Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita appears as a section of 700 verses within the ancient Indian epic the Mahabharata, where the warrior prince, Arjuna, collapses in dismay at the prospect of going into battle against his own relatives. He is admonished and encouraged by his charioteer Krishna (none other than an incarnation of Vishnu), and the dialog between the two amounts to a discussion of the nature of human action and human duty, and what constitutes dharma, basically, appropriate human action. Arjuna is a warrior, and as such his duty is to fight, but he is reluctant to carry out his duty, swadharma, for reasons of personal attachment: those he must kill are his relatives. Krishna’s task is to lead Arjuna to understand that he must carry out his duty, setting aside even the most powerful of personal attachments.

Gandhi called the Gita his ”mother,” and his “spiritual reference book.”  It seems contradictory to many that a scripture that affirms the duty to kill is the basis for Gandhi’s nonviolence. But Gandhi explained that the story should not be taken literally. It means that to reach self-actualization, we must “kill” what is most dear to us, our personal attachments. Ultimately this means the extinguishing of the ego.  So the story of Arjuna on the battlefield is the story of our own inner struggle to overcome selfish impulses like anger, fear, and greed.   This is the struggle from which nonviolence springs. Gandhi further pointed out that Arjuna is not against killing on principle, but only recoils from killing his own relatives. The Gita lists ahimsa as the first of virtues, affirms the unity of life everywhere so that the yogi feels another’s joys and sorrows as his own, and explains in detail how and why to practice meditation.


Bhagavad Gita, (1985) Translation by Eknath Easwaran (Nilgiri Press, Tomales, CA)

Gandhi’s commentary on the Gita

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    By: Stephanie Van Hook

    Before joining the Metta Center Team as Executive Director, Stephanie received an M.A. in Conflict Resolution from Portland State University; was trained and certified in mediation in the state of Oregon; worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Benin, West Africa, where she created a program for girls’ empowerment and education; has taught French and English for the Alliance Francaise; and was trained in Montessori Early Childhood Education with seven years of classroom experience with 3-6 year olds. 

    She is the author of Gandhi Searches for Truth: A Practical Biography for Children (Person Power Press, 2016) and Nonviolence Daily: 365 Days of Wisdom from Gandhi (Person Power Press, 2019, co-authored with Michael Nagler).  Her articles have been published at Transformation at Open Democracy, Yes! Magazine, Common Dreams, and Waging Nonviolence. Additionally, she’s host of Nonviolence Radio, an FM and Pacifica syndicated radio program out of Point Reyes Station, California, (KWMR) and co-creator of a cooperative board game, Cosmic Peaceforce: Mission Harmony Three.

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