The discourse on the Bhagavad Gita begins before the start of the climatic battle at kurukshetra. It begins with the kshatriya prince Arjuna as he becomes filled with doubt on the battlefield. Realising who his enemies are; relatives, beloved friends, and revered teachers, he turns to his charioteer, Sri Krishna, an avatar of Sri Vishnu for advice.
Krishna counsels Arjuna, beginning with the tenet that since souls are immortal, their deaths on the battlefield are just the shedding of the body, which is not the soul. Krishna goes on to expound on the yogic paths of devotion, action, meditation and knowledge. Fundamentally, the Bhagavad Gita proposes that true enlightenment comes from growing beyond identification with the ego, the little self, and that one must identify with the truth of the immortal Self, the soul or Atman, the ultimate divine consciousness. Through detaching from the personal ego, the yogi, or follower of a particular path of yoga, is able to transcend his mortality and attachment for the material world and see the infinite.
To demonstrate the infinity of the unknowable Brahman, Krishna gives Arjuna a glimpse of cosmic sight and allows the prince to see Him in all his divine glory. He reveals that He is fundamentally both the ultimate essence of being in the universe and also its material body. This is called the Vishvarupa.
Among the great sages and philosophers who have drawn inspiration from the Bhagavad Gita are Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who initiated public singing of the "Hare Krishna" mantra, and Mahatma Gandhi, who bestowed spiritual legitimacy to non-violence through the Gita and interpreted the war of the Mahabharata as a metaphor for the conflicts that trouble all people at one time or another. The culminating message of the Gita was the inspiration for his struggle against British colonial rule.
American physicist and director of the Manhattan Project J. Robert Oppenheimer, upon witnessing the world's first atomic blast in 1945, is reported to have misquoted "I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds," from the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 11, Verse 32.
The dynamic Swami Vivekananda, the follower of Sri Ramakrishna known for his seminal commentaries on the four yogas, Bhakti, Jnana, Karma and Raja Yoga, also drew from his knowledge of the Gita to expound on them. Swami Sivananda advises the aspiring yogi to read verses from the Bhagavad Gita every day. Paramahamsa Yogananda, writer of the famous "Autobiography of a Yogi," viewed the Bhagavad Gita as one of the world's most divine scriptures, along with the Four Gospels of Jesus.
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