WHAT IS BHAGAVAD-GITA?

The Bhagavad Gita (BG) was spoken by Sri Krishna to His friend and disciple, Arjuna at the beginning of the epic war, Mahabharata. BG provides the concise conclusion of the millions of verses in all the Vedic scriptures. In just eighteen chapters containing seven hundred verses, Sri Krishna answers all questions about the duty of the living entity. In glorifying the BG, Lord Shiva says in the Gita Mahatmya (Padma Purana) that it is sufficient to lead one to liberation.

The BG should be studied in the same mood as it was heard by Arjuna. Sri Krishna declares that He is revealing this most confidential knowledge to Arjuna because is not envious and He is a friend. So one must read and understand the BG in the mood of at least theoretically accepting the position of Krishna as God. This knowledge is never revealed to one who reads it in a challenging and speculative mood.
Owing to the universal message in the BG, many people take to it instinctively. Unfortunately its importance has also given rise to many people speculating and misinterpreting it. In order to protect the trusting people from this kind of cheating, Sri Krishna stresses the importance of Paramapara (disciplic succession) and Guru (spiritual master) in receiving the knowledge of the BG.

The BG is often referred to as the “Handbook for humanity”. Never in the BG has Sri Krishna restricted the scope of the BG to Hindus or Indians. It is completely non-denominational, meant for any one inquiring about his reason for existence. Indeed many people following Christianity or Islam get a much better perspective of their own religion after reading the BG and are able t o follow their religions with greater conviction.

The BG was spoken to guide the conditioned soul on the path of the spiritual advancement. It is presented as principle and details. The dominating principle of the BG is to develop God consciousness. In the details, Sri Krishna explains three primary ways of doing this and then further expands on these paths. He then relates them to each other and brings forth the single most effective path for returning back to God

The three paths given by Sri Krishna are Karma yoga, Jnana yoga and Bhakti yoga. The first six chapters primarily discuss Karma yoga, liberation by performing prescribed activities. The last six chapters primarily talk about Jnana yoga, liberation by worshipping the Lord through one’s intelligence. Ensconced between these two “protective” covers, like a pearl in the oyster, in the middle six chapters, Krishna reveals the most confidential of all knowledge, Bhakti yoga, the path of pure, unalloyed devotional service. He declares this to be the highest, the easiest and the fastest path to Him, and for one who is fortunate to embark on it, the binding illusions of Maya are dispelled in no time.

A confusing aspect of the BG is the fact that while acknowledging the superiority of Bhakti yoga. Krishna spends considerable time talking about Jnana and Karma yoga. He even speaks briefly about the eight fold astanga yoga process followed by the mystics. For many people this is very confusing if not apparently contradictory.

In reality, Krishna is offering something for everyone according to their levels of advancement and inclination. As God, He does not interfere with the free will of a living entity. But as the most compassionate well-wisher He wants everyone to leave this material world of misery and return to the original spiritual abode.

So, for a person attracted to action, there is Karma yoga. For the intellectual there is Jnana yoga. For the mystic there is astanga yoga.  The BG meets the person at the level they are in and gradually elevates them to the platform where they become qualified to execute Bhakti yoga, pure devotional service. A very few fortunate souls, by the causeless mercy of Krishna and His devotees, are able to take directly to Bhakti, and for them the way back to Godhead is quick and easy.

In summary, Bhagavad-gita is knowledge of five basic truths and the relationship of each truth to the other: These five truths are Krishna, or God, the individual soul, the material world, action in this world, and time. The Gita lucidly explains the nature of consciousness, the self, and the universe. It is the essence of India’s spiritual wisdom, the answers to questions posed by philosophers for centuries.

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