The Bhagavad Gita is the Ultimate User’s Manual:
Knowledge cures Depression!
What follows will be my own understanding of the Bhagavad Gita. I fully admit that by commenting on this sacred text I am challenging myself in a way I never thought possible. After reading many translations of the text, I realized that the Bhagavad Gita is a book that stands the test of time and was intended to be interpreted in a personal way by each one who approaches the song (gita) with an open heart.
Yes, there are definite meanings based on earlier writings from the Vedas, Upanishads, and Samkhya; but as each consciousness feels Vyasa’s arrangement of the Sanskrit words, each comes away with something different, something uniquely their own. It should be read over one’s whole life because the meaning will change for you as time changes you and your consciousness.
I hope that these words will offer some useful glimpse into Krishna’s Song of God, and I urge you to read various translations for yourself and draw your own conclusions as to the meaning of these supernal verses. I cannot imitate Vyasa’s divine poetry. But I do believe that the Bhagavad Gita provides us with everything we need to know. The Gita is just as relevant and valid today as it was in 150 BC when Vyasa’s ink was drying. It is the ultimate user’s manual for the human being.
The Bhagavadgita Parva is the third episode of the Bhishma Parva, the sixth of eighteen major books in the Mahabharata. In the western editions the chapters have always been referred to as ‘books’ so in order to not create additional confusion, I will also.
The Bhishma Parva begins with a description of the armies of the Pandavas, Yudhisthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Krishna, and the twins, assembling at Kurukshetra against the armies of Dhritarashtra, Duryodhana, Bhishma, Drona, and Karna. The text says that beyond Kurukshetra the entire earth felt empty as only the children and the old were left in the houses. The armies of the world had come to this ancient battleground and their vast camps covered many Yojanas, an ancient unit of distance of about 40 miles. ‘Both armies stood for battle in the field of Kurukshetra like two agitated oceans.’ (M.N. Dutt)
The blind Dhritarashtra would be useless in battle and remains back in his palace. Vyasa, the poet-author of the epic, visits him to warn him that the terrible moment had arrived and that all will fight and die. Vyasa reminds Dhritarashtra that man is subject to the power of Time (Kala) and therefore advises him to find the wisdom not to grieve.
Remote Viewing the Battle
Vyasa offers to give the old blind man the inner power of seeing the battle, but Dhritarashtra does not wish to watch his sons wounded and bleeding, and asks to only hear the proceedings described. He will remain blind. Vyasa therefore gives to Sanjaya, a royal councilor, the boon of remote viewing the battlefield - a Siddhic power called in Sanskrit sravana darshanam. And so it is that the Bhagavad Gita is told to us via this ‘celestial vision’ which is said to reveal even the thoughts in the mind.
Vyasa then confessed to Dhritarashtra that he had seen many ‘omens that forebode evil’ and the disastrous slaughter that was coming upon his realm. Malevolent birds that feed upon flesh were gathered in glad anticipation and the earth was quaking. He warned the old man that Kurukshetra would be covered with the bodies of slain warriors and the Seer sees the sun ‘covered by headless trunks when rising or setting.’ The gods and goddesses themselves tremble and vomit blood. The constellations portend a terrible evil, a fearful comet was rising, and the signs of the deterioration of Time were everywhere. Animals were being born deformed, as in our own current toxic time.
The poet Vyasa tells Dhritarashtra that the earth will drink ‘the blood of thousands of kings’ and in a last minute plea for peace urges Duryodhana’s father to stop the coming extermination. The blind man rationalizes his own ambition and conveniently falls back on Fate, saying that the war was previously ordained. Once more Vyasa asks Dhritarashtra to stop the war and warns him that the slaughter of so many ‘can never produce any good.’ (M.N. Dutt)
Vyasa leaves and Sanjaya begins to remote view the battlefield Kurukshetra. The scholar Krishna Chaitanya/KK Nair suggests that Sanjaya serves the function of a Greek chorus in the Mahabharata. Not only does he report to Dhritarashtra what he see in his inner vision, but he also quite bluntly often reminds the blind man that as head of his family, he is to blame and not his son Duryodhana. Lord Krishna also lays the blame for war entirely on Dhritarashtra's shoulders.
Arjuna illuminates the sky with his effulgence ...
Arjuna is not the eldest of the five Pandava brothers and therefore Yudhisthira is the king. Arjuna, the son of Indra, is a warrior of blameless integrity and wisdom, a hero of incomparable stature. He faces and defeats entire armies alone! Among her five Pandava husbands, it is said that he is Draupadi’s favorite.
After Yudhisthira foolishly loses everything in that fateful unfair game of dice, Arjuna and his brothers are exiled into the forest. During the exile Yudhisthira asks Arjuna to seek celestial weapons from his father, the god Indra. Arjuna’s superb warrior skills were the result of the awesome powers of his asceticism, and with these powers he reaches Indra’s sacred mountain in one day, for he ‘possessed the speed like that of the mind.’ (M.N. Dutt)
Arjuna asks Indra for the boon of the knowledge of all weapons, but his father tells him that only Shiva the Destroyer can grant this boon. And so Arjuna increased his devotion to severe asceticism, and for months lived on air, standing on his toes with his arms stretched up towards the sky.
Shiva tests Arjuna arduously in combat and finding the son of Indra to be worthy, Shiva gives him the boon of weaponry and also reveals to Arjuna that in a former life he was the great Seer Nara, the friend of Narayana (a form of Vishnu and therefore Krishna) and that as Nara he engaged in thousands of years of ‘fearful and austere’ asceticism. Arjuna’s prowess and integrity made him worthy of the Gandhiva weapon.
But Arjuna also wants the Brahmashira weapon, which destroys the entire universe at the end of an era (yuga), for the purpose of destroying his enemies, the armies of Duryodhana. Shiva offers him the Pashupata, one of his favorites, which has similar powers and warns Arjuna to use it only with ‘proper’ reason. The son of Indra felt pleased at having seen the great three-eyed Shiva and received the boon of the Pashupata and Gandhiva weapons. His wondrous beauty ‘illuminated the sky with his effulgence.’ (M.N. Dutt)
Their Cousin Krishna
The mother of the five Pandava brothers, Kunti (Khoon-tee), is the sister of Krishna’s father, and so Krishna is their cousin. Krishna plays a crucial role in the Mahabharata and his relationship with the Pandavas develops in depth and complexity as he becomes the family guide. But Krishna and Arjuna were true friends - men who loved to roam the countryside together hunting and sharing those grand adventures that young men love. Arjuna marries Krishna’s sister Subhadra and Krishna, who favors his dear friend, helps the two elope. Draupadi, who is Arjuna’s first wife, accepts this marriage with some initial reluctance - but Subhadra is a sterling girl who finds the way to win Draupadi’s heart.
Before the battle began both Arjuna and Duryodhana came to Krishna and asked for his help. Krishna reminded them that he had vowed not to fight personally, but makes the offer that one can have his armies and the other can have him. Ever the impulsive arrogant brat, Duryodhana took Krishna’s armies, believing he had for once outwitted Arjuna. Without a second thought Arjuna chose Krishna and asked him to be his charioteer in the battle and to guide him through the war.
The metaphor is clear: Arjuna is us, human consciousness in conflict and confusion; the chariot represents the body, our nature, Prakriti and the three gunas; and Krishna is the God-within, the guide through the battlefield of life.
Before leaving for battle, Krishna advises Arjuna to seek the blessing of the terrible goddess Durga (Beyond-Reach), the mother of the Vedas, who as the consort of Shiva can take the form of the fiercest warrior and become the destroyer of the world. Durga appeared in the sky and told Arjuna that he would indeed vanquish his enemies as he was both invincible and had Narayana (Krishna) to help him.
Arjuna Whirling & Trembling
Feeling fearless and confident of victory, Arjuna and Krishna got onto their chariot and blew the celestial conchs. Krishna pulled the chariot out into the middle of the field between the two armies (I.21) and Arjuna saw everyone assembled there; he saw his family, his teachers, and friends, Bhishma and Drona, and many others who he had known all of his life and loved - but now he must kill. The sight of his kinsmen arrayed across Kurukshetra caused Arjuna to despair. He told Krishna that his mouth had gone dry, his mind was whirling, his body trembling; he drops the Gandhiva. Arjuna suddenly realizes that he can see no good coming from killing his own family. He no longer wants victory and kingship if the price is the murder of his ‘teachers, fathers, sons, grandfathers’ and others who have been his family. (I.26-32)
This is known as Arjuna’s despondency or depression, and some have even speculated that Arjuna was in fact afraid and sought philosophy to justify his reluctance. I find that difficult to believe of my hero; but regardless of his motivation, this amazing poignant moment was the culmination of the lives of generations and woven layers of circumstances that gave birth to Krishna’s glorious Bhagavad Gita.
Arjuna could find no joy in killing Dhritarashtra's armies even if they had conspired to destroy the Pandavas in so many evil ways. He felt he would be committing an unforgivable crime - and the greatest warrior of that world, in the middle of the battlefield Kurukshetra, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of men, with their chariots, horses and elephants, his heart filled with grief and his eyes with tears, dropped his weapons and sat down in his chariot pit. (I.47)
‘I shall not fight!’
Remember that Arjuna and Krishna are great friends, and in the spirit of male camaraderie, Krishna smiled and spoke laughingly: ‘Why has this mood come over you at this bad time ... Do not act like a eunuch!’ (J.A.B van Buitenen). This translation always shocked me and made me laugh as it it so male. (II.2)
Arjuna admits that his mind is confused and says, ‘I shall not fight!’ (II.9)
Krishna is always smiling, but his smile is not mere camaraderie - it is the reflection of the highest wisdom inherent in his divine consciousness. I think of Krishna as God realized in man. Thus Krishna is always the best of the human physical embodiment revealed by his Oneness with the God within him. He is God fully incarnated and man fully enlightened.
Yes, he does possess divine powers in the Mahabharata, but as Krishna Chaitanya/KK Nair points out in his writings, Krishna does not stop the war or save Draupadi’s sons or even his own people when much later they fight among themselves and destroy his clan. Krishna is meant to be understood as God working through the human embodiment, just as we too have the choice to align our consciousness and work with the God within.
The Soul is Eternal
Krishna then begins his discourse on Knowledge (Book Two) and says that both he and Arjuna, and all those assembled on that field, indeed all human beings, have always existed and always will continue to exist. We pass from birth to childhood, to youth, old age and death only to change and transmigrate from one body into another. The wise are not confused by this. (II.12,13)
The five senses make their contact the external world and it’s objects, and send their information-impulses to our brain, allowing us to experience the polarities of pleasure and pain, sukha-duhkha in Sanskrit. These experiences are impermanent and are to be endured, for what is temporal has no ‘real’ existence and is unreal (Asat) in the sense that it is fluctuation and change. While the real (Sat) always exists, as the Sufi Mahmud Shabistari says, ‘beneath the curtain of each atom.’ (II.14-16)
It is not that the external world has no value as some believe; however, its state of constant change makes it the unreal (Asat) in the sense that it is impermanent. The external reality is very real to the five senses, but there is so much more to our world that what we can see, hear, touch, etc. Everywhere there is the imperishable (akshara) that permeates, supports and sustains the temporal illusory hologram. Without Knowledge of this eternal, immutable, imperishable Real - we are lost, floating on a sea of delusion and ignorance that tosses us around at whim and fools us into thinking that possessions and pleasure can give us meaning.
Krishna teaches his friend that this universe is pervaded by that which is indestructible and Arjuna has no power to kill that. The body may die, but the soul (Atma) never dies. It simply transmigrates to a new body, just as we get new clothes when our old ones are worn out. (II.17-22)
When our body is worn out we move into new forms that resonate with our thoughts, new data-collecting vehicles to expand our expression of the God within us all. The realization that you never die changes your entire attitude towards living and you have the opportunity to become less attached to the perils, failures, and successes of your current identity self.
There comes a time when in wisdom you will not care if you have been immortalized by the media. Your search for meaning will not be based on the approval or disapproval of others. You will care more about doing what is right, taking action with the greatest integrity and knowledge you have available to you in that moment, and that knowledge will always be changing as you continually reevaluate its worth. You will ask yourself, not so much, what did I accomplish - but rather what consciousness was I in when I acted.
Knowledge has the power to set you Free
Knowing that you move from life to life takes the desperation from your bondage to Time, and this enlightened realization releases you from the illusion that all you have is this one body, this one chance.
As someone who was brought up in the west I realize that the concept of the transmigration of the soul is at first difficult to assimilate. If you are truly determined and your intention is pure, you do have the ability within you to recall the past lives of your current body. They reside in the DNA as holographic information and you can play them like films. I have done this and so have many others.
The soul (Atma) transmigrates from body to body. The small personal identity ‘self’ you imagine yourself to be does not reincarnate ever again. God forbid we should always and forever be the same repetitious personality. That would be a great bore. Transmigration was misunderstood as reincarnation by those who did not deeply understand Hindu metaphysics.
Blinded by Science
You will find the greater freedom and you will realize that for all the comforts science has brought us, it has failed to acknowledge the imperishable (akshara) and only measures what can be perceived by the five senses and those endless machines which have been invented by them. I like to jest that we are blinded by science. Krishna Chaitanya/KK Nair calls it ‘scientism’ and in his illuminating book, The Betrayal of Krishna, says that because we ignored the ‘Why’ of the world, we may be destroyed by our ‘know-how.’
The exceedingly brilliant Arthur Koestler said in the book The Sleepwalkers, A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe that he hoped ‘this book would serve as a cautionary tale against the hubris of science. ...The dials on our laboratory panels are turning into another version of the shadows in the cave. Our hypnotic enslavement to the numerical aspects of reality has dulled our perception of non-quantitative moral values; the resultant end-justifies-the-means ethics may be a major factor in our undoing.’
Akshara, Dharma & Meaning
Krishna says that the eternal imperishable (akshara) cannot be cut, burned, or wet with water, nor will it dry and wither away. It is the all pervading - sarvagatas - that is inside each and every one of us. It is this imperishable (akshara), eternal, primordial (sanatanas), pervading (sarvagatas) All that we come to trust and rely upon, no matter what. (II.23)
Krishna tells Arjuna that he should not grieve over the ineluctable movements of the Eternal Wheel. Birth and death are certain for all, therefore what reason is there for him to mourn these men who wait on the battlefield Kurukshetra. In fact because Arjuna is a warrior born into the Kshatriya cast it is his duty, his Dharma to fight. (II.25-27; 30-33)
Each of us comes into this world with our own unique Dharma. We are each the accumulation of many lifetimes of a multitude of experiences. These experiences create the reflexive substance of our consciousness and our consciousness - meaning what we think and feel, and which is constantly changing for better or worse - generates the electromagnetic-field-fabric of our hologram. Fabric is a useful metaphor because it conjures up the image of 1000s of threads woven together to create a multiplicity of patterns, colors, strengths and weaknesses.
Sin & Freedom
We find meaning in our lives when we follow our Dharma. Meaning is ultimately far more important to a human being than the temporal rewards of pleasure and gold. Krishna tells Arjuna that he should never abandon his duty. There is no sin in following your own Dharma, because in doing so you are working in alliance - in ‘partnership’ as Krishna Chaitanya/KK Nair accurately terms it - with the God within you and sin is only that which moves away from God. We always have that choice - the choice to align our consciousness with God or to reject the tender opportunity. That is our freedom.
A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe
Arthur Koestler, 1959
Penguin Arkana, 1989, London