THEOSOPHY, Vol. 39, No. 12, October, 1951
(Pages 566-569; Size: 12K)
(Number 24 of a 24-part series)

[Compiler's Note: All 24 articles have the same name.]



THE final chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita furnishes its own solid evidence for the fact that the entire dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna has a logical structure and balance. For Chapter Eighteen is a compact summary and digest of all the major lines of teaching occurring throughout the treatise, and this is done with sufficient exactitude to satisfy the requirements of even the most critical intellectual. And yet the story of the Gita ends, as it begins, with the problems of the average man. We could even say that for such the Gita is a discussion of those two great questions, "Why am I confused?" and "What is happiness?" The subtleties of the Gita are many for the very good reason that these are not questions capable of simple answers.

Arjuna's "despair," as portrayed in the opening scene of Chapter One, is the perplexity of a man who has evolved sufficiently to perceive that true happiness of soul cannot be gained without effort and self-discipline. Two different forms of "happiness," however, are desired at the same time. Krishna therefore instructs, by means of transcendental axioms and ringing affirmations, as to the permanence of the life of the soul in contrast with the impermanence of worldly pleasure and preferment. Then he suggests the rational groundwork for the philosophy of soul in the three fundamental propositions of Theosophy. Further, he notes the function of true religion in securing a stable base of symbolic reminders for the perceptions of the higher self. Finally, he turns the discourse to psychology, the science of applied philosophy. This is the reason, we may conclude, why the "three qualities" are a constant theme of the latter chapters.

In discussion of the three qualities, Krishna has removed the question of good and evil from the religious mood of Moral Categories. He shows Arjuna that every mortal possesses the elements of all three qualities -- "good" and "evil" actions being the result of the dominance, or preponderance, of one or more of these qualities. Evil, in relation to a specific situation, is unbalanced action. Krishna is then ready to return once again to the "question of happiness," since there is no danger that Arjuna will confuse happiness of Soul with merely sensuous pleasure -- as is so easily done by those with insufficient philosophical background:

"Now hear what are the three kinds of pleasure wherein happiness comes from habitude and pain is ended. That which in the beginning is as poison and in the end as the water of life, and which arises from a purified understanding, is declared to be of the sattva quality. That arising from the connection of the senses with their objects which in the beginning is sweet as the waters of life but at the end like poison, is of the quality of rajas. That pleasure is of the dark tamas quality which both in the beginning and the end arising from sleep, idleness, and carelessness, tendeth both in the beginning and the end to stupefy the soul. There is no creature on earth nor among the hosts in heaven who is free from these three qualities which arise from nature."
The first portion of this section has unfortunately sometimes given rise to the mistaken notion that the only things truly good for us are the things we dislike intensely or find difficult. Carried to an extreme, this is the view of world renunciation upon which many of the false ascetics and flagellants of both East and West have built their creed. This is also the "anti-life" doctrine, referred to earlier in these commentaries. But in the context of the whole of the Gita's philosophy, one is able to see, when he reaches Chapter the Eighteenth, that Krishna refers only to the absolute necessity for discipline and self-control.

The beginning of every discipline is "poison" to the lower self. It means the re-channeling of energies habituated to moving, blindly, in some pleasurable pattern, following a line of least resistance. But Krishna does not say that all of these energies are to be dammed up, repressed and denied. He implies, instead, that when new and more fruitful channels are developed by the disciplined man for the living forces of his psychic and mental nature, they will find a more meaningful and "happier" expression. For Krishna, it is the one divine energy which finds but temporary embodiment in one or another of the three qualities. This energy is neither to be dissipated nor denied. It must be disciplined, and the "waters of life" are made pure and clear by discipline alone.

Because there is spiritual energy in all forms, there is pleasure to be gained from experiencing all the qualities, by some part of our natures -- even from the quality of tamas. But the pleasure of the sleepy and the idle, we may see, is of little intensity. The questing aspirations of the higher self are, in such case, obscured, even though the being, stupefied, can half-heartedly experience happiness. This practice, also, takes one ever downward; there is no food for soul. Thus men easily develop hopelessness which only a forcible change of their psychological ingredients can break. The more hopelessly tamasic are described thus piteously and astutely by a contemporary:

"They were the ones who had never learned to want. For they were secretly afraid of being alive and the less they desired the closer they came to death. They had never been given one good reason for applying their strength. So now they disavowed their strength...."
Those in whom the rajas quality predominates at least may be said to have seen that there can be no full worth and enjoyment in living without effort. The mistake of those who are primarily rajasic lies in the fact that rajas, untempered by sattva, so easily leads to a relaxing of effort soon after some immediate goal has been attained: at this point the shift is from rajas to the predominance of tamas.

Alternation between rajas and tamas is undoubtedly the prevailing pattern in a materialistic civilization, since the actions many are led to undertake have no goal beyond the realization of a particular object. There is little cultural encouragement for following the abstract ideal of perfection through endlessly continuing, more purposeful actions. And yet it is precisely this ideal which is necessary for development of an "unfettered mind." Only the unfettered mind can enter fully into experience, having no cloying attachment to preconceived ideas, nor to the results which the ordinary man is apt to alternately despair of or exult at thought of reaching.

Beyond all the qualities is the principle of discipline, the purposeful self-discipline which replenishes itself from its own strength -- the strength of the Higher Self. Thus, if able to realize his natural heritage, "a man is fitted to be the Supreme Being." As Krishna says, such an one "enters into me without any intermediate condition." He has attained to clarity of discrimination in the midst of action. The cycle of partial striving, partial attainment, and disillusion, no longer holds sway. Each experience is assimilated in the Self and by the Self at the time. The after-death states no longer exist as witnesses to the man's inability or failure to complete such assimilation during earth-life.

It is not, then, in the final analysis, a question of Complete Perfection being the only source of "true happiness." As Krishna says, "all human acts are involved in faults, as the fire is wrapped in smoke." What is needed, for the happiness and peace of mind Arjuna seeks, is simply that "unfettered mind and subdued heart" which always reveal enough of the long-range vision of the higher Self for the mind calmly to continue its task in Evolution. This mind is unfettered for it realizes that the task is not to grasp a single situation or relationship, but rather all relationships. Yet the heart is also subdued, because its strength needs to forever be husbanded to allow full compassion and full comprehension.

In closing this discussion of provocative passages in the Gita, it is well to suggest that in between and beneath the lines of the colloquy may be discerned the Secret Doctrine. Thus Krishna says to Arjuna, "Thou must never reveal this to one who doth not practice mortification, who is without devotion, who careth not to hear it." Therefore, these teachings often come in a suggestive manner. Given as revelation, they partake of the typical qualities of the purely religious presentation. Religions represent something of sattva, while giving a measure of sustenance to those who are not presently able to resist the domination of tamasic or rajasic instincts. But religions, as such, throw no light on the mysterious path of that soul who "among thousands of mortals" alone "strives for perfection."

COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:


Equalmindedness and skill in the right performance of duty are the true rules -- this is yoga. This right performance of duty means the mental state, for the mere performance of an act has no moral quality in it, since even a machine may be made to perform acts usually done by men. The moral quality resides in the person inside and in his presence or absence. If a human body, asleep or devoid of a soul, raised its hand and took the life of another, that would not be a crime. And oppositely the performance of a good act is no virtue unless the person within is in the right attitude of mind. Many an apparently good act is done from selfish, hypocritical, crafty or other wrong motives. These are only outwardly good. So we must attain to a proper state of mind, or mental devotion, in order to know how to skilfully perform our actions without doing so for the sake of the result; doing them because they ought to be done, because they are our duties. 


[Reminder: "THE BHAGAVAD-GITA" -- INFORMAL ESSAYS series has now ended.]

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