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.

Are We Really Seeing the Truth?

Many of us want answers to questions of our existence, the reality of God, eternity, the soul, the meaning of truth and other such matters.

On the other hand, most of us know or realize that these answers are not available to our human minds. Still we persist in our quest. I think we do this to a large extent because the exercise is mentally fun. Most of us who pursue such truths intellectually are not really prepared for revelations that evade or defy the limits of our understanding.

Lord Buddha taught that we should not worry about understanding that which is beyond our grasp, but should focus instead on virtuous behavior and our karma. Early Buddhism did not consider God at all, but later Buddhist could not manage without a deity and decided that Lord Buddha embodied God Himself.

See On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar

Goodness

In the view of Hinduism, sinfulness and goodness are mixed in or characters. Our natures contain different proportions of these qualities or tendencies and we should strive to behave in a manner that develops good tendencies and wipes out bad ones. While our goodness is helping others.

It is self-control and worshipping God and having pujas and studying the Vedas and the other holy books.

It is calling out God’s names and glories and suffering for your beliefs. Goodness is being straight and strong in body and mind.

Goodness is realizing God does things through you, that you do not do them by yourself.

Goodness is not wanting, being kind of all and not caring about the pleasures of your body.

Goodness is gentles and being ashamed of your mistakes and not being lazy.

Forgiveness, strength not being mean and not being proud are goodness.

These are signs of someone who is good.

(Gita 16:1,2,3)

This passage shows that goodness is not tied to any particular code of conduct nor does it arise from obeying a particular set of rules. There are no clear cut rules a person can follow to become good. Rather, acting virtuously cultivates goodness and the state of goodness causes a person to act virtuously. Vedic philosophy views goodness as a state of being that can be achieved through self-conditioning. It is  pursuit that lasts for lifetimes.

People who sincerely aspire to goodness attain goodness. Those who wish to become brave, pure, pious, disciplined, worshipful, knowing, tranquil, truthful, kind, gentle, modest, energetic, forgiving, and strong will become these things and will become good.

They will become wise and good decisions. They will perform noble deeds that will benefit the world. They will find themselves on the path to enlightenment and they will find happiness. They will attain salvation. Hinduism offers no shortcuts to salvation. It offers no single principle that people can embrace to be saved if they are not good. In order to be freed, a person must first become good.

 

Excerpt from On Hinduism 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

Dharma

A person who does everything for God’s sake

Is free and becomes a part of God.

Doing your duty for God’s sake

Is the secret.

(Gita 23)

 

Religions create communities that are united by shared philosophy and belief. These communities in turn develop socio-cultural value systems. As the socio-cultural composition of a community evolves, the religion that gave it birth must adapt itself or reinterpret itself to endure. However, it must do so without surrendering any of its basic beliefs or principles. Otherwise the religion becomes diluted and ceased to be itself.

Hinduism has had a long and vigorous life and throughout it has upheld the Vedic value system known as the Eternal Law, or the Sanatana Dharma.

A value may be a principle, an ideal, a standard, or a priority. It is a lodestar that determines what matters to a person, to a family, and to a community. It determines what choices people make, where they direct their efforts, and how they develop and maintain relationships. A value is not a religious belief, but it reflects the ideas that religious beliefs endorse.

The value system of Hinduism seems to have emerged as a full blown system, already part of the society in which it matured. Early Vedic scriptures contain its seeds, seeds that continue to blossom and bear fruit today. From the onset, Vedic literature has explicitly valued family life and the nurturing of children, hospitality, self-esteem, the pursuit of knowledge, the pursuit of prosperity, the pursuit of happiness, respect for elders and teachers, living in harmony with all beings, avoidance of needless violence, and most importantly, fulfillment of duty. Doing one’s duty means following the path of righteousness or living in accordance with the principle of dharma which embraces all other values.

Click here to read more from On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar.

 

The Gayatri Mantra

The Gayatri Mantra, dedicated to the Goddess Gayatri, Mother of Vedas, is one of the most important chants in Hinduism. This mantra expresses the essence of the Vedas. It contains only fourteen syllables, but its compact, complex eloquence is difficult to express in languages other than Sanskrit. It means:

Om
Truth
Earth
Air
Heaven
May the Brilliant Glory
Of the Supreme God
Enlighten Our Minds
Enlighten Our Thoughts
Enlighten Our Meditation

(Rig Veda III.62.10)

Read more about the Gayatri Mantra in 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.