16 From the Hindu Bhagavad Gita
“When doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and I see not one ray of hope on the horizon, I turn to Bhagavad-Gita and find a verse to comfort me; and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. Those who meditate on the Gita will derive fresh joy and new meanings from it every day.” Mahatma Gandhi
You might find it helpful to listen to (or read, there is a transcript) this broadcast from OnBeing, a radio program that looks at spirituality, wisdom and faith traditions.
The Heart’s Reason: Hinduism and Science with Varadaraja V. Raman in order to have some context for this ancient and much loved, in Hindu tradition, piece of writing.
Excerpts from The
(From the Mahabharata)
Being a Discourse Between Arjuna,
Prince of India, and the Supreme Being
Under the Form of Krishna
Arjuna, a Prince, is preparing for the battle at Kurukshetra (in today’s northern India). Krishna (in Hindu belief an incarnation of the divine) becomes Arjuna’s charioteer.
As the war begins ,Arjuna realizes that it will be friends and relatives opposing him. Krishna obeys Arjuna and drives the chariot in between the two forces. At this point, Arjuna cannot go on. With his mind reeling, he foresees the death of people who are dear to him–some are teachers, or relatives and even his friends. Arjuna decides he will not participate in this battle. He will not fight if the battle requires him to fight against people he loves.
All of those events occur, however, before Arjuna realizes the true nature of his charioteer.
Once Krishna has shown Arjuna his four-armed and universal forms, Arjuna is stunned. Far more than just a a man of some reasonable knowledge and wisdom, Krishna is all-powerful. He is the Supreme Being whom Arjuna should worship. All of this fundamentally changes Arjuna’s perspective–he wants to know what to do, and Krishna proceeds to tell him. Krishna presents three main concepts — renunciation, selfless service, and meditation.
Initially, Arjuna thought it would be sinful to battle his friends, teachers and relatives. After conversing with Krishna, Arjuna realizes that Krishna would not encourage him to fight if engaging in this battle would result in sinful actions. It is his duty to fight, and he is reminded that service to the divine will result in good karma, in progress towards union with the divine.
Ranged thus for battle on the sacred plain–
On Kurukshetra–say, Sanjaya! say
What wrought my people, and the Pandavas?
When he beheld the host of Pandavas,
Raja Duryodhana to Drona drew,
And spake these words: “Ah, Guru! see this line,
How vast it is of Pandu fighting-men,
Embattled by the son of Drupada,
Thy scholar in the war! Therein stand ranked
Chiefs like Arjuna, like to Bhima chiefs,
Benders of bows; Virata, Yuyudhan,
Drupada, eminent upon his car,
Dhrishtaket, Chekitan, Kasi’s stout lord,
Purujit, Kuntibhoj, and Saivya,
With Yudhamanyu, and Uttamauj
Subhadra’s child; and Drupadi’s;-all famed!
All mounted on their shining chariots!
On our side, too,–thou best of Brahmans! see
Excellent chiefs, commanders of my line,
Whose names I joy to count: thyself the first,
Then Bhishma, Karna, Kripa fierce in fight,
Vikarna, Aswatthaman; next to these
Strong Saumadatti, with full many more
Valiant and tried, ready this day to die
For me their king, each with his weapon grasped,
Each skilful in the field. Weakest-meseems-
Our battle shows where Bhishma holds command,
And Bhima, fronting him, something too strong!
Have care our captains nigh to Bhishma’s ranks
Prepare what help they may! Now, blow my shell!”
Then, at the signal of the aged king,
With blare to wake the blood, rolling around
Like to a lion’s roar, the trumpeter
Blew the great Conch; and, at the noise of it,
Trumpets and drums, cymbals and gongs and horns
Burst into sudden clamour; as the blasts
Of loosened tempest, such the tumult seemed!
Then might be seen, upon their car of gold
Yoked with white steeds, blowing their battle-shells,
Krishna the God, Arjuna at his side:
Krishna, with knotted locks, blew his great conch
Carved of the “Giant’s bone;” Arjuna blew
Indra’s loud gift; Bhima the terrible–
Wolf-bellied Bhima-blew a long reed-conch;
And Yudhisthira, Kunti’s blameless son,
Winded a mighty shell, “Victory’s Voice;”
And Nakula blew shrill upon his conch
Named the “Sweet-sounding,” Sahadev on his
Called”Gem-bedecked,” and Kasi’s Prince on his.
Sikhandi on his car, Dhrishtadyumn,
Virata, Satyaki the Unsubdued,
Drupada, with his sons, (O Lord of Earth!)
Long-armed Subhadra’s children, all blew loud,
So that the clangour shook their foemen’s hearts,
With quaking earth and thundering heav’n.
Beholding Dhritirashtra’s battle set,
Weapons unsheathing, bows drawn forth, the war
Instant to break-Arjun, whose ensign-badge
Was Hanuman the monkey, spake this thing
To Krishna the Divine, his charioteer:
“Drive, Dauntless One! to yonder open ground
Betwixt the armies; I would see more nigh
These who will fight with us, those we must slay
To-day, in war’s arbitrament; for, sure,
On bloodshed all are bent who throng this plain,
Obeying Dhritirashtra’s sinful son.”
Thus, by Arjuna prayed, (O Bharata!)
Between the hosts that heavenly Charioteer
Drove the bright car, reining its milk-white steeds
Where Bhishma led,and Drona,and their Lords.
“See!” spake he to Arjuna, “where they stand,
Thy kindred of the Kurus:” and the Prince
Marked on each hand the kinsmen of his house,
Grandsires and sires, uncles and brothers and sons,
Cousins and sons-in-law and nephews, mixed
With friends and honoured elders; some this side,
Some that side ranged: and, seeing those opposed,
Such kith grown enemies-Arjuna’s heart
Melted with pity, while he uttered this:
Krishna! as I behold, come here to shed
Their common blood, yon concourse of our kin,
My members fail, my tongue dries in my mouth,
A shudder thrills my body, and my hair
Bristles with horror; from my weak hand slips
Gandiv, the goodly bow; a fever burns
My skin to parching; hardly may I stand;
The life within me seems to swim and faint;
Nothing do I foresee save woe and wail!
It is not good, O Keshav! nought of good
Can spring from mutual slaughter! Lo, I hate
Triumph and domination, wealth and ease,
Thus sadly won! Aho! what victory
Can bring delight, Govinda! what rich spoils
Could profit; what rule recompense; what span
Of life itself seem sweet, bought with such blood?
Seeing that these stand here, ready to die,
For whose sake life was fair, and pleasure pleased,
And power grew precious:-grandsires, sires, and sons,
Brothers, and fathers-in-law, and sons-in-law,
Elders and friends! Shall I deal death on these
Even though they seek to slay us? Not one blow,
O Madhusudan! will I strike to gain
The rule of all Three Worlds; then, how much less
To seize an earthly kingdom! Killing these
Must breed but anguish, Krishna! If they be
Guilty, we shall grow guilty by their deaths;
Their sins will light on us, if we shall slay
Those sons of Dhritirashtra, and our kin;
What peace could come of that, O Madhava?
For if indeed, blinded by lust and wrath,
These cannot see, or will not see, the sin
Of kingly lines o’erthrown and kinsmen slain,
How should not we, who see, shun such a crime–
We who perceive the guilt and feel the shame–
O thou Delight of Men, Janardana?
By overthrow of houses perisheth
Their sweet continuous household piety,
And-rites neglected, piety extinct–
Enters impiety upon that home;
Its women grow unwomaned, whence there spring
Mad passions, and the mingling-up of castes,
Sending a Hell-ward road that family,
And whoso wrought its doom by wicked wrath.
Nay, and the souls of honoured ancestors
Fall from their place of peace, being bereft
Of funeral-cakes and the wan death-water.
So teach our holy hymns. Thus, if we slay
Kinsfolk and friends for love of earthly power,
Ahovat! what an evil fault it were!
Better I deem it, if my kinsmen strike,
To face them weaponless, and bare my breast
To shaft and spear, than answer blow with blow.
So speaking, in the face of those two hosts,
Arjuna sank upon his chariot-seat,
And let fall bow and arrows, sick at heart.
HERE ENDETH CHAPTER I. OF THE BHAGAVAD-GITA,
Or “The Book of the Distress of Arjuna.”
Men call the Aswattha,–the Banyan-tree,–
Which hath its boughs beneath, its roots above,–
The ever-holy tree. Yea! for its leaves
Are green and waving hymns which whisper Truth!
Who knows the Aswattha, knows Veds, and all.
Its branches shoot to heaven and sink to earth,
Even as the deeds of men, which take their birth
From qualities: its silver sprays and blooms,
And all the eager verdure of its girth,
Leap to quick life at kiss of sun and air,
As men’s lives quicken to the temptings fair
Of wooing sense: its hanging rootlets seek
The soil beneath, helping to hold it there,
As actions wrought amid this world of men
Bind them by ever-tightening bonds again.
If ye knew well the teaching of the Tree,
What its shape saith; and whence it springs; and, then
How it must end, and all the ills of it,
The axe of sharp Detachment ye would whet,
And cleave the clinging snaky roots, and lay
This Aswattha of sense-life low,–to set
New growths upspringing to that happier sky,–
Which they who reach shall have no day to die,
Nor fade away, nor fall–to Him, I mean,
FATHER and FIRST, Who made the mystery
Of old Creation; for to Him come they
From passion and from dreams who break away;
Who part the bonds constraining them to flesh,
And,–Him, the Highest, worshipping alway–
No longer grow at mercy of what breeze
Of summer pleasure stirs the sleeping trees,
What blast of tempest tears them, bough and stem
To the eternal world pass such as these!
Another Sun gleams there! another Moon!
Another Light,–not Dusk, nor Dawn, nor Noon–
Which they who once behold return no more;
They have attained My rest, life’s Utmost boon!
When, in this world of manifested life,
The undying Spirit, setting forth from Me,
Taketh on form, it draweth to itself
From Being’s storehouse,–which containeth all,–
Senses and intellect. The Sovereign Soul
Thus entering the flesh, or quitting it,
Gathers these up, as the wind gathers scents,
Blowing above the flower-beds. Ear and Eye,
And Touch and Taste, and Smelling, these it takes,–
Yea, and a sentient mind;–linking itself
To sense-things so.
The unenlightened ones
Mark not that Spirit when he goes or comes,
Nor when he takes his pleasure in the form,
Conjoined with qualities; but those see plain
Who have the eyes to see. Holy souls see
Which strive thereto. Enlightened, they perceive
That Spirit in themselves; but foolish ones,
Even though they strive, discern not, having hearts
Know, too, from Me
Shineth the gathered glory of the suns
Which lighten all the world: from Me the moons
Draw silvery beams, and fire fierce loveliness.
I penetrate the clay, and lend all shapes
Their living force; I glide into the plant–
Root, leaf, and bloom–to make the woodlands green
With springing sap. Becoming vital warmth,
I glow in glad, respiring frames, and pass,
With outward and with inward breath, to feed
The body by all meats.
For in this world
Being is twofold: the Divided, one;
The Undivided, one. All things that live
Are “the Divided.” That which sits apart,
Higher still is He,
The Highest, holding all, whose Name is LORD,
The Eternal, Sovereign, First! Who fills all worlds,
Sustaining them. And–dwelling thus beyond
Divided Being and Undivided–I
Am called of men and Vedas, Life Supreme,
Who knows Me thus,
With mind unclouded, knoweth all, dear Prince!
And with his whole soul ever worshippeth Me.
Now is the sacred, secret Mystery
Declared to thee! Who comprehendeth this
Hath wisdom! He is quit of works in bliss!
HERE ENDS CHAPTER XV. OF THE BHAGAVAD-GITA
Or “The Book of Religion by attaining the Supreme.”
Fain would I better know, Thou Glorious One!
The very truth–Heart’s Lord!–of Sannyas,
Abstention; and enunciation, Lord!
Tyaga; and what separates these twain!
The poets rightly teach that Sannyas
Is the foregoing of all acts which spring
Out of desire; and their wisest say
Tyaga is renouncing fruit of acts.
There be among the saints some who have held
All action sinful, and to be renounced;
And some who answer, “Nay! the goodly acts–
As worship, penance, alms–must be performed!”
Hear now My sentence, Best of Bharatas!
‘Tis well set forth, O Chaser of thy Foes!
Renunciation is of threefold form,
And Worship, Penance, Alms, not to be stayed;
Nay, to be gladly done; for all those three
Are purifying waters for true souls!
Yet must be practised even those high works
In yielding up attachment, and all fruit
Produced by works. This is My judgment, Prince!
This My insuperable and fixed decree!
Abstaining from a work by right prescribed
Never is meet! So to abstain doth spring
From “Darkness,” and Delusion teacheth it.
Abstaining from a work grievous to flesh,
When one saith “‘Tis unpleasing!” this is null!
Such an one acts from “passion;” nought of gain
Wins his Renunciation! But, Arjun!
Abstaining from attachment to the work,
Abstaining from rewardment in the work,
While yet one doeth it full faithfully,
Saying, “Tis right to do!” that is “true ” act
And abstinence! Who doeth duties so,
Unvexed if his work fail, if it succeed
Unflattered, in his own heart justified,
Quit of debates and doubts, his is “true” act:
For, being in the body, none may stand
Wholly aloof from act; yet, who abstains
From profit of his acts is abstinent.
The fruit of labours, in the lives to come,
Is threefold for all men,–Desirable,
And Undesirable, and mixed of both;
But no fruit is at all where no work was.
Hear from me, Long-armed Lord! the makings five
Which go to every act, in Sankhya taught
As necessary. First the force; and then
The agent; next, the various instruments;
Fourth, the especial effort; fifth, the God.
What work soever any mortal doth
Of body, mind, or speech, evil or good,
By these five doth he that. Which being thus,
Whoso, for lack of knowledge, seeth himself
As the sole actor, knoweth nought at all
And seeth nought. Therefore, I say, if one–
Holding aloof from self–with unstained mind
Should slay all yonder host, being bid to slay,
He doth not slay; he is not bound thereby!
Knowledge, the thing known, and the mind which knows,
These make the threefold starting-ground of act.
The act, the actor, and the instrument,
These make the threefold total of the deed.
But knowledge, agent, act, are differenced
By three dividing qualities. Hear now
Which be the qualities dividing them.
There is “true” Knowledge. Learn thou it is this:
To see one changeless Life in all the Lives,
And in the Separate, One Inseparable.
There is imperfect Knowledge: that which sees
The separate existences apart,
And, being separated, holds them real.
There is false Knowledge: that which blindly clings
To one as if ’twere all, seeking no Cause,
Deprived of light, narrow, and dull, and “dark.”
There is “right” Action: that which being enjoined–
Is wrought without attachment, passionlessly,
For duty, not for love, nor hate, nor gain.
There is “vain” Action: that which men pursue
Aching to satisfy desires, impelled
By sense of self, with all-absorbing stress:
This is of Rajas–passionate and vain.
There is “dark” Action: when one doth a thing
Heedless of issues, heedless of the hurt
Or wrong for others, heedless if he harm
His own soul–’tis of Tamas, black and bad!
There is the “rightful”doer. He who acts
Free from self-seeking, humble, resolute,
Steadfast, in good or evil hap the same,
Content to do aright-he “truly” acts.
There is th’ “impassioned” doer. He that works
From impulse, seeking profit, rude and bold
To overcome, unchastened; slave by turns
Of sorrow and of joy: of Rajas he!
And there be evil doers; loose of heart,
Low-minded, stubborn, fraudulent, remiss,
Dull, slow, despondent–children of the “dark.”
Hear, too, of Intellect and Steadfastness
The threefold separation, Conqueror-Prince!
How these are set apart by Qualities.
Good is the Intellect which comprehends
The coming forth and going back of life,
What must be done, and what must not be done,
What should be feared, and what should not be feared,
What binds and what emancipates the soul:
That is of Sattwan, Prince! of “soothfastness.”
Marred is the Intellect which, knowing right
And knowing wrong, and what is well to do
And what must not be done, yet understands
Nought with firm mind, nor as the calm truth is:
This is of Rajas, Prince! and “passionate!”
Evil is Intellect which, wrapped in gloom,
Looks upon wrong as right, and sees all things
Contrariwise of Truth. O Pritha’s Son!
That is of Tamas, “dark” and desperate!
Good is the steadfastness whereby a man
Masters his beats of heart, his very breath
Of life, the action of his senses; fixed
In never-shaken faith and piety:
That is of Sattwan, Prince! “soothfast” and fair!
Stained is the steadfastness whereby a man
Holds to his duty, purpose, effort, end,
For life’s sake, and the love of goods to gain,
Arjuna! ’tis of Rajas, passion-stamped!
Sad is the steadfastness wherewith the fool
Cleaves to his sloth, his sorrow, and his fears,
His folly and despair. This–Pritha’s Son!–
Is born of Tamas, “dark” and miserable!
Hear further, Chief of Bharatas! from Me
The threefold kinds of Pleasure which there be.
Good Pleasure is the pleasure that endures,
Banishing pain for aye; bitter at first
As poison to the soul, but afterward
Sweet as the taste of Amrit. Drink of that!
It springeth in the Spirit’s deep content.
And painful Pleasure springeth from the bond
Between the senses and the sense-world. Sweet
As Amrit is its first taste, but its last
Bitter as poison. ‘Tis of Rajas, Prince!
And foul and “dark” the Pleasure is which springs
From sloth and sin and foolishness; at first
And at the last, and all the way of life
The soul bewildering. ‘Tis of Tamas, Prince!
For nothing lives on earth, nor ‘midst the gods
In utmost heaven, but hath its being bound
With these three Qualities, by Nature framed.
The work of Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas,
And Sudras, O thou Slayer of thy Foes!
Is fixed by reason of the Qualities
Planted in each:
A Brahman’s virtues, Prince!
Born of his nature, are serenity,
Self-mastery, religion, purity,
Patience, uprightness, learning, and to know
The truth of things which be. A Kshatriya’s pride,
Born of his nature, lives in valour, fire,
Constancy, skilfulness, spirit in fight,
And open-handedness and noble mien,
As of a lord of men. A Vaisya’s task,
Born with his nature, is to till the ground,
Tend cattle, venture trade. A Sudra’s state,
Suiting his nature, is to minister.
Whoso performeth–diligent, content–
The work allotted him, whate’er it be,
Lays hold of perfectness! Hear how a man
Findeth perfection, being so content:
He findeth it through worship–wrought by work–
Of Him that is the Source of all which lives,
Of HIM by Whom the universe was stretched.
Better thine own work is, though done with fault,
Than doing others’ work, ev’n excellently.
He shall not fall in sin who fronts the task
Set him by Nature’s hand! Let no man leave
His natural duty, Prince! though it bear blame!
For every work hath blame, as every flame
Is wrapped in smoke! Only that man attains
Perfect surcease of work whose work was wrought
With mind unfettered, soul wholly subdued,
Desires for ever dead, results renounced.
Learn from me, Son of Kunti! also this,
How one, attaining perfect peace, attains
BRAHM, the supreme, the highest height of all!
Devoted–with a heart grown pure, restrained
In lordly self-control, forgoing wiles
Of song and senses, freed from love and hate,
Dwelling ‘mid solitudes, in diet spare,
With body, speech, and will tamed to obey,
Ever to holy meditation vowed,
From passions liberate, quit of the Self,
Of arrogance, impatience, anger, pride;
Freed from surroundings, quiet, lacking nought–
Such an one grows to oneness with the BRAHM;
Such an one, growing one with BRAHM, serene,
Sorrows no more, desires no more; his soul,
Equally loving all that lives, loves well
Me, Who have made them, and attains to Me.
By this same love and worship doth he know
Me as I am, how high and wonderful,
And knowing, straightway enters into Me.
And whatsoever deeds he doeth–fixed
In Me, as in his refuge–he hath won
For ever and for ever by My grace
Th’ Eternal Rest! So win thou! In thy thoughts
Do all thou dost for Me! Renounce for Me!
Sacrifice heart and mind and will to Me!
Live in the faith of Me! In faith of Me
All dangers thou shalt vanquish, by My grace;
But, trusting to thyself and heeding not,
Thou can’st but perish! If this day thou say’st,
Relying on thyself, “I will not fight!”
Vain will the purpose prove! thy qualities
Would spur thee to the war. What thou dost shun,
Misled by fair illusions, thou wouldst seek
Against thy will, when the task comes to thee
Waking the promptings in thy nature set.
There lives a Master in the hearts of men
Maketh their deeds, by subtle pulling–strings,
Dance to what tune HE will. With all thy soul
Trust Him, and take Him for thy succour, Prince!
So–only so, Arjuna!–shalt thou gain–
By grace of Him–the uttermost repose,
The Eternal Place!
Thus hath been opened thee
This Truth of Truths, the Mystery more hid
Than any secret mystery. Meditate!
And–as thou wilt–then act!
Nay! but once more
Take My last word, My utmost meaning have!
Precious thou art to Me; right well-beloved!
Listen! I tell thee for thy comfort this.
Give Me thy heart! adore Me! serve Me! cling
In faith and love and reverence to Me!
So shalt thou come to Me! I promise true,
For thou art sweet to Me!
And let go those–
Rites and writ duties! Fly to Me alone!
Make Me thy single refuge! I will free
Thy soul from all its sins! Be of good cheer!
[Hide, the holy Krishna saith,
This from him that hath no faith,
Him that worships not, nor seeks
Wisdom’s teaching when she speaks:
Hide it from all men who mock;
But, wherever, ‘mid the flock
Of My lovers, one shall teach
This divinest, wisest, speech–
Teaching in the faith to bring
Truth to them, and offering
Of all honour unto Me–
Unto Brahma cometh he!
Nay, and nowhere shall ye find
Any man of all mankind
Doing dearer deed for Me;
Nor shall any dearer be
In My earth. Yea, furthermore,
Whoso reads this converse o’er,
Held by Us upon the plain,
Pondering piously and fain,
He hath paid Me sacrifice!
(Krishna speaketh in this wise!)
Yea, and whoso, full of faith,
Heareth wisely what it saith,
Heareth meekly,–when he dies,
Surely shall his spirit rise
To those regions where the Blest,
Free of flesh, in joyance rest.]
Hath this been heard by thee, O Indian Prince!
With mind intent? hath all the ignorance–
Which bred thy trouble–vanished, My Arjun?
Trouble and ignorance are gone! the Light
Hath come unto me, by Thy favour, Lord!
Now am I fixed! my doubt is fled away!
According to Thy word, so will I do!
Thus gathered I the gracious speech of Krishna, O my King!
Thus have I told, with heart a-thrill, this wise and wondrous thing
By great Vyasa’s learning writ, how Krishna’s self made known
The Yoga, being Yoga’s Lord. So is the high truth shown!
And aye, when I remember, O Lord my King, again
Arjuna and the God in talk, and all this holy strain,
Great is my gladness: when I muse that splendour, passing speech,
Of Hari, visible and plain, there is no tongue to reach
My marvel and my love and bliss. O Archer-Prince! all hail!
O Krishna, Lord of Yoga! surely there shall not fail
Blessing, and victory, and power, for Thy most mighty sake,
Where this song comes of Arjun, and how with God he spake.
Translated from the Sanskrit Text
Sir Edwin Arnold,
M.A., K.C.I.E., C.S.I.
Truslove, Hanson & Comba, Ltd.
67 Fifth Avenue
The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Bhagavad-Gita, by Anonymous Title: The Bhagavad-Gita Author: Anonymous Translator: Sir Edwin Arnold
- emeritus professor of Physics and Humanities at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He's written many books including Variety in Religion and Science: Daily Reflections. ↵