BHAGAVAD GITA: A HISTORY
The Mahabharat is history. The Bhagavad Gita is a part of the Mahabharat, therefore it is also history. It is a true event. It is not fiction. The Mahabharat is not a collection of fictional stories like those about birds and animals or made-up incidents to teach some moral. Nor is the Gita a creation of Vyas’s imagination. Whatever has been described in the Gita has ‘ha’ – ‘truly’ ‘ãsa’ – ‘happened’ ‘iti’ – ‘in this way’. Instead of thinking that such an event could never happen, our intellect should be pure and healthy enough to conclude that ‘even this could happen’.
Therefore, Shri Krishna and Arjun are not imaginary characters. Arjun’s weakness or religious instability is not imaginary. Nor are the precepts of Shri Krishna made up. Everything is true, because the Gita is history.
We have thus seen the external grandeur of the Gita, now let us see its inner grandeur.
THE INNER GRANDEUR
Imagine if someone picked up a jasmine flower, but spent all their time counting its petals instead of enjoying its fragrance? What if someone disregarded the sweet honey of a honeycomb, and spent all their time counting its holes? We must make sure this does not happen with the Gita. It is not sufficient just to look at its author, time, place, language, style, etc. We must experience its inner grandeur. This experience has the ability to transform one’s life.
So what is the inner grandeur of the Bhagavad Gita? By tradition, at the end of each adhyay, a small sentence indicating the end of the adhyay is spoken. For example, ‘इति श्रीमद्भगवद्गीतासु उपनिषत्सु ब्रह्मविद्यायां योगशास्त्रे श्रीकृष्णार्जनसंवादे अर्जुनविषादयोगो नाम प्रथमोऽध्यायः॥’ – ‘Iti Shrimadbhagavadgitãsu Upanishatsu Brahmavidyãyãm Yogashãstre ShriKrishnãrjunasamvãde Arjunavishãdayogo nãma prathamodhyãyaha.’ By considering these words we find a direction in which to experience the inner grandeur, the main expounded topic, of the Gita.
The word ‘Upanishatsu’ has given the Bhagavad Gita the status of an Upanishad. Why is the Bhagavad Gita an Upanishad? Because the Upanishads explain, protect and nurture the ultimate principles and lead one to a true life. There is a well-known saying regarding this: ‘सर्वोपनिषदो गावो दोग्घा गोपालनन्दनः। पार्थो वत्सः सुघीर्भोक्ता दुग्घं गीतामृतं महत्॥’ – ‘Sarvopanishado gãvo dogdhã Gopãlanandanaha, Partho vatsaha sudheerbhoktã dugdham Geetãmrutam mahat’ – ‘All the Upanishads are like a cow. Gopãlnandan Shri Krishna is the milker of that cow. Parth (Arjun) is the young calf which on seeing milk flows from the udders of the cow. The nectar-like milk of these Upanishads in the form of a cow is the Bhagavad Gita, which the wise drink’ (Gita Mahatmya).
To speak in the language of ontologists, the Gita has truly ‘elucidated’ the Upanishads. This means to say that it has clarified and supported the secrets of the Upanishads, thus affirming them. The Gita carries out this duty fittingly. The Upanishad itself is mystic. That mystery is brahmavidyã. The Upanishads are the shastra of brahmavidyã. The Bhagavad Gitã clarifies, supports and affirms the secrets of the Upanishads, i.e. brahmavidyã.
Thus, the eternal principles of the Upanishads are perfectly reflected in the Gita.
For this very reason, after saying ‘Upanishatsu’ for the Gita, it is also acclaimed as ‘brahmavidyãyãm’.
The word ‘brahmavidyãyãm’ has so much depth. The Bhagavad Gita is brahmavidyã. To understand the importance of this word we must refer to the Upanishads. The meaning of brahmavidyã has been given in the Upanishads. The words of the mantra are” ‘येनाऽक्षरं पुरुषं वेद सत्यं प्रोवाच तां तत्त्वतो ब्रह्मविद्यायाम्’ ‘Yenã’ksharam Purusham veda satyam provãcha tãm tattvato Brahmavidyãyãm’ – ‘That by which both the divine entities Akshar, i.e. Aksharbrahman, and Purusham, i.e., Purushottam Parabrahman, are known, is called brahmavidyã’ (Mundaka Upanishad: 1/2/13). In the Bhagavad Gita, both the divine entities Aksharbrahman and Parabrahman are constantly spoken of. Furthermore, in the eighth adhyay Arjun becomes curious, ‘किं तद् ब्रह्म’ – ‘Kim tad Brahma’ – ‘What is that Brahman?’ (Gita: 8/1), and commencing the answer with the words ‘अक्षरं ब्रह्म परम्’ – ‘Aksharam Brahma Param’ (Gita: 8/3) Shri Krishna Bhagwan uses a whole adhyay to give a detailed explanation of Aksharbrahman. For this reason, the eighth adhyay is known to all by the name ‘Aksharbrahmayogaha’.
In the same way, the fifteenth adhyay is renowned as ‘Purushottamyogaha’. The reason for this is simply that it contains an explanation of Purushottam Parabrahman as above all kshar (perishable) and Akshar (the Imperishable). Moreover, in sentences like ‘एषा ब्राह्मी स्थितिः पार्थ’ – ‘Eshã brãhmee sthitihi Partha’ (Gita: 2/72), ‘स ब्रह्मयोगमुक्तात्मा सुखमक्षय्यमश्नुते’ – ‘Sa brahmayogamuktãtmã sukhamakshayyamashnute’ (Gita: 5/21), ‘ब्रह्मभूतः प्रसन्नात्मा’ – ‘Brahmabhootaha prasannãtmã’, and others proclaim that brahmavidyã is to make one’s atma similar to Brahman and worship Purushottam.
Therefore, the Gita has been appropriately esteemed with the word ‘Brahmavidyãyãm’. The only difference is that the same wisdom that has been given in the Upanishads, has, in the Gita, been joined beautifully with the manifest form of Paramãtmã. For this very reason, the Bhagavad Gita has been acclaimed with the words ‘Yogashãstre’, showing that it proclaims the necessity of the manifest form of Paramãtmã in the principles of brahmavidyã.
Sadhu Bhadreshdas, Ph. D., D.Litt.
Translated by: Sadhu Paramvivekdas