Advent of Srimad Bhagavad-gita

This is the annirversary day commemorating the day that Srimad Bhagavad Gita was spoken by Lord Sri Krishna to His dearmost devotee Arjuna at the place now known as Jyotisar Tirtha amid the waring families of the Kurus and the Pandavas at Kurukshetra. If one wishes one can still go and visit that place and see the monument erected there with Krishna as Parthasarati (the chariot driver) and Arjuna the warrior on their chariot. It is claimed by the ashram who maintain the shrine that the tree that is next to Them is a continum growth of the original tree witness that was there at the actual day of speaking.

Traditionally devotees come to Kurukshetra (Dharmakshetra) and recite Bhagavad Gita from early morning until the next morning, perform arati to Bhagavad Gita and to Krishna and Arjuna upon the chariot, offer lamps ‘deep daan’ at Brahma Sarovar, shloka recitals, shobha yatras and seminars on the significance of the Gita today.

Devotees who cannot get to Jyotisar Tirtha remember the blessed event by reciting Bhagavad Gita, performing Bhagavad Gita ahuti of each verse or selected chapters into the sacred fire, and discussing the subject matter of Bhagavad Gita in the association of devotees. Distribution of Bhagavad Gitas’ on this day is also a very auspicious activity to perform.

Remembering the Scene:

The Pandavas army took the western side of the battlefield of Kurukshetra. They were facing the east. Their army was stationed near a lake. A white royal umbrella was seen in the Kauravas army. The soldiers started warning up at the thought of the battle ahead. Blowing of conches raised a great tumult and beating of drums and many other instruments were sounded to announce the readiness for the war. Excitement was building up.

The warriors of both the sides met and settled the rules of the war. Only equals will fight in personal duels. Those who surrender, there lives will be spared, No charioteer, animal, or servants who were not soldiers were to be attacked. These and some other rules that were usual in a Dharma-Yuddha or a righteous war were finalised and both the sides agreed to abide by them.

On the eve of the war, sage Vyasa visited the palace of Dhritarastra, who was his son, now the terrible days are in store. All your sons and the kings will be killed soon. This is settled by fate. It is ordained so, do not be sorry. I shall grant you your eyesight so that you may witness the war. Dhritarastra was shaken by the stark words of the sage. He said, ‘My lord, I have been blind all my life. I do not want to see my sons dying in the battlefield. If someone can give me an account of the war as it unfolds, I shall be happy. Vyasa said, Sanjaya would get the power to see everything that happens in the war. He will be able to see during the day as well as in the night. He shall be even able to know the thoughts of the persons engaged in the war. He shall not be tired or exhausted. The omens are all against the Kauravas.” Saying this the great sage departed.

(After this the entire account of the war is as related by Sanjaya to the blind king Dhritarastra)

Duryodhana was busy arranging his troops in a battle array. He told Dussashan, ‘take care to protect our grandsire, Bhishma. All the chariots and warriors should be placed in such a position to Bhishma. He alone is capable of destroying the entire army of the Pandavas led by Dhristadhyumna. We should pay special attentions to kill Shikhandi. He could be a source of danger to Bhishma.

Then (one Akshauhini of Army comprises of 21870 chariots, 21870 elephants, 65610 horses and 109350 men.) akshauhinis of the Kauravas army was arranged in Vyuha (battle array) and one akshauhini was under the direct control of Bhishma. Bhishma chariot was white-silver coloured, it was driven by white horses and his flag was golden, bearing his personal insignia. The Sun was rising in a golden dawn. Bhishma spoke to his soldiers, “Today is a very auspicious day. The gates of heavens are open to all the Kshatriyas who will be fortunate to die in the battle. It is not beckoning of a Kshatriya to die in bed or of sickness. Battlefield is the only glorious place to die. Without thinking about tomorrow do your best to win the war. Karna was the only warrior who had not joined the war. Bhishma chief body guard was Ashwathama, who was supported by seven more warriors. Salya and Bhurishrava were among them. Duryodhana’s banner was proudly fixed a top his chariot.

Looking at the vast army of the Kauravas, Yudhisthira said to Arjuna. Their army is so huge. They have eleven akshauhinis against them we have only seven. How best can be arrange our army in battle formation. Bhishma is quite formidable. Arjuna said, that he would arrange the army in a ‘Vyuha’ named ‘Vajra’. This was the favourite arrangement of lord Indra. Dhristadhyumna was in the centre of the army. Bhima, Yudhisthira, protected him and Arjuna supported Shikhandi. The most prominent banner in the Pandava side was that of Arjuna, having lord Hanumana himself on it, driven by Krishna, having white horses. All those who knew the reality, saluted Krishna. Krishna said to Arjuna, ‘See the army of the Kauravas, led by your old grandsire. The lion among the Kaurava heroes, is your first victim.

What is the 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 verse, 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.

How should one read the BG?
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.

Who should read 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.

What is Purpose of the BG?
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

What are the three paths?
These paths are explained as yoga. The Sanskrit word “yoga” means connecting to the absolute, and it is in this context that the word yoga is used in the BG.

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.

What is Karma yoga?
A person situated in Karma yoga executes one’s prescribed duties. These duties are as prescribed by the Varnashrama system created By Krishna through the Vedas. According to one’s ability and inclination, a person may acquires a particular varna. He may become a Brahaman (teacher, guide), Ksatriya (administrator, warrior), Vaishya (merchant, farmer) or Sudra (worker). According to his situation he lives in one of the four ashrams: Brahamacari (student), Grahastha (married), Vanaprastha (retired) and Sannyasa (detached). The eight fold Varnashram system is created to allow one to be aware of his prescribed duties and execute them properly. It is important to note here is that the BG stresses that a varna is acquired by one’s ability and inclination, never by birth. So in the BG, there is no support of the “caste-system” prevalent in India. The Varnashram system appears naturally in all societies over the world.

Performing prescribed duties will earn a person much pious credit, but it will also continue to bind him to the material world. So Karma can be “sakarma” (done in anticipation of enjoying its fruits) or “nishkarma” (detached from the results). In both cases a person is attached to performing the activity. However, when a person performs activities only for the pleasure of the Lord, he has reached the stage of Bhakti. For instance Sadhna (japa, arati, kirtan) are activities performed with no material motives, simply to glorify or remember the Lord. Thus Karma yoga can be used to elevate one self to the position of Bhakti yoga by first performing prescribed activities, then renouncing the fruits of the activities to Krishna and finally by renouncing the activity in itself to Krishna.

What is Bhakti yoga?
The path of devotion is described as the most confidential path back to Godhead. It is described as the “elevator” approach to Krishna as opposed to all the other “staircase” paths. The essence of the Bhakti yoga is summarized by Sri Krishna in Chapter 9, Verse 34, as follows: “Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, become My devotee, offer obeisances to Me and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.”

This verse, often considered to be the summary verse of the entire BG, contains the essence of the existence of a spirit soul. In the material world, trapped in the illusory sense of identifying with the body and its extensions, a spirit soul remains forever bewildered by the duality of existence. However by simply surrendering to Krishna, understanding Him to be the original, primeval cause of all causes and thus worshipping Him without any desires of material benefit, one can easily go back to Him.

Bhakti yoga does not mean inactivity. Indeed a bhakta is most active, for he sees all his activities now in relation to the Supreme. But he is detached from the activity and the fruits of the activity, neither happy in success nor distressed in failure, understanding that all this is ultimately for Krishna and coming from Him only.

What is Jnana yoga?
In the Jnana section Krishna elaborates about the five factors of existence: Isavara (God), Jivatma (Soul), Kala (Time), Karma (actions) and Prakriti (Nature). He explains that while Kala, Prakriti, Jiva and Isavara are eternal, Karama is not. As long as one is involved in fruitive activities, the cycle of Karma, performed in one of the three modes of material Nature (goodness, passion, ignorance) is binding. For every action, good or bad, there is a reaction. This cycle can only be broken by performing devotional service, since that does not have any reactions, good or bad. In this stage the person transcends the material plane of existence and enters into the spiritual realm.

When Krishna explains the path of spiritual advancement by knowledge, Arjuna gets confused between the Karma (action) and Jnana (inaction). Krishna explains that one must strive for activities performed in knowledge of Him, which will ultimately lead to Bhakti. Philosophy without faith is speculation, and faith without philosophy is rituals. The two must complement each other. Thus, Krishna once again stresses that the ultimate goal of all transcendentalists is Him. They may reach Him directly by Bhakti or first reach Bhakti through Karma or Jnana.

Why has Krishna given alternatives?
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 some thing for every one 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 every one 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.

We hope that these points address your interests and motivate you to read the Bhagavad Gita As It Is.


Note: Special thanks to Jaya Tirtha Caran prabhu from NZ for allowing us to use some of the content from his site to compile these pages.