Physical Address

304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124

Krishna and Arjuna

Introducing Jnana-Karma-Sannyasa Yoga

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Chapter 4 is titled jnana-karma-sannyasa yoga. Jnana means knowledge, and karma-sannyasa means the renunciation of action. The term karma-sannyasa can be applied in three ways, including when referring to lifestyle, raga/dvesha in the context of dharma, and knowledge of atma as non-doing.

श्रीभगवानुवाच |

इमं विवस्वते योगं प्रोक्तवानहमव्ययम् |

विवस्वान्मनवे प्राह मनुरिक्ष्वाकवेऽब्रवीत् || 4.1||

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 4 Verse 1 (In Sanskrit)

The Blessed Lord said, this eternal yoga, unto Vivasvan I once told. Vivasvan told it to Manu. Manu told it to Ikshvaku.

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 4 Verse 1 (English Translation)

In Hindu mythology, there are said to be 14 Manus of the human race. The seventh happens to be named Vivasvan. Shri Krishna says that he taught this eternal teaching to Vivasvan, who told it to Manu, who finally told it to Ikshvaku. Ikshvaku is the son of Manu and the first King in the solar dynasty. The verse above outlines the lineage of the teaching, with Shri Krishna as the first teller. At a symbolic level, these teachings are traced back to their origin, which is Ishvara. Everything that exists can be traced back to its origin, Ishvara, and knowledge is no different.

एवं परम्पराप्राप्तमिमं राजर्षयो विदु: |

स कालेनेह महता योगो नष्ट: परन्तप || 4.2||

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 4 Verse 2 (In Sanskrit)

Thus received through succession, the royal sages learned this. Due to the passage of a long time, this Yoga was lost to the world, O Arjuna.

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 4 Verse 2 (English Translation)

The royal Rishis, the sages who were kings, came to know the teachings of Shri Krishna through this lineage. However, that teaching was lost in the world over a long period of time.

स एवायं मया तेऽद्य योग: प्रोक्त: पुरातन: |

भक्तोऽसि मे सखा चेति रहस्यं ह्येतदुत्तमम् || 4.3||

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 4 Verse 3 (In Sanskrit)

The same ancient knowledge of Yog, which is the supreme secret, I am today revealing unto you, because you are My friend as well as My devotee, who can understand this transcendental wisdom.

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 4 Verse 3 (English Translation)

This ancient teaching which was once told by Shri Krishna long ago, is being taught again by him to Arjuna. Shri Krishna is teaching Arjuna because he is his devotee and friend. He regards the teaching as a secret because it has been lost for such a long time and might remain a secret if it continues to be misunderstood.

अर्जुन उवाच |

अपरं भवतो जन्म परं जन्म विवस्वत: |

कथमेतद्विजानीयां त्वमादौ प्रोक्तवानिति || 4.4||

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 4 Verse 4(In Sanskrit)

Arjun said: You were born much after Vivasvan. How am I to understand that in the beginning You instructed this science to him?

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 4 Verse 4 (English Translation)

Arjuna is confused because Shri Krishna was born not more than a few decades ago. The birth of Vivasvan was earlier, and Krishna’s more recent. So, how is it possible that Shri Krishna taught it first? Krishna is a temporary character for Arjuna, whereas Vivasvan lived ages ago.

How Can Shri Krishna Be the Original Teacher?

श्रीभगवानुवाच |

बहूनि मे व्यतीतानि जन्मानि तव चार्जुन |

तान्यहं वेद सर्वाणि न त्वं वेत्थ परन्तप || 5.5||

Gita Chapter 4 Verse 5(In Sanskrit)

The Blessed Lord said, for Me, there have been many past lives, and for you also, Arjuna. I know them all but you do not know, O Arjuna.

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 4 Verse 5 (English Translation)

This is a reference to the doctrine of reincarnation, a central part of our doctrine of karma. Shri Krishna and Arjuna have both had many past lives. Shri Krishna was the one to impart these teachings in a prior form to Vivasvan and remembered his prior birth. Arjuna, on the other hand, cannot remember any prior births. 

Shri Krishna is a specific reincarnation of Lord Vishnu. We are also incarnations. The true self, atma, is the same self body after body. In some Puranas, there is a distinction made between a Purna avatara and an Amsha avatara. A Purna avatara is a complete reincarnation, such as that of Lord Vishnu. We can also speak of Amsha avatara to mean partial incarnation that can loosely be applied to Arjuna and to you and me. It’s the same inner divinity in Shri Krishna, Arjuna, and of us all.

The difference is Shri Krishna remembers all his prior births as a Purna avatara. Since we are partial or Amsha avatars, we lack the ability to remember. All of the non-physical factors taken collectively are called Sukshma sarira, which is that subtle body that leaves the physical body at the time of death to travel and acquire a new body. Because it is Sukshma sarira that travels, we can understand why we don’t remember our prior lives. We know that memories reside in our physical brains. Someone can have a stroke that damages the brain, and as a result, they may lose some of that memory. That damaged brain no longer retains memory. 

In prior lives, when we die in each life, the brain does not survive. We start each life with a blank slate.

Although I am unborn, eternal, and Lord of all beings, holding nature under My control, I take birth through My own power.

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 4 Verse 6 (English Translation)

अजोऽपि सन्नव्ययात्मा भूतानामीश्वरोऽपि सन् |

प्रकृतिं स्वामधिष्ठाय सम्भवाम्यात्ममायया || 6||

Gita Chapter 4 Verse 6(In Sanskrit)

Avatara is a special incarnation of God. Avatara means that which descends. Here it is used in a specific way to refer to an embodiment of God or of Lord Vishnu in particular.

Shri Krishna was born with a human form but referred to himself not as an avatara, but as Lord Vishnu. From that perspective, even though he is a lord, his true self (atma) is undecaying and eternal. Even though Krishna is the Lord of all beings and controls his own nature, he takes birth through the Maya, which belongs to atma. Lord Vishnu is all-powerful and omniscient, making him capable of anything. If Ishvara can create this entire universe, he is certainly capable of projecting himself into that universe. 

Lucid dreaming can be understood as a metaphor for avatara. Lucid dreaming is being aware that you’re dreaming. Imagine your life is a dream, and everything around you right now is your dream world. Who creates this world? You are the creator of your dream world, and because it’s a lucid dream you can look around you and know that you are the creator of everything that surrounds you. You project everything around you into the dream, including yourself. As the dreamer, you are really the one laying your bed with your eyes closed. But in this lucid dream, you have projected yourself as a character going through daily activities. You are the character, and you project yourself into your dream world. 

Lord Vishnu can project himself into the world as Shri Krishna. 

Why Does Lord Vishnu Reincarnate?

यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भवति भारत |

अभ्युत्थानमधर्मस्य तदात्मानं सृजाम्यहम् || 4.7||

Gita Chapter 4 Verse 7(In Sanskrit)

Whenever righteousness undergoes decline, O Arjuna, and unrighteousness increases, then I create Myself.

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 4 Verse 7 (English Translation)

What Does Lord Vishnu Achieve When He Reincarnates?

परित्राणाय साधूनां विनाशाय च दुष्कृताम् |

धर्मसंस्थापनार्थाय सम्भवामि युगे युगे || 4.8||

Gita Chapter 4 Verse 8(In Sanskrit)

To protect good people and to destroy evil, to establish righteousness, I take birth in each age.

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 4 Verse 8 (English Translation)

Every time Lord Vishnu reincarnates himself it is for three reasons: for the sake of protecting good people (sadhunam), and destroying bad people (duskrtam), and lastly, establishing dharma

For these three reasons, Shri Krishna reincarnates himself again and again. Good people who perform good karmas and good prayers should receive Ishvara’s blessings. To bless the good people, Shri Krishna reincarnates himself. Those who commit harmful deeds incur bad karma and should suffer the consequences, so Shri Krishna incarnates to make those people suffer. Finally, he reincarnates to reestablish dharma and universal order as the sustainer of the universe.

What the Gita Teaches Us

Jnana-karma-sannyasa yoga combines three aspects to help resolve the problem of bondage arising from actions. Jnana means knowledge, karma means action, and sannyasa means renunciation of action. These three approaches lead to liberation. In terms of reincarnation, we are born again because there are remaining karmas that must still have the results carried out. On the other hand, Lords are reincarnated as a result of the karmas of all. They reincarnate to assist the good, punish the bad, and reestablish order in the universe.