The teaching of the Bhagavad Gita, although it was written several thousand years ago, is wonderfully apposite to modern problems. This is not so extraordinary when it is seen that without including a dogmatic system in its teaching, it reached out to the deepest needs and aspirations of mankind, which have after all not changed since its writing and are not likely to change for another several thousand years.
One of man’s deepest needs is a purpose in living, and he must be able to fulfil his spiritual as well as his other potentialities, to feel that he is not throwing his life away senselessly. But a sense of purposelessness can be a sign of health rather than degeneration, for until this stage of restlessness is reached we are not likely to turn our minds seriously to the problem and try to solve it.
In the first chapter of the Gita Arjuna is in just such a state of mind. He is appalled at the position he is in. His friends and relations, with whom he must do battle, symbolise the accepted code of morals in which he has been brought up; but now he has to transcend these and follow a higher teaching.
All his worldly wisdom is against anything so drastic, but even when he talks of not fighting, of laying down his arms, he is being false to his own nature. His is the warrior caste; his karma, that is, the conditions of fife that he has earned for himself, impel him to act as a warrior, and his talk of renunciation (sannyasa) is false. He has not earned sannyasa. He has many inner battles to fight before he can lay down his arms.
While he sits sullenly in his chariot, the Lord Krishna begins to teach him, first declaring to him what his real nature is, and how his concern for his body and mind are based on the false assumption that these are his real self. Then He goes on to tell him what steps he must take to convince himself that this statement is the Truth.
The mistaken view of the Self is at the basis of the whole teaching of the Gita. Our real Self is God. We have forgotten this fact and try to get satisfaction from the forms that disguise Him. Until this is recognised and we try consciously to regain our lost Divinity, there will naturally be a sense of purposelessness and frustration. The only satisfactory purpose we can
have in life is to be re-united with the Truth or God, call it what you will. The further we remove ourselves from our real nature, the more we suffer.
Krishna does not try to convince Arjuna intellectually. Dialectics are not food for the spiritually distressed. Instead, Aijuna is given rare glimpses of the nature and aspects of God and hints of that other dimension of living which spiritual maturity confers. The main message of the Gita is one of devotion to a personal God. It is not a book written for the enlightened man, for to him the veil hiding the Truth has already gone and he sees all as Brahman.
But the unenlightened man must hold on to some support while working to transfigure his natural self, and his only support is Brahman seen through his limited earthly vision as God or Ishvara. Without this personal relationship with the Lord, the source and sus- tainer of all, the unenlightened man cannot have a reliable sense of values. Without a firm basis for his values, standards are impossible, and so he is back in the same position without proper support or satisfactory purpose in life.
When the sense of values is balanced the necessity for purifying the intentions is seen more clearly; and this in its turn implies that the secret of right action is known, if only in theory.
The Lord gives Arjuna very explicit instructions on right action, which He says must be carried out without desire for, or concern with, the results. Failure to adopt right action in its turn means giving way to the passions and the interminable play of the mind, so that there is no proper control; the personality is unreliable and remains in fact an irresponsible dictator over the spirit.
All the instructions in the Gita are eminently practical, with good reasons given for them all, but every now and then very high teaching is given so that Aijuna is not weighed down with the wealth of ethics, but is lifted up and given a breath of Divine air to breathe. The contradictions serve to remind us that the Lord is all these things and yet infinitely above and beyond them, beyond all contradiction and argument.
Great emphasis is laid on the necessity for a loving relationship with the Lord. Again and again the Lord says to Arjuna: “Fix thy mind on Me, be devoted to Me”, for devotion to the Lord is the quickest and easiest way to transform the ego into a useful servant, and there is no point in taking longer over the task than necessary.
As his degree of purification increases, so a man’s concern for his well-being, even his spiritual well-being, dwindles, until he is fit to be used as an instrument to guide others along the same path. There are no ivory towers for the followers of the Gita, but instead the market place. Liberation is not separation from the world, but a transfiguration, and the liberated man is only concerned to help liberate others.
The Bhagavata sums it up, simply and concisely:
“The good people suffer for the sins of the world.
They consume themselves in order that they may light the world.”