The Path in Brief

Shankara on the Teacher/Pupil relationship, Bhagavad Gita verses IV. 34-39 Shankara’s text-frames and summarizing comments. The Gita, like many other divinely-inspired texts, gives its teachings in groups of verses, which have to be read together as a unity. Then another subject may be taken up abruptly, not closely related to the first one. If a reader tries to force the two groups into a sequence, he gets bewildered. To prevent that, Shankara carefully provides a frame for each group, as indeed does the Gita itself at the most important points. The top of the frame is often a question: `What is to be said about this and this?’ and the bottom can be: `Thus the conclusion is…’ Within the frame the verses of the passage have been considered in relation to each other, to the Gita as a whole, and to the Upanishadic and traditional background. In key places Shankara …

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Arjuna’s Choice

In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna is a warrior general who is about to give the signal for the beginning of a great battle. The forces of justice, of which side he is one of the main supports, are against forces of oppression who are nevertheless assisted by some great and noble men, bound by their vowed loyalty to the King. When they took the oath of loyalty the king had been a virtuous man, but his tyrannical son had effective control so these loyal men still felt bound by their pledge. So Dharmas, the right courses of conduct, can conflict. Arjuna has committed himself to this battle and others have come in reliance on his promise. Suddenly, when he looks at the opposing sides, sees how many of his friends, revered seniors and teachers are among those who will almost certainly be killed, he loses his resolution. He suddenly thinks, …

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Sanga or association

In its second chapter, near the beginning of the classic, the Gita gives a definition of yoga in terms of samadhi, the peak of yoga-in-meditation: When your higher mind (buddhi), Turning away from the jungle of words, Will stand motionless in samadhi, Then you will have attained yoga (II.53) Those who are beginning to have a sense of restriction in the body-mind complex, usually begin their search for expansion by reading and listening. The books or talks stimulate an impulse to transcendence, and a feeling that it is possible. The scent of freedom can seem a sort of freedom itself, and some remain satisfied for a time. They read avidly the writings of mystics and seers, and ponder all the significant things they said. But it begins to wear thin. There are differences: so many things are declared to be ‘the one thing that matters’. Some people become embittered at …

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Evenness in Success and No-success

Success, in this and most other such passages in the Gita, means actualization of the aimed-at ultimate results of an action. It does not mean the action itself. The Gita says: ‘Do the action, but be even-minded in success or no-success.’ This never means to do the action carelessly. To be careless about it is not doing it; it is only half-doing it. A watcher who takes naps is not in fact a watcher. Associations of success and no-success from actions are singled out in this line of the Gita, because though passing, they are often intense. They can involve intensely personal emotions like greed, pride, and fear. Such associations anticipate or actually blur the clarity of action. Sankara extends the principle to hoped-for purification of mind from a virtuous action. This yoga is not an emotional state of ‘I have done well’ or ‘May the Lord be pleased’. Such states often have …

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Karma Yoga – Shankara’s Bhagavad Gita Commentary

The first time that Karma Yoga is mentioned in the Gita is not till II.39, which says: ‘You have heard the wisdom concerning Sankhya: now hear about the method of Karma or action yoga. The wisdom concerning Sankhya here in the Gita meant the wisdom of the Supreme Self, attributeless and unchanging action of the Supreme Self, this which is being taught to thee is wisdom is wisdom concerning Sankhya. Now listen to wisdom concerning Yoga which possessing thou wilt cast off the bond of action. This is the first time Karma Yoga is mentioned in the Gita and Shankara as a commentator, the first time a term is mentioned, he gives a definition of it and the reader is expected to remember the definition afterwards. His definition is that it consists of three elements: the endurance of the opposites – and the examples given are heat and cold, pleasure …

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Morality and The Bhagavad Gita

The Gita is a book of Yoga practice, but there has to be a basis, a basic knowledge of the philosophy of the Gita – not elaborate – but definite and clear. Someone who practises without studying the traditional philosophy ends up not simply practising without a philosophy, but practicing by inventing a philosophy and that invention is often very harmful. The situation of Arjuna is well known, he is a General who is to give the signal for a battle to begin, a battle that he has been looking forward to fighting, though it is unsought. The text and our own teacher make it clear that every effort at mediation has been made, but fails because the tyrannical ruler on the other side refuses to make even the slightest concession. Arjuna has been looking forward to the battle but, when he has to give the signal for it to …

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Overseer and approver

Overseer and approver, supporter, experiencer, Great Lord, Highest self – so is he called, That dweller in the city of this body. Bhagavad Gita, XIII.22 This verse contains two riddles, one individual and one cosmic. The individual riddle is posed by the final words: ‘dweller in the city of this body’; the cosmic riddle is in the words ‘Great Lord’, which as Shankara says refer to the universe. Surprisingly perhaps, the tradition of yoga is to take the cosmic one first, and then the individual. The cosmic riddle is that the created universe has been taught as a projection from a divine intelligence, who has also entered into it and controls it from within as well as from without. His existence is said to be traceable in the workings of nature and in the human heart. The individual riddle is that this omnipotent creator-Lord is somehow locked up in individual …

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Reflected Sun in Shankara’s Bhagavad Gita commentary

The verse references are to the commentary on chapter XIII of the Bhagavad  Gita unless otherwise stated. Sankara several times compares the Jiva or individual life to the reflection of the sun in water. He gives the example of water pots where there seem to be many suns. The individual soul is given life by the reflection, so to say, of the sun of Brahman in the Buddhi. In verse 1 he calls this reflection the Knower of the Field and also the inmost self, pratyag-atman. It is clear that this pratyag-atman inmost self is to be regarded as in the body-mind complex, as is specifically stated by him (15), “within the envelope of the skin”. The Field-Knower lightens up (30) everything in the field (5,6) which includes love and hate and all the other mental and physical dispositions. Sankara states clearly (VIII.3) that the supreme Self, Brahman, is first …

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Don’t use the priceless methods of spiritual training in order to gain some petty worldly advantage

Dr Shastri used to quote verse 40 of Chapter II of the Gita. “Even a little of this Dharma relieves from anxiety”. Here the word dharma refers to the practice of karma yoga and the word translated here as anxiety is bhaya, fear.   But he said that little bits of yoga must not be practised merely for some worldly gain.   One example he gave was of a man who used to use the rosary while lying in bed.   He seemed a pious person but when he was asked ‘why do it in such an unusual position, why not sitting up like everyone else does?’ he answered, ‘I have found it helps me to get to sleep.’   This is misusing a yoga technique for a purely personal benefit. There is a Chinese proverb. When the crows come down to pick up the seed you throw stones at them, and this is …

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A string of pearls, is an image used in the Bhagavad Gita

A string of jewels, a string of pearls, is an image used in the Gita. The fact is that if pearls individually and scattered all over the place in dusty corners, have no beauty.    They are of no ornamental value, and of little other value.  But when they are brought together in a string they make a most beautiful necklace. They can be strung together in various ways.  If you see black pearls they are very valuable especially the big ones, but they look horrible. They look like ordinary pearls rinsed in ink, but they are very valuable.  Sometimes the necklace has a big black pearl and two or three ordinary pearls and another black pearl, sometimes all the black pearls are put together and are arranged in gradation of size.  There are many such ways of arranging them on a string to make a necklace. In the same way, …

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Four short pieces on the sun/moon reflected in the water

1. The merchant quoted the illustration of the sun in the water and said that he had used it to develop the Way of the Merchant There is a story that illustrates several of the points. A high official in a traditional Indian State government came to know a merchant, and was impressed by his character. He said to him: “When we have big changes in the government it is an anxious time for everyone. If things go one way some will be promoted and others disgraced; but if they go the other way it will be the reverse. It does not depend on simply whether one has done a good job or not because luck can play a big part. We all get harassed at these times of crisis. But I have watched you in similar situations in your line – when markets were going up and down and …

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How to know exactly what the Bhagavad Gita text says

The Gita is a book of practical mystical instruction. Though there are descriptions of the world-scheme, it is not an argued metaphysical treatise. The text is in beautiful but simple Sanskrit verse, easy to memorize, and arousing devotion, energy, intuition, and finally peace, in the memorizer. To know exactly what the Gita text says, read the 1913 ‘The Bhagavad Gita’ by Franklin Edgerton, a great scholar who made a special study of this text. He set himself (for the sake of students of Sanskrit) to follow the exact pattern of the original verses, so that each line of the English corresponds to that line of the Sanskrit. In spite of some oddities of English construction, the translation still reads reasonably. In its own terms, it is a masterpiece. Students are recommended to get the 1972 paperback edition (which omits the Sanskrit). Readers should note that he translated the then little-known …

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The mystical tradition and the intellectual tradition

The Bhagavad Gita (Song of the Lord) is an ancient Indian mystical poem, declaring that the world-process is a divine trick-of-illusion, into which the Lord himself has entered as the inner light of consciousness seemingly held fast in each individual self. He has set himself the problem of struggling free into his universal nature. The Gita is a revelation from the Lord-in-freedom to the Lords-in-bondage, expounding the truth, and giving the practices for returning to freedom. The earliest surviving texts are the Upanishad-s, some of them pre-600 BC. They declare the divine origin of the world, its illusory character, the divine manifestation in every element of it, the apparent bondage of the soul, and the methods for attaining freedom. These last are mainly independence of entanglements, search for the divine, leading to profound meditation, then transcendence of the mind in God-realization, culminating in freedom. The Upanishadic sages were experts in …

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Shri Shankara’s commentary on the Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gītā (Song of the Lord) is an ancient Indian mystical poem, declaring that the world-process is a divine trick-of-illusion, into which the Lord himself has entered as the inner light of consciousness seemingly held fast in each individual self. He has set himself the problem of struggling free into his universal nature. The Gītā is a revelation from the Lord-in-freedom to the Lords-in-bondage, expounding the truth, and giving the practices for returning to freedom. The earliest surviving texts are the Upaniṣad-s, some of them pre-600 BC. They declare the divine origin of the world, its illusory character, the divine manifestation in every element of it, the apparent bondage of the soul, and the methods for attaining freedom. These last are mainly independence of entanglements, search for the divine, leading to profound meditation, then transcendence of the mind in God-realization, culminating in freedom. The Upaniṣadic sages were experts in …

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The Bhagavad Gita is a book of practical mystical instruction

The Gītā is a book of practical mystical instruction. Though there are descriptions of the world-scheme, it is not an argued metaphysical treatise. The text is in beautiful but simple Sanskrit verse, easy to memorize, and arousing devotion, energy, intuition, and finally peace in the memorizer. To know exactly what the Gītā text says, read the 1913 Harvard University Press The Bhagavad Gita by Franklin Edgerton, a great scholar who made a special study of this text. He set himself (for the sake of students of Sanskrit) to follow the exact pattern of the original verses, so that each line of the English corresponds to that line of the Sanskrit. In spite of some oddities of English construction, the translation still reads reasonably: in its own terms, it is a masterpiece. Students of the present book are recommended to get the 1972 paperback edition (which omits the Sanskrit). Readers should …

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