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Why Study the Gita?
by Swami Dayananda Saraswati

Gita-sugita kartavya
kim anyaih sastra-vistaraih

Praising the Bhagavad-gita, this verse says that the Gita has to be studied well, gita-sugita kartavya; what will you gain by studying other books in detail, kim anyaih sastra-vistaraih? This verse presents the Gita as a book to be studied, a book containing everything that one has to know through the scriptures [Vedas]. It doesn't belittle the efficacy or the necessity of studying other scriptural books; it only points out that the study of the Gita amounts to the study of other scriptures.

The source books of the spiritual wisdom [of India] are the four Vedas: rig-veda, yajur-veda, sama-veda, and atharva-veda. The Vedas are fulfilled in the last portion called Vedanta or Upanishads. Another famous Sanskrit verse likens these Upanishads to a cow and the Gita becomes the cow's milk: sarvopanisadogavah, dogdha gopala-nandanah partho vatsah sudhibhokta dughdham gitamrtam mahat. The Gita, the milk, is milked by Lord Krishna himself, who is presented as an avatar of the Lord in the Mahabharata and in the Bhagavata. He is the one who is teaching the Gita to Arjuna. Arjuna serves as the calf to whom the milk, the message of the Gita, is given.

What Constitutes a Scripture?
A scripture is something that has a message with a lasting, universal value. What is relevant now, may not be relevant later; nor may it have been relevant before. A scripture's message should be relevant to me as an individual and to you; it should be relevant to anyone at any time and place. Only when a message addresses certain problems that are always there for a human deing does it have lasting relevance. Because the Vedas and the Gita have that kind of a message, they are a scripture.

The Gita Contains Two Main Topics

The Gita is recognized and highly respected by the scholars and the devoted lay public in India because of its two main topics: yoga-sastra and brahma-vidya. Together they form the body of knowledge which is very important for every individual.

Yoga-sastra

The knowledge meant to make a person mature as an individual is called yoga-sastra. A mature individual is one who is free from conflicts, fear, agitation, guilt, and hurt.

Brahma-vidya

Brahma-vidya is knowledge of the whole, the knowledge that liberates a person. A person who has become mature by yoga has something more to accomplish - total freedom, generally called moksha. To know Brahman is to know the truth of oneself as the whole, as complete. The discovery of this fact frees you from all sense of limitation and isolation.

So the first message of the Gita, yoga-sastra, helps you to gain maturity as a person, as an individual. It helps one to become relatively composed, tranquil, alert and free - in short, a cheerful person. You are then fit to gain brahma-vidya, knowledge that you are the whole, knowledge that frees you from the notion of being a small, limited, mortal being. These two topics of the Gita, which form the very essence of all four Vedas, make the Gita a scripture with a message that is relevant for everyone.

The Context of the Gita

The Gita itself is set in a battlefield, not in the Himalayas, or in a forest. Arjuna is face-to-face with a problem born of conflict between his familial affections and the call of duty. On one side, it seems to be necessary for him to perform his duty, which is to fight the war. Then, there is another equally powerful pull - his affection for his family and teachers and his own self respect, which conflict with the concept of duty. Caught between the horns of duty and affection, Arjuna is confused as he stands between the two forces on the battlefield.

The battle has been declared because Duryodhana has usurped the kingdom. The rightful rulers were the Pandavas, Arjuna and his four brothers, who had been in exile for thirteen years. When they returned to claim the kingdom back as it was promised, Duryodhana who had enjoyed absolute power didn't want to give up the kingdom.

The Pandavas had tried to avoid a war by asking Krishna to act as a mediator. Krishna went to Duryodhana to work out a solution that both parties would be happy with. Duryodhana wouldn't give the kingdom back nor even share the kingdom with the Pandavas. He would not give a district, a county, a village with five houses, nor a house with five rooms; not even a square inch of land would he give. He said, "Let them either go back into the forest or meet me in the battlefield." Thus, Krishna's attempt to negotiate had failed and there was no way of avoiding war. Arjuna and his brothers were supposed to be the rulers; Duryodhana, their cousin, was occupying the kingdom improperly. Arjuna, who was considered the greatest archer of the time, was now called upon to fight to uphold dharma.

Given this situation, the Gita opens. Arjuna is seated in a chariot driven by Lord Krishna and drawn by white horses. He has been waiting for this day to settle his account with Duryodhana. Duryodhana had wronged him in a number of incidents throughout his life, but he could do nothing. Now the day has come. Arjuna is a flame of fury and he wants to know, "In this battlefield, who are the people with whom I should fight?" He asks Krishna to place the chariot between the two forces.

Arjuna's Conflict

When Arjuna looked, he found highly respected people like Drona, his own teacher, Bhishma, his grandfather, and many relatives and acquaintances with whom he had to fight. He said, "What is the use of fighting all these people? Without killing them, I'm not going to get the kingdom back. And what is the use of getting the kingdom back by destroying the people in whose company I would be happy?" Arjuna saw that in war nobody is a winner. "I don't care for the kingdom, nor am I interested in royal comforts. I don't see anything to be gained by the war. I see a black, dark future; therefore, I'm not interested in this fight." Arjuna gave up his bow and arrows. Then, Krishna spoke to Arjuna to enthuse him, urging him to do his duty.

Arjuna becomes a Sisya

While caught between the call of duty and his emotions, Arjuna begins to appreciate a fundamental problem, the problem of a human being. That problem takes possession of his mind and he wants to find a solution. Finding a teacher in Lord Krishna, he presents himself to Krishna as a Sisya, a disciple. Arjuna was always a devotee, but not a sisya; he finds himself a sisya on the battlefield. Lord Krishna accepts Arjuna as a disciple and teaches him in the succeeding 17 chapters of the Gita.

Throughout the Gita the yoga-sastra is given; telling one the ways and means to be a mature person free from conflicts, fear, hurt, and guilt. Along with the yoga message is the brahma-vidya, knowledge of the reality of yourself being the essence of everything, your being the whole. The Gita has all that is to be learned from the four Vedas, which are a vast literature. Therefore, the Gita has to be studied, and if it is understood well, everything is well understood.

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Arshavidya. P.O. BOX 1059, Saylorsburg, PA 18353
Phone: (570) 992 2339. Email: avp@epix.net

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