Bhagavad-gita As It Is Book Review


by Subaldas

THE BHAGAVAD GITA AS IT IS, translated, with commentary,
by Swami A.C. Bhaktivedanta; Macmillan, $6.95, Collier (paperbound), $2.95.

This book makes available for the first time in the English language an authoritative translation and commentary on the world’s most popular book of spiritual science. It contains complete information for lifting one from a life of gross materialism to the highest plane of transcendence. THE BHAGAVAD GITA AS IT IS is valuable reading for the novice as well as for those who are more advanced on the spiritual path.

The Bhagavad Gita, also known as the Geetopanishad, was first spoken by Lord Sri Krishna to His disciple Arjuna some five thousand years ago, just prior to the great Battle of Kurukshetra. This teaching, then, is in the form of a dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna. It is complete in seven hundred verses, and Vyasadeva, the compiler of the Vedic literature, included it in his great epic, the “Mahabharata.”

The Bhagavad Gita is handed down to “Parampara,” or disciplic succession. Krishna taught the Gita to Arjuna because the previous succession had been broken through the course of time.

In the Fourth Chapter, Krishna says to Arjuna, “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; therefore, you can understand the transcendental mystery of this science.” Arjuna was not a great scholar or yogi. He was a warrior, having many worldly responsibilities, and he was being taught while sitting in his chariot on the battlefield, just as the battle was to begin.

There were many great sages, saints and yogis living at that time—some present at the field of war itself—but Arjuna was chosen to receive this knowledge because he had the special qualification of being Krishna’s devotee and friend. Therefore, he could understand this transcendental science.

There are a number of editions of The Bhagavad Gita on the market. Some are commented upon by the devotees and some by nondevotees. Only the commentaries by the devotees can be considered real. Those of the demon nondevotees are worthless. Most editions of the Gita are, therefore, worthless, because they have not been received through submissive hearing from a bona fide spiritual master, one who is a devotee in the line of disciplic succession originating from Krishna. Therefore, the authors of such commentaries are unable to unfold this sublime science to the public. The American market especially is glutted with worthless commentaries on the Gita, and all the readers of those editions are being misled. THE BHAGAVAD GITA AS IT IS was written primarily to adjust this anomaly.

His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami is a bona fide spiritual master in the line of disciplic succession, and he possesses the same two qualifications that Arjuna did. He is Krishna’s devotee and His friend. Swami Bhaktivedanta is widely recognized as one of the great spiritual leaders and authorities of our time, and in this work he presents the Gita in a manner which is comprehensible to the modern reader, without deviating from Krishna’s original teaching, which makes THE BHAGAVAD GITA AS IT IS unique.

In the Gita, Krishna speaks as the supreme authority because He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the Origin of all knowledge. He speaks directly about Himself and therefore The Bhagavad Gita hits right on the Absolute Truth. It is not a parable, as some commentators would have us think.

One commentator, for example, writes that, “Strictly speaking we cannot give any description of Brahman.” But Krishna is the Supreme Brahman, the Supreme Spirit, and in the Gita He describes Himself very nicely, as well as describing everything within His Creation, both spiritual and material. Scholars have many different viewpoints regarding the Absolute Truth, but they generally come to no factual conclusions because they do not accept Krishna as the Supreme Person. The Bhagavad Gita, as it is presented by Krishna, is authoritative because He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If this were not so, His book would be as useless as the writings of the so-called learned scholars, because anything done by a conditioned living entity is bound to be imperfect.

The Bhagavad Gita is, however, recognized as an authority on transcendental science. It is for this reason that scholars and philosophers comment on it in the first place. But in order to put forth their own ideas, they twist Krishna’s words to suit their own purposes, and The Bhagavad Gita, which is one of the most beneficial teachings for spiritual realization, becomes as poisonous as milk touched by the lips of a serpent.

One must accept Krishna and His teachings as Arjuna accepts them if one wants the vision of reality which the Gita offers. Arjuna accepts Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead and accepts His teachings as they are spoken, without inventing any interpretation of his own.

Generally speaking, there are two groups of commentators on The Bhagavad Gita. One group is known as the impersonalists and the other group is the personalists. The personalists accept Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and they are His devotees. They present His teachings without any distortion and direct the reader to a clear understanding of Krishna. The impersonalists, on the other hand, do not accept Krishna as the Supreme Person, and they try diverting the mind of the reader away from Krishna.

An example of this unscrupulous type of commentary is to be found in the thirty-fourth verse of the Ninth Chapter. Krishna says there: “Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, engage your body in My service; and surrender unto Me. Completely absorbed in Me, surely will you come to Me.” And, a well-known commentator writes: “It is not the personal Krsna to whom we have to give ourselves up utterly but the Unborn, Beginningless, Eternal who speaks through Krsna.” This shows how little intelligence he has. Krishna is Himself the Unborn, Beginningless Eternal. This is the very message of the Gita. Why invent something else?

There is no difference between Krishna’s inside and His outside, as He is all spiritual, and therefore one without a second. If such foolish writers do not agree with Krishna’s philosophy, it is to be wondered why they don’t simply write their own books, instead of commenting on The Bhagavad Gita. The reason, of course, is that no one would listen to them. And so they use the Gita because it is a very highly respected spiritual authority, and then try to draw some new and invalid meaning out of it.

Most of these less intelligent commentators also say that to know God is to be God. They are claiming to be as good as Krishna, and people in general have shown themselves very willing to accept this because they are told that they are God also. Krishna must be very great if everyone wants to be like Him. However, not one of these “Gods” can speak anything remotely resembling The Bhagavad Gita, nor can they display the Universal Form which Krishna showed to Arjuna in the Eleventh Chapter.

Krishna not only said that He was God, but He also practically demonstrated it, so that the nonbelievers would accept Him, and because He knew that in the future there would be many imposters claiming to be God. Before accepting such a misrepresentation of God, then, one should ask to see His Universal Form. In this way people will not be so easily misled.

The conclusion of Swami A.C. Bhaktivedanta regarding this matter is that one who understands that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead is liberated, and “one who does not understand the real nature of the Lord as the eternal, blissful, all-knowing Personality of Godhead is certainly Fool Number One.” Swami Bhaktivedanta accepts The Bhagavad Gita in the same way that Arjuna does: Krishna is the Supreme Lord and all living entities are His parts and parcels in an eternal relationship of servant and master.

All the great commentators on the Gita, such as Ramanujacharya, Madhyacharya, Lord Chaitanya, Siddhanta Saraswati, and now A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami in the present age, hold Bhakti Yoga—devotional service to Krishna—to be the highest goal of spiritual realization as well as the most direct means for reaching this goal. The entire Bhagavad Gita is directed toward establishing the living entity in a direct relationship with Krishna, and toward teaching him to act in Krishna Consciousness. And, as this is the original goal of the Gita, it is also the unquestionable purpose of this new and important presentation.

There are many Yoga systems discussed in The Bhagavad Gita—Karma Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Dhyana Yoga, Raja Yoga, Jnana Yoga, etc.—but they are all stepping stones to Krishna Consciousness. Bhakti Yoga is different, in that it is both the means and the goal itself. At the end of the Sixth Chapter, Krishna says, “of all yogis, he who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service, is most intimately united with Me in Yoga, and is the highest of all.” Devotional service to Krishna can therefore be seen as the most confidential part of knowledge and the essence of The Bhagavad Gita.

It is declared that one who does not understand the instructions of The Bhagavad Gita is faithless and misusing his intelligence. On the other hand, anyone who reads THE BHAGAVAD GITA AS IT IS and follows the simple process prescribed therein is sure to attain the highest perfection in a short time. Krishna says that anyone who knows Him knows everything, and so His final advice is to surrender unto Him. By utilizing this great science presented to us by Swami Bhaktivedanta, the whole human mission can be fulfilled, and it is therefore to be hoped that intelligent men will take full advantage of this book.

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