Commentary on the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

Discourse 29: A Summary of the First Nine Chapters

The brilliant thesis of the Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Chapters of the Gita that we have been studying is a great theology compressed into a series of brief statements rather than a huge magnum opus, but each verse is a pithy seed sown for further consideration and delineation by philosophers, academicians and metaphysicians. The religion of God—we may say, the religion of man—is the real subject here. In the first six chapters, a kind of religion is adumbrated in the form of the impulsion and command to work for the sake of work, duty for the sake of duty, and performance of one’s functions in society as a participation, a necessary cooperation with the scheme of prakriti. That was the emphasis laid in the first six chapters—culminating with dhyana, or meditation, for the purpose of the integration of the individual.

Work performed in the spirit of a voluntary cooperation with the forces of nature is also a religion of some kind, because religion is basically an attitude that tries to transcend itself. Whenever we expect values of life in some things that are above us, we are religious people. But if we consider that we are all-in-all and everything is just for us—the realities of life are centred in our personalities and in the personalities of others who are like us, and there is nothing qualitatively superior to human thought and action—if that is how we feel, we are irreligious people. But if we believe in a reality that is above human society and human individuality, and perform our duties not as a compulsion from an outside mandate but as an impulsion from our own spirit for the purpose of the regeneration of our own spiritual nature, and also as a help given for a similar uplift of people around us—if this sort of attitude is maintained in the work that we perform, work is also religion.

When we bring God into the picture of our existence in the world, we feel that true religion begins. Though it is no doubt true, philosophically speaking, that participation in the universal activity of prakriti is a religion, and it cannot be anything less than true religion, we hanker for God, but do not hanker for work. It is a misreading of the values of life to think that God is outside the range of work. The mind, in its cleavage of psychic operations, creates a distinction between the world and God, and it is difficult for the human mind to believe that anything that is concerning this world has any connection with God.

Hence, we are hard-pressed to accept the doctrine that work is also a divine worship, though we have been told this twenty times, a hundred times, a thousand times. We are inclined to believe it due to our susceptibility to accept a larger reality in human society than our own selves, and also our acceptance of the fact that nature is compelling us to participate in its scheme. Philosophically, and in moments of rationality, we accept its scheme; still, we hunger for something which is not work. The word ‘work’ is an anathema because of our concept of the divinity that we wish to worship, so it has become very difficult for us to see divinity in work.

The Bhagavadgita has tried to dispel this misconception in our minds that activities in the world cannot also be divine worships, which is contrary to the ordinary belief of the sense organs and the mind involved in pleasures of the body and the senses. The Bhagavadgita places tremendous emphasis on the fact that activity is not contrary to divinity, and work is not disharmonious with God. This is so because of the fact that work is connected with God’s creation. Inasmuch as it has a vital relationship with God’s creation, it also has a connection with God; hence, work is also religion.

In order to cater to the higher instincts of a call for God in His transcendent aspect, the Bhagavadgita goes into the essentials of an immortal essence presiding over our participation in religious work—God as we would like God to be, and not God as we would not like Him to be. In our restlessness, in our eagerness for pleasure and leisure, in our boredom with life as a whole, we do not wish God to insist on our performing work in this world. Rather, we very much wish that He asks us to redeem ourselves from any compulsion to work. But God is not of that nature. He wishes us to accept the organic connection between the world and God; therefore, work is religion.

The purely theological, religious doctrine that is presented to us from the Seventh Chapter onwards is a new kind of teaching: Divinity parades as all things in creation; the five elements are the manifestation of God’s lower prakriti; the vitality, or prana, that is operating in the cosmos is the higher prakriti; devotees are of four kinds in nature; everyone is fit to realise God one day or the other, provided that one’s devotion to God is pure. This is the emphasis of the Seventh Chapter.

In connection with this topic of true religion and universal religion, a question automatically arose: “What happens to the religious man after he dies?” Many a time this question arises within our own selves: “What will happen to me tomorrow? I am an old man. One day I will pass away from this world. In what way is my religion going to help me?”

The answer to this question comes in the Eighth Chapter. Life is continuous, and does not end with death, and so whatever religious performance that is to our credit will be carried forward to the next life. Our personality does not die psychologically when it dies physically, and all the things that we did in this world, good and bad, will be carried forward. Therefore, it is emphasised that we must think only of God at the time of death. Inasmuch as it is not easy to think of God as Absolute at the time of passing—on account of the many physical difficulties which may harass us—it is again emphasised that we must live a life of religion throughout our lives. The entire life of the human being should be a transmutation of personality in the form of divine worship; and it is incumbent that, at the time of passing, the thought should not be anything irrelevant, but should be of the supreme Absolute.

The Ninth Chapter continues this theme. An interesting verse which we discussed yesterday says that God takes care of all people personally, as it were, as His near and dear children, and He shall provide us with all that we require. Even the worst of sinners can become highly religious: api cet sudurācāro (9.30); ye’pi syuḥ pāpayonayaḥ (9.32). It is said towards the end of the chapter that even the worst of sinners—very bad people, wicked persons—can also reach God. They do not get damned to hell. Eternal damnation is not the doctrine of the Bhagavadgita. There is punishment, to some extent, meted out on account of erroneous actions performed in this world, with the nemesis following automatically. Action breeds reaction. It is not punishment meted out by somebody; it is a punishment meted out by the action itself as an automatic reaction that comes forth on account of an action—whether it is good or bad, positive or negative, harmonious or disharmonious. Complete rejection of any person is not in the constitution of God’s ordinance. “All are welcome to Me, whether they are high or low.”

The poem Abou Ben Adhem by Leigh Hunt describes how the humblest person, who was unknown and unrecorded in human history, received the first call from God. Famous people do not go to God so easily. The greatest sages and saints are unknown persons in the world; the known ones are second-rate heroes. The greatest of beings, who come to redeem humanity by merely their existence or thought, perform no action in the historical or political sense. They merely release some energy—an aura around them, a potential—that pervades the whole earth. We are told in our scriptures that Vyasa and Narayana are residing in the Badarikashrama for the solidarity of mankind, and are invisibly performing miracles by their very existence—and not necessarily by the movement of their hands and feet.

The Ninth Chapter clinches the whole subject by saying that the worst of people are also called. Actually, there is no such thing as the worst of people. As a matter of fact, sin cannot stand before God. There is no such thing as original sin, or Adam’s sin, or my sin or your sin, or imperishable sin; these doctrines are not there. Even hell is a kind of purgatory, like a temporary prison. No one’s spirit is damned forever to an eternity of suffering. On account of the compassionate presence of the immanent God in all things and there being nothing external to God, there is no such thing as an eternity of suffering or eternal rejection. Even hell cannot be outside Him.

Manmanā bhava (9.34): “Concentrate your mind on Me.” Madbhakta: “Be devoted to Me.” Madyājī: “Perform sacrifices for Me.” Māṁ namaskuru: “Prostrate yourself before Me.” Mām evaiṣyasi: “You shall attain Me.” Yuktvaivam ātmānaṁ matparāyaṇaḥ: “Eternally being in the state of yoga, of the unity of yourself with Myself, you shall be in Me and I shall be in you.”

This has been beautifully put in the concluding verses of the Sixth Chapter:

sarvabhūtastham ātmānaṁ sarvabhūtāni cātmani
īkṣate yogayuktātmā sarvatra samadarśanaḥ
yo māṁ paśyati sarvatra sarvaṁ ca mayi paśyati
tasyāhaṁ na praṇaśyāmi sa ca me na praṇaśyati
sarvabhūtasthitaṁ yo māṁ bhajatyekatvam āsthitaḥ
sarvathā vartamāno’pi sa yogī mayi vartate

Here it is specifically said, “Whatever be your behaviour, if you really surrender yourself to Me, you are redeemed.” Sarvathā vartamānopi: “Whatever be a person’s behaviour, if his spirit is united with the Absolute—sa yogī mayi vartate—that yogi is in Me, lodged in My spirit.”

Ᾱtmaupamyena sarvatra samaṁ paśyati yo’rjuna, sukhaṁ vā yadi vā duḥkhaṁ sa yogī paramo mataḥ (6.32). There is a gradual ascent of religious spirit from the beginning to the end of the chapters we have been studying. A distance between God and man is maintained in the earlier chapters, beginning with a very great distance indeed in the First Chapter. Gradually the distance goes on diminishing until we begin to feel that God is a teacher, a friend, a good philosopher and guide, and finally, a redeemer. We are taken to the heights of thought which declares that God is not merely a friend, philosopher and guide in the ordinary sense, as the historical Krishna may appear to the historical Arjuna. The heights become more pronounced in the Seventh Chapter, when we are told that God is much more than our ordinary human friend; He is the Creator of the universe itself. Ahaṁ sarvasya prabhava (10.8): Everything proceeds from Me. Mattaḥ parataraṁ nānyat kiñcid (7.7): Nothing exists outside Me. The creative aspect of God is especially enunciated in the Seventh Chapter. Yet, a kind of distance is maintained between God and the world, because we feel that God created the world and, therefore, He must be a little away from the world. Do we not say that God is in heaven?

While in the earlier chapters, up to the Sixth, there is a great distance indeed between the world and God, in the Seventh Chapter we are given a little comfort by the doctrine that God, being the Creator of the universe, is immanent and, therefore, is with us at all times. God is both within and without us. The distance between God and man again becomes a little pronounced in the Eighth Chapter, which presents the theory that God is reached after death. Antakāle ca mām eva smaran muktvā kalevaram (8.5); sa yāti paramāṁ gatim (8.13): “If you think of Me at the time of death, you shall reach Me.” It is not mentioned that we can reach God now, in this world. Can we reach God while we are alive? Or do we reach God only after death?

The Creator’s distance as a supernal transcendence, as a Father in heaven, is an idea that may arise in our minds in the Seventh Chapter; and that we can reach God only after death is an idea that may arise in the Eighth Chapter. But God is not to be considered to be reachable only after death. That God can look to our needs even today is especially emphasised in the Ninth Chapter. Ananyāś cintayanto māṁ ye janāḥ paryupāsate, teṣāṁ nityābhiyuktānāṁ yogakṣemaṁ vahāmyaham (9.22): God is not transcendent, sitting in heaven and gazing at us dispassionately and unconcerned, but He is greatly concerned. God comes down to the very earth and the kitchen of the human being, and provides us rations and all our needs, and protects us in every way. Thus, in the Ninth Chapter, the religious spirit brings God to the very earth, as it were, and the distance between God and man diminishes very palpably. “I am everywhere,” is the statement made in the Ninth Chapter.