Bhagavad Gita

Introduction to Bhagavad Gita on Gita Jayanti day – Ypsilanti Krishna House – December 2014

Romapada Swami TalksRomapada Swami speaks:

Does everybody know everybody? Looks like there’s kind of a mix here. Some are our temple regulars. How many here are students? A few. Is it exam time? Yes. Some of you are graduate students, so you don’t have exams? Yes. That’s why you are here. Do any of you have exams?
Devotee:  Later.
Romapada Swami:  Later. Okay. You are graduate teachers’ assistants, administering the exam. Later you have to grade them. Yes? Is there anybody here who is unfamiliar with Bhagavad Gita? Great, you are all familiar with Bhagavad Gita! Okay. Well, you know what that means. I can ask you questions about Bhagavad Gita, and you’ll be able give the answers. [Laughter.] Ahh…

Okay, I will do this. I would like to share some general appreciations of Bhagavad Gita and its message on this occasion of Gita Jayanti. I will begin with exploring the purpose of Bhagavad-gita. The term Gita Jayanti indicates the victorious appearance day of Bhagavad Gita. What does that mean, “the appearance day of Bhagavad Gita”? We know that Krishna appeared in the prison house of Kamsa on the eighth day of the waning moon of a certain month in the lunar calendar. Similarly, Radha Rani appears on a certain day of the lunar calendar. But how is it that Bhagavad Gita appears? What is the meaning of the appearance of Bhagavad Gita? Let us explore this briefly.

Today is an Ekadasi day. Anyone unfamiliar with what Ekadasi is? Okay, here is the meaning of Ekadasi. The Vedic calendar is based on phases of the moon. The Vedic calendar is not a solar calendar. It’s a lunar calendar. Eka means one and dasi means ten. One plus ten equals…eleven. Eka-dasi. Ekadasi is the eleventh day of the waxing or waning moon. From the dark moon, count eleven. There’s one Ekadasi. Full moon, count eleven, there’s another Ekadasi. So, twice a month, it’s Ekadasi. And, each Ekadasi has special spiritual significance. All spiritual activities performed on Ekadasi are especially beneficial. Devotees, or Vaisnavas, are followers of Ekadasi; they make their best effort to increase their spiritual activity in some way. Increase chanting, or reading, or worshiping ~ some devotional activities are increased. We try to increase our hearing and chanting, especially. Simultaneously, we accept some bodily austerity in some way. We fast from beans and grains, minimally. If we fast from everything, that’s really nice. Or, one may fast except for taking water, that’s also really nice, Or, just taking juice, that’s nice. But minimally, accepting for our meals fruits and vegetables, but no beans and grains. So, we observe that fasting from beans and grains on all Ekadasis.

This particular Ekadasi is called Mokshada Ekadasi. Moksha means liberation. Da means gives. It gives liberation. On Mokshada Ekadasi, Krishna spoke Bhagavad Gita. Therefore, it’s Gita Jayanti — the day that Krishna spoke the liberating message of Bhagavad Gita. Bhagavad Gita appeared in this way.

Many people from India, when we show them Bhagavad Gita, they will say “I know all about Krishna.” If we were to ask those persons “Very good! Since you know all about Krishna, can you tell me what the purpose of Bhagavad Gita is?” ~ what would they say?

Let us make the same experiment right here, tonight! Listen carefully to the following true or false question. “The purpose of Bhagavad Gita, and the purpose of all of the Vedic scriptures, is to teach us how we can live our lives according to the codes of theistic conduct, and in this way, conduct our lives in the mode of goodness. As a result of living our lives in the mode of goodness, naturally – without any extra endeavor – the fruits of piety will come into our lives. Consequently, in this life we will prosper. And after this life, because we’ve lived our lives according to the codes given within scripture, we will go to heaven, and enjoy the bounties and the happiness and pleasure of heavenly life.” Is this statement true or false? That’s the purpose of scripture and the way that one should lead one’s life in a religious manner. Who will say that that’s a fairly accurate statement of the purpose of scripture?

If your answer is that this is a false statement, then what would you say is the purpose of Bhagavad Gita, or in general the purpose of scripture found in any religious system? Who would like to say? This is an audience response question! [Laugher]

Devotee: To go back to Krishna.
Romapada Swami:  To go back to Krishna. Well, how do you go back to Krishna?
Devotee: By following His instructions. Going beyond goodness.
Romapada Swami:  Going beyond goodness.
Devotee: And beyond the desire to achieve any fruits of your action.
Romapada Swami:  What about going back to Godhead? That’s a fruit of your action.
Devotee: Ah…
Romapada Swami:  Aaah!
Devotee: That’s a special…
Romapada Swami: Aaah!
Devotee: That doesn’t matter.
Romapada Swami: It doesn’t matter?
Devotee: Once you are with Him, it doesn’t matter.
Romapada Swami:  What if you are not with Him?
Devotee: Then it matters a lot!
Romapada Swami: As you can see, I am trying to get to know the audience we have here tonight, while at the same time inspiring you to be actively thoughtful. So, let me play the devil’s advocate. Do you mind?
Devotee: No, please!
Romapada Swami: I am the devil. And you’re the devotee of Krishna who wants to go to Krishna.
Na dhanam na janam na sundarim… You know that verse? Siksastakam? Na dhanam…dhanam means wealth. Na janam. Followers. Sundarim. You know, sundari? Beautiful wife.

na dhanaṁ na janaṁ na sundarīṁ
kavitāṁ vā jagad-īśa kāmaye
mama janmani janmanīśvare
bhavatād bhaktir ahaitukī tva
(Cc. Antya 20.29, Śikṣāṣṭaka 4)

Even birth after birth, not going back to Godhead, but even if You so desire that I serve you in this place, or that place, or the other place…no problem! But, I do want one thing. Bhavatad bhaktir ahaituki tvayi. Ahaituki–causeless devotional service, birth after birth. That’s all I want.

Devotee: That’s what we should desire?
Romapada Swami: Yes! That’s also a desire. Let me ask you…
Devotee: Desire may not be the right word. Aspiration, I can say.
Romapada Swami: Well, aspiration — to desire–they’re pretty close. You aspire for something, you desire something. Is the goal to become desireless? How many would say yes? The goal is to become desireless? The goal is to become desireless?
Devotee: Bonafide desire.
Romapada Swami: Bonafide desire. Well, what’s a bonafide desire? How do we know what a bonafide desire is?
Devotee: Because if we love Krishna sincerely…Krishna…we know that Krishna loves us. And he wants us back too.
Romapada Swami: Okay. So, I love Krishna sincerely. And those who are not Krishna devotees, they should be wiped out?
Devotee: No, no, no, no, no!
Romapada Swami: But I love Krishna sincerely.
Devotee: No, they should also love Krishna.
Romapada Swami: They should also love Krishna. But they don’t, then…? I should wipe them out. I am a jihadi. (Laughter) What’s the standard of loving Krishna sincerely then? Is there one? It’s only subjective, right?
Devotee: No, Krishna says clearly in eighteenth chapter that whoever spreads my word and takes my vision….
Romapada Swami: What if I am spreading His word and you are not taking it?
Devotee: [Inaudible]
Romapada Swami: Let me return to my role as the devil’s advocate. The person who does not accept the message of Bhagavad Gita may complain: “You people are bad! Bhagavad Gita’s message is all about a battlefield, where Arjuna is being incited to kill the enemy. We know about you Krishna people!”
Devotee: Every struggle in life is like that. Struggle of some kind is going on every day. So, you’re fighting a battle all the time, every day. Krishna prescribes a vision. He prescribes the way to conduct yourself, to attain this vision. So, it’s not like every reader of Bhagavad Gita understands his duty is to join the Army, or something like that.
Romapada Swami: Something similar to this discussion was expressed by Benjamin Franklin. Have you heard of Benjamin Franklin?
Devotee: Yes.
Romapada Swami: You’re not American, but you’ve heard of Benjamin Franklin! Even when Benjamin Franklin was young, he was a writer, very clever writer. At a very early age, he wrote “My friend and I read the Bible day and night. He reads black and I read white.” So, I read Bhagavad Gita and I say, “It means this!” And you read Bhagavad Gita, and, “It means that!” So, who’s to say what Krishna wants?
Devotee: Hearing from authority is important. You should receive it presented by a bonafide guru.
Romapada Swami: Ahhh! Ahhh! What is a bonafide guru?
Devotee: Those who come from tradition….
Romapada Swami: Okay, now we’re talking. Now, we’re getting somewhere. How do I know who comes from tradition? Someone may say “I come from a tradition. My tradition says blah, blah! I’ve got a guru, and he’s got a guru, and he’s got a guru. I come from a tradition!”
Devotee: The tradition must go back to Krishna. From Krishna to sun-god to his son… Krishna prescribes a disciplic succession that comes from Him.
Romapada Swami: Very good. Very good. You’ve read Bhagavad Gita? Which version have you read? Have you read this one?
Devotee: Yeah.
Romapada Swami: You have? When did you get it? How long have you been reading this one?
Devotee: May be first time I read was four years back.
Romapada Swami: Four years back? You’re a veteran!
Devotee: No, no. No. [Pause] Every time you read it, you find something different. So, I read it regularly.

Romapada Swami: Let me share with you my first introduction to Bhagavad Gita. When I was in college I had a philosophy professor named George Boger. I remember him well. In the course of the semester we gradually got to know each other outside of the classroom. We would have all kinds of conversations about kinds of things. Sometimes he describing his personal philosophy of life, his views on things. It turns out he was a Taoist. Sometimes he would share with me some of his poetry. Sometimes we would go together to the pottery room; he would explain how making pottery was part of his centering himself, just as he centered the clay on the potter’s wheel. And all these different things we did together. Then one day he gave me a Bhagavad Gita. I didn’t even know how to pronounce it! I thought it was a book of poetry. So, I carried it around for a few days. Then another friend saw me carrying it around and said, “Oh! I have one of those, but it’s different. Here, why don’t you take mine?” So, I accepted his translation of Bhagavad Gita, too. Seeing these two copies I started wondering, “Maybe there’s more versions!” So, I went to the library, and there were five other versions of Bhagavad Gita. So, I thought, “I’m definitely going to read this book now! This must be an important book!” So, I checked all five versions from the library. After I read all seven I came to two conclusions. It’s not a book of poetry. And the other was I don’t understand it.

Then some time passed. And I met some devotees who gave me yet another translation of Bhagavad Gita. Then I thought “Here’s version number eight. Bhagavad Gita as it is.” And so I started reading version number eight. As I was reading version number eight, I found it was really easy to understand. I became puzzled. Why was it so easy to understand Bhagavad Gita number eight, while the other ones were so hard to understand? As I kept reading, then, I could understand. Because Bhagavad Gita as it is was presented from a position of realization, not from a position of scholarship. You students know, when somebody speaks from their heart, it’s easier to understand than when they speak from their head, especially when they are scholars. Differences between Bhagavad Gita versions is all about interpretation. When one interprets Bhagavad Gita, it’s not even about what Krishna says. Instead, you receive the philosophy of the philosopher who learned Sanskrit and made a translation. Suppose a group of us decide “Let’s get together, we’ll study Sanskrit, how about it! And we’ll make another translation of Bhagavad Gita. And we’ll come out with our translation of Bhagavad Gita, and sell it in a bookstore! And promote it. What do you think?”

That’s not how Bhagavad Gita is to be understood, as you explained. It is to be understood through this system of parampara, or disciplic succession, just like you stated. And, then Bhagavad Gita can be understood. In the language of the Bhagavad Gita,

bhaktyā mām abhijānāti
yāvān yaś cāsmi tattvataḥ

The message of Krishna can be understood only through bhakti. Then the Gita’s message can be understood. For bhakti to be awakened, one requires descending knowledge, not ascending knowledge, the speculative scholar-type.

Just now I summarized the overall message I intended to address, introduced at the beginning of this evening’s discussion: “What is the purpose of Bhagavad Gita?” To know Krishna. “How can we know Krishna?” Though bhakti, or devotional service unto Him!

Devotee: Many things in Bhagavad Gita are actually explained in Bhagavatam and other scriptures in ISKCON. It’s not only Bhagavad Gita, right? So, the importance of bhakti, you can receive from the Bhagavatam. You can see the effort made by Krishna Himself to make us understand who He is and who we are…so…
Romapada Swami: Well, as you cited earlier, the difficulty is… and I was amplifying it…there are different renderings of Bhagavad Gita. Yes, it is Krishna speaking; but then the person who is approaching Krishna’s words may have all kinds of filters in place and all kinds of ego-reflectors. As a result, the real message bounces and one’s own ideas come out – instead of Krishna’s ideas going in. And then, one thinks “That’s what Bhagavad Gita is!” I’ll give one example. It’s a little history. When Srila Prabhupada was still in India, he had been given an instruction by his spiritual master, twice, to go to the Western countries, to the English-speaking parts of the world—and deliver this teaching of devotion to Krishna, Lord Chaitanya’s message. He said, “You are learned in English. And from childhood, you are a devotee. So, take this message of Lord Chaitanya and deliver it. And, this will be good for you, and good for them at the same time.” So, to prepare himself, one of the things that Prabhupada did was he translated Canto 1 of Srimad Bhagavatam in three volumes which he printed in India. Using those really old-fashionable metal trunks that you can get in India, he brought a number of books with him from India to America on a cargo boat. He also had with him a manuscript for Bhagavad Gita, which he had planned to print in America. But something very unfortunate happened. A crazy person stole his manual typewriter. You know, not an electric typewriter, not a computer. But just one of those… you know, boom…boom…boom… those little manual typewriters. And his manuscript. Now, what’s a crazy person going to do with a Bhagavad Gita manuscript? Nothing! So, Prabhupada had to prepare an entirely new Bhagavad Gita manuscript. Before he had completed this manuscript, he requested the devotees to go to a Barnes and Nobles bookstore and buy a version of Bhagavad Gita, so he could use that for lecturing from. So they bought a version of Bhagavad Gita, and they brought it back. Srila Prabhupada wanted the devotees to understand the nature of scholarship when devoid of devotion. He cited two references and one of them was 18.66 Bhagavad Gita, where Krishna says,

sarva-dharmān parityajya
mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja
ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo
mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ

This is Mokshada Ekadasi. So, this is a good verse for this evening. mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ. So, Krishna says, mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ. mām means to me. ekaṁ means one. śaraṇaṁ means surrender. In the commentary which this particular author made on that verse, he began the commentary right off saying, “It’s not unto Krishna that one should surrender but unto the unborn unmanifest within Krishna.” When Prabhupada read the verse and then read the commentary, he made a fist like this with his hand, and slammed it on the table. And said, “Just see what he is doing!” And when he slammed it on the table, it had a strong effect. Everyone was startled. Then, he read it two more times. “Krishna says, surrender unto me. Commentary: It’s not unto Krishna, but something else—the unborn, unmanifest within Krishna.” Thud!!!  “Just see what he is doing! Krishna says, “Surrender unto me!” The commentary says, “Do NOT surrender unto me!” Something else!” Thud!!! “Just see what he is doing!” Prabhupada was angry.

Then he quoted another verse,

man-manā bhava mad-bhakto
mad-yājī māṁ namaskuru
(BG 9.34)

Commentary: “Do not think of Krishna. Think of the unborn unmanifest within Krishna. That is the meaning.” This commentary was explicitly insulting to Krishna. “Well, Krishna, you know, he is nice, but he just doesn’t really know what to say what he means… what he means is something he didn’t say. He’s a little… kind of incompetent as a speaker. But I know what he means. He means something else. And that is…” This is offensive. And it’s cheating. Vipralipsā, cheating propensity. It’s one of the defects of conditioned souls, especially amongst philosophers and scholars. “This means that.”

Therefore, Prabhupada decided his Bhagavad Gita would be called “Bhagavad Gita As It Is”. Some people thought, “That’s presumptuous–Bhagavad Gita as it is?” like “This writer is claiming that he knows what Krishna means, and nobody else knows?” But, it wasn’t presumptuous. Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad Gita was without interpretation, the message of Krishna as it is. For example, when Krishna says, “Surrender unto Me”, it means to surrender unto Krishna. The direct meaning of Krishna’s words have been presented instead of “This means that”, taking some indirect meaning. By interpretation, you can take anything, derive an indirect meaning from it and say, “Such-and-such is the meaning of this statement.” But if you take the direct meaning, “Surrender unto Me” means only one thing: surrender to Krishna!

I would like to share a few additional points about Bhagavad Gita and its message. In Chapter 2 of Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says that most people think that the message of the Vedas is meant for attaining heaven and there’s nothing more than that. Live a pious life, enjoy the fruits of piety and then, after a wholesome life bountifully enriched by piety, you go to heaven. It’s not just people who follow the Vedas think this way; this mentality is pervasive, all over the world!

The first time I surveyed an audience about the purpose of religion, just as I asked you all the same question right at the beginning of this evening’s class, was at the University of Jaipur. During Kartike I was teaching at the VIHE, the Vrindavan Institute for Higher Education. Long ago, Kadamba Kanana Swami was the president in Vrindavan one year when I was teaching. Maharaja asked me, “Could you go to Jaipur? I’ve sent one of the devotees who helped me finish construction of Prabhupada’s samadhi in Mayapur to open a center in Jaipur.” Kadamba Kanana Swami had been in charge of the construction of the samadhi. When the samadhi construction was completed, Kadamba Kanana Swami got this lucky service of being the temple president in Vrindavan. So, while he was the president, he said, “Can you go to Jaipur? There’s this nice devotee who just opened a center there, and I would like him to have some association.” “Sure.”

Knowing that I like interacting with university students, the Temple President arranged a program at the University of Jaipur. Again, I am narrating this because this is a University setting, at the Ypsilanti Krishna House.

The hall for the university program was this really sterile hall. It felt like a prison. You know, hardly any windows, this big long space. But it was packed! Maybe four hundred and fifty people. Something like that, a large number of people. I didn’t know them, and they didn’t know me. So, I started the program by saying, “I want to ask you all a question about Bhagavad Gita.” And I asked the same question. After describing the purpose of religion in the same manner as I did with all of you this evening, I then asked, “How many persons here understand that’s the purpose of religion?” Nearly everybody in the hall raised their hand. Then I asked “Okay, does anybody in the room have a different idea?” And one girl way in the back… because girls have to sit in the back in India… she was way in the back. She raised her hand. I asked her “Yes? What’s your different idea?” “The purpose of religion is to understand Krishna, because the goal of life is to take shelter of Krishna in eternal devotional service. And to know Krishna is to love Krishna. So, the purpose of the Vedas is to understand about Krishna and to engage in His eternal service.” I said, “You must be reading Prabhupada’s books.” She said, “Yes!” [Laughter] This is the result of reading Bhagavad Gita As It Is!

Here is another little sharing with Bhagavad Gita. What would your answer be to the following question: “Wat is the foremost instruction of Krishna in Bhagavad Gita?” Depending upon the audience, one verse which is considered by many persons from India as the essence of Krishna’s entire Bhagavad Gita is the verse where Krishna says, “You’re entitled to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your duty.” Who knows that verse? In Sanskrit. karmaṇy evādhikāras te. You know the verse? mā phaleṣu kadācana. You are entitled to do your prescribed duty, but you’re not entitled to the fruits. That is detached work. Working without attachment for the fruits of your work is certainly a very important theme within Bhagavad Gita, especially in the first third of Bhagavad Gita.

The very first message of Bhagavad Gita is that you are not this body. Arjuna wanted to know from Krishna, “What is my duty?” Externally, Arjuna’s circumstance was very challenging—being on a battlefield poised to fight with his cousins, his grandfather, who in the absence of his father was like his father…he raised the Pandavas…and their guru was there. Their military training guru… dhanurveda guru…he was on the other side. Arjuna was disturbed, greatly disturbed. He dropped his bow, he was trembling ~ a powerful warrior, trembling ~ very bewildered. “Krishna, please instruct me.” First Arjuna declared, “I shall not fight.” And then he changed course to request, “Please instruct me. What’s my duty?” His spirit was he didn’t want to fight. Very compassionate.

Now I’m paraphrasing, Krishna replied, “Before instructing what is your duty, let us first explore who you are. Then, we’ll talk about what is your duty.” Krishna’s teaching you are not the body comes first.

Lots of people believe in the soul. Here’s something that I’ve done as a travelling sannyasi: when people say that they believe in the soul, I ask them, “Could you describe to me what the soul is?” You’d be surprised. You’d either laugh or cry to hear how many different ideas people have of what is the soul. Then ask the next question. “Do you live your life that way, according to the conception of the soul is our true self?” The main stumbling block to live this way practically ~ philosophically or in practice, either way ~ is the pervasive tendency to be attached to the fruits of our work. Naturally, then, non-fruitive work is the next major topic. Immediately after discussing “we’re spirit souls, we’re not the body,” is the necessity to work in that consciousness. Quite a challenge to place the soul conception right on your forehead, at the forefront of consciousness, while you’re doing your routine activities!

Now we can see the importance of this verse from Chapter Two of BG:

karmaṇy evādhikāras te
mā phaleṣu kadācana
(BG 2.47)

While you work in a religious way, you must also have a brake pedal: don’t try to be the enjoyer of the fruits of your work. When the fruit of your work manifests, what are you supposed to do with the fruit if you don’t enjoy it? Commonly, piety results in living a life of prosperity. However, the message of Bhagavad Gita is detachment from the fruits of work! What helps cultivating the mood of detachment is by offering the fruits of your work to the Supreme. That’s the process of sacrifice, or yajna.

Very generously, Krishna acknowledges that there a many forms and expressions of sacrifice, performed by many varieties of people. Some apply the principle of yajna this way, that way, the other way, so many different ways. Several verses in Bhagavad Gita list many different options of how the principle of sacrifice is exhibited. But the objective of sacrifice is to act with detachment to results, instead rendering something sacred within the midst of otherwise worldly existence, a place that is otherwise not at all sacred. Detached work leads to freeing the mind, allowing the mind to entertain higher thought, transcendental thought. In that detached condition, when hearing about Krishna ~ the glories of Krishna, the beauty of Krishna, the pastimes of Krishna, Krishna-katha in general ~ the mind can have a proper conception or regard for Krishna.  Hearing of those topics then awakens attraction for Krishna, and a desire to be in His loving service. Therefore, it’s not the karmaṇy evādhikāras te mā phaleṣu kadācana verse that’s the essential teaching of Bhagavad Gita. It’s the final instruction which Krishna gives in Bhagavad Gita.

sarva-dharmān parityajya
mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja
ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo
mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ
(BG 18.66)

All the varieties of teachings that I’ve given thus far, Oh Arjuna, they all take a secondary position to one thing. What’s that? What’s in the primary position? Take shelter of Me. Surrender unto Me. So, what does that mean, to surrender unto Krishna? In Padma Purana, one of the transcendental literatures of the Vedas, it lists six things which constitute surrender unto Krishna. And, they are: those things that are favorable, that are pleasing to Krishna—accept them. Those things that are not favorable, not pleasing to Krishna—you don’t accept them. With a big smile, the devotee says “No, thank you.” They don’t do this in America anymore, but in India, even you have a domestic flight that has two segments, the stewardess comes down the aisle in the airplane with meals. When the stewardesses asks “Veg, or non-veg?” My answer is, “No, thank you.” (Laughter.) “Are you sure? Do you want veg?” “No thank, you… Just I’ll take some water. That’s fine.” Because we want that which is offered to Krishna, and that which is not prepared with devotion for Krishna, who knows, the cleanliness and the consciousness of the person that prepared it, and should I offer that to Krishna? Generally, I take some prasadam with me when I travel in India, prasadam that’s been offered to Krishna. That’s nice.

So far we have covered two of the six items of surrender. We do those things that are favorable for pleasing Krishna, and we reject those things not favorable for pleasing Krishna. The third item of surrender is to see that Krishna is my maintainer. Okay, presently I have this body. I have to take care of the body. I need to do something for my maintenance. The consciousness of surrender is, “I work for Krishna and Krishna maintains me.” Distinct from Krishna consciousness is secular consciousness. A secular view is “By my work I am maintaining myself. In addition, I go to the church, synagogue, temple, or mosque, and I pray to God. There is the worldly part of my life, and there is the religious part of my life.” In contrast, within Bhagavad Gita’s message there is no separation of worldly duty and religious duty. Everything is for Krishna. Suppose I am a working career man. My boss may think I’m working for him. He can hire me and fire me. But in Krishna consciousness I work for Krishna. I’ll play by the rules in the office, where the boss thinks that I’m working for him. But in higher consciousness, ultimately, I know that I’m working for Krishna. And it’s Krishna who’s maintaining me. When I take my paycheck, it belongs to Krishna, the whole thing. Not so much for Krishna, so much for me, so much for Krishna, so much for me. I call this the two-pocket-program. Bhakti is the one-pocket-program. Everything for Krishna. And then, I pay the mortgage, for Krishna. I pay the electric bill. Each of you, you have rent to pay, or your car payment, insurance, everything. It may have your name on the bank account. You may have your name on the car title. Nonetheless, the consciousness is, “This is the property of Krishna, and Krishna is maintaining me.” And at the end, if there’s some discretionary funds, I find a way to use it in direct service to Krishna. And meanwhile, this body is given by Krishna to serve Krishna. So, I take care of the body given by Krishna as Krishna’s. It’s Krishna’s. So, I’m using it in Krishna’s service.” You get the picture. The fruits of my work are ultimately arranged by Krishna, not just my own labor. Proof? Suddenly poof! Krishna can take away your work, and then, what are you going to do? No work!  The ability to work comes from the proprietor. So, I’m working for Krishna. He is my maintainer.

The next item of surrender is to see Krishna as my protector.  Where there is absence of Krishna consciousness, I think “I need to protect myself.” The foremost of animal propensities is defending. For the devotee, I may put a lock on my door, but ultimately the lock on the door isn’t going to protect me. Someone may have the skill to break or pry open the lock. Ultimately, Krishna is my protector. While I certainly do practical things for protection, I am absolutely clear that ultimately Krishna is my protector. That is a key element of the consciousness of surrender to Krishna.

He is my maintainer; He is my protector; He is also my well-wishing friend. And ultimately, I offer everything—body, mind, words—everything unto Him in His service. BG teaches mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ. That’s the principle of surrender, the essential conclusive comprehensive teaching of Bhagavad Gita. In celebration of Bhagavad Gita’s appearance, it’s nice to remember the principle message which Krishna is teaching us.

Essential to such a celebration is to try to apply BG’s core teaching in practical ways in our lives. Srila Prabhupada’s translation of Bhagavad Gita, how to live our lives according to BG’s message was given to us in such a practical way. Very very practical!! Imagine being a pure devotee with a hugh mission, coming to a distant place, where there is no culture at all. Culturally, people don’t know anything about anything. Whatever they think they know is upside down. That which is not to be done is to be done. That which is to be done is not to be done. And you have to train those people in Krishna consciousness.

One of the ways which Srila Prabhupada practically trained people was in the kitchen. Service in the kitchen means it’s for Krishna. For example, Srila Prabhupada was quite strict about kitchen cleanliness, and about conversation in the kitchen—really strict. His training was not restricted to the culinary art of how to mix this and that and make a sabji. Or put this and that together so you make a puri. Not just recipes and technique, but kitchen training was training in proper consciousness, Krishna consciousness, while cooking. Because cooking is for Krishna! I wasn’t one of those that got trained in the kitchen directly by Prabhupada, but I had lots of conversations with those that were. The training they received was firm and strong: it’s a really really important thing when you are in the kitchen cooking for Krishna that you maintain the highest possible standard of consciousness, and cleanliness, and the thoughts that you think, the words that you speak. Not just that you know some good recipes. Once trained, those persons were to train other persons.

Consciousness-wise, Prabhupada was a living example of the message of surrendering to Krishna. How to see all things in relation to Krishna, as opportunities for serving Krishna. And that’s the message of Bhagavad Gita! It’s one thing to study the book. It’s another thing to hear the message of Bhagavad Gita from disciplic succession. Even more, it’s a whole other thing to apply it!

Take for example the teaching of detached work. Or the understanding that you are not this body. Practical application of these abc teachings constitutes a major accomplishment. Try working in your day to day life without attachment to the fruits of your work. This challenge can be met by accomplishing this one thing: devote yourself fully to Krishna’s service and be surrendered unto to Him as you are living your daily life. That’s the key message of Bhagavad Gita! Carry that message in your heart, and you will be protected from the illusory energy. At once, you’re in the internal potency! And when you’re in the shelter of the internal potency, you are protected from illusion and the external potency.

I have attempted to share some general appreciations of Bhagavad Gita and its message on this occasion of Gita Jayanti. The Gita’s message is meant to the lived. It’s such an important introductory literature! Sometimes people say “Where is the BBT’s introductory literature?” The Gita is introductory, plus it is Krishna’s direct message for all mankind. Krishna spoke Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna because He wanted to deliver all the unfortunate people of this age of Kali. Krishna knew when His departure would occur, Kali Yuga would begin. So, He provided the means for people in this Age of Kali to come to Him, to be with Him, to be in His association eternally. The message of Bhagavad Gita was spoken for us, although He spoke it directly to Arjuna. Prabhupada explained it this way: when the mother-in-law wants to instruct the daughter-in-law, but she is a little subtle and does not want to damage the relationship with her daughter-in-law, she will instruct her daughter in the presence of the daughter-in-law. She doesn’t want to hurt the feelings of her daughter-in-law but she has some expectations from the daughter-in-law. So, she will instruct her daughter in the presence of her daughter-in-law. “Oh, that’s what my mother-in-law is expecting of me!” Srila Prabhupada used that example to explain the fact that Krishna is instructing Arjuna because He wants to instruct us. He is instructing Arjuna. And Arjuna is playing the role of a bewildered soul by the arrangement of Krishna, because he is Krishna’s pure devotee. He doesn’t have doubts; Arjuna is one of Krishna’s eternal associates! But Krishna placed Arjuna in that bewildered position so that Arjuna could have doubts. Then Arjuna could ask all the questions that we would ask if we could have the direct conversation with Krishna about what is our duty, and how to live our life in harmony with the Supreme.

Anyway, so many things to say about Bhagavad Gita. I’ll stop with that and see if there any any questions or comments or something somebody else would like to add. Some appreciation of Bhagavad Gita, or whatever you like. Yes?

Devotee: Hare Krishna Maharaj. You said Bhagavad Gita is an introductory scripture. At the same time, can we say Maharaj, because Prabhupada has added purports to it, there is everything in there needed for spiritual life?
Romapada Swami: Although it’s introductory, everything is there that we need for spiritual life?
Devotee: Because Prabhupada has put his realizations in the purport.
Romapada Swami: Well, the purport is to help us understand what Krishna is saying, rather than get the wrong idea. But the fact that Krishna directly speaks BG tells us it’s what we really need to know. So that we can get a correct understanding of what Krishna means, the purports are presente.

My reason for responding in this way has to do with another Srila Prabhupada story.

Srila Bhakti Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur was amazingly prolific in his writing and publishing of literature. Bhaktisiddhanta made his headquarters in Sridham, Mayapur instead of Calcutta, which is significant. Read Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu’s “Founder Acarya” book and you’ll understand what was the significance of this arrangement. During the British rule in India, Calcutta a favorite headquarters for the British for a number of reasons. Year round the weather is nice. Some places in India the climate can be quite severe – very hot summers, very cold in the winter. But Calcutta’s climate is quite moderate in comparison nice all the time. The British built up Calcutta quite a lot. In time it was a hub of Western influence and intellectuals. In one sense, from a strategic point of view, Calcutta might have been viewed as a far more natural place for Bhaktisiddanta to make his headquarters. But he made his headquarters in Mayapur, which was geographically remote, undeveloped, just rice fields in all directions. Agricultural land. But Mayapur was the birth place of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. For that singular spiritual reason, Bhaktisiddhanta made Mayapur his headquarters. In his biography it is described that every day three to five bullock carts loaded with paper for printing at their printing press in Mayapur would come. The paper would come by boat, up the Ganges from Calcutta. Then, at the ghat the paper would be loaded onto the bullock carts. Then, the bullock carts would carry the paper every day to his headquarters. Upon returning, the bullock carts would return to the ghat loaded with bound printed books. Everyday. Everyday. Everyday. Everyday! Magazines, books, newspapers. By this example we can get a glimpse how profoundly Bhaktisiddhanta was dedicated to printing and distributing literature!

In fact, Bhaktisiddhanta once imparted to Srila Prabhupada a very famous instruction: “If you ever get money, print books!” Srila Prabhupada took that to heart, and he printed books. And even when he didn’t have money, he would print books, on credit. Only when the books were distributed could he pay the bills. Naturally, following his guru maharaja’s example, when Srila Prabhupada started the Hare Krishna movement in the West, he likewise wanted a printing press, following his spiritual master. The very first place that ISKCON experimented to establish a printing press was in Boston. Boston was the place I happened to join, so I am directly familiar with this chapter of ISKCON’s history. The devotees in charge of the printing press didn’t really get it together properly, so it was decided just to print commercially. The main printer once asked Srila Prabhupada, “Would it be okay to print a Bhagavad Gita that’s just the verses that you can put in your pocket, and then from time to time you can read the verse, and then put it back in your pocket?” Srila Prabhupda said no, and then, he gave his reasons, which is very similar to what you said. Prabhupada said that the translations of the verses from one version of Bhagavad Gita to another are not so different. But the purports are different. The commentary is different. And without the commentary, people won’t understand the meaning of Bhagavad Gita. Srila Prabhupada did not approve printing Bhagavad Gita without the Bhaktivedanta purports along with the verses. Today, BBT has some little verse books of Bhagavad Gita. I’m only sharing with you what Prabhupada said and the reason why. Yes, the purports are essential to understand properly Bhagavad Gita’s meaning.

There is one other point I would like to make. “Introductory” doesn’t mean that after reading Bhagavad Gita you will need to leave it behind in favor of some higher knowledge.  Introductory means it is ABC. Our undergraduate study. Srila Prabhupada made this comparison, calling Srimad Bhagavatam our graduate study. In graduate study, is 2+2 still 4? Yes! So, when you become very familiar with the message of Bhagavad Gita, you may then go on to the graduate study, where you will find 2 + 2 is still there! The illumination and elaboration has increased, but 2+2 is still 4. The basics are there in Bhagavad Gita—everything you need to know. Through Bhagavad Gita’s message we are brought to the position of surrender and devotion to Krishna. Through devotion service to Him we can know Krishna, thus fulfilling the purpose of all the Vedas.

Anything else someone would like to add? Yes?

Devotee: In the beginning, you said that when you first got the Bhagavad Gita, your two realizations were that one it wasn’t merely poetry and, you said that you didn’t understand it. That to me seems to be the humbling realization of the fact that “you don’t know”. I feel that is the most important realization that proceeds surrender – realizing that you don’t really know. My question is that after you grasp Bhagavad Gita message, is it as much of that?
Romapada Swami: Is it what, please?
Devotee: Is it as much the context of what you are reading and learning from the Bhagavad Gita or the Srimad Bhagavatam, or is it just the matter of consciousness of you realizing more and more that you know that you don’t know? Is that clear?
Romapada Swami: Not exactly. Do you understand what he is saying?
Devotee: Your realization that you didn’t understand what the Bhagavad Gita was saying…
Romapada Swami: That’s the beginning part. But’s that’s not the conclusion part. Let me try to explain.

I am holding the kartals in my hand. And over there is a cup of water. So, supposing I want to get the cup of water. I have to let go of the kartals in my hand before I can grab the cup of water. Similarly, I have to let go of the notion that “I know” and come to the understanding or to the position of “I really don’t know” before I can receive this descending knowledge which comes from Krishna. By submissively hearing Krishna’s message, gradually you get realization. Progressively one comes to know. Let us go over that one more time. The starting point is to recognize “Honestly, I don’t know.” Let go of all misconceptions! The mind is holding onto the egoistic conceptions of life. We all have some conception of life. We’d be zombies if it were otherwise. The mind, according to Bhagavad Gita, is carrying some conception of life just as the air carries aroma. When air comes in contact with the garbage dump, and it stinks. And down-wind, the same air may come in contact with a botanical garden, and it smells very nice. But the air is neither stinky, nor nice-smelling. The air is colorless, odorless, tasteless – neutral. Air simply carries the aroma of that which it is in contact with. Similarly, the mind carries different conceptions of life, according to our experiences. But beyond our experiences is ultimate Reality. Actual Reality is not created by circumstance. The honest position, when encountering Bhagavad Gita for the first time, is “I don’t know.” That’s the beginning. But then, through the descending knowledge, you can begin to know. If you’re still holding onto a material conception, even if transcendence is being handed to you, it will bounce. It won’t go in. Nevertheless, in a humble mood, continue hearing Krishna’s message. Yes?

Devotee: I have a question. Bhagavad Gita is very deep and philosophical. So unless and until you commit yourself, and commit yourself to a bonafide spiritual master, you cannot really understand it. But, on the other hand, there is Bhagavatam, which describes the glory of God. So, can somebody come to a state of realization by going through Bhagavatam?
Romapada Swami: Sure, why not? Why not? But it’s good to learn Bhagavad Gita.
Devotee: Can life be complete without Bhagavad Gita?
Romapada Swami: Is that an academic question, or a personal preference question?
Devotee: No, no. In Bhagavatam, there are glories of God, right? So, you can enjoy the glories of…
Romapada Swami: Are you saying that the glories of God are absent in Bhagavad Gita? I can make an argument that glories of God are in Bhagavad Gita. Would you like me to make that argument? It’s there! For example, take Chapter 10, Opulences of the Absolute. The glories of God are there, just in that one chapter! Plus there are 17 more chapters. The glories of God are there. Don’t get stuck on a particular conception of what these two book contain. Don’t get stuck. As we discussed, the essence is sufficient. When we take that essence and expand on it, it becomes very sweet. But the essence is sufficient. First, start with the essence and then go further. Certainly, Bhagavatam is also sufficient. Be careful to not make a comparison which minimizes the essence.

Devotee: To flesh out the question which Bhakta Michael asked earlier, and also add the question I would like to ask, I would like to express a connection between the two.
Romapada Swami: Okay.
Devotee: You mentioned that, especially amongst the Indians, there is the propensity to think I know Bhagavad Gita. Similarly, as devotees, there’s also the propensity that, okay now I’ve read Bhagavad Gita, or I’ve read through the Bhagavatam, or I’ve chanted my sixteen rounds today. And yet, not yet being a pure devotee, it seems that that feeling of “knowing” is obstructing further realization. Sometimes when I read “Krishna is God”, my response is dull or bland: “Okay, I get that.” And other times I read that “Krishna is God”, it strikes me as profound. How can I maintain that attitude of freshness towards my sadhana?
Romapada Swami: There isn’t an alternative to purity. As we know, attaining purity is gradual. Before attaining purity, there is unsteadiness. We have to pay the price for purity. We have to clean the heart. If you want a heart that’s pure, continue to scrub. Those things which make the heart clean, do them with earnestness and sincerity and regularly. As you do like that, you realize, “Oh my God! There are so many dirty things in my heart. While I was focusing on cleansing from my heart one particular dirty condition, I discovered there’s all these other ones. And AH, LOOK! There are all these other ones, too! And EVEN MORE!” When that happens, don’t panic; stay with the cleansing process. The tendency is to tuck impurities and anomalies under the rug, or don’t let anybody know, or look the other way, because I don’t want to see my impurities. My point is that, besides the “I don’t know” part as you’re saying, the steadiness and freshness of sadhana as was your phrase, requires the desire to come to the stage of purity. Freshness will be where there is purity. In fact that’s the nature of the spiritual world: it’s ever-fresh! Until purity is attained, our sadhana is likely to be a little mechanical. When we’re mechanical, there’s not so much taste, we are easily distracted, less than enthusiastic, and other symptoms of impurity. Bhaktisiddhanta’s language is “unwholesome”. We have to pay the price to attain the stage of purity. The prerequisite is sincere, steadily performed service. Sustained effort according to proper means is required, calling for mercy. When you strive in this way you will realize, “I can’t do this on my own!” That’s another kind of humility, besides “I don’t know.” One may consider “I see some light, and I’m moving towards that light and away from the darkness. But it’s so far away! I’m lame. I am unqualified. So, I need help.” Sincerely calling out for descending mercy is part of what brings purity. When there’s purity, there can be this freshness, as you described.

Devotee: I have one more question.
Romapada Swami: One more question? Then, we’ll have kirtan. Yes?
Devotee: If you look at Satya-yuga, or previous yugas, they had all the Vedas available to them, but the sruti section of the Vedas are very difficult to understand. But in Kali Yuga, we have Bhagavad Gita, which is easy to understand. So, is it Krishna’s arrangement that He gives different type of knowledge to different people?
Romapada Swami: Sure! Yes.
Devotee: It’s like cooked food. He made it easy for us…
Romapada Swami: Well, not just cooked food. Yes, different people have different taste, that’s true. But when Vyasa compiled the Vedas, he did so with recognition that most people hanker for something limited and temporary. That’s the nature of being in the material world. We have this rebellious spirit towards Krishna. That’s why we have come here. Otherwise, we would not be here! Consider: If the only option provided in the Vedas was exclusive surrender to Krishna, and there wasn’t any other option to consider, people wouldn’t follow this standard because that’s not what they want. They want something else. The fact that there are “different types of knowledge”, as you put it, has many causes — not just taste, but the modes of nature and false ego ambitions to become an enjoyer according to the modes of nature. Acknowledging this circumstance, varieties of religious options are available, according to the modes of nature, encouraging covered souls to become somewhat elevated. The ultimate conclusion of all varieties of dharma is taking shelter of Krishna directly. In summary, there are varieties of indirect spiritual teachings made available before one comes to the direct method: surrender!

Devotee: Actually, Krishna says that those whose path is incomplete in this lifetime, He will grant another opportunity…
Romapada Swami: Yes.
Devotee: …in the next lifetime. In this degraded age, if you find so much of difficulty in practicing bhakti, how is it possible for us to ensure success when provided with the next opportunity?
Romapada Swami: Yes, precisely! Don’t mess around. Let me share a personal anecdote. As a brahmacari, I really liked distributing books. It was always a challenge, but I was fully dedicated to distributing books. For a while my routine was that I would distribute books in the morning at the NY train station, come back to the temple for lunch, and then go to the airport in the afternoon. Before going into the airport I would sit in my car in the airport parking lot and listen to a particular lecture given by Srila Prabhupada. I followed this same regulation every day for months! In one particular lecture which I listened to practically daily Srila  Prabhupada was describing the kindness shown by Krishna to someone who takes to devotional service. I was thinking by giving these books to people, it will give them the opportunity to take to devotional service. Srila Prabhupada went on to explain a particular kindness shown by Krishna: if we don’t complete our devotional service in this life, He will allow us to continue our devotional service in our next life. Suddenly, Srila Prabhapada’s voice became really scary. “But if you take birth in the next life, it becomes more difficult because the Age of Kali has advanced, and will become progressively degraded.” Better to finish your business in this life because through passage of time it will be very very difficult! Even in our short lifetime, the degradation is rapidly accelerating, compliments of technology.

Something that can be used to accelerate the spreading of Krishna consciousness can also be used to accelerate Kali Yuga! I remember hearing a lecture by my God-brother, Sridhar Swami, in New York. Because he lived in Bombay for many years as a preacher, he was quite familiar with the way of life in India. His message was that several centuries had passed with different foreign countries ruling in India but Vedic culture was still upheld, despite deliberate attempts to destroy it. However, by the influence of just one thing, five-star TV, degradation has happened so rapidly! Vedic culture has been so swiftly eroded! What to speak of after five-star TV, the internet and some many other technological advancements have swiftly accelerated degradation! That which could withstand centuries of foreign nations deliberately trying to break the backbone of Vedic culture, technology is achieving very quickly. Very quickly.

Okay, so, thank you for coming, honoring Gita Jayanti with us!

About the author

Romapada Swami

Romapada Swami‘s first encounter with Krishna consciousness came in Buffalo, in the shape of a lecture at the State University of New York in 1969. The lecturer was His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. The following year, Romapada Swami joined the movement in Boston and was initiated in 1971. Despite being admitted as a pre-med student, he decided to follow his spiritual path 100% and never looked back. He took sannyasa in 1983 and became an initiating spiritual master in 1985.

Under Romapada Swami’s guidance, congregational groups of devotees of Krishna have grown in many places in the US and abroad, including Chicago, Washington DC, St. Louis, Seattle, Detroit, New York, New Jersey, Houston, Orlando, Tennessee, Boston, Hyderabad and Guyana.

More information on Romapada Swami is available on

1 Comment

  • This was a perfect read, especially since today is Gita Jayanti! And I very much appreciate the personal stories shared. And the glass/kartals example made the point very clear! Thank you very much!

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