ETERNAL DHARMA IN 18 CHAPTERS OF GEETAA
(DISCOURSE BY N.R. SRINIVASAN—AUGUST 2011)
Krishna's incarnation was for the annihilation of the wicked, for the protection of the wise and for the re-establishment of eternal law, governing, upholding and supporting the creation of the world order. There had been a decline in dharma and his immediate intervention was necessary. Krishna therefore recommends killing; he is the militarist for whatever reason in his approach. Arjuna, in the Geeta, for whatever reason, is the humanist. He stands for Ahimsa. His mental make up is worrying and questing and individualistic. He prefers to be pacifist, conscientiously objecting and bravely quaking as a pious Hindu. Is he then a "coward" as Krishna rebukes to wake him up to the situation? But, this too, is a call from the Upanishads: "naayam aatma balaheenoe
labhyaha" –This aatman cannot be attained by one who is destitute of strength. As a literary piece Bhagavadgeeta is a master piece of poetic composition in Sloka meter expounding the wisdom contained in Vedaanta.
Here starts the lengthy questioning and arguing between Krishna and Arjuna. Each chapter ends with the statement, "here ends the argument between Krishna and Arjuna on the specific theme of the chapter". In all there are eighteen chapters (Adhyaayas) like eighteen cantos (Parvas) in Mahabharata. Mahabharata contains 180,000 slokas (verses); also Mahabharata war was fought for eighteen days with eighteen Akshouheenees—a significant figure of 18 and its multiple.
One of the special features of Sabarimalai in Kerala is the Padinettupadi, a flight of 18 steps. This is supposed to be the ladder to Vaikuntha (Vishnu's abode). They represent eighteen principles (five sense organs, eight internal enemies like—kaama, krodha, moha, lobha, mada, matsarya, ninda, himsa, which are to be transcended to reach God, Vidya Avidyaa and Trigunas. Interestingly, Puri Jagannath temple in Orissa has also eighteen steps to the main shrine, which is also a Vaishnava Temple.
Arjuna is confused and says to Lord Krishna, "you bewilder me with confusing speech" in III-2 of Geeta. Then Krishna comes with a startling suggestion, "why do you grieve for those who are not worthy of your pity and compassion? The aatman is eternal; only the body dies; so move forward and kill and stop worrying. Do your duty as a warrior, annihilate the wicked, protect the righteous and establish world order".
"Why do you urge me to this devastating war of kith and kin, the learned Guru and the most respected Pitamaha Bhishma, the grand sire, if knowledge excels action?" asks Arjuna leaning towards passive non-doing based on knowledge and conscience, and avoiding the dynamic action suggested by his mentor.
Sensing the strong humanist position of Arjuna that killing is wrong based on a clear conscience and clean argument of his, Krishna feels that logic is failing. Therefore Krishna as a last resort, resorts to his divine magic '"Vishwaroopa Darshana", the cosmic form. Arjuna is stunned and then on accepts whatever Krishna says. He is overpowered by Bhakti. Thus logic is silenced with the divine magic. Of course, Krishna has to complete his mission of incarnation as he emphatically said in Geeta. Who else can be used for this purpose except the righteous Pandavas and the most valiant among them, the most devoted friend Arjuna in the field of Dharmakshetra and Kurukshetra. Ultimately Truth prevails; dharma is established.
Krishna asks Arjuna to do his duty without any expectation of the reward. Arjuna cannot afford to lose this war for he possesses the invincible Gandiva, the divine gift to establish dharma. Krishna knew the invincibility of his friend. Arjuna, as an expert in the arts of war and trained as Kshatriya is sure to win this war. So, he is driven to the occasion under the divine spell of his mentor Lord Krishna, though not comfortable with the outcome. Bhagavadgeeta slowly builds up this situation in the discourses between Lord Krishna and his ardent friend Arjuna in 18 chapters.
In chapter I, Krishna talks on the subject of yoga of hesitation and dejection to Arjuna. Arjuna casts aside his bow and arrows, sits down in the chariot with his mind overwhelmed with sorrow. Killing his own people, the family ruin and the crime associated with the killing makes him feel that it is better to be killed than killing under such conditions. (I-47)
In chapter II, speaking on the path of transcendental knowledge, Sankhya yoga Krishna asks Arjuna not to be a coward. It is not befitting a great warrior who is the possessor of the divine invincible Gaandeeva. Krishna's mission is bound to succeed with the help of such a warrior. He therefore asks him to shake off trivial weakness of his heart and get up for the battle. (II-54)
In chapter III, Krishna elaborates on the Karmayoga, yoga of action. One who does the duty ordained by nature is freed from the bindings of Karma, says Bhagawat purana. Bhagawan says in shloka 35: "One's own dharma (code), imperfect though it may be, is better than dharma of another, however well discharged". It is better to die in one's own dharma, for it is risky to follow the dharma of another in which one is not well-versed. Lord expects everyman to do his duty. One evolves by the work best suited to one's own nature on inborn tendencies. One who takes on to work that is not meant for him or her certainly courts failure. Work based on natural ability does not produce stress and is conducive to creativity. (III-35)
In chapter IV Krishna talks to Arjuna on the path of renunciation with knowledge, the way of knowledge and the abandonment of action. Cosmos is fitted with a self correcting mechanism. Just as Krishna is present to console and inspire Arjuna, divine presence is always there for anyone ready to receive spiritual guidance. All action must be with the motive of service not to oneself. This liberates the doer from both heaven and hell permanently and achieves the final goal. Both heaven and hell are temporary situations—after-life punishment or after-life reward with limitations. Un-self conscious action brings no fruits good or bad—inaction in action. Selfish action brings fruits good or bad—action in inaction.
In chapter V, Bhagawan talks to Arjuna on the path or Yoga of renunciation. What intrigues Arjuna is how both renunciation of work and performance of work are the same. Krishna categorically answers this in chapter X. Renunciation and activity, both liberate, but, to work is better than to renounce. Krishna's advice is to treat life with detachment and enjoy it coolly. (V-8)
Selfless service (Karmayoga) provides preparation, discipline and sanctity necessary for renunciation. Selfless service leads to renunciation. Renunciation leads to liberation (attain Brahman). Krishna advises: "Be involved and yet be free. In all activities such as seeing, listening, eating, talking, breathing etc. one should say, I do nothing at all, only my senses act among their respective objects".
Krishna then talks to Arjuna on the subject of Yoga of meditation in chapter VI. Honest yogic effort to improve the quality of one's humanity leads to supreme bliss. He, who does good things, never meets with a deplorable end. What matters in yoga of meditation is sincere effort and not success. The struggle for virtue is always rewarded. (VI-40)
Krishna then goes on to the subject of self knowledge and enlightenment in chapter VII, the yoga of knowledge. "There are four types of people who approach me—the distressed, the seeker of self-knowledge, the seeker of wealth and the enlightened, the wise who has experienced the Supreme" says Krishna, "the wise, the last one is the best".
Krishna further says that he is dear to the wise and the wise is very dear to him. (VII-17)
He then talks about the Eternal Brahman in chapter VIII, the yoga of the Immutable. The Supreme Brahman is the lodestar, fire energizing principle behind the individual atman, which is only a spark of that fire. Brahman energizes the vast variety of physical life. Brahman charges the creative imagination of the morally noble and god-like. Brahman inspires the dedicated selflessness that goes into ritual acts such as sacred offerings and sacrifices. "The great souls, after attaining me, do not incur rebirth in this miserable transitory world, because they have attained the highest perfection" says the Lord. For such a pure soul there is no more the sorrow of rebirth. (VIII-15)
He also mentions of the two world's eternal paths—the path of bright light of spiritual practice and self-knowledge and the path of darkness of materialism and ignorance. The former leads to salvation and the latter leads to rebirth. In the journey of the Sun, northern solstice is the path of devas (celestial controllers) and southern solstice is the path of the Pitrus. The Upanishads describe an additional third path, the path of the lower creatures such as animals, birds, insects etc., (Br. Up. 02-15 to 16).
Those who attain heaven reincarnate when the fruits of their virtuous deeds are exhausted, choosing the path of southern solstice. Departing by the path of devas yogis who know the Eternal Being, attain Brahman, choosing northern solstice, like Bhishma did. Even if yogis die during Dakshinayana based on Karmaphala they still rest for a while there in the Southern Solistice and move forward in the direction of Northern Solostice. They need not have to return back to Earth again as others because of their exalted position, say the Upanishads.
In chapter IX, Krishna talks to Arjuna about the secret of work—the yoga of sovereign knowledge and sovereign mystery. "Even the worshippers of images, in reality worship me; their absolute shraddha (faith) is real, though their means is poor" says Bhagawan. There is only one Absolute, the wise call him by many names (Rigveda 1:164:46). Absolute has also manifested as devas (celestial controllers) for sustaining the creation who are with many names and forms (Rigveda 3.55.01). The Absolute Brahman is a man, woman, a boy, a girl and an old person. He exists in all forms (Atharvaveda). "World hangs on me like pearls on a string: all beings repose in me" says Krishna. Logic and reason go as far as the limits of human brain. At certain point, the imagination falters, the inner psyche (consciousness) remains unsatisfied. Analytical method stops and mystic vision takes over. No faith (shraddha) is refused. Lord accepts any offerings, a fruit, flower or even water if offered purely, devoutly with love. No worshipper of his is ever rejected. (IX-23)
The conversation continues on Vibhutiyoga, manifestation of the Absolute, the Universal Glory, in chapter X, yoga of divine manifestation. Faith provides the divine glories of unfathomable prowess of Godhead. Krishna describes his divine manifestation to his beloved friend Arjuna and in the end asks him to coordinate his faith with Bhakti (devotion). As a warrior Arjuna is familiar with faith since training as a warrior under a guru demands strictest shraddha (faith), but he is unfamiliar with the coordinates of Bhakti. When faith and devotion join hands, compassion is born. Compassion of the Lord scatters the ignorant darkness, with a glowing lamp of wisdom. (X-40)
In chapter XI, the Yoga of Revelation of the cosmos Lord Krishna reveals the cosmic form—the cosmic multi–revelation; the mystic cosmic revelation of the divinity (Viswaroopa darshana). Sensing that all his logic has not yet convinced his friend Arjuna and the time was running out for fulfilling his mission of incarnation, Krishna stuns Arjuna with the magic spell of Viswaroopa, cosmic multi revelation. The sight he presented did not have anyone else seen, nor will any see in the future. "Were a thousand suns explode suddenly in the sky, their brilliance would approximate the glory of the sight", says Lord Krishna. [This verse was quoted by Robert Oppenheimer when the first nuclear device was exploded in the Nevada desert. Oppenheimer had studied Sanskrit in his college days] (XI-12).
Lord Krishna describes to Arjuna, the Yoga of Devotion in chapter XII, path of devotion. Faith and devotion are the two words Krishna started stressing repeatedly then on. Arjuna is a student of faith. He needed more exposure to Bhakti to coordinate the two. Krishna stresses the favored status of devoted believers in the last verse of this chapter. "But those who with faith follow the nectar of moral values described by me and regard me as their supreme goal—those devotees are very dear to me". Arjuna was dear to Krishna; he cannot afford to lose him. Charged with Bhakti, now he has become dearer—loving friend-cum-devotee (Sakha-bhakta). (XII-20)
Lord Krishna then goes on to describe the creation and the creator, now that he has been fully charged with Bhakti, in chapter XIII, where Krishna dwells on the yoga of the division of the cosmos into body and soul. He exposes Arjuna to subtlest concept of Upanishads—Purusha and Prakriti; Kshetra and Kshetrajna. Purusha informs, permeates, energizes and shines through Prakriti. Prakriti is primordial, undifferentiated nature. Purusha, though involved in Prakriti, is detached, supreme witness. Purusha remains pure. It is not a participant. Purusha is the field (Kshetra), the body, the ground of Karma's fruits. The Kshetrajna is the knower of the body, the atman, the witness, the universal participant. Brahman is said to be the radiance among the radiances, light of all lights, beyond darkness, knowledge, the object of knowledge and that which can only be known through knowledge. It is seated in the inner psyche (consciousness) of all beings. (XIII-17)
After elevating Arjuna's level of bhakti and imparting knowledge about Brahman, Lord Krishna explains the three Gunas--goodness (Saatvika), passion (Raajasika) and ignorance (Taamasika), and their differences.
Krishna says that he is Purusha, the source of all lights in chapter XIV, and Prakriti is his womb and he places the seed in it. Prakriti is primordial, crude and subtle. It consists of three gunas--satva, rajas and tamas. Satva is the quality of light, goodness, knowledge, vitality; Rajas, the quality of grayness, amorality, curiosity, physical strength; Tamas the quality of darkness, ignorance, and laziness. Prakriti indulges in permutation and combination of these qualities under the influence of Maaya and is grounded in a mix of raw and refined tendencies, inclinations and behavior patterns. The aim of life is to overcome these tendencies and arrive at a clear consciousness of one's real self and merge with the Purusha. In verse 26 of this chapter Krishna says, "My devotee with unswerving devotion transcends these three modes of material nature (Prakriti) and is ready for union with Brahman (Purusha)--(XIV-26)
Lord Krishna continues his narration on the Supreme Being in chapter XV, the Yoga of Supreme Self, talks about Purushottama. Purusha embedded in the body is perishable spirit. The second is the imperishable atman which enters the body and leaves it at the appropriate time, taking with it the subtle impressions of the senses. The third one is Paramaatma Purusha, the Supreme Person. He is glorified in verse 18. "Since I go beyond the perishable and since I am a being even more superior to the imperishable (atman), therefore in ordinary speech and Vedanta, I am regarded as the Supreme Being". Basically these are the three aspects of the Supreme—Temporal (Kshara), Eternal (Akshara), and the Absolute (Aksharaateeta), Paramaatama, Parabrahman. Vishishtaadvaita Philosophy stresses much and glorifies the last aspect of the Supreme. (XV-18)
Krishna then explains to Arjuna the divine and demonic qualities in chapter XVI. Hell is easy to enter and it has three gates—lust, anger and greed. The three gunas are useful aids. The concept of three Purushas is excellent. But what matters really are the divine or demonic qualities in the individual which makes him significant and distinct. "Divine birth leads to Moksha and anti-divine to bondage" says Krishna and assures Arjuna that his birth is divine and that he need not worry. "Let the scriptures be your authority in determining what should be done and what should not be done. Follow the scriptural injunctions discussed above" advises Krishna to sustain the divine qualities fully developed in him. (XVI-21)
Krishna continuing his narration dwells in chapter XVII on the Yoga of Threefold Division of faith—goodness, passion and ignorance (Saatvika, Raajasika and Taamasika). Earlier Krishna explained how faith blossoms into devotion (Bhakti). Krishna says that Brahmins, Vedas, rituals etc, proceed from Truth. Om Tat Sat is fine (That is Truth). But Shraddha (unshakable faith) should not be mechanical. It should come from the bottom of the heart, the inner psyche. So, he says in the last verse of the chapter, "Unreal is giving without feeling; action without feeling; discipline without feeling. Any sacrifice in the fire, any giving, any penance or any rite which is enacted without shraddha is useless in this world and the next". (XVII-23)
In the concluding chapter XVIII, Yoga of Devotion, Moksha through renunciation, Krishna explains that the path of action, knowledge and division all merge and move in a single direction –Moksha sanyaasa or Moksha through renunciation, the way of salvation (the triune). "Tread a sure path; one's own dharma, however imperfect may be is safer than the dharma of another, however perfect may be". The word dharma has several meanings in Sanskrit language. It may mean way of life, duty, righteousness, ideal conduct, virtue, natural quality, moral principle, religion and spiritual truth, though dharma is defined as the eternal law governing, upholding and supporting the creation and the world order. His final advice is given in verses 63 and 66. Krishna says: "I have revealed to you this knowledge, a mystery of all mysteries. Think it over; you are free to choose (yathecchaasi tatha kuru). Setting aside all other pursuits of dharma (widely defined above), come to me alone for shelter. I shall release you from all sins: have no more fear!" (XVIII-63)
Sri Sankara has said Geeta is "sarva vedanta sangraha", a compilation of all the essentials of the Vedas. To Gandhiji, Geeta was his eternal mother and his refuge when in distress and difficulty. Throughout Mahabharata war, Lord Krishna is the one who guides the chariot. Arjuna only goes on doing his destined duties (kartavya karma) as a Karmayogi. It is Krishna who takes the chariot wherever it is right for him to take. Even in the midst of the battle when Arjuna is unable to withstand the onslaught of Bheeshma, Krishna himself takes up a wheel of the chariot as his chakra. We should seek the divine to guide the chariot of our lives, by completely surrendering to his will. His message to each and every individual is clear. "Engage in action with wisdom—unattached, recognizing all things, yet not becoming involved in delusion with them".
Coming closely on the heels of the classical Upanishads, Geetaa contains the Upanishadic tradition but assimilates the Sankhya, Yoga and Buddhist teachings which were in their turn dedicated to Upanishads. It is this synthetic character of the Geetaa that makes it the most popular spiritual text in the country. It is curious but effective link between the Vedic traditionalism and the later thoughts systems. Geetaa is one of four 'G's"--Greats in Hinduism—Geetaa, Gangaa, Gaayatri and Govinda.
This lecture has been prepared for the Vedanta Class at Sri Ganesha Temple, Nashville T.N. by N.R. Srinivsan extracting, abridging and editing from the following literature sources:
- Dr. Ramaprasad, The Bhagavad Gita, American Gita Society, Fremont, U.S.A.
- Vrinda Nabar & Shanta Tumkur, The Bhagavadgita, Wordsworth Classics,
Hertfordshire, SG129ET, U.K.
- P. Lal, The Bhagavad Gita, Roli Books, Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, India
- Harry Bhalla, The Bhagavad Gita, International Gita Society, Fremont CA, U.S.A.
- T. Mukundan, a Concept of Hinduism, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, India
- Swami Harshananda, Hindu Pilgrim Centers, Ramakrishna Math, Bangalore, India.
KEY SLOKAS OF BHAGAVAD-GEETAA
Evam-uktvaa-arjunah sankhye rathopastha upaavisat |
Visrijya sasaram chaapam soka-samvigna-maanasah || I- 47 ||
Sthita-prajnasya kaa Bhaashaa samaadhistasya kesava |
Sthitadheeh kim prabhaasheta kim-aaseeta vrajeta kim || II-54 ||
Sreyaan svadharmo vigunah paradharmaat svanushthitaat |
Svadharme nidhanam sreyah paradharmoe bhayaavahah || III-35 ||
Yadaa yadaa hi dharmasya glanir bhavati bhaarata |
Abhyutthaanam adharmasya tad-aatmaanam srijaamyaham || IV-7 ||
Naiva kinchit-karomeeti yukto manyeta tatvavit |
Indriyaaneen-indriyaartheshu vartanta iti dhaarayan || V-8-9 ||
Partha naiveha naamutra vinaasas-tasya vidyate |
Na hi kalyaana-krit kaschid durgatim taata gacchati || VI-40 ||
Teshaam jnaanee nitya-yukta eka-bhaktir-visishyate |
Priyo hi jnaanino-atyartha-maham sa cha mama priyah || VII-17 ||
Maam-upetya punar-janma dukhaalayam-asaasvatam |
Naapnuvanti mahaatmaanah samsiddham paramaam gataah || VIII-15 ||
Yopy-anya-devataa bhaktaa yajante sraddhayaa-anvitaah ||
Te-api maameva kaunteya yajantya-vidhi-poorvakam || IX-23 ||
Na-anto-asti mama divyaanaam vibhooteenaam parantapa ||
Esha tood-desatah prokto vibhooter-vistaro mayaa || X-40 ||
Divi soorya-sahasrasya bhaved-yugapad-utthitaa |
Yadi bhaah sadrisee saa syaad-bhaasas-tasya mahaatmanah || XI-12 ||
Ye tu dharmya-amrita-midam yathoktam paryupaasate |
Sraddha-dhaanaa mat-paramaa bhaktaas-te-ateeva may priyaah || XII-20 ||
Jyotishaam-api tad-jyotis-tamasah param-uchyate |
Jnaanam jneyam jnaana-gamyam hridi sarvasya vishthitam || XIII-17 ||
Maam cha Yo-avyabhichaarena bhakti-yogena sevate |
Sa gunaan-samateetyai-taan-brahma-bhooyaaya kalpate || XIV-26 ||
Yasmaat-ksharam-ateetoham-aksharaada-api cha uttamah ||
Ato-asmi loke Vede cha prathitah purushottamah || XV-18 ||
Trividham narakasye-dam dvaaram naasanam-aatmanah |
Kaama-krodhas-tathaa Lobhas-tasmaad-etat-trayam tyajet || XVI-21 ||
Om tat-sat-iti nirdeso brahmanas-trividhah smritah |
Braahmanaastena vedaascha yajnaascha vihitaah puraa || XVII-23 ||
Iti te Jnaanam-aakhyyaatam guhyaad-guhya-taram mayaa |
Vimrisyais-tad-aseshena yathaa-icchaci tathaa kuru || XVIII-63 ||