Living Gita: 44: Go Beyond the Vedas

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traigunyavishayaa vedaa nistraigunyo bhavaarjuna
nirdwandwo nityasatwastho niryogakshema aatmavaan ll 2.45 ll
yaavaanartha udapaane sarvatah samplutodake
taavaan sarveshu vedeshu braahmanasya vijaanatah ll 2.46 ll

The Vedas deal with the three gunas, but rise above the three gunas, Arjuna. Become free from the pairs of opposites and remain in the quality of sattva. Be free from yoga, the need to acquire new things and kshema, the need to retain what you have. Be rooted in the self. To a brahmana who has known himself, all the Vedas are of as much use as a well is where everything is flooded.


Krishna continues here his open rejection of the karma kanda of the Vedas. Impelled by a need to reject ritualism. It is important to remember that Krishna here is not rejecting the Vedas in their entirety but only the ritualistic portion that promises endless joys through rituals.

The Vedas consist of four sections: the samhita, brahmana, arnyaka, and the Upanishads. The samhita portion of the Vedas consists of various suktas and often when we say the Vedas, we mean them. These suktas are invariably beautiful both in their poetry and in their meaning, their poetry so good they can compete with the best poetry in the world including contemporary poetry. There is no question of Krishna rejecting them. The brahmanas are the ritualistic portion of the Vedas, known as the karma kanda, descriptions of and prescriptions for elaborate rituals, some of them lasting years, for such purposes as having children, producing immense wealth, dominance over kings, going to heaven with your body and so  on – the portion where traditional professional priests hold sway. It is this only section that Krishna rejects. The aranyakas are the beginnings of philosophical enquiries into the meaning of life and the world made by forest dwelling ascetics and while they are not as insightful as the Upanishads, they are valuable as the first steps humanity tales in philosophy. And the Upanishads are the soul of the Vedas – dealing with the experiences and teachings of the rishis – enlightened seers – into one’s own nature and the truth of life and the world. They are known as the Vedanta, meaning the end of the Vedas, which can mean both the end of the Vedic texts as well as the highest knowledge, for the word Veda means knowledge. They are the rarest gems of human wisdom and it has been said that even if humanity loses all its wisdom books and only the Upanishads survive nothing would have been lost.

These descriptions of the four sections of the Vedas are very general in nature and throughout there are exceptions in the sense in every section of the Vedas you find all kinds of things mixed up.

Rejecting the ritualistic portion of the Vedas, Krishna says they deal with the things that form the world of the three gunas. By the world of three gunas Krishna means the world of prakriti, of samsara where joys and sorrows are important, where success and failure are important, where loss and gain are important, where what Krishna calls yoga and kshema are important. Yoga in this sense is defined as appraptastya prapti, the attainment of what is not yet attained, and khema as praptrasya rakshanam, the protection of what we already have. When you go beyond the world of yoga and kshema, acquiring the things you want to acquire and protecting what you already have become unimportant. You surrender to God and accept whatever he brings. In that sense you go beyond the world of the three gunas, which is what Krishna is asking Arjuna to do when he says the Vedas deal with the world of the three gunas and and therefore go beyond the three gunas.

Krishna wants Arjuna to go to that world where yoga and kshema do not matter, where loss and gain do not matter, where joy and sorrow do not matter, where praise and criticism do not matter. Where none of the dualities that make the world of samsara what it is does not matter. Go beyond samsara, go beyond the world where man is bogged down by the cares of samsara and accept whatever happens, whatever life brings, whatever God brings, that is what Krishna is asking Arjuna to do – and through the medium of Arjuna all of us to do. Partho vatsah sudheer bhokta, says the Gita dhyana shloka – Arjuna is the medium and we are the beneficiaries of the precious milk called Gita – geetamrtam mahat. And the; milk of Gita is acceptance of what life brings whether it is sukha or duhkha, labha or alabha, jaya or ajaya – happiness or unhappiness, gain or loss, or victory or failure.

Another name for prakriti is maya – both prakriti and maya mean the same thing, though in common parlance they have completely different connotations. So when we say go beyond the world of prakriti, what we mean is going beyond the world of maya.

The world of maya is the world of empty promises. Become successful and you will be happy – where as the truth is if you become happy you will be successful. As Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage based on his studies at Harvard University says, it is not that success makes you happy but happiness makes you successful. Happy people are successful, and since happiness is their nature, is something that is always with them, they continue to be successful.

Whereas happiness that comes from success is short lived. It is relative happiness since what we call success itself is relative. I have seen this in some of the prestigious institutions where I have taught. A student gets a fifty lakhs annual package in placement and he is delighted. He is whopping for joy, hooting and dancing. He is planning a big party for his friends. Half an hour later another student comes out of the placement room and informs him his annual package is fifty-two lakhs. All his happiness vanishes now, there is no whooping, no singing and dancing, and the party is cancelled. There is nothing to celebrate now. The joy of your big car is only until your friend buys a bigger car, the joy of your new house is only until your neighbour builds a bigger house.

This is the world of maya where your fame has meaning only so long as it is not eclipsed by another’s greater fame, your wealth has meaning only so long as it is not eclipsed by another’s greater wealth, position has meaning only so long as it is not eclipsed by another’s greater position, power has meaning only so long as it is not eclipsed by another’s greater power, reminding us of what Sage Yajnavalkya told his beloved wife Maitreyi about wealth in that statement that can be interpreted in many ways one meaning of which is that man cannot be happy with any amount of wealth – na vittena tarpaneeyo manushyah.

When Krishna says traigunya-vishaya vedaah, he means this world of maya and when he asks Arjuna, and us, to become nis-traigunya, he is asking us to go beyond this world to where you are not dependent on external things, your happiness is not dependent on your wealth, or power, or position, or car, or house, or anything else like that. Krishna wants us to rise from the world of maya into the world of truth, from the world of momentary joys to the world of lasting happiness. He wants us to live by the wisdom of the Upanishads rather than by the ignorance of the world of rituals which promises fake joys.

Krishna is for genuineness in everything. There is no place for anything false in his world just as darkness has no place in the world of light.


In the colophon appended to each chapter of the Gita, we say ‘iti shreemad Bhagavad-geetaasu upanishatsu brahma-vidyaayaam yogashaastre shrikrishna-arjuna-samvaade...’. What the statement says is that the Gita, called here the Gitas, the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna, is a series of Upanishads and it is both brahma-vidya and yoga-shastra. Brahmavidya is the philosophical part of the highest wisdom of India and yoga shastra is its technology, the applied science, how that knowledge can be lived. So Krishna is not content with stating the highest wisdom but also indicates the path of living that wisdom, which is karma yoga. After saying nistraigunyo bhavaarjuna, go beyond the three gunas into the higher world, he adds nirdwandwo nityasatwastho niryogakshema aatmavaan: become rooted in the self; go beyond the dualities, be ever established in sattva, and abandon yoga and kshema.

Four steps are given here by Krishna: give dualities no place in your life, be ever established in the guna of sattva, give up both yoga and kshema, and become one with the self.

How do you go beyond dualities in your llie? How do you go beyond pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, loss and gain, heat and cold and so on. How do you go beyond yoga and kshema? How do you become established in sattva?

The final part of Krishna’s statement is the answer to this question: become atmavan, established in the self, rooted in the self, one with the self. When you are one with the self, when you are rooted in the self, when you are established in the self, when you ‘become’ your self, the self, then for you dualities do not exist because the self has no dualities. Then for you yoga and kshema are the same. Then for you loss and gain are the same. Then for you joy and sorrow are the same. Then whatever happens, you are the same. Then you are living in the world but is beyond this world, beyond samsara. Then you do not have to do anything to be become equal in sukha and duhkha, in labha and alabha, in jaya and ajaya.

So what Krishna is asking Arjuna is to become atmavan through karma yoga, to become established in the self through karma yoga. To cease to be anything other than the self.

Usually we identify with the body, mind and ego and consider these as ourselves. If the body is short we consider ourselves short, if it is fat, ourselves as fat. If the mind is upset, we say we are upset and if the ego is humiliated, we say we are humiliated. Whatever happens to the body-mind-ego complex we consider as happening to ourelves. Our losses and gains, our happiness and unhappiness, victories and failures are all happening to the body-mind-ego complex. Krishna is asking us to identify with the self that is beyond the body, mind and the ego.

The famous Nirvana Shatkam, a group of six verses on nirvana by Adi Shankaracharya, frequently misspelt in English as Nirvana Shatakam meaning a group of one hundred verses on nirvana, is a reminder to us to constantly remember that we are not the body, the mind, etc and they do not even belong to us since nothing belongs to the self. It tells us: chidananda roopah shivo’ham shivo’ham – I am Shiva, of the nature of consciousness and bliss. Being established in the knowledge that I am consciousness and bliss through one’s own personal experience of aparoksha anubhooti is becoming atmavan.

The incrediby beautiful brahma-jnanavali-mala too says the same thing in slightly different words.The opening verse of the nineteen verse collection says:

Asango’ham asango’ham asango’ham punah punah
Sachchidanandarupo’ham aham eva aham avyayah.

Unattached am I, unattached am I, unattached again and again
Of the nature of Existence, Bliss and Consciousness am I.
I am me and me alone, the Changeless.

Joy and sorrow, gain and loss, victory and failure count so long as we are living at the level of the ego, the mind and the body, and not when we are living at the level of our true self.

So when Krishna asks us to rise above joy and sorrow, gain and loss and victory and failure, he is asking as to live at the level of the self, and not live at the level of the ego.

Once you become awakened through karma yoga, or through sankhya yoga, you become an atmavan and you live at the level of the self and not at the level of the ego. Then being equal in joy and sorrow and in gain and loss etc becomes natural to you. An atmavan is not affected by any of these, as the Gita itself says as in the famous verse:

aapooryamaanam achalapratishtham
samudram aapah pravishanti yadwat
tadwat kaamaa yam pravishanti sarve
sa shaantim aapnoti na kaamakaami
// 2.70 //

He attains peace into whom objects of desire enter as rivers enter an ocean still and full to the brim, but not the man who runs after objects of the world.

Objects of desire here do not mean only tangible things of the world, like a house or a car or a large bank balance, They can also mean fame, power, position, victory, gain, pleasures and so on – anything we desire. Once you are a yogaroodha, these things do not matter to you. Once you have climbed the peak of yoga, once you have attained yoga, are established in yoga, established in the self which is the purpose of yoga, have become an atmavan, then you have become like the ocean. Whether the rivers come and enter does not matter to the ocean – if they come, fine; and if they do not come, fine again. Their coming or not coming does not make a difference to the ocean. So is he. He does not reject wealth, if it comes it is fine with him. And if it does not come, that is fine too with him. In the same way, if fame comes, it is fine with him, if it does not, that is fine too. Power, position, victory, gain, pleasures – if any of these come to him, it is fine with him; and if they do not come, that is fine too. And if it is the opposites that come, they are welcome too: ignominy, poverty, loss.

Here is a famous Zen story I have heard.

The Zen master Hakuin was praised by his neighbors as one living a pure life.

A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near him. Suddenly, without any warning, her parents discovered she was with child.

This made her parents very angry. She would not confess who the man was, but after much harassment at last named Hakuin.

In great anger the parents went to the master.

"Is that so?" was all he would say.

After the child was born it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his reputation, which did not trouble him, but he took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from his neighbors and everything else the little one needed.

A year later the girl-mother could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth – that the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fishmarket.

The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask his forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get the child back again.

Hakuin was willing. In yielding the child, all he said was: "Is that so?"

We are talking of the yogaroodha, the one who has climbed the mountain of yoga, and not those who are standing in the plains. For those who are in the plains, fame is fame, ignominy is ignominy, gain is gain, loss is loss, happiness is happiness, and unhappiness is unhappiness.

But there is a group of people who are neither in the plains nor or top of the mountain – those who are climbing the mountain, whom in the language of yoga we call aarurukshu, meaning those who wish to climb. For them the attitude recommended is one of acceptance with gratitude, prasada buddhi, a very difficult thing to practice. If pleasure comes, accept it as prasada from the Lord, and if pain comes, again accept it as prasada from the Lord. Accept whatever comes, whether it is gain or loss, fame or ill-fame, joy or sorrow as the blessings of the Lord.

You will fail again and again, but try again and again. Yam hi na vyathayanty ete, those people whom these do not worry, so’mritatvaya kalpate, they are qualified for immortality, says the Gita.

When you succeed, offer your successes at the feet of the lord. When you fail, offer your failures at the feet of the lord. And say, tavaiva vastu govinda tubhyam eva samarpaye – this belongs to you, Lord, and I offer it back to you. For both success and failure, both joy and sorrow, all dualities come from the Lord.

Do this until you become a yogaroodha, a master yogi, with the grace of the Lord.

And remain nitya-sattvastha, always positive. Always looking forward to the light. Always looking forward to the morning at the end of the night. With the bellief that whatever happens is for my good. Forever remaining in the sattva guna.

The sattva guna is what takes us upword, what gives us wings to soar into the infinite skies of lightness, relaxation and joyfulness. A sattvic man is always light hearted, relazed, centered, poised, and full of joy. He is generous, believes in giving rather than taking and without miserliness shares with the world whatever he has. He feels light, weightless, as though he is floating through life, as people feel in meditation. By contrast tamas makes us feel heavy and bound, unable to spread our wings;and rajas makes us restless constantly driven from one thing to another.

When you a sattvastha, rooted in sattva, you have what is known as bhava-samshuddhi, purity of attitude. There is a long list of qualities mentioned in the thirteenth chapter of the Gita: humility, modesty, non-injury, forgiveness, uprightness, purity, steadfastness, self control, absence of egoism, non-attachment and so on. These are excellent examples of bhava-samshuddhi that you have when you are a sattvastha, rooted in the sattva guna.


In his amazing poem Jivanmukta-ananda-lahari, Adi Shankaracharya speaks of a yogaroodha, one who has climbed to the peaks of yoga and has become a jivanmukta, livng-lilberated. The poem tells us that for a jivanmukta, for an enlightened master, for an atmavan in the words of the Gita, everything is the same. It does not make any difference to him whether he is in a forest or in a city, whether he is with the poor or with the rich, with the wise or with fools, whether he is with men or with women, or with no one for that matter – all alone. Many of the images in the poem are very sensuous, like his sporting with smart young women – taarunyaankita-chatura-naaryaa saha raman, like his placing food in the mouths of his female consorts and receiving food from them in his mouth, like his becoming a young man when he is with young women – yuvatishu yuvaa – and so on, through which the acharya is telling us that he does not say no to any aspect of life, including the sensual one, he accepts life in its totality without rejecting any part of it.

Another wonderful aspect of the poem is the joyfulness that pervades it. It is not just that where he is or with whom he is does not make a difference to the jivan-mukta, he is joyous everywhere, almost dancing, reminding of what the acharya told us in Bhaja Govindam – yogarato vaa bhogarato vaa sangarato vaa sangavihinah, yasya brahmani ramate chittam nandati nandati nandati eva – whether he is engaged in yoga or in bhoga, whether he is with company or all alone, he whose mind revels in Brahman rejoices, rejoices and rejoices.

I am reproducing a few selected verses from the thrilling poem by the acharya with my translation.

Kadaachit praasaade kvachidapi cha saudheshu dhaninaam
Kadaakaale shaile kvachidapi cha kooleshu saritaam
Kuteere daantaanaam munijana-varaanaam api vasan
Munir na vyaamoham bhajati gurudeekshaa-kshatatamaah

Now he lives in palaces, now in the rich mansions of the wealthy. At times he resorts to the mountains, at others to the banks of running brooks. Sometimes he dwells in the huts of great ascetics whose wealth is their self-restraint. The wise man, the sage, is not trapped in illusion, his ignorance dispelled by the power of his initiation by his teacher

Kvachid baalais saardham karatalajataalaischa hasitais
Kvachit taarunyaankita chaturanaaryaa saha raman
Kvachid vrddhaish chintaakulitahrdayais chapi vilapan
Munir na vyaamoham bhajati gurudeekshaa-kshatatamaah

Now he claps his hands and laughs in delight with children and now he revels among bright young women endowed with rich youth and now again he grieves with old men sad with heavy hearts. The wise man, the sage, is not trapped in illusion, his ignorance dispelled by the power of his initiation by his teacher [for he knows in his heart that he is the witness to all this, the watcher who is not involved].

Kadaachin-maunasthah kvachidapi cha vaagvaada-niratah
Kadaachit svaanande hasati rabhasaa tyaktavachanah
Kadaachil lokaanaam vyavahrti-samaalokanaparo
Munir na vyaamoham bhajati gurudeekshaa-kshatatamaah

Now he observes silence, now he is engaged in debates and discussions. Now he abandons all speech and explodes in spontaneous laughter, his natural joy filling his heart and now again he becomes an observer of the activities of the common people of the world. The wise man, the sage, is not trapped in illusion, his ignorance dispelled by the power of his initiation by his teacher

Kadaachit shakteenaam vikacha-mukha--padmeshu kabalaan
Kshipans taasaam kvapi svayamapi cha grhyan svamukhatah
Tadadvaitam roopam nijapara-viheenam prakatayan
Munir na vyaamoham bhajati gurudeekshaa-kshatatamaah

Now he lovingly drops morsels of food into the mouths of his female consorts [shaktis], and now he accepts food into his own mouth, thus giving expression to the unity where the two do not exist, where the distinction has disappeared between what is what is one’s own and what belongs to another. The wise man, the sage, is not trapped in illusion, his ignorance dispelled by the power of his initiation by his teacher

Maune maunee gunini gunavaan pandite panditashcha
Deene deenas sukhini sukhavaan bhogini praaptabhogah
Moorkhe moorkho yuvatishu yuvaa vaagmini praudhavagmee
Dhanyah ko’pi tribhuvanajayee yo’vadhoote’vadhootah

A silent one among the silent ones, virtuous among the virtuous, a scholar amidst scholars, suffering among the suffering, joyous amidst the joyful, a contented man in the company of the pleasure seeker because he has attained all pleasures, a fool in the company of fools, a youth when he is with young women, eloquent among men of eloquence – such a man is blessed indeed in his world, whoever he is, the one who is an avadhoota amidst avadhootas.


That is how an atmavan lives, a yogaroodha lives, a jivanmukta lives. For him nothing of the world makes a difference –victory, loss, success, failures, joy, sorrow, nothing. And for such a man the promises the karma kanda of the Vedas makes are as useful as the well people dig in a dry riverbed is when the river is flooded. For a man who has known the truth, the karma kanda of the Vedas which promise success, fame, good fortune, glory, wealth and so on holds no charms.

He has gone to a world far beyond these.

Continued to Next Page 


More by :  Satya Chaitanya

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