Introducing Srimad Bhagavad Gita:
A User’s Manual for Every Day Living
“Live in the world but don’t be of the world. Live in the world but don’t let the world live within you. Remember it is all a beautiful dream, because everything is changing and disappearing. If you become detached you will be able to see how people are attached to trivia and how much they are suffering. And you will laugh at yourself because you were also in the same boat before”. – Osho
The Gita’s wide appeal
The Bhagavad Gita was first translated into English by Charles Wilkins in 1785 and published by the British East India Company with an introduction by Lord Warren Hastings, the first British Governor-General of India, in which he prophetically wrote: “The writers of the Indian philosophies will survive when the British Dominion in India shall long have ceased to exist, and when the sources which it yielded of wealth and power are lost to remembrance”. He further wrote “I hesitate not to pronounce the Gita’s performance of great originality, of sublimity of conception, reasoning and diction almost unequalled and a single exception amongst all the known religions of mankind”.
The Gita deals with human problems in a human way. That is why it has a tremendous appeal. It has inspired the human mind in India for centuries and today it casts its spell on millions of people across the various parts of the world. It remains the most translated work in the Globe. The modern technology like the Internet has further increased its reputation by carrying its message to every nook and corner of the world. A mere click on the word ‘Bhagavad Gita’ in the Google search engine throws about 963,000 results. An incredible reach for any scripture!
Among the great and extraordinary people who were inspired and found their outlook changed by the timeless wisdom of the Gita are thinkers, writers, scientists and philosophers like Mahatma Gandhi, B.G.Tilak, Sri Aurobindo, Albert Einstein, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Herman Hesse, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Aldous Huxley, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, Annie Besant, Robert Oppenheimer Sir Edwin Arnold and Carlyle to name but a few.
In India it was left to Adi Sankara who lived in the 8th century A.D. to reveal the greatness of the Gita to the world. He retrieved it from the mighty tomes of the epic, the Mahabharata, and wrote a brilliant commentary on it. It is this commentary which prevails as a classic text even today. Later great acharyas like Ramanuja, Madhva, Vallabha and others came out with their own commentaries which are popular among their followers. In modern times Sant Jnanesvar, B.G.Tilak, Aurobindo contributed their original thinking on the text.
Despite this enormous popularity, the Bhagavad Gita remains a less understood but a better known text; people know more about it than what is it about. On the analogy of what the Bhagavad Gita says in Chapter 2, Verse 29 some look upon the book as marvelous, a scripture of extraordinary or mysterious value, some others speak of the book as wonderful. And still others though hearing its teachings do not comprehend its wonderful significance!
Bhagavan Sri Krishna also says in the Gita (7.3) “Among thousands of men , one by chance aspires for perfection; even among those successful aspirants only one by chance knows Me in essence.” A question arises why such enlightened persons are so rare in our midst and why such an achievement is not within the reach of everyone.
Vedanta being a subjective science rarely one tries to know how to remove one’s weaknesses and develop inner strength much less one tries to live up to the ideals propounded by it and bring about consequent re-adjustments in one’s life. Very few feel this urge to evolve themselves and most of us do not even find the need for self improvement. We grope along by the voice of tradition, authority, herd-instinct and group-mentality. Of those who strive to see the truth and reach the goal, only a few succeed. Of those who gain the sight, not even one learns to live by the sight.
No wonder once a teacher wanting to educate a child about the Gita asked him “Do you know Gita”? The child replied “Yes, I know, that is the name of my next door aunty”. The child obviously heard of Gita and had his own meaning of it in his mind and remained happy about it. That is the case with most of us today including the large mass of modern educated sections. Then where do we go from here? Again, the Gita says by constant learning and practice one can certainly improve oneself. Let us attempt to heed that advice through this series of essays.
What is the Gita?
The dictionary meaning of the word ‘Gita’ is a song or poem containing an inspired doctrine and the word ‘Bhagavat’ means a blessed or adorable or venerable or divine One. Hence Srimad Bhagavad Gita is variously called as ‘The Song of God’, ‘The Divine Song’, ‘A Song of Fortune’, ‘The Lord’s Song’, ‘The Holy Song of God’, ‘The Song of the Lord’, Gudartha Deepika, Gita Rahasya, Jnaneshwari, Bhavaarthadipika, Sadhaka Sanjeevani and so on. The noted English poet, journalist and a Principal of the Government Sanskrit College at Pune, Sir Edwin Arnold (1832-1904) called his famous poetic version of the Bhagavad Gita as ‘The Song Celestial’. The Bhagavad Gita’s another title is ‘moksha sastra’ or ‘Scripture of Liberation’. However, it is more popularly known as “The Gita”.
The Bhagavad Gita is a sacred Hindu scripture, considered among the most important texts in the history of literature and philosophy. It finds a place in the Bhishma Parva of the Mahabharata. It comprises of 18 chapters spread out in 700 verses. Its author is Veda Vyasa, the compiler of the Mahabharata who wrote this epic through the hands of the Lord of Wisdom, Sri Ganesha. Its teachings are considered timeless and the exact time of revelation of the scripture is considered of little spiritual significance. The teacher of the Bhagavad Gita is Lord Krishna, who is revered as a manifestation of God, The Bhagvan, Parabrahman.
The content of the Gita is the conversation between Lord Krishna and Arjuna taking place on the battlefield of Kurukshetra before the start of the war between the two clans of brothers – the Kauravas and the Pandavas.
Responding to Arjuna’s confusion and moral dilemma about fighting his own cousins, Bhagavan Krishna explains to Arjuna his duties as a warrior and prince and elaborates on different Vedantic concepts. This has led to the Gita being described as one of the prasthana traya, the triumvirate of the canons of Hindu Philosophy, the other two being the Upanishads and the Brahma Sutras.
It is considered as a concise, practical, self-contained guide to play the game of life. During the discourse, Krishna reveals His identity as the Supreme Being (Svayam Bhagavan), blessing Arjuna with an awe-inspiring vision of His divine universal form.
The Gita itself tells us about what it is. At the end of the first chapter we find a narration reading as under:
om tat sat
iti srimad bhagavadgeetaasu upanishatsu brahma vidyaayaam yogashaastre
sri krishnaarjuna samvaade arjuna vishaada yogo naama prathamo’dyaayah||
“Thus in the Upanishads of the glorious Bhagavad Gita, the science of the Eternal, the scripture of Yoga, the dialogue between Sri Krishna and Arjuna, ends the first discourse entitled: The Yoga of the Despondency of Arjuna”
The narration as given above at the end of the first chapter occurs also at the end of all the other subsequent chapters, the only difference being the respective title of the chapters. This narration is called `sankalpa vakya’ meaning an epilogue for the chapter. It reveals in a very concise form the glory and greatness of the Gita and states the theme of the concerned chapter.
The meaning of this recital is as under:
Om Tat Sat: A designation for the Absolute enabling everybody to turn towards Godhead.
Gita is called: Upanishad because it contains the essence of all the Upanishads which are the revelations of the ancient sages.
Brahma Vidya or the science of the Eternal because it teaches about the changeless Reality behind the ever-changing phenomenal world of perceptions, emotions and thoughts.
Yoga Shastra because it is a scripture that explains the technique of right living and provides a practical guide to work it out in the form of Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Raja Yoga.
Samvad because it is in the form of a dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna, the Divine and the human, the former teaching the latter how to function successfully and efficiently in a community.
This chapter is entitled `Arjuna Vishaada Yogah’ or the Yoga of despondency of Arjuna.
Story of the Mahabharata
In the north of India, there flourished a kingdom with its headquarters at Hastinapur. King Pandu was ruling the kingdom after his father’s death, as his elder brother, Dhritarashtra, was born blind and therefore not qualified for the rulership according to the tenets of that age.
King Pandu had five sons who were known as Pandavas. Dhritarashtra had one hundred sons who were called as Kauravas, the eldest of whom was Duryodhana. Bhishma was the uncle of Pandu and Dhritarashtra.
After Pandu’s death his children, Pandavas, were brought up and educated along with Kauravas under the supervision of Bhishma and patronage of Dhritarashtra. Drona was a skillful teacher who taught them all the techniques of warfare. Pandavas were intelligent and brave. Within a short time they could master the art of warfare. Yudhishtira, the eldest of the Pandavas, succeeded his father as the king.
Duryodhana was jealous of the Pandavas. When Yudhishtira was proclaimed a king Duryodhana could not keep quiet and watch. He employed all foul means to destroy Pandavas and every time he tried to kill them he met with failure. On Bhishma’s advice the kingdom was divided into two parts – the better one with Hastinapur as capital was taken by the Kauravas while the Pandavas took the other half and built a new beautiful capital called Indraprastha for themselves.
Dhritarashtra was equally affectionate towards his sons and Pandavas but had the weakness to be sympathetic towards his eldest son’s sorrows and disappointments.
Once Duryodhana invited Yudhishtira for a game of dice wherein the former with the help of his cunning and deceitful uncle, Sakuni, defeated Yudhishtira by using all fraudulent means. As a result, Yudhishtira lost not only all his kingdom and possessions but also Draupadi, the wife of all the Pandava brothers. Draupadi was humiliated by the Kaurava brothers to such an extent that an attempt was made to disrobe her in public. Her honor was saved by Bhagavan Sri Krishna, a great family friend of the Pandavas.
Finally it was settled that Pandavas should live in the forest for twelve years in exile and further one year incognito untraced by any one. After successfully completing these thirteen years of ordeal when the Pandavas claimed their kingdom Duryodhana refused to part with even that much little land as could be covered by the point of a needle.
The good offices of Sri Krishna to bring sanity to Duryodhana who was intoxicated with power and greed proved futile. The Pandavas were left with no alternative but to take up arms against Kauravas to regain their kingdom lost through tricks, treachery and chicanery.
A war between Pandavas and Kauravas became inevitable and the preparations for the epic battle started. Both the sides mobilized their troops and took their respective positions in the battlefield at Kurukshetra, near modern Delhi.
Bhagavan Sri Krishna was the charioteer of Arjuna, the mightiest of the Pandava brothers. Arjuna asked Sri Krishna to place their chariot between the two armies to enable him to have a glimpse of all those with whom he had to fight. Although till that time he was in full fighting spirit, when he saw his teachers, elders, brothers, relatives and friends standing before him ready for the fight, his determination gave way to weakness of head and heart. He lost his enthusiasm to fight and told Sri Krishna that he did not want to wage the battle against his seniors, relations and friends for the sake of a paltry kingdom.
When Arjuna refused to fight, Sri Krishna gave him a good peace of advice enlightening him upon where his duty lay. This marvelous advice delivered by The Bhagavan in the battlefield at Kurukshetra is the immortal poem, the song divine, the glorious SRIMAD BHAGAVAD GITA which epitomizes the whole gamut of knowledge contained in all the Scriptures.
Sage Vyasa offered Dhritarashtra the power of sight which would enable him to see the events of war. Unwilling to see the inevitable massacre of his sons, the blind king desired to know the full details of the war. To fulfill Dhritarashtra’s request Vyasa bestowed Sanjaya, the trusted minister of Dhritarashtra, with the divine intuitive vision by which he could know not only the incidents of the battlefield but also the ideas in the minds of the warriors.
After ten days of war, Bhishma, the commander of the Kaurava army was severely wounded and thrown off his chariot. When Sanjaya informed Dhritarashtra about this incident the blind king became very sad and asked him to tell him all the details of the war. The reporting of Sanjaya about the events of war including the dialogue between Sri Krishna and Arjuna at the battlefield is contained in the Bhishma Parva of Mahabharata wherein The Gita text finds place. The Gita opens with the question of the blind king to Sanjaya asking him what happened on the battlefield when the two armies faced each other in the battle formation.
Central Theme of the Gita
The Bhagvad Gita can be studied from different angles such as a historical document, a spiritual treatise, a scriptural text for daily chanting and prayer, a sublime poetry, an exposition of Grammar and meter, or a management manual, depending on one’s own outlook and purpose.
The objective here is to study it as a spiritual text and try to find out its main theme. Our ancient Rishis have given us a six-point test to determine the main theme of a text. This is called ‘sadvidvidha tatparya nirnaya linga’. In the light of this six-factor test let us look at the Gita to discover its central theme.
The 1st point is called upakrama and upasamhara – the beginning and conclusion of a text. The crux of the subject in the text starts with Arjuna’s confusion, his acceptance of the delusion and surrender to the Lord as a sishya with a request to teach him what is the best for him. The text ends with his statement that all his doubts were cleared, his delusion is gone and he regained his memory of the Self. This kind of beginning and end of the text shows that the Bhagavad Gita contains the Knowledge that removes the delusion and bestows the Supreme Good.
Even from the teacher’s view point, the text starts from Sri Krishna telling Arjuna that he is grieving for that which should not be grieved for thereby explaining how sorrow is borne of delusion. It ends by asking Arjuna whether the delusion had gone. This makes it clear that the entire purpose of the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna was aimed at removing spiritual ignorance which is the cause of delusion. Thus the removal of sorrow and delusion (soka moha nivritti) is the main theme of the Gita.
The 2nd point is called abhayasa – repetition and emphasis in the text. The 2nd chapter gives ample evidence to this aspect. Krishna frequently tells Arjuna not to grieve and puts forward the reasons for that view from several angles like the true knowledge, duty, ignominy etc. Similarly, the concept of sthitaprajna has been highlighted in several ways at various places. This shows imparting Self-Knowledge is the key note in the text.
The 3rd point is called apurvata – the novelty or uniqueness of the theme. Sri Krishna calls this Self-Knowledge as a secret, guhyam because normal extroverted minds cannot grasp it and hence very few succeed in knowing it. Similarly, moderation in all walks of our lives has been stressed at many places. The teachings of the Gita are thus unique.
The 4th point is phalam or the fruit or the end result of the study of the text. Removal of sorrow and confusion and attainment of clear thinking and supreme knowledge – enlightenment – are the end result of the study of the text.
The 5th point is arthavada – positive praise of the subject and negative condemnation of the opposite. We find many slokas in the text extolling the supreme Self-Knowledge and condemning spiritual ignorance. Thus attaining the Supreme Knowledge is the goal of the Gita.
The 6th and the last point is upapatti – illustration and reasoning. We find in the text that Krishna has been giving a lot of logical explanations and reasoning to convince Arjuna about his teachings. He uses profusely the word ‘tasmat’ meaning ‘therefore’. His arguments are given from many standpoints, the main goal of all His efforts being elimination of sorrow and delusion through Self-Knowledge. The nature of Self is also revealed through examples and reasoning. These indicate the Supreme knowledge ( tattva jnanam) as the main subject matter of the Gita.
Therefore Self-Knowledge (atma jnana) which eliminates our ignorance and the consequent problems created and bestows the ultimate good for all of us (shreyas) is the core theme of the Gita.
Over-view of the Gita
The entire Bhagavad Gita can be divided into five topics viz.
Identifying the problem (covered in the 1st and the starting portions of the 2nd chapters of the Gita).
Finding a solution (covered in the major portion of the 2nd chapter and reiterated in the 7th, 9th and 13th chapters.
Implementing the solution (This theme is dealt with in the 3rd, 5th, 12th and 18th chapters).
Understanding the values of life (stated in many places in the Gita and particularly in the 16th chapter) and
Achieving perfection (elaborated in the 2nd, 5th, and 14th chapters).
Arjuna’s misunderstanding, his inability to see things as they are and consequent grief and self-pity just at the crucial moment of war are the problems. The solution to them can be short term which will only be of temporary nature or long term which will be of permanent nature. The Gita offers a long term solution with which anybody can face any situation in life at any time anywhere. This spiritual solution teaches us to look at life as a whole and live a whole life. Finding a solution is just not enough. We must know how to implement it. The Gita provides us with a practical guidance that helps us to understand how to live according to the guidelines offered.
But living a life according to the guidelines offered is also not adequate unless it is spiced with certain basic vision and values. If a person’s vision of life is limited to mundane happiness derived from the senses, he will merely spend his life time in eating, drinking and making merry. His value system will revolve round making money by any means to satisfy his never ending needs. But the value system of a person with a philanthropic bent or an animal lover or an environmentalist or spiritually oriented will be entirely different. The Gita provides us with such an enlarged vision of life laying the foundation for a sense of fulfillment.
Finally, the Gita gives us the vision of a person who has gained the supreme Knowledge and lives anchored in it. One who faces problems and crisis in life gains the vision of Truth, puts it into practice, and lives according to that value system. He becomes a jivan mukta, liberated in this very life. He is called a sthita prajna and the Gita gives us a vivid description of his nature.
Such an analytical understanding of the various topics in the Bhagavad Gita makes it easy for us to study it fruitfully and gives us a ready reference point to check out the slokas (verses) according to our requirement.
Main concepts of the Gita
The main philosophical subject matter of the Bhagavad Gita is the explanation of five basic concepts.
Jiva, the individual soul or the living being
Jagat, the universe he lives in or nature or matter
Jagadishvara, the creator of the universe or the Supreme Controller and the relationship between Jiva, Jagat and Jagadishvara.
Dharma (Duty in accordance with Divine law)
Krishna counsels Arjuna on the greater idea of dharma, or universal harmony and duty. He begins with the tenet that the soul (Atman) is eternal and immortal. Any ‘death’ on the battlefield would involve only the shedding of the body, whereas the soul is permanent.
In order to clarify his point, Krishna expounds the various Yoga processes and understanding of the true nature of the universe. He describes the yogic paths of devotional service -Bhakti Yoga, action – Karma Yoga, meditation – Dhyana Yoga or Raja Yoga and knowledge – Jnana Yoga.
Fundamentally, the Bhagavad Gita proposes that true enlightenment comes from going beyond identification with the temporal ego, the ‘False Self’, the ephemeral world, so that one identifies with the truth of the immortal self, the absolute soul or Atman.
Through detachment from the material sense of ego, the Yogi, or follower of a particular path of Yoga, is able to transcend his/her illusory mortality and attachment to the material world and enters the realm of the Supreme.
Krishna does not propose that the physical world must be abandoned or neglected. Rather, one’s life on Earth must be lived in accordance with greater laws and truths; one must embrace one’s temporal duties whilst remaining mindful of timeless reality, acting for the sake of service without consideration for the results thereof. Such a life would naturally lead towards stability, happiness and, ultimately, enlightenment.
In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna refers to the war about to take place as ‘Dharma Yuddha’, meaning a righteous war for the purpose of justice. He also states that he incarnates in each age (yuga) to establish righteousness in the world.
Why Study The Gita?
Srimad Bhagavad Gita has been a source of inspiration and enlightenment for generations. The message of the Gita is not merely a general spiritual philosophy or ethical doctrine but it has a bearing upon the practical aspects in the application of such principles in our day-to-day lives. It is indeed “An Users’ Manual for the Practice of the Art of Right Living”.
The centuries old Bhagavad Gita continues to be the most relevant beacon light for all of us today. The modern man, like Arjuna, is at the crossroads where the focus is more on improving the Standard of Living rather than the Standard of Life, more on the Stock Exchange Index than on the Human Development Quotient, more on the Cost of Living than on the Quality of Life. This has resulted in his disorientation and imbalance in an environment of shifting values. While science aims to enhance the comfort of human life, spirituality teaches us how to be comfortable with what we have. That is the difference. In this scenario, the Gita is the only source of strength for the development of an integrated personality, a complete man, within us.
The Gita teaches how to achieve harmony with divinity in the midst of disharmony by subduing all outward energies and remaining in equanimity with pairs of opposites like pain and pleasure, aversion and attraction, success and failure etc. The focus of the Gita is moderation and its aim is the total surrender of man before the Supreme while continuing to perform his duties in the spirit of Yoga.
The problem that is facing us today is that while the world is coming closer physically it is drifting apart mentally and emotionally. Hence all the conflicts and violence, destruction and damage across the globe. The urgent need, therefore, is the reconciliation and reconditioning of the human mindset, to inculcate a global vision and bring about the universal brotherhood.
The Gita is specially suited for the purpose, as it attempts to bring together varied and apparently antithetical forms of the consciousness and emphasizes the root conceptions of humanity which are neither ancient nor modern, belonging neither to the east nor the west, but eternal and universal.
Its beauty and sublimity lie in its everlasting relevance to the daily problems of human life, either occidental or oriental. It prescribes the methods which are within the reach of all. It has a message of solace, freedom, salvation, perfection and peace for all human beings. The more you study it with devotion and faith, the more you will acquire deep knowledge, penetrative insight and clear, right thinking. It is indeed a recipe for sane living for every man and woman across the world.
Thoughts for self evaluation
Where is the Bhagavad Gita to be found?
What is the historical epic Mahabharata?
Who is the author of the Mahabharata?
What is the Bhagavad Gita?
In what form the Gita was written?
Where was the Bhagavad Gita originally spoken?
What is the composition of the Bhagavad Gita?
What is the central theme of the Gita
What are the broad topics covered in the Gita?
What are the main concepts elucidated in the Gita?
What can be learned by the study of Srimad BhagavadGita?
Why the Gita is popular in the world even today?
We will take up Chapter 1 of the Bhagavad Gita next time.
More posts by this author:
- Bhagavad Gita – Chapter 1 (Part-2): Yoga of the Despondency of Arjuna
- Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 2 (Part- 4)
- Bhagavad Gita – Chapter 1 (Part-1): Yoga of the Despondency of Arjuna
- Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 5 (Part-1) Karma Sannyaasa Yogah: Yoga of Renunciation of Action
- Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 2 (Part 1)