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Bhagavad Gita

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Hindu texts


Bhagavad Gita (Sanskrit/Hindi भगवद् गीता, in transliteration: Bhagavad Gītā), is part of the epic poem Mahabharata, located in the Bhishma-Parva chapters 2340. A core sacred text of Hinduism and philosophy, the Bhagavad Gita, often referred to as the Gita, is a summation of the Vedic, Yogic, Vedantic and Tantric philosophies. The Bhagavad Gita, meaning "song of the Lord", refers to itself as an 'Upanishad' and is sometimes called Gītopanişad. During the message of Gita, Lord Krishna proclaims that he is God Himself (a Bhagavat, or all-embracing personal god). In order to make Arjuna believe this, he shows Arjuna his divine form which is described as timeless and leaves Arjuna shaking with awe and fear.

It is not exactly clear when the Bhagavad Gita was written. Astronomical evidence cited(Two Eclipses in Thirteen Days) in the Mahabharata itself put the date at 3137 BCE, the Puranas suggest a date of about 1924 BCE. Scholarly estimates place it in the latter half of the 1st millennium BC (roughly 4th century BC), together with the older Upanishads.


1 Bhagavad Gita in General
2 Bhagavad Gita as a Yoga Scripture
2.1 On The Goal Of Yoga
2.2 On Bhakti Yoga
2.3 On Karma Yoga
2.4 On Nishkam Karma Yoga
2.5 On Jnana Yoga
2.6 On Raja Yoga
3 Overview
4 See also
5 References
6 External links: the text and translations
6.1 English translations and commentaries
6.1.1 Audio
6.1.2 Pictures and selected verses
6.1.3 Selections
6.1.4 Eknath Easwaran's poetic translation
6.1.5 Miscellaneous
6.2 Gujarati

Bhagavad Gita in General

Lord Krishna to Arjuna: Behold My mystic opulence! Artwork  courtesy of The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust

Lord Krishna to Arjuna: Behold My mystic opulence!
Artwork courtesy of The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust

The discourse on the Bhagavad Gita begins before the start of the climactic battle at kurukshetra. It begins with the kshatriya prince Arjuna as he becomes filled with doubt on the battlefield. Realising who his enemies are; relatives, beloved friends, and revered teachers, he turns to his charioteer, Sri Krishna, an avatar of Sri Vishnu for advice.

Krishna counsels Arjuna, beginning with the tenet that since souls are immortal, their deaths on the battlefield are just the shedding of the body, which is not the soul. Krishna goes on to expound on the yogic paths of devotion, action, meditation and knowledge. Fundamentally, the Bhagavad Gita proposes that true enlightenment comes from growing beyond identification with the ego, the little self, and that one must identify with the truth of the immortal Self, the soul or Atman, the ultimate divine consciousness. Through detaching from the personal ego, the yogi, or follower of a particular path of yoga, is able to transcend his mortality and attachment for the material world and see the infinite.

To demonstrate the infinity of the unknowable Brahman, Krishna gives Arjuna a glimpse of cosmic sight and allows the prince to see Him in all his divine glory. He reveals that He is fundamentally both the ultimate essence of being in the universe and also its material body. This is called the Vishvarupa/Viratrupa.

Among thosewho have drawn inspiration from the Bhagavad Gita is Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who initiated public singing of the "Hare Krishna" mantra.

American physicist and director of the Manhattan Project J. Robert Oppenheimer, upon witnessing the world's first atomic blast in 1945, is reported to have misquoted "I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds," from the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 11, Verse 32.

The dynamic Swami Vivekananda, the follower of Sri Ramakrishna known for his seminal commentaries on the four yogas, Bhakti, Jnana, Karma and Raja Yoga, also drew from his knowledge of the Gita to expound on them. Swami Sivananda advises the aspiring yogi to read verses from the Bhagavad Gita every day. Paramahamsa Yogananda, writer of the famous "Autobiography of a Yogi," viewed the Bhagavad Gita as one of the world's most divine scriptures, along with the Four Gospels of Jesus.

Bhagavad Gita as a Yoga Scripture

The Gita describes the best yogi as one who constantly thinks of God. The Gita addresses the discord between the senses and the intuition of cosmic unity. It speaks of the yoga of equanimity, a detached outlook. The term yoga covers a wide range of meanings, but in the context of the Bhagavad Gita it describes a unified outlook, serenity of mind, skill in action, and the ability to stay attuned to the glory of the Self (Atma), which is of the same essence as the basis of being (Brahman). According to Krishna, the root of all suffering and discord is the agitation of the mind caused by desire. The only way to douse the flame of desire is by stilling the mind through discipline of the senses and the intellect.

However, abstinence from action is regarded as being just as detrimental as extreme indulgence. According to the Bhagavad Gita, the goal of life is to free the mind and intellect from their complexities and to focus them on the glory of the Self by dedicating one's actions to the divine. This goal can be achieved through the yogas of meditation, action, devotion and knowledge.

Krishna summarizes the Yogas through eighteen chapters. There are four kinds of Yoga: Raja Yoga or psycho-physical meditation, Bhakti Yoga or devotion, Karma Yoga or selfless action, and Jnana (pronounced gyaan) Yoga or self-transcending knowledge. Other forms that exist today sprang up long after the Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras and are all essentially forms of Raja Yoga.

While each path differs, their fundamental goal is the same: to realize Brahman (the Divine Essence) as being the only truth, that the body is temporal, and that the Supreme Soul (Paramatman) is infinite. Yoga's aim (nirvana, moksha) is to escape from the cycle of reincarnation through realization of oneness with the ultimate reality. There are three stages to self-realisation enunciated from the Bhagavad Gita:

1. Brahman - The impersonal universal energy

2. Paramatma - The Supreme Soul sitting in the heart of every living entity.

3. Bhagavan - God as a personality, with a transcendental form.

Here are some quotations from Lord Krishna that make up history's first real yoga text and give comprehensive definitions of the four principle yogas:

On The Goal Of Yoga

"When the mind comes to rest, restrained by the practice of yoga, and when beholding the Self, by the self, he is content in the Self." (B.G., Chapter 6, Verse 20) | " He who finds his happiness within, his delight within, and his light within, this yogi attains the bliss of Brahman, becoming Brahman."

On Bhakti Yoga

Bhakti Yoga is simply service in love and devotion to God (Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita). The teaching of Bhakti thus bears some resemblance to finding salvation in Christ through love.

"I consider the yogi-devotee - who lovingly contemplates on Me with supreme faith, and whose mind is ever absorbed in Me - to be the best of all the yogis." (B.G., Chapter 6, Verse 47) "After attaining Me, the great souls do not incur rebirth in this miserable transitory world, because they have attained the highest perfection." (B.G., Chapter 8, Verse 15) "... those who, renouncing all actions in Me, and regarding Me as the Supreme, worship Me... For those whose thoughts have entered into Me, I am soon the deliverer from the ocean of death and transmigration, Arjuna. Keep your mind on Me alone, your intellect on Me. Thus you shall dwell in Me hereafter." (B.G., Chapter 12, Verses 6-8) "And he who serves Me with the yoga of unswerving devotion, transcending these qualities [binary opposites, like good and evil, pain and pleasure] is ready for liberation in Brahman." (B.G. Chapter 14, Verse 26) "Fix your mind on Me, be devoted to Me, offer service to Me, bow down to Me, and you shall certainly reach Me. I promise you because you are My very dear friend." (B.G., Chapter 18, Verse 65) "Setting aside all meritorious deeds (Dharma), just surrender completely to My will (with firm faith and loving contemplation). I shall liberate you from all sins. Do not grieve." (B.G., Chapter 18, Verse 66)

On Karma Yoga

Karma Yoga is essentially acting, or doing one's duties in life as per his/her dharma or duty, without desire or expectation of reward - a sort of constant sacrifice of action to the Supreme. It is action done without thought of gain. In a more modern interpretation, it can be viewed as duty bound deeds done without letting the type of result affect your action. It is said that the results can be of 3 types, a. as aimed for, b. opposite of what is aimed for and c. a mixture of these. If one can perform his duties (as prescribed in the Vedas) without any anticipation of the result of his actions, he is bound to succeed. It includes, but is not limited to, dedication of one's chosen profession and its perfection to God. It is also visible in community and social service, since they are inherently done without thought of personal gain.

Example: If one is playing tennis on the tennis court his duty is to play as well as he can. If he is a Karma Yogi, the loss of a few points will not hamper his enthusiasm and energy for the rest of the game, but if he is not then he will start getting tense, nervous, self-conscious, etc. and is then bound to make mistakes and lose anyway. This is a simple example of Karma Yoga for a layman.

"With the body, with the mind, with the intellect, even merely with the senses, the yogins perform action toward self-purification, having abandoned attachment. He who is disciplined in yoga, having abandoned the fruit of action, attains steady peace..." (B.G. Chapter 5, Verses 11-12)

On Nishkam Karma Yoga

Lord Krishna advocates Nishkam Karma Yoga as the Yoga of selfless action, as the ideal path to realize the truth. Allocated work done without expectations, motives, or thinking about its outcomes tends to purify one's mind and gradually makes an individual fit to see the value of reason and the benefits of renouncing the work itself. In order to achieve true liberation it is important to control all mental desires and tendencies to enjoy and sense pleasures.

On Jnana Yoga

Jnana Yoga is a process of learning to discriminate between what is real and what is not, what is eternal and what is not eternal. Through a steady advancement in realization of the real and the unreal, what is eternal and temporal, one develops into a Jnana Yogin. This is essentially a path to God through knowledge and discrimination, and has been described as being the "shortest, and steepest" path to God: the most difficult one.

"When he perceives the various states of being as resting in the One, and from That alone spreading out, then he attains Brahman. / They who know, through the eye of knowledge, the distinction between the field and the knower of the field, as well as the liberation of beings from material nature, go to the Supreme." (B.G. Chapter 13, Verses 31-35).

On Raja Yoga

Raja Yoga is, in general, stilling of the mind and body through meditating techniques, geared at realizing one's true nature. This practice was later described by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras.

" Establishing a firm seat for himself in a clean place... having directed his mind to a single object, with his thought and the activity of the senses controlled, he should practice yoga for the purpose of self-realization. Holding the body, head and neck erect, motionless and steady, gazing at the tip of his own nose and not looking in any direction, with quieted mind, banishing fear, established in the brahmacharin vow of celibacy, controlling the mind, with thoughts fixed on Me, he should sit, concentrated, devoted to Me. Thus, continually disciplining himself, the yogin whose mind is subdued goes to nirvana, to supreme peace, to union with Me." (B.G., Chapter 6, Verses 11-15)


In many ways seemingly a heterogeneous text, the Gita is a reconciliation of many facets and schools of Hindu philosophy of both Brahmanical (i.e., orthodox, Vedic) origin and the parallel ascetic, yogic tradition. It comprises primarily Vedic (as in the four Vedas, as opposed to the Upanishads/Vedanta), Upanishadic, Samkhya and Yoga philosophy. It has stood the test of time, bringing together all four thought systems by taking their largely cohesive, common ideologies and backgrounds into the powerful Sanskrit verse of one text.

It had always been a creative text for Hindu priests and yogis in India. Although not strictly part of the 'canon' of Vedic writings, almost all Hindu sects draw upon the Gita as authoritative. Some claim that it may have been inserted into the Mahabharata at a later date, but this is only natural as it sounds more like an Upanishad (which are commentaries that followed the Vedas) in thought than a Purana (histories), of which tradition the Mahabharata is a part, which are quite absurd.

For its religious depth, quintessential Upanishadic and Yogic philosophy and beauty of verse, the Bhagavad Gita is one of the most compelling and important texts to come out of the Hindu tradition. Indeed, it stands tall among the world's greatest religious and spiritual scriptures.

See also

English translations and commentaries