Introducing Srimad Bhagavad Gita - A User's Manual for Every Day Living

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“Live in the world but don’t be of the world. Live in the world but  don’t let the world live within you. Remember it is all a beautiful dream,  because everything is changing and disappearing. If you become detached you  will be able to see how people are attached to trivia and how much they are  suffering. And you will laugh at yourself because you were also in the same  boat before”. - Osho

The Gita’s wide appeal
The Bhagavad Gita was first translated  into English by Charles Wilkins in 1785 and published by the British East India  Company with an introduction by Lord Warren Hastings, the first British  Governor-General of India, in which he prophetically wrote: “The writers of the  Indian philosophies will survive when the British Dominion in India shall long  have ceased to exist, and when the sources which it yielded of wealth and power  are lost to remembrance”. He further wrote “I hesitate not to pronounce the  Gita’s performance of great originality, of sublimity of conception, reasoning  and diction almost unequalled and a single exception amongst all the known  religions of mankind”.

The Gita deals with human problems in a  human way. That is why it has a tremendous appeal. It has inspired the human  mind in India  for centuries and today it casts its spell on millions of people across the  various parts of the world. It remains the most translated work in the Globe. The  modern technology like the Internet has further increased its reputation by carrying  its message to every nook and corner of the world. A mere click on the word  ‘Bhagavad Gita’ in the Google search engine throws about 963,000 results. An  incredible reach for any scripture!

Among the great and extraordinary people  who were inspired and found their outlook changed by the timeless wisdom of the  Gita are thinkers, writers, scientists and philosophers like Mahatma Gandhi,  B.G.Tilak, Sri Aurobindo, Albert Einstein, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Herman Hesse,  Ralph Waldo Emerson, Aldous Huxley, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, Annie  Besant, Robert Oppenheimer Sir Edwin Arnold and Carlyle to name but a few.

In India it was left to Adi Sankara  who lived in the 8th century A.D. to reveal the greatness of the  Gita to the world. He retrieved it from the mighty tomes of the epic, the Mahabharata,  and wrote a brilliant commentary on it. It is this commentary which prevails as  a classic text even today. Later great acharyas like Ramanuja, Madhva,  Vallabha and others came out with their own commentaries which are popular  among their followers. In modern times Sant Jnanesvar, B.G.Tilak, Aurobindo  contributed their original thinking on the text.

Despite  this enormous popularity, the Bhagavad Gita remains a less understood but a better  known text; people know more about it than what is it about. On the analogy of  what the Bhagavad Gita says in Chapter 2, Verse 29 some look upon the book as marvelous,  a scripture of extraordinary or mysterious value, some others speak of the book  as wonderful. And still others though hearing its teachings do not comprehend  its wonderful significance!  

Bhagavan  Sri Krishna also says in the Gita (7.3) “Among thousands of men , one by chance  aspires for perfection; even among those successful aspirants only one by  chance knows Me in essence.” A question arises why such enlightened persons are  so rare in our midst and why such an achievement is not within the reach of  everyone.

Vedanta  being a subjective science rarely one tries to know how to remove one's  weaknesses and develop inner strength much less one tries to live up to the  ideals propounded by it and bring about consequent re-adjustments in one's  life. Very few feel this urge to evolve themselves and most of us do not even find  the need for self improvement. We grope along by the voice of tradition,  authority, herd-instinct and group-mentality. Of those who strive to see the  truth and reach the goal, only a few succeed. Of those who gain the sight, not  even one learns to live by the sight.

No  wonder once a teacher wanting to educate a child about the Gita asked him “Do  you know Gita”? The child replied “Yes, I know, that is the name of my next  door aunty”.  The child obviously heard  of Gita and had his own meaning of it in his mind and remained happy about it.  That is the case with most of us today including the large mass of modern  educated sections. Then where do we go from here? Again, the Gita says by  constant learning and practice one can certainly improve oneself. Let us attempt  to heed that advice through this series of essays.

What  is the Gita?
The  dictionary meaning of the word ‘Gita’ is a song or poem containing an inspired doctrine  and the word ‘Bhagavat’ means a blessed or adorable or venerable or divine One.  Hence Srimad Bhagavad Gita is variously called as ‘The Song of God’, ‘The  Divine Song’, ‘A Song of Fortune’, ‘The Lord’s Song’, ‘The Holy Song of God’, ‘The Song of  the Lord’, Gudartha Deepika, Gita Rahasya, Jnaneshwari, Bhavaarthadipika,  Sadhaka Sanjeevani and so on. The noted English poet, journalist and a Principal of the Government Sanskrit College  at Pune, Sir Edwin Arnold (1832-1904) called  his famous poetic version of the Bhagavad Gita as ‘The Song Celestial’.  The Bhagavad Gita’s another title is ‘moksha  sastra’ or ‘Scripture of Liberation’. However, it is more popularly known  as “The Gita”.

The  Bhagavad Gita is a sacred Hindu scripture, considered among the most important  texts in the history of literature and philosophy. It finds a place in the Bhishma  Parva of the Mahabharata. It comprises of 18 chapters spread out in 700 verses.  Its author is Veda Vyasa, the compiler of the Mahabharata who wrote this epic  through the hands of the Lord of Wisdom, Sri Ganesha. Its teachings are  considered timeless and the exact time of revelation of the scripture is  considered of little spiritual significance. The teacher of the Bhagavad Gita  is Lord Krishna, who is revered as a manifestation of God, The Bhagvan,  Parabrahman.

The  content of the Gita is the conversation between Lord Krishna and Arjuna taking  place on the battlefield of Kurukshetra before the start of the war between the  two clans of brothers - the Kauravas and the Pandavas.

Responding  to Arjuna's confusion and moral dilemma about fighting his own cousins, Bhagavan  Krishna explains to Arjuna his duties as a warrior and prince and elaborates on  different Vedantic concepts. This has led to the Gita being described as one of  the prasthana traya, the triumvirate of the canons of Hindu Philosophy,  the other two being the Upanishads and the Brahma Sutras.

It  is considered as a concise, practical, self-contained guide to play the game of  life. During the discourse, Krishna reveals His  identity as the Supreme Being (Svayam Bhagavan), blessing Arjuna with an  awe-inspiring vision of His divine universal form.

The  Gita itself tells us about what it is. At the end of the first chapter we find  a narration reading as under:  
    om tat sat
    iti srimad bhagavadgeetaasu upanishatsu  brahma vidyaayaam yogashaastre
    sri krishnaarjuna samvaade arjuna  vishaada yogo naama prathamo'dyaayah||

“Thus  in the Upanishads of the glorious Bhagavad Gita, the science of the Eternal,  the scripture of Yoga, the dialogue between Sri Krishna and Arjuna, ends  the  first discourse entitled: The  Yoga   of the Despondency of Arjuna”

The  narration as given above at the end of the first chapter occurs also at the end  of all the other subsequent chapters, the only difference being the respective  title of the chapters. This narration is called `sankalpa vakya' meaning  an epilogue for the chapter. It reveals in a very concise form the glory and  greatness of the Gita and states the theme of the concerned chapter.

The  meaning of this recital is as under:
1. Om Tat Sat:  A designation for the Absolute enabling everybody to turn towards Godhead.
2. Gita is called: Upanishad because it contains the  essence of all the Upanishads which are the revelations of the ancient sages.
3. Brahma Vidya or the science of the Eternal because it  teaches about the changeless Reality behind the ever-changing phenomenal world  of perceptions, emotions and thoughts.4. Yoga Shastra because it is a scripture that explains  the technique of right living and provides a practical guide to work it out in  the form of Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Raja Yoga.
5. Samvad because it is in the form of a dialogue between  Krishna and Arjuna, the Divine and the human, the  former teaching the latter how to function successfully and efficiently in a  community.
6. This chapter is entitled `Arjuna Vishaada Yogah' or  the Yoga of despondency of Arjuna.