The Bhagavad Gita: A Yogic State and an Exalted Vision

This article is part 2 of 4 in the series The Singularity of the Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita’s Fame Rests on its Value

Over centuries, commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita have been composed in various languages. However, even today, the devout followers of the work continue to write newer commentaries on it thinking they have found a new insight. Such new commentaries attract their own unique readership which only shows the preeminence of the original work. In recent decades, we can say that the number of saints and speakers who haven’t used the Gita as the subject of their discourses is very few.

It is unnecessary to elaborate on this specialty. The notable element is this—the Bhagavad Gita didn’t attain its singular greatness due to the promotional efforts on the part of any special interest group. It has attained pervasive admiration for its intrinsic, incomparable value and immeasurable loftiness. Its expansive gamut has endowed it with this level of acceptance. Therefore, attempts to restrict it to a sort of an appendix to a particular sect will be futile.

The Bhagavad Gita from start to finish contains pure philosophical concepts. Given this, what should we tell people who labour under the illusion that it is confined to only a certain country or group of people or Jati!

The Bhagavad Gita is an unparalleled manual that transcends all sects and shows the goal of human life as well as the path to achieve it.

Irrespective of the debates over interpolations, the loss to humanity is incalculable if the Bhagavad Gita was not included in the Mahabharata.

Although “Gita” [song] is a common word, the fact that “Gita” has become synonymous with the Bhagavad Gita idiomatically should be enough to estimate its esteem. In our tradition, we have several gītā-s such as gopīgītā, uddhavagītā, avadhūtagītā, aṣṭāvakragītā, and gaṇeśagītā. Despite this, the moniker of gītā has been owned entirely by the Bhagavad Gita.  

The Backdrop of the Gita

The notion that the Bhagavad Gita is the most substantial portion of the Mahabharata has persisted from time immemorial.

The traditional calculation is that the Bhagavad Gita poured forth from the divine voice of Bhagavan Sri Krishna on the Ekadashi of the Shukla Paksha of the Margashira Month.  Because of this, the tradition of celebrating the Gita Jayanti every year on this day has been in vogue for hundreds of years. This day is also known as the Mokshadaa Ekadashi.

The Bhagavad Gita begins with an exploration of the question of “what is Dharma?” It ends with Arjuna humbly beseeching Sri Krishna, “Now my ignorance has been destroyed. I am now ready to follow your orders.” The Bhagavad Gita is a story of this spiritual journey. The fusion or conjunction of the Karma Marga and Bhakti Marga and other related aspects are various stages of this journey of fulfilment.

The symbolism of the Bhagavad Gita discourse occurring in the midst of the Kurukshetra battlefield is crystal clear. The discourse of the Gita has become the ‘sañjīvanī vidyā’ [life-giving knowledge] because Sri Krishna evokes the sense and awareness of duty within an Arjuna who was afflicted with temporary weakness of the mind. The discourse is relevant and necessary for all times. It is for this reason that towering philosophers and thinkers from Adi Shankara to Lokamanya Tilak have greatly adored the Gita. If Tilak held the Karma philosophy as supreme, Vinoba Bhave felt that its philosophy of sthitaprajña [equanimity] was helpful in maintaining order and peace in the world.

Sri Krishna’s tenet that for the proverbial ordinary mortals, performing Karma incessantly was inevitable, doesn’t apply only to war situations; it applies to all worldly situations as well. It is for this reason that the Karma Yoga that the Gita preaches has attained universality.

The battlefield as a setting for the Gita discourse has a reflection of sorts in contemporary times where according to the needs of our own time, Gita commentaries have emerged from the inside of prisons. We can regard even this as a response of the forces of Sattva [goodness, nobility, essence, spirituality] to demonic forces. Indeed, the Acharya of the Gita, Sri Krishna was himself born in prison. Like its reflection, Yogi Aurobindo [Ghosh] had a vision of Sri Krishna in prison. Lokamanya Tilak’s Gitarahasya was conceived when he was jailed. Vinoba Bhave’s Gitapravacana emerged in jail when he was having jovial conversations with his inmates and friends.

Discourse from the Yogic State

Although the language is in simple, idiomatic fashion, it is clear that the Gita transcends the worldly-transactional plane. This multi-storied style is traditionally known as ‘samādhi bhāṣā’ [literally: Language of Ultimate Bliss]. We can cite the Mahabharata to complement this. In the aśvamedhikaparva of the Mahabharata, there is an episode named uttaragītā. After the Kurukshetra war culminates in the victory of the Pandavas, during the course of a conversation, Arjuna asks Sri Krishna: “Bhagavan, you had delivered the Gita discourse to me at the beginning of the war. Amid the various incidents that occurred ever since, I have been struck with forgetfulness. If you please give me the discourse once more, I will be grateful.”

The response of Sri Krishna is as follows: “O Arjuna! The discourse I delivered to you on that occasion was done in a state of Yoga—on the edifice of divine experience. But because there is no such precedent now, even I am struck with forgetfulness. In spite of this, I will try and recall as much as possible and tell you.” This was the germination of  uttaragītā.

The truth that pervades the whole of Gita is that the Krishna who delivered the discourse was not a historical person but was Bhagavan himself. This is why the language of the Gita is ‘samādhi bhāṣā’. Even in this backdrop, the prefix ‘Bhagavat’ to ‘Gita’ apt.

Inspired by an Exalted Vision

There are several distinctive reasons for the Bhagavad Gita occupying a special place in the annals of Vedantic lore over other works. Foremost among them is the fact that unlike most other works, it does not set out to establish a specific sect or axiom or system of philosophy [prasthāna]. It is a work of pure philosophy [Darshana] that soars above and transcends all prasthāna-s. Its foundation and abode encompasses both space and time.

Secondly, it is not a work of mere intellectual inquiry but is an instruction that keeps sādhanā [practice, pursuit, study, contemplation, meditation] as its central point. Thus, anybody willing to elevate themselves in the true sense can find refuge in it. If we take a step further, we can say that even calling the Bhagavad Gita as a work of Vedanta is merely figurative.

Thirdly, most works of sādhanā talk about attaining spiritual elevation or liberation in an otherworldly fashion. However, the Bhagavad Gita does not hold this as the only authority but instead preaches the life-affirming and life-elevating values and practices that all people can and should pursue right from birth. In this manner, the Gita dispels the commonly held notion that Vedanta is an activity focused solely on the otherworldly and the supernatural. The instruction of the Gita is the transcending of the differences that occurred in previous centuries in the path of sādhanā. We find pure spirituality and pure philosophy in the Gita, and nothing else. It is due to these specialties that the Bhagavad Gita has garnered such vast approval and reverence. And it is for the same reasons that the Gita has been regarded as Bharata’s unparalleled contribution to the world, a singular distinction that is still prevalent.

The impression that the Gita is the essence of the Upanishads is still popular. Besides, the fact that the Gita characterizes itself as an Upanishad is not accidental (several lofty passages from the Kathopanishad have been repeated in the Gita).

The Gita also has the prestige of earning commentaries from the Acharyas of all sects and paths.

To be continued

Author(s)

About:

Dr. S R Ramaswamy is a renowned journalist, writer, art critic, environmentalist, and social activist. He has authored over fifty books and thousands of articles. He was a close associate of greats like D. V. Gundappa and Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sharma. He is currently the honorary Editor-in-Chief of Utthana and the Honorary Secretary of the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs.

Translator(s)

About:

Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.