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Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita, or 'Lord's Song', forms part of Book VI of the Mahabharata (it is a late addition of about AD 100). Krishna is acting as charioteer to his cousin Arjuna. Before a great battle Arjuna is appalled at the thought of how many are about to die. To save them he considers surrendering and allowing himself to be slain.

Krishna dissuades him with arguments which range widely over the options and challenges facing a human being. His words have become a sacred text of Hinduism. They provide a range of mystical insights into the nature of God, and three very different routes by which a devotee can hope to escape from the repeated cycle of existence.

Of Krishna's three forms of religious commitment, two are familiar Hindu paths involving achievements attainable only by a few. They are karma-yoga (merit through the performing of good works) and jnana-yoga (merit through the insight which comes from prolonged study).

By contrast Krishna's third option is an innovation more open to everybody. It is bhakti-yoga, or merit through devotion to God. It encourages ordinary people to choose their own personal god from the Hindu pantheon. Vishnu, of whom Krishna himself is an avatar, becomes a favourite choice (see Vishnu and Krishna).

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