Bhagavad Gita
Of the large number of holy books revered within Hindu
culture, the Bhagavad Gita, a short work originally written in
Sanskrit, is by far the most popular. An epic poem, it lays out
a path of mystical devotion to Krishna, one of the primary deities
in the Hindu pantheon, and describes the Hindu perspective
on such essential teachings as reincarnation and karma. It
was one of the first books translated by Western scholars as they
began to study Eastern teachings in the eighteenth century,
and it was widely circulated among dissident religious groups
such as the Transcendentalists of New England.
The Gita was written over a period of years between the fifth
and second centuries B.C.E. At a later date, it was inserted into
the larger Mahabharata, the great epic volume of Indian history
and lore. The Mahabharata tells the story of the development
of ancient India and the activities of the descendents of
Bharata, the mythical character from whom India (or Bharat)
takes its name. The story of the Gita is set as a war has broken
out between two groups of Bharata’s descendents, the Pandavas
and the Kauravas, and concerns the problem that Arjuna, the
leader of the Pandava army, has in participating in that war. He
turns the problem he has been contemplating over to Krishna.
Is it worth ruling a kingdom, to kill so many kinsmen
Krishna responds by calling Arjuna to attend to his role in
life as a member of the warrior caste, and not turn his back on
his social duty (dharma). Duty should be followed without regard
of results. More importantly, however, he offers an understanding
of the human being. The human is not a body, but the
eternal Atman (analogous to the soul in Western thought), and
the Atman is indestructible. The Atman cannot die and it is reborn
in this life a number of times. Just as humans change
clothes, so the Atman changes bodies. Krishna goes on to outline
the process of yoga and meditation through which a person
can come to know the real amid the illusionary world of
human life. His teaching culminates in a mystical moment in
which Arjuna sees the vast universe lodged as a body within the
God of gods.
In the relationship of Arjuna and Krishna, the Gita offers a
model of the relationship between chela (pupil) and guru
(teacher), so essential to Eastern culture, a structure that has
been brought to the West in great force, and now without controversy,
during the twentieth century. That structure has foEncyclopedia
of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Bhagavad Gita
179
cused the question of the necessity of a guru in training a seeker
in appropriating mystical states of consciousness.
Numerous translations of the Gita exist in English (and
other Western languages), the different translations reflecting
the variant understandings of the deity as personal or impersonal
in Hindu thought. In the Western work, the Vedanta Societies
offer an impersonalist interpretation of the deity while
the International Society of Krishna Consciousness is a major
exponent of the personalist approach.
Sources
The Bhagavad Gita. Translated by Juan Mascaró. New York
Penguin Classics, 1962.
Oragan, Troy Wilson. Hinduism Its Historical Development.
Woodbury, Conn. Barons’ Educational Series, 1974.
Prabhupada, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami. Bhagavad Gita As
It Is. New York Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1972 (frequently
reprinted).