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Explorations in Gita: An Introduction to the Bhagavad Gita

The need of Gita in this Age:

In this age, the modern age, which is so modern that calling it “the nuclear age” sound so outdated that today I’m compelled to use the phrase “the quantum age”,  the age of quantum computing, communication and teleportation, nanotechnology and 3D printing. Today we are working on technology to 3D print body organs or even regrow them inside our own body and we are connected to the person sitting at his home on the other side of the globe by the one-touch or gesture, even that much may not be necessary within the next couple of years if we consider the pace at which information and communication technologies are growing.

But why do we still feel lonely, while being connected to this enormous world? Why do we feel as if we are somehow connected to another part of the world but we lack connection with the person sitting next? Our best pal? Our colleague? Our sibling? Our partner? How can we have the best tech ever and so far the most comfortable lifestyle, the greater number of researchers and scientists and a still higher number of people are suffering from stress, anxiety, depression and so-called diseases than ever before?

How can we have a higher number of families splitting, growing intolerance and criminal activities when we talk about unity and tolerance and we have more luxury and communication facilities than ever before? How can we talk about peace and still promote the production and sales of the weapons of mass destruction? How can the world leaders talk about uniting the world when the majority of them even suffer to keep their own families united?

Why do we find more people uncomfortable in their own skin and afraid of being judged and misunderstood while conveying their feelings when we talk about Liberty, equality and freedom of expression? A few years back I used to be overly obsessed with technology but since then I have realised that technology itself is not the solution, how can technology solve the problems created by greed, selfishness, ignorance, misidentification of self and a lack of compassion, how can technology solve a problem created by technology itself.

Can the technology be blamed for the problems we have generated by misusing it? Can the problems created by thoughts be solved by more thinking? Can the mind be blamed for overthinking? Trust me based on my background that science and technology don’t have answers to most modern world problems, other than keeping us distracted for long enough, so that we may forget these problems ever existed and become emotionless mechanical beings who are almost slaves to technology.

“The Hindu religion is the only one of the world’s great faiths dedicated to the idea that the Cosmos itself undergoes an immense, indeed an infinite, number of deaths and rebirths. It is the only religion in which the time scales correspond to those of modern scientific cosmology. Its cycles run from our ordinary day and night to a day and night of Brahma, 8.64 billion years long. Longer than the age of the Earth or the Sun and about half the time since the Big Bang.”

– Dr. Carl Sagan, American astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist.

So to find the answers or more precisely a state of serenity I have tried everything from reading scriptures to writing blogs, from Zen to Yoga, from Martial Arts to Mysticism, from the Science of Ayurveda to Metaphysics of Vedanta philosophy. During my quest for the answers, I’ve realised that Gita is so self-proficient that Gita by itself has the potential to solve most if not all our problems,  but if we truly seek its guidance.

But for that we have to let go our ego and seek refuge under its greatness, “The Bhagavad Gita” by itself means “The song of God” and it truly contains the words filled with divine wisdom delivered directly by the merciful lord which could be “Amrut saman”  i.e. Like the “Nectar of immortality” for the modern society. But in this age of new self-help book being launched every single week, one might wonder “how could this 5000 years old scripture benefit us?”

Well initially I thought of it in the same way but it was a terrible mistake. Another misunderstanding I had about Gita was that I thought of it as a religious book but it is not, it is pure philosophy, pure metaphysics shared in a Q&A fashion, no one would be foolish enough to discuss religion in the middle of a battlefield.

Let’s explore what are the problems from which we’re suffering today, they are related to fear, stress, anxiety, depression, crimes, work, life, relationships, diseases, identity and purpose. Many of us are suffering from questions such as who we are? What is our purpose in life? Science says we are a fluke, lumps of carbon accumulated by accidents occurring in nature over several millennia. Oh! Wow, this was very enlightening! No, actually it sounds funny. Isn’t it? Moreover, it doesn’t satisfy any of our concerns. Even a child could say that something happened accidentally or by an error of chance if he couldn’t explain the exact mechanism behind a phenomenon.

Today we struggle with our own thoughts and decisions, before going to the plot of Bhagavad Gita let’s assume a hypothetical scenario which would be more relatable in today’s age.

Let’s say there’s a CIA officer who is assigned a task to lead a mission to capture or kill a group of smugglers. This group smuggles arms, drugs and women and are responsible for the loss of hundreds of lives every year. And this time they are smuggling some arms and ammunition which would be used by a group of terrorists for a series of explosions which would eventually lead to loss of lives of thousands of people. They reached a point where they have a clear chance to arrest those criminals but suddenly one of the teammates betrays them and kills two of the other teammates and now his own teammate is standing between him and his duty.

What would he do? Would he spare his life which could lead to the death of thousands of innocent people or would he take the decision to kill him and kill or arrest other criminals. The answer is simple he will kill the teammate who betrayed his brothers and sisters in arms and his own country. But what if I tell you that the teammate who betrayed was his own son. Now, what would be his decision? What would be your decision if you’d be in his place? The plot of Gita is very similar to this hypothetical story. Two mighty armies, hundreds of thousands of men, honourable soldiers, noble warriors, beloved brothers, teachers, friends and relatives are standing against each other are ready to die and kill for each other. And at the blow of conch (Shankh) the war is going to start at any moment.

Arjuna, the mighty-armed amongst the warriors has his chariot, waiting for the conch to blow lying in the middle of the battlefield and between these two armies with Lord Sri Krishna as his guide and charioteer. Arjuna is literally shuddering because of the overwhelming physical, mental, hormonal, psychological and emotional stress and dilemma. Although the war was justified in every single way. Emotions succeed to take over his wisdom and he drops the divine bow “Gandiva” and says to Śrī Krishna that his arms are shaking, he would rather become an ascetic than to fight his honourable Grandsire Bhishma, his guru Drona, the very teacher who taught him how to hold a bow, his beloved 100 cousins, whom he honoured and he didn’t want to become the cause for the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives of men, the noble warriors and to snatch away the joy and fortune of having a revered father and a beloved husband from their families

Eventually, Arjuna surrendered himself to Lord Krishna, the embodied Divine and seeks for his guidance. This results in a rather lengthy, 700 Sanskrit verses long, two-way conversation which is known to us as The Bhagavad Gita which is a part of Sanskrit epic Mahābhārata. The Mahābhārata is the longest epic poem known and has been described as “the longest poem ever written”. Its longest version consists of over 100,000 slokas or over 200,000 individual verse lines (each shloka is a couplet), and long prose passages. About 1.8 million words in total, the Mahābhārata is roughly ten times the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined or about four times the length of the Rāmāyana

Just compare our day to day problems, stress and fears in magnitude with the problems faced by Arjuna in this battle for righteousness (Dharma Yuddha). They would feel like an ant compared to a dinosaur in terms of magnitude. If the holy words of Lord could make all of the mighty troubles of the mighty Arjuna disappear, it could certainly help us reduce a little bit of our stress and suffering, fears and disappointments, doubts and conflicts.

As a complementary offer along with all of that in The Bhagavad Gita, Lord Vasudeva, the embodied divine answers all of our questions such as who we are, what is the purpose of this world and what’s the purpose of our lives, how should we live to enjoy his divine bliss, what is the secret to happiness, is there any life after death etc.

Praises of Gita by Modern Thinkers:

“The Bhagavad-Gita deals essentially with the spiritual foundation of human existence. It is a call of action to meet the obligations and duties of life; yet keeping in view the spiritual nature and grander purpose of the universe.”

The Missile man and 11th President of India
Dr. A.P. J. Abdul Kalam

“When doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and I see not one ray of hope on the horizon, I turn to Bhagavad-Gita and find a verse to comfort me; and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. Those who meditate on the Gita will derive fresh joy and new meanings from it every day”

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

J. Robert Oppenheimer, the American physicist and director of the Manhattan Project, learned Sanskrit in 1933 and read the Bhagavad Gita in the original form, citing it later as one of the most influential books to shape his philosophy of life. Upon witnessing the world’s first nuclear test in 1945, he later said he had thought of the quotation “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”, verse 32 from chapter 11 of the Bhagavad Gita

Sunita Williams, an American astronaut who holds the record for longest single space flight by a woman carried a copy of Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads with her to space, said “Those are spiritual things to reflect upon yourself, life, world around you and see things other way, I thought it was quite appropriate” while talking about her time in space.

E. Sreedharan, an Indian civil engineer and retired Indian Engineering Service (IES) officer popularly known as the “Metro Man”,  recently appointed to serve on the United Nations’s High-Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport (HLAG-ST) says: “You see, spirituality has no religious overtones. The essence of spirituality is to make a person pure in his mind and his thoughts. When I started reading our old scriptures, like the “Bhagavad Gita,” I found it was useful for day-to-day life, so I started practising it. I consider it an administrative gospel, one that will help you in doing things like running an organisation”

Turkish Ex prime minister Bulent Ecevit, when asked what had given him the courage to send Turkish troops to Cyprus. His answer was “I was fortified by the Bhagavad Gita which taught that if one were morally right, one need not hesitate to fight injustice”

The aid of commentaries:

Sanskrit as a language is a very complex one but also very scientific with a very precise set of rules. Let me give a few examples:

The root ‘गम्’ (gam, pronounced as gum like in chewing gum), means “to go”. And by adding a different suffix and prefix we can get many different word and meanings as follows:

आ + गम् = आगम्

Ā + Gam  = Āgam (“go” becomes “come”)

उप + गम् = उपगम्

Upa + gam = Upagam (“go” becomes “to approach”)

If we take the word ‘गतम’ (gatam) which means “had gone” or “had left”. Let’s see how we could make it more useful:

आ + गतम = आगतम

Ā + Gatam  = Āgatam (“had gone” becomes “had arrived”)

सु + आगतम = स्वागतम

Su + Āgatam = swāgatam (“had arrived” becomes “welcome”)

If we add one more सु (Su) as a prefix to it we get ‘सुस्वागतम’ (suswāgatam) which means “auspicious welcome” or “heartily welcome”. It is a welcome greeting you would normally hear and see it printed everywhere from Airports to doormats of the front door in India.

As one could see Sanskrit grammar is like making a rosary by adding each bead one by one and this results into very complex words in the end but still, it can be divided back to its primitives and its meaning can be understood in a better way.

Suppose if we need to say “This is a boy” in Sanskrit we would say “एषः बालकः”, which could be pronounced as “a-shaha bālakaha ”, as one could see, this sentence is much compact (two words) compared to that in English (four words).

Conjugations in Sanskrit are about twice as complex as that in English and words have multiple meanings, let’s say a word ‘विप्र’ (vipra) which could mean a teacher, a Brahmin, a priest, the moon, sometimes even a scholar etc. and it depends on the context what could it mean. This makes interpretation of Sanskrit texts slightly difficult.

Additionally, the Sanskrit roots and words when used in spiritual traditions are dual-edged. As the words of all ancient languages they derive their sense from general ideas and concepts than precise meanings, while many other languages completed their evolution and constrained the use of certain words to clearly define certain verbs and nouns, Sanskrit never completed this evolution it was replaced by Prakrit group of languages. And ancient seers took very clear-cut advantage of this very fact.

For example, the Sanskrit word ‘go’ is normally denoted to a cow and ‘Ashwa’ is denoted as a horse. And if you read Vedic hymns you will be misled into thinking it is a tradition of barbarians who worshipped primitive natural elements and animals but when understood properly the word ‘go’ has a general sense of “being a fosterer or to foster” and because the cow has this function it is called go, similarly the word ‘Ashwa’ in its general sense means ‘movement or force or the vitality and strength as that of a horse’. So the one who’s initiated into the tradition of Vedic Seers sees a very profound psychological and metaphysical set of ideas here “go” means “the fostering rays of light” marshalled from the Sun (sun again is the symbol for the Supreme Truth and Eternal Reality, the western equivalent word be “The Absolute”) and Ashwa is the strength and vitality of purified will and action derived by aligning oneself with this Absolute or Brahman.

Let’s see one more example, the verse 1.6.7 in Chandogya Upanishad was interpreted by some scholars as:

“The eyes of Para-Brahman (God) are red like posteriors (buttocks) of a monkey”

Whereas it could be actually interpreted as:

“The eyes of Para-Brahman (God) are as adorable as a fully bloomed lotus aspiring towards sun.”

So the verses of Sanskrit interpreted by different scholars could result in to complete different meanings and rather misunderstandings. For this reason, the use of commentary of a genuine Sanskrit, Vedanta and Nyaya scholar becomes much useful and necessary, especially in the beginning.

We are merely scratching the surface in our discussion, traditionally scholars used to spend as long as two decades just to learn the rules of Sanskrit grammar. Sanskrit, in my opinion, is inarguably the most scientific, most phonetically precise and perfect language.

For all these reasons we have just discussed it is not possible to translate Sanskrit into any other language without being biased or opinionated. So the translations are never completely unbiased. The simple-looking verses of Gita have been interpreted by various scholars and commentators in completely different ways. By the way, all major schools of Vedanta have emerged from the different interpretations of the Gita, the Upanishad and the Brahma Sutras also known as Vyasa or Vedanta sutras.

Most Translations of Gita today in the market are either oversimplified (The one by Eknath Easwaran would be a good example of it) or overly religious (the one by ISKCON or Bhakti Vedanta Society as they call themselves sometimes is another classic example) and this is not wrong in any way because these individuals and trusts are representing the Gita from the point of view of the spiritual traditions they inherited and now represent. And in my opinion, it is better to read an interpretation coming from any such tradition than to read a scholarly translation which negates and criticises all of these traditions in one way or another forgetting the sole purpose of referring to these traditions viz to learn their point of view.

So I would stress this point over and over again and which is to say that one must realise that in seemingly simple verses of Gita the greatest and the grandest of the spiritual and philosophical secrets are hidden in an encrypted manner. If a reader can follow any one of the four commentaries written by great acharyas of Vedanta to truly understand the Gita to the fullest depth possible that would be amazing. Simply reading any translation may and probably will lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations buts fine as far as one is not looking to enter into scholarly debates on Gita and will surely improve one’s perspective and quality of life.

The Symbolism

The Bhagavad Gita is not just a conversation between two cousins but there is much more to that if we look at it from a higher plane, here Lord Śrī Krishna is the embodied divine which is very well established but the Arjuna also represents something, he represents the entire humanity trying to conquer its fears, doubts and sufferings imposed upon by ignorance (Avidhya) and polluted senses.

And the liberation from these sufferings is only possible through divine grace, through the power of Knowledge (Jñana), the power of purity (sattva), the power of Karma Yoga and ultimately through complete surrender. What could enlighten the men but the words of divine and arrest all the insecurities and troubles in order to ultimately make them perish? So that men can finally enjoy the ultimate divine bliss constantly being showered by the lord upon the world.

But unlike many other scriptures, the Gita doesn’t include any commandments which one must follow, neither does it narrate imaginary mythological stories (both the Rāmāyana and Māhābhārata indeed happened which could be proved by scientific evidence) nor does it teach any moral science, discipline and ethics. It rather deals with spiritual science, philosophy and metaphysics and it probably answers every single question that wakes us up in the middle of the night, the questions that lie quietly in the depths of our heart unnoticed and unanswered because of our busyness due to routine work and responsibilities, waiting to be answered in the state of quietness of the mind and cessation of outer activity.

But when we are alone, sitting in the quiet corner of our house these questions pop up and make us restless and still remain unanswered then we take the support of some distractions such as work, TV, YouTube, alcohol, objectionable hobbies etc. Many people say where is the proof that the God exist, well your very quest for this answer is the proof that the God exists because there is something within which screams and shouts that I’m not satisfied with all of this nonsense there is something beyond this stage of deceivingly beautiful material world and attractive looking bodies and our adorable little possessions and selfish desires. Something very eternal, something very true is missing.

Just think for a while why do people do wrong things, why do people commit crimes?, why do people cheat in relationships?, why do people fight?, Do we want to be sad and miserable? The truth is everyone wants to be happier but still end up in miserable conditions. People go to Vegas to have some fun and be happy but many end up being conned and looted by the casinos, thugs and criminals, some return with STDs and a few very unfortunate ones end up getting shot in the sin city.

People drink alcohol and smoke; many end up getting cancer and liver disorders, while they wanted to be happy and enjoy their life they ended up with sufferings. These were very simple but extreme examples. Let’s analyse what do these people do which was wrong? Were their intentions wrong? No all wanted to enjoy their life and stay happy but why do people end up in such miseries, their fault is ignorance (Ajñana and avidhya) because of which their Karma went wrong.

People are dissatisfied of themselves, their relationships, their work, their lives etc. And while they are actually suffering within they try to find satisfaction outside, in order to find this satisfaction they desire various items such as new phone, new house, new car, different types of pleasures etc. and if they work hard they acquire it but then they will soon realise that still the peace, satisfaction and happiness they were searching for could not be acquired.

So how could one find happiness? how could one find the true purpose of life? how could one feel the eternal joy, peace and tranquillity in every single moment of life? It is only when the darkness of ignorance is eradicated by the light of Knowledge one could truly find eternal peace and bliss. Lord Hrishikesha (Krishna) sheds this light of knowledge in order to make the darkness of ignorance disappear through the scripture called the Bhagavad Gita.

While the Patanjali’s yoga sutras serve as a handbook or manual for yoga, the Bhagavad Gita is an extensive guide and the most perfect textbook of Yoga. Gita answers all of our questions in a very direct and very logical manner. And it surely succeeds in slaying the darkness of ignorance if read with an open and unbiased mind.

Our Aim and Conclusion

Here concluding our discussion that last topic I want to discuss is what should be our aim when referring to Gita? I can not speak for all but I can reveal my aim. My aim is to study for myself and share the knowledge of the Bhagavad Gita into the greatest depth possible and to help myself and others implement it our lives to make it more peaceful, more blissful and more divine each day.

And the reason why I’m sharing this is that first of all I’ve myself implemented it and then one of my friend who’s catholic has implemented the principles of meditation, yoga and Ayurveda in his life. And now we are enjoying more peace, mental stability and happiness than we ever imagined possible. I believe this could be scaled and frankly speaking it doesn’t take a lot of work. I would consider it my greatest fortune if I could contribute even a little in reflecting this divine light of knowledge to spifflicate the darkness of ignorance in the world like a small mirror which reflects the light of the sun into a dark room.

Throughout this discussion, I’ve blamed science and technology and I could justify that but I ain’t at all saying that technology is hopeless. Rather what I’m suggesting is that we need a holistic integration where we push the science and technology forward and still not feel ashamed of learning and utilising the wisdom of our forefathers and ancient civilisations because the science and spirituality are no different they are like two sides of the same coin.

I’m not a lunatic who simply hates progressing technology and advances in sciences but I’m the person who loves to design and develop integrated solutions to real-life problems, build circuits and code, I’m an engineer with a dream to innovate everything around me and elsewhere but I also believe that we as a civilisation need to rethink our priorities now before it’s too late.

If there were no technology I’d have never been able to communicate my ideas with the world and you surely wouldn’t be reading this right now without advances in technology. If one would stay tuned with an open and unprejudiced mind I can surely promise that reading ancient texts such as Gita, Vachanamrut, Upanishads etc. will help you find infinite peace, happiness and a place of serenity in your life. This is not just my promise, it has been tested to work over millennia and it works fantastically even today.

Another thing the Bhagavad Gita just like Yoga is not something that is owned by a particular group of people but it comes directly from the divine and hence entire humanity can express its rights towards it so it should not be used to cause any divisions but it is a scripture to be used to unite the whole world.

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