The Bhagavad Gita. The sweet Bhagavad Gita!
Translated into English, The Lord’s Song, or the Song of God.
The Gita is a chapter in the great Indian epic The Mahabharata. There is not an official date that this epic was written, and depending on what scholars you listen to, the suspected time could be 5th century BCE, or 1st century BCE. (Mitchell, 2006) Regardless of the specific date, there is no debating the significance of this beautiful text.
Starting on the scene of a battlefield, the great archer Arjuna is being led in a chariot. The charioteer, Krishna. The battle is between two sides of a family, the Pandus and Kurus. Arjuna, a Pandu, tells Krishna to guide the chariot in the middle of the battlefield while both sides are still lined up. He wanted to see those who wished to fight him. A bold move! Upon seeing that the Kurus are all his family members, people who he grew up with, teachers, ect. he was filled with grief declaring he could not fight in the battle. How could he kill his family members? How could he celebrate a victory knowing the cost was the bloodshed of those who were once so close? Setting aside his bow he asks Krishna for advice. It is here, on the chariot, in the middle of the battlefield where the Gita takes place.
I first read the Bhagavad Gita while in my 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training. I had struggled with the idea of death and god. The idea that there was a creator, or that there was something after this life was frankly appalling. Still, I was drawn in. As logical beings we often explain things away, we question everything, and we find faults wherever we can. Naturally, I went about reading the Gita with this mindset, thinking, “alright, let’s just get this over with so we can do some asana.”
Every critique I had was addressed. Every question I’ve ever pondered about the divine was addressed. Every fear I’ve had about dying was challenged. The teachings came across to me differently than any other sacred texts. It’s not a list of do’s and don’ts but rather principles and subjects to live by and to experience. It is not an instruction to change everything immediately or to give up all things material. The path of action is suggested, to continue to perform your material duty but to do so with selfless service and with divinity in mind. The beautiful explanations, teachings, and revelations Krishna shares with Arjuna and profound and seeming unmistakable truths Ajuna should accept without question. Yet individuality is constantly thrown at Arjuna. For example, once Krishna has concluded his teachings he states: “18:63 Thus I have explained to you knowledge still more confidential. Deliberate on this fully, and then do what you wish to do.” (Prabhupada, 1984) God has told him the way, the answers, and how to proceed. Yet, he gives him the choice to proceed the way he sees fit.
Faith is often very dogmatic. But this is different, we have will, we have individuality, and we have a choice of instruction. How so very adaptable. How loving! It puts all of the accountability on the individual. The conversation is between Arjuna and Krishna representing us as an individual spirit soul and god, the divine. Such a personal relationship. The Gita holds us accountable in the most accommodating way while showing us we can have this loving disciple-teacher relationship with the divine. Whatever it is you consider divine!
The Gita is often critiqued to be a book about violence since the setting is on a battlefield where family members are literally about to kill each other. This battle however holds so much significance. It represents the constant battle we have with ourselves, our minds, and the dualities of material nature. Acknowledging there are unfavorable qualities inherent in material existence. Rather than ignore what could be considered negative we are given suggestions on how to control or redirect that part of our nature.
The teachings felt obtainable, accommodating, and loving, and frankly, they just made sense! The Gita teaches us to be true to our dharma, service selflessly, act out of love, and to do everything as a loving offering.
Since my YTT I have continued to deepen my study in the Gita taking as many classes I can enroll in and reading 11+ translations. Since incorporating what I’m learning and continuing to read with different perspectives, barriers have been knocked down in my life, doors have opened, and things make sense, but most of all I have a pure feeling of love in my heart for myself, everyone around me, and the beautiful, pure, sweet, loving divine.
There is a place for everyone in the Bhagavad Gita. No matter your struggles, no matter your faith or beliefs, no matter your past there is something for you in this text. A teacher of mine calls it refreshing literature. Meaning, every time you read it something new will stick out, something you seemingly glanced over the last time you read it!
Since there are so many ways to view the Gita and because of its accommodating nature, the best way to learn is through conversation. So I invite you to join the conversation! Bring your viewpoints, your beliefs, even your reservations and skepticism to our class coming soon, Conversations on The Bhagavad Gita, offered here at Direct Path Institute!
Citations: Mitchell, S. (2006). Bhagavad Gita: A new translation. Three Rivers Press.
Prabhupada, A. C. B. S. (Trans.). (1984). 18:63. In Bhagavad-Gita as it is (pp. 657). essay, The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.