The Bhagavad Gita has attained the status of the
Holy Book for the Hindus. The following article describes how. It
also describes the essence of the teachings in this Holy book with a
little introduction to understand the background. The story is woven
around a royal family. Two brothers brought forth two families, the
Kauravas who were thousand in number and the Pandavas who were five.
The Pandavas were the heroes. Yudhishtra was the eldest, Bhima,
Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva were the others. Krishna, the eighth
incarnation of Lord Vishnu, is believed to have helped the Pandavas
win the war they waged with the Kauravas. Now read on
The Bhagavad Gita is part
of the Mahabharata; it is an episode in the concluding part, Santi
Parva, representing Lord Krishnas advice to Arjuna in the
battle field when the latter shows diffidence caused by moral doubt
and confusion. But seldom does history offer a parallel to the
phenomenon of a section of the work overshadowing the whole. How
this happened is linked with the course which philosophical and
social development took in the last thousand years.
The setting of the Gita
is the scene of the great battle which brings the Kauravas and the
Pandavas face to face in the final trial of strength. Arjuna, the
best archer of all, tell Krishna to lead the chariot to a central
point, between the two arrays of hostile forces. As he surveys the
field he is overcome with emotion; the absurdity of war dominates the
mind. (The theme would have struck a familiar chord among the
ancients who were clearly aware of Emperor Asokas renunciation
of the world and embracing of Buddhism after grieving over the
futility of the Kalinga war that he had won.)
The answer that Krishna
gives forms eighteen chapters of the Gita. Free of doubt and firm in
the mind, Arjuna enters the field and emerges triumphant.
If the validity of human
action in the crisis of war has to be established, a brief answer was
adequate. Krishnas reply upto chapter II, sloka 38, meets all
the points. But if it is recognized that the story as well as the
setting merely serve as a peg on which to hang the message, the long
treatise would not seem an irrelevant digression. In fact once
Arjuna posed the question his image receded into the background very
much like that of the pupils in the Upanishads (ancient sacred
texts). The answer is what concerns us. The war would
correspondingly become our battle of life. Viewed thus, the
discussions on karma (duty), gnana (knowledge) and bhakti (worship)
acquire universality. One need no longer ask, How could there
be a long discourse right in the midst of war?
The message of the Gita
may be viewed in two ways. As a practical guide to a man of action
and as an integral view of systems of thought.
The first part, addressed
to Arjuna specifically, is devoted to the definition of duty (karma)
and prescribes the right approach, that is through detachment. Man
must recognize the order of life and devotee himself to his own duty
as per his own dharma (way of life). In that task he shall devote
himself energetically but without anxious anticipation of results.
Herein occurs the famous passage, Karmanyeva adhikaraste ma phalesu
kadachana, Krishnas message to Arjuna includes caution against
ignorance (agnana); for it is the single contributor to confusion
(moha). Knowledge is that which transcends understanding (or,
information). It is a man of true knowledge who sees that the soul
is indestructible: arrows can not pierce, fire can not burn, water
cannot wet and wind can not dry. As man discards the worn out
clothes and takes new ones to wear, the soul discards the worn out
body and enters a new one, Man shall treat alike, pleasure and pain,
gain and loss, devoid of passion, fear and anger. Victory and defeat
will thus cease to agitate the inner spirit that engages in action.
Interest in the Gita is
confined to this, at the popular level. To the student o Indias
philosophical tradition, however, the work represents a brilliant
attempt at reconciling the different schools of thought that
prevailed at that time the Sankhya and the Mimamsa, chiefly.
While the former emphasizes self effort, meditation and the control
of the senses, that is the intellectual approach; the latter relies
upon sacrifice and rituals as per Vedic injunction. The Gita is
critical of both: the way out is that of yoga, that is dedication to
work and worship, Karma and bhakti. Angnana, lack of right knowledge
is repeatedly under attack; for its is the root of human suffering
(carrying forward the Buddha dictum: desire is the root cause
of all suffering.)
The human being can
evolve through restraint of the senses so as to reach the state of
Sthithapragna, steadfast consciousness. The well known passage on
this employs the simile of the tortoise.
As the tortoise draws
within, all its limbs, he who withdraws the senses from their objects
his is the conscious mind, so firm.
Control of the senses,
non-attachment, universality of vision and constant consciousness of
the supreme, these are the requisites of the liberated man. Thus
moksha or liberation is emphasized as an attainment in this world,
here, not hereafter. It is essentially a state of peace in which
nothing can agitate the mind.
However is an attempt to
grapple with various philosophies, not all of them equally sound, the
Gita tends to be discursive; contradictions have also been noticed.
Yet, the Gita may be viewed as a deliberate attempt to synthesise
different schools of thought, which in their independent existence
were threatening to be explosive. It was probably undertaken by a
master thinker who, felt the urge for it in order to meet
certain social and philosophical and religious needs. If this
was the deliberate synthesis of the master mind in ancient India, it
was another such in medieval Indian that lent the universality that
belongs to the Gita today. Sankara, the philosopher, gave the Gita
high status in equating it with Upanishads and Brahma sutras (ancient
work of tremendous philosophical and religious value).
On the Gita, Sankara, the
greatest Hindu thinker of the century, wrote a commentary with
emphasis on karma yoga. Two centuries later another philosopher,
Ramanuja, followed up with another commentary on the Gita.
To seek authority
in scriptural literature thus became a tradition. What the
philosopher did in medieval times was so effective that social
reformers sought to achieve, in the 19th century, a
similar response. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, an erstwhile statesman who
was the father of the freedom struggle in India, gained remarkable
success in mobilizing public support by means of the Gita; the
message to Arjuna became the youth of India, dazed and weary under
British regime. Mahatma Gandhi too found strength and inspiration in
the Gita; he wrote a simple commentary in Hindi entitled,
The spiritual awakening
led by reformers, thinkers, philosophers like Ramakrishna Parahamsa,
Vivekanada and Dayanand naturally drew upon the teachings of the Gita
to awaken India from Slumber and servitude.
Nowhere has a mere part
of a great epic served such noble purposes in so many contexts
through so many centuries.
The Gita is unique.