The Story of The Bhagavad Gita: What Is It About?

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Bhagavad Gita" by Eknath Easwaran. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the story of The Bhagavad Gita? What is this famous Hindu text about what lessons does it offer?

The story of The Bhagavad Gita is that of Arjuna, leader of the Pandavas. Arjuna doesn’t want to go into battle against his own family, and finds guidance through his meeting with the god Krishna.

Read more about the story of The Bhagavad Gita and what it means.

The Story of The Bhagavad Gita

The story of The Bhagavad Gita is one part of the Mahabharata, an ancient Sanskrit story that’s one of the oldest known epics. The Gita is one of the most famous pieces of Hindu literature, and the lessons it teaches are central to that faith. As a cultural touchstone and a spiritual guide, scholars consider it one of the most important ancient texts in the world. The translation and commentary by Eknath Easwaran help even those who aren’t learned in Hindu mythology to understand its teachings. The book can help you work toward understanding The Bhagavad Gita.

The Bhagavad Gita takes place just before a great battle between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, two factions from the same dynasty who are fighting over the throne of the kingdom of Hastinapura. They have met at the field of Kurukshetra for the great battle to decide the inheritance.

Arjuna, who leads the Pandavas, is conflicted because he doesn’t want to fight against his own family. He turns to his childhood friend and charioteer Krishna, who is actually an incarnation of the god Vishnu, for advice. 

Krishna’s advice comprises the vast majority of the Gita—“Bhagavad Gita” means “song of God.” He begins by discussing dharma, what we might call destiny, and tells Arjuna that it’s his dharma to fight. Krishna then moves into discussions of the difference between reality and illusion—anything that’s of the physical, temporary world isn’t real. The only reality is divinity, which Arjuna’s weapons can’t harm, so he should have no qualms about fighting.

From there, Krishna moves into a discussion of his own nature as God; how all things came from him and he exists in everything. He discusses how the path to enlightenment involves recognizing that truth and seeing that all things are connected through God. This leads to selfless action in the literal sense—acting without thought or care for oneself, focused only on God.

The ultimate goal of these lessons is to help Arjuna break free from samsara, the cycle of reincarnation. However, in the short term, they serve to soothe Arjuna’s doubts and ready him for the battle to come.

Understanding The Bhagavad Gita and the story can help you make sense of the lessons in the text.

The Story of The Bhagavad Gita: What Is It About?

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Bhagavad Gita summary :

  • The key principles of the Hindu faith
  • Why all spirituality is good and there is no single path to God
  • The 3 reasons that can explain every action people take

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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