“Arjuna said: The sun-god Vivasvan is senior by birth to You. How am I to understand that in the beginning You instructed this science to him?” (Bhagavad-gita, 4.4)
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अपरं भवतो जन्म
परं जन्म विवस्वतः
कथम् एतद् विजानीयां
त्वम् आदौ प्रोक्तवान् इति
aparaṁ bhavato janma
paraṁ janma vivasvataḥ
katham etad vijānīyāṁ
tvam ādau proktavān iti
Shri Krishna laid it out squarely. There was no embarrassment in the presentation. It was not like the speaker thought that the audience would be skeptical. If someone is speaking the truth, they can repeat what they are saying over and over. They have no doubt as to the authenticity, so there is no cause for hesitation.
Except the recipient in this case, Arjuna, picked up on a subtle fact. It was associated with the setting that Krishna was presenting. This related to the history of yoga. The science of self-realization, as being presented to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, already existed.
That science was already known to Krishna. The charioteer, cousin, and well-wisher to Arjuna explained that the science of yoga was spoken to the sun-god. If a person is interested to know the origin, as it relates to the timeline of known history, they can use that conversation as the starting point.
The truth is fine, on the surface. The sun-god, Vivasvan, heard the truth from Krishna. It must have been a similar interaction of teacher and student. Except Arjuna was puzzled by one aspect to this scene.
1. Did you hear about it from parampara?
“You must mean that there was this conversation, which you heard about through parampara. I understand that is how the knowledge has come to us at this moment. The saintly kings, rajarshis, passed it down.
“It is a chain of teachers. Though we think that thousands of years in the past is a long time ago, and that life was certainly different then as compared to now, if there is fidelity within the transfer process, then there is nothing lost through the access.
“Is that the message you are trying to convey? You know of this yoga system because of parampara. You are able to teach it to me because you are one of the links within the chain?”
2. Was it one of your ancestors with the same name?
“Was it a different Krishna who spoke to the sun-god? I know that sometimes within royal families the same name gets passed down. It is a kind of honorary title. The rulers then receive additional names based on their activities and qualities. That is how you can tell them apart, identifying a specific leader within the list. For instance, the King Janaka who found Sita Devi as a baby is also known as Shiradhvaja.”
तत: शीरध्वजो जज्ञे यज्ञार्थं कर्षतो महीम् ।
सीता शीराग्रतो जाता तस्मात् शीरध्वज: स्मृत: ॥
tataḥ śīradhvajo jajñe
yajñārthaṁ karṣato mahīm
sītā śīrāgrato jātā
tasmāt śīradhvajaḥ smṛtaḥ
“From Hrasvaroma came a son named Shiradhvaja [also called Janaka]. When Shiradhvaja was plowing a field, from the front of his plow [shira] appeared a daughter named Sitadevi, who later became the wife of Lord Ramachandra. Thus he was known as Shiradhvaja.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 9.13.18)
3. Is the sun-god really not that old?
“I always thought the sun-god was pretty old. Not necessarily in the sense of aged, where the body diminishes in ability. Just in terms of the amount of time that elapses after a person first appears. Within that calculation, the sun-god has to be as old as the universe.
“Am I wrong in my understanding? Is this some other sun-god you spoke to? Was it a relative? Was it one of the descendants? That would make more sense.”
4. Are we supposed to understand the symbolism of the message?
“Is there a symbolic message hidden within what you are saying? Is it not really that you spoke to the sun-god, but that some conversation took place? A realized soul instructing someone who was swayed by the material energy, perhaps.
“And since such conversations have taken place throughout the course of history, the same is repeating today. Is that what you mean to say? How else could you have spoken to the original sun-god?”
5. Does aham actually mean something else?
“You use the word ‘aham.’ Does this actually mean something else? Are you not who you say you are? If I become self-realized one day, could the same truth apply to me? Would I be able to tell others that I instructed the science of yoga to the sun-god?”
Arjuna could have asked any of these questions, but he took the simpler route in comparing ages. The sun-god was known to be senior to Krishna by birth. How, then, could Krishna speak to someone long before Krishna even appeared in this world?
The question reveals the shocking nature to Krishna’s statement. A teacher can be expert in their presentation and have full command of the material. They can answer the questions of the students with dexterity and timeliness. They can settle any doubts that anyone can have.
But how to resolve something as basic as before-and-after? How could anyone expect that Krishna was around at the beginning of the creation? How could Krishna have spoken to the sun-god at that time?
“Krishna remembered acts which were performed by Him millions of years before, but Arjuna could not, despite the fact that both Krishna and Arjuna are eternal in nature. We may also note herein that a living entity forgets everything due to his change of body, but the Lord remembers because He does not change His sach-chid-ananda body. He is advaita, which means there is no distinction between His body and Himself.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 4.5 Purport)
The answer was actually quite simple. Both Krishna and Arjuna appear many times within the manifest world. The difference is that Krishna can remember those appearances. Arjuna cannot.
In this way, through a single question Arjuna found a way to further glorify the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He can be known as the one who remembers everything. As His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains, Krishna is known as advaita because there is no difference between spirit and body for Him.
A startling declaration bold,
That first to the sun-god told.
Parampara started in this way,
Through to battlefield today.
For Arjuna that knowledge to receive,
But how the history to believe?
Because Krishna memory to retain,
Every impression to remain.
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