Sample Chapter

The Bhagavad Gita

According to Paramhansa Yogananda
by Paramhansa Yogananda, edited by Swami Kriyananda

Chapter 1


The Mahabharata, and the Bhagavad Gita of which it is a part, is not literal history. Rather it is a deep spiritual allegory, woven upon a framework of history. The main characters in the story did actually live, but they became essential reference points around which the story was developed. Most of the characters are inventions. They trace their names to Sanskrit roots, which supply their psychological meanings.

Arjuna was, in fact, a very high soul; Krishna, later in the Bhagavad Gita, calls him “Prince of Devotees.” Yet in this short, but very profound, scripture, and especially so in this first chapter, he plays the role of mere spiritual beginner starting out on his spiritual search. The device can prove confusing for readers, sometimes, especially for those who are already fully aware of Arjuna’s greatness.

The characters listed in this first chapter are not, as must at first seem, a mere catalogue of warriors arrayed against one another in preparation for the coming war. Instead, they symbolize psychological traits and states of consciousness, each of which plays an important role in the devotee’s struggle to rise above worldly delusion and to reclaim his true state of Sonship to the Infinite Lord.

Because some of these states of consciousness appear only as the devotee develops further, and even highly, on the spiritual path, it can seem confusing for them to be listed also in this first chapter. Yet the teaching here would be incomplete if they were omitted. I have therefore shown them as only latently present, rather, in the devotee’s consciousness. Samadhi, for example, is not something the beginner experiences; it appears, usually, after many years on the path, and therefore long after the initial doubts and discouragement of the beginner which Arjuna expresses in this chapter. Those higher states receive careful treatment in later chapters of this great scripture.

The Verses:

1. (King) Dhritarashtra [the blind, or undiscerning mind] posed this question to Sanjaya [introspection]:

On the battlefield of Kurukshetra [and of dharmic confrontation, Dharmakshetra], my sons [the Kurus (Kauravas), or adharmic (unspiritual) tendencies and qualities] and those of Pandu [the Pandavas, or spiritually elevating aspects of human nature] stood ranged against one another, eager for battle. What was the outcome (of their struggle)?

2. Sanjaya replied:

(Prince) Duryodhana [material desires], on beholding the Pandava army (opposing him) in full battle array, (anxiously) approached Dronacharya [habits, past samskaras or mental tendencies—Duryodhana’s “guru,” since material desires are directed by past habits], and spoke as follows:

3. Behold, O Teacher, this great army of the sons of Pandu, arrayed for battle by your own gifted student [Dhristadyumna, or awakened intuition; the calm inner light, which appears also owing to the “guidance” of past spiritual tendencies], the son of Drupada [dispassion toward sense enjoyments].

4. Ah! See those mighty heroes, bowmen as great as Bhima [the power to uplift the body’s energy] and Arjuna [fiery self-control], Virata [ecstatic identity of the egoic self with the indwelling soul], and Drupada [dispassion toward sense enjoyments], mighty charioteers [controllers of the senses], all.

5. Behold, too, Dhrishtaketu [the inner power of resistance to temptation (the yamas of Patanjali)] Chekitana [buried spiritual memories], Kashiraja [northward, or upward, flowing discrimination], and also Purujit [inclination toward internalizing the mind (pratyahara)], Kuntibhoja [steady, upright bodily posture (asana)], Shaibya [inner power of adherence to virtue (the niyamas)], (all these) foremost among men.

6. Lo, too, mighty Udhamanyu [control over the inner life force (pranayama)], brave Uttamaujas [ojas; spiritual luster and power, developed through sexual self-control], the son of Subhadra [Abhimanyu, self-transcendence], and the sons of Draupadi—all these also maharathis (formidable charioteers) [masters of the senses].

7. H ear also, in balance, O Flower of the twice-born, those leaders in my own army who are outstanding.

8. These number thyself (Drona); Bhishma [the consciousness of being a separate, ego-identity]; Karna [outward attachment]; and Kripa [not (in this case) mercy or divine grace, as it is usually understood, but personal as opposed to cosmic delusion]; Ashwatthama [attraction (likes)]; Vikarna [repulsion (dislikes)]; the son of Somadatta [Bhurishravas, the impulse toward outward, material activity]; and Jayadratha [bondage to continued separate existence; not included in every version of the Gita, but subtly distinct from outward attachment, or Karna].

9. And numerous others—heroes well trained forbattle, and armed with many weapons, (all of them) ready to lay dowtheir lives for my sake [in defense of egoic material desires].

10. Our forces, guarded by Bhishma, are numberless [for the pathways into delusion are multifarious], but their army, defended by Bhima [the power to uplift the body’s energy], is numerically constricted [because focused and powerful].

11. All of you, therefore, placed in your proper stations, do (everything you can to) protect Bhishma.

12. Grandsire Bhishma then, glorious and powerful among the Kurus, anxious to encourage [wavering] Duryodhana, blew his conch with a mighty blast.

13. There followed at once a great tumult, as conches, kettledrums, tabors (small drums), and horns sounded in a mighty uproar (of support).

14. And then (it was that) Madhava (Krishna) and Pandava (Arjuna), stationed in their magnificent chariot drawn by white horses [five in number, representing the five senses], blew mightily on their celestial conches.

15. Hrishikesha (Krishna) blew his Panchajanya [AUM and the united sound of all the chakras]; Dhananjaya (Arjuna) sounded his Devadatta [literally “gift of the gods” or, “that which gives joy”: the sound of a plucked string instrument in the manipura chakra]; and Vrikodara (Bhima) of mighty deeds [associated with powerful vayu; air, one of the five primary “elements”] (blew) his great conch Paundra [producing the sound of a deep gong].

16. Then Prince Yudhisthira [divine calmness] the son of Kunti [spiritual force; intense longing for God] blew his Anantavijaya [complete control over the inner prana]; Nakula [the sacral, or swadisthana] and Sahadeva [the coccyx, or muladhara] blew, respectively, their Saghosha [a flute sound, like that which Krishna as a boy played in Gokula] and Manipushpaka [a deep buzzing sound].

17. Then, the king of Kashi [“northward,” or upward-flowing discrimination], excellent archer; Sikhandi [the will and the understanding to perform only good, self-elevating actions, and, for this reason:] a mighty charioteer [controller of the five senses]; Drishtadyumna [the calm inner light, or the intuitive sense of its hidden presence]; Virata [literally, “majestic”; a sense of oneness with Spirit*], and invincible Satyaki [truthfulness];

18. D rupada [extreme dispassion]; the sons of Draupadi [see above] and the mighty-armed son of Subhadra [self-mastery]: all these, O Lord of the Earth, blew (loudly on) their conches.

19. That mighty tumult, reverberating through heaven and earth [penetrating the devotee’s astral and physical bodies] pierced the hearts of Dhritarashtra’s sons [shaking, thereby, the devotee’s faith in the attractiveness of material enjoyment].

20. Beholding the clan of Dhritarashtra (the Kauravas) arrayed (before him) for battle, Pandava (Arjuna), whose flag bore the monkey emblem [this symbol of restlessness, when raised by straightening the spine, indicates control over the ever-active mind*], took up his bow [symbol of correct meditative posture: the body erect, the bowstring indicative of a straight spine], and addressed Hrishikesha (Krishna):

21–23. Arjuna said, O Changeless Krishna, I (respectfully) ask Thee to guide my chariot between the two armies, that I may see them opposed in full battle array, (there to) observe the (warriors) with whom I am to contend. Let me study (those warriors) who willingly support Dhritarashtra’s son (Duryodhana).

24–25. Sanjaya then told Dhritarashtra: O Descendent of Bharata! On hearing these words of Gudakesha (Arjuna), Hrishikesha (Krishna) drove that best of chariots to a point between the two armies. There, before Bhishma, Drona, and that great horde of opposing chiefs, he declared: “Behold, Partha (Arjuna), this mighty gathering of the Kurus!”

26. Partha (Arjuna) then beheld before him [his own relatives:] grandfathers, fathers, fathers-in-law, maternal uncles, brothers and cousins, sons and grandsons, and comrades, past friends, teachers;

27. Observing that far-flung array of his own kith and kin before him, the son of Kunti (Arjuna) was filled with pity, and spoke sorrowfully:

28–30. O Krishna, seeing these, my own relatives, gathered together ready to fight us, my strength fails me; my limbs quiver; my mouth becomes parched; my whole body trembles; my hair stands on end [all these being signs of inner conflict]! The sacred bow Gandhiva slips from my grasp [as, with bent spine, he slumps forward in discouragement], and my skin is on fire [a hint of reawakened, latent desires]. I cannot remain upright, and my mind loses all focus.

31. O Keshava (Krishna), I behold (in this upcoming war) only omens of evil! Indeed, no good results can come from slaying these, my own family members.

32. O Krishna! I crave no victory (against these, my kinsmen), nor kingdom, nor the rewards (of victory), nor even life itself. Of what use (indeed, to us) would be these (hollow gains)?

33–34. Those ranged before us are our own [past] teachers [inclinations toward, and hopes for attaining, false, worldly desires and ambitions], fathers [begetters of past sense inclinations], sons [sense pleasures themselves], grandfathers [sense tendencies from past incarnations], uncles, fathers-in-law, grandsons, brothers-in-law, and other kinsmen [more distant influences: global, national, social, environmental, and familial].

35. O Madhusudhana (Krishna)! How can I consent to kill these (relatives), even if their own desire is to kill me? I would rather relinquish sovereignty (self-mastery) itself over the three worlds [the causal, astral, and physical universes]—what to speak, then, of conquest over this little earthly kingdom [my physical body]?

36. What happiness could we find, O Janardana (Krishna)! in destroying Dhritarashtra’s clan? Sinful though they be, would not we, too, incur sin (by slaying them)?

37. There can be no justification, surely, in killing our own cousins, Dhritarashtra’s sons!

38–39. Even if they, blinded by greed for possession, see nothing wrong in killing us (their own relatives), and in betraying their own friends, ought not we, who (knowing right from wrong) see the evil involved in annihilating a whole dynasty—ought not we, for our part, to avoid this great crime?

40. With the disintegration of a family, its ancient traditions are lost. When such a great disaster occurs, the whole family is deprived of any purposeful direction, and cannot but succumb to sin.

41. O Krishna! With the loss of religion [individual and family traditions], the women of the family become corrupt [the devotee’s feeling quality may lose its coherence, and descend to a chaos of confusion]. From there, intermixture of the varnas (castes) cannot but be the outcome.

42. This admixture [confusion as to one’s proper direction in life] plunges down to hell both the family’s destroyers [those deeds and qualities which undermine, or disrupt, a person’s carefully developed “family” of consciousness] and the family itself. The family’s ancestors [the individual’s inheritance, from former lives, of subconscious tendencies] will be forsaken owing to the withholding of traditional offerings of rice-balls and water [symbolic of the concern and energy with which people feed their latent tendencies].

43. By such wrong doings, those who disrupt the family [by removing a person’s carefully gathered self-definitions], and create an admixture of the castes [by confusing one’s established, and heretofore normal-seeming, self-identity], the age-old sense of personal reality will be destroyed.

44. O Janardana (Krishna)! Often have we heard that men who lack all sense of family religious rites [one’s traditional sense of individual function and purpose] are forced to reside indefinitely in hell.

45. Alas! actuated by (mere) avarice to possess a kingdom, we (are gathered here) ready to kill our own kinsmen [those tendencies in ourselves which, though harmful to our very peace of mind and inner happiness, are, for all that, members of our own “family” of consciousness]. This act, surely, will involve us in great sin.

46. I would therefore prefer that Dhritarashtra’s sons, their [sense] weapons in hand, destroy me! Only (by such passivity), so it seems to me, can I (hope for) happiness.

47. Thus declared Sanjaya [introspection, to Dhritarasthra, (the blind or passively receiving) mind]:

Arjuna, having thus spoken on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, his mind in upheaval owing to his grief and mental turmoil, set down his bow [abandoned his firm meditative posture] and slumped back onto his chariot seat.


Thus ends the first chapter, called “The Despondency of Arjuna on the Path of Yoga,” of the Upanishad of the holy Bhagavad Gita, in the dialogue between Sri Krishna and Arjuna discussing yoga and the science of God-realization.

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