Commentary on the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

Discourse 44: The Sixteenth Chapter Begins – Divine and Undivine Qualities

We are now in the Sixteenth Chapter, which is called the chapter that distinguishes between qualities that are divine and qualities that are not divine. The description is mostly from the point of view of an ethical distinction in order to determine what is divine and what is undivine, but it is based on the final goal of life that is described in the earlier chapters.

The goodness or the badness of a particular quality or action, the divinity or the demoniacal nature of any behaviour, cannot be asserted entirely by social standards. They become acceptable or not acceptable on account of their relevance to the ultimate goal of life. If there is total harmony and relevance with the final attainment, that attitude, that conduct, that behaviour, that thought and feeling will be considered as holy, divine, ethical and moral. But if there is behaviour which is opposed to the consciousness of the ultimate goal of life by encouraging attachment, egoism, possessiveness, cruelty and associated qualities, then it becomes unethical, immoral, bad, ugly, undivine.

Śrībhagavānuvāca. Here in these few chapters, the Lord speaks without being questioned. The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Sixteenth Chapters all consist of direct speaking without any interruption or query from Arjuna.

The divine qualities are actually the qualities of what we call goodness—appreciable, noteworthy, and polished, gentlemanly qualities. They are listed here in a few verses:

abhayaṁ sattvasaṁśuddhir jñānayogavyavasthitiḥ
dānaṁ damaś ca yajñaś ca svādhyāyas tapa ārjavam
ahiṁsā satyam akrodhas tyāgaḥ śāntir apaiśunam
dayā bhūteṣualoluptvaṁ mārdavaṁ hrīr acāpalam
tejaḥ kṣamā dhṛtiḥ śaucam adroho nātimānitā
bhavanti saṁpadaṁ daivīm abhijātasya bhārata

Abhayaṁ is an inward feeling of fearlessness born of inner contentment. People with wants of every kind are afraid of so many things. Fearlessness is a quality of desirelessness.

Sattvasaṁśuddhiḥ is the manifestation of the sattva guna, resulting in clarity of perception, radiance in the face, and inward satiety.

Jñānayogavyavasthitiḥ is an intense aspiration to get established in the yoga of the wisdom of God.

Dānaṁ is a charitable nature, a giving nature, large-heartedness, not a selfish nature.

Damaḥ is the restraint of the organs of knowledge as well as the organs of action.

Yajñaḥ ca is a daily consciousness of it being necessary for us to adore gods, the divinities superintending over the cosmos, by external ritualistic sacrifice as well as internal sacrifice that is described in the Fourth Chapter, to which you may revert for brushing up your memory.

Svādhyāyaḥ is daily sacred study of the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Gita or any holy scripture in order to enable lofty thoughts in the mind—without which, the mind will think of dirt and stink and very low things of the world on account of the strength of the activity of the sense organs. To prevent one’s subjection to sensory demands and the evaluation of things in terms of the sense organs, the study of sacred scriptures—which are the words of the saints, sages, prophets and incarnations—will be of great assistance.

Tapaḥ means austerity. It also means mental and sensory control—the ability not to allow the energy of the system to leak out through the apertures of the sense organs, and conservation of energy in oneself. This, essentially, is tapaḥ.

Ᾱrjavam is straightforwardness. We should not say something, do another thing, and think a third thing altogether; that is crookedness. Actually, we should speak what we think, and behave in that manner. That is what is called straightforwardness—ārjava.

Ahiṁsa is the extending of harmlessness and fearlessness to all living beings. No injury can come from us, and no living being need fear us. We are a source of fearlessness, harmlessness; this is ahiṁsa. It is also truthfulness, because untruth is resorted to only when we want to exploit people. As exploitation is not an acceptable or a good quality, it is very clear that untruth—that which is contrary to truth—is not a divine or a virtuous quality.

Akrodhaḥ is freedom from anger. We should not become enraged over small things.

Tyāgaḥ is living a simple, frugal life; as it is generally said, simple living and high thinking. That may be said to be tyāgaḥ. We do not accumulate property, treasure, wealth etc., more than what is essential for our minimal comfortable existence, and we renounce all other things.

Śāntiḥ is being always inwardly calm, composed, serene.

Apaiśunam is the absence of crookedness and cunningness in speech or expression, in respect of other people. We should be before people exactly what we are in ourselves, and we should not have three personalities—one for ourselves, one for our family members, and one for the office. Three personalities are not good. They are like three sets of accounts: one for us, one for our partner, and one for the income tax officer. One should be free from crookedness, cunningness, etc., because if we behave like that we will be treated in the same way by the world outside. What we give to others will be given back to us.

Dayā means to be compassionate. When we see suffering, we feel within ourselves “What will happen if we are in that condition?” When we identify ourselves with that miserable state in which living beings exist, we will feel a tenderness of approach and we will cast an eye of compassion, and to the extent of our capacity we will do something to redress that sorrow. Dayā bhūteṣu is mercy in respect of all living beings.

Aloluptvaṁ is absence of greed. We should never say that we want this or we want that. Whatever comes is okay. Yadṛcchālābhasaṁtuṣaḥ (4.22): Be contented, satisfied with whatever comes of its own accord or without too much of strenuous effort. If for the sake of ten percent of happiness we have to put forth ninety percent effort, then that happiness is not worth anything because the sorrow of struggle is much more than the little jot of joy that ensues.

Mārdavaṁ is softness—soft speech, soft behaviour, soft conduct, soft movements. Everything is very soft, mild and subdued, not irritable. Mṛdutvaṁ, the opposite of mārdavaṁ, is suddenly rising into action or jumping into expression of words that are not pleasing. Very soft, calm, quiet, and pleasing—that is mṛdu. Mārdavaṁ is a quality of that kind.

Hrīḥ is shame in the presence of things which are forbidden. It is an automatic repulsion from actions and even thoughts that are contrary to an elevated form of spiritual life.

Acāpalam is steadfastness, freedom from fickleness. Thinking something now, thinking another thing after some time and a third thing tomorrow, and with no concept of the final aim of life, no clarity of perception in regard to what is to be done now and what is the actual program of one’s life, having everything in chaos—that would be chapalata. The absence of it is acāpalam—steadfastness and a clear perception of the values of life, right from now till the end of our life.

Tejaḥ is vigour, energy, strength, and not a drooping spirit. This is the quality of tejas, or energy, vigour, capacity to work. An indefatigable frame of the body and mind will automatically come to us as a consequence of following the other qualities mentioned earlier.

Kṣama is fortitude. We do not try to wreak vengeance on someone who has committed some mistake, and do not go on thinking of one mistake that a person has committed even though that person may have hundreds of good qualities. Generally, the evil that men do lives after them; the good is often buried with their bones. This is not to be our attitude. A hundred sacrifices a person has made, and for twenty years that person has served us, but one day he does something which is very displeasing and we remember only that, and not the twenty years of service. We must have a forgiving attitude, because who has absolutely no fault? “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us” is a very touching line in the Lord’s Prayer. “Let me forgive everyone in the same way as I would wish to be forgiven for all my trespasses”—because every minute we commit some mistake, and if we are going to be punished for every little mistake, then we cannot exist in this world. In turn, this should be our attitude towards other people. Be kindhearted.

Dhṛtiḥ is determination to achieve our goal, and never slacken our effort, and be decided in our mind that, “Perhaps this is the last birth of mine. Why should it not be the last birth, when I have put forth all my energy and I honestly strive for the attainment of God Almighty? I have no defect in my mind. I have no greed. I don’t harm anybody. To my mind, there is nothing wrong. Therefore, God should be kind to me. I shall realise God in this birth.” If this kind of determination is there, something really worthwhile may take place one day, perhaps in this life itself.

Śaucam is purity. We know much about it—external purity and internal purity. I need not go on harping on this subject.

Adrohaḥ is never committing blunders in respect of ourselves or of others. This blundering and floundering habit is due to the preponderance of rajoguna, which keeps us restless always and never allows us to concentrate on anything. If we touch something, it falls down; if we take a cup of tea, it spills on our clothes; when we speak, we fumble; when we utter a sentence, there is no verb. These are distractions which cause a habit of blundering—adrohaḥ.

Nātimānitā is never expecting too much regard and respect from people. Do not say, “Oh! He came, but he didn’t greet me.” It is said that Rama respected other people first; and if other people did not speak, he would speak first. He would not have the attitude: “Why should I speak first? Let the other person speak first.” Rama would speak first. Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj was like that. If a person did not touch his feet, he would touch that man’s feet. People would be horrified. “Maharaj! You are touching the feet of that person?” Sahasraśīrṣā puruṣaḥ (P.S. 1). He would speak first. “How are you? Acche hain maharaj? Theek hai?” Even if that person did not speak a word, he would immediately start a conversation: “How are you?” That man would be very highly pleased, and start speaking to him. So do not ask for respect. Give respect to others. Amāninā mānadena kīrtanīyaḥ sadā harīḥ (Siksa 3): We are fit to take the name of God only if we give respect to everybody and do not expect any respect for our own self.

“These are the great qualities, O Arjuna, that may be called divine, gracious, noble, superb.”

But what are the qualities which are not divine? They are practically the opposite of these noble characteristics that are delineated as adorning a spiritual seeker, saint and sage.

Dambhaḥ (16.4) is vaingloriously putting on a show—making a show of that which is really not there. Dambhaḥ is a show of something which is not there. Darpaḥ is pride over something which is already there. So, either way there is some show. The only difference is that in one case there is nothing and in the other case there is something, but it is a big demonstration, adumbration and vainglorious advertisement of one’s great importance. Darpaḥ is garva, pride; dambhaḥ is vainglorious behaviour—dambhaḥ darpaḥ.

Abhimāna is being intensely self-conscious, always thinking of oneself, always looking in the mirror, being fond of oneself, and imagining that all people are thinking of us only, while nobody is thinking of us. This is abhimāna, too much egoism, self-consciousness.

Krodhaḥ is anger, as I mentioned. Lord Krishna refers to it once again.

Pāruṣyam is cruelty, a cruel nature. We feel very happy at the suffering of other people. Even if we do not actually commit an act of cruelty, we would like it to be committed by somebody else. Or if we ourselves do it, it is still better. This is called a sadistic attitude. Masochism is feeling pleasure in our own suffering, and sadism is feeling pleasure by causing suffering to others. So we should be neither a sadist nor a masochist. Pāruṣyam is cruelty. Let this quality not be in us.

Ajñānaṁ means ignorance, which is the basis of all topsy-turvy perception of things and wrong evaluation of the world—a lack of spiritual knowledge.

One who is born with these qualities may be said to be characterised as having asuric qualities. These asuric qualities and demoniacal natures that are described in this chapter are not actually characterisations of demons themselves. They are characterisations of human beings who behave like demons, and have all the qualities of a rakshasa, or a pain-giver, killer, exploiter and destroyer. The good qualities and the undivine qualities are, therefore, characterisations of human beings. They apply to everybody—to me, to you, and to everyone.

Daivī saṁpad vimokṣāya (16.5): “If these divine qualities are adopted in your daily life, they will lead you to final liberation gradually, stage by stage.” Nibandhāyāsurī matā: “But if you resort to the undivine qualities, you shall be bound hand and foot more and more every day, until it will be difficult for you to extricate yourself from this bondage. Arjuna! Don’t be afraid. You are born of divine qualities.” Arjuna may have been wondering in which category he belonged. Mā śucaḥ: “Don’t be afraid. Don’t grieve.” Saṁpadaṁ daivīm abhijāto’si: “You are born with qualities that are divine. You are really good and gentlemanly in your nature. You are a divine person.”

Dvau bhūtasargau lokesmin (16.6): There are two characteristics present in this world. Living beings are classifiable into the good and the bad, the noble and the ignoble, the divine and the undivine, the saintly and the demoniacal—daiva āsura eva ca.

Daivo vistaraśaḥ prokta: “Now, I have mentioned to you something about the good qualities, saintly qualities, divine qualities, in the earlier verses.” Lord Krishna has not actually gone into detail, but yet he says, “I have gone into detail in regard to the good qualities.” But actually he goes into greater detail in the description of the demoniacal qualities. Daivo vistaraśaḥ prokta āsuraṁ pārtha me śṛṇu: “Now I shall tell you how demoniacal people behave.”

Actually, there is no need for reading about these demoniacal qualities because every day we are seeing them and reading about them in newspapers, etc. When we go to the marketplace, the bus stand, the railway station or other places, we find some qualities of this kind; we can see them. But we can read about them as anticipated thousands of years ago in the Bhagavadgita.

Pravṛttiṁ ca nivṛttiṁ ca janā na vidur āsurāḥ (16.7): Neither do these people with asuric qualities know what is to be done, nor do they know what is not to be done. With their whim and fancy, with the pressure of the moment, they suddenly engage themselves in doing something, and come to grief. They do not know the pros and cons of an occupation or a project or an undertaking. Knowing not what is the method to be adopted for a successful way of living, they blunder in the choice of the means and ways of doing things in the world, and come to grief later on. Ca janā na vidur āsurāḥ: What is pravritti, what is nivritti, what is to be done and what is not to be done is not known to them.

Na śaucaṁ: Very unclean are their habits, dirty is their behaviour—inwardly as well as outwardly. We would not like to go near them due to their unclean behaviour. Na śaucaṁ nāpi cācāraḥ: They have no good conduct, no special routine of the day, and they are not aware of such a thing as tidiness, cleanliness—to be spic-and-span, as we say. All these are unknown to them. They just act according to their whim.

Na satyaṁ teṣu vidyate means no truthfulness. They say anything they like, provided they are able to get something out of it, even if it means exploiting or even destroying other people. Exploitation is psychological killing; and apart from that, they may actually deal a blow to the very existence of people due to the wrong notion that untruth and exploitation succeed in this world.

Asatyam apratiṣṭhaṁ te jagad āhur anīśvaram (16.8): They do not believe in God. The world is complete in itself. Why should there be a Creator for the world? The five elements constitute this body. God has not made this body. The body is made up of only this material stuff, and it has no transcendent support as others may say. Apratiṣṭhaṁ: It has no transcendental support, and there is no God behind it. Therefore, it is transitory in its nature. It is unreal finally and, therefore, there is no necessity to be too scrupulous in dealing with anything in this world, on account of the simple fact that there is no ruling principle in this world. There is nobody to punish us. There is no God, no ruler, no administration, and the world itself is an unreal phantom, so we do what we like.

Asatyam apratiṣṭhaṁ te jagad āhur anīśvaram, aparasparasaṁbhūtaṁ kim anyat kāmahaitukam: They think that the birth of beings—the coming into being of all existents in this world—is not due to the will of God, because God does not exist. It is only a chemical combination, the coming together of the properties, positive and negative, due to the desires and passions of people. The concourse of men and women, and qualities which are positive and negative, and such other combinations, biological as well as chemical, are the causes of the coming into being of anything in this world. There is no Supernal Creator, and there is no Transcendent Being.

Etāṁ dṛṣṭim avaṣṭabhya naṣṭātmāno’lpabuddhayaḥ, prabhavanty ugrakarmāṇaḥ kṣayāya jagato’hitāḥ (16.9): They become terrorists—ugrakarmāṇaḥ. They are a terror for everybody because they have a vision of life which is bent on self-satisfaction and the destruction of everybody except themselves. Naṣṭātmānaḥ: They have lost their own souls, and they cannot see that there is a soul in anybody else. Inasmuch as there is no soul—they have lost it, and they cannot visualise souls in anybody other than themselves—they see no value in human life. There is no human feeling, there is no respect for humanity, and there is no necessity to work for the welfare of other people, because the vision of other people requires the perception of humanity in them also, whereas the vision of these people who are terror incarnate is a consuming attitude and not a creative attitude; therefore, they veritably appear to be incarnations of vehement violence and destruction. Naṣṭa-ātmānaḥ alpabuddhayaḥ means one who has no brains to think. Ugrakarmāṇaḥ: They become very dangerous, and capable of violent action. They are apparently intent on the abolition of all life in this world. These are the despots and the tyrants which history has sometimes seen. They would not like anybody else to live except themselves. Jagataḥ ahitāḥ: They are the people who do great injustice to the world.

Kāmam āśritya duṣpūraṁ (16.10): Their desires are endless. Insatiable longing and passion is their quality. Dambhamānamadānvitāḥ: I have already mentioned that dambhaḥ is vanity; egoism, pretentiousness and pride are their qualities. Mohād gṛhītvāsadgrāhān: They have ideologies which are entirely materialistic, sensory, outward, and hedonistic in the worst way. Dambhamānamadānvitāḥ mohād gṛhītvāsadgrāhān: Their ideology—the philosophy of life that they entertain—is something which is pleasing to their egos and totally destructive of the higher, real values of life which are spiritually awakening, to which they are totally opposed. Mohād gṛhītvāsadgrāhān pravartante’śucivratāḥ: Their resolutions are impure. How could there be any kind of pure resolve in the minds of such people?

Cintām aparimeyāṁ ca pralayāntām upāśritāḥ (16.11): They are worried, vexed and always in a state of anxiety, which is going to pursue them even till the end of their lives. There is not even a moment of rest and peace in their minds. Kāmopabhogaparamā etāvad iti niścitāḥ: While there is life, drink ghee and purchase delicacies by borrowing money from other people—because nothing happens when the body dies. This is the Charvaka doctrine, a materialistic attitude of enjoyment. “I must enjoy all things; all the goods should belong to me, and there is no other value in this world. The joy of the senses and the satisfaction of the mind and the ego—these are the highest values of life.” And to fulfil these morbid intentions they keep themselves in a state of restlessness and agony, which will end only with their death. Kāmopabhogaparamā etāvad iti niścitāḥ: These qualities, to some extent, apply to pure hedonistic materialism and what is sometimes known as the Charvaka doctrine.

Ᾱśāpāśaśatair baddhāḥ (16.12) means full of desires. They are bound by the cord of endless longing for things which they cannot obtain even if they live for thousands of years. Kāmakrodhaparāyaṇāḥ: They are intent on anger, passion, and desire. Īhante kāmabhogārtham anyāyenārthasañcayān: For the sake of the fulfilment of their own desires and crude longings, they do not mind accumulating wealth by any means whatsoever. The end justifies the means, so they may employ any means, provided they get the treasure of wealth. Anyāyena: They try to accumulate wealth by unjust means—ārthasañcayān.

Idam adya mayā labdham (16.13): “See how rich I am. So much I have got, and I shall have more afterwards. So many millions are there, but some more millions must be added.” Idam adya mayā labdham: “I have got this now.” Imaṁ prāpsye manoratham: “I shall have more afterwards. What are the ways of getting more?” This is the business mentality. They have so much, more than what they need, but that is not enough. They want more. “I must extend my business more and more, more and more, more and more.” And he breathes his last with this desire of obtaining more and more. Idam asti: “This is mine.” Idam api me: “All this belongs to me.” Bhaviṣyati punar dhanam: “I will accumulate more wealth.”

Asau mayā hataḥ śatruḥ (16.14): “I have destroyed this enemy, and I shall destroy the other enemy also in a few days. I shall have no opponent in front of me.” Haniṣye cāparān api: “This opponent has gone to the land of eternity, and I have cut short the lives of all my opponents.” Īśvaro’aham: “I am the lord. Who can stand before me? Let them come and show their might. I shall see to them.” Ahaṁ bhogī: “I shall have all the appurtenances of a pleasurable life.” Siddhohaṁ: “All perfection I have attained.” Ravana was like that to some extent. Charvaka and Ravana both had these qualities. Ravana thought that he was the lord of the three worlds, and had all the enjoyments of the celestials. He thought he was a perfect person, that nobody could be equal to him, what to talk of being superior to him. Balavān: “Very strong am I, and I am blessed, most blessed indeed.”

Ᾱḍhyo’bhijanavān asmi (16.15): “I am born to a noble family.” All rich people seem to come from noble families. Ᾱḍhyaḥ: “I am very wealthy. There is nothing lacking in me.” Ko’nyo’sti sadṛśo mayā: “Who is equal to me in this world?” I think perhaps people like Hiranyakasipu, Ravana and others may be the ones Lord Krishna had in mind when he described qualities of this terrible nature. Yakṣye: Even demons such as Ravana, Hiranyakasipu, Bali Chakravarti and others gave charity, but it was all demoniacal charity. All these come under this category of “I shall do sacrifice. I shall give. I shall enjoy”.

Mohajālasamāvṛtāḥ (16.16): Thus, completely deluded in their minds, they get caught up in the net of the illusion of this world.