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Bhagavad Gita - Chapters

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Bhagavad Gita comprises 18 chapters in the Bhishma Parva of the epic Mahabharata.  Because of differences in recensions, the verses of the Gita may be numbered in the full text of the Mahabharata as chapters 6.25–42 or as chapters 6.23–40.  The number of verses in each chapter vary in some manuscripts of the Gita discovered on the Indian subcontinent.  However, variant readings are relatively few in contrast to the numerous versions of the Mahabharata it is found embedded in, and the meaning is the same

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Chapter 1 (46 verses) - Arjuna vishada yoga, Prathama Adhyaya, The Distress of Arjuna, The War Within, or Arjuna's Sorrow


The Bhagavad Gita opens by setting the stage of the Kurukshetra battlefield.  Two massive armies representing different loyalties and ideologies face a catastrophic war.  With Arjuna is Krishna, not as a participant in the war, but only as his charioteer and counsel. Arjuna requests Krishna to move the chariot between the two armies so he can see those "eager for this war".  He sees family and friends on the enemy side. Arjuna is distressed and in sorrow.  The issue is, states Arvind Sharma, "is it morally proper to kill?"  This and other moral dilemmas in the first chapter are set in a context where the Hindu epic and Krishna have already extolled ahimsa (non-violence) to be the highest and divine virtue of a human being.  The war feels evil to Arjuna and he questions the morality of war.  He wonders if it is noble to renounce and leave before the violence starts, or should he fight, and why.

Chapter 2 (72 verses) - Sankhya Yoga, The Book of Doctrines, Self-Realization, or The Yoga of Knowledge (and Philosophy)

The second chapter begins the philosophical discussions and teachings found in the Gita.  The warrior Arjuna whose past had focused on learning the skills of his profession now faces a war he has doubts about.  Filled with introspection and questions about the meaning and purpose of life, he asks Krishna about the nature of life, soul, death, afterlife and whether there is a deeper meaning and reality.  Krishna answers. The chapter summarises the Hindu idea of rebirth, samsara, eternal soul in each person (Self), universal soul present in everyone, various types of yoga, divinity within, the nature of Self-knowledge and other concepts.  The ideas and concepts in the second chapter reflect the framework of the Samkhya and Yoga schools of Hindu Philosophy.  This chapter is an overview for the remaining sixteen chapters of the Bhagavad Gita.  Mahatma Gandhi memorised the last 19 verses of the second chapter, considering them as his companion in his non-violent movement for social justice during the colonial rule.

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Chapter 3 (43 verses) - Some translators title the chapter as Karma yoga, Virtue in Work, Selfless Service, or The Yoga of Action

Arjuna, after listening to Krishna's spiritual teachings in Chapter 2, gets more confounded and returns to the predicament he faces.  He wonders if fighting the war is "not so important after all" given Krishna's overview on the pursuit of spiritual wisdom. Krishna replies that there is no way to avoid action (karma), since abstention from work is also an action.  Krishna states that Arjuna has an obligation to understand and perform his duty (dharma), because everything is connected by the law of cause and effect.  Every man or woman is bound by activity.  Those who act selfishly create the karmic cause and are thereby bound to the effect which may be good or bad.  Those who act selflessly for the right cause and strive to do their dharmic duty do God's work.  Those who act without craving for fruits are free from the karmic effects, because the results never motivated them.  Whatever the result, it does not affect them.  Their happiness comes from within, and the external world does not bother them.  According to Flood and Martin, chapter 3 and onwards develops "a theological response to Arjuna's dilemma".

Chapter 4 (42 verses) - Ana–Karma-Sanyasa yoga, The Religion of Knowledge, Wisdom in Action, or The Yoga of Renunciation of Action through Knowledge

Krishna reveals that he has taught this yoga to the Vedic sages.  Arjuna questions how Krishna could do this, when those sages lived so long ago, and Krishna was born more recently.  Krishna reminds him that everyone is in the cycle of rebirths, and while Arjuna does not remember his previous births, he does.  Whenever dharma declines and the purpose of life is forgotten by men, says Krishna, he returns to re-establish dharma.  Every time he returns, he teaches about inner Self in all beings.  The later verses of the chapter return to the discussion of motiveless action and the need to determine the right action, performing it as one's dharma (duty) while renouncing the results, rewards, fruits.  The simultaneous outer action with inner renunciation, states Krishna, is the secret to the life of freedom.  Action leads to knowledge, while selfless action leads to spiritual awareness, state the last verses of this chapter.  The 4th chapter is the first time where Krishna begins to reveal his divine nature to Arjuna.

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Chapter 5 (29 verses) - Some translators title this chapter as Karma–Sanyasa yoga, Religion by Renouncing Fruits of Works, Renounce and Rejoice, or The Yoga of Renunciation

The chapter starts by presenting the tension in the Indian tradition between the life of sannyasa (monks who have renounced their household and worldly attachments) and the life of grihastha (householder).  Arjuna asks Krishna which path is better.  Krishna answers that both are paths to the same goal, but the path of "selfless action and service" with inner renunciation is better.  The different paths, says Krishna, aim for—and if properly pursued, lead to—Self-knowledge.  This knowledge leads to the universal, transcendent Godhead, the divine essence in all beings, to Brahman — the Krishna himself.  The final verses of the chapter state that the self-aware who have reached self-realization live without fear, anger, or desire.  They are free within, always.  Chapter 5 shows signs of interpolations and internal contradictions.  For example, states Arthur Basham, verses 5.23–28 state that a sage's spiritual goal is to realize the impersonal Brahman, yet the next verse 5.29 states that the goal is to realize the personal God who is Krishna.


Chapter 6 (47 verses) - Dhyana yoga, Religion by Self-Restraint, The Practice of Meditation, or The Yoga of Meditation


The chapter opens as a continuation of Krishna's teachings about selfless work and the personality of someone who has renounced the fruits that is found in chapter 5.  Krishna says that such self-realized people are impartial to friends and enemies, are beyond good and evil, equally disposed to those who support them or oppose them because they have reached the summit of consciousness.  The verses 6.10 and after proceed to summarize the principles of Yoga and meditation in the format similar to but simpler than Patanjali's Yogasutra.  It discusses who is a true yogi, and what it takes to reach the state where one harbors no malice towards anyone.

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Chapter 7 (30 verses) - Jnana–Vijnana yoga, Religion by Discernment, Wisdom from Realization, or The Yoga of Knowledge and Judgment


The chapter 7 once again opens with Krishna continuing his discourse. He discusses jnana (knowledge) and vijnana (realization, understanding) using the Prakriti-Purusha (matter-soul) framework of the Samkhya school of Hindu philosophy, and the Maya-Brahman framework of its Vedanta school.  The chapter states that evil is the consequence of ignorance and the attachment to the impermanent, delusive Maya.  It equates self-knowledge and the union with Purusha (Krishna) as the Self to be the highest goal of any spiritual pursuit.

Chapter 8 (28 verses) - Aksara–Brahma yoga, Religion by Devotion to the One Supreme God, The Eternal Godhead, or The Yoga of the Imperishable Brahman


The chapter opens with Arjuna asking questions such as what is Brahman and what is the nature of karma.  Krishna states that his own highest nature is the imperishable Brahman, and that he lives in every creature as the adhyatman.  Every being has an impermanent body and an eternal soul, and that "Krishna as Lord" lives within every creature.  The chapter discusses cosmology, the nature of death and rebirth.  This chapter contains eschatology of the Bhagavad Gita. Importance of the last thought before death, differences between material and spiritual worlds, and light and dark paths that a soul takes after death are described.

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Chapter 9 (34 verses) - Raja–Vidya–Raja–Guhya yoga, Religion by the Kingly Knowledge and the Kingly Mystery, The Royal Path, or The Yoga of Sovereign Science and Sovereign Secret


Chapter 9 opens with Krishna continuing his discourse as Arjuna listens. Krishna states that he is everywhere and in everything in an unmanifested form, yet he is not in any way limited by them.  Eons end, everything dissolves and then he recreates another eon subjecting them to the laws of Prakriti (nature).  He equates himself to being the father and the mother of the universe, to being the Om, to the three Vedas, to the seed, the goal of life, the refuge and abode of all.  The chapter recommends devotional worship of Krishna.  According to theologian Christopher Southgate, verses of this chapter of the Gita are panentheistic, while German physicist and philosopher Max Bernhard Weinstein deems the work pandeistic.  It may, in fact, be neither of them, and its contents may have no definition with previously-developed Western terms.

Chapter 10 (42 verses) - Vibhuti–Vistara–yoga, Religion by the Heavenly Perfections, Divine Splendor, or The Yoga of Divine Manifestations


Krishna reveals his divine being in greater detail, as the ultimate cause of all material and spiritual existence, one who transcends all opposites and who is beyond any duality.  Krishna says he is the atman in all beings, Arjuna's innermost Self, also compassionate Vishnu, the Surya (sun god), Indra, Shiva-Rudra, Ananta, Yama, as well as the Om, Vedic sages, time, Gayatri meter, and the science of Self-knowledge.  Arjuna accepts Krishna as the purushottama (Supreme Being).

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Chapter 11 (55 verses) - Visvarupa–Darsana yoga, The Manifesting of the One and Manifold, The Cosmic Vision, or The Yoga of the Vision of the Cosmic Form


On Arjuna's request, Krishna displays his "universal form" (Viśvarūpa).  This is an idea found in the Rigveda and many later Hindu texts, where it is a symbolism for atman (soul) and Brahman (Absolute Reality) eternally pervading all beings and all existence.  Chapter 11, states Eknath Eswaran, describes Arjuna entering first into savikalpa samadhi (a particular), and then nirvikalpa samadhi (a universal) as he gets an understanding of Krishna.  A part of the verse from this chapter was recited by Robert Oppenheimer as he witnessed the first atomic bomb explosion.

Chapter 12 (20 verses) - Bhakti yoga, The Religion of Faith, The Way of Love, or The Yoga of Devotion


In this chapter, Krishna glorifies the path of love and devotion to God. Krishna describes the process of devotional service (Bhakti yoga).  This chapter of the Gita, states Easwaran, offers a "vastly easier" path to most human beings to identify and love God in an anthropomorphic representation, in any form.  He can be projected as "a merciful father, a divine mother, a wise friend, a passionate beloved, or even a mischievous child", according to Easwaran.  The text states that combining "action with inner renunciation" with the love of Krishna as a personal God leads to peace.  In the last eight verses of this chapter, Krishna states that he loves those who have compassion for all living beings, are content with whatever comes their way, who live a detached life that is impartial and selfless, unaffected by fleeting pleasure or pain, neither craving for praise nor depressed by criticism.

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Chapter 13 (35 verses) - Ksetra–Ksetrajna Vibhaga yoga, Religion by Separation of Matter and Spirit, The Field and the Knower, or The Yoga of Difference between the Field and Field-Knower


The chapter opens with Krishna continuing his discourse from the previous chapter.  He describes the difference between transient perishable physical body (kshetra) and the immutable eternal soul (kshetrajna).  The presentation explains the difference between ahamkara (ego) and atman (soul), from there between individual consciousness and universal consciousness.  The knowledge of one's true self is linked to the realization of the soul.  The 13th chapter of the Gita offers the clearest enunciation of the Samkhya philosophy, states Basham, by explaining the difference between field (material world) and the knower (soul), prakriti and purusha.  According to Miller, this is the chapter which "redefines the battlefield as the human body, the material realm in which one struggles to know oneself" where human dilemmas are presented as a "symbolic field of interior warfare".

Chapter 14 (27 verses) - Gunatraya–Vibhaga yoga, Religion by Separation from the Qualities, The Forces of Evolution, or The Yoga of the Division of Three Gunas


The chapter once again opens with Krishna continuing his discourse from the previous chapter.  Krishna explains the difference between purusha and prakriti, by mapping human experiences to three Guṇas (tendencies, qualities).  These are listed s sattva, rajas and tamas. All phenomenon and individual personalities are a combination of all three gunas in varying and ever-changing proportions.  The gunas affect the ego, but not the soul, according to the text. This chapter also relies on the Samkhya theories.

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Chapter 15 (20 verses) - Purusottama yoga, Religion by Attaining the Supreme Krishna, The Supreme Self, or The Yoga of the Supreme Purusha


The fifteenth chapter expounds on Krishna theology, in the Vaishnava Bhakti tradition of Hinduism. Krishna discusses the nature of God, according to Easwaran, wherein Krishna not only transcends impermanent body (matter), he also transcends the atman (soul) in every being.  According to Franklin Edgerton, the verses in this chapter in association with select verses in other chapters make the metaphysics of the Gita to be dualistic.  Its overall thesis is, states Edgerton, more complex however, because other verses teach the Upanishadic doctrines and "thru its God the Gita seems after all to arrive at an ultimate monism; the essential part, the fundamental element, in every thing, is after all One — is God.

Chapter 16 (24 verses) - Daivasura–Sampad–Vibhaga yoga, The Separateness of the Divine and Undivine, Two Paths, or The Yoga of the Division between the Divine and the Demonic


According to Easwaran, this is an unusual chapter where two types of human nature are expounded, one leading to happiness and the other to suffering.  Krishna identifies these human traits to be divine and demonic respectively.  He states that truthfulness, self-restraint, sincerity, love for others, desire to serve others, being detached, avoiding anger, avoiding harm to all living creatures, fairness, compassion and patience are marks of the divine nature.  The opposite of these are demonic, such as cruelty, conceit, hypocrisy and being inhumane, states Krishna.  Some of the verses in Chapter 16 may be polemics directed against competing Indian religions, according to Basham.  The competing tradition may be the materialists (Charvaka), states Fowler.

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Chapter 17 (28 verses) - Sraddhatraya-Vibhaga yoga, Religion by the Threefold Kinds of Faith, The Power of Faith, or The Yoga of the Threefold Faith


Krishna qualifies the three divisions of faith, thoughts, deeds, and even eating habits corresponding to the three modes (gunas).

Chapter 18 (78 verses) -  Moksha–Sanyasa yoga, Religion by Deliverance and Renunciation, Freedom and Renunciation, or The Yoga of Liberation and Renunciation


In the final and long chapter, the Gita offers a final summary of its teachings in the previous chapters.  It covers many topics, states Easwaran.  It begins with discussion of spiritual pursuits through sannyasa (renunciation, monastic life) and spiritual pursuits while living in the world as a householder. It re-emphasizes the karma-phala-tyagateaching, or "act while renouncing the fruits of your action".

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