The teachings of The Bhagavad Gita (hereafter referred to as the Gita) encapsulates completely and concisely everything that we need to know in order to live a happier and content life, and to function in society as loving, caring and contributing human
beings. The Gita is more than a philosophy or a religious teaching, because it elucidates balanced and practical guidelines with which we can deal with any challenging situation in our daily lives, and find ways to resolve it within the confines of universal laws (Dharma). Whether these challenges are with our loved ones, our children, our parents, our community, our bosses, our colleagues, our friends etc. In almost any situation of any conflict, confusion, or conundrum, we can easily tap into the Gita to find timely and appropriate guidance to help us out of any unclear situation.
The Gita not only teaches us practical guidelines to live harmonious and contented lives, but also it educates us on how we as human beings can fit into and relate to the world around us. It distinguishes the differences amongst us as human beings, in terms of human qualities and attributes and across different cultural contexts, the differences between human beings and nature including all of the living creatures on this earth, the differences between the earth and the rest of the universe, the differences between what is seen and what is not, and between human beings and God. In the first six chapters, the Gita illustrates the nature of a human being. In the second six chapters, that is, from chapters seven to twelve, it expounds on the nature of the universe, cosmos and God. In the final six chapters it enlightens us by demonstrating and equating the individual human being as nothing more or nothing less than God himself or herself or even itself.
So how does one teach all of these incredibly complex and stupendously vast topics that have beleaguered human thought and lives throughout time? How does one convey these profound concepts and make these astounding teachings personable, relatable and understandable? And how does one do so in a limited space and within a restrictively short time? It does so by ingeniously weaving the entire complex teaching into a story. The story is extrapolated from the conclusion of the famous epic Mahabharata story, in which two noble and prominent royal families, who are cousins from the same lineage and blood-lines, fail to find a peaceful solution to their long drawn-out generational conflict, and finally find themselves at war.
The Bhagavad Gita story begins when both families, along with their supporters and their armies are fully armored and rambunctiously prepared face each other on the battlefield. Arjuna - a highly acclaimed and accomplished warrior, leading the war on behalf of the Pandava brothers against their ruling and powerful Kaurava cousins, instructs Krishna - the driver of his chariot to head to the middle of the battle field so that he can face and inspect his enemies. Instead of leading the chariot directly opposite to the head of the Kaurava army, Lord Krishna tactfully rides the chariot so that they face the two very important persons in Arjuna’s life. Arjuna looks across the battlefield and comes face to face with his guru Drona - who taught Arjuna everything he knows, and also faces his beloved and adoring guardian and Grand Uncle Bhisma.
Here, across the battlefield, Arjuna is not faced with killing his enemies who are from different cultures, religious or regional background. He is faced with killing people he loves and adores and the very people who made him who he became. He is faced with some of the most important people in his life, people who helped nurture him to become one of the most talented and exhalted human beings: Bhisma - the benevolent protector of the crown, nurtured and raised Arjuna with all the love and kindness just as any great grand-parent would bestow on a grand-child; Drona – Arjuna’s guru who taught him everything and trained Arjuna to be one of the greatest warriors of his time. He looks around the battlefield and he sees his friends who he grew up with, his family members who he respected and loved. Looking across the battlefield Arjuna looks into the eyes of the very people he cherishes and suddenly becomes distraught. How can he fight and kill his loved ones? And even if he does win the war, how can he live without these very people that raised him, that love him, that made him who he is. Arjuna naturally loses heart and chooses to not fight, and laments to Krishna his agonizing dilemma.
I dare say, that it is the worst case scenario that any human being, from any culture, and in any situation past, present and future will ever face. We all have challenges, and problems in life. In many cases, we feel that our problem and our crisis situation is unique like no other. We may feel righteous anger and may seek revenge and justice for whatever justifiable reasons. We may feel we are licensed to kill in the worst case scenario, or that we can rightfully hurt someone through our deed and words. Given the various different scenarios of tragic pain and hurt, there is no worst pain that a human being experiences when he or she loses their own child. In this scenario, it is not about losing someone we love, but it is about being forced in a situation where one has to take a knife, and deliberately kill one’s own child, or one’s own parent.
Upon hearing Arjuna’s tragic dilemma, Lord Krishna, begins his teaching to Arjuna, to help reconcile and resolve almost every conflict that may arise in any situation and in any context and in any period of time. Krishna helps teach Arjuna, and in turn taught me, and indeed entire humanity how to resolve conflicts: conflicts between what we are taught and what we have to do; conflicts of love; conflicts of commitments; conflicts of trust; conflicts of reliance on others and self-reliance; conflicts of building alliances with people who conform to dharma and not aligning with people including loved ones or family who follow adharma; conflicts of expectations; and conflict of the world against me. Lord Krishna teaches not to avoid difficult situations and not to find the easy way out of any difficult and trying situation. He teaches us to follow dharma even though it may be unpopular and unfashionable, in addition to committing oneself to pursuing the truth and fairness in all situations.
Lord Krishna elaborates further on the the various qualities and nature of a human being, the significance of a human birth and the evolution process of the human soul in transmigrating through the various realms in the universe.
He also discusses the functional role of a human being based on the inherent onstitution and that influences their optimum role in relating amiacably to others and in the world. Lord Krishna explains the discerning value of values in what can be construed as appropriate human behavior that can facilitate harmoniously interactions in society. He unfolds the consequence of action and reaction, and how that then influences the cycle of birth and death and the transmigration of a soul through the many births on earth and in other realms.
Most importantly, Lord Krishna teaches us that the sole purpose of a human birth is to gain an understanding that the entire universe and all of the various multitude of forms in us, everywhere in and on earth, and the entire cosmos is nothing but one without anything else following after. Everything in the entire universe is nothing but one all pervasive and all knowing existence that expresses itself in a multitude of varying forms in the entire cosmos. Lord Krishna initially would encourage that doing one’s duty is the appropriate approach to gain punya (good merit) by doing what is to be done, but Arjuna was more interested in knowing what it would take to understand the wisdom that bring the transmigration of the soul to an end. Seeing that Arjuna is interested in the ultimate teaching, Lord Krishna tactfully and brilliantly elaborates to Arjuna the great teaching of the Upanishads that is capsulized in the mahavakya (major phrase) “tat tvam asi” – you are that. In the first six chapters Lord Krishna teaches the “you”(tvam), in the second six chapters from chapter six to twelve, Lord Krishna elucidates on “that“ (tat) and in the final six chapters from the thirteen to the 18th, Lord Krishna equates the “tat” to “tvam”, and proves without a doubt that we are all one and the same.
While it is true that the Gita is replete with contradictions from one chapter to another and may seem to create more confusion if not understood correctly, all contradictions in various chapters are resolved when Krishna provides the context of the teaching. The challenge is to understand the Gita correctly and unfortunately the greatest challenge is that many of the propagators of the Gita seem to demonstrate their short-comings in extracting the priceless, and real nectar of the teaching of the Gita. In my study of the Gita I have found all of what I express above to be the greatest teaching of all time for all time and for all cultures in every region of the world.
Swami Svatmananda will be sharing his knowledge with us throughout the weekend at World Yoga Festival 2017.