The Bhagavad Gita: An Introduction
The Bhagavad-Gita, the “Song of the Lord,” is a poem in the form of a dialogue. Although considered an independent sacred text it is part of the sixth book of the Hindu epic Mahabharata. The dialogue is between the warrior prince Arjuna and Krishna. Krishna is an incarnation of the cosmic power that has descended to the earth to restore order in times of chaos. He is Arjuna’s charioteer, friend and teacher. At the beginning of the text Arjuna, the warrior prince, is endowed with physical prowess and intellectual tenacity. By the end, Krishna makes him aware of his Self, a spiritual heart.
The dialogue takes place on a battlefield. The war that is about to begin is between two sets of cousins: five sons of Pandu, Pandavas and one hundred sons of Dhritarashtra, Kauravas. Their two teachers are Bhishma and Drona. While Bhishma is revered for his spiritual power, Drona is a priest and the master of archery. Out of the five Pandava brothers Drona’s favorite student is Arjuna, although all brothers excel in warrior skills and virtue.
The Kauravas are jealous of the Pandavas. The Kauravas’ eldest brother, Duryodhana covets the throne, which legitimately belongs to Yudhishthira, the eldest Pandava brother.
In a game of dice Yudhishthira loses his kingdom to Duryodhana. Thus Yudhishthira along with Arjuna and three other brothers are forced into thirteen years of exile.
After thirteen years when Pandavas return to the capital, Duryodhana refuses to give up the throne and step aside. This results in a full-fledged war between the cousins. The war lasts for eighteen days and ends with the victory of the Pandavas over Kauravas-order triumphs over chaos.
First few chapters of the Gita focus on the battle. Then the text shifts to Arjuna’s inner conflict. When Arjuna faces his own kinsmen, it paralyses him. On the one hand he does not want to kill the members of his extended family and on the other he must fulfill his responsibility as a warrior. He feels dejected and wants Krishna to dispel his uncertainty. Finding Arjuna in a spiritual abyss Krishna counsels him. As the reading progresses, Krishna’s authoritative voice diminishes Arjuna’s questioning and warrior confidence and increases his faith and devotion. Krishna gradually unfolds his terrible divine glory until the warrior prince sees himself in the divine.
Krishna enlarges Arjuna’s awareness beyond personal and social values that he holds sacred. He argues that Arjuna’s pity is nothing but weakness; that it is individual’s duty to rise from detachment and see the larger cosmic order. Krishna’s argument makes Arjuna recognize why he must fight.
The dialogue links daily acts with spiritual discipline. Krishna claims that individual freedom does not lay in renouncing the action but in disciplined action. He advises (and this is the core of the Gita’s teaching) that all action must be performed without attachment to its fruit. All work must be done in devotion to God. The devotion resolves the delusional conflict between the worldly life of duties and the spiritual life of detachment.
Krishna is aware of his friend’s spiritual conflict and guides him to a path of resolution. He teaches him how to discipline his emotions and actions. He draws Arjuna into a universe beyond the world of everyday experience. At the same time he forces him back to wage the battle of life. On the one hand he advocates the life of action, discipline and moral duty and on the other he teaches him to transcend his warrior experience in search of spiritual freedom.
Krishna does not condone physical violence but identifies the real enemy as desire of fruit of action due to attachment. In one chapter, he redefines the battlefield as the human body-the material realm in which one struggles to know oneself. The real war is going on within. He says that the real enemy is the attachment for the fruit of action that can only be overcome by transcending the narrow limits of selfish desire. The book is the dramatic journey of Arjuna’s self-realization.