Commentary on The Bhagavad Gita (1)New York University; New York, New York, USA
3 March 1970
I read the Gita because it is the Eye of God. I sing the Gita because it is the Life of God. I live the Gita because it is the Soul of God.
The Gita is God’s Vision immediate. The Gita is God’s Reality direct.
They say that the Gita is a Hindu book, a most significant scripture. I say that it is the Light of Divinity in humanity. They say that the Gita needs an introduction. I say that God truly wants to be introduced by the Gita.
Arjuna is the ascending human soul. Sri Krishna is the descending divine Soul. Finally they meet. The human soul says to the divine Soul: “I need you.” The divine Soul says to the human soul: “I need you, too. I need you for my Self-manifestation. You need me for your Self-realisation.” Arjuna says: “O Krishna, you are mine, absolutely mine.” Sri Krishna says: “O Arjuna, no mine, no thine. We are the Oneness complete, within, without.”
The Gita is an episode in the sixth book of the Mahabharata. Mahabharata means ‘Great India’, ‘India the Sublime’. This unparalleled epic is six times the size of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined. Surprising in size and amazing in thought is the Mahabharata. The main story revolves around a giant rivalry between two parties of cousins. Their ancestral kingdom was the apple of discord. This rivalry came to its close at the end of a great battle called the Battle of Kurukshetra.
Santanu had two wives: Ganga and Satyavati. Bhishma was born from the union of Santanu and Ganga; Chitrangada and Vichitravirya from that of Santanu and Satyavati. Vichitraviya’s two wives were Ambika and Ambalika. Dhritarashtra was the son of Ambika and Vichitravirya; Pandu, the son of Ambalika and Vichitravirya. Dhritarashtra’s hundred sons were the Kauravas; Pandu’s five sons, the Pandavas.
Yudhisthira was the legitimate heir to the kingdom. His father, Pandu, had reigned a number of years, offering the utmost satisfaction to his subjects. Finally, Pandu retired to the forest. To succeed him was his eldest son, Yudhisthira. And he did it devotedly and successfully. Dhritarashtra was Pandu’s elder half-brother. God had denied him sight. Strangely enough, his affection for his hundred sons blinded his heart as well. Being blind, naturally he was not qualified to inherit the throne. The eldest son of Dhritarashtra was Duryodhana. Ninety-nine brothers were to follow him. Yudhisthira, Pandu’s eldest son, had only four others to follow him.
Truth’s pride was Yudhisthira. Falsehood’s pride was Duryodhana. Through the illumined hearts of Pandu’s five sons, God smiled. Through the unlit minds of Dhritarashtra’s hundred sons, the devil smiled. The devil often succeeded in embracing the blind father, too.
The eyeless father made repeated requests, strong and weak, to Duryodhana — his morally, psychically and spiritually eyeless son — not to go to war. Vidura, the pure heart, Duryodhana’s uncle, failed to throw light on Duryodhana’s thick head. Sanjaya, his father’s prudent charioteer, equally failed. Neither was Bhishma, the oldest and the wisest, successful. Duryodhana felt his own understanding to be superior. Finally Sri Krishna, the Lord of the Universe, most fervently tried to avert the hurtful and heartless battle. But the ignorance-night in Duryodhana would by no means surrender to the knowledge-sun in Sri Krishna.
Seven hundred verses are there in the Gita. About six hundred are the soul-stirring utterances from the divine lips of Lord Krishna, and the rest are from the crying, aspiring Arjuna, the clairvoyant and clairaudient Sanjaya, and the inquisitive Dhritarashtra.
The sage Vyasa enquired of Dhritarashtra if he desired to see the events and have a first-hand knowledge of the battle, from the battle’s birth to the battle’s death. The sage was more than willing to grant the blind man vision. But Dhritarashtra did not want his eyes — the eyes that had failed him all his life — to obey his command at this terribly fateful hour for his conscience and his kingdom’s life, especially when his own sons were heading for destruction. He declined the sage’s kind and bounteous offer. His heart was ruthlessly tortured by the imminent peril of his kinsmen. However, he requested the sage to grant the boon to someone else from whom he could get faultless reports of the battle. Vyasa consented. He conferred upon Sanjaya the miraculous psychic power of vision to see the incidents taking place at a strikingly great distance.
Is the Gita a mere word? No. A speech? No. A concept? No. A kind of concentration? No. A form of meditation? No. What is it, then? It is The Realisation. The Gita is God’s Heart and man’s breath, God’s Assurance and man’s promise.
The inspiration of Hinduism is the soul-concern of the Gita. The aspiration of Hinduism is the blessing-dawn of the Gita. The emancipation of Hinduism is the compassion-light of the Gita. But to pronounce that the Gita is the sole monopoly of Hinduism is absurdity. The Gita is the common property of humanity.
The West says that she has something special to offer to the East: the New Testament. The East accepts the offer with deepest gratitude and offers her greatest pride, the Bhagavad Gita, in return.
The Gita is unique. It is the Scripture of scriptures. Why? Because it has taught the world that the emotion pure, the devotion genuine can easily run abreast with the philosophy solid, the detachment dynamic.
There are eighteen chapters in the Gita. Each chapter reveals a specific teaching of a particular form of Yoga. Yoga is the secret language of man and God. Yoga means ‘union’, the union of the finite with the Infinite, the union of the form with the Formless. It is Yoga that reveals the supreme secret: man is tomorrow’s God and God is today’s man. Yoga is to be practised for the sake of Truth. If not, the seeker will be sadly disappointed. Likewise, man’s God-realisation is for the sake of God. Otherwise, untold frustration will be man’s inevitable reward.
The Gita was born in 600 BC. Its authorship goes to the sage Veda Vyasa. With a significant question from Dhritarashtra, the Gita commences its journey. The whole narrative of the Bhagavad Gita is Sanjaya’s answer to Dhritarashtra’s single question. Sri Krishna spoke. Much. All divinely soulful. Arjuna spoke. Little. All humanly heartful. Dhritarashtra was the listener. The divinely and humanly clairvoyant and clairaudient reporter was Sanjaya. On very rare occasions, Sanjaya contributed his own thoughtful remarks, too.
Sri Krishna was Arjuna’s body’s relation, heart’s union and soul’s liberation. As God, he illumined Arjuna with the Truth Absolute; as a humane human, he illumined his earthly friend with truths relative.
Philosophers enter into a deplorable controversy. Some enquire how such a philosophical discourse could take place at the commencement of a war. How was it possible? There are others who firmly hold that this momentous discourse was not only possible but inevitable at that hour, since it was the divinely appropriate occasion for the aspiring Hindu to discover the inner meaning of war and live in accordance with his soul’s dictates, instead of following the poor, unlit knowledge of morality.
The Gita is the epitome of the Vedas. It is spontaneous. It is in a form at once divinised and humanised. It is also the purest milk drawn from the udders of the most illumining Upanishads to feed and nourish the human soul. The Gita demands man’s acceptance of life, and reveals the way to achieve the victory of the higher Self over the lower by the spiritual art of transformation: physical, vital, mental, psychic and spiritual.
The Gita embodies the soul-wisdom, the heart-love, the mind-knowledge, the vital-dynamism and the body-action.