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Many Paths to One God

Bhagavad Gita (Gita, "Song of the Lord")

This is perhaps the best loved and popular of all Hindu Scriptures. It was the first Sanskrit religious text ever to be translated into English (by Charles Wilkins in 1785, and again by Edwin Arnold in 1885 under the title Song Celestial). It is a great poem of 700 verses, divided into eighteen chapters. It forms Book VI of Mahabharata. Millions of copies of Gita has been printed. It has been translated and commented upon allover the world. Gita has often been compared with the Christian New Testament. In fact, many of the teachings in Gita is very similar to those found in New Testament of the Christian Bible. Teachings of Gita have exercised a profound influence on modern Hindu thought.

Gita is the dialog between Krishna and Arjuna before the Great Battle described in the epic Mhabharata. When the opposing armies stand ready to begin battle, the warrior prince Arjuna had a second thought about fighting and killing his kinsmen and lays down his arms.

Krishna, in the form of Arjuna's charioteer and friend, counsels him that, as a warrior, it is Arjuna's duty to fight. The discussion soon evolves into a general philosophical debate about the nature of the Self (atman), Brahman and the different paths to moksha. Krishna's 'Sermon of the Gita' is concerned with upholding the stability of society through the performance of one's duty (sva dharma). In contrast to the Upanishadic ideal of renunciation, Krishna emphasizes the discipline of action (karma yoga) performed in a selfless spirit of detachment without any desire for reward. It is not action as such but an attachment to the fruits of action which are seen as binding man to the cycle of rebirth.

Gita says that it is not acts in themselves which bind people to the round of rebirth, but the selfish intentions so often behind them. The true opposite of selfish action is disinterested or selfless action; total inaction is anyway impossible.

In the Bhagavad Gita, action is no longer the sole cause of karma. The yoga that Krishna taught Arjuna offers a path to enlightenment based on the abandonment of desire. An enlightened mind, he says, is indifferent "to pleasure and pain, gain and loss".

Gita also provided a clear indication of what is death. "Death is not final," Gita says. "If any man thinks that he slays, and if another thinks that he is slain, neither knows the truth. The Eternal in man cannot kill: the Eternal in man cannot die. The soul in man is neither born nor does it die. Weapons cannot cut it; fire cannot burn it. .. What makes you think that you can destroy the soul?" 

There are two forms of yoga by which perfection may be attained. One form is the yoga of knowledge. The other is the yoga of action.

You cannot attain perfection by merely shirking action. Indeed it is impossible even for a moment to be utterly inactive. All living beings are driven to action by their own natures. Those who withdraw from action, while allowing their minds to dwell on sensual pleasures, are deluding themselves; they can never follow the path to perfection.

Fulfill your duties; action is better than inaction. Indeed, you should strive to maintain the health and strength of your body. Yet selfish action will enslave you. Act selflessly, without any thought of personal gain. 
When human beings were created, the obligation of selfless action was also created. God promised that through selfless action human beings would fulfill their deepest desires.

Good people, who share the fruits of their work, are freed from all their sins. But those who keep the fruits of their work for themselves, consume sin. Every selfless action is inspired by God; he is present in every good deed. All life turns on this truth.

Gita 10, 13-16.

Another important teaching concerns the role of devotion (bhakti), which is praised above all else as the way to come to God. One chapter describes a powerful theophany in which Krishna discloses himself in his universal form as the great god Vishnu in whom all beings converge. This is the vision and experience of a personal god or istadevata (Hindus embrace the notion of istadevata, the idea that an individual or a family chooses a specific god, as the main focus for devotion.) beyond the impersonal Brahman (To Hindus, Brahman is the One and the All), a god who expresses nearness and help to man. Whenever righteousness (dharma) is threatened, Krishna promises to incarnate himself, age after age, and assures man of his love and salvation.

I shall describe the people whom I love. They have goodwill towards all living beings, and are incapable of ill will. They are friendly and compassionate. They regard nothing as their own possession, and want no position of power for themselves. They are indifferent to both pleasure and pain. They are patient, contented, and self-controlled. They are firm in faith, and their hearts and minds are utterly devoted to me.

Their serenity is constant, and cannot be disturbed by others; on the contrary, their presence makes others feel serene. They are not elated by good fortune, nor depressed by misfortune. They do not compete with others and they have no fear of failure.

They are not attracted to particular people and places; nor are they repelled by particular people and places. They are both selfless and efficient in all their actions. They have no desire for pleasure and no fear of pain. They never grieve over the death of others or the loss of material goods; they accept with equanimity every event as it occurs.

They love friends and enemies equally. They are not encouraged by praise nor discouraged by blame. Whether they are honored or despised, they remain perfectly calm. Within their hearts there is silence.

These are the people whom I especially love.

Gita 12.13-19

The light of the soul

I shall tell you of the soul. The soul is God -who is immortal and infinite, who has no beginning and will have no end, and who both exists and does not exist. Those who know the soul, are immortal. 
The soul dwells in every living being, and in every part of every living being; it dwells in the hand and the foot, the skull and the mouth, the eye and the ear. Although it does not itself have senses, it shines through every sense. It is completely independent, yet all beings depend on it.

The soul is both near every living being, and far from every being. The soul is both inside and outside every living being. The soul is the cause of movement, but does not itself move. The soul is one, yet has innumerable forms. The soul creates, preserves, and destroys. 
The soul is the light of every light; and its light transcends the duality of brightness and darkness. The soul is the light of knowledge; and its light is also the goal of knowledge. In the soul the subject and object of knowledge are one.

Gita 13.12-17

The Bhagavad-Gita

This work contains the essence of Indian teaching about the duties of life as well as spiritual obligations. Everyone has his allotted duties of various kinds. Sin arises not from the nature of the work itself but from the disposition with which the work is performed. When it is performed without attachment to the result, it cannot tarnish the soul and impede its quest. 

True Yoga consists in the acquisition of experience and the passage through life in harmony with the ultimate laws of equanimity, non-attachment to the fruits of action, and faith in the pervasiveness of the Supreme Spirit. Absorption in that Spirit can be attained along several paths; and no path is to be preferred exclusively and none to be disdained.

These doctrines have been interpreted as marking a Protestant movement which lays stress on the personality of God and His accessibility to devotion. While following the Hindu ideal of the Asramas, the Gita emphasizes the importance of knowledge, charity, penance and worship, and does not decry life as evil:

"Nor indeed can embodied beings completely relinquish action; verily, he who relinquisheth the fruit of action, he is said to be a true relinquisher."

Excepted From: Hinduism by Dr. C.P.Ramaswami Aiyar, et.al., 
The Gazetteer of India, Volume 1
, Publications Div., Government of India, 1965.

The lamp of truth

The angels do not know my origin because I am the origin of the angels themselves. Even the wisest sages do not know my origin, because all their wisdom comes from me. Those who recognize me as the ruler of all that is and who understand that I have no birth or beginning, know the truth -and are thus free from all evil.

I am the source of intelligence, wisdom, understanding, forgiveness, truth, self-control, and serenity. I am the source of pleasure and pain, birth and death, fear and courage, honor and disgrace. I am the source of gentleness, generosity, patience, contentment, and endurance. Every virtue found in any living being comes from me.

The original sages were taught by me. The first human beings were born from my mind, and given life by my power; and from these first humans all men and women in the entire world are descended. Those who acknowledge my glory and power are at one with me.

From me every species of living being has evolved. The wise reflect on this and worship me with devotion. Their thoughts flow towards me and their vitality flows from me. They teach one another talking constantly about me. They are joyful and happy.

I give spiritual wisdom to all who love me. I dispel the darkness of ignorance, and light within them the lamp of truth.

Gita 10.2-1

See Also:

Other Gitas

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