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Now Available! A compact, easy-to-read book containing selected verses from the Karma Yoga section Of the Gita.
The Bhagavad Gita contains the essence of ancient Indian spiritual texts that are at the heart of Indian spiritual tradition. It presents us with a solution for completely eradicating sorrow from our lives.
If you have never read the Gita, this book will give you a wonderful introduction through the easy to understand lessons of Karma Yoga.
Inside this book, you will find selected verses from the Gita that have the most relevance for our daily lives, our careers and our social interactions. These verses have been explained in a simple and user-friendly manner, devoid of any ritualistic or dogmatic language.
About The Author
GK Marballi works in the technology industry and is presently based in New York City. He received his MBA from Harvard Business School. He has published several books on the Gita and Vedanta.
In response to Arjuna’s question about the difference between sanyaasa and tyaaga, renunciation and abandonment, Shri Krishna provided several contemporary definitions of tyaaga. He then enumerated three kinds of tyaaga based on the three gunaas. The foremost is sattvic tyaaga where the individual performs his duty and gives up attachment to any personal reward. The importance of action was reiterated for those who have a sense of ego, a sense of I and mine.
Next, Shri Krishna analyzed the five factors that are involved in any action : the foundation, the doer, the instruments, energy and divinity. He then analyzed the three factors that compel us to act : knowledge, action and the sense of doership. These three, as well as intellect, fortitude and joy, were each categorized as sattvic, raajasic and taamasic. This conclusively proved that no one or nothing is free from the effect of the three gunaas.
After explaining the power of the gunaas over our lives, the system of analyzing our mental makeup, the varna system, was explained. Self analysis of our mental makeup enables us to select our duty towards society, which is broadly classified as brahman, kshatriya, vaishya or shoodra. By engaging in our duty and offering our actions to Ishvara, we purify our mind of all selfishness, and reach the state of jnyaana nishthaa yogyata, qualification for devotion to knowledge. When seekers reaches this stage, they engage in a life of monkhood, enabling them to contemplate upon the nature of the aatmaa, the self, and remain devoted to that knowledge, which is known as jnyaana nishthaa, the final stage in the spiritual journey.
Knowing that the state of monkhood is quite far away for most seekers, Shri Krishna restates the teaching which is appropriate for most spiritual seekers. Seek Ishvara, surrender to Ishvara, take refuge in Ishvara, submit all actions and enjoyments to Ishvara. This will enable us to transcend the machine of maaya in which we are trapped. Through Ishvara’s grace, we will make progress in our spiritual journey. The eighteenth chapter and the Gita concludes with Arjuna accepting Shri Krishna’s teaching, Shri Krishna explaining the teaching tradition and praising the teacher and student who study the Gita, and Sanjaya praising and recollecting the joy of listening to the teaching.
The theme of the sixteenth chapter is the analysis of divine and devilish qualities that are present in every human being. Shri Krishna beings by listing all of the divine qualities such as fearlessness and purity of mind. He then provides a similar but brief list of devilish qualities such as ostentation and arrogance. He underscores the point that the divine qualities are a stepping stone towards self realization and liberation, but the devilish qualities are a slippery slope towards never-ending bondage and sorrow
Next, the philosophy of materialists is analyzed in great detail, because extreme materialism is considered no different than devilish nature. At its core, materialists do not believe in any overarching humanitarian laws or values, since they see the world as nothing but a combination of elements. Material gain is the sole aim of their lives. Anyone or anything that comes in their aim is a target for annihilation.
Shri Krishna says that such people are steeped in delusion and ignorance. Instead of bringing happiness, their infinite desires only bring them infinite worries. These infinite desires bind them and prod them to illegal and unethical means of accumulating wealth. What should I acquire next, whom should I harm next, this becomes their thinking. They develop extreme arrogance and pride towards their family, their wealth and their actions. They totally sever any association with whatever little values and conscience in them.
Such people never realize that by hating everyone they hate Ishvara who dwells in everyone and everything, who is the support of this creation. Although such people think that they are above all laws, they are not above the law of karma. They get the results of their actions in this life and several others to come. Caring only for themselves, they have begun behaving like animals even when they are human. Therefore they are cast into an endless cycle of births and deaths as animals, insects and other creatures.
Shri Krishna ends this chapter with an extremely practical message. He gives us a simple formula that will give us peace and happiness in this world, and also put us on a fast track to liberation. All we need to do is to avoid the three gates of hell which are desire, anger and greed. We do so by making scripture become the motivator and the prompter of our actionsm and not selfish desire.
The fifteenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita is unique in several respects. It is the shortest, with only twenty shlokas. On the other hand, it summarizes the entire essence of not just the Gita but also all the Vedas in those twenty shlokas. Specifically, it covers four topics that are at the essence of any spiritual scripture: what is the world, who am I, what is God or what transcends the world and me, and what is the relationship between me, the world and God.
The chapter first addresses the nature of the world. Our existence in this world is illustrated using an upside down tree, similar to a family tree. The root of this tree is Ishvara wielding the power of Prakriti, the saguna brahman, the eternal essence with attributes. Samsaara, our existence on this world, is the outward growth of this tree. This growth is fueled by sense objects which are in the form of sprouts or buds. Each sense object generates desires, which generates actions, which bind us to the branches of the tree.
The only way to rid ourselves of this endless cycle of desire and action is to cut the tree using the weapon of dispassion. The best way to cultivate dispassion is to go straight to the source of the tree, to take refuge in Ishvara. A seeker who wants to do so needs a list of qualifications such as freedom from pride and delusion. Only then will the seeker reach the abode of Ishvara, which is the state of self realization and liberation.
Next, the chapter addresses the state of the jeeva, the individual soul, the “I”. From an absolute standpoint, there is one eternal essence, one consciousness, one self, one “I”. But just like space seems like it is divided into many through walls, this eternal essence is as though divided into multiple “I”’s through apparent limitations or upaadhis.
By attaching itself to upaadhis of the mind and the sense organs, an illusory self is created that imagines itself to be the jeeva, the individual soul. It takes up a new human body to exhaust the desires in its mind, but unfortunately picks up new desires and takes up yet another human body once the old one ceases to function. Only those individuals who have the eye of wisdom, who have assimilated the teaching of the scriptures after purifying themselves with karma and bhakti yoga, recognize the non-divided nature of the self. All others are living in delusion.
The third topic, the nature of God or Ishvara, is taken up next. We learn that Ishvara is not some remote figure, but pervades every aspect of the universe. Ishvara provides awareness or the faculty to know. He provides energy through the sun, the moon and fire. This energy is circulated throughout the universe in the form of Soma or nectar, and also used for medicinal purposes. Metabolism, the faculty to extract energy from this food in the form of Soma, is manifested through Ishvara as the Vaishvaanara fire. Ultimately, all memory and knowledge is possible through Ishvara who is resides in the hearts (intellect) of everyone.
The fourth topic deals with relationship between the individual, the world, and God. If we trace the energy source of a tiny mango sapling, and of a 100 megawatt solar power plant, we reach the same source – the sun. Similarly, if we mentally remove the apparent limitations, the upaadhis, the names and forms behind the individual, the world and of Ishvara, we find the foremost person, the Purushottama, the pure unadulterated eternal essence. It is beyond the perishable visible world and the imperishable seed of the visible world which is Prakriti.
In other words, we learn that the “I” in us is the “I” in everyone, the self of all.
In the thirteenth chapter, we leaned that our existence in this world is the result of a two-step problem. First, ignorance of our real nature creates this illusory but distinct entity called the Purusha or the jeeva. The jeeva gets trapped as a result of its attachment to the three gunas of Prakriti. In order to provide the means by which we can detach ourselves from the three gunas, Shri Krishna reveals this teaching in the fourteenth chapter.
He begins by glorifying this knowledge, and by revealing its fruit as fruit as liberation or moksha. He reiterates that the combination of the awareness aspect and the material aspect of Ishvara gives rise to this entire universe. The jeeva, the awareness aspect of Ishvara present in each of us, identifies with Prakriti, the material aspect. This identification, a product of ignorance, ensnares us in the endless cycle of birth and death in various kinds of wombs.
Next, we are led through a detailed analysis of Prakriti. Like the driver who erroneously identifies with someone else’s car and bears the consequences of that identification, we identify with the three gunas erroneously and are bound by their characteristics. Sattva binds through attachment to joy and knowledge. Rajas binds through attachment to action. Tamas binds through attachment to heedlessness, laziness and sloth. Only one guna dominates at one time. When one guna is strong, it overpowers the others.
Shri Krishna gives us the effects of each guna so that we can look within to understand the proportion of gunas within us. If we are full of radiance and knowledge, sattva prevails. If we are greedy all the time, and it results in desire and action, rajas prevails. If we are full of ignorance, heedlessness and error – tamas prevails.
Our fate after death is also determined by our predominant mental state at the time of death. A sattvic state leads a jeeva to come into a family of knowledge and improve its chance of liberation. A rajasic state leads it into a materialistic and action oriented family. A tamasic state leads a jeeva to take birth as animals or plants, hurting its chances of liberation. But to achieve liberation, we need to transcend all the three gunas.
Arjuna asks the question – what are signs of one who has transcended the three gunas? Shri Krishna replies – it is one who is not impacted, affected or attached to any of the gunas. Such a person views the entire universe, including his body, as gunas acting upon gunas. How does such a person behave in the world? He shows complete and utter equanimity towards objects, situations and people at all times. And how does one transcend the gunas in practice? Only through single pointed devotion to Ishvara, since Ishvara is the abode of nirguna brahman, the unconditioned and pure eternal essence. We need to detach from Prakriti and attach ourselves to Ishvara.
All of us know that even the largest tree came from a tiny seed. But our eyes cannot see the miniscule changes that transform the seed into a sapling, then into a plant and so on. Only when we take a series of photographs each day and play them at high speed can we actually see the seed turn into a tree. Our other senses have similar limitations. The mind, which gives meaning to the information from our senses, chops up time and space. It can never view the unity of things.
Arjuna was aware of this limitation. Having heard about Ishvara’s vibhootis or grand expressions in the prior chapter, he desperately wanted to get rid of this limitation. In response to his request, Shri Krishna granted him divine vision that enabled him to see the universe without the limitations of space and time. Without the limitation of time, Arjuna did not just see the tree, he saw the seed, the sapling and the tree all at once. Without the limitation of space, he saw not just that tree, but all the trees in the universe all at once.
Our mind has another limitation. It tends to get attracted to some things, and gets repelled from other things. To highlight this limitation, Shri Krishna first showed Ishvara’s pleasant form, and then followed it with his frightful, menacing form. Everything that existed in the pleasant form was violently destroyed by the same Ishvara. Shri Krishna later emphasized that creation and destruction were to be viewed in the same light, because creation cannot happen without destruction. Both have their place in the universe. Also, when one’s actions or karmas are exhausted on earth, they are destroyed. There is no randomness or personal bias in who gets destroyed.
Shri Krishna concluded this chapter by instructing Arjuna on how to attain Ishvara. The key qualification is ananya bhakti, or single-pointed devotion. Combined with karma yoga, jnyana yoga, subduing likes and dislikes and giving up attachment to the material world, we are able to access Ishvara in his cosmic form. The previous shloka enabled us to see the one Ishvara in everything, the one in all. This chapter urges us to see the all in one.
When India received independence, the founders wanted to ensure that the newly-created states within India did not disintegrate due to infighting. To that end, they created a two tier government system with a state government that was aligned to state interests, and a central government that put the interests of India before anything else.
Furthermore, in order to ensure that residents of a state did not forget that they are part of a bigger country, our founders instituted the national flag, the national anthem, independence day, republic day, the national emblem and so on. These symbols are expressions, or “vibhootis” of India. They are highly important because they remind us of the existence of the nation of India no matter where we are. They make the abstract concept of the nation of India tangible and visible.
Shri Krishna ended the previous chapter by urging Arjuna, and all devotees, to always keep their minds within Ishvara. In this chapter, Arjuna asked Shri Krishna, “how can I know Ishvara when my eyes cannot see him?” The answer to Arjuna’s question is the main teaching of this chapter, in the form of natural, historic, Puraanic and other awe-inspiring people and objects that serve as Ishvara’s expressions or manifestations.
How do these expressions benefit us? Just like we use symbols of India to constantly invoke the notion of India, we should use one or some or all of these expressions to constantly remember and think of Ishvara. This chapter is not meant to be a lesson in the Puraanas. It is meant to be practiced as a daily meditation, by employing one expression, whichever we like, as the object of our meditation.
So for example, if we have an affinity for the sun, we should bring the shloka “aadityaanaamaham vishnuhu” to attention and keep it in our minds as much as possible, whenever we see the sun. This will transform our vision to look beyond the visible aspect of the sun, connect the sun to Ishvara and see the Ishvara inside.
In the previous chapter, Shri Krishna described the endless cycle of creation and dissolution of the universe, and how all beings are stuck in that cycle. In this chapter, he began to reveal an extremely profound and secret knowledge to Arjuna that would allow him to escape this endless cycle. That knowledge is devotion or bhakti towards Ishvara. It is the easiest means of obtaining liberation, easier than than performing rituals or penance or renouncing the world.
What is this knowledge? Ishvara is the ultimate cause of the universe. Everything is sustained by Ishvara. Everything is in Ishvara, like the wind is in space. We are not able to see Ishvara because our senses are preconditioned to only perceive names and forms, just like we see a blue sky where there is no real blue colour.
Ishvara becomes the ultimate cause of the universe through his power known as Prakriti. Through this power, he creates the world of names and forms, sustains them and eventually dissolves them. Prakriti is nothing but the three gunas. It is a fully automatic system that delivers results to individuals based on their actions. Most people are stuck in this system and cannot get out because they are bound by selfish actions, they are too attached. Ishvara is an observer of this system. he does not get bound by Prakriti because he is unattached.
In order to free ourselves from the entrapment in Prakriti, we have to change our conditioning and rid ourselves of all misconceptions regarding Ishvara. The first misconception : Ishvara is finite human entity. The second misconception : I am body, mind, intellect.Third misconception: worship of finite deities will give infinite and permanent results. One by one, each of these misconceptions is clarified.
The easiest way to dispel all these misconceptions is to worship Ishvara, to follow the path of bhakti. There are several ways to bring this into our daily life. We can constantly meditate upon Ishvara as the cause of everything. This is known as “jnyaana yagnya”. We can perform actions in service of Ishvara. We can begin to see Ishvara in objects, people and situations through pointers. Shri Krishna provides several pointers. For instance, we can learn to see Ishvara in our parents, our grandparents, in the weather cycle and so on.
Next, Shri Krishna describes two kinds of devotees. The sakaama or desire-oriented devotee performs rituals so that he can attain heaven after his death, but ultimately comes back to earth after his merits are exhausted. The nishkaama or desire-less devotee only wants Ishvara. In an oft-quoted shloka, Shri Krishna says that Ishvara always takes care of desire-less devotees by giving them what they need at the right point in their lives including food, shelter, wealth, knowledge and a teacher.
We also learn that Ishvara does not expect big offerings when we worship him. In fact, he is happy with simple things like water, leaf, fruit or flowers. We can also offer our work and action to him when we serve others. What he wants the most is the feeling of devotion when we make the offering. Ishvara is impartial like the sun and rain, and will reward us based on our faith and effort.
The glory of devotion is that it is accessible to everybody, from sinners to people of great worldly attachment all the way to sages. Everyone can worship at any point in their lives. There is no qualification to begin the path of devotion.
Shri Krishna ends this chapter with an actionable message. He says “Keep your mind in me, become my devotee, perform actions for me, surrender to me.” This is the instruction for devotion towards Ishvara.