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Srimad Bhagavad Gita

Background

Srimad Bhagavad Gita is one of the most important treasures of India. It is found in Sri Mahabharata, one of the two great epics of India.

We all know that the eternal Vedas are the source of true knowledge. The Vedas can be broadly classified in to two parts called Purva Kaanda and Uttara Kaanda, or the earlier section and the later section. The Purva Kaanda deals with rituals (karma) and the Uttara Kaanda deals with the knowledge of Brahman. Brahman is a descriptive term meaning Absolute God, known properly as Sriman Narayana. The Uttara Kaanda is also collectively known as the Upanishads and the Vedanta.

Because of the great difficulty in understanding the purport of the Vedas, the maharishis authored various texts known as Smriti, Itihaasa and Purana as helpful aids in understanding the purport of the Vedas. Smritis augment and add value to Purva Kaanda portion of the Vedas, and the Itihasas and Puranas supplement the Upanishads. There are 18 Puranas and two Itihasas. The great Itihasas are Srimad Ramayana and Sri Mahabharata. Sri Valmiki is the author of Srimad Ramayana and Sri Veda Vyasa is the author of Sri Mahabharata. Srimad Bhagavad Gita is part of the Mahabharata. Since the Bhagavad Gita helps us to understand the nature of Brahaman and the ways to attain Him, Srimad Bhagavad Gita is also called Gitopanishad.

Birth of the Gita

On a battlefield known as Kurukshetra, two sets of cousins, the Kauravas (Duryodhana and brothers) and Pandavas (Yudhisthira and brothers) stood arrayed against each other, ready to wage war. Among the many warriors was the mighty archer Arjuna, the third of the Pandava brothers. He had as his charioteer Sri Krishna, the cowherd incarnation of Sriman Narayana. Krishna preached the Gita to Arjuna to clear his doubts just before the war. This event took place in Dvapara Yuga, the third of the four great epochs of time. We are now in Kali Yuga, the fourth epoch. By traditional reckoning it is almost 5,150 years since the Gita was born.

Need for Gita

As Arjuna surveyed his opponent just before the war, he noticed countless relatives, gurus and friends on the opposite side. He realized that only by killing them would he regain his lost kingdom. Being a sAtvika with pious qualities, Arjuna felt repulsed by the thought of killing his loved ones. He felt that to kill them would be a sin, and in his anguish, he laid down his bow and arrow and refused to fight. He asked Sri Krishna to advise him of what course would be good for him. Krishna, the well wisher of the whole universe, took pity on the confused and grief-stricken Arjuna, and unveiled the Gita to him and directed Arjuna to go ahead with the war which was his duty as a kshatriya. So the Gita is a shastra, given to clear our confusion about various aspects of life and to direct us to perform our duties. It is absolutely relevant to each one of us in this modern world. It does not talk about something abstract. It is for us, about us, and about Brahman.

Gist of the Gita

The famous Gitartha Sangraha of the saint Yamunacharya (also known as Alavandaar) gives the gist of Gita in one verse.
    svadharma jnAna vairAgya sAdhya bhakti eka gocaraH | 
    narayanaH param brahma gIta sAstre samIritaH ||
One who performs his prescribed duty, with full knowledge of himself and his master, devoid of desire, reaches the stage of practice of bhakti-yoga. By bhakti-yoga one can please Narayana and reach HIM. So our objective should be to reach and serve our master, and the means to achieve this goal is bhakti-yoga. Narayana, the Supreme Lord, is the One whom we have to reach. All these -- the nature of the objective, the nature of the means, and the the goal, i.e., Narayana, His nature and His qualities are explained in the Bhagavad Gita.

The Gita is divided in three sections of six chapters each (shatkam). The first six chapters deal with karma-yoga and jnAna-yoga, which are required for realising the jivatma, the individual self. After realising the jivatma, one goes to realise his master, the Paramatma or Supreme Self. Once he knows the greatness of the Paramatma, he naturally wishes to reach Him. The second six chapters deals with the unparalleled mastery of Krishna, who is the Paramatma, and bhakti-yoga, which is to be practiced to reach Lord Krishna. The last six recapitulate and again explain the atma, Paramatma and the three yogas, adding whatever was left unsaid in the first 12 chapters. So the three shatkas lead us to successive steps in liberation, moksha. All together, there are 18 chapters which are akin to 18 rungs in the ladder to moksha. Unless one goes through each of this rungs, it is difficult to reach moksha. Let us go one by one.

Chapter 1: The mental agony of Arjuna revealed

Arjuna reveals his anguish at the prospect of battle. The chapter starts with Dhritarashtra, the father of the Kauravas, asking his messenger Sanjaya about the happenings in Kurushetra. Sanjaya begins his narration with the words of the eldest Kaurava Duryodhana as he prepared for the battle, and then introduces Arjuna and his lamentation of his plight. Arjuna fears that papa karma caused by his misdeeds will engulf him. He explains that acharyas who are fit to be honored every day should not be killed. One cannot build his throne on the altar of his relatives. The chapter then ends with Arjuna abandoning his bow and arrow and sitting silently in his chariot.

Important verses: 1, 19, 21, 26-32, 34-36, 47.

Chapter 2: karma-yoga unveiled

Krishna uses Arjuna's moral dilemma as a pretext for getting at the root confusion which Arjuna faces. Arjuna erroneously thinks that he will really kill Bhishma and others, only because he is confused that the body and the self (atma) are one and the same. He has not understood that even by shooting countless arrows at Bhishma, Bhishma's atma cannot be destroyed. Even if Arjuna stays away from fighting for thousands of years, Bhishma’s body cannot be saved. The idea is that the body is subject to destruction, but the atma is eternal.

This is the tattva-jnana (true knowledge of the nature of atma and the body) which one has to get first. These are explained up to verse 39. Once one knows the greatness of jivatma, one would certainly long to realise it and see it as it is. Next, Krishna goes on to explain karma-yoga which is the means to realise this atma. By practicing karma-yoga, one will be led to jnana-yoga which is penultimate to atma realisation.

It would be apt here to define karma-yoga and jnana-yoga. Yoga here means "way" or "path". Karma-yoga is the path of action and jnana-yoga is the path of knowledge. These paths lead to the goal, which is atma-realisation.

The order given in the second chapter is:

Important verses: 12, 17, 18, 23, 27, 38, 41, 45, 47, 53, 55-58, 60, 61.

Chapter 3: the Greatness and Power of karma-yoga.

When Krishna spoke about both karma-yoga and jnana-yoga in the second chapter, Arjuna became confused. Since jnana-yoga is the stage just before atma-sakshatkara, why should I not directly practise jnana-yoga? Why must I begin with karma-yoga? Krishna explains that he has prescribed two ways for atma realisation. One is jnana-yoga for those who already have absolute control over their senses. The other is karma-yoga for those who have not yet conquered them. In this chapter he teaches that karma-yoga by itself will lead to atma sakshatkara.

Note the difference compared to the second chapter, where karma-yoga is taught to lead to jnana-yoga, and jnana-yoga in turn leads to atma sakshatkara. Here, actions and performance of one's duty with the threefold sacrifice itself will lead to atma realisation. The significance is that we, like Arjuna, are used to action always and are not accustomed to restraint. Karma-yoga is action and jnana-yoga is restraining from action. So it is easier for us all to practice karma-yoga. Think that we perform, being pushed by our triple qualities of satva, rajas and tamas and guided by our Lord.

Important verses: 1, 2, 3, 8, 11, 12, 27, 30, 35, 37.

Chapter 4: The Components of karma-yoga and its Element of jnana

Krishna now beautifully explains that even though he has prescribed karma-yoga for Arjuna, it cannot be performed without jnana (knowledge). Note that jnana-yoga is a path by itself and jnana is just basic knowledge, which is required even for a karma-yogi. This jnana is part and parcel of karma-yoga, since one cannot perform karma-yoga without knowledge of himself and karma. In karma-yoga, the knowledge part takes precedence over the action part.

In a digression in this chapter, Krishna also reveals the secret of his avatara.

Important verses: 1, 4, 5-8, 13, 18, 33, 34.

Chapter 5: Karma-yoga -- the faster way to atma sakshatkara; the equality of the atman.

Having explained that karma-yoga is the easier way for us, Krishna adds here that it is also the faster way. He further explains the threefold sacrifice, which are termed as sannyasa. Karma sannyasa is staying away from performing one's duties. Karma-yoga is performing one's duties devoid of thoughts like I am the doer, it is my karma and it is for worldly goals. Certainly the latter is better. Once you perform your duty only for atma sakshtkara, you will master the art of raising the atma from serving its own body.

A human being is tall or short or dark or fair or male or female, only when you see the atma attached with its body. If the atma's nature is understood as being devoid of its body, there would be no difference between millions of atmas. There would only be one category -- all atmas are full of knowledge and are servants to one master.

Important verses: 1, 2, 3, 5, 11, 12, 18, 19, 29.

Chapter 6: Details of karma-yoga and its methods of practice.

Now Krishna finally dwells on the actual method of karma-yoga, i.e., how to practice it, the four types of atma-yogis, practice and meditation on desirelessness, the longevity of karma-yoga, and finally a glimpse into bhakti-yoga. Since Krishna heretofore gave so much importance to atma sakshatkara, towards the end of sixth chapter, Arjuna thought that realising the individual atma was the ultimate goal. Krishna with a smile in the last verse says that atma sakshtkara is only a step to Paramatma sakshatkara. Realising and striving to reach the lotus feet of the Supreme God Sriman Narayana is the real goal. This is possible only through bhakti-yoga. All these six chapters dealt with karma-yoga and jnana-yoga, which are steps to bhakti-yoga, Instead of directly jumping to bhakti-yoga and Paramatma sakshatkara, Krishna first dealt with karma-yoga and atma sakshatkara and then lead safely to Paramatma. It is always difficult to reach the mountain top directly. One has to go step by step.

Important verses: 1, 5, 11-14, 34, 35, 47.

Chapter 7- Supreme Lord Krishna's nature and the atmas who surrender to HIM

After having realised that the atma as the one full of knowledge in absolute servitude to the Lord,the automatic wish would be to realise his lord. So Krishna explains his omnipresent , omni potent and omnicient nature. He is the creator and saviour.His greatness is unparelled.This jiva entangled in prakriti and bound by three gunas is taken far away from realising the paramatma.But the who surrenders to the Lord is uplifted from this endless cycle of samsara. Four types of human beings does not worship the Lord and four types of devotees do worship HIM. One may prostrate before HIM to for wordly pleasures, or for enjoying one's own atma or for enjoying Krishna. The last one is " Bhakta" who is the most loved by Krishna. Such bhaktha is always wanting to be with krishna and cannot survive even for a moment without meditating upon HIM. Sri Krishna is all praise for such Bhakta in this chapter. It takes many births to be become such a bhakta.

Important verses: 4,5,6,7,10,14-19.

Chapter 8 Knowledge and practice required by various bhakthas

Having said that one can surrender to the Lord for wordly pleasures, or atma anubhava or paramatma anubhava, Krishna adds the knowledge required for each one of them and methods of practice for each one of them. A bhaktha wanting to to be inseperable from his Lord has to think and meditate on Krishna always. One has to chant the pranava supplementing the meditation. One who reaches the heavenly abode of Lord Sriman Narayana never takes birth in this samsara again. Other than Srivaikuntam, where ever  you reach you have to return to this earth to perform karma again.

Important verses: 1,3,5,6,12,13,15,16.
 

Chapter 9-Krishna’s greatness even during incarnation and the greatness of bhaktha who realises that- Bhakthi Yoga finally unveiled.


To create interest and a want to realise paramatma, Krishna further explains his supremecy. Is he supreme only at srivaikuntam alone? Alas the foolish jiva does not realise that he is The supreme even as a cowherd boy. But one who realises that, is his bhakta. To perform bhakthi yoga  is quite simple. You can please your lord with a leaf, or a flower or a fruit or even water. Krishna only sees your bhakti and not your wealth to please HIM. In the last verse, Krishna defines Bhakti yoga. One should meditate on Krishna without thinking about anything else. One should prostrate before HIM, perform pooja to HIM. One who does this with out any other thought will reach the heavenly abode of srivaikuntam.
 

Chapter 10 The wealth of Sriman Narayana.


The first six chapters dealt with Karma and gnana yoga which are the means to achieve bhakthi yoga. The next three chapters took us through bhakti yoga. If one has to continously practise bhakti, he must have absolute faith and confidence about the innumerable attributes of Krishna. Only by repeatedly meditating about Brahman’s qualities, bhakti would be born and start growing in us. A bhakta is joyous by sharing his feelings with others on Krishna’s qualities and divya katha. For this Arjuna wanted to know the unending qualities and wealth of Krishna. For a moment Krishna sighed, that listing HIS qualities and wealth is difficult job even for HIM . ( strange is it not. For whom nothing is difficult in this universe there is one difficult thing that is listing HIS own gunas). But finally Krishna classifies the universe into various groups and states that the most important person (head) in each group is Sri Krishna himself. Once the head is Krishna it goes without saying that the entire group is Krishna HIMSELF.

Important verses: 1,9,10,12,18,19,20.
 

Chapter 11 -  Krishna’s Viswarupa darsana.


Arjuna heard about Krishna’s attributes and wealth. Logically he was urged to have darshan of Krishna in HIS true form together with all his wealth and qualities. Is it possible to see such a form with our normal eyes? Not at all. Krishna mercifully gave divine eyes to Arjuna and shown HIS divya rupa which is famously known as Viswarupa. Every living and non living thing in the universe found a place in Sri Krishna’s divya rupa. From four headed Brahma to a small ant, a sappling to great Himalayas was seen in his viswarupa form. Arjuna was overwhemled by the sight of viswarupa, the form which can only seen by great sages after meditating on krishna for thousands of years. Arjuna is also frightened by the sight of viswarupa. Arjuna sought pardon from Krishna as he has disrespected him many times thinking that he is only a cowherd. Finally Arjuna requests Krishna to regain his form as vasudeva the charioteer. Krishna says to Arjuna to be an instrument. Krishna himself will be the doer. Bhakti is the only way to know,see and reach Krishna.

Important verses: 3,5,6,8,9-12,15,16,31,41-46,50,54.
 

Chapter 12 Qualities of a bhakta and Krishna’s love towards him.


Krishna reiterates the qualities of HIS bhakta. A bhakta can not bear the agony or suffering of others. He has no enemies. He is unmoved by praise or condemn. He helps everyone in need. He knows service and love to humanity is service to Krishna HIMSELF. Happiness and sorrow are the same to such bhakta. Such bhakta is an ideal person in this material world.

Important verses: 2,6,13,17-19.
 

Chapter 13 Human body the land for cultivation and Atma the cultivator.


Krishna again affirms the existence of three reals namely the body ( achit) atman ( chit) and Paramatma (Iswara). One has to understand the basic difference between these three. Achit is the material what we see in this world. Achit is devoid of any knowledge. Jivatma is full of knowledge. Iswara is with absolute knowledge and he is the controller of both chit and achit.  The human body is given by our lord to cultivate good qualities. Jivatma is the cultivator. It is jivatma’s responsibility to grow good crop avoiding unwanted weeds. Good crop is righteous quality and bad crop is condemnable quality. Krishna is the controller and master of this land and the cultivator too.

Important verses: 1,2,7-10,33,34
 

Chapter 14 The qualities that bind the atman and the means to untie the bond


Satva rajas and tamas are the three gunas which are always with the atman due to connection with the body ie prakriti. Satva helps to in understanding things correctly. Rajas kindles desire and anger. Tamas leads to laziness, sleep makes us confused. They bind us in this sorrow filled samsara. One who is a pure bhakta is untouched by these gunas. Practicing a single pointed bhakti on Krishna is the only way to keep away these troublesome qualities.

Important verses: 1,2,5,9,17,18,24-26
 

Chapter 15 The difference and greatness of Iswara and the two tatvas- Purushottama vidya.


Krishna in order to make Arjuna understand His supremacy over other tatva, differentiates the qualities of others from HIM. Atma is again divided into three  types baddha, mukta and nitya. Baddha atma is the one who is still bound in this world. Mukta jeevatma is the one who has liberated from this world and reached Sri vaikunta. Nitya is the one who is eternally reside at srivaikuntam like adisesha and garuda etc.. So the Brahman is different from achit, baddha, mukta and nitya jeevatmas. These four are controlled and HE is the controller. The above four are being held and HE Sri Krishna holds. These qualities differentiate Krishna from the others. He is in the highest stratum of all qualities. Purushottama is the name that signifies this point. He controls our knowledge at the first instance recollection and forgetfulness.

Important verses: 1,14-19
 

Chapter 16 Do your duty since Vedas have prescribed them.


One should perform his duty as Vedas have directed him. One who violates the dictum of Vedas is an asura and one who follows them is deva. The quality of a deva liberates you from the clutches of samsara. Quality of an Asura submerges you in the samsara. Vedas can shower love and affection equal to 1000 parents. So go by what Vedas say.

Important verses: 1-5,20,23
 

Chapter 17- Do your duty with satva guna.


Krishna explains the nature of a satvik, rajasik and tamasik. The gods whom they worship and the food they take and effect of such foods the tapas they perform and the daana which they give etc. One who stands unmoved from the vedic path is a satvik and he will for sure will reach Krishna.

Important verses: 1,4-10.
 

Chapter 18 Do your duty as prescribed for your varanasrama and Finally Absolute surrender Saranagathi.


Krishna explains the meaning of two words, Sanyasa and  Thyaga. Performing ones duties without wordly objectives is sanyasa. Sacrificing the fruits of our action is thyagam. Three types of sacrifices have already been explained earlier. The qualities of four varnas ie Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaisya their duties are given in detail. One should perform only the duties prescribed for his varna and asrama. Performing ones own dharma even with mistakes is better than performing dharmas pertaining to others at its best.

Having said about Karma yoga, gnana yoga and Bhakti yoga, Krishna left the choice to Arjuna to choose his option. Arjuna is worried. As he now understood, every action is controlled by Krishna where the power or independence for him to choose. Further to practice bhakti one has wash away all his sins. To wash our sins we will have to do prayaschitta which might take many births. Arjuna was afraid of these complexities and the time it would take. Krishna clears Arjuna of his doubt and guides him to perform Saranagathi. Saranagathi would clear all your sins and pave the way to master bhakti and to tread in the path of bhakti. Krishna assures that  every one of his followers who has faith in HIM and absolutely surrenders to HIM will have nothing to worry as they will for sure reach HIM at the end of this life. Sanjaya also concludes his description of the whole episode with fond memories of Viswarupa.

Important verses: 1-4, 41-47, 62-66.
 

Conclusion:

The order to reach Krishna is:

Knowledge of atman- Karma yoga compraising of gnana – Saranagathy- Bhakti yoga- Reach Krishna and serve HIM forever.
 
 

We would like to thank Sri.Velukkudi Krishnan for permiting us to host his article in our web page.