“That very ancient science of the relationship with the Supreme is today told by Me to you because you are My devotee as well as My friend; therefore you can understand the transcendental mystery of this science.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.3)
The Bhagavad-gita, the literature that stands out amongst all works of art due solely to its speaker and main subject matter, Lord Krishna, is so brilliant that it has been studied for centuries by scholar and devotee alike. The latter’s interest is understandable, as the loving propensity within every person is meant to be released in the most intense way possible. If a person is skilled at cooking, it would be a waste for them to not spend much time in the kitchen preparing elaborate dishes for friends, family and even customers at a restaurant. Similarly, if a person is skilled in explaining high concepts and the essence of life to others, if they were to avoid offering instruction, their talents would go to waste. Every living being shares the common trait of being a supreme lover of God, but only when consciousness advances to the point that the constitutional position is adopted can the full potential for the outward exchange of emotion and dedication be realized. Potential is great, provided that it is recognized as worthy of being tapped into. From hearing the Bhagavad-gita, the sincere soul acquires the tools necessary to make their existence worthwhile.
The fruit of an existence is the reward for remaining alive. Generally, the mentality is reversed, wherein the existing being looks for ways to continue their vitality. Work is built around this very concept. Go to the office early in the morning, spend upwards of forty hours per week there, and then come home to enjoy the results of your actions. If there wouldn’t be work, how would life’s necessities such as food, clothing, and shelter be procured? Above and beyond the necessities is enjoyment, pleasurable experiences that come after the essential functions for the day have been carried out.
But if we have an existence already, as that is what we know at the time of birth, why should our predominant thoughts be focused on maintaining that existence? Rather, shouldn’t the focus be on realizing the true fruit of our birth? If we have come into existence in this present body, there must be a reason for it. Similarly, after we exit the current form, there must be a place to go. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, reveal that ananda, or bliss, is the reason for living. More specifically, that joy felt from the intimate association of the one person to whom everyone is intrinsically tied is the real goal of any existence, in any birth. The human form is considered the most auspicious because it carries with it a high potential for intelligence acquisition, which means that a human being has the best chance of even understanding the concepts of an existence and the purpose behind it.
Though the backdrop of the Bhagavad-gita is a battlefield where a war to end all wars was about to commence, the real purpose to the teachings within emanating from Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is to reveal how the search for ananda, the meaning to our existence, can take place. The troubled soul in this instance was Arjuna, the leading fighter for the Pandava family. When we hear that Arjuna was the most capable warrior, naturally some questions would arise. “If he was so powerful, why was he in trouble? If he could defeat anyone in battle, why would he ever feel dejected? Doesn’t sadness arise from the inability to protect one’s life or from the fear of losing one’s possessions? If he was so skilled, what was he afraid of?”
Arjuna’s concerns related to the bodily welfare of certain members of the opposing army, the Kauravas. Dronacharya and Bhishmadeva were the notable personalities that Arjuna did not want to harm. Dronacharya had taught Arjuna how to fight, so in this respect he was a guru, or spiritual master. The Sanskrit word “guru” literally means heavy, or those objects which carry gravity. The term “guru” typically refers to the spiritual guide, but it can also refer to general authority figures like parents and grandparents. Bhishmadeva was the grandfather of both the Pandavas and Kauravas, so how could Arjuna show disrespect to him by fighting with him to the death?
On the surface it appeared that Arjuna was afraid about winning and having to rule over a kingdom devoid of his closest family members and guides, but if we abstract the situation a little more, we’ll see that the issue boiled down to ananda. Arjuna was really asking how he could be happy in life. On the one side he had the option to fight and hopefully gain victory. On the other, he had the choice of losing by giving up. In either case, there wouldn’t be happiness, for in the first instance the kingdom would come at the cost of others’ lives. Arjuna had no attachment to regal comforts or the honor that comes from ruling over a kingdom. Therefore he didn’t even consider victory to be anything worth pursuing.
“People will always speak of your infamy, and for one who has been honored, dishonor is worse than death.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.34)
If he would give up, Arjuna would bring dishonor upon himself. Lord Krishna very cogently pointed out that for one who has been previously honored, dishonor is a punishment worse than death. We see that in the media world, celebrities and notable personalities are constantly being propped up for their exhibition of talent and skill in a particular field. Yet, if they should have a fall from grace, a momentary lapse of judgment, the same media relentlessly pounces on them to the point that their reputations are forever ruined. For one who has been previously honored with fame and praise, being dishonored is much worse. If an ordinary person should be dishonored, it is not that big a deal since they have not been previously held aloft. Arjuna was known the world over as an unbeatable fighter, for he had even won the favor of Lord Shiva after fighting with him.
Realizing the predicament and leaning towards the option of quitting, Arjuna had no choice but to put the matter to Krishna, who happened to be his charioteer at the time. The Bhagavad-gita thus involves a student asking the original spiritual master of the world how to gain the reward of one’s existence, how to find unending happiness. The discussion that followed revealed the most intimate secrets of spiritual life, some of which were known to the learned people of the time and some points of fact that had never been discussed anywhere else. The soul’s eternality, its position superior to material nature, its struggles through reincarnation, and what it needs to break free of the cycle of birth and death are revealed by Krishna Himself in His talk with Arjuna.
Because of the nature of the instruction and the succinct way in which it was presented, so many people have been enamored by the Bhagavad-gita. For those who take to spiritual life in the Vedic tradition, there are generally three paths available for finding ultimate success. One, karma, involves fruitive activity with the results of actions sacrificed for a higher cause. Another, jnana, studies the differences between matter and spirit to hopefully further the end of complete renunciation. There is another path involving meditation which has hints of both karma and jnana. The third path is known as bhakti, and it calls for dovetailing all of one’s actions with the interests of the Supreme Lord in His personal form.
Those who follow the path of knowledge acquisition are generally known as Vedantists. To them the Bhagavad-gita represents a scholarly work that explains Brahman, or the all-pervading Absolute Truth. Even scholars who are not technically Vedantists study the Bhagavad-gita for the high class concepts presented. Knowledge of the relevant subject matter is a prerequisite if one wants to participate in an intellectual discussion. For example, if we had a study group focused on Shakespearean literature, obviously people who have never read Shakespeare or who have no interest in poetry won’t be able to get anything out of the discussions.
In a similar manner, a prevalent view amongst spiritualists is that the common man cannot understand the Bhagavad-gita, or Vedanta in general. “Veda” refers to knowledge and “anta” means the end, or conclusion. Therefore Vedanta philosophy is the summit of knowledge, the philosophy that contains the final conclusions in life. All other truths are but derivatives of the supreme truths handed down by the great Vedic seers. “Vedanta is not meant for just any person. There must be renunciation and strict austerity for one to understand the highest truths of life.”
This raises an interesting question, however. If the Bhagavad-gita, considered one of the most important spiritual treatises in history, is meant only for high class intellectuals, how come the person receiving the knowledge directly from the person speaking it wasn’t even close to being part of the intelligentsia? The Vedic system of societal maintenance is known as varnashrama-dharma, and it calls for divisions of life and occupational duties based on a person’s inherent qualities relating to their body type. The highest division is known as the brahmana, which can be likened to a priestly order or an intelligentsia. The brahmanas are the teachers, and their title indicates that they are to know Brahman, or the Absolute Truth. An unintelligent person sees differences based on body types, taking one living entity to be superior and another to be inferior simply off of their outward features. Yet the wise know that every spiritual spark is Brahman and thus constitutionally the same in quality.
“That knowledge by which one undivided spiritual nature is seen in all existences, undivided in the divided, is knowledge in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.20)
The brahmana sees that there is oneness shared amongst the divided because of the unity in spiritual makeup. This vision is very difficult to acquire, hence the brahmanas are given top billing in society; they are the respected teachers. Arjuna was part of the second order, the administrator/warrior class. They are hardly considered the most intelligent, as fighting is based off of bodily designations. War can only take place when one group thinks that land belongs to them and that their family members are more important than other sets of individuals. Those with the understanding of Brahman have no need to usurp others’ property, instigate meaningless fights, or unnecessarily kill any other life.
If Arjuna was part of a class driven by the mode of passion, which is the second class type of activity, how could he receive the sublime wisdom of Vedanta presented by Shri Krishna, who is the fountainhead of all Vedic knowledge? The answer, not surprisingly, is given in the Gita itself, where Krishna states that Arjuna is receiving the highest wisdom because he is a devotee; he is not envious of God. The Vedantist may be very learned, but if he is after becoming one with God, denying His existence by saying that He is impersonal, or even usurping the Lord’s authority, he will never be able to understand the Bhagavad-gita.
Not only the Bhagavad-gita, but every important Vedic literature is meant to be understood by the devotees. The fruit of our existence is not simply the removal of distress. If one day we hear an annoying car alarm going off outside and the next day we don’t, has our life’s mission been fulfilled? Even in the absence of distress, the soul needs an active engagement, a set of activities that will provide happiness. Naturally, those things which correspond to the properties of spirit will bring the highest blissful feelings. Lord Krishna is the object of sacrifice and worship, so anyone who stays connected with Him will find the ananda they have been searching after for so many lifetimes. Arjuna surrendered unto the Lord and thus slashed away his bewilderment. He found happiness from neither renunciation nor attachment, but rather from following his heart connected with the Supreme Lord. Those who understand the dealings of Arjuna and Krishna in this light will be similarly benefitted.
Of the Lord, Arjuna was a great devotee,
Thus divine vision of Krishna did he see,
More than that, eternal wisdom he received,
For with his friendship the Lord was pleased.
Only with devotion can one comprehend,
Truths of Vedas, on nothing else does this depend.
Following karma we can find temporary reward,
With renunciation and study we get bored.
Only with bhakti we find what we need,
To have association with God does our heart bleed.
In society brahmanas are the highest class,
Through study, illusion of duality they surpass.
Yet Arjuna was a warrior by trade,
In thought, word or deed, never Krishna he betrayed.
Thus for receiving Gita’s message of love he was deserving,
Their conversation with proper mood are our ears meant for hearing.