Bhagavad-gita-rahasya (or Karma-yoga Shastra)

by Bhalchandra Sitaram Sukthankar | 1935 | 327,828 words

The English translation of the Bhagavad-Gita Rahasya, also known as the Karma-yoga Shastra or “Science of Right Action”, composed in Marathi by Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1915. This first volume represents an esoteric exposition of the Bhagavadgita and interprets the verses from a Mimamsa philosophical standpoint. The work contains 15 chapters, Sanskri...

Appendix 2: The Gītā and the Upaniṣads

Let us now consider the inter-relation between the Gītā and the various Upaniṣads. Not only have the various Upaniṣads been generally referred to in the present Mahābhārata, but the description about the warfare between the Vital Organs (prāṇendriya) contained in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka and the Chāndogya (Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣad 1.3; Chāndogyopaniṣad 1.2) appears in the Anugītā (Aśva. 23); and the words "na me steno janapade" etc., uttered by the king Kaikeya Aśvapati (Chan. 5. 11. 15), appear in the Śāntiparva, where the story of that king is related (Śān. 77. 8). Similarly, the principles enunciated in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka, that "na pretya saṃjñāsti", i.e., "after death, the Knower (jñātā) does not any more possess any name (saṃjñā)", and that the Knower is merged in the Brahman (Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣad 4.5.13) appear in the Śāntiparva in the conversation between Janaka and Pañcaśikha; and in the same place, at the end, the illustration of the river and the sea, which appears in the Praśna and the Muṇḍaka Upaniṣads (Praśnopaniṣad 6.5; Muṇḍakopaniṣad 3.2.8), has been used with reference to the man who has become free from Name and Form. Besides, the comparison of Reason with a charioteer, after comparing the organs with horses, which appears in the conversation between the Brahmin and the Hunter (Vana, 210), and in the Anugītā, has been taken from the Kaṭhopaniṣad (Kaṭhopaniṣad 1.3.3); and the stanzas "eṣa sarveṣu bhūteṣu gūḍhātmā" (Kaṭhopaniṣad 3. 12), and "anyatra dharmād anyatrādharmāt" (Kaṭhopaniṣad 2. 14) also appear with slight verbal alterations in the Śāntiparva (187.29 and 331.44). I have already stated above that the stanza "sarvataḥ pāṇipādaṃ" etc., from the Śvetāśvatara appears several times in the Mahābhārata, as also in the Gītā. But this similarity does not end here, and there are numerous other sentences from the Upaniṣads, which appear in various places in the Mahābhārata. Nay, we may safely assert that the Spiritual Knowledge in the Mahābhārata has been practically adopted from the Upaniṣads.

Not only is the Spiritual Knowledge contained in the Bhagavadgītā consistent with the Upaniṣads, like the Mahābhārata, but, as has been stated by me in the ninth and the thirteenth chapters above, the Path of Devotion described in the Gītā is also fully consistent with this Spiritual Knowledge. Without, therefore, repeating the same subject-matter, I will only say here in short, that the non-lamentability of the Ātman mentioned in the second chapter of the Gītā, the form of the Imperishable Brahman described in the eighth chapter, the consideration of the Body (kṣetra) and the Ātman (kṣetrajña) contained in the thirteenth chapter, and especially the form of the 'Knowable' (jñeya) Parabrahman described in that chapter, are all subjects which have been literally copied into the Gītā from the Upaniṣads. Some of the Upaniṣads are in prose, whereas others are in verse. Expressions from the prose Upaniṣads cannot, of course, come as they are in the Gītā, which is in verse form; yet, the ideas "whatever is, is; and whatever is not, is not" (Bhagavadgītā 2.16), "yaṃ yaṃ vāpi smaran bhāvaṃ" etc. (Bhagavadgītā 8. 6), (i.e., "whatever ideas are entertained in the Mind" etc.~Translator.) etc., which appear in the Gītā, are from the Chāndogyopaniṣad; and the ideas and sentences, "kṣīṇe puṇye" etc. (Bhagavadgītā 9.21), "jyotiṣāṃ jyotiḥ" (Bhagavadgītā 13.17), or "mātrāsparśaḥ" (Bhagavadgītā 2.14) etc., are from the Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣad, as will be apparent to anyone who has read those Upaniṣads. But, if one does not consider the prose Upaniṣads, but considers only the Upaniṣads in verse form, this similarity becomes more explicit; because, some verses from these verse-formed Upaniṣads have been taken literally and word for word into the Gītā. For instance, six or seven stanzas from the Kaṭhopaniṣad have been taken as they are, or with slight verbal alterations into the Gītā. The stanza "āścaryavat paśyati" etc. (2, 29) in the Gītā is very similar to the stanza "āścaryo vaktā" etc., in the second valli of the Kaṭhopaniṣad (Kaṭhopaniṣad 2.7); and the stanza "na jāyate mriyate va kadācit" etc. (Bhagavadgītā 2.20), and the semi-stanza "yad icchanto brahmacaryaṃ caranti" etc. (Bhagavadgītā 8. 11), are word for word the same in the Gītā and in the Kaṭhopaniṣad (Kaṭhopaniṣad 2.19; 2.15). I have already mentioned above that the stanza "indriyāṇi parāṇyāhuḥ" (Bhagavadgītā 3.42) in the Gītā has been taken from the Kaṭhopaniṣad (Kaṭhopaniṣad 3. 10). Similarly, the simile of the pippala (aśvattha) tree in the fifteenth chapter of the Gītā, has been taken from the Kaṭhopaniṣad; and the stanza "na tad bhāsayate sūryo" etc. (Bhagavadgītā 15.6), has been adopted into the Gītā with slight verbal alterations from the Katha and the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣads. Many other ideas and stanzas from the Śvetāśvataropaniṣad find their way into the Gītā. I have shown above in the ninth chapter that the word 'Māyā' appears- for the first time in the Śvetāśvataropaniṣad, and that it must have been taken from that place into the Gītā and the Mahābhārata. Besides this, the description of the place proper for the study of Yoga, given in the sixth chapter of the Gītā, namely, "śucau deśe pratiṣṭhāpya" etc. (Bhagavadgītā 6.11) seems to be taken from the incantation "same śucau" etc. (Śvetāśvataropaniṣad 2.10), and the words "samaṃ kāyaśirogrīvaṃ" etc. (Bhagavadgītā 6.13) seem to have been taken from the incantation "trir unnataṃ sthāpya samaṃ śarīram" (Śvetāśvataropaniṣad 2.8), if one considers the similarity of wording between the two. Similarly, the stanza "sarvataḥ pāṇipādaṃ" etc. and the following semi-stanza are also seen to be word for word the same both in the Gītā (13.13) and in the Śvetāśvataropaniṣad (Śvetāśvataropaniṣad 3.16); and the words "aṇoraṇīyāṃsaṃ" or "ādityavarṇaṃ tāmasaḥ parastāt" are also to be found both in the Gītā (8. 9) and the Śvetāśvataropaniṣad (Śvetāśvataropaniṣad 3.9, 20). Further similarity of wording between the Gītā and the Upaniṣads is apparent from the fact that the two semi-stanzas "sarvabhūtastham ātmānam" (Bhagavadgītā 6.29) and "vedaiś ca sarvair aham eva vedyo" (Bhagavadgītā 15.15) are to be found just as they are in the Kaivalyopaniṣad. But it is not necessary to further point out this similarity of wording. Nobody can entertain the slightest doubt that the Vedānta in the Gītā has been enunciated on the authority of the Upaniṣads. What has to be principally considered is whether there is a difference between the exposition of it in the Upaniṣads and the exposition in the Gītā; and if so, what that difference is. We will, therefore, now turn to that subject-matter.

The Upaniṣads are numerous, and the language of some of them is so modern, that one can clearly see that these Upaniṣads are not of the same date as the older Upaniṣads. Therefore, in considering the similarity of subject-matter between the Gītā and the Upaniṣads, I have principally referred in this chapter, for purposes of comparison, to those Upaniṣads, which are mentioned in the Brahma-Sūtras. If one tries to examine the similarity between the theories in these Upaniṣads and the Spiritual Knowledge in the Gītā, one will see, first of all, that though the characteristic features of the qualityless Parabrahman is the same in both, yet, in describing how the Qualityful came into existence out of the Qualityless, the Gītā uses the words 'māyā' or 'ajñāna' instead of the word 'avidyā'. I have explained above in the ninth chapter that the word 'māyā' has appeared in the Śvetāśvataropaniṣad, and that this word is synonymous with 'avidyā' embodied in Names and Forms; and I have shown above that some of the stanzas from the Śvetāśvataropaniṣad appear word for word in the Gītā. The first conclusion to be drawn from this is, that although the doctrine "sarvaṃ khalv idaṃ brahma" (Chāndogyopaniṣad 3.14.1), or "sarvam ātmānaṃ paśyati" (Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣad 4.4.23), or "sarvabhūteṣu cātmānaṃ" etc. (Īśāvāsyopaniṣad 6), or possibly even the whole of the Spiritual Knowledge in the Upaniṣads has been adopted into the Gītā, yet, it was only after the word 'māyā' came to be used in the Upaniṣads with reference to Name-d and Form-ed 'avidyā', that the Gītā has come to be written.

Now, if one considers what difference exists between the respective expositions of Vedānta in the Gītā and the Upaniṣads, one sees that greater importance has been given in the Gītā to the Kapila-Sāṃkhya philosophy. In tie Bṛhadāraṇyaka or the Chāndogya, which deal with Spiritual Knowledge, Sāṃkhya philosophy has not even once been mentioned; and although the words 'avyakta', 'mahān' etc. from Sāṃkhya philosophy are found in the Katha and other Upaniṣads, yet, those words are clearly interpreted there according to Vedānta philosophy and not according to Sāṃkhya philosophy; and the same argument applies to the exposition in the Maitryupaniṣad. The idea of boycotting Sāṃkhya philosophy has been carried to such an extent, that the diversity of Names and Forms in the world has been explained in the Vedānta-Sūtras by the 'Trivṛt-karaṇa' (union of three Elements) consistently with the Chāndogya, instead of by reference to the 'Pañcīkaraṇa' (union of five Elements) of Sāṃkhya philosophy (Vedānta-Sūtras 2.4.20). Although this method of explaining the Perishable and Imperishable in Metaphysics without the slightest reference to Sāṃkhya philosophy has not been adopted in the Gītā, yet, it must also be borne in mind that Sāṃkhya doctrines have not been taken as they are into the Gītā. The Sāṃkhya doctrine that the visible world came into existence from the three-constituented imperceptible Matter (prakṛti) by the process of the 'developing-out of the constituents' (guṇotkarṣa), and that the Spirit (puruṣa) is qualityless and is the See-er, is accepted by the Gītā. But the Sāṃkhya doctrine regarding the Perishable (kṣara) and Imperishable (akṣara) has always been mentioned in the Gītā with the rider of the Non-Dualistic Vedānta that Matter (prakṛti) and Spirit (puruṣa) are not independent Elements, but are the forms or manifestations (vibhūti) of one and the same Parabrahman in the shape of the Ātman. This tacking on of the order of creation of the universe according to the Dualistic Sāṃkhya philosophy with the Non-Dualistic doctrines of the Upaniṣads, which looks upon the Brahman and the Ātman as one and the same, is to be found in the exposition of Metaphysics in other places in the Mahābhārata, as in the Gītā; and thereby the inference made above, that the Gītā and the Mahābhārata must have been written by one and the same person, is intensified.

The Path of Devotion or the worship of the Perceptible contained in the exposition in the Gītā is an important matter which is not found in the Upaniṣads. It is true that mere ritualistic performances like Yajñas etc., are considered inferior, from the point of view of Spiritual Knowledge, in the Upaniṣads as also in the Bhagavadgītā; but we do not come across the worship of a perceptible human-formed Parameśvara in the older Upaniṣads. As the Realisation of the imperceptible and qualityless Parabrahman is difficult, the writers of the Upaniṣads admit the principle that one must worship the Mind, Ether, the Sun, Fire, Yajña, and other similar qualityful symbols. But the symbols, which have been mentioned in the ancient Upaniṣads for worship, do not include the human-formed Parameśvara. It is stated in the Maitryupaniṣad that Rudra, Śiva, Viṣṇu, Acyuta, Nārāyaṇa, etc., are all forms of the Paramātman (Mai. 7. 7); and the Śvetāśvataropaniṣad even contains the words 'Maheśvara' etc.; and there are also in the Śvetāśvatara such expressions as,

jñātvā devaṃ mucyate sarvapāśaiḥ,
  (Śvetāśvataropaniṣad 5. 13),

I.e., "by Realising God, all bonds are broken"—(Translator.)

Or, "yasya deve parā bhaktiḥ" (Śvetāśvataropaniṣad 6. 23). But one cannot definitely say that human-formed incarnations of Nārāyaṇa, Viṣṇu etc.; are intended by these expressions; because, the deities Rudra and "Viṣṇu are both Vedic, that is, ancient; and it cannot be said that the above-mentioned Upaniṣads did not refer to the ancient sacrificial ritual, which was later on given the form of the worship of Viṣṇu, as shown, by the words "yajño vai viṣṇuḥ" (Taittirīya Upaniṣad Sāṃ. 1.7.4). Nevertheless, if someone says that the idea of human-formed incarnations was conceived in those days, that cannot be said to be improbable; because, the word 'bhakti' (Devotion) which is to be found in the Śvetāśvataropaniṣad cannot at first sight be properly applied to worship in the shape of a Yajña. As the expressions used in the Mahānārāyaṇa Nṛsiṃhatāpanī, Rāmatāpanī, or Gopālatāpanī Upaniṣads are clearer than those in the Śvetāśvataropaniṣad, such a doubt can really speaking not arise at all about them. But, as there are no means for definitely fixing the dates of these Upaniṣads, one cannot, with their help, satisfactorily solve the question as to when the worship of the human-formed Viṣṇu came into vogue. Nevertheless, the fact that the Vedic Path of Devotion is very ancient is satisfactorily proved in other ways. The grammarian Pāṇinī, after first mentioning in a sūtra that the word 'bhaktiḥ' is to be taken as meaning 'that, towards which Devotion exists' (Pā. 4.3.95), says in another sūtra, namely, "vāsudevārjunābhyāṃ bun" (Pā. 4.3.98), that the man who is devoted to Vāsudeva should be called 'Vāsudevaka', and the man who is a devotee of Arjuna should be called 'Arjunaka'; and Patañjali, in commenting on this in his Mahābhāṣya, has said that the word 'Vāsudeva' in this sūtra is the name of a Kṣatriya, or of the 'Bhagavanta'. Dr. Bhandarkar has proved that the commentary of Patanjali was written about 250 years before the Christian era; and there is no dispute about the fact that Pāṇinī belonged to a much earlier period. Besides, even Buddhistic religious texts contain a reference to Devotion; and I have proved later on in detail that the Bhāgavata religion must have been the cause for principles of Devotion entering into the Buddhistic Mahāyāna cult. Therefore, it is proved beyond doubt that the Path of Devotion was well established in India long before the date of Buddha, that is to say necessarily more than 600 years before the Christian era. The Nārada-Pañcarātra, or the Bhakti-Sūtras written by Śāṇḍilya or Nārada, are later in point of time. But thereby, the ancientness of the Bhāgavata religion, or of the Path of Devotion, is in no way affected.

It will be seen from the exposition made in the Gītā-Rahasya that

(i) the present Path of Devotion has been gradually evolved out of the forms of worship of the Qualityful mentioned in the ancient Upaniṣads; that

(ii) the Pātañjala Yoga has given further importance to the Path of Devotion, as in that Yoga some perceptible or visible object has to be placed before the eyes for fixing the mind; and that

(iii) the Path of Devotion has not come into India from anywhere else, nor was there any necessity for it to come from anywhere else.

Supporting, from the point of view of the Vedānta of the Upaniṣads, this Path of Devotion, and especially the worship of Vāsudeva, which had in this way come into existence in India, is an important part of the subject-matter of the Gītā.

But a still more important part of the Gītā is the harmonisation of the Karma-Yoga with Devotion and the Knowledge of the Brahman. Although the Upaniṣads have considered the duties fixed for the four castes, or the ritualistic performances mentioned by the Śrutis as inferior, yet, some of the Upaniṣads say that they have got to be performed for the purification of the Mind, and that it is not proper to give them up even after the Mind has been purified. Nevertheless, several of the Upaniṣads may be said to ordinarily incline towards Abandonment of Action. There are statements in some Upaniṣads, as in the Īśāvāsyopaniṣad, that Action must be performed so long as life lasts, such as, "kurvann eveha karmāṇi", (i.e., "Action must be performed in this world" ~Translator.); but no other Upaniṣad has justified this KarmaYoga, which had been in vogue from ancient times, by doing away with the conflict between Spiritual Knowledge and Worldly Action as has been done in the Gītā. Way, one may safely say that the doctrines of the Gītā on this matter are different from the doctrines enunciated by many of the writers of the Upaniṣads, As I have fully discussed this question in the eleventh chapter of the Gītā-Rahasya, I do not propose to take up more space by dealing with it here.

The 'acquisition of Yoga' (yoga-sādhana), which has been referred to in the sixth chapter of the Gītā, has been fully and scientifically dealt with in the Pātañjala Yoga-Sūtras; and these Sūtras are now-a-days considered an authoritative text on this subject. These Sūtras are divided into four chapters.

The word 'yoga' has been defined in the commencement of the very first chapter as,

yogas cittavṛttinirodhaḥ,

I.e., "Yoga means the control of the activities of the Mind"—(Translator.);

And it is stated that,

abhyāsavairāgyābhyāṃ tannirodhaḥ,

That is, "this control (nirodhaḥ) can be acquired by practice and by indifference to the world";

And afterwards the means of acquiring the Yoga such as, yama, niyama, āsana, prāṇāyāma, etc. have been described; and in the 3rd and 4th chapters, it is explained how perfection and the supernatural powers of 'aṇimālaghimā ' (i.e., 'self-contraction, levitation' etc.—Translator.) are acquired by the 'asaṃprajñāta' or 'nirvikalpa' samādhi (non-differentiating mental absorption), and how by this kind of concentration, one ultimately reaches Release in the shape of 'Brahma-nirvāṇa'. In the Bhagavadgītā also, there is first mentioned the necessity of the control of the Mind (Bhagavadgītā 6.20); and after stating that the Mind must be controlled by the two means of practice (abhyāsa), and indifference to the world (vairāgya), (Bhagavadgītā 6.35), it is ultimately stated how one should acquire the non-differentiating mental absorption, and what happiness that gives. But on that account, one- cannot say that the Bhagavadgītā accepts as correct the Pātañjala-Yoga, or that the Pātañjala-Sūtras are earlier in point of time than the Bhagavadgītā. The Blessed Lord has nowhere advised that one should spend one's life holding one's nose in the hand for controlling the breath, in order to acquire perfect concentration, as directed in the Pātañjala-Sūtras. Control of the Mind and mental absorption have been mentioned in the Gītā as means for acquiring that Equability of Mind, which, is necessary for acquiring KarmaYoga. Therefore, it must be said that in this matter, the Gītā comes nearer to the Śvetāśvatara or the Hatha Upaniṣads than the Pātañjala-Sūtras. The Dhyānabindu, Churikā, and Yogatattva Upaniṣads deal with Yoga. But, as Yoga is the principal subject-matter in them, and its praises are sung everywhere, it is not proper to attempt to fully harmonise these one-sided Upaniṣads with the Gītā, which considers the Karma-Yoga as the most superior path; and such a harmony cannot in fact be brought about. In the introduction to his English translation of the Bhagavadgītā, Mr. Thompson has said that the Karma-Yoga in the Gītā is a form of the Pātañjala-Yoga; but such a thing is absolutely impossible; and I say that this confusion has arisen in the mind of Mr. Thompson, because he has not understood the correct meaning of the word 'Yoga' in the Gītā. Because, whereas the Gītā Karma-Yoga is Energistic, the Pātañjala-Yoga is just the opposite, that is to say, renunciatory; and it is, therefore, not possible that the one should have come out of the other; and it is nowhere stated in the Gītā that such is the case. Nay, the original meaning of the word 'Yoga' was KarmaYoga; and one may safely say that that word came to be commonly understood in the single meaning of 'Yoga' in the shape of 'Concentration of the Mind', after the days of the Pātañjala-Sūtras. Whatever may be the case, the Desireless Path of Action adopted in ancient times by Janaka and others was similar to the Yoga, that is, the Karma-Yoga of the Gītā; and it has clearly been adopted from the Bhāgavata religion traditionally handed down by Manu to Ikṣvāku etc., and was not derived from the Pātañjala-Yoga.

This will have clearly shown to my readers the similarity and the dissimilarity between the Gītā-doctrine and the Upaniṣads. Most of these matters have been dealt with in the (Gītā-Rahasya. I shall, therefore, say here only this much that, although the Knowledge of the Brahman in the Gītā has been mentioned on the authority of the Upaniṣads, yet, the Gītā has not merely copied the Metaphysical Knowledge in the Upaniṣads, but by adding to it the worship of Vāsudeva, as also the Sāṃkhya Science of the Perishable and the imperishable, that is to say, of the creation of the universe, it has principally expounded the Vedic religion of Karma- Yoga, which is easy to follow, and is beneficial in this life and the next; and in this way the Gītā is superior to the Upaniṣads. ft is, therefore, not proper to stretch the meaning of the Gītā doctrinal y, in order to establish a non-existing harmony between the Gītā and the renunciatory Upaniṣads, except in the matter of the Knowledge of the Brahman. It is true that the Metaphysical Knowledge in both is the same. Yet, although the head in the shape of the Spiritual Knowledge is the same, the Sāṃkhya path and the Karma- Yoga are the two equally important hands of the Vedic religion; and the Gītā has emphatically supported Action based on Knowledge, as has been done in theĪśāvāsyopaniṣad, as is clearly shown in the eleventh chapter of the Gītā-Rahasya.

Help me keep this site Ad-Free

For over a decade, this site has never bothered you with ads. I want to keep it that way. But I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased truth, wisdom and knowledge.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: