The Bhagavad Gita is the most treasured and famous of India’s spiritual texts. Composed of 700 verses, the Bhagavad Gita was written in the third or fourth century BCE as part of the epic text the Mahabharata. The Gita, as it’s commonly called, is a dialogue between Prince Arjuna and Sri Krishna, Arjuna’s charioteer, friend and council. The story opens to the scene of a battlefield just prior to the start of a colossal war with Arjuna asking Krishna for guidance.
Knowing that by engaging in this war family members and friends will be lost on both sides of the battle line, Arjuna is faced with a personal and ethical crisis. The resulting conversation between Arjuna and Krishna develops into a discourse on the nature of the soul, the purpose of one’s life, and the threefold path of yoga.
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One of the main reasons the Gita is so cherished is due to its promotion and discussion of the middle path of yoga. Besides the Gita, many of the sacred texts and teachings of yoga advocate a complete renunciation of the world to lead the life of an ascetic or hermit. In the Gita, Krishna tells us that this is both a difficult and unnecessary practice. Krishna recommends the path of Karma Yoga or selfless service as the superior and quickest path to realizing the Divine. Once one is established in Karma Yoga, then one can proceed with the deeper practice of meditation, instructs Krishna. Towards the end of the Gita, Krishna places great importance on the role of devotion and faith in attaining the unitive state. All of these practices that Krishna gives such high praise to are easily practiced and incorporated into a normal everyday life.
The Gita also heavily incorporates the yogic philosophies of karma, dharma, reincarnation, atman, brahman, maya and moksha within Krishna’s responses to Arjuna’s dilemma. Krishna patiently and eloquently teaches Arjuna how to apply these core philosophies to his life to relieve him from his suffering and to attain liberation and eternal happiness. And through hearing Krishna’s examples and allegories we too learn how to further understand and apply these teachings within our daily lives.
The Bhagavad Gita is a unique scripture in that it is considered both Shruti (divine revelation) and Smriti (ancient stories). The Gita serves as both an ancient story of Krishna leading Arjuna into battle and a spiritual text on the inner struggle for self-mastery and the attainment of happiness through yoga.
Recommended reading: The Bhagavad Gita by Eknath Easwaran