The Complete Beginner’s Guide To The Bhagavad Gītā

Yoga prescription

What’s this Bhagavad Gītā everyone’s talking about? Ever seen it on the shelf at your yoga studio, but never really known what it was? Read on to learn the essentials of this key yogic text.

Get To Know The Gītā

Name: The Bhagavad Gītā (translates as Song of the Lord)
Date written: Between 400 – 200BC
Author: Unknown. A lot of the stories in the Gītā are believed to have descended ultimately from the word of God, but who put the words to paper remains a disputed point. Many people believe Vyasa was the author, but he remains a legendary figure.
First translated into English: Believed to be around 1795CE by Sir Charles Wilkins.
Popular translations: Eknath Easwaran, Swami Satchidananda, Swami Prabhupada, Paramahansa Yogananda.
Key themes: Karma yoga (yoga in action), Jnana yoga (yoga of knowledge), Bhakti yoga (yoga of love), Braham (God), Atman (Consciousness), Dharma (our essence, the law of creation)

What Is The Bhagavad Gītā?

It’s actually a poem, and although some believe that The Bhagavad Gītā is part of the Mahabharata (which is the vastest Indian epic — and possibly the vastest piece of literature in the world!), many dispute this, and believe it was added into the Mahabharata at a latest date. It does sit alongside texts such as The Upanishads, the Vedas and the Dammapada, all of which are Indian texts tackling the great issues of spirituality. 

Meet Arjuna and Krishna…

One of the best known Hindu scriptures, affectionately referred to as the ‘Gītā’ by many, the Bhagavad Gītā tells a story set on a battlefield, where families set to take battle between themselves. The Gītā is a dialogue between warrior Arjuna, and his spiritual guide Krishna. Arjuna has lost faith in the battle, and turns to Krishna for advice on what is the right action to take. The battle takes place in Kurukshetra, which is now the modern state of Haryana in India.

The dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna which takes place in the Gītā is also a metaphor for the conversations which take place between the Self and ego. You know the sort, the one where the ego tells you to push harder in your yoga even when you’re exhausted, or encourages you to stay in bed when you know it would do you good to get to class. With Arjuna as the ego, and Krishna as the Self, we can look at the Gītā in a whole new light. This why the Gītā is still so relevant today – it’s ultimately a journey of union.

Why should I read it?

The Bhagavad Gītā seeks answers to questions which are still relevant today, like finding serenity and peace in an ever-changing world. Because of this, it finds its way onto most yoga teacher training programmes. It is also thought to be the most popular Indian text in the world.

Interesting Fact: The Bhagavad Gītā, aka Song of the Lord, would have originally being passed orally, from teacher to student, so it is possible that the whole thing might of actually been sung from person to person!

Important Quotes

“Those who are unaffected by the changes, who are the same in pleasure and pain, are truly wise and fit for immortality.” (2:15)

“On this path effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure. Even a little effort towards spiritual awareness will protect you from the greatest fear.” (2:40)

“When you are unmoved by the confusion of ideas and your mind is completely united in deep Samadhi, you will attain the perfect state of yoga.” (2:53)

“The goal of all work is spiritual wisdom.” (3:32)

“There is merit in studying the scriptures, in selfless service, austerity, and giving, but the practice of meditation carrries you beyond all these to the supreme abode of the highest Lord.” (8: 28)

Key Sanskrit Terms

Sat chit anananda: truth consciousness and bliss
Tyaga: renunciation
Naiva kincit na karomiti: I do nothing at all (or, the joy of being fully present in the moment)

I’ve got 10 minutes, which bit should I read?

Verses 55 – 72 in chapter two are thought by many to be the most important verses in the whole book. These verses talk of freedom from selfish attachments and aversions. They’re so good that even Gandhi said if the whole text was lost, but these verses were saved, it would be enough. Pretty good endorsement, right?

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