F i v e T o p i c s o f t h e G i t a
If we step back from the flow of life and observe what we undergo, we will begin to notice existence. The reality of existence is intriguing. Who are we? What is this world? Why is it fraught with difficulties? What is its origin? Why are we caught in this intense struggle for survival? Why is death there?
The Gita speaks to persons whose thoughts have arrived at this stage of reflection - the stage of questioning existence. It enlightens them with some profound answers to the fundamental questions of life. The five subjects of the Gita are truths revealed by Lord Krishna to help humanity understand the reality of existence, how to live in it and what to achieve from it.
Importance of the 5 topics
The five topics of the Gita are – isvara, jiva, prakriti, kala and karma. That is,
1) The Supreme Controller,
2) the living being,
3) material nature,
4) time and
These five constitute the totality of existence. With knowledge of these five subjects, we can make choices that are in harmony with the transcendental purposes of the universe.The other option is to chooseunder the corrupting influenceof material energy (Maya).
We can achieve a powerful inner balance by peacefully tolerating the difficulties of life while reaching for the divine destination. We will aspire to selflessly serve the benign purpose of benefitting all existence. That is our hearts will be strong and wise to handle life’s imperfections and to unselfishly work for the good of all - a noble achievement indeed.
How they affect our worldview
Our perceptions undergo a radical change when we are empowered with the knowledge of the five topics. Knowing our true position in relation to the complete whole andbeing aware of our strengths and limitations, we are able to approach reality without misgivings. When we learn of the influences in the form of material energy, time and the laws of Karma, we get the true picture of our lives. To resonate with truth is a very fulfilling experience since it is our nature to detest illusion.
The Five Topics #
Sri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, explains the five topics of the Gita. By His Supreme position, He is fully aware of all that exists. He pervades the universe, is present in every atom and in every heart. Therefore what He teaches about existence has Supreme value. It behoves those who are intent to know the Truth to pay close attention to the words of Lord Krishna.
Isvara: The Supreme Controller
The universe is not pervaded with randomness but with order. From the macro world of the universe to the micro world of the atom, intricate laws govern every aspect of existence. Laws can exist only due to a lawmaker and can are followed only in the presence of a law enforcer. At a traffic signal this is easily evident. The traffic laws are created by a body of lawmakers headed by a leader and enforced by police personnel governed by a chief. This maintains order at the traffic signal.
We see order in the universe. The precise movement of the planets causes regularity of sunrise and sunset and the coming and going of seasons. Different bodily forms are imbued with millions of macro and micro systems functioning in a grand harmony. The reliable physical and chemical behaviour of substances enables us to have computers, batteries, engines, automobiles, aircraft and all the awe inspiring creations of technology. Without precise laws working with consistency in nature, we could not have these machines. Considering soberly, we can easily conclude that an infinitely powerful being has laid down the universal laws and enforces them strictly because of which there is order in the universe at the greatest and the most miniscule levels. The Gita teaches of this Supreme Controller called isvara.
The Supreme Being situated as the Supersoul in every heart controls the activities of the living beings. Actively responding to their thoughts, the Supersoul conducts the interactions betweenthem. Supremely conscious of their desires and past deeds,the Supersoul sanctions the desires of the individual beings and in accordance with His Supreme will, the universe functions to bring about success or failure in their attempts.
The Bhagavad-Gita identifies that Supreme Being as Krishna – The Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Jiva: The Individual Soul
Besides the Supreme Soul, there exist tiny individual souls (us) who occupy the universe in different bodily forms. The tiny souls although desirous of control over the universe are actually controlled by material nature, time and the law of Karma. These three factors condition the souls to identify with the body and to work to fulfil bodily demands. But all three factors are ultimately under the control of Krishna. The souls transmigrate from one body to another with different conceptions of material happiness. When a soul receives a human form, it is a turning point in his journey in the universe. If the soul conducts his existence taking shelter of a bonafied spiritual master who is a pure devotee of Krishna, he can get liberated from material entanglement and return to the spiritual abode of Krishna where he actually belongs.
To live with a body being conditioned by matter is considered a life of bondage, whereas living under the spiritual guidance of the Gita learnt in humble submission to a bonafied spiritual master, is a life of freedom for the individual soul. It is poignant to note that both Lord Krishna and the spiritual master are never conditioned by material nature, time or Karma. Consequently, Lord Krishna and the guru hold the power to liberate the soul from his material entanglement.
Prakriti: Material Nature
Material nature is the cause of the cosmic manifestation. The creation of the material energy is subject to constant transformation by which it undergoes eternal cycles of manifestation and annihilation.
The Gita teaches that the material atmosphere has a powerful influence over all the living beings. Inducing material desires, perpetrating emotional responses, inciting false ego, the material energy creates a powerful material conception of life for the living entity. Under her influence, the soul is bewildered as though put under a spell.
There are three modes of influence – goodness, passion and ignorance. The soul in choosing to lord over matter imperceptibly becomes conditioned by these modes. Goodness conditions the soul by a sense of knowledge and equanimity, but it does not free him from rebirth. The mode of passion compels the soul to pursue material desires. This brings distress to the living entity. The mode of ignorance is characterised by laziness, inactivity and sleep. In ignorance, the soul lives without direction or purpose and remains inactive even though possessed of abilities.
It is not that a soul is consistently under the influence of a particular mode. The modes compete to influence the soul, thus sometimes goodness dominates his consciousness, sometimes passion and at others ignorance. Material nature does not act independently, but under the supervision of Krishna. The Gita teaches that by culture of devotion to Krishna, one can transcend the influence of the modes. Only then is it possible for one to see things as they are and attain brahman - the constitutional position of happiness.
The modern civilisation is conducted by passion and ignorance. This means that there is very little opportunity to transcend the modes by the various activities in the society. Yet, even in the present circumstance a golden opportunity is offered in the form of congregational singing of the Hare Krishna mantra by which even the souls conditioned by the lower modes can transcend the corrupting influence of the material energy.
The material universe is a controlled by a powerful energy of Krishna called kala or time. Time incessantly moves forward, and cannot be checked. Time has a destructive influence in the material world. Things spring into existence by the influence of time and gradually are destroyed by the same influence. This is true of all the bodies, the earth, the universe itself.
Lord Maha Vishnu a plenary portion of Krishnacreates universes by His exhalation. Lord Brahma is the first created being in a universe. Each universe exists for one hundred years of Lord Brahma. He resides in the topmost planet of the universe. Lower planets of the universe are created and destroyed in a period divided into four ages called yugas. The total duration of the four yugas is called a mahayuga. The Gita states that one thousand mahayugas equivalent to 43,00,000, 000 years on earth, constitute only 12 hours of Brahma. The lower planets are created and maintained in the daytime of Brahma and destroyed during his night. At the end of Brahma’s 100 years the whole universe is annihilated. Lord Krishna says in the Gita that even attaining Brahma’s planet one has to return to the cycle of birth and death whereas one who reaches His eternal abode need take birth again.
Every dawn reduces one day in the life of a materialistic person, but for a person engaged in spiritual advancement, every dawn brings renewed hope of eternal life.
Karma: The Law of Actions and Reactions
The Bhagavad-Gita states that a human being is accountable for his actions. The propensity for action is inherent in the soul, but under the bodily conception, the soul engages in activities for material sense gratification.
There are two ways of satisfying material desires- in accordance with scriptural injunctions and in contradiction of them. Actions according to Vedic rules are termed pious and those against are deemed sinful. Performance of charity, austerities and sacrifices is considered pious. These activities not only elevate the soul to higher material prosperity but also purify the soul of material contaminations. Sinful activities like meat-eating, illicit relationships, gambling, and intoxication result in degradation of the human being and incur negative reactions that bring material suffering.
Karma is a great impulse for material actions that impel the human being to act in certain ways that the reaction of past activities may be imposed on him. Possession of any form of material body in the universe is a symptom of residual karmic reactions. Each body is predestined at birth to undergo happiness and distress as karma unfolds with time.
Our present happiness and distress are results of actions performed in past lives. Our present actions lay the ground for happiness and suffering in future lives. By our pious and impious actions throughout our different past lives, we have created uncountable reactions, by virtue of which millions of bodies lie in wait for us in the universe. For example cow killing is considered the greatest sin in human society and it is stated in scriptures that if a person eats the flesh of a cow, he has to die within the womb a million times for each hair strand on the body of the cow. The eater of the flesh of a cow can expect a future in which he won’t see the light of day for countless millions of years – a dark future indeed.
Yet, the Gita states that the effects of karma although ancient, can be eliminated in a person’s life. In The Gita, Lord Krishna states that if one acts in full surrender to Him, Heremoves all karmic reactions of uncountable past lives. Which means that when actions are performed in full surrender to Krishna, not only do they incur no reactions but also nullify all previous reactions. The Gita therefore teaches the path of freedom from the bonds of Karma. Such actions that lead to liberation from karma have been termed as buddhi yoga by Lord Krishna (Bhagavad-Gita 2.39)
The five subjects discussed in the Bhagavad-Gita are vital information for human beings to tread the path of righteousness, truth and freedom. Empowered by this knowledge, we can develop the right attitude towards existence in which we recognise Lord Krishna as the true owner and enjoyer of things, our eternal role as his servants and the means to transcend the powerful influences of the material energy, time and karma. Lord Krishna has kindly revealed these five truths in His song so that we may tread the path to our original joyful life in His eternal abode.