Bhagavad-Gita means literally ‘Sung by the Lord’. What are sung are extracts from the
Upanisad-s, early Indian mystical texts, here put into 700 verses of simple Sanskrit.
The Upanisad-s had not been taught openly; in the Gita the secrets are made available to all.
It has been called the Bible of India, but corresponds rather to the Gospels, which contain teachings for everyone’s daily life, but also riddling indications of higher truth.
What are these riddles? Surely the message of the Gita should be simple and straightforward, as is Christ’s message of Love in the Gospels? Not so, and not so.
In the Gita the Lord says: ‘Though I have created all this world, know me as one who does no action.’
As always in the Gita, the cosmic declaration has to be applied to the individual also: ‘He sees, who sees that all action is performed by Nature alone, while the Self is ever actionless.’
Casual readers of the Gita may not be sure whether this means that some inner self just watches the body and mind being jerked about by Nature like marionettes. If so, it would be contrary to our whole experience, that we do make decisions. Some turn uneasily away from the text. This is why the great commentator on the Gita, Sankara, says that it can be difficult to understand.
In just the same way some devout Christians mentally turn away from Christ’s words on why he systematically taught in parables: ‘To those outside everything comes by way of parables, so that (as Scripture says) they may look and look but see nothing, they may hear and hear but understand nothing; otherwise they might turn to God and be forgiven.’ The passage comes in three of the Gospels, but there is sometimes a tacit agreement by readers to pass by on the other side.
The Gita explains why the difficulties are inevitable, and gives practical methods for penetrating to the truth beyond them. In the Indian style, the inspired texts are collated and explained by a commentator, who puts them into precise statements of principle: applications to individual lives are supplied by the living oral tradition. My book, ‘Realization of the Supreme Self ‘complements the Gita and its commentary by Sankara with teachings by the late Dr Hari Prasad Shastri from his book ‘Teachings from the Bhagavad Gita’. I was his pupil for eighteen years.
© Trevor Leggett