The Bhagavad Gita literally translates into English as "The Song of God". It was spoken on the battlefield of the Mahabharata War by Lord Krishna to Arjuna. It has been documented in the Bhishma Parva of the Mahabharata. In the Gita, Lord Krishna summarizes all Vedic thought, and as a result, it has become one of the most popular scriptures and has been widely translated and commentated upon.
It is a dialogue between Arjuna and Lord Krishna which deals with the fundamentals of life and reality. The Bhagavad Gita is also called the Gitopanishad, Brahma Vidya, and Yogashastra. The dialog was witnessed by Sanjay and conveyed to Dhritarashtra and penned by Maharshi Vyasa. It is composed of 700 verses classified into 18 chapters and is a summary of Vedic thought.
Arjuna, after coming to the battlefield, feels overwhelmed by the realization that to win the war, he would have to kill his great-grand-uncle Bhishma, his Gurus Dronacharya and Kripacharya, as well as his cousins. Feeling overwhelmed, he puts down his weapons and explains his feelings to Lord Krishna and asks approximately twenty questions. Lord Krishna provides the answers to these profound questions.
The purpose of the Bhagavad Gita is to deliver mankind from the nescience of material existence. Every man is in difficulty in many ways, as was Arjuna who had to fight the Battle of Kuruksetra. Arjuna surrendered unto Sri Krishna, and consequently the Lord cleared his doubts. This conversation became known as the Bhagavad Gita. Not only Arjuna, but every one of us is full of anxieties because of this material existence.
The essential teachings of the Vedas and Upanisads is directly explained. Lord Krishna explains that the purification of consciousness through wisdom arises from the materially unmotivated performance of scripturally enjoined duties, resulting in self-knowledge, absolute existential knowledge, or divine realization. In full maturity, this pure, spotless perception culminates in the quest for loving service in pure cognition, in the divine ecstatic realm.
The Bhagavad-Gita explains five basic truths:
- Isvara (God)
- Jiva (living beings)
- Prakrti (material nature)
- Kala (time)
- Karma (action)
as well as the relationship between the Jiva and Isvara (sambandha jnana), the purpose of life (prayojana) and the an explanation of how the jiva can achieve that purpose (abhidheya).
The Five Basic Truths
Out of these five basic subject matters in Bhagavad Gita, it is established that the Supreme Godhead, or Krishna, or Brahman, or supreme controller, or Paramatma, is the greatest of all. The living beings are in quality like the supreme controller. For instance, the Lord has control over the universal affairs, over material nature, etc. Material nature is not independent. She is acting under the directions of the Supreme Lord. As Lord Krishna says, "Prakrti is working under My direction."
Living entities, being part and parcel of the supreme controller, Isvara, or Bhagavan, Lord Sri Krishna, have all the qualities of the Supreme Lord in minute quantity because the Jiva is a minute or subordinate Isvara.
Material nature is inferior prakrti, or inferior nature. The living entity is the superior prakrti. Prakrti is always under control, whether inferior or superior. Prakrti is controlled by the Lord. Prakrti is always subordinate, predominated by the Lord. Living entities, although parts and parcels of the Supreme Lord, are considered to be a part of prakrti. This is clearly mentioned in the Seventh Chapter, Fifth Verse of Bhagavad Gita: "Apareyam itas tv anyam." "This prakrti is My lower nature," "prakrtim viddhi me param jiva-bhutam maha-baho yayedam dharyate jagat." And beyond this there is another prakrti: jiva-bhutam, the living entity.
Prakrti itself is constituted by three qualities:
- the mode of goodness
- the mode of passion & activity
- mode of ignorance & passivity
Above these modes of material nature, there is time, which is eternal, and by a combination of these modes of nature there are activities which are called karma. These activities are being carried out from time immemorial.
Out of these five basic truths, the Lord, the living entities, material nature and time are eternal. The manifestation of prakrti is temporary. The Lord refers to this as "My prakrti." This material nature is the separated energy of the Supreme Lord, and similarly the living entities are also the energy of the Supreme Lord, but they are not separated. They are eternally related. So the Lord, the living entity, material nature and time are all interrelated and are all eternal. However, the other item, karma, is not eternal.
The position of Isvara is that of supreme consciousness. The jivas, or the living entities, being parts and parcels of the Supreme Lord, are also conscious. Both the living entity and material nature are explained as prakrti, the energy of the Supreme Lord, but one of the two, the jiva, is conscious. The other prakrti is not conscious. Therefore the jiva-prakrti is called superior because the jiva has consciousness which is similar to the Lord's. The Lord's is supreme consciousness.
The distinction between the jiva and the Isvara is explained in greater detail in the thirteenth chapter. The Lord is ksetra-jna, conscious, as is the living being, but the living being is conscious of his particular body, whereas the Lord is conscious of all bodies. Because He lives in the heart of every living being, He is conscious of the psychic movements of the particular jivas. It is also explained that the Paramatma, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is living in everyone's heart as Isvara, as the controller, and that He is giving directions for the living entity to act as he desires. The living entity forgets what to do. First of all, he makes a determination to act in a certain way, and then he is entangled in the actions and reactions of his own karma. After giving up one type of body, he enters another type of body, as a person puts on and takes off another set of clothes. As the soul thus migrates, he suffers the actions and reactions of his past activities. These activities can be changed when the living being is in the mode of goodness, in sanity, and understands what sort of activities he should adopt. If he does so, then all the actions and reactions of his past activities can be changed. Consequently, karma is not eternal.
The supreme conscious Isvara is similar to the living entity in this way: both the consciousness of the Lord and that of the living entity are transcendental. However, the consciousness of the jiva in the material world is materially contaminated. The Bhagavad Gita teaches that we have to purify this materially contaminated consciousness. In pure consciousness, actions will be dovetailed to the will of Isvara, and that will make the jiva happy.
Mukti or liberation means freedom from material consciousness. All the instructions of the Bhagavad Gita are intended to awaken this pure consciousness, and that is why at the last stage of the Gita that Krishna asks Arjuna whether he is now in purified consciousness. Purified consciousness means acting in accordance with the instructions of the Lord. This is the whole sum and substance of purified consciousness. Consciousness is already there because we are part and parcel of the Lord, but for us there is the affinity of being affected by the inferior modes. But the Lord, being the Supreme, is never affected. That is the difference between the Supreme Lord and the conditioned souls.
The complete whole is comprised of the supreme controller, the controlled living entities, the cosmic manifestation, eternal time, and karma, or activities, and all of these are explained in this text. All of these taken completely form the complete whole, and the complete whole is called the Supreme Absolute Truth. The complete whole and the complete Absolute Truth are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna. All manifestations are due to His different energies. He is the complete whole.
The Relationship, Purpose
In the analysis of sambandha-jnana, or knowledge of divine relationship, Sri Gita has revealed that the nature of the most original truth is a transcendental all-conscious personality.
In the analysis of prayojana, or the supreme objective, internal inspiration of pure love in pursuit of the Supreme Absolute Reality has been mentioned as the perfectional attainment.
And in the analysis of abhidheya, or the method of attaining the desired goal, the first stage has been revealed as offering all one's actions to the Supreme Lord, followed by the cultivation of internal self-knowledge, which arises according to one's progressive realization of the Lord.
Finally, by giving up all other endeavors, one surrenders exclusively unto the Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna. In other words, by taking shelter of pure unalloyed faith, one is situated in one's perfected divine identity and engages in divine loving service to the Lord, which is the ultimate goal of all devotional practices.
The Method (The Five Paths)
Starting with the second chapter, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that he should fight because it is his duty, that the soul is eternal, and the highest form of action is when action is done without obsessing about the results of the aforementioned action. In this connection, he explains that inaction is a great sin. Later, at the request of Arjuna, he explains about the difference between deeds which take you to heaven but case you to be reborn later, and the deeds which lead to liberation.
Some of the prominent approaches explained by Him are:
- Karma Yoga
- Doing action without obsessing about the fruits of such action.
- Bhakti Yoga
- Simple and steadfast devotion, surrendering all results to Him.
- Raj Yoga
- Physical meditation of the highest order by which one becomes Him.
- Gyana Yoga
- The search of the God through the path of knowledge
- Simple and pure renunciation
Table of Contents & Chapter Summaries
|Chapter||Sanskrit Title||English Title||Chapter Summary|
|1||Arjuna Vishada Yoga||Observing the Armies on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra||As the opposing armies stand poised for battle, Arjuna, the mighty warrior, sees his intimate relatives, teachers and friends in both armies, ready to fight and sacrifice their lives. Overcome by grief and pity, Arjuna fails in strength, his mind becomes bewildered, and he gives up his determination to fight.|
|2||Sankhya Yoga||Contents of the Gita summarized||Arjuna submits to Lord Krishna as His disciple, and Krishna begins His teachings to Arjuna by explaining the fundamental distinction between the temporary material body and the eternal spiritual soul. The Lord explains the process of transmigration, the nature of selfless service to the Supreme and the characteristics of a self-realized person.|
|3||Karma Yoga||Karma Yoga||Everyone must engage in some sort of activity in this material world. But actions can either bind one to this world or liberate one from it. By acting for the pleasure of the Supreme, without selfish motives, one can be liberated from the law of karma (action and reaction) and attain transcendental knowledge of the self and the Supreme.|
|4||Gynana Vibhaga Yoga||Transcendental Knowledge||Transcendental knowledge - the spiritual knowledge of the soul, of God, and of their relationship - is both purifying and liberating. Such knowledge is the fruit of selfless devotional action (karma-yoga). The Lord explains the remote history of the Gita, the purpose and significance of His periodic descents to the material world, and the necessity of approaching a guru, a realized teacher.|
|5||Karma Sanyasa Yoga||Yoga of Renunciation||Outwardly performing all actions but inwardly renouncing their fruits, the wise man, purified by the fire of transcendental knowledge, attains peace, detachment, forbearance, spiritual vision and bliss.|
|6||Dhyana Yoga||Yoga of Meditation||Ashtanga-yoga, a mechanical meditative practice, controls the mind and senses and focuses concentration on Paramatma (the Supersoul, the form of the Lord situated in the heart). This practice culminates in samadhi, full consciousness of the Supreme.|
|7||Gynana Vigyana Yoga||Knowledge of the Absolute||Lord Krishna is the Supreme Truth, the supreme cause and sustaining force of everything, both material and spiritual. Advanced souls surrender unto Him in devotion, whereas impious souls divert their minds to other objects of worship.|
|8||Akshara Brahma Yoga||Attaining the Supreme||By remembering Lord Krishna in devotion throughout one's life, and especially at the time of death, one can attain His supreme abode, beyond the material world.|
|9||Rajavidya Rajaguhya Yoga||The Most Confidential Knowledge||Lord Krishna is the Supreme Godhead and the supreme object of worship. The soul is eternally related to Him through transcendental devotional service (bhakti). By reviving one's pure devotion, one returns to Krishna in the spiritual realm.|
|10||Vibhuti Yoga||The Opulence of the Absolute||All wondrous phenomena showing power, beauty, grandeur or sublimity, either in the material world or in the spiritual world, are but partial manifestations of Krishna's divine energies and opulence. As the supreme cause of all causes and the support and essence of everything, Krishna is the supreme object of worship for all beings.|
|11||Vishvarupa Darshana Yoga||The Universal Form||Lord Krishna grants Arjuna divine vision and reveals His spectacular unlimited form as the cosmic universe. Thus He conclusively establishes His divinity. Krishna explains that His own all-beautiful humanlike form is the original form of Godhead. One can perceive this form only by pure devotional service.|
|12||Bhakti Yoga||Yoga of Devotion||Bhakti-yoga, pure devotional service to Lord Krishna, is the highest and most expedient means for attaining pure love for Krishna, which is the highest end of spiritual existence. Those who follow this supreme path develop divine qualities.|
|13||Kshetra Kshetrajyna Yoga||The Yoga of Field and its Knower||One who understands the difference between the body, the soul and the Supersoul beyond them both attains liberation from this material world.|
|14||Gunatraya Vibhaga Yoga||The Three Modes of Material Nature||All embodied souls are under the control of the three modes, or qualities, of material nature: goodness, passion and ignorance. Lord Krishna explains what these modes are, how they act upon us, how one transcends them, and the symptoms of one who has attained the transcendental state.|
|15||Purushottama Yoga||The Yoga of the Supreme Person||The ultimate purpose of Vedic knowledge is to detach oneself from the entanglement of the material world and to understand Lord Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. One who understands Krishna's supreme identity surrenders unto Him and engages in His devotional service.|
|16||Daivasura Sampad Vibhaga Yoga||The Divine and Demoniac Natures||Those who possess demoniac qualities and who live whimsically, without following the regulations of scriptures, attain lower births and further material bondage. But those who possess divine qualities and live regulated lives, abiding by the scriptural authority, gradually attain spiritual perfection.|
|17||Shraddhatraya Vibhaga Yoga||The Yoga of the Threefold Faith||There are three types of faith, corresponding to and evolving from the three modes of material nature. Acts performed by those whose faith is in passion and ignorance yield only impermanent, material results, whereas acts performed in goodness, in accord with scriptural injunctions, purify the heart and lead to pure faith in Lord Krishna and devotion to Him.|
|18||Moksha Sanyasa Yoga||Conclusion - The Perfection of Renunciation||Krishna explains the meaning of renunciation and the effects of the modes of nature on human consciousness and activity. He explains Brahman realization, the glories of the Bhagavad Gita, and the ultimate conclusion of the Gita: the highest path of religion is absolute, unconditional loving surrender unto Lord Krishna, which frees one from all sins, brings one to complete enlightenment, and enables one to return to Krishna's eternal spiritual abode.|
All of the sampradayas have claimed the Bhagavad Gita as their own and their acharyas have created commenaries on the Gita. Some of the great commentators include:
- Adi Shankara
- Abhinava Gupta
- Vallabha Acharya
- Sri Aurobindo
- Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay
- Paramhamsa Yogananda
- Bhagwad Gita in Verse
- Comments about the Gita by Famous Personalities
- The Context of the Bhagawad Gita
- Philosophical Thought of the Bhagawad Gita
- Overview of the Approaches to the Bhagawad Gita
- The Bhagawad Gita in the Social, Cultural, and Political Sphere
- The Influence of the Bhagawad Gita Outside India
- The Bhagawad Gita as a Synthesis of Approaches
- The Vision of the Universal Spirit in the Bhagawad Gita
- The Central Message of the Bhagawad Gita
Notes & References
- The Gita is in chapters 25 through 42. The Bhishma Parva covers the beginning of the war of Mahabharata and concludes with Bhishma being put on a bed of arrows by Arjuna. See Mahabharata for more details about the Mahabharata.
- M.G. Prasad, Garland-An Anthology on Vedic Hinduism, The Foundation for Arts and Sciences from India, 2001
- Swami Chinmayananda, The Holy Geeta, Chinmaya Mission
- A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Bhagwad Gita As It Is, Bhakti Vedanta Book Trust