When the Gita is spoken to one specific person, how can it be universal?

by Chaitanya CharanJuly 8, 2021

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Transcription by: Dr Suresh Gupta (Muzaffarnagar)

Question: When the Gita is spoken to address the problem of one specific person, how can it be universal?

Answer: Gita is a conversation between Krishna and Arjuna about whether to fight the war or not. Although the context is war, but Gita also talks about universal principles that go beyond that context.

Consider an example of a doctor treating a patient along with an apprentice. Although the doctor is treating a specific case and the trainee may eventually face different type of cases in future, however the methodologies – how to examine and diagnose the patient, how to understand the symptoms, how to continue treatment based on the symptoms, how to administer the treatment, how to encourage the patient etc. – will remain the same. These are the principles that transcend the specific case and the apprentice doctor can learn these principles from the experienced doctor.

Similarly, Gita has a specific historical context. By studying Mahabharat, we can understand its context. In the Gita, after the first chapter, there are barely seven-eight references to the war. Gita largely talks about universal principles because Arjuna’s question was also universal. Had Arjuna asked, “Should I fight or not?”, Krishna would have answered, “Yes, you should fight”; then the discussion would have been over. However, Arjuna’s question was different. He asked Krishna, “I am bewildered about what is my dharma and therefore I am asking you, Oh Krishna, to please tell me, what is my dharma?” (BG2.07) Therefore, Arjuna is not asking Krishna, “Should I fight or not?” He asks Krishna, “What is dharma and specially what is my dharma?”. Gita’s discussion is answer to this question of Arjuna, which not specific but universal. Krishna’s answer is also universal and that is how Gita becomes a universal book.

Arjuna, although a warrior, does not restrict his question to a specific context. Here, Arjuna is not just a warrior who is overcome by fear and needs some courage. That is not the situation. Arjuna is actually confused about what exactly is his dharma. Sometimes, people think of dharma as religious duty, but dharma basically refers to the activity that harmonises us with the order of universe. There is orderly universe and when we act in a way by which we can come in harmony with that order, such an activity is dharma. And this principle is universal for everyone. Hence, in that sense, Gita becomes universal.

End of transcription.

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Chaitanya Charan

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