Set on the eve of an epic war in Indian history (1000 to 300 BC), The Bhagavad Gita is an allegory of the internal battle every man faces within his soul against the forces of evil or ignorance. The Indian scholar Eknath Easwaran distills the essence of the “Gita” in the following quote.
“If I could offer only one key to understanding this divine dialogue, it would be to remember that it takes place in the depths of consciousness and that Krishna is not some external being, human or superhuman, but the spark of divinity that lies at the core of the human personality.” — Easwaran
The Gita, is the story of two warring princes, the compassionate Arjuna and the cruel Duryodhana, and takes place on the eve of the Kurukshetra war. Both princes petition Lord Krishna to commit his army to their cause. Krishna, gives them a choice – his army or his presence as charioteer.
In his wisdom, Arjuna chooses Krishna.
In his greed, Duryodhana chooses the army.
Before the battle begins, Arjuna, overwhelmed by the destruction he must inflict on kinsman, friends and teachers, falls into despair. Throwing down his bow, he questions whether it would be better to die than fight. The rest of The Bhagavad Gita is essentially Krishna’s counsel as he prepares Arjuna to fulfill his dharma and fight for justice.
Krishna is more than a charioteer; he is divinity in human form. During the course of the narrative, Krishna expounds on the soul, its nature and the yoga techniques to realize God from selfless duty (Karma Yoga) to renunciation (actually recommending the path of service as preferable to renunciation). Krishna explains rebirth, Karma, the nature of the mind and ultimately how to attain spiritual union with the divine. Krishna brings Arjuna to the understanding that all physical formations are illusion and the only reality is the transcendent “self” or soul.
“In the purely physical sphere of action, Arjuna is, indeed, no longer a free agent. The act of war is upon him; it has evolved out of his previous actions. At any given moment in time, we are what we are; and we have to accept the consequences of being ourselves. Only through this acceptance can we begin to evolve further. We may select the battleground. We cannot avoid the battle… Arjuna is bound to act, but he is still free to make his choice between two different ways of performing the action.”
— Swami Prabhavananda
This approach to action is evident in the life of Mahatma Gandhi, who waged a great war against oppression without resorting to violence. Ghandi lived by The Bhagavad Gita and was an example of the noble warrior, a man of Ahimsa or non-violence, who chose the path of Karma Yoga, selfless action dedicated to God.
In reading The Bhagavad Gita, it’s important to know that despite the myriad aspects of God in Hinduism, it is essentially the same as other monotheistic religions such as Judaism or Christianity; there is one divine energy; the source of all emanations.
In the Gita, Krishna represents this divine spark.