Introduction to Bhagavad-Gita by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami-1971
by Professor Edward C. Dimock Jr.
The Bhagavad-gita is the best known and the most frequently translated of Vedic religious texts. Why it should be so appealing to the Western mind is an interesting question. It has drama, for its setting is a scene of two great armies, banners flying, drawn up opposite one another on the field, poised for battle. It has ambiguity, and the fact that Arjuna and his charioteer Krsna are carrying on their dialouge between the two armies suggests the indecision of Arjuna about the basic question; should he enter battle against and kill those who are friends and kinsmen? It has mystery, as Krsna demonstrates to Arjuna His cosmic form. It has a properly complicated view of the ways of the religious life and treats of the paths of knowledge, works, discipline and faith and their inter-relationships, problems that have bothered adherents of other religions in other times and places. The devotion spoken of is a deliberate means of religious satisfaction, not a mere outpouring of poetic emotion. Next to the Bhagavata-purana, a long work from South India, the Gita is the text most frequently quoted in the philosophical writings of the Gaudiya Vaisnava school, the school represented by Swami Bhaktivedanta as the latest in a long succession of teachers. It can be said that this school of Vaisnavism was founded, or revived, by Sri Krsna-Caitanya Mahaprabhu (1486-1533) in Bengal, and that it is currently the strongest single religious force in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent. The Gaudiya Vaisnava school, for whom Krsna is Himself the Supreme God, and not merely an incarnation of another deity, sees bhakti as an immediate and powerful religious force, consisting of love between man and God. Its discipline consists of devoting all one’s actions to the Deity, and one listens to the stories of Krsna from the sacred texts, one chants Krsna’s name, washes, bathes and dresses the murti of Krsna, feeds Him and takes the remains of food offered to Him, thus absorbing His grace; one does these things and many more, until one has been changed: the devotee has become transformed into one close to Krsna, and sees the Lord face to face.
Swami Bhaktivedanta comments upon the Gita from this point of view, and that is legitimate. More than that, in this translation the Western reader has the unique opportunity of seeing how a Krsna devotee interprets his own texts. It is the Vedic exegetical tradition, justly famous, in action. This book is then a welcome addition from many points of view. It can serve as a valuable textbook for the college student. It allows us to listen to a skilled interpreter explicating a text which has profound religious meaning. It gives us insights into the original and highly convincing ideas of the Gaudiya Vaisnava school. In providing the Sanskrit in both Devanagari and transliteration, it offers the Sanskrit specialist the opportunity to re-interpret, or debate particular Sanskrit meanings–although I think there will be little disagreement about the quality of the Swami’s Sanskrit scholarship. And finally, for the nonspecialist, there is readable English and a devotional attitude which cannot help but move the sensitive reader. And there are the paintings, which, incredibly as it may seem to those familiar with contemporary Indian religious art, were done by American devotees.
The scholar, the student of Gaudiya Vaisnavism, and the increasing number of Western readers interested in classical Vedic thought have been done a service by Swami Bhaktivedanta. By bringing us a new and living interpretation of a text already known to many, he has increased our understanding manyfold; and arguments for understanding, in these days of estrangement, need not be made.
Professor Edward C. Dimock, Jr.
Department of South Asian Languages and Civilization
University of Chicago
Originally I wrote Bhagavad-gita As It Is in the form in which it is presented now. When this book was first published, the original manuscript was, unfortunately, cut short to less than 400 pages, without illustrations and without explanations for most of the original verses of the Srimad Bhagavad-gita. In all of my other books–Srimad-Bhagavatam, Sri Isopanisad, etc.–the system is that I give the original verse, its English transliteration, word-for-word Sanskrit-English equivalents, translations and purports. This makes the book very authentic and scholarly and makes the meaning self-evident. I was not very happy, therefore, when I had to minimize my original manuscript. But later on, when the demand for Bhagavad-gita As It Is considerably increased, I was requested by many scholars and devotees to present the book in its original form, and Messrs. Macmillan and Co. agreed to publish the complete edition. Thus the present attempt is to offer the original manuscript of this great book of knowledge with full parampara explanation in order to establish the Krsna consciousness movement more soundly and progressively.
Our Krsna consciousness movement is genuine, historically authorized, natural and transcendental due to its being based on Bhagavad-gita As It Is. It is gradually becoming the most popular movement in the entire world, especially amongst the younger generation. It is becoming more and more interesting to the older generation also. Older gentlemen are becoming interested, so much so that the fathers and grandfathers of my disciples are encouraging us by becoming life members of our great society, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. In Los Angeles many fathers and mothers used to come to see me to express their feelings of gratitude for my leading the Krsna consciousness movement throughout the entire world. Some of them said that it is greatly fortunate for the Americans that I have started the Krsna consciousness movement in America. But actually the original father of this movement is Lord Krsna Himself, since it was started a very long time ago but is coming down to human society by disciplic succession. If I have any credit in this connection, it does not belong to me personally, but it is due to my eternal spiritual master, His Divine Grace Om Visnupada Paramahamsa Parivrajakacarya 108 Sri Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Maharaja Prabhupada.
If personally I have any credit in this matter, it is only that I have tried to present Bhagavad-gita as it is, without adulteration. Before my presentation of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, almost all the English editions of Bhagavad-gita were introduced to fulfill someone’s personal ambition. But our attempt, in presenting Bhagavad-gita As It Is, is to present the mission of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna. Our business is to present the will of Krsna, not that of any mundane speculator like the politician, philosopher or scientist, for they have very little knowledge of Krsna, despite all their other knowledge. When Krsna says, man-mana bhava mad-bhakto mad-yaji mam namaskuru, etc., we, unlike the so-called scholars, do not say that Krsna and His inner spirit are different. Krsna is absolute, and there is no difference between Krsna’s name, Krsna’s form, Krsna’s qualities, Krsna’s pastimes, etc. This absolute position of Krsna is difficult to understand for any person who is not a devotee of Krsna in the parampara (disciplic succession). Generally the so-called scholars, politicians, philosophers, and svamis, without perfect knowledge of Krsna, try to banish or kill Krsna when writing commentary on Bhagavad-gita. Such unauthorized commentary upon Bhagavad-gita is known as Mayavadi-bhasya, and Lord Caitanya has warned us about these unauthorized men. Lord Caitanya clearly says that anyone who tries to understand Bhagavad-gita from the Mayavadi point of view will commit a great blunder. The result of such a blunder will be that the misguided student of Bhagavad-gita will certainly be bewildered on the path of spiritual guidance and will not be able to go back to home, back to Godhead.
Our only purpose is to present this Bhagavad-gita As It Is in order to guide the conditioned student to the same purpose for which Krsna descends to this planet once in a day of Brahma, or every 8,600,000,000 years. This purpose is stated in Bhagavad-gita, and we have to accept it as it is; otherwise there is no point in trying to understand the Bhagavad-gita and its speaker, Lord Krsna. Lord Krsna first spoke Bhagavad-gita to the sun-god some hundreds of millions of years ago. We have to accept this fact and thus understand the historical significance of Bhagavad-gita, without misinterpretation, on the authority of Krsna. To interpret Bhagavad-gita without any reference to the will of Krsna is the greatest offense. In order to save oneself from this offense, one has to understand the Lord as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as He was directly understood by Arjuna, Lord Krsna’s first disciple. Such understanding of Bhagavad-gita is really profitable and authorized for the welfare of human society in fulfilling the mission of life.
The Krsna consciousness movement is essential in human society, for it offers the highest perfection of life. How this is so is explained fully in the Bhagavad-gita. Unfortunately, mundane wranglers have taken advantage of Bhagavad-gita to push forward their demonic propensities and mislead people regarding right understanding of the simple principles of life. Everyone should know how God or Krsna, is great, and everyone should know the factual position of the living entities. Everyone should know that a living entity is eternally a servant and that unless one serves Krsna one has to serve illusion in different varieties of the three modes of material nature, and thus perpetually one has to wander within the cycle of birth and death; even the so-called liberated Mayavadi speculator has to undergo this process. This knowledge constitutes a great science, and each and every living being has to hear it for his own interest.
People in general, especially in this Age of Kali, are enamored by the external energy of Krsna, and they wrongly think that by advancement of material comforts every man will be happy. They have no knowledge that the material or external nature is very strong, for everyone is strongly bound by the stringent laws of material nature. A living entity is happily the part and parcel of the Lord, and thus his natural function is to render immediate service to the Lord. By the spell of illusion one tries to be happy by serving his personal sense gratification in different forms which will never make him happy. Instead of satisfying his own personal material senses, he has to satisfy the senses of the Lord. That is the highest perfection of life. The Lord wants this, and He demands it. One has to understand this central point of Bhagavad-gita. Our Krsna consciousness movement is teaching the whole world this central point, and because we are not polluting the theme of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, anyone seriously interested in deriving benefit by studying the Bhagavad-gita must take help from the Krsna consciousness movement for practical understanding of Bhagavad-gita under the direct guidance of the Lord. We hope, therefore, that people will derive the greatest benefit by studying Bhagavad-gita As It Is as we have presented it here, and if even one man becomes a pure devotee of the Lord, we shall consider our attempt a success.
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
12 May, 1971
om ajnana-timirandhasya jnananjana-salakaya
caksur unmilitam yena tasmai sri-gurave namah
sri-caitanya-mano-‘bhistam sthapitam yena bhu-tale
svayam rupah kada mahyam dadati sva-padantikam
I was born in the darkest ignorance, and my spiritual master opened my eyes with the torch of knowledge. I offer my respectful obeisances unto him.
When will Srila Rupa Gosvami Prabhupada, who has established within this material world the mission to fulfill the desire of Lord Caitanya, give me shelter under his lotus feet?
vande ‘ham sri-guroh sri-yuta-pada-kamalam sri-gurun vaisnavams ca
sri-rupam sagrajatam saha-gana-raghunathanvitam tam sa-jivam
sadvaitam savadhutam parijana-sahitam krsna-caitanya-devam
sri-radha-krsna-padan saha-gana-lalita-sri-visakhanvitams ca
I offer my respectful obeisances unto the lotus feet of my spiritual master and unto the feet of all Vaisnavas. I offer my respectful obeisances unto the lotus feet of Srila Rupa Gosvami along with his elder brother Sanatana Gosvami, as well as Raghunatha Dasa and Raghunatha Bhatta, Gopala Bhatta, and Srila Jiva Gosvami. I offer my respectful obeisances to Lord Krsna Caitanya and Lord Nityananda along with Advaita Acarya, Gadadhara, Srivasa, and other associates. I offer my respectful obeisances to Srimati Radharani and Sri Krsna along with Their associates, Sri Lalita and Visakha.
he krsna karuna-sindho dina-bandho jagat-pate
gopesa gopika-kanta radha-kanta namo ‘stu te
O my dear Krsna, You are the friend of the distressed and the source of creation. You are the master of the gopis and the lover of Radharani. I offer my respectful obeisances unto You.
tapta-kancana-gaurangi radhe vrndavanesvari
vrsabhanu-sute devi pranamami hari-priye
I offer my respects to Radharani whose bodily complexion is like molten gold and who is the Queen of Vrndavana. You are the daughter of King Vrsabhanu, and You are very dear to Lord Krsna.
vancha-kalpatarubhyas ca krpa-sindhubhya eva ca
patitanam pavanebhyo vaisnavebhyo namo namah
I offer my respectful obeisances unto all the Vaisnava devotees of the Lord who can fulfill the desires of everyone, just like desire trees, and who are full of compassion for the fallen souls.
sri-advaita gadadhara srivasadi-gaura-bhakta-vrnda
I offer my obeisances to Sri Krsna Caitanya, Prabhu Nityananda, Sri Advaita, Gadadhara, Srivasa and all others in the line of devotion.
hare krsna hare krsna, krsna krsna hare hare
hare rama hare rama, rama rama hare hare.
Bhagavad-gita is also known as Gitopanisad. It is the essence of Vedic knowledge and one of the most important Upanisads in Vedic literature. Of course there are many commentaries in English on the Bhagavad-gita, and one may question the necessity for another one. This present edition can be explained in the following way. Recently an American lady asked me to recommend an English translation of Bhagavad-gita. Of course in America there are so many editions of Bhagavad-gita available in English, but as far as I have seen, not only in America but also in India, none of them can be strictly said to be authoritative because in almost every one of them the commentator has expressed his own opinions without touching the spirit of Bhagavad-gita as it is.
The spirit of Bhagavad-gita is mentioned in Bhagavad-gita itself. It is just like this: If we want to take a particular medicine, then we have to follow the directions written on the label. We cannot take the medicine according to our own whim or the direction of a friend. It must be taken according to the directions on the label or the directions given by a physician. Similarly, Bhagavad-gita should be taken or accepted as it is directed by the speaker Himself. The speaker of Bhagavad-gita is Lord Sri Krsna. He is mentioned on every page of Bhagavad-gita as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Bhagavan. Of course the word bhagavan sometimes refers to any powerful person or any powerful demigod, and certainly here bhagavan designates Lord Sri Krsna as a great personality, but at the same time we should know that Lord Sri Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as is confirmed by all great acaryas (spiritual masters) like Sankaracarya, Ramanujacarya, Madhvacarya, Nimbarka Svami, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and many other authorities of Vedic knowledge in India. The Lord Himself also establishes Himself as the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the Bhagavad-gita, and He is accepted as such in the Brahma-samhita and all the Puranas, especially the Srimad-Bhagavatam, known as the Bhagavata Purana (krsnas tu bhagavan svayam). Therefore we should take Bhagavad-gita as it is directed by the Personality of Godhead Himself. In the Fourth Chapter of the Gita the Lord says:
(1) imam vivasvate yogam proktavan aham avyayam
vivasvan manave praha manur iksvakave ‘bravit
(2) evam parampara-praptam imam rajarsayo viduh
sa kaleneha mahata yogo nastah parantapa
(3) sa evayam maya te ‘dya yogah proktah puratanah
bhakto ‘si me sakha ceti rahasyam hy etad uttamam
Here the Lord informs Arjuna that this system of yoga, the Bhagavad-gita, was first spoken to the sun-god, and the sun-god explained it to Manu, and Manu explained it to Iksvaku, and in that way, by disciplic succession, one speaker after another, this yoga system has been coming down. But in the course of time it has become lost. Consequently the Lord has to speak it again, this time to Arjuna on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra.
He tells Arjuna that He is relating this supreme secret to him because he is His devotee and His friend. The purport of this is that Bhagavad-gita is a treatise which is especially meant for the devotee of the Lord. There are three classes of transcendentalists, namely the jnani, the yogi and the bhakta, or the impersonalist, the meditator and the devotee. Here the Lord clearly tells Arjuna that He is making him the first receiver of a new parampara (disciplic succession) because the old succession was broken. It was the Lord’s wish, therefore, to establish another parampara in the same line of thought that was coming down from the sun-god to others, and it was His wish that His teaching be distributed anew by Arjuna. He wanted Arjuna to become the authority in understanding the Bhagavad-gita. So we see that Bhagavad-gita is instructed to Arjuna especially because Arjuna was a devotee of the Lord, a direct student of Krsna, and His intimate friend. Therefore Bhagavad-gita is best understood by a person who has qualities similar to Arjuna’s. That is to say he must be a devotee in a direct relationship with the Lord. That is a very elaborate subject matter, but briefly it can be stated that a devotee is in a relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead in one of five different ways:
- One may be a devotee in a passive state;
- One may be a devotee in an active state;
- One may be a devotee as a friend;
- One may be a devotee as a parent;
- One may be a devotee as a conjugal lover.
Arjuna was in a relationship with the Lord as friend. Of course there is a gulf of difference between this friendship and the friendship found in the material world. This is transcendental friendship which cannot be had by everyone. Of course everyone has a particular relationship with the Lord, and that relationship is evoked by the perfection of devotional service. But in the present status of our life, we have not only forgotten the Supreme Lord, but we have forgotten our eternal relationship with the Lord. Every living being, out of many, many billions and trillions of living beings, has a particular relationship with the Lord eternally. That is called svarupa. By the process of devotional service, one can revive that svarupa, and that stage is called svarupa-siddhi–perfection of one’s constitutional position. So Arjuna was a devotee, and he was in touch with the Supreme Lord in friendship.
How Arjuna accepted this Bhagavad-gita should be noted. His manner of acceptance is given in the Tenth Chapter:
(12) arjuna uvaca
param brahma param dhama pavitram paramam bhavan
purusam sasvatam divyam adi-devam ajam vibhum
(13) ahus tvam rsayah sarve devarsir naradas tatha
asito devalo vyasah svayam caiva bravisi me
(14) sarvam etad rtam manye yan mam vadasi kesava
na hi te bhagavan vyaktim vidur deva na danavah
“Arjuna said: You are the Supreme Brahman, the ultimate, the supreme abode and purifier, the Absolute Truth and the eternal Divine Person. You are the primal God, transcendental and original, and you are the unborn and all-pervading beauty. All the great sages like Narada, Asita, Devala, and Vyasa proclaim this of You, and now You Yourself are declaring it to me. O Krsna, I totally accept as truth all that You have told me. Neither the gods nor the demons, O Lord, know Thy personality.” (Bg. 10.12-14).
After hearing Bhagavad-gita from the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Arjuna accepted Krsna as param brahma, the Supreme Brahman. Every living being is Brahman, but the supreme living being, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the Supreme Brahman. Param dhama means that He is the supreme rest or abode of everything, pavitram means that He is pure, untainted by material contamination, purusam means that He is the supreme enjoyer, divyam, transcendental, adi-devam, the Supreme Personality of Godhead; ajam, the unborn, and vibhum, the greatest, the all-pervading.
Now one may think that because Krsna was the friend of Arjuna, Arjuna was telling Him all this by way of flattery, but Arjuna, just to drive out this kind of doubt from the minds of the readers of Bhagavad-gita, substantiates these praises in the next verse when he says that Krsna is accepted as the Supreme Personality of Godhead not only by himself but by authorities like the sage Narada, Asita, Devala, Vyasadeva and so on. These are great personalities who distribute the Vedic knowledge as it is accepted by all acaryas. Therefore Arjuna tells Krsna that he accepts whatever He says to be completely perfect. Sarvam etad rtam manye: “I accept everything You say to be true.” Arjuna also says that the personality of the Lord is very difficult to understand and that He cannot be known even by the great demigods. This means that the Lord cannot even be known by personalities greater than human beings. So how can a human being understand Sri Krsna without becoming His devotee?
Therefore Bhagavad-gita should be taken up in a spirit of devotion. One should not think that he is equal to Krsna, nor should he think that Krsna is an ordinary personality or even a very great personality. Lord Sri Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, at least theoretically, according to the statements of Bhagavad-gita or the statements of Arjuna, the person who is trying to understand the Bhagavad-gita. We should therefore at least theoretically accept Sri Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and with that submissive spirit we can understand the Bhagavad-gita. Unless one reads the Bhagavad-gita in a submissive spirit, it is very difficult to understand Bhagavad-gita because it is a great mystery.
Just what is the Bhagavad-gita? The purpose of Bhagavad-gita is to deliver mankind from the nescience of material existence. Every man is in difficulty in so many ways, as Arjuna also was in difficulty in having to fight the Battle of Kuruksetra. Arjuna surrendered unto Sri Krsna, and consequently this Bhagavad-gita was spoken. Not only Arjuna, but every one of us is full of anxieties because of this material existence. Our very existence is in the atmosphere of nonexistence. Actually we are not meant to be threatened by nonexistence. Our existence is eternal. But somehow or other we are put into asat. Asat refers to that which does not exist.
Out of so many human beings who are suffering, there are a few who are actually inquiring about their position, as to what they are, why they are put into this awkward position and so on. Unless one is awakened to this position of questioning his suffering, unless he realizes that he doesn’t want suffering but rather wants to make a solution to all sufferings, then one is not to be considered a perfect human being. Humanity begins when this sort of inquiry is awakened in one’s mind. In the Brahma-sutra this inquiry is called “brahma jijnasa.” Every activity of the human being is to be considered a failure unless he inquires about the nature of the Absolute. Therefore those who begin to question why they are suffering or where they came from and where they shall go after death are proper students for understanding Bhagavad-gita. The sincere student should also have a firm respect for the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Such a student was Arjuna.
Lord Krsna descends specifically to reestablish the real purpose of life when man forgets that purpose. Even then, out of many, many human beings who awaken, there may be one who actually enters the spirit of understanding his position, and for him this Bhagavad-gita is spoken. Actually we are all followed by the tiger of nescience, but the Lord is very merciful upon living entities, especially human beings. To this end He spoke the Bhagavad-gita, making His friend Arjuna His student.
Being an associate of Lord Krsna, Arjuna was above all ignorance, but Arjuna was put into ignorance on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra just to question Lord Krsna about the problems of life so that the Lord could explain them for the benefit of future generations of human beings and chalk out the plan of life. Then man could act accordingly and perfect the mission of human life.
The subject of the Bhagavad-gita entails the comprehension of five basic truths. First of all, the science of God is explained and then the constitutional position of the living entities, jivas. There is isvara, which means controller, and there are jivas, the living entities which are controlled. If a living entity says that he is not controlled but that he is free, then he is insane. The living being is controlled in every respect, at least in his conditioned life. So in the Bhagavad-gita the subject matter deals with the isvara, the supreme controller, and the jivas, the controlled living entities. Prakrti (material nature) and time (the duration of existence of the whole universe or the manifestation of material nature) and karma (activity) are also discussed. The cosmic manifestation is full of different activities. All living entities are engaged in different activities. From Bhagavad-gita we must learn what God is, what the living entities are, what prakrti is, what the cosmic manifestation is, how it is controlled by time, and what the activities of the living entities are.
Out of these five basic subject matters in Bhagavad-gita it is established that the Supreme Godhead, or Krsna, or Brahman, or supreme controller, or Paramatma–you may use whatever name you like–is the greatest of all. The living beings are in quality like the supreme controller. For instance, the Lord has control over the universal affairs, over material nature, etc., as will be explained in the later chapters of Bhagavad-gita. Material nature is not independent. She is acting under the directions of the Supreme Lord. As Lord Krsna says, “Prakrti is working under My direction.” When we see wonderful things happening in the cosmic nature, we should know that behind this cosmic manifestation there is a controller. Nothing could be manifested without being controlled. It is childish not to consider the controller. For instance, a child may think that an automobile is quite wonderful to be able to run without a horse or other animal pulling it, but a sane man knows the nature of the automobile’s engineering arrangement. He always knows that behind the machinery there is a man, a driver. Similarly, the Supreme Lord is a driver under whose direction everything is working. Now the jivas, or the living entities, have been accepted by the Lord, as we will note in the later chapters, as His parts and parcels. A particle of gold is also gold, a drop of water from the ocean is also salty, and similarly, we the living entities, being part and parcel of the supreme controller, isvara, or Bhagavan, Lord Sri Krsna, have all the qualities of the Supreme Lord in minute quantity because we are minute isvaras, subordinate isvaras. We are trying to control nature, as presently we are trying to control space or planets, and this tendency to control is there because it is in Krsna. But although we have a tendency to lord it over material nature, we should know that we are not the supreme controller. This is explained in Bhagavad-gita.
What is material nature? This is also explained in Gita as inferior prakrti, inferior nature. The living entity is explained as the superior prakrti. Prakrti is always under control, whether inferior or superior. Prakrti is female, and she is controlled by the Lord just as the activities of a wife are controlled by the husband. Prakrti is always subordinate, predominated by the Lord, who is the predominator. The living entities and material nature are both predominated, controlled by the Supreme Lord. According to the Gita, the living entities, although parts and parcels of the Supreme Lord, are to be considered prakrti. This is clearly mentioned in the Seventh Chapter, Fifth Verse of Bhagavad-gita: “Apareyam itas tv anyam.” “This prakrti is My lower nature,” “prakrtim viddhi me param jiva-bhutam maha-baho yayedam dharyate jagat.” And beyond this there is another prakrti: jiva-bhutam, the living entity.
Prakrti itself is constituted by three qualities: the mode of goodness, the mode of passion and the mode of ignorance. Above these modes there is eternal time, and by a combination of these modes of nature and under the control and purview of eternal time there are activities which are called karma. These activities are being carried out from time immemorial, and we are suffering or enjoying the fruits of our activities. For instance, suppose I am a businessman and have worked very hard with intelligence and have amassed a great bank balance. Then I am an enjoyer. But then say I have lost all my money in business; then I am a sufferer. Similarly, in every field of life we enjoy the results of our work, or we suffer the results. This is called karma.
Isvara (the Supreme Lord), jiva (the living entity), prakrti (nature), eternal time and karma (activity) are all explained in the Bhagavad-gita. Out of these five, the Lord, the living entities, material nature and time are eternal. The manifestation of prakrti may be temporary, but it is not false. Some philosophers say that the manifestation of material nature is false, but according to the philosophy of Bhagavad-gita or according to the philosophy of the Vaisnavas, this is not so. The manifestation of the world is not accepted as false; it is accepted as real, but temporary. It is likened unto a cloud which moves across the sky, or the coming of the rainy season which nourishes grains. As soon as the rainy season is over and as soon as the cloud goes away, all the crops which were nourished by the rain dry up. Similarly, this material manifestation takes place at a certain interval, stays for a while and then disappears. Such are the workings of prakrti. But this cycle is working eternally. Therefore prakrti is eternal; it is not false. The Lord refers to this as “My prakrti.” This material nature is the separated energy of the Supreme Lord, and similarly the living entities are also the energy of the Supreme Lord, but they are not separated. They are eternally related. So the Lord, the living entity, material nature and time are all interrelated and are all eternal. However, the other item, karma, is not eternal. The effects of karma may be very old indeed. We are suffering or enjoying the results of our activities from time immemorial, but we can change the results of our karma, or our activity, and this change depends on the perfection of our knowledge. We are engaged in various activities. Undoubtedly we do not know what sort of activities we should adopt to gain relief from the actions and reactions of all these activities, but this is also explained in the Bhagavad-gita.
The position of isvara is that of supreme consciousness. The jivas, or the living entities, being parts and parcels of the Supreme Lord, are also conscious. Both the living entity and material nature are explained as prakrti, the energy of the Supreme Lord, but one of the two, the jiva, is conscious. The other prakrti is not conscious. That is the difference. Therefore the jiva-prakrti is called superior because the jiva has consciousness which is similar to the Lord’s. The Lord’s is supreme consciousness, however, and one should not claim that the jiva, the living entity, is also supremely conscious. The living being cannot be supremely conscious at any stage of his perfection, and the theory that he can be so is a misleading theory. Conscious he may be, but he is not perfectly or supremely conscious.
The distinction between the jiva and the isvara will be explained in the Thirteenth Chapter of Bhagavad-gita. The Lord is ksetra-jna, conscious, as is the living being, but the living being is conscious of his particular body, whereas the Lord is conscious of all bodies. Because He lives in the heart of every living being, He is conscious of the psychic movements of the particular jivas. We should not forget this. It is also explained that the Paramatma, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is living in everyone’s heart as isvara, as the controller, and that He is giving directions for the living entity to act as he desires. The living entity forgets what to do. First of all he makes a determination to act in a certain way, and then he is entangled in the actions and reactions of his own karma. After giving up one type of body, he enters another type of body, as we put on and take off old clothes. As the soul thus migrates, he suffers the actions and reactions of his past activities. These activities can be changed when the living being is in the mode of goodness, in sanity, and understands what sort of activities he should adopt. If he does so, then all the actions and reactions of his past activities can be changed. Consequently, karma is not eternal. Therefore we stated that of the five items (isvara, jiva, prakrti, time and karma) four are eternal, whereas karma is not eternal.
The supreme conscious isvara is similar to the living entity in this way: both the consciousness of the Lord and that of the living entity are transcendental. It is not that consciousness is generated by the association of matter. That is a mistaken idea. The theory that consciousness develops under certain circumstances of material combination is not accepted in the Bhagavad-gita. Consciousness may be pervertedly reflected by the covering of material circumstances, just as light reflected through colored glass may appear to be a certain color, but the consciousness of the Lord is not materially affected. Lord Krsna says, “mayadhyaksena prakrtih.” When He descends into the material universe, His consciousness is not materially affected. If He were so affected, He would be unfit to speak on transcendental matters as He does in the Bhagavad-gita. One cannot say anything about the transcendental world without being free from materially contaminated consciousness. So the Lord is not materially contaminated. Our consciousness, at the present moment, however, is materially contaminated. The Bhagavad-gita teaches that we have to purify this materially contaminated consciousness. In pure consciousness, our actions will be dovetailed to the will of isvara, and that will make us happy. It is not that we have to cease all activities. Rather, our activities are to be purified, and purified activities are called bhakti. Activities in bhakti appear to be like ordinary activities, but they are not contaminated. An ignorant person may see that a devotee is acting or working like an ordinary man, but such a person with a poor fund of knowledge does not know that the activities of the devotee or of the Lord are not contaminated by impure consciousness or matter. They are transcendental to the three modes of nature. We should know, however, that at this point our consciousness is contaminated.
When we are materially contaminated, we are called conditioned. False consciousness is exhibited under the impression that I am a product of material nature. This is called false ego. One who is absorbed in the thought of bodily conceptions cannot understand his situation. Bhagavad-gita was spoken to liberate one from the bodily conception of life, and Arjuna put himself in this position in order to receive this information from the Lord. One must become free from the bodily conception of life; that is the preliminary activity for the transcendentalist. One who wants to become free, who wants to become liberated, must first of all learn that he is not this material body. Mukti or liberation means freedom from material consciousness. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam also the definition of liberation is given. Mukti means liberation from the contaminated consciousness of this material world and situation in pure consciousness. All the instructions of Bhagavad-gita are intended to awaken this pure consciousness, and therefore we find at the last stage of the Gita’s instructions that Krsna is asking Arjuna whether he is now in purified consciousness. Purified consciousness means acting in accordance with the instructions of the Lord. This is the whole sum and substance of purified consciousness. Consciousness is already there because we are part and parcel of the Lord, but for us there is the affinity of being affected by the inferior modes. But the Lord, being the Supreme, is never affected. That is the difference between the Supreme Lord and the conditioned souls.
What is this consciousness?
This consciousness is “I am.” Then what am I? In contaminated consciousness “I am” means “I am the lord of all I survey. I am the enjoyer.” The world revolves because every living being thinks that he is the lord and creator of the material world. Material consciousness has two psychic divisions. One is that I am the creator, and the other is that I am the enjoyer. But actually the Supreme Lord is both the creator and the enjoyer, and the living entity, being part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, is neither the creator nor the enjoyer, but a cooperator. He is the created and the enjoyed. For instance, a part of a machine cooperates with the whole machine; a part of the body cooperates with the whole body. The hands, feet, eyes, legs and so on are all parts of the body, but they are not actually the enjoyers. The stomach is the enjoyer. The legs move, the hands supply food, the teeth chew and all parts of the body are engaged in satisfying the stomach because the stomach is the principal factor that nourishes the body’s organization. Therefore everything is given to the stomach. One nourishes the tree by watering its root, and one nourishes the body by feeding the stomach, for if the body is to be kept in a healthy state, then the parts of the body must cooperate to feed the stomach. Similarly, the Supreme Lord is the enjoyer and the creator, and we, as subordinate living beings, are meant to cooperate to satisfy Him. This cooperation will actually help us, just as food taken by the stomach will help all other parts of the body. If the fingers of the hand think that they should take the food themselves instead of giving it to the stomach, then they will be frustrated. The central figure of creation and of enjoyment is the Supreme Lord, and the living entities are cooperators. By cooperation they enjoy. The relation is also like that of the master and the servant. If the master is fully satisfied, then the servant is satisfied. Similarly, the Supreme Lord should be satisfied, although the tendency to become the creator and the tendency to enjoy the material world are there also in the living entities because these tendencies are there in the Supreme Lord who has created the manifested cosmic world.
We shall find, therefore, in this Bhagavad-gita that the complete whole is comprised of the supreme controller, the controlled living entities, the cosmic manifestation, eternal time, and karma, or activities, and all of these are explained in this text. All of these taken completely form the complete whole, and the complete whole is called the Supreme Absolute Truth. The complete whole and the complete Absolute Truth are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krsna. All manifestations are due to His different energies. He is the complete whole.
It is also explained in the Gita that impersonal Brahman is also subordinate to the complete. Brahman is more explicitly explained in the Brahma-sutra to be like the rays of the sunshine. The impersonal Brahman is the shining rays of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Impersonal Brahman is incomplete realization of the absolute whole, and so also is the conception of Paramatma in the Twelfth Chapter. There it shall be seen that the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Purusottama, is above both impersonal Brahman and the partial realization of Paramatma. The Supreme Personality of Godhead is called sac-cid-ananda-vigraha. The Brahma-samhita begins in this way: isvarah paramah krsnah sac-cid-ananda-vigrahah/anadir adir govindah sarva-karana-karanam. “Krsna is the cause of all causes. He is the primal cause, and He is the very form of eternal being, knowledge and bliss.” Impersonal Brahman realization is the realization of His sat (being) feature. Paramatma realization is the realization of the cit (eternal knowledge) feature. But realization of the Personality of Godhead, Krsna, is realization of all the transcendental features: sat, cit and ananda (being, knowledge, bliss) in complete vigraha (form).
People with less intelligence consider the Supreme Truth to be impersonal, but He is a transcendental person, and this is confirmed in all Vedic literatures. Nityo nityanam cetanas cetananam. As we are all individual living beings and have our individuality, the Supreme Absolute Truth is also, in the ultimate issue, a person, and realization of the Personality of Godhead is realization of all of the transcendental features. The complete whole is not formless. If He is formless, or if He is less than any other thing, then He cannot be the complete whole. The complete whole must have everything within our experience and beyond our experience, otherwise it cannot be complete. The complete whole, Personality of Godhead, has immense potencies.
How Krsna is acting in different potencies is also explained in Bhagavad-gita. This phenomenal world or material world in which we are placed is also complete in itself because the twenty-four elements of which this material universe is a temporary manifestation, according to Sankhya philosophy, are completely adjusted to produce complete resources which are necessary for the maintenance and subsistence of this universe. There is nothing extraneous; nor is there anything needed. This manifestation has its own time fixed by the energy of the supreme whole, and when its time is complete, these temporary manifestations will be annihilated by the complete arrangement of the complete. There is complete facility for the small complete units, namely the living entities, to realize the complete, and all sorts of incompleteness are experienced due to incomplete knowledge of the complete. So Bhagavad-gita contains the complete knowledge of Vedic wisdom.
All Vedic knowledge is infallible, and Hindus accept Vedic knowledge to be complete and infallible. For example, cow dung is the stool of an animal, and according to smrti, or Vedic injunction, if one touches the stool of an animal he has to take a bath to purify himself. But in the Vedic scriptures cow dung is considered to be a purifying agent. One might consider this to be contradictory, but it is accepted because it is Vedic injunction, and indeed by accepting this, one will not commit a mistake; subsequently it has been proved by modern science that cow dung contains all antiseptic properties. So Vedic knowledge is complete because it is above all doubts and mistakes, and Bhagavad-gita is the essence of all Vedic knowledge.
Vedic knowledge is not a question of research. Our research work is imperfect because we are researching things with imperfect senses. We have to accept perfect knowledge which comes down, as is stated in Bhagavad-gita, by the parampara (disciplic succession). We have to receive knowledge from the proper source in disciplic succession beginning with the supreme spiritual master, the Lord Himself, and handed down to a succession of spiritual masters. Arjuna, the student who took lessons from Lord Sri Krsna, accepts everything that He says without contradicting Him. One is not allowed to accept one portion of Bhagavad-gita and not another. No. We must accept Bhagavad-gita without interpretation, without deletion and without our own whimsical participation in the matter. The Gita should be taken as the most perfect presentation of Vedic knowledge. Vedic knowledge is received from transcendental sources, and the first words were spoken by the Lord Himself. The words spoken by the Lord are different from the words spoken by a person of the mundane world who is infected with four defects. A mundaner 1) is sure to commit mistakes, 2) is invariably illusioned, 3) has the tendency to cheat others and 4) is limited by imperfect senses. With these four imperfections, one cannot deliver perfect information of all-pervading knowledge.
Vedic knowledge is not imparted by such defective living entities. It was imparted unto the heart of Brahma, the first created living being, and Brahma in his turn disseminated this knowledge to his sons and disciples, as he originally received it from the Lord. The Lord is purnam, all-perfect, and there is no possibility of His becoming subjected to the laws of material nature. One should therefore be intelligent enough to know that the Lord is the only proprietor of everything in the universe and that He is the original creator, the creator of Brahma. In the Eleventh Chapter the Lord is addressed as prapitamaha because Brahma is addressed as pitamaha, the grandfather, and He is the creator of the grandfather. So no one should claim to be the proprietor of anything; one should accept only things which are set aside for him by the Lord as his quota for his maintenance.
There are many examples given of how we are to utilize those things which are set aside for us by the Lord. This is also explained in Bhagavad-gita. In the beginning, Arjuna decided that he should not fight in the Battle of Kuruksetra. This was his own decision. Arjuna told the Lord that it was not possible for him to enjoy the kingdom after killing his own kinsmen. This decision was based on the body because he was thinking that the body was himself and that his bodily relations or expansions were his brothers, nephews, brothers-in-law, grandfathers and so on. He was thinking in this way to satisfy his bodily demands. Bhagavad-gita was spoken by the Lord just to change this view, and at the end Arjuna decides to fight under the directions of the Lord when he says, “karisye vacanam tava.” “I shall act according to Thy word.”
In this world man is not meant to toil like hogs. He must be intelligent to realize the importance of human life and refuse to act like an ordinary animal. A human being should realize the aim of his life, and this direction is given in all Vedic literatures, and the essence is given in Bhagavad-gita. Vedic literature is meant for human beings, not for animals. Animals can kill other living animals, and there is no question of sin on their part, but if a man kills an animal for the satisfaction of his uncontrolled taste, he must be responsible for breaking the laws of nature. In the Bhagavad-gita it is clearly explained that there are three kinds of activities according to the different modes of nature: the activities of goodness, of passion and of ignorance. Similarly, there are three kinds of eatables also: eatables in goodness, passion and ignorance. All of this is clearly described, and if we properly utilize the instructions of Bhagavad-gita, then our whole life will become purified, and ultimately we will be able to reach the destination which is beyond this material sky.
That destination is called the sanatana sky, the eternal spiritual sky. In this material world we find that everything is temporary. It comes into being, stays for some time, produces some by-products, dwindles and then vanishes. That is the law of the material world, whether we use as an example this body, or a piece of fruit or anything. But beyond this temporary world there is another world of which we have information. This world consists of another nature, which is sanatana, eternal. Jiva is also described as sanatana, eternal, and the Lord is also described as sanatana in the Eleventh Chapter. We have an intimate relationship with the Lord, and because we are all qualitatively one–the sanatana-dhama, or sky, the sanatana Supreme Personality and the sanatana living entities–the whole purpose of Bhagavad-gita is to revive our sanatana occupation, or sanatana-dharma, which is the eternal occupation of the living entity. We are temporarily engaged in different activities, but all of these activities can be purified when we give up all these temporary activities and take up the activities which are prescribed by the Supreme Lord. That is called our pure life.
The Supreme Lord and His transcendental abode are both sanatana, as are the living entities, and the combined association of the Supreme Lord and the living entities in the sanatana abode is the perfection of human life. The Lord is very kind to the living entities because they are His sons. Lord Krsna declares in Bhagavad-gita, “sarva-yonisu…aham bija-pradah pita.” “I am the father of all.” Of course there are all types of living entities according to their various karmas, but here the Lord claims that He is the father of all of them. Therefore the Lord descends to reclaim all of these fallen, conditioned souls to call them back to the sanatana eternal sky so that the sanatana living entities may regain their eternal sanatana positions in eternal association with the Lord. The Lord comes Himself in different incarnations, or He sends His confidential servants as sons or His associates or acaryas to reclaim the conditioned souls.
Therefore, sanatana-dharma does not refer to any sectarian process of religion. It is the eternal function of the eternal living entities in relationship with the eternal Supreme Lord. Sanatana-dharma refers, as stated previously, to the eternal occupation of the living entity. Ramanujacarya has explained the word sanatana as “that which has neither beginning nor end,” so when we speak of sanatana-dharma, we must take it for granted on the authority of Sri Ramanujacarya that it has neither beginning nor end.
The English world “religion” is a little different from sanatana-dharma. Religion conveys the idea of faith, and faith may change. One may have faith in a particular process, and he may change this faith and adopt another, but sanatana-dharma refers to that activity which cannot be changed. For instance, liquidity cannot be taken from water, nor can heat be taken from fire. Similarly, the eternal function of the eternal living entity cannot be taken from the living entity. Sanatana-dharma is eternally integral with the living entity. When we speak of sanatana-dharma, therefore, we must take it for granted on the authority of Sri Ramanujacarya that it has neither beginning nor end. That which has neither end nor beginning must not be sectarian, for it cannot be limited by any boundaries. Yet those belonging to some sectarian faith will wrongly consider that sanatana-dharma is also sectarian, but if we go deeply into the matter and consider it in the light of modern science, it is possible for us to see that sanatana-dharma is the business of all the people of the world–nay, of all the living entities of the universe.
Non-sanatana religious faith may have some beginning in the annals of human history, but there is no beginning to the history of sanatana-dharma because it remains eternally with the living entities. Insofar as the living entities are concerned, the authoritative sastras state that the living entity has neither birth nor death. In the Gita it is stated that the living entity is never born, and he never dies. He is eternal and indestructible, and he continues to live after the destruction of his temporary material body. In reference to the concept of sanatana-dharma, we must try to understand the concept of religion from the Sanskrit root meaning of the word. Dharma refers to that which is constantly existing with a particular object. We conclude that there is heat and light along with the fire; without heat and light, there is no meaning to the word fire. Similarly, we must discover the essential part of the living being, that part which is his constant companion. That constant companion is his eternal quality, and that eternal quality is his eternal religion.
When Sanatana Gosvami asked Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu about the svarupa of every living being, the Lord replied that the svarupa or constitutional position of the living being is the rendering of service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If we analyze this statement of Lord Caitanya, we can easily see that every living being is constantly engaged in rendering service to another living being. A living being serves other living beings in two capacities. By doing so, the living entity enjoys life. The lower animals serve human beings as servants serve their master. A serves B master, B serves C master and C serves D master and so on. Under these circumstances, we can see that one friend serves another friend, the mother serves the son, the wife serves the husband, the husband serves the wife and so on. If we go on searching in this spirit, it will be seen that there is no exception in the society of living beings to the activity of service. The politician presents his manifesto for the public to convince them of his capacity for service. The voters therefore give the politician their valuable votes, thinking that he will render valuable service to society. The shopkeeper serves the customer, and the artisan serves the capitalist. The capitalist serves the family, and the family serves the state in the terms of the eternal capacity of the eternal living being. In this way we can see that no living being is exempt from rendering service to other living beings, and therefore we can safely conclude that service is the constant companion of the living being and that the rendering of service is the eternal religion of the living being.
Yet man professes to belong to a particular type of faith with reference to particular time and circumstance and thus claims to be a Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist or any other sect. Such designations are non-sanatana-dharma. A Hindu may change his faith to become a Muslim, or a Muslim may change his faith to become a Hindu, or a Christian may change his faith and so on. But in all circumstances the change of religious faith does not affect the eternal occupation of rendering service to others. The Hindu, Muslim or Christian in all circumstances is servant of someone. Thus, to profess a particular type of sect is not to profess one’s sanatana-dharma. The rendering of service is sanatana-dharma.
Factually we are related to the Supreme Lord in service. The Supreme Lord is the supreme enjoyer, and we living entities are His servitors. We are created for His enjoyment, and if we participate in that eternal enjoyment with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, we become happy. We cannot become happy otherwise. It is not possible to be happy independently, just as no one part of the body can be happy without cooperating with the stomach. It is not possible for the living entity to be happy without rendering transcendental loving service unto the Supreme Lord.
In the Bhagavad-gita, worship of different demigods or rendering service to them is not approved. It is stated in the Seventh Chapter, twentieth verse:
kamais tais tair hrta-jnanah prapadyante ‘nya-devatah
tam tam niyamam asthaya prakrtya niyatah svaya
“Those whose minds are distorted by material desires surrender unto demigods and follow the particular rules and regulations of worship according to their own natures.” (Bg. 7.20) Here it is plainly said that those who are directed by lust worship the demigods and not the Supreme Lord Krsna. When we mention the name Krsna, we do not refer to any sectarian name. Krsna means the highest pleasure, and it is confirmed that the Supreme Lord is the reservoir or storehouse of all pleasure. We are all hankering after pleasure. Ananda-mayo ‘bhyasat (Vs. 1.1.12). The living entities, like the Lord, are full of consciousness, and they are after happiness. The Lord is perpetually happy, and if the living entities associate with the Lord, cooperate with Him and take part in His association, then they also become happy.
The Lord descends to this mortal world to show His pastimes in Vrndavana, which are full of happiness. When Lord Sri Krsna was in Vrndavana, His activities with His cowherd boyfriends, with His damsel friends, with the inhabitants of Vrndavana and with the cows were all full of happiness. The total population of Vrndavana knew nothing but Krsna. But Lord Krsna even discouraged His father Nanda Maharaja from worshiping the demigod Indra because He wanted to establish the fact that people need not worship any demigod. They need only worship the Supreme Lord because their ultimate goal is to return to His abode.
The abode of Lord Sri Krsna is described in the Bhagavad-gita, Fifteenth Chapter, sixth verse:
na tad bhasayate suryo na sasanko na pavakah
yad gatva na nivartante tad dhama paramam mama
“That abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by electricity and anyone who reaches it never comes back to this material world.” (Bg. 15.6)
This verse gives a description of that eternal sky. Of course we have a material conception of the sky, and we think of it in relationship to the sun, moon, stars and so on, but in this verse the Lord states that in the eternal sky there is no need for the sun nor for the moon nor fire of any kind because the spiritual sky is already illuminated by the brahmajyoti, the rays emanating from the Supreme Lord. We are trying with difficulty to reach other planets, but it is not difficult to understand the abode of the Supreme Lord. This abode is referred to as Goloka. In the Brahma-samhita it is beautifully described: goloka eva nivasaty akhilatma-bhutah. The Lord resides eternally in His abode Goloka, yet He can be approached from this world, and to this end the Lord comes to manifest His real form, sac-cid-ananda-vigraha. When He manifests this form, there is no need for our imagining what He looks like. To discourage such imaginative speculation, He descends and exhibits Himself as He is, as Syamasundara. Unfortunately, the less intelligent deride Him because He comes as one of us and plays with us as a human being. But because of this we should not consider that the Lord is one of us. It is by His potency that He presents Himself in His real form before us and displays His pastimes, which are prototypes of those pastimes found in His abode.
In the effulgent rays of the spiritual sky there are innumerable planets floating. The brahmajyoti emanates from the supreme abode, Krsnaloka, and the anandamaya-cinmaya planets, which are not material, float in those rays. The Lord says, na tad bhasayate suryo na sasanko na pavakah. yad gatva na nivartante tad dhama paramam mama. One who can approach that spiritual sky is not required to descend again to the material sky. In the material sky, even if we approach the highest planet (Brahmaloka), what to speak of the moon, we will find the same conditions of life, namely birth, death, disease and old age. No planet in the material universe is free from these four principles of material existence. Therefore the Lord says in Bhagavad-gita, abrahma-bhuvanal lokah punar avartino ‘rjuna. The living entities are traveling from one planet to another, not by a mechanical arrangement but by a spiritual process. This is also mentioned: yanti deva-vrata devan pitrn yanti pitr-vratah. No mechanical arrangement is necessary if we want interplanetary travel. The Gita instructs: yanti deva-vrata devan. The moon, the sun and higher planets are called Svargaloka. There are three different statuses of planets: higher, middle and lower planetary systems. The earth belongs to the middle planetary system. Bhagavad-gita informs us how to travel to the higher planetary systems (Devaloka) with a very simple formula: yanti deva-vrata devan. One need only worship the particular demigod of that particular planet and in that way go to the moon, the sun or any of the higher planetary systems.
Yet Bhagavad-gita does not advise us to go to any of the planets in this material world because even if we go to Brahmaloka, the highest planet, through some sort of mechanical contrivance by maybe traveling for forty thousand years (and who would live that long?), we will still find the material inconveniences of birth, death, disease and old age. But one who wants to approach the supreme planet, Krsnaloka, or any of the other planets within the spiritual sky, will not meet with these material inconveniences. Amongst all of the planets in the spiritual sky there is one supreme planet called Goloka Vrndavana, which is the original planet in the abode of the original Personality of Godhead Sri Krsna. All of this information is given in Bhagavad-gita, and we are given through its instruction information how to leave the material world and begin a truly blissful life in the spiritual sky.
In the Fifteenth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, the real picture of the material world is given. It is said there:
urdhva-mulam adhah-sakham asvattham prahur avyayam
chandamsi yasya parnani yas tam veda sa veda-vit
“The Supreme Lord said: There is a banyan tree which has its roots upward and its branches down, and the Vedic hymns are its leaves. One who knows this tree is the knower of the Vedas.” (Bg 15.1) Here the material world is described as a tree whose roots are upwards and branches are below. We have experience of a tree whose roots are upward: if one stands on the bank of a river or any reservoir of water, he can see that the trees reflected in the water are upside down. The branches go downward and the roots upward. Similarly, this material world is a reflection of the spiritual world. The material world is but a shadow of reality. In the shadow there is no reality or substantiality, but from the shadow we can understand that there is substance and reality. In the desert there is no water, but the mirage suggests that there is such a thing as water. In the material world there is no water, there is no happiness, but the real water of actual happiness is there in the spiritual world.
The Lord suggests that we attain the spiritual world in the following manner:
dvandvair vimuktah sukha-duhkha-samjnair
gacchanty amudhah padam avyayam tat
That padam avyayam or eternal kingdom can be reached by one who is nirmana-moha. What does this mean? We are after designations. Someone wants to become a son, someone wants to become “lord,” someone wants to become the president or a rich man or a king or something else. As long as we are attached to these designations, we are attached to the body because designations belong to the body. But we are not these bodies, and realizing this is the first stage in spiritual realization. We are associated with the three modes of material nature, but we must become detached through devotional service to the Lord. If we are not attached to devotional service to the Lord, then we cannot become detached from the modes of material nature. Designations and attachments are due to our lust and desire, our wanting to lord it over the material nature. As long as we do not give up this propensity of lording it over material nature, there is no possibility of returning to the kingdom of the Supreme, the sanatana-dhama. That eternal kingdom, which is never destroyed, can be approached by one who is not bewildered by the attractions of false material enjoyments, who is situated in the service of the Supreme Lord. One so situated can easily approach that supreme abode.
Elsewhere in the Gita it is stated:
avyakto ‘ksara ity uktas tam ahuh paramam gatim
yam prapya na nivartante tad dhama paramam mama
Avyakta means unmanifested. Not even all of the material world is manifested before us. Our senses are so imperfect that we cannot even see all of the stars within this material universe. In Vedic literature we can receive much information about all the planets, and we can believe it or not believe it. All of the important planets are described in Vedic literatures, especially Srimad-Bhagavatam, and the spiritual world, which is beyond this material sky, is described as avyakta, unmanifested. One should desire and hanker after that supreme kingdom, for when one attains that kingdom, he does not have to return to this material world.
Next, one may raise the question of how one goes about approaching that abode of the Supreme Lord. Information of this is given in the Eighth Chapter. It is said there:
anta-kale ca mam eva smaran muktva kalevaram
yah prayati sa mad-bhavam yati nasty atra samsayah
“Anyone who quits his body, at the end of life, remembering Me, attains immediately to My nature; and there is no doubt of this.” (Bg. 8.5) One who thinks of Krsna at the time of his death goes to Krsna. One must remember the form of Krsna; if he quits his body thinking of this form, he approaches the spiritual kingdom. Mad-bhavam refers to the supreme nature of the Supreme Being. The Supreme Being is sac-cid-ananda-vigraha–eternal, full of knowledge and bliss. Our present body is not sac-cid-ananda. It is asat, not sat. It is not eternal; it is perishable. It is not cit, full of knowledge, but it is full of ignorance. We have no knowledge of the spiritual kingdom, nor do we even have perfect knowledge of this material world where there are so many things unknown to us. The body is also nirananda; instead of being full of bliss it is full of misery. All of the miseries we experience in the material world arise from the body, but one who leaves this body thinking of the Supreme Personality of Godhead at once attains a sac-cid-ananda body, as is promised in the fifth verse of the Eight Chapter where Lord Krsna says, “He attains My nature.”
The process of quitting this body and getting another body in the material world is also organized. A man dies after it has been decided what form of body he will have in the next life. Higher authorities, not the living entity himself, make this decision. According to our activities in this life, we either rise or sink. This life is a preparation for the next life. If we can prepare, therefore, in this life to get promotion to the kingdom of God, then surely, after quitting this material body, we will attain a spiritual body just like the Lord.
As explained before, there are different kinds of transcendentalists, the brahmavadi, paramatmavadi, and the devotee, and, as mentioned, in the brahmajyoti (spiritual sky) there are innumerable spiritual planets. The number of these planets is far, far greater than all of the planets of this material world. This material world has been approximated as only one quarter of the creation. In this material segment there are millions and billions of universes with trillions of planets and suns, stars and moons. But this whole material creation is only a fragment of the total creation. Most of the creation is in the spiritual sky. One who desires to merge into the existence of the Supreme Brahman is at once transferred to the brahmajyoti of the Supreme Lord and thus attains the spiritual sky. The devotee, who wants to enjoy the association of the Lord, enters into the Vaikuntha planets, which are innumerable, and the Supreme Lord by His plenary expansions as Narayana with four hands and with different names like Pradyumna, Aniruddha, Govinda, etc., associates with him there. Therefore at the end of life the transcendentalists either think of the brahmajyoti, the Paramatma or the Supreme Personality of Godhead Sri Krsna. In all cases they enter into the spiritual sky, but only the devotee, or he who is in personal touch with the Supreme Lord, enters into the Vaikuntha planets. The Lord further adds that of this “there is no doubt.” This must be believed firmly. We should not reject that which does not tally with our imagination; our attitude should be that of Arjuna: “I believe everything that You have said.” Therefore when the Lord says that at the time of death whoever thinks of Him as Brahman or Paramatma or as the Personality of Godhead certainly enters into the spiritual sky, there is no doubt about it. There is no question of disbelieving it.
The information on how to think of the Supreme Being at the time of death is also given in the Gita:
yam yam vapi smaran bhavam tyajaty ante kalevaram
tam tam evaiti kaunteya sada tad-bhava-bhavitah
“In whatever condition one quits his present body, in his next life he will attain to that state of being without fail.” (Bg. 8.6) Material nature is a display of one of the energies of the Supreme Lord. In the Visnu Purana the total energies of the Supreme Lord as Visnu-saktih para prokta, etc., are delineated. The Supreme Lord has diverse and innumerable energies which are beyond our conception; however, great learned sages or liberated souls have studied these energies and have analyzed them into three parts. All of the energies are of visnu-sakti, that is to say they are different potencies of Lord Visnu. That energy is para, transcendental. Living entities also belong to the superior energy, as has already been explained. The other energies, or material energies, are in the mode of ignorance. At the time of death we can either remain in the inferior energy of this material world, or we can transfer to the energy of the spiritual world.
In life we are accustomed to thinking either of the material or the spiritual energy. There are so many literatures which fill our thoughts with the material energy–newspapers, novels, etc. Our thinking, which is now absorbed in these literatures, must be transferred to the Vedic literatures. The great sages, therefore, have written so many Vedic literatures such as the Puranas, etc. The Puranas are not imaginative; they are historical records. In the Caitanya-caritamrta there is the following verse:
maya-mugdha jivera nahi svatah krsna-jnana
jivere krpaya kaila krsna veda-purana
(Cc. Madhya 20.122)
The forgetful living entities or conditioned souls have forgotten their relationship with the Supreme Lord, and they are engrossed in thinking of material activities. Just to transfer their thinking power to the spiritual sky, Krsna has given a great number of Vedic literatures. First he divided the Vedas into four, then he explained them in the Puranas, and for less capable people he wrote the Mahabharata. In the Mahabharata there is given the Bhagavad-gita. Then all Vedic literature is summarized in the Vedanta-sutra, and for future guidance he gave a natural commentation on the Vedanta-sutra, called Srimad-Bhagavatam. We must always engage our minds in reading these Vedic literatures. Just as materialists engage their minds in reading newspapers, magazines and so many materialistic literatures, we must transfer our reading to these literatures which are given to us by Vyasadeva; in that way it will be possible for us to remember the Supreme Lord at the time of death. That is the only way suggested by the Lord, and He guarantees the result: “There is no doubt.” (Bg. 8.7)
tasmat sarvesu kalesu mam anusmara yudhya ca
mayy arpita-mano-buddhir mam evaisyasy asamsayah
“Therefore, Arjuna, you should always think of Me, and at the same time you should continue your prescribed duty and fight. With your mind and activities always fixed on Me, and everything engaged in Me, you will attain to Me without any doubt.”
He does not advise Arjuna to simply remember Him and give up his occupation. No, the Lord never suggests anything impractical. In this material world, in order to maintain the body one has to work. Human society is divided, according to work, into four divisions of social order–brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya, sudra. The brahmana class or intelligent class is working in one way, the ksatriya or administrative class is working in another way, and the mercantile class and the laborers are all tending to their specific duties. In the human society, whether one is a laborer, merchant, warrior, administrator, or farmer, or even if one belongs to the highest class and is a literary man, a scientist or a theologian, he has to work in order to maintain his existence. The Lord therefore tells Arjuna that he need not give up his occupation, but while he is engaged in his occupation he should remember Krsna. If he doesn’t practice remembering Krsna while he is struggling for existence, then it will not be possible for him to remember Krsna at the time of death. Lord Caitanya also advises this. He says that one should practice remembering the Lord by chanting the names of the Lord always. The names of the Lord and the Lord are nondifferent. So Lord Krsna’s instructions to Arjuna to “remember Me” and Lord Caitanya’s injunction to always “chant the names of Lord Krsna” are the same instruction. There is no difference, because Krsna and Krsna’s name are nondifferent. In the absolute status there is no difference between reference and referent. Therefore we have to practice remembering the Lord always, twenty-four hours a day, by chanting His names and molding our life’s activities in such a way that we can remember Him always.
How is this possible? The acaryas give the following example. If a married woman is attached to another man, or if a man has an attachment for a woman other than his wife, then the attachment is to be considered very strong. One with such an attachment is always thinking of the loved one. The wife who is thinking of her lover is always thinking of meeting him, even while she is carrying out her household chores. In fact, she carries out her household work even more carefully so her husband will not suspect her attachment. Similarly, we should always remember the supreme lover, Sri Krsna, and at the same time perform our material duties very nicely. A strong sense of love is required here. If we have a strong sense of love for the Supreme Lord, then we can discharge our duty and at the same time remember Him. But we have to develop that sense of love. Arjuna, for instance, was always thinking of Krsna; he was the constant companion of Krsna, and at the same time he was a warrior. Krsna did not advise him to give up fighting and go to the forest to meditate. When Lord Krsna delineates the yoga system to Arjuna, Arjuna says that the practice of this system is not possible for him.
yo ‘yam yogas tvaya proktah samyena madhusudana
etasyaham na pasyami cancalatvat sthitim sthiram
“Arjuna said, O Madhusudana, the system of yoga which You have summarized appears impractical and unendurable to me, for the mind is restless and unsteady.” (Bg. 6.33)
But the Lord says:
yoginam api sarvesam mad-gatenantaratmana
sraddhavan bhajate yo mam sa me yuktatamo matah
“Of all yogis, he who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service, is most intimately united with Me in yoga, and is the highest of all.” (Bg. 6.47) So one who thinks of the Supreme Lord always is the greatest yogi, the supermost jnani, and the greatest devotee at the same time. The Lord further tells Arjuna that as a ksatriya he cannot give up his fighting, but if Arjuna fights remembering Krsna, then he will be able to remember Him at the time of death. But one must be completely surrendered in the transcendental loving service of the Lord.
We work not with our body, actually, but with our mind and intelligence. So if the intelligence and the mind are always engaged in the thought of the Supreme Lord, then naturally the senses are also engaged in His service. Superficially, at least, the activities of the senses remain the same, but the consciousness is changed. The Bhagavad-gita teaches one how to absorb the mind and intelligence in the thought of the Lord. Such absorption will enable one to transfer himself to the kingdom of the Lord. If the mind is engaged in Krsna’s service, then the senses are automatically engaged in His service. This is the art, and this is also the secret of Bhagavad-gita: total absorption in the thought of Sri Krsna.
Modern man has struggled very hard to reach the moon, but he has not tried very hard to elevate himself spiritually. If one has fifty years of life ahead of him, he should engage that brief time in cultivating this practice of remembering the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This practice is the devotional process of:
sravanam kirtanam visnoh smaranam pada-sevanam
arcanam vandanam dasyam sakhyam atma-nivedanam
These nine processes, of which the easiest is sravanam, hearing Bhagavad-gita from the realized person, will turn one to the thought of the Supreme Being. This will lead to nisala, remembering the Supreme Lord, and will enable one, upon leaving the body, to attain a spiritual body which is just fit for association with the Supreme Lord.
The Lord further says:
abhyasa-yoga-yuktena cetasa nanya-gamina
paramam purusam divyam yati parthanucintayan
“By practicing this remembering, without being deviated, thinking ever of the Supreme Godhead, one is sure to achieve the planet of the Divine, the Supreme Personality, O son of Kunti.” (Bg. 8.8)
This is not a very difficult process. However, one must learn it from an experienced person, from one who is already in the practice. The mind is always flying to this and that, but one must always practice concentrating the mind on the form of the Supreme Lord Sri Krsna or on the sound of His name. The mind is naturally restless, going hither and thither, but it can rest in the sound vibration of Krsna. One must thus meditate on paramam purusam, the Supreme Person, and thus attain Him. The ways and the means for ultimate realization, ultimate attainment, are stated in the Bhagavad-gita, and the doors of this knowledge are open for everyone. No one is barred out. All classes of men can approach the Lord by thinking of Him, for hearing and thinking of Him is possible for everyone.
The Lord further says:
mam hi partha vyapasritya ye ‘pi syuh papa-yonayah
striyo vaisyas tatha sudras te ‘pi yanti param gatim
kim punar brahmanah punya bhakta rajarsayas tatha
anityam asukham lokam imam prapya bhajasva mam
“O son of Prtha, anyone who will take shelter in Me, whether a woman, or a merchant, or one born in a low family, can yet approach the supreme destination. How much greater then are the brahmanas, the righteous, the devotees, and saintly Kings! In this miserable world, these are fixed in devotional service to the Lord.” (Bg. 9.32-33)
Human beings even in the lower statuses of life (a merchant, a woman or a laborer) can attain the Supreme. One does not need highly developed intelligence. The point is that anyone who accepts the principle of bhakti-yoga and accepts the Supreme Lord as the summum bonum of life, as the highest target, the ultimate goal, can approach the Lord in the spiritual sky. If one adopts the principles enunciated in Bhagavad-gita, he can make his life perfect and make a perfect solution to all the problems of life which arise out of the transient nature of material existence. This is the sum and substance of the entire Bhagavad-gita.
In conclusion, Bhagavad-gita is a transcendental literature which one should read very carefully. It is capable of saving one from all fear.
nehabhikrama-naso ‘sti pratyavayo na vidyate
svalpam apy asya dharmasya trayate mahato bhayat
“In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear.” (Bg. 2.40) If one reads Bhagavad-gita sincerely and seriously, then all of the reactions of his past misdeeds will not react upon him. In the last portion of Bhagavad-gita, Lord Sri Krsna proclaims:
sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja
aham tvam sarva-papebhyo moksayisyami ma sucah
“Give up all varieties of religiousness, and just surrender unto Me; and in return I shall protect you from all sinful reactions. Therefore, you have nothing to fear.” (Bg. 18.66) Thus the Lord takes all responsibility for one who surrenders unto Him, and He indemnifies all the reactions of sin.
One cleanses himself daily by taking a bath in water, but one who takes his bath only once in the sacred Ganges water of the Bhagavad-gita cleanses away all the dirt of material life. Because Bhagavad-gita is spoken by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one need not read any other Vedic literature. One need only attentively and regularly hear and read Bhagavad-gita. In the present age, mankind is so absorbed with mundane activities that it is not possible to read all of the Vedic literatures. But this is not necessary. This one book, Bhagavad-gita, will suffice because it is the essence of all Vedic literatures and because it is spoken by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. It is said that one who drinks the water of the Ganges certainly gets salvation, but what to speak of one who drinks the waters of Bhagavad-gita? Gita is the very nectar of the Mahabharata spoken by Visnu Himself, for Lord Krsna is the original Visnu. It is nectar emanating from the mouth of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and the Ganges is said to be emanating from the lotus feet of the Lord. Of course there is no difference between the mouth and the feet of the Supreme Lord, but in our position we can appreciate that the Bhagavad-gita is even more important than the Ganges.
The Bhagavad-gita is just like a cow, and Lord Krsna, who is a cowherd boy, is milking this cow. The milk is the essence of the Vedas, and Arjuna is just like a calf. The wise men, the great sages and pure devotees, are to drink the nectarean milk of Bhagavad-gita.
In this present day, man is very eager to have one scripture, one God, one religion, and one occupation. So let there be one common scripture for the whole world–Bhagavad-gita. And let there be one God only for the whole world–Sri Krsna. And one mantra only–Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. And let there be one work only–the service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
THE DISCIPLIC SUCCESSION
Evam parampara-praptam imam rajarsayo viduh (Bhagavad-gita, 4.2). This Bhagavad-gita As It Is is received through this disciplic succession:
1) Krsna, 2) Brahma, 3) Narada; 4) Vyasa, 5) Madhva, 6) Padmanabha, 7) Nrhari, 8) Madhava, 9) Aksobhya, 10) Jaya Tirtha, 11) Jnanasindhu, 12) Dayanidhi, 13) Vidyanidhi, 14) Rajendra, 15) Jayadharma, 16) Purusottama, 17) Brahmanya Tirtha, 18) Vyasa Tirtha, 19) Laksmipati, 20) Madhavendra Puri, 21) Isvara Puri, (Nityananda, Advaita), 22) Lord Caitanya, 23) Rupa, (Svarupa, Sanatana), 24) Raghunatha, Jiva, 25) Krsnadasa, 26) Narottama, 27) Visvanatha, 28) (Baladeva) Jagannatha, 29) Bhaktivinoda, 30) Gaurakisora, 31) Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, 32) His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
Note: Isvara Puri was a Dasnami( Sankar) Dandi sanyasin and possibly he had lost faith in Sankar Vedanta and started to practice his self styled Bhakti Yoga/marga. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (after his dikshya from Isvar Puri) had enormous respect for Acharya Sankar and regarded him as Jagad guru, but he never followed his Advaita Vedanta, he independantly propagated Achinta Vhedaved Tattva. [Advocatetanmoy]