The Bhagavad Gita’s or the Gita’s core message can be stated in a single sentence. It is this: Overtime and lifetimes, each of us can elevate ourselves to a higher plane until we become one with God. On one hand, this is a simple goal and the Gita tells how we can accomplish it. But on the other, it requires an appreciation of the Hindu view of God, virtue, reincarnation, and karma as well as of how these elements interact. While such appreciation comes naturally to Hindus, it requires others unfamiliar with Hinduism to ponder with an open mind.
The Gita answers questions that human beings have about matters we cannot fathom. Most of us have the same questions but not all of us agree upon the answers that religions and philosophies offer. Yet many of us feel that these answers given by preachers, teachers, scholars, and thinkers touch us and make some sense. Teachings proposed over millennia across the globe have often coincided and resulted in civil societies based on customs, laws, and traditions derived from religious or philosophical principles.
Ancient Hindu writings are classified as “Smriti” and “Sruti.” Myths, legends, and the like that were passed on from person to person are Smriti, or recollections.
Sacred writings that are believed to have come directly from God are Sruti or revelations. The Gita, constructed as a conversation between Lord Krishna and Arjun, is Sruti and contains the essence of Hindu belief. It explains and seeks to persuade all who read or hear its words that life’s purpose is to attain the ultimate ecstasy of merging into God.
Considerable debate exists about the date that the Gita was crystalized and recorded in its present form. Though some allege it dates back to earlier than 5000 B.C.E. [before the common era], it was most plausibly written shortly before 500 B.C.E. By this time Hindu philosophy, thought, and culture were well established on the Indian subcontinent. Ideas regarding matters like the nature of God, of truth, of duty, and of the spirit were generally accepted. For example, most people believed in karma, in reincarnation, and in the existence of multiple planes with differing dimensions of time and space. These ideas or theories are rooted in the Vedas, the rich body of Hindu scriptures that antedate the Bhagavad Gita.
The Gita itself is part of the Mahabharata, the great epic which culminates on the battlefield known as Kurukshetra. God in the form of Lord Krishna is Arjun’s charioteer. He explains why Arjun’s duty is to fight bravely even if it leads to killing or being killed. In the course of eighteen chapters, the Gita persuades Arjun to act vigorously in fulfillment of his duty as a warrior. God explains that Arjun’s karma and the karma of his allies and enemies is determined, that the soul is eternal, and that for these reasons Arjun should put his faith in God and do his best without considering the consequences of his actions.
Lord Krishna concludes with these words:
No one is dearer to Me than a person
who loves Me.
And whoever has heard or read My words
in this conversation with you, Arjun
Whoever has thought about my words
carefully, worships Me with wisdom.
Whoever understands these words
I have just spoken to you, is wise.
Whoever has listened, full of faith to My
will be sure to get goodness and happiness.
Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, verse 70, 71,72
See On Hinduism and The Gita, A New Translation of Hindu Sacred Scripture by Irina N. Gajjar