An Overview of the Gita’s Process of Teaching

The Bhagavad Gita has become famous for one or another aspect of its teaching without giving due regard to the fact that in the course of its 18 chapters, it systematically takes up, explains, describes and then integrates into its greater whole, a number of diverse concepts and core teachings. It is more or less treated as a buffet where the seeker is asked to come and choose something while disregarding everything else that is available. Sri Aurobindo takes issue with this methodology of understanding the Gita and reminds us that it is one teaching, presented at one time, to one disciple by one teacher and must therefore be seen as one continuous, multi-faceted development.

Seen in this light, we need then to recognize that the Gita’s teaching, while starting at a place that Arjuna can potentially understand at the outset, must necessarily grow, develop and evolve as it moves through all the different issues, facets and levels of understanding from start to finish. We need to appreciate the limitations of the process of sequential development and expression of thought and have the patience and subtlety to follow its undulations to the eventual integrating conclusions.

Necessarily, any particular concept found along the way is not the sole, ultimate or final word, but a way-station or midway point intended to shed light on one issue and bring it along in the larger final harmonious resolution. We can find the way of works, the way of devotion, the way of knowledge, as well as the way of action and the way of renunciation of action within the scope of the Gita. Each of these in fact provides us an element of the teaching but not the entirety of it.

“The Gita can only be understood, like any other great work of the kind, by studying it in its entirety and as a developing argument.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 4, The Core of the Teaching, pg. 32,