The Path – April 1887

THE BHAGAVAD-GITA: I — William Brehon

If the title of this sacred Hindu poem were paraphrased, it would read:

The Holy Song of God Himself, who, at the beginning of Kali-Yuga or the dark age, descended upon earth to aid and instruct Man.

GITA means song, and BHAGAVAD is one of the names of Krishna. Krishna was an Avatar. According to the views of the Brahmins, we are now in Kali-Yuga, which began about the time of Krishna's appearance. He is said to have descended in order to start among men those moral and philosophical ideas which were necessary to be known during the revolution of the Age, at the end of which — after a brief period of darkness — a better Age will begin.

The composition of this poem is attributed to Vyasa, and as he is also said to have given the Vedas to men, a discussion about dates would not be profitable and can well stand over until some other occasion.

The Bhagavad-Gita is a portion of the Mahabharata, the great epic of India. The Mahabharata is so called because it contains the general history of the house of Bharat, and the prefix Maha signifies great. Its more definite object, however, is to give an account of the wars of the Kooroos and Pandoss, two great branches of the family. And that portion included in our poem is the sublime philosophical and metaphysical dialogue held by Krishna with Arjuna, on the eve of a battle between the two aspirants for dominion.

The scene of the battle is laid on the plain called "Kuru-Kshetra," a strip of land near Delhi, between the Indus, the Ganges, and the Himalayan mountains. Many European translators and commentators, being ignorant of the psychological system of the Hindus — which really unlies every word of this poem, — have regarded this plain and the battle as just those two things and no more; some have gone so far as to give the commercial products of the country at the supposed period, so that readers might be able, forsooth, in that way to know the motives that prompted the two princes to enter into a bloody internicine conflict. No doubt such a conflict did take place, for man is continually imitating the higher spiritual planes; and a great sage could easily adopt a human event in order to erect a noble philosophical system upon such an allegorical foundation. In one aspect history gives us merely the small or great occurrences of man's progress; but in another, any one great historical epoch will give us a picture of the evolution in man, in the mass, of any corresponding faculty of the Individual Soul. So we see, here and there, western minds wondering why such a highly tuned metaphysical discussion should be "disfigured by a warfare of savages." Such is the materializing influence of western culture that it is hardly able to admit any higher meaning in a portion of the poem which confessedly it has not yet come to fully understand.

Before the Upanishads can be properly rendered, the Indian psychological system must be understood; and even when its existence is admitted, the English speaking person will meet the great difficulty arising from an absence of words in that language which correspond to the ideas so frequently found in the Sanskrit. Thus we have to wait until a new set of words have been born to express the new ideas not yet existing in the civilization of the West.

The location of the plain on which this battle was fought is important, as well as are also the very rivers and mountains by which it is bounded.

And equally as needful to be understood, or at least guessed at, are the names of the respective princes. The very place in the Mahabharata in which this episode is inserted has deep significance, and we cannot afford to ignore anything whatever that is connected with the events. If we merely imagine that Vyasa or Krishna took the Sacred Plain of Kuru-Kshetra and the great battle as simply accessories to his discourse, which we can easily discard, the whole force of the dialogue will be lost.

Although the Bhagavad-Gita is a small work, there have been written upon it, among the Hindus, more commentaries than those upon the Revelation of St. John among the Christians.

I do not intend to go into those commentaries, because on the one hand I am not a Sanskrit scholar, and on the other it would not tend to great profit. Many of them are fanciful, some unwarrantable; and those that are of value can be consulted by any one anxious to pursue that line of inquiry. What I propose here to myself and to all who may read these papers is, to study the Bhagavad-Gita by the life of that spiritual lamp — be it small or great — which the Supreme Soul will feed and increase within us if we attend to its behests and diligently inquire after it. Such at least is the promise by Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita — the song Celestial.

(To be continued.)

The Path