Gita Talk #15: Nearing the Conclusion of Gita Talk / How are We Doing?

Via Bob Weisenberg
on Jul 25, 2010
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For Stephen Mitchell, Chapter 12 is effectively the end of the Bhagavad Gita.

He considers the final third of the Gita, Chapters 13-18 to be a poorly fitted appendage–inferior poetically and spiritually, and contradictory in content.  (You can read his view in his Notes to the Introduction, p. 200-202.)

Many people do not agree with Mitchell.  Our special guest from Gita Talk #8,  Graham Schweig, for example, has a very different point of view.

But even in his own extensive commentary on the Gita, Graham almost completely ignores the last third of the text, except for the very end of Chapter 18.   In his commentary, he quotes 34 passages from Chapters 1-12, but none at all from Chapters 13-18, except for the closing stanzas of Chapter 18.

Personally I felt the same as Mitchell does even before I had read Mitchell’s book.   So I don’t intend to hold Gita Talks on Chapters 13-18.  But you should read them yourself and make up your own mind.

I hope some of you who have a different point of view will tell us about it in your comments here.  Perhaps someone would even like to do a guest Gita Talk in rebuttal, which I would welcome.

Now let’s reflect back on what I wrote as we were just getting started in Gita Talk #5:


The Bhagavad Gita is Sublimely Simple, Profound, and Livable

What is the blindingly simple message of the Gita?




As they say about the Golden Rule, all the rest is commentary.

Here are the three cosmic truths underlying the Gita’s message:

Each of us is already infinitely wondrous—
miraculous, awe-inspiring, unfathomable
(divine if you prefer)

Our wondrous nature is the same as
the infinite wonder of the universe

We experience this infinite wonder
by waking up to reality

I hope you find this surprising and thought provoking.

I hope it helps give you a vision of where we’re going, so that you can better negotiate the challenges of the text.

If you are overwhelmed by the Gita, I hope you find it encouraging.

I suggest you come back to it often when you’re feeling confused.

And if you think I’m full of beans, I look forward to your critique.


How are we doing on this?

How has reading the Gita affected your life?

Is there anything else you’d like us to cover
in the last few Gita Talks?

I have loved doing Gita Talk.  The only additional wish I have is to hear directly from a lot more of you readers! Please write and tell me what’s on your mind.

Next week we’ll talk again about the battlefield setting of the Gita in Gandhi’s Bible or a Call to War?” We covered this in the early Gita Talk discussions, but I want to add it as it’s own blog because it’s such an important topic.  For next week, read Gandhi’s essay The Message of the Gita, which is an appendix to the Mitchell Gita, p.211-221.  (Here’s an online copy of Gandhi’s essay for those of you who don’t have Mitchell’s Gita.)

Please see
Welcome to Gita Talk
for all Gita Talk blogs and general information.
Jump in anytime and go at your own pace.


About Bob Weisenberg

Bob Weisenberg: Editor, Best of Yoga Philosophy / Former Assoc. Publisher, elephant journal / Author: Yoga Demystified * Bhagavad Gita in a Nutshell * Leadership Is Like Tennis, Not Egyptology / Co-editor: Yoga in America (free eBook) / Creator: Gita Talk: Self-paced Online Seminar / Flamenco guitarist: "Live at Don Quijote" & "American Gypsy" (Free CD's) / Follow Bob on facebook, Twitter, or his main site: Wordpress.


65 Responses to “Gita Talk #15: Nearing the Conclusion of Gita Talk / How are We Doing?”

  1. Brooks Hall says:

    We are such a materialist culture that I think that words like ‘infinite wonder of the universe’ might definitely keep some people on the outside. Where is the ‘infinite wonder’ in my bank account? (for example) Where is the ‘infinite wonder’ in my bill payment options? And so on…

    The way of yoga for me includes exploring limitations. I am a hatha yogi so I suppose this makes sense. Even though philosophically we might think we understand the concept of limitlessness, in our bodies there are limits, and as we explore this there is potential to understand beyond our limitations. Somehow I do believe that studying the limitedness of the way our bodies and minds work is a way to move deeper with yoga. It’s definitely more grounded to consider ones self (including limitations) in the grand scheme of yoga, otherwise these expansive words like ‘infinitely wonderous’ can have a really out-of-body (or fantasy) sensibity. I want to participate, and bring my full self to this process: body and mind. And it might be too big of a leap to the land of ‘infinite wonder’ when I have to do my laundry.

    For where I am in life, I resonate with the Gita’s thoughts on work, right action, and choosing the right path. I prefer an emphasis on the present moment rather than ecstatic states.

    This poem by Korean poet Ko Un (found in the book, Yoga for a World out of Balance, by Michael Stone) says it for me right now:

    Some say they can recall a thousand years
    Some say they have already visited the next thousand years
    On a windy day
    I am waiting for a bus

    Thanks, Bob! I appreciate the spirit of your Gita Talks, and hope that many more people will join the conversation. 

    P.S. I find myself wanting to join the two worlds by saying: infinity is the background for our specificity.

  2. paramsangat says:

    Wow, I'm loving this and very greatful to have jumped on it!! Being part of this group/discussion has given me alot more depth to the reading. I would not have gotten that reading it on my own. Its also a really enjoyable version so it was easy to catch up and follow along.
    It was great to have the guests, giving other points of views creating even more depth to it.
    Great to feel I now wouldn't mind that much reading another version :))) Just found there is a Tantric view on the BG by Douglas Brooks, that would be very interesting since Tantra (DB teaches Rajanaka Tantra) says yes to (life-affirming) desires.

    If feels inspireing to you Bob, could we do this with other yogic books, like The Yoga Sutras or if theres an easy version of any of the Uphanishads …?

  3. Amy Champ says:

    Good Bob ~ great for sticking to that. There's so many great Upanishads…

  4. YogiOne says:

    I think that most of those scientists would not use the term "cannot even begin to fathom." They often say things like "cannot measure using current scientific methods." The assumption is that given enough time and resources, anything that is theoretically measureable could eventually be adequately explained via scientific methods. The problem is that when we look at how questions seem to increase exponentially in relationship to answers, it seems impossible that we could achieve understanding on such a grand scale. What scientists may be missing in this calculation is that since the invention of computers, our ability to store and analyze data has also increased exponentially. With the increasing complexity of artificial intelligence, our ability to create understanding from the data will also increase exponentially. It will be an interesting race to the end of the universe if we don't kill ourselves off first.

  5. Ok, YogiOne. Let's say you are right and science eventually figures absolutely everything out.

    That makes the universe less wondrous because…?

    Bob Weisenberg

  6. YogiOne says:


    There is a difference between saying something is possible versus saying it is likely. Being able to understand the universe in its entirety is theoretically possible no matter how remote the probability. If someone said that we will definitely eventually understand the entire universe, that would be evidence of "scientism." Simply noting that the universe is potentially understandable in a comprehensive fashion is not.

    Unfathomed works. Now, as to how "infinite" works in a finite universe… :-)

  7. Now, now, YogiOne. We've been through this before and you've forgotten. I never said the universe is infinite. I said it is infinitely wondrous. BIG difference! You don't think science can define the limits of my amazement, do you?

    Now, if I were a logician, I would point out to you that if my wonder is part of the universe, and my wonder is infinite, then the universe is also infinite, even if physically finite.

    You do agree the universe can still be wondrous even if science figures absolutely everything out, right? So what does it matter anyway? I'm guessing it will be even more wondrous when we figure it out, not less.

    Bob Weisenberg

  8. Jelefant says:

    YogiOne, if I may ask, what did you learn in those polemical debates that caused you to revise your thinking?

  9. I encouraged rebuttals to the summary dismissal of chapters 13-18 in my blog. Just received this eloquent contribution from Parimal Soni on Facebook. (I've broken it into two parts to fit.) Thank you, Parimal!

    Dear Bob; I tried to write following comment in responce to Gita talk # 15. Due to the length of the comment I could not post it so , I am writing to you this way. I must tell you that you are doing a noble work and I am glad to know you.

    It is so great to see the Gita being discussed with a view to imbibe and learn. This is very noble experiment and from the few comments I read it seems very gratifying for the readers. My connection with the Gita is as a learner. The Gita is essence of Indian philosophy. In chapter one Arjuna is taken over by delusion about his self, his true duty towards humanity and faces an inner war between two "dharmas" If it was a choice between right or wrong, Arjuna would not have faced any confusion. His duty as a warrior (Kshtriya) and duty towards the elders that he grew up with. Had Arjuna not asked for the path of Salvation (Sanskrit word "shrey" in Chapter 2 verse) and said that he was Lord Krishna's disciple (shishya) Lord Krishna would not have elaborated any further. He would have simply said, “Arjuna, you sit aside and I will take care of what needs to be done." He was not bound by any vows (i.e. not to fight/bear arms during the war) that he hand taken. Actually, he demonstrated that twice during the war. Accepting Arjuna as disciple, he ventures into phisophical realm because "too fight or not to fight" question of Arjuna had deep philosophical undertone to begin with. Hence, Lord Krishna embarks on explaining nature of soul and separateness of physical body and the soul. (Chapter -2). The culmination of which is the “superman of the Gita" i.e. Sthithpragya man. (Chapter 2 verses 54 thro 72). Later from Chapters 3 thro 6, he explains the nature of Karma (3rd chap). He also explains about self less action (Yagya). Here, he tells Arjuna to slay his desire and understand/grasp the God that is supra-rational. (Chap 3 verses 43.) In chapter 4, he describes the continuity of soul and what he incarnates. Also, he explains immortality of ideas too- but the ideas that are time -tested not just any idea. Here from chapters 3 thro 6, he synthesizes the divergent thought processes of "Sankhya, Yoga and Karma." He also touches upon the nature of mind and how to focus/concentrate the mind as a spiritual aspirant. Essentially, in first 6 chapters he explains about "Tvam" i.e. Jiva or self. He also touches upon self being one with/part of higher self i.e. Brahm.


  10. (continued from above)

    Chapters 7 thro 12 are about “Tat" or God Him self. (When I say Tvam and Tat- I refer to “Tat Tvam Asi- meaning thou art that) Had Lord Krishna felt that the dialogue was over, he would have stopped here. As we know that Arjun's delusion was gone already. (Chapter 11, verse 1) We must keep in mind that Lord Krishna was a student of philosophy par excellence. He lived very a life that was un-assuming. This was the very reason; Arjuna could not know the true nature/form of Lord Krishna. Hence, in chapter 11 verse 40-41 he admits he could not recognize the true nature of Lord and asks for forgiveness because he many times had behaved as friend and play with him, made fun of him. Old Indian philosophers are known to take pain-staking efforts to not add one extra letter in their exposition/writing.

    So, Chapters 13 thro 18, extremely important and they are their for a reason. Indian never believed in dry thoughts and aimed for imbibing those thoughts in life as ideals. Those thoughts are to be sawn in life to reap the rewards of self- development. Hence chapter 13 is what it is called. Kshtra means a farm, such a land where something is planted it bears fruits. Kshetra means "object" the knower-Kshtragya means knower of the field i.e. God-himself. Here he also explains true knowledge, nature of ego, intellect, nature of Prakriti and soul. Most amazing verse of chap 13 is verse 22. Where he touches upon immanence of god in all beings. The expression of that god-head depends upon the development of the person (soul, Jiva). Such a person needs to possess, develop certain qualities such as absence of pride, freedom from ego, non-violence (Chap 13, verse 7-9). Chapter 14 he explains about Prakriti and three Gunas- satva, Rajas and Tamas and here he shows one more ideal to be achieved – i.e. ideal of Gunatit (one who has transcended he Gunas). Chapter 15 is shows one more ideal of Purushottam. Here, he explains the nature of sansara (life as a whole) and how to transcend the identification with it, what qualities need to be developed. Once one understand the nature of Karma, gyan (knowledge) as explained in chapters 1 thro 6, one also needs certain ideals to achieve. Gita is not merely philosophical and intellectual discussion but it is guide for spiritual aspirants and shows many ideals to look up to.

    Hence it goes in to explanation of godly nature and demoniacal nature in chapter 16. It describes what qualities signify godly nature and tells aspirants to achieve those. Later, he explains the importance of scriptures in chapter 16 and chapter 17 he explains the nature of faith itself because one must remember the Gita is a devotional song meant to unite the self and higher self. It is actually a love song between God and his devotee. We should also recognize that the Gita is a dialogue between to finest minds of the time. Hence, there are repetitions, references to same concept many times. If one looks at it closely then the method is "spencerian" Chapter 18 is the most important chapter of all where he once again touches upon renunciation, karma etc. Doing all karmas without attachment is the key message. He also explains about true devotee, he touches upon the nature of "ego", nature of "Sansara" and nature of knowledge etc. The Gita starts with the word “Dharma" and ends with the word "mine" (mama) hence, it really and truly explains” my dharma- duty “in this life. There four characters in the Gita – Dhrutrashtra, Sanjay , Arjuna and Lord- Bhagvan. The last verse explains the result of the Gita. After listening to the Gita, Sanjay who is merely a "driver" of the then king tells the king that your side is going to loose in the war. It is not a tacit statement but it is a proclamation. So, every single chapter, word, comma, syllabus is integral part of the gita and nothing, absolutely nothing is redundant in the Gita. The Gita needs to be approached with love of a devotee like Arjuna. The result of the Gita is verse 72 chapter 18.

    –Parimal Soni

  11. Amy Champ says:

    THANK YOU Parimal Soni. I think you've proven all of the Gita is important. Namaste on this beautiful piece. May Gita live long in our hearts and minds!

  12. Parimal says:

    Amy, Gita's infinite widsom and love is here to guide us all and this effort of understanding the Gita is great and we should continue our study.

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