Arjun’s journey from doubt to faith symbolizes mankind’s journey. The journey is premised on a belief in a principle greater than ourselves and on a belief that we can ultimately transcend our human limits. Meanwhile, as we travel on the road to enlightenment, we can improve our human condition. But the journey must begin with the idea or hope that the end will have meaning.
God is The Gita’s premise. Its message is that life’s purpose is to attain enlightenment and eternal bliss merging into God. This message is a familiar one. However, its new and concise formulation coalesced Hindu thought and its fresh expression has guided Hindu behavior into the twenty-first century. In the revelation that is the Gita, God delivers His word with beauty and simplicity. This scripture contains eighteen chapters and seven hundred verses upon which uncounted commentaries have been written and continue to be written.
In the course of responding to Arjun, God as Lord Krishna unclouds Arjun’s vision, opens his mind and touches his heart. He speaks of His own nature and power, of human nature and human duty, or worlds, knowledge, of what is knowable, of the universal and human cycles of birth, life, and death and He speaks truth. Questions related to these matters intersect and overlap and they give rise to further questions and answers. In the end, the Gita paints an integrated picture of our human role in the vast scheme of things that is beyond us but not beyond our wonder.
The Gita is structured as a dialog between God and Arjun. The first chapter describes Arjun on the battlefield facing his enemies. Earlier, both he and his opponents called upon Lord Krishna for help. Krishna offers his entire army to one side and Himself as charioteer to the other. Arjun chooses Lord Krishna.
But even with God by his side, Arjun feels dejected and filled with doubt. His mind starts spinning. He sees his wise old uncle, his teacher, and his cousins facing him and he cannot make himself fight:
How, Krishna, can I fight Bhishma and Drona with arrows on the battlefield? I respect them. It is better to live as a beggar, but without killing, Because after killing them Our hands will be stained with their red blood.
Lord Krishna’s response is the Gita. After hearing God’s word, after receiving God’s answers to his many questions, and after seeing God’s powers, Arjun is both humbled and strengthened. He no longer doubts or fears. He finds faith and courage. He stands ready to fulfill his duty as a warrior and to fight for his honor:
Lord Krishna, Because of your mercy I know the Truth. I will be firm and do what you wish.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Pittsburg, those whose lives were senselessly taken by hate, and for the loved ones they leave behind. Now more than ever, we need to remember that love is stronger than hate.
The crown jewels of Hindu mythology are its two grand epics, Ramayana and the Mahabharata. These reflect Vishnu’s incarnations as Rama and Krishna. Both epics are literary masterpieces containing a wealth of history, legend, philosophy, and ideology. They are post Vedic works considered smiriti or recollection rather than sruti or revelation.
The Ramayana was composed by Valmiki, a bandit turned saint and poet. Lord Brahma inspired him to write the Ramayana, a dramatic poem consisting of seven books divided into five hundred stanzas and 24,000 verses. It is believed to have been recorded about 500 BCE or earlier. The story is an intricate one with a large cast of characters including gods, demons, humans, super humans, animals, and birds who personify good, evil, or both. The well-developed characters act out their karma with elegance and might. The master plot containing intricate subplots takes many twists and turns and contains many diversions designed to keep its listeners riveted to every adventure and full anticipation up to the very end.
Some of us take our beliefs, feelings or doubts about matters like life, death, and the existence of a supreme being more deeply to heart than others.
Some of us worry about small and big things that may or may not be within our power to control while others are more carefree.
Some of us fret over the future of our planet, our people, our nations, our politics, and our faith while others just do our best with without much preoccupation.
It is hard to say that one attitude is better than another. If our concerns make us do better or become better, that is good. But if we believe that we cannot assume responsibility for things we are unable to change and remain more laid back about the fate of humanity, that is fine too. Either way, as long as we strive to be as kind and effective as we can and as long as we can be happy and have fun, we will be fine.
As we enter the fall in the northern hemisphere, many of us struggle with casting off the blahs. Summer ends, vacations are done with and it is time to muster up our energy. Of course, the blahs come and go for many of us at different times, but as fall approaches we get increasingly sluggish.
While sloth is a sin and many teachings and preachings tell us to act with vigor, the blahs are not laziness. They are a response to a changing environment. They help us prepare for colder darker days ahead.
I like the coziness of autumn and winter. It is nice to get away from endless sunlight and heat. It is nice to huddle a bit and settle indoors. It is good to find quieter joys and to eat warmer food. I welcome the blahs.
Chapter 13 of the Gita explores the relationship between the body and the spirit. The Lord explains that the body is called the field and that the spirit is the knower of the field. Our spirit is the glow of God. It is the spark of creation that exists beyond our physical, emotional or intellectual being.
In this chapter Lord Krishna discusses the role of knowledge in human existence. He describes knowledge, the opposite of ignorance, as many good things and particularly as awareness of God.
The ultimate purpose of knowledge is for us to reach the state of enlightenment which enables us to become one with God.
To some extent, our lives are determined by the choices we make. But to what extent are our choices real? This question underlies most human dilemmas.
Arjun’s doubt about whether it would be better to be killed than to fight and kill his enemies is the focus of The Gita which synthesizes Hindu philosophy. Here, God explains why Arjun must fight and He shows us that Arjun really does not have a choice.
Yet, human decisions though tethered are not fully predetermined. They depend upon our nature, our capacity to judge, our circumstances, our mood and upon the choices we made in the past. At the same time, our current actions and inactions affect our future as well as the futures of all who are touched by what we do or do not do. Thus, as much as our choices arise from our karma, they create it.
Fortunately, we are not always aware of the many big and little choices we make throughout our days. If we were fully aware of them, we would probably go crazy. Still, though fettered or made in haste, our decisions matter. So, we must do the best we can, heeding our consciences and the advice of those we respect.
See Chapter Six, Karma and Reincarnation in On Hinduism, by Irina Gajjar.
In Hindu philosophy, goodness, truth, and God are one. God is absolute goodness and eternal truth. The Absolute Soul that is God illuminates the soul of all beings. However, human goodness is a material human trait.
The human traits of goodness and evil both pertain to the body, not to the spirit. In Hindu thought, the mind is part of the body. It is the energy that powers out intellect, our judgment, and our ego, but it is temporal and it is shed when the soul is released from the bondage of repeated reincarnations.
The body and mind are matter whereas the soul is spirit. A particular life comes into being when the spirit and the body join together and it ends when the soul and the body separate at death.