The Bhagavad Gita: Two Paths

Many spiritual traditions have some picture of "Two Paths," one for the righteous, one for the wicked.  One for the pure in heart, one for the impure.  Jesus famously used the image of a separation between sheep and goats in the final judgment.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, Psalm 1 captures this picture as well:

"Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked
 or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers,
 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
 and who meditates on it day and night.
 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
 which yields its fruit in season
 and whose leaf does not wither.
 Whatever they do prospers.

 Not so the wicked! 
 They are like chaff that the wind blows away.
 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
 nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
 but the way of the wicked leads to destruction."

Rarely does life break down in so simple a way.  Outside of characterizations, it is hard to put any one person purely in the category of "righteous," or "wicked."  As an old pastor of mine used to say, we are all a holy mix.   But the image of Two Paths is helpful.  The righteous path is an ideal to strive for.  The evil path is a disaster to avoid. 

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna contrasts those who have Divine qualities with those who are demonic.  In Chapter 16, He counsels Arjuna to remain on the Divine, spiritual path.  

"Be fearless and pure; never waver in your determination or your dedication to the spiritual life.  Give freely.  Be self-controlled, sincere, truthful, loving, and full of the desire to serve.  Realize the truth of the scriptures; learn to be detached and take joy in renunciation.  Do not get angry or harm any living creature, but be compassionate and gentle, show good will to all.  Cultivate vigor, patience, will, purity; avoid malice and pride.  Then, Arjuna, you will achieve your divine destiny.

Other qualities, Arjuna, make a person more and more inhuman: hypocrisy, arrogance, conceit, anger, cruelty, ignorance.  The divine qualities lead to freedom; the demonic, to bondage.  But do not grieve, Arjuna; you were born with divine attributes.

Some people have divine tendencies, others demonic.  I have described the divine at length, Arjuna; now listen while I describe the demonic. 

The demonic do things they should avoid and avoid the things they should do.  They have no sense of uprightness, purity, or truth.  'There is no God,' they say, 'no truth, no spiritual law, no moral order.  The basis of life is sex; what else can it be?'  Holding such distorted views, possessing scant discrimination, they become enemies of the world, causing suffering and destruction.

Hypocritical, proud, and arrogant, living in delusion and clinging to deluded ideas, insatiable in their desires, they purse their unclean ends.  Although burdened with fears that end only with death, they still maintain with complete assurance, 'Gratification of lust is the highest that life can offer.'  Bound on all sides by scheming and anxiety, driven by anger and greed, they amass by any means they can a hoard of money for the satisfaction of their cravings. 

'I got this today,' they say; 'tomorrow I shall get that.  This wealth is mine, and that will be mine too.  I have destroyed my enemies.  I shall destroy others too!  Am I not like God?  I enjoy what I want.  I am successful.  I am powerful.  I am happy.  I am rich and well-born.  Who is equal to me?  I will perform sacrifices and give gifts, and rejoice in my own generosity.'  This is how they go on, deluded by ignorance.  Bound by their greed and entangled in a web of delusion, whirled about by a fragmented mind, they fall into a dark hell...

There are three gates to this self-destructive hell: lust, anger, and greed.  Renounce these three.  Those who escape these three gates of darkness, Arjuna, seek what is best and attain life's supreme goal.  Others disregard the teachings of the scriptures.  Driven by selfish desire, they miss the goal of life, miss even happiness and success.

Therefore let the scriptures be your guide in what to do and what not to do.  Understand their teachings; then act in accordance with them."

The Bhagavad Gita, 16:1-16, 21-24


This will end the Bhagavad Gita series.  Reading through it is probably the easiest way to understand basic Hindu thought.  Although Hinduism is wildly diverse as a religion, this text is highly revered among most Hindus.  I find the type of meditation described in Chapter 6 especially interesting and connected to my own practice of Centering Prayer.  You could practically lift Chapter 6 out and put it right into The Cloud of Unknowing.  These authors are speaking the same language.  

For more on basic Hindu thought and its relation to Buddhism from the perspective of Alan Watts, check out the following brief lecture.