By Prof Prema Pandurang
(This is the full text of the address delivered by Prof. Prema Pandurang. She is the founder President of Samskriti (Home of Culture) and Kshetropasna Charitable Trust and the Founder Trustee of Shree Chakra Foundation.)
Gita in a nutshell, namaskar to the soul, who has found time to listen to Gita in a nutshell. Who said Gita is difficult to read and understand, who said how to find time to read the Gita, here is a simple way to be close to this great work, divine work, enthralling book, enthusing book, energizing book, enlightening book. Oh its not a book, its the song divine book sung by the Lord Krishna Himself that enchanting flute player of Vrindavan, who steals the hearts of devotees wherever He goes.
He sings His way through the Gita. The context is war between 100 Kauravas and 5 Pandavas. The inner battle is always on between the good minority and the wicked majority. The chosen disciple and representative man as Aurobindo put it, stands at the cross roads of life. It is difficult to take a decision and all duty is unpleasant when it comes to establishing justice.
The lord gives him a sermon and that’s the Gita, the sermon on the battlefield. I thought let me take 18 verses, shlokas from the 18 chapters, the selection is subjective, a personal choice, take no offence if I have omitted some of your choice verses, remember they are my favorite too, yet the constriction of time made me select the following.
Drutarashtra, the king, blind within and blind without asks a question to Sanjaya, the special commentator, himself a satellite center, watching the battle from far away, reporting with passion and dedication. The king is worried, puzzled, frightened. His words reveal his thoughts as our thoughts are also revealed through our words. The question asked by the king is a similar one, the one that triggers of the entire Gita.
“dharma-kshetre kuru-kshetre, samaveta yuyutsavah
mamakah pandavas caiva,kim akurvata sanjaya”
Oh Sanjaya, tell me what did my own sons Kauravas and Pandavas do on the battle of Kurukshetra, the righteous battlefield of ours. This is the question asked by the king. What can people do on the battlefield but fight, what’s the kings confusion due to, its elementary, the battlefield is the righteous one.
Shri Krishna who was dharma Himself, is the great hero making His appearance with a bang and remember Dharma raja is the leader of the group. It is but natural that the king wonders what happened, the scene described is graphic, Arjuna wants his chariot to be parked between the two armies, and the Lord orders Arjuna to see his enemies. A bewildered Arjuna sees all his relatives and is unwilling to fight. A sincere Sanjaya informs and reports to Drutarashtra of what happened on the battlefield.
Many questions rise in our mild when we listen to the first question asked by the King Drutarastra, was it really a righteous battlefield, did not righteousness incarnate Lord Krishna turn out to be the real hero, was the war His plan or Shakuni’s or the result of Duryodhanas searing hatred for the Pandavas, was it a war between two brothers or was it a war of concepts of good and evil, was Shri Hanuman in the banner of Arjuna’s chariot a silent spectator or a divine participant, read the mahabharata episode, the Gita, as it unravels several mysteries.
Here Gita tells us, that knowledge cannot be given to anyone who does not aspire for it. It cannot be scattered like rain or showered like rain on all and sundry. A nonplussed Arjuna is now surrendering to the Lord asking Him to rule over Him, as a willing disciple who is prepared for the spiritual sermon and valuable advise. It is Krishna who tells him now about the immortality of the soul and the mortality of the body so that Arjuna does not feel guilty about killing enemies on the battlefield. He finally exhorts him to do his duty.
“karmanye vadhikaras te, ma phalesu kadacana
ma karma-phala-hetur bhur, ma te sango ’stv akarmani.”
Duty has to be adhered to, man has a right only to perform his duty. He has an exclusive obligation to do so. Karma yoga is an important lesson of the Gita. Duty makes for discipline, discipline makes for systematic behavior and that in turn leads to order and harmony in society. Duty has to be performed but not with obsession of fruit of action. Any action performed with a frenzy preoccupation with a fruit makes the quality of the action suffer. Duty has to be action performed with perfection.
The Lord says Arjuna do not allow the fruit to be the only impetus for action, such a perspective limits man’s powers. It makes him a mercenary and not a yogi of perfection. Duty has to be performed to the best of one’s capacity. It has to be performed with dispassionate objectivity. It has to be performed because the Lord allows no one to escape from duty.
He tells Arjuna do not resort to inaction either. At times, the Lord advises, at times He warns, at times He commands, at times He persuades, at times He gives awesome orders. Duty has to be performed without being obsessed with a fruit of action that is the gist of karma yoga, the path of wise action.
“yajnarthat karmano ’nyatra, loko ’yam karma-bandhanah
tad-artham karma kaunteya, mukta-sangah samacara“
Arjuna’s problem is not cowardice. He is not another Uttar kumara who wants to run away from the battlefield. His problem is how to kill the enemy and yet be saved from the sin of killing. He knows that all action binds that’s the quality of action. Shree Krishna explains to Arjuna you want freedom from action, its not possible. Freedom in action is possible, all action binds is true, but there are certain acts which do not bind.
Greater people than Arjuna have lived wiser lives before him and how did they make action not bind. The answer is clear. When one offers action as yajna, as sacrifice, it does not bind. The offering that is made as service is action that does not bind. Its superior action, elevated action, high level action as it is untainted by selfishness. Its pure, its selfless, hence it makes freedom from repercussions. It is a releasing act, not a binding one. Hence actions selfless should increase, thus releasing man from the bonds of karma.
Another meaning for yajna could be the highest form of sacrifice, and that is the sacrifice of the ego. That action which is egoless, that which is inspired by humility is great action, that also does not bind. Yet another meaning is there for yagna. It could be the Lord Himself. The name is found among the Vishnu Sahasranama, ‘Yagno yagna-patir-yajva yagnango yagna-vahanah’.
That action which is offered to the Lord does not bind, that which is offered to the perfect one, has to be perfect. How can it be tainted with ordinary bondage. Hence Arjuna is asked to perform ego-less, selfless, God dedicated action which will free him from sin and bondage.
“paritranaya sadhunam,vinasaya ca duskritam
dharma-samsthapanarthaya,sambhavami yuge yuge”
The Lord is not a maternity ward product like man. His birth and his action are divine and superhuman. His coming into the world is an act of grace inspired by His abundant mercy. He is not the indifferent president of the immortals sitting in a topography called heaven indifferent to human misery. He is not deaf to the prayers of His devotees. It is true that they face several hardships and severe opposition. They have powerful opponents who attack them.
When does the Lord come into the world, the answer is when righteousness is on the vein and the wicked gains strength. It is to set right the moral imbalance that the Lord makes His appearance. The chief purpose of divine incarnation is not the killing of the wicked, its primarily to protect the good and incidentally if the wicked are too strong for them they are killed by the Lord and that to, only to protect the good. After protecting the good and killing the wicked, the Lord does not stop there. He has one more purpose, ‘dharmasamsthapa narthaya’, to uphold righteousness.
Behind every act of the Lord is a deep ethical sense involved. His divine rein is not an erratic play of power. It has system and discipline, a method and a deep ethical design. This verse encourages faith in man, who is likely to feel lost and helpless in a world antagonistic to him. This verse fills hope in the heart of man and makes him feel the palpable presence of the Lord. It reveals the Lord as He is caring, consistently caring, compassionate, courageous, and confident of winning every battle against evil.
“saknotihaiva yah sodhum, prak sarira-vimokshanat
kama-krodhodbhavam vegam, sa yuktah sa sukhi narah”
Who can be happy, he who has no regrets. Why does man have regrets because he does what he should not do, speaks what he should not speak, desires what he should not desire. In short, he is a victim of his passion. He has enemies within whom he does not care to conquer. Sometimes he does not even realize that he has internal enemies.
The greatness of this verse lies in the fact that the Lord acknowledges the presence of Kama (passion) and krodha (anger). He does not take an unrealistic Utopian view of the world within which lives a blemish-less perfect man. He tells Arjuna, kama is there, krodha is there, but the greatness of man lies in conquering the onrush on slot gushing forth of kama and krodha.
Thus, the shloka makes the Lord to be seen as a benevolent master recommending self control, applauding it where it is found, at the same time confessing the difficulty to achieve it. Its now clear that true happiness lies in a clear conscience which can only be had
by a person of self control, one who behaves as he should and not as he likes. Spirituality and discipline go hand in hand. One cannot deny their importance. To achieve this combination would be a commendable exercise.
One wonders how kind the Lord is that he accepts the fallibility of man and yet strongly recommends the need to be faultless. The 6th chapter raises a very logical query. Arjuna asked the Lord what happens to a man who takes to deep contemplation but during the lifetime drifts away from yoga, is his spiritual power lost and dissipated like a cloud, rend by blowing winds. The answer that the Lord gives is a memorable one.
“partha naiveha namutra, vinasas tasya vidyate
na hi kalyana-krt kascid, durgatim tata gacchati”
O Partha, one who has progressed far in the spiritual path is neither destroyed in this world nor the next. No one who does good can ever come to ill. Many a time man wonders its so difficult to follow the holy path and even if one does so, to proceed steadily is more difficult. Most difficult is to reach the goal. What is most frightening is that one has proceeded on this path and is suddenly lost halfway. What happens to him. To start all over again is scary, to lose what one has gained till then is depressing.
In this context, Lord Krishna’s words are ambrosia for the striving soul. No small effort, however small goes unrewarded. Any good thought, any good deed, any good word, takes us a long way. This divine assurance makes for positive thinking. It inspires every listener to do some good to some one in some way and take a confident step towards the divine goal. Acts of goodness gain impetus in the shloka, values find spiritual base in human life.
Man is inspired to lead a spiritual life with the assurance that no step taken in this direction, can ever be an exercise in futility. The 7th chapter triggers off with the argument that to know the Lord he has to bless to inspire, to reveal, the seekers are very few.
“manushyanam sahasresu, kascid yatati siddhaye
yatatam api siddhanam, kascin mam vetti tattvatah”
Among thousands of human beings, one strives to reach the Lord. Among them, one among thousands comes to understand divinity as it is. How strange and yet how true that amongst several thousands, a few have a spiritual inclination to know the Lord. Among the qualified, among the aspirants, only one comes to understand the Lord as He is.
Spiritual seekers are few. Among them the realized ones are fewer still. Even among them, a chosen few realize who the Lord is. Rare is the man who has drunk the milk of paradise.
If 7 chapters of the Gita teaches how to live, the 8th chapter teaches us how to die. Life and death have to be studied together and to be understood as a part of the divine plan. For several years, men have been born and then they die and are reborn. This cycle goes on for several years. Man wonders what to do to break the cycle of birth & death. As Adi Shankara Charya says in Baja Govindam ‘punarapi jananam, punarapi maranam, punarapi janani jatare sayanam, iha samsaare bhahu dusthare, Krupayaa pare pahi murare, bhajagovindam bhajagovindam govindam bhaja muudhamate’
“a-brahma-bhuvanal lokah, punar avartino ’rjuna
mam upetya tu Kaunteya, punar janma na vidyate”
Men perform good acts and reach heaven, enjoy the fruits of virtue and when the punya is exhausted they come back to human wombs. The question arises how to get over the cycle, how to be liberated. All the world’s above ruled by different deities send back the soul after its punya is over, but those who think of the Lord tirelessly and pray relentlessly and perform their duty perfectly, they reach the Lord and never come back into the world. He who attains the feet of the Lord, Shree Krishna does not need to fear rebirth.
Each chapter of the Gita has a special message, for the spiritual seeker. All lessons cannot be given to all. There are some special lessons. One is the divine secret given to Arjuna in chapter #9. Its a special message for special devotees. This message is to make man realize that the Lord is no human being, as the deluded think Him to be. He is the witness, the resort, the shelter, the benevolent master who cares for His creatures.
Man has to sing His glory and do his duty too, only then can he reach the merciful Lord. In verse #22 of chapter 9, the Lord gives us a deep understanding of life.
“ananyas cintayanto mam, ye janah paryupasate
tesham nityabhiyuktanam, yoga-ksemam vahamy aham”
The Lord not only poses the problem but also solves it. Sorrow has two causes in this world, either we do not get what we want or we are losing what we have. This drives us crazy but he says the Lord who worships the master, gets what he desires and retains whatever benefactions he has.
This verse is a miracle verse, whether its for the student who wants to pass in the examination or for a man who has a family problem or one who wants business promotion or one who desires riches or one who wants to be cured from dreadful diseases. This works out efficaciously. The shloka is a magical shloka, a miracle shloka, may this shloka give you your heart’s desire, virtuous desire.
In the 9th chapter God assures man and in the 10th chapter God consoles him, by revealing the special presence of the divine. While doing so, He reveals the role of the singer saint and eloquent preachers. Those who chant the Lord’s name are the richest said the Gopika Gita.
“mac-citta mad-gata-prana, bodhayantah parasparam
kathayantas ca mam nityam, tusyanti ca ramanti ca”
What is great about this verse. It is the interaction between the speaker and listener which makes for sharing rather than sermonizing. The process is a delectable one. The singer and the listener both enjoy the discussion. In the process, both are smiling, both are selfless. They eat well, digest well, sleep well because bliss incarnate is always with them.
The spiritual exchanges are no waste of time. They energize the soul and give it an impetus to move on. Depression comes nowhere near those who chant the name of the Lord. Those who chant his name are not mere singers, they are the enlightened ones, the elevated ones, because the Lord himself assures Arjuna that He lights the lamp of wisdom in them out of shear compassion for them, that is how the unlearned speak & the unmusical sing. His golden touch transforms the devotee.
In the first 10 chapters, we find spiritual, audio education. The 11th chapter is video education, PowerPoint program. Having heard about the special presence of the Lord in the 10th chapter, Arjuna is curious to know and see the Lord as he really is. With understandable curiosity he asks the Lord whether it is possible to see His cosmic form and whether he is spiritually qualified to do so.
In His abundant mercy, the Lord gives a positive answer and also provides an inner contact lens for this experience. For a long time I wondered what could this divya chakshu, inner contact lens means. After years, I conclude it must be humility, the first desirable qualification to witness the cosmic form of the Lord, a 100,000 hands, and 100,000 feet, and a 100,000 garlands all stand before Arjuna who is bewildered, zapped. He has never had such an experience before.
He is asked by the master to awake, arise, and improve the role he has to play of the shear mere instrument in the hands of the Lord. A dumbfounded Arjuna who had no known the Lord as anything but the flute player, the cowherd boy, the wrestling champion, sees him as the all Master of the Cosmos. When the Gita opened it was Arjuna craving pardon for having to kill kinsman and friends. In the 11th chapter, a reformed Arjuna exclaims!
“pitasi lokasya caracarasya, tvam asya pujyas ca gurur gariyan
na tvat-samo ’sty abhyadhikah kuto ’nyo, loka-traye ’py apratima-prabhava”
You are the father of the world, the worship worthy and the greatest power. There is none equal to you, how can there be anyone superior to you, Master. Is this a confession or is it a revelation, it is both. An educated Arjuna realizes the play of the divine. He had chosen a darling friend in Krishna and now he knows he has chosen God himself. What a wise choice it was.
Everyone cannot see the cosmic form except those who have devotion and then who is a devotee is the next argument. In chapter #12, verse #13, the devotee is defined.
“advesta sarva-bhutanam, maitrah karuna eva ca
nirmamo nirahankarah, sama-duhkha-sukhah ksami”
The Lord tells Arjuna who is a devotee: he who hates none, he who hates no creatures, he who is friendly and compassionate to all, he who has no trace of ego which means this is mine and I am doing this, he who is poised in joy and sorrow, he who is full of forbearance..he is a true devotee.
What is strange turn in the Gita that takes place when devotion is seen in such a comprehensive perspective. Devotion is not merely an act, its an attitude backed by a firm faith in divine power. The first prerequisite for devotion has to be hatelessness because hatred I feel is emotional cancer. A devotee is a comprehensive word containing several desirable qualities. By these parameters, how many of us are devotees in the true sense of the term.
A new chapter opens when the Lord gives a refreshing definition of jnana or knowledge. One has always heard of knowledge and wisdom of high level meditation and self control and so on but the Lord gives us a pleasant jolt when He redefines jnana in chapter #13, 7th verse.
“amanitvam adambhitvam, ahimsa ksantir arjavam
acaryopasanam shaucam, sthairyam atma-vinigrahah”
Lack of pride, lack of vanity, nonviolence, forgiveness, truthfulness, service of the preceptor, purity, steadfastness, and control of the self. The definition goes on to include detachment from sensuous objects & absolute devotion to the Lord. Jnana seems a divine package within which the best of virtues are combined.
The 14th chapter leads to an analysis of the 3 gunas, sattva, rajas, and tamas. Long before the subject of psychology came to be studied all over the world, the Gita had analyzed why human nature in general under the influence of the 3 gunas (the three modes of material nature) man performs various acts. Chapter #14 describes gunas as they are, verse #6 talks of sattva guna in particular
“tatra sattvam nirmalatvat, prakasakam anamayam
sukha-sangena badhnati, jnana-sangena canagha”
Among the 3 gunas , sattva (goodness) is pure, luminous, and free from distortion. It binds one with joy and deep wisdom. While rajas (passion) binds man to attachment and karma and its violent results, tamas (ignorance) binds man to lethargy and slumber. Those who follow sattva go to the higher regions, those who take to rajas come back to suffer as human beings. The tamasic ones are born as creatures.
Many a time in the Gita Lord Krishna speaks of His special powers and pervading presence. It is in the Purushotama Yoga, chapter 15, that we realize the truth of His presence in every creature.
“sarvasya caham hridi sannivisto, mattah smritir jnanam apohanam ca
vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyo, vedanta-krd veda-vid eva caham”
He resides in every heart. From Him arise memory, wisdom, and the capacity to clear doubts. He is the subject of the Vedas, He is the maker of Vedanta and the knower of Vedanta too. How strange is this revelation and yet how true. One wonders about memory, about wisdom, about the knowledge of the Vedas and all that is contained in the Lord Himself. What a comprehensive definition of Divinity.
In the 16th chapter, we note the definition of 2 types of people, the children of light and the children of darkness. The former contained the following virtues; nonviolence, truth, absence of anger, sacrifice, peace, noncritical attitude, kindness, unconditional love for all creatures, tenderness, detachment from sensuous objects and others. The latter are full of pride, arrogance, vanity, passion, cruelty, and ignorance.
For a while, the representative man, Arjuna, wonders to which category he belongs. The benevolent Lord forestalls his doubt in verse #5 of chapter 16.
“daivi sampad vimokshaya, nibandhayasuri mata
ma sucah sampadam daivim, abhijato ’si pandava”
The Lord tells Arjuna divine nature leads to salvation and the demonic one to bondage. Do not worry, you belong to the divine category, do not weep. It is necessary to know from the Maker or at least from the Guru as to which category one belongs.
Chapter 17 reveals several concepts divided into 3 categories, sattva, rajas, and tamas (the three modes of material nature). It is an interesting chapter and an elaborate one too. Defining 3 types of speech, the Lord says this is the type of verbal penance one should perform, “that word which angers none, that which is truthful, loving and well-wishing, full of the study of the scripture, this is the penance of speech.”
“anudvega-karam vakyam, satyam priya-hitam ca yat
svadhyayabhyasanam caiva, van-mayam tapa ucyate “
How callous we are about our speech, we do not know how many we hurt knowingly or unknowingly. How often we move away from truth and kind wishes. How often we do not have the background of Vedic knowledge to embellish our words. How often is our tongue unadorned by the chanting of the Lord’s names. How far from penance we are, we sign and reform our speech to make it austere and pure.
17 chapters have come to an end, a lot of wisdom has been imparted to Arjuna, so much has been said about karma, jnana, and bhakti. He wonders which path to follow. Sometimes little knowledge is a dangerous thing, too much knowledge is a confusing thing also. A bewildered Arjuna stands before the Lord, who in profuse compassion shows him the royal path of surrender, Sharanagati. Chapter #18, verse #66 can never be forgotten.
“sarva-dharman parityajya, mam ekam saranam vraja
aham tvam sarva-papebhyo, mokshayisyami ma sucah”
Forget about ordinary paths Arjuna, resort to ME alone with single-minded devotion and I will absolve you of all sin, surrender to Me, do not weep. Did the Lord stop to wipe a tear of Arjuna. Sharanagati (surrender) is not an act. It is an attitude. It is not an impulse. It is the cumulative effect of collected penance down the ages. It marks the birth of wisdom in man.
When he takes to the Lord with unquestioning faith and cheerful heart. A weeping Arjuna met us in the first chapter unwilling to fight, afraid of the repercussions of killing relatives. Here is a transformed Arjuna who stands undeluded recovering his memory of belonging to the Lord alone, educated in wisdom not by his own intelligence but by the benevolence of the Lord. He stands without doubts and fears not to follow the command of the Lord.
A blind Drutarashtra had asked a sagacious Sanjaya what happened on the battlefield, and the special reporter concludes with deep emotion. Verse #78 of the 18th chapter marks the spiritual climax of the Gita. It is a thematic climax, it is a great assurance for man who believes in God.
“yatra yogeshvarah krsno, yatra partho dhanur-dharah
tatra srir vijayo bhutir, dhruva nitir matir mama”
In Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan’s words where there is a grace abounding God and a devotee bound man, there is prosperity, victory, affluence, ethical excellence, and all this will prevail for all times. The Gita has no place for social dropouts. There is no place for the indolent but mere workaholics will also not do. We need work with worship, devotion with compassion, excellence with humility.