Digest of terms

Bhagavad Gita

a section of the Hindu Mahabharata epic, composed around 200BCE, but frequently, these days perhaps generally, published separately and regarded as a scripture in its own right. It is much loved as a powerful poetic exposition of how to live, although like most scriptures it is in fact subject to divergent interpretations. The message emerges from a battlefield dialogue between Arjuna, a warrior, and Krishna, a charioteer who is subsequently revealed to be an avatar, a personified form ('incarnation') of God. They explore the respective claims of three different, perhaps complementary, pathways for living - knowledge, detached action and loving devotion to God, and these three paths typify the rich diversity of Hinduism. There remains, though, a tension - some would say contradiction - between the call to obey the caste duties of a warrior, despite the prospect of large-scale slaughter (since the souls of those killed are immortal and suffer no ultimate harm), and the pacifist reading by Gandhi, who reinterpreted the warfare issues symbolically as referring to conflicts within an individual's conscience.

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