Bhagavad Gita

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Bhagavad Gita Summary

The Bhagavad Gita is a piece of ancient Hindu scripture in which the warrior Arjuna consults with Krishna on matters of morality.

  • Arjuna returns to his homeland to fight the evil Kauravas. On the eve of battle, Arjuna asks Krishna for guidance.
  • Arjuna has a moral dilemma: he does not want to kill. Krishna assures him that the soul can never be killed and that death is nothing to fear.
  • 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 as a warrior.

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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 perception of God, or ultimate reality, one must resist being overcome by these forces. By working toward this transcendence, one can achieve liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth and live in eternal bliss consciousness.

At first, Krsna describes two basic ways to transcend the three gunas: Jñāna Yoga and Karma Yoga. Jñāna Yoga is the way of monks or renunciants—the path of wisdom on which one studies the sacred texts and lives life away from the pleasures of the world. Karma Yoga is the way of the householder—the path of action on which one is active in the world, meditates, and follows one’s dharma, or duty. In terms of talent and temperament, people are suited to different roles in society; therefore, everyone has a duty that, however lowly, should always be followed. In later epochs of Indian history, this key concept gave rise to a rigid caste system.

Later, Krsna talks about a third path, that of Bhakti Yoga, or the path of devotion, on which one practices Vedic rituals or simply offers anything one does to Krsna or some lesser god. Krsna emphasizes that everyone should practice all three Yogas, although one Yoga will tend to predominate in one’s life.

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