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Ancient Wisdom, Modern relevance – Main Topics of Srimad Bhagavad Gita
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Ancient Wisdom, Modern relevance – Main Topics of Srimad Bhagavad Gita

In my previous article, I had concluded stating that if we want our understanding of the Bhagavad Gita to be perfect, one must understand it as Arjuna understood it. We now begin our journey through the vast ocean of knowledge that is the Bhagavad Gita.

There are five basic truths that Bhagavad Gita addresses

They are as below:

1. Īśvara – Supreme Lord, the supreme controller, the supreme soul

2. Jīvas – the living beings that are controlled, spirit souls.

3. Prakṛti – the material nature

4. Kāla – Time

5. Karma – Activity

Can anyone point the odd one out in the above? No? Well, it so happens that the Supreme Lord, the spirit souls, material nature as well as Time are all eternal. Karma, activity, is the only one which is temporary. (Amusing, isn’t it? It takes 4 eternal entities to create something that is temporary!)

Now, let’s see how these topics are addressed.

Srimad Bhagavad Gita establishes the superiority of Īśvara above everything else. And Lord Krishna is established as the Supreme Controller of everything that is there, throughout Gita. Krishna himself declares it in Chapter 10, verse 8:

ahaḿ sarvasya prabhavo
mattaḥ sarvaḿ pravartate
iti matvā bhajante māḿ
budhā bhāva-samanvitāḥ

“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who perfectly know this engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.”

In fact, Arjuna understood this perfectly. And that is the reason why we should try to understand Bhagavad Gita in a submissive mood, as a devotee of Lord Krishna, accepting him as the Supreme God (even if just theoretically), because otherwise the import of his teachings will be lost. We will see this in detail when I start addressing the chapter contents later on.

Next in line come the Jīvas, the living entities or spirit souls. While the subject of Īśvara is dealt in detail only at a later stage, the subject of the spirit soul is dealt with by Krishna in Chapter 02, verses 11 to 31. It is explained in Bhagavad Gita, as well as by the Acharyas, that each of us is a spirit soul (atma), infinitesimal sparks that are qualitatively the same as Īśvara, God. But just as a water droplet from the ocean of water cannot compare to the ocean itself even though being qualitatively same, we cannot compare ourselves to God in any manner. We are subordinate to the Supreme Lord and as such do not have the capabilities attributed to him.

Then we come down to Prakṛti or material nature. Bhagavad Gita clearly establishes that material nature is completely controlled by the Supreme Lord.

In Chapter 09, verse 10, Krishna states this:

mayādhyakṣeṇa prakṛtiḥ
sūyate sa-carācaram
hetunānena kaunteya
jagad viparivartate

“This material nature, which is one of My energies, is working under My direction, O son of Kuntī, producing all moving and nonmoving beings. Under its rule this manifestation is created and annihilated again and again.”

Previously, he also states in Chapter 07, verses 4 and 5:

bhūmir āpo ‘nalo vāyuḥ
khaḿ mano buddhir eva ca
ahańkāra itīyaḿ me
bhinnā prakṛtir aṣṭadhā

“Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego — all together these eight constitute My separated material energies.”

apareyam itas tv anyāḿ
prakṛtiḿ viddhi me parām
jīva-bhūtāḿ mahā-bāho
yayedaḿ dhāryate jagat

“Besides these, O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is another, superior energy of Mine, which comprises the living entities who are exploiting the resources of this material, inferior nature.”

Here, Krishna states that he is the Lord of the material nature and makes a clear distinction between himself and his energy. He also states that the living entities, the Jivas, are part of his superior energy whereas material nature is part of his inferior energy. Now, since the Jivas are part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, they have the tendency of trying to lord over the material nature. The only problem is that they are not the Supreme Lord and hence cannot exercise full control over it.

While we stay on the topic of material nature, I wish to clarify an important point. What we are in, is part of material nature. It is real. But because material nature continually manifests and unmanifests itself under the effect of yet other energy of the Lord, Eternal Time, its manifestation is considered to be temporary. But its manifestation, this world and countless others, is never illusionary or false.

So, that brings us neatly to our next item: Time. Krishna mentions in Chapter 10, verse 30 that kālaḥ kalayatām aham, meaning “of the subduers I am Time”. As energy of the Supreme Lord, Time wears down everything. We see time only in relation to existence and movement in the material nature, whereas it does not have an end or a beginning. Since this is very difficult to understand at the outset, we will deal with this as and when we encounter it during the course of our study.

Last in line is Karma or activity. It is not activity performed just now. It includes everything from time immemorial, and by the laws of which our enjoyment and suffering are determined. Karma is affected by all the eternal entities. Activities arise due to the effect of combinations of 3 mode of Material nature (Goodness (Sattva), Passion (Rajas) and Ignorance (Tamas)), along with the influence of time. Karma, though its effects can stretch across millennia, is still temporary as we do have the ability to change our karma and hence the reactions to our Karma, based on perfection of our knowledge. Chapter 05 of Bhagavad Gita talks about Karma and Karma Yoga in detail and I will present that in due course of time.

(Phew, that was a heavy dose? Well, that is required as a foundation to proceed further. So, I will take a more relaxed pace from now.)

So, the next question anyone should ask is

How does one go about getting this knowledge perfectly?

If you want to learn or earn a degree in physics or nuclear medicine, I think you would pretty much know how to go about it. One has to go through 14 years of schooling, 4 years of college, another 2 years as post grad, and probably a Ph.D, before one can be considered as an expert in that field. Now, it so happens that for learning Spiritual science, there is a process to be followed. One must be humble in searching for the truth, must be able to identify a bonafide Guru, render service to him and inquire from him submissively. If you are wondering “Oi… hold it! That’s all? Are you sure you aren’t making this up?” well, here’s what Krishna says in Chapter 4, verse 34:

tad viddhi praṇipātena
paripraśnena sevayā
upadekṣyanti te jñānaḿ
jñāninas tattva-darśinaḥ

“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.”

There. Satisfied? But note that I never said this is easy, since most of us (including me) fail miserably in the first criteria, which is humility. It is only by the mercy of our teachers that we are somehow dragged in to a higher level of understanding, regardless of whether we are taught modern science or Spiritual science.

(For a detailed description on the process of gaining knowledge in the Vedic methodology, please have a look at the article “Descending Knowledge” which I posted on my blog a while back.)

What made Arjuna lose his composure before the battle? What did he lament about? How does that relate to our current times? These I will address in the next article.

0 05 November, 2009 Bhagavad Gita-as i learned November 5, 2009

About the author

A techie by profession but spiritual by nature. Ambi writes about the ancient wisdom of our Indian culture in a way the modern generation can easily understand. Oh ya, his comments are as interesting as his posts and his posts always trigger healthy debates.

View all articles by Ambi


    1. Ambi

      I am just passing on what I have learned from my teachers.

      I take no credit for anything, other than that I am simply try to present this knowledge unchanged.

      Even if one person develops a sincere interest to take seriously the teachings of Bhagavad Gita, I would consider my effort to have been of some use.

  1. Vaishaki

    Like knife cutting into butter you are taking us into the ocean of knowledge ! brilliant ! As of now , I have no doubt but sure will bug you with questions arising may be out of my inabilty to grasp the knowledge 😀 please bear with me then…

    1. Ambi

      Guess what? We don’t call it the sword of knowledge for nothing!

      Questions are most welcome. I will do my best with whatever limited understanding I have.

  2. Pingback: Ancient Wisdom, Modern relevance – Arjuna’s Dilemma | Ginger Chai

  3. Vijay Kumar

    Numerous explanations… cut-and-paste of textual notes by thousands… unlimited forums and blogs… yet teachings of Bhagavad Gita seemed afar. Why? Why teachings of Bhagavad Gita are beyond capture of normal human beings… commoners… even learned scholars! The answer to this riddle is hidden in Bhagavad Gita itself!

    The sacred contents of Bhagavad Gita can never be understood literally… one needs reading in between the lines! However best one tries… still, the underlying meaning remains a distant dream! It is only by traveling path of absolute truthfulness human beings finally unveiled pearls of wisdom hidden in sacred Bhagavad Gita of Hinduism.

    By establishing absolute control over five senses human beings finally understood gist of life! In present times… the Kali Yuga… metal age… dark age one finds it really difficult to follow path of absolute truthfulness… it is rightly said one may not earn even bread-and-butter for the day by walking path of absolute truthfulness… always and ever!

    What is the remedy? The remedy truly lay in our goal of life! If our goal of life is fixed… if we truly desire reaching God Almighty in present life time… if we have the patience persistence and perseverance… the willpower exhibited by Swami Vivekananda… we definitely can reach ultimate goal of life… stage of enlightenment in present life time (understand Bhagavad Gita in Toto)!

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