The Bhagavad-gītā has been variously explained by different commentators as teaching karma, jnāña or bhakti yoga. Some non-Hindus interpret it in their own way to justify their own acts. In their view, the Bhagavad-gītā was spoken to justify ‘holy war’. Others criticize it for advocating violence. How can one glean its essential message using an unbiased method of analysis? And was the Bhagavad-gītā really spoken to incite Arjuna to war?
The sixfold criteria for determining the essence or main message of a book
We have seen in other articles on this site how the essence of a book must be derived according to the six indicators used in Pūrva-mīmāṁsā. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmi cites the following statement in Anuchheda 105 of the Paramātmā Sandarbha which lists these indicators:
upakramopasaṁhārāv abhyāso’pūrvatā phalam
arthavādopapattī ca liṅgaṁ tātparya-nirṇaye
The sixfold criteria by which one can establish the meaning [of a text] are ( 1 ) the introductory and concluding statements, ( 2 ) repetition, ( 3 ) originality, ( 4 ) result, ( 5 ) glorification, and ( 6 ) logical confirmation.
Of these, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmi uses upakrama and upsaṁhāra to glean the essence of the Bhagavad Gītā in Anuchheda 82.3 of the Kṛṣṇa Sandarbha. We examine his analysis below.
The concluding statement or upasaṁhāra determines the meaning of the introductory statement
In Anuchheda 82.3 of the Kṛṣṇa Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmi first gives precedent for how upakrama and upsaṁhāra have been used elsewhere. He writes:
ata eva asad-vyapadeśān neti cen, na, dharmāntareṇa vākya-śeṣād [ve.sū. 2.1.17] iti nyāyād upasaṁhārasyaivopakramārthanirṇāyakatvāt upakramopasaṁhārārthasya ca sarva-śāstrārthatvāt..
According to the principle propounded in the Vedānta-sūtra , it is the concluding statement of a text that determines the meaning of the introductory statement:
If it be argued that the effect does not exist in the cause because the Śruti speaks of the world’s non-existence ( asat ) prior to creation, this is not so because the concluding part of the statement shows that the word [ asat ] has been used instead to denote a difference of characteristics [and not absolute non-existence]. ( VS 2.1.17 )
Consequently, since the meaning of the introductory and concluding statements specifies the intention of the book as a whole ..
Śrī Babaji has explained in his commentary that Śrī Jīva Gosvāmi refers here to Vedānta-sūtra (2.1.17). This sūtra deals with the Taittirīya Upaniṣad statement,
asad vā idam agra āsīt, tato vai sad ajāyata, tad ātmānaṁ svayam akuruta (T.U. 2.7.1)
In this statement, there is asat-vyapadeśa or mention of the word ‘asat’ as noted in the Vedānta-sūtra 2.1.17 (asad-vyapadeśāt). The Vedānta-sūtra rejects the interpretation of the word ‘asat’ as ‘non-existence’. Otherwise, the meaning of the first line above (asad vā idam agra āsīt) would be:
In the beginning, all this was verily non-existence (asat).
The Vedānta-sūtra denies this interpretation on the logic that the concluding part of the statement (vākya-śeṣa) determines the meaning of the word ‘asat’. The concluding part is:
tato vai sad ajāyata – From that [asat] the manifest (sat) was generated
tad ātmānaṁ svayam akuruta – That [asat] created itself by itself
These parts of the statement reject the notion that [asat] refers to non-existence, as nothing can be created out of non-existence. The word ‘asat’ simply indicates that the ‘asat’ is different from the ‘sat’ in its characteristics. The ‘asat’ is unmanifest, and the ‘sat’ is manifest. Both exist.
In this way, the meaning of the statement is determined through harmonizing the opening and concluding statements. In particular, Śrī Jīva emphasizes that the concluding statement helps determine the meaning of the opening statement. The meaning of the word ‘asat’ in the example was determined from the rest of the statement. In fact, he further states that the essence or intention of an entire book could similarly be determined- by analyzing the opening and closing statements of the Bhagavad Gītā. With this background, we now turn to how he distills the essence of the Bhagavad-gītā.
Upakrama vākya or opening statement of the Bhagavad Gītā
Śrī Jīva Gosvāmi identifies the upakrama vākya or the opening statement of the Gītā:
aśocyān anvaśocas tvaṁ prajñā-vādāṁś ca bhāṣase
gatāsūn agatāsūṁś ca nānuśocanti paṇḍitāḥ
You are grieving for those who are unworthy of grief, and yet speaking as though learned. Those who are truly wise lament neither for the dead nor for the living. ( GĪTĀ 2.11 )
This is, strictly speaking, not the opening statement of the Gītā. But it is Kṛṣṇa’s first statement after Arjuna accepts him as his guru or teacher. Śrī Jīva writes:
ity upakrama-vākye tasyāpaṇḍitatvaṁ svasya ca paṇḍitatvaṁ vyajya śoka-parityāgena mat-kṛtopadeśam eva gṛhāṇeti vivakṣitam |
Here, by pointing out Arjuna’s ignorance and His own discernment, Kṛṣṇa’s intention is to say, “Follow My instructions alone by abandoning your grief.”
Kṛṣṇa wants Arjuna to give up his grief and follow His instructions. But the instruction is not specified in this statement. We must therefore turn to the concluding statement to find the instruction.
upasaṁhāra vākya or closing statement of the Bhagavad Gītā
Śrī Jīva Gosvāmi next identifies the upasaṁhāra vākya or the closing statement of the Gītā:
sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja
ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ
Abandoning completely all [attachment to] conventional duties, seek refuge in Me alone. I will free you from all sins; do not grieve. ( GĪTĀ 18.66 )
This is Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s final instruction to Arjuna. Importantly, it also touches on the topic of grief again, which is mentioned in the opening statement.
Now there are many instructions in the Gītā in the different chapters, so why is this particular one singled out? Also, why does Śrī Kṛṣṇa describe different paths, if all He wants is that Arjuna surrender to Him? Sri Jiva notes that the different paths are mentioned simply to demonstrate the gradations of knowledge (tāratamya-jñānārtham eva bahudhopadiśyāpi). Only then could Śrī Kṛṣṇa single out one particular instruction as His highest. The instruction in the above verse is indeed His supreme instruction, as He Himself explicitly states in 18.64:
sarva-guhyatamaṁ bhūyaḥ śṛṇu me paramaṁ vacaḥ
iṣṭo’si me dṛḍham iti tato vakṣyāmi te hitam
Hear again My supreme (parama) instruction, the foremost of all secrets (guhyatama). Because you are extremely dear to Me, I shall disclose this beneficial teaching to you. (GĪTĀ 18.64)
Concordance between upakrama and upasaṁhāra vākyas
An important thing to note here is that the topic of grief is brought up again in the upasaṁhāra vākya (mā śucaḥ: do not grieve). Thus, there is a relationship between the upakrama vākya and the concluding one.
In both statements, Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s intention is that Arjuna give up his grief and follow His instruction. The first statement does not explicitly state which instruction Arjuna should follow or how exactly Arjuna should give up his grief. This final statement does – it states emphatically that Arjuna should surrender to Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Further, that surrender is the solution to Arjuna’s grief. We thus arrive at a harmony between the opening and closing statements of the Gītā, and in doing so, we also arrive at the essence of the Gītā – which is taking exclusive shelter of Śrī Kṛṣṇa alone by becoming His devotee. Śrī Kṛṣṇa prescribes devotion to Himself in the immediately preceding verse:
man-manā bhava mad-bhakto mad-yājī māṁ namaskuru
mām evaiṣyasi satyaṁ te pratijāne priyo’si me
Fix your mind on Me, become My devotee, worship Me, and bow down to Me. By doing so, you will come to Me. I promise this to you truly, because you are dear to Me. (GĪTĀ 18.65)
The Bhagavad-gītā’s essence is not an exhortation to war
Is the essence of the Bhagavad-gītā to exhort a holy war? Śrī Jīva Gosvāmi’s rejects this idea by quoting Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s statement that precedes the concluding statement by a few verses:
grantho na yuddhābhidhāyakaḥ, yataḥ kartum ity-ādi tataḥ paramārthābhidhāyaka evāyaṁ
The Gītā is not prescribing warfare on the basis of such statements, because [such an outcome is inevitable in any event], as expressed in [other] assertions such as verse 18.60: “What, out of delusion, you do not wish to perform, you will perform helplessly in any case.” Consequently, the Gītā is prescriptive of the supreme goal alone (paramārtha).
The Mahābhārata war, which is the setting of the Bhagavad-gītā, was inevitable as Arjuna’s dejection was only a temporary passing emotion. He was a warrior by nature, and he was inevitably going to fight. Śrī Kṛṣṇa did not speak the entire Bhagavad-gītā uselessly- He was teaching Arjuna the supreme goal of life, which is to attain love for Himself. Scripture does not instruct people to do that which is in already their nature- whether fighting, or eating, or bodily relations. It is spoken, rather, to curb people’s natural instincts for absorbing themselves in the world, so that they can turn them toward Śrī Kṛṣṇa. It is spoken to attain the paramārtha, or the supreme goal.
By analysis of the opening and closing statements of the Bhagavad-gītā, which is an established method of interpretation in Hinduism, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmi proves that devotion to Śrī Kṛṣṇa is its essential message.