Life Lessons from the Bhagavad Gita: Krishna and Arjuna, Guru and Disciple

Like many of the Indian sacred texts, the 700 verses of the Bhagavad Gita are arranged in a conversational format. It is a small section of a larger epic work called the Mahabharata. The two main speakers are Krishna and Arjuna.

Let's take a minute to get to know both, Arjuna first. Arjuna is a great warrior. He is the general of the army of the Pandavas, the "good guys,” who are engaged in an epic battle with the "bad guy" Kauravas. Arjuna is the best warrior, the most skilled, the most virtuous, the wisest, and the bravest. In the Bhagavad Gita, he is about to go into battle and suddenly gets cold feet. He freezes and is unable to fight. He reaches out to Krishna for help. Krishna is his chariot driver. Krishna is also God. Krishna is also Arjuna's Sadguru, his spiritual master.

Krishna and Arjuna here embody the archetypal Guru and Disciple, but on an even deeper level, they embody the very heart of human spirituality. Arjuna is the voice of the seeker. His is the voice of our humanity. His voice is our voice as we reach out for Divine support and guidance. He is the embodiment of our strength, our valor, our worldly skill, our bravery. He is also the embodiment of our frailty as human beings. He gives a voice to our confusion, to our ignorance. He also gives a voice to our devotion and our willingness to learn, grow, and transform.

The name Bhagavad Gita translates as the Song of the Lord. Krishna's voice in the Gita is the voice of the Absolute. His is the voice of the Source of the universe. His voice is the voice of our own Divine Essence, our own deeper, steady Heart wisdom. Krishna is there for us as a form of God to relate to, to look to, to listen to. He is there to guide Arjuna. He is there to guide us.

If you examine your own heart, you will see how this basic relationship has been there since the beginning of your spiritual journey. There is "you," the seeker, the questioner, the one who needs help. And then there is “God.” Whether you believe in God or not, there is something out there to which the questioner questions. There is a Force or a Goodness or a Grace that we all reach out to, that we all long for the blessing of in some way. Isn't it true there is something in you that reaches out for unseen help? Even if you don't pray formally, you probably pray with your feelings, in your silence. At least you do when you’re in big trouble.

In the Gita, the quiet unspoken prayers we wish in the dark of the night are articulated into a deep and involved conversation. Krishna lays out in 18 chapters a sophisticated and holistic philosophy and system of practice that can be a part of our healing process. "Healing what?," you might ask. Healing the divide between Krishna and Arjuna. The philosophy and system of practice outlined in the Gita is about healing the divide between our humanity with all of its ups and downs, and our Divinity—the innate, unconditional, unwavering sacred power that dwells within us.

The Sanskrit word sadhana refers to this process of reuniting these parts. In the beginning of sadhana we are there asking for help, longing for the presence of the Sacred in our lives. At the end of sadhana, we realize we are that Sacred Power. We realize we are Arjuna, and we are Krishna too. The Bhagavad Gita is a book about sadhana. Krishna is singing us a song about our own ultimate transformation.

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Excerpted with permission from On the Field of Dharma: Life Lessons from the Bhagavad Gita.