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Bhagavad Gita; It's Feeling and Philosophy

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Special Interview with Swami B.V. Tripurari

discussing his new edition of Bhagavad-gita: Its Feeling and Philosophy


Audarya: I would like to ask you a few questions and then perhaps you could

read something from your Gita commentary.


Swami: All right.


Audarya:In your introduction to Aesthetic Vedanta you described how in your

edition of Tattva-sandarbha you coined the phrase "Vedanta of Aesthetics"

and that Aesthetic Vedanta involved playing this out, which you did

wonderfully. What took you from Aesthetic Vedanta and the high point of

Krsna's loveplay down to the ego-battleground of the Bhagavad-gita?


Swami: My inspiration to comment on Bhagavad-gita did not come directly

from anything I wrote in Aesthetic Vedanta. Actually I wanted to take on a

smaller project after finishing that short but very intense book. After

thinking about what that might be for some time, I was reminded of what

Prabhupada had first said to me, citing the Bhagavad-gita. I read over that

morning walk conversation, the first I had gone on with Prabhupada, and

felt that it would be appropriate to follow through on what he had

instructed me. He cited Krsna's statement about how explaining the Gita to

others was the most dear service, and then he indicated that he expected

his disciples to write books. So I put these two things together and

decided to write something on the Bhagavad-gita, a book that I had not

given as much attention over the years as I had others such as

Srimad-Bhagavatam and Caitanya-caritamrta.


My initial idea was to simply show how the Gita's verses connected to one

another, which was something that Prabhupada had not focused on in his

commentary. However, as I began to study the Gita and write, the book

seemed to take on a life of its own, and it did not rest until some 600

pages later.


Audarya: But there does seem to be a connection between Aesthetic Vedanta

and your Gita commentary. Your whole approach to the Gita involves

differentiating between Krsna in his amorous affairs with the gopis

(milkmaidens) and Krsna the statesman on the battlefield.


Swami: Yes, I wanted acquaint readers of the Gita with Krsna's emotional

state when he was speaking the Gita, to help them locate him in terms of

the entirety of his divine play on earth. In Aesthetic Vedanta I discussed

Krsna's love play with the gopis, which is said to be the high point in his

lila. He was only eleven at that time. He spoke the Gita over 80 years

later, yet he could not forget the love of those village girls. Although he

himself is the supreme connoisseur of love, their love conquered him. As he

spoke to his friend Arjuna about dharma on the battlefield, he could not

but remember the highest expression of dharma exhibited by the gopis. Thus

his song about dharma on the battlefield does hit the high note that

Aesthetic Vedanta played out in full. Other commentators in the Gaudiya

tradition have implied this, and in my commentary I have offered logical

and scriptural support for their insights.


Audarya: You have done that very tastefully. I particularly appreciated

your discussion of the Kuruksetra battlefield and how you tied Krsna's

previous meeting there with the gopis to his speaking the Gita there many

years later. Your commentary touches the highest spiritual strata without

neglecting the spiritual foundation that the Gita seeks to cement in place.


Swami: Well that is what the Bhagavad gita entails, and that is why so many

people feel that it is such a complete book in itself. It takes us through

the entire spectrum of spiritual life, from the bondage of material

attachment to the freedom of lawless spiritual love. Personally I was

dumbstruck by its scope and the logic of its progression as I went through

it verse by verse, page by page, chapter by chapter.


Audarya: Was there a high point for you?


Swami: There were several. The two obvious ones came at the end of the 9th

chapter, and the end of the 18th chapter where the conclusion of the Gita

is initially voiced and then reiterated. The love for his devotees in

Krsna's voice as he repeats the conclusion of his sermon at the end of

chapter 18 is very compelling, and I was never more absorbed in the

commentary than I was at that point.


But I have to say that as far back as chapter one I also reached a high

point, as the Gita commences in terms of Arjuna and Krsna's first words.

The first words Arjuna speaks take us to the theological zenith of the

book. Arjuna orders Krsna to drive his chariot between the two armies so

that he can see who has assembled to fight in the war. Krsna does so, no

questions asked.


This is God conquered by the love of his devotees. Krsna bows to Arjuna's

order. God is conquered by love. All religions teach us that God is the

most venerable object, but the Gita teaches us about that which is

venerable for God

From this high point in Arjuna's first utterance we go to the lowest end of

the spiritual spectrum. Krsna drives the chariot, stopping it in front of

Bhisma and Drona, who personify Arjuna's material attachment. He tells

Arjuna to look and see that all those who are assembled in battle array are

his own family members, his attachments, the composite of which makes up

Arjuna's material ego.


This is what Krsna parades before Arjuna, and in doing so he tells us that

the Gita is about dismantling the composite of our material attachments so

that we might know our authentic self and the possibility of real love.

Regardless of the different metaphysical nuances commentators find in the

text and build their sect around, this point is the foundation to any

meaningful commentary on the Gita. It is the common spiritual ground on

which we all must stand and do battle with our material ego if we are to

meet the challenge of spiritual life. If we turn a blind eye to this point

at the onset, reading the rest of the Gita is nothing more than an

intellectual exercise.


This to me was a high point because this is the point around which all

spiritual seekers can gather. Embracing it really ends all argument as to

the significance of the rest of the book, as that significance is realized

and each practitioner grows the necessary wings to fly as high in the

spiritual sky as their soul delights.


Audarya: So you like the philosophical low points as much if not more than

the high ones?


Swami: Yes, it's all sweet, but the significance of the overtly sweet parts

concerning various shades of spiritual love will only be realized by one

who swallows the bitter pill of ego death. Krsna doesn't want us to choke

on that, so he takes us through a progression of thought and spiritual

application from right livelihood to mystic insight, detachment,

meditation, and devotion, before arriving at unconditional love, never

encouraging one to act artificially without proper consideration of one's

eligibility for spiritual practice.


Audarya: The battle metaphor of the Gita turns some people off to its

message. Can you comment on that?


Swami: This is very misunderstood. Arjuna was a warrior, and he was by

nature prepared to fight to uphold righteousness. However in the Gita's

battle he refuses to fight. In doing so he sounds very noble, but his

justification for walking away from the battle amounts to nothing more than

the power of rationalization fueled by material attachment. What he is

asked to do battle with is his attachments, and this is what he objects to

in so many words. Only when he is enlightened as to the naked form of

material attachment and selfish desire does he agree to fight these

enemies. The battle of the Gita is not about killing people.


Audarya: So no one was actually killed in a historical battle of



Swami: If we view it as an historical event, we must remember that it is a

history of Krsna's lila, which is a divine drama enacted on earth for the

instruction of humanity. No one dies in a drama about war. The very reason

that the historicity of the battle is difficult to prove is that the battle

is part of Krsna's divine play that, while manifesting on earth, transcends

it at the same time. But all of this is very esoteric. The historicity of

Krsna lila should be stressed to save us from turning God himself into

nothing more than a metaphor. Krsna is an ontological reality, and there is

a history to his revealing this to us through his devotee mystics. From the

perspective of the Gaudiya tradition, the theology of the Gita deals with

all of this.


Audarya: You may be making history by the way you speak about your own



Swami: Spiritual traditions must grow if they are to live and remain

viable. They must have intellectual integrity, while imploring us to

transcend the limitations of intellect. I am doing my small part to keep

the Gaudiya tradition alive and relevant, and that is a good part of my

focus, what I see as my contribution to the tradition.


Audarya: Swami, in the course of writing your Gita commentary you were also

personally involved in a transition. You relocated and switched your focus

from ministering to a local congregation to writing more, focusing on a

global community, and living in this beautiful redwood forest with a small

staff of monks. How do you think that affected the outcome of your



Swami: It impacted the time it took to finish the book, but it also enabled

me to focus more on what I do best. So I am sure that influenced the

outcome of the commentary in a positive way. As the monastery develops here

at Audarya, I am realizing my ideals both internally and externally. The

name Audarya implies that internal development of selflessness and love of

God results in an outpouring of generosity. The Gita teaches this as well.

You said you would like me to read something from my commentary. Let me

read a moment from chapter six.


Bg. 6.32

"The yogi who measures the pain and pleasure of others as if it were his

own, O Arjuna, is considered to be the best of all.


Krsna's devotees possess such compassionate hearts that they broadcast his

holy name and virtuous deeds wherever they go. In the words of the gopis,

they are the most munificent welfare workers. They identify with the joys

and sorrows of others as if they were their own, and thus they tirelessly

canvass to lift others beyond the duality of joy and sorrow by showering

them with the immortal nectar of Krsna's instructions. To see another's

sorrow as one's own is to see through the eyes of God, for all souls are

eternally related with God, as parts are to the whole. Mature yoga is

recognizable by the outward symptoms indicated in this verse.


Here we find the practical application of yoga in the world, what yoga

practice will do to improve the world. Although this and the previous

verses in this section refer to advanced yogis, it is they whom

practitioners should try to emulate. Practitioners should strive to follow

this golden rule of yoga. Only when practitioners do so will their practice

of meditation be effective. How we deal with others and the world in

everyday life will have considerable impact on our attempts at meditation.

Without cultivating this outlook, one's devotional practices are performed

in vain."


Audarya: So yoga and compassion go hand in hand?


Swami: Yes, through yoga one can pass through the shadow of material

compassion and touch the heart of actual compassion. It's about melting the

heart without losing your head. Although in the higher stages of bhakti

yoga losing one's head can one truly understand what the Gaudiyas are talking about when they

speak of Krsna. It is not possible to explain love, what to speak of divine



Audarya: That seems to be what you are attempting to do in all of your



Swami: To explain Krsna, we have to try to explain love, impossible as it

is. Krsna is that face of the Absolute that corresponds with the purest

love. Love supreme, this is the message of the Bhagavad-gita. I am not so

sure that this is only a notion of Gaudiya Vedanta. Those who have loved

even imperfectly will vouch for this cosmic truth.


Further information on Bhagavad Gita; It's Feeling and Philosophy is available at www.swami.org/sanga

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