Sunday, October 9, 2011

the bhagavad gita

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In Hindu tradition, a young man is initiated into four stages of life called asramas.


The asramas are needed to fulfill one’s dharma and therefore reach moksha, or release


from the cycle of birth and rebirth. The first of these stages is that of studentship.


Studentship offers the young man the knowledge he needs to continue his journey of


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divine discovery. Knowledge is the cornerstone on which all other stages are built. It is


needed to fulfill one’s dharma. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna is trying to help Arjuna


fulfill his dharma, which is to defeat his family members in war. Krishna teaches Arjuna of three paths of activity. The first path is the jnana yoga or the path of knowledge. The second path is karma yoga or the path of action. The third and final path is the bakti yoga or the path of devotion. The path of knowledge is Krishna’s cornerstone from which he builds his argument. In this paper, I intend to show that the path of knowledge is the most important path of all, without it the other paths have no basis.


Krishna’s job in the Bhagavad Gita is to convince Arjuna to fulfill his religious duty and kill his loved ones. This being a most difficult task, Krishna must rely on his supreme understanding of the situation as a whole and relay that understanding to Arjuna. Arjuna sees only the seemingly impossible task at hand, not the true knowledge beyond the task. Krishna tells Arjuna that to conquer this great feat he must rely on the path of action. This path is very important because it holds the actual actions of Arjuna’s duty. But there is much more to action that just the action itself. Krishna knows he must offer more than just the mechanics of actions but also where to find the resolve he needs to perform the action. That is where jnana yoga comes in. To perform an action one needs to know the background and need of the action, especially an action as difficult as this one.


“How can I fight against Bhishma and Drona with arrows when they deserve my worship?” A distraught Arjuna asks his charioteer Krishna. He is in the midst of a great battle between the Pandavas and Kauravas. As he leads his troops to battle he realizes his adversaries are his family members. Being a great warrior he knows his duty is to defeat these men and bring victory to his side. But seeing the faces of his loved ones brings his chariot to halt in middle of the battlegrounds and he seeks advice from his charioteer, Krishna. Arjuna knows what his action is supposed to be, to kill his family members, but he doesn’t know how he can do it. Krishna is there to guide him. Krishna tells him he must fight the good fight! But he doesn’t stop there. He gives him new insight and knowledge into the situation.


Krishna explains first that the body is just a temporary dwelling place for the true self. “As a man discards worn-out clothes to put on new and different ones, so the embodied self discards its worn-out bodies to take on other new ones” Krishna shares with Arjuna the knowledge that body doesn’t equal atman. Atman is just embodied in the body. “The self embodied in the body of every being is indestructible; you have no cause to grieve for all these creatures, Arjuna” Krishna makes the action easier for Arjuna by showing him that he is not really killing his loved ones, just their outer covering. , “It is not born it does not die…it is not killed when the body is killed” This knowledge helps Arjuna separate his family’s souls from the bodies he is required to destroy.


Krishna then recapitulates the knowledge of rebirth in the Upanishads. The Upanishads tells us that rebirth does occur. “If you think of its birth and death as ever-recurring then too, Great Warrior, you have no cause to grieve.” The cycle of birth and rebirth is very important in the Hindu tradition. It is an important Vedic concept shared by Hindus. They believe that the soul never really dies, but is caught in samsara. Samsara is the cycle of birth and rebirth. To find eternal life or release from this cycle, one must reach moksha. Moksha means ‘release’ and allows one to find escape from this cycle. “ Death is certain for anyone born, and birth is certain for the dead; since the cycle is inevitable, you have no cause to grieve!” Krishna encourages Arjuna with these words. Krishna shows Arjuna the knowledge that the soul of his loved ones are not killed, only their body and that the soul then is reborn so it does not perish. Arjuna must capture this knowledge and understanding so that he can go on to follow the path of action.


The next path of activity Krishna shares with Arjuna is that of bhakti or devotion. Krishna encourages Arjuna to continue the fight out of devotion for Krishna. But why would Arjuna show such devotion to his charioteer? Krishna can gain this devotion only through knowledge. He must reveal to Arjuna his true identity, that he is an avatar of the god Vishnu. “But you cannot see me with your own eye; I will give you a divine eye to see the majesty of my discipline.” Krishna tells Arjuna as he manifests himself into his true form. Krishna also says, “I am the source of everything, and everything proceeds from me; filled with my existence, wise men realizing this are devoted to me.” Krishna encourages Arjuna to devote himself to him and follow the duty that is desired by Krishna.


Krishna in the second teaching acknowledges the link between knowledge and devotion. “When your understanding turns from sacred lore to stand fixed, immovable in contemplation, then you will reach discipline.” In this verse, as well as throughout the Bhagavad Gita, discipline is synonymous with devotion. In order to achieve complete devotion, one must show oneself worthy of that devotion. Through knowledge Krishna does this. “Krishna, the universe responds with joy and rapture to your glory, terrified demons flee in far directions, and saints throng to bow in homage.” We see in the eleventh teaching that Arjuna acknowledges Krishna’s majesty. Through knowledge, Krishna received devotion from Arjuna. And through that devotion, Krishna received Arjuna’s devotion to fight. This path of devotion is revealed to Arjuna after the illusions of life and death are shattered and Krishna is revealed as Vishnu.


The illusions of life and death are what stood between action and knowledge. Krishna shattered the misconceptions thereby allowing action to occur. Knowledge was used to dispel the illusions showing the need for knowledge in regards to the path of karma or action. Without knowledge it is hard to convince someone to take action. As we see in today’s society, we must educate the public before we can expect them to act on anything. This is the same principle that Krishna used in his argument with Arjuna. He needed to show Arjuna that his predicament was not what it seemed. Krishna was not asking him to kill his loved ones, just their outer shells. The true self continues in samsara. Arjuna found solace in this knowledge and therefore was swayed to joining Krishna in the battle.


Krishna also needed Arjuna’s devotion for the task at hand. Krishna needed for Arjuna to continue his destiny and fight the battle. It would take jnana, the knowledge yoga, karma, the action yoga and bhatki, the devotion yoga to convince Arjuna to fight. To gain Arjuna ‘s complete devotion he had to reveal himself. Krishna showed Arjuna that he was incarnate of the great god Vishnu. Krishna knew he must impart this knowledge to Arjuna in order to get his complete devotion.


Krishna’s main objective was to get Arjuna to fight the battle against his family. And in doing so, to fulfill his religious duty, his dharma. He proposed three paths of activity in doing this, jnana, karma and bhatki. Each path was very important but the success of two paths hinged on one. That path of activity was jnana yoga or the path of knowledge. Without the path of knowledge, the other two paths would be hard to convey. Krishna used knowledge as a basis for the other two arguments. Without knowledge the outcome would have been different. I’m sure you would agree that the most important path Krishna offers to Arjuna is the path of knowledge.





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