The Gita as Nectarine drink
All over the globe the Hindus celebrate ‘Gita Jayanti’ on the 11th day (Ekadashi) of the bright fortnight (shukla paksha) of the month of Agrahayana (December – January). This month is also referred to as ‘Margashirsha’. Of the twelve months, Sri Krishna says in the Gita that He is Margasirsha. (X.35) It is seen that people generally attribute this day as the “Birthday of the Bhagavad Gita”. Well, can there be a birthday i.e., beginning for Divine Wisdom? As God is eternal (nitya) His knowledge is also ever present (sashwat). One cannot really say that the Song Divine has a birthday.
Actually, Gita Jayanti is the anniversary of the day, nearly 5000 years ago, when Bhagwan Shri Krishna spoke rather ‘sung’ to Arjuna, on the battlefield in Kurukshetra. Sanjaya, the Minister, recited those words for the blind King Dhritarashtra. When writing Mahabharata, this Divine Song was ‘threaded into’ the great epic by ancient Maharishi Veda Vyasji for the benefit of humanity. (vyasena grathitaam puraana muninaa madhye mahaabhaaratam – First verse of Gita Dhyanam)
But it is nowhere to be considered as an ‘interpolation’ as some misguided modern scholars opine. The internal evidence shows that there is homogeneity running all through language, diction and development of the subject ‘Brahma-vidya’ – the knowledge of Brahman, the Supreme. The entire story of Mahabharata, when condensed into philosophy becomes Gita. What the heart is to the human body, the Gita is to this Great Epic, says Swami Chidbhavanandaji in his English Translation of the Gita.
What is Bhagavad Gita? As the great ‘cyclonic monk of India’ Swami Vivekananda has once said in the West, ‘Everything goes to show that this Vedanta philosophy must be very practical; and later on, when we come to the Bhagavad-Gita…..it is the best commentary we have on the Vedanta philosophy — curiously enough the scene is laid on the battlefield, where Krishna teaches this philosophy to Arjuna; and the doctrine which stands out luminously in every page of the Gita is intense activity, but in the midst of it, eternal calmness. This is the secret of work, to attain which is the goal of the Vedanta.’
“Bhagavad Gita” literally means Song of God or rather Song of the Spirit. Since it is a Divine Song, the language of the original lyrics and the religion of the original singer do not have much relevance. For once, it has been ‘sung’ and written down to posterity, the song itself gets life, travelling across oceans and mountains, breaking all barriers of caste, creed and nationality. Such is the influence of a divine song. However, as Bhagwan Shri Krishna, Himself being the original ‘singer’, Bhagavad Gita gets the status of being the holiest and most sacred of all the songs of God. Therefore, What is its power? The lives of the lowly change, the world-disease afflicted gets healed, the morale of the depressed is uplifted. The results are as limitless as the Singer.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “When disappointment stares me in the face and all alone I see not one ray of light, I go back to the Bhagavad-Gita…I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming tragedies and my life has been full of external tragedies. If they have left no visible, no indelible scar on me, I owe it all to the teachings of Bhagavad-Gita.”
The Gita consists literally 18 chapters with 700 verses (shloka). It has been said that all the Upanishads are the cows, the Milker is Krishna, the cowherd boy, Arjuna is the calf, men of purified intellect are its drinkers and milk is the supreme nectar of the Gita.
sarvopanishado gaavo dogdha gopaala nandanah | paartho vatsah sudhir bhoktaa dugdham gitaamritam mahat || (4th verse of Gita Dhyanam)
We have cows of varying sizes and in different colours. But the milk yielded by them is the same. Most of us do not even know how to maintain the cows. Neither are we adept in the laborious art of milking the cows. But to drink milk everyone is eligible. So also Gita is accessible for everyone, while studying the Upanishads is not for common people. However Gita is not just any milk. This milk is nectar that flowed from the Gods. What is in it for the humanity? The magical power to heal the sick, comfort the lonely, guide the lost, uplift the fallen and bring peace to the troubled. The milk is gentle and pure enough for a baby, and at the same time, strong enough for a soldier.
The Gita as palm of hand
Let us see what was the scenario when the Gita was ‘sung’. Arjuna, the third son of Kunti, surveyed the battlefield of Kurukshetra. The armies of Pandavas and Kauravas are standing on the opposite sides. Seeing the vast army, suddenly the great warrior was overcome with despondency and he laid down his arms. He told Krishna that he would not fight. “I do not see any good in slaughtering my own people in battle. O Krishna! I desire neither victory, nor kingdom not even pleasures.” (I.31) Thus begins the Bhagavad Gita.
The teachings of the Gita were indeed applicable on a battlefield as in the end, we see in Mahabharata that Pandavas come out victorious. Can the Gita’s teachings be made applicable to our ‘inner battlefield’ also? Can we get a clear vision of our life, its pitfalls and its progress as a palm of hand? Through the story of Arjuna and the battle, we also derive lessons for our lives from Bhagavan Sri Krishna. The ‘real’ Kurukshetra is not to be sought somewhere outside rather ‘within’ us. Each of us is Arjuna, not knowing what is right and wrong, teared down with temptation, fallen with fear and feeling forsaken due to frustration. Our bodies are our chariots, being driven all too frequently by our senses as the horses. The mind, ego, desires, lust and greed are the evil Kauravas with whom we must do righteous battle, from whom we must not shy away in fear. If we give the reins of our lives to God (as Arjuna made Krishna his divine charioteer), we will surely be victorious.
The Gita as a ‘palm of hand’ clearly shows us not only the destination but also in clearest terms the varying paths to reach there. One is free to select any path that suits well. Or one can even combine one with another. Throughout the Divine Song, Bhagwan Sri Krishna explains how – through devotion (bhakti), through knowledge (jnaana), and through action (karma) – one can reach the ultimate destination of union (yoga) with God. For different temperaments He lays out different paths, all the while reminding us that true, earnest yearning and pure, surrendered love for God are the surest and simplest way to attain one with the Eternal.
You don’t need to be a great scholar or a learned philosopher to understand the lessons of the Gita. Nor does the Gita demands decades of exacting penance to earn God’s favour. Rather, Bhagwan Sri Krishna offers infinite and eternal comfort by His words, “He, who is full of faith and zeal and is the master of the senses attains knowledge. Having attained knowledge one immediately attains supreme peace.” (IV.39)
The Gita as the Guidepost
Is the Gita relevant to the West today is an oft-repeated question. We can unequivocally say that yes, it is to West as it was and has been to the East. Not only for Hindus it is relevant but also for people professing any other religion. It teaches Hindus how to be better Hindus; it also teaches Muslims to be better Muslims, Christians to be better Christians, and Jews to be better Jews. For, if something is really “truth,” it must be universal. Truth is not limited to a religious framework. If it is truth, it must pertain to all. Such is the profound truth of Bhagwan Shri Krishna’s words.
The Bhagavad Gita is verily like Mother Ganga or the Sun; they do not discriminate. Mother Ganga does not bring water to only Hindus’ farms. The sun does not shine only on Christians’ gardens. Similarly, the Gita does not provide light and inspiration to only selected souls.
Aldous Huxley said, “The Gita is one of the clearest and most comprehensive summaries of the perennial Philosophy ever to have been made. Hence its enduring value, not only for Indians, but for all mankind.” Sometimes, it seems that the West actually needs this wisdom even more than people of the East. Why? It is often seen that the West seem to hold even more tenaciously to their agendas, their expectations and their desires. The message in much of the West is “If you work hard, you will succeed, you will become prosperous.” So, people don’t work for the sake of being God’s hands. They work to reap the benefits, and when the benefits don’t come or don’t come quickly enough, they are frustrated.
It is the Karma Yoga of the Gita is the best answer to the problems engulfing the humanity in the West. People everywhere need both the message and the comfort of the Gita. With the ongoing assault of senses leaving indelible scars in the human psyche, the Gita stands as the harbinger of peace and harmony; it comes as the remover of pain; it bestows light dispelling the darkness of ignorance.
The Gita as the Reflector
It is remarkable that how Gita shines as the reflector for a practical spiritual life. What we see in the life of Sri Ramakrishna reiterates this point. The Paramahamsa never cared about the relative merits of religions. Neither did he entered into intricate differences of systems of philosophy. Verily he followed the footsteps of Sri Krishna. The unquenchable thirst for God and undying love for God’s name were the hallmark in Ramakrishna’s life. By his prolonged and intense spiritual practices, Sri Ramakrishna’s unique life that was transformed from an ordinary temple priest to paragon of spiritual values can best be clarified under this Gita Reflector.