In the previous article we read how around mid 3rd century B. C. E. Brahmanism created the Original Gita consisting of Arjuna Vishada and inserted it into the ever-expanding Mahabharata epic to reverse the trend of Kshatriyas abandoning decadent Brahmanism and joining heterodox Dharmas such as Buddhism and Jainism. This hauntingly beautiful song, expounding merits of Varna Dharma, became the rallying point for Brahmanism in its struggle against the onslaught of heterodox Dharmas.
Upanishadists Decide To Overthrow Brahmanism
We read in an earlier article how Upanishadists attempted to reform Brahmanism but failed to do so because Brahmanism checkmated them by declaring the Upanishads as Shruthis. However, they succeeded in interpolating the outlines of the concepts of Sankhya and Yoga into the Mahabharata epic, but without much impact (3  2: 15-75). To Upanishadists, who were still in the fold of Brahmanism, Arjuna Vishada was an ominous development, and at the same time, a wonderful opportunity to reveal their Secret Doctrines to the public, and attempt to browbeat Brahmanism once again.
As we read earlier, the Upanishadists felt nothing but disgust with the Vedas and Vedic doctrines (2:52-53). They correctly diagnosed the true cause of all the turmoil in the society: decadence of Brahmanism obsessed with earning Karmaphalam by means of ostentatious Kamya Karma (2:43). They came to the conclusion that Brahmanism itself had become Adharma (4:7); and it must be overthrown; Kamya Karma must be condemned (2:47-49); Karmaphalam must be declared as evil (4:16); Gunas and Karma must be discredited (2:45; 3:28-29); the importance of the Vedas must be reduced (2:46, 52-53), Varna Dharma must be made irrelevant (5:18-19), Yajnas must be declared as useless (3:17-18), and a new Dharma (4:8) with Upanishadic doctrines of Knowledge of Atman and Buddhiyoga must be established (2:39-40).
It is important to remember here that unlike the Lokayatas, Upanishadists did not consider the doctrines of the Gunas of Prakriti and Law of Karma as humbug. They simply declared the Gunas as evil and enemy of man (3:28-29, 34, 37-43) since they are hotbed of various human weaknesses such as Kama (selfish desire), Krodha (jealous rage), Sanga (attachment), Moha (delusion), Dwandwam, Ajnana, etc. The Gunas made ritualists become attached to sense objects and thus suffer from Shokam and Dwandwam here on earth. They declared the Law of Karma as evil since it made ritualists seek Karmaphalam by means of Kamya Karma to enjoy power and pleasure here on earth and heaven hereafter (2:43). This meant, whoever earned Karmaphalam suffered from Samsara, the never-ending cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Kama-ridden Brahmins and Krodha and Sankalpa-ridden Kshatriyas must be given new modus operandi by which they could transcend these doctrines, find Bliss here on earth (5:21) instead of Shokam and Dwandwam; and attain Nirvana (final exit) hereafter (6:15) instead of Karmaphalam-induced Samsara (revolving door).
Two Clever Strategies
1. Until the Arjuna Vishada was inserted into the Mahabharata, which was a Smrithi (remembered scripture), all Vedic scriptures and doctrines were kept away from the public by being declared Shruthi (that which was heard =revealed) scriptures. Only the top echelons of Brahmins and Kshatriyas had access to them. Now that Brahmanism decided to reveal their doctrines of the Gunas of Prakriti and Law of Karma in the Mahabharata epic, Upanishadists questioned, “Why can’t we also reveal our doctrines of Knowledge of Atman/Brahman and Buddhiyoga to the public?” However, this raised two questions: “How could we do this without coming across as irrelevant and impertinent? In what context could we reveal them?”
2. The shrewd Upanishadists noticed that the post-Vedic society at large suffered from the same three maladies Arjuna did: Whereas the upper
classes (Brahmins and Kshatriyas) suffered from severe Dwandwam (restlessness, stress and loss of discrimination) due to their attachment to wealth, power and heaven (2:44), and they obsessively sought these Karmaphalam (fruits of Yajna) by means of ostentatious Kamya Karma (2:43), the rest of the society suffered from Shokam (grief) over steady decadence of once-noble Dharma, as evidenced by mass exodus from Brahmanism to heterodox Dharmas.
It is important to note here that in the Arjuna Vishada episode, which was 100% Brahmanism, prince Krishna had already given Arjuna absolutely the best advice any warrior could get any time on any battlefield on earth, and not a penny’s worth of more advice was needed. As we will see, no warrior in his sane mind could apply any of the advice the Upanishadic Krishna pretends to give Arjuna (2:38). Krishna hints this to shrewd readers by referring to Arjuna as sinless (3:3). This is like a father scolding his noble son within the earshot of an errant nephew. The advice was not meant for the noble son, but for the waywardly nephew. Obviously, in the Upanishadic Gita, the advice Krishna gave to sinless Arjuna was not meant for him but was meant for sinful Brahmins and Kshatriyas indulging in Kamya Karma.
In an authoritarian culture, the only way one could attack authorities is by means of stealth. Just as Brahmanic loyalists used Arjuna Vishada as a stealth weapon against Ashoka the Great, the Upanishadic loyalists used surreptitious means to attack Brahmanism. They adopted tactics that were common in ancient India: double entendre, metaphors, pun, and code words. I have given a few examples of these tactics at the end of this article. They added shlokas that superficially appeared to address Arjuna, but were in reality meant to overthrow Brahmanism. They took full advantage of the dual meanings of words such as Karma, Dharma, Shruthi and the like, to convey their message. This gave Brahmanism enough room to save face, just in case they felt too threatened by the Upanishadists. They carried out their revolution in several steps. In the process they converted the Original Gita into the Upanishadic Gita. Here are the twenty steps of the first stage of the Upanishadic Revolution.
1. Upanishadic Format: Prince Krishna Becomes Upanishadic Guru
Whereas the Brahmanic format was a lecture by an all-knowing wise man to ignorant ones (which is still the case in India), the Upanishadic format was a discourse between a learned Guru and a devoted student. The Upanishadists define this format to Brahmins in 4:34: Seek that enlightenment (Knowledge of Atman/Brahman) by prostrating, by questions and by service. The wise (the Upanishadic Gurus), the seers into the True (Brahman) will instruct you in that knowledge.
Accordingly, the Upanishadists elevated prince Krishna to the position of the Guru and demoted Arjuna to the position of his devoted student: 2:7: Arjuna said: I surrender unto you. Make me your pupil, correct me and tell me for certain what is good for me.
2. Shokam, Dwandwam And Karmaphalam Are Reintroduced
To make their intrusion into the Arjuna Vishada look legitimate, Upanishadists reintroduced the three maladies of Arjuna in the following Upanishadic shlokas.
A) Shokam: 2:8: I do not find any remedy to the Shokam that is drying up my Senses, even if I were to gain unrivalled prosperity and power here on earth and sovereignty over gods hereafter. The point made here is that both these Brahmanic rewards of Yajna are useless in alleviating Shokam. In other words, Kamya Karma cannot solve the problem of Shokam. In fact Kamya Karma was the cause of Shokam. Therefore we need a new remedy to address Shokam: Knowledge of Atman.
B) Dwandwam: 2:6-7: Whether we should conquer them or they should conquer us -I do not know. My nature is weighed down with the taint of feeble-mindedness; my understanding is confused as to my duty. The point made here by Upanishadists is that attachment to sense objects disconnects one’s Mind from his Buddhi so badly that he, a great warrior, is unable to decide even the purpose of the war! Dwandwam is the sign that the Mind is disconnected from the stabilizing effect of Buddhi (see below). Therefore, one must detach his Mind from sense objects if he wants to reconnect his Mind with his Buddhi.
C) Karmaphalam: 2:6: These very sons of Dhritharashtra stand before us, after slaying whom we should not care to live. The point made here is, suicide might be preferable to living with pervasive sense of sinfulness (bad Karmaphalam). This is a veiled reference to Sramanas of Jainism, who committed slow suicide by starvation as if to atone for their sins. Chandragupta Maurya was but one example of Kshatriya royals who did this. The hidden meaning of this shloka is, “Tell me how I could perform Karma without incurring sin (bad Karmaphalam).”
These statements of Arjuna gave Guru Krishna the pretext to introduce the Upanishadic doctrine of Knowledge of Atman, which gave one freedom from Shokam and Dwandwam; and doctrine of Buddhiyoga, which taught one how to act without earning any Karmaphalam whatsoever.
3. Knowledge of Atman Is Given On The Pretext Of Countering Shokam
Now Guru Krishna delivers the theoretical Knowledge of Atman: Shokam (grief) is the sign of ignorance of the eternal nature of Atman within the body due to the deluding power of the Gunas (3:38-40; 5:15). Unlike the body made up of perishable Prakriti, Atman is indestructible, eternal, ancient, immeasurable, unthinkable, immutable, impervious to forces of Prakriti such as wind, fire, water, etc. (2:11-13; 16-30). Unlike the Gunas, Atman is free from birth and death, pain and pleasure, gain and loss (Action). The action of killing is the function of the Gunas. Atman does not kill. Being killed is the function of the body made up of Prakriti. Atman cannot be killed. Having thus established supremacy of Atman over the Gunas of Prakriti, Guru Krishna says: 2:39: This Knowledge of Atman (which shall be the counterforce against the Gunas of Prakriti from now onwards) has been declared to you as per Sankhya philosophy.
2:14: The contacts of the Senses with their objects create feelings of heat and cold, of pain and pleasure (Dwandwam). They come and go and are impermanent. Bear them patiently. How does one bear with Dwandwam patiently? Well, just as attachment to sense objects causes Dwandwam (I like this, I don’t like this; I feel good about this, I feel bad bout this; I gained this, I lost this), detachment from them connects the Mind to Buddhi and steadies it. Dwandwam disappears. This is the essence of Sanyasa, the first part of Buddhiyoga. Later on, (Chapter Four) Sanyasa becomes Jnanayoga.
5. Guru Krishna Explains How To Avoid Karmaphalam In Action
2:15: That man, O the best of men, is fitted for immortality (he is freed from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth by not earning Karmaphalam in action), whom these (Dwandwam: pairs of opposites) do not torment when he acts, who is balanced in pain and pleasure and steadfast (has become Buddhiyukta). The point made here is, when one acts without the Dwandwam of gain and loss, he earns no Karmaphalam (2:38). This is the essence of Tyaga, the second part of Buddhiyoga. Later on (Chapter Three) Tyaga becomes Karmayoga.
It is important to remember here that whereas Brahmanism was in favor of earning as much Karmaphalam as possible by means of war and Yajna, Upanishadism considered all Karmaphalam as sin since it promoted Samsara (cycle of birth, death and rebirth). This is a fundamental difference between the two sects.
6. Guru Krishna Introduces Buddhiyoga To Tackle Law of Karma
Having given the theoretical knowledge of Atman, now Guru Krishna gives Arjuna the principles of practice of Buddhiyoga: 2:39: Now hear me instruct you in the practice of Yoga of Buddhi. (By acting with your mind) Yoked to Buddhi, you shall break the bonds of Karma (earn no Karmaphalam in action and thus defy the Law of Karma). The point made here is that when the Mind withdraws the Senses from sense objects (says ‘No’ to desires), it becomes yoked to Buddhi and becomes Buddhiyukta (steadied by Buddhi). As we noted above, when one performs any action with a steady mind, he does not earn any Karmaphalam.
7. Guru Krishna Now Compares Buddhiyoga To Kamya Karma
2:40: In this (practice of Buddhiyoga unlike Kamya Karma) there is no loss of attempt (since nothing was desired); nor is there any adverse effect (such as Dwandwam or Karmaphalam). The practice of even a little of this Dharma protects one from great fear.
While performing Kamya Karma the performer might not obtain anything he craves for, and thus all his effort might be a total loss. In contrast, while practicing Buddhiyoga, there is no scope for loss of effort and consequent grief as absolutely no sense object was desired in the effort, and so nothing was lost. Whereas Kamya Karma is associated with the side effects of Dwandwam (due to attachment to sense objects) and Karmaphalam (due to desire for fruits), Buddhiyoga is free from these side effects of attachment to sense objects and selfish action to gain them.
Regarding the phrase, “The practice of even a little of this Dharma protects one from ‘Mahato Bhayat’ (great fear)” means, “If you practice Buddhiyoga of Upanishadism, you will not incur Karmaphalam of any kind whatsoever, and so you don’t need to fear going to hell for abandoning Kamya Karma.” The fear mentioned here is not the fear of Samsara, as claimed by Brahmanic commentators. This shloka was addressed to Brahmanic ritualists who constantly craved to go to heaven and be born again and again (2:43). What Vedic ritualists feared the most was going to hell for abandoning Brahmanism (3:35).
8. Guru Krishna Comes Out Swinging At Vedic Ritualists
2:41-44: To the firm in mind (Buddhiyogi), there is in this (Dharma) but one goal (to gain Knowledge of Atman); (in contrast) many branching and endless (wealth, pleasure, lordship, children, gold, cows, heaven, etc.), indeed, are the goals of the irresolute (Dwandwam-ridden ritualists attached to these). The ignorant ones (Vedic ritualists who are ignorant of Atman due to their attachment to sense objects) delighting in the flowery words disputing about the Vedic doctrines (of the Gunas and Karma) proclaim that there is nothing other than this (gaining sense objects by means of Kamya Karma); who are desire-ridden, whose goal is to attain heaven and rebirth as its Karmaphalam, who are addicted to many specific sacrificial rites (such as Ashvamedha, Rajasooya, Jyotisthoma) with the goal of enjoyment and power. The wisdom of these (ritualists) who cling to pleasure and power are stolen away (they become Dwandwam-ridden due to their attachment) and they are not able to attain steadiness of Buddhi needed for deep meditation (required to attain Atman).
9. Guru Krishna Warns Ritualists Of Consequences Of Attachment To Sense Objects
2:62-63: Obsessing over sense objects (wealth, power, heaven) man develops attachment to them; from attachment arises desire to have them. From desire arises jealous rage (against other Kshatriyas). From jealous rage proceeds delusion (I am rich, I am powerful); from delusion confused memory (for one’s Dharma). From confused memory ruin of reason (one becomes irrational in his actions), and due to ruin of reason man perishes (because he indulges in stupid acts).
These two shlokas represent the essence of the Upanishadic wisdom directed toward Vedic ritualists. When the Mind becomes entangled with sense objects it becomes disconnected from Wisdom. Stupid acts follow. We can see around us people who have ruined themselves due to their entanglement with various sense objects such as wealth, money, women, etc. The essence of these shlokas is that when man who acts under the direction of his Buddhi he becomes Buddha. One who acts under the influence of his Senses (Gunas) becomes Buddhu.
10. Guru Krishna Attacks The Gunas And Law Of Karma
Guru Krishna summarizes whatever he has taught so far: 2:45: The three Gunas (whose functions are desire, attachment and possessiveness) are in the sphere of the Vedas. You should transcend these three Gunas. Being free from Dwandwam (arising from attachment induced by the Gunas); being constantly established in goodness (instead of Kama, Krodha, Sangas and Moha rooted in the Gunas); being unconcerned with getting (earning Karmaphalam) and keeping (being possessive of them), be centered in Atman (so you shall be free from the Gunas as well as Shokam arising from it).
11. Guru Krishna Expresses Disgust With The Vedas And Vedic Doctrines
2:46: To an enlightened Brahmin (one who has conquered the Gunas and gained Knowledge of Atman) all the Vedas are as useful as a tank of water (meaning, they are practically useless) when there is flood (vast knowledge of Brahman) all around.
2:52-53: When your Buddhi transcends the thicket of delusion (engendered by the doctrines of the Gunas and Karma) then you will be disgusted by Shruthis yet to be heard (that were being churned out by beleaguered Brahmins around this time to shore up Brahmanism) as well as Shruthis you have already heard (the Vedas). When your Buddhi, disregarding the bewildering Vedic doctrines (of the Gunas and Karma), stands firm and unmoving in deep meditation, then you shall attain Yoga.
The point made here is that for a Vedic ritualist to become a Yogi, he must first completely disregard the Vedas and Vedic doctrines and actions based on them. The phrase ‘Shruthis yet to be heard’ refers to the fact that around this time (probably around 200 B. C. E) Brahmins were furiously ‘manufacturing’ Shruthis, such as Brahmanas, to shore up Brahmanism. Guru Krishna tells people to disregard them completely.
12. Guru Krishna Lays Down The Law: Do Not Crave Karmaphalam
Now Guru Krishna literally lays down the Law: 2:47-49: Your Adhikara (entitlement as per ancient scriptural ordinances) is only to perform Yajna and never at any time to its fruits (for fruits are supposed to go to the Devas, 3:10-16). Never let Karmaphalam be your motive (for if you take Karmaphalam for yourself you are a thief, 3:12); however, do not become attached to inaction (like Sramanas who do nothing at all except beg). Perform Yajna renouncing attachment (to Karmaphalam), being fixed in Yoga and being even-minded in success and failure (free from Dwandwam). Such equilibrium (of mind) is verily Yoga. Motivated Karma (Kamya Karma) is far inferior to that performed in the spirit of Buddhiyoga; take refuge in Buddhi; despicable are those (Vedic ritualists) who are motivated by Karmaphalam.
For a ritualist to become a Yogi, he must give up his attachment to sense objects as well to fruits of action. This would give him Evenness, Equanimity and Equilibrium of Mind (Three Es) engendered by Buddhiyoga.
13. Guru Krishna Explains The Benefits Of Buddhiyoga Here And Hereafter
Guru Krishna explains the difference between Kamya Karma and Buddhiyoga. In Kamya Karma, the ritualist earns Karmaphalam here on earth and hereafter. In contrast, the Buddhiyogi earns Karmaphalam neither here nor hereafter.
2:50-51: The one whose mind is steadied by being yoked to Buddhi frees oneself in this life from the consequences of good deeds as well as bad (earns neither good nor bad Karmaphalam). Therefore, devote yourself to Yoga. Work done skillfully (without the side-effects such as Dwandwam and Karmaphalam) is verily Yoga.
Just as a surgeon avoids side effects such as excessive bleeding and infection while performing surgery, a Yogi avoids side effects such as Dwandwam and Karmaphalam while performing any action including Yajna.
The wise (Buddhiyogis), their mind steadied by Buddhi, renouncing attachment to Karmaphalam, are freed from bondage of rebirth and attain the abode that is free from pain (attain Nirvana).
14. Yajnas Are Useless To Enlightened People
A man who has conquered his Gunas finds the peace engendered by complete absence of desire, attachment and possessiveness. Such a person has no use of Yajnas whatsoever.
3:17-18: A man who rejoices in Atman, satisfied with Atman, and is centered in Atman, to him there is no need for any Yajna (because his happiness comes from within him). There is no object for him to acquire in this world by performing Yajna, nor is there any loss by not performing it; nor does he have to depend on anybody (such as Devas or their brokers, the priests) for anything.
15. Enlightened People Do Not Need Varna Dharma
Varna Dharma is based on unequal distribution of the Gunas and Karma (4:13) among the classes. However, a person who has conquered the Gunas develops ‘same-sightedness’ on all people because he sees the same Brahman in all.
5:17-18: Wise men (Buddhiyogis who have conquered the Gunas) see the same (Atman) in an educated and cultured Brahmin, a cow (the animal of Brahmins), an elephant (the animal of Kshatriyas), a dog (the animal of Vaishyas as Sudras), and a dog eater (the outcaste of the lowest kind).
Even here on earth, one conquers rebirth when one’s mind is established in equality (of all people). Brahman is flawless and the same in all; therefore, they are all established in Brahman.
5:25: The seers whose evils (such as arrogance, rooted in the Gunas) have been destroyed, whose Dwandwam has been severed, whose selves (body, the Senses, the Mind and the Intellect) have been controlled, who delight in the welfare of all people (not just the upper classes), attain the Bliss of Brahman.
By means of the following four metaphorical shlokas, Guru Krishna finally orders that the rotten tree of Brahmanism should be chopped asunder by the axe of Buddhiyoga.
15:1-5: They speak of an eternal Ashvattha tree (a metaphor for Brahmanism) with its root above (in heaven) and branches below (on earth). Its leaves are Vedic hymns (uttered during Kamya Karma); he who knows it is the knower of the Vedas (Brahmins and Kshatriyas). Below (in the world of men) and above (in heaven) spread its branches, nourished by the Gunas (desire, attachment and possessiveness); sense objects (wealth, lordship and heaven) are its buds; and below in the world of men stretch forth the roots engendering (Kamya) Karma. Its real form is not perceived as such in this world (because it has been corrupted beyond recognition), neither its end (anta, referring to Vedanta principles) nor its beginning (adi, referring to its original purpose), nor its existence (everyone is thoroughly bewildered by it). Having chopped down this firm-rooted Ashvattha tree with the strong axe of non-attachment (the Upanishadic doctrine of Buddhiyoga), then that Goal (Abode of Brahman) should be sought for, going whither, they do not return again (attain Nirvana). I seek refuge in the Primeval Purusha (Brahman) whence streamed forth Eternal Activity.
Note here the paradigm shift in the source of all Eternal Activity. Primeval Purusha, not Prakriti, shall be the source of all activity from now onwards.
The Upanishadic Gita is full of wonderful metaphors such as the above, which all Brahmanic commentators misinterpret as pro-Brahmanism. Here are some other ways by which the Upanishadists tried to make Brahmanism obsolete.
17. Another Metaphor
2:22: As a man casting off worn-out garment puts on new ones, so the embodied (Atman), casting off worn out bodies enters into others that are new.
Even a child can understand the literal meaning of this shloka. However, the phrase worn-out garment here is a metaphor for worn-out (decadent) Brahmanism. To Brahmanism, Atman was merely a soul that transmigrated from body to body carrying with it Karmaphalam earned during the previous life. To Upanishadism, on the contrary, Atman was a part of all-pervading Brahman in the body, a counterforce to the Gunas and the seat of Absolute Tranquility engendered by total absence of desire, attachment and possessiveness. There is a paradigm shift in the concept of Atman. The hidden meaning of this shloka is that Atman is now discarding the worn-out and decadent Brahmanism and entering into a New Dharma: Upanishadism.
18. Code Words
2:23: Weapons do not cleave Atman, fire burns it not, water wets it not, and wind dries it not.
The literal meaning of this shloka is obvious to everyone. All Brahmanic commentators stick to the literal interpretation. However, this shloka’s hidden meaning is that Atman is impervious to Vedic gods of Prakriti: Indra wielding his weapon, Vajrayudha, Agni who burns, Varuna who wets and Vayu who blows. The Upanishads mention how these Vedic gods run away in fear of Brahman. Also, these forces of nature could be perceived by means of the Senses, but Atman is beyond the Senses (the Gunas).
19. An Example Of Using Dual Meanings
2:29: One beholds Atman as wonderful; another mentions of it as marvelous; another again hears of it as strange; though hearing yet another knows it not at all.
In this shloka, Upanishadists ridicule Vedic scholars, who have not gained Knowledge of Atman even after hearing about Atman. One Vedic scholar who hears of it is baffled by it. Another Vedic scholar who hears of it does not get it. Here the dual meanings of the word Shruthi, hearing as well as the Vedas, are cleverly used to convey the message that Shruthis (the Vedas) are useless in gaining Knowledge of Atman. The Upanishads never get tired of saying this in the Upanishads, “Atman cannot be gained by the Vedas.”
20. An Example Of Using Dual Meaning As Pun
2:52: When your Buddhi transcends the thicket of delusion (engendered by the Gunas), they you shall be disgusted (Nirvedam) by things you are yet to hear and things you have already heard.
In this shloka the word Nirvedam means disgust as well as Vedalessness. The phrase ‘things you have already heard’ refers to the Vedas (that which was heard -Shruthi). The point made here is that once one transcends the doctrines of the Gunas and Karma, the Vedas would disgust him.
This concludes the first stage of the Upanishadic Revolution in the Bhagavad Gita, designed to overthrow Brahmanism. In the next article, we will study the next step Upanishadists took to protect their revolution from being destroyed by Brahmanic loyalists and to rehabilitate Brahmanism’s Old Guard: Brahmins and Kshatriyas.
(To be continued)
Dr. Prabhakar Kamath, is a psychiatrist currently practicing in the U.S. He is the author of Servants, Not Masters: A Guide for Consumer Activists in India (1987) and Is Your Balloon About Pop?: Owner’s Manual for the Stressed Mind.