Studying the handbook for humanity
By Radhanath Swami Maharaj | Published: 23rd December 2017 10:00 PM |
What is the Bhagwad Gita?
The Bhagwad Gita was spoken by Sri Krishna to his friend and disciple Arjuna at the beginning of the epic war, Mahabharata. It provides the concise conclusion of the millions of verses in all the Vedic scriptures. In just 18 chapters containing 700 verses, Sri Krishna answers all questions about the duty of the living entity. In glorifying the Bhagwad Gita, Lord Shiva says in the Gita Mahatmya (Padma Purana) that it is sufficient to lead one to liberation.
How should one read the Bhagwad Gita?
It should be studied in the same mood as it was heard by Arjuna. Sri Krishna declares that he is revealing this most confidential knowledge to Arjuna because He is not envious and He is a friend. So, one must read and understand the Bhagwad Gita in the mood of at least theoretically accepting the position of Krishna as God. Owing to the universal message in the Bhagwad Gita, many people take to it instinctively. Sri Krishna stresses the importance of paramapara (disciplic succession) and guru (spiritual master) in receiving the knowledge.
Who should read the Bhagwad Gita?
It is often referred to as the ‘handbook for humanity’. Never in the Bhagwad Gita has Sri Krishna restricted the scope to Hindus or Indians. It is completely non-denominational, meant for anyone inquiring about his reason for existence. Indeed, many
people following Christianity or Islam get a much better perspective of their own religion after reading the Bhagwad Gita and are able to follow their religions with greater conviction.
What is purpose of the Bhagwad Gita?
It was spoken to guide the conditioned soul on the path of the spiritual advancement. The dominating principle of the Bhagwad Gita is to develop consciousness. In the details, Sri Krishna explains three primary ways of doing this and then further expands on these paths. He then relates them to each other and brings forth the single most effective path for returning to God.
What are the three paths?
These paths are explained as yoga. The Sanskrit word ‘yoga’ means connecting to the Absolute, and it is in this context that the word yoga is used in the Bhagwad Gita. The three paths given by Sri Krishna are Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Bhakti Yoga. The first six chapters primarily discuss Karma Yoga, liberation by performing prescribed activities. The last six chapters primarily talk about Jnana Yoga, liberation by worshipping the Lord through one’s intelligence. Ensconced between these two ‘protective’ covers, like a pearl in the oyster, in the middle six chapters, Krishna reveals the most confidential of all knowledge, Bhakti Yoga, the path of pure, unalloyed devotional service. He declares this to be the highest, the easiest and the fastest path to him.
What is Karma Yoga?
A person situated in Karma Yoga
executes one’s prescribed duties. These duties are as prescribed by the Varnashrama system created by Krishna through the Vedas. According to one’s ability and inclination, a person may acquire a particular varna. He may become a brahman (teacher, guide), kshatriya (administrator, warrior), vaishya (merchant, farmer) or sudra (worker). According to his situation he lives in one of the four ashrams: brahmachari (student), grahastha (married), vanaprastha (retired) and sanyasa (detached). The eight-fold varnashram system is created to allow one to be aware of his prescribed duties and execute them properly.
It is important to note here that the Bhagwad Gita stresses that a varna is acquired by one’s ability and inclination—never by birth. So, in the Bhagwad Gita, there is no support of the ‘caste-system’ prevalent in India. Performing prescribed duties will earn a person much pious credit, but it will also continue to bind him to the material world. So, Karma can be ‘sakarma’ (done in anticipation of enjoying its fruits) or ‘nishkarma’ (detached from the results).
What is Bhakti Yoga?
The path of devotion is described as the most confidential path. The essence of the Bhakti yoga is summarised by Sri Krishna in Chapter 9, Verse 34, as follows: ‘Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, become My devotee, offer obeisances to Me and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me’. This verse, often considered to be the summary verse of the entire Bhagwad Gita, contains the essence of the existence of a spirit soul. In the material world, trapped in the illusory sense of identifying with the body and its extensions, a spirit soul remains forever bewildered by the duality of existence. However, by simply surrendering to Krishna, understanding him to be the original, primeval cause of all causes and thus worshipping him without any desires of material benefit, one can easily go back to him.
What is Jnana Yoga?
In the Jnana section Krishna elaborates about the five factors of existence: Ishvara (god), Jivatma (soul), Kaal (time), Karma (actions) and Prakriti (nature). He explains that while kaal, prakriti, jiva and ishvara are eternal, karma is not. When Krishna explains the path of spiritual advancement by knowledge, Arjuna gets confused between the Karma (action) and Jnana (inaction). Krishna explains that one must strive for activities performed in knowledge of Him, which will ultimately lead to Bhakti. Philosophy without faith is speculation, and faith without philosophy is rituals. The two must complement each other.
Why has Krishna given alternatives?
A confusing aspect of the Bhagwad Gita is the fact that while acknowledging the superiority of Bhakti yoga, Krishna spends considerable time talking about Jnana and Karma Yoga. He even speaks briefly about the eight-fold ashtanga yoga process followed by the mystics. In reality. Krishna is offering something for everyone according to their levels of advancement and inclination. As God, He does not interfere with the free will of a living entity. But as the most compassionate well-wisher, He wants everyone to leave this material world of misery and return to him.