The Bhagavadgitâ and Theosophy

K. Dinakaran -- India

Theosophy GITA B

Dr. Annie Besant said: “Among the priceless teachings that may be found in the great Hindu poem of the Mahabharata, there is none so rare and precious as this ‘Lord’s Song’.” Aldous Huxley (1894–1963) also said: “The most beautiful, perhaps the only true philosophical song existing in any known tongue.” H. P. Blavatsky (HPB) mentions in the Preface to The Voice of the Silence about Jñânesvari, the Marathi version of the Bhagavadgitâ by Sant Jñânesvar.

Blavatsky was a student of the Gitâ and suggested that it be read on her death anniversary every year on 8 May — White Lotus Day. One of the cofounders of the Theosophical Society (TS), W.Q. Judge, wrote notes on the first seven chapters of the Gitâ. The remaining chapters were completed by Robert Crosbie. Swami T. Subba Rao gave lectures on this work that were later published as Philosophy of the Bhagavadgitâ.

Dr Besant was a serious student of the Bhagavadgitâ as well. She started studying Sanskrit and the Gitâ since she landed and settled in Varanasi, India, in 1893. Dr Bhagavan Das (former General Secretary of the Indian Section of the TS) was her coworker in translating the Gitâ into English for the benefit of Westerners. The translation was published in 1895. This book includes a brief introduction on Sanskrit grammar, “Greatness of Gitâ”, meditation on the Gitâ, its practice, and so on. The index and introduction are also helpful to students of this work.

All these translations helped Indians to feel pride over their invaluable text. At the same time the Western scholars and missionaries, who used to call Indians “heathens”, wondered at the depth of wisdom contained in Sir Edwin Arnold’s poetization of the Gitâ, The Song Celestial.

When Mahatma Gandhi was a law student in England he was inspired by two theosophists known as the Keightleys, of which the uncle, Bertram, was the first General Secretary of the Indian Section of the TS from 1897 to 1901. He also served as General Secretary of the English Section from 1901 to 1905. They asked Gandhiji to read The Song Celestial and HPB’s The Key to Theosophy. He was enchanted by the divine wisdom of the Gitâ and became its student.

An in-depth study of it for forty years enabled Gandhi to write a commentary on it. He described it as his “spiritual dictionary”. During the freedom struggle it became very popular among Indians through the efforts of Dr Besant, Prof. P. K. Telang, and others. It inspired many patriots who fought for Indian freedom to cast away the shackles of British rule. Balagangadhar Tilak, one of Dr Besant’s close associates in the Home Rule League, during his long imprisonment spent time studying the Gitâ and wrote a commentary on it named Gitârahasyam.

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India, described the Gitâ as “the most beautiful, perhaps the only true philosophical song existing in any known tongue”, quoting William von Humboldt. The third chapter of Nehru’s Autobiography is devoted to Theosophy, in which he explains how he was molded by theosophist F. T. Brooks at a tender age. He joined the TS and attended the TS Convention at Varanasi in 1902. These are just a few examples of how the Gitâ influenced world thought.

The first Object of the TS is: “To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or colour.” The second is: “To encourage the study of comparative religion, philosophy, and science.” And the third is: “To investigate the unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in humankind.” All three demand from TS members an open mind, not prejudiced by any of the distinctions created by conditioned human thought. They are asked to investigate the laws of Nature — explained and unexplained. This is true scientific enquiry. To free ourselves from all preconceived ideas, opinions, and judgments. That is the true nature of science.

Unfortunately, modern science, which has been instrumental for many human comforts and conveniences, now spends most of its time and resources developing sophisticated arms and ammunition. People even dream of “a war for peace”! The Wisdom Religion as we know it is also the result of the scientific enquiry of the great Masters who sharpened their inner powers.

In 1895 Dr Besant and Bishop C. W. Leadbeater, through their clairvoyant powers, discovered the nature of the atom and its parts, and wrote the findings of their investigations in their book, Occult Chemistry. One of the purposes for which the TS was founded was to challenge crass materialism, superstition, and dogma in all religions. The main teachings of Theosophy are centred on the Unity of life, karma, reincarnation, spiritual hierarchy, and the existence of the Masters of the Wisdom. The Gitâ agrees with these ideas of Theosophy and vice versa.

The Gitâ says: “As the dweller in the body experienceth in the body childhood, youth, old age, so passeth he on to another body; the steadfast one grieveth not thereat.” (II.13) The books of Besant, Leadbeater, Clara Codd, Earnest Wood, and Geoffrey Hodson popularized the concepts of karma, reincarnation, life after death, and so on, and introduced this Ancient Wisdom to the Western World. The Gitâ says: “For certain is death for the born, and certain is birth for the dead; therefore, over the inevitable thou shouldst not grieve.” (II.27)

Theosophy teaches us that this life is the obligatory pilgrimage of every soul, in which it takes a different vesture to be cast aside after each life. The first of the Three Great Truths declares: “The soul of man is immortal, and its future is the future of a thing whose growth and splendor has no limit.” It is not the revelation of HPB or a new set of doctrines and dogmas. It existed even before the advent of the TS.

The wisdom Religion, or Brahmavidya, existed in the world from time immemorial. The fourth chapter of the Gitâ begins with the following verses: “This imperishable yoga I declared to Vivasvân, Vivasvân taught it to Manu; Manu to Ikshvâku told it. This, handed on down the line, the King-Sages knew. This Yoga, by great efflux of time, decayed in the world.” (IV.1–2) Hearing this, Arjuna asks: “Later was Thy birth, earlier the birth of Vivasvân, how then am I to understand that Thou declaredst it in the beginning?” (IV.4) Krishna clarifies: “Many births have been left behind by Me and by thee, O Arjuna. I know them all, but thou knowest not.” (IV.5) In a similar context, the Bible reads: “‘Very truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am! At this, they picked up stones to stone him.” (John VIII:58–59)

One of the criticisms leveled against the TS and Theosophy by many people, ranging from the ignorant to the so-called scholars, is that its teachings are “occult, or secret”. Not only Theosophy but all occult knowledge is hidden to people who are not willing to learn and shed their ignorance. Even the name of Chapter IX in the Gitâ is “The Yoga of the Kingly Science and the Kingly Secret”. In the last chapter Krishna declares that this is secret knowledge. “Thus, hath wisdom, more secret than secrecy itself, been declared unto thee by Me.” (XVIII.63) This is the nature of occultism also. This wisdom shall be pronounced to willing, qualified, and competent persons. The Gitâ also warns: “Never is this to be spoken by thee to anyone who is without asceticism, nor without devotion, nor to one who desireth not to listen, nor yet to him who speaketh evil of Me.” (XVIII.67)

In the Bible Jesus the Christ says: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew VII.6) N. Sri Ram, the fifth President of the TS says: “Sri Krishna speaks of himself as the essence of each thing — of the tree, the stone, the rock, the earth. He calls himself ‘the One Self”.

The Universal Prayer’s declaration, “O Hidden Life vibrant in every atom”, agrees with the teachings of the Gitâ: “The Lord dwelleth in the hearts of all beings, O Arjuna, by His illusive power, causing all beings to revolve as though mounted on a potter’s wheel.” (XVIII.61)

Throughout the Gitâ we can see the message of equality, equilibrium, and equanimity. Theosophy also teaches us to have an understanding of life beyond all outward man-made distinctions of caste, creed, sex, or colour. “Seated equally in all beings, the Supreme Lord unperishing within the perishing — he who thus seeth, he seeth.”(XIII.28) “He who seeth Me everywhere, and seeth everything in Me, of him will I never lose hold, and he shall never lose hold of Me.” (VI.30)

The literature of Theosophy explains various kingdoms in Nature, such as mineral, vegetable, animal, human, and deva. It also explains various hierarchies in the Divine Plan. In the Gitâ, Krishna says: “They who worship the shining ones go to the shining ones; to the Ancestors go the Ancestor-worshippers; to the Elementals go those who sacrifice to Elementals; but My worshippers come unto Me.”(IX.25) N. Sri Ram says: ”Sri Krishna is not just a Hindu deity, an anthropomorphic figure who asks to be worshipped. He speaks of himself as having two aspects — the manifest, which is the Logos, and the Unmanifest, which is the background of everything.”

In the last chapter of the Gitâ, Krishna proclaims: “Abandoning all duties come unto Me alone for shelter; sorrow not, I will liberate thee from all sins.” (XVIII.66) The authority of Krishna’s words astonishes us. He talks as the Supreme Reality and not as the cowherd. The words of Jesus Christ also perplexed the people of Israel and his followers.

He said: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John VIII:12) They were amazed at his teaching because his words had authority.

At the Feet of the Master says: “Men who do not know work to gain wealth and power, but these are at most for one life only, and therefore unreal. There are greater things than these — things which are real and lasting.” The Gitâ also mocks people who cling to ceremonies and rituals for spiritual and material benefit. “With desire for self, with heaven for goal, they offer birth as the fruit of action, and prescribe many and various ceremonies for the attainment of pleasure and lordship.” (II.43)

A person who joins the TS is not asked to give up his religious beliefs or ideas. It does not allow any form of proselytization. Theosophists see every religion as an expression of the Divine Wisdom and prefer its study to its condemnation, and its practice to proselytism. Krishna states in the Gitâ: “However men approach Me, even so do I welcome them, for the path men take from every side is Mine.” (IV.11) The Gitâ openly says that there are three gates to hell. “Triple is the gate of this hell, destructive of the self — lust, wrath, and greed: therefore, let man renounce these three.” (XVI.21)

The word “sin” etymologically means “that which is away from the mark”. Theosophy teaches us that “God has a Plan, and that Plan is evolution.” Any action which is against that plan, or our goal, can be termed as “sin”. Unlike many other scriptures, the Gitâ goes deep into the question of sin. This concept agrees with the teachings of Theosophy rather than theological concepts of “original sin”.

In the Gitâ Arjuna asks this question: “But dragged on by what, does a man commit sin, reluctantly indeed, O Vârshneya, as it were by force constrained?” (III.36) Krishna’s answer is thus: “It is desire, it is wrath, begotten by the quality of motion; all-consuming, all-polluting, know thou this as our foe here on Earth.” (III.37) St Paul also wondered about the same issue: “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” (Romans VII:19–20)

About following the “road, steep and thorny, beset with perils of every kind”, HPB adds that there is “no danger that dauntless courage cannot conquer; there is no trial that spotless purity cannot pass through”. (Collected Writings, vol. 13, p. 219) Considering the two possibilities of success and failure, H.P.B says: “For those who win onwards there is a reward past all telling — the power to bless and save humanity; for those who fail, there are other lives in which success may come.” (Ibid)

In the Gitâ Arjuna asks: “He who is unsubdued but who possesseth faith, with the mind (Manas) wandering away from yoga, failing to attain perfection in yoga, what path doth he tread? . . . Fallen from both, is he destroyed like a rent cloud, unsteadfast, . . . deluded in the path of the ETERNAL?” (VI.37–38) Krishna replied: “Neither in this world nor in the life to come is there destruction for him; never doth any who worketh righteousness, . . . tread the path of woe. Having attained to the worlds of the puredoing, and having dwelt there for immemorial years, he who has fallen from yoga is reborn in a pure and blessed house; or he may even be born into a family of wise Yogis. . . . There he recovereth the characteristics belonging to his former body, and with these he again laboureth for perfection.” (VI.40–43)

Theosophy speaks of various universes other than ours. What we can perceive or identify is a small portion only. The Universe is so vast and beyond our speculation. Krishna says in the concluding sloka of the tenth discourse: “But what is the knowledge of all these details to thee . . .? Having pervaded this whole universe with one fragment of Myself, I remain.” (X.42)

Dr Annie Besant also wondered about this statement of Krishna. In The Secret Doctrine HPB says: “Our ‘Universe’ is only one of an infinite number of Universes, all of them . . . links in the great Cosmic chain of Universes, each one standing in the relation of an effect as regards its predecessor, and being a cause as regards its successor.” (Vol. 1, p. 43)

The third of the Three Great Truths states: “Each man is his own absolute lawgiver, the dispenser of glory or gloom to himself; the decreer of his life, his reward, his punishment.” The Gitâ reads “The SELF is the friend of the self of him in whom the self by the SELF is vanquished; but to the unsubdued self the SELF verily becometh hostile as an enemy.” (VI.6) One of the most important truths put forward by the TS to the modern world is the existence of the Great Ones. The duty of a true theosophist is to help Them in their work. The Gitâ also advocates the same truth. “Learn thou this by discipleship, by investigation, and by service. The wise, the seers of the essence of things, will instruct thee in wisdom.” (IV.34)

The TS gives complete freedom of thought to its members. The text of resolutions passed by the General Council of the TS says: “No teacher, or writer, from H. P. Blavatsky onwards, has any authority to impose his or her teachings or opinions on members.” After the long discourse spread over eighteen chapters, Krishna finally states to Arjuna: “Thus hath wisdom, more secret than secrecy itself, been declared unto thee by Me; having reflected on it fully, then act thou as thou listest.” (XVIII.63)

The major portion of the theosophical literature and its modern presentation by J. Krishnamurti deals with the problems faced by humanity, for example, death, sorrow, loneliness, fear, anger, desire, and so on. A true theosophist is a person who deeply enquires into the truth of life. The Gitâ also demands the same from a true jñâni (wise one): “Dispassion towards the objects of the senses, and also absence of egoism, insight into the pain and evil of birth, death, old age, and sickness, unattachment, absence of self-identification with son, wife or home, and constant balance of mind in wished for and unwished-for events, . . . that is declared to be the Wisdom; all against it is ignorance.” (XIII.9–10,12)

HPB stated in The Key to Theosophy that Theosophy is not a religion but Religion itself. The Gitâ is also not a religious text but “the Religious Text” itself,


  1. Annie Besant, the Bhagavadgitâ (“The Lord’s Song”), Theosophical Publishing House (TPH) Adyar.
  2. H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, TPH Adyar.

This article was also published in The Theosophist, VOL. 141 NO. 12 SEPTEMBER 2020

The Theosophist is the official organ of the President, founded by H. P. Blavatsky on 1 Oct. 1879.

To read the September 2020 issue, click HERE

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