The Bhagavad – Gita, a powerful text full of questions and answers, takes place upon a battle field. Arjuna, the main character, questions the morals of an army set out to take the kingdom of Dhritarashtra since the rightful crown belongs to Arjuna’s brother, Yudhishthira. Deciding against the course, Arjuna pronounces, “See, O Krishna, these my kinsmen gathered here, eager for fight, my limbs fail me, and my mouth is parched up. I shiver all over, and my hair stands on end. The Bow Gandiva slips from my hand, and my skin burn.” (Swarupananda 17) He then lowers his bow in his indecision. His action brings into question the morality of right and wrong. He must fight against his family, slay his family, for the righteous, yet he feels that slaying a family member to be of the greatest sin. This schism in moral thought evokes the wisdom of Krishna. In the dialogue henceforth, Arjuna becomes wizened to the right path of Krishna reminiscent to the dialogues of western thought (Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle). The Bhagavad – Gita aims to teach the reader the power of yoga in reaching selflessness, the strength of karma and dharma, and the ability of faith to show the true answer.
Yoga, in Hinduism, comes in four forms: bhakti (devotion), jnana (knowledge), karma (action), and dhyana (concentration). These forms are practiced to reach the ultimate path called moksha (liberation). (Foundation) In the Bhagavad – Gita Krishna defines yoga simply as, “being steadfast,” with no concern to success and failure, where, “This evenness of mind (in regard to success and failure) is known as Yoga.” (Swarupananda 58)
Krishna defines each part of yoga as a separate path, but the mastering of one “comes the inclusion of the remaining three,” and that a student must embark on a lifelong journey to attain inner-selfless peace. (Foundation) In the Gita, Krishna describes yoga as a selfless action, as in something that can be learned and mastered. This idea embraces the Western thought of Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics, where one does not embody a virtue till they act with that virtue in a selfless way.
The only way to be selfless is to act without action. The Gita’s form of selfless action, however, has less to do with ethics and more to do with the right path to the divine. Krishna defines that path of one without “rajas” (anger, desire, and selfishness). Arjuna’s unwillingness to kill his family for the path of good goes against the will of the divine, and, in the end, Arjuna picks up his bow to fight for the right path.
Yoga can be defined as the path, where Karma and Dharma can be defined as the action along that path. Arjuna asks Krishna, “But by what impelled does man commit sin, though against his wishes, O Varshneya, constrained as it were, by force?” (Swarupananda 90) He feels that sin is forced upon man, unwillingly, and wonders how to break the cycle of sin. Krishna answers by defining desire as the sin. Dharma, defined as a person’s duty to the divine, is a human’s way of making the world run as it should – a balance of good and evil. (Whittemore) Desire negatively affects Dharma, for a person’s desire often interferes with the will of the divine. Karma is similar to Dharma in the sense that it involves action. Dharma, however, defines what action to take, where Karma takes into account negative and positive action. Selfless acts add to the positive, while selfish actions add to the negative. Karma determines the cycle of birth and death that one will face in the physical world. (Whittemore) Krishna, in the Gita, defines Karma as a force “risen from the Veda.” He states that the Veda’s are “imperishable,” therefore Karma, to, is imperishable. (Swarupananda 80) The only way to break free of the cycle is to practice yoga, to be selfless, and to act upon Dharma, the will of the divine.
The last theme, and one of the most powerful, stems from the idea of faith over proof. Arjuna continually asks Krishna for the ability to see what he means as he gives him the answers. Humans are a race of empirical observers. They touch, feel, see, taste, and hear. Empirical evidence has long been used to deter that which cannot be explained. Krishna tries to explain himself in the Gita as, “…the sapidity in waters… the radiance in the moon and the sun; I am the Om in all the Vedas, sound in Akasha, and manhood in men… the fragrance in the Earth.” (Swarupananda 167-168) Krishna then shows Arjuna his true form, the form of a “Thousand Suns.” Seeing his true form brings Arjuna to the ultimate conclusion to pick up his bow and proceed into battle. Krishna, also, defines the ideals of men into four categories: distressed, seekers of knowledge, seekers of enjoyment, and the wise. Krishna takes the wise above all else, for they are the ones who have lived many lives in the rebirth cycle, and they, solely, take “refuge” in Krishna. (Swarupananda 173) Krishna states the idea of action without action. He defines himself using what people can see, touch, smell, hear, and taste; he forces Arjuna to see as a wise man sees, and to witness the power of the divine. After many rebirths, the wise man does not need proof for they are wizened to the world around them, to the flow of the universe. That flow is fragrance, moving water, radiance, sound, and manhood, and by accepting those as the will of the divine, one can transcend Karma. Arjuna learns this and begins to follow the path of the wise man by going to battle for Krishna.
To conclude, the Bhagavad – Gita brings light to some extensive life questions. What is the path? What is the ethical decision? What is right or wrong? Good and bad? How does one know what path to truly follow? The divine answers those questions through faith, karma, dharma, and yoga, where yoga is the path, dharma and karma is the action, and faith is the ability to be wise.
Introduction – The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita Explained by Paramhansa Yogananda
Foundation, Hindu American. Yoga Beyond Asana: Hindu Thought in Practice. 2014. Internet. 29 03 2015.
Swarupananda, Swami. Sacred Texts – SRIMAD-BHAGAVAD-GITA. 1909. Internet. 29 03 2015.
Whittemore, Jessica. The Hindu Belief System: Dharma, Karma, and Moksha. 2003-2015. Internet. 29 03 2015.