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Bhagavad Gita Clarified

RESERVATIONS Bhagavad Gita extracts 


  1. Arjuna's Grief
  2. The Way of Reality
  3. How to Act


The accomplished writer and thinker Swami Nikhilananda (1895-1973) founded the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York in 1933 as a branch of Ramakrishna Mission. He served as its head till he died. He translated Mahendranath Gupta's extensive work on Ramakrishna into English; the translation is called The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. Nikhilananda's translation of the Bhagavad Gita has been called authoritative in Time Magazine. He also translated The Principal Upanishads (4 volumes) and wrote his own biographies of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda. The other books he wrote include Hinduism: Its Meaning for the Liberation of the Spirit.

I owe much to Nikhilananda's contributions.

ATTACHMENT to the Gita is attachment, and "yogis act without attachment", says Shankara. Further, attachment gives confusion, says swami Nikhilananda, who has prepared the Gita translation we have taken off from here.

One should give up unwholesome Gita attachment according to these premises. That may work very, very well in the long run, if not earlier. [Wa 9]

THE BHAGAVAD Gita is a book, and as such lies on the relative plane. The illumined man transcends the relative plane, and hence the Gita. [Wa 19]

Many forms of Vedic dharma as taught by the venerable Vyasa, but Shankara says, "Abandon all dharmas . . . That dharma is quite sufficient." [Wa 53] (4)

Many of the sayings are modified, and a proverb form is frequently given.

Lots of Gita problems have been omitted in the following. Only the best or most profitable verse parts were included. Coordinating these terse statements have been a real pleasure.

THERE ARE two good reasons for this non-slavish approach to Gita wisdom:

  1. "Yogis act without (undue) attachment." [Wa 54]
  2. No amount of critical study will enable a reader to grasp the real meaning of the Gita unless he can discriminate and has a one-pointed mind. And what should such people do? Contemplate well.
A one-pointed mind should take off again and again in contemplation (dhyana), and thereby come to realize the Spirit. Thus, "to know God is to be God," informs Nikhilananda. So the wise man transcends the relative plane and the Gita, as stated already. [Wa 5]

But he comes back again too. Therefore, learn to surrender the results of well performed duty to God thus: A man endowed with Self-knowledge is said to embody God. (maybe more or less so, that's in the teachings too). [Wa 9, 17]

This gist is rooted in Swami Nikhilananda's translation, The Bhagavad Gita. (New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda, 1952). You should perhaps compare the translations of others; two translations are on-site today.

Learn to be victorious with the help of Krishna, the embodiment of glories. [See Wa 55, 56]

Guna Discussion

Many verses uses hovering classifications by use of the guna (modes, qualities of nature). The gunas are mental categories used for classifying, ie, classifying devices. You do not find anything of the sort in the outer world, or theories of physics, to my knowing.

When you say something seems good, something seems neutral, and something else seems bad, you deal with a quite similar way of labelling things as when the Gita classifies things by putting them into the three broad "all-round groups" (categories): of sattva (light, goodness, etc.), of rajas (activity, etc), and of tamas (sloth, torpor, etc.).

However, it is also told that when Shiva appears in ashes, appears stupid, bad and tamasic, and is looked down on, guna classifications may not serve at all, for then the highest should be tamasic (dull) - maybe reminding of "It is a fool who cannot hide his wisdom (Proverb)." Shiva-Hinduism has perhaps a hundred million adherents, most other Hindus are Vaishnavists, Vishnuists, that is, Vishnu-adherents. See the Siva Purana [Si] for harsh tales about Shiva appearances. Below is a gentle one.

To recapitulate: Gunas are not found in nature, but are mental categories used to group much of nature, and have defects. Some still find them useful, and also the idea of a rarefied element supposed to fill space and all. Proponents for the existence of an "ether" in space still exist. However, the standard position of scientists is that there is no such medium in space. The Gita operates with the concept of ether too, and the gunas. This was a caveat for you.

The Story of Gunanidhi

Gunanidhi was the very handsome son of a Vedic scholar, but he turned to gambling, playing, and wild, unritual conduct. His mother covered for him so that his honoured father knew nothing about what went on.

When Gunanidhi was nineteen, his mother told him to turn his attention to good learning and to feel ashamed of his wickedness - drinking, having prostitutes, stealing, lying, base gambling, and so on - or his unruly foolishness would backfire on his parents. She hoped he would marry a sixteen old girl instead.

His father was told about him at last, found out that missing objects in the home had been stolen by their son, and said to his wife, "I marry again!"

Their son, Gunanidhi, had to leave home. He moaned to himself while sitting at the foot of a tree, watching the setting sun, "A wealthy man fears thieves; I have nothing."

As he was sitting there, a devotee of Shiva came out of the city to offer food in worship of Shiva in a temple nearby, for it was Shivas Night. Gunanidhi could smell sweet puddings and thought, "It is good these devotees of Shiva go to sleep after offering eatables to Shiva. I shall then eat puddings and sweets in the night."

Soon the young man entered the holy of holies in the Shiva temple to steal the food left. The lamp was burning very dimly in there. To see the puddings clearly he tore a piece of cloth from his lower garment (dhoti) and put that piece in the lamp as a wick. Then he gleefully took plenty of the sweets offerend to Shiva and hurried out. But he stamped on someone lying in the dark temple yard, and then ran for his life. He was caught, though, and killed by the watchmen.

The angels of Death were on the spot at once with nooses and clubs and bound him. But then minsitering angels of Shiva appared and said the boy could not be punished. The angels of Death protested, "This is a wicked Brahmin. If he has anything at all to his credit, leat us her it."

But Lord Shiva's attending angels said, "Shiva's ideas of proper conduct are very subtle (fine). This young man kept the lamp lit by adding a wick to it at night. He also came to listen to the names of Shiva, though inadvertently. Waiting for food he witnessed proper worship and observed a fast with his mind well focused (on food). Let him go to highest heaven, then, and enjoy great pleasures. He has become a great favourite of Shiva."

And the boy went along with the angels of Shiva to enjoy all sorts of pleasures. Let all who seek happiness realise this, says the Shiva Purana. [Si 255-65]

Just a few acts unintentially done saved the gangster - if that is not a bait, what is?

On the bright side of it, the young man did not worship out of greed for merits, or out of cunning and calculations for esteem and the like, unlike so many conventionalists. Those things may be taken into account too.

A man should acquire much good karma for himself, says Buddha somewhere. I think it is fit to stick to that one.

Anyway, the gunas are something told of, and their broad classifications do not always hit the mark, as in harsh Shiva tales. And though the three gunas are no significant parts of the world, they are much used, and may give a little help. For example, that some things to do are uplifting up to a point (are sattvic) is that a bad thing to be made aware of? Or that some things that keep us going at the same level, roughly, can be rajasic? Or that other things show up to down and degrade us after some time? I don't think so. Accordingly, I have included probably useful guna sayings too among the axioms of yoga above - but with some marked caveats (cautions) added. - Tormod Kinnes


1. Arjuna's Grief

"Lord of the earth," said Arjuna to Krishna. [1.18]



We should conquer them [2.6] (Existential take).

The wise do not grieve for the living [cf 2.11].

The Self passes into another body in due time [cf 2.13].

The calm man is able to attain immortality [2.15].

The Real never ceases [2.16].

None can cause the destruction of that which is immutable [2.17].

The imperishable Self is the indweller; fight, therefore [2.18].

The Self never ceases to be [2.20].

The Self cannot be destroyed [2.21].

The Self casts out worn-out bodies and enters into others [2.22].

The Self is the same for ever [2.24].

The Self cannot be comprehended, and it does not change. Therefore, do not grieve [2.25].

Death comes to all that are born [2.27].

Do not grieve over the unavoidable (death) [2.27].

You should not mourn for any creature [2.30].

Wage a righteous war [2.33].

Dishonour can be worse than death [cf 2.34].

Your enemies scorn your prowess [2.36].

Prepare yourself for battle soon enough [cf 2.38].

You can regard gain and success as much the same, nay, alike [cf 2.38].

It should pay to break through the bonds of karma [2.39].

Very few efforts may save a man from Great Fear [2.40].

One resolute and unwavering thought may save you [cf 2.41].

No resolute and unwavering thought is formed in the minds of those who allow their discrimination to be stolen away, ridden with desires, and who take great delight in quoting panegyric texts [2.44-46].

Be free from the three gunas (Strive to hear nothing of them, then) [2.45].

Be free from opposites [2.45].

Be established in goodness (sattwa) till you are established in the Self [cf 2.45].

To the enlightened the Vedas are of as much use as a pond during a flood [2.46].

Do not let your best motive be the fruit of action [2.47].

Perform your actions with an even mind [2.48].

Wretched are those who work for the goal of work [cf 2.49].

Skill in some sorts of action lead to liberation (that yoga) [2.50].

Keep indifferent to things already heard and things yet to be heard [2.52].

The man of steady wisdom speaks the innermost Reality at times [cf 2.54-55].

He who does not long for happiness, is of steady wisdom. (You do not long for it if you possess it) [2.93].

It may benefit all to be somewhat non-attached, at times like tortoises [cf 2.57-58].

Mental turbulence can carry off even a wise man [cf 2.60].

Anger breeds delusion. Delusion gives a failing memory, which leads to a ruined discrimination. Thereby a man may perish [2.62-62].

Serene minds move around while being free from attachments [2.64].

Steady intelligence is much to go for [2.65].

He who has no peace, how can he have happiness? [2.66].

Where all beings are awake, there is night for the muni who sees [2.69].

The free do not have any strong sense of "I" [cf 2. 71 (Mod)].



Knowledge for the contemplative [3.3].

Not by mere renunciation does a man arrive at perfection [3.4].

Everyone is made to act [3.5].

A hypocrite tends to delude himself [cf 3.6].

No feeling of attachment is superior [3.7].

Do your allotted action; inaction will not be possible [3.8].

Do your work for the Lord [3.9].

Let human sacrifice be the Cow of Plenty [3.10].

Obtain the highest Good with sacrifice [3.11].

He lives more or less in vain who takes delight in sin [cf 3.16].

He who has nothing to work for, is to be content [cf 3.17].

Who has nothing to lose, has nothing.*].

Who has nothing to lose, does not need to depend on anything [cf 3.18].

Always act [3.19].

One should guide people right [3.20].

Great men set up standards for others to follow [3.21].

I go on working [3.22].

An enlightened man sets people on the right path [3.25].

The ignorant are attached to action [3.26].

Engage in action with some measure of devotion [cf 3.26].

A deluded fellow thinks, "I am the doer" [3.27].

He who knows the truth holds himself unattached [3.28].

One should not unsettle the minds of the dull-witted [cf 3.29].

Set yourself free from longing and undue selfishness [cf 3.30].

The senseless men who carp at my teaching are doomed to destruction [3.32].

Both love and hatred are one's enemies [3.34].

Better is one's own dharma than the dharma of another [3.35].

Both desires and wrath can be our enemies, and cause sin [cf 3.37].

Even great understanding veils deeper Knowledge and thereby deludes the soul [cf 3.40].

Therefore know Him who is superior to the understanding [3.42-43].

Desire, as an enemy, can be hard to overcome [3.43].

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Bhagavad Gita extracts, LITERATURE  

Wa: Nikhilananda, sw. tr: The Bhagavad Gita. New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda, 1952.

Si: Shastri, J. ed. Siva Purana, Vols 1-4. Delhi: Banarsidass, 1969.

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