“But you cannot see Me with your present eyes. Therefore I give to you divine eyes by which you can behold My mystic opulence.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 11.8)Download this episode (right click and save)
na tu māṁ śakyase draṣṭum
divyaṁ dadāmi te cakṣuḥ
paśya me yogam aiśvaram
Is the Bhagavad-gita just like any other book on religion? It’s a scripture to those who hold it dear, but what about to the rest of the world? Does it have relevance beyond the Hindu society? Krishna is the deity of choice, but what about those who don’t accept Krishna?
Actually, the truths presented are universal. Just as the law of gravity applies to all objects, so the teachings of Shri Krishna are for all intelligent human beings to consume, contemplate, and then act upon. The law of gravity operates irrespective of outside awareness. A child has no idea what gravity is, but they feel its effect when they fall to the ground when trying to walk for the first time. The adult overburdened by daily responsibilities doesn’t see impending death on the horizon, but it happens anyway. The animal knows nothing of the changing body, but their body changes regardless.
A good way to understand what makes the Bhagavad-gita unique is to review some of the things it doesn’t say. There are aspects commonly associated with religion. Bhagavad-gita describes dharma, or the eternal occupation. It is not something of mere faith, which can change on a whim. It is the essence of Vedanta philosophy, which is the conclusion of conclusions.
1. Be good so that you can go to heaven and enjoy.
Basic familiarity with the standard religions of the world brings this understanding. Just be a good person. Don’t lie. Try to take care of your family. Be kind to others. Then you’ll go to heaven. If you’re bad, you’ll go to hell.
Krishna does not say this to Arjuna. In fact, He doesn’t advise the warrior to seek out temporary enjoyments at all. He explains that both heaven and hell are places of temporary residence, just like the present planet on which we live. They were all created at some point, and so they will undergo destruction at some point in the future. Good deeds get you to heaven, but the pious credits eventually expire. If your consciousness is not pure, then you return to the cycle of birth and death.
punar āvartino 'rjuna
mām upetya tu kaunteya
punar janma na vidyate
“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.16)
2. Take two of these and call me in the morning.
The setting for the Bhagavad-gita is a battlefield, on the eve of a great war. Arjuna is supposed to lead the Pandava side, but he is hesitant. He turns to his charioteer for guidance. That charioteer is none other than the Supreme Personality of Godhead, appearing on earth in His original, spiritual form of Shri Krishna.
This means that Arjuna has direct audience with God. He can ask for whatever he wants. More importantly, Krishna can give anything to him. Why doesn’t Krishna touch Arjuna on the shoulder and heal all his problems? Why doesn’t Krishna give him magic pills to make his doubts and fears go away?
The reason is the secret of life. The purpose of an existence is to feel pleasure, and not the kind that comes and goes or is based on external factors. Dharma for the individual, who is spirit soul, is devotional service. It is serving God in a loving mood, purely, i.e. without outside motive. That service cannot take place through anyone’s force. It cannot happen through a magic touch or a specific vision.
iti te jñānam ākhyātaṁ
guhyād guhyataraṁ mayā
yathecchasi tathā kuru
“Thus I have explained to you the most confidential of all knowledge. Deliberate on this fully, and then do what you wish to do.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.63)
As bhakti-yoga is Krishna consciousness, the change only happens through purification of consciousness. Krishna gives words of wisdom to Arjuna. He explains the secret of all secrets. Things don’t end there, however. Arjuna has a responsibility afterwards. He must act in a certain way, one that indicates that the consciousness has changed.
3. The Vedas are allegorical.
Though Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, He respects etiquette by quoting authorities when instructing Arjuna. He doesn’t need to do this, but it reveals the proper path for any teachers succeeding Him in the future. The Vedas, the ancient scriptural tradition first passed on through aural reception, are not meant to be studied through mental speculation. Use your mind and intelligence, challenge everything, but first hear from the proper authorities.
karmaṇaiva hi saṁsiddhim
sampaśyan kartum arhasi
“Even kings like Janaka and others attained the perfectional stage by performance of prescribed duties. Therefore, just for the sake of educating the people in general, you should perform your work.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.20)
The mental speculators can’t fathom a creator having four heads, a bluish person lying down on a serpent bed and creating the universes through breathing, a messenger in a monkey-body crossing the ocean with a single leap, a king finding a living baby in the ground, and so many other things described in Vedic literature. Krishna, the ultimate teacher, does not say that these important things in Vedic literature are presented allegorically. He does not say that Vyasadeva, Ganesha and Hanuman are mythological characters. In fact, He even references historical personalities such as Janaka and how they lived their lives. If Krishna says that what’s in the Vedas is real, then anyone saying otherwise should immediately be understood to be a cheater.
4. Follow your passion; that will make you happy.
This is the typical answer to the commonly asked question of, “What should I do with my life?” When the teachers in school ask us what we want to be when we grow up, what they’re really asking is how we want to satisfy our kama, or material lust, when we are old enough to act on it independently.
kāma eṣa krodha eṣa
viddhy enam iha vairiṇam
“The Blessed Lord said: It is lust only, Arjuna, which is born of contact with the material modes of passion and later transformed into wrath, and which is the all-devouring, sinful enemy of this world.” (Bhagavad-gita, 3.37)
Shri Krishna clearly explains that kama is dangerous. Unsatisfied, it leads to anger, a loss of intelligence, and ultimately rebirth in the material ocean. Passion should be controlled. Not that one should act like a robot, devoid of emotion, but they should follow their duty. Krishna advises Arjuna to stick to his duty of warrior and be detached from the results. He tells Arjuna to abandon all other dharmas, or varieties of religion, and surrender unto Him.
5. You are God.
Followers of the Vedic tradition generally fall into one of two camps. There are the impersonalists, also known as monists. They say that everything in this world is one. For the time being there is division, but in the end everything will merge back together. God is the collection, the whole. He is Brahman, or the impersonal spiritual energy. We are all sparks of Brahman, and when we come together, the Brahman becomes complete again. Variety is merely illusion, the work of maya. Be detached, study Vedanta philosophy, and eventually merge into Brahman.
ahaṁ sarvasya prabhavo
mattaḥ sarvaṁ pravartate
iti matvā bhajante māṁ
“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who know this perfectly engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.8)
The personalists believe in simultaneous oneness and difference. We are all equal to God in quality, but vastly inferior in quantitative output. Krishna confirms this in the Bhagavad-gita. He regularly refers to Himself when speaking of the source of the worlds, the highest person, and the one to whom the individual should be devoted. He never tells Arjuna that all souls are equal to God. He never tells Arjuna to meditate in the hopes that he too will one day become supreme.
What Krishna doesn’t say ornaments the sacred Bhagavad-gita just as much as what He does say. Bhakti-yoga is not a mere faith. It is a science meant to be understood by the wisest among us. The wise souls can be found in any occupation; they don’t necessarily have to be holy men who have renounced work and family. Arjuna was a family man, as was Krishna. So was the compiler of the majority of Vedic literature, Vyasadeva. Bhakti-yoga is for everyone, and it is meant to be engaged in endlessly, bringing pleasure never before experienced.
Bhagavad-gita Krishna’s words to say,
Sent to distressed warrior’s way.
Having to work just as much relevance,
What is not there, remarks of absence.
Arjuna told that he is God never,
Nor that happiness in kama forever.
God a person, different from you and me,
Be devoted to Him and from maya be free.