The Bhagavad Gita is one of the most important scriptures in Hinduism. It contains the teachings of Lord Krishna to Arjuna on the battlefield, and touches on many important philosophical concepts. Here is an overview of what the Bhagavad Gita contains in 9000 words:
The setting of the Bhagavad Gita is the battlefield of Kurukshetra, where the Pandavas and Kauravas are set to engage in war. Arjuna, the skilled archer and warrior, surveys the battlefield and becomes overcome with despair at the thought of fighting against his family and killing his relatives and teachers. He turns to his charioteer, Lord Krishna, for guidance. This context sets the stage for Lord Krishna’s philosophical and spiritual teachings to Arjuna as the dialogue of the Gita unfolds.
In the first six chapters, Krishna explains the concept of detachment to Arjuna. Arjuna is distraught over the thought of killing his cousins and kinsmen, even though they are evil and deserve punishment. Krishna reminds Arjuna of his duties as a warrior and encourages him to not be attached to the results of his actions. Krishna tells Arjuna that the soul is eternal and indestructible, while the physical body is temporary. So Arjuna should not mourn for those whose bodies will die in this battle, as the soul continues on its journey, unharmed and undying. Krishna counsels Arjuna to perform his duties without attachment or aversion, maintaining an evenness of mind in both success and failure.
In chapters 7-12, Krishna reveals His cosmic form to Arjuna, showing him the nature of the universe and how all beings are united in Krishna Himself. Arjuna beholds Krishna’s awe-inspiring universal form, with its infinite mouths and eyes, and all creatures and planets contained within His body. Overwhelmed with wonder, Arjuna understands that Krishna is the Supreme Being underlying all of existence. Krishna explains that those who engage in devotion to Him with love come to know the true nature of the universe and attain liberation from the cycle of birth and death.
Starting in chapter 13, Krishna delineates the path of knowledge (Jnana yoga) as the way to attain union with the divine. The ultimate reality is called Brahman – an all-pervading consciousness that is beyond time, unborn, and limitless. The individual souls are part of Brahman but ignorant of their divine nature. By cultivating true knowledge, one can come to directly realize the oneness between Atman (individual soul) and Brahman (Universal Soul). Detached from the body and physical nature, the wise act for the good of the world.
In the final six chapters, Krishna reveals the path of loving devotion (Bhakti yoga) as the highest means to reach Him. Krishna explains that complete devotion to Him is the purest form of worship, superior to performing rituals or gaining knowledge. By fixing one’s mind on Krishna through constant remembrance and surrender, the devotee attains peace, wisdom, and eternal liberation in the divine realm of Krishna. Even those devoted to lower gods attain Krishna, though with more difficulty. Krishna concludes His teachings by asking Arjuna to abandon all forms of religion and simply surrender to Him, setting aside all duties. By the grace of Krishna, Arjuna will be freed from sin and merit the highest perfection.
Some of the key themes contained in the Bhagavad Gita include:
- The immortality of the soul and the temporariness of the body
- Detachment from the results of one’s actions
- Dharma and the duty to uphold what is right
- The unity of all existence within Krishna
- The path of knowledge (Jnana yoga)
- The path of devotion (Bhakti yoga)
- The nature of the Supreme Reality (Brahman)
- Krishna as the source, sustainer, and ultimate abode of all creation
Key characters in the Gita include:
- Arjuna – the warrior prince who seeks spiritual wisdom from Krishna
- Krishna – the avatar of Vishnu who bestows His teachings upon Arjuna
- Dhritarashtra – the blind king and father of the Kauravas
- Bhishma – the aged grandsire and adviser to the Pandavas and Kauravas
- Duryodhana – the eldest Kaurava prince who wants war against the Pandavas
The Bhagavad Gita is structured as a dialog between Arjuna and Krishna in the middle of the battlefield before the start of the war. It contains 700 verses structured into 18 chapters. Each chapter contains its own sub-themes and philosophical teachings.
Here is a brief overview of the 18 chapters:
- Chapter 1 (Arjuna’s Dilemma): Arjuna sinks to the floor of his chariot overwhelmed with despair. He does not want to fight against his family members and elders.
- Chapter 2 (Sankhya Yoga): Krishna explains the immortal nature of the soul, and the importance of doing one’s duty without attachment to results.
- Chapter 3 (Karma Yoga): Krishna tells Arjuna to perform his duty as a warrior because action is superior to inaction. Detachment from rewards leads to spiritual growth.
- Chapter 4 (Jnana Yoga): Krishna reveals that He appears on earth from age to age to protect the righteous and establish dharma.
- Chapter 5 (Sannyasa Yoga): Krishna distinguishes between the contemplative life and life of action. He recommends Arjuna focus on performing his duties skillfully.
- Chapter 6 (Dhyana Yoga): Krishna describes the system of meditation and the God-realized sage who has gone beyond good and evil.
- Chapter 7 (Jnana-Vijnana Yoga): Krishna explains His complete dominion over all of existence. He reveals His cosmic form to Arjuna.
- Chapter 8 (Akshara-Parabrahman Yoga): Krishna gives the practice of remembering Him at all times as the surest way to attain Him.
- Chapter 9 (Raja-Vidya-Guhya Yoga): Krishna is the father of all beings, worshipped alike by the wise and the simple souls.
- Chapter 10 (Vibhuti-Vistara Yoga): Krishna describes how His divine energy pervades the entire universe and sustains it.
- Chapter 11 (Visvarupa-Darsana Yoga): Arjuna beholds the awe-inspiring cosmic form of Krishna and understands Him to be the Supreme Being underlying all existence.
- Chapter 12 (Bhakti Yoga): Krishna extols bhakti yoga or devotion as the highest path to reach Him. He is pleased even by small acts offered with devotion.
- Chapter 13 (Kshetra-Kshetrajna Vibhaga Yoga): Krishna describes the kshetra (body/field) and kshetrajna (soul/knower of the field) and the path of knowledge to attain Brahman.
- Chapter 14 (Gunatraya-Vibhaga Yoga): The three modes of material nature – sattva, rajas, and tamas – and transcending them through detachment.
- Chapter 15 (Purushottama Yoga): Krishna as the Supreme Purusha, the eternal divine spirit pervading the three worlds.
- Chapter 16 (Daivasura-Sampad-Vibhaga Yoga): Distinguishing between divine and demonic traits. Conduct that leads to liberation vs. conduct that leads to bondage.
- Chapter 17 (Shraddhatraya-Vibhaga Yoga): The three kinds of faith and worshipping the gods, the ancestors, and the Supreme. Surrender to Krishna frees one from sin.
- Chapter 18 (Moksha-Sannyasa Yoga): Krishna summarizes that abandoning all dharmas and completely surrendering to Him alone will lead Arjuna to the highest perfection of union with the divine.
The influence of the Bhagavad Gita has been profound, shaping many aspects of Hinduism over millennia. Here is a summary of some of the key ways it has impacted Hindu theology and philosophy:
- Affirmed the concept of a personal God
- Krishna revealed as saguna Brahman – God with attributes
- Promoted bhakti yoga – path of loving devotion to God
- Affirmed the value of action in the world (karma yoga)
- Upheld dharma and duty as central to righteous living
- Influenced later thinkers like Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, Madhvacharya
- Introduced iconic concepts like lila (divine play)
- Krishna as divine teacher and supreme object of devotion
- Affirmed world as illusion (maya) and way to transcend it
- God present in all beings and all beings present in God
The Bhagavad Gita remains one of the most important and influential Hindu scriptures, containing Lord Krishna’s advice on duty, action, liberation, and devotion. It continues to be widely read, recited, translated, and commented upon to the present day. The teachings of the Gita provide a philosophical foundation for devotional practice, yoga, and Hindu spirituality as a whole.