Interpretations of Srimad Bhagavad-Gita
1948 Commentary by Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj
In order to make a distinction between these two classes of bona fide and mala fide interpretations, we have to make an impartial study of the book, and such unbiased study only will make us able to discern the bona fide from the mala fide.
In this connection, we may first of all try to find out the origin of the Bhagavad-Gita. It is wrong to believe that the Bhagavad-Gita was first spoken in the battlefield of Kuruksetra as it is a part of the great history of India, namely, the Mahabharata. We can understand from the talks of Sri Krsna and Arjuna, as it is stated in the Bhagavad-Gita, that long, long before the battle of Kuruksetra, this philosophy was once spoken by Sri Krsna to Vivasvan (the Sun), and from Vivasvan the knowledge was transferred to Manu, and from Manu it was transferred to King Iksvaku. And, in that way of disciplic succession, the knowledge has come down to generations after generations, but in course of time, such disciplic succession broke, and therefore, Sri Krsna again repeated the same yoga or transcendental knowledge to Arjuna. In the beginning of the Bhagavad-Gita, chapter 4, verses 1-3 this fact is stated as follows:
imam vivasvate yogam proktavan aham avyayam
vivasvan manave praha manur iksvakave ’bravit
evam parampara-praptam imam rajarsayo viduh
sa kaleneha mahata yogo nastah parantapa
This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way. But in course of time the succession was broken, and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost.
sa evayam maya te ’dya yogah proktah puratanah
bhakto ’si me sakha ceti rahasyam hy etad uttamam
Rsis and kings or the kings who were as good as the rsis is the meaning of the word rajarsaya, and, as such, every one, whether he was a householder or mendicant, knew Bhagavad-Gita before the battle of Kuruksetra, or before the period of Mahabharata, which is calculated to be at least five thousand years before, and as such, how it is hinted that the same knowledge was lost. That transcendental knowledge was lost because there must have been some mala fide interpretations of the knowledge, and such knowledge would do more harm than good to the people. It had to be repeated again by Sri Krsna before a bona fide king, and for this, Arjuna was selected at a critical moment because Sri Krsna acknowledged him to be not only a confidential friend, but also a bona fide devotee at the same time. We have to mark the words in Bhagavad-Gita, chapter 4, verse 3 especially bhakto ’si etc.
bhakto ’si me sakha ceti rahasyam hy etad uttamam
Sri Krsna had many friends and relatives at that time who might have been great scholars also, but He selected Arjuna as the bona fide person to grasp the knowledge of Bhagavad-Gita only because Arjuna was a great devotee of the Lord. It may be concluded therefore that the principle of Bhagavad-Gita can be understood only by personalities like Arjuna, who was a completely surrendered soul to Sri Krsna, and this knowledge (yoga) can be explained only by personalities like Sri Krsna (i. e. His bona fide devotees) or for the matter of that by the Personality of Godhead only.
Under such circumstances, the bona fide interpretations can be given only by those who follow the footprints of Arjuna, or, in other words, one who happens to come in the line of disciplic succession from Sri Arjuna as it was formerly delivered from Vivasvan to Manu (and Iksvaku). That is the first condition of understanding Bhagavad-Gita. And, violations of this condition means breaking of the link of disciplic succession and thereby losing the real purpose of the great philosophy. Beside, Bhagavad-Gita is not a new thesis of speculative philosophy, but it is as old as the Sun is. Nobody can say what is the age of the Sun, neither can anybody calculate the age of Manu. According to authentic sastras, the age of a Manu is 72 x 4,200,000 years. It is also understood that at the present moment, the Manu who has been referred to in the Bhagavad-Gita has been passing his age on the point of the 28th period, out of the above mentioned 72 periods of 4,200,000 years each, and because Manu was told by Vivasvan, it may be safely calculated that Bhagavad-Gita was spoken once before the battle of Kuruksetra at least 197,600,000 one hundred ninety-seven million sixty hundreds of thousand years before.
A transcendental source of knowledge which was coming down in a chain of disciplic succession for millions of years before the battle of Kuruksetra must have been studied by various scholars of the period, but still, we don’t find more than one edition or interpretation of the Bhagavad-Gita as represented by Sri Arjuna; but during the last two hundred years, we have so many interpretations of Bhagavad-Gita by different speculators. This advancement of speculative activities by different mundaners without any reference to the chain of disciplic succession, are all mala fide interpretations, and spread of such mala fide knowledge on the so-called basis of the Great Book of Knowledge, will do more harm than good to the people.
We find also in the last chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita, that the Personality of Godhead has persistently advised that the essence of Bhagavad-Gita must not be disclosed to a person at any time who has not undergone any disciplinary method of austerity and penances, who is not a devotee of Sri Krsna, who is unwilling to accept the teachings of Bhagavad-Gita and, lastly, one who actually envies Sri Krsna, the Personality of Godhead. The sloka which instructs the above procedure is found in chapter 18, verse 67 as follows:
idam te natapaskaya nabhaktaya kadacana
na casusrusave vacyam na ca mam yo ’bhyasuyati
So, according to Bhagavad-Gita, the following four classes of readers are incompetent to understand the principle of Bhagavad-Gita, and therefore they are not able to make any bona fide interpretations whatsoever. They are:
1. Ordinary men who have no training in austerity or penance.
2. Those who are not devotees of Godhead but are either mundane workers, mundane philosophers or mundane mystics.
3. Those who do not come in the line of disciplic succession like Vivasvan, Manu, Iksvaku, Arjuna, etc.
4. Those who disbelieve Sri Krsna as the Absolute Personality of Godhead.
And, these unlucky four classes of men are described in the Bhagavad-Gita as (a) Naradhamah the lowest class of men, (b) mudhah non-intelligent men of society, (c) mayayapahrta-jnana persons who have sufficient mundane education, but they are robbed of essential knowledge by the illusory energy or maya, and (d) the asuras who disbelieve in the very existence of Godhead. In chapter 7, verse 15 can be found a description of the above fact as follows:
na mam duskrtino mudhah prapadyante naradhamah
mayayapahrta-jnana asuram bhavam asritah
These four mala fide classes of men have done tremendous harm to the society by making mala fide interpretations of the Bhagavad-Gita according to their limited sensual perceptions, and the result is that the whole atmosphere has been surcharged with mala fide poisons, which are eating the vital necessities of life. We can very well imagine how this process can do harm if we compare it partially with adulterated foodstuff or adulterated medicines. Foodstuff and medicines are concerned with the material body only, but the knowledge which is administered in the Bhagavad-Gita is concerned with spirit soul. In the very beginning of Bhagavad-Gita, the identity of the material body and the spirit soul has been elaborately explained, and the specific instruction of Bhagavad-Gita has always been stressed for the benefit of the spirit soul. The subject matter of the material body and mind has not been neglected in Bhagavad-Gita, but on the contrary, it has been nicely coordinated with the necessities of the spirit soul; but more importance and attention has been drawn on the subject matter of the spirit soul. Therefore, if we protest so much against spread of adulterated foodstuff and medicines which are concerned with the temporary material body only, we have to protest more vigorously against the spread of adulterated interpretations of Bhagavad-Gita because that concerns to the eternal vital power of the spirit soul as verified in chapter 2, verse 17.
avinasi tu tad viddhi yena sarvam idam tatam
yah sastra-vidhim utsrjya vartate kama-karatah
na sa siddhim avapnoti na sukham na param gatim
ye sastra-vidhim utsrjya yajante sraddhayanvitah
tesam nistha tu ka krsna sattvam aho rajas tamah
“Arjuna inquired: O Krsna, what is the situation of those who do not follow the principles of scripture but worship according to their own imagination? Are they in goodness, in passion or in ignorance?
tri-vidha bhavati sraddha dehinam sa svabhava-ja
sattviki rajasi caiva tamasi ceti tam srnu
The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: According to the modes of nature acquired by the embodied soul, one’s faith can be of three kinds—in goodness, in passion or in ignorance. Now hear about this.
sattvanurupa sarvasya sraddha bhavati bharata
sraddha-mayo ’yam puruso yo yac-chraddhah sa eva sah
O son of Bharata, according to one’s existence under the various modes of nature, one evolves a particular kind of faith. The living being is said to be of a particular faith according to the modes he has acquired.
yajante sattvika devan yaksa-raksamsi rajasah
pretan bhuta-ganams canye yajante tamasa janah
Men in the mode of goodness worship the demigods; those in the mode of passion worship the demons; and those in the mode of ignorance worship ghosts and spirits.
asastra-vihitam ghoram tapyante ye tapo janah
karsayantah sarira-stham bhuta-gramam acetasah
mam caivantah sarira-stham tan viddhy asura-niscayan
Those who undergo severe austerities and penances not recommended in the scriptures, performing them out of pride and egoism, who are impelled by lust and attachment, who are foolish and who torture the material elements of the body as well as the Supersoul dwelling within, are to be known as demons.
aharas tv api sarvasya tri-vidho bhavati priyah
yajnas tapas tatha danam tesam bhedam imam srnu
Even the food each person prefers is of three kinds, according to the three modes of material nature. The same is true of sacrifices, austerities and charity. Now hear of the distinctions between them.
rasyah snigdhah sthira hrdya aharah sattvika-priyah
Foods dear to those in the mode of goodness increase the duration of life, purify one’s existence and give strength, health, happiness and satisfaction. Such foods are juicy, fatty, wholesome, and pleasing to the heart.
ahara rajasasyesta duhkha-sokamaya-pradah
Foods that are too bitter, too sour, salty, hot, pungent, dry and burning are dear to those in the mode of passion. Such foods cause distress, misery and disease.
yata-yamam gata-rasam puti paryusitam ca yat
ucchistam api camedhyam bhojanam tamasa-priyam
tad viddhi pranipatena pariprasnena sevaya
upadeksyanti te jnanam jnaninas tattva-darsinah
Mental speculationists can manufacture wonderful interpretations of Bhagavad-Gita by an intellectual activity, but such interpretation cannot be accepted as bona fide because that is not transcendental to the mundane senses, neither to the material mind in subtle state. As it is stated in the Bhagavad-Gita, such interpretations depending on the mind and senses are sure to be doomed like a boat on the troubled sea. It is shown in Bhagavad-Gita, chapter 2, verses 67-72:
indriyanam hi caratam yan mano ’nuvidhiyate
tad asya harati prajnam vayur navam ivambhasi
“As a boat on the water is swept away by a strong wind, even one of the roaming senses on which the mind focuses can carry away a man’s intelligence.
tasmad yasya maha-baho nigrhitani sarvasah
indriyanindriyarthebhyas tasya prajna pratisthita
Therefore, O mighty-armed, one whose senses are restrained from their objects is certainly of steady intelligence.
ya nisa sarva-bhutanam tasyam jagarti samyami
yasyam jagrati bhutani sa nisa pasyato muneh
What is night for all beings is the time of awakening for the self-controlled; and the time of awakening for all beings is night for the introspective sage.
apuryamanam acala-pratistham samudram apah pravisanti yadvat
tadvat kama yam pravisanti sarve sa santim apnoti na kama-kami
A person who is not disturbed by the incessant flow of desires—that enter like rivers into the ocean, which is ever being filled but is always still—can alone achieve peace, and not the man who strives to satisfy such desires.
vihaya kaman yah sarvan pumams carati nihsprhah
nirmamo nirahankarah sa santim adhigacchati
A person who has given up all desires for sense gratification, who lives free from desires, who has given up all sense of proprietorship and is devoid of false ego, he alone can attain real peace.
esa brahmi sthitih partha nainam prapya vimuhyati
sthitvasyam anta-kale ’pi brahma-nirvanam rcchati
By these presents it is not however meant that we shall have to accept somebody who is a professional spiritual master or a social spiritual master. The transcendentalist is one who has known Sri Krsna as He is. Sri Krsna is never the person Who can be conceived by mental or physical adjustment. He can only be known by those who have full surrender unto Him. He cannot be understood by sense perception because He is behind a curtain spread by yogamaya. Unless that curtain is removed by the process of transcendental loving co-operation with Him, one cannot know Sri Krsna as He is as follows.
naham prakasah sarvasya yoga-maya-samavrtah
manusyanam sahasresu kascid yatati siddhaye
yatatam api siddhanam kascin mam vetti tattvatah
Out of many thousands among men, one may endeavor for perfection, and of those who have achieved perfection, hardly one knows Me in truth.” [Bg. 7.3]
avajananti mam mudha manusIm tanum asritam
param bhavam ajananto mama bhuta-mahesvaram
Sri Vyasadeva experienced Sri Bhagavan in the following way given below.
This param bhavam or transcendental nature of Sri Krsna, the Absolute Personality of Godhead, is unknowable to the unlucky four classes of men as aforesaid. Some of them who are influenced by asurabhava or demoniac nature especially consider that Sri Krsna is no better than an ordinary man and the extraordinary qualities that He possessed can be acquired by any ordinary man, or in other words, any one and every one can become a Sri Krsna or more than Him. But the mahatmas who are graced by Sri Krsna know Him otherwise. Such mahatmas know Sri Krsna as the Supreme Personality bhutamahesvaram, while the asuras or raksasas (like Ravana and Hiranyakasipu) who defy Sri Krsna as the Supreme Being above everthing and thereby are baffled in their speculative work, frustrated in their hopes, befooled in their search of knowledge thus remain entrapped by the illusory laws of material nature which they are unable to conquer by any amount of speculative method. [margin note: (Nobody is at or above: (asrama urdhva))] These asuras and mahatmas are definitely distinguished in the Bhagavad-Gita in so many words, as in Chapter 9, Texts 12–14:
moghasa mogha-karmano mogha-jnana vicetasah
raksasim asurim caiva prakrtim mohinim sritah
“Those who are thus bewildered are attracted by demonic and atheistic views. In that deluded condition, their hopes for liberation, their fruitive activities, and their culture of knowledge are all defeated.
mahatmanas tu mam partha daivim prakrtim asritah
bhajanty ananya-manaso jnatva bhutadim avyayam
O son of Prtha, those who are not deluded, the great souls, are under the protection of the divine nature. They are fully engaged in devotional service because they know Me as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, original and inexhaustible.
satatam kirtayanto mam yatantas ca drdha-vratah
namasyantas ca mam bhaktya nitya-yukta upasate
Always chanting My glories, endeavoring with great determination, bowing down before Me, these great souls perpetually worship Me with devotion.” The whole purpose of Bhagavad-Gita is to reveal Sri Krsna the Personality of Godhead as He is. The whole theme of Bhagavad-Gita is to preach the surrendering process of all living beings unto the Lotus feet of Sri Krsna, because all living beings are His parts and parcels, and without this surrendering process, nobody can conquer the indefiable laws of Nature. Material existence of all living beings means a perpetual struggle struggle for existence and a continued fight with Prakriti without any success. [margin note (as done by induction)] Advancement of material science has undoubtedly discovered many weapons by the Asuras to fight with the laws of Nature, but without full surrender unto the Lord Krsna, nobody can get relief from such perpetual struggle for existence. The fittest person who shall survive this struggle is one who has completely surrendered unto the Will of Sri Krsna the Personality of Godhead.
daivi hy esa guna-mayi mama maya duratyaya
mam eva ye prapadyante mayam etam taranti te
This fact is further stated in the Bhagavad-Gita, chapter 18, verses 65-66 below:
man-mana bhava mad-bhakto mad-yaji mam namaskuru
mam evaisyasi satyam te pratijane priyo ’si me
Always think of Me, become My devotee, worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend.
sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja
aham tvam sarva-papebhyo moksayisyami ma sucah
Further evidence is given in Bhagavad-Gita, 10, verses 8-11 as follows:
aham sarvasya prabhavo mattah sarvam pravartate
iti matva bhajante mam budha bhava-samanvitah
“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who perfectly know this engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.
mac-citta mad-gata-prana bodhayantah parasparam
kathayantas ca mam nityam tusyanti ca ramanti ca
The thoughts of My pure devotees dwell in Me, their lives are fully devoted to My service, and they derive great satisfaction and bliss from always enlightening one another and conversing about Me.
tesam satata-yuktanam bhajatam priti-purvakam
dadami buddhi-yogam tam yena mam upayanti te
To those who are constantly devoted to serving Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me.
tesam evanukampartham aham ajnana-jam tamah
nasayamy atma-bhava-stho jnana-dipena bhasvata
To show them special mercy, I, dwelling in their hearts, destroy with the shining lamp of knowledge the darkness born of ignorance.”
There are certain extraordinarily learned prospective mahatmas who try to understand Sri Krsna by the ascending process of acquiring knowledge, but such process is not only defective, but also troublesome. Such learned scholars attain the Lotus feet of Sri Krsna after many, many births and deaths. Such would-be mahatmas are stated in the Bhagavad-Gita as follows:
bahunam janmanam ante jnanavan mam prapadyate
vasudevah sarvam iti sa mahatma su-durlabhah
avyaktam vyaktim apannam manyante mam abuddhayah
param bhavam ajananto mamavyayam anuttamam
avyakto ’ksara ity uktas tam ahuh paramam gatim
yam prapya na nivartante tad dhama paramam mama
“That which the Vedantists describe as unmanifest and infallible, that which is known as the supreme destination, that place from which, having attained it, one never returns—that is My supreme abode. (Bg. 8.21)
purusah sa parah partha bhaktya labhyas tv ananyaya
yasyantah-sthani bhutani yena sarvam idam tatam
jnana-yajnena capy anye yajanto mam upasate
ekatvena prthaktvena bahudha visvato-mukham
kleso ’dhikataras tesam avyaktasakta-cetasam
avyakta hi gatir duhkham dehavadbhir avapyate
“For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied. (Bg. 12.5)
ye tu sarvani karmani mayi sannyasya mat-parah
ananyenaiva yogena mam dhyayanta upasate
tesam aham samuddharta mrtyu-samsara-sagarat
bhavami na cirat partha mayy avesita-cetasam
Preaching of Bhagavad-Gita is not, therefore, a proposition of mental speculation and putting in different mental interpretations of speculative empiric philosphers. It is the one without a second, concrete fact for the amelioration of the sufferings of humanity especially and animality generally. It must be presented in the bona fide method of spreading the knowledge, strictly in the line of transcendental chain of disciplic succession. Om Tat Sat.
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
International Society for Krishna Consciousness