Anugîtâ, an exposé

11/10/2014 § Leave a comment

Anugîtâ, an exposé on sâmkhya and yoga doctrines in the Mahâbhârata

by Guy Vincent

(Hatha Yoga Conference, Bitche, Thuesday, 25th July 2006 )

Translated into English by Gilles Schaufelberger

Everybody here knows that the Mahâbhârata is the epic par excellence of the Indian

world: it relates the conflict between two branches of the same family, conflict that will

end in a total war marking the end of an era, the transition from Dvâpara to Kali age, the

worst. But it would reduce the importance of this epic to confine it to a warlike genre, for

it provides endless minor stories, reflections in order to postpone the conclusion, all kind

of speculations. These developments, parallel to the main stream, constitute in fact

another stream just as much essential, like a reflexive thought on what is going on.

Among the developments or the bends taken by the narration, 34 speculative

chapters are found in book XIV, whose general heading is Anugîtâ, « continuation of the

Gîtâ ». Anugîtâ is actually meant to be a follow up to the well known Bhagavadgîtâ, an

other speculative passage, also included in the Mahâbhârata. But as much the Bhagavadgîtâ

received a general audience, as much the Anugîtâ remained confidential, not to say

unknown, in India as well as in Europe. I would like to reveal it to the audience.

Since 25 years, with my friend Gilles Schaufelberger, we set about, twice a week,

translating in French precisely all these additional and parallel stories to revive the

integrative and creative power of the Mahâbhârata, where the few French translators

privileged rather the main story. Three volumes of our translations just came out from

the Presses de l’Université Laval (Quebec), and our translation of the Anugîtâ is in Vol. III,

pp. 477 to 640. We are grateful to the Hatha Yoga center to have invited us, which allows

us to inform you about our long-maintained work.

Further, it has to be known that the Mahâbhârata is a very huge work (between

160,000 and 200,000 lines) and that the critical edition of the text took thirty years for a

whole team of scholars, sorting out the variants between more than a hundred

manuscripts. We have worked on this critical edition, which is important to specify, as

there are so many manuscript’s variants that the very sense of a passage may be different

from an edition to the other, with no way to know which version is preferable. The epic is

a living work which grows, changes, becomes richer during the centuries, and nothing can

let us think that the original text could be reconstructed. So it is, and we have to accept it.


a) Synopsis :

The Anugîtâ is a speculative text of 34 chapters written in shloka (the epic verse, two

lines of 16 foot each), divided in three parts: first a discussion between a Perfect (Siddha)

and a Kashyapa’s descendant, then a discussion between a Brahman and his wife, finally a

discussion between a Master and his disciple. These three discussions are reported by the

god Krishna himself to Arjuna, his comrade-in-arms and friend. Krishna relates what he

has heard previously.

The first discussion (XIV, 16-19) is about rebirth and the way to final emancipation.

The Perfect points out that the sacrifices offered to the gods bring only a perishable

happiness hereafter: « The celestial abodes are never eternal. Repeatedly we come down

from a high position acquired with difficulty, repeatedly we die, repeatedly we are born

again, we take many meals, we drink from many breasts, we know many successive

– 2 –

fathers and mothers, we are subjects alternatively to hapiness and misfortune » (XIV, 16,

29-32). Thus we have to escape this law, in order not to be born again. But Kashyapa’s

descendant wants to know, how the soul leaves the body and how it grows heavy with

the weight of the acts.

The Perfect then describes the erratic attitude of the man: « He makes use of the

positive effects of the acts accomplished in a previous incarnation to build here below his

health and his fame, but his merits become completely exhausted. He uses then the

negative effects of his previous actions and destroys his health … He eats sometimes to

excess, sometimes nothing. He eats highly spiced meals and sleeps all day. He catches

lethal diseases … A heat shakes his organism, kindled by an heavy breathing, it overruns

the whole body and blocks all the vital breaths. This burning heat breaks the places where

resides the life, and straight away, in the middle of sharp pains, the soul leaves the body …

His body being no more irrigated, he understands that he is sent back to the five

elements » (XIV, 17, 6-20). The individual soul is likened to a wind which takes avay the

weight of the acts, and the Brahmans discern if one has done either good or evil: « With

the eyes of the knowledge, they see it as one sees with one’s own eyes a glowworm

piercing here and there the darkness » (XIV, 17, 30).

The Perfect continues his lesson on the future of the soul, either going up to heaven

or down to hell, until it has to become an embryo: « Just as melting iron takes the shape of

the mould, know that the soul slips into the embryo. Just as a lit lamp lights a room, the

conscience lights the body » (XIV, 18, 9-10). We have to break this chain by a mental

discipline based on renouncing : to remain the same, to envy nobody, to be without

enemies, without parents, without children, to own nothing. « To imagine oneself without

sense of smell, without sense of touch, wthout sense of hearing, without prehension,

without shape, without means of knowledge » (XIV, 19, 10), such is the way to the

spiritual training named « yoga ». The soul is then able to contemplate the Spiritual

Principle (Mahant), which has « thousand feet, thousand hands, countless eyes, heads and

mouths » (XIV, 19, 45). Here will be recognized Krishna’s image as depicted in

Bhagavadgîtâ (VI, 33, 23). And here ends this first secret teaching.

The second discussion. (XIV, 20-34).takes its origin in a Brahman’s wife worrying

about her lot hereafter. What kind of salvation is waiting for her ? The Brahman then

reminds that the Absolute is inside everybody: « I have understood that the temple was

inside me: this temple can not be smelled by the nose, nor tasted by the tongue, nor felt

by the touch. Its access is through the mind » (XIV, 20, 9; 12). From there come the five

breaths. Following that, a description is given of the action of the five breaths in the body,

of the seven perception’s organs (nose, tongue, ears, eye, skin, mind and intelligence), of

an internal sacrifice where seven sacrificers pour seven offerings into seven fires (it means

that he who smells, tastes, hears. and so on, pours into his organs of perception the

perceived informations). The sacrifice becomes internal.

But conflicts shake the body, as the conflict between the mind and the organs of the

senses (the senses point out that without their help the mind couldn’t apprehend

anything); the five breaths argue also between themselves (among the five, which one is

the most important ?); the discussion concerns the life to be lead and the difficulty to

understand within the forest of the knowledge (for example, the syllabe « om » isn’t

understood the same way by all: the snakes think that it means « to bite », the demons

« to deceive », the gods « to give », the sages « to have self-control »), the necessity for the

nonviolence (the warriors are condemned because they use brute force: the king Alarka

discovers the power of the mind that none of his arrows are able to reach or to kill;

another king, Janaka, discovers as for him the futility of any territory’s possession.

The discussion ends on the fact that there isn’t an single way to final emancipation,

but a myriad of them. « Then, the Brahman’s wife opted for the destruction of her bodily

soul. From her former soul another soul rose up » (XIV, 34, 10). Krishna then reveals to

– 3 –

Arjuna that his mind (manas) is the Brahman and his intelligence (buddhi) the Brahman’s

wife. All the truths are not understandable by the intelligence only.

The third discussion (chapters 35 to 50) takes its origin in a very brief question a

disciple asks his Master: « The best, what is it ? ». The answer get organized on the theme

of the components of the human being, the three tendencies (guna), which act inside

ourselves: Virtue (sattva), Desire (rajas) and Instinct (tamas). In changing proportions,

depending on each and on the the kind of life he leads, these three tendencies constitute

the whole universe : « the light of the sun, it is the Virtue, its heat the Desire, its eclipses

the Instinct : in such a way, the three tendencies spread in all the stars» (XIV, 39, 15-16).

The discussion then continues, taking up typical notions of sâmkhya, explaining how

the world is built from the Unmanifested (avyakta) to the Great Soul (mahat), then to the

self-awareness (ahamkara), then to the material and subtle elements. The Sâmkhya is a

dualistic system, separating the mind from the matter : the matter spreads in order that, at

the end, the mind does no more need it, and discovers its profond independence. That is

illustrated by the image of a dancer or bayadere bewitching her spectator until the latter

discovers the illusion represented by this dance. Besides, the discussion puts the emphasis

on the impermanence of this world, on the necessity to end his own life as an hermit

« who brings from all sides his senses back into himself as a tortoise its limbs» (XIV, 46, 42)

to obtain the Sacred (brahman): « He who, at the time of his death, withdraws into

himself, not becoming confused if only the time of a sigh, he who masters his breathing

by means of respiratory exercises, repeated ten or twelve times, even twenty four times,

obtains immortality » XIV, 48, 2; 4).

Finally the discusion ends by an invitation to meditate.

This summary shows how the Anugîtâ is rich in topics and is meant to be a witness of

the main philosophical and mystical concerns of the then Indian world. It isn’t the least of

its difficulties: within this combination of conventional subjects, which part of its

originality is hidden or shown ?

That’s why we have to specify the context into which appears this triple teaching,

deliberately secret, reserved to Arjuna alone. To which extent is it esoteric, given the

seemingly conventional aspect of its toughts ?

b) Narrrative situation

The book XIV is named « Horse’s Sacrifice Book (Ashwamedha Parva) »; war is over,

and the victorious king Yudhishthira, elder brother of Arjuna, has to perform a horse’s

sacrifice in order to be proclaimed king of earth1. It is an old Indo-European ritual, very

complex; a horse is set free to roam during one year over the earth, accompanied by

young people; it is then suffocated; the royal queen feigns a mating with the dead animal.

As it is a very expansive ceremony, with the many riches that have to be given to the

Brahmans, it would be necessary to fetch them. During the preparations, Arjuna and the

god Krishna return to the capital, Indraprastha. Their friendship is strong, bound up by

hours of fighting. They take advantage of this interlude to talk to each other, to have a

more general conversation. One thing is sure: the teaching given by Krishna isn’t fit for a

warrior, a kshatriya, but for a hermit or a Brahman: Arjuna isn’t cut out to practise

asceticism or to renounce, while his elder brother, the king Yudhishthira, is much more

attracted to such a way of life and would easily give up his royal duty. This inadequate

choice surprises us: why did Krishna chose this interlocutor ? But that isn’t the only


The first translator of the Anugîtâ into an European language, that is to say into

English, is Kâshinâth Trimbak Telang, in 1882, (Sacred Books of the East, vol. 8, Oxford). He

points out other areas of obscurity: are the three parts of the Anugîtâ sign of three

different texts as some manuscripts think ? Is their autor the same ? Is their author

another than the author of the Mahâbhârata ? At which time could the Anugîtâ have been

– 4 –

written ? How long before the Bhagavadgîtâ or how long after ? He tries, by some

comparisons with the Upanishads, by noting down some societal facts present in the text,

by words that could be borrowed from Buddhism or Jainism, to work out the text better,

but no answer seems satisfactory to him. The very fact that two Indian commentators

allude to it, Samkara the one, in a treatise named Sârîrakabhâshya, Vijnânabhiksu the other,

in Sâmkhyasâra, hardly brings new information. The Anugîtâ remains enigmatic, without

possibility to define its date. It is impossible to say either if it precedes sâmkhya’s and

yoga’s doctrines in their building stage, or if it is only a versified echo of them. Unlike the

Bhagavadgîtâ, whose message is conveyed by a god, the Anugîtâ follows the outline of the

oldest Upanishads, where eminent men were keen enough to bring transcendent


It looks thus like a sacred text that has not found its audience during centuries, or has

not aroused any interest for its wording. And yet, this speculative text doesn’t lack assets,

and we would like to redeem it through our translation into French. Our translation

doesn’t rely on Trimbak Telang’s one, which we have not consulted to be free of any

influence. Trimbak Telang’s translation is an accurate one, with many footnotes referring

to other related texts; it retains Sanskrit words to express the notions. Reprinted in 1986, it

is available on the site, or, more precisely, on its page

« hinduism » at

Our translation solves in another way the text’s difficulties. But we wish that other

translators embark on this work, as for the Bhagavadgîtâ: Concerning Sanskrit, plenty of

translations doesn’t harm.

c) Comparison with the Bhagavadgîtâ.

The Anugîtâ has suffered from the Bhagavadgîtâ’s presence, whose fortunes are

considerable. Admittedly, these two texts are meant to be sacred, esoteric ones, where

reasoning is combined with pure revelation. But in the Bhagavadgîtâ, there is a beauty, a

force of images, that doesn’t exist in the Anugîtâ. Moreover, the narrative context itself

inclines toward the Bhagavasgîtâ: in the VIth book of the Mahâbhârata (Bhîshma Parva), on

the first day of the battle, the two armies are facing each other. Arjuna is standing on his

chariot driven by Krishna; he stops it in the middle of the armies, seized by an extreme

despondency because, in front of him, he recognizes friends, relatives, people he thinks

highly of, people he will have to fight with; Krishna then reveals to him his true nature

and the yoga of moral sufferings’ release. The Anugîtâ doesn’t take place in the same

setting: Arjuna has a rest in his palace, and confesses he has forgotten what Krishna has

taught him. Krishna tells him how much he is disappointed and declares: « I can not trust

you, ô Pându’s son, you are narrow-minded » (XIV, 16, 10). Finally, it will be noted that

the Anugîtâ does not lead to some devotion to a god, to Krishna, to his power of

salvation, but remains centred on the human means of salvation, while the Bhagavadgîtâ

ends with a demonstration of divine omnipotence in which everything will be reduced.

The fact that these three elements (images, context, devotion) were not so well

represented, that the dramatization was not so great, must have played a role against the

Anugîtâ. Nevertheless, it contains valuable aspects, if only for the choice to pass on

speculative notions in various and illustrated forms. The text isn’t an arduous exposé on

categories and concepts, it knows how to use pleasant images, anecdotes, and a great

expressiveness of the vocabulary. We will come back on this aspect.

Let us enter more inside the text ‘s spirit by looking on some notions that structure

its thinking.

– 5 –


a) To practise austerity

Many times the epic mentions the asceticism of men or women who embark

themselves in firm penances in order to obtain a son, magical weapons, merits to go up to

heaven in the abodes of the gods, or supernatural powers. It is a technique of want that

forces the gods to give a boon. One deprives himself of food, one takes refuge alone in a

forest or a mountain, one remains motionless for years if needed, and so on. Without

judging too severely this kind of piety, we will note its self-interested nature, even if the

expressed need is often legitimate and shows one’s willingness to redress an injustice. But

even demons (asura) are seen practising such austerities, with the intention of dominating

the world and enslaving the gods. The Sanskrit world corresponding to this is the word

« tapas », meaning « intense heat », as if this exercise, based on immobility, was producing

an energy, was an activity. The ascetic is called « tapasvin, the one who possesses heat ».

Sacrifice (yajna) is of another nature: it doesn’t aim for obtaining a power, it

regulates instead the order of the world and the social order, it protects the world from

the risk of being destroyed by demons or broken by death, but it isn’t free either from

certain interests: well celebrated, it brings to the sacrificer consideration, fame and vital

energy, it brings to the social group rain and crops for example.

Yoga differs from asceticism and from sacrifice as well. From the first chapter of the

Anugîtâ, the Perfect (Siddha) warns: « By different sacrifices and by a relentless discipline,

mortals obtain success here below and even a stay in the abode of the gods. But their

happiness doesn’t last, the celestial abodes are never eternal » (XIV, 16, 28-29). There is

better to be done, the spiritual training, or yoga, which is the way. Its use is described in

XIV, 19, 14 sq:

« I will teach you the wonders of yoga:

He who goes through its doors perceives the universal soul that resides inside


Disciplined, always concentrated, keeping himself and his senses as well under

control, he who reaches perfect meditation, sees by himself the universal soul…

Mastering meditation, he bends the very divinity of the gods to his will…

Let him think of the region he knows from a long time, then let his mind turn to

the inside of the town he lives in, forgetting the outside.

Inside the town, let him concentrate his mind on the house he lives in, its outside

and its inside.

Having mastered his house in his mind, let him meditate on the body he lives in,

neglecting the outside.

Having mastered all his senses in this silent and lonely retreat, let him meditate on

the inside of his body, dealing only with that.

Let him focus his mind on his teeth, his palate, his tongue, his throat, his neck, his

heart, and even on his heart’s veins … »

Thus, yoga is beyond asceticism and sacrifice, because it tries to extract itself from the

world rather than to change it or to take advantage of it. Yet, it doesn’t exclude them, it

includes them, for it tries to be ascetic and sacrificial. Besides, the yogin is called « yati », i.e.

« he who endures, he who supports »; he starts from asceticism that aims at mastering

body and mind and offers in sacrifice the elements and the organs of perception that

make his being up before reaching perfection or final emancipation. Let us take the story

of the king Alarka (XIV, 30) who gives up the kingdom he has conquered and tries to

conquer his body and his mind, imagining he could shoot arrows at them to make them

obedient « When I hear many sounds, I covet them ! So, at my ears, I will shoot arrows …

When I see many objects, I covet them ! So, at my eyes, I will shoot my sharpened arrows

… ». Every organ answers him he will just die. Then, weary of pursuing a loosing battle,

– 6 –

he takes to yoga, killing his senses with only one arrow and reaching the universal soul.

That shows up yoga not only diverts asceticism and sacrifice toward richer aims, farther

horizons, giving an increase of spirituality, but also brings them together in the same

effort of transcendence. The Anugîtâ, based on the sacrifice’s rules, is more qualified for

giving a practical method of progression (decribing stages) than the Bhagavadgîtâ that

develops asceticism and divine revelation in what they have of ecstatic.

b) The warrior and the yoga

As a result, it could be believed that yoga came out after the techniques of asceticism

and the practices of sacrifice. And yet, before becoming such a notion, questioning the

value of sacrifice and the interest of asceticism, the yoga existed as a test proposed to a

warrior to prove his merit or to obtain magical weapons. Thanks to the Mahâbhârata, a

kind of yoga’s archaeology is thinkable. Yoga’s was probably practised prior to sacrificial

rites and to asceticism. Between this very ancient stage and Anugîtâ’s one, an evolution of

yoga can be observed. Admittedly, yoga’s origins are still discussed, but in a paper dated

1998, « The Indo-European Prehistory of Yoga », N.J. Allen, Institute of Social and Cultural

Anthropology, University of Oxford, points out a very strange similarity between the

ordeals to which Arjuna is submitted for obtaining divine weapons in the blessed abode of

Indra, and those to which the Greek hero Odysseus is submitted during his journey back

from Calypso’s island to Pheacians’ country. In that case, Arjua is definitely a yogin, and

that would explain that Krishna completes or confirms his training. But if yoga helps to

obtain divine gifts useful for a warrior, in what is it different from tapas, this asceticism

practised to obtain merits and powers ? The episode analysed by N.J. Allen could give us

an answer: the tapasvin obeys to a personal choice, the yogin is entrusted with a mission.

Shall we find again this dimension of a call and a qualifying ordeal in the Anugîtâ ? It is not


Let us recall the episode of Arjuna going to Himâlaya. The five Mahâbhârata’s heroes

are in exile in the forest (III, 37-45) and suffer from the situation, when Vyâsa appears: he

orders Arjuna to go on a trip in order to receive magical weapons from various divinities

including Indra the last. Arjuna leaves, and after days and nights of uninterrupted walk,

he reaches Himâlaya, where during four months, he practises tapas in honour of the god

Shiva. First, he eats only fruits and roots, then only drinks water, finally fasts completely

and remains standing on the toes, arms upward. Then Shiva becomes incarnate in a

hunter and fights a duel with a thin Arjuna: the fight proceeds with arrows first, then with

one’s bare hands Arjuna is reduced by Shiva to a shapeless mass, a ball of flesh (pinda,

name of the pellet which is offered to the dead ancestors), all his limbs are broken. He

faints, regains conciousness and asks the god to forgive him. Shiva touches him and gives

him again shape and strength. He gives him also a magical weapon. Arjuna then meets

the four cardinal points’ guardians (lokapâla), three of them give him other weapons, the

fourth is Indra himself in a disguise, who sends him his celestial chariot to fly him to the

heaven, in the divinely beautiful city of Amarâvatî. A nymph, Urvashî, tries and seduces

Arjuna. The latter shares the throne with the king of the gods, Indra, who offers him a

magical weapon. All these obtained weapons will be used in the future war.

This episode is rich in lessons to be learned:

1) First of all, it is similar to the Odysseus’ return, leaving Calypsô who keeps him for

many years on a desert island (the island is equivalent to the forest) sailing seventeen

days without sleeping, running into a tempest that wipes him out and breaks his

boat, facing the wrath of Poseidon (equivalent of Shiva) and the combined violence of

the four winds (the cardinal points’ guardians), rejected nude and grazed on the

shore (let us think to the flesh ball), begging the god to be favourable, fainting, falling

asleep to recover his strength, entering on a chariot driven by mules the Pheacians’

city where a endless spring prevails, meeting Nausicaa, the king’s daughter who

thinks she has found a husband in him (like Urvashî). If the comparison is valid, that

– 7 –

means that the yoga dates back to a time situated before the separation of the Indo-

European peoples, i.e; 3000 B.C. at least, since the same story happens to be in India

and in Greece.

2) Then, the episode follows the stages Patañjali, the oldest theoritician of yoga,

describes pointing to the difficulties encountered by the yogin; he names them

« anga » (limbs); five external (yama or self-control by abstinence; niyama or

restraint; âsana or posture; prânayama or breathing’s control; pratyâhâra or

withdrawal of the senses) and three internal (dhârana or mind’s focusing; dhyâna or

meditation; samadhi or ecstasy); let us notice that Arjuna practises asceticism during

four month and then meets with Shiva in a duel in which he is deprived of form (the

five external limbs), is visited by three guardians (the three internal limbs) and finally

reaches Indra (found unity); Patañjali himself refers even to « high-ranking persons’

offers » (3, 51), modest wording to refer to carnal temptation (willing nymphs). N.J.

Allen notices also similarities in Shvetâshvatara Upanishad, which proves that Arjuna’s

journey describes on the narrative mode the stages of the yogin toward the wished


This paper is thus invaluable to make us understand yoga’s nature at its origin and

how the Anugîtâ is an expression of its evolution. The aim of Arjuna’s asceticism was

to equip the hero with weapons that would save his side from the demonic hold of its

enemies, an altruistic aim; in the Anugîtâ, the yoga arises out of a questioning of

asceticism’s and sacrifice’s effectiveness, it tries to be transcendent. In a sense, the

yogin offers others the way he has opened.

3) The three guna, or tendencies. A group of three notions enjoys also a special handling

in the Anugîtâ: there is sattva, « the very fact of being », associated with the values of

Virtue, kindness, light, purity, happiness. That proves that existing is not

contemptible or regrettable ! Then there is rajas, « the dust », associated with Desire,

impurity, passion, feelings, activity, misfortune. Finally there is tamas « the

darkness » i.e. Instinct, ignorance, apathy, error. These three tendencies are the three

constituents of all the beings. Each being has a more or less great amount of these

constituents, « guna » in Sanskrit, But here we have a problem of translation, as the

word guna refers also to the qualities of the objects (the flavours, bitter, sharp, mild

for example, are guna). Here, it is question of the fundamental qualities that weave

the fabric of the world. We have chosen « tendencies » in the sense that the beings are

taken away by these lines of direction, follow their plans of organization and express

them in every possible way. Doesn’t the text say for instance: « Three currents arrive

permanently in the mind, three vessels get into it » (XIV, 36, 3) ? Moreover, to take

into account this notion of tendencies, we have translated sattva by Virtue, rajas by

Desire and tamas by Instinct to avoid a too hierarchical system. Actually, we think

traditionally that only Virtue deserves to be honoured, and that everything must be

done to let it dominate inside us and control the two others. This moralizing point of

view is not the one adopted by the Anugîtâ, which takes a more neutral eye: the three

tendencies are in us and weave our life. To remove one of them is impossible and

insane. Here is what is written (XIV, 39, 1 sq.):

« Anyway, it is impossible to speak separately of the tendancies: Instinct, Desire

and Virtue are inseparable.

They are tied the ones to the others, they depends the ones on the others, they

obey the ones to the others…

They go together, they are united and they work together…

They live together, they are inversely proportional. The shortcoming of one of

them leads in every case to the excess of the others…

Also they are imagined very distant, they work together…

All that exist here under has these three tendencies, although they act in an

invisible way »

– 8 –

Admittedly, Virtue is privileged, but it can’t erase the two other which are always

present, if only in the three castes: « Istinct for the people, Desire for the noblemen,

Virtue for the Brahmans » (XIV, 39, 11) – old rest of trifunctionality – or in the

divisions of the reality: « The nature of the day is triple, triple the one of the night …

The nature of the giving is triple, triple the one of the sacrifice, triple the worlds, triple

the gods, triple the sciences and the ways to emencipation. The past, the present, the

future, … the ascending, descending and upward breaths, all are provided with the

three tendencies » (XIV, 39, 18-20).

The Anugîtâ offers thus a holistic much more than moral view of the existence, of

which it notes carefully the components. If it goes in this way about things, it is to act

with a full knowledge of the facts, in order to strive for perfection. By which means ?

It adopts the divisions of the sâmkhya (subtle and rough elements, organs of the

senses, organs of action, mind and intelligence) but keeps not to cataloguing what

exists: it tries to take it as it is in order to get out of it a lever, or, as the text says: « to

reach the opposite bank » (XIV, 49, 28).

It is not possible to summarize all the original aspects of the Anugîtâ, but we would

like to mention its way of teaching and its wording.


a) Analogies

The Anugîtâ is an account of the way the world builds itself, from the point « alpha »

(let us call it this way) to our thinking, feeling and acting body. A complete succession of

levels is given, as well as a division of the living. The human being is broken down in

series of levels (soul, 3 tendencies, 5 subtle elements, 5 breathings, 11 organs of the senses,

5 rough elements) and there is nothing to indicate that plants or animals are different

(they are rather absent). The succession of levels is not one-way: it is not only a

degradation (from the purest to the most perishable), it could be a graduation (a climb up

toward the purest). The only knowledge of these levels is already an opportunity to make

progress. Truly, the Anugîtâ attempts a certain representation of the world, very close to

sâmkhya as we have said before. But also, like the Upanishads, it makes use of a

metaphorical system or device that consists in establishing identities (this is that: for

example the eye is the sacrificer, the seen object is the sacrificial victim or the oblation, the

eyesight is the fire that burns the offering), according to a principle of analogy puzzling

but fruitful: to report, to compare, to find an internal unity, that manifests the work of the

mind. But not everything can be compared nor matched up. Very far from it, thinks also

the Hindu sage. And the questioning will be about the drawing up and the preparing of

the fields fit for such an analogy. The experiment prepares for a system making

analysable the scene of the future analogy. It is not rough matter which is juxtaposed, but

two states, better two futures, rather than two sections or two fragments of the matter.

Let us take a first example showing that not everything is comparable (XIV, 21, 7 to


« I will tell you the argument between mind and speech: both of them went to

Brahmâ and asked him: « Take a doubt away from us: Which one of us is the

best ? »

You have to understand « the best » as « the first ». The Lord answers that the mind

is the first, but they are surprised:

« When speech was not yet existing, how could the goddess of speech, Sarasvatî,

express herself ? »

– 9 –

Then, the Lord mentions that speech is born into the body and is mobile, while mind

is immobile. Thus, both, mind and speech, aren’t comparable.

It is only from a shifting on two different levels that an analogy can appear. That is

the fundamental key in the logic of the connections appearing in this text. The whole

operation of preparation is a start-up, a development

« The wheel of the time has for hub the intelligence, for axle tree the mind and for

spokes the senses. It has for metallic rim the five elements, and for hoop the


It rolls with old age and sorrows, and makes its way through adversity and illness.

It goes all over time and space, and has for squeaking tiredness and grief…

It has for axle the words with their stress, it turns at mind’s speed »

In this passage, the metaphor compares the movement of time to the movement of

a chariot, as it compares the movement of life, made of misfortunes, feelings and words to

the movement of the same chariot. As a result, both circular movements (time/life) are

comparable, and teach us, for example that matter is a driven sheath (vishkambha,

« metallic rim, bolt, pole, diameter »).

The Anugîtâ, for who cares to pay attention (and this aspect is often ignored),

resounds with such paths to be taken upwards or inwards to mind, with such verbs of

movement or conduction, with such images of chariot or journey, because two objects are

comparable only according to an intellectual search, to a material evolution. As Rada

Ivekovic (« Dynamisme ou staticité dans la pensée indienne » in Les Cahiers de la

Philosophie, n° 14, pp. 215 to 225), puts it, the journey is always physical and mental, since

« the movement of the thought is in a way natural as the effort to think the movement ».

The stages of life, the levels of knowledge, the classifications, are possible divisions only

for lines of speed. Dharma is here at issue: this concept with many meanings (justice, duty,

cosmic or personal order, norm, law, sacred custom, honour, code of ethics, line of

conduct) doesn’t find its explanation, as one could believe, in the idea that everything in

the universe strives for a « line of conduct », a speed that puts it in accord with other

speeds with which it has to compromise. If the beings and the things do not compromise,

nothing conceivable is left. Now, every one of them has its own dharma, with which they

can be conveyed, which makes them accessible, analogical therefore. Adharma or disorder

comes from Desire (rajas), profit, ownership, withholding (of donations, of sacrifices), it is

the fact of moving away from the meant way (demeaning), of getting bogged down and

of losing the right speed, and the fact of no more knowing that various speeds exist

according to age, caste, rank. If speeds weren’t codified, the mind wouldn’t be able to

establish its connections, it would be chaos.

To determine these speeds, to codify their variability, becomes thus an urgent task. It

is not conducted according to a metric, as in Europe; India chooses another point of view:

the notion of brahman is called for as absolute speed. According to our level of knowledge,

we accelerate our speed until making it identical with Absolute’s. Samsâra, or the cycle of

reincarnation, is only a series of speeds, whose slowing down measures our distance from

brahman. To free oneself from it, means to concentrate oneself and to unify oneself in such

a degree nothing can resist by its friction to absolute speed. Let the organs of the senses

retract themselves as the tortoise’s limbs: if the slow-moving tortoise is given as example,

that is to inform us of our mediocre speed, of our weight, while its back is a curve to

enable us to conform ourselves to the including approach of the Being. What is present in

the heart of the reed, says the Anugîtâ, it is also the arrow. « The arrows represents

brahman » (XIV, 19, 21-22)..It is normal to consider the latter as transcending the opposites,

since absolute speed, following the example of a top, appears with both these aspects in

the same time: mobility and immobility, diversity and unity, movement and point.

Thus, according to this perspective, beings and things are coexistential, without

necessary anteriority. They appear to us according to evolving directions of which the

sage knows the perfect culmination that makes them comparable. Each being and each

– 10 –

thing are determined in comparison with a central point, identical to the absolute speed

that is brahman. That is why the Anugîtâ, like other Upanishads, dares this connection

(XIV, 42, 27 to 39) :

« The ear is adhyâtman (the supreme Being, he who knows himself) … The skin is

adhyâtman … », until « … The anus is adhyâtman »

This kind of sentence is nonsense, unless referring to the idea of an absolute

anchorage point, repeating for the perceptions and the places where they occur the

general configuration of the central brahman. They are not the organs of the senses that

are mentioned, but their ability to be a point of reference for all that moves around them:

a place (space for the ear), a perception (a sound), and a divinity (here, the cardinal points),

these three elements move, their movement takes its meaning being compared with an

absolute movement. They are not themselves the supreme Being .

How then can we measure them and compare one to the other ?

1. First, drawing up « chains ». One chain is about the five subtle elements (sound,

contact, form, smell; flavour) that are to be understood as qualities by which the

objets are accessible, the five rough elements (water, earth, air, fire, ether) – to those

ten the self-awareness is added, to make eleven. The same for the chain concerning

the five organs of senses and the five organs of action, to which mind is added to

make also eleven.

2. These two chains are comparable. There is still to weave the links of identity, of

generation, of association. And to build analogies. To do that, we will use the ternary

structure of the sacrifice that needs a sacrificer, a sacrificial victim that is offered

(oblation) and a way to kill it and to transport it to the gods (the fire, called hutâsha,

« he who eats the oblation »).

3. The implementation follows on this way: elements are taken in the two chains: fire

corresponds to the five subtle elements (first list, where sound, form, contact, and so

on, are likened to perceptible qualities): it has to be understood that these elements,

in a way, transport the objects to us, because they endow the objects with qualities by

which we can grab them, just as the fire transports the victim to heaven; the

sacrificer will be the organ of the senses (second list, where the fact of hearing is seen

as a knowledge); the oblation will be the perceptions taken in the diversity of the

world, all that is grasped by the senses thanks to the qualities the objects rceive from

the subtle elements (objects are also called « gunin », i.e. « what is provided with

qualities »).

The oblation belongs neither to the first list, nor to the second one, it has a

intermediate status. The multiplicity and the variety of the world are reduced to the

status of offerings. That refers to the conception of sâmkhya: Nature arrays itself to

please mind until mind loses interest in this sight.




list 1

5 subtle elements

5 rough elements


list 2

5 organs of senses

5 organs of action



fire subtle elements or

qualities making the

objects accesible

organs of the senses

or operators of


– 11 –

special perceptions

or perceived data

(gunin: object

provided with


These connections (this one is only an example: others are possible, where the organs

of senses and action could be the ten sacrificers, the rough elements the fires, the

perceived objects, the oblations) delimit in a way segments of similarity and

revelation, that have the effect to create a feeling of dizziness or of amazing relativity.

The origin escapes from us, the hierarchies fade, the classes are mobile and their

elements substitutable in a preferential order, nose before smelll or the contrary, the

ear is a womb in which space spreads, but space is anterior to this operation for it has

the quality of sound. If there was a doubt about the unrealty of the world, or its

diversity, such reasonings would remind us of that. It is maybe about a didactic

intention peculiar to Hindu wisdom. Nobody comes unharmed out of it.

On a probably new way, we say that there is a point alpha, and identify it with the

absolute speed. Let us observe what the Anugîtâ says about.

b) Brahman

The ultimate point to clear is the Unmanifested (avyakta), in other places brahman. To

have recourse to brahman, this neutral principle, is to say that the divinity is a potential for

possibilities promised not an annihilation, but the achievement of the most absolute they

contain. All beings, moved by their âtman, or eternal vital principle, build trajectories next

to it, according to their various degrees of proximity. The best of them move close to it,

more in the way of asymptote or differential calculus than of fusion, or union, or

annihilation: âtman and brahman are connected (samprayoga), and the texts specifies

(XIV, 48, 12): « In the same way, a fish is different from water, but there is a connection ».

That explains the meaning one has to give to the word nirdvandva: not to be double,

not to be dual. is indeed to be reduced to one dimension, but also so many ways to be a

volume, to occupy a spacetime, to make work partial symmetry and oppositions between

the two parts. nirdvandva, translated by « to transcend the opposites », defines actually a

dynamic point and also its absorption. One should come nearer the curve, be this point

with thousand of other points. That requires of course lapses, the permission to get lost, a

freely agreed effort within the reality. The Anugîtâ declares (XIV, 48, 14):

« When one looks for the Absolute, he makes progress thanks to the lamp of

reality »

Contrary to the monistic position of the Vedânta, the real is far from being

contemptible or illusory: even if it is transient, it goes with a quest the divinity all in all has

wanted to be successful. It is not itself it saves and frees (it would be the case if brahman

and âtman were the same reality) but really an « other »

What is the nature of this « other » ? That is the last question we have to mention because

it haunts Hindu mind, taking the form of: « who is he the one who transmigrates ? » If

âtman is the immutable part of the human being, and if perfection consists in reaching it,

freed from the deposits of previous lives and from the weight of acts, and to discover it is

brahman, then, as G. Bugnault points so clearly out, in a discussion with F. Alquié (L’Inde

pense-t-elle ? P.U.F., Paris 1994, pp. 70 to 73), « breaks the paradox: only he who is already

free has the ability to free himself ». Sub specie æternitatis, the Absolute, God, The One –

whatever the chosen term – lives in every one of us: our final emancipation sanctions only

an emancipation already into effect. What is the point of freeing a « non-prisoner » ? The

answer to this paradox is different for Hindus and Buddhists, the first set out to say that

even this contradiction must be solved to be perfect, the others put the emphasis on the

– 12 –

emptiness of he who thinks he is an « I » with an âtman. But the Anugîtâ seems to suggest

a simpler solution: the « other » is a process whose evolution is unfinished, and it is the

process that must be saved. « We must be able to give up our chariot in a mountain, to

abandon our boat on shore, in order to go further on foot » (XIV, 49, 21 to 30). Other

sensations are waiting for us beyond, they are other possibilities of opening to the

Absolute, but for that, conditions for spiritual life must be invented, an internal space of

anticipation and knowledge, an intense place (the order of a point, remember ?) where

the Unmanifested will inhabit. To create these conditions is a didactic project. Is it not true

that the Anugîtâ is an educational book ?

« The grace of a spiritual state is recognizable by that: it is similar to the dream »

(XIV, 50, 35).

Dreams inhabit it, of a higher truth, for sure …


The Anugîtâ is an intelligent part of the Mahâbhârata, and we hope sincerely this text

will finally find its audience. This continuation of the Bhagavadgîtâ has good reason for

being. Other fights are waiting for Arjuna of a more internal and personal nature.

Let us come back to this passage where the king Alarka is disturbed by the fact he

has conquered everything but his mind. This confusion is echoed in R. Calasso’s Ka

(Gallimard 2000, p. 209): the author imagines a discussion between the seven rishis, these

seven sages who govern the populating of the world; he puts these words in the mouth of

Vishvâmitra (« the friend of all »): « The way it happened has been strange. Because of this

thought, we have lost history. As if, at the time when it draws itself, a sword fallen from

the heaven had cut our hands. We stayed paralized in the gesture we were making The

often violent gestures of conquerors coming from high plateau and burned mountains to

the plain too vast, too bushy and torrid we were invading – and that was to invade us. …

It was this thought that stopped us, nothing else. We didn’t move beyond, but

sporadically, to discover other rivers and other forests. As a result, it was the impulse that

failed us. Something had destroyed us, forever. Something that had emptied us of

everything else… » Another sage, Atri, expresses this strange discovery (p. 207): « When

we wake up, the Awakening: that is the only physiological phenomenon having to do

with that. Try to think of a second awakening: of an awakening occuring whithin

wakefulness, that will not add itself to the waking, but would multiply it by an « n » we

will never be able to specify. For us, that has been thought. That is thought

There are, in the Anugîtâ, perspectives that rich.

1 Yudhishthira is told also that, by offering this sacrifice, he could purify himself from his sins

(XIV, 03, 03; 11).

– 12 – phenomenons


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