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Yoga and the Bhagavad Gita

Updated on November 8, 2012
The essence of the Bhagavad Gita
The essence of the Bhagavad Gita | Source

"The Gita is the universal mother. She turns away nobody. Her door is wide open to anyone who knocks. A true votary of Gita does not know what disappointment is. He ever dwells in perennial joy and peace that passeth understanding. But that peace and joy come not to skeptic or to him who is proud of his intellect or learning. It is reserved only for the humble in spirit who brings to her worship a fullness of faith and an undivided singleness of mind. There never was a man who worshipped her in that spirit and went disappointed. I find a solace in the Bhagavad-Gita that I miss even in the Sermon on the Mount. When disappointment stares me in the face and all alone I see not one ray of light, I go back to the Bhagavad-Gita. I find a verse here and a verse there , and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming tragedies -- and my life has been full of external tragedies -- and if they have left no visible or indelible scar on me, I owe it all to the teaching of Bhagavad-Gita."

- Mahatma Gandhi

The Bhagavad Gita is a Hindu scripture produced from the conversations of Lord Krishna with Arjuna just before the start of the Kurukshetra War. The Hindus refer to it as the “manual for mankind” as its philosophies extend beyond the scope of religion to humanity. There are 700 verses divided into 18 chapters. Each chapter deals with a different yoga. The summary of the 18 chapters are:-

No. of verses 
Arjuna's Dilemma 
Transcendental Knowledge (Jnana Yoga) 
Path of Karma Yoga 
Path of Renunciation with Knowledge 
Path of Renunciation 
Path of Meditation 
Self Knowledge and Self Realization 
Imperishable Brahman 
Supreme Knowledge and the Big Mystery 
Manifestation of the Absolute 
Vision of the Cosmic Form 
Path of Devotion (Bhakti Yoga) 
Creation and the Creator 
Three Gunas of Nature 
Supreme Spirit 
 Divine and Demonic Qualities
Threefold Faith 
Nirvana through Renunciation 

Detailed Summary of Chapters

As we know now, there are 18 chapters in the Bhagavad Gita and the table above provides a brief summary of each chapter. I shall now try to explain in detail what the chapters are and how we can benefit from the “manual of mankind” provided to us.

Chapter 1 deals with Arjuna requesting Lord Krishna to move his chariot between the two armies. The Krukshetra War was caused by a conflict between two groups of cousins of an Indo-Aryan tribe called Kuru (or the Kauravas) and the Pandavas. This war is an essential component of the epic Mahabhrata. Arjuna was becoming demoralize as he was to fight his relatives and teachers on the opposing army. He decided not to fight and seeked the advice of his charioteer, Lord Krishna.

In Chapter 2, Lord Krishna appeals to Arjuna that as a warrior, he has a duty to uphold the path of dharma through warfare. Lord Krishna explains further that it is the body which may be killed while the soul remains immortal.

In Chapter 3, Arjuna asks Lord Krishna as to why he should engage in fighting if knowledge is more important than action. Lord Krishna then stresses that performing his duties for the greater good but without attachment to result is the best course of action.

In Chapter 4, Lord Krishna reveals to Arjuna that he has lived for many births, and he is always teaching Yoga for the protection of the pious and the destruction of the impious and stresses the importance of accepting a guru.

In Chapter 5, Arjuna then asks Krishna if it is better to forgo action or to act. Lord Krishna answers that both ways are beneficial but the path of karma yoga is the best path to follow. It is in this chapter that Lord Krishna explains about Karma Yoga which we will discuss further in this hub.

In Chapter 6, Lord Krishna describes the correct posture for meditation and the process of how to attain Samadhi.

In Chapter 7, Lord Krishna teaches the path of knowledge or Jnana Yoga. It is in this chapter that Lord Krishna explains about Jnana Yoga which we will discuss further in this hub.

In Chapter 8, Lord Krishna defines the term Brahman, adhyatma, karma, atman, adhibhuta and adhidaiva and goes on to explain how one can remember him at the time of death and attain his supreme abode.

In Chapter 9, Lord Krishna explains the term that “all beings are in me” as a way of remembering him in all circumstances.

In Chapter 10, Lord Krishna describes how he is the ultimate source of all material and spiritual worlds. Arjuna also accepts Lord Krishna as the Supreme Being, quoting great sages who have done so before him.

In Chapter 11, on Arjuna’s request, Lord Krishna displays his Cosmic Form (Visvarupa), a being facing every way and emitting a radiance of a thousand suns, containing all other beings and material in existence.

In Chapter 12, Lord Krishna describes the process of devotional service or Bhakti Yoga. We will discuss Bhakti Yoga further in this hub.

In Chapter 13, Lord Krishna described nature (prakrti), enjoyer (purusha) and the consciousness.

In Chapter 14, Lord Krishna explains the three modes (Gunas) of nature in the material world.

In Chapter 15, Lord Krishna describes a symbolic tree which represents material existence, its roots in the heavens and its foliage on earth. Lord Krishna further explains that this tree should be felled with the “axe of detachment”, after which one can go beyond to his supreme abode.

In Chapter 16, Lord Krishna tells of the human traits of the divine and the demonic natures. He states that to attain the supreme abode, one must give up lust, anger, and greed and be able to discern between right and wrong action through Buddhi.

In Chapter 17, Lord Krishna tell of three divisions of faith and the thoughts, deeds and even eating habits corresponding to the three Gunas.

In Chapter 18, Lord Krishna concludes by asking Arjuna to abandon all forms of dharma and simply surrender unto him. This is described as the ultimate perfection of life.

Major Themes of Yoga in the Bhagavad Gita

It has been widely accepted that the 18 chapters be divided into three sections, each containing six chapters. According to Madhusudana Saraswati, the first six chapters deal with Karma Yoga which is the means to the final goal and the last six chapters deal with the goal itself, which is Knowledge (Jnana Yoga). The middle six chapters deal with Bhakti Yoga. Swami Gambhirananda states that Madhusudana Saraswati’s system as a successive approach in which Karma Yoga leads to Bhakti Yoga and finally Jnana Yoga.

Karma Yoga

Karma is defined as doing one’s duties in life as per dharma without attachment to the results of that duty. Lord Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita advocates Nishkam Karma (Selfless Action) as the ideal path to realize the Absolute Truth. The theme of karma yoga is not the renunciation of the action but the purpose of the activity. The following verses are mentioned by Lord Krishna as actions that can please the Supreme Being. If these actions are not heeded, it could cause material bondage and the effect would be repetition of birth and death in this material world.

Chapter 2, Verse 47 states “to action alone hasn’t thou a right and never at all to its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction.”

In this yoga, it is our action which determines where we will go next. As such, it is advisable to always be good and do good without expecting anything in return.

Bhakti Yoga

The introduction of Chapter 7 is summarized as the mode of worship which consists of unceasing love and remembering the Supreme. There are several verse in the Gita which Lord Krishna speaks about regarding Bhakti Yoga. These are:-

After attaining Me, the great souls do not incur rebirth in this miserable transitory world; because they have attained the highest perfection.

And he who serves Me with the yoga of unanswering devotion, transcend these qualities (opposites such as good and evil, pain and pleasure) is ready for liberation in Brahmin.

In this yoga, one has to be devoted to Lord Krishna to reach him and the methods of devotion can be by chanting his mantra, constantly remembering him in our everyday duties or by having Kirtan which is singing praises to the Lord either as a group or as an individual.

Jnana Yoga

This yoga is described as a process of learning to discriminate between what is real and what is not real. A steady advancement in realization of the distinction between Real and Unreal, the Eternal and the Temporal, one is able to develop into a Jnani. This is the true difference between the immortal soul and the body.

In the second chapter, Lord Krishna explains that the atman is indestructible as it cannot be burnt, nor can water wet it and the wind cannot dry it. Lord Krishna further explains that it is this atman that passes various bodies throughout various births and deaths. It is like putting on new clothes and removing the old ones.

A quote from the Bhagavad Gita states that “those who see with eyes of knowledge the difference between the body and the knower of the body, and can also understand the process of liberation from bondage in material nature, attain the supreme goal.

This yoga is the ultimate yoga and one has to strive to reach to this level.

Message of the Gita

There are six evils which one should abstain and that is:-

1) Kama (Lust)

2) Krodha (Anger)

3) Lobh (Greed)

4) Moha (Deep emotional attachment)

5) Ahangkar (Arrogance)

6) Matsarya (Jealously)

It is said that these negative characteristics would prevent a being from attaining moksha which is the liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Gandhi has attempted to resolve the apparent conflict between the act of violence (as in the Kurukshetra War where the conversations took place) and the concept of ahimsa (non-violence). He states that the text is just a “battle that goes on within each individual heart.

The Bhagavad Gita is an essential manual for mankind and we should all strive in do good and be good regardless of what faith we may come from as ultimately we are just souls seeking to merge with the Supreme Being.


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    • darciefrench profile image

      Darcie French 3 years ago from BC Canada

      As a Brahman though, it was not Ghandi's duty to fight (like it was Arjuna's as a Ksatrya) but to practice non-violence. I do think he "got it" :)

    • rayasa profile image

      Arun Ramchandramurthy 4 years ago

      Good summary on Gita. However, I'm not sure if Gandhi truly got the message of Gita. Gandhi was more of a political leader than a true saint. Kurukshetra war was a real fratricidal war that was required to establish Dharma. I think, there is no conflict between the message of Gita and the war. Arjuna, as a kshatriya, was duty bound more than anything else to fight and so Krishna encouraged it.