Commentary on the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda


Discourse 1: The Colophon of the Bhagavadgita

Brahmavidyāyāṁ yogaśāstre śrīkṛṣṇārjunasaṁvāde. These words occur at the end of each chapter of the Bhagavadgita. Those who do not know Sanskrit might not have even noticed this. Those who know Sanskrit just take it for granted and bypass it as something that needs to be recited at the end of each chapter, whatever the reason may be. But there is no redundant word in the Bhagavadgita. There is nothing that can be bypassed or considered as introductory, just to be glossed over. Even if there is a well-known apostrophe—śrībhagavān- uvāca—that also has a meaning by itself.

What does the Bhagavadgita teach? It teaches three things: brahmavidyāyāṁ yogaśāstre śrīkṛṣṇārjunasaṁvāde. It is repeatedly dinned into our ears what the Gita teaches. The commentaries on the Gita say that it teaches karma yoga, raja yoga, bhakti yoga, jnana yoga, a synthesis of yoga, the art of living, and whatnot. But the Gita itself tells us what it teaches by a colophon, which is in three words only: brahmavidyāyāṁ yogaśāstre śrīkṛṣṇārjunasaṁvāde. Actually, these three words mean theory, practice, and realisation.

There is theoretical physics, practical physics, and there is the technological implementation of it. Theoretical physics is the advanced conceptualisation of the fundamental structure of physical reality, in whatever form. Then, with this insight gained through a methodological, systematic study of the constituents of matter, matter becomes more amenable and one can handle it more easily. An unknown object is fearsome. The more we know it and the more we become intimate with it, the easier it is for us to handle it for any given purpose.

Brahma-vidya is the science of the Absolute—that system of thinking which is enabled to comprehend within itself at any time the total structure of things. To conceive the Absolute is to at once take into consideration, in our processes of thought, all things connected with the object of thought—not only the inner constituents of the object as such, but also the relations that the object bears to other objects. The reality of a particular thing is not only in itself; it is also in that which determines it, restricts it, influences it, conditions it, defines it, and makes it what it is.

Every individual is an entity by itself. But this ‘being an entity by itself’ is not so simple a matter as it appears on the surface. As human individuals, we appear to be totally isolated persons, and we stand by ourselves, unrelated to things outside. We can be in our own rooms, unnoticed and unconnected to things. But, we are not unconnected to things. The physical atmosphere, the social atmosphere, the political atmosphere, and the psychological atmosphere determine us. So even if we are alone in our rooms, we do not forget that our individuality is conditioned by the presence of these laws of society, of government, of physical nature, and of the thoughts of people in general. Hence, our individuality is only a chimera, and total individuality by itself is not a possibility.

There is a relation of ‘A’ to ‘B’. If ‘A’ was not related to ‘B’, we would not be conscious that ‘A’ is independent of ‘B’. If we say an object is red in colour, it is not an independent perception of the redness of the object. It is, at the same time, a distinction that we draw between the redness and the other colours which are not red. If there was only redness everywhere, we would not be able to perceive the redness of things. There is a distinction in the characteristic of a particular object which is red. That distinction lies in the fact that it is not what is not red. It is red, and it is not what is not red. The not-ness is a negative influence exerted on this object.

We are human beings, and we are not animals. Our not being animals is a conditioning factor even if we are individual human beings. The existences that are outside us are not actually outside us. They influence us. What I mean finally is that in the concept of this Total, or the Absolute, it is not enough if we just look at it as if it is clear to us. We have to probe into the structural pattern of the object in its relation to atmospheric conditions outside also, which determines it in quality as well as in quantity, so that to think in an Absolute fashion would be to recognise the total structure of the universe even in an atom, and to see the whole government in a single official. We can summon the entire government, if necessary, though no official can be called the government. In a similar manner, any object can draw sustenance from everything in the universe.

Brahma-vidya is the art and the science of educating oneself in the manner of correctly perceiving the world as such, including one’s own self, in the totality of relations, so that no partial vision of things can be regarded as a passport to the concept of the Absolute. Mostly—or always, I may say—our perceptions are partial. They are limited to certain conditions. It is a condition related to a marketplace, a railway station, a bus stand, an office, a factory or a house. These are the things that limit our thoughts, but we do not rise above the apparent outwardness of these conditions and go inside to the relationship of these things to other things.

This is a very difficult thing to maintain in the mind, because the human mind is sensorily restricted. It is externalised in its nature, and total perception is neither externalised nor internalised. It is a blend of the external and the internal, so that we stand in the middle, between our perceiving capacity and the object that is perceived. In a total perception of things, we are not in ourselves; we have transcended ourselves. Nor are we in the object; we have transcended the object. We are in the middle as the blend—a blending consciousness which brings about a harmony between the seer and the seen, or between any two faces of reality. In all situations, there are two aspects: the cause, or the causative factor, and the effect upon which the cause seems to have an impact. It is very difficult for us to see the relation between cause and effect. Mostly we see the cause as one thing and the effect as another.

Brahma-vidya is an intricate subject. It is not just repeating some words of the Upanishads or the Brahma Sutras or even the Gita. It is the entry of the consciousness into the very import of the teaching, which is suggested in many of the verses of the Bhagavadgita itself. Mattaḥ parataraṁ nānyat kiñcid asti (7.7); aham ātmā guḍākeśa sarvabhūtāśayasthitaḥ (10.20); paśya me pārtha rūpāṇi śataśo’tha sahastraśaḥ (11.5); divyaṁ dadāmi te cakṣuḥ paśya me yogam aiśvaram (11.8); jñeyaṁ yat tat pravakṣyāmi yaj jñātvāmṛtam aśnute, anādimat paraṁ brahma na sat tan nāsad ucyate (13.12); sarvataḥ- pāṇipādaṁ tat sarvato’kṣiśiromukham, sarvataḥśrutimal loke sarvam āvṛtya tiṣṭhati (13.13): The Total has eyes everywhere, has feet everywhere, has hands everywhere, because it is neither a subject nor an object. In the total perception of things, we are not ourselves, nor are we other than what we are. We are something beyond both what we are and what is other than what we are. This is the final import, as it were, of the Brahma-vidya aspect of the Bhagavadgita.

But, as I mentioned, theoretical physics has to lead to applied physics. What is the use of merely knowing things? This knowledge has to be applied in practical life. In a similar manner, this Brahma-vidya, which is the knowledge of the integrality of things, has to be put into daily implementation in our teacups, in our fountain pens, in our angry gestures, in our prejudices, in our desires, in our attractions, in our repulsions. In every situation, this Brahma-vidya has to be there. We have to be total and whole persons always. We cannot be whole only at some time, and a fraction at some other time. Will we be whole persons in our offices, and only a percentage in our houses? We are whole everywhere, but if we behave in different ways at different times, and convert ourselves into fractions of human personality, as it were, we are not living a wholesome life. It is not a holistic approach to things.

Brahma-vidya is to be applied in the Yoga Shastra, which is the daily application of our consciousness, our mind, our attitude, to anything in the world in terms of the lesson that we have learnt through Brahma-vidya. What is the purpose of this practice of yoga in terms of the wisdom that we gain through Brahma-vidya? It is kṛṣṇārjunasaṁvāda: the conversation of the soul with God. Kṛṣṇārjunasaṁvāda is the conversation of the soul with the Absolute. The soul speaks to the Absolute. Arjuna’s envisaging the mighty Krishna is symbolic of the soul envisaging the Cosmic Being in its daily life.

Who can encounter the Absolute? Who can talk with God, unless we are flaming and blazing forth in the purity of our spirit as God Himself is? Unless we have transcended the limitations of flesh and bone and the limitations of the psyche which are conditioned socially, politically, etc., unless we are able to lift our consciousness above these limitations, how will we converse with God? Who can dare approach God, when there is no communicating medium between ourselves and God? The wavelength of our individuality and the wavelength of God are in such contrast that there is no mingling of these two factors. The radio station of God is sending messages. We are unable to receive any message from God because our receiving sets here have a very feeble wavelength and, therefore, no message is received. The Yoga Shastra, or the practice of yoga, is nothing but the tuning of the wavelength of our receiving sets to the wavelength of the message that comes from God’s broadcasting station.

This is Yoga Shastra; and the purpose of this is to contact God directly. There is no use of thinking God, praying to God, feeling God, and imagining that one day we will realise God. It is necessary to confront Him every day, if it is true that He is present in every atom, as they say. In every atom He is vibrating, as the sun is vibrating in the solar system. If that is the case, He is to be contacted just now. God is a here and a now, and not an afterwards or a somewhere or a someone. He is without these limitations of the concept of space and time. Contact with God is contact with timelessness, with eternity, with just-ness, now-ness and here-ness. Such is the import of the final teaching of the Bhagavadgita, where the soul communes with God in its realisation of the perfection that it has to achieve finally through the Yoga Shastra. This is the practice of the discipline necessary in this world in the light of the knowledge of Brahma-vidya, which is the theoretical education that we receive of how the world is made, finally.

First we have to know, then we have to do, and then we have to realise. A similar reference is made in the Eleventh Chapter of the Bhagavadgita. It is not enough if we merely see and know, but we have to enter into it. It is necessary for us to enter into God in our daily life. It is not enough if we are merely thinking as a kind of outer whitewash on our body. Then it will remain like a whitewash outside only, and it will not be part of our structure.

The entry into God’s existence every day is the living of the divine life, and we should not think that this is a very hard thing. Who can enter into God every day? Where is God? Is He in some unimaginable infinity? It is nothing of the kind. Sarvataḥ pāṇipādaṁ tat sarvatokṣiśiromukham, sarvataḥ śrutimal loke sarvam āvṛtya tiṣṭhati (13.13); mattaḥ parataraṁ nānyat kiñcid asti(7.7): Outside God, nothing exists. If that is the case, what is the distance between us and God? Distance is abolished. It is a distanceless, timeless contact. That is possible for us, provided that we open the gates of our personality, open the windows to the sunshine of the Supreme Being that is illuminating us perpetually, and melt our egos, which affirm that “I also exist together with God”. The biblical fall of Satan is nothing but the story of the affirmation of the ego in the presence of God: “If you are there, I am also there.” The devotee says, “God, Thou art, but I am also there to contemplate You.” That devotee should not be there at all. Let that devotee melt, and then God possesses him. The ocean enters into the rivers, and the world melts into the consciousness which is a now and a here.

The Bhagavadgita is a Brahma-vidya, a Yoga Shastra, śrīkṛṣṇārjunasaṁvāda. It is a theoretical understanding of the structure of the cosmos, the practice of yoga, and the daily contact with God in our practical affairs, which is true divine life.