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Bhagavad Gita

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translator’s introduction

the Bhagavad Gita



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by Juan Mascaró

Copyright © Juan Mascaró, 1962

We find in the Upanishads the great questions of man, and their answer is summed up in two words: BRAHMAN and ATMAN. They are two names for one Truth, and the two are One and the same. The Truth of the Universe is BRAHMAN: our own inner Truth is ATMAN. The sacred OM is a name for both Brahman and Atman. This can be divided into three sounds, but the three roll into one: AUM. One of the meanings of OM is YES. Brahman, Atman, OM is the positive Truth, the Yes, of all.



If we ask definitely ‘What is Brahman?’ the answer in modern terms would be: ‘Brahman cannot be defined because it is Infinite. It is beyond thought and beyond imagination. It is nothing in the mind and nothing outside the mind, nothing past or present or future. These are only conceptions in time and space. But the nearest conception of Brahman we can have is to say that it is a state of consciousness beyond time when SAT, CIT, and ANANDA, Being and Consciousness and Joy are ONE.’
As there are no references to Buddhism in the Gita and there are a few archaic words and expressions, some of the greatest scholars have considered it pre-Buddhistic, i.e. about 500 B.C.
Reason is the faculty given to man to distinguish true emotion from false emotionalism, faith from fanaticism, imagination from fancy, a true vision from a visionary illusion.

Many are the themes of the symphony of the Bhagavad Gita, but the central ones are three: JÑANA, BHAKTI, and KARMA: Light, Love, and Life.

Jñana is the centre of the Upanishads, the means of reaching Brahman. The Gita also places the man of Jñana, the man of Light, above all men: he is in God. The three manifestations of Brahman revealed in Jñana are very present in the Gita: Sat, Cit, and Ananda, Being, Consciousness, and Joy.

Karma is work, and work is life. The word Karma means also ‘sacred work’ and is connected with the sacrifice of the Vedas: the ritual of religion. This meaning has to be considered in reading the Gita. Karma, work or action, is often contrasted in the Bhagavad Gita with Jñana, or contemplation: external ritual is set in contrast with inner spiritual life. This was the great spiritual change that took place in the Upanishads: from external ritual they went into inner life. This contrast is also found in the Gita, but in the Gita the word Karma has acquired a far deeper meaning, and this leads to one of the most sublime conceptions of man. All life is action, but every little finite action should be a surrender to the Infinite, even as breathing in seems to be the receiving of the gift of life, and the breathing out a surrender into the infinite Life. Every little work in life, however humble, can become an act of creation and therefore a means of salvation, because in all true creation we reconcile the finite with the Infinite, hence the joy of creation. When vision is pure and when creation is pure there is always joy.



Love is ‘the treasure hid in a field’, and this field according to the Gita is our own soul. Here the treasure is found for which the wise merchant ‘went and sold all he had’. And contrary to the law of matter where to give more means to have less, in the law of love the more one gives the more one has.



text checked (see note) May 2010

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Bhagavad Gita

translated by Juan Mascaró

Copyright © Juan Mascaró, 1962


In the dark night of my soul I feel desolation. In my self-pity I see not the way of righteousness. I am thy disciple, come to thee in supplication: be a light unto me on the path of my duty.

For neither the kingdom of the earth, nor the kingdom of the gods in heaven, could give me peace from the fire of sorrow which thus burns my life.


If any man thinks he slays, and if another thinks he is slain, neither knows the ways of truth. The Eternal in man cannot kill: the Eternal in man cannot die.

He is never born, and he never dies. He is in Eternity: he is for evermore. Never-born and eternal, beyond times gone or to come, he does not die when the body dies.

When a man knows him as never-born, everlasting, never-changing, beyond all destruction, how can that man kill a man, or cause another to kill?

As a man leaves an old garment and puts on one that is new, the Spirit leaves his mortal body and wanders on to one that is new.




When a man surrenders all desires that come to the heart and by the grace of God finds the joy of God, then his soul has indeed found peace.

He whose mind is untroubled by sorrows, and for pleasures he has no longings, beyond passion, and fear and anger, he is the sage of unwavering mind.

Who everywhere is free from all ties, who neither rejoices nor sorrows if fortune is good or is ill, his is a serene wisdom.

When in recollection he withdraws all his senses from the attractions of the pleasures of sense, even as a tortoise withdraws all its limbs, then his is a serene wisdom.


Action is greater than inaction: perform therefore thy task in life. Even the life of the body could not be if there were no action.

The world is in the bonds of action, unless the action is consecration. Let thy actions then be pure, free from the bonds of desire.


I am the same to all beings, and my love is ever the same; but those who worship me with devotion, they are in me and I am in them.

For even if the greatest sinner worships me with all his soul, he must be considered righteous, because of his righteous will.

And he shall soon become pure and reach everlasting peace. For this is my word of promise, that he who loves me shall not perish.


There is no end of my divine greatness, Arjuna. What I have spoken here to thee shows only a small part of my Infinity.

Know thou that whatever is beautiful and good, whatever has glory and power is only a portion of my own radiance.

But of what help it is to thee to know this diversity? Know that with one single fraction of my Being I pervade and support the Universe, and know that I AM.


Thou art the Imperishable, the highest End of knowledge, the support of this vast universe. Thou, the everlasting ruler of the law of righteousness, the Spirit who is and who was at the beginning.

I see thee without beginning, middle or end; I behold thy infinite power, the power of thy innumerable arms. I see thine eyes as the sun and the moon. And I see thy face as a sacred fire that gives light and life to the whole universe in the splendour of a vast offering.

Heaven and earth and all the infinite spaces are filled with thy Spirit; and before the wonder of thy fearful majesty the three worlds tremble.


Not by the Vedas, or an austere life, or gifts to the poor, or ritual offerings can I be seen as thou hast seen me.

Only by love can men see me, and know me, and come unto me.

He who works for me, who loves me, whose End Supreme I am, free from attachment to all things, and with love for all creation, he in truth comes unto me.


Set thy heart on me alone, and give to me thy understanding: thou shalt in truth live in me hereafter.

But if thou art unable to rest thy mind on me, then seek to reach me by the practice of Yoga concentration.

If thou art not able to practice concentration, consecrate all thy work to me. By mere doing actions in my service thou shalt attain perfection.

And if even this thou art not able to do, then take refuge in devotion to me and surrender to me the fruit of all thy work – with the selfless devotion of a humble heart.

For concentration is better than mere practice, and meditation is better than concentration; but higher than meditation is surrender in love of the fruit of one’s actions, for on surrender follows peace.


He who sees that the Lord of all is ever the same in all that is, immortal in the field of mortality – he sees the truth.

And when a man sees that the God in himself is the same God in all that is, he hurts not himself by hurting others: then he goes indeed to the highest Path.

He who sees that all work, everywhere, is only the work of nature; and that the Spirit watches this work – he sees the truth.


Some say that there should be renunciation of action – since action disturbs contemplation; but others say that works of sacrifice, gift and self-harmony should not be renounced.

Hear my truth about the surrender of works, Arjuna. Surrender, O best of men, is of three kinds.

Works of sacrifice, gift, and self-harmony should not be abandoned, but should indeed be performed; for these are works of purification.

But even these works, Arjuna, should be done in the freedom of a pure offering, and without expectation of a reward. This is my final word.

It is not right to leave undone the holy work which ought to be done. Such a surrender of action would be a delusion of darkness.

And he who abandons his duty because he has fear of pain, his surrender is of Rajas, impure, and in truth he has no reward.

But he who does holy work, Arjuna, because it ought to be done, and surrenders selfishness and thought of reward, his work is pure, and is peace.

This man sees and has no doubts: he surrenders, he is pure and has peace. Work, pleasant or painful, is for him joy.


There is a wisdom which knows when to go and when to return, what is to be done and what is not to be done, what is fear and what is courage, what is bondage and what is liberation – that is pure wisdom.

Impure wisdom has no clear vision of what is right and what is wrong, what should be done and what should not be done.

And there is a wisdom obscured in darkness when wrong is thought to be right, and when things are thought to be that which they are not.

text checked (see note) May 2010

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