Birth of the Gita
To everyone's surprise, in this war for righteousness, in the beginning Arjuna, the great and brave warrior, finds himself suddenly overwhelmed with the feeling of mental depression, grief, and fear when he realizes that he has to fight with his close relatives - brothers, uncles, and Teachers - present as his enemies. Arjuna is greatly disturbed about the outcome of the war; destruction and death that was sure to follow. He thought it 'prudent' to retire to forest rather than kill his own near and dear ones.
It is such a dramatic setting that we get the start to Bhagavad-Gita. The brave warrior Arjuna, with Lord Krishna as his charioteer, is standing between the two arrayed armies ready to start the battle, and then Arjuna lays down his arms to retire at the back of his chariot! Trembling with nervousness and anxiety, unable to lift his mighty bow -Gandiva - he pleads to escape from the consequences of the war. His emotions of love for the near ones, his concepts of duty and Dharma, all appear to be confusing to himself. He is unable to determine the correct approach in this piquant situation of grave urgency and emergency.
Therefore he turns to Sri Krishna, his friend, his teacher, and his all: "How can I kill them? Will it not be proper to give up this whole kingdom, smacking of blood of my own relatives, and retire to forest in peace? O Krishna, I am unable to decide my further plan of action. I surrender myself at your holy feet. O Lord, please guide me through this difficult uncertainty as I am your disciple and you are my Teacher."
Sri Krishna Tells The Gita
Thus, when Arjuna surrenders himself at the feet of the Lord, Sri Krishna says, "O Brave one, why this infatuation at this hour! Why have you given yourself to this unmanliness and cowardice? Do not think that by your high talk of 'renunciation and retiring to forest' people would adore you and call you noble and intelligent. On the contrary, for centuries to come, blame would be put on you for running away from the battle field. Generation after generation, people would laugh at you and make fun of your unmanly flight."
Srimad Bhagavad-Gita, Chapter II, verse 2 and 3:
"In such a crisis, whence comes upon thee, O Arjuna, this dejection, un-Aryan-like, disgraceful, and contrary to the attainment of heaven?"
"Yield not to unmanliness, O son of Kunti! Ill doth it become thee. Cast off this mean faint-heartedness and arise, O scorcher of thine enemies."
On listening to this rebuke, Arjuna steadies himself, and further dialogue between Lord Krishna and Arjuna follows in subsequent chapters. Thus the Gita consists of eighteen - 18 - chapters and a total of 700 verses contained in them. (In fact, Gita consists of a dialogue between our lower self and the Higher Self.)
Arjuna puts many question about the goal in life, aim of human birth, about the nature of Duty and Work, about the Self - Atman - and about the four Yogas viz. Jnana-Yoga, Raja-Yoga, Karma-Yoga, and Bhakti-Yoga.
Chapters II through IX deal with Karma-Yoga - Yoga of selfless action - vis-a-vis Jnana-Yoga. Sri Krishna exhorts Arjuna to fight the war without thinking of the consequences. "Your duty is, and you have right only, to fight; you do not have control over the outcome", says the Lord. The duty of a person as a Karma Yogi is to do the allotted work as worship without expecting any definite fruits thereof. Selfless work done with full heart and perfection is the best way for the worldly person to realize his inner Self. In fact efficiency in work itself is a Yoga!
Those persons should embrace the life of renunciation (monasticism) in whom impressions of the past lives have created such attraction. But other persons who have no such tendency, persons in whom the past impressions of sense enjoyment persist, such aspirants - sadhakas - are not yet fit to take to life of sanyasins. Such persons actually, after some progress on the path of total renunciation -sanyasa, may get entangled in a tamasic inactivity - lazy life of hypocrisy. Such people do more harm than good to the cause of spirituality, religion, and social progress.
For such people, which are in majority at a given point of time, Sri Krishna advocates Nishkam Karma Yoga - Yoga of selfless action - as the ideal path to realize the Truth. Allotted work done without motives, the work done without expecting or thinking about its result, purifies the mind that makes the person gradually fit to see the value of reason and benefit of renouncing the work itself!. Unless all mental desires and tendencies to enjoy sense pleasures are controlled and rooted out, a person does not become fit for final stage of Liberation. Yoga makes the person fit through action, devotion, contemplation, meditation , and discrimination to sharpen his reason, develop intuitive power of acquiring knowledge, and to transcend the mind itself!
Theory of Incarnation
In chapter IV, verse 7 and 8, Sri Krishna says:
"Arjuna, whenever there is decline of righteousness, and unrighteousness is in the ascendant, then I body Myself forth,"
"For the protection of the virtuous, for the destruction of evil-doers, and for establishing Dharma (righteousness) on a firm footing, I am born from age to age."
This concept of Divine Incarnation - Avatar - is at the very root of religiosity prevalent all over India. This hope that the Lord will come to the help and rescue of His devotees, and corrupt and greedy would be punished; that the Truth alone would prevail in the end and not the untruth, has had kept the flame of spirituality burning through the dark ages of foreign aggression and servitude. One should understand that Dharma here means attempting to seek our own higher self. From animal tendencies to Divine plane through human growth, this is the journey. Materialism, excessive involvement in sense enjoyment, and identification of ourselves as body-mind complex means 'unrighteousness is in the ascendant'. This excess involvement in senses means evil, greed, and corruption. Sri Krishna shows us the path: How to rise above these senses and transcend them to realize our higher state of consciousness - Atman.
Gradually the discussion centres around the real nature of man and paths to seek the same. Says Sri Krishna, "O Arjuna, you are not this body, you are not this mind; you are ever pure, unchanging eternal Self, Atman. This Atman is covered with delusion/illusion of ignorance and comes to identify itself as body-mind complex. Therefore, when you say 'you will kill them, or get killed by them, you are actually telling a lie. The Atman is never killed, nor does it kill anybody."
This body is like worn out clothes which the Atman changes as we change our old garments!
ThenSri Krishna goes on elaborating the ways to realize self as Self by undertaking various spiritual disciplines. By proper control of senses, by way of renunciation and discrimination, and by constant practice it is possible to steady and control the mind and realize the higher Reality. The same end can be reached by Yoga of action and Yoga of devotion.
In chapter XI there is a wonderful description of Lord Krishna revealing Himself to Arjuna as "Virat" - all pervading Reality. This Universal or Cosmic Form of Sri Krishna relates to three aspects of 1) shristi - creation, 2) sthiti - maintenance, and 3) vinash - destruction of all the worlds. The terrifying aspect of this Self makes Arjuna shudder with fear, and hence the Lord also reveals His most beautiful form that is full of bliss, beatitude, and serenity.
Chapter XII lays stress on the path of devotion - Bhakti Yoga - and emphasizes qualifications and virtues of a Bhakta.
Thus the Gita is a summary of all knowledge contained in the Vedas and Upanishads. The Gita is translated in many languages including the English. Many learned scholars and spiritually illumined souls have written commentaries on this Universal Gospel of Perennial Philosophy. Depending upon the priority and emphasis, some advocate Jnana-Yoga as the essence of Gita, while majority of the people thinks that the Gita expounds doctrine of Karma Yoga at its best.
In recent times Swami Vivekananda has commented that the Gita exhorts everyone of us to arise, awake, and fight our unmanliness so that we emerge as active and strong Karma Yogis. We become true spiritual seekers to realize our true nature as Atman and thereby do immense good to the world.
In the last chapter XVIII, Sri Krishna asks Arjuna, "Are your doubts cleared? O Arjuna are you freed from the delusory ideas regarding your true nature?"
And the grateful Arjuna, full of bliss with recent realization of the true knowledge declares:
"Yes, my lord. My ignorance has vanished. Destroyed is my delusion, and I have gained my memory through Thy Grace. O steadfast, I am firm; my doubts are gone. Thy will be done."