The Bhagavad Gita – Chapter 4

The Bhagavad Gita translated by Antonio T. De Nicolas

The Bhagavad Gita – Chapter 4

The Yoga of Knowledge


The Blessed One said:
1. I proclaimed this imperishable discipline (yoga) to Vivasvān, 
He told it to Manu, and he, to Iksvāku.

2. Handed down in this way from one to another, 
This yoga was known by the sage-kings, 
But, Foe-Destroyer, it became lost on earth with the lapse of time.

3. This very yoga of old 
Is being proclaimed by me to you today.
For you are devoted to me, and my friend, 
And this yoga is, indeed, the supreme secret.

Arjuna said:
4. Later was your birth, earlier was the birth of Vivasvān: 
How am I to understand this, 
That you proclaimed this discipline (to him) in the beginning?

The Blessed One said:
5. Many are my past lives and yours, Arjuna; 
I know them all, you do not, Foe-Destroyer.

6. Though I am unborn and of changeless self, 
Though I am Lord of beings, having taken my stand over my own prakrti 
I am born by my own self’s power (māyā).

7. For whenever there is a decrease in dharma, O Bhārata, 
And a rise in adharma
Then I send forth myself.

8. For the protection of the good and the destruction of evil,
For the purpose of the establishment of dharma,
I am born from age to age.

9. He who knows in truth this, my divine birth and actions, 
Having relinquished his body, 
He goes not to rebirth but to me, Arjuna.

10. With passion, fear, and anger gone, 
Taking refuge in me, Being filled with me, 
Many, purified by the exercise of wisdom, 
Attain my state (bhāva).

11. In whatever way men approach me, 
In the same way they receive their reward;
Men follow my path in every case, Son of Prthā.

12. Those desiring fulfillment of their actions on earth, 
Sacrifice to the gods. 
Quickly, indeed, comes fulfillment
In the world of men from such actions.

13. I created the four classes
By the differentiation of guna and karma. 
Although I made them, 
Know me as the imperishable non-doer.

14. Actions do not pollute me,
I do not covet their fruit. 
He who knows me thus, is not bound by actions.

15. So knowing, the ancients who desired release were active. 
You be active, therefore, 
Just as the ancients were long ago.

16. What is action? What is inaction?
Even the wise are confused on this point.
I will declare to you that action which, if you know it,
You will be released from evil.

17. You must understand not only action, however, 
But improper action (vikarman) and inaction (akarman): 
The way of action is difficult to fathom.

18. He who can see action in inaction, 
And inaction in action, 
Is a wise man; 
He does action in a disciplined way.

19. He whose every undertaking is free of compulsive desire, 
Whose actions are burned up by the fire of knowledge, 
Him the wise call learned.

20. Having relinquished attachment to the fruit of action,
(karmaphalāsangam, literally, “identification with the fruit of action”) 
Being constantly satisfied and without dependence. 
He does nothing whatever, 
Even though he is engaged in action.

21. Without craving, with mind restrained and relinquishing all possessions, 
Being active with body alone, 
He does not incur sin.

22. Content with what he happens to find,
Himself beyond the dualities, free from envy, 
And the same in success and failure, 
He is not bound even though he is acting.

23. The action of the unattached man is free,
Whose understanding is firmly rooted in knowledge,
And who acts as a sacrifice, is wholly dissolved.

24. The act of offering is Brahman, the oblation (offered) is Brahman,
It is poured by Brahman in the fire of Brahman.
Brahman becomes he whose actions are centered on Brahman.

25. Some yogins offer sacrifice to the gods only, 
While others make sacrifice by sacrificing the sacrifice itself.

26. There are others who offer hearing and their other senses 
Into the fires of equanimity; 
Others sacrifice sense objects, into the fire of the senses.

27. Others offer up all the actions of all the senses 
And of the vital-breath 
Into the fire of the disciplined concentration (yoga) of self-restraint 
Which is kindled by knowledge.

28. Others offer as sacrifice their possessions, their austerity, 
Or their yogic exercises; 
While still others of firmly restrained minds and austere vows, 
Offer their scriptural study (Veda) and their knowledge (of it).

29. Others, likewise, having controlled the course
Of their inbreathing and outbreathing (prānāpānagati ruddhvā),
Wholly devoted to breath control (pranāyāmaparāyanāh)  
Sacrifice the one breath into the other (apāne juhvati prānam).

30. And others, the abstemious in food, 
Offer as sacrifice their life breaths in life breaths. 
All these are knowers of sacrifice, 
And by sacrifice their sins are destroyed.

31. Those who eat the food of immortality left after the sacrifice, 
Attain the primeval Brahman. 
Not even this world is for one who does not sacrifice, 
How then the next world, Highest of the Kurus?

32. Thus manifold sacrifices are spread out in the face of Brahman. 
Know them all to be born of action. 
Knowing this, you will be freed.

33. The sacrifice of knowledge is better, Foe-Destroyer, 
Than the sacrifice of material things. 
All action without exception is completely terminated in knowledge, O Son of Prthā.

34. Know this by obeisance, by inquiry, and by service to them. 
Men of wisdom, the seers of truth, 
Will explain to you this knowledge.

35. You will never be deluded again, Son of Pāndu, 
When you have learned this: 
For by this you will see all beings without exception in yourself and in me.

36. Even if you were among sinners the worse of sinners,
You will cross beyond all evil 
By the boat of knowledge alone.

37. Just as a kindled fire reduces its fuel to ashes, Arjuna, 
So the fire of knowledge reduces all action to ashes.

38. For no equal to wisdom as a purifier is known on earth. 
This, the one reaching his own ultimate fulfillment in yoga 
Finds in himself with time.

39. He who has faith, who is committed to it, whose senses are controlled, 
Gains knowledge, and having obtained it, 
He quickly attains supreme peace.

40. But he who is without insight and is without faith, 
His very self being doubt, He is lost: 
For the doubting one, there is neither this world nor the next, 
Nor is there happiness.

41. Actions do not blind him, O Wealth-Winner, 
Who has renounced all actions in yoga, 
Who has cut out doubt by knowledge, 
And who is self-possessed.

42. Therefore, having cut out with your self’s own sword of knowledge, 
This doubt in your heart which is born of ignorance, 
Get into yoga and raise yourself up, O Bhārata.

This is the end of the fourth chapter, entitled
“The Yoga of Knowledge”

About Sunday morning

Sunday Morning Contemplation is informed by Eastern and Western contemplative traditions. The first, lectio divina has its origins in 6th century Europe. It unfolds in four steps or stages: reading (lectio), reflecting (meditatio), responding (oratio), and silent abiding (contemplatio). Our Eastern inspiration come from the Indian Upanishads (800-200 BCE), where contemplative practice consists of three steps or stages: listening (śravana), reflecting (manana), and meditating (nididhyāsana or dhyāna). Our contemplative practice on Sundays embraces both approaches, and each contemplation will be based on a reading from either tradition.

The texts and teachers I have chosen played a significant role in my life and I believe have much to offer. I will read presellected texts, slowly, with pauses between verses or quotes. The readings will be accompanied by soothing background music. To lessen distraction, I suggest participants close their eyes and listen. However, the screen will display the text so that people can choose to read along or mute the sound and read on their own. If there is time remaining after the contemplative period, participants can choose to either leave or stay for a short discussion.

As a preface to the reading, I will provide a 10-15 minute introduction to the text. When relevant, I’ll review facts about the author/teacher’s life. I will also present a brief explanation of the terms and language encountered in the reading.

Finally, when the contemplation is over, all texts read will be available online to read and/or download at any time on the website.

What I mean by
The Symbolic Life

This website makes liberal use of classical Indian visual art and refers mostly to traditional Indian texts (for example, the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras) in the courses, seminars, and discussions on offer. However, I am not presenting lessons in Hinduism; in fact, teaching mainstream Hinduism is neither my area of interest nor expertise. Rather, my interest in Yoga and Tantra is grounded in the concrete situation in which we find ourselves, in the places where we arrive and from which we depart. Beginning in the here and now, we will explore the underlying meaning of the symbols, stories, images, philosophies, and techniques found in Indian philosophical texts and practice, in light of our world and our current circumstance. We will excavate the meaning of the aphorisms and teaching stories; the symbolic figures of gods, people, and nature; and the sometimes terse, sometimes poetic, philosophy of the texts. Thus, in referring to the Symbolic Life of Yoga and Tantra, I mean not just the symbols themselves, but the rich explication of life that the symbols represent.

Our lived, concrete situation is wonderfully captured in the Sanskrit word loka, whose ancient meaning is “the world.”  The root meaning of both the Sanskrit loka and the English locate (and local, locale, and location) is identical. In the ancient Indian mind, the world is where we are located, in our current circumstance. Thus, the meaning of the symbols of Yoga and Tantra can occur only in the now, in the places where we find ourselves, and not in any imagined ancient and/or foreign world.

To emphasize our place of origin and return, I use the terms “archetypal” and “symbolic” quite frequently. Archetypal meaning is associated with the universal and collective aspects of human experience—what we intimately share with all others regardless of culture or era or epoch—while symbolic language forms a bridge between the realms of the universal with the culturally specific and local. Symbols are the scaffolding upon which human beings build a world and imbue it with meaning.

Think for a moment of pain and pleasure, sorrow and joy, hatred and love, and greed and generosity—universal experiences that ancient Indian thinkers called the dvandva-s. This Sanskrit term is a combination of two words, or rather, one word spoken twice: the word dva (meaning the same as the English “two”) duplicated. Dvandva is commonly translated as “the pair of opposites” or literally “the two-twos” (dvadva). The ancients who coined this compact symbol gave voice to an archetypal human experience that can be further unpacked to reveal deep insights into the human condition. Once we gain an understanding of the various symbols of Yoga and Tantra, we can further excavate their meaning and the archetypes they convey, and thus gain access to, in a practical and meaningful way, the vision of life experienced by the sages. These insights are available to us and are still relevant today, as are the resilient and adaptable techniques and forms of practice that can help us lead richer and more fulfilling lives