Part I

Introduction

I read the Gita. Because it is the Eye of God. I sing the Gita. Because it is the Life of God. I live the Gita. Because it is the Soul of God.

The Gita is God’s Vision immediate. The Gita is God’s Reality direct.

They say that the Gita is a Hindu book, a most significant scripture. I say that it is the Light of Divinity in humanity. They say that the Gita needs an introduction. I say that God truly wants to be introduced by the Gita.

Arjuna is the ascending human soul. Krishna is the descending divine Soul. Finally they meet. The human soul says to the divine Soul: “I need you.” The divine Soul says to the human soul: “I need you, too. I need you for my self-manifestation. You need me for your self-realisation.” Arjuna says: “O, Krishna, you are mine, absolutely mine.” Krishna says: “O, Arjuna, no mine, no thine. We are the Oneness complete, within, without.”

The Gita is an episode in the sixth book of the Mahabharata. “Mahabharata” means “Great India”, India the Sublime. This unparalleled epic is six times the size of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined. Surprising in size and amazing in thought is the Mahabharata. The main story revolves around a giant rivalry between two parties of cousins. Their ancestral kingdom was the apple of discord. This rivalry came to its close at the end of a great battle called the Battle of Kurukshetra.

The family tree

Santanu had two wives: Ganga and Satyavati. Bhishma was born from the union of Santanu and Ganga; Chitrangada and Vichitravirya from that of Santanu and Satyavati. Vichitraviya’s two wives were Ambika and Ambalika. Dhritarashtra was the son of Ambika and Vichitravirya; Pandu, the son of Ambalika and Vichitravirya. Dhritarashtra’s hundred sons were the Kauravas; Pandu’s five sons, the Pandavas.

Yudhisthira was the legitimate heir to the kingdom. His father, Pandu, had reigned a number of years, offering the utmost satisfaction to his subjects. Finally Pandu retired.

He retired to the forest. To succeed him was his eldest son, Yudhisthira. And he did it devotedly and successfully. Dhritarashtra was Pandu’s elder half brother. God had denied him sight. Strangely enough, his affection for his hundred sons blinded his heart as well. Being blind, naturally he was not qualified to inherit the throne. The eldest son of Dhritarashtra was Duryodhana. Ninety-nine brothers were to follow him. Yudhisthira, Pandu’s eldest son, had only four others to follow him.

Truth’s Pride was Yudhisthira. Falsehood’s Pride was Duryodhana. Through the illumined hearts of Pandu’s five sons, God smiled. Through the unlit minds of Dhritarashtra’s hundred sons, the devil smiled. The devil often succeeded in embracing the blind father, too.

The eyeless father made repeated requests, strong and weak, to Duryodhana, his morally, psychically and spiritually eyeless son not to go to war. Vidura, the pure heart, Duryodhana’s uncle, failed to throw light on Duryodhana’s thick head. Sanjaya, his father’s prudent charioteer, equally failed. Neither was Bhishma, the oldest and the wisest, successful. Duryodhana felt his own understanding to be superior. Finally Sri Krishna, the Lord of the universe, most fervently tried to avert the hurtful and heartless battle. But the ignorance-night in Duryodhana would by no means surrender to the knowledge-sun in Sri Krishna.

Seven hundred verses are there in the Gita. About six hundred are the soul-stirring utterances from the divine lips of the Lord Krishna, and the rest are from the crying, aspiring Arjuna, the clairvoyant and clairaudient Sanjaya, and the inquisitive Dhritarashtra.

The sage Vyasa enquired of Dhritarashtra if he desired to see the events and have a first-hand knowledge of the battle, from the battle’s birth to the battle’s death. The sage was more than willing to grant the blind man vision. But Dhritarashtra did not want his eyes — the eyes that had failed him all his life — to obey his command at this terribly fateful hour for his conscience and his kingdom’s life, especially when his own sons were heading for destruction. He declined the sage’s kind and bounteous offer. His heart was ruthlessly tortured by the imminent peril of his kinsmen. However, he requested the sage to grant the boon to someone else from whom he could get faultless reports of the battle. Vyasa consented. He conferred upon Sanjaya the miraculous psychic power of vision to see the incidents taking place at a strikingly great distance.

Is the Gita a mere word? No. A speech? No. A concept? No. A kind of concentration? No. A form of meditation? No. What is it, then? It is The Realisation. The Gita is God’s Heart and man’s breath, God’s assurance and man’s promise.

The inspiration of Hinduism is the Soul-Concern of the Gita. The aspiration of Hinduism is the Blessing-Dawn of the Gita. The emancipation of Hinduism is the Compassion-Light of the Gita. But to pronounce that the Gita is the sole monopoly of Hinduism is absurdity. The Gita is the common property of humanity.

The West says that she has something special to offer to the East: The New Testament. The East accepts the offer with deepest gratitude and offers her greatest pride, the Bhagavad Gita, in return.

The Gita is unique. It is the Scripture of scriptures. Why? Because it has taught the world that the emotion pure, the devotion genuine can easily run abreast with the philosophy solid, the detachment dynamic.

There are eighteen chapters in the Gita. Each chapter reveals a specific teaching of a particular form of Yoga. Yoga is the secret language of man and God. Yoga means Union, the union of the finite with the Infinite, the union of the form with the Formless. It is Yoga that reveals the supreme secret: man is tomorrow’s God and God is today’s man. Yoga is to be practised for the sake of Truth. If not, the seeker will be sadly disappointed. Likewise, man’s God-Realisation is for the sake of God. Otherwise untold frustration will be man’s inevitable reward.

The Gita was born in 600 B.C. its authorship goes to the sage Veda Vyasa. With a significant question from Dhritarashtra, the Gita commences its journey. The whole narrative of the Bhagavad Gita is Sanjaya’s answer to Dhritarashtra’s single question. Sri Krishna spoke. Much. All divinely soulful. Arjuna spoke. Little. All humanly heartful. Dhritarashtra was the listener. The Divinely and humanly clairvoyant and clairaudient reporter was Sanjaya. On very rare occasions Sanjaya contributed his own thoughtful remarks, too.

Sri Krishna was Arjuna’s body’s relation, heart’s union, soul’s liberation. As God, he illumined Arjuna with the Truth Absolute; as a humane human, he illumined his earthly friend with truths relative.

Philosophers enter into a deplorable controversy. Some enquire how such a philosophical discourse could take place at the commencement of a war. How was it possible? There are others who firmly hold that this momentous discourse was not only possible but inevitable at that hour, since it was the divinely appropriate occasion for the aspiring Hindu to discover the inner meaning of war and live in accordance with his soul’s dictates, instead of following the poor, unlit knowledge of morality.

The Gita is the epitome of the Vedas. It is spontaneous. It is in a form at once divinised and humanised. It is also the purest milk drawn from the udders of the most illumining Upanishads to feed and nourish the human soul. The Gita demands man’s acceptance of life, and reveals the way to achieve the victory of the higher self over the lower by the spiritual art of transformation: physical, vital, mental, psychic and spiritual.

The Gita embodies the soul-wisdom, the heart-love, the mind-knowledge, the vital-dynamism and the body-action.

Chapter I: The sorrow of Arjuna

The Gita begins with the words Dharmakshetre Kurakshetre. “On the hallowed field of Kurukshetra" — this is the literal translation. Kshetra means field. Dharma is a spiritual word, and it is extremely fertile in meanings. It means the inner code of life; moral, religious and spiritual law; living faith in God’s existence and in one’s own existence; soulful duty, especially enjoined by the scriptures; devoted observances of any caste or sect; willingness to abide by the dictates of one’s soul.

The Sanskrit root of the word dharma is dhri, to hold. Who holds us? God. What holds us? Truth. Dharma prevails. If not always, ultimately it must, for in dharma is the very breath of God.

Duryodhana went to Gandhari, his mother, on the eve of the war, for her benediction. Like mother, like son. Here is a veritable exception. She blessed Duryodhana saying, “Victory will be there, where dharma is.” It meant that Yudhisthira, the son of Dharma, would win the war. She was the possessor of such a selfless heart. Something more. The present world observes her unique dharma in her unparalleled acceptance of her husband’s fate. God gave Dhritarashtra no sight. And Gandhari proved her absolute oneness with her blind husband by binding her own eyes. She embraced blindness — a sacrifice worthy to be remembered and admired by humanity. She saw not the world without. The choice blessings of the world within showered on Gandhari.

Our body’s dharma is service, our mind’s dharma is illumination, our heart’s dharma is oneness, and our soul’s dharma is liberation.

Again, people are apt to claim that dharma means religion. If so, how many religions are there? Just one. Certainly not two, not to speak of three. And what does religion signify? It signifies man-discovery and God-discovery, which are one and identical.

Now let us focus our attention on the word dharmakshetra (the field of dharma). Why is Kurukshetra called dharmakshetra? A battlefield can be anything but dharmakshetra. No. The battle took place on Kurukshetra where untold religious sacrifices were performed. And something more. Kurukshetra was situated between two sacred rivers: the Jumna and the Saraswati in the Northwestern part of India. A river is perpetually sacred. A river houses water. Water signifies consciousness in the domain of spirituality. And this consciousness is always pure, unalloyed, sanctifying and energising. So we now come to learn why Kurukshetra was called dharmakshetra and not otherwise.

To consider the first chapter as an introductory chapter and pay very little importance to it as some scholars, interpreters and readers do, need not be an act of wisdom. The first chapter has a special significance of its own. It deals with Arjuna’s sorrow, his inner conflict. Poor Arjuna was torn with grief between two equally formidable ideas: he must go to war or he must not. Curiously enough, Arjuna’s mother, Kunti Devi, prayed to the Lord Krishna to bless her with perpetual sorrow. Why? Kunti Devi realised that if sorrow deserted her and left her for good, surely there would be no necessity on her part to invoke Sri Krishna. Her world always wanted sorrow, suffering and tribulation, so that her heart could treasure constantly the Lord’s all-compassionate Presence. To a degree, we can recall in the same vein, from Keats’ Endymion, “...but cheerly, cheerly she (sorrow) loves me dearly; She is so constant to me, and so kind.”

Actually, from the highest spiritual point of view, we cannot welcome Kunti Devi’s wisdom. Nevertheless, it served her purpose most effectively. A spiritual person has not to embrace sorrow with the hope of achieving God’s Bounty. He has to aspire. His aspiration has to reveal God’s presence within him — God’s Love, Peace, Bliss and Power. He takes sorrow as an experience in his life. He also knows that it is God who is having this experience in him and through him.

True, sorrow purifies our emotional heart. But the divine Light performs this task infinitely more successfully. Yet one has not to be afraid of sorrow’s arrival in one’s life. Far from it. Sorrow has to be transformed into joy everlasting. How? With our heart’s mounting aspiration and God’s ever-flowing Compassion combined. Why? Because God is all joy, and what we humans want is to see, feel, realise and finally become God, the Blissful.

The principal warriors were now seen on both sides. Some were eager to fight in order to display their mighty valour, while there were matchless warriors like Bhishma, Drona and Kripa who fought out of moral obligation. On the battlefield itself, just before the actual battle took place, Yudhisthira walked barefoot to the opposing army, precisely to Bhishma and Drona and other well-wishers, for their benedictions. Bhishma, while blessing Yudhisthira from the inmost recesses of his heart, said, “Son, my body will fight, while my heart will be with you and your brothers. Yours is the Victory destined.” Drona, while blessing Yudhisthira, exclaimed, “I am a victim to obligation. I shall fight for the Kauravas, true. But yours will be the victory. This is the assurance from my Brahmin heart.”

Blessings over, Yudhisthira returned. There blared forth countless trumpets, conches, wardrums and bugles. Elephants trumpeted, horses neighed. The wildest tempest broke loose.

Arrows flew like meteors in the air. Forgotten was the sweet, old affection. Broken were the ties of blood. Death was singing the song of death. Here we may recall Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade:

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;

Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well
Into the jaws of Death.

The cannon had not been invented in days of yore, in the days of the Mahabharata, but the scene of death was the same, with arrows, swords, maces and missiles. Needless to say, we must identify ourselves with the arrows, maces and lion-roars of the Kurukshetra heroes and not with today’s grandiose war-achievements. The joy of knowing the achievements of the hoary past is at once irresistible and unfathomable.

Arjuna exclaimed, “Pray, place my chariot, O Krishna, between the two battle formations so that I can see those who thirst for war.” He surveyed the battle scene. Alas, he saw among the deadly opponents those very human souls whom he had always held dear and near. Overwhelmed with tenebrous grief, Arjuna, for the first time in his life of matchless heroism, gave unthinkable expression to faint-heartedness. “My body shivers, my mouth is parched, my limbs give way, fear tortures me all over, my hair stands on end, my bow slips from my hand and my mind is reeling. Hard is it even for me to stand. Krishna, victory over them, my present foes I seek not. They were my own. Still they are. Neither kingdom nor ease I seek. Let them attack, they want and they shall. But I shall not hurl my weapon upon them, not even for the supreme sovereignty of the three worlds, let alone the earth!”

With one moral weapon after another, Arjuna attacked Sri Krishna. He was determined to discard his war weapons for good. He started his philosophy with the correct anticipation of the slaughter of his kinsmen, the dire calamity of family destruction. He emphasised that virtue being lost, family would be caught tight in the grip of vice. This would all be due to lawlessness. When lawlessness predominates, the women of the family become corrupt; women corrupted, caste-confusion comes into existence.

A word about caste-confusion. India is still being mercilessly ridiculed for clinging to the caste system. In fact, caste is unity in diversity. Each caste is like a limb of the body. The four castes: Brahmin (the priest), Kshatriya (the warrior), Vaishya (the agriculturist) and Sudra (the labourer). The origin of the castes we observe in the Vedas. The Brahmin is the mouth of Purusha, the Supreme personified. Rajanya (Kshatriya) is Purusha’s two arms; Vaishya, his two thighs; Sudra, his two feet.

In connection with the caste-destruction, Arjuna also tells the Lord Krishna that everything is leading towards perilous sin. In the Western world, unfortunately, the word “sin” seems to loom large in every walk of life. It is something more fatal than perdition. To them, I beg to be excused, sin is part and parcel of life. In the East, especially in India, the word sin offers a different meaning. It means imperfection, nothing more and nothing less. The human consciousness is proceeding from imperfection to perfection. The Seers of the Upanishads gave no importance to sin. They taught the world the serenity, sanctity, integrity and divinity of man.

To come back to poor Arjuna. Said he: “Let the sons of Dhritarashtra, armed with weapons, end my life, while I am unarmed, with no resistance. I prefer in all sincerity my death to our victory!”

Lo, Arjuna, the hero supreme! Discarding his bow and arrows, dolefully, throbbingly and soulfully he sinks into the hinder part of his chariot.

“Fighting is not for Arjuna. Krishna, I shall not fight.”

Chapter II: Knowledge

This chapter is entitled Sankhya-Yoga — “The Yoga of Knowledge”. Arjuna’s arguments against war were very plausible to our human understanding. Sri Krishna read Arjuna’s heart. Confusion ran riot across Arjuna’s mind. The unmanly sentiment in his Kshatriya blood he took as his love for mankind. But Arjuna was never wanting in sincerity. His mouth spoke what his heart felt. Unfortunately his sincerity unconsciously housed ignorance. Krishna wanted to illumine Arjuna. “O, Arjuna, in your speech you are a philosopher, in your action, you are not. A true philosopher mourns neither for the living nor for the dead. But Arjuna, you are sorrowing and grieving. Tell me, why do you mourn the prospective death of these men? You existed, I existed, they too. Never shall we cease to exist.”

We have just mentioned Arjuna’s philosophy. Truth to tell, we too would have fared the same at that juncture. Real philosophy is truly difficult to study, more difficult to learn, and most difficult to live.

The Sanskrit word for philosophy is Darshan, meaning “to see, to vision.” Sri Ramakrishna’s significant remark runs: “In the past, people used to have visions (darshan); now people study Darshan (philosophy)!”

Equally significant is the message of the Old Testament: “Your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.”

Arjuna for the first time came to learn from Sri Krishna that his human belief concerning life and death was not founded on truth. He felt that he was distracted by illusions. He prayed to Sri Krishna for enlightenment. “I am your humble disciple. Teach me, tell me what is best for me.” For the first time, the word disciple sprang from Arjuna’s lips.

Until then, Sri Krishna had been his friend and comrade. The disciple learned: “The Reality that pervades the universe is the Life immortal. The body is perishable, the soul, the real in man, or the real man, is deathless, immortal. The soul neither kills nor is killed. Beyond birth and death, constant and eternal is the soul. The knower of this truth neither slays nor causes slaughter.”

Arjuna had to fight the battle of life and not the so-called Battle of Kurukshetra. Strength he had. Wisdom he needed. The twilight consciousness of the physical mind he had. He needed the sun-bright consciousness of the soul’s divinity.

Sri Krishna used the terms Birth, Life and Death.

Birth

Birth is the passing of the soul from a lower to a higher body in the process of evolution, in the course of the soul’s journey of reincarnation. The Sankhya system affirms the absolute identity of cause and effect. Cause is the effect silently and secretly involved and effect is the cause actively and openly evolved. Evolution, according to the Sankhya philosophy, can never come into existence from nothing, from zero. The appearance of “is” can be only from the existence of “was”. Let us fill our minds with the immortal utterance of Wordsworth from Intimations of Immortality:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God who is our home:

Here the poet carries us into the mystery of the soul’s eternal journey and reminds us of the perennial Source.

Life

What is life? It is the soul’s only opportunity to manifest and fulfil the Divine here on earth. When life begins its journey, Infinity shakes hands with it. When the journey is half done, Eternity shakes hands with it. When life’s journey is complete, Immortality shakes hands with it. Life lives the life of perfection when it lives in spirituality. When life lives in spirituality, the breath of God, it stands far above the commands of morality and the demands of duty.

God says to the human life, “Arise, awake, aspire! Yours is the goal.” The human life says to God: “Wait, I am resting. I am sleeping. I am dreaming.” Suddenly life feels ashamed of its conduct. Crying, it says, “Father, I am coming.” Throbbing, it says, “Father, I am come.” Smiling, it says, “Father, I have come.”

Life, the problem, can be solved by the soul, the solution; but for that, one has first to be awakened from within.

Death

He who lives the inner life knows that death is truly his resting-room. To him, death is anything but extinction. It is a meaningful departure. When our consciousness is divinely transformed, the necessity of death will not arise at all. To transform life, we need Peace, Light, Bliss and Power. We cry for these divine qualities. They cry for our aspiration. They are equally anxious to grant us everlasting life. But until our body, vital, mind, heart and soul aspire together, the divine Power, Light, Bliss and Peace cannot possess us.

The body has death, but not the soul. The body sleeps, the soul flies. The soul-stirring words on death and the soul in this chapter of the Gita, let us recollect. “Even as man discards old clothes for the new ones, so the dweller in the body, the soul, leaving aside the worn-out bodies, enters into new bodies. The soul migrates from body to body. Weapons cannot cleave it, nor fire consume it, nor water drench it, nor wind dry it.” This is the soul and this is what is meant by the existence of the soul. Now we shall be well advised to observe the existence of death, if there is any, in the momentous words of Sri Aurobindo, the Founder of the integral Yoga. “Death,” he exclaims, “has no separate existence by itself, it is only a result of the principle of decay in the body and that principle is there already — it is part of the physical nature. At the same time it is not inevitable; if one could have the necessary consciousness and force, decay and death is not inevitable.”

What we call death is nothing short of ignorance. We can solve the problem of death only when we know what life is. Life is eternal. It existed before birth and it will exist after death. Life also exists between birth and death. It is beyond birth and death. Life is infinite. Life is immortal. A seeker of the Infinite Truth cannot subscribe to Schopenhauer’s statement: “To desire immortality is to desire the eternal perpetuation of a great mistake.” There is no shadow of doubt that it is the ceaseless seeker in man who is Immortality’s life, for his very existence indicates the Supreme’s Vision that illumines the universe, and the Supreme’s Reality that fulfils creation.

Arjuna the disciple further learned: “Do your duty. Do not waver. Be not faint-hearted. You are a Kshatriya. There can be no greater invitation than that of a righteous war for a Kshatriya.”

A Kshatriya’s (warrior’s) duty can never be the duty of an ascetic Neither should an ascetic perform the duty of a Kshatriya. Also a Kshatriya must not follow the path of a world-renouncer. Imitation is not for a seeker. “Imitation is suicide,” so do we learn from Emerson.

A warrior’s duty is to fight, fight for the establishment of truth. “In his victory, the entire earth becomes his, in his death, him welcome the gates of paradise.”

Sri Krishna unveiled the path of Sankhya (knowledge) to Arjuna: “Arjuna, take them as one, victory and defeat, joy and sorrow, gain and loss. Care not for them. Fight! Fighting thus no sin will you incur.”

The teacher revealed the path of knowledge (Sankhya). Now he wanted to teach the student the path of action (Yoga). Arjuna surprisingly learned that this path, the path of action, the second path, is fruitful and also will bring him deliverance. The truth sublime is: “Action is your birthright, not the outcome, not the fruits thereof. Let not the fruits of action be your object, and be not attached to inaction. Be active and dynamic, seek not any reward.” We can simultaneously kindle the flame of our consciousness with the lore of the Isha Upanishad: “Action cleaves not to a man.”

We have already used the term Yoga. What is Yoga? “Equanimity,” says Sri Krishna, “is Yoga.” He also says: “Yoga is skilful wisdom in action.”

Arjuna’s inner progress is striking. He now feels the necessity to free himself from the desire-life. Sri Krishna teaches him how he can totally detach himself from the bondage-life of the senses as a tortoise successfully withdraws its limbs from all directions. Sense-withdrawal, or withdrawal from the sense objects, by no means indicates the end of man’s journey. “Mere withdrawal cannot put an end to desire’s birth. Desire disappears only when the Supreme appears. In His Presence the desire-life loses its existence. Not before.”

This second chapter throws considerable light on Sankhya (knowledge) and Yoga (action). Sankhya and Yoga are never at daggers drawn. One is detached meditative knowledge, and the other is dedicated and selfless action. They have the self-same Goal. They just follow two different paths to arrive at the Goal.

To come back to the sense-life. Sense-life is not to be discontinued. Sense-life is to be lived in the Divine for the Divine. It is the inner withdrawal, and not the outer withdrawal, that is imperative. The animal in man has to surrender to the Divine in man for its total transformation. The life of animal pleasure must lose its living and burning breath in the all-fulfilling life of divine Bliss.

Katha Upanishad declares the rungs of the ever-climbing Ladder.

Higher than the senses are the objects of sense,
Higher than the objects of sense is the mind,
Higher than the mind is the intellect,
Higher than the intellect is the Self,
Higher than the Self is the Unmanifest,
Higher than the Unmanifest is the Supreme personified,
Highest is this Supreme, the Goal Ultimate.

We have seen what happens when we go up. Let us observe what happens when we muse on the sense-objects. The Gita tells: “Dwelling on sense-objects gives birth to attachment, attachment gives birth to desire. Desire (unfulfilled) brings into existence the life of anger. From anger delusion springs up, from delusion the confusion of memory. In the confusion of memory the reasoning wisdom is lost. When wisdom is nowhere, destruction within, without, below and above.”

The dance of destruction is over. Let us pine for salvation. The disciplined, self-controlled aspirant alone will be blessed by the flood of peace. Finally, the aspirant will be embraced by Salvation, the inner Illumination.

Chapter III: Action

On the strength of our identification with Arjuna’s heart, we are apt to feel, at the beginning of the third chapter, that we are thrown into the world of ruthless confusion and immense doubt. Arjuna wants immediate relief from his mental tension; he wants to hear a decisive truth. His impatience prevent him from seeing the total truth in all its aspects. In the preceding chapter, his divine Teacher, Sri Krishna, expressed his deep appreciation for the Path of Knowledge, but at the same time told Arjuna of the great necessity of action. The Teacher, needless to say, had not the slightest intention of throwing the student into the sea of confusion. Far from it. What Arjuna required was a broader vision of truth and a deeper meaning of Reality. When we see through the eyes of Arjuna, we see that his world is a world of conflicting ideas. But when we see through the eyes o Sri Krishna, we see a world of complementary facets of the all-sustaining and all-pervading Truth.

Knowledge and Action, Arjuna believed, would lead him to the same Goal. Why then is he doomed or expected to wade through the bloodshed of war, enjoined by action?

True, Arjuna’s mental sky was overcast with heavy clouds, but his psychic sky pined for true enlightenment. His mighty question is, “If you consider knowledge superior to action, why urge me to this dreadful action?”

Sri Krishna now says, “Two paths, Arjuna, are there. I have already told you that. The Path of Knowledge and the Path of Action. Through the divine art of contemplation, the aspirant follows the Path of Knowledge. Through the dynamic urge of selfless work, the seeker follows the Path of Action.”

Knowledge feels that the world within is the real world. Action feels that the world without is the real world. The Path of Knowledge enters inside from outside, while the Path of Action enters outside from inside. This is the difference. But this apparent duality can never be the whole truth, the Truth Ultimate.

There is an Arabian proverb which says:

There are four sorts of men:
He who knows not and knows not that he knows not:
  he is a fool — shun him;
He who knows not and knows that he knows not:
  he is simple — teach him;
He who knows and knows not that he knows:
  he is asleep — wake him;
He who knows and knows that he knows:
  he is wise — follow him.

Arjuna, too, had to go through these four stages of evolution. At the end of the first chapter, he declared, “O Krishna, I shall not fight.” He did not know what Truth was, yet he was ignorant of this fact. Krishna, being all Compassion, could not shun his dearest Arjuna. “I pray, tell me what is best for me.” Here Arjuna’s simple sincerity touches the depth of Sri Krishna’s heart and the Teacher begins to instruct the aspirant.

Arjuna had known all his life that heroism was the very breath of a Kshatriya like himself, but his mind temporarily eclipsed this inner knowledge. He was in the world of deluding sleep. So Sri Krishna had to arouse him, saying, “Arjuna, fight! In victory, you will enjoy the sovereignty of the earth; in death, wide open are the gates of Paradise.”

Finally Arjuna realised that Sri Krishna not only knew the truth but also was the Truth. So he wanted to follow Sri Krishna. He cried out, “Saranagata — You are my refuge. I am at your command.”

He who follows the Path of Action is by nature simple, says Krishna. He is simple, his action is direct; the result is immediate. Arjuna however, wants freedom from action, which is nothing short of impossibility. Action is done not only by the body, but also in the body by mind. Action plays its role also in the conscious and sub-conscious levels of one’s being. Action cannot die. It can never dream of an escape so long as the impulses of nature are alive. Action binds us only when we bind action with our likes and dislikes. The action-tree grows within us either with its venomous or with its ambrosial fruits.

According to Shankara, one may doubt the existence of God, but it is impossible for one to doubt one’s own existence. A human being, if he houses common sense, believes in his present existence. If he cares to go a step ahead, he has to accept the undeniable existence of destiny. And what is destiny? Destiny is the evolving experience of one’s consciousness. This experience is neither obscure nor uncertain. It is the necessary inevitability of a cosmic law striving for its outer manifestation in perfect Perfection.

Action and reaction are the obverse and reverse of the same coin. At times they may appear to be two dire foes. Nevertheless, their equal capacity is undeniable. The Son of God made the lofty statement: “They that take the sword shall perish by the sword.”

Action itself does not have a binding power; neither does it need one. It is the desire in action that has the power to bind us and tell us that freedom is not for mortals. But if, in action, sacrifice looms large, or if action is done in a spirit of sacrifice, or if action is considered another name for sacrifice, then action is perfection, action is illumination, action is liberation.

For him who is embodied, action is a necessity, action is a must. Man is the result of a divine sacrifice. It is sacrifice that can vision the truth and fulfil man’s existence. In sacrifice alone we see the connection and fulfilling link between one individual and another. No doubt the world is progressing and evolving. Yet, in the Western world sacrifice is often considered synonymous with stupidity and ignorance. To quote William Q. Judge, one of the early leading Theosophists, “Although Moses established sacrifices for the Jews, the Christian successors have abolished it both in spirit and letter, with a curious inconsistency which permits them to ignore the words of Jesus that ‘not one jot or tittle of the law should pass until all these things were fulfilled’.” To be sure, the East of today is no exception.

What is sacrifice? It is the discovery of universal oneness. In the Rig-Veda we observe the Supreme Sacrifice made by the sage Brihaspati:

Devebhyah kam avrinit mrtyam...

Death he chose, for the sake of the gods, he chose not Immortality for the mortals’ sake.

Sacrifice is the secret of self-dedicated service. It was fear or some other doubtful motive which compelled the primitive minds to embrace sacrifice. They thought that the eyes of the cosmic gods would emit fire if they did not sacrifice animals as an offering. At least they were clever enough not to sacrifice children, their nearest and dearest. The Supreme wanted and still wants and will always want sacrifice from both human beings and the gods for their reciprocal benefit. It is their mutual sacrifice that makes both the parties one and indivisible. Men will offer their aspiration; the gods will offer their illumination. A man of true satisfaction is a man of consecrated offering. Sin can stand nowhere near him. The existence of humanity as a whole demands attention first; the individual existence next. Work done in the spirit of purest offering leads an aspirant to the abode of perfect bliss.

Possession is no satisfaction, so long as ego breathes in us. The great King Janaka knew it. No wonder Janaka was loved by the Sage Yagnyavalka most. His Brahmin disciples felt that Janaka received preference just because he was king. It is obvious that God would not let the Sage Yagnyavalka suffer such foul criticism. So, what happened? Mithila, Janaka’s capital, began to burn in mounting and devouring flames. The disciples ran, left their preceptor, hurried to their respective cottages. What for? Just to save their loin-cloths. All fled save Janaka. He ignored his riches and treasures burning in the city. Janaka stayed with his guru, Yagnvavalka, listening to the sage’s ambrosial talk. “Mithilayam pradagdhayam namekincit pranasyati".. “Nothing do I lose even though Mithila may be consumed to ashes.” Now the disciples came to learn why their Guru favoured Janaka most. This is the difference between a man of wisdom and a man of ignorance. An ignorant man knows that what he has is the body. A man of wisdom knows that what he has and what he is is the soul. Hence to him the soul’s needs are of paramount importance.

Sri Krishna disclosed to Arjuna the secret of Janaka’s attainment to Self-realisation and Salvation. Janaka acted with detachment. He acted for the sake of humanity, having been surcharged with the light and wisdom of divinity. Indeed, this is the path of the noble. Krishna wanted Arjuna to tread this path, so that the world would follow him. Perhaps Arjuna was not fully convinced. In order to convince Arjuna fully and unreservedly, Krishna brought himself into the picture. He gave the example of Himself: “Nothing have I to do in the three worlds, nor is there anything worth attaining, unattained by me; yet do I perpetually work, I ever have my existence in action. If I do not work, the worlds will perish.”

Sri Krishna wanted Arjuna to be freed from the fetters of ignorance. The only way Arjuna could do it was to act without attachment. Sri Krishna told Arjuna the supreme secret: “Dedicate all action to Me, with your mind fix on Me, the Self in all…”

All beings must follow their nature. No escape there is, nor can there be. What can restraint do? Man’s duty is Heaven’s peerless blessing. One must know what one’s duty is. Once duty is known, it is to be performed to the last.

I slept and dreamed that life was Beauty;
I woke and found that life was Duty.

— Ellen S. Hooper, Beauty and Duty

Life’s duty, performed with a spontaneous flow of self-offering to humanity under the express guidance of the inner being, can alone transform life into Beauty, the heavenly Beauty of the world within, and earthly Beauty of the world without.

Arjuna’s duty was to fight, for he was a Kshatriya, a warrior. This fighting was not for power, but for the establishment of truth over falsehood. Sri Krishna’s most encouraging and inspiring words regarding one’s individual duty demand all our admiration. “Better always one’s own duty, be it ever so humble, than that of another, howsoever tempting. Even death brings in blessedness itself in the performance of one’s own duty; doomed to peril will he be if he performs the duty enjoined on another.”

Arjuna has now one more question, rather a pertinent one, and that is his last question in this chapter. “Impelled by what, O Krishna, does a man commit sin despite himself?” “Kama, Krodha,” answers Krishna, “desire and anger — these are the hostile enemies of man.”

Desire is insatiable. Once desire is born, it knows not how to die. Yayati’s experience of desire can throw abundant light on us. Let us cite his sublime experience. King Yayati was one of the illustrious ancestors of the Pandavas. He was utterly unacquainted with defeat. He was well conversant with the Shastras (scriptures). Immense was his love for his subjects in his realm. Intense was his devotion towards God. Nevertheless, cruel was his fate. His father-in-law, Sukracharya, the preceptor of the asuras (demons), pronounced a fatal curse on him, and he was forced to marry Sharmistha in addition to the daughter Devayani. Sukracharya cursed Yayati with premature old age. Needless to say, the curse took an immediate effect. The inimitable pride of Yayati’s manhood was ruthlessly stricken with age. In vain the king cried for forgiveness. However, Sukracharya calmed down a little. “King,” he said, “I am lessening the strength of my curse. If any human being agrees to exchange the beauty and glory of his youth with you, with your body’s deplorable state, then you will get back the prime of your own youth.”

Yayati had five sons. He begged of his sons, tempted them with the throne of his kingdom, persuaded them in every possible way to agree to an exchange of life. His first four sons softly and prudently refused. The youngest, the most devoted, Puru, gladly accepted his father’s old age. Lo, Yayati at once was transformed into the prime of his youth. In no time, desire entered into his body and commanded him to enjoy life to the last drop. He fell desperately in love with an Apsara (nymph) and spent many years with her. Alas, his insatiable desire could not be quenched by self-indulgence. Never. At long last he realised the truth. He fondly said to his dearest son Puru: “Son, oh son of mine, impossible to quench is sensual desire. It can never be quenched by indulgence any more than fire is extinguished by pouring ghee (clarified butter) into it. To you I return your youth. To you I give my kingdom as promised. Rule the kingdom devotedly and wisely.” Yayati entered again into his old age. Puru regained his youth and ruled the kingdom. The rest of his life Yayati spent in the forest practising austerities. In due course Yayati breathed his last there. The soul-bird flew back to its abode of delight.

Bernard Shaw’s apt remark on desire can be cited to add to the glory of this experience of Yayati. Shaw said, “There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart’s desire. The other is to get it.” — Man and Superman.

The role of desire is over. Now let us jump into the fury of Anger. Desire unfulfilled gives birth to anger. Anger is the mad elephant in man. To our wide surprise, most of the celebrated Indian sages of the hoary past found it almost impossible to conquer anger. They used to curse human beings in season and out of season, at times, even without rhyme or reason. The sage Durvasa of the Mahabharata topped the list of the sages successfully consumed with anger. He was at once austerity incarnate and ire incarnate.

Desire satisfied, life grows into a bed of thorns. Desire conquered, life grows into a bed of roses. Desire transformed into aspiration, life flies into the highest liberation, life dines with the Supreme salvation.

Chapter IV: Knowledge, action and sacrifice

In the second and third chapters of the Gita, Sri Krishna blessed Arjuna with a few glimpses of Yogic light. In the present chapter, he blesses Arjuna with a flood of spiritual light. He widely and openly reveals the secrets of Yoga. Hard is it for Arjuna to believe that Sri Krishna taught Vivaswan (the Sun-God) this eternal Yoga. Vivaswan offered it to his son Manu, and Manu imparted it to his son Ikshwaku; from him it was handed down to the royal Rishis. Long before Sri Krishna’s birth, Vivaswan saw the light of day. Naturally Sri Krishna’s declaration would throw Arjuna into the sea of confusion.

The eternal mystery of reincarnation is now being revealed. Says Krishna: “Arjuna, you and I have passed through countless births. I know them all, your memory fails you. Although I am birthless and deathless and the Supreme Lord of all beings, I manifest myself in the physical universe through my own Maya, keeping my Prakriti (Nature) under control.”

Maya

Maya means illusion. It also means the unreality of ephemeral things; the unreality is personified as a female, who is also called Maya. The words Dharma and Maya are the constant and spontaneous expression of the Indian soul. According to Shankara, the Vedantin of the Himalayan peak, there is only one Absolute Reality, the Brahman, without a second. Advaita or Monism, deriving from Vedanta, is his momentous philosophy. There is only the Brahman. Nothing outside the Brahman exists. The world as it stands before our mental eye is a cosmic illusion, a deceptive prison. It is only when true knowledge dawns on us that we will be in a position to free ourselves from the meshes of ignorance and from the snares of birth and death.

A thing that is, is real. A thing that appears is unreal. An eternal Life is real. Ignorance and death are unreal. Maya is a kind of power filled with mystery. We know that electricity is a power, but we do not actually know what electricity is. The same truth is applicable to Maya. God uses His Maya Power in order to enter into the field of manifestation. It is the process of the Becoming of the One into many and again the Return of the many into the original One.

Prakriti

Prakriti means Nature. It is the material cause as well as the original cause of every thing in the manifested creation. Purusha is the silent Face. Prakriti is the activating Smile. Purusha is the pure, witnessing consciousness, while Prakriti is the evolving and transforming consciousness. In and through Prakriti is the fulfilment of the Cosmic Play.

Arjuna knew Sri Krishna as his dear cousin; he later knew him as his bosom friend; later still he knew him as his beloved Guru or spiritual Teacher. Here in this chapter he comes to know Sri Krishna as the Supreme Lord of the World. Krishna says, “Whenever unrighteousness is in the ascendent and righteousness is in the decline, I body myself forth. To protect and preserve the virtuous and put an end to the evil-doers, to establish Dharma, I manifest myself from age to age.” From these soul-stirring utterances of Sri Krishna, we immediately come to learn that He is both the Ultimate Knowledge and the Power Supreme. Confidently and smilingly, he is charging Arjuna with a high-voltage spiritual current from his great Power-House.

Samvavami yuge yuge — I body Myself forth from age to age

Sri Krishna now declares himself an Avatar. An Avatar is the direct descent of God. In the world of manifestation, he embodies the Infinite.

In India, there was a spiritual master who declared himself to be an Avatar. Unfortunately he became an object of merciless ridicule, both in the West and in the East. As he could not put up a brave fight against this biting sarcasm, he finally had to change his unsuccessful policy. His proud statement went one step further: “Not only I, but everybody is an Avatar.” Since everybody is an Avatar, who is to criticise whom? Lo, the self-styled Avatar is now heaving a sigh of relief.

It may sound ridiculous, but it is a fact that in India practically every disciple claims his Guru to be an Avatar, the direct descent of God. A flood-tide of enthusiasm sweeps over them when they speak about their Guru. The spiritual giant Swami Vivekananda could not help saying that in East Bengal, India, the Avatars grow like mushrooms. On the other hand, to pronounce that there has been and can be only one Avatar, the Son of God, is equally ridiculous.

Each time an Avatar comes, he plays a different role in the march of evolution according to the necessity of the age. In essence, one Avatar is not different from another. A genuine Avatar, Sri Ramakrishna, has revealed the Truth: “He who was Rama, he who was Krishna is now in the form of Ramakrishna.”

There are two eternal opposites: good and evil. According to Sri Krishna, when wickedness reaches the maximum height, God has to don the human cloak in the form of an Avatar. Sri Krishna’s advent had to deal with the darkest evil force, Kamsa. Similarly Herod, the peerless tyrant, needed the advent of Jesus Christ. Christmas, the birth of Christ, demanded the extinction of the life of ignorance. Janmashtami, the birth of Krishna, is celebrated throughout the length and breadth of India, with a view to leaving the sea of ignorance and entering into the Ocean of Knowledge.

The easiest and most effective way to conceive of the idea of a personal God is to come into contact with an Avatar and remain under his guidance. To have an Avatar as one’s guru is to find a safe harbour for one’s life boat. In this connection, we can cite Vivekananda’s bold statement: “No man can see God but through these human manifestations. Talk as you may, try as you may, you cannot think of God but as a man.”

According to many, as the Buddha is the most perfect man, so is Krishna the greatest Avatar the world has ever seen.

There are also Anshavatars (Partial Avatars). But Sri Krishna is a Purnavatar (Complete Avatar) in whom and through whom the Supreme is manifested fully, unreservedly and integrally. When human aspiration ascends, the divine Compassion descends in the cloak of an Avatar.

“As men approach me, so do I accept them.” There can be no greater solace than this to the bleeding heart of humanity. If we accept Krishna with faith, he illumines our doubting mind. If we accept Krishna with love, he purifies our tormenting vital. If we accept Krishna with devotion, he transforms the ignorance-night of our life into the Knowledge-Sun of His eternal Life.

Sri Krishna now wants our mind to be riveted on caste. He says that it was he who created the fourfold order of the caste system according to the aptitudes and deeds of each caste. There are people who give all importance to birth and heredity and deliberately ignore those who are abundantly blessed with capacities and accomplishments. The result is that society has to suffer the ruthless buffets of stark confusion. True, birth and heredity bring in importance, especially in the heart of society. But this so-called importance cannot offer us even an iota of light and truth. It is by virtue of action, serene and noble, that we grow into the Highest and manifest the Deepest here on earth.

Action, inaction and wrong action

From verse 16 to verse 22 we see Krishna throwing light on action, inaction and wrong action. Action — that is to say, true action — is not just to move our legs and heads. Action is self-giving. Action is to abandon attachment. Action is to bring the senses under control. Wrong action is to dance with desire. Wrong action is to disobey one’s inner being. Wrong action is to swerve from the path of truth, esoteric and exoteric.

In common belief inaction is tantamount to inertia, sloth and so forth. But true inaction is to throw oneself into ceaseless activities while keeping the conscious mind in a state of sublime tranquillity or trance.

Faith and doubt

Faith and Doubt close the fourth chapter. Faith is not a mere emotional feeling to stick to one’s belief. It is a living inner breath to discover, realise and live in the truth. Faith is the exercise taken by a seeker of his own will to force himself to stay in the all-seeing and all-fulfilling Will of God. The Yajur Veda tells us that consecration blossoms in self-dedication, grace blossoms in consecration, faith blossoms in grace, and truth blossoms in faith. What else is faith? To quote Charles Hanson Towne,

I need not shout my faith. Thrice eloquent
Are quiet trees and the green listening sod;
Hushed are the stars, whose power is never spent;
The hills are mute: yet how they speak of God!

Doubt is naked stupidity. Doubt is absolute futility: Doubt is outer conflagration. Doubt is inner destruction.

Sanmshayatma Vinashyati — "The possessor of doubt perishes.” He is lost, totally lost. To him the path of the Spirit is denied. Also denied is the secret of life’s illumination.

Says Krishna: “For the doubting man, neither is this world of ours, nor is the world beyond, no, nor even happiness.” The New Testament presents us with the same truth: “The man of doubtful mind enjoys neither this world nor the other, nor final beatitude.”

In Nyaya (logic), one of the six systems of Indian Philosophy, we notice that doubt is nothing but a conflicting judgement regarding the character of an object. Doubt comes into existence from the very fact of its recognition of properties common to many objects, or of properties not at all common to any objects. Doubt is that very thing which is wanting in the regularity of perception. Also doubt, being non-existent, exists only with non-perception.

Doubt is an all-devouring tiger. Faith is a roaring lion that inspires an aspirant to grow into the all-illumining and all-fulfilling Supreme.

Poor, blind doubt, being quite oblivious of the true truth that faith is the most forceful and most convincing affirmation of life, wants to give a violent jolt to man’s lifeboat.

The poet’s haunting words of truth stir our hearts to their very depths.

Better a day of faith
Than a thousand years of doubt!
Better one mortal hour with Thee
Than an endless life without.