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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Bhagavat Gita in Logical Sequence


Bhagvat Gita has been interpreted and re-interpreted by several saints and scholars for over two millenia. All of us know that the most important teaching of Gita is in Chapter 2 Sloka 47. It says: “Your right is only to do your duty. You do not have any control over the results. Do not let the results of your action be your motive. Do not become inactive on that score either”.  In other words, do your duty without attachment to the results such as fame or fortune. Do not sit idle either.

There are several commentaries on the Gita. Two of my favorites are: Gita Rahasya by Bal Gangadar Tilak and Talks on the Gita by Vinoba Bhave. More recently, Kạnchi Periyavạl has given his approach in a book based on his talk (Volume 5, pages 1009-1011). This is to look at the logical and sequential steps Gita gives to help us move gradually through various steps towards spiritual knowledge and bliss, from Karma marga (mmạmsa) to the bhakti mạrga (devotional path). In the process, the quoted slokas will be jumping back forth from Chapter 2 to Chapter 18, then back to Chapter 3 and so on. 

He starts with Chapter 2, sloka 47 (see the first paragraph of this essay). Lord Krishna’s initial advice is for the beginner on the spiritual path. A man or woman who has been active all along cannot stop all activities suddenly?  Even if one wishes to let go of everything and become a recluse (sanya̅si) he will not be able to do so. He may stop all bodily activities but the mind will keep seeking and relating to sense objects. He will only become a hypocrite. Therefore, the Lord tells Arjuna, that even if he (Arjuna) wants to let go of all worldly activities, his innate nature will not let him do so.

We, human beings cannot entirely relinquish action. Therefore, it is adequate if we let go of our attachment to the fruits of our actions. (Chapter 18, sloka 11 starting with na hi dehabrutha)

Just stop being physically active is not adequate. If you control the organs of physical activities, but are dwelling on sense objects with your mind, you are a hypocrite. (Chapter 3, sloka 6 starting with karmendriyena…) 

Because of human nature and duties born of our nature and conditions, we will be impelled to act in spite of ourselves. Therefore, the Lord advises Arjuna to be active but to perform only those activities that are proper and fall under one’s Dharma (duties).  The next step is to perform them without attachment to the fruits of action and to dedicate all of them to the Lord. (Chapter 18, sloka 60 starting with svabhavajena…)

If Arjuna is not able to do this, an alternate method the Lord gives him is just to do his daily activities and ritual sacrifices as acts of dedication and worship. Chapter 9, Sloka 27 starting with yatkarosi asks us to dedicate whatever we do, whatever we eat, all our sacrifices and austerities to the Lord. That should be easier than letting go of attachment to action or the actions themselves. Besides, the Lord assures us that if we do all this with devotion He will give us the necessary knowledge and wisdom of understanding (Chapter 10, sloka 10).

 If you cannot do any of this, the Lord suggests that you do whatever is your duty according to your station in life and consider that as your worship (puja) and that will lead you to perfection (Chapter 18, sloka 46). These suggestions include the path of action (karma yoga) and the path of devotion(bhakti yoga).
These methods of performing duties without attachment (karma ma̅rga) and dedication and worship help purify and clarify the mind and prepare a person for the wisdom (ga̅na) and release (mokha).

 In chapter 18, sloka 49, Lord Krishna says that “He who has a detached mind, who has conquered his mind and who has no worldly desires attains the state of sanyạsa (freedom from action)”.  “For one who is desirous of union with the Supreme (yoga), action is said to be the means. But for one who has attained yoga, inaction is said to be the means” says Chapter 6, sloka 3. To one who wants to enter the path of spirituality and realization, initially action is needed. But when he reaches that state of non-duality, he has no more actions to perform.

Sloka 33 of Chapter 4 says that sacrifice through knowledge is superior to sacrifices performed through materials. This is to refute the premise of the mmamsa which suggests that the only path to moka is through performance of sacrifices.

In essence Lord Krishna does emphasize wisdom (gana) but only as a final stage of maturity.  For one who has understood the Self (Ᾱtma) and is satisfied with the self, there are no duties to be performed.
“Let the scriptures (a̅stra) be your guide to decide what to do and what not to do” says the Lord in Chapter 16, sloka 24.


There is one other sloka which Periyava̅l left out but happens to be my favorite. This is Sloka 63, Chapter 18 – almost at the end of the Gita. Lord Krishna teaches Arjuna about so many things and then says: “Reflect on it fully and act as you like”. He did not say: “I am the Lord; do as I told you to”. 

(For those of you who cannot read Sanskrit, but know Tamizh, please go to Kannadasan's superb translation and read the sloka being referred to in the above paragraphs)