Jnana Yoga

This chapter, entitled Unitive Wisdom, treats of a multiplicity of
topics which at first sight do not seem to have any unitive
coherence. This general title, however, is sometimes further
qualified as jnana-vibhaga-yoga (Yoga of wisdom section) or
even as jnana-karma-samnyasa yoga (Yoga of Knowledge,
Action and Renunciation). These different titles are sufficient to
show that the unity underlying this chapter has to do with
something elusive and subtle with regard to brahmavidya
(Science of the Absolute) which must be the wisdom referred to.
Hitherto, in the first chapter, it was Arjuna's conflict which was
brought under the discipline of contemplation. In the second
chapter Samkhya and Yoga as they existed in separate schools of
thought were unitively treated; and in the third chapter the whole
question of karma (action) was relegated to the necessary aspect
of spiritual life, while Arjuna was asked to transcend its evil by
focussing his attention on something greater than reason.
The present chapter must be looked upon, naturally, as
continuing the same subject of reason or wisdom, to the
specification of whose exact nature the Gita arrived at the end of
the last chapter. An important aspect of wisdom, as it is to be
understood in the Gita, is left over, to be made more explicit here.
This pertains to its character as a dialectical growth of perennial
wisdom. The time and duration element entering into the subject
of wisdom is a kind of fourth dimension without which its
complete and true nature would be only partially understood. A
dynamic rather than a static view of wisdom is implied here.
This present fourth discourse therefore refers first to the
timelessness or perennial nature of the wisdom, taking it
completely out of historical or even geographical limitations.
The reference to "divine incarnation" - so much spoken of, occurs
incidentally in this first section of the chapter. We have to
grasp its implications clearly from this chapter.


The discussion then passes on to the question of the
fourfold divisions in society. Next, the subject is of
understanding the true nature of action itself, which it says
is very subtle and problematic, except when understood in the
light of Yoga (dialectic).

From this the discussion passes on to the examination of
the various varieties of spiritual practices extant in the India
of the time of the writing of the Gita, such as burnt
sacrifices, breathing exercises, etc. These are disposed of in
a graded fashion, culminating in a crowning discipline
which comprises them all under brahmavidya (science of
the Absolute), or Self- realization, which is always the
theme of the Gita.

This chapter therefore aptly closes with unqualified
praise for wisdom which, like a fire, should burn all the
dross of action or practice of any kind. The sword of
wisdom has to cleave asunder all doubts. Such is the nature
of the triumph of wisdom as depicted in the closing verses
of this chapter. Action as usually understood is completely
discredited here although a respect for the more profound
and deeper-seated eternally necessary urge for positive
living is still retained.

The word samnyasa, which occurs in Verse 41, rounds off
the nature of the discipline in relation to renunciation
which, however, is not just vacuous abandonment, leaving
emptiness, but to be understood as a life lived in the fresh
breezes of Yoga, where all the conflicting factors referred to
in this chapter are brought into a unity of understanding.
The unity or Yoga of this chapter, therefore, lies in its
treatment of wisdom as a perennial way of life, in keeping
with the science of the Absolute.


Sri bhagavan uvacha
imam vivasvate yogam
proktavan aham avyayam
vivasvan manave praha
manur ikshvakave bravit

Krishna said:
This perennial unitive wisdom (Yoga) did I declare
to Vivasvan (the Sun); Vivasvan taught it to Manu
(law-giver) and Manu told it to Ikshvaku (first king
of the solar race).


This verse begins the section which, up to Verse 10, deals
with the nature of perennial wisdom. In the first place this,
wisdom is timeless, i.e., it could be said to be more ancient
than the most ancient. Vivasvan, who is the personification
of the Sun, representing the first created being, is supposed
to have learned this wisdom from Brahman (the Absolute)
itself, or from Brahma, the creator of the Indian pantheon, as
some (e.g., Sankara) prefer to put it. All that is to be
inferred here is that the science of the Absolute is timeless.
Manu learns this science from the Sun and passes it on to
Ikshvaku. Manu is a lawgiver of antiquity who supports
the fourfold division of society. Although there are many
Manus or lawgivers - four being mentioned in the Gita in x,
6 - they are all generically implied in the reference.
Ikshvaku is the first ruler whose influence on enforcing the
law is more direct, as representing the first sceptred

How wisdom thus touches the life of the people at large is
meant to be indicated here. What is further meant becomes
clear from the next verse, where the word parampara
(vertical hierarchical succession of wisdom-teachers) occurs.
Perennial wisdom is always handed down from generation
to generation vertically down the narrow corridors of time,
and is thus kept alive, although often the torch is
extinguished, to await the fresh torch-bearer who will light
it and brighten the darkness, as vividly portrayed in this

The words imam (this) and Yoga indicate specific
reference to the type of philosophy described in the
previous chapters. An attempt to revaluate and restate Yoga
in a manner in keeping with its perennial ancient and
absolute nature was made in these introductory chapters,
the subject being of a very subtle character.

Avyayam (imperishable) stresses the fact that human life
could not be without this precious heritage, though it
sometimes apparently is endangered or forgotten.
The reference to the commencement of creation by Sankara
in his comment on this verse, and his support of the
idea of strengthening the Brahmin caste for the welfare
of the world is too naive to appeal to the modern mind,
especially in the light of the fact that according to
Manusmriti (Law Code of Manu), a Brahmin could even
take away by force the land belonging to a Shudra (see
"Laws of Manu", VIII, v. 417; transl. G. Buhler - "Sacred Books
of the East", P 327), not to speak of other illegal privileges
which have been so misinterpreted and misapplied


as to be recognized as a blot on Indian civilization
itself. The evils of such doctrines in the hands of
dictators can be easily imagined, It leaves no doubt in the
mind of modern man, especially of India, that extreme
forms of injustice could thrive under the shadow of such
naive theological or puranic (legendary) interpretations. All
that should be extracted reasonably from this verse is that
this Yoga is a timeless precious heritage of all mankind.
Sankara's anxiety to stabilize the Hinduism of his time by
linking it up with Vedic orthodoxy (though himself a
supporter of thoroughgoing maya-vada (doctrine of
appearance) and ajata-vada (doctrine of non-creation)
could be the only reason which would explain such an
interpretation as he gives here.

The Gita is not to be and should not be considered a textbook
of Hindu orthodoxy for present-day humanity. Hence
the broader interpretation we have given is recommended
to the reader. Moreover to mix up religion or obligatory
aspects of a dharma-sastra (conduct textbook) with the
Gita would be repugnant to its whole spirit, as we have had
much occasion to point out.


evam paramparapraptam
imam rajarshayo viduh
sa kalene 'ha mahata
yogo nashtah paramtapa

Thus handed down the line in succession, this
(wisdom) the king-sages (raja-rishis) understood;
by great lapse of time here (however) this unitive
wisdom (Yoga) came to be lost, 0 Paramtapa


The reference to rajarshayah (royal sages) as belonging to
the direct line of representatives of perennial wisdom, has its
own significance. We find in the Upanishads that warriors or
kings (i.e., kshatriyas) were the custodians of this kind of
wisdom or Yoga (see Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad, ii, i, 15;
Chandogya Upanishad, V, iii, 7). In the light of the Gita (iii,
20) where Janaka is referred to by name, and the general
reflection of discredit on the merely Vedic point of view in
several parts of the Gita (ii, 42-46), it is unmistakable that
the Yoga which Krishna here bewails as being lost by the
efflux of time is a particular way of life belonging to the
Upanishads. It is of the nature of a profound secret. Its
affiliations are not


directly with orthodox Vedism, but one which is neither
orthodox nor heterodox, one which is both rational and
religious at the same time, in the same way as samkhya and
Yoga have to be understood according to the Gita v, 5.
Vedic and Brihaspati traditions taken together have that
perennial character of the Yoga which must be the Yoga
meant by Krishna in this verse. It is this subtle harmonized
teaching which tends to be lost again and again, and not
rigid orthodoxy which, as we know, endures to the present
day as Brahminism. The rajarshaya (royal sages) of the
model of Janaka, must have been such enlightened rulers of
India who may have belonged even to the pre-Aryan or pre-
Vedic context and who, it might even be legitimate to
suppose, were capable of absorbing elements of Vedism
into the revalued wisdom which they represented.
Thus revalued time and again, as the Gita itself does
here, perennial philosophy may be said to have survived to
our own day. Thanks to gurus such as Sankara and
Narayana, wisdom has been correctly represented, revalued
and restated once perhaps in a thousand years. Thus this
heritage survives. Representatives of Absolute Wisdom are
few and far between, as the Gita declares or hints in IV, 8.
Turning back to the relativist Veda as being the basis of
this subtle philosophy (as some orthodox thinkers tend to
do) would be wrong. As we know, crude orthodoxy has
never been in any danger of being lost, and therefore this
verse cannot apply to it. In what sense then, is there the
possibility of Yoga being lost? When the perennial tradition
becomes overcovered by other non-absolutist modes and
values influencing human life; and it is in this same sense
that we must interpret Verses 7 and 8 which follow.


sa eva 'yam maya te 'dya
yogah proktah puritanah
bhakto 'si me sakhd che 'ti
rahasyam hy etad uttamam

That very same ancient secret is being today
declared to you by me, seeing that you are both
my devotee and friend.


This verse underlines further the perennial nature of the
wisdom called Yoga here. It is ancient, a supreme secret,


it is being disclosed now as ever (adya, today; puratanah,
ancient; rahasyam, secret; and uttamam, supreme). This
view brings out further the need for a bi-polar Guru-Sishya
(teacher-disciple) relationship for such a wisdom to survive.
The words bhakta (devotee, adorer) and sakha (friend) are
meant to mark out the intimacy which is always understood
to be the prerequisite for the flow of such wisdom.


Arjuna uvacha
aparam bhavato janma
param janma vivasvatah katham etad
vijaniyam tvam adau proktavan iti

Arjuna said:
Your birth it was posterior and the birth of
Vivasvan that was anterior; how then have I to
understand it that you declared it in the beginning?


Arjuna's historical prejudices regarding the doctrine of
perennial philosophy are stated here. The succession of
actual events in historical duration is of no import as far as
the subtle doctrine referred to here is concerned. Historical
time is relativist in its character. The Absolute, however,
lives and speaks, as it were, in the eternal present or now.
The question of priority or succession of births is therefore to
be ruled out by Krishna in the reply that follows. That the
particular incarnation of Krishna as Vasudeva is not to be
taken seriously is indicated also in the reply to the question.
To speak in terms of actual avatars (descending
manifestations of divinity) would be tolerable only if the Gita
is considered a purana or itihasa (religious legend) such as
the Vishnu Purana and not a sastra (exact scientific text) as
the Gita is evidently intended to be. Among the ten avataras
of Vishnu, the eighth one, who is Krishna, "the Dark One", as
Monier Williams says, "is held by the Vaishnavas to be not
so much an incarnation of Vishnu as the very essence of
Vishnu, or rather Vishnu himself, so that the Balarama
incarnation which is sometimes mixed up with this eighth
avatara is also occasionally substituted for it". Prof. 0.
Lacombe also remarks: "The identification (of Vishnu) with
Narayana and with Vasudeva took place at an epic period
posteriorly to the composition of the Gita "(translated,
in. p. 26, "L'Absolu selon le Vedanta", Paris,1937-1.


Sribhagavan uvacha
bahuni me vyatitani
janmani tava cha 'rjuna
tany aham veda sarvani
na tvam vettha paramtapa

Krishna said:
Many are the lives that have gone past for me as
also for you, 0 Arjuna; I am conscious of them all
- you, 0 Paramtapa (Arjuna), are not conscious of


The question of reincarnation is again brought in.
Between the extremes of life eternal and the continuous
process of alternating births and deaths, what is called the
theory of reincarnation has to be understood according to
its own proper context when it occurs in the text. The
reference here to many births instead of to one eternal life
should therefore be treated as one of the possible ways of
thinking of reincarnation. In the case of Arjuna the many
births are kept disjunct by a certain capacity of memory,
while in the case of Krishna, who represents the absolute
perennial value in himself, the relation between successive
births is transparent, and these births form or tend
to become one whole life eternal. Fuller discussion of
reincarnation as understood in the Gita is reserved
till xv, 8 - 11.


ajo 'pi sann avyayatma
bhutanam isvaro 'pi san
prakritim svam adhishthaya
sambhavamy atmamayaya

Although (I remain) ever unborn as the never-
diminishing Self, while I am the Lord of creation
too, grounded on my own nature I assume being
through the negative principle (maya) of my own


The same subject is viewed here from a different angle, as
when a man when lying under water would look at the
sunlight above. It is in the blurred light of relativism that
manifestations of the Absolute are here viewed. The
difference between the two standpoints of Verses 5 and 6
will become clearer in the two Verses, 7 and 8, which follow.
There could be a "descent" (avatarana) of the divine or
manifestation could take the form of an "ascent into
existence" as implied in the phrase sambhavam (I become)
used here. The distinction is rather subtle and one has to be
familiar with the epistemology of Vedanta, where inorganic
nature (elements) and organic nature (souls) have two
different or even opposite origins. This matter has received
close attention by Prof. Paul Deussen in his book "Das
System des Vedanta". These two lines of manifestation take
place, as it were, from opposite poles resulting in the nama-
rupa-krita-karya-karana-sanghata (complex whole of
instruments and action under names and forms) which is
the embodied person of Vedanta proper. For further
elaboration of this theory one must refer to Sankara's
"Vedanta-Sutra" where the theory of panchi-karana (five-
principled interlocking of gross and subtle elements for
purposes of manifestation of the body) is fully discussed. In
the rationalist schools of Samkhya incarnation takes place
in subtle ways too numerous to review here. However, as
Deussen himself points out, a certain vagueness persists
which we shall try to clarify as far as possible.

The word maya (appearance) belongs naturally to
Vedanta proper, while the word srij (send forth or down) of
Verse 7 has to be traced back to such references of the
Upanishads where Brahman first creates nature and then
enters into it (see Taittiriya Upanishad, II, 6). Maya
(appearance) can imply an Isvara (Lord) who is both under
the influence of relativism and above as presiding over all
creation. The world is unreal when maya is accepted, but an
avatar (descent of divinity in manifestation) who is created
out of nature has to be real. The conflicting epistemologies
implied here would legitimately form the subject of a study
in itself, which for the present we must defer till the
problem faces us more squarely. Aspects of the same
problem are developed in xv, 8-11.

Prakriti (nature) is also treated indifferently as a sort of
co-partner with the principle of maya (appearance). Both
these factors impose their respective conditionings, resulting
in isvaratva (lordship) or atmatva (Selfhood) of the
Absolute, as described in this verse. A favourite example of
the "conditioning "of the Absolute in this manner is the



crystal placed on red silk which makes it seem red itself,
though not actually so.

The incarnation or manifestation of God referred to in this
chapter should therefore be understood in a manner in keeping
with these theoretical considerations. The picture of an avatar
here coming down to punish the wicked and save the good should
not be taken too realistically or even mythologically, but,
rid of its crude puerile nature as belonging properly to a
science of contemplation. Cruder minds will, of course,
require such satisfaction.


yadi-yada hi dharmasya
glanir bhavati bharata
abhyutthanam adharmasya
tada'tmanam srijamy aham

Whenever there comes to be laxity in regard to right life
(dharma) 0 Bharata (Arjuna), and wrong coming to assert
itself, then I bring about the creation of myself

paritranaya sadhunam
vinasaya cha dushkritam
dharma samsthipanarthaya
sambhavami yuge-yuge

To protect those who are good and to destroy evil-doers,
for establishing righteousness, I assume being, age by age.


The expression dharmasya glanih (loss in the strength of
what is naturally right) should not be too easily construed,
as has been done often, to mean a decline in the standard of
social duties such as caste, or as a decay in outward
morality. A megalomaniac dictator can easily assume the
role of a chosen man who is to kill or liquidate the wicked
according to his own notions. Any demagogue can feel
virtuous if the meaning of these verses is interpreted as
referring to the social conditions of a particular part of the
world. Dharma (right conduct according with nature) like
guna (property) has both its vertical and horizontal
component parts, as we have tried to distinguish under iii,
28. Dharma here should be understood as svadharma (one's
own natural sense of right)


and then the word glanih (weakening, decay) would mean
just lack of faith, certainty or understanding of what is in
keeping with one's own specific nature in which, as we have
said, virtue consists.

This phrase does not therefore mean so much the decline
of a particular faith or of a civilization, but faithlessness
generally in individuals the world over, as is perhaps the
case at present when all absolutist norms seem to be
abandoned in despair by humanity as a whole, and when
the old order is ready to change, "yielding place to new"
as Tennyson puts it.

The expression abhyuththanam adharmasya (standing up
for or assertion of what is foreign to true nature) refers to a
situation as when humanity is regimented or conscripted
into forced labour or warfare, stifling its natural expression,
which cuts across the precious values which the individual
needs to work out or express in life in a natural way in
keeping with a life of freedom in the Absolute.

Then the time is ripe for the absolutist pattern of life to
assert itself by sheer necessity combined with the chance
element which makes humanity balance itself again,
somehow. It is then that persons who represent absolutist
universal values in themselves gain a status as saviours of
humanity. They may be called incarnations, or even avatars
in popular language. This phenomenon is familiar to us in
the spiritual history of the world, when a Buddha or Christ
lives and moves among men.

Such an eventuality is not an everyday occurrence. It
happens once in a yuga (age) - periods in Indian mythology
separated by deluges, in each of which certain norms and
standards prevail generally. Yuga (epoch) has to be understood
in the light of vii, 17 and 18, where a larger scheme of
being is envisaged, which is a better fitting domain for the
Absolute to live, move or function.

These two verses have suffered from too hackneyed a usage by
platform orators when they are inclined to hero-worship.
Leaders of closed groups, however historically
important they may be, cannot lay any legitimate claim to be
representatives of the Absolute in the sense intended in the
Gita here. To confuse the two would be a fatal error.
The phrase dharma samsthapanarthaya (for the purpose
of firmly establishing what is right) should be understood in
the same light. If universal standards applicable to the whole


of humanity are not intended by the word dharma, the
personalized manifestation would be a partial one, and would
result in disastrous consequences for humanity, giving room
for rivalry in ideology and creeds.

On close examination of these verses we find that what is
stated in Verse 7, where the word srija (emanate) occurs, is
not the same as stated in Verse 8 where the phrase
sambhavami (I become) is used. The opposition between the
two has just been explained under Verse 6. To say, as has
often been stated, that there is a reference to Krishna as an
avatar in the Gita would be wrong. The word avatar does
not occur in the Gita at all. It is foreign to the spirit in
which the Gita is written, in which both ascent and descent
are equally implied and cancelled against each other in the
neutrality of the Absolute.


janma karma cha me divyam
evam yo vetti tattvatah
tyaktva deham punarjanma
nai 'ti mam eti so 'rjuna

He who understands this divine nature of my birth
and work consistently with basic principles, on
leaving this body he does not attain to repeated
birth, but (only) comes to Me, 0 Arjuna.


Verses 9, 10 and 11 bring the general trend of the
discussion again into line with the subject of the whole
chapter, after a brief digression, regarding the nature of
Krishna's divine incarnation. The author is evidently,
conscious that the subject of incarnation is likely to be too
easily misunderstood, making out the Absolute as either a
hypostatic or a hierophantic entity. Verse 9 is a caution
against such a possible asymmetrical view. The birth and
activity of the Absolute, though it could be considered
divyam (divine), as belonging to a contemplative context, is
on the other hand still to be understood tattvatah (according
to the basic principles) which are special to the Gita.
Although Verse 5 seemed to refer to many distinct births
or lives for Arjuna and for the Absolute, that was only a
tentative statement, for in Verse 9 it is explicitly stated that
it is possible for a man of knowledge of the Absolute to
merge in the Absolute without having punarjanma (rebirth).
If rebirth or


repeated life could be transcended by means of wisdom, it
would go without saying that the Absolute itself is not
subjected to successively disjunct births. Tentative theories
of reincarnation are thus revalued in terms of a life eternal
in the Absolute with no question of rebirth at all.
The word tattvatah (according to principles) is a favourite
term of the Gita. It occurs in vi, 21 ; vii, 3; x, 7; and xviii,
55, and is meant to draw one's attention to the philosophical
basis of the finalized teaching. The same purpose is
sometimes observed by expressions such as yathoktam (as
declared here) in xii, 20, matam mama (my final opinion) in
xiii, 2. Expressions such as ativa me priyah (they are
exceedingly dear to me) in xii, 20, also help to underline
such final teachings. These correspond to the "verily, verily,
I say unto you" of the New Testament and could be used to
distinguish the finalized doctrine of the Gita where it is
meant to be emphasized as against anterior opinions.


vita raga bhaya krodha
manmaya mam upasritah
bahavo jnana tapasa
puta madbhavam agatah

Rid of attachment, fear and anger and wholly filled
by Me alone, and surrendering to Me, many who
have been purified by the discipline of wisdom,
have entered into My (very) being.


Here it is pointed out that entry into the eternal life of the
Absolute as meant in the Gita is nothing superhuman or
difficult of attainment. One does not have to be a superman
or super-Brahmin to come to this state. It is a path which is
public and open to all, on the simple condition that one
should be purified in the fire of wisdom, which itself is
accepted as a form of discipline as the word jnana-tapas
(wisdom-discipline or wisdom-burning) would imply.
Such a consummation as here referred to involves no
duality even in the form of a God to be adored. Whatever
duality might be implied in the term mam upasritah
(resorting to Me) is soon counterbalanced by the expression
prefixed to it which is significant - manmayah (made up of
the very stuff of myself). For purposes of expression of a
doctrine, a certain latitude in the way of making a statement
is permissible.


That is why vestiges of duality seem to persist here and there
as in the words such as "resorting to Me" mentioned above.
Freedom from the three enemies of contemplation, which are
again enumerated, is the only prerequisite for the establishment
of identity with the Absolute, for one who intensely
surrenders himself to the Supreme value it represents.


ye yatha mam prapadyante
tams tathai 'va bhajamy aham
mama vartma 'nuvartante
manushyah partha sarvasah

As each chooses to approach Me even accordingly
do I have regard for him. My very path it is, 0
Bharata (Arjuna), that all men do tread from every
(possible) approach.


This verse contains the converse statement of iii, 23,
where the following of the example of the Absolute when
he refrained from activity would be disastrous. The path of
the Absolute here, however, implies inclusively all other
relativist paths, just as the value of a gold coin would imply
all items of small change. To the extent that absolutism
could be implied, even in a relativist religious or spiritual
discipline, it becomes to that extent acceptable in the same
light of the Absolute principle. When, however, relativism
breaks away and has no connection at all with absolutist
values implicitly or explicitly, then there is the danger
referred to in iii, 23. Two reciprocal movements of aspects
of the same Absolute principle, one ascending and the other
descending, are implied in iii, 23 and here.

In a sense therefore, all men belong to one religion and,
in another sense, when they are not affiliated at all to
absolutism, humanity stands in danger of being subjected
to a process of sankara (disruption) as we have seen under,
iii, 24. Lack of affiliation to the Absolute and turning away,
as it were, from owning allegiance to the Absolute, is what
results in such a disaster for the whole of humanity. The
dharmasya glanih (decay of the sense of right) is also, as
we have explained under IV, 7, to be understood in the
same light. Verses iii, 31 and 32 also insist that it is
important that a strict bi-polar relation should be
established before the teaching of the Gita could result in
any good at all.


As a corollary to this verse, it could be stated that there is
but one religion for all men. That religion, irrespective of
its diverse forms or expressions which it might have outwardly,
in so far as these are affiliated to the Most High or the
Absolute, becomes one and the same finally in effect. It is
on this basis that the motto of the Guru Narayana of "One
Religion" becomes justified in the light of the Gita.
A Christian who worships Christ as a representative of the
Most High belongs to the same religion as a Muslim who
follows Mohammed as the Prophet of Allah, the Most High
Absolute of Islam. In India the rivalries of Vaishnavism and
Shaivism could be bridged also in the same way. Even ideologies
which seem atheistic or irreligious can imply a certain
affiliation to absolute values and to that extent, all these
paths become in effect the same.

The word sarvasah (from every side) shows that the unitive
principle of the Absolute represents a central neutral human


kankshantah karmanam siddhim
yajanta iha devatah
kshipram hi manushe loke
siddhir bhavati karmaja

Desiring the benefits coming from actions and thus
sacrificing to the gods, quick indeed are the results
born of works in this world of men.


The meaning of this verse can be construed in two ways.
By standards of strict Panini grammar we are bound to
break up yajanta iha as vajante iha (they do sacrifice here
too). The other more natural way of construing which seems
to be in keeping with the structure or style of the verses in
the Gita, and which yields also a more cogent and less banal
meaning, is when we break the compound word into
ajantah iha (sacrificing here) which is participial and
similar to kankshantah (desiring) of the same line, with
which one may suppose it should balance. In spite of this
second way, conforming less strictly to the requirements of
pure grammar, we prefer it to the first because it retains a
certain dialectical flavour and symmetry which otherwise
interpreted would give just a banal statement which would
then serve no apparent purpose in the present context.


Most translators, however, have voted for pure grammar
against better meaning, as for example, even Sankara, not to
speak of Bhagavan Das and Radhakrishnan.(1)
When the purpose of this verse in this present context is
properly understood there is no room for confusion. In the
next natural section of this chapter we are entering into
considerations such as the four castes, action and inaction,
and the different forms of spiritual disciplines such as
pranayama (restraint of vital functionings), the large range
of whose variety will have to be examined, culminating in
the final triumph of wisdom at the end of the chapter. The
task is both delicate and enormous, and the author, as he
himself has already stated in a previous chapter, does not
want to discourage one form of discipline which might suit
a certain individual, and praise wisdom at its expense. Such
a disruptive method has been cautioned against in iii, 23.
Therefore, although the general trend of this verse
inevitably casts a slur as it were on the utilitarian catch-
penny or quick-result producing forms of sacrifice to which
the generality of mankind are normally attracted, the author
succeeds by the balanced construction, to maintain a neutral

The word iha (here) and the pointed reference to manushe
loke (world of men) are reminiscent of other references of a
similar kind in xv, 2. If we note that there the karma (action)
referred to is more thoroughly deprecated, as we shall see
when we come to it, the implications of this present verse
become unmistakable, and that it is by no means laudatory à
propos the sacrifices of the kind mentioned.

Orthodoxy however, tends in the opposite direction, and
hence the trouble in the interpretation that we have noticed
in many editions; some introducing long parenthetical
clauses of their own, as if to force the verdict in favour of
their own inclinations. The Gita takes a perfectly neutral
standpoint as between the orthodox and the heterodox,
which is all to its great credit.


(1) Thanks to Bhagavan Das himself we find from his
learned "Introductory Note on Samskrit Grammar": "Judging
by grammatical and rhetorical canons of post-Panini
'classical' Samskrt, a literary critic might see in the Gita,
many defects of language, style, and composition, (1 ) archaisms,
(2) lacunae, (3) double samdhis, (4) use of the atmane-pada for
the parasmai-pada and vice-versa, (5) confused syntax, (6) too
profuse use of expletives, (7) also of vocatives, (8) also of
prefixes; and so on." (pp. xxxviii-xxxix, "The Bhagavad Gita" by
Annie Besant and Bhagavan Das, Madras, 1950.)


The phrase kshipram hi (with speedy rebound verily) is rather
puzzling though significant, because even an agriculturalist does
not reap as soon as he has sown. If we think of progeny, it has its
own time to be considered. Sacrifices take effect cyclically and
elaborately according to the cosmology of the Vedas, conceived
in terms of births and deaths, which also have a duration. In what
sense then is this quickness to be understood? The reference must
be to the most basic and fundamentally necessary aspects of life
itself, as for example, to breathing. The siddhi or the result to be
attained by breathing which is life itself, is immediate. There is
no long cycle of causes and effects involved in this basic sacrifice
of breath. The possibility of such sacrifices and the recognition
the Gita wants to give them are evident from Verses 29 and 30.
Taking human society as a whole and its natural propensity to
offer burnt sacrifices to gods (e.g., in the Vedic society), the
duration implied, which encompasses both action and its
recompense (siddhi) may be said to constitute a natural basic
norm or unit, belonging to that particular context. There is no
harm therefore in the employment of the term "quickly" here,
although it should not be understood in the sense of mechanistic
immediacy, as for example, with a slot machine, but conceived
more organically. A unit minimal span of interest is involved in
such worldly sacrifices whose results are, according to the Gita
here, good as far as they go.

Finally, it is possible to justify the expression "quickly" also
by taking it to mean "immediate" in which case ends and means
of a ritualistic action may be said to coincide as suggested
in Verse 24 of this chapter. A pure ritual conceived under the
category of the Absolute involves the eternal moment where
action and its reaction are not separated at all by any interval
of time.


chatur varnyam maya srishtam
guna karma vibhagasah
tasya kartaram api mam
viddhy akartaram avyayam

The four-fold colour-grades (varnyas) were created
by myself on the basis of innate disposition (guna) and
vocation (karma) that accorded with each; know Me to
be the maker of such as also to be its undoer,


Considering that this chapter deals with wisdom, i.e.,
perennial wisdom, as we have explained, the link uniting
this verse which apparently deals with sociological
questions, with the previous verse, is rather frail.
Verse 12 told us of quick result-producing sacrifices.
This verse deals with the four castes. The word karma
(action) is the common subject. Leading from the simplest
of human actions which produce quick or immediate
results as we have seen, we come here to various grades of
actions as found here in the human world. These are the
major types of vocations found in the world.

All and various possible actions in such a world are here
brought under four general categories of necessity. There
are some actions which may be said to be comparatively
free from the binding chain of necessity. There are others
which are tied down very close to necessity with very little
freedom of movement. All these four possible gradations
have been referred to here as belonging to the four castes:
brahmana, kshattriya, vaishya and sudra, apparently.

The brahmana enjoys relative freedom with the longest
tether, as it were, because he is a scholar, and his livelihood
is in performing sacrifices for himself and others as
Manusmriti (i, 88 ff.) says. The kshattriya or warrior,
capable of risking his life, enjoys a similar freedom, though
of shorter tether, as a warrior cannot be expected to
command respect outside his domain to the same extent as a
scholar. The vaishya, cultivator and merchant, has less
freedom at his command, being bound to the soil and to the
nature of his business, with a more limited range of choice.
Lastly, concerning the sudra or proletarian, Manu lays down
(i, 91) "one occupation only the Lord prescribed to the
sudra, to serve meekly the other three castes". Thus the
status of the sudra is one of the utmost bondage to necessity.
These grades of difference are supposed to exist in
nature, whether in the Vedic world or outside it, and it is in
this sense that Krishna, as representing the Absolute, here
says that he created the four castes.

We had reference already to jatidharma (caste customs)
and kuladharma (clan customs) in i, 43. Varnasamkara
(degeneracy due to promiscuous mixing of races) is also
referred to in the same verse, and the evil consequences are
pictured graphically in Arjuna's own words as the fall of
the pitris (ancestors) due to the break in the offering of
propitiatory rice-balls and water.


Those responsible for these grave omissions, Arjuna says,
would themselves be destined to go to hell. This graphic
account of Arjuna as a purva pakshin (anterior sceptic) in
the Gita is not dealt with or even done justice to by any
passing reference in the teaching of Krishna himself, except
perhaps by the overall pardon of sin which he promises
again and again if Arjuna should follow Krishna's absolutist
way of life.

The word varna (colour) or chaturvarnya (four grades of
colour) of the present verse is not quite the same as the jati
(kind or species) or the kula (clan) with which Arjuna's
mind is obsessed, and which is met only with faint attention
by Krishna. This should mean to us that Krishna does not
take Arjuna's objections seriously. The chaturvarnya (four
grades of colour), however, in Krishna's words, has a better
status, even as a topic of discussion.

We think in our own times of the word varnashrama
dharma (duties of colour and stages of life treated together)
by which ponderous name the existing so-called "caste
system" of India is often referred to. Here. varna
undoubtedly refers to colour and ashrama to the four stages
of spiritual effort which are quite a different matter to the
four castes.

In the confused background of the orthodox Indian mind,
these two different subjects came to be linked-up vaguely,
due to long usage. Here in this verse the reference is clearly
to the chaturvarnya (four grades of colour) which was
known at the time of the Gita. Its character in the context of
proper religious obligations is unmistakable in the light of
Manusmriti and less explicitly in the vaguer implications of
most of the Puranas (legends) (see Manusmriti i, 88 ff.).
Some Puranas even deny the four divisions as existing
from the beginning, as for example, the Mahabharata
which states, "There was originally but one colour or race
(ekavarnam) in the entire universe, 0 Yudhishthira; but by
the specialization due to innate or overt action the four
colour divisions became established" (quoted by Radhakrishnan,
B. G., p. 161).

Krishna here refers to the four castes, not in the rigid
obligatory sense of the Manusmriti. The Gita is a brahma-
vidya sastra (textbook of the science of the Absolute) or
sruti (directly revealed or taught philosophy), and not a
dharma sastra (textbook on lawful conduct) as the
Manusmriti is. The difference of treatment, therefore, is
only to he expected. Comparing the natural actions
belonging to each of these divisions as stated under xviii,
41 ff. and what is laid down as the duty of each


group in Manu we find a striking disparity whose discussion
is reserved for xviii, 41 ff.

No sooner does Krishna say that he is the creator of the
four broad-based social divisions than he denies his own
responsibility and washes his hands free from it by turning
round and stating just the opposite - viddhy akartaram
ayvayam (know me to be the non-agent thereof and the
ever-unspent, i.e., the Absolute). The apparent
contradiction is nothing new, taken in relation with the
explanations in the previous chapters. The Absolute, as we
have pointed out under Verse 12, is neutral as between
orthodoxy and heterodoxy, or the necessary and contingent.
This same neutral position of Yoga is emphasized here,
even in relation to the four castes in the domain
of necessity on the one hand, and to the free ideal of a
casteless, classless society on the other hand.

That this latter open and free way belongs to the Gita is
confirmed by the second line of ix, 32, which opens the
door of wisdom freely to women, vaishyas (agriculturalists
and merchants) and sudras (proletarians), irrespective of
any low birth that might be a stigma attached to them in
actuality. Even in xviii, 41-44 a careful comparison with
corresponding verses in Manusmriti (i, 88 ff.) will reveal to
anyone that while the laws of Manu belong to the domain
of strict obligation and duty, here the Gita contents itself
merely with saying that certain persons are fitted by their
temperament to do certain types of action. A closer
scrutiny of the items of actions assigned to each group
reveals further that they include actions that are actions
only in an extended contemplative sense. The verse-
endings with the phrase svabhavajam (born out of one's
own nature) in xviii, 42-44, show unmistakably that there is
no question of any obligatory duty at all in the Gita as in the
Manusmriti. On the other hand it is purely a question of
psychological types and professional orientation as
understood even in modern times.

The concern of the Gita is only to see that types that conform
to the three gunas (qualities or properties of nature) as
elaborated in Chapters xiv and xvii, are properly matched
with the corresponding actions or vocations belonging to
their proper nature. All that the Gita wants to avoid is the
misfit of a square type in a round hole, and no reference to
clan or caste or anything hereditary or by birth is anywhere
countenanced. Even the reference to varna (colour) is only


This interest of the Gita in seeing that the proper type
gets the proper job is in keeping with its own doctrine of
svadharma (one's own proper or natural conduct) as
conceived in the most general terms applicable to the whole
of humanity, as we have seen under iii, 35, and which is
again repeated in xviii, 47. The Gita is interested in the
sociological question of divisions only in so far as it is a
corollary to the doctrine of svadharma (one's own natural

Many scholars have been of the opinion that this
elaborate theory of svadharma (one's own natural conduct)
and the matching of the inner and outer nature of each
individual as the way of happiness, constitutes the major
contribution of the Gita to thought. We tend to agree with
them, but must add that in applying this doctrine to social
types, the Gita is not so much intent on contributing an
elaborate theory of its own, as on revaluating and restating
in absolutist terms its own revised position as a sastra
(scientific textbook) in regard to some of the deep-rooted
and firmly established notions of race or caste which
vitiated the mind of the common man in India.

Further, a close examination of the Manusmriti will
reveal that it is a book conceived on a war-footing as
between Aryans and non-Aryans. It cannot be understood
in any other way. For example, Manusmriti x, 129 reads:
"No collection of wealth must be made by a sudra, even
though he be able (to do it): for a sudra who has acquired
wealth gives pain to brahmanas". Moreover such qualities
as dexterity required of a kshattriya (warrior) - see Gita,
xviii, 43 - can never be thought of as coming under
obligatory duty, being of the nature of a special personal
aptitude in an individual. A kshattriya (warrior) always
thinking of war, would be no less absurd than a Don
Quixote. A just war in the outer world has to correspond to
the inner nature of a warrior if the absurdity otherwise
implied in fighting is to be avoided. One-sided and
mechanistic interpretations of a rigid and hereditary caste
system as sometimes imagined to exist in India have no
semblance of support in the Gita. In the sense here, caste
comes nearer to the notion of jati (kind , species) than to
chaturvarnya (four divisions of colour in society). Purity of
race or chastity is implied in the notion of caste thus
understood. A brahmin, whether Vaishnava or Shaiva as we
see him among orthodox Hindus today, is really a follower
of certain Gurus of comparatively recent days. Even at the
time of the Puranas (religious legends),


Yudhishthira is heard to deplore the abolition or complete
absence of any group of men who can claim any purity of
strain as understood in the sense of jati. "It is difficult to
find out the caste of persons on account of the mixture of
castes. Men beget offspring in all sorts of women... So
conduct is the only determining feature of caste according
to sages" (see Radhakrishna, B.G. p.161). Caste, as
understood in India today has become more than an
anachronism or even a misnomer and cannot claim support
either from instinct, common sense, traditional lore, or from
the sastras properly so called, such as the Gita.

The wisdom of the Gita is not closed against any section
whether in or outside the Vedic context, as ix, 32 (and xviii,
41 taken with xviii, 46) lays down so finally. In view of the
fact that Chapter ix concludes the arguments of Krishna in a
way, and forms the middle of the whole of the Gita, the
finality of this verdict is not to be questioned. Taken
together with that sweeping or concluding dictum found in
xviii, 66 at the end of the whole discussion itself, where the
Gita recommends the throwing to the winds of all duties,
the free, open and dynamic character of the Gita should be

Returning to the present verse we see that the four castes
and the corresponding outer activities are to be dealt with
organically as still within the relativistic domain, forming
natural gradations as we ascend from strict necessity to the
freedom of the Absolute. Before this gradation in the
relativistic domain is properly understood, some theoretical
considerations about action itself are entered into in
subsequent verses, culminating in that famous Verse 24
where all actions, whether viewed relatively or in a manner
in keeping with the Absolute, are equated and unitively
treated under the supreme aegis of the Absolute.
The phrase tasya kartaram (its creator) should be
understood in the sense that, like all other factors given in
nature, the Absolute is indirectly at least to be considered as
the creator. The distinction has already been discussed
under iv, 6-8.


In summing up, we can say that the Gita here is not concerned  with social obligations, but only with that harmony between the inner and outer life of an individual which is the Yoga that should lead him to the supreme Good.



na mam karmani limpanti
na me karmaphale spriha
iti mam yo 'bhijanati
karmabhir na sa badhyate

I am not affected by works nor have I any interest
in the benefit of works; he who understands Me in
this manner comes no more under the bondage of


This verse is evidently meant to bring back the discussion
into line with the wisdom of the Absolute which is the
subject of this chapter from the seemingly sociological
reference of the last verse. Even in that last verse we have
tried to explain how it was not social obligation which was
dealt with, but rather the possible grades of activity open to
a man still living within the conditions of relativist society,
which could be approximated more or less to the absolutist
way of life with which the whole chapter is concerned.
Therefore this verse underlines the role of Krishna as a
representative of pure absolutism. He is untouched by any
action, relativist or otherwise. He does not desire even the
successful working of the system of four castes of the
previous verse, as the phrase na me karmaphale spriha (nor
is there any interest in the result of action) declares. To
understand that such a neutrality is of the nature of the
Absolute is the way to wisdom, as pointed out here. Both
the subject and the object, the latter being the knower here,
are absolved from the bondage of action, i.e., no obligation
even of caste duties attaches to the knower.


evam jnaitva kritam karma
purvair api mumukshubhih
kuru karmai 'va tasmat tvam
purvaih purvataram kritam

That very kind of work that the ancients
performed after knowing in this manner, even that
work therefore do you also, as was performed by
ancients desiring emancipation in times more


Here it is not an appeal to Arjuna to walk in the usual
traditional way. The appeal is rather to walk in the way of
timeless perennial wisdom which is a different matter. If it
was the mere following of tradition which was recommended,
the term evam jnatva (knowing thus) would be superfluous.


The term mumukshubhih (those desirous of emancipation)
must here refer to emancipation through wisdom and not
through observance of traditional practices. This is but in
keeping with the spirit of the Gita and of this chapter

Purvaih purvataram (by ancients in more ancient times)
clearly suggests the perennial rather than the ancestral
nature of this wisdom. Every ancient wisdom, the phrase
suggests, has something more ancient behind it, taking us
back to eternity rather than to any definite point of time in
history, however long ago.

The words karmai 'va (even the action) are meant to
stress the perennial nature of necessity or karma (action)
also. The wisdom here recommended consists partly at
least of recognizing this perennial necessity of action as
inevitable to man and which cannot be left out of
consideration, even for one who aims at emancipation in an
absolute sense.


kim karma kim akarme 'ti
kavayo 'py atra mohitah
tat te karma pravakshyami
yaj jnatva mokshyase 'subhat

On what is action and what is inaction even intelligent men
here are confused. I shall indicate to you that action on
knowing which you will be emancipated from evil.


The karma (action) which becomes inevitable and justifiable
in the manner indicated in the last verse is recognized
by the Gita to be a difficult matter to determine. Any action
which is habitual is not here recommended. The three varieties
of action are referred to in the next verse. That proper
kind of action conducive to absolution from evil is what is to
be distinguished here. Only such a particular kind of action is
important and to be treated as necessary by a wise man.
Extraneous or incidental aspects of action are not to be taken
seriously. Even the wise, it says, are perplexed about this.
The same sentiment is repeated in the next verse. Only a
wise man is able to distinguish the subtle distinction implied
here between (1) action that is permissible, (2) action that
should be avoided and (3) action in keeping with absolutist
wisdom and neutralizable by wisdom.


karmano hy api boddhavyam
boddhavyam cha vikarmanah
akarmanas cha boddhavyam
gahana karmano gatih

One has to understand about action and understand
also what is wrong action; again one has to have a
proper notion of non-action: the way of action is
elusively subtle (indeed).


Three classes of action are referred to here. The first is
just plain karma (action), the second is vikarma (distorted
or misaction), and the third is akarma (non-action or
inaction). Inaction is included under the title "action" here,
and this could be justified in the light of the Samkhya
teaching where abhava (non-existence) is spoken of as a
padartha (entity) as "nothing" could be conceived only in
terms of negative existence.

Under vikarma (misaction) we should include all such
merely traditional actions which are extraneous to the
discipline of brahmavidya (science of the Absolute) as
understood in the Gita. Akarma (inaction) would refer to a
negative attitude towards action, as when a man obstinately
tries to live in a vacuum repressing all activity, natural or
otherwise, as heterodox anti-ritualists in India tended to be
in the post-Buddhistic period.

When the notion of action has been subjected to these
two correctives and both subtracted, as it were, there
remains a residue of action pure and simple which properly
belongs to the way of life of a perennial philosopher who
neither rejects anything wilfully because of his moods, nor
suppresses anything wilfully against his own deeper nature.
The wise man dialectically revalues his position
constantly as his life is spent in keeping with the perennial
way of those who went before him in the path of the
Absolute. Such a path is full of wonder and mystery as the
word gahana (subtle, elusive) indicates. No sastra
(scientific text) definitely lays down this way of life. A man
of intuition is supposed to be aware of it.


karmany akarma yah pasyed
akarmani cha karma yah
sa buddhiman manushyeshu
sa yuktah kritsnakarmakrit

One who is able to see action in inaction and inaction
in action, he among men is intelligent; he is one
of unitive attitude (yogi) while still engaged in every
(possible) kind of work.


Here is a typical verse in which paradox excels. Sankara
and others have tried in vain to reduce the meaning of this
verse to rational terms by various clever examples, such as
that of the appearance of recession of trees on the shore to a
man sitting in a moving boat.

The mystery is better left unsolved, so as to retain the
element of wonder and the sense of the numinous, emerging
out of the verse. This would be in keeping with the spirit of
the previous verse. Other verses, such as ii, 16, 19 and 69
and many in chapter xiii, go to show how the Absolute is the
neutral meeting-ground of opposites. All paradoxes become
justified with reference to the Absolute. The heightening of
the mystery does not detract but enhances the glory and the
wonder. Wonder itself is a value when it applies to the
Absolute, especially the final wonder of the wise man
established in absolute non-duality.

In the present context there are ambivalent, dichotomous
or bi-polar aspects of the soul of man which are interrelated,
such as instinct with intelligence. What instinct is
convinced of, intelligence cannot appreciate; and what
intelligence sees, instinct cannot. The soul of man as
understood in its absolute sense, is the meeting-place of
opposites. The neutral ground of wisdom is none other than
the same.

Brahman (the Absolute) is itself spoken of in the Upanishads
as having a high (para) and a low (apara) aspect.

Both together are sometimes referred to by the compound
word parapara (high-low). The adhyasa (superimposition)
of one aspect of the Absolute on the other and vice-versa is
the cause of confusion. We are constantly prone to this
error. When our hands are inactive the mind is active, and
when the mind is inactive the hands etc. come into action.
The man who sits still might be steeped in overpowering
mental activity. To reduce both these opposing tendencies
into a neutral whole is the Yoga of wisdom spoken of here.
The last phrase kritsnakarmakrit (while still engaged in
all possible kinds of work) is just to show that one set of
actions has to be reduced in terms of the other and both
cancelled out into a certain unitive neutrality, irrespective


of whatever actual or virtual activities might be implied in
the situation.

This way of neutralizing activity is the same as has been
indicated in iii, 43, where the Self is spoken of as being
restrained by the Self. The word kritsnam (all) is meant to
include both the innate and overt forms of activity. The
word buddhiman (an intellectual man) is in keeping with
the subject matter of this chapter on jnanayoga (unitive


yasya serve samarambhah
kama samkalpa varjitah
jnanagni dagdha karmanam
tam ahuh panditam budhah

That man whose works are all devoid of desire and
wilful motive, whose (impulse of) action has been
reduced to nothing in the fire of wisdom, he is
recognized as a knowing person (pandit) by the wise.


This verse and the verses up to 24, inclusive, constitute a
section in which the purest kind of free action as
recommended in iii, 9, is finally stated. Thus, in the revised
light of absolute wisdom, ends and means coincide.
The first prerequisite of such a freedom-yielding
absolutist action is indicated here. Such action has to be free
from kama (desire) and samkalpa (wilful motivation). Even
after these two outgoing tendencies have been curbed or
withdrawn, there is a residual action or tendency to act
which is of the nature of a vital urge. This vital urge,
however, is brought under the scrutiny of wisdom. As
indicated in the previous verse, it becomes negated as
akarma (inaction). As the fire of wisdom burns all action to
ashes as stated in Verse 37, this cancelling out into
neutrality of all action is only to he looked upon as a normal
consequence of absolutism, involving what St. Thomas
Aquinas might have called the principle of double negation.
Action cannot stand the light of absolute wisdom, being a
negative factor, just as light and shade cannot live together.


tyaktva karma phala
sangam nityatripto nirasrayah
karmany abhipravritto 'pi
nai 'va kimchit karoti sah

Relinquishing attachment for the benefit of works,
ever happy and independent, though such a man
be engaged in work, he (in principle) does nothing
at all.


Here the same opinion is stated in more finalized form. As a
cancelled cheque is not valid, the visible aspects of action
that a wise man might be seen performing outwardly are to be
treated as null and void in the light of the neutralizing
synthesis of wisdom. Here the actor acts for action's
own sake, "not depending" upon anything outside (as the
word nirasrayah indicates), and desiring no outside benefit
or result, i.e., treating ends and means unitively. So he is
always content, free from worry and expectation.


nirasir yatachittatma
tyakta sarva parigrahah
sariram kevalam karma
kurvan na 'pnoti kilbisham

One free of all expectancy and of subjugated relational
self-consciousness, who has given up all possessiveness,
being engaged in actions that are merely bodily (automatic),
he does not acquire evil.


Note that this verse concedes a little more than what is
implied in the last verse, inasmuch as the body is supposed
to continue to act with whatever may be said to be of the
nature of a reflex or automatism.

The phrases (i) yatachittatma (one of subjugated
relational self) - chitta being that aspect of personal
consciousness capable of attaching itself to a desired idea
or object - and (2) aparigrahah (without possessiveness),
denote two additional requisites for a man of wisdom,
giving a deeper qualification than just being free from


yadrichchha labha samtushto
dvandvatito vimatsarah
samah siddhav asiddhau cha
kritva 'pi na nibadhyate

Satisfied with chance-gains, unaffected by
conflicting pairs (of interests), non-competitive,
remaining the same in gain or no gain, he remains unbound in
spite of having been active.


The general attitude towards life of a man of wisdom as
he lives and moves among men is outlined here. Chances
come to him, but he is not a fortune-hunter who runs after
chances. Conflicting pairs of opposites belonging to the
world of automatic actions have been transcended by him.
Naturally, such a man does not have to enter into
competitive rivalry with others. He is a vimatsarah (non-
competitive person).


gatasangasya muktasya
jnanavasthita chetasah
yajnaya 'charatah karma
samagram praviliyate

In the case of one whose attachments are gone,
who has gained freedom, whose spiritual being
has been founded on wisdom, his works having a
sacrificial character only, become wholly dissolved.


The same idea is elaborated further only there is pointed
reference to action coming under the definition of
sacrifices, in the sense that these do not bind, as indicated in
iii, 9.

This special category of actions done disinterestedly must
imply some absolutist value. Even when offered to a god, as
implied in Verse 25 below, even if the sacrificer's notions of
a deity are imperfect, to the extent that his offering implies
pure motives, it has the effect of dissolving the binding
character of action. What is meant here is put more finally
in the next verse, in whose light we should understand the
further implications of this verse. Nobody can understand
the Absolute except from the point of view of his own
relative self, and conversely nobody can understand the
relative except from the standpoint of the Absolute. There is
an inevitable limitation of the one notion by the other, thus
inevitably introducing an element of solipsism into the
argument. The action-dissolving power of pure acts of
sacrifice referred to here is therefore justified by the
principle of solipsism itself. It is possible, however, to treat
both ends and means, relative land Absolute, more
unitively, as is done so well in the next verse.


brahma 'rpanam brahma havir
brahmagnau brahmana hutam
brahmai 'va tena gantavyam
brahma karma samadhina

(For him) the Absolute is the act of offering, the
Absolute is the substance offered into the Absolute
which is the fire offered by (him) the Absolute, the
end to be reached by him being even the Absolute
by means of his peace supreme of absolutist action.


This is another verse masterpiece often quoted. Ends and
means belonging to a ritualistic context are here brought
together unitively, abolishing every shade of difference between
them. The final phrase brahma karma samadhina (by
means of a peace which is the same as action, which is the
same as the Absolute, or brahma = karma = samadhi) is a
beautiful word-confection made up of a value (peace)
consisting of end (Absolute) and means (action). Action is
the means and the two ends are the cosmological (brahman,
the Absolute) and the psychological (samadhi, the peace of
a unified Self). The compound word thus brings all
sacrifice-concomitants together without making a
distinction between ends and means.


daivam eva'pareyajnam
yoginah paryupasate
brahmignau apare yajnam
yajnenai 'vo 'pajuhvati

As referring to the gods (of the Vedas) is (the
nature of) the sacrifice of some yogis (men of
unitive discipline); others offer sacrifice into the
fire of the Absolute by sacrifice itself.


From Verse 25 to 32 there is a comprehensive discussion
of all patterns of sacrifice, from the most basic ones
understood in the Vedic context such as a simple burnt
sacrifice to the gods, to the same conceived in the light of
self-realization as understood in Verse 24.

Here again, the same principle of treating ends and means
unitively is repeated in the second line more finally. Instead
of brahman (the Absolute) being offered as a sacrifice into
brahman this verse goes one step further and states that


itself is offered as a sacrifice. The non-duality is thus
further finalized, thus setting the furthermost limit to the
concept of yajna (sacrifice) that is possible to attain
through the rationalization of sacrificial action. The anterior
limit is marked out by the first line which states the usual
case of an agnihotra (fire sacrifice) of the Vedic context.
As we had occasion to point out under IV, 23, that a man
sacrifices to the devas (the divine, gods, shining ones) is
not in itself any disqualification in the light of the Gita
teaching, on condition that the counterparts of ends and
means are compatible and capable of being cancelled out

Any man who has not attained full enlightenment is
bound to offer a sacrifice according to his own lights
regarding higher values or ideals. To ask any man to do
better than what he can, would be neither possible nor fair.
Indra, Varuna and other gods of the Vedas are personifications
of certain higher or idealized human values. They are "shining
ones" who are immortal, and are supposed to live with eyes
that never shut, in the world of the intelligibles, as Plotinus
would put it. Similar ideas are familiar in Plato's writings.
All that we are to recognize here is that as between the
sacrificer and the gods there is a difference of value in
a certain scale of values which is natural for a human being
to have in his mind when he thinks of his own spiritual
progress. The difference therefore between the higher and
lower values of this scale reaching from the human to the
divine, must imply some sort of purificatory element, however
feeble it might be.

Each sacrifice is good as far as it goes and better than non-
sacrifice. When, however, a sacrifice is performed with the
full implications of Absolute Godhead in the mind of the
sacrificer, then progress may be said to be geared to the
maximum. Under the aegis of a supremely absolutist form
of sacrifice all other sacrifices gain a status and thus a
purificatory potency.

The purpose of this verse is to mark out clearly the two
limits of sacrifice, one being the usual Vedic sacrifice and
the other more in conformity with the science of the
Absolute, where even the difference between the act of
sacrifice and the sacrificer, as ends and means, is to be
finally abolished.

It should be noted that here the reference is not to a mere
ritualist, but to a yogi. The difference is that the yogi is
constantly equating counterparts and cancelling out
opposites by a certain implied dialectical method, which is
more than rationalization. It is rather a revaluation in the


light of wisdom. The various sacrifices mentioned in this
chapter are to be understood as revalued, and not just Vedic

The reference to spiritual disciplines in the verses up to
32 have to be understood in the light of Yoga. Moreover
yajna (sacrifice) is used in this section in a very
comprehensive sense (in the same way as indicated in iii,
10). It applies to the whole of created life. The various
forms of spiritual discipline to be dealt with in succeeding
verses are partial applications of this pure and general
principle of sacrifice in different types of discipline
belonging to different spiritual traditions or schools.


srotradini 'ndriyany anye
samyamagnishu juhvati
sabdadin vishayan anya
indriyagnishu juhvati

Some offer as sacrifice the ear and such other sense
organs into the fire of restraint; others offer the
sacrifice of sound and other sense interests into the
fire of the senses.


Two alternative cases of the control of the senses are
referred to in this verse, the difference between them being
very delicate. An introversion or pratyahara (withdrawal of
the senses) is implied in both instances. In the first case the
perceptual (or inner) aspect of the senses is taken, with
hearing as the typical example. Hearing is to be sacrificed
into the fire of restraint. In the second case the same
restraint is applied to overt sound which is merged
backwards and inwards as it were, into the general seat of
the senses taken together, which, like the restraint, is also
compared to a fire. Restraint represents the central value of

It would be legitimate to imagine a series of fires, one
more subtle than the other, the gradation having been
indicated already in iii, 42, which, taken together with iii, 6,
an iii, 41, is clear enough on this question of gradation.
Whatever is outside is withdrawn and merged in a certain
graded order into the inner fire which is one's own Self.
Contemplation itself thus conforms to the pattern of a
sacrifice. Although the familiar form of a Vedic sacrifice is
adhered to here, it is still contemplation in the most
extended and comprehensive sense


that is really the subject-matter here. Whatever may be the
two counterparts taken, a sacrifice is possible in principle.
The term indriyagnishu (in the fire of the senses) is justified
because the senses represent perception which is a form of
light or knowing, similar to the light of a flame.


sarvani 'ndriya karmani
prana karmani cha'pare
atma samyama Yogagnau
juhvati jnanadipite

All the functions of the senses as also the vital
functions, others make (as) an offering of both into
the fire of unitive discipline (Yoga), consisting of


The meaning here goes one step further inwards in terms
of contemplation, using Yoga and life-functions as the
counterparts. The phrase atma samyama (self-restraint) is to
be understood as belonging to Yoga or personal discipline
and is not to be mistaken for self-control in any outwardly
physical, moral or social sense. Such a restraint attains the
intensity of a fire. This fire is kindled by absolute wisdom,
and into this fire both the sets of more peripheral functions
belonging to the senses and the less peripheral vital
tendencies are merged or centralized. In Verse 26 the
restraint of the peripheral items of life-functioning were
reduced to a form of sacrifice. Here Yoga and all life-
functions are brought under the idea of sacrifice to be
equated or unitively cancelled out.


dravyayajnas tapoyajna
yogayajnas tatha 'pare
svadhyaya jnanayajnas cha
yatayah samsitavratah

Likewise are others of object-sacrifice and those of
austerity-sacrifice, those who sacrifice unitive
discipline (Yoga) and those of self-study and wisdom-
sacrifice, who are (all) men of self-control and
(fully) accomplished vows.


This verse enumerates the different classes of sacrifices as
follows: (1) the basic ritualistic sacrifice made with material


offerings; (2) sacrifice of the nature of an austerity or self-
discipline as implied in Verses 25 and 26; (3) the sacrifice of
Yoga as understood in the context of Patanjali's "Yoga Sutras",
(Aphorisms on Yoga), though subjected to slight revaluation
in the Gita, as we shall see in the next verse; (4) the sacrifice
of one's own study, as is normal to a student of the
Upanishads, and (5) the sacrifice of wisdom, which consists
of equating subjective and objective aspects of knowledge
into a unitive whole.

All people who engage themselves in any of these forms
of sacrifice are classed as yatayah (people of restraint -
derived from the root yama = restraint) as some sort of
restraint is implied in all these sacrificers.

The term samsitavratih (those of accomplished vow) puts
a final mark on the enumeration of disciplines coming under
the class of vows, the last-mentioned to be taken as a more
mature or final form of sacrifice. The spiritual disciplines
mentioned in Verses 29 and 30 which follow, are neither
austerities nor vows, but belong to the milder discipline
known under Yoga (as understood in vi, 17), involving no
form of hardship or torture of any kind (which in fact is
really condemned in xvii, 5 and 6).


apane juhvati pranam
prane 'panam tathi pare
pranapanagati ruddhva
pranayama parayanah

Into the downward (inward) vital tendency others sacrifice
the upward (outward) one and in the outward one the inward
likewise, thus countering the tendencies, they remain ever
as those (who resort to the way) of (vital) breath-control.


This verse refers directly to the discipline of pranayama
(restraint of vital functionings understood both under
respiration and as belonging to the larger context of the
pancha-pranah, the five vital tendencies).

The process of respiration may be said to affect only two
of these five latter pranas (vital functionings) and those
who practise pranayama (restraint of vital functionings) are
referred to in this verse either as sacrificing prana (the
outgoing breath or vital tendency) into apana (the inward or
down-going breath


or vital tendency) or vice-versa. Both of them have in common
what is called rodh (to hold in check) from which the word
ruddhva (having held in check) is derived. Those who are
attached to the discipline of pranayama (restraint of breath)
are here referred to as pranayama parayanah. Inasmuch as
restraint of the gait (flow) of breath is the most important
common element making this discipline a form of sacrifice,
the order or direction in which the vital function is
restrained upwards or downwards is of no consequence.
Both the kinds of sacrifice are therefore treated here on a
par, and the restraint itself can apply to prana (outgoing
breath) and apana (down-going breath) equally, and the
practice could justly be referred to as a single unitively
conceived sacrifice.

It should be noted here that in certain drastic and popular
schools of Yoga called Hatha Yoga, which concern themselves
with breathing exercises, there are two opposite restraints of
breath called puraka (filling) and rechaka (emptying) and a
third middle one called kumbhaka (retaining). In the
Patanjali "Yoga Sutras" (Aphorisms on Yoga Discipline)
pranayama (restraint of vital functionings) is the fourth
stage of a scale of disciplines built upwards leading to
kaivalya, loneliness or purity as applied to the Self).
Reciprocal equalization of life-breaths is not explicitly
implied in the pranayama of the Patanjali system as here.
The Gita revalues Patanjali's system in the light of absolute
wisdom and makes the two forms of sacrifice reciprocal and
even interchangeable. Pranayama is not understood in the
Gita as control of breath impliying sustained effort in any
one direction (as in Patanjali's "Yoga Sutras", ii, 49). Here,
instead of effort, only a state of calm contemplation is
implied. The restraint is not laboured here, but normal and
natural. The revaluation of both Hatha Yoga and Patanjali
Yoga have to be noticed in the unitive treatment of the two
aspects of the discipline of vital breath control.


apare niyataharah
pranan praneshu juhvati
sarve'py eteyajnavido
yajna kshapita kalmashah

Others abstemious in food make an offering of
vital breaths into vital breaths. All these are
connoisseurs of sacrifice who have got rid of evil
through sacrifice.


The idea of restraint implied in the various forms of discipline
is referred to, as it were, in wholesale terms, as applied to
all the vital tendencies taken together. If we could say that
expansion and contraction are two opposing vital tendencies
the yogi referred to here minimises or decreases the difference
between these two, living in the central core of his
own life his connection with the outer world, in hearing,
seeing or enjoying what is outside, is kept at a minimum.
Such a control includes the taking of food which is referred
to as typical here as niyataharah (those restricting food).
Such restriction should be understood in a generic sense to
include more than actual nourishment. The same word
occurs in ii 59, not in the sense of actual food eaten, but as
referring to the influx of all enjoyable impressions from

The word yajnavidah (knowers of sacrifice) is employed
here as referring to all the varieties of sacrifice of the
previous verses, before coming to the conclusive statement
about sacrifices in the next verse. In xv, I, the word vedavit
(veda-knower) is similarly used. In the same sense also, in
ix, 20, there is reference to traividyah (those who know
the three Vedas). The Gita teaching is seen here to be kept
detached and non-committed to the particular disciplines or
learning, whatever they may be, preserving the impersonal
standpoint of a general onlooker, throwing the burden of
responsibility on the experts in each school, while itself
being primarily concerned with wisdom. The reference to
other disciplines is by way of recognition of what is
valuable, permissible or necessary in each according to the
revalued position of the Gita.

The word kalmashah (dross or impurity) is not "sin"
in the religious sense as often translated, but may be
said to include stains or opacity or dullness which can
impede spiritual progress in general terms.


yajna sishtamrita bhujo
yanti-brahma sanatanam
na 'yam loko 'sty ayajnasya
kuto 'nyah kurusattama

Those who partake of the immortal nectar of sacrificial
remains goes to the eternal Absolute.
This world is not for one of no sacrifice. How can
he have the next, o Best of Kurus (Arjuna)?


The idea in iii, 13, of eating the remnants of sacrifice is
revised here. After the elaborate references to different
sacrifices which do not conform to the simple Vedic burnt
sacrifice pattern, the sacrifice intended here has to be
understood more figuratively than as actual. The amrita
(ambrosia or immortal element) has the double suggestion
of being both actual and metaphorical. The simple Vedic
sacrificer, when he eats the remains of a sacrifice
performed according to the teaching of the Gita, i.e., in
keeping with the science of the Absolute, attains
immortality, or enters into eternal life. On the other hand,
one who does not treat life itself as conforming to the
pattern of a sacrifice misses the purpose of life altogether
and consequently the best way of enjoying life here as well
as hereafter.

The phrase kurusattama (best of the Kurus) as applied to
Arjuna, who is a Pandava, is explained by his common
lineage from Kuru, the common ancestor of both Pandavas
and Kauravas.


evam bahuvidha yajna
vitata brahmaho mukhe
karmajan viddhitan sarvan
evam jnatva vimokshyase

Thus many and varied are the sacrifices spread in
front of the Absolute. Know them all as
originating in action. Thus understanding them,
you shall gain release.


This verse and Verse 33 are not wholly laudatory in
regard to sacrifices. Wisdom is unequivocally praised at the
expense of all forms of sacrifice enumerated, however
superior each might be, when taken by itself. All of them
have the common effect of having their origin in some sort
of action, whether called discipline or sacrifice. To that
extent they are by necessity dualistic. But by wisdom even
this dualism is transcended, and such a wisdom itself is
what burns and is burnt, as explained in the verses that
follow, and it is therefore this unitive sacrifice which is
legitimately lauded finally here.

The expression vitatah (are spread out) taken together
with brahmano mukhe (in the face of the Absolute)
establishes that very dialectical relationship as between the
Absolute and the relative, found throughout the Gita, which
indeed makes it a


Yoga sastra (textbook). The word jnatva (having known)
emphasizes that it is the wisdom implied in this bipolar
situation which is conducive to emancipation or freedom.
The expression bahuvidhah (many and varied) accentuates
the relativist character of all forms of sacrifice here, even
when treated together as a dialectical counterpart of the
Absolute. The relation is as between the gold coin of
wisdom which always triumphs, as we have already said,
over the small change of all actions.


sreyan dravyamayad yajnaj
jnanayajnah paramtapa
sarvam karma 'khilam partha
jnane parisamapyate

Superior to any sacrifice with (valuable) objects is
the wisdom sacrifice, 0 Paramtapa (Arjuna); all
actions, 0 Partha (Arjuna), have their culmination
in wisdom.


A more definite discountenancing of the usual Vedic
sacrifice at which a priest pours butter or burns objects of
value by way of sacrifice is here stated. Wisdom is the
crowning and all-embracing factor here in the spiritual life
which is extolled.

The expression parisamapyate (comes to a supreme
culmination) gives primacy to wisdom in unmistakable
terms. All action is dross to be burnt away and only to be
permitted or tolerated for purposes of a yogic or organically
conceived process of spiritual progression, to be finally
discarded. This principle is clearly stated also in vi, 3.
Except in the case of the final doctrine of the Absolute,
the Gita envisages a graded organic series of disciplines, all
considered permissive. To derive secondary doctrines of
any final or mandatory order from the Gita is altogether
against the spirit of its teaching.


tad viddhi pranipatena
pariprasnena sevaya
upadekshyanti te jnanam
jnaninas tattvadarsinah

Learn this by prostration, by searching questioning and by
service; they will instruct you (duly) in wisdom, those
wise men who can see the basic principles.


This verse is by way of cautioning against believing that
the doctrine here is to be too easily understood. How yogic
wisdom can inclusively cover and prevail over all forms of
discipline or spiritual practices, is a secret of the perennial
philosophy known only to those specifically referred to as
jnaninas tattvadarsinah (by those men of wisdom who can
see the principles involved). For obtaining such wisdom it is
suggested here that one should be a disciple of such a Guru.
This is a well-known condition of the wisdom tradition or

Yogic wisdom cannot be transmitted mechanistically
through books or by way of information. The bipolar
relation between a Guru and a disciple alone can effectively
imply the subtlest secrets of such a wisdom, as kept
perennially alive from generation to generation.
The three expressions pranipatena (by prostrations),
pari-prasnena (by searching questioning) and sevaya (by
service), might suggest a picture too servile and repugnant
to the modern mind. The requirement for service is merely
to safeguard against any possible mental disadoption which
would spoil the perfect rapport which is an important
requisite for the free flow of secret teaching between master
and disciple. Prostrations are not to be looked upon as a
form of kowtowing, but as an expression of the willing
affiliation of a disciple to the wisdom-context. The Gita
elsewhere (ii, i) has the expression anasuya
(uncarping) and this, taken together with such expressions
as priyo'si me (thou art dear to me) in xviii, 65, refer to
the same relationship that is required between a wisdom-
teacher and his disciple. Note that, in spite of all this
submissive devotion, Arjuna does question Krishna, as
repeated questioning is considered normal, even in this
verse. Arjuna has already (as we have seen in iii, 2) gone to
the extent of charging Krishna with confusing him with his


yaj jnatva punar moham
evam yasyasi pandava
yena bhutany aseshena
drakshyasy atmany atho mayi

Having known this, 0 Pandava (Arjuna), you will
not give way to delusion thus any more; by this all
beings without exception will be seen by you in the
Self and thus in Me.


After many digressions, the last of them extolling
perennial wisdom as taught in the Gita, this verse brings the
discussion into line with the Gita teaching as a whole, which
is centred on Krishna as representing the Absolute. The
cosmological Brahman is the same as the psychological
atma (Self), which latter implies in turn all beings without
any remainder. When these apparently different concepts fall
into a unitive accord through proper understanding, then the
confusion, whose origin was due to a certain relativistic
attitude on the part of Arjuna, with which as purva paksha
(anterior sceptic's position) the Gita's teaching started, would
then have no reason to continue to agitate Arjuna's mind.
The phrase bhutany aseshena (all beings without any
remainder) covers anything and everything in the cosmos
subject to the process of becoming, bhutani being derived
from the root bhu (to become). That flux which comprises
the whole of existence is here first equated with the Self and
then with the Absolute personified as Krishna the Guru.
The Guru-sishya relationship just spoken of is to be established
in a personal sense. Hence the representation of the
Absolute here in personal terms as "Krishna" gains a certain
relevancy in this verse, as it does in the text taken as a
whole, e.g., in ix, 34 and xviii, 65, both of which are placed
at critical and rhetorically significant positions in the Gita,
giving to the personal bipolar relationship implied here a
very important place.

This does not, however, make the Gita theistic, as referring
to a personal God, as often thought by critics. Instead of theism
or worship of a God, it is rather a Guru-sishya relationship.
In the light of the repeated questioning referred to in the
previous verse, this point of view that it is not a God but a
Guru who is implied here, is further endorsed.


api ched asi papebhyah
sarvebhyah papakrittamah
sarvam jnanaplavenai 'va
vrijnam samtarishyasi

Even if you should happen to be among evil-doers
the most evil-doing man, by the very raft of
wisdom you will be able to cross over sin


This verse has to be read with ix, 30 and 31, all three verses
being based on the same principle of sin being dissolved


quickly by wisdom, when the proper relation or affiliation
has been established with wisdom personified as in a Guru.
The superlative papakrittamah (the most evil-doing one)
distinctly emphasizes the act and not the intention, inasmuch
as to say that the man affiliated to wisdom is related to the
highest of values. He has thus nothing wrong in his intention.
Whatever dross in the form of actual practice might still
adhere to him is effectively nullified by his affiliation to
wisdom. This principle is more expressly brought out in ix, 30.
The word eva (even) in the second line has the force of
drawing attention to the effectiveness of wisdom in
abolishing the evil of sin. Sin and grace belong to the
theological context, but the dawn of wisdom, by its far-
reaching effects, belongs to such a superior order that the
very question of theological sin does not arise. This very
fact is more clearly stated in the next verse.


yathai'dhamsi samiddho'gnir
bhasmasat kurute 'rjuna
jnanignih sarvakarmani
bhasmasat kurute tatha

Just as fire when kindled reduces to ashes the fuel,
0 Arjuna, likewise the fire of wisdom reduces all
works to ashes.


The relation between wisdom and action is not one of
mere mechanical opposition, but when wisdom triumphs,
action vanishes, as it were, in inverse proportion. When
wisdom fully shines, duality disappears: it is, so to say, all
fire and no fuel. Such a conclusion is arrived at by the
principle of double negation. Therefore the question of
action ceases to arise when wisdom shines in its fullest


na hi jnanena sadrisam
pavitram iha vidyate
tat svayam Yogasamsiddhah,
kalena 'tmani vindati.

There is nothing indeed here so purificatory as
wisdom which same the man of perfection through
unitive discipline (Yoga) discovers in himself in due


Yoga as commonly understood implies spiritual discipline
or practice, which means also that it takes time to be
perfected. The effect of Yoga when properly understood is
the dawn of wisdom itself, and this implies no duration. A
man who thinks that mere wisdom as a discipline has no
purificatory effect, is wrong. The practising aspects of Yoga
and the theoretical aspects of wisdom, when understood
properly as belonging to dialectics or Yoga proper, and
when judged by their common effect, come to mean the
same. The man who practises Yoga which implies some
duration and who, at the end of such practice, does not find
wisdom in himself, may be said to have been misdirected in
practice, or to have practised in vain. Conversely, the man
who has reached wisdom, automatically finds all the
benefits of Yoga as already present in him.


sraddhavami labhate jnanam
tatparah samyatendriyah
jnanam labdhva param santim
achirena 'dhigachchhati

A man of faith comes to wisdom being intent on
That (Absolute) and the senses subjugated. On
obtaining wisdom he reaches without delay (the
state of) supreme peace.


Verses 39, 40 and 41 bring together unitively the two
aspects of wisdom conceived as a Yoga. From the instinctive
side wisdom-Yoga involves such factors as sraddha
(constancy or faithfulness) and samyatendriyah (controlled
senses), and from the side of intelligence the dawn of
wisdom takes place involving comparatively little delay,
when a man is tatparah (one given over to That, i.e., the
absolute Principle). The fusing of perfection of the instincts
with the perfection of factors of intelligence from two
opposite poles as it were, takes place reciprocally and
simultaneously. These two facets of spiritual progress are
referred to again in xv, 11. Samkhya wisdom and yogic
disciplines are more usually treated separately in Indian
spiritual literature, but here in the Gita each is revalued in
terms of the other. The implied duality between


jnana (wisdom) and karma (action) thus tends to be
abolished. Shanti or peace results from the meeting of the


ajnas cha 'sraddhadhanas cha
samsayatma vinasyati
na 'yam loko 'sti na paro
na sukham samsayatmanah

The unwise man and the man without faith with the
Self held in (the conflict of) doubt is destroyed:
Neither is there this world for him nor the world
beyond nor can there be any happiness for a man
(caught) in doubt.


The converse of Verse 39 is stated here. The doubting
soul is one who is troubled by conflict. We know that in
common life a person who has a simple doubt does not
perish. Many persons can have various doubts and just
because of this they are not destroyed. The phrase vinasyati
(goes to destruction) here has to be understood
contemplatively as contrasted with the phrase dimavantam
(one who has gained his Self) of Verse 41, and also with
param santim (supreme peace) of Verse 39. As the doubt is
of a contemplative order, the destruction here is also to be
understood as referring to spiritual life only.

Duality and consequent conflict implies a subtle form of
suffering, by reason of which one is deprived of real enjoyment,
whether this enjoyment is simple, belonging to biological life
here, or higher and complex, such as those enjoyments that
satisfy the spirit of man, such as art, culture,
idealism, etc. A madman can be free from hunger, but that
does not necessarily mean that he enjoys life.
So unless there is a yogic blend of these two aspects, the
instinctive and the intelligent, one loses both the "here"
and the "hereafter" in terms of happiness. Thus the
clearing of that doubt which is at the root of a conflict
between aspects of the person is more important than life


Yoga samnyasta karmanam
jnana sachinna samsayam
atmavantam na karmani
nibadhnanti dhanamjaya

For one of unitively-renounced action (by Yoga)
who by wisdom has sundered doubt, and come to
full self-possession, works can no more bind him,
0 Dhanamjaya (Arjuna).

This verse sums up the position attained in this Chapter.
The two compound words in the first line are conceived, the
first on the basis of Yoga and the second on the basis of
jnana (wisdom), the former abolishing karma (action) and
the latter abolishing doubt. Both together result in
atmavantah (one who possesses the Self) of the second line.
He is one who is not torn by conflict or doubt.

It may be noted in advance here that it is this very
double-sided reference by Krishna which starts the opening
question of the next chapter. The duality between jnana
(wisdom) and karma (action) is still largely retained, for
purposes of argument at least, in the present chapter, while
only in the next chapter is the rapprochement of these two
factors more completely attempted. Here the object is only
to get rid of the binding after-effects of karma (action). In
the next chapter, however, the picture is of a more
emancipated Self, where the yogi goes to the extent of
denying or disclaiming his own actions (v. 8 and 9).


tasmad ajnana sambhutam
hritstham jnanasina 'tmanah
cchittvai 'nam samsayam Yogam
atishtho 'ttishtha bharata

Therefore sundering with the sword of Self-
knowledge this ignorance-born doubt residing in
the heart, stand firm in the unitive way (Yoga) and
stand up, 0 Bharata (Arjuna).


Here the same factors mentioned in the last verse are
finally brought into close juxtaposition before their more
unitive treatment of the next chapter. The sword of
wisdom is to be found in the Self and the doubt is found in
the heart, i.e., they are both located at two poles within the
psychological make-up of the person. A change of heart is
effected by a dose of wisdom, as it were, and vice-versa.
They could not be brought any nearer to each other without
losing their distinct nature. The duration for a change of
heart is minimized as


far as possible. Samkhya reasoning, with which the Gita
dialogue started, had implicit elements of duality with
karma (action) which was unitively dealt with in the third
chapter. Here, in the fourth chapter, in the light of jnana
Yoga (the Yoga of perennial wisdom) the duality has been
minimised to its last possible limit, to be transcended
completely and more boldly in the next chapter.

The expression atishtho (stand firm in) and uttishtho
(stand up) are both derived from the same root, "to stand"
and are meant to suggest the positive attitude called for in
unitive understanding or Yoga. Yoga cannot be
accomplished lying down in lassitude. It implies an ascent.
Note, however, there is no definite call to action. As the
discussion proceeds, entering into more and more subtle
factors, the reference to necessary actual action on the
battlefield becomes correspondingly mild. Reference to
actual fighting is toned down. The fighting becomes internal
rather than external.

This chapter, as we have said at the beginning, has also
been called jnana-karma-samnyasa-yoga (Yoga of
knowledge, action and renunciation), the justification for
the use of the word samnyasa (renunciation) being derived
from the penultimate verse. The samnyasi (renouncer) of
the Gita, however, is not a mere renouncer of action, but
one who has reconciled action and inaction through
dialectics with the wisdom of the Absolute. The idea of
renunciation is itself revalued in Chapter xviii and a
passing reference to it is found in v, 2 and 3.


ity srimad bhagavadgitasupanishatsu brahmavidyayam
Yogasastre srikrishnarjunasamvade
jnanayogo nama chaturtho 'dhyayah


Thus ends in the Upanishads of the Songs of God,
in the Science of the Wisdom of the Absolute, in
the Dialogue between Sri Krishna and Arjuna, the
fourth Chapter, entitled Unitive Wisdom.