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Why Study the Bhagavad Gita?
The Context of the Gita
The Gita itself is set in a battlefield, not in the Himalayas, or in a forest. Arjuna is face-to-face with a problem
born of conflict between his familial affections and the call of duty. On one side, it seems to be necessary for him
to perform his duty, which is to fight the war. Then, there is another equally powerful pull - his affection for his
family and teachers and his own self respect, which conflict with the concept of duty. Caught between the horns
of duty and affection, Arjuna is confused as he stands between the two forces on the battlefield.
The battle has been declared because Duryodhana has usurped the kingdom. The rightful rulers were the
Pandavas, Arjuna and his four brothers, who had been in exile for thirteen years. When they returned to claim the
kingdom back as it was promised, Duryodhana who had enjoyed absolute power didn't want to give up the
The Pandavas had tried to avoid a war by asking Krishna to act as a mediator. Krishna went to Duryodhana to
work out a solution that both parties would be happy with. Duryodhana wouldn't give the kingdom back nor even
share the kingdom with the Pandavas. He would not give a district, a county, a village with five houses, nor a
house with five rooms; not even a square inch of land would he give. He said, "Let them either go back into the
forest or meet me in the battlefield." Thus, Krishna's attempt to negotiate had failed and there was no way of
avoiding war. Arjuna and his brothers were supposed to be the rulers; Duryodhana, their cousin, was occupying
the kingdom improperly. Arjuna, who was considered the greatest archer of the time, was now called upon to
fight to uphold dharma.
Given this situation, the Gita opens. Arjuna is seated in a chariot driven by Lord Krishna and drawn by white
horses. He has been waiting for this day to settle his account with Duryodhana. Duryodhana had wronged him in
a number of incidents throughout his life, but he could do nothing. Now the day has come. Arjuna is a flame of
fury and he wants to know, "In this battlefield, who are the people with whom I should fight?" He asks Krishna to
place the chariot between the two forces.
When Arjuna looked, he found highly respected people like Drona, his own teacher, Bhishma, his grandfather,
and many relatives and acquaintances with whom he had to fight. He said, "What is the use of fighting all these
people? Without killing them, I'm not going to get the kingdom back. And what is the use of getting the kingdom
back by destroying the people in whose company I would be happy?" Arjuna saw that in war nobody is a winner.
"I don't care for the kingdom, nor am I interested in royal comforts. I don't see anything to be gained by the war.
I see a black, dark future; therefore, I'm not interested in this fight." Arjuna gave up his bow and arrows. Then,
Krishna spoke to Arjuna to enthuse him, urging him to do his duty.
Arjuna becomes a Sisya
While caught between the call of duty and his emotions, Arjuna begins to appreciate a fundamental problem,
the problem of a human being. That problem takes possession of his mind and he wants to find a solution.
Finding a teacher in Lord Krishna, he presents himself to Krishna as a Sisya, a disciple. Arjuna was always a
devotee, but not a sisya; he finds himself a sisya on the battlefield. Lord Krishna accepts Arjuna as a disciple and
teaches him in the succeeding 17 chapters of the Gita.
Throughout the Gita the yoga-sastra is given; telling one the ways and means to be a mature person free from
conflicts, fear, hurt, and guilt. Along with the yoga message is the brahma-vidya, knowledge of the reality of
yourself being the essence of everything, your being the whole. The Gita has all that is to be learned from the
four Vedas, which are a vast literature. Therefore, the Gita has to be studied, and if it is understood well,
everything is well understood.