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The Essence of the Gita
For Western readers who may not be familiar with it, here follows a summary of the tradtional Bhagavad Gita, as set down by the sage Vyasa. That Gita was given by Krishna to Arjuna, just before a great war involving huge armies with millions of combatants, coming from kingdoms scattered all over the Indian subcontinent. In massive encounters that raged daily for 18 days, the forces of good were pitted against the forces of evil. This war proved to be one of the bloodiest of all time. When it was over, only a handful of men survived.
In this war, Krishna, who was God incarnate, took the humble role of a charioteer, to guide Arjuna and the Pandava brothers to victory. But, on the eve of the great war, it looked like the battle was lost before it even started. Arjuna, the foremost warrior on the side of good, had become overwhelmed with doubts; he decided to throw down his bow and not fight. This situation came about after Krishna had driven Arjuna's chariot onto the battlefield between the two armies. There Arjuna saw his beloved grandfather, his teacher and his kinsmen on the opposite side, getting ready to fight and die for their cause. They had allied themselves with the forces of unrighteouseousness.
Filled with a deep despondency, Arjuna said, "O Krishna! I cannot fight! I feel overcome by a sense of helplessness! What good is winning this war when it will lead to the destruction of all these kinsmen, teachers and heroes. I do not know where my duty lies! I beg you to tell me what is right for me! I surrender myself fully to you! I am your disciple! Please teach me!" Then the blessed Lord gave him the great wisdom teachings of the Gita.
Krishna started the Gita teachings with an admonishment, "Arjuna! Shake off this faint heartedness. It is not worthy of you. Do not yield to weakness. You have been preparing so long for this battle to preserve righteousness.
"Even as a man casts off worn-out clothes and puts on others which are fresh, so the atma casts off bodies and enters into others which are new. Bodies are born, and what is born must die. But the eternal atma is never born. It never dies. Weapons cannot cut it, fire cannot burn it, water cannot wet it and wind cannot dry it.
"This atma is not your perishable body. it is your immortal self, the imperishable self of everyone, once that is known, then what is there to grieve for? the wise never grieve... neither for the dead nor for the living.
"I am that atma, Arjuna. I am the supreme Lord of all, residing in the heart of every being. I am the father of this world and also its mother and sustainer. I am the beginning, the middle and the end. Everything is produced out of me. Everything is pervaded by me. No creature can exist without me. Whatever path men travel, it is my path. Whichever way they go they reach me.
"Though I am eternally birthless and unchanging, yet, I incarnate myself from age to age. Whenever righteousness declines and unrighteousness prevails, I take on a form, to protect the good and to destroy evil.
"Veiled as I am by my inscrutable power of illusion, my maya, the world does not recognize me. Although they do not know me, Arjuna, I know them all. I know their past, present and future. In truth, I am ever unmanifest and imperishable; but not understanding this transcendental nature of mine, the ignorant regard me as a mere mortal.
"Knowing nothing of my reality, they ignore me and become occupied in the world with vain hopes, vain works and vain knowledge. Lost in the maze of maya, they are spun around like puppet-dolls on a merry-go-round.
"This divine illusion of mine is most difficult to overcome. Among thousands of human beings, only a few struggle to know my truth; even amongst these that struggle, only one, perchance, comes to know me in reality. Such a one is a yogi, one steeped in the highest wisdom. Therefore, Arjuna, you should be a yogi! With all your being take refuge in me alone, and by my grace you will attain supreme peace.
"From this moment on, fix your mind steadily on me dwelling in your heart. Be devoted to me, bow down to me, worship me. Know that I am always within you and soon you will become one with me. Yes, truly do I promise this to you, Arjuna, for you are very dear to me.
He who knows my divine birth and work, will not be born again after death. He will not lose sight of me, nor I of him.
"Arjuna, whoever works for me and has me as his supreme goal, whoever is devoted to me and is unattached, bearing no malice towards any creature, will quickly come to me. Such a one sees me everywhere, residing in all beings, as the imperishable amidst the perishable.
"For these, who have me ever present in their mind's eye and serve me steadfastly with affection, I will carry their burdens and I will give them what they need. Talking about me to each other, they are forever satisfied and delighted. Out of my compassion for them, I strengthen their power of discrimination and destroy the darkness of ignorance that beclouds their vision. Bringing their senses under control they transcend the world of death and decay, and attain immortality.
"Arjuna, whoever offers me with love, either a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or even some water... such devout offerings coming from a pure heart, I will surely accept. Whatever you do, whatever you eat or sacrifice or give away, whatever austerity you perform, offer that first to me. Then you will be free of the consequences of your actions, and soon your mind will become calm and wise, steeped in renunciation. Endowed with evenness of mind and having abandoned the fruits of your actions, you will be freed forever from the fetters of birth.
"Arjuna, resign every action to me. Fix your mind firmly on me. I will perform all your actions through you and liberate you from all sins. Fear not. By my grace you will overcome all obstacles.
"But if from self-conceit you do not listen to me, you will surely perish. You may think, 'I will not fight!' But impelled by your sense of duty, your own nature will compel you to fight. What out of delusion you do not wish to do, you shall do in spite of yourself. Arise, Arjuna! With the sword of wisdom that I have given to you, cut to pieces this ignorance which doubts the truth that the divinity is everpresent in your heart. Arjuna, stand up and achieve glory! You are pledged to uphold righteousness! The forces of unrighteousness have become rampant. You must encounter them and destroy them!
"Take refuge in me, Arjuna. Think of me at all times and fight! It is not you who will kill these heroes, but I. I am the world's creator and sustainer, but I am also the mighty world-destroying time that devours all. Truly, these warriors in hostile armies have already been slain by me. You are merely the instrument through which I act.
"Here, I give you a vision of my universal form in which you can see the oneness of all existence! Behold my divine power! Behold the whole universe, moving and unmoving, all unified in me!"
Overwhelmed with wonder and amazement, Arjuna bowed his head in adoration and spoke with palms joined, "O supreme Lord! Hail to you! Hail, again and again! If the effulgence of a thousand suns were to blaze forth together in the skies, their glory could compare only a little with your infinite splendor! You are the imperishable Lord, the undying guardian of the eternal dharma. You are everything that can ever be known. Seeing your awesome form, all the worlds are trembling with fear. And so am I. Just as the many rivers flow towards the sea, so do all these heroes in the world of men enter your flaming mouths."
Then the blessed Lord again assumed his usual gentle form as Krishna, and said, "Graciously have I shown to you this infinite, primeval form of mine. It is very rare, indeed, to see what you have just seen. Neither by study of the scriptures, nor by austerities, nor by charity, nor by rituals, but only by single-minded devotion can I be seen thus. This experience of my cosmic form and this sacred knowledge that I have taught you are the most precious of all treasures.
"Arjuna, have you listened to me with full concentration? Has the delusion caused by your ignorance been dispelled? Think over everything that I have said to you, reflect on it fully, and then do what pleases you."
Arjuna answered, "O Lord of the universe! Your powerful and wonderful words contain the highest wisdom, and you have spoken them with so much compassion. Through your grace, my delusion is now destroyed. I stand free of all doubts. Please direct me! I will do as you command!"