Srimad Bhagavad Gita (hereafter BG) (the Lord’s song) is the gospel of Hindus. Though Hindus claim that the Vedas and Upanisads (sruti) are the foundation or source of their ‘religion’, no other single book has claimed as much popularity and authority as the BG among Hindus. Even in Indian courts, Hindus have to keep their hand on a copy of BG to swear before giving witness, (and Muslims on the Koran and Christians on the Bible).



Tension always comes when we have to choose between two equally good\bad things. In such situations, ‘to do or not to do’ becomes a great moral crisis. However mature or intelligent one may be, in such a time one’s mind becomes confused; it even ‘dries up our senses’ (BG 2:8). To follow one’s own conscience may not bring the expected result, as none can claim to have reached the stage where one’s conscience itself becomes clean because of a stable mind (sthitaprajna). Likewise unless there is someone to interpret it properly for our needs, seeking guidelines from the ethics of our society in which we live may not be useful as it can be interpreted according to the need, as well as the motive of the doer.

We find Arjuna in exactly this situation at the commencement of the war. He had become confused with the question of `to be or not to be’ (BG 2:7 – Hamlet) and the result is the beautiful ‘Song of the Lord’ (Bhagavadgita), the crown of Indian Scripture. “…The starting point of the teachings of the BG is the ethical conflict Arjuna faced in the battlefield. From there the text moves on to other areas of spirituality with a synoptic insight or all-inclusive character.”1



The BG is a part of the Mahaabhaarata (hereafter Mbh), in chapters 23 to 49 of Bhiismaparva. The original setting of the BG is the battleground. The war had started between the cousin-brothers the Kauravaas and the Paandavas. After loosing their kingdom to the Kauravaas in gambling, the Paandavas, as per the condition agreed in the wager, lived in exile for 13 years. After that period, when Kauravaas refused to return the country of the Paandavas, and all the efforts by Krsna to settle the issue through peaceful negotiations also failed, war finally broke out.

When the army of both sides gathered on the battleground and the war was about to start, Arjuna asked his friend, the charioteer Krsna, to take his chariot between the two armies. When Arjuna saw all his dear friends, relatives and respectable elders and gurus on the opposite side, all of whom would be killed in the battle, he refused to fight and dropped his bow and arrow and sat down in the chariot with much depression.

Then Krsna starts his teaching, to persuade Arjuna to do his caste duty of Kshatriya-dharma – to fight. “True, throughout the poem this is never wholly lost sight of; but the bulk of the poem is not concerned with the respective merits of war and peace, but with the deepest things of man and God.’2



It is beyond the scope of this paper to go into detail about all the arguments on the relationship of BG to Mbh. Several scholars have dealt with this matter in depth in their respective works, and Dr. Ishanand Vempeny’s analysis is very helpful.3

According to Vempeny there are three views regarding the relationship between Mbh and BG. The traditional view is that the BG is the heart of the Mbh. Those who defend this generally base their argument on the similarity of the two, especially the common subject matter in both BG and Mbh – mainly dharma. “…According to Vinoba Bhave, Vyasa, the mythic author of the epic has taken out the cream of the whole Mhb and put it in BG, ‘Standing in the middle of the epic,’ he adds, ‘BG is like an elevated lamp which throws its light on the whole of Mbh”‘4

The second view is that the BG partially belongs to Mbh. According to this school of thought the BG has several authors and the “…Mbh portion of BG is a very small one.”5 Adherants of the third position “…doubt or deny any substantial relationship of BG with Mbh.”6



Scholars are of the opinion that the present day Mbh is a developed work from some untraceable original (called Bhaarata). The Mbh served as a kind of encyclopaedia, into which anyone could fit his teaching on ethics and religion.7 However, regardless of various theories about the relationship of the BG with Mbh, a casual as well as careful reading of the BG will make one to understand that the BG fits very well in with the Mbh because of its context as well as theme of dharma of karma.8

Considering the various facts (particularly its relationship with Mbh and that it was clearly influenced by other Scriptures), scholars have generally come to the conclusion that the date of the BG’s composition must be between the 5th and 2nd centuries B.C. “At least from the time of Sankaraacaarya the BG is known as saptasataslokii to indicate that it consists of 700 verses.”9



The BG must be a post-Upanisadic work considering the fact that it heavily borrows ideas from the earlier Upanisads like Iisa, Mundaka, Chaandogya, Katha, Maitri, and Svetaasvatara.10 This fact is stated in fourth verse of the dhyana sloka of the BG:

Sarvopanisado gaavo dogdhaa Gopaalanandanah|

Paartho vatsah sudhiir bhoktaa dugdham gitaamrtam mahat||

“The Upanishads are the cows, Krsna is the milk man, Arjuna is the calf, wise men are the drinkers and BG is the milk.”11 Raamaanuja considers the 18 chapters of the BG as an elaborate commentary on the 18 mantras of Iisa Upanisad. The first two verses of Iisa Upanisad particularly echo BG’s concept of Niskaamakarma.

Though a few scholars like R. C. Zaehner and K. N. Upadhyaya hold the view that Buddhism influenced the BG very much, “…scholars like Bhandarkar, K. T. Telang, B. G. Tilak (pp 800-820), S. K. Belvalkar, R. D. Ranade and S. Radhakrishnan do not see any convincing evidence of the influence of Buddhism on BG.”12



The BG is smrti (remembered). Although so highly regarded by all as being the essence of the Upanisads, it is not sruti (heard), which is limited to the Vedas (Samhitas, Brahmanas, Aranyaks and Upanishads).13 But Hindus still regard the BG as Upanisad and at the end of each chapter we can find these words:

srimadbhagavadgiitaasuupanisatsu brahmavidyaayaam yogasaastre (`…of the Science of Yoga, included in the cult of the Braahman, expounded in the Upanisad sung by the Blessed Lord’).14

So although the BG is smrti, yet its official designation is ‘Upanisad’. Along with the proper Upanisads and Brahmasuutra it is one of the triple canon or prasthaanatrayii.

“…When BG along with Upanisads and Vedaanta-suutras became the Canon called Prasthaanatrayii (the Trinity of Systems)…all religious opinions or cults which were inconsistent with these three works or which could not find a place in them, came to be considered as inferior and unacceptable by the followers of the Vedic religion. The net result of this was that the protagonist aacaaryas of each of the various cults which came into existence in India after the extinction of the Buddhistic religion had to write commentaries on all the three parts of the prasthaana-trayii (and, necessarily, on BG also).”15

Sri Sankara considered the BG as “an epitome of the essentials of the whole Vedic teaching.”16  This massive influence and authority of the BG continues into this century, especially in light of the fact that “…BG became a powerful weapon in the hands of progressive national leaders like Tilak, Aurobindo Ghose and Mahatma Gandhi in their fight against British Imperialism.”17



Both lay people and scholars cannot understand the teaching of the BG without the aid of some bhaasyas.18 The BG was written not only in a dialogue style but also contains several contradicting views side-by-side (due to later interpolations). But the problem becomes more complicated because of the variety of commentarial traditions.19  As Tilak wrote, those

`…who have propounded different doctrines, usually accept as important only such of these statements as are consistent with their own particular cult, and either say that the others are unimportant, or skilfully twist the meanings of such statements as  might be totally inconsistent with their cults, or wherever possible, they draw hidden meanings or inferences favourable to themselves from easy and plain statements, and say that the particular work is an authority for their particular cult…’20

Even modern commentaries are written either for apologetics to bring revival in the religion or with a view to certain ideological issues. The best example is Tilak himself; his work is not only pioneering (as he himself claims21) but also very convincing. While criticising different commentators as having interpreted the BG in their own ways (advaita, visistadvita, dvaita, sudadvaita, pure bhakti, pure yoga, etc.) he brings out his own interpretation by saying, “No one says that the BG looks upon the Karma-Yoga as the most excellent path of life.’22 Of course Tilak is not left without anyone to criticise his views and modern advaitic commentators like T. M. P. Mahadevan, Aurobindo, etc. refute this idea (though do not mention Tilak’s name directly).23

The one thing all modern commentators agree on is that the BG’s teaching has universal value.



Scholars and lay people alike have noted the following problems in the BG:

  1. How is such a long philosophical discussion possible on a battlefield?
  2. There seems to be a contradiction in the personality of Krsna in the BG and Mbh.24
  3. Was the war at Kuruksetra a historical event? Is it depicted accurately in the BG?
  4. The advanced concept of avataara with the accompanying philosophical explanation in the BG makes it seem like this is a later work.25

These doubts deserve proper answers, but it is beyond the scope of this paper to go into such details. However, we must note one important point, particularly in our approach to and understanding of Indian Scriptures. We cannot approach them only with our modern scientific terms of literary criticism, but must read them according to what they are. For example, most Indian Scriptures do not even bear the author’s name. The general worldview of the Indian is that Truth is important not events, and principle is important and not the person. What is said and why it is said is far more important than when it was said and who said it. Further, modern facilities of printing and mass media were absent in ancient times, so Ithihaasas and Puraanas became the common vehicle to pass on truths and principles by oral rather than written means. If we forget this and approach Indian scriptures looking for detailed historic facts, the end result will be like peeling an onion, which will only bring tears to our eyes leave us with nothing left at the end.



It is not easy to gather the subjects raised in the BG under respective topics because there are contradicting views on the same subject in different places.  Those who have attempted topical study have often approached the subjects according to their respective views (apologetic, dialogue, etc.).  As a student of the BG, I do not dare to venture to give my own views on respective topics as it is beyond my capacity considering my limitations in several ways.  However, I made a maiden attempt in preparation for this paper to approach the subject of the BG from two angles.

1. Studying chapter wise.  Really it is a challenging but interesting task considering the fact that several contradicting verses can be found even in the same chapter because of later interpolations.  In my approach to the chapters I mostly depend on B. G. Tilak, while always drawing my own conclusions.  Hence if anyone finds major faults in this, I am solely responsible for all problems.

2. Studying topic wise.  There are plenty of books available written both by Indian and western scholars.  Dr. Ishanand Vempeny’s Krisha and Christ (dialogue) and R. C. Zaehner’s The Bhagavad Gita are scholarly examples.  However, considering the limited scope of this paper, I am merely reroducing Zaehner’s summary of themes, to be found as Appendix I.


Before going on to the teachings of BG, here I would like to bring one point discussed by Tilak in his book The Gita-Rahasya, which I find not only useful in understanding  BG but also highly reasonable and very convincing.

According to Tilak, dividing  BG in three sections allotting six chapters to each, viz. 1-6 Karma; 7-12 Bhakti and 13-18 Jnaana, is artificial.26  He wrote, `…karma yoga based on Spiritual Knowledge, in which the highest place is given to Devotion, is the subject-matter dealt with in BG…all other imports which have been ascribed to BG are merely doctrine-supporting….’27  And to prove this he is using the `… old and more or less generally accepted  rule…of the Miimaamsaa writers, who were extremely skilful in determining the meanings of a particular book, chapter, or sentence.’28  I now personally am convinced after reading several commentaries and books related to BG that the central teaching of BG is Niskaama karma yoga and not jnaana yoga based on renunciation or bhakti yoga merging both karma and jnaana margas in it.



Each chapter of BG ends with a summary statement of what subject was discussed in it, e.g. chapter six ends with `ity srimad…Aatmasamyamayogo nama…’  It should be noted, however, that some scholars give a later origin to these colophons and consider them not an original part of BG.29

Chapter One:  The scene of Arjuna’s dejection andKrishna’s advice; 1-11: Descriptions of the principal warriors; 12-19: Blowing of conches; 20-27: Arjuna studies the scene; 28-47: Arjuna’s confusion, despair and grief.

Chapter two: 1-10: Arjuna’s confession and confusion, `to do or not to do’; he speaks like a philosopher but behaves like a defeated one (v.11); 11-30: The knowledge of Yoga viz. saamkhyayoga is described.  Here the Saamkhya does not stands for the Saamkhya philosophy.  Radhakrishnan writes, `The Samkhkya does not refer to Kapila’s system but to the teaching of the Upanishads’.30   Tilak gives a good summary of the meanings of both Saamkhya and Yoga in BG:

`…abandoning Action and taking to Asceticism for obtaining Release, after a man has acquired Knowledge by the performance of such Actions as are enjoined on the particular castes for the purification of the Mind, having regard to the different stages of life, is known as the Saamkhya path; and not abandoning Action at any time, but continuing  the performance of Action desirelessly, so long as life lasts, is known as Yoga or Karma-Yoga.’31

31-38: The Ksatriya’s duty; 39-53: karma yoga described; note that in this karma yoga purity of the reason (vyavasaayaatmikaa buddhi) is essential to determine whether the karma performed is good or bad; and for this concentration is essential (2:41); 54-72: the marks of such a stable mind (sthitaprajna) are described and glorified.

Chapter Three: 1-2: In chapter two when the importance of pure reason is described and glorified, then naturally Arjuna asks the question that if pure reason is superior to action, then why I should fight?  3-8: For this Krsna says that as none can escape from action as it is an inherent nature (prakrti) of everyone which none can even survive without.  9-16: Yajna, which was given by the Creator himself, is the karma to obtain welfare.  17-32: But a pure minded person is doing action for the welfare of the world alone (lokasamgraha, v.25), dedicating all action to God.  33-35: For the first time here a hint of bhaktimarga is given.  But the highlight of this chapter is that as none, not even a jnaani, can escape because of his inherent nature (prakrti, v.33) it is better to die while performing the karma of one’s own dharma (not religion).  36-43: Desire and the way to overcome it.

Chapter Four:  1-3: This karma yoga teaching which Arjuna now receives is not new.  It was taught by the Lord in previous ages to several sages; 4-8: He himself is coming again and again to do karma for the welfare (lokasamgraha) of the world.  9-12: The glory of his avataara and the fruit of knowing it.  13: The Lord himself is the author of the four orders of society based on caste.  14: But as the Lord is not attached to the action he is not affected by karma’s fruit.  15: Arjuna urged to do the same thing.  16-22: To perform such karma yoga the jnaana of oneness (of finding all the souls in the world in oneself or in God) is essential.  The explanation about karma and conduct of yogis.  23: Continuing the point of chapter three that yajna performed as mere karma does not bind; 24-32: Krsna further shows the superiority of jnaana yajna (v.33) above any other kind.  Because as even the wise are puzzled over the question of what is action and what is inaction (v.16), such knowledge i.e. pure reason, which never binds is essential.  `…In short, the subject-matter of jnaana (Knowledge) has here been introduced in this chapter by saying that in order to successfully follow the Path of karma yoga, Knowledge in the form of Equability of Reason is necessary.’32  33-42: the glory of such knowledge is described.

Chapter Five:  The major issue before Arjuna is that if release could be obtained both by karma samnyasa and karma yoga and one could choose according to his need, then in his condition at the war front he would prefer the former.  In chapters 3 & 4 the necessity of karma yoga was explained but in chapter 2 it had been pointed out that pure reason is superior to action.  At the end of the fourth chapter such knowledge (pure reason or equability of reason by the realization of unity of aatman in every thing {4:33-42, particularly v.35}) is also glorified.  Now the issue before Arjuna is which one to follow–knowledge (saamkhya) or action (yoga).  So Arjuna asks the question in 5:1, `Tell me in clear terms which among the two is more proper for me to follow’; and now Krsna says in clear terms that `karma yoga is superior to karma samnyasa’ (5.2) and brings the same point again and again in the rest of his discourses (see 2:47, 50; 3:4, 7, 8; 4:6; 8:7; 18:6, 7, etc.).  5:2-6:

`For further emphasising this doctrine, the Blessed Lord also says that, not only does one attain by means of karma yoga the same Release which can be attained by Renunciation or by the Saamkhya Path (v.5:4), but that unless the desireless frame of mind prescribed in the karma yoga is acquired, Renunciation itself is useless; and that once such a desireless frame of mind is acquired, one does not fail to attain the Brahman, notwithstanding that one may be performing Action according to the Path of Yoga.’33

7-12: The marks of both a saamkhyayogi and niskaama karmayogi; 13-26: jnaanayaoga described at length; 27-29: a brief description of yoga, ending in devotion.

Chapter six:  Having establishing the superiority of karma yoga in the first five chapters, now Krsna is shown dealing with the means by which control can be attained over the sensory organs, mostly based on Paatanjala yoga.  1-4: The karma yogi is the true renouncer, and not the one who merely gives up all activities.  5-10: The role and the need to do such yoga by oneself as one’s own aatman is his own friend or foe.  11-28: The system of Paatanjala yoga for the control of sensory organs described.  29-32: Realisation of the unity of created beings with brahman and one’s own aatman.  33-36: The fickleness of mind and need of (yogic) practice is recommended.  37-45: Nothing is lost even when one fails in this process of karma yoga as its effect will be carried out in next births assuring release gradually.  46-47:  A karma yogi with single minded devotion focused on the Lord is best.

Chapter seven: As per the colophon found at the end, this chapter is dealing with jnaana-vijnaana (cf. 7:2), i.e. about the imperceptible and manifested brahman which is the only worthy knowledge to know in this world, yet for which few ever strive (7:2-3).  According to Tilak the first stanza (7:1) of this chapter connects it with the first six by the word `now’ and `…is starting a description of that path or vidhi by which the complete knowledge of the Blessed Lord can be acquired while the man is practising this Karma-Yoga.’34  4-6: Description of two prakrti; 7-19: God (Krsna) as the cause of everything; 20-23: The question of worship of other gods; 24-30: The destiny of those who do not know the glory and true nature of God and of those who know them.

Chapter eight:  1-2: Arjuna’s seven questions; 3-7: the answers given by the Lord.  8-22: Bhakti yoga discussed;  23-28: two paths of bright and dark described.  As Tilak summarizes, in this chapter the Lord

`…briefly explains what the imperishable or immortal Principle of the world is; when and how the entire world is destroyed; and what states are ultimately reached respectively by those who Realise and understand the true form of the Paramesvara, and by those who merely perform desire-prompted Action, without acquiring Knowledge.’35

Chapter Nine: The subject matter of jnaana-vijnaana is continued here.  1-6: Jnaana and its glory described; 7-10: The origin of the world; 11-12: The destiny of men possessed with demonic nature; 13-15: and those with divine nature; 16-19: God as the soul of everything; 20-25: The fruits of worship with and without motive; 26-34: The glory of devotion; such devotion is called as the Yoga of Sovereign Science and the Sovereign Secret.

Chapter Ten:  This chapter is entitled as Vibhutiyoga as it describes the glories and power of His yoga.  The Lord is the author of all the glorious things as well as origin of all the creatures in this world.  1-11: Such knowledge results in devotion to him.  12-18: Arjuna’s praises and request for the description of the Lord’s glories.  19-42: The Lord describes His glories and the power of yoga.

Chapter Eleven: The cosmic form (rupameiswaram). 1-4: Arjuna requests to see the cosmic form of the Lord; 5-8: The Lord’s description of it and giving of divine eyes to Arjuna;  9-14: Sanjaya’s description of the cosmic form to Dhrtaraastra;  15-31: The cosmic form and Arjuna’s praises.  32-34: Arjuna exhorted to fight as he is merely a tool (in the context of the cosmic form, vs.26-28 & 32).  35-46: Overwhelmed by the cosmic form Arjuna offers praises and requests for the original four-armed form;  47-50: The Lord glorifies His cosmic form and reappears in four-armed form;  51-55: The impossibility of obtaining a sight of the four armed form without exclusive bhakti, and the result of such bhakti.

Chapter Twelve:  1: Arjuna’s question regarding the best way of worship: the nirguna or saguna form of the Lord;  2-12: worship of the formless (nirguna) is more difficult than worship of the manifested one (saguna), and the four steps in worship; 13-20: The marks of sthitaprajna.

Chapter Thirteen: 1-18: `…the doctrine of the Body and the aatman, namely, that the same Paramesvara occupies the PINDA (Body), that is to say, the Body of man, or the ksetra, in the shape of the Aatman; and that the Knowledge of this Aatman, that is to say, of this ksetrajna, is also the knowledge of the Paramesvara’;36  19-34: ` …the same subject-matter of the Body and the Aatman has been included in the Saamkhya exposition of prakrti (Matter) and purusa (Spirit); and it is ultimately said that he who Realises the difference between prakrti and purusa and Realises the all-pervading Paramaatman, with `jnaana-caksu’ (spiritual eyes, vs. 34) is RELEASED’.37

Chapter Fourteen: This chapter mainly deals with the reason for the diversity in the world despite there being only one aatman, i.e. brahman.  The activities of the three constituents of prakrti, viz. sattva, rajas and tamas (of Saamkhya philosophy) are the reason for this diversity.  One who realizes that such activities belongs to prakrti (matter) and not to aatman, and who serves God by devotion, stands beyond the three constituents (trigunaatita) and is released.  1-2: The glory and result of wisdom; 3-4: prakrti is the womb and God is the seed giving Father; 5-18: The qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas described; 19-20: prakrti is the agent and means of release; 21-27: The marks of trigunaatita (one who has risen above the three gunas).

Chapter Fifteen:  1-6: The universe is described as a peepul tree which is rooted everywhere, and the axe of non-attachment and devotion to God is the only way to get release from it; 7-11: Jiivaatma is a minute part of God; 12-15: the immanence (antaryamin) of God 16-20: Purusottama who is beyond both the body and the Jiivaatman is to be worshiped to attain release.

Chapter Sixteen:  1-5: Two divisions of men with divine (daivic) and demonic (aasuric) gifts, and their ends, viz. liberation and bondage respectively;  6-20: the marks and destiny of the demonic natured man;  21-24: Desire, anger and greed–the triple gate of hell; performing duty according to the scripture is the means to overcome these.

Chapter Seventeen: 1-22: This chapter contains an Exposition, in reply to a question of Arjuna, of how the diversity resulting from the different constituents of three-constituted Prakrti is also to be seen in devotion, charitable gifts, sacrificial ritual, austerity, etc. 23-28: BG’s interpretation of `Om-Tat-Sat’, in the context of karma yoga.

`…the whole of the portion of BG from the seventh to the seventeenth chapter has been given only one name in BG, namely, “jnaana-vijnaana” or “adhyaatma”.’38

Chapter Eighteen: 1-12: Tyaaga and samnyaasa explained: niskaamya karma yoga is samnyaasa;  13-18: Motive of action according to the Saamkhya philosophy explained; 19-40: The three divisions of sattvika, rajasa and tamasa in knowledge, action, reason, steadiness, and joy are explained; 41-48: Caste system justified and man is urged to do his duty according to the arrangement of the four castes; 49-55: The path of knowledge explained; 56-66: Karma yoga and bhakti; 67-78: The glory of BG.  Hans Staffner gives a good summary of this final chapter:

`In the 18th chapter BG sums up its whole teaching.  The ascent to union with God is presented in four steps.  The first three steps lead to becoming Brahman, to the integration of self; after he has become integrated in his true self, man is ready to be elevated to union with God.  The first step consists in joyfully doing one’s duty in the caste (varnasrama dharma) into which one is born (18:45-48).  The second step is to detach oneself from the fruits of one’s work and from all worldly desire (18:49).  The third step is the continuous renunciation that leads to becoming Brahman (18:51-53) and the fourth step is, having become Brahman, he is rendered capable of that love which leads to union with God (18:54-56).’39



The main aim of this paper is not to present some kind of dialogue, but to introduce BG’s teaching so as to create some interest leading on to deeper study in it.  However, considering our context of understanding Hindu world-views through the scriptures, here we would like to raise a few topics which may help us to relate Biblical truth in an Indian way.  Particularly this becomes essential considering the fact that no sincere Indian Christian theology can be formed without using Indian terminology, for which any sincere student of theology should not only read Indian scriptures but also try to relate the biblical themes in its terms.

To limit ourselves, here we are going to take only three points for interaction based on BG and the Bible: bhakti, caste and character.


The Gita’s great contribution to the bhaktischoolofVedantais unquestionable.  Sri Ramanujacaariya of this school, who was the chief apostle of this sect, depends on BG for his theology.  His commentary on BG become the very foundation for his sect after him.  Though BG become a tool in the hands of various theologians to dig out their own schools of thought, yet the way it aided the lay people to resolve the conflicting religious views by a synthesis of karma, bhakti and jnaana is unique.   Though the central message of BG is the niskama karma yoga, yet it gives prominance to bhakti to the extent of surrendering even all the dharma (duties) to the Lord (BG 18.66).  And it won’t be an exaggeration even to say that in a way it rescued both God and the common man from the clutches of karma kanda (the mechanical aspect of yajna) and jnana kanda (giving prominance to renunciation) of sruti and laid a strong foundation for the later development of the bhakti schools of Vedanta which swept the whole country, and before which even great philosophers had/have to bow down.

Without proper theology (which could be expressed through some doctrinal statements), no sect can express itself properly both in its propagation and preservation.  But some time the unbalanced importance given to theology deprives the common people of the ability to feel at home with their sect.  This is a common experience in every religion.  And the way BG, not compromising its central theme of niskama karma yoga, helps the common people to carry out their secular and sacred duties with an inner warm feeling of dedicating them to their personal God, can help any religious sect to learn this beautiful inner harmony.  Total surrender to such a personal God (18.66) gives greatest moral and spiritual strength to a bhakta to face all the conflicting challenges (18.73) and rise above them joyfully.  This inspiration never left any sincere followers of BG’s teaching in his life.  That is why, inIndia, however great may be the advaitic vedanta, yet the influence of bhakti in the life of every people, including the advaitic vedantins, is a dominating one.  And BG deserves most of the credit in this regard.

Now in both confessing as well as promoting righteousness through the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Bible and particularly the New Testament bears immense witness of such experience of bhakti in the life of the early bhaktas of the Lord.  So who deprived such warm feeling from the life of the followers of the Lord in the succeeding generations?  Limiting ourselves to the Indian context, where the influence of bhakti is dominating in the religious life of the people, why has the church so lamentably failed in this area?   Can the teaching of BG, not ignoring its broad context on karma yoga, teach the Hindu Christ bhaktas to preserve their richest inheritage of bhakti without bowing before a dry and mechanically organized religious institution in the name of church?  And still worse, not realizing their personal need, when evangelicals merely recommend bhakti as preparatio evangelica to win more people to their respective denomination, should not a true Christ bhakta spread the fragnance of his Christ bhakti while keeping away from the artificial bouquet of western Christianity inIndia?  Let us preserve such a bhakti as both BG and the Bible ask us to to do, surrendering all our activities to the Lord:

`Whatever you do, or eat, or sacrifice, or give, whatever austerity you perform, that, O son of Kunti, offer untoMe.’ (BG 9.27)

`So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.’ (I Cor. 10.31)


Upholding dharma is the first step in Purusharta.40  Therefore for the maintanance of the world upholding svadharma (BG 3.35 & 18.47)is important.  `Dharma’ is not religion anywhere in Hinduism, and particularly not in BG.  Not doing svadharma will upset the cosmic order (rta) of the world, which will result in chaos and confusion.  This is the major concern of Arjuna; the result of the war will be destruction of families, spreading unrighteousess, and  mixing of castes which will deprive the ancestors their ritual food (1.39-42).  And, `From these sins of the destroyers of the family that lead to a mixture of castes, the long-standing traditions of the caste, the family, etc., are destroyed (1.43)  Persons whose family traditions are destroyed, are doomed to live perpetually in hell; thus have we heard (1.44).’  Thus through the mouth of Arjuna the author of BG clearly shares about his concern about keeping one among the six dharmas viz., varna dharma.41

One might think that in the name of upholding dharma, particularly in the area of ethics, the Dharmasaastras of India give conflicting rules and regulations and even contribute to caste discrimination.  And it is true that BG also accepts and gives divine authority through Krsna to the caste system.  Yet its ideal is based on quality and character (particularly in the context of the three gunas of Saamkhya system) rather than birth and breeding.  This is evident from the reference to svabhaava when describing the duty of the four castes in Ch. 18.40-48.  It must still be admitted that such an ideal is miserably missing in the present caste-oriented Indian society.  At the same time, we cannot judge BG’s ideal and world view on this matter (which was first written some 25 centuries ago) based on present reality in its worst aspect.

It must be recognised that the caste system was not deliberately imposed on society by the brahmins to uphold their superiority (as some suggest).  Caste first started on the basis of race and culture between the Aryans and the Non-Aryans called dasyus or dasas, which later was extended even within the Aryan community based both on profession and character (not birth and breeding).42   There is an ancient Tamil poem which says that even among the recognized four fold caste system, if the low caste man is an educated one the upper caste one will have to obey him.43   This echoes the Mbh, as shown by P. V. Kane:

`…truthfulness, self-restraint, tapas, charity, ahimsa, constant adherence to dharma, these are the means (of higher life) among men, not caste nor family.  Santiparva says (188.10) “there is no difference among the (four) varnas; this world is Brahma (belongs to Brahma), because it was formerly created by Brahma and was (later) reduced to different varnas by their (diverse) actions”.  The Santiparva announces “Truthfulness, charity, freedom from hatred and wickedness, humility, kindness and tapas,–where these are seen, he is known as brahmana.  If these characteristics are found in a sudra and these do not exist in a twice-born person then the sudra is not a sudra and the so-called brahmana is not a brahmana….”’44

Often western missionaries attacked this caste system (especially  its worst aspect, untouchability), forgetting the cruel fact of racial discrimination (and its worst aspect, slavery) that existed in western `Christian’ countries until recent times.  Even the Bible gave a measure of approval for the ancient slavery system, recognizing the sensitivity of handling it because of its social and political implications (though in the Old Testament its evil was still far less than the present untouchabilty inIndia).  Now both east and west, after realising their own respective shortcomings in these areas, to some extent have stopped throwing mud at each other.  Any careful observer of the present day Indian social scene can see the rising up of forces that will produce another social system in the name of status and education.


All the major schools of Indian thought accept in principle the  twenty-five fundamental elements that are part of the Saamkhya classification of the cosmos (cf. Tilak pp 243, 249).  But differences arise because the Vedanta philosophy does not accept the dualism of Saamkhya (that prakrti and purusa are two eternally independent principles).  Vedantins rather affirm that `both prakrti and purusa are manifestations of one eternal and qualityless Absolute Self (paramaatman); and this doctrine has been accepted in BG (9.10).’45  BG also adopts the Saamkhyan teaching of the three gunas, sattwa, rajas and tamas, as fundamental for understanding human character (as well as all of the material world).46

As indicated often above, BG is not always fully consistent in its teaching.  This can be illustrated in this area of human character.  The aatman is cnsidered to be ever only a witness in 13.29, 31, and so cannot be contaminated (13.32).  Yet at the same time it is said to be bound by the three gunas of prakrti (sattva, rajas and tamas) in 14.5 and its (the aatman’s!) destiny is said to depend upon which among the three gunas is most dominant at the time of a person’s death (14.14-15).  (Immortality is attained only when it crosses beyond all the three gunas (trigunaatita) which are the very cause of this body (14.20).)  However, Krsna also says:

`Verily, a part of Myself, having become this eternal embodied soul, draws to this world of beings the senses with the mind as the sixth, which rest in Nature (Prakriti).  When the master (soul) acquires a body, he takes these (the six referred to above) from the one he leaves, even as the breeze carries odours from their seats, and attains (the new body).’  (15.7-8; see also 2.22.)

So the exact significance of sattwic, rajasic and tamasic gunas is not a clear and simple matter to define.  They are derived from God (`For (all) this is my creative (and deceptive) power (maya), composed of the constituents, divine, hard to transcend’ (7:12-14)).  But God’s creative activity is seen primarily as a veil between the individual self and the divine essence.  The three strands or constituents of prakrti are: sattva (goodness), rajas (energy) and tamas (darkness), which are described regarding their nature, work and influence in 14.6-9, 11-18; 17.4-6, 8-22; 18.7-9, 20-35, 37-39.

Now what is the biblical teaching on this subject of human nature and character?  It must first be noted that the Bible gives no systematic teaching on this subject.  This is no surprise since very few subjects are given systematic treatment in the Bible.  (This should make us suspect of `systems’ and keep us alert to problems that arise when systems are established.)

Further in this anti-systematic direction, the Bible gives no set terminology about human nature.  The most fundamental point of Biblical teaching on humanity is that we are God’s image; but this is never defined, merely stated.  The terminology of the Bible is of course in two languages, Hebrew and Greek.  When God revealed His word in the Hebrew language there were necessary limitations related to Semitic vocabularies.  When the New Testament was written in Greek numerous words with complex histories in Greek philosophical traditions were employed, and it is not easy to sort out exact meanings of these Greek terms.

In summary, a scientific analysis of human nature is not a Biblical priority.  The priority is a practical life of common sense godliness (which in Biblcal terms is `wisdom’).  Especially in the New Testament there comes the shocking revelation of the radical servanthood of Christ, who is the model for humanity.  So service and suffering become the path to maturity and godliness (Mk.10:43-45;Rom.5:3-5; James 1:2-4; etc.) which determines and demonstrates human character.

How to develop this biblical perspective within the received tradition of Indian thought is a large and important question.  BG ideal of niskaama karma is clearly not out of accord with Biblical thought.  The three guna terminology is not objectionable and can and should be used, with caution about the underlying world views that are often assumed along with such terminology.  Much study and thought is needed in this area, and some of us must begin to apply ourselves in this direction.



No other single Indian scripture gained so much importance as BG, which continues to inspire both the secular and spiritual life of the people.  Consider the fact that ever since Sri Adi Sankara (and even before him) right up to the present scholars are writing on BG to demonstrate the relevance of its message to the contemporary issues of every generation.  BG is not a syncretistic work trying to hold together the varying conflicting philosophical systems ofIndia.  Rather it is a synthetic work building a bridge, bringing harmony among the conflicting schools of thought and taking the message to the common people.  D. D. Vadekar rightly says, `…in the history of philosophic speculation in India, the Vedic period represents a thesis, and the Upanisadic period represents an antithesis, BG presents a synthesis of the two.’47

BG, being a smrti, does not carry absolute authority.  It is a commonly recognised fact that the teachings of the smrti need new interpretation according to the needs of the time.  And the author of BG gives immense freedom for one to choose what one thinks best for himself (as per the demands of his age); `Thus has this wisdom, more secret than secrecy itself, been imparted to you by Me.  Fully pondering it, do as you like’ (18:63).  And BG, transcending all these factors, brings its own crowning message of niskaama karma which will even help a samyaasi to do his duty according to his ashrama with a relaxed mind for the welfare of the world:

yaavad lokaparaamarso niruudho naasti yoginah |

taavad ruudhasamaa hitvam na bhavaty eva nirmalam ||

`So long as the duty of looking after other people (that is, lokasamgraha) remains [unperformed] to howsoever small an extent, it cannot be said that the state of the person, who has attained Yoga, has become free from blame’ (Yoga Vaasistha 6. Pu. 128. 97).48

In this sense the central message of BG, viz. karma yoga (ignoring all the sectarian interpretations), will hold universal appeal to all people living everywhere.  No other conclusion will be more relevant than Tilak’s, who himself implemented this niskaama karma yoga for the lokasamgraha in his yajna for our nation:

`The religion of BG, which is a combination of Spiritual Knowledge, Devotion, and Action, which is in all respects undauntable and comprehensive, and is further perfectly equable, that is, which does not maintain any distinction between classes, castes, countries, or any other distinction, but gives Release to everyone in the same measure, and at the same time shows proper forbearance towards other religions, is thus seen to be the sweetest and immortal fruit of the tree of the Vedic Religion.’49



(From R. C. Zaehner)

AATMAN:  The individual self is immortal as a minute part of God himself (15:7).  Yoga is the means to realize this immortality.  Self is a mere witness and it cannot act nor can it initiate action.  At the same time as the self is the centre of whole personality, it acts as a magnet to the principal faculties (buddhi, manas, senses) of the whole human personality.  The self-realization of yoga means the absorption of all the powers of the human personality into the self.  They are not destroyed but fused into a unity; the process is one of concentration, not destruction.  Similes of a tortoise withdrawing into its shell and a river merging into the ocean used for this in2:58,70.

Such peace which is achieved by the fusion of all the faculties of the human personality into the timeless self is the culminating point of the process of yoga.  And thus as the self has absorbed into itself all the multiplicity of its single personality, it now sees itself expanded into what seems to be a state of being that comprises the whole universe, both in its unity and its multiplicity (5:7, 6:29).  A yogi experiences real freedom of spirit without any bond (Ch. U. 8.12.; 7.25.2).

At the same time, conditioned by the phenomenal world, the self is at war with itself if it fails to restrain manas and senses with the help of buddhi (6:56).  Hence the self must be not only integrated but purified of all sense of being a responsible ego: though the whole human personality is now centered on it, it must recognize that in itself it is merely a spectator at a play enacted by the body, mind, soul, and senses.  This means spiritual freedom, the reverse is bondage (5:11-12).

MATERIAL NATURE: (the bondage of the Spirit)

(a) The Unmanifest:

Unlike Saankhya, where nature (prakrti) is an independent principle, according to BG God is the source of it.

Nature, not the self, is the source of all change (5:14) and causes rebirth (9:10).  Nature has no beginning and no end; it is characterized by change and qualities; it is `the cause of cause, effect, and agency’ (13:19-20).  Though in forming the world it combines with `selves’, yet nature alone `…in every way does work and act’ (13:29).

The action of Nature is cyclic (8:18-19).  In its `manifest’ state of being, it differentiates itself into the five gross elements, the senses and their objects, mind, soul (buddhi) and ego (7:4 & 13:5-6).  It is the lower nature of Krsna.  The union between spirit and matter is not fortuitous but willed by God himself (9:8) and nature is his womb (14:3-4).

Matter binds…she is maya which, at this stage of the language, means both `creative power’ and `deceit’.  Maya is nature, and nature is maya and hard to transcend but for one who trusts Him alone (7:14-15).

Material nature blinds the self to its own true origin and home, but it is none the less part and parcel of God himself, his female side which is none the less inseparably his, for as in the Svetaasvatara Upanisad (6:16) God is the `cause of the round of birth and death, (cause of) deliverance, (cause of our) sojourn here and (our) imprisonment.’

In the individual human being too it is nature, not the self, that acts throughout the whole transmigratory process.  So, one’s character in the present life is conditioned by all one has done in lives lived long ago (3:33;5:14;18:59-60).

(b) The three constituents of nature (strands):

They too are derived from God.  `For (all) this is my creative (and deceptive) power (maya), composed of the constituents, divine, hard to transcend’ (7:12-14).  Once again God’s creative activity is seen primarily as veil between the individual self and the divine essence.

The three strands are: sattva (goodness), rajas (energy) and tamas (darkness).  For a brief list of three strands, their nature, work and influence see: 14:6-9, 11-18; 17:4-6, 8-22; 18:7-9, 20-35, 37-39.


Action of its very nature binds (3:8-9).  To win liberation from the bonds of work and therefore from rebirth–detach yourself from it.  Man must be like God not only in his eternal rest but also in His selfless activity (3:22,25).  God established human society and laid down the rules by which man should live (4:13), and He therefore expects man to co-operate with Him in promoting the welfare of the world (3:25).  If a man really understands this, he will imitate God in this and do his duty in a totally detached spirit.  The perfect man takes pleasure in self alone (2:50,72), there is nothing he needs to do, just as God needs to do nothing (3:17-18).  As vast majority of mankind act out of self-interest, the enlightened man should set an example of virtuous action, though always remaining inwardly detached from what he is doing (3:26).

…if you act without having any interest or care for the result of what you do, you have already renounced.  It is not the deed itself, but the ultimately selfish motive behind it that must be renounced (Isa.1b).  Work should be done as if you were doing nothing at all (4:18).

`Standfast in Yoga, surrendering attachment’ (2:48).  Yoga mean `sameness and indifference’ (2:48). But it also means `skill in (performing) works’ (2:50).  There is no contradiction here, for the truly perfected man resembles God both in His unutterable tranquillity and in His spontaneous activity.  Return then to God as He is the source of all activity (18:46).  Not to do this is to court disaster (18:60).

Karma is constantly contrasted with jnaana, not knowledge as normally understood but the intuitive apperception of ultimate Reality beyond space and time.  Wisdom is thus both the ultimate goal of works and at the same time abolishes them (4:19,23).  Work should be regarded as essentially a sacrifice,…a true sacrifice of the human will and the goal of it is to have done once for all with the bondage that purposeful work entails (4:33,37)…wisdom supersedes works performed as sacrifice, the latter being the means, the former the end (6:3).

In this state you will have passed beyond good and evil, for `a man who has reached a state where there is no sense of “I”, whose soul is undefiled–were he to slaughter (all) these worlds, as he slays nothing, he is not bound’ (18:17).


Works appropriate to the four social classes:  Krsna is the author of classes.  He himself generated this system (4:13).  He innovates nothing; He merely conserves what had been corrupted by time (4:7).  To stray from class or caste duty is deadly (3:35,18:47-48).  Man must do his caste duty and enjoy it, but even so he must detach himself from it by dedicating it to God `who is the source of the activity of all beings’ (18:46).


Heaven and hell are temporary states and heaven therefore never appears as man’s final goal; it can only be a prelude to a better incarnation which will bring man nearer to final liberation (6:41).  Vedic religion was, according to BG, only concerned with securing for man the temporary joys of paradise (2:45;9:20-21), hence its inadequacy.

It is usually alleged that hell in Hinduism is, like heaven, a temporary state, and yet in the 16th chapter of BG Krsna describes the state of those men who inherit a `devilish destiny’ in terms so strong as to make one wonder how salvation can be possible for them.  Liberation, the final release from the round of birth and death, is frequently referred to as the `highest way’; it is final and definitive.  Similarly in16:20Krsna speaks of the lowest way, and if we read this passage without any preconceptions we can scarcely avoid the conclusion that this too is final; such men have reached a point of no return.  They have deliberately chosen enmity to God, and for such, Krsna makes abundantly clear, divine grace is not available.  16:18-21; this would seem to be final.


The word `yoga’ is used in a vast number of senses in BG.  But the two important definitions are: `sameness and indifference’ (2:48) and `skill in (performing) work (2:50).  The fullest description of yoga as `integration’ and `spiritual exercise’ culminating in `sameness and indifference’ and (yet another definition!) `the unlinking of the link with suffering and pain’ is to be found in 6:18-29.  This passage not only illustrates the protean ambivalence of the word yoga but also throws relief on the complex of ideas resumed in the word.

BHAKTI: (in this topic under bhakti I give my own summary than taking much from Zaehner)

Though the central theme of BG is niskamya karma yoga, yet it plays a major role in the bhakti schools of Vedanta.  Particularly Sri Ramanuja, who was the main apostle of Vaishnavism, owes much to BG for his philosophy of Vishistadvaita.  He didn’t write a commentary to any of the Upanisads, but his commentary on BG is central for his philosophy.  The three major doctrines viz., karma, jnaana and bhakti are not exclusive to each other, but complimentary.  Action (karma) done with perfect knowledge (jnaana) without attachment of its fruit (renunciation) should be totally consecrated to God (9:27).  Such a bhakta will attain the very `being of God’ (9:29).  Such a single minded devotion will even make a `sinner a saint’ (9:30-31).

BG is called as layman’s Upanisad, because the Vedic rites and the Upanisadic knowledge are not allowed for women and low caste people.  Whereas in BG Krshna promises salvation even to them who follow the path of bhakti (9:32& 12:6-7).  But the climax of such bhakti is total surrender.  There are four steps in worship. (1) concentration of mind (12:8), (2) devotion (12:9), (3) doing work for God (12:10) and (4) taking refuge in Him (12:11).


`Liberation’ is the spiritual goal of both Hindus and Buddhists; in BG it is the `fruit’ of the whole process of spiritual integration around the self.

For the Buddhists the state which they called nirvana was synonymous with immortality, and so too for BG (2:15, 51, 64, 70 cf;4:39;5:12, 29;6:15).  Liberation means release from the bondage of works (2:39; 9:28), from old age and death (7:29), and from material Nature itself, `to which (all) contingent beings are subject’ (13:34); it is the way by which one approaches Brahman (2:72; 5:6, 24) and becomes Brahman (5:24; 6:27; 14:26; 18:53), itself the highest way and home from which `there is no returning’ (8:21; cf 5:17).  Liberation means never to be born again (8:16), and once a man has reached this beautific state he draws near to God Himself (4:9; 7:23; 8:7, 10, 15; 9:25, 28, 34; 10:10; 11:55), participates in His mode of being (8:5; 13:18), and enters into Him (11:54; 12:8; 18:55).


During the Upanisadic period brahman had come to mean the Absolute, the eternal ground from which the universe proceeds.  In the Isa and Svetaasvatara Upanisads, however, Brahman had come to mean the totality of existence, both the eternal world of changeless being and the phenomenal world of coming to be and passing away.  Brahman, then, is the `all’; but in these two Upanisads a personal God appears, and He is greater and `other’ than the All (Isa, 9-10; Sve.Up.5.1).  This, in the main, seems to be the position of BG also.

In 13:12-17 the `highest Brahman’ seems to be identical with Krsna Himself (also in10:12).  He is also the highest Self (13:31) and the highest Person (13:22) and as such distinct from all other selves and persons, and therefore distinct from and higher than the Brahman of the Isa and Svetaasvatara Upanisads.  To sum up, it can be said that in BG Brahman is the `All’, both temporal and eternal, while the `highest’ Brahman is identical with the personal God, Krsna, who transcends both.


I. The Absolutely Supreme:  Krsna is God, the Supreme Being `highest Brahman’ (10:12), `highest Self’ (13:22;15:17), the `Person (All)-Sublime” (13:22;15:17).  He is the base supporting Brahman (14:27) and in Him nirvana subsists (6:15).  He is, then, as much the source of the eternal world, Brahman, as He is of the phenomenal world…(He) is eternally active–creator, preserver and destroyer (11:32).

II. The Unmoved Mover:  In Himself God is changeless (4:6,13;7:13,24;11:18;13:27), but through material Nature and its three constituents He is in reality the sole agent.  Unlike man who is `bound’ by the constituents of Nature unless and until he can win liberation, God acts in perfect freedom; He is never nor can He ever be bound (3:22-24)…the maintenance of the world is willed by God.  How or why this should be so is not revealed since the world-process is cyclical and endless, emanated ever anew only to be re-absorbed.  Yet so long as it exists and is `manifest’ it follows or should follow the laws laid down for it by God (4:13-14).

Yet though the world is willed by God, it nevertheless conceals Him as He is in his changeless essence.  In this sense material Nature is seen as an `uncanny power’ (maya;7:12-14).  For it is this maya and the way God uses it that conceals Him as He is in his essence.  Nevertheless, the whole process is willed by Him for He surveys and approves its good working (9:10).

God, as we have seen, transcends both the phenomenal and the eternal, the perishable and the imperishable.  He is both wholly immanent and wholly transcendent.  Beyond both perishable and imperishable He is the `(All-) Highest Self’; the three worlds He enters and pervades, sustaining them–the Lord who passes not away…(15:17-18).

God is the One; but He is not a One who obliterates and nullifies the manifold; rather He binds the many together in a coherent whole since the whole is His body and a body is an organism in which all the parts are interdependent (11:13 cf; 11:7; 13:16; 18:20)…In a very real sense the material world and the individual selves that inhabit it, whether `bound’ or `released’, form the `body’ of God; in this at least Ramanuja is faithful to the central insight of BG.

Krsna is also a God of grace, always ready to save those who are devoted to Him (9:26ff, etc.), yet implacable to those who willfully turn their back on Him (16:7-20).  Man’s ultimate end is to be united to God, to `enter into’ Him as BG puts it; but at the end of each world-cycle all must willy-nilly enter Him.  How great, however, is the difference between those who have prepared for the meeting with the divine fire and those who have not!  Some enter in with songs of praise, while others go in against their will and are ground to powder by the divine wrath (11:21,26-29).  The fire is the same, but for the pure it has no terrors, it can only purify them further; but for the wicked it is the dark side of the picture, and a sinister note is again struck in 18:61 just before God makes his final revelation, that He loves man well (18:61-66).


DAYANAND BHARATI,              OmTat Sat

LUCKNOW,                        ! Shanti !



1. Thomas, P. M.; 20th Century Indian Interpretations of Bhagavadgita:Tilak, Gandhi & Aurobindo, ISPCK,1987,p.16

2. Zaehner, R. C. , The Bhagavad Gita,Oxford, 1966.

3. Vempeny, Ishanand, S. J., Krsna and Christ,Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, Anand, 1988, pp 24-32.

4. Thomas, P. M., op. cit., p 9.  The quote from Vinoba Bhave is from       Talks on the Gita, Sarva-seva-sangh  Prakashan, Varanasi, 1964, p 1.

5. Vempeny, op. cit., p 26.

6. Ibid., pp 27-28.

7. cf. Kane, P. V., History of Dharmasastra, Vol. I, Part.  I, p 350. `…In the last parvan it (Mbh) claims that whatever is said in it would be found elsewhere  and what is not contained in it would not be  found anywhere else, i.e. it claims to be encyclopaedic and hence  there was a great incentive to later scholars to add to it fresh matter…It further states (Adi.1.52) that different beginnings of the epic existed….’  Kane himself agrees on the development of Bhaarata into Mbh, but he does not deal with BG’s relationship with Mbh as this was outside his subject.

8. “The Gita is a book on Ethics discussing the problem of Karman.  Since the days of Yaajnavalkya and Aartabhaaga the Karman was a problem.  It was understood that, due

to Karman a man suffers and cannot obtain salvation …The simplest way was to become a Sannyaasin and to run away from this world which is Karmabandhana … (p.61).  In the Upanisads, the Karman problem is discussed and the solution is Sannyaasa.  Gautama Buddha and Mahaavira also studied the same problem with greater attention and their solution was the same…A spirit of Sannyaasa dominated the entire society and this is how every one tried to avoid Karman and its disastrous effects.  The consequence was that members of the society neglected their duties, and the institution of the four castes and the division of labour based on innate qualities and abilities, fell into disuse.  It is one thing to abolish caste distinctions based on birth and quite another to neglect appointed duties.  Any society would come to naught and the nation would not progress…(p.62)  All this must have ushered in a reformative spirit.  The ill-effects of Sannyaasa must

have been very well realized as Sannyaasa meant nothing more than shrinking responsibility.  The study of Karman-problem had this effect on both the circles, the    Braahmanical as well as the Ksatriya…Against this historical background the Bhagavadgita is to be understood…(p.63)”–T.G.Mainkar, Comparative Study of the Commentaries On The Bhagavadgita, Motilal Banarsidass,Delhi, (2nd ed) 1969.pp.61-63

9. Vempeny, op. cit., p 21.

10. Iisa 2=BG4:18& 18:9; Svetaasvatara 2:8-14=BG6:10-19; Sveta3:18=BG 5:13&14:11; Mundaka 2:1-4=BG 11; 1:2:2=BG3:10; 1:2:7=BG2:42;   3:2:8=BG 2:70 & 11:28;  1:2:7=BG4:36; Chaandogya 3:17:6=BG 16:1-2; 4:14:3=BG 5:10; Katha 6:1 & Maitri 6:4=BG 15:1.  [This list is (from    Vempeny, op. cit., pp 33-34.)

11. Sitbhavanand, Swami, Srimad Bhagavadgita, (Tamil), Sri Ramakrishna Tapovanam, Tirupparaiturai, 1975, p 45 (my translation).

12. Vempeny, op. cit., p 37.

13. Note that Sudras and women are not allowed to listen to  sruti, but can hear BG.

14. Tilak, B. G., (B. S. Sukthankar, tr.) Srimad Bhagavadgita-Rahasya, Tilak Bros.,Poona, 7th ed, 1986, p 622.

15. Tilak, B. G., op. cit., p 17.

16. Sastri, Mahadeva, Introduction to Sankara Bhashya, Madras, 1972.

17. Thomas, P. M., op. cit., quoting Damodaran, K., Indian Thought: A Critical Survey,AsiaPublishing House, Bombay, 1967, p 193.

18. Two similar terms, tiikaa and bhaasya, are traditionally used.  Tilak explains the difference:`….The two words  “commentary” (bhaasya) and “criticism” (tiikaa) are, it is true, often used as being    synonymous.  But ordinarliy tiikaa means explaining the plain meaning  of the original work and making the understanding of the words in it easy; but the writer of the bhaasya does not remain satisfied with that; he critically and logically  examines the entire work and explains what its purport is according to his opinion and how that    work has to be interpreted consistently with that purport…’ Tilak, BG, op.cit.,p 16.

19. “Whatever it may be, there is almost unanimous opinion amongst critical students of the Gita that it teaches the philosophy of Action, Devotion and Knowledge i.e. the Jnaana-Karma-Samuccaya.  Naturally, amongst all the commentators, those who have made this clear, are reliable interpreters of the text…If a judgment is to be given after a comparative study of these commentaries of Samkara, Ramanuja, Madhva and others, it would be as follows: Madhva’s comments are fantastic; while Ramanuja, Aanandavardhana, Raamakantha and Kesava explain the poem in a manner far closer to the intention of the author, the mistake however being the one of excessive emphasis on Bhakti (it may be pointed out that just as Samkara understands Bhakti as Jnaana, Ramanuja understands Yoga as Bhakti-VII-1), but Samkara’s comments reverse the teaching of the Bhagavadgita which teaching does not, as has been pointed out, sever knowledge from action, and does not regard knowledge as the sole means of salvation.  Samkara has laid quite an undue emphasis on Knowledge, even at the cost of Karman and Bhakti; and in order to achieve this, he has understood additional words, reversed the sense of the verses and finally changed the spirit of the entire poem.  He is not a reliable interpreter of the Bhagavadgita as the spirit of the poem is not faithfully reflected in his comments.  It would not be an exaggeration to say that he is the least faithful interpreter of the Bhagavadgita.  It is unnecessary to add that this is no judgment on his philosophy.  That is altogether a different question.  He is the greatest philosopher ofIndiaand an ingenious commentator, but perhaps for this very reason, not a very reliable interpreter.”–Mainkar, op.cit. p.65

20. Ibid., p 29.

21. `From the reference to the opinions of the earlier commentators on BG, made in the beginning of the third chapter of the Samkarabhasya on BG, it would appear that these commentaries were in favour of Karma-Yoga  (Right Action).  These commentaries are not now available; therefore, there is no reason why this book  of mine should, not be called the first comparative exposition of BG, in support of Right Action’, Tilak, B.G., op, cit., p xxvi.

22. Ibid., p 26-27.

23. For details on this see Thomas, P.M.,op.cit., pp 73-80.

24. Gandhi, Mahatma, on page 32 of his book Gita my Mother, observes as follows:

`I have no knowledge if that Krsna of Mha. ever lived. My Krsna has nothing to do with any historical person. I would refuse to bow my head to Krsna who would kill because his pride is hurt or Krsna whom the non-Hindus portray as a dissolute youth.  We should not mix up the historical Krsna of Mbh with the Krsna of BG.’

Compare also Dr. Shakuntala Rao Sastri in The Bhagavadgita, (Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan,Bombay):

`The reputed author Sri Krsna, if he be a historical figure at all, is not known to be a great philosopher except in BG.  In the Mahabharata, where we find the story of Krishna for the first time, he is a great warrior and a consummate statesman.  There are occasional references to him as “Versed in the Vedas and the Vedangas”.’ (VI.35-36).

`…But the ideas propounded in BG are far in advance of the Vedic age.  Krsna has  already become an Incarnation of the Supreme God.  He is identical with the Brahman of the Upanishads.  We find here not only the doctrine of Incarnation, but a philosophical explanation of it for the first time (G. 4:7-8)…Such a developed stage of the doctrine of Incarnation indicates a comparatively late origin of the book.  It is more probable that they  were propounded by some great sage of later times and were put into the mouth of Krsna to ensure greater authority.  Who is the author was, we do not know….’

25. See the previous note but cf. also the comment of P. V. Kane that there is a `… faint glimmering of the theory of avataras and of these forms even in the earliest Vedic Literature’, Ibid., Vol.II,     Part.II, pp 717-724.

26. `…Yet, later on, there came into existence another queer idea namely that the principal sacred canon enunciated in the Chaandogyopanisad, namely, tat tvam asi, i.e., “THAT” (Parabrahman) “ART THOU” (Svetaketu), which is one of the sacred canons of the Non-Dualistic cult, is the canon which has been expatiated upon in the eighteen chapters of BG, but that the Blessed Lord has changed the order of the three parts of that sacred     canon and taken tvam first and tat after  that and asi last, and He has in this new order impartially allotted six chapters of BG to each of these parts equally!’ Tilak, B. G., op. cit., pp 20-21.

27. Ibid., p 657.

28. Tilak gives the Miimaamsaa sloka:

`upakramopasamhaaraav abhyaaso ‘puurvataa phalam |

arthavaadopapattii ca lingam taatparyanirnaye ||

This indicates that if one has to find out the purport of any particular writing, chapter, or book, then seven things (lingas) have to be considered.  1) & 2)   (upakramopasamhaarau) are the beginning and the end of  the book;  3) (abhyaasa) are things told repeatedly; 4) (apuurvataa), means something new;  5) (phala), effect desired to be achieved;  6) (arthavaada), laudatory passages not to be interpreted literally; 7) (upapatti) (or upaadana), is the name given to the refuting of all things which would prove the contrary case and the subsequent logical and systematic martialing of things which support one’s own case when you are proving a particular point.  On this see Tilak, B. G., Ibid., pp. 30-32.

29.  Thomas, P. M., op. cit., p 12.

30.  Radhakrishnan, S., The Bhagavad Gita, Blackie & Son (India) Ltd., Bombay 1977, p 103.

31.  Tilak, B. G., op. cit., pp 627-28.

32.  Ibid., p,635.

33.  Ibid., p,636.

34.  Ibid., p 642.

35.  Ibid., p 646.

36.  Ibid., p 651.

37.  Ibid., p 651.

38.  Ibid., p 651.

39.  Staffner, Hans, Jesus Christ and the Hindu Community, Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, Anand, 1988, p 146.

40.  The root word of dharma is dhr which means `to uphold, to support, to nourish’.  Cf. P. V. Kane’s comments:

`It is very difficult to say what the exact meaning of the word dharma was in the most ancient period of the Vedic language.  The word is clearly derived from root dhr (to uphold, to support, to nourish).  In a few passages, the word appears to be used in the sense of   “upholder or supporter or sustainer” as in Rg. I. 187.1 and X. 92.2….In most cases the meaning of dharma is “religious ordinances or rites” as in Rg. I. 22.18, V. 26.6, VIII. 43.24, IX. 64.1, etc….the word dharma passed through several transitions of meaning and …     ultimately its most prominent significance came to be “the privileges, duties and obligations of a man, his standard of conduct as a member of the Aaryan community, as a member of one of the castes, as a person in a particular stage of life.”  It is in this sense that the word seems to be used in the well-known exhortation to the pupil contained in the   Taittiriya Upanisad (I.11) “speak the truth, practise (your own) dharma etc.”  It is in the same sense that BG uses the word dharma in the oft-quoted verse “svadharme nidhanam sreyah.”  The word is employed in this sense in the dharmasastra literature….’ (Kane,  P. V., op. cit., Vol. I. Part. I., pp 1, 3-4.)

41.  The other five dharmas are asramadharma, varnasrama-dharma, gunadharma, naimittika dharma and saadhaarana dharma.  On these see Kane, P. V., op. cit., Vol. II,     part I, pp 2-3.

42.  Since this statement is liable to prove controversial, let me quote in full the conclusions of P. V. Kane on the origin and development of caste:

`The preceding discussion renders the following propositions most probable;

(1) that in the earliest times about which we have literary records there were only two varnas, the aryas and their opponents the asyus or dasas; that the difference between the two was based on difference of colour and culture and was thus more or less racial      and cultural; (2) that centuries before the samhita period closed the  dasyus had been conquered and were given a position subservient to the aryas; (3) that the sudras were the dasyus so subjugated and made subservient; (4) that the spirit of exclusiveness and pride of superiority existing among the aryas with reference to dasyus soon extended to groups among the aryas themselves; (5) that by the time of the Brahmana literature,  brahmanas (men supposed to be devoted to learning and priesthood), ksatriyas (kings, noblemen and some warriors) and vaisyas (the artisans and common people) had become separated into groups more or less dependent on birth and that the brahmana had come to be regarded as superior to the ksatriya by the fact of birth; (6) that even such low castes as candalas and paulkasas had been evolved long before the end of the Vedic period; (7) that owing to cultural advance, division of labour arose and numerous arts and crafts had been developed and they were in process of contributing to the complexity of the system by creating numerous sub-castes based upon occupations; (8) that besides the four varnas intermediate castes like rathakara had been evolved; (9) that there were certain non-Aryan tribes which were supposed to have been originally ksatriyas but fallen later on. (Kane, P. V.,op. cit., Vol II Part I, pg 48.)


44.  Kane, P. V., op. cit., Vol. I, p 364-65.

45.  Tilak, B. G., op. cit., p 266.

46.  Profound differences between various Indian philosophical schools arise in discussing other aspects of human nature.  The advaita school of Vedanta teaches  that the `….Jiva (Soul) is not something which comes into existence anew every time, but is a permanent or eternal part of a permanent or eternal Paramesvara’, whereas in the non-advaitic schools of Vedanta philosophy, `Vasudeva is supposed to be the primary cause, and it is stated that samkarsana (Jiva or Soul) was first born from Vasudeva, pradyumna (Mind) from samkarsana, and aniruddha (Individuation) from pradyumna…’ (and though) BG ‘accepts     the principle of the devotion to Vasudeva…it does not accept the further doctrine…(that) Jiva was first created out of Vasudeva…’ (Tilak, B. G., op. cit., p 267.)

47.  Quoted from Thomas, P. M., op. cit., p 18, from Vadekar,D.D., `The Synthetic Character of BG Teachings’ in Studies in the Gita, pp 54-55.

48.  Tilak, B. G., op. cit., p 460.

  1. Ibid., p 712.



..Really speaking, the Gita considers only the two paths of `Renunciation (Samnyaasa), and `Energism'(Karma-Yoga), (G.5.1); and there has been given the definite decision that out of the two, the Path of Karma-Yoga is the superior path (Gi.5.2).  Devotion has nowhere been mentioned as a third independent Nisthaa (Path of Release).  Therefore, the theory of three independent paths of Spiritual Knowledge, Action, and Devotion, is a creation of doctrine-supporting commentators; and as in their opinion the Gita considers only the means of obtaining Release, they have evidently got the idea of these three paths from the Bhagavata (Bhag.11.20.6).  But these commentators have not realised that the conclusions reached in the Bhaagavata-Puraana are not the same as those in the Bhagavadgita.  Even the author of the Bhaagavata accepts the theorem that release cannot be obtained by mere Action, and that Spiritual Knowledge is a necessity.  But the Bhaagavata-Puraana says in addition that although Spiritual Knowledge and Desireless Action (naiskarmya) are both productive of Release, yet, both of them (that is to say, the desireless Karma-Yoga of the Gita) are useless without Devotion–“naiskarmyam apy acyutabhaavavarjitam na sobhate jnaanamalam niranjanam ” (Bhaag.12.12.52 and 1.2.12), (i.e. “Desireless Action unaccompanied by Devotion to the Unfallen (acyuta), does not befit pure and stainless Knowledge”–Trans.).  From this point of view, it is quite clear that the author of the Bhaagavata considers Devotion as the only true Nisthaa, that is, the ultimate Release-giving state.  The Bhaagavata does not say that the Devotee of the Blessed Lord should not perform Action with the idea of dedicating it to the Iisvara, nor does it say that Action must be performed.  the Bhaagavata says that whether one performs Desireless Action or not, these are all different varieties of the Path of Devotion (Bhaag.3.29.7-19); and that if there is no Devotion, all Karma-Yogas will bring a person back to worldly life, that is, into the cycle of Birth and Death (Bhaag.1.5.34,35).  In short, as the entire emphasis of the author of the Bhaagavata is on Devotion, he has included even the Desireless Karma-Yoga into the Path of Devotion, and maintained that Devotion is the only true Nistha.  But, Devotion is not the principal subject-matter of exposition of the Gita (p.639); and therefore interpolating this doctrine or terminology of the Bhagavata into the Gita is as improper…Saying that Release cannot be obtained unless one has Realised the Paramesvara, and that Devotion is an easy way for such Realisation, is fully acceptable to the Gita.  But the Gita does not insist on this particular path, and says that the spiritual Knowledge, necessary for attaining Release should be obtained by everybody by whichever path he finds easy; and the most important issue in the Gita is whether or not one should perform Action after the Acquisition of Knowledge (Spiritual Knowledge).  Therefore, the Gita starts with the consideration of the two paths of `taking part in worldly affairs’ and `abandoning worldly affairs’, which are both followed by the Birth-released (jiivanmukta) in this world…Therefore, if one has to determine what Nisthaa is followed by the Devotee one cannot decide the matter by merely considering the fact that he follows the Path of Devotion; and one has to consider whether or not he performs Action.  Devotion is only a means of reaching the Paramesvara; and although Devotion may be called a `Yoga’ in the sense that it is a `saadhana’ (means Gi.14.26) yet, Devotion can never become an ultimate Nisthaa’ (p.640)…`the Gita supports only one path, namely, the Path of Karma-Yoga based on Knowledge, in which Devotion is the most important factor; and that the exposition in the Bhagavadgita of Saamkhya philosophy, of Spiritual and worldly Knowledge, and of Devotion has been made only incidentally, for supplementing and supporting the exposition of the Path of Karma-Yoga, and not for dealing with those subjects as independent subjects’ (p.645)

Taatparyanirnayam: “There is an old and more or less generally accepted  rule on this matter in the form of a verse of the Miimaamsaa writers, who were extremely skilful in determining the meanings of a particular book, chapter, or sentence.  That verse is as follows:

upakramopasamhaaraav abhyaaso ‘puurvataa phalam

arthavaadopapattii ca lingam taatparyanirnaye

The Miimaamsaa writers say that if one has to find out the purport of any particular writing, chapter, or book, then the seven things…(linga)…have to considered…(p.30)

1&2: `upakramopasamhaarau’, which mean the beginning and the end of the book. 3:`abhyaasa’–things told repeatedly; 4:`apuurvataa’–means something new.  `Unless the writer has something new to tell, he is usually not induced to write a new book; at any rate, that used to be so when there were no printing-presses’ (p.31); 5:`phala’-effect; 6:`arthavaada’–laudatory or mere glorification; 7:`Upapatti'(or upapaadana)–`is the name given to the refuting of all things which would prove the contrary case and the subsequent logical and systematic martialling of things, which support one’s own case, when you are proving a particular point. (p.32)


Though one should be encouraged to read the whole Gita chapter wise, yet arranging the slokas according to the subject wise will give some more clear picture about Gita’s teaching.  I have a very detailed  word by word study on Gita.  But as it is not a scholarly work, I would like to give the list given by Pro. Zaehner, in his book The Bhagavad-Gita in the appendix:

I.  The individual Self:

(a) Self as it is in itself:2:16-25,29-30,55,64;3:17-

18,42-43;4:35; 5:7,13-17,21,25-26; 6:5-6,7-9,18-29;


(b) The Transmigrating Self:2:12-14,22,26-28;3:40; 4:5,40;

5:7,11,25; 6:5-6,10,12,14-15,37-45; 14:5-8; 15:7-10.

II. (a) Material Nature:

(i) Cosmic: 4:6; 7:4-6,14,15;8:15,16,17-19; 9:8,10,33;

13:1,5-6,19-21,26,29,34; 15:1-3.

(ii) Individual:2:18;5:14;7:20; 8:3;9:11-13; 10:4-5; 18:59-60.

II. (b) The Three Constituents of Nature:

2:25; 3:5,27-29,37; 7:12-14; 14:5-19; 17:1-4,7-22;  18:39,40,41-44.

II. (c) (i) Karma-Works-Action:2:39,47-51; 3:4-9,14-33; 4:12-33,32-33,37; 4:41,42; 5:2-12; 6:1-4; 8:3; 9:28; 12:6-7; 12:10-11; 14:7,12,16; 18:5-12,23-28,46,49,57,60.

II. (c) (ii) Sacrifice:3:10-16;4:23-33; 8:4;9:16-17,24;  7:11-13.

II. (c) (iii) The Three Great Duties: Sacrifice, Penance,  and Alms-giving:8:28; 17:11-22,23-28.

Ascetic Practices:4:10; 7:9; 17:5-6,14-19.

II. (c) (iv) Cast Duty:2:31-37;4:13;18:41-48.

II  (d) the Human Psyche. (i) Mind and Senses:

2:60-68; 3:6,7,16,34,40-44; 4:39; 5:8,9,11,13,19,28; 6:12,14-15,24-27,3435; 7:1,4;8:10; 18:52,53.

II. (d) (ii) the Soul (Buddhi):2:39-52,63,65,66;3:40,42; 5:11,17,20,28; 6:20,21,25,26,43; 7:4,10; 18:17,30-32,49- 53,57.

II. (e) Heaven:2:32,37,43;6:41;9:20,21.

II. (f) (i) perdition and Hell: 2:63,66;3:32;4:40;9:11-12; 16:19-21.

II. (f) (ii) Sin and Evil: 2:62,63;3:34,36-43;7:15,27; 16:4,20.

III. Liberation, Spiritual Freedom, and How to Win it.

(a)  Yoga: Integration, Spiritual Exercise, the Athlete of  the Spirit:2:39,40,48-51,53,58,61,66,70;3:26; 4:18,38; 5:6-12,21,23,24; 6:3,4,8,10-29,46,47; 7:1,16-18; 8:8,10,14,28; 9:14,28,34; 10:7,10; 12:2; 18:51-53,57.

III. (b) Yogic Techniques:5:27,28;6:11-17;8:10,12,13.

III. (c) Renunciation: 5:2-6;12:12; 18:2-6,12.

III. (d) Sameness-and-Indifference–Beyond Duality and Ego.

2:15,38,45,48,50,53,56,57,64,71; 3:18,30; 4:22; 5:3,18-20; 6:7-9,29,32; 9:29; 12:3-4,13,18-19; 13:27,28; 14:24,25; 18:53,54.

III. (e) Bhakti (the Love of God) as means:

2:61; 4:3; 6:14,15; 7:16,23,29,30; 8:5-7,22; 9:22,25,26-34;11:54,55; 12:6-8,13-20;13:18.

III. (f) Moksha: Liberation or Spiritual Freedom:

2:15,51,59,64,69-72; 3:31; 4:9-10,15,23,24,31,32,35,39; 5:6,12,17,19-29; 6:14,15,18-22,24-29; 7:16-19,28-30; 8:28;9:28; 10:3;13:34;14:19,20;16:22; 18:51-54.

III. (g) Wisdom:2:55-68;3:39,40;4:10,19,23,27,33-42; 5:15-17;7:15,16-19,29,30;9:15;10:11;11:18; 13:2; 7:11,12,14,16,17;15:10,19; 18:20-22,50,70.

III. (h)ParaBhakti (the Love of God) as End:

4:9-11; 6:30-32,46,47; 7:1,3,17,18,28; 8:8-16; 9:13-15; 10:8-11; 12:2;15:19;18:54-70.

IV.  The Perfect Man:12:13-20;14:22-26; 16:1-5;17:14-16.

V.   Brahman.

(a)  The Source of Material Nature:5:10; 14:3,4.

(b)  The sacrifice:3:14-16;4:23,24,31,32.

(c)  Nirvana: 2:71,72; 5:6,19-21,24-26; 6:14,15,27,28; 14:26,27; 18:50-54.

(d)  The Imperishable:2:17;7:29,30; 8:3,4,13,20,21,24; 2:3-5;13:12-17,30;15:16;17:23-28.

VI   God:

(a)  Hid Creative Power and Activity:3:21-24; 4:6,13,14; 7:4-6,10,12-15,25; 9:4,5,8-10,17-19; 10:7,8,34,39-41; 11:33,43; 12:6-8; 14:3,4;16:19; 18:61.

(b)  His Incarnation: 4:6-8;7:24;9:11.

(c)  His Attributes:5:29;7:26; 8:4,9;9:11,16-18,24; 10:15,21-28,30,32-34; 11:9-45,16,19,32,40,43; 13:2.

(d)  The Changeless Source of Change: 4:6,13; 7:7,13,18,19,24; 8:21; 9:4-6,9-10,13,19,29; 10:2,3; 11:18;13:27.

(e)  The One in the Many:9:15; 11:7,13;13:30-33.

(f)  His Transcendence:6:15;8:22;10:12,13,42;11:37,38; 13:22;14:27; 15:17,18.

(g)  His Immanence:7:8-11;10:20;15:12-15;16:18;17:5,6;18:61.

(h)  Knowing the Unknown God: 7:3,26,29,30;9:17; 10:2; 11:38;18:55.

VII. Life after Death: 8:5-6,8,13,23-27;14:14-18;18:12.

VIII. Traditional Religion:2:42-46,52-56;6:44;8:28; 9:17,20,21; 13:25; 15:1-3,15; 16:23,24; 17:23; 18:66.

IX.  Worship of other Gods:

3:11,12;4:12; 7:2-23; 9:23-25; 17:2-4.

X.   Faith:7:14,21,22; 17:3; 18:71.

XI.  `Person’: 8:4,8;10:12,15;11:18;13:19-23,26; 15:4 , 16,17