The Bhagavad-gita continues to enjoy wide popularity. New editions, as well as books proclaiming the universality of the Bhagavad-gita's teachings, appear regularly. Serious students of spiritual knowledge will always study the Bhagavad-gita.
One reason the Gita is so popular is that it contains the essence of the Vedic literatures. It has been said that in Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna is like a cowherd boy, milking the essence of all the Upanisads and giving that milk to Arjuna and to all mankind.
Although the Bhagavad-gita has been widely appreciated, different commentators have interpreted the Gita in different ways. The edition used by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) is the translation and commentary given by the founder-acarya of ISKCON, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada has subtitled his edition "As It Is." In his translation and commentary, Srila Prabhupada has allowed the clear meaning of Krsna's words to shine forth, unobstructed by speculative interpretations.
The basic controversy among the various interpretations is whether God is or is not a person. Different Vedic literatures describe the Absolute Truth in different features. In His supreme form, as the absolute person, Krsna is the ultimate goal of all monotheistic religions. He is also present in everyone's heart and can be seen there by the meditating yogis. Krsna also has an all-pervading, impersonal aspect, described in the Vedic literatures as the inconceivable, unmanifested Brahman.
Most scholars of the Bhagavad-gita concede that the Gita is theistic: It teaches us about the Supreme Person. So to understand the Gita, we must approach it with the attitude that Lord Krsna, the speaker of the Bhagavad-gita, is at least theoretically the Supreme Person Himself. As Srila Prabhupada explains in his Introduction, "We should at least theoretically accept Sri Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and with that submissive spirit we can understand the Bhagavad-gita."
Krsna's identity as the Supreme Person is established throughout the Bhagavad-gita, and to reach an impersonalistic conclusion requires fancifully interpreting and altering the meaning of the verses. The Twelfth Chapter in particular focuses on the personal/impersonal issue. Chapter Twelve begins with Arjuna asking Krsna, "Which are considered to be more perfect, those who are always properly engaged in Your devotional service or those who worship the impersonal Brahman, the unmanifested?" (Bg. 12.1) Krsna clearly explains that the worship of His personal form is best:
The Supreme Personality of Godhead said, "Those who fix their minds on My personal form and are always engaged in worshiping Me with great and transcendental faith are considered by Me to be most perfect. But those who fully worship the unmanifested, that which lies beyond the perception of the senses, the all-pervading, inconceivable, unchanging, fixed, and immovable the impersonal conception of the Absolute Truth by controlling the various senses and being equally disposed to everyone, such persons, engaged in the welfare of all, at last attain Me. For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied." (Bg. 12.2-5)
Every translator of the Gita be he a personalist or an impersonalist translates these verses in basically the same way. The meaning of these verses is not controversial, and once accepted, they establish that worship of Krsna in His personal form is the best way to worship.
Most impersonalists grant that there is some advantage to be gained in the beginning stages of yoga by worshiping the form of the Supreme Person, but they argue that the biggest realization involves merging the self with the impersonal, all-pervading Brahman. But as Krsna says in the verses quoted above, even the impersonalists ultimately come to worship Him in His personal form: "They will at last attain Me." In another verse (Bg. 7.19) He makes the same point: "After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare."
Those who apply themselves to spiritual life without worshiping Krsna have been compared to fools who try to get grain by beating empty husks of wheat. By ignoring Krsna, the impersonalist wastes his labor and misses the most valuable part of spiritual life.
Krsna's straightforward explanation that personalistic service, or bhakti-yoga, is easier than impersonal meditation should be taken very seriously. In the present age, it is especially difficult to practice impersonal meditation. The Vedic literatures describe the people of this age as short-lived, lazy, and always disturbed. People today cannot give up their worldly activities and practice severe austerities.
We should therefore be practical. We should not be armchair philosophers discussing fine points of philosophy and religion. If we are intelligent and knowledgeable, we will want to make real advancement in spiritual life and end our sufferings in this material world as quickly and easily as possible.
The easiest way to spiritual advancement in this age is by chanting the Hare Krsna mantra: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. By chanting Krsna's holy names one can make tangible advancement in transcendental knowledge and develop pure love of God. One can also advance by worshiping the Deity, the personal form of God within the temple. As Krsna promises in the Bhagavad-gita, if one offers Him with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, He will accept it.
Each of us is eternally a person. In our thoughts, feelings, and activities we are always relating to other persons, and to worship God in His supreme personal form of Lord Krsna is easy and natural.
Because Krsna is a person, we can chant His name, offer our food to Him, and distribute that food to others as His mercy. And we can also hear His words in scriptures like the Bhagavad-gita and the Srimad-Bhagavatam. By performing these simple yet pleasing transcendental activities, one experiences Krsna's presence and so advances in spiritual understanding, ultimately arriving at the stage of pure love of God. Even the greatest proponent of impersonalistic philosophy, Sri Sankaracarya, understood that Krsna is the Supreme Person and the highest truth. At the time of his death, Sankaracarya composed a now-famous song, which he sang for his students: bhaja govinda, bhaja govinda, bhaja govinda mudha-mate. "What use will it be at the time of death, when death grabs you by the throat, if you can only think of the unmanifest, impersonal Brahman? Just worship Govinda, worship Govinda, worship Govinda." By doing so, anyone can avoid the greatest danger. SDG