It is the name of a celebrated mystical poem in the great Indian epic called the Mahabharata. The Gita was given about three thousand years ago to an Indian prince by Shri Krishna, an incarnation of God. Its teachings are universal and do not belong to any particular age, place, creed or society ; it embodies the universal truth which is not touched by time. The teachings are based on the Upanishads, the ancient metaphysical classics of India, undoubtedly the oldest books in existence on the subject. The sages of the Upanishads “ saw ” the great truth of Unity and the divinity of man, and in ecstasy following this great realisation, poured out their experiences in verse and prose. We know almost nothing about these sages except their names and the fact that some of them were women.
Time and again many other sages, through the purity of their lives, the complete unselfishness of their motives and their one-pointed devotion to truth, have re-discovered the same spiritual truth through their own inner experiences, and have set the seal of confirmatory approval on these teachings.
In our own times Swami Nirbhyananda, Shri Ramakrishna, Swami Rama Tirtha, Shri Dadaji Maharaj and many others have realised the same truth and obtained that undisturbability of mind which abides.
To know the Gita is to know all that is best in the philosophical teachings of India, China and Japan. The Sufi teachings of Persia and the Irfan of Arabia are fully contained in the Gita.
The Gita is not a book of logical metaphysics and does not claim to advance intellectual arguments in support of its teachings. In the first place, the competence of human reason to grasp the transcendental reality is disputed by all great philosophers ; then, a mere intellectual conviction of truth is not of much value. Even Plato and Socrates, who advocate intellectual conviction as the basis of morality, suspend reason while talking of the “ world of Names and Forms.”
The greatest proof of the truth of the Gita is that you can demonstrate it to yourself by realising it in your inner being.
It gives a spiritual understanding, a new interpretation of life and a way to rise above the world of duality and the pairs of opposites, such as love and hate, joy and grief, heat and cold. An Upanishad says “The Rishis (Sages), their sins destroyed, their doubts removed, their selves controlled, intent upon the welfare of all beings, obtain the Brahman Nirvana.”
There are no contradictions in the teachings of the Gita. It is true that each of the great commentators of India has tried to impose his own theory on the Gita, yet in spite of this it represents a fixed, clear-cut philosophy of life, easy to follow and corroborated by experience.
Though given in India by a great Hindu teacher, the Gita is not exclusively a Hindu book. Being universal in its scope, its teachings are the same as those of the higher Christianity, of Islam, of M.ahayana Buddhism and of Taoism.
Unlike the Jewish Bible, the Gita is free from any racial or national significance.
A short summary of its important philosophical teachings by way of introduction, is attempted in the following.
The Gita teaches strict monism. The universe, according to its teaching, is composed of two aspects : the appearance and the reality, or the perishable and the imperishable. All that is perceived, either by the external or the internal senses, is perishable or phenomenal. The world of names and forms, being in a state of constant change, is evidently unreal. The subjective experiences, so long as they are perceived, fall into the same category.
Hidden behind the appearance is the unchanging Reality— the substratum of all appearance, name and form. It is one, immutable and eternal, beyond all time and space, allpervasive, deathless and birthless. It is the real element in the composition of man, above sin or virtue, far, far beyond the reach of the intellect, imagination or inspiration. It is called Purushottama when spoken of in relation to the universe, and Atman when applied to the individual man. It does not re-incarnate nor transmigrate. It is Consciousness Absolute. It can never be described in positive terms ; in the Upanishads it is hinted at as “ not this, not this.”
The Kena Upanishad says of it : “ By whose power the mind thinks and whom the mind cannot grasp, know it to be the Infinite (Self) ; by whose power the eyes see and whom the eyes cannot see, know that to be the Infinite (Self).”
The Gita teaches Infinity and the full divinity of the real man and this highest reality is therein symbolised in the person of Krishna, the Teacher, who is conceived as God incarnate.
How and why has the One become many ?
Why has the perfect “ fallen ” and become imperfect ?
The Gita replies that no change has taken place in the Infinite, and that the imperfection—duality—is in the appearance and not in the substance. The reality in man is Consciousness Absolute, which is the same as the reality in all that is. It is itself attributeless, but allows “a part ” of itself to go into manifestation, and periodically this manifestation is reabsorbed into the Consciousness Absolute. In the highest sense the manifestation is like the twinkle in a star, a mere appearance, yet inseparable, in the phenomenal sense, from the star.
The manifesting energy remains sometimes latent and sometimes patent in the Infinite, or Consciousness Absolute. That part of the Infinite which goes into manifestation assumes the attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, infinite compassion, eternal enlightenment and so forth. This is the personal God of the Christians and Moslems and the Amitabha Buddha of the Mahayanist. This is the projector (Creator) of the universe. The power through which He creates and supports the universe is called his Maya.
When manifestation begins—if we can attempt to explain the unexplainable mystery—it assumes two poles, spirit and substance. Substance is that principle of which the whole appearance (phenomenon), subjective and objective, is mere modification or compound. Ether, cosmic mind, the universal ego, time-space, are all offshoots of this substance. There are three essential qualities or modes of the substance or world-energy, and therefore also of human nature. They are : Sattva, the mode of poise, knowledge and satisfaction ; Rajas, the mode of passion, action and desire ; and Tamas, the mode of ignorance or inertia.
Let us understand these three modes in relation to the nature of man:
Dominated by Tamas, the man does not so much meet the shock of the world-energies whirling about him and converging upon him, as succumb to it. He is overcome by it, afflicted and subjected.Tamasic man only seeks somehow to survive, to subsist as long as he may. rejecting the demands which higher nature makes upon him.
Dominated by Rajas, man flings himself into the battle and attempts to use the struggle of forces for his own egotistic benefit, to slay, to conquer, dominate and enjoy. The battle of life becomes his delight and passion, partly for its own sake, and partly as a means to his growth and natural self-development.
Dominated by Sattva a man seeks, in the midst of strife, for a principle of law, righteousness, poise, harmony, peace, satisfaction. He seeks this with an impulse to communicate it when won to other human minds.
It will next be noticed that the Gita holds man to be a composite being, consisting of the physical body, the inner or psychic body having as its functions thought, feeling, will, memory, imagination and so forth, and the causal body with its attribute of bliss. These three bodies are all appearance, superimposed on the Reality, the unchanging witness-self which is One, ever-bliss, Consciousness Absolute, transcending time, space and causation and called Atman.
The central call of the Gita is “ Grieve not.” To be above all fear and to be blissful through an active, conscious realisation of one’s divine nature is what the Gita claims to teach. Insistence is laid on friendliness to all and constant endeavours for the good of all living beings.
The chief aim of man in life should be to acquire that exalted state of mind which is imperturbable, ever peaceful, free from grief and the pairs of opposites, acquiring which, man becomes an instrument of God, and divine energy pours forth through him. This is called liberation or perfect freedom. Knowledge, unselfish action, service to others and one-pointed devotion to God, are the means whereby this liberation is obtained.
The Gita does not teach monasticism. It is not the philosophy of the recluse. It teaches a rigid performance of one’s duty in society, a life of active struggle, keeping one’s inner being untouched by outer surroundings, pleasures or pains, and renouncing all fruits of action as offerings to God.
To be psychic is one thing and to be spiritual another.
The Gita clearly points out, as all have done who have known the truth, in China, Persia, Palestine, Greece and many lands, that the way to a knowledge of truth and perfect freedom is quite independent of psychic development.
Clairvoyance, thought-reading, astral-ramblings, materialisations and so forth, may have their own use and value in the world of phenomena, but they have no value whatever in the God-region, neither do they help the aspirant substantially in his quest after truth. A knowledge of the astral and devachanic worlds, of the occult world, of the symbology of the sun and the moon and other kindred matters, has no bearing on the realisation of truth which leads to Nirvana.
Shri Krishna makes it clear that the way to perfect freedom or union with God does not lie only through the Vedic teachings, but that each spiritual path—be it prayer, devotion, chanting the Name of God, abstract meditation, worship of sacred images—finally leads to the one God who loves sincerity, simplicity and one-pointed self-surrender in His devotees and confers bliss on them.
Those who say “ This is the only true path ”, “ this is the only true doctrine ”, have not, according to the teachings of Krishna, understood the truth. It is evident that truth, being infinite and eternal, cannot be limited to any particular creed, book or religion. The God of the Gita is not the God of any particular religion, but of all religions ; He has not given only one book, but His truth is found in all the holy books. He has no chosen people and makes no favourites of the Brahmins of India. This part of the teachings of the Gita is perhaps unique.
As stated already, the God of the Gita is both personal and impersonal and yet transcends these two limitations. His grace consumes ignorance and reveals the knowledge of truth which gives eternal bliss. The progress of the soul is not infinite ; it comes to its consummation when unity with God is realised, through His grace, which is one of the means to it. It is through self-surrender that the soul attracts His full grace. All desires, opinions, aims and ambitions must be unconditionally surrendered to Him. Desires choke the heart. Self-will limits the operations of the intellect.
Is the Guru an absolute necessity to the realisation of Truth? The reply, according to the Gita, is “Yes.” The Guru, or Master, is the person who teaches the unity of the soul with the Absolute and who lives the life of Sattva Guna.
The Guru can be of either sex and need not be a recluse, living cut off from the world in the snows of the Himalayas, speaking through chosen apostles only, and sending fantastic letters through the “ astral mail.” The Guru of the Gita is a man like any other good man, whom anyone can see at any convenient time, who lives in human society and does not claim any superiority over others. Yet the Gita hints that the Guru of all Gurus is God and that to take refuge in Him with full sincerity leads to the extinction of grief for ever.
Is the Gita a book of Yoga ?
The word Yoga means “ Union ” and any teaching which leads to the realisation of that Truth which is perfect unity, is Yoga.
According to Patanjali, Yoga means control of the activities of the inner organ (antahkarana) which is defined in Hindu philosophy as the unified principle of thinking, feeling, willing, memory, discrimination and so forth.
But the Gita teaches the Yoga of action coupled with devotion based on a knowledge of truth. The Yoga which is based on physical practices is not dealt with in the Gita. It is true that pranayama, or control of the breath, is mentioned, but it is not spoken of as an indispensable element.
The Gita has no esoteric or hidden teachings.
Like any other great work, it is very profound, but it has no teachings which only few chosen ones can understand and impart. One need not necessarily become someone’s slave-disciple to enter into its real meaning, for everyone who has a sincere desire to learn the philosophy of life is entitled to its teachings. These, though profound, are not difficult to understand.
There is a striking resemblance between certain teachings of the Gita, the Bible, the Sat Dharma Pundarika Sutra and certain authoritative Moslem books. This does not mean that one has copied from the other, but that each has drawn inspiration from the same source, direct realisation of God.