The Bhagavad Gita: Part 1 – Quick! Summarize the longest novel ever written!

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Hello dear friends.

Well I’m back from India and am still processing and resettling and freaking out a bit and screwing my head back on straight. I’m settling in a new town; Ottawa, for a while, trying to find opportunities to teach yoga and make a little money for my next adventures. Ottawa is not without its charm though regaling you with stories of my daily trip to the coffee shop where I agonize vociferously over the particular non-dairy substitute I add to my cappuccino would make a pretty lousy travelogue. And though my spiritual life is hardly place dependent, most of my inner work for the next little while will likely be a sort of quiet integration into the vicissitudes of day to day urban life, which is interesting, but requires a bit of context in order for it to be enjoyable to write about.

So I figured I’d change my plan with this blog for the next little while. Essentially it will shift its tone to being more exclusively about the philosophy, psychology and mythology of Yoga. A subject which is very interesting to me, though it may interest some of you a great deal less then my clumsy misadventures in the Himalayas. So be it. If you’d prefer to look at pictures of a bendy dude doing fun bendy things my instagram is joelbeauchampyoga and I can promise high-quality bendiness and no philosophy of any kind!

However! Should you decide to stick it out with me here at the Supernormalblog I promise that I will keep the high falutin metaphysical abstraction to a minimum and do my best to keep things plain and relatable with maybe a pseudo-intellectual flight of fancy here and there because that’s just how I am sometimes.

I figure for each blog post I will pick either a text, or some broader body of knowledge from the yogic lexicon, and attempt to apply it’s wisdom to my own life. For me the word yoga encompasses a very broad window of definition, so it could be just about anything from the canons of philosophy, religion, psychology or latter day navel gazing woo. At the end of the post I’ll announce what I’ll be studying for the next post in case you care to read along.

Today we’re going to start at the beginning.

The Bhagavad Gita; book 1.

So this is the part where I summarize the backstory of one of the most complex and multifaceted works of human history, here goes nothing.

The Bhagavad Gita is a very small part of an absolutely gigantic hindu epic called The Mahabharata. It’s sort of like the Hindu version of The Iliad, though it’s also considered to be an important religious text. There are so many micro and meta narratives embedded into the Mahabharata and so many characters in it’s pantheon that any summary of them would (and some do) easily run the length of a short novel. Luckily for us we only really need to get to know 2 of them. Arjuna and Krishna.

Arjuna is a prince, but he’s not just any prince. Before he was born, his dad Pandu, king of the Kurus, shot a pair of deer while they were making sweet love. It turns out the deer were really a holy man called Kindama and his wife who liked to become deers when they did their thing.

Who wouldn’t.

Well, shooting a holy man with the power to transform into a deer is obvy bad news and old Kindama placed a curse on Pandu such that if he ever tried to make sweet love to his 2 wives, he would drop dead. Well it just so happens that his first wife Kunti had, as a young lady, been granted a mantra that could summon a god of her choice to conceive a child with her. After Pandu’s curse, Kunti used the mantra 3 times and Pandu’s other wife Madri used it once, but on twin gods, and Pandu wound up with 5 sons, collectively known as the Pandavas. Arjuna is the 3rd of the 5 sons. These are the good guys.

Pandu had an older brother, Dhritarashtra. Ordinarily the oldest son in a royal lineage would inherit the crown but Dhritarashtra was born blind so it was decided that Pandu would be king instead. Dhritarashtra’s wife Gandhari would eventually give birth to a superheavy greyish lump which she then divided into 100 pieces, each of which she placed in a clay pot. The little pieces incubated in the pots and grewinto Dhritarashtra’s 100 children, the Kauravas. The bad guys. After Pandu had the curse placed on him he handed the kingdom back over to Dhritarashtra and went into seclusion in the forest where he would eventually die making it with his wife.

This made the process of succession a bit confusing and it fell to Dhritarashtra to declare an heir. Under pressure from his council he chose the virtuous Yudhisthira, Pandu’s oldest son, rather then his own son, the not-so-virtuous Duryodhana. Duryodhana loses his shit over this and vows to reclaim what he sees as his rightful inheritance. After an unsuccessful attempt on their lives the Pandavas go into hiding.

While in hiding, Arjuna wins the heart of the lovely Draupadi. When he takes his bride-to-be home to meet his mother Kunti one of his brothers announces that Arjuna has brought something he’d like to show them. Without looking, Kunti shouts out that whatever he has brought he must share it with his brothers. Rather then passing it off as a hilarious misunderstanding, as you might imagine the sane thing would be, all 5 brothers marry Draupadi.

Of course, polyandry was in no way a socially accepted familial arrangement in vedic India, but I guess if you’re descended from the gods and trying to really pound out a good metaphor then the rules get a bit murky.

Shortly thereafter, the brothers return to the kingdom and Dhritarashtra decides that to squash the beef they’ll split the kingdom. The brothers graciously accept and build a glorious palace on their new land. They invite the Kauravas over for a little diplomatic housewarming, but the palace is so glorious that Duryodhana keeps mistaking the glistening, glossy floors for pools of water and refuses to step on them. When he is informed of his error he walks into an actual pond thinking it will support his weight and gets all wet. It seems to me like a bit of an interior design fail to design a public space in this way, but everyone laughs at Duryodhana for being injured by an obviously intentional optical illusion he was conveniently misinformed of while a guest in their home. He is upset by this and starts to devise a devilish scheme with which to exact his revenge.

It turns out that Yudhisthira, though otherwise a paragon of virtue, is a bit of a gambling addict. Duryodhana manages to arrange a dice game between Yudhisthira and their uncle Shakuni. The game is rigged and Yudhisthira winds up gambling away all of his wealth, his kingdom, his wife and the freedom of himself and his 5 brothers. Dhritarashtra decides to put a stop to the obviously crooked game and gives the brothers back their freedom but for some reason Yudhisthira agrees to play again. The outcome is that the brothers are sent into exile for 13 years.

While in exile Arjuna has a bunch of psychedelic adventures, meditates alot, meets Shiva on the top of a mountain, acquires a telekinetic weapon capable of destroying the whole world, and hangs out with his father, Indra, in his palace, in heaven.

They try to return after their 13 years in exile, Duryodhana refuses to allow them to, and war is declared.

At this point it is necessary to introduce our 2nd interlocutor, Lord Krishna.

Krishna is an extremely complicated figure. There are numerous differing accounts of his life, qualities and exploits in a vast canon of literature that includes, in addition to this one, the important religious texts the Bhagavata Purana, the Vishnu Purana, and the Harivamsa. On one level Krishna is god. On another he is the eighth avatar of the god Vishnu. On yet another he is a powerful prince and Arjunas closest advisor and best bud.

We can talk more about what Krishna is all about later, but at this point in the story we find Arjuna and Krishna standing at the front of an enormous army on the field of Kurukshetra, preparing to do battle with Arjuna’s estranged family. Arjuna is despondent. You see, it’s not just his devilish cousins that he is about to go to war with. Duty and propriety have led his beloved uncle Bhishma, his teacher and mentor Drona and countless other friends and family members, to side with his cousins. Yet it seems that fate has tied his hands in the matter. Duty, honor, history, even causality have led him to this place. His very karma dictates that he must fight, but he’s starting to lose his cool. He asks Krishna to rig up his chariot and together they drive it into the centre of the field of Kurukshetra, between the 2 vast armies, establishing the central metaphor of the forthcoming text and this is where The Bhagavad Gita begins.

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We’ll begin the ACTUAL text of The Bhagavad Gita in the next post. The first half of the first chapter contains alot of exposition with big lists of names like that time you tried to read the bible from the beginning and stopped after like the 3rd page. The real meat of the thing starts in the 2nd chapter. So lets say we’ll do chapters 1 – 2 next.

Hope this works! Like I said if your idea of yoga is more about bendy pics interspersed with pictures of fermented vegetables I got lots of em on instagram at joelbeauchampyoga.

Love you all.
Sorry bout the wait.

OM