by Swami Nishchalananda
(Note: this article is also given in Swamiji’s book ‘The Edge of Infinity’ (chapter 7), published by Mandala Yoga Ashram).
The Bhagavad Gita (lit., the ‘Song of the Divine’) is a superb classical Sanskrit text on the practical and mystical teachings of Yoga. It is a scripture on Brahma Vidya (the ‘Science of Consciousness’), showing us how Yoga can be lived moment to moment in daily life and how our actions can be a way to transcendence.
For me, it is the best original text on Karma Yoga, but which also gives an excellent presentation of most of the other paths of Yoga.
Said to have been written by the sage Vyasa, the Bhagavad Gita comprises eighteen chapters with a total of seven hundred verses.1 These verses are contained within the great epic, the Mahabharata (the ‘Great India’),2 which, with over 100,000 verses, is the longest scriptural text in the world. The Bhagavad Gita is widely called just ‘The Gita’ (‘The Song’).
The Gita consists of the teachings given by Krishna (an incarnation of the Creator) to Arjuna (representing everyman) and gives a clear explanation of most of the main paths of Yoga, notably Karma, Gyana, Bhakti, Mantra, Dhyana and Buddhi Yoga.
Its aim is to guide us so that we can establish harmony and balance in every sphere of our life and thereby live fully, joyfully and wisely. The following is a brief explanation of background of the Gita – a mixture of the history and myth.3 We have given the Sanskrit names of some of the main characters, together with their roles, to give you an idea of what they signify symbolically.
INFLUENCE ON WESTERN THINKING
The Bhagavad Gita has influenced western philosophical thinking and poetry far more than is commonly known and accepted. The first English translation was made in 1785 by Sir Charles Wilkins. It seems that this was avidly read by the English artist, poet and mystic William Blake (who even did a drawing of Wilkins in the process of translating the Bhagavad Gita). Various experts on Blake say that the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita are clearly reflected in his works.4
The so-called English Romantic poets – including Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley and Keats – were also enormously influenced by the first translation of the Gita. Trying to get back to spiritual roots, these poets found inspiration in the Gita,5 as did other Romantics, such as Rousseau, the Schlegels, Schiller, Novalis and Walt Whitman.
The German Idealists, including Emmanuel Kant, Johann Fichte, Friedrich Schelling and Georg Hegel, also seem to have been influenced by the Bhagavad Gita, as were the American Transcendentalists, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and David Henry Thoreau. In fact, Thoreau said:
In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous…philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita, in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial.
Similarly, W. B. Yeats of Ireland and many philosophers and poets in other western countries, all of whom have greatly influenced Western thinking in the last few hundred years, were inspired by the Bhagavad Gita.
Therefore, though the story of the Gita is set in ancient India, its teachings have brought solace and inspiration to thinkers and seekers world-wide. It is not without reason that there are said to be at least 20,000 different translations in more than 75 different languages of the world.6
Going further back into the roots of western culture, it seems that the ancient Greeks were enormously influenced by Indian thinking, and possibly by the Gita.7
Therefore, rather than something alien for western people, the reading of the Gita may be a return to unacknowledged or long forgotten roots.
Well before the start of the Christian era, a powerful kingdom flourished in North India. Dhritarashtra (‘He whose Empire is Firm’) was the eldest son in the royal family. Normally he would have become king, but since he was born blind and by law a blind person was not allowed to become king, his younger brother Pandu assumed the throne in his place.
King Pandu had two wives – Kunti and Madri. According to myth, Pandu had been cursed by a rishi (sage) so that he couldn’t have offspring. However, Kunti, his first wife, had a boon from another rishi that she could call on any god to come and impregnate her. She had three sons by gods:8 the eldest, Yudhishthira (‘Steady in War’) whose father was Dharma, the god of correct thinking and action, was flawless in nature; the second son Bhima (‘the Terrible’), whose father was Vayu, the wind god, was daring and had tremendous strength; and the third, Arjuna (‘Clear; Bright’) whose father was Indra, the god of the mind, was renowned for chivalry.
Arjuna is the main hero of the Gita. Being the son of the god of the mind, he is, like all humans, assailed by doubt.
To prevent jealousy, Kunti transferred the same boon to Madri, the second wife, who gave birth to Nakula and Sahadeva, twins born of the Ashwins.9
Collectively, all the sons were known as the five Pandava brothers, even though King Pandu was not their blood father.
To thicken the plot, the blind Dhritarashtra had one hundred sons by his consort Gandhari. These were known as the Kaurava brothers (‘Sons of the Kuru Tribe’). In sharp contrast to the five Pandavas, the Kauravas, led by the eldest son Duryodhana (‘Foul in Battle’), were malicious and cruel, scheming and ever ready to stoop to crooked means.
Whilst he was king, Pandu accidentally killed a priest. He retired to the forest to atone, leaving the elder statesman Bhishma (‘He Who is Formidable’), uncle of Pandu and Dhritarashtra, to act as the regent of the kingdom. He was affectionately known as the ‘Grandsire’ by both sets of brothers and he supervised the education of all the children, both the Pandavas and the Kauravas. All were brought up together, had the same teachers and were treated equally.
Yudhishthira, the eldest of the Pandavas, was considered the rightful heir to the kingdom. As such, from childhood, Duryodhana knew that Yudhishthira was the obstacle to the throne. He cunningly plotted the downfall of Yudhishthira and the other Pandava brothers by playing on Yudhishtira’s one weakness – gambling. He got him to play dice by which he lost the kingdom. The Pandavas were banished for thirteen years – twelve years to the forests plus one extra year to allow re-integration into society. It was agreed that Duryodhana would take care of the kingdom in their absence.
During their time in the forest, the Pandavas had the opportunity to practise Yoga and meet many sages. After the allotted thirteen years the brothers returned to re-claim their kingdom, but Duryodhana refused to give it back. Even their teachers, including Bhishma, insisted that Yudhishthira be accorded his rights but Duryodhana refused. War was inevitable. Both parties sought the help of Krishna. Since Krishna didn’t want to take sides, he agreed that each side could take either him or his army. Duryodhana (believing more in quantity than quality!) chose to take Krishna’s army to help the Kaurava cause whilst Yudhishthira and the Pandavas opted for the unarmed Krishna.
Krishna becomes Arjuna’s charioteer, and before the battle they drive to the centre stage between the two opposing armies. Here Krishna explains the fundamental teachings of Yoga to Arjuna.
The blind Dhritarashtra is not personally on the battlefield, but in the nearby city of Hastinapura. However, the discussion between Krishna and Arjuna is related to him by his adviser Sanjaya who has the gift of clairvoyance and clairaudience. His narration of their dialogue is the Gita.
The battle lasts eighteen days; each of the eighteen chapters corresponds to one day on the battlefield. Put very simply, this sets the scene of the battle of Kurukshetra.
Kurukshetra (‘theField of the Kurus’) is the name of the battlefield. It refers to the Kuru tribe, from whom the Kauravas were descended. The location still exists as an identifiable place just north of Delhi on the railway line. The battle seems to have actually taken place at the very dawn of recorded Indian history10 and is the Indian equivalent of Armageddon.
Krishna is driving the chariot in which Arjuna is sitting. The chariot symbolises the physical body and individual mind. The five horses11 represent the five senses. The two reins indicate viveka (discriminative awareness) which allows us find balance or centredness between the opposing pulls and demands of life.
The Kauravas and Pandavas are cousins. Their common ancestry symbolises that both good and evil, ignorance and wisdom, ultimately come from the same Source. There are a hundred Kauravas (negative tendencies), but only five Pandavas (positive tendencies). This war or conflict is being waged constantly within all of us.
Dhritarashtra, the blind king, represents the unenlightened ego, who is at the mercy of the forces of ignorance (the Kaurava sons). He represents each of us (as does Arjuna – see later paragraph).
His adviser, Sanjaya (‘He Who Gives Victory’), the clairvoyant seer of the battle, represents conscience, or Awareness (see later under side heading ‘Buddhi Yoga’). Awareness is the link between the ego and our Essential Being (known in Yoga as Atma). By listening to Sanjaya (i.e. awakening Awareness) and listening to the teachings of Yoga (elucidated here by Krishna) and putting them into practice, we can gain ‘victory’ and get in touch with our Essential Nature.
Arjuna: the spiritual seeker
He is the struggling soul who has not yet received the saving Truth. He is also known as Partha (‘Son of Pritha’ or ‘son of the earth‘); like us, his body has been created out of the soil of the earth. He represents each one of us. He doesn’t want to fight because he will be obliged to kill his relations and friends in the opposing camp. He is in anguish – ‘to fight or not to fight’ (which reminds us of the same dilemma which Shakespeare so powerfully expressed with Hamlet’s words: “To be or not to be”.) He is bewildered and doesn’t know the right course of action. He is overwhelmed by doubt, denial, anguish and despair. He appeals to his guru, Krishna, to give him guidance. If we seek earnestly then, like Arjuna, we will also find guidance (symbolised by Krishna).
Though generally far less dramatic than those faced by Arjuna on the battlefield, each of us faces dilemmas in life. These conflicts often create complete confusion in our minds and in our lives. Arjuna pleads to Krishna ‘What should I do? The teachings of Yoga, expounded by Krishna in the Gita, show us the way out of confusion, giving us the clarity and the confidence to act correctly. We have to make decisions, sometimes difficult ones. We have to act in life and Krishna teaches Arjuna, and the rest of us, how.
The Gita shows us that life’s contradictions and dilemmas can only be resolved with a higher Awareness – that is, when the Buddhi is awakened (see later). Only then can we live harmoniously even among all the conflicts of life.
The Yogic or spiritual path often starts with frustration, angst or even hopelessness and despondency. Only then do we start to seriously question our life, the direction in which it is taking us and our place in the scheme of existence. This is why the first chapter of the Gita is called ‘The Yoga of Arjuna’s Despair or Despondency.’ Though often glossed over, Chapter One indicates the springboard from where we all begin the process of transformation which is Yoga.
In daily life we have to constantly decide what is right and what is wrong; what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. The Gita teaches us how to choose. The battle between the Kauravas and the Pandavas is not a sanction for war but symbolises the path of ignorance versus the path of wisdom – the battle which each of us has to wage, both outer and inner, between negative and positive thinking and actions. For those who are on the spiritual path, the battle indicates the process of Yoga whereby we can transform tendencies of ignorance into those which lead us towards realisation of the Spirit.
After many tribulations, the Pandavas win the battle: wisdom and compassion triumph over ignorance and self-centredness. At first, selfish actions may seem to dominate: selfishness and self-centredness seem to be the only way to live our lives if we are to be successful and fulfilled. But at the end of the day, selflessness wins: we realise that selfishness leads us to ignorance and unhappiness whilst selflessness leads us to transcendental vision, wisdom and joy.
Krishna: the symbol of Supreme Intelligence
Krishna (lit., ‘He who Attracts’), as the guru, the spiritual teacher, manifests himself to Arjuna, the seeker of Truth. He has many names: among others, he is known as Yogeshwara (the Lord of Yoga), Madhava (the Sweet One – the One Who Awakens Bliss), Govinda (lit., ‘Herdsman,’ also ‘Lord of the Senses’, but more exactly ‘the Giver of Liberation’) and Partha Sarathy (‘the Charioteer of Partha’, or Arjuna). Depending on our personality or destiny, the guru manifests in a fleshy human form or as the inner Guru (the Inner Voice). Whatever – the guru, or teacher, slowly guides us so that we attain the knowledge and wisdom which he himself, or she herself, has attained. The teacher gives instructions which with time and practice allow us to find meaning in life, and clarity in thought and in action.
The life story of Krishna is given in the classical text entitled Shrimad Bhagavatam. His historical authenticity is less important than what he represents and teaches. Krishna says himself that he is not saying anything new but repeating age-old wisdom. He symbolises the Essential Nature of each of us and indicates that each of us can become an instrument of Higher Intelligence. Throughout his life, Krishna exemplified conscious action – Awareness expressed moment to moment.
Like Christ for Christians, the birth of Krishna indicates the possibility of redemption. He was born of Devaki (a shortened form of daivi prakritti, ‘intelligent nature’); that is, he was born from the Womb of underlying Intelligence, just as we all are. We are all embodiments of Atma, Consciousness, or underlying Spirit.
We can be born twice: the first birth being from the womb of our mother; the second birth can take place if we refine our perception and understanding so that we are re-born into realisation of the ineffable Consciousness. This is what Krishna teaches us.
Arjuna tries, as we all do, to use the intellect to find answers. But understanding that comes from the individual mind is limited; it takes us around and around in circles bringing more confusion. Eventually, we have to delve into the intuitive levels (indicated by Krishna) to find answers.
The Importance of Satsang
In sympathy with her blind husband, Dhritarashtra’s wife Gandhari also blindfolds herself. This puts her in the same boat as her husband and indicates that ignorance, or a blind faith, leads us to inappropriate and even destructive actions. Moreover, as it says in the Bible:12
And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.
Therefore, in spiritual matters, seeking guidance from people who are as ignorant as we are tends to take us around and around in circles. Therefore, we need to attend satsanga (association with the wise). The dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna is satsanga; the same process can take place in a Yoga class or in any situation where people meet together to discuss Yoga, share their experiences, or collectively practise meditation.
We are Instruments – the First and Last Words of the Gita
The first word of the Gita is dharma (approximately translated as ‘right thinking and right action’) and the last is mama (my). Therefore, one way to look at the essential teaching of the Gita can be summarised by ‘My Dharma’ – that is, instead of being obsessed by the idea that you are completely free to act, be aware of the fact that you are an instrument of Divine Will and have a prescribed role in the world. As Krishna said to Arjuna:13
I have already slain these warriors; you will be but the instrument.
If we understand and accept this, we are able to realise the Transcendental Sphere of existence. This is the essence of Krishna’s teachings and the teachings of Yoga.
The Two Polarities of Existence
The teachings of the Gita are mainly based on Samkhya philosophy14 which says that existence is brought about by the two fundamental principles known as Prakritti and Purusha.
Prakritti is the manifest universe: matter, energy and mind, including everything that exists in the infinite universe, all of which are considered as objects including humans. On a human level, it is the physical body, etheric body and mind. It is the realm in which we live – the realm of time and space; that which comes after the Big Bang.
Purusha, on the other hand, is Eternal Subject, the Underlying Reality, Spirit, Consciousness. As an analogy, Purusha is the blank paper and Prakritti is the writing on the paper. These two principles permeate every particle of existence.
The Gita continually, even persistently, refers to this relationship of Purusha/Prakritti. The Purusha is transcendental, eternally free, ever sentient and ever serene, whilst Prakritti is in constant motion and ever changing, under the play of the three Gunas – Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas.
To further illustrate the difference between Purusha and Prakritti, in Chapter Thirteen Krishna speaks of the difference between the Kshetra (Field) and the Kshetra-gya (‘Knower of the Field’). Here Kshetra is Prakritti, the Field of Manifestation, Phenomena or Energy15, and Kshetragya is Purusha, the underlying Intelligence. In verse 13.34, the faculty of knowing the difference is called viveka (intuitive discrimination) and can be awakened through meditation. Then dry philosophy becomes mystical vision and mere intellect becomes direct insight and perception.
The Gita emphasises Purna Yoga (Integral Yoga) whichincorporates the following major paths of Yoga:
In the Gita, it is often referred to as Samkhya Yoga and is intended to bring the insight that we are not independent individual entities but part of an inter-connected and inter-dependent Totality. Each human, and each living being, is but one cog in a large wheel. Krishna says:
Arjuna, the underlying Intelligence dwells in the hearts of all beings, the wheel of Maya [Creative Illusion] causing them to move as if mounted upon a machine.16
The phenomenal world is ultimately an illusion,17 the manifestation of an Underlying Reality (or, to use scientific terminology, the Quantum Vacuum). In verses 13.14-17, Krishna says:
Without senses, it shines through the senses. Completely transcendental, it supports all things. Beyond nature, it enjoys the play of life. It is both near and far, both within and without every creature. It moves and yet it is unmoving. Because of Its subtlety, it is unknowable [by the mind]. It is indivisible yet appears to be divided in different creatures. Dwelling in every heart, it is the Light of lights. Its realisation is the goal of Gyana Yoga and spiritual life.
The aim of Gyana Yoga is to intuit this Reality which underlies all creatures and all phenomena. The followers of Gyana Yoga see that even where there are myriad objects, all are of One Intelligence. This realisation engenders bhakti (devotion).
Bhakti Yoga is concerned with diminishing the ego by surrender to a Higher Intelligence. In fact, a large part of the Gita is concerned specifically with Bhakti Yoga; Chapter 12 itself is entitled ‘Bhakti Yoga.’ In Chapter 918 Krishna says:
Fix your mind [i.e. reflect] on Me; be devoted to Me; worship Me; revere Me; be disciplined; have Me as your goal; you will come to Me.
The ‘Me’ refers to underlying Intelligence – call It by whatever name you wish. This is your choice and depends on your personality and cultural/religious background. They all lead to the same realisation. The specific form is unimportant – it is the clarity, inspiration and energy generated by such devotion that is important. Bhakti opens the doors of perception. In the Gita, Krishna makes it very clear that when he uses the word ‘Me’ it can refer to anything which symbolises Reality; not just himself.
Bhakti Yoga requires us to practise meditation, to try to be even-minded in all conditions (Sanskrit, samata), to be contented (santosha) even when things are difficult, and to have basic trust (shraddha) in underlying Intelligence, which having been sufficiently capable of creating and sustaining the universe, should be able to sustain a single small human. We should rejoice in the welfare of others; after all, we are all connected as an infinite variety of expressions of the singular Intelligence.
The Gita encourages surrender – to live the dictum ‘Thy Will be done’ in every thought, word and deed. This comes about not through blind belief, but rather through the maturity that comes to a Yoga practitioner through direct experience and wisdom. Near the end of the Gita, Arjuna says:
O Krishna, by your grace, my delusion and ignorance have been eliminated. My doubts have been dispelled. My understanding [of Reality] has returned. I shall now act according to Your Will [not mine].19
For the bhakta (devotee) the highest freedom is in surrender to God. Willing and joyful participation in God’s work is both the duty and delight of the devotee.
Karma Yoga means to dedicate and surrender the results of actions to a Higher Principle. This is a fundamental part of the teachings of the Gita, and indeed the Gita is a comprehensive text on Karma Yoga. Chapter 3 entitled ‘Karma Yoga’, Chapter 4, ‘Wisdom in Action’20 and Chapter 5, ‘The Yoga of Acting with the Attitude of Renunciation’ are all concerned directly with this subject. For example:
The sages call a person wise when all his [or her] undertakings are free from anxiety about the results; all his selfish desires have been consumed in the fire of wisdom…Their security is unaffected by the results of their actions; even whilst acting they feel as though they are doing nothing… Free from expectation and from all sense of possession, with the mind clear and yoked to Awareness, they do not incur any reactions [karma] by doing and working… Competing with no-one, they are alike in success and failure; content with whatever comes to them…Without selfish attachments, they work in the spirit of service and, in this way, their karma [worldly attachments] is dissolved.21
Mere work keeps us in ignorance and bondage; not working or not acting also keeps us in ignorance.22 But work combined with regular Yoga practice, especially meditation, brings a change of understanding and attitude: we realise that we are not doers, but the mediums of doing. This brings inner transformation and allows us to evolve towards spiritual realisation and freedom.
Dhyana Yoga, the Yoga of Meditation, is explained throughout the Gita, especially in chapter 6.
The Gita says:23
Those who aspire to realise their essential nature should practise meditation in solitude. With the body and mind controlled, free of hope and greed, they should constantly practise one-pointedness.
The Gita emphasises meditation since it brings about a refinement in our perception so that we understand more clearly and thereby act more appropriately.
MantraYogais also emphasised in the Gita. Albeit briefly, it mentions various well-known mantras such as OM (verse 8:13), OM Tat Sat (17:23 onwards) and Gayatri (10:35). Moreover, the Gita is a Mantra Shastra (shastra, scripture) – a text in which each verse is a mantra. That is, besides being a manual of spiritual wisdom, each verse can be chanted to bring about a transformation in our perception. In this way, we can imbibe the mystical teachings of Yoga through vibration. Our perception can be transformed, or heightened, just by chanting the Gita.
Buddhi Yoga is concerned with awakening the buddhi – the faculty of understanding that exists in all of us and which allows the flow of Awareness. It is an aspect of the Agya Chakra (the eye of insight). Though it is dormant in most of us, it can be awakened by Yogic practices. As a result, we can gain insight into the nature of our own existence and, indeed, the existence of everything.
Krishna tells Arjuna:24
So that they may realise My Nature, I initiate those who are dedicated to Me and who aspire to go deeper in understanding into Buddhi Yoga.
That is, sincerity in our Yoga practice brings openness; this leads to deeper insight and the buddhi (discriminative awareness) starts to awaken. If we remain tuned into it, then we can ‘win’ the battle of life; we can evolve in our understanding and realise our Essential Nature. In the Gita, the process of awakening the buddhi is known as Buddhi Yoga. All practices, paths and processes of Yoga lead to a gradual awakening of the buddhi.
According to the Gita, Buddhi Yoga is essential. By awakening buddhi and Awareness, we are enabled to align ourselves with underlying Intelligence; we can work from a higher conscious level. In fact, if this Awareness and Intelligence are not awakened, then we have not evolved to our innate and full capacities as humans. As far as we know, humans are the only creatures – at least, on this planet earth – which have this potential to become aware. But it has to be awakened. The laws of karma apply on the material, biological, energetic, mental and social levels of existence – but Awareness acts beyond karma. Our bondage lies in our dependence on nature only; Awareness, or the inner intuitive voice of spirit, leads us to wisdom and freedom.
Formal and Informal Practices
Each of us is unique.We have different propensities. The Integral Yoga of the Gita offers a path for everyone. Some are drawn to Hatha Yoga,25 others to Gyana Yoga, others to Karma Yoga and yet others to Bhakti Yoga. The Gita says:
Some realise the Eternal Spirit through Dhyana Yoga [Meditation], others by Gyana Yoga and others by Karma Yoga.26
Chapter 18 gives a general overall view of the path of Yoga. One should start to practise Yoga. Meditate. Spend time in quietude – perhaps stay in an ashram for a few days or a few weeks. Reflect. Go deeper. From this will flower bhakti and gyana. Then Karma Yoga in a real sense becomes possible – one starts to work selflessly; one attains the strength and grace to surmount all difficulties; one starts to feel that one is an instrument. Each person’s path is different, no doubt, but this gives a general idea of the possible path of evolution.
Many formal Yoga practices are indirectly mentioned in the Gita. The following are a few: Shambhavi Mudra (Eye-brow Gazing, 5:27,28), Naumukhi Mudra (The Gesture of the Nine Gates, 8:12), Pranayama (Breath Control, 4:29), Ajapa Japa (Spontaneous Mantra Repetition, 4:29), Meditative Asana (6:13) and Nasikagra Drishti (Nose-tip Gazing, 6:13). All of these are standard practices which are part of Hatha, Dhyana and Kriya Yoga and have to be learned from a competent teacher.
The Gita encourages us to appreciate the mystery and wonder of every moment and every situation. Verse 4:24, for example, encourages us to be grateful for our food:
“The offering [of the food] is sacred; the butter [cooking medium] is sacred; the fire [heat] is sacred. Reality is only reached [realised] by those who recognize the sacred in all acts [works].”
Here in the Ashram we chant this verse before every meal.27 It calms down the body and mind and puts us in the right frame of mind to enjoy and thereby digest our food. It also engenders a sense of the sacredness: for what we are eating, the miracle of the food, its preparation and the process of digestion.
The Gita encourages us to live every moment of our lives fully, to offer every action on the altar of Truth:
Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you sacrifice, whatever you give, whatever you practice – O Arjuna, do it as an offering to Me [Underlying Intelligence].28
Even our Yoga practice should be dedicated to a Higher Purpose. We normally do Yoga for personal reasons; this is fine – we will still reap many benefits. But far more benefit will accrue if we dedicate our practice to a Higher Principle. This is where esoteric Yoga practice begins. Let us try to remember this when we practice Yoga.
Teaching others gives us the opportunity of practising Karma Yoga and it brings inner inspiration. Krishna says:
He who teaches the secrets of Yoga to others, with devotion to Me [underlying Intelligence], shall doubtlessly come to realise Me.29
But the Gita warns us: don’t talk of these things in the marketplace, or to those who are not sincere or devoted (refer 18:67), otherwise you will attract ridicule and be misunderstood. Teach and share with those who are serious seekers and who are open to new vistas and possibilities.
The Gita summarises Indian mystical thinking and is India’s gift to the world. It contains a wealth of Yogic wisdom. The Gita is not for those who want to live superficially but for those who want to gain insight into the riddle of existence. It is a manual on Dharma (Right Action), on Gyana (Wisdom) and on Bhakti (Devotion and Unconditional Love); (refer to Verses 18:70, 71).
This article is a gloss – intended just to give you an idea of some of the gems that can be found in the Gita and, hopefully, to inspire you to go deeper into it yourself. Thousands of translations and commentaries have been made in English and other languages – each of which treat it from a different but equally valid perspective. Look around. Find a translation which touches you. Then it will be a constant source of inspiration and practical guidance.
Let us remember that as embodied beings we are small. Why be egotistical and self-centred? Let us open up to the wider dimensions of existence. This is the teaching of the Gita.Swami Nishchalananda
FOOTNOTES & REFERENCES
1 In some versions an extra verse is given at the start of Chapter 13 to give a total of 701; and recently, the manuscript of a lesser known version has been found with a total of 732 verses. In my opinion, this last version doesn’t add anything much to the basic teachings given in the extant versions of 700 and of 701 verses.
2 The 18 chapters encompass Chapters 25 – 42 of the Bhishma Parva (lit., ‘Section on Bhishma’) of the Mahabharata.
3 Unlike western cultures, India was never very interested in history (which was regarded as a play of maya, time-bound illusion) but more with myth which indicates Eternal verities.
4 For a full explanation refer to p. 136 in: Srivastava, K.G. (2002). Bhagavad Gita and the English Romantic Movement. India: Macmillan.
5 ibid. The whole book shows how these poets were inspired by the Bhagavad Gita.
6 ibid. Page 5.
7 ibid. in the chapter ‘India in the Ancient Intellectual Tradition of the West’ pp. 39 – 112
8 In fact, with Surya, the Sun God, she had already produced a son named Karna. Because of fear, however, she threw Karna into a river. But he survived and eventually became a mighty warrior – the equal, in fact, of his half-brother, Arjuna.
9 Rather nebulous characters who, among other things, are the gods of agriculture and the physicians to the gods.
10 Some say 3000, others 5000, and some even say more than 10,000 years ago.
11 Some illustrations show four horses, but it is widely accepted that there are five.
12 Matthew 15:14.
13 Verse 11.33
14 Besides Samkhya, the Gita also subscribes to the philosophy of Vedanta (in my opinion, also part of Yoga) which posits Brahman as the Absolute Basis for existence, with Maya, Cosmic Illusion, as the principle which creates the manifest universe.
15 This accords with modern quantum physics where everything is seen as an expression of an underlying energy field.
16 Verse 18:61.
17 Again, this accords perfectly with current scientific thinking which says that atoms and quanta give us the illusion of objective reality. When we get down to the atomic or sub-atomic level, the objective world in space and time no longer exists. Science accepts that matter is but energy with form; in fact, every ‘solid’ particle of matter is composed of more than 99.999% space. Moreover, the space between two electrons is as empty, proportionally, as the space between two galaxies!
18 Verse 34
19 Verse 18:73.
20 This chapter is formally entitled ‘The Yoga of Wisdom’ but because of its contents it is also called ‘Wisdom in Action.’
21 Chapter 4 verses 19-23
22 This is clearly explained in the Ishavasya Upanishad.
23 Verse 6:10.
24 Verse 10.10.
25 Though not specifically mentioned in the Gita, Hatha Yoga is certainly an indispensable part of the Yogic path for most people in the present era.
26 Verse 13:24.
27 In Sanskrit, the transliteration is Brahmarpanam Brahma Havir Brahm-agno Brahma Na Hutam Brahma Eva Tena Gantavyam Brahma Karma Samadhi Na.
28 Verse 9:27.
29 Verse 18:68.