Throughout the Gītā, Krishna helps Arjuna to deepen his relationship of friendship with Krishna by encouraging him to pursue the practice of yoga. “Yoga” can mean “connection”, and Krishna makes very clear that the particular connection to be made, or reaffirmed, is with himself as bhagavān, puruṣottama, the original and ultimate person. That a relation is already existing between the living being and the ultimate person has already been established (for example, in 15.7), and Arjuna is an exemplar of such relationship. To reassure Arjuna more deeply that he is on the right path, and at the same time to highlight what constitutes the opposite of the proper disposition for successfully practicing yoga, in this chapter Krishna enumerates several features of the “demonic” or anti-devotional disposition. He begins, however, by enumerating the salient features of the “godly assets,” noting that Arjuna is born to such assets. Whereas godly assets lead to freedom, ungodly assets lead to bondage (16.1-6).
Ungodly persons know not what is good for themselves and for others, being absorbed in selfishness. Their worldview is based on falsity: they claim that the world is devoid of truth and has no foundation, and that there is no existence of bhagavān. With such an attitude, they act in ways that are world-destructive, and yet, hypocritically, although pursuing selfish ends, they pretend to be magnanimous donors of charity. They see the world in terms of enemies and friends, and they calculate how to destroy their enemies, all the time thinking, “It is I who am the enjoyer” (16.7-15).
With this sort of mentality, ungodly persons become deeply caught in a net of illusion, and although they thus bring themselves down to hellish conditions, they remain proud, stubborn, and hateful, and inimical to bhagavān. In response to such attitudes, Krishna sternly announces that he perpetually throws such persons into transmigrations in demonic wombs to suffer lifetime after lifetime without opportunity to approach him (16.16-20).
Ungodliness is summarized in terms of a “gateway to hell” having three aspects, namely, lust, anger, and greed. Krishna advises: “therefore one should give up these three tendencies,” and by doing so one greatly benefits the self and eventually attains the highest state of yoga. Finally, Krishna advises Arjuna to carefully follow injunctions of sacred texts for the practice of yoga, because they make clear what is to be done (what is one’s duty) and what is not to be done. Otherwise, if one acts whimsically out of one’s own desires, one will not achieve perfection in yoga, nor will one be happy (16.21-24).
As a yoga practice, what this chapter teaches is to become self-critical, recognizing our tendency to slip into the illusion that we are very good, pious, and well-meaning person, when we might actually harbor opposite tendencies. Differentiating godly and ungodly assets enables the yogī to consciously cultivate and increase godly assets while shedding and rejecting ungodly tendencies.