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The Bhagavad Gita – Book Notes

The Bhagavad Gita (Easwaran’s Classics of Indian Spirituality Book 1)
Eknath Easwaran

In the Gita, the word yogi often has a more modest definition: it can mean a person who does his or her job with detachment from the rewards (6:1), or it can be rendered as “one who has attained the goal of meditation.” For yogi literally means “one who is accomplished in yoga,” and yoga means “integration of the spirit.” In this sense, yoga means wholeness or the process of becoming whole at the deepest spiritual level.

How is this self-conquest to be made? Very simply, the Gita teaches that the mind must be made one-pointed through the practice of meditation. This is the basic technique. In the Gita we do not see the tendency for elaboration, for ritual and mystery, that we sometimes find in the Hindu tradition. Krishna simply tells Arjuna, first, that he must find an appropriate place to meditate. A suitable spot for his practice will be clean and comfortable. In a nod to tradition, one verse recommends the meditation seat be covered with kusha grass and a deer skin – the traditional seat of the yogi. The important thing, however, is not how the meditation cushion is constructed, but what is going on in the mind. Meditation is an internal discipline to make the mind one-pointed, absolutely concentrated. Second, Krishna offers a bit of advice about holding the body, head, and neck in a straight line. This may seem esoteric – a reference to the contortion-school of yoga – but actually it has a practical purpose. Sitting absolutely straight, with the spinal column erect, prevents drowsiness. Also, in advanced stages of meditation, it allows for the free flow of vital energy or kundalini (see Glossary).

Then practical advice is given: moderation is the path. Neither extreme asceticism nor indulgence will aid meditation. A superficial acquaintance with Hindu culture may leave the impression that it fosters either the sensuality of the Kama Sutra or the asceticism of the hermit. It is true that in Indian civilization we can easily see the ultimate development of the sensual and beautiful life in its finest manifestation, in painting, sculpture, music, and dance. And Indian cuisine is famous for its incredible variety of flavors and spices. India also presents us with the austere simplicity of the wandering holy man or sadhu. The Gita, however, recommends the middle path. Success in meditation, Krishna says, comes neither to those who eat or sleep too much nor to those who eat or sleep too little. The body should be neither overindulged nor treated harshly – the same recommendation the Buddha was to offer later, after many years of severe asceticism.

By its very nature the untrained mind is restless, constantly wandering here and there in trying to fulfil its desires. It flickers wildly like a flame in a storm – never blown completely out, yet at the mercy of the wind. Wherever it wanders, Krishna says, it must be brought back to its source; it must learn to rest in the Self. Once it is at home in the depths of contemplation, the mind becomes steady, like an upright, unflickering flame in a windless place. In this deep…

Krishna admits that the mind is terribly hard to train, but he maintains that it can be done through regular practice if one has detachment. It is interesting that he does not offer to help Arjuna here; that will come later. For now, he tells Arjuna that he must do it for…

Affectionately, Krishna assures Arjuna that no attempt to improve his spiritual condition could possibly be a wasted effort. Even looking ahead to the next life, he has nothing to lose and everything to gain. He will be reborn in a household suitable for taking up his quest where he left off. In his next life, he will feel drawn to the spiritual goal once again, and he will have a head start. The general Hindu belief is that Self-realization requires many, many lives of spiritual discipline. –D.M.

After many births the wise seek refuge in me, seeing me everywhere and in everything. Such great souls are very rare.

The Buddha explains, “All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts; it is made of our thoughts.” What we think, we become, for as Emerson says, the ancestor of every action is a thought.

Both prakriti and Purusha are essential to the creation of the world: nothing could exist without the spiritual basis of Purusha, and nothing could develop in a manifest form without the mind and matter of prakriti.

The field, Arjuna, is made up of the following: the five areas of sense perception; the five elements; the five sense organs and the five organs of action; the three components of the mind: manas, buddhi, and ahamkara; and the undifferentiated energy from which all these evolved. 6 In this field arise desire and aversion, pleasure and pain, the body, intelligence, and will.

When sattva predominates, the light of wisdom shines through every gate of the body. 12 When rajas predominates, a person runs about pursuing selfish and greedy ends, driven by restlessness and desire. 13 When tamas is dominant a person lives in darkness – slothful, confused, and easily infatuated.

Lust, anger, and greed are the three doors to hell that Arjuna must at all costs not enter. The person who enters will not only fail to reach life’s final goal, but will not achieve any measure of lasting happiness and prosperity.

The demonic do things they should avoid and avoid the things they should do. They have no sense of uprightness, purity, or truth.

“There is no God,” they say, “no truth, no spiritual law, no moral order. The basis of life is sex; what else can it be?” 9 Holding such distorted views, possessing scant discrimination, they become enemies of the world, causing suffering and destruction. 10 Hypocritical, proud, and arrogant, living in delusion and clinging to deluded ideas, insatiable in their desires, they pursue their unclean ends. 11 Although burdened with fears that end only with death, they still maintain with complete assurance, “Gratification of lust is the highest that life can offer.”

Bound on all sides by scheming and anxiety, driven by anger and greed, they amass by any means they can a hoard of money for the satisfaction of their cravings.

There are three gates to this self-destructive hell: lust, anger, and greed. Renounce these three. 22 Those who escape from these three gates of darkness, Arjuna, seek what is best and attain life’s supreme goal.

Krishna does not advise dropping out of life, and the Gita is primarily aimed at people who live “in the world” yet desire genuine spiritual fulfillment. The kind of renunciation Krishna recommends is tyaga, where it is not activity but selfish desire for the rewards of action – of work, of life – that is to be renounced. Arjuna is advised to fulfill all his responsibilities, but without a selfish motive. In particular, he should not give up the three great virtuous works – sacrifice, giving, and spiritual disciplines.

Many times Krishna has said that renunciation of the fruits of work is essential. Perhaps the verse in chapter 2 said it best – that we have control over our work and actions, but we have no command of the results.

In this final chapter, literally “The Freedom [moksha] That Comes from Renunciation,” Krishna sums up his teaching that in work, in life, one must not be driven by a selfish desire for any kind of reward, for such compulsive work can only stunt full spiritual development. In addition, Krishna points out, when we act out of selfish attachment, we must fully partake of the result, the karma, of every thought, word, and deed; and although these results may be what was desired, they may also be something not desired at all, or a little of both (18:12). In this life we can never be sure that things will turn out as planned.

But to fulfill your responsibilities knowing that they are obligatory, while at the same time desiring nothing for yourself – this is sattvic renunciation. 10 Those endowed with sattva clearly understand the meaning of renunciation and do not waver.

As long as one has a body, one cannot renounce action altogether. True renunciation is giving up all desire for personal reward. 12 Those who are attached to personal reward will reap the consequences of their actions: some pleasant, some unpleasant, some mixed. But those who renounce every desire for personal reward go beyond the reach of karma.

It is better to perform one’s own duties imperfectly than to master the duties of another. By fulfilling the obligations he is born with, a person never comes to grief. 48 No one should abandon duties because he sees defects in them. Every action, every activity, is surrounded by defects as a fire is surrounded by smoke.