The Gita’s Premise

God is the Gita’s premise. Its message is that life’s purpose is to attain enlightenment and eternal bliss by 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, of knowledge, of what is knowable, of the universal and human cycles of birth, life, and death and He speaks the 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 develops around the concept of a universal God who can be envisioned, though not understood on a human level, and around the idea that life’s purpose is to attain unity with God. This precept is implicit as are other fundamental beliefs like reincarnation.

When the Gita makes explicit references to such ideas that are a familiar part of Hinduism, it does so for emphasis or analogy rather than for evaluation. It reiterates them and alludes to them in different contexts, but the beliefs themselves are treated as givens, not as theories. They are considered beyond question, though not beyond interpretation:

 

She who always worships God faithfully
Crosses past the world
And becomes a part of God

(Gita 14:26)

 

This excerpt is taken from The Gita, by Irina Gajar. To learn more about the book, visit http://irinaspage.com/philosophy/the-gita-sacred/

Knowledge

In Chapter 7 of the Gita, Lord Krishna speaks of knowing God. It is hard to put the meaning of knowing God or knowing anything for that matter into words. But without a doubt, there are some things we know or at least we feel like we know.

I wonder what the difference is between thinking or feeling we know and actually knowing. I suppose the distinction only makes a difference when we speak of matters which others take seriously. To opine or feel or believe that we love someone is no different from loving someone. However, when it comes to science, or politics or faith, knowledge that does not conform to what others have confirmed or what our society may lead to dangerous action.

To know is not the same as to understand or to believe. Understanding and belief often lead to knowledge, but they are not knowledge itself.

Read more from The Gita at http://irinaspage.com/philosophy/the-gita-sacred/

Notions of God

In Chapter 8 of The Gita, Lord Krishna gives us a descriptive view of God’s characteristics. Even assuming we believe in a supreme divine force, this view stretches the limits of our intellect and

imagination. Lord Krishna Himself acknowledges that Brahma, the spirit of God, exists beyond what our mind understands. But He encourages our efforts to grasp what we cannot grasp because, He tells us, God can be reached by the wise.

Brahma exists beyond ignorance and shines like the sun. Brahma is Time. He endures for thousands of ages consisting of thousands of days and thousands of nights. Brahma Is permanent and indestructible. He is beyond the world. Brahma is the origin of everything and He is the resting place of those who are liberated from the cycle of birth and death.

Regardless of whether or not we believe or hope to believe, the possibility of Brahma can fill a huge void in our spirit. If we carry a spark of divinity within ourselves, we have a place and a role in the universe.

See On Hinduism, A New Translation of Hindu Sacred Scripture, by Irina Gajjar.

Ahimsa

Ahimsa, or nonviolence, is a Hindu principle that means we should live in harmony with the universe. We should be considerate of all creatures and all natural forces and live in balance with them. We should be compassionate. We should exercise self-control and not go into frenzy to satisfy our desires, treading on the toes of those who stand in our way. We should be at peace within ourselves and with the world. We should not needlessly hurt others in any way. However, we should do what our duty demands.

While Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism all endorse the doctrine of Ashimsa, they consider it differently. Buddhism bans killing along with stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, and intoxication. Jainism opposes all killing categorically. Hindu tenets are not so specific. They go to motive. Hinduism des not oppose killing. Rather, it opposes senseless killing. The distinction is difficult ti put into words. The effects of an act depends on the thoughts that engendered it. The doer of the act must decide whether an act is hurtful or not and whether it is necessary or not. It is the quality of the actor’s nature that determines if her or she makes the right and good decision and that sets karma in motion, for better or for worse. While a wise person performs acts that are in keeping with universal harmony, an anger driven fool is likely to commit acts of unwarranted violence.

Violence and destruction is not always harmful. Burning fields to improve their fertility is a good thing. It is different from starting a wildfire that will burn and destroy forests. The Gita speaks of a moral war, explaining that the soul cannot be killed and that the body does not matter at all. The Mhabharata and the Gita illustrate rather than explain what constitutes a moral war. Lord Krishna speaks on the “Battlefield of Dharma.” The noble hero, Arjun, does not want to slay his enemy. He does not want a kingdom, or victory, or pleasures. He would rather his enemy kill him and kill them. Lord Krishna convinces Arjun to fight, leaving the outcome of the war in God’s hands:

Do not care if your fighting brings pleasure or pain,

Victory or defeat.

Just do your duty.

In this way you will be free.

(Gita 2:38)

 

Read more from On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar

God, King of the Universe  

 

The notion of God as the King of the Universe feels odd to me because it humanizes a force that I view see as way beyond humankind. Still, personification of the Lord occurs throughout most major religions. Imagining God as our King reflects our human need to envision divinity in our image and to empower it as our ruler.  

In the Gita, Lord Krishna tells us He has many forms including prayers, fire, sweets, eternity, perpetuity, destruction and the heat in the sun. Yet, further to God’s absoluteness, endlessness and everythingness, He specifically tells us that He is our King:  

I am the king of the Universe. 

I am its Father and Mother and Grandfather. 

I am making things and taking things  apart. 

I am being born and dying 

and I am living forever. 

                         —  The Gita, Chapter 9, Verses 17 and 18  

 

These passages give believers freedom to shape their belief in any respectful way they can.  

See The Gita, A New Translation of Hindu Sacred Scripture by Irina Gajjar. 

 

The Universe in God

Then Arjun saw in God the whole universe.

Then Arjun, full of wonder,

with his hairs standing on end’

bowed down to the Lord and pressing his hands in prayer said:

Oh Lord,

I see all the gods and thousands of beings in

You.

—The Gita, Chapter 11, verses 14, 15

 

Consider the idea of the whole universe, of everything imaginable, contained within the being of its Creator. This vision represents the vastness of all existence that lives in the confines of our imagination, reason, and belief. This is a remarkable perspective.

See Chapter 11 of The Gita, A New Translation of Hindu Sacred Scripture, by Irina Gajjar.

Lord Krishna Shows His Scary Form

 

While Lord Krishna continues -in Chapter 11 of The Gita– to overwhelm us with His all encompassing splendor, His wonderful form becomes terrible. Arjun sees that all space between heaven and earth is filled by God and that all worlds are frightened.

In this scary appearance representing Kala or Time, God demonstrates karma in process. Warriors, already doomed, rush into the Lord’s multiple mouths like moths flying into a blazing fire. The Lord assures Arjun that he will prevail in this Great Mahabharata War.

Arjun begs God to reappear in His calm, gentle four armed form, a form which can be seen, Lord Krishna says, through endless love of Him.

Chapter 11 is one of the most dramatic chapters of the Gita. It illustrates not only the ideas, hopes and fears that human beings entertain about their Creator, but also our more sophisticated understanding of dimensions and of the confluenced integration of universes, time and space.

 

See, The Gita, A New Translation of Hindu Sacred Scripture, by Irina Gajjar

 

 

Vedic Worlds: Naraka

The seven lower worlds described in the Vedas are located in Naraka, the netherworld belonging to demons and souls that have become distanced from goodness and God.

Naraka is the plane of lower consciousness. Its regions are temporary hells of the mind and the universe. They are places where souls may wander for many ages or for just moments. Ancient scriptures accepted the relativity of time and space.

Thus, according to Vedic literature the duration of any soul’s existence in any world depends upon whether the time experienced by a particular soul expands or contracts and upon the time scales that are in play when souls migrate from world to world.

Hinduism believes that the destination of our soul depends upon our nature at the time of our death. Our nature is made up of different combinations of three attributes or qualities called gunas in Sanskrit.

These are sattva which is purity and truth, rajas which is desire driven activity, and tamas which is ignorance and inertia. Our actions and aspirations during our life create the sum of the attributes that make up our aura at death and determine what happens to our soul. Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita describes the essence of the Hindu understanding of reincarnation in just a few short lines:

If when we die,
we are mostly Sattva,
our spirit gets born again in the world of the wise and the pure.
If we are mostly Rajas,
our spirit gets born again on earth.
If we are mostly Tamas,
our spirit gets born in the body of a dumb, ignorant being.

For more on Vedic Worlds, read On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar.

The Gita on Winning

 

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Lord Krishna tells Arjun and all of us in The Gita that fighting is not about winning but about doing your duty. In His words:

 

You are lucky to have a chance to fight in
this war.

For your duty will take you to God.

And if you do not fight,

you will be giving up your duty.

Giving up duty is a sin.

The Gita, Chapter 2, Verses 32, 33 

 

Of course as in many texts, the war and fight is both real and symbolic. It is the struggle between good and evil. Our enlightenment will determine whether or not we are on the side of goodness.

Although we clearly seek to win, the fight matters more than the outcome. God explains:

 

     But if you fight,

     You will either go to heaven or win victory.

     So, Arjun arise.

     Make up your mind to fight.

     Fight and do not worry about how the war turns out.

      Do not care if you win or lose.

The Gita, Chapter 2, Verses 37, 38

 

It is only by focusing on our actions rather than on their results that we fulfill our obligations to ourselves, to mankind and to worlds.

See The Gita, A New Translation of Hindu Sacred Scripture, by Irina Gajjar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lord Krishna Says Fight!

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At the start of the Mahabharata War, Lord Krishna Tells Arjun to go and fight.  At the conclusion of the Gita, Arjun agrees saying, “I will fight.”

The question I raise is when must we fight? Can we or should we pick and choose our battles or wars? Can we abstain?

Lord Krishna’s message suggests that we do not have the luxury of choice. He tells Arjun that it is his duty to fight and that failing to do so would be failing God Himself.

So there we have it. If we are placed in the midst of combat, we must play our role. We cannot sit back, relax and shake the ugliness off our backs. It is our duty to fight to the best of our ability.

While we cannot have faith in the outcome, perhaps we can have faith that our force is for good and will help determine the outcome.

See The Gita, a New Translation of Hindu Sacred Scripture by Irina Gajjar.