Guest Author - Sangeetha Ekambaram
The Bhagavad Gita is a well-known Hindu philosophical exposition that appears within the epic, the Mahabharatha. It contains 700 verses that are organized according to different topics into eighteen chapters. It is often abstracted from the Mahabharatha and studied as a separate scripture. Bhagavad is a sanskrit term that refers to the "Divine" and gita means "song". Therefore, the title of the work is often translated as "Song of the Divine". Within the epic's narrative, Krishna, the incarnation of the Divine on earth, delivers the Bhagavad Gita.
Krishna delivers the Bhagavad Gita on the battlefield (named Kurukshetra) to Arjuna, one of the royal princes of the Pandava lineage. At the time, Krishna steers Arjuna's chariot. Arjuna must fight his own family members, respected elders and friends. As he gazes upon the opposing army just before the battle begins, Arjuna is weakened by overwhelming grief at the prospect of war and turns to Krishna for advice. Therefore, the title of the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita announces Arjuna's dilemma. This scene on the battlefield can interpreted either literally (as part of a historical/mythical narrative) or metaphorically by Hindus and commentators. Metaphorically speaking, the chariot can represent the internal emotional and spiritual battle every human being must face. Krishna represents the highest spiritual truths and Arjuna is the human condition.
In the end, Krishna convinces Arjuna that continuing to fight the battle is the proper and righteous course of action. However, Krishna takes Arjuna through a profound discourse before reaching this conclusion. In the first chapter, Arjuna voices his doubts and argues that by fulfilling his duty (dharma) on the battlefield, he will act unrighteously because of the circumstances of who he has to defeat. Krishna takes the term dharma (duty) that Arjuna uses and proceeds to redefine it on a new premise. Krishna explains that God, the Divine, is above all that Arjuna knows and thinks at the present moment. He asks Arjuna to suspend his ideas of righteousness and unrighteousness momentarily. Krishna then systematically redefines dharma as any action that leads to moksha, or the absorption of the eternal soul (atman) with the universal divine presence (brahman).
The most prevalent term that appears in the Bhagavad Gita is yoga. Krishna defines several different types of yoga as a means of attaining moksha. The majority of the Bhagavad Gita is dedicated to expounding upon the different kinds of yoga. Yoga is generally categorized into three types: Karma yoga, bhakti yoga and jnana yoga. Karma yoga refers to the exercise of performing one's dharma without yearning or preconception of the consequences. Bhakti yoga refer to the practice of steadfast and sincere devotion to God. And jnana yoga is the process of acquiring divine knowledge in order to distinguish between ultimate reality (brahman) and transient reality; what is real and unreal. Karma yoga is the most relevant to Arjuna's current predicament.
In the end, Arjuna regains courage and conviction to fight the battle. He is able to see that, even though the visible circumstances seem to the contrary, he will in fact be fulfilling the highest dharma by fighting. Arjuna is strengthened by Krishna's discourse. He sees righteousness and unrighteousness with a new vision anchored in the reality that Brahman, God, the Divine are above all.