Bhagavad Gita, c. 400 BCE
Original Electronic Texts at the web site of Bhagavad Gita (WSU).

The Bhagavad Gita is a small section of the massive epic, Mahabharata, which describes the conflict between five Pandava brothers and their cousins, the Kauravas. The Gita opens with a conversation between Arjuna, one of the Pandava brothers, and Krishna, a warrior prince who, unbeknownst to Arjuna, is an incarnation of the god Visnu. As battle approaches, Arjuna wrestles with a dilemna: his duty is to fight, but he cannot bring himself to kill his kinsmen. He is overcome with pity, weakness, and doubt. Krishna serves as his teacher, helping him to resolve his dilemna and, in the process, revealing his true identity.

Reformated from the original.

Krishna's Answer


To him, who was thus overcome with pity, and dejected, and whose eyes were full of tears and clouded over, the destroyer of Madhu spoke these words.


How does it happen that this delusion, Arjuna, which is discarded by the good, which excludes from heaven, and occasions infamy, has overtaken you in this place of grave danger? Do not be weak, Arjuna, it is not worthy of you. Cast off this base weakness of heart, and arise, O terror of your foes!


How, O destroyer of Madhu, shall I in battle encounter with arrows Bhishma and Drona—both, O destroyer of enemies, entitled to reverence? It is better to live even on alms in this world than to kill my teachers, men of great glory. But killing them, though they are avaricious of worldly goods, I should only enjoy blood-tainted enjoyments. Nor do we know which of the two is better for us—whether that we should vanquish them, or that they should vanquish us.

Even those, whom having killed, we do not wish to live—even those sons of Dhritarashtra stand arrayed against us. With a heart contaminated by the taint of helplessness, with a mind confounded about my duty, I ask you. Tell me what is good for me. I am your disciple; instruct me, who have thrown myself on your mercy. For I do not perceive how to dispel that grief which will dry up my spirit after I have obtained a prosperous kingdom on earth without a foe, or even the sovereignty of the gods.


Having spoken thus to Krishna, O terror of your foes, Arjuna said to Krishna, "I shall not engage in battle," and fell silent. To him thus grieving between the two armies, O descendant of Bharata, Krishna spoke these words with a slight smile.


You have grieved for those who deserve no grief, and you talk words of wisdom. Learned men grieve not for the living nor the dead. Never did I not exist, nor you, nor these rulers of men; nor will any one of us ever hereafter cease to be. As in this body, infancy and youth and old age come to the embodied self, so does the acquisition of another body; a sensible man is not deceived about that. The contacts of the senses, Arjuna, which produce cold and heat, pleasure and pain, are not permanent, they are ever coming and going. Bear them, O descendant of Bharata! For, chief of men, that sensible man who is not afflicted by pain or heat, he merits immortality.

There is no existence for that which is unreal; there is no non-existence for that which is real. And the correct conclusion about both is perceived by those who perceive the truth. Know that to be indestructible which pervades all this; the destruction of that inexhaustible principle none can bring about. These bodies that pertain to the embodied self which is eternal, indestructible, and indefinable, are said to be perishable; therefore do engage in battle, O descendant of Bharata! He who thinks it to be the killer and he who thinks it to be killed, both know nothing. The self kills not, and the self is not killed. It is not born, nor does it ever die, nor, having existed, does it exist no more. Unborn, everlasting, unchangeable, and primeval, the self is not killed when the body is killed.

O son of Pritha, how can that man who knows the self to be indestructible, everlasting, unborn, and inexhaustible, how and whom can he kill, whom can he cause to be killed? As a man, casting off old clothes, puts on others and new ones, so the embodied self, casting off old bodies, goes to others and new ones. Weapons do not divide the self into pieces; fire does not burn it; waters do not moisten it; the wind does not dry it up. It is not divisible; it is not combustible; it is not to be moistened; it is not to be dried up. It is everlasting, all-pervading, stable, firm, and eternal. It is said to be unperceived, to be unthinkable, to be unchangeable. Therefore, knowing it to be such, you ought not to grieve.

But even if you think that the self is constantly born, and constantly dies, still, Arjuna, you ought not to grieve like this. For to one that is born, death is certain; and to one that dies, birth is certain. Therefore, you should not grieve about things that are unavoidable.

The source of things, Arjuna, is unperceived; their middle state is perceived; and their end again is unperceived. Why lament over them? One looks upon it as a wonder; another similarly speaks of it as a wonder; another, too, hears of it as a wonder; and even after having heard of it, no one does really know it .

This embodied self, Arjuna, within every one's body is always indestructible. Therefore you ought not to grieve for any being.

Having regard to your own duty also, you ought not to falter, for there is nothing better for a Kshatriya than a righteous battle. Happy those Kshatriyas, O son of Pritha, who can find such a battle to fight—an open door to heaven! But if you will not fight this righteous battle, then you will have abandoned your own duty and your fame, and you will incur sin. All beings, too, will tell of your everlasting infamy; and to one who has been honored, infamy is a greater evil than death. Warriors who are masters of great chariots will think that you abstained from the battle through fear, and having been highly thought of by them, you will fall down to littleness. Your enemies, too, decrying your power, will speak much about you that should not be spoken. And what, indeed, is more lamentable than that? Killed, you will obtain heaven; victorious, you will enjoy the earth. Therefore arise, O son of Kunti, resolved to engage in battle. Looking alike on pleasure and pain, on gain and loss, on victory and defeat, then prepare for battle, and thus you will not incur sin.

The knowledge here declared to you is that relating to the Sankhya. Now hear that relating to the Yoga. Possessed of this knowledge, O son of Pritha, you will cast off the bonds of action.

In this path to final emancipation, nothing that is commenced becomes wasted effort; no obstacles exist; and even a little of this form of sacred duty protects one from great danger.

There is here, Arjuna, but one state of mind consisting in firm understanding. But the states of mind of those who have no firm understanding are many-branched and endless. The state of mind consisting in firm understanding regarding steady contemplation does not belong to those, Arjuna, who are strongly attached to worldly pleasures and power, and whose minds are drawn away by that flowery talk which is full of specific acts for the attainment of pleasures and power, and which promises birth as the fruit of acts—that flowery talk which those unwise ones utter, who are enamored of Vedic words, who say there is nothing else, who are full of desires, and whose goal is heaven.

The Vedas merely relate to the effects of the three qualities; do you, Arjuna, rise above those effects of the three qualities, and be free from the pairs of opposites and always preserve courage; be free from anxiety for new acquisitions or protection of old acquisitions, and be self-controlled.

To the instructed Brahmana, there is in all the Vedas as much utility as in a reservoir of water into which waters flow from all sides.

Your business is with action alone; not by any means with the fruit of action. Let not the fruit of action be your motive to action. Let not your attachment be fixed on inaction.

Having recourse to devotion, Arjuna, perform actions, casting off all attachment, and being equally calm in success or failure; such equability is called devotion.

Action, Arjuna, is far inferior to the devotion of the mind. In that devotion seek shelter. Wretched are those whose motive to action is the fruit of action. He who has obtained devotion in this world casts off both merit and sin. Therefore apply yourself to devotion; devotion in all actions is wisdom. The wise who have obtained devotion cast off the fruit of action; and released from the shackles of repeated births, repair to that seat where there is no unhappiness.

When your mind shall have crossed beyond the taint of delusion, then will you become indifferent to all that you have heard or will hear . When your mind, confounded by what you have heard, will stand firm and steady in contemplation, then you will acquire devotion.


What are the characteristics, Krishna, of one whose mind is steady, and who is intent on contemplation ? How should one of steady mind speak, or sit, or move?


When a man, Arjuna, abandons all the desires of his heart, and is pleased in his self only and by his self, he is then called one of steady mind. He whose heart is not agitated in the midst of calamities, who has no longing for pleasures, and from whom the feelings of affection, fear, and wrath have departed, is called a sage of steady mind. His mind is steady, who, being without attachments anywhere, feels no exultation and no aversion on encountering the various agreeable and disagreeable things of this world. A man's mind is steady, when he withdraws his senses from all objects of sense, as the tortoise withdraws its limbs from all sides. Objects of sense draw back from a person who is abstinent; not so the taste for those objects. But even the taste departs from him, when he has seen the Supreme.

The boisterous senses, Arjuna, carry away by force the mind even of a wise man who exerts himself for final emancipation. Restraining them all, a man should remain engaged in devotion, making me his only resort. For his mind is steady whose senses are under his control.

The man who ponders over objects of sense forms an attachment to them; from that attachment is produced desire; and from desire anger is produced; from anger results want of discrimination; from want of discrimination, confusion of the memory; from confusion of the memory, loss of reason; and in consequence of the loss of reason he is utterly ruined.

But the self-restrained man who moves among objects with senses under the control of his own self, and free from affection and aversion, obtains tranquillity. When there is tranquillity, all his miseries are destroyed, for the mind of him whose heart is tranquil soon becomes steady.

He who is not self-restrained has no steadiness of mind; nor does the unrestrained man have perseverance in the pursuit of self-knowledge; there is no tranquillity for him who does not persevere in the pursuit of self-knowledge; and how can there be happiness for one who is not tranquil? For the heart which follows the rambling senses leads away his judgement, as the wind leads a boat astray upon the waters.

Therefore, Arjuna, his mind is steady whose senses are restrained on all sides from objects of sense. The self-restrained man is awake, when it is night for all beings; and when all beings are awake, that is the night of the right-seeing sage .

He into whom all objects of desire enter, as waters enter the ocean, which, though replenished, still keeps its position unrnoved—he only obtains tranquillity; not he who desires those objects of desire.

The man who, casting off all desires, lives free from attachments, who is free from egoism, and free from possessions, obtains tranquillity. This, O son of Pritha, is the Brahmic state; attaining to this, one is never deluded; and remaining in it to the end of your life, one attains brahma-nirvana, the Brahmic bliss.



If devotion is judged by you to be superior to action, then why, Krishna, do you urge me to do this fearful action? You seem, indeed, to confuse my mind by equivocal words. Therefore, declare only one thing with certainty, by which I may attain the highest good.


O sinless one! I have already stated that in this world there is a twofold path: that of the Sankhyas by devotion in the shape of true knowledge; and that of the Yogins by devotion in the shape of action. A man does not attain freedom from action merely by not engaging in action; nor does he attain perfection by merely renouncing action. For nobody ever remains even for an instant without performing some action; since the qualities of nature constrain everybody, no-one has free-will in the question of performing or not performing action.

The deluded man who, restraining the organs of action, continues to think in his mind about objects of sense, is called a hypocrite. But he, Arjuna, who restraining his senses with his mind, and being free from attachments, engages in devotion in the shape of action, with the organs of action, is far superior.

You should perform action which is required, for action is better than inaction, and the physical support of your body, too, cannot be accomplished with inaction. This world is fettered by all action other than action for the purpose of the sacrifice.

Therefore, Arjuna, do you, casting off attachment, perform action for that purpose. The Creator, having in ancient times created men together with the sacrifice, said:
"Propagate with this (ie, sacrifice). May it be the giver to you of the things you desire. Please the gods with this, and may those gods please you. Pleasing each other, you will attain the highest good. For pleased with the sacrifices, the gods will give you the enjoyments you desire. And he who enjoys himself without giving them what they have given, is, indeed, a thieŁ"
The good who eat the leavings of a sacrifice are released from all sins. But the unrighteous ones, who prepare food for themselves only, incur sin. From food are born all creatures; from rain is the production of food; rain is produced by sacrifices; sacrifices are the result of action; know that action has its source in the Vedas; the Vedas come from the indestructible. Therefore the all-comprehending Vedas are always concerned with sacrifices.

He who in this world does not contribute to the turning of this wheel is living a sinful life and indulging his senses, and, Arjuna, he lives his life in vain.

But the man who is attached to his self only, who is contented in his self, and is pleased with his self, has nothing to do. He has no interest at all in what is done, and none whatever in what is not done, in this world; nor is any interest of his dependent on any being.

Therefore, always peform action, which must be performed, without attachment. For a man, peforming action without attachment attains the Supreme. By action alone did Janaka and other ancient kings work for perfection .

And in regard also to the keeping of people to their duties. you should perform action. Whatever a great man does, other men do that also. And people follow whatever he receives as authority. There is nothing, Arjuna, for me to do in all the three worlds, nothing to acquire which has not been acquired. Still I do engage in action. For should I at any time not engage without sloth in action, men would follow in my path from all sides, Arjuna. If I did not perform actions, these worlds would be destroyed, I should be the cause of caste interminglings, and I would ruin all the peoples.

As the ignorant act, O descendant of Bharata, with attachment to action, so should a wise man act without attachment, wishing to keep the people to their duties. A wise man should not shake the convictions of the ignorant who are attached to action, but acting with devotion himself should make them apply themselves to all action.

He whose mind is deluded by individuality thinks himself the doer of the actions, which, in every way, are done by the qualities of nature. But he, Arjuna, who knows the truth about the difference from qualities and the difference from actions, forms no attachments, believing that qualities deal with objects of the senses.

But those who are deluded by the qualities of nature form attachments to the actions of the qualities. A man of perfect knowledge should not shake these men of imperfect knowledge in their convictions. Dedicating all actions to me with a mind knowing the relation of the supreme and individual self, engage in battle without desire, without any feeling of possessions, and without any mental anguish.

Even those men who always act on this opinion of mine, full of faith, and without complaining, are released from all actions. But those who complain about my opinion and do not act upon it, know that they lack all judgement, deluded about reality and distant from all knowlede; these men are in essence ruined.

Even a man of knowledge acts according to his own nature. All beings follow nature. What will restraint effect? Every sense has its affections and aversions towards its objects fixed. One should not become subject to them, for they are one's opponents.

One's own duty, though defective, is better than another's duty well performed. Death in performing one's own duty is preferable; the performance of the duty of others is dangerous.


But by whom is man impelled, even though unwilling, and, as it were, constrained by force, to commit sin?


It is desire, it is wrath, born from the quality of passion; it is very ravenous, very sinful. Know that that is the foe in this world. As fire is enveloped by smoke, a mirror by dust, the fetus by the womb, so is knowledge enveloped by desire.

Knowledge, Arjuna, is enveloped by this constant foe of the man of knowledge, in the shape of desire, which is like a fire and insatiable. The senses, the mind, and the understanding are said to be its seat; with these it deludes the embodied self after enveloping knowledge.

& Therefore, Arjuna, first restrain your senses, then cast off this sinful thing which destroys knowledge and experience. It has been said that the senses are great, that the mind is greater than the senses, that the understanding is greater than the mind. The self is greater than understanding. Thus knowing that which is higher than the understanding, and restraining yourself by your self, Arjuna, destroy this unmanageable enemy in the shape of desire.



What is that Brahman, what the Adhyatma, and what, O best of beings, is action? And what is called the Adhibhûta? And who is the Adhiyajna, and how in this body, O destroyer of Madhu? And how, too, are you to be known at the time one departs from this world by those who restrain their selfs?


The Brahman is the supreme Being, the indestructible. Its manifestation as an individual self is called the Adhyatma. The offering of a sacrifice to any divinity, which is the cause of the production and development of all things, is named action.

The Adhibhûta is all perishable things. The Adhidaivata is the primal being. And the Adhiyajna, O best of embodied beings, is I myself in this body.

And he who leaves this body and departs from this world, remembering me in his last moments, comes into my essence. There is no doubt of that.

Also, whichever form of divinity he remembers when he finally leaves this body, to that he goes, O son of Kunti, having been used to ponder on it.

Therefore, at all times remember me, and engage in battle. Fixing your mind and understanding on me, you will come to me, there is no doubt. He who thinks of the supreme divine Being, O son of Pritha, with a mind not running to other objects, and possessed of abstraction in the shape of continuous meditation about the supreme, goes to him.

He who, possessed of reverence for the supreme Being, with a steady mind, and with the power of spiritual discipline, properly concentrates the life-breath between the brows, and meditates on the ancient Seer, the ruler, more minute than the minutest atom, the supporter of all, who is of an unthinkable form, whose brilliance is Iike that of the sun, and who is beyond all darkness, he attains to that transcendent and divine Being.

I will tell you briefly about the seat, which those who know the Vedas declare to be indestructible; which is entered by ascetics from whom all desires have departed; and wishing for which, people pursue the mode of life of Brahmakarins.

He who leaves the body and departs from this world, stopping up all passages and confining the mind within the heart, placing the life-breath in the head, and adhering to uninterrupted meditation, repeating the single syllable 'Om,' which signifies the eternal Brahman, and meditating on me, he reaches the highest goal.

To the man of discipline who constantly practises abstraction, O son of Pritha, and who with a mind not turned to anything else, is ever and constantly meditating on me, I am easy of access.

The high-souled ones, who achieve the highest perfection, attaining to me, do not again come to life, which is transient, a home of woes. All worlds, Arjuna, up to the world of Brahman, are destined to return . But after attaining to me, there is no birth again.

Those who know a day of Brahman to end after one thousand ages, and the night to terminate after one thousand ages, are the persons who know day and night . On the advent of day, all perceptible things are produced from the unperceived; and on the advent of night they dissolve in that same principle called the unperceived. This same assemblage of entities,being produced again and again, dissolves on the advent of night, and, O son of Pritha, issues forth on the advent of day, without a will of its own.

But there is another entity, unperceived and eternal, and distinct from this unperceived principle, which is not destroyed when all entities are destroyed. It is called the unperceived, the indestructible; they call it the highest goal. Attaining to it, none returns. That is my supreme abode. That supreme Being, O son of Pritha, he in whom all these entities dwell , and by whom all this is permeated, is to be attained to by reverence not directed to any other divinity.

I will state the times, O descendant of Bharata, at which men of discipline, departing from this world go, never to return, or to return. The fire, the flame, the day, the bright fortnight, the six months of the northern solstice, departing from the world in these, those who know the Brahman go to the Brahman.

Smoke, night, the dark fortnight, the six months of the southern solstice, dying in these, the man of discipline goes to the lunar light and returns eventually to life.

These two paths, bright and dark, are deemed to be eternal in this world. By the one, a man goes never to return, by the other he comes back. Knowing these two paths, O son of Pritha, no man of discipline is ever deluded.

Therefore, at all times be possessed of discipline, Arjuna. A man of discipline, knowing all this, obtains all the holy fruit which is prescribed for study of the Vedas, for sacrifices, and also for penances and gifts, and he attains to the highest and primeval seat.

Bhakti Devotion


Of the worshippers, who thus, constantly devoted, meditate on you, and those who meditate on the unperceived and indestructible, which best know devotion?


Those who being constantly devoted, and possessed of the highest faith, worship me with a mind fixed on me, are deemed by me to be the most devoted.

But those, who, restraining the whole group of the senses, and with a mind at all times equable, meditate on the indescribable, indestructible, unperceived principle which is all-pervading, unthinkable, indifferent, immovable, and constant—they, intent on the good of all beings, necessarily attain to me.

For those whose minds are attached to the unperceived, the trouble is much greater. Because the unperceived goal is obtained by embodied beings only with great difficulty.

As to those, O son of Pritha, who, dedicating all their actions to me, and holding me as their highest goal, worship me, meditating on me with a devotion towards none besides me and whose minds are fixed on me, I, without delay come forward as their deliverer from the ocean of this world of death.

Place your mind on me only; fix your understanding on me. In me you will dwell hereafter, there is no doubt.

But if you are unable to fix your mind steadily on me, endeavor to obtain me by the abstraction or mind resulting from continuous meditation.

If you are unequal even to continuous meditation, then let acts for propitiating me be your highest aim. Even performing actions in order to propitiate me, you will attain perfection.

If you are unable to do even this, then resort to devotion to me, and, with self-restraint, abandon all fruit of action. For knowledge is better than continuous meditation; concentration is esteemed higher than knowledge; and the abandonment of fruit of action than concentration; from that abandonment, tranquillity soon results.

That devotee of mine, who hates no being, who is friendly and compassionate, who is free from individuality, and from the idea of possessions, to whom happiness and misery are alike, who is forgiving, contented, constantly devoted, self-restrained, and firm in his determinations, and whose mind and understanding are devoted to me, he is dear to me. He through whom the not agitated, and who is not agitated by the world, who is free from joy and anger and fear and agitation, he, too, is dear to me. That devotee of mine, who is unconcerned, pure, assiduous, impartial, free from suffering, who abandons all fruits of his actions, he is dear to me. He who is full of devotion to me, who feels no joy and no aversion, who does not grieve and does not desire, who abandons both what is agreeable and what is disagreeable, he is dear to me. He who behaves and feels alike to friend and foe and is indifferent to honor and dishonor, who is the same whether in cold or heat, pleasure and pain, who is free from attachments, to whom praise and blame are identical, who is silent, and contented with anything whatever that comes, who is homeless, and of a steady mind, and full of devotion, that man is dear to me.

But those devotees who, imbued with faith, and regarding me as their highest goal, resort to this holy means for attaining immortality, as stated, they are the dearest of all to me.

translated by Kashinath Trimbak Telano, 1882, edited and updated by Richard Hooker

Return to the syllabus.
Return to the History Department.