Bhagavad-Gita in the Life of Krishna: Introduction

This article is part 1 of 14 in the series Bhagavad-Gita in the Life of Krishna

For many of us, Krishna is the epitome of sanatana dharma. His every thought, word, and action embodies the spirit of Hinduism. It is no surprise that his wartime counsel to Arjuna is revered as the greatest summary of Hindu thought. We can never be sure if Krishna spoke the exact words of the Bhagavad-Gita as we know it today, but it seems likely that at least the core message of the text was spoken by Krishna. We have all been in situations where a despondent friend has asked us for advice. The most natural thing to do is to offer words of consolation that are drawn from our own life experiences and insights. That is precisely what Krishna seems to have done at the battlefield of Kurukshetra. And if there’s any doubt, it is immediately removed when we see the Gita in light of Krishna’s life.

To get an overall picture of Krishna’s life, we can refer to four primary sources – the Mahabharata, the Harivamsha, the Vishnu Purana, and the Bhagavata Purana. While these texts were composed at different points of time, there is little or no variation with regard to the events and stories in Krishna’s life. Whether Krishna was a historical character or not is beyond the scope of this work but it becomes evident that he was aligned in word and deed.

While the message of the Gita arose from Krishna’s own wisdom, in some sense, he doesn’t lay claim to the wisdom. Even when he says that he initially taught the wisdom to Vivasvat (BG 4.1), the emphasis is not on him but on the timelessness of the message. He values the living tradition, which has an unbroken lineage. There are times when the wisdom seems to be lost (BG 4.2) but it is always revived by a true seeker. Further, he acknowledges the Vedas on several occasions (BG 2.45, 7.8, 8.11, 9.17, 10.22, 13.4, 15.15, etc.)

At the same time, he also speaks about the limitations of adhering too much to the letter of the Vedas. He warns Arjuna about the dangers of becoming a ritualist (see for example, BG 2.42-46).

Among the various deities and their avataras, only Krishna has been called acharya (teacher). Not only is he the Gatacharya, he is also the jagadguru (teacher of the world). The word acharya is instructive. Anyone with basic education can learn up a subject and teach it. That makes him a teacher or a tutor, not an acharya. To become an acharya, one has to live the teaching: “Only a person who has learnt all the scriptures, has a proper understanding of it, and also practices it in his own life can be called an acharya.” (Apastamba Dharmasutra 1.2.6.13).

Theoretical knowledge is not sufficient for a person to become an acharya. He must acquire knowledge (prapti, sangraha), he must understand pedagogy (paddhati, vyavasthapana), and he must practice the message (jivananvaya, anushthana). This is the reason why an acharya’s words can be taken as truth. Their words truly have value.

Krishna is one such acharya and through the course of this article series, we will see how his life and his message seamlessly merge into one another. A caveat we must add here is that we’re assuming that the reader has a working knowledge of the Bhagavad-Gita and has a basic awareness about the life of Krishna.

To be continued...

References

Bhagavata Purana (Gorakhpur: Gita Press)
Critical Edition of the Mahabharata and the Harivamsha (in 5 volumes) edited by V S Sukhthanker et al. (Pune: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1966)
The New Bhagavad-Gita by Koti Sreekrishna and Hari Ravikumar (Mason: W.I.S.E. Words, 2011)

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Author(s)

About:

Dr. Ganesh is a 'shatavadhani' and one of India’s foremost Sanskrit poets and scholars. He writes and lectures extensively on various subjects pertaining to India and Indian cultural heritage. He is a master of the ancient art of avadhana and is credited with reviving the art in Kannada. He is a recipient of the Badarayana-Vyasa Puraskar from the President of India for his contribution to the Sanskrit language.

About:

Hari is a writer, translator, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Vedanta, Carnatic music, education pedagogy design, and literature. He has worked on books like The New Bhagavad-Gita, Your Dharma and Mine, Srishti, and Foggy Fool's Farrago.

Prekshaa Publications

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective...

Yaugandharam

इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...

Vanitakavitotsavah

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

Vaiphalyaphalam

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

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