Bhagavad-Gita

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Bhagavad-Gita

Bhagavad-Gita (bŭg´əvəd-gē´tə) [Skt.,=song of the Lord], Sanskrit poem incorporated into the Mahabharata, one of the greatest religious classics of Hinduism. The Gita (as it is often called) consists of a dialogue between Lord Krishna and Prince Arjuna on the eve of the great battle of Kurukshetra. Arjuna is overcome with anguish when he sees in the opposing army many of his kinsmen, teachers, and friends. Krishna persuades him to fight by instructing him in spiritual wisdom and the means of attaining union with God (see yoga). The main doctrines of the Gita are karma-yoga, the yoga of selfless action performed with inner detachment from its results; jnana-yoga, the yoga of knowledge and discrimination between the lower nature of man and his soul, which is identical with the supreme self; and bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion to a particular god—in this case, Krishna, who reveals himself to Arjuna as the avatara (incarnation) of Vishnu, Lord of the Universe. The Bhagavad-Gita is essentially Upanishadic in content, but it differs significantly from the brahman-atman doctrine of the Upanishads in teaching that the highest God is personal and that love and surrender to God's grace is a better and easier spiritual path than that of pure knowledge. The Gita has been the subject of many commentaries and has been much translated. Its translators include Annie Besant, Sir Edwin Arnold, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, and Mohandas Gandhi.

See F. Edgerton, The Bhagavad Gita (1944); E. Deutsch, ed., Bhagavad Gita (1968); B. S. Miller, The Bhagavad Gita (1986).

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