The Bhagavad Gita– or The Gita– is the most renowned of all the Indian scriptures.
Amidst a battle between cousins for the rightful claim to the throne, The Gita relates Prince Arjuna seeking solace in his charioteer: an earthly manifestation of Lord Krishna.
This Hindu masterpiece is an allegory of the struggles of our internal battlefield and striving to do what is right.
With 700-verses of spiritual lessons on life, love, work and human nature, The Gita is a demanding read so here’s a digestible overview of Arjuna and Krishna’s dialogue.
Read on for a Bhagavad Gita Summary. We will be looking at:
- The War Within
- Selfless Service
- Wisdom in Action
- Renounce & Rejoice
- The Practice of Meditation
- Wisdom from Realization
- The Eternal Godhead
- The Royal Path
- Divine Splendor
- The Cosmic Vision
- The Way of Love
- The Field & the Knower
- The Forces of Evolution
- The Supreme Self
- Two Paths
- The Power of Faith
- Freedom & Renunciation
Bhagavad Gita Summary Chapter 1: Arjuna Vishadayoga (47 verses)
The War Within
The blind King, Dhritarashtra, asks Sanjaya to recount the events of the battle at Kurukshetra.
Sanjaya reports that Dhritarashtra’s son, who declared war for the throne, is confident his forces will defeat Arjuna and his brothers’ smaller army.
From his omniscient perspective, Sanjaya reveals Arjuna’s wish to defend his brother’s rightful claim and, through the conversations with Krishna, his dismay at fighting his own family.
Chapter 2: Sankhyayoga (72 verses)
Conflicted, Arjuna asks Krishna to be his spiritual guide.
Krishna tells him not to grieve because the “Self” is eternal; it never dies and is never born.
Krishna instructs Arjuna to commit to the disciplines of Yoga; to detach from the rewards of actions, the dualities of life (pleasure and pain, success and failure), and from selfish desires to attain “perfect evenness of mind”.
Chapter 3: Karmayoga (43 verses)
Arjuna questions Krishna’s advice to seek spiritual wisdom given the situation at hand.
Krishna insists that “action is better than inaction” if one detaches from personal gain and takes the path of selfless service: karma yoga.
“Strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world; by devotion to selfless work one attains the supreme goal of life”– Chapter 3, verse 19.
When Arjuna asks what “force” makes us act selfishly, Krishna explains that rajas (one of the 3 gunas, or qualities) generates anger and selfish desire. Only by learning to conquer the senses and the mind can we conquer our enemy: the ego.
Chapter 4: Gyana Karma Sanyasayoga (42 verses)
Wisdom in Action
Krishna reveals his divine nature in telling his disciple he has been reborn in human form many times to share the secret teachings of Yoga with ancient sages and now with Arjuna.
One of these secrets is that Krishna is the Self residing in every human being; only those who realize this reach “the state of unity”.
Krishna encourages Arjuna to renounce selfish attachments and follow the path of Yoga.
Chapter 5: Karma Sanyasayoga (29 verses)
Renounce & Rejoice
Arjuna asks his charioteer whether to follow the path of selfless action or renounce worldly ties and responsibilities.
Krishna attests that the path of action is preferable, insisting that no action can be fulfilling without knowledge of the Self.
Through meditation, Krishna explains, one can master the senses, unify consciousness as the Self and find joy within.
“…those who follow the path of yoga and realize the Self are established forever in that supreme state”– Chapter 5: verse 26.
Chapter 6: Dhyanayoga (Aatmasamyamyoga) (47 verses)
The Practice of Meditation
Krishna advises Arjuna on the practicalities of meditation so he may climb the mountain of Self-realization and reach the summit of human consciousness.
Krishna tells his disciple to sit in a clean, comfortable place with the head, neck and body aligned, fixing his attention on Krishna (Brahma, the Self).
Arjuna is advised to eat and sleep moderately to conquer the senses and still the mind.
Overwhelmed, Arjuna asks how the restless mind can attain peace and Krishna reassures him that, through regular spiritual practice and detachment, it is possible.
Arjuna expresses his concern for the fate of those who don’t reach the end of their spiritual path. Krishna assures him that no effort is wasted because aspirants can build on the wisdom acquired in one lifetime when they are born into the next life, and the next…
Chapter 7: Gyana Vigyanayoga (30 verses)
Wisdom from Realization
Krishna promises that through devotion, Arjuna will achieve wisdom and realization: jnana and vijnana.
Here, Krishna describes his “two natures”: the creator of world matter (prakriti), and the transcendent spirit of the universe (Purusha).
The Lord explains that the 3 gunas derive from him, but they also create an illusion (maya) that creates a veil over his true nature; the wise look beyond the illusion to see Krishna ruling the cosmos, while those deluded by maya fail to recognize and worship him.
Chapter 8: Akshara Brahmayoga (28 verses)
The Eternal Godhead
Intrigued, Arjuna asks for clarification on concepts of realization and asks how devotees are united with Krishna at their death.
Krishna explains that adhyatma is the form in which he creates and lives in every creature; adhibhuta is the perishable body; adhidaiva is the eternal spirit and adhiyajna is the “supreme sacrifice” and assures Arjuna:
“Those who remember me at the time of death will come to me”– chapter 8: verse 5.
Arjuna learns that the soul may take either the southern path of the sun to rebirth or the northern path of the sun to liberation.
Chapter 9: Raja Vidya Raja Guhyayoga (34 verses)
The Royal Path
Krishna promises to tell Arjuna the royal secret so he may attain the goal of liberation.
The Lord advises not to underestimate his divine power as the source of all existence.
Krishna explains that anyone who devotes their actions to him will be freed from the burden of karma. Krishna concludes that the secret is to worship him, and all creatures, with true love.
Chapter 10: Vibhutiyoga (42 verses)
Krishna reveals himself as the source from which all creatures evolve and, therefore, as all the contrasting qualities that form them.
Arjuna proclaims his belief in Krishna’s divine truth and begs him to describe his immortal powers.
Krishna likens his boundless powers to the forces of Gods, nature and animals only to disregard these comparisons in favor of a simpler explanation:
“Just remember that I am, and that I support the entire cosmos with only a fragment of my being…”– chapter 10: verse 42.
Chapter 11: Vishvarupa Darshanayoga (55 verses)
The Cosmic Vision
In response to Arjuna’s request, Krishna grants Arjuna the spiritual vision to perceive his divinity.
Arjuna is dazzled by the blinding splendor of a thousand suns and in awe of the diverse manifestations of Krishna as deities, celestial serpents and myriad body parts. Terrified by the intensifying vision of fire and destruction, Arjuna questions the identity of this formidable God.
On learning that Krishna is the destroyer of all and time itself, Arjuna bravely turns to venerate him and beg forgiveness for any wrongdoings.
Overcome, Arjuna begs Krishna to return to human form. Krishna concedes and reiterates that only unfailing devotion to the supreme goal can grant this divine vision.
Chapter 12: Bhaktiyoga (20 verses)
The Way of Love
Krishna tells Arjuna that those who set their hearts on him and worship him unfailingly are most established in yoga.
Krishna describes his true devotees as those who are compassionate and incapable of ill-will, impartial and selfless, accepting of transient nature, fair to everyone and unaffected by external factors.
Chapter 13: Kshetra Kshetragya Vibhagayoga (34 verses)
The Field & the Knower
Krishna initiates an exploration of “the field” (body and mind, or prakriti) and “the knower” (one that knows the field; the Self, or Purusha).
Krishna describes one who knows their true nature as a modest, wise person in control of their senses and able to distinguish the Knower from the field.
Though it resides in the mind-body, Krishna explains that the self is unmoved and unaffected by the forces acting upon the “field.”
Chapter 14: Gunatraya Vibhagayoga (27 verses)
The Forces of Evolution
Kirshna delves into the three components of mind and matter (prakriti) that bind the Self to the body: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas.
He describes the qualities of each, and how Sattva binds us to happiness and wisdom, Rajas to compulsive action and Tamas to delusion.
Krishna tells Arjuna that a person who is undisturbed by the gunas is impartial and at peace within themselves.
Chapter 15: Purushottamayoga (20 verses)
The Supreme Self
Krishna depicts an upside-down fig tree, with roots beyond earthly sight and branches reaching down to this world, cut with an axe to reinforce the notion of detachment from actions to reach the eternal goal: Krishna’s supreme abode.
Krishna describes his home as a realm of light and immortality, though he reiterates that he also lives in the mortal world where darkness and light coexist.
Chapter 16: Daivasura Sampad Vibhagayoga (24 verses)
Krishna offers a detailed description of human good and evil.
The “divine” qualities that liberate us include self-control, sincerity, service and compassion. The “demonic” behaviors that enslave us are hypocrisy, arrogance, cruelty, anger, ignorance and insatiability.
Krishna urges Arjuna to follow the teachings of the scriptures and avoid the three gates to self-destruction: lust, anger and greed.
Chapter 17: Shraddhatraya Vibhagayoga (28 verses)
The Power of Faith
Arjuna expresses curiosity about those who do not follow the scriptures but worship with faith.
Krishna explains that faith conforms to our nature: sattvic people worship Gods; rajasic people worship power and wealth while tamasic people worship spirits. He then explains how the 3 gunas affect habits, traits and rituals.
We learn that the mantra Om Tat Sat represents self-sacrifice, discipline and goodness though Krishna emphasizes that any deed practiced without faith is worthless.
Chapter 18: Moksha Sanyasayoga (78 verses)
Freedom & Renunciation
Krishna begins by distinguishing the types of renunciation, advocating tyaga: the renunciation of the fruits of action.
Krishna describes one who has attained spiritual perfection as living a simple, self-sufficient life of meditation and self-control.
Arjuna confirms that he has understood Krishna’s teachings.
Finally, Sanjaya recalls the entire conversation with joy, exclaiming:
“Wherever the divine Krishna and the mighty Arjuna are, there will be prosperity, victory, happiness…”– chapter 18: verse 78.
For more inspiring quotes from the Bhagavad Gita, check out this article.
Inspired to read the full version after this Bhagavad Gita summary? We recommend Eknath Easwaran’s translation with commentary.