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Vedanta Sandesh

……….…………………………………….The Free Monthly E-zine of Vedanta Mission

Introduction to the Bhagwad Gita :

by H.H. Swami Chinmayananda

No other race in the world ever harnessed, so beautifully, the scintillating possibilities of the drama in literature for the purposes of philosophical exposition, as the ancient Hindus. The Upanishads were recorded in the form of conversation between the teacher and the taught, in the quiet atmosphere of the silent and peaceful Himalayan valleys. In the Gita, however, the highest and best in Hindu philosophy are narrated against a more elaborately detailed dramatic layout, amidst the din and roar of a total war. Krishna gives his message of manly action to Arjuna, amidst the breathing, palpitating reality of the clash and carnage of a battlefield.

There are some commentators who struggle to find an allegorical significance in not only the characters in the Gita but in almost every line of the great Immortal Song. This extra preoccupation to discover some secret meaning in many of the lines has crushed the Gita out of its natural and sweet shape. No doubt, Vyasa, the author of the Mahabharata, was a child of the Vedas, and soaked as he was in the literary style of the Vedic mysticism, he had employed symbolism to a certain extent in his Puranic works. The entire Mahabharata, in the development of its theme, represents a huge literary canvas upon which he had successfully brought out Vedanta, in speaking objective representations.

The Kauravas, hundred in number, represented the innumerable ungodly forces of negative tendencies within man’s bosom and the Pandavas, no doubt, represented the divine impulses in man. A constant Mahabharata war is being waged in everyone of us at all our crucial moments of action; and in all cases the negative forces in each one of us are larger in number and usually mightier in their effectiveness, while the inner divine army is ever lesser in number and comparatively weaker in efficiency. Therefore, every single individual, at the moment of his inward checking up, must necessarily feel the desperation's of an Arjuna.

The story of Mahabharata rings an optimistic note of hope to man that even though the diviner impulses are seemingly less in number, if the same are organised fully and brought under the guidance of the Supreme Lord, Krishna, the Self, then under His guidance, they can be easily ushered into a true and permanent victory over the out-numbering forces of lust and greed. Any careful student of the Gita cannot but be reminded of the famous analogy of the chariot in the Kathopanishad. The Mahabharata was written in an age, when the Vyasa-generation was fully conversant with atleast the famous passages in the Vedas and particularly of the Upanishads. Any young man of that age reading Gita could not but be reminded of the corresponding picture that had been so beautifully painted by the words of Lord Death to Nachiketa.

In that famous analogy of the chariot, the physico-spiritual theory of the Vedantic Sadhana had been most effectively described. The body is chariot, which is pulled forward by the five steeds, the sense organs, each trotting along its path laid down by the sense-objects. The discriminative intellect is the ideal charioteer who holds the lusty steeds in perfect control and, therefore drives the chariot and the Lord of the chariot, the ego, to its destination - the haven of peace. When a student of the Kathopanishad enters the description of the Gita setting, the very picture of Lord Parthasarathy, in the chariot advising Arjuna, speaks to him a greater significance than it would to a raw reader.

The Kauravas, representing the negative tendencies and the sinful motives in a mortal’s bosom, are born as children to the old king, Dhritrashtra, a prince, born blind, wedded to his wife Gandhari, who had voluntarily blinded herself with her own willful bandages on her eyes. The commentators are tempted to see in this a very appropriate significance. Mind is born blind to truth and when it is wedded to an intellect that has assumed blindness, the negative instincts yoked with low motives can only beget a hundred criminalities and sins.

When upon the spiritual field of self-development within, (Dharmakshetra), the lower instincts and the higher ideals array themselves, ready to fight, a true seeker, (the captain of the latter) under the guidance of his divine discriminative intellect, takes himself to a point on the no-man’s land, between the two forces, for the purpose of reviewing the enemy lines, without identifying himself with the good or evil in him. At that moment of his introspective meditation, the egoistic entity happens to be under a morbid desperation and feels generally incapacitated to undertake the great spiritual adventure of fighting his inner war with any hope of victory. This peculiar mental condition of a seeker is beautifully represented in the vivid picture of Arjuna’s dejection in the opening chapter.

In Sanskrit works, it is recognized tradition that the opening stanza should indicate the whole theme of the text. The bulk of the book then discusses, at length, the different views and gives all possible arguments, until in its concluding portion the last stanza generally summarizes the final conclusion of the shastra on the theme indicated in the opening section of the book. In this way. when we consider the Gita, we find that the Song Divine starts with the word ‘Dharma’ and concludes with the term ‘mine’ (Mama); and, therefore, the content of the Gita, we may conclude, is nothing but ‘My Dharma’ (Mama Dharma).

The term Dharma is one of the most intractable terms in Hindu theology. Derived from the root dhar (Dhri) to uphold, sustain or support, the term Dharma denotes that which holds together the different aspects and qualities of an object into a whole. Ordinarily, the term Dharma has been translated as a religious code as righteousness, as a system of morality, as duty, as charity etc., but the original Sanskrit term has an individual personality of its own, which is not captured by any one of its renderings. The best rendering of this term Dharma that I have met so far, is ‘the Law of being’ meaning ‘that which makes a thing or being what it is.’ For example, it is the Dharma of the fire to burn, of the sun to shine, etc. Dharma means, therefore, not merely righteousness or goodness but it indicates the essential nature of anything without which it cannot retain its independent existence. For example, a cold dark sun is impossible, as heat and light are the Dharmas of the sun. Similarly, if we are to live as truly dynamic men in the world, we can only do so by being faithful to our true nature, and the Gita explains to me ‘My Dharma’. In using thus the first person possessive pronoun, this scripture perhaps indicates that the Song Divine, sung through the eighteen chapters, is to be subjectively transcribed and lived by each student and personally experienced in his own life.

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