Bhagavad Gita, etymologically means the “the Song of the Divine”, is a paraphrase of a dialogue between Arjuna and Sri Krishna who is considered to be an incarnation of God. Vyasa, the author of Gita, composed it in 700 verses and it is a part of the epic Mahabharata spanning 18 chapters. Gita primarily deals with the Reality that is the basis of the cosmological and psychological phenomena perceived by an individual along with their interconnections, the characteristics of a person who has realized the Reality, how a person ignorant of Reality and caught in this phenomena of objects and sensual experiences could gradually be freed of ignorance through various methods.
The setting in which Bhagavad Gita was delivered to Arjuna is staggering – it was in a battlefield! In Mahabharata, two groups of cousins, Pandavas and Kauravas, after failed attempts of reconciliation over division of a kingdom, declare war against each other. In the battlefield of Kurukshetra, Arjuna (one of the Pandavas), sees that he has to fight with his near and dear close relatives, friends and revered teachers in Kauravas. The possibility of he being a cause of death and disaster ones makes Arjuna very despondent and mentally weak. He implores Sri Krishna (his charioteer and a God-incarnate), invoking various pacifist specious arguments of why the war should not happen and finally declaring that he would not fight the war. Sri Krishna, clearly saw through the confusion that Arjuna was muddled in, took upon the role of a guide and roused him up calling upon Arjuna to be fearless and mentally strong. When Arjuna takes refuge under tutelage of Sri Krishna, then Sri Krishna begins a proper discourse.
The symbolism presented in this setting could not have been any more dramatic: the choice of performing one’s duty, in this case waging a war, over one’s attachments to one’s own family/friends is overwhelming. The moments of dejection, despair and doubts that beset Arjuna in his fight would befall upon us too in our progress towards the Highest goal. And Arjuna, as exemplary as he was, has shown us the path too: to take refuge in God or in other words practice what Sri Krishna advised him to do.
And so the Bhagavad Gita unfolds with Sri Krishna guiding Arjuna wading through his doubts and questions. Each of the 18 chapters of Bhagavad Gita are termed as “yoga” i.e. a technique that can be practiced to reach the goal of God-realization. At the conclusion of each chapter, the name of the specific yoga technique described in that chapter is mentioned along with addressing Bhagavad Gita as an Upanishad. Although, Bhagavad Gita is not an Upanishad, but all its verses are an elaboration of what has been given in various Upanishads comprehensible for modern people, thus making it more relevant than Upanishads for the current society.
The following are the names of the 18 chapters of Bhagavad Gita along with some important verses (free translation) contained in each:
- Chapter 1: विषादयोगः viṣāda-yogaḥ Despondency of Arjuna
Arjuna: Seeing these relatives and friends who have assembled here, my limbs become languid and my mouth is parched, my body quivers and my bow slips from my hand. I don’t hanker for victory, nor even kingdom and pleasures. Great sin will accrue to us by killing them.
- Chapter 2: साङ्ख्ययोगः sāṅkhya-yogaḥ Communion Through Knowledge
Sri Krishna: Never is this Self born, and never does It die; nor is it that having come to exist, It will again cease to be. This One is birth-less, eternal, undecaying, ancient; It is not killed when the body is killed. This embodied Self in every being cannot be killed. Therefore, you ought not to grieve for all these beings. Your right is for action alone, never for its results. Do not have an inclination towards inactivity either. That person is of steady wisdom who is unperturbed by sorrow, free from desires going beyond attachment, fear and anger.
- Chapter 3: कर्मयोगः karma-yogaḥ Communion Through Action
A person does not attain freedom by abstaining from work because nature propels one to do work. Therefore, remaining unattached to the results of work, always perform obligatory duty, for by performing one’s duty without attachment, a person attains the Highest.
- Chapter 4: ज्ञानयोगः jñāna-yogaḥ Communion Through Action in Knowledge
Whenever righteousness declines and unrighteousness increases, I manifest Myself for the protection of the pious, destruction of the evil-doers, establishing virtue in every age. The one who finds action in inaction and inaction in action is the wise one said to be engaged in yoga and is a performer of all actions. Having given up attachment to the results of action, one who is ever-contended, dependent on nothing, he/she really does not do anything even though engaged in work. Actions do not bind one who has renounced the idea of “I am the doer” through yoga and one whose doubts are completely dispelled by Knowledge.
- Chapter 5: कर्मसन्न्यासयोगः karma-sannyāsa-yogaḥ Communion Through Renunciation of Actions
Both these paths: complete renunciation of actions (Sankhya Yoga) and performance of actions with the knowledge of “I am not the doer” (Karma Yoga) reach the goal of liberation. But complete renunciation is hard to attain without performing actions in the spirit of Karma Yoga. The analytical/contemplative person performing actions as per Karma Yoga attains Brahman without delay. The person who can withstand desire and anger is a happy yogi.
- Chapter 6: आत्मसम्यमयोगः ātma-samyama-yogaḥ Communion Through Meditation
For the person who wishes to meditate, action is said to be the means. For that person who has ascended to a meditative state, inaction is said to be the means. A person is said to be meditative when he/she has given up all thought about everything and is not attached to sense-objects or engage in actions to attain them. A yogi, concentrating his/her mind staying in a solitary place, free from desires, controlling the senses, attains liberation.
- Chapter 7: ज्ञानविज्ञानयोगः jñāna-vijñāna-yogaḥ Communion Through Knowledge and its Realization
Among thousands of people, a rare one endeavors for perfection. Even of the perfected ones one who is diligent, one perchance knows Me in truth. All this world, deluded as it is by the three gunas of sattva, rajas and tamas (qualities), do not know Me who am transcendental to these and undecaying. Four classes of people adore Me: the afflicted, the seeker of Knowledge, the seeker of wealth and a person of Knowledge. At the end of many births, a person of Knowledge attains Me realizing that God is all. Such a high-souled one is very rare.
- Chapter 8: अक्षरब्रह्मयोगः akṣara-brahma-yogaḥ Discourse on Immutable Brahman
At the time of death, anyone who departs by giving up the body while thinking of Me alone he attains my state. Thinking of any other entity, whichever it may be, one gives up the body at death, he/she attains that very one, having been engrossed in that thought always. Therefore, think of Me at all times and fight. By dedicating your intellect to Me, you will attain Me alone. Reaching Me, the exalted ones who attained the highest perfection do not get rebirth which is transitory and an abode of sorrow.
- Chapter 9: राजविद्याराजगुह्ययोगः rāja-vidyā-rāja-guhya-yogaḥ The Sovereign Knowledge and Mystery
Persons regardless of the knowledge of Self certainly without reaching Me go along the path of transmigration (birth and death). This whole world is pervaded by Me in My unmanifest form. All beings exist in Me, but I am not contained in them. Nor do the beings dwell in Me.Behold My divine Yoga! I am the sustainer and originator of all beings, but My Self is not in all beings. Whoever offers Me with devotion – a leaf, a flower, a fruit or water, I accept that devotional offering of the pure-hearted person. Whatever you do offer it to Me, you will become free from fruits of actions, thereby imbued with renunciation, you will attain Me.
- Chapter 10: विभूतियोगः vibhūti-yogaḥ The Divine Glory
I am the origin of all; everything moves on owing to Me. Realizing thus, the wise ones filled with fervor, adore Me. To them who are ever devoted and worship Me with love, I grant the wisdom by which they reach Me. I am the Self residing in all beings, I am the beginning, the middle and the end.
- Chapter 11: विश्वरूपदर्शनयोगः viśva-rūpa-darśana-yogaḥ Revelation of Cosmic Form
Behold My forms in their hundreds and in thousands of different kinds, celestial and of various colors and shapes. I am the world-detroying Time grown in stature and now engaged in annihilating the creatures. Even without you, all these warriors arrayed in confronting armies will cease to exist. So rise up and fight as they have been killed verily by Me, you are a mere instrument.
- Chapter 12: भक्तियोगः bhakti-yogaḥ Communion Through Devotion
A devotee who is not hateful towards anyone, frieondly and compassionate to all, who has no idea of possession or egoism, who is same under sorrow or happiness, who is forgiving, who is ever contended, who has dedicated his/her mind to Me, who is free from fear and anxiety, who has no desires, who does not rejoice/fret/hanker/lament, who is same under heat/cold, to whom denunciation or praise is same, full of devotion, is dear to Me.
- Chapter 13: क्षेत्रक्षेत्रज्ञविभागयोगः kṣetra-kṣetrajña-vibhāga-yogaḥ Differentiation of the Known From the Knower
This body is referred to as the field, Those who are versed in this call the person who is conscious of it as the “knower of the field”. Understand Me to be the “Knower of the field” in all the fields. In My opinion, that is Knowledge which is the knowledge of the field and knower of the field. The Supreme Brahman, by realizing which one attain Immortality, is without beginning or end, shines through the functions of all organs, yet devoid of all organs, unattached and verily the supporter of all, without quality and the perceiver of all qualities, existing outside and inside all beings, moving as well as non-moving, incomprehensible due to subtlety, far away, yet near, it is the sustain-er of all beings, yet the devour-er too, it is the Knowledge, Knower and the Known – it exists specially in the hearts of all.
- Chapter 14: गुणत्रयविभागयोगः guṇa-traya-vibhāga-yogaḥ Differentiation According to the Three Gunas (Qualities)
The three qualities: sattva, rajas, tamas, bind the immutable embodied being to the body. The sattva is an illuminator and harmless. It binds through attachment to happiness and knowledge. Rajas is the nature of passion, born of hankering and attachment. It binds one through attachment to action. Tamas deludes beings born of ignorance. IT binds through laziness and sleep. When the witness sees none other than the qualities as the agent, and knows that which is superior to the qualities, he/she attains My nature.
- Chapter 15: पुरुषोत्तमयोगः puruṣottama-yogaḥ The Supreme Person
They say that the Peepal tree, which has its roots upward and the branches downward, and of which the Vedas are the leaves,is imperishable. He who realizes it is a knower of Veda. The branches of that Tree, extending downward and upwards, are strengthened by the qualities and have sense-objects as their shoots. And the roots, which are followed by actions, spread downwards in the human world. Its form is not perceived here in that way,nor its end, nor beginning, nor continuance. After felling this Peepal tree whose roots are well developed, with the the strong sword of detachment. Thereafter, that State has to be sought for, going where they do not return again.
- Chapter 16: दैवासुरसम्पद्विभागयोगः daivāsura-sampad-vibhāgayogaḥ The Divine and Demoniacal Attributes
Fearlessness, purity of mind, persistence in knowledge and yoga, charity and control of the external organs, sacrifice, scriptural study, austerity and rectitude, non-injury, truthfulness, absence of anger, renunciation, control of the internal organ, absence of vilification, kindness to creatures, non-covetousness, gentleness, modesty, freedom from restlessness, vigor, forgiveness, purity, freedom from malice, absence of haughtiness – constitute the qualities of divine nature leading to Liberation. Religious ostentation, pride and haughtiness, anger, rudeness, ignorance constitute the demoniacal nature leading to bondage.
- Chapter 17: श्रद्धात्रयविभागयोगः śraddhā-traya-vibhāga-yogaḥ The Three Aspects of Faith
The worship of gods, sages and the wise;purity, straightforwardness, celibacy and non-injury – are said to be bodily austerity. That speech which causes no pain, which is true, agreeable and beneficial, practice of study of scriptures,is said to be austerity of speech. Tranquility of mind, gentleness, reticence, withdrawal of the mind, purity of heart, – these are the mental austerity. These three-fold austerity: when undertaken by supreme faith with no hankering for results is of sattvic nature; when undertaken for name, honor, ostentatiously is of rajasic nature; when undertaken with foolish intent, to cause pain to oneself or others is of tamasic nature.
- Chapter 18: मोक्षसन्न्यासयोगः mokṣa-sannyāsa-yogaḥ Liberation Through Renunciation
The learned ones know that monasticism is giving up actions done with desires for reward while a sacrifice is abandonment of the results of all actions. Through devotion he knows Me in reality: what and who I am. Then having known Me in truth, he enters into Me immediately. Ever engaging in all actions, one to whom I am the refuge, attains the eternal immutable State through My grace. Have your mind fixed on Me, be My devotee, be a sacrificer to Me and bow down to Me. Thus you will come to Me. This truth I do promise to you as you are dear to Me.