The Gita occupies an important position in the spiritual development of humanity and helps bridge the gap between the ancient Vedic and Upanishadic views of existence, and the needs of the social order that had developed as of the time within which the Gita takes place. Numerous different approaches to the significance of human life had by that time arisen and taken hold of the mind of humanity and, as is usual with mental formations, they tended to be opposed or in conflict with one another. What was missing was the unifying key that tied all the approaches together within a larger framework. The Gita provided that key.
The various paths of the time included one of renunciation of the outer life, sannyasa, to focus solely on an individual spiritual attainment; a path of ritual and disciplined practice intent on achieving fulfillment within the framework of the life in the world; and a path that emphasized duties based on one’s birth and position in life, and the ethical-moral order that arose from those duties. The Gita acknowledged each of these paths as legitimate expressions for those individuals drawn to each one, but at the same time, recognized that there was another path for the individual who was ready to tread it–a path of integration of the spiritual and the material, that strove for the spiritual realisation while concurrently accepting that the world was real, and that the life in the world should be transformed, not abandoned, by the spiritual realisation.
The Gita holds an important message for seekers today as well. The basic divergent paths that existed then still hold great sway today. We can add to that a purely materialistic viewpoint that denies any spiritual reality whatsoever and asks us to accept that material enjoyment and fulfillment is the most for which we can hope. Clearly the Gita’s message helps us find a way through this confused mass of conflicting philosophies.
At the same time, the Gita did not attempt to take up the transformation of the social order or civilisation as a whole, and in this area at least, it does not meet the aspiration of modern humanity.
Sri Aurobindo explains: “The solution offered by the Gita does not disentangle all the problem as it offers itself to modern mankind; as stated here to a more ancient mentality, it does not meet the insistent pressure of the present mind of man for a collective advance, does not respond to its cry for a collective life that will at last embody a greater rational and ethical and, if possible, even a dynamic spiritual ideal. Its call is to the individual who has become capable of a complete spiritual existence; but for the rest of the race it prescribes only a gradual advance, to be wisely effected by following out faithfully with more and more of intelligence and moral purpose and with a final turn to spirituality the law of their nature.”
Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 23, The Core of the Gita’s Meaning, pg. 549