Veda is divided into four major parts viz, Samhitas (prayers), Brahmanas (rituals), Aranyakas ( meditations) and Upanishads (The knowledge of self). The first three (Samhita, Brahmana & Aranyaka) are collectively called as Veda Purva (Starting) and the last one Upanishad is called as Veda Anta (ending) or Vedanta. The Veda Purva is also referred as Karma Kanda (Portion dealing with Rituals & Activities) and Vedanta as Jnana Kanda (Portion dealing with The Knowledge of Supreme Self).
The Bhagavad Gita literally means “Song of God”. It is a philosophical discourse given by Lord Krishna to the confused and disturbed Arjuna in the battlefield. The Gita forms part of Bhishma Parva of the great Indian epic, the Mahabharata. It is spread over 18 chapters and contains 700 verses. Other than the Bible, the Gita is the most translated single book in human history.
Gita is a book conveying lessons in philosophy, religion and ethics. Though not considered as śṛuti or revealed scripture, Bhagavad Gita is the most influential work across religions, if universal appeal and attracting minds of different nature are the criteria. The most striking aspect among many other things is Gita’s simplicity. The solutions offered are within the reach of even the lowest, the clarifications issued are most soothing to even the most disturbed mind irrespective of the object of fear and disturbance and gratification to the intellect is most satisfying among all the sacred literature.
The purpose of Gita is to help human beings to overcome infatuation and confusion, the ensuing misery; to escape from falsehood and ignorance and march towards the truth.
Nowhere in the world is there a literature where God is coming down to a man lecturing and clarifying on all the issues concerning man. Unlike philosophical systems that adhere to one path or the other, Gita reconciles even the most divergent view points. It gives knowledge to the aspirant, clarity to the confused and purest love to the devotee. It lifts a confused aspirant beyond all desires and attachments, imparts knowledge and dispassion and sets a person truly and well on the path to immortality.
Gita teaches the permanence and indestructibility of the Soul. Only the body dies and not the soul. Soul is immortal and everlasting. Just as man casts off torn cloth and puts on a new one, the soul too casts off the worn body and enters a new body. Infinite, the Absolute underlines and animates all the existence and the soul is one with the Absolute and hence it does not die.
An important aspect of Gita’s teachings is that it presents a unique synthesis of action, devotion and knowledge or karma, bhakti and jñana. Gita teaches that one should do work but should not be attached to the results or fruits. Gita urges everyone to do one’s duties, but without having a desire or motive on the results. Such a motiveless or desireless action is called Niṣkama Karma. An action done with devotion and dedication without desiring for a result is yoga in itself and is much superior to life time of devotion to God seeking a blessing for something or life of penance. Gita does not preach renunciation of action but renunciation in action.
Gita places the path of knowledge above both action and devotion. Yoga is an attempt to reach or find out the ultimate. While action and devotion do purify the mind and the body, they actually prepare one for the path of knowledge. For, no yoga is possible without knowledge, leave alone salvation. So, from this stand point, only a true jñani can carry out Niṣkama Karma. However pure the body and its adjuncts may become by following the other two, only with the rise of the sun of knowledge does the darkness of the ignorance vanish.
If all actions have to be carried out as niṣkama and knowledge alone can deliver salvation, then majority of the people on earth will be unfit to do any yoga. So, the beloved Lord, out of kindness and grace says that whoever is devoted to the God can also reach the ultimate. This kindness and love is echoed throughout the Gita. Passages such as “Never does My devotee perish”, “I lift My devotee who thinks of Me from the ocean of birth and death”, “I look after the well-being of one who thinks of Me and is devoted to Me here as well as hereafter”, and “Abandoning all dharmas come unto Me alone for shelter; sorrow not, I will liberate thee from all sins” reflect the will and the purpose of the Lord to emancipate all creatures from this miserable existence in the ocean of birth & death.
Whatever method one pursues, karma, bhakti or jñana, the end reached by all is the same, that of union with the ultimate. When the mind and the body are purified, ignorance destroyed, one realizes that the individual is one with God. The individual is always one with the Ultimate; only thing is that one was not aware of that till this realization. This is mokṣa or liberation. Gita shows that all the people in the end, whatever route one takes, end up living a completely divine life.
Gita, in short, is a philosophy advocating a life of Karma firmly rooted on Jñana and supported by Bhakti. The life of such Karma Yogin is beautifully summed up by Annie Besant:
“Gita is meant to lift the aspirant from the lower levels of renunciation, where objects are renounced, to the loftier heights where desires are dead, and where the Yogi dwells in calm and ceaseless contemplation, while his body and mind are actively employed in discharging the duties that fall to his lot in life.”