Instruction on the Viṣaya is According to the Adhikārī

This article is part 6 of 131 in the series Jīvana-dharma-yoga

Let us first look at the theme of the work and the qualification to study it. Each of these decides the other. The story of puṇyakoṭi befits a six year old. A study of the Raghu-vaṁśa, however, is for a student aged sixteen or more. 

Thus each one decides the other. The one who is capable of dealing with the viṣaya—subject of the work—is the adhikārī. The instruction has to be tailored to the education and capacity of the seeker. Both of these are thus relative to each other.

The viṣaya of the Gītā is not of a single kind, when subjected to subtle examination; rather, it is of many kinds. While there is the devotion of common folk on one side, there are logical conundrums that can cause headaches to great pundits. Pravṛtti-dharma (the mode of action) and nivṛtti-dharma (the mode of renunciation), atīta-sthiti (the exalted state), bhakti-yoga (the path of devotion), karma-yoga (the path of selfless work), dhyāna-samādhi-yoga (the path of meditative concentration), and jñāna-yoga (the path of wisdom) – is the stepped path of the Gītā. The intended seekers are correspondingly of different levels. There are several levels of seekers that fall in the purview of the Gītā – from the ignorant to the illuminated and from family men to ascetic mendicants. Because of the variety in adhikārīs, the instruction is also varied. From “Offering a leaf, flower, fruit, or water”[1] to “Be devoid of the three guṇas, O Arjuna!”[2] there are several paths of instruction. The destination is one; but the paths are eight. It won’t be wise to argue that only one of these eight is right and the rest are not. If the maxim of ‘As the student, so the instruction’ is remembered, it can be seen that the controversies of religious doctrine fade away.

The goal of medicine is one; a state of a healthy body is another. But the causes of sickness are many; the forms of diseases are many. Therefore modes of diet and treatment are many. Ginger and pepper do not treat an eye disease; alum cannot treat indigestion. Medicine is prescribed according to the weakness of the body. Instruction is given according to the debility of the jīva.

This now is the most important matter. That the Gītā is applicable to all varṇas, all classes, and to all those in any circumstance or stage, to all women and men, has been clearly stated by the Gītācārya. However, all instructions are not for everyone. Every student has to understand his or her own capability and choose the appropriate teaching after a thorough examination. This has been clarified by the Gītācārya himself –

Whatever is the utility of a small reservoir of water
when there is a floor and water is flowing everywhere –
that is kind of utility of all the Vedas
for a person who has realised the Brahman![3]

Even if all ponds, streams, wells, and tanks are full of water, a man can use only whatever is necessary for his uses such as his ablution and drinking. Similarly, even if there are a hundred instructions in the Vedas, the judicious man chooses and uses whatever fits him. The same holds for the Gītā. A palace befitting a queen holds hundreds of attendants in as many quarters. It is only appropriate for each occupant to reside in the appointed quarters. All floors and all rooms are not for everybody.

Questions such as, “Will not there be discrimination then? Is it proper?” might arise. The answer lies in the highs and lows of human behaviour. Kòbbari-miṭhāyi (a sweet dish made with grated copra) is certainly desired by many. Would it then be proper to feed a bagful of that to a two-year-old, citing equality of treatment? What would happen to the child’s health? Just as there are limits on the food taken in by the body, there must be limits on food for the mind. This limit indicates a healthy respect for the nature of anything. ‘Reality’ is understanding the nature of a thing as it is. Tattva is the same thing. A thing’s thing-ness is tat-tva. That Tattva, Reality, or Truth is the foundation of dharma. Since, in reality, each jīva differs from one another in innate disposition, it becomes necessary to prescribe different instruction and practice for each. Thence the multifaceted teaching of the Gītā. There is no question of inferior or superior here. Is an injection a superior form of medicine or is a mixture inferior? Is a tablet better than medicinal powder? Our disease is one of ignorance. The Gītāchārya is the healer. Śrīkṛṣṇa’s answer to Arjuna’s question about the race between superior and inferior—in the Aśvamedhika-parva of the Mahābhārata—subsequent to the war can be considered here –

All are superior in their own domains
They all help one another’s domains too![4]

In society, each one is best in his own appointed duty. Just as a brāhmaṇa is the best when it comes to the Veda, a kṣatriya when it comes to protecting the kingdom, a vaiśya when it comes to wealth, a gṛhastha in service of the world, and a saṃnyāsi in tapas, everyone has to help others while being the best in one’s own duty. In the same vein, the instruction most suitable for the spiritual progress and refinement of every jīva is the best for him or her. The same is declared in the Gītā thus –

Performing one’s own dharma, even if imperfect,
is greater than performing another’s dharma well[5]

The reason I emphasise this so much is the inordinate impetuosity shown by people in the matter of mokṣa. The Gītā has received much fame as a mokṣa-śāstra. People therefore want to unravel the secret as soon as possible and rush towards liberation. Such haste is not just a waste but dangerous as well. Nobody avers that the Gītā is not a mokṣa-śāstra; no one says that the thought of mokṣa is wrong. But the Gītā is as much a dharma-śāstra as it is a mokṣa-śāstra. While the thought of liberation is good, it is good to to reflect upon dharma as a prerequisite. People have to first understand that there is no mokṣa without dharma. Upon consideration, it is seen that there is no reason to hanker after mokṣa separately. Mokṣa follows dharma by itself. A person who earns his livelihood in the day according to his ability and follows a healthy lifestyle does not have to take pills for a good night’s sleep. He whose food is well-digested falls asleep as soon as he hits the sack. Mokṣa is set for the discerning one who performs dharma diligently. Let us therefore follow the Gīta with a focus on the matter of dharma.

The viṣaya and the adhikārī are not completely separate from the view of our study of the Gītā; but are symbiotic. We have seen that dharma is indeed the theme of the Gītā if the student is interested in dharma. We have discussed the prayojana of the Gītā study cursorily. There is one thing left to be stated about the sambandha (relationship among adhikārī, viṣaya, and prayojana). This is about our attitude. It has been mentioned that the relationship is one between the teacher and taught – the Gītā is the teacher and we are the taught. Is this not clear? Should it be explicitly stated? The answer is yes. The relationship could be one of a refuter and the refuted. Isn’t it quite possible that Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians could study the Gītā in order to refute it? Our explicit statement is to clarify that there should be mutual faith and respect between the work and the student.

Śraddhā is trust that is not blind. It is the trust with which a child eats what its mother gives it; that with which a patient takes his medicine from the doctor. If the child does not relish the food given by the mother, it throws it away and demands something else. If the ailment does not get cured, the patient complains to the doctor who prescribes another medicine. Both the child and the patient have from their experience a freedom to examine the mother and healer respectively. Similarly, the śraddhā we have in the statements of the śāstras and the gurus is not opposed to independent thought but subject to reason and experience. The way of the world is to examine first and trust later. However, ātmā, jīva, and dharma are supranormal subjects. Therefore it is trust that is followed by examination in these matters. The Gītācārya himself specifies that what is needed is reflection and not a lack of thought through the following statements –

Understand that… from inquiry[6]
…having analyzed all of this…[7]

and so forth.

There is yet another thing that has to be said here. That is related to the difference between the nature of worldly or physical sciences and this subject [i.e., the Gītā]. Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry can be grasped only via the intellect. Physical objects can be grasped by the senses. Therefore, they are available through the pramāṇas (means of knowing) of pratyakṣa (direct perception) and anumāna (inference). The ātman is suprasensory. It cannot be grasped by our hands or measurements. To obtain it therefore, we have to rely upon the Veda-śāstra, which is the testimony of āptavākya (trusted source). If we don’t place our trust in it, there is no way out.

The other preparation we need in addition to āptavākya is the purification of our inner being or a clean disposition of mind. Those in hasty pursuit of mokṣa tend to forget this.

It is an error, a dangerous one, to think it possible to unravel the secrets of Vedānta through a sleight of mind. It is possible to win at a game of cards through a trick. A machine can be operated through a shortcut. A math problem can be solved through a stratagem. It is also possible to shut up an opponent with wit. We think it possible to storm the city of mokṣa using an easy manoeuvre. But Brahman is not something attainable merely through intellectual artifice.

To be continued…

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] पत्रं पुष्पं फलं तोयं (BG 9.26

[2] निस्त्रैगुण्यो भवार्जुन (BG 2.45)

[3] यावानर्थ उदपाने सर्वतः सम्प्लुतोदके।
तावान्सर्वेषु वेदेषु ब्राह्मणस्य विजानतः॥ (BG 2.46)

[4] सर्वे स्वविषये श्रेष्ठाः सर्वे चान्योन्यरक्षिणः। (Aśvamedhika-parva 23.22)

[5] श्रेयान् स्वधर्मो विगुणः परधर्मात् स्वनुष्ठितात्। (BG 3.35)

[6] तद्विद्धि...परिप्रश्नेन... (BG 4.34)

[7] …विमृश्यैतदशेषेण... (BG 18.63)



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.



Engineer. Lapsed blogger. Abiding interest in Sanskrit, religion, and philosophy. A wannabe jack-of-all.


Mother of two. Engineer. Worshiper of Indian music, poetry, and art.

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इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


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Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

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...