Master Study Guide: Bhagavad Gita – Chapter 1

Study Guide

Bhagavad Gita

Study Guide for Mastering Chapter 1 of Bhagavad Gita As It Is


Chapter 1 of the Bhagavad Gita As It Is, entitled “Arjuna Visada Yoga” or “Observing the Armies on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra,” sets the stage for the conversation between Arjuna, a prince and warrior, and Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who serves as Arjuna’s charioteer. The chapter establishes the context, the characters, and the central problem that leads to the spiritual discourse of the Bhagavad Gita.

Chapter Summary

In these verses, Dhṛtarāṣṭra and Sañjaya discuss the events unfolding on the battlefield of Kurukṣetra, where the Pandavas and the Kauravas are assembled, preparing for war. Sañjaya describes the strengths and positions of both armies, and the warriors on each side. The conch shells are sounded, signaling the beginning of the battle. Arjuna, however, becomes overwhelmed with compassion when he sees his friends and relatives among the enemies. He questions the morality of the war and the consequences of killing his own kin, fearing the destruction of family traditions and the rise of irreligion. Ultimately, Arjuna decides he would rather be killed unarmed and unresisting than to participate in the violence. Overcome with grief, he casts aside his bow and arrows and sits down on his chariot.

Key Concepts and Definitions

  • Arjuna Visada Yoga: Arjuna’s distress and despondency on the battlefield, which leads him to seek guidance from Krishna.
  • Kuruksetra: The battlefield where the two rival factions, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, engage in the great war.
  • Yoga: The process of linking oneself with the Supreme through various practices, with the ultimate goal of self-realization and spiritual enlightenment.

Historical Context

The Bhagavad Gita is a 700-verse text that is part of the Indian epic Mahabharata. It is a conversation that takes place on the eve of a great battle between the Pandavas, who represent righteousness, and the Kauravas, who represent deceit and unrighteousness. The text is traditionally dated around 5000 years ago, but scholarly opinions on the date of its composition vary.

Relevant Philosophical Theories and Models

  • Karma yoga: The path of selfless action, where one performs duties without attachment to the results.
  • Bhakti yoga: The path of devotion and loving service to the Supreme Lord.
  • Jnana yoga: The path of knowledge and wisdom, seeking to understand the nature of reality and the self.

Examples and Case Studies

In Chapter 1, Arjuna’s reluctance to fight the battle against his own relatives serves as a case study for the challenges we face in life when confronted with difficult moral dilemmas. It demonstrates the importance of seeking guidance from a qualified spiritual teacher.

List of Major Personalities

  • Arjuna: The protagonist of the Bhagavad Gita, a skilled warrior and prince, who is overwhelmed by the prospect of fighting his relatives in battle.
  • Krishna: The Supreme Personality of Godhead, who serves as Arjuna’s charioteer and spiritual guide, revealing the eternal principles of dharma (duty) and yoga (union with God).
  • Duryodhana: The antagonist of the Mahabharata, the leader of the Kauravas, who is blinded by greed, pride, and ambition.
  • Dhritarashtra: The blind king and father of the Kauravas, who is attached to his sons and ultimately responsible for the war.

Practical Tips for Applying the Material

  • Contemplate the significance of duty (dharma) in your own life and how you can apply the principles of the Bhagavad Gita to make better decisions.
  • Develop a daily practice of meditation or prayer to connect with the Supreme and cultivate inner peace and clarity.
  • Seek guidance from spiritual teachers and texts to navigate life’s challenges and uncertainties.

Mini Q&A

  1. Q: What is the central problem that Arjuna faces in Chapter 1 of the Bhagavad Gita?
    A: Arjuna is overwhelmed by the prospect of fighting his own relatives in battle and is uncertain about his duty.
  2. Q: Who is Krishna in the context of the Bhagavad Gita?
    A: Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who serves as Arjuna’s charioteer and spiritual guide.
  3. Q: What are the three main paths of yoga mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita?
    A: Karma yoga, Bhakti yoga, and Jnana yoga.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why does Arjuna request Krishna to position their chariot between the two armies?

A: Arjuna asks Krishna to position their chariot between the two armies so that he can assess the warriors on both sides and better understand who he must contend with in the battle. This also allows Arjuna to confront the reality of facing his own friends and relatives in the war.

Q: What concerns does Arjuna express about the consequences of the war?

A: Arjuna is deeply concerned about the potential negative consequences of the war, including the destruction of family traditions, the corruption of women, the rise of unwanted progeny, and the fall of the family’s ancestors. He fears that engaging in the battle would lead to a cycle of sin and irreligion.

Q: How is Sañjaya able to narrate the events of the battlefield to Dhṛtarāṣṭra?

A: Sañjaya is able to narrate the events of the battlefield to Dhṛtarāṣṭra through his divine vision, which allows him to witness the unfolding events at Kurukṣetra despite being physically distant from the battlefield. This divine vision is granted to him by the sage Vyasa.

List of Important Sanskrit Words

  • Dharma: Duty, righteousness, or one’s prescribed role in life according to universal principles.
  • Yoga: Union with the Supreme, or a system of practices designed to achieve spiritual realization.
  • Kuruksetra: The battlefield where the Bhagavad Gita takes place, representing the struggle between righteousness and unrighteousness.
  • Visada: Despondency or lamentation, as experienced by Arjuna in Chapter 1.

Practice Exercises and Questions

  1. What is the setting of the Bhagavad Gita, and what is the significance of this setting?
  2. Identify the main characters introduced in Chapter 1 and explain their roles in the story.
  3. Explain Arjuna’s dilemma and the reasons for his despondency on the battlefield.
  4. Discuss the relevance of the Bhagavad Gita’s message in modern times, especially in the context of moral dilemmas and decision-making.


Chapter 1 of the Bhagavad Gita As It Is provides the foundation for the spiritual teachings that follow. By understanding the context, characters, and philosophical principles introduced in this chapter, you can begin to apply the wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita to your own life and navigate moral dilemmas with greater clarity and insight. Use this study guide to delve deeper into the text and explore the timeless teachings of the Bhagavad Gita.

Recommended Resources for Further Study

  • Bhagavad Gita As It Is by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada: The full text with commentaries and explanations.
  • Bhagavad Gita with commentaries by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur, Sri Ramanuja of the Sri Sampradaya, Sri Sridhara Swami of the Rudra Sampradaya, Sri Madhvacharya of the Brahma Sampradaya, Sri Keshava Kashmiri of the Kumara Sampradaya, Sri Adi Shankaracharya of the Advaita Sampradaya, Sri Abhinavagupta of the Kaula Tantra Sampradaya.


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