The Bhagavat Gita is set in the context of Lord Krishna’s legendarystories and extra-ordinary life. This work is about 5000 years old—Krishna’s time according tomodern historians. The Upanishads are much older texts.The Gita is considered as the essence of the Upanishads, but the Gita goes beyond the Upanishads.It reinterpreted the meaning of sacrifices or yagas from the vedic meaning. In Vedic language,yagas were rituals to propitiate some God or Goddess for some favors or gifts or merits. In thelanguage of the Gita ,a sacrifice is part of renunciation---self-less work or gift of knowledge would be a sacrifice as well. You can chant mantras and incantations for the welfare of the world and offer that as a sacrifice. In other words, one does not do this for the welfare of himself or his family or hisclan. The gita also emphasized the path of action or karma yoga from a fresh perspective—not justrituals as prescribed in the Vedas, but self-less action.The Bhagavat Gita is in the form of a dialogue between Lord Krishna and his warrior-friend Arjuna.Thus it is easy to follow….with or without elaborate commentaries. Many common questions thatarise in our minds ---the eternal questions of spirituality --- are asked by Arjuna and the Lord answersthem in definitive terms…In many places, the Gita appears as a dictionary of specific terms. We shalldraw many concepts from the Gita.Above all, the Gita is a practical manual of the major yogas or paths….Swami Vivekananda [ 1863-1902] condensed the various yogas into four major yogas or paths---Gyana yoga-yoga of knowledge and enquiry; Raja Yoga—yoga of meditation and breath control;Bhakti Yoga--Yoga of devotion and Karma Yoga ,the yoga of self-less action. You will find elaboratedescriptions and emphasis on these yogas, chapter by chapter ,in the Gita. Thus you can go straight toone of the chapters and learn about that particular yoga. [Later authors/philosophers tried to graduatethe yogas in some sequence—karma, then bhakti and then gyana and so on…thus one follows asequence of practice….these are of very limited value, since no one can follow one yoga to theexclusion of the other…Further one yoga is not superior to another…these polemics led to lot of controversies, verbal battles , sectarian philosophies and much schism among the Hindus.We need notdwell on these at all, in the context of spirituality. This will clear our minds from much of uselessliterature that came in later years.] It should be added that the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the basic text for meditation and psychic powers, is a later text, perhaps of 1
century CE---the period of early Christianity. Thoughthis is a useful text for meditational practice, it does not have the significance of the Gita.We shall draw the spiritual moorings of the Hindus basically from the Upanishads and the Gita. Thefollowing books are recommended for a quick and brief introduction to the contents of the two texts,especially for western or young readers:
The Bhagavad Gita ---Eknath Easwaran –Nilgiri press, CA
The Upanishads---Eknath Easwaran-Nilgiri Press, CA [both texts have a weighty introduction in simple terms]
The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita –N K Srinivasan –Pustak Mahal, New Delhi [the present author]
The Holy Geeta – Swami Chinmayananda—Chinmaya trust, Mumbai
The Gita – Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood—Vedanta Society, Los Angeles.
The Hindu Mind ---- Bansi Pandit ---Dharma Publications, Il [ An elementary ,but highly readable introductionto Hinduism][ I must add that there are a few sects of Hindus who do not accept the Gita or the Krishna lore.Theygo by texts relating only to Lord Shiva.]3