Recently I received an e-mail from one of our readers. The message suggested that the reader was surprised that there is more than one Gita in Hindu Scriptures. The general belief is that Bhagawath Gita is the only “Gita”. Until a few years ago, I was also one of those surprised to learn that there is more than one Gita. Then I came across several documents all titled as Gita. Some of these are: Hamsa Gita, Kapila Gita, Uddhava Gita, Rama Gita, Bhikshu Gita, etc. A Google search identified a list of 39 Gitas:
|1. Bhagavad Gita||14. Hamsa gita||27. Sriti gita (Bhagavatam)|
|2. Anu gita||15. Hanumad gita||28. Surya gita|
|3. Ashtavakra gita||16. Harita gita||29. Suta gita (skandha purana)|
|4. Avadhoota gita||17. Iswara gita (Kurma purana)||30. Uddhava gita|
|5. Bhikshu gita||18. Kapila gita||31. Uttara gita|
|6. Bhramara gita (Bhagavatam)||19. Manki gita||32. Vasishta gita|
|7. Bodhya gita||20. Parashara gita||33. Vibhishana gita|
|8. Brahma gita I (skandha purana)||21.Pingala gita||34. Vicakhyu gita|
|9. Brhma gita II||22. Rama gita (Adhyathma Ramayana)||35. Vritra gita|
|10.Devi gita||23. Ribhu gita||36. Vyasa gita (Kurma purana)|
|11. Ganesha gita (Ganesha purana)||24. Rudra gita||37. Yama gita ( Nrsimha purana)|
|12. Gopika gita (Bhagavatam)||25. Sampaka gita||38. Yama gita (Agni purana)|
|13. Guru gita||26. Siva gita||39. Yama gita (Vishnu purana|
Invariably each Gita is a conversation, a philosophic enquiry on life, soul, consciousness, choices we have, right vs. wrong, etc. In the introduction to one of these Gita texts published by Chinmaya Mission publications, it is stated that “This is a post graduate textbook on Vedantha. Students new to Vedantha are advised to read this text only after an exhaustive study of other manuals including Athma Bodha and Bhagawath Gita”.
Vedantha in Sanskrit language translates to lessons learned at the end of – as the essence of – Vedas. Athma Bodha which means “Knowledge of the self”, is one of the classics written by Saint Sankara. Vedantha leads us to comprehensive understanding of the great Pronouncements (Maha Vakya) such as Thath Thwam Asi. https://sipractce.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/thath-thwam-asi-you-and-the-universe-are-integral-in-each-other/
The setting for each Gita is unique but poignant. Each has a setting that leads to a conversation between the seeker (with questions) and the informed (with the answers). Few of these settings are briefly described below. Readers are encouraged to study the setting for all other Gitas from other sources.
The setting for Bhagawath Gita is well known to most readers. Krishna places the chariot he is driving for Arjuna, the warrior, in the middle of the battle field with a clear and full view of the opposing forces. Arjuna who is already in a state of confusion between right and wrong is forced to confront his inner feelings with the external view of this reality. Unable to cope with this internal and external conflict, Arjuna pleads with Krishna to help him understand the many questions about life twirling in his mind: How does one discriminate between right and wrong (Dharma)? What is the action that is duty and hence that must be carried out (Karma)? What is the meaning of life (Artha)? What is liberation (Moksha)? The conversation that followed is Bhagawath Gita.
Rama Gita is a conversation between Lord Rama and his brother Lakshmana. Just like Krishna and Arjuna, this pair – Rama and Lakshmana – also have experienced the many aspects of life (pleasure, pain, joy, sorrow, anger, anxiety, friendship, deceit, …) together. This conversation between Rama and Lakshmana also takes place at a very painful moment, a moment of extreme agony for Lakshmana in the story of Ramayana. After his successful war with Ravana (the demon king) who had kidnapped his dear wife, Rama returned triumphantly to Ayodhya. He was coroneted as the king and his wife Sita, the queen. Soon thereafter was the situation where Rama and Sita, with purity in their hearts and chastity in their moral character had to stay apart to quell the rumors among the citizens. Lakshmana could not accept this cruelty imposed on Sita or the decision by Rama, which resulted in such sepration between him and his dear wife. During this time of agony, Lakshmana asked Rama about the morality – the beauty and the ugliness – that is inherent in all actions that man can and does undertake(1). This exhaustive discourse by Rama to his brother Lakshmana is called Rama Gita.
Bikshu Gita is the musings of a rich miserly man, who loses all his wealth and turns into a beggar, who lives off the alms given to him to by a few kind people. The Sanskrit word for a man who lives like that is “Bikshu”. The bikshu at the peak of his philosophic reflection sees that he – the beggar – is no different than the rich man and that both are representations of his state of mind.
Kapila Gita is a conversation between the sage Kapila and his mother Devahuthi. The mother having lived a virtuous life and having given birth to many children including the wisest man – Kapila Muni – is yet to find peace and satisfaction in life. At this state of mind she turns to counsel from her son on what is life and how it should be lived. The ensuing conversation is Kapila Gita.
It is easy to get stuck on the details of each setting for the various Gita(s) and the right or wrong in each case. For example, reflecting on Bhagawath Gita: why would one undertake a war and kill any one for any reason? How does it make sense to use the war between rivaling factions within a family, as a setting for teachings on life and living? Reflecting on Rama Gita: The cruelty of rumor mongers in Rama’s kingdom was the source of the separation between Rama and Sita, after so many years of hardship and their life in the forest? Rama had no influence or power of persuasion to quell such rumors? Or authority to rule over such abuse on his dear wife? Anyone who finds it hard to go beyond the settings and focus on the principles enunciated in these texts will also stumble in their progress limited by these questions and miss the essence of the philosophy.
The seasoned scientist focusses on the outcome of his experiments and not on the laboratory and its description. The painter does not become fixated on the canvas. The musician goes beyond the lyrics and their words. In the same fashion, one who sets upon the philosophic enquiry has to accept every facet of life – the beautiful, the ugly, the joy and the painful aspects, the moral and the immoral, etc. – as all parts of the reality of life. Every one of the Gita texts lead us to the same conclusion: Mind over Matter. We shall discuss this essence of all Gitas in a future blog.
(1) Introduction to Rama Gita by Swami Chinmayananda.