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The Bhagavad Gita translates as, ‘The Song of the Lord.’

The Bhagavad Gita captures the dialogue between Krishna, the Lord of Compassion, and Arjuna – the Warrior. 

Arjuna chooses Krishna as his charioteer, though he does not know that the God of Compassion is leading him to battle. 

The Gita is part of the Mahabharata, the epic Indian script that contains stories and philosophy about two great families.

The Mahabharata was composed around the 2nd Century B.C.E. 

In this article, we’ll take you through some key themes, Vedanta Philosophy, and results of the Gita’s profound and timeless wisdom. 

Table of Contents 

  • The Opening Scene
  • Krishna’s Counsel
  • Highlights from the Gita – Week 1
  • Yoga and the Paths to Liberation
  • Highlights from the Bhagavad Gita – Week 2
  • Krishna’s Big Reveal
  • Vedantic Philosophy
  • Divine versus Demonic Intent
  • Highlights from the Bhagavad Gita – Week 3
  • The Bhagavad Gita Key Themes
  • Highlights from the Bhagavad Gita – Week 4
 
 

 

 

Opening Scene of the Bhagavad Gita

The opening scene of the Gita finds Arjuna unwilling to fight in the middle of the battlefield.

Arjuna chooses Krishna first, and Duryodhana receives the supreme army. 

Thus, Krishna becomes Arjuna’s counselor, and The Bhagavad Gita begins!

When Arjuna met with Prince Duryodhana to agree upon the terms of the battle, they were told that they could have either Krishna (God of Compassion) or the Narayani Sena (army of 10,00,000 warriors) as their support. 

Arjuna chooses Krishna first, and Duryodhana receives the supreme army.

The families at war are the Pandavas and the Kauravas. They enter into a battle for the throne of Hastinapura, which is known as the Kurukshetra War. 

In the section of the Gita, Arjuna (who stands for his friends and family of the Pandavas) is poised to fight the Kauravas (led by Prince Duryodhana).

The Pandavas and the Kauravas are related, so Arjuna must fight against his cousins, counselors, and those he grew up beside to protect his family. 

Arjuna refuses to fight, so the dialogue of right action springs from the discussion between Ajuna and Krishna. 

Krishna’s Counsel 

Krishna counsels Arjuna and illuminates all the reasons he must fight and honor his dharma (duty) as a warrior.

Reflecting on the discourse between the two characters that outlines the correct paths of action, Krishna can also be seen as Arjuna’s conscious/inner teacher / Truth. 

One of the first lessons Krishna teaches Arjuna is how to use his mind—to use his wisdom and insight before he acts. 
  • He states that the mind that is free of anger, fear, greed, attachment, and craving is a mind of firm wisdom.
  • To tame the turbulent thoughts and fluctuations of the mind is key to self-discipline, right action, and serenity.
  • Only those who are free of such transitionary confusions can find peace. Wisdom springs from this place of serenity, and the correct action may follow. 
Krishna tells Arjuna that following the path to wisdom, which occurs through mindful discipline, is to follow the Yoga of Action.
  • The Yoga of Action is to act for action’s sake and not for the fruits of the action.
  • It’s to act regardless of the negative or positive consequences and be detached from the results.
  • Non-action is still an action; it is passivity that results from indecision. 
  • The only way to free the self of bondage to slavery to action is to perform all actions as worship without attachment.

Highlights from the Bhagavad Gita – Week 1

  1. The Gita opens with Arjuna standing in the center of the battlefield with Krishna as his charioteer. He refuses to fight because his cousins and friends are on the opposing side.
  2. The Gita is a call to action, to act for action’s sake and not for the fruits of what you will receive.
  3. Krishna, the God of Compassion, counsel Arjuna on why he should go to war and fight. It is his duty / his dharma.
  4. Arjuna chose Krishna over the Narayani Sena Army, which had 10,00,000 of the best soldiers. He chose Krishna because his heart was pure.
  5. The Gita is part of the Mahabharata, which was composed around the 2nd Century B.C.E.
  6. Krishna symbolizes Arjuna’s conscience: this narrative can be viewed as Arjuna’s battle within himself as he confronts his fate.
  7. The path to inner equanimity is through focusing the mind. Wisdom develops through discipline and devotion to something greater than the ego and the mind’s thoughts/fluctuations.
  8. The mind that is free of anger, fear, greed, attachment, and craving is a mind of firm wisdom.
  9. The only way to free the self of bondage to slavery to action is to perform all actions as worship without attachment.
  10. Krishna is encouraging Arjuna to act, for inaction is still an action – passivity results in choice, so the only path is to choose your choice before someone else does for you.

Yoga and the Paths to Liberation

Krishna tells Arjuna how many times he has been reincarnated to bless the earth and all its inhabitants.

He illuminates the Yoga of Wisdom, and those who commit themselves to Him become free and full of His Love. 
  • All paths lead to liberation in the end if the individual commits themself to letting go of attachments. 
  • Krishna also illuminates the need to shatter the binary and dualistic treaty of pleasure, pain, and success or failure.
  • He encourages Arjuna to follow this path through worship, working with a teacher, abstaining from following the senses, focusing on inner observances, and renouncing the self through devotion to Him (truth/divinity/totality). 

Krishna says:
“Nothing in the world can purify as powerfully as wisdom; practiced in yoga, you will find this wisdom within yourself.”

[4.37–41]

In Chapter Five, Krishna outlines the Yoga of Renunciation. 
  • The way to practice renunciation is to be indifferent to pain or pleasure.
  • Avoiding the trap of desire is to be free of bondage.
  • Yoga leads to the true knowledge of the Self, this mastery of body, mind action, and thought. 
In the sixth chapter, Krishna outlines the Yoga of Meditation and how to achieve liberation while on this path.

Here are some of his tips:

  • Focus the mind on one object
  • Choose a spot for your meditation  
  • Sit with proper posture, relaxed and upright
  • Be moderate with food, sleep, pleasure, and action  

Yoga accepts all classes and castes, not only for the wealthy, intelligent, or strong.

Krishna teaches Arjuna the essential wisdom. 
  • Those who are sincere and striving are welcomed and received. 
  • All beings, all of life, and the cosmos are manifest through Krishna. He embodies the light and dark, seasons and sound, desire and duty within his form.
  • To realize that nothing needs to be done, you simply have to surrender and accept life as it comes.
  • Desire must be consistent with duty – one’s dharma. 

Arjuna inquires about the state of absolute freedom. 

Krishna tells him that to be free is to face your fear, death, and all of the destruction that lives within and all around you.

Those who accept the essence of all things and ACT are those who have the creative force and are free. 

Krishna shows the two paths, darkness and light, and how the individual who moves beyond duality is free. 

Meditate, act when needed, be unattached to the outcome, devote yourself, and study the sacred scriptures; these are the tenets of achieving freedom. 

Highlights from the Bhagavad Gita – Week 2

  1. All paths lead to liberation in the end if the individual commits themself to letting go of attachments.
  2. The way to practice renunciation is to be indifferent to pain or pleasure. Avoiding the trap of desire is to be free of bondage.
  3. Yoga leads to the true knowledge of the Self, this mastery of body, mind action, and thought.
  4. Yoga accepts all social classes and castes, not only for the wealthy, intelligent, or strong.
  5. To realize that nothing needs to be done, you simply have to surrender and accept life as it comes.
  6. Desire must be consistent with duty – one’s dharma.
  7. Essential wisdom is born through meditation – focusing the mind and being moderate in food, sleep, action, and practice.
  8. Those who accept the essence of all things and ACT are those who have the creative force and are free.
  9. Meditate, act when it is needed, be unattached to the outcome, devote yourself, and study the sacred scriptures; these are the tenants of achieving freedom.
  10. Krishna illuminates the need to shatter the binary and dualistic treaty of pleasure, pain, and success or failure.

Krishna’s Big Reveal

Krishna tells Arjuna of all his avatars and incarnations.

He shares how anyone, no matter what they have done – no matter how bad the actions or outcome – can achieve freedom if they devote themselves entirely to Him. 

Krishna shares that he is the entity of the universe, that all things are born and ultimately return to him, and that he is the ultimate creator, sustainer, and dissolver—the one to whom all action returns. 

In chapter eleven, Krisha reveals himself to Arjuna. 
  • In this moment, Arjuna realizes who Krishna truly is and what he is capable of – he sees the beauty and terror he is capable of. 
  • The horrors and the magnificence within the cosmos are expressed when Krisha reveals himself – Krishna does this to show Arjuna the two poles of action and that the outcome is inevitable regardless of how he acts. 
  • Everything will unfold through Him (Krishna) regardless of what Arjuna chooses to do. Krishna shows Arjuna his full form as a final way of motivating Arjuna to follow his dharma as a warrior and fight. 
After the big reveal (where Krishna shows Arjuna his true form), Krishna continues to show Arjuna how he is Consciousness – all-pervading, everywhere, and available to anyone at any time. 
  • Krishna explains that everyone comes from this source and are all parts of this universal consciousness. 
  • Like droplets of water contributing to the ocean’s vastness – we are all part of a much greater narrative that we cannot directly perceive. 
  • It transcends our concept of time—consciousness began before we were born and will continue after our physical bodies die. 

Vedantic Philosophy

The Bhagavad Gita is based on the Vedas which features Vedantic Philosophy. 

Vedanta is composed of two words:
Veda = wisdom + Anta = ultimate 

Vedanta is the highest form of knowledge because it provides a clear, informative, and concrete guide to living. It shares pearls of wisdom that help us go deeper into ourselves and discover the true nature of reality. 

It provides a way to attain self-actualization, which equates to enlightenment. 

The three things people seek, according to The Gita, are: 
  • Siddhim = success
  • Sukham = happiness
  • Param Gatim = the Supreme Goal
Brahma Vidya is the science of the self.
It is the method proposed by the Vedanta to achieve liberation and free the self of bondage. 
  • Throughout the Gita, Krishna brings up different topics to guide Arjuna into a closer examination of the self and why he does what he does.
  • Before making his decision, Arjuna must examine his Dharma (duty) and Karma (law of cause and effect) to understand why he must act.
  • Though our ultimate goals may be similar (seeking happiness, success, and freedom), our paths to get there are unique.

The philosophy of the Gita is taken from the Vedas (the oldest Hindu texts, which were composed around 500 B.C.E.) Veda means true knowledge.

Samkhya translates as “empirical.”  It does not believe that anything is created or destroyed.
  • It states that the soul and matter are two distinct properties,  Purusha (spirit) and Prakriti (matter). Everything in the universe is made up of these two properties.
  • Samkhya believes the soul lives on, even when the body dies.
  • It also states that self-awareness and self-knowledge are the path to liberation. They come from within and not from external factors. 
  • Samkhya can be traced to the Rig Veda, the Upanishads, and The Bhagavad Gita.
  • Of the six Hindu schools of philosophy, Samkhya is the most widely recognized for its method of scientific inquiry. 
In chapter fourteen, Krishna introduces the three gunas of Samkyha philosophy.

The Gunas are the energies that give birth to the physical world.

They are universal elements contained within all things.

Each guna represents a unique strand or thread that creates the cosmos. We need all three to exist and manifest the universe. 

The Three Gunas:

  • Sattva – Light, Space, Clairvoyance, Truth, Purity, Harmony, Neutrality, Grace, Soul
  • Rajas – Heat, Excitement, Passion, Action, Aggression, Directive, Positive, Vital, Creative.
  • Tamas – Lethargy, Dullness, Heaviness, Death, Negative, Inertia, Resistence, Unconscious.
In the final chapter of the Gita, Krishna shares the three unique states of relinquishment: knowledge, action, attachment, understanding, will, happiness, duty, and devotion based on the three gunas. 
  • He shows Arjuna how the gunas affect each state and what the result is based on the specific guna. 
  • In this explanation, Krishna demonstrates how every action has a reaction—it is the law of Karma (cause and effect) expressed through the energies in the universe.
  • No thing is separate from action and every action is tied to one of the gunas. 
  • He shows Arjuna the result from each guna and how no one can refrain from acting based on these laws of universal energy.  

Divine versus Demonic Intent

In chapter sixteen, Krishna shares the two types of people who live in the world: the divine and the demonic. 

The demonic do not act with a pure heart; they are not connected to themselves and, therefore, do not know the truth. They are driven by lust, anxiety, rage, and self-seeking prophesies. They are enslaved by greed.

The divine are those persons guided by scripture and act without attachment to the goal.

They understand the impermanence of emotions, thoughts, actions, and states of being. They focus on the True Source – the voice within or Krishna. They have developed a sense of Self beyond the ego identity. 

Faith is at the very core of the divine individual—faith that things will become whatever they are. 

Highlights from the Bhagavad Gita – Week 3

  1. Krishna shares that he is the entity of the universe, that all things are born and ultimately return to him, and that he is the ultimate creator, sustainer, and dissolver—the one to whom all action returns.
  2. When Krisha reveals himself, the horrors and magnificence of the cosmos are expressed. Krishna does this to show Arjuna the two poles of action and that the outcome is inevitable regardless of how he acts.
  3. Everything will unfold through Him (Krishna) regardless of what Arjuna chooses to do. Krishna shows Arjuna his full form as a final way of motivating Arjuna to follow his dharma as a warrior and fight.
  4. Krishna explains that everyone comes from this source and is all part of this universal consciousness. Like droplets of water contributing to the vastness of the ocean – we are all part of a much greater narrative that we cannot directly perceive.
  5. The philosophy of the Gita (Samkhya) is taken from the Vedas (the oldest texts of Hinduism that were composed around 500 B.C.E.) Veda means true knowledge.
  6. Samkhya translates as “empirical.” It does not believe that anything is created or destroyed. It states that the soul and matter are two distinct properties, Purusha (spirit) and Prakriti (matter).
  7. The Gunas are the energies that give birth to the physical world.
    Each guna represents a unique strand or thread that creates the cosmos. We need all three to exist and manifest the universe.
    The gunas are Sattva, Rajas, Tamas.
  8. Faith is at the very core of the divine individual.
  9. Nothing is separate from action; every action is tied to one of the gunas.
  10. The outcomes are based on the three gunas: relinquishment, knowledge, action, attachment, understanding, will, happiness, duty, and devotion.

The Bhagavad Gita Key Themes

Karma is another key theme in the Gita.

Karma is the accumulated result of our actions. It is the law of cause and effect.
  • Every action has a direct consequence that we may or may not be able to perceive. 
  • The Gita teaches that we can overcome our Karma (present and past) by performing devotional rituals and spiritual practices. 

Krisha states:
And even if, clinging to the I-sense,
you say that you will not fight,
your intention will be in vain:
Nature will compel you to act.

The thing that, in your delusion,
you wish not to do, you will do,
even against your will,
since your own karma binds you.

The Lord dwells deep in the heart
of all beings, by his wondrous power
making them all revolve
like puppets on a carousel.

Devoted to him, Arjuna,
take refuge in him alone;
by his kindness, you will attain
the state of imperishable peace.

[18.59–63]

Self-control and mastery are other means to attain divine liberation. 

Control of the mind is essential to achieving happiness, productivity, and peace.

In the opening of the Gita, upon seeing his kinsmen gathered to fight, Arjuna says:

“As I see my own kinsmen, gathered here, eager to fight, my legs weaken, my mouth dries, my body trembles, my hair stands on end, my skin burns, the bow Gandiva drops from my hand, I am beside myself, my mind reels.”

He also states:

“Evil will cling to us if we kill them, even though they are the aggressors. And it would be unworthy of us to kill our own kinsmen. How could we be happy if we did? Because their minds are overpowered by greed, they see no harm in destroying the family, no crime in treachery to friends.” 

Excerpts from The Bhagavad Gita by Stephen Mitchell

Krishna emphasizes the importance of observing the mind, emotions, feelings, and desires.
  • Self-control is essential to understanding the true nature of the self. 
  • Spiritual maturation and resilience occur when we are not overcome by our thoughts or negative tendencies. We reflect and respond rather than react.
Non-attachment is one of the keys to self-mastery, according to Krishna. 

“You are right, Arjuna: the mind
is restless and hard to master;
but by constant practice and detachment
it can be mastered in the end.’

Excerpt from the Bhagavad Gita by Stephen Mitchell.

Anticipation, assumption, and expectation ruin the experience. 
  • By remaining detached, you release yourself from the cycles of karma. This allows one to stay present for the process without being attached to the action’s result.  
According to the Gita, suffering results from misconception, delusion, avoidance, denial, and attachment.

Suffering is of the mind because of what we desire.

To stop the cycles of suffering, Krishna offers several paths:

  1. Bhakti Yoga – devotional practices to the divine.
  2. Moksha Yoga – to acknowledge suffering as part of the cycles and the true nature of reality.
  3. Jnana Yoga – seeking the true knowledge of reality as it is. 
  4. Raja Yoga – the path of yoga is to develop self-control of the body and mind. 
  5. Karma yoga – performing acts of selfless service without attachment.

Krishna says:
“Every man’s faith conforms
with his inborn nature, Arjuna.

Faith is a person’s core;
whatever his faith is, he is.

Sattvic men worship the gods;
rajasic, demigods and demons;
tamasic, the hordes of dark
spirits and the ghosts of the dead.”

[17.3–5]

Surrender is a major theme within the Gita. Krishna expands upon all the ways one must surrender to achieve divine liberation.

Some of the ways to surrender include:

  • Attachments
  • Fruits of action 
  • Thoughts of outcome
  • Actions to [Him] Krishna – the divine force 
  • Desires to [Him] Krishna – the divine force 

Highlights from the Bhagavad Gita – Week 4

  1. The Bhagavad Gita is based on the Vedas, which feature Vedantic Philosophy. Vedanta is the highest form of knowledge because it gives us a clear, informative, and concrete guide to living. 
  2. Brahma Vidya is the science of the self. It is the method proposed by the Vedanta to achieve liberation and free the self of bondage. 
  3. Karma is the accumulated result of our actions. It is the law of cause and effect. Every action has a direct consequence that we may or may not be able to perceive. 
  4. The Gita teaches that we can overcome our Karma (present and past) by performing devotional rituals and performing spiritual practices. 
  5. Self-control and mastery are other means to attain divine liberation. Control of the mind is essential to achieving happiness, productivity, and peace.
  6. Spiritual maturation and resilience occur when we are not overcome by our thoughts or negative tendencies. We reflect and respond rather than react. 
  7. Non-attachment is one of the keys to self-mastery, according to Krishna. 
  8. Suffering results from misconception, delusion, avoidance, denial, and attachment. Suffering is of the mind because of what we desire.
  9. Krishna offers several styles of worship for Arjuna to see how faith is expressed according to each person’s nature. 
  10. Surrender is a major theme within the Gita. Krishna expands upon all the ways one must surrender to achieve divine liberation.

Seraphina Dawn

Seraphina has a BA in Literature from Simone Fraser University and participated in the Creative Writing Program at UC Berkeley. She is a Kundalini teacher, writer, and poet. She admires Clarice Lispector’s prose, Octavia Butler’s fiction, and Simone Weil's philosophy. Seraphina currently lives in Istanbul.