An Essay By His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami (circa 1948)
It has become a luxurious fashion of the day, along with the progress of material civilization, that everyone can make his interpretation of the great Indian philosophy called the Bhagavad-gītā. This concise form of Vedic knowledge, known as the Gītopaniṣad, is acknowledged by all sections of transcendental scholars, in India especially, as the cream of all Upaniṣads and that of Vedānta-sūtras also. Scholars and ācāryas like Śrīpāda Śaṅkarācārya and some of his followers also could not leave out this very important book of knowledge, although such scholars of the Māyāvāda school did not acknowledge the bona fides of the Purāṇas. But the interpretation of Śrī Śaṅkarācārya differs from the interpretations of the Vaiṣṇava ācāryas headed by Śrī Ramanujācārya and Madhvācārya. There are innumerable interpretations of the Bhagavad-gītā in the market, and it is certainly a puzzling business to select which of the various interpretations shall be accepted as bona fide and which of them shall be rejected as mala fide.
In order to make a distinction between these two classes of bona fide and mala fide interpretations, we have to make an impartial study of the book, and such unbiased study only will make us able to discern the bona fide from the mala fide.
In this connection, we may first of all try to find out the origin of the Bhagavad-gītā. It is wrong to understand that The Bhagavad-gītā was first spoken in the battlefield of Kurukṣetra as it is a part of the great history of India, namely, the Mahābhārata. We can understand from the talks of Śrī Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna, as it is stated in the Bhagavad-gītā, that long, long before the battle of Kurukṣetra, this philosophy was once spoken by Śrī Kṛṣṇa to Vivasvān (the Sun), and from Vivasvān the knowledge was transferred to Manu, and from Manu it was transferred to King Ikṣvāku. And, in that way of disciplic succession, the knowledge has come down to generations after generations, but in course of time, such disciplic succession broke, and therefore, Śrī Kṛṣṇa again repeated the same yoga or transcendental knowledge to Arjuna. In the beginning of the 4th Chapter of Bhagavad-gītā, this fact is stated as follows:
imaṁ vivasvate yogaṁ
proktavān aham avyayam
vivasvān manave prāha
manur ikṣvākave 'bravīt
imaṁ rājarṣayo viduḥ
sa kāleneha mahatā
yogo naṣṭaḥ parantapa
sa evāyaṁ mayā te 'dya
yogaḥ proktaḥ purātanaḥ
bhakto 'si me sakhā ceti
rahasyaṁ hy etad uttamam
"The Personality of Godhead, Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvān, and Vivasvān instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikṣvāku. This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way. But in course of time the succession was broken, and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost. That very ancient science of the relationship with the Supreme is today told by Me to you because you are My devotee as well as My friend and can therefore understand the transcendental mystery of this science." [Bg. 4.1-3]
Ṛṣis and kings or the kings who were as good as the ṛṣis is the meaning of the word rājarṣaya, and, as such, every one, whether he was a householder or mendicant, knew Bhagavad-gītā before the battle of Kurukṣetra, or before the period of Mahābhārata, which is calculated to be at least five thousand years before, and as such, how it is hinted that the same knowledge was lost. That transcendental knowledge was lost because there must have been some mala fide interpretations of the knowledge, and such knowledge would do more harm than good to the people. It had to be repeated again by Śrī Kṛṣṇa before a bona fide king, and for this, Arjuna was selected at a critical moment because Śrī Kṛṣṇa acknowledged him to be not only a confidential friend, but also a bona fide devotee at the same time. We have to mark the words especially bhakto 'si etc.
bhakto 'si me sakhā ceti
rahasyaṁ hy etad uttamam
"Because you are My devotee as well as My friend and can therefore understand the transcendental mystery of this science." [Bg. 4.3]
Śrī Kṛṣṇa had many friends and relatives at that time who might have been great scholars also, but He selected Arjuna as the bona fide person to grasp the knowledge of Bhagavad-gītā only because Arjuna was a great devotee of the Lord. It may be concluded therefore that the principle of Bhagavad-gītā can be understood only by personalities like Arjuna, who was a completely surrendered soul to Śrī Kṛṣṇa, and this knowledge (yoga) can be explained only by personalities like Śrī Kṛṣṇa (i. e. His bona fide devotees) or for the matter of that by the Personality of Godhead only.
Under such circumstances, the bona fide interpretations can be given only by those who follow the footprints of Arjuna, or, in other words, one who happens to come in the line of disciplic succession from Śrī Arjuna as it was formerly delivered from Vivasvān to Manu (and Ikṣvāku). That is the first condition of understanding Bhagavad-gītā. And, violations of this condition means breaking of the link of disciplic succession and thereby losing the real purpose of the great philosophy. Beside, Bhagavad-gītā is not a new thesis of speculative philosophy, but it is as old as the Sun is. Nobody can say what is the age of the Sun, neither can anybody calculate the age of Manu. According to authentic śāstras, the age of a Manu is 72 x 4,200,000 years. It is also understood that at the present moment, the Manu who has been referred to in the Bhagavad-gītā has been passing his age on the point of the 28th period, out of the above mentioned 72 periods of 4,200,000 years each, and because Manu was told by Vivasvān, it may be safely calculated that Bhagavad-gītā was spoken once before the battle of Kurukṣetra at least 197,600,000 one hundred ninety-seven million sixty hundreds of thousand years before.
(TO BE CONTINUED . . . , click here for Part Two)