The Problems of Spiritual Life
by Swami Krishnananda

A Conspectus of the Bhagavad Gita

The First Chapter of the Bhagavad Gita describes the state of an all-round conflict of circumstance in which Arjuna was involved, so that he was incapable of coming to any right decision as to his duty and obligation. Incidentally, this is a picturing of the human situation in general, where an incapacity to judge impartially leads to diffidence and doubt as to the purpose and significance of human action.

The Second Chapter points out that the problems of life arise due to a lack of proper understanding, known as samkhya. Here, right understanding means the knowledge of the proper relationship of man in respect of the world and reality in general.

The Third Chapter details the error of placing oneself outside the totality of creation, which defeats the purpose of every form of effort. Man within and the world without, and the Supreme Divine Principle above, are to be taken in their togetherness, which is the principle of right understanding. The application in life of this right knowledge is Karma Yoga, or the Yoga of Action.

The Fourth Chapter brings a special solace to the striving individual by its message of the presence of the hands of God at every juncture and crisis in life, hands that secretly operate in different forms of super-normal incarnations, or avatars. Here are also described certain methods of self-control and self-sacrifice.

The Fifth Chapter recounts the state of renunciation that naturally evolves out of this great insight suggested in the earlier chapters, and the detached life which an illumined soul lives in the spirit of true sannyasa, which is understood as the renunciation of the erroneous outlook of life, a reference to which has been made in the Third Chapter.

The Sixth Chapter concerns itself especially with the art and technique of self-integration by means of dhyana, or meditation. Here is also given the comforting message, again, that no right effort can ever be a loss, and even those who by chance leave their physical body before reaching their final goal will be reborn in suitable circumstances to continue their earlier practice as a matter of course.

The Seventh Chapter takes a leap into the Universal directly from all individual techniques and disciplines described in the earlier six chapters. A brief statement on cosmology, with which the chapter begins, brings into the picture the element of God as the Creator of the Universe. From the Seventh Chapter onwards the principle of God becomes pre-eminently conspicuous.

The Eighth Chapter is a direct enunciation on the cosmical setup in a larger detail, highlighting the relationship obtaining among the principles of God, the world and the individual. Here also is described the course of the soul beyond the realm of the earth.

The Ninth Chapter is practically a stimulating statement on true religious awareness, a description of universal religion which considers God as the Unitary Principle above all things, which can be approached by anyone through any means of honest and sincere devotion and feeling of communion. Here is the eternal promise of God being with man at every moment of time if only man were to be honest enough to accept the supremacy of the Almighty.

The Tenth Chapter goes deeper still into the various ways in which the One appears as the many in its pre-eminent manifestations, particularly in exalted forms of power and glory, in revelations of knowledge and action beyond human reach. In such manifestations the presence of God is to be discovered.

The Eleventh Chapter is the reaching of a climax of spiritual experience, wherein a Total Vision of the Infinite Superintending Principle, as the Supreme Being, is majestically described. This is the Divine Song of spiritual ecstasy and God-vision, a masterpiece of epic grandeur and poetry.

The Twelfth Chapter goes into the practical issues involved in the ways that take man to God, such as unselfish service and performance of duty, an ardent feeling of devotion to God, an ever-intense concentration on the Supreme Creator, and a perpetual recognition of the Omnipresence of the Almighty, as some of the possible ways of the human approach to God. Herein are also described the touching characteristics of a real devotee, passing through the four stages or aspects of Yoga as action, devotion, concentration and knowledge.

The Thirteenth Chapter takes into consideration the duality of purusha and prakriti, or consciousness and matter, as is envisaged in ordinary human experience and rational thinking. But the message here goes above their two principles and bridges the gulf between this apparent duality by the introduction of a Transcendent Divinity above both the subjective and the objective sides of life.

The Fourteenth Chapter enunciates in a philosophical manner the constituents of Nature as a whole, as made up of the properties of sattva, rajas and tamas, viz., the power of balance of forces, the power of action, and the power of inertia, wherein, again, the Presence of God above all things is stated once again in a different emphasis.

The Fifteenth Chapter is a description of the whole of creation as a sort of an inverted tree whose roots are above in the Transcendent Absolute, and manifestations as the diversity of creation are down below as its branches, leaves, fruits, and the like. Here the intention of the gospel is to make out that, as the sap or the vitality of the tree permeates every cell of it from the top to the bottom, the Divine Creative Principle is ubiquitously present as the supreme immanent controlling force. Thus, the manifold cannot be understood except in terms of the ultimate Unity.

The Sixteenth Chapter brings into relief the action of the dual forces of the Divine and the undivine, energies that tend themselves towards the Centre and those that gravitate towards the periphery of the objective universe. The clash of these forces is the theme of all the epics of the world, including the Mahabharata, which is indeed the conflict of action between the universal and the temporal impulses.

The Seventeenth Chapter, again, is a practical enunciation of certain methods useful in practical daily life, relating to the disciplines of the body, speech and mind, in various formations and deviations.

The Eighteenth Chapter is a summing up of the entirety of the divine message of the Bhagavad Gita, where the principles of right action, divine devotion, concentration in Yoga, and a perpetual maintenance of a consciousness of God’s universality are beautifully portrayed, concluding with the masterstroke that where Krishna and Arjuna act in unison, seated in a single chariot—meaning thereby that where God and man are in a perpetual state of union of knowledge and action there would be prosperity, victory, and a firmly established principle of righteousness in all the fields of life.