In the first three verses of this fourth Chapter, Bhagavan Shri Krishna sums up the Karma Yoga from the last Chapter before moving on to Jnana Yoga. Bhagavan says, “I handed down this imperishable Supreme Discipline, which has decayed over course of time, to the shining Sun, even though this has not always been well preserved.”
Surprised, Arjuna asks, “Later was your birth, and earlier was the birth of the Sun, then how did you teach the sun?” Then, Shri Krishna says:
“Whenever sacred duty (Dharma) decays and chaos (Adharma) prevails, I incarnate myself. I’ve incarnated myself several times, and you’ve taken several births, I know all of them but you don’t remember them.”
It is good to do one’s own duty honestly, but at the same time, one should aim at purification of the heart and mind as well. If work is done by completely surrendering to God, then that work becomes a Supreme Action. The course of action is very deep and secretive; therefore, intelligent people become free of the bondage of action by understanding the subtle nature of action properly. Unattached action becomes a sacrificial action.
Emphasizing on the fact that all actions done to realize this Supreme Knowledge are the best of actions, Shri Krishna says to Arjuna:
“You go to the great men who have realized the True Self to understand this Supreme Knowledge. These great men will shower upon you the sacred knowledge of True Self, if you seek for this Knowledge from them humbly, bow with due respect in front of them, and serve them with a devoted heart. Nothing can purify your heart and mind more than this True Knowledge. By seeking shelter in this Knowledge, destroy the doubt arising in your heart out of ignorance with the sword of Knowledge. Arise for the battle performing disciplined action and keeping your mind stable.
The man who is full of faith (Shraddha), who is devoted, and who has subdued the senses, obtains this Knowledge. Having obtained Knowledge, he at once experiences Supreme Peace. The ignorant, the faithless, the doubting self goes to destruction; there is happiness in neither this world, nor the other for the doubting.”
To become a Sannyasi, it requires mature mind and a contemplative disposition that cannot be gained overnight. Also knowledge is something that is gained from a Guru who is well accomplished. It is also important to understand that when the word “Yoga” is used in the Bhagavad Gita, it refers to “Jnana-Yoga” for a Sannyasi and “Karma Yoga” for others. Both lead to the same destination of gaining “Moksha” when properly practiced with the right attitude and commitment with a spirit of renunciation of results of action.
4.1 Shloka 4.1
इमं विवस्वते योगं प्रोक्तवानहमव्ययम्।
विवस्वान् मनवे प्राह मनुरिक्ष्वाकवेऽब्रवीत्।।4.1।।
Sri Bhagavan Uvaca
Imam vivasvate yogam proktavan aham avyayam |
Vivasvan manave Praha manur iksvakave ‘bravit ||4.1||
Meaning: Bhagavan Shri Krishna says, “I instructed this Imperishable Science of Yoga (uniting the individual consciousness with the Absolute Consciousness) to the Sun God, “Vivasvan”, and Vivasvan instructed it to his son Vaivastava Manu, who in turn passed on the knowledge to his son King Iksvaku”.
Bhagavan Krishna begins the fourth chapter by giving context to the origination of the Jnana Yoga. He explains that He Himself gave instructions in the past to Vivasvan, the Sun God, on how to master the science of uniting the individual Consciousness with the Ultimate Consciousness. Lord Krishna taught this imperishable yoga for the benefit of the humans and for the preservation of Universal order. The Sun God, Vivasvan, passed on this knowledge to his son Vaivastava Manu who later gave it to his eldest son Iksvaku.
4.2 Shloka 4.2
एवं परम्पराप्राप्तमिमं राजर्षयो विदुः।
स कालेनेह महता योगो नष्टः परन्तप।।4.2।।
Evam parampara-praptam imam rajarsayo viduh |
Sa kaleneha mahata yogo nastah parantapa ||4.2||
Meaning: In this way the saintly Kings mastered this Supreme Science received through the line of disciplic succession; but during the course of time this knowledge of uniting the Individual Consciousness with the Ultimate was scattered and lost, O’ the conqueror of enemies (Arjuna).
Lord Krishna mentions the great tradition of passing on the knowledge through disciplic succession from one generation to the next. But with efflux of time and degradation of human intelligence, the number of qualified recipients of this great knowledge dwindled and the knowledge was lost.
4.3 Shloka 4.3
स एवायं मया तेऽद्य योगः प्रोक्तः पुरातनः।
भक्तोऽसि मे सखा चेति रहस्यं ह्येतदुत्तमम्।।4.3।।
Sa evayam maya te ‘dya yogah proktah puratanah |
Bhakto ‘si me sakha ceti rahasyam hy etad uttamam ||4.3||
Meaning: This very ancient science of uniting the Individual Consciousness with the Ultimate Consciousness, which is a supreme secret, is being instructed by Me to you because you are My devotee and a dear friend.
Lord Krishna confirms that the same ancient Yoga or the Science of uniting the Individual Consciousness with the Ultimate Consciousness, which He imparted aeons before to Vivasvan, emphasising it as a Supreme secret, is now being instructed to Arjuna because he is His devotee and dear friend Arjuna.
Bhagavan Krishna saw Arjuna as qualified to receive this Yoga, because Arjuna had surrendered unto Lord Krishna as a disciple. As this Yoga is highly confidential it should not be revealed to those who have no faith nor to those who are unqualified.
The Bhagavad-Gita as it is the essence of the sublime wisdom of all the Vedas and encapsulates the mysteries of Vedanta and no one other than Bhagavan Krishna could have delivered this.
4.4 Shloka 4.4
अपरं भवतो जन्म परं जन्म विवस्वतः।
कथमेतद्विजानीयां त्वमादौ प्रोक्तवानिति।।4.4।।
Aparam bhavato janma param janma vivasvatah |
katham etad vijaniyam tvam adau proktavan iti ||4.4||
Meaning: Arjuna said: You were born after the Sun-God Vivasvan, who is senior to you by birth. How am I to understand your statement that You instructed this science to Sun God in ancient times?
While this is a legitimate question on the anachronism in Shri Krishna’s statement, what is notable is the phrasing of the question by Arjuna. He approaches it in a polite manner and by way of seeking to understand rather than reject it outright as preposterous. While Arjuna is a devotee, disciple and a friend of Shri Krishna, this did not preclude him from asking questions of the Lord.
The purpose of inquiry from men of wisdom, as given in the Agni Purana, has a dual purpose. First is reconfirmation of the knowledge of eternal principles that they already possess. Second is that their explanations offer additional clarification.
Arjuna was not a novice bereft of Vedic knowledge. He had received instructions from his father Indra, the chief of the celestials, and had a good understanding of Bhagavan Krishna’s supreme position.
The reason Arjuna asked such a question was to get clarification on Bhagavan’s previous manifestations. He was seeking answers to several questions such as:
- Are avatars real or illusory?
- Under what circumstances does Bhagavan manifests as avatar?
- What is the nature of the body the avatar assumes?
- Are all the avatars expanding from Lord Krishna?
- Are all the avatars omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent?
- Are all avatars transcendental to the cycle of birth and death?
- Are all avatars able to fulfill all desires?
- What is the time schedule which avatars manifest themselves?
Bhagavan Krishna gives explanations in subsequent verses that answers the above questions.
4.5 Shloka 4.5
बहूनि मे व्यतीतानि जन्मानि तव चार्जुन।
तान्यहं वेद सर्वाणि न त्वं वेत्थ परन्तप।।4.5।।
Sri Bhagavan Uvaca
Bahuni me vyatitani janmani tava carjuna |
Tany aham veda sarvani na tvam vettha parantapa ||4.5||
Meaning: Bhagavan says, Many births of Mine and also of yours have passed, O’ Arjuna; I can remember all of them, but you cannot!
In the Brahma-Samhita (5.33), it states:
Advaitam acyutam anadim ananta-rupam adyam purana-purusam nava-yauvanam ca
Vedesu durllabham adurllabham atma-bhaktau govindam adi-purusam tam aham bhajami.
Meaning: “I worship Govinda, the primeval God, who is the original person—absolute, infallible, without beginning, although expanded into unlimited forms, still the same original, the oldest, and always youthful. Such eternal, blissful, all-knowing forms of the Lord not easily accessible through the Vedas but is obtainable by pure unalloyed devotion of the soul. He is one, without a second”.
Ramadi murttisu kala-niyamena tisthan nanavataram akarod bhuvanesu kintu
Krishnah svayam samabhavat paramah puman yo govindam adi-purusam tam aham bhajami (Brahma Samhita 5.39)
Meaning: I worship Lord Govinda, the primeval Lord, who manifested Himself personally as Kṛiṣhṇa and the different avatars as Rama, Nṛsimha, Vamana, etc., as His subjective portions.
In the Vedas also it is said that the Lord, although one without a second, nevertheless manifests Himself in innumerable forms. All those multi-forms are understood by the pure, unalloyed devotees, but not by a mere study of the Vedas- “Vedesu durllabham adurllabham atma-bhaktau”.
The difference between the Bhagavan Krishna and Arjuna is that the Bhagavan remembered all the prior incidents, whereas Arjuna could not remember. While Arjuna is addressed herein as the mighty hero who could subdue the enemies, he is however unable to recall the incidents from his past births. Therefore, a living entity, however great in material estimation, can never equal the Supreme Lord.
Though Arjuna is a devotee of the Lord, he sometimes forgets the nature of the Lord, but by the divine grace of the Lord, a devotee can at once understand the infallible condition of the Lord. Whereas a non-devotee cannot understand this transcendental nature and consequently these descriptions in the Bhagavad Gita cannot be understood by non-believers.
Devotees like Arjuna are constant companions of the Lord, and whenever the Lord incarnates, the associated devotees also appear in order to serve the Lord in various capacities. Arjuna is one of those devotees, and in this verse it is to be understood that some millions of years ago when Bhagavan Krishna imparted the secret knowledge to Sun God Vivasvan, Arjuna was also present although in a different capacity. Anyone who is a constant companion of the Lord is certainly a liberated person, but is not and cannot be equal to the Lord. The Lord is described in the Brahma-samhita as infallible (acyuta), which means that He never slips, even though He is in contact with the material world.
Bhagavan is advaita, which means there is no distinction between His body and Himself. Everything in relation to Him is spirit—whereas the conditioned soul is different from his material body. And, because the Lord’s body and self are identical, His position is always different from the ordinary living entity, even when He descends to the material platform.
What the Lord is confirming is that His present incarnation is as real as Arjuna’s present life reincarnation and that the ones from the past are real as well, subtly implying that there is a fundamental difference between the two of them. The nature of the avatars, and how they manifest together with their purpose for incarnations is given in the next few verses.
4.6 Shloka 4.6
अजोऽपि सन्नव्ययात्मा भूतानामीश्वरोऽपि सन्।
प्रकृतिं स्वामधिष्ठाय संभवाम्यात्ममायया।।4.6।।
Ajo ‘pi sann avyayatma bhutanam isvaro ‘pi san |
prakrtim svam adhisthaya sambhavamy atma-mayaya ||4.6||
Meaning: Although I am birthless and My transcendental body is Imperishable, and I am the Lord of all sentient beings, I still appear in My original transcendental form by my internal potency.
The Lord has spoken about the unique nature of His birth, Although He may appear like an ordinary person, yet He remembers everything of His many, many past “births”, whereas a common man cannot remember what he has done a day or a week before.
Here, Bhagavan explains His prakrti or His form. Prakrti means nature as well as svarupa, or one’s own form. The Lord says that He appears in His own body. He does not change His body, as the common living entity changes from one body to another. The conditioned soul may have one kind of body in the present birth, but he has a different body in the next birth. In this verse the words “ajo pi sann avyaya atma” meaning He is unborn having an imperishable body.
Whenever He appears, He does so by His internal potency. Despite the fact Lord Bhagavan Krishna grows from childhood to boyhood and from boyhood to youth, astonishingly enough He never ages beyond youth. We never see a picture of Bhagavan in old age because He never ages like us, although He is the oldest person in the whole creation. Neither His body nor His intelligence ever deteriorates or changes. Therefore, it is clear that in spite of His being in the material world, He is the same unborn, eternal form of bliss and knowledge, changeless in His transcendental body and intelligence.
His appearance and disappearance are like the Sun’s rising, moving before us, and then disappearing from our eyesight. His appearance and disappearance are completely different from that of any ordinary, common living entity, it is evident that He is eternal, blissful knowledge and He is never contaminated by material nature.
The forms and places where the Supreme Lord resides as described in the Vedic scriptures:
- He is the spirit who luminously resides in the interior of the Sun
- He is the spirit who luminously resides in the etheric region of the heart
- He who is immortal and eternal
- He who manifested all the Devas and humans
- He who is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent
- He who is resplendent and all pervasive
- He who is transcendental to prakriti or material nature
- He who by His omniscience knows the actions and qualities of all beings
4.7 Shloka 4.7
यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भवति भारत।
अभ्युत्थानमधर्मस्य तदाऽऽत्मानं सृजाम्यहम्।।4.7।।
Yada yada hi dharmasya glanir bhavati bharata |
Abhyutthanam adharmasya tadatmanam srjamy aham ||4.7||
Meaning: Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion—at that time I descend Myself.
The use of “srjami” is significant in this Shloka as it means that the Lord manifests Himself as He is and is not be understood as creation. He appears by His own will whenever there is a predominance of “adharma” or atrocities. Principles of righteousness are laid down in the Vedas and as righteousness diminishes Bhagavan chooses to appear to re-establish Dharma and protect the noble people.
In Srimad Bhagavatam, the principles of dharma, or righteousness, are the direct orders of the Supreme (dharmam tu saksat-bhagavat-pranitam). These principles are clearly indicated throughout the Bhagavad-gita. Bhagavan directly orders, at the end of the Bhagavad Gita, that the highest principle of dharma is to surrender unto Him only, and He undertakes to protect and rid one of all sins.
He can advent Himself anywhere and everywhere, and whenever He desires to appear. In each and every incarnation, He speaks as much about Dharma as can be understood by the particular people under their particular circumstances. But the mission is the same—to lead people to the practice of Dharma and grant them salvation.
4.8 Shloka 4.8
परित्राणाय साधूनां विनाशाय च दुष्कृताम् ।
धर्मसंस्थापनार्थाय संभवामि युगे युगे ।।4.8।।
Paritranaya sadhunam vinasaya ca duskrtam |
dharma-samsthapanarthaya sambhavami yuge yuge ||4.8||
Meaning: For the protection and deliverance of the devotees and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to re-establish the principles of dharma (righteousness), I advent Myself millennium after millennium.
The words “Paritranaya Sadhunam” means protecting the virtuous and such protection applies to specifically for the devotees like Prahlada, who was a great devotee of the Supreme Lord even as a child. The saintly devotees, the eminent Vaishnavas who diligently seek refuge in Bhagavan every moment and in everything they do. These persons feel that without perceiving the Supreme Lord, without chanting His names, without continuously reminiscing over His phenomenal leelas and without meditating on Him there lives are devoid and empty and they find it difficult to even carry on their existence. For these devotees even a single moment of absence from the Lord is like a lifetime.
The word “duskrtam” applies miscreants and represents the lowest of mankind who engage in acts of cruelty and inflict misery on Lord’s devotees. The Lord has many agents who are quite competent to vanquish demons. But the Lord especially descends to appease His unalloyed devotees, who are harassed by the demons. Although Prahlada Maharaja was the son of Hiranyakashipu, he was nonetheless persecuted by his father; although Devaki, the mother of Bhagavan Krishna, was the sister of Kamsa, she and her husband Vasudeva were persecuted. Therefore it is said here that to deliver the devotee and vanquish the demon miscreants, the Lord appears in different incarnations.
There are various kinds of avatars, such as Purusa avatars, Guna avatars, Leela avatars, Saktyavesa avatars, Manvantara Avatars and Yugav avatars—all appearing at various points of time. Bhagavan descends for protecting His pure devotees and to re-establish Dharma.
The Supreme Lord is complete within Himself so there is nothing to be gained for Him by any action; yet and still He still performs unlimited activities. The word “glanir” in the previous verse does not mean decline as is often translated but it means obscure. What happens is that dharma becomes obscure to the masses due to material influences on the mind, agitated by the effects of sense gratification by the onslaught of maya or illusion. When such times arise the purpose of human existence becomes distorted and consequently the activities of humans become more and more degenerated and humans become degraded. At this time, Dharma of human beings is said to be glanir or obscured.
Bhagavan is also designated as Brahman which means eternal in time and dynamic in creativity and is the all-pervading luminosity of His effulgence. It is not inert or passive. The word Brahman which is derived from the root ‘brh’ means to grow, to burst forth which infers constant, continuous creativity, perpetually manifesting. That which is dynamic and creative cannot remain static and passive. The dynamic, spontaneous, creative impulse is what is known as the Supreme Lord Leela or divine pastimes. In this verse, Bhagavan explicitly reveals that He comes to protect the righteous and to vanquish the sinful miscreants and to personally re-establish dharma or eternal righteousness. Sam-sthapana-arthaya infers to establishing one’s true nature. The Lord’s divine nature assumes His divine form.
So, in summary the following reasons of Lord Krishna’s avatars or incarnations is for:
- protecting the virtuous
- destroying the wicked
- re-establishing dharma or eternal righteousness which had become obscured.
The words “Yuge Yuge” means from millennium to millennium and indicates that Bhagavan may appear at any time and his incarnation is not limited to any particular Yuga.
4.9 Shloka 4.9
जन्म कर्म च मे दिव्यमेवं यो वेत्ति तत्त्वतः।
त्यक्त्वा देहं पुनर्जन्म नैति मामेति सोऽर्जुन।।4.9।।
Janma karma ca me divyam evam yo vetti tattvatah |
Tyaktva deham punar janma naiti mam eti so ‘rjuna ||4.9||
Meaning: O’Arjuna, One who knows the transcendental nature of My birth and activities does not take his birth again in this material world upon relinquishing his body, and such a person attains My eternal abode.
One who can understand the truth of the appearance of Bhagavan is already liberated from material bondage, and therefore he returns to the abode of God immediately after quitting the present material body. Liberation of the living entity from material bondage does not come easy. Even the yogis attain liberation only after great penance and many births. But a sincere devotee, simply by understanding the transcendental nature of the Lord, attains the abode of the Lord after ending this body and is freed from the material bondage.
In the Brahma-samhita it is stated that the Lord has many, many forms and incarnations: advaitam acyutam anadim ananta-rupam. Although there are many transcendental forms of the Lord, they are still one and the same Supreme Brahman. One has to understand this fact with conviction, although it is incomprehensible to mundane scholars and empiric philosophers.
As stated in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and Atharva Veda:
eko devo nitya-lilanurakto bhakta-vyapi hrdy antaratma iti ca ||
Meaning: The one Supreme Personality is eternally engaged in many, many transcendental forms in relationships with His unalloyed devotees.
One can attain the perfect stage of liberation from birth and death simply by knowing the Supreme. It should be clearly understood that the mere knowledge of the facts and details of the Supreme Lords appearance and divine pastimes will not enable one to attain liberation from the material existence without having first applied this learning fully into one’s life and all that one’s life encompasses.
Put more succinctly such a person possessing accurate discriminative knowledge from disciplic succession regarding Bhagavan’s incarnations and divine pastimes becomes free from all sins which stand in the way of coming to Him. Such a person will attain Him by placing implicit reliance and full faith in Him in the manner described in previous verses. By keeping Him at the centre of all their activities, by making Him the be all and end all of their lives, they makes themselves extremely dear to the Lord which qualifies their existence for attaining Him.
4.10 Shloka 4.10
वीतरागभयक्रोधा मन्मया मामुपाश्रिताः।
बहवो ज्ञानतपसा पूता मद्भावमागताः।।4.10।।
Vita-raga-bhaya-krodha man-maya mam upasritah |
Bahavo jnana-tapasa puta mad-bhavam agatah ||4.10||
Meaning: Being freed from attachment, fear and anger, being fully absorbed in Me and taking refuge in Me, many, many persons in the past became purifled by knowledge of Me—and thus they all attained transcendental love for Me.
In the previous verse, Lord Krishna declares that those that truly know Him attain Him. Now in this verse, Bhagavan is laying out the necessary requirements for attaining Him and states, “vita-raga-bhaya-krodha” meaning completely freed from passion, fear and anger.
Passion is obsessive attachment to sense objects and material world. Fear is abhorrence of frightening situations due to lack of faith in God. Anger is a state of mind that blows up when one’s ardent desires are frustrated by obstacles.
To get free from these three, one has to take complete shelter of the Lord, guided by a bona fide spiritual master, and follow the disciplines and regulative principles of devotional life. The last stage of the devotional life is called bhava, or transcendental love. This clearly indicates that jnana yoga or the cultivation of knowledge is essential for the mind to control the senses.
According to Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, the science of devotional service:
adau sraddha tatah sadhu-sango ‘tha bhajana-kriya
tato ‘nartha-nivrttih syat tato nistha rucis tatah
athasaktis tato bhavas tatah premabhyudancati
sadhakanam ayam premnah pradurbhave bhavet kramah||
Meaning: In the beginning one must have a preliminary desire for self-realization. This will bring one to the stage of trying to associate with persons who are spiritually elevated. In next stage one becomes initiated by an accomplished spiritual master, and under his instruction the devotee begins the process of devotional service. By execution of devotional service under the guidance of the spiritual master, one becomes free from all material attachment, attains steadiness in self-realization, and acquires a burning desire for hearing about the Lilas of the Supreme Lord. This desire matures into Bhakti bhava, and later turns into an eternal love for God in the form of prema, the highest and perfect stage of life. In the prema stage there is constant engagement in the transcendental loving service of the Lord.
So, by beginning with devotional service, under the guidance of the bonafide spiritual master, one can attain the highest stage, being freed from all material attachment, from the fearfulness of one’s individual spiritual personality, and from the frustrations, one can ultimately attain to the abode of the Supreme Lord.
The devotees of the Supreme Lord, who desire Him alone and who serve Him with love and devotion, only they can truly comprehend the sublime transcendental mystery of His divine appearances, pastimes, forms, abode and nature.
जय श्री कृष्णा – Jai Shri Krishna!
Hari Om Tat Sat