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Thread: The Bhagavad-Gita
08-23-2010, 04:42 AM #1
The Bhagavad-GitaThe Bhagavad-Gita is part of the Mahabharata, an episode in the vast drama Mahabharata. But it stands apart and is complete in itself. It is relatively small poem of 700 verses-`the most beautiful, perhaps the only true philosophical song existing in any known tongue,’ so William Von Humboldt described it. Its popularity and influence have not waned ever since it was composed and written in the pre-Buddhist age, and today its appeal is as strong as ever in India.
The Bhagavad Gita occurs in the Bhishma Parva of the Mahabharata and comprises 18 chapters from the 25th through 42nd and consists of 700 verses. Vyasa who compiled Mahabharata is traditionally believed to be the author of Bhagavad Gita. According to the commentary written by Shankaracharya the number of verses is 700, but there is evidence to show that old manuscripts had 745 verses.
The Bhagavad Gita begins in response to Arjuna’s confusion and moral dilemma about fighting his own cousins, and ends with Lord Krishna convincing Arjuna that in the grand scheme of things, he is only a pawn. The best he could do is doing his duty and not question God’s will. It was his duty to fight. He explains to Arjuna his duties as a warrior and prince and elaborates on different Yogic and Vedantic philosophies, with examples and analogies. In convincing Arjuna, the Lord Krishna provides a philosophy of life and restores Arjuna’s nerve to begin the battle. This has led to the Gita often being described as a concise guide to Hindu theology and also as a practical, self-contained guide to life.
The Bhagavad Gita now ranks as one of the three principal texts that define and capture the essence of Hinduism; the other two being the Upanishads and the Brahma Sutras. The Bhagavad Gita is also called Gītopaniṣad, implying its having the status of an Upanishad, i.e. a Vedantic scripture. Though this work contains much theology, its kernel is ethical and its teaching is set in the context of an ethical problem.
Etany api tu karmani sangam tyaktva phalani ca
kartavyaniti me partha niscitam matam uttamam
Which means: O Partha? But these activities should be done without the desires of the fruits of the actions and without attachment. This is my best and definite opinion. The teaching of The Bhagavad Gita is summed up in the maxim “your business is with the deed and not with the result.”
In summary the main philosophical subject matter of the Bhagavad Gita is the explanation of five basic concepts or “truths”:
• Ishvara (The Supreme Controller)
• Jiva (Living beings/the individualized soul)
• Prakrti (Nature/Matter)
• Dharma (Duty in accordance with Divine law)
• Kaala (Time)
Since the Gita is drawn from the Mahabharata, it is classified as a Smṛiti text. However, those branches of Hinduism that give it the status of an Upanishad also consider it a śruti or “revealed” text. As it is taken to represent a summary of the Upanishadic teachings, it is also called “the Upanishad of the Upanishads”. Another title is mokṣaśāstra, or “Scripture of Liberation”.
Nehru discusses the concept of revealed scriptures: “How are we to consider the scripture of various religions, much of it believed by its votaries to be revealed scripture? To analyze it and criticize it and look upon it as a human document is often to offend the true believers. Yet there is no other way to consider it. This seems to me to be peculiarly unfortunate, for thus we miss their real significance – the unfolding of the human mind in the earliest stages of thought. And what a wonderful mind it was!”
The message of the Gita is not sectarian or addressed to any particular school of thought. It is universal in its approach for everyone. Brahmin or outcast: `All paths lead to me,’ it says. It is because of this universality that it has found favour with all classes and schools. During the 2,500 years since it was written, Indian humanity has gone repeatedly through the process of change and development and decay; experience has succeeded experience, thought has followed thought, but it has always found something living in the Gita, something that fitted into the developing thought and had a freshness and applicability to the spiritual problems that afflict the mind.*
The Bhagavad Gītā appeared later than the great movement represented by the early Upanishads and earlier than the period of the development of the philosophic systems and their formulation. The date and authorship of the Gītā are not known with certainty and scholars of an earlier generation opined that it was composed between the 5th and the 2nd century BCE. Radhakrishnan, for example, asserted that the origin of the Gītā is definitely in the pre-Christian era. More recent assessments of Sanskrit literature, however, have tended to bring the chronological horizon of the texts down in time. In the case of the Gītā, John Brockington has now made cogent arguments that it can be placed in the first century CE. Based on claims of differences in the poetic styles some scholars like Jinarajadasa have argued that the Bhagavad Gītā was added to the Mahābhārata at a later date.
Swami Vivekananda dismisses concerns about differences of opinion regarding the historical events as unimportant for study of the Gita from the point of acquirement of Dharma.
War as allegory
There are many who regard the story of the Gita as an allegory; Swami Nikhilananda, for example, takes Arjuna as an allegory of Atman, Krishna as an allegory of Brahman, Arjuna’s chariot as the body, etc. Compare to this the chariot allegory found in the Katha Upanishad.
Mahatma Gandhi, in his commentary on the Gita, interpreted the battle as “an allegory in which the battlefield is the soul and Arjuna, man’s higher impulses struggling against evil.” Swami Vivekananda also said that the first discourse in the Gita related to war can be taken allegorically. Vivekananda further remarks, “This Kurukshetra War is only an allegory. When we sum up its esoteric significance, it means the war which is constantly going on within man between the tendencies of good and evil.”
The concept and symbol of God were extremely complicated issues in the ancient Hindu religious literature prior to the writing of the Gita. The notion of God and the paths to salvation are integral parts of all religions. The manner in which Hinduism originally dealt with these two fundamental issues was very complex and appeared to be too speculative at times. This was one of the reasons for which Buddhism branched out as a separate religion. When Buddhism was beginning to grow in popularity, Hinduism met with its first challenge: To provide a clear-cut, easy-to-worship symbol of God to its followers. For a variety of reasons, Lord Krishna was the obvious choice. Many have even suggested that it was one of the most pivotal choices ever made by ancient scholars to `humanize’ the concept of God in the Hindu religion. Molded in the original image of Lord Vishnu, Krishna is an affable Avatar (reincarnation of God) which for the first time provided concrete guidelines for living to all mortals. The average Hindu might not know much about Brahma, but everyone knows who Lord Krishna is.
Adi Sankara writes in his commentary: “From a clear knowledge of the Bhagavad-Gita all the goals of human existence become fulfilled. Bhagavad-Gita is the manifest quintessence of all the teachings of the Vedic scriptures.”
Bhagavad Gita is translated into many languages and influenced many religions.
“The Bhagavad-Gita has a profound influence on the spirit of mankind by its devotion to God which is manifested by actions.” – Dr. Albert Schweizer
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882): I owed a magnificent day to the Bhagavad-Gita. It was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us.
It is sublime as night and a breathless ocean. It contains every religious sentiment, all the grand ethics which visit in turn each noble poetic mind….
The Indian teaching, through its clouds of legends, has yet a simple and grand religion, like a queenly countenance seen through a rich veil. It teaches to speak truth, love others, and to dispose trifles. The East is grand – and makes Europe appear the land of trifles. …all is soul and the soul is Vishnu.
All science is transcendental or else passes away. Botany is now acquiring the right theory – the avatars of Brahman will presently be the text-books of natural history.
*Discovery Of India by Jawaharlal Nehru.
Bhagavad Gita - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Bhagavad Geeta Saar, Bhagavada Geeta Online, Bhagavada Geeta Saar, Gita Saar, Divine Voice of God, Celestial Song, Lord Krishna, Spirituality, Spiritualism (U can read Bhagavad-Gita with translation here)
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
The Bhagavad Gita
• Bhagavad Gita at the Open Directory Project
• Mahabharata 6.23–6.40 (sacred-texts.com)
• Listen to The Bhagavad Gita podcast – By Michael Scherer –...being a human...