- Bhagavad Gita
- Bhagavad Gita means “Song about God.” It is a segment, dating from around 200 B.C.E., of the MAHABHARATA, the classic Sanskrit epic tradition-ally ascribed to VYASA. It has 18 chapters totaling approximately 700 verses. In the framework of a legendary battle, the poem presents a philosophy of life and states principles guiding the practices of YOGA.The framework story begins when the hero, ARJUNA, asks his charioteer, KRISHNA, to pull the chariot up between the two battling armies. On one side are his own PANDAVAS who have the right-ful claim to the kingship. On the other side are their cousins, the KAURAVAS, who now are usurp-ers. Seeing that he is about to go into battle with his own guru DRONA; his grandfather, BHISHMA; and many of his cousins, Arjuna’s will fails and he sits down, not wanting to fight.Krishna scolds Arjuna and insists that he go to battle; he then begins a lecture on the nature of reality. Krishna, it eventually becomes clear, is God himself, though he has taken a role here as charioteer. He outlines several yogas that will help Arjuna fight the battle of existence.The first of the yogas is that of knowledge (JNANA), which involves insight into the Truth of Ultimate Reality, BRAHMAN. This practice involves meditative focus on the Ultimate as beyond all forms and categories. Next is the yoga of devotion (BHAKTI), which involves focus on God—Krishna himself, in this case—in a steady, yogic poise of consciousness involving surrender to the Divinity, the being that oversees the universe. The third yoga is that of action (KARMA). Krishna explains how one can act in the world yogically without regard to the fruits of one’s actions. Underlying all the three yogas is the fourth yoga, rajayoga, or the yoga of MEDITATION (dhyana), which must be practiced in order to do any of the others.The Gita generally favors action in the world and opposes leaving the world to become a renun-ciant. In the Gita, renunciation is redefined as giv-ing up the fruits of actions, not leaving the world to try to be actionless. The Gita also emphasizes devotion to the iconic divinity with form and char-acteristics, although it does not deny that some might pursue the path of realizing the transcendent brahman that is beyond characteristics and action.The Gita often cites the importance of devel-oping what is called “steady mind,” which will prevent perturbation of mind and wrong conduct whatever course we choose to take. It must be emphasized that though the Gita unfolds against a backdrop of war, it is not to be considered a prowar tract. All its commentators from earliest times interpret the text metaphorically; it refers to anyone’s battle against karma and for liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth.The Bhagavad Gita was the favorite text of Mohandas Karamchand GANDHI, the foremost proponent of nonviolence. Today the Gita is memorized and chanted as an aid to the realiza-tion of the essence of the yogas detailed therein. Ideally, the entire text is committed to memory and chanted daily.Further reading: Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita (Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1993); Swami Chinmayananda, trans., The Holy Geeta (Bombay: Cen-tral Chinmaya Mission Trust, 1968); S. N. Dasgupta, The History of Indian Philosophy, Vol. 2 (Delhi: Motilal Banar-sidas, 1975); Suryakumari Dwarakadas and C. S. Sunda-ram, Bhagavadgita Bibliography (Chennai: Kuppuswami Sastri Research Institute, 2000); Eknath Easwaran, trans., The Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living (Petaluma, Calif.: Nilgiri Press, 1984); S. Radhakrishnan, trans., The Bhagavadgita (London: Aquarian, 1995); Robert N. Minor, Bhagavad-Gita: An Exegetical Commentary (New Delhi: Heritage, 1982); ———, Modern Indian Interpret-Bhagavad Gita 73 Jers of the Bhagavadgita (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.