One Interpretation

Bhagavad-gita“A man working in Krishna consciousness in a factory does not associate himself with the work of the factory, nor with the workers of the factory. He simply works for Krishna. And when he gives up the result for Krishna, he is acting transcendentally.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 18.9 Purport)

“How can you say that there is only one authoritative interpretation of the verses of the Bhagavad-gita? How can anyone have the nerve to put the words “as it is” in the title of their translation? This implies that the others are not “as it is.” But how do we know that? How do we know that one interpretation is authentic and others are not?”

The Bhagavad-gita is an ancient Vedic work that chronicles a conversation that took place on a battlefield some five thousand years ago. The truths themselves are timeless, which we learn in the conversation itself. We learn that the truths that make up the conversation were also spoken at the beginning of known time, and that they were then passed on to successive generations. Since the Gita is a conversation, there is really only one interpretation of it. To say that there are many is incorrect. This doesn’t mean, however, that commentaries cannot be given. Changing times bring new reference points. As such, opportunities for describing the same truths in new ways are always present, though the original meanings don’t change.

Bhagavad-gita, 18.9“But he who performs his prescribed duty only because it ought to be done, and renounces all attachment to the fruit-his renunciation is of the nature of goodness, O Arjuna.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.9)

In the ninth verse of the eighteenth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that one should perform his prescribed duty but then renounce the attachment to the fruit. In simpler terms, this means do your work but don’t be affected by the outcome. Do your work because you have to. Everyone accepts a prescribed duty at some point. The mother must take care of the children. The husband must work to support the family. The student must complete the assignments for the class.

Mother Yashoda feeding KrishnaWhether the child is pleased or not should be of no concern to the mother. Whether the work is completely pleasurable or not is not much of a factor for the husband. Whether school is fun or not is not so important for the child. Each person may think otherwise in their respective situation, but the fact is that the prescribed duty leads to something better. When that duty is performed without attachment to the result, there is some kind of transcendence.

In the grand scheme the aim is to transcend birth and death. Birth and death are due to karma, which is fruitive work. So basically Krishna advises that one should act in karma but not be so concerned with the outcome. From that mindset, the karma eventually transforms into bhakti. There is work in both cases, but since the mindset of the person in bhakti is not so attached to the temporary results of the work, there is no future implication.

As a way to explain this verse, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada points to the factory worker. The person in karma cares about the outcome, such as in how much money they are making, when the day is going to end, and if they are improving their material situation. The person in Krishna consciousness, or bhakti, does the work as a matter of obligation. Whatever results they get go to Krishna, who is God. He is the same God for everyone, though He is more clearly drawn out. Krishna is considered the original form, though the Supreme takes many other non-different forms as well, all of which are just as worshipable. The term “God” is a way of addressing Krishna when the worshiper doesn’t necessarily know what He looks like. The worshiper has a foggy conception of a supreme controller, so the full effect of bhakti is lacking due to the missed interaction with the all-attractive features found only in the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Shrila PrabhupadaThis verse was spoken by Krishna to the warrior Arjuna some five thousand years ago. Factories most certainly did not exist at the time. Does this mean that Shrila Prabhupada has fabricated a purport? Has he conjured up a brand new interpretation? Actually, the meaning is still the same, just the frame of reference is a little different. Since people today know what a factory is, the reference to it helps to explain the verse. Someone else, in a different setting, can make reference to a corn field to make the same point. In more recent times, someone could make reference to the office desk and sitting in front of a computer all day to explain the same truth. Though the explanations may be different, the truth is not altered. Thus the single interpretation of the verses of the Gita remains intact.

The Gita is a conversation between two people. It is not a matter subject to interpretation. There are facts presented by the authority figure, namely Krishna, and they are then accepted by the humble disciple, Arjuna. Since there was an underlying culture during the time the Gita was spoken, explanations of the verses are required in subsequent generations. That culture is virtually absent today, so unless one is familiar with it, somewhat living in it themselves, they will not understand what the verses mean. It would be like eavesdropping on a conversation between two people and not knowing the context. Then the mind could go wild speculating as to the meaning.

Bhagavad-gita As It IsThe same is already done with the Gita, and the results are not very good. Unaware that the same Krishna is described in so many other Vedic texts, the foolish commentators speculate as to whether Krishna exists at all. “Perhaps He represents something more meaningful, like an abstract. And Arjuna thus might represent something else.” Such nonsense speculation is unnecessary, as the singular interpretation is still available from authorized sources. Since they know that their interpretation is the only valid one, they have no fear in titling their translation, “Bhagavad-gita As It Is.”

In Closing:

New explanations for time are legit,

Like to factory and in office to sit.


But interpretation of Gita only one,

Other meanings to verses none.


“As It Is” strong words to choose,

The acharya in their title to use.


That Krishna is real they know,

Not afraid to proclaim it proudly so.

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