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Bhagavad-gītā is the oldest and most widely read book of theistic science in the world today. Also known as the Gītopaniṣad, the Bhagavad-gītā has been the principle handbook of yoga for more than 5,000 years. In contrast to many mundane literatures of the present day, the Bhagavad-gītā is free from mental speculation and is complete in knowledge of the eternal self (ātmā), the process of bhakti-yoga and the nature and identity of the Absolute Truth, Śrī Kṛṣṇa. As such, the Bhagavad-gītā is the single most important book in the world, surpassing all others in wisdom and enlightenment.
The first word of Bhagavad-gītā is dharma. Sometimes dharma is mistaken to mean religion or a particular belief, but it is not so. Dharma means the quintessential duty or knowledge that elevates our consciousness to a direct connection with the Absolute Truth. This is also known as sanātana-dharma, the occupational duty of all living beings. The Bhagavad-gītā begins with the word dharma – thus we can understand from the outset that Bhagavad-gītā is not about dogma or a sectarian way of thinking. Indeed, Bhagavad-gītā is the complete science of realising the Absolute Truth.
For an observant person it is clear that the world around us is a bewildering place with many unsolved mysteries. If one is seeking answers to the age-old questions of ‘Who am I?’ ‘Why do we suffer?’ ‘Where do we come from?’ ‘What is the purpose of life?’ ‘What happens after death?’ – then one will find great satisfaction in the Bhagavad-gītā because the Gītā answers these questions and more with the utmost clarity.
As a young seeker of truth, I first came in contact with the Bhagavad-gītā in 1968. In subsequent years I travelled to India and studied Bhagavad-gītā under the foremost gurus of the late 20th Century, A.C. Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Prabhupāda and Svāmī B.R. Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī. By the goodwill of these two great masters, the essential message of Bhagavad-gītā entered my heart and I was soon to be situated on the path of self-realisation.
As with any path in life, one will certainly encounter crossroads. The first crossroad that I came to while studying the Bhagavad-gītā was to decide on the path – personal or impersonal. Was I to follow the path of personalism – to perfect the individual self, to enter into the spiritual sky of Vaikuṇṭha planets and live eternally with the Supreme Person, Śrī Kṛṣṇa? Or was I to follow the path of impersonalism – ending existence as an individual living being and merging myself into the brahma-jyoti of infinite bliss? I chose the former, personalism (bhakti-yoga).
Bhagavad-gītā is specifically meant for those following the path of bhakti-yoga. Many impersonal philosophers have tried to lay claim to the Gītā over the years, at times even claiming to be Śrī Kṛṣṇa – a claim that is exposed by the simple fact that they do not understand the message of Śrī Kṛṣṇa in Bhagavad-gītā, despite its profound clarity. Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the original speaker of Bhagavad-gītā, therefore He must know the message of the Gītā better than anyone, and Kṛṣṇa says in the Eighteenth Chapter that the message of the Gītā is exclusively meant for those who are aspiring to know the Absolute Truth on the path of bhakti-yoga.
Bhagavad-gītā is certainly a scholarly work, but one need not be a scholar to understand the Gītā’s straightforward and simple message. Indeed, Arjuna, the first student of Bhagavad-gītā, was not a scholar, but a warrior. In the past many great scholars, gurus and self-realised masters have written illuminating commentaries to accompany the Gītā – its ‘as it is’ meaning, its poetry, philosophy and its hidden treasure – so that the people of their time, as well as the people of future generations, may have a better appreciation of the message of Śrī Kṛṣṇa.
We have now completed the first decade of the 21st Century and a host of such erudite commentaries on the Bhagavad-gītā sit upon our bookshelves and in our libraries – surely there is no call for yet another!
The message of Bhagavad-gītā is eternal and unchanging, but the time that surrounds us is always changing, thus our perception of life, our current situation and our necessity is also always changing. To meet the changing times and the present necessity, yet another commentary is being presented – a brief commentary, or Anuvṛtti.
According to Viśvanātha Cakravartī, a renowned commentator on the Bhagavad-gītā from antiquity, the first six chapters of the Gītā mainly pertain to karma, the second six chapters to bhakti and the final six chapters to jñāna. But the answers to life’s most puzzling questions are found throughout the eighteen chapters of the Gītā with Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s last and conclusive instruction to Arjuna in verse 66 of the last chapter – sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja.
In our Anuvṛtti we have not commented on each and every verse spoken by Śrī Kṛṣṇa as we feel that by directly hearing from Kṛṣṇa with one’s intelligence, one receives the greatest knowledge and further comment is not always necessary. The comments made in the Anuvṛtti are to highlight certain points and to reflect on what Kṛṣṇa says with relevance to our world today. What lies ahead in our Anuvṛtti are the basics of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava philosophy (acintya-bhedābheda-tattva) and the essential understanding for the practice of bhakti-yoga.
Many readers may want to delve deeper into the knowledge of Bhagavad-gītā and for such persons we highly recommend the study of the 1973 Macmillan edition of Bhagavad-gītā As It Is by A.C. Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Prabhupāda. Other recommended readings are the commentaries of Viśvanātha Cakravartī, Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and Svāmī B.R. Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī.
We would like to express our sincere appreciation for those who have encouraged us in our work and helped to bring Bhagavad-gītā – Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s Illuminations on the Perfection of Yoga to completion. We especially want to mention here our godbrothers, Svāmī Bhakti Bhāvana Viṣṇu, Jayadeva, Jagadīśvara, our godsister Dhīra-lalitā, and our sannyāsī disciples, Svāmī Bhakti Vijñāna Giri and Haridāsa Bābājī Mahārāja.
May this publication be an offering unto the Absolute Truth, Śrī Kṛṣṇa – kṛṣṇārpaṇam astu.
Svāmī B.G. Narasiṅgha
August 22nd 2011, Śrī Kṛṣṇa Janmāṣṭamī Gaurābda 526