The Bhagavad Gita
Many Western yogis are familiar with only three stages of Hatha Yoga—the asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing methods), and dhyana (meditation). However, this weekly series explores the philosophy and psychology of the Eastern Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita, or the ‘Bible’ of Yoga. For over 1000 years, yogis have relied on this story’s narrative between the warrior, Arjuna, and Divine-incarnate, Lord Krishna, as a means to attain the most-treasured jewel of Yoga—samadhi or Self-realization.
The Gita is the final story in the world’s largest epic, the Mahabarata. The Bhagavad Gita’s origin is between the fifth and second centuries, B.C.E., following Hindu’s Upanishads and Vedanta philosophical literature. During this period, Indian religious practice was evolving from the Brahmin-focused Vedic sacrificial practices—accessible to only the wealthiest Hindus—to an individual-centered internal focus on what the Gita describes as the “minute part of” the Divine in every sentient being (10).
The Gita begins on a battlefield as the Pandava brothers and the Kaurava brothers, all cousins, prepare for the decisive war intended to restore truth, justice, and righteousness to the world. The blind king, and father of the Kauravas, Dhritarashtra, worries about the future of his kingdom, which his eldest son, Duryodhana, has corrupted through greed and deceit, and the misfortunes he foisted upon the Pandava family.
The scene most symbolic of Duryodhana’s shortcomings occurs in the beginning of the story when he and Arjuna—a Pandava—travel to Krishna’s home to choose whom they want to accompany them on the battlefield—Lord Krishna Himself, or Krishna’s well-equipped army of over 100,000 mighty warriors, as well as storming herds of elephants to carry them into battle. When Duryodhana, the king’s corrupt son, is offered first choice, he quickly claims Lord Krishna’s army, while Arjuna rejoices at having won Krishna as his charioteer for the war. Duryodhana’s decision exposes the warrior’s confidence in the material world, while Arjuna’s faith rests in the glory of the Divine—the only warriors fighting with Arjuna are his three brothers and their sons.
All of the warriors prepare for battle, blowing the conch shell to indicate fighting has commenced. As Arjuna scans the Kauravas’ army, he discovers he must battle against not only his beloved cousins and uncle, the king, but against all of his relatives, as well as the wise teachers and sages whom he has studied under throughout his life. Arjuna is horrified at this realization and moans to Krishna, “My limbs give way, my mouth dries up, trembling seizes upon my body, and my hairs stand up in dread” (I.29).
Arjuna refuses to kill his kin and lifetime companions. Krishna, who guides Arjuna but does not fight with him, is dismayed at the warrior’s weakness and looks down upon Arjuna with disappointment. Overcome by the sickness of fear, Arjuna, whose principal duty is to uphold his family’s honor and reputation, mournfully lists the reasons for his refusal to fight. The first chapter concludes as “Arjuna… let[s] slip his bow and arrows, his mind distraught with grief” (I.47).
Join us next week for Lord Krishna’s response, as the Lord informs Arjuna of the divine purpose for the warrior’s present earthly embodiment.
 Zaehner, R. C., trans. The Bhagavad Gita London: Oxford University Press, 1973.
copyright © Eileen M. Sembrot – All rights reserved.