The Bhagavad Gita is the most enchanting and comprehensive dissertation on how an ordinary mortal can rise above petty, personal preoccupations to become the extraordinary immortal Spirit. It draws from the sublime truths of the Upanisads and presents them as a practical technique of living. The Gita has generated deep interest among seekers of Truth worldwide and has been translated into almost every major language. Yet it is enigmatic and eludes the grasp of most people.
Here, along with the original Sanskrit verses, their translation and interpretation, is a brief introduction and chapter-wise overview that gives a contemporary application of the Gita and its relevance in modern life. This should motivate you to a deeper study and application of its teachings.
The Bhagavad Gita is part of the great epic Mahabharata. It forms the spiritual core of the Mahabharata. The stories of the Mahabharata lend a charm to the philosophy. They convey the subtle concepts by way of endearing narratives that are easier to understand and remember. While the Mahabharata comprises 97,400 verses, the Gita is a mere 701 verses. Hence it is likened to a pendant on the necklace of the Mahabharata. It was Adi Sankaracharya who extracted the Gita and gave it a special status.
The physical location of the Mahabharata was Kurukshetra, a little north of Delhi. However the spiritual plane of inner conflict, emptiness and uncertainty is one we are all too familiar with. Though the Gita was given out 5000 years ago it is as alive now as on the day it was delivered. For its contents are eternal principles that apply to all human beings, at all times, anywhere in the world.
The Gita is a dialogue between Krsna, the guru, and Arjuna, his dear friend and commander-in-chief of the Pandava army. The Gita begins at the edge of a battle between two sets of cousins – the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Duryodhana, the Kaurava chief and evil son of the blind king Dhrtarastra, usurps the Pandavas’ kingdom. When all attempts at reconciliation fail and even Krsna is unable to get Duryodhana to see reason the battle lines are drawn. At the zero hour, as the confrontation is about to start, Arjuna asks his charioteer Krsna to drive him between the two armies for a last minute reconnaissance. It is then that Arjuna is overcome with grief and despair on seeing his beloved patriarch Bhisma and revered guru Dronacarya in the enemy camp. He views the entire situation from a narrow, personal perspective and loses heart. He lays down his bow and arrow, refusing to engage in combat. Krsna masterfully blends psychology with philosophy and in a short span of eighteen chapters restores Arjuna to his original stature. He gives him the clarity and commitment to fight the battle and win it.
We all have battles to fight. Battles between our own positive and negative tendencies. Between the higher aspirations and lower indulgences. Between the intellect on the one hand and the mind and senses on the other.
However, in the midst of these challenges we need to stand between the two opposing forces and delve deep into our inner being. Find our purpose, our mission, our inner calling. Then we will get the answers and derive the strength to fight and overcome adversity. All problems are self-created. Hence the solutions must also lie within. As long as we look outward the situation will always appear insurmountable. Look within and the problems vanish.
Just as Krsna spoke only when Arjuna completely surrendered and asked for help, the Gita will come alive and speak to us only when we set aside our arrogance and approach it with humility and a desire to learn. As Krsna explains in the Gita, you must have the capacity to surrender in areas where you are ignorant, pranipata, question when you fail to understand, prasna, and cultivate an attitude of service and sacrifice, seva. Then the guru who is jnanina, wise, and tattvadarsina, seer of Truth, will instruct you.
The Bhagavad Gita literally means ‘Divine Song’. Krsna, the jagadguru or universal mentor, is an expert player of the flute. The flute is a hollow reed with seven apertures. Krsna had mastered the art of evoking melodious music from this humble instrument. The flute represents our personality. The five senses, mind and intellect are the seven windows to the world. Not having learnt and mastered the technique of living, we bring out discordant notes in life. However, when we empty ourselves of negativity, desire and ego, captivating music emerges from our personality. The Bhagavad Gita imparts the art of operating in tune with the world by being in unison with the Spirit.
The Bhagavad Gita draws its knowledge from the Upanisads which in turn gained inspiration from the four Mahavakyas or great aphorisms. An aphorism is a short maxim, brief statement or principle. During the pre-Vedic times the human intellect was sharp and brilliant. The student needed only a suggestion by way of the Mahavakyas. These were four concise, potent statements of fact defining God, Brahman.
1. Prajnanam Brahma ‘Consciousness is Brahman’. This was called laksana vakya or statement of indication. The guru merely gave out this statement and the student pored over it, reflected upon it and struggled to arrive at the Truth. When he was unable to succeed the guru further elaborated with the second Mahavakya –
2. Tat Tvam Asi or ‘That thou art’, you are God. This was the upadesa vakya or statement of advice. It gives a distinct guideline on how to locate God. The student went back and repeated the third Mahavakya –
3. Ayam Atma Brahma or ‘This Atman is Brahman’. This was called abhyasa vakya or statement of practice. Through consistent application the student finally attained Realisation and declared –
4. Aham Brahmasmi or ‘I am Brahman’. Referred to as the anubhava vakya or declaration of experience, it came from the depth of wisdom.
This method of teaching worked successfully for centuries. Over time the human intellect deteriorated and the student was unable to grasp the Truth. The Upanisads then came into being. They were elucidations of the Mahavakyas and were useful in guiding students to the Self. Much later came a further elaboration by way of the Bhagavad Gita which brought the pristine Upanisadic truths within reach of the common person struggling with the everyday challenges of life. Then commentaries on the Gita appeared and today we need interpretations of even the commentaries!
The need of the hour is peace of mind. A tranquil mind is the foundation on which the edifice of success, happiness and growth can be built. The Gita gives the ability to remain peaceful in the midst of noise and confusion around. It speaks of a dynamic peace where the mind is at rest, intellect sharp and actions brilliant. A peace that cannot be shattered by a changing, undependable world. A strong, resilient peace, not a fragile equilibrium. The world pays homage to one who is at peace.
The theme of the Bhagavad Gita is that you are God. You are not the finite, weak, vulnerable individual you imagine yourself to be. You are the mighty Spirit that makes your heart pulsate, liver and kidneys function meticulously, lungs transfer gases perfectly. You are the Divine Power that lends life to every cell in the body, every emotion in the mind and every thought that flutters through the intellect. You are the same Force that guides the planets around the sun, the Milky Way galaxy in its trajectory and every star and heavenly body in the universe. But for some reason you do not know it. It is this ignorance of your identity that is the root cause of all your troubles. The Gita introduces you to yourself and your divine nature. With this knowledge all sorrows come to an end. You revel in the bliss of your new-found Self.
The Gita zeroes in on desire which stands between you and your Godhood. The formula is
You – desires = God
The Gita helps deal with desires. The first step is to manage desires with the intellect. The next stage is to reduce, refine and re-direct them with the three pathways of Karma Yoga, Path of Action, Bhakti Yoga, Path of Devotion and Jnana Yoga, Path of Knowledge. Only a handful of desires then remain – desire to realise the Self, serve the guru and engage in the service of humanity. These get eliminated through meditation which is single pointed focus on a mantra or word-symbol under the supervision of the intellect, not allowing the mind to meander to any other thought. When the last trace of thought vanishes the individual merges with the totality. You become God.