Saturday, September 1, 2007

Bhagavad - Gita: Summary

Bhagvad-Gita is one of the holiest books of Hinduism. It is a part of the Mahabharata, a great epic. The name Bhagvad-Gita means Song of the Lord. It is written in the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit. The Bhagvad-Gita is often called simply the Gita (song). Scholars such as Shankara (also known as Shankaracharya), who lived in India in the A.D. 700's, have written commentaries on it. The Bhagavad Gita is the archetype of Yoga scripture and constantly refers to itself as such, the 'Scripture of Yoga'. The Gita is part of Book Six of the Mahabharat, the great Indian epic poem. It consists of 700 verses divided into 18 chapters, and may have been added to the main work during the A.D. 100's and 200's.

Lord Krishna and Arjuna

Gita made little religious impact until Shankaracharya's commentary appeared. From this time onward, it had an important influence on Hinduism. Krishna, presented in the poem as Vishnu in the flesh, is the spiritual teacher who recited the Gita. The Bhagvad-Gita consists of a dialogue between Krishna and Arjun on the battlefield of Kurukshetra (in present day Haryana). That is where the royal cousins, the Pandavs and the Kouravs, face each other for the decisive battle to end their long-running feud. The Bhagvad-Gita debates the rights and wrongs of conflict. It also discusses a person's duty to himself or herself, to his or her fellow humans, and to God. It explores God's relationship to humans. It shows how people can begin to understand God and so free themselves from the burden of Karma (deeds done in previous lives and in this present life).

The Bhagavadgita teaches how to escape from this predicament, not by mere escape from the burdens of the worldly life, or avoidance of responsibilities, but by remaining amidst the humdrum of life and facing them squarely with a sense of fearlessness, detachment and stability of mind accepting God as the Doer.

According to the Bhagavadgita, salvation is not possible for those who want to escape from life and activity. Those who remain amidst society, unafraid of the burdens of life, and live a life of sacrifice fully surrendering to God are in fact more qualified for it.

Those who are prepared to go through the battles of life, through self-discipline, stability of mind, detachment, surrendering to God with full devotion, wisdom , right discrimination and knowledge, are qualified to attain liberation and union with the Supreme.

The Bhagavadgita is the story of Arjuna, who was suddenly overcome by sorrow in the middle of battle field and stood confused and withdrawn. Lord Krishna, who was his charioteer in the battle field, teaches him, out of extreme compassion and love, the paths of right action, right knowledge and right devotion.

Krishna instructs Arjun on the three ways to union with God. The first is Karma-Yoga (the Way of Action). Each person should do his or her duty according to caste, without hope of personal benefit or ambition, but with faith in God. Those who go through the motions of performing rituals without care or interest, or do their work only for profit, will never achieve release from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Only if a person acts with his or her mind fixed on Brahman (God) will he or she become free, at peace, and at one with God. Anyone in that state feels no disturbing desires. Where there is no desire there is no disappointment, and there are no competitive stirrings of ambition. In work one's sole ambition should be to serve as an example to others, so that they too may do their duty.

The second way is Jnana-Yoga (the way of Knowledge). By this means, the contemplative person can best seek union with God. Such a person should have self-control and spend much of his or her time in meditation. Through God's grace, he or she will come to realize that Brahman and Atman are one. Arjun asks which of these two paths is best. Krishna replies that the result will be the same whichever path is followed. The end means absorption in Brahman, the unchanging, the eternal. The entire universe exists in and because of Brahman, but few are sufficiently advanced to perceive this Being. Most people are absorbed with their own petty, temporary concerns, which are only 'maya' (illusion), which cannot last but must pass away in time.

The third way is Bhakti-Yoga (the Way of Devotion). This is one of the most important contributions made by the Bhagvad-Gita to the development of modern Hinduism. Krishna becomes the Ishvara (personal God), who may be worshipped as a spirit or as an image by his followers. He will accept any offering, however humble, as long as it is made with love. Every worshipper who approaches with a loving heart is welcomed. Union with God, and release from the suffering of birth and rebirth, is available to all through devotion to Krishna.

The following points have been selected carefully from the Bhagavadgita so as to reflect the central theme of Lord Krishna's teachings.

  • The body is unreal. It is like a garment worn by the self. The self is real and permanent. It is not subject to death or destruction. It is an aspect of the Supreme Self.
  • A man with unstable mind is not fit for salvation. Instability of the mind is due to attachment and desire for sense objects. The mind is kept restless by the wandering senses.
  • Through self-discipline a devotee can control the activity of the senses, develop detachment from the sense objects and achieve tranquility of the mind. With the attainment of tranquility of mind all his sorrows would come to an end. He can then easily establish his mind in God and achieve union with Him.
  • A man should perform his allotted duty, for action is superior to inaction. But while performing actions he should not think that he is the doer nor he should have any attachment for the work he is doing.
  • The Karmayogi performs actions only with his senses, mind, intellect and body, giving up all attachment for his inner purification, offering the fruit of his actions to God. Mentally renouncing all actions and self-controlled, he lives in his body happily, neither acting nor making others act. Offering the fruit of actions to God, he attains peace in the form of Self-realization. He becomes one with God and attains liberation.
  • God dwells in the body as the inner witness. At the time of death he who remembers God alone, attains Him without any doubt. Therefore one should remember Him at all times, with mind and intellect absorbed in Him. By constant practice of yoga, his mind without thinking anything else, constantly meditating on Him, he attains the Supreme Divine.
  • In summary according to the Bhagavadgita a man should not renounce action or performance of his duty. He should do his works, but with a sense of detachment, with a steady mind and with self-discipline, casting away egoism and all other negative qualities, without any desire for the fruits of his actions, with a sense of sacrifice, completely surrendering to God and fully devoted to Him, offering the fruit of his actions to Him and partaking the remains of the nectar in the form of sacrifice.
  • Actions performed in this manner do not bind men. Always engaged in some action, taking shelter in Him, by His grace, he attains the eternal, imperishable Abode.