H – Hearing (Verses 1-3) – Modern thinkers often posit a notion of
proving everything empirically, rejecting anything which cannot
be directly perceived by our senses. While this may seem a logical,
objective and rational approach, it does have inherent limitations. How do you understand those things beyond your immediate perception? For example, if you wanted to find out what BBC1 was showing tonight, the most obvious approach would be to consult a TV guide. You could subsequently verify by actually watching the programmes. In other words, we can’t depend on our sensory experience to provide all the answers. Accepting a “higher authority” opens up new opportunities to experience the truth directly. Krishna begins this chapter by stressing the absolute necessity of hearing from spiritual sources, to understand universal realities. This is known as the descending path of knowledge.
E – Everywhere (Verses 4-12) – By hearing from authorised spiritual
sources one can acquire profound knowledge of the divine. In answer
to the common challenge “Can you show me God?” Krishna cites the
analogy of pearls strung on a thread. The pearls are perfectly strung and arranged as a necklace, while the thread remains completely invisible. Similarly, God designs, creates and sustains the entire universe yet remains invisible to the immature observer. The extreme intricacy and sophistication of the creation, however, naturally indicates the presence of higher intelligence. Krishna further explains how He is the essence of everything within the creation – the taste of water, the light of the sun and the ability in man. In this way, through the eyes of knowledge, one can learn to see God everywhere.
A – Accept or Reject (Verses 13-19) – If God can be perceived
everywhere and His existence is so strikingly obvious, why is there
still wholesale denial of Him? Resisting forceful compliance, Krishna
endows each individual with the free will to “fly their own plane”
and decide where to repose their faith. He describes the four types
of people who reject God due to their preoccupation in worldly life,
and the four types of people who do accept God, albeit with different
degrees of selfish intent. In conclusion, it’s a rare soul in this world
who is able to approach God free of ulterior motives, and enter into a
selfless relationship of love. That level of spiritual purity, Krishna says, may take thousands of births!
D – Demigods (Verses 20-30) – Practically speaking, even a mere
acceptance of God is a propitious achievement in this age. This
acceptance, however, is not enough – one must gain an accurate and
precise understanding. If you were to be operated on, you would insist the surgeon be well-versed in the details and intricacies of the process. It is, after all, a matter of life and death. Similarly, to simply believe in God is not enough; one must understand His nature and personality. Towards the end of the chapter, Krishna establishes monotheism and distinguishes ‘demigods’ as powerful entities in charge of universal affairs, who are in no way, shape or form equal to God. Such dangerous misconceptions are cleared up as they have the potential to impede the spirit of pure devotion.
D – Doubts (Verses 1-4) – Doubting is a function of intelligence and
at no point in the Bhagavad-gita does Krishna reprimand Arjuna for
asking so many questions. On the contrary, He encourages Arjuna to
intelligently contemplate all His answers and subsequently make his
own decisions. This chapter opens with Arjuna’s doubts and questions on several spiritual concepts. Krishna concisely answers seven of Arjuna’s eight questions immediately, and then prepares to answer the final question – “How can one attain a spiritual destination at the time of death?” The rest of the chapter is solely dedicated to answering this essential inquiry.
E – End of life (Verses 5-8) – Imagine you are going to watch a movie and you meet someone who just saw it. “You’ll never guess what happens,” they say… before they even finish that statement you’ll interject and stop them; after all, knowing the end spoils the whole film. Similarly, for those engaged in worldly pursuits, hearing about, contemplating and accepting “the end” (death) is not the most inspiring reflection. It simply spoils their “movie of life” in the here and now. For a spiritualist, however, “the end” is not a depressing thought since his concept of life and its purpose is much broader. For one who is born, death is certain, and for one who dies, birth is around the corner. Krishna explains how a person’s thoughts at death sum up their consciousness and aspirations cultivated throughout life. Thus, one’s state of mind at the time of death determines their next situation. For those who remember God at death, they reach the kingdom of God.
A – Attaining the Supreme (Verses 9-22) – The entire world is a
temporary university specifically created to dispense life lessons. When one becomes frustrated by the pursuits of this world, they realise that happiness lies in another realm. As spiritual beings, life in a complex world of matter is an incompatible situation. While the material world is rubber-stamped as a constantly changing place of misery, the spiritual world is distinguished as being eternal and all-blissful. There are many painstaking ways in which different spiritualists conduct their lives in order to attain that supreme destination, and having attained it one never returns to this temporary realm again.
D – Devotion (Verses 23-28) – Since various spiritual practices are
discussed in this chapter, Krishna concludes by outlining the most
effective process to attain the Supreme. Bhakti-yoga, the path of active service to God in a mood of devotion, is described as the topmost spiritual path. In an age of rampant materialism and temptation coupled with individual weakness and lack of spiritual aspiration, a highly practical and powerful spiritual process is required. Through bhakti-yoga anyone can experience an incredibly fulfilling spiritual connection in a very short time. If one is thus able to saturate their consciousness in God, they will be sure to attain the supreme destination regardless of all the technicalities and intricacies that other spiritual processes may stress.
K – Knowledge (Verses 1-3) – Krishna explains that the knowledge He is about to impart is the most confidential, since it illuminates the true position and nature of the soul in relation to God. There is a notion that belief in God is intellectually immature or philosophically naive. However, logical and rational analysis of the complexity, design and intricate engineering of this creation, makes plain that there must
be some conscious intelligence behind it. To categorically deny this
suggests a stubborn, irrational and illogical predisposition toward
atheism. Thus, Krishna explains that the knowledge He is about to
impart is state-specific – one must be non-envious and faithful to
understand it. Faith is not opposed to knowledge, but is actually a
prerequisite for receiving it.
I – Inconceivable relationships (Verses 4-10) – An idea is conceived
within the mind. A child is conceived within the womb. In other words, a concept is contained within something. However, since the qualities and characteristics of the Lord are unlimited, they cannot be contained within any boundaries, and thus God’s activities and relationships are deemed inconceivable. In this section, Krishna begins to impart knowledge of his inconceivable relationships with the universe and all living entities. While this knowledge gives an indication of the character, greatness and capacity of God, it also exposes our inability to comprehend such matters through mundane logic and reason.
N – Non-worship (Verses 11-25) – Even after Krishna explains the
opulences and qualities of His personal form, there are many who
misunderstand the Supreme. Because Krishna appears in the “humanlike” form, some deem Him an ordinary human being and believe a personal form of God to be an elementary and infantile concept. Others believe that God manifests innumerable forms represented by the various demigods, each of whom are worthy of worship. Others cannot perceive of anything beyond this universe, and therefore consider the cosmos to be the supreme object of worship. All such persons sidestep the worship of the Supreme Personality, whom one can see face-to-face and have a relationship with. While some claim that all paths lead to the same destination, Krishna highlights that He awards different results to a person’s worship based on their motivation and understanding.
G – Glories of Bhakti (Verses 26-34) – In this way, Krishna establishes
the personal form of God to be the highest and most complete
manifestation of the Supreme. The greater something is, the higher
the qualification to achieve it. To get into a good university you need
higher grades. To buy a bigger house you need greater funds. Similarly, to approach God in the most intimate and personal way, one requires the greatest qualification – complete purity of consciousness, free of any tinge of selfish motivation. Krishna explains that such purity is characterised by constant spiritual absorption with mind, body and word, where one’s entire life becomes a spiritual offering saturated with love and devotion. This is Krishna consciousness, and this is the essential teaching of the Bhagavad-gita – to always remember Krishna and never forget Him.
S – Source of Everything (Verses 1-7) – Modern science is founded
upon the methodology of ascending knowledge, where one attempts
to understand reality in its fullest extent by empirical research and
experimentation. Krishna makes a simple but powerful rebuttal of
such an approach. He explains how something which has been created cannot understand its source independently. For example, if one wanted to ascertain the identity of their father using a purely experimental approach, it would be highly impractical and most likely inconclusive. However, if one accepted the testimony of their mother first, and subsequently experimented, such an approach would more likely be successful. In the same way, all material and spiritual creations have their source in Krishna, and one who approaches Him can get scientific insight into their identity and purpose. Later, Krishna will explain how such knowledge can actually be directly perceived.
E – Essence of Gita (Verses 8-11) – These four verses contain the
essence of the Bhagavad-gita, and describe spirituality in its three
essential stages. The first stage is entitled sambhanda, or knowledge
of one’s relationship with God and the universe. The second stage
is the practice and application of such knowledge in one’s daily life,
technically known as abhideya. The third stage is the mature fruit of
such practice, which is pure spiritual consciousness and unbounded
love of God. This is known as prayojana. Thus, the Bhagavad-gita is
actually a spiritual science since there is hypothesis (sambandha),
experiment (abhideya) and observation / conclusion (prayojana). These four verses (8-11) give a roadmap of spirituality from beginning to end.
E – Everywhere (Verses 12-42) – Arjuna is satisfied by Krishna’s
explanations and requests Him to elaborate further on His
characteristics and qualities. In response, Krsna describes the most
prominent among His limitless, all pervading opulence. By doing this
He explains how one can actually think about Him, meditate on Him
and see Him everywhere. It is not that Krishna is physically all the
things He mentions, but rather that He is the source of the opulence of these things – their strength, fame, wealth, and so on. After naming 82 opulences, Krishna concludes by stating that these simply hint at His glory since He pervades and supports the entire universe with a mere fragment of His energy.
R – Request (Verses 1-4) – Arjuna requests to see the universal form.
One may ask why he makes such a request since he can see Krishna
and is completely satisfied (as confirmed in the previous chapter).
Clearly Arjuna doesn’t have any personal agenda in seeing the universal form, but he requests the vision for other reasons. Firstly, he wants to prove without doubt Krishna’s position as the source of everything, and secondly set a standard for anyone in the future who claims to be God to show similar opulence. Unfortunately, our modern world is nevertheless plagued with so-called incarnations and God-men claiming to be the latest saviours of society by dint of the fact that they have mustered up some popularity or mastered a few magic tricks.
U – Universal Form (Verses 5-14) – Krishna grants Arjuna’s request
and shows His universal form. While God is the source of this universe, He is simultaneously the universe itself in the sense that He is present within His own creation. For example, in my writings you can probably understand something about me – the effect (writings) tell us something about the cause (the author) and in that sense the cause is present within the effect. Similarly, God is the source of the universe, but is simultaneously encompassing the universe – that is the universal form. It’s not that God is the sum of the parts, but rather that everything is contained within God. In that fearful vision of the universal form, Arjuna could see all living beings, all material objects, and the entirety of past, present and future.
P – Prayers of Arjuna (Verses 15-45) – Arjuna falteringly prays to the
universal form, awed by the greatness of Krishna, and begs forgiveness for having previously treated Him with familiarity and friendship. Most religious traditions do not go beyond this majestic understanding of God – God who is the creator, the all-knowing and the infallible. It often leads to a fearful exchange with God, lacking intimacy, sweetness and personal relationship. Having seen enough, Arjuna anxiously requests Krsna to once again reveal His two-armed form so that he can again relish the intimacy of that interaction.
A – Armed Form (Verses 46-55) – Arjuna requests to see the manusimrupa, the human-like form of Krishna, around whose neck is swinging a garland of flowers beautified with the moon-locket, whose two hands are adorned with the flute and jewelled ornaments, and whose graceful threefold-bending form attracts the minds of His devotees. Ancient Sanskrit texts describe Krishna as raso vai sah – the very embodiment of affectionate relationships, loving relish, and transcendental sweetness. God is a person who is full of colour, character and bliss. He knows how to have a good time and is much more interested in relishing the sweetness of pure love than the ritualistic worship of those who approach Him in awe and reverence.
G – Godhead (Verses 1-7) – In response to a question by Arjuna,
Krishna again picks up the discussion of impersonalism. It seems to
be a recurring theme in the conversation, and one may question why.
The essence of our being is to be happy (anandamaya bhyasat) and the essence of such happiness is experienced in loving relationships. For a relationship to exist there must be a subject, object and reciprocity, but impersonal notions of “oneness” kill all three and therefore cheat the individual of true happiness. Krishna explains that a personal approach to God through bhakti-yoga (devotional service) is more practical in the immediate term and more fulfilling in the long term. While those who tread the impersonal path of spirituality undoubtedly receive spiritual merit, their progress is piecemeal and a great deal more troublesome. Thus, one reason Srila Prabhupada continually refers to Krishna as the “Godhead” is to remind us that God is ultimately a person who must be approached as such.
O – Options (verses 8-12) – Here, Krishna demonstrates His magnanimity and understanding. Having delineated the topmost practice of bhaktiyoga, He goes on to offer other options, recognising that some may find it difficult to immediately embrace a devotional path. Progressive steps towards such a devotional spirit include the practice of regulated spirituality, worship through one’s daily work, and the cultivation of knowledge. The spiritual path is not all or nothing and one can begin their journey according to what is feasible and realistic.
D – Devotee’s Disposition (Verses 13-20) – As one embarks on the
spiritual journey, they begin to develop saintly qualities. Krishna
concludes the chapter by elucidating the disposition of perfected
devotees. They exhibit qualities such as tolerance, determination,
satisfaction and equanimity of mind, and their purity of consciousness is clear to all. Devotees endowed with such endearing character traits conquer the heart of Krishna, who becomes bound by their spotless devotion. Such are the dealings within the transcendental realm – where even the unconquerable supreme controller becomes a captive of love.