No metaphysical treatise has a setting as intriguing as India’s ancient philosophical classic, the Bhagavad-gita. Fratricidal friction within the ruling Kuru dynasty has erupted into a massive conflagration on the sprawling plains of Kurukshetra. As thousands of soldiers, chariots, horses and elephants stand poised for war, one of the principal warriors, Arjuna, suffers an emotional breakdown, being overwhelmed by the prospect of killing his own relatives. In the face of extreme adversity he loses sight of his duty and turns for guidance to his friend, Krishna, who is the Supreme Godhead playing the role of a human being. Then in the midst of the belligerent armies, Krishna enlightens his friend Arjuna about his temporal and eternal identity and duty.
Harmony is central to the message of the Gita, which asserts that all suffering has its roots in disharmony (15.7). Suffering is however not considered to be bad because it acts as the impetus for returning to harmony just as fever is the spur to take medicine. The highest happiness, the Gita continues, can be achieved only when the self is in harmony with the Superself (6.19-23). The Gita posits that the self is not the gross body or the subtle mind, but the non-material soul, which gives apparent life to the inanimate body (7.4-5). The constitutional nature of the soul is to be in a sweet harmony of love with the Supersoul, God. The Gita therefore culminates (18.66) in an unequivocal call for that harmony; Arjuna is told to subordinate his temporal obligation to his brethren to his eternal function as a harmonious part of the Supreme Whole. As the antagonist Kauravas, by their nefarious activities, were disrupting the law and order that facilitates divine harmony within human society, slaying them was essential for the material wellbeing and spiritual emancipation of everyone involved.
In addition to being a historical fact, the setting of the Gita signifies a deeper conflict within our own consciousness. Within every human psyche is a lower self – represented by the Kauravas and a higher self – represented by the Pandavas. The Kurukshetra war thus represents the strife between virtue and vice within our own hearts. Arjuna’s breakdown signifies our own bewilderment about right and wrong in the face of intractable perplexity and Krishna’s instruction illuminates for us the path of the highest morality based on selfless devotion to God. Arjuna’s eventual victory after enlightenment represents the potency of the divine wisdom of Gita to empower us to ultimately triumph over our lower nature and achieve inner fulfillment in this life and eternal joyful life thereafter.
Shripad Shankaracharya explains, in his Gita-mahatmaya, the unique position of the Gita within the vast Vedic library. He compares all the Vedic scriptures to a cow, Krishna to a cowherd boy milking the cow, Arjuna to a calf and the Gita to the milk of the cow. Thus the Gita is considered to be the essence of all the Vedic literature. Appreciation for the Gita is not limited to Vedic circles. Many Western scholars have found the Gita to be amazingly coherent and cogent. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s remark is a sample, "I owed a magnificent day to the Bhagavad-gita. It was the first of books; it was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us." When Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupda, the founder-acharya of the International Society for Krishna consciousness (ISKCON), went to the West to teach the message of the Gita and was asked in the United Kingdom about the purpose of his visit, he poignantly replied, "When you Britishers ruled India, you plundered her off all her wealth, but you forgot to take her most precious jewel. I have come to give you what you forgot – the wisdom of the Gita."
Investigating Reality from the Higher Dimensional
Perspective of Vedic Wisdom