Anyone from a Western country who visits Asia will notice distinct differences. For one thing, it’s a melting pot of brown and yellow skin colors with thousands of variations. Culturally, the whole region shows ancient Indian and Oriental influences. This article covers the gist of the Indian side as laid out in the Bhagavad Gita. Before visiting Asia, it’s worth reading this summary of its core teachings. Doing so will grease your wheels to go with the flow and get amongst it easily with the locals.
The Bhagavad Gita (aka the Gita) is a 700-verse ancient Indian scripture that’s part of the Indian epic Mahabharata. It’s a battlefield conversation between Prince Arjuna and the god Krishna, his charioteer. The 20,000+ words serve as a timeless guide to self-realization and spiritual growth. But it’s a dense read that demands heavy contemplation. This article makes the Gita more accessible by summarizing its main points in simple terms for spiritual seekers.
The Bhagavad Gita is believed to have been written between 400 BCE and 400 CE(1). This was a period of profound cultural, social, and intellectual development in ancient India. During this time, many of the great Indian philosophical systems (like Vedanta, Yoga, and Samkhya) were emerging.
The story takes place during the Kurukshetra War. This was a conflict between two branches of a royal family: the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Its teachings are presented as a dialogue between Prince Arjuna (a Pandava warrior), and Lord Krishna, his divine charioteer and advisor.
Arjuna is unsure about fighting against his kin. Krishna offers him guidance on how to deal with the situation — while adhering to his Dharma, or righteous duty.
This article details the historical and cultural context of the Bhagavad Gita. Then, it summarizes the key themes that are most relevant to modern seekers. Learn how to apply Dharma, balance, and detachment quickly and easily in your daily life for maximum benefit.
Introduction To The Bhagavad Gita
The Gita teaches that the ultimate reality is a divine force known as Brahman — the source of all existence. By understanding one’s true nature as Atman (the eternal Self), people can become one with Brahman.
The challenge: performing one’s duties without attachment to their outcomes. This route purifies the mind and leads to spiritual growth.
Three paths To Self-Realization
The Gita presents three paths to self-realization and spiritual liberation. Each helps the seeker to overcome ignorance and realize their true nature as the eternal Self.
- Karma Yoga: the path of selfless action
- Bhakti Yoga: the path of spiritual devotion
- Jnana Yoga: the path of knowledge and wisdom
Summary Of Chapters
The Bhagavad Gita is divided into 18 chapters. Find below a condensed version of a longer one(2).
- Arjuna’s Dilemma: he wants to fulfill his duty as a warrior, but doesn’t want to fight against his kin. To resolve this conflict, he seeks Krishna’s guidance.
- The Nature of Reality: Krishna teaches Arjuna about the eternal nature of the Self (Atman) and the impermanence of the material world. He urges him to focus on his Dharma and perform his duties without attachment.
- Karma Yoga: Krishna explains selfless action and the performance of one’s duties without expecting rewards.
- Wisdom in Action: Krishna discusses the relationship between knowledge and action. He stresses the importance of cultivating wisdom and discernment in daily life.
- The Path of Renunciation: Krishna discusses the merits of renunciation and detachment. He highlights the importance of transcending the ego to truly realize the eternal Self.
- The Science of Meditation: practical guidance on using discipline-powered meditation as a means to attain self-realization and inner peace.
- Knowledge and Wisdom: Krishna teaches Arjuna about the nature of ultimate reality (Brahman) and the various aspects of divine knowledge and wisdom.
- The Eternal and the Impermanent: Krishna contrasts the eternal nature of the Self with the impermanence of the material world.
- The Supreme Secret: the supreme secret of self-realization is a devoted surrender to the divine.
- Manifestations of the Divine: Krishna describes various manifestations of the divine in daily life. He advises recognizing these manifestations and giving gratitude.
- Vision of the Cosmic Form: Arjuna is granted a vision of Krishna’s cosmic form. This reveals to him the interconnectedness of all beings and the divine nature of reality.
- The Path of Devotion: Krishna teaches Arjuna about the path of Bhakti Yoga (love, devotion, and surrender to the divine).
- The Field and the Knower: this chapter explores the relationship between the body and the eternal Self. It advises seekers to cultivate self-awareness and discernment.
- The Three Gunas: Krishna explains the concept of the three Gunas (qualities of nature) and their impact on spiritual growth.
- The Supreme Self: Krishna hypes realizing one’s true nature as the eternal Self — while detaching from the illusions of the material world.
- The Divine and Demonic Qualities: Krishna outlines the qualities that help or hinder spiritual growth. He advises seekers to resist their lower nature with discipline.
- The Three Divisions of Faith: Krishna discusses the various types of faith and their impact on spiritual growth, emphasizing the importance of cultivating purity and discernment.
- The Yoga of Liberation: Krishna summarizes the teachings of the Gita and urges Arjuna to act according to his Dharma. The gist is that all spiritual seekers should do the same.
Understanding the concept of Dharma
In the Gita, Dharma refers to the individual’s responsibility to uphold the cosmic order and fulfill their unique role in the world.
For Arjuna, this means fulfilling his duty as a warrior who fights for justice. Krishna advises him to perform his Dharma with detachment and equanimity. In doing so, he would attain spiritual growth and liberation from his internal conflict.
Dharma And Detachment
Understanding and living in accordance with one’s Dharma is an essential part of the spiritual journey. Doing so aligns the individual with the greater cosmic order. That leads to inner harmony and balance.
Krishna points out three keys:
- Detachment: as the seeker progresses, attachment to the fruits of their actions can lead to spiritual stagnation. This trap binds the individual to the cycle of birth and death.
- Duty: one should perform their duties without attaching to their outcomes.
- Balance: maintaining composure even in the face of adversity.
The Gita suggests that spiritual disciplines like meditation and mindfulness forge balance. By cultivating a balanced and moderate approach to spiritual practice, the seeker can attain self-realization and inner peace more efficiently.
Daily Bhagavad Gita Applications
Here are five easy ways to apply the wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita to everyday life:
- Cultivating self-discipline and detachment: focus on the process rather than the outcome; perform duties with detachment.
- Meditation & Yoga: cultivate self-awareness, inner peace, and spiritual growth.
- Embracing Compassion & Service: be kind and support others; contribute to the well-being of your community (and the world).
- Gratitude & Appreciation: be thankful for the good times; appreciate the divine presence in all aspects of existence.
- Prioritize Spiritual Growth: seeking out opportunities for growth aligns one’s actions with their higher purpose and values.
Incorporating these practices into your daily life taps into the timeless wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita. With practice comes greater peace, joy, and fulfillment in all areas of life.
Try to apply these Bhagavad Gita fundamentals on your next visit to Asia and see what happens:
- Justify your place in society by doing your duty and contributing something.
- Learn to act without expectation.
- Focus on the process rather than the result.
Also, take note of the Gita’s message of interconnectedness. We are all one. Provide service to whichever community you’re traveling through. On top of that, show compassion and lead an ethical life. According to Krishna, doing so guarantees you a great time.
Contributing to the well-being of others makes the world a better place. That yields clarity, purpose, and inner peace.
- Annenberg Learner. ‘The Bhagavad Gita – Map & Timeline’. https://www.learner.org/series/invitation-to-world-literature/the-bhagavad-gita/the-bhagavad-gita-map-timeline/, (accessed 24 April 2023).
- Srila Prabhupada. ‘Summary of the Bhagavad Gita As It Is’. https://www.iskconbooks.com/chapter-wise-summary-of-bhagavad-gita-as-it-is/, (accessed 24 April 2023).