“One cannot be disinfected from sinful activities unless he surrenders unto the Supreme Lord. Arjuna's acceptance of Krishna as the supreme pure complies with the injunctions of Vedic literature. This is also confirmed by great personalities, of whom Narada is the chief.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 10.12-13 Purport)Download this episode (right click and save)
Friend1: The Bhagavad-gita should be understood through the disciplic succession.
Friend1: There are Krishna’s original words spoken to Arjuna. Then there is Arjuna who followed them. Then someone followed Arjuna, and so on. Approach someone in that line of teachers. Only then will you truly understand the verses.
Friend2: Exactly. Stuff around us changes. The world today looks totally different than it did five thousand years ago. Not that the principles change, but the perspective of the individual hearing the words is different.
Friend1: What do you mean?
Friend2: For instance, five thousand years ago people understood what yajna is. They knew the duties of a king, the four divisions of society based on occupation, and the modes of material nature. If someone living today were to open the Gita and simply read the words, they would be unfamiliar with so many key terms.
Friend1: That’s absolutely true. I remember the first time I read it, even with the elaborate purports explaining things, it was a bit much to consume. I had to take a gradual approach. I find that I still learn new things each time I read it.
Friend2: If you approach the book the wrong way, it doesn’t matter how many times you read it. If you put a six year old kid in a quantum physics class, they could be there day after day and still not get anything from it. They need the proper understanding from the introductory classes before moving on to the more advanced subject matter.
Friend1: Right. I agree with everything you’re saying. What I wanted to bring up today is something that is well known in the literary field. It is called critical analysis.
Friend2: I’m sure you will elaborate.
Friend1: Let’s say that I am interested in a famous historical personality. For this example, we’ll use Benjamin Franklin, the statesman, scientist and inventor. I decide to write a biography on him. In the literary world, the critics will look to see if I am objective. If I am too praiseworthy of Franklin, they will say that my opinion is biased. Their criticism will be a way to diminish the value of my work.
Friend2: Oh yeah, for sure. That really frosts me sometimes. You see these biographers go out of their way to criticize things that aren’t worthy of criticism. They anoint themselves the judge on character, when meanwhile they probably aren’t so great people to begin with. One of the characteristics of a saintly person is forgiveness. These biographers are anything but forgiving.
Friend1: I wanted to know if this has any relevance to the Bhagavad-gita and the parampara system. Shouldn’t we try to learn about Krishna critically, through an objective analysis?
Friend2: And your claim is that the parampara is automatically biased?
Friend1: By definition, it has to be. These people know and understand Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Friend2: There’s a few ways to address this. For starters, to say that Krishna is all-attractive, great, and the origin of everything is not biased. It is not a one-sided view of the Bhagavad-gita. It is simply a recitation of fact. The words are themselves there in the verses spoken by the charioteer of Arjuna.
Friend2: The other thing is that Arjuna’s perspective is the unbiased one. He has already done a critical analysis. Remember, prior to the Gita being spoken, Arjuna and Krishna knew each other as friends. In family relations they were cousins, but really they considered each other equals. They acted that way, too.
Friend1: Right. Isn’t there that verse where Arjuna apologizes for having acted so informally with Krishna?
Friend2: Yeah. They used to hang out together. There was no awe and reverence. That changed when Krishna explained the highest truths of life to him on the battlefield. This knowledge was not imposed. Arjuna asked for direction. Krishna did not mask the truth in order to preserve the relationship. He even showed the universal form, which is one way of understanding the Absolute Truth.
Friend1: Then Arjuna praised Him, right? He offered those nice prayers.
Friend2: Exactly. Everything is in the verses. There is nothing to conjure up. Arjuna even cites other authority figures, saying that they concur with his opinion. The person who does an objective analysis of the Bhagavad-gita comes to learn all of these things.
Friend1: So why can’t you do that analysis on your own? Why do you need parampara? And isn’t approaching someone in the line something like extending blind faith?
Friend2: You’ll always have to extend faith. We do that so many times throughout the day. You need parampara to explain the higher concepts to you. A person who is not a devotee explaining Krishna is inherently a cheater. By definition they will misguide you. They don’t know Krishna as He is, so how will they properly explain His words?
Friend1: That’s true.
Friend2: We can’t learn on our own because we lack the underlying culture. We don’t even know Sanskrit. Then there is so much context within the verses, a context known only through time spent in the devotional culture, around people who do know Krishna. Anyway, even with extending faith it doesn’t mean that you check your intellect at the door. While learning, you’re supposed to share your doubts, not suppress them. If you have any misgivings, keep them in mind and see if they can be removed through further study. It’s natural to be skeptical, but the more one knows and understands Krishna, the more sure they become of His supreme standing.
Task of biography writing to take,
In literary world critical analysis to make.
Not like sycophant praise only giving,
Judging objectively how person living.
For Bhagavad-gita on Arjuna’s authority rely,
He having most critical and objective eye.
Authorities of Narada and Vyasa with opinion concur,
For proper understanding to parampara defer.