The eighth day of the second half of the Hindu lunar month Shravana is traditionally accepted as the Natal Day of Krishna, the Great Avatara. It falls this year on the 30th of August. This festival of Gokul Ashtami or Janmashtami, as it is called, has much in common with the festivals associated with the Birthdays of others described as Saviours of the world. This is but natural, for great days, sacred festivals, are symbols, and in these symbols, though much of ignorance and misunderstanding prevails round them, we have one of the means whereby we can fathom the message of the Ancient Teachers of our race. To the student of symbolism, therefore, the Birth of a Saviour signifies something more profound than it does to the orthodox and those who accept literally and even materially the stories of such Births.
All that we know of great Personages is what is revealed in their message. When we seek to know the history of Krishna's life on earth we are lost in contradictions. Legends and myths have arisen around his life as around the life of every Adept-Teacher; these are often misunderstood and distorted because symbols and metaphors are taken for objective realities. Events in the life of Krishna are described in the Mahabharata, in the Bhagavata Purana and in other books, and from each of these a different picture of Krishna emerges. How then shall we understand who Krishna really was? By going to the one authentic book of his teaching and philosophy, the greatest of his gifts to all humanity and for all times—the Bhagavad-Gita. Therein all the aspects of this great Personage—the Divine Incarnation—variously revealed in different texts as Cowherd, Playmate, Statesman, Warrior, Friend, Teacher and Avatara, are synthesized in a harmonious whole. Thus out of the impersonal message emerges the true personality of the Messenger.
The Gita has been variously claimed to be a book of devotion, of action, of knowledge. But it does not teach any of these three exclusively. Its message affects every constituent of our being—head, heart and hands. As these are interdependent, we find the Gita teaching action in meditation, meditation in action; compassion wedded to wisdom, love to knowledge, knowledge to be practised and to be derived from every action. Krishna was a Karma-Yogi, a perfect performer of action, who taught "inaction in action and action in inaction." But he was not a Karma-Yogi only. As a matter of fact, he refused to act on the battlefield and remained but the charioteer. He was also a Gnyani, Wisdom incarnate, who yet possessed the humility to appear as a man among men. And finally, Krishna embodied the devotion or Bhakti whose essence is discrimination. He called Arjuna his friend, but his love did not make him hesitate to rebuke Arjuna for his "despicable weakness," his impulsive decision not to resist the evils of Duryodhana and of his brothers. In the personality of Krishna every principle is harmonized with every other.
The message of Krishna is at best only partially applied today. To understand the all-round nature of the message, the all-sided perfection of the Messenger—that is what is needed. We need purity of motive, of desire, which has to be both just and compassionate; we need knowledge of the spiritual pattern of Natures's laws, which will enable us to know what to do and when; we need to perform our actions in the daily routine of life in the spirit of justice and of love rooted in knowledge, which the Gita can give us. The Gita makes full provision for the purification and development of every avenue through which the power of the Soul expresses itself during incarnated existence.
Let us learn to use the Gita as a book of discipline for daily use, as a never-failing source of help and of guidance, in which vital issues affecting the whole man are examined and ways and methods of right living shown. Every educated person aspires to discipline himself. But in building his home, in earning his livelihood, in understanding the world around him, in purifying his own character in training his mind, in improving his speech and in numerous other ways he needs guidance. This the Gita can supply.
To look upon it as a book of daily discipline one must first realize that it is the allegory of the Holy War which Arjuna, the human Soul—Manas, the Thinker—wages against his greatest and most constant enemy, the lower self, and in which his guide, philosopher and friend is Krishna, the Higher Self or Atma-Buddhi. Without the help of Krishna, Arjuna could not wage the war, let alone win it. Unless the embodied human Soul has evolved to the point where he recognizes the presence and the power of the Inner Self and invokes Its aid he cannot begin the fight.
The appeal of the Gita is for all. Those who have made Krishna a Personal God with power to forgive their sins and to respond to their petitions for health, wealth and happiness have deprived the Gita of its status as a scripture for all mankind.
What is the central message which the Gita offers to all humanity?
W. Q. Judge wrote that "inquirers ought to read the Bhagavad-Gita"; and yet he said, "It is the study of Adepts." It is like a mighty ocean on whose shores infants can play and in whose depths giant Souls can swim. It might be said that there are as many messages in the Gita as there are men on earth, and yet it has a single doctrine to impart. But to perceive it one has to gain the faculty of spiritual perception. In the process each individual has to secure for himself his own message from the Holy Book. For the Theosophical student-aspirant the Gita brings the message of Spiritual Birth: out of the carnal aspect of man the human aspect is born; out of that human aspect the Divine is born. How the Birth of the Spirit can take place is taught in the 18 chapters of the Gita: what not to do and what has to be done—the eschewing and the overthrowing of the evil; the pursuing of good through the performance of duty; is a reminder of the verity of Second Birth, a reminder that we are here on earth to die, not only in the body but also in the personality, so that the Spirit is born. To become a Dwija, a Twice-Born, one must begin by becoming a devotee and a friend of Krishna or Christos, the Word made Flesh, Wisdom Incarnate, the Great Sacrifice.
The Ego—meaning thereby the Self, Ishwara, Krishna, the Supreme—is unborn, changeless, all-knowing. It knows evolving Nature, the instrument, but the latter comes but slowly to a knowledge of the Self. It is therefore latent only in the sense that there are periods when the instrument, the false personality, recognizes it not. Such a period is the present, when although the body has been evolved by Nature—with the aid of the Ego—we do not know the Ego...Under the position thus taken, the Ego is still latent and will be until Manas is fully developed in a succeeding round.