Each day upon waking we have a choice: who will we decide to listen to today…? Our true and higher self, or our ego? The days we decide to listen to the true Self are usually the ones where we feel as though we’re living our purpose and abiding in our true nature; the days we decide to listen to the ego are usually the ones where we face the most difficulty, and life can seem a little like a battlefield.
A guidebook to life
The Bhagavad Gita is one of India’s ancient texts derived from the epic poem, The Mahabharata. Throughout history, this still stands as the longest poem to have been written, with over 100,000 shlokas or over 200,000 verses. Although only a part of this huge text, the Bhagavad Gita is perhaps one of the most important and highly revered yogic texts ever to have been written.
Texts like The Upanishads and the Dhammapada are also part of this epic poem, but it is the Bhagavad Gita which is often cited as the one that holds the key to personal transformation:
As the third of the classics, the Bhagavad Gita is a map and a guidebook. It gives us a systematic overview of the territory [of life], shows various approaches to the summit with their benefits and pitfalls, offers recommendations, tells us what to pack and what to leave behind. More than either of the others (the Upanishads and the Dhammapada), it gives the sense of a personal guide. It asks and answers the questions that you or I might ask – questions not about philosophy or mysticism, but about how to live life effectively in a world of challenge and change.
~ Eknath Easwaran – The Upanishads Introduction
The story - relevance and symbolism
The whole story of the Bhagavad Gita takes place on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, upon which two sides of a family - the Pandavas and the Kauravas - are preparing for battle. The text itself is positioned around a conversation between two characters: Krishna and Arjuna.
Like many other writings of this period such as the Upanishads and the Dhammapada, the Bhagavad Gita or ‘Song of The Lord’ seems somewhat timeless in the fact that it's relevant whether we lived a thousand years ago, or we're living in the modern age. We explore what happens when Arjuna has to make life-changing difficult decisions – specifically the decision as to whether he should battle against his own family members in a war of ‘good’ versus ‘evil’- and the importance of living a life of truth and purpose.
The most interesting and often misunderstood aspect of the Bhagavad Gita is that it's entirely representational and highly symbolic. There is no real battlefield or fight to be won; the entire text is a representation of the battle that goes on in our minds and is an invaluable way to understand how we can overcome difficulty, self-doubt, and ultimately how to live a life of truth and purpose.
The Bhagavad Gita is entirely representational and highly symbolic. There is no real battlefield or fight to be won; the entire text is a representation of the battle that goes on in our minds.
Whether you’re an ancient Yogi or a modern-day practitioner, this text speaks to anyone who ever feels as though their mind is a battlefield….
In order to get the most from the text, it’s important to understand what each character represents:
- Arjuna: us in our human form, with all our doubts, worries and habits…. He represents you and I as we stand on the battlefield of life facing all the different parts of ourselves that prevent us from realising our true nature.
- Krishna: the ‘higher Self’ or ‘divine’.
- The Pandavas: the great virtues within us.
- The Kauravas: the opposing forces within us.
- The Chariot: our physical body.
- The Horses: our five senses that need to be skillfully guided and controlled by the Self in order for us to be able to realise our true nature.
Less drama, more Dharma
The pages of the Bhagavad Gita delve into the aspect of ‘Dharma’, which translates as ‘that which upholds’ and is often known as ‘life purpose’. Famous writers like Henry David Theroux, John Keats and Walter Hagan and even composer Beethoven are known to have found comfort and guidance in the pages of the Bhagavad Gita. Gandhi was indeed another prominent figure who considered the text to be a crucial component in uncovering his life purpose.
Famous writers like Henry David Theroux, John Keats and Walter Hagan and even composer Beethoven are known to have found comfort and guidance in the pages of the Bhagavad Gita. Gandhi was another prominent figure who considered the text to be a crucial component in uncovering his life's purpose.
The thing is though, the ‘Gita doesn’t tell us how to live our own life’s purpose', as Simon Hass points out in his own book on dharma - The Dharma Code:
‘Young graduates are regularly encouraged to “find their passion” and then to “pursue their dreams”. This advice, which is regularly dished out at graduation ceremonies, is actually misguided. Most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life. They don’t take an inward journey and come out having discovered a developed self, ready to meet the challenges of the world. No, living allows them to find themselves. By confronting challenges in life, by finding a problem that summons their energies, they discover what they are capable of and what is important to them. In other words, our potential or purpose manifests not through a process of cognition, but through our vital engagement with the world’.
~ Simon Hass – The Dharma Code
Whatever we might consider our ‘life purpose’ to be, there’s one purpose we all have; to live life fully, to explore all there is to explore within and without ourselves and - as Siddhartha Gautama said – “to discover your world and with all your heart – give yourself to it”.
Whatever we might consider our ‘life purpose’ to be, there’s one purpose we all have: to live life fully, to explore all there is to explore within and without ourselves.
Life can often seem like a battlefield, but it’s also spoken of as a ‘drama’ in many of the texts, and when we look at it this way we can ask ourselves; “am I playing my part fully?” Are we each giving ourselves to our life and our world and living our purpose fully?
The Bhagavad Gita encourages us to live life with purity, strength, discipline, honesty, kindness and integrity in order to find our purpose and to live it fully. Just as Krishna encourages Arjuna to cast aside all doubts and trust in his highest Self, we too can use the wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita to meet our own difficulties and decisions with fearlessness and honesty and learn to live life authentically and fully.
Learn more in class...
EkhartYoga members can practise
Myth and Asana: Be a Yogi with Irina Verwer
In this class with Irina Verwer, you’ll hear what happened to the main characters of the Bhagavad Gita and how you can translate Krishna’s advice and use it in your own life. You’ll move through a short meditation, some heart and hip openers and an energizing sequence that’ll prepare you for your everyday challenges.
You can also watch this talk with Raghunath: Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2 explained.
It explores the nature of our true selves, the temporality of our bodies and how this is relevant for how we conduct ourselves in everyday life.