Bhagavad Gita





Jnana Yoga

This chapter, entitled Unitive Wisdom, treats of a multiplicity of
topics which at first sight do not seem to have any unitive
coherence. This general title, however, is sometimes further
qualified as jnana-vibhaga-yoga (Yoga of wisdom section) or
even as jnana-karma-samnyasa yoga (Yoga of Knowledge,
Action and Renunciation). These different titles are sufficient to
show that the unity underlying this chapter has to do with
something elusive and subtle with regard to brahmavidya
(Science of the Absolute) which must be the wisdom referred to.
Hitherto, in the first chapter, it was Arjuna's conflict which was
brought under the discipline of contemplation. In the second
chapter Samkhya and Yoga as they existed in separate schools of
thought were unitively treated; and in the third chapter the whole
question of karma (action) was relegated to the necessary aspect
of spiritual life, while Arjuna was asked to transcend its evil by
focussing his attention on something greater than reason.
The present chapter must be looked upon, naturally, as
continuing the same subject of reason or wisdom, to the
specification of whose exact nature the Gita arrived at the end of
the last chapter. An important aspect of wisdom, as it is to be
understood in the Gita, is left over, to be made more explicit here.
This pertains to its character as a dialectical growth of perennial
wisdom. The time and duration element entering into the subject
of wisdom is a kind of fourth dimension without which its
complete and true nature would be only partially understood. A
dynamic rather than a static view of wisdom is implied here.
This present fourth discourse therefore refers first to the
timelessness or perennial nature of the wisdom, taking it
completely out of historical or even geographical limitations.
The reference to "divine incarnation" - so much spoken of, occurs
incidentally in this first section of the chapter. We have to
grasp its implications clearly from this chapter.


The discussion then passes on to the question of the
fourfold divisions in society. Next, the subject is of
understanding the true nature of action itself, which it says
is very subtle and problematic, except when understood in the
light of Yoga (dialectic).

From this the discussion passes on to the examination of
the various varieties of spiritual practices extant in the India
of the time of the writing of the Gita, such as burnt
sacrifices, breathing exercises, etc. These are disposed of in
a graded fashion, culminating in a crowning discipline
which comprises them all under brahmavidya (science of
the Absolute), or Self- realization, which is always the
theme of the Gita.

This chapter therefore aptly closes with unqualified
praise for wisdom which, like a fire, should burn all the
dross of action or practice of any kind. The sword of
wisdom has to cleave asunder all doubts. Such is the nature
of the triumph of wisdom as depicted in the closing verses
of this chapter. Action as usually understood is completely
discredited here although a respect for the more profound
and deeper-seated eternally necessary urge for positive
living is still retained.

The word samnyasa, which occurs in Verse 41, rounds off
the nature of the discipline in relation to renunciation
which, however, is not just vacuous abandonment, leaving
emptiness, but to be understood as a life lived in the fresh
breezes of Yoga, where all the conflicting factors referred to
in this chapter are brought into a unity of understanding.
The unity or Yoga of this chapter, therefore, lies in its
treatment of wisdom as a perennial way of life, in keeping
with the science of the Absolute.


Sri bhagavan uvacha
imam vivasvate yogam
proktavan aham avyayam
vivasvan manave praha
manur ikshvakave bravit

Krishna said:
This perennial unitive wisdom (Yoga) did I declare
to Vivasvan (the Sun); Vivasvan taught it to Manu
(law-giver) and Manu told it to Ikshvaku (first king
of the solar race).


This verse begins the section which, up to Verse 10, deals
with the nature of perennial wisdom. In the first place this,
wisdom is timeless, i.e., it could be said to be more ancient
than the most ancient. Vivasvan, who is the personification
of the Sun, representing the first created being, is supposed
to have learned this wisdom from Brahman (the Absolute)
itself, or from Brahma, the creator of the Indian pantheon, as
some (e.g., Sankara) prefer to put it. All that is to be
inferred here is that the science of the Absolute is timeless.
Manu learns this science from the Sun and passes it on to
Ikshvaku. Manu is a lawgiver of antiquity who supports
the fourfold division of society. Although there are many
Manus or lawgivers - four being mentioned in the Gita in x,
6 - they are all generically implied in the reference.
Ikshvaku is the first ruler whose influence on enforcing the
law is more direct, as representing the first sceptred

How wisdom thus touches the life of the people at large is
meant to be indicated here. What is further meant becomes
clear from the next verse, where the word parampara
(vertical hierarchical succession of wisdom-teachers) occurs.
Perennial wisdom is always handed down from generation
to generation vertically down the narrow corridors of time,
and is thus kept alive, although often the torch is
extinguished, to await the fresh torch-bearer who will light
it and brighten the darkness, as vividly portrayed in this

The words imam (this) and Yoga indicate specific
reference to the type of philosophy described in the
previous chapters. An attempt to revaluate and restate Yoga
in a manner in keeping with its perennial ancient and
absolute nature was made in these introductory chapters,
the subject being of a very subtle character.

Avyayam (imperishable) stresses the fact that human life
could not be without this precious heritage, though it
sometimes apparently is endangered or forgotten.
The reference to the commencement of creation by Sankara
in his comment on this verse, and his support of the
idea of strengthening the Brahmin caste for the welfare
of the world is too naive to appeal to the modern mind,
especially in the light of the fact that according to
Manusmriti (Law Code of Manu), a Brahmin could even
take away by force the land belonging to a Shudra (see
"Laws of Manu", VIII, v. 417; transl. G. Buhler - "Sacred Books
of the East", P 327), not to speak of other illegal privileges
which have been so misinterpreted and misapplied


as to be recognized as a blot on Indian civilization
itself. The evils of such doctrines in the hands of
dictators can be easily imagined, It leaves no doubt in the
mind of modern man, especially of India, that extreme
forms of injustice could thrive under the shadow of such
naive theological or puranic (legendary) interpretations. All
that should be extracted reasonably from this verse is that
this Yoga is a timeless precious heritage of all mankind.
Sankara's anxiety to stabilize the Hinduism of his time by
linking it up with Vedic orthodoxy (though himself a
supporter of thoroughgoing maya-vada (doctrine of
appearance) and ajata-vada (doctrine of non-creation)
could be the only reason which would explain such an
interpretation as he gives here.

The Gita is not to be and should not be considered a textbook
of Hindu orthodoxy for present-day humanity. Hence
the broader interpretation we have given is recommended
to the reader. Moreover to mix up religion or obligatory
aspects of a dharma-sastra (conduct textbook) with the
Gita would be repugnant to its whole spirit, as we have had
much occasion to point out.


evam paramparapraptam
imam rajarshayo viduh
sa kalene 'ha mahata
yogo nashtah paramtapa

Thus handed down the line in succession, this
(wisdom) the king-sages (raja-rishis) understood;
by great lapse of time here (however) this unitive
wisdom (Yoga) came to be lost, 0 Paramtapa


The reference to rajarshayah (royal sages) as belonging to
the direct line of representatives of perennial wisdom, has its
own significance. We find in the Upanishads that warriors or
kings (i.e., kshatriyas) were the custodians of this kind of
wisdom or Yoga (see Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad, ii, i, 15;
Chandogya Upanishad, V, iii, 7). In the light of the Gita (iii,
20) where Janaka is referred to by name, and the general
reflection of discredit on the merely Vedic point of view in
several parts of the Gita (ii, 42-46), it is unmistakable that
the Yoga which Krishna here bewails as being lost by the
efflux of time is a particular way of life belonging to the
Upanishads. It is of the nature of a profound secret. Its
affiliations are not


directly with orthodox Vedism, but one which is neither
orthodox nor heterodox, one which is both rational and
religious at the same time, in the same way as samkhya and
Yoga have to be understood according to the Gita v, 5.
Vedic and Brihaspati traditions taken together have that
perennial character of the Yoga which must be the Yoga
meant by Krishna in this verse. It is this subtle harmonized
teaching which tends to be lost again and again, and not
rigid orthodoxy which, as we know, endures to the present
day as Brahminism. The rajarshaya (royal sages) of the
model of Janaka, must have been such enlightened rulers of
India who may have belonged even to the pre-Aryan or pre-
Vedic context and who, it might even be legitimate to
suppose, were capable of absorbing elements of Vedism
into the revalued wisdom which they represented.
Thus revalued time and again, as the Gita itself does
here, perennial philosophy may be said to have survived to
our own day. Thanks to gurus such as Sankara and
Narayana, wisdom has been correctly represented, revalued
and restated once perhaps in a thousand years. Thus this
heritage survives. Representatives of Absolute Wisdom are
few and far between, as the Gita declares or hints in IV, 8.
Turning back to the relativist Veda as being the basis of
this subtle philosophy (as some orthodox thinkers tend to
do) would be wrong. As we know, crude orthodoxy has
never been in any danger of being lost, and therefore this
verse cannot apply to it. In what sense then, is there the
possibility of Yoga being lost? When the perennial tradition
becomes overcovered by other non-absolutist modes and
values influencing human life; and it is in this same sense
that we must interpret Verses 7 and 8 which follow.


sa eva 'yam maya te 'dya
yogah proktah puritanah
bhakto 'si me sakhd che 'ti
rahasyam hy etad uttamam

That very same ancient secret is being today
declared to you by me, seeing that you are both
my devotee and friend.


This verse underlines further the perennial nature of the
wisdom called Yoga here. It is ancient, a supreme secret,


it is being disclosed now as ever (adya, today; puratanah,
ancient; rahasyam, secret; and uttamam, supreme). This
view brings out further the need for a bi-polar Guru-Sishya
(teacher-disciple) relationship for such a wisdom to survive.
The words bhakta (devotee, adorer) and sakha (friend) are
meant to mark out the intimacy which is always understood
to be the prerequisite for the flow of such wisdom.


Arjuna uvacha
aparam bhavato janma
param janma vivasvatah katham etad
vijaniyam tvam adau proktavan iti

Arjuna said:
Your birth it was posterior and the birth of
Vivasvan that was anterior; how then have I to
understand it that you declared it in the beginning?


Arjuna's historical prejudices regarding the doctrine of
perennial philosophy are stated here. The succession of
actual events in historical duration is of no import as far as
the subtle doctrine referred to here is concerned. Historical
time is relativist in its character. The Absolute, however,
lives and speaks, as it were, in the eternal present or now.
The question of priority or succession of births is therefore to
be ruled out by Krishna in the reply that follows. That the
particular incarnation of Krishna as Vasudeva is not to be
taken seriously is indicated also in the reply to the question.
To speak in terms of actual avatars (descending
manifestations of divinity) would be tolerable only if the Gita
is considered a purana or itihasa (religious legend) such as
the Vishnu Purana and not a sastra (exact scientific text) as
the Gita is evidently intended to be. Among the ten avataras
of Vishnu, the eighth one, who is Krishna, "the Dark One", as
Monier Williams says, "is held by the Vaishnavas to be not
so much an incarnation of Vishnu as the very essence of
Vishnu, or rather Vishnu himself, so that the Balarama
incarnation which is sometimes mixed up with this eighth
avatara is also occasionally substituted for it". Prof. 0.
Lacombe also remarks: "The identification (of Vishnu) with
Narayana and with Vasudeva took place at an epic period
posteriorly to the composition of the Gita "(translated,
in. p. 26, "L'Absolu selon le Vedanta", Paris,1937-1.


Sribhagavan uvacha
bahuni me vyatitani
janmani tava cha 'rjuna
tany aham veda sarvani
na tvam vettha paramtapa

Krishna said:
Many are the lives that have gone past for me as
also for you, 0 Arjuna; I am conscious of them all
- you, 0 Paramtapa (Arjuna), are not conscious of


The question of reincarnation is again brought in.
Between the extremes of life eternal and the continuous
process of alternating births and deaths, what is called the
theory of reincarnation has to be understood according to
its own proper context when it occurs in the text. The
reference here to many births instead of to one eternal life
should therefore be treated as one of the possible ways of
thinking of reincarnation. In the case of Arjuna the many
births are kept disjunct by a certain capacity of memory,
while in the case of Krishna, who represents the absolute
perennial value in himself, the relation between successive
births is transparent, and these births form or tend
to become one whole life eternal. Fuller discussion of
reincarnation as understood in the Gita is reserved
till xv, 8 - 11.


ajo 'pi sann avyayatma
bhutanam isvaro 'pi san
prakritim svam adhishthaya
sambhavamy atmamayaya

Although (I remain) ever unborn as the never-
diminishing Self, while I am the Lord of creation
too, grounded on my own nature I assume being
through the negative principle (maya) of my own


The same subject is viewed here from a different angle, as
when a man when lying under water would look at the
sunlight above. It is in the blurred light of relativism that
manifestations of the Absolute are here viewed. The
difference between the two standpoints of Verses 5 and 6
will become clearer in the two Verses, 7 and 8, which follow.
There could be a "descent" (avatarana) of the divine or
manifestation could take the form of an "ascent into
existence" as implied in the phrase sambhavam (I become)
used here. The distinction is rather subtle and one has to be
familiar with the epistemology of Vedanta, where inorganic
nature (elements) and organic nature (souls) have two
different or even opposite origins. This matter has received
close attention by Prof. Paul Deussen in his book "Das
System des Vedanta". These two lines of manifestation take
place, as it were, from opposite poles resulting in the nama-
rupa-krita-karya-karana-sanghata (complex whole of
instruments and action under names and forms) which is
the embodied person of Vedanta proper. For further
elaboration of this theory one must refer to Sankara's
"Vedanta-Sutra" where the theory of panchi-karana (five-
principled interlocking of gross and subtle elements for
purposes of manifestation of the body) is fully discussed. In
the rationalist schools of Samkhya incarnation takes place
in subtle ways too numerous to review here. However, as
Deussen himself points out, a certain vagueness persists
which we shall try to clarify as far as possible.

The word maya (appearance) belongs naturally to
Vedanta proper, while the word srij (send forth or down) of
Verse 7 has to be traced back to such references of the
Upanishads where Brahman first creates nature and then
enters into it (see Taittiriya Upanishad, II, 6). Maya
(appearance) can imply an Isvara (Lord) who is both under
the influence of relativism and above as presiding over all
creation. The world is unreal when maya is accepted, but an
avatar (descent of divinity in manifestation) who is created
out of nature has to be real. The conflicting epistemologies
implied here would legitimately form the subject of a study
in itself, which for the present we must defer till the
problem faces us more squarely. Aspects of the same
problem are developed in xv, 8-11.

Prakriti (nature) is also treated indifferently as a sort of
co-partner with the principle of maya (appearance). Both
these factors impose their respective conditionings, resulting
in isvaratva (lordship) or atmatva (Selfhood) of the
Absolute, as described in this verse. A favourite example of
the "conditioning "of the Absolute in this manner is the



crystal placed on red silk which makes it seem red itself,
though not actually so.

The incarnation or manifestation of God referred to in this
chapter should therefore be understood in a manner in keeping
with these theoretical considerations. The picture of an avatar
here coming down to punish the wicked and save the good should
not be taken too realistically or even mythologically, but,
rid of its crude puerile nature as belonging properly to a
science of contemplation. Cruder minds will, of course,
require such satisfaction.


yadi-yada hi dharmasya
glanir bhavati bharata
abhyutthanam adharmasya
tada'tmanam srijamy aham

Whenever there comes to be laxity in regard to right life
(dharma) 0 Bharata (Arjuna), and wrong coming to assert
itself, then I bring about the creation of myself

paritranaya sadhunam
vinasaya cha dushkritam
dharma samsthipanarthaya
sambhavami yuge-yuge

To protect those who are good and to destroy evil-doers,
for establishing righteousness, I assume being, age by age.


The expression dharmasya glanih (loss in the strength of
what is naturally right) should not be too easily construed,
as has been done often, to mean a decline in the standard of
social duties such as caste, or as a decay in outward
morality. A megalomaniac dictator can easily assume the
role of a chosen man who is to kill or liquidate the wicked
according to his own notions. Any demagogue can feel
virtuous if the meaning of these verses is interpreted as
referring to the social conditions of a particular part of the
world. Dharma (right conduct according with nature) like
guna (property) has both its vertical and horizontal
component parts, as we have tried to distinguish under iii,
28. Dharma here should be understood as svadharma (one's
own natural sense of right)


and then the word glanih (weakening, decay) would mean
just lack of faith, certainty or understanding of what is in
keeping with one's own specific nature in which, as we have
said, virtue consists.

This phrase does not therefore mean so much the decline
of a particular faith or of a civilization, but faithlessness
generally in individuals the world over, as is perhaps the
case at present when all absolutist norms seem to be
abandoned in despair by humanity as a whole, and when
the old order is ready to change, "yielding place to new"
as Tennyson puts it.

The expression abhyuththanam adharmasya (standing up
for or assertion of what is foreign to true nature) refers to a
situation as when humanity is regimented or conscripted
into forced labour or warfare, stifling its natural expression,
which cuts across the precious values which the individual
needs to work out or express in life in a natural way in
keeping with a life of freedom in the Absolute.

Then the time is ripe for the absolutist pattern of life to
assert itself by sheer necessity combined with the chance
element which makes humanity balance itself again,
somehow. It is then that persons who represent absolutist
universal values in themselves gain a status as saviours of
humanity. They may be called incarnations, or even avatars
in popular language. This phenomenon is familiar to us in
the spiritual history of the world, when a Buddha or Christ
lives and moves among men.

Such an eventuality is not an everyday occurrence. It
happens once in a yuga (age) - periods in Indian mythology
separated by deluges, in each of which certain norms and
standards prevail generally. Yuga (epoch) has to be understood
in the light of vii, 17 and 18, where a larger scheme of
being is envisaged, which is a better fitting domain for the
Absolute to live, move or function.

These two verses have suffered from too hackneyed a usage by
platform orators when they are inclined to hero-worship.
Leaders of closed groups, however historically
important they may be, cannot lay any legitimate claim to be
representatives of the Absolute in the sense intended in the
Gita here. To confuse the two would be a fatal error.
The phrase dharma samsthapanarthaya (for the purpose
of firmly establishing what is right) should be understood in
the same light. If universal standards applicable to the whole


of humanity are not intended by the word dharma, the
personalized manifestation would be a partial one, and would
result in disastrous consequences for humanity, giving room
for rivalry in ideology and creeds.

On close examination of these verses we find that what is
stated in Verse 7, where the word srija (emanate) occurs, is
not the same as stated in Verse 8 where the phrase
sambhavami (I become) is used. The opposition between the
two has just been explained under Verse 6. To say, as has
often been stated, that there is a reference to Krishna as an
avatar in the Gita would be wrong. The word avatar does
not occur in the Gita at all. It is foreign to the spirit in
which the Gita is written, in which both ascent and descent
are equally implied and cancelled against each other in the
neutrality of the Absolute.


janma karma cha me divyam
evam yo vetti tattvatah
tyaktva deham punarjanma
nai 'ti mam eti so 'rjuna

He who understands this divine nature of my birth
and work consistently with basic principles, on
leaving this body he does not attain to repeated
birth, but (only) comes to Me, 0 Arjuna.


Verses 9, 10 and 11 bring the general trend of the
discussion again into line with the subject of the whole
chapter, after a brief digression, regarding the nature of
Krishna's divine incarnation. The author is evidently,
conscious that the subject of incarnation is likely to be too
easily misunderstood, making out the Absolute as either a
hypostatic or a hierophantic entity. Verse 9 is a caution
against such a possible asymmetrical view. The birth and
activity of the Absolute, though it could be considered
divyam (divine), as belonging to a contemplative context, is
on the other hand still to be understood tattvatah (according
to the basic principles) which are special to the Gita.
Although Verse 5 seemed to refer to many distinct births
or lives for Arjuna and for the Absolute, that was only a
tentative statement, for in Verse 9 it is explicitly stated that
it is possible for a man of knowledge of the Absolute to
merge in the Absolute without having punarjanma (rebirth).
If rebirth or


repeated life could be transcended by means of wisdom, it
would go without saying that the Absolute itself is not
subjected to successively disjunct births. Tentative theories
of reincarnation are thus revalued in terms of a life eternal
in the Absolute with no question of rebirth at all.
The word tattvatah (according to principles) is a favourite
term of the Gita. It occurs in vi, 21 ; vii, 3; x, 7; and xviii,
55, and is meant to draw one's attention to the philosophical
basis of the finalized teaching. The same purpose is
sometimes observed by expressions such as yathoktam (as
declared here) in xii, 20, matam mama (my final opinion) in
xiii, 2. Expressions such as ativa me priyah (they are
exceedingly dear to me) in xii, 20, also help to underline
such final teachings. These correspond to the "verily, verily,
I say unto you" of the New Testament and could be used to
distinguish the finalized doctrine of the Gita where it is
meant to be emphasized as against anterior opinions.


vita raga bhaya krodha
manmaya mam upasritah
bahavo jnana tapasa
puta madbhavam agatah

Rid of attachment, fear and anger and wholly filled
by Me alone, and surrendering to Me, many who
have been purified by the discipline of wisdom,
have entered into My (very) being.


Here it is pointed out that entry into the eternal life of the
Absolute as meant in the Gita is nothing superhuman or
difficult of attainment. One does not have to be a superman
or super-Brahmin to come to this state. It is a path which is
public and open to all, on the simple condition that one
should be purified in the fire of wisdom, which itself is
accepted as a form of discipline as the word jnana-tapas
(wisdom-discipline or wisdom-burning) would imply.
Such a consummation as here referred to involves no
duality even in the form of a God to be adored. Whatever
duality might be implied in the term mam upasritah
(resorting to Me) is soon counterbalanced by the expression
prefixed to it which is significant - manmayah (made up of
the very stuff of myself). For purposes of expression of a
doctrine, a certain latitude in the way of making a statement
is permissible.


That is why vestiges of duality seem to persist here and there
as in the words such as "resorting to Me" mentioned above.
Freedom from the three enemies of contemplation, which are
again enumerated, is the only prerequisite for the establishment
of identity with the Absolute, for one who intensely
surrenders himself to the Supreme value it represents.


ye yatha mam prapadyante
tams tathai 'va bhajamy aham
mama vartma 'nuvartante
manushyah partha sarvasah

As each chooses to approach Me even accordingly
do I have regard for him. My very path it is, 0
Bharata (Arjuna), that all men do tread from every
(possible) approach.


This verse contains the converse statement of iii, 23,
where the following of the example of the Absolute when
he refrained from activity would be disastrous. The path of
the Absolute here, however, implies inclusively all other
relativist paths, just as the value of a gold coin would imply
all items of small change. To the extent that absolutism
could be implied, even in a relativist religious or spiritual
discipline, it becomes to that extent acceptable in the same
light of the Absolute principle. When, however, relativism
breaks away and has no connection at all with absolutist
values implicitly or explicitly, then there is the danger
referred to in iii, 23. Two reciprocal movements of aspects
of the same Absolute principle, one ascending and the other
descending, are implied in iii, 23 and here.

In a sense therefore, all men belong to one religion and,
in another sense, when they are not affiliated at all to
absolutism, humanity stands in danger of being subjected
to a process of sankara (disruption) as we have seen under,
iii, 24. Lack of affiliation to the Absolute and turning away,
as it were, from owning allegiance to the Absolute, is what
results in such a disaster for the whole of humanity. The
dharmasya glanih (decay of the sense of right) is also, as
we have explained under IV, 7, to be understood in the
same light. Verses iii, 31 and 32 also insist that it is
important that a strict bi-polar relation should be
established before the teaching of the Gita could result in
any good at all.


As a corollary to this verse, it could be stated that there is
but one religion for all men. That religion, irrespective of
its diverse forms or expressions which it might have outwardly,
in so far as these are affiliated to the Most High or the
Absolute, becomes one and the same finally in effect. It is
on this basis that the motto of the Guru Narayana of "One
Religion" becomes justified in the light of the Gita.
A Christian who worships Christ as a representative of the
Most High belongs to the same religion as a Muslim who
follows Mohammed as the Prophet of Allah, the Most High
Absolute of Islam. In India the rivalries of Vaishnavism and
Shaivism could be bridged also in the same way. Even ideologies
which seem atheistic or irreligious can imply a certain
affiliation to absolute values and to that extent, all these
paths become in effect the same.

The word sarvasah (from every side) shows that the unitive
principle of the Absolute represents a central neutral human


kankshantah karmanam siddhim
yajanta iha devatah
kshipram hi manushe loke
siddhir bhavati karmaja

Desiring the benefits coming from actions and thus
sacrificing to the gods, quick indeed are the results
born of works in this world of men.


The meaning of this verse can be construed in two ways.
By standards of strict Panini grammar we are bound to
break up yajanta iha as vajante iha (they do sacrifice here
too). The other more natural way of construing which seems
to be in keeping with the structure or style of the verses in
the Gita, and which yields also a more cogent and less banal
meaning, is when we break the compound word into
ajantah iha (sacrificing here) which is participial and
similar to kankshantah (desiring) of the same line, with
which one may suppose it should balance. In spite of this
second way, conforming less strictly to the requirements of
pure grammar, we prefer it to the first because it retains a
certain dialectical flavour and symmetry which otherwise
interpreted would give just a banal statement which would
then serve no apparent purpose in the present context.


Most translators, however, have voted for pure grammar
against better meaning, as for example, even Sankara, not to
speak of Bhagavan Das and Radhakrishnan.(1)
When the purpose of this verse in this present context is
properly understood there is no room for confusion. In the
next natural section of this chapter we are entering into
considerations such as the four castes, action and inaction,
and the different forms of spiritual disciplines such as
pranayama (restraint of vital functionings), the large range
of whose variety will have to be examined, culminating in
the final triumph of wisdom at the end of the chapter. The
task is both delicate and enormous, and the author, as he
himself has already stated in a previous chapter, does not
want to discourage one form of discipline which might suit
a certain individual, and praise wisdom at its expense. Such
a disruptive method has been cautioned against in iii, 23.
Therefore, although the general trend of this verse
inevitably casts a slur as it were on the utilitarian catch-
penny or quick-result producing forms of sacrifice to which
the generality of mankind are normally attracted, the author
succeeds by the balanced construction, to maintain a neutral

The word iha (here) and the pointed reference to manushe
loke (world of men) are reminiscent of other references of a
similar kind in xv, 2. If we note that there the karma (action)
referred to is more thoroughly deprecated, as we shall see
when we come to it, the implications of this present verse
become unmistakable, and that it is by no means laudatory à
propos the sacrifices of the kind mentioned.

Orthodoxy however, tends in the opposite direction, and
hence the trouble in the interpretation that we have noticed
in many editions; some introducing long parenthetical
clauses of their own, as if to force the verdict in favour of
their own inclinations. The Gita takes a perfectly neutral
standpoint as between the orthodox and the heterodox,
which is all to its great credit.


(1) Thanks to Bhagavan Das himself we find from his
learned "Introductory Note on Samskrit Grammar": "Judging
by grammatical and rhetorical canons of post-Panini
'classical' Samskrt, a literary critic might see in the Gita,
many defects of language, style, and composition, (1 ) archaisms,
(2) lacunae, (3) double samdhis, (4) use of the atmane-pada for
the parasmai-pada and vice-versa, (5) confused syntax, (6) too
profuse use of expletives, (7) also of vocatives, (8) also of
prefixes; and so on." (pp. xxxviii-xxxix, "The Bhagavad Gita" by
Annie Besant and Bhagavan Das, Madras, 1950.)


The phrase kshipram hi (with speedy rebound verily) is rather
puzzling though significant, because even an agriculturalist does
not reap as soon as he has sown. If we think of progeny, it has its
own time to be considered. Sacrifices take effect cyclically and
elaborately according to the cosmology of the Vedas, conceived
in terms of births and deaths, which also have a duration. In what
sense then is this quickness to be understood? The reference must
be to the most basic and fundamentally necessary aspects of life
itself, as for example, to breathing. The siddhi or the result to be
attained by breathing which is life itself, is immediate. There is
no long cycle of causes and effects involved in this basic sacrifice
of breath. The possibility of such sacrifices and the recognition
the Gita wants to give them are evident from Verses 29 and 30.
Taking human society as a whole and its natural propensity to
offer burnt sacrifices to gods (e.g., in the Vedic society), the
duration implied, which encompasses both action and its
recompense (siddhi) may be said to constitute a natural basic
norm or unit, belonging to that particular context. There is no
harm therefore in the employment of the term "quickly" here,
although it should not be understood in the sense of mechanistic
immediacy, as for example, with a slot machine, but conceived
more organically. A unit minimal span of interest is involved in
such worldly sacrifices whose results are, according to the Gita
here, good as far as they go.

Finally, it is possible to justify the expression "quickly" also
by taking it to mean "immediate" in which case ends and means
of a ritualistic action may be said to coincide as suggested
in Verse 24 of this chapter. A pure ritual conceived under the
category of the Absolute involves the eternal moment where
action and its reaction are not separated at all by any interval
of time.


chatur varnyam maya srishtam
guna karma vibhagasah
tasya kartaram api mam
viddhy akartaram avyayam

The four-fold colour-grades (varnyas) were created
by myself on the basis of innate disposition (guna) and
vocation (karma) that accorded with each; know Me to
be the maker of such as also to be its undoer,


Considering that this chapter deals with wisdom, i.e.,
perennial wisdom, as we have explained, the link uniting
this verse which apparently deals with sociological
questions, with the previous verse, is rather frail.
Verse 12 told us of quick result-producing sacrifices.
This verse deals with the four castes. The word karma
(action) is the common subject. Leading from the simplest
of human actions which produce quick or immediate
results as we have seen, we come here to various grades of
actions as found here in the human world. These are the
major types of vocations found in the world.

All and various possible actions in such a world are here
brought under four general categories of necessity. There
are some actions which may be said to be comparatively
free from the binding chain of necessity. There are others
which are tied down very close to necessity with very little
freedom of movement. All these four possible gradations
have been referred to here as belonging to the four castes:
brahmana, kshattriya, vaishya and sudra, apparently.

The brahmana enjoys relative freedom with the longest
tether, as it were, because he is a scholar, and his livelihood
is in performing sacrifices for himself and others as
Manusmriti (i, 88 ff.) says. The kshattriya or warrior,
capable of risking his life, enjoys a similar freedom, though
of shorter tether, as a warrior cannot be expected to
command respect outside his domain to the same extent as a
scholar. The vaishya, cultivator and merchant, has less
freedom at his command, being bound to the soil and to the
nature of his business, with a more limited range of choice.
Lastly, concerning the sudra or proletarian, Manu lays down
(i, 91) "one occupation only the Lord prescribed to the
sudra, to serve meekly the other three castes". Thus the
status of the sudra is one of the utmost bondage to necessity.
These grades of difference are supposed to exist in
nature, whether in the Vedic world or outside it, and it is in
this sense that Krishna, as representing the Absolute, here
says that he created the four castes.

We had reference already to jatidharma (caste customs)
and kuladharma (clan customs) in i, 43. Varnasamkara
(degeneracy due to promiscuous mixing of races) is also
referred to in the same verse, and the evil consequences are
pictured graphically in Arjuna's own words as the fall of
the pitris (ancestors) due to the break in the offering of
propitiatory rice-balls and water.


Those responsible for these grave omissions, Arjuna says,
would themselves be destined to go to hell. This graphic
account of Arjuna as a purva pakshin (anterior sceptic) in
the Gita is not dealt with or even done justice to by any
passing reference in the teaching of Krishna himself, except
perhaps by the overall pardon of sin which he promises
again and again if Arjuna should follow Krishna's absolutist
way of life.

The word varna (colour) or chaturvarnya (four grades of
colour) of the present verse is not quite the same as the jati
(kind or species) or the kula (clan) with which Arjuna's
mind is obsessed, and which is met only with faint attention
by Krishna. This should mean to us that Krishna does not
take Arjuna's objections seriously. The chaturvarnya (four
grades of colour), however, in Krishna's words, has a better
status, even as a topic of discussion.

We think in our own times of the word varnashrama
dharma (duties of colour and stages of life treated together)
by which ponderous name the existing so-called "caste
system" of India is often referred to. Here. varna
undoubtedly refers to colour and ashrama to the four stages
of spiritual effort which are quite a different matter to the
four castes.

In the confused background of the orthodox Indian mind,
these two different subjects came to be linked-up vaguely,
due to long usage. Here in this verse the reference is clearly
to the chaturvarnya (four grades of colour) which was
known at the time of the Gita. Its character in the context of
proper religious obligations is unmistakable in the light of
Manusmriti and less explicitly in the vaguer implications of
most of the Puranas (legends) (see Manusmriti i, 88 ff.).
Some Puranas even deny the four divisions as existing
from the beginning, as for example, the Mahabharata
which states, "There was originally but one colour or race
(ekavarnam) in the entire universe, 0 Yudhishthira; but by
the specialization due to innate or overt action the four
colour divisions became established" (quoted by Radhakrishnan,
B. G., p. 161).

Krishna here refers to the four castes, not in the rigid
obligatory sense of the Manusmriti. The Gita is a brahma-
vidya sastra (textbook of the science of the Absolute) or
sruti (directly revealed or taught philosophy), and not a
dharma sastra (textbook on lawful conduct) as the
Manusmriti is. The difference of treatment, therefore, is
only to he expected. Comparing the natural actions
belonging to each of these divisions as stated under xviii,
41 ff. and what is laid down as the duty of each


group in Manu we find a striking disparity whose discussion
is reserved for xviii, 41 ff.

No sooner does Krishna say that he is the creator of the
four broad-based social divisions than he denies his own
responsibility and washes his hands free from it by turning
round and stating just the opposite - viddhy akartaram
ayvayam (know me to be the non-agent thereof and the
ever-unspent, i.e., the Absolute). The apparent
contradiction is nothing new, taken in relation with the
explanations in the previous chapters. The Absolute, as we
have pointed out under Verse 12, is neutral as between
orthodoxy and heterodoxy, or the necessary and contingent.
This same neutral position of Yoga is emphasized here,
even in relation to the four castes in the domain
of necessity on the one hand, and to the free ideal of a
casteless, classless society on the other hand.

That this latter open and free way belongs to the Gita is
confirmed by the second line of ix, 32, which opens the
door of wisdom freely to women, vaishyas (agriculturalists
and merchants) and sudras (proletarians), irrespective of
any low birth that might be a stigma attached to them in
actuality. Even in xviii, 41-44 a careful comparison with
corresponding verses in Manusmriti (i, 88 ff.) will reveal to
anyone that while the laws of Manu belong to the domain
of strict obligation and duty, here the Gita contents itself
merely with saying that certain persons are fitted by their
temperament to do certain types of action. A closer
scrutiny of the items of actions assigned to each group
reveals further that they include actions that are actions
only in an extended contemplative sense. The verse-
endings with the phrase svabhavajam (born out of one's
own nature) in xviii, 42-44, show unmistakably that there is
no question of any obligatory duty at all in the Gita as in the
Manusmriti. On the other hand it is purely a question of
psychological types and professional orientation as
understood even in modern times.

The concern of the Gita is only to see that types that conform
to the three gunas (qualities or properties of nature) as
elaborated in Chapters xiv and xvii, are properly matched
with the corresponding actions or vocations belonging to
their proper nature. All that the Gita wants to avoid is the
misfit of a square type in a round hole, and no reference to
clan or caste or anything hereditary or by birth is anywhere
countenanced. Even the reference to varna (colour) is only


This interest of the Gita in seeing that the proper type
gets the proper job is in keeping with its own doctrine of
svadharma (one's own proper or natural conduct) as
conceived in the most general terms applicable to the whole
of humanity, as we have seen under iii, 35, and which is
again repeated in xviii, 47. The Gita is interested in the
sociological question of divisions only in so far as it is a
corollary to the doctrine of svadharma (one's own natural

Many scholars have been of the opinion that this
elaborate theory of svadharma (one's own natural conduct)
and the matching of the inner and outer nature of each
individual as the way of happiness, constitutes the major
contribution of the Gita to thought. We tend to agree with
them, but must add that in applying this doctrine to social
types, the Gita is not so much intent on contributing an
elaborate theory of its own, as on revaluating and restating
in absolutist terms its own revised position as a sastra
(scientific textbook) in regard to some of the deep-rooted
and firmly established notions of race or caste which
vitiated the mind of the common man in India.

Further, a close examination of the Manusmriti will
reveal that it is a book conceived on a war-footing as
between Aryans and non-Aryans. It cannot be understood
in any other way. For example, Manusmriti x, 129 reads:
"No collection of wealth must be made by a sudra, even
though he be able (to do it): for a sudra who has acquired
wealth gives pain to brahmanas". Moreover such qualities
as dexterity required of a kshattriya (warrior) - see Gita,
xviii, 43 - can never be thought of as coming under
obligatory duty, being of the nature of a special personal
aptitude in an individual. A kshattriya (warrior) always
thinking of war, would be no less absurd than a Don
Quixote. A just war in the outer world has to correspond to
the inner nature of a warrior if the absurdity otherwise
implied in fighting is to be avoided. One-sided and
mechanistic interpretations of a rigid and hereditary caste
system as sometimes imagined to exist in India have no
semblance of support in the Gita. In the sense here, caste
comes nearer to the notion of jati (kind , species) than to
chaturvarnya (four divisions of colour in society). Purity of
race or chastity is implied in the notion of caste thus
understood. A brahmin, whether Vaishnava or Shaiva as we
see him among orthodox Hindus today, is really a follower
of certain Gurus of comparatively recent days. Even at the
time of the Puranas (religious legends),


Yudhishthira is heard to deplore the abolition or complete
absence of any group of men who can claim any purity of
strain as understood in the sense of jati. "It is difficult to
find out the caste of persons on account of the mixture of
castes. Men beget offspring in all sorts of women... So
conduct is the only determining feature of caste according
to sages" (see Radhakrishna, B.G. p.161). Caste, as
understood in India today has become more than an
anachronism or even a misnomer and cannot claim support
either from instinct, common sense, traditional lore, or from
the sastras properly so called, such as the Gita.

The wisdom of the Gita is not closed against any section
whether in or outside the Vedic context, as ix, 32 (and xviii,
41 taken with xviii, 46) lays down so finally. In view of the
fact that Chapter ix concludes the arguments of Krishna in a
way, and forms the middle of the whole of the Gita, the
finality of this verdict is not to be questioned. Taken
together with that sweeping or concluding dictum found in
xviii, 66 at the end of the whole discussion itself, where the
Gita recommends the throwing to the winds of all duties,
the free, open and dynamic character of the Gita should be

Returning to the present verse we see that the four castes
and the corresponding outer activities are to be dealt with
organically as still within the relativistic domain, forming
natural gradations as we ascend from strict necessity to the
freedom of the Absolute. Before this gradation in the
relativistic domain is properly understood, some theoretical
considerations about action itself are entered into in
subsequent verses, culminating in that famous Verse 24
where all actions, whether viewed relatively or in a manner
in keeping with the Absolute, are equated and unitively
treated under the supreme aegis of the Absolute.
The phrase tasya kartaram (its creator) should be
understood in the sense that, like all other factors given in
nature, the Absolute is indirectly at least to be considered as
the creator. The distinction has already been discussed
under iv, 6-8.


In summing up, we can say that the Gita here is not concerned  with social obligations, but only with that harmony between the inner and outer life of an individual which is the Yoga that should lead him to the supreme Good.



na mam karmani limpanti
na me karmaphale spriha
iti mam yo 'bhijanati
karmabhir na sa badhyate

I am not affected by works nor have I any interest
in the benefit of works; he who understands Me in
this manner comes no more under the bondage of


This verse is evidently meant to bring back the discussion
into line with the wisdom of the Absolute which is the
subject of this chapter from the seemingly sociological
reference of the last verse. Even in that last verse we have
tried to explain how it was not social obligation which was
dealt with, but rather the possible grades of activity open to
a man still living within the conditions of relativist society,
which could be approximated more or less to the absolutist
way of life with which the whole chapter is concerned.
Therefore this verse underlines the role of Krishna as a
representative of pure absolutism. He is untouched by any
action, relativist or otherwise. He does not desire even the
successful working of the system of four castes of the
previous verse, as the phrase na me karmaphale spriha (nor
is there any interest in the result of action) declares. To
understand that such a neutrality is of the nature of the
Absolute is the way to wisdom, as pointed out here. Both
the subject and the object, the latter being the knower here,
are absolved from the bondage of action, i.e., no obligation
even of caste duties attaches to the knower.


evam jnaitva kritam karma
purvair api mumukshubhih
kuru karmai 'va tasmat tvam
purvaih purvataram kritam

That very kind of work that the ancients
performed after knowing in this manner, even that
work therefore do you also, as was performed by
ancients desiring emancipation in times more


Here it is not an appeal to Arjuna to walk in the usual
traditional way. The appeal is rather to walk in the way of
timeless perennial wisdom which is a different matter. If it
was the mere following of tradition which was recommended,
the term evam jnatva (knowing thus) would be superfluous.


The term mumukshubhih (those desirous of emancipation)
must here refer to emancipation through wisdom and not
through observance of traditional practices. This is but in
keeping with the spirit of the Gita and of this chapter

Purvaih purvataram (by ancients in more ancient times)
clearly suggests the perennial rather than the ancestral
nature of this wisdom. Every ancient wisdom, the phrase
suggests, has something more ancient behind it, taking us
back to eternity rather than to any definite point of time in
history, however long ago.

The words karmai 'va (even the action) are meant to
stress the perennial nature of necessity or karma (action)
also. The wisdom here recommended consists partly at
least of recognizing this perennial necessity of action as
inevitable to man and which cannot be left out of
consideration, even for one who aims at emancipation in an
absolute sense.


kim karma kim akarme 'ti
kavayo 'py atra mohitah
tat te karma pravakshyami
yaj jnatva mokshyase 'subhat

On what is action and what is inaction even intelligent men
here are confused. I shall indicate to you that action on
knowing which you will be emancipated from evil.


The karma (action) which becomes inevitable and justifiable
in the manner indicated in the last verse is recognized
by the Gita to be a difficult matter to determine. Any action
which is habitual is not here recommended. The three varieties
of action are referred to in the next verse. That proper
kind of action conducive to absolution from evil is what is to
be distinguished here. Only such a particular kind of action is
important and to be treated as necessary by a wise man.
Extraneous or incidental aspects of action are not to be taken
seriously. Even the wise, it says, are perplexed about this.
The same sentiment is repeated in the next verse. Only a
wise man is able to distinguish the subtle distinction implied
here between (1) action that is permissible, (2) action that
should be avoided and (3) action in keeping with absolutist
wisdom and neutralizable by wisdom.


karmano hy api boddhavyam
boddhavyam cha vikarmanah
akarmanas cha boddhavyam
gahana karmano gatih

One has to understand about action and understand
also what is wrong action; again one has to have a
proper notion of non-action: the way of action is
elusively subtle (indeed).


Three classes of action are referred to here. The first is
just plain karma (action), the second is vikarma (distorted
or misaction), and the third is akarma (non-action or
inaction). Inaction is included under the title "action" here,
and this could be justified in the light of the Samkhya
teaching where abhava (non-existence) is spoken of as a
padartha (entity) as "nothing" could be conceived only in
terms of negative existence.

Under vikarma (misaction) we should include all such
merely traditional actions which are extraneous to the
discipline of brahmavidya (science of the Absolute) as
understood in the Gita. Akarma (inaction) would refer to a
negative attitude towards action, as when a man obstinately
tries to live in a vacuum repressing all activity, natural or
otherwise, as heterodox anti-ritualists in India tended to be
in the post-Buddhistic period.

When the notion of action has been subjected to these
two correctives and both subtracted, as it were, there
remains a residue of action pure and simple which properly
belongs to the way of life of a perennial philosopher who
neither rejects anything wilfully because of his moods, nor
suppresses anything wilfully against his own deeper nature.
The wise man dialectically revalues his position
constantly as his life is spent in keeping with the perennial
way of those who went before him in the path of the
Absolute. Such a path is full of wonder and mystery as the
word gahana (subtle, elusive) indicates. No sastra
(scientific text) definitely lays down this way of life. A man
of intuition is supposed to be aware of it.


karmany akarma yah pasyed
akarmani cha karma yah
sa buddhiman manushyeshu
sa yuktah kritsnakarmakrit

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


Here is a typical verse in which paradox excels. Sankara
and others have tried in vain to reduce the meaning of this
verse to rational terms by various clever examples, such as
that of the appearance of recession of trees on the shore to a
man sitting in a moving boat.

The mystery is better left unsolved, so as to retain the
element of wonder and the sense of the numinous, emerging
out of the verse. This would be in keeping with the spirit of
the previous verse. Other verses, such as ii, 16, 19 and 69
and many in chapter xiii, go to show how the Absolute is the
neutral meeting-ground of opposites. All paradoxes become
justified with reference to the Absolute. The heightening of
the mystery does not detract but enhances the glory and the
wonder. Wonder itself is a value when it applies to the
Absolute, especially the final wonder of the wise man
established in absolute non-duality.

In the present context there are ambivalent, dichotomous
or bi-polar aspects of the soul of man which are interrelated,
such as instinct with intelligence. What instinct is
convinced of, intelligence cannot appreciate; and what
intelligence sees, instinct cannot. The soul of man as
understood in its absolute sense, is the meeting-place of
opposites. The neutral ground of wisdom is none other than
the same.

Brahman (the Absolute) is itself spoken of in the Upanishads
as having a high (para) and a low (apara) aspect.

Both together are sometimes referred to by the compound
word parapara (high-low). The adhyasa (superimposition)
of one aspect of the Absolute on the other and vice-versa is
the cause of confusion. We are constantly prone to this
error. When our hands are inactive the mind is active, and
when the mind is inactive the hands etc. come into action.
The man who sits still might be steeped in overpowering
mental activity. To reduce both these opposing tendencies
into a neutral whole is the Yoga of wisdom spoken of here.
The last phrase kritsnakarmakrit (while still engaged in
all possible kinds of work) is just to show that one set of
actions has to be reduced in terms of the other and both
cancelled out into a certain unitive neutrality, irrespective


of whatever actual or virtual activities might be implied in
the situation.

This way of neutralizing activity is the same as has been
indicated in iii, 43, where the Self is spoken of as being
restrained by the Self. The word kritsnam (all) is meant to
include both the innate and overt forms of activity. The
word buddhiman (an intellectual man) is in keeping with
the subject matter of this chapter on jnanayoga (unitive


yasya serve samarambhah
kama samkalpa varjitah
jnanagni dagdha karmanam
tam ahuh panditam budhah

That man whose works are all devoid of desire and
wilful motive, whose (impulse of) action has been
reduced to nothing in the fire of wisdom, he is
recognized as a knowing person (pandit) by the wise.


This verse and the verses up to 24, inclusive, constitute a
section in which the purest kind of free action as
recommended in iii, 9, is finally stated. Thus, in the revised
light of absolute wisdom, ends and means coincide.
The first prerequisite of such a freedom-yielding
absolutist action is indicated here. Such action has to be free
from kama (desire) and samkalpa (wilful motivation). Even
after these two outgoing tendencies have been curbed or
withdrawn, there is a residual action or tendency to act
which is of the nature of a vital urge. This vital urge,
however, is brought under the scrutiny of wisdom. As
indicated in the previous verse, it becomes negated as
akarma (inaction). As the fire of wisdom burns all action to
ashes as stated in Verse 37, this cancelling out into
neutrality of all action is only to he looked upon as a normal
consequence of absolutism, involving what St. Thomas
Aquinas might have called the principle of double negation.
Action cannot stand the light of absolute wisdom, being a
negative factor, just as light and shade cannot live together.


tyaktva karma phala
sangam nityatripto nirasrayah
karmany abhipravritto 'pi
nai 'va kimchit karoti sah

Relinquishing attachment for the benefit of works,
ever happy and independent, though such a man
be engaged in work, he (in principle) does nothing
at all.


Here the same opinion is stated in more finalized form. As a
cancelled cheque is not valid, the visible aspects of action
that a wise man might be seen performing outwardly are to be
treated as null and void in the light of the neutralizing
synthesis of wisdom. Here the actor acts for action's
own sake, "not depending" upon anything outside (as the
word nirasrayah indicates), and desiring no outside benefit
or result, i.e., treating ends and means unitively. So he is
always content, free from worry and expectation.


nirasir yatachittatma
tyakta sarva parigrahah
sariram kevalam karma
kurvan na 'pnoti kilbisham

One free of all expectancy and of subjugated relational
self-consciousness, who has given up all possessiveness,
being engaged in actions that are merely bodily (automatic),
he does not acquire evil.


Note that this verse concedes a little more than what is
implied in the last verse, inasmuch as the body is supposed
to continue to act with whatever may be said to be of the
nature of a reflex or automatism.

The phrases (i) yatachittatma (one of subjugated
relational self) - chitta being that aspect of personal
consciousness capable of attaching itself to a desired idea
or object - and (2) aparigrahah (without possessiveness),
denote two additional requisites for a man of wisdom,
giving a deeper qualification than just being free from


yadrichchha labha samtushto
dvandvatito vimatsarah
samah siddhav asiddhau cha
kritva 'pi na nibadhyate

Satisfied with chance-gains, unaffected by
conflicting pairs (of interests), non-competitive,
remaining the same in gain or no gain, he remains unbound in
spite of having been active.


The general attitude towards life of a man of wisdom as
he lives and moves among men is outlined here. Chances
come to him, but he is not a fortune-hunter who runs after
chances. Conflicting pairs of opposites belonging to the
world of automatic actions have been transcended by him.
Naturally, such a man does not have to enter into
competitive rivalry with others. He is a vimatsarah (non-
competitive person).


gatasangasya muktasya
jnanavasthita chetasah
yajnaya 'charatah karma
samagram praviliyate

In the case of one whose attachments are gone,
who has gained freedom, whose spiritual being
has been founded on wisdom, his works having a
sacrificial character only, become wholly dissolved.


The same idea is elaborated further only there is pointed
reference to action coming under the definition of
sacrifices, in the sense that these do not bind, as indicated in
iii, 9.

This special category of actions done disinterestedly must
imply some absolutist value. Even when offered to a god, as
implied in Verse 25 below, even if the sacrificer's notions of
a deity are imperfect, to the extent that his offering implies
pure motives, it has the effect of dissolving the binding
character of action. What is meant here is put more finally
in the next verse, in whose light we should understand the
further implications of this verse. Nobody can understand
the Absolute except from the point of view of his own
relative self, and conversely nobody can understand the
relative except from the standpoint of the Absolute. There is
an inevitable limitation of the one notion by the other, thus
inevitably introducing an element of solipsism into the
argument. The action-dissolving power of pure acts of
sacrifice referred to here is therefore justified by the
principle of solipsism itself. It is possible, however, to treat
both ends and means, relative land Absolute, more
unitively, as is done so well in the next verse.


brahma 'rpanam brahma havir
brahmagnau brahmana hutam
brahmai 'va tena gantavyam
brahma karma samadhina

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


This is another verse masterpiece often quoted. Ends and
means belonging to a ritualistic context are here brought
together unitively, abolishing every shade of difference between
them. The final phrase brahma karma samadhina (by
means of a peace which is the same as action, which is the
same as the Absolute, or brahma = karma = samadhi) is a
beautiful word-confection made up of a value (peace)
consisting of end (Absolute) and means (action). Action is
the means and the two ends are the cosmological (brahman,
the Absolute) and the psychological (samadhi, the peace of
a unified Self). The compound word thus brings all
sacrifice-concomitants together without making a
distinction between ends and means.


daivam eva'pareyajnam
yoginah paryupasate
brahmignau apare yajnam
yajnenai 'vo 'pajuhvati

As referring to the gods (of the Vedas) is (the
nature of) the sacrifice of some yogis (men of
unitive discipline); others offer sacrifice into the
fire of the Absolute by sacrifice itself.


From Verse 25 to 32 there is a comprehensive discussion
of all patterns of sacrifice, from the most basic ones
understood in the Vedic context such as a simple burnt
sacrifice to the gods, to the same conceived in the light of
self-realization as understood in Verse 24.

Here again, the same principle of treating ends and means
unitively is repeated in the second line more finally. Instead
of brahman (the Absolute) being offered as a sacrifice into
brahman this verse goes one step further and states that


itself is offered as a sacrifice. The non-duality is thus
further finalized, thus setting the furthermost limit to the
concept of yajna (sacrifice) that is possible to attain
through the rationalization of sacrificial action. The anterior
limit is marked out by the first line which states the usual
case of an agnihotra (fire sacrifice) of the Vedic context.
As we had occasion to point out under IV, 23, that a man
sacrifices to the devas (the divine, gods, shining ones) is
not in itself any disqualification in the light of the Gita
teaching, on condition that the counterparts of ends and
means are compatible and capable of being cancelled out

Any man who has not attained full enlightenment is
bound to offer a sacrifice according to his own lights
regarding higher values or ideals. To ask any man to do
better than what he can, would be neither possible nor fair.
Indra, Varuna and other gods of the Vedas are personifications
of certain higher or idealized human values. They are "shining
ones" who are immortal, and are supposed to live with eyes
that never shut, in the world of the intelligibles, as Plotinus
would put it. Similar ideas are familiar in Plato's writings.
All that we are to recognize here is that as between the
sacrificer and the gods there is a difference of value in
a certain scale of values which is natural for a human being
to have in his mind when he thinks of his own spiritual
progress. The difference therefore between the higher and
lower values of this scale reaching from the human to the
divine, must imply some sort of purificatory element, however
feeble it might be.

Each sacrifice is good as far as it goes and better than non-
sacrifice. When, however, a sacrifice is performed with the
full implications of Absolute Godhead in the mind of the
sacrificer, then progress may be said to be geared to the
maximum. Under the aegis of a supremely absolutist form
of sacrifice all other sacrifices gain a status and thus a
purificatory potency.

The purpose of this verse is to mark out clearly the two
limits of sacrifice, one being the usual Vedic sacrifice and
the other more in conformity with the science of the
Absolute, where even the difference between the act of
sacrifice and the sacrificer, as ends and means, is to be
finally abolished.

It should be noted that here the reference is not to a mere
ritualist, but to a yogi. The difference is that the yogi is
constantly equating counterparts and cancelling out
opposites by a certain implied dialectical method, which is
more than rationalization. It is rather a revaluation in the


light of wisdom. The various sacrifices mentioned in this
chapter are to be understood as revalued, and not just Vedic

The reference to spiritual disciplines in the verses up to
32 have to be understood in the light of Yoga. Moreover
yajna (sacrifice) is used in this section in a very
comprehensive sense (in the same way as indicated in iii,
10). It applies to the whole of created life. The various
forms of spiritual discipline to be dealt with in succeeding
verses are partial applications of this pure and general
principle of sacrifice in different types of discipline
belonging to different spiritual traditions or schools.


srotradini 'ndriyany anye
samyamagnishu juhvati
sabdadin vishayan anya
indriyagnishu juhvati

Some offer as sacrifice the ear and such other sense
organs into the fire of restraint; others offer the
sacrifice of sound and other sense interests into the
fire of the senses.


Two alternative cases of the control of the senses are
referred to in this verse, the difference between them being
very delicate. An introversion or pratyahara (withdrawal of
the senses) is implied in both instances. In the first case the
perceptual (or inner) aspect of the senses is taken, with
hearing as the typical example. Hearing is to be sacrificed
into the fire of restraint. In the second case the same
restraint is applied to overt sound which is merged
backwards and inwards as it were, into the general seat of
the senses taken together, which, like the restraint, is also
compared to a fire. Restraint represents the central value of

It would be legitimate to imagine a series of fires, one
more subtle than the other, the gradation having been
indicated already in iii, 42, which, taken together with iii, 6,
an iii, 41, is clear enough on this question of gradation.
Whatever is outside is withdrawn and merged in a certain
graded order into the inner fire which is one's own Self.
Contemplation itself thus conforms to the pattern of a
sacrifice. Although the familiar form of a Vedic sacrifice is
adhered to here, it is still contemplation in the most
extended and comprehensive sense


that is really the subject-matter here. Whatever may be the
two counterparts taken, a sacrifice is possible in principle.
The term indriyagnishu (in the fire of the senses) is justified
because the senses represent perception which is a form of
light or knowing, similar to the light of a flame.


sarvani 'ndriya karmani
prana karmani cha'pare
atma samyama Yogagnau
juhvati jnanadipite

All the functions of the senses as also the vital
functions, others make (as) an offering of both into
the fire of unitive discipline (Yoga), consisting of


The meaning here goes one step further inwards in terms
of contemplation, using Yoga and life-functions as the
counterparts. The phrase atma samyama (self-restraint) is to
be understood as belonging to Yoga or personal discipline
and is not to be mistaken for self-control in any outwardly
physical, moral or social sense. Such a restraint attains the
intensity of a fire. This fire is kindled by absolute wisdom,
and into this fire both the sets of more peripheral functions
belonging to the senses and the less peripheral vital
tendencies are merged or centralized. In Verse 26 the
restraint of the peripheral items of life-functioning were
reduced to a form of sacrifice. Here Yoga and all life-
functions are brought under the idea of sacrifice to be
equated or unitively cancelled out.


dravyayajnas tapoyajna
yogayajnas tatha 'pare
svadhyaya jnanayajnas cha
yatayah samsitavratah

Likewise are others of object-sacrifice and those of
austerity-sacrifice, those who sacrifice unitive
discipline (Yoga) and those of self-study and wisdom-
sacrifice, who are (all) men of self-control and
(fully) accomplished vows.


This verse enumerates the different classes of sacrifices as
follows: (1) the basic ritualistic sacrifice made with material


offerings; (2) sacrifice of the nature of an austerity or self-
discipline as implied in Verses 25 and 26; (3) the sacrifice of
Yoga as understood in the context of Patanjali's "Yoga Sutras",
(Aphorisms on Yoga), though subjected to slight revaluation
in the Gita, as we shall see in the next verse; (4) the sacrifice
of one's own study, as is normal to a student of the
Upanishads, and (5) the sacrifice of wisdom, which consists
of equating subjective and objective aspects of knowledge
into a unitive whole.

All people who engage themselves in any of these forms
of sacrifice are classed as yatayah (people of restraint -
derived from the root yama = restraint) as some sort of
restraint is implied in all these sacrificers.

The term samsitavratih (those of accomplished vow) puts
a final mark on the enumeration of disciplines coming under
the class of vows, the last-mentioned to be taken as a more
mature or final form of sacrifice. The spiritual disciplines
mentioned in Verses 29 and 30 which follow, are neither
austerities nor vows, but belong to the milder discipline
known under Yoga (as understood in vi, 17), involving no
form of hardship or torture of any kind (which in fact is
really condemned in xvii, 5 and 6).


apane juhvati pranam
prane 'panam tathi pare
pranapanagati ruddhva
pranayama parayanah

Into the downward (inward) vital tendency others sacrifice
the upward (outward) one and in the outward one the inward
likewise, thus countering the tendencies, they remain ever
as those (who resort to the way) of (vital) breath-control.


This verse refers directly to the discipline of pranayama
(restraint of vital functionings understood both under
respiration and as belonging to the larger context of the
pancha-pranah, the five vital tendencies).

The process of respiration may be said to affect only two
of these five latter pranas (vital functionings) and those
who practise pranayama (restraint of vital functionings) are
referred to in this verse either as sacrificing prana (the
outgoing breath or vital tendency) into apana (the inward or
down-going breath


or vital tendency) or vice-versa. Both of them have in common
what is called rodh (to hold in check) from which the word
ruddhva (having held in check) is derived. Those who are
attached to the discipline of pranayama (restraint of breath)
are here referred to as pranayama parayanah. Inasmuch as
restraint of the gait (flow) of breath is the most important
common element making this discipline a form of sacrifice,
the order or direction in which the vital function is
restrained upwards or downwards is of no consequence.
Both the kinds of sacrifice are therefore treated here on a
par, and the restraint itself can apply to prana (outgoing
breath) and apana (down-going breath) equally, and the
practice could justly be referred to as a single unitively
conceived sacrifice.

It should be noted here that in certain drastic and popular
schools of Yoga called Hatha Yoga, which concern themselves
with breathing exercises, there are two opposite restraints of
breath called puraka (filling) and rechaka (emptying) and a
third middle one called kumbhaka (retaining). In the
Patanjali "Yoga Sutras" (Aphorisms on Yoga Discipline)
pranayama (restraint of vital functionings) is the fourth
stage of a scale of disciplines built upwards leading to
kaivalya, loneliness or purity as applied to the Self).
Reciprocal equalization of life-breaths is not explicitly
implied in the pranayama of the Patanjali system as here.
The Gita revalues Patanjali's system in the light of absolute
wisdom and makes the two forms of sacrifice reciprocal and
even interchangeable. Pranayama is not understood in the
Gita as control of breath impliying sustained effort in any
one direction (as in Patanjali's "Yoga Sutras", ii, 49). Here,
instead of effort, only a state of calm contemplation is
implied. The restraint is not laboured here, but normal and
natural. The revaluation of both Hatha Yoga and Patanjali
Yoga have to be noticed in the unitive treatment of the two
aspects of the discipline of vital breath control.


apare niyataharah
pranan praneshu juhvati
sarve'py eteyajnavido
yajna kshapita kalmashah

Others abstemious in food make an offering of
vital breaths into vital breaths. All these are
connoisseurs of sacrifice who have got rid of evil
through sacrifice.


The idea of restraint implied in the various forms of discipline
is referred to, as it were, in wholesale terms, as applied to
all the vital tendencies taken together. If we could say that
expansion and contraction are two opposing vital tendencies
the yogi referred to here minimises or decreases the difference
between these two, living in the central core of his
own life his connection with the outer world, in hearing,
seeing or enjoying what is outside, is kept at a minimum.
Such a control includes the taking of food which is referred
to as typical here as niyataharah (those restricting food).
Such restriction should be understood in a generic sense to
include more than actual nourishment. The same word
occurs in ii 59, not in the sense of actual food eaten, but as
referring to the influx of all enjoyable impressions from

The word yajnavidah (knowers of sacrifice) is employed
here as referring to all the varieties of sacrifice of the
previous verses, before coming to the conclusive statement
about sacrifices in the next verse. In xv, I, the word vedavit
(veda-knower) is similarly used. In the same sense also, in
ix, 20, there is reference to traividyah (those who know
the three Vedas). The Gita teaching is seen here to be kept
detached and non-committed to the particular disciplines or
learning, whatever they may be, preserving the impersonal
standpoint of a general onlooker, throwing the burden of
responsibility on the experts in each school, while itself
being primarily concerned with wisdom. The reference to
other disciplines is by way of recognition of what is
valuable, permissible or necessary in each according to the
revalued position of the Gita.

The word kalmashah (dross or impurity) is not "sin"
in the religious sense as often translated, but may be
said to include stains or opacity or dullness which can
impede spiritual progress in general terms.


yajna sishtamrita bhujo
yanti-brahma sanatanam
na 'yam loko 'sty ayajnasya
kuto 'nyah kurusattama

Those who partake of the immortal nectar of sacrificial
remains goes to the eternal Absolute.
This world is not for one of no sacrifice. How can
he have the next, o Best of Kurus (Arjuna)?


The idea in iii, 13, of eating the remnants of sacrifice is
revised here. After the elaborate references to different
sacrifices which do not conform to the simple Vedic burnt
sacrifice pattern, the sacrifice intended here has to be
understood more figuratively than as actual. The amrita
(ambrosia or immortal element) has the double suggestion
of being both actual and metaphorical. The simple Vedic
sacrificer, when he eats the remains of a sacrifice
performed according to the teaching of the Gita, i.e., in
keeping with the science of the Absolute, attains
immortality, or enters into eternal life. On the other hand,
one who does not treat life itself as conforming to the
pattern of a sacrifice misses the purpose of life altogether
and consequently the best way of enjoying life here as well
as hereafter.

The phrase kurusattama (best of the Kurus) as applied to
Arjuna, who is a Pandava, is explained by his common
lineage from Kuru, the common ancestor of both Pandavas
and Kauravas.


evam bahuvidha yajna
vitata brahmaho mukhe
karmajan viddhitan sarvan
evam jnatva vimokshyase

Thus many and varied are the sacrifices spread in
front of the Absolute. Know them all as
originating in action. Thus understanding them,
you shall gain release.


This verse and Verse 33 are not wholly laudatory in
regard to sacrifices. Wisdom is unequivocally praised at the
expense of all forms of sacrifice enumerated, however
superior each might be, when taken by itself. All of them
have the common effect of having their origin in some sort
of action, whether called discipline or sacrifice. To that
extent they are by necessity dualistic. But by wisdom even
this dualism is transcended, and such a wisdom itself is
what burns and is burnt, as explained in the verses that
follow, and it is therefore this unitive sacrifice which is
legitimately lauded finally here.

The expression vitatah (are spread out) taken together
with brahmano mukhe (in the face of the Absolute)
establishes that very dialectical relationship as between the
Absolute and the relative, found throughout the Gita, which
indeed makes it a


Yoga sastra (textbook). The word jnatva (having known)
emphasizes that it is the wisdom implied in this bipolar
situation which is conducive to emancipation or freedom.
The expression bahuvidhah (many and varied) accentuates
the relativist character of all forms of sacrifice here, even
when treated together as a dialectical counterpart of the
Absolute. The relation is as between the gold coin of
wisdom which always triumphs, as we have already said,
over the small change of all actions.


sreyan dravyamayad yajnaj
jnanayajnah paramtapa
sarvam karma 'khilam partha
jnane parisamapyate

Superior to any sacrifice with (valuable) objects is
the wisdom sacrifice, 0 Paramtapa (Arjuna); all
actions, 0 Partha (Arjuna), have their culmination
in wisdom.


A more definite discountenancing of the usual Vedic
sacrifice at which a priest pours butter or burns objects of
value by way of sacrifice is here stated. Wisdom is the
crowning and all-embracing factor here in the spiritual life
which is extolled.

The expression parisamapyate (comes to a supreme
culmination) gives primacy to wisdom in unmistakable
terms. All action is dross to be burnt away and only to be
permitted or tolerated for purposes of a yogic or organically
conceived process of spiritual progression, to be finally
discarded. This principle is clearly stated also in vi, 3.
Except in the case of the final doctrine of the Absolute,
the Gita envisages a graded organic series of disciplines, all
considered permissive. To derive secondary doctrines of
any final or mandatory order from the Gita is altogether
against the spirit of its teaching.


tad viddhi pranipatena
pariprasnena sevaya
upadekshyanti te jnanam
jnaninas tattvadarsinah

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


This verse is by way of cautioning against believing that
the doctrine here is to be too easily understood. How yogic
wisdom can inclusively cover and prevail over all forms of
discipline or spiritual practices, is a secret of the perennial
philosophy known only to those specifically referred to as
jnaninas tattvadarsinah (by those men of wisdom who can
see the principles involved). For obtaining such wisdom it is
suggested here that one should be a disciple of such a Guru.
This is a well-known condition of the wisdom tradition or

Yogic wisdom cannot be transmitted mechanistically
through books or by way of information. The bipolar
relation between a Guru and a disciple alone can effectively
imply the subtlest secrets of such a wisdom, as kept
perennially alive from generation to generation.
The three expressions pranipatena (by prostrations),
pari-prasnena (by searching questioning) and sevaya (by
service), might suggest a picture too servile and repugnant
to the modern mind. The requirement for service is merely
to safeguard against any possible mental disadoption which
would spoil the perfect rapport which is an important
requisite for the free flow of secret teaching between master
and disciple. Prostrations are not to be looked upon as a
form of kowtowing, but as an expression of the willing
affiliation of a disciple to the wisdom-context. The Gita
elsewhere (ii, i) has the expression anasuya
(uncarping) and this, taken together with such expressions
as priyo'si me (thou art dear to me) in xviii, 65, refer to
the same relationship that is required between a wisdom-
teacher and his disciple. Note that, in spite of all this
submissive devotion, Arjuna does question Krishna, as
repeated questioning is considered normal, even in this
verse. Arjuna has already (as we have seen in iii, 2) gone to
the extent of charging Krishna with confusing him with his


yaj jnatva punar moham
evam yasyasi pandava
yena bhutany aseshena
drakshyasy atmany atho mayi

Having known this, 0 Pandava (Arjuna), you will
not give way to delusion thus any more; by this all
beings without exception will be seen by you in the
Self and thus in Me.


After many digressions, the last of them extolling
perennial wisdom as taught in the Gita, this verse brings the
discussion into line with the Gita teaching as a whole, which
is centred on Krishna as representing the Absolute. The
cosmological Brahman is the same as the psychological
atma (Self), which latter implies in turn all beings without
any remainder. When these apparently different concepts fall
into a unitive accord through proper understanding, then the
confusion, whose origin was due to a certain relativistic
attitude on the part of Arjuna, with which as purva paksha
(anterior sceptic's position) the Gita's teaching started, would
then have no reason to continue to agitate Arjuna's mind.
The phrase bhutany aseshena (all beings without any
remainder) covers anything and everything in the cosmos
subject to the process of becoming, bhutani being derived
from the root bhu (to become). That flux which comprises
the whole of existence is here first equated with the Self and
then with the Absolute personified as Krishna the Guru.
The Guru-sishya relationship just spoken of is to be established
in a personal sense. Hence the representation of the
Absolute here in personal terms as "Krishna" gains a certain
relevancy in this verse, as it does in the text taken as a
whole, e.g., in ix, 34 and xviii, 65, both of which are placed
at critical and rhetorically significant positions in the Gita,
giving to the personal bipolar relationship implied here a
very important place.

This does not, however, make the Gita theistic, as referring
to a personal God, as often thought by critics. Instead of theism
or worship of a God, it is rather a Guru-sishya relationship.
In the light of the repeated questioning referred to in the
previous verse, this point of view that it is not a God but a
Guru who is implied here, is further endorsed.


api ched asi papebhyah
sarvebhyah papakrittamah
sarvam jnanaplavenai 'va
vrijnam samtarishyasi

Even if you should happen to be among evil-doers
the most evil-doing man, by the very raft of
wisdom you will be able to cross over sin


This verse has to be read with ix, 30 and 31, all three verses
being based on the same principle of sin being dissolved


quickly by wisdom, when the proper relation or affiliation
has been established with wisdom personified as in a Guru.
The superlative papakrittamah (the most evil-doing one)
distinctly emphasizes the act and not the intention, inasmuch
as to say that the man affiliated to wisdom is related to the
highest of values. He has thus nothing wrong in his intention.
Whatever dross in the form of actual practice might still
adhere to him is effectively nullified by his affiliation to
wisdom. This principle is more expressly brought out in ix, 30.
The word eva (even) in the second line has the force of
drawing attention to the effectiveness of wisdom in
abolishing the evil of sin. Sin and grace belong to the
theological context, but the dawn of wisdom, by its far-
reaching effects, belongs to such a superior order that the
very question of theological sin does not arise. This very
fact is more clearly stated in the next verse.


yathai'dhamsi samiddho'gnir
bhasmasat kurute 'rjuna
jnanignih sarvakarmani
bhasmasat kurute tatha

Just as fire when kindled reduces to ashes the fuel,
0 Arjuna, likewise the fire of wisdom reduces all
works to ashes.


The relation between wisdom and action is not one of
mere mechanical opposition, but when wisdom triumphs,
action vanishes, as it were, in inverse proportion. When
wisdom fully shines, duality disappears: it is, so to say, all
fire and no fuel. Such a conclusion is arrived at by the
principle of double negation. Therefore the question of
action ceases to arise when wisdom shines in its fullest


na hi jnanena sadrisam
pavitram iha vidyate
tat svayam Yogasamsiddhah,
kalena 'tmani vindati.

There is nothing indeed here so purificatory as
wisdom which same the man of perfection through
unitive discipline (Yoga) discovers in himself in due


Yoga as commonly understood implies spiritual discipline
or practice, which means also that it takes time to be
perfected. The effect of Yoga when properly understood is
the dawn of wisdom itself, and this implies no duration. A
man who thinks that mere wisdom as a discipline has no
purificatory effect, is wrong. The practising aspects of Yoga
and the theoretical aspects of wisdom, when understood
properly as belonging to dialectics or Yoga proper, and
when judged by their common effect, come to mean the
same. The man who practises Yoga which implies some
duration and who, at the end of such practice, does not find
wisdom in himself, may be said to have been misdirected in
practice, or to have practised in vain. Conversely, the man
who has reached wisdom, automatically finds all the
benefits of Yoga as already present in him.


sraddhavami labhate jnanam
tatparah samyatendriyah
jnanam labdhva param santim
achirena 'dhigachchhati

A man of faith comes to wisdom being intent on
That (Absolute) and the senses subjugated. On
obtaining wisdom he reaches without delay (the
state of) supreme peace.


Verses 39, 40 and 41 bring together unitively the two
aspects of wisdom conceived as a Yoga. From the instinctive
side wisdom-Yoga involves such factors as sraddha
(constancy or faithfulness) and samyatendriyah (controlled
senses), and from the side of intelligence the dawn of
wisdom takes place involving comparatively little delay,
when a man is tatparah (one given over to That, i.e., the
absolute Principle). The fusing of perfection of the instincts
with the perfection of factors of intelligence from two
opposite poles as it were, takes place reciprocally and
simultaneously. These two facets of spiritual progress are
referred to again in xv, 11. Samkhya wisdom and yogic
disciplines are more usually treated separately in Indian
spiritual literature, but here in the Gita each is revalued in
terms of the other. The implied duality between


jnana (wisdom) and karma (action) thus tends to be
abolished. Shanti or peace results from the meeting of the


ajnas cha 'sraddhadhanas cha
samsayatma vinasyati
na 'yam loko 'sti na paro
na sukham samsayatmanah

The unwise man and the man without faith with the
Self held in (the conflict of) doubt is destroyed:
Neither is there this world for him nor the world
beyond nor can there be any happiness for a man
(caught) in doubt.


The converse of Verse 39 is stated here. The doubting
soul is one who is troubled by conflict. We know that in
common life a person who has a simple doubt does not
perish. Many persons can have various doubts and just
because of this they are not destroyed. The phrase vinasyati
(goes to destruction) here has to be understood
contemplatively as contrasted with the phrase dimavantam
(one who has gained his Self) of Verse 41, and also with
param santim (supreme peace) of Verse 39. As the doubt is
of a contemplative order, the destruction here is also to be
understood as referring to spiritual life only.

Duality and consequent conflict implies a subtle form of
suffering, by reason of which one is deprived of real enjoyment,
whether this enjoyment is simple, belonging to biological life
here, or higher and complex, such as those enjoyments that
satisfy the spirit of man, such as art, culture,
idealism, etc. A madman can be free from hunger, but that
does not necessarily mean that he enjoys life.
So unless there is a yogic blend of these two aspects, the
instinctive and the intelligent, one loses both the "here"
and the "hereafter" in terms of happiness. Thus the
clearing of that doubt which is at the root of a conflict
between aspects of the person is more important than life


Yoga samnyasta karmanam
jnana sachinna samsayam
atmavantam na karmani
nibadhnanti dhanamjaya

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

This verse sums up the position attained in this Chapter.
The two compound words in the first line are conceived, the
first on the basis of Yoga and the second on the basis of
jnana (wisdom), the former abolishing karma (action) and
the latter abolishing doubt. Both together result in
atmavantah (one who possesses the Self) of the second line.
He is one who is not torn by conflict or doubt.

It may be noted in advance here that it is this very
double-sided reference by Krishna which starts the opening
question of the next chapter. The duality between jnana
(wisdom) and karma (action) is still largely retained, for
purposes of argument at least, in the present chapter, while
only in the next chapter is the rapprochement of these two
factors more completely attempted. Here the object is only
to get rid of the binding after-effects of karma (action). In
the next chapter, however, the picture is of a more
emancipated Self, where the yogi goes to the extent of
denying or disclaiming his own actions (v. 8 and 9).


tasmad ajnana sambhutam
hritstham jnanasina 'tmanah
cchittvai 'nam samsayam Yogam
atishtho 'ttishtha bharata

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


Here the same factors mentioned in the last verse are
finally brought into close juxtaposition before their more
unitive treatment of the next chapter. The sword of
wisdom is to be found in the Self and the doubt is found in
the heart, i.e., they are both located at two poles within the
psychological make-up of the person. A change of heart is
effected by a dose of wisdom, as it were, and vice-versa.
They could not be brought any nearer to each other without
losing their distinct nature. The duration for a change of
heart is minimized as


far as possible. Samkhya reasoning, with which the Gita
dialogue started, had implicit elements of duality with
karma (action) which was unitively dealt with in the third
chapter. Here, in the fourth chapter, in the light of jnana
Yoga (the Yoga of perennial wisdom) the duality has been
minimised to its last possible limit, to be transcended
completely and more boldly in the next chapter.

The expression atishtho (stand firm in) and uttishtho
(stand up) are both derived from the same root, "to stand"
and are meant to suggest the positive attitude called for in
unitive understanding or Yoga. Yoga cannot be
accomplished lying down in lassitude. It implies an ascent.
Note, however, there is no definite call to action. As the
discussion proceeds, entering into more and more subtle
factors, the reference to necessary actual action on the
battlefield becomes correspondingly mild. Reference to
actual fighting is toned down. The fighting becomes internal
rather than external.

This chapter, as we have said at the beginning, has also
been called jnana-karma-samnyasa-yoga (Yoga of
knowledge, action and renunciation), the justification for
the use of the word samnyasa (renunciation) being derived
from the penultimate verse. The samnyasi (renouncer) of
the Gita, however, is not a mere renouncer of action, but
one who has reconciled action and inaction through
dialectics with the wisdom of the Absolute. The idea of
renunciation is itself revalued in Chapter xviii and a
passing reference to it is found in v, 2 and 3.


ity srimad bhagavadgitasupanishatsu brahmavidyayam
Yogasastre srikrishnarjunasamvade
jnanayogo nama chaturtho '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
fourth Chapter, entitled Unitive Wisdom.







We have stated more than once that the Gita is a dialectical
revaluation of spiritual or philosophical doctrines as they
prevailed in India at the time it was written. The character
of this revaluation consists of reconciling divergent
traditions in the unitive terms of an absolutist way of life.
In iii, 3, it was stated by Krishna that he had declared a
two-fold path from ancient times, there referred to as jnana
(wisdom) of the Samkhyas and karma (active discipline) of
the Yoga school. A revaluation of these two trends formed
part of the subject-matter of Chapter iii. As we have seen,
this was continued in Chapter iv. The factors of reason and
instinctive action were brought as close together as possible
and also discussed together. We notice however that the
word Yoga as used in the Gita is wider and more liberal in
its scope than its limited connotation in iii, 3, where Yoga is
always associated with karma (action).

If we examine the history and nature of the six systems of
Indian philosophy, we find that they fall into three pairs:
1. Nyaya-Vaiseshika;
2. Samkhya-Yoga and
3. Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa.

Each pair taken separately reveals on one side a rationalist
trend, and another in which matters of practice or discipline
are introduced. Following up the development of Indian thought
further, we notice that Vedic orthodoxy and heterodoxy also
alternately change positions or take over primacy as between
the successive pairs, as the thought matures, to culminate
in the final Vedantic teaching of Badarayana, which contains,
in revalued terms, all that is implied in the other anterior
schools of a logical, methodological or epistemological
order. The final doctrinal aspects, however, belong to
Vedanta as revalued and restated by master-minds like Vyasa.
The critical student must therefore look out for the
opposing tendencies and the alternating movement from
orthodoxy to


heterodoxy or from reason to faith that we find in the
growth of the spiritual and philosophical thought of India,
before he can be clear in his own mind about the exact
nature of the revaluation accomplished chapter by chapter
in the Gita.

Nyaya, for example, in its origin is orthodox or Vedic-related,
though rational and logical, and Vaiseshika, is heterodox in
relation to the Veda, but religious in its origin. When we
come to the next pair, Samkhya-Yoga, we find Samkhya to be
rational and heterodox while Yoga, as in the Patanjali system,
permits or tolerates an Isvara or Lord as an alternative for
its discipline. There is an interplay of atheism and theism
implicit as between these two schools. In the third pair
orthodoxy is represented by the Purva Mimamsa (Old or Prior
Critique), which is primarily concerned with Vedic ritualism
though subjected to the critical scrutiny of Jaimini. Uttara
Mimamsa (Later or Higher Critique) as Vedanta itself, is
neither heterodox nor orthodox, as we find in the Gita.
The same twofold path of iii, 3 persists and shows itself as
two distinct ways of spiritual life known in India. One is
that of the samnyasi (the renouncer) and the other that of the
karmi (the doer), i.e., of the one who still adheres to
active disciplines, whether of the Yoga system or of ritualism.
It is with these two types who represent the culmination of
the two currents of thought and life in India, that the
revaluation of the Gita, starting with this chapter in particular,
becomes primarily concerned.

However, with the vicissitudes to which these ways of life
have been subjected in the long course of their development,
they change their complexion, but stand out throughout mainly
as typified by the samnyasi and the yogi. We might add also that
the samnyasi not only represents rational "Hindu" tradition,
but also continues the Indian traditions of the Jaina and Buddhist
religions bringing in the element of heterodoxy implied in samnyasa

In this chapter and in chapter xviii, these remarks will, we hope, help the reader in following the nature of the discussion and the factors involved more intelligently, without getting confused by such terms as Samkhya (rational philosophy),
Yoga (unitive discipline and philosophy), samnyasa (renunciation), tyaga (relinquishment of ends), and karmi (doer - of discipline or ritual). In all cases, however, it should be remembered that a plain ritualist or a plain Samkhya philosopher is quite different from a karma-yogi (one who


treats action unitively) or a buddhi-yogi (one who treats
reason unitively) as meant in the Gita where Yoga is a
method that can apply to all disciplines of a unitive nature.
The full connotation of Yoga in the Gita is one that the
reader has to formulate for himself stage by stage as the
discussion proceeds.


Arjuna uvacha
samnyasam karmanam krishna
punarYogam cha samsasi
yach chhreya etayor ekam
tan me bruhi sunischitam

Arjuna said:
You recommend the effective transcending of
action, 0 Krishna, and again Yoga also: tell me,
duly determined, which one of these two is
spiritually better.


Arjuna here enters the very heart of the problem we have
just discussed. His charge that Krishna's words are vague,
as implied here, is legitimate, because of remarks such as
those in iv, 41 and elsewhere, where the rational and the
instinctive still remain distinguishable, although brought
very close together.

Arjuna has his own prejudiced notions of samnyasa
(renunciation) and of Yoga (unitive discipline) in his mind.
Perhaps the samnyasi (renouncer) is by necessity the
heterodox man who discards all ritualism with scant
respect, more and more like a non-Hindu. The yogi perhaps
presents in his mind a more orthodox person. The
distinction to Arjuna as an ordinary man is one involving
these two alternatives. He wants to accept the one and reject
the other. But the Gita neither accepts nor rejects but
instead, as we shall see, revalues both.

Sankara's concern about the promiscuous mixing of
jnana (wisdom) and karma (action) is legitimate, but the
Gita teaching, properly understood does not fall into the
error of confusing or mixing different sets of values
together at the same time in the same person. Permissive
action and mandatory or obligatory action when properly
distinguished, will help us to see that it is possible for one
and the same person to appear active and really be inactive
at the same time. Necessary action is inevitable, while
contingent action can be


either permissive or obligatory. The intelligent man
relegates necessary action to its proper domain in the
background of his personality, as it were, where
automatisms and reflex actions take care of themselves; he
himself as a conscious agent of activity remaining inactive.
The complex nature of such a relation between action and
inaction in the human personality has already been
sufficiently explained in iv, 16 to 18 and the verses that
follow. Sankara in his anxiety to give primacy to Advaita
(non-duality) is rightly scared of ritualists who might drag
Vedanta again into the mire of relativist ritualism. As a
"prachchhanna bauddha" (a Buddhist in disguise), as he
was called, he rightly votes in favour of buddhi (pure
reason) or tattva (pure principle of philosophy) to which
the Gita itself, as an open way of life, so often gives
primacy throughout the text.


sri bhagavan uvacha
samnyasah karmayogas cha
nihsreyasakarav ubhau
tayos karmasamnyasat
karmayogo visishyate

Krishna said:
Both renunciation (samnasa) and unitive action
(karma yoga) have emancipation as their common
effect; of the two however, unitive action is
superior to (mere) renunciation of action.


Samnyasa (renunciation) is spoken of here as being equal
to karma-yoga (unitive action) when judged by their
common effect of spiritual emancipation. Although thus
equal when judged merely on the basis of effect or end,
rather than by the method or means employed, when we
take into consideration the means, there is a difference. The
Gita decides in favour of karma-yoga (unitive action) as
against mere karma-samnyasa (omission of action). The
decided stand that the Gita takes in this matter is stated
more finally in xviii, 6. The revaluation of samnyasa
(renunciation) in the light of Yoga may be said to be one of
the important considerations of the Gita.

In spite of this explanation however, it must be admitted
there is a residue of vagueness still left in the discussion,


is only to be progressively remedied as we proceed. It might
be well to note, however, even here, that it is karma-
samnyasa (mere omission of action) which is discredited in
the second line, rather than unqualified samnyasa
(renunciation) which is to be revalued and restated more
clearly hereafter.

Both the samnyasi (renouncer) and the karma yogi (the
one who treats action unitively) have certain traits in
common. When samnyasa (renunciation) itself is
understood as samnyasa yoga (renunciation treated
unitively) as in ix, 28, the stigma attached to it as a merely
negative form of discipline disappears, and samnyasa
(renunciation) itself then becomes laudable.

The reader should watch for revaluation in both the directions
of samnyasa (renunciation), understood as having Yoga
as a means, and karma (action) understood in keeping with
wisdom as an end. When ends and means of both are thus
equated, the distinction between them is abolished.
In preferring karma yoga (unitive action) the Gita makes
a contribution whose importance should not be minimised in
the name of tolerance or catholicity. The Gita neither advocates
action nor recommends quietism, but helps to find a
via media in revalued terms in which a samnyasi (a man of
renunciation) still engages in normal activity as a form of
yogic discipline.


jneyah sa nityasamnyasi
yo na dveshti na kankshati
nirdvandvo hi mahabaho
sukham bandhat pramuchyate

That man should be recognized as a perennial renouncer
(nitya-samnyasi) who neither hates nor desires; free indeed
from conflicting pairs (of interests), 0 Mighty Armed (Arjuna),
he is happily released from (the) bondage (of necessity).


A slightly revised form of the samnyasi (renouncer) is
introduced here. Instead of a mere ascetic-abandoner of old,
we have a nitya samnyasi (one who is ever-renounced), and
the simple qualifications for recognizing such a man are
that he neither hates nor desires anything, i.e., he is
balanced between the opposites of pleasure and
displeasure, attraction and repulsion, which are conflicting
interests entering into the life of a person.


The conventional outward marks and habits, such as
shaving the head and objection to doing ritual sacrifices,
which are usually associated with a samnyasi (renouncer)
are discarded. It is the inner attitude which counts. This
consists merely of being a nirdvandvah (without conflicting
pairs of interests). This might seem too easy a condition for
emancipation, but is in keeping with the teaching of the
Gita, which is free from religious practices or forms of
holiness, as we find from the implication of v, 18, xviii, 66
and many other verses.

The word jneyah (should be known) shows that the samnyasi
hitherto has not been recognized in the way here indicated.
The prefix nitya (perennial) implies that such a person
remains a renouncer irrespective of different phases of
action or inaction normal to his life. He is a renouncer to
be understood in the context proper to brahmavidya (the
science of the Absolute), or of perennial wisdom.
The word sukham (happily or easily) indicates that freedom
from conflicting pairs of opposite interests in itself
induces a happy state of mind. Cruel forms of asceticism
are thus discountenanced.


samkhyayogau prithag balah
pravadanti na panditah
ekam apy asthitah samyag
ubhayor vindate phalam

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

yat samkhyaih prapyate sthanam
tadyogair api gamyate
ekam samkhyam chayogam cha
yah pasyati sa pasyati

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


These verses seem to digress and revert back to a subject
that has been discussed once before in ii, 39 and iii,
3 and 4.


These prior verses seem to suggest that the subjects of
Samkhya and Yoga could be spoken of as two distinct
disciplines coming from the most ancient times. In xviii, 13
again for purposes of discussion the distinction continues to
be referred to. In xiii, 24 three disciplines instead of two are
enumerated in passing. But here the author seems to be
most emphatic in abolishing the distinction. And just now,
in this fifth chapter, in Verse 2, the same distinction was
discussed under the headings of samnyasa (renunciation)
representing the Samkhya, and karma-yoga (action unitively
treated) representing the Yoga school.

The present digression is only apparent. The plea throughout
this chapter is to look upon pure and practical aspects of
spiritual life unitively. It is in terms of self-realization or
in terms of the Absolute that this unity becomes clearly
understood without even apparent or implied contradiction. This
chapter is heading towards such a conclusive generalized
position, and samnyasa (renunciation), as understood in this
chapter, is not so much rejection of action expressly or
wilfully on the part of a spiritual aspirant as seeing action in
terms of inaction, and vice-versa, in the Absolute.

Theoretical justification for such a method of equalization
or cancelling of opposites is found in iv, 18, where action
and inaction have been equated. This chapter even permits
the disowning by the actor even of actual activity in v, 8 and
9. The Gita here insists on the unitive comprehension of both
pure and practical spirituality, on both wisdom and practice
being treated on a par.

Sin itself, which belongs to the context of religion, could
be completely effaced from the life of an individual as
already said in iv, 36 and again in v, 10. Thus sin itself needs
no expiation other than the purificatory touch of wisdom. It
is in this sense that the two verses here so emphatically refer
to those who take the disciplines as distinct, as mere children,
an attitude so unworthy of a pandit, while the author devotes
a second verse to underline the same thing in his own
favourite way, by saying that he alone who sees unitively
sees at all.

In the discussion here, it should be noted, words like
asthitah (established) of Verse 4, and yogayukto munih
(unitively harmonized one of subdued ways) of Verse 6, and
even the word sthanam (status) of Verse 5, imply only the
minimum duality between ends and means required for the


samnyasas tu mahabaho
dukham aptum ayogatah
yogayukto munir brahma
nachirena 'dhigachchhati

But renunciation (samnyasa), 0 Mighty-Armed
(Arjuna), non-unitively (without Yoga) is full of
pain to achieve; (but) one unitively harmonized
(yogayuktah) of subdued ways, without any delay
attains the Absolute (brahman).


From systems of philosophy this verse reverts to the
subject that is mainly revalued in this chapter, namely
samnyasa (renunciation).

That antique form of renunciation which is full of taboos,
denials, harsh obligations, bans and austerities is here
described as dukham aptum (full of pain to achieve). This
pain is, however, minimized or abolished by that unifying
solvent touch implied in Yoga understood dialectically.
When one becomes thus unitively harmonized, the whole
picture is changed. Conflicts are eased out and contradictions
blended reciprocally. The rest of the progress in spirituality
takes care of itself. All disciplines are brought under the
aegis of the Absolute. Mere wholehearted affiliation to the
Absolute by itself has this far-reaching effect as mentioned
so emphatically in iv, 36, ix, 31 and 34, and in xviii, 65.
The present verse, taken together with Verse 2 of this
chapter, and again with what is implied in xii, 5, makes it
clear that the Gita favours a bipolar relation to be
established with the Absolute, which is more than
intellectuality or austerity, though it gives due credit to
these paths.

As suggested by the expression already referred to,
dukham aptum (full of pain to achieve) here, and by the
word kleso (difficult) of xii, 5, it is in the name of greater
facility or freedom from hardship also, among more direct
reasons, that the yogic method of the Gita is recommended.


yogayukto visuddhatma
vijitatma jitendriyah
sarva bhutatma bhutatma
kurvann api na lipyate

One affiliated to the unitive way of life, attained to
lucidity of Self, one of Self-conquest, one who has gained a
victory over the senses, whose Self-existence has become
the same as the Self-existence of all, though active, is
unaffected (thereby).


It will be seen that the word atma (Self) as repeated in
this verse, gives to the subject of Yoga, as understood in the
previous verse, a subjective or psychological turn from one
of mere discipline or austerity understood more religiously.
In the unitive outlook or harmony implied in Yoga, the Self
is made firstly visuddha (lucid, transparent or clear), and
secondly the lower instinctive aspects of the Self are
transcended as the word vijitatma (one of conquered Self)
indicates, and it goes without saying that, by the same
method, such a yogi becomes a jitendriyah (one who has
gained a victory over the senses). Such a victory implies at
the same time the far-reaching consequence indicated by
the expression that follows, which finalizes the Self-
mastery understood here; he becomes sarva-bhutatma
bhutatma (whose Self-existence has become the same as
the Self-existence of all). This phrase is reminiscent of the
Upanishadic dicta in the Isa Upanishad 5-6, where the
psychological Self is equated to the visible world of beings.
The Self thus has its movement in an axis or plane which
is independent of the plane of everyday activities. It is in
this sense that the usual activities of life are said not to
affect the contemplative personality, and to leave him


nai 'va kimchit karomi 'ti
yukto manyeta tattvavit
pasyan srinvan sprisan jighrann
asnan gachchhan svapan svasan

pralapan visrijan grihnann
unmishan nimishann api
indriyani 'ndrayartheshu
vartanta iti dharayan

"I do nothing at all"- saying thus, he of unitive
ways, who is a philosopher (too), should think
and, (while) seeing, hearing, touching, smelling,
eating, going, sleeping, breathing,

Speaking, excreting, grasping, opening and closing
the eyes, treating the senses to be (merely) related
to their (corresponding) sense-objects.


These verses enumerate those vital, automatic or reflex
functionings which are incidental to physical existence,
from the most passive ones such as seeing, to where the
minimum volition may be said to enter, such as in the
opening and closing of the eyes. All belong to a biological
order involving no element of contemplation, moving and
having their being on a plane which has nothing to do with
spiritual or contemplative life. They should be treated as
incidental to life in general by a tattvavit (philosopher)
who is also yuktah (of unitive ways). He denies his own
agency in these incidental reflex actions which
automatically take care of themselves, and if he happens to
be looking at or enjoying things in outside nature, he
dissociates himself and maintains a certain detached
neutrality like that of a scientist who looks upon even his
own Self with a certain detached objectivity. The
contemplative disavows any direct responsibility for the
incidental attachments coming through the senses.
The usual ascetic practices which resort to self-torture
or indulge in immolation are here presented in a revised or
revalued light free from such extremes.


brahmany adhaya karmani
sangam tyaktva karoti yah
lipyate na sa papena
padmapattram iva 'mbhasa

Placing all actions in the Absolute, having given
up attachment, he who acts is not affected by sin,
like a lotus leaf by water.


The phrase brahmany adhaya karmani (placing all actions in
the Absolute) should be understood in the light of
the previous verses where we saw that actions have their
being on two distinct planes as it were, one not affecting the
other. The plane of the Absolute referred to here covers all
actions of any value to a contemplative; incidental values
being disclaimed by him as indicated in the last two verses.
All legitimate or natural actions which could be called
events that matter in contemplative life are brought into line,


as it were, with the crowning value of Absolutism.
Such pure acts involve no personal attachments or repulsions.
Being detached and treated purely, such acts leave the
actor unaffected. The favourite example of a lotus leaf in
water is invoked.


kayena manasa buddhya
kevalair indriyair api
yoginah karma kurvanti
sangam tyaktva 'tmasuddhaye

By the body, by the mind, by intelligence, and
even by the senses alone, yogis engage in action,
abandoning attachment, for (purposes of) purity of


Activity is permitted to the yogi, though only in the
revised light of the preceding verses. Such permissive
actions go beyond the scope of physiological automatisms.
They can be of a mental or intellectual order, and cover
even sense-functions, whether afferent, belonging to the
karmendriyas (sense-action organs) or efferent, belonging
to the jnanendriyas (sense-perceptive organs).

Suppression of the senses is spoken of as the first stage of
spirituality in other disciplines, but a certain freedom of the
senses is permitted in the Gita, and a yogi is to that extent
different from a mere ascetic who is only negatively conditioned.
The force of the word kevala (alone) taken with api (also) is
just to bring out this revision.

The term atmasuddhaye (for Self-purification) calls for
some explanation because it has just now been stated that
actions do not affect the actor if he is a yogi. To avoid the
stagnation produced by wilful inaction and its consequent
morbid psychic states, and to permit the free interplay of
natural tendencies and impulses, some sort of non-
obstructive working out of tendencies is required.
Repressions benumb the spirit and cathartic easing is a
remedy known to modern psychology. Verses ii, 33, 38 and
39, as we have seen, imply the same theory. It is in this
sense that the purification is to be understood here.



yuktah karmaphalam tyaktva
santim apnoti naishthikim
ayuktah kamakarena
phale sakto nibhadyate

The one of unitive (discipline) (yuktah),
discarding benefit-motive, attains to ultimate
peace; the one of non-unitive discipline being
desire-motivated, attached to results, is bound.


The difference between the man who relinquishes according
to the requirements of Yoga and one who is still
motivated by desire in his action is brought out here,
rounding up the foregoing discussion.
In both these cases action is permitted, but in the case of a
non-yogi, permissive action is related to a desired end;
while in the case of a yogi, ends and means neutralize each
other, i.e., desire does not obtrude as a third factor between
ends and means.

The expression naishthikim (of the nature of a pure
observance or discipline submitted to by one's own choice
for its own sake independent of any external pressure or
obligation) implies that the peace attained by the yogi is of a
supreme, finalized or absolute nature.

Viewing renunciation in the light of Yoga is the essential
difference between the two cases contrasted in this verse.
Wilful or conscious attachment to ends is what distinguishes
the non-yogic attitude. Desire as a third factor interferes
between the bipolarity of the Self (as means) and the Absolute
(as end), and it is this third factor of interference with
the bi-polar situation which is spoken of as being prejudicial
to Yoga.


sarvakarmani manasa
samnyasya 'ste sukham vasi
navadvare pure dehi
nai'va kurvan na karayan

Relinquishing by means of the mind all activities,
the embodied one sits happily, a victor, in the
nine-gated city, neither acting nor causing to act.


The two alternative cases as between a yuktah (one
unified or disciplined) and an ayuktah (one non-unified)
just contrasted, are discarded here, and a new concept, the


(embodied one) is introduced. This "embodied one" occupies,
as it were, a neutral position between the other two,
though of a somewhat more theoretical character, connoting
an entity corresponding to the libido or soul. This soul is
self-sufficient, its own master, as implied in the term vasi
(one who has brought everything into submission, a victor).
He, like a king, iste sukham (sits perfectly satisfied).

References to the soul as dwelling in the nine-gated city
which represents peripheral aspects - both psychological
and physiological - of the Self, are found in the Upanishads,
e.g., Svetasvatara, iii, 18. The nine gates are those channels
of communication by which contacts, afferent and efferent,
with the outer world, become possible.

The active or passive non-agency of the Self is brought
out by the expression kurvan na karayan (neither acting
nor causing to act). The Absolute is characterized by
perfect neutrality as explained in the three verses that


na kartritvam na karmani
lokasya srijati prabhuh
na karmaphalasamyogam
svabhavas tu pravartate

The Supreme does not generate either the idea of agency or
activity in regard to the world, nor the union of action
and benefit; the innate urge in beings, however, exerts


The next two verses refer to prabhuh (the Supreme) and
vibhuh (the pervading One). These two expressions are
often taken as a reference to God in a theistic sense, but the
context here does not demand such an interpretation. The
perfected man, who has been referred to as a yogi untouched
by peripheral aspects of ordinary existence, is automatically
raised in his spiritual status, which can even amount to a
form of isatva (lordship), one of the eight attainments
according to Patanjali. It is not uncommon to refer to the
soul as a vibhuh (the pervading One) in such a philosophical
and non-theistic sense. Further, to give a theistic
interpretation here would make these three verses stand out
as a digression, which is not intended here. The two words
become necessary because of the author's intention to deal
with the yogi from the standpoint of pure contemplation in
which all questions of


activity, whether subjective, objective or combined, have to
be ruled out., The soul as the Absolute is innocent or free
from such limitations.

The expression svabhavas tu pravartate (the innate urge
in beings, however, exerts itself) does not refer particularly
to gross aspects of nature in manifestation. That would
make the activity one-sided or asymmetrical and not in
keeping with the notion of prabhuh (the superior One).
Bergson's élan vital (vital impulse) in the most general
terms comes nearest perhaps to what is intended.
The ruling out of karma phala samyogan, (the union of
action and benefit) is significant, because it finalizes the
advaita (non-dual) position as against those schools such as
the bheda-abheda-vadins (teachers of duality and non-duality
together) of Bhatriprapancha so effectively refuted
by Sankara in the Brahma-Sutras. All vestiges of duality,
explicit or implicit, are repugnant to the revalued position
of Vedanta in the Gita.


na 'datte kasyachit papam
na chai 'va sukritam vibhuh
ajnanena 'vritam jnanam
tena muhyanti jantavah

The all-pervading One takes cognisance neither of
the sinful nor of the meritorious actions of anyone;
wisdom is veiled by unwisdom; beings are deluded


The theistic context to which sinful or meritorious actions
belong is more finally abolished in the first lines here. The
pardoning and punishing God of theology referred to here
as vibhuh (the all-pervading One) which word, as we have
pointed out, is equally applicable to the soul, is revalued in
the second line in keeping with the idea of pure wisdom in
the most general terms. Beings are deluded and thus
imagine theological gods who punish and reward, and also
imagine that the innermost being is affected one way or
another by necessary activity. All such notions are mere
suppositions due to the veiling effect of ajnana (ignorance
or unknowing).

This verse seems to contradict what has been said in iii,
24, where the Absolute principle is said to be active. As we
have pointed out in the Introduction, each chapter of the
Gita has to be looked upon, though not as a separate
darsana (viewpoint


or vision of reality), at least as a distinct prakarana
(section) with a frame of reference proper to itself. The
key concept of Chapter iii being karma (action) a unitive
concept of action was normal or permissive of usage there.
In Chapter iv the discussion passed on into more unitive
ways of equating action and inaction, and in the present
chapter action is even denied or disclaimed in reference to
the contemplative Self. A fuller revaluation in terms of a
purer absolutism becomes possible therefore here, although
even here the distinction between jnana (wisdom) and
ajnana (unwisdom) is retained, the former being veiled by
the latter. The triumph of wisdom, if it is to be spoken of,
has to imply its negative counterpart, at least as a rhetorical
inevitable necessity.

The word jantavah (beings) indicates the intention of the
author to make this statement in as general terms as
possible, covering all beings and not as merely limited to
human beings.

The word avritam (veiled) is derived from the same root
as avarana (covering or negative form of hallucination)
which is due to a weak or negative state of mind. An active
mind can project imaginary values on outside objects. This
is called vikshepa (projected or positive form of


jnanena tu tad ajnanam
yesham nasitam atmanah
tesham adityavaj jnanam
prakisayati tat param

Those, however, in whom that unwisdom in the Self
has been destroyed, to those wisdom shines
sunlike as the Ultimate (the Absolute).


The full triumph of wisdom which effectively abolishes
its own negative shadow as it were, as implied in the
previous verse, is finally stated here in a converse manner.
Relativism has no effect at all anymore and the knower of
Brahman (the Absolute) becomes verily Brahman, as stated
in the Mundaka Upanishad, iii, i, 3. The analogy of the sun
is perhaps the nearest in nature where darkness is wholly
effaced, but we have to imagine that in the case of wisdom
which reaches the ultimate limits of absolutism, darkness
itself becomes brilliant with its own non-dual light. This
has been finally brought out in Guru Narayana's
composition Arivu (Wisdom).



The expression tu (indeed), taken with tat param (after
that), has the force of bringing out the contrast between
what is said in this and the previous verse.


tadbuddhayas tadatmanas
tanishthas tatparayanah
gachchhanty apunarivrittim
jnana nirdhuta kalmashah

Those having That (Absolute) for reasoning, That
for the Self, That for finalized discipline, That for
supreme goal, they go to a state of final non-return,
all their (relativistic) dross being cancelled-out
by wisdom.


Apodictic finality of what has been dealt with more
discursively or didactically is reached here in almost
Upanishadic words. A form of expression dear to the Gita is
employed here in repeated phrases using the prefix tat (that).
To take one example, the term tadbuddhayah (having that as
reasoning) should be understood in the sense that reasoning
has attained identity with the Absolute, and not merely as
qualifying or conditioning buddhi (reason). The same perfect
unity of counterparts is implied in the other instances where
tat is repeated in this long compound expression.

The reference to apunaravritti (state of final non-return)
means that all other forms of emancipation, understood religiously
or theologically, involve relativist samsara (cyclic
existence) in which return is implied, as mentioned in ix, 21.
The Gita takes its stand on absolute emancipation, and
discountenances all other forms which belong to the varied
domains of holiness, religion or spirituality, however
relatively superior one or the other might be. This verse
again underlines what has been stated in iv, 36: that sin
itself, which is a notion belonging to religion, is effectively
counteracted by wisdom. Absolutist wisdom needs no resort
to lesser forms of holiness or religious discipline to destroy
sin. Ritualist Brahmanism was supposed to be the weapon
held hitherto as effectual against sin. But the revaluation
here favours wisdom, a position which will be made more
explicit in the next verse. The word kalmashah (dross) does
not mean merely sin in the theological sense, but every form
of relativistic dregs.


vidya vinaya sampanne
brahmane gavi hastini
suni chai 'va svapake
cha panditih samadarsinah

In regard to a Brahmin endowed with learning or humility,
a cow, an elephant, and even a dog, as also one who cooks
dog (for food), the well-informed ones (panditah) see the
same (differenceless reality).


The doctrine of the Gita rises above all forms of holiness
or relativist spirituality. In any such religious or theological
context we know there are all sorts of grades distinguishing
man from man on the basis of considerations of virtue or
vice, the sacred or profane. The panditah (well informed
ones), as recognized by the Gita, are samadarsinah (those
who see equality) and not those who see distinctions. The
list of examples given here include those belonging to the
context of the profane, such as the dog-eater, and even the
holy, such as the learned Brahmin, who may be endowed
with the rare crowning virtue of humility due to self-
discipline, the word vinaya (humility) meaning also
discipline as used in the Buddhist Tripitaka.

Sacred animals such as the cow and elephant are not
omitted, so as to be in keeping with the reference to "all
beings" in Verse 15. Equality of castes, it goes without
saying, is forcefully implied in this verse, by the reference
to the dog-eater. All are equals in the light of the Absolute.
The Brahmin here is just one learned in the Vedas as
distinct from a brahmajnani (knower of the Absolute) who
would himself be a representative of the Absolute, and as
such unique in a certain sense. The dog is a profane animal
in the context of the Vedas and taboo to a Brahmin.


iahi 'va tair jitah sargo
yesham samye sthitam manah
nirdesham hi samam brahma
tasmad brahmani te sthitah

Even here creative urges are conquered by those
whose minds are balanced in sameness; free from
blemish and unitively balanced is indeed the
Absolute; therefore such (persons) become
grounded in the Absolute.



Further implications of the term panditah (the well-informed ones) used in the last verse, are indicated here and brought in line with the concept of a full-fledged brahmavid (knower of the Absolute) mentioned in the next verse, as he is to be described hereafter in the light of the discussion so far. Such a brahmavid (knower of the Absolute) has not to wait for any emancipation in the distant future. The nature of the equality in which he becomes established as indicated in the previous verse, and referred to here also, ensures a certain stability or neutrality between opposing tendencies, by virtue of which he transcends the process of creative flux which belongs to sargah (creative urges). This is accomplished here itself.

The term jitah (conquered) merely means that he conquers the situation mentally by the expressed use of the word manah (mind). Actual immortality is not suggested. The Absolute being itself spotless, poised between opposite tendencies, those whose minds are tuned to it attain to the same balanced neutrality which is its fundamental state. Subject and object are equated here as in the Mundaka Upanishad iii, i, 3 already referred to.

The word dosham (defect) is akin to kalmanashah (dross) of verse 17, and papam (sin) of Verse 10. The main anxiety of Arjuna as a purva pakshin (anterior sceptic), as seen from
his own earlier words, is religious scruples conceiving sin as seen in i, 45. According to the conclusive doctrine of the Gita seen here, all grades of evil can be transcended here and now
by an absolutist attitude which is property grounded on the teaching of the Gita.

Tasmat (therefore) as stated here, might seem to make the attainment of the Absolute too easy an affair, requiring only samatvam (sameness), but the implications of such an equality are to be understood in the larger context of the teaching of the Upanishads as a whole, and not in any limited sense. Equality implies balance of counterparts such as between subject and object, good and bad, etc.


na prahrishyet priyam prapyya
no 'dvijet prapya cha 'priyam
sthirabuddhir asammudho
brahmavid brahmani sthitah

He may not rejoice on good befalling him nor be
disturbed on a mishap; stabilized in reason,
delusion free, as knower of the Absolute, firmly
established is he in the Absolute.


The external characteristics of a man thus established in
the Absolute are indicated here. He transcends pleasure and
pain, i.e., the horizontal pairs of conflicting values or
interests in the relative world. That values are here meant is
indicated by the words priyam (dear) and apriyam (repugnant).
One balanced between opposites is sthirabuddhi (of stabilized
reason) and this word is reminiscent of ii, 55 and the 
following verse.
The word asammudho (undeluded) is put in this negative
form because the Absolute is to be known by a process of
negation (neti,neti! - "not this, not this!"). When all false
notions have been removed, the Absolute reveals itself and
is not apprehended as one does ordinary information. To
transcend duality is tantamount to becoming established in
the Absolute, but this quality includes both dvandva
(external duality or pairs of opposites) and dvaita (internal
duality understood sui generis). No separate act of
establishing oneself in the Absolute is to be understood here.
The word brahmavid (knower of the Absolute), "one capable of
apprehending the Absolute", marks the first stage
of becoming grounded in the Absolute. The reader should
look out for other stages noted in the Gita as the discussion
develops. Such bhumikah (grounds) are mentioned in the
"Yoga Vasishta" and in the Nirvana Darsana of Guru Narayana.


bahyasparseshv asaktatmi
vindaty atmani yat sukham
sa brahmayogayuktatma
sukham akshayam asnute

That (same) joy which is felt by one in his own
Self when he is unattached to outer contacts (such
as touch), he whose Self has established unity with
the Absolute experiences also never-decreasingly.


Relinquishing action in terms of external activity, which
was hitherto the subject of this Chapter, is now conclusively
dealt with in this last section. The basis of relinquishment is
in discarding external contacts through touch and other

Contemplation involves in the first instance introversion
applied to the outgoing senses. The horses have to be



by proper reins. As soon as this curbing is accomplished a
new order of consciousness is initiated which is here
referred to by the high-sounding phrase brahmayoga (union
with the Absolute).

How such a far-reaching effect could be derived from
such a simple act as introversion of the senses might leave
the reader in doubt, but further remarks will clarify the
matter. Even here, however, it can be stated that when the
objective interests are effaced, subjective interests must
prevail, proportionately. Innate pressures of life can lead to
far-reaching spiritual attainments when properly canalized.
In such a reorientation of the spirit disaffiliation from outer
interests thus plays an important role.

The reference to bahyasparsa (outward touch) gives a
primary place to the most realistic of sense-contacts.
This is meant to imply all the others.

The construction of this verse follows the same pattern of
delicate dialectical revaluation which we have so often
referred to, and whose flavour is lost in most translations
where mechanistic rules of grammar are followed. The object
of the author is clearly to equate the terms atma sukham (joy
in the Self) and brahmayogayuktatma (one whose Self has
established unity with the Absolute). Of these the former is
simple and psychological, while the latter has its origin in
Vedic cosmology. The Gita thus revalues cosmology in
terms of psychology and notions such as that of samnyasa
(renunciation) are examined in the sober and critical light
of a sastra (scientific text).

The expression kashiyama (never-decreasing) marks the
non-relativist nature of the joy, thus giving it the same
absolutist character as in the unitive state of mind referred
to in the latter half of this verse.


ye hi samsparsaja bhoga
duhkhayonaya eva te
adyantavantah kaunteya
na teshu ramate budhah

Those contact-born pleasures, indeed are the
sources (wombs) of pain, having a beginning, and
an end 0 Son of Kunti (Arjuna); the wise man does
not take pleasure in them.


The converse of the last verse is stated here in order to
underline negatively the same verity. Values are spoken of


Vedanta as nitya (lasting or eternal) and anitya (passing,
transitory). Transitory values are the cause of suffering,
i.e., they are duhkhayonaya (of the womb of suffering), and
the physical, objective or real contact established with the
external world lies at the root of suffering. The wise man
avoids cultivating such contact-born values by refusing to
be happy in them. The same subject was referred to in ii,
14. Endurance of suffering was what was recommended
there, while here it is the avoidance of indulgence in
pleasurable elements of the sense level by a man of
wisdom which is advocated. This difference is due to the
fact that such values as heat or cold are fixed by
physiological laws while the interests under discussion
here are such that they allow some room for choice.


saknoti 'hai 'vayah sodhum
prak sarira vimokshanat
kamakridhodbhavam vegam
sayuktah sa sukhi narah

He who is able to experience undisturbed here itself,
before liberation from the body, that impulse
arising out of desire and hatred, he is the unified
and he is the happy man.


The same is stated in more commonplace language as
applicable to an ordinary man, here called narah (plain man,
male person), without the embellishments of holiness or
unusual wisdom. There may also be a play on the word as
representing Arjuna as distinguished from Nara or Narayana,
"the rare person", a name for Krishna. The simple
requirement for a man to be happy is to experience or bear
with an attitude of neutrality, that impulse arising out of
desire and anger.

The sukhi (happy man) or the yuktah (the unified, the yogi)
are treated on a par, and the happiness and unitive life
implied in these words are conceived in terms of iha eva
(here itself), and before the dropping of the body.


yo'ntahsukho 'ntararamas
atha 'ntarjyotir evayah
sa yogi brahmanirvanam
brahmabhuto 'dhigachchhati

He of inward happiness, whose inner life is free
and easy, and likewise of inward brilliance, he also
of unitive understanding, he having become the
Absolute, enters the self-effacement of the Absolute.


A composite picture of a person who has relinquished acts
as well as external contacts is repeated here and in the
following verses, not in a matter-of-fact style as hitherto,
but in a more sublime language. Pure and practical
considerations are blended.

The inner life of a yogi which is both brilliant and
blissful, both wise and happy, is here equated to the
Absolute. The various synonyms applicable to a man of the
highest spiritual attainment are all ranged here and treated
as if they were interchangeable.

Yogic samadhi (sublime unitive peace), Buddhistic
nirvana (final self-effacement), and Upanishadic
brahmabhutah (becoming one with the Absolute) are all
successively suggested in this verse.

labhante brahmanirvanam
rishayah kshinakalmashah
chhinnadvaidha yatatmanah
sarvabhutahite ratah

Seers, their evils weakened, cutting themselves
away from conflicting pairs of interests, who are
self-controlled, who are ever kindly disposed to all
beings, attain to self-effacement (nirvana) in the
Absolute (brahman).


Other miscellaneous concepts pertaining to the spiritual
life prevailing in ancient India are also brought into focus.
The rishi (Vedic seer or sage) and the yatatminah (those of
self control) are mentioned here side by side with
sarvabhutahite ratah (those ever kindly disposed to all
beings) which latter must also include Buddhist or Jaina
spiritual values. All of them attain brahmanirvana (self-
effacement in the Absolute). The effective weakening of
evil in them is the common factor. The only condition
introduced in the Gita for all such types is that they
should be chhinnadvaidha (those who have cut off pairs of
opposite interests). It is not advaita (non-duality) which
is implied here, but rather the transcending of the


dvandva (pairs of relatively opposite factors). This is
more in keeping with the context, although non-duality
cannot be held altogether irrelevant.


kama krodha viyuktanim
yatinam yatachetasam
abhito brahmanirvanam
vartate viditatmanam

To those disjoined from desire and anger, those
self-controlled ones whose vital consciousness is
subdued, (who are also) knowers of the Self, Self-
effacement in the Absolute lies near at hand.


The sober teaching normal to the Gita is continued here.
This verse plainly states that self-control brings men near
to the Absolute through the knowledge of the Self
Glamorous trimmings and embellishments describing the
exalted state of the yogi are abandoned. To be swayed by
opposing likes and dislikes is here indicated as the greatest
impediment to Self-realization. Self-control itself has to be
understood as that neutrality which has so often been
insisted upon.

Chetas (vital outward sowing consciousness) is more
than just mere mind, the element of living volition being
greater. This reference to the mind that seeks outward
relations instead of mere manas (mind) paves the way to
the meditation indicated in the next two verses.


sparsan kritva bahir bahyams
chakshus cai 'va 'ntare bhruvoh
pranapanau samau kritva

yatendriya mano bhuddhir
munir mokshaparayanah
vigatechchha bhaya krodho
yah sada mukta eva sah

Having peripherally discarded outward factors
(such as touch,) and also with eyes fixed between
the eyebrows, equalizing the positive (outward
prana) and negative (inward apana) vital tendencies
moving within the nasal orifice


with the senses, mind and reason controlled, the
silent recluse (muni) wholly intent on liberation,
with desire, fear, and anger gone, is ever himself,
the liberated one.


The subject of detachment consistently developed in this
chapter is brought to its culminating point, naturally
leading up to the subject-matter of the next chapter, which
deals with sustained meditation. This latter would mark a
more positive stage than mere relinquishment of action or
detachment from the outer world, implied here at the end of
this chapter.

The outward rejection referred to in the initial line of Verse
27 is radical and drastic. The fixing of the eyes between the
eyebrows is to indicate a certain intense unitive concentration.
The reference to breath moving within the nasal orifice
implies a revised form of pranayama (restraint of vital
breaths or functionings), where centralizing or neutralizing
of vital tendencies are envisaged. All these are intended to
revise more unitively the Yoga according to Patanjali where
vestiges of Samkhya duality still persist, as we have pointed
out under iv, 29. The meaning we have given of the vital
breath moving within the nasal orifice is preferable to one in
which the two nostrils are referred to. The gaze of the yogi
is to be directed to the tip of the nose (see vi, 13) though the
puraka (filling) and rechaka (emptying) of Patanjali's
pranayama (restraint of vital functions) bring into play one
nostril after another.

In kumbhaka (restraining) however, both breaths are equally
involved. A sort of neutral restraint of both vital
tendencies and breaths seems to be treated without
distinction in the yogic discipline of the Gita. This seems
to be evident when the indications in the different chapters
referred to above are taken together. Neutrality between
opposites is the key of Yoga throughout the Gita. Even
Patanjali has a passing reference to this neutral state in
the Yoga Sutras, II, 51.

In Verse 28 the question of personal salvation is more
evident than in Verse 27, by the use of the phrase moksha-
parayanah (one wholly intent on liberation).

Sada mukta eva sah (he is ever himself the liberated one)
makes the personified reference expressly pointed, as a
counterpart of what is referred to in the next and concluding
verse of this chapter, where the Absolute is itself referred to
with exalted personal attributes.


bhoktaram yasjnatapasam
sarvaloka mahesvaram
suhridam sarvabhutanam
jnatva mam santim richchhati

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


All the ways in which the Absolute is understood in the
contexts of sacrifice, discipline, theology and kind bounty,
so far covered in the previous chapters, are here brought
together as being conducive to peace.

Before the Gita becomes more fully philosophical, these
miscellaneous loose ends, as it were, of the subject-matter,
such as reconciling reason and faith, are gathered together,
clearing the stage for a more thorough-going treatment.

ity srimad bhagavadgitasupanishatsu brahmavidyayam
Yogasastra srikrishnarjunasamvade
karmasamnyasayogo nama panchamo '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
Fifth Chapter, entitled Unitive Action and







Having revalued aspects of discipline and religious life as
actually found in India and brought them into accord with a
revised notion of Yoga, a new phase of the discussion is

In the first section, the same topics of renunciation,
action and Yoga are also treated. The discussion passes on
to the subject of the Self, and how aspects of the Self can
enter into conflict or be harmonized with each other. Then
follow detailed indications regarding yogic postures,
breathing, etc., with a general description of the yogi. This
section culminates in a new definition of Yoga. The
necessity for practice for gradual progress in Yoga is
emphasized, but it is also declared that mere affiliation to
the Absolute is a saving power in itself. Thus sin and grace
are, as it were, balanced or cancelled out in such an
affiliated person.

To give nominal unity to all these topics has evidently
been difficult and this is clear from the different titles
by which this Chapter has been known in various editions.
It has been called Adhyatma Yoga (Dealing with the Self
Unitively), Atmasamyama Yoga (Self-Subdual treated
Unitively) and, more usually, Dhyana Yoga (Unitive
Contemplation). While good enough as referring to one or
other of the sections and subjects, the unity of the chapter
lies deeper than the topics themselves.

Instead of suffering being a basic concept for discussion
there is here a note of hope and the possibility of escape
from suffering suggested through a somewhat revised theory
of reincarnation.

The picture of the yogi in meditation, even in somewhat
conventional detail, is outlined; and the way of the yogi
extolled as better than others, and best when the yogi has the
Absolute as his own counterpart. What is recommended is a
wholesale global and personal bi-polar affiliation to the


Sribhagavan uvacha
anasritah karmaphalam
karyam karma karoti yah
sa samnyasi cha yogi cha
na niragnir na cha 'kriyah

Krishna said:
Without depending on the results of action, he who
does necessary action, he is a renouncer (samnyasi)
and also a contemplative (yogi), not he who has
(merely) given up sacrificial fire, or who (merely)
abstains from ritualist (or other) action.


Heterodox tendencies opposed to Vedic ritualism gave rise
to a type of religious men who were known as samnyasins
(renouncers). Their first act of protest was to shave their
heads and remove the tuft of hair so essential in the
context of ritualistic Vedism for the attainment of svarga
(heaven). They also refused to offer burnt sacrifices to the
gods, and so such a person is called here niragnih (one of no

In the course of the religious history of India this negative
attitude has been subjected to various revaluations. Such
type as the digambara (having the directions of space for
clothing, the stark naked gymnosophists of ancient Greece),
the svetambara (white clad) and the pitambara (yellow-
clad) have various other subdivisions depending upon Jaina,
Buddhist, Vaishnava and Shaivite influences too numerous
to catalogue. The Gita here revises and fuses together the
ritualist and the renouncer in terms of Yoga or dialectical

At the very outset here mere negation is discredited. Out
of the positive attitudes remaining when negative ones are
discarded, there are two major alternatives before the
spiritual aspirant: that of the non-ritualist who still has
hopes or aspirations of a positive order; and that of the yogi
who is not opposed to ritual but treats it as merely incidental
to his own necessary life. He does not consider ritual as a
means for ends lying outside the scheme of spirituality.
Here the yogi has at least as noble and idealistic aspirations
as the renouncer in the revised sense. The ends on which his
mind is fixed approximate to the Highest Good of Plato. The
yogi is more of a realist, making allowances for an
organically-conceived process of spiritual development.


Disaffiliation from values which are not in keeping with
the highest Good is common to both the renouncer and the
yogi when the revision suggested in the Gita is effected.
The samnyasin becomes more realistic and the yogi more
idealistic than what they were ordinarily supposed to be.
What is attempted in the Gita here is a double-edged
revaluation. A person who is both a samnyasin and a yogi,
avoiding negative attitudes, is here portrayed. Thus both
terms here refer to the same new person.

The word anasrita (independent of) as applied to the result
or end of action, is familiar to us already in ii, 47 and 48.
Not being particularly interested in actual benefits to himself
of any activity is an attitude tending towards freedom. Such an
undercurrent of activity as remains only belongs to Nature.
The expression karyam karma (necessary work) marks the
other limit of action opposite to the merely contingent.
It is not the label which makes any actual difference
between individuals calling themselves samnyasin or yogi.
The man who calls himself an anti-ritualist might be
submitting unconsciously to ritualism in institutional forms.
A man who is labelled a ritualist might not be hedonistically

Going beyond mere labels, the Gita recommends a more
organic way in which the two types tend to coalesce, thus
abolishing merely mechanistic types or patterns of holy men
whose recognition would divide society into narrow groups.
and possibly discredit the whole subject of contemplation.


yam samnyasam iti prahur
yogam tam viddhi pandava
na hy asamnyastasamkal
po yogi bhavati kaschana

That which people call renunciation (samnyasa),
know that to be Yoga, 0 Pandava (Arjuna); one who
has not given up his wilful desires for particularized
ends never indeed becomes a yogi.


The distinction that might still remain between a samnyasin
and a yogi is further discussed from the converse point of
view with the object of minimising the differences
between them in the same manner as Samkhya and Yoga are
equated in v, 4 and 5.


The first line says they ought to be the same, and the
second line says that without some form of relinquishment
there is no true yogi.

Samkalpa (Will involving personal intentions for
particular desired effects) must be shunned both by the
samnyasin and the yogi. The usual yogi tends to retain too
many desires as natural or necessary and the usual
samnyasin tends to live in a vacuum without any of the
natural outlets for his energies. The via media between the
two is again upheld in this verse. In the last verse the
samnyasin was equated to the yogi and in this verse the yogi
is equated to the samnyasin.

As the yogi relinquishes wilful attachment to particularized
ends, to that extent he is therefore also a samnyasin or


arurukshor muneryogam
karma karanam uchyate
yogarudhasya tasyai 'va
samah karanam uchyate

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


The spiritual life is often mechanistically imagined to be
of a uniformly steady progress. Such a view leaves out of
account the organic, reciprocal and ambivalent factors
which make up the human personality. Instinct and
intelligence, emotion and reason, action and renunciation,
like Samkhya and Yoga, are reciprocal aspects of the
alternating process called spiritual progress.

At a certain phase the pressures of necessity are strong, at
another time they become weak. Then contingent factors
supersede. The child, for example, has need for activity for
self-expression and for the development of its personality.
Games are natural for youth, while old age is immersed in
pensive moods rather than overt activities.

These tendencies which alternate and change over may be
said to operate in the biological or at best in a psycho-
physical field, referred to as the libido or psyche.
Personality and the soul are terms applying to deeper seats
of consciousness, where


the ambivalence is less evident, though in principle still
there. Verses 3 and 4 imply this theory, Verse 3 referring to
more outward factors and Verse 4 to more internal ones.
The present verse deals with the yogi aspirant who, like a
cyclist going uphill, has to keep pedalling. The same yogi,
when he has passed the highest point of the ascending road
of Yoga, changes over to quieter ways.

The expression tasya eva (of even the same person) is
important because it makes unmistakable reference to the
ambivalence. Opposing tendencies are found in the same
person. They are not to be looked upon as if belonging to
distinct persons as, for example when some might say that a
kshattriya (warrior) is born for action only. Arjuna himself
would at one moment be a yogi aspirant giving importance
to action, and again, when the ascending phase of Yoga has
been crossed, the same Arjuna could give up all activity and
remain quiet.

The theory of the Gita thus cuts across the much spoken of
adhikara bheda (difference of caste rights). This should not
be taken to mean that action and inaction can be practiced
together in any mechanistic sense. That would imply a
contradiction so justly rejected by Sankara in many places
as jnana-karma-samuchchhaya (the mixing of wisdom and
action). The necessary action of the early stages is a
springboard only for perfect detachment from sense objects,
and for the action possible to the yogarudha (one who has
ascended in Yoga) to be described in the next verse. The
term karma karana (having action as origin or motive-
principle) as applied to the yogi who is still an aspirant,
suggests this relation only. The word uchyate (is said to be)
as applied to the two phases, indicates that the theory of
ambivalence is not a cardinal part of the Gita teaching
proper, but that responsibility for it is put on the experts
who had such notions at the time of the Gita.


yada hi ne 'ndriyartheshu
na karmasv anushajjate sarva
samkalpa samnyasi
yogarudhas lado 'chyate

When, however, neither in the objects of the senses
nor in actions one finds attachment, such a man
who has renounced wilful desires for particularized
ends is said to be one who has ascended to Yoga.


Two conditions of detachment are referred to here as required
for one to be called yogarudha (one ascended in Yoga). Sense
objects should not attract him and activities should not
interest him. The individual will is made innocuous or
neutralized. To that extent sankalpa (wilful desire for
particularized ends) may be said to have been renounced.
It is in this revised sense that the notion of renunciation is
accepted by the Gita and put on a par with the status of a
yogarudha (one ascended in Yoga). Ascent in Yoga is not so
much something culminating in a supreme effort as might be
suggested in other books, but in the Gita which is a Yoga
sastra (a scientific textbook on unitive discipline), it consists
rather in neutralizing opposing tendencies, where no effort at
all is involved, even in its last stages. Intentions, actions and
the attractions of sense objects have merely to be discarded
for a man to attain the highest in Yoga as understood here.


uddhared atmana 'tmanam
na 'tmanam avasadayet
atmai 'va hy atmano bandhur
atmai 'va ripur atmanah

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


As he is understood in this chapter, the perfect yogi is
described in this verse and those that follow up to Verse 9.
We say this chapter, because, although the whole or global
personality is here the basis of discussion, there still
persists a certain dualistic treatment of certain factors
of the personality as we have shown in Verse 3.

The Self is spoken of as having two symmetrical counterparts,
one as important as the other. In an earlier chapter,
however, the asymmetry between the two counterparts was
more pronounced, as implied in the examples given in iii,38.
However, the Self referred to in this verse is almost an
interchangeable term with the other Self mentioned side by
side with it. One can be interposed for the other to give as
good a meaning in terms of the global personality which
throughout forms the subject-matter of the whole chapter.


bandhur atma 'tmanas tasya
yena 'tmai 'va 'tmana jitah
anatmanas tu satrutve
varteta 'tmai 'va satruvat

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


The statement in Verse 5 is elaborated. There are alternative
situations presented here together. The first is unitive,
the second dual because of non-contemplation. The second
case is one of self-conflict called here satrutva (enmity).
Equal status of the two selves is evident from the
expressions anatmanah (he of non-Self) and satruvat (as if
an enemy). The implication is that in the latter the real or
unitive Self by its conflict with its supposed counterpart
becomes virtually an enemy, and in the former expression
that the unconquered or non-unified Self has no reality
worth mentioning at all.


jitatmanah prasantasya
paramatma samahitah
sitoshna sukha duhkheshu
tatha manapamanayoh

To one of conquered Self who rests in peace the
Supreme (paramatma) is in a state of neutral
balance in heat-cold, happiness-suffering, honour-


The duality between Self and non-Self is abolished here
in the name of paramatma (the Absolute Self). Jitatmanah
(for one of conquered Self) there is no question of conflict
arising. He is therefore at peace, through a balance of
counterparts. This is to be inferred from the three examples
given, which cover simple reflex actions affecting the Self
and those touching subtler personal values such as fame and

The different interpretations and discussions which have
raged around the word paramatma (the Absolute Self)
between the Theists, Dualists and Advaitins have arisen
because they have all tried to interpret the text in
accordance with mechanistic reasoning. That the Absolute
is by its very nature a unity attained by cancelling
counterparts, and that this


conviction depends more upon intuition than upon reason, is
what has been forgotten by most commentators.


jnana vijnana triptatma
kutastho vijitendriyah
yukta ity uchyateyogi
sama loshta'sma kanchanah

One whose Self is satisfied by wisdom (synthetic) and
knowledge (analytic), established in unchanging immobility
who has gained full control over sense- attachments,
that yogi is said to be unified, one to whom a lump of
earth, a stone and gold are the same.


The ultimate term in perfection in Yoga is clarified in this
verse under three degrees, taking forms of matter for
analogy. A clod of earth, a stone and gold have different
uses or values, the one of least utility being the lump of
earth, and the one whose value goes beyond that of mere
matter being the gold. In between is the rock representing
solidity as a value.

Corresponding to these three values are the three aspects
of yogic spirituality mentioned in the first line. There is
first the man who has gathered his thoughts into a certain
compact unity as in a clod of earth, the unity, still
intellectual, being of the first degree. Such a man of unitive
thought brings together jnana and vijnana (synthetic and
analytic, or pure and practical wisdom, or wisdom itself and

The second degree is referred to by the term kutastha
rock-established). It is sometimes interpreted to mean "being
seated on a high place", suggesting superiority. But the more
cogent philosophical meaning suggests immobility,
uniformity, being unchangeable and universally the same.
Unity here is a more accomplished, fact than the merely
intellectual academic notion of the earlier epithet.
When the third stage is reached there is a change in the
personality analogous to the changing of base metal into
noble gold.

The expression sama (equal) however abolishes even
these differences of degree suggested in the examples and,
taken together with the word triptatma (one of Self-
satisfaction) shows that the perfect yogi remains
unconcerned even with regard to values which the world
might attach to him. He is


sufficient unto himself and does not compare himself with

The reference to jnana (wisdom) as the first requirement
of Yoga is the special contribution of the Gita, whose method
consists of equating wisdom with action.


suhrin mitrar yudasina-
madhyastha dveshya bandhushu
sadhushv api cha papeshu
samabuddhir visishyate

As between dear well-wishers, friends, enemies,
those indifferent, those in between, haters,
relations, and also as between good people and
sinners, he who can maintain an equal attitude,


The yogi is not a socialized individual. Society is divided
into high and low classes or groups based on relativistic
considerations. Family affiliations involve the distinction
between relations and strangers etc. Affiliation to a country
involves compatriots, foreigners and neutrals. Moral and
religious affiliations involve the righteous and the
unrighteous. The yogi, being an absolutist, has nothing to
do with any of these.

This verse is reminiscent of v,18, but here instead of
varieties of holiness we have grades of society. The sense of
equality is therefore pushed one step further into real
relations of everyday life.


yogi yunjita satatam
atmanam rahasi sthitah
ekaki yatachittatma
nirasir aparigrahah

The yogi should constantly gather his own Self
unitively, established in a place where he can be
by himself, alone, with relational mind and Self under
control, without expectations and without possessive


Verses 10 to 15 revert back to the subject of Verse 3 where
it was stated that action was the means for an aspiring yogi.
Action here may be said to include certain recognized practices,
more or less covering Yoga as understood in such works


as Patanjali's "Yoga Sutras". But here it is restated without,
however, omitting detailed directions about posture and place
etc., such as have always been traditionally associated with
the practice of Yoga. In so far as they are harmless they have
been retained here, to help the orthodox mind from disaffiliation
through any abrupt disruption. Hence also the detailed reference
to deerskin and grass in Verse 11 becomes natural and

In the first place the practice of Yoga has to be of unbroken
continuity as suggested by the word satatam (always).
Broken or interrupted practice fails to accumulate the
necessary momentum. The word rahasi (in secret) is to
liberate the individual from social or other class
conditionings. It does not necessarily mean an unpopulated
place, though such a place ordinarily would of course be
preferable. The word ekaki (alone) stresses the same
requirement, because Yoga is not the same as organized
religion or congregational worship. It is rather a flight of the
alone to the Alone. A true Christian also is asked to pray by
himself (see Matthew vi, 6).

The phrase yatachittatma (he of controlled rational will and
self) should be understood in the sense that the Self has been
brought into unity as mentioned in Verse 5, and that chitta
(the relational will or mind) which is always establishing a
relation with external objects or desires, has been curbed, as
discussed in v, 26 and elsewhere.

The term nirasih (without expectation) just means that the
yogi does not wait for any favourable event to happen to
him in the future. Aparigrahah (non-possessive) releases
the yogi from the tension of thinking of getting something,
which is a natural disposition commonly found in man.
When the mind is thus released from horizontal affiliations,
the ascent in Yoga becomes facilitated.


suchau dese pratishthapya
sthiram asanam atmanah
na 'tyuchchritam ni 'tinicham
chaila jina kusotttaram

tatrai 'kagram manah kritva
yata chittendriya kriyah
upavisya'sane yunjyad
Yogam atma visuddhaye


Having established firmly in a clean place a seat
for himself, one neither too high nor too low, and
covered respectively with cloth, skin and grass

there having made the mind one-pointed and with
relational mind and sense-functions subdued,
(duly) taking his place on his seat, let him
unitively engage in Yoga for transparent Self-


The reference to cleanliness in the expression suchau
dese (in a clean place) occurs again in Verse 41,
where it is said that a man of good actions will be born in a
clean house. Popular spirituality, we know, bristles with
taboos, obligations and bans. But the Gita does not refer to
such at all, its theory being conceived on an open rational
basis. Hence this reference to a clean place as against any
auspicious or ceremoniously holy place.

The word sthiram (firm) can apply both to the stability of
the seat as well as to independent, possession of the seat,
ensuring its undisturbed availability for some length of time.
The word atmanah (his own) points, to the same meaning,
and not to possession as property.

The medium height to be recommended is to be understood as
conforming merely to the requirement in Yoga of avoiding
extremes in all matters, Yoga itself being understood to
be a sort of middle ground.

The indications about cloth, deerskin and grass, have no
basis elsewhere in Yoga practice. These items might refer to
the three distinct growths of spirituality in vogue in India
which the Gita in its revaluation evidently attempts to
reconcile and bring together, as implied in words such as
yajna-dana-tapas (sacrifice, gift, austerity) which are three
distinct religious expressions. The black antelope is
associated with the prehistoric Siva who is pictured in
mythology as chasing antelopes (see Kalidasa's "Sakuntala",
opening scene). Ascetics always carry a skin. The reference
to cloth is to the raiment of a samnyasin (renouncer) or
bhikku (Buddhist monk) or svetambara (white-clad Jaina
holy man). The intention is to fuse together different
symbols of spirituality into one fresh and forceful current
in which all can unite in a more catholic spirit.
Detailed injunctions of this kind cater to the insistent
demands for them on the part of the general body of aspirants


in the spiritual world, who are unlikely to be satisfied if
they are told that it is meditation only that matters. Most
religious people like to be told something definite to practise
with fidelity; otherwise they feel lost.

However, the items mentioned are harmless and perhaps
necessary for retaining animal electricity while a person is
in meditation. Sitting on a rock, for instance would be
harmful for the body, hence these indications may be
considered even rational.

The term ekagram (one-pointed) does not necessarily
mean concentration on any specific object such as a crystal
as is sometimes suggested by occultists. The meaning will
become justified when read alongside Verse 25, where it is
more specifically stated that one should think of nothing at
all, a certain blankness or freedom from focussed thought
being what is implied. The one-pointedness therefore refers
to the unitive character of the state of mind of the yogi and
is quite different from concentration on any object or idea.
The same unitive attitude is referred to in ii, 41.

The state of the yogi who is introverted in the social way
indicated here and the atmavisuddhi (transparent Self-
consciousness) of the Self - which should not be mistaken
for chittasuddhi (purification of the relational mind) to be
attained by action - should be understood in the light of the
conquest of the Self in Verses 5 and 6. Any taint of ego or
conflict in the Self is the dross here which is to be got rid
of by the practice of unitive thinking. The result of such
meditation is along the lines indicated in v, 24.


samam kayasirogrivam
dharayann achalam sthirah
samprekshya nasikagram
svam disas cha 'navalokayan

prasantatma vigatabhir
brahmacharivrate sthitah
manah samyamya machchitto,
yukta asita matparah

With body, head and neck held evenly and in
immobile poise, looking at one's nose-tip and not
perceiving the (actual) directions (of space)


with the Self tranquilized, with fear gone,
established in the vow of a brahmachari (aspirant
walking in the way of the Absolute), having mind
subdued, related to Me through contemplative
thought, he may sit, united, having Me for his
supreme goal.


An even posture is recommended. When the vertebral column
is straight the other bones of the skeletal frame are
supported with a symmetry and poise. Aches and pains in
the body due to distorted postures tend to be minimized. The
requirements of the very elaborate asanas (postures) forming
the greater portion of hatha yoga (literally "forced" or
"violent" Yoga, consisting of arduous physical practices)
which are so often exaggerated, are all comprised and
summed up in the directions contained in this verse.
The term sthirah (firm) here applies to the posture which
should be properly poised and immobile. A degree of natural
relaxation rather than tension is suggested here.
The gaze at the tip of the nose has nothing to do with
actual looking at any direction. It guarantees a certain
subjectivity and also alertness which are the distinguishing
features of the well known mudra (psycho-physical gesture
or sign) known as khechari (lit. "void-moving"), the third
condition associated with this attitude, of turning the tip of
the tongue to touch the soft palate behind the uvula being
omitted here.

The vow of a brahmacharin (one oriented to the Absolute,
who walks in the way of the Absolute) is a much-talked
of subject in Indian spirituality. Severe requirements
of sex- repression and celibacy are often associated with the
vow, but the exaggeration and prominence given to mere
continence is to be traced to the general taboo on sex in
most religious sentiment. When we consider, however, that
Vedic religion includes kama (desire) as one of the four
purusharthas (principal ends of human life), the sex taboo
should not be taken too drastically or unnaturally.
In monastic religions such as Christianity and Buddhism
the taboo on sex tends to be very severe. The four ashramas
(stages of spiritual life) are organically conceived, and
brahmacharya (life of the dedicated student who moves in
the way of the Absolute), or more commonly student-hood,
which is the first stage, leads to grihasthya (stage of the
householder) where sex is normal.


True brahmacharya (moving in the path of the Absolute)
is a vow applying to the whole of life, and passes through
the different ashramas (stages of spiritual life) as a constant
attitude of mind, effecting the transition from one stage to
another as normally as possible. The vow as understood
here should therefore be taken to mean a way of life into
which sex is not an obtrusive factor. The wilful repression
of sex as a taboo is not what is here implied.

Verse 17, we should note, makes allowances for harmless
pleasures or recreation, and is neither severe nor austere.
Likewise in vii, 11, kama (desire) itself is identified with
the Absolute when it does not offend righteousness, and in
x, 28, kandarpah (the god of love, Eros) is included as a
manifestation of the Absolute. In this present specific case,
where a vow is mentioned, it would be legitimate however,
to think of brahmacharya (moving in the way of the Absolute)
as a strict discipline involving continence. One should beware
however, of the tendency to make this spiritual stage a sort
of bogey or fetish to frighten innocent persons or adolescents
which pretenders to spirituality often do with a view to their
exploitation. Such distortions and exaggerated notions of this
vow are likely to do more harm than good.

Definitions of brahmacharya, as found in Yajnavalkya,
which ban all sex in thought, word and action are quite in
place in a dharma sastra (code of social laws) whose norms
are public and therefore rigidly conceived. But a certain
latitude is evident when we read that, according to the
Mahabharata, a person having sexual intercourse with his
wife is still a brahmachari (see Radhakrishnan's "Bhagavad Git"a,
pp. 197-8).

The vow here has to be fitted into a general contemplative

The expressions machchitto (related to Me through contemplative
thought) and matparah (having Me for Supreme) are favourite forms
in the Gita, side by side with expressions like manmana (having
Me for your mind) in xviii, 64. All are intended to establish an
intimate identity between the subject and the object, the yogi
and the Absolute, through bipolarity.


yunjann evam sada 'tmanam
yogi niyata manasah
santim nirvana paramam
matsamstham adhigachchhati

Thus unitively joining ever the Self, the yogi whose mind is
subdued enters into that peace which abides in Me, which has
as its ultimate phase total effacement (nirvana).


Practical hints having been enumerated in the previous
verses, the goal of Yoga is now stated to be the same as the
supreme nirvana (total effacement) spoken of in more
rationalist schools, and on the other hand that the goal is
not different from the union of the Self with the Absolute.
Further, the peace of the Absolute is here said to abide in
Krishna as personally representing the Absolute This
personal reference, often mistaken for theism, is a doctrine
of the Gita which is valid even philosophically in
impersonal non-theistic terms. The man-god or the god-
man are interchangeable terms, and when a bipolar relation
is established with the Absolute, personal attributes have no
longer any validity. In fact Krishna himself objects to his
own personalization in vii, 24 and ix, 11.

Even in Chapter xi where his form is revealed to Arjuna, the
description is far from conforming to any theistic
personality. Here, there is no devotee reaching to a god, but
a yogi entering into the peace of the Absolute.


na 'tyasnates tu yogo 'sti
na chai 'kantam anasnatah
na cha 'tisvapnasilasya
jagrato nai 'va cha 'rjuna

To be sure, there is no Yoga for a glutton nor for
one who fasts nor even, 0 Arjuna, is it either for
one who over-sleeps or wakes.


Extremes of eating, fasting, sleeping and waking are to be
avoided. Yoga outside the Gita is often understood to be a
rigorous discipline, involving much self-immolation or
harsh austerities. This verse and the next are meant to allay
all doubts in this matter. It is the middle path which is



yuktahara viharasya
yukta cheshtasya karmasu
yukta svapnavabodhasya.
yogo bhavati duhkhaha

To one of proper food (habits) and recreation, who
engages in activities in proper moderation, who sleeps
and wakes in a well-regulated way, Yoga takes its course


Here there are no Stoic or Epicurean extremes. We should
understand the word yukta (united) as meaning what is
proper and natural without exercising any voluntary
acceptance or rejection. This applies to food, recreation and
other natural activities, as also to sleeping and waking.
Extremes being thus avoided, spiritual life becomes easy and
free from that pain which is so often endured when one-sided
theories prevail.

The word vihara (amusement or recreation) does not mean
outright merrymaking, but allows for natural outlets,
including perhaps country excursions. The dukha (pain) does
not refer to the religious doctrine of suffering as in
Buddhism, but to the pain implied in religious disciplines
when understood one-sidedly.


yada viniyatam chittam
atmany eva 'vatishthate
nihsprihah sarva kamebhyo
yukta ity uchyate tada

When the subdued relational mind stays in the Self
itself, desireless of all desires, then (it) is said to be

The state of a yogi does not refer to anything outside the
Self of the yogi. Even the Absolute, if it is considered
extraneous, is irrelevant to the Yoga understood in this and the
next verse.

The chitta (relational mind) stays within the limits of the
Self. All desirable objects are outside its scope. When such
a condition exists, we can call that the state of a yogi.


yatha dipo nivitastho
ne 'ngate so 'pama smrita
yogino yatachittasya
yunjato Yogam atmanah

As a lamp set in a windless place does not flicker,
such a simile is thought of in regard to a yogi who
has brought under restraint his (relational) mind,
(ever) uniting thus in the union of the Self.


The simile here is not just one among many others. The
idea of Yoga is here pushed to its purest and furthermost
meaning, where duality is completely effaced. The word
Yoga itself implies a duality, but the comparison
consciously employed and so referred to here as a simile,
is meant finally to abolish any duality between object and
subject of union as may be implied in the word Yoga. The
unflickering flame just keeps burning on steadily. A flame
that flickers has on one hand the flame itself and on the
other hand the wind which, makes its flicker, as something
extraneous. In a windless place, however, where the
extraneous factors causing the flickering are absent, the
flame just burns on. The establishment of unity is a similar
state. It requires only the removal of what is extraneous to
the situation. Perfect Yoga is unitiveness in the Self, of the
Self and by the Self. The subtle distinction brought out by
this example has more than casual interest.


yatro 'paramate chittam
niruddham Yogasevaya
yatra chai 'va 'tmana'tmanam
pasyann atmani tushyati

(That state) where the (relational) mind attains
tranquillity, restrained through continued cultivation
of a yogic attitude, and where also the Self by the
Self in the Self enjoys happiness;


Verses 20 to 23, inclusive, form one sentence. It is an
attempt to give definitive indications regarding the
characteristics of Yoga resulting from the discussions in the
previous chapters. The sublime eloquence of these verses
add a poetic quality which has its own grandeur.
The culminating Verse 23 contains the finalized statement
in the form of a consciously formulated definition. Together
these verses constitute a challenge even to modern scientific


men who might sneer at subjects like Yoga as being vague
or based on mere sentiment.

Verse 20 marks the first stage of progress in Yoga. There
is change of interest when restraint is applied to the
outgoing tendencies. According to Patanjali's definition,
Yoga consists mainly in this restraint, and the Yoga seva
(literally "service", continued cultivation of a yogic
attitude) consequently constitutes the major part of the
discipline. The element of joy or satisfaction suggested by
the phrase tushyati (enjoys happiness) indicates something
more than attaining a neutral state. The Self finding joy in
the Self by the Self is an elaboration of what has been said
in the previous verse. A state of self-sufficiency is what is
suggested. The mind that is constantly irritated never quiets
down, self-satisfied.


sukham atyantikam yat tad
buddhigrahyam atindriyam
vetti yatra na chai 'va 'yam
sthitas chalati tattvatah

- that which cognizes the ultimate limit of
happiness which can be grasped by reason and
goes beyond the senses, and wherein also
established, there is no more swerving from the
true principle;


A further stage is marked here, one of positive happiness.
Yoga is stated without the undue transcendental exaggeration
which is so common. Even "going beyond the senses" is
counteracted at once by the phrase buddhigrahyam
(what can be grasped by reason). Contemplation in the Gita
is sober and free from ideas of exalted trance or over-
depressed or morose agony.

The expression tattvatah (from the true principle) points to
the same philosophical way of looking at Yoga. Well-
founded philosophical vision, when it has a steadying
effect, has in it the element of Yoga, or conversely, Yoga is a
steadying factor in philosophy. Whereas in Verse 20 the joy
consisted in just freedom from agitation, here more
intellectual values are implied.


yam labdhva cha 'param labham
manyate na 'dhikam tatah
yasmin sthito na duhkhena
guruna 'pi vichalyate



- and which, having obtained, there is no other gain
thought of which could be greater (in value), in
which when established there is no swerving even
by heavy suffering;


Yoga is now described as a high value capable of
establishing an absorbing interest which can hold its own
against all other interests possible to man. The character of
this supreme value is brought out negatively by reference to
suffering. A man established in Yoga would not be affected
even by suffering that might be called serious such as
illness, bereavement, loss, etc.


tam vidyad duhkhasamYoga-
viYogam Yogasamjnitam
sa nischayena yoktavyo
yogo 'nirvinnachetasa

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


Yoga is defined here in its most general terms. It consists
simply of disaffiliation from the context of suffering
through a certain inward detachment where, as we have
seen, the senses, mind, relational thought and finally, the
Self itself, instead of moving peripherally towards objects or
activities, become gathered together and centralized.
Suffering is transcended in a double sense; it is not
merely negative in character. Release from suffering
implies the first negation, which by itself results in a
certain positive joy, thus, implying the principle of double
negation understood in western theology.

The reference to being free from spiritual regret shows
that Yoga is always to be understood as having two sides,
one positive and the other negative, this reference to the
negative aspect being essential, for without it the idea of
Yoga would not be complete.


samkalpa prabhavan kamams
tyaktva sarvan aseshatah
manasai 've 'ndriyagramam
viniyamya samantatah

Abandoning completely all desires originating in the
will for particularized ends, curbing the collection of
sense-functionings on every side -


The subtler aspects of yogic discipline are detailed up to
Verse 29. When the ascent in Yoga is gradually accomplished,
a symmetrical balance between counterparts of the same Self
becomes established. But before such a culmination is
reached, there are subtle adjustments to be effected by the
aspirant. These are referred to here.

These indications follow on what was given in Verse 29. To get
rid thoroughly of all desires that are willed for particularized
ends is the first step. The curbing of the senses is to be done
as the tortoise withdraws its head, tail and legs evenly into
its shell, as stated in xi, 58. The expression gramam
(collection) applies to the clusters of afferent and
efferent sense-functions covered generally by the organs of
perception and action as understood in Vedanta, and not
merely to physiological organs.

The phrase samantatah (on every side) includes top and
bottom as well as the points of the compass, and should be
understood as a special state of introversion belonging to
yogic discipline.


sanaih-sanair uparamed
buddhya dhritirihitaya
atmasamstham manah kritva
na kimchid api chintayet

- slowly, slowly, activities should be brought to a
standstill by reason steadily applied, establishing
the mind reflexively in the Self, without thinking of
anything whatever.


The withdrawal is to be effected cautiously and gently by
applying a steady pressure in a direction dictated by reason.
The mind being a part of general consciousness, when it
becomes reflexively lodged in the Self, it loses its distinction
as a functional unit, with the result that the consciousness
becomes free from ideation. This is the last of the indications
to be followed before the perfectly poised Yoga of the
Self in the Self becomes established as stated in the verses


yato-yato nischarati
manas chanchalam asthiram
tatas-tato niyamyai 'tad
atmany eva vasam nayet

Whatever causes the changeful, unsteady mind to
go out (again and again), from each such,
restraining (it again and again) it should ever be
led to the side of the Self.


There is no reference to specific psychological entities
here, but to the mind generally. The mind in this way
represents one pole of general consciousness, before it is
equated with the Self, as in Verse 29. The mind being
associative, it passes constantly from one set of associations
to another, depending upon the interest of the man at each
moment, and it is therefore qualified here by the epithets
chanchalam (changeful, fickle) and asthiram (unsteady,

The expression nischarati (goes out) means the mind tends
to dissipate itself among external objects of interest.
Whenever such a tendency asserts itself, it has to be checked
or counteracted by an inverse effort till the whole mind has
all its specifically outgoing functions gathered in. The mind
thus globalized is ready to be considered part of the Self-
consciousness itself. The practice of Yoga consists of this
merging of the mind through withdrawal in the Self.
Note the difference between this kind of withdrawal of
mental factors into the more subjectively seated Self and the
arresting of grosser or peripheral outgoing tendencies in v, 8
and 9.


prasanta manasam hy enam
yoginam sukham uttamam
upaiti santarajasam
brahmabhutam akalmasham

Such a yogi, verily, of calmed mind, of pacified
passion, who has become the Absolute, and free
from all dross, comes to supreme happiness.


Following on the extreme happiness of the yogi of Verse
21, further reference is found here and in Verse 28 to this
happiness. This time, the nature of the yogi having been


defined, it is possible for the author to bring out the supreme
or absolutist nature of the joy experienced, which is of no
mean order limited to the domain of psychology.
When outgoing tendencies are re-absorbed, a calmness
prevails. All such tendencies constituting the rajasik
(passionate) nature here referred to have been more
analytically referred to already as tendencies to action and
attachment to objects. Here they are treated under one
generic term rajas (passion). It must be understood to
include all strong or passionate urges to action or attachment
to things and desires. When this passionate tendency is
conquered the main task of Yoga is accomplished, as has
once been hinted in iii, 37, and all dross, such as sin, etc.,
which envelop wisdom, as stated in iii, 38, is then transcended,
as stated in v, 10.

The expression brahmabhuta (one who has become the Absolute)
suggests a merging of identity of the personality
of the yogi with the Absolute. The sukham uttamam
(supreme joy) here is a joy in the Absolute. It is more than an
ordinary kind of joy, but of a contemplative order.


yunjann evam sada'tmanam
yogi vigatakalmashah
sukhena brahmasamsparsam
atyantam sukham asnute

Ever uniting thus the Self, that yogi, rid of dross,
having contact with the Absolute, enjoys easily
happiness that is ultimate.


With slight variation and further accentuation of certain
ideas, this verse repeats almost the same theme as Verse 27.
We note that the atmanam (the Self) is stated to be in
contact with, instead of being merged in, the Absolute. We
view here the same verity from the psychological end
instead of the cosmological, but the result of the mere
contact of the Self is something superlative, as suggested by
the word atyantam (ultimate). The joy could not be better.
In other words it has attained an absolutist character. This
transition from cosmology to psychology is accomplished
in a graded fashion with a delicacy of its own.


sarvabhutastham atmanam
sarvabhutani cha 'tmani
ikshate Yogayuktatma
sarvatra samadarsanah

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


The Self is again given primacy and everything turns
around the Self, as it were. This verse conforms to the
Upanishadic dictum where the Self is equated with all
beings (Isa Upanishad 6).

A person established in Yoga sees the same reality inside
and outside. Cosmology and psychology make no
difference to him. Both are equated in the Absolute. Even
other beings, such as an animal or a holy man, fail to have
any specific individuality in the unitive light of wisdom
which prevails. Subjectivity and objectivity cancel each
other out. The unitive outlook of Yoga applies to every
aspect of duality: (1) as existing within the subject
(2) as existing within the object, and (3) as existing
between subject and object.


yo mam pasyati sarvatra
sarvam cha mayi pasyati
tasya 'ham na pranasyami
sa cha me na pranasyati

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


Yoga having been stated in terms of norms of pure consciousness,
preceded by its theoretical definition, the subject
now passes over here and in the next two verses to understanding
Yoga as applicable to an actual person living in a real and
natural environment.

Such a man is said to live "according to the will of God"
to use a conventional theological expression, or he may
represent in his way of life a type of spirituality, or he may
live as one among other beings while carrying within himself a
certain equality in terms of Self-consciousness.

When both outward and inward factors are thus established
in an equality proper to themselves, then the yogi can be said
to be Perfected. Such is the trend of these three verses.


The personal reference of Krishna to himself as
representing the Absolute seems to water down the content
of Yoga so well stated in terms of Self-consciousness, but it
is inevitable here. The Gita is intended to be more than
subjective solipsism. The discussion has to meet actualities,
even the harsh crude actualities of a battlefield. For literary
reasons, if for no others, this personified Absolute is
consistent and necessary.


 sarvabhutasthitam yo
mam bhajaty ekatvam asthitah
sarvatha vartamano 'pi
sayogi mayi vartate

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


The expression sarvatha vartamanah api (remaining as he
may in every possible way) is meant to indicate that this
teaching does not demand from the yogi any particular
pattern of behaviour known to the spiritual world. He is free
to conduct himself, behave or appear as he likes. The one
determinative here is that he remains affiliated to the

Ekatvam isthitah (established in unity) lifts the subject of
Yoga from a form of discipline to the level of philosophical
and unitive understanding, though not merely intellectual,
because of the qualifying expression sarvabhutasthitam (as
abiding in all beings). The philosopher must have established
a living unity with all beings.


atmaupamyena sarvatra
samam pasyati yo 'rjuna
sukham va yadi va duhkham
sa yogi paramo matah

By establishing an analogy with the Self, he who
sees equality everywhere, 0 Arjuna, whether (in)
pleasant or painful (situations), he is considered a
perfect yogi.


The notion of equality between men as extended beyond
human life to all beings is the basis of ahimsa (non-injury)
and is derived from the unity of the Self as understood in


Verse 29. All are brothers in the Self and unitive
understanding can include the whole of existence. There is
also a unitive equality which refers to oneself, which is a
balanced neutrality between happiness and sorrow.
In the yogi we have to understand two sets of adjustments;
first his unitive adjustment with all beings, and
secondly those with the great variety of situations
alternating between happiness and sorrow. The former is
"horizontal" and the latter "vertical". Where both refer to
the same yogi, he can be described as parama (highest).


Arjuna uvacha
yo 'yam Yogas tvaya proktah
samyena madhusudana
etasad 'ham na pasyami
chanchalatvat sthitim sthiram

Arjuna said:
That Yoga you have outlined as consisting of sameness,
0 Madhusudana (Krishna), I do not see for
this any stable foundation, owing to changefulness.


The literary device of a samvada (dialogue) is resorted to,
again in order to broach a new aspect of the subject of Yoga.
Yoga has been described as also having, in its earlier stages,
the character of a discipline depending upon the practice of
withdrawal, restraint, etc. Details regarding seat and posture
might lead one to think that Yoga also, like Vedic ritualism,
comprises injunctions and obligations of a binding nature.
Arjuna suggests here and in the next verse, quite pertinently,
that the mind is restless and hard to control. It is therefore
likely, as he points out, in Verses 37 and 38, that a
man who has continued on the path of Yoga might fail and
be worse off. In his answer, Krishna makes it clear that the
way of Yoga must be looked upon as open where
backward-sliding is no danger. The difference is the same
as that implied in ii, 40.

Here, in Verse 33, the expression samyena (as consisting
of sameness) is important because it exactly indicates that
central distinguishing character of Yoga as it has been
taught in the Gita. The same feature of Yoga was once stated
in 11, 48. Although other definitions of Yoga are given, this


of sameness, and of balancing, cancelling out or equating
counterparts, may be said to be the Gita's special contribution
to the subject.

But this character of sameness, as understood by Arjuna, is
incompatible with the shifting nature of consciousness, at
least at the level of the mind. Associations based on
momentary interests, as it has been said in xi, 67, carry away
the understanding, leaving no permanent basis upon which
this sameness can be established.


chanchalam hi manah krishna
pramathi balavad dridham
tasya 'ham nigraham
manye vayor iva sudushkaram

The mind is changeful indeed, O Krishna; it is
agitated, forceful and imperative (in character);
like the wind, I consider its control difficult.


Arjuna is evidently thinking of peripheral aspects of
consciousness where control is difficult, as implied in
the analogy of the ship in the gale in ii, 67.
The expression vayor iva (like the wind) is very apt,
inasmuch as the wind has nothing centralized about it. Yoga
being a form of restraint of outgoing tendencies, it consists
of centralization. Arjuna's question is therefore most
pertinent since it concerns this peripheral difficulty.
The three qualifications applied to the mind indicate how
strong this centrifugal tendency can be. Once caught in it,
there is a certain helplessness.


Sribhagavan uvacha
asamsayam mahabaho
mano durnigraham chalam
abhyasena tu kaunteya
vairagyena cha grihyate

Krishna said:
Doubtless, 0 Mighty-Armed (Arjuna), the mind is
difficult to control and changeful. By practice
indeed, 0 Son of Kunti (Arjuna), and by dispassion
(it) is held (together).


Krishna has no other alternative than to agree with Arjuna and as a remedy appeals to practice and dispassionateness. We can easily understand the need for vairagya (dispassion) for bringing the mind under control, but the abhyasa (practice) here is more problematic. Arjuna has already indicated that sameness characterizes all the features of practice, whether in earlier or later phases of Yoga. There is a great deal of difference between this and the discipline of Patanjali. Leaving aside those references to postures etc., indicated in Verse I0, there are only
indications in Verses 25 and 26 of this chapter which could be said to come under the meaning of practice. The usual notion that practice in Yoga implies breathing and other hard exercises is altogether discountenanced in the Gita. Hence the abhyasa (practice) meant here is the bringing together of two aspects of the Self into unity, and when vairagya (dispassion) has already been accomplished, the results of Yoga accrue easily, as mentioned in Verse 28.
Grihyate (is held together) indicates that Yoga is a gathering or holding together of tendencies which, left to nature, disperse themselves.


asamyatatmana yogo
dushprapa iti me matih
vasyatmana tu yatata
sakyo 'vaptum upayatah

By a Self uncontrolled, Yoga is hard to attain;
such is my opinion; but by a Self which is its own
support, endeavouring, it is possible to reach
through the means (indicated).


The nature of the practice or endeavour in Yoga is further
elaborated in more general terms here, following on the
lines of Verses 5 and 6. Self-control is not a moral
discipline, stoically applied to himself by a man in any
social sense. It is unitive understanding which effects Self-
control. Neither is discipline here of the nature of any
severe austerity. It is more of the nature of philosophical
understanding; and Yoga is also associated with joy at every
stage of its progress.

In spite of all this, however, it involves the avoidance of
conflict between aspects of the Self. A man who has such a
conflict is called asamyatatma (one whose Self is not
controlled), and the opposite case of being without conflict
is called


vasyatma (one whose Self is on his own side). Verse 6 of
this chapter gives the distinction between these two very

The phrase yatati (by endeavouring) implies an effort, the
nature of which should be understood as a contemplative
ascent rather than any outward practice. The phrase upayata
(through means) must refer to the means already suggested
in Verses 25 and 26. Carefully examined, these means do
not conform to any rigid practices as understood in schools
of Yoga, such as Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga, etc.


Arjuna uvacha
ayatih sraddhayo 'peto
Yogach chalitamanasa
aprapya Yogasamsiddhim
kam gatim krishna gachchhati

kachchin no 'bhayavibhrashtas
chhinnabhram iva nasyati
apratishtho mahabaho
vimadho brahmanah pathi

Arjuna said:
(For) he whose mind, unsubdued (but) endowed with faith,
has deviated from Yoga, not reaching to yogic attainments,
what path does he take, 0 Krishna?

Is he not fallen from both like a riven cloud
destroyed without a mainstay, 0 Mighty-Armed
(Krishna), confounded regarding the path of the


Arjuna's question recalls to us that he is a purva pakshin
(anterior critic) and that this is a samvada (dialogue) on
wisdom. We must remember the points mentioned in the
comment on the last verse, in trying to understand the
diagnosis of a person described here as yogach chalitamanasah
(one whose mind has deviated from Yoga) and as
yogabhrashtah (one exiled to Yoga) of Verse 41 (to follow).
The nature of the calamity should be clear if we are to
understand properly the hope and the remedy to be stated
later. Further indications of the case are found in the
expressions ubhayavibhrashtah (one fallen from both) and
the most


graphic analogy of the riven cloud. The two factors implied
by the word "both" are not explicitly stated. Sankara
suggests they refer to jnana (knowledge) and karma
(ritualist work), but the meaning of "both" should be
inferred from the various and ambivalent references to the
Self in the previous chapters. Whatever the two factors may
be, when they are brought together unitively, they are
conducive to Yoga, and when they are in conflict Yoga is

The expressions ayatih (unsubdued) and sraddhayo'petah
(endowed with faith) in Verse 37, seem to face opposite
ways. We have to gather that the person in question is of
good intentions but has merely temporarily deflected from
the path of Yoga. The very fact of deflection implies that
he cannot reach the legitimate end. According to the usual
Vedic or even religious belief, a sinner or a fallen man loses
paradise. The merit gained in religions is still relativist
and its benefits are within the relative world. In the Gita,
however, the nature of emancipation follows other lines.


etan me samsayam krishna
chhettum arhasy aseshatah
tvadanyah samsayasya
'sya chhetta na hy upapadyate

My doubt, 0 Krishna, you should dispel completely. Other
than you there is none to be found to dispel this doubt.


First of all, Arjuna here does not want a tentative, but a
final answer; secondly he says nobody but Krishna can give
such an answer. By these remarks he indicates that he is not
himself a relativist, but one prepared to go the whole way to
the utmost possible limits of absolutism. The whole verse is
intended to underline the absolutist quality of the answer to
be given.


Sribhagavan uvacha
partha nai've'ha na'mutra
vinasas tasya vidyate
na hi kalyanakrit kaschid
durgatim tata gachchhati



Krishna said:
0 Partha (Arjuna), neither here nor hereafter is there
destruction for him, for none of good. deeds, 0 Son,
ever goes to perdition.


The answer is of a sweeping nature. Life here and hereafter
have been touched upon and an eternal life affirmed,
especially for a man described here as kalyanakrit (one who
does good). This, it must be admitted, is vague and general.
As meant here, a man who does good must be one
motivated by superior human values tending towards the
highest good.

Such values can include some that belong to everyday life

Such an answer, with the implied guarantee, has only one
justification or saving feature, as indicated in Verse 37,
in the expression sraddhayo 'peto (endowed with faith). This
faith must necessarily refer either directly or indirectly
to the Absolute.

There is an extreme intimacy and tenderness in the confident
way in which this truth is stated. The verity herein
does not call for proof, being based on a priori
considerations. Hence the intimate rapport between guru and
sishya, reflected in the opening expression Partha (Arjuna)
and the terminating tata (son).

The term durgatih (perdition) arises out of the eschatological
allusion to gatih (way, course, destiny) of Arjuna's question
in Verse 37.


Prapya punyakritam lokan
ushitva sasvatih samah
suchinam srimatam gehe
Yogabhrashto 'bhijayate

Having attained to the worlds of the righteous and
having dwelt there for eternal years, he who
deviated from the path of Yoga is reborn in a house
of the pure and well-to-do.


To some extent this verse anticipates the contents of ix, 20
and 21, but there it is a relativist picture which is presented
regarding the destiny of the soul. Here, the expression
sasvatih samah (everlasting years) is intriguing. It is almost
equal to "eternal life" and if such an individual has gone to


life, strictly speaking, no question of rebirth should arise.
But we should remember that Arjuna wants an answer in
keeping with his own notions of spirituality.

The karma yogi is implied and the highest world that
karma yoga (unitive action) can ever bring is the
punyakritam lokah (worlds of the righteous) referred to here.
In keeping with the ritualist context no higher destiny could
be referred to, and this manner of saying marks the highest
possible absolutism. Arjuna himself insists on a finalized
answer and therefore the answer is given in this form to suit

The expression srimatam gehe (in the house of the well-to-do)
strikes the reader as a rather mundane reference, but
this is to be set off against the "worlds of the righteous".
With Vedic ritualists the usual practice is to refer to
happiness in heaven alone. There is no reference to
happiness here and, what is more, there is as we see here,
equal reference to a decent life on earth. The righteous man
is better here as well as hereafter, not in terms of pleasure,
but in what concerns his spiritual life more directly, such as
cleanliness and the possibility of leisure in a well-to-do
family. Vestiges of relativism still remain in this rather
simplified picture, even here, but the answer makes an effort
to meet the question as squarely as possible, for, strictly
speaking, Vedanta has no eschatology.


athava yoginam eva
kule bhavati dhimatam
etad dhi durlabhataram
loke janma yad idrisam

Else he is born in a family of wise yogis only. A birth
like this is very rare to obtain in this world.


A superior alternative is suggested to the rather simple
but eschatological picture of rebirth implied in the last
verse. Here the reference to other worlds is avoided, and the
whole advantage for the yogi is reduced to terms of here
and now. To be born among a group of wise yogis is
definitely an advantage on the path of wisdom, because
environment does count. The word kula (family) does not
necessarily mean a natural family. It can mean the family of
a guru or guru-kula (teacher-family). It was usual in
Upanishadic times for a guru to live


with his own family, receiving other students of wisdom
therein. Such a coincidence or luck is pointed out to be
durlabhataram (very rare) and therefore more valuable than
the case already described. Though rare to others who are
not yogis, the suggestion is that it is within the reach of
the yogi who has failed.


tatra tam buddhisamyogam
labhate paurvadehikam
yatate cha tato bhuyah
samsiddhau kurunandana

There he obtains that union with reason, pertaining
to a previous body, (and) strives thence again for
perfection, 0 Prize of the Kurus (Arjuna).


There was a point at which the yogi deviated from his
path. Before such a point of time, he enjoyed what is
described here as buddhisamyogam (union with reason).
When the fallen yogi is reborn, especially among wise
yogis, there is a kind of healing process which takes place,
comparable to regeneration in some plants and animals.
Those natural and legitimate tendencies enforced by habits
in earlier life or lives, tend to exert their own pressure,
helping the fallen yogi to catch up with what was once
temporarily lost. He is thus set going normally once again
on the path of progress leading to samsiddhi (final

The word yatete (he strives) shows that a certain effort
is still necessary for the yogi in this case.


purvabhyasena tenai 'va
hriyate hy avaso 'pi sah
jijnasur api Yogasya
sabdabrahma 'tivartate

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


Here a hopeful picture of progress in the spiritual path is
indicated. The person we have to imagine here is listless or
inert, as indicated by the expression avasah (one disabled
and intransigent).


However, despite this condition of spirit, the previous
tendencies have the subtle power of drawing him towards a
very high order of emancipation. The word hriyate (is
drawn) does not say which way, or between what, the
attraction is. This has given rise to some misunderstandings
and has suggested alternative readings, some preferring
kriyate (is made), but this does not make the sense any
clearer. We must explain the attraction as tending towards
an absolute value, because it is clear from the context that he
is being saved and not lost; in fact the emancipation reached
by him is even better than that which the most learned of
Vedic Brahmins could expect, as made clear by the last line
of this verse.

The sabdabrahma (sound Absolute) as agreed by all commentators,
except Ramanuja (who equates it with prakriti, nature),
is that lower aspect of the Absolute covered by or
implicit in the Vedas taken as a whole There is an Absolute
beyond word and sound which is the Absolute proper. To
reach this, crossing over the former, all that is here
demanded from the fallen yogi is to be a jijnasuh (one
desiring to know) in the context of Yoga. In other words,
it is wisdom that matters.


prayatnad yatamanas
yogi samsuddha kilbisha
anekajanma samsiddhas
tato yati param gatim

But the yogi who strives with perseverance,
purified from evils, and perfected by many births,
then reaches the supreme path.


This verse can refer to another yogi contrasted with the
one mentioned in the last verse, or it could even refer to
the same yogi in respect of aspects of spiritual life which
go beyond Yoga into final emancipation.

The reference to evil and the general teleological
approach justifies the treatment of the same subject in
another way. But even making due allowance for all these
considerations, there is to be noted a distinct contrast
between the quick emancipation mentioned in verse 44 and
the plodding progress towards emancipation here. The
contrast perhaps refers to the two types of emancipation
known in Vedanta, krama-mukti (gradual liberation) and
sadyah mukti (immediate


liberation), and therefore justifies this verse. We have
to infer two distinct kinds of yogic contemplation - one
ascending and one descending, as implied in vi 3. The
present verse refers to that kind in which an effort is

The reference to "many births" further emphasizes the
slow progress towards perfection, but it is to be noted that
it is not mere perfection in Yoga, but to para gatih (the
highest path).


tapasvibhyo 'dhiko yogi
jinanibhyo 'pi mato 'dhikah
karmibhyas cha 'dhikoyogi
tasmad yogi bhava 'rjuna

The yogi is greater than men of austerity, and he is
thought to be greater than men of wisdom, and
greater than men of works; therefore become a
yogi, 0 Arjuna.


This penultimate verse is meant to extol the yogi. Mere
tapas (austerity), as it is known in the field of Indian
spirituality, is a severe form of joyless self-discipline.
The jnani is a wiser man who might at best belong to the
Samkhya (rationalist) or Nyaya (logical) philosophical
schools, whose life is based on reasoning which generally
ends up with sophistications and academic discussions, by
themselves dry as dust. Likewise, the ritualist tends to
become ego-centred and harshly exclusive. Yoga generally
understood is both a way of thinking and a way of life. The
yogi is a dialectician who harmonizes old in terms of new
and vice-versa, and is capable of giving fresh life to
arguments that otherwise would be dead or stale. The breeze
of a fresh life enlivens the ways of a yogi. How the yogic
touch makes for such a difference has been indicated in the
preceding chapters.

Each of the types of spirituality referred to here, when
they are taken according to a yogic method or theory of
knowledge, become, as it were, transmuted. This verse
states the superiority of such a yogic way in both practical
and theoretical matters.

The expression mato'dhikah (thought to be greater) is
applied only to men of wisdom, either because of some
deference to the wise men on the part of the author, or
because wisdom is really great when it is the proper kind.
The wisdom proper to the yogi, it is suggested here, is
higher than wisdom ordinarily understood.


yoginam api sarvesham
madgatena 'ntaratmana
sraddhavan bhajate yo
mam sa me yuktatamo matah

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


Yoga, although it implies the dialectical method, is best
when the highest values are envisaged in the method. When
personal values are left out, the superiority of even the
yogic method becomes to that extent compromised or
watered down. So even in the domain of Yoga, where
different grades are possible, this verse refers to one who
has established whole-hearted and complete bipolarity with
the Absolute represented here by Krishna. That Absolute
could be both personal and impersonal, but the personification
should not be taken as theistic or in a childishly
anthropomorphic sense, because it is the literary device
which makes this personal pronoun "Me" necessary.
Three qualifications of a yogi are underlined here: his inner
self must have merged or identified itself with the Absolute;
he must be full of faith; and he must be a bhakta (a devotee)
not in a sentimentally circumscribed sense as usually
understood, but in the larger sense, as we have pointed out
under Verse 15.

It should also be noted that hitherto the comparative
degree was used with reference to the superiority of the
yogi, not only in Verse 46 but in Verse 42. Here the
superlative is purposely reserved to stress the case of a yogi
who conforms to the Yoga of the Gita, which is a revalued
statement of all extant spirituality of the time.

In summing up therefore, we find that this chapter does
not deal with Yoga as a subject, as many have supposed, but
with the person of the yogi himself; and the yogi too is
considered, not as one whose life is full of harsh austerities
and suffering, but as one who is joyous, hopeful and free from
conflicts. The possibility of a yogi being affiliated to the
wisdom of the Absolute is indicated in this closing verse.
With this chapter, all preliminary discussions regarding
the teaching of the Gita, its method, how it is to be treated
as a Yoga, and how the yogi as a person is to approach wisdom,


have been covered, thus preparing the ground for a real
theoretical discussion of wisdom itself, in the next Chapter.

ity srimad bhagavadgitasapanishatsu brahmavidyayam
Yogasiatre srikrishnarjunasamvade
dhyanayogo nama shashtho 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
Sixth Chapter, entitled Unitive Contemplation.






Jnana-Vijnana Yoga


This chapter has variously been called Jnana-Yoga (Yoga of
Pure Wisdom), Vijnana Yoga (Yoga of Applied Wisdom)
and Jnana-Vijnana Yoga (Yoga of Pure and Applied
Wisdom). A similar sounding title was given to Chapter iv.
There the perennial nature of wisdom as distinct from a mere
system of rational philosophy covered by Samkhya in 
Chapter xi was made evident. Chapter v gave further
primacy to the way of wisdom, while Chapter vi brought the
discussion to a personalized focal point in the name of a
universalist yogi. The best of all yogis, it concluded, was
one who had established a bipolar relation with the

The present chapter continues from this point, not in
terms of personal relationship, but in an understanding of
the absolute nature of reality; not in the language of pure
philosophy, but as given to intuition or by the contemplative
method of synthesis by bringing counterparts under one

Contemplation can result only from the extreme identity
of subject and object by which, through intuition, one
penetrates into the synthetic object-subject. Reality is then
revealed in its own light.

A superficial scansion of the verses reveals that the
enumeration of items under reality discussed here includes
earth, water, fire, air and space. Modern philosophy does not
usually include such entities within its scope. Pre-Socratic
hylozoism, the notion that all matter is alive, has been
discredited in the western world as being too ancient or anti-
Christian. In India too, the Samkhya enumeration of the
tattvas (principles or categories of reality or nature) which
includes the tanmatras (essences of sense-values) has been
largely transcended in the Vedanta. The duality as between
prakriti (nature) and purusha (spirit) is repugnant to


Yet here we find reference to a higher and a lower nature
of the Absolute, and to the sapidity of water as representing
the Absolute. Evidently the attempt is to include existential
and subsistantial aspects of reality together in one sweeping
synthetic survey of reality as a whole.

These two aspects of nature (referred to in Verses 4 and 5)
can be brought together unitively as a counterpart to the
yogi or contemplative only through the device of a
personification of the Absolute. There is the yogi on the one
side and the yogesvara (Lord of Yoga) on the other side,
who represents the highest personal value or good to be
attained. In knowing the Absolute good all else that matters
in wisdom is comprised. It is in this sense that this chapter
may be said to deal with wisdom that "leaves nothing more
left to be known", as said in Verse 2. The Brihadaranyaka
Upanishad, II, iv, 5 contains a similar statement about the
all - comprehensive nature of Absolute wisdom.

For reasons we have explained, such wisdom presupposes an
intimate bipolar relation between the yogi and the Absolute:
as recommended in the last verse of the previous chapter
and repeated in the very first word (mayi, in Me) of this
present chapter. This bipolar relationship characterizes
this chapter. The kind of synthetic wisdom which results
from such a relationship refers to immanent and
transcendental, subjective and objective, pure and
practical, aspects of reality at the same time.

In the middle of the chapter a scale of values from everyday
ones to the highest is given where again subjective and
objective items are included indifferently. The scope of
this chapter is further indicated by the reference to the
condition of the spirit of a man who is about to die. All
departmentalized spirituality tends to be canalized into
one master sentiment at such a time. Spirituality thus
becomes wholehearted and global and personal again, covering
the whole subject-object of wisdom and all items of value
to human life.



Sribhagavan uvachha
mayy asaktamanah partha
yogam yunjan madasrayah
asamsayam samagram mam
yatha jnasyasi tach chhrinu

Krishna said:
Having a mind attached to Me, 0 Partha (Arjuna),
and joining unitively through Yoga, and having Me
as refuge, how you will know Me without any
doubt, comprehensively, that do hear.


The expression joining this chapter with the last is the
very first phrase mayy-asaktamanah (one whose mind is
attached to Me). In the last verse of the previous chapter it
was more than mind which was affiliated. There it was the
whole Self. Here only the minimum requirement for the
purposes of this chapter is insisted upon, as a necessary
condition for knowing Absolute reality as samagram
(whole). The necessity for wholesale understanding is more
emphatically stressed in the next verse.

The science of the Absolute has always been described in
the Upanishads as "knowing which, everything else
becomes known". Thus the subject of this chapter becomes
indirectly indicated as the same brahmavidya (science of the
Absolute) as spoken of in the Brahma-Sutras I, iii, 6.
The bipolar nature of the affiliation being qualified by
(1) yogam yunjan (joining unitively through Yoga) which
means that the subject and object here enter constantly into
a relationship belonging to the method of Yoga; and (2) by
the phrase madasrayah (one whose refuge is Myself), that
is in Krishna as a representative of the Absolute - this
affiliation becomes unmistakable.

It is brahmavidya (the science of the Absolute) which is
going to be covered in this short chapter. What may seem
the peculiarities of the approach are already indicated in
this opening verse.


jnanam te 'ham savijnanam
idam vakshyamy aseshatah
yaj jnatva ne 'ha bhuyo 'nyaj
jnatavyam avasishyate

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


The whole of this verse is meant to underline the
meaning, of samagram (whole) of Verse 1. The term
aseshatah (without remainder) means there is no possibility
of any remainder when Brahman (the Absolute) has been
understood as explained in this chapter. The second line
only makes this more explicit for purposes of emphasis, that
the Science of the Absolute is not to be considered a
department or branch of any knowledge. It is complete in
itself, and belongs to its own unique category.

What is more, it comprises two broad divisions which are
here named jnana (pure wisdom) and vijnana (specialized
knowledge). If wisdom refers to theory, specialized
knowledge refers to practice. If the former is pure, the other
is applied. If one is philosophy, the other is a way of life.
Although indicating a way of life, the Gita should not be
considered either a smriti (indirectly remembered scripture)
or a dharma sastra (treatise on obligatory duties). It stops
short of being mandatory and even of being permissive. A
way of life is merely indicated as optional for the disciple to
choose, because such a way of life agrees with and forms a
natural counterpart to the way of wisdom. If diet and caste
rules are referred to in certain chapters of the Gita, they are
conceived in an advisory spirit, and only in so far as they
directly rise out of the theory. Wisdom by itself would be
incomplete without this natural counterpart which implies a
savoir faire or a knowledge of what to do in every situation.
The vijnana (applied knowledge) here has to be understood in
this light only, and though the Gita in later chapters deals
with subjects such as dietetics and sociology, in this chapter
the applied knowledge comprises merely existential aspects
of reality, where laws of nature operate, and referred to
as the lower nature of the Absolute in Verse 4.

Jnana (pure wisdom) and vijnana (applied knowledge)
taken together would cover all the aspects of the Absolute,
because whatever other department might be thought of as
belonging to the science of the Absolute could be
legitimately included under one or the other. The Science
of the Absolute deals with ultimate personal value. It has
therefore to be treated

1 The Amarakosa, a famous Samskrit lexicon, considered
to be the earliest thesaurus, has the definition, mokshe dhih
jnanam anyatra vijnanam silpasastrayoh (quoted but not
translated, by Radhakrishnan in his “Bhagavadgita”, p. 149)
meaning, "Consciousness applied to liberation is called
jnana and when otherwise, as in the science of architecture, it
is called vijnana."


globally and should never be treated piecemeal in sectional
fashion, as might be permissible in other branches of knowledge
such as mechanics, dynamics, etc.


manushayam sahasreshu
kaschidyatati siddhaye
yatatam api siddhanim
kaschin mam vetti tattvatah

Among thousands of men, one perchance strives for
perfection. Even among the striving who have
attained, one perchance knows me according to
proper principles.


Here the author complains that very few get to the
bottom of this unique and thorough wisdom. People are
interested in wisdom in many different ways. Some
approach it through religion, some through good works,
and even among these there are degrees and varieties.
Apart from such a complaint, this verse draws attention to
the great variety of ways existing among seekers. The
expression tattvatah (according to principles) means
"according to the full philosophical import of the Absolute",
and this chapter being intended for the examination of the
philosophical implications of Yoga, the aptness of this
statement cannot be questioned, especially as we find later,
in Verse 16, that these several varieties are enumerated. The
same complaint of a lack of understanding, and that people
do often miss the proper approach to wisdom, is further
referred to in Verse 24. In xv, 10. it was once stated that
many have come to the Absolute, and in iv, xi also that all
may be said to walk the path of the Absolute. The rarity
here must therefore refer to a philosophical understanding
of the Absolute.

The word vetti (understands) refers to a perfection through
wisdom rather than through the siddhis (psychic attainments)
commonly associated with Yoga.


bhumir apo 'nalo vayuh
kham mano buddhir eva cha
ahamkara iti 'yam me
bhinna prakritir ashtadha

Earth, water, fire, air, sky, mind, reason also, and
consciousness of individuality: thus here is divided
My eightfold nature.


The enumeration given here is not in the usual strict order
of the twenty-five categories or principles (tattvas) of the
Samkhya philosophy. Samkhya places the tanmatras
(subtle principles of sound, etc.), prior to the mahabhutas
(gross elemental conditions of nature). The Gita here avoids
unnecessary theorization along Samkhya lines, and begins
in inverse order with the grossest of the mahabhutas (gross
elements) the earth, leading upwards as it were to mind,
reason and individuality-consciousness (ahamkara).
We find also in Verses 8 and 9 that these actual gross aspects
of nature are not viewed as matter, but as values to which
human beings are related and which enter consciousness
more directly. Thus the unitive nature of the Absolute is
established. But in this preliminary enumeration, the Gita
wishes to err, if at all, on the side of actuality rather than
on the side of far-fetched theory.

By the inclusion of the ego-consciousness in this series of
the lower nature of the Absolute, some factors of
consciousness which properly belong to the intelligent
purusha (self or spirit) of orthodox Samkhya are covered.
On the other hand, the gross earth, when it is referred to as
"pure fragrance" in Verse 9, again attains a new and revised

Ascending and descending dialectics move, as it were,
simultaneously in inverse directions, so as to transmute
these divided and separate entities into pearls of value
strung on the thread of the Absolute, and with the Absolute
as the final source-value as stated in Verse 7.

The reference to me bhinna prakriti (my distinct divided
nature) further shows that the duality between prakriti
(nature) and purusha (spirit) which is such a marked feature
of Samkhya, is not given recognition. Instead, each item
mentioned gains a distinct status. The Absolute pervades
nature which itself is an aspect of the Absolute. In Verse 12
a reciprocal relation is indicated.


apare 'yam itas tv anyam
prakritim viddhi me param
jivabhutam mahabaho
yaye 'dam dharyate jagat



This is the non-transcendental (apara = immanent).
Know the other to be my nature, which is transcedental,
constituting life, 0 Mighty-Armed (Arjuna) by which the
phenomenal world is sustained.

Two aspects of the Absolute are referred to here by the
terms para (immanent) and apara (transcendent). These
dual aspects are examined in this chapter under the heading
of the nature of the Absolute treated unitively and taken as
one whole The life-principle running through the two
aspects is referred to here as jivabhuta (life-element) the
common unitive factor linking up both.

This counterpart-duality is not the same as the more
mechanistic duality of the Samkhya. Before abolishing the
duality completely, the Gita has to accept a modified
Samkhya frame of reference, and seemingly adopt its
method. But we find as we proceed towards the more
central chapters of the Gita, which deal with the deeper
seats of consciousness, that the asymmetry attached to the
duality at this initial stage tends to be rounded off. In
chapter xiii the duality emerges again, to become more
pronounced, till almost the very end of the Gita, where
different religious practices have to be compared and
criticized, with questions of diet and vocational differences
to be revalued.

In xviii, 61, the Absolute is treated as a kind of deus ex
, and in xvi, 19, like an angry Jehovah. These

references being graded according to the structural method
of the Gita are justified in their own proper context. The
reader has to see the delicate shades of such distinctions.
To treat of matter and mind as two distinct entities is
against the spirit of Vedanta, and consequently of the Gita.
Instead of graded distinctions between matter and mind,
Vedanta speaks of concentric inner and outer zones, or
koshas (sheaths, shells), which refer to the spiritual aspects
of the personality of man. Cosmology itself is included side
by side with subjective factors such as wisdom and
knowledge. Some asymmetry is bound to persist when
cosmology and psychology are treated together as here,
however. One can ascend from cosmology to psychology or
descend downwards from consciousness to the tangible
realities of life.

In this particular verse, the author has chosen the
ascending method. The reverse method, of descent, may be
noted in xv, 7. A more neutral position is implied in x 42.


The asymmetry tends to be abolished, and when we attain
to the innermost vijnana-maya-kosha (zone of pure
consciousness) even the suggestion of a difference is

The outermost zone of the Self is called annamaya-
kosha (zone made up of nourishment or food). Even here,
as looked upon in the Upanishads, there is no conflict
between any immanent and transcendent aspects, as food
itself is treated as the Absolute.

The Gita is anxious to base its arguments on rational
traditions such as the Samkhya and, with the intention of
being realistic, retains here a vestige of asymmetry between
the higher and lower natures of the Absolute, for purposes
of argument in developing the main thesis.

We should therefore treat what is said here as being
necessary only for argument's sake.

The expression dharyate (sustains) coming from the
same root as dharma (innate active expression) does not
suggest physical support of this world by the Absolute, but
rather a principle of existence or life running through
phenomenal movements, holding them unitively together.
The principle of gravitation, understood in very generalized
terms in modern physics, would suggest something
corresponding to this existential reality called ritham
(existential truth) in the Upanishads which, taken with
satyam (truth) understood in a more formal sense, belongs
to the Absolute. The outward expression of this existential
truth is what is referred to here as the sustainer of the

etadyonini bhutani
sarvani 'o upadharaya
aham kritsnasya jagatah
prabhavah pralayas tatha

Know that all beings have this as their common source
(womb). I am the becoming, as also the dissolution of
all this (phenomenal) world (jagat)


Phenomenal existences have their source in the Absolute
and they are withdrawn and merge finally in the Absolute
when sets of forces are spent out. Thus the cycle of
emanation and ingression alternates. But the use of the
word yoni (womb) in the first line would suggest that the
world has its source only in the Absolute. In xiv, 3 the
Absolute is represented as


a masculine principle. The difference belongs to the
particular contexts, to be understood imaginatively and not
too literally.

As stated expressly here, the Absolute is both the Origin
and the final terminus of regression for the phenomenal
world. The reference to a superior yoni (womb) or source
above, which is the source of phenomenal nature here
below, would suggest that the Absolute is a hypostatic
entity. But this asymmetry is soon corrected here and
elsewhere in the Gita. For example, in the verse cited
earlier, xiv, 3, the mahad brahma (Great Brahma) is more
suggestive of a hierophantic presence.

The application to the same Absolute of the two
qualifications, prabhavah (becoming) and pralayah
(dissolution) tends to cancel out such hypostatic and
hierophantic fixations into a central notion of a neutral

mattah parataram na 'nyat
kimchid asti dhanamjaya
mayi sarvam idam protam
sutre manigana iva

Nothing else is higher than Me, 0 Winner of Wealth
(Arjuna). In Me all this is strung as a classified
series (ganah) of precious beads on a string.

How the Absolute is related to the visible or invisible
entities filling the consciousness of mankind, whether in
the Platonic World of the intelligibles or in the world of
actualities, is attempted to be brought out here by an
analogy whose import is vague. This has given rise to
alternative speculations on the part of commentators such as
Sankara who think it better to change the analogy to the
weaving of cloth instead of thinking of beads.

This relation between the Absolute and the manifested is
understood by such commentators as causal, the Absolute
being traced backwards and identified with a first cause.
But this analogy of beads on a string is deeper than mere
philosophical speculation. To understand the Absolute
merely as a first cause does not reveal its character in that
wholesale manner mentioned in Verses 1 and 2.

If we are ever to understand what is in the mind of the
author we must therefore go back to similar analogies lying
buried in the Upanishads. From the list of items dealt with
in the verses that immediately follow, it is clear that each


bead corresponds to a system or cluster of realities which
adhere together to form a compact unit in a world of its own.
These units may touch the actual, or enter into consciousness
through concepts or percepts, or may even rise to the purer
world of the intelligibles.

Whatever level they may belong to, earthy, human or celestial;
when they are regarded as representing closed groups of human
values, the bead analogy becomes understandable. There is a
relation uniting all beads and running through them, and each
bead, at whatever level it may be considered, has its value
depending upon this relationship.

We can imagine an ascending scale of values ranging from
the most actual to the most theoretical or sublime, at the
highest point of which the Absolute itself may be considered
as a brilliant pearl of great price. This presiding value is
what gives coherence and correlation to all the other values
at the different levels of human consciousness.

This concept is justified by the expression mattah
parataram na 'nyat (nothing whatever is higher than Me).
The Absolute is thus understood, as a supreme value. At the
same time it should be understood as a correlational
principle or as a norm which sets the standard for all other
values whatsoever.

In the Mundaka Upanishad (xi, ii, 5), instead of a string,
there is the analogy of a bridge which spans the gulf
between the here and the beyond for men to cross over to
and fro:

"He on whom the sky, the earth, and the atmosphere are woven,
and the mind, together with all the vital energies,
Him alone know as the one atman (Self).
Other words dismiss.
He is the bridge to immortality."

Again in the Prasna Upanishad (iv, iv. 7-9) all the components
of prakriti (nature) are likened to birds resorting to the
tree of the supreme Self.

In Genesis xxviii, 10, there is a similar analogy where
angels go up and down Jacob's ladder.

The scale of values must have been implied in these
antique analogies handed down from very remote times.
Some of the verses that follow here become clearer when
considered in terms of such a string of graded values,
more than when


thought of in terms of belonging either to philosophical
realism or idealism.

It must be imagined that the maniganah (classified series
of precious beads) belong to different grades, whether taken
individually or in groups consisting of small numbers as the
term gana admits of, meaning series as well as classes.


raso 'ham apsu kaunteya
prabha 'smi sasisuryayoh
pranavah sarvavedeshu
sabdah khe paurusham nrishu

I am the taste in waters, 0 Son of Kunti (Arjuna), I
am the light in the moon and the sun, I am Aum
(numinous exclamation) in all the Vedas, sound in
the sky and the human quality in men.


The way of entering into the unitive principle implied in
the various entities enumerated is indicated in this verse.
It involves intuition and a certain pressure of contemplation.
The very first example is taken from the elements and the
Samkhya order would seem to be purposely violated,
because the value factor emerging out of any one item is
meant to have an equal status with any other. The taste of
water depends upon a subtle relationship established
between water as an object and the person feeling the taste.
It is a relation whose reality depends upon the Absolute
reality implied in it.

The second example of prabha (brightness) being akin to
fire, has a value which similarly has its being in the
Absolute. The reference to moon and sun together is to give
unitive treatment to the luminaries without regard to

The next example goes beyond the senses to the
consciousness or the mind. The Vedas mean much to
people attached to them, and they might get lost in all its
ramifications. But the spoken word Aum, as representing
the sabda-brahman (the Word Absolute) may be said to be
the core of the Vedas and, in what concerns contemplation,
their quintessence. When the Vedic adherent establishes a
relationship with this word, he appreciates in himself a
certain human value which refers to the same constant,
depending on the Absolute. The feeling content may be
called the sense of the holy, the awful, the wonderful or
the numinous. But nevertheless it is not different from the
Absolute implied in it.


The Vedas are all represented by the word Aum which, in
its unuttered or higher aspect, can include the Vedanta
also, if the Absolute here is to be understood as all-

The fourth example, sound, represents an important
value-factor As music can please, so also sounds
representing concepts or ideas can exalt the individual and
serve as a kind of necessary nourishment in human life, thus
relating sound in general to the Absolute.

The last example here, is the human quality in man, which
distinguishes the individual. This is the unique quality
which touches his essential nature. When a man expresses
fully his own manhood, he may be said to be truly himself,
and thus a representative of the Absolute. Here, the
counterparts can be the simple animal basis of individual
life on the one hand, and what distinguishes man as the
human species on the other hand.

The employment of the plural in the various examples is
to accentuate the variety of manifestation as against the
unity of the Absolute principle. It is a relation unitively
conceived between the many and the One.


punyo gandhah prithivyam cha
tejas cha 'smi vibhavasau
jivanam sarvabhuteshu
tapas chi 'smi tapasvishu

I am the holy fragrance of the earth (divinity) and
also the brilliance of the luminary (presence), the
vital principle in all beings, and the (essence of)
austerity in all ascetics.

A new set of examples has been chosen apparently for
variety's sake. Here too there are hierophantic and
hypostatic principles under reference. The odour of the
earth is called punyah (holy or pure), a term which
can apply to all the items here, and it is further called
gandhah (smell or perfume) intended here to mean
something agreeable rather than noxious. This is in keeping
with the definition in the tarka sastra (textbook on Nyaya
logic) as well as in Samkhya, it is known that the
distinguishing feature of the earth, philosophically, apart
from actuality is its odour.

Throughout the world people who are related to nature,
whether called civilized or primitive, have considered the


good earth as holy. The Greek goddess Gaya and the Roman
goddess Tellus are personifications of the earth principle.
Among other similar peoples the idea of holiness applied to
the earth is universally common. The "holy fragrance" is
therefore understandable. The word prithivi ("the wide"
- the earth as a female deity) implies personification of
the earth and is not mere objectivity.

The term vibhavasu (luminary) is not a specific or actual
object only. It is also a presence, a hierophancy, and can
connote fire, moon and sun. The object of the author is to
refer here to the holy presences suggested in all bright
objects, including fire. The light itself is referred to
as tejas (brilliance) which is related to that aspect of
consciousness called taijasa (the brilliant) which is at
the basis of dreams.

Similarly, all beings have at their core jivanam (the life
element) or the élan vital or vital urge.

The reference to tapas (the "burning"of spiritual discipline,
asceticism) which is a human quality or a personal attitude,
is intended to be included as one instance at least of
the items mentioned in Verse 4. The self-discipline here
concerns the ego, mind and reason which are subdued and
introverted. A perfectly self-controlled man represents
the Absolute in essence.

Touching different levels of consciousness, this verse
provides, through a chosen set of illustrations, the way
of life of a contemplative who is related with himself
and with external factors simultaneously.


bijam mam sarvabhutanam
viddhi partha sanatanam
buddhir buddhimatam
asmi tejas tejasvinam aham

Know Me, 0 Partha (Arjuna), to be the perennial seed of
all beings; I am the reason of the intelligent, and I
the brightness of (those who are) the brilliant.


The analogy of the seed is sufficiently familiar as the
mustard seed of the Bible and in Indian literature in the
Chandogya Upanishad (VI, xii, 1-3). Svetaketu is asked to
break open a tiny fig-fruit and look for the very minute and
negligibly existent origin of a giant fig-tree. Such a potent


essence is said to be both the Self of Svetaketu and the

Having referred to the Absolute as a womb in Verse 6, the
analogical change in the same chapter here can be justified
by the Absolute being both the masculine and feminine
principle at the same time. This combination is again more
directly stated in ix, 17.

What is called the pradhana (chief potency) aspect of
nature, known to Samkhya and acceptable even to modern
Vedantins like Narayana Guru (e.g., chapter on Maya in
Darsana Mala), is the principle involved in this reference to
the seed of all beings. The seed is further called sanatanam
(timeless, perennial, eternal) and therefore abolishes any idea
of duration which might be associated with a growing seed.
The references to the buddhi (reason) of the intelligent and
the tejas (brightness) of the brilliant are to inner spiritual
qualities. With a priori reasoning certainty is attained
through reason alone. Such forms of reasoning are not
different from the Absolute. Brightness or mental alertness is
also a spiritual quality, to be likened to a perfectly-tuned
musical instrument, or to a sportsman in good form. There
are popular notions of tejas (brightness) referred to as
brahma-tejas (brightness of the Brahmin) and kshattra-tejas
(brightness of a warrior) which are mostly based on
prejudices in the name of closed loyalties, determined largely
by patterns of behaviour or dress.

Notice here in the structure of the verse that while the first
line refers to hylozoic aspects, the second line brings in tejas
(brightness) going beyond reason, and entering the domain
proper to purusha (spirit) thus easing out the last vestiges of
duality between purusha (spirit) and prakriti (nature) of


balam balavatam cha'ham
kamaraga vivarjitam
dharmaviruddho bhuteshu
kamo 'smi bharatarshabha

I am the strength of the strong, devoid of desire
and passion. In beings I am desire which is not
contrary, to righteousness (dharma) 0 Leader of
the Bharatas (Arjuna).


The dual nature, if any, persisting between the higher and
lower aspects of the Absolute is more forcibly and pointedly


effaced in this verse. If it hurts nobody, the strong man's
strength can be a pure quality. Its potentiality is not
different from that of the Absolute. The verse boldly says
that this same rule applies even to kama (desire), which in
most religions (particularly in Buddhism) is considered to
be the worst enemy of spirituality.

Repressions and inhibitions can be exaggerated in
spiritual life. They can become a fetish. The Gita here
postulates the possibility of pure desire which is the
essential "vertical" aspect, the "horizontal" being the clash
of desire with the interests of fellow men and fellow
creatures. The vertical remains pure and established in its
own loneliness, without social implications or motives,
Religion in the Gita loses its heavy negative character and
is liberated as the free way of life of a philosopher or one
dedicated to the Absolute.

Note that, while in the first line, desire is referred to as
something to be avoided; this very desire is put on a
pedestal in the second line. Desire here should not clash
with dharma (righteous pattern of behaviour) i.e., with the
social principle.

The term bhutah (beings) is meant expressly to cover not
only human life but life in general. The desire of beings
here does not belong exclusively to the social context of
human life.

ye chai 'va sattvika bhava
rajasas tamasas cha ye
matta eve 'ti tan viddhi
na tv aham teshu te mayi

Even those manifestations recognized as according
with existence (sattviki), and active or dominant
(rajasi), and dark or inert (tamasi), know them
even to be My own. I am not in them but they are
in Me.


The three manifestations or qualities of sattva (what accords
with pure existence), rajas (active, dominant) and tamas
(dark, inert), are also included as expressions of the
Absolute. They are modalities of the same vital principle
referred to in the last verse, but these three are referred to
here in a manner in keeping with Vedantic epistemology.
The Samkhya system has the three gunas (modalities of
nature). Their distinct existence in nature, it is true, is not
evident when examined objectively. Specialization in nature
expresses itself at three


different levels, of which the tamasic (dark and inert) and
the sattvic (what accords with existence, the pure) mark two
extremes. The hardened stem of a tree has become dead and
inert and to that extent may be compared to the tamasic
nature in man. The growing tip, bud or flower, on the other
hand, corresponding to the sattvic, shows extreme
sensitivity and specialization. The specific nature of the
plant is best expressed here. A man of keen intelligence or
sharpened. Wit is a human being who is perfected or
specialized in a certain sense, and the best values which
distinguish a human being have a chance to find at least
approximate expression through such specialization. But we
shall see from the Gita presently that even such
specialization does not belong to true spirituality in an
absolutist sense, although laudable as far as it goes in the
relativist domain.

In between these two extremes nature expresses itself, as
it were, in the rajasic (active, dominant) on the horizontal
plane. A king engaged in the chase or in over-running a
country is in a dominant or active mood, which has nothing
to do with contemplative values. But such a mood is natural
to man also. In nature it expresses itself in the urge for
quantitative or numerical increase.

In thinking of these three levels we have primarily to
keep in mind values and interests and not objects or mere
states of mind. The scale of values implied here is one
which can help us to compare the different types of
spirituality as observed in the world of men and actions.
There is the scholar of subdued habits who tries to study
and understand the Absolute. There is the other who makes
no effort and lapses into negative states, tending to get
lost in hallucinations and superstitions. The overactive
temperament leads to interests which lie altogether outside
the contemplative or vertical axis.

Such a theory is further elaborated in other chapters of
the Gita. Here it is brought into discussion seriously for the
first time, and the relativist nature of these three expressions
of spiritual values is stated unequivocally. The object of this
verse is to include relative and non-relative values together,
under one comprehensive notion of the Absolute.
The constant use of cha (and, also) in this verse is to
show that these three qualities are not to be thought of
individually, but are to be taken together as expressions of
relativist value or reality. The slothful man is also to be
included within the


world of contemplatives. He is not outside the pale of
spirituality, only his spirituality is like a smoky lamp.
Note the characteristic one-way nature of the assertion in
the last line which is reminiscent of the Biblical statement
that those who are not with me are against me (Matthew xii,
30). A vestige of duality between subject and object seems
to persist here, akin to the relation between the purusha
(spirit) and prakriti (nature) of Samkhya. While the
Absolute is not in the manifested nature, the converse is
asserted. The relation is something like that between waves
and ocean. The ocean has waves but the wave is not the
ocean. Thus subtle relationship between God and man has
been much discussed in Western theology. The emphasis in
this verse is on the necessary relation which should be
understood to exist between the Absolute and nature which
the Samkhya doctrine would have considered as distinct.
This is where the Vedantic revaluation comes in.


tribhir gunamayair bhavair
ebhih sarvam idam jagat
mohitam na 'bhijanati
mam ebhyah param avyayam

Deluded by these three manifestations (of value) this whole
world is unable to know Me who am beyond them and


The world of values surrounding a man presents a variety
which confounds him. This variety belongs to the three
levels distinguished in the last verse. Superior or inferior
though they may be in the relative sense, these values are
not to be confused with the bipolar relation with the
Absolute, which is what matters most in contemplative life.
The common man is attracted or repelled by these relative
values in life, and therefore misses the bolder and more
generous relationship with the Absolute which ever remains
unchanged or unexpended. The distinction between relative
and absolute values is radical and one does not lead to the
other in a graded way. This verse attempts to bring this out.
The word param (beyond) marks the distinction between
relative and Absolute values. The Absolute, though it is to
be understood as including the relative, is beyond it. In
other words, a man whose interest is in Absolute value
belongs to a distinct or superior order to all others, however


praiseworthy they are. The holiest type of learned Brahmin,
who may represent highly refined sattvic (pure) qualities, is
still a relativist, to be thought of apart from one who
represents that supreme wisdom of the Absolute in himself.


daivi hy esha gunamayi
mama maya duratyaya
mam eva ye prapadyante
mayam etam taranti te

Verily, this divine illusion of Mine (maya) made up of the manifestations (of value - gunah) is hard to surmount. Those who seek Me alone pass over this illusion.


After speaking of relative values which come under the
three gunas (manifestations or qualities, modes of nature), it
is rather unexpected to find the epithet "divine" applied to
the maya (illusion) which is the resultant of their interplay.
This illusion has to be transcended before a man attains the
Absolute. Thus divinity becomes an impediment rather
than a help in spiritual progress.

The question naturally arises regarding the aptness of the
epithet "divine", as applied to illusion comprising relativist
values. The justification, if any, lies in the fact that these
three levels of value are conceived here as belonging to a
contemplative scale of values. In so far as a contemplative
epistemology is implied here, the term "divine" is justified.
The word used, daivi, means belonging to light, and the five
senses are sometimes referred to as devas (gods, shining
ones) in the Upanishads (e.g., Isa. 4). Anything related to
understanding belongs to the order of luminous values. In
this sense maya (illusion) itself is to be understood in its
own all-comprehensive glory, though still relative, before
the Absolute can be grasped with all its pure implications.
The recognition of illusion both as an enemy and an
inevitable stepping-stone to the attainment of the Absolute
is here recommended.

The term gunamayi (composed of modes of nature) comprises a
partial definition of maya (illusion). Nature itself is
the most general effect of maya (illusion) and is often
described as trigunatmika (essentially the same as the three
modalities). Again we refer to the Maya Chapter in Guru
Narayana's Darsana Mala.


The expression duratyaya (hard to go beyond) suggests
that maya (illusion) is the last impediment before reaching
the Absolutist position. There are all sorts of religious
values masquerading under the name of spirituality or
holiness, whose resultant confusion of values has to be
boldly torn asunder by one whose keen intelligence can
penetrate into the domain of Absolute value. It is suggested
here that the notion of divinity itself, being still relativist,
is to be discarded.

The phrase mam eva (Me alone) is meant to underline the
necessity of establishing strict bipolarity with the Absolute
before true spirituality can be reached.


na mam dushkritino mudhah
prapadyante naradhamah
mayaya pahrtajnana
asuram bhavam asritah

Not Me do evil-doers, foolish, attain, lowest among men; their
wisdom being distracted by illusion (maya), affiliated as they
are to the demonic (or non-intelligent) aspect of nature.


This verse presents a picture of those who turn away
from contemplative values. Strong epithets are used by way
of contrast with those who follow the contemplative scale
of values indicated in the last verse, daivi (divine) and
asura (demonic) being extreme poles in the context of
possible human values.

The phrase asuram bhavam (manifestations of a demonic
order) is merely to bring out the contrast with the daivi
(divine) of the previous verse.

The first epithet chosen to mark the contrast is
dushkritinah (evil-doers) indicating that it is the promptings
for action rather than interest in wisdom which distinguishes
such fallen people. They are condemned by expressions
such as mudhah (foolish) and naradhamah (lowest of men).
These lowest of men are not necessarily sudras (proletarians) or chandalas (outcastes), but even Brahmins who think in terms of   karma (action) in which relativist values are involved.               


Similar strong references are seen in xvi, 19. Note that the word asuram (demonic) is not applied to human beings here, but to the whole relativist world of values involving actions, as stated in Isa Upanishad, 3.



chaturvidha bhajante mam
janah sukritino 'rjuna
arto jijnasur artharthi
jnani cha bharatarshabba

Four kinds of the (doers of the) good are intent on
Me, Arjuna; the distressed, the seeker of
knowledge, the seeker of the goods of life, and the
wise, 0 Leader of the Bharatas (Arjuna).


After condemning those prone to evil action, we now turn
to those affiliated to the contemplative context. Although the
word sukritinah (those who do righteous action) contains the
root kri, referring to action, it is meant to cover all people
affiliated contemplatively to a righteous way of life by
intention to be good or virtuous in a purely spiritual and not
social sense.

The phrase bhajante mam (adore or intently think of Me)
refers to a form of contemplative life rather than action. The
evil-doers and the doers of good are taken as broad divisions
applying to the whole of mankind, and not too literally,
because contemplation does not necessarily envisage action.
The four grades mentioned here, it should be noted, have
nothing in common with the four varnas (colours or castes)
classified in xviii, 41, ff. Here the grades refer to varieties
in contemplative life rather than to social orders, although it
is true that the degree of necessity enters as a regulating
factor even here. The term artah (the suffering person) for
example, is one who has the necessity of being relieved from
suffering. The bondage coming from ignorance is also a
form of necessity, from which the jijnasur (seeker after
wisdom) wishes to gain release, to feel free or happy. When
these gross and subtle factors of necessity are absent, the
general tendency in man is to reach out for various grades of
goods which will bring him pleasure (here referred to as
artha). These three are still in the relativist world, however
superior might be the "good" involved in the last case. There
is a true jnani (man of wisdom) however, whose case falls
outside these altogether. The unique nature of his position is
singled out and underlined in the next two verses. The wise
man is only interested in the Absolute, hence his unique


 tesham jnani nityayukta
ekabhaktir visishyate
priyo hi jnanino 'tyartham
aham sa cha mama priyah

Of these the wise man, forever united and unitively affiliated
with the Absolute excels, for dear to the utmost limit am I
to the wise, and he is dear to Me.


In the first three cases mentioned in Verse 16 the relation
is neither unitive nor strictly bipolar. The present verse
makes it clear that only in that relation where a wise man
thinks of the Absolute, does the bipolar condition exist which
is a prerequisite for all true contemplation to exist. When
such a contemplative bipolarity is established, the distinction
between the subject and the object, the meditator and the
Absolute meditated upon, is abolished. With equal validity
one can say that the meditator is attached to the Absolute or
that the Absolute is attached to the meditator.

The terms nityayuktah (forever united) and ekabhaktih
(unitively affiliated) bring out the implications of this
contemplative and necessarily perennial bipolar relationship.
The doctrine of the Gita is sometimes called ekantika
bhakti-yoga (Yoga of lonely devotion) and phrases like
ananyas chinta-yanto mam (meditating upon Me to the
exclusion of everything else) of ix, 22 and ananyayogena
(by a Yoga with nothing extraneous) of xiii, 10 are favourite
expressions found in many parts of the Gita. They are meant
to stress the same condition of bipolarity.

The word atyartham (to the extreme limit) shows the
Absolute nature of the relationship established in which
there is neither superiority nor inferiority. All true
contemplatives enjoy equal status in holiness. Spirituality
may be said to reach its term or limit when it has to do with
the Absolute.


udarah sarva evai 'te
jnani tv atmai 'va me matam
asthitah sa hi yuktatma
mam eva 'nuttamam gatim

Honourable are all these, but My firm opinion is that the wise
one is the Self itself. He of unitively established Self indeed
remains in My path which has nothing higher.


The same verity is restated here in terms of the Self rather
than the Absolute. The theological distinction between the
worshipper and the worshipped which still persisted in Verse
17 tends to be abolished completely here, where the centre
of gravity shifts, as it were, to the Self, which is the same
as the Absolute in the science of the Absolute (brahmavidya).
Ananda (Value), Atma (Self) and Brahman (the Absolute) are all
interchangeable terms in Brahmavidya (science of the Absolute).
(See Guru Narayana's Darsana Mala, chapter on Bhakti, Verse 5.)
The other three categories mentioned in Verse 16 are not
wholly condemned. Relatively they have their own status or
value. The praise here, however, is subjected to the
correction applied in Verse 23 of this chapter, where all
relativist-minded persons are called alpamedhasah (people
of small intelligence). Following the time-honoured
precaution of fulfilling rather than destroying anterior
opinion, the term udarah (honourable) used here should be
understood as a form of "damning with faint praise". The
case of the absolutist is held aloft as most praiseworthy
because he may be said to walk the highest or most
unrivalled path of the Absolute itself.

The word yuktatma (of unitive Self), understood as
applying to a person who walks the way of wisdom, is the
same in effect as a man who is merged in the Absolute,
because the Absolute can be spoken of as a path as well as a
reality. To identify the path of the Absolute and the
worshipper of the Absolute is not against the spirit of


bahanam janmanam ante
jnanavan mam prapadyate
vasudevah sarvam iti
sa mahatma sudurlabhah

After many births the wise man attains Me. Such a
great Self, thinking Vasudeva to be all is rare
indeed to find.


The religion of the Bhagavatas came into vogue in India at a certain historic period when the teachings of the Upanishads had to be restated in a popular form. Ekantika bhaktiyoga (Yoga of lonely devotion) was their main doctrine, and the central figure of acharya (teacher) of this religious expression was the son of Vasudeva, otherwise known as Krishna or


Vasudeva, who is identified with Krishna of the Gita. This verse establishes the relation between the Vasudeva religion and the teaching of the Gita. Krishna in the Gita represents
the Absolute, and the man of wisdom, when he sees the whole of this universe and the Self as being unitively comprised in the Absolute as represented by Vasudeva, the superior Guru of this teaching, becomes finally and unitively established in wisdom, without any trace of duality between disciple and Guru - not to speak of worshipper and worshipped. The Bhagavata religion with its Vasudeva cult has other doctrines such as that of the Vyuha, hypostatic personages such as Sankarshana etc., which the Gita ignores, and which are also against the spirit of Vedanta. To see the principle that makes Vasudeva represent the Absolute is a very rare possibility of mahatmas (great Selves) alone. Not only is such a mahatma (great Self) rare to find in this world at a given time, but such a perfected one of supreme wisdom must be the product of a long experience, when we speak of it in a workaday (vyavaharika) language.

Before stating in more definite terms the difference between this doctrine of the Gita and the prevailing doctrines anterior to it, this historical reference to the origin of the new teaching becomes apt , as in the case of the Bible, where Jesus says: "You have heard it said... but verily I say unto you..." This verse serves therefore as a kind of punctuation mark between the purva paksha (anterior criticism) and the siddhanta (final conclusion) in this important chapter before we enter into the more proper discussions in the next chapters.


kamais tais-tair hritajnanah
prapadyante 'nyadevatih
tam-tam niyamam asthtiya
prakritya niyatah svaya

Their wisdom distracted by such (or) such (other)
desire (counterparts) they attain to other divinities,
committed to obligations such or such belonging
to each, prompted by their own particular nature in
each case).


This and the next four verses refer to the subtle dialectical
relation between the spiritual aspirant and the object of the
adoration that he might have as his ideal or goal. There is in


each case the subject who is the aspirant or worshipper, and
the ideal or goal, which is a value adored or aspired after.
It is important for us to remember, in order to grasp the
full import of these verses, that each aspirant has his own
natural counterpart in the object of aspiration. In each
instance they are matched by a certain subtle reciprocal
relationship. Innate interest in each case corresponds to the
object of interest, and the law of like attracting like is
implied in every instance.

Before going to the subject of strict bipolarity as it
should belong to the context of contemplation, understood
in the absolutist sense, the author here enunciates the
principle of the same bipolarity which, even in the domain
of relativist nature, normally prevails in every variety of
spiritual affiliation. In each case the good that accrues to
the aspirant depends on the nature of the bipolarity

Thus, although these five verses here deal with relativist spirituality, they are not unconnected with the Absolute. Whatever benefits accrue to the worshipper even in the relativist domain, in principle belong to the Absolute, although they might seem to come from the object of worship. Even the joy-element contained in sense pleasure finally belongs to the Absolute, because inert matter contacting inert matter cannot produce joy. Therefore whatever benefits are pleasurable in whatever context, relative or Absolute, must be thought of as resulting from the interaction of counterparts of a bipolar situation, in which subject and object are implied, as explained above.

The highest type of such a relationship is that in which the bipolarity is between the Self that seeks happiness and the Absolute and in this last case the happiness "is a joy forever" in an absolute sense.

We now turn to Verse 20. Pure wisdom tends to be dispassionate. It is not interested in any but the highest value. But relativist interests lie on a different plane. They tend to deflect the spirit of man from the high path of pure wisdom, affiliating him to an object of interest which lies outside the line of the highest.

These horizontal interests are not all of a mundane order. There are pious and religious people capable of interesting themselves in deities or superior ideals which are raised above common pleasures of the senses. All positive values which rise above the mundane level may be called values which shine.


We know that the Upanishads refer to the senses sometimes as
devas (shining entities). Anyadevatah (other shining ones)
here must be understood therefore as covering all relativist
human values which do not fall in line with the supreme
way of wisdom.

The interest that such values hold out to the aspirant is
one which draws him away from the true path of wisdom.
The expression taih taih (by them, by them) repeated twice,
is intended to indicate that each relativist desire has its
corresponding counterpart, and that the attraction of
relativist value is not promiscuous or haphazard, as we
have tried to explain. The word hrita (drawn) implies a
deflection from the true line of wisdom which is affected
by affiliation to relativist values. The prefix anya- (other-)
before devatah (divinities) makes this clearer still.
According to the Gita, iv, 11, other divinities cannot exist
except in the sense we have explained. They are called
"other divinities" because they tend to compromise wisdom
understood in the fullest sense.

The repetition of tam-tam (that, that) further emphasizes
the same factor of counterparts, whose force has been
missed in all translations, but which is of the utmost
importance. The niyama (rule) or ritualistic injunction, laid
down in each case, varies with each pair of counterparts
involved. If they are Vedic, then ordinances of a Vedic
order prevail; if with theological values, the forms of the
cult laid down are to be followed. And so also with different
forms of worship as, for example, in the worship of Ganesa,
etc. Each has its own proper rule belonging to it. These
rules, further, have their basis in nature itself. Pompous
people, for example, love ceremonial. Thus it is nature
which decides which grade or kind of affiliation will be
adopted in the domain of relativist spirituality. The word
niyatah (obliged) implies an element of compulsion which
comes from the attraction between counterparts which exists
in nature.


yo-yo yam-yam tanum bhaktah
sraddhaya 'richitum ichchhati
tasya-tasya 'chalam sraddham
tam eva vidadhamy aham

By whichever (particular) form such and such a devotee with
faith wishes to worship, each to his own faith I confirm.


Here again we find three pairs of demonstrative pronouns
invoked to stress the bipolar nature of the relation involved
in all spiritual seeking. A man can have an erroneous faith in
an object or a value which is not quite in keeping with the
highest value, but every form of value, in so far as it is a
value, must necessarily and implicitly at least have the
Absolute in it, because, as we have stated earlier, two
negative poles cannot attract each other. Matter cannot be of
value to matter itself.

Whatever the counterparts involved in this dialectical
situation, the value factor which emerges has to depend on
the compensating counterpart. Thus values must depend on
something that is either one or the other of these counterparts,
to be of interest at all. The Absolute value represented
by Krishna enters thus into the picture. When value becomes
fully absolutist the counterparts merge into one central
unitive value.

All three words: tanum (body), bhaktah (devotee) and
architum (to worship), belong to the context of idol-worship,
but the intended meaning here is not limited to such a
context. When a man worships an image there is the
subjective aspect, the bhaktah (devotee) on one side, the act
of worshipping with flowers (archana), and the image, form
or object of worship, here called tanum (body).

These three are inevitable in any form of appreciation of
value in a religious sense. Even doctrinal values like
worshipping a high God have these three factors involved.
Each man, according to his temperament or upbringing,
likes or is disposed to worship in his own way.

It is the absolutist value which is implied in each relative
value which relates the worshipper with the worshipped.
Even if a man is interested in a penny, it is the unitive pound
which, in principle, is the object of interest, indirectly
though it may be. The Absolute, as we have said earlier, is a
coin for which no amount of small change can suffice.
Although thus the relation between the Absolute and the
particular object of worship is of a unique order, there is, in
principle at least, a link between them, which, figuratively,
might be described as a kind of sanction. It is in this sense
only that the toleration of other worship apparent in these
verses is to be understood.

The Absolute is necessarily behind every form of worship,
however puerile it may be, but this does not mean that all


forms of worship have an equal status, as Verse 23 already
referred to makes evident.

The bipolar relationship which is established between the
counterparts becomes confirmed or strengthened because
some value factor must be implied in every such relationship,
and the value, depending on the Absolute, may be said to
sanction or confirm the relationship in each case, just in
the form in which the relation, irrespective of circumstances,
gets established.

The wise man, however, chooses his interests, and thus
rises in the scale of values, leading finally to the value
which is Absolute.


sa taya sraddhaya yuktas
tasya 'radhanam ihate
labhate cha tatah kaman
mayai 'va vihitan hi tan

He, endowed with that faith, seeks the worship of such a one, and from him obtains his desires, the benefits being decreed by Me.


The same principle mentioned in Verse 21 is implied also in this verse. The object which gains primacy here is faith and not the form of worship. The indirect relation between the Absolute value and the relative value worshipped by the ignorant worshipper is further made explicit here. The words kaman (desires) and hitan (benefits) are interchangeable, except that the former refers to the object and the latter to the subject.


antavat tu phalam tesham
tad bhavaty alpamedhasam
devan devavayajo yanti
madbhakta yanti mam api

Terminable indeed is the benefit (accruing) to these of
small intelligence; sacrificers to the divinities go to the
divinities, but My devotees come to Me.


This verse has to be understood in the light of ix, 23-25
and also the more general statement of iv, 11. Here,
however, the reference is limited to devas (gods, divinities,


ones) which are hypostatic entities still in the domain of
relative ends. It is pointed out that whatever value such a
faith might have is finite and does not belong to true

The expression alpamedhasah (those of small intelligence)
makes the depreciation quite clear.

Instead of condemning relativist worship, the Gita permits
it, while making clear how inferior a place it has. It does
not mix everything up under the nebulous term "toleration"
claimed for Hinduism by many enthusiasts. The distinction
between the two kinds of devotion is clearly marked.
Krishna as a representative of the Absolute certainly
prefers his devotees to come to Him rather than to go to the
various gods, especially of the Vedic world. All relativist
notions of divinity are disapproved, though generously
permitted out of respect for the feeling of others, according
to the spirit of iii, 26.


avyaktam vyaktim apannam
manyante mam abuddhayah
param bhavam ajananto
mama'vyayam anuttamam,

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


The Absolute is beyond all predication, whether methodological,
epistemological or actual. This is what the last section of
this chapter, beginning with this verse, wants to underline
unmistakably, before passing over to the detailed aspects
of the Absolute in later chapters.

When we remember that in Verse 2 of this chapter it was
promised that a full and all-comprehensive picture of
the Absolute would be covered in this chapter, it is
natural to expect that the final rounding-off of the subject,
in its more subtle implications, would find its place in
the present concluding section of this chapter which is
theoretically most important.

In Verses 24-27 inclusive, a final attempt is made to complete the picture of the unpredicable Absolute as far as description can do so. Verse 24 here, enuniciates the character of Absolute in terms of manifestation and non-manifestation.


The verse admits of four possible ways of ruling out predications about the Absolute.

First, it denies that the manifest is the Absolute, though
derived from a prior unmanifest. Second, it rules out the
theory (which is more philosophical) that the unmanifest is
the Absolute, although it attains to manifestation as the
visible world. Third, it rules out the position where a
philosopher thinks that the manifest and unmanifest are dual
aspects of the same Absolute, a position which Sankara
(under the criticism of bheda-abheda vada "doctrine of
difference non-difference" in the Brahma Sutra commentary,
I, iv, 20 and III, ii, 29) has taken so much trouble to
refute. Fourth, as a final residue there is the possible
predication which states that the Absolute is an entity
to be included among entities abstract or concrete
which the mind is capable of conceiving statically or
existentially. Here the Absolute is not to be thought of
as a thing at all. The Absolute belongs to the unique order
of the Absolute itself which has nothing in common with
things or entities, however subtle or perceptual they may be.
The Absolute is the supreme and therefore above all, though
comprehending all. Nothing can therefore be predicated of it,
but everything that is predicated derives its reality from it.
Such a thoroughgoing interpretation of this verse is
justified, not only in the light of the character of this
chapter, but also because the unpredicable nature of the
Absolute is found in many Upanishads (see particularly
Mandukya Upanishad, Verse 7).

The term abuddhayah (unreasonable) means those who have no
proper method of reasoning, but only a vague form of religious
fervour The Gita is never tired of harping on the word buddhi
(reason) and its derivatives, which appear dozens of times
in the work, and those familiar with the Gita cannot mistake
the sense in which it is used here. The rational philosophical
attitude is given its due share in spiritual life here.

The word param (beyond, transcendent, or supreme) is
generally used in contradistinction to aparam (immanent or
non-transcendent). As a methodological device for
distinguishing the two aspects of the Absolute, the duality
here might be permissible. But when we think of the
Absolute as a supreme goal or value, even this duality

There is a value which has nothing else left outside or
beyond it. The two epithets here at the end of the verse,
avyayam (unexpended) and anuttamam (with no superior)


meant to mark the uniqueness of the Absolute in terms of
value, rather than of mere philosophical reality.

That a value is here implied rather than a philosophical
concept is further confirmed by the reference to life-values,
both immanent and transcendent inclusively, in the last two
verses of this chapter. The meaning we have given is further
clarified by viii, 18-20, as we shall see.


na 'ham prakasah sarvasya
yogamaya samavritah
mudho 'yam na 'bhijanati
loko mam ajam avyayam

I am not revealed brightly to all; shrouded as I am by the
illusive effect of negative reality (yoga-maya) this deluded
world does not know Me, unborn, unexpended.


The clarity or the luminosity, by which alone this supreme
value called the Absolute is apprehended or appraised, is not
given to the generality of human beings. The reason is
stated. There is a veil produced by what is called yoga-maya
(the illusive effect of negative reality). The nature of this
has puzzled commentators.

Sankara gives two alternative explanations: first, that
maya is the resultant of the three gunas (value-levels or
modalities) mixed together; second, that maya belongs to
God or Isvara when he has steadfastness of mind as a certain

Both of these explanations are still vague and unsatisfactory.
We know of the word Yoga as meaning union between two aspects
of reality. The immanent and the transcendent, the Self and
the non-Self may he thought of as these two aspects, among
many other possible pairs.

Whatever the actual concept implied, there are two poles to
be distinguished methodologically.

These poles interact and, to the extent that duality persists
in the product of this bipolar interaction, it only
succeeds in confounding. Thus this form of Yoga (union)
tainted by dualism, tends to confuse our judgment in regard
to the supreme value of the Absolute. In this sense maya
(illusion or error-principle) and Yoga (union) go hand in
hand to defeat the purpose of wisdom. Maya being the most
subtle and general principle of error or appearance in the
human mind, yoga-maya thus means the illusive effect of
negative reality.


The epithets ajam (unborn) and avyayam (unexpended)
further distinguish the Absolute as it is to be understood
above. Here the time factor is brought into these epithets
leading up to the further reference to the relation between
time and the Absolute in the next verse. Ajitavada (doctrine
of the world as unborn) and vivartavada (doctrine of the
world as a presentment) which could be taken as corollaries
of mayavada ( doctrine of the world as illusion or a
principle of error) are implied in these epithets, indicating
that the notion of the Absolute refers to pure time or the
eternal present as understood in the philosophy of Bergson
or Plotinus.


veda 'ham samatitani
vartamanani cha 'rjuna
bhavishyani cha bhutani
mam tu veda na kaschana

I know the beings that are past, present and to come,
0 Arjuna, but no one knows Me.


At first sight there seems to be a complaint here on the
part of Krishna that true knowledge of him is not found in
anybody. The possibility of all knowledge of the Absolute
seems thus to be shut off altogether.

This superficial interpretation is not what is intended by
the author. Here, he wants to point out that there are two
ways of cognition by living beings or persons; one which
might be called static, mechanistic or actual; and the other
the intuitive, dynamic or vital.

The latter is the way given to the eye of contemplation, in
which the subject and the object become identified and a
certain transparency of vision is established between the
divisions of time, past, present and future.

The former or static way is when beings are objectively
established as mere expressions of the Absolute. It is where
the multiplicity of beings may be said to exist in an endless
series of cross-sections of reality which are not intuitively
or vitally interrelated, and there is no transparency of vision.
This static view shuts out any global or comprehensive
vision of the Absolute. Beings as such, as specific entities of
an objective order, can never comprehend the Absolute
fully. The vision of the Absolute is possible through the
intuitive identity of subject and object. The lamp of wisdom
becomes clear to the extent


that the triputi (tri-based division of subject, object and
meaning) is transcended.

To overcome ignorance therefore, the way of intuition is
recommended. The object of the whole chapter is to indicate
the way to know the Absolute comprehensively. Hence the
relevancy of the distinction here pointed out between the two
ways of knowing.


ichchhadvesha samutthena
dvandvamohena bharata
sarvabhutani sammoham
sarge yanti paramtapa

From the delusion of the pairs of opposites arising
from attraction and repulsion, 0 Bharata (Arjuna),
all beings, on being created, are subject to confusion
(of values), 0 Burner of the Foe (Arjuna).


Dvandva (pairs of opposites) in the philosophical sense, is
the subject matter of Verses 27 and 28. Every duality implies
values which produce conflict in the individual. Attractions
and repulsions under various categories create a general
confusion of values through whose haze the individual gets

This is the dvandvamoha (confusion arising from opposites)
referred to in both these verses. The attractions and
repulsions may be in regard to everyday values, or may
comprise moral or spiritual values.

When a being is born the very act of coming into contact
with the material world starts the process of attraction and
repulsion, of which the basic example of heat and cold is
mentioned at the beginning of the Gita in ii, 14. A child
wants no extremes of temperature and therefore is caught
between two such limits which may exist in the physical
world. Dvandva (pairs of opposites) here are not dvaita
(duality) but refer to pleasure and pain in the actual world,
or refer to conflicting interests immediately present to
each man.

This struggle between pleasure and pain is common to all
beings and is indicated in birth itself. From basic examples
such as heat and cold we rise in a scale which includes all
necessary values. Where conflicts are neutralized, pairs of
opposites become non-operative. Then the vision regarding
true values becomes clear.


To avoid attraction and repulsion is therefore the attitude
to be cultivated by the spiritual man, so that necessity can
be transcended without conflict and the total content of the
Absolute calmly contemplated.

The word sarge (on being created) gives this verse that turn
by which it is joined in meaning to the last and the next
verse. The main object of this chapter, we should remember,
is to show a complete picture of the Absolute so as to leave
nothing over, as promised at the beginning in Verse 2.


yesham tv antagatam papam
jananam punyakarmanam
te dvamdvamoha nirmukta
bhajante mam dridhavratah

But those persons of pure deeds whose sin has
come to an end, freed from the conflict of pairs of
opposites, adore Me with a firm resolve.


This verse states the converse position of a man who has
transcended the conflict arising from attraction and
repulsion of pairs of opposites. Here the terms papam (sin)
and punyam (pure, good, holy) are introduced, lifting the
values out of the necessary into the contingent field. A man
capable of choosing high yet normal human values and who
is not confused by ordinary attractions and repulsions is the
man of holiness here. It is not the ordinary sin and grace,
which again would imply duality, which are to be understood
here. Both sin and grace have been referred to as being
outside the scope of a wise man's life as implied in v,15,
and in, e.g., the Kaushitaki Upanishad, 1,4.

These concluding verses are intended to lead up to the
discussion in the next chapter and further on, of the
implications of the science of the Absolute. In the ninth
chapter a full dress discussion is to be given. This explains
why this chapter stops short with a reference to a way of
life, rather than stating a philosophical doctrine.

The term dridhavratah (those of firm resolve) might at
first sight suggest that even persons of the Gita's way of life
observe rigorous or austere disciplines. It is not suggested
here that they should observe such discipline; but rather that
they are well established on a straight, normal or spiritual
way of life, by their very freedom from the conflict of
attractions and


repulsions. They naturally lead a life in which all activities
are pure. They do not deliberately choose observances
ordained as holy as laid down in scriptures.


jaramarana mokshaya
mam asritya yatanti ye
te brahma tad viduh kritsnam
adhyatmam karma cha'khilam

Whoever resorting to Me, strive for liberation from
decay and death, they know That, that Absolute,
all that constitutes Self-knowledge, and everything
pertaining to (ritualistic) action.


Departmentalized streams of spirituality prevailing before
the time of the Gita were brought into one convergent
current in the previous verse. It was a personal attitude
rather than a philosophical doctrine or a ritualistic
observance which was stated.

Here the same unitive tendency is carried over to a second
degree of clarity. Any concept of freedom should be thought
of as a breaking away from the chains of necessity. But
necessity has many items comprising this binding chain.
The direst necessity of man is death itself, and next to
it is the inescapable old age which creeps over all living

In trying to cut oneself away from these general though
subtle factors of necessity, one has to focus one's attention
on a value which constitutes a second pole representing
freedom in the Absolute in the fullest sense possible. A dire
disease requires a drastic remedy. The value which can form
the legitimate counterpart of the suffering bondage of man,
conceived in the most general terms, must be that Absolute
which can be considered in the most all-inclusive manner.
Here even the distinction between ritualistic observance
and perfect knowledge of the Absolute tends to be abolished
in the person of the spiritual seeker. He can be said to be a
knower of Brahman, a knower of the Self, and a knower of
the secret of all action, indifferently.

These three approaches to the knowledge of the Absolute
are evident in this verse, to be further and more specifically
referred to in the next verse, and the same three ways form
the opening questions in the next chapter.



sadhibhutadhidaivam mam
sidhiyajnam cha ye viduh
prayanakale 'pi cha mam
te vidur yuktachetasah

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


The final focussing of the Self in relation to that supreme
value called the Absolute generally takes place when a man
is about to leave life here. It is referred to in this verse as
prayanakala (time of departure).

Conversely, if a man is capable of retaining a global or
intuitive vision of the Absolute in all its three aspects
mentioned, at the time of his passing, he may be said to have
at that time a proper and complete vision of the Absolute as
intended in this chapter.

The three departments of the way of wisdom mentioned here form
the key subject-matter of the next chapter. We need not
therefore enter into their implications in any detail here.
We can say however that adhibhuta is the existential,
subjective; adhidaiva the hypostatic, subsistantial, objective;
and adhiyajna the relational interaction between the subject
and object by which different absolutist values emerge. We
notice there are three seemingly different factors referred to
in the previous verse, and also that there are four different
problems with regard to them - all of which will be examined
in detail in the opening verses of the next chapter.
The repetition of the preposition sa (with) is to emphasize
that these three aspects have to be treated together by the
seeker for wisdom without compartmentalization.

This chapter as a whole leaves us gasping in many respects.
We wonder why, in the first place, the elements like earth
and water are brought into the context of pure spirituality.
We wonder again at the end of this chapter, why a dying
man's spirituality is referred to with approval.

However, when we remember that the object of this chapter
is to cover the whole subject of Brahman (the Absolute)
leaving out nothing belonging to it, taking as it were a
megascopic view, for the purposes of further elaboration,
we find that the intention of the author here is to mark
out the extreme limits


within whose range lies the science of the Absolute. A
spirituality which ignores matter on one side and
eschatology on the other side will remain incomplete. The
whole range of living interests, reaching from considerations
of equable temperature to the balancing of the spirit between
sin and grace, are all referred to in this chapter from the
cosmological, psychological and value aspects. These are to
be followed up in the next chapter.

ity srimad bhagavadgitasupanishatsu brahmavidydyam
yogasastre srikrishnarjunasamvade
jnanavijnanayogo nama saptamo '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
Seventh Chapter, entitled Unitive Way of Wisdom








 Akshara-Brahma Yoga


 Taraka-Brahma Yoga


In the general structure of the Gita, this Eighth Chapter has
a special purpose. We have seen in previous chapters how the
various streams of spirituality existing anteriorly to the Gita
have been taken up one after the other and contradictions, if
any, between them reconciled by the dialectical method which is
called Yoga.

The apparent contradiction between wisdom and action
(jnana and karma) was initially resolved. Then the
revaluation passed on to spiritual expressions belonging to
the ancient background of India, such as tapas (austerity),
dana (charity) and yajna (sacrifice), which were reconciled
or fused one with another. This survey was undertaken so
as to bring them all under review at one glance and so that
their sum total could lead to the full discussion of Brahmavidya
(the science of the absolute) in the two chapters which
symmetrically occupy the centre of the Gita.

But before the accomplishment of this task, the author has to
overcome a specific difficulty. The transition from the
highest form of spirituality belonging to the relativist
context to that properly understood in the absolutist sense
has to be presented without conflict.

If we take the case of number and had to give the
distinction between a number comprising one hundred
digits and infinity we could safely say that for all practical
purposes the difference would be negligible, although in
principle a difference did exist. The Gita does not intend to
banish practice from precept. Therefore in its form of
revaluation in this


chapter, superior relativism is made to tally with absolutism,
although these strictly belong to different categories.
In Verse 16 of this chapter we find that the world of
Brahma (the highest Vedic god) is still considered to belong
to the relativist aspect. But in Verse 26 the emancipated soul
which passes through the path of light belonging to Brahma
(the god) is said not to return any more. In other words,
judged by the effect, the soul or Self attains an Absolute
status. There is a subtle contradiction here which becomes
inevitable and excusable in the light of the special purpose
this chapter has to fulfil. When we remember that the Gita
is a revaluation of both a philosophy and a way of life, both
being treated together without duality, the apparent
contradiction becomes understandable.

Although starting with questions suggested at the end of
the previous chapter, this present chapter covers many
miscellaneous items, such as rebirth, yogic practices,
cosmological cycles, the bright and dark path of the soul,
culminating in praise of a way of life which clearly belongs
to the Gita as its own in the name of Yoga or dialectics,
a way which is supposed to go beyond all prior particular
expressions of spirituality.

We notice also that this chapter is conceived more in
the spirit of a song reminiscent of a Vedic chant than has
been the case with the immediately preceding chapters.
The emotional content comes into play, gathering up all
trends of spirituality, before stating the case of the Gita
more openly and philosophically in the two following

This chapter has been named Akshara-Brahma-Yoga (The
Perennial Absolute Unitively Understood) and also Taraka-
Brahma Yoga (The Absolute Unitively Understood as That
which Bears or Carries away; the Saviour). In spite of the
miscellaneous character of the subjects covered, the
justification of the title is sufficiently clear from 
Verses 11 and 28 together.


Arjuna uvacha
kim tad brahma kim adhyatmam
kim karma purushottama
adhibhutam cha kim proktam
adhidaivam kim uchyate

Arjuna said:
What is that Absolute? What (is) the Principle of
the Self? What (is) action, 0 Highest Spirit? What
is said to be the Principle of existence, and what is
spoken of as the principle of divinity?


adhiyajnah katham ko'tra
dehe'smin madhusudana
prayanakale cha katham
jneyo 'si niyatatmabhih

Here in this body, what and how is (to be understood)
the principle of sacrifice, 0 Madhusudana (Krishna)?
Again, how are You to be known by self-controlled
persons at the time of going forth from the body?


A volley of eight questions is fired by Arjuna. Why does
he not put them singly? The reason is evidently because the
author wants to fuse together and revalue the spiritual
content of many anterior traditional trends. It is at the
time of death that all currents of spirituality in the normal
life of the individual tend to come together naturally into
one master life-tendency reaching out to fulfilment, which
can be satisfied only when met by the wholesale wisdom of
the Absolute going to be treated here. It is thus that
this chapter gains its unity.

The opening question: "What is that Brahman (the Absolute)?"
in its scope covers all secondary questions, leading up to
the heart of the subject with which the Gita is primarily

To think of the Absolute in terms of the Self is a later
development of the Upanishads. From gods such as Indra
and Varuna, and through a unitive Godhead, the notion of a
cosmological Brahman (Absolute) first found its place in the
Upanishads. This, in its turn, was transformed into a more
perfected psychological Brahman in terms of the Atman
(Self). Thus Brahman (Absolute) and Atman (Self) became
interchangeable terms. Karma (ritual) itself was historically
connected with the notion of Brahman, whether
cosmological or psychological, at least in the Indian
background. Brahmavidya (the science of the Absolute) .
was the natural outgrowth of Vedic sacrifices. Thus the
relevancy of the references to sacrifice are understandable.
The reference to bhutah (elements) is also understandable
in the light of the previous chapter. Brahmavidya (the
science of the Absolute) is also related to the brighter
values of life as


against the regretful or smoky values such as belong to the
way of the forefathers. Thus, how these seemingly different
questions hang together vis-à-vis the science of the
Absolute is sufficiently clear; especially when adhidaiva
(the principle of divinity) is going to be defined in almost
heretical terms in Verse 4, as pertaining to purusha (spirit)
which has nothing theologically holy associated with it.
The devas ("shining" divinities), taken individually, do not
seem to matter here. The hypostatic content of deva-hood or
divinity as essentially belonging to the purusha (spirit)
aspect of the Absolute (as distinct from its prakriti-nature,
matter-aspect) is the important thing.

The consideration of yajna (sacrifice) gives rise to two
questions, "how" and "who" and is further limited to what
pertains to the body here itself. Arjuna wants an answer
consistent with the science of the Absolute, not in a
theoretical form but as it would apply to a personal way
of life here and now, as also to one passing from this
life to the hereafter. All these questions and answers
imply the common factor called niyatatmabhih (by those
whose Self has been brought under control), though strict
grammar may not require such a collective interpretation,
and might restrict the epithet to the speaker of the last
question only. Thus, the questions suggest and circumscribe
the answers very definitely, to make the answers all the
more telling.


Sribhagavan uvacha
aksharam brahma paramam
svabhavo 'dhyatmam uchyate
visargah karmasamjnitah

Krishna said:
Perennial, the Absolute, supreme - (Its) own nature,
principle of Self is called. The creative urge, the
cause of the origin of existent beings, is designated


The precise answers to the questions that follow are
based on the science of the Absolute as revalued in the
Gita. This revaluation began, as we said, with the
Upanishads themselves. There the rational heterodox
schools of philosophy


joined hands with Vedic cosmological and eschatological
schools to form one body of wisdom.

The word purusha (spirit), for example, associated with
the Samkhya system, having its origin in ancient books such
as the Tattva Samhita, and handed down to the Samkhya
Karika of later date, is not to be identified with any one
of the Vedic gods, although the word is not altogether
unknown, especially in compound terms as puranapurusha
(ancient spirit) or purushottama (highest spirit). The
term Brahman (the Absolute) has had its own evolution in
the Vedas, culminating in the Vedanta. In the course of
the revaluation to which these fundamental notions were
subjected, yajna (sacrifice) itself came to be identified
with the Absolute or Self.

The definition of karma (action) contained in this verse is
an example of how far this form of revision could be precise
and philosophically sound. Karma (action) as comprising
every kind of action, human or natural, in the universe,
is brought under one sweeping definition consisting of the
visargah (creative urge) bhutabhavodbhavakarah (which
causes the origin of existent beings). This compound word
lifts karma (action) from its ritualist limitations and gives
it a philosophical status as clear and modern as that of
Bergson, who speaks of pure becoming. Bergson himself, we
know, derived such notions from Plotinus and even from
pre-Socratic philosophers like Zeno. The notion is not
peculiar therefore to any particular philosophical school,
Indian or Greek. Although Sankara would make it out that
karma (action) would refer more directly to sacrificial
offerings which, we must admit, is in keeping with the
tendency so evident in many of the major Upanishads, and
thus natural and justifiable when critically examined in
themselves, we prefer to take here the plainer and more
universal meaning independent of the Indian background.
Even the definition of the Absolute as "Perennial" or
"Imperishable" points at a preference for the universal on
the part of the author himself. The whole intention of those
definitions is evidently to make Vedic or Upanishadic
notions more universally valid as belonging to a coherent
science of the Absolute.

Adhyatman (principle of the Self) is referred to simply
and plainly as svabhavah (own or proper nature), a term
which makes no distinction even between subject and

The definition, aksharam brahma paramam, could be translated
in three ways, making one or other of the three terms the


subject and the two remaining words the attributes. As this
definition is meant to be directly related to the question
in Verse 1, we prefer to make Brahman (the Absolute) the
subject, and the other two words aksharam (perennial) and
paramam (supreme) the attributes. In finding the intended
meaning of the other definitions the same rule holds good.


adhibhutam ksharo bhavah
purushas cha 'dhidaivatam
adhiyajno 'ham eva 'tra
dehe dehabhritam vara

The principle of existence is the transient aspect, and
spirit is the principle of divinity; what pertains
to sacrifice is Myself here in the body, 0 Most Superior
Bearer of the Body (Arjuna).


The abstract idea of the Absolute, when unitively understood
together with its various counterparts or aspects, is
brought down to definite concrete terms of a Self lodged in
the body of the subject here and now. Between the Supreme
and the concrete individualized subject is the amplitude
within whose range the perennial unitive principle is to be
understood for purposes of emancipation, which is proper to
the Gita teaching.

Ritualistic sacrifice, which is usually associated with the
word yajna (sacrifice), is here identified with aham (I),
which one would at first think had more to do with the Atman (Self). When we permit the larger Self to be the
connotation of the "aham" used here, such a Self could he
construed as a value which constitutes the Absolute. That
sacrifice and the Self as the Absolute are interchangeable
terms is allowed in the light of iii, 15.

Yajna (sacrifice), taken as a relation between the
sacrificer and the god, attains the same status of an
Absolute value. In other words, as a principle, sacrifice
occupies a neutral position between subject and object and
thus has a new status which is neither the one nor the other,
as implied in xv, 24. Yajna (sacrifice) and Atman (Self) thus
become interchangeable terms. Brahman (the Absolute) in
this sense, may be said to be lodged in the body without
violating any theoretical principles. In fact such is the
implication of xviii, 61 taken together with iii, 10.


This identity of the Absolute with the Self on one side and
sacrifice on the other is supported by the Taittiriya Samhita,
1, vii- 4 cited by Sankara as stating, "Sacrifice is verily
Vishnu". Note however, that here it is the Self of Krishna
and not any human soul which is identified with sacrifice.
This statement does not contradict what was said in vii, 12
because there it was specialized manifestation in nature
which was discussed, and not the conscious Self as understood
in a human and personal context.

The epithet dehabhritam vara (O Most Superior Bearer of a Body)
as applied to Arjuna here, should be understood in the same
personal way, with this difference, that when Krishna refers
to himself as living in his own body, the accent is on his
higher, nature, while in the case of Arjuna, the accent is on
the ontological side. In both cases it is the personality
which is under consideration and, when neutrally conceived,
the personality equals the Absolute. This, in turn, equals
the principle of sacrificial relationship. The ontological
or the existential aspect of the Absolute here referred to
under adhibhutam (principle of existence) is transient, in a
state of constant flux or becoming. It has its counterpart
in the purusha (spirit) which is a subsistantial reality
given to formal reasoning. As such, it has a permanency,
though still within the range of implicit duality.

This vestige of duality will be abolished in Verses 20 and 21,
as we shall see. We should remember, however, that when
we refer to the transience or mutability of existence, this
does not affect the archetypal concepts which are behind the
multiplicity of created things. If the permanence of such
archetypal forms is denied, existence itself would have no


antakale cha mam eva
smaran muktva kalevaram
yah prayati sa madbhavam
yati na 'sty atra samsayah

And he who, at the time of death, thinking of Me alone,
leaves the body and goes forth, reaches My being; herein
there is no room for doubt.


We find now that we enter a section which might be
called eschatological in character. The reference to antakale
(the time of ending), the termination of life, is necessary to
bring all


life-values into focus as it were, towards a unified stream
of interest. When a person is faced with death, minor or
trivial interests of everyday life tend to recede into the
background, and a master-interest is bound to prevail.
The object of such interest, if it happens to be an
Absolute value, and if a strict bipolarity is established
between subject and object, can be expected to lead the
subject along the highest path from which there is no
return. Besides the duality between what is a wholehearted
life-interest which is happiness, and mere pleasures which
attract and repel here, there is also another order of duality
as between the relative world of manifestation and the
world which is higher than either the manifested or the

The rest of the chapter touches on these aspects in the
spiritual progress of a person. Although the chapter opens
with many questions; in answering them a unitively global
or wholehearted way of life is chalked out by the author by
the time we come to the end.

The importance of what a person thinks of before the
time of death in determining his next birth in the context
of the theory of reincarnation is familiar to us in various
texts such as the Yoga Vasishta, and even in the Ramayana and
Mahabharata. A bee in a lotus trampled by an elephant in
the Yoga Vasishta is reborn as an elephant, and Ravana
killed by Rama in the Ramayana enters into the beatitude
or salvation of Rama-hood which is the same as

Although we need not interpret the implications of this
theory here in such graphic terms proper to the Puranas
(legendary writings), it is not difficult to understand
what is stated here in a more philosophical or psychological
sense. "Like attracts like" may be said to be a law of life.
To put it more precisely, counterparts tend to abolish
each other in the Absolute. Arjuna as a disciple here is
the counterpart of Krishna who represents the Absolute
value. Strict bipolarity established between the two must
sublimate whatever is relative in Arjuna in terms of the
Absolute that Krishna represents. The implications of this
theory broadly enunciated in this verse are worked out in
greater detail in the rest of the chapter, stage by stage.
Na'sty atra samsaya (herein there is no room for
doubt) - this is meant to underline the theory elaborated in
the Gita which is one of its cardinal contributions, as
evidenced in the two Verses ix, 34 and xviii, 65, whose
significant positions we have already emphasized. It is
a doctrine of paramount importance.


yam-yam va 'pi smaran bhavam
tyajaty ante kalevaram
tam-tam evai 'ti kaunteya
sada tadbhavabhavitah

Whatever manifested aspect a man might think of
at death when he leaves the body, that, 0 Son of
Kunti (Arjuna), he reaches, whose thoughts always
conform to that particular life-expression.


The general law is enunciated without reference to the
Absolute in this verse. As a man thinks, he becomes. This is
a popular form in which many writers have stated this law,
well known all over the world. The Buddhist Dhammapada
recognizes this when it says at the beginning: "All that we
are is the result of what we have thought". There is a
bipolarity implicit in life which determines our progress in
general, and above all what might be called spiritual

Relative progress is also subject to this law. But when
Absolute value enters in as the major counterpart of the
situation, then the progress may be said to be the highest
or final.

The expression sada tadbhavabhavitaha (always conforming to
that particular life-expression) refers to the general aspect
of the law. In other words a person might have at the time
of death an intense and bipolar interest in a dearly-beloved
person. The theory may be then understood to imply that he
would be born again with a dearly-beloved person as a
condition in fulfilment of this desire. If such a value was
not a person, it might be an object of worship or adoration,
such as a favourite form of deity, or God, which would perhaps
apply better than a particularized interest which is bound
to be partial or weakened in bipolar interest.


tasmat sarveshu kaleshu
mam anusmarayudhya cha
mayy arpitamanobuddhir
mam evai 'shyasy asamsayah

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



Based on the general law of Verse 6, what is recommended
here for the disciple is to fix his mind on the Absolute
represented by Krishna, not only at the time of death,
but sarveshu kaleshu (at all times). The intention of
the reference to the time of death in the earlier verses
becomes clear now from the sense of this verse. It was
merely to bring out into clear perspective the bipolar
relationship demanded as a prerequisite for proper
spiritual progress. It is not meant as a dictum for the
practice of piety only just before death. One has to have
sustained interest in the Absolute throughout a lifetime.
The expression yudhya cha (also fight) coming again as a
direct reference to fighting when its need as a literary
device has been left well behind, is rather striking, and
has to be understood in the same light as in Verse 13 of
this same chapter where there is again a double-edged or
two-sided injunction given. There "Aum "has to be recited
on the one hand, side by side with thinking of the Absolute.
The reference to fighting has undergone various modifications
in former chapters as we have had occasion to point out.
Between Arjuna as a warrior who drops his weapons and
Arjuna as a disciple in the pure context of wisdom there
are grades marking the transition between actual warfare,
or what may be said to be the moral implications of warfare.
The enemy in iii, 43, becomes kamarupam (the form of his
own desire) and further in iv, 42, the enemy becomes a
subtler factor of intelligence, merely, which is there
named ajnanasambhutam (an ignorance-born doubt), and all
that Arjuna is asked to do is to stand up against it.

The reference to fighting in this verse, therefore, has to be
credited with all these sense-modifications before its true
implications as intended by the author can be understood.
Life itself is spoken of in most languages as a fight.
Lapsing into negative attitudes is the danger to be avoided,
as much in spiritual as in actual life. Between these two, a
necessary vestige of duality is still consciously retained by
the author. Religious practices belonging to different
schools or traditions have all been brought under one view
in this chapter and it is too early to abolish even here this
duality, so necessary for the discussion to be developed.
But this vestige of duality will be discarded later. A person
can admire a sunset and ride a bicycle without the two acts
coming into conflict, if the cyclist is a well-practised
person. The secret of Yoga implies this kind of harmony


between the two aspects of life. Automatic activities of a
reflex action can co-exist with wilful or consciously chosen
activity. Physical fighting, when found absolutely necessary
cannot come into conflict with the conscious cultivation of
philosophical absolutism. The former is to be taken for
granted or as permissive in certain rare circumstances, as
Krishna here judges the present occasion to be. The, fault of
recommending action and wisdom together does not arise in
this rare instance.


abhyasa yogayuktena
cetasa na 'nyagamina
paramam purusham divyam
yati partha 'nuchintayan

Meditating with the mind engaged in the Yoga involving
positive effort, undistracted by anything else, he goes to
the supreme divine Person, O Partha (Arjuna).


Before passing over, in the few verses that follow, into a
rhapsodic, exalted adulation of the highest spiritual path
combining all the various disciplines, this verse states the
theme of this chapter by way of a summary, in plain
unexaggerated terms.

The reference to abhyasayoga (Yoga involving spiritual
effort) indicates that we are still reaching the climax of
the discussion of Yoga. The reference to paramam purusham
divyam (the supremely divine person) cannot mean anything
but the Absolute, described in the plain words belonging to
normal spirituality, religion or theology. The rest of the
verse only ensures the bipolar conditions required for true
emancipation mentioned as the cardinal doctrine of the Gita.
The epithet divyam (divine) as applied to purusha (person)
does not suggest anything of the nature of ancestor-worship,
but ancestor-worship is not excluded as we shall see in the
next verse. Retrospective references are not altogether
ruled out.


kavim purnam anusasitaram
anor aniyamsam anusmared yah
sarvasya dhataram achintyarupam
adityavarnam tamasah parastat

prayanakale manasa 'chalena
bhaktya yukto yogabalena chai 'va
bhruvor madhye pranam avesya samyak
sa tam param purusham upaiti divyam

He who meditates on the Poet-seer, the Ancient, the Ordainer,
minuter than the atom, the Dispenser of all, of unthinkable
nature, sun-coloured, beyond the darkness -

who meditates at the time of departure with a steady mind
possessed of devotion, as also of the strength that comes
from Yoga, well-fixing the life-breath betwixt the eyebrows,
he reaches that Supreme Divine Person,


After the plain statement of the position given in Verse 8,
these two verses rise into a crescendo of rhapsody. Verse 9
further makes up for the omission of restrospective values in
spirituality specifically referred to by the phrase anusmared
yaha (one who is to be remembered).

Terms like puranam (ancient) further accentuate the same
retrospective vision. But the whole sense of the verses
cannot be said to be within the scope of what may be thought
to be ancestor-worship. Cosmological and philosophical, not
to speak of theological and purely mystical epithets, are
piled one on to the other here to make a confection of
inimitable poetical sublimity.

The epithet anusasitaram (the ordainer) is evidently
theological; and anor aniyamsam (minuter than the atom) is
philosophical, especially reminiscent of the Vaiseshika
school; and the epithet adityavarnam (sun-coloured) marks,
as it were, the limit of the poetic excess, reminiscent of
Vedic chants. This last epithet can only have a deeply
mystical import because of the suggestion implied here that
when we travel retrospectively through the darkness of
unknowing, we come again to a Light beyond all light, which
can only be the Light of the Self.

Verse 10 continues the rhapsody, but in prospective terms.
The whole verse is intended to reveal a central global attitude
of the spirit, especially of a yogi related to the Absolute
according to the technique already covered. The reference to
prayanakale (time of departure) again here, is meant as
before merely to reveal the prospective orientation of the
spirit, and not necessarily to any form of piety that might be
peculiar to


the time of death only. Here again theology, Yoga and
worship are all suggested by the various expressions used.
The phrase bhruvor madhye (centre of the eyebrows) for
example, belongs to the context of Yoga practice. The
reference to divyam purusham (divine person) is theological.
The attempt by the author clearly is to bring into one
confluent expression the various spiritual streams of
discipline. This is the task to be accomplished by the end of
this chapter, as the last verse will sufficiently indicate, so
that the deck is cleared, as it were, for the proper discussion
of the central topic of the Gita.

The word kavi which can merely mean a poet or a man of
imagination in the usual sense, as referring to the Absolute,
is to be specially noted here. It has within its own range of
meaning divinities that are omniscient, dwelling in the region
of the primordial sun. From the immanent to the transcendent
all personalized values can be covered by this expression.


yad aksharam vedavido vadanti
visanti yad yatato vitaragah
yad ichchanto brahmacharam charanti
tat te padam samgrahena pravakshyo

That imperishable (value) which the knowers of the Vedas speak
of, which the Self-controlled and passion-free enter, which
desiring they lead the life of the disciplined (Vedic) student,
that state I shall succinctly describe.


What has been stated in eschatological language is restated
in this verse without reference to the time of death,
but with the intention of focussing different trends of
spirituality into one master channel directed towards a more
finalized and revalued notion of spirituality.

The different references in this verse therefore to (1) the
vedavid (Veda-knower), (2) the yati (anchorite or ascetic)
whose characteristic is self-control, and (3) the brahmachari
(initially a Vedic student, but later connoting one who walks
the path of the Absolute, as understood in the Upanishads).
This collective enumeration is not a new method, but is
already familiar in the Upanishads - e.g., Katha Up. ii, 15,
the object being the same, namely the revaluation and
restatement of existing trends in spirituality.


The expression aksharam (imperishable) is meant to refer
to the content in most generalized terms of Vedic learning
taken as a whole. Whatever may be the particular deities or
gods mentioned specifically in the Vedas; when taken
together the whole of the Vedas may be said to be directed
to the understanding of what is here called the Imperishable.

The word vedavid occurs in the same sense in xv, 1, and
there as here, it is employed to mean a person who is able to
take a comprehensive or a wholesale view of Vedic
teaching. Though still relative, Vedic teaching taken in this
way can have a counterpart or an implied subject-matter
which could be spoken of as the Imperishable, thus
approximating to the Absolute as far as it is possible within
the relativist context of such a religious scripture. The great
fig tree or banyan referred to in xv, i, represents a vision of
the Absolute as seen by one who is still a relativist. But in
so far as such a vision takes a wholesale view of humanity,
it becomes a respectable objective even in the more truly
contemplative context. What the Vedic visionary can see is
therefore held up to view in laudatory terms in this present
verse, although on final scrutiny this chapter holds a more
thoroughly absolutist pattern of spirituality.

The term visanti (enter) states a goal, not in terms of
understanding as in the former case, but as conforming to a
way of life. Rajas (passion) is the enemy of spirituality as
understood in the Gita (iii, 37). The importance of the
phrase vitaragah (those passion-freed) here lies in its being
the sole qualification for spirituality.

Even in the case of a simple brahmachari (dedicated
student on the path of the Absolute); he has a desired end,
though perhaps of a more theoretical nature. But he
submits himself voluntarily to certain disciplines or ways
of life because of such an aim or desire. Whatever the
nature of the goal, whether conceived in terms of wisdom
or discipline, even with ends and means treated without
difference, the subject-matter or content of spirituality
remains the same, which is the Absolute understood in the
Gita. Such a neutral state is implied in the word padam
(foothold, base, state).

The phrase samgrahena (in brief) reveals unmistakably
the nature of the task which this chapter sets out to
accomplish. It is neither a merely religious, a philosophic
nor a yogic goal which is kept in view, but a goal which is
all these at once.



sarvadvarani samyamya
mano hridi nirudhya cha
murdhny adhaya 'tmanah pranam
asthito yogadharanam

aum ity ekaksharam brahma
vyaharan mam anusmaran
yah prayati tyajan deham
sa yati paramam gatim

Inhibiting all exits, holding the mind-factors convergent
in the heart, vitality-functionings operating centred
between the eyebrows, well-established in sustained unitive

Uttering the one-syllabled word Aum, which is the Absolute,
while constantly remembering Me, he who departs, abandoning
the body, he it is who treads the highest path.


These verses sum up the position reviewed from different
standpoints but this time in a language closer to the view of
the author of the Gita, which is primarily a yogasastra (a
textbook on the science of dialectics).

The reference to Aum as the verbum or logos or Word,
should be understood in the same light as elaborated in the
Mandukya Upanishad. Aum (the Word) is here identified
with Brahman (the Absolute).

The control of the different openings and the focussing of
mental tendencies in the heart, and the gathering of vitality
in the region of the forehead, and finally sustaining the state
of unity or Yoga, are all notions which are familiar to us in
various parts of the Upanishads.

A psycho-physical theory peculiar to the Upanishads is
implied here. Whatever the discipline recommended, the
culminating key-word to the state of perfection here is the word
Aum. It is here recommended, it should be voiced, that the
uttering of the word is to be accompanied by its own mental
counterpart which is that of remembering the Absolute
- mam anusmaram - remembering Me. The double or parallel
nature of the injunctions implied here is in keeping with
the spirit of this chapter, as we have pointed out under Verse 7.


Note that the eschatological reference is not omitted even
in this restated form, as the words tyajan deham (leaving the
body) indicate. Life-values, whether here or hereafter, are
thus brought together without duality.

Those inclined to see a reference here to particular hatha
(effort) Yoga practices, would be departing from the simpler
rational meaning implied here. The numerous references in
the Upanishads should be our guide in this matter.

The parama gati (supreme road), referred to here, should
be distinguished from the lesser, more relativist, ways spoken
of in some of the verses which follow. It is easily reached,
as Verse 14 points out. The distinction is further elaborated
in Verses 16 and 23, and in Verse 26 it is definitely stated
that there is a path treading which one never returns. The
Gita takes the stand on this finalized idea of the Absolute,
and any other references to paths less absolutist should be
looked upon as incidental to the discussion of the whole
subject, as intended by the comprehensive survey of this


ananyachetah satatam
yo mam smarati nityasah
tasya'ham sulabhah partha
nityayuktasya yoginah

One without extraneous relational mental interests,
remembering Me day in and day out, to such an
ever unitively affiliated man of contemplation I
am easy of attainment, 0 Partha (Arjuna).


This verse states that the path indicated by the Gita is
easy. Elsewhere it was often repeated that it was rare and
difficult, as for example, in vii, 3.

The facility implied here is in the sense that it is a simple
matter of establishing a relation between the relative and
the Absolute which is the prerequisite for spiritual progress.
When the two important conditions for such a bipolar
relationship are strictly fulfilled, the results take place
spontaneously and with case. These two conditions for the
ensuring of this bipolarity are referred to here quite

The first condition is implied in the expression
ananyachetah (one without extraneous relational mental
interests). For strict bipolarity to be established, all
interfering third interests have to be carefully eliminated.


The second condition is implied in the term nityasah (day
in and day out). It is not enough that the relation should be
established in bipolarity for any limited period. It has to
have an undeflecting character which has to be maintained
in terms of eternity rather than in terms of time.

The nature of the conditions emphasized here are further
underlined in the last phrase nitya yuktasya yoginah (by the
ever unitively affiliated man of contemplation. It is the yogi
or the contemplative and not a mere devotee or religious
person who is always to be kept in mind in the Gita and,
though, all paths lead to him as stated earlier, it is he who
fulfils these conditions, who finds the path easy to tread.


mam upetya punarjanma
duhkhalayam asasvatam
na 'pnuvantu mahatmanah
samsiddhim paramam gatah

Having attained to Me, they do not return to this transitory
abode of suffering, they having reached the highest attainment.


The Absolute character of the highest path of wisdom is
for those rare or great ones who are different from relativists
of whatever kind or grade who may be mentioned hereafter.
The one characteristic which distinguishes such absolutists
is that they do not return to a life of suffering at all. This
never-returning characteristic is always referred to as the
chief feature, not only elsewhere in the Gita, but throughout
the Upanishads. One who returns to another birth, however
superior, is still a relativist; but the absolutist is one who,
once gone, never returns. This makes all the difference
between the two categories. 

The reference to duhkhalayam (abode of suffering) on the
one hand, and to mahatmanah (rare great ones) on the other
hand, who can escape such suffering by simple affiliation to
the way of the Absolute, by its implicit contrast, gives a
certain poetic sublimity to this verse.


a brahmabhuvanal lokah
punaravartino 'rjuna
mam upetya tu kaunteya
punarjanma na vidyate


All worlds beginning from here to the world of Brahma
are subject to phenomenal repetition, Arjuna;
but on reaching Me, 0 Son of Kunti (Arjuna), there
is not another birth.


Before passing on to a cosmological discussion after this verse, the two contrasting positions are clearly brought into relief here. It should be noticed that the world of Brahma, although it has the highest status cosmologically, as a goal to be attained in the Vedic context, is still relegated to a secondary position, as against the goal represented by Brahman, the Absolute.

Beginning from this work-a-day world or everyday realm,
we can imagine a series of graded worlds, each of
which represents the goal to which the religious man
aspires. The highest of such realms known to the Vedas is
still not the best as understood in the Gita. Krishna here
not only represents the Absolute cosmologically, but also
psychologically, and even in every other spiritual context
known till then.

The cosmological or theological colorations that might
limit the notion of the Absolute are eliminated by the
striking contrast here. The non-returning character is again
referred to as the distinguishing feature. Cyclic repetition
of phenomena is the characteristic of the relativistic world.


sahasryayuga paryantam
ahar yad brahmano viduh
ratrim yugasahasrantam
te 'horatravido janah

Those who know that the day of Brahma is a thousand unit
periods in the cosmic cycle, and the night of a thousand
(such) units, they are understanders of the day and night


A discussion of certain cosmological principles follows
in this section up to Verse 19 inclusive. just like the
alternation of day and night, a theory is postulated here
which implies that Brahma, the Author of creation, belongs
to a cycle of existence which has two aspects. A "day" of
Brahma comprises a thousand yugas (unit periods in the
cosmic cycle), whatever the duration of such a period may
be in terms of actual time as we understand it empirically,
the important fact referred to


here is the alternation. A thousand units of a bright period
are balanced by a thousand periods of a dark period. Those
who can understand this alternating ambivalent principle,
implicit in the notion of the Absolute, theologically or
cosmologically, are referred to here as ahoratravido janah
(understanders of the day and night), i.e., those who can
intuitively enter into all the implications of such a theory
of alternating day and night in eternal duration.


avyaktad vyaktayah sarvah
prabhavanty aharagame
ratryagame praliyante
tatrai 'va 'vyaktasamjnake

From the unmanifested all the manifested proceed at the
coming of day; at the coming of night they merge in that
same, named the unmanifested.


The same alternation is described here in terms of
manifestation and dissolution. Although creation as we
experience it daily is not dissolved at night, but continues
actually outside and virtually inside our own consciousness,
in the larger sense of a cosmology conceived from a
contemplative angle, this alternation can be spoken of as
taking place more strictly or theoretically as between the
manifested and the unmanifested. In the wakeful state
everything has actuality. In the states of sleep and dream,
existence has only a virtual status. When we speak in terms
of consciousness, in this sense it is that this verse declares
that the manifested emerges from the unmanifested and
returns to it when night comes. This is not to be taken in the
language of the positive sciences, but should be understood
as belonging to the contemplative context where consciousness,
rather than objectivity, is given primacy. In the phrase
tatra eva avyaktasamjnake (in that same named the unmanifested)
the insistence on it being the same indicates that the
unmanifested is a more inclusive or general notion akin
to the concept of mahat (the great) or Brahman (the Absolute)
as understood in Vedanta. This implication is clarified in 
Verse 20.


bhutagramah sa eva 'yam
bhutva-bhutva praliyate
ratryagame 'vasah partha
prabhavaty aharigame


This very same aggregate of beings, coming into existence
again and again, merges, subject to necessity, at the onset
of night, 0 Partha (Arjuna), and comes into being at the
coming of day.


This verse states the same alternation conversely, drawing
further attention to the everlasting continuity of this
alternation, as it were, in the amorphous matrix of eternal
duration. Further, it adds the complementary fact that it is
sa eva ayam (this very same) aggregate of beings, once
merged in this matrix, which is again merged, after being
created afresh. Things are viewed here as if eternally
existing sub specie aeternitatis.

Thus the identity of particular objects as such remains
constant and unchanged in principle. The emphasis here,
taken with tatra eva (that same) of the previous verse,
gives our interpretation sufficient justification.


paras tasmat tu bhavo 'nyo
'vyakto 'vyaktat sanatanah
yah sa sarveshu bhuteshu
nasyatsu na vinasyati

But beyond this unmanifested there is yet another
unmanifested perennial existence which among perishables
itself does not perish.


This verse finalizes explicitly what has been implicitly
stated in the two previous verses, according to which the
unmanifested, instead of having a status merely as the
opposite of the manifested, has a reality which is higher
still, approximating to the wonder of the Absolute.
While this unmanifested comprises both the manifested
and the unmanifested, it is here referred to as being distinct
from the latter, and must belong to an epistemological order
of its own. The force of the words parah (higher) and tu
(indeed), employed by the author to underline the distinction
between the mere unmanifest in the dualistic context, and
the unmanifest which knows no duality at all, and
approximates itself to the Absolute, becomes thereby quite
justifiable and understandable. This unmanifest is further
called sanatanah (ancient or perennial). It is not subject
to the alternating process of manifestation and destruction.
The larger and more comprehensive concept of the Absolute
gives room to the dual process


of emanation and dissolution without contradicting or
compromising such a view.

The paradoxical statement at the end of the verse has the
familiar ring of that variety of wisdom treated in the
Upanishads. It seems to admit of a vague middle ground between
two opposites or contradictions. Usual logic, however, does
not allow, by its law of an excluded middle, of such a
middle ground. The reasoning here therefore is taken to be
intuitive or contemplative rather than mere mechanistic
ratiocination as in the hands of Locke, Hume and Mill.
The central Absolute value indicated here is the basis of
the notion of the Absolute as understood in all Vedanta
writings. The sunya-vada (nihilism) is often attributed to
rationalistic approaches like Buddhism, because such
schools do not arrive at a clear notion of the Absolute as
something of a superior status or order, as implied in this


avyakto 'kshara' ity uktas
tam ahuh paramam gatim
yam prapya na nivartante
tad dhama paramam mama

That unmanifested, it is called the imperishable.
That they speak of as the highest (spiritual) path,
attaining which they return not. Such is My supreme abode.


Here the seal is finally placed on the notion of the Absolute
arrived at in the last verse, as a living word, as a path
and as an abode, thus giving it a status as a value and not
merely a logical or academic abstraction.

The word mama (my) which refers to the personality of
Krishna himself as a representative of the Absolute, makes
such a value come well within the ambit of human interests.
On one side there is the seeker and on the other side there
is his own final goal, both being treated in terms of human
value for purposes of final identification one with the other
through contemplation.


purushah sa parah partha
bhaktya labhyas tv ananyaya
yasya 'ntahsthani bhutani
yena sarvam idam tatam


This is the supreme Spirit, 0 Partha (Arjuna),
within whom all existences abide and by whom all
this is pervaded, who is attainable however, by
devotion exclusive (of all extraneous factors).


A further degree of personalization is brought about here.
The manifested world which we see before us is pervaded
by a purusha (spirit) which is here referred to as the highest.
These two aspects, the manifested world and the spirit,
which still reflect the duality of the Samkhya (rationalist)
system, are meant to be understood unitively without vestige
of duality. Any vestige will be finally abolished in the next
chapter as we have said, and is here retained only for
purposes of discussion.

The emphasis on devotion which knows no other, is again to
secure the bipolar relation already referred to. All manifested
beings are here referred to as having their dwelling within
the spirit. Here again the duality implied will be, progressively


yatra kale tv anavrittim
avrittim chai 'va yoginah
prayata yanti tam kalam
vakshyami bharatarshabha

That (cosmological) occasion in which yogis go
forth (causes them) to return or not to return (as the
case may be) that temporal circumstance, I am
going to tell you, O Chief of Bharatas (Arjuna).


The Gita in this chapter wants to stress the way of intelligence
or light. The reference to the way of darkness is resorted to
merely for purposes of contrast.

Rather abruptly, it would seem, this verse begins the final
section of this chapter. But when we notice a subtle
difference implied here, it will not be difficult to see how
the unity of this chapter has been maintained. The yogi who
is said to return and the yogi who is said not to return are
not strictly contradictory cases. The one who does not return
has a unique status by himself, while the one who returns
comprises. All grades of spiritual aspirants, from the most
inferior to the most superior. These latter are still to be
regarded generally under the category of relativist seekers.
The contrast is


therefore not one of opposites merely, but of two distinct
orders of reality, one having nothing to do with the other.
The relativists tread the dark path while the absolutists
may be said to tread the bright path. In terms of pure
understanding the contrast may be said to be again maintained.
In this last section, in keeping with the rest of the
chapter, this trace of duality is retained for the sake of
discussion. The object of the author here is finally to praise
the absolutist way as belonging to the path of light (in 
Verse 24) and to relegate all other ways, however superior
they might have been as found in various scriptures;
including even the propitiation of Brahma, the highest of
the Vedic gods, to a lower status, as belonging to the path
of darkness (in Verse 25). The intention is unmistakable
from the last verse of this chapter (Verse 28) where it is
finally stated in an exalted rhapsodic style.

The reference to "yogis" here is justified by the fact that
the whole of the Gita is a Yoga sastra (textbook of unitive
understanding or applied dialectics) and therefore it is with
the yogi or man of contemplation that the text here is
primarily concerned.

The reference to time of death here, as we have said
already, is merely to bring out the radical distinction
between those who return and those who never return,
because this is the familiar idiom by which such a
distinction is understood throughout Vedanta literature.


agnir jyotir ahah suklah
sanmasa uttarayanam
tatra prayata gachchhanti
brahma brahmavido janah

dhumo ratris tatha krishnah
sanmasa dakshinayanam
tatra chandramasam jyotir
yogi prapya nivartate

Fire, light, day-time, the bright fortnight, the six
months of the (summer) northern solstice, going
forth on that (cosmological) occasion, those people
who can understand the Absolute reach the Absolute.

Smoke, night, the dark fortnight, the six months of
the (winter) southern solstice, on that (cosmological)
occasion, the yogi attaining the lunar (relativist) light,


In Verse 24, astronomical references and the reference to
the element of fire may be elaborately commented upon in
the light of scriptural and other writings, endlessly.
However, we can see in a simple fashion the overall
intention of the author. The meaning has to be derived from
its contrast with the content of Verse 25, where all dark or
negative factors, astronomical or elemental, are enumerated.
In Verse 24, therefore, it is that side of existence dominated
by light which is the same as intelligence which is
comprised by all the allusions to the bright half of the
month and the northern path of the sun, where more light
prevails. Guru Narayana's Darsana Mala (Garland of Visions of
Reality) refers (Chapter 1) to the same as the taijasi
(the bright side) and the tamasi (the dark side) of
existence. That the same contrast is in the mind of the
author here is revealed by Verse 26 where the paths are
specifically referred to as the suklakrishna gati (white and
black paths). To think of devayana (way of the divine or
shining ones) and pitriyana (way of the fathers or ancestors)
would not be repugnant to the contrasting description stated
in more general and scientific terms here.

The contrast in Verse 25 does not hold good when closely
examined, because it is here again evidently the same yogi
of Verse 24, who follows the path of some light, however
feeble it may be, there referred to as belonging to the moon.
So even here the yogi is not following total darkness, but
only a relatively dim light.

The highest path of the lower order of Verse 25 may
approximate ever more closely with the path of pure
absolutist light implied in Verse 24, but however much they
may come together, the two paths are not the same when
tested by the touchstone of returning (i.e., relativism) and
non-returning (i.e., pure absolutism). This is the subtle
contrast which this chapter, as the one occupying a special
position as we have said, in the Gita as a whole, intends to
clarify, before coming to its own fully revalued statement.


suklakrishne gati hy ete
jagatah sasvate mate
ekaya yaty anavrittim
anyaya'vartate punah


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


The contrast between the sukla (white or bright) and
krishna (black or dark) twin paths is brought into full relief
here. It is around this question of return or non-return that
the contrast is to be understood. The superior or white path
of absolutist wisdom is favoured for purposes of more
thoroughgoing treatment in the chapters that follow.
The expression sasvate ("two" everlasting) would suggest
that both have a perennial status in this world. Although this
duality is present in this world, unity is to be established
even between them by the yogi who may be said to sacrifice
the lower black in favour of the white.


nai'te sriti partha janan
yogi muhyati kaschana
tasmat sarveshu kaleshu
yogayukto bhava 'rjuna

Understanding (the basic nature of) these two paths,
0 Partha (Arjuna), one of contemplation is not confounded
at all; therefore at all times, 0 Arjuna, be unitively
established in Yoga.


The duality that seemed to be finalized as everlasting in
this world is not so rigidly dualistic when comprehended in
terms of wisdom. This wisdom consists of unitive understanding,
otherwise known here as Yoga.

These paths, though everlastingly different, as mentioned
in the last verse, can still, it is here suggested, be brought
under unitive vision by the yogi; and when thus brought to
union, all confusion and perplexity is abolished by the one
who understands their true nature. Though different they
belong to the same principle of light, the dark side being
only less bright.

Relativism, though it is opposed to absolutism in a certain
sense, is capable of being absorbed into the Absolute by the
ascending dialectics of Yoga. Such a Yoga is here recommended
as being worthy of cultivation at all times.

We can recognize that a dream is different from waking
reality, but the knowledge of dream and waking reality as


being comprehended in one global consciousness gives the
yogic view which abolishes conflict. Similarly, the
recommendation here is that of knowing the nature of the
higher and the lower paths properly, both becoming
unitively comprehended in the wisdom which results from
yoga, and which Arjuna is asked to cultivate for all time.


vedeshu yajneshu tapahsu chai 'va
daneshu yat punyaphalam pradishtam
atyeti tat sarvam idam viditva
yogi param sthanam upaiti' cha 'dyam

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

By way of rounding off the discussion in this chapter where different trends of extant spirituality have been fused and revalued and unitively brought under a comprehensive vision in terms of wisdom, this verse finally, in its more archaic metre, refers to the items of spirituality once again, and dismisses all of them in favour of this simple unitive wisdom to which we have arrived after all the systematic reasonings in this work up to this point.

Notice here that it is the word punya (holy) suggesting religious merit which is taken up. The ordinary religious man is concerned with his religious merits, by the accumulation of which he reaches final emancipation. As if to give an assurance to such a natural mental disposition it is pointed out here that the way of wisdom whose character is essentially one of simple knowing as suggested by the term viditva (having known) by which the unitive contemplative or man of wisdom atyeti tat sarvam (transcends everything) is superior to the way of accumulation of merits through acts of piety, learning, austerity, sacrifices, etc.

The reference to adyam (primal) suggests that a clean slate is left for proper spirituality to begin from this chapter onwards. The pristine purity is regained by the yogi capable of contemplative wisdom. Such is the position we have reached at the end of this chapter.


The goal referred to in terms of a divine person or purusham divyam in Verse 10 has been changed here into a state of pristine original purity. In the light of the discussions that followed Verse 10, all vestiges of Samkhya (rationalist) duality or Vedic divinity in thinking of the supreme state, are thus removed, and so the stage is set for the direct pronouncements of Krishna himself in the two chapters which follow and which occupy the symmetrical centre of the work.

ity srimad bhagavadgitasupanishatsu brahmavidyayam
yogasastre srikrishnarjunasamvade
aksharabrahmayogo nama 'shtamo '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 Eighth Chapter, entitled
The Unitive Way in (General) Spiritual Progress,
(The Perennial Absolute Unitively Understood).