Interpretations of Srimad Bhagavad-Gita

1948 Commentary by Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj

It has become a luxurious fashion of the day, along with progressing material civilization that anyone can make their own interpretation of the great Aryan philosophy of India known as the Bhagavad-Gita. This concise form of Vedic knowledge known also as the Gita Upanisad is acknowledged by all transcendentalists and scholars of Vedic scriptures as the apex of all the Upanisads and the Vedantasutras as well. This is true especially in India. Scholars and acrayas like Sripada Sankaracarya and some of his followers could in no way ignore or even attempt to not reccognize out this very important book of knowledge, although such scholars of the Mayavada school did not acknowledge the bona fides of the Puranas. But the interpretation of Sri Sankaracarya differs from the interpretations of the Vaisnava acaryas headed by Sri Ramanujacarya and Madhvacarya. There are innumerable interpretations of the Bhagavad-Gita in the market, and it is certainly a puzzling business to select which of the various interpretations shall be accepted as bona fide and which of them shall be rejected as mala fide.

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:

sri-bhagavan uvaca

imam vivasvate yogam proktavan aham avyayam

vivasvan manave praha manur iksvakave ’bravit

The Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krsna, said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Iksvaku.

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

That very ancient science of the relationship with the Supreme is today told by Me to you because you are My devotee as well as My friend and can therefore understand the transcendental mystery of this science.”

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

“Because you are My devotee as well as My friend and can therefore understand the transcendental mystery of this science.”

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

“This confidential knowledge may never be explained to those who are not austere, or devoted, or engaged in devotional service, nor to one who is envious of Me.”

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

“Those miscreants who are grossly foolish, who are lowest among mankind, whose knowledge is stolen by illusion, and who partake of the atheistic nature of demons do not surrender unto Me.”

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

“That which pervades the entire body you should know to be indestructible.” For ordinary class of men, the Bhagavad-Gita has enjoined “sastra-vidhi”, i. e. such men have been advised to follow the instructions as have been enjoined in the authentic scriptures. Because the outlaws who are reluctant to follow the instructions of the scriptures cannot ever be successful in all their attempts, and as such they cannot have any peace and prosperity or be elevated to the spiritual or transcendental plane. It is stated in the Bhagavad-Gita, chapter 16, verse 23 as follows:

yah sastra-vidhim utsrjya vartate kama-karatah

na sa siddhim avapnoti na sukham na param gatim

“He who discards scriptural injunctions and acts according to his own whims attains neither perfection, nor happiness, nor the supreme destination.” [Bg. Such ordinary men, when they manufacture spiritual procedure of austerity or penances for any such pseudo-spiritualistic method, do so according to the mundane quality they might have acquired in the course of their mundane activities. The mundane qualities being divided into three categories, such pseudo-spiritualistic methods are also divided into three categories, namely sattvic (mode of goodness), rajasic (mode of passion) and tamasic mode of ignorance). This is described below in Bhagavad-Gita, chapter 17, verses 1-10.

arjuna uvaca

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?

sri-bhagavan uvaca

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

dambhahankara-samyuktah kama-raga-balanvitah

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.

katv-amla-lavanaty-usna tiksna-ruksa-vidahinah

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

Food prepared more than three hours before being eaten, food that is tasteless, decomposed and putrid, and food consisting of remnants and untouchable things is dear to those in the mode of darkness.” So, these ordinary men who are influenced by the three modes of Nature can work out a plan of their sensual pleasure, but it is not possible for them to give authentic interpretations of Bhagavad-Gita as it was spoken by the Personality of Godhead to Vivasvan or Arjuna. The whole thing is received in transcendental submissiveness by aural reception, which is not accepted by the mundane wranglers deliberately refusing to approach the bona fide spiritual master who has got the keynote of Bhagavad-Gita. It is therefore stated in the Bhagavad-Gita that one who actually wants to have an access to the essence of Bhagavad-Gita must himself engage in the service of a bona fide spiritual master by full surrender. In that position only, one can make bona fide enquiries regarding the Bhagavad-Gita, and in that posture only, the self-realized spiritual masters impregnate the submissive disciple with the knowledge of Gita, because they have already seen the Truth of it as confirmed in Bhagavad-Gita, chapter 4, verse 34.

tad viddhi pranipatena pariprasnena sevaya

upadeksyanti te jnanam jnaninas tattva-darsinah

“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.”

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

That is the way of the spiritual and godly life, after attaining which a man is not bewildered. If one is thus situated, even at the hour of death, one can enter into the kingdom of God.”

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

I am never manifest to the foolish and unintelligent. For them I am covered by My internal potency.” [Bg. 7.25]

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

“Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature as the Supreme Lord of all that be.” [Bg. 9.11]

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 divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it.” [Bg. 7.14]

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

“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.”

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

“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.” [Bg. 7.19]

avyaktam vyaktim apannam manyante mam abuddhayah

param bhavam ajananto mamavyayam anuttamam

“Unintelligent men, who do not know Me perfectly, think that I, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna, was impersonal before and have now assumed this personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My higher nature, which is imperishable and supreme.” [Bg. 7.24]

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

. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is greater than all, is attainable by unalloyed devotion. Although He is present in His abode, He is all-pervading, and everything is situated within Him.” [Bg. 8.22]

jnana-yajnena capy anye yajanto mam upasate

ekatvena prthaktvena bahudha visvato-mukham

“Others, who engage in sacrifice by the cultivation of knowledge, worship the Supreme Lord as the one without a second, as diverse in many, and in the universal form.” [Bg. 9.15]

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

But those who worship Me, giving up all their activities unto Me and being devoted to Me without deviation, engaged in devotinal service and always meditating upon Me, having fixed their minds upon Me, O son of Prtha for them I am the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death. [Bg.12.6-7]

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.

Tridandi Bhiksu

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami

International Society for Krishna Consciousness

Brahma Madhva Gaudiya Vaisnava Sampradaya

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