Bhagavad Gita: Background

Hindu texts

Shruti: Hindu scriptures said
to have no author; rather,
they are believed to be a divine
recording of the "cosmic
sounds of truth," heard by
rishis--advanced sages.

  • Vedas
    • Rig Veda
    • Sama Veda
    • Yajur Veda
    • Atharva Veda
  • Brahmanas
  • Aranyakas
  • Upanishads

Smriti: from the Sanskrit word
meaning "the remembered,"
later Hindu scriptures

  • Itihasas
    • Mahabarata
      • Bhagavad Gita
    • Ramayana
    • Puranas
  • Tantras
  • Sutras
  • Stotras
  • Ashtavakra Gita
  • Gita Govinda
  • Hatha Yoga Pradipika

     The Bhagavad Gita (Sanskrit/Hindi) is a core sacred text of Hinduism and its philosophy, and a part of the epic poem Mahabharata, located in the Bhishma-Parva. Often referred to as the Gita, it is a summation of the Vedic, Yogic, Vedantic and Tantric philosophies. The Bhagavad Gita, meaning "Song of the Lord," refers to itself as an 'Upanishad.' . In the Gita, Krishna proclaims that he is God Himself (a Bhagavat, or all-embracing personal god). In order to help Arjuna understand this, he shows Arjuna His divine form which is described as timeless.

     The Bhagavad Gita opens at the start of the climactic battle at Kurukshetra. The dialogue begins with the kshatriya prince Arjuna as he becomes filled with doubt on the battlefield. Realizing who his enemies are: relatives, beloved friends, and revered teachers, he turns to his charioteer, Krishna, for advice.

     Krishna counsels Arjuna, beginning with the tenet that since souls are immortal, their deaths on the battlefield are just the shedding of the body, which is not the soul. Krishna goes on to expound on the yogic paths of devotion, action, meditation and knowledge. Fundamentally, the Bhagavad Gita proposes that true enlightenment comes from growing beyond identification with the ego, the little self, and that one must identify with the truth of the immortal Self, the soul or Atman, the ultimate divine consciousness. Through detaching from the personal ego, the yogi, or follower of a particular path of yoga, is able to transcend his mortality and attachment for the material world and see the infinite.

     To demonstrate the infinity of the unknowable Brahman, Krishna gives Arjuna a glimpse of cosmic sight and allows the prince to see Him in all his divine glory. He reveals that He is fundamentally both the ultimate essence of being in the universe and also its material body. This is called the Vishvarupa/Viratrupa.

     The Gita describes the best yogi as one who constantly thinks of God. The Gita addresses the discord between the senses and the intuition of cosmic unity. It speaks of the yoga of equanimity, a detached outlook. The term yoga covers a wide range of meanings, but in the context of the Bhagavad Gita it describes a unified outlook, serenity of mind, skill in action, and the ability to stay attuned to the glory of the Self (Atma), which is of the same essence as the basis of being (Brahman). According to Krishna, the root of all suffering and discord is the agitation of the mind caused by desire. The only way to douse the flame of desire is by stilling the mind through discipline of the senses and the intellect.

     However, abstinence from action is regarded as being just as detrimental as extreme indulgence. According to the Bhagavad Gita, the goal of life is to free the mind and intellect from their complexities and to focus them on the glory of the Self by dedicating one's actions to the divine. This goal can be achieved through the yogas of meditation, action, devotion and knowledge.

     Krishna summarizes the four kinds of Yoga:

      Other forms that exist today sprang up long after the Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and are all essentially types of Raja Yoga.

     While each path differs, their fundamental aim is the same: to realize Brahman (the Divine Essence) as being the only truth, that the body is temporal, and that the Supreme Soul (Paramatman) is infinite. Yoga's goal (nirvana, moksha) is to escape from the cycle of reincarnation through realization of oneness with the ultimate reality. There are three aspects of self-realisation enunciated in the Bhagavad Gita:

1. Brahman - The impersonal universal energy

2. Paramatma - The Supreme Soul sitting in the heart of every living entity.

3. Bhagavan - God as a personality, with a transcendental form.