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Hindu Scriptures

An Introduction to The Bhagavad Gita

In the ancient India, about 3200 B. C., the conflict between righteous Pandavas and non-righteous Kauravas reached the point of no compromise. The injustice done to the five Pandavas and their lone wife Draupadi by the Kaurava king Duryodhana crossed all limits of toleration. Lord Krishna who was always on the side of Dharma - righteousness - pleaded with the King Dhritarashtra and his son Duryodhana to avoid the war at any cost. The statesman Krishna advocated peace by encouraging the Kauravas to grant the Pandavas their legitimate right over half of the kingdom of Hastinapur.

But, no. The war of Mahabharata (or Kurukshetra) was destined to follow.

In this Dharma-Yuddha - war for righteousness - there occurs an episode where Arjuna, the great and brave warrior, finds himself suddenly overwhelmed with the feeling of mental depression, grief, and fear, when he realizes that he has to fight with his close relatives - brothers, uncles, and Teachers- present as his enemies. Arjuna is greatly disturbed about the outcome of the war; destruction and death that was sure to follow. He thought it 'prudent' to retire to forest rather than killing his own near and dear ones.

It is such a dramatic setting that we get as a start to Bhagavad-Gita. The brave warrior Arjuna with Lord Krishna as his charioteer, is standing between the two arrayed armies ready to start the battle, and Arjuna lays down his arms to retire at the back of his chariot. Trembling with nervousness and anxiety, unable to lift his mighty bow -Gandiva - he pleads to escape from the consequences of the war. His emotions of love for the near ones, his concepts of duty and Dharma, all appear to be confusing to himself. He is unable to determine the correct approach in this piquant situation of grave urgency and emergency.

Therefore he turns to Sri Krishna, his friend, his teacher, and his all: "How can I kill them? Will it not be proper to give up this whole kingdom, smacking of blood of my own relatives, and retire to forest in peace? O Krishna, I am unable to decide my further plan of action. I surrender myself at your holy feet. O Lord, please guide me through this difficult uncertainty as I am your disciple and you are my Teacher."

Thus, when Arjuna surrenders himself at the feet of the Lord, Sri Krishna says, "O Brave one, why this infatuation at this hour! Why have you given yourself to this unmanliness and cowardice? Do not think that by your 'high talk of renunciation and retiring to forest' people would adore you and call you brave and intelligent. On the contrary, for centuries to come the blame would be put on you of running away from the battle field. Generation after generation, people would laugh at you and make fun of your unmanly flight."

Srimad Bhagavad-Gita, Chapter II, verse 2 and 3:

"In such a crisis, whence comes upon thee, O Arjuna, this dejection, un-Arya-like, disgraceful, and contrary to the attainment of heaven?"

"Yield not to unmanliness, O son of Kunti! Ill doth it become thee. Cast off this mean faint-heartedness and arise, O scorcher or thine enemies."

On listening to this rebuke, Arjuna steadies himself, and further dialogue between Lord Krishna and Arjuna follows in subsequent chapters. Thus the Gita consists of eighteen - 18 - chapters and a total of 700 verses contained in them. [Actually Gita consists of the dialogue between our lower self and the Higher Self.]

Arjuna puts many question about the goal in life, aim of human birth, about the nature of DUTY and WORK, about the Self - Atman - and about the four Yogas viz. Jnana-Yoga, Raja-Yoga, Karma-Yoga, and Bhakti-Yoga.

Chapters II through IX deal with Karma-Yoga - Yoga of selfless action - vis-a-vis Jnana-Yoga. Sri Krishna exhorts Arjuna to fight the war without thinking of the consequences. "Your duty is, and you have right only, to fight; you do not have control over the outcome," says the Lord. The duty of a person as a Karma Yogin is to do the allotted work as worship without expecting any definite fruits thereof. Selfless work done with full heart and perfection is the best way for the worldly person to realize his inner Self.

Those persons should embrace the life of renunciation (monasticism) in whom impressions of the past lives have created such attraction. But other persons who have no such tendency, persons in whom the past impressions of sense enjoyment persist, suchn aspirants - sadhakas - are not yet fit to take to life of sanyasins. Such persons actually, after some progress on the path of spirituality, may get entangled in a tamasic inactivity - lazy life of hypocrisy. Such people do more harm than good to the cause of spirituality, religion, and social progress.

For such people, which are in majority at a given point of time, Sri Krishna advocates Nishkam Karma Yoga - Yoga of selfless action - as the ideal path to realize the Truth. Alloted work done without motives, the work done without expecting or thinking about its result, purifies the mind that makes the person gradually fit to see the value of reason and benefit of renouncing the work itsef!. Unless all mental desires and tendencies to enjoy sense pleasures are controlled and rooted out, a person does not become fit for final stage of Liberation. Yoga makes the person fit through action, devotion, contemplation, meditation , and discrimination to sharpen his reason, develop intuitive power of acquiring knowledge, and to transcend the mind itself!

In chapter IV, verse 7 and 8, Sri Krishna says:

"O Arjuna, whenever there is decline of righteousness, and unrighteousness is in the ascendant, then I Myself forth";

"For the protection of the virtuous, for the destruction of evil-doers, and for establishing Dharma (righteousness) on a firm footing, I am born from age to age."

This concept of Divine Incarnation - Avatar - is at the very root of religiosity prevalent all around in India. This hope that the Lord will come to the help and rescue of his devotees, and corrupt and greedy would be punished; that the Truth alone would prevail in the end and not the untruth, has had kept the flame of spirituality burning through the dark ages of foreign aggression and servitude. One should understand that Dharma here means to attempt to seek our own higher self; from animal tendencies to divine tendencies through human growth, this is the journey. Materialism, excessive involvement in sense enjoyment, and identification of ourselves as body-mind complex means 'unrighteousness is in the ascendant'. This excess involvement in senses means evil, greed, and corruption. Sri Krishna shows us the path as how to rise above these senses and transcend them to realize our higher state of consciousness - Atman.

Gradually the discussion centres around the real nature of man and paths to seek the same. Says Sri Krishna, "O Arjuna, you are not this body, you are not this mind; you are ever pure, unchanging eternal Self, Atman. This Atman is covered with delusion/illusion of ignorance and comes to identify itself as body-mind complex. Therefore, when you say 'you will kill them, or get killed by them, you are actually telling a lie. The Atman is never killed, nor does it kill anybody."

"This is like worn out clothes which the Atman changes as we change our old garments!"

Then the Lord goes on elaborating the ways to realize self as Self by undertaking various spiritual disciplines. By proper control of senses, by way of renunciation and discrimination, and by constant practice it is possible to steady and control the mind and realize the higher reality. The same end can be reached by yoga of action and yoga of devotion.

In chapter XI there is a wonderful description of Lord Krishna revealing Himself to Arjuna as "Virat" - all pervading Reality. This Universal Form or Sri Krishna is composed of all three aspects of shristi - creation, sthiti - maitenance, and vinash - destruction of all the worlds. The terrifying aspect of this Self makes Arjuna shudder with fear, and hence the Lord also reveals His most beautiful form that is full of bliss, beatitude, and serenity.

Thus the Gita is a summary of all knowledge contained in the Vedas and Upanishads. The Gita is translated in many languages including the English. Many learned scholars and spiritually illumined souls have written commentaries on this Universal Gospel of Perennial Philosophy. Depending upon the priority and emphasis, some advocate Jnana-Yoga as the essence of Gita, while majority of the people thinks that the Gita expounds doctrine of Karma Yoga at its best. In recent times Swami Vivekananda has commented that the Gita exhorts everyone of us to arise, awake, fight our unmanliness so that we emerge as active and strong Karma Yogins. We become true spiritual seekers to realize our true nature as Atman and thereby do immense good to the world.

In the last chapter XVIII, Sri Krishna asks Arjuna, "Are your doubts cleared? O Arjuna are you freed from the delusory ideas regarding your true nature?"

And the grateful Arjuna, full of bliss with recent realization of the true knowledge declares, "Yes, my lord. My ignorance has vanished. Destroyed is my delusion, and I have gained my memory through Thy Grace. O steadfast, I am firm; my doubts are gone. I will do thy word."


Grace Of The Gita

One must read the grace of Gita before or after reading the Gita. It is said in Hindu scriptures "There is no human mind and intellect that cannot be purified by a repeated study of the Gita."


The one who shall propagate this supreme secret philosophy (or the transcendental knowledge of the Gita) amongst My devotees, shall be performing the highest devotional service to Me, and shall certainly come to Me. No other person shall do a more pleasing service to Me, and no one on the earth shall be more dear to Me. (18.68-69)

Ignorance is the mother of all sins. All negative qualities such as lust, anger, and greed are nothing but a manifestation of ignorance only. The giving of the gift of knowledge is the best charity. It is equivalent to giving the whole world in charity (MB 12.209.113). The best welfare is to help others discover their real nature that is the source of everlasting happiness rather than provide material goods and comforts for temporary happiness. The Bible says: Whoever obeys the law, and teaches others to do the same, will be great in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5.19). Happiness is not attained through wealth and sense gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy cause (Helen Keller).


Those who shall study this sacred dialogue of ours shall worship me with Knowledge-sacrifice. This is My promise. (18.70)

God and His words are one and the same. The study of Gita is equivalent to worship of God. Life in modern society is all work and no spirituality. Swami Harihar says: "Daily study of only a few verses of the Gita will recharge mental batteries and add meaning to the dull routine life of modern society." For serious students, daily study of one chapter of the Gita, or several verses from the forty selected verses given in the end of this book is highly recommended.

Whoever hears this sacred dialogue with faith and without cavil becomes free from sin, and attains heaven ¾ the higher worlds of those whose actions are pure and virtuous. (18.71)

A summary of the "Glory of the Gita" as elaborated in the scriptures is given below. Reading this glory of the Gita generates faith and devotion in the heart that is essential for reaping the benefits of the study of the Gita.

The goal of human birth is to master the mind and senses and reach one’s destiny. A regular study of the Gita is sure to help achieve this noble goal. One who is regular in the study of the Gita becomes happy, peaceful, prosperous, and free from the bondage of Karma though engaged in the performance of worldly duties. The one who studies even few verses of the Gita every day is not tainted by sin just as water does not stain a lotus leaf. The Gita is the best abode of Lord Krishna. The spiritual potency of the Lord abides in every verse of the Gita. The Bhagavad-Gita is the storehouse of spiritual knowledge. The Lord Himself spoke this supreme science of the Absolute containing the essence of all the scriptures for the benefit of humanity. All the Upanishads are the cows; Arjuna is the calf; Krishna is the milker; the nectar of the Gita is the milk; and the persons of purified intellects are the drinkers. One need not study any other scripture if he or she seriously studies the Gita, contemplates on the meaning of the verses, and practices its teachings in one’s daily life.

The affairs of the world run by the first commandment of the creator — the teachings of selfless service — so beautifully expounded in the Gita. The sacred knowledge of doing one’s duty without looking for a reward is the original teaching that alone can lead to salvation. The Gita is like a ship by which one can easily cross the ocean of transmigration, and attain liberation. It is said that wherever the Gita is chanted or read with love and devotion, Lord makes Himself present there to listen and enjoy the company of His devotees. Going to a place where Gita is regularly chanted or taught is like going to a holy place of pilgrimage. Lord Himself comes to take the devotee to His Supreme Abode when one leaves the physical body contemplating on the knowledge of the Gita. The one who regularly reads, recites to others, hears and follows the sacred knowledge contained in the Gita is sure to attain liberation from the bondage of Karma and attain Nirvana.

Though engaged in the performance of worldly duties, one who is regular in the study of the Gita becomes happy, and free from Karmic bondage. Sins do not taint who is regular in the study of the Gita. All the sacred centers of pilgrimage, gods, sages, and great souls dwell in the place where the Gita is kept, and read. Help during troubles comes quickly where Gita is recited, and Lord dwells where it is read, heard, taught, and contemplated upon. By repeated reading of the Gita, one attains bliss and liberation. The one who contemplates on the teachings of the Gita at the time of death becomes free from sin and attains salvation. Lord Krishna Himself comes to take the person to His Supreme Abode.

The grace of Gita cannot be described. Its teachings are simple as well as abstruse and profound. New and deeper meanings are revealed to a serious student of the Gita, and the teachings remain ever inspirational. The interest in a serious study of the Gita is not available to all but to those with good Karma only. One should be very earnest in the study of the Gita.

Gita is the heart, the soul, the breath, and the voice form of the Lord. No austerity, penance, sacrifice, charity, pilgrimage, vow, fasting, and continence equals the study of Gita. It is difficult for any ordinary person like us, or even for the great sages and scholars, to understand the deep and secret meaning of the Gita. To understand Gita completely is like a fish trying to fathom the extent of the ocean, or a bird trying to measure the sky. Gita is the deep ocean of the knowledge of the Absolute; only the Lord has a complete understanding of it. Nobody, other than Lord Krishna should claim authority on the Gita.

O Arjuna, did you listen to this with single-minded attention? Has your delusion born of ignorance been completely destroyed? (18.72)

Arjuna said: By Your grace my delusion is destroyed, I have gained Self-knowledge, my confusion with regard to body and Spirit is dispelled and I shall obey Your command. (18.73)

When one realizes Him by His grace, the knots of ignorance are loosened, all doubts and confusion are dispelled, and all Karma is exhausted (MuU 2.02.08). The true knowledge of the Supreme Being comes only by His grace.