Scriptures are indispensable to all religions. They save religions from mutation and from extinction. That faith which has no gospel for its guidance gets lost in a series of transformations. Finally it disintegrates and loses its individuality. But a faith that draws sanction and inspiration from a sacred book is able to hold its own. It has in such a holy document authoritative statements to encounter the opposition and meet the attacks of the heterodox. All the religions of the world that have endured the ravages of time and of transformation have their own scriptures for anchorage. That the Bible is the scripture of the Christians is well known even to those beyond the pale of the Christendom. The Quraan remains ever associated with the followers of the Islamic religion. The scripture of the enlightened utterances of the Buddha, known as the Dammapada. The followers of all the other important religions may also be said to be more familiar with their sacred books than with their kith and kin. But the case of the Hindu is different. Among the followers of different paths, he alone is bewildered in regard to this question. He does not know which book he may term his scripture. If a mention is made of the Vedas he confesses he has never had occasion to see or handle such books as these, let alone the question of getting acquainted with their contents. Many a Hindu, may mention with some hesitance this or that as the sacred book from which he draws inspiration and guidance. But one who is widely read in the Hindu lore wavers before making a pronouncement of this kind. This dilemma is due to the immensity of the Hindu scriptures. The popular conviction is that the Vedas are the direct or indirect sources of all the sacred books pertaining to Hinduism. Several portions of the Vedas are said to have become extinct in the march of time. But the cream of the Vedas in the Upanishads, and these have been piously guarded both against extinction and mutilation. All the systems of philosophy in India derive their inspiration and authority from these Upanishads. They are also called the Forest books because of the environment in which they became revealed to the sages, popularly known as Rishis. A synopsis and classification of the contents of the Upanishads goes by the name of the Brahma Sutras or the Vedanta Sutras. These Sutras are aphorisms elucidating the Vedanta Philosophy. These aphorisms are somewhat it is rather difficult to follow them. But the position of the third book called the Bhagavad Gita is different. It is the essence of the Upanishads, not in the sense it is all condensed into terse form, but in the sense that the Vedanta Philosophy is made easy of understanding. When the Upanishads are compared to cows, the Bhagavad Gita takes the position of their milk. When one has plenty of milk at one's disposal one need not undergo the laborious task of maintaining cows. One who has studied and understood the Bhagavad Gita may be said to have caught the cardinal teachings of the Upanishads.
These three books, namely the Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita are called the Scriptural Trinity-Prasthanatrayam. They constitute the final authority on scriptural matters. There is no conflict of views among these three. The elucidation of the ultimate Reality and the means of realizing It are categorically stated in these books. If a question is raised as to which is the scriptural authority in Hinduism, the answer is: this trinity. There is not a single cardinal point in Hinduism that is not touched in these books. Elaborate treatment of particular aspects of spirituality such as Bhakti and Yoga may be found in other books. But they are explanations of what are pithily stated in the Scriptural Trinity. If ever a conflict arises between the statements in the Prasthanatrayam and other sacred books, the verdict of the former alone is traditionally accepted as final.
The Mahabharata or the Great Epic is held to be the fifth Veda. The Bhagavad Gita finds a place in this stupendous record of human activities, aspirations and achievements. Chapters twenty-five to forty-two of the Bhishma Parva constitute this immortal discourse. It contains, therefore, eighteen chapters. The verses number seven hundred. Among modern scholars there are those who hold that the Bhagavad Gita is an interpolation in the Mahabharata. But the internal evidence does not bear any testimony to this contention. Both in diction and in development of the subject there is homogeneity running all through. The philosophy of the Gita explained and expanded becomes the Mahabharata. Conversely, Mahabharata condensed into philosophy becomes Gita. What the heart is to the human body, the Gita is to this Great Epic. So any attempt to trace a separate origin to the Song Celestial serves no purpose.
The period of exile was over for the Pandavas. They had faithfully fulfilled all the hard terms imposed on them for the sin of gambling. They were now entitled to get back the extensive empire legitimately belonging to them. But the covetous Kaurava cousins bluntly refused to part with even an inch of land Sri Krishna, the universally revered One, came to intervene as a mediator. He, the impartial One, pleaded with the Kauravas to be fair to the heirs-apparent to the throne. He even reminded them of the deadly consequences of a ruthless war if it should ensue. But greed born of blindness and covetousness would not see eye to eye with fairness. Persuading the usurpers to take time and reconsider, Sri Krishna, the well-wisher of all, returned to Dwaraka, his capital.
Conciliation seemed well nigh impossible. Vigorous mobilization started on either side. Finally, the rivals had recourse to the very Person who came to mediate. Being omniscient Sri Krishna could know that they were both hastening to seek his help. In his turn he hastened to stage a setting befitting the occasion. In his bed chamber he posed a slumber. A solitary chair was placed behind his head. Arjuna was the first to enter. He could have occupied that seat; but he did not do so. He preferred to stand reverentially beside the Lord's feet until he woke up. Duryodhana, the head of the uncompromising Kauravas, appeared next. With characteristic arrogance he occupied the vacant chair. Now Sri Krishna woke up. If was but natural that his eyes should fall first on Arjuna. Then followed an eventful conversation between them, in which help was promised to the Pandavas. The presence of Duryodhana in the chamber was then made known to the Lord who was still in a reclining posture on the cot. He sat up, turned round and welcomed that sworn enemy of the Pandavas. In his turn Duryodhana also sought help from Kesava. Strangely enough he was also assured help. Sri Krishna's entire manpower and material resources were placed on one side, and he himself unarmed offered to be on the other side, Now the belligerent brothers were allowed to choose between the two, each according to his inclination. Arjuna's choice fell on Sri Krishna, solitary and unarmed though he was. Now the other applicant breathed a sigh of relief because he could get exactly what he wanted. He believed entirely in armament and mobilization; whereas Arjuna and his brothers subordinated power of arms and prowess of man to God's grace. The consequences of these differing choices are too well known to require elucidation. Those who believed exclusively in the sinews of war and in earthly possessions perished along with them. But those who surrendered themselves to the will of God and acted for His glory gained both the here and the hereafter.
Until he made his appearance on the battlefield Arjuna was actually panting for a deadly encounter with the wicked. He was erstwhile a stranger to doubts and despair. Just as an arrow darts through a cobweb, he had easily waded through several meshes in life. The caliber he was made of knew no problem that could not be solved. Even the combat that he was once obliged to have with Mahadeva, the Great God was no strain to him. Vijaya or born-conqueror as he was, he was wont to take all issues easy. He had not for a moment stopped to ponder over the conviction was that the man who dared to oppose him opposed righteousness itself. Impatiently he asked Sri Krishna to drive his car in between the two arrayed armies so that he might have a glance at those who were on the side of the sinful warmongers. The unswerving Charioteer took this opportunity to put to test the valour as well as the power of understanding of this accredited 'bull among men.' He drove the chariot just in front Bhishma the grandsire and Drona the revered preceptor. They were both, till then, persons worthy of veneration to Arjuna. Was it possible to switch on to a counter attitude at a moment's notice? Arjuna was between the horns of a dilemma. He became perplexed. To fight or to flee was the question which he could not decide. Life always gristles with problems of varying magnitude. They are as incessant as waves on the sea. Individuals solves them, each according to his discernment and ability. This process of surmounting problems constitutes progress in life. But sooner or later a major crisis crops up, proving itself insurmountable. Valour and worldly wisdom are of no avail to meet it. Self-knowledge inspired by Divine Grace alone can equip a person to overcome the crisis. Arjuna, magnificently equipped as he was for the battle of life, now found himself unequal to the challenge of the situation. He was therefore now obliged to seek that enlightenment which would help him probe into the mystery of life and tide over the difficulty.
Brahma Sutras (81)
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