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Encountering Bhagavad Gita

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August, 2002

All beings at certain station in their life wonder about the nature and meaning of them, and their existence. A suitable explanation to such elements is necessary to lead our day-to-day life. Lacking of an explanation may devoid our life of goals and could lead to despair. However, to arrive at the suitable explanation is not a mechanical process. Science and Religion offer promises of the solution. Science offers exploration of the universe and potential for complete theories regarding the nature and human condition. But Religion claims to possess more immediate solutions. The revelations of holy books, meditation, prayer, and mystical intuitions are all religious claims towards the explanation. Ordinary man is skeptical about various claims, yet he is propelled by an unknown urge to seek. Bhagavad Gita is one of the sources promising the explanation.

Scholars and Gurus point toward Bhagavad Gita as the source to the Hindu way. Modern Hindu leaders such as Vivekananda, Gandhi and Sivananda were said to have turned to Gita for guidance and inspiration. To study and practice its teachings fully would be a long-term process. The aim of this essay is to explore, and reflect upon, "The Yoga of Knowledge" - Chapter-II, which is characterized as a summary of Gita by Swami Prabhupada. The purpose, in particular is to mark the messages that describe the nature of man, his existence and any explanation regarding the meaning of his existence.

In legend, the Supreme Lord-Krishna revealed Bhagavad Gita to humanity through Arjuna. Arjuna was a heroic figure in the epic Mahabharata. Mahabharata was a struggle between two fractions of a royal family for Bharata-India. Arjuna was a member of the fraction that was unfairly cheated and denied the right to rule by the other. Gita was the conversation between Arjuna and avatar of Supreme Lord just before the final battle. Arjuna was in distress in thinking of fighting his gurus, brother, and relatives. He sought guidance from the Supreme Lord. Although a casual reader would often want to identify himself with Arjuna, the commentator-Prabhupada of the edition used warns against it, because Arjuna's relationship with the Supreme was of a higher level; that of a devotee and a friend.

In describing who is a man, Gita distinguishes a soul and a body. A soul is "unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval."(BG, 101) The soul is the consciousness part of the body and it experiences "no change". On the other hand, body has "no endurance" and temporary. Furthermore, as Prabhupada points out only body "takes its birth from the womb of the mothers's body, remains for some time, grows, produces some effects, gradually dwindles, and at last vanishes into oblivion."

The concept of soul as the real being and body as a house holding that being is fundamental to Gita. The goals of human existence, the relationship between human and God, and moral laws of Gita hold the eternal soul-non enduring body as a premise. Gita does not provide any empirical proof for existence of the soul; it only authoritatively establishes its presence.

If a body dies the soul simply takes a birth into another body, thus Krishna requests Arjuna to do his duty and to fight. Krishna says "Those who are wise lament neither for the living or for the dead."(BG, 87) Moreover, he says, "Neither he who thinks the living entity the slayer nor he who thinks it slain is in knowledge, for the self slays not nor is slain". Even, if Arjuna kills his relatives or Gurus for duty he would not have killed the being or the soul. However, if Arjuna was not to fight, Krishna warns of sin, dishonor and mockery that he would earn.

Bhagavad Gita recognizes Supreme soul as the Lord or God. Human soul is the atomic soul. "In the Varaha Purana, the living entities are described as separated parts and parcels of the Supreme. They are eternally so, according to the Bhagavad Gita also", remarks Prabhupada. The essence and various qualities are the same, yet the degree is different.

For Gita human existence is material-bodily existence. Bodily existence is a suffering due to old age, sickness, and death. Thus Bhagavad Gita recognizes the liberation of soul from the cycle of birth and death as the goal of life. How? "By thus engaging in devotional service to the Lord , great sages or devotees free themselves from the results of work in the material world. In this way they become free from the cycle of birth and death and attain the state beyond all miseries (by going back to Godhead)."(BG, 138) According to Gita the atomic soul of the human being can go back to the Supreme soul or to God by devotional service to Lord.

Gita again and again affirms the need to be free from material bondage, free from sense gratification, free from attachment, and mastering of senses in order to be in a position for liberation. Moreover, one must perform his duty without desiring for the fruits or worrying about any consequences. Buddhi yoga, karma yoga, and other yogas are tools to assist man in his journey of liberation.

Various shortcomings await a casual reader of Gita. Bhagavad Gita translated and commented by Gurus is open for multiple interpretations. The degree of understanding by the reader depends on the "preparedness" the reader brings to the scripture. Furthermore, Prabhupada notes that "The nondevotee's approach to the teachings of the Gita is something like that of a bee licking a bottle of honey." He warns that unless the reader is a committed devotee of the Lord Krishna he will not understand the mysticism of the Gita. These shortcomings may have affected the essay.

This essay was never meant to be any authoritative work. It was an amateur attempt to explore ideas presented in Chapter-II of Gita. In short, Bhagavad Gita claims that human being consists of an eternal-atomic-human soul and dispensable body. The material existence does not have much value due to the suffering associated with it. Any value in existence must be found in devotional service to Lord, and in seeking to liberate our selves from the cycle of birth and death. For an individual to position himself for liberation he must be "free from all attachment and aversion and able to control his senses", and be conscious of the Lord all the time.

Bibliography and Acknoledgements

I liberaely used Prabhupada's interpretations as a standard. Most of the quotes are from him. I also concurrently read potions of the other two books which tremendously helped me to understand or categorize Prabhupada's interpretations and/or bias.

Major Sources

A.C.Bhakitvedanta Swami Prabhupada. Bhagavad-Gita As it Is.
Los Angeles: The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1994.

Philip H. Ashby. Modern Trends In Hinduism.
Columbia University Press, 1974.

R.B. Lal. The Gita In The Light OF Modern Science.
Bombay: Somaiya Publications, 1970.

The Encyclopedia of Religion was also used.



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