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Perspective on Scriptures

Part 17 of the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

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Krishna has more to say about materially oriented scriptures and religion, though he just mentions the Vedas:

The three gunas are the domains of the Vedas. Be free from the triad of the gunas, indifferent to the pairs of opposites, eternally established in reality, free from thoughts of getting and keeping, and established in the Self (2:45).

Again, by “the Vedas” Krishna means the ritualistic portion of the Vedas, the karma-kanda in contrast to the Upanishads, the jnana-kanda, which embody the highest spiritual wisdom and vision ever set down by human beings. They are really two opposing poles, one external and material, the other internal and spiritual. The karma-kanda insists that ritual is the only way to spiritual attainment; the Upanishads affirm exactly the opposite.

Krishna, continuing the theme of the previous verses, insists that however sacred the karma-kanda may claim its rituals to be, they really deal with nothing more than Prakriti, material nature, total involvement with which produces only ignorance and bondage culminating in rebirth.

The gunas

According to Sankhya philosophy, material energy behaves in three modes, or gunas (qualities). We will be considering them at length in Chapter Fourteen, which is entitled “The Yoga of the Division of the Three Gunas.” For now we need only think of them as three forms of material consciousness. Whereas the karma-kanda does nothing more than entangle its adherents in the three gunas, Krishna tells Arjuna that he must overcome the three gunas, that materiality must be transcended by entry into consciousness of the Self (Atman). But it is no easy matter to be free from the bonds of matter. Rather, the gunas must be overcome. This entails a struggle, and not an easy one, either, for Krishna later says to him: “Truly, this maya of mine made of the gunas is difficult to go beyond” (7:14).

The pairs of opposites

The dwandwas, the pairs of opposites, are also material phenomena, such as pleasure and pain, hot and cold, light and darkness, gain and loss, victory and defeat, love and hatred. Usually people think that the ideal is to eliminate one half of a pair and cultivate the other. This is the common attitude of religion throughout the world: seek the “good” and avoid the “bad.” But the sages of India discerned that real wisdom is to be established in the state in which the pairs of opposites cannot affect us. We neither seek one nor shun the other, but see them for the momentary appearances they really are, only mirages cast by our own mind.

The word nirdwandwas means “untouched by–indifferent to–the pairs of opposites,” and also “without the pairs of opposites.” At first we are to be indifferent to them when they insinuate themselves into our experience. But in time we are simply without them–they will have ceased to even exist for us. Then we will not need to endure them: they will have vanished like the dreams they are.


“Eternally established in truth [reality].” A simple phrase, but a profound concept. Later in this chapter it is elucidated by Krishna saying: “With attraction and aversion eliminated, even though moving amongst objects of sense, by self-restraint, the self-controlled attains tranquility. In tranquility the cessation of all sorrows is produced for him. Truly, for the tranquil-minded the buddhi immediately becomes steady” (2:64, 65). This truth is illustrated by an incident from the life of Yogiraj Shyama Charan Lahiri Mahasaya. He continually expounded the idea that the goal of yoga is to be established in sthirattwa, in perfect tranquility.

A group of spiritual leaders in Calcutta once conspired against Lahiri Mahasaya. They invited him to join an evening discussion on spiritual matters. Lahiri Mahasays accepted the invitation and accordingly attended the meeting.

The conspirators had well prepared themselves to trap Lahiri Mahasaya. For example, if Lahiri Mahasaya were to express his preference for a particular deity, or ishta devata, then a particular leader would find exception to that choice.

In fact, each member of the group selected a particular devata (deity) such as Lord Vishnu, Lord Krishna, Lord Siva and the Goddess Kali, and prepared to debate and challenge Lahiri Mahasaya’s choice.

As soon as Lahiri Mahasaya arrived, he was received in the traditional manner and shown proper courtesy. After a while one of the members of the group asked Lahiri Mahasaya, “Upon which deity do you meditate?” Lahiri Mahasaya looked at him but did not reply.

Then another gentleman asked him, “Who is your ishta devata?” Lahiri Mahasaya turned his head towards him and looked at him in the same way, while keeping his peace.

Finally, a third gentleman asked him, “Can you tell us upon which deity you usually meditate?”

Lahiri Mahasaya faced him and said very gently, “I meditate on sthirattva (tranquility).”

The gentleman replied that he did not understand what was meant by this. Lahiri Mahasaya continued to observe silence.

After some time, another gentleman asked him, “Could you please explain this? I do not understand exactly what you are saying.”

Lahiri Mahasaya, as before, continued to maintain silence.

Another gentleman asked, “Can you enlighten me as to what you mean by that? I do not understand at all!” Lahiri Baba told him, “You will not be able to understand, and also I will not be able to make you understand (realize) through words.”

The group was at a loss. All of their preparation and conniving had come to naught. Only silence prevailed. All kept silent.

After a long time Lahiri Mahasaya got up and silently prepared to leave the meeting. All showed him the traditional courtesy as he left.

Here we see how to fulfill Krishna’s counsel: “Be… eternally established in reality.”

Material detachment

Next Krishna utters another simple phrase: “Free from thoughts of getting and keeping.” Frankly, this is such a high ideal there is little to say about it, except that it refers to intangibles as well as tangibles. To transcend the impulse to acquire or keep is itself liberation, for only a liberated consciousness is capable of such a condition (or non-condition). Practically speaking, the best policy is to immerse ourselves in sadhana that leads to liberation. Then we will attain the state Krishna has set forth to us.


For the wise Brahmin with true knowledge, a great deal in all the Vedas are of as much value as a well when there is a flood all around (2:46).

As already said, the Vedas consist of both the karma-kanda, ritualistic expositions, and the jnana-kanda, expositions of the knowledge of the Self–just as other scriptures contain teachings regarding purely external life and also inner, spiritual wisdom. The enlightened need neither of them, both being irrelevant, but for different reasons.

The karma-kanda has been seen to be a force for bondage and therefore rejected by the liberated. The jnana-kanda, the Upanishads, on the other hand, has not been rejected by them. Rather the liberated embody and prove the truth of the Upanishads. For them the Upanishads are like a user’s manual for a machine. Once the operation and maintenance of the machine is learned, the manual is no longer consulted. As long as they were learning, the Upanishads were essential, but once they attained true Knowing, they had no more use.

So the “uselessness” of the karma-kanda and jnana-kanda are of a vastly differing character. I point this out because the two should never be equated. For the jnani the karma-kanda is an obstacle, but the jnana-kanda is a valued though outgrown teacher, a door that is unnecessary only because it has now been passed through.

Yet I must add that I truly believe that no one ever goes beyond the Gita; that it should be our constant companion as long as we exist on this earth plane.

Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: How Not To Act

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Introduction to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Preface to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Bhagavad Gita for Awakening links:

  1. The Battlefield of the Mind
  2. On the Field of Dharma
  3. Taking Stock
  4. The Smile of Krishna
  5. Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
  6. Experiencing the Unreal
  7. The Unreal and the Real
  8. The Body and the Spirit
  9. Know the Atman!
  10. Practical Self-Knowledge
  11. Perspective on Birth and Death
  12. The Wonder of the Atman
  13. The Indestructible Self
  14. “Happy the Warrior”
  15. Buddhi Yoga
  16. Religiosity Versus Religion
  17. Perspective on Scriptures
  18. How Not To Act
  19. How To Act
  20. Right Perspective
  21. Wisdom About the Wise
  22. Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
  23. The Way of Peace
  24. Calming the Storm
  25. First Steps in Karma Yoga
  26. From the Beginning to the End
  27. The Real “Doers”
  28. Our Spiritual Marching Orders
  29. Freedom From Karma
  30. “Nature”
  31. Swadharma
  32. In the Grip of the Monster
  33. Devotee and Friend
  34. The Eternal Being
  35. The Path
  36. Caste and Karma
  37. Action–Divine and Human
  38. The Mystery of Action and Inaction
  39. The Wise in Action
  40. Sacrificial Offerings
  41. The Worship of Brahman
  42. Action–Renounced and Performed
  43. Freedom (Moksha)
  44. The Brahman-Knower
  45. The Goal of Karma Yoga
  46. Getting There
  47. The Yogi’s Retreat
  48. The Yogi’s Inner and Outer Life
  49. Union With Brahman
  50. The Yogi’s Future
  51. Success in Yoga
  52. The Net and Its Weaver
  53. Those Who Seek God
  54. Those Who Worship God and the Gods
  55. The Veil in the Mind
  56. The Big Picture
  57. The Sure Way To Realize God
  58. Day, Night, and the Two Paths
  59. The Supreme Knowledge
  60. Universal Being
  61. Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers
  62. Worshipping the One
  63. Going To God
  64. Wisdom and Knowing
  65. Going To The Source
  66. From Hearing To Seeing
  67. The Wisdom of Devotion
  68. Right Conduct
  69. The Field and Its Knower
  70. Interaction of Purusha and Prakriti
  71. Seeing the One Within the All
  72. The Three Gunas
  73. The Cosmic Tree
  74. Freedom
  75. The All-pervading Reality
  76. The Divine and the Demonic
  77. Faith and the Three Gunas
  78. Food and the Three Gunas
  79. Religion and the Three Gunas
  80. Tapasya and the Three Gunas
  81. Charity and the Three Gunas
  82. Sannyasa and Tyaga
  83. Deeper Insights On Action
  84. Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas
  85. The Three Gunas: Intellect and Firmness
  86. The Three Kinds of Happiness
  87. Freedom
  88. The Great Devotee
  89. The Final Words
  90. Glossary

Visit our e-library page for Free Downloads of this and other ebooks in various formats.

Read the Maharshi Gita, an arrangement of verses of the Bhagavad Gita made by Sri Ramana Maharshi that gives an overview of the essential message of the Gita.

Read The Bhagavad Gita (arranged in verses for singing) by Swami Nirmalananda Giri (Abbot George Burke).

Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary

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