by Swami Nikhilananda

Among the sacred books of India the Bhagavad Gita occupies a very high place. The study of the Gita, the Upanishads, and the Brahma-sutras, with their commentaries, is a discipline for orthodox Hindu sannyasis of the Vedantist school. Hindus of all denominations-householders and sannyasis, men and women, young and old-derive spiritual Inspiration from its study. A wandering monk, who has given up all earthly possessions, often carries a pocket edition of the Gita. It is an excellent manual of Hinduism.

The teachings of the Gita are presented in the form of a dialogue between Sri Krishna and Arjuna. The background of a battle-field imparts a dramatic charm. Sri Krishna… is the Lord Himself in a human form. A student absorbed in the book often forgets its historical character and feels as though many of its inspiring passages are directly addressed to himself by the Lord, who is the Inner Guide of all. The suggestiveness of the book is almost without limit if it is read with the right attitude of mind. Many of the passages, written in aphoristic form, can be memorized and recalled at the time of meditation or in those moments of life when spiritual inspiration is required.

There are many who regard the story behind the Gita not as historical fact but as an allegory. To them Arjuna represents the individual soul, and Sri Krishna the Supreme Soul dwelling in every heart. Arjuna's chariot is the body. The blind King Dhritarashtra is the mind under the spell of ignorance, and his hundred sons are man's numerous evil tendencies. The battle, a perennial one, is ever going on between the power of good and the power of evil. The warrior who listens to the advice of the Lord speaking from within will triumph in this battle and attain the Highest Good.

The Hindu philosophers have never been satisfied with the mere intellectual understanding of a religious treatise. Scripture is simply a key to the infinite storehouse of knowledge that lies within every human soul. The purpose of philosophy, darsana, is to enable its student to see the Truth, that is, to realize It in direct experience. Hence certain moral and spiritual disciplines are necessary in order to create the right mood for study of the scriptures. Hinduism lays down four such disciplines, namely, discrimination between the Real and the unreal; renunciation of the unreal; the acquisition of six virtues: control of the mind, control of the senses, forbearance, restraining the mind from being distracted by worldly objects, faith in the words of the teacher and the scriptures, and concentration; and lastly, the longing for liberation. Inwardness of spirit, cultivated through self-control and contemplation, enables the student of the scriptures to grasp their subtle meaning, which otherwise remains hidden from the mere intelligent reader.

…The Gita enables one to grapple with the problems of daily life from the higher standpoint of Spirit. May we always remember that our life on earth has a purpose larger than we see.


Ridgely Manor Stone Ridge, N. Y. August 17, 1943


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