Importance of Bhagavad-gita in This Day and Age
By Stephen Knapp
Most everyone at some point hears about the Bhagavad-gita, but do they know what it really contains, or how profound and deep is the knowledge that it provides?
Besides being the classic Eastern text that it is, and the summary of most Upanishadic information, it is the core of the deepest levels of spiritual knowledge. It is also like a handbook for life. Just as when you purchase an appliance of some kind, like a refrigerator, television or computer, you get a manual that teaches you how to use it. So in the same way, if God created this world and put us here, doesn’t it seem that He should also tell us what is the purpose of this life and how to use it accordingly? The Bhagavad-gita is such an instruction manual for anyone. It provides the basic answers that most people have about life, and the universal spiritual truths that can be used by anyone, anywhere, and at any time in history. In this way it is timeless.
So let me explain a little of its importance and why we should take it seriously. I will not go into all of the details of what the Bhagavad-gita teaches, but I will provide a quick overview and summary of each chapter to give you an idea of the information you can discover and the benefits if you read it.
Of course, we know it was spoken on the battlefield at Kurukshetra as the forces prepared for war, a war meant to uphold the Dharmic principles against those who were bereft of them and before things became more evil then they already were, so there was little time in which to speak the Bhagavad-gita. Therefore, it was a brief conversation between Arjuna and Lord Krishna.
So, once the scene is set in the first chapter, from the second chapter it begins to explain some of the highest spiritual realizations known to humanity. It begins to explain exactly who and what we really are as spiritual beings. Without this knowledge in a person’s life, the Vedic literature says that humans are little better than polished animals.
The reason for this conclusion is that the human life is especially meant for spiritual inquiry because in no other species of life here on earth does the living being have the faculty, such as the intelligence and the means to understand spiritual knowledge. Otherwise, this implies that there is little difference in the purpose of life between humans and animals who are mostly interested in merely eating, sleeping, mating, and defending what they think is theirs.
However, human life is not merely the means to acquire knowledge from the teachings and explanations of others, but it also offers the facility to realize it within oneself by practice. It is a matter of uplifting one’s consciousness so that one can perceive the higher dimensions that exist all around us. This is more than merely accepting something on faith alone, but it is a matter of attaining direct perception of what the Vedic literature discusses.
So, from the second chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, we begin to learn our real identity as the soul within these bodies. The Bhagavad-gita explains the size and nature of the soul, and how it is completely transcendental or beyond the body itself. It is beyond time and beyond the effects of the three dimensional world. It is beyond the limitations of the body and mind.
This teaches us many things. It shows that regardless of our physical limitations, we can rise above them because, spiritually, we are already above them. We simply have to realize that. What does it mean to realize it? It means to directly perceive that truth, to see it as plain as day. And then live according to that realization. This teaches us that regardless of our situation, socially or physically or economically, we can rise to higher levels of existence, both in this world and in the next.
This teaches us that no matter what kind of pressures we may feel from our classmates at school, or what good or bad biases that may come from our fellow workers, or what kind of labels they put on us, or how much they may purposefully demean or criticize us, or even how great we think we are, we can be grounded, fixed in understanding who and what we really are as a spiritual being inside the limited material body. That is how we should see ourselves. And then we can be confident that regardless of what others may say, we know who we are and can go through life fixed in perceiving our real identity and our purpose in this life and what really is our higher potential. As an old saying points out, it is better to see yourself truly than to care how others see you.
When you are spiritually grounded, it is no longer necessary to always try to convince others of your self-worth, or of your social status, or of trying to make it into the right clique or group of people. We become convinced of who we are. We work in our own way to provide a contribution to society, to make something of ourselves that has meaning, beyond the typical superficialities and meaningless and worldly gossip that occupy the minds of most youth and adults today. We know that as long as we keep working in our own way, both intellectually and spiritually, attaining the skills that will enable us to do something significant, that our time will come when we can make a mark on this world in our own sphere of influence, which may continue to expand from there.
So we may be popular in school or not, or recognized in our career or not, but by our spiritual knowledge, as provided in the Bhagavad-gita, and by the confidence it gives us, we work to always become better, more uplifted, more refined, and more realized than we are, always making ourselves into a better person. Then we can help ourselves and others in more effective ways. This is just some of what the second chapter of the Bhagavad-gita can provide if we look into it carefully and understand who we really are and what is our greater potential.
As we proceed through the Bhagavad-gita, in Chapter Three, Lord Krishna discusses Karma-yoga, the knowledge of how every action creates an opposite and equal reaction. Fifty years ago in this country of the USA, hardly anyone spoke of karma, unless they were students of yoga or Eastern philosophy. Now everyone talks of karma, it is a part of the vocabulary, whether they really understand it or not. But the point is, where do you think that came from? How do you think they started to know about karma, or yoga for that matter, except for the fact that the teachings of the East and yoga, which are centered around the Bhagavad-gita, continued to spread throughout the West.
Similarly, considering all the knowledge that the Bhagavad-gita has within it, do you think that you will learn such things in the colleges or university courses? Hardly. You have to go beyond that. You have to take separate or alternative studies, like in studying the Bhagavad-gita or other Vedic texts, or listening to those who know about it. Then you can also begin to learn the basic laws of the universe as outlined in the Bhagavad-gita, as in the laws of karma. Otherwise, how will you begin to understand that your present circumstances and tendencies may be carry-overs from a previous existence? Or even from many previous existences that we have experienced. You only begin to understand these things by studying the Bhagavad-gita, the teachings of which are also expanded in the Upanishads, and then even more elaborated in the Puranas and other Vedic texts and commentaries.
In Chapter Four, called Transcendental Knowledge, it is explained to Arjuna how this knowledge was given down through the parampara, or disciplic succession. Lord Krishna explains the purpose and the transcendental nature of His appearance in this world. Also how to perform one’s actions so they are spiritual activities, which can then enable a person to reach the spiritual abode.
In Chapter Five, Karma-yoga, Action in Krishna Consciousness, it is explained how to perform one’s actions in the right consciousness of bhakti-yoga, and the way to focus on the natural, self-sufficient happiness within.
In Chapter Six, Sankhya-yoga, we find the instructions on how to conquer the mind to attain the natural inner happiness–beyond the senses–and become established in self-realization, the perception of one’s real identity. And then to see all else, all things around you with a steady mind, free from desires and possessiveness.
Then Lord Krishna gives instructions on how to practice yoga and meditation so that we can eventually perceive the spiritual dimension all around us, of which we are a part. Then we can enter and experience boundless transcendental joy and bliss, free from maya or illusion, and in touch with the Supreme Consciousness. Then such a person can see God everywhere and every being in God. Thus, he is never lost.
In Chapter Seven, Knowledge of the Absolute, we have the instructions on how to know God, and how to see that everything rests and depends on God, like pearls strung on a thread. Also, how to recognize the power of God in all the powerful aspects of nature. Thus, we become aware of God and His potencies in all things around us until we reach the abode of God.
Chapter Eight, Attaining the Supreme. This chapter gives more specific information about the ways of material nature, how to get free of it, and how our consciousness at the time of death, developed by our thoughts, words and deeds, determines our next life, our next destination. Therefore, if we are remembering God, Krishna, then we can attain Him. So the instructions include how to think of Lord Krishna and attain Him through devotional yoga. Also, there are instructions in how to understand the higher and eternal nature, beyond all matter, which is the ultimate destination of us all.
In Chapter Nine, The Most Confidential Knowledge, Lord Krishna gives advice that this spiritual knowledge is the king of all knowledge, the most secret of all secrets, and by following it we can attain direct perception of the self by realization. Lord Krishna goes on to explain how everything is working under Him, but fools will never be able to recognize this. But by engaging in devotional yoga, the mind becomes spiritualized enough to understand God as He is by realization, far beyond any mental speculation. Lord Krishna goes on to explain that He is impartial to all, but becomes a friend to those who offer loving service. By engaging in this process systematically, you can reach the highest abode.
In Chapter Ten, The Opulence of the Absolute, we find explanations on how everything, all spiritual and material worlds, emanate from the Absolute Truth–God. Those who know this engage in devotional yoga to God, and with that love, Lord Krishna gives them the understanding by which they can come to Him.
Then Lord Krishna tells Arjuna how He is situated in all the powers and powerful things throughout the universe, whether it is the radiant sun, the tranquil moon, the water of the ocean, the transcendental Om, the chanting of the holy names as in japa meditation, and in the immovable Himalayas, and much more. But it is only with a single fragment of His energy does Lord Krishna pervade and support this entire universe. This leads to...
Chapter Eleven, The Universal Form. It is in this chapter wherein Lord Krishna shows Arjuna, by giving Arjuna divine eyes, how He is spread throughout the entire universe by His energies and expansions. Some of what Arjuna sees is beautiful beyond compare, and other things that he sees in this universal form are terrible and frightening. Some are hundreds of thousands of multicolored divine forms, as well as demigods, planets, past and future events, and a splendor so bright it would equal hundreds of thousands of suns. Both birth and death could be seen within this amazing universal form that spread in all directions, both near and far throughout the universe.
This made Arjuna humble, who then requested Krishna to relieve him of this view and show him His four-armed form, and then again His more familiar and lovable two-armed form.
Now Arjuna was convinced that Lord Krishna was the Supreme and everything both within and beyond this material manifestation, as well as the father and creator of this material manifestation.
Then in Chapter Twelve, Devotional Service, Lord Krishna explains the ultimate goal of life, and the essence of how to practice bhakti-yoga, focusing especially on how to serve and fix our mind and intelligence on the Supreme as Lord Krishna in all our activities and undertakings.
Then we have Chapter Thirteen, Nature, The Enjoyer, and Consciousness. This explains how the body is the center of the field of material activities, and how we should understand the body as the vehicle in which both the soul and Supersoul–Paramatma–reside. Also, that the body is not our real identity, but we should see through the body to recognize the living being within. The soul is beyond the body and illuminates the body by consciousness. This is the symptom of the soul within. Now we merely have to spiritualize our consciousness to directly perceive the soul, and then see the difference between the body and soul.
The field of activities also includes the five elements, ego, intelligence, the senses, mind, and various emotions that project from the mind, along with all moving and non-moving things. Aside from all this, Lord Krishna explains the characteristics of His expansion as the Supersoul and how to perceive Him within.
In Chapter Fourteen, The Three Modes of Material Nature, Lord Krishna describes the three modes or gunas and their characteristics as goodness (sattva), passion (rajas) and ignorance (tamas), and the nature of those according to how they are situated in each of these modes of nature. This also determines if one is progressing upward while acting in the mode of goodness, or simply maintaining while in the mode of passion, or regressing downward in ignorance or darkness. This analysis will also reveal the condition of one’s next birth. As explained in verses 14 and 15 in this chapter: "When one dies in the mode of goodness, he attains the pure higher planets. When one dies in the mode of passion, he takes birth among those engaged in fruitive activities; and when he dies in the mode of ignorance, he takes birth in the animal kingdom."
So the goal is to know how to act in order to rise above these three modes, which Lord Krishna clearly explains as being the process of devotional yoga.
Chapter Fifteen, The Yoga of the Supreme Person. Here Lord Krishna emphasizes how to engage in that yoga process which can elevate you to rise above all material inebriates and limitations, and material happiness and distress, in order to reach the spiritual abode.
Even though the living beings are all parts of the Lord, they are struggling very hard with the mind and the mental interpretations of our experiences within this material field of activities and the way we see ourselves in this world. Furthermore, until these conceptions are purified, they are carried from one body to the next, one life to the next, just as air carries aromas. One who is spiritually ignorant cannot understand how this takes place. But the progressing transcendentalist can clearly see all of this. Krishna also explains that one who knows Him as the Supreme Being knows everything and engages in devotional yoga to Him, and his endeavors will know perfection.
Chapter Sixteen, The Divine and Demoniac Natures. Here Lord Krishna makes it clear how to recognize the Divine qualities and actions, as well as the demoniac, both of which are in ourselves and in those around us. It is only the divine qualities that are conducive to spiritual progress and liberation, whereas the demoniac actions and qualities will keep you bound in material existence for many lifetimes. So the next step is to associate with those of a divine nature and develop such qualities in ourselves, and avoid the demoniac. The demoniac can never approach God nor the spiritual world, but reach progressively lower forms of existence.
Chapter Seventeen, The Divisions of Faith. In this chapter Lord Krishna explains that there are different kinds of faith and religions depending on what level of the modes of material nature are displayed by the living being, such as goodness, passion or ignorance. Therefore, some religions will be more materialistic, based on ego, or the bodily identification and attachment and pride, while others will be more spiritual. So there is a difference between various religions, as explained in this chapter. They are not all the same, which sometimes people like to say. Lord Krishna describes the difference herein in a way we can clearly see the varieties and categories to which they belong. It is up to us to study this carefully to understand this.
So as we go along in our study of these chapters, we begin to see a pattern or repetition in these teachings. There is much knowledge on various aspects of life and spiritual understanding, but time and again Lord Krishna expresses that it is He who is the Supreme Being, the creator of the universe, and it is He who should be the center of our worship and meditation. Furthermore, all of this knowledge is meant to raise our consciousness so we can return to the spiritual world. That is what this is for. Lord Krishna repeats this in several chapters herein. This is not some kind of philosophy to contemplate, but it is an action plan for the benefit of humanity so we can directly attain a spiritual vision and perceive the spiritual reality all around us, up to the point in which we can enter that spiritual domain, which is our real home. The material world is temporary and can never give the joy we are seeking. This is why Lord Krishna is explaining all of this, to motivate us to act according to His directions and attain the realm of eternal happiness and bliss, which is our eternal and constitutional nature. And He summarizes this in the final chapter of Bhagavad-gita.
Chapter Eighteen, The Conclusion, The Perfection of Renunciation, or Yoga of Renunciation for Moksha–Liberation from Material Existence. Herein Lord Krishna explains the way to become spiritually perfect through the proper means of renunciation or detachment from activities, but also how to continue with prescribed duties. Yet, out of all we may do or practice, Lord Krishna finally concludes with the instructions on the ultimate way of perfecting one’s spiritual life and realize the highest truth, which is by performing devotional service, bhakti-yoga, and in this way rekindle one’s relationship with God and then reach the eternal and imperishable spiritual abode.
In this way, a person can cross over all obstacles of conditional life by Lord Krishna’s grace. Otherwise, a person will remain lost in the whirlpool of material existence. By surrendering unto Him, and then by His grace you can attain peace and the supreme abode. Lord Krishna then concludes that this is the most confidential of all knowledge given for your benefit. He instructs that if you think of Him, become His devotee, worship Him, just surrender unto Him, then you will be free from all sinful reactions and come to Him without fail.
It is further concluded that anyone who studies this conversation between Lord Krishna and Arjuna worships Lord Krishna with his or her intelligence. And simply by listening with faith to this conversation a person becomes free from sinful reaction and at least attains the planets of the pious.
So these are the basic instructions that are related in the Bhagavad-gita, and some of the benefits of studying it. So, in this way, a person can acquire proper direction in life, a deeper realization of one’s true identity, and attain a level of self-confidence and peace by inward reflection and realization that can never be reached through ordinary, materialistic studies or endeavors. Furthermore, these can be applied to assist us in all aspects of life to help bring us to our higher potential in everything we do, materially or spiritually. This is the power and the importance of the Bhagavad-gita and the instructions of Lord Krishna found within it.
Thank you very much,
Jai Sri Krishna.
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