Śrīmad Bhagavad-Gītā is quite well-known to the learned circles in society, particularly those connected to the world of spirituality. This Holy Scripture in Sanskrit, comprising 700 verses, incidentally appeared as part of the Mahābhārata, an ancient Vedic epic of a hundred thousand verses.
The reason the Bhagavad-Gītā is so widely recognized as the most influential Vedic scripture is because of the super-excellent nature of its teachings as well as its wonderful practical guidelines that are pregnant with profound wisdom. Therefore, many scholars and distinguished persons across human society, being especially attracted and inspired by this holy treatise, have written many commentaries on it, each expressing their individual tastes and profuse appreciation for it.
The time, place and circumstances in which Śrīmad Bhagavad-Gītā made its appearance was simply unprecedented and remarkable. It all took place on the battlefield of Kurukṣetra amidst the phalanxes of the assembled armies of the world, as the war between the Kauravas and the Pāṇḍavas was about to begin. This was a righteous battle for humanity and for peace, for protecting and establishing the power of truth and righteousness against the forces of evil and exploitation.
Addressing the ethical, moral and other common struggles of our existence on the mundane, mortal plane of exploitation, the Bhagavad-Gītā factually pertains to the battle of human life and guides us all through it, by showing us the special ways by which we are able to win such battles with firm resolution and thus eventually achieve the glorious victory of life.
Śrī Śrīmad A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda, a pioneering pure devotee of the blessed Lord Krishna, explains, “The purpose of Bhagavad-Gītā is to deliver mankind from the nescience of material existence. Every man is in difficulty in so many ways, as Arjuna also was in difficulty in having to fight the Battle of Kurukṣetra. Arjuna surrendered unto Śrī Krishna, and consequently this Bhagavad-Gītā was spoken. Not only Arjuna, but every one of us is full of anxieties because of this material existence. Our very existence is in the atmosphere of nonexistence. Actually we are not meant to be threatened by nonexistence. Our existence is eternal. But somehow or other we are put into ‘asat’. Asat refers to that which does not exist.”
Like Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, Bhagavad-Gītā also enlightens us about life, the universe and the all-pervading super power, as well as their inseparable interrelated ways of functioning together as an unlimited Organic Whole — The Supreme Absolute Truth, who is the all-controlling creator, maintainer and destroyer of everything. The same Supreme Absolute Truth is also known as Krishna, in its original personal form, the Supreme Person with unlimited almighty qualities, being the origin of all Truth, Consciousness, Power, Beauty and Bliss.
Through its vivid explanations about karma-yoga (the path of action), jñāna-yoga (the path of knowledge), dhyāna-yoga (the path of meditation and mystical realisation), bhakti-yoga (the path of loving devotion) and mokṣa-yoga (the path of liberation), Śrī Gītā enlightens us about the combined utility of these various paths for the highest development of life as it passes through it various stages. It explains that all our karma (actions) are properly performed when they are enlightened or guided by the light of ‘jñāna’ (knowledge), and all our ‘jñāna’ (knowledge) and goals for ‘mokṣa’ (liberation) become fulfilled when they are blessed with ‘bhakti’ or ‘prema’, ecstatic love of God.
In other words, one of the main teachings of Bhagavad-Gītā is that all our ‘karma’ remains so futile and unfulfilled without the enlightenment or guidance of ‘jñāna’ and connection with ‘yoga’, and all the activities or achievements of ‘karma’, ‘jñāna’, ‘yoga’ or ‘mokṣa’ remain very futile, deprived of and greatly unfulfilled without the attainment of the divine treasure of bhakti or prema, the blissful love of the Supreme Absolute Truth (Who is known as Śrī Krishna). The foremost principle which we find prominent in Bhagavad-Gītā is that, throughout its pages, it always promotes bhakti-yoga or loving dedication to the Lord as the highest or ultimate goal of life, as is evident in all its conclusive statements throughout its main chapters, such as Karma Yoga, Sāṅkhya Yoga, Jñāna Yoga, Dhyāna Yoga and Mokṣa Yoga etc. In other words, it clearly teaches us that the highest or topmost fulfilment of life is actually attained through ‘bhakti’ or ‘prema’, which is none other than ecstatic loving service to God in full devotion to Him.
After due analysis of the paths of the activists (karmīs), knowledge-lovers or knowledge-dwellers (jñānīs), meditator experiencers (yogīs) and devotees [devoted lovers] (bhaktas), as well as the impersonal and personal approaches to the Absolute Reality, the Bhagavad-Gītā presents its conclusion, which finally guides us to bhakti or loving devotion to the Supreme Lord.
The Gītā then sheds light on the nature of the practical activities that make up our lifestyle, as being predominated by the three modes of material nature, known as ‘sattva’ (the mode of goodness), ‘rajas’ (the mode of passion) and ‘tamas’ (the mode of ignorance), Śrī Gītā encourages us, directs us to finally take up the ‘sattvik’ life-style, i.e., living in the mode of goodness in order to attain benefit of a higher order.
Bhagavad-Gītā teaches us and helps us realize a great reality: that our true, eternal identity is that we are individual spirit souls, eternally parts and parcel of God, the Supreme Person. It illuminates us with the knowledge that our existence is eternal, and so we, the spirit soul (jīva), actually never die. Energy is never destroyed, but can only be transformed from one form to another. Being an atomic unit of God’s energy, a spirit soul never dies, but only sojourns from one body to another, just like changing dresses, according to the effects of our past deeds (karma), determined by an intricate interlocking web-like system of action and reaction. Therefore, the Gītā points out that a spirit soul can never be cut into pieces, torn apart, burnt or dissolved, i.e., destroyed in any way. It is imperishable or eternal.
The Bhagavad-Gītā is replete with many uplifting and life-transforming messages, some of which are presented below:
1.”O Pārtha! Such cowardice is unlike you. O great hero! just cast off such afflictions and petty weakness of heart and rise with your full inner power.”
2. “Just rise above all kinds of dualities of mundane life — like honour and dishonour, praise and criticism, friendship and animosity, heat and cold, good and bad, success and failure, well and woe, pleasure and pain, etc. Take them easily and equally with a spirit of detachment or indifference knowing that they are all just temporary, mortal, coming and going, futile, so vulnerable.
3. “Go on doing everything that ought to be done on principle according to the time, place and situation in which you have been placed. Perform those duties only for duty’s sake without the desire or expectation of the results, which anyway come automatically on their own accord. Thus, you need not worry about it at all. Otherwise, you’ll will simply be heartbroken and weakened by the frustrations of not getting the expected results. So, don’t allow yourself to collapse or be victimised by the situation in such a way.”
4. Nurture the good and subdue the evil:
“Always protect the good against the evil. In doing so, first try your best to resolve the problems with evil through peaceful negotiations as far as possible, with the generous spirit of nonviolence. In case the mission of amicable settlement fails, then you must declare the holy war, as per your capacity, against that evil and destroy it in order to protect and promote the good. But perform such a battle with a sense of duty only, free from the motives of revenge, violence or exploitation. Thence, no sin for such actions (the vanquish of the evil) will ever touch you. Rather, you will be blessed with righteous honour and glory.”
It should be noted herein that other than righteous fights for peace and justice, or the protection of good against evil, the Gītā never extends any support for fighting, but rather promotes the ideals and spirit of nonviolence, non-enviousness, kindness, amicable temperament, friendliness, sacrifice and love for one and all in relation to the Supreme Absolute Good, Krishna.
5. “Have self control in the mode of goodness and become a best friend to your own self with self-love and care. Always uplift yourself and never let yourself be downcast or be lost in despair and hopelessness.”
6. The Supreme Lord Krishna is the saviour of the fallen and all sinners. Beyond the justice bound by the reasonings and stipulations of rules and regulations, the justice of mercy is also offered to those who are ever so needy and fallen, provided that they are repentant for the wrong deeds they have previously done and take full refuge of the all-merciful Lord with unflinching faith and devotion to Him, offering Him wholehearted prayers filled with utmost humility.
7. “The ultimate goal of one’s life is to take shelter of Me, Krishna, as I am the source of all perfection.” In other words, the final aim and objective of all good action, knowledge, yoga activities and dedication is actually to attain that Supreme Beloved, Krishna, because He is the source of all blissful fulfilment. The Lord therefore says, “The best amongst all the activists, the wise and the yogis are factually those who are My pure devotees.”
8. “Those who offer all their actions to Me, take refuge in Me, their hearts absorbed in thought of Me in pure devotion and who thus worship and adore Me, O Pārtha, I swiftly deliver such dedicated souls from the deathly ocean of material suffering. So, fix your mind in Me always and repose your intelligence in Me and you will ultimately abide in Me. Of this there is no doubt.”
9. “Through devotion, he (a jīva soul) realizes that I am the Lord of all potencies and the Sweet Absolute. Then, realizing his divine relationship with Me, he enters the company of My intimate associates who are non-different from My very self.”
10. “Keeping Me as the supreme objective of your life, always think of Me, offer obeisances to Me (respectfully obey Me), worship Me in love, devote yourself to Me, and surely you will come to Me. I promise you this, because you are dear to Me.”
11. “Give up all kinds of relative religions [relative religious duties] and surrender to Me, the Absolute Guardian, alone. I will liberate you from all sins and harmful reactions. Do not fear.”
Śrí Śrīmad Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhar Goswāmī Mahārāja, another exalted devotee of Lord Krishna, thus explains the transcendental characteristics nature of Bhagavad Gītā:
“Śrī Gītā is known as an excellent study of the science of religion. Its language is sweet; the mood is grave, extensive and radical; its thought is succinct, and its logic is sound and natural. The eloquence of exposition, review, analysis, synthesis and delivery of Śrī Gītā is unprecedented and charming in the extreme. Śrī Gītā is activation for the lazy, courage for the fearful, hope for the hopeless and new life for the dying. It unifies and sustains all ranks whether revolutionary, occultist, optimist, renunciant, liberationist or full-fledged theist. From the atheist of grossly crude vision to the most elevated saint, the essential conceptions of all classes of philosophers are illustrated with clear and powerful logic. The devotees of the Lord and persons on the paths of action, knowledge and yoga will each find the essence of their paths dealt with in a comprehensive and illuminating manner, and thus the book is highly esteemed by all.
“From the standpoint of ‘knowledge of relationship with Supreme’, Śrī Gītā gives us the conception that the Absolute Reality is a transcendental personality; with regard to the ‘objective’ or ‘goal’ of life, spiritual love for the Absolute Reality is given as the highest attainment; and as for the ‘means’ we are taught that one must initially offer all one’s actions to the Supreme Lord, followed by the cultivation of self-realization favourable to the realization of the Lord, and finally surrender to the Lord, to the exclusion of all other endeavours. Ultimately, the means will culminate in the objective when, in one’s perfected spiritual form, one whole-heartedly engages in the transcendental loving service of the Lord.
“Based on one’s loving surrender, one will be inspired to act in devotion (bhakti) for the Lord alone. This is the conclusive and sublime teaching of Śrī Gītā. In the finest conception, the overall excellence of Śrī Gītā is found in its gift of devotion. In its full manifestation, such devotion is ‘prema bhakti’ or loving devotion to the all-attractive Supreme Personality—Śrī Krishna, Reality The Beautiful.”
Therefore, the Bhagavad Gītā should be understood or realized with a spirit of devotion. One should never think that Krishna is just a great personality, for He is much more than that. Factually, He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This reality is not only supported by Himself, but also fully confirmed by the other great Vedic authorities, who are oceans of knowledge and realization, such as Asita, Devala, Devarshi Nārada, Mahārshi Vyāsa, Śukadeva and so on, and finally by Lord Chaitanya Mahāprabhu, the embodiment of all transcendental wisdom and love. Hence, the Gītā should be studied with a genuine feeling of respect and submissiveness towards Krishna as the Supreme Lord, as well as towards His invaluable instructions. Otherwise, its intended meaning will never be clearly and properly understood, that is to say, it will forever remain a mystery.
English editing: by Sri Sakshi Gopal Das Prabhu (Singapore)