Bhagavad Gita consists of seven hundred verses.
Out of these, a massive 574 have been uttered by
Krishna himself, giving us an unparalleled insight
into the true nature of divinity. The title of the
poem too suggests this, meaning the song (Gita)
of God (Bhagavat).
For example, at one point Krishna
'Amongst the great sages (maharishis)
I am present as Bhrigu.' (10.25)
Now this sage named Bhrigu has
an interesting history. Once, in order to test Vishnu's
greatness, he charged up to the latter's abode and
found him resting (as usual), on the coils of a
venomous snake, with his wife Lakshmi lovingly massaging
Incensed that the Lord did not
get up to welcome him, the saint mounted the serpent
and planted a strong kick on Vishnu's chest. Bhrigu's
temerity in doing so is however eclipsed by Vishnu's
own reaction: He immediately got up and softly rubbed
the aggressor's heels, saying: "O dear sir,
my chest is hard and your legs soft. I hope I did
not hurt you. I am blessed to have been so honored
by your lotus feet whose imprint will always remain
on my body." To this day, Vishnu carries on
his chest this mark, known in popular parlance as
the Shrivatsa. (Bhagavata Purana 10.89)
It is well established that Krishna
is an incarnation of Vishnu; in fact, in many instances,
they are indistinguishable. As for Bhrigu, he is
venerated in ancient texts as a guru who exposes
his disciples to torment and suffering, making them
resilient and amenable to the inevitable ups and
downs of life.
Thus does God inspire us to maintain
equanimity in the face of adversity, saying:
"The calm man is completely
composed in heat and cold, pleasure and pain, honor
and dishonor." (6.7)
"One who deals equally with
friend and foe, who is free from attachment, he
who takes praise and reproach alike, is silent and
content with his lot (santushta), without a sense
of ownership (for his house etc), and of a steady
mind, such a devotee (bhaktiman) is dear to Me."
"He who regards a clod of
earth, a stone and gold as being of equal worth,
is wise and views censure and praise as alike.."
Why does Krishna have to subject
himself to this apparent insult? To set an example,
"Whatever the best one does,
that others also do. Whatever standards he sets,
the world follows. For me, in all the three worlds,
there is nothing that I lack. Yet I am ever engaged
in action (karma). For if I did not continue to
work with alertness, humans would in every way follow
my example. If I did not perform karma, these worlds
would be ruined.." (3.21-24)
Here it needs to be observed
that in the above narrative, God is both the tormentor
(Bhrigu) and the tormented (Vishnu).
Krishna's autobiographical intent
is not restricted to a specific humiliating circumstance.
His wish is to encompass the entire spectrum of
"Among the Rudras, I am
Shankara is a synonym for Shiva,
who is the God of destruction in the Hindu pantheon.
Rudras are the class of deities responsible for
making humanity grieve (rud: weep). Shankara is
their leader and his name literally means one who
grants welfare (sham). This verse is illustrative
of the Hindu penchant for glorifying the enriching
potential of suffering and indicates that adverse
circumstances in life are as much a gift of God
as are favorable ones. In fact, the philosophers
of yore stated that it was only those who were his
favorite did God thus bless, much like a mother
who knows when it is best to shower her child with
affection and when to yield the stick, both of which
are necessary for the potential flowering of the
infant's character. Only she knows when to apply
which principle. She may distribute sweets equally
to all children playing in a group; but will not
chastise them in equal measure when they misbehave.
Only her own beloved child has a right over her
rod. Thus does Krishna also ensure our lasting welfare
(Shankara), by exposing us to the rudras of life.
Significantly, Vishnu (Krishna)
here identifies himself with Shiva. This seems a
contradiction in terms since the former is credited
with the creation of the world and the latter with
its destruction (death). However, God clarifies
"I am immortality (amrita)
as well as death (mrityu)." (9.19)
"I am the all-depriving
death and also the source of all future beings."
In Indian philosophy, death is
not the opposite of life but its timely fulfillment.
Destruction is not the end of creation, but the
beginning of a fresh cycle.
Later, Krishna identifies himself
with another, slightly different instrument of destruction:
"Of weapons I am the thunderbolt
The vajra is no ordinary weapon,
having being created when all other means failed
to restrain the forces of evil wreaking havoc on
the world. It was carved out of the bones of the
celebrated saint Dadhichi, who readily gave up his
mortal form for the divine cause. As the king of
the positive forces in the world, it was the privilege
of Indra to wield the thunderbolt.
In fact, God also says:
Amongst the demigods "I
am Indra" (10.22) and "amongst the finest
of elephants (gajendera) I am Airavata" (10.27).
The latter was recovered when the demons and gods
churned the ocean together to retrieve the nectar
of immortality. It was later handed over to Indra
as his mount.
Not surprisingly, there is a
marked preference for Indra, whose name literally
means 'one who has conquered the sense organs (indriya)',
an attribute which God immensely appreciates:
"One who has controlled
the sensory organs is superior." (3.7)
What however, about the question
of evil? Krishna states: "Everything is God"
(Vaasudev Sarvam 7.19).
Hence, whatever is present in
this world is charged with God's own dynamism and
the latter has no qualms about declaring:
"Of the demons (rakshasas)
and yakshas I am Kuvera (Vittesh)." (10.23)
A rakshasa is someone who protects
(raksha: protection). Here, Krishna is referring
to those of us who lord over our wealth, jealously
guarding it with our lives, inhibiting its circulation.
A yaksha is one who is not of a clenched fist, but
nevertheless uses money solely for his or her own
consumption, without any intention of sharing it.
In the latter case, though there is a flow of prosperity,
since one man's expense is another's gain, nevertheless,
because of the absence of altruistic intentions
it lacks in spiritual merit (punya). Indeed, money
can have only one of the following three kinds of
mobility (it cannot remain immobile):
1). Charity (daana)
2). Selfish pleasure (bhoga),
3). Dissolution (naash).
It would have been hardly surprising
if Krishna had identified himself with the first
characteristic. He however, speaks otherwise, saying
that he is present in those individuals who consume
money selfishly and also those of us who do not
let a penny escape, thus affecting the dynamics
of nature adversely, ultimately leading to the annihilation
The name Kuvera literally means
one who has an ugly (ku) body (vera). Legend has
it that he was born extremely poor but by extreme
penance managed to please Lord Shiva who made him
the guardian of the world's wealth. Our prosperity
too is a boon of God and we may justify our conduct
taking cue from Krishna above. It must be remembered
however that the result is obvious for all of us
to see. True to their names, Kuvera (and the yakshas),
have been given grotesque horrifying forms in the
Indian art tradition.
"Among deceitful practices
I am dicing (gambling)." (10.36)
The Bhagavad Gita is presented
in the form of a dialogue between Krishna and his
friend cum disciple Arjuna. The latter had suffered
lifelong due to his elder brother's irresistible
urge to indulge the dice. Thus Krishna here has
a chosen a particularly potent metaphor, lightening
the serious mood of philosophical discourse with
the warmth of human interaction. This was one evil
element Arjuna could easily relate to. Though he
and his brothers lost their kingdom because of the
deception of the group playing opposite, the end
result was the destruction of the villains, the
establishment of dharma, and the icing on the cake
- a pertinent opportunity for God to deliver the
discourse of the Gita.
Truly God is present in all that
is good and bad. The choice however remains ours.
Being subject to the inexorable laws of karma, we
will reap what we choose to sow. That is the reason
he points out to us various specific and temporal
manifestations of his otherwise endless and eternal
glory. By following their biographical narratives
to their logical conclusions, expressed through
an autobiographical discourse in God's own voice,
we gain a clearer roadmap for identifying, and making
the correct choices in our own lives.
"In women, I am virtuous
reputation (kirti), fortune (Shri), speech (vak),
memory (smriti), ability to imbibe things (medha),
constancy (dhrti) and forgiveness (kshama)."
A well-known piece of humor has
it that we can get a taste of heaven on earth if
we have the following:
1). An American salary to take
2). Chinese food to eat.
3). A British home to live in,
4). An Indian wife to go home
It is perhaps this fame of the
virtuous Indian woman that Krishna is talking about.
The reasons are not far to seek. When the Gita itself
says that God resides in the steadfast woman, who
lets only one man live in her memory (smriti), much
like the goddess Shri (Lakshmi), the prosperity
of one who has her for a consort is assured. Indeed,
it is a belief in India that when a man and woman
are bound in holy matrimony, it is a conjoining
of their fortunes, and all sin (paap) and merit
(punya) acquired by either is shared equally between
the two. The lips of such a woman speak (vak) of
no other than the one she has chosen to give herself
up completely to. Since her very childhood it has
been imbibed in her to remain committed to one only,
till this chaste ideal becomes as integral a part
of her character as much as her breath is to her
physical existence. It is her infinite capacity
to forgive and the forbearance inherent in womanhood
that lets such a divine relationship blossom on
In the tenth chapter God says:
"In the tribe called Vrishni,
I am Krishna and amongst the five Pandava brothers,
I am Arjuna." (37)
Meaning, the one narrating the
Bhagavad Gita (Krishna), is also the one listening
to it, namely Arjuna.
"Amongst alphabets, I am
the letter A, and of the different kinds of compounds
in grammar, I am the copulative compound."
'A', pronounced as the first
sound in the word 'amuse', is the immediate sound
that springs from the mouth as soon as it is opened,
even though it comes from the deepest levels in
the throat. It is hence naturally the first letter
of the Sanskrit alphabet and is a grammatical reminder
that God is the origin of all.
The second part of the statement
refers to the fondness of the Sanskrit writer to
make new, bigger words, by fusing together two or
more of them. These combinations are of four types:
1). Avyayibhava (Adverbial compounds):
In this fusion, the first word retains its primary
importance, while the latter may be reduced to a
prefix. For example:
vanasya (forest) samipam (near)
2). Bahuvrihi (Possessive): None
of the original words remain important, but a new
one emerges, meaning something other than the constituents:
neelam (blue) kanttham (throat)
yasya (one who possesses) becomes Neelkanth (Lord
3). Tatpurusha (Determinative):
The second word retains primacy:
rashtrasya (of nation) pati (lord)
4). Dvandva (Copulative): Both
the constituents retain equal primacy.
Ram and Lakshman becomes Ramlakshmanau
(au denotes duality).
Evidently, the copulative compound
in Sanskrit is also the most democratic, giving
equal weightage to both its constituents, knitting
them together in one 'advaita' identity, without
destroying their individuality.
"I am fire" (9.16)
"Know the fieriness of fire
to be mine." (15.12)
"Abiding in all living beings
as the fire of life, conjoined with the two kinds
of breaths (inhalation and exhalation), I digest
the four kinds of food." (15.14)
Ancient philosophy divides food
(anna), into four categories; namely that one can
chew, drink, swallow or lick. In all cases it is
God, existing in our body as the warmth of life,
generating the metabolic heat digesting it. He carries
out this task not only in humans, but in every being
All fire needs air for ignition.
Likewise, inflamed by the incoming breath (apana),
and the other, which is expelled (prana), flushing
out the residue from the furnace, the fire of life
continues to pulsate in us.
Truly, we have to be very careful
with what we eat. It is not ourselves but God we
are feeding, who consumes what we intake, much as
the fire in the Vedic sacrifice devours the sacred
fuel nourishing it.
"Of all trees I am the banyan
Krishna mentions the banyan tree
"The wise speak of the imperishable
banyan tree (ashvattha), which has its roots above
and branches below. Its leaves are the Vedas and
he who knows this is the knower of the Vedas. Its
branches extend all about; nourished by the three
attributes of nature (luminescence, mobility and
lethargy), the sensory objects are its shoots and
below, in the world of men, its secondary roots
stretch forth, binding them in karma. Its real form
(rupa) is not perceived here, nor its end nor beginning
nor its foundation. Let man first hew down this
firm rooted banyan tree with the strong weapon of
The banyan tree is unusual in
that it can send forth from its branches secondary
roots, often reaching down to the ground.
This is a daring, almost surrealistic
metaphor - a tree with roots above and branches
below. At the top of such a tree resides God and
in the trunk is Brahma, responsible for the creation
of all manifested existence. We are however accustomed
to a very different kind of tree, exactly the opposite
of the one thus described. Hence are appearances
deceptive. Things are not what they seem at first
sight. The richest are the poorest inside. Those
who are seen smiling outside, feel terrible within,
and the one successful is only sitting over his
mound of failures. Once we gain this discriminating
vision, what Krishna calls the "divya chakshuh"
(11.8), only then can we see through appearances
and perceive the root cause common to all - God.
The farther we move (evolve)
away from the top of the cosmic tree, the more distant
we are from God himself and what we normally feel
to be progression is in spiritual terms regression.
Nevertheless, even though the branches and leaves
may spread out far and wide, they are always joined
to their root cause (mula), and therefore never
separated from God, although perhaps at a remote
distance from him.
What we are able to see in the
world is in truth the exact opposite of how things
actually are. Conforming to this flawed vision our
priorities too have become inverted. For example,
spiritual activity is thought to be the opposite
of worldliness. For those of us who have understood
the true nature of the tree of life, living life
inside out is the correct way to progress on the
spiritual path. God acknowledges this when He says:
"What is night for all beings
is the time of waking for the disciplined soul;
and what is the time of waking for all is night
for the sage with vision." (2.69)
How can we gain this vision?
By standing detached from the world, very much like
a person on the moon, who would perceive all the
trees of the world to be hanging upside down, as
they actually are, only because he stands apart
from it all. Somewhat like Archimedes, when he said:
"Give me a firm spot on which to stand, and
I will move the earth." The eagerly sought
spot is however not a geographical location separate
from where we already are. It is the mental condition
of unattached (asanga) equanimity, with which we
need to cleave the flawed tree of our distorted
"In things mysterious, I
am silence." (10.38)
"The silent one (mauni)
is dear to me." (12.19)
"Silence is the penance
of mind." (17.16)
A typical malady of the modern
era is mankind's inner turmoil, the offshoot of
an unnaturally fast pace of life. Silence (maun),
means quietening this turbulence by withdrawing
from activity and turning all effort inwards. The
internal dialogue quietens gradually; and then,
when the silence becomes profound, the voice of
Thus, the more we come near to
hearing God's own voice, entering the ultimate of
mysteries, our own need to speak becomes lesser.
Shri Ramakrishna compared this to the honeybee,
which hums only while hovering over a flower. No
sooner than it lands and begins to suck the nectar,
all humming ceases.
"Among snakes (sarpas),
I am Vasuki." (10.28).
"Among serpents (nagas),
I am Ananta." (10.29)
In consecutive verses, Krishna
identifies himself with two different serpents.
There is a fine distinction between them. While
the sarpas are single-hooded and live on land, the
multi-headed nagas dwell in water.
Specifically, Vasuki adorns Lord
Shiva's finger as a ring and served as a rope during
the churning of the ocean. Ananta is the serpent
on whom Vishnu reclines during his yoga-nidra (sleep).
Metaphysically, Ananta represents
the infinite potential energy lying dormant in us
(Kundalini); and Vasuki, with one head, its singular
The Bhagavad Gita is in many
ways God's picture album filled with self-portraits.
However, his voice is different from ours, and identification
with one is not the negation of the other. When
he says, "In the rivers I am Ganga" or
"amongst birds I am Garuda", it is the
underlying qualities making these manifestations
special that he is calling to attention. The Great
Teacher knows that human intellect is but naturally
attracted to what it perceives to be extraordinary.
This is made explicit when he defines himself to
be "the brilliance of all that is brilliant
and the splendor of all that is splendid."
He is the invisible infinite, whose essence permeates
all finite things, much as "gems beaded on
a string" (7.7), poetically revealed as "the
flavor (rasa) of water" (7.8).
(This article is
dedicated to the memory of Swami Ramsukhdas, who
was never photographed and whom the author never
met. He died early this year.)
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