Nuggets from the Gita : Introduction (The Scripture of Mankind by Swami Tapasyananda)

It all started with a simple question I posted in my college Whats App group. How many of you have read the Gita? And there was silence. 125 Engineers from NIT Surat batch of 1992 working in leadership roles across the globe, aged 49 – 51, almost no one had read it… including me . Yes I had attended lectures and seen Videos on Bhakti Yoga, Purushottam Yoga and Sthithaprajna by my Guru. It was however in bits and pieces and not a comprehensive study.  So now it became a project and with the grace of God will translate into content that can help others.

There are many commentaries on The Gita. A version recommended by my master Sri M is “The Scripture of Mankind” by Swami Tapasyananda. He was a senior monk of the Ramakrishna Mission and a disciple of Swami Shivananda (Tarak Nath Ghoshal), one of the 16 disciples of Sri Ramakrishna. Finding the commentary outstanding I coaxed my friend to read it. They in turn asked me to summarise the key learnings. This was great – I always learn better when I write notes. That is how this BLOG got started.

Firstly – It is difficult to summarise the Gita. Every word and verse is profound . It takes an enlightened, erudite soul to write a commentary or explain the vast knowledge. I am neither. So all I am going to do is share a few nuggets verbatim from each of the chapters of the book. This should get your curiosity awakened leading you to reading the Gita on your own. Self study at your own pace is the best way to internalise the knowledge.

Why reading and understanding the Gita is easy today

Some myths need to be dispelled. You dont need to know Sanskrit to read and understand the Gita. Next to the Bible it is probably the most widely translated of scriptural texts in several languages. You can read a book, watch a video, attend a session with an enlightened teacher. There is enough information out there easily available. Reading the Gita is more like doing a course in Psychology / Self Help. Its a great tool to help find your purpose and streamline your day to day life.

Shankara & Gita 

Though Shankara’s introduction to his commentary on the Gita bemoans the misinterpretation of the text by others, there is no commentary or any kind of writing that precedes him. So it is reasonable to surmise that it was Sri Shankara who for the first time lifted it up from the vast ocean of the Mahabharata literature and fixing its verse content at 700 wrote an authoritative commentary on it. We may also surmise that it must be he who gave recognition to it as an Upanishad and as a Brahma Vidya.

Different interpretations of the Gita 

Difference in interpretation of the Gita have arisen due to the varying perception of relationship between Brahman and the Jiva and on the relative importance of the 4 paths. A universal scripture contains several strands of teachings suited to men of different stages of development. These varying stands are not mutually contradictory or incompatible. They are the Vision of the same Reality from the points of view of the Jivas at different stages of development.

What is the secret of the tremendous appeal of the Gita

It deals with the practical problems of life. How a man could discharge his duties as a member of an imperfect social order and at the same time realise his highest spiritual destiny.The Gita therefore begins with an ethical problem – and in solving this problem a noble devotional philosophy is expounded. The Gita teaches man the goal to be attained and the means for attaining it. The goal is the Supreme Personal Impersonal Brahman. And the means – the paths of Knowledge, Work, Psychic Control & Devotion.

A well known Sanskrit couplet says ” The Gita is the most excellent nectarine milk, drawn by the cowherds son Krishna as its milker, from the cow of the Upanishads , using Arjuna as the calf. All men of purified intellect are the consumers of that milk

What is the Ethical Conflict 

The conflict is between a sudden and purely personal inclination bursting on ones mind and a social duty, the avoidance of which under that inclination would have meant ruin to a whole community that had laid its trust in one. Sri Krishna though God incarnate, is Arjuna’s friend, charioter and spiritual counsellor. He resolves the conflict in Arjuna’s mind and restores him to a sense of moral equilibrium by finding a new sanction for action


Gita and its Historical significance 

All the great indian commentators and enlightened souls have taken the background events of the Gita and the people involved in it as historical. The Kurukshetra war is supposed to have been fought in about 1400 BC according to latest archaeological evidence as against the traditional date ascribing it to a time just before the beginning of Kali Yuga 3102 BC. In modern times there is a swing towards a symbolic interpretation of the background events. The most noteworthy among the upholders of this view is M.K.Gandhi who opines ” This Gita is not a historical discourse. A physical illustration is often needed to drive home a spiritual truth. It is the description not of war between cousins but between two natures in us – Good & Evil”

There have been other symbolic explanations. One popular explanation is it is an extension of the Kathopanishad. The human body is the chariot in which the soul of the man is seated with the Buddhi as the charioteer. The mind constitutes the reins, and the horses are the senses. The chariot is coursing through the battlefield of life. Stationed in the battlefield the bewildered spirit of man representing Arjuna looks to the charioter ( higher mind or Buddhi) represented by Krishna for advice , guidance and inspiration. The Gita is the eternal dialogue going on between the ego and the higher mind.

To be continued …….. 

Chapter 1 : Arjuna Vishada Yoga 

Spread A Few Good Things

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