Lord Krishna guides Arjuna – and through him, all of us – in the quest to conquer “the dweller on the threshold.”


The Bhagavad-gita is not just another religious text; nor is it merely a Hindu scripture. Rather, it provides what can be called applied spiritual technologies, or systematic procedures by which anyone of any religious faith can advance toward the ultimate goal of life. In other words, the Gita transcends its natural associations with India and with the sectarian boundaries within which most people would place it.

Historically, the devastating battle referred to in its pages centers on two royal families and their dynastic concerns. Philosophically, however, the battle is our own – our true self’s ongoing struggle against all our lower desires and passions.

Arjuna, the hero of the Gita, represents all individual “selves,” or souls, and his dilemma, as depicted in the text, brings to mind the proverbial “dweller on the threshold,” made famous in Edward B. Lytton’s Rosicrucian novel Zanoni (1842). This “Dweller” is characterized as a hideous creature with monstrous features, appearing before the book’s protagonist just as the latter enters an unknown, mysterious land. The creature tries to shake him up, to make him lose hope, and our hero, we know, will succumb if he is not fully prepared.

The same is true for Arjuna. His lower nature tries to subdue his higher nature, as we see in the Gita’s initial chapters. Arjuna’s doubts and hesitancy are like a creature comparable to the Dweller, and his more noble nature, seen throughout his life, is the hero – both exist in the same body, as they do in all of us.

The monster, then, is merely figurative, trying to defeat each person’s inner spirit and the higher aspirations of each human heart. The difference here, however, is that both Arjuna and we are real.

Like the temptations that came to both Buddha and Jesus, Lytton’s monster attacks when we want it least – when we try to pursue higher reality. The Gita addresses the specific obstructions that deter our progress and systematically educates us in how to defeat the creature, Lytton’s monster, rendering him ineffectual and impotent.

Guidance to the Goal

But, more, the text guides us, through pertinent instruction, to live in that higher, magical realm of the spirit, where negative “dwellers of the threshold” no longer exist. It is this that the Gita bequeaths to its most sincere readers, and it does so through five universal stages that all aspiring transcendentalists must one day go through, in one form or another:

1. Existential Agony

As the Gita opens, we are introduced to the psychological and spiritual crisis of Arjuna, who represents all steadfast practitioners. Seekers tend to reach a point of intense dismay as they realize there must be something beyond the day-to-day, and feel overwhelming incompleteness. They gradually come to realize that this feeling will not go away without the presence of God in their lives. And so they embark on a spiritual journey. (The Gita lists three other mindsets that can lead to the spiritual quest: the desire for wealth, the thirst for higher knowledge, and wisdom.)

2. Preliminary Surrender

Such inner anguish leads to a rudimentary form of surrender – a preliminary faith that inspires the will to make certain life changes and engage in corresponding practices that awaken devotion to God. Without that, one cannot progress on the path.

At this point, as Krishna tells Arjuna, one would do well to find a spiritual master, someone more experienced in the procedures of devotion. It is at this point, in fact, that Arjuna says: “Now I am confused about my duty and have lost all composure because of miserly weakness. In this condition I am asking You to tell me for certain what is best for me. Now I am Your disciple, and a soul surrendered unto You. Please instruct me.” (2.7) Krishna’s first instructions, and all that follow, clarify one’s existence apart from the body: The living being is a spirit soul, encased in a material body, and his main function is to serve the Supreme Lord with love and devotion.

3. Passionate Search and Sincere Inquiry

Such surrender is in itself liberating, and the spiritual aspirant begins to make substantial progress by approaching the teacher with pertinent questions, rendering service, and developing love for God by developing love for His dedicated servant, the spiritual master. At this level the science of spirituality begins to unfold. One learns how to read signs of advancement, as well as signs of faltering.

Here, prayer and chanting the holy names of God become more meaningful too, and one is now able to effectively use attendant practices that nourish pure chanting.

4. The Dawn of True Knowledge

The intricacies of God consciousness, including insight into the nature of the Supreme, gradually arise in the hearts of sincere practitioners. When Arjuna submits to Krishna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, the Lord reveals transcendental knowledge to him that few will ever attain. Arjuna learns how to see God in natural phenomena, as Krishna explains how all things exist only because of His presence. Overall, such knowledge reveals that God manifests Himself impersonally as Brahman; pervades everything, from living beings to atoms, as Paramatma, His localized Supersoul expansion; and remains distinct as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, who cherishes intimate relationships of love with His devotees.

5. Love of God

The Gita (18.66) finally promotes full dedication, for having pursued the science of transcendence, one finally is able to fully surrender – for one now knows what or whom one is surrendering to. This is not surrender in the negative sense, where one relinquishes free will and potentially becomes subject to abuse or exploitation. This is surrender to our own inner bliss, our natural, constitutional position as an eternal, loving servant of the Lord.

The New “Dweller”

Krishna says:

I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who perfectly know this engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts. The thoughts of My pure devotees dwell in Me, their lives are fully devoted to My service, and they derive great satisfaction and bliss from always enlightening one another and conversing about Me. To those who are constantly devoted to serving Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me. To show them special mercy, I, dwelling in their hearts, destroy with the shining lamp of knowledge the darkness born of ignorance. (10.8–11)

This is the Gita’s ultimate teaching, in which a new “dweller” emerges in the life of the spiritual practitioner. The sincere soul gradually comes in touch with the Personality of Godhead, his eternal friend and ever well-wisher.

By the Gita’s purifying principles, Lytton’s monster quickly disappears. He is replaced by Krishna, the supreme dear one whose love we have long forgotten. We now learn to love Him again, and start to remember that His love for us knows no bounds.

This article was adapted from the author’s book Krishna’s Song: A New Look at the Bhagavad Gita, by Steven J. Rosen, available at amazon.com