May 8, The Gita, A New Translation of Hindu Sacred Scripture by Irina N. Gajjar
Commentary and Chapter 4, The Sword of Knowledge
Bhagvan begins Chapter 4 of the Gita by telling Arjun that He will share the secret He taught the Sun God named Vivaswan long ago. Vivaswan shared it with his son who shared it with his son and so on. The reason the Lord now shares it with Arjun is because Arjun loves Him and is the Lord’s friend. Arjun wants to know whether God taught at the beginning of the world. God’s answer is that both he and Arjun have undergone many births but that while Arjun does not remember them, He remembers them all.
Lord Krishna’s reply incorporates the principle of reincarnation which is viewed as a given and underlies Hinduism. The Lord further explains to Arjun that He is born and comes to earth from time to time when the good need his protection. On such occasions, His purpose is to destroy the bad and help the good. God adds that those who understand that His birth is divine can escape the cycle of birth and death.
The Lord’s remarks regarding His birth purposed to destroy the evil and help the good raise this question: Are we humans in the hands of God who is the force behind our existence or are we responsible for the course of our lives, of our world and of our planet? The Gita does not consider this question as a question or as a dichotomy. Rather it considers that our karma, born of our free will, is intertwined with the karma of our nation, our times, and of those who connect with us and that all karma acts in concert under God’s auspices. So while we make our destiny, our maker helps us nudge it along. Imagine that worlds resemble multi-dimensional nets, populated by living, singing and dancing beings. The worlds evolve, brighten darken and devolve until they are destroyed to come again into being.
Karma works hand in hand with the notion of reincarnation. Literally, karma means action or doing. Philosophically it means action and its fruit. The different types of karma are discussed in my book On Hinduism, but overall karma is the effect of cause that we set into motion. For example, if we toss a glass, it will fall and break. Thus, Karma involves choices that once made either limit or expand our future destinies and choices. While God is not responsible for our karma, He is considered its merciful dispenser. At the same time, like Arjun, we are God’s instrument in the implementation of karma that has ripened into destiny.
To understand the concepts expressed in the Gita, we should remember that the Lord’s words are words that we humans put into His mouth. Even granting that these words are divine revelations, they come to us in human language. The teachings that we attribute to God represent our deepest, best, and kindest wisdom. They bridge the gap between reason and knowledge and between belief and faith. They carry us from hypothesis to thesis.
Lord Krishna concludes this phase of His discussion explaining that people have become pure and attained oneness with Him by concentrating on God. He adds that as people look for God, He looks for them.
Then, the Lord says that He created the caste system which divided society into four castes. While this organization does not comport with twenty-first century values in India, or for that matter anywhere, the Gita acknowledges it as the social order of the times. Later the castes come up again to illustrate the merit of the respective duties of people that comport with their natures as priests, warriors, business people, and servants. In the context of this chapter, the reference is meant to urge Arjun who is a kshatriya, or warrior, to wage a righteous war.
Overall, Chapter 4 promotes the goal of becoming one with God. It teaches that we can attain freedom from action by acting dutifully, and by distinguishing good action from bad action and inaction. Lord Krishna reiterates that we can reach happiness by acting for the Lord’s sake. He also elaborates on the merit of rituals, on the meaning of sacrifice, on the virtue of faith and on the value of knowledge which means knowing the truth. These themes are now familiar to Arjun as well as to all of us who have been reading or hearing God’s words in the Gita and we can appreciate both their nuance and the interplay between them.
Lord Krishna concludes Chapter 4 telling Arjun that the sword of knowledge will cut doubt out of his heart and once again encouraging him to stand up and fight!
Now, please enjoy this Chapter as cited below:
Chapter 4: The Sword of Knowledge
Bhagvan said: I have taught the truth to Visvaswan, the Sun God; Visvaswan taught it to his son Manu and Manu taught it to his son Ishvaku. And today I teach it to you, because you love Me and are My friend. This truth is very secret.
Arjun replied: But Vivaswan lived long ago. Did you teach at the beginning of the world?
Bhagvan answered: You and I have passed through many births. I know them all but you do not remember. I am born from time to time whenever the good need my protection. I am born to destroy the bad and help the good. My birth is divine and those who understand this become part of Me and do not have to be born again.
Many people have become pure. They have become wise and they have concentrated on Me. They have become part of Me. People look for Me and I too look for them.
I made the four groups of people for the world and divided people according to their natures and work. These groups are priests, warriors, business people, and servants.
From very early times, people who wanted to reach Me and become part of Me did not stop doing everyday things while they concentrated on Me. But even wise men do not understand how to do this. So I will explain the truth to you. I will tell you how you can be free from action without stopping it.
If you become free from action, you do not have to be born again and again. You will not need a new life to finish what you started in your old life. You will not be tied to the circle of birth and death. But you do not have to stop doing things to be freed from the things you do. You can act and still be free.
I will explain good action, good things; bad action, doing things which are not allowed; and inaction, doing nothing. All this is a real mystery. All this is hard to understand.
It is hard to understand that the wise are free because they do nothing while they do their duty. The secret is doing your duty for God’s sake.
A person who does everything just for God’s sake is wise. She is always happy. She does not want or need anything so she is free. She is calm while she does her duty. Her mind is doing nothing except concentrating on God.
A person who is wise never sins. She is always cheerful. She is not jealous. She is past happiness and unhappiness.
The wise person is free. He does not have to be born again. The things he does do not give him any punishments or rewards, so he does not need another life in which to be punished or rewarded.
A person who does everything for God’s sake is free and becomes a part of God. Doing your duty only for God’s sake is the secret.
A puja is a ceremony for God. It is a sacrifice. The puja is Brahma. The fire which is part of the puja is Brahma. The person who performs the puja is Brahma.
Brahma is God’s absolute, everlasting power. We cannot see or hear or feel Brahma. Reaching Brahma and understanding Brahman is the reason for the puja.
A sacrifice is giving something up for God. It is doing something for God’s sake. Some people give things up for God. Some people suffer for God’s sake. Some study for God’s sake. Some breathe for God’s sake. All these people sacrifice for God and their sins are washed away.
But sacrifice that is knowledge is better than giving up things. Learning the truth for God’s sake is the best sacrifice.
To get knowledge means to learn the truth. To learn you must bow down with respect to the wise. You must serve them and wait on them with a pure heart and they will teach the truth to you.
Then, Arjun, when you know the truth, you will not doubt any more. You will not be mixed up. You will see the whole world in your own heart and then in God.
Even the worst sinner can become good and reach God through Knowledge. Knowledge is like a boat which takes you across the ocean of sin.
Like fire burns wood to ashes, the fire of knowledge burns the things you do to ashes and these burnt actions give you no punishments and no rewards. This is how knowing the truth makes you free.
Knowing the truth takes you right to God.
If you have no faith, no trust God, you will doubt and lose God and be unhappy.
Oh Arjun, do everything for God’s sake. The doubt in your heart is the doubt of not knowing the truth. With the sword of knowledge, cut this doubt out. Be free. Do your duty for God’s sake. Stand up and fight!
Read more from Irina Gajjar at www.irinaspage.com.