Chapter 10: How to See and Serve God
"I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who perfectly know this engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts." (Bg 10.8)
LORD KRSNA HAS ADVISED Arjuna to become His devotee. Now Krsna tells him how to do so. Great commentators consider verses 8 through 11 of this chapter the essence of the Bhagavad-gita. In these four seminal verses, Lord Krsna describes how His devotees think of Him and enjoy a relationship with Him.
Arjuna then asks how he should think of Lord Krsna, and Krsna devotes the rest of the chapter to answering this question. He says that He can be perceived in the best and most powerful of every creation. Among stars He is the moon; among fish, the shark. After listing many such comparisons, Lord Krsna reminds Arjuna that whatever one can perceive with material senses reflects just the inferior, material portion of His creation.
Chapter 11: The Terrifying Form of God
"My dear Arjuna, only by undivided devotional service can I be understood as I am, standing before you, and can thus be seen directly. Only in this way can you enter into the mysteries of My understanding." (11.54)
PLEASED TO HEAR of Lord Krsna's presence in so many ways, Arjuna now asks Krsna to show His feature known as the universal form, consisting of the entire material creation. Since the material universe comes from Lord Krsna, it is yet another one of His forms.
Krsna endows Arjuna with divine eyes to view this unprecedented display. A dazzling vision suddenly overwhelms Arjuna. The brilliant, powerful radiance frightens him as it threatens to burn the whole creation. Arjuna grows terrified as the mouth of the universal form the omnipotent crush of death consumes the assembled warriors, and everyone else. Arjuna cries, "Who are You?" Lord Krsna's answer (verse 11.32) is the famous Bhagavad-gita verse quoted by scientist Robert Oppenheimer as he watched the explosion of the first atomic bomb in the deserts of New Mexico: "Time I am, the great destroyer of the worlds…."
Having seen Lord Krsna's limitless, deadly power, Arjuna understands his intimate friend in a new light. He begs to see again the friendly, familiar form of Lord Krsna. As Krsna reappears in His original form, He assures Arjuna that He can always be known in this more pleasing way.
Chapter 12: Perfection Through Loving God
"The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: Those who fix their minds on My personal form and are always engaged in worshiping Me with great and transcendental faith are considered by Me to be most perfect." (12.2)
LORD KRSNA'S UNIVERSAL form filled Arjuna with awe and fear, but Krsna prefers the love of His devotees. So in this chapter, the shortest in the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krsna elaborates on the theme begun at the end of Chapter Eleven: bhakti-yoga, or personal devotional service to Him. Lord Krsna makes this point just after showing His universal form lest Arjuna, or anyone else, mistake the fearsome universal form for His ultimate manifestation.
The chapter begins with Arjuna asking about the comparative value of bhakti-yoga and realization of Brahman, Lord Krsna's impersonal feature. Krsna calls the Brahman path valid but difficult, while promising to personally deliver the faithful bhakta.
Lord Krsna then evaluates various practices of spiritual life. He declares that to think of Him spontaneously, out of love, is best. For those who lack such love, practice of regulated bhakti-yoga ranks next. For those who decline bhakti, working for Lord Krsna is next, followed by working for some charitable cause. Krsna concludes the chapter by describing the many desirable qualities of His loving devotee.
Chapter 13: Body, Soul, and Supersoul
"O son of Bharata, as the sun alone illuminates all this universe, so does the living entity, one within the body, illuminate the entire body by consciousness." (13.34)
THIS CHAPTER, which begins the final third of the Bhagavad-gita, is dedicated to jnana-yoga, or knowledge of God that leads to devotional service to Him. Arjuna asks about the body, the soul, the Supersoul, and the meaning and object of knowledge. Lord Krsna refers Arjuna to the Vedanta-sutra, an essential Vedic text, for a full explanation of the soul and matter. He then provides His own summary. He explains that both the soul and the Supersoul occupy the body, a vehicle made of dull matter. The soul knows only his body, but the Supersoul sits in every heart and knows everyone's pains and pleasures. While pursuing his illusory hope to enjoy matter, the soul encounters endless varieties of bodies and suffers and enjoys through them all. The Supersoul accompanies the soul on this painful journey. Lord Krsna concludes that those who learn the truth of their situation attain freedom from bondage to matter.
Chapter 14: Beyond the Three Modes
"It should be understood that all species of life, O son of Kunti, are made possible by birth in this material nature, and that I am the seed-giving father." (14.4)
LORD KRSNA HAS JUST explained that matter entangles the soul and causes it to suffer. Now He elaborates. Matter exerts control over the souls through three qualities or modes: goodness, passion, and ignorance. In earlier chapters, Lord Krsna often referred to these three modes. In this chapter He explains them in detail. More discussion of the modes follows in chapters seventeen and eighteen.
Lord Krsna begins by identifying Himself as the father of all living beings. He then defines the three modes, their relationship with the soul, and their general characteristics. He next describes the results of actions in each of the modes, both immediate and in terms of future lifetimes. He then advises Arjuna to learn to transcend the modes of nature. Arjuna asks how one can transcend the modes, and how to know a person who has done so. Lord Krsna answers both questions, and concludes the chapter by declaring Himself to be the basis of all spiritual existence, beyond the modes.
Chapter 15: Supreme Personal Yoga
"That supreme abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by fire or electricity. Those who reach it never return to this material world." (15.6)
LORD KRSNA BEGINS THIS chapter with an allegory, comparing the material world to a banyan tree. In India and other tropical climates, banyans sometimes grow to be huge. They drop roots from their branches, and the roots form new trunks with new branches and roots. Banyans can fill acres, and finding where they begin can be very difficult.
The allegorical tree has roots going up and branches going down. Such a tree exists only in a reflection, as on a lake, and this is the point of the allegory. One might reach for a reflected apple on a reflected tree and end up with nothing but a wet arm.
Similarly, the material world reflects the spiritual world, Lord Krsna's abode, capturing it in shape and color but not in substance. The soul's natural love for God becomes misdirected and caught up in the temporary leaves and branches of this reflected material tree. Lord Krsna advises Arjuna to cut his relationship with it. After making such a cut, Lord Krsna says, one attains His abode. Unlike the dark material universe, light prevails there, without the help of sun or electricity. A person infatuated with the material world misses the chance to return to the spiritual world and forcibly takes birth again.
As stated earlier, detachment from matter and attachment to Lord Krsna are one and the same. Thus, for Arjuna's benefit, Krsna again describes Himself. In verse 15 Lord Krsna specifically describes his intimate relationship with each soul as well as His presence in scriptures. Concluding the chapter, Lord Krsna explains that knowing Him engages one in yoga of the Supreme Person.
Chapter 16: The Divine and the Demoniac
"He who discards scriptural injunctions and acts according to his own whims attains neither perfection, nor happiness, nor the supreme destination." (16.23)
AT THE BEGINNING OF THE Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krsna distinguished the soul from the body. He then introduced the modes of nature and their various effects on the embodied souls. At Arjuna's request, He explained how to transcend the modes of nature. Now He describes the actions of a person under the lower modes the lower branches of Chapter Fifteen's banyan tree as opposed to the actions of one who has transcended the three modes.
After summarizing the divine qualities, belonging to those who have surpassed even the mode of goodness, Lord Krsna details the qualities of demons, who act only out of passion and ignorance. Filth, pride, atheism, dishonest action, and preoccupation with sexual enjoyment characterize such persons. Their wrong-headed perspective leads them to build horrible, destructive weapons. They aspire only to gratify their senses by any means, and yet they make a show of charity and piety. In the end, they revile and make a mockery of true religion. Lord Krsna describes their destination as the hell of life in subhuman species. A sane person thus gives up lust, anger, and greed the three gates to hell. Abiding by the scriptures, such a person avoids the fate of demons.
Chapter 17: Faith, Food, and Sacrifice
"Austerity of speech consists in speaking words that are truthful, pleasing, beneficial, and not agitating to others, and also in regularly reciting Vedic literature." (17.15)
AFTER HEARING ABOUT both followers and detractors of the scriptures, Arjuna now wants to know about persons who worship God without reference to the scriptures. Such persons have faith, but lacking scriptural basis they may worship men ordevas. Arjuna wants to know their destination.
Lord Krsna answers that faith not guided by scripture is another product of the three modes of nature. The modes influence how one eats, worships, and performs sacrifice, penance, and charity.
After detailing all these activities in the different modes, Lord Krsna explains the transcendental approach. By directing to the Supreme Lord any sacrifice, penance, or charity, one rises above the influence of the modes of nature. Learned souls thus begin any sacrifice by chanting om tat sat, referring to the Supreme Absolute Truth. Reciting any name of the Supreme Lord has the same effect.
Lord Krsna concludes that anything done without an effort to please the Supreme is but the floundering of a conditioned soul. It has no value.
Chapter 18: Breaking the Bonds of Matter
"Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear." (18.66)
THIS CHAPTER, the longest in the Bhagavad-gita, summarizes the teachings of the entire text. Arjuna has just heard about the effects of the three modes of nature and the importance of directing one's work toward God. Lord Krsna rejected his superficial plan to renounce by leaving the battlefield. Now Arjuna asks how to truly renounce worldly affairs and dedicate his work to the Lord's service.
Lord Krsna analyzes renunciation according to goodness, passion, and ignorance, the three modes of nature. Although Krsna applauds detachment from the fruits of work, He specifies that no one benefits by renouncing sacrifice, charity, and penance. To show Arjuna why renunciation makes sense, Lord Krsna identifies five factors mostly beyond Arjuna's control that determine the result of any action. He goes on to evaluate action, the actor, knowledge, determination, understanding, and happiness, all according to the three modes of nature. Lord Krsna declares in summary that no one in the universe is exempt from the influence of the modes.
To clarify the influence of the modes on human society, Lord Krsna describes the system of varnasrama, or enlightened social organization. Brahmanas (priests) are in the mode of goodness, ksatriyas (warriors) in passion, vaisyas (farmers and merchants) in mixed passion and ignorance, and sudras (workers) in ignorance. Varnasrama designations are determined by inclination, not by birth (as in the caste system of India today). Although people have different inclinations, by pursuing renunciation through service to Lord Krsna anyone can become perfect. Krsna explains exactly how this can be done and the symptoms of one who has done it.
Lord Krsna now begins to conclude the Bhagavad-gita by declaring that His servant will come to Him and be protected under all circumstances. He bluntly tells Arjuna that giving up on the battle would be the wrong kind of renunciation and that Arjuna's nature would force him to fight anyway. Advising complete surrender to His will and promising all protection, Lord Krsna at last tells Arjuna to choose his course of action.
Krsna has described numerous options for Arjuna. He has outlined the paths of piety, mystic yoga, and jnana (knowledge). Through them all, He has consistently emphasized the paramount importance of Arjuna's fighting as an expression of surrender to Him. Although Lord Krsna has also declared and displayed His omnipotent divinity, He concludes by telling Arjuna that the choices are now his. He blesses the speakers and hearers of Bhagavad-gita and asks Arjuna if his illusions are now gone.
Arjuna emphatically answers, "Yes!" and Sanjaya, the visionary narrator, concludes the Gita with expressions of personal gratitude and ecstasy. In his rapture, he also must disclose the harsh truth of the battle to his blind master, Dhrtarastra.
Kalakantha Dasa writes, runs a small business, and directs the Mayapur Foundation U.S.A. He and his wife, both disciples of Srila Prabhupada, live with their two daughters in Gainesville, Florida. This summary, along with Kalakantha Dasa's 700-verse poetic rendering of the Gita, will be published this fall by Torchlight Publishing. Titled Bhagavad-gita The Song of God, it will be available from The Hare Krsna Bazaar http://www.krishna.com.