.

It can make all the difference in the world to the meaning of a sentence if the significance of such little words like cha (also) are treated lightly as if interchangeable with expressions like va (even, or). Indeed there is a glaring instance of such an unpardonable error committed by most translators and commentators in interpreting the very first verse of Krishna's teaching, where he attempts to correct the confusion of Arjuna. Indifference to the implications and requirements of dialectical reasoning has vitiated most commentaries of the Gita. In this particular instance in II, 11, it makes a world of difference to translate the sentence to mean (as is usually done), "the wise grieve neither for the living nor for the dead", instead of fully respecting the delicate implications of dialectics and translating as "the veritable philosophers (panditah) are not affected in respect of those whose breath has gone and those whose breath has not gone."

In the former usual translation there is room for thinking that the wise are callously unrealistic and incapable of sympathy in the face of disaster such as death. This is far different from what is actually stated in the Gita, where the question of sorrow does not arise at all with a wise man, irrespective of whether one is still living as equally in the case of one who has passed further onwards in the stream of life. There is no choice between opposite alternatives suggested by the


expression cha (and, also). Although such differences may seem trivial, they help us to see that the delicate flavour of the unitive import of the revaluation of wisdom in the Gita is often missed in many loose translations. This happens more especially when the translator is unaware of the delicacies involved in the correct use of dialectics.



Wrong or imperfect beliefs in the domain of spiritual life have prevailed because of ignorance in regard to the fully Absolutist way of wisdom. In this matter, the Gita undertakes a thoroughgoing dialectical revaluation of contemplative spirituality under the name of Yoga.

The anterior wrong opinions which are subjected in the Gita to such a process of revaluation so as to yield the teaching of the Gita in its finalized form may be discussed conveniently under the following categories:

(1) The Path of the Ancestors (pitris) and the Path of the Shining Gods (devayana);

(2) The Rational and Pragmatic Approach (Samkhya) and the Approach of Self-Discipline (Yoga);

(3) Sacrifices, Austerities and Offerings and

(4) Renunciation (samnyasa). There are many secondary matters also coming under revaluation which we shall discuss in the commentary itself.


(1) Pitriyana and Devayana: Pitriyana is the path of the ancestors. This is a widely prevailing form of religious or spiritual life, not only of India but of the whole world. Before the Aryans who brought the Vedic sacrifices with them which referred to the shining gods (devas) such as Indra and Varuna, the vast matrix of Indians had ancestral forms of worship. Arjuna himself is somewhat representative of this ancestral formation, although he may have been familiar with Vedic worship too through his preceptor, Drona. Both pitriyana and devayana are revalued in the Gita in various chapters. The characteristic silence of Krishna that we have noticed, to the philosophical and religious scruples of Arjuna, in the first chapter, shows that both the ancestral way and the way of the gods are meant to be replaced by the thoroughgoing Absolutist way. This revalued way includes both of the old ways as a flooded area can hide an old well - to use an analogy employed in the Gita itself in II, 46:


"There would be as much use for all the Vedas to a brahman of wisdom as there could be for a pool of Water when a full flood prevails over all."

This is the first case of revaluation which the Gita student has to keep in mind.


(2) Samkhya-Yoga: The revaluation of Samkhya and Yoga is mentioned with telling emphasis in V, 4 and 5:

"That rationalism (Samkhya) and self-discipline (Yoga) are distinct, only children say, not the well-informed (panditah); one well-established in any one of them obtains the result of both.

"That status attained by men of rationalist persuasion (Samkhya)   is reached also by those of unitive Self-discipline (Yoga); rationalism (Samkhya) and Self-discipline (Yoga) as one, he who sees thus, he (alone) sees."

This revaluation however, has other implications. The rejection of ritualistic Vedism has already been accomplished in II, 44:

"In the case of those whose minds are under the sway of such teachings; who are attached to enjoyment and domination, a well-founded reason does not come under the sway of the peace of contemplation (samadhi)."

The cutting ruthlessly of the mystical tree of Chapter V also involves the rejection of relativist Vedism in favour of an Absolutism which still includes whatever is most precious in the Vedic pattern of spirituality. Reason and ritual are not estranged in the Gita teaching, but are brought unitively together under the aegis of the Absolute, as implied in IV, 24:

"(For him) the Absolute (Brahman) is the act of offering; the Absolute is the substance offered into the Absolute, which is the fire offered by (him) the Absolute; the end to  be reached by him being even the Absolute, by means of his peace supreme of Absolutist action."

(3) Sacrifice, Austerity and Offering: Contemplative life which expresses itself through these three channels has also been subjected to revaluation in the Gita and this is unequivocally stated in VIII, 28:


"Whatever meritorious result is found implied in the Vedas, in sacrifices, austerities and offerings (gifts), the contemplative who is unitively established, having understood this (teaching here) transcends all these and attains to the supreme primal State."

while the task has been more completely accomplished in chapter XVII, e.g. Verses 27 and 28:

"Steady loyalty in sacrifice, austerity and giving (offerings) is also called SAT (good and existing) and so also action so intended is called SAT.

"Whatever is sacrificed, given or done, and whatever austerity is gone through, without faith it is called ASAT (non-existent, no-good), O Partha (Arjuna); it has no value here or hereafter."

(4) Samnyasa: The dialectical revaluation of samnyasa or renunciation is perhaps one of the most important original contributions of the Gita. From the point where Arjuna refers to taking to a life of begging, up to the last chapter where the whole question is subjected to a very close dialectical scrutiny and revaluation, the Gita has many references giving a truer picture of what the perfected samnyasi (renunciator) ought to represent. The perfected renunciator who can really abstain from activity is portrayed in XVIII, 49:

" He whose reason is unattached in situations, whose Self has been won over, from whom desire has gone, by renunciation (samnyasa) he reaches the supreme perfection of transcending action."

Such a task of dialectical revaluation, however, involves a progression in the arguments proceeding from stage to stage. The eighteen chapters of the Gita thus form different steps, cross sections or distinct frames of reference, and between each of them there will be differences of the angle of vision which many may tend to treat as contradictory statements. Viewed in the light of a sweeping, generously conceived and comprehensive dialectical revaluation of the whole range of spirituality, and taking representative sections for convenience only, the apparent contradictions which might appear glaring at first


sight, become still perfectly compatible with the general teaching of the Gita.



The most glaring instance of contradiction is in the fact that the Gita admits non-hurting (ahimsa) as the most important of overt expressions of spirituality in X, 5. Yet apparently, in the very next Chapter, XI, 34, there is a direct incitement to kill by the very same Krishna. We have pointed out the reason in the fact that they belong to different grades of truth, as they are to be distinguished in the literary devices employed by Vyasa. There is also the further reason we have mentioned, namely, that each chapter brings together positive and negative aspects of the Absolute in a certain reciprocal and symmetrically-conceived manner. After the centre of the Gita has been passed, the subject of Chapter XI becomes markedly objectively or positively conceived. In the vision of Arjuna, Vyasa gets the chance of relating the actualities of the battlefield with the tragic vision of the positive notion of the Absolute of this particular chapter. Treated as belonging to their proper contexts, these statements for and against non-hurting are still understandable to the student who is not carried away by mere superficialities. When we note that Vyasa takes care to indicate that this reference to actuality verges on actuality as such, belonging to curtain device No.1 by purposely going out of the way in this chapter in introducing Sanjaya and presenting the reference to killing strictly only as within the brackets, as it were, of this device, between the Verses 9 and 35, the contradiction is only apparent. Although a paradox is still implied, such a paradox is only consistent with the paradoxical style necessarily implied in the dialectics of the Gita.

The status of these verses is not, therefore, the same as the status of X, 5. Even making due allowance thus for what is called prakarana-bheda (difference of context or subject- matter), there remains left over as legitimate the much talked-of question whether Arjuna is being asked to kill as a social obligation. We have explained this matter incidentally in other parts of this introduction. The advice has only a permissive and not a mandatory value as it is to be understood here. The general urge of life seeking expression could,


by very rare coincidence of circumstances as detailed in the Mahabharata, all pointing towards the absolute inevitability and imperative necessity of a certain line of conduct open to Arjuna, justify this advice to kill on the part of Krishna. It has no more obligatory character than when a midwife tells a mother in the pangs of childbirth not to repress or obstruct the natural urge at the critical moment. If, on the basis of such advice, it should be thought that it is the social duty of all women in all circumstances to give birth to children; that would be no greater absurdity than to say, as has often been said, that being a kshatriya (of a fighting class), it is the duty of Arjuna to kill. A warrior without an absolutely justified war such as the one which presented itself to Arjuna, would not be different from the caricature of a warrior such as Don Quixote.

We have discussed this crowning contradiction of the Gita in some detail so as to avoid mentioning others of lesser importance with which the Gita text will be seen to abound. We shall face some of them in the actual commentary. As far as we are able to see, however, there are no contradictions in the Gita which cannot be explained.



Even those who hold the Gita in great respect have directly or indirectly contributed to degrading this noble masterpiece of contemplative science, having such rare unity of structure and revealing such attention to detail and correctness of critical expression, by looking upon it as a work which gives whatever answer is sought from it by anybody.

The Gita is not a book of good luck, nor an encyclopaedia, nor is it one whose philosophy is lacking in organic unity It is true that a vast range of subjects has been touched upon by the author. Merging the Self in the Absolute Self finds mention side by side with dietetic questions, or gazing at the tip of the nose or offering a fruit or a flower to God. In the light of the structure of the Gita, as we have explained above, and in the peculiarities of the treatment as a dialectical revaluation of anterior spiritual notions, it will be readily conceded that the charges of being eclectic, syncretist and even solipsist, would not apply to the work.


The perfection of the structure of the Gita, when examined in detail, would also refute the possibility of interpolations in the text, by which, according to many scholars, it is marred. The truth is that the Gita has not been subjected to serious study in the same sense that say, Shakespeare has been studied. This has been its misfortune. As a result, political and religious adventurers have taken advantage of the Gita to support their own favourite doctrines.



The Bhagavad Gita is above all meant to be a song, within the meaning as referred to in XIII, 4:

"Sung by seers (rishis) in many ways, severally and distinctly, in (different) metres, and also in the aphoristic words of the Brahma-Sutras replete with critical reasonings and positively determined"

After the Vedas and the Brahma-Sutras there have been no other spiritual works which have attained to the sublimity and purity of the Gita, and which makes it fit to be considered on a common basis with the Vedas themselves. Although orthodox scholars have shown and still show some hesitation in giving the Gita its long-overdue place among the highest of the spiritual treasures of India, being even superior to the Vedas inasmuch as the Gita is absolutely open, dynamic and universal in its appeal, its true place is undoubtedly among the noblest and best contemplative masterpieces of literature in the world.

Even when we try to appraise its value within the limited domain of Indian scripture, the interludes interspersed here and there in the Gita in a metre and verse form more ample and elaborate than the rest, have a tone of exaltation and ecstasy which gives to the Gita that pure and time-honoured touch which reflects credit to the highest of hopes of which the human spirit is capable. Such interludes attain to the heights of a spiritual rhapsody which is rare in any literature. In some of these rhapsodic interludes there can be discerned a delicate play of gentle sarcasm almost imperceptibly hidden between the lines as for example, in IX, 20 and 21:

“Knowers of the three (Vedas), soma-drinkers, purified from sin, worshipping by sacrifices, pray to me the way to


heaven; they, attaining the holy world of Indra (Lord of Gods), enjoy divine feasts in heaven..

" They, having enjoyed that expansive heaven-world, then on their merit exhausted, they enter the world of mortality, thus conforming to the righteous notions implied in the three (Vedas), desiring desirable objects they obtain values which come and go."

The dialectical revaluation of the Gita is accomplished without any abrupt breaking away from the old. In this fulfilling, free and easy style as an exalted" hymn of dialectics" the Gita excels above all.



In the light of the foregoing, we could sum up our position as follows:

The Gita is a wisdom dialogue of a non-religious and non-obligatory, contemplative and philosophical order, consciously and artfully inserted in the heart of the great epic called the Mahabharata by the ancient Sage-Bard Vyasa; in which the rarest of possible coincidences called an absolutely just war is taken as presenting itself to be fought by its central character, Arjuna, who, being a sensitive and contemplatively disposed type of soldier, is about to adopt a negative, escapist attitude of regret and retrospection when it was actually too late for him to extricate himself from the situation that had already assumed a harsh and imperatively necessary character. Arjuna suffered from a characteristic form of subtle egoism which, taking the form of self-pity, regret or mystical agony, blurred his outlook, making him claim prematurely the high virtue of renunciation while still given to relativist patterns of thinking altogether incompatible with the thoroughly absolutist philosophy and way of life that the Gita brings out through the words of Krishna as representing the Guru and Absolute at once.

Krishna, who, besides being the Guru, is also a relation, friend and charioteer of Arjuna, takes every possible measure at every level of life possible, to remove the philosophical doubts, religious scruples and psycho-physical inhibitions which dimmed Arjuna's vision and clogged his spirit. Eloquently and in elevating language, Krishna preaches that rare type of unitive wisdom or Absolutist way of life known as


Yoga, a mystical and intuitive path of contemplative dialectics. Established in this unitive way, by which inner and outer factors of life are equalized, harmonized or neutralized, Arjuna is able to get rid of superstitious repressions and conflicts. He regains normality of outlook as a true yogi who did not particularly wish to avoid war when it was absolutely necessary, just and conducive to general happiness. Whether he adopted the way of quiet contemplative retirement portrayed in the last chapter, or whether he engaged in harsh warfare is left an open question by Vyasa. Before the epic moves onward in its grand heroic pace again, we find Arjuna a fully disillusioned contemplative ready to affiliate himself wholeheartedly as one of the counterparts of a contemplative situation in which Krishna himself is involved as representing the supremely Absolute Value.

[1] Quoted by Radhakrishnan, "Bhagavad Gita", p.14.


[2] “When this was written by Vyasa cannot be definitely stated. He must however have done it within a few years of the fight and we may roughly say that the date of the original Gita is somewhat about 3100 B.C."-B. G. Tilak, "Gita Rahasya", Vol. 11, p. xxxvii.


[3] Sri Aurobindo complains: "I hold it therefore of small importance to extract from the Gita its exact metaphysical connotation as it was understood by the men of the time even if that were accurately possible. That it is not possible, is shown by the divergence of the original commentaries which have been or are still being written upon it; for they all agree in each disagreeing with all the others. Each finds in the Gita its own system of metaphysics and trend of religious thought.” "Essays on the Gita", I Series, p. 4.


[4] A translation of the Gita Dhyana will be found as an appendix to this volume


[5] These quotations have been taken and translated from “Histoire de la Bhagavad Gita” by Paul Hubert, Paris, 1949


[6] S. Radhakrishnan, "The Bhagavad Gita",. P11.


[7] Prof. H. Hiriyanna, "Outlines of Indian Philosophy", pp. 118-19.


[8] Ibid., p. 124.


[9] B. G. Tilak, "Gita Rahasya", Vol. I, pp. 37-38.


[10] M. Desai, "The Gita According to Gandhi", p. - 130.


[11] D. S. Sarma, "The Bhagavad Gita", p. V  (Introduction).


[12] Mrs. Besant and Bhagavan Das, “The Bhagavad Gita”.


[13] O. Lacombe, “L'Absolu selon le Vedanta” (Paris 1937) p.26.


[14] Sri Aurobindo, "Essays on the Gita", I Series, p. 288


[15] Ibid., p. 342.


[16] Ibid., pp. 10-13


[17] Ibid., 11 Series, pp. 21-18.


[18] M. Subedar, “Gita Explained by Dnyaneswar Maharaj”, p. 59.


[19] A brilliant picture of the times is given by S. K. Belvalkar in his “Vedanta Philosophy”, pp. 176-81 (Poona, 1929).


[20] A. Mahahadeva Sastri, B.A., “Bhagavad Gita with Commentary by  Shri Sankaracharya”, (Madras, 1897), p.17.


[21] Upakramopasamharav abhyaso' purvata phalam Arthavadopapatti cha lingam tatparyanirnaye


[22]  ity shrimad bhagavad-gita-supanishatsu brahma-vidyam yoga-shastre -sri-krishna-arjuna-samvade . . . .


[23] Vide, P. 33


[24] from the Jowett translation.















Scant respect has been paid by commentators like Sankara and
others to this chapter. Translators and others interested in
the Gita teaching have tended to consider this chapter even
as superfluous. As a matter of fact this chapter deserves to
be treated at least on a par with the rest of the chapters
dealing with the Science of the Absolute.

Before anything subtle or profound can be taught, the
purvapaksha or the anterior position of the sceptic in regard
to such a teaching has to be determined with clarity. Vyasa
accomplishes this task with great attention to detail in this
chapter. This chapter may be said to contain the key to the
proper understanding of the teaching in the rest of the book.
Arjuna is not a mere coward on the battlefield. His confusion
is of a representative character. As described in its
three stages of Verse 21, Verses 29 and 30, and Verse 47 in
this chapter, and read together with its last stage in Chapter
ii, 9, no room is left to doubt its fully contemplative
character. Such a term alone would justify the term "Yoga"
(unitive way) as applied to this chapter.

When Arjuna tells Krishna again at the very end of the
Gita (xviii, 73) that he is willing to act on Krishna's advice
and, when he is described in the very last verse of the Gita
as holding his bow and arrow normally again, the secret
indications belonging to this chapter, serving to demarcate
the various stages of the discussion of Yoga (as it is meant
to be understood in the Gita) may be said to have reached
their natural culmination.

Arjuna's confusion starts with his words: "0 Achyuta, stop
my chariot right in the middle between the two armies", (i,
21). We know how impossible it is to enter the no-man's-
land between two armies as the arrows fly (as stated in i,
20). The Gita itself, by admitting such a possibility, gains,
from this point onwards, a revised status as being primarily


with contemplation rather than with the actual events of the
battlefield. Arjuna's condition worsens in i, 29-30 when he
sees friends not only on his side but on the side that faces
him. He is a thoroughly confused man there, unable even
to hold up his bow, Gandiva. He recovers some sort of
firmness or certitude of outlook by the end of the chapter,
when he sits down, throwing away his bow and arrow. By
ii, 9, he has finished philosophizing on the situation as ably
perhaps as Krishna himself is able to do. The latter is only
able, for the time being, to smile at Arjuna and mock him
in the name of honour, etc. To be stated in its
completeness, Krishna's answer needs all the remaining
chapters. Even then, it is not easy to say clearly where
Arjuna was wrong in his reasons, so elaborately stated in
this chapter and more philosophically in the next. He
prefers renunciation to fighting and does not care for the
benefits that fighting might bring him. Detachment,
relinquishment or renunciation are ways of life praised and
even directly and indirectly recommended in the last
chapter of the Gita.

Such being the case, to say in what exactly Arjuna's
inconsistency (as referred to by Krishna when he says,
"You speak words of wisdom too" - ii, 11) lies, is not so
easy a matter to locate or fix, as some persons imagine it to
be. Arjuna is more than a mere fighter. He has the makings
of a philosopher or even a dialectician, as the words
attributed to him in ii, 5-8 amply reveal. These verses are
in the special metre of the sacred scriptures which is a
further indication to the reader that they have to be taken
seriously as part of the contribution to contemplative
thought, as intended by the author.

Further, Arjuna can be considered as a representative
sceptic of his age, when India was filled with warring
tribes, clans or even "castes", as understood in those days,
in a sense somewhat different from the present. A close
examination of Arjuna's objections to war in general
reveals that they belong more to the world of ancestors
than to the world of the Devas or Shining Gods of the
Vedic context. His brother, Bhima, is a typical
representative of the prehistoric stalwart, one rough and
uncouth and having a great appetite. This natural man is
innocent of the refinements of the Vedic ritualistic way of
life which may be imagined to have been introduced into
India by that time. Vedism represented the other, the
Devayana (way of the Shining Gods). The prehistoric
Vrishnis and other clans of India were possibly the last


of the ancestor-worshipping Pitriyanis (those following the
way of the Fathers), of pre-Aryan or prehistoric India,
possibly of the stratum of the Mohenjo-Daro Indus Valley
civilization. Although these matters are still highly
speculative, all we want to stress here for the
understanding of the Gita properly is that at least two
distinct sets of values were involved in the revaluation of
spirituality in India that took place at the time of the
Mahabharata war. Bhishma, the respected patriarch of the
Mahabharata war, and Drona, the teacher of archery and
possibly of the Vedas too, may be said to represent the two
types in question. This is not an original suggestion, but
one that has received sufficient recognition in India itself
as we see from the composition called the Gita Dhyana to
which we have referred in the general introduction.
Also in our introduction, we have made reference to the
literary devices employed by Vyasa in order to fit the
actualities of the war as described in the epic of the
Mahabharata into the purer requirements of a
contemplative work.

Three curtains were mentioned before the stage becomes
properly set for the contemplative dialogue (samvada) to
begin. The scene in which Samjaya reports to Dhritarashtra
is the first drop curtain with which this chapter begins.
This is raised once preliminarily between the first and
second half of Verse 21, to be dropped soon at the end of
Verse 23 and to be raised more properly in Verse 28. The
second curtain is seen with Krishna as a mere charioteer to
Arjuna before being recognized as a Guru by Arjuna,
which event takes place only after the proper request of
Arjuna for instruction in ii, 7 and actually only with xi, 11.
There we can see the third curtain or device of Vyasa,
where Krishna plays the role of the Guru and Arjuna
listens to Krishna and sometimes questions him as a
disciple. Again, within the dialogue itself we have to
separate the purva-paksha (anterior opinion) from the
siddhanta (final doctrine) of the Guru. Thus, three different
literary devices have to be kept in mind and also the
separation of the disciple's mistaken prior notions from the
finalized teaching of the Guru, before the reader can arrive
at the proper teaching or message of the Gita. Over and
above all these, each of the eighteen chapters must be
treated as a separate discussion with its own central idea of
unity, its own frame of reference and exact terminology.
The unity of this particular chapter devolves round the
need for stating clearly the position of the anterior sceptic
for the teaching of the Gita.



dharmakshetre kurukshetre
sarnaveta yuyutsavah
mamakah pandavash chai'va
kim akurvata samjaya

Dhritarashtra said:
In the righteousness-field, the field of Kurus, gathered
together, intent on battle, what did my people and also the
sons of Pandu do, 0 Samjaya?


Note that the literary device of employing Dhritarashtra
speaking to Samjaya belongs to the front curtain. He is the
"holder of the kingdom "who is to decide whether he is to
maintain the status quo or let things happen or shape
themselves according to truth or justice. In this case he is a
conservative who sticks obstinately to fixed custom. He
refuses to allow any revaluation or readjustment to take
place. To that extent he is a blind statesman. His party, led
by Duryodhana (see Verse 2), are also to be considered
diehards who will not let the old order change to give place
to the new. The latter is therefore aptly compared to a
whirlpool in the Gita-Dhyana (see Appendix).
Krishna's way of thinking or his spirituality has its
greatest obstruction in Duryodhana, just as Rama, in the
Ramayana, has his in Ravana. Duryodhana goes to heaven
in the end, but heaven is not the ideal of the absolutist
spirituality of Krishna. Going to heaven is not a credit as far
as the Gita is concerned. The Gita stands for pure
Absolutism - i.e. for no benefits or fruits of action, whether
here or hereafter, thus conforming to the requirements
tacitly understood within the discipline of the Vedanta (as
for example, found in Sankara's "Vivekachudamani", v. 19:
"non-attachment to benefits of this world or the world to
come ").

This should be noted together with fact that Duryodhana,
the chief of the army of Dhritarashtra, approached Drona,
who is a Guru of an indifferent sort, a priest for both the
Pandas and the Kauravas, and not only a teacher of
archery, but an inculcator of relativist notions including
Vedic ritualism. Arjuna himself has evidently been
influenced by the teaching, either of Drona, or at least of
Bhishma, the other Guru here, as can be seen from his
arguments in this chapter, where, in Verse 42, he speaks of
naraka (hell). Arjuna thus speaks of


relativist forms of spirituality, though not equally
consciously of Vedic heavenly values.

The reader has to be clear in his own mind about the
nature of the contending parties so that, both historically,
and in the context of righteousness, he can determine
which side here deserves his support - otherwise, even as a
purana or legend, the Gita loses its point, and it will fail to
make him any wiser than he was before he read it. Hence
these indications, though seemingly elaborate, become

Dharmakshetre kurukshetre: righteousness-field of
Kurus. Why these apparently redundant epithets? This is
characteristic of the style of the Gita throughout. Being
part of a purana, an epic-legend or saga, it has to be correct
in historical details and, at the same time, it has to fulfill the
need for guiding people in the appreciation of ethical and
spiritual values.

Kurukshetra is the historical field of battle of the
Kauravas, and is also to be understood simultaneously as a
place where the revaluation of ethical and spiritual values
is going to take place.

The word dharma in dharmakshetra comes from the
word "to bear "or "to support ". Each man, besides being
a man pure and simple, comes with his own notions of
natural conduct, by which he chooses between right and
wrong courses of action. This second moral person is
superimposed on the basic animal man. Or, in other words,
the man is the wielder of his notion of right action when
such notions of right action are revalued. That is the
dharmakshetra referred to here. We have to be prepared
for other double epithets or instructions throughout the
Gita textbook. It is one of the peculiarities of the style of
the work, referred to in the introduction (page 59). We
have for example, "think of Me, also fight "(viii, 7) and
"thinking of Me and repeating (Aum) "(viii, 13).

Mamakah: my people. This underlines the relative-
mindedness of King Dhritarashtra himself, who could have
been impartial or neutral as the custodian of all the people,
and his taking of sides here is the beginning of the trouble.
It divides the people in two, producing a duality which is
responsible for the battle itself.


samjaya uvacha:
drishtva tu pandavanikam
vyudham duryodhanas tada
acharyam upasamgamyaraja
vachanam abravit

Samjaya said:
On seeing the army of the Pandavas in (battle) array, Prince Duryodhana, having approached his teacher, then gave utterance to the following speech:


The fact that Duryodhana's name itself signifies "difficult
to fight,"indicates the conservative diehard. He is therefore
the active agent of Dhritarashtra who is himself not very
active, or debarred by blindness from activity. Dhritarashtra
is also blind to truth, and in his talk to Samjaya is
theoretically interested in what is happening. The first
degree of activity is, therefore, attained in Duryodhana, who is
in charge of operations. We see how the epic qualities thus
begin to be unravelled in the Gita.

Acharyam upasamgamya: "having approached his teacher".
There are three who enjoy the rank of spiritual
teachers or acharyas on the side of the Kauravas, namely
Drona, Bhishma, and Kripa. The last is related to Drona
himself as brother-in-law, and both probably belong to the
Vedic context. On the other hand, Bhima is a brahmachari
or strict bachelor who is a patriarch (pitamaha) rather than a
priest. His virtues are many, including continence, wisdom,
bravery, fidelity to his word, etc. He is a model of
spirituality equally important beside Drona and given equal
status in the Gita Dhyana where these two are considered as
constituting the two banks of the "battle-river" (rananadi),
which is the river of dialectical revaluation of spirituality in
terms of the absolutism of Krishna-paramatma, who is there
mentioned as the ferry-man (kaivartaka) who is capable of
ferrying the devotees across the stream of rapids and
whirlpools, rocks, crocodiles and billows representing the
various impediments in the relativist world (samsara). The
absolutist standpoint represents the boat wherein the Guru is
the Ferryman.

On the Pandava's side, therefore, there is one Guru and one
only, who teaches Brahmavidya, the Science of the
Absolute, as against many partial gurus and numerous
followers of different kinds on the side of the Kauravas, all
of whom could be classified under two major heads - those
who stand for Vedic Devayana values, and those who stand
for ancestral Pitriyana values, which may be supposed to
have been known in India before the advent of the Aryans;
Bhishma representing the latter and Drona being typical of
the former.


pasyai 'tam panduputranam
acharya mahatim chamum
vyudham drupadaputrena
tava sishyena dhimata

0 Teacher, look at this grand army of the sons of Pandu,
marshaled by your talented pupil, the son of Drupada.


The son of Drupada is Dhrishtadyumna. He is considered
as the arch-enemy of the Kauravas, which is fairly clear
from the fact that he was killed at the hands of
Ashvatthaman the son of Drona, although Drona was his
teacher. Note how pointed reference is made to
Dhrishtadyumna, son of Drupada as a disciple of Drona,
although all the Pandavas have been tutored in archery by
Drona, including more important disciples like Arjuna and
Dharmaputra who are omitted. The reason for omission is
probably that the latter represent righteousness in keeping
with the absolutist teaching of Krishna, and so they are less
capable of actual rancour which is a desirable quality on the

Dhimata - talented: Should be construed more as sagacious
organizing intelligence rather than as wisdom in the
philosophical sense.

atra sura maheshvasa
bhimarjunasama yudhi
yuyudhano viratas cha
drupadas cha maharathah

Here are heroes, mighty archers, equal in battle to Bhima
and Arjuna, Yuyodhana, Virata and Drupada of the great


dhrishtaketus chekitanah
kasirajas cha viryavan
purujit kuntibhojas cha
saibyas cha narapumgavah

Dhrishtaketu, Chekitana the valiant King of Kasi, Purujit
and Kuntibhoja, and that bull among men, Saibya.


yudhamanyus cha virkranta
uttamaujas cha viryavan
saubhadro draupadeyas cha
sarva eva maharathah

The heroic Yudhamanyu and the brave Uttamaujas; the son
of Subhadra and the sons of Draupadi, all of great chariots.


Bhima: Yudhishthira's Commander-in-Chief, elder brother
of Arjuna.
Arjuna: Pandava hero, central figure in the Gita and
representative sceptic or purva pakshin.
Yuyodhana (also called Satyaki): Krishna's charioteer
when the latter is playing the usual part of historical warrior
in the epic.
Virata: a prince who sheltered the Pandavas.
Drupada: father of Draupadi, wife of the Pandavas.
Dhrishtaketu. King of the Chedis.
Chekitana: warrior in the Pandava army.
Kasi-Raja: King of Benares.
Purujit: A king and brother of Kuntibhoja.
Kuntibhoja: brother of Purujit.
Saibya: King of the Shibis.
Yudhamanyu: a warrior.
Uttamaujas: One of great valour.
Saubhadrah: son of Arjuna and his wife Subhadra.
Draupadeya: of the line of Drupada.

Besides names of important persons, epithets will occur
throughout the Gita such as "lion of men" etc. They are
necessary to give the text the heroic setting and flavour
belonging to a saga. They should not be mixed up with the
clear spiritual message of the Gita. The clear teaching must
be filtered out free from all such incidental dross belonging
to the epic. An epithet like maharatha (one having a great
chariot) denotes some military rank, like that of a field-


asmakam tu visishta ye
tan nibodha dvijottama
nayaka nama sainyasya
samjnartham tan bravimi te

But know who are the most distinguished among us, 0 best
of the twice-born, the leaders of my army; these I tell you,
for you to recognize by name.


After enumerating some of the leaders of the opposite
army in which, it should be noted, there are glaring
omissions, especially of Yudhishthira (eldest of the
Pandavas, probably because of his reputation for virtue.
Duryodhana, who is here speaking to Drona, now turns his
attention to his own army and indicates the purpose of such
an enumeration. This enumeration, according to him, is not
without importance. Like Dhritarashtra in Verse 1, he is still
speaking from the relativist standpoint. He insists on talking
of "our side" (asmakam). The evils of war as they might
affect humanity as a whole are carefully excluded, till
Arjuna's confusion (vishada) opens the question from a
non-relativist point of view.

The word asmakam, meaning "among us, our side", is
therefore underlined by the author Vyasa as the first word
in this verse. That Vyasa intends explicitly to refer to the
two contending parties, is sufficiently evident from the
word samjnartham (recognition by name) put in the mouth
of Duryodhana here. The list of names is not meant to be
merely a catalogue of warriors to be treated indifferently.
The names are meant to be understood as belonging either
to the blast or counter-blast aspects of the situation, which
is to be examined as it unravels itself, both as a battle of
events and as a progressive revaluation of dharma (right
conduct) or spiritual values in the chapters that follow.

Samjna really means more than name or class. It has an
element of further recognition as coming under a distinct
category. What Vyasa wants to accomplish here is quite
evident. He wants the reader of the Gita to avoid confusing
the actual with the spiritual values implied. The literary
device in the mind of the author thus comes into evidence
quite deliberately in the end of the last line. This is most
vital for the reader to see.



bhavan bhishmas cha karnas cha
kripas cha samitimjayah
asvatthama vikarnas cha
saumadattis tathai 'va cha

You and Bhishma, and Karna, and also Kripa, the victor in
war, Ashvatthaman and Vikarna and also the son of


Bhavan: thyself, i.e. Drona, a teacher of the Vedic context
who also taught archery.
Bhishma: a patriarch reputed for his celibacy and high
purity of life; much respected by all.
Karna: Born of the Sun-god and Kunti, mother of the
Pandavas when she was still young. He was a great fighter
and archer, invincible because of an armour given by the
Sun-god himself
Kripa: brother of Kripi, the wife of Drona, but sympathetic
to the Pandavas.
Ashvatthaman: son of Drona by Kripi; subject of a false
alarm raised about him in order to distract Drona and
demoralize him by saying that Ashvatthaman was dead, when
it was only a toy elephant of that name which was
Vikarna: a ruthless fighter like Ashvatthaman.
Saumadatti: son of Somadatta, King of the Bahikas.

Note that Bhishma is named only after Drona, who is very
little connected by lineage with Bhishma, or indeed with
either of the contending parties. Drona is only the teacher of
archery, but he is given first place. This must be because
the battle-issue involving spiritual values is of interest to
Drona as a dvijottama (a twice-born invested with the
sacred thread). Again, in Verse 25, Krishna himself, as the
charioteer, makes pointed reference to Drona and Bhishma
as against all the rest of the army, not excluding even kings.

It is clear that the issue involves spiritual factors personified
by these two characters, and that the interests of clashing
kings are but incidental to the situation which is gradually
being developed. This development finally reaches a focal
point with the beginning of the dialogue (samvada) proper
(from ii, 10 onwards). The dialogue constitutes the core of
the Gita. In the Gita-Dhyana the teaching is referred to as a
"perfume" or gandha of the lotus flower, to be enjoyed by
the good men of the world who seek spiritual values. The
historical episodes contained in the Mahabharata are treated
as extraneous or gross, being described as the petals and
anthers of the lotus. The perfume or the song of wisdom or
song of dialectics is the supreme value for the good man.
That is the fragrance which comes as a rhapsody in this
song or Gita.


anye cha bahavah sura
madarthe tyaktajivita
nanasastra praharanah
sarve yuddhavisdradah

And many other heroes who are willing to die for me, who
have various missiles and weapons, and all skilled in


It should be understood that "willing to die for me"
shows the defence of precious values dear to human beings.
Fanatics will die for their faith in a holy war. Faith becomes
at least as precious as life. Duryodhana here represents a
life-value connected with kingship and power in this world.
This is held precious by his followers. But, of course,
however exalted such a value might be, it is still in the
relativist plane. It might bring them heaven as recompense
in the hereafter, as the warriors of Scandinavian mythology
were carried triumphantly to Valhalla by powerful female
deities called Valkyries. Duryodhana himself is supposed to
have won this reward. This epithet "willing to die for me"
is, therefore, to fix one generic character common to all the
Kauravas. All are affiliated to a central relativist value
personified in their king, Duryodhana.

Their other qualifications are those which are attributes
of the workaday world (vyavaharika). They carry diverse
weapons and are skilled in warfare. Their capability to lay
down their lives for the still relativist value of kingship is
therefore the only spiritual factor to their credit.


aparyaptam tad asmakam
balam bhishmabhirakshitam
paryaptam tv idam etesham
balam bhimabhirakshitam

This army of ours which is under the care of Bhishma is
insufficient but that army of theirs which is under the care
of Bhima is adequate.


Duryodhana himself has an inkling of the poverty of this
type of spirituality here represented in the Kaurava side,
when he feels diffident about the army led by Bhishma.
This is the first supreme example of the special style found
so often


in the Gita. In the first place there is a symmetry to be seen
in the construction of the verse. Bhima (the Strong) and
Bhishma (the Terrible) are evidently brought in to he
treated as counterparts of a situation in the world of
actuality from which the subtler dialectics of the later
theoretical arguments are to have their natural springboard.

Aparyaptam: has been differently construed by Sridhara
and Anandagiri; by Sridhara as meaning "insufficient" and
by Anandagiri as "unlimited". Perhaps an equilibrium of
qualitative and quantitative elements is purposely intended
by the author here. The usual or first meaning, "insufficient"
or "unequal to the task" suits the sense here definitely,
especially if we note that, as a relativist, as Duryodhana is
intended to be here, his diffidence is understandable in the
same way as the nimittani-cha-pashyami (I see omens) of
Arjuna is understandable (in Verse 31). Diffidence or
strange omens have to be set off one against the other in the
revaluation of relativism in absolutist terms which is going
to take place as the chapters proceed. Both are forms of
doubt - one here and now, and the other with an element of
the hereafter added on. Arjuna, being a purva-pakshin
(anterior critic) of the contemplative context, his doubt is
superior to that of Duryodhana, because it includes iha and
para, the "here" and the "hereafter"; while Duryodhana's
doubt is confined to the "here" only.

"That army of ours" and "this army of theirs" are
again put in a delicate dialectical relationship.

"That…ours" and "this…theirs" - to the extent that
reciprocity is suggested, to that extent Duryodhana is to be
credited a good man. The interchange of "that" for "this"
again introduces the special style of the Gita upon which
we lay emphasis because it is in keeping with the full
subtle interplay of dialectical values for which this is only
a preparation. This is by no means a matter of grammatical
quibbling. Note that, except for small suffixes or words
like a and tu and idam, there is no difference at all between
the two limbs of this verse, and this perfect symmetry can
be no accident and must have been consciously, intentionally
brought in by the author for the reasons we have stated.


ayaneshu cha sarveshu
yathabhagam avasthitah
bhishmam eva 'bhirakshantu
bhavantah sarva eva hi

And let all of you, standing in your respective positions
at the entrance to every formation, keep guard even on


On the side of the Kauravas this verse makes it clear that the protection of the spirituality personified in Bhishma is their dearest collective value as far as they could understand.
That is why he is asked to be protected, although all others (Drona for example) might deserve equal protection. It should be further noticed that this verse shows many plurals employed, numerous ranks and files, numerous divisions, numerous generals. The word sarva (all, implying many) occurs twice. This is evidently to emphasize the fact that unitive command is lacking, as contrasted with the other army, as we shall notice presently. Quantitative and numerical factors prevail here. Of course there is Bhishma as a central figure, but he is too old to take any initiative of a unitive pattern. It is he who needs personal protection, rather than himself leading others. As contrasted with the "vertical" or orderly unitive organization of the Pandava army, we find here among the Kauravas a "horizontal" amorphous or mass
situation prevailing.

The difference suggested here will become evident as we proceed.


tasya samjanayan harsham
kuruvriddlhah pitamahah
simhanadam vinadyo 'chchaih
sankham dadhmau pratapavan

So as to cheer him, the mighty old Kuru patriarch roared
loudly like a lion and blew a conch.


Sanyanayan harsham: to generate joy (in him). What is
the nature of the joy referred to here? The diffidence
mentioned in Verse 10 becomes here explicit.

Duryodhana's premonitions of defeat there are meant to be
banished by the blowing of the conch-shell by Bhishma
who, though very old, understands why Duryodhana is
diffident. He blows his conch as if to say "I represent a
spiritual value which is the highest as understood by all of
us till now". It contains elements of absolutism in the
comparatively relativist field in which he is a patriarch and
chief among men, but still limited to the human context at
its best. His conch-sound is of the nature


of a battle-cry. Note by contrast that an epithet suggesting
divinity (divyau) is applied to the conches of Krishna and
Arjuna in Verse 14. Bhishma's dominant position among his
own people could be compared to that of Moses with his
chosen people, beside Jesus who was the Light of the World.


tatah-sankhas cha bheryas cha
panavanaka gomukah
sahasai 'va 'bhyahanyanta
sa sabdas tumulo 'bhavai

Then conches and drums and gongs, (other) drums, horns,
were played together suddenly, and that sound made a confused


Note here the variety of instruments which are sounded
together, and the gentle disparagement implied when it
says that the sound was tumula, which means "excited,
confused sound", a chaotic condition, something like the
confusion of tongues of the Tower of Babel seeming to be
suggested. This is a natural prerequisite for the orderly
unitive teaching of Brahmavidya (Science of the Absolute)
which is to follow.


tatah sevetair hayair yukte
mahati syandane sthitau
madhavah pandavas chai 'va
divyau sankhau pradadhmatuh

Then (both) standing in their great chariot, to which white
horses were yoked, Madhava (Krishna) and the son of Pindu
(Arjuna) blew (the two together) their divine conches.


Here we must notice the magic circle round the two personalities of Krishna and Arjuna, as if they were bracketed together, and having equal status in the context of something superior to merely human values. Both their conches have the coupling epithet divyau sankhau (a pair of divine conches). Further, they are in the same chariot - the charioteer, as we know, turns out to be the teacher of Brahmavidya (the Science of the Absolute) and Arjuna accepts discipleship (II, 7). The epithet mahati (great) is allied to brihat from which the word Brahma is derived.
The white horses are also symbolic of the


neutrality of Brahmavidya in the same way as the white raiment (shubravastra) and white lotus (sveta-padma) are symbolic of the same neutrality in descriptions of the goddess Saraswati.

The names Madhavah and Pandavah suggest the intimate familial relationship of Krishna and Arjuna, though not the Guru-Sishya relationship of a later stage.

Subhadra, the sister of Krishna, was espoused by Arjuna. Madhava suggests a descendant of Madhu of the Yadava clan of whom Arjuna is a kinsman. The kinship is relevant here against the sishya­-hood to come later.

We must be on the lookout for similar appellations of Krishna and Arjuna throughout as indicative of the kind of context in which the text is to be understood, chapter after chapter, until full-fledged absolutism is finally reached.Patterns of spirituality of different contexts are revealed by such epithets.


panchajanyam hrishikeso
devadattam dhanamjayah
paundram dadhmau mahiisankham
bhimakarmii vrikodarah

Hrishikesa (Krishna) blew Panchajanya, and Arjuna blew
Devadatta. He of wolf-like appetite and deeds of enormity
(Bhima) blew his great conch, Paundra.


Panchajanya, the conch-shell of Krishna, may be said to belong to the context of the Panchajanas, who can be taken to be either the heterodox group near or about the Yadava country, perhaps outside the pale of Vedism or, as represent­ing more symbolically the five component parts of the soul according to the Samkhyas (Rationalists).

Arjuna's conch­shell, called Devadatta (given by God) seems to suggest his appreciation of Vedic values - being a disciple of Drona till his final disillusionment on the subject later on. Arjuna is not merely a pitriyani or worshipper of forefathers. Hence the reference to the gods or devas.

The conch-shell Panchajanya also bears reference in legend to being sea-formed out of the bones of a sea-giant.

Paundra , the conch-shell of Bhima, on the other hand, is suggestive of a prehistoric Siva-pattern of spirituality (tri­pundara being the mark on Siva's forehead). Epithets applied to Bhima also suggest the common man of that prehistoric time who just believed in plain human values based on common


appetites, as the epithet vrikodarah meaning "wolf-stomach" would imply. He is the tough-guy or Hercules who takes a matter-of-fact attitude to life without flourishes or trimmings. Such a description is not repugnant to the character of Bhima as portrayed in the rest of the


anantavijayam raja
kuntiputro yudhishthirah
nakulah sahadevas cha
sughosha manipushpakau

Prince Yudhishthira, son of Kunti, blew Anantavijaya and
Nakula and Sahadeva blew (together) the Sughosha and


Yudhishthira: firm in battle: eldest of the five sons of Pandu.
Nakula and Sahadeva: fourth and fifth (youngest) of the Pandu princes.

The name Anantavijaya (endless victory) is an apt name for the conch of Yudhishthira, in view of what the prince's name itself means, "Firm in battle". Both steadiness and endless victory may be said to go together. Notice here that in a proper order of precedence King Yudhishthira should have blown his conch before Arjuna and the charioteer Krishna. He is given a secondary place with the other two princes, Nakula and Sahadeva, whose conches Sughosha (good sounding) and Manipushpaka (floral-gemmed) suggest aesthetic values. Virtue and aesthetics do not count so much as the divine absolutism represented by Krishna and Arjuna. Even the common human value represented by Bhima, is given precedence over mere moral firmness and aesthetics in the poetical justice of the author Vyasa, common humanity being a more universal value than items of mere virtue or luxury.


kasyas cha parameshvasah
sikhandi cha maharathah
dhrishtadyumno viratas cha
satyakis cha'parajitah

And the King of Kasi, excellent bowman; Sikhandin, great
charioteer Dhrishtadyumna and Virata and the unconquered


The names of particular conch shells are not referred to
any more. The reference is now rather to bowmen and
charioteers. On the Kaurava side it should be remarked that
only one man, Bhishma, blew a conch-shell of any unique
nature. The rest was a hullabaloo of clanging instruments.
On the Pandava side, on the other hand, the clarion calls of
the conches come in clear graded succession, in which a
scale of values can be discerned, until this is also lost in the
common general uproar of the ranks.


drupado draupadeyas cha
sarvasah prithivi pate
saubhadras cha mahabahuh
sankhan dadhmuh prithak-prithak

Drupada and the sons of Draupadi, 0 Lord of the Earth, and
the son of Subhadra, of mighty arms, from all sides each
blew his conch separately.


The words sarvasah (on all sides) and prithak-prithak
distinct, separate) show that individual conch-blowings
were not completely lost in the general din, which came
from all sides. This suggests the meeting of the one and the
many without contradiction, itself a secret of dialectics.


sa ghosho dhartarashtranam
hridayani vyadarayat
nabhas cha prithivim chai'va
tumulo vyanunadayan

That loud blast, filling earth and sky with sound, pierced the
hearts of Dhritarashtra's sons.


This blast from the Pandava side "pierced the hearts of
the Kauravas". It touched "earth and sky", i.e. included all
possible hierophantic values as against the mere earthy
confusion of the conch-blasts of the Kauravas. Bhishma's
leonine roar only touches the earth. In what sense were the
hearts of the Kauravas bitten-through to the extent that they
lost confidence in all the mundane things they held dear?
New values, involving both heaven as well as earth, seemed
to be implicit in the message of the blast of the Pandavas.


atha vyavasthitan drishtva
dhartarashtran kapidhvajah
pravritte sastrasampate
dhanur udyamya pandavah

Then, beholding the sons of Dhritarashtra standing
marshalled in order; while the flight of arrows (was)
beginning, the son of Pandu (Arjuna) of monkey-ensign,
took up his bow;


hrishikesam tada vakyam
idam aha mahipate
senayor ubhayor madhye
ratham sthapaya me 'chyuta

And 0 King, (said Sanjaya) he (Arjuna) spoke thus to
Hrishikesa (Krishna): Arjuna said: 0 Achyuta! Stop my
chariot right in the middle between the two armies.


It is most important to note the content of the last line
of Verse 20, which says that the shower of arrows was
starting and Arjuna had already taken up his bow. Up to this
point it is clear that as a warrior he is not suffering from any
weak-heartedness or doubt. It is usual for the generality of
commentators from raw undergraduates to much-labelled
academicians who claim to expound the Gita, to miss this
point and to describe Arjuna as if he was an ordinary coward
afraid of battle. He is to be distinguished from Uttara,
another well-known character in the Mahabharata who
conforms to the pattern of a mere coward. Arjuna is a
seasoned warrior. He has seen many a battle before. To
mistake him for a coward would be to miss the true
character of his confusion which is of a philosophical order
as we shall see.

The literary device of the first drop curtain (see
Introduction) is abandoned or lifted here with the word
mahipati (King) at the end of the first line of Verse 21.
Henceforth, we enter the Krishna-Arjuna samvada or

Actual circumstances belonging to this first part should
not be mixed up with considerations pertaining to the part
that follows. This latter takes a more abstract or
philosophical turn, though only of a first degree for the


The second line of Verse 21; "Stop my chariot, 0 Achyuta,
between the two armies" does not suggest anything of
cowardice either. Arjuna is prepared to risk going into the
no-man's land between the two armies, of which everyone
who knows warfare, ancient or modern, can understand the

To know the nature of Arjuna's peculiar confusion we
have to be exact about all these details, and determine
precisely the circumstances which favoured this
characteristic confusion from which, as a typical sceptic or
purva-pakshin, Arjuna is to suffer, according to the author,
Vyasa. Let us watch out for that moment. The words me
achyuta shows familiarity and Achyuta (the immovable)
already signifies something spiritual.


yavad etan nirikshe 'ham
yoddhukaman avasthitan
kair maya saha yoddhavyam
asmin ranasamudyame

So that I may behold these standing eager to fight by my
side in the present battle-undertaking;


yotsamanan avekshe 'ham ya
ete 'tra samagatah
dhartarashtrasya durbuddher
yuddhe priyachikirshavah

And might observe these here gathered together who desire
to please in war the evil-minded son of Dhritarashtra.


These verses are meant to be taken together. This is
significant. For the first time the two sides of the army tend
to be thought of together - not in the usual way of looking
only at the enemy. To an ordinary fighter his enemies have
prime importance. Arjuna, being already spiritually inclined,
says here definitely that he wants to go to the middle of the
two armies, equidistant from either of them, so that he
could see not only the army that he is to fight with, but also
the army he is to fight against. He wants to see both in one
unitive view from a central, neutral position.

The second line of Verse 23 seems laboured. It might
seem to contain too many words in naming the enemy, but
he uses the long description to demarcate clearly the


of the dialectical situation we have referred to already.
Arjuna is still conscious of the distinction between right and
wrong - he is not at all confused here, because of the epithet
durbuddhi (bad-minded) he uses against Duryodhana and
the whole army treated unitively as a single counterpart.
Common to both parties is the thirst for battle. This
indicates that the situation is already surcharged with war-
mindedness. Arjuna is caught in this longing for battle.
Such indications take the edge out of the argument, usually
advanced, that Krishna was himself war-minded or that he
ordered or even encouraged Arjuna to fight. He only
enabled Arjuna to recognize with clarity the imperative
nature of the situation in which he was already involved by

The two verses together, which read so redundantly, have
only one purpose, which is to stress the difference between
Duryodhana's one-sided attitude of diffidence in Verse 10
as against Arjuna's own in which both parties are equally
involved. This altogether changes the complexion of
Arjuna's state of confusion, because he begins to view the
problem from a more unitive or humanistic standpoint.
This is not far removed from the sentiment of ahimsa
(compassion or non-killing). However, this ahimsa, for the
present, does not encompass the whole of life nor the whole
of humanity, which would be true contemplative
compassion, but, as we shall see, is limited to his own tribe
or at best includes his friends (i, 38). Arjuna's hatred for
Duryodhana still persists.


samjaya uvacha:
evam ukto hrishikeso
gudakesena bharata
senayor ubhayor madhye
sthapayatitva rathottamam

Samjaya said:
Thus addressed by Gudakesa (Arjuna), Hrishikesa (Krishna),
0 Bharata (Dhritarashtra), having stationed that excellent
chariot right in the middle between the two armies,


The discussion now enters the field of spiritual values.
"Between the two armies" is again underlined here to
remind us of the requirements of the dialectical situation.


bhishmadrona pramukhatah
sarvesham cha mahikshitam
uvacha partha pasyai 'tan
samavetan kurun iti

Facing Bhishma and Drona and all the rulers of the earth,
(Krishna) said: 0 Partha (Arjuna)! behold these Kurus
gathered (here).


We should note how Krishna is careful not to influence
Arjuna's mind in any other way than what would be most
normal. He does not want Arjuna to look on both sides,
because he knows that might confuse him, and carefully
places Arjuna facing Bhishma and Drona of the opposing
armies only and, what is more explicit, he says "behold
these Kurus" and not "both these armies". Much trouble is
taken by the author Vyasa to make these matters


tatra 'pasyat sthitan parthah
pitrin atha pitamahan
acharyan matulan bhratrin
putran pautran sakhims tatha

Then Partha (Arjuna) saw standing, fathers as well as
grandfathers, teachers, maternal uncles, brothers, sons,
grandsons, and companions too.


Arjuna begins by seeing on the enemy's side many of his
own kith and kin, besides teachers. His confusion has thus
reason for beginning to be strengthened.


svasuran suhridas chai 'va
senayor ubhayor api
tan samikshya sa kaunteyah
sarvan bandhun avasthitan

And the son of Kunti (Arjuna), also seeing these relatives,
fathers in-law and friends, all standing, in both the armies.


The confusion worsens, because he finds kith and kin not
only in the opposite army, but on both sides. Confusion
thus becomes more confounded, thus starting the real
trouble with


which the rest of the Gita is concerned. The reference in
this verse to his friends or relations in both the armies is
important for the right appraisal of the delicate dialectics to
follow. This is the circumstance that finally succeeds in
overwhelming this battle-veteran and hero.


kripaya paraya 'vishto
vishidann idam abravit
drishtve 'mam svajanam krishna
yuyutsum samupasthitam

Filled by a supreme pity, in mental distress (Arjuna) said:
Beholding my own people, 0 Krishna, standing together,
wanting to fight,


The nature of Arjuna's state of mind is described by the first
words kripa paraya, usually translated as "great pity",
or "melted with pity". Such translations are inadequate to
bring out that special state of mind intended here. Paraya
definitely means of a transcendental or supreme order. What
kind of pity is this which is here qualified as supreme? It is
supreme to the extent that it envisages both the sides
involved in the conflict with at least the first degree of
dispassionate equality. But a residual conflict still seems to
persist in Arjuna's mind in the second line where there is
reference to svajanam (my own people). This shows he is
still a relativist and not a thorough-going absolutist in his
way of thinking. The duality of "my own people" versus
"strangers" remains. Hence the characteristic vishada or
"dejection" of this chapter.


sidanti mama gatrani
mukham cha parisushyati
vepathus cha sarire me
romaharshas cha jayate

My limbs fail and my mouth dries up, my body trembles and
my hair stands on end;


gandivam sramsate hastat
tvak cai 'va paridahyate
na cha saknomy avasthatum
bhramati 'va cha me manah

(the bow) Gandiva slips from my hand, and my skin
feels as if burning all over, and I am unable to stand
and my mind is whirling round as it were;


The list of symptoms enumerated here are not those
exactly known to normal psychology or pathology. Among
them is one very intriguingly described as romaharshas
(hair standing on end). It is an expression familiar in India.
It marks a state of exaltation or ecstasy when a sentiment
thrills the body-mind. It is not always due to fear as has
been held. The kinship of the other symptoms covered in
these verses to the state of mind of Sri Rama in the first
chapters of the "YogaVasishtha" might help us in forming a
correct idea about its true character. It really belongs to the
mystical rather than to the merely pathological or
psychological order. The bow slips from his hand and this,
taken with his giddiness, shows general lassitude, or a lack
of zest or interest in life in general rather than any fear. Lack
of zest leads to a second stage marked in i, 47 where he
makes up his mind to throw away his bow with its arrow. A
still further third stage of the conflict of Arjuna is marked
in xi, 8 and 9 where it is of a more philosophical or religious


nimittani cha pasyami
viparitani kesava
na cha sreyo 'nupasyami
hatva svajanam ahave

And I see conflicting portents, 0 Kesava (Krishna), nor do I
foresee good from killing one's own people in battle.


The enumeration of the symptoms continues here into a
more delicate domain. Premonitions are referred to. They
are described as viparitani, often translated as "adverse,"
but this should be more properly translated "contrary" or
"contradictory," i.e. at one moment good, at another bad; 
but not all the time bad.

The second line mentions spiritual factors proper, when
the conflict is conceived in the form of a doubt, thus
emerging from mere feelings into the domain of morals.
Arjuna sees no moral or spiritual merit in killing kinsmen.
Thus he is capable of formulating an opinion, although
confused. His is therefore no ordinary confusion, fear or


na kankshe vijayam krishna
na cha rajyam sukhani cha kim
no rajyena govinda
kim bhogair jivitena va

I do not wish for victory, 0 Krishna, nor kingdom nor pleasures;
what is kingdom to us, 0 Govinda (Krishna), what enjoyment, or
even life!


Arjuna's stand is further finalized here. He has what is known
as vairagya or detachment from the usual attractions or lures
of life. This vairagya is not different in essence from what
is required of a brahmachari as a seeker of wisdom who is to
have nitya-anitya-viveka (discrimination between eternal and
non-eternal). There is no confusion here. It conforms to what
is traditionally laid down as a prerequisite for spiritual
life even of a Vedantin.

Tyaga (relinquishment) and vairagya (detachment) have
always been considered essential for the wisdom-seeker.
Arjuna here is like a wise man or correct absolutist.
Arjuna's superiority here to a mere coward, as evident in
this verse, has to be kept in mind to avoid mistaking the
true nature of his conflict. By using the first personal plural
nah "us" here, he further takes it for granted that Krishna is
bound to agree with him.


yesham arthe kankshitam no
rajayam bhogah sukhani cha
ta ime 'vasthita yuddhe
pranama tyaktva dhanani cha

They for whose sake kingdoms, enjoyments and pleasures
are desired by us, are standing here in battle, having
renounced their interests in life and wealth.


Here Arjuna suddenly relapses into a partially relativist
standpoint such as we have noticed already. The inconsistency
mentioned by Krishna in ii, 11 becomes apt in the light of
this wavering alternation between an outright absolutism and
a confused form of relativism, even though the latter is not
without a touch of humanity implying contemplation.


We should note that Arjuna's confusion is treated in two
distinct instalments: within the limits of the first chapter
the confusion is of a vaguer, more emotional order (i, 47),
while its continuation in the earlier part of the next chapter
(ii, 8 and 9) is expressed in more properly formulated
terms. The character of the confusion which is legitimately
Vedantic in its nature, becomes fully evident only in ii, 8.
In the light of that definitive verse, all the preceding verses
must be understood. The transition from a puranic (i.e.
legend of a sacred character), to a Vedantic (i.e.
philosophical) context takes place between these two
chapters. The unformulated and elaborate remarks of
Arjuna, belonging to the pitriyana or ancestor-worship
pattern of spirituality which he normally represents
becomes marked in the verses that now follow.


acharyah pitarah putras
tathai 'va cha pitamahah
matulah svasurah pautrah
syalah sambandhinas tatha

Teachers, fathers, sons and also grandfathers; maternal
uncles, fathers-in-law, grandsons, brothers-in-law as well as
(other) kinsmen:


etan na hantum ichchhami
ghnato 'pi madhusudana
api trai lokyarajyasya
hetoh kim nu mahikrite

These I do not want to kill, though (they kill me), 0
Madhusudana (Krishna), not even for the sake of dominion
over the three worlds-how then for the sake of the earth?


The acharyah (teachers) mentioned here in Verse 34 evidently
refers to Drona, Kripa and others if any. The last word in
the first line pitamahah (grandfathers) must apply primarily
to Bhishma. Drona is only a guru to the extent that he is a
brahmin priest or a teacher of archery. He is not a guru in
the same sense that Krishna is a guru. Krishna is a guru

No confusion or vagueness is reflected in these decisive
words. They are based on a prime conviction on the part of



Arjuna which is right as far as it goes. Neither Krishna
himself nor any critic of Arjuna has met Arjuna's objection
fairly to the present day. If Arjuna was wrong why did not
his Guru Krishna correct him then and there? Those who
find fault with Arjuna too easily do not put their finger
precisely on any objectionable part of his stand here. The
inference should be that Arjuna's stand remains valid. At
least there is nothing weak in his position. Only someone
capable of advancing a better reason than Arjuna would be
justified in criticizing him, which is the privilege reserved
in the Gita only for Krishna, who is the teacher of
thoroughgoing absolutism, as we see him teaching later.
Politicians or patriots and partisans of closed religious
groups, even when they might be speaking in the name of
values understood in any relativist sense, should be
considered as being outside the privilege of laughing at
Arjuna here, which is that of Krishna as Guru alone, or else
of a teacher of outright absolutism.

The reference here to the three worlds prepares the way
for the attitude implicit in xi, 8, where it is stated more
finally but with only two worlds referred to. This might be
because the pitriyana (way of the forefathers) has
reference to Hades or Patala, while purer spirituality of
the Vedas thinks in terms of earth and heaven only, with
Bhuvarloka an intervening world of ether sometimes
mentioned, and frequented by celestial beings called


nihatya dhartarashtran nah
ka pritih syaj janardana papam
eva 'srayed asman
hatvai 'tan atatayinah

Having killed the sons of Dhritarashtra, what delight can
there be for us, 0 Janardana (Krishna)? Only sin would
come to us after killing this marauding rabble.


It is striking to notice that tyaga or relinquishment is
taken for granted in the spiritual pattern to which Arjuna
conforms. Benefits of success here or hereafter do not occur
to him. This might be because his spirituality has been
nurtured in the pre-Aryan pattern of forest-dwelling hermits
with whom the India of that day must have abounded, especially
towards the south. The Ramayana (The epic "History of Rama") makes


the difference quite clear between the Aryan north and the
non-Aryan matrix of the south of India. Rama and
Lakshmana grew matted hair and lived on roots and fruits,
renouncing all pleasures of a city life, and visited many
hermits wearing tree-bark clothes. This is the touching
aspect of Indian spirituality into which Arjuna here can be
imagined to fit.

The word atatayinah does not merely mean desperadoes.
It means greedy opportunists, persons infatuated with
wrong or exaggerated notions of worldly values who
readily resort to premature aggression. If the meaning of
the word is to be further clarified it can only be done by
taking Arjuna's attitude of not wanting pleasure at all as its
opposite or counterpart. Such an interpretation would be in
keeping with the style of the Gita as we have pointed out,
like the word rajasa tyaga (wilful relinquishment) of xviii, 8
- renunciation with a vengeance, as it were. This is to be
balanced against proneness to greed. Some people are
easily greedy. They grab and take advantage of a situation.
Others give in too much. Both of these miss the neutral
middle way, which is that of the complete absolutist to be
understood, as we shall see, from the Gita. At any rate the
author, by this word itatayinah wants to indicate that the
army of the Kauravas is not motivated by any higher
moral or spiritual considerations than just greed or
attachment, as fully explained in xvii, 7 to 19 inclusive.


tasman na 'rha vayam hantum
dhartarastran svabandhavan
svajanam hi katham hatva
sukhinah syama madhava

And so we ought not to kill the sons of Dhritarashtra our
relations; for how, indeed, can we be happy after killing our
own people, 0 Madhava (Krishna)?


The tendency to be too negative is brought out here. Once
again pointed reference is made to the fact that the
Kauravas are Arjuna's relations. Although kindness would
be legitimate, kindness to a selected group of relations
would fall outside the scope of the spirituality proper of the


yady apy ete na pasyanti
kulakshayakritam dosham
mitradrohe cha patakam

Even if they whose minds are overpowered by greed see no
wrong in the destruction of family (and) no crime in
treachery to friends.


katham na jneyam asmabhih
papad asman nivartitum
kulakshayakritam dosham
prapasyadbhir janardana

Yet why should we not learn to turn away from this sin, we
who do see wrong in the destruction of family, 0 Janardana


Here we come to considerations of wisdom or intelligence.
Arjuna says in effect, "Why should we not be wise as
against the foolishness of our relations?" Though Arjuna
bases his argument on wisdom, it still lacks the balanced
or neutral way of absolutism, leaving it still vitiated
by relativist considerations. At the end of Verse 39 we
find Arjuna still concerned about the destruction of the


kulakshaye pranasyanti
kuladharmah sanatanah
dharme nashte kulam kritsnam
adharmo 'bhibhavaty uta

In destruction of family, the immemorial clan traditions
perish, and on the loss of tradition the whole clan comes
under the sway of lawlessness.


Arjuna here develops his own version of the evils of war
- not in terms of humanity as a whole, but in terms of a
closed or chosen group of people whose future is dear to
him. It is easy to concede that the killing out of some
important men in a family would lead to disruption of their
normal life - not only in a biological sense but as
representing a particular cultural growth including certain
spiritual values belonging to that clan. No one can deny
here again that Arjuna is right in what he says. His only
fault could be that he does not conform to the highest
standards of the absolutist way of life.


adharmabhibhavat krishna
pradushyanti kulastriyah
strishu dushtasu varshneya
jayate varnasamkarah

When wrong (ways) prevail, 0 Krishna, the women of the
family become corrupt and when women become corrupt,
0 Varshneya (Krishna), mixing of clans arises.


Here the reference evidently is to racial mixing which
takes place generally in the wake of war between different
-coloured peoples. The fair Aryans and the darker
prehistoric peoples of India are the groups involved. The
complexion that is generally given to this argument is quite
the opposite of what it should be when we take note of the
fact that Arjuna and the women concerned here were non-
Aryans. They were of the darker-skinned peoples of India.
Therefore this reference to Arjuna's fears regarding tribal
or at best racial mixing should not he taken to lend any
support to varnashramadharma (the caste system) as
understood at the present day in India. Samkara (mixing) as
a philosophical concept occurs in iii, 24 and the theory of
caste is referred to in iv, 13 and discussed in ix, 33 and in
xviii, 41 and following verses from a totally different
perspective as we shall see.


samkaro narakayai 'va
kulaghnanam kulasya cha
patanti pitaro hy esham

This mixing (of clans) leads (both the) family and the
destroyers of the family to hell, for their ancestors fall when
deprived of their offerings of rice-balls and water rites.

Here we see that, according to the notions of Arjuna, the
consequences of racial or tribal admixture is degradation
into the nether-world, both for those who are responsible
for the killing as well as for the family after the killing is


Simultaneously, the ancestors also suffer corresponding
degradation because of the lack of ritualistic support which
will keep them in the pitriloka (world of the ancestors).
Note too, that the agnihotra, the ritual fire-sacrifice of the
Aryans, is prominent by its omission, as also any precise
reference to four castes. The disciple Arjuna's vague and
crude prejudices in such matters are corrected by Krishna
the Guru later on in xv, 33, ix, 33, and xviii, 41 ff.


doshair etaih kulaghnanam
utsadyante jatidharmah
kuladharmas cha sasvatah

By these misdeeds of the destroyers of families (causing
intermixture of clans), the immemorial traditions of clan and
family are destroyed.


Arjuna's elaboration here of a theory of varnasamkara
(mixing of differently-coloured peoples) and spiritual
degradation of ancestors, conforms clearly to a pattern in the
context of pitriyana (ancestor worship), which represents the
position of the purva-pakshin (anterior sceptic). There is
reference to two other factors, namely jatidharma (family or
tribal traditions) and kuladharma (clan traditions) also.

Arjuna's position, therefore, suffers from some glaring errors
which it would be advantageous to notice even now.
Thinking of his relations and the particular group in front of
him, Arjuna has a closed and static attitude. He is interested
in preserving certain spiritual traditions of family and tribe
which he wrongly imagines to be permanent. One has to contrast
this closed static attitude with the open dynamic attitude
implied in the words of Krishna, when he himself as an absolutist
speaks of establishing dharma (right conduct) in the famous verses
IV, 7 and 8. There it is universal and for all time (continuing "from age to age").


utasanna kuladharmanam
manushyanam janardana
narake niyatam vaso
bhavati 'ty anususruma

Men of families whose clan traditions are destroyed, 0
Janardana (Krishna) are destined to live in hell - thus we
have heard.


Arjuna's state of mind is continued here. The arguments
stated in the previous verse, it can be seen, do not cling
together so as to produce any clear conviction regarding
what he is aiming at. In the present verse the diffidence in
Arjuna becomes evident in the last words. His theories are
based on second-hand knowledge only: anususruma "thus
have we heard". He has no reference to any sastra (text).
Again there is nothing positive. His speech is regretful and
without the element of hope referring to heaven. The attitude
is negative as it refers only to naraka (hell). It must be
this negative quality which justifies the charge by Krishna
in II, 2 of anaryajushtam (unbecoming to an Aryan).
As conquerors the Aryans must have brought a more positive
form of spirituality, but one still condemned by Krishna in
ii, 42 to 46 - thus clearly indicating that the revaluation
of spirituality in the Gita is to be sought for as lying
between the relativist pitriyana (way of the forefathers)
and its counterpart, an equally relativist devayana (way
of the gods) represented, as we have said, by Bhishma and
Drona respectively.


aho bata mahat papam
kartum vyavasita vayam
yad rajyasukhalobena
hantum svajanam udyatah

Alas! a great sin are we engaged in committing in
endeavouring to kill our own people through greed for the
pleasures of kingdom!


Here Arjuna is obsessed by a sense of sin which is also
a negative factor. Although it must be said to his credit
that he is a renouncer and opposed to greedy grabbers like
Duryodhana, who must keep even illegitimate things, Arjuna's
only fault is that he is unable to find the middle way.


yadi mam apratikaram
asastram sastrapanayah
dhartarishtra rane hanyus
tan me kshemataram bhavet

It would be better for me, if the sons of Dhritarashtra, arms
in hand, should kill me, unarmed and unresisting, in the


Arjuna's one-sided attitude becomes yet more pronounced.
He even goes to the extent of saying "that would be better
"instead of remaining neutral, and thus avoiding the sense
of sin. He wants to be aggressively neutral - in other
words, he falls into the error of a rajasatyagi (wilful,
over-active relinquisher), as stated in xviii, 8.

Politically-minded commentators on the Gita, whether
they have thought in terms of passive resistance or as
fighting for the freedom of a closed group, have invariably
fallen into a variety of error that could be brought under
rajasik (wilful, over-active) or tamasik (negligent action
based on ignorance) forms of action as explained in the last
chapter of the Gita. We shall come to these in due course,
but we want to say here that satyagraha (passive
resistance) or ahimsa (non-violence), inasmuch as they are
political weapons, have nothing in common with the
teaching of the Gita, which never makes a virtue of
necessity, although giving it due recognition. The Gita has
often been directly or indirectly pressed into the service of
perverted politicians and other interested people who held
such doctrines of action; but to distort the pure teaching of
the Gita in this way would he unjust and goes against the
interests of India's spiritual heritage in whose name even
these patriots speak. Relativist forms of war between
closed or static groups, whether clans, tribes or races or
even nations or religions, are not "righteous" according to
the Gita teaching which takes humanity's welfare only into
the scope of the word dharma (righteousness).

Samjaya uvacha
evam uktva'rjunah samkhye
rathopastha upavisat
visrijya sasaram chapam

Samjaya said:
Thus having spoken in the midst of the battle, Arjuna sat
down in his chariot seat, casting aside his bow and arrow,
his mind overwhelmed with sorrow.


Arjuna's attitude as seen in this verse has deflected from
one of mere lassitude as in Verse 30, where the bow slips of
itself from his fingers, to one here where he himself
actively casts away both the bow and arrow.


If we remember that he took up his bow in Verse 20 and
began to be confused when he looked at his relations
among those facing him in Verse 27, we find him now in an
opposite volte-face attitude. The intermediate gradations of
this transition have been carefully indicated by the author
Vyasa. Now Arjuna is definitely overwhelmed by grief.
Regarding the structure of this chapter; this section is
called the Arjuna vishada yoga, the Dialectical Conflict of
Arjuna. The conflict itself is examined within the limits of
this chapter in a very systematic way. This characteristic
conflict starts when Arjuna sees his relations on both sides
of the impending battle. The state of despondency at the
end of the chapter leaves him still undecided about what he
should think finally, until he becomes immobilized. Lost
between the two horns of a dilemma, the sorrow is the same
as his doubt. His doubt has two reciprocal aspects: the sense
of bravery and the sense of sin. These neutralize each other
into a central state not outside the context of Yoga or

In this chapter Arjuna first appears on the scene as an
ordinary hero, but at the end he becomes a typical purva
or anterior sceptic, full of doubts belonging to the
Guru-Sishya context of wisdom or contemplation. Within
the four walls of this chapter, the arguments move in
conformity with the strict norms of a dialectical method
carefully thought out by the author. From the point where
Arjuna sees relations on both sides, to where he sinks in his
seat as a characteristic doubter of values, one sees that the
argument moves delicately between reciprocal factors or
alternative possibilities of sin or evil.

This justifies the chapter as a whole being considered a
point of view or darsana of a yoga sastra, as the so-called
colophon at the end of the chapter claims it to be.
In conclusion here we must say that it is remarkable how
commentators have invariably said almost nothing on this
first chapter, when there are so many precious indications
of great epistemological and methodological value to be
derived from it. In fact a proper understanding of the first
chapter provides us with a key to all the chapters. Without
this key, commentaries are bound to be partially or totally
vitiated. Most of the commentators, one regrets to have to
say, are entirely off the mark in their remarks about
Arjuna's trouble. Sankara, the best of them, is himself
strangely silent, with no comment at all on this first


itysrimad bhagavadgita supanishatsu brahmavidyayam
yogasastre srikrishnarjuna samvade
arjunavishadayogo nama prathamo 'dhyayah

Thus ends in the Upanishads of the Songs of God, in the
Science of the Wisdom of the Absolute, in the Dialogue
between Sri Krishna and Arjuna, the First Chapter, entitled
The Unitive or Contemplative Despondency of Arjuna.






Samkhya Yoga

When we scan this chapter it is striking to note first of all that Arjuna's conflict is carried over from the previous chapter, where we should normally have expected it to terminate. The literary device of a Samjaya talking to a Dhritarashtra is again introduced. Krishna himself tries to arouse Arjuna from his apparent inertia or lethargy by sharp stinging expressions; but Arjuna, instead of being cowed down by them, justifies himself further in a manner that reflects a certain state of abandonment. The metrical change in Verses 5 to 8 indicates this. This is usual throughout the work wherever it rises to a pitch of rhapsody, where factors of feeling dominate. Arguments as such are thrown into the background. The rishi (sage-seer) style as found in the Vedas comes into evidence unmistakably. Here the structure of the verses attains a new dialectical perfection, reciprocal expressions being used with a striking symmetry, neutralizing factors or values into a vague sense of wonder of the numinous. Arjuna himself thus attains a new status in this chapter, as a representative contemplative disciple who belongs to the Guru-sishya context proper. The word sishya (disciple) is expressly used to refer to this new status in Verse 7.

In Verse 8 the nature of Arjuna's doubt is no longer mistakable. He says categorically that nothing on this earth nor in heaven will cure him of his painful conflict. He is not unlike Nachiketas of the Katha Upanishad who refuses boons belonging to the relativist world. In fact the structure of all the Upanishads reveals the same initial attitude of a disciple in one form or another. Arjuna's conflict, condition and attitude are no exception. From the mere emotion of the first chapter, here in the second chapter it attains the status of a philosophical doubt which he himself is quite capable of stating consciously and precisely in conformity with other shastras (textbooks).



The nature of his sorrow is such as to dry up the indriyas or senses collectively. He is numbed or dazed intellectually, while in the previous chapter his mouth was parched and he was trembling. We should understand, from the difference between Arjuna in these two phases in these two chapters, that the author in this second chapter enters into the subject proper. This is where the Gita-Acharya (teacher) begins the role of a Guru, instead of being merely a charioteer who brings Arjuna's chariot into the midst of the ranged armies.

Krishna's role as an acharya is thus inaugurated properly with Verse 11. The smile on his lips in Verse 10 is characteristically in contrast with the pessimistic state of Arjuna who is gloomy and pensive. Between this bright smile and the tedium vitae is to take place presently a normal dialectical revaluation of wisdom values.

The value under the caption Samkhya (rationalism) is what is indicated as the general overall concluding title of this chapter. But we find that Verse 39 draws a line between two distinct parts of the chapter itself. This, however, is no objection, as the first part is a revaluation of Samkhya (heterodox rationalist school) in terms of Yoga, and the second part is called buddhi yoga (rationalism treated again dialectically, i.e. as a Yoga). Buddhi yoga, which in essence is also rational, is here also stated in revalued terms as a Yoga. This intriguing term will be defined later in this chapter. The title Samkhya Yoga (Unitive Reasoning) for the whole chapter is therefore not unjustified. If we should expect to find the pure Samkhya of Kapila in the earlier part of the chapter, we shall be disappointed. This has been a fecund cause of confusion on the part of several critics of the Gita (e.g. Edgerton and Raju) who discredit the Gita as a systematic treatise on this score. The Gita has an inner structure of its own, and each chapter (as we have stated in the Introduction) has its own frame of reference.

A growing number of Western professors, among whom must be included many of their disciples who happen to be Indians, make the inexcusable error of thinking that the Gita is a theistic religious classic rather than a philosophical treatise, a smriti (code of laws as of Manu, Yajnavalkya, Parashara, etc.) or dharma-shastra (textbook of social obligations) rather than a shruti (revealed wisdom-utterance) or upanishad (wisdom-teaching of a Guru).

When the discussion or samvada which is a philosophical discourse between Guru and sishya opens properly in this


second chapter, such a view is glaringly belied, for here we see that the discussion enters into the very heart of rationalism which is philosophy and cannot possibly be conceived to be either theological or religious in the plain meaning of these terms. Full examination of the other chapters will enable us to establish firmly the fact that the Gita is first and foremost a philosophical work and that the references to matters of religious practice are only incidental and non-obligatory, covering aspects of applied wisdom only.

Samkhya (rationalism) when treated unitively attains the status of a Yoga, and buddhi (pure reason), when employed to reconcile counterparts, also attains to the same Yoga status. That Samkhya and Yoga are the same has been plainly stated in v, 4-5. No possible doubt should remain about this as far as the author Vyasa's attitude towards the two schools is concerned.


samjaya uvacha
tam tathi kripaya vishtam
vishidantam idam vakyam
uvacha madhusudanah


Samjaya said:
To him who was thus filled with tenderness (kripa) whose eyes were filled with tears, and agitated and who was in distress, the Destroyer of Madhu (Krishna) spoke these words:


Kripaya avishtam: The usual meaning given is that Arjuna was "overcome with pity ". We should notice that the phrase kripaya paraya vishto has already appeared in. i, 28. The kripa, "pity", there has sometimes been interpreted as kripaya-aparaya "non-transcendental pity"- correctly enough according to the rules of Samskrit grammar -  but we need not stretch the meaning so far to see the distinction implied between the qualified kripa of the first chapter and the plain kripa here. Further, the word comes from the same root from which the word karpanya "negative state of spirit"in 11, 7 is derived. If we note further the expression in ii, 49 - kripanah phalahetavah (end-motivated persons are poor), we can see that the term is used irrespective of the subject or object of pity. Here in this


verse it is unqualified pity as distinct from pity for relations in an actual historical context as in Chapter i. This difference will become more definite philosophically with the words of Arjuna in the next verse.

Here the emotion of Arjuna undergoes some slight sublimation as we can see by comparison with i, 47. There he is just obstinate; here he melts into tears. The process of sublimation later on enables him to formulate his inner conflict in the form of a finalized doubt in Verse 6, supported by a variety of dialectics of his own so masterfully enunciated in Verse 5. The visible aspects of Arjuna's inner conflict are graphically described in the phrase asrupurnakulekshanam (with both eyes agitated and filled with tears). He has become immobile here in all other respects except for his eyes. This detailed description makes him stand on the threshold of a truly contemplative life, as the agitation of the eyes being due to doubt only, affiliates him more closely to the context of contemplation.

The meaning of the vishada (conflict) should also be understood in the sense of being nearer to a doubt than to any gross emotion.

Madhusudana (Slayer of Madhu) as applied to Krishna, balances with Arjuna here as a non-combatant warrior in the field.


sribhagavan uvacha
kutas tva kasmalam idam
vishame samupasthitam
anaryajustam asvargyam
akirtikaram arjuna


Krishna said:
In (the midst of this) difficulty whence comes to you this dejection, typical of non-Aryans (anarya), heaven-barring and disreputable, 0 Arjuna?

Here the double literary device at the beginning of this chapter, of Samjaya reporting the actual dialogue in Verse 1 and again in Verse 9, as if the curtain drops and rises twice before the actual dialogue - the central samvada proper which is to hold the stage - which begins properly in Verse 11, has its own significance. It is in the light of this dramatic structure



that we must interpret the meaning of Verses 2 and 3 particularly; otherwise the second line here which refers to factors such as svarga (heaven) and kirti (social reputation) and anaryajushtam become inexplicable.

The imperative need for action in this critical situation, considered here in actual historical terms, belongs to the canvas rather than the painting. To identify it with the proper teaching of the Gita as many have done (see our remarks on the realism of Sri Aurobindo in the Introduction) is unpardonable.

The phrase anaryajushtam (typical of non-Aryans) deserves pointed attention. From history we know that the Aryans subjugated India by grabbing more and more lands. The common amorphous matrix constituting the greater part of India proper has always suffered from an over-generous attitude which amounts to a form of defeatism. Sri Rama, the Aryanized king of Ayodhya, who penetrated southwards, was received everywhere, even by Guha, not to speak of rishis and ashram-ites such as Shabari, with great respect and cordiality instead of opposition, with offerings of roots and fruits. This passive or negative attitude characterized India even at the time of the invasion of Alexander, and has been confusing to the minds of all invaders ever since. We may even consider that in recent history Gandhi's "passive fight" was too much for the puzzled foreigners who have left India as much out of bewilderment as for any other reason. Such negativism has been expressed in many ways. Some yogis taken to Rome by conquerors are known to have publicly burned themselves to death. This marks the limit of such a negativist attitude. This is the essentially non-Aryan character referred to here.

Krishna is not opposed to this negative attitude, inasmuch as he preaches nivritti marga, the via negativa or path of negation proper to contemplation; but he wants it to be applied only in the domain of wisdom. In the field of action he employs ordinary reasoning when action should be countered by its reaction in the ordinary sense. That is why pointed reference is made here in this verse to the critical situation where the attitude of Arjuna becomes completely out of place, when we take into account how deeply Arjuna was actually involved or caught within the imperatively necessary aspects of the situation. He did not realize that he had hardly any margin of choice left.


klaibyam ma sma gamah partha
nai 'tat tvayy upapadyate
kshudram hridayadaurbalyam
tyaktvo 'ttishtha paramtapa


Give not yourself to impotence, 0 Partha (Arjuna). It does not befit you. Cast off this base faintheartedness; arise, 0 Terror of Foes!


Here Krishna further states his objections in piquant terms. He refers even to faintheartedness with a view to goading Arjuna to action in the given situation, although the epithet would hardly apply to the veteran hero. Krishna is not talking as a Gita acharya here at all, but rather as a charioteer and friend who finds his master in a confused plight, and therefore the further epithet kshudram (base), which would be too much ordinarily to be applied to Arjuna, becomes permissible only in the light of extreme familiarity and earnest interest in Arjuna as a friend. The word klaibyam (impotent) is also too much, if not seen in the light of camaraderie. Many persons who have written about the Gita have too easily taken the side of Krishna here, and wanted, as it were, to pat Arjuna on the back patronizingly. This privilege must be reserved for Krishna as a friend, or even for Krishna considered as a Gita acharya. But for pundits, patriots and politicians, of the rank and file who are not his comrades, to use this same patronizing tone towards Arjuna's attitude is, to say the least, out of place, as Arjuna's position is superior to all of them, and inferior to Krishna or a Guru of equal status only.


Arjuna uvacha:
katham bhishmam aham samkhye
dronam cha madhusadhana
ishubhih pratiyotsyami
pujarhav arisudana


Arjuna said:
How could I, 0 Slayer of Madhu (Krishna), encounter with arrows in battle Bhishma and also Drona who are worthy of worship, 0 Slayer of Foes (Krishna) ?


The definite and precise reference here by name, first to Bhishma and then to Drona, who are not Gurus in the same sense - Bhishma being only respected as a grandsire - but both equally covered by the title "worthy of reverence", sharpens Arjuna's doubt to a further degree. The instrument with which he is to fight them is also referred to; the relevance being that it was Drona who taught him archery, and it was to Bhishma that he could trace his physical prowess needed for archery. These factors, the arrows and the two enemies, are looked upon as counterparts in the same plane of actuality, thus paving the way for the argument in the next verse, which underlines the nature of the dilemma in greater detail.

The prefix prati (against) is used to accentuate the duality implicit in the situation, which seems to Arjuna to be absurd. It is in fact absurd to anybody, in the way Arjuna puts it, and it can only be reasonable in a fully revalued way of absolutism implied in xviii, 66 where all duties of relativist life are to be thrown away.


guran ahatva hi mahanubhavam
sreyo-bhoktum bhaikshyam api 'ha loke
hatva 'rthakamams tu gurun ihai 'va
bhunjiya bhogan rudhirapradighan


Desisting from the killing of the Gurus who are highly honourable, it would be more meritorious in this world even to have to eat of a beggar's pittance. Choosing (on the other hand) to kill these Gurus as fortune - seekers, I should be feasting even here on blood-stained benefits of life.


This verse shows Arjuna as one who can employ dialectics with a vengeance, leading to a doubly negative or unfavourable judgment. Duryodhana, who does not claim to be a dialectician, can stand on simpler, plainer and firmer ground. Arjuna's difficulty, which was hitherto stated strictly as within the domain of actuality that involved here-and-now values only, is in this verse restated with one important difference, indicated by the word sreyas (something morally or spiritually better) thus introducing for the first time into the discussion a positive spiritual value-factor and not merely worldly advantage.

Even as such it does not refer to life hereafter as the repetition of iha (here) clearly indicates. In fact it is Arjuna's


desire to be a better man even here itself which distinguishes him from Duryodhana. He is an aspirant or a candidate for wisdom, though still a realist.

The metrical structure of this verse is meant to reveal an emotional content rising to the pitch - though not of a rhapsody here - at least to that of a spiritual agony or angoisse.

The note of this agony is not unlike that of Yama (Death), the Guru in the Katha Upanishad, who wailingly pleads with the sishya Nachiketas to dissuade him from asking the final boon of all, respecting wisdom. There it is the Guru who wails, but it makes no difference to the quality of the rhetorical mode employed, which is common to both Guru there and sishya here.

Another peculiarity to note about this verse is that the same Gurus are referred to with almost opposite titles. In one place they are called mahanubhavas (people of great sympathy) and at another place arthakamaha (grabbers of goods).

This would seem paradoxical and, except in the light of the special dialectical structure that we have suggested, it would remain unresolved. In fact many have indeed mistranslated or misinterpreted the word arthakamaha "well-wishers" by Bhagavan Das.)

The word iha (here), appearing in its simple form in the second line, appears again, repeated in the third line more emphatically as iha eva (here itself), which cannot be looked upon as accidentally inserted by the author, Vyasa. It is just here that Arjuna's dialectic fails to work as applied to value-factors, because both these value components belong to an here and now order, but Arjuna has the excuse of speaking in this chapter as an empiricist or just as a rationalist. As a correct sceptic ought to be, he puts the question in its sharpest form as any practically-minded religious man even of our own times - scrupulous of life here - might do.

In either of the alternatives, still treated dualistically by Arjuna after the manner of the Nyaya-Vaiseshikas (logical-empiricists), or at best the Samkhyas (rationalists), the result for him is in the form of an adverse verdict. He must either suffer poverty or enjoy life with a sense of the guilt of having out-done a fellow-man. This doubly negative result is characteristic of a form of reasoning which appears very subtle at first sight, but is still tinged with the blemish of dualism - as Krishna will point out in due course. According to Krishna, who


is an absolutist, he is going to show how Arjuna can surmount his duality by the right use of dialectics, by applying this method only to unitive values which come within the scope of contemplation, and not merely for decisions between alternative advantages here in the world of multiplicity and action. Dialectics is conducive to unitive understanding only, and spoils the case when applied to ordinary situations in life where usual ratiocinative methods or logic would be the proper instrument to employ.

It might be well also for us to note that the expression ahatva "non-killing" is not enforced on Arjuna. It is a contingent factor from which he derives the theoretical consequences of poverty, etc., which factor and consequences are not directly connected as cause and effect. He is sentimental and speaks like a theoretical philosopher when a practical necessity confronts him. It is on this score that Krishna pulls him up quite readily in Verse 11.

Arjuna may be said to resemble a man who has a telescope, but who looks through the wrong end. Instead of ascending from the necessary to the contingent, he descends from factors which are not strictly of a necessary order to imaginary and conflicting necessities. He is simply overwhelmed by a logic of emotions which goes always contrary to the logic of pure reason, spoiling both natural spontaneity in emotion and purity of reason.


Na chai 'tad vidmah kataran no gariyo
yad va jayema yadi va no jayeyuh
yan eva hatva najijivishamas
te 'vasthitah pramukhe dhartarashtrah


Neither is it clear which would be of greater advantage to us: that we win or that they win over us. Killing whom we should no more wish to live, those very persons are standing ranged before us, the progeny of Dhritarashtra.


The confounding of reason and emotion comes out here, each factor having equal force. To add to the vagueness, there is the express use of the plural. He speaks now apparently almost as a representative of both the contending parties - thus indirectly thinking of the evils of war in most general terms.


His concern, however, to save humanity from the given effects of war, seems to overleap itself when he again points to the sons of Dhritarashtra - as if he is concerned more for them than for his own side, which commonsense should lead us to expect. Actually we find him more concerned for his enemies. This is because his logic is coloured by his emotions and he is carried beyond even the neutral ground of common-sense to an extreme position untenable either from common-sense or contemplative norms. His only excuse is perhaps that Bhishma and Drona, who belong to a spiritual context, are both ranged against him. They represent spiritual values but happen to be on the enemy side which already enjoys a majority.

Na jijivishama (we do not wish to live) - can only legitimately mean that he is concerned with humanity who must be impoverished by the extermination of spiritual leaders or Gurus. Note his plural again here by which he speaks for all, including his enemies and Krishna himself.

karpanyadoshopahat vabhavah
prichchhami tvam dharmasammudhachetah
yach chhreyah syan nischitam bruhi tan me
sishyas to 'ham sadi mam tvam, prapannam


Struck down by the evil of a tender disposition, with a mind confounded in regard to what is right to do, I ask you: that which is definitely more meritorious, that do indicate to me. I am your disciple; do discipline me coming thus for refuge to you.


Now the style reverts to the singular. Here Arjuna is able himself to state clearly the nature of his trouble: (1) that a negative state of mind has overtaken him and (2) that his reason is therefore clouded about the choice before him. These are the two factors involved. The cure for one is clearer reasoning (heterodox samkhya yoga). For the other the cure is the method of buddhi-yoga (orthodox rationalism treated unitively) which would make him more Aryan and relieve him of the sense of sin. These exactly are just the remedies to be applied by Krishna in the remainder of this chapter.

The word dharma (righteousness, connoting also inner tendencies to natural activity) is used by Arjuna both in the sense


of "conduct" as used by Buddhist writers, and in its purer psychological connotation.

Although a warrior's sense of honour is appealed to by Krishna in Verses 32-35 of this chapter, the main part of the chapter is concerned with rationalism of an "objective" order. The reference to honour, etc. fits into this chapter as the common-sense counterparts or corollaries of a rational matter-of-fact attitude.

The word shreyah (spiritually meritorious) again indicates a superior human value belonging to contemplative wisdom, especially when taken together with the word sishya (disciple), which makes him essentially not a warrior merely, but principally a wisdom-seeker. Also the word sadhi (teach) helps to confirm this way of looking at the situation. This is the cue for the samvada or Guru-sishya dialogue, which is to hold the stage.


na hi prapasyami mama 'panudyad
yach chhokamuchchhosanam indriyanam
avapya bhumav asapatnam riddham
rajyam suranam api cha 'dhipatyam


I cannot visualize either what could rid me of this distress which dries up the senses in this way - even should (it transpire that) I obtain unrivalled dominion of the earth's plenty or overlordship of the gods in heaven too.


The resemblance of Arjuna, who is here an equally thorough-going wisdom-seeker, to Nachiketas of the Katha Upanishad (to whom we have already referred) becomes unmistakably evident here. He is for the first time referring to heaven and lordship over the gods, which itself is strange inasmuch as till now he was thinking of negative factors only. He who preferred to be a mendicant begging his way now also refers to the uttermost limit of worldly prosperity. He rejects both of these possible futures because they are only relative values, while he seeks merit in an absolute sense. As a disciple in any other Upanishad, the implications in this verse must make it indubitably clear to the reader that the Gita is not concerned with conduct here, or even the relative heaven-determined values of the Vedas, but only with ultimate or absolute factors of supreme wisdom. Even the highest of the shining gods are to be left behind if Arjuna is to find satisfaction. If Krishna


refers in his teaching hereafter to Heaven and relativist values, they therefore become of incidental importance only (e.g. Verses xi. 32 and 37 mention heaven only for purposes of methodology. We shall clarify this in due course. It is enough to state here that this has nothing to do with the final teaching of the Gita).

Like the third boon of Nachiketas, Arjuna is not going to be satisfied with anything short of the highest wisdom, for he indicates here that only such wisdom can cure him of his agony of spirit. This condition of Arjuna is not symptomatic of any known pathological disease or psychological abnormality. It is only found expressed in such Guru-sishya textbooks as the "Vivekachudamani" of Sankara - where the disciple compares himself to an animal trapped in a raging forest-fire (Verse 36).


samjaya uvacha
evam uktva 'hrishikesam
gudakesah paramtapah
na yotsya iti govindam
uktva tushnim babhuva ha


Samjaya said:
Having spoken thus to Hrishikesa (Krishna), Gudakesa (Arjuna) the Terror of the Foe, saying, "I will not fight"to Govinda (Krishna), lapsed finally into silence.


tam uvacha hrishikesah
prahasann iva bharata
senayor ubhayor madhye
vishidantam idam vachah


On this Hrishikesa (Krishna), with a semblance of smiling, 0 Bharata (Dhritarashtra), spoke these words to him who was in grief between the two armies:


The Samjaya-Dhritarashtra device is used for these two verses only, for the express purpose of setting the stage for the impending full-dress discourse which starts at Verse 11, from which point onwards it becomes fully philosophical.

These verses reveal the attendant circumstances in the actual world most delicately counterpoised in every respect, thus forming the correct defined situation on firm ground, upon


whose basis the theoretical discussion can proceed. To the extent that the questioner is practically-minded, the answerer has to be downright conclusive in his reply. The concrete question requires an apodictic reply. It is tit for tat. Before the sweeping generalizations of Krishna follow, therefore, it is necessary to review in a short span the ensemble of the situation. These two verses serve that very purpose.

Hrishikesa and Gudakesa, balancing sound as well as meaning, suggest equality between Guru and disciple. Reference is also made in favourite terms to senayor ubhayor madhye (between two armies) to indicate the perfect neutrality of the absolutist way of life preached by the Guru Krishna. The smile of a Guru is the only actor differentiating him from the gloomy disciple.

Vachah (the word) is singular and not plural. This is most significant. All the words used in the chapter are supposed to be upavikyanam (elaborations of one central Word), the Verbum or Logos or the AUM as definitely stated in the Mandukya Upanishad. The same singular is strikingly repeated in x. 1 and xi. 1. So this cannot be just the accidental usage of the author, Vyasa.

Further, Arjuna definitely says "I will not fight "which hitherto he has not dared to say to Krishna. It is this brazen attitude which should justify the oft-repeated words of Krishna in later chapters, in which he seems to order Arjuna to fight. Although the Gita is free from obligatory injunctions, this style of speech here arises incidentally from Arjuna's words. To the extent that such an admonition is meant to counteract this obstinacy, it is in place. But the main character of such advice should be understood as permissive and never fully mandatory because vidhi or mandate is repugnant altogether to an Upanishad which is a shruti (revealed utterance of wisdom) and not a smriti (code of laws). Those who interpret such expressions as injunctions will find themselves completely in the wrong by the time they reach the end of the Gita, wherein Krishna finally says to Arjuna: "Do as you like "(xviii, 63) which, taken together with "abandon all duties "(xviii, 66) makes the non-mandatory character of the reference to fighting unequivocal. The various references to the subject of fighting will be dealt with as occasions arise. The reader however, must watch out for a gradation or change of sense even in the permissive or advisory character according to the proper context of each chapter.


Notice that Arjuna remains no whit less a warrior (Paramtapa means "Consumer of Foes"), in spite of his being silent. It is still the silence of a great hero and not that of a coward.

His doubt belongs to the realm of wisdom and not to his physical prowess. Sankara's long-drawn comment on this verse to establish that "knowledge alone, and not by knowledge conjoined with works" is the conclusive teaching of the Gita, could be taken for granted by us in the present commentary without any arguments, because we look upon the Gita as a "dialectical revaluation" of wisdom into which obligatory works do not enter at all. The Gita is not a Dharma Shastra or Smriti treating of obligatory injunctions. Any reference to such in the Gita is incidental to the narrative or discussion and is of a recommending or permissive character only and never of an obligatory character.

The term iva (as if) applied to the smile of Krishna is a peculiarity of the lingua mystica familiar in the Upanishads (e.g. Mundaka Upanishad, 1. 2 , 4-6) by which the edge is, as it were, taken off the actuality of the description, tending to make it more perceptual and thus more in keeping with a contemplative text.


Sribhagavan uvacha
asochyan anvasochas tvam
prajnavadams cha bhashase
gatasum agatasums cha
na 'nusochanti panditah


Krishna said:
You are sorry for those with whom sorrow is unreasonable. You speak in terms of reason too. Veritable philosophers (pandits) are not affected in regard to those whose breath has gone and those whose breath has not gone.


We begin the samvada (Guru-sishya dialogue on wisdom) noting straight away that it starts off in no uncertain words. The position of a thorough-going absolutist is stated for all it is worth, to be elaborated stage by stage afterwards. The second line of this verse has been much misunderstood and misinterpreted, seriously enough to vitiate and compromise


the whole message of the Gita in commentaries by people who did not realize that the Gita is based on dialectical reasoning and not on mere ratiocination.

Note the word cha (and) in this line which has invariably been taken to be identical or interchangeable with va (either-or). Though seemingly small, there is a world of difference between the two meanings. The latter meaning would be tantamount to upholding a model of a spiritual man who is indifferent or cold-h
earted when a person is dead, while the former meaning, which conforms to the text and is the only meaning possible here, supports a perfected wise man or pandit who has transcended both the aspects of life and death here, treated together, as inevitable dual sides of our relative life here and now. The Gita preaches ahimsa (non-hurting) in later chapters. Indifference in causing death is not therefore compatible with the teaching of the Gita at all. Gandhi's Gita commentary has made an effort to make this clear by other evidences of his own, which has left many people unconvinced. The delicate difference implied in this opening verse when properly understood would not require long-drawn arguments to bend the Gita to support any special doctrine of ahimsa which is only a natural corollary to the Gita's chief teaching of wisdom, as we shall have ample occasion to see.

The word panditah refers expressly, not to a man of action like Arjuna, but to men of wisdom, those who understand. Between the two lines of this verse - the first reflecting necessity, the second reflecting free contingency - the argument will be seen like a pendulum, now swinging to one side, now to the other. The wide-
awake student of the Gita should not be too hasty or hurried in deriving rigid snap judgments about what the Gita teaches from isolated verses, as has been done so often.


Note that sorrow is the central consideration on which the verse revolves. The concept of shoka (compassion) is the spiritual value with which the dialogue begins. The disparity between wisdom and sympathy, reason and emotion, is the subject for reconciliation - the one in terms of the other, retaining both unitively by Yoga. The duality between the two persists in Arjuna, producing a conflict or doubt which constitutes the major problem of the Gita as a whole.

That Arjuna himself has strongly-rooted rival theories about right and wrong, virtue and sin, is revealed in i. 40-45. Now that he seeks nothing short of absolute wisdom, as revealed in ii. 8, it


is in reference to these two incompatible attitudes; one being still relativist, the other belonging to wisdom, that Krishna here speaks outrightly, pointing out the anomaly of Arjuna's position.

In understanding the meaning of asochyan (those not to be grieved for) we have to be guided by the indications in Verse 5 above which refers to the Gurus, as well as by the absolutist ideas which follow immediately in this chapter.

Sankara suggests that the reference applies to such people as Bhishma and Drona and states "they deserve no grief for they are men of good conduct and are eternal in their real nature". Arjuna has enumerated in detail all those for whom he is concerned in i. 34. Even if the two Gurus are exempt from the pity normal to the situation, the case of all others who include good, bad and indifferent persons on both the sides (as explicitly mentioned in i. 27) is not covered by Sankara's explanation. There is an over-all answer to the question: "Who are the persons meant here as not deserving or incapable of being sympathetically thought of?" which is contained in this very Chapter (Verses 12 to 38 inclusive).

The same is again implied in xi. 33, where Krishna states that the men have already been killed by him and his (Arjuna's) killing is only incidental to the situation. This type of over-all absolutist argument need be resorted to only last of all. On the lines of Sankara's suggestion we could think of two groups to whom the remark can possibly apply.

These could be those emancipated from necessity by their intelligence and freedom of choice in action, like Bhishma and Drona who have deliberately chosen the path of war, and those like the rest of the rank and file caught helplessly in a general and imperative war situation. The former can take care of themselves and the latter cannot, even if they thought that war was an evil.


na tv eva 'ham jatu na 'sam
na tvam ne 'me janadhipah
na chai 'va na bhavishyamah
sarve vayam atah param

Further, never was I non-existent, nor you, nor these chiefs of men; neither shall we, all of us, ever cease becoming hereafter.


The initial line of argument adopted in this chapter is clearly indicated here. It makes the absolutist position more


striking than in the second line of Verse 11. It asserts at once the eternal existence not only of the individual (or in terms of a subjective soul), but of the whole group of humanity involved. In fact the whole situation, as we shall see shortly, is treated sub specie aeternitatis (under the category of the eternal) as Spinoza put it. The reference to the kings or chiefs of men as such, who are also, as it were, to be considered eternal, seems to be asking too much for us to believe. In so far as no king can really die ("The King is dead, Long Live the King!"), even this apparent exaggeration becomes justified.

This chapter expressly faces the problem from an apodictic or sharply matter-of-fact point of view. A bad disease needs a drastic remedy. The rot of confusion has to be stopped before it worsens. That is why the argument plunges without apology into the heart of the problem. The impossible character of the arguments thus become understandable.

Note also that eternity is conceived both retrospectively and prospectively. The inner logical or methodological order maintained is striking. Krishna refers to himself first. Even as plural entities, human beings are to be treated in the light of the eternal. The conflict between the one and the many can be resolved in the light of higher reasoning as elsewhere explained.



The approach of heterodox Samkhya is evidenced in these
verses but we should remember it is not Samkhya as Kapila
or even Ishvarakrishna presented it in the Samkhya Karika
that is here adhered to. The Gita restates Samkhya to suit its
own doctrine of the Absolute. In other words the Gita is a
dialectical revaluation in terms of Yoga of pure Samkhya as
such, without omitting the technical terms belonging to
Samkhya method and not entirely breaking away from the
epistemological frame of reference proper to the Samkhya
system. We should look here for a Samkhya-Yoga still
viewed from a heterodox angle, leaving the same to be
reviewed from an orthodox angle, with buddhi (pure reason
or intelligence) as a central value, in the second half of this
chapter, after Verse 39, and thereafter to be known under the
caption of buddhi-yoga - buddhi there being not essentially
different from the Samkhya attitude. Both buddhi and
Samkhya therefore are


covered by the general title Samkhya-Yoga without any real
contradiction, at the end of the chapter.


dehino 'smin yatha dehe
kaumaram yauvanon jara
tatha dehantarapraptir
dhiras tatra na muhyati


As there is here in the body for the embodied, childhood,
youth, old age, so also the passing on to another body
in the same manner; those firm in mind are not thereby


Let us focus attention on the word dehi (body-owner or
author-agent). It almost suggests some entity like Launcelot
Gobbo's conscience which hangs at the neck of his heart,
having an almost empirical status so repugnant to the way of
thinking of the Buddhist Vijnanavadins, and no less so even
with Advaitins of the Gaudapada school. The apparent
grossness here is explicable, since any theoretical discussion
of a subject implies its own purva pakshin (anterior sceptic)
and, in order to convince a person, one has to meet him on
his own terms with his own background. The empiricism
has to be met by an empirical attribute if it is to be revalued.
Rationalistic heterodox Samkhya tended to realism. When
the inner man had to be distinguished clearly from the
physical man, it became necessary for the Gita to employ
the word dehi (body-owner) with the same realism which
we find accentuated, until by Verse 23 all vestiges of
materiality are abolished. But this abolition begins
significantly only after Verse 22, which again is a kind of
rhapsody where realism and idealism merge, as it were,
bursting into song.

This verse recommends a view of reality in the form of a
flux pertaining to a general process of becoming. Childhood,
youth and old age are three stages known even to
realists, which are to be viewed, not statically, but as
flowing organically in terms of duration. Time itself is not
yet abolished.

Rebirth is introduced as a natural consequence belonging
to the same order of flux or becoming. Metempsychosis is
therefore taken for granted as a natural corollary even of a
realistic and rationalistic attitude to life. The word dhira
here refers not merely to a brave man one a battlefield, but


more aptly refers to one who is capable of taking a firm
stand in a contemplative context. He is a man of intuition
and imagination and not a mere ratiocinator.


matrasparsas tu kaunteya
agamapayino 'nityas
tams titikshasva bharata


Momentary sense contacts on the other hand, 0 Kaunteya
(Arjuna), yielding cold-warmth, joy-pain, alternately
coming and going, are transitory. Do you endure them, 0
Bharata (Arjuna).


yam hi na vyathayanty ete
purusham purusharshabha
samaduhkhasukham dhiram
so 'mritatvaya kalpate

That man indeed of firm mind who is unaffected by these, 0
Best of Men (Arjuna), equal-minded in joy as well as pain,
he is destined for immortality.


After stating the position of a man of intuition, Verse 14
speaks of the opposite or counterpart - of reflexes and
automatisms belonging to physiology. Stimulus-response
psychology is involved here. Pleasure and pain, heat and
cold, belong to this order. This is the domain of sheer
necessity which no living being can escape. Arjuna is here
asked not to minimise their importance, as some vague
philosophers might do, or to learn to bear them stoically.
What cannot be cured must be endured.

Such a hardened and brave man, Verse 15 indicates, almost
too hastily it might seem, is fit for "immortality", a term
usually applied only to the highest spiritual goal. But we
should note the reference to "pain" and "pleasure" as being
equalized before one qualifies for this immortality.

The modern stoic, by definition, has come to mean one of mere
brute endurance. But the yogi of the Gita, who is referred to
here, is a man who enjoys as well as suffers with a certain
neutral attitude which cancels one against the other. This
makes all the difference for qualifying for immortality, even
in the fullest connotation of the term in Vedantic usage - as


one who has come to his full status as a yogi, equanimity
being a positive quality and not mere indifference.


na' sato vidyate bhavo
na' bhavo vidyate satah
ubhayor api drishto 'ntas tv
anayos tattvadarsibhih

What is unreal cannot have being and non-being can­not be real;
the conclusion in regard to both these has been known to


In this verse we have a clear enunciation of the methodology
adopted in the Gita. Terms like bhava and abhava (becoming
and non-becoming) are familiar to us in the Nyaya-Vaishesika
system of philosophy, where the term abhava (non-becoming)
is the last of the seven padarthas (categories of cognizable
en­tities) (1). Again, with reference to the word sat
(existence-reality) we should note it is not very different
from the notion of dravya (substance) used in the same system,
for even the mind is there considered as a substance. Substances
in this sense are considered as paramanu (atomic or exceedingly
refined prime matter). The word sat as employed in this verse
has, over and above the substantiality of the Nyaya-Vaishesika
context, some connotation of its own as reality understood in
neutral terms as between existence and non-existence. While the
cancelling-out of existence with non-existence might lead to
shunya or emptiness, the sat of the Vedanta of the Gita is meant
to represent the Absolute. The difference will perhaps become
clear if explained in mathematical terms; if we subtract two
equal quantities, thy answer is zero. But in the case of the
operation in the form of a fraction the result is not a zero
but a one (10 minus 10 = 0; 10/10= 1). The unitive Absolute
is similarly to be understood as different from the mere
nothing­ness which results from a mechanistic form of reasoning.
Unitive reasoning is based upon an intuitive or dialectical

In the Gaudapada Karika (IV, 4 et seq.) reference is made
to the very problem implicit in this verse. Gaudapada takes

(1) See "A Primer of Indian Logic" (According to Annambhatta's
Tarkasamgraha) by S. Kuppuswami Sastri (P. Varadachary &
Co.Madras, 1932). dravya-gun-a­karma-dvandva-samanya-vishesa
-samavayabhavah sapta padarthah: v.2, (substance, quality,
action, generality, speciality, inherence and non-becoming
are the seven cate­gories of cognizable entities).


case of two disputants - one a Vaishesika who argues that
there is no anterior cause to empirical reality, while the
other is a Samkhyan who says there is a cause which
regresses ad infinitum. Between these two disputants
nothing is decided about the final nature of reality. Sancerre
in his commentary seems to exploit the situation as an
argument in favour of a positive notion about Brahman (the
Absolute). Whether he legitimately succeeds in establishing
a positive Brahman on the basis of a mere disagreement
between these disputants is questionable. The Gita,
however, scores better than the Karika when it states here
that the disputants are not still disputing but have resolved
their disputes in terms of a finalized doctrine - the anta
(end) in the second line of this verse. This we can easily see
is the anta which is present in the Vedanta (Veda-anta) as it
is to be understood in the Gita.

There can be no question either in regard to the schools of
thought under reference here by the term tattvadarsibhih
(those capable of seeing first principles). The word tattva
(that-ness) is known to us even in the maha-vakyas (great
sayings) such as aum-tat-sat (Aum that is) or tat-tvam-asi_
(That thou art) - apart from its familiarity in the rationalistic
schools anterior to Vedanta, such as the Samkhya. Tattva
comes close to Kant's ding-an-sich (thing-in-itself) and
Spinoza's substantia (underlying Substantiality). This verse
satisfies itself for the present to leave this absolutist concept
open for further elaboration in this chapter, meeting
empirical requirements, while elsewhere other relevant
ways are dealt with.

The words ubhayor api (both taken together) have special
significance which we know as the distinguishing mark of
the methodology proper to dialectical or yogic reasoning,
(see p. 49, Introduction). In the Isha Upanishad (1, 1-14) two
striking examples occur, showing this same double-sided
method of reasoning. Sambhuti (becoming) and vinasha
(destruction or non-becoming) are to be understood
ubhayam saha (both taken together), i.e. not singly. Vidya
(knowledge) and avidya (nescience) are also treated in the
same way. Both pairs of opposites must be treated unitively
to bring out a central notion which pertains to the Absolute.
We know in the West also, philosophers have been referring
to a one - legged argument or a lame excuse to mean
something untenable. The pros and cons have to be taken
together, the obverse and reverse of the same coin; these,
and many other phrases point to the same necessity in valid
thinking. This is the essential


distinguishing feature of dialectic or yogic reasoning,
where intuition comes into play, rather than remaining
merely logical in a factual manner. We shall find other
expressions like api cha (also, and) scattered throughout the
Gita text. These are not necessary requirements of syntax, if
the reasoning is merely mechanistic, but they do become
essential only for delicate dialectical purposes. Most
translators treat this distinction in a casual manner, because
they are unconscious of the difference between the two
styles - the merely rational and the dialectical ways of
exposition. In Bhagavan Das' "Introduction to the Gita" he
refers to the profuse use of such expressions as superfluous
and as having no significance (The Bhagavad-Gita, P. 36,
3rd ed., 1940).

The difference is not to be lightly brushed aside in view
of the finalized doctrine which must emerge from the
method employed. Passing through the vicissitudes of the
shunyavada and the vijnanavada (doctrines of emptiness
and subjective idealism) as understood in the Jaina or
Buddhist contexts, theories of reality have been formulated
in the history of post - Buddhistic thought in India. Some
have attained to rationalism, others to idealism within the
philosophies such as the Nyaya-Vaishesika and Samkhya-
Yoga schools. The last vestige of merely academic or
scholastic asymmetry became progressively adjusted and
rounded off. Shunyavada, Kshanika - Vijnanavada and
Mayavada may be said to mark the successive stages of the
perfection of this doctrine, but even in Mayavada vestiges
of duality persist, as between sat and asat (authentic
existence and non-authentic existence) - as a reaction
against the supposed nihilism in Buddhist doctrines. Here in
the Gita, however, we catch up once again with the spirit of
the Upanishads, more ancient than all these schools of
thought, where wisdom again attains its primal sublimity
as a song.


avinasi tu tad viddhi
yena sarvam idam
tatam vinasam avyayasya'sya
na kaschit kartum arhati

Know That to be indestructible by which all this
is pervaded. None can bring about the destruction
of This that knows no decrease.


antavanta ime deha
nityasyo 'ktah saririnah
anasino 'prameyasya
tasmad yudhyasya Bharata

These bodies (however) of the everlasting indestructible
and undefinable embodied (One) are spoken of as having
an end. Therefore go on with the battle, 0 Bharata (Arjuna).


These two verses must be taken together. Treated apart,
they lend semblance of support to conflicting doctrines.
In fact many commentators have derived both unethical and
non-spiritual doctrines from expressions contained here,
and especially from the last words of Verse 18, tasmad
yudhyasva bharata (therefore fight, 0 Bharata).

Truisms and absurdities are equally derivable from the
sense of these two verses put together. To derive a
consistent way of life from the words of the Gita requires
its understanding in unitive terms where equivocation or
quibbling becomes impossible. We must try to enter into
what the author Vyasa himself wants to say before hastily
foisting our own favourite doctrines on disjunct sayings
lifted from the total context.

There are two extremities or poles to be distinguished in
these verses. Verse 17 refers to an aspect of the human spirit
corresponding to the purusha (spirit) of the Samkhya
which is altogether above prakriti (phenomena or nature).
This cannot be touched by any activity of man. At the other
extreme there is the pole corresponding to prakriti which is
recognized by Samkhya and even common sense as antavanta
(having an end). These two poles belong unitively to one and
the same atma (Self) - as implied in the phrase nityasya uktah
(said to be belonging to the eternal).

Although not strictly in conformity with Samkhya doctrines
which retain their dual character; yet in the light of more
ancient Vedic tradition, with which the Gita wishes to
maintain unbroken continuity, the expression uktah (said to
be) is fully justified. Monism is well known in the Rig-Veda
(e.g. I, 164: 46: "Him who is the One existent, sages name

The expression "Therefore fight, 0 Bharata" which
seems to be an order given to Arjuna, deserves our attention
because it is perhaps the basis of the greatest amount of
misunderstanding in connection with the Gita. Some say the
Gita wants


everybody to fight for their own interests, national,
religious, etc. Others, like Sankara, though understanding it
as permissive only, think that the advice is legitimate in the
case of a kshatriya (warrior). It is clear that war takes a
very imperative character when we take the particular
instance of Arjuna as an individual caught in those
necessary circumstances so carefully mentioned in great
detail by Vyasa in this and the previous chapter. If, because
of its imperative character as applied to the particular
Arjuna, the converse generalization leading to justification
of violence or war as a guiding principle for the regulation
of human affairs could derive support from the Gita
teaching remains very problematic indeed. It is often
forgotten that the rare quality called true Kshatriya-hood of
the Gita mentioned in xviii, 43 has to tally with its outer
corresponding counterpart called a righteous war in ii, 31,
so that war in that rare and very occasionally remote
contingency becomes the "open door to heaven"
mentioned in ii, 32 . Without a just war a Kshatriya could be
a Don Quixote and the fight itself an absurd rioting by a
plundering rabble.

The balance between the infinite One of Verse 17 and the
finite Many of Verse 19 has to be struck in a manner in
keeping with the perfect symmetry which is maintained here
between the two verses. The first verse refers to the
helplessness of man, and the second verse carries the same
argument further to its simple and natural consequence. The
necessary side of life has its own proper imperatives which
are categorical. We are all caught in necessity and are
obliged to act. Even Socrates had to go to the battlefield
(vide "Symposium", 219-220).

Arjuna is asked to fight so that he may not set in motion
a sequence of disasters, major or minor, personal or
impersonal. His own reputation, as we shall see, is
involved. Krishna is interested, above all, that his friend is
saved from personal regression or regret amounting to a
moral or spiritual death as Arjuna.

Note that only here (and in XI, 34 for other reasons) is
this mandatory form of advice stated so clearly. Elsewhere
it is watered down gradually into expressions such as
"Stand up, 0 Bharata!", "Conquer your enemy, called
desire, 0 Bharata!", "Therefore do not regret", etc. The
mandatory form is fully justified here when we note that, in
conformity to the Samkhya frame of reference, the two poles
of the spirit are kept here as strictly apart as possible within
a truly Vedantic context, retaining the fullest degree of
ambivalence permissible.


The Ramanuja school of dualism proves that these two
aspects are admissible within a unitive notion of the
Absolute. The necessary and contingent aspects that belong
to the central notion of the Absolute of this chapter, which
begins by accentuating the duality implied, will be brought
more unitively together in later chapters, and then the
obligatory tone of the instruction to fight will be seen to be
modified according to each chapter as indicated above. The
mandatory character is most apparent in this verse and in
xviii, 59. In the central chapters there is no mandate form
resorted to at all. The mandate here is therefore due to the
structure of the Gita as a whole.

The third-personal usage ("anyone") employed at the
end of Verse 17 is correctly counterbalanced by the word
"Bharata" which applies to the particular person Arjuna
at the end of Verse 18.

The word dehah (bodies) of Verse 18 also refers to the
quantitative or numerical aspect as against sarvam idam
(all this) of Verse 17. "Bodies", therefore, are looked upon
as necessary cannon-fodder, as is inevitable in one form or
another in this world of transitory events. Arjuna is only a
cog in the wheel caught in the scheme of necessity, and the
sooner he realizes this, the better for him. This truth is
repeated in xviii, 61. Unnecessary friction could thus be
avoided. Anyone therefore who construes this reference to
fighting as an injunction as in a smriti (code of laws or
conduct) will be mistaking its purpose, which is only
philosophical. Any vestige or doubt on this score will be
finally abolished when this reference is read with xviii:
"Having reflected, act as you like"


ya enam vetti hantaram
yas chai 'nam manyate hatam
ubhau tau na vijanito
na'yam hanti na hanyate

He who thinks This as the killed and he who thinks This as
killed - both these know not. This does not kill; is not killed.


This verse modifies the supposed mandate of Verse 18 by
stating that Arjuna is not killing at all when he is asked
to kill there - thus heightening the paradoxical effect, with
the object of resolving the ambivalence in more unitive


The word ubhau (both together) occurs again here,
underlining the dialectical method of reasoning fully
employed here. Counterparts are brought more closely
together, with all the reciprocal implications. Finally the
seal of unitive thinking is stamped on the whole argument
in the last phrase: "This does not kill, is not killed",
bringing us normally to the wonder referred to in verse 29,
for which the ground is being prepared.


na jayate mriyate va kadachin
na 'yam bhutva bhavita va na
ajo nityasavato 'yam purano
na hanyate hanyamane sarire

This is neither born nor does This die, nor having
once come into being, cease to become any more:
Unborn, perpetual, eternal is This Ancient One. It is
not killed on the killing of the body.


As indicated in the metre itself, the words here attain a
new height of sublimity. Except for one hidden phrase, the
words do not require much explanation. Na yam bhutva
bhavita va na bhuyah (once considered existent, it does not
become again so). Reincarnation in the popular sense is
seen to be ruled out. Eternal life seems to be what is meant
here. The Self is never born and never dies. It is pure being
in itself, not subject to any process of evolution, flux or

The epithets ajah (unborn) and puranah (ancient) cannot
strictly be reconciled logically, but such apparent
contradictions as we have said, fit into the style of the Gita.


veda 'vinasam nityam
ya enam ajam avyayam
katham sa purushah partha
kam ghatayati hanti kam

About him who knows This as the indestructible, the everlasting,
the unborn, never-decreasing one (of) such a person how could
(the questions) ' whose death he causes', 'whom he kills' (arise)
0 Partha (Arjuna)?


This verse finalizes the position of Arjuna as belonging to a
context of wisdom rather than of action - so as to bring the


subject into conformity with the major part of the Gita,
which is mainly a dialogue of philosophical import.
Krishna in effect tells Arjuna here that the question of
killing does not obtrude into the situation at all. Arjuna is
considered as a contemplative and not as a warrior any
more. He has no longer any one-sided agency in the matter
of killing. The full purpose or import of such a verse will
become evident if we remember that the Samkhya-Yoga of
this chapter is more than plain Samkhya which is revalued
here. The term purusha (spirit) is purposely employed here
as implying the purusha (spirit) of Samkhya philosophy,
unitively equated to a wise man.


vasamsi jirnani yatha vihaya
navani grihnati naro 'parani
tatha sarirani vihaya jirnany
anyani samyati navani dehi

As a man casting off his worn-out garments assumes others
that are new - likewise casting off bodies that are worn-out,
the embodied one takes to others that are new.


Here we have a rather picturesque description, often
quoted in support of reincarnation. The over-simplicity of
the picture is excusable only because of the necessity for
rhapsodic singing as the Gita is primarily meant to be. On
closer examination we find that the popular view of
reincarnation is not directly supported here - although
semblance of such support may be found elsewhere and to
which we shall come in due course. It is not spirit actively
entering into matter; it is rather matter being put aside as it
clings on to spirit by force of necessity again and again. If
we note the complementary aspect of this theory of
supposed reincarnation in xv, 8, we find it is not any
individual soul but Ishvara (the Deity) that reincarnates.
Between the two-faced implications of these two verses (ii,
22 and xv, 8) the case for a veritable theory of
reincarnation, spoken of usually as a doctrine of Hinduism,
has only a very dubious support in the Gita. There are other
verses which seem to suggest and support the usual theory
of reincarnation as popularly held, such as IV, 5, where
Krishna refers to his many past births. Arjuna does not
remember his many births but Krishna does. The
implications of such a difference


between Arjuna and Krishna are many. In fact the Gita,
which speaks of an everlasting soul so graphically in this
Verse, ii, 22, seems to contradict itself very definitely in ii,
27, where it says just the converse of the proposition,
namely, "a person who is born is sure to die" etc. Between
everlasting life and an intermittent existence there are
different theories of reincarnation which have all to be
studied individually and fitted into a general scheme to give
a true and sufficiently respectable picture of reincarnation as
it is to be understood in the proper sense of brahmavidya
(the science of the Absolute). Puerile theories must be
abandoned so that we may treat this matter with the respect
it deserves. To state the theory of reincarnation in very
simple terms, as when a person speaks of a crow as his
grandfather, would be to detract from the theory as a very
legitimate way of explaining inequality among created
beings. Childish theories of reincarnation, much in vogue,
are repugnant to the Gita. We do not deny, however, that a
pure picture of how matter and spirit get inter-related, more
or less as implied in the "Enneads" of Plotinus, is still


nai 'nam chhindanti sastrani
nai 'nam dahati pavakah
na chai 'nam kledayanty apo
na soshayati marutah

Weapons do not cut This, fire does not burn This and water
does not wet This; wind does not dry This:


achchhedyo 'yam adahyo yam
akledyo 'soshya eva cha
nityah sarvagatah
sthanur achalo 'yam sanatanaha

Indeed It is uncleavable; It is non-inflammable; It is
unwettable and non-dryable also; everlasting, all-
pervading, stable, immobile; It is eternal.


avyakto 'yam achintyo 'yam
avikaryo 'yam uchyate
tasmad evam viditvai 'nam
na 'nusochitum arhasi

Undefined is It, unthinkable is It, as non-subject to
change is It spoken of - therefore, knowing It as
such, there is no reason for you to feel sorry for It.


Lest any materialistic or dualistic notion should still
persist in regard to the Self as envisaged here, these verses
are meant to give to it a purer status in keeping with the
unitive Self as the Absolute.

The self transcends materiality or the elements (Verse 23),
becomes eternal (Verse 24), and even beyond thought (Verse
25) - attaining the reality of pure absolutism as in the
Upanishads such as the Mandukya (Verse 7) where the Self
is equated with the chaturtha or turiya (the fourth) state. A
dialectical revaluation of Samkhya duality can be seen to run
through these verses that bring immanent and transcendent

With Verse 25 the attention of Krishna begins to be given
to the immediate problem of Arjuna's grief, which
Krishna wants to counteract. The apparent change of
subject and style of argument in the verses that
follow, dropping down from the sublime to the
ordinary, is quite consistent with the uniform style
adopted in the Gita of referring to contingent and
necessary, transcendent and immanent aspects of
reality side by side. The key to understand the unity
of Krishna's reasoning from Verse 25 onwards, up to
Verse 38 (which forms one natural section) is the
phrase "there is no reason for you to feel regret"
which is many times repeated. The Samkhya style of
reasoning finds its natural counterpart in down-to-
earth commonsense which is therefore not out of
place here when Krishna has to deal with the
actualities of the situation.


atha chai 'nam nityajatam
nityam va manyase mritam
tathi 'pi tvam mahabaho
nai 'nam sochitum arhasi

Or again if you should hold This to be constantly
ever-born or as constantly ever-dying, even then 0
Mighty-Armed (Arjuna) you have no reason to
regret it.


Here there is a climbing down by way of concession to
Arjuna's possible incapacity to understand the argument in
all its absolutist implications. Krishna adopts an Alternative


next-best line of argument which, however, still conforms
to the methodology proper to Yoga, though conceding more
to the dualism of Samkhya. Though doctrinally accepting
Samkhya duality for the sake of argument, the method
employed conforms to the strict requirements of yogic
dialectics. Herein consists the dialectical revaluation of the
Gita to which we have referred. Note that the principle of
continuity is maintained by the use of the word nitya
(eternal) with the Self. Birth and death are treated as twin
aspects that naturally neutralize themselves in the context of
the eternal. Arjuna is just left unaffected by both equally.

Note the reversion to the second person as against the third
person employed in Verse 17. This is because in Verse 17 a
model rational contemplative was under reference, while in
Verse 26 here it is Arjuna as a historical personage who is


jatasya hi dhruvo mrityur
dhruvam janma mrtasya
tasmad apariharye 'rthe
na tvam sochitum arhasi

In respect of anyone born, death is certain, and certain
is birth likewise for anyone dead; therefore regarding
something inevitable, you have no reason to feel any regret.


That the same double-sided method of reasoning is valid
even in the domain of sheer necessity, is brought out in
this verse. Death and life are the two counterparts here
which, when unitively understood, should leave Arjuna in
the same position as a contemplative.

But, textually examined this verse seems to contradict
all that has been stated in Verses 20 ff earlier,
regarding the eternal nature of the Self. However,
considering the supposition on which the arguments here
are advanced, this contradiction is only apparent and
should be treated together with the previous verse where
there is a saving phrase atha cha (now also, if). The
difference between the Self of Verse 20 and that implied
here is not unlike the two theories of relativity (general and
particular) employed by modern writers. This particular
reference is meant to be fitted without contradiction into
the general theory developed earlier. In both cases it is the
methodology of Yoga that is the common factor.



avyaktadini bhutani
vyaktamadhyani bharata
avyaktanidhanany eva
tatra ka paridevana

Beings have an unmanifested origin and manifested middle
states, 0 Bharata (Arjuna), and again unmanifested
terminations. Where is room for plaint herein?


A slight deflection from the pure position of ajatavada
(doctrine of non-creation) is again, for purposes of
argument, admitted here. Manifestation, or the middle stage
referred to here, lends tentative reality to what is otherwise
treated as mere appearance and maya in Vedanta. This is a
concession made to reason as employed by all intelligent
man, which is in keeping with the spirit and scope of this
chapter. The vyakta (manifest) of the Samkhya philosophy
proper is not so symmetrically bounded on either side by
the avyakta (unmanifest) as herein postulated. The head
and tail ends of the Samkhya scheme of reality are
represented by purusha (pure spirit) and mulaprakriti (root-
nature, which is synonymous with avyakta, the unmanifest)
respectively. In the event of death or dissolution the three
stages of beginning, middle and end, merge without
differentiation into the new notion of the avyakta
(unmanifest) in the unitive Absolute envisaged here, which
is a numinous factor whose wonder is referred to in the
next verse.


ascharyavat pasyati kaschid enam
ascharyavad vadati tathai'va cha 'nya
ascharyavach chai 'nam anyah srinoti
srutva 'py enam veda na chai 'va kaschit

A certain person sees This as a wonder, likewise another
speaks about This as a wonder. Another hears of It even as a
wonder, but even hearing no one understands This at all.


Here the Gita rises once more to the sublimity of a
mystical song, before descending soon after to the
commonplace, like the flute of a Krishna producing
different notes in succession, but having always the lulling
effect of the same music


Krishna himself is called Yoga-Isvara (Lord of Yoga) at
the end of the whole work.

"Sees", "speaks" and "hears" are three ways of
appraising the Absolute - and yet, in spite of each, the
Absolute remains a wonder eluding the seeker and not to be
understood in any fixed or static manner as a thing, entity
or intellectual concept. It appears a rather sweeping
statement to say that "nobody understands", but when we
remember that the highest understanding of the Advaita
(non-dualistic doctrine) abolished the duality of subject and
object altogether, this statement is perfectly in keeping with
the final position of Vedanta.


dehi nityam avadhyo yam
dehe sarvasya bharata
tasmat sarvani bhutani
na tvam sochitum arhasi

This embodied One within the bodies of all is ever
immune to killing, 0 Bharata (Arjuna). Therefore
in respect of any being you have no reason for regretting.


This verse serves as a punctuation for the section that it
brings to a close. The next section extends to Verse 39.
The reference to sarvani bhutani (all beings) lifts the
discussion one degree higher than the purely human and
historical context. Life values are referred to in the most
general terms. Regret in any relativist sense is ruled out
finally whether it applies to individual life or even life in


svadharmam api cha 'vekshya
na vikampitum arhasi
dharmyad dhi yuddhach chhreyo 'nyat
kshatriyasa na vidyate

Further having regard also for the pattern of
behaviour natural to you (svadharma) there is no
reason for vacillation, for there could be nothing
more meritorious than a war that is right for a true
fighter (kshatriya).


Matters relating to the personal life of Arjuna are dealt
with by his friend Krishna by way of consoling him. Even


new section bears a direct relation to the rest of the
theoretical discussion of this chapter, inasmuch as the values
implied, whether spiritual, ethical or merely those of
personal honour, are all directly derivable from the main
doctrine of the Absolute.

Honour, the loss of which is equated to death in verse 34,
taken in its usual light outside the context of absolutism,
would seem to lend support to such absurdities as when a
student commits suicide when he fails in an examination.
Honour as a value in the absolutist context is equal to
dishonour seen in the same context, and these are meant to
cancel each other out, leaving the contemplative again on
the neutral ground which belongs to the Absolute. When
honour is equated thus with dishonour and dishonour with
death as in Verse 34 below, there is no violation of the
principles of an absolutist way of life that the Gita
consistently upholds.

The much talked-about doctrine of svadharma (conduct
proper to oneself), which is considered by many as one of the
principal doctrinal contributions of the Gita, is referred to for
the first time here. Favourite sociological doctrines of
religious-minded people have seemingly derived support
from this idea. Reserving a fuller discussion of svadharma in
relation to what is called varnashramadharma (familiarly
known as the caste system) when we come to the latter in iv,
13, ix, 32 and xviii, 41, ff. of the Gita, for our present
purposes it is sufficient for us to say that the reference here is
to the position of Arjuna, consistent with his past upbringing
and present position as an actual fighter on the side of the
Pandavas. Svadharma as a general doctrine is to be
distinguished from its particular application to Arjuna in the
given situation. As a general principle it is not far different
from what is known in the "Nichomachean Ethics" of Aristotle
where specificity itself is the basis of virtue. If a tree bears
fruit that is proper to its species it is fulfilling its svadharma,
or unfolding its innate character. The virtue of a good cow
may be said to be the quality and quantity of its milk.
Similarly saltiness is proper to salt. Man's humanity
distinguishes the human kind and conforming to human
nature is the basis of virtue or svadharma for man. Socrates,
as an Athenian, was fulfilling his svadharma when he took up
arms for his city. MacArthur when he bombed Koreans was
fulfilling his svadharma in his own particular context. If he
had refused he would have been just replaced.


Here the svadharma of an Arjuna who is referred to as a
kshatriya (warrior) is a parallel case. When we see that
Drona is a brahmin-archer whose svadharma is not in the
battlefield, and even Bhishma is primarily a patriarch rather
than a combatant, the reference to kshatriya conduct here
has to be taken with the latitude that we see is being
permitted for the situation.

It is not to a watertight class called kshatriyas that
reference is made here, but to a warrior type of personality
to which. Arjuna as an individual happens to conform.
Moreover Arjuna is not within the Aryan fold, strictly
speaking. He was related to the dark-skinned
Krishna who was a king of the Vrishnis, some forgotten
and probably heterodox section found south of the
Vindhya mountains. There is no indication elsewhere of the
Aryan origin of the Pandavas ethnologically. The kshatriya-
hood here referred to must therefore pertain merely to a
psycho-physical type and not to a caste, as people easily
tend to understand it.

We have also the glaring case of Krishna himself, who is
not in his svadharma (conduct proper to oneself) as a
charioteer. He is a Guru, a teacher of philosophy who
follows another vocation, not his own, for the time being.
A man is true to his svadharma when he does not
willfully and abruptly break away from his own previous
nature and nurture. Such breaking away in the case of
Arjuna would be if he suddenly desired to become a
mendicant or a samnyasin (renouncer) as hinted at by

Api cha (also and) occurs again here. This indicates that
the argument is something extra added on to the main
argument, which does not concern itself with svadharma at
all. Such reference is therefore incidental, being merely
meant to console Arjuna.

The word vikampitum, usually interpreted "to tremble", may
be taken to mean more simply "not to swerve" from the path
chalked out for Arjuna by natural circumstances,.
Note in the second line that the svadharma of Arjuna as a
kshatriya has to tally with the legitimate or righteous
character of the war he is asked to wage, if it is to be
conducive to spiritual progress.

Shreyas (better): any warfare is not to be waged by a
kshatriya to promote spiritual progress. Conversely, even a
righteous war has to be waged only by a genuine kshatriya
to produce right results. The reciprocal factors thus
coinciding correctly


would alone produce a desirable spiritual effect. This is
almost like Cartesian occasionalism in view of the thin
probability involved here. The chance element
(yadrichchhaya) mentioned in the next verse refers to this
very condition. To derive mechanically the dictum that if a
kshatriya should simply fight he would gain merit is an
absurd notion, although very commonly held.


yadrichchhaya cho'papannam
svargadvaram apavritam
sukhinah kshatriyah partha
labhante yuddham idrisam

True warriors (kshatriyas) have reason to be
happy too) 0 Partha (Arjuna) to have the chance of
such a war presenting itself unsought before them
as an open door to heaven.


The idea here is complementary to that of the previous
verse. The door of heaven opens before the warrior who is a
true kshatriya without any exertion or active seeking on his
part. This only underlines the element of occasionalism
which alone favours spiritual progress.

In the actual war that we know in this case in which
Arjuna is involved, there is no absolutely clear line of
righteousness discernible. In fact it is not even a true "war".
It is worse than even a civil war, being a family feud. To
speak of righteous warfare here could have but one
meaning, that it is a war where absolutist spiritual values
are involved. We may suppose that it is righteous because
Arjuna and Krishna are interested in absolutism, while
Drona and Bhishma, who are the best of the Kurus,
represent only one form or another of relativist spirituality.
This is what makes this particular warfare so rare and
happy according to Krishna in this verse. Arjuna does not
go to heaven though there is reference to the gate of heaven
open or him. He was not admitted into a relativistic heaven,
though Duryodhana was, as we read at the end of the
Mahabharata story. Arjuna must have attained to
something higher, in keeping with the value he represented
in the war.


atha chet tvam imam dharmyam
samgramam na karishyasi
tatah svadharmam kirtim cha
hitad papam avapyasi

If, on the other hand, you will not take to this
battle which conforms to the requirements of
righteousness, then thwarting what is consistent
with your own nature and your good repute you
will become involved in evil.


There is reference on the part of Krishna to papa (sin). This
was exactly what Arjuna feared (i, 45) and for which he
was decried by Krishna.

Now what exact connotation should be given to this word
sin? This question becomes more difficult to answer when
we see that later on the teaching of the Gita is for
transcending both sin and virtue, both bad and good, as we
find even as early as Verse 50 in this same chapter.
The sin referred to here must therefore be to the form of
regret or negative state of diffidence from which Arjuna
himself suffered a moment ago. It is clear at least that sin here
does not allude to any cardinal aspect of the Gita teaching.
Disqualification for full moksha (liberation) and lapsing into
samsara (relativistic life) are referred to often as the worst
disaster, rather than sin, which is a vague term used by
religious people only. Krishna uses Arjuna's expression as
Arjuna himself might use it, for the sake of clarity.
The nature of the sin is suggested in that Arjuna would
contradict his own nature and spoil his reputation, thus
lapsing into regret which describes the state of mind of a

The word dharmyam (what accords with one's true nature)
is again stressed for reasons already indicated. In other
words the war must be willed by God if it is to be fought so
as to be free from sin. Omission of such a war is the sin here
as it defeats the will of God, to put it in the usual language
of Christian theology. In this rare case, not killing becomes
sin, rather than killing, which latter all religions hold to be
sinful. It is a special kind of sin of omission and not of
commission. The religious notion of sin is not refuted here.
It remains intact in its own proper context (x, 5). It is not the
subject of discussion here at all. The "kill not" of the
Jewish commandments, of Christianity and Buddhism, do
not suffer therefore by any teaching of the Gita. Gandhian
ahimsa (non-hurting) belonging to Jainism would have


equally intact, if he had not sought support to explain it in
the light of an arbitrary understanding of the teaching of the
Gita. (e.g. "Thus the author of the Gita, by extending
meaning of words has taught us to imitate him. Let it be
granted that according to the letter of the Gita it is possible
to say that warfare is consistent with renunciation of fruit.
But after forty years' unremitting endeavour fully to enforce
the teaching of the Gita in my own life I have in all
humility, felt that perfect renunciation is impossible without
perfect observance of ahimsa in every shape and form."
(P. 130, "The Gita According to Gandhi" by Mahadev Desai,
Ahmedabad 1946).


akirtim cha 'pi bhutani
kathayishyanti te 'vyayam
sambhavitasya cha 'kirtir
maranad atirichyate

Living beings will also pronounce a never-ending verdict of
calumny on you, and to one used to honour, dishonour is
worse than death.


bhayad ranad uparatam
mamsyante tvam maharathah
yesham cha tvam bahumato
bhutva yasyasi laghavam

The great car-generals will look upon you as quitting the
battle from fear and having been honourably looked upon by
them you will be held in derision.


avachyavadams cha bahun
vadishyanti tava'hitah
nindantas tava samarthyam
tato duhkhataram nu kim

Those against you will speak of you in unspeakable terms,
scorning your ability; what pain could there be keener than


In these three verses there is reference to very commonplace
values not generally alluded to as religious or even
spiritual. In Verse 34, honour is the value involved.


How honour is precious to a warrior on the battlefield is
easily understandable and has already been touched upon in
the previous verse. The Samkhya philosophers were heterodox
rationalists who were not specially religious. In this chapter,
where such a school of Samkhya is under reference, the
personal values such as honour, ill-repute and shame, to
which Arjuna is likely to be exposed by backing out of the
battlefield at the eleventh hour, are just those legitimate
and normal values in whose name he could be appealed to.
It is true that in other chapters we find the Gita clearly
teaching a neutral indifference to reputation, shame or
public opinion (xii, 19; xiv, 24, 25 etc). The place given to
shame, reputation and honour in the three separate verses so
prominently here is to be understood as normal to a
complete enumeration of personal values that legitimately
belong to the rationalist realism of the Samkhya School.
Rationalism itself is a form of agnostic attitude where
"here and now" aspects of life are given a large place.
Further, the dishonour or disrepute mentioned in Verse 34
comes from the whole world of created beings, as implied
in the expression bhutani (creatures). Life itself,
philosophically understood in the context of rationalism, is
a constant going forward, a forward flowing flux or
becoming. The "sin" of Verse 33 implies, as we have said,
a regression or set-back in this forward flow of life. The
vital energy in all creatures may be said to make life
always play a forward game. Sulkiness, when one is in the
thick of a game or a battle, amounts to a deliberate act of
obstruction of the normal forward flow of events. Any
backing out of the situation in which Arjuna found himself
would amount to violence towards life itself, understood
in negative philosophical terms, as with the Samkhyas.
Negation has, therefore, no place in the scheme of values of
a rationalist as understood within the scope of this chapter.
As a real soldier on the battlefield Arjuna is here called
upon to recognize the need for safeguarding his own
personal reputation. Soon, however, the tone changes even
in this section of the chapter, as we see in Verse 38 below,
just before the chapter passes on to the orthodox pragmatic
form of Yoga after Verse 39.


hato va prapsyasi svargam
jitva va bhokshyase mahim
tasmad uttishtha kaunteya
yuddhaya kritanischayah

Dying you will attain heaven or winning you will have the
enjoyment of the earth. Therefore arise, 0 Kaunteya
(Arjuna), making up your mind to fight.


sukhadukhe same kritva
labhalabhau jayajayau
tato yuddhaya yujyasva
nai 'vam papam avapsyasi

Equalizing both pleasure and pain, both gain and loss,
both victory and defeat, enter wholly into battle. Thus
you will avoid sin.


These two verses are intended to round off the Samkhya
position as revalued in the Gita, before switching over to
buddhi-Yoga (dialectics of pure reason). The dialectical
method is again used. In Verse 37, note that the gain is
double. When Arjuna's reason was clouded by his
emotions, he tried to apply the same dialectical method in
xi, 5, where he imagined two disasters falling on himself.
Here the same dialectics properly applied result in gain
both here and hereafter. When applied to values that were
of earth we had a doubly negative conclusion. Here, heaven
is introduced and doubly positive values emerge.

In the light of the fact that Arjuna did not desire heaven
at all, nor even earthly joys, these words of Krishna should
be taken as giving an example of how to apply dialectical
reason correctly to a given situation and consciously to set
it off against the negative dialectics of Arjuna which is
based on wrong values. Krishna is just teaching him a
method and not asking him to desire heaven or worldly
gains. It would be inconsistent to think that Krishna would
teach Arjuna to desire a relativistic heaven, when Arjuna's
own position has been stated in ii, 8, quite emphatically, in a
manner more in keeping with the superior doctrine of the
Gita. For a Guru to be inferior in outlook to the disciple on
such a subject would be totally untenable even on the basis
of any adhikari-bheda (differences in the rights of persons
to claim higher knowledge) sometimes advanced.
Such an interpretation would be repugnant to the structure
of the Upanishads on which the Gita itself relies.
The verse terminates with the milder admonition to
"stand up" with a firm conviction, rather than "to fight"


by sheer necessity, as in ii, 18. The keenness of actual
necessity gives place to the need for an intellectual resolve.
It is the need for spiritual reorientation which emerges to
the forefront.

In Verse 38 an example is given where dialectics is
employed quite properly, rid of the dualism still adhering
to the Samkhya way of reasoning. The counterparts are
brought closer together. We find a central place given to
the avoidance of papa (sin) or evil, which obscured
Arjuna's mind much in i, 45. Everything is set and ready
for buddhi-yoga (the dialectics of pure reason) to be

The word same (equal) alludes to the chief prerequisite
of yoga, as stated in Verse 48 of this same chapter.


esha te 'bhihita samkhye
buddhir yoge tv imam srinu
buddhya yukto yaya partha
karmabandham prahasyasi

What has just been taught is reason according to Samkhya;
but hear now of the same according to Yoga, attaining to
the unity of which reasoning you will be able to throw
off the bondage of works.


That there are two sections in this chapter and that there
is a certain relation between them, we have already
mentioned. The line of demarcation between the two
sections is most explicitly mentioned here, beyond any
question of doubt. There is a buddhi or reasoning which has
been discussed so far. It conforms to the model or pattern of
the Samkhya philosophy; and there is another buddhi which
employs a method and follows a line of thought in keeping
with a more orthodox tradition. The last verse of this
chapter distinguishes the second way or state of thought by
the word brahmi (pertaining to the Absolute). The notion of
brahman (the Absolute) has its affiliations to the Vedas.
Hence it is that we have called the second way as conforming
to a more orthodox tradition.

It has been generally admitted on the part of scholars (e.g.,
Edgerton and Radhakrishnan) that the Samkhya here is not
the same as the Samkhya system known to us from Kapila's
time. The Yoga of the latter half of this chapter does not
conform either to the pattern of Patanjali's Yoga system.


In trying to bring out the unity of structure of the whole
chapter Radhakrishnan suggests there is an adaptation here
to "Gita theism "(P 1. the Bhagavad Gita, 1948).

In this chapter, at least, there is nothing which could be
taken to be even approaching theism. The word Ishvara or
Lord does not occur in this chapter. Elsewhere, however,
the word does occur. We should particularly note that in
xviii 61, Krishna does not refer to himself as an Ishvara, but
refer to an Ishvara in the third person, as if outside himself
- Krishna being the absolute and not a deity in the theistic
sense. Then, in iv, 6, Krishna, it is true, does refer to
himself as Ishvara, but here it is among other more or less
important roles that lordship is mentioned incidentally as
the word api (also) indicates. In xv, 8, Ishvara is used as
synonymous with the reincarnating Self and in xv, 17,
Ishvara is unmistakably identified once again with the
Absolute. The word Ishvara should not mislead us into any
idea of theism at all. Ishatva (lordliness) is one of the
siddhis (powers) of a yogi, according to Patanjali, and in
these last two references, Ishvara means human attributes
akin to leadership. Therefore, the meaning of Ishvara as
used in the Gita will be seen to range between the idea of
the Absolute and the mere attribute of a leader. The static
notion of a theistic god like Vishnu is repugnant to the spirit
in which the whole Gita has been conceived. Dr. Lacombe
points out: "Vishnu also, as in Vedic texts, passes from a
subordinate rank to a supreme rank. His identification with
Narayana and with Vasudeva took place at epic periods
posterior to the composition of the Gita" (translated, p. 26,
"L'Absolu Selon le Vedanta", Paris, 1937).

It is clear from xv, 19 that a theistic approach to reality
is ruled out altogether. Krishna represents there the
Purushottama (the Highest of the High) which concept is
different from that of an Ishvara or Lord, since
Purushottama stands for the pure Absolute. Krishna is
against himself being looked upon as having a human form,
as seen in ix, xi. Any semblance of support for the theism
referred to by Radhakrishnan must be derived, if at all, from
Chapter xii where, in Verse 5, the Gita recommends the path
of the manifested as being easier than the pursuit of the
unmanifested, but in the very same chapter amends are made
for this preference on the score of easiness only, by a
concluding verse specially intended for the purpose of
straightening any wrong impression on this matter. We shall


give this closer scrutiny in its proper place, but in the
expression dharmyamritam (righteous and everlasting value)
the value implied is far from suggesting any theism. If some
scholars still think that the Gita is a religious book
belonging to a particular form of theism, the only other
semblance of support, perhaps, is Chapter xi, where the
Vishvarupa Darshana (Vision of the Cosmic Form) is
wrongly treated as a theophany, or manifestation of God.
Many western critics, like Prof. R.Otto of Marburg, have
fallen into this error, which is not strange. But for Indians
like Radhakrishnan to make this mistake is perhaps too
much to leave unnoticed. Brahmavidya (the science of the
Absolute) should not be confused with mere religious
theism, and the distinction between the nature of the Vishva-
rupa (cosmic form) and a merely religious worship of
Vishnu should be patent to anyone who scrutinizes xi, 48.
Arjuna himself, not capable of being an absolutist in the full
sense intended in the Gita, pleads for a lesser vision in xi,
46, which perhaps might conform to theism, but Krishna did
not grant that prayer. Instead, he just revealed his ordinary
form as stated in xi, 50. He refused to reveal himself as any
theistic or conventional God of any religious group.
In the concluding part of the Gita (xviii, 66) the final point
to this view that the Gita has no religious message at all, is
found in the words sarvadharman parityajya (abandoning all
religious duties). The Gita is a philosophical work and treats
of Brahmavidya, which has nothing to do with theism or
religion as such.

The second half of Chapter ii has been characterized in ii,
72 as pertaining to brahmi sthitih (the state of the Absolute).
The unity of the two sections in this chapter can be under-
stood when we consider them (1) as Samkhya revalued in the
first half of the chapter and (2) the more rational tradition of
the orthodox schools of thought which prevailed prior to the
Gita, as also similarly revalued in the second half of the
chapter. What gives further unity and justifies the general
title of Samkhya-Yoga (Unitive Reasoning) as applied to
both the sections together, is that both represent revaluations
of rationalism (heterodox and orthodox) dialectically, i.e.,
according to a methodology particular to yoga, "as we shall
see from the definitions and instances of Yoga given in the
verses to follow. No doubt is left about Samkhya and Yoga
being the same, by v, 4-5, so that the title of this chapter
could cover both even in advance already and justify the


synthetic way of referring to the two aspects of this chapter
together as one "Samkhya-Yoga".

In this particular verse the terms "buddhi (reason)
according to Samkhya" and "buddhi (reason) according to
Yoga " are referred to. The latter is really none other than
buddhi-Yoga (dialectics of pure reason). Buddhi (reason) is a
human value capable of being discussed (I) under heterodox
rationalism known to the Samkhya school revalued as a
Yoga and (2) under orthodox Vedism to which rationalistic
norms could be applied to conform again to the requirements
of a Yoga. Verse ii, 39 demarcates the two sections inclusively
named Samkhya-Yoga as having to do with the Absolute.
Karmabandham (bondage of works) is an evil, one degree
milder than papa (sin) of the previous verse. The remedy for
this bondage suggested here is to be yoked to buddhi (pure
reason) - thus to be "yoked to buddhi "is an interchangeable
term with buddhi-yoga.

The demarcation line between the two sections becomes
very clear by the placing of the word tu (well, now then!).


ne 'ha 'bhikramanaso 'sti
pratyavayo na vidyate
svalpam apy asya dharmasya
trayate mahato bhayat

In such (a path) there is no forfeiture of any merit
nor is there involved any demerit by transgression.
Even a little of such a way of life saves one from great


This verse begins the section which is described at the
very end of this chapter by the words brahmi sthitih (the
state of spirit in accordance with the notion of the Absolute).
The word Brahman, we know already, has its origin in the
brahminical or Vedic context and thus refers back to the
orthodox schools of Vedism, as opposed to the heterodox
rationalist schools of the previous half of this chapter.
Naturally, therefore, this verse begins by contrasting the
merely orthodox Vedism with Brahmavidya (the science of
the Absolute) as intended in the Gita.

Relativistic Veda is here contrasted with absolutist
Vedanta. The progressive accumulation of merit, or
regression into demerit, are both irrelevant to spirituality as
it should be


understood in Vedanta. Although Vedanta has no dharma
so-called, or as absolutism is beyond all dharmas (which belong to the relativist world of action), here we find the reference to dharma is merely for purposes of contrast with relativist duties which are full of injunctions and obligations. It is usual in the same sense to speak sometimes of upanishadsudharmah (dharma as implied in the Upanishads). In the light of the final recommendation to abandon all dharmas (xviii, 66), the non-obligatory character of the dharma here becomes evident. Relativist dharma is open to two dangers which are referred to here.

After building up merit, a slight deflection from, or error of, obligatory conduct could jeopardize the whole progress made, at any stage, at any given moment, not only nullifying all merit, but prospectively and adversely affecting generations still unborn, in the family of the defaulter.

These two dangers are referred to in the terms
abhikramanasah (destruction of what is gradually built up)
and pratyavaya (negation of what should have accrued).
By contrast, absolutist wisdom is safe sailing, as we shall
see from the quotation below from the Mundaka
Upanishad. All Upanishads invariably begin their teaching
of absolutist wisdom by first referring to Vedic or relativist
wisdom often in seemingly laudatory terms, but soon to
damn it with faint praise, pointing out its dangers. This is a
favourite device in Sanskrit and is known as virodhabhasa.
The fear referred to here should also be understood in the
light of the danger in all relativist forms of spiritual
progression which belong to the Vedic context.
The words svalpam api (even a little) suggest those
biblical sayings which also refer to wisdom, such as "a little
leaven leaveneth the whole lump", "the still small voice",
and the pearl of great price,"etc.

The nature of the pratyavaya (negation of what should
have accrued) referred to becomes clear from the following
quotation from the Mundaka Upanishad (1, 2, 3):
"If one's Agnihotra (Vedic burnt offering) sacrifice is
not followed by the sacrifice of the new moon and of the
full moon, by the four-months sacrifice, by the harvest
sacrifice, if it is unattended by guests, or not offered at
all, or without the ceremony to all the gods, or not
according to rule, it destroys his seven worlds."


vyavasayatmika buddhir
eke 'ha kurunandana
bahusakha hy anantas cha

Here, 0 Prize of the Kurus (Arjuna), the well-founded
reasoning is unitive but many branched and endless are
the reasonings of them in whom reason is ill-founded.


The basic requirements for buddhi (reasoning) to
function in manner conducive to attain spiritual values is
here referred as being unitive or uniate. Unitive thinking
alone is the proper instrument of contemplation. It
follows certain vyavasthas or rules of arrangement which
properly belong to its method of achieving worthwhile
values in life treated as a whole. One has to desire
spiritual values wholeheartedly according to certain
attitudes proper to the context of wisdom. Such unitive
well-founded reasoning is here referred to as vasayatmika
buddhi (a reason well-founded and regulated and directed
to its object). Such a reasoning establishes a direct bi-
polar relationship with the object of its search. It does not
get lost in endless ramifications. Bi-polarity, once
established, is conducive to further reasoning along the
same lines, culminating in the highest good, in the Self.
This, we shall see, is the basic doctrine of the Gita. This
bi-polar method which consists of resolving duality
implicit in it at every stage is none other than the method
of Yoga, as employed throughout the Gita.
Dialectics, when understood properly in Western
philosophy, would come nearest to this method of Yoga.
In the Introduction and elsewhere, wherever the subject
arises, further clarification of dialectics will be found.


yam imam pushpitam vacham
pravadanty avipaschitah
vedavadaratah partha
na'nyad asti 'ti vadinah


kanatatmanah svargapara
janma karma phala
pradam kriya visesha bahulam
bhogaisvaryagatim prati



bhogaisvarya prasaktanam
vyavasayatmika buddhih
samadhau na vidhiyate

Such flowery speech as uttered by the foolish
adhering to the doctrine of the Veda negating any
other (transcendental) verity, the self of which is
nothing but desire-made, holding heaven for
highest goal, offering only birth as the result of
works abounding in many special observances
which aim at enjoyment and domination:
in the case of those whose minds are under the
sway of such teachings, who are attached to
enjoyment and domination, a well-founded reason
does not come under the sway of the peace of
contemplation (samadhi).


traigunya vishaya veda
nistraigunyo bhava 'rjuna
nirdvandvo nitya sattvastho
niryogakshema atmavan

The Veda treats of matters related to the three
gunas (modalities of nature); you should he free
from these three modalities 0 Arjuna; free from
(relative) pairs of opposites, established ever in
pure being, without any Yoga (discipline) or well-
being (as dual factors), but remain one (unitively)
Self-possessed (atmavan).


yavan artha udapane
sarvatah samplutodake
tavan sarveshu vedeshu
brahmanasya vijanatah

There would be as much use for all the Vedas to a
Brahmin of wisdom as there could be for a pool of
water when a full flood prevails all over.


These verses must be taken together. They unequivocally
continue a tirade against Vedism. The relativism of Vedic
spirituality is here condemned as being non-conducive to


turning of the mind to samadhi (final peace, emancipation,
the highest goal).

The method of reasoning that Vedic-minded people
employ is also here discredited in unmistakable terms. It is
usual however, on the part of apologists in the name of
Hindu orthodoxy to condone or take away the edge from
this forthright condemnation. Here, in Verse 46, the Vedas
are referred to as a useless old well. Condemnation of this
kind is further repeated elsewhere in the Gita. The tree that
the Veda-knower knows is to be ruthlessly cut down in xv,

Radhakrishnan, for example, as one such apologist, refers
to the Vedic ritualists as of this verse or "Vedic Aryans "
as he calls them, as "glorious children the youth of humanity
whose life was still fresh and sweet" - yet who "had
also the balanced wisdom of maturity." (The Bhagavad Gita,
p. 117). He does not say however, that they were mistaken
according to the Gita.

In their eagerness to save the Vedas in the name of orthodoxy,
such writers forget that to the extent that relativism
is connived at, the true cause of Vedanta, which is perhaps
a superior heritage for all mankind, suffers by such apologetics.
The rishis (seers or sages) stood for absolutist wisdom first and
foremost, while giving to relativist knowledge all possible credit
due to it. For anyone to try to out-do the rishis themselves in the
name of any Hindu apologetics whatsoever, with which certain
elements of patriotism and nationalism are also likely to be
mixed, would be indirectly a disservice to that very heritage
which Paul Deussen describes as "the fairest flower on the tree
of Indian wisdom."

In Verse 42 the word vedavadaratah (those attached to Vedic
reasoning) is often apologetically translated as referring only
to karma kanda (ritualistic section) of the Vedas, although it
plainly refers here to those who are attached to an argument
which is one-legged, or which is a form of reasoning that is
non-dialectical, and peculiar to the Vedas and not to the

That such a meaning as we give is intended is clear from
the next qualifying phrase in the same verse: na aniyad asti
iti vadinah (those who contend there is no second side to a
given argument). Vedantic thought conforms to a pattern of
reasoning which has two counterparts, which is exactly
what is known from early Greek times in the West as
dialectical reasoning.


That Yoga is essentially the same as dialectical reasoning
the succeeding verses will soon reveal.

In Verse 43 the word svargaparah (those for whom
heaven is the supreme value) would seem at first sight to
contradict what was just said in Verse 49 where the ritualists
are represented as thinking with undue emphasis on one
side of life. Svarga (heaven) brought in here might seem to
compensate for this one-sidedness, but in reality the heaven
of the ritualist is only a form of an "earthly paradise"
where the same pleasures that are understood on earth could
be prolonged. Indra, for example, is steeped in such
pleasures. Such a heaven, non-dialectically conceived, is
repugnant to the teaching of the Gita, although this does not
mean that higher human values properly understood are
excluded. This will be clear from iii, 11, where there is a
reference to a properly contemplative give and take
between man and gods as reciprocal counterparts of the
same situation as revised in Vedanta.

The phrase janma-karma-phala-pradam (yielding fruits of
action through births) can refer to superior or inferior
relativist values, but both the result and the action are
conceived as lying within the relativistic scheme. Further the
"fruit" here is a third factor incompatible with either ends or
means. Therein lies the absurdity of the Vedic way,
confusing the mind of the seeker because of the triangular
situation involved. Bi-polarity of interest, which is a pre-
requisite for yogic reasoning is thus violated. Hence the
ritualistic injunctions become endlessly complicated and
entangled. This is what is suggested in the next phrase: kriya
visesha bahulam (abounding in ritualistic speculations).

In Verse 44, the phrase tayi apahrita-chetasam (faculties
dominated by such factors), refers to what we have
distinguished above as the third intrusive interest,
lopsidedly conceived. For samadhi (final peace) to result, it
is essential that energies should not be dissipated in third
interests which fall outside the scope of spirituality, for
spiritual progress takes place only through a direct bi-polar

Of reasoning it is said here na vidhiyate (will not bend).
Reasoning will not bend or submit to progressive
sublimation in terms of higher and higher interests or values
to the extent that the bipolarity is interfered with.
In Verse 45 the relativistic character of the Vedas is further
elaborated. The highest point of perfection envisaged


to Vedic teaching is a brahmin of sattvic (pure) nature.
Arjuna is called upon to desire something better still, which
is to be got only by a thorough-going Absolutist.
The categoric nature of the injunction to Arjuna to discard
altogether the relativist standpoint is made quite
clear in the phrase nistraigunyo bhava'rjuna (transcend the
three modalities of nature, Arjuna). J ust as crabbed age and
youth cannot live together, so with relativism and
absolutism. To think that karma (action) and jnana
(wisdom) are recommended together here as some lukewarm
apologists tend to think is exactly what Sankara calls the
error of jnana-karma-samuchchhaya (commingling of
wisdom and work) against which he has fought many a
battle in various parts of his bhashyas commentaries).
The revised attitude proper to the outlook of Vedanta is
summed up in the second line of the same verse:
nirdvandvah (not based on pairs of opposites, e.g., pleasure
and pain), nityasattvastho (established in timeless or pure
being). It is true that the word sattva (referring to pure
being) is common to Vedic and Vedantic ways of life, but
the prefix nitya (timeless) lifts it out of the framework of
relativism altogether. It does not refer to the social quality,
holiness or purity of a ritualistic brahmin, who is the highest
product of the Vedic way. To complete the meaning of what
these remarks mean, they should be read with reference to
the brahmin in Verse 46. Finally there is the phrase
niryogakshema (without caring for end, e,g., prosperity and
happiness here, as understood in the Vedic context). Further
implications of Yoga (something to be attained) and kshema
(prosperity) as used here have to be derived from Chapter iv,11
and the connective verses. The dualistic attitude as regards
ends and means is here condemned.

In Verse 46 the central value of the Vedas is compared to
drinking water. The intelligent brahmin values this in the
form of its full-flooded culmination as the Vedanta and has
left off drinking at the Vedic well. The non-intelligent
brahmin still persists in seeing value in what has been
discarded, and because of his relativistic, static or closed
form of spirituality, which the intelligent have long since
transcended, is here held up for ridicule. The absurdity of
Vedic orthodoxy for its own sake is condemned. The reductio
ad absurdum argument,

(1) For further discussion on ends and means see Chapter
XVIII in "The Word of the Guru" by P. Natarajan (Bangalore,


evidently implicit in this verse, is watered down
considerably in many translations, especially by those who
are religious-minded.

In the light of v, 18, we see further that the Gita attaches
no superiority even to a learned and humble brahmin in the
context of the wisdom of the Absolute (brahmavidya)
which is its main concern, although some credit seems to be
allowed for the spirituality of brahminhood in ix, 33 But on
closer examination of that verse, we find that it is only
simple human goodness and not any special holiness as
such that is given a passing recognition. The question is of
loving Vedanta more and the Veda only as much as it
deserves. It is not that we should love the Vedas less but
that we should love Vedanta more. The Gita represents a
full-blooded revaluation of the closed static spirituality of
the Vedas in dynamic and open terms, to use the terminology
of Bergson. No total discredit of the Vedas is intended here,
if it implies no denial of the absolutist way.


karmany eva 'dhikras te
ma phaleshu kadachana
ma karma phala hetur bhur
ma te sango 'stv akarmani

Your concern should be with action (as such) alone, not for
any benefits ever. Do not become benefit-motivated; be
not attached to inaction (either).


The idea of karma (action) is for the first time
theoretically considered here and continuing up to Verse
51, although it might be thought to belong more strictly
to the next chapter on Karma Yoga (Unitive Action), as
this is supposed to be a chapter on Samkhya. The
digression, however, is justified in the light of Verse 49
(p.158) where buddhi (reason) is given primacy again
over karma (action). Vedic ritualism implies so much of
karma that it becomes unavoidable to refer to it here,
particularly in this second half of Chapter ii. The attempt
is to revalue Vedism and bring it into line with a
rationalism compatible with Yoga. Thus understood, the
digression is normal.

This is a much-quoted and much-abused verse which has
been bandied about by pseudo-pandits who seem to support
the idea that a man who works should not think of any


results. If a man should cultivate a field and if, when the
corn is ripe, he himself should set fire to it to prove to his
neighbours that he does not care for "the fruit of action",
that would almost correspond to the sense in which many
such pandits seem to interpret the meaning of the verse. To
expect reasonable results from any action that a man might
do is but normal, hence purposely to minimize the
importance of results in the sense indicated in the above
example, would be absurd. Aurobindo Ghose denounces
what he calls the gospel of duty and renouncing the fruits of
action which, he says, has become almost a mahavakya
(great dictum) of the Gita, by popular usage (pp. 49-50,
"Essays on Gita", 1st Series, 1926). There is a way in which
nishkama-karma (motiveless action) is to be understood,
and an aspect of the theory has already been discussed (see
Verse 45 under niryogakshema). The subtle implications of
this doctrine will be better understood in the light of verses
xviii, 11 - 12.

The fruit (phala) of action referred to here must mean, not
results that are desirable in the proper context of wisdom,
but only third or extraneous "fruits "or ends in the context
where ends and means are treated dualistically. When an
artist paints for the joy of painting, ends and means
coincide; but in the case of a mercenary soldier, ends and
means do not coincide, since he is thinking of his payment
as a "fruit", and such an end is extraneous to the bi-polar
situation between victory and fighting which are the proper
ends and means; although to the degree that he treats his
remuneration as incidental, the duality may be minimised.
This is exactly what is being attempted to be explained here
by the phrase ma karma-phala-hetur bhur (be not benefit-

In the light of such an interpretation alone could the
concluding phrase, which is the converse of the proposition,
become fully relevant - ma te sangah asstu akarmani (do not
lapse into inactivity or indifference, i.e. owing to lack of
interest in the end to be attained). Between taking action too
seriously, as might seem to be suggested in the opening
phrase karmany eva adhikiras te, and not being indifferent to
it as suggested in the last phrase, a certain neutrality is to be
maintained. This neutrality, as we shall see, is directly
connected with the state of mind of a yogi.

The unitive or non-dual treatment of ends and means is the
subject matter of this verse, and is often interpreted as
encouraging a callous attitude towards life, when a man


merely says "I don't care for any good results". At best this
could be called a form of hoboism.

No reflection on the fitness of Arjuna to be the recipient of wisdom is implied here, as even Sankara's commentary would seem to suggest, qualified by his notions of varna (colour) as existing in the vyavaharika (actual) world in which he lived, Sankara seems to suggest the inferiority of Arjuna to a brahmin to receive instruction in Brahmavidya (science of the Absolute). If this attitude were justified we should have found Krishna refusing to teach Arjuna Brahmavidya altogether. The sentence here, however, is applicable equally to a brahmin or kshatriya; in fact it is more applicable to a brahmin as it is ritualism in the Vedic context that has just been discussed. Dualism in the Vedic karma (action) of a brahmin is as reprehensible as dualism brought into a kshatriya's normal vocation. Hence the imaginary words that Sankara puts in the mouth of Krishna as addressing Arjuna: "You are qualified for works alone, not for the path of knowledge," (in his comment on this verse) fail to hit the mark altogether. If Arjuna had been a sudra (worker), this reference by Sankara to caste rights would have been less absurd especially as heaven has been held out as a reward for Arjuna in ii, 32, and as Arjuna has been included among types who have divine qualities in xvi,5.

The word adhikarah is often translated as referring to
adhikara-bheda (rights of castes for activities, according to
law-makers). This is unwarranted in the light of what we
have said. It can just mean "concern". Here we have only
an admonition on the part of Krishna asking Arjuna to avoid
any consideration extraneous to the situation; or to avoid
allowing any outside or third factor to interfere with his
normal course of action. Too much detachment is equally
reprehended, not because of any caste rights involved, but
only in the name of Yoga, which is to be understood in the
light of the definition in the next verse.

The word eva (alone) of the first line is meant to point to
action for its own sake, as when we say "art for art's sake"
to underline its idealistic nature. It does not suggest the
binding nature of action in the case of a kshatriya, as often
too complacently believed.

We see, therefore, that to press into service here the
argument of the caste obligations of a kshatriya would be
rather artificial and incompatible with the normal treatment
of the


subject of a non-dual approach to ends and means in respect
of action, whether of a brahmin or of a kshatriya. This
becomes all the more evident because Sankara, when
explaining the meaning of "Do therefore fight, Arjuna" in
his comment on ii, 18, says: "Here the duty of fighting is not


yogasthah kuru karmani
sangam tyaktva dhanamjaya
siddhyasiddhyoh samo bhutva

Engage in activity, 0 Dhananjaya (Arjuna), taking your stand on
the unitive way (of Yoga) discarding attachments and capable of
regarding both attain­ment and non-attainment as the same: in
sameness consists the unitive way (Yoga).


Yoga here is for the first time given some precision of meaning,
though in a preliminary and general way only. It is further
defined in this chapter and, according to the requirements of
context, in other chapters also. The Yoga of the Gita does not
follow the conventional notions of Yoga as found in the "Yoga
Aphorisms" of Patanjali. This is clear from the over-all
definition in VI, 23 C ("disaffiliation from the context of
suffering"). Even the laboured steps, or stages of Yoga as
popularly understood are prominent by omission here.
We have both Samkhya and Yoga revalued in this chapter.
We should note further that nowhere is Yoga defined merely
as chitta-vritti-nirodha (inhibition of the fluctuations of
the mind) which is the well-known definition of Patanjali
in his "Yoga-Sutras". Patanjali's Yoga has postures (asanas)
and breath­ing exercises, which are hardly touched upon in the
Gita. We find a touch of Samkhya dualism in this sister school
of Yoga, as understood in the Shad-darshanas or Six Systems
of Indian philosophy. ­

Such a dual treatment is what is revised and revalued in the
Gita. Hence the stress on the word samatvam (equality).
The nature of equality intended here is indicated in the
verse itself. It is the same non-duality or ends and means
which we have already discussed. 

The true yogi is equally unconcerned about siddhyasiddha,
(attainments and non-attainments), spiritual or otherwise.
In other words both the propositions are equally foreign to


the neutralized yogi. Samadhi (final peace) is not a distant
goal to be reached by intermediate stages of attainment
(siddhi). But any given stage of a true yogi is a neutral state
where opposite tendencies are cancelled out. It is in this
sense that Yoga is to be understood here. Only such a notion
of Yoga would be in keeping with non-duality as understood
in Brahmavidya.

In this verse Arjuna is asked not to perform karma (action)
in the usual way, like any other ordinary person, but to act
with the neutral attitude of Yoga firmly established in him.


durena hy avaram karma
buddhi yogad dhanamjaya buddhau
saranam anvichchha
kripanah phala hetavah

Far inferior is (the way of) action to the unitive
way of reason, 0 Dhanamjaya (Arjuna); Resort to
reason for final refuge; pitiful are they who are


Buddhi yukto jahati 'ha
ubhe sukrita dushkrite
tasmad yogaya yujyasva
yogah karmasu kausalam

Affiliated to reason one leaves behind here both
meritorious and unmeritorious deeds. Therefore
affiliate yourself to the unitive way (of Yoga);
Yoga is reason in action.


These two verses together naturally follow up the
difference between mere action, and action as modified by
Yoga - which is a form of equalization of action with its
counterpart, which in this chapter is buddhi (reason). Karma
(action) could have other counterparts in other chapters. In
a ritualistic context karma (action) could have moksha (final
liberation) as its counterpart.

In Verse 49 the importance of buddhi (reason) in
rationalizing mere action is referred to. Rationalized action
is far superior, it says, to mere action.

Although pure reason is the central value of this chapter,
action, subjected to yogic revision, is also to be theoretically


distinguished before the proper discussion of Karma Yoga
(unitive action) can be dealt with normally in the next

A fresh definition of Yoga is, therefore, given in Verse 50 to
complement the first definition in Verse 48. The element of
reason that could counterbalance and neutralize mere action
is what makes for Yoga in the context of action. Hence the
revised definition of yogah karmasu kausalam (Yoga is the
application of non-mechanistic intuitive or even creative
understanding into the domain of mere action).

Therefore not only is mere action, whether ritualistic or
otherwise, far inferior to buddhi-yoga (unitive reasoning), as
stated in Verse 49, but also interior to action understood
creatively according to Verse 50.

The buddhi (reasoning) referred to in Verse 49 is one that
is pure, not admitting of third or extraneous factors such as
fruits of action, as we have already explained under Verse
47. The direct bi-polar relation between buddhi (pure
reason, contemplative understanding) here with its object,
should not be interfered with by other considerations, as
when one is end-motivated. The karpanya-dosha (evil due
to a negative state of spirit) of Arjuna in Verse 7 is due to
this interference of dualistic interests, which condition is
here exposed and discredited. The prevailing notion that the
Gita teaches "karma yoga" interpreted as "energism" by
such great scholars as Tilak, becomes untenable in the light
of the phrase buddhau saranam anvichchha (do thou take
refuge in pure reason) in Verse 49. This recommendation,
though particularly pertinent to this chapter, holds good
throughout, and references to action never have a
mandatory character, but are only to be seen in every case
to be merely of a permissive character, as has been
sufficiently recognized by Sankara. We have already noted
this in our comment on Verse 47.

No redundancy is implied in the words yogaya yujyasva
(unite yourself to a unitive outlook).

Pure Yoga is independent of particular values implied, and
can be spoken of as uniting with itself in an absolutist
sense. There is therefore no more vagueness than
when one says "nothing succeeds like success". All
that we can say by way of explanation is that pure
Yoga exists for its own sake. It is the cancelling-out of
all opposites into a neutral state of non-suffering or
global wisdom.

The reference in Verse 50 to merit and demerit is an
answer to Arjuna's concern about the "great sin" (mahat
papa) of war in i, 45.


It is also the intention here to cancel-out the merit
of a ritualistic heaven, in the same way as attainment
and non-attainment are to be abandoned (as in Verse 48).
The buddhi (reason) here being of an absolutist kind
transcends all relativistic values, whether positive or

Kausalam (often weakly or wrongly translated as "skill")
suggests an element of reason or even intuition rather than
mechanistic ability. Mere action gets purified or sublimated
by the rationalizing touch of wisdom.

The word ubhe (both) in Verse 50 is significant in yoga,
understood as the cancelling-out of ambivalent aspects.


karmajam buddhiyukta hi
phalam tyaktvamanishinah
janmabandha vinirmuktah
padam gachchhanty anamayam

By affiliation to unitive reason wise men,transcending
birth-bondage, renouncing benefit-interest, go onwards
to a state beyond all pain.


The rest of the chapter is a description of what is to be
understood as brahmi sthitih (the state of being established
in the Absolute) in contradistinction to absolutism in the
context of Samkhya as covered in the section concluding
with Verse 39.

The word Brahman (the Absolute) has its origin in the
Vedas and Samkhya has the same absolutism, but because of
its being a heterodox school of rationalism, the absolutism is
treated separately, in order to relate each expression to its
proper context. Naturally, therefore, in this second section
there is a drastic revision of Vedism, as we have already
noticed in Verses ii, 42-46.


yada te mohakalilam
buddhir vyatitarishyati tada
gantasi nirvedam
srotavyasya srutasya cha

When your reason has transcended the dross of vagueness,
then you attain to that neutral attitude both in respect
of what is to be learnt and what has already been heard.


srutivi pratipanna te
yada sthasyati nischala
samadhav achala buddhis
tada yogam avapsyasi

When disillusioned respecting the (contradictory
injunctions of the) scriptures (Vedas) your
reasoning stands steady in samadhi (supreme
peace) then you shall have reached Yoga (unitive

arjuna uvacha
sthitaprajnasya ka bhasha
samadhisthasya kesava
sthitadhih kim prabhasheta
kim asita vrajeta kim

Arjuna said:
What is the way of one whose reason is well-
founded; who is established in samadhi (supreme
peace) 0 Kesava (Krishna) ? Now does he
discourse, what his state of being, how does he
move about?


In these verses the same attack on the Vedas begun in
Verse 42 is continued. The Vedas are referred to as a
confusing entanglement in Verse 52 and, in Verse 53 Vedic
texts are referred to as having a distracting effect not
conducive to wisdom or Yoga. The relativist Vedas have to
be transcended and got rid of somehow before unitive
contemplation can establish itself.

This contemplation was what was enjoyed by the sages
(manishinah), as Verse 51 declares. The example of the
wise sages is held up. It is neither priests nor logicians who
are praised here. These latter can fall into opposite errors,
but the pure contemplative seer escapes duality and attains
to peace with himself

The word nirvedam in Verse 52 need not mean
"indifference" as often translated by apologists for the
Vedas, but can connote "freedom from the Vedas" as
scriptures of a particular religion. This will help us to see
the contrast all the better between relativism and

The word srotavyasya (to be heard hereafter) points to
the possibility of relativism in any future religions, in
addition to


the relativism found in the religion of the Hindu Vedas
which has already been heard.

That contemplation and Yoga are the same, as we have
taken them to be in Verse 51, is justified by the last line of
Verse 53. Serenity, steadiness and unitiveness are some of
the characteristics of contemplation indicated here. These
are to be further elaborated, prompted by a specific question
by Arjuna, which follows in the next verse.

Arjuna's question is intended by the author as a device to
make the discussion conform to the guru-sishya samvada
(teacher-disciple dialogue) pattern. The revised standpoint
of the Gita itself is to be taught in such replies to questions
by Krishna as Guru.

Many aspects of spirituality or ethics, previously alluded
to incidentally, find here a revalued statement which could
be considered a siddhanta (finalized doctrine), not covering
the whole subject but, in so far as the problems are relevant
to the chapter.

For purposes of clear visualization of the spiritual values
involved, such final teachings take the form of the personal
description of the man who is held up as a model according
to the spirituality understood in the Gita. He is sometimes
praised as being "dear" or "most dear" to the Absolute.
At other times he is said to "enter into" or "to abide in"
the Absolute. A typical yogi, the man who conforms to
absolutist ways in life, or one who has obtained the highest,
or is merely destined for the highest, are seen to be referred
to generally at the end of the various chapters of the Gita.
Here we come upon a sequence of verses extolling a
certain type of spirituality. Similar sets of verses describing
the yogi in other contexts will be found in iv, 18-24; v, 23-
28; vi, 27-32; xii, 13-20; xiii, 27-32; xxv, 22-26 and xviii,

Stability or being properly established in the path of the
Absolute is the central topic of the present group of verses,
as can be seen by the repetition of the word sthiti
(steadiness). The culminating Verse 70 gives us the spiritual
content that is intended in these verses to be described in
detail. There it is a mystical state - compared to an ocean
into which all river waters enter to fill, though in principle
only. All the component factors or necessary conditions that
contribute to this culminating state of the absolutist, not in
the context of Vedism or of any other religion, but in the
plain context of buddhi (pure reason), are referred to one
after another, in these succeeding verses.


Arjuna's question vrajeta kim (How does he - the
contemplative - walk?) merely shows his eagerness for a
precise answer, and the answer is as exact as could be
possible in a shastra (textbook) which the Gita claims to
be. It gives definitions and examples, and the reference to
the tortoise in Verse 58 makes the answer as graphic as it
could be, when trying to describe the type of introversion of
a contemplative.


sribhagavan uvacha
prajahati yada kaman
sarvan partha manogatan
atmany eva 'tmana tushtah
sthitaprajnas tado 'chyate

Krishna said:
When one banishes all desires that enter the mind, 0
Partha (Arjuna), satisfied in the Self by the Self
alone, then he is said to be one of well-founded


The first thing that happens to a man who begins to tread
The path of the contemplative consists in his disaffiliation
from the various desires with which he is attached to
different grades of relativistic values in everyday life. These
are collectively called kamah (desires). Such desires are
meant to include all those desires which are capable of
entering into or affecting the mind as the word manogatan
(going into the mind) indicates.

Desires can be said to enter the mind or be "afferent"
in character as opposed to "efferent" impulses which may
be said to go outwards to each object of desire.

Contemplation is primarily concerned with the former - those
that enter the mind. Hence their mention here. A man who
purposely or actively searches for objects of desire falls
outside the scope of contemplation altogether.

The word prajahati - often translated "throws away"
would be better translated "shedding" inasmuch as no
activity is implied therein. The analogy of a snake casting its
skin, familiar in the Upanishads, is the idea intended here.
The expression atmany eva'tmani tushtah (satisfied in
Self by Self) seems to be a tall order for a beginner in


but no contemplative worth the name could be considered
so if he was still attached to any value that was outside.
This condition is both the alpha and omega of
contemplative life. There are no shortcuts or made-easy
ways to wisdom.


duhkheshu anudvignamanah
sukheshu vigatasprihah
vita raga bhaya krodhah
sthitadhir munir uchyate

He whose mind is unaffected by mishaps, who on
happy occasions too evinces no interest, rising
above attachment, anxiety or anger, such a sage-
recluse is said to be of well-founded reason.


The steady neutrality of a contemplative is described now
in detail. Desire, fear and anger form, as it were, a kind of
triangle spelling evil as factors working against the
contemplative life. These are not to be understood as an
enumeration of social vices as often treated by public
exponents of the Gita. Vices in a social sense are surely
more than just three. This trio of evil comes into the
discussion in many parts of the Gita (e.g., iii, 37; xvi 21).
The trio are organically related to the subject inasmuch as
they make contemplation impossible of being even initiated.
The attempt here is merely to remove impediments to
contemplation and not to teach virtues. If this is not
understood then the error is often committed of looking on
the Gita as a dharma shastra (a code of conduct).
Pain and pleasure are the two components of desire. The
steady contemplative is unaffected by either - in other
words, both are equal to him. Good or bad cancel each
other out as twin factors of relative dualism. Reflexes of the
nervous system act in one plane and reflexive thought is
unaffected by them. Contemplation belongs to the order of
reflexive thought. It transcends the level of mere
automatisms, which depend upon such extraneous factors
as heat and cold, leading to pleasure or pain, as already
mentioned in ii, 14. More complex causes of pleasure or
pain which are still relativist, are referred to here. The
contemplative attains a neutral position. There is a touch of
heroism implied in such a picture of one properly
established in wisdom here. Such heroism is foreign to
types of persons who lack seriousness.



yah sarvatra 'nabhisnehas
tat-tat prapya subhasubham
na 'bhinandati na dveshti
tasya prajna pratishthita

He who remains in all cases unattached on gaining
such or such desirable-undesirable end, who
neither welcomes (anything) nor rejects in anger,
his reason is well-founded. 


Here the same detachment is brought out in terms of
events more generally conceived, as forming the successive
personal environments of an individual. The contemplative
should not be depressed when he does not have a nice time
in society, nor should he be exuberant in gay company. He
must be free from such fluctuating moods.
That a general disposition is intended here is indicated by
the word sarvatra (in every given situation).

The word anabhisnehah (without outgoing attachments)
purposely puts the stress on attachments reaching outwards,
rather than on normal interests that flow like rivers inwards
to produce that plenitude referred to in ii, 70.
The words subha (favourable or good) and asubha
(unfavourable) carry a wider range of meaning than just
pleasure or pain which were referred to earlier.
The words tat-tat (that-that) refer to each event being
treated disjunctly and not as each event should be treated; as
belonging to a continuous process proper to one who has a
contemplative attitude. The relation of anger, pleasure and
desire are again indicated. This vicious circle is completely
described in Verses 62 and 63 which follow.


yada samharate cha yam
kurmo 'ngani 'va sarvasah
indriyani 'ndriyarthebhyas
tasya prajna pratishthita

Again as when a tortoise retracts its limbs from all
sides the senses are (withdrawn) from objects of
sense-interest, his reason is well-founded.


The word sarvasah (from everything, from everywhere) is significant.
The word shows that not only the limbs of the


tortoise, but the head and tail as well are withdrawn. The
limbs are withdrawn from the sides and the head and tail,
likewise, vertically. Both actual and perceptual causes of
distraction are here equally covered and ruled out. That the
perceptual is also covered is clear from the opening word
of Verse 62, dhyayato (thinking intently, i.e., on the objects
of sense) and from the general statement in iii, 6 where one
who dwells even mentally on the objects of sense while
controlling his actions, is decried as a mithyacharah (a man
with wrong notions of living).

This verse draws attention also to the fact that mere
transcendence of duality in the sense indicated in the
previous verses is not all that is required for contemplation,
as the words cha ayam (also, this Self) indicate. A
wholesale introversion of all aspects of the spirit into a
central unitive core of being is here recommended. This
might be said to cover what is known as the item of
pratyahara (withdrawal), one of the steps to Yoga
mentioned by Patanjali. It might be permissible to say that
the picture of contemplation presented by the Gita has no
resemblance to the graded progression in Yoga envisaged
by Patanjali, the Yoga of Patanjaii being a sister system of
the Samkhya of Kapila, suffering from the same taint of a
dualistic approach to yoga, which the Gita revalues or
resolves in unitive terms.


vishaya vinivartante
niraharasya dehinah
rasavarjam raso 'py asya
param drishtva nivartate

Objective interests revert without the relish for
them on starving the embodied (of them).
Even the (residual) relish reverts on the One Beyond
being sighted.


It would be best for us to get the gist of this verse before
entering into the construction, which might read rather
involved, especially in the original Samskrit. If we should
think of sex - to take an example - this verse wants to say
that mere sex-starvation will not destroy all relish for sex
for ever. When, however, an interest higher than sex
prevails; then such relish is destroyed without the
possibility of sex asserting itself any more. Such a
dominant interest could be


nothing less than a full confrontation, in a strictly bi-polar
sense, of the Absolute Itself, as the summum bonum of life.
Then the return to the Self becomes complete. The rest is
clear from the translation.

Param, referring to the Absolute, may also be translated as
the Supreme,"or "the One Beyond "as here.

The word vishaya here covers sensuous interests generally,
and does not refer specially to objects of sense as is more

Dehi (body-dweller) corresponds both to the libido on the
one side and to the Self on the other, for the purposes of
this verse.

The word nivartate (turns back) comes from the same
root as nirvritti (withdrawal) and nirvana (emancipation
negatively conceived). All these are equally suggestive of
the nivrittimarga (path of negation) of the Vedanta (or the
via negativa of European mysticism), as Sankara has
explained in the preface to his commentary on the Gita.


yatato hy api kaunteya
purushasya vipaschitah
indriyani pramathini
haranti prasabham manah

Even with a man of wisdom, 0 Son of Kunti
(Arjuna), in spite of his effort, excited sense
interests (can) forcibly distract the mind.

tani sarvani samyamya
yukta asita matparah
vase hi yasye 'ndriyani
tasya prajnapratishthita

Restraining every one of them he should rest
unitively established, having Me for his Supreme
(ideal). He in whom sense-interests are subdued,
his reason is well-founded.


The converse case of a wise man who falls short of being
a contemplative as understood in the preceding verses, is
dealt with in Verse 60 here and in some of the following
verses, as a slight digression from the description of a
contemplative which otherwise continues almost to the end
of this chapter.


The difference between the vipaschitah (wise man) of
Verse 60 and the contemplative of Verse 61, consists in the
latter being matparah (having Me for Supreme Goal) - the
"Me" here standing for the Absolute of Verse 59. The subtle
contrast implicit in the two cases of Verses 60 and 62 is
referred to again in xv, 11. The man of discursive reasoning
cannot stand up against temptations, while the contemplative
who has established a bi-polar relationship with the Absolute
gains this stability. The maximum amount of mechanical or
ordinary reasoning does not avail without the bipolarity
implied in all dialectical reasoning.

The word pramathini means "excited" or suffering from
exaggeration of values to the extent of their being a menace
to calm reasoning itself. Values tend to be distorted and
magnified beyond proportion under conditions described in
the verses which follow.

The prasabham (by force) meant here can be further
visualized from the example of the gale-driven ship of Verse
67. It is a force contrary to contemplation and comes near to
the idea of concupiscence of Christian theology. Non-
theologically, it has a simpler meaning in the Gita. A living
being tends to be related to everyday values, which could be
so exaggerated as to endanger mere happiness, not to speak
of contemplative happiness.

In the expression in Verse 61, vase hi (under control
indeed) the force of "indeed "is to draw the contrast with
the case of a man as described in Verse 60. Here the senses
do not run away, but are on his side. This makes all the
difference which is further examined minutely in Verse 64.


dhyayato vishayan pumsah
sangas teshu 'pajayate
sangat samjayate kamah
kamat krodho 'bhijayate

Meditating on objects of sense-interest there is
born in man an attachment for them; from
attachment rises passion; in the face of passion
(frustrated) arises rage.

krodhad bhavati sammohah
sammohat smritivibhramah
smritibhramsad buddhinaso
buddhinasat pranasyati

From rage is produced distortion of values, and
from distortion of values memory-lapse, and from
memory-lapse comes loss of reason, and from loss
of reason he perishes.


These verses comprise the psychological analysis of a
situation in which a man, so to say, "perishes"
contemplatively, as stated at the end of Verse 63. This is to
be taken as a spiritual death only, as it is common
knowledge that mere indulgence in sensuality as we see in
nature, does not "kill ". Out of natural limits, however,
some sort of death may also be implied.

Attachments tend to be strengthened and magnified to the
extent that the mind cultivates sensuous propensities. At a
given moment the mind through one particular sense
attraction, or through a group of sense attractions,
establishes a bi-polar relation with an external object of
desire, as described in Verse 67. The relation then goes out
of hand, and the resulting exaggeration of value leads to
psychic disturbances like anger, when impediments to the
relation become interposed.

Anger adds to the emotional confusion, resulting in
sammohah (a delusion), which evil invades the memory
itself, and memory, or the duration-factor, being important
in contemplative functioning, contemplation itself thus
becomes impossible. Infatuation thus results in "spiritual
death". Buddhi (reason) here is not mere ratiocination, as in
Verse 60. It is rather the instrument of contemplation.
Death here may be compared to a kind of short-circuit,
going across the path of free contemplation.


raga dvesha viyuktais tu
vishayan indriyais charan
atmavasyair vidheyatma
prasadam adhigachchhati

But he whose Self is subdued, whose attachment
and aversion are both within the sway of the Self,
although his senses still move amidst sense-
interests, he wends towards a state of spiritual


The converse case of a man who becomes happy through
contemplation correctly applied to actual life is detailed
here and in the two succeeding verses.


A subtle point is to be noticed here. Objective interests,
when purified, begin to accord with or go with the
corresponding subjective factors of sensuousness, or the
"seats" of the different senses, called indriyas. This
purification, as indicated here, merely consists of the
cancelling-out of attraction and repulsion. The senses are
treated neutrally or unitively and the subjective counterparts
of the senses go hand in hand without conflict. A bipolarity
is again established, this time of a contemplative order. By
virtue of sensuality being atma-vasyair (under the control of
the Self) the Self itself as a whole is in effect brought into
submission; in other words, there is no remaining conflict
between aspects of the Self, subjective or objective. The
consciousness of this global unitive Self is conducive to the
peace or absence of conflict called prasada, often translated


prasade sarva duhkhanam
hanir asyo 'pajayate
prasanna chetaso hy asu
buddhih paryavatishthate

By spiritual clarity there takes place the effacement
for him of all sufferings; and for one whose spirit
has become lucid, very soon reason becomes properly founded.


How consciousness or spirit, when freed from emotional
disturbances, gets a poise or a steadiness favourable to
contemplation is stated here.


na'sti buddhir ayuktasya
na chi yuktasya bhavana
na cha 'bhavayatah santir
asantasya kutah sukham

For one unbalanced there can be no reason, nor is
there any creative intuition for the unbalanced, and
for one incapable of creative intuition there could
be no peace, and for the unpeaceful where could
there be happiness?


Normal contemplative thinking takes place when aspects
of the self are harmonized. Bhavana here means creative


the word being derived from the root bhav (to become).
Peace results only when intuition comes into operation,
along lines of creative becoming, which reconciles
opposing tendencies of the mind. Real happiness is the
result of a global sense of being where currents and
counter-currents are stilled in happiness, which can be said
to be the goal of contemplation.


indriyanam hi charatam
yan mano 'nuvidhiyate
tad asya harati prajnam
vayur navam iva'mbhasi

Still moving amid sense-interests that (item) to
which the mind submits, that very item draws
away the reasoning as the wind does a ship on the


This verse is to be contrasted with what is said in Verse 64
and is meant to recapitulate and sum up the position of a
man whose intelligence is carried away by sensuous values.
This happens very imperceptibly. The senses are in constant
motion like five birds moving on a branch which has five
fruits or berries. The mind, which is the more centralized
organ of thought behind the moving senses, suddenly finds
itself under the sway of some sense-interests in which one
or more of the birds above may be involved. Through this
frail affiliation a bipolarity becomes established which
brings the disaster indicated in this verse.


tasmadyasya mahabaho
nigrihitani sarvasah
tasya prajna pratishthita

Therefore, 0 Mighty-Armed (Arjuna), he whose
senses have been in every way withdrawn from
sense-interests, his reason is well-founded.


This is a warning against the calamity referred to in the
previous verse. No loopholes can be left in the matter of
keeping the senses from getting attached to sense objects.
The need for whole-heartedness in this matter is indicated by
the word sarvasah (in every way).


ya nisa sarvabhutanam
tasyam jagrati samyami
yasyam jagrati bhutani
si nisa pasyato muneh

What is night for all creatures; the one of self-
control keeps awake therein; wherein all creatures
are wakeful, that is night for the sage-recluse who

This verse has that peculiar construction found elsewhere
(e.g., xv, 18), stating the case as it were, in the form of an
impossible paradox. The Gita excels in this style and such
verses constitute supreme examples of dialectical reasoning.
The nearest in modern literature is found in Bergson's
writings, where he bases himself on Zeno's paradoxes. We
are still here in the chapter on Samkhya, where dualism is
taken for granted; hence paradox is but normal. In plain
language what it says is that the contemplative lives in a
world of his own which is the counterpart of the world in
which the rest of creation lives. There is an ambivalent
reciprocal relation between the two which is here brought
into close juxtaposition to be resolved more unitively in
global terms as in the next verse and elsewhere.


apuryamanam achala pratishtham
samudram apah pravisanti yadvat
tadvat kamayam pravisanti sarve
sa santim apnoti na kamakami

Still getting filled, while fixed firm in immobility,
the ocean remains; so too he into whom all interests enter,
he attains to peace, not the craver of desires.


The sublime rhapsody together with the vagueness of the
similes of this verse are best left without analysis The
ocean is not usually referred to as immovably established,
nor as being filled. Its plenitude and over-all changelessness
are here compared to state of mind of a yogi. He is not a
kamakami (desirer of desirable objects). All relativistic
values are small change compared to the gold coin of
absolutism which his plenitude represents. Such plenitude
brings peace.



vihaya kaminyah sarvan
pumams charatinihsprihah
nirmamo nirahamkarah
sa santim adhigachchhati

That man who, giving up all attachments, moves
about desirelessly without owning anything and
without egoism, he goes to peace.

esha brahmi sthitih partha
an 'nam prapya vimuhyati
sthtiva 'syam antakale 'pi
brahmanirvanam richchhati

This is the state of being in the Absolute
(Brahman) 0 Partha (Arjuna), on reaching which
one suffers from delusion no more. Established in
this at the very last moments of life, one reaches
that final state of pure being (nirvana) in the
Absolute (Brahman).


These concluding verses are meant to indicate the
culminating results of contemplative reasoning.
Besides raga-bhaya-krodha (passion, fear, anger) the trio
already referred to in Verse 56, there is the sense of "I"
and "mine" on which depends the relation with external
objects, from whose attraction or repulsion all the three
others arise. Compare the triple gate of hell mentioned in
xvi, 21. There the vices attain a further degree of
objectivity. Egotism is therefore the root cause and the first
enemy of contemplation, whether in this chapter or even in
Chapter xvi. It is at the base of the possessive relationship,
either personal, ideological or objective.

When reason functions without any trace of such egotism
then it may be said to function in a manner in keeping with
the Absolute. This is what is referred to as brahmi sthitih
(the state-of reasoning-in keeping or according with the

Such a reasoning in tune with the Absolute, if it could be
maintained unaffected, even when a man is faced with
death, qualifies him for brahmavidya (the science of the
Absolute) or to final or absolute emancipation or
withdrawal, here called brahmanirvana which is so
reminiscent of Buddhist nirvana. This is also in keeping
with the science of this rational chapter which gives
primacy to buddhi (pure reason) throughout.


ity srimad bhagavadgita supanishatsu
brahmavidyayam yogasastre
Samkhyayogo nama dvitiyo 'dhyayah

Thus ends in the Upanishads of the Songs of God,
in the Science of the Wisdom of the Absolute, in
the Dialogue between Sri Krishna and Arjuna, the
Second Chapter, entitled Unitive Reasoning.






This chapter deals with Karma-Yoga (unitive way of action).
Lest readers should treat the problem casually, without
knowing what the final doctrine of the Gita is, mixing up
the necessary character of action with the contingent
character of wisdom, to which confusion the reference to
karma (action) in the previous chapter might have
contributed, Arjuna here, in Verse 1, is made to put the
question in a very pointed manner, even going to the extent
of suggesting that Krishna was purposely trying to confuse
him regarding the relative superiority of action or wisdom.
samkhya (rationalism), yoga (unitive discipline) and
samnyasa (renunciation) are all brought into the discussion,
and each has to be understood in relation to the context.
Yoga is not implied in samkhya as ordinarily understood.
Nor is reason brought under a unitive method in Yoga
schools anterior to the Gita. Karma and Yoga go more
naturally together as they refer to actual discipline as in
Patanjali. But as we have seen, the Yoga of the Gita does
not confine itself to Patanjali Yoga merely. Both Samkhya
and Yoga (with reference to karma implied in each of them)
are revalued and restated by the Gita in this chapter.
Samnyasa (renunciation) and siddhis (attainments) are
introduced incidentally as products of one or the other of
these disciplines. But all such culminate unitively, as
indicated in the last verse of this chapter, in a man who is
able to restrain the Self by the Self, while letting the
necessary forces of life spend themselves out, taking them
as counterparts of life, like the inevitable smoke that
surrounds a lamp, as suggested in III, 38. What cannot be
cured must be endured. The necessary has to be permitted,
and whether permitted or not, acts like breathing have to
continue with everybody. The more fundamental the
actions are, the less is the choice left.


The main teaching here is not the omission of the necessary
or the inevitable, but the confronting of one's own necessities
or inclinations unitively.

It would be a capital error to think that, because of its title,
this chapter preaches any doctrine of action or "energism"(1) .
Such an error could only be due to the promiscuous mixing-
up by wishful thinking of the necessary and the contingent
aspects of action, which this very chapter intends to clarify.
Such a view would be no less absurd than if a man should
say that the Gita teaches a doctrine of healthy breathing, or
made breathing an obligatory law, instead of it teaching that
good breathing was necessary for living, as being just
healthy and natural. The Gita only permits action as a
necessary evil.

The distinction is delicate but of vital importance for the
right understanding of the doctrine of the Gita, if the Gita is
not to be misused by interested parties, whether dictators or


Arjuna uvacha
jyayasi chet karmanas te
mata buddhir janardana
tat kim karmani ghore
mam niyojayasi kesava

Arjuna said:
if' you are of the opinion, 0 Janardana (Krishna),
that reason is superior to action, why then in an
action that is ghastly do you enjoin me, 0 Kesava
(Krishna) ?

vyamisrene 'va vakyena
buddhim mohayasi 'va me
tad ekam vada nischitya
yena sryo 'ham apnuyam

By words that appear to be mixed up you seem to
confound my reasoning: Tell me after taking a
decision of that one (way) by which I may obtain


(1) We borrow this word from Bal Gangadhar Tilak's "Gita
Rahasya or Karma Yoga Sastra", trans. by B. S. Sukthankar,
1935, from which we extract the following: "In short it is
perfectly clear that the proper preaching in this place would
be Energism (pravritti) and that, as all other things are only
supporting Energism, that is as they are all auxiliary, the
purport of the Gita religion must also be to support
Energism; that is, to support Action." (Vol. 1, pp. 37-8).


Waging war is referred to as ghora (terrible, harsh,
ghastly). Life has its supple and tender aspects as well as
certain aspects which are like the horns or nails of a beast.
The horny aspects are extraneous to life. Warfare refers to
a zone of action in human life where the worst cruelty
becomes fair. This harshness applies to action generally,
perhaps in forms milder than in the case of war.

Competitive life in society is a kind of survival of the fittest
which leaves its trail of cruelty somewhere in the form of
poverty which constitutes the "scum" of any society
anywhere. The poor are the "have-nots" who could not do
better. All forms of karma (action), including religious
ritualism in the usual sense as belonging to the necessary
side of life, are condemned in the Gita, and especially in
this chapter, in Verses 38-39, where it is referred to as the
eternal enemy of the wise.

In the light of the above, it is almost ironical to note that
quite the contrary interpretation, that the Gita teaches the
obligatory duty of killing for a kshatriya (warrior), is


Even to say that the Gita enjoins the parallel practice of wisdom and action (jnana-karma-samuchchhaya) has been sufficiently and effectively refuted by Sankara in his Gita Bhashya.

If we could grasp the simple difference between
permissive and necessary action, though considered as evil,
on the one hand, and the absence of any obligation and the
contingent nature of a wisdom that is free, which could
have nothing mandatory about it, on the other hand, then
the subtle difference intended in this chapter and implicit
in many other chapters, between jnana (wisdom) and karma
(action), would be understood.

Krishna has no real answer to Arjuna's question, except
by underlining that war is an evil that can hardly be

The word sreyas (spiritually superior) indicates that
Arjuna is speaking more as an aspirant or disciple than as a
perplexed warrior.

In the Gita we should note as we proceed, at least till
Chapter ix. that the realistic devices employed in earlier
chapters are shed one after another. Even the enemy in this
chapter is


not an army of men, but merely one in the form of desire,
difficult to overcome without the positive attitude of a
fighter. (see iii, 43).

In Verse 2 Arjuna insists on one final opinion and not
many doctrines or solutions as even some learned people
think the Gita teaches. It has become a trite saying or a
fashion to say that a man can extract whatever teaching he
likes from it, as if this was a compliment to this work which
claims to be a sastra (an exact science) at the end of each
chapter. That would be like treating the scientific textbook
as if it were a book of omens to be used for purposes of
fortune-telling. Arjuna insists on precise teaching and even
seems to blame Krishna for vagueness, which justifies later
the reference to mistrust attributed there in turn to Arjuna in
ix, 1.


sribhagavan uvacha
loke 'smin dvividha nishta
pura prokta maya'nagha
jnanayogena samkhyanam
karmayogena yoginam

Krishna said:
There are two kinds of disciplines in this world as declared
in ancient times by me, 0 Sinless One (Arjuna) by the unitive
way of wisdom (jnana-yoga) of the samkhyas by the unitive way
of action (karma-yoga) of the yogis.


Much vain discussion has accumulated round the meaning
and the implications of this verse which speaks of jnana
(wisdom) and karma (action). Most commentators,
however, miss noticing one small point. It is not wisdom
and action that are contrasted here; it is Yoga giving primacy
to wisdom that is compared with Yoga giving primacy to
action. These two hoary and respectable traditions have
existed side by side, implicitly or explicitly, from the most
ancient times. Even the Upanishads refer to the samkhya
(e.g., Svetasvatara Upanishad, VI, 13), and Prof. Max
Muller rightly points out that Brihaspati, author of two of
the early Vedic hymns (X, 71-72) - belonged to a rationalistic
school that resembled the samkhya unmistakably, as its parent,
thus taking the whole tradition


of samkhya back to its remote antiquity (1). He also traces the
samkhya to its early formulation in the Tattva-samasa (2)
which is much anterior to even Kapila's Sutras. Ritualism
likewise can be said to be far older than Jaimini's Purva
Mimamsa Sutras.

When Krishna says maya (by Me) with reference to these
ancient schools of thought, what is meant is that such
tendencies are natural to man and must be viewed from the
standpoint of the Eternal or the Absolute, as belonging to
human nature as such.

The conscious yogic method or treatment employed in
the Gita is a revaluation of the two currents of samkhya and
Yoga that have existed side by side. Their distinctness tends
to blend one with the other in this chapter, until all
distinction is abolished in V, 4-5, both in a methodological
and doctrinal sense. The unitive way of Yoga is applied, not
only to each of the component parts of jnana (wisdom) and
karma (action), but also to both taken together. This is a
peculiarity of the method of treatment which we have
referred to already in Chapter xi. Samkhya and Yoga were
subjected to the same treatment there as jnana and karma
are treated in this chapter.

Krishna is not speaking as a historical personage but as a
representative of the timeless Absolute, and this point is
further clarified in the beginning of Chapter iv, 4-5. To treat
Krishna as a historical avatar (god-incarnation) of a certain
epoch, as many people do, is contrary to the spirit of the
Gita, as we shall see under iv, 7-8. This historical approach
has been the fecund cause of confusion in understanding
the Gita. To strain its symbolic implications is also another
error equally to be avoided.


na karmanam anarambhan
naishkarmyam purusho'snute
na cha samnyasanad eva
siddhim samadhigachchhati

By refraining from initiating activities a person does not come
to have (the attainment of) transcending action (naishkarmya)
nor can one by renunciation alone come to perfection.


(1)1 pp. 93 et seq. Vol. 1, "The Six Systems of Indian
Philosophy" by Max Muller (Susil Gupta, Calcutta, 1952).
(2) pp. 10-1 I and 28 et seq. Vol. iii, ibid.


Two concepts which seem new are suddenly sprung on the
reader here, namely, samnyasa (renunciation) and siddhi
(attainment). We are familiar with siddhis in the context of
Yoga and of samnyasa in the context of ritualistic works.
Naishkarmya (transcendence of works) is also familiar to us
as a siddhi (attainment) of a samnyasin (a renouncer). There
is a peculiar interlocking of ends and means in this verse,
whose heads and tails have to be disentangled before this
verse can make any clear meaning. Avoidance of works is
the end and renunciation the means in one pair here, while
attainments are the end and action the means in the other

Whether in the context of Yoga or samkhya, man wishes
to transcend the bondage of necessity, and the verse wants
to tell us that means distinct from the end or end from the
means, looked at dualistically, leads nowhere. Ends and
means have to be related organically or unitively through an
intuitive or living method or discipline. A certain dedication
to the Absolute is common to all disciplines, as the Gita will

Mere relinquishment of works could be from obstinacy
and mere shaven-headed samnyasa could be barren like the
fig-tree in the Bible, devoid of any human value. The word
asnute (enjoys) suggests that it is a human value which is
under reference here. The word siddhi (attainment) must
also be understood in the same way. Barren wisdom leads
nowhere. The subtle implications of this verse will become
clearer when we come to the same subject as discussed at
the beginning of Chapter xviii, 4-12.

Spiritual progress is not to be conceived in vacuo, or with
disparity as between ends and means.


na hi kaschit kshanam api
jatu tishthaty akarmakrit
karyate hy avasah karma
sarvah prakritijair gunaih

Not even for a single instant can one ever remain engaged
in no action at all. By virtue of modalities (gunas) born
from nature, all are made to engage in action helplessly.


Here the necessary character of action is referred to. It is
sufficiently clear and calls for no comment except to note


that the motive force of action is the natural propensity
(guna) of each type of person, as further elaborated in
chapter xviii under three modes.


karmendriyani samyamya
ya aste manasa smaran
indrayarthan vimudhatma
mithyacharah sa uchyate

He who sits controlling the organs of activity while
ruminating mentally over items of sensuous interest, such
a lost soul is said to be one of spurious conduct.

yas tv indriyani manasa
niyamya 'rabhate'rjuna
karmendriyaih karmaYogam
asaktah sa visishyate

He, on the other hand, who keeps the senses under control
by means of the mind, and then commences unitive activity
(karma-yoga) while still unattached, he excels.


These two verses are complementary. The urge of necessity
cannot be stifled. Giving such necessity its due place,
without trying to put the cart before the horse, is what
is recommended.

The mithyacharah, (one of unreal, spurious conduct), too
strongly translated "hypocrite", is here just anybody who
falls into the error of trying to abolish necessary activity.
Instead of doing this, one should attempt to give necessary
activity a new or spiritual orientation. The method of doing
this is indicated in Verse 7.

The mind, which is deeper-seated than the organs of
action, and where all action may be said to reside in a
potential form of flux before taking rigid shape, has to be
used as the instrument for controlling the sense organs first
and turning them inwards. Such a reorientation still leaves
room for and gives full scope to a new set of activities,
ranging from the instinctive to the most sublime form of
self-consciousness, till the Self rests on itself without
activity. This last is the state of a perfected contemplative.
The word arabhate (commences) indicates how a new set
of actions is initiated. Controlling the senses is not the
same as


suppressing all activity. Actions have to be sublimated in
the light of contemplation, and not repressed. The organs of
action have to be used in a revised manner in keeping with
the discipline of Yoga as understood in this chapter.
The word niyamya (having controlled) is to show clearly
that the inner brakes are applied first and not after the
momentum of action has been initiated. The flow of
impulses shows a reversal in its order, and not a stoppage
or suppression, as also indicated already in ii, 64 and ii,70.
The yogi is active inwardly, through bhavana (creative
intuition) as mentioned in ii, 66, and his introverted nature
is made further clear in ii. 69.


niyatam kuru karma tvam
karma jyayo hy akarmanah
sarirayatra 'pi cha te
na prasidhyed akarmanah

Do engage yourself in action that is necessary: activity is
indeed better than non-activity and even the bodily life
of yours would not progress satisfactorily through non-action.


Here the necessity and inevitability of action, even
physiologically understood, is further referred to. In the
first line, however, we should note that action is said to be
jyayah (superior) to inaction only, and not to wisdom,
which was its counterpart in Verse 3. To make the mistake
of thinking that inaction here refers to a wise man and that
the sense of the teaching of the Gita deprecates wisdom, is
a form of error into which many people fall. A progressive
scale of activities leading to wisdom is what is
recommended, instead of the mere vacuity of inaction.
The word niyatam (necessarily binding by its nature)
refers to actions where no option is possible, and not to any
elaborate ramifications of scriptural injunctions (as
understood in ii, 43) as so often wrongly supposed. Even
scriptural injunctions, to the extent that they are inevitable
however, are natural and to be performed, the fact of being
mentioned in the scriptures being itself no disqualification
to their being put into practice.

Even bodily metabolism depends on some kind of action.
It is in the most comprehensive sense that action is to be
understood here.


The student of the Gita should have a precise notion about
karma (action) as employed in Verses 9-17 here. These
verses bring the subject of karma (action) as understood in
the ritualistic context of the agnihotra (burnt offering) into
close scrutiny. Karma (action) primarily suggests to the
Indian mind ritualist action, whether worship of the ancestors
or the gods (devas). Worship of the ancestors, as it
constitutes now normally the purva-paksha (the side of the
anterior sceptic) of the Gita revaluation, was referred to
already by Arjuna the disciple and condemned indirectly as
being non-Aryan in ii, 2. Aryan ritualism proper is
concerned with the pleasing or propitiation of Indra and
other gods (devas) through burnt offerings. Although the
word karma covers all activity, the attention is focussed here
more particularly on sacrificial ritualism. This is but normal.
(Karma also refers to the question of how a man's past
actions affect his future or destiny. This "doctrine" of
karma or action refers to this relation between the past and
the future in individual life and the theory of reincarnation
comes in as a corollary of the doctrine of karma, all of
which should be differentiated and not confused with the
ritualistic karma referred to here).

Even while this section deals with ritualistic action, it
does so, it should be noted, side by side with, and in
contradistinction to, necessary and obligatory or even
biological aspects of karma (action). The subject of
nishkama-karma (dispassionate action) has already been
covered in the previous comments on samkhya, and it is not
raised here, as dispassionate action refers to the
individualistic treatment of ends and means, which is a
theoretical subject. In this chapter we face actuality more

Karma yoga (unitive action) is too easily looked upon by
many writers, wrongly, as being synonymous with the
doctrine of nishkama-karma (dispassionate action).
Moreover, items of social service or duty which have an
obligatory character fall outside the scope of karma yoga
(unitive action) as understood in this chapter. All ishta-
purta-karmah (action involving religious duty or pious acts,
from the studying of scriptures to the planting of trees, etc.)
also falls outside the scope of karma yoga (unitive action) as
properly understood in Vedanta.

The Gita being essentially a Vedantic text does not
primarily concern itself with social duties, even in the form
of service


to sections of the population. Action is taken in its most
comprehensive sense as binding the whole of humanity.
The Ashvattha tree (xv, 1-3) has shoots that spread upwards
and downwards in this human world, and is described as
having karmanubandhini (a binding consequence through
action). Necessary action binds the whole of humanity.
Free or contingent action should be distinguished first from
this general mass of human action taken as a whole. This is
what is attempted in Verse 9 here. Free action conforms to
the pattern to be known under the category of a yajna
(sacrifice) as indicated in Verse 10 here. There are other
possible varieties of action mentioned in iv, 16-18. The
karma yoga (unitive action) of this chapter consists of
treating necessary and contingent aspects of action in such
a manner as to eliminate any residue of sin or evil, so that
there is an equalization or harmony.

Pure, free or contingent action arises out of merely
necessary action in the form of worship which naturally
belongs to the context of ritualistic sacrifice in the Indian
mind, and hence the graded references to (1) Prajapati (the
Lord of Progeny) in Verse 10 here, and to (2) devas (gods)
in Verse 11, to (3) burnt sacrifice in Verse 13, to (4) Brahma
in Verse 15, to (5) the cosmological and psychological
wheel in Verse 16, all with a certain ascending order of
value or superiority, culminating in the reference to "the
Self content in the Self" in Verse 17.

These follow a graded sequence consistent with the
cosmology and epistemology of the Vedanta, ranging from
creation to Self-realization. This series of verses implies a
secret mystical doctrine which has been the fecund cause of
differences between Vedantins such as Sankara, Ramanuja
and Madhva, the duality between prajah (progeny) and
yajnah (sacrifice) being resolved in different ways by these
three great acharyas (teachers).

By giving primacy to the concept of the Self, in Verse 17
here the Gita in fact solves this question of duality by a
final appeal to psychology, although the discussion begins
cosmologically with an implicit duality which is inevitable.
Each acharya (teacher), according as he is more interested
in theology or religion than in Self-realization as such, is
left free to derive his own doctrine from whatever stage of
the discussion between the extremes indicated in this series
in Verses 9-17 - as may be most convenient for his purposes.
The concept of an Ishvara (Lord) who is still beyond
maya (relativist principle), or the concept of an Ishvara
subject to maya, or even an Ishvara who has nothing to do


relativism at all, could all be legitimately related
organically to the development of the subject matter of this
section, as has actually been done by Sankara, Ramanuja
and Madhva.


yajnarthat karmano 'nyatra
loko 'yam karma bandhanah
tadartham karma kaunteya
mukta sangah samachara

Outside of activity with a sacrificial purpose, this
world is bound by action. Even with such a purpose,
do engage in work, 0 Kaunteya (Arjuna), freed of all


There are two kinds of action to be distinguished in this
verse: first, that necessary or binding action with which the
whole world could be said to be bound; secondly, that kind
of action which is done with the motive of a sacrifice, the
sacrifice itself being a second interest or end and which,
taken together with the action itself, determines its

This second category comes nearest to the kind of action
which is done for its own sake, which is an end in itself, not
utilitarian at all, but rather to be idealistically understood.
As we have said already, the duality between ends and means
is here abolished. This latter kind of action is what is
recommended in the verses that follow, taking one yajnartha
(end of sacrifice) after another in a certain graded
order as indicated above. The sacrifice in the Gita is
unitively conceived with no duality between ends and means
as so finally formulated in the verse so often repeated
of iv. 24. In Verse 17 here, however, instead of the concept
of Brahman (the Absolute), the concept of Self serves the
same purpose.

The word muktasangah (abandoning attachment) does not mean
that one has no goal at all. Such an interpretation would
come into conflict with tadartham (for the sake of that).
One has to be attached to a goal pertaining to the
particular contemplative context in each case and discard
the extraneous or third factors which may be called
"horizontal"values that interfere with the "vertical"
bipolarity, unitively conceived as between ends and means.


sahayajnah prajah srishtva
puro'vacha prajapatih
anena prasavishyadhvam
esha vo 'stv ishta kamadhuk

In ancient times, having created the peoples with sacrifice
as pertaining to them (necessarily), Prajapati (the Lord of
the peoples) said: "By this shall you grow and multiply:
let this be to you the milch-cow of all desires."


Here the milk of ishta kamadhuk (the cow answering to
every desire) covers the whole range of possible human
values from the most ordinary to the highest. These values
result as a synthesis between the various yajnah or pure acts
or sacrifices performed by the prajah or people at large.
The presiding factor involved in the whole situation or
primordial pattern under reference here is the pati or Lord
of all prajah or peoples. Prajapati (Lord of the peoples) is
the Absolute understood in the context of human progeny
as such grows or multiplies like the sands of the seashore or
the stars of the sky. The verse wants to state the law of all
life as one to be conceived in a bi-polar fashion. Pure action
has its counterpart in its pure ends and progeny has its
counterpart in its pati (Lord). Prajah (peoples or progeny)
and pati (Lord) together constitute the Absolute Being who
may be said to ordain everything. Between yajna (the pure
or sacrificial act) and the praja or offspring, all possible
benefits accrue to man, by virtue of pure action as between
man and the Absolute.

Note that yajnah (sacrifices) do not refer to any single
form of ritualistic sacrifice, but to all pure acts properly
pertaining to individuals, whether in the Brahmanical or any
other religious context. Each man, according to his own
background, has his own pure act of sacrifice belonging to
his own natural background.


devan bhavayata 'nena
te deva bhavayantu vah
parasparam bhavayantah
sreyah param avapsyatha

With this do you gratify the gods (devas) and they the gods
gratify you; thus gratifying reciprocally you shall reach
to supreme merit.


The duality between prajah (peoples) and yajnah (sacrifices)
treated as counterparts in Verse 10, is further
clarified here, where the counterparts are devas (the
shining gods) and vah (you, plural). Prajapati is still
speaking, and the ambivalent bi-polar relationship stated as
between the counterparts, which are properly brought side
by side.

The supreme good results from the synthesis or interaction
between the gods and the peoples treated in the plural.
No blemish of polytheism, however, is here to be
understood; the two counterparts being meant merely to be
cancelled-out in terms of the resultant param (supreme)
good which is the Absolute unitive value. Brahman (the
Absolute) is primarily a value and not a monotheistic nor
even a monistic entity, as often understood by professors and
theologians of the Christian world who wish, generously
perhaps, to concede to pagan writers this respectable status
which, according to them, belongs only to civilized religions
or cultures, as they understand them. But Vedanta is meant
to be free from all doctrinal "isms" of any kind.

The word parasparam (each the other) is a remarkable
statement in its implications. Gods are as helpless as
men. There is the remarkable passage in the Brihadaranyaka
Upanishad (1, iv, 10):
"Verily, indeed, as many animals would be of service to a man,
even so each single person is of service to the gods. If even
one animal is taken away, it is not pleasant. What then, if
many? Therefore it is not pleasing to those (gods) that men
should know this (i.e., that "I am the Absolute")".

Or, as the Kural of the Tamils would put it, the gods would
perish if there was no rain, because there would be no food
with which to worship them. (Tiru-k-kural, 18).


ishtan bhogan hi vo deva
dasyante yajna bhavitah
tair dattan apradayai
'bhyo yo bhunkte stena eva sah

Those gods shall bestow on you all gratifications you desire:
one who eats what is given to them without giving in turn to
them, he is a thief indeed.


Prajapati is still speaking, and the multiplicity of gods
referred to in this verse are only incidental extra characters


brought in for purposes of discussion only. This verse
elaborates the same sentiment as the last verse but adds that
he is a "thief "who is one-sided in his conduct, not
recognizing the bipolarity implicit in the situation. He is
called aghayur (one who is sinful in his life) in iii,16.
When a man thinks of himself alone without a second
counterpart of any kind elsewhere, he resembles a lame
man hopping on one leg. One has to live for another, or for
others generally. When fortune smiles one has to balance it
with an equalizing generosity. Such is the simple lesson to
be derived from this verse. The question of gods being
pleased, etc., is of the nature of a literary flourish to the


yajna sishtasinah santo
muchyante sarva kilbishaih
bhunjate te tv agham papa
ye pachany atma karanat

The good man who eats of the remnants of a sacrifice is
absolved of all faults: they, however, eat of evil (itself)
the sinners who cook with themselves (alone) for motive.

Here, instead of the direct words of Prajapati, we have the
same subject continued in general terms. This verse accentuates
the evil of one-sidedness of the last verse. The recognition
of the principle of sacrifice is the corrective.

Sinners become santah (the good) by such recognition of
the second pole of human interest represented by sacrifice
here. The good man cooks for himself and at least for
another. What he enjoys as an individual is the remainder of
what has been unitively enjoyed by both the counterparts of
a sacrificial situation together, already. It is in this sense that
the word sishta (remainder) is to be understood. His
selfishness, if any, is to be satisfied with what is left over
from what has been offered to another, or the general good,
or God, or the Absolute.

Conversely, the verse goes on to say that one-sided enjoyment
or "eating" of sin itself, which means only something
that is not good - is to be understood as a kind of spiritual
poison, according to the subtle dialectics of the Gita. There
is an interplay of opposite values here which should not be
missed by the reader.


annad bhavanti bhutani
parjanyad annasambhavah
yajnad bhavati parjanyo
yajnah karma samudbhavah

Food is the cause of beings, and from rain food is produced;
sacrifice has its effect in rain and sacrifice has its origin
in action.


Sacrifice itself as understood in the last verse is a link in a
chain which has its own cyclic succession and which is kept
moving by an invisible wheel referred to in Verse 16. It is to
be expected that the modern mind would feel very unconvinced
by the picture of phenomenal and psychological factors that
freely enter here to maintain the cyclic succession of causes
and effects fancifully described in this verse.Sacrifice is
spoken of as a rain-making principle. Again sacrifice is
supposed to arise from action.

Thus rain becomes related to action indirectly. Except for
the link between sacrifice and rain, all else is fairly evident.
Sacrifice here is the central concept in the whole discussion
and if we rid the idea of sacrifice of all that is extraneous to
it, such as the gods on one side and the prajah (peoples) on
the other, and remove the scaffolding of a Prajapati who, as
we said, is used for literary requirements, what remains is a
numinous factor in the sense that sacrifice itself is the
principle of the Absolute. As such it is the medium of
occasionalism as understood in Cartesian philosophy.

Anything good that happens to man comes from the interaction
of opposing factors which together constitute what is
called the numinous. Sacrifice is thus a link between the here
and the hereafter. Our necessary actions in this world, when
they become ever purer motivated, reach to a value that is
beyond, when they are translated into terms of human benefit
and goodness, reaching down to us in the form of benefits
such as rainfall, on which we and all life thrive.

These two movements taken together result in a central
chance-value which represents Brahman (the Absolute) as
sacrifice. This will be clarified further in the next verse.



karma brahmodbhavam viddhi
brahma 'kshara samudbhavam
tasmat sarvagatam brahma
nityam yajne pratishthitam

Know that action arises from Brahma (god of creation) and
that Brahma traces his being to the Imperishable (akshara).
Therefore the all-pervasive Absolute (Brahman) is eternally
bound up with sacrifice.


This verse deals with action, not cosmologically, but
rather in terms of psychology. Action arises from Brahma,
(god of creation) who, as a god or demiurge, has his origin
in what is here called the Imperishable, which is another
word for what generally distinguishes para-Brahman (the
higher Absolute). The sarvagatam-Brahma (all-pervading
god of creation) here is neither positive nor negative and,
like the pure act of sacrifice, is to be regarded as
representing the Absolute in its neutrality.

This verse and Verse 14 have necessarily a certain amount
of vagueness which can only be clarified in the light of the
Upanishads such as the Chandogya and the Brihadaranyaka,
especially the latter, where ritualistic sacrifices are
revalued in terms of unitive wisdom. How the soul reaches
the moon and comes back through the sun's rays and, washed
by the rains, nourishes the herbs, thus making for fecundity
in man or woman, is a rather delicately-woven mystical
language into whose intricacies we cannot enter here.

All that we want to say by way of summing-up is that eternal
human values in the domain of necessary action are spoken
of as conditioning human life generally, and that these
values form an organically inter-related whole, whether
they are taken to be cosmological or psychological.
The word nityam (eternal) here suggests that there is a
nitya-sambandha (eternal relation) between the phenomenal
factors mentioned in Verse 14 and the numinous factors
mentioned here. The relation between rain and sacrifice is
not a causal one, but only implies that one is not without the
other in the context of action, which is the subject for
revaluation in this chapter.


evam pravartitam chakram
ni 'nuvartayati 'ha
yah aghayur indriyaramo
mogham partha sa jivati

He who fails to lead a life here under that does not conform
to the rotation of such a wheel, such a man of vicious life-time
lives, 0 Partha (Arjuna), in vain (indeed).


The Upanishadic way of life is what the Gita wants to uphold.
When ritualistic actions are subjected to the revalua­tion implied
in the Upanishads, life according to the Gita becomes worthwhile
once again, and not one-sided. Life has to be lived in tune with
the cosmology and psychology of the Absolute before Self-realization,
as implied in Verse 17 can be properly established, where action
is finally transcended.

The word iha (here) brings us back to the world of action in the
here and now, although still conceived in the light of the
Eternal Life otherwise becomes worthless or empty as suggested
by the word mogham (vain).


yas tv atmaratir eva syad
atmatriptas cha manavah
atmany  eva cha samtushtas
tasya karyam na vidyate

But for him who happens to be attached to the Self alone, who
finds full satisfaction in the Self, for such a man who is happy
in the Self as such, too, there is nothing that he should do.


By this verse the possibility of a man who can do altogether
without ritualistic sacrifice is recognized. A pure samkhya
philosopher, for example; who happens to be directly established
in Self-knowledge, who is innocent of Vedism and all the ritual
it implies, is here absolved from obligation to perform any rituals,
however exalted they might be in the scale of revalued ritualism
here expounded.


nai'va tasya kritena 'rtho
na' kritene'ha kaschana
na cha'sya sarvabhuteshu
kaschid' arthavyapasrayah

Neither is there anything indeed for him resulting from work done
nor any from work omitted here nor is there either far him any
dependence in respect of anything derivable from any being


This and the previous verse seem to fall outside the scope
of karma Yoga (unitive action) by extolling a man who has
no need for any activity whatsoever. The Gita is only too
glad to recognize the superior spiritual status of a man who
can successfully transcend action merely through Self-


tasmad asaktah satatam
karyam kama samachara
asakto hy acharan karma
param apnoti purushah

Therefore always remaining detached, engage yourself in
actions that are necessary; indeed performing actions with
detachment man attains to the supreme.


The use of the word tasmad here cannot be fully justified
inasmuch as the two previous verses refer to a man who
need not act. Its use here can be justified only on the
assumption that the two previous verses refer to exceptions
to the rule by way of digression.

The pressure of necessity is still active even when a man
is established in Self-knowledge. Non-ritualistic necessary
actions persist in his life. How to deal with them is the
subject of the verses that follow. Non-attachment is the key
for transcending all actions as suggested here.

The word karyam (what should be done) points to the necessary
character of the action involved and does not refer to any
religious duty as often imagined.


karmanai 'va hi samsiddhim
asthita janakadayah
loka samgraham eva'pi
sampasyan kartum arhasi

Janaka and such others reached perfection even performing
acts. Again, having due regard for the integration of the
world too, you have to act.

yad-yad acharati sreshthas
tad-tad eve'taro janah
sa yat pramanam kurute
lokas tad anuvartate

Whichever may be the way of life that a superior man may
adopt, that very one is by other people too (followed).
What he might make his guiding principle, the world too
behaves even according to the same.


Here action is regarded from a different angle. It is to be
done with a view to set a good example to others. The ideal
of a wise man who has transcended the need for being active
is, according to the Gita, likely to be misunderstood, thus
encouraging mere laziness, and so constituting a menace to
world order. The rajarishi (King-Seer) Janaka is cited as an
example of a wise man who continues to function as a king.
His wisdom makes him free while he continues as if bound
to normal or necessary duties. As the carving on a bedstead
has nothing to do with the nature of the sleep of the man on
the bed, so the necessary side of life does not interfere with
wisdom. It is optional for a wise man to adhere or not to
necessary activity. Such adherence is always permissively
understood. Janaka's wisdom suffered no whit because of his
kingship, hence his case is mentioned.

The word lokasamgraham (keeping the world together) does not
imply any social service or uplift work of closed groups or
communities. It refers to human interest or welfare in a
globally comprehensive sense. The reference in Verse 21
to the need for setting a good example to others less
advanced is a commonsense argument on a par with reference
to good repute in 11, 34-36, and can be justified as in
keeping with the realism implicit in rationalism there
and pragmatism here.


na me partha 'sti kartavyam
trishu lokeshu kimchana
na 'navaptam avaptavyam
varta eva cha karmani

There is nothing in the three worlds that I am obliged
to do, 0 Partha (Arjuna), nor anything unaccomplished
to be accomplished, while still I remain active
(in principle).


yadi hy aham na varteyam
jatu karmany atandritah
mama vartma 'nuvartante
manushyah partha sarvasah

If I should not remain active (in principle) never
relaxing, men in every walk of life, 0 Partha (Arjuna),
would take to my way.

utsideyur ime loki
na kuryam karma ched aham
samkarasya cha karta syam
upahanyam imah prajah

These (various) worlds (value systems) would fall into ruin
should I refrain from activity and I would become the agent
of evolutive confusion (samkara) killing in effect the


These verses point out that even as representing the
Absolute principle, Krishna is potent in his own way in
human affairs. The Absolute has nothing to gain but still
exerts, as it were, a kind of pressure which has the effect
of shaping human affairs in a certain direction.

Note the word varte (I exist) in Verse 22, which does not
mean that the Absolute principle is actually active but
merely that its potency is felt. The same word is repeated in
Verse 23. Here again the meaning is that the Absolute has a
certain share in shaping human affairs. Direct action is not
suggested. What is meant might not be different from the
effect of a catalytic agent in chemistry. In iv, 11 the same
second line of Verse 23 here finds repetition, though in a
converse sense. Here the danger of men taking to his wrong
example is referred to, if Krishna as Absolute should remain

The nature of the danger implied here is made more explicit
in Verse 24. The absence of the pressure exerted by
the Absolute in human affairs would lead to the danger here
referred to as samkara (confusion). This does not refer to
varna-samkara (colour-mixing) particularly, but to evolutive
- involutive factors known in the Samkhya philosophy, which
confusion would spell disaster to humanity as a whole. It is
the active principle implied in the Absolute which ever
reconciles opposites, bringing them together in accordance,
resolving counterparts into unity. The process or flux
of becoming thus goes on without a break. Any gap or
vacuum would be disastrous for the whole of creation and
would destroy humanity.


That such a unique and wholesale activity is here implied
is clear from passages in the Gita such as ix, 9-10, where it
is explicitly stated that the Absolute is merely a passive
witness to action.

According to the Samkhya, creation itself is due to the
meeting or reconciliation of reciprocal factors as between
prakriti (nature) and purusha (spirit). When dealt with
unitively these two factors yield normal life. Treated
disjunctly they bring death. The former method is dynamic,
the latter static. The Absolute is thus the dynamic principle
supporting unitive life and in this consists the unique and
wholesale "activity" of the Absolute. This should not be
confused with being active in the usual sense. It is merely a
potential principle exerting a certain direct pressure making
life flow normally.

The doctrine of samkarshana (natural attraction) in the
Ramanuja school evidently is a culmination of the theory
outlined above derived from Samkhya and traceable backwards
even to the times of the Tattva-Samasa or even earlier.
Samkarshana (natural attraction) results in the emergence of
individual life. The word karshati (draws) is used in the Gita
(xv, 7) in more or less the same sense when it deals with the
individual soul drawing to itself the senses. The dualistic
philosophy of the Samkhya uses the term samkara (mixture) in a
sense repugnant to Vedanta. The result of samkara
(evolutive- involutive factors), according to anterior views, is a
form of vikara (change) as when milk turns sour. This
presupposes an inert matter which is soulless and alone
subject to transformation of this kind, without the
transcendental principle having anything to do with its make-
up. Here, however, the spirit and matter are more unitively

The Vedanta introduces the idea of the eternal soul without
duality, not subject to change, and in conformity with the
Absolute. It is in this revalued sense that Krishna, as
representing the Absolute principle, speaks of the ruin of the
worlds and destruction of the people. Mere intermarriages
between differently coloured men and women would not
produce so disastrous an effect as the destruction of all the
worlds, even by a stretch of the imagination. To find support
here for the "caste system" of India would therefore detract
from the grandeur of the teaching of the Gita.


saktah karmany avidvamso
yatha kurvanti bharata
kuryad vidvams tatha'saktas
chikirshur loka samgraham

In the same manner as people uninstructed would take to
activity with attachment to work, 0 Bharata (Arjuna), the
instructed man likewise should act without attachment,
interested (merely) in world order.


Starting from Verse 20 it should be noted that the rest of
this chapter rambles over a variety of topics: such as setting
a good example to the public; not disrupting the opinion of
others, with references interspersed here and there to the
pure doctrine of Krishna himself; how it is important to
adopt it without carping and how, finally, kama-krodha
(desire-anger) or ragadveshau (affection-aversion) are the
twin enemies of contemplation; and recommending a certain
state of immobility, rigidity or steadiness (as implied in the
word samstabhya of Verse 43 of this chapter) attaining
which, Arjuna is called upon to slay - not an actual enemy in
front of him - but the internal enemy in the form of desire.
How all these topics which fall outside the scope of
individual discipline itself, could all come under the Yoga of
karma or action, which covers, as we have already seen,
even ritualistic actions, becomes next to impossible to
understand in the light of orthodox notions of Yoga. The
Yoga intended here cannot therefore be the mere chitta-vritti-
nirodha (inhibition of the fluctuations of the mind) of
Patanjali, or samatvam (equanimity), or kaushalam (creative
or intuitive understanding). It can only refer to a generous,
liberal and conciliatory attitude of mind involving a larger
vision and a bolder outlook. Conflicting factors, whether in
public or private life, have to be harmoniously co-related or
co-ordinated - samanjasa (accordance) and samanvaya (co-
ordination) being the corresponding ideas in Sanskrit. That
the Gita permits still further generosity of interpretation
of the meaning of Yoga is indicated in vi, 23, where
Yoga is defined even negatively as dukha-samyoga-viyogam
(disconnection from union with pain). In the light of all
such definitions it might be permissible for us to add that
Yoga as intended in the Gita covers all applications of
dialectical reasoning, not only to personal life but in the
domain of historical necessity, and to the revaluation and
restatement of religious doctrines.


by which nothing is destroyed but everything fulfilled, as
Jesus said.

Such through the ages has always been the way of dialectical
revaluation understood in the history of religious and
philosophic thought. The Gita teacher is no exception to
this rule. Without breaking with the past and avoiding all
abrupt interference, such teachers have a way of fulfilment
conducive to the happiness of humanity. Insofar as the
revaluation is dialectical it comes under the definition of
Yoga. Therefore the karma-Yoga (unitive action) of this
chapter covers the whole range of necessity, personal or
historical, and the permissive acceptance of action revalued in
the light of the Absolute - which is greater than reason as the
last verse states - is the subject of the chapter.

Verse 25 has to be understood as being based on the idea
of fulfilment as against destruction explained above. The
inaction of a wise man might set up wrong precedents in the
social world. This is to be avoided.

See Verse 20 for our remarks on loka samgraham
(keeping the world together).


ajnanam karma janayed
ajnanam karma sanginam
joshayet sarva karmani
vidvan yuktah samacharan

The person who is wise should not give room for
disruption in the way of thinking of those who have
not attained to wisdom but by behaving unitively
he should render every kind of action enjoyable.


The same subject is continued. The yogi avoids forming an
opposite camp to karma sanginah (those attached to action).
His is a method of fulfilment, non-disruptive, in the
name of dialectical revaluation, which is the method proper
to Yoga generally.

The word joshayet (make likeable) further clarifies the
yogi's attitude. This clearly says that the yogi does not
acquiesce to the wrong methods of others, but only uses a
gentler and more understanding method of weaning people
from their wrong ways. Abrupt or shock treatments, as in
neurotherapy, are not favoured by the true yogi.


prakriteh kriyamanani
gunaih karmani sarvasah
ahamkara vimudhatma
karta 'ham iti manyate

Irrespective of the occasion, it is nature that through
the gunas (three modalities) accomplishes every act.
One possessed of egoism, however, thinks himself as the


Here and in the next two verses it is explained how the
individual self is not really, and is incapable of being, an
active agent in any item of action that it might accomplish
at a given moment or place. All sense of disjunct agency is
discredited. It is nature that acts on itself. The same
doctrine is treated more completely in xviii, 14-16.


tattvavit tu mahabaho
guna karma vibhagayoh
guna guneshu vartanta
iti matva na sajjate

On the other hand, 0 Mighty Armed (Arjuna), the one who
knows the principle underlying guna (nature mode) as
distinct from karma (its functional counterpart) holding
the view that (subjective) modes inhere in (their
corresponding) objective modes, is not affected.


Even nature itself is shown to have two aspects which
interact without the agency of the actor who is reduced to
the status of a witness. He just watches the guna (mode) of
one aspect of nature acting in accordance with its
corresponding functional aspect. Subjective nature (natura
naturans) accords with obective nature (natura naturata) as
Spinoza understood it. This is how guna and guna (mode
and mode) are stated to be inhering or existing in one
another here.

This agreement between innate mode with its corresponding
functional aspect is the basis of chaturvarnya (fourfold
division of society) mentioned in xv, 13, which we shall
examine there. The person who knows all these long-
forgotten principles is called here a tattvavit (a knower
of true principles, or of reality as such - a philosopher).
The Gita here wishes to bring such


philosophy into vogue again in order to offer a solution of
all conflicts that might arise in the domain of action.


prakriter guna sammudhah
sajjante guna karmasu
tan akritsnavido mandan
kritsnavin na vichalayet

Those confounded by the modalities (gunas) of nature become
attached to objective modalities existing in works. Such men
who are not all-wise and are dull should not be unsettled
by those who are all-wise.


This verse repeats the idea of Verse 26 in a more
philosophical fashion. It takes account of all contingent
modes, objective and subjective. Ordinary persons eke out
their livelihood by stabilizing themselves in some fixed
social station or kind of occupation in life. Such occupations
are endless in variety. Dislodging them from their settled ways,
even through the teaching of purer or truer doctrines, might
have the effect of uprooting them without establishing them
again in stability, which would result in psychological or
sociological maladjustments. A little knowledge in such
matters is dangerous. It would be safe to leave common
people unsophisticated in such matters. The evil resulting
from such interference is sufficiently clear from the turn
that caste doctrines have taken in India.

Dislodgement through philosophy results in the large number
of religious misfits that we find everywhere, especially in
India. The implication of this verse has to be understood
side by side with Verse 35, which refers to svadharma
(conduct according to one's own nature). If politically
displaced persons constitute an international problem,
religious, philosophical or psychic misfits constitute
perhaps an even more serious problem for the world.
Proper coordination and orientation in such matters is
of great importance.


mayi sarvani karmani
samnyasva 'dhyatmachetasa
nirasir nirmamo bhutva
yudhyasva vigatajvarah

Renouncing in Me (the Absolute) all works, coming to be
without expectations or possessiveness, with a full awareness
about the Self, do fight with fever gone.


In all these matters of fulfilment and non-interference
which we have referred to, a certain neutrality has to be
maintained, combined with generosity. Such would be
guaranteed only if the Absolute was kept in mind. The
mental fever is cured when the spirit is in tune with the
Absolute. The yogic state thus becomes accomplished when
necessary actions are permitted to go on unhindered all the

The word yudhyasva (fight) should be interpreted as
permissive and not mandatory, as we have explained
already. The Absolute is here both Brahman (Absolute
principle) and atma (Self) without distinction. The nature of
the fever referred to here must be because of its origin in
kama (desire) which is an extraneous or third factor and the
enemy of contemplation, as already indicated.

ye me matam idam nityam
anutishthanti manavah
sraddhavanto 'nasuyanto
muchyante te 'pi karmabhih

They too, who ever adhere to this doctrine of mine,men
full of faith and free from any mistrust in respect of
it, they gain release from works.

ye tv etad abhyasuyanto
na 'nutishthanti me matam
sarvajnana vimudhams tan
viddhi nashtan achetasah

On the other hand, those soulless ones who look upon
this my doctrine with mistrust and adhere not to it;
know them as shut away from all knowledge and as lost.


These verses indicate that Krishna's teaching had some
strangeness even in the days of Vyasa's composition. People
questioned his revaluation of ritualist and of action. Krishna
here affirms his strong stand on his revalued teaching.
The word anasayantah (those who do not envy, cavil or
disadopt) of Verse 31 pleads for a sympathetic hearing of the


new doctrine. The same attitude of asuya repeated in Verse
32 condemns disadoption of the teaching more vehemently.
In effect it calls disadopters utter fools, even fated to be
destroyed. It is reminiscent of "ye generation of vipers" in
the Bible. No teaching of any profound doctrine is possible
when there is disadoption between the teacher and the


sadrisam cheshtate svasyah
prakriter jnanavan api
prakritim yanti bhutani
nigrahah kim karishyati

Even a man of wisdom behaves in conformity with his own
nature. All creation goes on subject to nature. Of what
avail is control?


At first it seems as if self-control is of no avail.
Everything is in the hands of nature. Even a wise man is a
tool in its hands.

True, there is an imperative urge in one's own nature
which is categorical and overpowering. But to say there is
nothing to control at all is to misunderstand the import of
this verse; an import often missed when torn from its context
when it then seems to support licentiousness. But taken with
the next verse such a misinterpretation is precluded.
In fact there are two sets of urges in human nature; a
deep-seated volume of tendencies surging upwards for
expressive translation into action at every moment, and an
urge which is secondary in its nature and far less
categorically imperative, and which is capable of being
subjected to intelligent control.

The latter tendency, which may be said to have its being
and action on the horizontal plane, has the form of attraction
-repulsion referred to in Verse 34. This form is always
dvandva (relativistically double) like heat and cold, pleasure
and pain.

The former is a steady pressure of the élan vital (vital
spirit) of Bergson, of pure life itself which alone is beyond
our control, unlike the former. This pressure is shared in
common with all life, as the word bhutani (beings) indicates.


indriyasye 'ndriyasya 'rthe
raga dveshauvyavasthitau
tayor na vasam agachchhet
tau hy asya paripanthinau

Attraction-repulsion abide mutually as between the senses and
their sense-objects. One should never come under their
(double) sway. They indeed are one's (twin) path-hindering


The double specific reference to (1) the subjective indriya
(sense) and (2) to the particularized object indriyasyarthe (a
specified sense-object) is significant, enabling the proper
contrast between the two sets of tendencies, one general and
the other of a lower mechanistic order, implied in the last
verse and here in this verse respectively, to be made
unmistakably clear. Here it is a partial attachment, not a
wholesale one, as in the previous verse where the whole nervous
system is involved in the urge of pure nature. The relation
might be brought out by the analogy of an electric current
and the secondary magnetic field that goes with it.

Attachment of the second order here is relativistic and has its
opposite, while the former, referring to the pure life urge,
belongs to the order of the categorical imperative of Kant,
which is a pure absolutist notion, where opposing pairs such
as attachment and repulsion mentioned here are not present.

All pairs of relative opposites are covered by the dual
case ending of the word paripanthinau ("twin" obstructors
of the path). Transcending duality is the task of the yogi and
not the stifling or repression of life itself which, in the
previous verse, is stated to be futile. Life must be given its
free scope to stabilize itself naturally in the environment
that already goes with it. This leads us naturally to the much
misunderstood subject of svadharma (one's own proper activity)
of the next verse.


sreyan svadharmo vigunah
paradharmat svanushthitat
svadharme nidhanam
sreyah paradharmo bhayavahah

Better is activity rightly conforming to one's own nature
though lacking in superior quality than activity foreign to
one's own nature although it may be well done (otherwise).
(Even) death by the performance of what fits one properly
has merit. Activity foreign to oneself is fraught with danger.


The famous doctrine of svadharma (conduct proper to one's
nature), which is too easily interpreted by interested
people as supporting a strict adherence to the artificial
divisions of caste, has to be understood properly as
intended, as a doctrine in keeping with the rest of the Gita.
We have referred to Aristotle's "Nichomachean Ethics",
where the foundation of virtue consists in conforming to the
specific or unique qualities of each individual kind of life.
The virtue of a coconut tree is judged by the nuts it yields. It
should not, and cannot, try to yield, say, mangoes. In the
human context the same law of svadharma (conduct proper
to one's own nature) holds true in the sense that one man's
meat is another man's poison. In needs and capacity each
man is unique and this unique specific quality is to be
respected. Taking Arjuna's own case as the clearest possible
example, if he should shave his head and become a
samnyisin (renouncer) as he hinted to Krishna, that would
constitute a deflection from his path of svadharma. One
animal cannot be fed on the food of another kind of animal
when its own inside revolts against it. An artificial role that
a man might play, if incompatible with his own background,
would be fraught with danger. If a country yokel pretended
to be a traffic policeman at Charing Cross without proper
training and uniform, we can imagine the disastrous
consequences. Such is the danger referred to in the phrase
paradharmo bhayavahah (another's duty is fraught with
danger). It does not mean that a carpenter's son should never
aspire to become a lawyer, just because he has inherited the
tools of the carpenter. In fact such or similar interpretations
are read into this verse by ingenious persons.

The phrase paradharmat svanushthitat (another's duty
well-performed) calls for explanation. A tonic can be good
if there is the corresponding weakness in the man who uses
it, but even a good tonic might do harm when it does not
agree with the history of the case. A woman's broad-
brimmed summer hat might not suit a short stout lady,
although it seems wonderful to her when seen in the shop by
itself. Or a man unhappily married might be said to be worse
off than one unmarried.

A unitive treatment of the past and the future of an individual
conducive to organic development of the personality is
therefore the theory implied in this phrase.


The words svadharme nidhanam sreyah (death in one's own way
of life is superior in merit) contain an idea too drastic
when we think of ordinary occupations in life. One has to
be truthful to oneself if spirituality is to accrue in one's
favour. One cannot then be false to any man. This is a law of
life known to Shakespeare. The inner truthfulness of a man
has to correspond to his outer truthfulness; otherwise a
conflict would develop which would stultify his spiritual
progress, finally blocking it altogether. This would amount
to spiritual death; much more serious than just physical
death, which would affect only the present life. One has to
avoid by all means entering into conflict with oneself. Each
man has to work out his own salvation, according to his own
intelligence or capacity. While another man can carry a
physical burden, vicarious suffering cannot be applied to the
domain of precious inner values. Truth to oneself can never
result in madness which would be worse than death.

To return to Arjuna's own case: he himself tried experiments
in the life of a samnyasin (renunciator) or recluse
wandering in the forest, the failure of which was known to
Krishna, Arjuna having married Subhadra, Krishna's sister.
Truth is not a question of experiment. Dedication to truth
has to be complete, involving a fervour which looks upon
death as a triviality. Absolute truth knows no compromise.

Svadharma (conduct proper to one's own nature) here refers
to the whole of life as explained under Verse 34, and
not the partial attachment to a vocation. Tragic heroes and
martyrs, though possibly sometimes perverted, at least took
certain life-values seriously. Free from perversions, they
would be of the stuff of true heroism. Contemplation has its
heroes too in a more thorough or absolute sense. The
keenness of the life-long torture of paradharma (a way of
living strange to one's proper nature) would be worse than
sudden death by lightning.


Beginning with a fresh question by Arjuna, the remaining
verses are meant to sum up, as it were, the findings of this

Orthodox notions of karmayoga (unitive action), as popularly
understood and much talked-about, are strangely enough


outside the scope of this chapter altogether. All wilful
popular demagogues are too easily called karma-yogis
(contemplatives in action). But as long as there could be the
possibility of rivalry between such karma-yogis they should
not be considered yogis at all. The lokasamgraham (keeping
the world together) of Verse 20 is quite the opposite of
loyalty to closed or static patriotisms or ideologies,
pertaining to countries or particular traditions. Action itself
as it is derived from rajoguna (quality of passion) is
something to be ashamed of, having desire as its direct and
anger as its indirect products, as stated in Verses 38 and 39.
Verse 40 states that the seat of such action, which is to be
avoided, is in the senses, the mind and reason, as understood
in Chapter xi. Transcending such a thing of sin is recommended
in Verse 41.

But then, it might be asked, what about svadharma (conduct
proper to one's own nature) held to be so precious in this
chapter? Such conduct does not lie in the same plane or axis
in which the three, the senses, mind and reason,lie. It lives
and moves on another plane or axis altogether, as we have
indicated under Verse 34 of this chapter.

The subtle instruction regarding the right method of
transcending the lure of the senses and establishing oneself
in Yoga has been indicated in iii, 7. The same subject is
continued in Verse 42.

The afferent tendencies of the indriyas (senses) have a
new orientation facing inwards. The senses thus attain a
new status and, starting with them as instruments, the final
triumph of karma-yoga (unitive action) is indicated in
Verses 42 and 43.


Arjuna uvacha
atha kena prayukto 'yam
papam charati purushah
anichchhann api varshshneya
balad iva niyojitah

Arjuna said:
Then impelled by what does man lead such a life of sin even
against his will, 0 Varshneya (Krishna), as if forcibly enjoined?


The word annichchhann (not wanting to) shows there is in nature
itself a penchant to do evil. Such an inclination is not


different from theological concupiscence mentioned under
ii, 67. This is to indicate the necessity for actively
countering evil. Contemplation is a form of ascent of Mount
Carmel, as St. John of the Cross would call it.


sribhagavan uvacha
kama esha krodha esha
rajoguna samudbhavah
mahasano mahapapma
viddhy enam iha vairinam

Krishna said:
Such is desire, such is anger, born out of the modality
(guna) called active, affective (rajas), all-devouring,
all-vitiating; know this to be the enemy here.


The reference here to rajoguna (modality of passion) has to
be understood in relation to action which is the subject of
this chapter. Rajas (passion) is always known as kriyatmika
(having the character of activity). That aspect of outgoing
activity or energy which fixes its attention on particular
desirable objects as referred to in Verse 34 is here to be
distinguished from life activity in general which moves on
another plane altogether, and which perforce must work
itself out, just because it is beyond control.

The horizontal tendencies to activity taken as a whole are
under reference here - hence the epithets mahasano (all-
devouring) and mahapapma (all-unholy or all-sinful) are
justified. Such tendencies continue to characterise our life
here throughout and their propensity as a whole has to be
effectively countered.

Kama (desire) and krodha (anger) are interrelated as mentioned
under xi, 62. Note here that tamas (modality of darkness) and
sattva (modality of purity or truth) are not taken as active
enemies of contemplation.


dhumena 'vriyate vahnir
yatha 'darso malena cha
yatho 'lbena 'vrito garbhas
tatha tene 'dam avritam

As smoke shrouds fire, as a mirror (is beclouded) by dirt,
as the foetus is enclose in the amnion, likewise by such
is This surrounded.


Note that kama (desire), krodha (anger) and rajas (modality
of passion) are treated as if they were interchangeable
terms the first two originating in the third. The horizontal
tendencies that each of these three stands for in life are here
treated as together constituting a factor which is negative in
character, hindering the contemplative life, which is the
good life of the Gita. The examples of smoke, dust and the
amnion are all meant to show the subtle inter-relationship
between the two sets of life-activities, i.e., those which must
be left free and those which are to be suppressed.

Idam (this) here refers to the spirit of man which seeks
freedom. Note that the fire analogy of the last verse is not
applied here to desire but to the pure spirit. This points to
the subtle bi-polar relationship we have referred to "This"
here, which is the spirit of man, has two aspects, one of
which is here its own enemy.


Avritam jnanam etena
kamarupena kaunteya
dushpurena 'nalena cha

Wisdom is enveloped by this which is the eternal enemy of
the wise, remaining in the form of desire, 0 Kaunteya
(Arjuna), which is a fire too that is difficult to satiate.


The word nityavairina (ever-present enemy) points to the
problem of evil, which in a certain sense is also eternal.
Desire is the root where evil is located finally in most
generalized terms. We cannot fight individual desires but
we can oppose all desires together by a reorientation of the


The force of the word cha (and) which, as we have said
before, is very important for the dialectical treatment of the
subject, and a peculiarity of the style of the Gita, is missed
by most translators.

There is a fire of desire and there is a fire of life, of the
spirit or soul. Both these fires have to be brought together
for purposes of true dialectical contemplation. The opposites
cancel themselves in the neutrality which is of the essence
of Yoga. This verse is meant to give equal and opposite
status to this eternal enemy by the side of the Self who is
one's own friend as referred to in VI, 5 and 6. When we
realise that the


fire of desire is ever-present and is never to be one-sidedly
satisfied, then the discussion attains the status of a Yoga as
understood throughout the Gita - this Yoga being a neutrality
between opposites.

How the whole chapter comes under the subject of Yoga
is finally justified and rounded-off in this verse where
necessary action is represented by one fire and contingent
action by the other fire, and both considered eternal. Thus
viewed, the definition of Yoga of ii, 48 - samatvam
(equanimity) - applies to this chapter, in spite of the
rambling character of the latter half.


indriyani mano buddhir
asya 'dhishthanam uchyate
etair vimohayaty esha
jnanam avritya dehinam

This is said to be lodged in the senses, mind and in reason.
By means of these this (desire) bewilders the embodied one
by veiling his wisdom.


The word adhishthanam (seat) here is related to the same
word used in xviii, 14, and is a technical term of the
Samkhya philosophy. The intelligent principle that the
purusha (spirit) represents in Samkhya is foreign to this
adhishthanam (seat) which is on the side of prakriti
(nature). Here, however, we note that buddhi (reasoning) is
put on the side of nature. This lower reason is to be
transcended if the absolutist Self is to be attained, as shown
in Verse 43. The Gita accepts Samkhya epistemology and
builds on it the notion of the unitive Absolute as its own
contribution. The epistemological framework is retained
untouched. Bewilderment continues and duality is retained
only until the unitive Self becomes established.


tasmat tvam indriyany idau
niyamya bharatarshabha
papmanam prajahi hy enam
jnana vijnana nasanam

Therefore, 0 best of Bharatas (Arjuna), mastering first the
senses, slay this which is of sin which can destroy both
pure and practical wisdom.


The subject of controlling the senses is again discussed.
Just as it is easier to close a door by the handle than on the
part where it is hinged, the senses lend themselves more
easily to control than desire or activity taken as a whole. In
other words we can turn the senses away from their objects
voluntarily. We cannot stifle desire as a whole, hence the
technical advice given here to start adau (first) with
controlling the senses. The same method has been
recommended once before (see iii, 7).

Desire has to be split up into its elementary components
in the senses before its disastrous effects could be stemmed.
Desire compromises jnana (pure wisdom) and vijnana
(practical wisdom), the latter comprising the savoir faire of
the former. Yoga is both pure and practical. The same pair
is referred to again in vi, 8, ix, 1, and xviii, 42. The Gita
does not treat merely of pure philosophy as academically
understood in the West, nor does it leave out practical
indications pertaining to spiritual life which form so
integral a part of Yoga, as a non-academic discipline.
The confusion in the minds of both Westerners and Indians
regarding the class of literature to which the Gita properly
belongs is due to this treatment of jnana (pure wisdom) and
vijnana (practical wisdom) together throughout this sastra
(textbook). The scene of the battlefield is expressly chosen
by Vyasa to lend itself to such a parallel treatment of pure
and practical aspects of wisdom. The slightest affiliation
to sense objects jeopardises both aspects of wisdom by
confusing the mind, as described in ii, 67.


indriyani parany ahur
indriyebhyah param manah
manasas tu para buddhir
yo buddheh paratas tu sah

It is taught (in ancient tradition) that the senses are
beyond (transcendental); beyond the senses is the mind,
beyond the mind is reason and beyond reason is He
(the Absolute).


Here those factors conducive to contemplation are
enuniciated in an ascending order without omitting even
the senses which are also qualified by the epithet parani
(great or superior). After being spiritually reoriented they
attain this superior status.


The word ahuh (they say) evidently refers to the immemorial
undercurrent of tradition which is the basis of the Kapila
system proper to which the unitive treatment of purusha
(spirit) and prakriti (nature) in terms of the Absolute
is not altogether strange. Sah (He), which corresponds to
the purusha (spirit) of the Samkhya, brings the subject of
contemplation as near as possible to the Absolute Self
implicit in the next verse, where even the purusha (spirit) of
this verse may be said to be, in principle, transcended.
The duality between purusha (spirit) and prakriti (nature)
implied in the Samkhya system of Kapila is here glided over,
and a steady and progressive gradation maintained between
the various factors, giving no room to the processes of
samkara (evolution) and pratisamkara (involution) which
should have been implied if Samkhya duality had been
accepted by the Gita. Purusha (spirit) is no more a lame man
depending on the help of a blind man with proper limbs,
which is the usual metaphor of the Samkhya philosophers to
describe the relation between spirit and nature (see Ishvara
Krishna's Samkhya Karika, 2 1,


"For the spirit's contemplation of nature and for its final                                       separation the union of both takes place, as of the lame and the blind man.          

By that union a creation is formed."

Purusha (spirit) is now the unitive representative of the
Absolute. Herein lies the revaluation of the Gita.


evam buddheh param buddhva
samstabhya 'tmanam atmana
jahi satrum mahabaho
kamarupam durasadam

Thus knowing Him to be beyond reason, immobilizing the
Self by the Self, 0 Mighty-Armed (Arjuna), kill that enemy
in the form of desire (so) difficult to encounter.


Here the battlefield itself as also the actual exterior enemy
is forgotten, and as if with the closed eyes of introspection,
the call to Arjuna here merely consists of conquering the
Self by the Self with a certain immobility, as implied in the
word jamstabhya explained already under Verse 25.
Desire which tends to flow outwards is to be made to flow
in the reverse, as implied in ii, 70.


Karma-Yoga (unitive action) in popular Vedanta literature,
lapses into a trite picture of a man who is offering all
actions prayerfully to the lotus feet of the Lord.
In the light of the contents of this chapter which we have
examined in all its critical and philosophical implications,
such a pious and holy version of karma-yoga is, to say the
least, puerile. Much eloquence is often wasted by religious
enthusiasts in the cause of such piety. God does not eat the
fruits offered to him. It is the priest or the worshipper
himself who finally gobbles them up, and to speak of
offering to God the fruits of action which seems to follow
close on this imagery, does not make any meaning at all.
The whole purport of the Gita as a critical study, full of
precise definitions and enumerations belonging to an exact
or positive science, and not to a sentimental theism, would
be completely and sadly compromised.


ity srimad bhagavadgitasupanishatsu brahmavidyayam
Yogasastre srikrishnarjunasamvade
karmayogo nama tritiyo 'dhyayah


Thus ends in the Upanishads of the Songs of God,
in the Science of the Wisdom of the Absolute, in
the Dialogue between Sri Krishna and Arjuna, the
third Chapter, entitled Unitive Action.