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

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.

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

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.

Hi, Brooks.

Ah, but that's the beauty of the Gita isn't it! It understands that people are different, and embraces everyone from the wild-eyed ecstasist (I love making up words) to people who prefer a more practical mentality, and doesn't see any contradiction between the two at all, just a difference in focus.

In my own life I actually do what the Gita recommends–I think about both of these aspects of life simultaneously all the time, the practical "LIVE YOUR LIFE WITH LOVE AND PURPOSE" part and the starry-eyed "EXPERIENCE THE INFINITE WONDER OF THE UNIVERSE" part, and I see them as two sides of the same coin, not contradictory in the least. Yoga and the Gita, in particular, has helped me learn to do this.

Ok, now I'm going to get way too sappy for some, but as long as we're baring our inner souls (we're baring our inner souls, right?) I personally do see infinite wonder in a bank account. I see infinite wonder in the very fact that my brain cells can even perceive the concept of a "bank account". I see infinite wonder in both the elegant simplicity and mind-boggling complexity of money and economics. I see infinite wonder in each atom that makes up the paper on one of my checks. I see infinite wonder in the paper clip on my bank statement (see in which I explain the startling similarities between a galaxy and a paper clip).

See what I mean? See what Yoga has done to me? Do you think I need help? An intervention, perhaps? Do you think there's any hope?

Bob Weisenberg

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 …?

Hi, paramsangat. Thank you for your warm appreciation.

It is amazing how, once one has a good feel for the underlying philosophy of the Gita, all the other versions that previously seemed inaccessible are now really interesting. I've experienced that, too. Not familiar with the Brooks translation.

Thanks for your suggestion on a new forum. The Yoga Sutra has been suggested. I love the Upanishads in the mind-blowing Eknath Easwaran version. To me, this book is as powerful and immediate as Mitchell's Gita. There are many other great Yoga books we could consider. Or we could have a more general open discussion forum about Yoga philosophy.

I would love to hear everyone else's preferences.

Bob Weisenberg

Hi, Amy.

I really meant it that I would listen to everyone's suggestions. If there is over whelming demand for the Sutra, we could do that. We don't have to do an ancient text either. It could be a modern book, or no book at all, just a Yoga discussion group with topics chosen by the participants. Right now I'm wide open and hungry for all new ideas.

I like your thinking about the desirability of having a core group who are all committed to participating every week. It might be the best of both worlds to have that committed group, but with all the discussions still public and open to all. You've got me thinking creatively, and I appreciate that very much.

Independently of that, I would love to know your favorite Upanishads versions and why you like them. I fell upon the Easwaran version very early and haven't explored too many others yet.


Bob Weisenberg

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.

I didn't say it was less wondrous. I was just quibbling with the term unfathomable. Just because something is not yet understood doesn't make it impossible to understand.

How about "unfathomed"?

I think you might agree that as soon as science says unprovable and unscientific things like "We believe might be able to figure everything out eventually", then it becomes a faith, not science anymore. This is the kind of thinking Matt means when he uses the term "scientism", which is an excessive, unwarranted, and even unscientific faith in science.

But it doesn't matter to me–"unfathomable", "unfathomed", or even "completely fathomed", it's still all the same infinitely wondrous universe.

Does that make sense to you? The "unfathomable" part is theoretically dispensable, I agree.

Bob Weisenberg


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… 🙂

In attempting to answer this question for my daughter, my investigation has found that there is no real scientific consensus on whether or not the universe is infinite or not (and if it is finite–it is probably "boundless" like the surface of an expanding balloon).

Even if the universe is finite, it may be one of many universes in a megaverse or multiverse.

Of course, relative to human existence–which is the only basis for this inquiry–even a finite universe seems unfathomable. Even if we can measure it, it is still so 'effin big and growing that the word "finite" seems to lose its traditional connotation.

For some folks–not you, YogiOne–it almost seems they need a tidy, finite, uni-verse like others need a mono-theistic god.

Boundless perhaps, but what does it mean to have a vast expance of nothing beyond where anything actually exists? Room to expand yes, but only so far as the uniuverse has energy to expand its boundaries. This energy is not limitless and will eventually run out. At that point, the limits of the universe will be finite. At that point, all matter will be equally distributed throughout the universe, all energy expended. That raises the question of what will be left at that point if anything. Will there be any basic particle left if there is no energy? Don't know, but finite in terms of energy and space? Yes, the universe is finite.

The question of multiple universes or a multiverse where many overlap in the same space is a very interesting one and one that has much instinctive liking to its credit. Not any evidence for it though or even a plausible theory. The most plausible theory in this area used to be the collapsing universe which would in turn explode in another big bang. The latest measurements of the amount of mass in the universe pretty much rule that out even if we could figure out what is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate.

Like you say, I'd be happy to know that there is hope that life could continue after life and after the end of this universe. I just don't see any evidence for either of those, so I accept that what is simply is. It is impermanent – all of it. Se La Vie.

Ah, but that's the whole point of Yoga, don't you think, YogiOne, to choose (and we most certainly can choose this) to identify with the universe instead of the very limiting concept of "life"? As I once suggested as a Yoga bumper sticker or t-shirt:

If you can't beat the universe, join it.

You can't really argue that this is wrong or untrue. You can't really argue that we are not, in fact, an integral part of the entire universe, the way a wave is an integral part of the entire ocean.

That part is a fact, even a scientific fact. The choice to see ourselves as a wave or as the ocean or both is entirely a matter of personal decision, not a matter of true or false. Don't you agree?

That's why, to me, there are absolutely no discrepancies between any conceivable science and Yoga. To me Yoga is a choice of outlook, not a question of fact or faith.

If you were a wave in the ocean
And someone asked you what you are
Would you answer
“I am a wave”
or would you answer
“I am the ocean”?

Bob Weisenberg

But still plenty of awesome elbow room (in terms of both space and time) in that finite universe, yes?

Naturally, I can't help but wonder at what is "beyond" that finitude as well. I also wonder if our current physics and measurement won't one day be seen as being as primitive as the old pre-spherical world sailing maps demarcating the "world's end."

Agreed on both points. In the case of the former, there is plenty right here on Earth to inspire awe, devotion and reverence. I wish more people felt that way about the only home we will ever know. Regarding the latter, I'll greet it with open arms if (big if) it comes and accept it as it stands until then.

There comes a point where there's not much difference between "awesomely huge" and "infinite", although I would agree with YogiOne that it is of theoretical interest.

But it's so easy to prove the universe is infinite by pure logic. YogiOne, can you tell me the finite limit of even the simplest of concepts in science–a string of whole numbers, 1,2,3,…?

Bob Weisenberg

Just because we can conceive in abstract terms of infinities does not mean they exist in reality. An oft cited infinity: If you move half way from one point to another and then again, move half way toward the same point, ad infinitum, you would never get to the destination, yet always be traveling. Actually, you would stop when half the distance to the point becomes smaller than the smallest possible particle. Likewise, counting real objects would have a finite end, the number being the sum of all smallest particles in the universe.

In my humble opinion, you're on shakier and shakier ground all the time here, YogiOne.

First of all, you're certainly aware that even the existence of particles themselves is fuzzy in the new physics. Matter = energy. Quantum physics. String theory. It's getting harder and harder to tie down what is meant by "the physical universe", much less "particles".

Secondly, why would we be limiting the universe to the physical anyway? Is that what you're saying, that the "physical" universe is finite? Are not our minds and our imaginations an integral part of the universe, too? And how do we know that our particular minds are not among the least developed among all the life forms in the universe, not the most developed?

Here I am presenting you with the very simplest of scientific ideas–a string of whole numbers, "1,2,3,…" and you agree that it is infinite. But for some reason, this science, which is one of the few we can say we understand 100%, doesn't count when we're considering whether the universe is infinite or finite? And there are all these other things out there we haven't even begun to comprehend yet, but you're assuming, unlike this one that we do understand 100%, they will all be finite?

But while theoretically interesting, I will always go back to my previous comments that even if science were to figure out every last thing some day, it would be more wondrous, not less wondrous, that it seems today, so wouldn't change a thing about Yoga.

Bob Weisenberg

Well, Bob, yes, there is a complex relationship between Mass and Energy and in some natural processes, they do change from one form to another. Still, there are estimates of total mass and energy in the universe which are becoming more precise all the time. No one in physics is proposing that either is infinite.

That string of whole numbers is not infinite when applied to any physical property, and yes, the universe is limited to those things that physically exist. Even ideas that include concepts of the infinite are finite and will suffer the same fate as the rest of the universe. To me, that makes life even more precious. It is in the process of understanding the true nature of the universe that genuine wonder is found.

Oh, and we do not understand mathematics 100%. I have several friends who are mathematicians who are very grateful this is so because they would be out of a job if they couldn't publish incremental gains aimed at solving several long-standing mathematical conundrums.

I've got to politely ask you not to so carelessly misquote me, YogiOne. I don't know how you can get "understand mathematics 100%" from what I wrote. I only said "a string of whole numbers."

Bob W.

OK. I'll quote you directly: "this science, which is one of the few we can say we understand 100%" The science you were referring to was mathematics. A string of whole numbers is not in itself a science.

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

There is an interesting point of view that proposes we are all protogods. The question is will we become all-knowing, all-powerful, etc. before the end of the universe, (and thus able to save ourselves) or will the universe become to inhospitable for life before we get to that point. Those who propose this seriously think we need to work toward controlling and accelerating our own evolution. While using different terms and methods, isn't this also what Yoga proposes?

Hi, YogiOne.

I personally don't see Yoga proposing that at all. Quite the contrary. This world will be destroyed and others recreated over and over again. Krishna is the "destroyer of worlds". In this, the Gita and modern physics are completely in sync.

You gulp down all worlds everywhere swallowing them in your flames

I recall again my bumper sticker/t-shirt:

If you can't beat the universe, join it.

See my other recent comment around this sentence.

This doesn't mean we become less human. On the contrary, being human takes on a whole new luminance when seen from a universal perspective. That's what Yoga proposes.

Bob Weisenberg

Ok, I could have been more clear. The part where I see yoga coincide with the protogod thing is that both propose as a goal for human life, the development (evolution) of the individual and the species to the ultimate limits of consciousness (however that might be defined).


I'd have to say quite a lot. I learned about the limits and boundaries of my own knowledge. I learned much about how the Gita could be interpreted from many different points of view. I learned about how some of those interpretations fit with each other and how some did not. I very much appreciated the agruments in support of a consciousness that exists outside of normal time and space (even though I don't believe in it, I found it fascinating). I enjoyed the discussion of scientific thinking and values and how evolved thinking now requires us to reject literal translations of much of the Gita. This raised the question of how much can we discard and still give any weight or credence to the original text. That question remains unanswered and I look forward to discussing it more deeply in the future. On the other hand, I also enjoyed finding many aspects of the Gita that survived to this day as valuable guides to understanding our experience here on Earth. I could go on, but most of this happened in the discussions that were fueled by polemics. Look back over the discussion. "Oh I agree with that" tends to end conversations.

Yes, I have no quibble whatsoever with disagreement. What I mean by polemics is that the Gita merely serves as a stage for an argument about other topics, in which people hold fast to one pole or another of a polarizing view. People arrive with a view, argue about it, and then depart with the same view.

In such a discussion, the Gita may have inspired the argument, but that's not the same as letting the Gita teach us. What interests me is listening to what this ancient text has to say, not so much listening to other 21st Century Americans lecture on or debate 21st Century ideas of science or religion. Those debates may be interesting in their own way, but they're also available everywhere.

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.


(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

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!

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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