Introduction to the Bhagavad Gita

This is part of a longer essay by Paul Molinari, presented for the first time to the Personal Theology group at the Berkeley Unitarian Church, February 28, 1993.


by Paul Molinari
    There are four great events in history, the siege of Troy, the life and crucifixion of Christ, the exile of Krishna in Brindaban and the colloquy on the field of Kurukshetra. The siege of Troy created Hellas, the exile in Brindaban created devotional religion, (for before there was only meditation and worship), Christ from his cross humanized Europe, the colloquy at Kurukshetra will yet liberate humanity. —Sri Aurobindo, Thoughts and Aphorisms
For Sri Aurobindo, the modem mystic-poet of India, the high point of the Gita are three lines in the fifteenth chapter that describe the "three souls" of existence. Sri Aurobindo has said that this concept provides a solution to the problem of the relationship of the individual to the cosmos and the relationship of the transcendental aspect to both the individual and the cosmos, perhaps "the greatest of all philosophical problems with which human reason has to struggle." The lines are (Chapter 15, 16-17): 
    There are two Purushas [Souls] in the world, the akshara [imperishable] and the kshara 
    [perishable], - the kshara is all creatures, the akshara is called kutastha, the one on the summit.  There is another Purusha, the highest (uttama), called also Paramatma or Supreme Spirit, who enters into the three worlds (the worlds of sushupti, svapna, jarat, otherwise the causal, mental and physical planes of existence), and sustains them as their imperishable lord. (Sri Aurobindo's translation)
This passage affirms the many without diminishing the One. Both are real and exist as an aspect of (in the Gita's terminology) the Purushottama, which transcends both Being and Becoming, Unity and Multiplicity, yet is immanent in them. "This idea of the Purushottamma, though continually implied in the Upanishads, is disengaged and definitely brought out by the Gita and has exercised a powerful influence on the later developments of the Indian religious consciousness." (Essays, p.73) 

The Bhagavad Gita is a profound text that requires close study before it yields up its subtler secrets. It is Brahma-vidya, the knowledge of existence, as well as Yoga-shastra, scripture on the science of the Self. It is not pure Monism although it posits one eternal Self as the foundation of existence, nor is it Mayavada although it speaks of the maya of prakriti in the manifested universe. The Gita has had many interpreters who have chosen to emphasize elements of its text or ignore other parts to find in it support for their various positions. This is the fate of many timeless texts such as the Bible or Koran as well as the Gita. But the Gita stands alone in its synthetic spirit and practical wisdom. 

The Bhagavad Gita can be approached as inspirational literature, as metaphor and analogy or as scripture. Any approach will enrich and broaden one's horizons because the Gita is charged with light and power. The image of Krishna and Arjuna riding together should not be taken for mere creative device. The Self and the self ride together (in the body) and this is one of the many symbols the Gita carries. As "spiritual technology," that is, useful techniques for the pursuit of the Self and consciousness, the Gita is peerless. 

Of all commentators on the Bhagavad Gita, the most prolific is Sri Aurobindo who wrote two significantly sized volumes on it. The "triple yoga" of the Gita became central to his Integral Yoga which could be considered the next step on the golden stair of spiritual evolution. In closing I would like to quote the first paragraph of his essay, "The Message of The Gita": 

“The secret of action," so we might summarize the message of the Gita, the word of its divine 
Teacher, "is one with the secret of all life and existence. Existence is not merely a machinery of 
Nature, a wheel of law in which the soul is entangled for a moment or for ages; it is a constant 
manifestation of the Spirit. Life is not for the sake of life alone, but for God, and the living soul 
of man is an eternal portion of the Godhead. Action is for self-finding, for self-fulfilment, for 
self-realisation and not only for its own external and apparent fruits of the moment or the future. There is an inner law and meaning of all things dependent on the supreme as well as the 
manifested nature of the self, the true truth of works lies there and can be represented only 
incidentally, imperfectly and disguised by ignorance in the outer appearances of the mind and its action. The supreme, the faultless largest law of action is therefore to find out the truth of your 
own highest and inmost existence and live in it and not follow any outer standard and dharma. 
All life and action must be 'II then an imperfection, a difficulty, a struggle and a problem. It is 
only by discovering your true self and living according to its true truth, its reality that the problem can be finally solved, the difficulty and struggle overpassed and your doings perfected in the security of the discovered self and spirit turn into a divinely authentic action. Know then your self, know your true self to be God and one with the self of all others; know your soul to be a portion of God. Live in what you know; live in the self, live in your supreme spiritual nature, be united with God and Godlike. Offer, first, all your actions as a sacrifice to the Highest and the One in you and to the Highest and the One in the world; deliver last all you do into his hands for the supreme and universal Spirit to do through you his own will and works in the world. This is the solution that I present to you and in the end you will find that there is no other."—Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, p.510 

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