Srimad Bhagavad Gita is a beautiful book. It means Song of the Lord.
Bhagavad Gita says that wherever there is a manifestation of goodness, energy, power, position, status, and knowledge — especially knowledge, that is automatically a manifestation of the Supreme Being; may not be a purna avatara but is an amsa avatara of the Supreme. (Amsha means a part).
The Bhagavad Gita is part of the great epic poem, Mahabharata. It is contained in the chapter called Bhishma Parva. In the Gita, Lord Krishna first reveals himself, not as an ordinary human being, but as vishwa swarupa — that Supreme being in all forms. He also talks about his mahimas where he states: “that among the munis, I am Kapila; among the immovable, I am the Himalayas” and so on, which means that anything excellent, great, and awesome is a manifestation of the Supreme Being.
That’s why the Rigveda, which is the earliest of the Vedas, declared: ekam sat vipra bahuda vadanti — meaning that the Truth is but one, but wise men, vipra, call the Truth by different ways.
From the point of Vedantic studies, the Bhagavad Gita is an important part, because when a student goes to study Vedanta, he has to go through a curriculum called the Prasthana Traya — the three important aspects of the Prasthana. One of them is the Upanishads, the second is the Bhagavad Gita, and the third is the Brahma Sutras. It is also known as the Vedanta Sutras of Vyasa. These three are the most important textbooks for a student of Vedanta.
Now, therefore, the Bhagavad Gita is the central part of the syllabus, while the Upanishads go deep into the higher philosophy of the Hindu religion and the Brahma Sutras go into the very abstract aspects of it. For instance, the Brahma Sutra starts with a cryptic statement. Atatho Brahma Jijnasa, meaning “here we begin the study of the Brahman”, without saying anything about the Brahman. It’s a very abstract study, which needs to be studied only after one has some grounding.
The Bhagavad Gita explains the higher Truths of Vedanta in such a systematic manner and simple language, understandable to persons like you and me, that one need not refer anywhere else. It has 18 Chapters, which are 18 approaches to The Truth; and, this is perhaps the first scripture, the earliest of the ancient texts, which practically demonstrates the fact that there are many paths to The Truth — that there is no single path, but different paths to the same Truth.
In the 12th chapter of the Gita, Bhakti Yoga, it defines the characteristics of a Bhakta and the qualifications of a Sadhaka. If the Sadhaka has these, no matter which path he takes, it is OK. Therefore, it is the earliest attempt towards the synthesis of different paths to the Truth. Traditionally, all the great acharyas, starting with Adi Sankara, have written commentaries of the Bhagavad Gita, an indication of how important it is.
In the Bhagavad Gita, at the end of every chapter, it states what it actually is.
“Iti Srimad Bhagavat Gitaasu”, that means this, the Bhagawat Gita;
Upanishadsu, so it is an Upanishad;
Brahma Vidyayaam, It is the study of the Brahman;
Yoga Shastre, means it is not only a theoretical understanding of the Supreme Reality, but the actual practice by which you attain it. Yoga Shastra is a practice by which it is attained.
Sri Krishnarjuna Samvade – it is a dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna.
Then goes on to describe which chapter it is. Sri Krishna Arjuna Samvade and 10th chapter, or 15th chapter or 12th chapter. So at the end of every chapter, you will get an explanation of what the Gita is.
First, it’s an Upanishad. Upanishad means that which was taught to the student by the teacher, by which the student, moves closer to the Truth. It is made up of the syllables Upa, Ni, and Shad. Upa means to move closer. It also means to sit close and listen to what is being said, not only physically, but to move closer. That the mind moves closer to that of the teacher. The wavelength of the teacher and the student becomes uniform, so that there is an understanding between the two. In that state, a lot of transference of knowledge takes place naturally.
Upanishad is not in the words; it is in what is transferred between the student and the teacher. And, Shad means ‘to sit down’. Lower level than the teacher. It does not mean that you should sit down, and I should sit on a high stage. It means that when you sit down to study, or when I sit down to study from my teacher, I sit down with the understanding that I do not know; therefore, let me understand. That is the meaning of ni; Ni doesn’t mean physically lower. It means that we do not know- so that we can know. Because, the moment I say that I know, then all my enquiry stops. I cannot hear anything because I have shut my ears with the feeling that I know, therefore I don’t need to hear, or even if I do hear it, I interpret it according to what I know, which is a dangerous thing. Therefore, the word Upanishad is a very carefully constructed word. It means to sit down with the mind settled down, and listen to the teacher carefully, so that one understands the Truth. And, since the Bhagavad Gita is an Upanishad, that is also one of the functions of the Bhagavad Gita – the knowledge of the Supreme Reality.
Now, the question is, (which Arjuna also asks here in between), why would one search for the Supreme Reality if I am happy with my eating and drinking and making merry?
Why would I search for the Supreme Reality?
So, before one goes into the study of the Gita, it’s a good idea to wonder sometimes, why are some people interested in religious matters, when they can also live without being interested in them? It is possible — many people live like that, and yet some people feel — no, no, there is something behind all this; it can’t be just what we see and hear.
The search for the Supreme starts in many ways, for different people in different ways. In the Bhagavad Gita (in the example here), Arjuna is in the middle of a battle.
Now, this is another reason why the Bhagavad Gita is so important. It is one of the Upanishads, perhaps the only Upanishad, which was taught in the battlefield and not in the forest. We are all in the battlefield of life; it is not that we are separate from this metaphor.
Arjuna is in the middle of the battlefield, and he is dejected. He says life is finished; this is the end of everything; “Why should I do anything? Let me give up!”
Krishna says, “Now, this is cowardice. Don’t think you are doing good by trying to give up; you are actually fearful. Fearful of the loss; and you are trying to withdraw from the battle. It’s not as if you are withdrawing from evil; you are withdrawing from the battle of life.”
This is something which every one of us faces at some point or the other. There are so many situations before us. What do we usually do? Either we jump into it with great violence, or we try to run away from it; retire from it, and feel dejected. However, there is a middle path to this, and that is what Krishna describes.
Along these lines, Krishna tells Arjuna, “This Yoga which I am teaching you; it is not for him who eats too much or eats too little or sleeps too much or sleeps too little.” There has to be moderation somewhere; a middle path has to be followed.
Every human being goes through travails and pain and sadness in life. No one can escape from this. The happiest person, at some point of his life, may have passed through difficult times. We really do not know when these difficulties can come. That’s how many people turn to religion.
I am here, I work hard, I think happiness comes out of a solid bank balance. I have done everything. And, then what happens? Suddenly, destiny takes away someone who is the dearest for me. Then I begin to wonder if it was worth collecting all the wealth? What will I do with it, when the person for whom I gathered it is gone?
And, believe me, no one can say when somebody will go. Till today, nobody has done that. Nobody can do that. RIP need not only mean Rest in Peace, but also Rise If Possible. Nobody has taken the challenge yet except maybe a few great beings, not ordinary folk like you and me. And, this (dying) can happen at any time. I am not painting a pessimistic picture of the world, please. I am the happiest man. It is not that; but these are the facts, and we think that we live in great hope.
The greatest illusion that we have is that we are going to sleep and wake up tomorrow morning. There are many people who don’t wake up. And yet, hope is such a thing that it makes us work for tomorrow. Then, when something happens, which is not according to our willingness or desire, we are dejected. Unhappiness sets in.
Happiness is a rare commodity — when we try to grasp it, it escapes, and when you grasp it, it is so dear to us that we don’t want it to slip away. Therefore, unhappiness begins right there, when happiness goes.
Now, the teaching of Vedanta is that this happiness that one is seeking is not anywhere in the outside world. It does not mean we have to shun the outside world! You cannot really shun the outside world. You try as you may want but you can’t. Some people run away to the forest and come back in one month. That’s simply running away temporarily. What we need to find is that in the middle of our activity, there is a permanent sense of happiness, within us, which is our true essential nature.
Now, the practice of Yoga is the means and way of finding that happiness, which means our true identity; when we discover that, we are not what we think we are, but something completely different.
Swami Vivekananda explained it beautifully. He said: “We are hypnotised by the false happiness that the world seems to give us. We have to de-hypnotise ourselves and come back to our senses.”
Remove all the conditions that are there and remain in one essential state. This is the aim of the Vedantic teaching, where one discovers that one is not this body or the mind but the inner self, the atman which is free of all unhappiness, and which by essential nature is Sat Chit Ananda, or true happiness.
This is part of all Vedantic teaching. Therefore, the Bhagavad Gita also teaches the same thing.
The Bhagavad Gita says that there are different ways or paths to this Truth; paths to finding this happiness, which is our essential self. There are so many different paths to finding the atman. You cannot say this path is wrong or that path is right. They are all different paths to the same goal. And, explaining this is also one of the functions of the Gita.
Now, as I said, there are 18 chapters, and these 18 chapters present the Truth with 18 different approaches to it.
Veda Vyasa, who wrote or compiled the Bhagavad Gita, has described in the very beginning, in a beautiful verse on what the Bhagavad Gita is
Sarvo Upanishado Gavo – all the Upanishads are the cows,
Dugda Gopala Nandana, the milkman is Krishna;
Partho Vatsa, Arjuna or Partha as he is called, is the calf. You know what happens when the calf hits the udder with the head? The mother gives the milk, so
Sudhir Bhokta. Who are the enjoyers of that milk? The wise men.
Dugdam Gitamrutam Mahat – and that milk is the amrita, a metaphor for the nectar of immortality mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita.
It is the essence, the milk or nectar of the Upanishads.
This is the description of the Bhagavad Gita by Ved Vyasa.
– Sri M