The Bhagvat Gita, which was spoken perhaps five thousand years ago and has
existed in its written form for over two thousand
years, has continued to inspire new generations
of seekers in the East and West for centuries.
Gandhi in the East and Thoreau, Emerson,
Einstein, and others in the West found within its
pages deep wisdom, comfort, and contemporary
applications to their lives and times.
The Gita stands alongside the Bible,
Dhammapada, Dao De Jing, Qur’an, and other
significant sacred books as a universal source
teaching that transcends sectarian religions.
In addition, the Bhagavad Gita—along with
the Yoga Sutras—is one of the two primary
foundational books of the yoga path, aspects
of which have become popular in the West in
Profound and illuminating, The Bhagavad
Gita: A New Translation and Study Guide will
enhance the experience of this fundamental
text for modern readers from all walks of life—
from students to any individual seeking a deeper
understanding of the foundations of yoga.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
Nicholas Sutton is a professor and director at the Oxford Centre
for Hindu Studies, an academy for the study
of Hindu cultures, societies, philosophies,
religions, and languages. He received his PhD
from Lancaster University, writing his doctoral
thesis on the Mahabharata, and he currently
writes and tutors online courses on Hindu
religious traditions. He is the author of Religious
Doctrines in the Mahabharata and The Yoga Sutras:
A New Translation and Study Guide.
In this book, I have undertaken a detailed study of the Bhagavad
gita and the principal ideas it presents to its readers. As the Gita
is a relatively short work of 18 chapters and 700 verses, it might
seem that this is a far easier task than would be the case for a lon-
ger text such as the Mahabharata or the Ramayana. I have not, how-
ever, attempted a verse by verse consideration of the Bhagavad-gita
and have chosen instead to adopt a thematic approach aimed at
establishing and exploring the main themes of the discourse and
the principal ideas presented in each chapter.
The Bhagavad-gita appears as a section of the Bhishma-parvan, the
sixth book of the Mahabharata, at the point just prior to the 18-day
battle at Kurukshetra. In this conflict the hopes of the Pandava faction rest largely on the martial prowess of Arjuna, the third of thefive Pandava brothers. At the start of the Bhagavad-gita, however,
we find the hero disconsolate and unwilling to wage war against his
own family members. It is at this point that Krishna, his cousin and
charioteer, begins to offer instruction to Arjuna. The initial intention
of the discourse is to persuade Arjuna that waging war is not necessarily an act of wickedness, but the full treatise goes far beyond this
initial thesis, developing into a thoroughgoing exposition of belief
and practice that has had an immeasurable influence on the forma-
tion of Hindu religious doctrines.
I will consider the Bhagavad-gita chapter by chapter and try to
establish the main ideas it pursues in its teachings, thereby seeking
to identify the full significance of this famous scripture. At certain points, attention will be drawn to significant Sanskrit terms,
and some use will be made of three traditional commentaries on
the Gita, namely those of Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, and
Madhvacharya. I will also try to expand the discussion so that at
certain junctures it will be possible to reflect on the contemporary
significance of the teachings and of how they can be of relevance to
the modern world.
In the introduction, the position of the Gita within the Mahabharata
and its status within the Hindu tradition will be considered
before looking briefly at some of the views of contemporary schol-
ars. We will then turn our attention to the Gita’s opening chap-
ter with a consideration of Arjuna’s lamentation, which prompts
Krishna to begin his teachings. Moving on to Chapter 2 we begin
with a review of Krishna’s initial responses to Arjuna’s refusal to
fight and in particular the way in which he emphasises the eternal
nature of the living being. We then move on to concentrate on the
idea of karma-yoga, which Krishna offers as a direct response to
Arjuna’s fear of sinful action. This notion is particularly important
in Hindu religious thought, as it reveals how a person can simul-
taneously fulfil his social obligations whilst striving to attain the
highest spiritual goals.
In considering Chapter 3 we can look in further detail at Krish-
na’s explanation of karma-yoga and then note the progression in the
teachings from karma-yoga, concluded in Chapter 5, to the expla-
nation of dhyana presented in Chapter 6. Here, we find another
form of spirituality advocated by the Bhagavad-gita, the process of
meditational yoga by which one acquires direct perception of the
inner self, the atman, a realisation that leads to liberation from the
cycle of rebirth.
After this discussion of meditational yoga, we proceed further
into the main body of our text, at this point noting how from Chap-
ter 7 onwards the direction of the discourse changes dramatically.
The opening six chapters focused on the ways in which an individual
could pursue the path of renunciation whilst fulfilling social obli-
gations, but from the beginning of Chapter 7 onwards we now find
a switch in emphasis towards providing an understanding of the
nature of God and of the power of divine grace. In the middle sec-
tion (Chapters 7-12) of the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna not only teaches
Arjuna about the nature of the Supreme Deity but also reveals that
he himself is that Deity. And in response to Arjuna’s prayer, he also
manifests his divine identity as that which is all things, the unseen
presence of God pervading the entire creation.
After the great revelation of the divine in Chapter 11 and the
emphasis placed on devotion to God, Chapters 13-16 diversify the
Gita’s teachings and cover a variety of topics that serve to reinforce
the teachings that have gone before. One common theme running
through these later chapters is the emphasis on Samkhya ideas,
the philosophical system that seeks to define the material mani-
festation and to establish the distinctive identity of the individual
soul in all beings. In our sixth chapter, we will consider the ways in
which Krishna employs concepts derived from the Samkhya system
to add greater depth to his teachings.
In reviewing the final two chapters of the Gita (17 and 18), we
again find a diversity of ideas, including an exploration of the way
the gunas, the three inherent qualities of matter, can be identified
within this world. The Bhagavad-gita ends its teachings by revisit-
ing the main ideas it has presented earlier, finally concluding with
a renewed emphasis on the importance of devotion and the power
of divine grace in saving the devotee from rebirth.
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