“In the Varaha Purana, the living entities are described as separated parts and parcels of the Supreme. They are eternally so, according to the Bhagavad-gita also. So, even after being liberated from illusion, the living entity remains a separate identity, as is evident from the teachings of the Lord to Arjuna. Arjuna became liberated by the knowledge received from Krishna, but he never became one with Krishna.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 2.23 Purport)Download this episode (right click and save)
So many interpretations of the Bhagavad-gita there are. Translated as “the song of God” in English, the sacred work has been studied for centuries by a wide variety of groups. Transcendentalists, historians, people of Vedic culture, people of other cultures, the inquisitive, the distressed, those wanting wealth - the king of education, raja-vidya, that is the conversation between Arjuna and Krishna has something to offer every person.
To test the effectiveness of the work, the words would have to make a significant impact on the direct recipient. One way to further appreciate the teachings is to see what Arjuna did not become as a result.
1. An officially recognized guru
Arjuna was of the warrior caste, kshatriya. According to Vedic culture, democracy as it is defined and implemented today is not the ideal system of government. A factor already known to many, democracy can turn into mob rule. If the mob wants to steal, it gets what it wants. Adharma can turn into dharma simply by a vote.
Society should be led by the kshatriyas, who are more than just a race descending from past kings. They have specific qualities, which include courage, strength, and respect for the knowers of the truth, the brahmanas. The most sacred work, which succinctly and fully explains the teachings of Vedanta, involved a student of the kshatriya order.
Arjuna was not a brahmana, which is the highest division in the system of varnashrama. Even after accepting the highest wisdom from Krishna, Arjuna did not become a brahmana. He remained in his occupation. This is the best illustration of the principle that a person does not have to change everything about their life in order to become spiritually realized. Arjuna knew everything needed to be known, so he was a guru in that sense, but he was never officially recognized as a person to approach on spiritual topics.
2. A renounced yogi
Arjuna did not retreat to the forest, though at first he wanted to. The premise for the conversation was Arjuna’s doubt on how to proceed in a war. His side represented dharma, or virtue. The Pandavas had land unjustly taken from them. The thieves were on the other side, the Kauravas. Arjuna had every justification to go to war to reclaim what belonged to his people.
Still, he was hesitant to proceed. He used many arguments to support his case. There was nothing to be gained by victory. He would rather not enjoy the kingdom if it meant death for loved ones on the other side. If so many people died, family traditions would go with them. Then society would descend into chaos, with children growing up without culture.
“Therefore the doubts which have arisen in your heart out of ignorance should be slashed by the weapon of knowledge. Armed with yoga, O Bharata, stand and fight.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.42)
The best argument is to leave for the forest to meditate on God. Be above the world of duality that the kshatriya must live in. Though Krishna described the proper conditions needed for success in meditational yoga, Arjuna did not become such a person. He was advised to stand up and fight. Again, doing his prescribed duty while dovetailed with the Supreme Consciousness was the same if not better than meditating in a forest. It was also yoga.
3. Completely free from anger
At one point in the conversation Arjuna wondered why people continue to sin, acting as if they have no control over the senses. The answer given was that kama, or lust, is the all-devouring enemy of the world. Quickly leading to wrath, the person completely ignores intelligence.
“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)
Obviously, if you hear such instruction the goal is to be free from kama going forward. Yet Arjuna was known to be angry on the battlefield in the ensuing fight, particularly when his son Abhimanyu was ganged up on and killed.
This anger does not disqualify Arjuna from being considered a transcendentalist. The teachings did indeed make an impact on him. The lesson is that there is anger, sadness, joy, complacency and other such emotions even in the practice of bhakti-yoga. The difference is that these sudden changes don’t have a negative impact. Another example is Hanuman, who burned Lanka to the ground in anger. He too was acting in God’s interests, so the anger was transcendental.
4. An impersonalist
Arjuna asked which path of transcendentalism was better: impersonal or personalism. God is both nirguna and saguna. This is according to our understanding; something like the sun being out or not. The sun is always there; just our perspective changes.
“Arjuna inquired: Which is considered to be more perfect: those who are properly engaged in Your devotional service, or those who worship the impersonal Brahman, the unmanifested?” (Bhagavad-gita, 12.1)
God can be realized in His impersonal feature of Brahman. This is the spiritual energy that is present in every aspect of life. Similar to Brahman is Supersoul, which is the localized feature, residing within the heart. The personal aspect is Bhagavan. This is God the person, who can be recognized by distinguishable features.
A person spoke the Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna. If God is ultimately impersonal, then a voice from the sky would have been called to the scene to give Arjuna the highest wisdom. Krishna was the teacher, and He proved His divine identity by showing the universal form. Arjuna was a personalist before hearing the Bhagavad-gita, and he remained one after.
5. One with Krishna
While the impersonal path is legitimate and genuine, a distortion of that side is the idea that one can merge into God and completely lose identity. The viewpoint is that God is ultimately without personality. The impersonal path is where a person doesn’t realize the personal feature until later on.
If the distorted view were correct then Arjuna would have merged into Krishna at some point. That didn’t happen. Arjuna was self-realized and that heightened achievement did not change his relationship with Krishna. The Sanskrit word “mam” is used throughout the work, which means that Krishna refers to Himself over and over again. “Mam” refers to a person; not an attribute-less and identity-less concept.
Study just what Arjuna never became,
Like identity with Krishna the same.
Or renounced yogi from home to leave,
Or emotionless man through battlefield to weave.
Or official guru to whom everyone approaches,
Or impersonalist who bhakti reproaches.
In this way get idea of Vedanta clear,
Devoted soul to Supreme Lord most dear.