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Why Study the Gita?

by Swami Dayananda Saraswati

Gita-sugita kartavya
kim anyaih sastra-vistaraih

Praising the Bhagavadgita, 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 source books 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?

A scripture is something that has a message with a 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 deing does it have lasting
relevance. Because the Vedas and the Gita have that kind of a message, they are a
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.

Yoga-sastra

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

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 conflict with the concept of duty.
Caught betwen 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 in 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 battlefiled, 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 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
posession 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 chapers 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
message is the brahma-vidya, knowledge of the reality of yourself being the essence
of everything, your 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.