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
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
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
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
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
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 HIGHEST SERVICE TO GOD,
AND THE BEST CHARITY
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
GRACE OF THE GITA
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
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.