The Teachings of the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 1: This Drama of Life

When you come to a place like this, you have to re-orientate your minds, to a large extent, to an appreciable extent. There is a specific purpose for which you have come here to this Academy, to this Divine Life Society Ashram. To some of you, the purpose of your coming here and attending these classes may be clear; to some, it may be nebulous – not wholly perspicuous. There is something which this Academy is endeavouring to cater to the minds of people like you. This 'something' which this Ashram, this Academy, is trying to furnish you with, is perhaps what you actually need in life. You may be under the impression that there are thousands of things that you need in life. This is a thorough misconception which has to be removed from the mind – you are not in need of one thousand things in this world. And the difficulties that you face in life are also not caused by one thousand things.

There is a little error in the very way of our thinking into which we have been born, right from our babyhood. Conditions of society, circumstances of family, and the weaknesses of personality, combined together, prevent us from undergoing the necessary educational discipline which is essential for you to know where you really stand in this world. We take generally things for granted – we are sons and daughters of somebody, we are nationals of a particular country, we are working in some office; we have this problem and that difficulty. This is a natural human way of thinking, but a human way of thinking itself is not a remedy for human problems. A human way of thinking, is not a remedy for human problems – is a sentence we ought to underline – because human problems can be tackled only by a power of understanding which is superior to the ordinary human way of thinking. A medicine which is of the same character as an illness may not be able to set right the illness one suffers from. There is a specific influence which the medicine administered into your body exerts upon you, due to which you seem to be recovering from your illness. A friend of the illness that have cannot be a remedy for the illness. The medical treatment cannot be an associate of the disease; it is a rectifying factor and, therefore, it differs in the function and constitution from the illness you suffer from. The problems of human life are a sort of illness, which cannot be rectified by a purely human way of understanding, as this human way of thinking itself is the cause of human problems. So there is a necessity to lift yourself up from this so-called 'human outlook of life' and visualise the whole of life from a viewpoint or standpoint which is, in a way, superior to what you call 'the human way of thinking'. This art, this science, this system of living is, very very unfortunately, not known to many people in the world because of the fact that most people are sunk in this routine of ordinary thinking, which you usually call 'the human way of thinking', and you know what the human way of thinking is.

Swami Sivananda, the founder of this institution, had a specific mission to hold aloft in life before mankind, which was not merely to teach you what anybody else has taught you, but to awaken you – not merely to sermon, or give a gospel. A sleeping man has to be woken up before anything is taught to him. There is no use of giving you a sermon when you are asleep. The first thing is to awaken you from the dream or the sleep in which you are. When you are able to see things in a better way, you may be told what is essential for you; if you are asleep there is no use of speaking to you. So the role which great men of stature, like Swami Sivananda, played in life seems to be the function of awakening man rather than teaching man in the ordinary sense of the term; and you know very well the importance of waking a person from sleep – it is not in any way less important than giving him a sermon or giving him a teaching of any kind. If you are awake, perhaps you know where things stand and where you are.

So goes this little introduction that I place before you which may brush and burnish your brains. You are here with a deconditioned mind, and not a conditioned mind with which you must have come. You carry your own minds and brains when you come from distant places; that mind, that brain, should now be able to think and organise itself in a new way altogether. This is the humble effort of this academy. It is humble because it is not possible to sweeten the whole ocean with any amount of sugar that we have in this world. However, some sugar can be added into the ocean – that is a great satisfaction. Even a hundred bags of sugar will not sweeten the ocean; a thousand bags, no! However, there is a satisfaction of having performed a duty. One way or the other, the saltwaters may become sweet. So, this saltwater of human life has to be sweetened with the new outlook which is superhuman. Unless you are able to aspire at least for a superhuman level of existence – though you may not be able to place yourself in that condition at once – unless there is at least this longing for that condition which is larger than and deeper than the human level, you will not be able to have peace of mind in this world. The judgment of things is possible only by a person who is superior to the things judged, for which purpose you have to be a little more than an ordinary man.

In this context of the great learning of the art of living, I have been requested by the organisation of this Academy to speak to you something about the most interesting and stimulating message given by the Bhagavadgita, a term which you are all very much familiar with – a great scripture of yoga. You are having many other lessons also on yoga; you have Patanjali's yoga, you have Bhakti yoga, and you have many other sidelights thrown on this great, eluding thing called yoga. This specific theme which I am supposed to place before you is not an easy thing to understand – but it is not impossible to understand. It requires a little exercise of your mind with a discipline of concentration. The Bhagavadgita is a holy text which everybody reads, like the New Testament or the Bible, or the Tripitakas. We have a habit, again which is human to which I alluded just now, of revering, adoring holy texts as deities, worshipping them on our altars, and carrying them on our heads but understanding nothing of what they say. The holy texts are not to be carried on the head merely as deities of worship, though they may be also deities. They are medicines, which you do not merely keep in a cupboard and adore as a holy stuff. It is something which is to be taken in, absorbed into your system and made part and parcel of your very biological, psychological, and rational system of living.

The Bhagavadgita is the great gospel which Bhagavan Sri Krishna spoke. Historically speaking, many many years ago, under a special context of the Mahabharata, the great epic which, as you perhaps already know, is an epic of life as a whole. The question which this great text tries to solve and answer is the question of life of man. Your life in this world is a great question mark before you. What are you? Who are you? What is it that is expected of you and what is it that you expect from this world? These are questions before us and we may not be able to answer these questions off-hand. Where are we seated now? We have a simple glib answer which may not be the correct answer. I will tell you how even very small things may not be the things we actually bring into action in our life – like the location of yours, here, at this present moment, to give you only one simple, concrete, gross example. Where are you sitting now, at this present moment? You can have many answers to this question. You are sitting in the hall of a library of the Sivananda Ashram, in the campus of The Divine Life Society. This is a very correct answer, and nobody can say that you are wrong in saying that just now, "I am seated in the hall of the library of this Ashram." But you can also say, "I am living in the state of Uttar Pradesh. I come from Madras, Maharashtra, Punjab or the United States, etc. I am now in India." This is also a correct answer – you are now sitting in India, and not merely in this little hall. Though it may be true that you are in a hall, it is not untrue that you are in India. Perhaps you are likely to be more free and liberated in your psychological operations when you feel that you are in India, rather than feel that you are in a little hall. You yourself will know the difference between these two ways of thinking – "I am in India, not in a little hall." You may also say that, "I am on the surface of the earth"; this is also true. You are sitting on the earth, on the surface. You are not sitting in a hall, which is only a concept in your mind. You are on a spaceship. Do you know what a spaceship is? You know very well what it is; and the earth is a spaceship. To move in space and rattle through space, you need not go to the moon or some other planet – you are just in that condition even now. This is a little planet, the earth, on which you are seated, and it is moving with such rapidity in space that to be in the moon or the earth – it makes no difference to you. When you go to the moon you will find yourself in the same condition as you are now finding yourself when seated on the earth. Just as you do not know that the earth is moving now, you will not know that the moon is moving if you are sitting there. So goes the way in which the mind thinks.

You are also in a solar system, a large electromagnetic field which runs vitally from one planet to the centre of the sun. You are not in a library hall, sitting here. You are in a terribly powerful magnetic field operating between the sun and this earth. There is no empty space between the sun and this earth; it is electricity operating, and we are terribly influenced by every planet, every thing that is between us and every other planet. The sun and the whole solar system is conditioned by another system called the 'Nebular Organisation', the Milky Way, etc. which contains thousands and thousands of solar systems like us. We are now in the Milky Way, a part of it. We will not be able to think with our minds the way in which we are accustomed to, if the mind is to be lifted like this – higher and higher into wider regions of location. We are not sitting in a little hall, we are not even on the earth. We are in a vast spatial and temporal expanse which is influencing us from moment to moment, so that we may say that we are living in this vast universe, not in a library hall. And each one of you will be able to appreciate the difference that it will make to you if you are able to think that you are living in a vast expanse of this astronomical universe than this little thinking that you are in a small room in the academy campus. You are right in thinking that you are in the academy campus in a small room, but you can also be right in a more intensive manner if you know that you are in a larger dimension of the whole set-up of this terrible creation before you, and you are in that.

The Bhagavadgita, thus, does not take any one standpoint in answering questions of life. It takes every standpoint. Otherwise, the study of human life – or any life for the matter of that – may not be complete. A very expert physician takes into consideration every aspect of the possibility of illness of a person, and doesn't treat only one aspect. Otherwise, there will be reaction from that aspect which is ignored or neglected in observation. A total answer is given to a total question in the Bhagavadgita. There is only a single question before us, and a single answer will come from every corner of the world. The question is single because we are involved in a single, uniform manner with the large environment in which we are living, and the answer also has to be a complete answer. As is this human organism a complete system of operation, so is our relationship to the whole environment of ours – a complete involvement. All of our involvements are complete and total to the core. Hence, any educational endeavour has to be a thoroughgoing and incisive, in-depth inquiry into the structure of all things.

This occasion arose at a moment when the Mahabharata war was to take place – a question that arose in the mind of Arjuna, who in a way represents mankind in general. That personality called 'Arjuna' represents man as such. He stands for me, you, and everybody else. As a member in a parliament may stand for a particular constituency and represent the voice of those people there from where he is elected, Arjuna may represent man as such, everybody included. The question that arose in his mind is the question that may arise in every one of our minds. What is this question? In the earlier stages, this so-called Arjuna representing man, thought like anybody else in the world – "I shall do this, and I shall see that I succeed in my endeavour." We are also we are saying the same thing, "I will do this; I have to go there." And, naturally you are not going to get defeated in your attempt. You don't embark upon a project to get repelled – you go there for a success in your enterprise. This is how we think, and like that Arjuna also thought. But, things were not so easy when he had to confront that which he could not avoid in the fulfilment of enterprise or the project he was engaging himself in. Even when you want to build a house, you are not going to think merely of brick, cement and iron; this is not the only thing that is involved in the construction of a house. There are larger things, such as the occupation of the land, the ownership, the title deed, the legal association, the architectural plan and the budget involved in it, and your financial status – hundreds of things come into the picture, apart from merely the question of their being the necessity for brick and mortar etc. Many other things also are there, other than what I mentioned as instances. The war in which a person like Arjuna was engaged was not a simple encounter. You do not start anything unless you know everything about it. Otherwise, as the poet said, you would be like a fool who tries to tread where even angels will not like to move.

Arjuna, the representative of man, who thought as any one of us thinks, found himself in a difficulty when he had to confront life's problems. The word 'confrontation' is very unpalatable. It implies a kind of opposition you are trying to face – which war is, battle is, and perhaps any encounter or enterprise is. Any enterprise in life is an opposition you are facing. Any activity of any kind is the effort on your part, to solve a question arisen on account of an opposition that is in front of you; if there is no opposition of any kind, no activity would be essential in life. You need not do anything – you can be just there, where you are – but life is a battle, inwardly as well as outwardly. It is a battle because there is conflict everywhere. You will never find a very smooth movement of anything without a rattling of conflicting elements, which movement of any kind is.

Our very personal existence as a human body is a phenomenon of battle going on in what you call the biological system, which is not a static, concrete, unmoving entity – it is a tremendous movement. You have grown into the stature of your present maturity of body due to a transmutation process which has been going on ever since your birth, and transmutation or transformation is nothing but a process of being born and dying at the same time. An earlier stage dies, and a new stage is born in every evolutionary process. That which 'was' has gone and that which 'is not' is to arrive. The arriving of a new thing is the birth, so-called, and the going away of that which is now, and giving way to that which is not, is the death of the earlier one. Birth and death, the coming and the going of things, is the drama of existence. A Nataka, a drama, a performance in a theatre is a terrible movement – it is not a static action, it is not the mere existing of people on a stage. There is a movement, which is involved in the coming and going of people – some role comes in and some role has an exit. Otherwise, you would have all the dramatis personae standing there before you and not saying anything; there will not be a play. A play involves the coming and going of various actors; and the coming and going of various actors is what you call the scenes in the drama or the enactment – the play. In this sense we may say the life of this world is a great enactment of many people, coming in and going and playing the role in some way, and then having their exit, not being seen again. "The world is a large stage." This is what Shakespeare mentions in a beautiful passage in his As You Like It, perhaps. We are all actors in the large play.

Now, when you take up a particular part in an enactment or a drama, you know very well that there are other actors also, and you are not the sole actor in that performance. Your relationship to other people in that particular performance is the vital thing you have to understand. There may be friends and enemies, which are the roles you may have to play – maybe you are enacting the Ramayana or the Mahabharata or some such thing. Every actor performs a particular duty. And in the sense of that particularisation of the duty, one is different from the other. There is no vital connection between one actor and another, inasmuch as one actor is concerned only with his or her role, and not with the role played by other people in the drama. In that sense every one of us is independent – you have no connection with me, I am not concerned with you. I do what I am expected to do in the little circumference or the circumscribed area of my life, and so on is the case with you also. But, there is a unity of structure in the whole play; otherwise it would not be a play at all. In spite of the individuality and the isolated performances of the different actors, maybe hundreds in number, there is a unity of purpose, an aim and objective with which the drama is played - the objective being in the mind of the director who knows which actor will play which role and what unity there can be between the performance of one and the performance of another. It is not merely the director as an individual that is supposed to know the unity of purpose. Even the individuals will be aware of it, without which knowledge there would not be a harmonious element in respect of other elements, notwithstanding the fact for the purpose of their performance they are individuals.

Here is a little hint that I place before you as to the structure of our social life itself. We are, outwardly speaking, independent persons. Each one is a free bird – we can fly in any way we like - but we are not so free as we may imagine, under the pressure of an error of thinking. In a democratic set-up of a government, each person is free; that is the very meaning of democracy. You are not a shackled person; you are not limited in the operation of your daily performance – you are a free man. That is democracy. But you are not a hundred percent free; a hundred percent freedom given to every person would end in a destruction of the very system of democracy, because two hundred percents are unknown – like two infinities. There will be a clash of persons in one second. In spite of the independence and freedom given to individuals in this free set-up of things, there is a restraint exerted upon each individual which you call the operation of law; you may call it the government if you like. So, there is a restraint that you have to exercise on your part, together with the freedom that you are exercising in life. So restraint and freedom are not opposites, though they are opposites from the point of view of a dictionary meaning of these words. How can restraint and freedom be the same thing? They are two different things, but they are not contradictories. Do you know that in the exercise of your freedom as a citizen of a democratic nation, you are also restraining yourself from interfering with the freedom of other people? Is it not restraint? Do you say that the restraint is in any way opposed to the freedom that you are endowed with? So, freedom and discipline are not opposites, and perhaps the one cannot be there without the other.

But, the human mind being very weak for obvious reasons, is not always able to think in this disciplined manner. Most of us are undisciplined, indisciplined persons. We have a desire for license to do anything. This is not merely not a superhuman way of thinking, it is not even a decent human way of thinking. "Each one for himself and devil take the hindmost" is not democracy. It is a duty that each one feels, not only in regard to oneself but also in regard to others. Many of us are not meant for a pure democratic living, since we are unable to think in such a large way which is essential for this charitable way of existence you call democracy. In one way at least, you may say the universe is like a large democratic organisation, though it is not merely that; it is something else also, to which we shall refer later on. Everyone has a duty in this world, not only to one's self but also to others. You know this very well – a simple truth. You have a duty towards yourself, and in the performance of this duty in regard to yourself you are free; nobody obstructs the performance of the duty you owe to your own self. But, in the duty that you owe to others, you are under the impulsion of a law that operates transcendent to your individuality – transcendent because it is wider than your personality, it is comprehensive of all other people also, in whose relationship you as an individual are involved.

The law of a country is larger than the person or the individual who is free. Every person in a nation is free, yet the law is superior to every person. Unless it is superior it cannot exercise a control over others. One individual cannot restrain another individual, because both are on par, as far as they are individuals. A control can be exercised only by a superior power which is super-individualistic, and thus is law. Every disciplined law system rule is super-individualistic. If it is confined to the individual only, it cannot operate in respect of other people outside, external to the individual. So there is a law operating in the world which gives you freedom to act, and at the same time restrains you in a powerful manner. So I come to the point again, that restraint and freedom are not opposites – they are co-relatives. They co-exist, they are co-extensive, co-eternal, and one cannot be without the other. An ordinary weak mind, not properly tutored or educated, will not be able to think in this manner. Arjuna was not able to think always like this. He was the son of so-and-so, he was a Kshatriya, he had a right over some land for which he was to fight – that was all that seems to have been in his mind, and he was not wholly educated, perhaps, in the art of thinking in a manner which is required by the existence of things which are not always visible to the eyes.

This transcendent principle which is called law, which operates in a country and operates in the world, operates everywhere, is not always a pleasant thing for a person who seeks a hundred percent freedom to one's own self. Nobody likes the word 'law'; it is a hateful word. We do not like the word 'discipline' – we resent it. It is very bitter to hear these terms because we are not prepared to allow that amount of freedom to others which we like to allow to our own selves, which requires a slight impersonality on our part, above and transcendent to our individual way of thinking which, given a long rope, will be the centre of selfishness. Selfishness, is the affirmation of yourself as the whole reality and an unpreparedness to accept that others also exist around you. You are not prepared even to acquiesce in the existence of other people. You alone are and, "Nobody else can be in front of me." This is selfishness, this is tyranny, this is a dictator gone amuck. "Let me alone exist and others be not." This is the height of selfishness. But it can present itself in a milder form when we stick to our own guns and would not be prepared to be charitable enough to accept the viewpoints of other people also, much less give them the freedom that they would like to enjoy as we ourselves would like. The world is not made in the way in which we are thinking it to be constituted – things are not what they seem. The law I refer to is not outside you. We do not like the operation of law because we are under the impression that it is outside us – somebody is harassing us from outside by saying that there is a law. Law is not an external existence – it is something in which you yourself are involved. In this sense, you are involved in the world also. So in this sense again, the world is not outside you, as the law is not outside. The relationship that obtains between you and the world is what is called law. It is not made by man; it exists, as the law of gravitation exists if man is not to be at all.

This is a new education into which we have to be introduced, if we have to enjoy a peaceful existence in this world. One who violates law cannot be protected by law, and therefore he cannot have any peace. And if we are insistent on considering others as totally externals – the world is unrelated to us, which we are merely to exploit in some way or the other – then the law will catch hold of us. If you are not prepared to accept a law which accepts the existence of other people, you will be unhappy in this world. You may say that we are all unhappy because of the violation of a law - not necessarily the law that man has made in a parliament, but a law which conditions even the laws made in the parliament. Why do you violate such laws? Because you are not sufficiently educated. That was the condition in which Arjuna found himself when he saw a huge army of friends, relations, etc., in that context of the Mahabharata battle. It is a fear to face relations, friends, and related objects. That roused up a question of what one has to do in this large set-up of things. It was not a question of Arjuna, but a question of man as such. It is not a question concerning the Mahabharata battle; it is a question concerning the struggle for existence itself. This question has to be answered, and here is the Bhagavadgita.