A First Read of the Bhagavad Gita (part 2)

David Rush


I’ve been off in Singapore for most of the last month and, consequently, my read of the Bhagavad Gita went on a bit of a hiatus. This wasn’t intentional - in some ways it was almost ironic, as I was fighting my own war with technology and customer expectations. It isn’t so often that, as an engineer, you get the freedom to “do whatever it takes” to make a system work, but that was the mission I was given for the trip. The irony, lies in how Krishna summarizes all of his lectures thus far through to the fourth chapter as:

Therefore, cut the ignorance-born confusion with regard to the body and Spirit by the sword of Self-knowledge, resort to Karma-yoga, and get up for war...

Or, taking the liberties associated with vernacular expression, “Just do it.”

But I am getting a little ahead of the story, because while I was in Singapore, I also got a lovely version of the Ramayana, by Devdutt Pattanaik, which suggests (in its preface) that the Mahabharata (of which the Bhagavad Gita is a part) is an extension of the psychological and cultural debate started in it. That debate being the tension between how one actualizes one’s self (jivajñana) in the context of society and in the context of our relationship to the One of whom we are a part (atmanjñana). To bring this all back to the Bhagavad Gita, we look back to Krishna’s exhortation:

Considering also your dharma as a warrior, you should not waver like this. Because there is nothing more auspicious for a warrior than a righteous war (2:31)

and his admonishment

If, due to ego, you think: I shall not fight; this resolve of yours is vain. Because your own nature will compel you to fight (18:59)

Arjuna had been moaning about his social obligations, but Krishna makes it clear that in these circumstances it is completely reasonable for Arjuna to cast them aside and fight. If you take this as the basic imperative of the entire discourse, then we can see why Arjuna continues on in spite of Krishna’s assurance: he is still trying to find a way to weasel out of killing his “grandfather, (his) guru, and all other relatives”. Krishna indulges him by detailing all the many ways one might seek and connect with the eternal Self. Ultimately though, it all comes back to Arjuna’s essential nature as a warrior, which will not be denied.

And in finally grasping this, I can begin to see the Bhagavad Gita’s enduring appeal. It is much the same appeal as the book of Job, althoguh the context is entirely different (Arjuna rationalizing his war vs. Job making sense of his misfortune), both are struggling to make their moral framework fit around circumstances which are profoundly uncomfortable. Each book drags out basic teachings, either to cast aside or re-interpret them in a way that fits. I suppose you could say that they are both books of maturity and growth.

And since an awful lot of time has passed (it is now 27 Dec 2014) since I began my look into the Bhagavad Gita, I am going to wrap this blog post up now, without going through the text in so much detail. Besides, I can hardly say that this is my first look at the Bhagavad Gita any more: I also bought Devdutt Pattanaik’s retelling of the Mahabharata, which, in addition to putting the Bhagavad Gita in context, contains an absolutely brilliant paraphrase of the Bhagavad Gita. I plan to visit that text in another blog post.

Hari Om

This document was translated from LATEX by HEVEA.