Study scripture as an existential seeker, not as a historical investigator

Study scripture as an existential seeker, not as a historical investigator

Some people study scripture largely, if not entirely, from a historical perspective – they focus on when it was written, what was the general culture then, and what were the specific contexts for its statements.

Such a history-centered approach, though useful in understanding some aspects of scripture, misses its essence. Scripture essentially is divinity’s guiding revelation to humanity, offering wisdom on life and living whose relevance extends throughout history. The Bhagavad-gita (03.31) declares that its insights are eternal (avyayam) – they can offer liberation and life eternal to one and all at all times.

A trans-historical disposition is evident in the Gita itself – in the words of both the seeker Arjuna and the seer Krishna. Arjuna is confronted by a confounding historical context: indecision at the start of a fratricidal world war. Yet despite the pressures of the situation, his merely question to Krishna (02.07) is not contextual but existential: not “What should I do now?” but “What is my dharma now?” Dharma, as we know, refers to time-independent principles and practices of living.

Krishna responds to Arjuna in not historical but existential terms. He doesn’t analyze the historical context to drive home the socio-political necessity of the war. In fact, a direct call to fight occurs in the whole Gita less than half a dozen times, with no reference at all in its last six chapters. It focuses unrelentingly on perennial existential questions of identity, activity and destiny. The dharmic worldview delineated in the Gita answers the deepest questions that underlie our very existence: “Who am I? What is life? What am I meant to live for?”

If we approach the Gita in the mood of an existential seeker, not a historical investigator, we will discover it to be an unending mine of jewels of ever-fresh wisdom.

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 03 Text 31

Surrender is not giving up but letting go
When we make the sea our ground, how can we avoid being moved around?

Author: Chaitanya Charan Das

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1 Comment

  1. Yes. Till a year before I used to read about scriptures & I used to consider them as an object of study not as science to learn and follow. But ever since I joined ISKCON, I started to understand Dharma, Yoga and most importantly Krishna. This makes the historical facts irrelevant but the content and its learnings for human beings.
    Hare Krishna

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