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The Importance of the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

(Gita Jayanti Message spoken on December 26, 1982.)

The uttered word or the spoken language is essentially a vibration, and when words are spoken by the operation of the mechanism of speech in a properly conducted manner it sets up a power and a force which materialises itself into the effect, the intention behind the word or the speech. There is an old saying of Bhavabhuti, the great poet, that in the case of ordinary people, speech follows existent things; in the case of great Masters, things follow their speech.

We cannot speak things which are contrary to observable facts. We follow the course of nature in the utterance of words. We are conditioned by an external atmosphere and a mandate, and accordingly we utter words or express ourselves. But in the case of the superior ones who are not ordinary persons, things have to obey their words. Whatever they utter will take place, whether or not it is really there at present. Such force of expression, power of speech, is possible only in the case of great Masters who are tuned up in their being with the will of God, the course of nature or the purpose of all existence, as it is called.

Our solemn observation, our worship, our austerity, our ceremony and sanctified behaviour during occasions of divine worship of some kind or the other is an acceptance into our own personal lives of the presence of such miraculous operations behind nature. The observance of Bhagavadgita Jayanti today as marking the holy event of a divine gospel coming into the midst of mankind is such an instance of our humble attempt to participate in something larger than the human realm of life and existence.

The Bhagavadgita was spoken by Bhagavan Sri Krishna. This is what we are told and what we read, and we have also some information about how it all came about some thousands of years ago. Its meaning has become a point of great concentration, study, analysis and research even today due to the self-transcending and intriguing meanings which seem to be hidden beneath its words because these words, recorded for us as the Bhagavadgita, are visible embodiments in the poetic language of Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa of some divine miracle which must have taken place at the commencement of that great historical event we call the Mahabharata war. It has to be considered a miracle because no one can say how Sri Krishna spoke, in what language, what words were used, and how much time he took. There are versions after versions about this mystery, all which do not touch even the fringe of the difficulty involved in understanding how it all came about and what exactly was the method adopted by Bhagavan Sri Krishna in thus speaking this gospel to Arjuna. Did he speak as we are speaking? In which language did he speak? And naturally he did not speak in verses, because these verses are compositions of the poet Vyasa. Nobody speaks in poems when giving instructions to people. There was some divine insurgence of power, and again we have to come to the word 'miracle' for want of better terms, which entered the personality of Arjuna and spoke as God would speak. How does God speak when He speaks to His devotees? What language does He use?

In religious lore and in mystical circles we hear of God giving darshan or vision to yogis, to disciples, to Gurus, to devotees, and to all those who look to Him for succour. In the Puranas we have instances galore of God giving vision to tapasvins, to devotees, and He speaks. How does He speak? In what language? He can give vision to any person in any country, speaking any language, and it does not mean that He will give vision only to people in India. But how does God speak? So this is the difficulty felt by human language or mortal tongue in actually deciphering the way of God in relation to man. This is the reason why commentators on the Gita each have their own viewpoints, interpretations and meanings read into the words of the Bhagavadgita.

It was what is usually called an apocalypse, an enlightenment; a flood of radiance burst forth before the soul of Arjuna. We can imagine anything in this context because nobody was present at that time when the Bhagavadgita was spoken, so our imaginations can extend to any limit and we can visualise in our own minds that perhaps at the very beginning Sri Krishna must have spoken as a friend to a friend in a language prevalent during those times. This is quite acceptable because Sri Krishna spoke throughout his life to various people on different subjects, so there must have been some way of communication which is intelligible to people. Arjuna spoke in a language, and he must have been replied to in a language intelligible to him, perhaps in the same language.

Now, the First Chapter of the Bhagavadgita is mostly concerned with what Arjuna spoke, and he must have spoken as an ordinary man only, not as anyone particular or special, and the immediate retort of Sri Krishna also must have been in a similar language, because when you speak in Hindi I do not give a reply in English. It must be in the same language so that the person may know what I am speaking. But things took a different turn, it appears, as the occasion grew in intensity. Something which is behind language, hidden beneath the outer appearance of mere communication or conversation between two persons, something which is not normal or common, seems to have taken place. And here we can console ourselves only with our imaginations as they are available to our minds and intellects. Further than that we cannot go.

There is a gradual deepening of the intensity which got gathered up gradually as the conversation went further and further into heights of divine necessity, and many of the students, the teachers and the interpreters of the Bhagavadgita hold the common opinion that Sri Krishna, though he might have spoken for some time in common and normal language, broke through the limits of language at a certain point of the conversation. Arjuna was not merely spoken to or addressed by a person, but was possessed by a supernormal existence because the context demanded a type of action which could not be carried out through mere sermonising or speaking through words.

The difficulty of Arjuna at the commencement of the war has been rightly considered as similar to, or rather identical with, the astonishing problem facing a spiritual seeker in his arduous struggle to move towards God and His realisation. Where to demarcate this point of difference between the ordinary conversation that might have taken place between Sri Krishna and Arjuna, and where it overcame this limit, we cannot say. All this is beyond us. However, it is certain that it grew into terrible intensity as it reached the Ninth or the Tenth Chapter perhaps, and it burst all boundaries when it reached the Eleventh. When the Eleventh Chapter records the conversation, it is difficult to believe that any ordinary conversation took place. The Being that spoke even on the verge of the conclusion of the Tenth Chapter, more properly in the Eleventh Chapter, could not be a linguistic medium that spoke in any language whatsoever. Something entered the soul of Arjuna at his very core and spoke, as I mentioned, as we would expect God to speak.

We cannot know how God speaks – with His tongue, with His eyes, with His hands, with what medium? That medium is not mortal. It is an immortal non-communicational system of communication, a type of enlightenment which cannot be communicated because it is not possible for want of a communicating medium. This is what Vasishtha spoke to Sri Rama on one occasion when he said this heightened form of wisdom, knowledge or enlightenment cannot be communicated from one to another because there is no means of communication. What is the instrument to be used in communicating this wisdom? Language is inappropriate. No word known to man can carry this wisdom, as a dry straw cannot carry hot embers. Thus, the Bhagavadgita is considered as a divine revelation and not an ordinary written textbook. It is charged with some power which can only be called divine, nothing less.

The recorder of this great gospel, Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa, was another miracle in himself. He was not in any way less than Sri Krishna, as we are told. According to our accepted traditional belief, great Masters like Vasishtha, Krishna, Vyasa and Suka were on an equal pedestal in knowledge and power. There is no comparison among them. And the recorder of this great gospel, which is a great mystery in itself, was also a mystery. And there are many traditions which tell us many things about the way in which the Bhagavadgita was recorded by Sri Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa. Some say he was visualising directly what was happening and recording it then and there, similar to, as we are told, the way in which Valmiki wrote the Ramayana. It was written during the lifetime of Rama himself, not afterwards, because it was sung in Rama's own court by his own children. They could foresee things, and even the future of Rama's life was recorded by Valmiki before the events took place. Some say that Vyasa could visualise the future, and that he foresaw all the details of the events that were to take place later on, when he spoke to Dhritarashtra even before the war took place. With a new eye altogether, called the third eye, Vyasa could know and see every bit, all the minutiae of the whole thing that was to take place.

Others hold that the omniscience of Vyasa cannot be expected to forget what it knows, and it was recorded later on by the scribe, the great Lord Ganapati himself. We do not know whether Ganapati was summoned exactly at the time when things were taking place in the Mahabharata venue or it was a later event. However, many divine features seem to commingle in increasing the sanctity of this divine gospel the Bhagavadgita: the great Lord speaking in whatever way he might have spoken, a great Lord, Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa, dictating, and a great Lord, Bhagavan Ganapati Ganesha, writing it down.

This is like Ganga who touched the three great divine beings, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva. She flowed from the kamandal of Brahma, fell on the feet of Narayana, and then descended on the head of Siva. Just as we have the sacred Ganga who touched all the three great divine beings, likewise, the Bhagavadgita is a Ganga flowing before us as divine grace.We can call it only divine grace: love of God for man. God loves man. Just as Sri Krishna loved Arjuna, and the Absolute loves its own creation, grace flows immensely like the flow of milk from the udder of a cow or the flow of honey, as all love is. And here is the Bhagavadgita before us: a concrete, substantial manifestation in language, the language of Bhagavan Vyasa himself, who was none less than Bhagavan Sri Krishna in any way.

Thus, the Bhagavadgita, in the language it is written today, is not merely an instrument of communicating divine knowledge to us, but it is divine grace descending upon us. It is holy, supremely sanctified. The vibrations that the Bhagavadgita recitations set up are said to be in tune with, en rapport with, the vibrations which emanated from the mind of Vyasa himself, or perhaps the vibrations of the Supreme Being, the Viratsvarupa, God Himself, when he dictated this great gospel to Lord Ganesha. Sarva sastra mayi gita: All the sciences of human life are explained in some way, in some verse, in some place or some context or the other of the Bhagavadgita. All the Shastras are there; you need not read any other book. This one book is sufficient to unravel the mystery of the human predicament.

You would have yourself observed that when you glance through any page, any verse, any word of the Bhagavadgita text, you would have received some inspiration when your spirits are drooping. When you are agony-ridden and distressed, and you see no meaning in things due to your sorrow, at that time when you open the Bhagavadgita you would have seen something scintillating, piercing, and projecting itself as a solution of your problem in a motherly, kindly affection. This is what I found, and everybody would have found it.

The Bhagavadgita is principally God speaking to man, and when God speaks, you know what He will speak. Everything is spoken when God speaks because God is all things, the supreme be-all and end-all. Arjuna's multi-formed vision as recorded in the Eleventh Chapter cannot be called Sri Krishna, the son of Devaki, Vasudeva, a Yadava prince, a friend of Arjuna. You can imagine what sort of thing it could have been that this poor Arjuna visualised. Vṛṣṇīnāṁ vāsudevosmi (Gita 10.37): I am Vasudeva among the Vrishnis. Who speaks this? Vasudeva himself will not say that. There is somebody else speaking behind the screen and saying, “I am Krishna among the Yadavs, as I am many things among many other things.”

This grew into a mighty magnificence of universal expanse which is the supreme shaktipada, as we may say in modern style – God entering man and possessing him, flooding him, overpowering him, destroying his existence itself, frightening him to his core, and compelling this frightened poor spirit to exclaim the very same prayers which were put into the mouth of Arjuna in the Eleventh Chapter: “Mighty being, I cannot tolerate the vision presented before me.” Perhaps it is the salt doll that, before stepping into the ocean in which it is going to melt, gets frightened at the very sight of it and exclaims, “Enough of this!” When our feet go one inch deep into the waters of the ocean, we get frightened at the waves dashing upon us and we draw ourselves back. We cannot even see the ocean without a sense of shocking fright which passes through the very veins of our body because it is a terror, and we know its powers. Jnatum, drastum, pravestum are the words used towards the end of the Eleventh Chapter in connection with the manner in which the soul tunes itself with God-existence. It has to be understood, and the understanding was communicated in a mighty manner throughout the chapters leading up to the Ninth or Tenth, we may say. Then comes drastum: It has to be seen. And it was seen by Arjuna. He understood what it could be when, in the Tenth Chapter, he was told what God could be and what He is. “Oh, it is like this. I understand. Jnana has come. Now darshan is necessary.” Manyase yadi tac chakyaṃ mayā draṣṭum iti prabho, yogeśvara tato me tvaṃ darśayātmānam avyayam (Gita 11.4): “O Lord, if you feel I am fit for this vision, deign, condescend to grant it to me.”

The vision was granted. “The whole sky was lit up with light, and thousands of suns arose, as it were,” said the poet. What else can be said? Thousands of suns are nobodies before this light, but we have to say something. What else can we say? We are like frogs in a well and the ocean is so big, but whatever we say, it cannot be equal to the actual ocean. So we may say it is like thousands of suns or millions of suns, but that cannot be an adequate description of God's glory. We have not seen any light greater than the sun's light, so we can only multiply the sun's light arithmetically and imagine that God must have been like that. However, God is more than all He has created, even greater than the sun's light itself. Well, the vision was granted, but we do not know whether Arjuna actually entered it. Pravesha perhaps was not done. He visualised it, and there the matter ended.

Arjuna said, “Come down. I shall be pleased to see you once again as my comrade, my jolly friend Sri Krishna, not as this mighty terror before me.” It appears that Arjuna did not enter it, because he was still the same Arjuna after the Gita was spoken. He was not a different person. At least this is what we have to believe, as it is told in the Mahabharata itself. It was a sudden injection of a power that was required at that moment, and perhaps when the work was over the power was withdrawn. It was not essential for Arjuna to be always in that condition. It was not necessary, and it would also not have been proper.

However, we are seekers and are humbly trying to tread this path of divine glory though we have not entered it, not visualised it, perhaps not even properly understood it. Our plight is far, far below that unconditional surrender which Arjuna felt necessary when his total personality was tending to melt as a ball of lead melts in furnace fire, or mist melts before the sun.

This glorious advent of the Bhagavadgita is the sacred occasion of our prayers and worships today. As I mentioned, the Gita is not a book. No religion considers its scripture as a mere book, just as you are not a mere body. You know very well you are so-and-so, and are not merely a body, though nothing can be seen about you except your body. The Bhagavadgita is not a book, though it looks like a book and nothing else is seen there. As we have something non-physical within us though only the physical is seen, there is something super-physical and super-linguistic in the Bhagavadgita, apart from its appearing as a Sanskrit text which can be understood by grammatical interpretations and application of semantics, etc.

The culture of Bharatavarsha does not recognise any object as being purely material, and more so is the case with divine embodiments such as the scriptures. The Veda, the Upanishad, the Bhagavadgita are sacred. The Veda mantras are not some printed characters on pieces of paper, though when we lift the Veda and carry it from one place to another we seem to be carrying only paper and ink. The Veda is not paper and ink. It is something more than what we can touch with our hand or feel as a weight thereof. It is a power, it is a force, it is a vibration, it is an energy, it is a solution, it is a succour, it is divinity that somehow or other has been implanted within this range of linguistic style, whether of the Veda mantras or the verses of the Bhagavadgita.

I began by saying that the word is power, and it is not merely some sound that we are making. What I speak is an emanation of what I am, and naturally what I am is something difficult to understand. It is an energy, it is a force, it is a power, it is a purpose, it is an intention, it is an aspiration, it is a longing, it is a strength. Everything can be said about what one is. That pours itself forth when language is spoken, unless of course language is misused in order to not reveal the ideas but to conceal them.

Oftentimes words are spoken to hide the ideas inside, not to express the ideas, but this is not a proper utilisation of language. It is an insult to the style. When you speak, you speak yourself, and this is essentially and especially the case with integrated masters, spiritualised souls, divine seers such as the mantra drishtas of the Vedas and here, in this instance, the Bhagavadgita. So is the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana. “When I am not visible physically, you shall see me embodied in the Srimad Bhagavata,” said the great Lord.

So when you recite the Bhagavadgita, even when you touch the book, you are, if you are honest to yourself, in divine communion. The vibrations of Vyasa, Krishna, and Ganesha are all trying to enter you. When you read a textbook, you are in an internal communion with the author's ideas. You think like the author himself when you read a book. You are emotionally set in a proportion commensurate with the powerful ideas expressed by the poet or the author. Read Shakespeare, for instance. Your whole emotion will be turning upside down when you read through the plays because of the force of language, the power that is injected into the words by the immensely potent thoughts of the author.

People say the Mahabharata should not be read in the house because conflict or friction will manifest itself in the family. The idea is, the whole of the Mahabharata is a terrible vibration. Vyasa spoke not merely a language, but he was in tune with what he saw. Divine seers, divine masters are always in tune with what they think. They are not outside their thought contents. So as the Mahabharata is a description of a battle, a narration of events connected with intense friction among people that has been expressed by a powerful mind, the belief is that it will have some impact upon the whole area in which it is recited. The Mahabharata is not read in the house. People go to into the forest or to a temple to read it, and they read only the Shanti Parva and especially avoid the Yuddha Parvas. The point is that language is a force, and in the case of the Bhagavadgita or the Veda mantras, it is not ordinary language; it is divinity poured forth upon us.

This gives some idea about the importance of the Bhagavadgita, a great gospel for all humble seekers on the path of divinity. This is not the time for me to go into details of what the Bhagavadgita teaches. Since you are all acquainted to some extent with the contents of this great teaching, I do not propose to go into these details at present. Suffice it to say that we are mightily blessed to be graced with this immense kindness and compassion of God through Arjuna, the instrumentality of the representative of man. Arjuna was blessed, and we are all equally blessed. May our prayers be to this Great Being.