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Bhagavad Gīta भगवद्गीता, composed in the fifth - second centuries BC, is part of the epic poem Mahabharata, located in the Bhisma-Parva chapters 23–40. A core sacred text of Hindu religion and philosophy, the Bhagavad Gita, often referred to as the Gita, is a summation of Hindu thought, of the Vedic, Yogic, Vedantic and Tantric philosophies. The Bhagavad Gita, meaning "song of the Lord", refers to itself as a 'Yoga Upanishad' and is sometimes called Gītopanişad. It is believed to be the only known religious text to have been spoken by God or an incarnation/ avatar of God directly. During the message of Gita Lord Krishna proclaims that he is God Himself. In order to make Arjuna believe this, he shows Arjuna his divine form which is described as timeless and leaves Arjuna shaking with awe and fear.
Bhagavad Gita in General
Starting in the middle of the Mahabharata immediately before the epic's major battle at the field of Kurukshetra, the Bhagavad Gita recounts the exchange between the warrior-prince Arjuna and his charioteer Krishna, a king who is an avatar of the God Vishnu. Arjuna hears the conch shells signaling the start of fighting as he and Krishna ride out. As he looks at the opposing armies and sees his relatives, teachers, and friends fighting on either side, he is heartsick at the thought of killing these beloved persons. He turns to Krishna for advice.
Krishna counsels Arjuna, beginning with the tenet that since souls are immortal, their deaths on the battlefield are just the shedding of the body, which is not the soul. Krishna goes on to expound on the yogic paths of devotion, action, meditation and knowledge. Fundamentally, the Bhagavad Gita proposes that true enlightenment comes from growing beyond identification with the ego, the little self, and that one must identify with the truth of the immortal Self, the soul or Atman, the ultimate divine consciousness. Through dispassion the yogi, or follower of a particular path of yoga, is able to transcend his mortality and attachment for the material world and see the infinite.
To demonstrate the infinity of the unknowable Brahman, Krishna temporarily gives Arjuna the cosmic eye and allows him to see Him in all his divine glory. He reveals that He is fundamentally both the ultimate essence of being in the universe; he is also its material body as well as an incarnation for the personified Lord Vishnu.
Among the great sages and philosophers who have drawn inspiration from the Bhagavad Gita are Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who first sang the "Hare Krishna" mantra, and Mahatma Gandhi, who interpreted the war of the Mahabharata as a metaphor for the conflicts that trouble all people at one time or another. The culminating message of the Gita was the inspiration for his struggle against British colonial rule.
The dynamic Swami Vivekananda, the follower of Shri Ramakrishna known for his seminal commentaries on the four yogas, Bhakti, Jnana, Karma and Raja Yoga. also drew from his knowledge of the Gita to expound on them. Swami Sivananda advises the aspiring yogi to read verses from the Bhagavad Gita every day. Paramahamsa Yogananda, writer of the famous "Autobiography of a Yogi," viewed the Bhagavad Gita as one of the world's most divine scriptures, along with the Four Gospels of Jesus.
Bhagavad Gita as a Yoga Scripture
The Gita addresses the discord between the senses and the intuition of cosmic unity. It speaks of the yoga of equanimity, a detached outlook. The term yoga covers a wide range of meanings, but in the context of the Bhagavad Gita it describes a unified outlook, serenity of mind, skill in action, and the ability to stay attuned to the glory of the Self (Atman), which is ultimately one with the basis of being (Brahman). According to Krishna, the root of all suffering and discord is the agitation of the mind caused by desire. The only way to douse the flame of desire is by stilling the mind through discipline of the senses and the intellect.
However, abstinence from action is regarded as being just as detrimental as extreme indulgence. According to the Bhagavad Gita, the goal of life is to free the mind and intellect from their complexities and to focus them on the glory of the Self by dedicating one's actions to the divine. This goal can be achieved through the yogas of meditation, action, devotion and knowledge.
Krishna summarizes the Yogas through eighteen chapters. There are four kinds of Yoga: Raja Yoga or psycho-physical meditation, Bhakti Yoga or devotion, Karma Yoga or selfless action, and Jnana (pronounced gyaan) Yoga or self-transcending knowledge) Other forms that exist today sprang up long after the Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras and are all essentially forms of Raja Yoga.
While each path differs, their fundamental goal is the same: to realize Brahman (the Divine Essence) as being the only truth, that the body is temporal, and that the soul (Atman) is infinite and one with Brahman. Yoga's aim (nirvana, moksha) is to escape from the cycle of reincarnation through realization of oneness with the ultimate reality.
Here are some quotations from Lord Krishna that make up history's first real yoga text and give comprehensive definitions of the four principle yogas:
On The Goal Of Yoga
" When the mind comes to rest, restrained by the practice of yoga, and when beholding the Self, by the self, he is content in the Self." (B.G., Chapter 6, Verse 20) | " He who finds his happiness within, his delight within, and his light within, this yogi attains the bliss of Brahman, becoming Brahman."
On Raja Yoga
Raja Yoga is, in general, stilling of the mind and body through meditative techniques, geared at realizing one's true nature. This practice was later described by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras.
" Establishing a firm seat for himself in a clean place... having directed his mind to a single object, with his thought and the activity of the senses controlled, he should practice yoga for the purpose of self-realization. Holding the body, head and neck erect, motionless and steady, gazing at the tip of his own nose and not looking in any direction, with quieted mind, banishing fear, established in the brahmacharin vow of celibacy, controlling the mind, with thoughts fixed on Me, he should sit, concentrated, devoted to Me. Thus, continually disciplining himself, the yogin whose mind is subdued goes to nirvana, to supreme peace, to union with Me." (B.G., Chapter 6, Verses 11-15)
On Bhakti Yoga
Bhakti Yoga is simply service in love and devotion to God (Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita). The teaching of Bhakti thus bears some resemblance to finding salvation in Christ through love.
"... those who, renouncing all actions in Me, and regarding Me as the Supreme, worship Me... For those whose thoughts have entered into Me, I am soon the deliverer from the ocean of death and transmigration, Arjuna. Keep your mind on Me alone, your intellect on Me. Thus you shall dwell in Me hereafter." (B.G., Chapter 12, Verses 6-8) "And he who serves Me with the yoga of unswerving devotion, transcending these qualities [binary opposites, like good and evil, pain and pleasure] is ready for liberation in Brahman." (B.G. Chapter 14, Verse 26)
On Karma Yoga
Karma Yoga is essentially acting, or doing one's duties in life as per his/her dharma or duty, without desire or expectation of reward - a sort of constant sacrifice of action to the Supreme. It is action done without thought of gain. In a more modern interpretation, it can be viewed as duty bound deeds done without letting the type of result effect your action. It is said that the results can be of 3 types, a. as aimed for, b. opposite of what is aimed for and c. a mixture of these. If one can perform his duties (as prescribed in the Vedas) without any anticipation of the result of his actions, he is bound to succeed. It includes, but is not limited to, dedication of one's chosen profession and its perfection to God. It is also visible in community and social service, since they are inherently done without thought of personal gain.
Example: If one is playing Tennis and on the tennis court his duty is to play as well as he can. If he is a Karma Yogi , a few loss of points will not hamper his enthusiasm and energy for the rest of the game, but if he is not then he will start getting tense, nervous, conscious, etc and is then bound to make mistakes and lose anyway. This is a simple example of Karma Yoga for a layman.
" With the body, with the mind, with the intellect, even merely with the senses, the yogins perform action toward self-purification, having abandoned attachment. He who is disciplined in yoga, having abandoned the fruit of action, attains steady peace..." (B.G. Chapter 5, Verses 11-12)
On Jnana Yoga
Jnana Yoga is a process of learning to discriminate between what is real and what is not, what is eternal and what is not eternal. Through a steady advancement in realization of the real and the unreal, what is eternal and temporal, one develops into a Jnana Yogin. This is essentially a path to God through knowledge and disrimination, and has been described as being the "shortest, but steepest" path to God: the most difficult one.
" When he perceives the various states of being as resting in the One, and from That alone spreading out, then he attains Brahman. / They who know, through the eye of knowledge, the distinction between the field and the knower of the field, as well as the liberation of beings from material nature, go to the Supreme." (B.G. Chapter 15, Verse 31 / Verse 35).
Revelation of the Supreme
A memorable passage of the Gita is in the Eleventh Chapter in which Krishna reveals himself to Arjuna in all his splendid forms, all the plenary permutations of beings, the many gods and planes of existences all subsumed into the one essential Super-consciousness. A stirring excerpt from Sir Edwin Arnold's highly poetic style follows:
Therefore I give thee sense divine. Have other eyes, new light!
And, look! This is My glory, unveiled to mortal sight!
Sanjaya: Then, O King! the God, so saying,
Stood, to Pritha's Son displaying
All the splendour, wonder, dread
Of His vast Almighty-head.
Out of countless eyes beholding,
Out of countless mouths commanding,
Countless mystic forms enfolding
In one Form: supremely standing
Countless radiant glories wearing,
Countless heavenly weapons bearing,
Crowned with garlands of star-clusters,
Robed in garb of woven lustres,
Breathing from His perfect Presence
Breaths of every subtle essence
Of all heavenly odours; shedding
Blinding brilliance; overspreading—
Boundless, beautiful—all spaces
With His all-regarding faces;
So He showed! If there should rise
Suddenly within the skies
Sunburst of a thousand suns
Flooding earth with beams undeemed-of,
Then might be that Holy One's
Majesty and radiance dreamed of!
So did Pandu's Son behold
All this universe enfold
All its huge diversity
Into one vast shape, and be
Visible, and viewed, and blended
In one Body—subtle, splendid,
God of Gods, the Never-Ending
But, sore amazed,
Thrilled, o'erfilled, dazzled, and dazed,
Arjuna knelt; and bowed his head,
And clasped his palms; and cried, and said:
Arjuna: Yea! I have seen! I see!
Lord! all is wrapped in Thee!
The gods are in Thy glorious frame! the creatures
Of earth, and heaven, and hell
In Thy Divine form dwell,
And in Thy countenance shine all the features
Of Brahma, sitting lone
Upon His lotus-throne;
Of saints and sages, and the serpent races
Yea! mightiest Lord! I see
Thy thousand thousand arms, and breasts, and faces,
And eyes,—on every side
And nowhere end of Thee, nowhere beginning,
Nowhere a centre! Shifts—
Wherever soul's gaze lifts—Thy central Self, all-wielding, and all-winning!"
In many ways a heterogeneous text, the Gita is a reconciliation of many facets and schools of Hindu philosophy of both Brahmanical (i.e., orthodox, Vedic) origin and the parallel ascetic, yogic tradition. It comprises primarily Vedic (as in the four Vedas, as opposed to the Upanishads/Vedanta), Upanishadic, Samkhya and Yoga philosophy. It has stood the time, bringing together all four thought systems by taking their largely cohesive, common ideologies and backgrounds into the powerful Sanskrit verse of one text.
It had always been a seminal text for Hindu priests and yogis in India. Although not strictly part of the 'canon' of Vedic writings, almost all Hindu sects draw upon the Gita as authoritative. Recently, textual studies have indicated that it may have been inserted into the Mahabharata at a later date, but this is only natural as it sounds more like an Upanishad (which are commentaries that followed the Vedas) in thought than a Purana (histories of Hindu gods and goddesses), of which tradition the Mahabharata is a part.
For its religious depth, quintessential Upanishadic and Yogic philosophy and beauty of verse, the Bhagavad Gita is one of the most compelling and important texts to come out of the Hindu tradition. Indeed, it stands tall among the world's greatest religious and spiritual scriptures.
Text Used Above
Winthrop Sargeant (the Yogas) and Sir Edwin Arnold (Revelation) translations
- Full text in Sanskrit with Devanagari (Wikisource)
- English translation by Kāshināth Trimbak Telang (Wikisource)
- English translation by Sir Edwin Arnold (Wikisource)
External Links: the text and translations
The Bhagavad Gita is quickly becoming one of the most popular religious texts in translation with numerous readings and adaptations of its 700 verses in many languages having come out, especially with its exposure to the world outside of India. It should be kept in mind that different translators and commentators have widely differing views on what multi-layered Sanskrit words and passages truly signify and their best possible presentation in English. Different authors offer a wealth of diverse views which, when taken as a corpus of literature, present a fittingly varicolored idea of the possible interpretations of the religion and philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita.
English translations of high repute not available online include those of Juan Mascaro (praised by Aurobindo Ghosh), Barbara Stoler-Miller, the combined effort of Christopher Isherwood and Swami Prabhavananda, Winthrop Sargeant, and Swami Chidbhavananda.
- Saral Gita - Gujarati translation of Bhagavad Gita alongwith sanskrit verses, also contains mp3 audio of select chapters
- Gita Supersite! Multilingual Bhagavadgita with translations, classical and contemporary commentaries and much more.
- Complete Swami Chinmayananda's Gita translation and commentary Gita Download with Interactive browsing, extensive search, instant definitions of selected words, etc.,
- Bhagavad Gita Sung in English! All 18 Chapters in Streaming Realplayer
- Bhagvad Geeta source text in Sanskrit/Devnagari at Wikisource
- Bhagavad Gita As It Is by Prabhupada A.C. Bhaktivedanta, the founder of ISKCON/Hare Krishna, translation from theistic Vaishnava tradition
- Selections from Eknath Easwaran's poetic translation of the Gita:
- Mahatma Gandhi Translation and interspersed commentary
- Sir Edwin Arnold translation (1900): highly poetic style
- Shri Aurobindo Ghosh's translation and Excerpts from Shri Aurobindo's essays on the Gita
- www.bhagavad-gita.org: Verses in Sanskrit Devnagari, transliteration, word-for-word translations, verse translations and accompanying chants in Realaudio)
- William Quan Judge of the Theosophical Society
- Dr. Ramanand Prasad, of the American Gita Society
- Sanderson Beck translation
- Kashinath Trimbak Telang translation
- http://www.harekrishna.com/~ara/col/books/BG/tsem1.html (Gita and strong monotheism.)
- Vedantic commentary on the Gita.
- International Gita Society
- Translation by Swami Tapasyananda (Pocket Edition) Published by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai
- Gita excerpt from the Mahabharata by Kisari Mohan Ganguly (published between 1883 and 1896) - the most comprehensive English translation to date.
External Links: Commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita
- Commentary on the Gita by Swami Nirmalananda Giri
- Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries by Vladimir Antonov
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