The Gita, or Bhagavad-gita ("The Song of God"), was spoken five thousand years ago by Lord Krsna to the prince Arjuna. It contains the essence of Vedic knowledge.
The compiler has applied a question / answer format to the Introduction to Bhagavad-gita As It Is, by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
What are the jivas?
The jivas are we living entities, or living beings, and we are minute parts of the Supreme Lord. We are of the same quality as the supreme controller, just as a particle of gold is also gold, or a drop of water from the ocean is salty.
We living entities, being part of the supreme controller, Lord Krsna, have all the qualities of the Supreme Lord in minute quantity. We are minute, subordinate controllers, trying to control nature, as presently we are trying to control space or planets, and this tendency to control is there because it is in Krsna. But although we have a tendency to lord it over material nature, we should know that we are not the supreme controller.
The jivas, the living entities, are controlled. If a living entity says that he is not controlled but that he is free, then he is insane. The living being is controlled in every respect, at least in his conditioned life.
What is prakrti?
Prakrti is the energy of the Supreme Lord. Material nature is the inferior prakrti, and the living entity is the superior prakrti. Prakrti is always subordinate, predominated by the Lord, who is the predominator. The living entities and material nature are both predominated, controlled by the Supreme Lord. Material nature itself comprises three modes: goodness, passion, and ignorance.
What is the role of time in the material manifestation?
Eternal time is above the three modes of material nature. Time is the duration of the whole universe or the manifestation of material nature. Time is the ultimate destroyer and remains in effect during both the manifest and the unmanifest phases of material nature.
What is karma?
By a combination of the three modes of nature and under the control and purview of eternal time, there are activities, which are called karma. The cosmic manifestation is full of different activities. All living entities are engaged in different activities. The activities are being carried out from time immemorial, and we are suffering or enjoying the fruits of our activities. For instance, suppose I am a businessman and have worked very hard with intelligence and have amassed a great bank balance. Then I am an enjoyer. But then say I have lost all my money in business; then I am a sufferer. Similarly, in every field of life we enjoy the results of our work, or we suffer the results. This is called karma.
The effects of karma may be very old indeed. We are suffering or enjoying the results of our activities from time immemorial, but we can change the results of our karma, or our activity, and this change depends on the perfection of our knowledge. We are engaged in various activities. Undoubtedly, we do not know what sort of activities we should adopt to gain relief from the actions and reactions of all these activities, but this is also explained in the Bhagavad-gita.
Are isvara, jiva, prakrti, kala, and karma eternal?
Isvara (the Supreme Lord), jiva (the living entity, prakrti (nature), kala (eternal time), and karma (activity) are all explained in the Bhagavad-gita. Out of these five, the Lord, the living entities, material nature, and time are eternal. The material nature is the separated energy of the Supreme Lord, and similarly the living entities are also the energy of the Supreme Lord, although they are not separated but eternally related. So the Lord, the living entity, material nature, and time are all interrelated and are all eternal. The other item, karma, is not eternal.
Is material nature "false," as claimed by some Vedantists?
The material nature, or prakrti, may be temporary, but according to the philosophy of Bhagavad-gita it is not false. It is accepted as real but temporary. It is likened unto a cloud that moves across the sky, or the rainy season, which nourishes grains. As soon as the rainy season is over and the clouds go away, all the crops nourished by the rain dry up. Similarly, the material manifestation takes place at a certain interval, stays for a while, and then disappears. Such are the workings of prakrti. But this cycle is working eternally. Therefore prakrti is eternal; it is not false. The Lord refers to it as "My prakrti."
What is the difference between the superior prakrti (the living entities) and the inferior prakrti (the material manifestation)?
Both the living entity and material nature are prakrti, the energy of the Supreme Lord, but one of the two, the living entity (jiva) is conscious. The other prakrti is not conscious. Therefore the jiva-prakrti is called superior because the jiva has consciousness similar to the Lord's. Another distinction is that the material energy is known as the separated energy of the Lord, whereas the living entities are eternally related to the Lord as His parts.
What are the three main energies of the Supreme Lord?
The Supreme Lord has diverse and innumerable energies beyond our conception; however, great learned sages or liberated souls have studied these energies and have analyzed them into three parts. The first energy is para, transcendental. The second is the living entities, which also belong to the superior energy. And the third is the material energies, which are in the mode of ignorance.
What is consciousness?
Consciousness, or the sense of "I am," is the primary symptom of the presence of the soul in the living entity. Both the consciousness of the Supreme Lord and that of the living entities are transcendental.
Any claim that consciousness is generated by the association of matter is a mistaken idea. The theory that consciousness develops under certain circumstances of material combination is not accepted in the Bhagavad-gita.
The living entity's consciousness may be pervertedly reflected by the covering of material circumstances, just as light reflected through colored glass may appear to be of a certain color, but the consciousness of the Lord is not materially affected.
What is false ego?
False consciousness is exhibited under the impression that I am a product of material nature. This is called false ego. One absorbed in bodily conceptions cannot understand his situation. In contaminated consciousness "I am" means "I am the lord of all I survey. I am the enjoyer." The world revolves because every living being thinks that he is the lord and creator of the material world.
How can the living entity find everlasting satisfaction?
The living entity can find everlasting satisfaction by cooperating with the Supreme Lord.
Material consciousness has two psychic divisions. One is that I am the creator, and the other is that I am the enjoyer. But actually the Supreme Lord is both the creator and the enjoyer, and the living entity, being part of the Supreme Lord, is neither the creator nor the enjoyer, but a cooperator. He is the created and the enjoyed.
For instance, one nourishes a tree by watering its root, and one nourishes the body by feeding the stomach, for if the body is to be kept in a healthy state, then the parts of the body must cooperate to feed the stomach. Similarly, the Supreme Lord is the enjoyer and the creator, and we, as subordinate living beings, are meant to cooperate to satisfy Him. This cooperation will actually help us, just as food taken by the stomach will help all other parts of the body. If the fingers of the hand think they should take the food themselves instead of giving it to the stomach, then they will be frustrated.
The central figure of creation and of enjoyment is the Supreme Lord, and the living entities are cooperators. By cooperation they enjoy. The relation is also like that of the master and the servant. If the master is fully satisfied, then the servant is satisfied.
What is the difference between the supreme consciousness of the supreme controller and the individual consciousness of living entities?
The position of the Supreme Lord is that of supreme consciousness. The living entities, being parts of the Supreme Lord, are also conscious; however, one should not claim that the living entity is also supremely conscious. The living being cannot be supremely conscious at any stage of his perfection, and the theory that he can be so is a misleading theory.
Conscious he may be, but he cannot become perfectly or supremely conscious by any process of so-called merging of the individual consciousness with the supreme consciousness.
A drop of water does not disintegrate or dissolve when it merges with the ocean.
The distinction between the living entities and the supreme controller is further explained in the thirteenth chapter of Bhagavad-gita. The Lord is ksetra-jna, conscious, as is the living being, but the living being is conscious of his particular body, whereas the Lord is conscious of all bodies. Because the Lord lives in the heart of every living being, He is conscious of the psychic movements of the particular jivas.
It is also explained that the Paramatma, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is living in everyone's heart as the controller and giving directions for the living entity to act as he desires.
Lord Krsna also says that when He descends into the material universe, His consciousness is not materially affected. If He were so affected, He would be unfit to speak on transcendental matters as He does in the Bhagavad-gita. One cannot say anything about the transcendental world without being free from materially contaminated consciousness.
So the Lord is not materially contaminated. Our consciousness, at the present moment, however, is materially contaminated. Consciousness is already there because we are part of the Lord, but for us there is the affinity of being affected by the inferior modes of material nature. The Lord, however, being the Supreme, is never affected. That is the difference between the Supreme Lord and the small individual souls.
Krishnan B. Lal, an ISKCON Life Member, is retired and lives in Huntington Beach, California.