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This bookbhook summary is handcrafted by Pooja Terwad, exclusively for India’s favourite book summary app-bookbhook. Pooja is a partner in a full service law firm, based out of Mumbai. She loves exploring books and interpreting their theory in her practice.
Why ‘My’ Gita?
The real quintessence of ‘GITA’ lies in ‘TAGI’ (One who lets go), yet I have named this book using a possessive pronoun. The book is linear and the sequence of themes broadly follow the original sequence found in The Gita. The original Gita is narrated by Sanjaya, who has merely transmitted the conversation between Krishna and Arjun to Dhritirashtra, but did not really know what he was talking about. Through this book I am looking to put forth my narrative of The Gita in the light of several other mythologies around the world. However, this still remains my subjective understanding and my subjective truth. What you understand or take away will continue to remain your subjective truth and no one else’s. My Gita does not merely suit the hermit who isolates himself from the society, but it is meant for the householder, who has much to do with relationships.
A Brief History of The Gita
Before the Bhagavad Gita (God’s song), there was the Vyadha Gita or the butcher’s song. Just like the Bhagawad Gita, the Vyadha Gita’s description of dharma, karma and atma focused more on the householders’ way of engagement, and not on the hermits’ way of withdrawal. Hinduism goes back to over 5,000 years, and it is around the Vedic phase, roughly 4,000 years ago that Gita started emerging in hymns and rituals. The Mahabharata has multiple Gitas, but the Bhagawad Gita has been the most read and interpreted. The Bhagawad Gita has 700 verses, split into 18 chapters, of which 574 are spoken by Krishna, 84 by Arjuna, 41 by Sanjaya and 1 by Dhritarashtra. There are several commentaries, translations and retellings of The Gita which have appeared from time to time and have reflections of the contemporary religious, social and political situations.
Theme of My Gita: darshan (observation) ; Theme of The Gita: Arjuna’s despair
Where Dhritarashtra and Kauravas both consider their own family as enemies, Arjuna is worried about killing people who he considers his own. The Kauravas have already created distinctions on whom they consider their own and who as enemies, while Arjuna is not scared of violence -but violence against his own family. The Kauravas have already separated themselves from the other, the Arjun is unable to separate his own self from the other. The actions of Kauravas, Dhritarashtra and Arjun all involve judgment, thus preventing themselves from darshan. There are either divisions of good/bad, powerful/powerless and so on, or there is cause and consequence. There is either the judgment or darshan. Where we look beyond the boundaries which are separating one from the other, we do darshan.
Theme of My Gita: atma (rebirth) ; Theme of The Gita: sankhya (analysis)
True wisdom is where death is irrelevant. Life is a battlefield of infinite experiences of the dehi (immortal occupier) and the deha (mortal body). One experiences the world time and again in different deha, till those who fix their minds on the immortal reality break free from this wheel of re-births, which often fluctuates between the form and the formless. Once a soul does darshan, it motivates him to accept the present and take responsibility of the future. Another life is another chance: either to stay entrapped in the cycle of fear or break free by discovering the reality and observing it without judging it.
Theme of My Gita: deha (mortal body); Theme of The Gita: karma (informed action)
The world is primarily divided into four: humans, animals, elements and plants. While elements are a-jiva, (lifeless), the rest three are sa-jiva (living). Plants have sensory organs but are immobile, unlike animals. Animals display emotions and some degree of intelligence. However, humans have manas, the power to imagine in addition to the above qualities. Every human imagines differently and hence has different experiences, even when put under same circumstances. Everything that we value is actually a result of our imagination. The most certain imagination of a human mind is fear and it is this fear which restrains us from gaining insight, accepting immortality as fear and help us function without fear. Immortality is a concept just like 0 and infinite and cannot be measured or proved by pure sciences.
Theme of My Gita: dehi ; Theme of The Gita: gyana
Dehi is the atma which is located in the body. It is the body’s immortal resident, and which is beyond the senses and the mind. Dehi is just like the purusha, located inside nature. Deha-the outer body, on the other hand, is like the prakriti (nature) and these two (deha and prakriti) are within the reach of the senses, unlike the dehi and purusha which are immeasurable and permanent. Dehi is the jiv-atma and has limited experience as it is constrained by the deha it resides in. The purusha, however, is called the param-atma and its experience is unlimited as it resides in limitless prakriti. Every individual is a jiv-atma and every other individual is a param-atma. The dehi does not mean the soul, as soul can get corrupted, but dehi is pure and pious under any circumstances, even if it is in the body of a sinner.
Theme of My Gita: karma ; Theme of The Gita: sanyasa (detached action)
Every living creature feels hungry and indulges in violence. Wherever there is hunger, there is food and the act of fetching food is a violent act as we indulge in destruction of life, that we consume as food. This is the ultimate truth. In anticipation of fear of violence, human refrains from acting but little do they realize that even inaction is going to have a reaction. Action or no action, both equally constitute karma and shall have consequences (karma-phal). As long as a human is not expecting any fruit out of his action, and is content with whatever is the result, he wouldn’t get entrapped. Remember, a good karma can have a bad reaction. We cannot have control over the fruits of our action. Not judging, and accepting things as they are, is the essence of karma- also called the nishkama karma.
Theme of My Gita: dharma ; Theme of The Gita: dhyana
The first word uttered in The Gita is dharma, often referred to as righteousness and debated as paap and punya. At times, it is also referred to as religion. However, as humans, we have the potential to imagine and respond to other person’s pain. When an individual values his needs along with the needs of others, he is following the path of dharma. Dominating the weak or consuming the weak is the animal nature, as humans we are supposed to empathize with the needs of others. Traditions and laws, which develop their own definition of dharma, is not dharma at all. The intent and care we give others related or not related to us is dharma. A person who follows dharma will never care to justify or complain, he will just engage himself in doing the karma, without expecting the karma-phala of their karma-bin (seeds of Karma).
Theme of My Gita: yagna (exchange); Theme of The Gita: vi-gyana (inner potential)
Yagna is one of the only rituals of the outer journey which Krishna talks about. Yagna is an exchange, where the yagna doer (yajaman) gets in return of what he offers the devata. Exchange teaches us to reciprocate and thus value relationships. The concept of offering flowers/ghee or even bali (sacrifice) came later on, and do not propound the intent of The Gita. The true meaning of yagna always was to feed the hungry, it was an action inspired by a justified intent and thought.
Theme of My Gita: yoga (introspection); Theme of The Gita: askhara (liberation)
The process of connecting with the disconnected deha and ultimately finding the dehi is yoga. Krishna refers to disconnecting and breaking things into their parts, and then connecting them through yoga. Yoga helps us establish what the mind should do and what it shouldn’t. While the yagna is referred to as the outer journey, yoga is referred to as the journey of the mind, which one has to take. Yoga teaches us to take a decision with utmost clarity and without being insensitive to the feelings of others. A balance of yagna and yoga teaches a yogi to see the world with utmost equanimity, without judgment. The inner journey should be taken to better the outer journey.
Theme of My Gita: deva-asura (trust); Theme of The Gita: raja-guhya (special secret)
Although devas and the asuras have often been termed as Gods and Demons, in reality they stand for believers and non-believers of atma. The God in The Gita has always been referred to as Bhagavan. Neither deva nor asura are given the status of Bhagavan. Atma is the one which is forever true and it can’t be proven and needs to be experienced. A yogi needs to value yoga, tapa and agni. Devas preferred the yagna and asuras preferred tapa. The devas were always insecure of the asuras and often tried to violate their tapasya, while the asuras envied the abundance that the devas were blessed with. The deva has been successful and the asura strives to be successful. Devas believes God will help them and asuras don’t believe so. Devas believe in param-atma but have not realized the value of jiv-atma and the asuras do not believe in atma at all. Hence, neither of them have completed the true inner journey. Both of them are unable to break free and are trapped in the karma-phala of their own actions.
Theme of My Gita: Bhagavan (potential); Theme of The Gita: vibhuti (divinity)
The word Bhagavan is used in The Gita to refer to God. While every living creature experiences one slice of reality (bhag), God is master of every slice. It means the one who has experienced it all. Finding the hidden meaning of God is an evolution. Understanding that God is not outside but within us and in others. God has been referred in various names since the Vedas to the Puranas. He is one who does not have a form, gender or any other identity. He is the Enlightened Householder. However, The Gita says the Bhagavan is the ultimate source and destination- where everyone and everybody should finally return. The Hindu God, as The Gita says, is located in Humanity.
Theme of My Gita: brahmana (mind); Theme of The Gita: vishwa-rupa ( sight of divinity)
Vanara (monkey), nara (human) and Narayana (God-refuge of nara) are the three aspects of human existence. They respectively denote the presence of animal, human and divine instinct. The animal instinct often wants to identify the prey or rival. The human instinct wants to judge, however, the divine instinct only observes. This journey involves unwinding of aham and eventually discovering the atma, which is the secure mind. This is brahmana. The observer, or the divine instinct, helps others to transform for the good, without making them feel small. A brahmana mind totally overrides the animal brain and outgrows fear. It is a stage where no one can be an enemy. Even someone who is harming you cannot be your enemy, as a brahmana considers the person causing harm merely another human who is indulging in animal like behaviour out of his fear.
Theme of My Gita: avatar ; Theme of The Gita: bhakti
Krishna is addressed in over 40 ways in the Gita. Over the centuries and during every phase of Hinduism, various characters have expressed their love for God in a particular way. The bhava (emotions) of bhakta vary in every yug. Sometimes in form of a mother (Yashoda), at times in form of gopikas, at times like a preyasi (Radha). The devotee can either cling to the deity like a baby or could be passive in devotion. The God has accepted every form of love and accepted the bhakta with every inadequacy without making him feel inferior. This sustains the relationship between the deity and its bhakta. Eventually, humans began to accept some forms of devotion and rejected a few. But Krishna categorically says that the relationship with god need not be governed by riti/niti (rituals) as long as it emerges from within.
Theme of My Gita: guna; Theme of The Gita: kshetra
Humans are often faced with a dilemma where we wish to act in a certain manner, but end up with a completely different behaviour. This is because our nature compels us do what we do. Every instinct is manifested by a guna, which constitutes an individual. The a-jiv as well as the sa-jiv behave based on their respective gunas. The tri-gunas are classified as ‘rajasik, tamasik and the sattvik’. Every individual will have all the three gunas in proportion, but the guna that dominates at a particular hour, determines the reaction of the individual. Every human should realise that the reason for a particular response is not the dehi but the deha which is over powered by a guna, it is then we do not blame or judge.
Theme of My Gita: kshetra; Theme of The Gita: guna
Humans value everything that can be measured. I constitute of my atma and atma cannot be measured, but everything that is mine, can be. Hence, society attaches value to ‘mine’ rather than ‘me’. This ‘mine’ is termed as Narayani, and people have forgotten what the Narayan (me) is. Property (kshetra) becomes the substitute for feelings and the purpose of life revolves around acquiring Narayani. While the nature does not classify anything as Narayani, humans create it- to nourish themselves. Kshetra is an artificial construction by human as he relates his identity through this kshetra. Our mind needs to outgrow from the dependence on kshetra to look for an identity from within. This identity needs to be acquired by effort. Society values the social body, but what needs to be values is an individual’s strength and skill. One should acquire kshetra as it is vital for survival, but should not attach or derive his identity from it.
Theme of My Gita: maya; Theme of The Gita: Purushottam
The human potential to determine what belongs to me and what does not, is called Maya. It literally means delusion. We measure, we judge, we compare and we compete- this results in conflict and creation of hierarchies. This is all done to merely give ourselves an identity and make ourselves significant. The dehi however cannot be measured.
Theme of My Gita: moha; Theme of The Gita: dev-asura
Humans feel secure when they cling or relate themselves to a physical identity. Even with a religion like Buddhism that preaches impermanence, the remains of Buddha were converted into stupas. Similarly, humans cling to their property or goals that satisfy their aham (ego) and ultimately lead to the six obstacles of kaam (desire), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), moha (attachment), maad (pride) and matsarya (jealousy). A householder runs behind his goals and a hermit shuns everything that naturally belongs to him. Both do not accept the reality of accepting what comes his way and letting go of what does not. Both these reactions keep us away from the atma and eventually nurture the aham.
Theme of My Gita: moksha; Theme of The Gita: shraddha
Humans derive value from within as well as outside. The within, that is the atma, is immortal and infinite, and the exterior comprises of aham. The within is our primary root and the exterior, a secondary one. One should use knowledge to cut the secondary roots and liberate oneself. This is moksha, when one does not need validation from outside but is validated from within. While moksha begins by realizing that nothing is permanent, The Gita says that one can have two identities. One derived from aham and the other from atma. Atma results in moksha. Our insecurities disconnect us from others, and when we let these insecurities go, we automatically connect with the atma, which then, makes us generous and liberated. This is moksha.
Theme of My Gita: atma (immortal within); Theme of The Gita: brahma-nirvana (discovery of the other)
The continuous tension between building relationships (dharma) and abandoning relationships (moksha) underlines The Gita. There have been various school of thoughts on the superiority of dharma, artha, kama and moksha. The latter three indulge in the self, while dharma ordains that everything is meant for the other. Hence, Arjuna says, instead of finding moksha through abandonment, one needs to surrender and offer all his actions to Krishna and it will lead to automatic liberation. Siddhartha became Buddha by killing Mara (the demon of desire). Buddha, Rama, Pandavas – all of them returned back wiser, and yet disconnected, from the forest. Moksha can be attained by the expansion of mind to accommodate the truths of life and it is the outcome of dharma. Krishna advises Arjuna to take darshan of the other person by looking at him beyond his aham, hunger and fears – which are nothing, but the other person’s imagined identity. This can be done by discovering one’s aham, hunger and fears, and eventually discover the infinite atma. And this is atma-gyana, the ultimate promise of The Gita.
After My Gita
Arjuna’s confusion is now replaced by clarity and the battle of dharma at Kurukshetra begins. But even after the war, doubts in Arjuna’s mind continue. When Arjuna overhears a conversation between Yudhishthira and Krishna where Krishna says craving cannot be destroyed. The only way to destroy desire is by pursuing dharma. Pursuing dharma will lead to craving for more dharma, which then becomes a positive loop, and is good for the entire world. This is when Arjuna requests Krishna to repeat what he said in the starting verse of Bhagawad Gita. Krishna then narrates a follow-up Gita, which is known as the Anu Gita, in which the focus is on karma and gyana, not bhakti. Even after being the recipient of The Bhagawad Gita, Arjuna goes to hell. Why? With all his virtues, Arjuna was not perfect, and the desire to be perfect makes one control the situation, eventually judge the world, and not be secure and satisfied until the world has a happy ending. The Gita does not talk of perfection. It suggests the three interdependent paths of Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Gyana Yoga to be followed. One also does not need have control over expected results. The final outcome depends on will (sankalpa), tendencies (guna) and what one is supposed to experience (karma).
This is a world without boundaries and that there will always be another chance.
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