[December 23, 2023 is Gītā-jayantī in Vṛndāvana, India. The following is an excerpt of a bhāva anuvāda of a discourse by Śrīla Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja on December 23, 2012. Editors’ input: Additional text has been included in square brackets to facilitate the flow of content.]
[On the occasion of Gītā-jayantī, Śrīla Mahārāja is addressing a group of children and their parents at the morning session of an ongoing study group on Bhagavad-gītā held at a devotee’s residence in Pune.]
BHAGAVAD-GĪTĀ IS THE ESSENCE
Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā is the essence of all the Upaniṣads. There are 108 Upaniṣads which are likened to a cow and Śrī Kṛṣṇa is a cowherd boy who is milking that cow. Milk isn’t produced by itself – a cow gives milk only when a calf is born to her. So in this case, the calf is Arjuna. And who is there to drink this milk? All the devotees.
sarvopaniṣado gāvo dogdhā gopāla-nandanaḥ
pārtho vatsaḥ sudhīr bhoktā dugdhaṁ gītāmṛtaṁ mahat
[“This Gītopaniṣad, Bhagavad-gītā, the essence of all the Upaniṣads, is just like a cow, and Lord Kṛṣṇa, who is famous as a cowherd boy, is milking this cow. Arjuna is just like a calf and learned scholars and pure devotees are to drink the nectarean milk of Bhagavad-gītā.”] BBT
BHAGAVAD-GĪTĀ IS THE FOUNDATION
Gītā is the foundational scripture. Without first studying the Bhagavad-gītā no one can understand any other scriptures such as Mahābhārata, Rāmāyaṇa, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and the Upaniṣads. Hence, it is very essential to read [study] the Bhagavad-gītā.
It is very beneficial if one studies the Bhagavad-gītā during childhood. I also happened to study it during my childhood, as opposed to later on in life. As a result, whenever I converse with others on any subject, the words [relevant teachings] of the Bhagavad-gītā come to my mind. If you were to ask me directly, I may not be able to recall, however, while speaking, some context always comes to mind. I had studied the Bhagavad-gītā some 75 odd-years back, even still it comes to mind. That which is learnt during childhood is never forgotten.
It is very encouraging that these children are studying the Bhagavad-gītā in their childhood, setting the foundation, then later all the higher subjects can be studied separately. It is essential to know the Bhagavad-gītā; like if we do not know the basis of English, the letters A, B, and C, then nothing can be learnt. The 26 letters [21 consonants and 5 vowels] of the English alphabet, have the entire English language contained within them. In the case of our language (Bhāgavatika bhāsā), the alphabet is almost double (47) that of the English language. But for everyone, irrespective of the language, the basis is akṣara (alphabets).
WHEN FOUNDATION IS UNDERSTOOD, KṚṢṆA-TATTVA WILL BE UNDERSTOOD
So in the Bhagavad-gītā, what is meant by akṣara jñāna? What is akṣara? Kṣara vastu means that which undergoes transformation, and higher than that is akṣara. Akṣara means Brahmaṇ, and akṣara jñāna means Brahmaṇ jñāna. Brahmaṇ jñāna means knowledge and broad understanding about Bhagavān. Kṣara vastu is this material world, and akṣara vastu is Brahmaṇ.
And what is higher than this?
yasmāt kṣaram atīto ’ham akṣarād api cottamaḥ ato ’smi loke vede ca prathitaḥ puruṣottamaḥ
[Since I am transcendental to the fallible living entities and also superior to the other two infallible beings, brahma and Paramātmā, I am renowned both in this world and in the Vedas as Puruṣottama, the Supreme Person.] Bhagavad-gītā15.18 GVP
Thus, Bhagavan indicates, “I am not kṣara vastu nor akṣara vastu which is Brahmaṇ. Therefore, I am known as Puruṣottama by the world and the Vedas.”
Who is Puruṣottama? Puruṣottama is Śrī Kṛṣṇa. That is why until foundational knowledge is there; kṛṣṇa-tattva will not be understood. First one will have to grasp the simple concepts [kṣara vastu and akṣara vastu] then kṛṣṇa-tattva will be understood. The point is that if foundational knowledge is understood, then everything can be understood.
BHAGAVAD-GĪTĀ HAS SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
There is something for everyone in the Bhagavad-gītā–whether they are following religion or engaged in protecting the nation. If [either of them] were to read the Bhagavad-gītā, they would feel enthused. When religion was destroyed, we [India] became a dependent nation. In this regard, the Bhagavad-gītā [3.35] states:
śreyān sva-dharmo viguṇaḥ para-dharmāt sv-anuṣṭhitāt sva-dharme nidhanaṁ śreyaḥ para-dharmo bhayāvahaḥ
[It is far better to execute one’s prescribed duties, even though imperfectly, than to perform another’s duty perfectly. It is better to die discharging one’s own duty in accordance with the varṇāśrama system than to engage in another’s duty, for it is dangerous to follow another’s path.] GVP
If you win this battle [Kurukṣetra] you will enjoy the kingdom, and if you die you will attain heaven. There is no loss in either outcome [whether you live or die while performing your duty]. Does anyone lose by following this teaching? Everyone benefits. Kṛṣṇa labored so much on this point, He said to Arjuna, “What you are speaking now is the speech of Kali-yuga. A warrior will fight and although a woman can’t fight, she can give birth to a warrior”. Why is Kṛṣṇa saying so? Because Arjuna is refusing, “I will not fight, I will not harm anyone.” This is ajñāna [ignorance].
BHAGAVĀN USES HIS INSTRUMENTS TO BROADCAST HIS TEACHINGS
By making Arjuna an instrument, Kṛṣṇa taught us the message of the Bhagavad-gītā. In reality, it is not that Arjuna is incapable, He is with Kṛṣṇa, why then would Arjuna play like this? Who would Kṛṣṇa make His instrument? [If Arjuna doesn’t play the part of being incapable.]
For instance, a cow gives us milk making her calf an instrument. Similarly, Bhagavān engages His devotees as instruments to teach us. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam was also propagated using Parīkṣit Mahārāja as the medium. That same Parīkṣit, while in the womb of his mother, was saved from a Brahmāstra by Bhagavān. Can that same Bhagavān not protect him now [from the curse of dying due to a snake-bite?] When the time came for Kṛṣṇa to depart from this world, He considered whom to make an instrument to broadcast the teachings of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.
WITHOUT BHAGAVAD-GĪTĀ OTHER SCRIPTURES CANNOT BE UNDERSTOOD
Thus, the Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam are invaluable scriptures. Nonetheless, Bhagavad-gītā is the primary scripture for forming the basis of understanding of all other scriptures. I am very enthused to see that these small children are expressing interest in studying the Bhagavad-gītā. It will help them in their academics as well. When the mind is happy, then an individual will progress in all aspects. Very nice.