“My dear Arjuna, only by undivided devotional service can I be understood as I am, standing before you, and can thus be seen directly. Only in this way can you enter into the mysteries of My understanding.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 11.54)
You enter a museum, a gathering place filled with ancient artifacts, sculptures and paintings from centuries gone by on display. The source for the appreciation is obvious, for who can imagine such pieces being preserved for so long? Just being able to be in such close proximity is enough to cause awe, inspiration and wonder. Yet accompanying the exhibits are warning signs, which indicate that certain behavior should be checked. These warnings apply to the eager observers who may have the desire to touch the different pieces. The fingertips carry oils with them that can damage the surface of valuables with regular contact. Just imagine placing your fingers on the car window over and over again. After a while, marks start to remain which blur the transparency of the glass. Valuable pieces of artwork can similarly have their surfaces damaged by human contact. But more than any other group, the warnings apply to children, for they do not know any better. Without knowing what something is, how can someone appreciate its value and the need for handling it with care? This principle extends to the ancient scriptural works descending from the Supreme Person Himself.
Children are immature in thought, so they don’t know what it means to be really old, especially when talking about an artifact, painting or sculpture. If children were allowed to touch such items and play with them, they would not handle them with the proper care. The wife who is protective of her expensive and beautiful set of china has justifiable reasons for her concern. For the average meal eaten in the home, normal plates and glasses will suffice. China can be expensive, however, so its use is reserved for special occasions. The fiscally conscious wife will protect her china from even her husband, for he could never possibly understand what its value is and how fragile just one piece can be.
If children are given possession of ancient artifacts, they would likely use them for their own play. Children enjoy games such as baseball and cricket that allow for running around. A key component of both of these games is the base, or wicket, the destination for the runners. Let’s say that a child sees in the living room a nice vase, one that is very old and expensive, and decides to use it as a base. “Oh, this vase is perfect in size. I’ll place it right here so that we can start our game.” Since runners are heading to the destination bases at high speeds, there is every chance for collision. Hence the chances of the expensive vase shattering are very high. To the child, the vase breaking is not that big a deal, for it was used as a base after all. How expensive or valuable can a piece of porcelain be anyway?
The mature human being can understand the value of such items. Considering the rareness of a particular piece and its historical significance, care and consideration will be taken in preserving the gem. The museum exists for this very purpose, for without a formal setting dedicated to preservation, the various items could be lying around someone’s closet gathering dust. Through special care, the items can remain on display for others to observe, study and derive pleasure from.
In the realm of spirituality, the ancient scriptures of India, the Vedas, contain the most valuable set of information known the world over. Their value ultimately comes from their source: the Supreme Lord. He imparted Vedic wisdom to the first created living entity, Lord Brahma, at the beginning of creation. Subsequently, the same knowledgebase was passed down through a tradition of dedicated followers and sincere students.
“This knowledge is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of religion. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.2)
What kind of information is contained within the Vedas? In the Bhagavad-gita, the Supreme Lord Shri Krishna repeats the same information He originally taught at the beginning of creation. In this discourse between God and His dear friend and disciple, the eternal nature of the spirit soul, its travels through different bodies in the what is known as reincarnation, the material energy, the spiritual energy, the meaning of life, and how to remain free from all unwanted sentiments, including anger, lust and greed, are discussed.
In this carefully presented analysis, Lord Krishna reviews the basics known to the Vedic seers since the beginning of time, yet He also makes sure to mention things which are considered confidential. Arjuna, the recipient of Krishna’s instruction, was a warrior by trade, so he had no special academic qualification. Krishna did not reveal the Gita to Arjuna because of a degree he possessed or his ability to study Sanskrit. Rather, Arjuna’s lone qualification, the only thing he needed to be able to hear such confidential topics from Krishna, was his devotion to the Lord. In light of this, Krishna saw it fit to teach Arjuna every piece of information necessary for purifying his consciousness.
This begs the question as to why Krishna would choose to conceal any information. Why wouldn’t the Lord reveal the most confidential subjects to every single person? Similar to how the museum artifacts are kept away from the hands of children, the sublime wisdom of the Vedas is not intended for just any audience. If the confidential subject matter discussed in the Bhagavad-gita or any other primary Vedic text should land in the hands of the non-devotees, the results can be disastrous.
How does this work exactly? Just as the child will be prone to breaking the porcelain vase that was so expensive, the non-devotee will not have any appreciation for Krishna or His words. Therefore they will study the Bhagavad-gita, Ramayana and Shrimad Bhagavatam from their worldly point of view, which by default is driven by sense desires. The human being lacking adherence to bona fide religious principles is no different from the animal. The animal is known for its inability to handle sense urges. Eating, sleeping, mating and defending are what the animal thinks about, and in these pursuits there is no attention paid to the need for austerity or self-control.
If a human being is not devoted to God, they will view sense gratification or its polar opposite of full renunciation as the ultimate aim in life. Applying this vision to the sacred teachings coming from Krishna Himself, the conditioned soul will have no way of understanding what the Lord is trying to say. What’s worse is that when such people write commentaries on the Bhagavad-gita and present them to others, their readers will be led astray as well. This is similar to the young child presenting the vase to their friends as being a base to be used in a game. “Here you go. I’ve found this wonderful piece in my parents’ living room. We can use it to play our game.”
The unscrupulous commentator who has no devotion to Krishna will use the Gita to further their own agenda, not respecting the work for what it is. How can they even understand the purpose of the work, for the Gita is kept safely within a very long Vedic text called the Mahabharata? During ancient times these works were recited in public assemblies by brahmanas, or qualified priests. This means that there was no jumping from chapter to chapter, flipping open a certain page and reading the contents without knowing the context. Rather, the audience had to listen to everything in order, from the beginning of the discourse to the end, or at least they were already familiar with the subject matter from having attended previous gatherings. Vyasadeva, the compiler of the Mahabharata and many other important Vedic texts, sequenced his words in a specific order so that the audience could understand the meanings.
One who has not read the entire Mahabharata can never understand the Bhagavad-gita by just picking up the work. What’s more astounding is that the Mahabharata, though very lengthy, has so much context already built into it. Therefore one can’t even pick up the Mahabharata, read it from cover to cover, and then expect to understand anything that is discussed. When such impediments are placed on the conditioned soul, where does any person unfamiliar with the message of the Vedas get the gumption to even begin to comment on the Bhagavad-gita, let alone quote from it?
Just as Krishna imparted the original Veda to Lord Brahma, the same information was passed down through a chain of disciplic succession. Therefore without tapping into this link, without seeking the shelter of a spiritual master, a brahmana following in Vyasadeva’s mood, works like the Bhagavad-gita can never be understood. On the other hand, by reading commentaries and translations of such works written by devotees, people who love Krishna in the same way that Arjuna did, there is every opportunity of appreciating the wonderful work and learning from it.
And what can we learn from the Gita? By visiting the museum we get a glimpse of the thought processes and practices of ancient civilizations. We learn how they used to live and what they considered important in life. Similarly, by reading the Bhagavad-gita and studying it under the direction of someone who knows what they are talking about, the names, forms, pastimes and attributes of the Supreme Lord take rest within the mind. What is the benefit to having this information? The soul is meant to be devoted to Krishna in the same way that Arjuna was. Therefore the Gita is intended to elicit the loving emotions harbored for God already lying within the heart. There needn’t be any forceful cajoling or instigating in this regard. The soul already knows how to love. In the conditioned state, however, where to direct that love is a mystery. Thus a lifetime is spent directing the love to different areas, like throwing objects against a wall until one of them sticks.
Sadly, the offering of love to all the wrong places will continue life after life until the worthy target, Shri Krishna, is found. Rather than wait for people to come to Krishna, the Vaishnavas, the devotees of the Lord who believe that every single person should become familiar with their spiritual counterpart, take up the humbling task of preaching openly. In days past the brahmanas were automatically afforded high status in society. Householders would regularly invite brahmanas to come to their homes and discuss transcendental topics. In the current age of Kali, which is marked by the widespread presence of hypocrisy and quarrel, there is very little attention paid to spiritual subject matters. If there are any popular spiritual leaders, they are usually seen on television promising all sorts of material rewards from the Lord. “This will be your year. God will give you whatever you want because you surrender to him.”
While this attitude is nice, what the soul actually needs is never addressed. Arjuna was a warrior, but his foremost desire was not to fight or to earn a military victory. He only wanted to be in Krishna’s company, abiding by whatever orders the Lord gave him. Whatever would please Krishna, Arjuna would do. This is every other soul’s occupational duty as well. This is why the Vedas refer to religion as sanatana-dharma, or the eternal engagement of the soul. The spirit souls are always meant to love Krishna. Sanatana-dharma is better described as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Yoga is growing in popularity today because it stands in stark contrast to other exercise disciplines. Yoga is meant to address the needs of the spirit soul, so when activities are taken up in this line, the benefits are far greater than those coming from running, biking, or competition in various sports.
Real yoga, however, means linking the soul with the Supreme Soul. Therefore bhakti-yoga is the culmination of all yoga practice, as it aims to keep the individual soul connected with God through acts of love and devotion. The quintessential activity in bhakti is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The Vaishnava preachers teach the science of self-realization by chanting this mantra in public, so that as many people as possible can hear the sound vibrations representing the Absolute Truth. At the same time, they distribute transcendental literature aimed at catching the eyes of those sincerely interested in learning about a real religion, a system of spirituality that applies to every single person and that can arouse the most intense loving emotions capable of being expressed.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, a Vaishnava preacher in a line of disciplic succession descending from Vyasadeva, did the greatest favor for humanity by translating and commenting on the Bhagavad-gita in English, with translations in many other languages soon following. His Bhagavad-gita As It Is can be likened to a travelling museum, a compact collection of the most valuable gems. Since Shrila Prabhupada understood the gravity of the Gita and its contents, he employed the correct attitude when translating and writing commentaries for the different verses. Therefore even someone who has never heard a single verse of Vedic literature can pick up this wonderful work and gradually learn to appreciate and honor the speaker in the same way that Arjuna did. Through his benevolence, Shrila Prabhupada’s glories continue to increase day by day. He made the complex understandable and revealed Krishna to the world. Those who accept this mercy are the most fortunate.
Museum has many an ancient artifact,
Yet don’t dare touch them, make sure to stand back.
Especially to children does this rule apply,
Laws imposed by adults are they given to defy.
Expensive vase in the house could be used for a game,
Whether or not the item breaks, to child all the same.
In child’s play items can be used for impersonation,
Therefore parents set up rules for protection.
With ancient scriptures of India, the same principle,
Bogus commentators value of texts do cripple.
Learn Bhagavad-gita from someone who loves Krishna,
Who follows same mood of devotion as Arjuna.
Saints like Prabhupada understand Vedas and their value,
Learn art of bhakti by reading their works through and through.