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The Bhagavad Gita Explained
The Bhagavad Gita, also more simply known as Gita, is a smaller part of the Mahabharata. The Gita is an ancient Hindu text that stresses doing one's duty and having an unwavering faith in God. The name "Bhagavad Gita" literally means "song of God". Written in Sanakrit sometime between 1000 and 700 B.C.E. the text is often considered the most fundamental text in Hinduism. It is as important to Hinduism as the Bible is to Christianity. However, unlike the bible The Bhagavad Gita is seen more as an outline or blueprint for life than a religious text. One could be any religion and follow The Bhagavad Gita. That is the beauty of the Gita is that it transcends religious sectarian ideology. The opening of the Gita, can be quite intimidating to one unfimilar with Hindu terms and names. The first chapter, the hardest, mainly tells the reader the backgroud and sets up the story. Once one gets past the first chapter the story begins to flow. The Gita is a conversation between Arjuna and Krishna. Arjuna is the hero, the devine avatar Krishna is the charioteer. Krishna is a manifestation of the supreme Brahman.
The story begins with Arjuna's kinsmen and friends about to go to war over ownership of the kingdom. The kingdom was passed to Arjuna's cousin. Though Arjuna is the rightful king he is reluctant to fight. He doesn't necessarliy want the kingdom and he does not want to shed the blood of his family over the crown. He believes killing to be evil, and killing family even more evil. He tells Krishna he will not fight and cast down his weapons. While trying to convince Arjuna, Krishna lays out the basic tenets of Hinduism. Krishna explains Arjuna's dharma, or duty. As a member of the warrior caste Arjuna is born to fight and he must fight in order to restore the right balance of karma. Karma is the effect our actions have on our life cycle, or samsara. Krishna then tells Arjuna, "Because we have all been for all time: I, and thou, and those kings of men. And we shall all be for all time, we all for ever and ever." Meaning that Arjuna would not be killing his family because there is no true death of the soul. Just a sheding of the earthly body between life cycles.
Arjuna asks Krishna what a man with no concerns is like, a man who truly pursues a spiritual path. Arjuna does not understand how these men can give up the world to find peace. He believes these men exist but have no concern for results because they have found peace in themselves. Krishna states that truly divine humans find peace in completeing action in the highest service to God. One should do their duty even if it demands violence. And they should be unaffected by the results because it was their duty and the outcome is unavoidable. By doing one's dharma we can work off of karma, or bad deeds that could affect our sasara, next life cycle. The untimate goal is to reach moksha, or liberation from samsara.
Unlike Zen Buddhism, which teaches non-effort the Gita promotes action, regardless of how it will affect the self. All action should be done for a higher power. In this many take Hinduism not as a religion, but instead as a way of life. Maybe this is why so many people of different faiths find sanctuary in the Gita. Unlike Buddhism, the Gita does not make it necessary to renounce the material world. Instead it teaches that by expanding ones knowledge one can find spiritual wisdom without renouncing the material world. There are some similarities in Hinduism and other Eastern religions. Though the Gita does not teach about renunciation of the material world, it does shun the ego. One should renounce "I, me, and mine." One should never think of the self alone, but instead as one with the universe. The Gita suggest that one can find their dharma by undertanding the self through meditation.
One could say that The Bhagavad Gita condones murder. After all Krishna is trying to convince Arjuna to kill his family by arguing that the soul can never be destroyed. However Arjuna's war took place sometime around 3,000 B.C.E. If a father or husband died in that period then that could put the entire families survival at stake. If an unmarried man died that could mean the death of his family name as well. And Krishna wants Arjuna to kill his own family. If nothing else how does one kill another living being? How does one interfere with another persons karma? Killing a person could very well prevent them from working off their karma and getting closer to Samsara. Arjuna could be adding another cycle to his family members lives, a life that would not be as good as it could have been if they had been able to do their dharma. Maybe the true test is not to worry so much about ones own dharma and karma, but about others. One should always place others before themselves. How does one put another before themselves by killing them for ones own karma? The ultimate selfless act for Arjuna would be to fulfill his own dharma and let his family complete theirs.