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

Central  Theme of the Gita
The  Bhagvad Gita can be studied from different angles such as a historical document,  a spiritual treatise, a scriptural text for daily chanting and prayer, a  sublime poetry, an exposition of Grammar and meter, or a management manual,  depending on one’s own outlook and purpose.

The  objective here is to study it as a spiritual text and try to find out its main  theme. Our ancient Rishis have given us a six-point test to determine the main  theme of a text. This is called ‘sadvidvidha tatparya nirnaya linga’. In  the light of this six-factor test let us look at the Gita to discover its  central theme.

The  1st point is called upakrama and upasamhara - the  beginning and conclusion of a text. The crux of the subject in the text starts  with Arjuna’s confusion, his acceptance of the delusion and surrender to the  Lord as a sishya with a request to teach him what is the best for him.  The text ends with his statement that all his doubts were cleared, his delusion  is gone and he regained his memory of the Self. This kind of beginning and end  of the text shows that the Bhagavad Gita contains the Knowledge that removes  the delusion and bestows the Supreme Good.

Even  from the teacher’s view point, the text starts from Sri Krishna telling Arjuna  that he is grieving for that which should not be grieved for thereby explaining  how sorrow is borne of delusion. It ends by asking Arjuna whether the delusion  had gone. This makes it clear that the entire purpose of the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna was aimed at removing spiritual  ignorance which is the cause of delusion. Thus the removal of sorrow and  delusion (soka moha nivritti) is the main theme of the Gita.

The  2nd point is called abhayasa - repetition and emphasis in the  text. The 2nd chapter gives ample evidence to this aspect. Krishna frequently tells Arjuna not to grieve and puts  forward the reasons for that view from several angles like the true knowledge,  duty, ignominy etc. Similarly, the concept of sthitaprajna has been  highlighted in several ways at various places. This shows imparting Self-Knowledge  is the key note in the text.

The  3rd point is called apurvata - the novelty or uniqueness of  the theme. Sri Krishna calls this Self-Knowledge as a secret, guhyam because  normal extroverted minds cannot grasp it and hence very few succeed in knowing  it. Similarly, moderation in all walks of our lives has been stressed at many  places. The teachings of the Gita are thus unique.

The  4th point is phalam or the fruit or the end result of the  study of the text. Removal of sorrow and confusion and attainment of clear  thinking and supreme knowledge - enlightenment - are the end result of the  study of the text.

The  5th point is arthavada - positive praise of the subject and  negative condemnation of the opposite. We find many slokas in the text  extolling the supreme Self-Knowledge and condemning spiritual ignorance. Thus  attaining the Supreme Knowledge is the goal of the Gita.

The  6th and the last point is upapatti - illustration and  reasoning. We find in the text that Krishna has  been giving a lot of logical explanations and reasoning to convince Arjuna  about his teachings. He uses profusely the word ‘tasmat’ meaning  ‘therefore’. His arguments are given from many standpoints, the main goal of  all His efforts being elimination of sorrow and delusion through Self-Knowledge.  The nature of Self is also revealed through examples and reasoning. These  indicate the Supreme knowledge ( tattva jnanam) as the main subject  matter of the Gita.

Therefore  Self-Knowledge (atma jnana) which eliminates our ignorance and the  consequent problems created and bestows the ultimate good for all of us (shreyas) is the core theme of the Gita.

Over-view  of the Gita
The  entire Bhagavad Gita can be divided into five topics viz.
1. Identifying the problem (covered in the 1st and the starting portions of the 2nd chapters of the Gita).
2. Finding a solution (covered in the major portion of the 2nd chapter and reiterated in the 7th, 9th and 13th chapters.
3. Implementing the solution (This theme is dealt with in the 3rd, 5th, 12th and 18th chapters).
4. Understanding the values of life (stated in many places in the Gita and particularly in the 16th chapter) and
5. Achieving perfection (elaborated in the 2nd, 5th, and 14th chapters).

Arjuna’s  misunderstanding, his inability to see things as they are and consequent grief  and self-pity just at the crucial moment of war are the problems. The solution  to them can be short term which will only be of temporary nature or long term  which will be of permanent nature. The Gita offers a long term solution with  which anybody can face any situation in life at any time anywhere. This  spiritual solution teaches us to look at life as a whole and live a whole life.   Finding a solution is just not enough.  We must know how to implement it. The Gita provides us with a practical guidance  that helps us to understand how to live according to the guidelines offered.

But  living a life according to the guidelines offered is also not adequate unless  it is spiced with certain basic vision and values. If a person’s vision of life  is limited to mundane happiness derived from the senses, he will merely spend  his life time in eating, drinking and making merry. His value system will  revolve round making money by any means to satisfy his never ending needs. But  the value system of a person with a philanthropic bent or an animal lover or an  environmentalist or spiritually oriented will be entirely different. The Gita  provides us with such an enlarged vision of life laying the foundation for a sense  of fulfillment.

Finally,  the Gita gives us the vision of a person who has gained the supreme Knowledge  and lives anchored in it. One who faces problems and crisis in life gains the  vision of Truth, puts it into practice, and lives according to that value  system. He becomes a jivan mukta, liberated in this very life. He is  called a sthita prajna and the Gita gives us a vivid description of his  nature.

Such  an analytical understanding of the various topics in the Bhagavad Gita  makes it easy for us to study it fruitfully and gives us a ready reference  point to check out the slokas (verses) according to our requirement.

Main  concepts of the Gita
The  main philosophical subject matter of the Bhagavad Gita is the explanation of  five basic concepts.
1. Jiva, the individual soul or the living being
2. Jagat, the universe he lives in or nature or matter  
3. Jagadishvara, the creator of the universe or the  Supreme Controller and the relationship between Jiva, Jagat and Jagadishvara.
4. Dharma (Duty in accordance with Divine law)
5. Kaala (Time)

Krishna counsels Arjuna on the greater idea of dharma, or universal harmony  and duty. He begins with the tenet that the soul (Atman) is eternal and immortal.  Any 'death' on the battlefield would involve only the shedding of the body,  whereas the soul is permanent.

In  order to clarify his point, Krishna expounds  the various Yoga processes and understanding of the true nature of the  universe. He describes the yogic paths of devotional service -Bhakti Yoga,  action - Karma Yoga, meditation - Dhyana Yoga or Raja Yoga and knowledge -  Jnana Yoga.

Fundamentally,  the Bhagavad Gita proposes that true enlightenment comes from going beyond  identification with the temporal ego, the 'False Self', the ephemeral world, so  that one identifies with the truth of the immortal self, the absolute soul or  Atman.

Through  detachment from the material sense of ego, the Yogi, or follower of a particular  path of Yoga, is able to transcend his/her illusory mortality and attachment to  the material world and enters the realm of the Supreme.

Krishna does not propose that the physical world must be abandoned or  neglected.  Rather, one's life on Earth  must be lived in accordance with greater laws and truths; one must embrace  one's temporal duties whilst remaining mindful of timeless reality, acting for  the sake of service without consideration for the results thereof. Such a life would  naturally lead towards stability, happiness and, ultimately, enlightenment.

In  the Bhagavad Gita Krishna refers to the war about to take place as ‘Dharma  Yuddha’, meaning a righteous war for the purpose of justice.  He also states that he incarnates in each age  (yuga) to establish righteousness in the world.

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