Having understood the qualification for studying the Gita, we are now ready to start learning the main topics of the first chapter of the Gita, starting with the first verse.
The first word of the Gita (chapter 1, verse 1) is 'dharmakchetre', which means 'in the field of dharm'. At the time Shree Krishn spoke these words, He was in the Kurukchetra battlefield; so it might seem obvious that He was referring to Kurukchetra, where a dharmic war was about to take place, as the 'field of dharm'. However, the 'field of dharm' refers not only to Kurukchetra, but also to the world as a whole. The whole world being the field of dharm is an integral concept of Hindu philosophy. You could also say that the whole world is the field of karm - both ideas are interrelated.
The Field of Karm
The world we live in is the field of karm because as long as we are here in this world, we are bound by the law of karm. The law of karm means that whatever actions we perform, anywhere in this world, we must receive the consequences. We are 'bound' by this law, because there is no escape from it and no way to circumvent it. Wherever we go in this world, the spiritual government (God) is watching our every thought, word and deed, categorizing all of it as good or bad (according to the intention behind it) and then arranging for us to receive the consequences in the form of good or bad destiny (in our future lives). Thus, this world is the field where we perform our actions, and it is the field in which we receive the consequences, so it is the field of karm.
The Field of Dharm
This whole world is also called the field of dharm, because not only are we being held accountable for all our karm, but there is a recommended course of action for us. That recommended course of action is called dharm. If we follow dharm, then we move in a positive direction - we improve ourselves. If we do not follow dharm, then we move in a negative direction. So living in this world is an opportunity to improve ourselves by following the path of dharm as recommended in the Vedas. Thus, it is called the field of dharm (for more information on the Vedas and dharm, see "The Gita Chapter 1, Part 1").
Dharm is of two kinds: the recommended actions for living a good life in the world, and the recommended actions for attaining God. The first kind of dharm is called apar dharm and leads to peace of mind in this life and improved prosperity in the next life. The second kind of dharm is called par dharm and leads to God realization, the attainment of ultimate Bliss, and freedom from rebirth. While apar dharm is limited to this transitory world and can only give temporary happiness, it is nonetheless important because it regulates people's behavior so there can be peace and harmony in the family and society. Yet, it is still only a preliminary dharm. If someone wants everlasting, perfect happiness, then they must graduate to the par dharm. This is the path to God, also called bhakti. It is the supreme dharm of all the souls, and it is the main topic of the Gita, which will be discussed in detail in later chapters.
In the next article, I will discuss why Arjun was confused about what his dharm was, and what the relationship is between duty and attachment.
Note: The entire Bhagavad Gita series by Swami Nikhilanand will continue, once or twice a week, for more than a year and will be an incredible study aid in learning the deepest aspects of Bhagavad Gita from one of the most profound and prolific speakers of Bhagavad Gita in the English speaking world today.