General Introduction to Bhagawad Gita

Bhagawad Gita consists of eighteen chapters, every chapter bearing a title with yoga, as suffix, which means ‘union with God’ as well as ‘pathway to God’. Each chapter of the Gita is thus meant as a ‘pathway to Perfection’, laid down for the benefit of man. Gita is a universal scripture, with a message for everyone, for every man, to whichever religion he may belong or at whatever stage of mental and spiritual development he may be. It caters to the moral, intellectual and spiritual needs of everyone: Taking the context of a historical war of the epic ages, (Mahabharata war), which impliedly signifies the duel that is constantly going on in our hearts between evil impulses and good impulses. Lord Sri Krishna, God Himself, exhorts us to always endeavour to abide by good, with-faith and spirit of surrender to Him and He asks each one of us to discharge our duties with discipline and dedication and without eye on the fruits of the action and strive to realize and recognize “one’s oneness with all beings, i.e., the unity of all life and existence.” In the Mahabharata war, Kauravas and Pandavas were arrayed against each other in combat, Kauravas signifying the evil forces and Pandavas signifying the righteous forces (the dual forces which are constantly in conflict in our bosoms too, each fighting to gain its own supremacy over the other).

Dhrutarashtra, the King and father of the Kauravas, the evil brood, was blind. He was blind not only physically but was blind morally and spiritually as well. He was blindly attached to his evil sons, blinded with Swajateeya and Vijateeya bhedas (distinctions of mine and not mine); this attachment made him blind to all sense of justice which develops on him to uphold and protect, as the duty of a King. He asks Sanjaya, “Mamakah Pandavachaiva..” as he wanted to know what was happening at the battle front in the war between his sons and the Pandavas. Then Sanjaya began to recount to him what had happened, beginning the Arjuna’s great dilemma and despondency at the time of the zero hour of the war.

Just when the war was about to commence, at the very crucial moment, seeing his own kith and kin and his revered elders only arrayed on the enemy side and thinking of the awful implications of the war, Arjuna was overtaken by grief. “For the mere earthly kingdom he was going to fight and perhaps kill even his own kith and kin. He would be fighting with the worshipful Bhishma, his great-grand-sire, who had nurtured him on his lap in his childhood after he lost his father, and brought him up and made him into a man; he would be fighting with the worshipful Drona, his preceptor, who loved him as his own son, or rather even more than his own son, and had taught him the use of bow and arrows and made him perfect and foremost in the art and the self-same skill which he learnt from the preceptor he would be now using against the preceptor himself and to slay him perhaps ! all these thoughts suddenly flooded his mind and overpowered him completely; the attachment to kith and kin and the preceptor and the friends blinded him to his duty as a Kshatriya, who was supposed to uphold justice even by laying down his own life. Being at a loss to know and decide for himself what is right and what is wrong, confused in mind and shattered in spirit, he sought the guidance of the Lord, Lord Sri Krishna, surrendering himself totally at His Feet. The Lord enlightens him with the knowledge regarding the supremacy of one’s duty and of doing it with a mind unattached and in the perspective of Truth. Listening to the teaching of the Lord, Arjuna recovers himself, enlivened in body and spirit, and takes up to his duty, in spirit of dedication and as a yoga i.e., means for attainment of Truth. This message, given by Lord to Arjuna is indeed a universal message, message for all times and for all men. And this message, is enshrined in Bhagawad Gita, by the great Sage Vyasa who wrote the great epic Mahabharata. The Gita comprises of eighteen chapters, with Seven hundred slokas. The Gita Teaching contains the essence of all the Upanishads.


(The despondency of Arjuna)

There were two reasons expressed by Arjuna for the cause of his grief: He believed and thought that:

1) Along with the body, the real personality of man (the Atma) also perishes. This is called Dehatmabhranti, identifying the Atma, the imperishable self with the deha, the perishable body, and (2) Waging war, even for a righteous cause, was a sin, forgetting that the duty of Kshatriya is to fight wickedness, to subdue evil and to uphold Dharma even at the risk of the life.

The first one was quite a normal and common ignorance, but the second one was rather ‘out of the ordinary’ and uncommon i.e., not to have a clear understanding of the paramountacy and, supremacy of one’s duty(Swadharma).

Lord Krishna dispels the first ignorance by his teaching in the second chapter of the Gita viz., Sankhya Yoga, the philosophy of discrimination and the science of the imperishable Atma. The second ignorance is sought to be dispelled by the preaching in the third chapter viz., Karma yoga – about the importance and supremacy of swadharma, its Swabhava. In the light of the understanding of the teachings, the conflict in Arjuna’s mind got resolved and his grief was allayed.

The science of Atma, which Krishna teaches is called Brahma Vidya, the knowledge of the supreme Spirit, the Absolute. Aruuna’s merit (eligibility and fitness) for being taught the Brahma Vidya viz., ‘the four – fold qualifications’- surrender, desirelessness, dispassion and detachment, have been delineated in the first chapter. Arjuna says, ‘I do not care even for the Lordship of all the three worlds.” Such a high degree dispassion made Arjuna merited for being imparted the sacred Atma Vidya (Brahma Vidya) by the Lord Himself, at whose feet Arjuna unreservedly surrendered himself.


(The philosophy of discrimination)

This chapter teaches the Atmatattwa Jnana. Atma is beyond the six-fold changes (Vikaras). It is eternal, it is one and non-dual, it is all-pervading. It is actionless (a pure witness), it is a Sat – Chit – Ananda Swarupa. The delusion that the true personality (Atma) of our being also perishes with the body, gets dispelled by this teaching. Everyone is normally afraid of death, but once when one learns of the imperishable nature of one’s own deeper personality i.e., one’s self, one gets over this fear. To dispel the fear of death, Atma Swarupa Jnana bodha is given in this chapter. It also gives the glorious image of one established in Atmic consciousness the Stithaprajna, the sage of steadfast wisdom.


(Path of action)

To imbibe the knowledge of the Atma, Chitta Suddhi is the primary requirement. One’s Antahkarna (mind and intellect equipment) should be pure. A heart filled with Kama and Krodha cannot imbibe the knowledge of the Atma Tattwa. Kama and Krodha relate to and are for the worldly objects. Therefore, the mind does not keep quiet without goading the Karmendriyas (organs of action) to some action or the other. All actions with desires (Kamya Karmas) are the cause of bondage by building up the store of Vasanas plunging the Jiva deeper and deeper into the ocean of rebirth. But none is engaged in actions in a spirit of worship unto God, and without desire for the fruits thereof, the Chitta gets cleansed and purified; then, even the Pravritti Karmas which are otherwise binding get transmuted into liberating Nivritti Karmas and the bondage of actions gets snapped. Performance of actions in such a spirit and in conformity with one’s duities, in the spirit of Nishkamakarma, cleanses the mind and tears the veil of ignorance and the intellect gets purified. Then Karma gets transmuted into Karma Yoga, whereby it leads to the dawn of spiritual knowledge and liberation.

Nishkama Karmanushthana and Swadharmanushthana are the essence of Karma Yoga. What leads to success in this path is the conquest of one’s desire.


(Path of Wisdom)

A purified heart only can ascend to Truth. Wisdom (Atma Jnana) will dawn only in a purified heart. In this chapter, the glory of Jnana, its splendour and the Sadhanas for acquiring that supreme Jnana are taught Karma Yoga fructifies, and find its fulfiment in Jnana. Knowledge destroys all sins as well as all past Vasanas. Jnana is the means to the, – state of purity and perfection. For attaining it, the chief means are (i) Pranipata (surrender to Guru), (ii) Pariprasa (seeking repeated clarifications), (iii) Seva (service to Guru), (iv) Sraddha (firm and unwavering faith), (v) Tatparatwa (attachment to the divine), (vi) Jitendriyatwa (total self-control); this is what is taught in this chapter.


(Renunciation of action)

One who has attained Atma Jnana is a Jivan Mukta. The glorious traits and qualities of a Jivan Mukta are described in this chapter. Such a Jnani even though he may appear to be engaged in worldly activities, his limbs only will be acting and he will be just a pure detached witness; in otherwords, he is in an actionless state. He is really detached from the body; he is always in Atmic consciousness and is no longer under the thraldom of his body and mind. He is liberate even while in the body. Karma Sanyasa (renunciation of desires forfruits of actions) and Saakshee bhava are the Sadhanas to attain to this state.


(Yoga of meditation and self- control)

One who has purified his mind through selfless activities and is freed for the thraldom of worldly desires has to practice Dhyana (meditation), for purification of his intellect and to ascend to self-realisation.

The detachment needed to take to meditation and the disciplines regarding food, Pranayama i.e., control of one’s breath, calming and, quietening the thought-flow in the mind, are taught in this chapter.


(Jnana – Vijnana Yoga – Knowledge and experience)

The intellect gets purified by practice of Dhyana and it understands both the Nirguna Tattwa (aspect of attributeless Brahman), as well as Saguna Tattwa (of attributeful Brahman). Also, the Cosmos, composed of the five elements, is in truth but an expression (manifestation, projection / appearance) of the Lord only; it is only the vesture and body of the all pervading Lord, who is accessible to one, either through Arta Bhakti, Artharthi Bhakti, Jijnasa Bhakti and Jnana Bhakti. These are the means by which liberation can be attained.


(Imperishable Brahman the rife everlasting)

Whatever Bhavana subsists in the mind when life ebbs out of the body i.e., at the moment of one’s death, that thought shapes the next birth of the Jiva. Yad Bhavam, Tad Bhavati, it is said. If one’s mind dwells upon God at the last moment, he attains Akashara Prabrahma Prapti. If one disciplines and habituates his mind by constant practice of ceaseless contemplation of the Lord all through his life, the mind will naturally dwell only on the thought of God at the last moment. He will surely attain Mukti and will be thuu freed from the cycle of Birth and Death. The good and the Upasakas take to Devayana Marga, and those who are attached to karmas take to Pitruyana Marga.


(Yoga of sovereign science and sovereign secret, i.e, the Science of, science and the Mystery of mysteries)

In this chapter, Krishna teaches the Nirguna Tattwa of the Lord and the illusory nature of the universe and how to attain that knowledge; Ananya Bhakti (singleminded devotion) is the means. The Saulabhya aspect of the otherwise intangible Lord, through means of pure Bhakti is also taught in this chapter. It is said that Saint Jnaneswar while entering the Samadhi (Jiva Samadhi), went into the tomb reciting this chapter, which signifies the greatness and importance of the same.

It glorifies the Saulabhya nature of God, His accessibility to man.


(Divine Manifestations)

For cultivation of Ananya Bhakti, the mind should be cultivated to glimpse the Lord in every bit of Creation. Wherever there is goodness, splendour and glory, that is all. But a reflection of and an aspect of God. All the cosmos, is full of His vibhutis and glory only and, therefore, we should endeavor to glimpse God through his creation.


(Vision of the Cosmic Form)

God is of course, immanent in the creation, even so, it is in Him that – all creation rests. While Chapter X gives glimpses of God in the creation, this chapter projects the entire Cosmos in the person of the Lord. God is not exhausted in His creation. He is even beyond and transcends the whole creation.


(Path of devotion)

Saguna Bhakti and Nirguna Bhakti are taught in this chapter. Both are supreme by themselves. A true Bhakta’s attributes and traits are also described in this chapter. He has malice towards none and has over flowing compassion for all, and, more than his loving of God, he is loved even more by God.

While the first six chapters give disciplines to purify the Jivi, the second six chapters describe manifestations of the all-pervading nature and glory of God, and the means to attain that God is Ananya Bhakti, i.e, singleminded devotion. The last six chapters teach the essential identity of Jiva with Brahman.


(Spirit and matter)

In this chapter the Kshetra, Upadhis – adjuncts; Kshetrajna – the in – dweller; Jnana – the means to knowledge” ie., the virtues to be cultivated; the Jneya – the Knowledge; Prakriti – nature / matter; Purusha – the spirit; all these are described. This knowledge promotes discrimination between self and non-self (not-self) – the enduring and the evanescent.


(Three Qualities)

While Brahman is the only reality, why is it that we are not able to coginse and experience it? What is the barrier between us and the self? It is due to the veiling of the spirit by prakriti which is composed of the three Gunas. To get over and transcend Prakriti which is alienating us from the Truth and to acquire a right understanding of this veiling power, the nature of the three GUnas. Viz., Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas is described, and their nature and power and how they bind us – all this is explained. Finally, the glorious characteristics and attributes of a Gunateeta who has transcended the Gunas are given. The Sadhanas needed to become a Gunateeta are also described in this chapter.


(Lord-God / Supreme Self)

Because of Prakriti only, Jiva gets bound in Samsara. The description of the Samsara Vriksha and the way to cut as under this bondage (attachment to the, world) through Vairagya and how to attain the Purushothama – these are brought out in this chapter.


(Divine and the demoniacal qualities)

To acquire Vairagya, man has to shed his Asuric traits and cultivate Daivee Sampat and lift himself up. The asuric traits and Divine traits are described in this chapter.

Further, “What is the right thing to do and what is wrong”? in such dilemmas, Scriptures are the best guide and authority. One has to abide by the scriptural injunctions and conduct himself in this world accordingly.


(Three-fold faith)

For successful cultivation of Daivee Sampat, Sattvic, faith is necessary in all aspects and dealings in life. The Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic aspects relating to one’s faith, food habits, and Yajna, Dana, Tapas are all described in detail and one is asked to eschew Rajas and Tamasic habits. Whatever is done with Sattvic Sarddha leads one to the final goal of realization.


(Spirit of renunciation)

The essence of the teachings of the previous seventeen chapters is briefly reviewed and spiritual terms like Tyaga, Jnana, Karla, Karma, Buddhi, Dhruti, Sukha have been described in relation to Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic natures. The duties, qualities and obligations of the four – fold castes / people are also detailed. Further, it is exhorted that Yajna, Dana and Tapas are indispensable disciplines and obligations – for a Jiva and that Nishkamakarma, Yogaabhyasa, Bhakti, Vairagya and Sanyasa are the means for the final liberation of Jiva; through these Sadhanas, one attains supreme wisdom (Jnana) and acquires SarvatmaBhama, overcoming grief and attaining Moksha.

Essence of the teachings of Gita:

The main teachings are :

(I) One should execute all activities as worship of the Lord, i.e., one should serve the all – pervading Lord through single-minded devotion; then he attains Jnana and Sarvatma Bhava and as a result sheds Kama and Krodha and takes to Yajna (selfless service), Dana and Tapas.

(II) Vedas are the final authority as to what one is to do, as to how one should conduct himself, adhering to Dharma (i.e, a strict moral and ethical living) and keeping in view God as the sole refuge.

If these precepts are imbibed and lived in actual practice in our lives, peace and happiness will prevail in this world and lead to our liberation too.

There will be no better end to the above brief summary than referring to what Gandhiji said about the Gita. “Gita is not only my. Bible or my Koran; it is more than that – it is my Mother. I lost my earthly mother who gave birth to me at an early age in my file, But this eternal Mother, – Gita, has completely filled the gap ever since. She never changed, she has never failed me, When I am in difficulty or distress, I seek refuge in her bosom. When disappointment stares me in the face and I see not a ray of fight, I go back to Bhagawad Gita, I find a verse here or there and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming tragedies, and my life has been full of external tragedies and if they have left-no visible, no indelible scares on me, I owe it all to the teachings of the “Bhagawad Gita”.

“Bhagawad Gita Kinchidadheetaa
Tasya Yamena na charcha,
Bhaja Govindam Bhaja Govinda,
Govindam Bhaja Mudhamate”

“One who has studies Bhagawad Gita even a little will have no confrontation with Yama…….and will attain Govinda”

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