Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

The Integrated Spirituality of the Bhagavad Gita-An Insight for Christians: A Contribution to the Hindu-Christian Dialogue

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

The Integrated Spirituality of the Bhagavad Gita-An Insight for Christians: A Contribution to the Hindu-Christian Dialogue

Article excerpt

I. A Mystical Poem

The Bhagavad Gita is a mystical poem. It has reached us as part of the great epic Mahabharatha. The Gita is written in the form of a dialogue between Arjuna, the chief commander of the Pandavas, and Krishna, his charioteer, on the battlefield at a crucial moment of the story. However, this image of the chariot is found in the Katha Upanishad, which was written prior to the Gita:

   This body is verily the chariot, the Self is the lord of the 
   Buddhi is the charioteer, mind is the rein, 
   Senses are the horses, the objects of the senses are the paths; 
   The self associated with the senses and the mind is the enjoyer. 
   (K.U. 1.3.3-4) 

This is a highly mystical symbol. There are moments when "the senses like wicked horses go out of control," and the "mind cannot hold them in check" (K.U. 1.3.5,7). There are moments when the buddhi, the charioteer, reaches the end of its energy. Everyone experiences such moments of crisis in one's life. The author of the Gita went through such a crisis that it shook the foundations of his life. He found that the only way out was to surrender himself unconditionally to the divine Lord. He threw himself at the feet of the Lord (2.7). (1) With this surrender he created space for the Divine to enter his innermost recess (buddhi) and transform his life totally. At the end of this transformation process he could stand up and proclaim: "My delusion is overcome, doubts are gone, I have regained clarity of perception--all through your grace, O Lord. I now stand firm to act according to your word" (18.73). This is the very last word of Arjuna in the Gita. From the moment of lying in surrender (chap. 2) to the moment of standing on his feet (chap. 18), there has been a process of transformation. It has been the experience of human openness to divine revelation, the dialectics between human freedom and divine grace.

The Gita describes this mystical process in a dramatic way. The battlefield of Kurukshetra is only a symbol of the battlefield of life, on which the war is constantly being waged between greed (kama) and integration (dharma). Arjuna and the Bhagavan are only actors on this battlefield of life. Hence, in order to grasp the perennial mystical message of the Gita, one has to detach it from the militant context of the epic. The real battlefield is within each of us. "Gita is not a historical work. With the image of the physical battlefield Gita makes the ongoing spiritual battle of life clear to us." (2)

I would like to interpret the Gita as a mystical poem written around 300 B.C.E. and interpolated into the evolving epic. There are three major themes in the mystical process described in the Gita: the human seeker (sadhaka, a person who relentlessly seeks God), the divine Teacher (Bhagavan), and the divine-human integration (marga).

II. The Human Being in Quest of God

Four significant elements can be found in describing the character of the human in search of God:

A. Dharmasammuda-cetah: Existential Agony of the Human Being

Chapters 1 and 2 of the Gita describe the psychological and spiritual crisis of the sadhaka: "His heart is shaken by distress"; "his being is plunged in compassion, his eyes distraught and filled with tears" (1.47, 2.1). What is experienced is apparently compassion (krpa), but this is not an elevating and liberative experience; rather, it oppresses the sadhaka and causes dismay: "My whole being is oppressed with compassion's harmful taint" (2.7). It is a power of deception that veils the true perception of reality and, consequently, "perplexes the spirit" (2.7) and "parches the senses" (2.8, 1.28-30). One finds oneself at the crossroads of life and does not know in which direction to turn or how to discern what to do in order to pursue "total well being" (sreyah) and promote "universal integration" (dharma). …

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