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Tradition has it that Vyasa - also Veda-Vyasa - composed the Bhagavad Gita and the Mahabharata epos, of which the Bhagavad Gita is a minor part.

Life and Exploits of Vyasa according to Tradition

On the bank of the river Ganges lived the charming maiden Satyavati. She was the daughter of the chief of the fishermen's tribe (an aboriginal princess), and took sages across the river in her boat.

Satyavati used to smell unpleasantly, but one day she ferried the rishi (seer-sage) Parashara across the river. He took a liking to her and blessed her with a sweet aroma and a son who was named Krishna Dwaipayana because he was to be dark (krishna) and born on an island (dwaipayana, meaning 'island-born') in the Yamuna River, Uttar Pradesh. He was also given the title Vyasa (compiler, arranger) later.

Vyasa, Veda Vyasa, Krishna Dwaipayana, Badarayana. Traditional depiction.
Vyasa grew up and left his mother the day he was born, tradition holds.

Vyasa grew up quickly and left for the forest the day he was born. But he - later known as Veda Vyasa, or the arranger (splitter) of the Vedas into four parts - promised his mother that he would come back whenever he was called for.

Vyasa mastered the Vedas. It is said that he dictated the entire epic at a stretch while the elephant-headed Ganesh acted as the scribe. Vyasa also played a central role in the unfolding story he wrote by appearing and disappearing on the scene whenever his mother or her family members sought his help. He solved their problems.

But before that Vyasa grew up in forests living with hermits. Next he lived in the forests near the river Sarasvati and became a teacher and a priest. During that period he fathered a son and disciple, Suka, and gathered a large group of disciples. Late in life, living in caves in the Himalayas, he portioned the ancient Veda songs into four books, composed very many and long Puranas works, and composed the poetic work Mahabharata in two and a half years.

It was at this stage he supposedly dictated to a god with a pot-bellied, human body and an elephant head on top. This was carried through because God the Creator (Brahma) asked Vyasa to enlist the elephant-headed god, Ganesh, as his scribe. The elephant head was a replacement for a head that had been cut off by his father in a rash moment, when the boy, Ganesh, had hindered him from entering the room of his mother to have sex with her even though she was unwilling at the time, and had asked her boy to be at the door as her sentry. To recompense the heinous deed the father said they could send servants into the forest and give the boy the head of the first corpse they found. That happened to be an elephant. This belief is part of the tradition too, and the brave, pot-bellied god with an elephant head is venerated as a giver of success [Clh].

Vyasa is credited with writing the long poem, but it is perhaps more likely that he compiled existing material. It is the bharata form of 24,000 verses that is ascribed to Veda-Vyasa specifically. The bharata "of realism, wisdom and compassion" later swelled several times in the hands of others and became the Mahabharata, that is, the large bharata.

The final author, or editor, is taken to be a Brahmin [Xmi 61]. With the poem's three editions, three beginnings and a long process of making of 800 years or so, it is held that there is really no single author. [Xmi 56, 61]

However, the author could also be one of the long-lived ones. Many yogis are credited with being able to live on and on for long. In the Yoga Vasistha a long-lived one tells some of his secrets. Extracts follow:

The long-lived yogi

Vasistha says there is no time but the Shining One, Brahma. This Wisdom is imperishable, yet all beings do not try to attain it and are downcast. Worthless ones will kill their time, but will not try to find the imperishable True Wisdom. Dangers are caused by the ignorant.

To understand and see this universe as Brahma, alone is the emancipation. All varieties of things, whether large or small, are only Brahma.

Those who act according to truth, will enjoy the Brahmic state, which is filled with truth, quietness and equality.

There are methods of Yoga to overcome dire pains.

Vasistha tells: "Once I heard of the long-lived yogi Bhusunde, who was said to be the longest lived yogi in the world. I was very eager to go and see him personally. So I did. I came before the long-lived yogi. He was in perfect silence, without any motion of prana (vital force) and was enjoying bliss within himself. He welcomed me with kind words and beautiful bunches of flowers which he produced by the power of his thought and showed me much kindness and courtesy.

I said: 'I came here to see you, who have been here a very long time.'

The long-lived one replied: 'Once a crow by the name of Chanda went to celebrate a great festival in the sky, where they dance and laugh with intoxication. Chanda joined with a female swan, and the swan became pregnant. What will not be blessed by the Brahmic bliss?

'At this place my brothers and sisters lived for many yugas (many times four million years). At last my brothers and sisters wearied of the body and gave it up for liberation. They disappeared at will.

'Do you think that action of nature will ever stop? ...

Vasistha interrupted him and asked: 'By Dharana [yogically focused mind] you preserved long life, while other yogis perished?'

The long-lived one answered: 'No, they did not perish, but they got tired of the burden of the human body and gave it up at will.'

'I was witness to the origin of the sun, but you should know there have been countless Avatars (Christs), and it is difficult to count their number.

'I have seen the universe come and go.'

Vasistha asked: 'How did you save yourself from the hands of death?'

The long-lived one answered: 'Death will not come to those who have reached the highest divine state by daily meditation; death will not come to those who have attained the non-dual state. The mind should be kept on the way to reaching the highest state, where no differentiation of this or that exists. Reaching this state - it is all Bliss without pain ... wisdom is the way which leads to the state of highest bliss, the control of prana, which is the way to control old age and death.'

Vasistha asked him, 'Will you please explain what it means to control prana?'

The long-lived one answered: 'There are two vital forces, Prana and Apana. When these forces are arrested [the yogic way], then the yogi may do some wonderful things. When Prana and Apana become as one, there will be no more pain or death. I followed this course. I attained the Supreme State. I do not care for the past nor the future, but only the present. I am one with the whole universe.'

[Capsules from Rishi Singh Gherwal's Yoga Vasisth, the chapter "The Long-Lived Yogi - The Secret of His Longevity"]

Stories Ascribed to Veda-Vyasa

Vyasa (Veda-Vyasa, and Krishna-Dvaipayana) is believed to have written a great amount of works. A group of them are the Hindu Purananas. They are long stories intended for people who could not go into high Sanskrit philosophy with its intricacies. Stories from eighteen main Puranas and just as many subsidiary Puranas were told in markets and other common places, and intertwined in the stories there were norms and proverbial sayings, and much else. Vyasa is credited with writing the eighteen major Puranas, if not all of them. And his son Shuka is the narrator of the major Purana, the Bhagavata-Purana.

NOT STRICT CONSISTENCY: Six Puranas glorify Brahma, six Vishnu, and six Shiva. In the Shiva Purana, Shiva is highly eulogised and Vishnu is put in an inferior position and sometimes belittled. In the Vishnu Purana it is the other way round; Hari (Vishnu) is highly eulogised and Shiva is given an inferior position - by the same author - Some suggest that Vyasa was not just a single person but a class of scholars.

SHAREWARE TALES ABOUND: Not a few ancient stories are shareware among different Puranas, and further. For example, a story of the fire-god Agni from the still older Vedas, reappears in the Srimat Bhagavata (about Vishna as Krishna), with Krishna presented as the main character of the obviously adapted story, and so on.

That one single author is credited with up to thirty-six works that hail different gods on turn, in part with shared stories where different gods are interchanged as "top-dogs" - could it help to understand him somewhat - or perhaps a tradition seeking credibility for works by ascribing them to some greatly respected personage of the past?

FANTASTIC TALES: According to a long epic poem that Vyasa himself dictated and Hindus revere, Vyasa was born on the same day as his mother conceived, grew up in one day, understood life very well and soon walked away from there, while his mother still looked exactly like a virgin after giving birth to him. This is made plain in the very first part (parva) of the ancient epic poem Mahabharata, which Vyasa wrote - or as tradition has it: The epic poem was dictated by Vyasa himself to a success-giving god with an elephant head on top of his pot-bellied human form. The ancient god with an elephant head on his shoulders, is revered - under such names as Ganesh, Ganesa, Ganesha, Ganapati, Vinayaka, and Pillaiyar - as a remover of obstacles, though traditionally he also places obstacles in the path of those who need to be checked. Now, there are many ancient tales on how pot-bellied Ganesh has an elephant head and what those features stand for through variants of symbol-making. [Wikipedia, s.v. "Ganesha"].

Everything in ancient scriptures should hardly be taken literally, such as greatly different stories about one and the same god and his attributes - such as having two to sixteen arms. And it often shows up that people embellish stories after some time until there are variants and widely divergent tales too. In Hindu art, some attributes of Ganesh and other gods and goddesses have been codified and more unified, but a variety of tales surround many gods and goddesses anyway. In one of them Ganesh has a mouse to ride on. Such a feat is taken symbolically. Be that as it may, human tendencies of "swelling" or aggrandizing and entering the fantastic or surreal might be considered along with different interpretations of myths and what different gods and their features and tales could mean symbolically. Many do not go into all that, and instead worship the representations very earnestly.

Prolific Authorship

The earliest portions of the Mahabharata are estimated to date from roughly the 4th century BC, when writing was introduced to India. Yet there is some evidence that writing may have been known in India between 1100 BC and 700 BC.

Not only the Vedas, the Mahabharata, and the Puranas are attributed to Vyasa; the Brahma Sutra too is attributed to him. And that makes Vyasa the proponent of the crest-jewel school of Hindu philosophy, that is, Vedanta. As the island on which Vyasa was born is said to have been covered by Badara (Indian jujube) trees, he is also known as the Badarayana who wrote the Sutras. Yet some historians think Vyasa and Badarayana were two different personalities.

Vyasa is also credited with a commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

What Could Be Worthy Gita Training Here?

It is fit to learn to find, sort, and handle sources as to their probable worth somehow, and strive to consider and judge (evaluate) on top of substantial evidence. Blind faith is seldom needed. Nor is just as blind denial. Compare: "Twin fools: One believes anything and the other nothing (American proverb)." If we lack solid evidence, we have to keep this well in mind: It is just as wrong to dismiss a thing for lack of good evidence as believing it blindly, gullibly. Fair modesty is a good thing to possess. Feel free to keep difficult theoretical problems in suspense, avoiding getting emotionally involved. That is a side to vairagya, evenminded non-attachment, which the Gita praises. Science too.

Further, to be sceptical is fit in both Buddhism, general science, sides of Vedanta (that part of Hinduism), and for hearsay. Buddha:

Do not believe anything just because it has been passed along and retold for many generations – because it has become a traditional practice – simply because it is well-known everywhere – just because it is cited in a text – solely on the grounds of logical reasoning – merely because it accords with your philosophy – because it appeals to "common sense" – because of preconceived notions – because the speaker seems trustworthy and acceptable – thinking, "This is what our teacher says." . . .

But when you yourselves directly know, "These [and these] things are wholesome, blameless, praised by the wise; when adopted and carried out they lead to well-being, prosperity and happiness," then you should accept and practise them. [From the Kalama Sutta, excerpts].

Gita training way beyond dogmatism could be (1) Select OK parts that serve you and are proper for you. (2). Live up to the best points you have accessed, at least. Many step-wise training programs offer help by and large. You find yoga postures and meditation methods explained in step-wise order.

Also, to survey and handle ideas and feelings calmly and as neutrally as can be, forms part of fairness and adjustments to prosper from, as well as the common, scientific approach.


Bhagavad Gita training, Literature  

Chidbhavananda, Swami. The Bhagavad Gita. 24th impression. Tirupparaitturai: Sri Ramakrishna Tapovanam, 2012. ⍽▢⍽ A tall work that is useful for students and scholars because of its explanations and commentary. The Gita is at bottom for making progress after the conditions for peace have been lost.

Gambhirananda, Swami, tr. The Bhagavad Gita. 6th impression. Champavat: Advaita Ashrama, 2003. ⍽▢⍽ This text and commentary is also one of the solid translations that is particularly useful for students and scholars.

Gambhirananda, Swami, tr. Brahma-Sutra-Bhasya of Sri Sankaracarya. 4th ed. Calcutta: Advaita, 1983. ⍽▢⍽ Difficult reading, but one of the founding scriptures of Hinduism.

Ganguli, K., tr. The Mahabharata, Vols 1-12. 4th ed. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1981. ⍽▢⍽ Here is the Mahabharata poem in its entirity! The volumes are today online.

Johnston, Charles, tr. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. London: Stuart and Watkins, 1968. ⍽▢⍽ Terse, online text. It needs commentaries to be tolerably understood.

Raghunathan, N., tr. Srimad Bhagavatam, Vols 1-2. Madras: Vighneswara, 1976. ⍽▢⍽ Stories for good lassies and lads. A main part is developed around Sri Krishna. Other translations are online too.

Subramaniam, Kamala, tr. Mahabharata. Bombay: Bharatiya Book University, 1982. ⍽▢⍽ A fine retelling of the stories of the epic we find the Bhagavad Gita in, as one of its longer chapters.

Rishi Singh Gherwal. Yoga Vashisht or Heaven Found. Santa Barbara: Self-published, 1930.

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