Gita Chapter 1- The Field Of Karma And Dharma

Arjun Accepts Krishna As His GuruHaving understood the qualification for studying the Gita, we are now ready to start learning the main topics of the first chapter of the Gita, starting with the first verse.

The first word of the Gita (chapter 1, verse 1) is ‘dharmakshetre’, which means ‘in the field of dharma’. At the time Shree Krishna spoke these words, He was in the Kurukshetra battlefield; so it might seem obvious that He was referring to Kurukshetra, where a dharmic war was about to take place, as the ‘field of dharma‘. However, the ‘field of dharma‘ refers not only to Kurukshetra, but also to the world as a whole. The whole world being the field of dharma is an integral concept of Hindu philosophy. You could also say that the whole world is the field of karma – both ideas are interrelated.

The Field Of Karma

The world we live in is the field of karma because as long as we are here in this world, we are bound by the law of karma. The law of karma means that whatever actions we perform, anywhere in this world, we must receive the consequences. We are ‘bound’ by this law, because there is no escape from it and no way to circumvent it. Wherever we go in this world, the spiritual government (God) is watching our every thought, word and deed, categorizing all of it as good or bad (according to the intention behind it) and then arranging for us to receive the consequences in the form of good or bad destiny (in our future lives). Thus, this world is the field where we perform our actions, and it is the field in which we receive the consequences, so it is the field of karma.

The Field Of Dharma

This whole world is also called the field of dharma, because not only are we being held accountable for all our karma, but there is a recommended course of action for us. That recommended course of action is called dharma. If we follow dharma, then we move in a positive direction – we improve ourselves. If we do not follow dharma, then we move in a negative direction. So living in this world is an opportunity to improve ourselves by following the path of dharma as recommended in the Vedas. Thus, it is called the field of dharma (for more information on the Vedas and dharma, see my earlier post on Ved-The Foundation Of Sanatan Dharm and, Upnishads – The Essence Of Vedic Knowledge.

Dharma is of two kinds: the recommended actions for living a good life in the world, and the recommended actions for attaining God. The first kind of dharma is called apar dharma and leads to peace of mind in this life and improved prosperity in the next life. The second kind of dharma is called par dharma and leads to God realization, the attainment of ultimate Bliss, and freedom from rebirth. While apar dharma is limited to this transitory world and can only give temporary happiness, it is nonetheless important because it regulates people’s behavior so there can be peace and harmony in the family and society. Yet, it is still only a preliminary dharma. If someone wants everlasting, perfect happiness, then they must graduate to the par dharma. This is the path to God, also called bhakti. It is the supreme dharma of all the souls, and it is the main topic of the Gita, which will be discussed in detail in later chapters.

In the next post Gita Chapter 1-Duty Vs. Attachment, I will discuss why Arjun was confused about what his dharma was, and what the relationship is between duty and attachment.

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