It is doubtful whether there is any other work which continues to be the subject of discourse or book, which is widely read, spoken about, interpreted and quoted as Bhagavad Gita. Bhagavad Gita is considered as the most authoritative work on spirituality because it is spoken by Lord Krishna Himself. It is the essence of all scriptures like Vedas and Upanishads. It is described as Gitopanishad. Bhagavad Gita soars high among the innumerable collection of spiritual teachings. It is the crowning glory of all scriptures because it shows the way to perfection, the way to realization and the way to ultimate liberation. It is the panacea for all our ills. The fact that the Upadesa (enlightened advice) takes place not in the precincts of a temple or at a sacred place but in the midst of a battle-field is significant because it conveys the message that this life itself is the battle-field where one has to meet many challenges and face them courageously. Arjuna symbolizes the individual who is at cross-road, unable to decide what is right and what is wrong. On one side, his duty demands that he wages war with Kauravas and on the other hand, his mind pulls him back to his own passion, attachment, likes and dislikes. Seeing the indecisive nature of Arjuna, Krishna declares: “Yield not to this dejection. Cast off this mean weakness. Oh! Partha, stand up. Awake from your slumber, from your attachments and illusions, realize your duty, take up your arms and act decisively.” There are two meanings to the verses of Krishna; by outward meaning, Krishna asks Arjuna to take arms and fight and by the inner meaning, Krishna asks Arjuna to do duty as Shaktriya, without attachment or aversion. It is therefore advisable that the student of Bhagavad Gita should get guidance from a Guru or an enlightened sage.
Adi Sankara who wrote Bashyam on Bhagavad Gita said that Gita is the essence of what is mentioned in Vedas and Upanishads. (“Samastha Vedartha Sara Samgraha Bhootame ”) Studying Gita or following the principles contained in Gita is enough and one need not pursue any other path. Bhagavad Gita is self-sufficient. In the fifteenth chapter of Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says: “One who knows how to cut the root of the Samsara Vriksha (the tree of creation and destruction) is the knower of Vedas. (Oordwa Moolam…….. Yastam Veda Sa Vedavith). This is possible only through Brahma Vidya obtained through Bhagavad Gita. What is unique about Bhagavad Gita is that lord Krishna has appeared as Jagadguru and guided us to the path of truth and Dharma.
Bhagavad Gita mainly deals with two paths; the path of knowledge (Sankhya Yoga) and the path of action, (Karma Yoga). According to the Sankhya Yoga, the world is an illusion. The images and forms we find in the world are transitory which appear now and disappear later. What is real is Brahman, the eternal reality, the Truth Consciousness and Bliss. The individual who meditates and enquires would realize that Self alone exists for ever and Self alone is real. Self, the reflection of the eternal reality, the Brahman, is the seer and the conscious witness. Objective existence such as body is transient and unreal. He who finds his identity with Self attains the state of realization and ever remains in supreme knowledge and bliss. Krishna says: “Arjuna, the man who knows this soul as imperishable, eternal and free from birth and death, how and whom will he cause to be killed, how and whom will he kill?” (Ch.II.21).
Lord Krishna says: “I am the self, seated in the hearts of all beings. I am the beginning, the middle and also the end of all beings. (Ahamatma gudakesha sarva bhuta ashaya sthitah, Aham adih cha madhyam cha bhutanam antah eva cha …Chapter X, 20). But Gopikas could not comprehend the real meaning of this verse. Though Krishna was pleased with Gopikas, he did not approve their obsession or attachment towards him as a personal God. He therefore decided to go away from them. He knew that Gopikas would be suffering the pangs of separation because they were too attached to the external image of Krishna. He therefore called Udhava and gave this advice to be conveyed to Gopikas:
“Oh! Gopikas, I always resided in you as Antharyami, deep in your consciousness, in all the stages of your life, like youth, middle age and old age, and in all your states like deep sleep (Sushupti), dream (Swapna) and wakefulness (Jagrata), as the ever present reality, but without realizing me as the Atman within, you were seeking my external form. It is only to make you realize that I am ever present in your heart, I am going away from you in my physical form. If you want to see Me and continue seeing me as the ever present reality, you can see me within you through Atman Darshan. I came away from my external form only to prompt you to look internal. Unless I take away my external form from you, you would not be able to realize me shining as the Atman within you. It is only to prompt you to experience the Self (Atmanubhav) that I remained out of form.” When Udhava went to Gopikas to convey this message, he found them shedding tears, by lamenting that they were unable to come out of their attachment towards Krishna. Udhava comforted them by saying that they would find their lover whenever they seek him within and conveyed the message Krishna gave him. (Poojayam Chakroo Jnathwa Atmanam Athoukshayam Yavetha Viraha Jvara). Soon, they realized that Krishna is not to be sought in Dwaraka or Vrindavan but he is ever present as the Atman within every person. Thus Krishna gives us the Advaita Drishti.
The doctrine of Karma has not been dealt with anywhere as elaborately and beautifully as in Bhagavad Gita. Bhagavan Krishna says one has choice only to perform the right action but not for its fruits (Karmanyevadhikaraste Ma Phalesu Kadachana). One fulfills his duties without being involved in it or without identifying with them. He considers himself only as a tool or instrument and not as a doer. He does not relate karma with result. He does duties without expectation of any result (Nishkamya Karma). When he performs without the sense of doer-ship or without the sense of ‘I’, he loses his individual identity and remains ever conscious of his Self, though outwardly his body, mind and intellect would be functioning (Vyavahara) in accordance with the situation.
It should be noted that Bhagavad Gita has not specified devotion as a separate path because devotion, which is fundamental, is a foregone conclusion. Whatever path one chooses, he should be a devotee first. It is only devotion that qualifies the Sadhaka to pursue any path of his choice. In fact, there is not a single chapter in Bhagavad Gita in which there is no reference to devotion (Bhakti). Arjuna was an ardent devotee of the Lord and that qualified him to receive the advice (Geethopadesam) from Krishna. Krishna says: “He who has no other thought except that of mine, who constantly think of Me, worship Me, without any attachment, who is ever united in thought with Me, is very dear to me and I take care of his welfare. (Ananya Chinthayantho Ma IX 22). This clearly indicates that God takes sole responsibility for the well being, protection and prosperity of one whose heart is filled with devotion. Let me quote an incident from Mahabharat to show how easily one can reach God if he approaches Him with pure devotion.
Krishna has taken the role of an Ambassador of Peace and came to the Court of Kauravas seeking restoration of Pandava’s kingdom. Despite Krishna’s pleading, Duryodhana stuck to his stand and refused to give back even an inch of land to Pandavas. However, in his anxiety to show minimum courtesy to Krishna, Duryodhana invited Krishna for a dinner. Krishna replied: “Generally, meals are taken under two conditions; one is when the server offers the meal with love and secondly when the taker is starving for food. Since you have no love in you and since I am not hungry either, none of the two conditions prevail here. Therefore, I have to decline your offer”. Krishna then proceeded to the cottage of Vidhura, his ardent devotee, uninvited. Having come to know this, Bhishma and elders like Drona, Krupa and others called at Vidhura’s small cottage and invited Lord and Vidhura to their house for a sumptuous dinner but the Lord politely declined and preferred to enjoy the simple lunch offered by his loving devotee, Vidhura. There is even a popular Hindi song which says: “Refusing the rich and sumptuous dishes of Duryodhana, the Lord went for a simple meal offered by Vidhura with half-cooked vegetables but with heart full of devotion. When the seed of devotion is planted in heart, it flourishes and bears the fruit of Jnana. I now recall what I heard during the discourse of Sri Goswami Gaurav Krishnaji Maharaj, when he was comparing the qualities of Jnana (knowledge) and Bhakti (devotion). In the former case, the Sadhaka seeks God by means of knowledge and in the latter case, the God seeks the Sadhaka who is ever in devotion.
Bhagavad Gita speaks of action without expectation of result, detachment from the world of illusion, devotion and reliance on the grace of God. People who normally define success in terms of wealth are not able to comprehend the full import of these terms. They question ‘what do I gain by reading Bhagavad Gita?’ This is the same question a young boy asked his father, a farmer, who was attending to his farm and occasionally reading Bhagavad Gita. Observing his deep devotion towards Gita, his son asked: “I too read those verses of Gita but I do not understand any of it. Even if I grasp something, I forget it after I close the book. I do not believe in repeating the verses when I do not know the meaning of those verses.” The father did not give a direct answer to his son’s question. Instead, he asked the son to take the coal-stained basket to the river and bring water. The son did exactly as he was told but by the time he reached his father, the basket, full of holes, had become empty. Still, even knowing that the basket could become empty by the time he reaches back, the father insisted on bringing the water in the basket. The process went on till the boy became impatient and said “it is impossible to bring water in this basket”. The father then said: “Though you think it is impossible, I want you to look at this basket. The boy looked at the basket and for the first time he realized that the basket was different. It had been transformed from a dirty old coal basket into a new clean basket both inside and outside. The father said: “Son, that’s what happens when you read Bhagavat Geeta. You might not understand or remember everything, but when you read it, you will be cleansed of your impurities like anger and ego. You would be transformed. That is how Gita works.”
This is the age when people turn more and more towards the illusory world outside than to the reality of the Self within. In fact, the message Krishna gave was not addressed to Arjuna alone but to all those who work with an eye on the fruit, those who give more importance to passions and emotions than to reason and to those who consider material progress more important than spiritual progress. Never before, Bhagavad Gita is more relevant than now. Bhagavad Gita would serve as guide in all our fields of activity. Even big Corporate houses include Bhagavad Gita as part of their training schedule because they want their employees to think in terms of attitude and not altitude.
While academic studies help us to build our career growth, studies in Gita help us to attain spiritual fulfilment. Gita is the nectar of knowledge. Knowledge of Gita is self-sufficient by which what is ought to be known is known. Just as the Constitution forms the foundation by which the State function, Bhagavad Gita should form the foundation on which the individual should function. At a time when there are various distractions in the world; times when we are not able to discriminate between the right and wrong, times when we are at the cross road, unable to decide which way to go, it is Bhagavad Gita that guides us and directs us. All that we have to do is to make Gita recital a regular practice and make sincere attempt to walk the path shown by Gita. However, there are still some people who labour under an erroneous notion about Gita. A housewife told me: “Gita teaches (vairagya) renunciation. It teaches detachment. It wants us to work without any return. If I allow my son to study Bhagavad Gita he would only turn out to be a Sanyasi”. I told her that she formed this impression out of ignorance. I told her that by learning Gita, her son would emerge as a perfect personality, free from ego, fully conscious of his Self and reach the state of real happiness and peace. “As a mother, would you not wish your son to attain the highest goal of his life instead of getting embroiled in the world of Maya?” Gita teaches the individual how to become a perfect personality. Gita does not ask anyone to run away from family. Bhagavad Gita teaches us how to live in family and yet find happiness. It is necessary that every parent should expose their children to study Gita.
“He who whose mind is stable,
who discards all desires, who has mastered his senses who is unmoved by pain or pleasure,
He who is withdrawn from the world who is self- controlled , firm and patient whose heart is full of devotion free of ‘I’ and ‘mine’, he is Stitha Prajna
Gita, Chapter II-57-65)