The Bhagavadgita Explained

by Swami Sivananda

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Book Code: ES15
Paperback: 112 pages
ISBN: 8170521203
Book Dimensions: 7.0 x 4.7 x 0.25 inches
Shipping Weight: 130 grams

Abandoning all duties, take refuge in Me alone;
I will liberate thee from all sins; grieve not. —Lord Krishna

Table of Contents

About This Book (Back Cover)  
Meditation on the Gita 5
Introduction 12
1 The Yoga of the Despondency of Arjuna 17
2 Sankhya Yoga 22
3 The Yoga of Action 28
4 The Yoga of the Division of Wisdom 34
5 The Yoga of Renunciation of Action 40
6 The Yoga of Meditation 44
7 The Yoga of Wisdom and Realisation 48
8 The Yoga of the Imperishable Brahman 53
9 The Yoga of the Kingly Science and the Kingly Secret 60
10 The Yoga of Divine Glories 64
11 The Yoga of the Vision of the Cosmic Form 69
12 The Yoga of Devotion 75
13 The Yoga of Distinction Between the Field and the Knower of the Field 79
14 The Yoga of the Division of the Three Gunas 87
15 The Yoga of the Supreme Spirit 91
16 The Yoga of the Division Between the Divine and the Demoniacal 95
17 The Yoga of the Division of the Threefold Faith 99
18 The Yoga of Liberation by Renunciation 103

About This Book

This book is a condensation of the entire position of theBhagavadgita gospel. The Bhagavadgita is a gospel for humanity of all times, as a general directive to spiritual development and realisation. It is particularly of value to the present-day world which is anxiety-ridden and tension-torn in almost every walk of life. The Bhagavadgita is the answer of the Infinite to the calls of the finite. It reflects solutions not only to the conditions of man on earth but of situations in the universe as a whole. TheBhagavadgita is a textbook not of any religion but of religion as such, the voice of the higher consciousness which unfolds itself into the Absolute. In this production are involved the efforts of Sri Swami Yogaswarupanandaji, Vice-President of the The Divine Life Society.

Meditation on the Gita

Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya

O Mother Gita, I meditate on Thee, because it was the Supreme Lord Himself who spiritually transmitted Thy teachings through His lotus-like lips to Arjuna in the midst of the battlefield of the Mahabharata War. I also meditate on the great Sage Vyasa, the supreme intellect, the author of the great scripture, the Mahabharata, which is also called the Panchama-Veda (the fifth Veda), for it contains the supreme wisdom to humanity. I prostrate myself before you, O noble Sage; due to your oneness with the cosmic intelligence, you were able to absorb the teachings of the Lord. The Mahabharata is like the oil in the lamp of the heart. You have lighted this lamp with the wisdom of the Gita and thus helped people to overcome their day-to-day problems and the darkness of ignorance. My salutations to you, O Sage, for you have beautifully narrated the variegated functions of the human mind by means of the different characters, who acted under the different circumstances in the great scripture, the Mahabharata, which is also called a ‘Yoga Sastra’, for, it teaches the individual the way to unite itself with the Universal. You have compared the Pandava side to the higher mind and the Kaurava side to the lower mind in the Mahabharata War.

In the river of the Mahabharata battle Bhishma and Drona form the two strong protective banks, difficult to cross over. These two were invincible warriors to whom Arjuna was terribly attached and this is what made him dejected and reluctant to perform his duty in the war. Likewise, O Sage, you have taught that attachment is a great obstacle in the spiritual path. King Jayadratha brought the death of Arjuna’s son, Abhimanyu, by unfair means and became the centre of a great fury in the war. So the waters of the river of Mahabharata War are compared to this evil king. Sakuni, the maternal uncle of Duryodhana and his brothers, who won the game of dice by fraudulent means, is compared to a huge blue water-lily lying on the surface of the river, tempting the eye and thus making one unwary of the dangers in the river. Shalya is like a powerful shark in the waters, hard to encounter. Kripacharya is the strong current of the river, for his valour spurred the forces constantly like a rushing current. Karna who was proud because he had mastery over the science of archery is like a high wave in the waters of the river, which rises up as if in pride and self-will. With a spirit of retaliation Asvatthama and Vikarna killed many in the Pandava army by unlawful means and so they are the crocodiles swallowing their victims in the river. Like a whirlpool (in the river of battle) directing all the flow of water to its motion, Duryodhana, because of greed for wealth, power and position, employed various treacherous ways to destroy the Pandavas. You have taught that desire for wealth, power and position ruins one’s life altogether. You have revealed to the world that only by constant remembrance of God and His glories and by the complete surrender of self to the Almighty as did the Pandava brothers to Lord Sri Krishna, people can overcome conflicts in their life and cross the ocean of Samsara, i.e., cycle of births and deaths. As the Pandava brothers crossed the river of the Mahabharata War with the help of Sri Krishna as their helmsman, bless me with a pure mind and intellect and enable me to pray and surrender myself to Lord Sri Krishna at all times, to cross beyond the darkness of ignorance to the Light of Immortality.

I prostrate myself before Thee, O Lord Krishna, son of Vasudeva and Devaki, the joy of the Gopis of Vrindavan. O Lord! just as men get their wishes fulfilled when they go under the shade of the celestial Parijata tree, Thou hast dispelled the miseries of the Pandavas and others who took shelter under Thy lotus-like feet and made them desireless and immortal.

I meditate on Thee, O Supreme Lord, in the form of the charioteer to Arjuna in the midst of two armies, holding the whip in one hand and imparting the divine wisdom to Arjuna with the symbol of knowledge (Jnana-mudra) in the other hand. In this symbol, the middle, ring and little fingers are held straight and close together. These represent the three modes of Nature (Prakriti); viz., Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. The index finger which represents the individual soul is bent towards the thumb, which represents the Supreme Brahman, and touches it. When the individual soul stands aloof from the three Gunas, it attains union with Brahman.

My salutations to Thee, Lord Krishna, the world teacher, the destroyer of evil and protector of righteous people. My prostrations to Thee, O Madhava, the source of supreme bliss; Thou alone canst make the dumb man eloquent and the cripple cross the mountains. With Thy Grace nothing is impossible.

O Lord, like a cowherd boy Thou hast milked the entire essence of wisdom from the cows of the Upanishads for the benefit of Arjuna, the calf, and for those with devoted and purified intellects.

O Lord, I surrender myself to Thee, who art worshipped by all the gods including Brahma, through the chanting of the Vedas, to invoke Thy Grace, and to receive their respective powers. The Yogins realise Thee when their mind gets absorbed in Thee through deep meditation. Thy real nature is not known either to the gods who live in heaven or to the demons in the nether regions, because Thou art the source of all. I offer my prostrations to Thee.

O Lord, Thou hast lived as a personal example and taught the technique to merge in Thee in the form of the Gita bestowed upon humanity. Kindly bless me with that sharp intellect through which to grasp Thy teachings and merge in Thee.

O Mother Gita! I meditate on Thee. Guide my intellect and mind to lead the Gita-way-of-life and to attain God-consciousness for ever and ever. OM.


Dhritarashtra and Pandu were brothers. Dhritarashtra married Gandhari, and Pandu married two wives, viz., Kunti and Madri. King Pandu was cursed for a sin, while hunting, due to which he was not permitted to unite with his wife. Kunti got a boon through her sincere service to a wise sage in her younger age and she begot three children, namely Yudhishthira, Bhima and Arjuna respectively, from Yama, Vayu and Indra. Madri had twins, Nakula and Sahadeva, through the celestial physicians called Asvini-Devatas. Dhritarashtra had one hundred and one children by his wife Gandhari. Pandu passed away and his sons, the Pandavas, were brought up by Dhritarashtra along with his sons known as Kauravas. The Pandavas and Kauravas grew up together, but due to the braveness and intelligence of the former, the Kauravas were unable to tolerate them. Hence, the Pandavas decided to live separately, sharing half of their kingdom.

The Pandavas’ pomp, wealth and glory displayed during the Rajasuya Yajna aroused deep jealousy and greed in the mind of Duryodhana, the chief of the Kauravas; who, with the cunning advice of his uncle Sakuni, invited Yudhishthira to a game of dice and fraudulently defeated him, whereby all his wealth and possessions, including Draupadi, were lost. Finally, it was settled that the Pandavas, including Draupadi, should repair to the forest for twelve years in exile, after which they had to live incognito for another year, untraced by the Kauravas. During this period the kingdom was to be ruled by Duryodhana.

Having successfully completed these thirteen years, facing many obstacles and dangers caused by the Kauravas, the Pandavas, as per the terms of the agreement, approached the Kauravas for their share of the kingdom. Duryodhana, however, flatly refused to give them even as much land as can be covered by the point of a needle. According to the advice of mother Kunti and by the inspiration of Lord Krishna, the Pandavas decided upon war and tried to establish their rightful claim on the kingdom by overcoming the Kauravas.

Duryodhana and Arjuna from the side of the Kauravas and Pandavas respectively were sent to Dvaraka to seek the help of the Yadava hero, Lord Krishna, in the battle. They both found Krishna resting on a couch in his palace, and Duryodhana went in and occupied a nice seat at the head of the couch, while Arjuna stood near the feet of the Lord. The moment Sri Krishna opened his eyes he naturally saw Arjuna and then he saw Duryodhana sitting on a chair, at the head of the couch. After enquiry of their welfare and the purpose of their visit, Sri Krishna, according to the prevailing custom, gave the first chance of choice to Arjuna because of his young age, and also because of his first vision on Arjuna. Krishna asked Arjuna to fulfil his desire in selection either of unarmed Krishna or his entire powerful army called Narayani Sena. Arjuna, who was a devotee of Sri Krishna, expressed his desire to have Krishna with him, neglecting the powerful Narayani Sena, even though Krishna had warned that he would remain a witness, bound by the vow of not participating in battle and not taking up arms. Duryodhana with great delight, thinking that Arjuna was foolish, expressed his desire for the powerful Narayani Sena to help his side in the battle, and returned to Hastinapura.

When Krishna asked Arjuna why he chose him, when he was not for taking up arms, Arjuna said, “O Lord! You have the power to destroy all the forces by a mere sight. Why, then, should I prefer that worthless army? I have for a long time been cherishing a desire in my heart that you should act as my charioteer. Kindly fulfil my desire in this war.” The Lord who is ever the most devoted lover of his devotees accepted this request with pleasure and thus Krishna became the charioteer of Arjuna in the battle of the Mahabharata.

After the return of Duryodhana and Arjuna from Dvaraka, Lord Krishna himself went once to Hastinapura as the emissary of the Pandavas and tried to prevent the war. But then, under the guidance of Sakuni, the egoistic Duryodhana refused to agree to the peace mission and tried to imprison Lord Krishna, at which Krishna showed his Supreme Form (visvarupa). Even the blind Dhritarashtra saw it by the Lord’s Grace. The blind King Dhritarashtra, due to his attachment to his sons, failed to control them, and the Kaurava chief, Duryodhana, with vain hope, decided to meet the powerful Pandavas in the war.

When both sides were prepared to commence the battle, the sage Vedavyasa approached blind Dhritarashtra and said, ‘If you wish to see this terrible carnage with your own eyes, I can give you a gift of vision.’ The Kaurava King replied, O chief of Brahmarshis! I have no desire to see with my own eyes this slaughter of my family, but I should like to hear all the details of the battle.’ Then the sage conferred the gift of divine vision on Sanjaya (Dhritarashtra’s trusted counsellor) and told the king, “Sanjaya will describe to you all the incidents of the war. Whatever happens in the course of the war, he will directly see, hear or otherwise come to know. Whether an incident takes place before his eyes or behind his back during the day or night, privately or in public, and whether it is reduced to actual action or appears only in thought, it will not remain hidden from his view. He will come to know everything, exactly as it happens. Neither weapon will touch his body nor will he feel tiresome. Finally, the victory will be for righteousness.”

After the ten days of continued war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, when the great warrior Bhishma was thrown down from his chariot by Arjuna, Sanjaya announces the news to Dhritarashtra. The blind king, in agony, asks Sanjaya to narrate the full details of the previous ten days’ war, from the very beginning, in all detail, as it happened. Here commences the Bhagavadgita.


Dhritarashtra asks Sanjaya with an ego-conscious mind, blinded with selfishness and eagerness, what his people and the sons of Pandu assembled together in Dharmakshetra Kurukshetra, eager for battle, do. The land is called Dharmakshetra, because the field where they assembled for battle is the place where celestials like Agni, Indra and Brahma performed their austerities. It is also called Kurukshetra, where King Kuru, the ancestor of the Kauravas, also performed severe austerities. It was observed that whoever leaves his life in this land during a righteous war will go to heaven, and so it was selected for the purpose of the battle. Then Sanjaya says: Duryodhana, the ruling king of the Kauravas, saw the Pandavas’ army, which, though small in number when compared to that of the Kauravas, was arranged in such a way that it seemed bigger. Duryodhana, moving proudly towards his teacher, Drona’s side, controlling his inner fearful attitude, as he had to fight with the righteous Pandavas, excited the great leader into a revengeful attitude by reminding him of his past enmity with Drupada, whose son was leading the Pandava army. He also mentions this to encourage Drona, because he knows the powerful strength of Krishna, Arjuna, Bhima, etc., and of other powerful warriors on the side of the Pandavas. He knew that he was on the wrong side (Adharma) and in order to encourage his army-chief, Bhishma, ordered all others to protect him from all sides.

The family-chief as well as army-chief Bhishma blows his conch as a sign to commence the war and all others follow him and produce tremendous sounds by conches, kettledrums, tabors and cow-horns from the Kaurava side. Then, from the side of the Pandavas the Lord Krishna and Arjuna seated on a big, well-decorated chariot (with a Hanuman flag on top, from which Hanuman, son of Vayu, promised help), yoked with white horses, symbolising purity in all respects, and the other Pandavas blew their celestial and powerful conches as a challenging reply to the Kauravas, with which the sky and earth produced echoes and terrified the hearts of the Kaurava army as a whole.

On seeing the sons of Dhritarashtra arrayed for battle, Arjuna requests Sri Krishna to place his chariot between the two armies, in order to see the warriors. Krishna places the chariot where Bhishma, Drona and other great warriors were standing. On seeing his teachers, kith and kin, the evil of war explained by Vidura came to his memory. Sakuni thought of a cunning plan to discourage the hearts of the Pandavas and asked Vidura (who was very sincere and respectful to the Pandavas) to go to the good brothers and point out the undesirable results of the war, such as accumulation of sins in killing their own teachers and relatives, all the women of the country losing their husbands, due to which unrighteousness will dominate the land, loss of the country’s wealth and property, killing of harmless animals like elephants, horses, etc. Due to this advice, Arjuna refuses to fight, stricken with grief.

Arjuna, instead of speaking about his desire to rule the kingdom without killing his own teachers and relatives, tells Krishna, forgetting his own royal duty, about the disability of his body to hold even the gandiva bow, and other bad omens foreboding failure in the battle. In fear of killing his own teachers, with anxiety, unconscious of the power of Krishna, Arjuna talks like a wise man, about the evil consequences of war, and says that he wants neither pleasure after killing his own relatives and Gurus nor even the three worlds to rule as a result of war. He concludes that even if, by attachment, the Kauravas are to kill him, it would be better than the enjoyment of kingdom after the death of all relatives. With delusion and grief, forgetting the Omniscient power of Krishna, he argues that due to destruction of family the immemorial religious rites will perish, the women in families will become corrupt, with which confusion of castes that follows will lead to hell the slayers of the families. Arjuna decides that it would be desirable that the Kauravas kill him in the battle while he is standing unarmed and unresisting. Thus, having expressed his inability, laden with sorrow, Arjuna sat on the chariot, casting down his bow and arrows.

This chapter teaches humanity that:

When the mind is blinded with affection and selfishness, as with Dhritarashtra, man will never bother about the welfare of others in the nation, which in result would ruin his own kith and kin as well as the whole nation.

When the mind is clouded with pride, jealousy, greed, crookedness, ego, desire for fame, name and power, as with Duryodhana, man will not hesitate to destroy his own friends and relatives as well as the nation, which in the end results in his own destruction. When man fails to do his own duty due to attachment and desire, like Arjuna, he cannot utilise his own strength and courage, or feel the presence of God, even though the God is seated before him and ready to help him as Krishna.

When man is sincere, devoted to God, faithful to his master, desireless, and treats friends and foes alike, like Sanjaya, he will have peace of mind, and see the cosmic form of the Almighty.

This chapter explains that duality is the root cause of the suffering of humanity. All the suffering of Arjuna explained above is the result of a dualistic character in his personality, viz., disharmony between his mind and heart, thought and feeling. The mind of Arjuna insists on performing the duty as a Kshatriya, to destroy the unrighteous enemy. The heart craves for love and wants to protect the relatives and preceptors from destruction. This internal disharmony created an imbalance between his physical, mental, intellectual, moral and spiritual levels.

Thus ends the First Chapter entitled ‘The Yoga of the Despondency of Arjuna’.

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