In the epic Mahabharata, after Sanjaya—counsellor of the Kuru king Dhritarashtra—returns from the battlefield to announce the death of Bhisma, he begins recounting the details of the Mahabharata war. Bhagavad Gita forms the content of this recollection. The Gita begins before the start of the climactic Kurukshetra War, where the Pandava prince Arjuna is filled with doubt on the battlefield. Realizing that his enemies are his own relatives, beloved friends, and revered teachers, he turns to his charioteer and guide, God Incarnate Lord Shri Krishna, for advice. Responding to Arjuna's confusion and moral dilemma, Krishna explains to Arjuna his duties as a warrior and prince, elaborating on a variety of philosophical concepts.
- Arjuna, one of the Pandavas
- Lord Shri Krishna, Arjuna's charioteer and guru who was actually incarnation of God
- Sanjaya, counsellor of the Kuru king Dhritarashtra
- Dhritarashtra, Kuru king.
Overview of chapters
Bhagavad Gita comprises 18 chapters (section 25 to 42)[web 2] in the Bhishma Parva of the epic Mahabharata and consists of 700 verses. Because of differences in recensions, the verses of the Gita may be numbered in the full text of the Mahabharata as chapters 6.25–42 or as chapters 6.23–40.[web 3] According to the recension of the Gita commented on by Adi Shankara, a prominent philosopher of the Vedanta school, the number of verses is 700, but there is evidence to show that old manuscripts had 745 verses. The verses themselves, composed with similes and metaphors, are poetic in nature. The verses mostly employ the range and style of the Sanskrit Anustubh meter (chhandas), and in a few expressive verses the Tristubh meter is used.
The Sanskrit editions of the Gita name each chapter as a particular form of yoga. However, these chapter titles do not appear in the Sanskrit text of the Mahabharata.[web 3] Swami Chidbhavananda explains that each of the eighteen chapters is designated as a separate yoga because each chapter, like yoga, "trains the body and the mind". He labels the first chapter "Arjuna Vishada Yogam" or the "Yoga of Arjuna's Dejection". Sir Edwin Arnold translates this chapter as "The Distress of Arjuna"
- Gita Dhyanam: (contains 9 verses) The Gita Dhyanam is not a part of the main Bhagavad Gita, but it is commonly published with the Gītā as a prefix. The verses of the Gita Dhyanam (also called Gītā Dhyāna or Dhyāna Ślokas) offer salutations to a variety of sacred scriptures, figures, and entities, characterise the relationship of the Gītā to the Upanishads, and affirm the power of divine assistance. It is a common practice to recite these before reading the Gita.[web 4]
- Arjuna–Visada yoga (The Distress of Arjuna contains 46 verses): Arjuna has requested Krishna to move his chariot between the two armies. His growing dejection is described as he fears losing friends and relatives as a consequence of war.[web 5]
- Sankhya yoga (The Book of Doctrines contains 72 verses): After asking Krishna for help, Arjuna is instructed into various subjects such as, Karma yoga, Gyaana yoga, Sankhya yoga, Buddhi yoga and the immortal nature of the soul. This chapter is often considered the summary of the entire Bhagavad Gita.[web 6]
- Karma yoga (Virtue in Work contains 43 verses): Krishna explains how Karma yoga, i.e. performance of prescribed duties, but without attachment to results, is the appropriate course of action for Arjuna.[web 7]
- Gyaana–Karma-Sanyasa yoga (The Religion of Knowledge contains 42 verses): Krishna reveals that he has lived through many births, always teaching yoga for the protection of the pious and the destruction of the impious and stresses the importance of accepting a guru.[web 8]
- Karma–Sanyasa yoga (Religion by Renouncing Fruits of Works contains 29 verses): Arjuna asks Krishna if it is better to forgo action or to act ("renunciation or discipline of action"). Krishna answers that both are ways to the same goal,[web 9] but that acting in Karma yoga is superior.
- Dhyan yoga or Atmasanyam yoga (Religion by Self-Restraint contains 47 verses): Krishna describes the Ashtanga yoga. He further elucidates the difficulties of the mind and the techniques by which mastery of the mind might be gained.[web 10]
- Gyaana–ViGyaana yoga (Religion by Discernment contains 30 verses): Krishna describes the absolute reality and its illusory energy Maya.[web 11]
- Aksara–Brahma yoga (Religion by Devotion to the One Supreme God contains 28 verses): This chapter contains eschatology of the Bhagavad Gita. Importance of the last thought before death, differences between material and spiritual worlds, and light and dark paths that a soul takes after death are described.[web 12]
- Raja–Vidya–Raja–Guhya yoga (Religion by the Kingly Knowledge and the Kingly Mystery contains 34 verses): Krishna explains how His eternal energy pervades, creates, preserves, and destroys the entire universe.[web 13] According to theologian Christopher Southgate, verses of this chapter of the Gita are panentheistic, while German physicist and philosopher Max Bernhard Weinstein deems the work pandeistic.
- Vibhuti–Vistara–yoga (Religion by the Heavenly Perfections contains 42 verses): Krishna is described as the ultimate cause of all material and spiritual existence. Arjuna accepts Krishna as the Supreme Being, quoting great sages who have also done so.[web 14]
- Visvarupa–Darsana yoga (The Manifesting of the One and Manifold contains 55 verses): On Arjuna's request, Krishna displays his "universal form" (Viśvarūpa),[web 15] a theophany of a being facing every way and emitting the radiance of a thousand suns, containing all other beings and material in existence.
- Bhakti yoga (The Religion of Faith contains 20 verses): In this chapter Krishna glorifies the path of devotion to God. Krishna describes the process of devotional service (Bhakti yoga). He also explains different forms of spiritual disciplines.[web 16]
- Ksetra–Ksetrajna Vibhaga yoga (Religion by Separation of Matter and Spirit contains 35 verses): The difference between transient perishable physical body and the immutable eternal soul is described. The difference between individual consciousness and universal consciousness is also made clear.[web 17]
- Gunatraya–Vibhaga yoga (Religion by Separation from the Qualities contains 27 verses): Krishna explains the three modes (gunas) of material nature pertaining to goodness, passion, and nescience. Their causes, characteristics, and influence on a living entity are also described.[web 18]
- Purusottama yoga (Religion by Attaining the Supreme contains 20 verses): Krishna identifies the transcendental characteristics of God such as, omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence.[web 19] Krishna also describes a symbolic tree (representing material existence), which has its roots in the heavens and its foliage on earth. Krishna explains that this tree should be felled with the "axe of detachment", after which one can go beyond to his supreme abode.
- Daivasura–Sampad–Vibhaga yoga (The Separateness of the Divine and Undivine contains 24 verses): Krishna identifies the human traits of the divine and the demonic natures. He counsels that to attain the supreme destination one must give up lust, anger, greed, and discern between right and wrong action by discernment through Buddhi and evidence from the scriptures.[web 20]
- Sraddhatraya-Vibhaga yoga (Religion by the Threefold Kinds of Faith contains 28 verses): Krishna qualifies the three divisions of faith, thoughts, deeds, and even eating habits corresponding to the three modes (gunas).[web 21]
- Moksha–Sanyasa yoga (Religion by Deliverance and Renunciation contains 78 verses): In this chapter, the conclusions of previous seventeen chapters are summed up. Krishna asks Arjuna to abandon all forms of dharma and simply surrender unto him and describes this as the ultimate perfection of life.[web 22]