Bhagavad Gita is about each individual, our challenges, our world view and an effort to bring harmony in the society. I have been studying philosophy for the past twenty years and passionate to share with others that has helped me deal with challenges and grow in every aspect of my life.
Q: What are Srutis?
Ans: Sruti in Sanskrit means heard. Vedas are called Srutis as they were not written but realized by Rshis during meditation. Therefore Vedas are considered apaurusheya, meaning not from a human mind. They were then imparted to the disciples by word of mouth. It was passed on to generations through verbalizing, listening, repeating & reflecting. Vedas present the ultimate Truth and therefore considered as eternal. Veda’s are of two parts. The former parts of the Vedas are Karma kanda and the later part of Vedas is the jnana kanda, also called Vedanta or upanishad.
Q: Explain Veda Vyasa’s infinite knowledge.
Ans: Veda Vyasa was a great seer with enormous knowledge. Today’s man has only a fraction of his knowledge. In his lifetime he wrote Mahabharata which as 10,000,000 verses, 100,000 of its extract is called Mahabharata, with minute details, thousands of names, their relationships. positions, personalities, actions, incidences & consequences of those actions. The Bhagavad Gita is called a ithihasa, as it gives us practical guidance on how to attain the Truth and live fulfilled lives. The amazing part is the linkage between the numerous stories that are intertwined with full of morals applicable to anyone at any period of time. He also wrote Brahma Sutra and 18 puranas as Sanskrit verses. He carried out the major task of classification of one huge Veda into four separate vedas as known today, namely Rig, Yajur, Sama, Atharvana vedas for easy reading and understanding of today’s human.
Q: What are ‘Puranas’?
Ans: It is that knowledge that though ancient is ever new and relevant. (bautika-jnana-grantha, pramana-grantha, purana). Puranas are descriptions, explanations of Srutis & Smrtis through stories, dialogues and examples. There are 18 Puranas composed by Veda Vyasa. They also speak of what might be possible (sambhava pramana). some stories appear to be improbable just like certain fictions an eon ago are a known fact today.
Q: Describe the background of Mahabharata war.
Ans: Lord Ganesa is the scribe of Mahabharata. Sage Vaisampayana narrated the entire Mahabharata to Janamejaya, the great grandson of Arjuna.
Mahabharata is an Ithihasa (history) describing many short stories intertwined presenting many morals and messages to seekers. Kuru vamsa had two brothers Dhritarashtra and Pandu. Dhritarashtra was born blind and therefore his brother Pandu was crowned as a king of Hastinapuram. There was an innate craving to be a king by any means in the mind of Dhritarashtra. Dhritarashtra’s 100 children were kauravas and Pandu’s five children were Pandavas. The kauravas not only disliked pandavas but they carried lot of animosity to the extent that they did not hesitate to plan to kill pandavas at every opportunity they could get. Kauravas were mean and evil while pandavas were extremely patient, honest, objective, good hearted and liked by all. Finally their patience decided to fight back which resulted in Mahabharata, also called dharma yudham (war of the good over evil).
Q: Was Mahabharata a family feud?
Ans: It is a story of two brothers, whose children, cousins, with no love for each other and developed animosity to the extent of killing each other. Kauravas were wicked and hostile to Pandavas, who were inherently good, principled and with noble thoughts and actions. The pandavas were striped off their power and kingdom, insulted, dishonored and sent on exile, They were not given their kingdom on return as agreed upon. The pandavas tried their level best to avoid war in the best interest of not only the family but of the nation at large. Finally the war became inevitable to fight for the just against unjust. In this war between the good and the evil, Lord Krishna supported the good.
Though this family feud finally has taken the shape of a war, it really depicts the war between dharma(good) and the evil (adharma), thus applicable to anyone at any time. It is not the fight, war and killing. It is about doing the right thing at all times when we face a conflict.
Q: What is ‘Bhagavad Gita’?
Ans: The word ‘Gita’ literally means song in Sanskrit. There are many Gitas. These are spiritual dialogs between a teacher and a student. Rama Gita, Ramana Gita, Hamsa Gita in Bhagavatam, Guru Gita in Skantha puranam, to name a few. In general the word Gita refers to Bhagavad Gita which is the dialog between Lord Krishna and Arjuna during Kurukshetra war, also called dharma war. This was a war between the good & the evil. This also depicts the war that goes on in individual minds between the good and evil as we face the internal war more often which is addressed here. Thus Bhagavad Gita helps the seeker to gain the attitude to handle the challenges of the world leading to the realization of the Self in the body. The Bhagavad-gita is found in the epic Mahabharata. Since Brahma-vidya is the main theme of the Gita, each of its chapter is called an upanishad. The Bhagavad Gita is likened necklace of 18 sections (chapters) strung with 700 pearls of wisdom(verses).
Q: It is commonly said that Bhagavad gita must be studied under right guidance and in its entirety? Why so?
Ans: Bhagavad gita provides us with the knowledge, attitude, vision and values but has to be studied under right guidance as the words have to be understood clearly in the right context. Out of context meanings will lead to misunderstandings and thereby to incorrect thinking, unintended actions leading to unwanted consequences. Each word has a different meaning at different context. misinterpretation of the words could be dangerous.
Bhagavad Gita shows three paths to the Divine. Gita shows three paths to the Divine called karma yoga (path of Action), Bhakti yoga, (path of Devotion/love) and jnana yoga, (path of knowledge, enquiry).
Lord Ganesa agree to be Sage Vyasa’s scribe on one condition. Lord Ganesa agreed to be Sage Vyasa’s scribe on the condition that he would write continuously without a pause and Veda Vyasa need to keep on providing the information to write, and were he to pause his writing to wait for the information, he would stop writing once & for all. To this Veda Vyasa put a second condition that Ganesha should not continue writing until he has completely understood what is meant in any statement.
Veda Vyasa originally named Mahabharata as ‘Jaya’ meaning victory. It reflects the victory of ‘pandavas’, the ‘good’ over the ‘kauravas’, the evil.
What does not exist in Mahabharata does not exist anywhere
Mahabharata is a wealth of knowledge, the seed (Beeja) of ALL things that is in the universe. Emotions, experiences, personalities and concepts including abstracts to the effect that nothing exists beyond Mahabharata.
Q: Who is an Adhikari, a qualified student to listen and understand Gita?
Ans: All students come with a variety of background, life experiences and attitude. In secular knowledge hard work and memorization might help but for spiritual studies, which are much harder, additional qualities are required from each student. Every student should be humble and respect both his/her teacher and the scriptures with full faith and a surrendering attitude. Student should approach the teacher with nobility, present the problems precisely & objectively trusting fully the guru’s knowledge and the willingness to learn. recognizing the teacher’s enormous calibre, They should have the intention to listen attentively, clarify their doubts without an attitude to challenge the teacher rather ask intelligently with a firm belief to understand and reflect to make one’s life better.
Q: Why is Bhagavad Gita called ‘the Universal Book of Guidance’?
Ans: Bhagavad Gita does not talk about the current, contemporary issues of the world which are often limited by time and space, like women empowerment, girls education, land acquisition or political dominance etc. It talks about the universal issues of life, beyond the borders of nations or any demarcations.
It answers the universal quest for inner peace that everyone on the earth is seeking for. Seekers look for it outside on a variety of objects, situations and relationships. Bhagavad Gita applies to anyone with any background and with any life experience at any time. It is not limited in any sense and therefore is referred to as the Universal Book of Guidance. Bhagavad Gita has been a guidance both globally to, J. Robert Oppenheimer, German American physicist, Aldous Huxley, English writer, Lord Warren Hasting, first governor of British India, and locally to Mahatma Gandhi, Lok Manya Tilak, Sri Aurobindo and many other leaders in India and abroad, when they faced challenges in their lives.
Q: ‘What YOU become depends upon YOU, not on the situation.’ How do you explain this?
Ans: Doing one’s own duty is swadharma but when the same duty is performed with the bigger picture for the common good, it becomes dharma. When a seeker is in conflict with situations of life and mentally weak, the Lord in the form of guru gives spiritual knowledge that strengthens the seeker’s virtues so as to help the seeker regain the inner peace & quietude but the seeker has to approach with humility for that knowledge.
His efforts to learn with an attitude to surrender to the guru is a must. One must be in a position to accept one’s own weaknesses, and approach the Lord asking for help like a drowning man gasping for air. This is total surrendering. The arrogance and ego are utterly counterproductive in the process of surrendering.
Such an attitude makes you what YOU can be, rather than the situations that often pulls you down,
Q: How does Gita help us in today’s life?
Ans: We all face challenges in life and often times we take the guidance from parents, family & friends and use our own life experiences and handle it pretty well but there are some totally unforeseen circumstances when we get lost completely, feel helpless and suffocated. People respond to problems in different ways. We are baffled, alarmed, anxious, agitated as to what to do or what not to do. Many find no means to cope with such situations, face depression, disease and death. I know of a woman who lost both her parents within a year was unable to handle the loss, went into depression and in the next 18 months she passed away leaving behind her husband and two children. When parents, spouse, children and loved ones go through unexpected challenges we get confused, overwhelmed, exhausted, nervous, agitated,and anxious. With the right knowledge from the scriptures, we get the strength to handle the situations with calmness and inner poise, enabling an objectivity in our perception. The first chapter of Gita is called Arjuna-Vishada yoga (The path of Arjuna’s grief).
Q: What is the glory of the Bhagavad Gita.
Ans: Bhagavad gita, a dialogue between a man Arjuna and the Lord krishna, has been translated to more than 100 languages all over the world. People from many background atheist, theist, philosophers, scholars, scientists, rulers and common men have read, debated, questioned, commented, reflected, meditated, chant and sought solace from it for inner peace.
The scripture defines three specific paths to follow thereby catering to all types of people to follow their personality.
The glory cannot be exemplified beyond this incident when Arjuna after the Kurukshetra war, requested Sri Krishna to repeat the Gita advice, to which Krishna responded that the master piece can be produced only once. Gita is a book of life & its problems which cannot be taught.
Every seeker has to individually put one’s own effort, compare to his or her personal experiences and find a solution. This is not a one size fit all or an instant answers to anyone’s problems. So people who look for such answers may be disappointed. One need patience and commitment. It is a slow process with a definite results.
Q: Can an ordinary reader identify with Arjuna?
Ans: Sure, everyone can. Arjuna was a warrior in the battlefield when Lord krishna introduced Gita to him. Arjuna’s experiences are very similar to a common man’s emotions often elated and dejected ( for ex: elated when you pass the exams with high scores and dejected when you don’t land in a job, or admission to further studies or when you do and don’t get promotions), honored & insulted (honored when you do the right thing and insulted when a person with power or authority can do it to you), angry and frustrated, (when you feel you have been cheated, mistreated), confused and astonished.
Since a common man goes through all these emotions and experiences of life, he can understand and relate to what Arjuna is going through. So when Lord Krishna explain the Gita to Arjuna, it is also that Krishna is answering the common man questions of his everyday problems.
Arjuna was surrounded by the people who were selfish, evil and competitive, he was in the midst of stress & tension, torn between the right & wrong thing to do and in a situation of life & death. Every human being goes through such a situation, though not a battlefield but a constant battle is going on in the minds of everyone on a daily basis.
In such a situation Arjuna turned to Lord Krishna, who guided him to restore his inner calmness, to think objectively and to take appropriate action. Similarly, a common man can and should approach the Lord and s/he can gain the ability to deal with situation which is a much better way without letting the situations pull the person down.
Q: What are the different ways in which Bhagavad Gita is looked upon?
Ans: Bhagavad Gita has been looked upon as a religious book, an authoritative source of knowledge, a book of spiritual knowledge, a book of secular knowledge and as a book of guidance & unfoldment.
Gita is worshiped as a religious book. People read it on a daily basis as a spiritual practice. Hindus know that it was the advice given by Sri Krishna to Arjuna at the Mahabharata war front, but they might not know the depthness of it.
Both Adi Sankaracharya and Ramanujacharya have looked upon Bhagavad Gita as their source of authority to authenticate their Advaita Vedanta and Visistadvaita Vedanta schools of thought.
The freedom fighter Lokmanya Tilak wrote a commentary on Gita, as a book of authority, while in the prison, imprisoned by the British and is called ‘Gita Rahasya’ where he establishes that the essence of gita is in acting right. Doing the right thing at all times, righteous way of living, dharmic way of living. Gita teaches the ability to choose to do what is right vs. doing things that gives pleasure.
Vinoba Bhave was another freedom fighter in india, who gave talks on Gita to prison inmates, while in the prison as a book of spiritual knowledge.
In the secular studies, I am not convinced if Gita was used in the right context by German born American scientist Robert Oppenhimer.
Though Robert Oppenheimer has quoted Gita ch 11 verse 32, at the onset of the first Atomic Bomb to the Viswaroopam of Lord Krishna, I am not convinced that the atomic bomb could be equated to Lord Krishna, the mighty power to fight in the war. My thoughts are he justifies his action by quoting Krishna. Krishna supported a dharmic war, but there are no evidence that bomb on Hiroshima & Nagasaki was not dharmic.
If we compare Robert Oppenheimer to Arjuna and he had to do his duty as a physicist, fission, atomic bomb… it was still not dharmic action for the common good.
As a book of guidance and unfoldment, Gandhi has used it during his challenge of freedom of India from the British. Many have never read the original Gita.
Q: Does Bhagavad Gita bring about inner transformation in our life?
This is for your own reflection. You can think about your life, challenges, dreams and both worldly and spiritual goals and write it down as you progress through the study of Gita. Studying Gita is not like studying subjects like Physics, Chemistry,nHistory or Geography. It is a DIY program that one has to study, comprehend and practice on a daily basis to really understand the depth of this knowledge.