Introduction to The Bhagavad Gita

The following is an excerpt of the commentary on the Bhagavad Gita by Radhikaji from her forthcoming book to be published in 2017.

The Bhagavad Gita, the Celestial Song considered by many to be the Bible of the Hindus, is in fact, only a small part of the great epic Mahabharata.It is one of the two great epics, which come from India and it is in fact the longest epic in the world. it is longer then the Iliad or any of these great epics which have been written in the West. It is made of a hundred thousand verses and it is known as the Mahabharata. “Maha" means great and “Bharata”  is India or knowledge, and is written entirely in verse. This great epic is the source of the Bhagavad Gita comes. The Bhagavad Gita comprises of 18 chapters taking out from this great epic.

A popular and important Yoga text

It is probably the most popular scripture in India if one would judge by the number of commentaries written in the last 1200 years with each commentary explaining the Bhagavadgita in his own favour andpromoting his own philosophy. The earliest commentary available is Adi Shankara's bhasya.

It is one of the most popular and important texts of Yoga. For those who think that yoga is a physical exercise of course it may come as a shock but for those of you who know that yoga is about the teachings that Krishna imparts to Arjuna it is clear that the Yoga we are referring to is the union of the individual self with the Universal Self. 

The Essence of the Upanishads

Said to have been written by the legendary sage Vyasa, author of the Mahabharata, the Bhagavad Gita contains many metaphors borrowed from the Upanishads.The ancient teachings of the sages were taught in the Upanishads and these come from the Vedas, these are very ancient, around 5000 or 6000 years old and these teachings are quite esoteric  and very difficult to understand for most people. The author or the authors of the Mahabharata wrote the Bhagavad Gita and put all these teachings in the mouth of Krishna. They basically summarized all the eternal teachings of the Upanishads,  concentrated in the 18 chapters of the Bhagavad Gita.

So there is a saying from the Gita Mahatmya: Sarvo Upanishadho Gavo, Dogdha Gopala Nandana that means:  if the milk is taken out of all the Upanishads, one imagines the Upanishads as a cow and the milk has been taken out by Krishna and is given to Arjuna, the form of these teachings. It visualizes  the Upanishads is a big cow with a lot of  teachings but Krishna milks this cow  and gives this milk to Arjuna. 

The Bhagavad Gita is in fact the concentrated juice of all the teachings, it is also been put in a form, which makes it extremely interesting to read, in the setting of a battlefield, a story of the warring  cousins. These teachings have been taught for millennia in every village in India. During the monsoons, during the period of Chaturmasa these stories are narrated in different forms, as narrations, as drama, as discourses. It was easy even little children would be able to absorb the essence of the teachings. There is a saying in India that as long as the  Mahabharata and the Ramayana is heard the yogic tradition will remain alive. 

Introduction to the Bhagavad Gita

The Mahabharata is the story of the warring cousins, the 5 Pandavas and their arch enemies and cousins the 100 Kauravas. Through tricks and cunning the Kauravas usurp the kingdom of the Pandavas. All attempts to reach a peaceful agreement between the Pandavas and Kauravas by the emissary of peace Lord Krishna fail. This sets the stage for the final battle on the legendary battlefield of Kurukshetra, where the Bhagavad Gita is narrated.

Lord Krishna agrees to assist the Pandavas, alone and unarmed as Arjuna's charioteer. Arjuna is a peerless archer and the third of the five Pandava brothers. The Bhagavad Gita has a dramatic setting with the two warring armies standing before each other. The battle of Kurukshetra is fought in every human heart and mind. Arjuna asks Lord Krishna to guide the charioteer to the centre of the battlefield, between the two warring armies, so that he can survey his enemies. As he sees his cousins, his old friends and many relatives on the other side Arjuna is confused, sad and anxious. Doubt overpowers his mind and Arjuna is not equal to performing the duty of a warrior.

Bhagavad Gita and Arjuna's despondency

Thus begins the discourse of the Bhagavad Gita, Celestial Song in the centre of the battlefield, Arjuna is despondent, depressed and defeated even before the battle begins. Arjuna, full of grief, puts away his bow and arrows, and refuses to fight.

The Bhagavad Gita is no esoteric text. It is a practical manual for living out the ideals of Yoga on the battlefield of life. Quite contrary to what one might expect from a great scripture on Yoga, Lord Krishna does not preach peace nor does he advocate Arjuna to leave the battlefield and renounce the world. Lord Krishna's answer has been the inspiration to millions living out the principles and ideals of Sanatana Dharma, the Eternal Law.

Lord Krishna's Response

Chapter 2 of the Bhagavad Gita contains the core philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita and is read to the dying. This chapter contains the essence, the very core of Indian spiritual beliefs. The verse II.22 explains as we remove our old worn out garments and put on new ones, so the Self, the Atman, the owner of the body, abandons worn out, broken bodies and enters a new one. In this chapter Lord Krishna describes the nature of the Self and summarizes the practical approach of Yoga.

In a beautiful metaphor in verse II.58, the senses are likened to the limbs of a tortoise. Withdrawing the limbs within, the tortoise rests. Similarly, when we withdraw the senses from the world, we rest in the Self. Lord Krishna explains in a simple and direct manner what happens when we get too attached to external objects. From the birth of desire up to the death of the body, stage by stage we fall deeper in to ignorance.

In a unique verse II.69 the Bhagavad Gita expounds that which is day to the ordinary human being is night to the wise one. Clearly the sage sees the worldly objects that ordinary mortals desire differently. The world of the wise ones is quite the opposite, their values being quite different. Thus, where most of us see pleasure, the wise ones see pain.

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The Bhagavad Gita and Yoga

The author of the Bhagavad Gita was clearly not acquainted with the technical meaning of Yoga as explained in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Below the chapters are enumerated with a brief summary.

  • Chapter 1 Arjuna Vishad - In which Arjuna is despondent and is losing the battle of life.
  • Chapter 2 Sankhya Yoga - The Self is described and core of Indian spiritual tradition is elaborated upon.
  • Chapter 3 Karma Yoga - Duties without expectation, meditation in action, sacrifice
  • Chapter 4 Jnana - What is action and what is inaction is explained. The relationship between desires and  fruits of action is elaborated.
  • Chapter 5 Karmasanyasayoga - Explains both Sankhya and Karma yoga and buries the debate about which path is superior the path of renunciation or the path of action.
  • Chapter 6 Atmasanyamayoga - The path of meditation is explained.
  • Chapter 7 Vijnanayoga - The mysterious and esoteric state of Self Realization is described.
  • Chapter 8 Aksharaparabhahmayoga - Here Mantrayoga or the science of sound is elaborated up on, this is the knowledge of death and dying, and that which leads to the Eternal.
  • Chapter 9 Rajavidyarajaguhyayoga
  • Chapter 10 Vibhutiyoga - Sri Krishna elaborates on the glorious manifestations of the Lord.
  • Chapter 11 Vishwarupadarshanam - Arjuna wishes to see the Lord in his cosmic form. With Yogic vision Arjuna has a glimpse of the universal form of the Divine.
  • Chapter 12 Bhaktiyoga - Meditation on the unmanifest and other paths are compared.
  • Chapter 13 Kshetrakshetrajnavibhagayoga - The Universe, the body and its Knower is described.
  • Chapter 14 Gunatrayavibhagayoga - The three Gunas or qualities are explained.
  • Chapter 15 Purushottamapraptiyoga 
  • Chapter 16 Daivasarasaupadwibhagayoga
  • Chapter 17 Sraddhatrayavibhagayoga
  • Chapter 18 Mokshasannyasayoga

The Bhagavad Gita, Non-violence and the Middle Path

On listening to this uplifting discourse, Arjuna is reminded of his duties. Arjuna fights against the Kauravas. At the end of the 18 day battle the Pandavas emerge victorious. Though the setting of the Bhagavad Gita is a battlefield and Lord Krishna extols Arjuna to fight, this scripture by no means encourages or sanctions the use of violence.

The Bhagavad Gita was a great inspiration to Mahatma Gandhi, who fought against the British colonial rule using non-resistance and non-violence.

The Bhagavadgita tries to mark out a middle path between austere discipline of meditative practices and mere ritualism and Brahmanism. One of the main features of this work is that it successfully suggests a new type of Yogin who would combine both paths, devote himself to his natural duties and yet abstract himself from all selfish motives and desires.