Literally, "Song of the Blessed One". Hindu devotional poem, dated between the third century A.D. and the fourth century B.C. Part of the epic Mahabharata, it consists of a dialogue between a dispirited warrior, Arjuna, and the god Vishnu, incarnated as Arjuna's charioteer Krishna. Prominent ideas: the transient nature of material things, as well as all happiness and distress; the indestructible nature of the soul; that one should perform the duties appropriate to one's station in life -- in Arjuna's case, fight a war against enemies he personally has no desire to kill; the all-pervading nature of God; and the proper path to transcendence.

I recommend the commentary of Sri Radhakrishnan on the Gita. For the western mind, he unravels a mess of sanskrit into something eloquent and approachable. Reading the Gita with a commentary made it a much more enjoyable (and enlightening) experience.

Part of the Everything Project Gutenberg project.

The
Song Celestial.
or
Bhagavad-Gita
(From the Mahabharata)

Being a Discourse Between Arjuna,
Prince of India, and the Supreme Being
Under the Form of Krishna


Translated from the Sanskrit Text
by
Sir Edwin Arnold,
M.A., K.C.I.E., C.S.I.

New York
Truslove, Hanson & Comba, Ltd.
67 Fifth Avenue
1900

Dedication

TO INDIA

So have I read this wonderful and spirit-thrilling speech,
By Krishna and Prince Arjun held, discoursing each with each;
So have I writ its wisdom here,--its hidden mystery, For England;
O our India! as dear to me as She!

EDWIN ARNOLD

PREFACE

This famous and marvellous Sanskrit poem occurs as an episode of the Mahabharata, in the sixth--or "Bhishma"--Parva of the great Hindu epic. It enjoys immense popularity and authority in India, where it is reckoned as one of the ``Five Jewels," -- pancharatnani -- of Devanagiri literature. In plain but noble language it unfolds a philosophical system which remains to this day the prevailing Brahmanic belief, blending as it does the doctrines of Kapila, Patanjali, and the Vedas. So lofty are many of its declarations, so sublime its aspirations, so pure and tender its piety, that Schlegel, after his study of the poem, breaks forth into this outburst of delight and praise towards its unknown author:
"Magistrorum reverentia a Brachmanis inter sanctissima pietatis officia refertur. Ergo te primum, Vates sanctissime, Numinisque hypopheta! quisquis tandem inter mortales dictus tu fueris, carminis bujus auctor, cujus oraculis mens ad excelsa quaeque,quaeque, aeterna atque divina, cum inenarraoih quddam delectatione rapitur-te primum, inquam, salvere jubeo, et vestigia tua semper adore." Lassen re-echoes this splendid tribute; and indeed, so striking are some of the moralities here inculcated, and so close the parallelism -- oft times actually verbal -- between its teachings and those of the New Testament, that a controversy has arisen between Pandits and Missionaries on the point whether the author borrowed from Christian sources, or the Evangelists and Apostles from him.

This raises the question of its date, which cannot be positively settled. It must have been inlaid into the ancient epic at a period later than that of the original Mahabharata, but Mr Kasinath Telang has offered some fair arguments to prove it anterior to the Christian era. The weight of evidence, however, tends to place its composition at about the third century after Christ; and perhaps there are really echoes in this Brahmanic poem of the lessons of Galilee, and of the Syrian incarnation.

Its scene is the level country between the Jumna and the Sarsooti rivers - now Kurnul and Jheend. Its simple plot consists of a dialogue held by Prince Arjuna, the brother of King Yudhisthira, with Krishna, the Supreme Deity, wearing the disguise of a charioteer. A great battle is impending between the armies of the Kauravas and Pandavas, and this conversation is maintained in a war-chariot drawn up between the opposing hosts.

The poem has been turned into French by Burnouf, into Latin by Lassen, into Italian by Stanislav Gatti, into Greek by Galanos, and into English by Mr. Thomson and Mr Davies, the prose transcript of the last-named being truly beyond praise for its fidelity and clearness. Mr Telang has also published at Bombay a version in colloquial rhythm, eminently learned and intelligent, but not conveying the dignity or grace of the original. If I venture to offer a translation of the wonderful poem after so many superior scholars, it is in grateful recognition of the help derived from their labours, and because English literature would certainly be incomplete without possessing in popular form a poetical and philosophical work so dear to India.

There is little else to say which the "Song Celestial" does not explain for itself. The Sanskrit original is written in the Anushtubh metre, which cannot be successfully reproduced for Western ears. I have therefore cast it into our flexible blank verse, changing into lyrical measures where the text itself similarly breaks. For the most part, I believe the sense to be faithfully preserved in the following pages; but Schlegel himself had to say: "In reconditioribus me semper poetafoster mentem recte divinasse affirmare non ausim." Those who would read more upon the philosophy of the poem may find an admirable introduction in the volume of Mr Davies, printed by Messrs Trubner & Co.

EDWIN ARNOLD, C.S.I.

CONTENTS

I.       THE DISTRESS OF ARJUNA
II.      THE BOOK OF DOCTRINES
III.     VIRTUE IN WORK
IV.     THE RELIGION OF KNOWLEDGE
V.      RELIGION OF RENOUNCING WORKS
VI.     RELIGION BY SELF RESTRAINT
VII.    RELIGION BY DISCERNMENT
VIII.   RELIGION BY SERVICE OF THE SUPREME
IX.     RELIGION BY THE KINGLY KNOWLEDGE AND THE KINGLY MYSTERY
X.      RELIGION BY THE HEAVENLY PERFECTIONS
XI.     THE MANIFESTING OF THE ONE AND MANIFOLD
XII.    RELIGION OF FAITH
XIII.   RELIGION BY SEPARATION OF MATTER AND SPIRIT
XIV.   RELIGION BY SEPARATION FROM THE QUALITIES
XV.    RELIGION BY ATTAINING THE SUPREME
XVI.   THE SEPARATENESS OF THE DIVINE AND UNDIVINE
XVII.  RELIGION BY THE THREEFOLD FAITH
XVIII. RELIGION BY DELIVERANCE AND RENUNCIATION

A Hindu epic poem, meaning in Sanskrit "Song of God" that was written between the 1st and 2nd century. Traditionally attributed to the sage Vyasa, most likely it is a compellation of oral stories written and refined by various writers. The fifth book in the Mahabharata (meaning “Great Epic of the Bharata Dynasty”), consisting of 12 chapters of 700 Sanskrit verses.

The Bhagavadgita was written as a dialogue between warrior Prince Arjuna and his friend, Krishna before an ensuing battle among the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Prince Arjuna questions the rational in fighting a brutal war against many of his friends and kinsmen and contemplates allowing himself to be killed in order to avoid bloodletting. Krishna intervenes by emphasizing his duty as a warrior, fighting without concern of personal triumph or gain, to God.

Much like in other religious writings, fables, parables, and allegories, the Bhagavadgita true purpose is to attempt to describe the nature of God by virtue of an allusion; hiding its meaning in an ethical quandary.

In the verses of the Bhagavad Gita, terms that have modern, mundane meanings may represent elaborate and often complex spiritual concepts. Two of the most important of these concepts as expressed by Krishna are the “world” and “Nature.” In addition to their normal connotations, these terms are also representative of separate complex ideas that relate to many of the other concepts expressed in the Gita.

The “world,” for instance, of course refers to the physical environment, but it more specifically means the environment as it exists as an opportunity and a tool for the spiritual development of followers of Krishna. A particular aspect of the world is “Nature,” another important term in the verse. Nature represents the three qualities of being, unmanifested. These three qualities are ‘sattway, rajas, and tamas.’ It is when these three qualities are in total equilibrium that they remain in their unmanifest state in nature. When they exist slightly out of balance, it is said that they manifest. This manifestation is seen in the caste system. A person’s place in the world, and the “actions of priests, warriors, // commoners, and servants // are apportioned by qualities // born of their intrinsic being.”

It is also a law of existence, that “there are no beings on earth // or among the gods in heaven // free from the triad of qualities // that are born of nature.” Thus, all manifestations of nature (men) are representative of some amount of all three of these qualities in different proportions.

An after thought: in a very rough sense sattway (or passion) might be thought to represent our 'desire' or 'willpower.' Rajas (or lucidity) represents the tempering reason, that both restricts and guides our passions.* Finally tamas is our base physical nature, what keeps us from floating away, so to speak. It is our appetite (in all its kinds).


*See also: Plato, Socrates, or the Phaedrus.

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