Bhagavad Gita

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The Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita, “The Song of the Lord,” is the chief devotional text of most Indians. This text is part of a larger epic of Mahabharata, an ancient story that took literary form between the fifth BCE and third century CE. The Gita refers to dharma, which is the right ordering that supports the cosmos. Dharma is equivalent to natural law and conscience. In the Gita, a Pandava brother Arjuna loses his will to fight and has a discussion with his charioteer Krishna, about duty, action, and renunciation. The Gita has three major themes: knowledge, action, and love.

I.        The Bhagavad Gita; text, context, and interpretation.

A.     The Bhagavad Gita (“the Song of the Lord”) is the chief devotional book of most Indians. Franklin Edgerton and Barbara Stoller Miller have produced English translations that I recommend.

B.     The Bhagavad Gita is part of the larger epic of Mahabharata, an ancient saga that took literary form between the fifth century BCE and the third century CE.

1.      The Gita, like many teachings about dharma, dates from between 200 BCE and 200 CD.

2.      The setting of the Gita is the eve of an expected battle between the five Pandava brothers and their cousins, the Kauravas, who have cheated the Pandavas of their rightful knogdom.

3.      The Pandava brother Arjuna loses the will to fight. He engages in dialogue with his charioteer, Krishna, about duty, action, and renunciation.

C.     The epic Mahabharata, the epic Ramayana, and the eighteen Puranas (“old stories”) are called smriti (the “remembered” tradition), as distinct from shruti (the “heard” or revealed tradition). The Gita was passed orally from one generation to the next, almost as shruti.

D.     Commentaries on the Gita have been produced by Shankara (eighth century CE), Ramanuja (eleventh century CE), and B. G. Tilak, M. Gandhi, A.D. Bhaktivedanta, and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (twentieth century).

II.     On the Field of Dharma

A.     The first words of the Gita are: dharmakshetre Kurukshetre, “on the field of dharma, at Kurukshetra …” These words are spoken by the blink king to his minister Sanjaya, who will describe to him the impending battle.

B.     Dharma is the right ordering that supports the cosmos. It is equivalent to natural law, social order, the sense of duty that attaches to each caste or narna, and the right ordering of the human heart (i.e., conscience).

1.      “Dharma, when it is protected, protects.”

2.      Infractions of dharma have led to the impending battle between the Pandavas and Kauravas.

C.     On the verge of battle, Arjuna confronts the challenge of reconciling the conflicting obligations imposed by dharma.

1.      He is torn between his duties as kshatriya and the Pandavas and as kinsman of the Kauravas.

2.      Krishna persuades Arjuna of the need to fight, but their dialogue also concerns dharma.

III.   Three themes in the Bhagavad Gita: knowledge (jnana), action (karma), and love (bhakti)

A.     Knowledge: Krishna shows Arjuna that his grief is misplaced since the eternal soul, unlike the body, cannot be slain.

1.      Krishna urges Arjuna to acquire discriminative wisdom (i.e., the ability to distinguish the eternal from the transient).

2.      One acquires this wisdom by cultivating steadiness of mind, which Krishna compares to a lamp unflickering in a windless place.

3.      Attainment of the mental stability requires practice, especially yoga postures (“stopping the whirlpools of the mind”), which help to concentrate the mind. The body is a vehicle for helping the mind come to repose.

B.     Action: Acting without getting enmeshed in the results of action.

1.      Krishna asks Arjuna to renounce not the worldly life or action itself, but instead the fruits of action. One must bring steadiness of mind into action: yoga is “skill in action.”

2.      The four purushartas or goals of life are kama (please or passion), artha (wealth or power), dharma, and moksha (freedom).

3.      On the field of dharma, one should act without passion (nishkama) and without desire for the fruits of action (nishphalaratha). Through yoga, one can cultivate a disinterestedness in or detachment from the outcome of action.

C.     Love: Dedicate your action in devotion to God.

1.      God – Bhagavan – is the supreme reality that is both ultimate and personal.

2.      Krishna teaches a lesson of divine presence: Though I am unborn, I come into being in age after age, whenever dharma declines and adharma is on the rise (Gita, chapter 4). This is the first articulation of divine descent or avatara.

3.      At Arjuna’s request, Krishna reveals his supreme form, which Arjuna perceives with a special third eye.

4.      Arjuna responds with love to Krishna’s revelation. Only through love can one perceive Krishna’s true form.

5.      Krishna reveals his love for Arjuna, saying: “Abandoning all dharma, come to me alone for refuge…”

6.      Love can subvert dharma; there is no need to consider dharma when one consecrates one’s acts to God.

IV.  Krishna beyond the Gita: the love of God.

A.     The Bhagavata Purana is the story of Krishna as child, cowherd, and lover.

B.     The Gita Govinda is the story of Radha and Krishna

C.     The expanded myth of Krishna offers paradigms of human love for God.

The original Bhagavad Gita has no chapter titles. Some Sanskrit editions that separate the Gitafrom the epic as an independent text, as well as translators, however, add chapter titles such as each chapter being a particular form of yoga.[108][web 3] For example, Swami Chidbhavanandadescribes each of the eighteen chapters as a separate yoga because each chapter, like yoga, “trains the body and the mind”. He labels the first chapter “Arjuna Vishada Yogam” or the “Yoga of Arjuna’s Dejection”.[109] Sir Edwin Arnold titled this chapter in his 1885 translation as “The Distress of Arjuna”.[18][note 12]

Chapter 1 (46 verses)[edit]

Arjuna vishada yogaPrathama AdhyayaThe Distress of ArjunaThe War Within, or Arjuna’s Sorrow.

The Bhagavad Gita opens by setting the stage of the Kurukshetra battlefield. Two massive armies representing different loyalties and ideologies face a catastrophic war. With Arjuna is Krishna, not as a participant in the war, but only as his charioteer and counsel. Arjuna requests Krishna to move the chariot between the two armies so he can see those “eager for this war”. He sees family and friends on the enemy side. Arjuna is distressed and in sorrow.[114] The issue is, states Arvind Sharma, “is it morally proper to kill?”[115] This and other moral dilemmas in the first chapter are set in a context where the Hindu epic and Krishna have already extolled ahimsa (non-violence) to be the highest and divine virtue of a human being.[115] The war feels evil to Arjuna and he questions the morality of war. He wonders if it is noble to renounce and leave before the violence starts, or should he fight, and why.[114]

Chapter 2 (72 verses)

Sankhya YogaThe Book of DoctrinesSelf-Realization, or The Yoga of Knowledge (and Philosophy).
The second chapter begins the philosophical discussions and teachings found in Gita. The warrior Arjuna whose past had focused on learning the skills of his profession now faces a war he has doubts about. Filled with introspection and questions about the meaning and purpose of life, he asks Krishna about the nature of life, soul, death, afterlife and whether there is a deeper meaning and reality.[116] Krishna answers.
The chapter summarizes the Hindu idea of rebirth, samsara, eternal soul in each person (Self), universal soul present in everyone, various types of yoga, divinity within, the nature of Self-knowledge and other concepts.[116] The ideas and concepts in the second chapter reflect the framework of the Samkhya and Yoga schools of Hindu philosophy. This chapter is an overview for the remaining sixteen chapters of the Bhagavad Gita.[116][117][118] Mahatma Gandhi memorized the last 19 verses of the second chapter, considering them as his companion in his non-violent movement for social justice during the colonial rule.[119]

Chapter 3 (43 verses)

 Karma yogaVirtue in WorkSelfless Service, or The Yoga of Action.
Arjuna, after listening to Krishna’s spiritual teachings in Chapter 2, gets more confounded and returns to the predicament he faces. He wonders if fighting the war is “not so important after all” given Krishna’s overview on the pursuit of spiritual wisdom.
Krishna replies that there is no way to avoid action (karma), since abstention from work is also an action.[120] Krishna states that Arjuna has an obligation to understand and perform his duty (dharma), because everything is connected by the law of cause and effect. Every man or woman is bound by activity. Those who act selfishly create the karmic cause and are thereby bound to the effect which may be good or bad.[120] Those who act selflessly for the right cause and strive to do their dharmic duty do God’s work.[120] Those who act without craving for fruits are free from the karmic effects, because the results never motivated them. Whatever the result, it does not affect them. Their happiness comes from within, and the external world does not bother them.[120][121] According to Flood and Martin, chapter 3 and onwards develops “a theological response to Arjuna’s dilemma”.[122]

Chapter 4 (42 verses)[edit]

Jñāna–Karma-Sanyasa yogaThe Religion of KnowledgeWisdom in Action, or The Yoga of Renunciation of Action through Knowledge.
Krishna reveals that he has taught this yoga to the Vedic sages. Arjuna questions how Krishna could do this, when those sages lived so long ago, and Krishna was born more recently. Krishna reminds him that everyone is in the cycle of rebirths, and while Arjuna does not remember his previous births, he does. Whenever dharma declines and the purpose of life is forgotten by men, says Krishna, he returns to re-establish dharma.
Every time he returns, he teaches about inner Self in all beings. The later verses of the chapter return to the discussion of motiveless action and the need to determine the right action, performing it as one’s dharma (duty) while renouncing the results, rewards, fruits. The simultaneous outer action with inner renunciation, states Krishna, is the secret to the life of freedom. Action leads to knowledge, while selfless action leads to spiritual awareness, state the last verses of this chapter.[3] The 4th chapter is the first time where Krishna begins to reveal his divine nature to Arjuna.

Chapter 5 (29 verses)

Karma–Sanyasa yogaReligion by Renouncing Fruits of WorksRenounce and Rejoice, or The Yoga of Renunciation.
The chapter starts by presenting the tension in the Indian tradition between the life of sannyasa (monks who have renounced their household and worldly attachments) and the life of grihastha (householder). Arjuna asks Krishna which path is better.[125]Krishna answers that both are paths to the same goal, but the path of “selfless action and service” with inner renunciation is better. The different paths, says Krishna, aim for—and if properly pursued, lead to—Self-knowledge. This knowledge leads to the universal, transcendent Godhead, the divine essence in all beings, to Brahman – the Krishna himself. The final verses of the chapter state that the self-aware who have reached self-realization live without fear, anger, or desire. They are free within, always.[126][127] Chapter 5 shows signs of interpolations and internal contradictions. For example, states Arthur Basham, verses 5.23–28 state that a sage’s spiritual goal is to realize the impersonal Brahman, yet the next verse 5.29 states that the goal is to realize the personal God who is Krishna.[38]Selfless service

6th Chapter, verse 1, Bhagavad Gita, Sanskrit, Devanagari script.jpg

It is not those who lack energy
nor those who refrain from action,
but those who work without expecting reward
who attain the goal of meditation,
Theirs is true renunciation.

Bhagavad Gita 6.1
Eknath Easwaran

Chapter 6 (47 verses)

 Dhyana yogaReligion by Self-RestraintThe Practice of Meditation, or The Yoga of Meditation.
The chapter opens as a continuation of Krishna’s teachings about selfless work and the personality of someone who has renounced the fruits that are found in chapter 5. Krishna says that such self-realized people are impartial to friends and enemies, are beyond good and evil, equally disposed to those who support them or oppose them because they have reached the summit of consciousness. The verses 6.10 and after proceed to summarize the principles of Yoga and meditation in the format similar to but simpler than Patanjali’s Yogasutra. It discusses who is a true yogi, and what it takes to reach the state where one harbors no malice towards anyone.

Chapter 7 (30 verses)

Jnana–Vijnana yogaReligion by DiscernmentWisdom from Realization, or The Yoga of Knowledge and Judgment.
The chapter 7 once again opens with Krishna continuing his discourse. He discusses jnana (knowledge) and vijnana(realization, understanding) using the PrakritiPurusha (matter-soul) framework of the Samkhya school of Hindu philosophy, and the MayaBrahman framework of its Vedanta school. The chapter states that evil is the consequence of ignorance and the attachment to the impermanent, delusive Maya. It equates self-knowledge and the union with Purusha (Krishna) as the Self to be the highest goal of any spiritual pursuit.[136]

Chapter 8 (28 verses)

 Aksara–Brahma yogaReligion by Devotion to the One Supreme GodThe Eternal Godhead, or The Yoga of the Imperishable Brahman.
The chapter opens with Arjuna asking questions such as what is Brahman and what is the nature of karma. Krishna states that his own highest nature is the imperishable Brahman, and that he lives in every creature as the adhyatman. Every being has an impermanent body and an eternal soul, and that “Krishna as Lord” lives within every creature. The chapter discusses cosmology, the nature of death and rebirth.[137] This chapter contains eschatology of the Bhagavad Gita. Importance of the last thought before death, differences between material and spiritual worlds, and light and dark paths that a soul takes after death are described.[137]

Chapter 9 (34 verses)

Raja–Vidya–Raja–Guhya yogaReligion by the Kingly Knowledge and the Kingly MysteryThe Royal Path, or The Yoga of Sovereign Science and Sovereign Secret.
Chapter 9 opens with Krishna continuing his discourse as Arjuna listens. Krishna states that he is everywhere and in everything in an unmanifested form, yet he is not in any way limited by them. Eons end, everything dissolves and then he recreates another eon subjecting them to the laws of Prakriti (nature).[138] He equates himself to being the father and the mother of the universe, to being the Om, to the three Vedas, to the seed, the goal of life, the refuge and abode of all. The chapter recommends devotional worship of Krishna.[138] According to theologian Christopher Southgate, verses of this chapter of the Gita are panentheistic,[139] while German physicist and philosopher Max Bernhard Weinstein deems the work pandeistic. It may, in fact, be neither of them, and its contents may have no definition with previously-developed Western terms.

Chapter 10 (42 verses)

Some translators title the chapter as Vibhuti–Vistara–yogaReligion by the Heavenly PerfectionsDivine Splendor, or The Yoga of Divine Manifestations.[18][112][113] Krishna reveals his divine being in greater detail, as the ultimate cause of all material and spiritual existence, one who transcends all opposites and who is beyond any duality. Krishna says he is the atman in all beings, Arjuna’s innermost Self, also compassionate Vishnu, the Surya (sun god), Indra, Shiva-Rudra, Ananta, Yama, as well as the Om, Vedic sages, time, Gayatri mantra, and the science of Self-knowledge. Arjuna accepts Krishna as the purushottama (Supreme Being).[141]

Chapter 11 (55 verses)

Vishvarupa–Darshana yogaThe Manifesting of the One and ManifoldThe Cosmic Vision, or The Yoga of the Vision of the Cosmic Form.[18][112][113] On Arjuna’s request, Krishna displays his “universal form” (Viśvarūpa).[142] This is an idea found in the Rigveda and many later Hindu texts, where it is a symbolism for atman (soul) and Brahman (Absolute Reality) eternally pervading all beings and all existence.[143][144] Chapter 11, states Eknath Eswaran, describes Arjuna entering first into savikalpa samadhi (a particular), and then nirvikalpa samadhi (a universal) as he gets an understanding of Krishna. A part of the verse from this chapter was recited by Robert Oppenheimer as he witnessed the first atomic bomb explosion.[142]

Chapter 12 (20 verses)

 Bhakti yogaThe Religion of FaithThe Way of Love, or The Yoga of Devotion.[18][112][113] In this chapter, Krishna glorifies the path of love and devotion to God. Krishna describes the process of devotional service (Bhakti yoga). This chapter of the Gita, states Easwaran, offers a “vastly easier” path to most human beings to identify and love God in an anthropomorphic representation, in any form.[145] He can be projected as “a merciful father, a divine mother, a wise friend, a passionate beloved, or even a mischievous child”, according to Easwaran. The text states that combining “action with inner renunciation” with the love of Krishna as a personal God leads to peace. In the last eight verses of this chapter, Krishna states that he loves those who have compassion for all living beings, are content with whatever comes their way, who live a detached life that is impartial and selfless, unaffected by fleeting pleasure or pain, neither craving for praise nor depressed by criticism.[145][146]

Chapter 13 (35 verses)

Ksetra–Ksetrajna Vibhaga yogaReligion by Separation of Matter and SpiritThe Field and the Knower, or The Yoga of Difference between the Field and Field-Knower.[18][112][113] The chapter opens with Krishna continuing his discourse from the previous chapter. He describes the difference between transient perishable physical body (kshetra) and the immutable eternal soul (kshetrajna). The presentation explains the difference between ahamkara (ego) and atman (soul), from there between individual consciousness and universal consciousness. The knowledge of one’s true self is linked to the realization of the soul.[147][148] The 13th chapter of the Gitaoffers the clearest enunciation of the Samkhya philosophy, states Basham, by explaining the difference between field (material world) and the knower (soul), prakriti and purusha.[149] According to Miller, this is the chapter which “redefines the battlefield as the human body, the material realm in which one struggles to know oneself” where human dilemmas are presented as a “symbolic field of interior warfare”.[150]

Chapter 14 (27 verses)

Gunatraya–Vibhaga yogaReligion by Separation from the QualitiesThe Forces of Evolution, or The Yoga of the Division of Three Gunas.[18][112][113] The chapter once again opens with Krishna continuing his discourse from the previous chapter. Krishna explains the difference between purusha and prakriti, by mapping human experiences to three Guṇas(tendencies, qualities).[151] These are listed as sattvarajas and tamas. All phenomena and individual personalities are a combination of all three gunas in varying and ever-changing proportions. The gunas affect the ego, but not the soul, according to the text.[151] This chapter also relies on the Samkhya theories.[152][153][154]

Chapter 15 (20 verses)

Purushottama yogaReligion by Attaining the Supreme KrishnaThe Supreme Self, or The Yoga of the Supreme Purusha.[18][112][113] The fifteenth chapter expounds on Krishna theology, in the Vaishnava Bhakti tradition of Hinduism. Krishna discusses the nature of God, according to Easwaran, wherein Krishna not only transcends impermanent body (matter), he also transcends the atman (soul) in every being.[155] According to Franklin Edgerton, the verses in this chapter in association with select verses in other chapters make the metaphysics of the Gita to be dualistic. Its overall thesis is, states Edgerton, more complex however, because other verses teach the Upanishadic doctrines and “thru its God the Gitaseems after all to arrive at an ultimate monism; the essential part, the fundamental element, in every thing, is after all One — is God.”[156]

Chapter 16 (24 verses)

Daivasura–Sampad–Vibhaga yogaThe Separateness of the Divine and UndivineTwo Paths, or The Yoga of the Division between the Divine and the Demonic.[18][112][113] According to Easwaran, this is an unusual chapter where two types of human nature are expounded, one leading to happiness and the other to suffering. Krishna identifies these human traits to be divine and demonic respectively. He states that truthfulness, self-restraint, sincerity, love for others, desire to serve others, being detached, avoiding anger, avoiding harm to all living creatures, fairness, compassion and patience are marks of the divine nature. The opposite of these are demonic, such as cruelty, conceit, hypocrisy and being inhumane, states Krishna.[157][158][159] Some of the verses in Chapter 16 may be polemics directed against competing Indian religions, according to Basham.[46] The competing tradition may be the materialists (Charvaka), states Fowler.[159]

Chapter 17 (28 verses)

Shraddhatraya-Vibhaga yogaReligion by the Threefold Kinds of FaithThe Power of Faith, or The Yoga of the Threefold Faith.[18][112][113] Krishna qualifies the three divisions of faith, thoughts, deeds, and even eating habits corresponding to the three modes (gunas).[160]

Chapter 18 (78 verses)

Moksha–Sanyasa yogaReligion by Deliverance and RenunciationFreedom and Renunciation, or The Yoga of Liberation and Renunciation.[18][112][113] In the final and long chapter, the Gita offers a final summary of its teachings in the previous chapters.[161] It covers many topics, states Easwaran.[162] It begins with discussion of spiritual pursuits through sannyasa (renunciation, monastic life) and spiritual pursuits while living in the world as a householder. It re-emphasizes the karma-phala-tyaga teaching, or “act while renouncing the fruits of your action”.[162]

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