Hindu, Hinduism and Hindustan: Part XVI

Glory of Srimad Bhagavad Gita

Continued from Part XV

As scripture, Srimad Bhagavad Gita embodies the essence of the Vedas and early Upanishads unravelling the supreme spiritual mystery and gems of Hindu philosophy. The individual verses of Bhagavad Gita appear quite simple and elegant on face but the meaning and thoughts behind each verse is so deep, abstruse and mystifying that denomination heads, scholars and seers like Sankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, Madhvacharya, Nimbarka Swami, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and many other authorities of Vedic knowledge in India have written individual commentaries and some still doing interpretation and annotations work. The essential form and character, virtues, glory, purpose and mystery of the cosmic truth of Brahman (God) and Atman (soul) as also the subjects of yoga of action and knowledge is incorporated in Gita in such a way that one would not find a parallel elsewhere.

Needless to say, Bhagavad Gita is an epitome and compendium of all Hindu scriptures. If a person has read the text and assimilated the marvels of Gita, one is not required to go through all the Vedas and Upanishads in pursuit of exploration of the Truth of universe. Such an analogy if derived would be sustainable for this reason too that the Vedas and Upanishads were created and compiled by the ancient sages and seers (The mythological position is that the Vedas were revealed through Brahma’s mouth) while the knowledge of Bhagavad Gita came directly from the lips of Lord Krishna, a manifestation of Brahman Himself, and compiled by the divine sage Vedavyasa.

Bhagavad Gita is part of the Bhismaparva of the great epic Mahabharata; it is presented in a narrative framework of dialogues between Pandava Prince Arjuna and his mentor, guide and charioteer none other than Lord Krishna. Shaky and confused Arjuna when confronted with own elders and blood-relatives in his duty to fight as a warrior in the imminent war between the Kaurava and Pandava for the righteous cause was about to quit, when he was counselled by Krishna to perform his Kshatriya duty as a warrior under the established Dharma. What went on as the private conversation between Prince Arjuna and Lord Krishna, Bhagavad Gita was introduced to the world by Sanjaya, King Dhritarahtra’s assistant and advisor, who had extra-ordinary senses of cognition of the events in the battlefield.

In essence, the Bhagavad Gita explains the concepts of Karma and Dharma, Samkhya philosophy, essentials of theistic devotion and yogic means of Moksha by exercising and engaging in Jnana, Bhakti, Karma and Raja Yoga. The narration of Gita in the battlefield has been interpreted by the commentators and interpreters as an allegory for the eternal ethical and moral struggles of the human life. For those seeking the universal truth of life, it is considered that knowledge of Gita alone is suffice and there is no need of going into arduous routine and multitude of ancient scriptures. Sage Vedavyasa is quoted as having said:

Gita sugita kartavah kimanyah shashtrasangrahah,
Ya swayam paddyanabhashya mukhpaddyadwinih srita.

(The Gita alone should be recited, heard, studied, taught and assimilated properly and well. What is the use of collecting other scriptures? For the Gita has emerged directly from the lotus lips of God Vishnu Himself.)

Srimad Bhagavad Gita - A Synopsis

The Bhagavad Gita opens with the blind King Dhritarashtra asking his advisor, Sanjaya, to narrate the battle scene of the Kuruchhetra where the armies of his sons, the Kauravas, and their cousins, the Pandavas were facing each-other. This follows the description of the principal warriors of the both armies and their fighting abilities, and blowing of conches by the warriors of both sides. Lord Krishna, on the request of Arjuna, agrees to drive his chariot in the middle of the battle ground and in front of Bhisma, Drona and other kings. Arjuna finds that stationed there are his uncles, grand-uncles, maternal uncles, brothers and cousins, sons and nephews, friends and well-wishers as well. Pondering over all the relations and their nemesis in war, Arjuna is overwhelmed with deep compassion and sorrow. In the midst of both armies, perceiving imminent loss of own near and dear ones in a war, Arjuna’s mind reels under faint-heartedness, tenderness and grief. Thus grief-stricken he casts aside his bow and arrows and sinks into the hinder part of his chariot unwilling to participate in the war.
(Chapter 1, Arjuna-visada-yoga, Verses 1-47)

Seeing Arjuna thus agitated and sorrowful, Lord Krishna admonishes him not to yield to unmanliness at such a crucial time and stand up to face the truth. Finding Arjuna still uncertain, Krishna proceeds to explain the fundamental differences between the material body and the eternal soul. Along with it, Lord Krishna also explains the phenomenon of transmigration, the nature of selfless action and service to the Supreme, and the qualities and features of a stable-mind and self-realised person. He explains the temporariness of the material body which should not be a cause of delusion and grief because the real entity is soul which is unborn, eternal and everlasting. In the process, Krishna explains Sankhya-yoga (Yoga of Jnan or Knowledge), duties of a Kshatriya and importance of the Karma-yoga (Yoga of Selfless Action).
(Chapter 2, Sankhya-yoga, Verses 1-72)

As Krishna attaches so much importance to self-knowledge (Jnan) but asks Arjuna to resort to action (Karma), the latter gets even more confused. Lord Krishna explains that there could be two lifestyles called karma-yoga-nistha (social life) and jnana-yoga-nistha (secluded life). One has option to choose anyone of them but there is no choice between karma and knowledge. One has to follow relevant karma for purity and pursue knowledge to discover the freedom that is one’s true nature.

Krishna said that everyone must engage in some sort of activity in this material world. But actions can either bind one to this world or liberate one from it. By acting for the pleasure of the Supreme, without selfish motives, one can be liberated from the Law of Karma (action and reaction) and attain transcendental knowledge of the self and Supreme. He underlined the need of the performance of duty in a detached way; this necessity for action is for the wise person and even God Himself for the good of universe. Laying emphasis on Karma-yoga, Krishna also explained the need for sacrifices and overcoming desire.
(Chapter 3, Karma-yoga, Verses 1-43)

Now Lord Krishna proceeded to tell Arjuna that the Karma-yoga and Jnan-yoga are not new, instead they were initiated by Him in the beginning of creation; this was an ancient wisdom that stood the test of time. He at length described the glorious attributes of Brahman followed by the glory and conduct of yogis and sages, different forms of sacrifices and accrued fruits and the glory of knowledge (Jnan) and renunciation. While talking about His true nature and its knowledge, He explained how God appears to be active for the good of universe yet free from all activities and their consequences. Krishna also explained the benefit of the transcendental knowledge and how this knowledge makes a wise person delusion-free and helps in recognising his identity with God. He also talked about the significance of the Guru (teacher) in imparting knowledge which is the greatest purifier. In the last verse, Krishna again asks Arjuna to shed his ignorance with the wisdom of Karma-yoga and gear up for action (war).
(Chapter 4, Jnana-karma-sannyasa-yoga, Verses 1-42)

But Arjuna again doubts as to how a person can remain in duty and be free from the results of actions at the same time. Therefore, Krishna once again explains the implications of the two lifestyles Jnan-yoga through secluded life and Karma-yoga through disinterested action. In either case, the freedom from raga (attachment) and dvesha (bias) is important. A secluded life is difficult to pursue, so for the common man Krishna Himself recommends the active life of a karma-yogi who performs his physical and mental actions keeping God in view without concern for the result. Thus results (positive or negative) do not affect a true karma-yogi’s mind; he develops self-control and ultimately discovers his true nature. Krishna says that by outwardly performing all actions yet inwardly renouncing their fruits, the wise man, purified by the fire of transcendental knowledge, attains peace, detachment, forbearance, spiritual vision and ultimate bliss. While the body is involved in actions but the mind attains renunciation of all the activities through the knowledge.
(Chapter 5, Sannyasa-yoga, Verses 1-29)

Introducing Dhyana-yoga (meditation), Lord Krishna took Arjuna to the spiritual realm by saying: He who does his duty without expecting the fruits of action is a Sannyasi (Sankhyayogi) and a yogi (Karma-yogi) both. He is no Sannyasi (renouncer) who has merely renounced the sacred fire; even so, he is no Yogi who has merely given up all activity. In the following conversation, Krishna explained importance of meditation, mind-control and the nemesis of those who fall from Yoga.

While dealing with meditation, Krishna narrated the disciplines to be followed in day-to-day life that influence one’s meditation (Bahitanga-sadhana); disciplines to be immediately followed before meditation (Antaranga-sadhana); nature of meditation (Dhyana-svarupam); result of meditation (Dhyana-phalam); and the related obstacles and remedies (Dhyana-pratibandha-pariharau). Explaining the qualities and merit of Yogis, Lord Krishna concluded the subject by appreciating the meditator (Yogi) who devoutly worships Him (Brahman).
(Chapter 6, Dhyana-yoga, Verses 1-47)

Till now, Lord Krishna had revealed the nature of individual (body and soul), different kinds of yogas, upholding Karma-yoga as the most viable and desirable for the common person, the value of meditation and worship for self-realization. Now He revealed to Arjuna the nirguna and saguna aspects of Brahman i.e. He and His Manifest Divinity, by saying “I shall unfold to you in its entirety this wisdom i.e. the knowledge of God in His absolute formless aspect, along with the knowledge of the qualified aspect of God (with form), having known which nothing else remains yet to be known in this world.”

Lord Krishna told Arjuna that the knowledge of God with attributes, as different from oneself is called jnanam, and the knowledge of God as identical with oneself is called vijnanam. This is the highest knowledge in the intellectual quest of a person seeking fulfilment. Then Krishna talked about the nature of God with two aspects of the higher nature (para-prakriti) and lower nature (apara-prakriti). The lower nature comprises of earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, reason and ego; this is called lower because it is ever changing, inert, finite and dependently existent. The higher nature is the consciousness behind everyone sustaining the entire creation; this higher nature is in the form of Jiva and it is changeless, conscious, infinite and independently existent. Then Krishna explained the nature and dynamics of samsara, maya, gunas and different kinds of devotees and devotion {Bhakti – Sakama (devotion for material ends) and Niskama (devotion for spiritual end}.
{Chapter 7, Jnana-vijnana-yoga, Verses 1-30}

Taking thread from the teachings of Lord Krishna, Arjuna now seeks answers on Brahman, Adhyatma, Karma, Adhibhuta, Adhidaiva and Adhiyajna, and the thought of a person at the time of death. Krishna explains as follows: Brahman is the imperishable Truth; Adhyatma (or Atman) is the same Brahman behind the individual living beings; Karma refers to all actions which are the cause for the cycle of death and rebirth; Adhibhuta is the entire perishable and inert universe; Adhidaiva is the Hiranyagarbha who blesses all the organs of all beings; and Adhiyajna is the presiding deity of all the actions of the individual.

The predominant thought-pattern at the time of death determines the place and type of the rebirth but this thought pattern is determined by the predominant thought pattern throughout one’s life. Therefore, Krishna asks to remember God all the time during the life whereby one (Soul) can attain the supreme abode (liberation) beyond the material world. In the same sequel, He also explains bright-path, dark-path and Upasana (or Bhakti) leading to krama-mukti as also the goals of worldly achievements and God, and then proceeds to establish that attainment of God is the highest goal compared to all other achievements.
(Chapter 8, Aksara-brahma-yoga, Verses 1-28)

Then Krishna reveals the knowledge of nirguna and saguna aspects of divinity (Brahman) describing it a kind of sovereign secret and sacred knowledge that releases a being from the bondage. He explains the creation and dissolution of the world and how Brahman pervades the entire universe yet He is not part of it. In the same sequel, Lord Krishna explains the cause of bondage, theism and atheism, Bhakti, Sakama-bhakti and Niskama-bhakti and their implications.
(Chapter 9, Rajavidya-rajaguhya-yoga,Verses 1-34)

Lord Krishna now reveals the Visvarupam or Virat (grand) glory of God. The entire universe is the divine manifestation of God and glories we see in the creation belong to Him alone. Krishna says that the reason, right knowledge, unclouded understanding, forbearance, veracity, control over the senses and mind, joy and sorrow, creation and dissolution, fear and fearlessness, non-violence, equanimity, contentment, austerity, charity, fame and obloquy – all these traits emanate from Him. He is the Universal Self, the beginning, the middle and the end of all beings. He is Vishnu and the glory of all gods, seven great seers, sun, wind, water, all animals and plants, sound, and in essence, He is behind all that happens in the world. There is no limit to His divine manifestations.
(Chapter 10, Vibhuti-yoga, Verses 1-42)

Enriched with the knowledge revealed so far yet a bit skeptic, Arjuna requests Krishna to reveal His universal divine form, to which Lord Krishna gracefully agrees. Since it was not possible for Arjuna to have such a vision with the ordinary eyes, Krishna temporarily grants him the divine eye for this purpose. Lord Krishna now reveals His Virat/Universal form with thousands of mouths and eyes, hands, legs, etc., with an appearance without beginning, middle or end. Lord Krishna describes His universal form to Arjuna, and Sanjaya in turn narrates it to Dhritrashtra. Arjuna saw the supreme Deity possessing numerous organs, many wonderful sights, decked with many divine ornaments, wielding many divine weapons, wearing divine garlands and vestments, anointed all over with sandal-pastes, full of wonders, infinite and having faces on all sides. It looked like as if effulgence of a thousand suns was bursting forth all at once, such was the splendour of the Lord.

On seeing the Universal form, Arjuna passes through different feelings and responses. The initial response was that of awe, wonder and appreciation, and then he was frightened. Now surrendering to His will, singing His glory and offering prayers, Arjuna requested Lord to show his gentle four-armed form which Lord Krishna oblised gradually withdrawing His Universal form. Then the divine eye earlier given to Arjuna was taken away, Krishna affectionately told Arjuna that it was possible because of the latter’s devotion to Him.
(Chapter 11, Visvarupa-darsana-yoga, Verses 1-55)

Arjuna now inquires about the people engaged in bhakti (devotion) of both the Saguna (Manifested) and Nirguna (Unmanifested) God, and which of the two types of worshipper are superior bhakts (devotees). Lord Krishna explains the whole range of bhakti that leads to liberation. He explains that the nirguna-bhakti is Jnana-yoga and direct means for the liberation but this is difficult for unprepared people. Then he explains various types of saguna-bhakti, saying that such devotees too are dear to Him but these are lower forms of devotion. As a Karma-yogi and devotee of Saguna-isvara, one percieves the God as distinct from him; this is lower bhakti because the devotee still does not know the true nature of God. His bhakti falls in the category of the saguna-bhakti, bheda-bhakti or apara-bhakti. Once he attains Jnan-yoga discovering his identity with God, his bhakti is called nirguna-bhakti, abheda-bhakti or para-bhakti, which is an end in itself.
(Chapter 12, Bhakti-yoga, Verses 1-20)

In the following sequel, Lord Krishna discusses six subjects – Kshetra, Kshetrajna, Jnanam, Jneyam, Purusha and Prakriti. In essence, the entire universe is Kshetra, anything that we experience visually or otherwise comes under this. The Kshetrajna refers to the Brahman existing as consciousness in all bodies (Kshetra). Jnanam refers to important values which prepare the mind for Self-knowledge. Jneyam is the beginningless, beyond sat and asat, all pervading and subtle truth. Purusha is conscious, changeless and real while Prakriti is inert, ever changing and unreal. The body, mind and their activities belong to Prakriti, whereas Purusha (God) is an illuminator to all these.
(Chapter 13, Kshetra-ksetrajna-vibhaga-yoga, Verses 1-35)

Lord Krishna once again emphasis value of the Self-knowledge that leads to liberation. To begin with, Krishna gives a brief account of the creation. Citing Purusha (God) and Prakriti (matter) as the universal parents of all existential things and beings, He explains how the three gunas – sattva, rajas and tamas, born out of Prakriti, are responsible for the bondage. Though all beings have the three gunas, but they differ in their proportion and predominance of the qualities of one guna over the other two dictating the nature and temperament of the person. Then He narrates the means of transcending the gunas i.e. the transcendence knowledge alone that shows the path of the liberation of the knower from the cycle of death and rebirth.
(Chapter 14, Gunatraya-vibhaga-yoga, Verses 1-27)

Lord Krisna now explains the creation through the analogy of a peepal tree. Then He talks about the means of salvation to get rid of samsara (death-rebirth cycle), the first and foremost thing being recognition of its binding nature. As long as someone attaches value to the worldly possessions, he wouldn’t be able to pursue liberation. One could seek Brahman only by detaching mind from the desires through knowledge, after which one doesn’t need to return to samsara again. Krishna reiterates that the Jiva (soul or consciousness) in every living person is the Brahman’s expression only and in death this Jiva takes mind and senses from old body to another new body. Similarly, the entire creation too is expression of Brahman only. Pure-minded persons understand this mystery and attain liberation while the deluded ones are not able to come out of bondage. The Brahman is also called Paramatma or Purushottama due to His all-pervading nature.
(Chapter 15, Purusottama-yoga, Verses 1-20)

Lord Krishna teaches Arjuna that in this universe all mental traits are grouped in two categories viz. Daivi-sampat (divine traits) and asuri-sampat (demonic traits). Accordingly, humans too fall in two categories: one possessing the divine nature and the other possessing a demonic disposition. The divine traits are fearlessness, purity, scriptural study, sense-control, charity, austerity, straightforwardness, non-violence, truthfulness, renunciation, calmness, gentleness, modesty, steadfastness, absence of slander and greed, and worship of God. The demonic traits are pretension, arrogance, anger, cruelty, impurity, ignorance, ill-will, absence of truthfulness, lust and desire, attachment, worry, delusion, greed, egoism, slander and lack of faith in God. Scriptures have determined what is divine and demonic.
(Chapter 16, Daivasura-sampad-vibhaga-yoga, Verses 1-24)

Now Arjuna asks about the nemesis of people who worship God but disregard the injunctions of the scriptures. Krishna answers that such a person could belong to any category depending on his temperament in the absence of the scriptural knowledge while a person with such knowledge invariably falls in the sattvic category. Thus answering Arjuna, Lord Krishna also explains subjects like food, sacrifice (yajna), penance (tapas) and charity (dana), differentiating them into different kinds based on the influence of gunas, with sattva category being of highesr order. He also explains the meaning and purpose of uttering “Om Tat Sat”.
(Chapter 17, Sraddhatraya-vibhaga-yoga, Verses 1-28)

Finally, Arjuna asks his questions on the truth of Sannyasa (renunciation) and Tyaga (relinquishment). Lord Krishna says that sages and seers differ in their interpretation of the two but He does not differentiate between them. Krishna insists on the obligatory rites of sacrifice, charity and penance stressing that a sattvic renunciation is nothing but true Karma-yoga whereby a karma-yogi renounces all the fruits of action. Krishna also explains allied aspects of knower, knowledge, known, doer, action and the instrument of action insisting that in this visible world everything is influenced by the three gunas. He also touches upon the subject of four Varnas and duties assigned in the scriptures.

Lord Krishna sums up earlier teachings with emphasis on Karma-yoga and the aspect of devotion with an attitude of complete surrender to God that helps devotee to effortlessly cross all obstacles. Finally Krishna concludes His discourse advising Arjuna to put his total faith in Him and then asks Arjuna to act whatever way he feels. He also seeks confirmation if Arjuna is delusion-free now. Arjuna gratefully acknowledges in affirmative with a promise that he will now abide by Lord Krishna’s wisdom and teachings.

On the other side, Sanjaya tells Dhritrashtra as to how blessed he feels to hear this divine dialogue and discourse of Lord Krishna and Arjuna. He concludes with his final remarks and the declaration: “Where there is Krishna, the Lord of Yoga, and where there is Arjuna, the wielder of the bow, there will be permanent wealth, victory, prosperity and justice”.
(Chapter 18, Moksha-sannyasa-yoga, Verses 1-78)

Priceless Gems of Krishna’s Discourse

The entire dialogue and discourse of Lord Krishna and Prince Arjuna in Srimad Bhagavad Gita is a treasure of true wisdom and knowledge not only for the Hindus but the entire world – for those who are wise and willing to learn the Truth with no strings attached. However, some of the verses on purushartha (manliness), Atman (soul), Brahman (God), His saguna and nirguna aspects, cause of universe, Jnan (knowledge) and Karma (actions) are priceless gems for any person willing to shun off delusion in pursuit of the cosmic Truth. Some marvels of such wisdom are compiled in the following lines.

About Delusion

Pitted against own respected elders, relatives and friends in the imminent great war, when Prince Arjuna is overwhelmed with pity, sorrow and grief and expresses desire to resign, Lord Krishna admonishes the deluded Arjuna as under:

Klaibyam ma sma gamah partha naitattvayyupapaadyate,
Ksudram hrdayadaurbalyam tyaktvottistha parantapa

{BG: Chapter 2, Verse 3}

(Yield not to unmanliness, Arjuna; this does not befit you. Shaking off this base faint-heartedness, stand up, O scorcher of enemies.)

About Soul and Liberation

In Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2, Verse 17 to 24, the nature, qualities and action of the imperishable soul has been delineated and emphasised in a mesmerising way. According to the holy text, a dying person's soul seeks a new body that determines his (or her) next life:

Na jayate mriyate va kadachin nayam bhutva bhavita va na bhuyah,
Ajo nityah shashvato ’yam purano na hanyate hanyamane sharire
{BG: Chapter 2, Verse 20}

(The soul is neither born, nor does it ever die; nor having once existed, does it ever cease to be. The soul is without birth, eternal, immortal, and ageless. It is not destroyed when the body is destroyed.)

Nainam chhindanti shastrani nainam dahati pavakah,
Na chainam kledayantyapo na shoshayati marutah.

{BG: Chapter 2, Verse 23}

(Weapons cannot shred the soul, nor can fire burn it. Water cannot wet it, nor can the wind dry it.)

Vasamsi jirnani yatha vihaya Navani grhnati naro 'parani,
Tatha sarirani vihaya jirnany Anyani samyati navani dehi.

{BG: Chapter 2, Verse 22}

(As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.)

The two distinct paths that a soul could travel after the death of the physical body are the bright path of Sun and dark path of Moon depending upon accumulated Karma. The bright path is also stated as the path of divine because if the soul finds, it will not return to mrityulok (perishable world) and attain Moksha. The soul taking the other one i.e. the dark ancestors’ path, returns to the same cycle again. Essence of attaining the path of Sun is given in Bhagavad Gita, which Lord Krishna himself narrated as under:

Sarva-dvarani sanyamya mano hridi nirudhya cha,
Murdhnyadhayatmanah pranam asthito yoga-dharanam.

{BG: Chapter 8, Verse 12}

(Restraining all the gates of the body and fixing the mind in the heart region, and then drawing the life-breath to the head, one should get established in steadfast yogic concentration.)

Om ityekaksharam brahma vyaharan mmm anusmaran,
Yah prayati tyajan deham sa yati paramam gatim.

{BG: Chapter 8, Verse 13}

(One who departs from the body while remembering me, the Supreme Personality, and chanting the syllable Om, will attain the supreme goal.)

Those who have Karma of the highest order in the material life are able to do so to attain Moksha and ones who have bad Karma and a life full of sins shall enter into the cycle to take rebirth (reincarnation) again.

About Reincarnation

Accordingly to the common belief in Hinduism, after the death of the physical body, some abstract element of each being remains which is independent of the person’s physical body; and after death this element seeks another physical body for the living experience. This concept is best explained by Lord Krishna in the following verse:

Shariram yad avapnoti yach chapy utkramatishvarah,
Grihitvaitani sanyati vayur gandhan ivashayat.

{BG: Chapter 15, Verse 8}

(As the air carries fragrance from place to place, so does the embodied soul carry the mind and senses with it, when it leaves an old body and enters a new one.)

The Reincarnation is a major concept in Hinduism that differentiates it with the Abrahamic religions of the world that profess the concept of resurrection. According to Hindu scriptures even if the soul finds a place in hell or heaven after death of the physical body, this will only be a temporary abode and the soul will ultimately return to mrityulok (world) through reincarnation. It is always in interplay with Karma which may lead to another birth or salvation depending upon the balance sheet of good and bad accumulated from the previous life. Out of so many relevant verses from Bhagavad Gita, a few relevant ones are cited here:

Na jayate mriyate va kadacin nayam bhutva bhavita va na bhuyah,
Ajo nityah sasvato yam purano na hanyate hanyamane.

{BG: Chapter 2, Verse 20}

(The soul never takes birth and never dies at any time nor does it come into being again when the body is created. The soul is birthless, eternal, imperishable and timeless and is never terminated when the body is terminated.)

Vasamsi jirnani yatha vihaya navani grhnati naro'parani,
Tatha sarirani vihaya jirnany anyani samyati navani dehi.

{BG: Chapter 2, Verse 22}

(As a person gives up old and worn out garments and accepts new apparel, similarly the embodied soul giving up old and worn out bodies verily accepts new bodies.)

About Saguna and Nirguna Brahman

In reply to a query from Prince Arjuna, Lord Krishna explains Brahman's both saguna and nirguna aspects in the following verses.

Shri-bhagavan uvacha
Mayy aveshya mano ye mam nitya-yukta upasate,
Shraddhaya parayopetas te me yuktatama matah.

{BG: Chapter 12, Verse 2}

(The Blessed Lord said: Those who fix their minds on me and always engage in my devotion with steadfast faith, I consider them to be the best yogis.)

Ye tv aksharam anirdeshyam avyaktam paryupasate,
Sarvatra-gam achintyancha kutasthamacalam dhruvam.

Sanniyamyendriya-gramam sarvatra sama-buddhayah,
Te prapnuvanti mam eva sarva-bhuta-hite ratah.

{BG: Chapter 12, Verses 3-4}

(But those who worship the formless aspect of the Absolute Truth - the imperishable, the indefinable, the unmanifest, the all-pervading, the unthinkable, the unchanging, the eternal, and the immoveable - by restraining their senses and being even-minded everywhere, such persons, engaged in the welfare of all beings, also attain me.)

At another place, Lord Krisna personified Himself as the impersonal Brahman, which is immortal, imperishable and eternal and is the constitutional position of ultimate happiness.

Brahmano hi pratishthaham amritasyavyayasya ca,
Shashvatasya cha dharmasya sukhasyaikantikasya ca.

{BG: Chapter 14, Verse 27}

(I am the basis of the formless Brahman, the immortal and imperishable, of eternal dharma, and of unending divine bliss.)

About Establishing Dharma

Saguna aspect of Brahman emerges even more clearly in the following verses where Arjuna expresses his skeptism when Lord Krishna talks about revealing the immortal yoga or the cosmic Truth to Vivasvan (Sun-god) at the beginning of creation. Lord Krishna then exclaims -

Yada yada hi dharmasya glanirbhavati bharata,
Abhythanamadharmasya tadatmanam srijamyaham.

Paritranaya sadhunang vinashay cha dushkritam,
Dharmasangsthapanarthay sambhabami yuge yuge.

{BG: Chapter 4, Verses 7-8}

(Whenever there is decay of Dharma (righteousness), O Arjuna, and there is exaltation of unrighteousness, then I Myself come forth; for the protection of the virtuous, for the destruction of evil-doers, and for the sake of firmly establishing Dharma (righteousness), I am born from age to age.)

About Three Gunas

Lord Krishna gives a detailed definition and description of the three gunas i.e. sattva, rajas and tamas, and their impact on the world.

Tatra sattvam nirmalatvaatprakaashamanaamayam,
Sukhasangena badhnaati jnyaanasangena chaanagha.

(Of these, sattva is pure, bright and healthy. It binds through attachment to joy and attachment to knowledge, O sinless one.)

Rajo raagaatmakam viddhi trishnaasangasamudhbhavam,
Tannibandhaati kaunteya karmasangena dehinam.

(Know rajas to be of the nature of passion, the source of thirst and attachment. It binds the body dweller by attachment to action, O Kaunteya.)

Tamastvajnyaanajam viddhi mohanam sarvadehinaam,
Pramaadaalasyanidraabhistannibadhnaati bhaarata. (8)
{BG: Chapter 14, Verses 6-8)

(And, know tamas to be born of ignorance, deluding all the body dwellers. It binds them through heedlessness, laziness and sloth, O Arjuna.)

The three gunas constantly compete among themselves for supremacy and try to dominate and suppress each other. Sattva predominates by suppressing Rajas and Tamas. Rajas predominates by suppressing Sattva and Tamas, and Tamas by suppressing both Sattva and Rajas. The nature and temperament of each person is evolved, accordingly.

About Knowledge (Jnan)

Lord Krishna Himself said that Jnan though difficult but is the purest and most divine method to learn and discover Self:

Na hi jnanena sadrisham pavitramiha vidyate,
Tatsvayam yogasansiddhajh kalenatmani vindati.

{BG: Chapter 4, Verse 38}

(In this world, there is nothing as purifying as divine knowledge. One, who has attained purity of mind through prolonged practice of Yoga, receives such knowledge within the heart, in due course of time.)

About Karma-yoga

Karma literally relates to action, work or deed but at spiritual level Hinduism relates it to the principle of cause and effect where intent and actions of an individual (cause) influence the future of that individual (effect). This aspect has been beautifully explored in Bhagavad Gita, where Lord Krishna Himself revealed that good intent and good deed contribute to good Karma leading to future happiness and peace, while bad intent and bad deed contribute to bad Karma that inflict future pain and suffering. On Karma, His categoric edict is as follows:

Karmanye vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana,
Ma Karmaphalaheturbhurma Te Sangostvakarmani.

{BG: Chapter 2, Verse 47}

(You have the right to work only but never to its fruits. Let not the fruits of action be your motive, nor let your attachment be to inaction.)

Tasmad asaktah satatam karyam karma samacara,
Asakto hy acaran karma param apnoti purusah.

{BG: Chapter 3, Verse 19}

(Therefore, without being attached to the fruits of activities, one should act as a matter of duty; for by working without attachment, one attains the Supreme.)

A true karma-yogi endeavours to control his desire and senses through wisdom and discipline. As a person’s right is to his work only and not to the fruits, hence a karma-yogi would perform his duty without attachment by remaining even minded in all situations i.e. success and failure.


As can be seen from earlier parts of the author’s current series of writings on Hinduism, Lord Krishna’s discourse in Srimad Bhagavad Gita comprehensively covers almost all core elements of ancient scriptures, Vedas and early Upanishads. This is the reason why it is often told that if you have gone through Gita, you don’t have to refer to other Hindu scriptures. Srimad Bhagavad Gita along with the Upanishads and Brahma sutras constitute famous Prasthanatrayi in Hinduism, which are referred as key texts of the Vedanta eliciting unified meaning.

By the detractors of Hinduism, the religion is often criticised for the elements like manifest God, multiple gods and idol worship. Such people disparage and undervalue Hindu philosophy because of their own ignorance, bias and perhaps vested interests too. In Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna gives option and explains three different paths of Upasana (devotion) i.e. Dharma-based householder life, Jnan-based (knowledge) renunciation and Bhakti-based (devotion) theism. While explaining Karma-yoga and Jnan-yoga, Krishna says that knowledge-based course is difficult for the common being, hence active life with a detached mind is the best option for them to pursue the same goal of life. Idols of saguna deities serve as a medium for the common devotee for easy concentration. The elements of Saguna and Nirguna Brahman have been explained in a logical and credible sequence.

It is an established and accepted fact that Hinduism is the oldest surviving culture and religion in the world, much older than the major Abrahamic religions of the world. Hinduism professes and recognises existence of one Supreme Soul or Universal Consciousness as Brahman (God) and multiple gods as His manifest forms. For the atheists, non-believers and skeptics, the author would like to put forth a simple analogy to explain Brahman and His Saguna aspect. In the same world, we have emotions (or positive and negative energies) like love, anger, compassion, greed, attachment…in fact a long list of positive and negative ones exists. They are formless yet powerful emotions and we can see or experience them only when possessed by a living being. Same way, Brahman is the Universal Consciousness which common devotees tend to see or perceive in a manifested (Saguna) form.

Continued to Part XVII


More by :  Dr. Jaipal Singh

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