Bhagavad-Gita and Call to Holiness

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“The Bhagavad-Gita is not only the most popular but also the most important literature of India’s religious traditions.”[1] It is known as the ‘Bible of India’ and is considered as revealed scripture (sruti).[2] It is one of the greatest spiritual texts written and adapted to the epic ‘Mahabharata’, and contains a dialogue between Krishna and his disciple Arjuna. It is in the form of a conversation between Krishna who is Narayana or God and Arjuna representing Nara or man. Krishna is the incarnation of the great God Vishnu who is responsible for the protection of the good, destruction of evil-doers and setting up righteousness in the world.[3]

The time of Gita’s writing is assigned by scholars to sometime between the fifth and second centuries before Christ. Historians are also not quite sure of the author or the characters that occupy the pages of the Gita but people consider the Kurukshetra war between Pandavas and the Kauravas as an allegory to symbolize the “war which is constantly going on within man between good and evil.”[4] Vivekananda says: “The reconciliation of the different paths of Dharma, (right way of living) and work without desire or attachment – those are the two special characteristics of the Gita.”[5] He continues, “The field of virtue (the battlefield) is this world; the five brothers (representing righteousness) fight the hundred other brothers (all that we love and have to contend against); the most heroic brother, Arjuna (the awakened soul), is the general. We have to fight all sense-delights, the things to which we are most attached, to kill them. We have to stand alone; we are Brahman, all other ideas must be merged in this one.”[6] “The Gita shows us that our battle for spirituality must be fought out in this life; so we must not flee from it, but rather compel it to give us all that it holds.”[7] The setting of the Gita proves that the way is taught not in the calmness of mind, not in the serenity of solitude and not in the seclusion of the world but it was in the midst of action, action in its highest form that is the battlefield. A true Hindu devotee would say that it is God himself who came as Christ, Krishna, Buddha and other great souls. They are manifestations of the Absolute, they come and work for the liberation of mankind and this process continues till mankind is saved.[8]

Sankaracarya in his introduction to the commentary on the Gita says, “The Gita is the collection of the essence of the meaning of all the Vedas.”[9] With such richness of content, Krishna, by preaching the lessons of the Gita, showed the people the practical Vedanta that goes along with the contextual situation and duties. The difference in the state of perfection lies in the way each one tries to trace one’s own spiritual way of life. The Gita provides a way of life consisting of jnana, dhyana, bhakti and karma, all blended together into a way of life or path of yoga.[10] Based on this life one can say, “Karma must be inspired by bhakti, steadied by dhyana and directed by jnana; that is the way to develop an all-round personality.”[11] The Bhagavad-Gita is a scripture suited for the whole of mankind, irrespective of one’s religious or ethnic affiliation; it deals with eternal verities without any narrow theological or dogmatic presumptions, giving it universal acceptance. Human values are reconciled with transcendental values in every phase of its teachings. By a careful study of it, the follower of any religion will become a better and a more faithful adherent, and a secularist will become a true humanist without the drawbacks of secularism. The artistic illustration of the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna make clear the vision of God, man, and his vocation in the world.

Arjuna the soldier, who is the second among Pandavas represents the human soul. Krishna the Lord assumes the form of a charioteer or Saradhi. He is considered as the Will (Budhi or Intellect) and is the guiding force. He is also considered as the higher mind.[12] Arjuna the soul triumphs over the Chariot (Ratha) which is his body. The reins (Kadinjan) represent the human mind. Horses are the senses, wheels are the right effort that we bring in the journey. They can be Dharma, meaning vocation to a right way of life; Artha, meaning wealth which can be interpreted as education, health, peace, spiritual experience; Kama, meaning worldly enjoyment, and the end directing towards Moksha, meaning realization, nirvana or being one with the Lord.[13] The Chariot is coursing through the battlefield of life, Kurukshetra. The Gita contains the divine words emanating from the lips of God himself embodying the supreme spiritual mystery and secret. It is the eternal dialogue going on between the ego and the higher mind. Vivekananda says, “So man crosses the ocean of Maya. He goes beyond. He reaches God. When a man is under the control of his senses, he is of this world. When he has controlled the senses, he has renounced.”[14]

Everyone has a vocation and duty on earth. Krishna reminds Arjuna of this duty, “be you merely an instrument”.[15] This role to be an instrument with God to fulfil the order on earth is our vocation. As the human organs function in harmony, so the creatures has to remain in harmony with the cosmic Spirit for the realization of the self. When one cell remains apart from the body and does not function well, we consider it as cancerous; it is the same with the creatures getting separated from the cosmic Spirit.[16] The individual has a vocation to be an instrument in the hand of God; only by fulfilling the role of his life he enters into a life of liberation. So each life is endowed with a role but the liberation is one’s oneness with the Lord, his moksha, life of holiness.

[1] Kolencherry: Human person in the Bhagavad-Gita. In: Kolencherry (Ed.): Human Person in St. Francis de Sales, 130.

[2] Cf. Kolencherry: Human person in the Bhagavad-Gita. In: Kolencherry (Ed.): Human Person in St. Francis de Sales, 130.

[3] Cf. Bhagavad-Gita, With the commentary of Sankaracarya, Swami Gambhirananda (tr.), Kolkata, 1984, IV, 8. (Hereafter referred as Bhagavad-Gita, Chapter and the verse. E.g., Bhagavad-Gita, V, 7). See also Acharuparambil: Hindu Spirituality Christian Insights, 39.

[4] Swami Vivekananda: Thoughts on the Gita, Kolkata 2002, 5.

[5] Vivekananda: Thoughts on the Gita, 9.

[6] Vivekananda: Thoughts on the Gita, 13.

[7] Vivekananda: Thoughts on the Gita, 14.

[8] Cf. Vivekananda: Thoughts on the Gita, 26-27.

[9] Swami Ranganathananda: Practical Vedanta and the science of values, Calcutta 2012, 38. Vedas are scriptures written in Sanskrit language communicating knowledge or revelation.

[10] Cf. Ranganathananda: Practical Vedanta and the science of values, 41.

[11] Ranganathananda: Practical Vedanta and the science of values, 43. See also Bhagavad-Gita, XVIII, 57.

[12] Plato paints the picture of a charioteer driving a chariot driven by two horses. The two horses represent the good and the evil. Human soul consists of both. The will or the intellect is the charioteer and he has to guide the chariot.

[13] Cf. Vivekananda: Thoughts on the Gita, 15.

[14] Vivekananda: Thoughts on the Gita, 15.

[15] Srimad Bhagavad Gita: The Scripture of Mankind, Swami Tapasyananda, (tr.) Madras, 2003, 8. The word ‘instrument’ does not mean an idle machine but one avails himself in doing the mission of the Lord.

[16] Cf. Srimad Bhagavad Gita: The Scripture of Mankind, 9. It also speaks of the conflict in human being. The first chapter of the Gita‘Arjunavisadayoga’ (Arjuna’s spiritual conversion through sorrow) depicts the reality of man, his problems when facing the voice of the Spirit, in his response to various situations of life. Gandhi speaking of this conflict faced by man says that it is a method made use in order to make known a spiritual reality. It can be a story depicting the war between kith and kin but it shows the war taking place within the human person between the good and the evil.

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Hi guys! I am Fr. Joe Cherolickal msfs, a Catholic Priest belonging to The Congregation of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales (MSFS). After the completion of my Doctoral studies in Theology from the University of Vienna, Austria, I have taken up the ministry of forming young religious and priests. At present working as the Dean of Studies at the Indian Institute of Spirituality, Bangalore.

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