Arsha Vidya Pitham, Saylorsburg, PA

Home Study Course


The Bhagavad Gita Home Study Course has been designed and taught by Sri Swami Dayananda Saraswati. Each of the 700 verses of the Gita is presented in the Devanagari script with transliteration, word-for-word meaning, and an English transliteration. Swamiji has provided extensive commentary in keeping with the traditional commentary of Adi Sankara. Based on the classes taught by Swamiji to students attending the three-year resident course at the gurukulam, the Gita Home Study Program offers a methodical and comprehensive program of self-study.

“In the Gita you will find yourself;
The self hitherto unknown but sought after,
The self that is strangely missed and searched for,
The self that you love to be,
That you are.”

— Swami Dayananda

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 sourcebooks 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?
Scripture is something that has a message with 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 being does it have lasting relevance. Because the Vedas and the Gita have that kind of a message, they are 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.


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 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 conflicts 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 on 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 a 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, the message is the Brahma-vidya, knowledge of the reality of yourself being the essence of everything, you’re 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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Lord Daksinamurti

In the vision of the Veda, this creation is a manifestation of the Lord. Being the cause, he is all knowledge, especially spiritual knowledge. We have a name for that Lord Daksinamurti.

The Lord presented in this form as Dakṣiṇāmūrti is the one who has eight aspects. The first five aspects are thefive elements. In the Veda the world is presented in the form of five elements—ākāśa, space,which includes time; vāyu, air; agni, fire; āpa, water; and pṛthivī, earth.

In this Vedic model of the universe, the five elements are non-separate from the Lord. In fact, these five elements constitute the Lord’s form, which is this universe.

The next two aspects are represented by the sun and the moon.

When, as an individual, I look at this world, what stands out in the sky are the sun and moon.

The moon represents all planets other than earth, and the sun represents allluminous bodies.

The eighth aspect is me, the jīva—the one who is looking at the world.

These eight aspects are to be understood as one whole. This is the Lord.

When we look at the form of Dakṣiṇāmūrti, we can see representations of the five elements. Space, ākāśa, is represented by a ḍamaru, a drum, in his right hand. In order to show space in a sculpture, it needs to be enclosed.

Empty space is enclosed in the ḍamaru, enabling it to issue sound, or śabda.

Next, vāyu, air, is represented by Dakṣiṇāmūrti’s hair with the bandana, the band, holding his hair in place against the wind. Bandana is a Sanskrit word which comes from the root band, to bind.

In his left hand, you will see a torch, which represents agni, fire.

Āpa, water, is shown by the Gaṅga, in the form of a Goddess, which you can see on Dakṣiṇāmūrti’s head.

Pṛthivī, the earth, is represented by the whole idol.

Then there are people, the jīvas, Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanātana and Sanatsujāta, who are the disciples of Dakṣiṇāmūrti, sitting at the base of sculpture.

The sun and moon are also shown in this form of the Lord.

On the left side of Dakṣiṇāmūrti you will find a crescent moon, and on his right side there is a circle, representing the sun—a whole circle.

So we see five elements, two planets and the jīva constituting the aṣṭa-mūrti-bhṛt, the Lord of these eight factors that are the whole.

You can worship Dakṣiṇāmūrti as the Lord, the one who is aṣṭa-mūrti-bhṛt, or you can invoke him as a teacher, because he also is in the form of a teacher.

His very sitting posture, āsana, is the teacher’s āsana. What does he teach? Look at his hand gesture. That shows wha the teaches. His index finger, the one we use to point at others, represents the ahaṅkāra, the ego.

The other three fingers represent your body, deha, mind, antaḥkaraņa and sense organs, prāņa.

They also may be seen as the three bodies, śarīras, the gross, subtle, and causal. This is what the jīva mistakes himself to be. The aṅguṣṭha, the thumb, represents the Lord, the puruṣa. It is away from the rest of the fingers of the hand, yet at the same time, the fingers have no strength without it.

In this gesture, mūdra, in Dakṣiṇāmūrti’s right hand, the thumb joins the other fingers to form a circle, teaching that the jīva, who takes himself to be the body, mind and senses, is the whole. The circular hand gesture visually states the entire upadeśa, teaching: tat tvam asi, “You are That.” Just as a circle has no beginning or end, you are the whole. That is the final word about you. Nobody can improve upon that vision; no culture can improve upon it.

Even in heaven, it cannot be improved upon, for the whole includes heaven. Therefore, you have the final word here, because you are everything. It is better that you know it. That teaching is contained in the Veda, represented by the palm leaves in the left hand of Dakṣiṇāmūrti. And to understand this, you require a mind that has assimilated certain values and attitudes and has developed a capacity to think in a proper and sustained way.

This can be acquired by various spiritual disciplines represented here by a japa-māla, The fact that the Lord himself is a teacher, a guru, means that any teacher is looked upon as a source of knowledge. And the teacher himself should look upon Īśvara, the Lord, as the source of knowledge. Since the Lord himself is a teacher, the first guru, there is a tradition of teaching, so there is no individual ego involved in teaching.

Dakṣiṇāmūrti is seated upon a bull, which stands for tamas, the quality of māyā that accounts for ignorance. This is the entire creative power of the world and Dakṣiṇāmūrti controls this māyā; Then, there are bound to be obstacles in your pursuit of this knowledge. Dakṣiṇāmūrti controls all possible obstacles.

Underneath his foot, under his control, is a fellow called Apasmara—the one who throws obstacles in your life. This tells us that although there will be obstacles, with the grace of the Lord, you can keep them under check and not allow them to overpower you. There is no obstacle-free life, but obstacles need not really throw you off course; you keep them under control.

Thus, the whole form of Dakṣiṇāmūrti invokes the Lord who is the source of all knowledge, the source of everything, the one who is the whole, and who teaches you that you are the whole. He is Dakṣiṇāmūrti, the one who is in the form of a teacher, guru-mūrti.

We invoke his blessing so that all of you discover that source in yourself. If this self-discovery is your pursuit, your whole life becomes worthwhile. This project of self-discovery should be the project of everyone. That is the Vedic vision of human destiny

Arsha Vidya Gurukulam was founded in 1986 by Pujya Sri Swami Dayananda Saraswati. In Swamiji’s own words,

“When I accepted the request of many people I know to start a gurukulam, I had a vision of how it should be. I visualized the gurukulam as a place where spiritual seekers can reside and learn through Vedanta courses. . . And I wanted the gurukulam to offer educational programs for children in values, attitudes, and forms of prayer and worship. When I look back now, I see all these aspects of my vision taking shape or already accomplished. With the facility now fully functional, . . . I envision its further unfoldment to serve more and more people.”

Ārṣa (arsha) means belonging to the ṛṣis or seers; vidyā means knowledge. Guru means teacher and kulam is a family.  In traditional Indian studies, even today, a student resides in the home of this teacher for the period of study. Thus, gurukulam has come to mean a place of learning. Arsha Vidya Gurukulam is a place of learning the knowledge of the ṛṣis.

The traditional study of Vedanta and auxiliary disciplines are offered at the Gurukulam. Vedanta mean end (anta) of the Veda, the sourcebook for spiritual knowledge.  Though preserved in the Veda, this wisdom is relevant to people in all cultures, at all times. The vision that Vedanta unfolds is that the reality of the self, the world, and God is one non-dual consciousness that both transcends and is the essence of everything. Knowing this, one is free from all struggle based on a sense of inadequacy.

The vision and method of its unfoldment has been carefully preserved through the ages, so that what is taught today at the Gurukulam is identical to what was revealed by the ṛṣis in the Vedas.