The Bhagavad Gita: Message Divine
Publisher: Radha Soami Satsang Beas: Beas, India: 2018. ISBN: 978-93-86866-45-5
A fresh translation with commentary on the ancient Bhagavad Gita is now available in the Radha Soami Satsang Beas series “Mysticism in World Religions.” It offers a welcome invitation to read and re-read this classic of spiritual literature. A scripture such as the Bhagavad Gita survives over 2400 years because it speaks to something eternally true in the human condition. In all times and cultures, people have struggled to understand what our purpose is on this earth, how we can resolve difficult choices, and how we can choose the best path to truth, reality, and God realization.
Arjuna, a famous warrior, is the hero of the story. He has fought valiantly and well in past conflicts. But now when he faces his enemies, he recognizes family members, friends, and former teachers among them. He knows well that these very people have behaved badly and betrayed his own family. Nevertheless, he is willing to die himself rather than hurt them. Torn by conflicting values, Arjuna asks his Guru, Krishna, for advice. Krishna urges him to fight, yet Arjuna resists.
Krishna offers many logical arguments about duty, caste obligations, and the illusionary nature of all activities in the world. When none of these convince Arjuna, Krishna takes him into the spiritual planes, shows him his radiant form and just a fragment of the power, majesty, and splendour that is at the heart of the creation.
Interpreters have understood the Gita as a metaphor for the battle that must be fought between the disciple and all the familiar, yet dangerous, aspects of the mind. The battle is to be won by meditation.
3-41-43: Therefore, O Arjuna, controlling first the senses, slay [desire,] this sinful destroyer of wisdom and discrimination.… Thus, knowing Him (the Self), who is superior to the intellect, control the [sensual] self by the Self (soul), and slay, O mighty-armed Arjuna, the enemy in the form of desire, so hard to conquer.
In the Gita, Krishna is a living human being who serves as charioteer and guru to Arjuna. Krishna is also, however, the Lord himself, the divine in human form. Speaking with the voice of the Lord, Krishna says,
7:9-10: I am the pure fragrance in earth and brightness in fire. I am the life in all beings and the austerity in ascetics…. I am the intelligence of the intelligent and the splendour of the splendid.
9:17-18: I am the father, the mother, the sustainer and the grandsire of the universe. I am the knowable, the purifier, the sacred syllable.… I am the goal, the support, the Lord, the witness, the abode, the refuge and the friend. I am the origin and the dissolution, the foundation, the storehouse and the imperishable seed.
In traditional Hindu culture spirituality has often been associated with physical renunciation of the world (leaving home, family and community to live alone in the forest) or with emotional renunciation (hating the world). But the Bhagavad Gita offers a different solution – to enter freely and boldly on to the path of action (where one enters fully into one’s responsibilities) yet surrendering all the results of one’s work. To do that one must leave behind selfishness, ego, and illusions of control. This is only possible if one constantly remembers God.
8:7-8: Therefore, at all times remember Me and fight. With your mind and understanding absorbed in Me, you will surely come to Me. Engaged in the yoga (discipline) of constant repetition, not allowing the mind to wander away to anything else, one who meditates on the supreme resplendent Puruṣa reaches Him, O Arjuna.
Krishna urges Arjuna to exert every effort in the practice of meditation:
5:27-28: Shutting out all external objects, fixing the gaze between the eyebrows, equalizing the outgoing and incoming breaths moving within the nostrils, controlling the senses, mind and intellect, the sage (meditator) who is intent on liberation, being free from desire, fear and anger, is indeed ever liberated.
2:40: In this discipline, no effort is ever lost and no harm is ever done. Even a little practice of this righteous discipline saves one from great fear.
Arjuna is concerned what will become of him if, after he has attempted meditation, he fails to still the mind:
6:37-40: Arjuna said: He who has been unable to control himself, though he has faith, and whose mind has wandered away from meditation, what end, O Kṛṣṇa, does he meet, having failed to attain perfection in meditation? Does he not perish like a dissolving cloud, O Kṛṣṇa, fallen from both [this life and the life Divine]? … The Blessed Lord said: O Arjuna, neither in this life nor hereafter is there destruction for him, for never does anyone who practices good, O beloved, ever come to grief.
Three paths to God are described in detail in the Bhagavad Gita. First, the path of karma yoga, where actions are performed without concern for their results or fruits. Second, gyan yoga or the path of wisdom, where the higher mind is engaged to seek God. And third, bhakti yoga or the path of devotion, which the Gita presents as the highest path. Yet the Gita also tells us that these three can work in harmony. Being a good person and practising discernment and clear thinking help lead one to love for God.
Like any scripture that has survived for millennia, the Bhagavad Gita contains many truths, a wide expanse of human experience, and a broad choice of interpretations. But no matter what you are searching for in the Gita, the focus on the centrality of meditation and devotion is inspiring.
12:8: Fix your mind in Me alone, let your thoughts be absorbed in Me. In Me alone you will live hereafter. Of this there is no doubt.
2:53: When your intellect, which is perplexed by the Vedic texts, stays steady and unshaken in deep meditation, then you will attain the insight of yoga.
The promises that Krishna offers Arjuna still have the power to comfort seekers today.
9:26-27: Whosoever offers Me with devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, that offering of love, of the pure of heart, I accept.
4:11: In whatever way men approach Me, even so do I accept them to My love, for it is My path, O Arjuna, that men follow in all ways.
18:64-66: Listen again to My supreme word, the most secret of all. You are dearly beloved to Me; therefore I will tell you what is good for you. Fix your heart on Me, be devoted to Me, worship Me and bow down to Me. Thus, you shall come to Me. I truly promise you, for you are indeed dear to Me. Abandoning all [considerations of] duties, come to Me alone for shelter. I will release you from all sins; do not grieve.
Perhaps like Arjuna, having spent time in the field of action, and having gotten just a glimpse of the splendour that supports us and calls us home, we can say,
18:73: Destroyed is my delusion and I have gained realization through Your grace, O infallible One (Kṛṣṇa). With my doubts dispelled, I now stand firm. I will act according to Your word.