The Introduction to the Bhagavad Gita

From the introduction of Ravi Ravindra's Bhagavad Gita.

Bhagavad means "blessed"; Gita means "song." The Bhagavad Gita is The Song of the Blessed One, although the title is often rendered as The Song of the Blessed Lord, referring to Krishna, an incarnation of the Highest Divinity. The title is also written as Bhagavadgita when the two words are compounded.

Within the Hindu tradition, the Bhagavad Gita is regarded as a smriti (that which is remembered) text rather than a shruti (that which is revealed) text, and therefore it is not considered to be ul­timately authoritative like the Vedas and the Upanishads. This is as it should be—each one needs to find one’s own attitude to it rather than be governed by an excessive veneration imposed by the ortho­doxy in the tradition.

However, by ordinary rational measures nothing is completely straightforward in Indian thought. The Bhagavad Gita is also called Gitopanishad as well as Yogopanishad, implying its status as an Upani­shad. Since the Gita is drawn from the Mahabharata, it is included in the smriti texts. However, being one of the Upanishads, it has a status of shruti. Since the Bhagavad Gita represents a summary of the Upa­nishadic teachings, it is also called the Upanishad of the Upanishads. It is sometimes said that the Upanishads are the cow and Krishna, the cowherd, milks the cow in the presence of Arjuna, the calf, and the milk is the Bhagavad Gita! The Gita is also called a mokshashastra, or scripture of liberation, since it deals with the science of the Absolute and teaches the way to freedom without measure.

In the Hindu tradition, the Bhagavad Gita is one of the three foundational texts (prasthana trayi, literally "three points of departure"), along with the Brahma Sutras (also known as Vedanta Sutras) and the Upanishads, on which a teacher (acharya) must write a commentary in order to be taken seriously.

R. C. Zaehner, a well-known Western scholar, has remarked, "As with almost every major religious text in India, no firm date can be assigned to the Gita. It seems certain, however, that it was written later than the ‘classical’ Upanishads, with the possible exception of the Maitri Upanishad, which was post-Buddhistic. One would prob­ably not be far wrong if one dated it at some time between the fifth and the second centuries b.c." According to the Hindu tradition, the teaching in the Bhagavad Gita was given at the end of Dvapara Yuga and the beginning of our present Kali Yuga. A helpful reminder by Juan Mascaro: “Scholars differ as to the date of the Bhagavad Gita; but as the roots of this great poem are in Eternity the date of its reve­lation in time is of little spiritual importance."

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