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Bhagavad Gita Chapter VII Verse 16 – Explanation

Four kinds of virtuous men worship Me, O Arjuna: the distressed, the seeker of knowledge, the seeker of material prosperity and, O Prince of the Bharata race, the wise. (Bhagavad Gita Chapter VII verse 16)

As a class quite distinct from those men of asuric or evil nature, mentioned in the previous verse, Sri Krishna now deals with men of virtuous tendencies. All men belonging to this class believe in God and a life eternal. But not all have the same strong and pure faith in God. Nor are they all impelled by the same pure and lofty motive in seeking God and taking refuge in Him. Sri Krishna, therefore, divides them into four classes, each class characterized by a predominant motive.

First are mentioned the distressed. It is when we are in trouble or pain, in suffering or distress, that we look for help and comfort. We may feel quite strong and independent so long as all goes well. But let misfortune visit us; then we realize that after all it is not easy to stand firm on our feet. Our weakness is then revealed to us, and we cannot but go for help and support where we expect to find it.

The wicked and vicious, when afflicted, commit more sin. They seek support in evil deeds, thus heaping gloom on gloom. A higher class of men are those who go to good friends and wise persons for consolation and advice. But those of higher understanding know that real succour can come from God alone. They turn to Him with their burden, trusting that God’s promise has not been made in vain. For have not all the incarnations invited mankind to take refuge in them. Trusting in God’s promise they fly to Him in their distress. They may be quite indifferent towards God at other times, but this at least is their good fortune that in evil times they turn to God. This is their good karma.

It is an indication of good samskaras and is the result of previous practices, for it is the past that speaks in the present. Past experience has settled down in the form of tendencies with which we are born in this life. These are called samskaras. Whatever experience we gather during this life will manifest in a future birth as our character, as our natural tendencies, as our instincts in that life. Living a holy, devotional life now will force us to be virtuous when we take new birth. Some men cannot do a good deed, and others are not able to commit a crime. Some men are attracted towards God by their nature, as it were, instinctively, while others feel repugnance towards anything connected with a religious life. It is the past that rules now, just as the present will guide our future destiny. It behoves us then to be careful and thoughtful in our actions. We are architects. We are building our future dwelling place. Each stone counts in constructing the building. Every act counts, every word, every thought. Let us construct a dwelling worthy of the tenant, for we are building a temple for God to dwell in.

We may be slaves of the past, but let us be masters of the future. Let us plant good seeds that the harvest may be rich. It is just as easy to be good as it is to be wicked if we have once established the habit. If it is true that we are the children of God, let us try to manifest it. And above all let us be pure.

Sri Krishna says in verse sixteen: Four kinds of virtuous men worship Me: the distressed, the seeker of knowledge, the seeker of material prosperity and the wise. The men of evil tendencies never turn to God, no matter what happens. When misfortune overtakes them, they turn to sin hoping thereby to forget their misery. But the virtuous worship God. And Sri Krishna has classified them according to the motive which draws them to God. We have seen under what conditions the distressed approach the Lord. Though their motive is not the highest, it is certainly better to turn to God in the hour of need than not to go to Him at all. Devotion to God even under such conditions is a sign of good karma, an indication of good samskaras. ‘By the tendencies generated during one birth the conduct during the next is regulated. And that in turn strengthens the same tendencies; and thus the wheel rolls on ceaselessly. Like the tree and the seed, tendencies and acts are perpetuated by the regulating power of the Deity, which at attaches to each man his previously generated tendencies.’ This is what is meant by samskaras.

This theory of samskaras forms part of the theory of reincarnation. It explains many phenomena. Whence so much inequality in life? Why is one person born good and strong and clever and in favourable conditions, and another wicked and weak and feeble-minded and surrounded by all that is low and mean? Where is the God of justice while such conditions prevail in His universe? Yes, answers Vedanta, God is just. He gives each one what he deserves, what he is entitled to according to the deeds of his past life.

God regulates karma, dealing out to each one what he has earned. The good will be reborn good; the wicked will be wicked in their next life. This samskara theory also explains how in some cases even during their very childhood talents appear. Some saints are holy from their infancy. Some musicians are born with the talent for music and so on. Nothing is lost in the universe. No effort is in vain. Results may not show at once, but they are kept to our credit.

Great deeds are born through ages. It is the accumulated efforts, the thousands of little attempts, that burst out into the heroic performance. Five hundred times, it is written, Buddha gave his life for others before he made the great renunciation. He who is great in this life has been great before and will be greater in the future. Every deed is a seed. One seed does not show in the field, but when thousands of seeds are planted we get the harvest.

One class of men comes to God when they are in distress. Then there is another class who come to God for Knowledge. They want to be taught the truth regarding God and the soul. They regard God as their Guru, their Master and their Teacher.

The third class wants material prosperity. They pray for the fulfillment of their desires here and hereafter. They want to enjoy life, and when they die, they want to enjoy heaven. And then there is the fourth class called the wise. This is the highest class of devotees, the jnanis. They know the Reality. They have forsaken all desires knowing them to arise from maya. They come to God not to obtain something, but out of pure love. They love God for His own sake — for what He is, not for what He can bestow. They do not beg for anything. They are naturally drawn to God. In Him they find true happiness. These devotees are very close to God, and they are very dear to Him.

God is the fulfiller of all desires. He gives us what we want. He is like the mythological Kalpataru. Those who cherish a wish go under the Kalpa tree. Then they pronounce the wish and the desire is fulfilled. As we approach God, so does He satisfy our wishes. It depends on us what we bring away from Him. The afflicted are relieved from their afflictions. The seekers after wisdom learn the Truth. Those who desire happiness here and hereafter will meet with happy conditions (provided of course they know how to ask). And the wise man will realize his oneness with God. He will transcend maya.

It is possible for every worshipper to cross over this life of illusion; but owing to diversity of motives impelling the worship, the actual result is not the same. All these devotees are dear to the Lord, but the wise man stands first in His favour.

Bhagavad Gita Chapter VII Verse 16 – Source - Reflections on the Bhagavad Gita By Swami Atulananda – Prabuddha Bharata August 2003 Issue