By Jeffrey Armstrong (Kavindra Rishi)
The Bhagavad-gita is the tip of a transcendental iceberg, the peak of a mountain called the Mahabharata in the great epic history of India. Set in the mysterious and opulent Asia of 5,000 years ago, the 100,000 verse Mahabharata is ten times longer than the Iliad and Odyssey of Greece combined. In the eighteen chapters and 700 verses of the Bhagavad-gita, the Supreme Lord Krishna, who appeared on Earth at that time in history, explains to His cousin and friend Arjuna all the most important truths of Yoga Philosophy and practice.
The history described in the Mahabharata stretches back tens of thousands of years, recording the ancient loves and exploits of great Kings and Queens as well as the lineages of hundreds of streams of ancient yogic learning. There are descriptions of unimaginable wealth and splendor, palaces decorated with coral and jewels, magnificent horses, mighty elephants and almost mythic creatures. The epic describes forests like paradise, full of sweet fruits and fragrant flowers, cobras, peacocks and other birds of all descriptions, and pure and abundant rivers flowing down from the greatest mountain range in the world – the Himalayas.
In that historical context of wisdom, honor, beauty and mystery and in the midst of the mother culture of all yoga practice, a pivotal historical moment occurred that was destined to change the course of world history forever. A drama unfolded between the ruling royal families who at that time held sway over an empire that according to the history of India had outposts from Ireland (Arya land) to Japan (Shinto/Hindu), to the tip of Africa and North as far as Russia (Rishia) and Scandinavia (Skanda).
The plot of this great conflict, not unlike the global struggles of our modern world, challenged everyone to decide truth from falsehood, honor from dishonor and righteousness from evil. Within the most powerful royal family in India of that time, two groups of cousins were born. One group, headed by the evil-minded Duryodhana, set about stealing the entire kingdom by any violent or harmful means. The other group consisted of Arjuna and his four brothers, along with their wife Draupadi and mother Kunti.
The final result of this family conflict was a great war called the “Battle of Kurukshetra,” which involved much of the world in great turbulence and strife. Arjuna and his brothers, being Divine by temperament, did everything they could to avoid the war, including living for thirteen years in homeless exile. Eventually, at the urging of the Supreme Lord Shri Krishna, Arjuna and his brothers and friends had to fight against the relentless evil of Duryodhana and his ruthless forces of destruction and degradation.
According to the Yoga tradition, the Mahabharata war was scheduled by the Supreme Being Krishna in order to reveal the complete truths of Vedic knowledge. Although the Bhagavad-gita is not a book encouraging political warfare, it is directly about the conflict we all face living on Earth. Even to the peaceful and gentle souls, the harsh realities of the world are a constant challenge. In the struggle to exist and to live a life of love and truth, we find ourselves in the forces of struggle and conflict.
On another level, just to live in the material world is to live amidst the competition for life. As in a terrible war, all beings that live on this planet will someday die. In one sense, all the living entities here are fighting for their life against each other. Within our bodies a similar great war is also being fought. Countless millions of cells in our immune system are constantly at war with hosts of invading parasites, viruses and bacteria. Without their constant struggle, sacrifice and death, our lives would end immediately. Thus the Mahabharata and Bhagavad-gita teach about many important subjects that are the secrets of our material life and spiritual purpose here, as well as our future goals and true spiritual nature.
The Bhagavad-gita or “Song of God” was spoken in Sanskrit, the pure mystical language of India. Sanskrit is such a perfect language that it has been possible to keep the message of the Gita unaltered for the last 5,000 years. It has been carefully passed down over that time from master to student in an unbroken lineage of masters who cherished and preserved its great message. When learning the Bhagavad-gita one should always inquire respectfully of the lineage or “Disciplic Succession” in which it is being taught. Each school of thought in the Yoga culture of the Vedas has a unique view of the Gita’s message.
Imagine the drama of this amazing story. As the necessity for a final conflict became inevitable, millions of soldiers, elephants, chariots and horses assembled at the now famous battlefield in India known as Kurukshetra. Eighteen divisions of soldiers were present for the battle with over 200,000 in each division. Almost 2 million souls stood facing each other with weapons raised. All of them were acquaintances, friends, family members and teachers, in an inevitable and unavoidable conflict.
Arjuna was a general, and one of the most powerful warriors on the field. Now please remember that the central point of this story is that the Supreme Being, God, the Transcendental Source of everything that exists, had supposedly appeared as Lord Shri Krishna. In spite of His being the Supreme Person and therefore unlimitedly powerful, He had purposely taken a neutral role in this fight. He had given His personal army to the evil Duryodhana and volunteered to be the chariot driver of Arjuna. In other words, the evil may receive the material energy (army) of God but the Divine and sincere souls are eligible for intimate association with the Supreme Person who becomes their guide and the driver of their chariot.
In the yogic texts, the body is described as being like a chariot, the senses are horses, the mind is the reins, the driver is the intelligence and the eternal soul is the passenger. Just as the great war was about to begin, Arjuna asked Lord Krishna to pull the chariot out into the middle of the battlefield so he could take one more look at the assembled armies, which were mostly composed of his friends and family. It is at that dramatic moment that Krishna pulled the chariot to the center of the field. There in the midst of both armies, the 700 verses of the Bhagavad-gita were spoken.
The book beings with a chapter called the Yoga of the Depression of Arjuna. Naturally Arjuna was deeply upset at the sight of everyone he loved and held dear, standing with weapons raised to kill each other. It was no different than the sadness and terror we face in a world where nuclear weapons are pointed at each other. We are really one planet, one family, but look how ready to kill each other we have become. This was Arjuna’s grief. He cried, lamented, became depressed, threw down his weapons and refused to fight. In that moment of Arjuna’s sadness and depression he did not receive a prescription for a drug to mask his depression; instead, he received the prescription of transcendental Yogic knowledge directly from the mouth of the Supreme Guide and Friend. That same Inner Guide who drove Arjuna’s chariot 5,000 years ago is the final goal of Yoga – the Divine Within. As the rest of the Gait unfolds, Arjuna is gradually educated and convinced to follow the path of Yogic truth in action by the eternal words of Krishna. Each of the 18 chapters reveals another aspect of Yogic learning and practice until finally Arjuna is restored to his original Divine consciousness. This same immortal text of the Bhagavad-Gita has inspired thinkers in India and around the world to find courage and face the challenges of life with Spiritual grace and peaceful determination. In the words of Shri Krishna: "My dear Arjuna, armed with Yoga, stand and fight."
Jeffrey Armstrong is currently working on an updated translation of The Bhagavad Gita Comes Alive, publishers VASA Vedic Academy of Sciences & Arts, anticipated release date 2020. He is the author of best-selling book: Spiritual Teachings of the Avatar, published by Simon & Schuster/Beyond Words, Karma the Ancient Science of Cause & Effect, Mandala Publishers and the award winning book God/Goddess the Astrologer - Soul Karma and Reincarnation How We Continually Create Our Own Destiny. He teaches the Philosophy & Lifestyle of Yoga around the world to yoga practitioners and corporations. Contact www.jefffreyarmstrong.com