The Bhagavad Gita is the best known, and most famous of Hindu scriptures. While Hinduism is known for its diversity and its synthesis therefrom, the Bhagavad Gita has a unique pan-Hindu influence. Gerald James Larson – an Indologist and classical Hindu Philosophies scholar, states "if there is any one text that comes near to embodying the totality of what it is to be a Hindu, it would be the Bhagavad Gita."
The Bhagavad Gita is part of the Prasthanatrayi, which also includes the Upanishads and Brahma sutras. These are the three starting points for the Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy. The Brahma sutras constitute the Nyāya prasthāna or the "starting point of reasoning canonical base", while the Principal Upanishads constitute the Sruti prasthāna or the "starting point of heard scriptures", and the Bhagavad Gita constitutes the Smriti prasthāna or the "starting point of remembered canonical base". The Bhagavad Gita is a "summation of the Vedanta", states Sargeant. It is thus one of the key texts for the Vedanta, a school that provides one of the theoretical foundations for Hinduism, and one that has had an enormous influence over time, becoming the central ideology of the Hindu renaissance in the 19th-century, according to Gavin Flood – a scholar of Hinduism.
Some Hindus give it the status of an Upanishad, and some consider it to be a "revealed text". Others consider the Bhagavad Gita as an important Smriti, or secondary text that exist in alternate versions such as one found in Kashmir though it does not affect the basic message of the text.
The Bhagavad Gita is the sealing achievement of Hindu Synthesis, incorporating its various religious traditions. The synthesis is at both philosophical and socio-religious levels, states the Gita scholar Keya Maitra. The text refrains from insisting on one right marga (path) to spirituality. It openly synthesizes and inclusively accepts multiple ways of life, harmonizing spiritual pursuits through action (karma), knowledge (jnana), devotion (bhakti). According to the Gita translator Radhakrishnan, quoted in a review by Robinson, Krishna's discourse is a "comprehensive synthesis" that inclusively unifies the competing strands of Hindu thought such as "Vedic ritual, Upanishadic wisdom, devotional theism and philosophical insight". Aurobindo described the text as a synthesis of various Yogas. The Indologist Robert Minor, and others,[web 1] in contrast, state the Gita is "more clearly defined as a synthesis of Vedanta, Yoga and Samkhya" philosophies of Hinduism.
The synthesis in Bhagavad Gita addresses the question as to what constitutes the virtuous path and one necessary for the spiritual liberation and a release from the cycles of rebirth (moksha). It discusses whether one should renounce a householder lifestyle for a life as an ascetic, or lead a householder life dedicated to one's duty and profession, or pursue a householder life devoted to a personalized god in the revealed form of Krishna. Thus Gita discusses and synthesizes the three dominant trends in Hinduism: enlightenment-based renunciation, dharma-based householder life, and devotion-based theism. According to Deutsch and Dalvi, the Bhagavad Gita attempts "to forge a harmony" between these three paths.[note 8]
The Bhagavad Gita's synthetic answer recommends that one must resist the "either-or" view, and consider a "both-and" view. It states the dharmic householder can achieve the same goals as the renouncing monk through "inner renunciation", that is "motiveless action".[note 9] One must do the right thing because one has determined that it is right, states Gita, without craving for its fruits, without worrying about the results, loss or gain. Desires, selfishness and the craving for fruits can distort one from the dharmic action and spiritual living. The Gita synthesis goes further, according to its interpreters such as Swami Vivekananda, and the text states that there is Living God in every human being and the devoted service to this Living God in everyone – without craving for personal rewards – is a means to spiritual development and liberation. According to Galvin Flood, the teachings in Gita differ from other Indian religions that encouraged extreme austerity and self-torture of various forms (karsayanta). The Gita disapproves of these, stating that not only is it against the tradition but against Krishna himself, because "Krishna dwells within all beings, in torturing the body the ascetic would be torturing him", states Flood. Even a monk should strive for the "inner renunciation", rather than external pretensions.
The Gita synthesizes several paths to spiritual realization based on the premise that people are born with different temperaments and tendencies (guna). According to Winthrop Sargeant, the text acknowledges that some individuals are more reflective and intellectual, some affective and engaged by their emotions, some are action driven, yet others favor experimenting and exploring what works. It then presents different spiritual paths for each personality type respectively: the path of knowledge (jnana yoga), the path of devotion (bhakti yoga), the path of action (karma yoga), and the path of meditation (raja yoga). The guna premise is a synthesis of the ideas from the Samkhya school of Hinduism. According to Upadhyaya, the Gita states that none of these paths to spiritual realization are "intrinsically superior or inferior", rather they "converge in one and lead to the same goal".
According to Hiltebeitel, Bhakti forms an essential ingredient of this synthesis, and the text incorporates Bhakti into Vedanta. The Bhagavad Gita is a Brahmanical text which uses the shramanic and Yogic terminology to spread the Brahmanic idea of living according to one's duty or dharma, in contrast to the ascetic ideal of liberation by avoiding all karma. According to Galvin Flood and Charles Martin, the Gita rejects the shramanic path of non-action, emphasizing instead "the renunciation of the fruits of action". The Bhagavad Gita, states Raju, is a great synthesis of the ideas of the impersonal spiritual monism with personal God, of "the yoga of action with the yoga of transcendence of action, and these again with yogas of devotion and knowledge".