Smriti: The Bhagavad-gita

The Bhagavad-gita, the “Song of God,” is the best-known Hindu scripture in the world. Forming two chapters of the Mahabharata, it is a spiritual treatise spoken by Krishna to Arjuna as they sat on a chariot between two armies poised for battle.

Blind King Dhritarashtra, sitting in his palace, was worried as to how the proposed battle-site, Kurukshetra – even then a place of pilgrimage – might favour the righteous Pandavas standing opposite his own sons. Doubtful and perturbed, he confided in Sanjaya, his secretary. Sanjaya, by mystic vision, saw events unfolding in Kurukshetra and thus narrated to the blind king the entire Bhagavad-gita.

The king was pleased to hear of Arjuna’s perplexity upon seeing friends and relatives on both sides. Arjuna dropped his bow, refused to fight and implored Krishna to become his teacher. Lord Krishna then explained how Arjuna’s affection for his kinsmen was based on the bodily concept of life. Under this illusion, Arjuna considered the body to be the self and those connected with his body to be his kinsmen.

In the first six chapters, Krishna explains how the real self (atrnan) is different from the body and can be elevated to self-realisation through different types of yoga, culminating in bhakti (devotion). The middle six chapters discuss the Supreme Lord, his service and his devotees. In the third six chapters, Krishna explains about the soul’s entanglement within the three gunas, and how it can be liberated.

Upon hearing these instructions, Arjuna again took up his bow, determined to fight. In the final verse of the Gita, Sanjaya plunges Dhritarashtra back into despair, informing him that his sons, fighting opposite Krishna and Arjuna, had no chance of victory. The whole Gita is completed in 700 verses.There are now thousands of editions, translated into all major languages and usually published with extensive commentary on the text.

Meaning and Purpose

  • The purpose of life and how to achieve it
  • Why do we suffer?

Scriptural Passages

“Now I am confused about my duty and have lost all composure because of miserly weakness. In this condition I am asking You to tell me for certain what is best for me. Now I am Your disciple, and a soul surrendered unto You. Please instruct me.” (2.8)

“Arjuna said: ‘My dear Krishna, 0 infallible one, my illusion is now gone. I have regained my memory by Your mercy. I am now firm and free from doubt and am prepared to act according to Your instructions.'” (18.72)

[Sanjaya concludes] “Wherever there is Krishna, the master of all mystics, and wherever there is Arjuna, the supreme archer, there will also certainly be opulence, victory, extraordinary power, and morality That is my opinion.” (18.78)

Related Values and Issues

  • How to cope with dilemmas, such as Arjuna’s

Personal Reflection

  • Are there any other stories of soldiers who found friends and relatives on the opposite side? We very often de-humanise “the enemy”. Why?
  • What experiences do we have of the benefits and disadvantages of considering our material relatives as somehow special?

Related Concepts

The Bhagavad-gita discusses all the major concepts explored in the Concepts section of this site.