(The compiler has applied a question-and-answer format to the Introduction to Bhagavad-gita As It Is, by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Most of the answers are taken verbatim from that Introduction.—Editors)
What is Bhagavad-gita?
Bhagavad-gita ("The Song of God"), also known as Gitopanisad, is the essence of Vedic knowledge and one of the most important Upanisads in Vedic literature. It was spoken five thousand years ago by Lord Sri Krsna to the prince Arjuna on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra (located about 130 miles north of modern New Delhi). The sage Vyasadeva recorded the conversation, spoken in Sanskrit, and included it in his epic Mahabharata.
Are all commentaries on Bhagavad-gita of equal value?
There are many English commentaries on the Bhagavad-gita, but none of them can be strictly said to be authoritative, because in almost every one of them the commentator has expressed his own opinions without touching the spirit of Bhagavad-gita.To be bona fide, the translator must be a recognized devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krsna, and his views must be corroborated by evidence from other Vedic scriptures and spiritual masters in the line of disciplic succession.
What is the spirit of Bhagavad-gita?
The spirit of Bhagavad-gita is mentioned in Bhagavad-gita itself. It is just like this: If we want to take a particular medicine, we have to follow the directions on the label. We cannot take the medicine according to our own whim or the directions of a friend. It must be taken according to the directions on the label or the directions given by a physician. Similarly, Bhagavad-gita should be taken or accepted as it is directed by the speaker Himself. The speaker of Bhagavad-gita is Lord Sri Krsna. He is mentioned on every page of the Gita as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Bhagavan.
What is the significance of the word bhagavan?
Sometimes the word bhagavan is applied to any powerful person or any powerful demigod, and certainly in Bhagavad-gita, bhagavan designates Lord Sri Krsna as a great personality, but at the same time we should know that Lord Sri Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as confirmed by all great acaryas (spiritual masters) like Sankaracarya, Ramanujacarya, Madhvacarya, Nimbarka Svami, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and many other authorities of Vedic knowledge in India.
The Lord Himself also establishes Himself as the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the Bhagavad-gita, and He is accepted as such in the Brahma-samhita and all the Puranas, especially the Srimad-Bhagavatam, known as the Bhagavata Purana(krsnas tu bhagavan svayam). Therefore we should take Bhagavad-gita as it is directed by the Personality of Godhead Himself.
To whom was Bhagavad-gita first spoken?
In the Fourth Chapter of Bhagavad-gita (4.1-3) the Lord informs Arjuna that this system of yoga, the Bhagavad-gita, was first spoken to the sun-god, and the sun-god explained it to Manu, and Manu explained it to Iksvaku, and in that way, by disciplic succession, one speaker after another, this yoga system has been coming down. But in the course of time it has become lost. Consequently the Lord has to speak it again, this time to Arjuna on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra.
Why did Krsna choose Arjuna as the recipient of Bhagavad-gita?
The Lord tells Arjuna that He is relating this supreme secret to him because Arjuna is His devotee and His friend. Bhagavad-gita is a treatise of the most confidential spiritual knowledge and is especially meant for the devotee of the Lord. Krsna tells Arjuna that because the old succession was broken, He is making him the first receiver of a new parampara (disciplic succession).
Who is fit to understand Bhagavad-gita?
There are three classes of transcendentalists, namely the jnani, the yogi, and the bhakta, or the impersonalist, the meditator, and the devotee. The Lord taught Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna because Arjuna was a devotee of the Lord, a direct student, and His intimate friend. Therefore a person with qualities similar to Arjuna's is best qualified to understand the Gita. That is to say one must be a devotee in a direct relationship with the Lord. Arjuna was in a relationship with the Lord as friend. Of course, there is a gulf of difference between this friendship and the friendship found in the material world. This is transcendental friendship, which cannot be had by everyone.
Bhagavad-gita should be taken up in a spirit of devotion. We should not think ourselves equal to Krsna, nor should we think that Krsna is an ordinary person or even a very great person. Lord Sri Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. So according to the statements of Bhagavad-gita or the statements of Arjuna, who is trying to understand Bhagavad-gita, we should at least theoretically accept Sri Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and with that submissive spirit we can understand Bhagavad-gita. For the nondevotee it is very difficult to understand Bhagavad-gita, because it is a great mystery.
Why is Vedic knowledge received through disciplic succession?
Vedic knowledge is not a question of research, nor is it imparted by defective living entities. Our research work is imperfect because we are researching things with imperfect senses. We have to accept perfect knowledge that comes down, as stated inBhagavad-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. Arjuna, the student who took lessons from Lord Sri Krsna, accepts everything that Krsna says without contradicting Him. One is not allowed to accept one portion of Bhagavad-gita and not another. We must accept Bhagavad-gita without interpretation, without deletion, and without our own whimsical participation in the matter. The Gita should be taken as the most perfect presentation of Vedic knowledge. It was imparted unto the heart of Brahma, the first created living being, and Brahma in turn disseminated the knowledge to his sons and disciples.
What makes Vedic knowledge infallible and human knowledge imperfect?
Vedic knowledge is received from transcendental sources, and the first words were spoken by the Lord Himself. The words spoken by the Lord are called apauruseya, meaning that they are different from words spoken by a person of the mundane world who is infected with four defects. A mundaner
Is sure to commit mistakes
Is invariably illusioned
Has the tendency to cheat others
Is limited by imperfect senses.
With these four imperfections, one cannot deliver perfect information of all-pervading knowledge.
Consequently, the followers of the Vedas accept Vedic knowledge to be complete and infallible. For example, cow dung is the stool of an animal, and according to smrti, or Vedic injunction, if one touches the stool of an animal he has to take a bath to purify himself. But in the Vedic scriptures cow dung is considered a purifying agent. One might consider this to be contradictory, but it is accepted because it is a Vedic injunction, and indeed by accepting this, one will not commit a mistake; subsequently it has been proved by modern science that cow dung contains antiseptic properties. So Vedic knowledge is complete because it is above all doubts and mistakes, and Bhagavad-gita is the essence of all Vedic knowledge.
Do we have to love the Supreme Personality of Godhead only as the Supreme Father?
Everyone has a particular relationship with the Lord, and that relationship is evoked by the perfection of devotional service. But in our present status, not only have we forgotten the Supreme Lord, but we have also forgotten our eternal relationship with Him. As soon as one becomes a devotee of the Lord, one also has a direct relationship with the Lord. That is a very elaborate subject matter, but briefly it can be stated that a devotee is in a relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead in one of five ways:
1. In a passive state (awe without service)
2. In an active state (as a servant)
3. As a friend
4. As a parent
5. As a conjugal lover
Krishan B. Lal, an ISKCON Life Member, is retired and lives in Huntington Beach, California.