“As long as I read the Bhagavad-gita, I simply see the Lord's beautiful features. It is for this reason that I am reading the Bhagavad-gita, and my mind cannot be distracted from this.” (Brahmana speaking to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 9.101)
yāvat paḍoṅ, tāvat pāṅa tāṅra daraśana
ei lāgi' gītā-pāṭha nā chāḍe mora mana
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Question: “Vedic philosophy is deep and rich. There are so many important books to read. I know that the Bhagavad-gita is the most popular. It is the most widely read. I can’t get through too many verses in one sitting, though, because each one causes me to go into deep contemplation. Is there a way to tell who is an expert on the work? In other fields of study, there is the awarding of the doctorate, the professor, or the person who has researched a topic for years and years. Can the same statuses be applied in Vedic studies?”
Athato brahma-jijnasa. This is the wakeup call for the spirit soul who has travelled through so many types of bodies and has finally reached the most auspicious one: the human being. This Sanskrit aphorism reveals that no more time should be wasted in the chase for sense gratification. Don’t worry about heaven or hell, eating or sleeping, happiness or sadness. Just find out who you are. Inquire about Brahman, which is spirit. Make that the immediate goal.
To that end there is Vedic literature, in which the aphorism is found to begin with. Man does not have to remain in the dark about their true identity. Everything we see around us is merely a manifestation effected by time. Through the workings of time things are always changing. Nothing is fixed, or so we think. The spirit soul, which is the essence of existence in our world, remains unchanged. It is never created, destroyed, hurt, burned, or made wet.
nainaṁ chindanti śastrāṇi
nainaṁ dahati pāvakaḥ
na cainaṁ kledayanty āpo
na śoṣayati mārutaḥ
“The soul can never be cut into pieces by any weapon, nor can he be burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.23)
There is so much to read. There are the original Vedas. There are also the Upanishads. If these are too vague or too esoteric, the same truths are also presented in story form. These stories are actually historical accounts. The events chronicled in the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas actually occurred or will occur in the future.
Fortunately, everything needed to be known is summarized in a short and concise work known as the Bhagavad-gita. Translated as “The Song of God,” it is a conversation between the greatest teacher and the most worthy student. Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, gives instruction to Arjuna, who is the friend, cousin and disciple.
The actual conversation took place some five thousand years ago based on the present timeline of events in this creation. Therefore we might have a difficult time understanding what is going on based on only reading the text. How do we come to understand the meanings to the verses? People are there to help us, but who is most qualified to offer that help?
Academic learning is not necessarily a qualification in this area. We can think of it like trying to sit in an advanced mathematics class when we are not familiar with the prerequisite material. We can sit in the same class for years and years and we won’t learn anything. This is because we lack the foundational knowledge. We can emerge from the setting and claim expertise based on the years of experience, but the purported expertise will have no value.
In the same way, a person must be qualified through the proper attitude before learning the truths of the Bhagavad-gita. There is the concept of parampara, which Krishna Himself mentions to Arjuna. Parampara is the disciplic succession, which has Krishna as the origin. You learn through the descending process, and even then only through submissive hearing. Skepticism and a challenging spirit are okay when trying to become convinced of the facts, but the first step is to extend a little faith when hearing.
imaṁ rājarṣayo viduḥ
sa kāleneha mahatā
yogo naṣṭaḥ parantapa
“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.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.2)
Just as Vedic philosophy can be understood through stories and examples, we have instances from history that give evidence to the theory behind the concept of qualification for understanding. There was an incident with Lord Chaitanya and an illiterate person. The person could not read the Bhagavad-gita, but he was so attached to the book anyway.
Others would laugh at his attempt to understand the work, so Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is Krishna Himself, once asked the man what he was doing and why he had tears in his eyes while holding the Bhagavad-gita. The illiterate person told Chaitanya that every time he held the book, he remembered Shri Krishna and Arjuna. He thought of how merciful God is to teach someone like Arjuna and act as his charioteer.
Chaitanya then declared that the person’s understanding of Bhagavad-gita was perfect. In that instance there was no academic qualification. Still, there was buddhi. It came through the proper attitude. Then there is the instance of Hanuman meeting Shri Rama, who is the same Krishna and Chaitanya, just appearing on earth at a different time. Hanuman met God face to face, but that wasn’t the important thing. Hanuman understood who Rama was, to the extent that he took up devotional service to Rama for the rest of his life.
Hanuman did not sit in a classroom on the Bhagavad-gita. He was not a reputed scholar on Vedanta. Rather, he was pure of heart, a dedicated soul whose humility allowed him to hear directly from Rama. That proper qualification made him the fit candidate for receiving the mercy of the Supreme Lord. It is through that mercy alone that one can know who the living entity is and what their relationship is to the Supreme Lord. The teachers in the bona fide disciplic succession have that mercy and are ready to shower it on as many as are willing to accept it.
Since lacking knowledge befitting,
No expertise despite for long sitting.
Same applies to Vedanta know,
First with proper attitude must go.
Brahmana holding Gita though couldn’t read,
Chaitanya declaring his understanding perfect indeed.
Because Krishna and Arjuna always in mind,
True essence from sacred work to find.