prathamaṁ sadguruṁ vande śhrī kṛiṣhṇa tadanantaram
guruḥ pāpātmanāṁ trātā śhrī kṛiṣhṇastvamalātmanām
mukundānanda prapannohaṁ guru pādāravindayoḥ
tasya preraṇayā tasya divyādeśhaṁ vadāmyaham
“I first offer my respectful obeisance to my Gurudev, Jagadguru Shree Kripaluji Maharaj, and then to the Supreme Lord Shree Krishna. While Shree Krishna embraces the pure-hearted, my Gurudev is so merciful that he offers shelter even to the spiritually destitute. This insignificant inconsequential soul, who goes by the name of Mukundananda in the world, is surrendering at the lotus feet of his Spiritual Master. With his Guru’s permission, inspiration, and grace, he is humbly going to elucidate on spiritual topics.”
vande vṛindāvanānandāṁ rādhikāṁ parameśhvarīm
gopikāṁ paramāṁ śhūddhāṁ hlādinīṁ śhakti rūpiṇīm
“I offer my respectful obeisance to Radharani, the Supreme Goddess and the bliss-giving power of God. She is the purest of the gopīs and embodies the bliss of Vrindavan.
kadā drakṣhyāmi nandasya bālakaṁ nīpamālakam
pālakaṁ sarva sattvānāṁ lasattilaka bhālakam
“When will my eyes see the wonderful form of the Supreme Lord Shree Krishna, who appeared on this earth as the son of Nand? He is adorned with a flower garland around his neck and the holy tilak mark on his forehead; he is the protector of virtuous people.”
ajāta pakṣhā iva mātaraṁ khagāḥ satanyaṁ yathā vatsatarāḥ kṣhudhārtāḥ
priyaṁ priyeva vyuṣhitaṁ viṣhaṇṇā manoravindākṣha didṛikṣhate tvām
“O Lord! As a baby bird yearns for its mother, as a famished infant longs to suckle the mother’s breast, and as a lover craves for the beloved, may my mind always long for your divine vision.”
The Ascending and Descending Processes of Knowledge
There are two ways of acquiring knowledge. The first is the ascending process, in which we utilize our senses, mind, and intellect to explore, discover, and conclude about the nature of the truth. The second is the descending process, where we simply receive the knowledge from a proper source. The ascending process of gaining knowledge is inherently prone to defects. Since our senses, mind, and intellect are made from the material energy, they are imperfect and limited. As a result, we can never be completely sure about the accuracy and reliability of the knowledge we gain through them.
As the pursuit of material science is based upon the ascending process, even the most acclaimed and undisputed scientific theories of the past are overthrown and superseded by newer ones. For example, the Greek concept of matter as consisting of indivisible atoms was invalidated by Rutherford when he demonstrated that atoms consist of electrons, protons, neutrons, and vast regions of empty space. Rutherford’s theory was overthrown by the Quantum theory, which stated that electrons and protons are not solid particles, but vibrating patterns of energy with a dual particle wave nature. This makes us wonder whether what we believe to be true today will also be proven utterly incorrect after a few centuries.
The other process of knowledge, the descending process, on the other hand, is completely devoid of such defects. When we receive knowledge from a perfect source, we can be assured that it is flawless. For example, if we wish to know who our father is, we do not conduct experiments. We simply ask our mother, as she is the authority on this piece of information. Likewise in spiritual matters too, the descending process immediately gives us access to vast reservoirs of knowledge, which would have taken ages of self-effort to unveil. The only criterion here is that the source from which we receive the knowledge must be infallible and trustworthy. The Vedas are one such source of knowledge.
The Vedas are not the name of any book. They refer to the eternal knowledge of God, which he manifests when he creates the world. In this cycle of creation, he first revealed them in the heart of the first-born Brahma. These Vedas were passed on for thousands of years by oral tradition, from master to disciple, and hence another name for them is śhruti (knowledge received by hearing). They are also called apauruṣheya (not created by any human). For this reason, in Indian philosophy the Vedas are considered the ultimate authority for validating any spiritual principle. The validity of any spiritual tenet, whether in the context of the past, present, or future, must be established on the basis of the Vedas. To elaborate their meaning, many more scriptures have been written. These scriptures do not deviate from the authority of the Vedas. Rather, they attempt to expand and explain the knowledge contained in them. Together, all these are termed “Vedic scriptures.”The Vedic scriptures are vast, but three of them have traditionally been called the Prasthān Trayī (three points of commencement for understanding Vedic thought). These are the Upaniṣhads, the Brahma Sūtras, and the Bhagavad Gita.
The Upaniṣhads are the section of the Vedas that deal with philosophical knowledge, and are considered the cream of the Vedas. On reading them, the German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) said, “There is no philosophy in the world as elevating as that of the Upaniṣhads. It has been the solace of my life and it shall be the solace of my death.” Paul Deussen (1845-1919), another German philosopher, expressed himself thus: “Eternal philosophical truth has seldom found a more striking and decisive expression than in the emancipating knowledge of the philosophy of the Upaniṣhads.” However, for a lay person the Upaniṣhads are difficult to fathom.
The Brahma Sutras is a synopsis of the Upaniṣhads. It was written by Ved Vyas to provide the philosophical conclusion of Vedic knowledge. Thus, it is also called “Vedant,” meaning “the culmination of Vedic thought.” Like the Upaniṣhads, the Brahma Sutras is also hard to comprehend and its conciseness often leads to ambiguity and subjective interpretation.
The Bhagavad Gita is more accessible than the above two scriptures. It provides a comprehensive and easy-to-understand summary of the Vedic philosophy. Bhagavad means “of God” and Gita means “song.” Hence, the Bhagavad Gita literally means “Song of God.” It is a dialogue that took place between the Supreme Lord Shree Krishna and his devotee Arjun, on the verge of the Mahabharat war.
In the course of history, hundreds of theories in economics, psychology, sociology, philosophy, etc. were first propounded and then discarded as inaccurate or incomplete. These were all the products of ascending knowledge, and hence imperfect and subject to error. If the Bhagavad Gita were also the creation of a mortal and finite intellect, with the passage of fifty centuries, it would have become outdated and irrelevant. However, the perennial wisdom of the Gita has continued to inspire famous thinkers even in modern times, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Robert Oppenheimer, Carl Jung, Herman Hesse, and Aldous Huxley, to name just a few, thus indicating its divine origin.
Embedded in the Mahabharat
The Bhagavad Gita was originally compiled by Ved Vyas as a separate text. Later, when he wrote the Mahabharat, he embedded the Bhagavad Gita in it. The Mahabharat contains one hundred thousand verses, and is therefore, the largest poem in the world. It is seven times bigger than the Iliad and Odyssey put together and three times bigger than the Bible. Along with the Ramayan, it is accorded the status of Itihās, meaning historical manuscript of India. Its stories and moral instructions have fashioned the fabric of Indian culture for thousands of years. The Mahabharat is divided into eighteen sections. The Bhagavad Gita is set in the sixth section, which is called the Bheeshma Parva. It comprises eighteen chapters of the section, beginning from Chapter Twenty-five, and continuing until the Chapter Forty-two.
Since the Bhagavad Gita encapsulates most of the important aspects of the knowledge of the Vedas, it is also called Gitopanishad, or the Gitā Upaniṣhad. It serves two important purposes as described below.
It Imparts Brahma Vidyā
As humankind boldly marches forward expanding its frontiers of knowledge, the realization is dawning that the more we discover and learn, the more there is yet to be known. New sciences emerge every year, leading to the inevitable conclusion that the quest for comprehending the whole truth of creation is a never-ending endeavor. This makes one wonder if there is any one body or source of knowledge that can easily explain everything that exists. According to the Vedas, there is such a branch of knowledge, and that is the science of realizing the Absolute Truth. There is one Absolute Truth, which has been referred to by many names, such as Ishwar, Bhagavan, God, Lord, Allah, Khuda, Yahweh, Ahur Mazda, Alakh Niranjan, Shunya, Ikomkar, etc. All other truths have emanated from it and find their position in the scheme of things from it. Thus, the Vedas state: ekasmin vijñāte sarvamidaṁ vijñātaṁ bhavati “One who comes to know the Absolute Truth attains knowledge of everything.” The science of knowing the Absolute Truth is called “Brahma Vidyā.” The purpose of the Bhagavad Gita, above everything else, is to impart Brahma Vidyā, the science of God-realization.
Knowledge that helps a person resolve immediate problems is one kind of enlightenment, while knowledge that dispels the root of ignorance to solve all problems in one strike is another kind of enlightenment. The Bhagavad Gita aims at the second kind of enlightenment by destroying the darkness of ignorance that has enveloped the soul since endless lifetimes. Unable to deal with the immediate problem at hand, Arjun approached Shree Krishna for a palliative to overcome the anguish he was experiencing. Shree Krishna did not just advise him on his immediate problem, but digressed to give a profound discourse on the philosophy of life.
It Teaches the Practice of Yog
For any science to be useful, it must address two aspects—theory and practice. Even the best of theoretical knowledge is insufficient in itself to solve the problems of life. And if knowledge is not put into practice, it only serves the purpose of intellectual entertainment. The Bhagavad Gita is not content with providing a lofty philosophical understanding; it also describes clear-cut techniques for implementing its spiritual precepts for everyday life. These techniques of applying the science of spirituality in our lives are termed “Yog.” Hence, the Bhagavad Gita is also called “Yog Śhāstra,” meaning, the scripture that teaches the practice of Yog.
Inexperienced spiritual practitioners often separate spirituality from temporal life; some look on beatitude as something to be attained in the hereafter. But the Bhagavad Gita makes no such distinction, and aims at the consecration of every aspect of human life in this world itself. Thus, all its eighteen chapters are designated as different types of Yog because they deal with methodologies for the application of spiritual knowledge to practical life. These chapters also describe various systems of Yog, such as karm yog, jñāna yog, and bhakti yog.
The Setting of the Bhagavad Gita
Though the Truth is one and eternal, in different ages it expresses itself in varied locales that impart their unique flavor to its presentation. The teaching of the Bhagavad Gita must therefore not be regarded merely in the light of a generalized philosophy or ethical doctrine. It is the practical application of ethics to human life in a specific situation of crisis that serves as its setting. Since its teachings are exceedingly profound, the Bhagavad Gita required an equally problematic and insurmountable crisis as its setting. Thus, in order to fully appreciate the value of its ideas, the historical flow of events that led to the speaking of the divine message to Arjun by Lord Krishna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra must also be known.
The setting in which the Bhagavad Gita was spoken was the onset of the Mahabharat, a colossal war that was about to begin between two sets of cousins, the Kauravas and the Pandavas. The Pandavas—Yudhisthir, Bheem, Arjun, Nakul, and Sahadev—were five noble brothers. Their father, King Pandu, had suffered an unfortunate death while his five sons were still very young. Pandu’s throne had been usurped by his step brother, Dhritarasthra, who was blind from birth. Dhritarashtra had a hundred sons, called the Kauravas, the eldest of whom was Duryodhan. For years, the Kauravas, led by Duryodhan, had victimized their cousins, the Pandavas, and governed over the kingdom of Hastinapur, which did not rightfully belong to them.
The Kauravas embodied cruelty, injustice, vice, oppression, and irreligion. On the other hand, the Pandavas were saintly and virtuous—the epitomes of morality, sacrifice, devotion, and compassion. Most importantly, they were great devotees of the Supreme Lord Shree Krishna. Due to the oppression meted out to them by the Kauravas, the miseries of the Pandavas had become so unbearable that a war between the two sides had become imminent. Realizing the unavoidability of the war, both sides had canvassed for support from the scores of kingdoms that littered the landscape of Bharat (India) at that time. The two groups of cousins were so powerful that the war would impact the whole of Bharat. Thus, all the kings in the land were obliged to align themselves with one side or the other.
As a part of the vigorous mobilization attempts, both Arjun and Duryodhan had reached Dwaraka to request the help of Lord Krishna. Being omniscient, Shree Krishna knew that they were coming to entreat his help. He created a situation that set the didactical tone for the approaching battle. He posed to be sleeping in his chamber. Arjun entered the chamber and, in a mood of humbleness, sat by the side of Shree Krishna’s feet, waiting for him to wake up. In the meantime, Duryodhan also arrived, and in his characteristic arrogance, sat on a chair behind Shree Krishna’s head. When Shree Krishna awoke, his eyes naturally fell first upon Arjun, and later, he was made aware of the presence of Duryodhan as well. Both parties sought his assistance in the war. Since Arjun and Duryodhan were both Shree Krishna’s cousins, he did not wish to be blamed of partiality. So he offered that to one side he would give his huge army of the kingdom of Dwaraka, while to the other side he would himself remain but without any weapons. Since Shree Krishna had seen Arjun first upon waking up, he gave the first choice to him. Arjun elected to have Shree Krishna on his side, though without weapons. He decided that if God was with him, he could never lose. Duryodhan was pleased by Arjun’s choice, for he believed solely in material strength based upon military might. The Supreme Lord Shree Krishna thus became the charioteer of Arjun in the war.
On the verge of the battle, huge armies had gathered on either side upon the battlefield of Kurukshetra. This was the impending war of Mahabharat (the great battle of India). The situation was extremely grave, as an era was about to self-destruct itself in internecine warfare. Just before the combat was about to begin, Arjun requested Lord Krishna to pull his chariot between the two armies. On seeing the warriors who had arrayed themselves for combat, Arjun lost heart. In a fit of despondency, he threw down his bow and refused to fight.
Arjun was a victim of a moral paradox. On the one hand, he was facing persons who deserved his respect and veneration such as his grandfather, Bheeshma, his teacher, Dronacharya, etc. On the other hand, his duty as a warrior was to fight the war of righteousness. Yet, no fruits of victory seemed to justify such a heinous act. It seemed like a dilemma without solution. Bewildered, demoralized, disappointed with life, and dejected with the events, Arjun surrendered to the Supreme Lord and supplicated for guidance on what the proper course of action for him was. In this state of Arjun’s moral confusion, Shree Krishna set out to enlighten him.
Historicity of the Events
Questions are raised about the historical accuracy of the events described in the Mahabharat. Similar controversies have raged in Europe over the historicity of Christ and events of his life as described in the Bible. Such a debate may have significance for historians but is not important from a spiritual view point. After all, does it matter whether Jesus was actually born in Nazareth or Bethlehem, as long as we can benefit from his teachings and live the sacred life in accordance with his instructions? Likewise, in seeking the kernel of thought of the Gita, we need not concern ourselves with the details of history, but with the spiritual principles that it threw up and their usefulness in walking the path to enlightenment. Even if we maintain divine sentiments toward a stone deity, we become purified. Our own divine sentiments purify our mind. Then where is the doubt about the purifying effect of contemplating upon the pastimes of God with divine sentiments?
When I mentioned to devotees that I intend to write a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, some in the West suggested that I should make an allegorical interpretation of the Mahabharat, and explain the Gita accordingly. They referred me to many of the commentaries popular in the West, which have interpreted the whole situation as an allegory. Making such an allegorical interpretation is the easiest thing to do, but the problem with such an approach is that it destroys the beautiful basis of devotion which the Mahabharat presents us with, and pulls it down to the level of dry intellectual analysis. It is like ordering a field to be bulldozed for agricultural cultivation, without knowledge of the wonderful flower garden that is already growing in it. Similarly, the intention of Ved Vyas in revealing these scriptures was not only to provide us with treasure chests of divine knowledge, but also to present the reader with the enchanting Names, Forms, Virtues, Pastimes, and Abodes of God, which provide a sweet basis for attaching the mind to the Supreme Lord.
So, let us not succumb to the temptation of reducing everything to lifeless allegorical interpretations. The Bhagavad Gita already contains in its original form fathomless knowledge to provide abundant nourishment for the intellect, making its dry intellectualization on the part of commentators an unnecessary endeavor. Ved Vyas too was aware of the allegory as a literary tool, and he has used it effectively in his writings. Hence, let us allow Sage Ved Vyas to reveal his own allegories wherever necessary, as he takes us on a journey of both head and heart, and relates the pastimes and message of the Supreme Lord when he descended in the human form upon the earth.
The Language of the Gita
The Bhagavad Gita was recorded and presented to us in Sanskrit, India’s historic language. This is decidedly befitting as Sanskrit possesses a highly evolved vocabulary for expressing spiritual concepts. It also has the most perfect grammar amongst all the languages of the world; a grammar that has remained unchanged for thousands of years. Recently, NASA scientists, developing a computer language for work in Artificial Intelligence, were astonished to discover that Sanskrit has a perfect computer-compatible grammar for the purpose. Rick Briggs at the NASA Ames Research Center, CA, wrote in his paper “Knowledge Representation in Sanskrit and Artificial Intelligence (The AI Magazine Spring, 1985 #39)”: “There is at least one language, Sanskrit, which for the duration of almost 1,000 years was a living spoken language with a considerable literature of its own. Besides works of literary value, there was a long philosophical and grammatical tradition that has continued to exist with undiminished vigor until the present century. Among the accomplishments of the grammarians can be reckoned a method for paraphrasing Sanskrit in a manner that is identical not only in essence but in form with current work in Artificial Intelligence.”
As the medium of the Bhagavad Gita, the Sanskrit language imparts both profoundness and sophistication. At the same time, it is flexible and provides scope for all traditions to see their perspective included in the divine dialogue.
Worldwide popularity of the Gita
From the time of Shankaracharya, great philosophers customarily wrote their respective commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita. It was also translated from Sanskrit into many other Indian languages, such as the Jñāneśhwarī, written by Saint Jnaneswar in Marathi in the thirteenth century.
During the British Raj, the popularity of the Gita spread worldwide. It was first translated in English by Charles Wilkins, a merchant with the East India Company. His rendition made a deep impression on the American Transcendentalists, a group of independent thinkers in New England. Ralph Waldo Emerson made it the basis of his poem “Brahma.” Emerson made the Gita required reading for all those who objected to evangelical Christianity. His friend, Henry David Thoreau was also a tremendous enthusiast of the Gita and incorporated its teachings on Karm Yog in his own lifestyle and philosophy. And so, for the first time it became a part of the counter culture. A century later, TS Eliot had a lifelong interest in Indian philosophy and incorporated it in his poetry. The Gita also appealed to the German Romantics, notably Schlegel, Humboldt, and Goethe.
Back home in India, leaders of the independence movement, who were winning the respect of the nation, began attributing the source of their inspiration to the Bhagavad Gita. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the leader of the freedom struggle before Mahatma Gandhi and a respected karm yogi, wrote an extensive and scholarly commentary upon the Gita. After him, Mahatma Gandhi declared that whenever he faced disappointments, he turned to the Gita for guidance and solace. Gandhi’s thinking inspired two other giants of the twentieth century in the west, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. This cross-seeding of ideas that took place between east and west further enhanced the popularity of the Gita. In the 1960s another wave of counter culture swept America. Continuing in the tradition of Swami Vivekananda and Swami Yogananda who had visited the western world earlier, many Indian gurus began arriving in America, such as Swami Vishnudevananda, Swami Satchitananda, and Swami Prabhupada. They all referred to the Gita as the authoritative reference for their teachings. As a result, the Bhagavad Gita rapidly reached the status it possesses today as one of the most popular and well-read books of wisdom in the history of humankind.
Its Teachings are Above Cult and Creed
There is one kind of teaching that propagates a dogma, cult or creed. There is another kind of teaching that propagates ideals and life principles that are supremely above all cults and creeds. Scholars who regard the Gita as the fruit of some particular religious system do injustice to the universality of its message. The ideas it presents are not the speculations of a philosophic intellect, rather they are the enduring truths of spiritual realities that are verifiable in our own existence and sojourn through life. Thus, when the first English edition of the Gita was published, Warren Hastings, the then Governor General of India, wrote in his foreword: “These (writings of the inhabitants of India) will survive when the British dominion of India shall have long ceased to exist, and when the sources which it yielded of wealth and power are lost to remembrance.”
Our approach in studying the Gita must therefore not be a scholastic or academic scrutiny of its message, nor an effort to place its philosophy in the context of contending schools of thought. The Gita is not a treatise of metaphysical philosophy, despite the profusion of metaphysical ideas that arise from its pages. Instead, it seeks the highest truth for the highest practical utility, not for intellectual or even spiritual satisfaction, but as the truth that saves and opens to us the passage from our present mortal imperfection to an immortal perfection. We must therefore approach it for help and light in receiving the living message that can benefit human beings attain the highest welfare and spiritual perfection.
Commentaries on the Gita
Books of divine knowledge naturally invite several commentaries to be written on them. These commentaries serve to elucidate the eternal edicts they contain. This is just as countries have their respective law books, such as the constitution, etc. In addition, there are commentaries published by lawyers that assist in studying these books. Similarly, commentaries on the scriptures help in bringing forth the gems of knowledge embedded in these holy books. Due to its vast popularity, the Bhagavad Gita has had hundreds of commentaries written on it. Some of the important commentators in history have been Jagadguru Shankaracharya, Jagadguru Ramanujacharya, Jagadguru Madhvacharya, Jagadguru Nimbarkacharya, and Mahaprabhu Vallabhacharya, who were all founders of major Vedantic traditions. In the Shaiva tradition, the renowned philosopher Abhinavgupta wrote a commentary, with a slightly variant rescension, called “Gitarth Samagraha.”
The beauty about divine knowledge is that the more it is churned the more nectar it produces, and hence the world has undoubtedly been enriched by these insightful commentaries. Simultaneously, we must be aware that commentaries by the great pontiffs conform to their respective life missions. These great acharyas preached the Absolute Truth according to time, place, and circumstance, always with the aim of wellbeing of humankind. Thus, they maintained a missionary zeal to propagate their favorite ideas, and portray their respective perspectives in all the verses of the Bhagavad Gita. While according full respect to their accomplished works, we should bear in mind that Shree Krishna was not an Advaita vādī (non-dualist), Viśhiṣhṭ advaita vādī (qualified non-dualist), Dwait vādī (dualist), or Dwait advaita vādī (dual non-dualist). He was beyond the polemics of philosophers and so was his message. Thus, we see how the principles of theism, asceticism, dualism, pragmatism, karm, jñana, bhakti, haṭha, sānkhya, etc. are all woven into his teachings. We must therefore be wary of limiting the meaning of the Bhagavad Gita within the perspective of one philosophic tradition, and instead view it as a window to the whole Absolute Truth.
This is the manner of thinking of Jagadguru Shree Kripaluji Maharaj, who freely quotes from the works of wisdom of all the famous Indian Saints and even Western ones, without getting mired in any one sampradāya (religious tradition) or paramparā (disciplic succession). When he is asked which of the four Vaiṣhṇav sampradāyas does he belong to, he humbly points out that the Absolute Truth is one, and it does not restrict itself to any particular sampradāya. All genuine sampradāyas have begun from God. So if there is only one sampradāya, which is the sampradāya of God, then why should we divide them into four? And if we choose to divide the Truth in this manner, the divisions will only keep multiplying. This is exactly what has happened to the sampradāyas, as each of the four original ones has further divided into branches and sub-branches, all claiming sole ownership over the entire region of the Absolute Truth. This tendency has partitioned the one Sanātan Dharma (Eternal Religion) into numerous sāmpradāyic fragments.
As boundaries in the world break down and the flow of information amongst people enhances, the idea that one creed, race, sect, or religion is the sole guardian of the Universal Truth is getting fewer and fewer buyers. Let us align ourselves with this surge of broad-mindedness of the intellect, and permit the shining light of knowledge from the Bhagavad Gita illumine the whole indivisible, untainted Truth. This is, after all, the original pristine purpose of not only the Bhagavad Gita, but all the Vedic scriptures.
About Jagadguru Shree Kripaluji Maharaj
Jagadguru Shree Kripaluji Maharaj is a descended Saint who has reestablished the ancient Vedic knowledge in modern times. At the young age of 34, he lectured for ten days in sophisticated Sanskrit, before the Kashi Vidvat Parishat, the supreme body of 500 Vedic scholars in the holy city of Kashi, quoting masterfully from hundreds of Vedic scriptures to reveal the simple straightforward path to God-realization for the present times. When the esteemed body of erudite scholars realized that Kripaluji Maharaj’s knowledge was deeper than the combined knowledge of all of them together, they honored him with the title of Jagadguru, or “Spiritual Master of the World.” He thus became the fifth Saint in Indian history to receive the original title of Jagadguru, after Jagadguru Shankaracharya, Jagadguru Nimbarkacharya, Jagadguru Ramanujacharya, and Jagadguru Madhvacharya.
The scholars were so impressed with his command of the ancient Vedic texts that they showered many more accolades upon him, such as:
Jagadguruttam—The supreme Jagadguru of Indian history.
Ved Mārga Pratiṣhṭhāpanāchārya—The establisher of the true path revealed by the Vedas.
Nikhil Darśhan Samanvayāchārya—The reconciler of the import of all the scriptures.
Sanātan Vaidik Dharmapratiṣhṭhāpanāchārya—The re-establisher of the eternal Vedic religion in this world.
Satsampradāya Paramāchārya—The founder of the true tradition of spiritual knowledge.
This commentary on the Bhagavad Gita is based upon the insightful understanding of its verses as revealed to me by Jagadguru Shree Kripaluji Maharaj. The objective of this commentary is not to give an interpretation, but simply to bring forth the meaning of the verses spoken by the Supreme Lord Shree Krishna. For this objective, I have not hesitated to quote from the books of wisdom and the teachings of saints, holy personalities, and luminaries, around the world.
Constraints in any Translation
It is often well-nigh impossible to find terms in English that are semantically coextensive with the Indic terms. The word meanings of any language are forged by the cultural and philosophical framework of the people who speak that language. Thus, Sanskrit words derive their meanings from the conceptual system of thought in India. Being much different from the western system of thought that has shaped the meanings of English words, there are unavoidable constraints in any work of translation. All renditions of Sanskrit terms in English are therefore approximations.
For example, there is no English word that accurately conveys the meaning of Brahman (the formless, attributeless, all-pervading aspect of God). The same problem typically arises with translating dharma into English. Path of righteousness, one’s incumbent duty, virtue, prescribed duties, etc. are all gross approximations of its meaning. In all such cases where suitable English phrases were not available, the original Sanskrit terms have been retained. Such words and phrases have been italicized for identification, and the important ones included in the glossary at the back of the book, with detailed explanations.
Helpful Points to Make the Reading Easier
Understanding a couple of things will make it easier to read this commentary. Firstly, the Gita is a conversation within a conversation within a conversation. The Bheeshma Parva of the Mahabharat, of which the Bhagavad Gita is a part, is related by Sage Vaishampayan to King Janmejaya. Vaishampayan is thus the one who tells Janmejaya: Sanjaya uvācha “Sanjay said,” Dhritarasthra uvācha “Dhritarashtra said,” etc. However, Vaishampayan and Janmejaya do not figure directly as speakers in the Bhagavad Gita.
The Gita begins as a dialogue between King Dhritarasthra and his minister Sanjay. Since Dhritarasthra was blind, he could not be personally present on the battlefield. Dhritarashtra initiates the conversation by asking Sanjay about the proceedings in the battlefield; he does not speak again in the Gita. He is answered by Sanjay, who relates the happenings. Sanjay was a disciple of Ved Vyas, and by the grace of his teacher, he possessed the mystic ability of distant vision. Thus he could see from afar all that transpired on the battle ground, and was giving Dhritarasthra a first-hand account of the events on the warfront. Sanjay pops in and out throughout the book as he relates to Dhritarashtra what he sees and hears. Thus, he says: Śhrī Bhagavān uvācha “The Supreme Lord said,” and Arjun uvācha “Arjun said,” etc.
The major portion of the dialogue is between Lord Krishna and Arjun. Arjun asks questions and Shree Krishna answers. The conversation is a bit one-sided as Shree Krishna does most of the talking.
Secondly, there is a profusion of appellations, also known as epithets. For example, Shree Krishna is referred to by the names Hrishikesh, Keshav, Govind, Madhusudan, Achyut, etc. Similarly, Arjun is called Dhananjaya, Gudakesh, Kaunteya, Parantapa, etc. Often these names are deliberately chosen to convey a particular meaning or flavor to the conversation. Such emphasis has been explained in the commentary whenever necessary.
Important Terms in the Bhagavad Gita
A synopsis of the entire Bhagavad Gita is beyond the scope of this introduction, firstly because it will preempt your reading pleasure in discovering it for yourself, and secondly because it is impossible to summarize everything that Lord Krishna has said in it. However, a few common terms in the Bhagavad Gita and the rest of the Vedic literature are explained here, to help the reader easily grasp the concepts presented therein.
God (Bhagavān): In the Vedic scriptures, including the Bhagavad Gita, God refers to the one Supreme Entity. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and omnipresent. He is the creator, maintainer, and dissolver of this creation. He possesses innumerable contradictory attributes at the same time. Thus, he is near and yet far, big and yet small, formless and yet possessing a form, without qualities and yet possessing innumerable qualities.
People approach the Supreme Entity in three ways. Some relate to him in his formless all-pervading aspect, which is called Brahman. Others choose to worship him as the Paramātmā, who is seated within the hearts of all living beings. Yet others seek to worship him in his personal form, as Bhagavān. All these three—Brahman, Paramātmā, and Bhagavān—are different aspects of the one Ultimate Being.
Occasionally, out of his causeless grace, God descends upon the earth and engages in divine pastimes to uplift the souls. Such a descension is called an Avatār. Shree Ram and Shree Krishna are both Avatārs of the Supreme Divine Personality. Since God is all-powerful, he is not limited to one form; he can manifest in innumerable forms. But we must remember that all these are different forms of the one Divine Lord, and not different Gods.
Soul (ātmā): The individual soul is a tiny fragmental part of God. It is spiritual in nature, and hence distinct from the material body. The presence of the soul imparts consciousness to the body, which is made from insentient matter. When the soul leaves, the body becomes dead matter again. The body is perishable, while the soul is eternal.
This is a bit different from the Abrahamic concept of new souls being created with each birth of a human being upon the earth. According to the Vedic understanding, the soul is without beginning or end; it neither originated on birth nor will it be destroyed when the body dies. What we term as death in worldly parlance is merely the soul changing bodies. The Bhagavad Gita likens this to a person changing clothes to put on new ones. The soul is not free to choose its next birth, which is decided by God based upon the Law of Karma.
Why has the material energy enveloped us in the first place? This is because we have turned our backs toward God. God is of the nature of light, while the material energy is of the nature of darkness. One who turns away from the light is naturally overcome by darkness. Likewise, the souls who have turned their backs toward him have been covered by the material energy.
Understanding the Vedic terminology regarding the word ātmā will be helpful. The soul that is in the embodied state is called jīvātmā because it keeps the body alive (jīvit). These words ātmā and jīvātmā are interchangeably used while referring to souls in the material realm. Along with the individual soul (jīvātmā), God is also seated within the body. He is called Paramātmā (Supreme Soul). He accompanies the jīvātmā life after life, into whichever bodily form it goes. The Paramātmā does not interfere with the activities of the living entity, but remains as a silent witness. The jīvātmā is forgetful of its eternal friend and is struggling to enjoy the material energy.
The word ātmā, which literally means soul, occurs regularly in the Gita, for a variety of usages. In some places, ātmā is used to refer to the jīvātmā (individual soul), without including the body, mind, and intellect (e.g. verse 6.20). At times, it refers to the entire personality of the living being, including the soul and the body, mind, intellect (e.g. verse 6.20). Occasionally, ātmā refers to the mind (e.g. verse 6.5); in a couple of places, ātmā is used for the intellect (e.g. verse 5.7). And in some places, it is used for Paramātmā (Supreme Soul/God, e.g. verse 6.29).
Material Nature (Prakṛiti or Maya): The material energy, called prakṛiti, is not antithetical to God; rather it is one of his innumerable powers. At the time of dissolution, prakṛiti remains latent within the being of God. When he wishes to create the world, he glances at it, and it begins to unwind from its latent state. It then manifests the various gross and subtle elements of creation.
While one aspect of the material energy, Maya, is responsible for creating the world, its second aspect is instrumental in keeping the souls bound to the samsara of life and death. Maya makes us forget our identity as divine souls, and puts us under the illusion of being the material body. Hence we pursue bodily pleasures in the world. After innumerable lifetimes of endeavoring in the material realm, the soul comes to the realization that the infinite divine bliss it seeks will not be attained from the world, but from God. Then, it must follow the path of Yog to reach the stage of perfection. When the soul achieves perfect union with God, it becomes liberated from the clutches of the material energy.
Modes of Nature (Guṇas): The material energy has three constituent modes: sattva guṇa (mode of goodness), rajo guṇa (mode of passion), tamo guṇa (mode of ignorance). These guṇas exist in varying proportions in our personality and influence us. The mode of ignorance induces laziness, stupor, ignorance, anger, violence, and addiction. Thereby, it pulls the soul deeper into the darkness of material illusion. The mode of passion inflames the desires of the mind and senses, and induces one to endeavor passionately for fulfilling worldly ambitions. The mode of goodness illumines a person with knowledge and nourishes virtuous qualities, such as kindness, patience, and tolerance. It makes the mind peaceful and suitable for spiritual practice. A sādhak (spiritual practitioner) must strive to reduce the modes of ignorance and passion by cultivating the mode of goodness, and then transcend even sattva guṇa. God is transcendental to the three guṇas; by attaching the mind to him we too can ascend to the transcendental platform.
Yajña (Sacrifice): Generally, the term yajña refers to fire sacrifice. In the Bhagavad Gita, yajña includes all the prescribed actions laid down in the scriptures, when they are done as an offering to the Supreme. The elements of nature are integral parts of the system of God’s creation. All parts of the system naturally draw from and give back to the whole. The sun lends stability to the earth and provides heat and light necessary for life to exist. Earth creates food from its soil for our nourishment and also holds essential minerals in its womb for a civilized lifestyle. The air moves the life force in our body and enables transmission of sound energy. We humans too are an integral part of the entire system of God’s creation. The air that we breathe, the earth that we walk upon, the water that we drink, and the light that illumines our day, are all gifts of creation to us. While we partake of these gifts to sustain our lives, we also have our duties toward the integral system. The Bhagavad Gita states that we are obligated to participate with the creative force of nature by performing our prescribed duties in the service of God. That is the yajña God expects from us.
Consider the example of a hand. It is an integral part of the body. It receives its nourishment—blood, oxygen, nutrients, etc.—from the body, and in turn, it performs necessary functions for the body. If the hand looks on this service as burdensome, and decides to get severed from the body, it cannot sustain itself for even a few minutes. It is in the performance of its yajña toward the body that the self-interest of the hand is also fulfilled. Similarly, we individual souls are tiny parts of the Supreme and we all have our role to play in the grand scheme of things. When we perform our yajña toward him, our self-interest is naturally satiated.
Sacrifice, or yajña, should be performed in divine consciousness as an offering to the Supreme Lord. However, people vary in their understanding, and hence perform sacrifice in different manners with dissimilar consciousness. Persons with lesser understanding, and wanting material rewards, make offerings to the celestial gods.
Devatā (Celestial gods): These are beings that live in the higher planes of existence within this material world, called Swarg (the celestial abodes). These celestial beings (devatās) are not God. They are souls like us. They occupy specific positions in the system of God’s administration and oversee specific aspects of the material world.
Consider the Federal government of a country. There is a Secretary of State, a Finance Secretary, a Secretary of Commerce, an Agriculture Secretary, and so on. These are positions, and select people occupy these positions for a limited tenure. At the end of its tenure, the government changes, all the post-holders change too. The positions remain but the persons holding those positions change. Similarly, in the governance of the affairs of the world, there are positions such as Agni Dev (the god of fire), Vāyu Dev (the god of the wind), Varuṇ Dev (the god of the ocean), Indra Dev (the king of the celestial gods), etc. Souls selected by virtue of their deeds in past lives occupy these seats for a certain amount of time. Then they fall from their position and others occupy these seat. Thus, souls become celestial gods only temporarily and, as a result, we cannot compare them to the Supreme Lord.
Many people worship the celestial gods for material rewards. However, we must remember that these devatās cannot grant either liberation from material bondage or God-realization. Even if they do bestow material benefits, it is only by the powers they have received from God. Hence, the Bhagavad Gita repeatedly discourages people from worshipping the celestial gods and states that those who are situated in knowledge worship the Supreme Lord.
Divine Abode of God: This material realm including, all the celestial abodes, the earth planet, and the hellish planes of existence, is only one-fourth of God’s entire creation. It is for those souls who have not yet attained spiritual perfection. Here, we experience suffering in various forms, such as birth, disease, old-age, and death. Beyond this entire material realm is the spiritual dimension consisting of three-fourths of God’s creation. It contains innumerable divine abodes of God that are referred to in Vedic literature as Saket Lok (the abode of Lord Ram), Golok (the abode of Lord Krishna), Vaikunth Lok (the abode of Lord Narayan), Shiv Lok (the abode of Lord Shiv), Devi Lok (the abode of Mother Durga), etc. The Bhagavad Gita repeatedly mentions that one who attains God-realization goes to the divine abodes of God and does not return to cycle of life and death in the material world again.
Śharaṇāgati (Surrender): God is divine and cannot be comprehended by our material intellect. Similarly, he cannot be perceived by our material senses—the eyes cannot see him, the ears cannot hear him, etc. However, if he decides to bestow his grace upon some living being, he grants his divine energy upon that fortunate soul. On receiving his divine grace, one can see him, know him, and attain him. This grace of God is not a whimsical act from his side. He bestows his divine grace upon those who surrender to him. Thus, the Bhagavad Gita emphasizes that the soul must learn the secret of surrendering to the Supreme Lord.
Yog: The word Yog has been used in the Gita in almost one hundred fifty places, for multiple purposes. It is formed from the root yuj, which means “to unite.” From the spiritual perspective, the union of the individual soul with the God is called Yog (e.g. verse 5.21). However, the science of accomplishing that union is also called Yog (e.g. verse 4.1). Again, the state of perfection achieved through the process is also referred to as Yog (e.g. 6.18). Union with God naturally disentangles one from misery born of contact with material nature. Hence, the state of freedom from suffering is referred to as Yog as well (verse 6.23). Since perfection is accompanied by evenness of mind, such equanimity has also been called Yog (verse 2.48). One who is in the state of Yog performs all activities perfectly, in a spirit of devotion to God, and hence dexterity at work is also referred to as Yog (verse 2.50).
One may ask why Yog is necessary. The answer is that searching for happiness in the material world is like chasing a mirage in the desert. The nature of material desires is such that fulfilling them is like quenching a fire by pouring oil on it. For a moment the fire is subdued, but then it flares up with an even greater intensity. Similarly, fulfilling the desires of the mind and senses leads to greed. But obstructing them is also detrimental because it leads to anger. We must thus understand the root cause of why desires arise and then seek to address that. It all begins when we contemplate that there is happiness in some person or object. Repeated contemplation results in attachment of the mind, and attachment gives rise to desire. So if we can firmly decide that the divine bliss the soul is seeking is not in material objects, these desires will stop arising. However, the desire for happiness is intrinsic to the nature of the soul because it is a tiny part of the infinite ocean of divine bliss. This nature can only be satisfied when the soul attains the infinite bliss of God. Hence, knowingly or unknowingly, every soul is struggling to reach that state of divine consciousness, or Yog.
The various paths of achieving union with God are referred to as different systems of Yog, such as karm yog, jñāna yog, aṣhṭāṅg yog, and bhakti yog. Thus spiritual practitioners are in general called yogis (e.g. verse 4.25), or sādhaks. Occasionally, the word Yog refers specifically to the process of aṣhṭāṅg yog (e.g. verse 4.28). In such instances, yogi denotes specifically the practitioner of aṣhṭāṅg yog.
Jñāna Yog (Path of Knowledge): In this system of Yog, the emphasis is on self-knowledge. The Gita occasionally mentions it as sānkhya yog as well. Through the practice of intellectual discrimination, the jñānī focusses on realizing the self, which is distinct from all bodily designations and contaminations. Self-realization is considered as the ultimate goal of perfection. The practice of jñāna yog is based on self-effort, without support of the grace of God. Hence, it is a difficult path and there is danger of downfall at every step.
Aṣhṭāṅg Yog (The eight-fold path): It involves a gradual process of purification beginning with mechanical practices and progressing to the control of the mind. In it, the life force is raised through the sushumṇā channel in the spinal column. It is brought between the eyebrows, which is the region of the third eye (the inner eye). It is then made to focus on the Supreme Lord with great devotion. This process was presented in a structured system of practice containing eight stages by Maharshi Patanjali in the famous text written by him, called Yog Sutras. Thereby, it came to be known as aṣhṭāṅg yog or the eight-fold system of Yog. A variation of this is haṭha yog, in which the emphasis is on austerities. The haṭha yogi strives to gain mastery over the mind and senses by exercising the force of will power.
In many places, the Vedic literature also states that there are only three paths to God-realization—karm yog, jñāna yog, and bhakti yog. In such a classification, aṣhṭāṅg yog is included in jñāna yog.
Bhakti Yog (Path of Devotion): This path involves attaching the mind to the names, forms, virtues, pastimes, etc. of God through selfless and exclusive love. One develops a loving relationship with God by seeing him as the eternal father, mother, friend, master, and soul-beloved. By surrendering to him and uniting the individual will with the divine will, the devotee attracts the grace of God and achieves the goal of spiritual perfection more easily than by the other paths. Although the Bhagavad Gita embraces all the systems of Yog, it consistently emphasizes the path of bhakti as the superior system of Yog. This repeated pronouncement by Shree Krishna that he can only be known through bhakti is highlighted in the commentary to dispel the misconception amongst some about bhakti being an inferior system of Yog.
Karm Yog (Path of Action): Karm refers to performing one’s worldly obligations and responsibilities, while Yog refers to union with God. So the practice of uniting the mind with God even while doing one’s obligatory duties in the world is karm yog. This requires detaching the mind from the fruits of actions, by developing a resolute decision of the intellect that all work is meant solely for the pleasure of God. Thus, the Gita occasionally refers to it as buddhi yog, or the Yog of the intellect. Since most people practice spirituality while living in household life and discharging their worldly duties, karm yog becomes necessary for them alongside with any other system of Yog they may pursue.
With this brief explanation of some important terms, I now leave it to the reader to go through the “Song of God” and discover first-hand the wonderful divine wisdom offered by the Supreme Lord Shree Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita.
I offer my deepest and heartfelt gratitude to my Gurudev, Jagadguru Shree Kripaluji Maharaj, who is an ocean of divine love and transcendental knowledge. It is only by his grace that an unqualified soul like me has been able to receive a drop of knowledge from the infinite reservoir of wisdom that he possesses. This humble effort is in pursuance of his instruction to preach the Vedic knowledge in the service of human kind.
I express the indebtedness of all humankind to that most benevolent and munificent sage, Ved Vyas, who bestowed upon us the auspicious scripture, the Mahabharat, with the “Song of God” embedded in it.
I wish to sincerely acknowledge the superlative effort of my editor, Richard Kajuth (Indian name—Ramakrishna), who contemplated painstakingly upon my ramblings and offered numerous constructive suggestions. I was deeply touched by his selfless labor of love and his immense sacrifice of time and effort for this purpose. My genuine gratitude extends to Aarti Malik, who meticulously scanned the text for errors, and also offered invaluable suggestions. Both of them extended their utmost cooperation by consenting to work under stringent time pressure and completing their respective works in a short span of about six months.
I offer my thanks to Sanjay Sarkar for making the paintings included in this book.
I also wish to express my deep gratitude to Pragnyan Vaidya for working day-and-night on the format, type-setting, layout, etc. I also offer my heartfelt thanks to Shreya Bhat, Shailee Adhikari, Santhana Balaji, and all the members of my team for their role in printing and producing this book.
I hope the book will fulfill the sincere objective with which it has been published, and help seekers in their quest for the Absolute Truth and their journey to God-realization.
In the service of the Lord,