Before examining the Bhagavad-Gita I believe it is necessary to have a general understand of the fundamental teaching of Hinduism. I have some knowledge of Hinduism from friends, but really have no understanding of what it really means to be Hindu. The comment that a Hindu friend of mind made to me once about Hindu is that it is not really as much of a religion as much it is a way of life and respect for it. I know that Hindi worship many different gods and revere some animals as sacred, but I have never really understood the fundamental of this religion. I am grateful that this assignment has given me the opportunity and motivation to examine the Hindu religion and one of it great literary works.
The first thing to realize about Hinduism is that it is not strictly a region. It is based on the practices of Dharma, the code of life. Dharma name means “universal religion.” Unlike other religions Hindu did not originate from a single source, such as a person or book. It did not start at a discernible point in time either. Hinduism is an ancient religion that was inspired by the ancient rishis and the principles where discovered through their meditations. The oldest writings are about 4000 years old. Below is a statement that captures the foundation of Hinduism.
“Hindu religious thought is based upon the belief in the Ultimate Reality, faith in the reality of the spirit, and faith in the spiritual order or the world.” (The Hindu religious tradition -Stachidananda)
I can now turn my attention to the Bhagavad Gita, with at least a general concept to forge my understanding. The Bhagavad Gita is widely known and renowned work of India’s spiritual wisdom. The Gita has seven hundred concise verses that are a definitive guide to the science of self realization within the universe and the Braham-Atman. The story of Bhagavad begins with Krishna driving Arjuna’s chariot into the middle of a battlefield. The battle was between Duryodhana (Pandavas) and Arjuna (Kauaravas) for the right to rule the country. The Gita if full of symbolism; everything represents or stands for something. The battle represents the struggle between good and evil. This would relate to the inner struggle that we all have within ourselves of our good and bad character traits.
The first chapter of the Gita deals with the despondency of Arjuna. When Arjuna starts make war, he becomes overwhelmed with emotional attachments to the people he is battling. These people were once his friends, family and teachers. How could he destroy them? He stops in the middle of the battles and then battles within self not to fight these people. He tries to talk himself out of the situation. The lesson learned in the first chapter is that sometimes we lose sight of the truth when we have emotional attachments to a situation.
In the next few chapters of the Gita, Arjuna starts down a path of self awareness, a key fundamental belief of Hinduism. As he battles with in himself as he struggles to find an answer. At this point, he realizes he doesn’t have an answer and turns to Krishna, on of the many forms of God. He learns that sometimes an individual has a higher purpose and we must have the wisdom to acknowledge this and discover it. We must withdraw from our senses and move to an awareness where we control our mind. At that instance we will have complete self awareness and the clarity to move forward with conviction and wisdom.
When continuing to read the Gita it becomes apparent that many daily practices of Hindu’s are derived from it. The Gita served as the foundation for the caste system. There has been much controversy over the caste system, but the original purpose and meaning was beautiful. It was meant to help individual be aware of their inborn temperaments, talents and capacities. Again, the Gita is teaching self awareness.
Another remarkable fact about the Gita is that it gives a person a roadmap to live by. It teaches individuals to give themselves over to and devote their lives to the supreme God, Braham-Atman. The Gita teaches how to surrender to Braham-Atman and how to become enlightened. With enlightenment we escape from karma have rebirth and entrance into Nirvina.
One of my favorite chapters of the Gita is Chapter 17 – Yoga of the Three-fold Faith. This chapter deals with the practical applications of faith. Faith is a strong discipline in Hinduism. Because of faith they worship the Supreme God and many other deities with great devotion. It is in this chapter that one can begin to understand reasoning for Hindu believe of reincarnation. This chapter explains that those who are twice-born are traditionally dedicated to spiritual knowledge. This chapter also elaborates on many rules that Hinduism and other religions use to live by. Examples of these are to be clean and keep you body and sprit clean, be kind and speak kindly to others and gifts should only be given if it is the right thing to do.
After reading the Bhagavad-Gita I am astonished. I can see so many parallels between it and the teaching of Jesus in the New Testament. I can also begin to see how Hinduism is the Universal Religion. The Bhagavad-Gita and the symbolism that is contains either reinforces much of the Hindu religion/philosophy or may have even set the standard. It is hard for me to tell at this point, but it makes me want to study this religion even more.
The Gita is part of a greater Hindu writing call the Upansides, which evolved from an oral tradition that began over 4000 years ago. In the early oral tradition, the Guru (teacher) sat with his followers and recited the verse. The followers then memorized the verse and passed it down through the generations. The verses are written in poetic or lyrical form because poems are committed to memory then prose. Also it is though that the singing of the verse took on a magical quality when used in ritual.
The content of the Gita is amazing and what is even just as amazing is the way it is written. The Gita contains 18 chapters with each having numerous versus. After personally reading the Gita I have been emotionally and intellectually moved. The setting of the story and the even the personal anguish of Arjuna is enough to gain ones interest on the surface. Once the symbolism and the deeper meaning that are represent it truly becomes a lyrical piece of literature. The piece of literature is phenomenal and to think it was written thousands of years ago. This just shows that Humans still struggle with the same issues as one thousands of years ago. We may of advance technological, but intellectually we are still adolescents.
Campbell, Joseph and Eliade, Mircea. The Universal Myths Heros, Gods, Tricksters and Others. New York: Truman Talley Books/Meridian, 1976
Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli and Moore, Charles A. Indian Philosophy. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1973
Stachidananda, Sri Swami. The Living Gita, The Complete Bhagavad Gita 5th Edition. Yogaville, Virginia: Integral Yoga Publications, 2003