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3.1: The Bhagavad Gita

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    25876
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    Added to The Mahabharata between 400 B.C.E. and 400 C.E.

    India

    The Bhagavad Gita records the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna right before the epic battle of Kurukshetra. Although it is a part of The Mahabharata, it often is taught separately for its insights into Hindu beliefs. Krishna is the eighth human avatar of the god Vishnu, who sends down an avatar every time that the world requires such serious divine intervention that the good side could not win without his help. In this instance, the warrior Arjuna finds himself in a difficult position; to fight a war against evil, he must fight members of his own family, which would normally be a sin. Krishna must teach Arjuna how to know what to do when faced with conflicting duties. Some of the tension of the work comes from the setting; Krishna and Arjuna are literally between the two armies as they talk, while both sides wait for Arjuna to blow his horn, which will start the battle. The Bhagavad Gita stands as one of the great moral documents in world literature, influencing people as diverse as Thoreau, Tolstoy, and Gandhi.

    Written by Laura J. Getty

    The Bhagavad Gita

    Translated by Ramananda Prasad

    Chapter 1

    Arjuna’s Dilemma

    The war of Mahabharata has begun after all negotiations by Lord Krishna and others to avoid it failed. The blind King (Dhritarashtra) was never very sure about the victory of his sons (Kauravas) in spite of their superior army. Sage Vyasa, the author of Mahabharata, wanted to give the blind King the boon of eyesight so that the King could see the horrors of the war for which he was primarily responsible. But the King refused the offer. He did not want to see the horrors of the war; but preferred to get the war report through his charioteer, Sanjaya. Sage Vyasa granted the power of clairvoyance to Sanjaya. With this power Sanjaya could see, hear, and recall the events of the past, present, and the future. He was able to give an instant replay of the eyewitness war report to the blind King sitting in the palace.

    Bhishma, the mightiest man and the commander-in-chief of the Kaurava’s army, is disabled by Arjuna and is lying on deathbed in the battleground on the tenth day of the eighteen day war. Upon hearing this bad news from Sanjaya, the blind King looses all hopes for victory of his sons. Now the King wants to know the details of the war from the beginning, including how the mightiest man, and the commander-in-chief of his superior army who had a boon of dying at his own will was defeated in the battlefield. The teaching of the Gita begins with the inquiry of the blind King, after Sanjaya described how Bhishma was defeated, as follows:

    The King inquired: Sanjaya, please now tell me, in details, what did my people (the Kauravas) and the Pandavas do in the battlefield before the war started?

    Sanjaya said: O King, After seeing the battle formation of the Pandava’s army, your son approached his guru and spoke these words:

    O Master, behold this mighty army of the Pandavas, arranged in battle formation by your other talented disciple! There are many great warriors, valiant men, heroes, and mighty archers.

    Introduction Of The Army Commanders

    Also there are many heroes on my side who have risked their lives for me. I shall name few distinguished commanders of my army for your information. He named all the officers of his army, and said: They are armed with various weapons, and are skilled in warfare.

    Our army is invincible, while their army is easy to conquer. Therefore all of you, occupying your respective positions, protect our commander-in-chief.

    War Starts With The Blowing Of Conch Shells

    The mighty commander-in-chief and the eldest man of the dynasty, roared as a lion and blew his conch loudly, bringing joy to your son.

    Soon after that; conches, kettledrums, cymbals, drums, and trumpets were sounded together. The commotion was tremendous.

    After that, Lord Krishna and Arjuna, seated in a grand chariot yoked with white horses, blew their celestial conches.

    Krishna blew His conch first, and then Arjuna and all other commanders of various divisions of the army of Pandavas blew their respective conches. The tumultuous uproar, resounding through the earth and sky, tore the hearts of your sons.

    Arjuna Wants To Inspect The Army Against Whom He Is About To Fight

    Seeing your sons standing, and the war about to begin with the hurling of weapons; Arjuna, whose banner bore the emblem of Lord Hanumana, took up his bow and spoke these words to Lord Krishna: O Lord, please stop my chariot between the two armies until I behold those who stand here eager for the battle and with whom I must engage in this act of war.

    I wish to see those who are willing to serve and appease the evil-minded Kauravas by assembling here to fight the battle.

    Sanjaya said: O King; Lord Krishna, as requested by Arjuna, placed the best of all the chariots in the midst of the two armies facing Arjuna’s grandfather, his guru and all other Kings; and said to Arjuna: Behold these assembled soldiers!

    Arjuna saw his uncles, grandfathers, teachers, maternal uncles, brothers, sons, grandsons, and other comrades in the army.

    Arjuna’s Dilemma

    After seeing fathers-in-law, companions, and all his kinsmen standing in the ranks of the two armies, Arjuna was overcome with great compassion and sorrowfully spoke these words: O Krishna, seeing my kinsmen standing with a desire to fight, my limbs fail and my mouth becomes dry. My body quivers and my hairs stand on end.

    The bow slips from my hand, and my skin intensely burns. My head turns, I am unable to stand steady, and O Krishna, I see bad omens. I see no use of killing my kinsmen in battle.

    I desire neither victory, nor pleasure nor kingdom, O Krishna. What is the use of the kingdom, or enjoyment, or even life, O Krishna? Because all those for whom we desire kingdom, enjoyments, and pleasures are standing here for the battle, giving up their lives.

    I do not wish to kill my teachers, uncles, sons, grandfathers, maternal uncles, fathers-in-law, grandsons, brothers-in-law, and other relatives who are about to kill us, even for the sovereignty of the three worlds, let alone for this earthly kingdom, O Krishna.

    O Lord Krishna, what pleasure shall we find in killing our cousin brothers? Upon killing these felons we shall incur sin only.

    Therefore, we should not kill our cousin brothers. How can we be happy after killing our relatives, O Krishna?

    Though they are blinded by greed, and do not see evil in the destruction of the family, or sin in being treacherous to friends. Why should not we, who clearly see evil in the destruction of the family, think about turning away from this sin, O Krishna?

    Arjuna Describes the Evils of War

    Eternal family traditions and codes of moral conduct are destroyed with the destruction of the family. And immorality prevails in the family due to the destruction of family traditions.

    And when immorality prevails, O Krishna, the women of the family become corrupted; when women are corrupted, unwanted progeny is born.

    This brings the family and the slayers of the family to hell, because the spirits of their ancestors are degraded when deprived of ceremonial offerings of love and respect by the unwanted progeny.

    The everlasting qualities of social order and family traditions of those who destroy their family are ruined by the sinful act of illegitimacy.

    We have been told, O Krishna, that people whose family traditions are destroyed necessarily dwell in hell for a long time.

    Alas! We are ready to commit a great sin by striving to slay our relatives because of greed for the pleasures of the kingdom.

    It would be far better for me if my cousin brothers kill me with their weapons in battle while I am unarmed and unresisting.

    When Going Gets Tough, Even Tough Ones Can Get Deluded

    Sanjaya said: Having said this in the battlefield and casting aside his bow and arrow, Arjuna sat down on the seat of the chariot with his mind overwhelmed with sorrow.

    Chapter 2

    Transcendental Knowledge

    Sanjaya said: Lord Krishna spoke these words to Arjuna whose eyes were tearful and downcast, and who was overwhelmed with compassion and despair.

    Lord Krishna said: How has the dejection come to you at this juncture? This is not fit for a person of noble mind and deeds. It is disgraceful, and it does not lead one to heaven, O Arjuna.

    Do not become a coward, O Arjuna, because it does not befit you. Shake off this trivial weakness of your heart and get up for the battle, O Arjuna.

    Arjuna Continues His Reasoning Against The War

    Arjuna said: How shall I strike my grandfather, my guru, and all other relatives, who are worthy of my respect, with arrows in battle, O Krishna?

    It would be better, indeed, to live on alms in this world than to slay these noble personalities, because by killing them I would enjoy wealth and pleasures stained with their blood.

    We do not know which alternative to fight or to quit is better for us. Further, we do not know whether we shall conquer them or they will conquer us. We should not even wish to live after killing our cousin brothers, who are standing in front of us.

    My senses are overcome by the weakness of pity, and my mind is confused about duty (Dharma). Please tell me what is better for me. I am Your disciple, and I take refuge in You.

    I do not perceive that gaining an unrivaled and prosperous kingdom on this earth, or even lordship over all the celestial controllers will remove the sorrow that is drying up my senses.

    Sanjaya said: O King, after speaking like this to Lord Krishna, the mighty Arjuna said to Krishna: I shall not fight, and became silent.

    O King, Lord Krishna, as if smiling, spoke these words to the distressed Arjuna in the midst of the two armies.

    The Teachings Of The Gita Begin With The True Knowledge Of Spirit And The Physical Body

    Lord Krishna said: you grieve for those who are not worthy of grief, and yet speak words of wisdom. The wise grieves neither for the living nor for the dead.

    There was never a time when these monarchs, you, or I did not exist; nor shall we ever cease to exist in the future.

    Just as the soul acquires a childhood body, a youth body, and an old age body during this life; similarly, the soul acquires another body after death. This should not delude the wise.

    The contacts of the senses with the sense objects give rise to the feelings of heat and cold, and pain and pleasure. They are transitory and impermanent. Therefore, one should learn to endure them.

    Because a calm person who is not afflicted by these sense objects, and is steady in pain and pleasure becomes fit for salvation.

    The Spirit Is Eternal, Body Is Transitory

    The invisible Spirit (Atma, Atman) is eternal, and the visible physical body, is transitory. The reality of these two is indeed certainly seen by the seers of truth.

    The Spirit by whom this entire universe is pervaded is indestructible. No one can destroy the imperishable Spirit.

    The physical bodies of the eternal, immutable, and incomprehensible Spirit are perishable. Therefore fight, O Arjuna.

    The one who thinks that the Spirit is a slayer, and the one who thinks the Spirit is slain, both are ignorant. Because the Spirit neither slays nor is slain.

    The Spirit is neither born nor does it die at any time. It does not come into being, or cease to exist. It is unborn, eternal, permanent, and primeval. The Spirit is not destroyed when the body is destroyed.

    O Arjuna, how can a person who knows that the Spirit is indestructible, eternal, unborn, and immutable, kill anyone or causes anyone to be killed?

    Death And Transmigration Of Soul

    Just as a person puts on new garments after discarding the old ones; similarly, the living entity or the individual soul acquires new bodies after casting away the old bodies.

    Weapons do not cut this Spirit, fire does not burn it, water does not make it wet, and the wind does not make it dry. The Spirit cannot be cut, burned, wetted, or dried. It is eternal, all pervading, unchanging, immovable, and primeval.

    The Spirit is said to be unexplainable, incomprehensible, and unchanging. Knowing the Spirit as such you should not grieve.

    Even if you think that the physical body takes birth and dies perpetually, even then, O Arjuna, you should not grieve like this. Because death is certain for the one who is born, and birth is certain for the one who dies. Therefore, you should not lament over the inevitable.

    All beings are unmanifest, or invisible to our physical eyes before birth and after death. They manifest between the birth and the death only. what is there to grieve about?

    The Indestructible Spirit Transcends Mind And Speech

    Some look upon this Spirit as a wonder, another describes it as wonderful, and others hear of it as a wonder. Even after hearing about it very few people know what the Spirit is.

    O Arjuna, the Spirit that dwells in the body of all beings is eternally indestructible. Therefore, you should not mourn for anybody.

    Lord Krishna Reminds Arjuna Of His Duty As A Warrior

    Considering also your duty as a warrior you should not waver like this. Because there is nothing more auspicious for a warrior than a righteous war.

    Only the fortunate warriors, O Arjuna, get such an opportunity for an unsought war that is like an open door to heaven.

    If you will not fight this righteous war, then you will fail in your duty, lose your reputation, and incur sin. People will talk about your disgrace forever. To the honored, dishonor is worse than death.

    The great warriors will think that you have retreated from the battle out of fear. Those who have greatly esteemed you will lose respect for you.

    Your enemies will speak many unmentionable words and scorn your ability. What could be more painful to you than this?

    You will go to heaven if killed on the line of duty, or you will enjoy the kingdom on the earth if victorious.

    Therefore, get up with a determination to fight, O Arjuna.

    Treating pleasure and pain, gain and loss, and victory and defeat alike, engage yourself in your duty. By doing your duty this way you will not incur sin.

    Importance Of Karma-Yoga, The Selfless Service

    The science of transcendental knowledge has been imparted to you, O Arjuna. Now listen to the science of selfless service (Seva), endowed with which you will free yourself from all Karmic bondage, or sin.

    No effort is ever lost in selfless service, and there is no adverse effect. Even a little practice of the discipline of selfless service protects one from the great fear of repeated birth and death.

    A selfless worker has resolute determination for God-realization, but the desires of the one who works to enjoy the fruits of work are endless.

    The Vedas Deal With Both Material And Spiritual Aspects Of Life

    The misguided ones who delight in the melodious chanting of the Veda without understanding the real purpose of the Vedas think, O Arjuna, as if there is nothing else in the Vedas except the rituals for the sole purpose of obtaining heavenly enjoyment.

    They are dominated by material desires, and consider the attainment of heaven as the highest goal of life. They engage in specific rites for the sake of prosperity and enjoyment. Rebirth is the result of their action.

    The resolute determination of Self-realization is not formed in the minds of those who are attached to pleasure and power, and whose judgment is obscured by ritualistic activities.

    A portion of the Vedas deals with three modes goodness, passion, and ignorance of material Nature. Become free from pairs of opposites, be ever balanced and unconcerned with the thoughts of acquisition and preservation. Rise above these three modes, and be Self-conscious, O Arjuna.

    To a Self-realized person the Vedas are as useful as a small reservoir of water when the water of a huge lake becomes available.

    Theory And Practice Of Karma-Yoga

    you have control over doing your respective duty only, but no control or claim over the results. The fruits of work should not be your motive, and you should never be inactive.

    Do your duty to the best of your ability, o Arjuna, with your mind attached to the Lord, abandoning worry and selfish attachment to the results, and remaining calm in both success and failure. The selfless service is a yogic practice that brings peace and equanimity of mind.

    Work done with selfish motives is inferior by far to the selfless service. Therefore be a selfless worker, O Arjuna. Those who work only to enjoy the fruits of their labor are verily unhappy, because one has no control over the results.

    A Karma-yogi or the selfless person becomes free from both vice and virtue in this life itself. Therefore, strive for selfless service. working to the best of one’s abilities without becoming selfishly attached to the fruits of work is called Karma-yoga or Seva.

    Karma-yogis are freed from the bondage of rebirth due to renouncing the selfish attachment to the fruits of all work, and attain blissful divine state of salvation or Nirvana.

    When your intellect will completely pierce the veil of confusion, then you will become indifferent to what has been heard and what is to be heard from the scriptures.

    When your intellect, that is confused by the conflicting opinions and the ritualistic doctrine of the Vedas, shall stay steady and firm on concentration of the Supreme Being, then you shall attain union with the Supreme in trance.

    Arjuna said: O Krishna, what are the marks of an enlightened person whose intellect is steady? What does a person of steady intellect think and talk about? How does such a person behave with others, and live in this world?

    Marks Of A Self-Realized Person

    Lord Krishna said: When one is completely free from all desires of the mind and is satisfied with the Supreme Being by the joy of Supreme Being, then one is called an enlightened person, O Arjuna.

    A person whose mind is unperturbed by sorrow, who does not crave pleasures, and who is completely free from attachment, fear, and anger, is called an enlightened sage of steady intellect.

    The mind and intellect of a person become steady who is not attached to anything, who is neither elated by getting desired results, nor perturbed by undesired results.

    When one can completely withdraw the senses from the sense objects as a tortoise withdraws its limbs into the shell for protection from calamity, then the intellect of such a person is considered steady.

    The desire for sensual pleasures fades away if one abstains from sense enjoyment, but the craving for sense enjoyment remains in a very subtle form. This subtle craving also completely disappears from the one who knows the Supreme Being.

    Dangers Of Unrestrained Senses

    Restless senses, o Arjuna, forcibly carry away the mind of even a wise person striving for perfection.

    One should fix one’s mind on God with loving contemplation after bringing the senses under control. one’s intellect becomes steady when one’s senses are under complete control.

    One develops attachment to sense objects by thinking about sense objects. Desire for sense objects comes from attachment to sense objects, and anger comes from unfulfilled desires.

    Delusion or wild idea arises from anger. The mind is bewildered by delusion. Reasoning is destroyed when the mind is bewildered. One falls down from the right path when reasoning is destroyed.

    Attainment Of Peace And Happiness Through Sense Control And Knowledge

    A disciplined person, enjoying sense objects with senses that are under control and free from attachments and aversions, attains tranquillity.

    All sorrows are destroyed upon attainment of tranquillity. The intellect of such a tranquil person soon becomes completely steady and united with the Supreme.

    There is neither Self-knowledge, nor Self-perception to those who are not united with the Supreme. Without Self-perception there is no peace, and without peace there can be no happiness.

    Because the mind, when controlled by the roving senses, steals away the intellect as a storm takes away a boat on the sea from its destination the spiritual shore of peace and happiness.

    Therefore, O Arjuna, one’s intellect becomes steady whose senses are completely withdrawn from the sense objects.

    A yogi, the person of self-restraint, remains wakeful when it is night for all others. It is night for the yogi who sees when all others are wakeful.

    one attains peace, within whose mind all desires dissipate without creating any mental disturbance, as river waters enter the full ocean without creating any disturbance. one who desires material objects is never peaceful.

    One who abandons all desires, and becomes free from longing and the feeling of ‘I’ and ‘my’, attains peace.

    O Arjuna, this is the superconscious state of mind. Attaining this state, one is no longer deluded. Gaining this state, even at the end of one’s life, a person becomes one with the Absolute.


    This page titled 3.1: The Bhagavad Gita is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Laura Getty & Kyounghye Kwon (University of North Georgia Press) .

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