Bhagavad Gita Summary

At a Glance

Arjuna returns to his homeland to fight the evil Kauravas. On the eve of battle, Arjuna asks Krishna, his charioteer, for guidance.

  • Arjuna's biggest concern is a moral one: he does not want to kill anyone—particularly friends and relatives. Krishna assures him that the soul can never be killed and that he need not be afraid of death.
  • Krishna tells Arjuna that he must rid himself of the three gunassattva, or light; rajas, or fire; and tamas, or darkness.
  • In order to transcend the gunas, Arjuna must perform his sacred duty and act according to his rank in society: a warrior.


(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

The Bhagavad Gita is the crown jewel of Vedic literature and has had a huge influence on Hindu thought, ethics, and practices. A short eighteen chapters in the epic Mahābāhrata, the Gita consists of a dialogue between Lord Krsna (an incarnation of the god Visnu) and Arjuna, a great warrior. A battle between the Pāndavas—Arjuna and his brothers—against the evil Kauravas is imminent, but Arjuna is suddenly transfixed when he realizes that he must wage war against relatives and close friends. He asks for Krsna’s guidance.

Krsna’s reply to this and subsequent questions constitutes the text of the Bhagavad Gita, whose title translates literally as “divine song.”

Krsna begins by addressing Arjuna’s problem, stressing that nothing with a soul really dies. People are immortal. Furthermore, Arjuna’s duty as a warrior is to fight in a righteous battle. With these instructions, Krsna reveals his relativistic ethics—right action must be appropriate to the specific situation.

Krsna continues by revealing the central message of the Gita: be without the three gunas, the basic forces of nature that bind people to the temporal world. The first, sattva, or light, binds people to happiness and lower knowledge. The second, rajas, or fire, binds people to action with strong desires. The third, tamas, or darkness, binds people to sleepy dullness. In transcending the everyday world of the senses to gain a direct...

(The entire section is 445 words.)