Bhagvad-Gita: Treatise of self-help

By BS Murthy

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Chapter -4: Practical Wisdom

This chapter of 42 slokas, known as gjnaana yoga, Spiritual Knowledge, is replete with practical wisdom as well.

So in this chapter as with the previous one,  there  are interpolations galore. Slokas from 24 to 32 that are of religious/ritualistic nature seem clearly out of context and character. Prior to this seemingly interpolated body of eleven slokas, the nature of the Supreme Spirit and the conduct of those who realize it are dealt with. Thus, the discontinuity in the text brought about by the body of these interpolative slokas would be self-evident. Among these is s24, in which the nature of Brahman is described in terms of sacrificial fire, the oblation, its ladle, and the sacrifice et al, an antithesis of the Gita at any rate. And the other slokas of this group that describe states of yogic practices may be enlightening in their own way though out  of context. But s34 that advises Arjuna to seek wise counsel is irrelevant in the context of  the discourse fashioned to set his fears at rest in the battlefield of Kurukshetra itself.

That brings us to the first of the caste-oriented precepts in the Gita - chaatur varnyam mayaa srustam (s13). The plain reading of this sloka would have us believe that  the Lord Himself created the four-caste system, of Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Sudra, to suit the inclinations of a given soul towards certain earmarked calling of social and spiritual life in this world. And then, as a rider that is vague at the very best; Lord Krishna says that though He is the author of it all, He should not be deemed as the doer. These so-called caste characteristics and duties as well figure in  s 41-s48 of the concluding chapter, which are discussed therein.

It is imperative that we try to see whether these solkas belong to the original text, or are mere later day insertions, meant to sanctify the Aryan caste credo with the underpinning of 'exclusivity of duties' through the venerated Gita. It should not be lost on one that s11ís return of favour by the Lord is juxtaposing to the stated detachment of His as espoused in s14. On the other hand, s12 that is akin to s20,ch.7, itself an interpolation, and s13 do not jell with the spirit of the philosophy.

Just the same, one school of thought tends to view chaatur varnyam as a way of general  differentiation amongst men. However, this  would not cut much ice since common sense suggests that Lord Krishna would have been aware that this turn of phrase is likely to be viewed in caste colours rather than in general terms. That being the case, the Lord would have been circumspect in his word choices to convey his scheme of things governing manís birth if they arenít as narrow as the Aryan caste system propounds.

Or is the chaatur varnyam His real will, whether one likes it or not? The answer could be found in the Lord's averments as one reads on. The four types of beings the Lord identifies by their nature and disposition are  - the virtuous, the vile, the passionate and the deluded. Isnít the proposition that people of a given nature and disposition could be bracketed into one single caste so absurd? After all, even a given family provides many shades of human nature in its members, wonít it? That being the case, could Krishna be so naive as not to know about it! Above all, hasn't He declared in s 29 ch.9, ĎNone I favour, slight I none / Devout Mine but gain Me trueí. Slokas like chaaturvarnyam that would be encountered intermittently in the Gita are but mischievous, if not malicious, interpolations meant to buttress the Aryan caste prejudices and thus should be dismissed as such. However the said slokas are versified in nonpartisan manner in this rendering.   


Thus spoke the Lord:

Advice this to Sun I gave 

Told he Manu 

Ikshvaku thus got in turn.


Followed world My word for long  

Lost which mankind in due course.               


Itís but love I nurse for thee

Made Me reveal this Secret

Wisdom Supreme I gave Sun.


Thus spoke Arjuna:

Born of now, how come Thou

Did Sun advise there for long!


Thus spoke the Lord:

Born all here times umpteen 

Aware am I but know not thou.


Beyond the pale of birth ín death 

On My volition I take birth.


Wanes if good ín vile gain reign

Know it's then that I come forth. 


Itís thus I from time to time

Manifest here to uproot ill  

And uphold well for public good.


Grasp who this true self of Me 

Are bound to become one with Me.


So with who lead poised life

Reining in their base instincts.


Detached Am from what happens

It's this knowledge that frees man.


Men of yore all came to know

That's how one can free himself.   


Aspects action, inaction too

Wont to puzzle the wise even.


Apart actionsí rights ín wrongs

Inaction no less confounds man.


Grasping action, in non-action

Inaction in action, discern wise.


Whoso privy to this truth

Gives up wants all senses seek. 


He that content leans on none

Resigned he lives in thick of things. 


Mind if keeps thy greed at bay

Itís no sin thou meet thy needs.


One that truly well realized

Happy being with his share

Rids of envy from his mind

Easy he feels ever engaged

Treats he alike grief ín joy

Wins ín losses not to speak.


Acts of man to favour none

Grace they have of deeds selfless.


Better wise deeds than acts selfless

Wise thus strive to better themselves.


As ín when thou this realize

In us both then world discern

And get rid of thy illusions.


Voyage by thy boat knowledge

Helps thee cross all seas sinful.


Fire as wood to ashes turns

So spark wisdom burns thy sloth. 


None that betters this wisdom 

Realize thou by striving hard. 


Hone thy senses steeped in faith

And thou be wise ín freed of all.


Besides those who this doubt

Here as above suffer uncouth.


Doubts at bay with analyzed thought

Detached deeds of applied knowledge

Thatís how regardless wise all work.


Thus O Arjun,

Sever doubts with thy sword wisdom

And fight thy foes with all thy strength.


Ends thus:

Practical Wisdom,

The Fourth Chapter  

Of Bhagavad-Gita,

Treatise of self-help.


<<Back to Chapter 3

Introduction  Chapter 1   Chapter 2    Chapter 3    Chapter 4   

Chapter 5    Chapter 6  Chapter 7  Chapter 8    Chapter 9  

Chapter 10 Chapter 11   Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 

Chapter 15  Chapter 16  Chapter 17  Chapter 18

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