Friday, October 15, 2021

My 3 favorite verses from Bhagavad Gita

Bhagavad Gita is an ocean and I am no expert on it. However, from time to time I come across a verse from Gita which makes me curious and I study it. Over the years, I have become fond of certain verses. Here I present 3 of my favorite verses.

      1.      This is verse 2.28.

अव्यक्तादीनि भूतानि व्यक्तमध्यानि भारत।

अव्यक्तनिधनान्येव तत्र का परिदेवना ॥2.28॥

avyaktadeeni bhootani vyaktamadhyani bharat

avyaktnidhananyev tatra ka paridevana ||2.28||


Before birth, beings are unmanifest;

between birth and death, manifest;

at death, unmanifest again.

What cause for grief in all this?

(translation: Bhagvad Gita, A new translation, Stephen Mitchell, 2000)

This verse is interesting to me because of its counter-intuitive proposal. We are all familiar with the forms in and around us such as mountains, trees, clouds, living beings, etc. This world is sometimes called the manifest. We also know of subtler forms such as programs present inside your smartphone or DNA code present inside every cell of your body or beliefs we carry in our memory. This verse suggests that the manifest world also exists in such a subtle yet unmanifest state. Now the question is, which is more fundamental, the manifest or the unmanifest or both are equivalent? This verse proposes that the unmanifest is more fundamental. It is from the unmanifest, the manifest emerges and after the form dissolves it goes back to the unmanifest again.

In the case of the software program inside the smartphone, this is not difficult to see. When you start an app such as a video player, the program for playing video gets activated and when you exit the app, the program remains in the inactive state. However, if you dismantle and open the phone or even break it, there is nothing in there that you can touch and say, “This is the video playing program.” The program exists in a subtle form that can’t be touched or felt. Programs not only drive smartphones but also drive giant airplanes and large plants.

Perhaps we could say the same thing for our beliefs. Every moment, according to what the moment means to us, certain beliefs get activated.  They give rise to thoughts, which in turn give rise to actions and when at another moment the meaning changes, these thoughts go away and those beliefs remain in an inactive state. Neuroscientists haven’t figured out a way of pointing to a set of neurons and say that this is the belief. The programs and the beliefs are examples of unmanifest and the video player, the airplane and the human body are examples of the manifest.

The verse suggests that each of us came from an ocean of the unmanifest and we would go back to the ocean after death. And then asks the question: Why worry?

2.     This is verse 13.29 

प्रकृत्यैव च कर्माणि क्रियमाणानि सर्वशः।

यः पश्यति तथात्मानमकर्तारं स पश्यति॥13.29||

 prakrtyaiva cha karmaNi kriyamaNani sarvashah |

yah pashyati tathatmanamakartaram sa pashyati || 13.29||

(My translation:)

All actions are performed by inbuilt tendencies

One who sees that self is non-doer sees

The phrase that first attracted me to this verse is यः पश्यति स पश्यति (yah pashyati sa pashyati, one who sees, sees). It is suggesting that seeing clearly is enough. It doesn’t say, “One who sees, does good” etc. Now what does one see? One sees that our tendencies are expressing themselves into various actions and that there is no independent self acting. Like the previous verse, this is counter-intuitive. It is not our everyday experience. It feels as though I am making decisions and acting. Of course, there are times when we feel overpowered by our tendencies – overeating, oversleeping, over-reacting, worrying, etc. But other than that it feels as though I am in command.

To me, a self-driving car is a good metaphor that may help us see what this verse is trying to suggest. A self-driving car driven by a shared program carries tendencies based on past experiences, not just of that car but other similar cars as well. And is there an independent entity driving the car? No. The program is shared and the map is shared. Perhaps we are like self-driving cars, there is no one in the driver’s seat.

3.     Verse 17.3

सत्त्वानुरूपा सर्वस्य श्रध्दा भवति भारत।

श्रध्दामयोSयं पुरुषो यो यच्छ्श्रध्दः स एव सः॥17.3||

 sattvanuroopa sarvasya shraddhaa bhavati bharat

shraddhamayo S yam purusho yo yachshraddhah sa eva sah ||17.3||

(My translation:)

Beliefs exist according to one's nature, Arjuna

An individual is a concoction of beliefs, whatever his beliefs, he is that

The phrase that attracted me to this verse is यो यच्छ्श्रध्दः स एव सः (yo yachshraddhah sa eva sah, Whatever his beliefs, he is that). It makes a very strong statement – You are your beliefs. Like previous verses, this feels counter-intuitive. I feel my beliefs are just one aspect of me. But beliefs are not me.

You could say, your body is not a belief. But neuroscience has revealed that one could feel pain/itch in a body part/limb that doesn’t exist. You could say, my breathing is not a belief, it is a fact. Alternately, one could say that necessity of breathing is a belief held by the body-mind for its survival that is just playing out. As neuroscientist Karl Friston puts it, “Each individual is a hypothesis or model of what should occupy this ecological niche, and must compete for selection under pressure from the environment”.

Perhaps you could see the connections between all three verses. We can look at a set of beliefs like a shared program that is getting updated based on new experiences. And life is just a play of that shared program in response to changing context. The shared beliefs or the unmanifest expresses itself into different forms including living forms. A form is nothing but shared beliefs in action embedded in a context.

Hope these verses made you reflect. You may not see it the way these verses suggest right now. But sometimes it is worth looking at them as hypotheses. Hope you give them a fair try.

image credit:


  1. Very skewed translation and interpretation of the Bhagavat Gita. In the first verse, everything is okay except for the last line. Yes, we are the subtle Atma (spirit soul) but we won't merge with nothing-ness or disappear after death. If we accept the Vedic conclusion as stated in the Bhagavad-gītā (antavanta ime dehāḥ) that these material bodies are perishable in due course of time (nityasyoktāḥ śarīriṇaḥ) but that soul is eternal, then we must remember always that the body is like a dress. Respected Prof. please read translation from authorised sources and not from some Tom, Dick & Harry (or Stephen Mitchell) who may have read Sanskrit but don't understand the philosphy holistically.

  2. Thanks, Vinu. Appreciate your input. Yes, my understanding could be wrong. Are you suggesting that the phrase "Avyaktanidhanyeva" which is translated as "At death, unmanifest again" is incorrect? If so, how would you translate it? Alternately, you can give your favorite translation. That will help us learn a different perspective.