Has anyone else spotted this glaring error in the Bhagavad Gita? (and how to solve it)

One of my favourite spiritual books is the Bhagavad Gita. It, perhaps, is the reason I stumbled into my love of what could be called Eastern Spirituality or Eastern Mysticism, and the Gita was one of the first few holy texts I read. It contains a number of different but intricately related teachings that, together, knit the fabric for a beautiful teaching. It also has an epic and somewhat unusual setting, for a spiritual text at least, namely the battleground of Kurukshetra in which Arjuna is seeking advice prior to going into battle from his charioteer, Krishna. It just so happens that Krishna is in fact God incarnate, and so a wonderful dialogue and spiritual discourse commences.

I do not consider the Gita to be a perfect text, for a number of reasons which I will not delve into in this post, but for many years it has seemed to me that there is a glaring error in its current format, one that I have not heard much of, and one that can be easily rectified. In fact, when this error is seen and rectified, the Gita, in my opinion, is much more satisfying to read, albeit still with its imperfections.

What is the error? It is that Chapters 3 and 4 are the wrong way round. It took me a while to figure this out, and I wonder if this idea has occurred to other people too? A quick google search has not revealed to me that other people have noticed this. However, surely for any discerning reader, the transition from Chapter 2 to Chapter 3 is jarring in the very least. I remember feeling this jarring sensation when I first read the Gita, but as I said, it took me a while to figure out its resolution.

Let me explain:

Chapter 1 sets the scene of the ensuing battle, and it is in Chapter 2 that the main spiritual teaching begins. After Arjuna collapses in a fit of despair, panic and disillusionment and asks Krishna for help, Krishna gives a broad outline of the main teachings of the Gita. Krishna tells Arjuna that he need not fear, that the essence of him is eternal and indestructible, and that he should perform his noble duty with honour. Krishna, still in Chapter 2, then goes on to describe the path to spiritual liberation, the path of yoga in which one should be equanimous of mind amidst daily life and also practice withdrawing the senses and enter into a meditative samadhi in which the mind is controlled and allowed to become still, unphased by sense-objects and desires. Krishna spends a considerable number of verses on this theme, finally stating that this will lead to the attainment of Brahman, or the Absolute or God, in which there is no suffering or delusion.

However, when we come to chapter 3, seemingly oblivious to what Krishna has just instructed him, Arjuna asks him a completely unrelated question:

3.1 O Krishna, if you say that knowledge is superior to action, why ask me to fight in this terrible battle?

Krishna has not spoken in any great length about knowledge thus far, the main emphasis of the teaching being on yoga and meditative samadhi. Krishna has also not explicitly said that knowledge is superior to action, something that comes later in chapter 4 (4.33, see below). Admittedly, in the next verse of chapter 3 Arjuna does say he is confused:

3.2 My mind is confused, your words seem contradictory. Please clarify to me which path will lead me to the greatest good?

If we take the question at face value, Arjuna is implying that Krishna has taught two seemingly opposed teachings and Arjuna is unsure of how these can be reconciled. However, thus far, there has not been any substantive conflicting teaching given. Of course, all these issues are easily and happily resolved when we simply switch the position of Chapters 3 and 4. Before we look at how this resolution occurs, lets see Krishna’s response to Arjuna, still in Chapter 3:

3.3 Krishna said: Arjuna, as I have told you before, there are two paths of faith: the path of knowledge (Jnana Yoga) for the philosophically inclined, and the path of action (Karma Yoga) for the active.

Without swapping Chapters 3 and 4 around, this verse makes little sense. Krishna has not yet outlined two yogas, that of Jnana Yoga and Karma Yoga. He does, however, outline these in Chapter 4.

Let us now look at Chapter 4 – what I think should actually be Chapter 3. If we recall, Chapter 2 ends with Krishna speaking at length on the path of meditative yoga in which the senses should be withdrawn, the mind controlled and stilled, and desires for sense-pleasures effaced. This, Krishna says, will lead to Brahman, or God. Chapter 4 opens as follows, logically continuing from this conclusion in Chapter 2:

4.1 Krishna said: I taught this eternal yoga to Vivasvan [the sun god]; Vivasvan taught it to Manu [the father of humanity]; Manu passed it to King Iksvaku

This makes complete sense as the start of Chapter 3 and would avoid the jarring switch to Arjuna’s question about the two paths that are not described until later on in the current text. What Krishna explains in Chapter 4 is a logical continuance of explaining the origins of the yoga described in the latter part of Chapter 2.

In Chapter 4, Krishna goes on to reveal to Arjuna that he, Krishna, is not merely a trusted friend and charioteer, but actually God-incarnate who manifests in every age when he is needed to impart spiritual wisdom to humanity. He briefly describes the benefits of worshipping Him and other Gods, and introduces and explains the teaching on the path of action or Karma Yoga starting at around verse 4.14 to around 4.32.

Then, starting at verse 4.33 through to the last verse 4.42, Krishna introduces and explains the path of knowledge (Jnana). Verse 4.33 is particularly important, as it implies that Jnana is a higher path than that of Karma:

4.33 Better than sacrifice of material goods is sacrifice in Jnana, for action culminates in Jnana

This now makes sense of Arjuna’s question in 3.1 when he states that Krishna has placed knowledge higher than action. The last two verses of the chapter, verses 4.41 and 4.42, are also potentially quite confusing, as 4.41 states that action should be renounced, while 4.42 encourages Arjuna to stand and fight:

4.41 One who has given up action through yoga, and has dispelled doubts by knowledge, one who lives in the Self, is not bound by action (karma).

4.42 Therefore, Arjuna, with the sword of knowledge (jnana) remove the doubts in yourself, and taking refuge in yoga, stand and fight.

Given this context, with Krishna having just explained the two seemingly different paths of karma yoga and jnana yoga, and then ended his discourse by stating actions are to be renounced (4.41), and then to stand and fight (4.42), it is completely understandable that Arjuna is confused. His questions in verses 3.1 and 3.2 (see above) make complete sense now and we lose that jarring sensation that was previously present when we go from Chapter 2 to Chapter 3. Krishna’s response in 3.3 also makes more sense in this context, as if we switch chapters 3 and 4, Krishna has just told Arjuna of the two paths: ‘Arjuna, as I have told you before, there are two paths…jnana yoga…and karma yoga..’.

Chapter 3 (what should in my view be Chapter 4) then explains and extols the virtues and benefits the path of karma yoga more fully.

At the start of Chapter 5 Arjuna continues along this line of questioning, asking Krishna:

5.1 First you recommend giving up work [ie. chapter 2 in which sense withdrawal is advocated] and then you recommend work in yoga [ie. chapter 3 in which karma yoga is advocated]. Please tell me clearly which path is best.

Again, this makes more sense if Chapter 3 was actually Chapter 4 – otherwise why wait a whole chapter before asking this question? The whole thing flows much more like a normal conversation with Chapters 3 and 4 swapped around. Chapter 5 then says how both paths lead to the same goal, but that the path of action/Karma Yoga is superior.

Only at the end of Chapter 5 is the topic of meditation and withdrawal of the senses from the sense objects again taken up in verse 5.26-5.28.

Chapter 6 then goes on to explain how both paths end up with the mind being stilled, and that to start off with, the path is yoga in action, but the path ends with stillness of mind (verse 6.3). The rest of Chapter 6 is devoted to the path of meditation and stillness of mind, with a few verses now introducing the teachings of Bhakti (devotion to or love of God) in verses 6.29-6.32.

With just the simple swapping around of chapters 3 and 4, in my view the potency and philosophical narrative of the Bhagavad Gita greatly enhanced. Themes are introduced in a wonderfully natural and logical way, with one theme leading into another –  a beautiful and coherent development of ideas, as follows: from an overview of the teachings in Chapter 2, to an introduction to the two main paths in Chapter 4, then firstly focussing on the path of action in Chapters 3 and 5, and then to the more advanced path of meditation in Chapter 6, and then the introduction to Bhakti, a theme that is progressively developed in the next 6 chapters (chapters 7 to 12).

So my suggested order is as follows:

  • Chapter 1: the battle scene is set and Arjuna falls into panic and despair at the thought of going to war.
  • Chapter 2: reassurance given to Arjuna by Krisha who also gives an overview of the path, with a large focus on the yoga of renunciation, stillness of mind and meditation in the latter part of the chapter.
  • Chapter 4: Krishna explains how this yoga has been taught to previous generations and then introduces the two paths of Karma Yoga and Jnana Yoga.
  • Chapter 3: Arjuna asks which of these two paths is superior. Krishna explains the value of Karma Yoga and explains this more fully.
  • Chapter 5: Arjuna persists with his question about which path is better, and Krishna states both paths lead to the same goal, but Karma Yoga is better.
  • Chapter 6: Krishna then states that beginners start with Karma yoga, but as one advances stillness of mind and the yoga of meditation becomes more important. Themes of Bhakti are introduced.
  • Chapter 7-12: The theme of Bhakti is further introduced and the nature of God and devotional worship is elaborated upon.
  • Chapters 13-18: the path of knowledge, special or specific teachings, and concluding instructions are given.

So, what do you think? Is the way I am looking at it correct? Even though I have been reading and studying these texts for over 20 years, I do not consider myself to be an expert and I am not a sanskrit scholar either. My suggestion is to simply swap around chapters 3 and 4 when you read the Bhagavad Gita. Please let me know your views in the comments.

Namaste and Hare Krishna!

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti!

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Q. Could you name some spiritual teachers you respect? Can only a jnani tell if someone else is a true jnani?

lying buddha

 

Q. Hi Tom, who do you think is the best spiritual teacher, or could you name some teachers you respect?

A. There is only One Teacher.

——-

Q. Hi Tom, it’s been said that only a jnani* can tell if someone else is a true jnani. Is this true in your experience?

A. There are no jnanis, only jnana*

——-

*Jnani refers to an enlightened person – the word literally means ‘one who knows’. Jnana literally means knowledge, and in this context means spiritual enlightenment or liberation.

What will never let you down?

Everyone and everything will eventually let you down. Make no mistake about this – it’s just a matter of time. Be sure to understand this.

This is not pessimism but reality. You can then enter into life knowlingly. We can enter into love and engage with life out of understanding rather than ignorance.

Know that everything will eventually let you down. You cannot rely on anyone or anything to give you lasting happiness, so dont expect that from people or things. Anything else leads to suffering.

The only exception is the ever-present Self, which of course is no particular object, yet is non-separate from everything. It is all there is. It is the essence of who you are. It is you.

And luckily its nature is sat-chit-ananda.

Therefore take refuge only in the Self.

Ramana Maharshi – no ignorance, no knowledge

ramana maharshi

The ‘I’ is always there.

There is no knowing it.

It is not a new knowledge to be acquired.

There is an obstruction to its knowledge called ignorance. Remove it.

But ignorance or knowledge is not for the Self. They are overgrowths to be cleared.

Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk 49

Ramana Maharshi: Is renunciation necessary for Self-realisation?

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Visitor: Is renunciation necessary for Self-realisation?

Bhagavan: Renunciation and realisation are the same. They are different aspects of the same state. Giving up the non-self is renunciation. Inhering in the Self is jnana or Self-realisation. One is the negative and the other the positive aspect of the same, single truth.

Bhakti, jnana, yoga — are different names for Self-realisation or mukti which is our real nature. These appear as the means first. They eventually are the goal.

So long as there is conscious effort required on our part to keep up bhakti, yoga, dhyana, etc., they are the means. When they go on without any effort on our part, we have attained the goal.

There is no realisation to be achieved. The real is ever as it is. What we have done is, we have realised the unreal, i.e., taken for real the unreal. We have to give up that.  That is all that is wanted.

Visitor: How has the unreal come? Can the unreal spring from the real?

Bhagavan: See if it has sprung. There is no such thing as the unreal, from another standpoint.

The Self alone exists. When you try to trace the ego, based on which alone the world and all exist, you find the ego does not exist at all and so also all this creation.

(The above excerpt is from Day by Day with Bhagavan, page 87)

Tom’s comments:

Here in the above passage we find three central facets of Bhagavan Ramana’s teachings.

1. Firstly the non-self must be given up or let go of. By non-self, it is meant everything that is perceived. This includes the entire mental realm of thoughts, feelings and imaginings as well as the so-called physical world of the body and objects – i.e all experiences. This is the way the term is used in classical advaita vedanta. By given up it is meant do not be attached, or let go of all appearances. Allow all to come and go in your being.

Initially this renunciation or letting go is something you do, a practice, or as he states above, ‘the means’. Eventually this becomes natural as the habitual tendency (vasana) to identify with the non-self is dissolved through the practice (sadhana). At this point, when the vasanas have been removed, this is realisation.

2. Secondly Bhagavan then reminds us that realisation is not something to be attained. Realisation is who we are, it is our very nature, it is always and already here, so why do we need to attain that which we already are? (We don’t!). We just have to give up the wrong ideation we have, namely the fixation on the non-self and taking ourself to be the body-mind. When we give up everything, the only thing we lose is our illusions, that which is false. That which is real, the Self, can never be lost, and it is ever-realised.

3. Thirdly, when Bhagavan is asked about how the unreal can come from the real, bhagavan states in reality the unreal never was. The self alone is. Here he briefly describes his teaching of self-enquiry, namely that when you try to find the ego, you cannot find it. He then, in very concise form, states that the appearance of the world is dependent upon the false belief in ego. When the ego cannot be found and has been seen to be non-existent, you also realise that the world too is non-existent, that the entire thing is an illusion. This too is realisation! This too is renunciation of non-self! This too is jnana, bhakti and yoga!

Of note, the first point I mentioned above dealing with removal of vasanas is the purification part of the teaching, in which we let go of non-self or ‘the world’ (including the mind and body) through spiritual sadhana (practice), at least initially. Points two and three refer to what I call the insight aspect of the teachings in which the unreal is seen to be false or non-existent. These two aspects of the teachings go together beautifully, with insight naturally leading to renunciation (letting go of non-self/abiding as self) and sadhana enhancing insight and abiding as self and removing the vasanas (habitual tendencies) towards ignorance (of self) and taking hold of non-self.

 

Does Karma really exist?

Robert Adams Advaita

The following is by Robert Adams:

Does Karma really exist? I know that you can say, “No it doesn’t.” But as long as you believe that you are a body and mind, as long as you feel the world to be real, you cannot fool yourself. Do not lie to yourself. If the world perturbs you, if people bother you, if things annoy you, if you are reacting to conditions this means that you believe you are a body going through these experiences. And as long as you are going through experiences you are in karma. You are experiencing the karma that put you here as a body. It is only  when you have realized the self that there is no karma.

Therefore do not go around telling people that there is no karma, it will give them license to do anything they like. Feeling there is no retribution, there is no effect for their deeds. This is not true as long as you believe you are a body. For there are laws of the universe that respond to your actions. Karma means action. And as long as you believe you are the actor you will have to experience the results of the karma.

So in this particular life you are experiencing the results of not only the karma of this experience but of previous lives. Previous lives also come into effect whenever you believe you are the body.

There are only two ways to destroy the karma.

One is to inquire, “To whom the karma comes? Who is experiencing this karma?”

And the other way is to surrender completely to God. Totally surrender your life to God. God is within you as you. You therefore surrender everything to the self. Thy will be done. You begin to see that as long as you have God to surrender to, you need not worry, you need not fear. Everything will be alright.

Spend less time on Facebook. Be still.

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This post was originally posted on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/tomdas.nd)

Spend less time on Facebook. More time in Stillness. Stillness means absense of the ego, or absense of the ‘I thought’. So be still.

Use the question ‘Who am I’ to induce recognition that there is no ‘I’ or ‘me’, and then rest there, inStillness. Be Still.

Everything you do that is not Being Still is reinforcing the ego. Everything. So Be Still.

Focus on your own sadhana (practice). No need to argue with others. No need to save others. Don’t post-pone your own realisation. Be with yourSelf. Be Still.

Let go of the ‘I thought’. Gently, and persistently, allow it to dissolve in You, Stillness. It is through stillness that genuine insights occur, not through clever words or poetry. And even these insights are to be let go of, for insights are just more illusion, more ego. So be Still.

Everything you see/feel/touch/think/sense – this is all part of the dream, the ignorance, the ego. It’s all the ego. How to realise this? Be Still.

Every moment you are not being still, you are perpetuating the ego. The ego is always evil. Even nice egos are evil – it’s just a matter of degree – even nice egos contain the seeds of partiality, distortion, destruction and suffering. So let go, allow the ego to dissolve, in Stillness. Be Still.

Being Still is not something you do or try to do. That is just more Ego. Being Still is not-trying, not-doing, no ‘I thought’. It is a letting go, a release and thus a return to peace, to Stillness.

The ego will often try to find a way, a reason, an excuse, not to be Still. It will favour teachings that prevent stillness, that say stillness is not necessary. Notice this, see how canny the devil is, and be with God. Be Still.

If the ego is already an illusion, then why the need to be still? Because, through the force of habit, ignorance/the ego constantly rises up, creating the world and attachment to it, and lasting peace does not dawn. Ignorance continues and the teachings remain largely mental/intellectual. The mischief (and suffering) continues.

How to remedy this?

Be Still

READ THIS AGAIN SLOWLY SEVERAL TIMES, ENSURING THE MESSAGE OF EACH PARAGRAPH IS PROPERLY UNDERSTOOD

Was Ramana Maharshi’s self-realistion final and complete when he was a teenager?

I recently got into an online conversation with someone about whether or not Ramana’s realisation when he was 16 years old (often written as being in his 17th year) was final, or if his realisation evolved and matured in the subsequent years in which he spent much time in silence.

I think I read an article, I think by David Godman, some years ago on this which from memory stated that Ramana was insistent that his realisation was final and complete when he was a boy, and that unusually no sadhana (spiritual practice) was required for him. I’ve tried to find the article and I think this is it:

http://sri-ramana-maharshi.blogspot.co.uk/2008/06/more-on-bhagavans-death-experience.html

Below are some quotes from it and the link to the article. I want to add that while I quite enjoy learning more about Bhagavan Ramana, in a way all of this discussion can be a detour from the essence of the teaching, so apologies if this kind of minutiae is not that interesting to you. Now, with that said, here are some quotes from the above mentioned article:

‘In answer to a question once put by D. S. Sarma, Bhagavan definitely said that in his case, there was no special sadhana, at any rate in this life, leading to Self-realisation, but that in his 17th year, while he was still a student at Madurai, enlightenment, jnana, came to him, suddenly, in the course of a few minutes, not as a result of laboured ratiocination but as a sudden flash of intuition, and that that jnana has remained with him ever since.’
(My Recollections, p. 135, by Devaraja Mudaliar)

Here Ramana says his vasanas (likes and dislikes) were removed as a teenager (removal of the vasanas implies a full enlightenment):

‘When I lay down with limbs outstretched and mentally enacted the death scene and realised that the body would be taken and cremated and yet I would live, some force, call it atmic power or anything else, rose within me and took possession of me. With that, I was reborn and I became a new man. I became indifferent to everything afterwards, having neither likes nor dislikes.’ (Day by Day with Bhagavan, 22nd November 1945)

From David Godman, who states his sadhana was over in that single ‘death experience’ when he was 16 years old:

‘When he [Ramana] went to Arunachala, it was not because he was spiritually incomplete in any way. His sadhana was over at the end of the death-experience.’

Some further quotes from Ramana Maharshi:

‘In the vision of death, though all the senses were benumbed, the aham sphurana (Self-awareness) was clearly evident, and so I realised that it was that awareness that we call “I”, and not the body. This Self-awareness never decays. It is unrelated to anything. It is Self-luminous. Even if this body is burnt, it will not be affected. Hence, I realised on that very day so clearly that that was “I”.’

(Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, 22nd November, 1945)

‘They say I gained realisation in twenty-eight minutes, or half an hour. How can they say that? It took just a moment. But why even a moment? Where is the question of time at all?’ I then asked Bhagavan if there was ever any change in his realisation after his experience in Madurai. He said ‘No. If there is a change, it is not realisation.’

As recorded by Balaram Reddy in My Reminiscences. p. 75

All praise to me!

Janaka ashtavakra
King Janaka receiving teachings from Sage Ashtavakra
From Chapter 2 of the Ashtavakra Gita, spoken by King Janaka after he has realised the Self:
11. Wonderful am I! Adoration to myself who know no decay and survive even
the destruction of the world, from Brahma down to a clump of grass.
12. Wonderful am I! Adoration to myself who, though with a body, am One,
who neither go anywhere nor come from anywhere but abide pervading the
universe.
13. Wonderful am I! Adoration to myself! There is none so capable as I, who am
bearing the universe for all eternity without touching it with the body.
14. Wonderful am I! Adoration to myself who have nothing or have all that is
thought and spoken of.

Robert Adams: a beautiful teaching

Robert_Adams

Robert Adams:

The point I’m trying to make is that the Sages understood that at this age the way to realization, the way to unfoldment, the way to liberation, the easiest way is through namah japa, the chanting of God’s name. This they say was the thing to do in this age. This is the meditation to do in this age. Namah japa, chanting of God’s name. As an example, “Sri Ram, Jai Ram, Jai Jai Ram.” This is what human beings were supposed to do in this age to awaken.

As the years went by people such as Buddha, Shankara, Jesus, some others, people that we know about like Sri Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj and others including myself came to conclusion that what is needed in this age is a combination of teachings.

Jnana Marga, the path of wisdom is the highest stage of all yogas. That combined with Bhakti Marga, the path of devotion and Karma Marga, the path of service. These are the stages, these are the principles that we have to learn and understand. Therefore what I do is teach those three methods together, combined.

When you teach Jnana Marga by itself as many so-called beings, gurus are doing today it becomes a bunch of rhetoric. It builds up the ego, it doesn’t destroy it. Jnana Marga by itself becomes cold and calculating. People start to feel as if they are superior to others. It is called also the talking school. Where people talk to each other debate issues about Jnana Marga. Get involved in heated discussions, debates, arguments and you get absolutely nowhere.

It is called also the talking school. Where people talk to each other debate issues about Jnana Marga. Get involved in heated discussions, debates, arguments and you get absolutely nowhere.

If you teach and you learn Bhakti Marga, the path of devotion by itself you can become a fool. Where you become devoted to all the statues and all the trees and become devoted to all the gurus and you have just blind devotion, without knowledge. So that is not sufficient.

When you practice Karma Bhakta, the path of service to humanity. You become the servant of other bodies. The servant of the people. Yet you become confused because you don’t really know who to help. You really don’t know to whom to give service to. There are so many poor people, homeless people, deprived people, whom shall you serve? And again you become confused.

But when you combine all of them together, Jnana Marga, Bhakti Marga and Karma Marga you have a beautiful teaching.

But when you combine all of them together, Jnana Marga, Bhakti Marga and Karma Marga you have a beautiful teaching.