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Srimad Bhagavad Gita

An Introduction based on the Shankara Bhaasya

Pranaams to the devotees of the Lord.

Bharat Churiwalaji, a devotee of Ramakrishna Math, Mumbai, asked me to start a series

on a sort of systematic study of the Gita in the holy_trinity@googlegroups.com mailing
list. This is a collection of the postings that were mailed to the list. Whatever I have learnt
is from the illustrious monks of different Orders that I have had the good fortune to come
in touch with. Of special mention are Swami Swayambodhanandaji, Swami
Paramarthanandaji and Swami Paramasukhanandaji.

The main references I used were these:

1. "Srimad Bhagavad Gita - The Scripture of Mankind" by Swami Tapasyananda

published by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai.
You can find the chapter summaries from the book at
This is book is very good for a serious study of the Gita. It has chapter summaries, verse
in devanagari, English transliteration, split-up of the sandhis, word by word meaning,
verse meaning, chapter summaries and detailed notes wherever needed.

2. "Bhagavad Gita Bhasya of Sankaracharya" translated by Dr. A.G. Krishna Warrior

published by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai.
This book is a boon to people who are not very familiar with Sanskrit, but want to read
Sankara Bhasya in its original. It has the original text in devanagari and also an English

3. "Sankara and Gita" – A three part audio lecture series by Swami Paramarthananda
This three part series of lectures of 90 minutes each is an excellent introduction and
summary of the Gita as explained by Sankaracharya. It gives deep insight into the mind
of Sankara when he wrote the Bhaasya.

4. "Gita Summary" – A nineteen part audio lecture series by Swami Paramarthananda

This lecture series gives an overview of each chapter of the Gita. This is a good prelude
before an in-depth verse-by-verse study of the Gita. It also gives an excellent essence of
the message of the Gita. This can be bought from http://www.sastraprakasika.org/

5. “Geeta Vaatika” – A software on Swami Chinmayananda’s commentary on the Gita. It

has excellent search facilities. It can be downloaded from
http://www.chinmayauk.org/Resources/Downloads.htm. This is a boon to any Gita
enthusiast who has a computer.
Sankara's introduction to his Bhagavad Gitaa Bhaashya is a good way to look at an
overview of the Gita.

Vedaas and Gita

Vedaas are an ocean. Srimad Bhagavad Gita is its essence.

Vedaas have been grouped into four by Veda Vyaasa - Rig, Yajur, Saama and Atharvana.
This grouping is to enable different people to focus and master a part of the entire Vedaas.
Each Veda has four parts - Mantra, Braahmana, Aaranyaka and Upanisad. Mantras are
invocation to the Lord to give us the right understanding and inclination. Braahmanaas
describe external rituals, which when done without desire for the results, free us from
likes and dislikes. Aaranyakaas describe internal meditations, which make us introvert
and calm, and thus prepare the mind for enquiry into the Truth. Upanisads talk about the
Ultimate Truth, which is the identity of the Jivaatman and the Paramaatman (Jiva Ishwara

Bhagavad Gita is a summary of the Vedaas. Thus studying the Gita is considered as
studying the Vedaas. Krishna tells at several places that what He is telling in the Gita is
not something new. He says that He gave this teaching to Surya in olden days. At several
places, Krishna says "The wise people say so", "The learned people consider so", etc.
Thus Krishna emphasizes that there is no contradiction or difference between what He
says and what the Vedaas have told.

The traditional study of the Gita starts with nine "dhyaana slokas". In the Gita also,
Arjuna extols the glories of the Lord at several places. The Lord also describes His
glories. These are equivalent to the Mantra portion of the Vedaas. Gita talks about Karma,
its effects, and about Karma Yoga in detail. These cover the Braahmana portion of the
Vedaas. Gita talks about several internal disciplines of dhyaana, japa, etc. Also, the
glories of the Lord described to help in meditation on the Lord. These cover the
Aaranyaka portion of the Vedaas. Gita talks about the Ultimate Truth of Advaita in
several places. This covers the Upanisad portion of the Vedaas.

The first three parts of the Vedaas are called Karma Khaanda. The Upanisad part of the
Vedaas is called Jnaana Khaanda. They are also called Pravritti Maarga and Nivritti
Maarga. The aim of the Karma Khaanda is to prepare the aspirant towards Jnaana
Khaanda. The Karma Khaanda is called Yogasaastra. The Jnaana Khaanda is called
Brahmavidya. To emphasize that Gita covers both these, at the end of every chapter, it is
mentioned "Iti Srimad Bhagavad Gitaasu, Upanisadsu, Brahmavidyaayaam, Yogasaastre,
Sri Krishna Arjuna Samvaade, ..."

Sankara’s Introduction
In this series, we will stick to Sankara's interpretation of the Gita as per Advaita Vedanta.
Advaita Vedanta accepts nothing less than the absolute Truth of "Jiva Ishwara Aikyam" as
the Ultimate Truth. However, the views of other philosophies are accepted as the means
and different stages to the Ultimate Truth. When other philosophies have progressed and
stopped at various stages on the way to the Ultimate Truth, Advaita Vedanta has taken the
quest of Truth to its logical conclusion.

Sankara wrote his Bhaashya (commentary) on the Gita more than 1200 years back. It is
difficult to understand some finer points in his commentary without keeping in mind the
social and religious circumstances of his time. For that reason, Sankara Bhaasya is not
something that can be recommended for a beginner for self-study. Commentaries and
translations by Swami Swaroopananda, Swami Paramananda, Swami Vireshwarananda,
Swami Gambhirananda, Swami Chinmayananda, Swami Chidbhavananda, Swami
Tapasyananda, Swami Ranganathananda and Ram Sukh Das are some of the good
modern interpretations which closely stick to Sankara's Bhaashya. There are some
modern commentaries like by Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Sri Aurobindo, Mahatma Gandhi,
Subramanya Bharati and the one by ISKCON, which deviate in different degrees from
the traditional interpretation and so can be confusing to the reader. They can be read after
becoming familiar with the traditional teaching of the Gita.

Though Sankara's Bhaashya is not for the modern beginner, his introduction is one of the
best summaries of the Gita.

Sankara's introduction to his Bhagavad Gitaa Bhaashya is a master piece in itself. He

brings out the summary of the Gita very beautifully. Studying this introduction in detail
will enable us to understand the Gita in the right perspective. It has six paragraphs. This
translation of it is based on Dr.A.G.Krishna Warrior's translation from the book published
by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai.

Paragraph 1
Having created the cosmos and seeking to ensure its existence, the Lord brought
forth in the beginning the Prajaapatis (progenitors) - Marichi and the rest. Then he
imparted to them the Vedic path of work - pravriti lakshanam dharmam (Karma
Yoga). Later, bringing forth the Kumaras - Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanaatana and
Sanatkumaara, He imparted to them the path of renunciation of work - nivriti
lakshanam dharmam (Jnaana Yoga), marked by jnaana (knowledge) and vairaagya
(renunciation). This two-fold path (dharma) of the Vedaas make for the world's
stability. For prosperity and emancipation, people of different natures should follow
this path with faith according to their varna (role in society) and aashrama (stage in

Due to the lapse of long periods of time, the practitioners of the dharma came to be
dominated by cravings. By the lack of discriminative knowledge, adharma
(lawlessness) came to dominate dharma (righteousness). Therefore, with a view to
ensuring the well being of the world, the primal and all-pervading Agent, celebrated
as a Naaraayana, is held to have born of Vasudeva from Devaki's womb by an
aspect of Himself as Krishna in order to safeguard the spiritual power in the world.
Once the dominance of spirituality is assured, the survival of the Vedic dharma is
guaranteed, which is supported by people doing their duties according to their
varna (role in society) and aashrama (stage in life).

Varna should not be confused with the jaati (caste based on birth) of today. Krishna tells
"chaatur varnyam mayaa strustam guna karma vibhaagasaha" (4.13). Varna is based on
guna (inner nature) and karma (work or role in society). He also describes how the four
varnas have been allocated different works based on their inner nature in 18.41. This is
not jaati.

A part of the society lives by the active performance of work. People who are calm,
introvert and thoughtful by nature become Braahmanaas. Braahmanaas play the role of
repositories of knowledge. They collect, develop and distribute knowledge in the society.
People who are aggressive and full of valor naturally become Kshatriyaas. Kshatriyaas
handle power and provide security to the society from internal and external disturbing
forces. People who are industrious and have a lot of skill and ingenuity become Vaisyaas.
Vaisyaas create wealth in the society by agriculture, industry and trade. People who are
unskilled but full of loyalty, who need assistance from others by means of direction of
what to do, form the Sudraas. They work under the leadership and guidance of
Braahmanaas, Kshatriyaas and Vaisyaas. This division was purely based on inner nature
and external role in the society. Later it tended towards heredity and slowly petrified to
today's status.

Sri Krishna (and thus the Gita and the Vedaas) does not condemn the pravritti maarga
(way of active performance of work) or the nivritti maarga (way of renunciation of work).
Both are needed for the functioning of the society. They contribute to prosperity and
emancipation of the society respectively. However for an individual, these are considered
as stages in the spiritual path.

Everyone seeks happiness by means of three things in life - security, pleasure and peace.
The innate urge to exist and not to die is expressed in various ways as the sense of
security. This is called artha. The innate urge to enjoy sense objects is expressed as a
seeking after pleasure. This is called kaama. Unbridled pursuit of artha and kaama by
every individual in the society will create two problems. One person's pursuit of artha and
kaama will interfere with another's. Also, the individual's excessive pursuit and
indulgence can become unsustainable to himself. To avoid these two problems,
restrictions are brought in. This restriction to the pursuit and indulgence of artha and
kaama, to ensure fair share and sustainability to everyone, is called dharma. Dharma
results in peace.

But does a person attain unconditional and permanent happiness by these pursuits? By
experience, he will come to a firm conclusion in the negative. The reality is that
happiness is our true inner nature. It does not come from outside. Outside agents are only
catalysts to happiness. The happiness comes from within only. It is always present within.
It is covered by three layers of obstructions. They are aavarna (ignorance), vikshepa
(turbulence) and malam (bias). The first layer to be handled is bias. We are driven by
likes and dislikes. These make us run here and there. This obstruction can be removed by
doing external work without worrying about the results. This is called Karma Yoga. The
second layer is turbulence. This has two factors - wavering and extrovertedness. These
have to be removed by japa, meditation, etc. This is called Upaasana Yoga. The third
layer is ignorance. This can be removed by hearing the Truth (sravana), removing all the
doubts (manana) and applying the knowledge in everyday life (nididhyaasana). This is
called Jnaana Yoga. By these, the person attains unconditional, unshakable, permanent
happiness. Thus true happiness does not come from artha, kaama and dharma. It comes
only from freedom (moksha). The person who has attained this is called a Jivanmukta.
These four - dharma, artha, kaama and moksha - are called "human goals"
(purushaarthaa) by the Vedaas.

A few years after birth, a person starts his life as a Brahmachari. He goes to a school run
by a Braahmin on public funds. There he gets basic secular and spiritual education. He is
taught various ritualistic puja, japa, meditation, etc. Then he marries and settles down to
become a Grihasta, to take up a role in the society that suits him best based on the varna
classification. The couple beget children and grow them in a responsible manner. They do
ritualistic puja as prescribed. After a few years, when the children have become
Grihastas, the man stops working and the couple become Vaanaprasta. They spend more
time on japa, meditation, puja, etc. The spiritual disciplines followed are more internal
than external. After a few years, the couple separate by taking Sannyaas and study the
scriptures under the guidance of a Guru and realize God. Some people may take to
Sannyaas Aashrama directly after Brahmacharya Aashrama.

Brahmacharya Aashrama is a period of learning of the Vedic way of life. Following that
comes the implementation of it. Grihasta Aashrama is a period of Karma Yoga. By the
end of Grihasta Aashrama, the person is expected to have become mostly free from likes
and dislikes. Vaanaprasta Aashrama is a period of Upaasana Yoga. By the end of
Vaanaprasta Aashrama, the person is expected to have become introvert and calm.
Sanyaasa Aashrama is a period of Jnaana Yoga. In Sannyaasa Aashrama, the person hears
the Truth, reflects on it, clears all his doubts and lives the rest of his life abiding by it and
becomes a Jivanmukta.

The Braahmana part of the Vedaas guide the person in Grihasta Aashrama. The
Aaranyaka part of the Vedaas guide the person in Vaanaprasta Aashrama. The Upanisad
part of the Vedaas guide the person in the Sanyaasa Aashrama.

The Karma Yoga and Upaasana Yoga are also called Kaayika Karma Yoga and Maanasa
Karma Yoga, respectively. The first one involves external physical work. The second one
involves internal mental work. Sometimes both these together are called Karma Yoga.
These both together form the pravritti maarga. The last one, the Jnaana Yoga forms the
nivritti maarga.

This is the Vedic vision of life based on purushaartha, varna and aashrama. This is the
Sanaathana Dharma.
Due to long lapse of time, this Vedic vision of life was lost. The Bhagavad Gita is
presented to re-establish this vision. This is applicable very much today, as it was when
Sri Krishna taught it.

Thus, the Vedic vision of life is based on the four Purushaarthas - dharma, artha, kaama
and moksha. The fundamental search for unconditional happiness can be achieved only
by moksha (freedom). This can be achieved only by renunciation and knowledge (nivritti
maarga). As a preparation to nivritti maarga, the person has to first proceed towards
dharma, artha and kaama (pravritti maarga) to purify the mind by Karma Yoga, and make
it calm and introvert by Upaasana Yoga. To enable people to smoothly follow these,
Vedas prescribe the institutions of varna (role in society) and aashrama (stage in life).
Whenever this Vedic vision is lost due to passage of time, the Lord incarnates on the
Earth to re-establish it.

One question that naturally arises here is, "How applicable are varna and aashrama
concepts in today's society?" When we say re-establishing varna and aashrama, do we
understand it as to re-establish the Vedic society based on elaborate rituals, gurukulas,
kingdoms, forest retreats, etc? Will this not be a regression in material development?
Should we give up institutions like scientific school education, democracy, open market,
etc? The answer is "no".

Interestingly, Gita throws light on all these. Krishna brings out the spirit of the varna and
aashrama system. He brings out the essence of Vedic rituals. He denounces blind practice
of the Vedic rituals without understanding the spirit behind them. He describes how new
practices can be developed around the spirit of the Vedic rituals. He even talks about
specifics like how worship of Vedic deities like Indra, Agni, Varuna, etc can be replaced
by a more advanced concept of God, how elaborate rituals can be simplified by still
keeping the spirit of them intact, how to get the same benefit of the Vedic rituals by doing
the everyday secular activities with the right attitude, etc. The entire ninth chapter for
example is extremely revolutionary if read in the context of the society in the times of
Krishna and even till about fifty years back. Reading the ninth chapter closely will easily
bring out Krishna as a great religious and social reformer. This way, Gita is a practical
guide to understand the spirit of the Vedic vision and follow it with a modern approach.

At the same time, Gita does not deviate from the Vedas. All the concepts in the Gita are in
the Vedas. Several slokas in the Gita are partly verbatim quotes from different Upanisads,
especially Katha Upanisad. Thus Krishna actually quotes from the Vedas. Gita is a
beautiful example of constructive reform while keeping the essence intact.

Now coming back to varna and aashrama, how can they be applied to today?

First let us understand the concept of varna.

Man has six psychological defects - desire for sense pleasure (kaama), greed for
possessions (lobha), pride (madha), anger (krodha), jealousy (maatsarya) and delusion
(moha). The first three - kaama, lobha and madha - are basic defects arising from
identification with the body, mind and ego. The last three - krodha, maatsarya and moha -
arise from non-fulfillment or excessive indulgence in the basic defects, and so are
secondary defects. So, if the basic defects are solved, the secondary defects will be solved

A person who is predominantly governed by desire for sense pleasure is a sudra. His
primary identification is with the body and the senses. He is typically lazy and does not
want to exert himself physically. For such a person, the Vedic vision prescribes physical
labour under the guidance of others. This will help him overcome this defect.

A person who is predominantly governed by greed for possessions is a vaishya. His

primary identification is with the mind. The sense of possession is a function of the mind.
For him, the Vedic vision prescribes businesses like agriculture, trade and industry. His
duty is to earn wealth for the society. Thus his personal defect is made into a fruitful
quality for the society. However, there are restrictions put to him in the form of business
ethics. For example, he can compete with other businessmen, but should never
compromise on the value he provides to his customers. A vaishya is a person who has
mostly overcome the defect of the sudra. He is naturally willing to toil to earn money.

A person who is predominantly governed by ego is a kshatriya. His primary identification

is with the limited ego. He seeks name, fame and power. For him, the Vedic vision
prescribes governance of the society, providing security, policy making, law and its
enforcement. Thus his natural tendency to dominate and rule over others is utilized for
the good of the society. Restrictions are put for him also. He is given the duty and
freedom to check the integrity and righteousness of all rulers everywhere. He should take
to task the violators of code of conduct among all classes in his jurisdiction. At the same
time, he is bound to protect people and their trades. He is not allowed to harm the non-
kshatriyas anywhere. All war should be limited to battle fields and not in civilian areas.
The enemy's military capability can be attacked, but not civilian industries and
agricultural lands. A kshatriya is a person who has mostly overcome the defect of the
sudra and the vaishya. He is willing to even physically get hurt or even give his life for
his duty. He does not have any personal belongings. Everything that he has belongs to the
country and the country belongs to him. He is above all concepts of personal possession.

A person who has mostly overcome all the three primary defects, and thus naturally the
secondary defects also, is a braahmana. For him, the Vedic vision prescribes learning and
teaching. His duty is to collect, develop and spread knowledge. He can be consulted for
any advice. He is supposed to give unbiased opinions based on his knowledge and
experience. He is also ready to put down his life for his duty. He does not have any
possessions. He also lives on public funds like the kshatriya. Also, he does not wield any
power. Humility is his duty.

Thus the varnas are based on the nature of the person. The professions of today also can
be easily classified into these four varnas. Based on the person's nature, if the right
profession is chosen, it will help the fast growth of the person. This is what is meant
when Krishna says, "One's own duty even performed not to perfection is better than the
duty of another done to perfection." The objective is personal growth. The duty is only a
means. Krishna gives details of these varnas, their nature and their duties.

As we have seen, the aashramas of Brahmacharya, Grihasta, Vaanaprasta and Sannyaasa

correspond to Studentship, Karma Yoga, Upaasana Yoga and Jnaana Yoga. In today's
society, typically, 25 years of studentship as Brahmachari, 25 years of professional and
active family life as Grihasta and the rest of the life as a retired introverted life purely for
spiritual pursuits as Vaanaprasta and Sannyaasi are suitable. The internal state of the mind
is much more important than the external adherence in the aashramas.

A person can wind up Grihasta life sooner if the social and financial environment is
conducive. Also, a person can progressively move to Upaasana Yoga and Jnaana Yoga
during Grihasta Aashrama. Vaanaprasta and Sannyaasa can be purely internal also. Surely
some people in the society have to take external Sannyaas also, to remind the society
constantly of the ideal. Also, it is always better that Sannyaasins are teachers of religion
and spirituality, so that the people are able to externally see clearly the renunciation that
is being taught. External Sannyaas can be taken from Brahmacharya, Grihasta or
Vaanaprasta Aashramas, whenever the person is ready. Also, in today's society, it is better
for Sannyasins to live together within easy access by the society and do social service
than move about and live by begging like in olden days. Of course, there is no change in
the spiritual and scriptural responsibilities of a Sannyaasi.

Thus the spirit of the varna and aashrama schemes of the Vedic vision can be applied in
today's society.

Paragraph 2
In this paragraph, Sankara introduces the Bhagavad Gita in particular.

The Lord is in eternal possession of knowledge, lordliness, executive power,

strength, energy and splendor. He has under His control His all-pervasive Maaya
(Illusive Power) or material Nature, whose essence is the three constituents. Thus,
though unborn, immutable, Lord of beings, and, in essence, eternally pure,
conscious and free, He appears, by virtue of His Maaya, to be embodied and born as
man, for ensuring the welfare of the world. Though he has no private end of His
own to promote, in order to further the wellbeing of all living beings, He imparted to
Arjuna, submerged in a sea of grief and delusion, the two-fold Vedic Dharma; for,
when espoused and practised by men rich in excellence, it is bound to flourish. The
Vedic Dharma, as it was imparted by the Lord, has been set forth by the omniscient
and venerable Vedavyaasa in seven hundred verses, celebrated as the Gitaa.

Here Sankara introduces the concept of Ishwara - God as the Supreme Person. To
understand Ishwara, one has to first understand the concept of Brahman and Maaya.

Brahman is the Absolute Infinite Conscious Existence. Brahman is beyond all duality.
However, the very concept of Infinitude implied a negation of finitude. The very concept
of Consciousness implies the negation of unconsciousness. The very concept of Existence
implies the negation of non-existence. This implied negation of Brahman is Maaya.
Brahman is of the nature of Sat-Chit-Aananda (Existence, Consciousness and Infinite).
Negating these three, Maaya is of the nature of Aavarna-Vikshepa-Malam. Aavarna is
hiding the existence of Brahman and creating an impression of its non-existence. Viksepa
is misleading that the unconscious is substantial. Malam is creating a sense of finitude
and limitation. Aavarna expresses as ignorance. Vikshepa expresses as mental
disturbances. Malam creates likes and dislikes, which result in sorrow. To remove
Malam, Vikshepa and Aavarna, we saw that Karma Yoga, Upaasana Yoga and Jnaana
Yoga are the means respectively.

Thus, Maaya is just a negation of Brahman. It is just a shadow. Maaya does not have real
existence. Just as absence of light is called darkness, absence of the knowledge of
Brahman expresses as Maaya. Only Brahman is real. Maaya exists only in relation to

This entire world is nothing but a picture drawn with the paints of rupa (physical
properties of objects) and naama (mental concept of objects) on the canvas of Brahman.
If you look beyond naama and rupa, there is only Infinite Existence. There is no
differentiation. All differentiation exists because of Maaya. Thus Brahman is the
substratum and Maaya provides the colors and the painting of this world appears.

Maaya operates in three modes (gunaas) - inertness (tamas), unbalanced activity (rajas)
and dynamic balance (sattva). These three can be found everywhere in nature. Krishna
gives detailed elaboration of how these three natures are found in various ways in nature.
Interestingly, the very familiar three laws of motion of Newton in Physics are these same
three concepts in the same order.

Brahman when thus has manifested the world by Maaya is called Ishwara. There are
millions of cells in the body of a human being. Each cell is a living organism, which has
its own birth, growth, death, purpose, etc. However, we attribute an identity to the human
being as a person also. We also attribute a mind to the person. When the person
dissociates himself from the mind, he realizes himself as the Atman. Similarly, when we
attribute an identity to the collection of everything that exists, it is called Ishwara. Maaya
is the mind of Ishwara. Ishwara, when dissociated from Maaya, is pure Brahman.

Just as a person takes birth and dies, the physical Universe also comes into existence
(kalpa) and dissolves into non-existence (pralaya). Just as the jiva (Atman + mind) is the
continuing entity across births, the Ishwara (Brahman + maaya) is the continuing entity
across creations. In every cycle of creation, the jivas which have not realized are given a
chance to evolve and realize the Truth. If a jiva realizes the Truth, it disidentifies itself
with the mind and becomes non-differentiated from Brahman and thus merges with
Brahman. As long as the identification with the mind and body exists, the jiva is given
several chances birth after birth in each cycle of creation and across cycles of creation
also. Ishwara is the entity which causes this creation (shrishti), sustenance (stiti) and
dissolution (laya) of the creation, for the benefit of the jivas. Ishwara also oversees the
right distribution of the fruits of action of the jivas (karma phala daata).

Now a question arises - "What is the position of Ishwara from the stand point of view of
Advaita?" The answer is "The concept of Ishwara is applicable as long as a person
recognizes his own body and mind." When there is an individual, there should be a
collection of individuals. From the point of view of Advaita, where individuality does not
exist, Maaya also does not exist. Only Brahman remains. The concept of Ishwara is not
applicable. As long as there is duality, Ishwara has to be accepted.

Ishwara always knows His true nature as Brahman. Thus Ishwara has all the
characteristics of a Jivanmukta (realized person). Thus Ishwara does not gain or lose
anything by individual jivas realizing the Truth or not. It is purely out of compassion for
the suffering jivas that Ishwara does everything. At times of need, He even disguises
Himself as a jiva and appears in the midst of other jivas to lead them in the right direction
towards freedom.

Suffering of jivas is because of three things - attachment (raaga), sorrow (shoka) and
delusion (moha). Attachment causes sorrow. Sorrow clouds the intellect and creates
delusion. By delusion, a person loses the capacity to distinguish the right from the wrong,
which leads to more attachment and more sorrow. This is a vicious cycle. In the
beginning of Gita, Arjuna is exactly in this state. All his words in the first chapter of the
Gita indicate this.

The first step out of the situation is to recognize the problem. The second step is to
acknowledge that external help is needed. The third step is to approach a competent
person with humility and request for help. This is what Arjuna does.

A record of the counseling session between Arjuna and Krishna is what we have as the
Bhagavad Gita. Through the Gita, the Ishwara talks to his beloved jivas purely out of

Krishna tells very clearly right at the beginning in the main opening sloka in chapter 2
sloka 11 the objective of Gita - "na anusochanti panditaaha" (wise men don't grieve).
Thus the core objective of Gita is to solve the problem of sorrow in human life by means
of spiritual wisdom.

Paragraph 3
This science of the Gita is the quintessence of all that goes under the name of the
Vedaas, but its sense is difficult to grasp. Many have striven to elucidate its words,
their imports, and their totality as a reasoned treatise. Men in general, however,
have got it as a mass of self-contradictory ideas. Noting this predicament, I shall set
forth its contents, briefly explicating the text with due discrimination.
As we discussed in the first part of this series, Gita is the essence of the Vedas. Sankara
says "samasta veda saara sangraha bhutam".

Another thing to note from Sankara's words is that he is not the first one to comment on
the Gita. Though none of them are currently available, Sankara indicates that there have
been several commentaries before Sankara's Bhaasya.

One reason why people have found interpreting the Gita difficult is because of the usage
of words. For example, the word "aatman" is used to mean body, mind, jiva, Self, etc in
different places. The same is the problem with the Upanisads too. The commentators
come up with the right meaning to be taken at each place. Sankara has provided his
commentary with quotations from different texts like the Vedaas and Mahaabhaarata to
support is interpretation. Also, Sankara himself raises the different questions that may
arise in the mind of the reader and answers them.

One interesting topic that can be discussed here is "What is the quintessence of the Gita
in the words of the Gita?" Ramana Maharishi and several others point out chapter 10
sloka 20 as the essence.

aham aatmaa gudaakesha sarva bhutaashaya sthitaha

aham aadisca madhyam ca bhutaanaam anta eva ca

I am the Self (the Subject), resident in the inner sense of all beings.
I am the beginning (origin), the middle (sustenance) and the end (dissolution) of all the

The first part indicates that the Lord resides in all beings. The second part indicates that
all the beings reside in the Lord. The mahaavaakya (great words that indicate the central
teaching) of the Vedas, "Tat Tvam Asi" (You are That), indicates the identity of the
essence of the self and the essence of the world. The essence of the individual is the
Subject, which is the Ishwara (the Lord, here represented as Sri Krishna). The essence of
the World (sum total of all objective existence) is the Lord, the Ishwara again. Thus this
sloka brings about the essential identity of Jiva (self), Jagat (world) and Ishwara (God).
Thus, this sloka is an explanation of the mahaavaakya of the Vedas.

Krishna addresses Arjuna as "gudaakesha", one who has overcome sleep. Thus, if we all
wake up from our sleep of ignorance, open our eyes of knowledge and see, we can see
the reality of this teaching.

This sloka also gives a beautiful definition for the Self and the World. The Self is the
innermost sense of self-identity. It is the Subject, which can never be objectified
(aprameya). The World is the entity where all living and non-living things originate, stay
and dissolve. If we consider our physical body, it is born out of a combination of
elements from the physical universe. For a short period of time in the long life of the
universe, the body exists as an individual entity. When the body dies, the elements go
back to the universe to recombine as the constituents of several different entities. At no
time was the physical body separated from the physical universe. It is forever a part of
the physical universe. For a short period of time, there is a name given to a collection of
elements. Beyond that, there is no distinction at all. Similar is the case with the mind. No
thought is original. Each thought is based on the thoughts of different people of different
times. We read about different things written by different people and develop a
combination of them and say "This is what I think". But if we analyze it, there is nothing
outside the mental universe. Just as physical elements constantly combine and recombine
in different ways to form different physical entities, ideas constantly combine and
recombine in different ways to form different mental entities. By putting all that exists -
physical, mental and everything beyond them also - into one combined universe we get
the World. This is the origin, sustenance and dissolution of every object, being, idea,
event, etc.

In the Gita, Krishna talks of these two - Subject and Object - as His two natures. The
Subject, which is conscious is called the higher nature (paraa) and the Object, which is
not conscious is called the lower nature (aparaa). The fundamental identity of both as the
Lord Himself is the essence of the Gita and the essence of the Vedaas. This sloka of the
Gita can be considered as the fundamental teaching of the Vedaas.

Now, another question is, "Is there a sloka in the Gita that summarizes the entire Gita?"
The answer to this is the chapter 5 sloka 7.

yoga yukto vishuddhaatmaa vijitaatmaa jitenriyaha

sarva bhutaatma bhutaatmaa kurvan api na lipyate

He who by following Yoga, has purified the mind, has controlled the mind, has controlled
the senses,
Sees his own Self in all beings, does not get tainted even if he does work.

Four things are achieved by Yoga.

1. Purification of the mind, which implies freedom from likes (raaga) and dislikes
2. Control of the mind, which implies that the mind is calm and free from turbulence
3. Control of the senses, which implies that the mind is introvert without seeking external
4. Realization that his own Self is the Self of all beings and that all being exist in his own
Self only, which implies that the individual identity has vanished

The first one is achieved by Karma Yoga. The second two are by Upaasana Yoga. The last
one is by Jnaana Yoga. Thus a person becomes a Jivanmukta. Now, what does a
Jivanmukta do? He goes about doing work for the benefit of others without getting
attached to the work, its fruits or the doership. The best example of such a person is Sri
Krishna Himself.

This sloka thus sweeps through the entire Gita and gives a summary.
Paragraph 4
Succinctly, the purpose of the science of the Gita is to set forth the summum bonum,
which consists in the total cessation of transmigratory existence (samsaara) and its
causes. This is brought about by the discipline of Self-knowledge, preceded by the
renunciation of all works. Pointing to this sense of the Gita - the law of life which it
inculcates - the Lord Himself has declared in Anugita: "This discipline is indeed
adequate to lead one to the status of Brahman" (Mahabharata Asvamedha Parva
16.12). In the same context He says: "Neither pursuing Dharma nor Adharma,
neither good nor evil." (Ibid 19.17); "Whoever is quiescent, firmly seated, silent, not
thinking any thought." (Ibid 19.1); also, "Knowledge marked by renunciation"
(Ibid. 43.25). In the Gita itself, at the end, Arjuna is bidden: "Giving up all dharma,
seek refuge in Me alone" (18.66).

The first part of this paragraph talks about the essence of the Gita. The essence of Gita is
freedom from samsaara.

Samsaara is the cycle of birth and death.

Life is like a dream. We dream about things that we have liked and disliked during our
waking hours. This embodied existence has come forth induced by a bundle of likes and
dislikes. If there are likes and dislikes left at the end of this life, it will induce another
embodied existence. This cycle of life after life after life is called samsaara. The wick,
which soaks with the oil of likes and dislikes for the flame of samsaara to burn, is the
individual identity.

Whenever we do an action,
1. a part of the momentum of the action transforms into the immediate visible effect
(drishta phala)
2. a part of the momentum of the action is latent to manifest the effect later (adrishta
phala or aagaami karma)
3. tendency to perform or avoid the same action based on the like or dislike of the effect
of the action (samskaara)
Some of the latent momentum manifests in the same life. The balance will manifest in
some future life. Whenever a jiva is born, out of the accumulated store of momentum of
past actions (sanchita karma), a part is taken for manifesting in that life (praarabda
karma). At the end of the life, if there is no individuality (and so no tendencies), then
there is no more birth. This is called "freedom upon death" (videha mukti). If the
individuality (and so tendencies) drops while living, it is called "freedom while living"
(jivan mukti).

We had discussed earlier about the unity of the "origin, sustenance and dissolution" of all
objective existence. All physical existence is one whole. What we call as our body is
merely a temporary collection of some parts of the physical universe. Same is the case
with the individual mind. It is just a temporary collection of thoughts. Thus there is no
real permanent individual identity. Individual identity is merely an illusion. It does not
exist in reality. There is only one infinite conscious existence, which reflects as the sum
total of all existence. This is knowledge (jnaana).

But knowledge does not take effect if there is a gap between intellect and
implementation. We know so many people who know smoking is bad, but cannot give up
smoking. This gap is a psychological defect. In case of spirituality, this gap makes the
knowledge of the Truth ineffective. If the conviction of the reality and utility of the world
is strong, there will be a great dependence on it. Freedom from this psychological
dependence on world, its objects, people, living things, action, fruits of action, etc is
called renunciation (sannyaasa). Unless there is a conviction that the world has no
ultimate reality and utility, the person cannot imbibe the knowledge about the Truth. For
this reason, Sankara always insists that knowledge should be preceded by renunciation.

Internal renunciation of all sense of ownership and controllership is mandatory. There

should not be any expectation of or dependence on the fruits of action in this life or in the
hereafter. There should be a firm conviction that this world has no ultimate reality or
utility. External formal renunciation is optional. But internal renunciation is essential.
Without this, even if the person intellectually understands the concepts of Atman,
Brahman, Jiva, Jagat and Ishwara and also accepts their identity based on logic or faith, it
will not free the person from individuality. Without this effective knowledge he cannot be
a Self-realized person (jivanmukta).

Thus, renunciation is a pre-requisite for knowledge. Now there is a question. Is it

renunciation of work or renunciation of attachment to the fruits of work? Driven by the
rampant following of rituals without sticking to the spirit of the rituals during the days of
Sankara, he argues that work (karma) and knowledge (jnaana) cannot go together. There
is a popular complaint about Sankara that he has forced his view into the Gita Bhaasya on
this. This is a debate, which will go on forever.

Krishna defines renunciation very clearly in chapter 6 verse 1.

anaashrita karma phalam kaaryam karma karoti yah

sa sannyaasi ca yogi ca na niragnir na ca akriyaha

One who does not depend on the fruits of action but does the work which is his duty
He is a sannyaasi and also a yogi, not the one who has renounced fire (rituals) and not
one who (merely) does nothing.

Thus it is clear that Krishna in the Gita does not mean giving up of duties. It is the
attachment to the fruits of action that has to be primarily given up. So the modern
commentators interpret "all work" as said by Sankara as "all external religious rituals",
which are given up when a person takes up formal external sannyaasa.

There is another controversy whether a realized person does any work. Sankara says that
a jnaani does not do any work. A realized person is internally a sannyaasi and a yogi. So
the verse 6.1 also should apply to him. A realized person has given up his limited identity.
When a person has given up his individuality, naturally there is no work done by him
from his point of view. So, though to the external observer, it may seem that he does
work, his identity has so much merged with the Whole that he does not think he is doing
any work at all. Several verses of the Gita support this point. For example, there are two
beautiful verses in chapter 3 - verses 27 and 28 - which say:

prakriteh kriyamaanaani gunaihi karmaani sarvasah

ahamkaara vimoodaatmaa kartaaham iti manyate
tatva vittu mahaabaaho gunakarma vibhaagayoho
gunaa guneshu vartanta iti matvaa na sajjate

It is the Nature with its qualities that does all the actions in all the ways.
The person who is deluded by ego thinks "I am the doer".
He, who knows the truth about the qualities, actions and their different types,
Knowing that it is just interplay of the different qualities (of Nature), never gets attached.

For a person with this understanding, there is no action done by him at all. This way,
Sankara's argument holds good here. From his point of view, he does not do any action.
But from the point of view of others, he does action. This is because his body-mind
complex does action, but he does not identify himself with the body and mind. So he is
not the doer.

Whenever we read the Gita, we should keep in mind that Krishna Himself is the ideal
person that He describes in the Gita. Any interpretation of the description of a sannyaasi,
yogi or jnaani is acceptable only if it can be applied on Krishna Himself.

The process of acquiring knowedge is called the path of knowledge ("nivritti maarga" or
"Jnaana Yoga"). The process of acquiring the renunciation, which is its prerequisite, is
called the path of action ("pravritti maarga" or "Karma Yoga"). Thus the objective of
following the path of action is to develop renunciation. If the person who performs action
in the world is observant and introspective, he will see the absence of ultimate reality and
utility of the world, and thus develop renunciation (vairaagya).

This Karma Yoga is the topic of the next paragraph of Sankara's introduction to his
Bhagavad Gita Bhaasya.

Paragraph 5
The Vedic Dharma, promoting prosperity in the world, and enjoined on the classes
(varna) and life-stations (aashrama), promotes the purification of the mind when it
is observed with a sense of dedication to God and without expectation of rewards.
When done with desire for fruits, it leads its practitioners to the higher stations of
heavenly beings and so forth. It also, indirectly, subserves the attainment of
emancipation (when performed without desire for fruits), since such work purifies
the mind and the purified mind becomes fit for practising the discipline of
knowledge which, in due course, generates the liberating knowledge itself. Keeping
this idea in mind, the Lord declares in the Gita 5.10 and 5.11: "The Yogins work
without attachment for purifying the mind."

When a person does his duties as per his aashrama and varna it promotes prosperity,
which is the attainment of wealth (artha) and objects of pleasure (kaama). Thus the Vedas
do not ask everyone to lead an ascetic life. In fact, the prayers in the Vedas address to the
Lord like "Let the trees yield us plenty of fruits. Let the clouds give plenty of rain. Let the
cows give plenty of milk. etc" The pravritti maarga as envisioned in the Vedas is a life of

Restrictions and regulations on the pursuit of wealth and pleasure (dharma) are prescribed
with a view of fairness and sustainability. The Vedas also promise fruits like a life of
plenty in a heavenly abode in a disease free body, etc. If dharma is pursued with the
desire for the promised fruits of heavenly abode, they are attained. To encourage the
novice practitioners of the Vedic Dharma, the Vedas promise fruits in the heavenly abode.
However, it makes it clear that this heaven is not a permanent place. When the person has
exhausted the merits of action that took him there, he falls back to life in the world of
mortals. This is explained clearly in the Gita in chapter 9 sloka 20 and 21. The same idea
is mentioned in the Upanisads like Katha and Mundaka. This is a never ending cycle.

Thus the Vedas encourage people, who are by nature lazy and lack motivation, to work
for prosperity in this world. It also shows a fruit of heaven to encourage the novices to
follow Dharma. At the same time, it also describes the impermanence of the life in
heavenly abodes to encourage the more advanced people to think ahead. To people, who
are free from attachments to fruits of action, the Vedas talk about the knowledge of
Brahman. This way, with great love and wisdom, the Vedas lead people with different
levels of maturity towards the highest.

When a person does his duties without desire for fruits here and hereafter, as an offering
to the Lord, the result is purification of the mind. This purification of mind is the pre-
requisite for the next step - Jnaana Yoga. This process of purification of mind is Karma
Yoga. Doing one's duty is a way to worship the Lord. Krishna gives a beautiful logic of
why this is worship. In chapter 18 verse 46 Krishna says

yatah pravriter bhutaanaam yena sarvam idam tatam

svakarmanaa tam abhyarchya siddhim vindati maanavah

Him from whom the world has arisen, Him by whom everything here is filled
By worshipping Him by doing one's duty, man attains perfection.

The first half of the first line talks about the transcendent aspect of the Lord. The second
half of the first line talks about the immanent aspect of the Lord. Thus these two cover
the two parts of the verse 20 of chapter 10, which we saw is the essence of the Gita. Thus
the world is covered by the Lord outside and inside. It is the Lord Himself who has
manifested as the world and its living beings. It is the Lord who has placed the spiritual
aspirant in the current situation. Now, what better way can be there to worship such a
Lord than to do full justice to the current situation by doing the duty? By doing one's
duty, the person becomes eligible for Jnaana Yoga.

Krishna describes Karma Yoga to have three parts. Paying back the debt we already owe
to different constituents of Nature is called Yagna (sacrifice). Contributing more than
what we consume, thereby creating a positive momentum in life is called Daana (charity).
Following vows to bring to light our limitations, to work on them and to overcome them
consciously is called Tapas (austerity). These are the three primary means to move
forward in spiritual life. These have to be done as an offering to the Lord. Then the mind
will get purified. In chapter 9 verses 27 and 28 Krishna says

yat karoshi yad ashnaasi yajjuhoshi dadaasi yat

yat tapasyasi kaunteya tat kurushva mad arpanam
shubha ashubha phalair evam mokshyase karma bandhanaihi
sannyaasa yoga yuktaatmaa vimukto maam upaishyasi

Whatever you contribute, whatever you consume, whatever you sacrifice or give in
Whatever austerities you undertake, Arjuna, do as an offering to Me.
Thus you will be freed from the bonds of work and their good and bad fruits.
Then following Sannyaasa (Jnaana) Yoga, you will be liberated and come to Me.

In chapter 17, Krishna gives a detailed analysis of how to do and how not to do yagna,
daana and tapas. In chapter 18, He says in verse 5

yagno daanam tapas ca eva paavanaani manishinaam

Sacrifice, charity and austerity purify the wise (who expect no rewards)

One common question asked by people here is "How one can work without expecting
results? What is the motivation to work if not the results?" The idea is this. Every work
yields two results - external fruit and internal development of the doer. For example, if a
student studies for an examination, the external fruit is good marks and the internal
development is gaining of knowledge. The external fruit is always uncertain and
temporary. It depends on so many other factors. The person who corrects the answer
sheet may not be in a good mood. Thus the result is uncertain. The mark is valid only for
that year. Thus the result is temporary. The internal development is always certain and
much more long-lasting. The knowledge gained when preparing for the exam is certain
and has a much longer value than the marks. The technique of Karma Yoga merely
suggests that we shift our primary attention to the internal development. The external
result can be a by-product, but never the goal. This way, irrespective of the success or
failure of the activity, there is always positive development in the doer. Also, if the aim is
development, there is no scope for irregularities and shortcuts. The means becomes more
important than the goal. Thus, it is not that action is performed aimlessly. The aim is
shifted to long term internal development.
Thus Karma Yoga (pravritti maarga) leads to purification of the mind and thus prepares it
for Jnaana Yoga.

The discussion of the paths given in Bhagavad Gita will not be complete without talking
about Bhakti. Most of the ideas about Bhakti in the discussion below is based on the
lecture "Bhakti in the Gita" by Swami Paramarthanandaji.

Bhakti comes from the root "bhaj", which has several meanings. In the Gita also, Krishna
uses the word Bhakti in a number of contexts. Mainly, Bhakti is used to denote two things
- devotion to God and worship of God. The former is about attitude and the latter is about
spiritual practice.

First let us see love in general. There are three levels of love - lower (manda), medium
(madhyama) and higher (uttama). The primary direction of love is towards one's self.
This is the greatest because it is uncultivated and natural. It is also unconditional. The
second direction of love is towards what we want to possess or accomplish.This love for
objects is cultivated and is conditional. The third direction of love is towards the means
of accomplishment. Though it does not directly deserve love, as it yields an object of
love, it is sought after.

In the initial stages of spiritual development, God is introduced as a means to attain

worldly prosperity. This is manda bhakti. God is used as a means. On realizing that
worldly gains are ephemeral, God becomes the goal. The world becomes the means. This
is madhyama bhakti. God is the objective. When the devotee enquires into the nature of
the Lord, he realizes that the Lord is the Self. Lord is the inner most core of his own
existence and consciousness. He realizes that the Lord is not an object. The Lord is the
Subject. Love for God becomes Self love. Thus it becomes uncultivated, natural and
unconditional. This is uttama bhakti.

Krishna expresses this idea in chapter 7 verse 16.

chatur vidhaa bhajante maam janaah sukritinah arjuna

aarto jignaasur arthaarthii jnaani ca bharata rishabha

Arjuna! Men of righteous acts who resort to me are four-fold.

Best of Bhaarataas! They are the afflicted, knowledge seeker, wealth seeker and the

The afflicted people love the Lord as a means of getting free from the suffering. The
seekers of wealth love the Lord as a provider of worldly prosperity. Both these are the
lower type of devotees. The seeker of knowledge seeks the truth of the Lord. He is the
medium type. The God-realized person knows the truth about the Lord as his own Self.
The Lord says in the next verse, "I am dear to the jnaani and he is dear to Me." This love
is the highest.

Worship of the Lord also has three grades or types.

1. Worship by work (karma)
2. Worship by meditation (upaasana)
3. Worship by enquiry (jnaana)

Dedicating all our actions as offerings to the Lord is worshipping by work. As we saw in
chapter 18 verse 46, Krishna says "sva karmanaa tam abhyarchya" "Worship Him by
doing your duty". There is no distinction between secular activity and spiritual activity.
Every action is a spiritual practice. The consequence of the action has to be accepted as
the Lord's prasaada.

Meditation on the Lord is another form of worship. Here there are two options given -
Meditation on a particular form (eka rupa upaasana) and mediation on the Universal form
(vishwa rupa upaasana). For meditation on particular form there are several forms given.
Krishna gives several ways of worshipping Him when describing His glories in the
Vibhuti Yoga (chapter 10). He can be worshipped as the natural elements like fire, natural
objects like Himaalayaas, mantraas like Pranava, deities like Indra, saints like Naarada,
incarnations like Raama, Krishna, etc.

Enquiry into the Upanisads to understand the true nature of the Lord is the highest form
of worship of the Lord. Knowledge of the Lord is the culmination of all forms of
worship. Krishna tells in chapter 4 verse 33:

shreyaan dravyamayaat yagnaat jnaana yagnanah parantapa

sarvam karmaakhilam paartha jnaane pari samaapyate

O scourge of foes! Better than sacrifice done with materials is the sacrifice done as
Paartha! Without exception, all action culminates in knowledge.

Krishna tells in chapter 18 verse 70 that study of the Gita itself is a Jnaana Yagna.

A person has to start with karma bhakti, move to upaasana bhakti and culminate in jnaana
bhakti. Even during the course of the day, depending upon the current activity, the action
can be treated as one of the three. Thus one can be in constant worship of the Lord.

Paragraph 6
The science of the Gita, thus elucidating especially the two-fold dharma of the
Vedas, is aimed at emancipation; also, it sets forth the ultimate Truth that is
synonymous with Vaasudeva, the content of Supreme Brahman. Hence it is
equipped with a specific goal, relation and content. Since its mastery yields all the
values of life (purushaartha), I am endeavouring to explicate it.

Traditionally the introduction of any book should talk about the subject matter (visaya),
necessity for its study (prayojana), competency of the student (adhikaari) and the
connection of the subject matter with the book (sambandha). Hence Sankara summarizes
the introduction to make clear that all these topics have been covered.

Also, here Sankara declares the identity of Vaasudeva with the Brahman as the goal to be
acheived. In the Gita, Krishna expresses the Truth in the words of the devotee as
"Everything is Vaasudeva alone" in chapter 7 verse 19.

bahunaam janmanaam ante jnaanavaan maam prapadyate

vaasudevah sarvam iti sa mahaatmaa sa durlabhah

After the end of several births, the man of wisdom directly reaches Me
realizing "Vaasudeva is all". Such a magnanimous person is rare.

This way, the bhakta also realizes the same Truth as the jnaani. There is no difference in
the ultimate result.

Frequently Asked Questions

Now that we have discussed Karma Yoga, Upaasana Yoga, Jnaana Yoga and Bhakti Yoga,
we can raise some questions and try to find answers to them.

Swami Vivekananda’s four Yogaas

Swami Vivekananda talks about these four Yogaas as parallel paths. Whereas the
traditional approach is that Karma, Upaasana and Jnaana are sequential. Bhakti is a flavor
of the three paths and can go along with the three paths. How can this be reconciled?
Surely, Swamiji is a great admirer and follower of Sankara Bhaasya. Then why did he
talk about four paths on an equal footing?

The traditional approach of teaching was to first judge the student where he stands in the
spiritual path. Depending on his level of development, the most appropriate means was
prescribed. This approach needs two things. Firstly, the person must have a clear stance.
Secondly, there should be a knowledgeable and reliable person to judge and guide the
person. Today, both these are not possible.

Every person is multifaceted with dexterity, intellect and emotions developed in different
levels. The weakening of desire for sense pleasure, desire for wealth and desire for fame
do not strictly happen in that order. Also, it is not possible for a person to be fully free
from likes and dislikes before starting to do meditation. It is not possible for a person to
have fully controlled the mind before starting enquiry. There are no clear demarcations
these days - neither in aashrama nor in varna.

There is no luxury these days of each person having a personal spiritual guide, who can
judge correctly and advise on a particular path. The freedom and responsibility that was
given to the upper classes to judge the others have been grossly misused. In the name of
privilege, the masses have been totally denied of any spiritual guidance. True spirituality
almost retreated from the common people. It was kept alive only in some genuine
traditional ashrams.

This was the situation when Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda came into the
picture. Their approach was totally different. They just brought out the spiritual treasures
and made all of them available to everyone. Let people pick up whatever appeals most to
them. That would be in most of the cases the best thing for them. Ultimately, the Lord
alone is the Teacher. The Lord, from inside, makes the sincere aspirant come across and
pick the right guidance from various sources. Swamiji just made everything available
outside so that the Guru within can guide the aspirant. So Swamiji presented the four
Yogaas as parallel paths. The aspirant will pick up the Yoga which suits him best at that
time. As the aspirant matures, automatically a different one will appeal best to him and he
will pick that up. Also, when describing each of the Yogaas, Swamiji has brought in a
tinge of the other Yogaas also. This way, the aspirant is naturally exposed to the other
paths and gets a chance to easily move from one to the other or even combine two or
more. This is expressed in Swamiji's famous saying which forms a part of his
commentary of chapter 2 verse 25 of Patanjali Yoga Sutras.

Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this Divinity within, by controlling
nature, external and internal. Do this either by work, or worship, or psychic control, or
philosophy -- by one, or more, or all of these -- and BE FREE. This is the whole of
religion. Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms are but
secondary details.

Thus, Swami Vivekananda's presentation of the four paths is the best adaptation for
today's society.

What is the position of Patanjali's ashtaanga yoga in the Gita?

From the technical point of view, Gita belongs to the Vedanta school of thought.
Patanjali's ashtaanga yoga belongs to the Yoga school of thought. Patanjali describes the
goal of ashtaanga yoga as "chitta vritti nirodhaha" - cessation of all modifications of the
mind. Vedanta accepts this as a milestone and means in the spiritual path, but not as the

The first four stages - yamaa, niyamaa, aasanaa and praanaayaama are considered as a
part of Karma Yoga. They help the person to become free from likes and dislikes. They
help the person to move away from identification with the physical body (stula sariira).
The second four stages - pratyaahaara, dhaarana, dhyaana and samaadhi are considered as
a part of Upaasana Yoga. They help the person to become introvert and help to calm the
mind. They help the person to move away from identification with the subtle body
(shukshma sariira). At the peak of ashtaanga yoga, the identification is with the causal
body (kaarana sariira). It does not take the person beyond that.

The only way to go beyond this is enquiry (vichaara). Thus Patanjali stops before Jnaana
Yoga. Only Vedanta goes through Jnaana Yoga and helps the person to disidentify even
from the causal body and releases the person from all bondage. So Gita does not reject
Patanjali's ashtaanga yoga. Gita calls it "samaadhi yoga". It is considered not as the end,
but as the means to attain the eligibility for Jnaana Yoga.

Doesn't Krishna promote non-violence by telling the soul never dies and asking
Arjuna not to hesitate from killing people in the war?

We should remember that Krishna is talking to a soldier and He is asking him to do his
duty. And, Krishna makes it clear that Arjuna is fighting a war to establish righteousness.
The aim of Arjuna in fighting the war is not be to gain the kingdom back, but to punish
the violators of social code of conduct. Being a Kshatriya, who has been given this duty
and trained by the society for this, it will be wrong on his part to refuse to do his duty.

We should read the message as that we should also do our duty. We should not shy away
from what the society has trained us to do. We need to pay back to the society by serving
it. It should not be with an eye on the wealth or fame that it may bring. It should be done
as a duty.

Krishna talks about non-violence in several places. For example, in chapter 12 verse 13
Krishna describes one of the qualities as this.

adveshta sarva bhutaanaam maitrah karuna eva ca

He (the ideal devotee) hates no beings. He is friendly and compassionate.

When Krishna talks about austerity, in chapter 18 verses 14, 15 and 16, at the level of
body, speech and mind respectively, non-violence is one of the main points at all three

deva dwija guru praajna pujanam soucham aarjavam

brahmacharyam ahimsaa ca shariiram tapa ucyate

Reverence to Devaas, Brahmins, teachers and wise scholars, cleanliness, guilelessness,

continence and non-violence - these constitute the penance of the body.

anudvegakaram vaakyam satyam priya hitam ca yat

svaadhyaaya abhyasanam ca eva vaangmayam tapa ucyate

Speaking that which is non-offensive, truthful, pleasing and beneficial,

habitual study of the scriptures - these constitute the penance of the speech.

manah prasaadah soumyatvam mounam aatmavinigrahah

bhaava samshuddhir ityetat tapo maanasam ucyate

Mental calmness, gentleness, silence, self-control,

extreme emotional purity - these constitute the penance of the mind.

Reading these verses, one should understand that Gita does not advocate violence.

What does Gita say about the popular (and semitic) ideas of heaven? What happens
after death?

It has to be understood first that this world, heaven, etc are all states of the mind, just like
waking and dreaming. What goes by the names of different regions (loka) are nothing but
mental states. These are driven by desires. Thus what happens to a person after death
depends on the remnant unfulfilled desires in the conscious and sub-conscious of the
person and what the person deserves.

Based on desires, a person can be categorized into three - worldly (loukika), aspirant
(jijnaasu) and realized (jivanmukta).

When a worldly person dies, he will have desires for heavenly and earthly enjoyments.
So he goes to heaven, enjoys the merits there and when they are exhausted, falls back to
earth and is born in a mortal body. If he deserves demerits, he may be born in lower
regions and as animals, etc before being born as a human being again.

When an aspirant who is not fully free from worldly desires dies, he is born as an aspirant
in a good family with all the support for continuing his spiritual pursuit.

When an aspirant who is totally free from all heavenly and worldly desires dies, he enters
into a state from where he does not return back to mortal life. This state is variously
described as Brahmaloka, Kailasa, Vaikunta, Goloka, etc. At the end of the cycle during
pralaya, they are liberated fully. This is called krama mukti.

When an aspirant attains Knowledge and becomes liberated when alive, he continues to
live in the world without any desires. He has no identification with the body and mind.
When the body dies, even the small distinction that existed because of the body and mind
also vanishes. The identity is totally dissolved in the Whole. He does not go anywhere.

The concept of krama mukti is identical to the goal of the Dualists and Qualified-non-
dualists. This is also very similar to the goal of the Semitic religions. Thus, when other
religions and paths strive for liberation after death, Advaita Vedaanta strives for liberation
while living. By Advaita Vedaanta, the jivanmukta enjoys liberation "here and now".

What position does Gita give to a Guru? Is a Guru needed for spiritual realization?
All ordinary learning happens through observation and inference. Observation can be first
hand or second hand. Inference can be arrived at by oneself or induced by another person.
Even when logic is followed strictly, the same observation can give different inferences
based on the path of logic taken. When it is shown that worms die when put into a glass
of liquor, an observer can conclude liquor as good for health or bad for health depending
upon the path of logic taken. So, it is important that the right direction is set by another
person who is more knowledgeable. Thus right self-learning by inference can happen
only when the person has previous knowledge to an extent. Thus a teacher is essential
even for ordinary knowledge.

The Ultimate Truth of identity of the Individual and the Whole (Jiva Ishwara Aikyam),
though does not contradict logic, can never be deduced purely by logic alone. Every
inference by the mind, based on the observations in the world of the senses and mind, can
be limited only to the world of the senses and mind. As long as one is in within the limits
of the mind, there is no way a person can know by himself about the unreality of the
world. A person who is dreaming can never know that it is a dream unless he wakes up.
The only way to know about the Ultimate Truth is to hear about it from someone or from
some book. The Vedas are the fundamental source of this knowledge to people and other

This knowledge is so subtle that it can be understood correctly only by direct contact with
another realized person. This is like the story of ten people crossing a river, in which,
when they count themselves to check if everyone has crossed safely, each one misses
himself and so counts only nine. When such an error has crept in, only an onlooker who
is free from the error can fix the situation. The problem of ignorance is very similar. The
ignorant person looks at everything outside, except himself. He searches for security,
happiness and peace everywhere in vain, except within himself, where alone it is present.
Thus, the only source of Truth is a person who is free from ignorance himself and has the
vocabulary and methodology of the Vedas to communicate to others. Such a person is
called a Guru.

In chapter 4 verse 34, Gita asks the aspirant to approach a wise person with humility,
serve him and learn about the Truth by dialogue.

There are instances of people like Sri Ramana Maharshi, who attained knowledge first
and then found it conforming to the scriptures. These cases are traditionally explained as
the fructification of teachings received from a Guru in a previous birth. There are stories
like that of Jadabharata in Srimad Bhaagavata where the person attains knowledge in a
particular birth without a Guru, due to the teachings received in a previous birth.

The real Guru is the Lord Himself. He teaches the earnest disciple through different
sources. The primary source of teaching is the personal Guru.

Krishna emphasizes that doing one's own duty is better than doing someone else's
duty. What is one's own duty and what is the duty of someone else?
As we had discussed, the primary factor that determines the duty is the primary aim. If
the primary aim is physical pleasure, the duties of a sudra are the best for the spiritual
growth of the person. These are duties which involve much physical work, which is
typically done under the direction and guidance of someone else. Service in industries
like hospitality, logistics, marketing, etc where typically nothing physical is produced or
modified also come under this. If the primary aim of the person is to manage wealth, the
duties of a vaishya are the best suited. Creativity, enterprise, trade, manufacturing,
agriculture, etc are vaishya duties. If the primary aim of the person is to wield power, the
duties of a kshatriya are the best suited. Administration, bureaucracy, law, politics, policy
management, planning, banking, police, military office, etc are the duties of a kshatriya.
If the a person is so mature that he does not have any of the three aims, the duties of a
braahmana are best suited for him. Acquiring, developing, consolidating and distributing
knowledge by doing research and teaching are duties of a braahmana.

It is possible that the same person moves to different duties as he matures in life. For
example, an person may join a company as an employee and work under the direction of
the owner. At this stage, he is a sudra. When he learns the work and sets up his own
company, he becomes a vaishya. When he has earned a lot of wealth and respect in the
community of businessmen, and gives up his company to become a part of the
government regulatory and policy panel, he becomes a kshatriya. When he starts teaching
others about the business and gives ideas to everyone on how to do it more efficiently, he
becomes a braahmana.

Thus, varna and swadharma can keep changing as the person matures. It should be
primarily decided by attachment to pleasure, possession and power. The objective is to
outgrow these attachments. Depending on where there is most attachment, if the person
chooses the work, it will lead to quick progress.

What is the difference between Sankhya Yoga of Gita and Jnana Yoga?

Both are the same. Krishna tells in chapter 3 verse 3:

lokesmin dvividhaa nishthaa puraa proktaa mayaanagha

jnaana yogena saankhyaanaam karma yogena yoginaam

O sinless one, two kinds of disciplines in this world were set forth by Me in ancient times
the discipline of knowledge for Saankhyaas and that of work for (karma) Yogins.

Was Drona right in refusing to teach Ekalavya?

He was appointed a teacher by the king in the school funded by the king to teach the
princes and other members of the royal families. The only exception given by the king
was to his own son. Thus Drona was right in refusing to teach Ekalavya because he does
not come under the criteria set by the king for entry into the school.
Ekalvya learnt archery with Drona's statue in vicinity and mentally taking him as his
teacher. As Drona had explicitly sent him away, Ekalavya's action is inappropriate. This is
considered as stealing of knowledge. Drona had to punish him for that by taking his

As Duryodhana is the eldest son of the king Dhritarashtra, isn't he the rightful heir
to the throne?

As per tradition, the right and responsibility to rule the country lies with the royal family.
The eldest person of the current generation has the right to be the king. Among the sons
of Paandu and Dhritarashtra, Yudhisthira is the eldest. Though Dhritarashtra is elder to
Paandu, Yudhisthira is elder to Duryodhana. So Yudhisthira has the right to the throne.

Aren't Bhishma and Drona right in fighting on the side of Hastinaapura, the
kingdom to which their loyalty belongs?

The duty of a kshatriya is to protect Dharma. The vow that Bhishma took that he will
serve and protect whoever sits on the throne of Hastinaapura does not conform to
Dharma. All through his life, Bhishma faced a lot of trouble, anxiety and suffering
because of his wrong vow. Krishna reminded this to Bhishma and asked him to give up
his vow, which he took wrongly at the spur of the moment, and conform to Dharma
again. Bhishma refused and gave more importance to personal principles than to
universal principles. A kshatriya's duty is to establish righteousness. He can and should
give up personal loyalties for the sake of universal Dharma. Thus Bhishma fighting the
war on the side of Kauravas violated Dharma.

Drona was at the high position of a teacher. Thus he was doing the duties of a braahmana.
As long as he was a teacher, he was a braahmana. The moment he took part in the war
and started fighting, he came down to the level of a kshatriya. He was no longer a
braahmana. Either as a braahmana he should not have fought in the war, or as a kshatriya
he should have fought for righteousness. As he did not do either of them, he violated

Here we end the introduction to the Bhagavad Gita.