Gita and Interpretations

I had studied Gita for 8 yrs (2004–12) and read an hr of it daily. Though not really a Gita scholar, I would like to put forward my viewpoints.

Gita is one of the most popular books from Indian culture. There are a lot of interpretations of Gita.

Gita is known as Bhagavad Gita which means “Song of God”. And this sounds interesting as we often think of Gita as a book. But ideally, the metre of Gita as written in Sanskrit is more appropriate for singing than reading like a book.

Gita starts in the battlefield. Arjuna is puzzled and drops his bow and arrow and even thinks of committing suicide. On one hand, Arjuna had his wife and 4 brothers who were with him through thick and thin. On the other, he had his grandfather and guardian Bhisma and his loving Guru Drona. We cannot even imagine how hard it was for him to decide what to do, and it is natural for him to break down.

Among the different schools of studying Gita, there are 3 prominent ones. Hinduism is an interesting religion (if you must call it a religion in the first place) and mostly the only religion which allows one to believe in multiple gods , one God with form, one God without form (nirguna) and no God. Yes, you can be an atheist/agnostic and be a Hindu. Hence, it is understandable that there are many schools of Gita.

Vaishnav School of Thought /School of Bhakti Yoga: They have the strictest religious/spiritual interpretations among the 3 primary schools. The prominent Vaishnav sects are Sri Vaishnava (mainly in South India) and Gaudiya (mainly in Bengal and via ISKCON spread across the world) schools.

Krishna is treated as God and Arjuna is the disciple. Although, he is a friend in real life to Krishna, he takes an inferior position and accepts it. And, here Arjuna is mostly acting as a vehicle for Krishna to deliver Gita to the world. He is an elevated devotee and he does not need Gita. But, he is taking part in the “lila” of Krishna.

The reason of mentioning strict was because they do not like the concept of different interpretations of Gita. The Gita propounded by ISKCON is called Bhagavad Gita as It is and they maintain is that they do not “interpret” it but rather follow disciplic succession i.e. they follow the chain from Krishna-Arjuna-Sukhdev…..Prabhupada (founder of ISKCON).

I believed in this school from 2006–12.

Most important verses according to this school.

sarvadharmaanparityajya maamekam sharanam vraja |
aham tvaa sarvapaapebhyo mokshayishhyaami maa shuchah ||

Abandoning all paths, come to Me as the only refuge. Grieve not, for I will liberate you from all sins.

api chetsuduraachaaro bhajate maamananyabhaakh |
saadhureva sa mantavyah samyagvyavasito hi sah ||

Even a confirmed sinner, if he worships Me with unwavering faith and devotion, must be considered righteous, because, he has decided to reform himself.

manushhyaanaam sahasreshhu kashchidyatati siddhaye |
yatataamapi siddhaanaam kashchinmaam vetti tatvatah ||

Hardly one among thousands of men strives to realize Me;
Of those who strive, again, only a very rare one (devoting himself exclusively to Me) knows Me in reality.

Sanatana School /School of Karma Yoga:

This is the traditional school and most common among people who read Gita. The most common book followed is the Gita from Gita Press in Gorakhpur.

Here again Krishna is god and Arjuna is a friend. Notice the g in god is in running text and not in caps unlike the previous one. So Sanatana School believes Krishna as an avatar of Vishnu and consider the triumvirate Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva as equals.

This is distinct from Vaishnav schools which consider Krishna as not as an avatar of Vishnu. Rather in short, Vaishnav schools considers Vishnu as the official version of Krishna and Krishna is the “real” and playful version of God. While, they think of Vishnu as a formal version of Krishna.

Also, they usually treat Arjuna’s bewilderment as true and not just for the world.

I believed in this school from 2004–06 (my senior high school).

Also, Swami Vivekananda and his disciples, and many other Indian Gurus believed in this school.

Most popular verses in this school.

yato yato nishcharati manashcha.nchalamasthiramh |
tatastato niyamyaitadaatmanyeva vasham nayeth ||

By whatever cause the mind, which is restless and fidgeting, wanders away, the yogi should bring it back from that and concentrate only on the Self.

vaasaamsi jiirnaani yathaa vihaaya, navaani grihnaati naro aparaani |
tathaa shariiraani vihaaya jiirnaanyanyaani samyaati navaani dehii ||

Just as a person casts off worn out garments and puts on others that are new, even so, the embodies soul casts off worn out bodies and takes on others that are new.

Book from Swami Vivekananda’s disciple

Agnostic School of Thought or Gita as a Book of Philosophy:

This is the new-age school which sees Gita as a book where one can mine lot of important life lessons. Whether or not one believes in God. Whether or not one believes in one God. Whether or not one is Hindu or not. They believe Gita has lessons which would serve anyone well. This is different from the two previous schools which treat Gita as theology. The Agnostic or Philosophical school thinks that Gita was lessons from a mature level-headed friend to another who was puzzled by complex issues in life.

The most common verses according to this school:

krodhaadbhavati sammohah sammohaatsmritivibhramah |
smritibhramshaadbuddhinaasho buddhinaashaatpranashyati ||

From anger comes delusion; from delusion, confused memory; from confused memory the ruin of reason; from ruin of reason, man finally perishes.

indriyaanaam hi charataam yanmano anuvidhiiyate |
tadasya harati pragyaam vaayarnaavamivaambhasi ||

The mind, which follows in the wake of the wandering senses, carries away a man’s discrimination just as a gale tosses a ship on the high seas.

This is the school I currently believe in.

My personal opinion is that we do not have to constrain ourselves to one interpretation. Or, we can have different beliefs and there is scope of Hinduism for it. There are other schools of thought and many different sub-schools within the broad schools.