[ by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, originally published circa 1948 ]
It has become a luxurious fashion of the day, along with the progress of material civilization, that everyone can make his interpretation of the great Indian philosophy called the Bhagavad-gita. This concise form of Vedic knowledge, known as the Gitopanisad, is acknowledged by all sections of transcendental scholars, in India especially, as the cream of all Upanisads and that of Vedanta-sutras also.
Scholars and acaryas like Sripada Sankaracarya and some of his followers also could not leave out this very important book of knowledge, although such scholars of the Mayavada school did not acknowledge the bona fides of the Puranas. But the interpretation of Sri Sankaracarya differs from the interpretations of the Vaisnava acaryas headed by Sri Ramanujacarya and Madhvacarya. There are innumerable interpretations of the Bhagavad-gita in the market, and it is certainly a puzzling business to select which of the various interpretations shall be accepted as bona fide and which of them shall be rejected as mala fide.
In order to make a distinction between these two classes of bona fide and mala fide interpretations, we have to make an impartial study of the book, and such unbiased study only will make us able to discern the bona fide from the mala fide.
In this connection, we may first of all try to find out the origin of the Bhagavad-gita. It is wrong to understand that The Bhagavad-gita was first spoken in the battlefield of Kuruksetra as it is a part of the great history of India, namely, the Mahabharata. We can understand from the talks of Sri Krsna and Arjuna, as it is stated in the Bhagavad-gita, that long, long before the battle of Kuruksetra, this philosophy was once spoken by Sri Krsna to Vivasvan (the Sun), and from Vivasvan the knowledge was transferred to Manu, and from Manu it was transferred to King Iksvaku. And, in that way of disciplic succession, the knowledge has come down to generations after generations, but in course of time, such disciplic succession broke, and therefore, Sri Krsna again repeated the same yoga or transcendental knowledge to Arjuna. In the beginning of the 4th Chapter of Bhagavad-gita, this fact is stated as follows:
imam vivasvate yogam
proktavan aham avyayam
vivasvan manave praha
manur iksvakave ’bravit
imam rajarsayo viduh
sa kaleneha mahata
yogo nastah parantapa
sa evayam maya te ’dya
yogah proktah puratanah
bhakto ’si me sakha ceti
rahasyam hy etad uttamam
“The Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krsna, said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Iksvaku. This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way. But in course of time the succession was broken, and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost. That very ancient science of the relationship with the Supreme is today told by Me to you because you are My devotee as well as My friend and can therefore understand the transcendental mystery of this science.” [Bg. 4.1-3]
Rsis and kings or the kings who were as good as the rsis is the meaning of the word rajarsaya, and, as such, every one, whether he was a householder or mendicant, knew Bhagavad-gita before the battle of Kuruksetra, or before the period of Mahabharata, which is calculated to be at least five thousand years before, and as such, how it is hinted that the same knowledge was lost. That transcendental knowledge was lost because there must have been some mala fide interpretations of the knowledge, and such knowledge would do more harm than good to the people. It had to be repeated again by Sri Krsna before a bona fide king, and for this, Arjuna was selected at a critical moment because Sri Krsna acknowledged him to be not only a confidential friend, but also a bona fide devotee at the same time. We have to mark the words especially bhakto ’si etc.
bhakto ’si me sakha ceti
rahasyam hy etad uttamam
“Because you are My devotee as well as My friend and can therefore understand the transcendental mystery of this science.” [Bg. 4.3]
Sri Krsna had many friends and relatives at that time who might have been great scholars also, but He selected Arjuna as the bona fide person to grasp the knowledge of Bhagavad-gita only because Arjuna was a great devotee of the Lord. It may be concluded therefore that the principle of Bhagavad-gita can be understood only by personalities like Arjuna, who was a completely surrendered soul to Sri Krsna, and this knowledge (yoga) can be explained only by personalities like Sri Krsna (i. e. His bona fide devotees) or for the matter of that by the Personality of Godhead only.
Under such circumstances, the bona fide interpretations can be given only by those who follow the footprints of Arjuna, or, in other words, one who happens to come in the line of disciplic succession from Sri Arjuna as it was formerly delivered from Vivasvan to Manu (and Iksvaku). That is the first condition of understanding Bhagavad-gita. And, violations of this condition means breaking of the link of disciplic succession and thereby losing the real purpose of the great philosophy. Beside, Bhagavad-gita is not a new thesis of speculative philosophy, but it is as old as the Sun is. Nobody can say what is the age of the Sun, neither can anybody calculate the age of Manu. According to authentic sastras, the age of a Manu is 72 x 4,200,000 years. It is also understood that at the present moment, the Manu who has been referred to in the Bhagavad-gita has been passing his age on the point of the 28th period, out of the above mentioned 72 periods of 4,200,000 years each, and because Manu was told by Vivasvan, it may be safely calculated that Bhagavad-gita was spoken once before the battle of Kuruksetra at least 197,600,000 one hundred ninety-seven million sixty hundreds of thousand years before.
A transcendental source of knowledge which was coming down in a chain of disciplic succession for millions of years before the battle of Kuruksetra must have been studied by various scholars of the period, but still, we don’t find more than one edition or interpretation of the Bhagavad-gita as represented by Sri Arjuna; but during the last two hundred years, we have so many interpretations of Bhagavad-gita by different speculators. This advancement of speculative activities by different mundaners without any reference to the chain of disciplic succession, are all mala fide interpretations, and spread of such mala fide knowledge on the so-called basis of the Great Book of Knowledge, will do more harm than good to the people.
We find also in the last chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, that the Personality of Godhead has persistently advised that the essence of Bhagavad-gita must not be disclosed to a person at any time who has not undergone any disciplinary method of austerity and penances, who is not a devotee of Sri Krsna, who is unwilling to accept the teachings of Bhagavad-gita and, lastly, one who actually envies Sri Krsna, the Personality of Godhead. The sloka which instructs the above procedure runs as follows:
idam te natapaskaya
na casusrusave vacyam
na ca mam yo ’bhyasuyati
“This confidential knowledge may never be explained to those who are not austere, or devoted, or engaged in devotional service, nor to one who is envious of Me.” [Bg. 18.67]
So, according to Bhagavad-gita, the following four classes of readers are incompetent to understand the principle of Bhagavad-gita, and therefore they are not able to make any bona fide interpretations whatsoever. They are:
1. Ordinary men who have no training in austerity or penance.
2. Those who are not devotees of Godhead but are either mundane workers, mundane philosophers or mundane mystics.
3. Those who do not come in the line of disciplic succession like Vivasvan, Manu, Iksvaku, Arjuna, etc.
4. Those who disbelieve Sri Krsna as the Absolute Personality of Godhead.
And, these unlucky four classes of men are described in the Bhagavad-gita as (a) Naradhamah the lowest class of men, (b) mudhah non-intelligent men of society, © mayayapahrta-jnana persons who have sufficient mundane education, but they are robbed of essential knowledge by the illusory energy or maya, and (d) the asuras who disbelieve in the very existence of Godhead. The sloka which describes the above fact runs as follows:
na mam duskrtino mudhah
asuram bhavam asritah
“Those miscreants who are grossly foolish, who are lowest among mankind, whose knowledge is stolen by illusion, and who partake of the atheistic nature of demons do not surrender unto Me.” [Bg. 7.15]
These four mala fide classes of men have done tremendous harm to the society by making mala fide interpretations of the Bhagavad-gita according to their limited sensual perceptions, and the result is that the whole atmosphere has been surcharged with mala fide poisons, which are eating the vital necessities of life. We can very well imagine how this process can do harm if we compare it partially with adulterated foodstuff or adulterated medicines. Foodstuff and medicines are concerned with the material body only, but the knowledge which is administered in the Bhagavad-gita is concerned with spirit soul. In the very beginning of Bhagavad-gita, the identity of the material body and the spirit soul has been elaborately explained, and the specific instruction of Bhagavad-gita has always been stressed for the benefit of the spirit soul. The subject matter of the material body and mind has not been neglected in Bhagavad-gita, but on the contrary, it has been nicely coordinated with the necessities of the spirit soul; but more importance and attention has been drawn on the subject matter of the spirit soul. Therefore, if we protest so much against spread of adulterated foodstuff and medicines which are concerned with the temporary material body only, we have to protest more vigorously against the spread of adulterated interpretations of Bhagavad-gita because that concerns to the eternal vital power of the spirit soul.
avinasi tu tad viddhi
yena sarvam idam tatam
“That which pervades the entire body you should know to be indestructible.” [Bg. 2.17]
For ordinary class of men, the Bhagavad-gita has enjoined “sastra-vidhi”, i. e. such men have been advised to follow the instructions as have been enjoined in the authentic scriptures. Because the outlaws who are reluctant to follow the instructions of the scriptures cannot ever be successful in all their attempts, and as such they cannot have any peace and prosperity or be elevated to the spiritual or transcendental plane. It is stated in the Bhagavad-gita as follows:
yah sastra-vidhim utsrjya
na sa siddhim avapnoti
na sukham na param gatim
“He who discards scriptural injunctions and acts according to his own whims attains neither perfection, nor happiness, nor the supreme destination.” [Bg. 16.23]
Such ordinary men, when they manufacture spiritual procedure of austerity or penances for any such pseudo-spiritualistic method, do so according to the mundane quality they might have acquired in the course of their mundane activities. The mundane qualities being divided into three categories, such pseudo-spiritualistic methods are also divided into three categories, namely sattvic (mode of goodness), rajasic (mode of passion) and tamasic mode of ignorance). This is described as follows in the Bhagavad-gita, namely, (Ch. 17.1–10):
ye sastra-vidhim utsrjya
tesam nistha tu ka krsna
sattvam aho rajas tamah
tri-vidha bhavati sraddha
dehinam sa svabhava-ja
sattviki rajasi caiva
tamasi ceti tam srnu
sraddha bhavati bharata
sraddha-mayo ’yam puruso
yo yac-chraddhah sa eva sah
yajante sattvika devan
pretan bhuta-ganams canye
yajante tamasa janah
tapyante ye tapo janah
mam caivantah sarira-stham
tan viddhy asura-niscayan
aharas tv api sarvasya
tri-vidho bhavati priyah
yajnas tapas tatha danam
tesam bhedam imam srnu
rasyah snigdhah sthira hrdya
puti paryusitam ca yat
ucchistam api camedhyam
“Arjuna inquired: O Krsna, what is the situation of those who do not follow the principles of scripture but worship according to their own imagination? Are they in goodness, in passion or in ignorance?
The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: According to the modes of nature acquired by the embodied soul, one’s faith can be of three kinds—in goodness, in passion or in ignorance. Now hear about this.
O son of Bharata, according to one’s existence under the various modes of nature, one evolves a particular kind of faith. The living being is said to be of a particular faith according to the modes he has acquired.
Men in the mode of goodness worship the demigods; those in the mode of passion worship the demons; and those in the mode of ignorance worship ghosts and spirits.
Those who undergo severe austerities and penances not recommended in the scriptures, performing them out of pride and egoism, who are impelled by lust and attachment, who are foolish and who torture the material elements of the body as well as the Supersoul dwelling within, are to be known as demons.
Even the food each person prefers is of three kinds, according to the three modes of material nature. The same is true of sacrifices, austerities and charity. Now hear of the distinctions between them.
Foods dear to those in the mode of goodness increase the duration of life, purify one’s existence and give strength, health, happiness and satisfaction. Such foods are juicy, fatty, wholesome, and pleasing to the heart.
Foods that are too bitter, too sour, salty, hot, pungent, dry and burning are dear to those in the mode of passion. Such foods cause distress, misery and disease.
Food prepared more than three hours before being eaten, food that is tasteless, decomposed and putrid, and food consisting of remnants and untouchable things is dear to those in the mode of darkness.” [Bg. 17.1-10]
So, these ordinary men who are influenced by the three modes of Nature can work out a plan of their sensual pleasure, but it is not possible for them to give authentic interpretations of Bhagavad-gita as it was spoken by the Personality of Godhead to Vivasvan or Arjuna. The whole thing is received in transcendental submissiveness by aural reception, which is not accepted by the mundane wranglers deliberately refusing to approach the bona fide spiritual master who has got the keynote of Bhagavad-gita. It is therefore stated in the Bhagavad-gita that one who actually wants to have an access to the essence of Bhagavad-gita must himself engage in the service of a bona fide spiritual master by full surrender. In that position only, one can make bona fide enquiries regarding the Bhagavad-gita, and in that posture only, the self-realized spiritual masters impregnate the submissive disciple with the knowledge of Gita, because they have already seen the Truth of it.
tad viddhi pranipatena
upadeksyanti te jnanam
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.” [Bg. 4.34]
Mental speculationists can manufacture wonderful interpretations of Bhagavad-gita by an intellectual activity, but such interpretation cannot be accepted as bona fide because that is not transcendental to the mundane senses, neither to the material mind in subtle state. As it is stated in the Bhagavad-gita, such interpretations depending on the mind and senses are sure to be doomed like a boat on the troubled sea. It is said there:
indriyanam hi caratam
yan mano ’nuvidhiyate
tad asya harati prajnam
vayur navam ivambhasi
tasmad yasya maha-baho
tasya prajna pratisthita
ya nisa sarva-bhutanam
tasyam jagarti samyami
yasyam jagrati bhutani
sa nisa pasyato muneh
samudram apah pravisanti yadvat
tadvat kama yam pravisanti sarve
sa santim apnoti na kama-kami
vihaya kaman yah sarvan
pumams carati nihsprhah
sa santim adhigacchati
esa brahmi sthitih partha
nainam prapya vimuhyati
sthitvasyam anta-kale ’pi
“As a boat on the water is swept away by a strong wind, even one of the roaming senses on which the mind focuses can carry away a man’s intelligence.
Therefore, O mighty-armed, one whose senses are restrained from their objects is certainly of steady intelligence.
What is night for all beings is the time of awakening for the self-controlled; and the time of awakening for all beings is night for the introspective sage.
A person who is not disturbed by the incessant flow of desires—that enter like rivers into the ocean, which is ever being filled but is always still—can alone achieve peace, and not the man who strives to satisfy such desires.
A person who has given up all desires for sense gratification, who lives free from desires, who has given up all sense of proprietorship and is devoid of false ego—he alone can attain real peace.
That is the way of the spiritual and godly life, after attaining which a man is not bewildered. If one is thus situated, even at the hour of death, one can enter into the kingdom of God.” [Bg. 2.67–72]
By these presents it is not however meant that we shall have to accept somebody who is a professional spiritual master or a social spiritual master. The transcendentalist is one who has known Sri Krsna as He is. Sri Krsna is never the person Who can be conceived by mental or physical adjustment. He can only be known by those who have full surrender unto Him. He cannot be understood by sense perception because He is behind a curtain spread by yogamaya. Unless that curtain is removed by the process of transcendental loving co-operation with Him, one cannot know Sri Krsna as He is.
naham prakasah sarvasya
kascid yatati siddhaye
yatatam api siddhanam
kascin mam vetti tattvatah
avajananti mam mudha
manusIm tanum asritam
param bhavam ajananto
“I am never manifest to the foolish and unintelligent. For them I am covered by My internal potency.” [Bg. 7.25]
“Out of many thousands among men, one may endeavor for perfection, and of those who have achieved perfection, hardly one knows Me in truth.” [Bg. 7.3]
“Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature as the Supreme Lord of all that be.” [Bg. 9.11]
Sri Vyasadeva experienced Sri Bhagavan in the following way (Sanskrit quote).
(Page four.) This param bhavam or transcendental nature of Sri Krsna, the Absolute Personality of Godhead, is unknowable to the unlucky four classes of men as aforesaid. Some of them who are influenced by asurabhava or demoniac nature especially consider that Sri Krsna is no better than an ordinary man and the extraordinary qualities that He possessed can be acquired by any ordinary man, or in other words, any one and every one can become a Sri Krsna or more than Him. But the mahatmas who are graced by Sri Krsna know Him otherwise. Such mahatmas know Sri Krsna as the Supreme Personality bhutamahesvaram, while the asuras or raksasas (like Ravana and Hiranyakasipu) who defy Sri Krsna as the Supreme Being above everthing and thereby are baffled in their speculative work, frustrated in their hopes, befooled in their search of knowledge thus remain entrapped by the illusory laws of material nature which they are unable to conquer by any amount of speculative method. [margin note: (Nobody is at or above: (asrama urdhva))] These asuras and mahatmas are definitely distinguished in the Bhagavad-gita in so many words, as in Chapter 9, Texts 12–14:
raksasim asurim caiva
prakrtim mohinim sritah
mahatmanas tu mam partha
daivim prakrtim asritah
jnatva bhutadim avyayam
satatam kirtayanto mam
yatantas ca drdha-vratah
namasyantas ca mam bhaktya
“Those who are thus bewildered are attracted by demonic and atheistic views. In that deluded condition, their hopes for liberation, their fruitive activities, and their culture of knowledge are all defeated.
O son of Prtha, those who are not deluded, the great souls, are under the protection of the divine nature. They are fully engaged in devotional service because they know Me as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, original and inexhaustible.
Always chanting My glories, endeavoring with great determination, bowing down before Me, these great souls perpetually worship Me with devotion.” [Bg. 9.12-14]
The whole purpose of Bhagavad-gita is to reveal Sri Krsna the Personality of Godhead as He is. The whole theme of Bhagavad-gita is to preach the surrendering process of all living beings unto the Lotus feet of Sri Krsna, because all living beings are His parts and parcels, and without this surrendering process, nobody can conquer the indefiable laws of Nature. Material existence of all living beings means a perpetual struggle struggle for existence and a continued fight with Prakriti without any success. [margin note (as done by induction)] Advancement of material science has undoubtedly discovered many weapons by the Asuras to fight with the laws of Nature, but without full surrender unto the Lord Krsna, nobody can get relief from such perpetual struggle for existence. The fittest person who shall survive this struggle is one who has completely surrendered unto the Will of Sri Krsna the Personality of Godhead. This fact is stated in the Bhagavad-gita in the following words:
daivi hy esa guna-mayi
mama maya duratyaya
mam eva ye prapadyante
mayam etam taranti te
“This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it.” [Bg. 7.14]
man-mana bhava mad-bhakto
mad-yaji mam namaskuru
mam evaisyasi satyam te
pratijane priyo ’si me
mam ekam saranam vraja
aham tvam sarva-papebhyo
moksayisyami ma sucah
“Always think of Me, become My devotee, worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend.”
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.” [Bg. 18.65–66]
aham sarvasya prabhavo
mattah sarvam pravartate
iti matva bhajante mam
kathayantas ca mam nityam
tusyanti ca ramanti ca
dadami buddhi-yogam tam
yena mam upayanti te
aham ajnana-jam tamah
“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who perfectly know this engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.
The thoughts of My pure devotees dwell in Me, their lives are fully devoted to My service, and they derive great satisfaction and bliss from always enlightening one another and conversing about Me.
To those who are constantly devoted to serving Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me.
To show them special mercy, I, dwelling in their hearts, destroy with the shining lamp of knowledge the darkness born of ignorance.” [Bg. 10.8-11]
There are certain extraordinarily learned prospective mahatmas who try to understand Sri Krsna by the ascending process of acquiring knowledge, but such process is not only defective, but also troublesome. Such learned scholars attain the Lotus feet of Sri Krsna after many, many births and deaths. Such would-be mahatmas are stated in the Bhagavad-gita as follows:
bahunam janmanam ante
jnanavan mam prapadyate
vasudevah sarvam iti
sa mahatma su-durlabhah
“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.” [Bg. 7.19]
avyaktam vyaktim apannam
manyante mam abuddhayah
param bhavam ajananto
“Unintelligent men, who do not know Me perfectly, think that I, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna, was impersonal before and have now assumed this personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My higher nature, which is imperishable and supreme.” [Bg. 7.24]
avyakto ’ksara ity uktas
tam ahuh paramam gatim
yam prapya na nivartante
tad dhama paramam mama
purusah sa parah partha
bhaktya labhyas tv ananyaya
yena sarvam idam tatam
“That which the Vedantists describe as unmanifest and infallible, that which is known as the supreme destination, that place from which, having attained it, one never returns—that is My supreme abode.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is greater than all, is attainable by unalloyed devotion. Although He is present in His abode, He is all-pervading, and everything is situated within Him.” [Bg. 8.21-22]
jnana-yajnena capy anye
yajanto mam upasate
“Others, who engage in sacrifice by the cultivation of knowledge, worship the Supreme Lord as the one without a second, as diverse in many, and in the universal form.” [Bg. 9.15]
kleso ’dhikataras tesam
avyakta hi gatir duhkham
ye tu sarvani karmani
mayi sannyasya mat-parah
mam dhyayanta upasate
tesam aham samuddharta
bhavami na cirat partha
“For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied.
But those who worship Me, giving up all their activities unto Me and being devoted to Me without deviation, engaged in devotinal service and always meditating upon Me, having fixed their minds upon Me, O son of Prtha—for them I am the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death.” [Bg. 12.5-7]
Preaching of Bhagavad-gita is not, therefore, a proposition of mental speculation and putting in different mental interpretations of speculative empiric philosphers. It is one without a second concrete fact for the amelioration of the sufferings of humanity especially and animality generally. It must be presented in the bona fide method of spreading the knowledge, strictly in the line of transcendental chain of disciplic succession. Om Tat Sat.