Are You A Sanyassi?

This is an excerpt from my presentation of Bhagavad Gita, 18.7-10.

English: Sanyasi at Kathmandu

Arjuna: You mentioned three grades of renunciation. What are they?

Krishna: Out of confusion, those in darkness (tamas) give up responsibilities that should never be forsaken.

Passionate people (rajas) give up difficult and disturbing responsibilities that get in the way of their bodily comfort. This will never grant the fruit of true renunciation.

Those in clarity (sattva) carry out their responsibilities thinking, “This is my duty.” They renounce any connection to the rewards of these actions. They don’t detest unpleasant work, nor are they particularly attached to pleasant deeds. These intelligent people are free of all doubts and completely clear about renunciation.


Matter and Spirit

Krishna: What do you already know?

Arjuna: I know the dictionary meanings. The term prakṛti means “energy – the thing from which other things are created.” The term puruṣa means “person – the conscious being.” So, prakṛti is matter, and puruṣa is spirit.

Krishna: Good. Do you know anything else?

Arjuna: I think that matter is the field-of-activity, and spirit is the field-knower.

Krishna: Good. Then, what confuses you about them?

Arjuna: How and when do the two become related?


Krishna: You must understand that matter and spirit are both without chronological origins. Their relationship has no beginning.

Arjuna: How can matter be eternal? It is constantly being created and destroyed!

Krishna: Exactly. Matter has delimitations, and is therefore in an eternal state of change.

Arjuna: Spirit has no changes?


Krishna: Not directly. Not in the same way that matter does. We say that matter causes the mechanisms and substances of creation. By identifying with these fluctuating substances, spirit experiences a sensation of change. Therefore we say that spirit causes participation in emotions like pleasures and pains.

Arjuna: How do the two become linked together?


Krishna: Spirit becomes enmeshed in matter because it wants to enjoy the various things available in the field. That is why spirit embraces qualification and delimitation, and takes birth in matter through various wombs.

Wisdom: The Key to Spiritual Work

We shouldn’t be distracted by the many different forms sacrifice can take. We should focus on the essence of all forms of sacrifice: wisdom.

“The most important part of sacrifice is the wisdom with which it is done, not its external form. The whole point of the external form of a sacrifice is to inspire wisdom.” [4.33]

Now Arjuna would ask, “What is the best way to acquire wisdom?”

So Krishna explains…

“Comprehend wisdom by respecting wise people who see the truth. They will impart wisdom to you when you attentively inquire from all angles.” [34]

Arjuna wants to know, “What will I see when I gain wisdom from those who see the truth?”

So Krishna explains…

“When you get that wisdom, you will never again fall into confusion. You will see all the countless living beings within yourself, and yourself within me.” [35]

All living things are equal, for they are all rays of the energy of Krishna. This true wisdom allows us to see that all living things are just as important as our own self; and that all of us are important and significant due to our relationship with Krishna.

Arjuna doubts, “But what if I am very wicked, having killed so many people – can even I attain such spiritual vision?”

So Krishna explains…

“This wisdom is like a boat that will carry even the heaviest of the heinously wicked across the ocean of misery. The fire of this wisdom burns all karma to ash, just as a raging fire consumes dry wood. There is certainly nothing in this world as purifying as wisdom! Follow the yoga of sacrifice to its final end and you will eventually enjoy this wisdom within your own soul.” [36-38]

Arjuna will ask, “Who is qualified to follow this yoga to its perfection?”

So Krishna explains…

“Those who put their hearts into it attain true wisdom. Making it more important than anything else, they curtail all other endeavors.  When they attain wisdom, they very quickly attain the supreme peace.” [39]

Arjuna will ask, “What would disqualify me from attaining it?”

So Krishna explains…

“Fools who have no conviction in the value of this wisdom are ruined by their own doubts. Such confused souls find no happiness here or hereafter. But a person who cuts through the bondage of doubts with knowledge can follow to perfection this yoga of renouncing selfish action. Karma cannot bind him, Arjuna, for he is situated in his soul.” [40-41]

Before Arjuna can say or express anything else, Krishna tries to give him a rousing order:

“Therefore grasp the weapon of wisdom in your soul’s hands and slice through the doubts born of ignorance that have crowded your heart! On the strength of this yoga, arise and stand firm, Arjuna!” [42]

This brings the Fourth Chapter of Bhagavad Gītā to a close.

All Paths Lead to Krishna?

Continuing in the 4th Chapter of Bhagavad Gita…

“If you really understand that my birth and my deeds are spiritual, you will come to me and not take another birth when you leave your body.  Many people did so in the past: With their hearts enrapt in knowing me, they could tolerate desire, fear, and anger; so they became liberated and attained me.” [9-10]

Arjuna will want to know, “What about someone who tries to tolerate selfish desires but without any specific interest in you personally?”

So Krishna says…

“Every human walks on my path, and I give each one the reward that they come to me for.” [11]

Arjuna will say, “But it doesn’t seem that way. Many people seem to walk a path that doesn’t include you at all.”

So Krishna says…

“People who desire material success make various sacrifices. Through the gods I quickly grant worldly success to their endeavors. From me spring the four occupations, distinguished from one another on the basis of practical qualifications. I myself work within this system, even though I am the transcendental non-doer.” [12-13]

Everyone walks Krishna’s path, and Krishna grants the rewards of everyone’s efforts. But he is not personally involved in every neighborhood through which the innumerable branches of that path meander. He can be found personally only at the very apex and cynosure of all sub-paths.

The neighborhoods through which the byways wander are maintained by Krishna’s agents, the many gods (devas). The people walking the streets here are interested in selfish objectives, and are therefore unfit to interact directly with Śrī Krishna, the entity of supra-concentrated selfless divine love. Instead they interact with his various powers with varying degrees of awareness of the divinity in them.

The people on these sidewalks are of four divisions: a few are philosophical and intellectual (brāhmaṇa), some are ambitious rulers and enforcers (kṣatriya), many others work for wealth and resources (vaiṣya), while the main bulk simply work with modest survival as their goal (śūdra).

These terms may ring an unfriendly bell, for this is indeed the seed of the deplorable, debilitating “caste system.”  The clear and all-important difference between the original system and its ruined pre-modern farce, however, is that the original is based on practical qualifications (Gītā 4.13 explicitly says: “guṇa-karma-vibhāgaśa”) while the farce is based solely on birth (“janma-vibhāgaśa”). The caste system is therefore the ball and chain of a hereditary oligarchy, while the original “Catur-varna” system is a practical and natural social blueprint.

At this point, Arjuna posed a new argument, “If the social principles of the four occupations are inferior byways on the road that leads to you, let me give them up! Let me give up my duties as a warrior and go straight to the apex of all paths by directly meditating on your transcendental nature!”

To this Krishna replied, “Not everyone on these sidewalks is materialistic! I already told you that great spiritualists also walk these paths, for the sake of inspiring others with an appropriate example.”

To add emphasis, he continued, “I myself walk the path of a warrior and a king – even though you know that I am transcendental and uninterested in material things!”

This brings the conversation back into the flow of the main topic of this section of Bhagavad Gītā; but he exciting new theme briefly introduced here – the personality of Krishna and the possibility of attaining him – will return and be fully explored in chapters Seven through Twelve.

The True Identity of Krishna

The theme of the Gītā so far is, “Put philosophy into practice,” and “Don’t give up your responsibilities, perform them with wisdom, for the sake of personal evolution.” The central ingredient in these formulae is philosophy and wisdom. So now Krishna will begin explaining how to gain knowledge and become wise.

Chapter 4 begins…

All-Attractive Krishna said: “I explained this eternal wisdom of yoga to the sun-god, who passed it on to the original human being, who passed it on to his son.  Passed on like that from one person to the next, it gradually became known to many philosopher-kings, but in the process it also became distorted, degraded and eventually forgotten.   Today I will once again explain that ancient science anew, to you.”

Arjuna would ask, “Why me?!”  So Krishna says…

“I have chosen you because I can trust you, and you trust me. You are devoted to me, and you are my friend – therefore you can certainly comprehend the ultimate secrets.” [1-3]

To deeply comprehend any topic, we must deeply open our hearts and minds to it.  This is not possible without faith and devotion.  Therefore, Krishna says that trust and dedication are the foundation of knowledge.

Arjuna asked: “You were born fairly recently.  The sun-god was born very long ago.  How am I to understand that you were his teacher?” [4]

This very practical and realistic question shows that the humble faith and devotion of a good disciple does not equate to being gullible or mindless.

All-Attractive Krishna said: “I have passed through many births, and so have you Arjuna.  I am aware of all of them, but you are not.” [5]

Arjuna would ask, “Why can you remember, while I forget?” Krishna answers…

“I only seem to have a body. The truth is that I am never ‘born’ and never ‘age.’ I am the proprietor and master of everything. My ‘body’ is my own manifestation of the power within my own self.” [6]

We forget things because our memories are accessed via electronic pathways that deteriorate, and are not really under our control or ownership, being only temporarily on loan to us from Mother Nature.  Krishna never forgets because he is not in a similar situation: His form is a manifestation of himself, by himself, in himself.  Quite unlike the rest of us, there is no difference between the divine energy within Krishna and the divine energy that manifests his specific forms.  There is no difference between his ‘body’ and ‘soul.’  This directly contradicts a prevalent Hindu misconception that the divine energy within Krishna is important and the specific form of “Krishna” is not.

Now Arjuna will wonder, “Why do you take the trouble of manifesting yourself within this forgetful world?” So Krishna says…

“I manifest myself whenever the paths of morality become overgrown by the flourishing weeds of immorality.  Time after time I manifest to repave the moral paths by protecting those who still walk upon them, and destroying those who do not.” [7-8]