Essays2008 Essays2009 Essays2010













..:: The Bhagavad-Gita ::..


Alan Schneider


            The illustrious Bhagavad-Gita, also known as the Song Celestial, Song of God, and the Upanishad of the Upanishads, is revered throughout the world as the premier statement of Hindu spiritual philosophy.  Every Guru, Seer, and Yogi of any distinction has produced a personal interpretation of this Sanskrit classic – they now number well up into the hundreds of published translations of this single work, available in over sixty different languages worldwide. 

            The lyrical cadence of most of the translations of The Gita, as this document is known in shorthand to its many admirers, makes it an ideal first subject of ancient Hindu discourse. The Gita is above all a composition of Divine Love, complied (and possibly written) by the Vedic poet and Seer Vyasa, as a portion of a much larger work known as the Mahabharata, somewhere between the fifth and second centuries B.C.E.  The humble lives of most of the Seers and Rishis (“Wise Ones”) of ancient India made them hesitant to even assume authorship, or otherwise take any personal credit, for what they recorded as spiritual texts – rather, they ascribed the origin of their lives, beliefs, perceptions, and instruction to God as the source, and themselves as only the physical means of transferring the information on the Physical Plane.  The Vedic texts were essentially held in common by the Indian population of the period, and were more often chanted and sung, than read or recited by specific functionaries like Gurus or Pujaries (individuals qualified to conduct specific spiritual rites, known in Hinduism as  Pujas). 

            The Gita is superficially the wartime dialog between one Arjuna Pandeva, a royal archer, and his charioteer, none other than Lord Krishna Himself, on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, where the Pandeva Clan and the rival Kaurava Clan are set to do battle to resolve the kingship of the province, held by a Kaurava under very questionable circumstances at that time. The Pandevas exemplify devotion to the supreme Hindu concept of Dharma, a Sanskrit concept that has no literal English equivalent, but loosely means Holy Duty, Divine Entitlement, Sacred Law, Supreme Ordering Principle, and, literally “that which anchors or secures”. The Kauravas represent the opposite concept of Adharma – the entire clan is corrupt, deceitful, dishonest, foul-mouthed, and disrespectful of even the most basic moral tenets.  They cheated their way into governance of the province by challenging the Pandevas to a rigged dice game, banished them thereafter, and swindled the balance of the landholders in the province to retain their political loyalty using a variety of ruses and inducements. When the Pandevas eventually realized the deception they had been subjected to, the returned to the province and demanded the throne, which the Kaurava emperor Dritsarasthra flatly refused to surrender.  The resort to arms became inevitable and unavoidable in consequence.  

            On the day the great battle is to begin, Arjuna instructs Krishna to drive his chariot to a point between the opposing armies to survey the forces assembled against the Pandevas.  There, he sees many of his old friends, mentors, and teachers present on the other side, all held in debt to the Kauravas following years of moral decline and deception. Arjuna is overcome with grief at the thought of killing so many of those formerly near and dear to him, and collapses right there, refusing to fight.  With this event, the dialog of the Gita begins, as Krishna begins His explanation to Arjuna of the roles and responsibilities, the Dharma, of the Ksatriya, or Warrior, caste (of which Arjuna was a member), and the absolute importance of keeping Dharma at the expense of all other considerations, regardless of personal or kinship bonds: 


                                                  The Gita, Chapter Two, Verse Thirty One:

                       Considering your Dharma, you should not vacillate. For a warrior, nothing is

                       Higher than a war against evil. The warrior confronted with such a war should

                       Be pleased, Arjuna, for it comes as an open gate to Heaven. But, if you do not

                       Participate in this battle against evil, you will incur sin, violating your Dharma

                                                                       And you Honor.

                                        - As Translated and Interpreted by Eknath Eswaran -


            Of the eighteen chapters of the Gita, only the first is historical, providing the background setting for the subsequent chapters, and this one is only as historical as is necessary to establish the philosophical circumstances for the Discourse on Yoga that forms the content of the balance of the work.  Krishna begins this illumination of the Truth of Yoga late in Chapter Two, after concluding his explanation of the importance of keeping Dharma, indicated in the passage noted above.  The first Yoga to be considered at this point is Sankya Yoga, the Yoga of Mental Clarity and Right Thought. This is the foundational Yoga, necessary before any other can be grasped, and requires a calm and deliberate focus on the mental aspect of higher consciousness. The distressed or upset mind cannot reside in Sankya Yoga, and this was certainly Arjuna’s condition between the armies. Krishna rouses him out of this depressed emotional state with the call to Dharma, then follows this with the description of Sankya, considered by many scholars to be the single most significant passage in the entire Gita. In Sankya, the essence of Yoga and Hindu cosmology is set forth – the attainment of detachment from either the rewards or punishments, i.e. the material consequences, associated with human actions on the Physical Plane, through focused attachment to God and the Soul (or Brahman and Atman in Sanskrit terminology) as the two highest forms of consciousness. Sankya Yoga describes the three fundamental states of human awareness, known as the gunastamas, the ignorant condition of enslavement to desire and gratification, the improved condition of rajas, focused in intellectual passion, personal energy, and social activity, and sattvas,   the state of devotion to goodness, light, and purity. Sankya also details the means of transitioning from the lower to the higher gunas through spiritual Yoga and Dharma. In many ways, the chapters beyond chapter two discuss the extended means of achieving this focus – the Yogas proper – amid the worldly distractions of the Physical Plane and senses. 

            Chapter Three begins the Discourse of Karma Yoga, the Yoga of Action – specifically referring to the literal courses of action that we choose to follow in life, and their ultimate consequences for our spiritual development.  Here, Krishna illuminates the all-important Law of Karma – the underlying law of cause and effect that permeates all of existence. Actions determine personal, and even social, destiny; nothing ever occurs in a Karmic vacuum. At the foundation of this concept is the immortality of the Soul as demonstrated through reincarnation, establishing the contention that the Soul develops spiritually through its involvement with Karma and Karmic situations on the Physical Plane in successive lifetimes.  Each time a Karmic “lesson” is experientially assimilated (i.e. “learned”), the result is the attainment of a higher level of Dharma and spiritual Self Realization. Until these experiences are correctly perceived through detachment as described above, and transformed into Dharma thereby, they remain in place as Karma, subject to further experience and (hopefully) progressive assimilation in successive lifetimes. Eventually the Soul, God’s Gift of Original Consciousness, achieves enough Dharma to enter into reunion with the Supreme Absolute Truth, and returns Home to its Creator in the state of Samadhi – full reunion with, and absorption into, the Divine Light. 

            The essence of Karma Yoga is Selfless Service to Dharma and, on a worldly level, the many Souls battling the selfish personal motivations of the ego. By affording these Souls the example of genuine selflessness in thought, word, and deed, the successful Karma Yogi sets the model and standards for Enlightenment for others in the world. This model can, should be, and often is, augmented by Darshan (sitting in the presence of a Master and receiving the blessing of instruction and Spiritual Vibration), Satsang (keeping the company of other like-minded individuals, such as Devotees), and Puja – rites and rituals, great and small.  In Chapter Three, Krishna says:


                              The Gita, Chapter Three, Verses Fifteen, Sixteen, and Seventeen:

                     Every selfless act, Arjuna, is born from Brahman, the eternal, infinite Godhead.

                     Brahman is present in every act of service. All life turns on this Law, O Arjuna.

                     Those who violate it, indulging in the senses for their own pleasure and ignoring

                     The needs of others, have wasted their life. But those who Realize the Self are

                     Always satisfied. Having found the source of joy and fulfillment, they no

                                             Longer seek happiness from the external world.

                                        - As Translated and Interpreted by Eknath Eswaran -


            By continuously striving to recognize, understand, and implement the principles of Karma Yoga, the spiritual aspirant, as exemplified by the Soul, eventually transcends the gunas completely until absolute liberation and Enlightenment are Realized. It is useful to understand that we are always practicing some form of Karma Yoga at some level within the guna system, as the Soul gradually expands and enhances its influence over the mental processes from incarnation to incarnation. This is the process of spiritual growth and evolution, leading back to the Godhead, and Divine Love, Light, and Life.


                                                                                  - With Love, Alan -

                                                                (Copyright 2009, by Alan Schneider)


                                                                                      Return to Top