BHAGAVADGITA (Sanskrit—Song of the Lord or Gita of Songs [par excellence])—an anonymous Indian religious-philosophical poem probably dating back to the first or second century AD (R. Garbe—the second century BC; Radhakrishnan—the fifth century BC), in 700 quatrains divided into eighteen sections (lectures) that compose the sixth book of the Mahabharata; it is at the same time the most popular Indian religious and philosophical text.
The content of the poem: before the beginning of a fratricidal battle between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, Arjuna of the Panndava family turns to his friend and charioteer, Krsna with his doubts about killing and is informed of the knightly obligation to wage right battle, in which at most the body can perish, while the soul is eternal and immortal. This dialogue became a pretext for Krsna to present many doctrines on absolute truths and absolute reality, in the course of which he is revealed as an incarnation of the Supreme God, called Visnu (B., 10–11).
The Bhagavadgita contains a characteristic Hindu synthesis (uniting, not summarizing) of ethical, metaphysical, and soteriological doctrines belonging to many Indian schools (darshan). It is sometimes uncohesive and unsystematic, for it often presents the same questions in successive lectures, always from other point of view (this is one of the reasons the popularity of this text in India). Each lecture (including the “sorrow of Arjuna”) is called a yoga, that is, a way to self-perfection leading to liberation. The Bhagavadgita refers to itself as an upanishad, that is, a canonical Vedic text that speaks of the knowledge of the soul and God and about liberation from the circle of births and deaths (samsara). Reincarnation and the law of karma, although in agreement with the general Indian image of the world they are accepted as a certainties, are explained here in detail, and the conception of liberation (moksa) that is presented has syncretic elements: each person receives the reward after death in which he believed (B., 9, 25), but the highest reward is union with God.
The Bhagavadgita presents first the way of knowledge (jnanamarga), that is, the views of sakhya (the dualism of purusa and the world composed of three gunas) reinterpreted in the spirit of panentheistic monism, and the Vedantic theory of the identity of the individual soul and the absolute (atman-brahman). The lectures that follow are a discussion of the way of the deed (karmamarga) with is in accordance with one’s own station (svadharma), although even the most difficult, but performed disinterestedly (without considering the fruits), and the way of abstaining from deeds (samnyasa) by liberation from the bonds of passion, and immersion in yogic contemplation (dhyana). The contradiction is explained as an illusion—the disinterested deed and the mastery of the senses in yoga are the same. A discussion of righteousness (dharma) and unrighteousness (adharam) leads to an explanation of the role of the incarnations of God (avatars) in the wrold for the sake of maintaining dharma. Finally the way of love for God (bhakti) is presented as the source of all righteousness. One should be the same toward friends and enemies and turn one’s heart toward God. Every act of praise directed to any diety is actually directed to Krsna, since they are all aspects of Krsna. Krsna is at the same time the impersonal Absolute and the personal God; a distinction between these aspects lacks a deeper meaning, since the concern is liberation. The way of the disinterested deed is indicated as the highest, since it makes man similar to the Absolute who also acts disinterestedly in the world.
The Bhagavadgita came to be regarded in India as a holy (revealed) text. The followers of Vedanta include it as one of the “triple foundations” of their school’s teaching. Therefore it was often commented upon in that school, beginning with Shannkara, and then philosophers in other schools up to contemporary thinkers.
There have been many translations into European languages (the oldest English translation is from 1785). Polish translation: B. Olszewski, Brody 1910; S. F. Michalski, Wwa 1910, 19273; W. Dynowska, Swatantrapur 1947, Madras-Bom 19724; anonymous (from the ISKCON sect) Bhagagadgita Taką Jaką Jest [The Bhagavadgita as it is], P 1981, Vaduz-Wwa 19862, the best translation is that of J. Sachse, Wr 1988.
S. Radhakrishnan, Indian Philosophy, Lo 1951 (Filozofia indyjska [Indian philosophy], Wwa 1959, I 483–536); R. C. Zaehner, The Bhagavadgita with a Commentary Based on the Original Sources, Ox 1969; F. Tokarz, Z filozofii indyjskiej kwestie wybrane [Selected questions from Indian philosophy], Lb 1974, 19902, I 73–101, 145–146; I. Lazari-Pawlowska, Etyczne treści B. [Ethical contents of the Bhagavadgita], SF 10–11 (1976), 103–115; J. Sachse, Ze studiów nad B. [From studies on the Bhagavadgita], Wr 1988; Mały słownik klasycznej myśli indyjskiej [Small lexicon of Indian thought], Wwa 1992, 16–17.
Maciej St. Zięba