“In the Vaishnava parampara it is said that if one is engaged in the devotional service of Krishna, then there is no need for a spiritual process to understand the Supreme Absolute Truth. He has already come to the post because he is engaged in the devotional service of the Lord. He has ended all preliminary processes of understanding; similarly, if anyone, after speculating for hundreds of thousands of lives, does not come to the point that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead and that one has to surrender there, all his speculation for so many years and lives is a useless waste of time.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 15.19 Purport)
What if you could reach the point of understanding everything right away? Vedanta is the conclusion to all study. It is the culmination, the result of assembling all the building blocks of information properly. Think of solving the puzzle that started out as many disjointed pieces; this is one way to understand what happens when a person assimilates Vedanta philosophy. Bhakti-yoga brings a person to the conclusion right away; it is like solving the puzzle without studying the pieces. Bhakti-yoga, which automatically incorporates Vedanta, though appearing simple on the outside, represents a tremendous achievement, as through it one bypasses the need for undergoing preliminary processes.
What are these processes? What are the building blocks? What is it that one typically must first understand? We don’t need to go far to find them. The Bhagavad-gita discusses these topics. The first is Ishvara, who is the supreme controller. Every person is being controlled, regardless of their circumstance. In modern times the debate with respect to style of government is over liberty versus tyranny. Tyranny is where the citizens are oppressed in terms of economics. Someone is a laborer and they have a desire to be a business owner. Under tyranny they have no facility for improving their position. Under liberty, they can choose how far up the chain they want to travel.
Of course even with liberty there is control. There is the cheating of politics. Natural law says that it is not right to take someone else’s property. A democracy pays no respect to such laws. Whatever the majority rules is what becomes legal. Thus a person could garner enough votes to steal someone else’s property and suddenly that theft becomes allowed. So even under liberty a person has to maintain a watchful eye on their possessions.
This is not to mention the higher forces of nature. There are the three sources of misery. A person has to endure the extreme heat and the bitter cold. They must tolerate the worries of the mind and the diseases that crop up from within. They must tolerate the intrusive behavior of others. In each of these categories the miseries can be extreme or they can be manageable. Regardless, there is never full control.
Ishvara is the supreme controller. It is the force that controls even the three sources of misery. Ishvara is not under the control of anyone else. Whether someone believes in Ishvara or not does not matter; there is an original controller ruling over all.
The second topic is the jivas, which have already been touched on. In the simplest definition, they are that which is controlled by Ishvara. The jivas, the living entities, have some control in their lives. They can choose how to act, how to think, even how to feel sometimes. They wield control over others to some degree, but they can never be the supreme controller.
The third topic is prakriti. This is the material nature manipulated by the controller. The jivas manipulate the dull matter that is their bodies. The fact that someone can appear overweight one day and skinny a few weeks later means that the person residing within the body is different from the body. The jiva is the life force, while prakriti is the inanimate matter. Another reason that Ishvara is supreme is because it controls both the jivas and the prakriti. In comparison to Ishvara, even the jivas are prakriti.
The fourth topic is time. This is how prakriti changes. If not for the influence of time, everything would remain the same. Time in Sanskrit is also synonymous with death. The sign of control is the ability to annihilate. The jiva is superior to prakriti because it can dictate whether or not something will stay with them. The ability to get rid of something means that the jiva is superior. This ridding is effected through time. In the same way, Ishvara shows its supreme control through all-devouring death, to which every jiva eventually succumbs.
The fifth topic is karma. This means action, and more specifically that action which yields results. The action of the jiva on prakriti which brings results seen through the influence of time, all overseen by Ishvara – this is the more specific definition of karma. Through karma living entities appear and disappear. These two events, also described as birth and death, go in cycles for both the inferior prakriti that is the material nature and the superior prakriti, which are the jivas.
apareyam itas tv anyāṁ
prakṛtiṁ viddhi me parām
yayedaṁ dhāryate jagat
“Besides this inferior nature, O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is a superior energy of Mine, which are all living entities who are struggling with material nature and are sustaining the universe.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.5)
This is a basic overview of the five topics of the Bhagavad-gita. Within each one is seemingly endless nuance. The materialistic scientist spends an entire lifetime studying prakriti, figuring out its laws and how to manipulate things for the benefit of the jiva. The mental speculator, the philosopher, spends so much time trying to understand Ishvara, wondering if it is a person or just an undifferentiated, impersonal force. The person worrying over the future and lamenting over the past is enamored by time, and the person faithful to the prescribed duties of religious life in the hopes of ascension to a heavenly realm is interested in karma.
Yet it is not until one takes to devotional service that the understanding becomes complete. This devotional service is so powerful that the preliminary processes are not necessary. If one simply surrenders unto Shri Krishna, the supreme Ishvara, then everything else is taken care of. Of what use is intimate knowledge of time for someone who blissfully always chants the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare?
mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja
ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo
mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.66)
What need is there to study a material nature which is actually an inferior energy coming from Krishna? What need is there to be enamored with the jivas and their karma when worship of Krishna eliminates karma and reunites the jivas with their original companion? Shri Krishna Himself says that surrender to Him is the most worthwhile activity, that one should abandon all other dharmas, or systems of understanding, in favor of it.
In surrender preliminary pass by,
No need for intense study to try.
Bhagavad-gita of topics five,
But why not at conclusion arrive?
That to Krishna devoted become,
And worry over karma have none.
Material nature, time, jivas and Ishvara too,
Chant holy names and have the end brought to you.