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Marion Tarvis

29 January 2018 6026


Richard Davis: Krisna and his Gita in Medieval India

And The Bhagavad Gita: Book Three                                                       

                                  The narrative as a song that reiterates and renews a message is the thesis underlying Richard Davis' Chapter 2 of The Bhagavad Gita: A Biography";"Krisna and his Gita in Medieval India." It recounts the experience of "the Lord's song," reviewing the primacy of the Krisna-Gita within the larger field of Gitas, each focused for their own purposes on other characters in Indic spiritual literature (51 ).

Davis outlines the religious poems that circle and center around the Puranic literature, creating a mythology of gods which serves to  reiterate the message of the Krisna-Gita. However these Puranic poems enlarge on the themes from the perspective of a number of competing gods and advance the cause of these individually. Shiva's Isvara-Gita in the Kurma Purana, the Shiva Gita found in the Padma Purana as well as the Ganesha-Gita, the Bhrama-Gita, the Rama-Gita, the Devi-Gita delivered by the Goddess in the Devibhagavad Purana, the Yama-Gita and the Agni Purana, all compete on behalf of their namesakes, much as the gods themselves and their devotees. Davis states that the form of these stories is based on conflict in a similar way to the Bhavagad Gita of Krisna, but regarding audiences and instructions are various and differ creatively.

Shankara, in the Bhagavadgitabh Ashya, adopts the text as a vehicle of Vedic dharma teaching (55) although  it is not part of the Vedic logos, stating the search for Vedic dharma in the Upanisads is consistent with a study of the Bhagavad Gita- the BG with the Brahma Sutra and the prasthanastraya forms three basic foundations of a Vedantic sophic exegy -  but Davis points out that how this is true, Shankara leaves off before fully explaining (56). However, Davis makes clear, for Shankara, the BG contains the distillation of the essential of Vedic teaching and that Shankara's Gita has a unique purpose with other Vedic interpretations of the Gita for the purpose of Vedic study.

Similarly, Jnanadeva in the Jnaneshvari, recasts the Krisna-Gita in a non-dualist narrative but differs from Shankara in retaining a devotional and theistic viewpoint (70). As his comparison to the Chintamani, a wish-granting gem, the Bhagavad Gita offers a resolution to competing desires from a wide audience.

Referring to the translation of the Bhagavad Gita of Winthrop Sargeant, the Krisna Gita itself, within the Mahabharata, is a facet of the Yoga of Action expounded by Krisna to Arjuna in book III, extolling the virtues of action:


Whatever the greatest man does,

Thus do the rest;

Whatever standard he sets,

The World follows that.

                                                                     BG III:21


As to the question arising from competing versions, of which is best in a given moment, Krsna speaks to Arjuna:


Better one's own duty though deficient

Than the duty of another well performed.

Better is death in one's own duty;

The duty of another invites danger.

                                                                      BG III:35


This message from higher wisdom naturally leads to the final words nearing the end of the book of the Yoga of Action, "first, know thyself":


They say that the senses are superior.

The mind is superior to the senses;

Moreover, the intellect is superior to the mind;

That which is superior to the intellect is the Self.

                                                                         BG III:42



Davis, Richard. The Bhagavad Gita: A Biography. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton

University Press, 2013.

Srivatasa Ramaswami. Vinyasa Krama Summer Institute 2017 The Bhagavat Gita in the

teachings of Sri Krishnamacharya. Taken from Lecture notes,  at Loyola Marymount

University, California. July 30, 2017.

The Bhagavad Gita. Translation by Wintrop Sargeant. Alabany, NY: State University of New

York, 2009.

All the Yogas

Marion Tarvis
19 February 2018
YGST 6026 Dr. Patil

Richard Davis: Passages from India
And The Bhagavad Gītā: The Yoga of Meditation

Opening The Bhagavad Gītā: The Yoga of Meditation, Kṛṣṇa speaks to Arjuna, advocating action and renunciation but advocates that,” one should one should uplift the self
by the self;” and that, “the self alone is the enemy of the self” (Sargeant 276). In verses VI:18 and VI:19 of Winthrop Sargeant’s translation, after the yoga of action and the yoga of renunciation, or restraint, the practice should turn inward:

Holding the body, head and neck erect,
Motionless and steady,
Gazing at the tip of his own nose
And not looking in any direction,
With quieted mind, banishing fear,
Established in the bramacharin vow of celibacy,
Controlling the mind, with thoughts fixed on Me,
He should sit, concentrated, devoted to Me.


         Kṛṣṇa concludes, after teaching many methods of seated meditation and advocating solitude and stillness, in verse VI:23: “This is true yoga.” However, Arjuna has doubts about
what happens to those who practice but fail to persevere in the practice; he worries over what might happen to such a one. Kṛṣṇa is not concerned with this possibility and only
repeats that sincere efforts are never lost, and good people are never lost (311).
         Turning to Richard Davis’ The Bhagavad Gītā: A Biography: Passages From India ,
the cosmological themes of transcendentalist poets, Walt Whitman in particular, are viewed
in the context of the Bhagavad Gītā. Whitman’s reference in the poem “Passages From India,” to “earth-spanning accomplishments,” reflects the aesthetic current during the
Transcendentalist period of transcending the limitations of everyday life and dreaming of the
heavens and the history made available to these writers through their engagement with early English translations of the Bhagavad Gītā and, later, the work of Swami Vivekananda in America at the end of the 19th century (73). In this way, turning inwards, a practice
advocated by Kṛṣṇa in the Yoga of Meditation and the, “One and all; all in One,” spanning of space and time of transcendentalist poets echo each other.
         On the other hand, Bimal Krishna Matilal in, “Caste. Karma and the Gītā," turns this universal reading of space and time to the day to day politics and ethics of colonialism in India. Referring to the Bhagavad Gītā Verse 4:13 the problem of hierarchy in the Gītā is
applied to society: Matilal sees caste in the Gītā as a function of “qualities” and actions, prescriptively rather that the hereditary lineage in practice in India (197).

               Writing of paradox in the Gītā, this is seen as a tool to “resolve tension created by the unaccounted for inequalities in a hierarchical system”(198). In this reading, “a merit-based hierarchy is rational, such that brahmanhood is the result of moral virtue, not birth”(198). Referring to the Gītā verse 3:35, qualities of dharma, svadharma and svabhāva refer to the duty inherent in each person and assigned to one’s own nature (199). Matilal lists the qualities of Brāhman: calmness, self-restraint, ascetic practice, purity, uprightness, wisdom, knowledge, faith; of kṣatriya he lists the following qualities: high courage, ardour, endurance, not turning back on
the battlefield, charity; qualities of vaiśyahood: cultivation, cattle-rearing, trade; of the śūdra the quality is that of service: “even a śūdra could possess all the qualities” (200). The thesis of Matilal, as he points out in closing: "There existed (and I believe still exists an internal critique of this with the tradition  itself,”(201)  referring to the “dharma-prescriptive” relativism
through which the Gītā can be read to rationalise caste-relativism. 

        Reflecting back to Davis’ interpretation of the transcendentalist influence of the Gītā on American society at the turn of the 19th century, and the broad implication also felt by that movement at that time
pressuring British colonialism, as India was nearing independence, readings of the Gītā have a far-reaching determinism in the arc of history and the life of the individual.

YGST 6026 Dr Urmila Patil
Marion Tarvis
The Bhagavad Gītā: Book 5 The Yoga of Renunciation

Book 5 of the Bhagavad Gītā develops the argument put forward by Kṛṣṇa to Arjuna  on on the battlefield of Kuru, beginning with the basics of the practice of Yoga, introducing the Yoga of Action, moving on to the Yoga of Wisdom and beginning a discussion of the Yoga of Renunciation. As part of the customary introduction of Kṛṣṇa to Arjuna, he reiterates that action and the Yoga of the Renunciation of action both lead to an awareness of the Self and to selflessness. But, Verse V:2 of Winthrop Sargeant’s translation is clear:

The Blessed Lord spoke,
Both renunciation and the yoga of action
Lead to incomparable bliss;
Of the two however, the yoga of action
Is superior to the renunciation of action. ( 244)

In this verse is encapsulated the idea that action is a means and includes a motivation of self-purification - Kṛṣṇa clarifies that he is speaking not of people in general but, of yogins. (253) Implicit in this statement is hope for  salvation, this being the primary concern of Arjuna as he faces a battlefield and prepares for the acts he will commit. In the final verse of the Yoga of Renunciation, Kṛṣṇa returns to this problem that so preoccupies Arjuna as he looks to his family and his teachers on the battlefield. 


Having known Me, the enjoyer of sacrifices and austerities,

The mighty Lord of all the world,
The friend of all creatures,
He (the sage) attains peace. (Sargeant 271)

For the soldier on the field, who makes shortcuts in all actions and thoughts, peace - in the occupation of weighing life in the balance of eternal condemnation - is never far from the first thought/best thought approach to the priority: stay alive.

On the other hand, the article of Rāmānuja’s interpretation of the Kṛṣṇa-Gītā opens with the thesis that this scholar’s interpretation of the Gītā is at some times over-interpreted
and at some times under-interpreted, leaving the question of any one personal interpretation open to fault. The author attributes this qualified reading of Kṛṣṇa to Rāmānuja’s system of thought, which is theistic and not based in absolutism. The question is resolved in this thesis by his own view that this is consistent nonetheless with the absolutism of the Gītā because the absolutism of Advaita Vedānta “not so much denies absolutism as transcends it”( Rāmānuja 144).

The Bhagavad Gītā. Translation by Stephen Mitchell. New York: Harmony, 2000.
The Bhagavad Gītā. Translation by Winthrop Sargeant. Albany, NY: State University of New
York, 2009.
Rāmānuja. Internet Encyclopedia of Religion. Captured

Summary/Reflection Richard Davis Chapter 1 “The Bhagavad Gītā and the Time of Its Composition”


By Marion Tarvis


An overview of the time-period of the writing of this section of the larger work, The Mahābhārata,“The Bhagavad Gītā and the Time of Its Composition”, the first chapter of Richard Davis’ The Bhagavad Gītā, A Biography, discusses the historical relevance and the imperative of the  epic, the smaller stories within it, and the era which gave it place. Attributed to the author Vyasa, the Bhagavad Gītā recounts a story of a man and his friend, as they take pause for reflection on the battlefield. Taken from the oral tradition of related heroic tales, Davis points out that there may be some historical relevance to a battle itself around 900 BCE (39). However, the cultural landscape, including religion, social norms and politics of the time, equally, may represent a more abstract backdrop to the narrative (39). Throughout, the value of the moral tale of human frailty searching for the best response under pressure and the most prudent action in a given moment is emphasized by Davis (42).


In the first quote of the chapter, taken from The Bhagavad Gītā 1:45 - 1-47, Arjuna calls the war a crime, throws down his sword and sat himself in the back of the chariot (Sargeant 132). From this inauspicious mental image, Davis paints a few lines as a setting to a tense moment, that Arjuna rejoin the battlefield before serious consequences devolve as a result of  his unilateral refusal to act according to the agreed plan (10).  


Davis goes on to outline the place of significance of the The Bhagavad Gītā within the epic

Mahābhārata with special emphasis on verse 2:47, as Krishna says,“your obligation is to action alone and never to it’s fruits,” a recurring theme in the story( Sargant 132)  .  After a discussion of all the yogas, jñana, karma and bhakti, Krisna tells Arjuna, in verse 18: 66 “Take refuge in me, I shall liberate you, do not grieve,” a reverence to Krisna’s teaching that, all the yoga’s, those that practice bhakti yoga are most dear to him ( Sargeant 727).


Davis, Richard. The Bhagavad Gītā, A Biography. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton

University Press, 2015

The Bhagavad Gītā. Trranslation by Winthrop Sargeant. Ed. Christopher Chapple. Albany:

State University of New York Press, 2009.

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