The Bhagavad Gita, “The Song of the Lord” is the best known of all Indian scriptures. It was also Gandhi’s Bible. Written sometime between 200 BCE and 200 CE, the Gita is actually based on teachings from much earlier texts — the Upinashads which were written around 1000 BCE. These in turn were a codification of an ancient oral traditiion, firmly in place 1500 BCE and earlier in the Indus valley.
Historians believe that like the Iliad, the Gita might well be in the setting of events culminating in a war that took place around 1000 BCE. It is a story of a conversation between a prince, Arjuna, and his charioteer, Krishna, on the field of an impending battle between two factions of the Prince’s family. But the Gita is not what it seems — its not really a dialogue between two mythical figures on a battlefield at the dawn of Indian history. The battlefield is a perfect backdrop, but the actual subject is the war within — the struggle for self-mastery that every human being must wage to live a life that is meaningful, fulfilling and worthwhile. Krishna, the charioteer is actually God personified, sent to guide and instruct the happless prince in how to live his life and find true fullfillment.
Excerpts from the introduction to tne Gita as translated by Eknath Easwaran follow:
“In the early part of the first millenium B.C we find clearly stated both the methods and the discoveries of brahmavidya (the “Supreme Science” or the science of consciousness), With this introspective tool the inspired rishis (literally “seers”) of ancient India analyzed their awareness of human experience to see if there was anything in it that was absolute. Their findings can be summarized in three statements which Aldous Huxley, following Leibnitz, has called the Perennial Philosophy because they appear in every age and civilization:
- There is an infinite changeless reality beneath the world of change;
- This same reality lies at the core of every human personality;
- The purpose of life is to discover this reality experientially: that is to realize God while here on earth.
These principles and the interior experiments for realizing them were taught in “forest academies” or ashrams – a tradition that remains unbroken after some three thousand years. … The very heart of the Gita’s message is to see the Lord in every creature and act accordingly, and the scripture is full of verses to spell out what this means:
I am ever present to those who have realized me in every creature. Seeing all life as my manifestation, they are never seperated from me. They worship me in the hearts of all, and all their actions proceed from me. Wherever they may live, they abide in me (6:30-31)
When a person responds to the joy and sorrows of others as if they were his own, he has attained the highest state of spiritual union. (6:32)
That one I love who is incapable of ill will, who is friendly and compassionate. (12:13)
They alone see truly who see the Lord the same in every creature, who see the deathless in the hearts of all that die. Seeing the same Lord everywhere, they do not harm themselves or others. Thus they attain the supreme goal. (13:27-28)
If I could offer only one key to understanding this divine dialogue (the Gita), it would be to remember that it takes place in the depths of consciousness and that Krishna is not some external being, human or subhuman, but the spark of divinity that lies at the core of the human personality. This is not literary or philosophical conjecture; Krishna says as much to Arjuna over and over; “I am the Self in the heart of every creature, Arjuna, and the beginning, middle and end of their existence” (10:20)
“Even while ancient India was making breakthroughs in the natural sciences and mathematics, the sages of the Upanishads were turning inward to analyze the data that nature presents to the mind. Penetrating below the senses, they found not a world of solid, separate objects but a ceaseless process of change – matter coming together, dissolving, and coming together again in a different form. Below this flux of things with “names and form” however, they found something changeless: an infinite, indivisible reality in which the transient data of the world cohere. They called this reality Brahman: the Godhead, the divine ground of existence.
This analysis of the phenominal world tallies well enough with contemporary physics, A physicist would remind us that the things we see “out there” are not ultimately separate from each other and from us; we perceive them as separa because of the limitations of our senses. If our eyes were sensitive to a much finer spectrum, we might see the world as a continuous field of matter and energy. Nothing in this picture resembles a solid object in our usual sense of the word. “The external world of physics” wrote Sir Arthur Eddington, “has thus become a world of shadows. In removing our illusions we remove the substance, for indeed we have seen that substance is one of the greatest of our illusions.”
For more on the Universal Teachings of the Bhagavad Gita see the Understanding Reality Course.
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