Commentary on the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

Discourse 18: A Summary of the First Six Chapters

We may cast a retrospective glance over the studies that we have made up to this time, which comprise the first six chapters of the Bhagavadgita. These first six chapters form an independent book by themselves. The eighteen chapters of the Gita have been classified into three books: the first six, the next six, and the last six. The first six chapters, as we might have noticed, lay emphasis particularly on the individual’s discipline by rightly directed activity. We have been told several things in all these six chapters: how an individual should behave, how an individual should conduct himself, and how yogic discipline has to be the central motif of every spiritual seeker.

In the First Chapter we are introduced to the scenery of the actual workaday world of what we may call mutual conflict, and an inner instinct for waging war even with one’s own neighbour, kith and kin, and family members. This was the predicament in which Arjuna found himself; and man is symbolised by Arjuna. We have the representative of man in Arjuna. We can find the weaknesses and the strengths of human individuality in Arjuna’s personality. Whatever we feel, he too felt. Whatever is our forte and foible, that was also his forte and foible. Actually, every day we do the same things that he was doing, but in a different magnitude. We may not actually find ourselves on a large field of battle with elephants, chariots, horses and drawn swords; but in a miniature, more modified form, we are on a battlefield every day, each one of us, if we consider the fact that there is some conflict that we have to face from morning to evening. This conflict is partly in our own selves because it has not always been easy for us to reconcile our judicial and rational understandings with our instinctive feelings, biological calls, and the like. We also feel some difficulty in adjusting ourselves with people outside. Great effort is necessary to see that we do not come in conflict with other people. Though a person may be very near us, maybe living next door, we have to adjust ourselves with him, notwithstanding his nearness. We experience a strain owing to the necessity that we feel to adjust ourselves from moment to moment in the atmosphere that we are placed; and we know that we are always placed in some atmosphere every day socially, geographically, naturally.

Now there is a big storm, which we never expected; yesterday it was so hot, and tomorrow it may be something else. This is a geographical and natural phenomenon with which we have to adjust ourselves so that we may not fall ill. And, of course, there are various ways in which people think. Not everyone thinks in the same manner every day. As evolution advances, the pattern of thinking in individuals also goes on changing. We cannot take any person in this world for granted, because every individual undergoes even psychological modifications on account of the gunas of prakritisattva, rajas, tamas—modifications in the onward march through the process of evolution.

A peculiar difficulty has been briefly picturised before us in the First Chapter of the Bhagavadgita—a chaos of mental activity, and a peculiar difficulty whose causes are not easily detectable. Fortunately for Arjuna, Sri Krishna was his guide and, therefore, he was in a better position than many of us here who do not have guides of that kind. Sri Krishna immediately placed Arjuna in the proper context of his activity, saying that all the social and psychological difficulties he felt, which he expressed in the First Chapter, were due to a lack of knowledge.

Here, by ‘knowledge’ Sri Krishna meant the structure of the universe in the light of the components of prakriti as detailed for us in the Sankhya philosophy. Everything in the world—outside as well as inside, individually as well as cosmically—is supposedly constituted of twenty-four principles; and the relationship of oneself with this world is not actually a sentimental one. Our relationship to people outside and to the world is not sensory, not sentimental, not emotional; it is a different thing altogether. That our relationship with the outside world is altogether different from what we assume it to be was not known to Arjuna. And many of us are in the same condition; we do not know the world properly. Therefore, every day there is a peculiar anxiety in our minds, either in a submerged form or in an expressed, patent form.

Sankhya knowledge was lacking in Arjuna. Apart from that, even supposing he had been initiated into the doctrine of Sankhya, which is the pattern of the working of the cosmos, he could not implement it in daily life, especially in the conflict-ridden field where he was stationed. So he was lacking knowledge of both Sankhya and yoga.

The Second Chapter briefly lays the foundation for all the teachings in the Gita that follow. The various verses of the Second Chapter sow the seeds for more detailed enumeration of the very same theme that will come in the later chapters.

In the Third Chapter we saw in larger detail how one has to conduct oneself in this prakriti-ridden world—the world constituted of sattva, rajas and tamas—by applying the knowledge of Sankhya in our day-to-day activity. We should not be under the impression that we are the agents of action or the doers of anything whatsoever, as independent individuality is not permitted in the cosmic setup of the three gunas, which constitute the outside world as well as our own selves. Guṇā guṇeṣu vartanta iti matvā na sajjate (3.28), says the Third Chapter. Knowing that the three gunas in the form of the components that make up the individual collide with the very same gunas in the form of objects of sense—knowing this truth of prakriti itself working individually on the one side and cosmically on the other side—one does not get attached to any particular individual, event or activity.

We are born with a determination, a will and necessity to perform sacrifice. Sahayajñāḥ prajāḥ sṛṣṭvā purovāca prajāpatiḥ, anena prasaviṣyadhvam eṣa vo’stviṣṭakāmadhuk (3.10): By mutual cooperation and mutual sacrifice, we will be able to live here comfortably in this world. If we are friendly with other people, those other people will also be friendly with us. A little sacrifice that we do will evoke the very same spirit of sacrifice from other people. Total independence of an individual is not possible in this world where individuality is weak in many ways and cooperation from other people is necessary. Hence, we have to show respect, and a sacrificial spirit should be our attitude towards other people because we expect the same sacrifice from others. It is a kind of mutual give-and-take policy of harmonised behaviour among individuals in society.

After hearing all this, the student may be perturbed: “This teaching is too high for me; it goes over my head. I seem to understand what You are saying, Lord Krishna, and the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. My body is trembling, my mind is running here and there with its distractive activities, and my soul is not able to reconcile itself with the demands of the sense organs, the physical body, and the fickle mind. How am I to actually utilise this knowledge that You have imparted to me in my daily work? I have got weaknesses of a hundred varieties.”

The Fourth Chapter tries to give a solacing reply to this doubt. Whenever we have such difficulty and we find ourselves in an impasse which we cannot easily cross, God Himself will descend in the form of an incarnation in order to help us. A descent of divine light will suddenly illumine the dark corners of our daily work. Yadā yadā hi dharmasya glānir bhavati bhārata, abhyutthānam adharmasya tadātmānaṁ sṛjāmy aham; paritrāṇāya sādhūnāṁ vināśāya ca duṣkṛtām, dharma- saṁsthāpanārthāya saṁbhavāmi yuge yuge (4.7-8). We noticed that God’s incarnating is a perpetual activity. It is not something that took place centuries back and may take place again after several centuries. It is the direct action that God takes at every crucial moment whenever there is an impossible situation, as it were, which we cannot handle even with the guidance of our associates.

A great problem is before us. We do not know whether to live or to die. Sometimes such situations arise, and it is then that we have to invoke a higher power. We had such difficulties in the ashram during Gurudev Swami Sivananadaji’s time—to be or not to be, to do or not to do. “Swamiji Maharaj, tomorrow there is a very difficult situation for us. We have no food to eat.” Or—“That person is giving this trouble. This person is a problem. What is to be done? Gurudev, these kind of problems are there.” His answer was, “Don’t bother. It will be all right”; and it became all right.

Now this sentence, “It will be all right,” is a kind of incarnation of God. It is a blessing that comes from a source that is not of this world, and we could not have handled it individually. In the same manner, Bhagavan Sri Krishna gives us a solacing message that we need not feel perturbed that it may be difficult for us to practise yoga. We should not think it is difficult, beyond us totally, physically as well as mentally. No! When we feel difficulty of this kind, when it is impossible for us to take even one step, if our hearts are pure and our feelings are sincere, we will see a light like a candle flame in front of us. Some good Samaritan will suddenly come to our help. Miracles take place every day, and they can be known to us if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. Therefore, no problems will be there.

Different kinds of spiritual practice are further described in the Fourth Chapter—the kinds of yajna, or sacrifice, in the form of worship, etc., that we have to perform. We went through this in detail towards the end of the Fourth Chapter.

The same subject was taken up in more detail in the Fifth Chapter, especially touching upon the qualities of a great siddha purusha: how he behaves, how he conducts himself in this world, how undetectable is his behaviour. Knowing everything, he behaves as if he knows nothing; and knowing that people are ignorant, he does not find fault with them. Like a good psychologist or a good teacher, he educates people at the level that they are in, whatever be the level. Whether it is the kindergarten level or the first standard or whatever it is, from that level the teacher who is a siddha purusha, who knows all the secrets of the cosmos, educates people. He does not criticise anybody, and he never says they are on the wrong path. He says they are on the right path, but it is an initial step that they have taken and, therefore, it is not adequate. We cannot say that the blundering difficulties that a child in the first standard is facing in school are to be condemned. It is a phase that everyone has to pass through, and it has to be a base for us to construct the subsequent structure of the mind. This is how the great sages behave in this world. Friendly, loving, compassionate, and very, very attractive—these are the qualities of a great saint. When we see him, we are attracted as if we are seeing the full moon, and we feel a solace, a kind of comfort even if he does not speak a word. That is the power his personality emanates in the form of an aura around him; and sometimes he teaches even without uttering a word. His very presence is an ashram, and his very presence is a solution to all our difficulties. Such things were described in the Fifth Chapter, towards the end of which three seed-like verses were mentioned as a preparation for what we have to study in the Sixth Chapter: sparśān kṛtvā bahir bāhyāṁś cakṣuś caivāntare bhruvoḥ, prāṇāpānau samau kṛtvā nāsābhyantaracāriṇau; yatendriyamanobuddhir munir mokṣaparāyaṇaḥ, vigatecchābhayakrodho yaḥ sadā mukta eva saḥ; bhoktāraṁ yajñatapasāṁ sarvalokamaheśvaram, suhṛdaṁ sarvabhūtānāṁ jñātvā māṁ śāntim ṛcchati (5.27-29).

By restraining the sense organs and settling the energy of the senses in the mind, settling the mind in the intellect, and settling the intellect in the buddhi, or the self inside, one restrains the total personality of oneself and attains the goal of self-discipline. And the greatest solace for us is not merely the confidence that we have attained some perfection in the process of self-discipline, but that God is our friend: suhṛdaṁ sarvabhūtānāṁ jñātvā māṁ śāntim ṛcchati. Our heart will well up with joy in one second if we know that God is our best friend. He is at our beck and call, and He is just now ready to come to us. If we are sure that this is a fact, our disciplines are surpassed by this great joy that arises in our hearts that God is with us, in us, and is ready to come to us just at this moment.

In the Sixth Chapter, we were introduced to the necessity for self-control by way of the subjugation of the lower self by the higher Self, whereby the higher Self becomes a friend of the lower self. But if the lower self insists or persists in its own egoistic behaviour in terms of objects of sense, etc., the higher Self will act as an enemy, the world will look like an enemy, and God Himself might look like an enemy; and He will not help us if we are disobedient to the laws of nature and the requirements of God’s ordinance.

The practical instructions went on as follows: We have to be seated in a particular place, on a seat that is comfortable, in a posture that is helpful, concentrating the mind on our ishta devata—the god whom we have chosen as the object of our concentration. I mentioned that the god, or the ishta devata, is not necessarily an object outside us; it is a transcendent principle that envelops us and is above us. Even in the initial stage of the concept of the ishta devata, the power that is God is a transcendent element that includes us, and is not just some image that is outside us. God is not outside even in the lowest of His manifestations. He is above us always.

Whether it is a Guru or a god, we must not consider a Guru or a god as some outside person. The Guru is above us, and not outside us, in the same way as the teacher is above the student, though he looks as if he is sitting outside on a chair. The outsideness of the teacher does not make him an external object to the student. He transcends the student in his comprehension of the teaching capacity and his knowledge. We have to be able to understand what transcendence means. The teacher’s knowledge includes whatever the student has and, therefore, he is above the student, even though he looks like an outside object sitting in front of the student. This also applies to the Guru. The Guru is not an object whom we can photograph and keep a picture of. The Guru is a force; and in that sense, we may say the Guru never dies. As God cannot die, the Guru also cannot die. It is a generated power which includes us, is above us and, therefore, it is not a physical individual. The Guru is a force.

We know that the physical body of the Guru will perish one day, since it is as much a component of physiology and anatomy as anybody else’s and, therefore, there is nothing especially valuable or divine in the physical body of the Guru. The divinity that is the Guru is in the essence that is inside, which is emanating a graceful energy around us as an aura; and that does not die. The Guru that we worship, in spite of our imagining that it is a physical body in front of us, is actually a force.

We hang a photo of our father on the wall, even though our father is dead. We have been worshipping our father even though he has gone. Who has gone? We cannot actually know who our father is. Our father is there in the form of a dead body, and we say that our father is still there. The father whom we were worshipping and photographing and considering as our superior in our daily life is still there in the form of the dead body, and we are actually hanging the photograph of only the body. But we say that our father has gone. What has gone? Our father is actually not the body that we are worshipping, and it is also not the photograph that is hanging on the wall. It is a force which we could not detect with our physical eyes, but which evoked a respect from us. So is the case with a Guru, and with God Himself.

Neither our father, nor our Guru, nor God Himself can be considered to be external objects. They are transcendent principles. This is an insight that we have to draw from the teachings of the Bhagavadgita, where Sri Krishna stood as the paramount Guru, or teacher, to Arjuna. Meditating on the ishta devata can mean meditating on any concept of God that we have in our minds. Some people ask to be initiated into meditation or to be given a mantra for japa. Generally, we ask them what concept they have of God. Some people say they worship Jesus. Some say they are devotees of Lord Krishna or Devi or Durga, etc. Some say they meditate on light as an all-pervading illumination. Some meditate on the bhrumadhya, which is the point between the eyebrows, or the heart, etc. These are indications of the way in which the mind of the student works, and the student has to be taken from that level and initiated into a mantra or a method of meditation.

In the beginning, meditation is externally construed because the mind is not capable of universally perceiving all things at the same time. Even when we think of God, notwithstanding the fact that we feel that He is everywhere, we picture Him as an external something which we can behold. Even when we are told that Arjuna saw the Visvarupa, we feel that the Visvarupa was spreading itself everywhere and Arjuna was standing somewhere outside and looking at it, as one would look at a movie on a cinema screen. Our involvement in space and time and objects creates such a peculiar defect in our minds that, somehow or the other, even a universal principle gets externalised.

The mind can think only in four ways: in terms of quantity, in terms of quality, in terms of relation, and in terms of a condition or mode. Quantity, quality, relation and modality—these are the four types of crucibles into which our mind is cast, and no one can think of anything except in terms of quantity, quality, relation and mode. Because of this helplessness that the mind feels on account of being cast into this crucible, it cannot conceive universality. The Universal is not a quantity, it is not a quality, it is not a relation, and it is not a condition, so how can we think of God as Universal Being? Hence, the Guru initiates us into a god whom we can conceive as something outside, and our dear god is standing in front of us as Lord Krishna, as Sri Rama, or Devi, or Jesus, as the case may be. Then we have to slowly educate our minds into higher concepts of this very god by feeling that the ishta devata that we are imagining to be present, or standing in front of us, is pervading all places. Krishna is not only in one place; Jesus is not in one place, etc. We universalise the concept of the otherwise localised ishta devata so that we may feel at home with all things in the world. Whoever beholds God everywhere and sees God in all things, and also sees all things in God, is never bereaved of God’s presence. These are the last instructions which are given towards the conclusion of the Sixth Chapter.

Arjuna raises a question regarding what happens to a person who dies even before he achieves perfection in yoga. It is frightening to conclude that one dies and achieves nothing in spite of all the effort in meditation. Sri Krishna’s answer is that nothing dies in spiritual effort. Only the physical body dies; the spiritual practice that we did or the yoga that we practised was not conducted by the physical body. It is the mind that did the sadhana, and the mind does not die. The deathless individual principle in us will carry itself forward like a rocket, rising up into a new body where we will find favourable circumstances for the completion of our sadhana and our onward march. Because of the sadhana that we have performed in this life, we will be reborn into a well-to-do family that will not disturb us or place obstacles in front of us. All favourable conditions will be provided to us in the family into which we are born. Due to a premonition of the previous practice, we will suddenly take up the thread from the very point which we left in the previous life. We will be able to grasp things quickly. There are precocious people who immediately understand things, who catch things better than other students. This precocity is due to the experience, learning, practice and goodness that they had in the previous life, which carries them forward. Sri Krishna says that we may even be born as sons or daughters of great yogis, which is a still greater blessing than to be born under favourable circumstances in a well-to-do family. But this is very difficult to attain. To become the son of Vasishtha or Vyasa is not an easy thing, but it is worthwhile attempting.

Therefore, the total activity of the cosmos is an onward march, and we are included in this total activity of the cosmos in the process of evolution. Hence, all the participation that we extend by way of our harmonious relations with the world and by the practice of yoga will carry us forward, onward, and we will be more blissful and more juxtaposed in our relationship with the Ultimate Reality.

This is a kind of summing up of the essentials that the Bhagavadgita places before us in the first six chapters. We would have noticed there is not much mention of God here. Very little or no mention at all is made. The first six chapters just tell us what we have to do, and in what manner. But the individual is not a complete reality in itself. Even a highly disciplined individual is, after all, an individual. It is a finite entity. How will the finite contact the Infinite?

From the Seventh Chapter onwards we will be brought in contact with the cosmos, in whose relation we are placed as individuals organically connected with realities that go beyond our finitude. This subject we shall take up from tomorrow onwards.