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Bhagavad-gita: Its Feeling and Philosophy

Hardcover, 615 pages, 5 1/2" X 8 1/2"

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table of contents

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The Bhagavad-gita is India's most concise expression of the perennial philosophy. Speaking directly to the soul, it pinpoints the cause of all suffering—material attachment—and offers a remedy to this common human malady: the paths of right livelihood, mystic insight, devotion, and ultimately unconditional love. In this edition, Swami B.V. Tripurari comments on the Gita's philosophy in contemporary language, making it both traditional and contemporary at once. Replete with original Devanagari script, word for word transliteration, and English translation of the text, Swami Tripurari's commentary brings to light the spiritual emotion of Krsna and Arjuna as they discuss the nature of enlightened life. A timeless text of inspired verse turns nearly narrative, gripping the reader in the story of the Gita, one that sheds light on its esoteric significance by way of explaining it in the context of Krsna's entire divine life.

“The most arresting new Gita to cross my desk in the past year…a kind of postgraduate course in the cultural, metaphysical, and spiritual teachings inherent in this ancient treasure.”

Phil Catalfo, Yoga Journal

“This Gita is also unique in that its verse-by-verse commentary draws on other Hindu literature to more fully explore the characters of Arjuna and Krishna, as well as the relationship between them. This determination to study the Gita in the larger context of Hindu devotional writing distinguishes Swami Tripurari's edition from the rest of the pack.”

Publishers Weekly

“This book's focus and unique organization promise an in-depth journey into the pivotal Hindu text and offer the interested reader a new perspective.”

Bloomsbury Review


Table of Contents

Preface

Introduction

Chapter 1:

Visada-yoga: YOGA OF DESPAIR

Chapter 2:

Sankhya-yoga: YOGA OF ANALYSIS

Chapter 3:

Karma-yoga: YOGA OF ACTION

Chapter 4:

Jnana-yoga: YOGA OF KNOWLEDGE

Chapter 5:

Karma-sannyasa-yoga: YOGA OF RENUNICATION OF ACTION

Chapter 6:

Dhyana-yoga: YOGA OF MEDITATION

Chapter 7:

Jnana-Vijnana-yoga: YOGA OF KNOWLEDGE AND RENUNCIATION

Chapter 8:

Taraka-Brahma-yoga: YOGA OF ATTAINING THE ABSOLUTE

Chapter 9:

Raja-Guhya-yoga: YOGA OF HIDDEN TREASURE

Chapter 10:

Vibhuti-yoga: YOGA OF DIVINE MANIFESTATION

Chapter 11:

Visvarupa-Darsana-yoga: YOGA OF THEOPHONY

Chapter 12:

Bhakti-yoga: YOGA OF DEVOTION

Chapter 13:

Prakrti-Purusa-Viveka-yoga: YOGA OF DELIBERATION ON MATTER AND SPIRIT

Chapter 14:

Guna-Traya-Vibhaga-yoga: YOGA OF DISTINGUISHING THE THREE MODES OF MATERIAL NATURE

Chapter 15:

Purusottama-yoga: YOGA OF THE HIGHEST PERSON

Chapter 16:

Daivasura-Sampada-yoga: YOGA OF DISCERNING GODLY AND UNGODLY NATURES

Chapter 17:

Sraddha-Traya-Vibhaga-yoga: YOGA OF DISCERNING THREEFOLD FAITH

Chapter 18:

Moksa-yoga: YOGA OF FREEDOM

abbreviations

index of verses

general index


Excerpt

from Chapter 10, verse 8: I am the source of everything; all proceeds from me. Realizing this, the wise imbued with love adore me.

Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura has called verses eight through eleven the catuh-sloki of the Bhagavad-gita, playing off the well-known four (catur) essential verses (sloka) of the Srimad-Bhagavatam (SB. 2.9.33–36), originally spoken by Krsna to Brahma. All four verses have a general meaning for practicing devotees (sadhakas), as well as an esoteric meaning relative to Krsna’s devotees of Vraja and the gopis and their followers in particular. They deal with the nature of devotion that follows the realization of the first two lines of this verse, in which Krsna, as he does in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, proclaims himself to be the original Supreme Person (svayam bhagavan).

Krsna first says, “I (aham) am the source (prabhavo) of everything (sarvasya), and everything (sarvam) proceeds (pravartate) from me (mattah).” Here Krsna declares himself to be both the efficient and ingredient cause of the world. In pottery, the potter and the clay are the efficient and ingredient causes, respectively. However, in the case of the world, all systems of Vedanta recognize Brahman to be both causes, efficient and ingredient.

Not only is Krsna the source of both the material and spiritual worlds, he oversees their maintenance as well. The spiritual domain is maintained by his incarnations and expansions. The material world is presided over by his expansion as Paramatma. Brahma and Siva, his partial incarnations (gunavataras), maintain and destroy the material world, respectively. Furthermore, order in the civilized world, by the direction of the sacred Vedas, emanates from him as well. Krsna is the Godhead himself (svayam bhagavan). Those who understand this are wise, the expression of which is their devotion to him. This is the general import.

The deeper meaning reveals that he who is svayam bhagavan, the original Godhead from whom all other expressions of divinity emanate is dhira-lalita Krsna of Vraja, the playful Casanova subjugated by Radha’s love. Dhira-prasanta Krsna of Dwaraka (Dwarakesa Krsna), the sober statesman who gives Upanisadic council to Arjuna on the battlefield, is a partial manifestation of Krsna of Vraja. Although Krsna of the Gita preaches a sermon of love, the full face of love (mukhya-rasa) is expressed in Vraja alone. The fullest expression of love is the source of all other expressions of love. Thus in this verse, Krsna of Vraja is speaking, as Dwarakesa Krsna’s mind shifts from the battlefield to Vraja due to the influence of sacred Kuruksetra.

Earlier in Kuruksetra, Dwarakesa Krsna met with Radha and others from Vraja after killing the evil king Kamsa. They came to Kuruksetra, as he did, to observe the solar eclipse. Amidst royal paraphernalia, entourage, and elephants, Dwarakesa Krsna, the ever-youthful prince, met with the beloved devotees of Vraja. Reminded of their love, he admitted that he was entirely purchased by them. At that time, his mother, Devaki, seeing the love of his so-called foster mother of Vraja by whom he had been raised, acknowledged that Krsna was in fact Yasoda’s son in consideration of the intensity of her love. To Nanda and Yasoda of Vraja, prince Krsna was just their young boy, his princely paraphernalia merely an ornament.

Sri Radha and the gopis drew the dhira-lalita nayaka of Vraja from Krsna’s heart, reminding Krsna of their youthful days of love in carefree Vraja: frolicking in its beautiful forests, Mount Govardhana, and the sandy banks of the Yamuna. They were not attracted to Krsna’s regal attire, for he remained to them their adolescent love. They were not city girls, and the formalities of high society held no attraction for them. Their Krsna was not a prince to bow before, rather he who bowed to their love, attesting to its supremacy. For the gopis, Krsna was, although the best of them, a mere village boy of Vraja, and by the force of their love, Krsna admitted to the gopis that even in the midst of princely life his heart was always with them, subjugated by their love. It is thus through the lens of love, sacred aesthetic rapture, that Sri Caitanya’s disciples have envisioned Vraja’s dhira-lalita Krsna at sacred Kuruksetra in this verse, a vision of love (bhava-samanvitah) philosophically grounded (budha).

Spiritual love that knows no reason cares little for the Godhood of Godhead, yet it is this kind of love that brings one in touch with the fullest expression of the Absolute, the source of everything and its feeling, the Supreme God. At the same time, according to this verse, initially it is knowledge of Krsna’s supremacy and thus his supreme capacity to love that inspires one to approach him in absolute love—to give fully of oneself.

In the language of Rupa Goswami, the fullest expression of the Absolute is Krsna, who is akhila-rasamrta-murtih, the reservoir of loving reciprocation in sacred aesthetic rapture (Brs. 1.1.1). Thus svayam bhagavan Krsna, after explaining his position as the source of all, speaks in the second half of this verse about the type of devotion he relishes—and by which he is realized.

Through the sacred literature Krsna explains his own devotional yoga. B. R. Sridhara Deva Goswami comments that the words mattah sarvam pravartate in this verse indicate, “Every attempt and movement begins with me, including the methods by which everyone worships and serves me in devotion.” Krsna reveals himself through the methods of devotion he himself has given in the scripture. Study of the scripture in and of itself does not reveal him, but therein Krsna reveals the means by which he can be known, his grace, and the means of attracting this grace, acts of devotion under the guidance of sri guru.

B. R. Sridhara Deva Goswami cites the famous Bhagavata verse in which Krsna identifies the guru with himself, acaryam mam vijaniyat: “I am the guru (acarya).” (SB. 11.17.27) Thus it is Krsna himself who teaches his devotional yoga to one who understands (budha) him as svayam bhagavan, the origin of all. He does so through his potency, Sri Radha, who for the Gaudiyas is represented by sri guru, for she knows Krsna like no one else. She knows everything about him: the original person, svayam bhagavan. Under her influence, the influence of Vraja bhakti, devotees worship Krsna imbued with spontaneous love (bhava-samanvitah).

Bhava-samanvitah indicates the sacred path of passionate love (raganuga-bhakti). This is the path demarcated by Sri Caitanya. B. R. Sridhara Deva Goswami remarks that the insight into the ultimacy of Vraja Krsna is mentioned in the Bhagavata (11.5.32) in relation to the worship of Sri Caitanya himself, yajanti hi sumedhasah. Endowed with divine wisdom begetting subtle theistic intelligence, devotees worship Sri Caitanya as the combined form of Radha and Krsna by means of sankirtana (chanting God’s name in unison). Such wisdom is described in this verse as budha, and the subsequent worship as bhava-samanvitah.

The words budha and bhava-samanvitah indicate the essence of bhakti. It is a wise existence, wise love, in which one is cognizant of one’s relationship with Krsna and joyfully functions in that loving relationship. This takes place on firm existential ground. Rupa Goswami describes that one possessed of bhava is under the influence of the cognitive (samvit) and joy (hladini) features of Krsna’s primary sakti, which is also composed of an existential feature (sandhini). This is budha bhava-samanvitah.

A feeling existence is not always a wise one. Misplaced feeling amounts to the experience of material existence, an existence rooted in ignorance. When our feeling (bhava) is wise (budha), due to its being reposed in the perfect object of love that Krsna describes himself to be in this verse, we dwell in a corresponding eternal existence. Bhava means feeling, love, as well as existence. Our love is our existence. Krsna next describes how his loving devotees exist and express their love for him.


Interview

In your introduction to Aesthetic Vedanta you described how in your edition of Tattva-sandarbha you coined the phrase “Vedanta of Aesthetics” and that Aesthetic Vedanta involved playing this out, which you did wonderfully. What took you from Aesthetic Vedanta and the high point of Krsna’s loveplay down to the ego-battleground of the Bhagavad-gita?

My inspiration to comment on Bhagavad-gita did not come directly from anything I wrote in Aesthetic Vedanta. Actually I wanted to take on a smaller project after finishing that short but very intense book. After thinking about what that might be for some time, I was reminded of what Prabhupada had first said to me, citing the Bhagavad-gita. I read over that morning walk conversation, the first I had gone on with Prabhupada, and felt that it would be appropriate to follow through on what he had instructed me. He cited Krsna’s statement about how explaining the Gita to others was the most dear service, and then he indicated that he expected his disciples to write books. So I put these two things together and decided to write something on the Bhagavad-gita, a book that I had not given as much attention over the years as I had others such as Srimad-Bhagavatam and Caitanya-caritamrta.

My initial idea was to simply show how the Gita’s verses connected to one another, which was something that Prabhupada had not focused on in his commentary. However, as I began to study the Gita and write, the book seemed to take on a life of its own, and it did not rest until some 600 pages later.

But there does seem to be a connection between Aesthetic Vedanta and your Gita commentary. Your whole approach to the Gita involves differentiating between Krsna in his amorous affairs with the gopis (milkmaidens) and Krsna the statesman on the battlefield.

Yes, I wanted acquaint readers of the Gita with Krsna’s emotional state when he was speaking the Gita, to help them locate him in terms of the entirety of his divine play on earth. In Aesthetic Vedanta I discussed Krsna’s love play with the gopis, which is said to be the high point in his lila. He was only eleven at that time. He spoke the Gita over 80 years later, yet he could not forget the love of those village girls. Although he himself is the supreme connoisseur of love, their love conquered him. As he spoke to his friend Arjuna about dharma on the battlefield, he could not but remember the highest expression of dharma exhibited by the gopis. Thus his song about dharma on the battlefield does hit the high note that Aesthetic Vedanta played out in full. Other commentators in the Gaudiya tradition have implied this, and in my commentary I have offered logical and scriptural support for their insights.

You have done that very tastefully. I particularly appreciated your discussion of the Kuruksetra battlefield and how you tied Krsna’s previous meeting there with the gopis to his speaking the Gita there many years later. Your commentary touches the highest spiritual strata without neglecting the spiritual foundation that the Gita seeks to cement in place.

Well that is what the Bhagavad-gita entails, and that is why so many people feel that it is such a complete book in itself. It takes us through the entire spectrum of spiritual life, from the bondage of material attachment to the freedom of lawless spiritual love. Personally I was dumbstruck by its scope and the logic of its progression as I went through it verse by verse, page by page, chapter by chapter.

Was there a high point for you?

There were several. The two obvious ones came at the end of the 9th chapter, and the end of the 18th chapter where the conclusion of the Gita is initially voiced and then reiterated. The love for his devotees in Krsna’s voice as he repeats the conclusion of his sermon at the end of chapter 18 is very compelling, and I was never more absorbed in the commentary than I was at that point.

But I have to say that as far back as chapter 1 I also reached a high point, as the Gita commences in terms of Arjuna and Krsna’s first words. The first words Arjuna speaks take us to the theological zenith of the book. Arjuna orders Krsna to drive his chariot between the two armies so that he can see who has assembled to fight in the war. Krsna does so, no questions asked.

This is God conquered by the love of his devotees. Krsna bows to Arjuna’s order. God is conquered by love. All religions teach us that God is the most venerable object, but the Gita teaches us about that which is venerable for God—his devotees, their love for him.

From this high point in Arjuna’s first utterance we go to the lowest end of the spiritual spectrum. Krsna drives the chariot, stopping it in front of Bhisma and Drona, who personify Arjuna’s material attachment. He tells Arjuna to look and see that all those who are assembled in battle array are his own family members, his attachments, the composite of which makes up Arjuna’s material ego.

This is what Krsna parades before Arjuna, and in doing so he tells us that the Gita is about dismantling the composite of our material attachments so that we might know our authentic self and the possibility of real love. Regardless of the different metaphysical nuances commentators find in the text and build their sect around, this point is the foundation to any meaningful commentary on the Gita. It is the common spiritual ground on which we all must stand and do battle with our material ego if we are to meet the challenge of spiritual life. If we turn a blind eye to this point at the onset, reading the rest of the Gita is nothing more than an intellectual exercise.

This to me was a high point because this is the point around which all spiritual seekers can gather. Embracing it really ends all argument as to the significance of the rest of the book, as that significance is realized and each practitioner grows the necessary wings to fly as high in the spiritual sky as their soul delights.

So you like the philosophical low points as much if not more than the high ones?

Yes, it’s all sweet, but the significance of the overtly sweet parts concerning various shades of spiritual love will only be realized by one who swallows the bitter pill of ego death. Krsna doesn’t want us to choke on that, so he takes us through a progression of thought and spiritual application from right livelihood to mystic insight, detachment, meditation, and devotion, before arriving at unconditional love, never encouraging one to act artificially without proper consideration of one’s eligibility for spiritual practice.

The battle metaphor of the Gita turns some people off to its message. Can you comment on that?

This is very misunderstood. Arjuna was a warrior, and he was by nature prepared to fight to uphold righteousness. However in the Gita’s battle he refuses to fight. In doing so he sounds very noble, but his justification for walking away from the battle amounts to nothing more than the power of rationalization fueled by material attachment. What he is asked to do battle with is his attachments, and this is what he objects to in so many words. Only when he is enlightened as to the naked form of material attachment and selfish desire does he agree to fight these enemies. The battle of the Gita is not about killing people.

So no one was actually killed in a historical battle of Kuruksetra?

If we view it as an historical event, we must remember that it is a history of Krsna’s lila, which is a divine drama enacted on earth for the instruction of humanity. No one dies in a drama about war. The very reason that the historicity of the battle is difficult to prove is that the battle is part of Krsna’s divine play that, while manifesting on earth, transcends it at the same time. But all of this is very esoteric. The historicity of Krsna lila should be stressed to save us from turning God himself into nothing more than a metaphor. Krsna is an ontological reality, and there is a history to his revealing this to us through his devotee mystics. From the perspective of the Gaudiya tradition, the theology of the Gita deals with all of this.

You may be making history by the way you speak about your own tradition.

Spiritual traditions must grow if they are to live and remain viable. They must have intellectual integrity, while imploring us to transcend the limitations of intellect. I am doing my small part to keep the Gaudiya tradition alive and relevant, and that is a good part of my focus, what I see as my contribution to the tradition.

Swami, in the course of writing your Gita commentary you were also personally involved in a transition. You relocated and switched your focus from ministering to a local congregation to writing more, focusing on a global community, and living in this beautiful redwood forest with a small staff of monks. How do you think that affected the outcome of your commentary?

It impacted the time it took to finish the book, but it also enabled me to focus more on what I do best. So I am sure that influenced the outcome of the commentary in a positive way. As the monastery develops here at Audarya, I am realizing my ideals both internally and externally. The name Audarya implies that internal development of selflessness and love of God results in an outpouring of generosity. The Gita teaches this as well. Let me read a moment from chapter 6.

Bg. 6.32: “The yogi who measures the pain and pleasure of others as if it were his own, O Arjuna, is considered to be the best of all.” Purport: Krsna’s devotees possess such compassionate hearts that they broadcast his holy name and virtuous deeds wherever they go. In the words of the gopis, they are the most munificent welfare workers. They identify with the joys and sorrows of others as if they were their own, and thus they tirelessly canvass to lift others beyond the duality of joy and sorrow by showering them with the immortal nectar of Krsna’s instructions. To see another’s sorrow as one’s own is to see through the eyes of God, for all souls are eternally related with God, as parts are to the whole. Mature yoga is recognizable by the outward symptoms indicated in this verse.

Here we find the practical application of yoga in the world, what yoga practice will do to improve the world. Although this and the previous verses in this section refer to advanced yogis, it is they whom practitioners should try to emulate. Practitioners should strive to follow this golden rule of yoga. Only when practitioners do so will their practice of meditation be effective. How we deal with others and the world in everyday life will have considerable impact on our attempts at meditation. Without cultivating this outlook, one’s devotional practices are performed in vain.

So yoga and compassion go hand in hand?

Yes, through yoga one can pass through the shadow of material compassion and touch the heart of actual compassion. It’s about melting the heart without losing your head. Although in the higher stages of bhakti yoga losing one’s head—retiring reason altogether—is desirable. Only then can one truly understand what the Gaudiyas are talking about when they speak of Krsna. It is not possible to explain love, what to speak of divine love.

That seems to be what you are attempting to do in all of your books—to explain just what Krsna means to the Gaudiya tradition.

To explain Krsna, we have to try to explain love, impossible as it is. Krsna is that face of the Absolute that corresponds with the purest love. Love supreme, this is the message of the Bhagavad-gita. I am not so sure that this is only a notion of Gaudiya Vedanta. Those who have loved even imperfectly will vouch for this cosmic truth.

Thank you Swami.

Thank you.