Bhagavad Gita Chapter 18 is said by some commentators to be a summary of the teachings

Like Chapter II, the Bhagavad Gita Chapter XVIII Conclusion is said by some commentators to be a summary of the teachings of the Gītā.

It begins by recalling the familiar distinction between:
(1) physically giving up (sanyāsa) actions, except for a few semi-automatic ones which preserve the body,
and (2) energetically performing the actions proper to one’s role in life, but without any attachment to the action or to its fruits: this is called tyāga.

The Lord selects worship, gift and austerity as the best of all actions, to typify righteous action in general.

XVIII.5 Actions of worship, gift, and austerity must not be abandoned, but rather performed;
Worship, gift, and austerity are purifiers of the wise.

6 But these actions must be done giving up attachment to them, and all claim on the fruits:
This is My definite and final judgement.

Then he repeats the point already made several times in the Gītā, that while one has the definite feeling ‘I am this body’, it is impossible to cease from action. The body would simply perish quite quickly.

XVIII.11 For a body-wearer cannot give up actions altogether;

But he who abandons the fruit of action is said to be the man of abandonment.

So far is the karma-yoga training: proper action is to be done, without attachment, and without claim on fruits in the sense of elation at success or despondency at failure. The action is done by one who feels ‘I am this body-mind complex, the agent in this action.’ He is technically called a body-wearer, and a mere theoretical knowledge of the truth of the great Self does not change his immediate direct conviction of being the body

We can note that in the listing of the factors of. action, the fifth one is the divine will. The first four are: the material basis, the agent, the various instruments, the various activities of the agent. The fifth one, the divine will, does not rule out the power of choice that has been given to the body-wearer human agent: it is to remind him that he alone cannot bring about any effect.

XVIII.16 He who thinks that it is simply the Self which is the agent of actions,
Is confused in mind, and fails to see.

Almost immediately, the Gītā presents the truth:

17 He whose being is not made-into-an-ego, whose intelligence is not tainted,
He, even though he slays these people, does not slay, and is not bound.

The body-mind called ‘he’ slays the people if it is the divine will and inspiration, but the true ‘he’ is the infinite Self, which neither slays as Arjuna’s body is urged to do, nor causes to slay, as the Lord’s body as Ka is doing. The great Self is also the true Self of those who seem to be slain. This complements the teaching in II.21, where slaying the Self is shown to be impossible because it is immortal.

In verses 19–30, further vivid, illustrations of the influence of the three gua-s are given.

Verses 42–45 give the proper roles of the four classes, who are born with tendencies towards the roles, and must develop and perfect them. Nothing is said in the Gītā about being in a class because bom of parents of that class.

There is also nothing about privileges. In the Lawbook of Manu, a Brahmin has the privilege of personal immunity from execution even if he has committed murder. The king is directed simply to expel him from the kingdom. The Gītā does not mention anything like this. It speaks not of privileges but rather of duties, such as the Brahmin’s duty to speak out the truth; this he must do fearlessly even at risk of his own life.

Some of the points are discussed in the chapter on the Four Vocations .

XVIII.42 Calm, self-control, austerity, purity, patience, uprightness,
Theoretical knowledge and practical realization, faith –
Are the innate impulse-tendencies of Brahmins.

43 Heroism, majesty, firmness, skill, never running away,
Generosity, authority, are innate in Ksatriya warriors.

44 Skill in agriculture, rearing cattle, trade, are innate to Vaiśyas;
Action of service is natural to a Śūdra.

Śūdra-s were not helots or slaves. Megasthenes, Greek ambassador in 300 BC, does not mention slaves in his account of Indian society of the time. Some śūdra-s became wealthy, and as Manu notes in passing, even kings. For present-day times, the word ‘service’ can be taken in its sense of a livelihood or profession whose main aim is to benefit others: public service, welfare service, social service, and so on.

That these classes were seen by the Gītā to be a matter of innate disposition, and not a perhaps uncongenial hereditary role, is shown by the next verse:

45 Taking delight in his own special role, one attains perfection;
Hear now how, delighting in his special action, he attains that spiritual success.

The verse shows that the role is one in which one can delight: it is not a duty done under compulsion against the grain

46 Worshipping with his special action the Lord from whom comes all activity,
By whom all this is pervaded, one attains perfection.

47 Better one’s own role, though done imperfectly, than another’s part even though well played:
If he does the action proper to his own disposition, he incurs no guilt.

48 The action innate in him should not be given up though it may have some defects:
For all undertakings are clouded by some faults, as fire by smoke.

In connection with performance of the proper role, the Gītā repeats the special words for joy: ‘rata’ or ‘abhi-rata’. They mean ‘delighting in’, with a sense of complete ease and contentment, and also a nuance of sport. The same word is used of the illumined man engaged in steadying his knowledge: in V.25 and XII.4 he is described as ‘delighting in the welfare of all beings.’ This is not a duty to be conscientiously carried out, but delight in playing the divine role undiluted by personal considerations.

Then follow a few verses on what follows naturally for this man who has achieved ‘perfection’ in the form of purity of mind, and transcended action of the form ‘I do it’. By solitary meditation, he comes to be settled in his true Self as the attributeless Brahman. The verses summarize teachings on practice in Chapter VI:

51 With his mind purified and set in yoga, with firm self- control,
Rejecting sounds and other sense-impressions, and putting away love and hate,

52 In solitude, eating little, restraining speech, body, and mind,
Always keeping in view his purpose of yoga and meditation, relying on inner independence,

53 Freed from I-ness, violence, pride, desire, anger and possessiveness,
Unselfish, serene – he is qualified to become Brahman.

Then the Gītā gives one of its frequent reminders that the supreme Brahman, as the Lord, also projects the world-illusion:

54 Having become Brahman, of serene self, he neither grieves nor longs,
The same to all beings, he attains supreme devotion to Me.

The word para-bhakti, translated as ‘supreme devotion’, is read by Sankara as awareness of identity with the Lord. It is made clear and undisturbed by the path of jñāna-nihā, which is in fact a one-pointed current of thought of identity of Self and God. In the end the interior current burns itself away as a mental activity. Patients who have recovered health by a planned regimen under expert guidance, sometimes think, ‘I feel really well now, I am healthy.’ But after a short time this conception drops away; they enjoy health on a deep level, without thinking about it.

55 By that devotion he comes to know Me, who and what I am in very truth;
Then knowing me in very truth, he enters into Me straightaway.

This verse shows that Knowledge is the cause of instant liberation. But Sankara in his commentary here explains at length that this has to be pure clear Knowledge, mature and without any obstructions. He describes the process:

(1) it is truth declared by the holy texts,
(2) presented by the teacher to a pupil
(3), who is practised in the twenty qualities listed in XIII.7–11, beginning with Humility and ending with Constancy in Self-knowledge and Perception of the Goal of Knowledge of Truth;
(4) it is the truth which has first risen and then matured, which now
(5) attains consummation in an absolutely unobstructed experience, immediate identity of Self with the Lord.

The maturing or ripening, mentioned twice in the passage, refers to the path of jñāna-nihā, clearing away from the uprisen Knowledge any trailing clouds of illusory association. Thus the final stages of the path of Knowledge are summed up.

The Gītā, however, is given formally to a man (and through him to all such men) who has still an individual role in the world. So in the concluding verses it returns to karma-yoga. Karma-yogin-s have not yet realized identity with the Lord in practice.

57 Mentally casting all actions upon Me, devoted to Me,
Keep your mind ever fixed on me by means of yoga.

58 If your mind is on Me, by My grace you will get over all difficulties.
But if from self-will you will not heed, you will perish.

59 Even if from that self-will you resolve not to fight,
Vain would be that resolve: your inner make-up will make you fight.

60 Held fast by your own natural impulse,
What through delusion you tried not to do, you would be driven to do, though unwilling

These verses can be bewildering at first sight. If Arjuna is going to fight anyway, why the instruction and persuasion to fight? The Lord seems to say that it is not needed. He is predicting that Arjuna, even as he tried to go from the battlefield, would see the arrows begin to fall. He would see his brother Yudhihira wounded. In any case his whole warrior training would rise up in explosive fury, and he would rush back to fight.

There is a difference, however. It is the difference between fighting in explosive fury, and fighting as a yogin. As a yogin he will not be driven by passions of rage and hate. He will not fight as the others fight, but will have at least some interior calm, without hatred of those he fights. (He will be all the more effective for that.) It will be done as divine inspiration, and he will be free from fear of death, or failure.

61 The Lord abides in the heart of all beings,
Making them turn about like puppets on a machine, by His magic māyā.

62 Go to Him alone for refuge, with your whole being;
By His grace you will attain supreme peace and the state of immortality.

Verses 61 and 62 give the main teachings in a nutshell: the Lord himself enters all beings, and makes them turn about, controlled as if mechanically by his magic trick-of-illusion called mâyâ.
The Lord himself has entered, as well as constructed, the machine, as Chapter XV explained. He has allowed himself to be deluded.
When the deluded Lord turns to the undeluded Lord, his own real Self, with his whole being, the illusion is no longer a bondage; if it is a restriction, that is a voluntary self-restriction.

The verses show that the world-process is willed and purposeful, and that its solution is joy. Dr Shastri compared it to the sport of a very strong swimmer, who deliberately throws himself into a torrent, knowing that he will lose control for a time, but will be able gradually to reestablish it.

The Gītā ends with a verse in which Arjuna’s illusion is gone, and he says: I will follow your word, and fight.’
Śakara explains that he has attained full Knowledge, and has nothing to do as an individual, since he is no longer an individual. The body and mind act without the egoism ‘I do’: the one Lord shines in his unbroken glory.

It may be asked, what about all the misery seen in the world? The answer of the Gītā is that in those who are drawn to yoga, the Lord is stirring. Most of the misery can be easily alleviated if hearts become free from passion and inertia. Those who are relatively prosperous and secure can contribute materially, but unless hearts are changed, the situation will soon revert to what it was. By practising yoga and purifying their own lives, the partially awakening Lords can help rescue those still spiritually asleep.

Those who complain of the misery and injustice of the world must press the point further. A man asked a spiritual teacher: ‘Why does a just God, or a compassionate Buddha, or any of those others they talk about, allow all the evil in the world?’

The teacher replied: ‘And do you yourself contribute to this evil which so distresses you?’

Somewhat taken aback, the inquirer thought a bit, and then said in a low voice: ‘I am ashamed to say it, but I’d have to admit that I have done things in my life which were unnecessarily cruel, and spiteful too, I suppose. I needn’t have done them, but, yes, I did them.’

‘Well,’ said the teacher, ‘You are God, you are Buddha, you are all those others they talk about. Why do you allow yourself to do these things?’

© Trevor Leggett

 

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