Krishna instructs on the real meaning of a Peaceful Warrior
How to overcome your deepest fears.
How to find your true passion
How to overcome your past
And so much more…
An online translation of the Bhagavad Gita, the Divine Song
by Shanti Gowans
This is a synopsis and introduction to the 18 chapters which follow.
The translator, Shanti Gowans, says, “I have aimed to deliver a rational and thorough rendition of the philosophy regarding the caste system, three kinds of gunas (qualities), illusion, real, unreal, faith (shraddha) and so on. Thus, this presentation is at the higher levels of intellectual planes. It may take time to appreciate its value, but please spend the necessary time and slowly you will view the day-to-day happenings in your life differently and most importantly, think and behave appropriately.”
Note from the Translator, Shanti Gowans
My morning readings are from the Bhagavad Gita,
The Gita is:-
- Brahmavidya (knowledge of the Absolute)
- and Yogashastra (the science of Yoga).
The Brahmavidya part tends towards abstract metaphysics, as it should. I have interpreted it from the Advaita Vedanta (non-dualist) perspective, the school of philosophy to which I belong, and draw upon knowledge from sources such as the Upanishads, to provide discussion of the philosophy contained in the Divine Song.
As Yogashastra, the Gita is a book that teaches us how to live and work in this world. This is the part where the Gita really scores. The Karma Yoga verses (Chapters 2-6) are appealing and useful to modern, practical human beings.
There is endless wisdom and inspiration in the Gita. You can read it straight through as a magnificent story filled with great teaching, or simply open to any page at random, and ponder the words applying them to your life experience. I have several different translations of the Gita, with and without commentary, by the following writers, and each one is a gem in its own way:
- Edwin Arnold
- Sri Aurobindo
- Annie Besant
- Swami Chidbhavananda
- Swami Chinmayananda
- Eknath Easwaran
- Swami Gambhirananda (Sankara’s commentary)
- Mahatma Gandhi
- Barbara Stoler Miller
- Swami Nikhilananda
- Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood
- A. C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada
- S. Radhakrishnan
- Winthrop Sargeant
- Alladi Mahadeva Sastry (Sankara’s commentary)
- Swami Swarupananda
- B.G. Tilak
- Paramahamsa Yogananda
So here is the caveat: this book is more suited to someone who wants to think over the Life principles as outlined in Gita, understand them by using their own life circumstances, and start applying them gradually. As the Gita says: “It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection”. However, if you are looking for a literal Gita translation interspersed with some explanations, please look somewhere else.This is more than a book, more than the writing of a mortal human being. It is divine revelation, filled with the thoughts of a vast, illumined being, narrated as the original conversation with god, and the rearing of the peaceful warrior within us all, to undertake the spiritual journey, which is the central expedition of life. Here, it is as if the Empire speaks to us, from the voice of old intelligence, which, in another age, culture and climate, pondering nothing small or unworthy, reflects that which is large, serene and consistent; that raises and sustains us, transporting us into loftier, purer and more rarefied regions of thought, to liberate us into its large-hearted vision of the world.
Through its reading, we hear the voice of what is absolutely genuine …truths that we already, though imperfectly, know …truths that are vital for us all. Through the Gita’s wisdom, like looking into in a clean mirror, we recognise and find ourselves. As with all spiritual practice, the struggle is against greed, hatred and ignorance, the conflict between of good and evil, re-interpreted as ‘feel good’, pleasant, pleasureable, sensuous, and the ingrained selfishness that coveres our natural luminosity. The battle for authenticity is the life and death of the soul.
Is not the setting
of a thrilling, dramatic immediacy to a poem of life,
from begining to end, didactic?
Here we are not reclining at our ease,
philosophising about ultimate matters,
abstracted from time and space.
Here we can survey the ranks of combatants,
waiting with the adrenaline rush before combat,
keying up their courage,
drawing their bows,
glaring across the battlelines.
The sounding of Bhisma’s conch
is to cheer Duryodhana up,
but it is also like the first bullet shot in modern warfare.
We hear the din of the conch horns,
the neighing of horses,
the thunder of their hooves,
the noise and the shouting of the captains.
Can war be “just?”
During this time,
even the slightest clarity or opening of the heart
is a major triumph,
the metaphor of victory and defeat,
of conquering our enemies and overcoming fierce obstacles.
Then, everything is still.
The armies are halted in their tracks.
Even the flies are caught midair, between two wing beats.
The vast, moving picture of reality stops
while we confront our overwhelm,
attachment, dread and sentimentality,
to start learning about life and deathliness,
duty, nonattachment, the Self, love, spiritual practice
and the inconceivable depths of Reality.
Who else drives us into the open spaces
between apparently opposing armies,
about to engage in a devastating battle,
in the midst of the battlefield,
at the beginning of a war,
but God incarnate?
From a clearer perspective,
not only is there nothing to overcome,
there is no one in particular to overcome it.
Metaphors for struggle
make the phantom dramas of the mind more solid,
thus perpetuating the struggle.
Even the highest spiritual warfare
is one of the ego’s self-aggrandising dreams.
After a while
all the struggle drops away naturally.
The spiritually mature human being
lets all things come and go,
withour desire for any foreseen result,
carried along on the current of a vast intelligence.
No fixed statements of the truth can apply to all circumstances.
The idea that there is a goal is wrong.
We are the goal.
The primary question is: How should we live?
The wonderous dialogue
is really a monologue,
the song of god,
one verse – here one is not a numerical number,
but all there is, was and will be,
which keeps us dazzled
and asking for more.
The Bhagavad- Gita is considered by both eastern and western scholars to be among the greatest spiritual books the world has ever known. It is essentially about the spiritual foundation for human existence, with a call of action to meet the obligations and duties of life, yet keeping in view the spiritual nature and grander purpose of the universe by integrating theism and transcendentalism or spiritual monism, and identifying a god of personal characteristics (Krishna) with the Brahman of the Vedic tradition (the Presence, your god-space).
Delivered as a mystical poem about life, death, love and duty from the people who settled in the river valleys in southern Asia and developed a sophisticated culture eons ago. In terms of pure, spiritual knowledge the Bhagavad Gita is incomparable. Its intrinsic beauty is that its knowledge applies to all human beings and does not postulate any sectarian idealogy or secular view. It is appproachable from the sanctified realms of all religions and is glorified as the epitome of all spiritual teachings.
This is because proficiency in the Bhagavad Gita reveals the eternal principles which are fundamental and essential for spiritual life from all perspectives and allows one to perfectly understand the esoteric truths hidden within all religious scriptures.
Contemplate and deliberate upon its timeless message. The primary purpose of the Bhagavad Gita is to illuminate for all of human beings the realisation of the true nature of divinity at its highest spiritual conception, and that the greatest material and spiritual perfection is to attain freedom.
Setting and Authorship
Setting and Authorship
The Bhagavad Gita comprises 18 chapters in the Bhishma Parva of the epic, Mahabharata and consists of 700 verses in Sanskrit. The verses themselves, composed with similes and metaphors, are poetic in nature, and generally employ the range and style of the Sanskrit Anustubh meter (chhandas), with a few expressive verses the Tristubh meter also used. Each chapter is named as a particular form of yoga, which trains the body and the mind.The epic Mahabharata is traditionally ascribed to the Sage Vyasa; the Bhagavad Gita, being a part of the Mahabharata’s Bhishma Parva, is also ascribed to him. It is the longest Sanskrit epic, and consists of about 200,000 verses or 1.8 million words, which is about ten times the length of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey combined.
The Bhagavad Gita was exposed to the world through Sanjaya, who senses and cognises all the events of the battlefield. Sanjaya is advisor and also also the charioteer to the blind king, Dhritarashtra. It explores the issues of character, love, sacrifice, jealousy, hierarchy, loyalty, corruption, war, crime and punishment with India’s legendary warrior, Krishna. The greatest aspect of this is the relevance of this teaching. The lesson learnt are timeless and can be applied to all situations in life, at all points of time.
The Gita begins before the start of the climactic Kurukshetra War. It is set in a narrative framework of a dialogue between the Pandava prince Arjuna, and his friend, guide and charioteer, Krishna.
Facing the duty as a warrior to fight the dharma yudhha or righteous war between Pandavas and Kauravas, Arjuna is filled with doubts on the battlefield. Realising that his enemies are his own relatives, beloved friends, and revered teachers, he turns to Krishna, for advice. Responding to Arjuna’s confusion and moral dilemma, in a very clear and wonderful way, Krishna explains to Arjuna his duties as a warrior and prince, to “fulfill his Kshatriya (warrior) chivalry as a warrior and establish dharma”, elaborating on a variety of philosophical concepts including the diverging attitudes concerning methods toward the attainment of liberation (moksha).
The Bhagavad Gita presents a synthesis of the concept of dharma (purpose), theistic bhakti (devotion), the yogic ideals of freedom through wisdom (jnana), devotion (bhakti), action (karma), Raja Yoga and Samkhya philosophy..
Krishna describes the science of self-realisation and the exact process by which a human being can establish their eternal relationship with their deeper nature, their ultimate truth or godspace.
- Arjuna, one of the Pandavas. He represents the individual personality or egoic being.
- Krishna, Arjuna’s charioteer and guru. He represents the ultimate truth within all beings.
- Sanjaya, counsellor of the blind Kuru king, Dhritarashtra.
- Dhritarashtra, Kuru king. He represents the blind/conditioned mind.
OVERVIEW OF CHAPTERS
PART 1: KNOWING THE DEEP, TRUE SELF WITHIN AND SELFLESS ACTION
Chapters 1 to 6
1. Arjuna’s Despondency, Despair, Grief, Rejection – Arjuna Visada Yogam
Chapter one introduces the scene, the setting, the circumstances and the characters involved determining the reasons for the Bhagavad-Gita’s revelation.
The scene is the sacred plain of Kuruksetra. The setting is a battlefield. The circumstance is war, not withdrawing from life to meditate in some far-off cave, but how to live a more spiritual life today – more purposeful and fulfilling even while staying fully active in the world. The main characters are the Krishna and Prince Arjuna, witnessed by four million soldiers led by their respective military commanders. This chapter is about the philosophical dilemma faced by Arjuna.
The year is 3141BCE. Arjuna an esteemed warrior-prince, at the height of his powers, the greatest man of action of his time, is readying to go into battle. It is a righteous fight to regain a kingdom rightfully his. All his life he has been a courageous, successful achiever, renowned for prowess in combat. The chariot driver, Arjuna’s best friend from boyhood is Krishna, an avatar, an incarnation of divinity on earth.
Arjuna has requested Krishna to move his chariot between the two armies. After naming the principal warriors on both sides, Arjuna’s growing distress and dejection is described. It is an epic scene: two lone figures parked between the legions of good and evil; masses of soldiers, tents, cooking fires, neighing horses, banners flapping in the early-afternoon breeze, the bustle, noises, and smells of pre-battle fill the air. Arjuna’s eyes scan the opposing forces, pausing on former friends, revered uncles, teachers who taught him his warrior skills, all bravely making ready for the mutual slaughter. Because of the fear of losing friends and relatives in the course of the impending war and the subsequent repercussions and consequences attached to such actions, an off thing happens…his hands begin to shake, breathing unevenly, her slumps down and addresses Krishna…
This chapter, Arjuna Visada Yogam, The anguish of Arjuna comprises 46 verses.
2. The Path of Self Knowledge, Sankhya Yoga
Filled with lamentation, grief, and despair, Arjuna seeks help from Krishna, his deeper being. This chapter is often considered the summary to the entire Bhagavad Gita. Arjuna is instructed into various subjects such as, karma yoga, jnana yoga, sankhya yoga, buddhi yoga and the reality of immortal, eternal nature of the presence (atma), existing within all living entities.
This chapter, Sankha Yoga, The Book of Doctrines is comprised of 72 verses. (Sankhya here refers to one of six orthodox schools of Vedic Philosophy).
3. The Path of Action, Karma Yoga
Chapter three establishes the fact by various points of view that the performance of prescribed duties is obligatory for everyone. Here Krishna categorically and comprehensively explains how it is the duty of each and every member of society to carry out their functions and responsibilities in their respective stage of life according to the rules and regulations of the society in which they live. Krishna also explains why such duties must be performed, what benefit is gained by performing them, what harm is caused by not performing them, together with the actions that lead to bondage and those that lead to freedom. Performance of prescribed eternal duties of human beings but without attachment to results is the appropriate course of action for Arjuna – and indeed for all of us.
This chapter, Karma Yoga, Virtue in Work or Virtue of Actions comprises 43 verses.
4. The Path of Wisdom: Ending action in knowledge, Jnana Yoga
In chapter four, Krishna reveals the reason and nature of His descent into the material worlds. He tells that he has lived through many births, always teaching yoga for the protection of the pious and the destruction of the impious, and stresses the importance of accepting a guru, as spiritual knowledge is received by disciplic succession Here Krishna also explains the paths of action (karma) and knowledge (jnana) as well as the wisdom regarding the supreme knowledge, approaching the Ultimate Truth, which results at the culmination of the two paths,
This chapter, Jnana Yoga, the path of wisdom that approaches the ultimate Truth is comprised of 42 verses.
5. The Path of True Renunciation, Karma Sanyasa Yoga
Arjuna asks Krishna if it is better to forgo action or to act (“renunciation or discipline of action”). Krishna answers that both are ways to the same goal, but that acting in Karma yoga (by renouncing the fruits of works) is superior.
In chapter five Krishna delineates the concepts of action with detachment and renunciation in actions explaining that both are a means to the same goal. Here he explains how freedom is attained by the pursuance of these paths.
This chapter, Karma Sanyasa Yoga, Action and Renunciation in contemplating the goal, is comprised of 29 verses.
6. The Path of Meditation: Self Control, Dhyana Yoga or Atmasanyam Yoga
In chapter six, Krishna reveals the science of Self-Realisation, through astangayoga, and the exact process of this yoga practice. He further elucidates in detail the difficulties of taming mind and the senses, and the practices by which one may gain mastery of their mind through yoga which reveals the spiritual nature of a living entity.
This chapter, Dhyan yoga or Atmasanyam yoga, The Yoga of Self-Restraint, is comprised of 47 verses.
PART 2: THE VERY NATURE OF GOD
Chapters 7 to 12
7. The Path of Wisdom and Realisation, Jnana–Vijnana Yoga
In chapter seven, Krishna describes the attainment of both knowing and experiencing absolute reality, the opulence of divinity and its illusory energy in the material existence, called Maya and declares how extremely difficult it is to surmount it. He also describes the four profiles of people attracted to divinity and the four who are opposed to it. He also reveals that the Ultimate Truth arises from discernment in spiritual intelligence that takes exclusive refuge in it without reservation in devotional service. It centres mostly on divine knowledge, the supremacy of the god-space, the creation that arises from this and other attributes. Removing darkness with light, is the metaphor for removing ignorance with knowledge. You know your true identity when you connect with your own inner being and gain deeper and deeper, divine knowledge, as outlined in the Vedic Sciences. Only then can you refine your thought process and create a personality full of positive feelings.
This chapter, Gyaana–ViGyaana, The Yoga of Discernment is comprised of 30 verses.
8. The Path of Absolute Freedom: Knowledge of the Eternal, imperishable Brahman, Akshara Brahma Yoga
In chapter eight, Krishna emphasises the science of yoga. Feelings arise from action. If you perform good deeds, obviously you will derive inner joy. This is another way of defining Karma yoga: where actions are inspired by positive thoughts and vice versa. It then becomes a vicious cycle on the Yogic path.
This chapter contains eschatology of the Bhagavad Gita. Revealing that one attains whatever one remembers at the end of one’s life, Krishna emphasises the utmost importance of the very last thought at the moment of death. He also provides information on the creation of the material worlds as well as establishing a distinction between them and the spiritual world. Here he explains the light and dark paths that a soul takes after death, in regards to leaving this material existence, the destination to which they each lead to and the reward received by each.
This chapter, Aksara–Brahma Yoga, the Yoga of Absolute Freedom is comprised of 28 verses.
9. The Royal and Secret Path, Confidential of Life, Raja Vidya Raja Guhya Yoga
In chapter nine, Krishna reveals the sovereign science and the sovereign secret. He explains how the entire material existence is created, pervaded, maintained and annihilated by an eternal energy and all beings come and go under its supervision. The subject matters covered subsequently are primarily concerned with devotional service and Krishna declares that these subject matters are most confidential, hence this chapter is about confidential knowledge of the Ultimate Truth.
This chapter, Raja–Vidya–Raja–Guhya yoga. The Royal Knowledge and the Royal Mystery is comprised of 34 verses.
10. The Path of Divine Manifestation, Vibhuti Vistara Yoga
Chapter ten reveals the infinite glories of the Ultimate Truth: Krishna’s exalted position as the ultimate cause of all material and spiritual existence and also specifys his special manifestations and opulences. Arjuna accepts Krishna as the Supreme Being, quoting great sages who have also done so.
This chapter, Vibhuti–Vistara–Yoga, the Yoga of Divine Perfections is comprised of 42 verses:
11. The Path of Vision: The Cosmic-Form Divine, Visvarupa Darsana Yoga
In chapter eleven Krishna is beseeched by Arjuna to reveal a vision of His universal form, the cosmic-form divine. On Arjuna’s request, Krishna displays his “universal form” (Viśvarūpa), showing all existence, a theophany of a being facing every way and emitting the radiance of a thousand suns, containing all other beings and material in existence.
This chapter, Visvarupa–Darsana Yoga, the Manifesting of the One and Manifold is comprised of 55 verses.
12. The Path of Devotion, Bhakti Yoga
In chapter twelve, Krishna glorifies the path of devotion to God. Along with this he describes the process of devotional service, and also explains the different forms of spiritual disciplines and discusses the profiles and qualities of devotees who by performing their activities in this way become very dear to Him.
This chapter, Bhakti yoga, the Path of Devotion, is comprised of 20 verses
PART 3: ATTAINING LIBERATION NOW
Chapters 13 to 18
PART 3: ATTAINING LIBERATION NOW
13. The Path of Discrimination between the Field and its Knower, Kshetra Kshetrajna Vibhaga Yoga
In chapter thirteen Krishna reveals the distinct difference between matter and spirit. He explains that the physical is transient and perishable whereas the soul is immutable and eternal. Krishna also gives precise knowledge about individual consciousness and universal consciousness.
This chapter, Ksetra–Ksetrajna Vibhaga yoga, the separation of Matter and Spirit, is comprised of 35 verses
14. The Path of profound Knowledge of the Three Qualities of Material Nature, Gunatraya Vibhaga Yoga
In chapter fourteen Krishna explains the three qualities of material nature, pertaining to goodness, passsion and nescience which influence everything in material existence. He gives pertinent details on the essential characteristics of each individually, their cause, the level of their potency, how a living entity affected by them is influened, as well as the signs of one who has risen above them. Here he clearly advises to relinquish oneself from ignorance and passion and adopt the path of goodness, until aquiring the ability to transcend them.
This chapter, Gunatraya–Vibhaga yoga, going beyond the three forces of nature, is comprised of 27 verses
15. The Path of Supreme Being, Purushottama Yoga
In chapter fifteen, Krishna identifies virtues, glories and divine transcendental characteristics such as, omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence of the Ultimate Being.. He also explains the pupose, value and the means of God-realisation. Krishna also describes a symbolic tree (representing material existence), which has its roots in the heavens and its foliage on earth. Krishna explains that this tree should be felled with the “axe of detachment”, after which one can go beyond, to the supreme abode or the ultimate truth..
This chapter, Purushottama yoga, Attaining the Supreme, is comprised of 20 verses.
16. The Path of Two Destinies: Sages and of the Ignorant, Daiva-asura Sampad Vibhaga Yoga
In chapter sixteen Krishna identifies explicitly, explaining seperately and in detail the the human traits of the divine and the demonic natures. He advises divine properties, conduct and actions which are righteous in nature and conducive to divinity. Also he delineates the evil propensities and ill conduct which are unrighteous in nature and which determine the unrighteous and which are antagonistic to divinity and thus counsels that to attain the supreme destination one must give up lust, anger, greed, and discern between right and wrong action by discernment through wisdom, (buddhi) and evidence from the scriptures.
This chapter, Daivasura–Sampad–Vibhaga yoga, the separateness of the Divine and Undivine is comprised of 24 verses
17. Three modes of Conviction, Sraddha Traya Vibhaga Yoga
In chapter seventeen Krishna qualifies the threefold path of faith, thought and deed, revealing that these different qualities of faith in the Supreme determine the character of living entities. These three types of faith determine one’s consciousness in this world, and even eating habits corresponding to the three modes (gunas).. Thus this chapter is entitled: The Threefold Divisions of Material Existence.
This chapter, Sraddhatraya-Vibhaga yoga the Threefold Divisions of Material Existence is comprised of 28 verses.
18. The Path of Liberation and the Final Revelation of the Ultimate Truth, renunciation, Moksha Sanyasa Yoga
In chapter eighteen Krishna comes to the final revelation of the ultiate truth. Summing up conclusions of the previous seventeen chapters, he describes the attainment of freedom by the paths of selfless action, karma in chapters one through six, knowing in the jnana yoga section, chapters seven to twelve, and loving in chapters thirteen through eighteen where Krishna explains that while doing so one must liberate everything without reservation. The knowledge revealed gets progressively more and more confidential than in all the previous chapters, as Krishna asks Arjuna to abandon all forms of dharma and simply surrender into the god-space and describes this as the ultimate perfection of life, freedom through renunciation.
This chapter, Moksha Sanyasa yoga, Deliverance and Renunciation is comprised of 78 verses.