Book Summary: Baghavad Gita

Title: Baghavad Gita
Author: Maharishi Veda Vyasa, (translation and commentary by Swami B. P. Puri)
Genre: Religion
Release Date: 500BC, (Read Insight Editions version, published 2022


Why did you choose to read this particular book?

One of the books read at a book club I’m part of, but had an interest in reading some Hindu literature. It was finally time to actually read it.

Summary of book

The Bhagavad Gita (part of a Mahabharata) is a 700 verse poem over into 18 chapters featuring four main characters,

  • Prince Arjuna, one of the five legendary brothers (Pandavas)
  • Krishna, Arjuna’s charioteer and guru (also an incarnation of Vishnu (principal Hindu deity))
  • Dhritarashtra, Kuru king and father of the Kauravas
  • Sanjaya, counsellor of the Dhritarashtra

At the onset of the Kurushetra war, Krishna and Arjuna engage in a conversation. As they make their way to the battlefield, Arjuna is taken aback to find his own relatives, dear friends, and respected teachers among his enemies. This sight fills him with doubt and despair, as he cannot bear the thought of killing them. In his turmoil, he drops his bow and contemplates renouncing the battle altogether. Seeking guidance, he turns to Krishna, his charioteer and guide, for advice on the reasons behind the war, his options, and the right course of action. The Baghavad Gita, therefore, comprises Arjuna’s queries and moral dilemma, and Krishna’s responses and profound insights that delve into various philosophical concepts.

It grapples with inquiries regarding our identity, the way we should navigate through life, and how we should conduct ourselves in the world. It can be represented as the internal dialog one has, wanting to quest and questioning the quest.

Key summary of chapters

Chapter 1: Observing the Armies on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra

Sets the scene of the battlefield and introduction of Arjuna and Krishna and the moral dilemma.

Chapter 2: Contents of the Gita Summarized

Krishna reminds Arjuna of his duty to fight and urges him to overcome his weakness of heart. Taking on the role of Arjuna’s Spiritual Master, Krishna teaches him about the eternal nature of the soul, emphasizing that it cannot be destroyed. Krishna explains that dying in battle leads to a higher birth in the heavenly planets, so Arjuna should find joy in the fact that those he is about to kill will attain superior lives. He clarifies that while the body may perish, the individual soul is eternal.

Arjuna’s decision to abstain from fighting stems from his desire to enjoy life with his loved ones, even if it means neglecting his wisdom and duty. Krishna advises Arjuna to practice buddhi-yoga, which involves performing actions without attachment to the outcomes.

Chapter 3: Karma – Yoga

Arjuna is still in a state of confusion. He believes that buddhi-yoga implies withdrawing from active life and practicing self-discipline and hardships. However, Krishna clarifies, “No, Arjuna. Fight! But do so with a mindset of renunciation and dedicate all your efforts to the Supreme. This is the ultimate purification. By working without attachment, one can attain the Supreme.”

Curious to understand further, Arjuna asks the Lord about the root cause of engaging in sinful actions. Krishna explains that it is lust that drives one towards sin. This lust confuses and entangles individuals in the material world. However, it can be countered by practicing self-control.

Chapter 4: Transcendental Knowledge

Krishna manifests in His Original Transcendental Form, unaffected by material nature, whenever and wherever there is a decrease in religious beliefs and an increase in irreligion. Those who comprehend the divine nature of the Lord will attain His eternal abode upon departing from this world.

Krishna established a system known as varnasrama, which encompasses various divisions of social and spiritual life, allowing individuals to engage in activities that align with their unique psychophysical natures.

Chapter 5: Karma – yoga – Action in Krishna Consciousness

Krishna appears in His Original Transcendental Form, untouched by the influence of material nature, whenever there is a decline in religious faith and a rise in irreligiousness. Those who understand the divine essence of the Lord will achieve His eternal realm after leaving this earthly existence. Krishna introduced a system called varnasrama, which includes different categories for social and spiritual life, enabling individuals to participate in activities that resonate with their distinct psychophysical natures.

A person who performs their duties with a focused mind and controlled senses is in a state of divine awareness.

Chapter 6: Dhyana – yoga

The practice of mystic yoga involves stopping material activities. However, a true mystic is not someone who avoids all responsibilities. A genuine yogi performs their duties without being attached to the outcomes or seeking personal gratification. Real yoga involves connecting with the Supreme Soul within the heart and following its guidance. This is accomplished through a disciplined mind. By acquiring knowledge and realization, one becomes unaffected by the ups and downs of material existence (such as temperature changes, praise or criticism, and so on). By regulating their eating, sleeping, work, and leisure activities, the yogi gains control over their body, mind, and actions, and becomes focused in their meditation on the transcendent self. The greatest yogi is the one who always keeps Krishna, the Supreme Soul, in their thoughts.

Chapter 7: Knowledge of the Absolute

Krishna unveils Himself as the source of both material and spiritual energies. He embodies the essence of everything – the refreshing taste of water, the fiery heat of fire, the resonating sound in the air, the radiant light of the sun and the moon, the innate abilities of mankind, the original fragrance of the earth, the wisdom of the intelligent, and the life force within all living beings.

There are four types of individuals who surrender to Krishna, while there are also four types who do not. Those who choose not to surrender remain veiled by Krishna’s temporary and illusory power, preventing them from truly knowing Him. However, those who lead virtuous lives become eligible to embrace devotional service and surrender to Krishna.

Chapter 8: Attaining the Supreme

Arjuna asks Krishna seven questions:

  1. What is Brahman?
  2. What is self?
  3. What are fruitive activities?
  4. What is material manifestation?
  5. Who are demigods?
  6. Who is the Lord of sacrifice?
  7. And how can those engaged in devotional service know Krishna at the time of death?

Brahman is the term used to describe the immortal living being. The Self, on the other hand, represents the inherent nature of the soul to serve. Fruitive activities refer to actions that contribute to the development of material bodies. The material world is in a constant state of change. The demigods and their realms are part of the universal form of the Supreme Lord, and Krishna Himself is the Lord of sacrifice in the form of the Super soul.

Whether one can know Krishna at the time of death depends on their consciousness. The underlying principle is that whatever state of being one remembers when they leave their body, they will undoubtedly attain that state.

Chapter 9: The Most Confidential Knowledge

Devotional service is the purest form of knowledge and the highest form of education. It allows us to directly understand our true selves and is the ultimate expression of religion. It is a timeless practice that brings immense joy.

Different individuals have different goals in their worship. Those who seek heavenly pleasures worship demigods and are eventually born among them to enjoy divine delights. However, once their good deeds are exhausted, they return to earth. Those who worship their ancestors go to the ancestral planets, while those who worship ghosts become ghosts themselves. On the other hand, those who wholeheartedly worship Krishna are eternally united with Him.

Whatever actions, offerings, or charitable acts a devotee of Krishna performs, they are all dedicated to the Lord. Krishna reciprocates by providing what His devotee lacks and protecting what they already possess. By taking refuge in Krishna, even those who are considered lowborn can attain the highest spiritual destination.

Chapter 10: the Opulence of the Absolute

Krishna is revered by his followers as the eternal, the timeless, the ruler of all realms, the progenitor of the ancestors from whom all living beings originate, and the source of everything.

Arjuna has come to understand Krishna’s divine status as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the ultimate destination, and the Absolute Truth. He recognizes Krishna as the purest, the transcendental being, the original person, the eternal and infinite, the greatest of all, and the source of everything. Now, Arjuna seeks to delve deeper into Krishna’s divine nature. In response, Lord Krishna reveals more about himself, concluding with the statement, “All magnificent, beautiful, and glorious creations arise from just a fraction of my divine splendour.”

Chapter 11: The Universal Form

In order to protect innocent individuals from imposters, Arjuna requests Krishna to prove His divinity by displaying His universal form – a form that any self-proclaimed God should be able to reveal. Krishna grants Arjuna divine vision, allowing him to witness the magnificent and boundless universal form, which encompasses everything that has ever existed, exists now, and will exist in the future.

Filled with reverence, Arjuna pays his respects and praises the Lord with folded hands. Krishna then discloses that all the soldiers gathered on the battlefield, except for the five Pandavas, will meet their demise. Therefore, Krishna urges Arjuna to fight as His instrument, assuring him of victory and a prosperous kingdom.

Responding to Arjuna’s plea, Krishna reverts back from His fearsome form and reveals His original form. Initially, He manifests His four-armed form and eventually displays His original two-armed form.

Chapter 12: Devotional Service

Arjuna inquires, “Who is more perfect, the devotee who worships and serves the Lord’s personal form or the transcendentalist who meditates on the impersonal Brahman?” Krishna responds, “The devotee who focuses their mind on My personal form is the most perfect.” Devotional service, which engages the mind and senses, is the natural and effortless path for an embodied soul to attain the supreme destination. On the other hand, the impersonal path is unnatural and filled with challenges, which is why Krishna does not recommend it. In the highest stage of devotional service, one’s consciousness is completely fixed on Krishna. The next level is the practice of regulated devotional service, followed by karma-yoga, which involves renouncing the fruits of one’s actions. Other indirect methods of attaining the Supreme include meditation and the cultivation of knowledge.

Chapter 13: Nature, the Enjoyer and Consciousness

Arjuna is curious about prakriti (nature), purusa (the enjoyer), ksetra (the field), ksetra-jna (the knower of the field), jnana (knowledge), and gnaya (the object of knowledge).

Krishna explains that the ksetra is like the playing field for the conditioned soul, which is the body. Both the living entity and the Supreme Lord reside within it, and they are known as ksetra-jna, the ones who know the field. Jnana, or knowledge, refers to understanding the body and its knowers. This knowledge includes qualities like humility, nonviolence, tolerance, cleanliness, self-control, absence of false ego, and maintaining equanimity in both pleasant and unpleasant situations.

Jnaya, the object of knowledge, is the Super soul. Prakriti, or nature, is the cause of all material causes and effects. The two purusas, or enjoyers, are the living entity and the Super soul. A person who can perceive that the individual soul and the Super soul remain unchanged throughout different material bodies they inhabit possesses the vision of eternity. By understanding the distinction between the body and the knower of the body, and by comprehending the process of liberation from material bondage, one attains the ultimate goal.

Chapter 14: The Three Modes of Material Nature

The total material substance is the source of the three modes of material nature: goodness, passion and ignorance. These modes compete in exerting their influence upon the conditioned soul. By observing the modes at work, we can understand that they are active, not we, and that we are separate. In this way, the influence of material nature gradually diminishes and we attain Krishna’s spiritual nature.

The mode of goodness illuminates. It frees one from all sinful reactions but conditions one to a sense of happiness and knowledge. One who dies in the mode of goodness attains the higher planets.

A person influenced by the mode of passion is plagued by unlimited desires for boundless material enjoyment, especially sex pleasure. After death, he again takes birth on earth among persons engaged in fruitive activities.

The mode of ignorance means delusion. It fosters madness, indolence, laziness, and foolishness. If one dies in the mode of ignorance, he has to take birth in the animal kingdom or the hellish worlds.

Chapter 15: The Yoga of the Supreme Person

The reflection of a tree on water is like the reflection of the spiritual world on desire. It’s a mysterious connection that no one truly understands. This reflected tree is sustained by the three modes of material nature. Its leaves represent the Vedic hymns, while its twigs symbolize the objects of our senses. To break free from this tree, one must use the weapon of detachment and seek refuge in the Supreme Lord.

Chapter 16: The Divine and Demoniac Natures

There are two distinct groups of beings in this world: the divine and the demoniac. Each possesses their own unique set of qualities. Those who are godly, like Arjuna, embody virtues such as charity, self-control, gentleness, forgiveness, and truthfulness. They also exhibit qualities like cleanliness, simplicity, and non-violence. These individuals cultivate spiritual knowledge, show compassion towards all living beings, and possess a steady determination. They are free from anger, fear, and covetousness.

On the other hand, the demoniac individuals possess qualities that are detrimental to their spiritual growth. They are filled with pride, anger, envy, and arrogance. Their behavior is harsh and impudent, and they lack cleanliness and proper conduct. These negative qualities bind them in a web of illusion, causing them to be repeatedly born into demoniac species of life. Unfortunately, they are unable to approach Krishna, and as a result, they gradually descend into hell.

It is important to understand that the actions we take in life can be categorized as either regulated or unregulated. These two types of actions yield different outcomes. Those who disregard the teachings of scripture and act without guidance do not attain perfection, happiness, or the supreme destination. However, those who follow the regulations set forth in scripture gradually gain an understanding of their duties and the path to self-realization. By performing acts that are conducive to self-realization, they ultimately reach the supreme destination.

Chapter 17: The Divisions of Faith

Arjuna inquires, “Which mode of nature governs those who disregard the principles of scripture and instead worship based on their own imagination?”

In response, Krishna examines the various types of faith, food, charity, austerity, sacrifice, and penance that characterize the different modes of material nature.

The three words “om tat” sat symbolize the Supreme Absolute Truth. Om represents the Supreme, tat is utilized to break free from material entanglement, and sat signifies that the Absolute Truth is the ultimate goal of devotional service. Any sacrifice, charity, or penance performed without faith in the Supreme is considered impermanent, or asat.

Chapter 18: Conclusion: The Perfection of Renunciation

Arjuna inquires from Krishna about the significance of renunciation and the renounced order of life. Krishna proceeds to explain these concepts, as well as the five causes of action, the three factors that motivate action, and the three constituents of action. Additionally, Krishna elaborates on action, understanding, determination, happiness, and work in relation to the three modes of material nature.

Krishna emphasizes that one can achieve perfection by performing their own duties, rather than someone else’s, as prescribed duties are not affected by sinful reactions. Therefore, it is essential to work dutifully, without attachment or expectation of the outcome. One should never abandon their responsibilities.

The ultimate path to self-realization lies in pure devotional service to Krishna. Krishna advises Arjuna to always rely on Him, work under His protection, and remain conscious of Him. Even if Arjuna refuses to fight for Krishna, his nature as a ksatriya will compel him to engage in warfare. Nevertheless, Arjuna has the freedom to make his own decision.

Through Krishna’s grace, Arjuna’s illusions and doubts dissipate, leading him to choose to fight according to Krishna’s guidance.

What stood out for you

A wonderful literary piece discussing the philosophical nature of man and the supreme as well as an insight to Hinduism and Hindu thought.

Key Points

It’s not about serving oneself or basing judgment on ones own perspective, but directing ones service to the Lord of the worlds and watching things fall in place, as per His will. We do not always understand the wisdom of God.

What you dislike

From my first read, it was hard to follow the characters and terminology. A glossary or a reminder would be good for the new reader.


Does not require any.

Has the book met its objective?


What would you change

A glossary mentioning a list of characters and other key terms.

Would you recommend this book

Yes, I would as a literary piece. I wouldn’t recommend it to a Muslim who is not grounded in his faith and Aqida. One must be able to differentiate the Islamic perspective of life and the Lord of the worlds, otherwise there is chance of conflating Islamic and Hindu concepts.

Final Verdict:

Read more reviews here: Book Review – The Wise Word

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