“Vedic knowledge is not a question of research. Our research work is imperfect because we are researching things with imperfect senses. We have to accept perfect knowledge which comes down, as is stated in Bhagavad-gita, by the parampara disciplic succession. We have to receive knowledge from the proper source in disciplic succession beginning with the supreme spiritual master, the Lord Himself, and handed down to a succession of spiritual masters.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, Introduction)Download this episode (right click and save)
Fact or fiction? Historical epic or work produced by author of great imagination? Literal instruction or symbolic, hidden meaning? These are the dichotomies presented through the reviews of the Bhagavad-gita, an ancient Sanskrit work nestled inside of a much larger text known as the Mahabharata.
The setting of the book is pretty straightforward: a battlefield where a teacher instructs a student. The two are related as cousins, and in the beginning the teacher is actually the chariot driver. The student is a warrior, set to embark upon a dangerous, yet predictable road. He knows in all likelihood that his side will win. That is his concern. How will he live with himself after the death and destruction? Is control over a kingdom worth the price of harm to the other side, which has some friends and family in it?
In Vedic culture, the proper way to understand is to approach parampara. Like a flowing stream that has a source, the timeless wisdom of Vedanta descends from the highest authority down a chain of worthy teachers, who become enlightened in the process.
Any other way of knowledge gathering is flawed. This applies to reading the Bhagavad-gita as well. Since it is available to anyone to pick up and peruse, it is not surprising that many mal-interpretations exist. One of those says that the speaker is not real, and neither are the events described. Everything is meant to be understood symbolically. Another mental speculation concludes that Krishna, the speaker and purported Supreme Personality of Godhead, is actually just an elevated soul, a manifestation of the spiritual energy known as Brahman. Everyone has the potential to be in the same position.
In addition to consulting parampara that traces back to Arjuna himself, there are several key words used in the Bhagavad-gita that prove that God is a distinct personality. The words alone refute the bogus speculations into Krishna’s nature.
This word means “me” or “unto me.” It is used throughout the work. Krishna is referring to Himself many times, and not merely to His position as Arjuna’s charioteer. The word is used in the most important verse, where Arjuna is advised to abandon all varieties of religion and simply surrender.
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.66)
Krishna will protect against all sinful reaction. So many different duties there are. So many objectives. Just put service to God the person at the forefront. Don’t worry about the consequences. The Supreme Lord will protect. If Krishna were not God He would not have used the word mam.
This is another version of the same word. It means “unto me.” Arjuna is advised to fix his thoughts on Krishna. If the instruction were to worship an attribute-less light, the word mayi would not have been used. If someone else were God, Krishna would happily admit it. If the guru one day becomes the Supreme through meditation and renunciation, then Arjuna’s charioteer would have advised him to seek out any such person and aim for that objective.
This word means “you” or “you are.” It is used many times by Arjuna. The teachings were enough. The profundities start flowing from the beginning. Krishna told Arjuna that the soul is different from the body. There really is no such thing as death. What we know to be the end of life is simply the final change of the body for a certain period of time. In actuality, that body is always changing, like a person putting on new clothes and taking off old ones.
“You are the supreme primal objective; You are the best in all the universes; You are inexhaustible, and You are the oldest; You are the maintainer of religion, the eternal Personality of Godhead.” (Arjuna, Bhagavad-gita, 11.18)
Not everyone has the patience to hear. It takes time to understand the truths that Krishna presented. There is insistence on visual evidence. To satisfy such doubters, Krishna showed the universal form to Arjuna. In reply, Arjuna offered wonderful praise. He repeatedly used the word tvam. That directly implies a personality. Arjuna did not say, “it is great,” or, “it is amazing.” The “you” referenced is Krishna.
Many of the verses have this word in the first line. Krishna’s name means “all-attractive.” Arjuna used other names like Janardana, Govinda, and Hrishikesha to address his dear friend and cousin. These names have different meanings, but they refer to the same person. The Bhagavan word is significant; it indicates that Krishna has all opulences in full and simultaneously. Bhagavan is more specific than Brahman. It has a broader definition than even Paramatma, which is the Supersoul residing within the heart. Paramatma is an expansion of God, while Bhagavan is God Himself.
This word means “said” or “spoke.” Where is the complication? If someone else were God, if the Divine were ultimately without form and substance, Krishna easily could have called a voice from the sky to speak to Arjuna. Indeed, there have been many instances in recorded history where such voices have appeared.
It was Krishna the person who spoke to Arjuna. The word uvacha proves it. It is found throughout the Bhagavad-gita. It is one of the things that makes the book unique to all others in the world. Other sacred texts describe aspects of spiritual life. They say that the Supreme exists. In the Bhagavad-gita the Supreme Lord speaks directly to someone, a worthy recipient who kept the chain of disciplic succession going, continuing to this day.
Since Bhagavad-gita anyone can read,
Many mal-interpretations indeed.
That Krishna a real person is not,
Or that just elevation to Brahman He got.
Proof of His personal nature abound,
Through use of words in book itself found.
Mam, tvam, Bhagavan and uvacha too,
Show that Krishna Supreme Lord true.