Few years back, I started to attend the Sunday morning discourses at HTGC temple in Lemont, Illinois. This early morning gathering consisted of a small group of students interested in Vedanta and at that time, was in the middle of listening to recorded discourses of Swami Paramarthananda. I joined the group when they were in in the middle of 16th Chapter of Baghwat Gita. After the completion of Baghwat Gita , the group proceeded to other Vedantic discourses (Atma Bodha, Tatva Bodha etc.) and I continued to attend these discourses. I never did go back to first 16 chapters of Baghwat Gita as I was more interested in Upanishads and Rig Veda; my reptilian brain considered Upanishads and Rig Veda to be superior and more sacred. Understanding the abstract verses of Rig Veda is one of my primary goals and I believed only Upanishads can provide the foundation towards that goal. Swami Paramarthananda has given extensive discourses of Upanishads in English and I was drawn to these discourses by his knowledge of scriptures. I found his teachings to be very logical and his sense of humor made it little bit easy to understand Vedanta (concepts elaborated in Upanishads). I started to listen to these discourses at home, while continuing the discourses at the temple every Sunday.
When I visited Chennai this summer, I got the privilege of meeting Swami Paramarthananda. During our discussions, Swami Paramarthananda inquired the extent of my Vedantic studies. When my list did not include the completion of Baghwat Gita, he stated that the study of Baghwat Gita is very important. While it was not a command, he made it clear that the study of Baghwat Gita is the per-requisite for Vedantic studies.
After I returned home to Chicago area, I started to listen to the summary of Baghwat Gita by Swami Paramarthananda. I listened only to the summary of each chapter (18 chapters, one hour each); I wanted some basic understanding of Baghwat Gita and was not ready to devote the 250 hours required for the detailed discourse of each verse. After listening to the summaries, I realize why the study of Baghwat Gita is important. It provides practical guidance for many aspects of one’s life. It gives a path to liberation (moksham) – one may not be able to follow that path, but a path is given nevertheless. Baghwat Gita’s spiritual guidance may require faith, but teachings related daily life of humans are timeless and do not require faith – they are practical today and will remain practical for ever. While parts of it may have religious implications, other parts do not. It shed more light on the concepts enumerated in Upanishads I have studied so far.
This limited study also gave me a clue on how and why the ancient way of schooling (called Guru Kulam – where the student goes and lives with the teacher and learns the scriptures) in the subcontinent was successful for thousands of years. Baghwat Gita – which was part of the curricula at these Guru Kulams, provided the guidance for the students not only to learn but also to lead a dharmic life – a life governed by the righteousness. The logic behind the Vedantic philosophies of Upanishads are impeccable; the teachings of Baghwat Gita is simple, direct and practical.