Bhagavad Gita

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

I want to tell you something about the fundamental philosophy of Indian people which involves not only one hour but the whole of life. All of you must have heard the name Srimad Bhagavad Gita which is known as Gita in short. It is a part of a great epic which is known as Mahabharata, literally meaning the great India. I shall use the word Gita instead of Srimad Bhagavad Gita although that is the full name of the book. This book has ruled over the minds of Indian thinkers and statesmen for many centuries, and as a matter of fact it has been the book, the thought and the philosophy which the Indian mind understands very quickly, and I am also sure that the people of this western world will also understand it the same way.

The Gita starts in a very dramatic way. Five thousand years ago there were two tribes belonging to the same origin but which grew apart and could not get along with each other and became enemies of each other. So they ultimately prepared to fight a great war in order to resolve very insignificant but quite deep problems. These two families are known as the five brothers and the hundred brothers. The five brothers wanted their legitimate rights respected, but the hundred brothers, who were the ruling authorities and who were in power, would not allow the five brothers to have their legitimate rights, so eventually the five brothers became desperate and said that the issue should now be decided by a war, face to face. When the day came, the two sets of brothers met each other on a great battlefield, which happened to fall quite close to New Delhi in the west of India, and came face to face with their great armies.

The commander in chief of the army was one of the five brothers, whose name was Arjuna. The commander in chief of the army of the hundred brothers was a very grand man, a very powerful and noble man, whose name was Bhishma. Arjuna was the third of the five brothers, but by virtue of his being a great warrior he became the commander in chief of his own army and his charioteer was Krishna who was known as one of the great incarnations of the Lord.


When we talk about the Gita we must make a direct reference to Sri Krishna because it was Sri Krishna who was the pronouncer of the Gita. Sri Krishna was respected in India as the direct incarnation of God. Sri Krishna is the speaker of the Gita. Unless you know the life of Sri Krishna right from his birth up to the point of his death you cannot understand anything about the Gita, and the meaning of the Gita will be obscure to you. Right from the time when his mother conceived him up to the point when he died, he faced nothing but problems, nothing but difficulties; there was not one day in his life when he did not fight, when he did not face the problems. Remember, right from the day he was born up to the day he died there was not one day that he did not laugh.

In the Indian mythology relating to Krishna, you can find Krishna as a child playing with sweets, as a boy playing with the cowherd boys and girls, as a statesman giving expert advice, as a warrior fighting tough fights, and as an advisor giving perfect advice, diplomatic or otherwise. As a guru he gave absolutely superb lessons on yoga and other sciences. This man Krishna was the speaker of the Gita to this commander in chief Arjuna. When both the armies were facing each other, this virtuous commander in chief Arjuna happened to feel despondent. He refused to fight because he thought that he would kill many old associates and he preferred to renounce participating in the war. It is at this time the philosophy of the Gita begins.

Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that a man has to face life, a man has to accept life, and a man has to fight every step of his life. People who expect or wish that life should only be beautiful, that life should only be comfortable, that life should only be according to their liking; will never find such a life. It is these people who suffer and it is these people who have difficulties in life. It is always good to accept life in whichever way it comes to you and try to get the best out of it by way of philosophy, by way of understanding, or by way of wisdom.

Every man desires, he has great ambitions, and he works in order to fulfil these desires. When the desires are fulfilled he is very happy, but at the same time he is afraid of losing what he has. If his desire remains unfulfilled he is completely broken. With this begin the problems that are mental, the problems that are psychological, and the problems that you call the problems of life. It is not only a battle which you have to face and fight; it is the eternal battle which everybody is fighting, birth after birth.

These five brothers belonged to one group and the one hundred brothers belonged to the other group – these are the two great conflicting forces in every individual. If the individual is to progress, conflict is necessary, fight is necessary. Without conflict, without fight, without facing the conflicting and opposing forces you cannot evolve, you cannot progress. Comfort and pleasure are death and they do not give any kind of push to the individual to go ahead in life. You have to create a conflict, you have to realize a conflict, you have to face the conflict, and you must continue that conflict, and then the forces evolve and something new will come.

Spiritual knowledge, or higher knowledge or experience comes to one who accepts the conflict, understands it, and continues that conflict and does not evade it. Between these two conflicting forces, these two conflicting parties within ourselves, you and I are included, there is one, the charioteer who is the driver of the chariot. He is the inner source and he is the guru, he is the teacher. The body is the chariot, and the individual soul has to face the fight, he is the inner soul is, the guru, Krishna, who is helping the individual, who is helping you and who is helping me in this conflict. He is not directly involved in the conflict, he is outside the conflict. But in any case he is behind the conflict, he is creating the conflict, because he wants the soul, the jiva, or the individual self, or the individual consciousness, to evolve.

Now it is in this context that we have to understand the Gita which tells us about the two conflicting forces in human life, out of which one force has to be subdued and the other force has to come up. How to continue this conflict? This conflict has to be continued with an aspiration or background of yoga. Another name of Gita well known to us is of a book on yoga, a scripture on yoga, a yoga shastra, and now that the conflict has started in you, the only step to take is to understand and to adopt yoga.

Starting point of yoga

Now, therefore, yoga is concerned with the evolution of individual consciousness from the lowest base to the highest level of fructification and blossoming. Where does yoga begin and where does yoga end? Some people say of course yoga begins with hatha yoga. I do not disagree because I myself teach hatha yoga. But let me be very clear philosophically, without causing any kind of disappointment to anyone of you – yoga has a beginning and it proceeds or progresses, according to the evolution of the consciousness. At various points yoga comes to a point of culmination but not termination.

The first chapter of the Gita is called the yoga of the dejection of Arjuna. Hatha yoga, bhakti yoga, karma yoga, mantra yoga, raja yoga, etc., you have heard of, but have you ever heard of anyone desiring the yoga of dejection, the yoga of disappointment, yoga of gloom, yoga of frustration, yoga of breakdown, yoga of nervous breakdown and heart attack? Seriously speaking, yoga begins not when you start the mala or the rosary, yoga begins when the scales are heavily loaded against you and when you are facing problems in life. Unless your soul faces difficulties, disappointments, problems, conflicts, it will not become active; it will just remain asleep and totally satisfied. Difficulties and problems are actually accelerators of human evolution. These difficulties and problems should not be considered as only external ones. There are external and internal problems.

The Gita is not talking about material problems. The Gita is not talking about those problems which are the basic necessities of human life like food, clothes and shelter that communists talk about. The Gita is talking about those problems that are deep rooted in man and about which psychologists have been talking; the difficulty is that sometimes you may not even know that you are having difficulties, but you are having them. There are problems concerning your personality, not only your external personality but also the personality which is as deep as the subterranean planes of the ocean. You may say that you have no problems, but I cannot believe it.

You may say that you have no difficulties, but I cannot believe it. You may say that you have no conflicts, but I cannot believe it, because it is impossible to exist without them. In everybody, except perhaps the most enlightened individuals, there are two contradictory souls working side by side. Mankind is leading a dual life on the mental plane, not one single life. Everyone is living a dual life, and this duality is present in everybody, in you, in me, and in all, and this is what is called the starting point of yoga.


When we have become aware that there are the two great conflicting forces in us, what should we do now? Should we try to annihilate them, should we hate them, should we criticize them, or should we scream or cry over them, or should we just feel sorry for them, or should we analyse them? We should not put a cover over the conflict, over the struggle, over the battle, whatever that might be in us. Whether you are a good man or a bad man, or a man full of excitement or a man with criminal mindedness, anything – you must know what is inside you. Modern psychology, as you may be aware, has brought this fact to our notice that there are thousands and thousands of people on this blessed earth who do not want to know what they are, because the moment they know what they are they cannot believe that they are like that and they do not want to know what they are. This is the greatest thing that is holding us back.

Each and every item of your consciousness, each and every item lurking in the depth of your consciousness must become well known to you. This is the second advice given in the Gita. Whether it is birth or death, loss or gain, praise or criticism, love or hatred, like or dislike, conflict or peace, dullness or excitement, passion or anger, you have to know it, absolutely in detail, and as it is.

Remember that if you know your own conflicts, if you know your own problems, you do not get rid of them by knowing that. You have to start a sadhana, in order to get rid of them; you have to start the practical side of yoga.

In the Gita the practical side of yoga begins with karma yoga, the yoga of action. You have to convert, you have to transform and transmute your karma, your daily activities, in such a way that they are conducive to your spiritual progress. By karma, by actions, you are expressing yourself; you are giving yourself out and thus unburdening your soul. Side by side with karma yoga one should practise raja yoga also. Then comes bhakti yoga and then comes jnana yoga. In one’s sadhana these are the practices one has to do in order to be victorious in the battle, and to get rid of the conflicts that are lurking in your personality.

When you have been able to remove the influence or effects of conflicts from your mind, and when your mind is completely free from the infection, or the strangulation, or from the association with these effects, then you are a liberated individual, you are a jivanmukta, or you are a mukta. The concept of liberation according to the Gita is not the concept where you close your eyes and you enter into the great void. The concept of liberation according to the Gita is to live the life but not be affected by it at anytime, at any cost, and all the time without any conditions. The Gita is giving a new dimension to liberation. The Gita gives a new dimension to mukti, complete freedom, and that should be understood by all of us now.

If you close your eyes, practise meditation, withdraw your mind completely, with great force, you enter into a great void. But this experience of the great void is not experienced in actual life because when you face the peculiar and illogical life, then you know that the great void is completely eliminated, you do not know what samadhi means in life. In the higher stages you experience the maha sukha, the great pleasure. I am Brahman, full of bliss and everything is all right, I am part of that consciousness, I am Brahman, I am Shiva. Then you come down to normal life and fight with the wife. The complete freedom, the moksha, should be brought upon earth. The freedom, the moksha, should be brought into one’s daily life.

Freedom should not be restricted, freedom should not be confined to the meditation room, freedom has to come into the kitchen also. The freedom has to be experienced when you are working in a shop. The freedom has to be experienced when you are driving your car at 50 or 70 miles an hour, and the freedom has to be experienced when you are about to face an emotional crisis in your life. Renunciation is not freedom, but freedom should be practised during your association with the whole of life and not just with half of life. According to the Gita and according to Krishna, renunciation is half of life, is partial life, paralyzed life; abstention, refrainment, giving up this and that, is called half-life, partial life, paralyzed life. Therefore, one should try to attain and one should try to experience freedom in every walk of life. To experience freedom you have to train your mind, you have to train and culture or refine your philosophy, and you have to imbibe new dimensions of awareness.

Purna yoga

In order to experience freedom at all times it is not enough to meditate for just one hour. You have to have a completely oriented philosophy and a completely healthy mind and a cultured way of thinking. Please correctly understand this mukti or freedom that is talked about in the Gita. This mukti, this liberation or freedom has to do with life, it has to do with your love, it has to do with your hatred, it has to do with your frustrations and accomplishments and it has nothing to do with renunciation. In the Gita it is said that one does not become a renunciate by renouncing the actions, or be renouncing the duties, or by renouncing the responsibilities, or by evading problems. One has to understand everything in the true light, not in the light of one’s limited vision.

Therefore, the philosophy of the Gita or the yoga of the Gita is known as purna yoga, which means complete yoga. If you stress karma yoga, that is you do only karma yoga, no bhakti yoga, no raja yoga, no jnana yoga, this is called apurna yoga, incomplete yoga. If I say no smoking, no drinking, only asana, pranayama, eat only fruit, milk, do not put on all those nice clothes, put on geru dhoti only, this is not purna yoga, it is apurna yoga, it is not complete yoga, it is incomplete yoga. At the same time, if someone were to tell you, no hatha yoga, no karma yoga, not jnana yoga, just bhakti yoga, singing the name of the Lord, with tabla, the drum, and dancing, that is enough, that is also incomplete yoga. It is good yoga but it is incomplete, it is one-sided, lopsided. If you say no karma yoga, no bhakti yoga, it is only for small people, no raja yoga which is for swamis, no hatha yoga, it is only for sick people, only jnana yoga, aparokshanubhuti, direct perception, I am Brahman, nothing else, that is also incomplete yoga.

Even as you have a nice mixture of people, a nice mixture of colours, in the same way you must have a nice combination of yogas in your life because you are not one, you are four. Just like this body needs calcium, iron, phosphates and many other things, in the same way your personality, your life, needs four essential elements. These four elements are dynamism, emotion or devotion, mysticism and respite. That is called complete nourishment complete nutrition for life. Therefore, according to these needs, please remember for dynamism karma yoga, for emotions bhakti yoga, for mysticism raja yoga or mantra yoga or tantra yoga and for respite jnana yoga or Vedanta. This is the philosophy, the approach to life advocated in the Gita, regarding the great conflicts that everybody in every part of the world is facing today.

If you want to bring the philosophy of the Gita into your daily life just remember a few points. First of all, work hard, expect things, but if they do not come, remember that you should not break down, you must have courage. Again go on with your new ventures and enterprises. The second point is that the mind must be balanced, but this balance of mind should be a spontaneous affair. It should be spontaneous; the mind should not be dragged. It should be a spontaneous culmination of the process of karma yoga. Whatever yoga you practise, karma yoga or bhakti yoga, you should never forget the central consciousness, the paramatman, the perfect consciousness, the great Atman, the nuclear consciousness, the Atman. If you remember that consciousness within you which is cosmic, which is infinite, which is eternal, then all your yogas will be successful. Finally, as a practitioner of yoga you must imbibe two great cultures, first, dynamism and second yogic life. Both must be practised side by side. Dynamism, that is to say, work, accomplishment, fulfilment, ambition, etc. and secondly also the practices of yoga, hatha yoga, raja yoga, bhakti yoga, jnana yoga, one hour or two hours, whatever amount of time you can dedicate to it.

A yoga practitioner should not condemn any phase of life. Whether you are a yoga teacher or a yogi, or a swami, or a yoga practitioner, or a yoga devotee, you should never condemn any phase of life, because all the phases are the phases of consciousness and not devoid or bereft of consciousness. If you condemn any phase of life, whether it is the life of a householder, or a sannyasin’s life, or a drunkard’s life, anybody’s life, you are creating a sickness in your own mind. If he is a sick man, or a limping man, a stammering man, or a weak man, or a great man or a hopeless man, or a criminal, or a liar, or a debauch, whatever he may be, it is said in the Gita by Krishna, that they are all my phases, they are my different points of evolution, they are different parts of my great picture. With this broad and liberal attitude to life, if you practise your hatha yoga or karma yoga or bhakti yoga, I can assure you that you will not only be successful in life but it will give you enlightenment.

March, 1971, Copenhagen, Denmark, published in Satyananda Yoga in Europe Volume 2