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Study Guide: The Bhagavad Gita

Authorship: Presumably written by an anonymous nobleman belonging to Brahman caste. Estimated time of creation is between 100 BC and 200 AD. The events of the book take place within the same time frame. Some researchers ascribe the authorship to Vyasa, a sage, otherwise known as Veda Vyasa or Krishna Dvaipayana. Some believe that he was an incarnation of Vishnu on earth, who transmitted his knowledge to humanity by writing The Bhagavad Gita. He is also believed to be a possible author of Mahabharata. The Bhagavad Gita belongs as one of Mahabharata's text collections.

Summary: The book presents a dialogue between Krishna, a material incarnation of God Vishnu and Arjuna, a nobleman. The story is based on Arjuna's hesitation to participate in the war between clans. He discusses his concerns with Krisha, a charioteer who debates with him. Arjuna does not know at first that Krishna is an avatar of a God. The truth and Vishnu's mercy reveal to him by the end of the poem. The setting of the poem is the battlefield Kukushetra right before the beginning of the main battle between the two clans, the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Despite being a warrior, Arjuna is not sure about the sense of war, where many people will have to die including his family members. The point is that both his companions and enemies are his relatives. Duryodhana is his cousin, whoever wins, blood will be on his family. However, Krishna persuades him that war makes sense and that he should participate in it. It is his duty as a warrior, and that it is a matter of honor. He explains that he should not only think about his private family interests but perceive the situations in philosophical and universal categories. Krishna is a person who speaks out Veda's social and religious manifesto. He says that there is no need to worry about dying or killing because the human body is only a temporary home for the human soul, which will reincarnate after the death. One should think about acquiring the best qualities during this life, including courage in a battle, even if it takes numerous deaths. Throughout his conversation with Arjuna, Krishna opens his glory and his wisdom to him. He explains major concepts of Hinduism and suggests that action is more preferable than the absence of action, if a person wants to achieve a new level of wisdom. He opens to him such concepts as karma, yoga, and jhana yoga, the notion of dharma and the teaching of three gunas: tamas, rajas and sattva as special qualities, which the nature of all things has in different proportion. In the end, after listening to Krishna, Arjuna confesses that he is now free from doubts and ready to follow his guidelines.

Significance: The opposing points of view expressed by Arjuna and Krishna reveal the clash between Buddhism and Hinduism. Thus, Arjuna supports peace and believes that the war is unnecessary, which reflects Buddhism view, while Krishna speaks in favor of war thus representing Hinduism position including the ruling classes' attitude to military operations. Hence, it is possible to state that the goal of the author was an ideological one to re-establish the influence of Hindu religion under the threat of Buddhist religious invasion. At the same time, Buddhism brought new values of tolerance and non-violence, which were incorporated by Hinduism. These mutual cultural and religious influences explain the contradictions in Krishna's opinions.

Characters:

  • Arjuna is a warrior and one of the five Pandava clan brothers.
  • Krishna is an avatar of God Vishnu in the personality of the charioteer, the highest deity of Hinduism.

Vocabulary:

  • Dharma - the major essence of a person or a thing, the purpose of its incarnation on earth.
  • Moksha - liberation from non-stop cycles of samsara.
  • Avatar - a physical form, which a god takes to appear to humans.

Points to Remember:

When speaking of yoga, Krishna does not mean a set of physical practices as seen by popular culture today. Instead, he speaks about yoga as a life philosophy. According to him, one can choose karma yoga to achieve his goals through action, or one can choose jhaba yoga, which means choosing a way of seclusion.