The Bhagavad Gita (Sanskrit भगवद् गीता Bhagavad Gītā, "Song of God" or “The Lord’s Song”) is a Sanskrit text from the Bhishma Parva of the Mahabharata epic. For its religious depth, quintessential Upanishadic and Yogic philosophy and beauty of verse, the Bhagavad Gita is one of the most compelling and important texts of the Hindu tradition. It is considered by many to be one of the world's greatest religious and spiritual scriptures.
The Bhagavadgita is written in the form of a conversation between Krishna and Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra just prior to the start of a climactic Kurukshetra war. Responding to Arjuna's confusion and moral dilemma, Krishna explains to Arjuna his duties as a warrior and Prince and elaborates on a number of different Yogic and Vedantic philosophies, with examples and analogies. During the discourse, Krishna reveals his identity as the Supreme Being Himself (Bhagavan), blessing Arjuna with an awe-inspiring glimpse of His divine absolute form. In many ways seemingly a heterogeneous text, the Gita reconciles many facets and schools of Hindu philosophy, including those of Brahmanical (orthodox Vedic) origin and the parallel ascetic and Yogic traditions. It comprises primarily Vedic (as in the four Vedas, as opposed to the Upanishads/Vedanta), Upanishadic, Sankhya and Yogic philosophies.
Krishna, as the speaker of the Bhagavad Gita, is referred to within as Bhagavan (the divine one), and the verses themselves, using the range and style of Sanskrit meter (chandas) with similes and metaphors, are written in a poetic form that is traditionally chanted; hence the title, which translates to "the Song of the Divine One." It is commonly referred to as The Gita.
The Bhagavad Gita is also called Gītopaniṣad as well as Yogupaniṣad, implying its status as a 'Upanishad'. Since it is drawn from the Mahabharata, it is a Smṛti text, however referring to it as an Upanishad is intended to give it status comparable to that of śruti, or revealed knowledge.
The Bhagavad Gita is revered as sacred by the majority of Hindu traditions,It is not looked upon as a śruti, or a revealed scripture, but is regarded as a smŗti, or tradition. It is the most popular religious poem of Sanskrit literature, and perhaps the most influential work in Indian thought. . The main inspiration of the Bhagavad Gita is from the Upanishads. It is universal in scope, integrating elements of the Vedic cult of sacrifice, Upanishadic teaching of Absolute Brahman, the Bhāgavata theism, the Samkhya dualism, and Yoga meditation.  It is the philosophical base of popular Hinduism, and has often been described as a concise guide to Hindu philosophy and simultaneously a practical, self-contained guide to life.
The discourse on the Bhagavad Gita begins before the start of the climactic battle at Kurukshetra. The Pandava prince Arjuna, rides out to view the battlefield to and becomes filled with doubt when he sees that among his enemies are his own relatives, beloved friends and revered teachers, lined up in formation, eager for battle. Saying “I would not like to kill these, even though they kill me,” he turns to his charioteer and guide, Krishna, for advice. Krishna then instructs him that it is his duty as a prince, a warrior and a righteous man to fight against evil and restore peace. Responding to Arjuna's confusion and moral dilemma, Krishna explains to Arjuna his duties as a warrior and Prince and elaborates on a number of different Yogic and Vedantic philosophies, with examples and analogies. During the discourse, Krishna reveals his identity as the Supreme Being Himself (Bhagavan), blessing Arjuna with an awe-inspiring glimpse of His divine absolute form.
Krishna counsels Arjuna on the greater idea of dharma, or universal harmony and duty. He begins with the tenet that the soul is eternal and immortal. Any 'death' on the battlefield would involve only the shedding of the body, but the soul is permanent. Arjuna's hesitation stems from a lack of right understanding of the 'nature of things', the privileging of the unreal over the real. His fear and reticence become impediments to the proper balancing of the universal dharmic order. Essentially, Arjuna wishes to abandon the battle, to abstain from action; Krishna warns, however, that without action, the cosmos would fall out of order and truth would be obscured.
In order to clarify his point, Krishna expounds the various Yoga processes, and understanding of the true nature of the universe. Krishna describes the yogic paths of devotional service (bhakti), action (karma) , meditation (dhyana), and knowledge (jnana). Fundamentally, the Bhagavad Gita proposes that true enlightenment comes from growing beyond identification with the temporal ego, the 'False Self', the ephemeral world, so that one identifies with the truth of the immortal self, the soul or Atman. Through detachment from the material sense of ego, the Yogi, or follower of a particular path of Yoga, is able to transcend his/her illusory mortality and attachment to the material world and enter the realm of the Supreme. Krishna does not propose that the physical world must be forgotten or neglected, but that life on earth must be lived in accordance with greater laws and truths.
To demonstrate his divine nature, Krishna grants Arjuna the boon of cosmic vision (albeit temporary) and allows the prince to see his 'Universal Form' (this occurs in the eleventh chapter).  He reveals that he is fundamentally both the ultimate essence of Being in the universe, and also its material body, called the Vishvarupa ('World Form'). In the Bhagavad-Gita Krishna refers to the war about to take place as 'Dharma Yuddha', meaning a righteous war for the purpose of justice. In Chapter 4, Krishna states that he incarnates in each age (yuga) to establish righteousness in the world.
The Bhagavad Gita is contained in the Bhisma-Parva of the Mahabharata. The Mahabharata, along with the Ramayana, was written during the “Epic Period,” an era of great intellectual activity and conflicting ideas which originated during the sixth century B.C.E.. The Mahabharata, which incorporates a variety of beliefs and teachings, history, mythology, politics, philosophy, theology and law, records the conflict between two claimants to the throne, and is said to reflect the battle between good and evil. 
Due to differences in recensions they may be numbered in the full text of the Mahabharata as chapters 6.25–42 or as chapters 6.23-40. According to the recension of the Gita commented on by Shankaracharya, the number of verses is 700, but there is evidence to show that some old manuscripts had 745 verses.
The date of composition of the text of the Bhagavad Gita is not known with certainty and has long been a topic of debate.
“As with almost every major religious text in India no firm date can be assigned to the G_t_. It seems certain, however, that it was written later than the 'classical' Upanishads with the possible exception of the Maitr_ and that it is post-Buddhistic. One would probably not be going far wrong if one dated it at some time between the fifth and the second centuries B. C.” R. C. Zaehner:
Based on the differences in the poetic styles and supposed external influences such as Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, some scholars have suggested that the Bhagavad Gita was added to the Mahabharata at a later period. The interpolation theory is supported by Robert N. Minor, who writes that:
"The Bhagavadgita was written about 150 B.C.E. by a devotee of another Indian deity, Krishna, whose popularity would spread throughout India. It was meant to be included in the Mahabharata by a Krishna bhakta, in order to show that devotion to Krishna was the key to an understanding of the Vedic religion."
Others argue that the Bhagavad Gita was written independently and appropriated by the author of the Mahabharata . The Mahabharata contains numerous internal references to the Bhagavad Gita, and there are stylistic resemblances and philosophical agreements indicating that the Bhagavad Gita has always been an integral part of the Mahabharata.The authorship of the Bhagavad Gita is attributed to Vy_sa. 
The Mahabharata War took place considerably earlier. A traditional religious dating for the events of the Mahabharata War according to the chronology established in Gupta times by Aryabhata on grounds of archaeoastronomical calculations places the Mahabharata (including the Bhagavad-Gita) in the late fourth millennium B.C.E. (3138 B.C.E. or 3102 B.C.E.). Historian A. L. Basham comments on the difference between traditional dates and modern scholarly estimates:
According to the most popular later tradition the Mah_bh_rata War took place in 3102 B.C.E., which in the light of all evidence, is quite impossible. More reasonable is another tradition, placing it in the 15th century B.C.E., but this is also several centuries too early in the light of our archaeological knowledge. Probably the war took place around the beginning of the 9th century B.C.E.; such a date seems to fit well with the scanty archaeological remains of the period, and there is some evidence in the Br_ma_a literature itself to show that it cannot have been much earlier.
The Gita consists of 18 chapters:
The fundamental teaching of the Gita is that “of the unreal there is no being, and of the real there is no non-being.” (Bhagavad Gita II, 16.) The soul is indestructible (avin_shi), eternal (nitya), unborn (aja), undiminished (avyava), all-pervasive (sarva-gata), immovable (achala), ancient (san_tana), unmanifest (avyakta), unthinkable (achintya), and immutable (avik_rya). The soul is immortal and everlasting, it is neither born nor does it die; it does not perish along with the body. The infinite underlies the finite, and animates all finite existences; the soul is one with the infinite and is therefore not affected by birth and death, growth and decay, or finitude or change.
"He who sees the Ultimate Reality seated equally in all beings and unperishing within the perishing, see truly." Bhagavad Gita VI, 29
The Bhagavadgita develops the concept of Brahman as absolute reality. The Supreme is at once the transcendental, the cosmic and the individual reality. The transcendental aspect of the Supreme Being is the pure Self, detached and unaffected by any action or experience; the dynamic aspect of the Supreme Being supports and governs all action in the cosmos; the same Supreme Being is present in the individual. The Supreme Being is responsible for the creation, preservation and destruction of the universe. The world is the scene of a struggle between good and evil, in which God is directly involved in helping man whenever he is threatened by the forces of evil.
The Gita is a comprehensive and many-sided Yoga-s_stra (treatise on yoga), covering various phases through which the self develops and eventually achieves oneness with the Divine. The different yogas are special applications of the inner discipline which leads to the liberation of the self and to a higher understanding of the unity and significance of humankind. While each path differs, their fundamental goal is the same—to realize that Brahman (the Divine Essence) is the ultimate truth upon which our material universe rests, that the body is temporal, and that the Supreme Soul (Paramatman) is infinite.
In the context of the Bhagavad Gita, the term "Yoga" describes a unified outlook, serenity of mind, skill in action and the ability to stay attuned to the glory of the Self (Atman) and the Supreme Being (Bhagavan). According to Krishna, the root of all suffering and discord is the agitation of the mind caused by selfish desire. The only way to overcome desire is by simultaneously stilling the mind through self-discipline and engaging oneself in a higher form of activity.
According to the Bhagavad Gita, the goal of life is to free the mind and intellect from their complexities and to focus them on the glory of the Self by dedicating one's actions to the divine. This goal can be achieved through the Yogas of meditation, action, devotion and knowledge. In the sixth chapter, Krishna describes the best Yogi as one who constantly meditates upon him.
"And of all yogis, the one with great faith who always abides in Me, thinks of Me within himself, and renders transcendental loving service to Me — he is the most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all. That is My opinion." Bhagavad-Gita VI.47. Different schools of Hindu thought give varying interpretations of whether "Me" refers to Krishna personally, or the supreme Brahman
Commentators on the Bhagavad Gita emphasize three types of yoga: Bhakti (Devotion); Karma (Selfless Action); Jnana (Self Transcending Knowledge. The influential commentator Madhusudana Sarasvati (b. circa 1490) divided the Gita's 18 chapters into three sections of six chapters each. According to his method of division, the first six chapters deal with Karma Yoga, which is the means to the final goal, and the last six deal with the goal itself, which he identifies as Knowledge (Jnana). The middle six deal with Bhakti. This system has been adopted by some later commentators and rejected by others; whether or not it is accurate, it serves to distinguish the three basic paths to enlightenment, which correspond to the three aspects of man’s psyche: intellect, emotion and will. The philosophy of Knowledge fulfills the intellect; the philosophy of Action accomplishes the will; and the philosophy of Devotion satisfies emotion. The goal of salvation can be attained by any of these three paths. Knowledge, Action and Devotion cannot be clearly divided from each other, but must ultimately be synthesized. The literal meaning of the word “yoga” is “union,” referring to the union of the self with the Absolute. Yoga means equanimity, balance of mind (samatva), and a higher understanding of the significance of action which comes from detachment. 
”Where seeing the self by the self, one is satisfied in oneself; where on experiences the absolute bliss, known only to higher reason, but ever beyond the senses, and standing where one swerves not from the truth; where no other gain is considered greater, and where one is not moved by the greatest pain- that state is Yoga.” Bhagavad Gita, VI, 20, 23.
Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge. The ideal of self-realization cannot be attained without knowledge, because it is only with true knowledge that the self can rise above physical desire and the attachment to sense-objects. Jnana Yoga is a process of learning to discriminate between what is real and what is not, what is eternal and what is not. Through a steady advancement in realization of the distinction between Real and the Unreal, the Eternal and the Temporal, one develops into a Jnana Yogi. This is essentially a path of knowledge and discrimination in regards to the difference between the immortal soul (atman) and the body.
In the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna’s counsel begins with a succinct exposition of Jnana Yoga. Krishna argues that with a true understanding of the nature of existence, there is no reason to lament for those who are about to be killed in battle, because never was there a time when they were not, nor will there be a time when they will cease to be. Krishna explains that the self (atman) of all these warriors is indestructible. Fire cannot burn it, water cannot wet it, and wind cannot dry it. It is this Self that passes from body to another body like a person taking worn out clothing and putting on new ones. Krishna’s counsel is intended to alleviate the anxiety that Arjuna feels upon seeing his friends and kinsmen about to enter into a battle between two great armies.
Karma Yoga is essentially acting, or performing one's duties in life (dharma), without concern for the results. No embodied being can completely renounce actions; the universe depends on action. Correct action is founded on correct knowledge and understanding; therefore Jnana yoga is necessary for Karma yoga. Action should never be performed with attachment to the fruits of that action; renunciation of desire and attachment is not possible without knowledge. By performing actions without attachment to their fruits, the self is gradually purified.
In the introduction to Chapter seven, bhakti is summed up as a mode of worship which consists of unceasing and loving remembrance of God. Bhakti, or disinterested service to God, is a form of Karma, and therefore can best be carried out on the foundation of correct knowledge and understanding (jnana). 
“Even if a very ill-conducted man worships me, not worshipping anyone else, he must certainly be deemed to be good, for he has well resolved. He soon becomes devout of heart and obtains lasting tranquility. O Arjuna, know firmly that my devotee is never ruined. He who does My work, who yields himself up to Me, who is devoted to Me, void of attachment, and without hatred to anyone, O Arjuna, comes to me.” Bhagavad Gita IX 30, 31, 34
"I consider the Yogi-devotee - who lovingly contemplates on Me with supreme faith, and whose mind is ever absorbed in Me - to be the best of all the Yogis". Bhagavad Gita Vi. 47 
"After attaining Me, the great souls do not incur rebirth in this miserable transitory world, because they have attained the highest perfection." Bhagavad GitaVIII.15 
"... those who, renouncing all actions in Me, and regarding Me as the Supreme, worship Me... For those whose thoughts have entered into Me, I am soon the deliverer from the ocean of death and transmigration, Arjuna. Keep your mind on Me alone, your intellect on Me. Thus you shall dwell in Me hereafter." Bhagavad GitaXII.6 
"Fix your mind on Me, be devoted to Me, offer service to Me, bow down to Me, and you shall certainly reach Me. I promise you because you are My very dear friend." Bhagavad GitaXVIII. 65 
"Setting aside all meritorious deeds (Dharma), just surrender completely to My will (with firm faith and loving contemplation). I shall liberate you from all sins. Do not fear." Bhagavad Gita XVIII.66 
For its religious depth, quintessential Upanishadic and Yogic philosophy and beauty of verse, the Bhagavad Gita is one of the most compelling and important texts of the Hindu tradition. It is considered by many as one of the world's greatest religious and spiritual scriptures.
In many ways seemingly a heterogeneous text, the Gita reconciles many facets and schools of Hindu philosophy, including those of Brahmanical (orthodox Vedic) origin and the parallel ascetic and Yogic traditions. It comprises primarily Vedic (as in the four Vedas, as opposed to the Upanishads/Vedanta), Upanishadic, Sankhya and Yogic philosophies.
It had always been a creative text for Hindu priests and Yogis. Although it is not strictly part of the 'canon' of Vedic writings, almost all Hindu traditions draw upon the Gita as authoritative. For the Vedantic schools of Hindu philosophy, it is one of the three foundational texts (Sanskrit: Prasthana Trayi; three points of departure), the other two being the Upanishads and Brahma Sutras.
J. Robert Oppenheimer, American physicist and director of the Manhattan Project, learned Sanskrit in 1933 and read the Bhagavad Gita in the original, citing it later as one of the most influential books to shape his philosophy of life. Upon witnessing the world's first nuclear test in 1945, he quoted, "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds," based on verse 32 from Chapter 11 of the Bhagavad Gita.
A 2006 report suggests that the Gita is replacing the influence of the "The Art of War," which was popular during the 1980s and 1990s, as a spiritual guide in the Western business community.
Traditionally the commentators belong to spiritual traditions or schools (sampradaya) and Guru lineages (parampara), which claim to preserve teaching stemming either directly from Krishna himself or from other sources, each claiming to be most faithful to the original message.
Different translators and commentators have widely differing views on what multi-layered Sanskrit words and passages signify, and their presentation in English depending on the sampradaya they are affiliated to. Especially in Western philology, interpretations of particular passages often do not agree with traditional views.
The oldest and most influential medieval commentary was that of the founder of the Vedanta school of extreme 'non-dualism," Shankara (788-820 A. D.), also known as Shankaracharya (Sanskrit: Śaṅkarācārya). Shankara's commentary was based on a recension of the Gita containing 700 verses, and that recension has been widely adopted by others. It is not universally agreed that he was the actual author of the commentary on the Bhagavad Gita attributed to him. A key commentary for the "modified non-dualist" school of Vedanta was written by Ramanuja (Sanskrit: Rāmānuja), who lived in the eleventh century C.E. Ramanuja's commentary chiefly seeks to show that the discipline of devotion to God (Bhakti yoga) is the way of salvation. The commentary by Madhva, whose dates are given either as (b. 1199 - d. 1276) or as (b. 1238 - d. 1317), also known as Madhvacharya (Sanskrit: Madhvācārya), exemplifies thinking of the "dualist" school. Madhva's school of dualism asserts that there is, in a quotation provided by Winthrop Sargeant, "an eternal and complete distinction between the Supreme, the many souls, and matter and its divisions." Madhva is also considered to be one of the great commentators reflecting the viewpoint of the Vedanta school.
In modern times notable commentaries were written by Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi, who used the text to help inspire the Indian independence movement. Tilak wrote his commentary while in jail during the period 1910-1911, while he was serving a six-year sentence imposed by the British colonial government in India for sedition. While noting that the Gita teaches several possible paths to liberation, his commentary places most emphasis on Karma yoga.
No book was more central to Gandhi's life and thought than the Bhagavadgita, which he referred to as his "spiritual dictionary". During his stay in Yeravda jail in 1929, Gandhi wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita in Gujarati. The Gujarati manuscript was translated into English by Mahadev Desai, who provided an additional introduction and commentary. It was published with a Foreword by Gandhi in 1946. Mahatma Gandhi expressed his love for the Gita in these words:
I find a solace in the Bhagavagītā that I miss even in the Sermon on the Mount. When disappointment stares me in the face and all alone I see not one ray of light, I go back to the Bhagavagītā. I find a verse here and a verse there and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming tragedies - and my life has been full of external tragedies - and if they have left no visible, no indelible scar on me, I owe it all to the teaching of Bhagavagītā.
Numerous readings and adaptations of the Bhagavad Gita have been published in many languages.
In 1785 Charles Wilkins published an English translation of the Bhagavad Gita, the first time a Sanskrit book had been translated directly into a European language. In 1808 passages from the Gita were part of the first direct translation of Sanskrit into German, appearing in a book through which Friedrich Schlegel became known as the founder of Indian philology in Germany. The Gita has been translated into many other languages.
All links retrieved January 29, 2013.
New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:
Note: Some restrictions may apply to use of individual images which are separately licensed.