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Srimad Bhagavad Gita

Background

Srimad Bhagavad Gita is one of the most important treasures of India. It is
found in Sri Mahabharata, one of the two great epics of India.

We all know that the eternal Vedas are the source of true knowledge. The
Vedas can be broadly classified in to two parts called Purva Kaanda and
Uttara Kaanda, or the earlier section and the later section. The Purva Kaanda
deals with rituals (karma) and the Uttara Kaanda deals with the knowledge of
Brahman. Brahman is a descriptive term meaning Absolute God, known
properly as Sriman Narayana. The Uttara Kaanda is also collectively known as
the Upanishads and the Vedanta.

Because of the great difficulty in understanding the purport of the Vedas, the
maharishis authored various texts known as Smriti, Itihaasa and Purana as
helpful aids in understanding the purport of the Vedas. Smritis augment and
add value to Purva Kaanda portion of the Vedas, and the Itihasas and Puranas
supplement the Upanishads. There are 18 Puranas and two Itihasas. The great
Itihasas are Srimad Ramayana and Sri Mahabharata. Sri Valmiki is the author
of Srimad Ramayana and Sri Veda Vyasa is the author of Sri Mahabharata.
Srimad Bhagavad Gita is part of the Mahabharata. Since the Bhagavad Gita
helps us to understand the nature of Brahaman and the ways to attain Him,
Srimad Bhagavad Gita is also called Gitopanishad.

Birth of the Gita

On a battlefield known as Kurukshetra, two sets of cousins, the Kauravas
(Duryodhana and brothers) and Pandavas (Yudhisthira and brothers) stood
arrayed against each other, ready to wage war. Among the many warriors was
the mighty archer Arjuna, the third of the Pandava brothers. He had as his
charioteer Sri Krishna, the cowherd incarnation of Sriman Narayana. Krishna
preached the Gita to Arjuna to clear his doubts just before the war. This event
took place in Dvapara Yuga, the third of the four great epochs of time. We are
now in Kali Yuga, the fourth epoch. By traditional reckoning it is almost 5,150
years since the Gita was born.
Need for Gita

As Arjuna surveyed his opponent just before the war, he noticed countless
relatives, gurus and friends on the opposite side. He realized that only by
killing them would he regain his lost kingdom. Being a sAtvika with pious
qualities, Arjuna felt repulsed by the thought of killing his loved ones. He felt
that to kill them would be a sin, and in his anguish, he laid down his bow and
arrow and refused to fight. He asked Sri Krishna to advise him of what course
would be good for him. Krishna, the well wisher of the whole universe, took
pity on the confused and grief-stricken Arjuna, and unveiled the Gita to him
and directed Arjuna to go ahead with the war which was his duty as a kshatriya.
So the Gita is a shastra, given to clear our confusion about various aspects of
life and to direct us to perform our duties. It is absolutely relevant to each one
of us in this modern world. It does not talk about something abstract. It is for
us, about us, and about Brahman.

Gist of the Gita

The famous Gitartha Sangraha of the saint Yamunacharya (also known as
Alavandaar) gives the gist of Gita in one verse.
svadharma jnAna vairAgya sAdhya bhakti eka
gocaraH |
narayanaH param brahma gIta sAstre samIritaH ||
One who performs his prescribed duty, with full knowledge of himself and his
master, devoid of desire, reaches the stage of practice of bhakti-yoga. By
bhakti-yoga one can please Narayana and reach HIM. So our objective should
be to reach and serve our master, and the means to achieve this goal is bhakti-
yoga. Narayana, the Supreme Lord, is the One whom we have to reach. All
these -- the nature of the objective, the nature of the means, and the the goal,
i.e., Narayana, His nature and His qualities are explained in the Bhagavad Gita.

The Gita is divided in three sections of six chapters each (shatkam). The first
six chapters deal with karma-yoga and jnAna-yoga, which are required for
realising the jivatma, the individual self. After realising the jivatma, one goes to
realise his master, the Paramatma or Supreme Self. Once he knows the
greatness of the Paramatma, he naturally wishes to reach Him. The second six
chapters deals with the unparalleled mastery of Krishna, who is the Paramatma,
and bhakti-yoga, which is to be practiced to reach Lord Krishna. The last six
recapitulate and again explain the atma, Paramatma and the three yogas, adding
whatever was left unsaid in the first 12 chapters. So the three shatkas lead us to
successive steps in liberation, moksha. All together, there are 18 chapters which
are akin to 18 rungs in the ladder to moksha. Unless one goes through each of
this rungs, it is difficult to reach moksha. Let us go one by one.

Chapter 1: The mental agony of Arjuna revealed

Arjuna reveals his anguish at the prospect of battle. The chapter starts with
Dhritarashtra, the father of the Kauravas, asking his messenger Sanjaya about
the happenings in Kurushetra. Sanjaya begins his narration with the words of
the eldest Kaurava Duryodhana as he prepared for the battle, and then
introduces Arjuna and his lamentation of his plight. Arjuna fears that papa
karma caused by his misdeeds will engulf him. He explains that acharyas who
are fit to be honored every day should not be killed. One cannot build his
throne on the altar of his relatives. The chapter then ends with Arjuna
abandoning his bow and arrow and sitting silently in his chariot.

Important verses: 1, 19, 21, 26-32, 34-36, 47.

Chapter 2: karma-yoga unveiled

Krishna uses Arjuna's moral dilemma as a pretext for getting at the root
confusion which Arjuna faces. Arjuna erroneously thinks that he will really kill
Bhishma and others, only because he is confused that the body and the self
(atma) are one and the same. He has not understood that even by shooting
countless arrows at Bhishma, Bhishma's atma cannot be destroyed. Even if
Arjuna stays away from fighting for thousands of years, Bhishma’s body
cannot be saved. The idea is that the body is subject to destruction, but the atma
is eternal.

This is the tattva-jnana (true knowledge of the nature of atma and the body)
which one has to get first. These are explained up to verse 39. Once one knows
the greatness of jivatma, one would certainly long to realise it and see it as it is.
Next, Krishna goes on to explain karma-yoga which is the means to realise this
atma. By practicing karma-yoga, one will be led to jnana-yoga which is
penultimate to atma realisation.

It would be apt here to define karma-yoga and jnana-yoga. Yoga here means
"way" or "path". Karma-yoga is the path of action and jnana-yoga is the path of
knowledge. These paths lead to the goal, which is atma-realisation.

The order given in the second chapter is:
• Basic knowledge about jivatma -- karma-yoga, manas suddhi (one's
mind is cleansed) -- jnana-yoga -- atma realisation. Perform your duty
without fixing your eye on worldly goals. This is the way to jnana-yoga
which ultimately leads to atma-sakshatkara, the vision of the self.
• Karma-yoga -- disciplined performance of religious acts and one's
prescribed ritual duties with three things in mind, or the threefold
sacrifice:
1. kartrtva buddhi tyaga -- do not think you are the doer.
2. mamata tyaga -- do not think that this action is for you or belongs
to you
3. phala tyaga -- do not think or perform karma-yoga for any
objective other than atma-realisation. Every karma has to be
performed as a service to the Lord with an underlying thought that
you are his absolute servant.
• Jnana-yoga -- to meditate on one's atma without any hindrance, by
controlling one's senses and without straying after worldly pleasures.

Important verses: 12, 17, 18, 23, 27, 38, 41, 45, 47, 53, 55-58, 60, 61.

Chapter 3: the Greatness and Power of karma-yoga.

When Krishna spoke about both karma-yoga and jnana-yoga in the second
chapter, Arjuna became confused. Since jnana-yoga is the stage just before
atma-sakshatkara, why should I not directly practise jnana-yoga? Why must I
begin with karma-yoga? Krishna explains that he has prescribed two ways for
atma realisation. One is jnana-yoga for those who already have absolute control
over their senses. The other is karma-yoga for those who have not yet
conquered them. In this chapter he teaches that karma-yoga by itself will lead
to atma sakshatkara.

Note the difference compared to the second chapter, where karma-yoga is
taught to lead to jnana-yoga, and jnana-yoga in turn leads to atma sakshatkara.
Here, actions and performance of one's duty with the threefold sacrifice itself
will lead to atma realisation. The significance is that we, like Arjuna, are used
to action always and are not accustomed to restraint. Karma-yoga is action and
jnana-yoga is restraining from action. So it is easier for us all to practice karma-
yoga. Think that we perform, being pushed by our triple qualities of satva, rajas
and tamas and guided by our Lord.

Important verses: 1, 2, 3, 8, 11, 12, 27, 30, 35, 37.
Chapter 4: The Components of karma-yoga and its Element of jnana

Krishna now beautifully explains that even though he has prescribed karma-
yoga for Arjuna, it cannot be performed without jnana (knowledge). Note that
jnana-yoga is a path by itself and jnana is just basic knowledge, which is
required even for a karma-yogi. This jnana is part and parcel of karma-yoga,
since one cannot perform karma-yoga without knowledge of himself and
karma. In karma-yoga, the knowledge part takes precedence over the action
part.

In a digression in this chapter, Krishna also reveals the secret of his avatara.

Important verses: 1, 4, 5-8, 13, 18, 33, 34.

Chapter 5: Karma-yoga -- the faster way to atma sakshatkara; the
equality of the atman.

Having explained that karma-yoga is the easier way for us, Krishna adds here
that it is also the faster way. He further explains the threefold sacrifice, which
are termed as sannyasa. Karma sannyasa is staying away from performing one's
duties. Karma-yoga is performing one's duties devoid of thoughts like I am the
doer, it is my karma and it is for worldly goals. Certainly the latter is better.
Once you perform your duty only for atma sakshtkara, you will master the art
of raising the atma from serving its own body.

A human being is tall or short or dark or fair or male or female, only when you
see the atma attached with its body. If the atma's nature is understood as being
devoid of its body, there would be no difference between millions of atmas.
There would only be one category -- all atmas are full of knowledge and are
servants to one master.

Important verses: 1, 2, 3, 5, 11, 12, 18, 19, 29.

Chapter 6: Details of karma-yoga and its methods of practice.

Now Krishna finally dwells on the actual method of karma-yoga, i.e., how to
practice it, the four types of atma-yogis, practice and meditation on
desirelessness, the longevity of karma-yoga, and finally a glimpse into bhakti-
yoga. Since Krishna heretofore gave so much importance to atma sakshatkara,
towards the end of sixth chapter, Arjuna thought that realising the individual
atma was the ultimate goal. Krishna with a smile in the last verse says that atma
sakshtkara is only a step to Paramatma sakshatkara. Realising and striving to
reach the lotus feet of the Supreme God Sriman Narayana is the real goal. This
is possible only through bhakti-yoga. All these six chapters dealt with karma-
yoga and jnana-yoga, which are steps to bhakti-yoga, Instead of directly
jumping to bhakti-yoga and Paramatma sakshatkara, Krishna first dealt with
karma-yoga and atma sakshatkara and then lead safely to Paramatma. It is
always difficult to reach the mountain top directly. One has to go step by step.

Important verses: 1, 5, 11-14, 34, 35, 47.

Chapter 7- Supreme Lord Krishna's nature and the atmas who surrender
to HIM

After having realised that the atma as the one full of knowledge in absolute
servitude to the Lord,the automatic wish would be to realise his lord. So
Krishna explains his omnipresent , omni potent and omnicient nature. He is the
creator and saviour.His greatness is unparelled.This jiva entangled in prakriti
and bound by three gunas is taken far away from realising the paramatma.But
the who surrenders to the Lord is uplifted from this endless cycle of samsara.
Four types of human beings does not worship the Lord and four types of
devotees do worship HIM. One may prostrate before HIM to for wordly
pleasures, or for enjoying one's own atma or for enjoying Krishna. The last one
is " Bhakta" who is the most loved by Krishna. Such bhaktha is always wanting
to be with krishna and cannot survive even for a moment without meditating
upon HIM. Sri Krishna is all praise for such Bhakta in this chapter. It takes
many births to be become such a bhakta.

Important verses: 4,5,6,7,10,14-19.

Chapter 8 Knowledge and practice required by various bhakthas

Having said that one can surrender to the Lord for wordly pleasures, or atma
anubhava or paramatma anubhava, Krishna adds the knowledge required for
each one of them and methods of practice for each one of them. A bhaktha
wanting to to be inseperable from his Lord has to think and meditate on
Krishna always. One has to chant the pranava supplementing the meditation.
One who reaches the heavenly abode of Lord Sriman Narayana never takes
birth in this samsara again. Other than Srivaikuntam, where ever you reach you
have to return to this earth to perform karma again.

Important verses: 1,3,5,6,12,13,15,16.
Chapter 9-Krishna’s greatness even during incarnation and the greatness
of bhaktha who realises that- Bhakthi Yoga finally unveiled.

To create interest and a want to realise paramatma, Krishna further explains his
supremecy. Is he supreme only at srivaikuntam alone? Alas the foolish jiva
does not realise that he is The supreme even as a cowherd boy. But one who
realises that, is his bhakta. To perform bhakthi yoga is quite simple. You can
please your lord with a leaf, or a flower or a fruit or even water. Krishna only
sees your bhakti and not your wealth to please HIM. In the last verse, Krishna
defines Bhakti yoga. One should meditate on Krishna without thinking about
anything else. One should prostrate before HIM, perform pooja to HIM. One
who does this with out any other thought will reach the heavenly abode of
srivaikuntam.

Chapter 10 The wealth of Sriman Narayana.

The first six chapters dealt with Karma and gnana yoga which are the means to
achieve bhakthi yoga. The next three chapters took us through bhakti yoga. If
one has to continously practise bhakti, he must have absolute faith and
confidence about the innumerable attributes of Krishna. Only by repeatedly
meditating about Brahman’s qualities, bhakti would be born and start growing
in us. A bhakta is joyous by sharing his feelings with others on Krishna’s
qualities and divya katha. For this Arjuna wanted to know the unending
qualities and wealth of Krishna. For a moment Krishna sighed, that listing HIS
qualities and wealth is difficult job even for HIM . ( strange is it not. For whom
nothing is difficult in this universe there is one difficult thing that is listing HIS
own gunas). But finally Krishna classifies the universe into various groups and
states that the most important person (head) in each group is Sri Krishna
himself. Once the head is Krishna it goes without saying that the entire group is
Krishna HIMSELF.

Important verses: 1,9,10,12,18,19,20.
Chapter 11 - Krishna’s Viswarupa darsana.

Arjuna heard about Krishna’s attributes and wealth. Logically he was urged to
have darshan of Krishna in HIS true form together with all his wealth and
qualities. Is it possible to see such a form with our normal eyes? Not at all.
Krishna mercifully gave divine eyes to Arjuna and shown HIS divya rupa
which is famously known as Viswarupa. Every living and non living thing in
the universe found a place in Sri Krishna’s divya rupa. From four headed
Brahma to a small ant, a sappling to great Himalayas was seen in his viswarupa
form. Arjuna was overwhemled by the sight of viswarupa, the form which can
only seen by great sages after meditating on krishna for thousands of years.
Arjuna is also frightened by the sight of viswarupa. Arjuna sought pardon from
Krishna as he has disrespected him many times thinking that he is only a
cowherd. Finally Arjuna requests Krishna to regain his form as vasudeva the
charioteer. Krishna says to Arjuna to be an instrument. Krishna himself will be
the doer. Bhakti is the only way to know,see and reach Krishna.

Important verses: 3,5,6,8,9-12,15,16,31,41-46,50,54.

Chapter 12 Qualities of a bhakta and Krishna’s love towards him.

Krishna reiterates the qualities of HIS bhakta. A bhakta can not bear the agony
or suffering of others. He has no enemies. He is unmoved by praise or
condemn. He helps everyone in need. He knows service and love to humanity
is service to Krishna HIMSELF. Happiness and sorrow are the same to such
bhakta. Such bhakta is an ideal person in this material world.

Important verses: 2,6,13,17-19.

Chapter 13 Human body the land for cultivation and Atma the cultivator.

Krishna again affirms the existence of three reals namely the body ( achit)
atman ( chit) and Paramatma (Iswara). One has to understand the basic
difference between these three. Achit is the material what we see in this world.
Achit is devoid of any knowledge. Jivatma is full of knowledge. Iswara is with
absolute knowledge and he is the controller of both chit and achit. The human
body is given by our lord to cultivate good qualities. Jivatma is the cultivator. It
is jivatma’s responsibility to grow good crop avoiding unwanted weeds. Good
crop is righteous quality and bad crop is condemnable quality. Krishna is the
controller and master of this land and the cultivator too.

Important verses: 1,2,7-10,33,34

Chapter 14 The qualities that bind the atman and the means to untie the
bond

Satva rajas and tamas are the three gunas which are always with the atman due
to connection with the body ie prakriti. Satva helps to in understanding things
correctly. Rajas kindles desire and anger. Tamas leads to laziness, sleep makes
us confused. They bind us in this sorrow filled samsara. One who is a pure
bhakta is untouched by these gunas. Practicing a single pointed bhakti on
Krishna is the only way to keep away these troublesome qualities.

Important verses: 1,2,5,9,17,18,24-26

Chapter 15 The difference and greatness of Iswara and the two tatvas-
Purushottama vidya.

Krishna in order to make Arjuna understand His supremacy over other tatva,
differentiates the qualities of others from HIM. Atma is again divided into
three types baddha, mukta and nitya. Baddha atma is the one who is still bound
in this world. Mukta jeevatma is the one who has liberated from this world and
reached Sri vaikunta. Nitya is the one who is eternally reside at srivaikuntam
like adisesha and garuda etc.. So the Brahman is different from achit, baddha,
mukta and nitya jeevatmas. These four are controlled and HE is the controller.
The above four are being held and HE Sri Krishna holds. These qualities
differentiate Krishna from the others. He is in the highest stratum of all
qualities. Purushottama is the name that signifies this point. He controls our
knowledge at the first instance recollection and forgetfulness.

Important verses: 1,14-19
Chapter 16 Do your duty since Vedas have prescribed them.

One should perform his duty as Vedas have directed him. One who violates the
dictum of Vedas is an asura and one who follows them is deva. The quality of a
deva liberates you from the clutches of samsara. Quality of an Asura submerges
you in the samsara. Vedas can shower love and affection equal to 1000 parents.
So go by what Vedas say.

Important verses: 1-5,20,23

Chapter 17- Do your duty with satva guna.

Krishna explains the nature of a satvik, rajasik and tamasik. The gods whom
they worship and the food they take and effect of such foods the tapas they
perform and the daana which they give etc. One who stands unmoved from the
vedic path is a satvik and he will for sure will reach Krishna.

Important verses: 1,4-10.

Chapter 18 Do your duty as prescribed for your varanasrama and Finally
Absolute surrender Saranagathi.

Krishna explains the meaning of two words, Sanyasa and Thyaga. Performing
ones duties without wordly objectives is sanyasa. Sacrificing the fruits of our
action is thyagam. Three types of sacrifices have already been explained
earlier. The qualities of four varnas ie Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaisya their duties
are given in detail. One should perform only the duties prescribed for his varna
and asrama. Performing ones own dharma even with mistakes is better than
performing dharmas pertaining to others at its best.

Having said about Karma yoga, gnana yoga and Bhakti yoga, Krishna left the
choice to Arjuna to choose his option. Arjuna is worried. As he now
understood, every action is controlled by Krishna where the power or
independence for him to choose. Further to practice bhakti one has wash away
all his sins. To wash our sins we will have to do prayaschitta which might take
many births. Arjuna was afraid of these complexities and the time it would
take. Krishna clears Arjuna of his doubt and guides him to perform
Saranagathi. Saranagathi would clear all your sins and pave the way to master
bhakti and to tread in the path of bhakti. Krishna assures that every one of his
followers who has faith in HIM and absolutely surrenders to HIM will have
nothing to worry as they will for sure reach HIM at the end of this life.
Sanjaya also concludes his description of the whole episode with fond
memories of Viswarupa.

Important verses: 1-4, 41-47, 62-66.

Conclusion:

The order to reach Krishna is:

Knowledge of atman- Karma yoga comprising of gnana – Saranagathy-
Bhakti yoga- Reach Krishna and serve HIM forever.