Why to Study the Bhagavadgita? Part 1 to 4
vasudeva sudam devam kamsa chanura marthanam
devaki paramanandam krishnam vande jagatgurum
Before going into the introduction to the Bhagavadgita and knowing the benefits of studying it, it is worthwhile to examine some frequently made observations about the Bhagavadgita.
Many people even after years of reading the Bhagavadgita lament that the scripture is full of contradictions and confusing statements.
It is true that there appears to be some contradictions in the scripture. Apart from this it also has some statements which defy comprehension. But it is important to examine whether these contradictions and confusions are real or superficial? Many great souls devoid of any personal motives from time immemorial have praised the subject matter of the Bhagavadgita and its deft handling. Also, from the change noticeable in the behavior of its student Arjuna, before and after the teaching, it becomes clear that certainly something very valuable has been grasped in between.
If it be so, why there is confusion for some?
If knowledge is not grasped by a person there can be two possibilities. Either there is nothing in it for him to know or there is a need for some improvement on his part such as the state of his mind to understand that particular subject matter.
Arjuna asks for 'sreyas'-the highest to be achieved and Krishna imparts the same to him. Naturally the highest cannot be a common knowledge and to comprehend it one requires patience, intelligence, sraddha (faith) and concentration or focused effort.
If these qualities are developed relentlessly the subject matter will shine in one's understanding like a clear crystal. On the other hand, if a person goes through the scripture any number of times with a mind tainted by his own likes and dislikes then he will find the same subject matter confusingly contradictory and devoid of any true merit.
We have seen how a developed mind is a pre-requisite for the study of the Bhagavadgita, in the absence of which one may find in it contradictions and difficulties in comprehension.
If one wants to know whether one has such qualified disposition, one should read the verses 7 to 11 from the Chapter 13 of the Bhagavadgita, wherein Lord Krishna enumerates the 20 qualities required by a student to grasp the highest Knowledge revealed by the Bhagavadgita.
If a person does not have one or many of these qualities, which is more likely, then what should he do? Should he abandon the study of the Bhagavadgita? No, not necessary. What he should do is to keep developing those qualities he feels he is lacking in and simultaneously persist with his efforts to unravel the mysteries of the Bhagavadgita, under the guidance of a qualified Guru. (Teacher). The role and importance of studying the scripture under the guidance of a qualified teacher or master will be discussed in detail in the later parts.
In this process, although one has to wait for some time to develop the required qualities to understand the significance and true purport of the Bhagavadgita, the very process of the effort he makes is bound to enhance the quality of his life, with or without any appreciable change in the quality or mode of his worldly success.
In the study of the Bhagavadgita not only the end, which is the attainment of the Highest, is important, but also the means, the very journey towards the Highest, is fruitful and a source of delight.
Now, we will move on to another observation which is usually made about the Bhagavadgita. Some people say that the Bhagavadgita is a murderous Text because it has instigated an unhappy person who was otherwise preparing himself to lay down the arms to engage in a cruel and catastrophic, which resulted in the mass destruction of numerous lives. They question how such a sanguine plot can have any divine teaching in that? Let us analyze the truth in this observation.
In the great Indian epic Mahabharata the scene was set for a huge fratricidal war. Over awed by the event, the hero of the war, Arjuna, surrendered to Lord Krishna and asked for the best teaching to be imparted to him ( Chapter 2 Verse 7 ). At this point, before the start of the war, Lord Krishna, God in human form, taught to his nephew and friend Arjuna the eternal subject of realizing the highest attainable by a human being. The teaching is what is called as Bhagavad Bhagavadgita ( Song of the God ). At the end of the teaching, Arjuna, who was thus far grief-stricken and mentally unwilling to go to war, rose to the occasion and caused terrible destruction to the enemy camp to help his side emerge victorious in the end.
This context of the teaching is sometimes commented upon. The great Bhagavadgita is referred as a murderous text because instead of bringing about peace, it has precipitated a violent and destructive war in which countless lives were lost besides great destruction of property.
As the true dispenser of the fruits of our actions and also as the upholder of the peaceful equilibrium of the entire creation, God is duty bound to protect righteousness ( dharma ) and destroy un-righteousness ( adharma ). In the exercise of this duty, in the role of Lord Krishna, God taught us the highest truth attainable by a human being, the Knowledge of Self, by knowing which one becomes free from the bondage of earthly life. The need for a life of righteousness as a precondition to grasp this knowledge also finds its place in His teaching.
Righteousness or un-righteousness do not exist independent of people who pursue them. It is the duty of a just ruler to deal effectively with this problem, lest chaos will only prevail. In doing that sacred duty one should not fall prey to one’s own attachments and emotions. In wiping out the un-righteous, all that one needs is to see whether sufficient opportunity has been given to the wrong doers to correct themselves before taking necessary corrective measures to establish order and righteousness.
At the end of the teaching, Lord Krishna declared to Arjuna that he had imparted him the most secret and sacred truth and suggested him to act as he deemed fit. ( Chapter 18 Verse 63). As a valiant fighter and a proclaimed student of the Lord chosen by Him to be taught the highest, what choice Arjuna had but to continue with his duty of war against the un-righteousness?
From another stand point also, one can this find this particular observation of the Bhagavadgita as a murderous text as baseless and not conforming to logic.
In Chapter 4 verse 8 in the Bhagavadgita, three functions are attributed to an incarnation of God. They are:
- To protect the righteous.
- To annihilate the Un-righteous, and
- To establish the rule of Righteousness. (Dharma).
We have seen that by imparting the right knowledge Lord Krishna ensured that the divine plan went ahead smoothly as He wanted. His selection of the time and venue for His teaching can be appreciated in the context of the subject matter of the Bhagavadgita also. Imparting Brahmavidya, the Knowledge of the Self , is the Goal of the teaching. The Yogasastra, Action with a Certain Attitude ( Karma Yoga ) is the means which has been explained in complete detail in the Bhagavadgita in view of the plurality of the nature of human minds. This may sound contradictory of purpose. If Knowledge is to be gained, why action is recommended?
All Knowledge has to take place in the mind only. Driven by their own combination of natural attributes, ( Sattva, Rajas and Tamas Gunas) human beings continuously engage in actions hoping to achieve some result or the other. Depending upon the nature of result attained the human mind is agitated by the successes and failures it encounters in the course of its actions. Successes are sought after, failures are frowned upon and each action is followed by another action endlessly. This being the case then can ordinary human beings stop indulging in desire oriented actions and attempt to gain only the Supreme Knowledge? It is easier said than done. It is impossible for any one to remain without actions while they are continuously driven by their respective qualities of nature.
Knowledge cannot be gained by a mind that is attached to desire driven action. It has to be perceived by a mind that is quiet and detached but still engaged in action since it is impossible for us to be completely free from all actions, mental or physical. If that be so, what is the solution for this quagmire?
Lord Krishna offers a solution to this problem in his teachings in the Bhagavadgita, by introducing the famous and ingenious concept, popularly known as Karma Yoga, Action with a Certain Attitude. The Karma Yoga topic will be discussed in detail later. The essence of this concept is that every person must do his enjoined duty to the best of his ability as an oblation, ( Iswararpitha Buddhi ), to God who is the true giver of such abilities to all of us. And when he attains the result of his action he must have the attitude to accept it as a gift from God ( Prasada Buddhi ). Such a disposition of doing desireless actions and accepting results, results in the purification of the mind and qualifies him to receive the highest Knowledge, knowing which one is freed from the bondage to the earthly life and the sense of limitation.
Action is inevitable. Doing it with a certain attitude purifies the mind and only a pure mind is qualified to receive the teaching. The teaching imparts the Knowledge of Self, the highest attainable by a human being, which Knowledge alone frees one from bondage and the sense of limitation. Freed from bondage and the sense of limitation one discovers oneself to be Happy!!!. Which is what one is always chasing.
While emphasizing the role of Action for one's spiritual advancement, Lord Krishna does not leave one with any choice. Perhaps, this was why, he chose to deliver his teaching when the most difficult action was to be performed . Arjuna, the great warrior King, said he was willing to live on alms rather than waging a war against his own fraternity, revered elders and most importantly his own teacher of warfare.( Chapter 2 Verse 5 ). Lord Krishna disagreed and logically proved that action that needed to be done must be done, irrespective of one's likes and dislikes, to achieve purification of mind and attain the highest Knowledge of Self. If such a grave action of war was no exception, what can be said about the ordinary actions we all perform in our day to day lives.
So, truly speaking, it is not war what Lord Krishna encourage, but right action with a certain attitude. For emphasizing the importance of performing actions in human life no other context would have better suited.
Therefore, the observation that God encouraged war is not tenable. In the same Mahabharata we see how Lord Krishna exhausted all possible efforts to avert a war. In the context of the teaching, war must be construed as an undesirable action which needs to be performed if it becomes a part of ones ordained duty and should not be confused with an action of annihilation and greed.
The battle field context can be analyzed from yet another stand point.
Suggestions for Further Reading
- The Samkhya Philosophy and 24 Principles of Creation
- The Bhagavadgita On The Problem Of Sorrow
- The Concept of Atman or Eternal Soul in Hinduism
- The Practice of Atma Yoga Or The Yoga Of Self
- The Problem of Maya Or Illusion and How To Deal With It
- Belief In Atman, The Eternal Soul Or The Inner Self
- Brahman, The Highest God Of Hinduism
- The Bhagavad Gita Original Translations
- The Bhagavadgita, Philosophy and Concepts
- Bhakti yoga or the Yoga of Devotion
- Hinduism And The Evolution of Life And Consciousness
- Why to Study the Bhagavadgita Parts 1 to 4
- The Triple Gunas, Sattva, Rajas and Tamas
- The Practice of Tantra and Tantric Ritual in Hinduism and Buddhism
- The Tradition Of Gurus and Gurukulas in Hinduism
- Origin, Definition and Introduction to Hinduism
- Hinduism, Way of Life, Beliefs and Practices
- A Summary of the Bhagavadgita
- Avatar, the Reincarnation of God Upon Earth
- The Bhagavadgita on Karma, the Law of Actions
- The Mandukya Upanishad
- The Bhagavadgita On The Mind And Its Control
- Symbolic Significance of Numbers in Hinduism
- The Belief of Reincarnation of Soul in Hinduism
- The True Meaning Of Renunciation According To Hinduism
- The Symbolic Significance of Puja Or Worship In Hinduism
- Introduction to the Upanishads of Hinduism
- Origin, Principles, Practice and Types of Yoga
- Hinduism and the Belief in one God
Introduction to Hinduism
The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
The Chandogya Upanishad