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

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

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

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

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


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

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



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

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


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

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

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



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


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

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



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

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


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

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



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

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


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

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



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

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

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


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

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



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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

“Shri Krishna says to Arjuna:

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


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

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



(Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva)

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


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



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



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


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



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

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

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


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

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

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


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



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

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



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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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


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

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



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

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

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


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



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

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


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



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



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



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



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

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


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

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

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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



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


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



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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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

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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The synthesis is clear from Verse 24:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



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

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

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



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



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


employed as a common method or correlating epistemological factor.

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

and even in I, 8:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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

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


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



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

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

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

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

(3) Sacrifices, Austerities and Offerings and

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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


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

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



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

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


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



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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


[8] Ibid., p. 124.


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


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


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


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


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


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


[15] Ibid., p. 342.


[16] Ibid., pp. 10-13


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


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


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


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


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


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


[23] Vide, P. 33


[24] from the Jowett translation.