The Great Instruction of the Gītā

This article is part 12 of 73 in the series Jīvana-dharma-yoga

The Yoga of Life

The Bhagavad-gītā establishes and illustrates these three problems of life on a philosophical foundation. There is a place for kāma, a place for artha, a place for dharma, and a place for mokṣa. How is it possible to establish the suitability of attaining one of these four? What are the rules for each of the four puruṣārthas? How are those four courses to be adjusted to ensure that they do not hamper one another? Indicating the answers to these questions through an elucidation of the nature of worldly life and core principles is the scripture of the Gītā. It shows the path for men and women to elevate their lives according to their mental preparations, their intellectual capabilities, and their circumstances. Therefore it is but apt to call the Gītā a ‘Samyag-jīvana-śāstra’ (‘Scripture of a Good Life’) or ‘Jīvana-yoga-śāstra’ (‘Scripture of Life-Yoga’).

The Great Instruction

The great teaching of the Gītā is Respect for Life. Life is a play of Brahman, the Supreme Consciousness. Be it any animal, its inner state has an element of the power of the Supreme Brahman. It is our duty to realize this and perform our life’s work with faith and efficiency. We should not belittle Life by deeming it insignificant. Life is an opportunity to obtain the best. It is a great duty and therefore worthy of our worship and service. One should engage in one’s own dharma with a pure mind and a faith for the Absolute. A life well-led is a life spent in the worship of the Divine.

The Yoga of the Full Life

It is an article of belief of our ancestors that the Bhagavad-gītā is the essence of all the Vedas and Vedānta. That the Gītā too is an Upaniṣad is an object of faith and tradition.

Śrīmad-bhagavad-gītāsu upaniṣatsu...” goes the description.

Sarvopaniṣado gāvaḥ... dugdhaṃ gītāmṛtam mahat...” is another description that states that the Gītā is an Upaniṣad.

It seems proper to say that the Vedas and the Upaniṣads (known as Vedānta) have found reconcilement in the Bhagavad-gītā. The non-Upaniṣad portions of the Vedas – i.e., the Saṃhitā and the Brāhmaṇa portions deal especially with the worship of devatās. The Upaniṣads focus on the principle of ātman or the Self. The Gītā integrates the path of worship of the Vedic karma portion with the philosophical inquiry that is found in the jñāna portions of the Veda. The Good Life is not a ‘point’-like concept; it is like a ‘line’ that comprises a multitude of points. It is not of a ‘point in time’ or a single moment but of a ‘period of time’ comprising innumerable moments. There is scope in it for worship of devatās through yajña, dāna, and tapas. There is opportunity for worldly duty in the form of personal as well as societal works. There is room for philosophical contemplation via meditation on the Self.

The Bhagavad-gītā demonstrates that each of the following three – 1. Worship of devatās, 2. Life in the world, and 3. Meditation on the nature of the Self – are connected to one another, and that each of them have a definite position in the Good Life and that they have to be comprehended in an integrated, holistic form.

Thus a great benefit for us from the Bhagavad-gītā is the vision of an Integrated Good Life for all of humankind except perhaps the pure atheist. The vision of the Gītā is such that it is acceptable to not just those Hindus who believe in the testimony of śruti and smṛti but also to those Parsis, Muslims, Christians, and those of other faiths without religious contradiction.[1] Its teaching is not against rationality in any portion. There is no religious dogmatism or heterodoxy or intolerance towards other opinions in the Gītā.

tad-viddhi... paripraśnena…|| (BG 4.34)
[Learn that... by sincere questioning and enquiry...]

vimṛśyaitad-aśeṣeṇa...|| (BG 18.63)
[Having reflected upon this without leaving anything unexamined...]

Thus the Gītā does require reasoning. It is reliant upon the Veda only when it comes to supra-sensory reality. For the Truth that is not available via direct perception or the Truth that although experienced as one’s own Self is inconceivable, there is no other resort for us than the Veda. In such an unavoidable situation, though the Gītā quotes from the Veda, it could still be considered a hypothesis that needs further reasoning.

Logic or reasoning is about something known. There is no ground for logic in a void that is bereft of any experienced object. A statement about something that provides matter for logical reasoning is a ‘hypothesis.’ It could be a positive or negative statement but should convey a definite opinion. When we encounter such a hypothesis, we consider it from different perspectives and ask different questions. We discuss it with our experience and reasoning. If that statement stands scrutiny of all these examinations, it becomes a principle. The Gītā’s statements about Reality stand unshaken even after many such analyses. That is why the Gītā is considered an authority. All those questions that are born either of the intellect or out of experience can be answered by the Gītā.

The statement of the scholar Theodore Goldstucker that Hinduism is like an ocean can be applied to the Gītā as well. Young children feel happy when they look at the ocean. They play with the sand on its beaches. They dance with joy when they see the variegated conches and shells. They are amazed by the ceaseless play of the waves. Adults experience pleasure by splashing waves on one another. They expand their sight to the horizon and become contemplative. They desire to voyage on it in boats and ships. They stretch their bodies to take in the ocean breeze. This is about common people. Brave seafarers immerse in the mass of water and bring up pearls, jade, and jewels. Sanātana-dharma is also like that. From the devotees of village deities such as Māramma and Gaṅgamma, from those that sacrifice chicken and male buffaloes to those savants who realize the Impersonal and Formless Truth, people of all classes, all kinds, and all levels of capabilities are provided—by the Bhagavad-gītā—the satisfaction of bettering their self according to their mental and intellectual capabilities.

The Gītā offers a meaningful and holistic vision of life. It has considered every aspect of human life without ignoring anything. It has analysed every facet of human nature without overlooking it. It has addressed the welfare of human beings of all possible levels of worth without giving up on them. It is an all-round, all-capable set of principles. It is harmonious in its essence without any inconsistency. None should feel disheartened if he could not find an answer to his question. He should reflect upon the statements of the Gītā again and again. This becomes possible when the entire text is in his memory. The problem that arises in one part of the text finds a solution in another part. Any deficiency seen is not in the work but in one’s study of it. He must reflect upon it repeatedly. Reflection with patience and mindfulness is required. As he discusses the work within himself, and resolves every issue that arises, facets that were not apparent from the beginning become manifest and solve his doubts. Such constant contemplation is possible only for someone endowed with śraddhā.

śraddhāvān labhate jñānam॥ (BG 4.39)
[The sincere one endowed with dedication attains wisdom]

yo yacchraddhaḥ sa eva saḥ॥ (BG 17.3)
[A man is what his śraddhā is]

śraddhā hi paramā gatiḥ
[Dedication—śraddhā—is the highest state]

The one without śraddhā cannot escape mental delusion. The Gītā is an elucidation of the philosophy of jagat, jīva, and īśvara that is complete, consistent, and harmonious all over. Venturing near the Gītā without śraddhā is like entering a temple when unclean – it is an effort in vain.

If the essence of the Gītā has to be conveyed to a person of faith, it could be done so through this proclamation of the Īśopaniṣad

kurvann-eveha karmāṇi jijīviṣecchatagṃ samāḥ
[Doing your karma here, desire to live for a hundred years!]

Which means that life is not evil. One should not wish to abandon it but face the difficulties in it and fight them bravely. This is the teaching of the Gītā.

tasmād-yudhyasva bhārata॥ (BG 2.18)
[Therefore, fight, O descendent of Bharata!]

yudhyasva vigata-jvaraḥ॥ (BG 3.30)
[Engage in war, having abandoned your mental fever!]

yudhyasva jetāsi raṇe॥ (BG 11.34)
[Fight the war! You will be victorious on the battlefield!]


ಮರಳಿನಲಿ ಗಾಳಿ ಬರೆಯುವ ।
ಬರಿಬೊಂಬೆಯ ನರನದಲ್ಲವೆನೆ ಬಾಳ್ಕೆಯದೇನ್  ।।
ನರುಹುವನೀ ಗೀತೆಯೊಳ್ ಜಗದ್ಗುರು ಕೃಷ್ಣಮ್  ।। ೧ ।।

If man is not a mere doll drawn
by the wind in the sand, what then is life?
What is its aim? What does it mean?
These are answered in the Gītā by Kṛṣṇa, the Universal Teacher!


ದಿನದಿನಮುಮಧರ್ಮಂ  ಪೊಸ- ।
ದಣಕಿಪ್ಪುದು ಪುರುಷನಂ ಪ್ರಕೃತಿಜಮನಾತ್ಮಮ್ ।।
ರಣಧೀರತೆಯಿಂದಲಹುದು  ಜನ್ಮಂ ಸಫಲಮ್ ।। ೨ ।।

Born of Nature, this not-Self, this new Adharma
mocks humans every day!
One’s life is blessed by facing it
without Ego and with courage befitting a battle!


ಯುಧ್ಯಸ್ವ ಧರ್ಮಪಕ್ಷದಿ ।
ಶುದ್ಧಾಂತಃಕರಣನಾಗಿ ಪಾಪವ ಬಡಿಯಲ್ ।।
ಸಿದ್ಧಂ  ನಿಲ್ವುದೆ ವಿಜಯಂ ।
ಸದ್ಧರ್ಮೋದ್ಯೋಗದಿಂದೆ ಜನ್ಮಂ ಸಫಲಮ್ ।। ೩ ।।

Fight thou on the side of dharma,
being of pure mind, to kill pāpa
Victory will stand achieved!
One’s life is blessed by the proper application of dharma.


ಜೀವನದೊಳಿಟ್ಟ ಗೌರವ-
ಭಾವಮೆ ಜನಧರ್ಮಮೂಲಬಲಮೀಶ್ವರಲೀ-।।
ಲಾವಿಭವಾಂಶಮೆ ಜೀವಂ ।
ದೈವಿಕಮದು ಪಾಶವಿಕಮದೆನಿಸಲಧರ್ಮಮ್  ।। ೪ ।।

Respect towards Life
is the fundamental strength of people’s dharma
The jīva is an aspect of the rich play of īśvara – It is Divine
If it feels beastly, then it is not dharma


ಮೃಗದೈವಮಿಶ್ರಣಂ ನರ-
ನಗಣಿತ ಕುಕ್ಷಿಗಳ  ಪೊತ್ತ ಚಿಚ್ಚಕ್ಷುವವನ್ ।।
ಮೃಗದ ಕ್ಷುತ್ತಿಳಿಯುತಿರಲ್ ।
ಪ್ರಗತಿಯವಂಗಕ್ಕುಮಾತ್ಮದುನ್ನತಿಪಥದೊಳ್  ।। ೫ ।।

Man is a mix of the beast and the Divine
He is one bearing infinite stomachs but his eye is consciousness!
Knowing the hunger of the animal
his progress is on the path of Self-upliftment!


ತಿಳಿದಾವುದಿರಲ್ ಬಾಳ್ವೆಯ ।
ತಲೆಪೊತ್ತಿಹ ಶಿಲೆಯ ಹೊರೆಯ ಹೂದೊಡವಹುದೋ ।।
ಕಲೆಯನದನಂದು ಪಾರ್ಥಂ-
ಗೊಲವಿಂ ಕಲಿಸಿದನೆ ನಮಗೆ ಗುರುವಕ್ಕೆಂದುಮ್  ।। ೬ ।।

Instead of a rock-like burden,
life becomes akin to a flower
when one knows that art
He taught that to Pārtha with love
and became the guru to us all!


ಮಾನುಷ್ಯಲೀಲಾರಸಿಕನತಿಮಾನುಷವೈಭವಂ ।
ಮಾನುಷಾಸ್ಪೃಷ್ಟಚಿತ್ತೇಜಂ  ಕೃಷ್ಣನಿರ್ಕೆಮ್ಮ ಚಿತ್ತದೊಳ್ ।।

Sporting in the play of mortals with a superhuman splendour,
the effulgent consciousness that is unreached by human intellect,
may that Kṛṣṇa reside in our mind!


Thus concludes the Introduction.

The present series is a modern English translation of DVG’s Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award-winning work, Bhagavad-gītā-tātparya or Jīvana-dharma-yoga. The translators wish to express their thanks to Śatāvadhāni R Ganesh for his valuable feedback and to Hari Ravikumar for his astute edits.


[1] Note: The author is perhaps trying to point out that the practical elements of the Gītā may be easily embraced by people irrespective of their faiths and beliefs. One should not get the wrong idea that the Western religions say the same thing as the Gītā does.



Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.



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The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...