The Bhagavad Gita that has come down to us, is a 700-verses long Hindu scripture in Sanskrit. It is part of the Hindu epic Mahabharata (chapters 23–40 of the 6th book of Mahabharata). Is all that is taught in the Bhagavad Gita really said by Bhagavan Krishna? Let us save us much trouble - or perhaps add to them - by having a look at what others have found out.
The Bhagavad Gita is a minor part of the large poem Mahabharata, which appears to have undergone three editions in a centuries-long stage of composition and growth. At least three redactions of the text are commonly recognised: Jaya (Victory) with 8,800 verses attributed to Vyasa, Bharata with 24,000 verses as recited by Vaishampayana, and finally the Mahabharata as recited by Ugrashrava Sauti with over 100,000 verses.
The Bhagavad Gita in this long epic is said to have grown too.
Dr Phulgenda Sinha, Ph.D (1924–2006), author of The Gita as It Was: Rediscovering the Original Bhagavadgita. (1986) fronts a view that thought-patterns in today's India are not exactly as those advocated in the Vedic (ca. 1500–500 BCE) and post-Vedic ages (before ca. 800 CE, roughly).
By 400 B.C. India as a civilization had produced a matchless philosophical work presented in the simple form of song, telling how dukha (sorrow) can be eliminated and how sukha (happiness) in life can be achieved. . . . Man can liberate himself from dukha and can attain sukha (happiness) by acquiring proper knowledge, mastering certain teachings, following certain practices. (p. viii)
The Vedic period (Vedic age) is commonly said to have lasted from ca. 1500 to ca. 500 BCE. In the post-Vedic Period, the Mahabharata and Ramayana epics were first composed, or put down in writing. Classical Sanskrit, as described by Panini, also emerged then. Vedanta and the Pali Prakrit dialect of Buddhist scripture belong to this period too.
Dr Sinha finds opposite thought-patterns to post-Vedic values in the last version of the Bhagavad Gita, and asks, "Is this Bhagavada Gita the same as that written by Vyasa in 400 B.C?" Not all of it, only 84 of its verses, he says, and builds upon Vedic and post-Vedic traditions, norms, practices, teachings, and philosophy as well as comparisons. "The motivational traits during this era, whether expressed through rituals or in philosophy, evolved around the theme of: (i) fulfillment of desire; (ii) proper knowledge; and (iii) right action." Further, "Knowledge, desire, and action remained an integral part of human expression" in Vedic and post-Vedic times.
Then something untoward happened, he says: "In the post-Vedic period the mode of expression changed. Ritualistic ways were devalued and a philosophical and intellectual outlook towards problems of life was highlighted." (p. x)
This he finds is evident from
the original teachings of all the reformers, thinkers, and philosophers of the post-Vedic period. Beginning with Kapila, we find the basic themes of desire, knowledge, and action comprehensively taught and discussed by all the subsequent thinkers, such as Buddha, Mahavira, Gautama (Nyaya Darshan), Kanada (Vaisesika Darshan), Patanjali (Yoga Sutra) and Vyasa (original Gita)." (p. x-xi)
At the time when the Bhagavad Gita was first written, India achieved progress and prosperity in many fields of human endeavour, Dr Sinha sums up. "But when this original Gita was reworked, and rationalistic thought was distorted by changing all the ancient books of philosophy, India as a nation developed a pattern of thought which had its roots not in Indian soil." (p. xi)
He blames Brahmins for it: in a period of darkness the original Gita was altered and suppressed, he says, and "With the rediscovery of the original Gita, I hope that the people of India will once again come to know their actual treasure and will be inspired to adopt it. When India realizes the value of desire (bhava), rational thought, proper knowledge, and right action, as highlighted in the original Gita, India will find ways, on its own, towards progress and prosperity."
Let us hope that. Dr. Poul Tuxen (1962) informed, many decades earlier, how the Mahabharata underwent the three stages that Dr. Sinha presents. Dr Tuxen also writes that sayings of the poem Bhagavad Gita - not all of them - were put in the mouth of Bhagavan Krishna through centuries of formation or gestation:
Bhagavadgita is a religious-philosophical teaching poem incorporated in the Mahabharata of 100 000 couplets - the most voluminous work of its kind - a storehouse of brahmanic knowledge and thought. [Tuxen 1962:8)
There is room for some speculation - Many Indian and Western scholars agree that Mahabharata has gone through three stages, and since the Bhagavad Gita is a minor part of that poem, to look for stage-wise enlargements of the Bhagavad Gita is absolutely not futile.
Dr Sinha's approach is to look for original Samkhya Karika and yoga sutras, and he further finds support in a full 80 verses Bhagavad Gita found in Indonesia, written on palm leaves in the Balinese language. Simply, his stand is: "Those verses that are much similar to Samkhya and yoga sutra verses, are genuine or all right; others hardly so." He could be wrong on some points, since post-Vedic culture was not all uniform throughout the Indian subcontinent.
Anyway, Dr Sinha says the postulated, original text may not be theistic, and may have tied in with an early form of the Samkhya tradition.
Dr Sinha's conclusion is that there was an original Bhagavad Gita of 84 verses written by Vyasa, and that the Bhagavagita of 700 verses - the Gita that most of us know it, has got additions by Brahmins from ca. 800 CE. All the chapters after the third are additions, he writes, and parts of the first three chapters too.
Searching for thoughts that are valid and good for us, should we back up a portion of the Gita only, or "go with the flow" and accept all of it, thinking that "So many men and women cannot be much wrong"? It is a difficult topic.
On the one hand there is fairness as to a possible or likely historical development of the Gita. On the other hand is the point that all the added verses are true in what they speak about - or most of them - or some of them. And then we are in trouble, maybe trying to sort out much "above our heads", so to speak. But the troubles do not have to end there: In the parts that Dr Singha or others consider genuine, some points may have a true ring to them, and others perhaps not.
It may seem difficult to manage all this. What to do? Meditate, experience, rise above many concepts, and favour yourself. That is the recommended activity, and a solution.
The following 84 verses contain ideas found in the Samkhya Karika and the Yoga Sutras, and are thought to be genuine, old ones, says Dr Sinha after strenuous comparison work. He draws in estimates of several indologists and a palm leaf version of eighty verses, found in Indonesia, to which Hinduism expanded early. (Wikipedia, "Hinduism in Indonesia")
Chap. 1: v. 28-34, 37, 40, 46-47
Chap. 2: v. 3, 11-31, 34-36, 39-41, 48, 50, 53, 56-58, 60, 64-70
Chap 3: v. 1-9, 16-21, 23-29 [a typo is put right], 32-35, 38-40, 42-43.
Dr Sinha adds comments to some of them in the light of the philosophies that were around in the post-vedic period. (1987:155-238)
The 84 verses are here in Swami Sivananda's translation without his Sanskrit transliteration of the verses, which is here: [Chaps 1-3 - Sivananda].
Gita Verses from Chap 1
Arjuna to Krishna:
Seeing these, my kinsmen, Krishna, arrayed, eager to fight, (1:28)
My limbs fail and my mouth is parched up, my body quivers and my hairs stand on end! (1:29)
The (bow) "Gandiva" slips from my hand and my skin burns all over; I am unable even to stand, my mind is reeling, as it were. (1:30)
And I see adverse omens, Kesava! I do not see any good in killing my kinsmen in battle. (1:31)
For I desire neither victory, Krishna, nor pleasures nor kingdoms! Of what avail is a dominion to us, Krishna, or pleasures or even life? (1:32 )
Those for whose sake we desire kingdoms, enjoyments and pleasures, stand here in battle, having renounced life and wealth. (1:33)
Teachers, fathers, sons and also grandfathers, grandsons, fathers-in-law, maternal uncles, brothers-in-law and relatives, - (1:34)
Though they, with intelligence overpowered by greed, see no evil in the destruction of families, and no sin in hostility to friends, (1:38)
Why should not we, who clearly see evil in the destruction of a family, learn to turn away from this sin, Janardana (Krishna)? (1:39)
In the destruction of a family, the immemorial religious rites of that family perish; on the destruction of spirituality, impiety overcomes the whole family. (1:40)
Having thus spoken in the middle of the battlefield, Arjuna, casting away his bow and arrow, sat down on the seat of the chariot with his mind overwhelmed with sorrow. (1:47)
Gita Verses from Chap 2
The Blessed Lord said:
Yield not to impotence, Arjuna, son of Pritha! it does not befit you. Cast off this mean weakness of the heart. Stand up, scorcher of foes! (2:3)
You have grieved for those that should not be grieved for, yet you speak words of wisdom. The wise grieve neither for the living nor for the dead.(2:11 )
Nor at any time indeed was I not, nor these rulers of men, nor verily shall we ever cease to be hereafter. (2:12. )
Just as in this body the embodied (soul) passes into childhood, youth and old age, so also does he pass into another body; the firm man does not grieve thereat. (2:13)
The contacts of the senses with the objects, son of Kunti, which cause heat and cold and pleasure and pain, have a beginning and an end; they are impermanent; endure them bravely, Arjuna! (2:14)
That firm man whom surely these afflict not, chief among men, to whom pleasure and pain are the same, is fit for attaining immortality! (2:15)
The unreal has no being; there is no non-being of the Real; the truth about both has been seen by the knowers of the Truth (or the seers of the Essence). (2:16)
Know That to be indestructible, by whom all this is pervaded. None can cause the destruction of That, the Imperishable. (2:17)
These bodies of the embodied Self, which is eternal, indestructible and immeasurable, are said to have an end. Therefore, fight, Arjuna! (2:18)
He who takes the Self to be the slayer and he who thinks he is slain, neither of them knows; he slays not nor is he slain. (2:19)
He is not born nor does he ever die; after having been, he again ceases not to be. Unborn, eternal, changeless and ancient, he is not killed when the body is killed, (2:20)
Whoever knows him to be indestructible, eternal, unborn and inexhaustible, how can that man slay, Arjuna, or cause to be slain? (2:21)
Just as a man casts off worn-out clothes and puts on new ones, so also the embodied Self casts off worn-out bodies and enters others that are new. (2:22)
Weapons cut it not, fire burns it not, water wets it not, wind dries it not. (2:23)
This Self cannot be cut, burnt, wetted nor dried up. It is eternal, all-pervading, stable, ancient and immovable. (2:24)
This (Self) is said to be unmanifested, unthinkable and unchangeable. Therefore, knowing This to be such, you should not grieve. (2:25)
But, even if you think of it as being constantly born and dying, even then, mighty-armed, you should not grieve! (2:26)
For, certain is death for the born and certain is birth for the dead; therefore, over the inevitable you should not grieve. (2:27)
Beings are unmanifested in their beginning, manifested in their middle state, Arjuna, and unmanifested again in their end! What is there to grieve about? (2:28)
One sees This (the Self) as a wonder; another speaks of it as a wonder; another hears of it as a wonder; yet, having heard, none understands it at all. (2:29)
This, the Indweller in the body of everyone, is always indestructible, Arjuna! Therefore, you should not grieve for any creature. (2:30)
Further, having regard to your own duty, you should not waver, for there is nothing higher for a Kshatriya than a righteous war. (2:31)
People, too, will recount your everlasting dishonour; and to one who has been honoured, dishonour is worse than death. (2:34)
The great car-warriors will think that you have withdrawn from the battle through fear; and you will be lightly held by them who have thought much of you. (2:35)
Your enemies also, cavilling at your power, will speak many abusive words. What is more painful than this! 2:36)
This which has been taught to you, is wisdom concerning Sankhya. Now listen to wisdom concerning Yoga, endowed with which, Arjuna, you shall cast off the bonds of action! (2:39)
Even a little of this knowledge (even a little practice of this Yoga) protects one from great fear. (2:40)
Here, joy of the Kurus, there is a single one-pointed determination! Many-branched and endless are the thoughts of the irresolute. (2:41)
Perform action, Arjuna, being steadfast in Yoga, abandoning attachment and balanced in success and failure! Evenness of mind is called Yoga. (2:48)
Endowed with wisdom (evenness of mind), one casts off in this life both good and evil deeds; therefore, devote yourself to Yoga; Yoga is skill in action. (2:50)
When your intellect, perplexed by what you have heard, shall stand immovable and steady in the Self, then you shall attain Self-realisation. (2:53)
He whose mind is not shaken by adversity, who does not hanker after pleasures, and who is free from attachment, fear and anger, is called a sage of steady wisdom. (2:56)
He who is everywhere without attachment, on meeting with anything good or bad, who neither rejoices nor hates, his wisdom is fixed. (2:57)
When, like the tortoise which withdraws its limbs on all sides, he withdraws his senses from the sense-objects, then his wisdom becomes steady. (2:58)
The turbulent senses, Arjuna, do violently carry away the mind of a wise man Though he be striving (to control them)! (2:60)
But the self-controlled man, moving among objects with the senses under restraint, and free from attraction and repulsion, attains to peace. (2:64)
In that peace all pains are destroyed, for the intellect of the tranquil-minded soon becomes steady. (2:65)
There is no knowledge of the Self to the unsteady, and to the unsteady no meditation is possible; and to the un-meditative there can be no peace; and to the man who has no peace, how can there be happiness? (2:66)
For the mind which follows in the wake of the wandering senses, carries away his discrimination as the wind (carries away) a boat on the waters. (2:67)
Therefore, mighty-armed Arjuna, his knowledge is steady whose senses are completely restrained from sense-objects! (2:68)
That which is night to all beings, then the self-controlled man is awake; when all beings are awake, that is night for the sage who sees. (2:69)
He attains peace into whom all desires enter as waters enter the ocean, which, filled from all sides, remains unmoved; but not the man who is full of desires. (2:70)
Gita Verses from Chap 3
If it be thought by you that knowledge is superior to action, Krishna, why then, Kesava, ask me to engage in this terrible action? (3:1)
With these apparently perplexing words you confuse, as it were, my understanding; therefore, tell me that one way for certain by which I may attain bliss. (3:2)
The Blessed Lord said:
In this world there is a twofold path, as I said before, sinless one, – the path of knowledge of the Sankhyas and the path of action of the yogis! (3:3)
Not by the non-performance of actions does man reach actionlessness, nor by mere renunciation does he attain to perfection. (3:4)
Verily none can ever remain for even a moment without performing action; for, everyone is made to act helplessly by the qualities born of Nature. (3:5)
He who, restraining the organs of action, sits thinking of the sense-objects in mind, he, of deluded understanding, is called a hypocrite. (3:6)
But whoever, controlling the senses by the mind, Arjuna, engages himself in Karma Yoga with the organs of action, without attachment, he excels! (3:7)
Perform your bounden duty, for action is superior to inaction and even the maintenance of the body would not be possible for you by inaction. (3:8)
The world is bound by actions other than those performed for the sake of sacrifice; do you, therefore, son of Kunti, perform action for that sake (for sacrifice) alone, free from attachment! (3:9)
He who does not follow the wheel thus set revolving, who is of sinful life, rejoicing in the senses, he lives in vain, Arjuna! (3:16)
But for that man who rejoices only in the Self, who is satisfied in the Self, who is content in the Self alone, verily there is nothing to do. (3:17)
For him there is no interest whatever in what is done or what is not done; nor does he depend on any being for any object. (3:18)
Therefore, without attachment, always perform action which should be done; for, by performing action without attachment, man reaches the Supreme. (3:19)
Janaka and others attained perfection verily by action only; even with a view to the protection of the masses you should perform action. (3:20)
Whatever a great man does, that other men also do; whatever he sets up as the standard, that the world follows. (3:21)
For, should I not ever engage myself in action, unwearied, men would in every way follow my path, Arjuna! (3:23)
These worlds would perish if I did not perform action; I should be the author of confusion of castes and destruction of these beings. (3:24)
As the ignorant men act from attachment to action, Bharata (Arjuna), so should the wise act without attachment, wishing the welfare of the world! (3:25)
Let no wise man unsettle the minds of ignorant people who are attached to action; he should engage them in all actions, himself fulfilling them with devotion. (3:26)
All actions are wrought in all cases by the qualities of Nature only. He whose mind is deluded by egoism thinks: "I am the doer". (3:27)
But he who knows the truth, mighty-armed Arjuna, about the divisions of the qualities and their functions, knowing that the Gunas as senses move in the middle of the Gunas as the sense-objects, is not attached. (3:28)
Those deluded by the qualities of Nature are attached to the functions of the qualities. A man of perfect knowledge should not unsettle the foolish one of imperfect knowledge. (3:29)
But those who carp at my teaching and do not practise it, deluded in all knowledge and devoid of discrimination, know them to be doomed to destruction. (3:32)
Even a wise man acts in accordance with his own nature; beings will follow nature; what can restraint do? (3:33)
Attachment and aversion for the objects of the senses abide in the senses; let none come under their sway, for they are his foes. (3:34)
Better is one's own duty, though devoid of merit, than the duty of another well discharged. Better is death in one's own duty; the duty of another is fraught with fear. (3:35)
As fire is enveloped by smoke, as a mirror by dust, and as an embryo by the amnion, so is this enveloped by that. (3:38)
Arjuna, wisdom is enveloped by this constant enemy of the wise in the form of desire, which is unappeasable as fire! (3:39)
The senses, mind and intellect are said to be its seat; through these it deludes the embodied by veiling his wisdom. (3:40)
They say that the senses are superior (to the body); superior to the senses is the mind; superior to the mind is the intellect; and one who is superior even to the intellect is he – the Self. (3:42)
Thus, knowing him who is superior to the intellect and restraining the self by the Self, slay you, mighty-armed Arjuna, the enemy in the form of desire, hard to conquer! (3:43)
Dr Sinha translates the verse thus: "Thus, knowing the purusha which is higher than the buddhi and controlling the self by the self, O mighty-armed, destroy this enemy which, like passion (kama rupam), is difficult to conquer."
Tuxen, Poul. The Bhagavadgita. Herrens Ord. Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1962.
Sinha, Phulgenda. The Gita as It Was: Rediscovering the Original Bhagavadgita. Paperback ed. La Salle, Ill: Open Court Publishing Company, 1987. ⍽▢⍽ A gently provocative, thoroughly studied work, with some bias. Still, well done!
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