Esteemed as one of the holy scriptures of Hinduism, the Bhagavad Gita, or simply the Gita, is a 700-verse poem contained in the Mahabharata, one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India. The Bhagavad Gita, whose title means “The Song by God,” was penned sometime during the second half of the first millennium. Scholars vary on pinpoint dating, but 500—200 BC is generally accepted.
The Bhagavad Gita addresses such Hindu beliefs as righteousness or moral duties, devotion to Hindu deities, and the spiritual, physical, and mental practices of yoga that lead to emancipation. Other topics of the Bhagavad Gita include knowledge, Hindu prayer, and selfless action.
In his English language commentary, Hindu scholar Swami Mukundananda provides a brief overview of the Bhagavad Gita: “Unable to deal with the immediate problem at hand, Arjun (the tale’s primary character) approached Shree Krishna (an incarnation of a major Hindu deity) for a palliative to overcome the anguish he was experiencing. Shree Krishna did not just advise him on his immediate problem, but digressed to give a profound discourse on the philosophy of life. Hence, the purpose of the Bhagavad Gita, above everything else, is to impart Brahma Vidya, the science of God-realization” (www.holy-bhagavad-gita.org).
The Bhagavad Gita’s 18 chapter titles are as follows:
Chapter 1: Lamenting the Consequence of War
Chapter 2: The Eternal Reality of the Souls Immortality
Chapter 3: The Eternal Duties of Human Beings
Chapter 4: Approaching the Ultimate Truth
Chapter 5: Action and Renunciation
Chapter 6: The Science of Self Realization
Chapter 7: Knowledge of the Ultimate Truth
Chapter 8: Attainment of Salvation
Chapter 9: Confidential Knowledge of the Ultimate Truth
Chapter 10: The Infinite Glories of the Ultimate Truth
Chapter 11: The Vision of the Universal Form
Chapter 12: The Path of Devotion
Chapter 13: The Individual Consciousness and Ultimate Consciousness
Chapter 14: The Three Qualities of Material Nature
Chapter 15: Realization of the Ultimate Truth
Chapter 16: The Divine and the Demoniac Natures Defined
Chapter 17: The Three Divisions of Material Existence
Chapter 18: Final Revelations of the Ultimate Truth
The following is a sampling of key verses contained in the Bhagavad Gita:
“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change” (Chapter 2, verse 13).
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth” (Chapter 4, verse 34).
“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare” (Chapter 7, verse 19).
“Men of small intelligence worship the demigods, and their fruits are limited and temporary. Those who worship the demigods go to the planets of the demigods, but My devotees ultimately reach My supreme planet” (Chapter 7, verse 23).
“But those who worship Me with devotion, meditating on My transcendental form—to them I carry what they lack and preserve what they have” (Chapter 9, verse 22).
“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who know this perfectly engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts” (Chapter 10, verse 8).
“One can understand the Supreme Personality as He is only by devotional service. And when one is in full consciousness of the Supreme Lord by such devotion, he can enter into the kingdom of God” (Chapter 18, verse 55).
The Appeal of Hinduism in Western Culture
Although Hinduism’s stronghold is India, Nepal, and Indonesia, its appeal has spread well beyond the confines of southeast Asia. During the 1960s, the Beatles’ music introduced young listeners to the rudiments of Hinduism. Later, as vegetarianism and veganism grew in popularity, so did the appeal of Hinduism. Additionally, celebrated writers such as T. S. Elliott, William Wordsworth, and John Keats were influenced by Hinduism and the Bhagavad Gita (www.newsgram.com/why-the-westerners-are-attracted-to-hinduism-find-out, accessed 1/3/22). As Christianity’s prominence continues to decline in the West, the spiritual void felt among nonbelievers is often filled by whatever is trendy and fashionable. Hinduism makes few demands of its followers; for that matter, there are atheists who practice Hinduism. Hinduism is riddled with contradiction, so devotees are not bound by a strict set of doctrines. Too, some people are drawn to Eastern religious beliefs for no reason other than novelty. Thanks to popular culture, Hinduism is in vogue.
Conclusion on the Bhagavad Gita
From a literary standpoint, the Bhagavad Gita is not without a measure of appeal, but its teachings should be taken no more seriously than those of any other ancient mythical work. As Christians, we must flatly reject belief in reincarnation, which, in its purest sense, is a form of works-based salvation. More troubling is Hinduism’s stance on the person and nature of our Lord Jesus. According to some Hindu scholars, Jesus is just one of many avatars, or enlightened messengers, sent from the Divine to earth as a teacher. As Christians, we are to heed the instructions and commandments of our Lord Jesus, but we are to esteem Him as much more than just another teacher or philosopher. We believe He is, first and foremost, the unique incarnation of God and the only Savior of the world. Jesus is the cornerstone of our faith and the author of our salvation (Hebrews 12:2). In the end, the Bible, not the Bhagavad Gita, is our source of truth.