The Bhagavad Gita



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Krishna, the Absolute, and Human Knowledge Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Detachment and Dharma Theme Icon
Krishna, the Absolute, and Human Knowledge Theme Icon
Reincarnation and the Self Theme Icon
Forms of Worship Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Bhagavad Gita, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Krishna, the Absolute, and Human Knowledge Theme Icon

Throughout the first half of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna gradually reveals his all-encompassing power to Arjuna. He is a conduit for the supreme god Vishnu, who takes on a human form periodically throughout history in order to maintain moral balance in the universe. Krishna fully demonstrates his universality in the tenth and eleventh discourses, spelling out dozens of his divine forms before stunning Arjuna with a dazzling visual display that seems to swallow up the entire earth. Krishna is not merely an all-powerful being, but in fact transcends the distinction between being and non-being altogether, standing outside and above the material world as its creator and benefactor. By revealing himself, Krishna seeks to demonstrate the absolute underlying unity of all things and the falsity of all dualities. The Gita teaches people that, by meditating on this truth of absolute unity, they may learn to join themselves with that absolute.

Krishna has absolute power: he is eternal, he created all beings, and he pervades everything. At the beginning of the fourth discourse, Arjuna asks how Krishna could have told the sun-god about yoga, since the sun-god came first. Krishna explains that he is eternal, capable of bringing himself into being, and later repeatedly states that he has no beginning, middle, or end. He created humans’ ancestors and in fact everything that exists, comparing himself to a father who planted the seeds of being. He also proclaims that he sustains all beings and claims responsibility for natural phenomena like the sun’s light. Krishna is part of everything, and things “in the realm of the living” are mere fragments of his totality. All of Krishna’s relationships with the world are unidirectional: he changes the world but is not changed by it, the gunas are in him but he does not have them, and he controls all action but does not himself act.

Krishna is not merely an absolutely powerful being, but in fact the absolute itself, which exceeds the distinction between being and non-being. This absolute is formless, which means that humans can only ever encounter a limited incarnation of Krishna—none of the forms that Arjuna encounters can fully encapsulate his infinity. In the tenth discourse, Krishna elaborates these myriad forms at length. Of each categories he mentions, he is generally the greatest (the god of war among army chiefs, the ocean among waters) or the very quality in virtue of which that category can exist (he is wisdom among wise beings, discourse among speakers). But this catalogue is not exhaustive, for Vishnu’s forms are infinite, and he is not a being but rather that in virtue of which there is anything at all. In the eleventh discourse, Krishna reveals his divine forms in another way, manifesting them directly before Arjuna, who needs the “divine eye” to see them. Arjuna realizes that he can see Krishna everywhere and the whole world inside Krishna; Krishna incorporates all the gods and the light of the world, collapsing the distinction between earth and sky. In awe of this power, Arjuna realizes his ignorance and devotes himself completely to Krishna, whom he calls “Incomparable One.” After revealing himself, Krishna admits that he has only shown a miniscule portion of his power, but he suggests that such a fragment of his own brilliance is all that the entire world needs to sustain itself. In reality, his self and power are invisible, for they are formless, transcending all distinctions, bodies, and appearances. Krishna insists throughout that he transcends duality, including the opposition between being and non-being. So does the Brahman (absolute universal reality) that, depending on one’s interpretation, Krishna either created, is identical to, or both.

In the following discourse, Arjuna wonders whether people should worship Krishna’s human manifestation or his true, formless self. Krishna argues that, while it is always easier for beings to worship his concrete manifestations, they can still grasp his true nature through the intellect and reflection on the self. This is because beings themselves have a part that comes from this absolute, and by gaining an awareness of it, they can grasp both Krishna and themselves in their formless, true states. This true human self or spirit (atman) is identical with the universal being (Brahman) that Krishna calls the “womb” for all material beings. Krishna explains that everything begins in the formless and returns to the formless, “imperishable,” eternal state that he embodies. By discarding one’s attachments to objects, one can join Krishna in this eternal state, which is why he encourages Arjuna to restrict his connection to his body, renounce worldly pleasures, and retreat into the supreme self through meditation. Krishna sees a tension between worshipping formless and embodied versions of the absolute because the formless version is true but the embodied version is more accessible to most people and therefore can offer them a route to perceive the formless truth. However, the fact that Vishnu must show himself to Arjuna in an embodied form—first by appearing as Krishna, and secondly by the brilliant revelation in the eleventh discourse—demonstrates that humans can more easily come to know the truth of being’s absolute unity by first perceiving worldly components and then grasping it in its entirety through yogic discipline.

Although Krishna’s universal form frightens Arjuna at first, it is not his true self (for he is actually formless) but rather merely expresses his absolute power. This leads Arjuna to realize that he, too, can potentially overcome his ties to the material world, sacrificing his worldly body to reintegrate into the formless unity of all things—human and divine, benevolent and evil, being and nonbeing—that is the only true reality. The Gita encourages its listeners and readers to follow a similar path, learning to perceive the formless through encounters with the unfathomable power of the universe.

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Krishna, the Absolute, and Human Knowledge ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Krishna, the Absolute, and Human Knowledge appears in each discourse of The Bhagavad Gita. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Krishna, the Absolute, and Human Knowledge Quotes in The Bhagavad Gita

Below you will find the important quotes in The Bhagavad Gita related to the theme of Krishna, the Absolute, and Human Knowledge.
Discourse 1 Quotes

The great cry
tore the hearts
of the Sons
of Dhritarashtra
the tumult
made the sky
and the earth

Related Characters: Sanjaya (speaker), Arjuna, Dhritarashtra
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:
Discourse 4 Quotes

Brahman is offering;
Brahman is oblation
poured out by Brahman
in the fire of Brahman;
Brahman is attained
by one absorbed
in the action
of Brahman.

Related Characters: Krishna (speaker), Arjuna
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:
Discourse 6 Quotes

The self is
in all beings
and all beings
are in the self.

Related Characters: Krishna (speaker), Arjuna
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:
Discourse 7 Quotes

Understand that
all beings
have their origins
in this nature:
I am
the birth
and the dissolution
of the whole world.

Related Characters: Krishna (speaker), Arjuna
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:
Discourse 8 Quotes

Brahman is
the highest imperishable;
the highest self
is said to be
one’s own nature, giving rise
to all states of being;
action is understood
as ‘sending forth’.

Among the embodied,
the highest being
is finite existence;
the highest god
is the great spirit;
I am the highest sacrifice
here in this body,
Chosen One.

Related Characters: Krishna (speaker), Arjuna
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:
Discourse 9 Quotes

This whole world
is woven through
with me,
in a shape
which is formless;
all beings dwell in me,
while I do not
dwell in them.

Yet neither do beings
dwell in me.
Behold, my powerful yoga:
bearing beings,
and yet not dwelling
in beings,
my own self
causing them to be.

Related Characters: Krishna (speaker), Arjuna
Page Number: 102
Explanation and Analysis:

I am the father of the world —
its mother, its arranger
and its grandfather;
I am what is to be known;
the purifier;
the sound ‘Om’;
the Rig, the Sama
and the Yajur Veda.

Related Characters: Krishna (speaker), Arjuna
Page Number: 105
Explanation and Analysis:

Those who choose gods
go to the gods.
Those who choose ancestors
go to the ancestors.
Those who honour the ghosts
go to the ghosts.
Those who sacrifice to me
go to me.

Related Characters: Krishna (speaker), Arjuna
Page Number: 107-8
Explanation and Analysis:
Discourse 10 Quotes

Among rulers with the sceptre,
I am authority.
Among those who want victory,
I am wise conduct.
Among hidden things,
I am silence.
Among the wise,
I am wisdom.

Related Characters: Krishna (speaker), Arjuna
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

that whatever
powerful being there is—
be it splendid,
or filled with vigour,
it comes to be
from only a small part
of my brilliance.

But what, Arjuna,
is the purpose
of this abundant wisdom
to you?
I stand, holding up
this entire world
with only a small part
of my self.

Related Characters: Krishna (speaker), Arjuna
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:
Discourse 11 Quotes

Your Majesty,
when he said this,
Hari, the great lord
of yoga,
showed to Arjuna
the Son of Pritha
his highest,
most powerful, form.

Related Characters: Sanjaya (speaker), Arjuna, Krishna, Dhritarashtra
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

I see you everywhere:
arms, bellies, faces, eyes—
form without end.
I see you,
Lord of the Universe,
Manifold One,
you have no beginning,
no middle, no end.

Related Characters: Arjuna (speaker), Krishna
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

The form of mine
which you have seen
is hard to discern.
Even the gods
are eternally
wanting to have
the sacred sight
of this form.

Neither through Veda,
nor heated discipline,
nor gift,
nor sacrifice,
is it possible
to see me
in the way
you have seen me.

Related Characters: Krishna (speaker), Arjuna
Page Number: 137-8
Explanation and Analysis: