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Monday, February 22, 2021

Thoughts on The Gita

The Gita is the only book of religion which appears as a chapter in the epic history (the Mahabharata) of an ancient civilization comprising nations of differing cultures and ruled by a number of dynasties. This signifies that the Gita was not conceived by its ancient creator as a stand-alone book of religion but as a part of an epic history—its teachings are enmeshed with the story of the life of the warriors, sages, and the masses who are the creators, preservers, and beneficiaries of the civilization described in the Mahabharata. Its purpose is to be a practical guide for those who find themselves incapable of taking the right action when they are facing the greatest challenge of their lifetime because they are overcome by feelings of doubt.

There are times in the history of every civilization when its politics and culture are in the state of great turmoil and its survival is at stake—to recover from such a crisis, a civilization has to fight a great war in which half of its population will be pitted against the other half. If the wrong side wins the war, the civilization will decline and fall. If the good side wins, they will manage to save their civilization by destroying the bad political forces and getting rid of the institutions which have become corrupt and dysfunctional, and by creating new institutions which are better suited to  preserve their way of life. But to win such a great war, the good side has to be willing to fight against their own kith and kin.

The text of the Gita is recited in the middle of the battlefield of Kurukshetra, where two of the greatest armies that the civilization has ever seen are facing each other—the text is addressed to Arjuna, the warrior (man of action), who stands on a chariot facing the enemy forces. Krishna, the divine personality (man of thought), who holds the reins of Arjuna’s chariot, delivers the text of the Gita. On seeing many of his loved ones standing on the other side of the battlefield, Arjuna is plagued with doubts; he thinks that he will be committing a great sin if he slays his kith and kin, and loses his will to fight. Krishna addresses the Gita to Arjuna and to make him realize that fighting for the cause of justice and truth is his sacred dharma (duty).

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