I suppose you have the Bhagavad Gita, the text.
I think we shall read a few verses like a study of the book itself, because it is what we had decided isn’t it?
The context of the 2nd chapter is very well known to us, because we have spoken at length about it. These are the questions of Arjuna and he decides that he will not fight. Sri Krishna will answer the questions but before that He will chide Arjuna:
“And this how the Lord Himself says to the sorry Arjuna, whose eyes were filled with tears, whose heart was full of pity and grief, Madhusudana spoke thus.” (2.1)
“O Arjuna! How did you develop this kind of dejection during the crisis of war? It is not followed by great persons, does not lead to heaven and it is disgraceful.” (2.2)
“O Son of Pritha! Do not yield to cowardice. This does not behove you. O Destroyer of the Enemies! Give up this feebleness of the mind, stand up and fight”. (2.3)
“O Madhusudana! Tell me how I shall attack with arrows the most venerable Bhishma, the grandfather, and Guru Dronacharya in the battlefield.” (2.4)
“It is better to live in this world by begging rather than killing the most venerable elders. Even if I kill these elders for worldly gains, all my enjoyments will be smeared with their blood.”
“We are not sure who is stronger amongst us and who will win the war. Moreover, the sons of Dhritarashtra are arrayed against us, after killing whom we ourselves would not like to live any longer.” (2.5-6)
“I am confused about my duty and owing to my low spirits, I have lost my grain. Therefore, I ask You to tell me what is certainly the best for me. I am Your disciple, I have taken refuge in You. Please do instruct me.” (2.7)
“Even if I were to attain undisputed sovereignty over the whole world, and conquer even the gods, I do not see how I could remedy this grief which is consuming my sense” (2.8)
There are two important questions that arise when Sri Krishna instead of encouraging Arjuna in any way, in the attitude of renouncing everything, Sri Krishna depreciates him in very bitter words. To a Kshatriya to be told that he is a coward is perhaps the worst kind of criticism and that is exactly what Sri Krishna does. The argument which Arjuna has already put forward, seems to be on the face of them springing from nobility, high character, great sense of renunciation…
In his argument there are three important strands: one is the argument arising from the sense of duty; the second is the argument arising from the claims of rights; third is the argument arising from the concept of dharma; and the fourth is the argument arising from the sense of renunciation. These are the four strands in his argument.
First of all: ‘duty’. It is not that Arjuna has forgotten his duty: for every Kshatriya, the duty is to be fighting in the war, whenever there is a war. That was the social system in which this particular war takes place. We must make a distinction between ‘duty’ and ‘dharma’. The duty is an action that is imposed upon you by the position that you occupy in the society: it is the duty of the lawyer to fight for his client; it is the duty of the doctor to save the patient; it is the duty of the soldier to shoot in the army, duty of the teacher to teach. These duties are the results of the social conditions in which you are placed, responsibilities which have been imposed upon you from the point of view of the consequences that you may have with regard to the social relationships and social well-being: if people refuse to do their work, allotted work, the society will be ruined.
Although duty seems to be something to be done for its own sake, ultimately a duty is for sustaining the society, for keeping the society on what is considered to be right as opposed to wrong. Now, this sense of duty is for Arjuna contrasted with a long chain of understanding of his action and the consequences seem to lead to the very denial of the social cohesion. The duties have to be performed in order that the society remains cohesive; but as he points out that if he fights in this particular war, as a duty, then instead of society being kept cohesive, he will lead to the ruin of the society because of the great massacre which will take place and then the whole dharma will fall, people will not be able to keep to the right path of dharma: jāyate varṇa saṅkaraḥ, (1.41). He says that the entire society will be cursed by unholy alliances and the results will be terrible from the point of the cohesion of the society. The entire dharma will vanish and then he says that whoever becomes responsible for the destruction of dharma, for him there is no place except hell. This is one argument.
The second argument is: “it is true that I am right to fight for the sake of the rights: we have the natural right to the kingdom; this right has been denied by those who are oppressive and those who are arrogant and wicked; it is correct to fight for the rights and therefore I should fight! But what is the use of fighting?”
This is the contrary argument: “what is the use of fighting when this will lead to the massacre of those very people for whom we would like to fight, for the pleasure of whose sake we would like to fight? My brethren will be killed, my teachers will be killed, my grandsires will be killed; it is in company of these people that I would like to enjoy the fruits of our battle, but these are the very people who are going to be killed, therefore this is the fight, the results of which will be full of suffering, sorrow and even sin”. This is the second argument. “Therefore” he says, “I will not fight”.
The third is: ‘dharma’. As I said, duty arises ‘out of’ the social position in which you are placed. dharma arises ‘irrespective’ of your social position. As a lawyer, I would like to defend my client: it is my duty; but as a human being my dharma would be to tell the truth. Therefore the duty and the dharma would collide. As a judge, as long as the law opts for capitation, for capital punishment, as a judge I would be obliged to give capital punishment to an accused, but as a dharma, as a human being, I would be opposed to capital punishment. dharma irrespective of my social position, my dharma would be quite different. As a doctor, I must save the patient: that is my duty as a doctor. And yet there are conditions in which dharma will be quite different, depending upon the enemy’s position, my country’s position and many other situations that might arise. The duty and dharma would collide. My duty in a war would be to shoot my enemy; it would be my duty to save my son and if both the duties collide against each other, if my son is my enemy in the enemy camp, what is my duty towards him, when he is in the enemy camp? What is my dharma? Is slaughter a dharma? I may say that slaughter itself is wrong. Even though I may be a soldier, I am required to kill my own son in the camp of the enemy. I would decide to go out of the entire situation. I would say that dharma, it is my duty not to kill anybody, I will not kill my son. Not that he is my son. I would conclude on other grounds that it is my dharma not to kill anybody.
Therefore duties collide with dharma. And dharma is supposed to be even higher than the duty. In the case of Arjuna, both his duties demand that he should fight. His dharma also demands that he should fight. In his case both the things coincide: his duty and dharma. There is no conflict. But the conflict is between dharma and dharma. It is his dharma as a Kshatriya to uphold the right; not only to fight as a soldier in the battle: “independent of the battle, I must always stand for the right”, that is the Kshatriya’s dharma. But it is also dharma to see that the whole society follows dharma, and he sees that very dharma by which he would be enjoining into war, would ultimately lead to a degeneration of the society because of the massacre. dharma collides with dharma. Therefore he says, “I will not fight”.
And the fourth argument is: ‘it is better to be killed unarmed than to kill the brethren: it is a noble sense, noble sentiment’, he says, ‘I will not use the arms, they may be armed and they may kill me even though I may remain unarmed, un-opposing’. This last sentence is very important because it arises from the tradition of India, which had developed around that time, in which renunciation was regarded as a very important element in the culture: “you must renounce”. Renunciation is greater than enjoyment, and that streak of the argument is throughout, sewn in the whole dialogue of Arjuna with Sri Krishna at that time. Even in these few arguments which are placed in the second chapter which we read out just now, is a repetition of the argument of the first chapter.
This noble sentiment is laughed at by Sri Krishna: and one might wonder as to how Sri Krishna, one who is a teacher of divinity, of divine life, He would laugh at this great sentiment which Arjuna is expressing. There must be some deeper reason and that is what He explains. He says (2.2): “How did you develop this kind of dejection during the crisis of war? It is not followed by great person, it does not lead to heaven and it is disgraceful”.
The reason is that…there are three reasons for renunciation: the renunciation can be tamasic, can be rajasic, can be sattwic. It is tamasic when under the great pressure of the events, you do not want to take a decision and you resort to a tamasic withdrawal. It is rajasic when you become disappointed even when you want to do a lot of things but you see that everything is opposed to you so powerfully that you would like to escape from it. The sattwic is when you want to follow a great ideal, and ideal which collides with your present duty, and therefore you would like to withdraw from the duty and follow the ideal.
In this case, what is the cause of the recoil? Is it sattwic, is it rajasic, is it tamasic? It is not sattwic because, although he seems to be saying, “I want to renounce”, what is the ideal that he wants to follow? Compare it with the renunciation of Buddha. When the Buddha decided to leave his home, He was transgressing His duties: duty as a son, as a prince, duty as a husband and duty as a father. He trampled upon his duties, and He renounced the world, — but what for? He had a great question in his mind: ‘What is death? What is life? What is birth? What is old age? What is this misery in this world? Can misery be conquered?’ These were His great philosophical questions for which He had no answer; and He could see that these questions cannot be answered ordinarily: it was a sattwic renunciation.
It is not rajasic either: in rajasic, you are disappointed, you are about to be defeated, you are not equal to the fight, and therefore you want to withdraw. But here, that is not the case: he knows that he is a very brave man; in fact the whole war was fought only because Arjuna was a basic factor, a central factor; you minus out Arjuna and the whole war falls down. He knew that it was not out of any kind of feeling of defeat.
The reason is tamasic. He wants to come out of it because there is a great conflict in his mind; there is too much of a clouding in his mind; he is not able to decide, although he says “I will not fight”, it is a decision, but the argument that he puts forward, if you analyse that there is a lot of confusion in it, and he speaks the language of a sannyasin, but there is no wisdom of a sannyasin in it, as Sri Krishna Himself will point out in due course. When Sri Krishna says, “you speak the words of wise, but the wise do not clamour, do not become sorrowful, as you are becoming sorrowful. You speak as if death is final; you speak as if for sorrow’s sake or for joy’s sake that you should fight. Who told you that joy or sorrow has to be the cause of the motivation of war? You speak of ‘my people’ and you say that you are speaking the language of a sannyasin, ‘my people’. For a Sannyasin there is no ‘my people’”. Therefore it is evident that it is a tamasic recoil, disgraceful. tamasic recoil is the worst recoil; it is disgraceful and also much worse: it is cowardice. And that is why Sri Krishna says in two sentences: “How did you develop this kind of dejection during the crisis of war, it is not followed by great persons, does not lead to heaven and it is disgraceful” (2.2). He refers to heaven because in the argument of Arjuna, he said, “I know that if I engage myself in this war I shall go to hell”, and he has given the reasons as to why he will go to hell because he will be perpetrated of adharma and whoever perpetrates adharma goes to hell. Sri Krishna says, “Do you think that now if you withdraw from the war you will go to heaven?” And then He says in a severer criticism, “Do not heed to cowardice”:
klaibyaṁ mā sma gamaḥ (2.3)
“Do not heed to cowardice! This does not behove you, O destroyer of enemies! Give up this feebleness”, this is tamasic, “Give up this feebleness of the mind, stand up and fight!”
This is the straight answer, first of all that he should fight.
Last time we had spoken of the battle of life and the Kurukshetra itself, and we had pointed out that as long as a human being is on this earth, at the present stage of evolution, struggle for existence is the law imposed upon all of us, and whoever wants to escape from the struggle, he forfeits its right to be a human being because that is the lot in which he is born and he has got to accept the burden of the struggle.
There is of course the law of cooperation, of association, of peace, of concord, of harmony, but these are still to be attained, they are not natural to human beings at present, except in a very minor manner; it is struggle which is important and one must be ready to struggle. A civilisation which prevents people or children from the struggle is a civilisation which will go down into perdition that is why it is in that context, Sri Krishna points out that men are here to fight and therefore He says, “You must fight”. He has still not answered other arguments, He has simply pointed out the psychology from which Arjuna is suffering: he is suffering from klaibyaṁ, from cowardice, from confusion of the mind and from feebleness: therefore he must fight.
The argument of Arjuna continues, and this is a summary of the arguments which are already expounded in the first chapter:
“O Madhusudana! Tell me how I shall attack with arrows the most venerable Bhishma, the grandfather and Guru Dronacharya in the battlefield.” (2.4)
“It is better to live in this world by begging rather than killing the most venerable elders. Even if I kill these elders for worldly gains, all my enjoyments will be smeared with their blood.” (2.5)
“We are not sure who is stronger amongst us and who will win the war. Moreover, the sons of Dhritarashtra are arrayed against us, after killing whom we ourselves would not like to live any longer.” (2.6)
But now, he comes to agree with very important confession:
“I am confused, I am confused about my duty and owing to my low spirits, I have lost my grain therefore I ask you to tell me what is certainly the best for me, I am your disciple, I have taken refuge in you, please do instruct me.” (2.7)
It is such a great opportunity for Arjuna to have Sri Krishna as a charioteer; if there was nobody like Him around him what would have happened to the whole war; but this is symbolic.
Through the Bhagavad Gita we are told that every human being has Krishna by his side as a charioteer. It is not only Arjuna. In our life, remember that always Sri Krishna is with you, whether you are aware of it or not, whether you make use of Him or not, but He is always present as He was present as a charioteer to Arjuna. And, until you ask Him the question, He will give you His own impersonal answers, as He did in the beginning, when He explained to him very straight and accused him of cowardice. But when he asks the question as to what is the right thing for him to do, then Sri Krishna will answer the question in detail. Therefore it is best that symbolically what Arjuna is, so we should be in our life, all the time asking questions, as to what God would desire from us. He says:
“Even if I were to attain undisputed sovereignty over the whole world, and conquer even the gods, I do not see how I could remedy this grief which is consuming my senses.” (2.8)
Now, is the question of grief. There is no question of other discussions but there is a sorrow in the heart. In fact, one of the great marks of a soul that is bound, in bondage, is this: that there is a deep seated sorrow in the heart of man.
There is the famous story of Chhandogya Upanishad, where nārada goes to a teacher, sanatkumāra and says: “Please, teach me” (chānd. Up. V||,1). And then sanatkumāra says: “Tell me first of all what you know”. He describes all the sciences and arts and various kinds of occult processes of which he was the master, but at the end he says, “In spite of all this knowledge, I am in grief”. There is sorrow, śoka. And then he asked, — what is the remedy for the sorrow: “Is there a knowledge by which sorrow can be removed?” And here the basic condition of Arjuna is that of deep sorrow; the deep sorrow which comes out of bondage.
In fact, one of the ways by which we can understand the whole teaching of the Gita is ‘the science of bondage and liberation’. How can one be liberated from sorrow, how one can be liberated from the conflicts of duty and dharma, of dharma with dharma, of the right claims and personal relationships? How one can resolve these conflicts, arrive at a state of freedom in which one sees clearly, without any confusion, the exact work that has to be done, with the right capacity to do it and execution of it, and yet incurring no bondage at all. This is the question that is addressed by Sri Krishna in the whole of the Gita. In fact, the greatest weakness of human beings arises out of sorrow. There is no condition in the world that is most hopeless, as helpless as the condition of sorrow; and it is that condition which now Arjuna confesses and says: “I don’t see that even the gods can remove this sorrow in which I now am inflicted with”.
“O king! Having thus spoken to Hrishikesha, Arjuna said, ‘O Govinda, I will not fight’ and became silent.” (2.9)
He has of course asked the question, but still he does not believe that this question can be answered by anybody. Even when he says to Sri Krishna: śādhi māṁ (2.7), even then, he concludes and he says, “I will not fight”.
“O Bharata! Hrishikesha smilingly spoke these words to grief stricken Arjuna who was standing in the midst of both the armies.” (2.10)
Sri Krishna begins His answer.
This answer is at two levels. The first answer is at the level of duty and dharma, the other is at a deeper level. Duty and dharma is of course repeated, and Arjuna knows about duty and dharma and he has rejected it already, but it is repeated because in this case duty and dharma are ultimately coincidental with the deeper knowledge which He is about to expound. Sri Krishna knows that mere appeal to duty or to dharma will not satisfy Arjuna: he needs a deeper answer because the malady is much deeper. If it was only a question of forgetting duty, one can remind of duty; if it was only a question of forgetting dharma one can remind of dharma, but that was not the question here. The question is: duty collides with duty, dharma collides with dharma. And he is overpowered by bondage, this real bondage: sorrow. And therefore a deeper question, deeper answer has to be given; and therefore there are two levels of the answer.
In the first place He unmasks Arjuna’s mask of being a very big wise man and a man who now pleads for sannyasa. He says:
“You are grieving over those who are not fit to be grieved at, yet you speak like a wise man, but the real wise men do not grieve either for the living or for the dead.” (2.11)
“Never did I not exist, nor did you, nor these kings, nor shall we ever cease to exist in the future.” (2.12)
“Just as an embodied soul attains childhood, youth and old age through the body, so it attains another body after death. Wise man does not grieve at this.”(2.13)
“O Son of Kunti! The objects that are perceived by the senses give rise to pleasure and pain, to heat and cold, they are transient. Therefore O Bharata, endure them heroically.” (2.14)
“O Best among Men! Anyone who is balanced in pleasure and pain, and who is not agitated by the senses and their contact with objects, only such a wise person is fit to attain liberation.” (2.15)
“There is no existence for the unreal, and the real never ceases to be. Thus the knowers of Reality have ascertained the nature of what is real and what is unreal”. (2.16)
“That alone by which all this is pervaded is Imperishable because no one can destroy that Immutable Reality.” (2.17)
“O Bharata! The Self is imperishable and immeasurable, but the bodies which are inhabited by the Self are perishable. Therefore prepare to fight.” (2.18)
“Those who consider the Self as the killer and those who think that it is killed both are ignorant for the Self neither kills nor is killed.” (2.19)
“The Self is never born, nor does it ever die; having once born before, will it not be born in the future. The Self is unborn, eternal, imperishable and ageless. Though the body is slain, the Self is not killed.”(2.20)
“O Son of Pritha! If one knows that the Self is indestructible, immutable, unborn, eternal, how can a person kill anyone or cause anyone to be killed.”(2.21)
“The Self is eternal, all pervading, immutable, stable, and everlasting. Therefore, it cannot be cut, or burnt, or drenched, or dried up.” (2.24)
“The Self is said to be unmanifest, unimaginable, and unchangeable. Therefore, knowing this to be so, you should not grieve.” (2.25)
“O Mighty-Armed Arjuna! Even if you think that the Self is born, due to the birth of the body and consider it dead due to the death of the body, you still have no reason to grieve.” (2.26)
“Death is certain for the one who is born and birth is certain for the one who dies. For this inevitable fact you should not grieve.” (2.27)
“O Bharata! All created beings are unmanifest in the beginning, manifest in the middle and unmanifest again after the death. So what need is there for lamentation?” (2.28)
“Some look upon this Self as a wonder, some talk about Him as a wonder, and some hear about Him as a wonder, and yet having heard of Him none is able to understand Him at all.” (2.29)
“O Bharata! The eternal Self that dwells in the bodies of all beings cannot be slain. Therefore, you should not grieve for any living being.” (2.30)
This is the first part of the argument.
This is at a higher level. This is because Sri Krishna wants to unmask Arjuna of the mask that he has worn of a wise man, and points out that the real wise man is full of true knowledge, “and if you go to the true knowledge, then look I am giving you the content of that true knowledge. Your argument so far, which you have advanced, does not refer to the Self at all. Your arguments refer to what? They refer to your brethren and your grandfather, and your teachers and your sorrow and your pleasure. The one who is wise speaks of the Self, and in none of your arguments there is any reference to the Self at all! For deciding what you should do, what you should not do, the most important thing is to know what you are. And it is in the Self-knowledge that the true decision can be arrived at”. And that is why Sri Krishna now gives him the first and the basic fact of what can be called ‘true knowledge’.
Second point in this teaching is that when you have the ‘true knowledge’, when you want to have ‘true knowledge’; there is one condition to be fulfilled. The capacity to endure both pleasant and unpleasant: titikṣā. If you don’t have the capacity to endure, you cannot attain to the true Self-knowledge. Sri Krishna reminds him that today you are afflicted by sorrow, you are not able to bear the sorrow, and yet you speak of the higher knowledge and you speak like a wise man, but you are not able to bear this sorrow that is now overcoming you; and when you can bear this sorrow or joy, whatever it is, then you can enter into the portals of ‘true knowledge’.
This is the first exposition of the knowledge of Reality. It is this that there is a Reality which is immutable, eternal, which is immortal; it is wonderful. Some people look at it with wonder, hear about it with wonder, they think about it with wonder:
āścaryavat paśyati (2.29)
This Reality is actually present in every human body. Although human bodies are born, they develop and they enter into old age and then they die. This Self does not get either born, does not grow, does not develop, does not enter into death. Therefore, whatever action is to be done is in the light of ‘this’. Simply because somebody is going to be hurt, somebody is going to be transcended, transgressed, is an ordinary consideration. It is not a consideration of a wise person: the wise person always sees that eternal self behind everything, and takes its stand on that eternal Self, looks upon the world “udāsīna: he sits above”. The arguments which are put forward by Arjuna that, ‘I will be killing these people, and therefore there will be sin and sorrow and suffering’, these do not emanate from the knowledge of the Eternal.
Every human being according to this teaching, even after death, takes a new birth. And as Sri Krishna says, “Even if you do not believe in rebirth, if you simply believe that everybody is born and everybody must die, then what is that to lament about, because that is bound to happen to everybody; so even from that point of view, there is no question either way: either the individual who is dead now will take a birth again, or he will remain dead because it is always so for everybody, so there is no question about it”. This is one set of arguments.
Now, is the other set of arguments, which is at a lower level, lower than this level, but both are appropriate to Arjuna’s questions. One was, as I said, to destroy the mask of Arjuna as a wise man. Now, he speaks of the consequences: ‘If I kill them there will be sorrow, if I kill them there will be no enjoyment because my people will not be with me’. He is constantly considering the consequences of the battle. Sri Krishna says that, ‘if you want to see the consequences, how can you be sure that these are the only consequences to come?’ So, He gives another account of other consequences that may come about, and He says:
“Considering the specific duty as a Kshatriya, you should not in fact waver. There is nothing more blessed for a Kshatriya than a righteous war.” (2.31)
svadharmam api cāvekṣya
‘Even by seeing Swadharma, you should not hesitate.’
“O Son of Pritha! Fortunate are the Kshatriyas, who come upon such an opportunity as this great battle which has come to you of its own accord as an open gate to heaven.” (2.32)
Arjuna had argued that, ‘If I fight this war the consequence will be that I will go to hell’. Sri Krishna says: “O Son of Pritha, fortunate are the Kshatriyas who come upon such an opportunity as this great battle which has come to you of its own accord as an open gate to heaven”.
“If, however, you do not fight righteous battle, you will be deprived of both your own duty and your fame and then you will incur sin.” (2.33)
It will be the other way around.
“People will speak of your infamy, down through the ages. And for a respectable person, evil fame is worst than the death.” (2.34)
“The great chariot warriors will think that you have turned away from this battle out of fear. Those who highly esteem you will thus look down upon you.” (2.35)
“Your enemies will speak unkind words against you. They will doubt your heroism. What will be more painful than this?” (2.36)
“If you are killed, you will go to heaven, or if you attain victory, you will enjoy kingship over the earth. Therefore, get up with determination to fight, O son of Kunti!” (2.37)
These are the words which are derived from consideration of consequences. That is because Arjuna himself spoke of the consequences of his actions, and that was the basic argument that as a result of this war, as a result of what I will do, the results will be such and such. Sri Krishna answers the opposite argument, like dialectic: ‘consider ‘these’ consequences!’ It does not mean that Sri Krishna’s teaching is that by seeing the consequences you should act, but this is an argument to meet the argument of Arjuna. ‘If you consider the consequences of action to be your guideline, then consider that as a standard and then consider ‘this’ question, ‘this’ argument, from the point of view of the consequences, ‘this’ will be the consequence, and ‘if consequences are the motive of your action then you should fight’.
It is very important to know that in India, standards of conduct are not uniform for everybody. It is recognised that one who is tamasic must have a standard of conduct of a rajasic. One who is rajasic must have a standard of conduct which is sattwic. One who is sattwic should have a standard of conduct which is triguṇātīta, one who goes beyond all the Gunas.
It is for that reason that Sri Krishna uses this argument in which ‘fruits of action’ are considered to be a motivation for action; not that this is the ultimate teaching of the Gita, but to a person who is considering his duties in the light of consequences of action, for him you should give an ethics, a standard of conduct which is on that line. Ethics, according to Indian knowledge, is a staircase; it is a kind of a help for the individual to rise from the lower levels to higher levels, and as he goes on rising higher and higher, new standards of conduct are proposed.
There is a beautiful story of Sri Ramakrishna: two disciples of Sri Ramakrishna were in a boat, and in this boat there were many people and they were criticising Ramakrishna. They were passing remarks against Sri Ramakrishna and these two disciples were listening to these remarks, and one of them became very angry and shouted against those people; another one said, “don’t, don’t, don’t get excited!” and both of them afterwards reported this to Sri Ramakrishna. He said, “both of you are wrong”. The one who got excited was wrong because he should not have been excited, and one who remained quite quiet was wrong because he should not have remained quiet. The one who was placid, calm, he was tamasic basically: he should be rajasic. One who became rajasic, he had the need to become sattwic.
This is how in India for different individuals, different standards are given, because standards of conduct are only a staircase in which you are led from one to the other. And if you ask the question absolutely, totally, without any kind of ethics at all, no standards of conduct: is there any kind of an action to be done without any standard of conduct at all? And that is the highest answer of Sri Krishna that all is a staircase, but once you want to reach the highest, this is only going higher to higher, from higher to higher, still higher to higher, but if you want the highest then Sri Krishna says:
sarvadharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja ||18.66||
This is the last message in the Gita, at the end: give up all dharmas, there is no staircase then for you. You simply plunge into the Divine and He will lift you up and do whatever is to be done through you; in which case you do not do anything. The whole idea of ‘I am the doer’ itself is wrong; ‘I will do this, this will be the consequence and I will go to heaven, I will go to hell’: this idea, this whole argument is basically unfounded, is not based in truth.
Although in the beginning Sri Krishna tells him the highest truth of the Self which is immutable, and in the light of which this argument will not fit in, this later argument; therefore ‘these will be consequences you fight’, but this argument is valid to the consciousness of Arjuna. And since he is considering his action in the light of consequences, Sri Krishna says that ‘if you look at the consequences, then this will be the consequences, therefore you fight’. But, having said this now, Sri Krishna does not wait for the answer of Arjuna, because He knows that this is a passing argument, it is not the basic argument. Sri Krishna goes forward and continues with the higher level of Knowledge, and then argues from that point of view.
We go forward:
“Having a balanced mind in pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat, you fight in battle for the sake of fighting. By doing so, you shall never incur sin.” (2.38)
Now you see the whole argument has changed: it is not for consequences, not for the sake of enjoyment of the kingdom, nor for enjoyment of the heaven, as he says, ‘if you die in the battle you will go to heaven and enjoy; if you win the battle you will have enjoyment of the kingdom’. This argument is over. Suddenly there is a new turn; this new turn is in consequence of the previous statement of what is the highest knowledge, the Knowledge of the Self, of the immutable. “If you have that Knowledge of the Immutable, then you have balanced mind, both in pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat, you fight in battle for the sake of fighting. By doing so, you shall never incur sin.” ‘If you become completely equal minded, and if you act, then there is no such thing as sin at all.’
This is a very important doctrine: when you are in doubt whether you should act or not, then whatever you do will be alright, in case your consciousness is free from duality. If you have any important question in your mind for which you do not have the answer, and yet you are obliged to act, then, act whatever is your action, provided you keep this ‘sukhaduḥkhe’, whether it is happiness or it is misery, in both the cases you will be equal, then there is no kind of sin incurred.
“O Son of Pritha! This is the wisdom of the Sankhya which I have given you. Now, listen to the wisdom of Yoga endowed with which, you will be free from the bondage of Karma.” (2.39)
This chapter is called ‘Sankhyayoga’, and this particular verse refers to ‘Buddhiyoga’. As Sri Krishna says:
eṣā te ’bhihitā sāṅkhye buddhir yoge tvimāṁ śṛṇu |
buddhyā yukto yayā pārtha karmabandhaṁ prahāsyasi ||2.39||
All that I have told you is of the point of view of the Buddhiyoga of Sankhya. Now I shall tell you about that Buddhiyoga in another context.
What is Sankhya and what is Buddhiyoga is not explained because it is understood that in that time, when Sri Krishna spoke to Arjuna, this was very well known. Therefore it is not expounded here in fullness, although later on something of this will be expounded but immediately, it is not expounded here: therefore, for many people this chapter becomes quite difficult to understand.
In fact, this second chapter is one of the most difficult chapters. Many people believe that Sri Krishna speaks in a self contradictory manner: at one time He says, ‘do not look for the fruits of action’ and yet He Himself says that ‘for the sake of the fruits of action, you fight’ because it is not realised that Sri Krishna is a great teacher, who can deal with a pupil who has himself multiple states of consciousness at the same time. And He gives an answer which is appropriate to different states of consciousness. If it is not realised, if you do not count Sri Krishna as a teacher, who psychologically deals with the problems of the pupil, then it is likely to be misunderstood.
That is why, while you see the argument, you should see the thread of the argument. If you are considering the question from the point of view of the ‘fruits of action’, then it shows that this is the other consequence: ‘you will actually go to heaven or you will enjoy the kingdom, in both the cases the results will be wonderful, therefore you fight!’ This is in opposition to the consequences that Arjuna was seeing earlier. It is a kind of dialectic: if you argue on one plane, you argue on the same plane, and then you cancel the argument of the dialectic. But then, since this is not the ultimate truth, you go higher, and show that there is a higher truth. It is this higher truth, which can be seen by an intellect which is pure.
You cannot know the Self when you are in a state of sorrow, when you are in a state of duality. ‘Whatever knowledge’ Sri Krishna says, ‘I have given you the knowledge of the eternal Self, the knowledge of the immortal Self, knowing which you neither kill nor is anybody killed, that Knowledge is the result of Buddhiyoga’.
What is Buddhiyoga? For that, we must understand something of Sankhya, because it says, ‘what I have told you is Sankhya, what I have given you is Buddhiyoga’.
According to Sankhya there is a distinction between two principles, which are involved in creation: this creation is a play, a play of two elements. One of these elements is immutable, quiet, immobile; the other is mobile. Now, the knowledge of the Self is a knowledge of the immobile. That ‘immobile’ is also more than immobile, but at least it is immobile. The Buddhi which is our highest faculty according to Sankhya, has one special quality: its quality is to discriminate. According to Sankhya our knowledge apparatus consists of three elements: there is manas, there is ahaṁkāra, and there is buddhi.
Manas itself is involved in five senses: pāñca jñānendriya(s). By five senses we take cognition of the whole world. And there are pāñca karmendriya(s). Five senses of knowledge, and there are five senses of action: karmendriyas (hand, speech etc.). It is through ‘senses’ that we come to know; it is through ‘karmendriyas’ that we act, and both of them are controlled by manas. But manas itself is activated by ahankara, by egoism, and beyond egoism there is a fine quality in us, and that is the power of discrimination: that is buddhi.
Buddhi itself is a part of the ‘mobile’ principle; the immobile is different from the mobile. Buddhi does not belong to the immobile, buddhi belongs to the mobile: it is a part of the ‘mobile’ principle which is called prakṛti. The immobile is called the puruṣa. There is a distinction between Purusha and Prakriti and neither manas nor ahankara can make a discrimination between Purusha and Prakriti. It is only Buddhi, which has this special quality. Therefore if you develop your intellect, if you make your intellect very pure, then you will see that this mobility in which we are involved normally is not all: there is something higher than ‘mobility’.
If you see the argument of Arjuna, you will see there is no reference to ‘immobility’ at all. His all argument is based upon action: action–consequences; action–consequences. There is no reference to immobility at all! Therefore, if Arjuna had to find an answer, he could find the answer only with a new element coming into his data: he had no answer because the present data, in which he was working, were the data only of Prakriti: the data of Purusha were not available before him. Sri Krishna says that, ‘unless you develop your Buddhi, and not only you develop it but apply it…Yoga, Buddhiyoga, you apply it in the search of that which lies beyond mobility, in the steadiness of buddhi, and the buddhi is completely stilled, then you will see very clearly, it will reflect very clearly the luminosity of the immobility. Because ‘Immobile’ by nature is luminous, it is prakasha: svayaṁprakāśa. ‘You will see that there, it stands behind you, an ‘Immobile’ Purusha, eternal, infinite, illimitable, unbound, that you will see’. This is what has been said so far.
Sri Krishna says: ‘you apply this Buddhiyoga on another line. What is this? Try to understand what is ‘mobility’: what is Prakriti itself. Just as you distinguish between Purusha and Prakriti, now you see the details of this Prakriti’s movement in connection with work itself. Fighting is an activity, is an act, and your problem is whether you should fight or not, whether you should do it or not: therefore it is a question of Prakriti; so unless you have the full knowledge of Prakriti, how will you decide what you should do?’ This Buddhiyoga is to be applied to action. What is the movement of action: ‘let me explain’, he says, ‘what is action. Apply Buddhiyoga to action, to Prakriti, and then you will come to the same kind of conclusion’.
This is what He expounds:
“In this endeavour, no effort is ever rendered void and no obstacle ever prevails. Even a small measure of this dharma protects a person from a great fear.” (2.40)
This refers to the movement of action. In other words, this particular chapter can be divided into two parts: by Buddhi you can perceive what is Knowledge; by the same buddhi you perceive what is action. By ‘Yoga’, in the Bhagavad Gita, is meant ‘Karmayoga’: now this is also another point which very often is not understood and that is why this chapter remains very ambiguous. In this chapter, the word ‘Yoga’ is used for ‘Karmayoga’. I shall explain to you latter on, in the history of Yoga, how this word came to mean Karmayoga. But at the moment I will just say very briefly, that when the word Yoga is used here, the reference is to Karmayoga. This chapter is actually a chapter on Jnanayoga and Karmayoga, and for both, the instrument is buddhi: buddhi applied to knowledge, buddhi applied to action. First we have said: when buddhi is applied tokKnowledge, what is the knowledge you get? You get the knowledge of the eternal Self. When you apply buddhi to karma, what is the knowledge you will get? This is what is going to be expounded.
But before saying anything, He says that, ‘if you apply this Karmayoga, whatever effort you do, be sure of one thing, that no effort will be wasted, and even a little bit of the effort will protect you from any fear’.
“O Delighter of the Race of Kuru! The intellect that ascertains the nature of the Self is one-pointed, but the thoughts of one who desires the fruits of action are many-branched and endless.” (2.41)
Buddhi, we will see that when it is attached to action, they are multiple branches. This particular perception itself is a starting point of Karmayoga. You must know that Karmayoga is rooted in the process of karma, and karma normally is referred to ‘fruits of action’: this is normal practise. All karma is referred to the fruits of action. And therefore Sri Krishna says that ‘whoever perceives that actions are multi-branched, he becomes involved in the multiple-kbranches, and he does not know how to come out of it’.
“O Son of Partha! Unwise men speak flowery words and are supposedly followers of the Vedas and are devoted to the various fruity activities for devotion to heavenly planets, saying that apart from the ritualistic sacrifice, there is nothing else.” (2.42)
Karmayoga has a long history in India, starting from the Veda. We must know that this Gita is much later than the Veda. From the Vedas came Brahmanas. From Brahmanas came Aranyakas. From Aranyakas came Upanishads. And from Upanishads arose many systems of philosophy. Many ethical systems arose out of this, and when the knowledge of the Veda was quite destroyed, quite forgotten, it was at that time that Sri Krishna revealed, once again, the knowledge contained in the Veda and the Upanishads. This is why this book is called: ‘the digest of the Upanishads’. It is also called that: ‘all that is to be known in the Veda is known through the Bhagavad Gita’. It is a repetition. In fact in the 4th chapter Sri Krishna will tell us, will tell Arjuna: “look, I have told you the knowledge which I have told in early times to vivasvān, and then to manu, and then after it was lost; and I now repeat it and enlighten you with that knowledge”. In order to understand this sentence, on which we are now concentrating, we have to understand what is Veda, and what is the object of the Vedic knowledge, and how now Sri Krishna joins up with this question of the fight in which Arjuna was engaged.
Very briefly, let us see what the teaching of the Veda is. The Vedic teaching was a synthetic teaching, an integral teaching in which the problem was: ‘what are the highest potentialities of human being? What is the highest that is possible for human beings to attain?’ This was the question of the Vedic sages: ‘What is the human being? What are the potentialities of human beings? Can these potentialities be brought to fullness, complete fullness, perfect perfectibility, is it possible?’ And the Vedic Rishis made experiments upon human psychology for thousands of years. And then, they came to the conclusion that human potentialities are of various kinds; that these potentialities can be developed; in the process of development there is a big battle, psychological battle. In these battles, there are heights to be climbed, but at every step you are thrown back by other forces, which do not want you to climb up. This is the experience, which the Vedic Rishis specialised in: what is it that prevents you from climbing? What is it that helps you in climbing? What is the motivation of climbing? Why do you climb?
The answers are that you climb because this world in which you are living is very uncomfortable, this world is incomplete, therefore, both for the sake of perfection and for the sake of arriving at a very comfortable living, happy living, these are the two motivations that impel you to move forward: the sense of ‘misery’ and the sense of ‘imperfection’. These two motives, these two facts motivate you to move forward and upward.
In this movement, there is a stage where you strive to attain higher and higher results. And as you climb, when the results are obtained you have the tendency to enjoy them: ‘fruits of action’ are enjoyed, and when you start enjoying, then the effort that you have to make forward is diminished; you become absorbed in enjoyment and when you are climbing now the climbing becomes steady and you don’t climb further. But then imperfection again besieges you; again you have to climb upwards. Then you are asked to offer your enjoyments, sacrifice your enjoyments and then you make a further effort and you move upward. Once again you begin to derive the fruits of action; at a higher level again you enjoy and again you remain stuck there. All these processes they went forward and they reached the peaks, highest peaks possible, then they came to these three conclusions:
One is, ‘you should always climb’: ‘climbing’ became the basic word of the Veda. That is why they said that, ‘everyone who climbs is Arya’: the very word arya is: ‘urge to climb, one who climbs, one who toils’. So, every human being in the world is destined to climb, even if he does not want to climb, ultimately he will climb because of discomfort and because of imperfection. He is bound to climb. The first thing is that ‘everyone must climb’. In the process of climbing, there are helpers and there are enemies. The enemies are of various kinds: there are Rakshasas, there are Pishachas, there are Vritras, all kinds of blind and wicked forces are there in the world.
These are psychological experiences, not a theory, not a dogma: anybody who tries to climb will find the presence of these forces, anybody who tries. You may give different names, you may not name them Rakshasas and Pishachas, any name you give, you can give another name, but you are bound to come across these forces.
If Othello and Desdemona are in full love of each other, it is bound to appear Iago, even come up suddenly and try to break this great harmony and great love. If Rama and Sita are living a life of great harmony and joy, then Ravana must come into the picture and destroy it: this is the experience; it is only a description of what is happening in the world.
Then, they found that there are also at the same time helpful forces; there are many forces of this kind and they gave the description of these forces and gave even names, such names which are descriptive of those functions. There is Agni, there is Indra, there is Vayu, there is Surya, there is Usha, there are many other goddesses, like Bharati, Saraswati, Daksha, Ila, Sarama, and many other gods like Varuna, Pushan and then Aryaman and Bhaga and so many others: these are all helpful, and each one has a department as it were. If you want to develop your illumination, go to Indra; if you want love in the world, you have Mitra; if you want wideness, you go to Varuna: each one has its own department, this was the great discovery of the Vedic Rishis. They discovered that there are such beings as such helpers that are available. Again it is not a dogma, it is not a belief: you make an experiment, you try to climb and you will find that at certain stages these gods are available to you; they will come to help you.
Then there is a relationship between you and the gods, which will also be established. Whenever you approach God, you first of all give up all that you have so far, and then the god will fill you again with what he has. Your giving is called ‘sacrifice’. What is called yajña is nothing but you’re giving up to the God and then the God fills you, he gives the rewards, they are the ‘fruits’ of your sacrifice. In the intermediate stage, you will become extremely happy: you sacrifice, you get the reward and then you enjoy them; then you stop climbing for some time, you remain stuck up there. Then again you find that this is not enough and again you climb, again you sacrifice what you already have, other gods come, and they help you again and move forward, until you reach a stage where there is nothing to be attained at all, because all that is there is eternally present. You attain to that ‘Reality’, which is Immutable, which is the Highest, which is the Supreme, which is Wonderful. To attain to the highest Reality, and to have constant relationship with him and to be able to act in that state, this was called śreṣtā in the Veda: he is the highest. Those who have attained the highest, perfected themselves completely.
This was the teaching of the Veda in which there were three parts. You attain to the Knowledge of the Supreme; you offer yourself to the Supreme by upāsanā, by devotion; and you begin to act with the help of the Supreme, like the Supreme, you become an instrument of the Supreme. You become the Knower of the Highest, the Lover of the Highest, and the Instrument of the Highest. This was the basic teaching of the Veda. And, in the details of these teachings there is also the knowledge of human psychology, psychology of the hostile forces, psychology of the divine forces, god, goddesses and so on, a very vast psychological complex system that we get in the Veda.
What happened historically was that human beings normally do not grasp the highest: this is the limitation of human beings. Whenever a given teaching is given, even if the highest is given, everyone takes out of the teaching whatever is suitable to oneself. Since human beings normally act and enjoy the fruits of action, this aspect of acting and enjoying the fruits of action become the most important element.
And then came along a long tradition in India, that Veda is nothing but a book of sacrifices and enjoyment of the fruits of action: the boons of the gods. Sacrifice also came to be ritualised. How do you sacrifice? You have a symbolic fire, in which you offer yourself: actually, true sacrifice is that you offer yourself, but instead of that now we sacrifice only a few things, symbolically. It came to be believed that if you do even ritualistic sacrifice, which are saṅkalpa, with a certain wish, then gods will be pleased with you, and gods will give you the results: this came to be called karmakāṇḍa. And then in the tradition it came to be believed that Veda is nothing but karmakāṇḍa: other aspects of the Veda were forgotten.
Then, in due course some sages found out that Veda is not all this karmakāṇḍa at all. There is so much knowledge! So, they discovered the knowledge of the Veda and that knowledge discovered from the Veda is ‘Upanishads’. Therefore Upanishads are called jñānakāṇḍa, and there came about a conflict in Indian history between Jnanakandis and Karmakandis, both claiming that they are teaching better: both are right. But they did not know that they are right only ‘partially’: both elements are present and basically those who are doing sacrifices are those who get stuck at a lower level and that they are not trying to see something farther than what the sacrifices can give you. These people who are stuck in karmakāṇḍa, they developed a philosophy and they said that human beings must constantly desire, because by desire you are led to sacrifice, and by sacrifice you get the rewards and you enjoy the rewards. According to this philosophy human beings must desire. Then as a result of desiring they should strive to get the fruits of action and enjoy the fruits of action. And in order to enjoy higher and higher fruits of action you go on doing more and more sacrifices and try to get better and better fruits of action. This philosophy became so powerful that people began to believe that Veda is nothing but a science of desire and attainment of the fruits of action.
In the time when Arjuna was asking this question, at that time Veda was known for this aspect. Since, according to this philosophy, Veda deals with karma, and now Sri Krishna is going to explain what is karma from the point of view of Buddhiyoga, He refers to Veda, He refers to karmakāṇḍa, and He says that “those people who are vedavādaratāḥ, (2.42), who are engaged in the vedavāda, they only talk of ‘action’ and ‘fruits of action’, and I will now teach you by Buddhiyoga that ‘this’ is an imperfect teaching, and this is not the true teaching of Karma. I will now teach you what is real karma”.
We will proceed further:
“O son of Pritha! Unwise men speak flowery words and are supposedly followers of the Vedas and are devoted to the various fruity activities for devotion so they can reach heavenly planes, saying that apart from the ritualistic sacrifice, there is nothing else.” (2.42)
“Indulge in desires, considering heaven the highest goal, they engage themselves in Karmas only for the sake of prosperity and enjoyment. Thus they create a Karmic basis for future embodiments.” (2.43)
“Attached to sense enjoyment and material opulence, with intellect deprived of discriminative power, they are bewildered by such things and are unable to develop that one–pointed intellect which leads to samadhi and super consciousness.” (2.44)
“The Karma portion of the Vedas deals only with three Gunas. Therefore, you become transcendental of these three Gunas.” (That is the lower portion of the Vedic teaching and you should not get stuck there)…“Be free from all dualities. Abide by the eternal Sattwa and having established yourself in the Self, rise above Yoga and Ksema.” (2.45)
I think we shall stop here because a new subject starts. It is a detail of this Karma: what is Karma, what is desire, and how by Buddhiyoga you can understand the entire process of Karma and arrive at the right perception of Karma, so you can do action rightly?