Kurukshetra is the historical place where the great war of the Mahabharata was fought. In Gita the position is this: there are two opposing forces facing each other for a final war. Arjuna is the commander in chief of one of the forces and Krishna is his charioteer. Arjuna orders Krishna to place the chariot in a position where he can survey both the armies, so that he can see who he has to fight.
Kurukshetra is the historical place where the great war of the Mahabharata was fought. In Gita the position is this: there are two opposing forces facing each other for a final war. Arjuna is the commander in chief of one of the forces and Krishna is his charioteer. Arjuna orders Krishna to place the chariot in a position where he can survey both the armies, so that he can see who he has to fight. When the chariot is positioned over the battlefield, Arjuna sees on both sides all his friends and relatives ready to fight with each other. Certainly the idea of mass destruction crosses his mind and he is terrified. Therefore, Arjuna decides not to fight and he tells this to Krishna. First of all Krishna gives him some instructions and then he gives him the sermon which we know as Gita.
Here we have to understand the situation in the following way. The two tendencies of the individual personality are always facing each other in the battle of life. The aspirant who wants to go high on the spiritual path and become victorious has to face the opposition and become victorious at any cost. He cannot escape it. In Gita the Pandavas and the Kauravas are the two forces arrayed for battle. The Pandavas represent the divine or the virtuous forces, and the Kauravas represent the demonical forces, the lower forces in man. So these two forces are facing each other and then the battle begins. In fact, the war of Mahabharata is the battle that is taking place in each and every individual. If you think that you can make a retreat, and escape from the clashes of life, it is not true, it is not right. This is the central teaching of the Gita.
In Gita it says that everyone has to fight, wherever he might be. Even one who has renounced property and position has to fight. War is sometimes external and sometimes it is completely internal. Many people do not even understand what the battle is. With the conflict that goes on incessantly in every individual from moment to moment, it is not only the mind that is fighting, even the physical cells of our body are struggling to survive. There are lower forces in the body that are trying to destroy the physical being, but there are other forces which are trying to resist and thus the life goes on.
In the same manner, there is a struggle, a conflict that goes on in the psychological plane every moment, either consciously or subconsciously. If you have no work, if you have time to think and watch this warfare, you will be surprised to see that there is not even one moment that two thoughts do not collide with each other. We have never seen such phenomenon. Those who have time can go inside and watch their thoughts as silent witnesses. In the deeper realms of their individual being they can see the thoughts colliding and surviving and dying every moment. New thoughts are born, old thoughts die. That is the psychological warfare that takes place in each and every individual.
Apart from that, the jiva, the individual soul, which is bound by avidya, wants to be released. It is something like a paralyzed man who wants to get up but cannot do it. Such a person is jiva. He wants to transcend the limitations of mind and body, of avidya and maya, but he cannot do it. For that reason he has to fight every moment. Fight with whom? With his own samskaras. What are those samskaras? They are the demonical nature, the darker forces in man. We call them devils or rakshasas. These are the forces and if the jivatman or the individual soul is to become free from the limitations of the mind, body and environment, the first thing he will have to do is fight a war against himself.
If there is no death in life, there is no evolution. Habits must die, thoughts must die. The thoughts which you cherished yesterday should not survive today. You should not be bound by old thoughts and habits, the most rigid weaknesses of every man. We are so accustomed to our name, our body, our religion, our habits, our culture, our ethics, to so many things. We want them to survive but they must die. Everything in life becomes old and useless. Therefore, the individual soul has to kill, to destroy all the superimpositions. After all the foreign elements are eliminated, then the real element shines forth as powerfully as atomic energy. It is a complete division, a complete disintegration of the foreign matter of the individual personality.
So, this war is a spiritual war in which Arjuna is jivatman. This body is the chariot and this world is Kurukshetra. Who is Krishna? Your supreme being, the indweller of your soul, the charioteer who manages the chariot even when you are asleep. The lungs keep on moving even when you are talking, when you are thinking, the lungs go on breathing. These are some of the factors of life based on nature, and the charioteer of these phenomena, of this body, is Krishna. From moment to moment, the being beyond unconsciousness is Krishna.
The being on this side of unconsciousness is Arjuna. There is a gulf of difference between Krishna and Arjuna. Krishna instructs Arjuna. Arjuna cannot understand because his is the language of the subconscious and Krishna uses the language of the superconscious. That gulf of difference can only be filled when the individual has the inner vision of the cosmic reality during moments of inspiration and trance. Once that vision comes, the difference between superconscious and subconscious is bridged. After that the jivatman can understand everything that the paramatman, or supreme soul, speaks.
It is also said that the sermon of Krishna is unceasing, not only in the Gita but in the internal war of your life. If one has the ears to hear, the mind to understand and the power to dive deep inside, the sermon still goes on. That is the eternal sermon which has been spoken as the inner voice of the soul, as the voice from heaven which God speaks. So, in this esoteric context, we take the instructions of Gita to be the eternal voice of the soul, and Arjuna to be the jivatman or individualized consciousness. These are the two forces in man which are well known to all of us.
Now, the arena of battle is called Kurukshetra. In Sanskrit kuru means ‘action’ and kshetra means ‘field’, the field of action. You know that this world is nothing but the field of action; either you work or you die. This is Kurukshetra, but we have added one more adjective to it – Dharmakshetra. It is not only the field of action, it is the field of dharma also. Dharma has a different meaning in Sanskrit literature and in Hindu religion, but when we speak of dharma we are not concerned with the religious meaning.
By dharma we mean the eternal duty, the duty which is expected of each and every individual in context with the society and himself. That is called dharma. It is not religion; it is not going to the temple or church or paying obeisance; it is not keeping a mala and doing japa. All this is called spiritual life. In India we call it adhyatma (spiritual). A man is spiritual because he goes to the temple, but by dharma we always mean the fulfillment of duty towards oneself and the whole of creation. So, this world is also Dharmakshetra; here you can work for yourself and also for others.
The first sloka of Gita starts with Dharmakshetra-Kurukshetra. The blind king Dhritarashtra is asking his war commentator, ‘O Sanjaya, please tell me what did my sons and the sons of Pandu do when they assembled on the battlefield of Dharmakshetra-Kurukshetra with the desire to fight?’ This question is answered in the last sloka of Gita. In the 698 slokas in between there is no answer to it. There is only narration. The reply which he gives at the end is, ‘Wherever there is Sri Krishna, the lord of yoga, and wherever there is Arjuna, the wielder of the Gandiva bow, prosperity, victory, glory and righteousness are assured. This is my conviction.’
It also means that if one tunes one’s self to the supreme consciousness, but at the same time is able to maintain one’s individual consciousness like a jivan mukta, then prosperity, victory, glory and righteousness are assured. It means the battle will be won by that person and no one else. We have to understand from this sloka that in order to win the battle of life, we have to attune ourselves to the cosmic consciousness, while maintaining the individual consciousness which we have at present. In short this is the esoteric background of the entire Gita. We need not concern ourselves with the historical background because we are students of yoga, not students of history.
We consider the theme of Gita to be a spiritual theme. We consider the dialogue of Gita to be a dialogue within ourselves, and we also consider that Gita was primarily written only for spiritual aspirants, and not as an historical epic. Therefore, at the end of every chapter it is written: ‘And now in Srimad Bhagavad Gita, in the Upanishad, in the Brahmavidya, in the yoga shastra, in the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna, we finish the second chapter of Sankhya Yoga’, or ‘we finish the third chapter of Karma Yoga’. This is the last line of Gita in every chapter. It means: Gita is brahmavidya, Gita is Upanishad, Gita is yoga shastra; it is not just a part of history.
Gita is not a book of morals, it is a book of Upanishads. It is not a book on religion, it is a book on brahmavidya. It is not a book on history, it is a yoga shastra. Upanishad means ‘a close dialogue between guru and disciple’. When the secret doctrines or instructions are imparted by the guru to a few disciples who are very close, that set of instructions is known as Upanishad. The word Upanishad literally means ‘to sit close by’. In the olden days when the guru wanted to impart certain important and secret doctrine, he did it in this way and therefore the instructions came to be known as the Upanishads.
Gita is Upanishad in the sense that Lord Krishna imparted the teaching to Arjuna and nobody else heard it. There were thousands and thousands of solders on the battlefield, but they did not know what was taking place between these two blessed souls. Only the divine Sanjaya overheard the entire conversation and then narrated it to Dhritarashtra. Therefore, this is a dialogue between two persons who are intimate with each other and so it is Upanishad.
Gita is brahmavidya. What does it mean? Vidya means ‘knowledge’ and brahma means ‘supreme being’, knowledge of the supreme being. What are the ways and means of experiencing the supreme reality? How do we come nearer to Him? Do we reach Him through ethical life? Do we reach Him through discipline? Or do we reach Him, understand him, or experience Him through austerity, through bhakti, through karma, through gyana, or by purification and so on? What is the way?
Therefore, Gita is brahmavidya, because here we find different discussions rallying around the knowledge of the supreme being. Gita may talk about charity, about renunciation, about tapas or austerity, about sadhana and yoga, but the main subject matter of Gita is the knowledge of the supreme, so it is brahmavidya. Vidya actually means ‘personal knowledge’. It is not theoretical knowledge of places and things. It is intimate knowledge gained through experience, experience of Brahman. In Sanskrit the word Brahman means ‘a fact without end’, ‘a being which is beyond all geographical and mathematical conceptions’. Brahman comes from the root word brihan which means ‘to extend’, ‘to become infinite’.
Gita is yoga shastra. Yoga shastra means ‘order’; it does not mean scripture as it is generally translated. Whenever we use the word shastra in English they translate it as scripture, but etymologically the word shastra means ‘that which gives you a certain order to fulfill’. You are ordered to act in a particular way and that is shastra. Yoga shastra is a book of instructions on yoga.
What is yoga? Yoga is union, joining, togetherness, two things becoming one, three things becoming one, a number of things becoming one. Multiplicity or diversity fusing into unity is the process of yoga. Many rivers starting from different sources all end in one ocean. The mental activities, the physical activities are fused in one purpose and therefore it is yoga. Yoga means ‘union’.
The entire Gita deals with the unity of individual soul, individual consciousness, with cosmic soul or cosmic consciousness. You will find that the main hero, Arjuna, was deluded. He was not aware of the true facts of spiritual life. He did not know spiritual life at all. He was a great military man, a commander in chief. He was a powerful, influential man of great learning and valor. All that is true, but in spite of that, he did not know the reality of life after life. He was deluded and the moment he faced the great armies in front of him, he thought that there was no life hereafter. He made a great mistake. He thought that he was the person behind the entire act of killing and murdering, and he was under other delusions. Lord Krishna rent all these delusions and brought him nearer to the supreme reality that was within his own self.
Therefore, Gita is known as Upanishad, brahmavidya and yoga shastra. It is the eternal dialogue. You may read Gita from the book, but you can also hear the same sermon within your own self at all moments. But before coming to the final conclusions of Gita so far as life is concerned, we should wait, because Gita’s approach is practical and it is not idealistic. You must have heard of a great book called the ‘Yoga Vashishtha’. Its approach to life is idealistic. The approach to life in the Ramayana is idealistic, Upanishadic life is also idealistic, Buddhist life is idealistic, yogic life is also idealistic, but the approach of Gita is absolutely realistic. You consider life as something concrete and you tackle the problems of life as they stand in front of you. You do not follow too much the idealistic patterns of thought as given to you by your parents, by your society and by your religion, and that is the challenge.
In India many people consider that Gita is a book for sannyasins. About twenty years back it was so difficult for us to give this book to householders. They would never read it. They would say if anyone reads Gita, it should be a sannyasin. Then a great man came, Lokmanya Tilak, and he spoke about Gita to the people for the first time. Then Mahatma Gandhi came and a few others. They presented commentaries on Gita and people came to know that Gita was not only for sannyasins, but for householders, for people of the world, there was not a better guidebook than Gita, because Gita deals with the practical problems of life, with a spiritual background but with a worldly rod. It tackles the problems of the lower mind but with a higher purpose.