“Thus I have explained to you the most confidential of all knowledge. Deliberate on this fully, and then do what you wish to do.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.63)
इति ते ज्ञानम् आख्यातं
गुह्याद् गुह्यतरं मया
यथेच्छसि तथा कुरु
iti te jñānam ākhyātaṁ
guhyād guhyataraṁ mayā
yathecchasi tathā kuru
“What if I don’t want to read the books? What if I don’t accept your books as authority? That seems to be the basis for the entire appeal. Every lecture includes quotations from Bhagavad-gita. Every article has various reference points to shastra, including Shrimad Bhagavatam, Mahabharata, and the Puranas.
“That is well and good, but books are nothing more than people saying things. What if I don’t accept what those people have to say? Leaving that aside, what is your basis, then? What is the authority for what you have to say?
“Could you stand on your own? Could you present a persuasive enough appeal without referencing a book a single time? How would you convince a skeptical person that there is a God, that we need to serve such a God, and that there is life after death?”
As books are indeed nothing more than people saying things, there is no violation of protocol or etiquette in referencing books. Books are a form of communication, after all. They are a wonderful medium in preserving instruction through the passage of time. Those published accounts are the best way to actually travel back in time.
In that sense, if a person dismisses Bhagavad-gita, in return we can dismiss everything they have to say. We are under no obligation to accept what anyone else says. What makes them superior? Why is the impetus on the person with knowledge to prove that they are authorized?
If we want to indulge anyway, we could always ask the same questions. Arjuna posed them to Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Their subsequent conversation is what makes Bhagavad-gita.
We could bring the same questions to any person. Who are they? Why are they here? Why do they have to die? Why are they happy one moment and sad the next? Why is it they can’t find lasting peace and tranquility despite so much success in the world? Why does it feel like they are compelled into bad behavior, even after knowing better?
अथ केन प्रयुक्तो ऽयं
पापं चरति पूरुषः
अनिच्छन्न् अपि वार्ष्णेय
बलाद् इव नियोजितः
atha kena prayukto ‘yaṁ
pāpaṁ carati pūruṣaḥ
anicchann api vārṣṇeya
balād iva niyojitaḥ
“Arjuna said: O descendant of Vrishni, by what is one impelled to sinful acts, even unwillingly, as if engaged by force?” (Bhagavad-gita, 3.36)
It is not a weakness to quote from authority. It is a sign of intelligence. It is following proper etiquette. Bhagavad-gita does not depend on dogmatic insistence. It is not that Arjuna must surrender or forever be condemned to hell. It is not that he has only one chance to get it right, that if he is not on the list of people to be saved he will never get another opportunity.
Moreover, Shri Krishna concludes with the recommendation to deliberate fully. Arjuna should contemplate what he has heard with a sober mind. He should reason within himself whether the principles presented make sense or not. He should raise any doubts he may have. He should not follow blindly.
The person following bhakti-yoga relies heavily on Bhagavad-gita in their presentation, but the same principles flow throughout Vedic literature. There is the same message in many of the Puranas, although perhaps presented in a different way.
The same principles are at the foundation of the rituals and regulations passed down through the generations, which are still followed today. It is said that the life of sense gratification is like wasting the opportunity. It is like finding water in a desert and throwing it on the ground, to be dried up by the sun. It is like having a reserved flight to eternal paradise, but never actually boarding the aircraft.
एवं प्रवर्तितं चक्रं नानुवर्तयतीह यः ।
अघायुरिन्द्रियारामो मोघं पार्थ स जीवति ॥
evaṁ pravartitaṁ cakraṁ
moghaṁ pārtha sa jīvati
“My dear Arjuna, a man who does not follow this prescribed Vedic system of sacrifice certainly leads a life of sin, for a person delighting only in the senses lives in vain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.16)
If I am not ready to accept any authority, I can still make advancement. I can simply sit down and hear the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
I can contemplate what is near and dear to me and then make the link to the Supreme Lord. That tasty beverage is sourced in the origin of everything. That cherished possession is because of good fortune from a higher authority. My ability to raise doubts is based on an intelligence gifted to me at the time of birth.
जन्म कर्म च मे दिव्यम्
एवं यो वेत्ति तत्त्वतः
त्यक्त्वा देहं पुनर् जन्म
नैति माम् एति सो ऽर्जुन
janma karma ca me divyam
evaṁ yo vetti tattvataḥ
tyaktvā dehaṁ punar janma
naiti mām eti so ‘rjuna
“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.9)
I can find transcendence in an indirect way. When I am ready to advance further, I can open my eyes to a new world of thinking. The authority of Bhagavad-gita and related works will fill in the many gaps in my base of knowledge, and soon I will know the secret to eternal living.
If skeptical authority to accept,
If on side leaning to reject.
Then still quietly can sit,
And through sound to lift.
Holy names hearing,
For consciousness clearing.
Or link from attachment to make,
Taste of Divinity to take.