A Summary of the Bhagavadgita

Krishna Arjuna

by Jayaram V

The Bhagavadgita teaches us how to live in this world, do our duties and yet remain like the lotus leaves in the water of life. The world in which we live is said to be a world of illusion. You cannot depend upon it forever, because it is transient and subject to change. Out of ignorance and egoism, states the Bhagavadgita, we bind ourselves to it through our desires and desire-ridden actions and suffer from ignorance and delusion, not knowing our true nature and true purpose. Having become caught in the snare of desires and delusion, we remain chained to the cycle of births and deaths and to the forces of nature.

The Bhagavadgita teaches us how to escape from this predicament, not by escaping from the burdens of the worldly life, nor by the avoidance of our duties and responsibilities, but remaining amidst the humdrum of life and facing it squarely with fearlessness, detachment and stability of mind, accepting God as the Doer and the Savior and performing our actions as part of the sacrifice of life.

According to the Bhagavadgita, salvation is possible neither for those who want to escape from life and activity nor for those who indulge in sinful, selfish and evil actions and become their own enemies, ignoring their duties and obligations to God. Those who remain amidst the world and its snares, unafraid of the burdens of life, and live their lives with a sense of sacrifice, fully surrendering to God, are truly qualified for it.

The scripture assures that God responds to his devotees with love. Different people approach him with different mindsets and expectations. However, he considers them his dearest devotees, who go through the battles of life with discipline, knowledge and intelligence, do their part in creation and surrender to him with devotion and faith. They are the most qualified to attain liberation and enter the world of Brahman from where there is no return.

Thus, the Bhagavadgita is about human suffering and its resolution through spiritual effort. It brings spirituality to worldly life and suggests how to face the challenges and compulsions of human life with faith and devotion, without becoming lost in egoistic pursuits and selfish actions. The discourse is about the predicament of humans in the battle of life, with God as its controller.

The embodied soul is personified by Arjuna, who faced a crisis of his life in the middle of the battlefield and stood confused, fearful and worried. He also stands for an ideal devotee. Lord Krishna, as his charioteer in the battlefield personifies the voice of God and the Supreme Self. Out of extreme love and compassion, he taught Arjuna the divine wisdom to remain calm amidst the turbulence of life and perform his duties as a service to God. He taught him how to overcome desires, selfishness, duality, attachments, egoism, karma, delusion and ignorance and achieve liberation by practising right action, right knowledge, right contemplation, right perception or discernment and right devotion.

The Bhagavadgita contains profound wisdom. It is the most ancient, dissected and discussed scripture of the world with a history of over 2400 years. It has 600 or 601 verses which are divided into 18 chapters. Each of them is about a Yoga. The following is a summary of the Bhagavadgita, which reflects the salient features of Lord Krishna's teachings. For a complete, understanding of the Bhagavadgita please refer to the complete Free translation, which is available at our website.

1. Know that you are not the body but the spiritual Self

The first lesson of the Bhagavadgita is about knowing who we truly are and what we represent because most of our problems arise from our mistaken notions of who we are. We tend to identify ourselves with our physical personalities since it is the most visible aspect of ours. Thereby, we fail to know our spiritual nature and our deeper connection with God and eternal life. The scripture makes it clear we are not mere physical beings but spiritual entities. Hence, we should not fear death, decay and transience.

The body is the field of activity (Kshetra), in which God or the Self dwells as the Knower of the Field (Kshetrajna). The body is made up of five great elements, the senses, subtle senses, mind, ego and intelligence. It is the seat of desires, attachments, feelings, emotions and such other modifications. The knower of the body is the Supreme Brahman, or the Self, who resides in the body as the indwelling witness and the ultimate enjoyer.

The body is an aspect of Prakriti, which the scripture describes as the city with nine gates. The knower of the body is Purusha, who keeps it alive with his presence. All actions, movements and modifications arise in the field of Prakriti from the Gunas, while the Purusha is the witness, the Guide, and the Non-doer. Seated in Prakriti, he enjoys the objects of Prakriti. Enveloped by the impurities of Nature such as ignorance and delusion, he becomes bound to the mortal world.

The Bhagavadgita reminds us that the body is unreal because it is a mere outer covering, and temporary. It is like a garment worn by the self. We should not accept our physical identities as our true identities because we are spiritual beings. There is a Self in each of us, which is hidden and transcendental. It is the ultimate reality of our existence and universally present in all living beings as an aspect of the Supreme Self. It is real, permanent, immortal, indestructible and beyond the grasp of the mind and the senses. Hence, it is known only when one transcend them.

2. Stabilize your mind by overcoming desires

Your mind is the seat of your desires, thoughts and feelings. Your wandering senses keep your mind in a state of turmoil. They are responsible for your desire for sense objects and your attachment to them. Your desires and attachments in turn subject you to conflicting emotions and mental instability, as you respond to the pairs of opposites with attraction or aversion according to your inherent nature.

An unstable mind is characterized by egoism, attachments and desire ridden actions. A person of unstable mind is not fit for salvation. His consciousness keeps wandering around sense objects, and he remains entangled in the distractions of the world. The instability of the mind is therefore the first problem, which an aspirant has to resolve to know himself and achieve liberation.

However, how can anyone stabilize his mind? The Bhagavadgita suggests that only by disengaging the mind from the external world and withdrawing into oneself one can stabilize it. It is not an easy task. Through self-discipline a devotee should restrain his senses and develop detachment from the sense objects. Then only he can experience peace and equanimity. With the attainment of inner tranquility, his mind becomes stabilized in silence, and his suffering would come to an end. Then, he can easily establish his mind in God and achieve union with him.

3. Do your duty with detachment, renouncing the doership

By merely restraining your senses and controlling your mind, you will not be able to free your soul from the cycle of births and deaths. For success on the path, you have to cultivate detachment and remain free from attraction and aversion to things, besides knowing the difference between actions that bind you and actions that free you. You should engage in performing your obligatory duties as a selfless service and an offering to God, renouncing the desire for their outcome. In other words, you must live without expectations, free from desires, without abandoning your duties and obligations.

Not all actions are the same. There are actions, which bind you, and actions, which free you. One should also know the difference between action, inaction and inaction in action and action in inaction. When desires are involved, both actions and inaction become binding, whereas when they are absent action or inaction does not bind. This is the secret to avoid sinful consequences which arise from your actions. It is also why one should avoid performing actions.

The Bhagavadgita says that none can escape from actions or remain inactive even for a moment. Whoever is born on earth is helplessly driven to action by his inborn gunas (modes or tendencies). Therefore, a devotee should better perform his obligatory duties, with an attitude of renunciation, without seeking to personally benefit from them.

Actions should never be shunned, because the world cannot continue without people performing their duties. Therefore, one should uphold Dharma and undertake God’s duties upon earth, knowing that action is superior to inaction and of actions selfless actions are the best because they do not produce karma. The renunciation of doership is also important. While performing actions, one should not think that one is the doer, nor should there be any attachment to them.

An ignorant person acts with attachment, thinking, "I am the doer," whereas the wise person who has overcome delusion and ignorance knows that he is merely doing his duty as an obligation to God. He acts without attachment, for the sake of the world and God. For him there is no interest in what is being done or not to be done, nor does he depend upon anyone for anything. For him all actions become offerings.

This is karma yoga. God exemplifies it through his own actions. Actions do not taint him, even though he engages in them, because he is complete in all respects and has no desire for their outcome. A wise person lives and acts like God. He has the complete knowledge of actions and knows the various methods by which sacrifices are performed. Knowing thus, with the help of such knowledge, he becomes free from the consequences of his actions. His actions become burnt up in the fire of wisdom, and he attains peace as his mind becomes stabilized in the Self.

4. True renunciation is renunciation of doership

The conventional belief is that renunciation means giving up the world. The Bhagavadgita focuses more upon the attitude of renunciation rather than mere physical act of renunciation. It declares that one should not renounce actions nor one’s duties and obligations. It is not even practicable. True renunciation is the renunciation of the desire for the fruit of one’s actions.

Renunciation of desires and doership are far more important because they are responsible for our sinful karma and our bondage to the mortal world. All actions arise from God in the domain of Nature due to the activity of the gunas. He is the sacrificer, the sacrifice and the object of sacrifice. He is the doer and the deed. The knower of this truth becomes free by that knowledge. While performing his actions, he knows that he is not the doer, and he does nothing at all. He performs them with his mind fixed on God, offering them to him as a sacrifice, without any attachment. Thereby, he remains untouched by sin, just as a lotus-leaf is untouched by the water in which it grows.

A Karma yogi lives and dies for the sake of God. He engages in actions for his inner purification, not to gain worldly things. In performing them, he merely uses his body, mind, senses and intelligence with indifference, giving up all attachment for their outcome and offering the fruit of his actions to God. Mentally renouncing all actions and practising self-control, he happily lives in his body, neither acting nor making others to act. Offering the fruit of his actions to God, he attains peace through Self-realization and becomes one with God.

The scripture declares that a true sanyasi has no attachment to the sense-objects, nor to his actions. He renounces all thoughts about the world and conquers his lower self (mind and body) by (contemplating upon) his higher self. Becoming established in God, he remains the same to the dualities of life such as heat and cold, pleasure and pain, honor and dishonor. For him a clod of earth or a piece of gold is the same. He is equal minded, neutral and the impartial between friends and foes and between saints and sinners alike.

5. Acknowledge the presence of God in you and in everything

The Bhagavadgita refers to both God and Self as the same or as the aspects of the same reality. God is the creator of all. He is hidden in them as their very selves. The imperishable Self resides in the perishable body as the overlord (Adhidaiva) and inner witness (Sakshi). He is the same in all and pervades all. For liberation one should absorb the mind in the contemplation of God or the Self. When the barriers between the two dissolve, one becomes united with God and attains liberation.

What one thinks at the time of death is equally important. At the time of death if a person’s mind is engaged in the contemplation of God, he readily attains liberation. Therefore, one should remember God at all times, with the mind and intellect absorbed in Him so that at the time of death it will be easier for him to remember God. By the constant practice of yoga, a devotee achieves single-minded devotion to God. His mind ceases to think of anything else, as he constantly meditates upon him. By that thought alone he attains supreme peace and liberation.

The scriptures describe God as the ultimate reality. He is the support and source of all, without a second. By becoming established in Prakriti, he manifests the worlds and beings and exists in them as their very essence. The whole universe is permeated and enveloped by him. At the beginning of every cycle of creation, he brings forth the worlds and beings and in the end, withdraws them all. Since he is unattached, indifferent and without desires and attachments, his actions do not bind him, nor produce any karma.

We also learn from the discourse that God is both manifested and unmanifested. Worshipping the latter is difficult because he cannot be known. The manifested God performs many duties for the order and regularity of the worlds. As the lord of creation, he acts as the creator, preserver and protector. If the situation goes out of control, he incarnates upon earth to restore Dharma and destroy evil. When he appears upon earth in physical form, deluded people do not recognize him or acknowledge his greatness, whereas the wise ones who are endowed with discretion, know his true nature and worship him with unwavering devotion.

6. Surrender to God with devotion

The implied message of the Bhagavadgita is that all yogas eventually culminate in devotion to God. Devotion is the highest expression of selfless love, in which devotees seek nothing but the love of God and his constant presence. Although he is impartial and shows no favors, he readily responds to his devotees. They are dearer to him who worship him with single minded devotion, always thinking of him, and forever absorbed in his thoughts. Such people are never lost to him. He takes care of their duties and responsibilities and looks after them.

The scripture gives the subtle hint that one should worship the highest, supreme Brahman rather than the gods and demigods. People may worship God or his numerous form according to their knowledge and wisdom. Those who worship other gods also in a way worship Him only because he is the Lord of all and the final recipient of all offerings. However, those who worship others go to them, but those who worship him attain him only in the end.

God is the epitome of unconditional love. He readily reciprocates the love and devotion of his devotees and accepts whatever offering they make to him with love and devotion. Therefore, the scripture suggests that everything should be offered to God before one enjoys it. In other words, whatever you do, eat, pour into the sacred fire, give as charity or perform as a penance, it should be offered to Him only with pure devotion and without expectations. Lord Krishna states that through pure devotion, by constantly thinking of him and worshipping him, doing actions for his sake, taking refuge in him and renouncing all fruits of actions, controlling the mind and body, with no expectations, steady of mind, a devotee can easily attain God. Such a devotee is very dearer to God, and he takes care of him in every possible way.

7. Know the truth about the three gunas

References to the gunas are found throughout the Bhagavadgita, except in the first chapter. The Gunas are the basic modes or tendencies, which influence the movement, direction and orientation of all animate and inanimate objects in God’s creation. They are universal, permeate all objects and beings and determine their properties and inherent nature. The gunas are different from the tattvas or the finite realities of Nature, but more pervasive. Hence, they influence even the tattvas and their behavior. The gunas also have the tendency to compete with each other and predominate. They have an impact on our thinking and behavior. Since they induce desires, the Bhagavadgita declares that all actions arise from the gunas only.

The gunas are three namely Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. In the primordial Nature, they are in perfect equilibrium but in creation they are present in different permutations and combinations, which is why we have so much diversity in creation. In humans, they are responsible for desires, attachments, desire ridden actions and thereby bondage. By knowing the gunas and their basic propensities, a devotee can overcome their influence and achieve perfection. Through detachment, renunciation, transformative practices, devotion and the grace of God, he can overcome the triple gunas and attain salvation.

The scripture explains the nature of each guna and its influence. Sattva is pure and luminous. It binds the soul to the world through the desire for happiness and knowledge. Rajas is born of passion. It binds the soul through the desire for the fruits of actions. Tamas is born of ignorance and indolence. It is responsible for the grossness of the mind and body. It binds the soul through the desire for rest, inertia, slothfulness and indolence. These three gunas bind the soul to the illusion and chain of births and deaths.

Conclusion

The Bhagavadgita is a practical philosophy. Its teaching can be applied to every aspect of human life. In the teachings of Lord Krishna, you can discern an integrated approach in which you can combine the best of all the yogas to achieve the four aims of human life, namely Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha, without risking your liberation or incurring sinful karma. From the scripture, we learn the importance of leading a divine centered life, in which every action becomes an offering and act of worship.

The solution to the problem of suffering is overcoming desires by practising detachment, renunciation, selfless actions, devotional services, equanimity, sameness and discretion. One should not renounce action, nor avoid doing obligatory duties, but dutifully perform them for the sake of God and offer them to him without expectations. By combining the best of the prescribed yogas namely karma yoga, jnana yoga, sanyasa yoga, atma samyama yoga and bhakti yoga, casting away egoism and demonic qualities, overcoming the impurities, and cultivating pure devotion, one can escape from the cycle of births and deaths. Actions performed in this manner do not bind people. Always engaged in some action, taking shelter in him, by his grace, they attain the eternal, imperishable Abode.

The Bhagavadgita is called the secret knowledge. It contains ordinary secrets as well as utmost secrets. In ancient times, it was probably taught to qualified students only. Hence, it is also considered an Upanishad. For this reason, Lord Krishna says that the knowledge of the Bhagavadgita should never be spoken to anyone who is not austere, who is without devotion, who has no desires, who does not listen and who speaks ill of God. However, whoever teaches it to his devotees with supreme adoration to him, he will attain Him without any doubt.

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