Bhagavad-gita – Entrance to Sanskrit

Bhagavad Gita in General

It tells the story of Arjuna, a warrior prince, and his friend and mentor, an avatar (reincarnation) of the Lord Vishnu, Krishna, who is steering his chariot through the beginnings of the great Bharata war that forms the basis for the Mahabharata. Arjuna and Krishna have ridden out into the middle of a battlefield, with armies arrayed on either side of them. Arjuna’s job is to blow a conch shell to announce the commencement of battle. Seeing friends and relatives in both armies, Arjuna is heartbroken at the thought that the battle will cost him many loved ones. He turns to Krishna for advice.

Krishna counsels Arjuna on a wide range of topics, beginning with a tenet that since souls are immortal, the deaths on the battlefield are just the shedding of the body, which is not the soul. Krishna goes on to expound on many spiritual matters, including the yogas (or paths) of devotion, action, meditation and knowledge. Fundamentally, the Bhagavad Gita proposes that true enlightenment comes from suppression of the ego, of “I,” “my” and “mine” consciousness, and to realize that the only truth is the immortal Self (soul), Atman, which is none other than Brahman (the ultimate divine consciousnesss). Through dispassion for the senses, extreme jubilation and bereavement, the yogin is able to subjugate his mortality and attachment for the material world and see the infinite.

To demonstrate the infinitude of Brahman, which is unknowable, indescribable and ineffable in human knowledge, Krishna temporarily gives Arjuna the cosmic eye and allows him to see him in all his divine glory. He reveals that he is fundamentally both the ultimate ground of being behind the universe and the material body of the universe, as well as an avataar for the personalized Lord Vishnu. This three-fold understanding of the nature of God has led to the Bhagavad Gita becoming the basis for many varying philosophies of the Hindu faith and the fountainhead text of Yoga.

The Gita has been the favorite book of many great thinkers, sages, devotees and figures of Hindu India. Among some of the most well-known are Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who represents the truest example of bhakti yoga (yoga of love and devotion) of Krishna, exemplifying what Vaishnavs (followers of Vishnu) saw as a great devotee of Krishna. It was he who first sang the “Hare Krishna” mahamantra (great mantra). Needless to say, he was steeped in the Bhagavad Gita. Mahatma Gandhi, who interpreted the war of the Mahabharata – an obvious aspect of the philosophical/religious epic mythology – as a metaphor for the confusions, doubts, fears and conflicts that trouble all people at one time or another. He thus used the culminating message of the Gita to aid him in his own struggle against the rapacious colonial rule of the British.

The first great yogin to spread the message of Hindu Yoga in America was the dynamic Swami Vivekananda, follower of Shri Ramakrishna, known for his seminal commentaries on the four yogas, those of Bhakti, Jnana, Karma and Raja Yoga. In writing them, he drew from his knowledge of the Vedas, Upanishads and the Gita to expound on them. (See below for “Bhagavad Gita as a Yoga Scripture”). Swami Sivananda, a reknowned yogin, advises that the true yogin will read verses from the Bhagavad Gita every day. Paramahamsa Yogananda, writer of the famous “Autobiography of a Yogi,” viewed the Bhagavad Gita as one of the world’s two most divine scriptures, along with the Four Gospels of Jesus.

Bhagavad Gita as a Yoga Scripture

The Gita addresses this discord within us and speaks of the yoga of equanimity – a balanced 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 (Atman), which is ultimately one with the ground of being (Brahman). It is the basis of all yoga philosophy. 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, says Krishna, is by stilling the mind through discipline of the senses and the intellect.

However, total 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. This goal can be achieved through the yogas of meditation, action, devotion and knowledge.

Krishna summarizes the Yogas through eighteen chapters. Yoga can fundamentally be said to comprise FOUR MAIN TYPES: Raja Yoga (psycho-physical meditation), Bhakti Yoga (devotion and love), Karma Yoga (selfless action), and Jnana [pronounced GYAAN]Yoga (self-transcending knowledge). Other forms that exist today sprang up long after the Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras (to be discussed below) and are all essentially forms of Raja Yoga.

While each path differs, their fundamental goal is one and the same: to realize Brahman (the Divine Ground), as being the only truth, that the body is temporal, but the soul (Atman) is infinite and one with Brahman. Yoga’s aim (nirvana, moksha) is essentially to escape from the cycle of reincarnation through realization of oneness with the ultimate reality.

Here are some quotations from Lord Krishna that make up history’s first real yoga text and give comprehensive definitions of the four principle yogas:

On The Goal Of Yoga
“ When the mind comes to rest, restrained by the practice of yoga, and when beholding the Self, by the self, he is content in the Self.” (B.G., Chapter 6, Verse 20) | “ He who finds his happiness within, his delight within, and his light within, this yogi attains the bliss of Brahman, becoming Brahman.”

On Raja Yoga
Raja Yoga is, in general, stilling of the mind and body through meditative techniques, geared at realizing one’s true nature. This practice was later described by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras.
“ Establishing a firm seat for himself in a clean place… having directed his mind to a single object, with his thought and the activity of the senses controlled, he should practice yoga for the purpose of self-realization. Holding the body, head and neck erect, motionless and steady, gazing at the tip of his own nose and not looking in any direction, with quieted mind, banishing fear, established in the brahmacharin vow of celibacy, controlling the mind, with thoughts fixed on Me, he should sit, concentrated, devoted to Me. Thus, continually disciplining himself, the yogin whose mind is subdued goes to nirvana, to supreme peace, to union with Me.” (B.G., Chapter 6, Verses 11-15)

On Bhakti Yoga
Bhakti Yoga is simply love and devotion, epitomized by such traditions as worship of Krishna, dedicating one to Mother Kali. This Hindu system of worship is analagous to finding salvation in Christ through love.
“…. those who, renouncing all actions in Me, and regarding Me as the Supreme, worship me… of those whose thoughts have entered into Me, I am soon the deliverer from the ocean of death and transmigration, Arjuna. Keep your mind on Me alone, your intellect on Me. Thus you shall dwell in me hereafter.” (B.G., Chapter 12, Verses 6-8) “ And he who serves me with the yoga of unswerving devotion, transcending these qualities [binary opposites, like good and evil, pain and pleasure] is ready for absorption in Brahman.” (B.G. Chapter 14, Verse 26)

On Karma Yoga
Karma Yoga is essentially acting, or doing one’s duties in life, without desire or expectation of reward, a sort of constant sacrifice of action to the Supreme. It is action done without thought of gain. It includes, but is not limited to, dedication of one’s chosen profession and its perfection to God. It is also visible in community and social service, since they are inherently done without thought of personal gain.
“ With the body, with the mind, with the intellect, even merely with the senses, the yogins perform action toward self-purification, having abandoned attachment. He who is disciplined in yoga, having abandoned the fruit of action, attains steady peace…” (B.G. Chapter 5, Verses 11-12)

On Jnana Yoga
Jnana Yoga is a process of learning to discriminate between what is real and what is not, what is eternal and what is not eternal. Through a steady advancement in realization of the real and the unreal, what is eternal and temporal, one develops into a Jnana Yogin. This is essentially a path to God through knowledge and disrimination, and has been described as being the “shortest, but steepest” path to God: the most difficult one.
“ When he perceives the various states of being as resting in the One, and from That alone spreading out, then he attains Brahman. / They who know, through the eye of knowledge, the distinction between the field and the knower of the field, as well as the liberation of beings from material nature, go to the Supreme.” (B.G. Chapter 15, Verse 31 / Verse 35)

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In many ways a heterogeneous text, the Gita is a reconciliation of many facets and schools of Hindu philosophy of both Brahmanical (i.e., orthodox, Vedic) origin and the parallel ascetic, yogic tradition. It comprises primarily Vedic (as in the four Vedas, as opposed to the Upanishads/Vedanta), Upanishadic, Samkhya and Yoga philosophy. It has stood the time, bringing together all four thought systems by taking their largely cohesive, common ideologies and backgrounds into the powerful Sanskrit verse of one text.

It had always been a seminal text for Hindu priests and yogins in India and gained more widespread popularity among the the rest of the laity with the rise of Vaishnavism as popularized by Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu around fifteenth century CE. Although not strictly part of the ‘canon’ of Vedic writings, almost all Hindu sects draw upon the Gita as authoritative. Recently, textual studies have indicated that it may have been inserted into the Mahabharata at a later date, but this is only natural as it sounds more like an Upanishad (which are commentaries that followed the Vedas) in thought than a Purana (histories of Hindu gods and goddesses), of which tradition the Mahabharata is a part.

For its religious depth, quintessential Upanishadic and Yogic philosophy and beauty of verse, the Bhagavad Gita is one of the most compelling and important texts to come out of the Hindu tradition. Indeed, it stands tall among the world’s greatest religious and spiritual scriptures.

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There are three paths which lead directly to establishing a relationship with God. According to the authority of Bhagavad-Gita these paths have been designated as the yoga of perfect actions, the yoga of perfect devotion and the yoga of perfect knowledge. These three paths with great care and attention have been fully explained in the Bhagavad-Gita which comprises chapters 23 through 40 in the Bhishma-Parva section of Mahabharata.

The Bhagavad-Gita consists of 18 chapters. Each chapter is called a yoga. Yoga is the science of the individual consciousness attaining communion with the Ultimate Consciousness. So each chapter is a highly specialized yoga revealing the path of attaining realization of the Ultimate Truth. The first six chapters have been classified as the Karma Yoga section as they mainly deal with the science of the individual consciousness attaining communion with the Ultimate Consciousness through actions. These chapters are:

Chapter 1 : Visada Yoga
Chapter 2 : Sankhya Yoga
Chapter 3 : Karma Yoga
Chapter 4 : Jnana Yoga
Chapter 5 : Karma Vairagya Yoga
Chapter 6 : Abhyasa Yoga
The middle six chapters have been designated as the Bhakti Yoga section as they principally are pertaining with the science of the individual consciousness attaning communion with the Ultimate Consciousness by the path of devotion.

Chapter 7 : Paramahamsa Vijnana Yoga
Chapter 8 : Aksara-Parabrahman Yoga
Chapter 9 : Raja-Vidya-Guhya Yoga
Chapter 10 : Vibhuti-Vistara-Yoga
Chapter 11 : Visvarupa-Darsana Yoga
Chapter 12 : Bhakti Yoga
The final six chapters are regarded as the Jnana Yoga section as they are primarily concerned with the science of the individual consciousness attaining communion with the Ultimate Consciousness through the intellect.

Chapter 13 : Ksetra-Ksetrajna Vibhaga Yoga
Chapter 14 : Gunatraya-Vibhaga Yoga
Chapter 15 : Purusottama Yoga
Chapter 16 : Daivasura-Sampad-Vibhaga Yoga
Chapter 17 : Sraddhatraya-Vibhaga Yoga
Chapter 18 : Moksa-Opadesa Yoga
Lord Krishna spoke the Bhagavad-Gita on the battlefield of Kuruksetra in 3102 B.C.; just prior to the commencement of the Mahabharata war. This date corresponds to 1700 years before Moses, 2500 years before Buddha, 3000 years before Jesus and 3800 years before Mohammed. So first and foremost it should be clearly understood that the eternal knowledge of the Bhagavad-Gita has not been influenced by Buddhism, Christianity, Hebrewism or Islam; for these religions did not exist at that time and were established milleniums later.

That proof of the date 3102 B.C. can be verified by any knowledgeable indologist in India based on the fact that this was the year when the Pandava King Yudhisthira ascended the throne and was coronated as emperor of the Earth. Also according to the Aihole inscription of Pulakesin II, the Battle of Kuruksetra took place in 3102 B.C. with Lord Krishna reciting the Bhagavad-Gita before its commencement. As well precise information of the positions of the constellation at the commencement of the Battle of Kuruksetra have been given in the great historical epic Mahabharata itself, which is based on the 26,920 year astronomical cycle known as the precession of the equinoxes which is the time it takes our solar system to revolve around the central sun.

But who exactly is Lord Krishna? Is He Narayana? Is He Vishnu? Is He Vasudeva as referred to in the Taittirya Aranyaka 10.1. 6 ? In the Bhagavad-Gita the Supreme Lord Krishna is addressed by Arjuna with 41 different names. Some of these names are Acyuta, Bhagavan, Govinda, Hari, Isvara, Janardana, Kesava, Madhava, Purusottama and Yogesvara as well as Vasudeva and Vishnu. Although Lord Krishna possesses unlimited names due to His unlimited attributes and potencies it should be clearly understood that the Krishna who is so wonderfully presented in the Puranas is one and the same Krishna who spoke the Bhagavad-Gita and is so marvelously glorified in the Mahabharata.

It should be understood that the Bhagavad-Gita is the very essence of Mahabharata. The Bhagavad-Gita literally translates as the Song of God! It was originally revealed in the classical language of Sanskrit spoken on the Indian sub-continent. It was first translated into English in 1785 by Charles Wilkins. It was translated into Latin in 1823 by Schlegel, into German in 1826 by Von Humbolt, into French in 1846 by Lassens and into Greek in 1848 by Galanos. By now it has been translated into all the major languages of the world such as Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Hebrew, Portugese, Arabic, Hindi and Bengali.

Many great and notable individuals from modern times as well as bygone eras have read the Bhagavad-Gita and have extolled its universal message. We are naming some of them:

Albert Einstein stated that when reading the Bhagavad-Gita he thinks about how God created the universe and then everything else seemed so superfluous.
Mahatma Gandhi stated that the Bhagavad-Gita calls on humanity to dedicate mind, body and soul to purity.

Dr. Albert Schweizer stated that the Bhagavad-Gita has a profound influence on the spirit of mankind by its devotion to God which is manifested in all actions.

Sri Aurobindo stated the Bhagavad-Gita has a new message for every age and every civilization.

Herman Hesse stated that the wonder of the Bhagavad-Gita is its beautiful revelation of life’s wisdom which has made philosophy blossom into religion.

Ramanuja has stated that the Bhagavad-Gita reveals the goalof the all the Vedic scriptures.

Aldous Huxley stated that the Bhagavad-Gita is the most comprhensive statement of perennial philosophy.

Madhvacarya has stated that the Bhagavad-Gita is apauruseya which means of divine origin and eternal.

Some western scholars have expressed opinions that the Bhagavad-Gita was written after Jesus Christ and the idea of devotion was taken from him. But anyone who has read both the Bible and the Bhagavad-Gita completely can easily discern the vast difference between the two. The Bible being more of a history book relates in the New Testament stories and pertinent facts regarding the life of Jesus. On the other hand the Bhagavad-Gita gives exact information regarding God, the soul, material nature, birth and death, the purpose of human existence and is a practical manual for spiritual revelation and attainment. It is interesting to note that the two foremost doctrines of Christianity as found in the Bible in Matthew, chapter 22, verses 37 and 39 which say: Love thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul and with all thy mind; and love thy neighbor as thyself are not minimized but completely validated by the Bhagavad-Gita. The book Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, volume six, page 696 states, “ It is certain that portions of the Bhagavad-Gita in which the doctrine of bhakti or love of God is revealed are pre-Christian and of indigenous Indian origin. This is not only limited to the devotional portions; but the entirety of the Bhagavad-Gita is pre-Christian. Also it has been well noted by sanskrit scholars that in terms of grammatical construction many sentences and the archaic forms of many words do not follow the strict rules of grammar which all sanskrit scholars follow as expounded given by Panini, who lived in the 6th century B.C.
Not only is the Bhagavad-Gita pre-Christian; but it is also pre-Buddhistic as well. That the Bhagavad-Gita is pre-Buddhistic can be determined by the fact that no where is there any reference to Buddhism. Whereas in the Buddhist scripture Niddesa written in 4 B.C. in the Pali Canon is found reference to the worship of Vasudeva and Baladeva, who are Krishna and Balarama respectively. Although some scholars surmise that the mention of nirvana six times gives them reason to assume that this might be contrary. The word nirvana is always compounded with the word brahma as in brahma-nirvanam meaning identified with the Ultimate truth or with the word paramam as in nirvana-paramam meaning identified with the Supreme. In Buddhism the word nirvana is used to mean extinguished or dissolved in terms of loss of separate existence. As the word nirvana by itself is also used in the Mahabharata in the sense of extinction it can be determined that the Buddhists received this concept of nirvana from earlier Vedic scriptures.

Many of you have been taught by your religions that God is to be feared. Many of you have been taught that this life is all their is and after this life there is nothing more. Others have been taught that after death one goes to heaven or hell. Still other have been taught that it is possible for the soul to be possessed. Some of you believe the possibility of reincarnation and others among you cannot fathom what is true and what is false. Many of you have been conditioned by erroneous conceptions, programed by false realities and even brainwashed to follow belief systems that intelligently it is difficult to follow.

Now we are giving everyone the oppurtunity to learn the eternal message of Bhagavad-Gita. All intelligent species of life, human being and otherwise can take advantage of these instructions and benefit eternally by the transcendental knowledge contained within the Bhagavad-Gita and we are confident that this realization will manifest as a reality in the forseeable future.