Bhagavad-Gita is one of the major sacred works of Hinduism. The name Bhagavad-Gita means Song of the Lord. It is written in the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit. The Bhagavad-Gita is often called simply the Gita (song). It has been translated into all the main Indian languages, as well as several Western languages. Indian scholars, such as Shankaracharya (also known as Shankara), who lived in the A.D. 700's, have written commentaries on it. The Gita is part of Book Six of the Mahabharata, the great Indian epic poem. It consists of 700 verses divided into 18 chapters, and may have been added to the main work during the A.D. 100's and 200's.
The Gita made little religious impact until Shankaracharya's commentary appeared. From this time onward, it had an important influence on Hinduism. It is particularly important to Vaishnavite Hindus who worship the god Vishnu. Krishna, presented in the poem as Vishnu in the flesh, is the spiritual teacher who recited the Gita. Most of the Bhagavad-Gita consists of a dialogue between Krishna and Prince Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. That is where the armies of the royal cousins, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, face each other for the decisive battle to end their long-running feud. The Bhagavad-Gita debates the rights and wrongs of conflict. It also discusses a person's duty to himself or herself, to his or her fellow humans, and to God. It explores God's relationship to humans. It shows how people can begin to understand God and so free themselves from the burden of karma (deeds done in previous lives and in this present life).
Krishna and Arjuna are not the only speakers in the Bhagavad-Gita. King Dhritarashtra, the father of the Kauravas, asks his charioteer, Sanjaya, to describe the course of the battle for him. The remainder of the Bhagavad-Gita deals with the report of Sanjaya, who describes what he sees in a trance. Prince Arjuna watches his cousins and brothers preparing for battle and is greatly troubled. He asks Krishna, who acts as his charioteer, how he can justifiably take part in the battle because it must be wrong to slay his kinsfolk for the sake of power. He would rather die than kill his relatives, so he throws down his weapons and gives up the fight.
Krishna at first thinks Arjuna is merely showing signs of weakness. But when he realizes that the prince is genuinely anxious about where his duty lies, he speaks as the god Vishnu, and explains the nature of the atman (soul). The atman can never be killed nor can it kill. When the body dies, it simply passes into another body and continues to live. Death must come to all who live, and rebirth must come to all who die. Why mourn for that which cannot be avoided? It is Arjuna's duty to fight in a just war. He is a soldier and his responsibility is to fight. Real sin lies not in the killing of his enemies, but in failing in his dharma (duty).
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