What Is the Core Message of the Bhagavad Gita?

 

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

                                                      loves Me.

                                             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

                                                         message

                                                 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

The Principle of Karma

The principle of karma can be illustrated, if not fully understood, by analogy. For example, imagine a shattered window and the presence of many bits of glass on the floor along with a rock some feet away. The action of the rock shattering the glass causes the glass to slow down and stop the stone which we find lying next to the glass, not far away. In this illustration, the workings of cause and effect are obvious and clear. However, karma goes beyond te visible. It pertains to more than just the window, the rock, and the floor. It includes the person who threw the rock, the person who lives in the house with the shattered window, the person who pays for the repairs and so forth Once set into motion, karma becomes a self-perpetuating and self-extending force.

Another example of the workings of karma is the appearance of diabetes in a person who, for many years, has eaten an excess of sweet foods. In a case like this, the diabetes may come as a shock, particularly to someone who is not aware of the causes and characteristics of his disease. Such a person would not recognize that his ailment or condition is the effect of prior behavior. Moreover, diabetes is not only the result of consuming sugar. It can also be a genetic disorder or a lifestyle disorder. Not everyone who gets diabetes becomes overweight and suffers from diabetes and not everyone who gets diabetes has eaten too much sugar or has a family history of diabetes or has failed to exercise. Diabetes has known and unknown causes, but it is the effect of a cluster of causes and as such it illustrates karmic activity.

These analogies show us that multiple causes may give rise to a single effect or to a bundle of related effects or to seemingly disconnected effects. Karma is like a ripple in a pond. It can expand for a wide area and disturb the peacefulness of all the water contained within its circle. As it spreads it dissipates until it gets lost in the waters of the pond.

Karma is force comparable to magnetism or electricity. The laws of magnetism govern the attraction and repulsion of magnetic force and the laws of electricity govern interaction between electrically charged particles. The law of karma governs causality between moving forces. Human beings activate karma at the same time that we are subject to its power. We attract and repel at the same time that we are subject to attraction and repulsion. Our minds create energy at the same time that we are subject to electric force. We make our karma and are subject to its effects. Like other cosmic principles, karma applies to the infinite as well as the infinitesimal universe. It applies to mountains and oceans, to living beings and to the tiniest cell, to planets and to atoms, to thoughts and to deeds.

This excerpt is from On Hinduism. To buy the book visit our Amazon Link.

Behavior Influencing Karma

 

Different Hindus perceive the relationship between God and karma in different ways. Some go as far as to say that karma determines the future and God does not exist or matter at all. Some equate the divine force with karma or believe that God creates karma and hence see no issue regarding interaction between the two.

Yet other individuals and Hindu schools of thought, more conventionally, see God as the dispense of karma, which He possibly tempers with divine mercy. Whatever their particular viewpoint, Hindu philosophers and laymen agree with the viewpoint that good behavior earns merit and improves their karma and that misfortune is the product of prior bad behavior. Even those who do not fully believe in karmic power generally consider the idea of karma a plausible guideline for ethical living.

What are your views on karma? Do you feel your good behavior earns merit and that your misfortune is a product of your prior poor behavior? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Read more from Irina Gajjar at www.irinaspage.com.

Goodness, Kindness, and Religion

 

Most religions equate goodness with godliness. The idea is that belief in some higher force promotes better behavior. Preachers and teachers explain why or how we will ultimately be rewarded by heaven or karma or the Lord if we do things like turning the other cheek, or forgiving, or praying or obeying authorities or helping our neighbors.

Meanwhile, we also have learned that our human behaviors and tendencies are to a large extent genetic. Our genes determine what foods we like, how open we are to religious beliefs and endless eccentricities in addition to our physical characteristics.

No doubt our circumstances mold our characters somewhat and they certainly affect our levels of happiness, our ability to grow and many behaviors, but I wonder about the human trait that I consider the most important: kindness. What makes some of us much kinder than others? Are there kindness genes?

One thing I have seen is that whatever our religious beliefs or feelings may be, they are not related to kindness. Still religious advice is mostly good especially if we take it as something we should practice rather than something we impose upon others.

Read more from Irina Gajjar at www.irinaspage.com.

 

Personal Beliefs

One of the vows in Hindu marriage ceremonies illustrates the importance of freedom of personal belief. Both the bride and the bridegroom encourage one another to develop their personal faith through worship that is free from interference.

The Gita crystallizes Hindu thought but it is too subject to interpretation. It does not require a Hindu to believe anything in particular. Instead, it glorifies goodness and truth and makes references to beliefs that are taken for granted. It addresses human doubts, questions, and fears and inspires physical and spiritual courage. This teaching illustrates the meaning of merging into God, soul, worship, knowledge, good deeds, karma, and reincarnation. It sets forth diverse and sometimes opposing criteria for attaining enlightenment or becoming on with the infinite which, according to Hindu theory, represents ultimate bless.

God is implicit, though debated in Hinduism. He is an idea that cannot be grasped by the human mind, a presumption regarding an absolute, awesome eternal energy worthy of adoration.

God is separate and distinct from the gods of mythology who romp about as did the gods in Greek and Roman myths. God is also separate from His human incarnations. Both in myths and in scripture, Divine Avatars act on behalf of God’s invisible, unfathomable form. Lord Krishna, an Avatar of Lord Vishnu, the Preserver, who is believed to be the source of all other Avatars, explains:

 

I am born from time to time

Whenever the good need my protection.

I am born to destroy the bad and help the good.

(Gita 4:7)

Read more from On Hinduism at http://irinaspage.com/philosophy/on-hinduism/.

Choices

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.

Sanchita Karma

 

The accrual of karma can be likened to the accrual of profit and loss in the accounting f our lives.

Sanchita Karma is the sum total of the unresolved karma accumulated in past lives. This is the karma that we bring from our past existences into our present existence. It determines things like the qualities with which we are born and the families into which we are born as well as the time and place of our birth which establish astrological influences in our lives. Sanchita Karma continues to accrue in our current life since, once we have acted, our present actions become part of our past.

Sanchita Karma, or accumulated karma, is karma that we have not yet burned. Until it is exhausted, it continues to generate more karma and to cause ongoing birth and rebirth. Hindu teachers tell us that we can reduce the effect Sanchita Karma through various methods of self-purification.

We can follow one of the three paths to enlightening: performing good action (which means selfless action), seeking good knowledge (which means true knowledge), or worshipping God faithfully (which means sincere, consistent worship). Or we can attain a higher level of consciousness by practicing yoga and meditation or by faithfully performing sacrificial acts.

Read more from On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar at http://irinaspage.com/philosophy/on-hinduism/

Isn’t It Wonderful

Isn’t it wonderful that with all the destructive power we humans have acquired, we are still here on our planet alive and kicking?

Humankind seems to have a collective survival instinct. We move ahead, risk our own survival to annihilate our opposition and at the brink, we pull back.

Individually and collectively, we make friends and enemies. To some extent, our relationships are based on our need to expand our power, influence, and territory. But that is not always it. Feelings based on similarities and differences in our physical selves and in our ideologies play a part. Then again perhaps karma plays a part giving rise to jealousies and other emotions harbored from earlier existence.

Off and on we decide to progress toward peace, but peace does not truly prevail. It does not seem to be in our nature. However, mercy and kindness and helpfulness battle with aggression, meanness, and animosity so we hang in the there and even thrive. I doubt we will improve, but let’s hope we hang in there.

Read more from Irina Gajjar at www.irinaspage.com.

A Hindu View of Reincarnation

 

Because the Gita and other scriptures consider reincarnation a self-evident doctrine, they do not make arguments to support its truth. This is much the case with most of the doctrines that are a part of scared Vedic literature. However, philosophers and teachers have made many arguments in support of their perspectives or interpretations of both doctrine and scripture. They have taught that reincarnation explains many things.

It explains why some people suffer while others do not or why some children are born with exceptional talent. It accounts for memories and emotions that seem to come out of the blue and it accounts for reports of extraordinary experiences in other dimensions.

It accounts for thousands of near death experiences reported but those who went to other realms and returned to tell what they saw and heard. Rather than rejecting these reports because they go beyond what is strictly possible, Hinduism considers many of them truthful and valuable testimony.

Quote starts with “Because the Gita and other scriptures consider….” and ends with “many of them truthful and valuable testimony.”

See On Hinduism, by Irina Gajjar, Chapter Six, Karma and Reincarnation.

 

Virtue and Vice

One man’s virtue is another man’s vice and vice versa. Virtue is defined in various dictionaries in multiple ways that imply values like morality, goodness and integrity. In Eastern religions merit equates to “punya” which is action that earns good karma.

Antonyms of virtue include words like vice and evil. Evil is also an antonym of merit as are words like demerit and deficiency. The opposite of “punya” is “pap” which means sin. Sin earns bad karma.

Although virtue and vice must be considered in context, the fact that people and schools of thought differ in their views of these values can create problems. Such divergent views are particularly harmful when some seek to impose their personal notions upon others.

We cannot go wrong if we apply our beliefs regarding good and evil to ourselves rather than to judgements about others. This is not to say that we cannot praise those who perform acts that uplift us all or to criticize those whose acts shock our conscience. It is also not to prevent societies from imposing norms upon its citizens. But in terms of personal values and conduct, we should use our conscience to govern ourselves and seek to persuade only those who care about what we think.

Read more from blogs from Irina Gajjar here.