The Bhagavad Gita is one of the foremost books on yoga ever written. At first glance, it wouldn’t seem to be a book on yoga at all, but a book on war. It is set at the start of a great battle between five virtuous brothers and their 100 usurping cousins, who have unfairly taken over the greatest kingdom in the world.
One of the aspects of the Bhagavad Gita that has contributed to its worldwide, centuries-long popularity is that it can be approached on a variety of levels, depending on what the reader wishes. It can be a tale about a soldier who faces the horror of killing his family and the friend who is giving him advice. It can be a myth about Krishna, a figure revered in the Hindu religion as an avatar of Vishnu, one of the primary deities of the Indian subcontinent. It can be read as a psychological allegory about the fear we all face when we meet and try to overcome our hidden demons.
None of the above approaches require a belief in any god in general or any Hindu deity in particular.
From the yogic point of view, the Bhagavad Gita is a guide to a better way of living, regardless of the culture, creed or belief system of the reader. Krishna is the symbol of something that we consider to be bigger than ourselves. One of the easiest ways to refer to this is by calling him God or a god, because that is one of the easiest concepts our mind can grasp. But Krishna can also be a concept (Truth, Love), an institution, a person (parent, teacher) – anything that we consider to be more learned, wise, powerful or connected than ourselves. Krishna can also be our own inner potential or higher knowing. It is what we want to grow toward, our goal for living. When read in this way, the Bhagavad Gita tells us how we can practically approach and embody this greater aspect of being.
The Bhagavad Gita can indeed be read as a religious text, with Krishna representing God, if that is how the reader wishes to approach it. There are some who worship Krishna as the Supreme and view this as merely one of His many stories and lessons. However, even if the Gita is viewed as a religious text, that does not mean it cannot benefit any one of us. I am not a practicing Christian, but I find guidance in many of the stories of the Bible and respect that observing the Ten Commandments can enhance my life. I am not a practicing Buddhist, but listening to chanting of Om Mane Padme Hum calms my mind, and viewing sand mandalas created by Buddhist monks stimulates my awe and creativity. Similarly, those who are not practicing Vaishnavas (followers of Vishnu) can still find something of value in the Bhagavad Gita, such as a more productive, stress-free approach to work (Chapter 3) or simply the appreciation of a magnificently constructed poem.
One of the treasures of a truly great artistic work is that it strikes something personal in each one of us. Consider the Mona Lisa, the Odyssey, The Sound of Music. People who love these works do not all love them for the same reason; the common denominator is that it has opened them up to a more wondrous view of life. The Bhagavad Gita has brought this same sense of wonder and joy to people all over the world. I encourage you to explore it for yourself!