AdvaitaVedanta Website - Introduction

Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita Chapter 1






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 con-
fusion 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", (1,
21). We know how impossible it is to enter the no-man's-
land between two armies as the arrows fly (as stated in 1,
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.

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 unraveled 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 archenemy 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 Commander-in-Chief, elder brother
of Arjuna.
Arjuna: Pandava hero, central figure in the Gita and
representative sceptic or purva pakshin.
Yuyudhana (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 de-
moralize 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

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

talah-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 clang.

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

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


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
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 chasatyakis 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

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 dhartarashtranamhridayani 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 con-
fusion 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
marshaled 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-labeled
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 2 1.
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-
minded- ness. 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 redundant, 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 madhyesthapayatitva 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 'vishtovishidann 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 Yoga Vasishtha 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 norajayam 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

We should note that. Arjuna's confusion is treated in two
distinct installments: 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 proper.
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 him-
self 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 (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 lobhopahatachetasah
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. Argon 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. I


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 luptapindodakakriyah

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 varnasamkarakarakaih
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

yadi mam apratikaram asastram sastrapanayah
dhartarishtra rane hanyustan 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 sokasamvignamanasah

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
pakshin 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.

Bhagavad Gita index



A translation and commentary on the 18 chapters of the Bhagavad Gita, by Nataraja Guru. An Introduction is available, and is probably essential to a full understanding of this controversial work.

Editorial Note: we must apologize for the erratic layout and margin problems of this section of the site. This is the result of migration problems and others yet to be identified. We are doing our best to correct this situation. The text itself, however, is correctly reproduced, at least.




Bhagavad Gita Commentary Chapter 18






(Followed by the Index of the complete Gita)

This final important chapter has the task of gathering up
loose ends of the discussion from various chapters, especially
chapter iii on Karma Yoga (Action Transcended Unitively).
Karma (action) was decried as very inferior in II, 49, and
the status of intelligence was unequivocally praised. In
saying so, the superiority of wisdom was extolled, as in XV,
33. The possibility of a spiritual man attaining to freedom
from action was prominently emphasized in III, 17. Even in
the context of war it was said in XI, 33, that Arjuna had no
initiative to take at all based on any reasoning. He was only
an occasional or incidental factor in the general situation.
Even as early as II, 12, there is a sweeping philosophical
generalization which, if accepted, would make no action

This chapter however, if it has any manifest unity at all in
its construction, must have it in its centering around
necessary action. Various types of action and actors not
covered in previous chapters constitute the distinguishing
subject-matter of this chapter. In fact we find here that
action itself is glorified and held to be a value worthy of
inclusion under contemplation.

Action has to be unitively understood in the context of
wisdom. In other words, wisdom values have to infuse,
regulate and modify necessary action in such a way that the
sublimation of the spirit of the actor may take place. They
may thus help to lead him in his spiritual progress from the
lowest of levels in which he is caught in confusion and
necessity up to the clear heights of a wisdom which is both
pure and practical. The height of wisdom itself need not
necessarily be considered to fall outside the scope of
thought as an activity which the actor is capable of. In other
words, thought itself could be included in the highest values
belonging to the context of action and inseparable from the


We have noticed how, in the immediately preceding chapters,
more and more positive, objective and overt aspects of life
were successively treated as the counterparts of the
contemplative implied in the Gita. Faith, as an outward
value to which individuals may be attached, was discussed
in Chapter xvii. In the present chapter we take one step
more in the same direction of objectivity and the overtness
of the value implied, which is here action as a counterpart
of the actor. Action does not refer to items of activity
but to action that conforms to certain patterns of behaviour.
What gives unity to the present chapter, therefore, is this
notion of action conceived globally as consisting of types or
patterns of behaviour on the part of the actor who in turn is
the contemplative aspirant of the Gita. Action thus
conceived includes such items as thought, opinion and
philosophy itself. A man's ideas about life can regulate his
behaviour, while the pattern of behaviour he consciously
adopts can have repercussions on his thought. In this way
action or karma in its modified or extended sense becomes
a counterpart of the actor. The same truth can be stated in
terms of knowledge. It could have the knower instead of the
actor, and between what is knowable and the knower, an
interplay of relationship is possible, resulting in the
supreme absolutist value called knowledge or wisdom. The
delicate methodological and epistemological considerations
entering into the discussion here have to be carefully

In Verse 20 of this chapter there is reference to sattvik or
pure knowledge. Again in Verse 30 there is reference to
sattvik or pure reason as a form of thought-functioning.
What such a thought accomplishes is to distinguish between
ambivalent values such as bondage and liberation. From
these instances it would be clear that action as intended in
this chapter has a very extended, generalized and global
sense. Knowledge results from the interaction of the
knower and the knowable as implied in the first line of 
Verse 18. However, in the second line of the same verse it is
implied that action and actor are counterparts where the
faculties of the mind are involved. These two sets of triple
factors are seen re-arranged in a slightly different way in
the very next verse, 19. Action and actor are the
counterparts now and knowledge takes the place of the
emergent value implied between them. Arjuna being a
contemplative aspirant for wisdom in the field of battle, we
can think also of fighter, battle and absolute victory as


the triple factors involved in the chapter, after the same
pattern as the two triple sets mentioned in verses 18 and 19.
A careful reading of Verses 18 and 19 reveals what at first
sight seems an unwarranted interposing of actual factors for
those belonging to the perceptual. The triple set of verse 19
which consists of knowledge, action and actor is derived
from the two distinct sets of the previous verse, the former
of which belongs to the perceptual (kshetrajna) order while
the latter belongs to the actual (kshetra). When we notice
that both actual and perceptual were brought progressively
closer and more unitively together even in the previous
chapter (xvii) it is easy to concede that in this next and final
chapter the author has the express intention of synthesizing
as completely as possible, so that the requirements of
theoretical knowledge and the actualities of the battlefield
may come under one inclusive view with a revalued notion
of the Absolute.

The internal structure of this chapter has other
incompatibilities which however on closer examination also
become justifiable. We find that the chapter starts with a
very definite doubt in regard to the difference between
samnyasa (renunciation) and tyaga (relinquishment of benefit-
motivation in active life). Renunciation is a pattern of
behaviour belonging to the contemplative context of
spirituality based on a rationalistic and anti-ritualistic
outlook. Tyaga (relinquishment) is the revised version of
the same as recommended in the Gita (v, 4) by which only
benefit-motivation in action is to be avoided; actions as such
being held permissible and even necessary in normal life.
That some sort of action is inevitable to a living being is
clearly laid down in Verse 11.

Besides samnyasa (renunciation) as a global or unitive
form of action belonging to a contemplative pattern of
behaviour, there are various other patterns of behaviour
equally important for the contemplative to understand in the
revised light of the epistemology and methodology of the
Gita. This epistemology is discussed in detail between 
Verses 13 and 19. After this has been done the chapter
passes in review various forms of contemplative behaviour
under sacrifice, gift, austerity and under knowledge, action
and actor. Bravery and happiness are derivative virtues or
values of the action context which are also discussed before
the types of actor, such as the brahmin, kshattriya, vaisya
and sudra are discussed in the Gita (and by no means the
same as these signify in the Code of Manu for example).


We have pointed out earlier that the latter half of the Gita
has the purpose of referring to the personality of Arjuna in
the actual battlefield, not as a mere philosophical
abstraction, but with all his actual peculiarities as when one
would distinguish a Peter from a Paul. This task has been
progressively accomplished from the beginning of Chapter 
xiv. The necessary basis of absolutist life was discussed
there in relation to nature and its three modalities. Positive
and negative values were made clear by the end of Chapter 
 xvi after effecting a synthesis in the Paramount Person of 
Chapter xv. In Chapter xvii types of faith as a counterpart of
the faithful aspirant to wisdom were synthetically reviewed
and subjected to revaluation. With the discussion of
bravery and happiness as forming the value counterparts of
an active contemplative, the Gita now comes finally to close
grips with the actualities of the situation. Arjuna is
threatened with spiritual destruction in Verse 58. He has to
do or die. Such is the imperative nature implicit in the
situation. The philosophy of obligation and necessity is
preached to Arjuna only till the end of Verse 62 where he is
allowed to act as he likes. The style becomes contemplative
again after this verse and retains the tone in which the Gita
has been conceived as a whole. In Verse 66 Arjuna is asked
to abandon altogether all obligatory duties, in unequivocal
language. Without suffering a whit in the apodictic realism
of outlook, the Gita comes to the culminating final verse in
which values such as justice and fair-play are referred to,
in Verse 78, as belonging to the contemplative context.
As karma (action) has a character of inevitability, nobody,
according to this chapter, can be called a true samnyasin
(total renouncer). The possibility of an exception to this rule
by which all beings are committed to some act or other is, on
the whole, discountenanccd, although such a possibility has
been given sufficient recognition in other chapters. For
example, iii, 17, IV, 20 and v, 8 mention the possibility of
keeping aloof from action. Only in Verse 49 of the present
chapter is there a passing reference to a samnyasin
(renouncer) and that merely as a possible ideal to be reached.
As far as this chapter is concerned, therefore, it would
not be wrong to generalize by saying that it tends to
discredit samnyasa (renunciation) in favour of tyaga
(relinquishment). In Verse 6 of this chapter this decisive
opinion is expressly stated by Krishna. According to the
same verse, karma-phala (the fruit


or result of action) is to be given up by the actor by unitive
treatment of ends and means.

There is again in Verse 12 a very subtle contrast implied
as between the samnyasin (renouncer) and the tyagi
(relinquisher). Between the terms samnyasin (renouncer),
yogi (person of unitive understanding) and tyagi
(relinquisher of benefit-motivation) we have to steer clear
of many implied connotations or old meanings which would
naturally attach to them before we can grasp the pure
method of transcending action recommended by the Gita.
The theory of unitively transcending action is stated in 
Verses 14, 15 and 16 later.

The difference between Samkhya (rationalist philosophy)
and Yoga (unitive philosophy) has already been completely
demolished in v, 5. Samkhya is primarily a heterodox
rationalist school based on the twenty-five tattvas
(principles) dualistically understood; but in spite of its
heterodox dualism, there is a close and avowed adherence
to the Samkhya in Verse 13 later. The revaluation of types
of behaviour or action in this chapter enters into subtle
shades of values relating to diet at one end and to well-
being at the other. It is little wonder, therefore, that the
chapter has been described in xviii, 63 as "more secret
than all else that is secret" and again in next verse as "most
secret of all".

Spirituality, usually understood, tends to be a form of
escapism which often fails to meet squarely the crude or
brute facts of a situation. If escapism is not to vitiate the
conduct of a wise man, the factor called necessity which
inevitably enters into wisdom, when such a life of wisdom
has to be lived in its fullest sense, has to be put on an equal
level with the contingent factor. It is not enough, as Arjuna
indicates in xi, 1, that his intellectual confusion should
have gone but, as he himself indicates again in Verse 73 at
the end of this chapter, it is necessary that he should have
also regained the normal balance of his personality or
proper identity through strengthening of memory. By the
end of the Gita we have not only a wise Arjuna but one
who has fully come to himself by pure and practical

Taking away what is implied in Arjuna's first statement
from what is implied in the second, we get a rough idea of
what the author has in mind here. It is something to be
made clear to Arjuna in the discussion between Chapter xi 
and the end of the Gita here in this last chapter. Arjuna
has to become completely aware of the full inevitable
implications of the


situation in which he finds himself, together with a proper
understanding of his own nature with all its specific
modalities and determining factors, before he can consent to
obey Krishna, as he says he is willing to do, in xviii, 73.
An actual man in an actual situation is not merely an
entity belonging to philosophy, but one who is called upon
to act or lead a life without trying to live in a vacuum, which
would be both absurd and impossible. These are some of the
subtleties of this last chapter, the "secrets" of Verse 63.
But "the most secret of all" of Verse 64 relieves even this
tension in the name of subtlety and makes us breathe again
the calm atmosphere of a treatise on the contemplative life
in relation with the Absolute.

Thus reaching its climax as part of an epic poem, the Gita
makes allusion to the four castes, and seems to lend its
support to the fourfold division. Before closing these
introductory remarks it would be wrong to omit to point out
that the reference to this sociological subject deserves some
careful scrutiny, in order to fit it property into the context
of contemplation, and to understand that those aspects of caste
actually mentioned here, or popularly supposed to be
implied here, and which cannot be so fitted, should be
relegated to the historical background, the sociology or
politics proper, and to be best discussed outside the scope of
the present work on contemplation.

The Gita is a contemplative picture painted on a historico-epic
canvas. What belongs properly to such a historic canvas should
not be mistaken for the true contemplative teaching. Such
teaching should be given its own place and importance if the
Gita is to have its rightful value as a treatise on contemplation
and Yoga.


Arjuna uvacha
samnyasasya mahabaho
tattvam ichchhami veditum
tyagasya cha hrishikesa
prithak kesinishudana

Arjuna said:
I desire to know, 0 Mighty-Armed (Krishna), the truth of
renunciation (samnyasa) as also of relinquishment (tyaga),
0 Hrishikesa (Krishna), each distinctly, O Kesinishudana



Sribhagavan uvacha
kamyanam karmanam nyasam
samnyasam kavayo viduh
sarvakarmaphala yogam
prahus yogam vichakshanah

Krishna said:
Bards of old understand by renunciation (samnyasa) the
renunciation of desire-prompted action; the relinquishing
of the benefit of all actions, those with insight declare
to be relinquishment (tyaga).


These two verses do not call for any further comment.


tyajyam doshavad ity eke
karma prahur manishinah
yajna dana tapah karma
na tyajyam iti cha 'pare

"Action should be given up as an evil", say some rationalists; others say that "acts of sacrifice,giving and austerity should not be abandoned"


The two classes referred to here represent the orthodox
Samkhyas (rationalist philosophers) who, like Kapila, its
reputed founder, were known to be against Vedic ritual,
and those like Jaimini who, in his Purva Mimamsa Darsana
(Inquiry into the Prior or Ritualist Section of the Vedas
as a Philosophic Vision) gave a critically examined form
to Vedic ritualism.


nischayam srinu me tatra
tyage bharatasattama
tyago hi purushavyaghra
trividhah samprakirtitah

yajna dana tapah karma
na tyajyam karyam eva
tat yajno danam tapas
chai 'va pavanani manishinam

etany api tu karmani
sangam tyaktva phalanicha
kartavyani 'ti me partha
nischitam matam uttamam


Hear now from Me, 0 Best of the Bharatas (Arjuna), the
settled conclusion about relinquishment (tyaga), (which)
relinquishment indeed, 0 Best of Men (Arjuna), has been
well known as of three kinds:

the act of sacrifice, gift and austerity should not be
relinquished; each should indeed be observed; sacrifice,
gift and austerity are the purifiers of rational men;

but even these actions should be done leaving out
attachment and desire for result; this, 0 Partha
(Arjuna), is My decided and best conviction.


These three verses must go together because the term nischayam,
(settled conclusion) of Verse 4 refers to Verse 5, while Verse
6 concludes the whole statement. The reference to three kinds
of tyaga (relinquishment) in verse 4 can mean three classes
conceived on the lines of the gunas (modalities of nature)
as expressed in Verses 8 and 9, or as Ramanuja suggests,
can mean (1) relinquishment of result, (2) of agency and
(3) of not thinking of agency at all, but attributing it
to the Absolute.


niyatasya tu samnyasah
karmano no 'papadyate
mohat tasya parityagas
tamasah parikirtitah

Verily the renunciation of necessary inevitable,
action does not arise; the renunciation of such
through delusion is said to be inert-dark (tamasik).


The word samnyasa (renunciation) is used here in its
original conventional sense, without the revaluation
it has been subjected to hitherto in the Gita. One who
mechanistically abandons all action, and wishes thus to
escape necessity, may be said to be one who is not fully
aware of realities. He is therefore dull and deluded. Such
a samnyasa (renunciation) which corresponds to the popular
heterodox pattern, is the first mentioned and is condemned.
Other and more tolerable cases come later.


Under the term niyata (ordained) can be included various
grades of necessary action. Breathing, for example, is a
natural and necessary action for which the question of
renunciation cannot arise. If renunciation refers to
scriptural ordinance, those who belong to orthodox social
groups might consider it necessary, while to others it
might seem artificial and unnecessary. Even among
samnyasins (renouncers) there can be those who resemble
Buddhist bhikkus (mendicants) or Jaina svetambaras
(white-clad ascetics), or other kinds of munis
(quietists). Their renunciation becomes vitiated only
to the extent that it is tainted by the motive mentioned
in the second line as delusory. To the extent that
renunciation is normal and natural, it does not come
under the scope of this verse. Conversely, to the extent
rituals are deemed necessary in a particular situation,
they become justified or permissible.


duhkham ity eva yat karma
kayaklesabhyat tyajet
sa kritva rajasam tyagam
nai 'va tyagaphalam labhet

He who from fear of bodily trouble, relinquishes
action, considering it painful (thus) wilfully (with
rajas) relinquishing, he does not get the (legitimate)
benefit of relinquishment.


Two intriguing phrases appear here; first rajasam-tyagam
(wilful and passionate relinquishment) and second, tyaga-
phalam (benefit of relinquishment). Neither would apply in
the case of samnyasa (renunciation) pure and simple,
innocent of any orthodox values.

That this is so is admitted in Verse 12 later. The meaning of
the second expression should be read in the light of iii, 4
and xviii, 49. Mere omission of actions would amount only
to non-action which has no reference to natural or inevitably
necessary actions as its counterpart. Such inevitable action
has to be transcended by discipline which involves
intermediate stages. When such intermediate stages are
wilfully omitted, or through misplaced obstinacy due to
egoism, laziness etc., neither the mature result, indicated
in the second expression here ("the result of relinquishment")
nor the more respectable perfection of Verse 49, called
naishkarmyasiddhi (perfection where man has nothing to do)
comes about. In III, 4, the obverse and converse


of the same verity applicable to the tyagi (relinquisher) and
samnyasin (renouncer) respectively, are stated together, to
reveal the difference by contrast. Neither simple
renunciation mechanistically understood, nor simple
relinquishment, lifted from its organic context, would be
considered conducive to spiritual progress.


karyam ity evayat karma
niyatam kriyate 'rjuna
sangam tyaktva phalam chai'va
sa tyagah sattviko matah

When necessary action is done, 0 Arjuna, recognizing its
imperative character, relinquishing attachment and benefit,
such relinquishment is considered pure (sattvik).


We note that the gunas (modalities of nature) in this set of 
Verses 7 to 9, are referred to in inverse order. As the centre
of interest has passed on to the side of necessity, the degree
of necessity recognized under each item determines its
superiority. To the extent the importance of a certain action
as necessary is recognized, such action gains a superior
status as a value in this chapter.

By insisting on the avoidance of sangam (attachment) and phalam (fruit, benefit or result) it is prescribed that the actor should be free from even the desire for salvation as a spiritual benefit to the extent that it is a third factor in the form of a counter-attraction which could interfere with the strictly bipolar relation between the contemplative aspirant and the Absolute which is his soul.


na dveshty akusalam karma
kusale na 'nushajjate
tyagi sattvasamavishto
medhavi chhinnasamsayah

The relinquisher pervaded with purity (sattva), and of strong
intelligence, of sundered doubts, hates not unpleasant action,
nor is he attached to one pleasant.


The neutrality of the pure way that a relinquisher can maintain
is praised here preparatory to the next section culminating in 
Verse 16 where egoism is denounced.


na hi dehabhriti sachem
tyaktum karmany aseshatah
yas tu karmaphalatyagi
sa tyagi 'ty abhidhiyate

Nor indeed is it possible for an embodied one to completely
relinquish action; he who relinquishes the benefit of action
is verily called a relinquisher.


This verse suggests that, as action is binding on all in one
form or another, the best that a person can do is to eliminate
objectives referring to personal gain, profit or benefit in
general, which are here called the "fruit of action". The
highest value in the wisdom context, however, which has
been mentioned in Verse 8 as the "fruit of relinquishment"
must not be included under the "fruit of action" here. The
benefit of correct relinquishment must be the Absolute itself
What would fall strictly under this category of "fruit of
action" here and in ii, 47, would be those petty everyday
benefits which fall outside what unitively joins the highest
value and the actor himself. Such third items of interest can
have between themselves a varying range of values, good,
bad or indifferent, as referred to in the next verse. The true
samnyasin (renouncer) who is also a yogi and a proper tyagi
(relinquisher) in the Gita, is one who establishes a bipolar
relationship between himself and the highest values possible,
compatible with his own nature and capacity to understand
absolute wisdom objectively.

To the perfect samnyasin (renouncer), conforming to the
model extolled in Verse 49 later, with whom even the
distinction of actor (the means) and action (ends) has been
abolished, by whom means and ends are unitively understood,
and whose personal life is adjusted through long perfecting,
the question of benefit of action, in the sense of this verse,
does not even arise.


anishtam ishtam misram cha
trividham karmanah phalam
bhavaty atyaginam pretya
na tu samnyasinam kvachit

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


The benefit that the atyagi (non-relinquisher) gets is
juxtaposed with what in a samnyasin (renouncer) never arises
at all. At the one end, we have to imagine an ordinary man such
as a materialist; and at the other end, one who has given up
action because his reason has matured. The latter has attained
a perfection which requires no more action. Both these
persons resemble each other by their indifference to actions
enjoined or made binding by the scriptures.

The good, bad or indifferent results accruing from action
should therefore be understood as natural or normal to all
except one who has properly transcended action, i.e., the true
samnyasin (renouncer). The intermediate group of people
who are called tyagis (relinquishers) because they neither
conform to the natural man nor the ideal man, have to follow
scriptural injunctions as far as they feel that such apply to
their own case.

This verse helps us indirectly to strike the balance between
a samnyasin (renouncer) and a tyagi (relinquisher) which consists
in this, that the relinquisher still has need, according to
himself or from force of circumstances, for guidance from the
scriptures. He has to travel perforce from the appreciation
of one grade of value implied in a scripture that he
appreciates or adopts as his own, to one that he might be able
to appreciate later when his intelligence has matured or
become perfected. There is here an organic progression from
a lower to a higher spiritual value.

By subtracting the samnyasin (renouncer) from the natural
man, we get a precise notion of what is implied by the term
tyagi (relinquisher). A wilful samnyasin (renouncer)
negatively rejecting action is thus reduced to an absurdity
and it is the purpose of this verse to bring this into relief
by a clever method of comparison implicit in what would appear
a contrast. The abhava (negation) of the Nyaya philosophers is
here used with a skill which outwits them.


panchai 'tani mahabaho
karmani nibodha me
samkye kritante proktani
siddhaye sarvakarmanam

adhishthanam tatha karta
karanam cha prithagvidham
vividhas cha prithakcheshta
daivam chai 'va 'tra panchamam

sariravanmanobhir yat
karma prarabhate narah
nyayyam va viparitam va
panchai 'te tasya hetavah

0 Mighty-Armed (Arjuna), learn from Me these five causes for the accomplishment of all actions as stated in the Samkhya at the end of the age called Krita:

the basis and actor, and also the various (mental) instruments, the several and varied movements (activities), And fifth the divine factor;

whatever action a man undertakes by the body, speech and mind, justifiable or the opposite, these five are its causes.


Here there is reference to the Samkhya (rationalist) system
in which there are twenty-five tattvas (principles) which are
here reduced to five factors. The Samkhya system gives primacy
to twenty-four empirical factors, and purusha (spirit) which
is the twenty-fifth, corresponds here to what is called daivam
(the divine factor). This is a term foreign to Samkhya proper,
but attributed to that offshoot of Samkhya called Sesvara

At one extremity of these five factors we have this principle
of divinity corresponding to the purusha (spirit) and at the
other extremity we have what is here called adhishthanam
(basis) [see Samkhya Karika, 17, and Gita iii, 40.

To determine in detail the exact corresponding items between
the five here and the twenty-five of Kapila's school is not
necessary for our purposes. The Gita here only wants to
make out that the actor, the second factor from the basis, is
not to be treated as a disjunct and independently existing,
isolated entity broken away from the other four and treated
as a separate atma (self) or soul with an individuality of its
own. This is stated in Verse 16. For by giving the soul as the
actor an independent status, it becomes a free agent taking
free decisions irrespective of the imperative forces acting on
the individual in real life rationally understood. To give such
a status would be to neglect necessity altogether as a force in
life, although philosophically such a status might be justified
as it is done in purely contemplative texts.


The Gita has a specific purpose in this chapter, of reconciling
actuality with high wisdom. The preference for the methodology
of Samkhya is therefore understandable. This preference for
Samkhya has been consistently maintained, as we can see from
ii, 39, iii , 3 and 4, v, 5 and xiii, 24. For methodological
and epistemological purposes, the Samkhya has been largely
relied upon in enumerating various aspects of the Absolute,
as in vii, 4 and in reference to characteristics of beings
issuing from the Absolute, in x, 4 and 5, and in enumerating
the unique values in Chapter x. The Samkhya framework has
never been abandoned. Not only are the terms often borrowed
and adapted (e.g., the gunas or modalities of nature) but
the underlying implicit method is also closely akin to the

Regarding kritanta (the end of the first or golden age
called Krita) which can also be interpreted as "end of
action" we find the former meaning more acceptable, as the
Gita makes historical references, such as to Manu in iv, 1,
etc. Here it refers to the time of Kapila, the Samkhya
exponent. The reference to actions this are justifiable
and its opposite is to show that there is no choice of
any kind in the actor at all. He is caught in absolute


tatrai 'vam sati kartiram
atmanam kevalam tu yah
pasyaty akritabuddhitvan
na sa pasyati durmatih

Now, such being the case, the man of perverted mind who,
because of unfinished intelligence, looks upon himself
as the isolated agent of action; he does not see indeed.


This factor of absolute necessity referred to in the last
verse is here further stressed. One who cannot understand
this imperative force in which the individual is helplessly
caught is called a durmatih (a man of perverted mind).
The word atma (Self) cannot be taken to mean the one Self
as often suggested as an alternative meaning by Sankara and
others. The necessary context here presupposes nature whose
laws are fixed and unchangeable. Philosophically, it is true
that all actions could be attributed to the one Self as
representing the Absolute. No reference to the Samkhya
philosophy would


have been necessary if this had been in the mind of the

Akritabuddhitvat (because of unfinished intelligence)
indicates that the person meant here has not had the
preliminary training of a finished Vedantin in the methods
belonging to rational schools such as Nyaya and Samkhya.


yasya na 'hamkrito bhavo
buddhir yasya na lipyate
hatva 'pi sa iman lokan
na hanti na nibadhyate

He who is free from ego-sense, whose intelligence is unaffected, though he kills these people, he neither kills nor is bound.


This verse contains the same doctrine as in ii, 38. It is
theoretically permitted in the Gita that even when killing
one is not doing anything. Herein lies the Samkhya attitude
with a vengeance. It is stated more pointedly in xi, 19 and
the same theory of freedom from agency in action is implied
in v, 8 and 9.

Whether approached from the transcendental or the immanent
side, the neutrality implied in the agent here comes to the
same thing. Here it is from the immanent or necessary side
that the neutrality is arrived at.


jnanam jneyam parijnata
trividha karmachodana
karanam karma karte 'ti
trividhah karmasamgrahah

Knowledge, the knowable and the knower (are) the three-fold
incentive to action; the (mental) instrument, the action
and the actor are the three-fold aggregate-base of action.


Here contemplative values as such are treated in the same
way as values of action. When carefully studied, these
two sets show a kinship. They also imply a disparity
belonging to two different aspects altogether. The
difference between them has been sufficiently explained
in Chapter xiii. There, however, the mutual watertight
compartmentalization of these two


aspects was somewhat modified, some interaction between
them being made possible through an over-all Paramount
Person (in Chapter xv).

The subject of psycho-physical interaction in xv, 10, was
avowedly a mystery left unravelled. Spiritual values
belonging to a contemplative order cannot be pinned down
as cut and dried entities as in empiricism. In this chapter
which, as we have said, gives central place to necessary
action, wisdom is objectified and in the next verse is
considered as a positive factor which the knower is capable
of including within the range of his active thinking. If we
admit that thought is a form of action, just as dream is the
action of the subconscious psyche, it would not be a
violation of principle to include knowledge itself as a value
belonging to the context of activity.

In the present verse the two sets are spoken of distinctly
for purposes of being treated unitively only in the next
verse. The veil of mystery which was present regarding the
question of psycho-physical interaction may be said still
to remain even here between these two sets called
karmachodana (incentive to action) and karmasamgraha
(aggregate-basis of action).

The latter strictly belongs to the field of actuality where
alone action may be said to exist horizontally. The former
set may be said to pertain vertically to the perceptual. In iv,
17, it has been shown that the course of activity is gahana
(profound or mysterious). The mystery involved here in
what concerns the right action to be recommended to Arjuna
has therefore already been recognized by the author. The
relation between action and contemplation is hard to
visualize and we have to assume it, at least for the purpose
of discussion here, in the same way as the author takes it for
granted in the next verse, where he places knowledge, action
and actor in a new and of his own. There is, however, a
striking resemblance between his own three categories and
the very elaborate categories mentioned under the tattvas
(true principles) of the Samkhya philosophy. Here at least
we have these reduced and simplified in a form acceptable
even to Vedic orthodoxy.


jnanam karma cha karta cha
tridhai 'va gunabhedatah
prochyate gunasamkhyane
yathavach chhrinu tany api


Even knowledge, action and actor are said, according to
modality-difference by way of their enumeration according
to the modalities, to be of three kinds; hear you of them
(as they are) actually.


After arriving in this verse at a three-limbed formulation
of the three factors entering into a situation involving action
(the subject of this chapter), in his own way, as we have
said, the author wishes to grade action-values belonging to
these three factors into further subdivisions. These are
examined in the light of the theory of the gunas (modalities
of nature) as conditionings dividing each of these three
values. Thus we come to many subdivisions of values into
grades or degrees of value, each conceived on a triple basis.
This amounts to presenting three kinds of conditioning
applied to each of the three constituents of action, thus
making nine subdivisions. The actor gains primacy as the
enumeration proceeds, and action-values such as wisdom,
reason or discretion, firmness and happiness as belonging
primarily to the actor, will be comparatively described one
after another with reference to the three modalities of

The personal action-value called firmness, conditioned
under the affective-passionate modality (rajasa-guna) in 
Verse 34 is going to be tacitly recommended to Arjuna in
this chapter, as it has already been recommended in ii, 31,
in order to make him face the battle with that kind of
reason-discretion belonging to wisdom.

The recognition of these facts will help us in following
the ensuing thread of thought of the author in the
complications brought about by simultaneous treatment of
subtle spirit-conditionings and action-values.


sarvabhuteshu yenai 'kam
bhavam avyayam ikshate
avibhaktam vibhakteshu
taj jnanam viddhi sattvikam

That by which the One unexpended Being is seen in all
beings, undivided in the divided, know you that knowledge
as pure (sattvik).


This and the two following verses refer to the knowledge
component of Verse 19 as conditioned by the three


of nature. When knowledge is conditioned by the pure or
sattvik modality we have a thinker who may be called a
philosopher of a high order. Not only is he able to
generalize and see unity, but his thinking is able to
penetrate to the root of paradoxes such as the one and
the many.


prithaktvena tu yaj jnanam
nanabhavan 'prithagvidhan
vetti sarveshu bhuteshu taj
jnanam viddhi rajasam

The knowledge which sees multiplicity of beings in the
different kinds because of separateness as distinct, know
that knowledge as affectively-pragmatic (rajasik).


Here an empirical and realistic approach to life which
conforms to a rationalist outlook incapable of rising above
particulars into any world of universals, is stated.


yat tu kritsnavad ekasmin
karye saktam ahetukam
atattvarthavad alpam cha
tat tamasam udahritam

But that which clings to one single effect as if it were
the whole, without reason, without meaning, based on any
principle and insignificant, that is called the inert-dark


Blindly clinging to particular values, with exaggerated
affection, to the exclusion of the universal aspects implied
in the particular, reflects a lazy state of mind called here
dark or tamasik.


niyatam sangarahitam
aragadveshatah kritam
aphalaprepsuna karma
yat tat sattvikam uchyate

yat tu kamepsuna karma
sahamkarena va punah
kriyate bahulayasam
tad rajasam udahritam

anubandham kshayam himsam
anapekshya cha paurusham
mohad arabhyate karma
yat tat tamasam uchyate

An action which is obligatory, performed without
attachment, without affection or disregard, by one
not benefit-motivated, that is called pure (sattvik).

But that action done with great strain, by one
desire-prompted, or again, possessed of egoism, is
called affective-passionate (rajasik).

The action undertaken from confusion (of values)
disregarding consequences, loss or injury, and
human limitations, that is called dark (tamasik).


Action itself as a value is graded into three classes in
these three verses. Notice that the modalities of thought
covered in the last three verses came prior to action itself.
Thinking being an impulse is thus given priority.
Knowledge in its revalued status is common to both the sets
mentioned in Verses 18 and 19.

In Verse 23 the action is natural and free from attachment.
In Verse 24 it is laboured and with attachment. In Verse 25
its possibilities and scope are not clear to the actor. These
three represent respectively the degree of insights of
pragmatic intelligence and of desperate confusion on the
part of the actors in each case.


muktasango 'nahamvadi
dhrityutsaha samanvitah
siddhyasiddhyor nirvikarah
karta sattvika uchyate

ragi karmaphalaprepsur
lubdho himadtmako 'suchih
harshasokanvitak karta
rajasah parikirtitah

ayuktah prakritah stabdhah
satho naikritiko 'lasah
vishadi dirghasutri cha
karta tamasa uchyate


The actor, free from attachment, who avoids references
to himself in the first person, endowed with firmness and
zeal, unmoved by success or failure, is called pure (sattvik).

The actor, passionate, prompted by desire for benefits,
greedy, violent-natured, maladjusted (asuchi), with
(moods of) exaltation and depression, is called
affective-passionate (rajasik).

The actor (who is a) misfit, crude, stubborn,deceitful,
malicious, lazy, despondent, procrastinating, is called
dark (tamasik).


From action we pass on subjectively to the actor in this
next set of three verses. The basis of classification is
sufficiently familiar to us. Here the actor himself in his
person represents the value mentioned, whereas in former
cases the values were endowments only. The subject and
object therefore tend to draw closer together as we proceed.
When Arjuna is asked to fight, in virtue of his inclusion in
the category of those possessing high or divine endowments
in xvi, 5, he may here be considered, not a mere kshattriya
(warrior) as in Verse 34 later, but as a pure actor, which
would raise him above that particular type.


buddher bhedam dhrites chai 'va
gunatas trividham srinu
prochyamanam aseshena
prithaktvena dhanamjaya

Hear now the three-fold difference of reason and firmness
also, according to the modalities of nature, 0 Winner of
Wealth (Arjuna), to be set forth fully and severally.


There are three more values which may be assumed to be derived
from the principle of necessary action pertaining to the actor.
In the battlefield these values called here (1) discretion or
reason, (2) bravery or firmness and (3) happiness (the latter
referred to in Verse 36), can be seen to have a place.
A seasoned warrior is happy and stays at his post and uses
his discretion to the best advantage. The happiness of a


warrior has been mentioned in ii, 32. Happiness amounting
to bliss we know belongs to the yogi. It is eloquently
described in the definition of a yogi in vi, 20 and directly
alluded to as the essence of Yoga in vi, 21.

Even when we take firmness as the personal quality of an
actor, we find in xviii, 33, that it is possible to think of
firmness in the pure contemplative context of Yoga, forgetting
all about battlefields. Again, if we scrutinize the meaning
of buddhi (reason) it can just mean discretion as a part of
valour on the battlefield, or it can be understood in the
larger context of philosophy. We find that the words buddhi
(reason) and buddhi-yoga (unitive reasoning) in ii, 49, and
x, 10, etc., have a very important place in the teaching of
the Gita.

Samkhya (rationalist) philosophy itself is based on reasoning,
and we have already noticed that the Gita teaching relies on
the Samkhya in many ways. In understanding with any precision
the meaning of the three values to be immediately described,
we are obliged to keep together in mind the larger context
and the more particular one of this chapter, i.e., warfare
at least till we transcend Verse 63, between which verse
and the next, 64, there is a clear distinction intended by
the author himself as expressed in the two kinds or degrees
of secrets mentioned.

In the treatment of these values here, according to the
modalities of nature as before, we find, some statements
apply to the particular war context, while others, usually
the first mentioned, belong to the larger context, the
philosophical, in each case and under each modality. In
the reading of each verse we must therefore carefully
differentiate between these references.


pravrittim cha nivrittim
cha karyakarye bhayabhaye
bandham moksham cha ya vetti
buddhih sa partha sattviki

That reason which knows the positive way of action and the
negative way of inaction, what ought to be done and what
ought not to be done, what is to be feared and what is not
to be feared, the binding and the liberating (actions),
0 Partha (Arjuna), is pure (sattvik).


The terms pravritti (positive way of action) and nivritti
(negative way of inaction) are known to philosophy. On the
battlefield, reason having the complexion of discretion
only, these terms have to be taken to indicate what is meant
by advance or retreat.

The pair of terms bandha (bondage) and moksha (liberation)
may refer to necessity and contingency respectively in
philosophy; or in the limited context of warfare, to how
far one is trapped or how far one has the advantage of


yaya dharmam adharmam
cha karyam chi 'karyam
eva cha ayathavat prajanati
buddhih sa partha rajasi

That reason which takes right and wrong, the permissible
and the banned, in a sense incompatible with reality,
that, 0 Partha (Arjuna), is affective-passionate (rajasik).


In the active or affective-passionate (rajasik) attitude,
social rather than personal values enter in. In deciding
whether a certain action is right or wrong, such a person
is confused between purely moral or religious values and
those derived merely from social convention, and those
derived merely from social convention, and prefers the
latter. This must be the meaning implicit in the phrase
ayathtavat (not as they are intrinsically). If this word
is translated as "mistakenly" there would be no difference
between this rajasik actor's reasoning and that of the dark
or tamasik one.


adharmam dharmam iti ya
manyate tamasa 'vrita
sarvarthan viparitams cha
buddhih sa partha tamasi

That reason enveloped in darkness, which regards wrong as
right, and sees all values pervertedly, 0 Partha (Arjuna),
is dark (tamasik).


The mistaken judgment about values becomes more markedly
perverted in the case of the dark or tamasik type. Not only
is such a person incapable of judgment in the matter of right
and wrong, but he insists on the wrong being right through


dhritya yaya dharayate
yogena 'vyabhicharinya
dhritih sa partha sattviki

ya tu dharmakamirthan
dhritya dharayate 'rjuna
prasangena phalakankshi
dhritih sa partha rajasi

ya svapnam bhayam sokam
vishadam madam eva cha
na vimunchati durmedha
dhritih sa partha tamasi

The firmness by which the activities of mind, vital
functions and the senses, 0 Partha (Arjuna), are
kept from deflecting (from the, true path) by Yoga,
is pure (sattvik).

But the firmness by which one holds fast to duty and
pleasures and wealth, desirous of the result of each
when the occasion presents itself, that firmness,
0 Partha (Arjuna), is affective-passionate (rajasik).

That by which a stupid man does not give up sleep,
fear, grief, despondency and wantonness, that firmness,
0 Partha (Arjuna), is dark (tamasik).


How firmness is to be understood in the context of Yoga
has already been explained and is sufficiently clear in 
Verse 33 here. The best way to understand this value is
in the context of the affective-passionate modality
discussed in Verse 34, especially in the reference to
dharma (duty).

Holding fast to duty is not the highest or purest expression
of firmness. It is relegated to the middle category. Thus
even here where the factor of necessity is centralized and
keen, the author gives primacy to contemplative firmness,
even above holding fast to duty (which we remember Arjuna
is asked to do).


When a king is called a "defender of the faith" he conforms
to this subdivision of value. Whether Arjuna as a person
admitted to the order of those who possess high or divine
endowments when he finally consents to obey Krishna in 
Verse 73 of this chapter, does so in conformity with what 
Verse 33 implies or with the implications of Verse 34,
or perhaps with both, is left an open question.

The firmness of the dark-dull tamasik person is negative
in character. Sleep, fear, etc., mentioned there cannot imply
true positive firmness. When it amounts to perversity,
stupidity is called firmness here, but this is a misnomer in
the context.


sukham tv idanim trividham
srinu me bharatarshabha
abhyasad ramate yatra
duhkhantam cha nigachchhati

yat tad agre visham iva
pariname 'mritopamam
tat sukham satvikam proktam
atmabuddhi prasadajam

vishayendriya samyogad
yat tad agre 'mritopamam
pariname visham iva
tat sukham rajasam smritam

yad agre cha 'nubandhe cha
sukham mahanam atmanah
tat tamasam udahritam

And now hear from Me, O Best of the bharatas
(Arjuna), the three kinds of happiness, that in
which one by practice rejoices, and in which he
reaches the end of pain;

that happiness which is like gall at first, ambrosial
at the end, born of lucid self-understanding, is
called pure (sattvik);

that happiness arising out of contact of senses with
objects, at first like ambrosia, at the end like gall,
is called affective-passionate (rajasik);

that happiness which at first and in after-effects is
self-confounding, arising from sleep, lassitude and
listlessness, is called dark (tamasik).


The last item pertaining to action-values is sukham
(happiness). In the yogic context disaffiliation from
suffering marks the minimal point, and the attainment of
ultimate happiness, the maximal; as stated in vi, 23 and 21,
where Yoga is defined. In the light of that definition the
meaning of Verse 36 must apply to these requirements of 

The joy of a warrior is not excluded from happiness as
understood here. The chance for a righteous battle has been
called an open gate to heaven in ii, 32. Such joy is to be
thought of when absolutism is fully intended and in such a
case there is no difference between pleasure, happiness and
bliss. In the other three grades belonging to the modalities
of nature, they could be differentiated as representing
supreme happiness, relative or transient happiness and
negative satisfaction.


na tad asti prithivyam va
divi deveshu ad punak
sattvam prakritijair muktam
yad ebhih syat tribhir gunaih

There is no entity either on earth or again in heaven
among the (Vedic) divinities that could be free from
these three modalities born from nature.   


Before entering on the next section which extends from 
Verses 41 to 49, the present verse can be said to be a
punctuation mark concluding the general discussion of the
subject of values in the field of action understood in relation
to the modalities. This verse is also an enunciation of the
general principle on which the much-misunderstood fourfold
division of society mentioned in Verses 41 and 42 is to be

It remains for the author to close-in necessary values
pertaining to the context of action in dealing more directly
than hitherto with the person of the actor himself. The actor,
in his more concrete aspect, is a type of person who has a
body which can be seen as actual, and a vocation or trade
which he plies. Thus he constitutes as a living person the
combination of two aspects which meet in his personality.
These come, as it were, from opposite sides of reality.


There are, on the one hand, his subjective or inner
temperaments and aptitudes which depend largely on the
modality which enters into his life to modify his conduct,
whether for good or ill. On the other hand, this subjective
factor has its counterpart coming from the crude or brute
world of actuality itself, which can be said to be outside and
independent of the person. Matter here meets mind.
Between these two counterparts or tendencies conceived
in actuality there is an equilibrium to be established, the
resultant of which is called right or meaningful action, or at
least action which is not absurd. All sat karma (good or true
actions) as understood at the end of Chapter xvii are
comprised under this general title of action.

We have already noted that the author of the Gita reconciles
orthodoxy and heterodoxy in his own delicately-conceived
revaluation of Samkhya, Yoga and Vedism, not to mention
gift-making and austerity. When he has such an attitude of
revaluation, he cannot justly omit at least a passing reference
to the three grades of varnyas (aspirants to perfection in the
Vedic context). These varnyas have in the first place to be
distinguished from hereditary jati (kinds) or kula (clans),
references to which are conspicuously absent, at least on the
part of Krishna, whose words count as representing the Guru of
the Gita. Arjuna in his delusion does refer to them in i, 43,
but that reference has to be taken as a purva paksha
(anterior opinion) and should not be taken as included in the
teaching of the Gita.

The first reference to the subject of divisions among men,
not based on heredity, occurs in iv, 13, where it is clearly
stated that the Absolute itself is the principle on which the
division of varnyas is based. It is further said to be
scientifically based on the principle of fitting the
temperament or aptitude of a person into the corresponding
type of vocation available for him in the world of actuality.
Looked at in this way, the three principal groups and the
fourth one consisting of the sudra (servant) mentioned in
the next verse here could be understood rationally by anyone,
including a modern man of the East or West, somewhat as

There are always in this human world four main vocations
available. Plato recognizes them as the philosopher, the
soldier, the man of affairs and the servant.

If we should think of the world into which an Oxford or
Harvard graduate enters or one into which the common man,
who has not been to college,


has to fit by necessity, we can speak of these four divisions
as consisting of (1) holy orders, (2) military service,
(3) business and (4) wage-earning. Even in modern Russian
society the terms might be modified into priests, soldiers,
commissars and proletarians. These four divisions have
existed and still exist in all societies, whether explicitly
or implicitly, with slight variations of locality and period.
Political and economic forces have had their effect in such
matters, changing the complexion of the social structure
during different periods of history, but these general
divisions have always been there.

It is in this sense that in iv, 13 the Absolute Principle
itself is said to be behind these four divisions. Even then
we should notice that there is a saving clause in the second
line of that verse, wherein the necessary is cancelled out
by the contingent aspect of the same Absolute principle.
Therefore although in the set-up of society belonging to the
necessary context of life, the four divisions are valid, when
contingent factors enter into it, the rigidity is dissolved and
we have a society of free individuals whose gradation in the
scale of superiority or inferiority is abolished in favour of
an equality of status, as clearly expressed in ix, 32, where
even sudras (servants) can aspire to the highest wisdom, not
to speak of those who are said to be born of 'lowly wombs'.
The whole subject of this coming section reduces itself to
one of choice of vocation depending on inner temperament.
The deep-seated origins of inner temperament based on
modalities which are stated to be binding forces in xiv,
5, have been explained in sufficient detail with graded
examples concerning each possible sub-division.

The separation between actor and action has now narrowed down to such an extent that the inner temperament of a particular type of person and his proper vocation could be spoken of as fitting to each other resulting in individuals who are not misfits. There is no mistake in calling them vocational types determined by actual necessity on one side and temperamental suitability on the other. Life, if it is to go on normally, as it must, requires that these two
aspects are not only brought into agreement, but are even juxtaposed and fused one with the other to produce a correct vocational type of person. A vocational misfit cannot be said to be true to himself. He is at best a freak, an eyesore or an absurdity. These types have nothing in common with tribal, caste or fissiparous separatist units flourishing in every society, based on


sentimental exclusiveness and having nothing to do with
temperament or necessity understood as being harmoniously
matched in them. Social units not based on this principle of
vocational types, such as the numerous castes of India, have
at best a status as forms of religious absurdity or nuisance.
In India these types have tended to be spoken of with a
certain implied grouping into superior and inferior
hereditary classes of men. When the Aryans penetrated into
India the pre-Aryan peoples, who were not inferior to them
in culture, had to be taken for purposes of war strategy as
persons outside the pale of Aryan orthodoxy, and made to
correspond to serfs or slaves.

This tendency is not peculiar to Aryans. In recent times
even Hitler claimed Aryan superiority. Aryans were
essentially ritualistic and any value outside the fire-
sacrifice was legitimately despised and mistrusted by them.
They could not tolerate a sudra (historically a slave of
the invader) arrogating to himself any status within their
own closed social formation.

As the Vedic religion broadened out, however, by coming
into contact with the rishis (seers) who lived in the forests
of India, and who represented a more ancient and negative way
of wisdom, it became open and dynamic instead of static
and closed. Revaluators such as Vyasa, through the words of
Krishna of the Gita, threw open the gates of Upanishadic
wisdom and admitted even the sudras (servants or slaves)
into the right of walking in the path of wisdom (as in ix,32)
Coming closer to the subject of the four divisions themselves,
as mentioned in this next section, its basis is to be
found in the Manu Smriti (Laws of Manu) where it is said:

"But in order to protect this universe He the most
resplendent one, assigned separate (duties and)
occupations to those who sprang from the arms, thighs
and feet.

"To Brahmins He assigned teaching and studying (of
the Veda), sacrificing for their own benefit and for others,
giving and accepting (of alms).(88)

"The Kshatriya He commanded to protect the people,
to bestow gifts, to offer sacrifices, to study (the Veda) and
to abstain from attaching himself to sensual pleasures.

"The Vaishya to tend cattle, to bestow gifts, to study (the
Veda), to trade, to lend money and to cultivate land. (90).


"One occupation only the Lord prescribed to the Sudra,
to serve meekly even these (other) three castes. (1, 87-9l)
("The Laws of Manu": trans. G. Bühler, S.B.E. Oxford, 1886.)

The extent to which this original basis has been modified and
revalued here in the Gita is glaringly evident to anyone who
reads the above side by side with the qualifications of the
several divisions mentioned in the Gita.

In Verse 41, we notice by the use of the word karmani
(actions) that it is necessary action which is at the basis
of the divisions here. Karma (action) belongs to the actual
world of necessity and therefore corresponds to the mould
rather than to the liquid, while the liquid corresponds to
the natural dispositions of temperament of the actor. These
flow into the mould to fit into the necessity of a situation.
The word karma (action) is repeated in every case.
But examination of some of the items constituting action,
such as serenity and self-restraint, especially as applied to
the brahmin and the kshattriya in Verses 42 and 43, reveals
that they are negative or contemplative in character, and
cannot be called proper actions at all.

Firmness and not running away from his appointed post in
battle, as vocational qualifications of the kshattriya cannot
be called active occupations. In the case of vaishyas and
sudras who are, as it were, bracketed together and included
in one verse (44), it is hardly fair to say that cultivation
or servitude are freely chosen according to temperament.
To be a man of affairs requires capital and without capital
one is pushed into the place of a proletarian by force of
necessity. Conscious matching of temperament with
occupation does not hold good in these cases. A stray dog
will eat a cake as well as left-over scraps without being able
to choose between them. To say that it does not deserve a
cake would be an unfair reflection on its character.
Aristocratic lap-dogs can cultivate superior taste if there is
the chance. It can be admitted that a hound has a liking for,
or consciously prefers, the chase. These revalued groupings
even here have therefore to be understood with a certain
latitude and imagination.

Moreover available vocations in modern times have
multiplied beyond measure. The ground staff on an airfield
required special aptitudes different from those of a pilot.


A criminal lawyer requires an acumen different from a professor
of theoretical law. Thus in every department the range of
variety in vocations available has become so complicated
today that it sounds archaic to modern ears even to refer to
the four divisions, as in the Gita. Dr. Alexis Carrel, in his
book "L'Homme cet Inconnu" (Man the Unknown) complains:

"Instead of recognizing the necessary diversity of
human beings, the industrial civilization has compressed
them within four classes: the rich, the proletarian, the
peasant and the middle class. The employee, the instructor,
the policeman, the pastor, the small medical man, the savant,
the professor of the university and the shopkeeper who
constitute the middle class have more or less the same kind
of life. These types which are so different in status are
classed together not according to their personality, but
according to their financial position."(translated)

The author of the Gita refers to the four divisions, it
must be presumed, by way of concession to Vedic orthodoxy
which he does not want to slight by neglect. This is evident
from the fact that, after this section, there is an extra sub-
section where the non-vocational way of life of a rationally-
minded spiritual man is portrayed, which conforms more
closely to the Gita pattern of teaching, in Verses 51 to 53.
Even the requirements of this chapter, which is conceived
on the basis of conforming to an actual war situation, is
transcended after Verse 53. After Verse 64, we find all
asymmetrical considerations peculiar to this chapter and
arising from the structure of the work, to be discarded,
with the Gita coming to its culminating teaching in fully
contemplative language.

The present lengthy comment on this coming section can
be excused, because of the fact that this theory of castes or
what is called varnashramadharma (caste-stage-duty) has
vitiated equality, justice and fairplay in Indian life for
many centuries. In the minds even of people like Mahatma
Gandhi it is a matter of much confused theory and practice.
It has even vitiated politics in the meting out of fair
justice in law courts where Manu is still quoted. Two
examples from Manu will suffice to indicate this injustice
with which Verse 73 of the Gita is equally concerned.


"No collection of wealth must be made by a sudra,
even though he is able (to do it): for a sudra who has
acquired wealth gives pain to brahmins."(x, 129)

"A brahmin may confidently seize the goods of (his)
sudra (slave) for, as that (slave) can have no property,
his master may take his possessions."(viii, 417)

The masses of India have awakened keenly to this injustice
which has corrupted Indian life. Several Hindu reformist
and religious movements have raised voices of protest
against it but have been lukewarm or apologetic in their

It is to the credit of Guru Narayana (1855-1928) to have
spoken out unequivocally and declared: "For men their
humanity is their cast" (manushanam manushatvam jatih)
and also: "Brahmins, etc., are not such (castes)" (na
brahmanadhih asya evam). His attitude agrees with the Gita
in throwing open freely the highest of spiritual attainments
whether Vedic or non-Vedic to all human beings, thus
recognizing one jati, caste or kind only.

It will be a consolation to the modern world also to learn
from this commentary that the Gita does not support any
closed form of spirituality but that it is a contemplative
text- book acceptable to the whole world. Any slight vestige
still remaining has to be overlooked and explained in the
light of the antiquity of the Gita itself.

Coming to the present Verse 40, the reference to earth and
heaven, in spite of its extensive scope, does not include
the whole cosmos of which the purushottama (Paramount
Person) is the Absolute principle. The entities here still
belong to the relative world within the Vedic framework of
values covered by the lower of the two purushas (spirits,
persons) of xv, 16.


brahmana kshatriya visam '
sudranam cha paramtapa
karmani pravibhaktani
svabhavaprabhavair gunaih

Of brahmins (quiet contemplatives), kshattriyas
(active contemplatives), vaishyas (men of affairs)
and of sudras (proletarians) too, 0 Conqueror of the
Foe (Arjuna), vocations are separately assigned in
conformity with the modalities arising from their
own nature.


Sankara thinks that the three in the first-mentioned group are to be distinguished from the last by the latter not having any right for Vedic studies. This is one of the minor examples of how, as we have stated elsewhere, Sankara tacitly connives at hereditary caste, as with Manu. Perhaps in his time it was too much to expect him not to do so, lest orthodoxy, already mistrusting him as a prachchhanna bauddha (Buddhist in disguise) should disown him altogether. The mention of sudra (servant, proletarian) disjunctly in this verse can be taken in the light that vaisya (farmer, man of affairs) covers sudra to some extent, since both have occupations outside the scope of contemplative values, as a scrutiny of Verse 44 will reveal.                             

To mention the latter on a par with the others would involve a fourth modality group as a kind of mixed sub-division. Moreover in ix, 32, vaisyas, sudras and women are seen already grouped together under one generic group of those of  "sinful" or non-contemplative origin.             
The brahmin represents the pure modality (sattva), the kshattriya (warrior) the active-passionate modality (rajas) and all the other three mentioned in ii, 32, could be mentioned indifferently as examples of a third grade covering the dark modality (tamas) and other non-contemplative values.

We have said that the word karmani (actions) is incompatible with such virtues as serenity, mentioned in Verse 42, except in a very extended sense.

Sankara has three alternative theories regarding svabhava
(own-nature). If the three alternatives do not prove anything
else, it at least shows us that we are treading on very
delicate disputed ground when we deal with these factors.
No cut and dried division of occupations to agree with
temperaments seems possible, and if such a possibility is
conceded it should be done as a concession made to those
spiritual qualities implicit in the Vedic religion, which
the author does not wish to .slight by omission.


samo damas tapah saucham
kshantir arjavam eva cha
jnanam vijnanam astikyam
brahmakarma svabhavajam

Calmness, self-restraint, austerity, purity, forgiveness
and straightforwardness, (pure) wisdom, applied


wisdom, belief: these are the (items of) activity of
the brahmin, born of his own nature.


The items referred to as constituting the duty or work
belonging to a brahmin's vocation which accords with his
own nature have all a familiar ring in our ears. None of them
have an obligatory character to justify its being included as
a duty; nor are they justified in being mentioned as activities.
In the free contemplative discussion of spiritual values in
the Gita, which is a non-obligatory textbook of wisdom, we
find frequent mention of such and similar values in previous
chapters. When we remember that Chapter x has no connection with
necessity or obligation, the pure contemplative character of
the items listed in x, 4 cannot be doubted. In xi, 1, Arjuna
refers to chapter x as dealing with adhyatma (pertaining to
the Self). This further proves the same.

Further, comparing these items here with such regular acts as
offering sacrifices and teaching the Vedas, mentioned by
Manu as being duties belonging to a brahmin (quoted under 
Verse 40, the root and branch revaluation of the basis of the
four groupings in the Gita as it deviates from Manu must be
clear even to the superficial reader.

The brahmin of this verse, unlike the brahmin of Manu, is one
who is sublimated or glorified in the light of contemplation,
with no vestiges of obligation clinging to the high pattern
of his spiritual life. While it would be good for those
who vociferously claim brahminism for themselves through
magnified religious egoism to aspire for these truly spiritual
qualities for purposes of healthy emulation, to claim such as
a prerogative belonging to a closed and static group in
society can only be considered an anachronistic conceit. The
true brahmin of the Gita approximates to a type of
contemplative rather than a ritualist and resembles in this
way both the tyagi (relinquisher) and the samnyasin


sauryam tejo dhritir dakshyam
yuddhe cha 'py apalayanam
danam isvarabhavas cha
kshatram karma svabhavajam

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


Among the items belonging to the kshattriya (warrior) we can single out isvarabhava (lordly or dignified mien) and danam (generosity) as glaringly absent in Manu's list. Instead, we find in Manu that sacrifices and the study of the Vedas and political protection of the people are mentioned. Here we have again the picture of a sublimation, this time of the warrior here, who, except in the quality called skill or dexterity, cannot be said to be very active as a
representative of the active-passionate modality (rajas) with which his vocation is said to tally. The quality called dakshyam (skill) is one incapable of being imagined as a binding obligation.

Apparently the Gita does not see the possibility of envisaging either a political type of brahmin on the one hand, or of excluding from its recognized groupings a kshattriya (warrior) who is a non-combatant, non-political contemplative. The raja-rishis (philosopher-kings) of iv, 2, and ix, 33, held up as models or types in the Gita, are both contemplatives and men of action who could not strictly be included in any one of the four divisions as seen in Manu. Reference to women who could conform to contemplative patterns of behaviour is conspicuous by its absence although the possibility of high spiritual endowments in women finds mention in x, 34.


krishi gaurakshya vanijyam
vaisyakarma svabhavajam
paricharyatmakam karma
sudrasya 'pi svabhavajam

Ploughing, tending cattle, and trade are the (items
of) vocation of the vaisya, born of his own nature;
work of the nature of menial service is likewise
born of the sudra's own nature.


Comparison with Manu under this verse reveals that vaisyas
(merchant-farmers) there had also to offer sacrifices
and learn the Vedas, which is again glaringly absent here.
Here they are degraded almost on a level with the poor
sudra (servant) whose one duty according to both Manu and
the Gita is to serve his master.


Every sudra (servant), it must be conceded, would like to
be promoted to the grade of a vaisya (merchant-farmer) if
only he had the required capital. There seems to be no
difference between them spiritually, unless the sudra
(servant) represents a subnormal or wrongly-conditioned
individual. Recent history in India has proved that many
aboriginal or hill tribes make good soldiers. Missionaries
have proved that the lower "castes" offer good human
material which, when polished and presented, can vie with
the best of brahmins and kshattriyas. Moreover, many of the
superior qualities attributed to the first two groups are
capable of being brought about by nurture though not found
in nature.


sve-sve karmany abhiratah
samsiddhim labhate narah
svakarmaniratah siddhim
yatha vindati tach chhrinu

Devoted each to his own occupation, man reaches
perfection (in practical Yoga); how, devoted to his
own occupation, he attains such perfection, that do


The next four verses could be taken as constituting a
section relating to the same question of occupations and
duties. It contains the theory, much spoken of as an
important contribution, and sometimes referred to as the
doctrine of svadharma (own duty) of the Gita. It has
already been referred to more properly in ii, 35, and the
whole of the theory elaborated here has been more briefly
and strikingly stated already. in ii, 31 and 33, there is
reference to the same term svadharma (own duty), not as a
theory, but as an imperative necessity in actual circumstances
meant for Arjuna to recognize. At the end of this chapter
we are again closing-up on actualities, as we have already
pointed out. The theory of svadharma (own duty) is treated
here both in its practical and contemplative implications
at the same time.

The siddhi (attainment) cannot be considered as spiritual
perfection, inasmuch as after such a perfection in its fullest
sense, as employed in Verse 49 later, there is still a long
way to go, as stated in Verse 50, before one is fit to become
the Absolute as stated in Verse 53. Perfection in the context
of action, or even of practical Yoga, which is usually called a


siddhi is only a stepping stone to the final contemplative perfection in the fuller sense of the Gita's teaching which is yet to be distinctly outlined.

Note the slight difference between this verse, which refers
to svakarma (own action) and the svadharma (own duty) of
iii, 35, and reverted to in Verse 47 later. Simple karma
(action) can be a necessity without moral implications,
while the idea of dharma (duty) has in it an implied moral
conscience. Duty is something a man feels he ought to do
because of his convictions. There is a certain choice.
But in simple karma (action) the margin of choice for the
actor is very narrow.


yatah pravrittir bhutanam
yena sarvam idam tatam
svakarmana tam abhyarchya
siddhim vindati manavah

He from whom all existences come forth, and by whom all
this is pervaded, by offering worship to Him with his own
occupation, man wins perfection.


This verse enunciates a very important principle which we
have noticed running throughout the Gita teaching. It is
that of establishing proper bipolarity by the individual
to whatever high ideal he is capable of postulating on
the side of the transcendent.

The counterparts here are (1) the actual actor who is
plying his own trade here below immanently present and
(2) the above-mentioned transcendent principle described
here as the source of all activity resulting in all beings,
and who pervades everything hereunder. These qualifications
are expressly made very plain, as if in a popular
theological style, because if we take the instance of a
sudra he will not be able to think of the Absolute with
all the attributes by which, according to more philosophical
writing, the Absolute could be presented.

It is not necessary, either, for the bipolar condition to be
fulfilled correctly in the context of contemplation, that
the notion of the Absolute should be of a philosophicaly
high order. As long as the counterparts are within the
range of human nature or intelligence, they satisfy the
required condition and would tend towards perfection when
unitively brought together through worship.


As an ordinary Hindu worshipper would offer a flower to
his favourite idol, the man who is practising a certain
vocation is here recommended to take his vocation as an
offering to the transcendental principle, which would
represent the Absolute, at least according to himself. The
technique of Yoga is based on this kind of bipolarity and
unitive merging of counterparts in a central value, as we
have had occasion to point out in connection with various
other verses. This doctrine was called ekantika bhakti
(lonely or solitary affiliation to the Absolute). An
intermediate stage belonging to such a way of spiritual
progress is mentioned in Verse 55 later, and further
clearly affirmed in Verse 57, where bhakti (devotion) and
reason enter into Yoga hand in hand.


sreyan svadharmo vigunah
paradharmat svanushthitat
svabhavaniyatam karma
kurvan na 'pnoti kilbisham

Better is one's own duty (though) inferior, than the duty
of another well-performed. One doing the duty determined
by his own nature incurs no sin.


This verse read with the usual rational mind will fail to
produce any sense because of the contradictions implied in
the word vigunah (without quality, inferior), as compared to
the well-executed work or duty of another. The same doctrine
is more forcibly stated in iii, 35. In the usual life of
workmen, if the carpenter can do the job of a carpenter
well, and get better wages at that, nobody can doubt it
would be an advantage to him in a merely economic,
mechanistic sense. But if the suggestion here is that a
carpenter should always remain a carpenter and that neither
he nor his sons should ever aspire for a more advantageous
profession, that would amount to an absurdity. It is true
there are some advantages in a carpenter's son following
the profession of his father, but when we remember that
heredity segregates dominant and recessive characterstics
in animal and human life, as far as such heredity refers
to physical adaptability to different kinds of work, the
absurdity of following hereditary occupations would also
be clear.

It is also true that in nature certain animals are better
suited for certain activities than others. An elephant cannot
climb a tree, nor a squirrel haul logs of wood, or a fish live


of water. Common phrases like "a sheep in wolf's
clothing", "a jackdaw in peacock's feathers", "painting
the lily", "making a gift of stolen goods", refer to the
same anomaly as paradharma (another's duty).

Within the human species the strict rigidity with
which occupations fit types of individuals is capable of
more adjustment, and adaptation through training and education.
Nurture supplements nature to a large extent, and trained
men or women can adapt themselves to a wide range of
occupations which normally in the general animal world
would belong to different types.

A sensitive youth of poetic or artistic temperament might
feel himself a misfit in a military school and might even
become abnormal if forced to submit to its rigours. The
four types of persons just referred to in this chapter may
be considered as broadly representative types, but even
here intermediate-cases have to be supplied and provision
made for the fluctuating adaptability of the individual
within limits that are evident to reason.

In the Gita, it is not easy to see the relevancy of
referring to the danger of paradharma (another man's duty)
unless we should suppose that Arjuna is himself a case in
point. Arjuna's possible egoism is referred to in Verse 59
later. But his egoism has not been in evidence anywhere
in the Gita. On the other hand he is seen to have too much
humility when he says in ii, 5, that it would be better for
him to be a beggar than to fight.

This very humble attitude of Arjuna, however, contains
perhaps an element of paradharma (another's duty) inasmuch
as he is not a type fit to become a recluse or a samnyasin
(renouncer) as implied in his words. For a warrior of
active temperament to suddenly become a quiet retiring
recluse is incompatible. This brings us to similar
references in xvii, 5 and 6 to men who wrongly practise
austerities. Their asuric (demonic) nature has not been
sublimated to one that fits them with the spirit of
scripture. In the instance implied there we can admit the
nearest case within the Gita of a person who has mistaken
his vocation. In order to get at the root of this theory
of paradharma (another's duty) we have, however, to fit
the theory where it properly belongs in the context of
contemplation which is the most important primary
consideration in the Gita. When we read in ii, 63, that
a person who has lost his intelligence perishes, it is
not in a physical or mechanistic sense that this is meant.


Again, in Verse 58 later, Arjuna is threatened with a
similar destruction if he fails to think of the
Absolute and will not listen. These disasters can
have meaning only in a purely contemplative
setting. The evil of missing or mistaking one's
profession is not therefore so grave as it would appear
from the verse here. In this section it was just now
stressed that a strictly bipolar relation has to be
secured between an actor and his ideal for contemplation
to bear its results in any spiritual progress leading
to perfection. It is in the light of this principle
clearly enunciated that we should understand how one's
own duty is better than the well-performed duty of
another. It is meant to be contemplatively and not
logically true by the author. Such paradoxes are not
unfamiliar in the exposition of the subject of
contemplation, as we have noted already.

Another man's duty by its very name implies that it
is not organically related to the actor. It implies
either egoistic pretence to something he does not
deserve or else a misplaced humility in an attitude
of regret or self-pity, which might be momentary,
as in the case of Arjuna, and which makes Krishna
reprimand him in ii, 2 and 3. Whether it is ambition
or humility, doing another man's duty is a third or
interfering factor which spoils the condition of
bipolarity on which the whole of spiritual progress
rests. In this sense only can this reference to
svadharma (own duty) be understood. To understand
it in any other way would constitute politics
and would not properly belong to spirituality at all,
because to prohibit a man from entering
competitively into a better profession when he
could do the job as well as the other person is open
to the charge in principle of supporting slavery or
of violating the principle well-accepted in modern
life of equality of opportunity. In fact, it is exactly
in this fashion that contemplative texts like the
Gita have been misinterpreted deliberately or
unconsciously by interested groups. In a
competitive society where the struggle between
rival groups is but normal, this is not surprising.
But such interested interpretations have nothing in
common with the teaching of the Gita which is
certainly not a textbook on economic domination.
Regarding kilbisham (sin) which is the same as
the papam (sin) of ii, 33 and 38, when an action
becomes absolutely necessary, the very absoluteness
of its necessity is its justification.

Conforming to one's nature amounts to recognizing
a line Of action as absolutely necessary, although
as an excuse this would not hold good in a court of
law if one should murder


someone on such grounds, to take an extreme case.
In the absolutist context of contemplation, this
however is a line which is valid and which should
be kept in mind as a key to the way of

Conscientious objectors to war have the freedom
of thinking that war is not absolutely necessary as
applied to themselves. If they are so convinced,
and if such an attitude has a fair chance of being
tried out under any form of advanced government,
it is well and good. But the Gita could not
anticipate such a contingency in its antique times,
This is not said here to justify or to deny
conscientious objection to war, but only for
purposes of elucidation. There is also the truth
that if one general refuses to fight he will be
automatically replaced, and that does not help to
change the situation. The evil of war will be there
anyhow. We shall refer to this subject again under 
Verses 59 and 60.


sahajam karma kaunteya
sadosham api na tyajet
sarvarambha hi doshena
dhumena 'gnir iva 'vritah

Duty naturally belonging to one by birth, 0 Son of
Kunti (Arjuna), though accompanied by defects, ought
not to be abandoned; all undertakings are enveloped
with defects, as fire by smoke.


The same imagery here has been employed already in iii,
38. Action has been given a very inferior position in
ii, 49. Though inferior, it has still been recognized
because necessity is as eternal as contingency itself,
as stated in xiii, 19.

That a certain work is defective is therefore no
disqualification. That it is properly related to the act
or and belongs to his proper nature is more
important, at least in contemplative life, than its
superiority as such in a mechanistic sense. Again,
the apparent contradiction should be understood, as
we have explained in the last verse. Regarding the
use of the word sahajam (natural or congenital) we
have already explained that it does not necessarily
follow hereditary lines. Action is to be tolerated or
permitted in life as a necessary evil.


asaktabuddhih sarvatra
jitatma vigatasprihah
naishkarmyasiddhim paramam
samnyasena 'dhigachchhati

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.


This concludes a section prior to beginning another section where the same subject of practical
spirituality continues in a sense more contemplative. This verse marks the termination of
a long discussion of spiritual values which still belong to the relative and necessary world of
action. The action and the actor have been studied in graded fashion with all possible degrees of values belonging to the context of action. It was in Verse 12 of this chapter that we found a
problem posed, but still left enigmatic. When the atyagi (non-relinquisher) was contrasted with the samnyasin (renouncer) instead of with his own counterpart the tyagi (relinquisher), there was a gap there left to the imagination. This was already partially explained in Verse 8 just before. Even earlier, in Verses 5 and 6, it was categorically laid down that sacrifice, gifts and austerity should not be relinquished, but should be performed, leaving aside attachment to results. From these verses it would seem that the Gita is in favour of relinquishment as against full samnyasa (renunciation of works). Now that the author has had a full chance to explain the various kinds of values still belonging to the relativist world of activity and spiritual life, however, he is now prepared to admit at least the possibility of transcending action altogether, not in any blind mechanistic manner of a heterodox rationalist of the Samkhya pattern, but in an organic way normal to a yogi as well as to one who understands the implications of the Samkhya philosophy. A finally revalued notion of renunciation proper to the Gita thus emerges to view in this verse.

Naishkarmyasiddhih (perfection of transcending action) does not result from mere negation of action. That would come under akarma (non-action) only, and would not deserve the title "supreme" applied here to the perfect yogi. Such a perfected yogi would, in principle, conform to the pattern of a samnyasin (renouncer). He is more than a tyagi (relinquisher) who is only capable of eliminating interest in the results of


action and not in action itself. Samnyasa (renunciation) then is at last admitted as a possible way of spirituality, although it looked as if it was discredited at the beginning of the chapter in favour of tyaga (relinquishment).


siddhim prapto yatha brahma
tatha 'pnoti nibodha me
samasenai 'va kaunteya
nishtha jnanasya ya para

How he who has ascended to perfection thereby obtains the
Absolute, that supreme consummation of wisdom, that do you
learn from Me, 0 Son of Kunti (Arjuna), in brief.


This begins a new section where action is left behind with
the resultant perfection mentioned in the last verse. It is
no longer perfection which is the goal for the aspirant.
It is something of a more contemplative order by which he
is fit to become the Absolute as stated in Verse 53 below.


buddhya visuddhaya yukto
dhritya atmanam niyamya cha
sabdadin vishayams tyaktva
ragadveshau vyudasya cha

viviktasevi laghvasi
yata vak kaya manasah
dhyanayogaparo nityam
vairagyam samupasritah

ahamkararn balam darpam
kamam krodham parigraham
vimuchya nirmamah santo
brahmabhuyaya kalpate

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 meditative contemplation, resorting
to dispassion;


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


In these three verses a long enumeration of items which constitute the negative or contemplative way of spirituality is given. It cannot strictly be called spiritual practice but rather a way of elimination, like neti, neti (not this, not this), a withdrawal of the Self into the peace which is in one's Self.

We can discover a graded sequence based on the contemolative epistemology running through the various items. The purification of reason is the first item, and we pass on to such items as shutting out the senses and rejecting passions, and come to the requirements of solitude, frugality in eating, etc. We arrive at an item which involves true contemplation, referred to here as the pair dhyana (meditation) and Yoga (unitive understanding), both of which have to refer to the highest notion of the Absolute.

Passing on to the items of Verse 53, we notice that these conform to those mentioned in xvi, 18. There is a striking incompatibility of the items here with such subtle contemplative items as meditation and Yoga of the immediately preceding verses. These items are of a cruder kind not directly related to contemplation. Wisdom is often compared to a gentle mother. This reference to the avoidance of violence, arrogance etc., must be meant by the author to refer to items that could fall in line with the discussion before it changed its tone after xvi, 18, where it took on the tone of an angry punishing Jehovah. From xvi, 18 to the present verse the author had the express intention of covering the harsher and necessarily cruder aspects of spiritual life.


brahmabhutah prasannatma
na sochati na kankshati
samah sarveshu bhuteshu
madbhaktim labhate param

Becoming the Absolute, blissfully serene in the Self, he neither despairs nor hankers; equal-minded towards all beings, he attains a devotion to Me supreme (in character).


We come to a section beginning with this verse
and ending in Verse 63. Contemplative attitudes
such as serenity, self-control, etc., were also
alluded to in the section just over as in Verse 42,
but the perfection envisaged there was far from
being final. There is an ascent and a descent in 
Yoga as indicated in vi, 3. In sections hitherto, Yoga
could be said to have touched the highest point
attainable in the yogarudha (one risen in Yoga).
The practice of ordinary virtues by a man living in
society, and the rarer contemplative virtues still
treated in the context of action or practice, were
covered in the sections of this chapter in their
positive and negative implications, by Verse 53.
We now come to a section where perfection is
conceived on its own in a more neutral or equalized
manner, balanced between opposites.

Brahmabhutah (becoming the Absolute) follows
upon the same idea contained in Verse 53. The
ascent to perfection through action, implied in 
Verse 49, had to be taken up again and subjected to
further more contemplative discipline, before the
state of the yogi could conform to the requirements
of Verse 53. Even there he only became fit to
become the Absolute. After becoming the Absolute in
the sense of Verse 53, which may be described as
merely conforming to the pattern of absolutism,
there is evidently further ground to cover. Such
perfection still to be accomplished makes the subject-
matter of this section. The extreme subtlety involved
makes the author refer in Verse 63 to what is stated
here, as "more secret than all secrets".

We remember that many references to grades of
secrets have been mentioned in the Gita, especially
at the beginning of chapters, either by the word
paramam (supreme) or guhyam (secret). In ix, 2
the latter expression was used with the simple
adjunct raja (royal or public). In x, 1 and 2 there
was further underlining of the superiority of the
teaching. Arjuna in xi, 1, and again in xiv, 1
used the words "supreme"and "superior nature" in
regard to the wisdom involved in these chapters,
while in xv, 10 and 11 the secrecy may be said to
have reached its maximum, though we find it
further stressed in xv, 20 also. In the present
chapter at the end, and not at the beginning as
elsewhere, the word "secret" again occurs. A careful
examination of the structure indicates that several
grades of secret doctrines are present, one meant to
be more esoteric than the other, and culminating in 
Verses 63 and 64 of this chapter and ending with
the striking double superlative sarvaguhyatamam
(the most secret of all) with which the secrecy
reaches its term.


Thus "becoming the Absolute" used here refers
to only one of a series of steps still to be covered
before the Gita concludes. Like the literary devices
at the beginning of the work, which had gradations,
these expressions should be treated as punctuation
marks belonging to literary requirements, before
the contemplative teaching could be merged
unobtrusively and artistically, through such graded
steps, into the context of the Mahabharata epic.
In the present section the tension is further
relieved by one degree. The reference to a fatalistic
god in Verse 61 still retains the imperative tone of
necessity or compulsion, but in spite of this we find
that the technique of Yoga involving balance or
serenity is not altogether abandoned in Verse 54.
This new subdued tone and balanced way of teaching
is maintained up to Verse 58.

Returning to Verse 54 itself there is the word
bhakti (devotion). As a spiritual factor this
displaces action, which took the central place


bhaktya mam abhijanati
yavan yas cha 'smi tattvatah.
tato mam tattvato jnatva
visate tadanantaram

Through devotion he comes to know Me,
how far comprehensible I am and which, in
accord with first principles; then, having
known Me philosophically, he immediately
enters into (Me).


The primacy given to devotion in the last verse is
soon counterbalanced by its own intellectual
counterpart implied in the word tattvatah (in
accord with true principles). Knowledge again gains
primacy here.


sarvakarmany api sada
kurvano madvyapasrayah
matprasadad avapnoti
sasvatam padam avyayam

Although still continuing to do all actions (in Me),
treating Me as his refuge, by My grace he obtains
the everlasting undiminishing status.


Reference to action again comes in, but it is here
considered with a neutral attitude in the same spirit
as in iv, 18. The only difference here is that personal
surrender is included.


chetasa sarvakarmani
mayi samnyasya matparah
buddhiyogam upasriya
machchhitah satatam bhava

Mentally renouncing all actions into Me, regarding Me
as the Supreme, resorting to unitive understanding,
have Me wholly filling your (relational) consciousness.


What is stated in a more final form in Verses 65
and 66 is said here more mildly, where there is
still action, though viewed with a certain degree of
aloofness. This verse is not far different from Verse
xi, 55.


machchittah sarvadurgani
matprasadat tarishyasi
atha chet tvam ahamkaran
na sroshyasi vinakshyasi

(Thus with) consciousness filled with Me you will
overcome all obstacles by My grace, but if, from egoism,
you will not listen, you shall come to ruin.


Here there is reference to a grave disaster which
might befall Arjuna's contemplative Self and not
the body, as we have already explained.
The sarvadurgani (all obstacles) referred to here
is meant by the author to cover the actual diffidence
of Arjuna on the battlefield as also his hesitations
and doubts in the purer wisdom context.


yad ahamkaram asritya
na yotsya iti manyase
mithyai 'sha vyavasayas te
prakritis tvam niyokshyati

If, resorting to egoism, you think, "I will not fight"
absurd is this, your resolution. Nature will compel


This and the following three verses give a very
imperative and absolutist status to the factor of
necessity in life. The idea is not unknown in
Western philosophy. Kant's Categorical Imperative,
based on a priori reasoning, comes nearest to the
idea of the impelling force, here given a very
exalted status.

Man's personality is caught between his freewill
and the force of necessity. It would be fatal not
to recognize one or the other. Equal poise between
these two factors of necessity and contingency
constitutes Yoga as stated in the definition
samatvam yoga uchyate (equanimity is called Yoga)
in ii, 48.

The reference here to egoism as well as in the
previous verse has a special meaning as related to 
Yoga on the one hand, and to the supreme force of
absolute necessity of Verse 61, on the other hand.
If the ego is assertive, necessity can also be
assertive to its utmost limit. Arjuna was as humble
as could be, as we have already explained. The
question of arrogance does not arise with him. But
even humility, if it does not fit in with the context,
as contemplatively understood is a form of egoism,
just as relinquishment itself was disqualified as
"demonic" in Verse 8 earlier. Arjuna's egoism, if any,
may therefore be said to be of the negative type.
Further indications of the egoism meant here are
to be gathered from Verse 14 earlier where it is
said that out of the five factors which enter into
necessary action to make it imperative, the karma
(action) is only one who is caught or jammed as it
were, in between the others, some immanent or
necessary and others transcendental or contingent.
The daivam (divinity) or providential factor
mentioned, applied there to the contingent. Here,
however, in Verse 61, divinity is said to dwell
within the heart of each person and the necessary
and contingent are brought close together and
treated unitively.

As in the formula Aum tat sat (Absolute Word-
That-is-Real) which was analysed at the end of
chapter xvii, the spiritual attitude recommended
here may be said to be that of that tat (That)
of xvii 25.

Egoism has elsewhere been referred to as the enemy
of contemplation both directly and indirectly, in
iii, 27 and xvi, 18.

The triple gate of inferno of xvi, 21, again implies
the ego. The ego has its place among the elemental
forces as a factor belonging to the Absolute as seen
in vii, 4 and xiii, 5. A single self or individual
makes but a single swallow in the general necessary
situation called summer. Egoism consists in the
swallow isolating itself from the general situation
and claiming an ego for


itself, suffering from the illusion that it has a
disjunct status plucked away from the whole

A general who is ordered by his high command to
bomb a city is not responsible for the whole evil
of war, or even for the bombing; nor does his
wilful refusal or exit from the operation make any
appreciable change to the whole situation of
warfare. Some people tend to isolate themselves in
this way, claiming to be free, original or
progressive. Others likewise isolate themselves in
the name of conservatism or diehard forms of
orthodoxy. These are subtle spiritual egoisms. The
closed conservatism of orthodoxy expresses itself
often as glaring cases of wilful and harsh egoism
even in the name of spiritual values.

In his Upadesa Sahasri (One Thousand Teachings)
Sankara refers to the case of a religious
student who claims to be a brahmin. Sankara
considers this attitude as a disqualification for a
student of contemplation. Again, in the Chandogya
Upanishad (iv, iv, 1-5), Satyakama Jabala, the
humble, illicitly born novice in wisdom is readily
admitted by the Guru Gautama because he was
innocently non-egoistic. In its subtle and gross
forms egoism can be said to be the one single item
which constitutes the enemy of contemplation. The
Viveka Chudamani (Crest-Jewel of Discrimination)
of Sankara refers to the cutting by the sword of
wisdom of the three heads of egoism which are of
the gunas (modalities of nature), inclusive of sattva
(the pure or clear modality), which might be called
belonging to spiritual egoism, before one becomes
qualified to tread the path of contemplation.


svabhavajena kaunteya
nibaddhah svena karmana
kartum ne 'chchhasi yan mohat
karishyasy avaso'pi tat

That which through confusion, you do not
like to do, 0 Son of Kunti (Arjuna), you
shall do that (very thing) helplessly, bound
by your own nature-born action.


The actual case of Arjuna is under specific
scrutiny here, and the factors of the situation
pressing on him from every side are mentioned in
their most actual aspects. It is to prepare the mind
of the reader to see the imperative nature of the
situation in which he was actually caught, as
Arjuna, Son of Kunti, and


not merely as a representative of a Self or soul, that
the preparatory discussion of the four divisions of
society and their corresponding vocations were
referred to in minute detail in Verses 18 to 45 of this

We have shown how the theory of castes was not mainly
conceived sociologically and this verse makes it evident
why it was even necessary for the Gita to refer to the
subject at all. As a theory in the Gita it has only an
incidental status to determine how necessity in a very
actual form pressed on Arjuna so that in his exceptional
case killing involved in war could be explained as
being without sin. It is not intended, however, as some
people hold, to teach in the Gita that killing by all
and sundry under other circumstances than that of
Arjuna's so pointedly referred to here, would be
spiritual, moral, or even fair. In his case it so
happened that his inner temperament and disposition
and internal impelling forces tallied with elements
that constituted the totality of the same situation, so
as to justify the action recommended by Krishna.
The situation is not unlike that of childbirth in which
a midwife might help. Not to give help would be
fatal to the mother involved, like not vomiting
would make a patient worse once the vomiting
has started.

Whether after the tension of war and the imperative
urge of the situation itself was over, Arjuna still
remained brazen or warlike, does not arise at this
juncture. But it is quite probable that afterwards
he became a contemplative in a truer sense. His
actual war experience must have had its sobering
contemplative lessons to teach him, as he himself
admits in Verse 73 later.

This very Krishna once asked Arjuna, in ii, 33, to
think of his honour involved. It was stressed many
times later that one must transcend all forms of
egoism including honour (e.g., xv, 5). Calling
attention to honour in this instance may be thought
a glaring inconsistency in the teaching of the Gita,
but the teaching had hardly begun when that
reference was made. Honour as a value was equated
to death in the next verse, ii, 34. Such a high status
given to the quality of honour, understood as a form
of chivalry, is itself contemplative in its character,
like values such as sportsmanship, statesmanship,
etc., in other fields of life. Moreover, the item of
honour formed a necessary constituent of the
situation of war (in Chapter ii). This is what is being
recognized in the present verse, though from the
other, final end of the discussion, when all other
contemplative values have been given due


The reference to honour was therefore justified, as
an initial contemplative value, by whose mention
Arjuna could be whipped or brought back to
normality from his morbid state of negation and
depression. In returning at the end of the Gita to
the actualities of the same war situation, the
reference to honour is again justified.


isvarah sarvabhutanam
hriddese 'rjuna tishthati
bhramayan sarvabhutani
yantrarudhani mayaya

The Lord dwells in the heart-region of all
beings, 0 Arjuna, causing all beings to
revolve through the principle of appearance
(maya),(as if) mounted on a machine.


The Absolute is conceived here with all the
possible implications of the categorical imperative
we have mentioned. The body is a slave to the
spirit and obeys its will and impulses to the
minutest detail. Even in a state of sleep or
subconsciousness, a person's dreams are regulated
and subject to his mental conditionings. A decision
concerning a necessary act in a given situation can
be said to be wholly dependent on the will of the
Absolute within man.

The reference to maya (the philosophical principle
behind appearance) as the inscrutable principle of
unreality which intervenes between the actual
world and reality itself absolves this verse from
any charge of postulating a god who is a ready-
made mechanical entity. He only appears to be so
by the intervention of this negative principle.


tam eva saranam gachchha
sarvabhavena bharata
tatprasadat param santim
sthanam prapsyasi sasvatam

Seek refuge in Him alone in all ways, 0
Bharata (Arjuna); by His grace you shall
obtain the peaceful abode, supreme,


This penultimate verse to this sub-section
abolishes the one-sided picture of the Absolute
implied in the previous verse with a view to
concluding this section.


The expression sarvabhavena (in all ways) means
with every possible approach that Arjuna is
capable of, in the light of all previous teachings,
and is discarding the partial view of the last verse.
The reference to an eternal and peaceful
dwelling-place indicates that all references to
necessary action are closed with this verse. The
Absolute itself regains a status in keeping with the
purushottama (Paramount Person) of Chapter xv.

Note that the reference in this verse is not in the
first person as usual, but in the third person. The
first person is used again only in Verse 66. From
this it would be legitimate to infer that isvara
(Lord) of Verse 61 approximates to a theistic
concept of God as near as could be, if at all,
within the whole range of the Gita. There are only
two other places where this third person is used, in
viii, 10 and 21. When the notion of the Absolute
in the Gita, which is not, generally speaking,
theistic, has occasionally to be represented in
objectified philosophical or theistic terms, then
that indirect or third person is employed.


iti te jnanam akhyatam
guhyad guhyataram maya-,
vimrisyai 'tad aseshena
yathe 'chchhasi tatha kuru

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.


This verse absolves the Gita completely from
being looked upon as a dharma sastra (code of
religious obligations and injunctions). Although
some recommendations and advice have been
given, sometimes in a tone of authority as when
Krishna said, "Bow down to Me" in ix, 34, and in
a more obligatory context when the relinquishment
of results of action was mentioned in xii, 11,
all the other injunctions are to immediate
necessary actions like fighting, which Arjuna is
incidentally asked not to omit.

Now the shackles of obligation are overthrown
completely by the second line of this verse. The
secret so far is only inferior to the final secret
of the next section, especially in Verse 65, where
the doctrine is repeated almost in the same words
as in ix, 34.


sarvaguhyatamam bhayah
srinu me paramam vachah
ishto 'si me dridham iti
tato vakshyami te hitam

Listen again to My supreme word, the most
secret of all; because you are greatly
beloved of Me, therefore I will tell you
what is for your good.


No sooner has the curtain risen revealing a certain
grade of secret than another rises to reveal a
greater secret still, here called the most secret of
all. The personal reference here is to bring back the
nature of the dialogue between Krishna and
Arjuna to the status of a guru-sishya samvada
(teacher-disciple discourse) leaving behind the
great limiting factor of necessity.


manmana bhava madbhakto
madyaji mam namaskuru
mam evai 'shyasi satyam te
pratijane priyo 'si me

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.


We come to the concluding verse of the Gita
(see also ix, 34), where the contemplative devotion
which has formed the central theme of the work
throughout conforms to the pattern of the free
"flight of the alone to the Alone", familiar in the
writings of Plotinus. We have elsewhere stated
that this forms the essence of the Vasudeva or
Bhagavata religion.

The reference to different forms of worship is in
keeping with the three strands of discussion which
were twisted together and continued as one strand
throughout the treatment of the subject of
contemplation. Prostration, sacrifice and devotion
to the Absolute, and yogic identification with the
Absolute are all meant to establish the same
bipolarity between the individual (who is here
Arjuna) and the Absolute (here Krishna), through
particular backgrounds which have been evident in
Indian spiritual traditions. The relation is most
intimate and complete when Krishna speaks in the
form of a pledge to a dearly beloved friend or


sarvadharman parityajya
mam ekam saranam vraja
aham tva sarvapapebhyo
mokshayishyami ma suchah

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


The theological manner of referring to the
Absolute in Verse 62, and the way of referring to
the triple strands of sacrifice, devotion and Yoga,
etc., in Verse 65, might still leave a lingering
opinion in the mind of the reader that the Gita has
something to do with theism, or that at least its
treatment and manner is that of religious tradition.
Even eminent scholars like Professor Franklin
Edgerton and Dr. S. Radhakrishnan have held such
a wrong point of view.

Although reference has often been made to
sacrifice and other items belonging to the subject
of religion, in the light of this present verse it is
finally clear that even these, inasmuch as they
belong to a purely religious context and therefore
binding on the followers, are to be discarded

Sankara has taken great pains to show that the
Gita's teaching is one of jnana (wisdom) only and
not karma (action), and even the combination of
wisdom and action which some think the Gita
recommends is ably rejected by him, particularly in
his comment on this verse. With him the dual
purpose of wisdom and action makes for what he
calls jnana-karma-samuchchaya (the mixing of
wisdom and action) which would amount to a
contradiction or absurdity.

An examination of the Gita itself is the best
method for us to form an opinion on this matter,
instead of relying, as Sankara does, on references
to works like the Upanishads, and resorting to subtle
polemical battles.

Chapter viii, 28 clearly states that the knowledge
as taught in the Gita, which cannot refer to
obligatory aspects of religion at all, transcends
what is implied in the Vedas, yajnas (sacrifices)
and tapas (austerity). We have noticed from the
structure of the work that the necessary aspects of
life come into prominence only in the chapters at
the end of the book. The Gita does not give an
equal status to necessity in life, side by side with
wisdom. Wisdom itself is considered to be
included by the Gita as belonging to the action
context and as being an incentive to action of the
right kind, as delicately brought out in Verses


18 and 19 of this chapter. The relation between
obligatory action and pure wisdom is very subtle
and we have had occasion to point this out under
Verse 12, earlier.

Even admitting, therefore, that the Gita teaches
wisdom and action it is not necessary to fall into
the error of thinking that karma (action) is not
considered an evil, though necessary. The Gita
does not recommend a way of works for salvation,
but only treats of action and gives it an important
place as a necessary evil.

The author has never been tired of repeating that
action is very inferior to wisdom, even as early as
ii, 49. Various analogies of flame and smoke,
mirror and dust, foetus and amnion, were given in
iii, 38, and desire leading to action was mentioned
as the enemy of wisdom in iii, 39. We see this
attitude consistently maintained throughout the
philosophical discussion in the main body of the
work. Even all sins could be transcended by the
boat of wisdom in iv, 33; and all action whatever
culminates in wisdom in iv, 33; and the fire of
wisdom consumes everything, in iv, 37. Almost
every chapter begins with a reference to wisdom.

There is really no room, after all these references,
even to suspect that the Gita is a religious work. In
fact it is called a brahma-vidya sastra (text on the
Science of the Absolute) on Yoga, at the end of
each chapter, and its resemblance to and origin in
the Upanishads, which are more contemplatively
philosophical than religious in character, must be
clear to the most superficial reader.

Even the popular poem, the Gita-dhyana from
the Vaisnaviya Tantrasara, says the Upanishads
are the cows and Krishna is the milker, Arjuna the
calf, the wise man the drinker and the ambrosial
Gita is the milk. (sarvopanishado gavo dogdha
gopala nandanah: partho vatsah sudhir bhokta
dugdham gitamiritam mahat).

The final blow to any vestige of belief in the
religious character of the Gita has been given by
this verse in which Arjuna is clearly asked to
abandon all duties. The only point that might
favour such an opinion consists perhaps in Arjuna
being asked to worship Krishna or the principle of
Providence in Verse 61.

From the vision of the universal form in Chapter
xi it was sufficiently clear that Krishna did not
represent any conventional theistic god of any
particular religion. Religion binds people to
common patterns of behaviour, and in the absence
of any such pattern except the paramount one of


oneself to the Absolute Reality mentioned at the
end of Chapters iv and xviii respectively, which
affiliation cannot be considered other than
philosophical, there is no reason to consider the
Gita as a religious text standing for any special
form of religion.

Inasmuch as Krishna represents the Absolute,
any religious connotation attached to the word
bhakti (devotion) becomes also one that can apply
as well to the context of wisdom. Sankara himself
defines bhakti (devotion) as constant meditation on
the Self.

That sins are to be transcended by wisdom alone
and not through religious practices of any kind, is
clearly the main teaching of the Gita, summed up
in this verse, as in Verses ix, 30 and 31 -
Notice that this applies to all sins.


idam te ad 'tapaskaya
na 'bhaktaya kadachana
na cha susrushave vachyam
na cha mam yo 'bhyasuyati

This is never to be spoken about by you to
one (spiritually) undisciplined, nor to one
devoid of devotion, nor to one indisposed
to listen, nor again to one who denies Me.


This verse contains the same principle of the
Bible which says, "those who are not with me are
against me", the corollary of which is that those
who are not against me are with me. A mutual
adoption between guru and sishya (teacher and
disciple) has always been considered an important
desideratum in the wisdom teaching.
Between the teacher and the disciple alone can
true dialectics thrive, and persons not
contemplatively disposed are more often repelled
than attracted to enter into such a bipolar
relationship. It is in this sense that the word tapas
(austerity, discipline) and bhakti (devotion) should
be understood. The minimum qualification of a
disciple or a wisdom-seeker is his willingness to
listen, which is mentioned here as susrusha
(eagerness to listen).


ya idam paramam guhyam
madbhakteshv abhidhasyati
bhaktim inayi param kritva
mam evai'shyaty asamsayah


He who gives this supreme secret to My devotee
(thereby) doing for Me supreme devotion, shall
doubtless come to Me.


A person affiliated to wisdom directly is as good
as another who might be affiliated to it indirectly
through the meditation of a friend who has similar
dispositions. In a queue formed for the purchase
of a travel ticket, all in the queue have the same
status of passengers, prospective or immediate.
The same holds good in the context of wisdom.


na cha tasman manushyeshu
kaschin me priyakrittamah
bhavita na cha me tasmad
anyah priyataro bhuvi

Nor is there besides such a one among men any who
is the highest performer of dear acts, nor shall
there be for Me another dearer on earth.


The word krit (to do) here still refers to action,
which is a subject normally belonging to this
chapter as a whole. After giving to action its due
place in this chapter, the Gita passes on to the
virtue of study, in Verse 70, which is a milder
form of action. In Verse 71 it passes on to hearing,
which is still less active, and it culminates in Verse
72 in which there is the destruction of delusion
and the removal of ignorance.

Thus by the end of this section, the contemplative
trend, even of this chapter, is restored.


adhyeshyate cha ya imam
dharmyam samvadam avayoh
jnanayajnena tena 'ham
ishtah syam iti me matih

And he, who will study this dialogue of
ours conducive to righteousness, by him
(in effect) I shall have been worshipped
through the wisdom-sacrifice; so I hold.


The equivalent of ritualistic action in wisdom-
terms is called jnana yajna (wisdom-sacrifice).
The verse gives tacit assent here to the doctrine
that it is possible to omit acts of sacrifice such as
enjoined in the Vedas, and adopt instead what may
be called a sublimated or more symbolic form of
sacrifice belonging to a life dedicated to wisdom.
The study of the Gita as a sastra (scriptural
textbook) is treated as an equivalent of such a


sraddhavan anasuyas cha
srinuyad api yo narah
so 'pi muktah subham lokan
prapnuyat punyakarmanam

And the man who may merely happen to hear,
endowed with faith and uncarping, even he,
liberated, shall attain to the good worlds
of those who perform meritorious deeds.


The expression anasuyah (one free from carping) occurs also in ix, 1. It refers to the minimum requirement for the establishment of healthy relations between Guru and sishya so that deeper secrets of wisdom can be discussed in the  form of a dialogue.

There must be a certain rapport or understanding in the form of a subtle spiritual contract in which the two persons involved adopt each other, which is free from carping, cavilling or nagging, or other marks of spiritual disadoption.

Mere passive hearing of the Gita is equated to the merit of the good worlds of those who perform other religious acts as understood in the ordinary sense.


kachchid etach chhrutam partha
tvayai 'kagrena chetasa
kachchid ajnanasammohah
pranashtas le dhanamjaya

Has it been heard by you, 0 Partha
(Arjuna), with one-pointed mind? 0
Winner of Wealth (Arjuna), has your
delusion of ignorance been destroyed?


The only active element implied in this verse is ekagrata (one-pointedness) of mind, which is essentially the same as attention. It is suggested here that attentive hearing will dispel delusion.


This is the minimum active requirement for affiliation to contemplation. The result indicated is admitted by Arjuna in the next verse.


Arjuna uvacha
nashto mohah smritir labdha
tvatprasada maya 'chyuta
sthito 'smi gatasamdehah
krishye vachanam tava

Arjuna said:
Gone is my delusion and Self-recognition
has been gained by me through Your grace,
0 Achyuta (Krishna); I am properly
established with doubts gone; I shall carry
out Your word.


Arjuna's answer contained here that he will do the bidding as told by Krishna has not much of an active implication at the end of this work, when the drama is to close. Whether he fought actually after these words is not relevant to the teaching and it is purposely left out. The obedience here can also apply to what he was asked to do in Verses 51 to 53 earlier, which covers the whole range of contemplative activity, if it could be called so.


Samjaya uvacha
ity aham vasudevasya
parthasya cha mahatmanah
samvadam imam asrausham
adbhutam romaharshanam

Samjaya said:
Thus have I heard this wonderful dialogue
between Vasudeva (Krishna) and the high-
souled Partha (Arjuna), causing my hair to
stand on end.


The drop curtain implied in the literary device of the Gita may be said to have come down in this verse, hiding Krishna. and Arjuna, and thus restoring the epic setting of the stage.


Vyasaprasadach chhrutavan
etad guhyam aham param
yogamyogesvarat krishnat
sakshat kathayatah svayam

By the grace of Vyasa I heard this supreme
and most secret Yoga and spoken by
Krishna himself, the Lord of Yoga, as
immediately given to my senses.


This verse refers to Samjaya as actually witnessing the scene where the dialogue took place. But then it brings in the name of Vyasa who is well known to be the author of the whole work.

A double literary device is here implied by which, cancelling one against the other, one can see that Vyasa himself as the author-manager appears in front of the curtain before the spectators. Or it can be treated as an author's signature. Sankara, however, prefers to think that Vyasa gave Samjaya the jnana-chakshush (wisdom-eye) by which he was able to witness the scene actually. A certain amount of myth-making being permitted in contemplative literature, we cannot seriously object to this way of putting it.


rajan samsmritya-samsmritya
samvadam imam adbhutam,
kesavarjunayoh punyam
hrishyami cha muhur-muhuh

0 King as I remember and remember this
marvelous and sacred dialogue between
Kesava (Krishna) and Arjuna, I rejoice
over and over again.


The stress on memory, or remembering, four times in this and the next verse, is to effect a beautiful fade-out of the scene, as a reminiscence to be treasured by Samjaya for all time.


tach cha samsmritya-samsmritya
rupam atyadbhutam hareh
vismayo me mahan rajan
hrishyami cha punah-punah

As I remember and remember even that
most marvelous form of Hari, great is my
astonishment, 0 King, and I rejoice over
and over again.


The vision of the Absolute represented by Hari (Krishna here) which can also be Vishnu for those who habitually recognize the Absolute by that name, is brought to the centre instead of the two characters of the dialogue. The reference to the vision of the Absolute is said by Sankara to apply to the vision of chapter xi, which corresponds to the nearest approach to such a vision of the Absolute coming within the Gita text. The conventional picture of a beneficent God, however, cannot be easily fitted into the awe-inspiring vision of that chapter.


yatra yogesvarah krishno
yatra partho dhanurdharah
tatra srir vijayo bhutir
dhruva nitir matir mama

Where there is Krishna, the Lord of Yoga,
where there is Partha (Arjuna) the Archer,
there (will be) prosperity, victory, progress
and well-established justice: such is my
(Samjaya's) belief.


In this finale Krishna and Arjuna emerge once again, this time as actors in the Mahabharata.
Ordinary righteousness, prosperity, victory and justice are mentioned here, so that the Gita may end on a note in the same key as that of the epic with which it began.

Though wisdom values are not related directly to these values mentioned, here their indirect repercussions on normal human life are such as to promote, through love of simple truth, the general all-round welfare of men in ordinary walks of life. The values here are all desirable in everyday life, and refer to what is true. The term dhruva (fixed, established) applied to justice here is related by derivation both to dharma (righteousness) and dharitri (the firm earth).

Krishna here may be taken to have reverted to his status as the charioteer, absolutist, friend and relation of Arjuna. Arjuna himself is wielding his famous bow Gandiva, which slipped from his hand in i, 30, when his confusion was asserting itself, and which he wilfully cast away as we know from i, 47. Now that normal conditions and relationships have been established and he is no more regretful nor in doubt, the normal positive consequences of
prosperity, victory, progress and well-established justice begin to prevail. The final value here is what has


been referred to more generally as lokasamgraha (world welfare) in iii, 20 and 25, where King Janaka is held up as a model.

ity srimad bhagavadgitasupanishatsu brahmavidyayam
yogasastre srikrishnarjunasamvade
samnyasayogo nama 'shtadaso 'dhyayah
iti srimadbhagavadgita upanishadah samaptah

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 Eighteenth chapter entitled The Unitive Way in Behaviour Patterns.











1) Aum, I meditate on Thee, O Mother Bhagavad Gita, made up of eighteen chapters, showering the nectar of Advaita (non-dualism) that can banish all (phenomenal) becoming; inserted into the middle of the Mahabharata by Vyasa, that antique sage, as it was taught to Arjuna by Narayana himself, the Blessed One.


2) Salutation to thee, O Vyasa of expansive intellect, having eyes like the petals of an open lotus, who has lit the Wisdom-Lamp filled with the oil which is the Bharata epic.


3) Adoration to Krishna, representing in himself that wish-fulfilling heavenly tree (the summum bonum of an eternal cosmology) brought within the reach of those who refuge themselves (in him) as he, wielding the whip (of the charioteer) in one hand, and with the wisdom-teacher’s gesture (in the other hand), milks the nectar of the Gita.


4) All the Upanishads are cows, their milker is the darling of the cowherds, their calf (inducing secretion) is Partha (Arjuna) and the drinkers thereof are all men of good sense; and what is milked is Gita nectar great!


5) I adore that World Teacher Krishna, son of Vasudeva, the Divine One, who overcame Kamsa and Chanura, who was Devaki’s bliss supreme.


6) With Kesava (Krishna) at the helm, was crossed over by the Pandavas (of yore) that battle river for which the banks were Bhishma and Drona, whose waters were Jayadratha, whose blue lilies were the Gandharas, the crocodile wherein was Salya, and the sharks Asvatthama and Vikarna, and the whirlpool Duryodhana.


7) Born of the limpid lake of the words of the son of Parasara, may such a lotus which is even the Mahbharata epic, spreading the fragrance of Gita-meaning, containing numerous secondary anecdotes which are its pollen-bearing anthers, opening to wisdom-light because of having the story of Hari (Vishnu or Krishna) as its content of good teaching be our (everlasting) good as it cleans away the dross incidental to the Age of Kali (the evil cosmic period of thousands of years) as it is sucked day after day by the bees who are the good men on earth.


8) Adoration to Madhva (Krishna) source supreme of bliss, whose grace can make an orator of a dumb man and enable the lame to cross mountains.


9) He whom Brahma, Varuna, Indra, Rudra and Marut ever praise with celestial hymns. Whom the chanters of the Sama (Veda) do extol with songs comprising the Vedas, together with their sub-divisions, respecting word and order, not omitting the Upanishads too, He whom the contemplatives, with minds merged thereinto and established firm in meditation can see, whose end is beyond the ken equally gods and their rival spirits, to such a Divinity do I offer adoration!




Adhyatma, 28
Ad infinitum (regress), 125
Advaita, 136,269
Afferent impulses, 163
Agnihotra, 100, 148, 183
Agnostic, 142
Agony (angoisse), 112
Alexander, 109
Allah, 225
Ambidextrous, 497
Ambivalent,-ence, 60, 128, 169, 172,
236f, 284, 371, 421, 555, 559, 583, 626
Ananda, 28
Anandagiri, 15
Anterior opinion, 71, 73 (See purva-paksha)
Ancestor worship, 95
Anti-Christian, 317
Anthropomorphism, 513
Aquinas, St. Thomas, 237, 421, 555
Aristotle, 137, 203
Arnold, Sir Edwin, 89
Aryan,97, 109, 138, 680
Ashrama, 229
Athenian, 137, 524
Atma-maya, 47
Atmopadesha Satakam, 404
Aum, 117
Aurobindo, Sri, 9, 11, 12, 13, 109
Austerities, 64
Automatism, 164

Bergson, 20, 48, 154, 201, 269, 616
Besant, Mrs. Annie, 9, 11
Bhagavan Das, 9, 11, 112, 216, 226
Bhagavata Cult, -religion, 15, 339, 403,
407, 526, 548, 593, 594, 704
Bhartriprapancha, 269
Bheda-bheda Vada, 552
Bhishma-parva, 3
Bi-polar,-ity, 149, 188, 250, 263, 281,
294, 315, 319, 333, 335, 337, 340, 342,
343, 360, 361, 363, 368, 382, 403, 409,
416, 426, 437, 495, 509, 510, 512, 513,
515, 523, 548, 704, 707
Bible,-ical, 180,201, 329, 333, 339, 707
Brahma, 190
Brahman, 21
Brahma-sutra, 1, 2, 18, 68, 319, 432
Brahma-vidya, 18, 21
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 187, 190, 215,
318, 400, 457, 609
Brihaspathi, 216
Buddha,221, 530
Buddhi, 33
Buddhist,-ism, 126, 140, 257, 259, 272,
277, 282, 291, 293, 296, 331, 361, 373,
390, 415, 480, 597, 684
Burnouf, Emile, 4, 7

CARTESIAN, 139, 189, 603
Carrell, Dr. Alexis, 535, 682
Caste-system, 99, 137, 195
Catalytic agent, 194, 561
Categorical imperative, 202
Category, 79
Cathartic, 266
Chandogya Upanishad, 190, 215, 329, 700
Charvakas, 624
Chemistry, 194
Christ, 221,225, 537
Christian, -ity, 140, 168, 187, 225, 290,
293, 403, 445, 472, 514,
Confucius, 425
Cousins, Victor, 8
Creative intuition, 170, 182
Crowning secret {raja-guhyam), 36

DAKSHA (expert), 32
Dante, 2, 40
Darsana, 269
Darsana-mala, 334, 338, 376
Desai, Mahadev, 141
Deus-ex-machina, 323
Deussen, Paul, 151, 219, 596
Devas, 72
Deva-yana, 31, 63, 72, 76
Dhammapada, 361
Dharma-sdstra, 17, 631
Dialectic, -s, -al, 14, 21, 29, 30, 47,
48, 125, 144, 151, 168, 172, 282,
367, 377, 404, 412, 413, 453, 537,
538, 567, 568, 578, 625, 707
Dialectician, 314, 566
Dialectical awareness 124
" " " " " " " conflict, 30
contemplation, 207
growth, 212
method, 62, 130, 143,241
315, 353
relationship, 247, 339
revaluation, 22, 31, 58,
63, 65, 134, 146, 197,
275, 390, 408
" situation, 90, 342
Dialogue, (samvada) 73, 88
Dichotomy, 236, 583
Dionysius, the Aeropagite, 555
Don Quixote, 67, 128, 231
Double negation, 328
Dualism, 61
Dvandva, 62

Edgerton, F, 9, 10, 144, 403, 705
Efferent impulses, 163
Einstein, 492
Elan-vital, 201, 265
Eleatic Philosophers, 551
Energism, 10, 106, 176
Enneads, 132
Epicureans, 296, 624
European mysticism, 167


GANDHIAN ahimsa, 140
Gandhi, Mahatma, 6, 9, 10, 109, 119
Gandiva, 72, 712
Garbe, R., 3
Gaudapada, 16, 26, 122, 124
Gayatri, 649
Genesis, 326
Gita-dhyana, 7, 25, 73, 74, 76
,, mahatmya, 6
,, Rahasya, 10
,, theism, 145
Greek goddess, Gaia, 329
Gupta rule, 16
Guru-s, 21, 24, 25, 32, 33, 69, 76,
112, 114, 116, 117, 120, 162, 249,
250, 251, 310, 311, 382, 432,497,
498, 505, 709
Gurukula, 311
Guru-sishya-samvada, 22, 115, 704

hallucinations, 270, 582
Hamlet's ghost, 437
Hatha-yoga, 308
Heaven (Svarga), 152
Heavenly values, 75
Hegel, 20
Heliotropism, 489
Hercules, 86
Hermes, 432
Hermetics, 13
Hierophantic, 222, 325
,, values, 87
Hill, W.D.P., 9
Hitler, 680
Hitlerian justice, 412
Hoboism, 156
Homer, 459
Honour, 137
'Horizontal', 185, 305, 331
Hubert, Paul, 5
Hume, 373
Hypostatic, 222, 325, 461

Indra, 241, 355
Indian Civilization, 215
Inquisition, 640
Interpolations, 68
Introversion, 163
Isherwood, Christopher, 9
Isha Upanishad, 57, 125, 264, 303, 334,
335, 538, 576
Ishwara, 219, 541, 551, 560, 603, 624
Ishwara-Krishna, 121, 210, 544
Islam, 225, 514

,, vision, 648
Jaimini, 179, 257, 659
Jaina, 126, 257, 277, 282, 291
James, William, 472
jati-dharma, 100
Jehovah,323, 616, 695
Jesus, 84, 197, 339, 392, 396, 403
Jewish, 140
Jews, 635
Joan of Arc, 537
John of the Cross, St., 206
Jnaneshwar, Maharaj, 14

Kant, 125, 202, 390
Kapila, 121, 144, 166, 179, 210,
659, 666
Katha Upanishad, 22, 105, 112, 115,
365, 450, 596, 601
Kaushitaki Upanishad, 349
Kena Upanishad, 393
Krishna-Dvaipayana, 2
Krishnaism, 3
Kula-dharma, 100
Kural, 187

LAO TZE, 425
Lacombe, Prof. 0., 11, 145, 217, 482
Lakshmana, 97
Lakshanartha, 551
Leibnizian monad, 397
Libido, 167
Light of the World, 84
Lingua mystica, 118
Locke, 373
Logicial positivists, 112
Logic of emotions, 113
Logic of pure reason, 113
Logos, 117
Lokayatikas, 624

Madhva, 15, 185, 526, 593
Mahabharata, 1, 3, 23, 67, 69, 73, 88,
139, 229, 360, 425, 432, 497, 589, 697,
Mahabhashya, 3
Maha-vakya, 29, 635, 649
Maitri-Upanishad, 457, 589, 590, 597,
Mandukya Upanishad, 117, 133, 345,
398, 602
Manu, 41, 214, 228, 230, 412, 578,
585, 666, 682, 684, 685, 686
Manu-smriti, 229, 230, 589, 620, 680
Manu Subedar, 14
Max Muller, Prof., 178, 544
Matthew, 403
Maya, 47, 135
Mendel's laws, 619
Metempsychosis, 122
Methodology, 116, 125, 134, 344, 567
Milinda questions, 22
Mill, 373
Milton, 401
Mimamsakas, 29
Mohenjo-daro, 73
Mohammed, 225
Moses, 84, 396
Mount Carmel, 206
Mulaprakriti, 135
Mundaka Upanishad, 118,148, 270, 273,
326, 367, 445, 489, 556, 563, 602
Muslims, 635
Mussulman, 225

NACHIKETAS, 22, 23, 105, 112, 115
Nagasena, 22.
Narada, 3, 432, 485, 503, 523, 525
Naraka, 74
Narayana Guru, 216,225, 270, 274,
330, 334, 338, 376, 404, 414, 492
Natura naturans, 198
Natura naturata, 198
Necessity 33, 34 '
Neutral position, 89
New Testament, 223, 552
Newton's laws, 492
Nichomachean, 137
Nightingale, Florence, 456
Nihilism, 126
Nimbarka, 15
Nyaya, 257, 314, 328, 664, 667
Nyaya-vaiseshika, 46, 124, 126

Occasionalism, 139, 640
Otto, Prof. R. of Marburg, 146
Ouranos, 514

Panini, 3, 225
Parasara, 2, 7, 25
Parmenides, 20, 47, 59, 538, 551, 568
Patala, 96
Patanjali, 3,4 6, 144,145, 157, 166,
175, 196, 244, 245, 268, 279, 298, 307,
428, 447, 522, 523, 525, 546
Paul, 556
Peter, 556
Pharisee, 528, 628
Pitri-loka, 100
Pitri-yana, 31, 63, 76, 95, 96, 100
Plato, 2, 22, 48, 241, 282, 459, 524,
Plotinus, 20, 48, 132, 241, 347, 357,
Post-Buddhist, 235
Prabhavananda Swami, 9
Pragmatism, 142, 193,
Prajapati, 185
Pravritti ('energism'), 10
Professional orientation, 230
Proletarian (sudra), 230
Pre-Aryan, 216
Pre-Socratic, 317, 538
Pre-Vedic, 216
Purva-mimamsa-darsana., 659
Purva-paksha,-in, 19, 21, 26, 71, 89,
100, 103, 122, 229, 250, 308, 339, 459
Purusha-sukta, 466


RADHAKRISHNAN, S., 9, 144, 145, 146, 151,
226, 229, 232, 294, 525, 526, 705
Raju, 10, 106
Raja-Yoga, 308
Rama (Sri), 74, 93, 109
Ramakrishna, Sri, 30, 528
Ramana Maharshi, 6
Ramanuja, 15, 129, 185, 195, 313, 526,
542, 552, 593, 603, 660
Ramayana, 74, 96, 360, 451
Rapport, 310
Rationalist (Samkhya), 112
Ravana, 74
Reflexive thought, 164
Reincarnation, 130, 131, 218
Relative-mindedness, 75
Relativity Theory, 34
Repressions, 266
Rhapshody, -ic, 68, 80
Rousseau, 580
Rig-Veda, 127
Royal Science, 36
Ribot, Prof.T.A., 8, 21
Russell, Bertrand, 536

SACRIFICE (yajna), 64
savoir-faire, 320, 527
Samkhya, 126, 131, 146, 147, 194,
195, 212, 279, 283, 314, 317, 322,
327, 328, 330, 331, 333, 388, 444,
447, 531, 540, 544, 563, 564, 566,
576, 611, 657, 659, 666, 667, 673,
678, 693
Samaritan, the Good, 644
Samkhya-buddhi, 33
Samkhya Karika, 30, 590, 665
Samnyasa, -i,-in, 29, 30, 65, 661,
685, 693
Samvada, 24
Sankara, 13, 15,16,26, 31, 59, 71, 74,
116, 120, 128, 153, 156f, 159, 167,
177, 185, 215f, 226, 236, 258, 259,
269, 285, 325, 357, 359, 382, 453,
497, 500, 516, 525, 530, 535, 538,
539, 541, 542, 546, 548, 550, 552,
558, 560, 561, 563, 564, 565, 566,
569, 575, 582, 593, 603, 607, 609,
638, 644, 666, 684, 705, 707, 711,
Sankarshana, 339
Sarma, Prof. D.S., 10
Saraswati, 85
Sarcasm, 68
Schlegel, F. von, 7
Schrodinger, 604
Science of the Absolute, 21, 84
Scandinavian mythology, 446
Shabari, 109
Shakespeare, 204, 456, 494, 608, 637
Shastra, 29
Shiva, 231, 394
Shaivaism -ite, 225, 282
Shrutis, 23
Siddhantin, 22, 339
Siddhas, 96
Sishya, 310
Smartha, 17
Smriti, 17, 23
Social obligation, 39
Socrates, 22, 128, 137, 459, 524
Socratic method, 22, 538
Solipsicism, 67, 304
Spinoza, 121, 125, 198
Sreedhara-Swami, 15
Stimulus-response psychology, 123
Stoic, 296
Sub-specie-aeternitatis, 121, 372
Subhadra, 204
Sufi, 472
Svetaketu, 33, 329
Svetasvatara Upanishad, 3, 26, 178, 268,
483, 558, 597, 602
Syncretism, 67
Taittiriya Upanishad, 219, 391, 415,
435, 496
" " Samhita, 359
Tantra, 13
Tarka Sastra, 57
Tellus, 329
Tennyson, 221
thcophany, 146
Tilak, B.G., 4, 9, 10, 159
Tiru-k-kural, 187, 453
Tower of Babel, 84
Twice-born, 80
Tyaga, 29, 30, 96

Unitive, 149
Unmanifest, 399
Upadesa-sahasri, 700
Upanishad,-s-ic, 1, 163, 178, 191, 215,
244, 264, 268, 271, 273, 277, 303, 311,
319, 324, 325, 334, 341, 356, 357, 365,
367, 368, 373, 383, 386, 393, 400, 403,
408, 415, 416, 457, 553, 555, 569, 576,
596, 600, 631, 635, 636, 648, 652, 680,
705, 706
Ushmapas, 485
Uttara, 88
Uttara-mimamsa, 257

VAISESHIKA, 125, 364
Vaishnava,-ite-ism, 16, 225, 231, 282,
Vallabhacharya, 15
Values, 36, 168
Varaha-purana, 6
Varuna, 241, 355
Vasishtha, 528
Vasudeva, 217, 339, 407, 459, 506, 548,
Vedas,-ic, 1, 28, 59, 60, 68, 96, 151,
152, 154, 161, 178, 215, 227, 232, 241,
242, 246, 247, 257, 272, 275, 305, 309,
313, 327, 328, 333, 338, 341, 344, 354,
355, 364, 366, 370, 389, 400, 404, 425,
433, 440, 441, 449, 474, 481, 484, 497,
500, 553, 561, 563, 595, 597, 600, 609,
612, 613, 631, 635, 636, 648, 668, 680,
682, 684, 705, 709
Vedism, 29, 72, 147, 150, 160, 162,
191, 215, 216, 282, 443, 512, 596, 623,
635, 652, 678
Vedanta, 21, 60, 125, 136, 147, 148,
151, 152, 153, 183, 187, 195, 211, 256,
269, 300, 311, 313, 317, 323, 330, 331,
339, 373, 382, 390, 394, 399, 414, 429,
432, 434, 450, 452, 476, 477, 499, 525,
530, 582, 600, 609, 610, 648, 667
Veda-Vyasa, 2
Verbum, 117
'Vertical', 185, 305, 331
Vijnanavadin, 122
Via negativa, 109, 167
Vinoba-Bhave, Acharya, 15
Vivekananda, Swami, 530
Viveka-chudamani, 18, 116, 618, 700
Vrishnis, 72, 138
Vyasa, 2, 23, 24, 46,4 9, 66, 69, 70, 71,
107, 127, 128, 209, 256, 432, 459, 470,
492, 513, 559, 575, 579, 680, 711

WAY OF THE FATHERS (pitriyana), 72
Way of the gods (devayana), 72
Wilkins, Charles, 4
Williams, Monier, 217
Wisdom-dialectics, 412, 432
Word of words, 28
Yajnavalkya Dharma Sutras, 589
Yajnavalkya, 294, 400, 412
Yama,22, 112
Ygdrassil, 446
Yoga-buddhi, 33
Yoga, Lord of, 24
Yoga-maya, 47
Yoga-sutras, 3, 428
Yoga-Vasishtha, 3, 22, 93, 360
Yudhishtira, 432

ZENO, 20, 47, 59, 172, 357, 388, 496,
538, 551, 611
Zone of action, 177


Bhagavad Gita Commentary Chapter 17



Sraddhatrayavibhaga Yoga

We should notice first a difference of approach between this
chapter on patterns of faith and the previous chapter, where
endowments were the suject. We revert here to the theory of
the three modalities of nature, discussed in Chapter xiv.
The modalities were theoretically discussed there, and
then in Chapter xv the two purushas (spirits, persons) were
discussed, and the modalities entered into the treatment
only indirectly and partially, i.e. in so far as the changing
aspect of the Absolute was concerned. We have already
noticed the equal relation between the two purushas
(spirits, persons) and the asymmetrical relation between the
kshetra (field or actual) and the kshetrajna (knower of the
field or perceptual) of Chapter xiii, at least insofar as the
latter related to prakriti (nature) and purusha (spirit)

In giving an equal, symmetrical status to the two
purushas or persons of Chapter xv, their complexion and
character changed. They became value-factors rather than
philosophical entities. These value-factors formed the basis
of Chapter xvi, where divine and demonic, or high and low
endowments were contrasted. We have already noticed that,
for purposes of contrast, in Chapter xvi the picture of each
type involved represented extreme limits, omitting any
reference to intermediate cases where both kinds of
endowments entered in.

In the latter half of Chapter xvi we noticed further that
instead of dealing with subjective endowments, the
repercussions in the world of men, especially of demonic
types, was discussed. This present chapter naturally passes
onwards from that point by revolving round a subject which
is named sraddha (faith).

Faith is not a matter which is wholly subjective. The faith
of a person is expressed by his life and interests and what
might be called his pattern of behaviour. There might even


conformity of patterns of behaviour based on the faith
belongings to groups who behaved according to some
common single pattern. Such are popularly known as
religious groups. The observances that the members of such
groups adopt mark them out from others.

In India, religious observances of this kind have conformed
to three different kinds which have been mentioned in
various parts of the Gita. These are: the observances of
sacrifices, bestowing gifts, and austerity or penances. Each
of these has a recognized discipline in their particular

Here the express question of Arjuna is about those who
fall outside the pale of orthodoxy, which includes the greater
mass of people in the whole world. Consistent with the
thoroughly catholic and non-exclusive character of the Gita
teaching, as revealed in such verses as iv, 11, Krishna here
enunciates a kind of rule of thumb by which faith could be
judged to be good, bad or indifferent, without resorting to
technical details relating to each scripture. This kind of
simplified appraisal of scriptural norms of faith is an applied
corollary of the theory of the three modalities of nature so
carefully developed in Chapter xiv.

After leaving out the subject of the three modalities of
nature in the previous two chapters, the present reversion to
it is further understandable because of the fact that,
beginning from this chapter and up to Verse 53 of the next
and last chapter, the author proposes to deal with overt
expressions of spirituality in group or in individual life, so as
to be able, degree by degree, to come to the necessary action
of Arjuna in a pointed manner as applied to the harsh and
mechanistic fixed context of a war situation.

The charge that Krishna is going to make finally against
Arjuna in xviii, 59, is that Arjuna's egoism would be
detrimental to his wisdom. We have thus two factors: the ego
of Arjuna on the one hand, and the necessary action that he is
impelled to do by a conspiracy of natural circumstances on
the other hand. The action is outward, and the ego of Arjuna
belongs to an inner philosophical order. The whole problem
of the Gita is to make these two factors come together
unitively without leading to absurdities in life.

With a view to leading up to such a culminating discussion,
there is a gradual emphasis on the outward aspects of the
ego or Self in its various modalities, conditionings or
dispositions. Modalities of nature and conditionings have
been covered already.


Now in the present chapter we come to dispositions vis-a-vis
factors called faith.

Even a man's attraction to a certain type of food can reveal
his pattern of interest in life. In the observances of
many religions great stress is laid on foods that are taboos
or considered sacred, and on others that are permitted. Hindus
will not touch beef and Muslims and Jews ban pork. The
inclusion of such a seemingly trivial subject in this list of
faiths which are good, bad or indifferent, must be intended
to serve diagnostic purposes.

By finally referring to the maha-vakya (Great Utterance, i.e.
a philosophical formula of Vedanta), Aum-tat-sat
(Absolute-Word-That is Real), the author here is able
to find one supreme formula for correlating all forms of
spiritual expression or faith wherever found. This follows
the Upanishadic pattern of revaluation. It cannot be
considered as exclusive even of Vedism, against which the
Gita has many times had to speak disparagingly. Note that
the Vedas are brought into the context of this revalued
spirituality in Verse 23 later.


Arjuna uvacha
ye sastravidhim utsrijya
yajante sraddhaya 'nvitah
tesham nishtha tu ka krishna
sattvam aho rajas tamah

Arjuna said:
What is the status in faith, 0 Krishna, of those who,
discarding scriptural injunctions, sacrifice with faith,
pure-clear (sattva), affective-active (rajas) or
inert-dark (tamas) ?


The catholicity of the Gita teaching as a whole is
unmistakably evident in iv, 11. where it states that all
men without exception walk the path of the Absolute
represented by Krishna. In the light of such a statement
it is unwarranted for us to doubt that the Gita teaching
is confined in any way to any set of orthodox scriptures,
without which the salvation or the goal would be denied to
any person. To so deny would detract from the Gita's
universal appeal. After the insistence on the scriptures at
the end of the previous chapter, which seemed to suggest
that the ordinances of the scriptures were binding on


all people aspiring for emancipation, it is natural for
Arjuna to ask the question which opens this chapter.
Whether the ordinances of the scriptures here cover
Upanishadic and philosophical aspects has been already settled
in vii, 20, and more pointedly in ix, 23, where it is stated
that those who worship other gods and even go to the extent
of doing so without conforming to the requirements of the
scriptures, are not excluded from the path of the Absolute as
envisaged in those philosophic chapters.

Here, however, it is no more a philosophic question to be
decided. The Vedas, at least in the brahmana portion, are full
of taboos and obligatory injunctions in connection with what
is permissible or not in sacrifices, recitations, etc. The Vedas
belong to the context of the Purva Mimamsa (Critique of
Ritual) and are well known to be different from Vedanta
which is based on artha-vada (free philosophical criticism
and exegesis) while the Vedas are based on viddhi nisheda
(injunctions and prohibitions). The reference here to sastra
viddhi (scriptural obligations) cannot therefore be to

It is the changing purusha (spirit, person) of Chapter xv
who is affected by the three gunas (modalities of nature).
Arjuna's question refers to these modalities. From this we can
legitimately deduce that the sastra here meant is the Vedas.
Thus it is to a very limited and relativist field that Arjuna's
question applies and the answer also should be understood as
limited to actual religious practices seen in this world, and
not to spirituality in general.


Sribhagavan uvacha
trividha bhavati sraddha
dehinam si svabhavaja
sattviki rajasi chai 'va
tamasi cha ti tam srinu

Krishna said:
The faith of the embodied is of three kinds, born of
their proper nature; the pure-clear (sattva), the
affective-active (rajas), and the inert-dark (tamas).
About it hear:


The leading nature of Arjuna's question becomes evident
here, by which we see that this verse explains the title.



sattvanurupa sarvasya
sraddha bhavati bharata
sraddhamayo yam purusho
yo yachchhraddhah sa eva sah

Shaped according to one's true nature the faith of
everyone happens to be, 0 Bharata (Arjuna); man is
made of his faith; of what faith a man is, even that
he is.


Here the dialectical counterparts we have so often spoken
about are exposed in clear relief. Faith is equated to the
inner or true nature of a man. Faith on the objective side
is the counterpart of his true nature which is subjective.
When it is stated here that a man consists of his faith,
there is an equation of these counterparts. Shakespeare's
saying that "apparel oft proclaims the man" states the same
type of verity in somewhat the same dialectical form. A tree
is known by its fruit; its true nature depends on its
counterpart, the fruit.

We have said that faith refers to an outward expression of
tendencies resulting in a pattern of behaviour which is
overtly visible. The overt nature of the values to be
discussed in this and the greater part of the next chapter
is already evident in the value called faith here.
The phrase sattvanurupa (shaped according to one's own
nature) has the term sattva (true, existent) in it which is
employed in a sense particular in this context, and not as
merely one of the modalities of nature. A man holds a form
of faith dear to him because it corresponds with a subtle and
essential aspect of his own nature. This may be called his
true nature as distinguished from a nature pretended or
artificially worn. The term sattva here has some affinity
with the word satya (truth). That aspect of the ego which is
transparent to truth may be said to be what is meant here.


yajante sattvika devan
yaksharakshamsi rajasah
pretan bhutaganams cha 'nye
yajante tamasa janah

Pure-clear (sattvik) men worship the divinities;active-
passionate (rajasik) the gods of eating and wealth
(yakshas) and the gods of ferocity and violence
(rakshasas); the others, the inert-dark (tamasik)
the spirits of the dead (pretas) and the hosts of
elemental beings (bhutas).


The diagnosis of the varieties of worship which come under
faith is first stated here for general guidance. When it
is said that sattvika (pure-clear modality) men worship the
devas (divinities) the converse is more true. We can
recognize from their worship of the divinities that they are
pure types. They conform to the pure-clear types in
accordance with the modalities of nature of Chapter xxv. In
every verse below the statements with their converse
propositions are meant for purposes of diagnosis. It does not
mean that by purposely worshipping the gods, taking this
diagnosis as an injunction, that such a worshipper turns out
to be pure merely by that simple fact. This absurdity will be
more striking when applied to food.

Food is much talked of by persons who are inclined to
think of taboos and bans, as even Sankara tends to view
these indications. A man who, by nature, likes pungent food,
just by switching over to an oily bland kind of food which is
here called sattvika (pure-clear) in Verse 8, by that simple
artificial change, could then legitimately claim to become a
sattvika (pure-clear) type of person.

The indications in this chapter are to be used for diagnostic
purposes only, although it must be added that trying to conform
uniformly to the higher standard meant in this chapter need not
be ruled out as futile. But holding on to single items would
be fetishism or idolatry, which can only be called tamasik
(inert-dark) as stated in Verse 22 later.

Those who worship the devas (divinities) resemble the
Vedic worshippers who may be said to tread the devayana
(divine path). At the other extreme we have those who may
be called by contrast pitriyanis (ancestral worshippers).
They are likely to be steeped in negative or regretful states
of mind implied in a retrospective spirit when thinking of
forefathers. The word preta (spirit of the dead) indicates
this. What is stated here corresponds to what has already
been stated in ix, 25. In the middle position the rajasik
(affective-active) natures and the worship of the rakshasas
(fierce demons) form natural counterparts, the former
subjective and the latter objective, representing active,
passionate values. Each attracts or repels the other.


We see that diagnosis as employed in this chapter not only
helps to determine objectively a type of faith, but also
the type of person who corresponds to the faith. A double
diagnosis is thus accomplished in these verses. It would
be too much to enter into all their implications.


asdstravihitam ghoram
tapyante ye tapo jandh
dambhdhamkara samyuktah
kama raga balan vitah

karsayantah sarirastham
bhiitagrimam achetasah
mtfm chai 'va 'ntaksariraitham
tan viddhy asuranischayan

Those men who practise terrible austerities not enjoined by the scripture, given to hypocrisy and egoism, lust, passion and power, torturing all the organs of the body and (harassing) me seated in the body; know them to be of demonic resolves.


By the strong tone employed here, these verses condemn a certain
severe type of tapas (austerity, self-discipline). Self-torture,
self-immolation, sleeping on nails, fasting and other such
forms of popular austerity with which historic India was replete,
often did not have any philosophical or psychological validity.
Such irrational and spurious forms of spirituality, lacking any
raison d'être, are condemned here.

When the question of Arjuna itself referred to those who
discard scriptural injunctions, it was not strictly necessary to
mention the matter again or to condemn spiritual expressions of
this type in such downright language. The complaint is that God,
living in the body of such men, is himself tortured. This can only
apply to the relativist purusha (person, spirit) and then only
through the gunas (modalities of nature); for it is indicated in
iv,14 that the spirit is left untouched by any possible taint coming
from nature. An indirect relation with such modalities of nature is
however implied in vii, 12, where it is stated that the spirit is not
in the gunas (modalities of mature) but that they are in the spirit.
How a thing which is


not outside can still hurt a spirit is problematic, but we have
noticed in Chapter xv that a certain mystery was still left
regarding psycho-physical interaction which, as we have
said, depended on a form of occasionalism. It is therefore
admissible in principle that spirit itself suffers from the
tortures of wrong austerities, because the more objectively
the problem is discussed, the Absolute implied in such a
discussion has also by necessity to become correspondingly
objectively conceived. Such, as we have said, is the scheme
according to which these chapters are written.

Further, this type of austerity would come under pretension,
because it belongs neither to the person's own nature nor to
scriptural indications. It is this type of absurdity which
is referred to as para-dharma (alien pattern of behaviour)
in iii, 35 and repeated in xviii, 47 and 48, the close
examination of which we shall reserve for the next chapter.
Notice that the triple elements of evil of xvi, 21 are
included, with egoism and strength added on, in connection
with these types. The egoistic tendencies mentioned in
different chapters tend to converge together more
objectively here. Balam (power or strength) is reminiscent
of the mailed fist, though here it is only austerity which is
the subject and not politics. The tortures of the Inquisition
may be thought of as coming under such power employed in
the name of faith, although the context is somewhat different
as belonging to history.

Note: Some have taken the compound kama roga balan vitah
(of lust, passion and power) as tritiya-tat-purusha (i.e.,
with the first two members of the compound having an
independent status) but we agree with Sankara in giving an
independent status to the word balam (power) as also to the
words kama (lust) and roga (passion).

The term karsayantah (harassing) means disturbing rather
than direct torture and applies more to the bhutagramam
(all the organs of the body). This distinction has been
retained as far as possible in our translation in keeping
with our comments. The language of the author does not
give room strictly to any deviation from his previous
theory of psycho-physical relationship.


adharas tv api sarvasya
trividho bhavati priyah
yajnas tapas tatha danam
tesham bhedam imam srinu


Even the food which is dear to everyone is of three kinds;
as also the sacrifices, austerities and gifts.
Hear you of the distinction between them.


Each temperament has its corresponding food. As we can
tell the character of a person by the company he keeps or
by his dress; it is possible to distinguish different
temperaments on the basis of the kind of food each prefers.
The words priyah (dear) here or ishta (liked) in Verse 9,
refer to this preference by which the corresponding
temperament is to be ascertained.


rasyah snigdhah sthira
hridya dharah sattvikapriyah

The foods which promote life, vitality, strength, health,
joy and cheerfulness and which are (in themselves) tasty,
rich, substantial and appealing, are dear to the pure-clear
(sattvik) types.


The kind of food preferred by pure-clear types is what
prolongs life or vitality, when looked upon from the standpoint
of its effect. In itself the food mentioned is tasty, rich,
substantial and appealing. These qualities of food can
exist only when a person has the right attitude towards food
in general. A gourmandiser interested in stuffing himself
does not really enjoy food in the sense of the last epithet.
Only a clear-minded, refined person capable of enjoying a
good dinner as it ought to be enjoyed, can choose such
items that have good effects and enjoy them properly. Some
have made the mistake of translating snigdhah (rich) as
meaning bland or tasteless. Such a meaning would only
indicate a dietetic fad.


ahara rajasasye 'shta


Foods that are strongly-flavoured, sour, saline, excessively
hot, pungent, hardened and burning, are liked by the
active-passionate (rajasik) and are producers of pain,
unhappiness and indisposition.


Active people like certain foods selected, not on the basis
of their good effects, but mainly on the basis of pampering
to ordinary taste. Such foods might have bad effects about
which they do not care. These can be pain, unhappiness and
indisposition as mentioned here.

Coming to the foods themselves, katu (strongly-flavoured)
which is the first quality mentioned, often mistakenly
translated "bitter", refers rather to the biting flavours
of foods like chillies, garlic and ginger. The other
items are gradations of the same category, all of them being
stimulating to the palate. The eater here does not take
account of their evil consequences to himself. This is the
distinguishing feature of the rajasik (active-passionate)


yatayamam gatarasam
puti paryushitam cha yat
uchchhishtham api cha 'medhyam
bhojanam tamasapriyam

That which is left over, which has lost its taste, which
is putrid, stale, which is refuse and unfit for consumption,
such alimentary items are welcome to the inert-dark (tamasik)


Here there is no choice on the part of the eater. The items
are conditioned by necessity, and it would be wrong
therefore to take the expression priyah (dear) too literally.
All the items are distinguished by being bhojanam (general
alimentary items, food of some sort or another). The term
amedhyam (unfit to be eaten) suggests all items which have
to be eaten by force of necessity only, though without
virtue in themselves because of taste etc., or because of
desirable after-effects. They might even verge on what is
poisonous. Stray dogs are seen to have no choice in food
and stray humans likewise. To call them as consciously
conforming to any type would be a travesty of truth. By
long conditioning it is perhaps possible to find persons
who prefer stale or putrid food when they could have a
better choice.

aphalakinkshibhir yajno
vidhidrishto ya ijyate
yashtavyam eve 'ti manah
samadhaya sa sattvikah


That sacrifice is pure-clear (sattvik) which is offered
by those desiring no gain, having injunctional
recognition on the mind, being tranquilized by (their
saying to themselves) sacrifice is necessary.


Three kinds of sacrifices are mentioned in this and the
two verses that follow. The main distinction between good
and bad sacrifices lies in the fact that while the good does
not have immediate results in view, the bad is definitely
prompted by gain-motive.

The tamasik (inert-dark) kind is devoid of value in itself
because it is not based on any recognized indications in
scripture, and also because beneficial items like distribution
of food or recitation of exalting spiritual texts are absent.
Such sacrifices have to be counted as meaningless or without
value. The persons who perform such sacrifices are unable to
think in any rational way and are blind people led by other
blind people whom they imitate.

All the three conditions mentioned here may not be
violated in any particular instance. When it is so violated the
whole sacrifice has to be considered absurd, not only as
being ineffective spiritually, but as being useless in the more
ordinary sense of the term.

In Verse 11 we should imagine a person who, because he
is a rationalist or a philosopher, tends to minimize the
importance of ritualistic sacrifices altogether. He does not
desire heaven as a result of sacrifice. He is capable of doing
without sacrifice for his own sake, but he resorts to it after
giving due thought, as implied in samadhaya (having come
to decision), saying to himself that sacrifice is necessary and
will do some good, though not to himself directly, but by
inducing a favourite atmosphere generally in his life, or even
to set a good example to those who may be addicted to absurd
behaviour. The various arguments that can pass through the
mind of such a man are implied in ii, 20 to 29. In short,
he feels the urge for such sacrifice both on the grounds
of his own type of philosophy and by common necessity.
Although the philosophy of such a man may not reach
transcendental heights, it constitutes the counterpart of
necessary action as he is able to understand it. Such an
interpretation becomes admissible in the light of ii, 17.


The word yashtavyam (must sacrifice) here corresponds to
datavyam (must give) of Verse 20. Both have a moral,
imperative character.


abhisamdhaya tu phalam
dambhartham api chai 'va yat
ijyate bharatasreshtha
tam yajnam viddhi rajasam

That (sacrifice) which is offered with expectation of
return, or for egoistic show, know, 0 Best of Bharatas,
(Arjuna) that sacrifice to be active-passionate (rajasik).


Usurers lend money in the hope of a larger return. The
good Samaritan on the other hand, has no such thought.
The usurer approximates to the rajasik (active-passionate)
type here. What is more, the sacrifice is ostentatious.


vidhihinam asrishtannam
mantrahinam adakshinam
sraddhavirahitam yajnam
tamasam parichakshate

The sacrifice which does not conform to scriptural rules,
without food distribution, without sacred chants and token
gift meant for the Guru, and devoid of faith, they declare
to be inert-dark (tamasik).


How the tamasik (inert-dark) type of sacrifice can be
wholly or partially absurd has been already explained under 
Verse 11. From Sankara's comment on this verse, he states
that the gift here is meant for priests, and the food
distribution should be for brahmins. It is clear he is
thinking of a non-brahmin sacrifice in the usual context of
orthodoxy in India which, as we have said, he connives at.
If we understand the Gita teaching as belonging to the
world generally, Sankara's remarks sound somewhat
parochial and out of date.


deva dvija guru prajna-
pujanam saucham arjavam
brahmacharyam ahimsa cha
sariram tapa uchyate

Worship offered to the gods, to wisdom-initiates, (dvijas),
to spiritual teachers (gurus) and the wise (generally),
cleanliness, straightforwardness, the chaste ways of a
wisdom-novice, non-hurting, are said to constitute
austerity of the body.


anudvegakaram vakyam
satyam priyahitam cha yat
svadhyayabhyasanam chai 'va
vanmayam tapauchyate

Inoffensive speech, which is truthful, pleasant and
beneficial, contemplative self-study, are named the
austerity of speech.


mahahprasadah saumyatvam
maunam atmavinigrahah
bhuvasamsuddhir ity etat
tapo manasam uchyate

Mental happiness, gentleness, silence, self-restraint,
an imagination of creative transparency, are named
the austerity of the mind.


sraddhaya parayi taptam
tapas tat trividham naraih
aphalakankshibhir yuktaih
sattvakam parichakshate

This threefold austerity, practised with transcendent
faith by unitively balanced men without desire of
gain, is named pure-clear (sattvik).


tapo dambhena chai 'va yat
kriyate tad iha proktam
rajasam chalam adhruvam

That austerity which is practised for gaining respect,
honour, reverence, and for the sake of show, is named
active-passionate (rajasik); changeful and insecure.


mudhagrahena 'tmano yat
pidaya kriyate tapah
parasyo 'tsadanartham va
tat tamasam udahritam

That austerity which is practised out of foolish
obstinacy, with self-torture or for the detriment of
another, is named inert-dark (tamasik).


These Verses, 14 to 19, form a section on tapas (austerity).
in the first three verses of this section, self-discipline with
body, speech and mind are described. In the three verses that
follow body, speech and mind are taken together and
distinguished as belonging to modality types. The guiding
principles in all these verses have been mentioned already in
speaking of sacrifices, and they require no further comment.


datavyam itiyad danam
diyate 'nupakarine
dese kale cha patre cha
tad danam sattvikam smritam

That gift which (clearly) ought to be made, given to
one from whom no return is expected, in (the right)
place and time and to a deserving person, that gift
is pure-clear (sattvik).


The next three verses deal with gifts pertaining to the
three faith-types. In the pure type of Verse 20 we find as
before that there is due deliberation and choice involved. It
is not haphazard but reasonably arrived at. The need for it
must first be sufficiently clear to the donor. Next the person
who gets it must be considered, whether he will benefit by
the gift or whether it will hurt him. Then there are
considerations about place and time. A gift made to a
prodigal son when his prodigality was on the increase would
not be so effective as when made on his return. Then the
good Samaritan touch is there in the phrase anupakarine
(one from whom no return is expected).


yat tu pratyupakarartham
phalam uddisya va punah
diyate cha pariklishtam
tad danam rajasam smritam


And what is given with a view to return benefit, or with
gain in view, reluctantly, that gift is held to be
active-passionate (rajasik).


The term pariklishtam (reluctantly) suggests that the giver
is undecided and also that he would still like to keep the
gift himself. This wavering quality indicates the active-
passionate type.


adesakale yad danam
apatrebhyas cha diyate
asatkritam avajnatam
tat tamasam udahritam

The gift that is given at a wrong place or time, disdainfully
and patronizingly, to persons unfit to receive it, affords
an example of the inert-dark (tamasik).


Promiscuous gift-making into which no study of the
situation enters, and gifts made disdainfully and
patronizingly, ignoring the suitability of place and
occasion, is described here. Most of the charities of a
public character come under this category, as for example
in India where rich people give doles to assembled beggars
who are often seen quarrelling and fighting among
themselves before receiving a pittance.


aum tat sad iti nirdeso
brahmanas trividhah smritah
brahmanas tena vedis cha
yajnas cha vihitah pura

Aum tat sat (Absolute Word, That is Real), 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.


Having referred to three types of faith corresponding to
the three kinds of persons who adopt such faiths, it is still
not clear whether the Gita is orthodox or heterodox.
Arjuna's question was expressly put to get a definite answer
to this. The only apparently definite or strong answer so
far given is contained in Verses 5 and 6, where a man of
asuric (demonic) nature is


roundly condemned for aspiring to perform austerities. Such
a man resembles a Sudra-Muni (proletarian sage) like
Shambuka, who was killed by Rama, or like Ravana of the
Ramayana who was also noted for his wilful austerities. The
Upanishads contain the spirituality which revalued such
early forms of popular spirituality in the light of which this
strong condemnation could be historically understood.
This last section of the present chapter attempts a
supreme synthesis of faith-values implied in Veda and
Vedanta together. The author does not wish in the next
chapter to limit himself to values belonging strictly to the
domain of relativity and into which the three modalities of
nature infuse their own particular coloration. Abandoning,
therefore, the frame of reference hitherto used, the author
now in the present verse resorts to a scheme of correlation
of values which would bridge and extend beyond relativistic
or Vedic values, both downwards into the field of necessity
and upwards into the contingent.

The maha-vakya (Great Utterance, contemplative philosophical
formula) Aum tat sat (Absolute Word, Logos, "That which is Real,
Good, Existent") which is respected both by the Vedists and
the Vedantins, is chosen to afford a formula around which
such a correlation of values could most easily and simply
be effected.

Wisdom-values of a transcendental order and of an idealistic
nature art related to the syllable AUM (Logos or Word).
In the word tat (that) practical ontological values of
everyday life are included so as to fall under the category
of the eternal. Sat (the Real, Good or Existent) refers to
the existential, necessary and immanent aspects of reality.
From this value represented by Aum (the Word) to the value
represented by Sat (Real, Existent) we can imagine a scale
of values extending from those belonging to the remotest
past to those pertaining to the furthest future where the
goal of destiny of man lies. Eternity is therefore comprised
within the amplitude of these three words, and all
gradations of values can be fitted into this scale which
reaches from earth to heaven like a ladder as in Jacob's

The Brahmanas represent elaborated Vedic injunctions
arising out of Vedic worship. The sacrifices themselves,
which are forms of worship normal to the Vedas, consist of
ritualistic actions. The three values: Brahmanas, Vedas and
sacrifices, themselves represent three rungs, as it were, of
this golden ladder of values. The scope of this chapter
being limited to values


lying within the subject of faith or religion or type of
religionist, these three levels of value of the Vedic context
are for the present referred to first in Verse 23.

All ritualistic values irrespective of these three levels, it
is said here, could be related to their corresponding syllables
in the sacred formula given here. It is at the same time a
maha-vakya (formula or Great Utterance) of the Vedanta,
thus enjoying a sacred status even in the eyes of the
orthodox, at least on a level with the Vedic Gayatri (sacred
verse repeated by brahmins at their morning and evening
devotions), which perhaps marks the highest point as a
sacred formula within the relativist framework of Vedic
spiritual life.

By resorting to this contemplative formula Aum tat sat,
the author has succeeded in lifting the values of spirituality
almost out of their nature-modality limitations which pertain
to the changing aspect of the Absolute, and has thus
prepared the way for a full-dress discussion of spiritual
values cleared of this particular scaffolding.


tasmad aum ity udahritya
yajna dana tapah kriyah
pravartante vidhanoktah
satatam brahmavdinam

Therefore uttering Aum (Absolute Word), sacrifice, giving,
austerity and action enjoined by scriptural ordinance always
begin for those who represent the ,doctrine of the Absolute.


The reference to brahmavdinah (those representing the
doctrine of the Absolute) shows that the Absolute itself
could be the ultimate value for both the relativist Veda-
religionist as well as more properly to the Vedantin.
Aum (the Word, Logos, Absolute) as representing the
knowledge or wisdom of the Absolute, which itself is a
supreme value, is the first word to be uttered as laid down in
scripture even for necessary ritual within the scope of the
Vedas. It thus forms a common value-link between both
Veda and Vedanta. Only knowers of the Absolute use the
Aum in the manner as stated here. Others might not realize
such a significance.


tad ity anabhisamdhaya
phalam yajnatapahkriyah
danakriyas cha vividhah
kriyante mokshakankshibhih


With tat (That) excluding all values of gain, acts of
sacrifice and austerity, as also acts of giving of
various kinds are performed by those who desire


The expression mokshakankshibhih (those who desire liberation)
indicates those who are one degree inferior to those who
understand the doctrine of the Absolute in terms of wisdom,
of the last verse.

Liberation implies the recognition of necessity. The tat,
(That) in referring to such a value as liberation, is described
here as being exclusive of all other lesser values such as
lust, etc., spoken of earlier, which are related to the active-
passionate modality of nature (rajas guna). When lesser
values are thus excluded, the value of tat is the same as the
value of Aum of the previous verse.


sadbhave sadhubhave cha
sad ity etat prayujyate
prasaste karmani tatha
sachchhabdah parthayujyate

This (term) sat (the Real) is used in the sense of
existence and of goodness and likewise, 0 Partha
(Arjuna), to all laudable actions, the expression sat
is usually applied.


This verse accomplishes the equation of the notion of
existence with the notion of value. Value can belong to
something which is good, whether abstract or concrete
entities are concerned, or values can be implicit in actions
which are beneficial and in keeping with truth or
conforming to the Absolute value of Aum (the Word) itself.
In terms of value the connotation of the three syllables
tend to unite.


yajne tapasi dine cha
sthitih sad-iti cho'chyate
karma chai-'va tadarthiyam

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


Constancy or continued affiliation to what constitutes the
faith-value of sacrifice, austerity and gift-bestowing, which
are the three items dealt with in this chapter, is itself a
spiritual value. The man who is thus steady and loyal to the
outward values, represents in himself a certain high value.
Conversely, if we should swing to the objective side of the
situation implied in an act of faith, inasmuch as all these
acts refer to the value of the Absolute through what is
connoted by the word tat (That), the status of the crude
actions themselves can in principle be equated to the
Absolute itself, and thus become both existent and good,
as stated in the last verse.

Thus the four rungs of the ladder of values, the lowest
referring to action, the next to existence and goodness at
once, the one following which is the passionless goal of
liberation, and the fourth and highest which consists of
the pure wisdom-value of the Absolute as the Word, Aum,
are seen as a ladder series each enjoying an equal status

The crudest form of this outward necessary aspect of
spirituality is seen in the context of warfare, from which
background the Gita discussion emerged and to which it
returns in xviii, 59 and 60. The next chapter has to deal in
the meantime with the question of how action can be
renounced or, if accepted as an inevitable or necessary
factor in life, how the yogi harmonizes it with high values
of wisdom on the one hand and on the other hand with
deep-seated factors of necessity which are equally eternal.
From an ontological discussion of values we pass on, in
the next chapter, to a teleological discussion centering
around action as a key-word. Necessary action alone brings
us finally to the scene of warfare, fitting philosophy
correctly into the context of inevitability in life.


asraddhaya hutam dattam
tapas taptam kritam cha
yat asad ity uchyate partha
na cha tat pretya no iha

Whatever is sacrificed, given or done, and whatever
austerity is gone through, without faith it is called
asat (non-existent, no good), 0 Partha (Arjuna); it
has no value here or hereafter.



Sraddha (faith), in this verse, can be dependent or independent
of scriptural injunctions. What is more, it can belong at once
to Vedism or to the higher way of the Upanishads. It is a factor
which affiliates the individual with whatever is valuable in
spiritual life. Without establishing a relation of the kind
implied in the word faith, all outward observances or expressions
in the name of spirituality are absurd or meaningless. They
have no place in a real scheme of existence and they have no
value in any properly understood scale of values. This verse
says that such a false front of sraddha (faith) can make no

ity srimad bhagavadgitasupanishatsu brahmavidyayam
yogasastre srikrishnarjunasamvade
sraddharayavibhagayogo nama saptadaso '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 Seventeenth Chapter entitled the Unitive Recognition of the Three Patterns of Faith.

This final important chapter has the task of gathering up
loose ends of the discussion from various chapters,
especially Chapter iii on Karma-Yoga (Action Transcended

Bhagavad Gita Commentary Chapter 16




As a guide to conduct, it is necessary for each person to be
able to recognize what is good from what is bad, in other
words, to discriminate between the values belonging to life.
In this chapter there is an enunciation and description of
values which have been divided and distinguished as
belonging to the world of devas (divinities) and asuras
(demons), from which we should understand references
only to higher and lower values. These have already been
referred to in ix, 12 and 1.

Even on a superficial scanning of the items constituting
these sets of values, we can see that they do not conform to
conventional social virtues, although such are not altogether
omitted, e.g., reference to truthfulness is only indirectly
mentioned in Verse 7.

If we should scan the list with religious values in mind,
we find that almsgiving and offering sacrifices, which
would be laudatory acts in the orthodox religious context,
are degraded and listed among the demonic items in Verse
15. Almsgiving, however, is given a sufficiently important
place as the fourth item danam (gift) among the divine
values in Verse 1. Sacrifice is also mentioned there. It is
therefore not unwarrantable to assume that the values are
not conceived along the usual orthodox, or heterodox lines.
The values are graded according to a principle which is
neither strictly ethical nor religious, but which arises
independently from the epistemological frame of reference of
the Gita itself. Comparing the items with the higher and
lower aspects of the Absolute enumerated in various
previous chapters, we can easily see how these higher
values are derivatives from the higher attributes of the
Absolute itself. Taken together they represent an absolutist
way of life and the first item itself,


which is fearlessness, sufficiently reveals what is meant by
this absolutist way. We shall have more to say when we
come to the items themselves in the verses.

It suffices for us to recognize here that these virtues or
values, most of which are of an individual or personal kind,
belong to a mystical or contemplative order. They cannot
be considered as social virtues or pertaining to a morality
derived from popular opinion. Such a world of popular
opinion, where virtues have a Pharisaical character, fall
outside the world of contemplation. True contemplative
values have their source in the superior world of the
purushottama (Paramount Person), the Absolute, of the
previous chapter, which represents the Value of values for
the mystic or contemplative.

Such values do not have difference as between one
religious growth and another, and are not of the order of
obligations, taboos or bans, (for which see Bergson's "The
Two Sources of Morality and Religion" which deals with this

We find here that the tone becomes rather harsh and crude.
In Verses 19 and 20 we come up against a god who resembles
an angry Jehovah, who will not be satisfied till he
metes out strict justice. The nature of the presiding god of
this chapter sinks definitely to the side of karma (action)
or necessity.

Necessity itself, in its most imperative form, is a principle
that cannot be neglected or lightly brushed aside by a
philosopher who is able to penetrate into reality as such. As
necessity itself is cruel and harsh, the tone of the chapter
has to change correspondingly. This should not be taken to
mean that the essential character of the Absolute, as
portrayed in the Gita as a whole, is compromised or changed
for the worse.

The chapter concludes by calling upon Arjuna to rely on
the sastras (recognized scientific scriptural writings).
The Gita does not recommend heterodoxy, but has its own
version of what should be considered authoritative or
canonical. This is brought out in more detail in the last
two chapters, and especially in Chapter xvii, in answer to
the pointed question of Arjuna about a person who does not
adhere to the sastras (scientific canons).


Sribhagavan uvacha
abhayam sattvasamsuddhir
jnanayoga vyavasthitih
danam damas cha yajnas cha
svadhyayas taba drjavam

ahimsa satyam akrodhas
yogah santir apaisunam
daya bhuteshv aloluptvam
mardavam hrir achapalam

tejah kshama dhritih saucham
adroho na 'timanita
bhavanti sampadam daivim
abhijatasya bharata

Krishna said:
Fearlessness, transparency to truth, proper affiliation to
unitive wisdom, attitude of generous sharing, self-restraint
and sacrifice, private perusal of sacred books, discipline
and rectitude,

non-hurting, truth, non-anger, relinquishment, calmness,
self-integrity, compassion to beings, non-interest
in sense-values, gentleness, modesty, non-fickleness,

alertness, forgiveness, fortitude, cleanliness, absence of
malice, absence of excessive respectability: these make up
the divine (higher) values of anyone, 0 Bharata (Arjuna),
born for them.


These verses enumerate certain personal virtues or values
characterizing a man belonging to a higher order of good
men as understood in the Gita.

The very first qualification abhayam (fearlessness) strikes
the note of independence and self-reliance rather than
conforming to the requirements of any social system. A
philosopher becomes fearless in a sense in keeping with the
rest of the Gita when he sees equally and neutrally, as stated
in vi, 29, 30 ,and 32, and in xiv, 23. There remains nothing
for him to be afraid of outside himself, while death,
inasmuch as it implies no real change in his being, also
fails to frighten him.

The expression sattvasamsuddhih (transparence to truth)
of Verse 1, refers to the purusha (Person) called kshara (the
changing) as described in the last chapter, the aspect of the
Absolute belonging to the necessary context of life, and
subject to the laws of changing nature. The modality called
sattva (pure-clear) helps the intelligence to arrive at
truthful judgments.


When this modality of nature acts in a perfectly transparent
way, that would indicate what the expression here means.
A good man is also one who has proper affiliation to the
wisdom called here jnana-yoga (unitive understanding) as
known in the Gita. This implies a certain steady loyalty to
wisdom values.

Danam (gift) only means readiness to share the goods of
life with others and not ostentatious charity or almsgiving
listed in Verse 15. Here the giving is egoless.

Again, self-restraint contrasts with the attitude portrayed in 
Verse 15 where a man says, "I will sacrifice". Dama (self-
restraint) belongs to the nivritti marga (negative way) and it
is included in the six preliminary requirements of a wisdom
seeker, such as sama (equanimity), uparati, (disinterest in the
non-contemplative), titiksha (bearing without complaint the
difficulties of the contemplative life), sraddha (confidence in
the teaching and the Guru) and samadhana (constant
recollective meditation) these are the meanings given by
Sankara in the Viveka Chudamani (Verses 19-30).

The word yajna (sacrifice) need not infer limitation to
Vedic sacrifices. Worship itself is a form of sacrifice, as the
word itself has been elsewhere employed in the Gita (iv, 25-30).
Svadhyaya (private perusal of sacred books) also conforms
to the other virtues here in being non-ostentatious, self-reliant
and independent, as all contemplative virtues ought to be.
In the light of xvii, 5, 6, 18 and 19, we should understand
that the tapas (austerity) here is strictly within the
contemplative way, and refers properly to discipline. Arjavam
(rectitude) or sincere straightforwardness is also a quality
referring to oneself and not to society.

Most of the qualities of Verse 2 are contemplative and
negative or neutral, and requiring no explanation, except
perhaps apaisunam (self-integrity), meaning leaving others
alone, non-interfering, and aloluptvam (non-interest in sense-
values). Both of these refer to the self-sufficiency of the

In Verse 3 we have more commonplace virtues which do not need
any philosophical understanding to cultivate, as they are of
an existential order. If we take the instance of saucham
(purity) here it is more physical cleanliness than the
transparency of spirit mentioned in Verse 1. Again, dhritih
(fortitude) indicates a stable quality reminiscent of the
elemental principles of xiii, 5, that necessarily enter the
make-up of the Absolute.


Na atimanita (absence of excessive respectability) marks
the lowest limit of inclusion among those higher or "divine"
qualities, being the last-mentioned here. Good and sensitive
people tend to exaggerate their own respectability or status.
A certain degree of self-respect would be permissible to a
godly man, but over-sensitivity in the matter would be a
disqualification, as suggested by the prefix ati (excessive).
Some people tend to understand by the reference to birth
here that there is a tacit acceptance of heredity, although
the text properly scanned does not warrant such a definite view.
Because many translators have rendered the meaning in such
a way as to imply a distinction based on birth, we are
tempted to make the following remarks.

It is a fact, hardly to be denied, that good and bad people
are found in the world. To speak of them as belonging to
different groups by the peculiarity of their birth does not
mean that humanity is being summarily divided into sheep
and goats depending on some status related to birth. There
is a complete theory put forward by the author in great
detail, in whose light these divisions should be understood.
It is nowhere suggested in the Gita that birth is based on
heredity. We should understand these distinctions as
belonging to type psychology based on the capacity to
appreciate higher or lower values in life which do not
always follow the lines of heredity. In fact Mendel's laws
of heredity prove just the opposite. We know also in common
life that sons of the same parents can be poles apart in
the respective types they represent.


dambho darpo 'bhimanas cha
krodah purushyam eva cha
ajnanam cha 'bhijatasya
partha sampadam asurim

Pretentiousness, arrogance and a sense of self-importance,
anger, and harshness also and ignorance: these, 0 Partha
(Arjuna), make up the demonic (lower) values of anyone born
for them.


The items under asuric (demonic) values reveal a kinship
with either rajas (affective-active modality of nature) and
tamas (inert-dark modality) rather than with sattva (clear-
pure modality). Except for ajnana (ignorance) all of them


characterized by an enlargement of the ego. Egoism is
therefore the principal enemy of the contemplative in the
Gita doctrine, whether that ego gets expressed through
tamas, rajas, or even sattva.

The personal value of honour, implicit in the word
abhimana (high sense of self-respect), here grouped with
bad qualities, is referred to by Krishna himself as
something to be seriously considered when he says in ii, 34
that "dishonour is worse than death". In the light of the
status given to Arjuna in Verse 5: that he is born with
divine endowments, the contradiction implied becomes
somewhat glaring. But there Arjuna was only being introduced
to positive values at a time when he was steeped in negation
and regret. The statement was, therefore, perhaps intended
to whip him, as it were, into a more positive attitude with
sharply stinging words, as a form of treatment for his state
of psychological regression.

The philosophy of Chapter ii was highly theoretical and
sweeping in its abstractions; hence the reference to honour
balanced correctly the abstract value system.

The tail-end of demonic characteristics consists of ignorance
pure and simple, which belongs to a tamasik (inert-dark)

The word abhijatasya (born for) again suggests that some
persons are by their very birth endowed with these qualities
of the lower order. We have explained how such birth does
not conform with the lines along which heredity works.
Men or women themselves conform to different modalities
of nature or types as understood in the light of the
explanations given in Chapter xiv. Arjuna is a kshattriya
(warrior) and is almost directly addressed as such in ii, 31.
In Verse 5 of the present chapter, Arjuna is definitely
admitted in the group of people possessing high or "divine"
endowments as enumerated earlier. According to the
division of necessary duties belonging to kshattriyas, stated
in xviii, 43, we find that despite the striking disparity
between the qualities mentioned there and those of the
Manusmriti (code of regulations of Manu the law-giver),
which includes sacrifices and learning the Vedas, etc., there
is also a further noticeable difference between the higher
endowments of the present chapter and the necessary
activities conforming to the type called the kshattriya
(warrior) of Chapter xviii. In later chapters of the Gita
rigid values of the world of necessary action gain primacy,
while here the gunas (modalities of nature) and endowments
apply to a more flexible state of the spirit.


The matching of the type of spirit to its corresponding mould
of necessity and actual situation is what the Gita recommends
by these references to inborn traits. To mix up in the mind
the fluid traits of the spirit with the factors of necessity
in the hard world outside would give us wrong notions in regard
to the subtle theory put forward here and in xviii, 41 ff.
That such matching of counterparts is in the mind of the author
is clear from iv, 13.

The Pandavas themselves, though brothers, represented.
widely different types, of whom only Arjuna is promoted by
Krishna, in the next verse, to the honour of belonging to the
order of those who have the higher endowments which fit
him for emancipation. The type-psychology of this chapter
and of Chapter xiv, has to he understood with all its dynamic
and organic implications and not statically or mechanistically
interpreted to fit it into any clannish, tribal or caste


daivi sampad vimokshaya
nibandhaya 'suri mata
ma suchah sampadam daivim
abhijato 'si pandava

The divine (higher) values are deemed to be for
emancipation and the demonic (lower) for bondage
(to necessity): do not regret, 0 Pandava (Arjuna):
you are born for the divine (higher) values.


Bondage and liberation are the lowest and the highest points
within whose limits any spiritual progress is to be
accomplished. The spiritual progress of any individual must
depend upon his appreciation of, or affiliation to, spiritual
values such as those enumerated in this chapter. The two
sets described are summarily distinguished here as those
helping to emancipate and those tending towards necessity
and bondage. Arjuna is assured that he is not gravitating
towards bondage, because he belongs to a contemplative
type capable of appreciating those negative, individualistic,
non-social and personal values which have been listed as
"divine". This is to reassure him and save him from his
tendency to regret.


dvau bhutasargau loke'smin
daiva asura eva cha
daivo vistarasah prokta
asuram partha me srinu

There are two (orders of) created beings in this world,
the divine and the demonic; the divine have been described
at length; hear from Me, 0 Partha (Arjuna), of the demonic.


In this verse the values distinguished in the previous
verses are applied to the whole world of created beings
without particular reference to human types. The object here
is to examine the repercussions of these two types on what
constitutes human environment and life in general rather
than what refers to the subjective human spirit only.
Bad men become a nuisance to society, as stated in Verse
9 later, and involve others in distress. A rather detailed
description of bad men continues throughout the rest of the
chapter. It seems to suggest strongly that the world has
need of elimination of the evil resulting from bad natures
and that God himself is not indifferent to such a necessity
as stated in Verses 19 and 20. There his role resembles that
of a jailor or policeman or at least a magistrate, the only
difference being that the punishment is in terms of
degradation in the scale of contemplative values. The
offenders get caught more and more in necessity.


pravrittim cha nivrittim
cha jana na vidur asurah
na saucham na 'pi cha
'charo na satyam teshu vidyate

The demonic men do not know the way of positive action
nor the way of negative withdrawal; in them is found neither
cleanliness, nor propriety in conduct, nor veracity.


Those of the lower order described are neither intelligent,
nor do they have any of the virtues that go to make a man
really superior to others. The minimum required to make a
man distinctly intelligent is that he should be able to
differentiate between pravritti (the positive way of action)
and nivritti (the negative way of withdrawal). In everyday
life he should have sufficient cleanliness as well as
propriety in conduct.


The man of lower nature possesses neither of these
qualifications, lastly, he lacks veracity.

It is implied here that the correct way of life would be
to be able to strike the balance between a forward and a
negatively cautious game in life. Both statesmanship and
sportsmanship and even chivalry imply balancing correctly
between the necessary and contingent factors of a given
situation, while the unwise referred to in Verse 4 lack
exactly this inner capacity, just as in outward life they
lack propriety and cleanliness.


asatyam apratishtham te
jagad ahur anisvaram
aparaspara sambhutam
kim anyat kamahaitukam

They say that the world is without true existence,without
a basis, without a presiding principle, not resulting
from reciprocal factors (lying beyond immediate vision,
as if asking) what else is there other than caused by lust?


To understand this verse we must first refer to ii, 42
where the word anyat (something else, other) has almost the
same sense as intended here. There the follower of Vedism
is condemned because he is a person who believes there is
nothing else other than the immediate world of pleasures
mundane or heavenly. In other words he suffers from a lack
of vision regarding the purushottama (Paramount Absolute
Person). Then too, in xviii, 16, it is again said that a
person who isolates his ego from the larger scheme of
reality in which the ego is but one link in the fivefold
chain of necessity, as xviii, 13 and 14 state, is a man
of perverted intelligence.

Putting together what is considered as wrong in these two
references, and also taking them together with the gist of 
Verses 13 and 14 later, we would be sufficiently justified
in saying that the Gita teaching is against any such
shortsighted, disjunct view of life. There is what is called
this side of life in which we are related to pleasurable
events as simple isolated individuals, and there is the larger
context both in time and space to which we also belong. A
short-spanned interest in life would be wrong because it
does not take a sufficiently comprehensive view of reality.


What is more serious is the neglect of what is called anyat
(the other). There are hidden values transcending even what
heaven can offer. Absolutist values belong to that order
where pleasures recede to the background, and this order
requires renunciation or detachment to appreciate.

In the name of being rational or practical, many people can
see only values close at hand under their nose, easily
attained with quick results, as mentioned in iv, 12. Such
people can be called materialists or sensualists, and include
even those who cannot see beyond the pleasures of heaven.
They are all condemned in this verse. Those who have that
type of short-span interests and who give an important place
to the gratification of desires have a particular type of
materialistic philosophy resembling what the Epicureans of
ancient Greece and the Charvakas of ancient India are
popularly supposed to represent. (Charvaka's followers are
sometimes called Lokayatikas, i.e. , worldly materialists).
Even modern scientific materialism tends to conform to the
pattern of thinking of such persons as described here.
A short-span interest within and a short-sighted outlook is
common to them all, and they do not see any deeper causes,
either in the eternally necessary, or in the eternally
contingent mentioned in xiii, 19.

The reference to pratishtham (basis) as we can easily
recognize, belongs to the necessary side, corresponding to
the synonymous adhishthanam (basis) of xviii, 14. Isvara
(Lord) on the other hand, is a reference to a value belonging
to a transcendental order. To refuse to recognize these two
extremities lying beyond the immediate vision of a
materialist, constitutes the error. The word anyat (other),
therefore, refers simultaneously to this two-sided error of
one who can neither recognize the deep-based foundation of
necessity in life, nor the transcendental Lord who is beyond
the scope of pleasures.

The world is not the product of action and reaction factors
of the here and now. It is the result of factors either deep-
seated or far beyond which by their reciprocity bring about
the phenomenal world. This theory is supported by xiii, 26.
There is an interaction of hidden factors not immediately
visible. Even if an intelligent materialist is able to see two
counterparts, he can see them only lying within the world of
desires. He refuses to believe in any hidden forces beyond
his perception and therefore pooh-poohs the very idea of
either deeper or transcendental factors.


The expression aparaspara sambhutam (not resulting
from reciprocal factors) refers to what the materialists
cannot see; to what lies beyond their immediate vision. At
best the materialist sees a reciprocity between such
immediate counterparts as the sexes whose union results in
progeny. His vision does not extend any further. Modern
dialectical materialism may also be said to fall under this
category, inasmuch as it fails to admit any principle
presiding over matter.


etam drishtim avashtabhya
nashtatmano 'lpabuddhayah
prabhavanty ugrakarmanah
kshayaya jagato'hitah

Wilfully holding to this view, these (men) of lost souls,
of little understanding, of harsh deeds, emerge as
non-beneficial, effecting the world's decline.


From this verse onwards begins a transfer of interest from
the person himself to the possible harm the evil man might
do to the world. The positive nature of the discussion has
reached a point where objective realities of necessary life
find full treatment insofar as they are directly related to
problems of spirituality or even to the understanding of
the full implications of the notion of the Absolute in its
bearings on real or practical problems.


kamam asritya dushparam
dambha mana madanvitah
mohad grihitva sadgrahan
pravartante 'suchivratah

Holding to insatiable desires, accompanied by
pretentiousness, arrogance and madness; fondly grasping
false values deludedly, they act with unclean resolves.


This verse suggests that wilful and dogged addiction to
evil can be present in almost as strong a manner as the
loyalty to higher values in a good man. A person with
wrong notions can be as strongly cocksure or convinced in
his views as one with right notions.

By referring to values in this chapter as divine or higher
and as demonic or lower, it is intended to indicate the two


by contrast rather than comparison, so that the strong
ambivalence as expressed in the world of values can stand
out clearly in the mind of the reader. The greater portion
of humanity does not come under these extreme types which
are purposely magnified here for the sake of clarifying the
theory. In this sense it would be but fair to remember here
that humanity cannot he divided into good and bad.


chintam apatimeyam cha
pralayantam upasritah
kamopabhoga parama
etavad iti nischitah

asapasasatair baddhah
kama krodha parayanah
ihante kama bhogartham
anyayena 'rthasamchayan

Engrossed with infinite cares lasting till doomsday, for
whom desire and enjoyment is the supreme end, cocksure that
such is the way,

bound by a hundred cords (consisting) of expectations, given
to lust and anger, they strive unfairly to hoard wealth for
sensual enjoyment.


In these verses there is no new idea other than what has been many times explained, except the expression kamopabhoga-paramah (those for whom desire and enjoyment is the supreme end). Here we have for the first time a supreme status given to a value belonging to the here and now, to the order of everyday pleasure and enjoyment. The term covers all values of a non-contemplative order, because contemplative values inevitably imply detachment from sense-values.

The term anyayena (by unfair means) in Verse 12, refers to
injustice, which in the contemplative context, can only mean
violation of the principle of equality towards all.


idam adya mayi labdham
imam prapsye manoratham
idam asti 'dam api me
bhavishyati punar dhanam

asau maya hatah satrur
hanishye cha 'paran api
isvaro 'ham aham bhogi
siddho 'ham balavan sukhi

adhyo 'bhijanavan asmi
ko 'nyo 'sti sadriso maya
yakshye dasyami modishya
itv ajnana vimohitah

anekachitta vibhranta
mohajala samavritah
prasaktah kamabhogeshu
patanti narake 'suchau

This today has been gained by me; this (particular) end I will get;   this wealth is mine, and that wealth also will be mine;

that enemy has been killed by me; and others I will
also kill; I am the lord; I am the enjoyer; I have
satisfied my ambitions; I am powerful and happy;

I am rich and well-born; who else is like me? I will sacrifice; I will give; I will rejoice; - thus deluded by ignorance,

maddened by many thoughts, caught within the snare of confusing values, addicted to lustful gratifications, they fall into an unclean hell.


The description in these verses gives the picture of a man
who is engrossed in himself and thinks only of the happiness
of the moment. His life consists of disjunct bits of happiness
of which the typical example is "This today has been gained
by me" in the opening lines. Another typical statement is
"I am rich" of Verse 15 which pertains to egoism which, as we
have said, is the greatest enemy of the contemplative. Even
pride in religious acts is condemned as leading to bondage,
in Verse 15.

Verse 16 has an indirect description of what constitutes
hell in terms of contemplation. This corresponds to the
ramifications of roots of the holy fig tree described in
xv, 2, which bind human beings addicted to relativist values.


atma sambhavitah stabdha
dhana mana madanvitah
yajante namayajnais te
dambhena 'vidhipurvakam

Self-righteous, perversely immobile, filled with pride and intoxication of wealth, they perform sacrifices ostentatiously, which are (only) nominal sacrifices, not conforming to scriptural rules.


The namayajnah (nominal sacrifices) here are those made
in the spirit of those Pharisees of the Bible who prayed in
public to gain social status and not from truly spiritual
motives (see also xvii, 12). The emphasis on scripture is the
very note on which this chapter ends. The apparent orthodoxy
of this chapter is balanced by the ways of the heterodox also
recognized in the next chapter.

ahamkaram balam darpam
kamam kradham cha samsritah
mam atma paradeheshu
pramishanto 'bhyasuyakah

Resorting to egoism, force, insolence, lust and anger,
these envious ones hate Me in their own and others' bodies.


The Paramount Person or Absolute itself is included in the
torture implied in this verse as we shall see from xvii, 6.
The Paramount Person here should be thought of as described
in chapter xv, and which covers more particularly the
Changeless Self. That the body or the Changing is also
included goes without saying. The torture implied in the
case of the Paramount Person can refer at best to a global
sense of suffering rather than any items of specific


tan aham dvishatah kruran
samsareshu naradhaman
kshipamy ajasram asubhan
asurishv eva yonishu

asurim yonim apanna
mudha janmani janmani
mam apraiyai kaunteya
tato yanty adhamam gatim


These cruel haters in the world, worst of men, I hurl
unceasingly even into the degraded wombs of demons;

attaining a demonic womb, deluded birth after birth, not
reaching Me, 0 Son of Kunti (Arjuna), they go to the lowest


The punishment here consists of being degraded to a low
birth. This should be understood as lowness in contemplative
values as we have sufficiently made clear already. The
primitive idea of a hell of fire and brimstone is not
envisaged here. Ignorance alone itself constitutes the
infernal punishment.


trividham narakasye 'dam
dvaram nasanam atmanah
kamah krodhas tatha lobhas
tasmad etat trayam tyajet

Triple is the internal gate, destructive of the Self;
lust, hate and greed; therefore these three should
be avoided.


The lowest vices to be avoided in order to be saved from
utter degradation in the scale of spiritual values are
mentioned here as consisting mainly of three. The same
items of utmost evil are again seen mentioned in xviii, 53.
Their avoidance would mark the lowest rung of the ladder
of contemplative values. Between this verse and xviii, 53,
the Gita touches crude aspects of necessity in life.


etair vimuktah kaunteya
tamodvarais tribhir narah
acharaty atmanah sreyas
tato yati param gatim

A man who has abandoned these three gates of darkness,
0 Son of Kunti (Arjuna), observes what conduces to his
progress, and thereafter attains to the supreme path.


This verse coming at the close of this chapter serves the
purpose of indicating that by referring to the triple
infernal gate of Verse 21 the whole series of higher and
truly contemplative values have all been passed in review,
whether in this chapter or others. We remember that in the
first three verses which began with the value called
abhayam (fearlessness) all the positive or higher
contemplative values were enumerated. The greater portion
of this chapter was devoted to a discussion of the lower
negative or demonic values which came to a termination
with the reference to the triple infernal gate of Verse 21.
It will be noticed on scanning the items enumerated in the
first four verses of this chapter that they are both ethical
and contemplative values at the same time. The triple
infernal gate (lust, hate and greed) refer to negative
values that are to be avoided. They may be called vices,
but when we see ignorance included as a vice we have to
understand that they rather refer to contemplative drawbacks
rather than to moral failures in the social sense. To be
saved from lust, hate and greed mentioned in Verse 21 is
very important for the spiritual progress envisaged in the
Gita. Hence it is that as a last resort the Gita decide
in favour of a general reliance on the sastras in the next
two final verses. The present verse must be treated as a
mark of punctuation between the section which enumerates
the lower or evil values that can compromise contemplation,
and the suggested remedy against falling into evil.


yah sastravidhim utsrijya
vartate kamakaratah
na sa siddhim avapnoti
na sukham na param gatim

tasmach chhastram pramanam te
karyakarya vyavasthitau
jnatva sastra vidhanoktam
karma kartum iha 'rhasi

He who having abandoned the guiding principles of scripture,
acts under the promptings of desire; he cannot attain
perfection, nor happiness, nor the supreme path.

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.


Fearlessness is at the head of the series of higher values
and, as we notice in Verse 4, ignorance reveals the tail-end
of the lower values enumerated. The gamut of
contemplative-ethical values are passed in review in this
chapter with more space being devoted to lower values.
The limit was indicated in the triple gate of inferno referred
to in Verse 21. These last verses here make a final appeal to
the canonical writings called the sastras to give Arjuna any
directions in matters which lie beyond the scope of
contemplative values. Whether it is the Vedas or the
Dharma Sastras (codified scriptural injunctions) or even
the Upanishads that are meant by the reference to sastras
(canonical scientific treatises) is not important for us to
decide. All scriptures, whether in or outside India, tend to
draw people away from such factors as the three items of
lust, hate and greed of Verse 21. In fact no scripture would
be even worth the name without this basic qualification.
Every man is likely to follow some scripture or other,
especially if he is religious-minded. Even irreligious people
have their own authorities whom they consult. Even
atheists swear in the name of some favourite writers.
Inasmuch as such writings contribute to the abandonment
of the three vices mentioned, and help a man to decide what
should and should not be done (as in Verse 24), such
guidance must be acceptable to whatever regional, religious
or traditional background they might belong. Conformity to
scripture as recommended in these two verses should be
understood in this larger and more general sense.

The chapter began with fearlessness as the first-mentioned value and ended with the triple vices of darkness to be avoided. In the latter it touched the lowest water-mark of a life of contemplation and recommended reliance on some written authority to save the ordinary man from falling into error or of degrading himself further spiritually.

This seemingly conservative recommendation will be relieved by
a more discriminating way of life involving faithful affiliation
to what can be included under religious values, which are not
merely ethical, in the next chapter.

This chapter prepares us to take one more step into the field
of necessary life in the next chapter, which in principle can
be called a chapter on contemplative religion, just as the
present in principle can be called a chapter on contemplative


ity srimad bhagavadgitasupanishatsu brahmavidyayam
yogasastre srikrishnarjunasamvade
daivasurasampadvibhagayogo nama sodaso '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 Sixteenth Chapter entitled the Unitive
Way of Discriminating between Higher and Lower Values.