For other uses, see Bhagavad Gita (disambiguation).
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The Bhagavad Gita (Sanskrit: भगवद्गीता, bhagavad-gītā in IAST, Sanskrit pronunciation: [ˈbʱaɡəʋəd̪ ɡiːˈt̪aː]; lit. "Song of the Lord"), often referred to as simply the Gita, is a 700verseHindu scripture in Sanskrit that is part of the Hindu epicMahabharata (chapters 23–40 of the 6th book of Mahabharata).
The Gita is set in a narrative framework of a dialogue between Pandava prince Arjuna and his guide and charioteer Lord Krishna. Facing the duty as a warrior to fight the DharmaYudhha or righteous war between Pandavas and Kauravas, Arjuna is counselled by Lord Krishna to "fulfill his Kshatriya (warrior) duty as a warrior and establish Dharma." Inserted in this appeal to kshatriya dharma (chivalry) is "a dialogue ... between diverging attitudes concerning methods toward the attainment of liberation (moksha)".
The Bhagavad Gita presents a synthesis of the concept of Dharma, theistic bhakti, the yogic ideals of moksha through jnana, bhakti, karma, and Raja Yoga (spoken of in the 6th chapter) and Samkhya philosophy.[web 1][note 1] It is a Bhagavata explanation of the Purusha Sukta and the PurushamedhaSrautayajna described in the Satapatha Brahmana.
Numerous commentaries have been written on the Bhagavad Gita with widely differing views on the essentials. Vedanta commentators read varying relations between Self and Brahman in the text: Advaita Vedanta sees the non-dualism of Atman (soul) and Brahman as its essence, whereas Bhedabheda and Vishishtadvaita see Atman and Brahman as both different and non-different, and Dvaita sees them as different. The setting of the Gita in a battlefield has been interpreted as an allegory for the ethical and moral struggles of the human life.
The Bhagavad Gita's call for selfless action inspired many leaders of the Indian independence movement including Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi referred to the Gita as his "spiritual dictionary".
Composition and significance
The epic Mahabharata is traditionally ascribed to the Sage Vyasa; the Bhagavad Gita, being a part of the Mahabharata's Bhishma Parva, is also ascribed to him.
Date of composition
Theories on the date of composition of the Gita vary considerably. Scholars accept dates from the fifth century to the second century BCE as the probable range. Professor Jeaneane Fowler, in her commentary on the Gita, considers second century BCE to be the likely date of composition. Kashi Nath Upadhyaya, a Gita scholar, on the basis of the estimated dates of Mahabharata, Brahma sutras, and other independent sources, concludes that the Bhagavad Gita was composed in the fifth or fourth century BCE.
It is generally agreed that, "Unlike the Vedas, which have to be preserved letter-perfect, the Gita was a popular work whose reciters would inevitably conform to changes in language and style", so the earliest "surviving" components of this dynamic text are believed to be no older than the earliest "external" references we have to the Mahabharata epic, which may include an allusion in Panini's fourth century BCE grammar. It is estimated that the text probably reached something of a "final form" by the early Gupta period (about the 4th century CE). The actual dates of composition of the Gita remain unresolved.
Bhagavad Gita in ancient sanskrit literature
There is no reference to the Bhagavad Gita in Buddhist literature, the Tripitaka. The Buddha refers to 3 Vedas rather than 4 Vedas.
Hindu synthesis and smriti
See also: Smarta Tradition
Due to its presence in the Mahabharata, the Bhagavad Gita is classified as a Smriti text or "that which is remembered".[note 2] The smriti texts of the period between 200 BCE and 100 CE belong to the emerging "Hindu Synthesis", proclaiming the authority of the Vedas while integrating various Indian traditions and religions. Acceptance of the Vedas became a central criterion for defining Hinduism over and against the heterodoxies, which rejected the Vedas.
The so-called "Hindu Synthesis" emerged during the early Classical period (200 BCE – 300 CE) of Hinduism. According to Alf Hiltebeitel, a period of consolidation in the development of Hinduism took place between the time of the late Vedic Upanishad (ca. 500 BCE) and the period of the rise of the Guptas (ca. 320–467 CE) which he calls the "Hindu Synthesis", "Brahmanic Synthesis", or "Orthodox Synthesis". It developed in interaction with other religions and peoples:
The emerging self-definitions of Hinduism were forged in the context of continuous interaction with heterodox religions (Buddhists, Jains, Ajivikas) throughout this whole period, and with foreign people (Yavanas, or Greeks; Sakas, or Scythians; Pahlavas, or Parthians; and Kusanas, or Kushans) from the third phase on [between the Mauryan empire and the rise of the Guptas].
The Bhagavad Gita is the sealing achievement of this Hindu Synthesis, incorporating various religious traditions.[web 1] According to Hiltebeitel, Bhakti forms an essential ingredient of this synthesis, which incorporates Bhakti into Vedanta. According to Deutsch and Dalvi, the Bhagavad Gita attempts "to forge a harmony" between different strands of Indian thought: jnana, dharma and bhakti. Deutsch and Dalvi note that the authors of the Bhagavad Gita "must have seen the appeal of the soteriologies both of the "heterodox" traditions of Buddhism and Jainism and of the more "orthodox" ones of Samkhya and Yoga", while the Brahmanic tradition emphasised "the significance of dharma as the instrument of goodness". Scheepers mentions the Bhagavat Gita as a Brahmanical text which uses the shramanic and Yogic terminology to spread the Brahmanic idea of living according to one's duty or dharma, in contrast to the yogic ideal of liberation from the workings of karma. According to Basham,
The Bhagavadgita combines many different elements from Samkhya and Vedanta philosophy. In matters of religion, its important contribution was the new emphasis placed on devotion, which has since remained a central path in Hinduism. In addition, the popular theism expressed elsewhere in the Mahabharata and the transcendentalism of the Upanishads converge, and a God of personal characteristics is identified with the brahman of the Vedic tradition. The Bhagavadgita thus gives a typology of the three dominant trends of Indian religion: dharma-based householder life, enlightenment-based renunciation, and devotion-based theism.[web 1]
Bhagavad Gita as a synthesis:
The Bhagavadgita may be treated as a great synthesis of the ideas of the impersonal spiritual monism with personalistic monotheism, of the yoga of action with the yoga of transcendence of action, and these again with yogas of devotion and knowledge.
The influence of the Bhagavad Gita was such, that its synthesis was adapted to and incorporated into specific Indian traditions. Nicholson mentions the Shiva Gita as an adaptation of the Vishnu-oriented Bhagavat Gita into Shiva-oriented terminology, and the Isvara Gita as borrowing entire verses from the Krishna-oriented Bhagavad Gita and placing them into a new Shiva-oriented context.
The Bhagavad Gita is part of the Prasthanatrayi, which also includes the Upanishads and Brahma sutras. These are the key texts for the Vedanta, which interprets these texts to give a unified meaning. Advaita Vedanta sees the non-dualism of Atman and Brahman as its essence, whereas Bhedabheda and Vishishtadvaita see Atman and Brahman as both different and non-different, and Dvaita sees them as different. In recent times the Advaita interpretation has gained worldwide popularity, due to the Neo-Vedanta of Vivekananda and Radhakrishnan, while the Achintya Bheda Abheda interpretation has gained worldwide popularity via the Hare Krishnas, a branch of Gaudiya Vaishnavism.
Although early Vedanta gives an interpretation of the sruti texts of the Upanishads, and its main commentary the Brahman Sutras, the popularity of the Bhagavad Gita was such that it could not be neglected. It is referred to in the Brahman Sutras, and Shankara, Bhaskara and Ramanuja all three wrote commentaries on it. The Bhagavad Gita is different from the Upanishads in format and content, and accessible to all, in contrast to the sruti, which are only to be read and heard by the higher castes.
Some branches of Hinduism give it the status of an Upanishad, and consider it to be a Śruti or "revealed text". According to Pandit, who gives a modern-orthodox interpretation of Hinduism, "since the Bhagavad Gita represents a summary of the Upanishadic teachings, it is sometimes called 'the Upanishad of the Upanishads'."
As an explanation of the Purushamedha
The Bhagavad Gita is a Bhagavata explanation of the Purusha Sukta and the PurushamedhaSrautayajna described in the Satapatha Brahmana. Chapters 7 and 8 of the Bhagavad Gita describe the relationship between teacher and disciple, where the teacher is viewed as the absolute person, Purusa Narayana. In Chapters 10 and 11 of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna begins to instruct Arjuna about the directions of space-time within himself reflecting what is written in the Satapatha Brahmana and Purusa Sukta. The vision of Krishna in his universal form shows the self-devouring nature of the absolute person, as described in the Satapatha Brahmana and Purusa Sukta. Chapters 12 describes the two paths one chooses after one completes the Purushamedha yajna i.e. become a renunciate or remain as a householder. Chapter 14 is the highest teaching within the Bhagavad Gita, the knowledge to achieve the same state as Purusa Narayana, which is the goal of the Purushamedha.
In the epic Mahabharata, after Sanjaya—counsellor of the Kuru king Dhritarashtra—returns from the battlefield to announce the death of Bhishma, he begins recounting the details of the Mahabharata war. Bhagavad Gita forms the content of this recollection. The Gita begins before the start of the climactic Kurukshetra War, where the Pandava prince Arjuna is filled with doubt on the battlefield. Realising that his enemies are his own relatives, beloved friends, and revered teachers, he turns to his charioteer and guide, God Incarnate Lord Shri Krishna, for advice. Responding to Arjuna's confusion and moral dilemma, Krishna explains to Arjuna his duties as a warrior and prince, elaborating on a variety of philosophical concepts.
- Arjuna, one of the Pandavas
- Lord Shri Krishna, Arjuna's charioteer and guru who was actually an incarnation of Lord Vishnu
- Sanjaya, counselor of the Kuru king Dhritarashtra
- Dhritarashtra, Kuru king.
Overview of chapters
Bhagavad Gita comprises 18 chapters (section 25 to 42)[web 2] in the Bhishma Parva of the epic Mahabharata and consists of 700 verses. Because of differences in recensions, the verses of the Gita may be numbered in the full text of the Mahabharata as chapters 6.25–42 or as chapters 6.23–40.[web 3] According to the recension of the Gita commented on by Adi Shankara, a prominent philosopher of the Vedanta school, the number of verses is 700, but there is evidence to show that old manuscripts had 745 verses. The verses themselves, composed with similes and metaphors, are poetic in nature. The verses mostly employ the range and style of the Sanskrit Anustubhmetre (chhandas), and in a few expressive verses the Tristubh metre is used.
The Sanskrit editions of the Gita name each chapter as a particular form of yoga. However, these chapter titles do not appear in the Sanskrit text of the Mahabharata.[web 3]Swami Chidbhavananda explains that each of the eighteen chapters is designated as a separate yoga because each chapter, like yoga, "trains the body and the mind". He labels the first chapter "Arjuna Vishada Yogam" or the "Yoga of Arjuna's Dejection". Sir Edwin Arnold translates this chapter as "The Distress of Arjuna"
- Gita Dhyanam: (contains 9 verses) The Gita Dhyanam is not a part of the main Bhagavad Gita, but it is commonly published with the Gītā as a prefix. The verses of the Gita Dhyanam (also called Gītā Dhyāna or Dhyāna Ślokas) offer salutations to a variety of sacred scriptures, figures, and entities, characterise the relationship of the Gītā to the Upanishads, and affirm the power of divine assistance. It is a common practice to recite these before reading the Gita.[web 4]
- Prathama adhyaya (The Distress of Arjuna contains 46 verses): Arjuna has requested Krishna to move his chariot between the two armies. His growing dejection is described as he fears losing friends and relatives as a consequence of war.[web 5]
- Sankhya yoga (The Book of Doctrines contains 72 verses): After asking Krishna for help, Arjuna is instructed into various subjects such as, Karma yoga, Gyaana yoga, Sankhya yoga, Buddhi yoga and the immortal nature of the soul. Sankhya here refers to one of six orthodox schools of the Hindu Philosophy. This chapter is often considered the summary of the entire Bhagavad Gita.[web 6]
- Karma yoga (Virtue in Work or Virtue Of Actions contains 43 verses): Krishna explains how Karma yoga, i.e. performance of prescribed duties, but without attachment to results, is the appropriate course of action for Arjuna.[web 7]
- Gyaana–Karma-Sanyasa yoga (The Religion of Knowledge contains 42 verses): Krishna reveals that he has lived through many births, always teaching yoga for the protection of the pious and the destruction of the impious and stresses the importance of accepting a guru.[web 8]
- Karma–Sanyasa yoga (Religion by Renouncing Fruits of Works contains 29 verses): Arjuna asks Krishna if it is better to forgo action or to act ("renunciation or discipline of action"). Krishna answers that both are ways to the same goal,[web 9] but that acting in Karma yoga is superior.
- Dhyan yoga or Atmasanyam yoga (Religion by Self-Restraint contains 47 verses): Krishna describes the Ashtanga yoga. He further elucidates the difficulties of the mind and the techniques by which mastery of the mind might be gained.[web 10]
- Gyaana–ViGyaana yoga (Religion by Discernment contains 30 verses): Krishna describes the absolute reality and its illusory energy Maya.[web 11]
- Aksara–Brahma yoga (Religion by Devotion to the One Supreme God contains 28 verses): This chapter contains eschatology of the Bhagavad Gita. Importance of the last thought before death, differences between material and spiritual worlds, and light and dark paths that a soul takes after death are described.[web 12]
- Raja–Vidya–Raja–Guhya yoga (Religion by the Kingly Knowledge and the Kingly Mystery contains 34 verses): Krishna explains how His eternal energy pervades, creates, preserves, and destroys the entire universe.[web 13] According to theologian Christopher Southgate, verses of this chapter of the Gita are panentheistic, while German physicist and philosopher Max Bernhard Weinstein deems the work pandeistic.
- Vibhuti–Vistara–yoga (Religion by the Heavenly Perfections contains 42 verses): Krishna is described as the ultimate cause of all material and spiritual existence. Arjuna accepts Krishna as the Supreme Being, quoting great sages who have also done so.[web 14]
- Visvarupa–Darsana yoga (The Manifesting of the One and Manifold contains 55 verses): On Arjuna's request, Krishna displays his "universal form" (Viśvarūpa),[web 15] a theophany of a being facing every way and emitting the radiance of a thousand suns, containing all other beings and material in existence.
- Bhakti yoga (The Religion of Faith contains 20 verses): In this chapter Krishna glorifies the path of devotion to God. Krishna describes the process of devotional service (Bhakti yoga). He also explains different forms of spiritual disciplines.[web 16]
- Ksetra–Ksetrajna Vibhaga yoga (Religion by Separation of Matter and Spirit contains 35 verses): The difference between transient perishable physical body and the immutable eternal soul is described. The difference between individual consciousness and universal consciousness is also made clear.[web 17]
- Gunatraya–Vibhaga yoga (Religion by Separation from the Qualities contains 27 verses): Krishna explains the three modes (gunas) of material nature pertaining to goodness, passion, and nescience. Their causes, characteristics, and influence on a living entity are also described.[web 18]
- Purusottama yoga (Religion by Attaining the Supreme contains 20 verses): Krishna identifies the transcendental characteristics of God such as, omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence.[web 19] Krishna also describes a symbolic tree (representing material existence), which has its roots in the heavens and its foliage on earth. Krishna explains that this tree should be felled with the "axe of detachment", after which one can go beyond to his supreme abode.
- Daivasura–Sampad–Vibhaga yoga (The Separateness of the Divine and Undivine contains 24 verses): Krishna identifies the human traits of the divine and the demonic natures. He counsels that to attain the supreme destination one must give up lust, anger, greed, and discern between right and wrong action by discernment through Buddhi and evidence from the scriptures.[web 20]
- Sraddhatraya-Vibhaga yoga (Religion by the Threefold Kinds of Faith contains 28 verses): Krishna qualifies the three divisions of faith, thoughts, deeds, and even eating habits corresponding to the three modes (gunas).[web 21]
- Moksha–Sanyasa yoga (Religion by Deliverance and Renunciation contains 78 verses): In this chapter, the conclusions of previous seventeen chapters are summed up. Krishna asks Arjuna to abandon all forms of dharma and simply surrender unto him and describes this as the ultimate perfection of life.[web 22]
Main article: Dharma
The term dharma has a number of meanings. Fundamentally, it means "what is right". Early in the text, responding to Arjuna's despondency, Krishna asks him to follow his swadharma,[note 3] "the dharma that belongs to a particular man (Arjuna) as a member of a particular varna, (i.e., the kshatriya)." Many traditional followers accept and believe that every man is unique in nature(svabhava) and hence svadharma for each and every individual is also unique and must be followed strictly with sole bhakthi and shraddha.
According to Vivekananda:
If one reads this one Shloka, one gets all the merits of reading the entire Gita; for in this one Shloka lies imbedded the whole Message of the Gita."
क्लैब्यं मा स्म गमः पार्थ नैतत्त्वय्युपपद्यते । क्षुद्रं हृदयदौर्बल्यं त्यक्त्वोत्तिष्ठ परंतप॥
klaibhyaṁ mā sma gamaḥ pārtha naitattvayyupapadyate, kṣudraṁ hṛdayadaurbalyaṁ tyaktvottiṣṭha paraṁtapa.
Do not yield to unmanliness, O son of Prithā. It does not become you. Shake off this base faint-heartedness and arise, O scorcher of enemies! (2.3)
Dharma and heroism
The Bhagavad Gita is set in the narrative frame of the Mahabharata, which values heroism, "energy, dedication and self-sacrifice", as the dharma, "holy duty" of the Kshatriya (Warrior). Axel Michaels in his book Hinduism: Past and Present writes that in the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna is "exhorted by his charioteer, Kṛiṣhṇa, among others, to stop hesitating and fulfil his Kṣatriya (warrior) duty as a warrior and kill."
According to Malinar, the dispute between the two parties in the Mahabharata centres on the question how to define "the law of heroism".[note 4] Malinar gives a description of the dharma of a Kshatriya (warrior) based on the Udyogaparvan, the fifth book of the Mahabharata:
This duty consists first of all in standing one's ground and fighting for status. The main duty of a warrior is never to submit to anybody. A warrior must resist any impulse to self-preservation that would make him avoid a fight. In brief, he ought to be a man (puruso bhava; cf. 5.157.6; 13;15). Some of the most vigorous formulations of what called the "heart" or the "essence" of heroism (ksatrahrdaya) come from the ladies of the family. They are shown most unforgiving with regard to the humiliations they have gone through, the loss of their status and honour, not to speak of the shame of having a weak man in the house, whether husband, son or brother.[note 5]
Michaels defines heroism as "power assimilated with interest in salvation". According to Michaels:
Even though the frame story of the Mahabharata is rather simple, the epic has an outstanding significance for Hindu heroism. The heroism of the Pandavas, the ideals of honor and courage in battle, are constant sources of treatises in which it is not sacrifice, renunciation of the world, or erudition that is valued, but energy, dedication and self-sacrifice. The Bhagavad Gita, inserted in the sixth book (Bhishmaparvan), and probably completed in the second century CE, is such a text, that is, a philosophical and theistic treatise, with which the Pandava is exhorted by his charioteer, Krishna, among others, to stop hesitating and fulfill his Kṣatriya (warrior) duty as a warrior and kill.
According to Malinar, "Arjuna's crisis and some of the arguments put forward to call him to action are connected to the debates on war and peace in the UdP [Udyoga Parva]". According to Malinar, the UdP emphasises that one must put up with fate and, the BhG personalises the surrender one's personal interests to the power of destiny by "propagating the view that accepting and enacting the fatal course of events is an act of devotion to this god [Krsna] and his cause."
Modern interpretations of dharma
Svadharma and svabhava
The eighteenth chapter of the Gita examines the relationship between svadharma and svabhava.[note 6] This chapter uses the gunas of Shankya philosophy to present a series of typologies, and uses the same term to characterise the specific activities of the four varnas, which are distinguished by the "gunas proceeding from their nature."
Aurobindo modernises the concept of dharma and svabhava by internalising it, away from the social order and its duties towards one's personal capacities, which leads to a radical individualism, "finding the fulfilment of the purpose of existence in the individual alone." He deduced from the Gita the doctrine that "the functions of a man ought to be determined by his natural turn, gift, and capacities", that the individual should "develop freely" and thereby would be best able to serve society.
Gandhi's view differed from Aurobindo's view. He recognised in the concept of swadharma his idea of swadeshi, the idea that "man owes his service above all to those who are nearest to him by birth and situation." To him, swadeshi was "swadharma applied to one's immediate environment."
The Field of Dharma
The first reference to dharma in the Bhagavad Gita occurs in its first verse, where Dhritarashtra refers to the Kurukshetra, the location of the battlefield, as the Field of Dharma, "The Field of Righteousness or Truth". According to Fowler, dharma in this verse may refer to the sanatana dharma, "what Hindus understand as their religion, for it is a term that encompasses wide aspects of religious and traditional thought and is more readily used for ""religion". Therefore, 'Field of action' implies the field of righteousness, where truth will eventually triumph.
"The Field of Dharma" is also called the "Field of action" by Sri Aurobindo, a freedom fighter and philosopher.Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, a philosopher and the second president of India, saw "The Field of Dharma" as the world (Bhavsagar), which is a "battleground for moral struggle".
Allegory of war
Unlike any other religious scripture, the Bhagavad Gita broadcasts its message in the centre of the battlefield. The choice of such an unholy ambience for the delivery of a philosophical discourse has been an enigma to many commentators.[web 25] Several modern Indian writers have interpreted the battlefield setting as an allegory of "the war within".
Eknath Easwaran writes that the Gita's subject is "the war within, the struggle for self-mastery that every human being must wage if he or she is to emerge from life victorious", and that "The language of battle is often found in the scriptures, for it conveys the strenuous, long, drawn-out campaign we must wage to free ourselves from the tyranny of the ego, the cause of all our suffering and sorrow."
Swami Nikhilananda, takes Arjuna as an allegory of Ātman, Krishna as an allegory of Brahman, Arjuna's chariot as the body, and Dhritarashtra as the ignorance filled mind.[note 7]
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, in his commentary on the Gita, interprets the battle as "an allegory in which the battlefield is the soul and Arjuna, man's higher impulses struggling against evil".
Swami Vivekananda also emphasised that the first discourse in the Gita related to the war could be taken allegorically. Vivekananda further remarked,
This Kurukshetra War is only an allegory. When we sum up its esoteric significance, it means the war which is constantly going on within man between the tendencies of good and evil.
In Aurobindo's view, Krishna was a historical figure, but his significance in the Gita is as a "symbol of the divine dealings with humanity", while Arjuna typifies a "struggling human soul". However, Aurobindo rejected the interpretation that the Gita, and the Mahabharata by extension, is "an allegory of the inner life, and has nothing to do with our outward human life and actions":
... That is a view which the general character and the actual language of the epic does not justify and, if pressed, would turn the straightforward philosophical language of the Gita into a constant, laborious and somewhat puerile mystification ... the Gita is written in plain terms and professes to solve the great ethical and spiritual difficulties which the life of man raises, and it will not do to go behind this plain language and thought and wrest them to the service of our fancy. But there is this much of truth in the view, that the setting of the doctrine though not symbolical, is certainly typical.
Swami Chinmayananda writes:
Here in the Bhagavad Gita, we find a practical handbook of instruction on how best we can re-organise our inner ways of thinking, feeling, and acting in our everyday life and draw from ourselves a larger gush of productivity to enrich the life around us, and to emblazon the subjective life within us.
Promotion of just war and duty
Other scholars such as Steven Rosen, Laurie L. Patton and Stephen Mitchell have seen in the Gita a religious defense of the warrior class's (KshatriyaVarna) duty (svadharma), which is to conduct combat and war with courage and do not see this as only an allegorical teaching, but also a real defense of just war.
Indian independence leaders like Lala Lajpat Rai and Bal Gangadhar Tilak saw the Gita as a text which defended war when necessary and used it to promote war against the British Empire. Lajpat Rai wrote an article on the "Message of the Bhagavad Gita". He saw the main message as the bravery and courage of Arjuna to fight as a warrior.Bal Gangadhar Tilak saw the Gita as defending killing when necessary for the betterment of society, such as, for example, the killing of Afzal Khan.
According to J. N. Farquhar:
"Even the Gita was used to teach murder. Lies, deceit, murder, everything, it was argued, may be rightly used. How far the leaders really believed this teaching no man can say; but the younger men got filled with it, and many were only too sincere."
Main article: Moksha
Liberation or moksha in Vedanta philosophy is not something that can be acquired or reached. Ātman (Soul), the goal of moksha, is something that is always present as the essence of the self, and can be revealed by deep intuitive knowledge. While the Upanishads largely uphold such a monistic viewpoint of liberation, the Bhagavad Gita also accommodates the dualistic and theistic aspects of moksha. The Gita, while occasionally hinting at impersonal Brahman as the goal, revolves around the relationship between the Self and a personal God or Saguna Brahman. A synthesis of knowledge, devotion, and desireless action is given as a prescription for Arjuna's despondence; the same combination is suggested as a way to moksha.Winthrop Sargeant further explains, "In the model presented by the Bhagavad Gītā, every aspect of life is in fact a way of salvation."
Yoga in the Bhagavad Gita refers to the skill of union with the ultimate reality or the Absolute. In his commentary, Zaehner says that the root meaning of yoga is "yoking" or "preparation"; he proposes the basic meaning "spiritual exercise", which conveys the various nuances in the best way.
Sivananda's commentary regards the eighteen chapters of the Bhagavad Gita as having a progressive order, by which Krishna leads "Arjuna up the ladder of Yoga from one rung to another." The influential commentator Madhusudana Sarasvati divided the Gita's eighteen chapters into three sections of six chapters each. Swami Gambhirananda characterises Madhusudana Sarasvati's system as a successive approach in which Karma yoga leads to Bhakti yoga, which in turn leads to Gyaana yoga:
- Chapters 1–6 = Karma yoga, the means to the final goal
- Chapters 7–12 = Bhakti yoga or devotion
- Chapters 13–18 = Gyaana yoga or knowledge, the goal itself
Main article: Karma yoga
As noted by various commentators, the Bhagavad Gita offers a practical approach to liberation in the form of Karma yoga. The path of Karma yoga upholds the necessity of action. However, this action is to be undertaken without any attachment to the work or desire for results. Bhagavad Gita terms this "inaction in action and action in inaction (4.18)". The concept of such detached action is also called Nishkam Karma, a term not used in the Gita. Lord Krishna, in the following verses, elaborates on the role actions, performed without desire and attachment, play in attaining freedom from material bondage and transmigration:
To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction
Fixed in yoga, do thy work, O Winner of wealth (Arjuna), abandoning attachment, with an even mind in success and failure, for evenness of mind is called yoga. (2.47–8)
The yogīs, abandoning attachment, act with body, mind, intelligence, and even with the senses, only for the purpose of purification. (5.11)[web 26]
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi writes, "The object of the Gita appears to me to be that of showing the most excellent way to attain self-realization", and this can be achieved by selfless action, "By desireless action; by renouncing fruits of action; by dedicating all activities to God, i.e., by surrendering oneself to Him body and soul." Gandhi called the Gita "The Gospel of Selfless Action". To achieve true liberation, it is important to control all mental desires and tendencies to enjoy sense pleasures. The following verses illustrate this:
When a man dwells in his mind on the object of sense, attachment to them is produced. From attachment springs desire and from desire comes anger.
From anger arises bewilderment, from bewilderment loss of memory; and from loss of memory, the destruction of intelligence and from the destruction of intelligence he perishes. (2.62–3)
Main article: Bhakti yoga
The introduction to chapter seven of the Bhagavad Gita explains bhakti as a mode of worship which consists of unceasing and loving remembrance of God. Faith (Śraddhā) and total surrender to a chosen God (Ishta-deva) are considered to be important aspects of bhakti. Theologian Catherine Cornille writes, "The text [of the Gita] offers a survey of the different possible disciplines for attaining liberation through knowledge (Gyaana), action (karma), and loving devotion to God (bhakti), focusing on the latter as both the easiest and the highest path to salvation." M. R. Sampatkumaran, a Bhagavad Gita scholar, explains in his overview of Ramanuja's commentary on the Gita, "The point is that mere knowledge of the scriptures cannot lead to final release. Devotion, meditation, and worship are essential."Ramakrishna believed that the essential message of the Gita could be obtained by repeating the word Gita several times,
The Bhagavad Gita is an ancient Indian text that became an important work of Hindu tradition in terms of both literature and philosophy. The earliest translations of this work from Sanskrit into English were made around 1795 CE by Sir Charles Wilkins. The name Bhagavad Gita means “the song of the Lord”. It is composed as a poem and it contains many key topics related to the Indian intellectual and spiritual tradition. Although it is normally edited as an independent text, the Bhagavad Gita became a section of a massive Indian epic named “The Mahabharata”, the longest Indian epic. There is a part in the middle of this long text, consisting of 18 brief chapters and about 700 verses: this is the section known as the Bhagavad Gita. It is also referred to as the Gita, for short.
Authorship & Origin
The Bhagavad Gita was written at some point between 400 BCE and 200 CE. Like theVedas and the Upanishads, the authorship of the Bhagavad Gita is unclear. However, the credit for this text is traditionally given to a man named Vyasa, who is more of a legend than an actual historical figure; because of this, Vyasa has been compared to Homer, the great figure of ancient Greek epic poetry.
It has been suggested that the Bhagavad Gita was originally an independent text as, except for the first chapter, the Bhagavad Gita does not develop the action of the Mahabharata. Furthermore, the Bhagavad Gita is at odds with the general style and content of the Mahabharata. Once the Gita is over, the narration of the Mahabharata resumes.
The Gita was written during a time of important social change in India, with kingdoms getting larger, increasing urbanization, more trade activity, and social conflict similar to what was happening when Jainism and Buddhism developed. This ancient Indian text is about the search for serenity, calmness, and permanence in a world of rapid change and how to integrate spiritual values into ordinary life.
Theme, Plot, & Setting
Around the time when the Gita was written, asceticism was seen in India as the ideal spiritual life. Ascetics from different sects along with Jains and Buddhists all agreed that leaving everything behind (family, possessions, occupations, etc.) was the best way to live in a meaningful way.
You were never born; you will never die. You have never changed; you can never change. Bhagavad Gita
The Bhagavad Gita revolves around the following questions: How can someone live a life spiritually meaningful without withdrawing from society? What can someone who does not want to give up family and social obligations do to live the right way? The Gita challenges the general consensus that only ascetics and monks can live a perfect spiritual life through renunciation and emphasises the value of an active spiritual life.
The plot of the Gita is based on two sets of cousins competing for the throne: The Pandavas and the Kauravas. Diplomacy has failed, so these two clans' armies meet on a battlefield in order to settle the conflict and decide which side will gain the throne. This is a major battle and it takes place in Kurukshetra, “the field of the Kurus”, in the modern state of Haryana in India.
Arjuna, the great archer and leader of the Pandavas, is a member of the Kshatriyas caste (the warrior rulers caste). He looks out towards his opponents and recognizes friends, relatives, former teachers, and finally reasons that controlling the kingdom is not worth the blood of all his loved ones. Emotionally overwhelmed, Arjuna drops down, casting aside his bow and arrows and decides to quit. He prefers to withdraw from battle; he prefers inaction instead of being responsible for the death of the people he loves.
His chariot driver is the god Vishnu, who has taken the form of Krishna. Krishna sees Arjuna quitting and begins to persuade Arjuna that he should stick to his duty as a warrior and engage the enemy. The Bhagavad Gita is presented as a conversation between Arjuna and Krishna, a man and a god, a seeker and a knower.
The Message of the Bhagavad Gita
Arjuna is worried about entering the battle and destroying his own family, so Krishna begins by explaining five reasons why Arjuna should not be troubled by this. Essentially Krishna shows Arjuna why he will not get bad karma from taking part in the war.
The first reason Krishna mentions is that because atman (the self) is eternal, it is a mistake to think that one can actually kill someone. What actually happens is that people are sent to the next stage of reincarnation.
[Krishna speaking] One believes he is the slayer, another believes he is the slain. Both are ignorant; there is neither slayer nor slain. You were never born; you will never die. You have never changed; you can never change. Unborn, eternal, immutable, immemorial, you do not die when the body dies. (Bhagavad Gita 2:19-20)
Another reason why Arjuna should fight is because of honour and duty, also referred to as dharma or cast duty. Arjuna is a member of the warrior class; the battle is the very reason of his existence. It is not sinful to fulfil your duty in life.
The third reason Krishna gives is that inaction is impossible. Withdrawing from battle is in itself a conscious decision; not choosing is still a choice. This is in a way a criticism of some world-views, such as asceticism, which claim that leaving everything behind is inaction: Withdrawing from society is always a deliberate act.
Another reason given by Krishna is that the source of evil is not in actions, but in passion and desires, the intentions behind the actions. This brings the dialogue to the last reason.
The fifth and last reason is that there are ways to act where we can do what we have to do without getting bad karma. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains three ways.
The first way is Jnana yoga (the way of knowledge). This idea is based on the Upanishads and holds that life and death are not real. Selfhood is nothing but an illusion. All we see are manifestations of the oneness. Once we realize that the oneness is behind all things, we can escape the bad karma from acting.
[Krishna speaking] I am ever present to those who have realized me in every creature. Seeing all life as my manifestation, they are never separated from me. (Bhagavad Gita 6:30)
The second way is Bhakti yoga (the way of devotion). This in an idea developed in great detail in Hinduism and holds that our actions can be dedicated to Krishna by surrendering our will to him, and he will take upon himself any bad karma.
The third way is Karma yoga (“the way of action” or “the way of works”). The idea behind Karma yoga is acting without attachment; in other words, to act without being so concerned about the outcome of our actions. According to this view, if we act in such a way as not to get attached to the fruits of our actions, we can be more effective. Sometimes emotions like fear, embarrassment, or anxiety can interfere in the outcome of what we do.
[Krishna speaking] Neither agitated by grief nor hankering after pleasure, they live free from lust and fear and anger. Established in meditation, they are truly wise. Fettered no more by selfish attachments, they are neither elated by good fortune nor depressed by bad. Such are the seers." (Bhagavad Gita 2:56-57)
[Krishna speaking] Thinking of objects, attachment to them is formed in a man. From attachment longing, and from longing anger grows. From anger comes delusion, and from delusion loss of memory. From loss of memory comes the ruin of understanding, and from the ruin of understanding he perishes. (Bhagavad Gita 2:62-63)
Each of these three ways to act without getting bad karma is suitable for different people or castes. Priests would follow the way of knowledge; peasants, merchants and commoners might be inclined to the way of devotion; warriors would identify themselves with the way of action. Finally, Arjuna decides to obey Krishna by engaging in the battle and in the end the Pandavas regain control of the kingdom.
The Influence of the Bhagavad Gita
No other Indian text has attracted more attention from foreigners than the Bhagavad Gita. Important figures such as Mahatma Gandhi held the Gita as their main reference book.
The physicist Robert Oppenheimer watched the massive explosion and blinding flash of the mushroom cloud of the first atomic bomb test in New Mexico. Oppenheimer then claimed that when he saw that, two verses from the Gita came to his mind:
If a thousand suns were to raise in the heavens at the same time, the blaze of their light would resemble the splendor of that supreme spirit. (Bhagavad Gita 11:12)
I am time, the destroyer of all; I have come to consume the world [...]. (Bhagavad Gita 11:32)
This ancient book which contains a message that could be considered either distressing or inspiring still addresses some of the concerns we have today, and its message has spread all over Asia and across the globe.