Updated: Jun 13, 2022
Bhagwat Gita or the Sacred Song, is considered as one of the great scriptures in the world. Hindus regard it with same respect and love, as Christians regard the Gospels, seeking within it comfort and enlightenment. In the 1400 line verses in Gita, relationship of man and God and intense joy of divine love is celebrated.
Research says that The Gita is definitely a work of the pre-Christian Era. The scripture is likely to be 5000 years old and it’s text may have received many alterations in subsequent times. The authorship of The Gita is attributed to Vyasa, the legendary compiler of the epic, Mahabharata.
It is argued that Krishna could not have recited 700 verses to Arjuna on the battlefield. He may have said certain pointed things, which were later elaborated by the author into an extensive work.
The Gita is a tale of action taking the form of a dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna, as the great battle of Mahabharata between cousin brother, Kauravas and Pandavas is about to begin. It is a battle between good and evil, Dharma and Adharma.
Arjuna, the third brother of the Pandavas, was a hero of many battles and his very name struck fear in the heart of enemy. Seeing all his family on the other side of the battlefield, Arjuna is distressed and has a change of heart. Many thoughts are racing through his head. 'How could I kill my own relatives, friends and guru for the sake of kingdom?'.
Now, a big question arises on Arjun's thoughts here.
Did Arjuna not know in advance who the enemy was? Battle lines were drawn long ago. Both sides knew warriors taking part in the battle.
How could Arjuna refuse to fight at the last minute. Was he not betraying his brothers who were fighting for Dharma?
At this crucial moment, Krishna, who was charioteer of Arjuna, intervenes and exhorts Arjuna to fight. This is what Bhagwat Gita is all about. Duty over Love. Ahimsa over Hinsa , and Krishna motivating Arjuna that it was his moral duty to protect dharma and abolish evil forces from this earth as a Kshatriya. Also that it was time for selfless action without bothering for rewards.
But Arjuna is in a dilemma. How could he ever think of killing his great grandfather, Bhisham Pitamah, in whose lap he played as a child?
Or his guru, Drona Acharya ,who taught him the art of warfare? Besides, there are closest of relatives and friends. Arjuna is a warrior and used to killing and slaughter of the enemy. How could he slaughter his own people. This thought was causing him distress and anxiety.
Arjuna typifies the representative human soul seeking to reach perfection and peace. But we find that his mind is clouded, his conviction unsettled, his whole consciousness confused. For every individual, comes an hour when everything that he can do fails, when he sinks into the gulf of utter blackness.
This is the time when he would give all that he has for one gleam of light, for one sign of the divine. When he is assailed by doubt, denial and black despair, he can escape from them only if God lays his hand on him. When Krishna advises Arjuna to fight, it does not follow that he is supporting the validity of war fare. War happens to be the occasion which the teacher uses to indicate the spirit in which all work including warfare will have to be performed.
Arjuna takes up pacifist attitude and declines to participate in a fight for truth and justice. Arjuna does not raise the question of right or wrong of war. He is not in favour of using violence against his friends who have turned foe. Imagine if this could happen to blessed child of the divine, what would happen to a common man in such a situation. Arjuna had on his side Lord Krishna as a friend, guide and philosopher. In the battle of Mahabharata, divine lord was charioteer of Arjuna, guiding him through thick and thin of war.
Entire 700 verses of the Gita form part of dialogue between Lord Krishna and Arjuna. In the 18th chapter, Arjuna declares that all his doubts are dispelled, and he is ready for war. Gita gives us the message that death is inevitable. One who is born, has to die. And one who dies is reborn again. This cycle of birth and death continues. Why grieve for such a thing.
Krishna tells Arjuna that there was no time when all those present on the battlefield were not there. Nor there will be time when they will not be there. But atma/soul within each and every individual is part of God. It is eternal and imperishable. It is neither born nor it dies. Question than arises, what is purpose and objective of life.
According to Gita, it is to break the cycle of rebirth, achieve moksha and seek union with the divine. There are three paths you could follow to be one with God. They are karma yoga, Bhakti yoga and Gyan yoga. It is like climbing a mountain. You may climb it from any direction, view at the top will be the same. For best results, you could combine all th three yoga’s.
KARMA YOGA was first outlined in The Bhagavad Gita. It offers several approaches to liberation from suffering, self-realization and connection with the Divine.. It highlights the importance of selfless action, in which service is offered from the heart, with full attention and awareness.
Attachment to the outcome of one’s actions is said to bring suffering, particularly when something is expected in return. In order to truly practice Karma yoga, the practitioner must act with no expectations and serve others without thinking of the results.
As such, Karma yoga diminishes the ego and helps to dissolve any sense of separation between self and other. Acting in this way is believed to purify the mind, and it is considered the most virtuous approach to service.
Although volunteering one’s time and effort is a common example of Karma yoga, the concept teaches that all actions, even the most mundane, can become part of one's spiritual path. It is considered the attitude to the action, rather than the action itself, which forms Karma yoga.
As such, the essence of the practice is to act with the right motives, in the right way, to the best of one's ability whilst surrendering attachment to the outcome.
To Karma yogis, selfless action is a form of prayer and connection with the Divine. Some teachings even suggest mantra chanting whilst engaging in Karma yoga, in order to purify the mind and develop a selfless mindset.
Practicing Karma yoga also involves fully accepting one's dharma (duty in life) in order to let go of selfish desires. Of the classical paths to spiritual liberation in Hinduism, karma yoga is the path of unselfish action. It teaches that a spiritual seeker should act according to dharma, without being attached to the fruits or personal consequences.
BHAKTI YOGA is the path of devotion, the method of attaining God through love and the loving recollection of God. Most religions emphasize this spiritual path because it is the most natural.
As with other yoga’s, the goal of the bhakta, the devotee of God, is to attain God-realization, oneness with the Divine.
Bhakti means “devotion” or “love” and this path contains various practices to unite the bhakta (Bhakti Yoga practitioner) with the Divine. Bhakti Yoga is considered the easiest yogic path to master and the most direct method to experience the unity of mind, body, and spirit.
The ultimate goal in the practice of Bhakti yoga is to reach the state of rasa (essence), a feeling of pure bliss achieved in the devotional surrender to the Divine.
Bhakti yoga was first outlined in the Bhagavad Gita and it offers several approaches to liberation from suffering, self-realization and connection with the divine . Bhakti yoga highlights the importance of selflessness, in which devotion is offered from the heart, with full attention and awareness.
The intention when practicing Bhakti yoga is to devote oneself to the Divine in everything, thereby realizing the union of atman (the individual self) with Brahman (universal consciousness).
It is motivated by a love of God rather than a fear of negative repercussions or punishment, and the path therefore helps to develop love and acceptance for all beings.
Although Bhakti yoga generally takes the broad approach of devotion in general, some Bhakti yogis worship a specific deity. For example, Shaivists devote their worship to Shiva and his family, Vaishnavists devote their worship to Vishnu and his avatars and Shaktists devote their worship to devis such as Durga and Kali.
All three groups have absolute respect for one another and their respective deities, despite focusing on their own primary gods.
Bhakti yoga is sometimes referred to as the "path of the heart", and practitioners may use chanting, devotional mantras, prayer, kirtan and rituals as part of their worship.
Surrender is both a necessary component and subsequent consequence of Bhakti yoga practice; by observing the divinity of everything in the universe, ideas of self and ego tend to dissolve, along with a sense of separation from others.
Those who follow Bhakti yoga don’t see themselves as separate from one another or from any other part of the universe, thereby enhancing feelings of love and unity.
GYAN YOGA, also known as Gyan Marga, is the way of gaining true knowledge of the self. It is the art of union with the Divine, through pursuit of spiritual knowledge.
A Gyan yogi explores some very basic questions of life such as ‘who am I’ and ‘how am I related to the world as a whole’. Wisdom so gained helps him in getting freedom from the cycle of birth and death.
Apart from gyan yoga, the other two paths prescribed in Bhagavad Gita are karma yoga and bhakti yoga. Though it is not possible to draw a clear-cut demarcation, but broadly speaking karma yoga and bhakti yoga are suitable for the men of action and men of emotion respectively ; and gyan yoga is pursued by the men of contemplation. One can choose the path of his spiritual freedom depending upon his interest, aptitude and inclination.
Gyan yog refers to wisdom the the aim of which is to realise the ultimate truth.
Wisdom is not something which is to be acquired. It is inherent in the self. But it remains covered by avidya, the ignorance.
The aim of Gyan yoga is to pierce the veil of this ignorance. It is not soul but the mind which has to overcome the ignorance and let the wisdom of the soul be revealed. Once the ignorance is overcome, wisdom of the soul shines like a self-luminous source of light. When one experiences such wisdom, he is united with the Supreme.
One must have firm determination and a clear goal, avoid bodily excesses of indulgence or abstinence, develop equanimity of mind, subdue all the senses ; and control the mind through constant practice and detachment.
One must free himself from the clutches of fear, lust, anger and greed. One must be free from enmity to any of the creatures. One must regulate his breath and focus his mind on one point, to attain concentration of mind.
One must do his prescribed duty without any attachment; and without any expectation in return. One must dedicate all his actions to the Supreme Lord and receive the results with an attitude of glad acceptance. Full of love in his heart, one must worship Ishvara, the Supreme Lord with great devotion.
In this manner, he obtains insights into the nature of his own self and also his relationship with the ultimate reality. The wisdom so gained by him is not only a theoretical knowledge but also an inward experience.
As a result, one understands that the body and the soul are distinct. Whereas the body, the mind and other objects of the physical world are transient, the self is indestructible and remains unchanged by the events of the material world.
He then is freed from the good and evil influences of gunas, the three modes of material nature. As a result, the false ego gets dissolved, and the embodied soul regains his pristine glory of perfect knowledge and pure consciousness. One realizes the self and discovers the Supreme Self within.
It is stated that yagya for knowledge is superior than the one done for material gains because all works, without any exception, ultimately culminate, in wisdom.
The one who is full of faith, is sincere in his pursuit of wisdom; and who has mastered his senses, such a person gains this wisdom and having obtained it, quickly he attains to the supreme peace.
After gaining this wisdom, one shall never be deluded again because such wisdom would enable him to see the entire creation in the self, and consequently in the Supreme Lord. Nothing in this world is as purifying as this wisdom.
Even if one is the most sinful of all sinners, still he can cross over the ocean of misery by this boat of wisdom .
To conclude, when one obtains equanimous wisdom, he is liberated from the bondage of works. He gains complete self-awareness. As a result, insight of the soul is born and the apparent ego merges with the divine consciousness. The soul is united again with the Supersoul.
One then experiences the presence of the indwelling God. One becomes the master of his life.
Taught by the blessed Narayana himself to Arjuna, compiled by Vyasa, the ancient seer, in the middle of the Mahabharata, I mediate on thee, O mother, O Bhagwat Gita, the blessed of eighteen chapters, the bestower of the nectar of non-dualistic wisdom, , the destroyer of rebirth.
This famous Gita Shastra, is an epitome of the essentials of the whole Vedic teaching. A knowledge of its teaching leads to the realization of all human aspirations.
Mahatma Gandhi wrote in Young India, in 1925, when disappointment stares me in the face, and all along, I do not see one ray of light, I go back to Bhagwat Gita.
I find a verse here and a verse there, and I immediately begin to smile in the mildest of overwhelming tragedies, and my life has been full of external tragedies. And if they have left no visible, no indelible scar on me, I owe it to the teachings of the Bhagwat Gita.