Mahabharata, one of ancient India’s greatest epics contains the Bhagvad Gita (song-celestial) as a story. The Bhagwad-Gita has an inner and outer meaning just like the parables that Jesus taught his followers. Its setting is the field of the Kurus, or Kurukshetra, with two opposing armies, the Pandavas and the Kurus. Arjuna and Krishna can be seen fighting for what is rightfully theirs. People generally have an issue with this war backdrop. What with Krishna advising Arjuna to fight his own kin.
We see that conflict is everywhere. We’re surrounded by conflict in every walk of life. War exemplifies physically this constant struggle of dualities in life to reach harmony through conflict and resolution.
The Bhagwad-Gita is not about war in its own right. It is a way of life. Gandhi answered criticisms by saying: “Just base on the Gita sincerely and systematically and see if you find killing or even hurting others compatible with its teachings.”
Arjuna the warrior sits in his chariot conversing with his charioteer, Krishna when the Gita opens.
The Katha Upanishad explains this imagery as such:
Know the Self (atma) as the master sitting within the chariot which is the body (sarira), know again the understanding (buddhi) as the charioteer and the mind (manas) as the reins.
The senses, they say, are the horses; the objects of sense, what they range over. .
He who is ever of unrestrained mind, devoid of true understanding, his sense-desires then become uncontrollable like the wild horses of a charioteer.
But he who is ever of controlled mind, and has true understanding, his sense-desires then are controllable like the good horses of a charioteer. . . .
The desires are superior to the senses, the mind is superior to the desires, the intuition (understanding) is superior to the mind, the great Self is superior to the intuition. — I.3.3-6, 10
And then as one goes further the symbolism gets started. The wheels of the chariot for instance are very symbolic of the right effort. The destination is perfection; and the whole experience urges us to become an aspirant after truth by living life in the higher portions of ourselves.
How are we going to be in control of our own lives’ direction. This is what the second chapter talks about. This is how it goes:
A man is said to be confirmed in spiritual knowledge when he forsaketh every desire which entereth into his heart, and of himself is happy and content in the Self through the Self. His mind is undisturbed in adversity; he is happy and contented in prosperity, and he is a stranger to anxiety, fear, and anger. Such a man is called a Muni [wise man].
When in every condition he receives each event, whether favorable or unfavorable, with an equal mind which neither likes nor dislikes, his wisdom is established, and, having met good or evil, neither rejoiceth at the one nor is cast down by the other. He is confirmed in spiritual knowledge, when, like the tortoise, he can draw in all his senses and restrain them from their wonted purposes.
The hungry man loseth sight of every other object but the gratification of his appetite, and when he is become acquainted with the Supreme, he loseth all taste for objects of whatever kind. The tumultuous senses and organs hurry away by force the heart even of the wise man who striveth after perfection. Let a man, restraining all these, remain in devotion at rest in me, his true self; for he who hath his senses and organs in control possesses spiritual knowledge. — 2:55-61
Whatever our actions may be, they are karma and they generate karma. The good is rewarded and the bad will come back to haunt us. Thus, the causes of our unhappiness lie in our own mistaken ideas and acts, not in external conditions. In order to manage these things, we need to be in complete control of who we are. Also, to know exactly where we’re headed.