The eternal text of Gita has been read, interpreted and explained by Adi Shankaracharya and countless other saints and scholars. Being so small before the text and it's scholars I feel like giving an explanation as to why I am writing down my understanding of the divine text. I feel and believe that a text comes to life and assumes meaning when an individual delves deep into it, enjoys it and responds to it. The individual response is paramount. The interaction between the individual and the text is everything. Therefore, my training in life being such, I am bound by my nature to record my response to Gita. The reader is requested to take it in the spirit of my sharing my joy. It is said that happiness increases manifold when it is shared. I am doing just that.
As we all know, it all begins with a setting of war, the final moment, the ultimate conflict between the good and the evil. However, nothing is in black and white. The army of Duryodhana has many noble and mighty souls. The conches are blown. The war is about to begin. Arjuna requests his charioteer Krishna to take his vehicle in the middle so that he may see and recognize those standing on the other side. Krishna does so. Then follows the moment which apparently caused the whole of Gita. Arjuna views armies on both sides. It is an emotional moment.
"There Arjuna saw among both armies, fathers, grand fathers, teachers, maternal uncles, brothers, sons, grand sons, friends, in-laws and companions. " (Ch. 1:26)
The childhood games, the family atmosphere, filial love,the feeling of togetherness – all haunt Arjuna.
He feels that he cannot kill his own people. This is such a human moment to which we all can easily relate. He feels that it is better to be called a coward than to cause the destruction of his own family.
"Arjuna said: O Krishna, seeing all my friends and relatives assembled for battle makes my limbs quiver and my mouth dry up. My whole body is shivering, my hairs are standing upright, my bow, Gandiva is slipping from my hand and my skin burns." (Ch. 1 : 28-30)
There is a complete breakdown for Arjuna. His morale, his spirit, his determination have all taken a plunge. He does not want any happiness borne out of this family battle. His words reflect his genuine pain. "How can one be happy after destroying one's own family? " (Ch. 1: 36)
Arjuna speaks specifically of irreligion and women getting polluted.
Arjuna continues his rant. He gives it a moral colour saying that he should not kill his family members out of greed for material pleasures. Even his physical posture is indicative of his defeated mental state. His bow is cast down. Such is the condition of the matchless warrior, Arjuna. Here the first chapter ends. The second chapter begins.
Arjuna's eyes are overflowing with tears. He earnestly asks, "... how will I attack Bhisma and Drona in battle? O Vanquisher of enemies, tell me how can I use my arrows against those who are worshipable? " (Ch. 2: 4)
Arjuna is pleading in strongest possible words with his strong mental framework of morality and family lineage. His sense of propriety is violated. He has lost all desire to live and relish life. "Then Arjuna said to Govinda, "O Govinda! I shall not fight, " and fell silent. " (Ch. 2: 9)
"And fell silent" is such a powerful expression. Arjuna is exhausted, pent up, all spent up. He has nothing more to say, no words, no thoughts.
Thus standing between the two armies, the Lord of the three worlds spoke to sorrow striken Arjuna. Lord Krishna speaks as TrikalDarshi, the one who sees past, present and future in one go. Time for him is undivided. Time is an eternal flowing spring. There are no breaks in His vision of Time.
Krishna declares that lamenting the dead is an act of fools because all beings (jeeva) always exist. There is nothing like non-existence. One always exists in one form or the other. The soul changes clothes and adorns a new body. Sensory experiences are temporary and are to be tolerated. We must know that there is something within all of us which is indescribable, indestructible, all-pervading and imperishable. It is just the body that ceases to be. The soul always lives. The soul is pure. The soul is eternal. The birthless, deathless soul cannot be ended. Body is to soul what clothes are to body. What an analogy! What a simile! It is perfect for understanding. The elements cannot touch the soul. The soul is endless, birthless. It cannot be divided or dissolved. These are eternal words, ultimate knowledge. These words stir something within. At once, the reader recognizes them to be true, to be authentic, real, genuine, pure words. Truer words were never spoken. Krishna tells Arjuna that death is not to be lamented. It is just a junction in the journey of the soul. Birth and death are indispensable. One who is born must die and one who dies must be born. The supreme reality is unmanifest.
Krishna goes on to say that action is dharma. One must do the best one can in the circumstances one faces. For Arjuna, war is imminent. He cannot escape it. Running away would be cowardice. It will bring deserved disrepute. Disrepute is worse than death. Karma is a must. Whether we fail or succeed, we must act. Without bothering about profit or loss, victory or defeat, we must act. Dharma is performing righteous duty. Doing one's duty is noble. Effort never goes waste. One must focus and work.
The coming lines Ch. 2: 42-43 echo very well with my thought process. These words are important to me. It says that there are people who attach undue importance to mere words of Vedas. The lines imply that those attached to material gains use rituals to attain that end. I like this censoring of rituals. There are so many people who are hooked to outer layers of rituals all their lives. Our aim ought to be able to transcend. We must look beyond our material gains. Worldly gains color our vision and we fail to work objectively. It is easier said than done. But one must try. Krishna goes on to say that we should move or try to move beyond the three gunas , Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. We should try to focus on truth, on self. A person who knows and who has imbibed the essence of scriptures and their purpose, such a person is good enough to work in place of scriptures. Krishna actually says this. Mere words, mere rituals do not mean much. This is such a fresh, modern approach. Intent is more important. Will is more important. Sincerity is more important.
Then comes the well known philosophy of working without excepting benefits. Act we must without hoping to enjoy the fruits of our actions. It is a difficult task. But again, we must try. Gem after gem, this book is breathtaking. All of us have notions of the popular word "Yoga". Here comes the definition of Yoga:
"Mind fixed on duty and all thoughts about the fruits of your action abandoned, such equanimity of mind is the essence of Yoga... " (Ch. 2:48)
We must seek wisdom. Yoga is the essence of all work. Yoga is that state of mind which detaches me from the fruits of my actions. That calmness, that objectivity towards work and duty is Yoga. What is done is to be done because it is the right thing to do. No suffixes. No prefixes. No benefit. No loss. That is Yoga.
Krishna emphasizes that when we do not attach ourselves to results, we get rid of both good and bad karma. The final aim is to free myself from birth and rebirth. Scriptures are necessarily a means and certainly not the end. We do not have to lose ourselves in the labyrinths of scriptures. We have to ultimately rise above it.
The disciple Arjuna asks Keshava as to what are the characteristics of a meditating, steady yogic person? "How does such a steady person speak? How does he sit? How does he move? " ( Ch. 2: 54) Keshava says that having renounced desire, a person achieves peace and insight. Such a person has tranquil demeanor and behaviour in all circumstances, good or bad. Such a person is situated in wisdom. Control of senses is important. Forced turning away from sensory pleasures is not enough. One must not even feel attracted towards sensory objects. Senses are powerful. Senses delude. The way to save oneself from senses is to keep one's mind focussed on God. When we think about sense objects, we develop attachment. With attachment comes desire which finally leads to frustration. A person is deluded under the spell of Maya (the worldly play) and his good sense goes away. The self is lost. The very nature of desire is such that it can never be fully satisfied and therefore is bound to result in frustration. Frustration brings negative cycle wherein the self, the essence of a human being is ruined. Krishna says that even among worldly affairs, one can practice detachment and purity of mind. Such a person will attain the goal. For detachment, continuous practice is needed. Detachment brings peace and peace brings happiness, joy and bliss. If the mind is after sense objects, bliss can never come.
The wise in this world are rare and rare is their vision. They see hope when the world despairs and they contemplate when the world celebrates. They see things as others do not. The common folk are disturbed but the wise remain calm. Krishna clearly says that ownership, sense of possession and ego are not the qualities of the wise. The wise one is peaceful. The wise one has the clarity. The wise one is not confused. One should try to be a person of such fixed divine aim and vision.
Now we come to the third chapter. Arjuna asks a genuine question. He says that the words of Krishna suggest that knowledge is supreme. Knowledge is superior to everything including action. So why should Arjuna act? Krishna says that there are two paths - the path of knowledge and the path of action. Underlining both the paths is action. The path of action is for yogis. We cannot go beyond action by escaping action. Therefore, those walking on the path of knowledge also have to act.
Krishna uses the phrase "prescribed action". Even renunciation is not possible without action. Those who come to this world always act, whether they like it or not. One has to do something. Even of one decides not to do anything, even that is action. One cannot escape prescribed action. Act one must. Prescribed action comes to me as the ideal action. The best possible action as a family person, as a professional, as a dweller of this planet. This important phrase can be interpreted endlessly. It is a personal question as to what an individual takes to be his or her prescribed action. Action is necessary. Such is the influence of the three gunas, Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. If I think of sensory pleasures and not indulging in them, then I am cheating myself. A person whose thoughts and actions do not match is a hypocrite. That human is good who thinks purely and acts without thinking of results. That human is good who controls his or her thoughts, keeps the mind on good track and acts without attachment. Difficult task, you bet. But then, try one must. One has to do something, why not the good thing. That is my approach.
There is no point in controlling senses if I cannot control my thoughts. The best thing is to do one's righteous duty. There is no path without action. One should perform each act selflessly as a service to God. One must learn to sacrifice, to let go of things, to renounce things. Krishna says that it is a mutual arrangement between the divine forces and the human being that the more one sacrifices, the more one gets. This is such a meaningful exercise in this age of over-consumption. The earth can be saved by less consumption. Krishna says that even when one consumes, one should do it after offering it to God. There is no life, no family and no society without sacrifice. Selflessness is the key to sustenance. The food we take is a blessing (Prasad) of God. Food comes from rain and rain comes from good living. Selfless living and a sense of sacrifice bring sumptuousness to Nature and thus bring rain. Every single human being must realize this mantra that less is more. Otherwise he or she will live a precarious life of mindless consumption and irresponsibility. The joy lies in the self, nowhere else. Propriety of action is supreme. A selfless human being who performs proper action in tune with his or her thoughts is the mark of standard in this world. Krishna says that He does not have to attain anything and yet He performs proper action and sets example for others. Just as the ignorant think only of themselves, the wise must think of others to uplift the world.
The wise should lead but in humility.
"It is the Gunas, which perform all the actions. The one who sees the body in the false ego imagines 'I am the doer. ' " ( Ch. 3 : 27)
Krishna keeps on emphasizing detachment all through. He gives a useful tip that the wise do not teach someone drenched in senses. "The wise should not try to influence such ignorant souls." (Ch. 3 : 29)
Krishna has compared the enchantment of senses to fever. The solution is that one should offer one's whole being to God. Full faith frees the soul. The obstacle in the path of devotion is envy and jealousy. One acts according to one's nature. There is no point in suppressing true nature. Krishna asks us to follow our true nature.
The assumption here appears to be the nobility of everyone's true nature. The soul is pure. Everyone's soul is pure.
We can infer it thus because Krishna says that violation of a person's will leads to lust and to anger. Then He effectively compares lust and anger to raging fire. "It is the influence of lust, the Rajo-Guna, which finally transforms into great anger. Like a great fire this is dangerous. Realize that this is your enemy." (Ch. 3: 37)
Desire blurs vision. Even the wise fail before the insatiable fire of lust. It infects the vision, the soul, the very essence of a human being. Therefore one must exercise control. One must protect the mind, intellect and self. Desire must be conquered. Here the third chapter comes to an end. The fourth chapter begins.
Krishna begins to talk about the science of Yoga in the beginning of the fourth chapter. Krishna says that everyone has many lives but only He remembers all His births. Krishna says that although He is birth less, deathless and formless, He manifests Himself in a form whenever there is darkness and decline. He comes to a form every millennium. Those who study Krishna and know Him are freed from the cycle of birth and rebirth. Many persons have reached Krishna. He says that He responds in the manner in which the devotee prays.
Krishna says that birth is based on karma of previous births. One goes beyond karma only when one reaches and realizes God. Every path in life is based on action. Action must be directed towards the good. Behind all work, there is spirituality. One should perform duties as a form of worship. Krishna says that good work is worship. The one who works without desire is a sage. A sage is involved in all affairs and yet she or he is untouched by worldly affairs. The sage has no sense of possession. "Expecting nothing, content with every outcome, overcoming dualities, free from envy and steady in the face of success and failure, constantly engaged in work, such a person will not incur karmic reactions. A liberated soul firm in knowledge, who is detached and acts only in sacrifice, dissolves all his karma." (Ch. 4 : 22, 23)
One becomes what one thinks. Think of God and God I will become. The point is offering myself to God in a manner suitable to me. Everyone has a unique path and within that path a unique style - charity, austerity, yoga, studying or fasting. Some offering, some sacrifice, some renunciation, some restriction on senses has to be followed. Life is not possible only through consumption. Sacrifice is essential for life.
The best life is in pursuit of wisdom. All living beings have common spiritual essence. Even the most sinful have hope of redemption. The supreme knowledge purges all, all sins, all karma. Transcendental knowledge is supreme. Faith and control of senses lead to knowledge, wisdom and peace. Ignorance and doubt lead to destruction. Ignorance must be killed by the mighty sword of knowledge.
At the beginning of the fifth chapter, we have another innocent question from the disciple Arjuna. He says that on one hand Krishna advocates action and on the other hand, Yoga. Which is the better of the two? Krishna gives a clear answer. The answer is selfless action. All through, we see that Krishna qualifies "work", "duty" or "action" with adjectives such as "pure", "good" and "selfless". We can infer that work alone is not enough. It has to be noble.
Selfless action and seeking knowledge are not different from each other. Both are complementary to each other. Yoga and a life devoted to thought - both lead us to the same destination. They make us see things as they are. Therefore, leaving action is out of question. Krishna emphasizes that detachment and control are very much possible within a worldly life. The wise knows that she or he is not senses. The essence of a human being does not lie in senses. Just as lotus blooms above water, the wise remain above attachment. A karma yogi is one who performs action with all his bodily and mental might and yet is not attached to results. For the karma yogi, action is a form of worship. God is not responsible for human actions. Gunas or conditioned nature of a person is responsible for her or his actions. It is not proper to hold God responsible for human activity. Only the knowledgeable understand this.
The pure hearted are freed from births and rebirth. The wise treats everyone equally. Krishna describes the one established in Absolute as faultless, impartial, and above pain and pleasure. Such a person finds unlimited joy. Sensual pleasures are temporary. The joy of the self lasts for ever. The temptations are to be put aside. That is real victory. This is the path to nirvana. The path to liberation is concentrating between the two brow, focussing on breath, fixing oneself on self and giving up anger. This is the path to peace, to joy and to bliss.
The sixth chapter begins by the words of Krishna and He says a very dear thing, something which immediately establishes a chord. He says that one does not become a sanyasi by merely forgoing work. Proper duty and detachment from result is the real test. Yoga has stages. Yoga is a state to be attained through practice of selflessness and detachment. My mind can be my friend as well as my foe. It depends on me how I use it. Whether I use my mind to elevate myself or to degrade. Mind is a friend when under control. Otherwise, not. One who has conquered the mind, remains the same before joy and sorrow. Such a person sees jewels and soil alike. Krishna describes the ideal seat of a yogi. How a yogi should sit for self-purification. Concentration is the key. The focus should be on God. Krishna is talking about transcendental, ethereal joy. He says that yoga is not for a person of excess. "Practising yoga will vanquish the troubles of one who performs his duties diligently and who is disciplined and balanced in his eating, sleeping and waking hours." (Ch. 6 : 17)
Then follows a lasting, beautiful simile in the nineteenth verse of the sixth chapter. "A yogi whose mind is controlled and focussed in yoga is like an unflickering lamp in a windless place." (Ch. 6 : 19)
Yoga is the ultimate shelter. Material contact dissolves. The very "being" of a person comes to a halt. The person is seated in the Self. Senses cannot fathom that joy. Nothing remains to be achieved. There is no trouble which can trouble the mind. One can attain this state by determined practice. The yogi must be confident of the efforts. The yogi must abandon desires and impulses. Slowly the yogi will attain stillness. Mental activity will stop.
The mind wanders. The yogi must pull it back. Mind and passions under control, the sinless yogi attains ultimate happiness. Constant practice is the mantra. All beings have God and God has all beings in Him. Thus all are equal. When I see God in all that is manifest, I will never miss His presence and He will not miss mine. The compassionate yogi sees the pains and pleasures of others as his own.
Arjuna again puts forth a concern. It is a concern of all of us. He says that mind is such an unstable thing. It keeps moving. It is never fixed. And a fixed mind is Krishna's pre-condition for yoga. What to do about it?
"O, Keshava, it is easier to control the wind than to try and control the fickle, unsettling, dominant and stubborn mind." (Ch. 6 : 34)
Krishna accepts that it is a difficult task. But it can be done through practice and detachment. Arjuna again asks like a pure child as to what happens to a person who has the faith but is not proficient in the yogic science of mind-control. Krishna's answer is reassuring. A sincere person can never be defeated. No misfortune can come to the pure-hearted. The cycle of births will lead the righteous one to the final destination. The pious one should not bother. The honest one, the upright one should continue on the path of yoga, should strive, practice and lead an exemplary life. The yogi is superior to the ascetic, to the scholar and also to the ritualist. "Therefore, Arjuna, be a yogi!" (Ch. 6:46)
Faith, worship and devotion - this is the way to go.
Now Chapter seventh begins. One should surrender oneself to God. Krishna says that He will explain knowledge and it's realization so that nothing remains a mystery for Arjuna. Understanding God is the rarest of rare act. "Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intellect and ego, these eight together constitute My separate material energies." (Ch. 7:4) Besides these, there is one superior energy or we may call it Super Soul.
Thus, Lord Krishna describes His magnificent form to Arjuna "... everything rests on Me like pearls strung on a thread." (Ch. 7:7)
The word of Krishna cannot be described in any other word. "... I am the taste in water, the light in the sun and the moon, the sacred syllable OM in the Vedas, the sound in ether and the ability in man. I am the original fragrance of the earth, the heat in fire, the life in all living beings and the discipline in ascetics." (Ch. 7:8-9)
God is the best in everything and everyone.
The seed of all creation, wisdom of the wise, power of the glorious, strength of the strong and virtuous love - this is God. We may note that Krishna has qualified "love" with the adjective "virtuous". Love has to be virtuous. Everything emanates from God. People are deluded by the three gunas and that is why they are not able to see the true nature of God. Still there are foolish or demonic people who do not surrender to God. The pious worship God for four reasons - to overcome problems, to get wealth, to inquire and above all those who are seeking supreme knowledge. No need to say that the one seeking knowledge is the best. Those with material desires worship in various ways according to their nature. Everyone is free to worship in whatever way one wants. God grants faith. "Men of small intelligence worship the demigods and the results of such worship are temporary. Those who worship the gods attain god's and my devotees attain Me." (Ch. 7:23)
Human beings are bewildered by the dualities of desire and hate. Clarity of vision comes only when one is above desire and hate. The journey to achieve God goes through many lives.
The eighth chapter begins with Arjuna's questions as to what is Brahman, self, fruititive activities, material manifestation, demigods, sacrifice, body, faithful service, death and so on. They are loaded questions. The beauty lies in Krishna's simple answers. Brahman is the supreme element. Action which causes birth and development is called karma. The physical nature is constantly changing. The universal form of God includes all that is manifest. Krishna Himself is the Lord of sacrifice. As I read the holy text, two meanings of sacrifice come to my mind. One is the ritualistic practice in which an animal is killed to please gods. The other is a part of human behaviour where one gives up something, bears trouble for the good of others or gives up some gain or pleasure. The second meaning looks relevant. Keeping the spirit of Gita in mind, ritualistic sacrifice makes no sense. Krishna is talking about human behaviour only.
It is important to remember God at the time of death. The mental state at the time of death is important as it is carried forward in the next birth. Therefore, doing one's duty and focussing on God should be our practice, our habit. That is the method to attain God. Krishna describes the beauty, the joy and final destination of a true yogi - moksha or nirvana as we know it. Krishna hints at cosmic time as it is much longer than ordinary human grasp of time. Krishna talks about the end of Time. Even at the end of the end, the Supersoul , the supreme Energy remains and causes life again. God is eternal in the truest sense. The true devotee who reaches God is freed from birth and death. The path of light leads to God. The path of darkness does not.
Now we come to the ninth chapter. The words of Krishna flow as balm to the soul. He talks about the cycle of creation. Manifest goes unmanifest and is born again. Only the pious find union with God with their devotion, action and chaste thought. "I am the goal, support, master, witness, abode, refuge, friend, creation, dissolution, maintenance, storehouse and eternal seed. O Arjuna, I emit heat, I deny and bestow rain. I am immortality and I am death. Both spirit and matter exist in Me." ( Ch. 9 : 18,19)
One gets what one seeks. If one seeks pleasure and material luxury, one comes to this world over and over again seeking it. Those meditating and seeking eternal freedom get what they want. It depends on the individual soul. Again and again Krishna emphasizes that one gets what one seeks. In a pious life, every act, every breath is an offering to God. Krishna declares boldly, "My devotee is never lost." (Ch. 9 : 31)
It is clearly written in Gita that God does not discriminate on the basis of caste, creed, class or gender. Whosoever worships Him, achieves Him. Those absorbed in His thought will go to Him.
The tenth chapter begins. Real knowledge lies in the birthless, endless, all-pervading nature of God. "Intelligence, knowledge freedom from doubt and delusion, forgiveness, truthfulness, self-control, mind-control, happiness, misery, birth, death, fear, fearlessness, non-violence, impartiality, satisfaction, austerity, clarity, fame, infamy- all these various qualities found in living beings come from me." ( Ch. 10 : 4-5)
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