It appears that people drawn to Vedanta and Advaita tend to fall into two broad camps: those that wish to be told how to live their lives and those that trust that knowledge itself will do the trick. The former group is by far and away the largest and that’s why so many charismatic vedanta gurus, satsang teachers, religious leaders, philosophy schools, yoga classes and the like can proliferate.
People are happy to be told either to continue as they are because there is nothing to do, or all is perfect whatever they do, or they need to walk round mountains, or stare into crystals, or run around doing dynamic meditation, or having Tantric sex, or dressing like Victorian ladies and gentlemen, or dressing like monks, or going to confession, or doing all sorts of things that they are told would improve them. In marked contrast there are those who believe that simply studying the scriptures with a teacher is all that’s needed.
What’s the correct view? I thought it best to examine the acme of teacher-student relationship – that between Bhagavan Sri Krishna and the Prince Arjuna – to see what happened there. Did the teacher impart detailed instructions on lifestyle? What were the do’s and don’ts (if any) that were enjoined? What was the relationship (if any) between lifestyle and knowledge?
To do this I scanned through the Gita text to see how many of Bhaganan Sri Krishna’s words were expressed in the injunctive case: “Do this!” instead of “The wise do this”. Of the 700 verses only around 50 contained direct injunctions. And even these fell into just 5 clusters:
> fight/don’t grieve;
> don’t let the fruit of action drive your behaviours/transcend likes and dislikes;
> do your duty;
> be devoted to the Lord;
> be alert / resort to knowledge.
Close in spirit to a direct injunction is advice, characterised by words like ‘you should/should not’… or ‘you need to know’.
Apart from these 5 direct instructions, the rest of the Gita simply states the facts about how things are in reality, how the enlightened ones behave, how they act, how they worship, what they know. The five enjoined behaviours prepare the mind to hear these descriptions. A mind that is full of fear and unwillingness to fight, for example, cannot know the truth. A mind that is driven by likes and dislikes cannot know the truth. Nor could a mind that does not follow duty, or worship the Lord, or listen and learn.
Here is what I found. Please feel free to add any direct – not implied – instructions that I may have missed.
1. FIGHT/DON’T GRIEVE
2.3 Yield not to impotence, O Pártha, its does not become you. Cast off this petty weakness of heart! Stand up, O scorcher of foes!
2.14 … pleasure and pain, have a beginning and an end; they are impermanent; endure them bravely...
2.18 … Therefore fight, O Bhárata.
2.37 Slain, you will obtain heaven; victorious you will enjoy the earth; therefore, stand up, O son of Kunti, determined to fight.
2.38 Having made alike pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat, engage in battle!
2.45 ... be free from the sorrows of the pairs of opposites...
3.30 ... with the mind ever centred in the Self... fight!
4.42 ... Stand up O descendant of Bhárata!
7.7 Therefore, at all times, remember me and fight...
11.33 Therefore stand up and achieve fame, conquer the enemies...
1I.34 Do not hesitate! Kill! Fight! You shall conquer the enemy.
11.49 Have no fear or confusion on seeing this terrible form of Mine. Be again freed from fear and cheered at heart...
16.5 ... Grieve not, O Pártha, you are born with divine qualities.
16.66 ... Grieve not.
II.25 This Self is said to be Unmanifest, Unthinkable and Unchangeable. Therefore, knowing this as such, you should not grieve.
II.26 But even if you think of Him as being constantly born and constantly dying, O mighty armed, you should not grieve.
II.27 Indeed, certain is death for the born, and certain is birth for the dead. Therefore, over the inevitable, you should not grieve.
II.30 This, the embodied Self, is eternally indestructable in the body of all, O Descendent of Bharata. Therefore, you should not grieve for anyone.
2. DON’T BE DRIVEN BY THE FRUITS OF ACTION / TRANSCEND LIKES AND DISLIKES
2.45 … transcend these three Gunas... be indifferent to the pairs of opposites... be free from all thoughts of acquisition and preservation...
2.48 Perform action, O Dhananjaya, abandoning attachment...
3.9 Perform action for that purpose (sacrifice), O son of Kunti, free from attachment.
3.19 Therefore always perform actions that should be done, without attachment...
3.30 ... be free from desire and possession, free from fever...
3.41 ... kill this sinful thing (desire), the destroyer of knowledge and wisdom.
3.43 ... slay the enemy in the form of desire, difficult though it is to conquer.
12.11 … taking refuge in Me, self-controlled, renounce the fruits of all actions.
3. DO YOUR DUTY / ACT / DON’T ACT
3.8 Perform your bounden duty...
3.19 Therefore always perform actions that should be done...
3.20 ...For the mere maintenance of the world you should act.
3.41 Therefore, O best of Bháratas, controlling first the senses...
11.33 ... be you a mere instrument...
12.9 ... by abhyása yoga seek to reach me...
16.24 ... knowing the prescribed scriptural injunctions, perform actions here in the world
18.57 Mentally renouncing all actions in Me...
18.63 ... now act as you choose.
18.66 Abandoning all duties...
18.67 This shall not be spoken of by you to one who is without austerity...
4. BE DEVOTED TO THE LORD
3.30 Renouncing all actions in Me, with the mind ever centred in the Self...
8.7 Therefore, at all times, remember me...with mind and intellect fixed on Me;...
9.27 Whatever you do… do it as an offering to me.
9.34 Fix your mind on Me, be devoted to Me, sacrifice to Me, bow down to Me...
12.8 Fix your mind on Me alone, place your intellect in Me...
12.10 ... be you intent on performing actions for My sake ...
18.57 ...having Me as the Highest Goal... ever fix your mind on Me.
18.62 Fly unto Him for refuge with all your being, O Bhárata…
18..65 Fix your mind on Me, be devoted to Me, sacrifice to Me, bow down to Me…
18.66 ... take refuge in Me alone. I will liberate you
5. BE ALERT (BEHOLD!) / RESORT TO KNOWLEDGE
I.25 O Pártha, behold these assembled Kurus.
2.45 ... be ever fixed in Sattwa...
2.49 ... Seek refuge in wisdom...
2.50 ... devote yourself to Yoga. Yoga is discretion in action.
4.34 Learn (about sacrifice) through long prostration, question and service...
4.42 Therefore, with the sword of knowledge, slay the doubt in the heart born of ignorance. Resort to Yoga!
8.27 ...no yogin is deluded; therefore, at all times be steadfast in Yoga,
11.6-8 (Arjuna is asked several times to..) Behold!
18.13 Learn from Me...
18.57 ...resorting to the Yoga of discrimination
18.63 ... Having fully reflected upon (the wisdom that has been declared)
ADVICE (what we ‘need to know’)
2.17 ... that by which the Universe is pervaded is indestructible
4.12 ... that all sacrifices are born of action
4.33/34 ... that wisdom sacrifice is better than sacrifice of material possessions
6.2 ... that Yoga is what is called renunciation, that renunciation of thought leads to it.
7.5 ... that “My inferior nature” is different from “My superior nature” by which the universe is sustained
7.6 ... that all beings are born of the higher and lower nature of the Lord.
7.10 ... that the Lord is the eternal seed of all beings...
7.12 ... that all beings (sattvic, rajasic, tamasic) proceed from Me
9.6 ... that all beings rest in Me like the wind in Akasha
9.31 ... that ‘My devotee is never destroyed’
9.24 ... that the Lord is Brihaspati, chief among priests
13.20 ... that prákriti and purusha are beginingless and that modifications are prákriti born
13.27 ... that the union of field and field-knower results in the birth of everything
14.7/8 ... (about the natures of rajas and tamas)
15.12 ... that the light in the sun and moon is the Lord’s
17.12 ... that sacrifice with intention for fruit is rajasic
18.20/21 (about sattvic and rajasic knowledge)
Bhagavan Sri Krishna is treating Arjuna like a grown up and takes it as read that any mature seeker will not need to be told what to do in detail, but would be happy to have some broad principles laid out and act appropriately.