Bhagavad-gītā As It Is 12.1
evaḿ satata-yuktā ye bhaktās tvāḿ paryupāsate
ye cāpy akṣaram avyaktaḿ teṣāḿ ke yoga-vittamāḥ
Arjuna inquired: Which are considered to be more perfect, those who are always properly engaged in Your devotional service or those who worship the impersonal Brahman, the unmanifested?
In a moment I will go into Śrīla Prabhupāda’s purport. But first let’s enjoy a good look at his translation. Arjuna what to know: “So far you have described the bhaktas who are always linked with you in transcendental worship; but you have also described others who are focused on the imperceptible unmanifest absolute… of these two, who has the better understanding of yoga?”
Now, to the purport.
Kṛṣṇa has now explained about the personal, the impersonal and the universal and has described all kinds of devotees and yogīs. Generally, the transcendentalists can be divided into two classes. One is the impersonalist, and the other is the personalist. The personalist devotee engages himself with all energy in the service of the Supreme Lord. The impersonalist also engages himself, not directly in the service of Kṛṣṇa but in meditation on the impersonal Brahman, the unmanifested.
Prabhupāda says that Kṛṣṇa has explained three facets of the divine:
- The personal divine – explained especially in chapters 7, 9 and 10.
- The impersonal divine – explained especially in chapters 6 and 8.
- The universal divine – explained in chapter 11.
Prabhupāda says that the transcendentalists are of two types. This is because the third type of divinity above is not transcendental, it is “universal” – it pertains to the material universe. The remaining two divisions are the two types of transcendental conceptions of Godhead.
- One whose aim is the personal divine is a “personalist.”
- One whose aim is the impersonal divine is an “impersonalist.”
The two transcendentalists above both engage their self into the divine. The only difference is their conception of the divine.
- The personalists engage their energies in active meditation (interactions) with the personal divine.
- The impersonalists engage their energies in inactive meditation (contemplation alone) on the personal divine
We find in this chapter that of the different processes for realization of the Absolute Truth, bhakti-yoga, devotional service, is the highest. If one at all desires to have the association of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, then he must take to devotional service.
In this chapter Arjuna wants Kṛṣṇa to bring together everything that he has previously discussed – the personal divine, impersonal divine and universal divine – and explain which one is the most complete in transcendental perfection. That’s why he asks “ke yoga-vit-tama?” – who (ke) has the best (tama/uttama) understanding (vid) of linking with the supreme (yoga)?
We are going to find in this chapter that Kṛṣṇa answers decisively that the personalists have the best understanding of yoga.
Prabhupāda makes an additional point: regardless of which one is “best” – if you want to know the divine as a person with whom you can intimately and blissfully interact there is no other option than the path of the personalists: bhakti-yoga. This is hardly a sectarian or evangelical statement. It is just logical.
Those who worship the Supreme Lord directly by devotional service are called personalists. Those who engage themselves in meditation on the impersonal Brahman are called impersonalists. Arjuna is here questioning which position is better. There are different ways to realize the Absolute Truth, but Kṛṣṇa indicates in this chapter that bhakti-yoga, or devotional service to Him, is the highest of all. It is the most direct, and it is the easiest means for association with the Godhead.
Prabhupāda is just reiterating the points already made. A very helpful thing to do. Repetition of key points is an important teaching tool.
There is no way to aquire a personal relationship with the Personality of Godhead other than taking to the personalist path of yoga – bhakti-yoga. Again, this is not a sectarian statement. No one institution or religion has any monopoly on bhakti-yoga; the principle of linking to the personal divine through loving attachment.
Even those who do not wish to attain a personal realization of Godhead, even the impersonalists, also take shelter of bhakti and they perform aspects of worship, prayer, etc. as a supporting part of their impersonal meditation. I am not making this up, this is how Sankaracarya (the acarya of the impersonalists) recommends that one proceed towards impersonal realization. As Prabhupāda says, bhakti-yoga is the easiest and most direct method of spiritual advancement. Therefore even impersonalists who do not desire personal realization must take shelter of it to make advancement towards their impersonal aims.
In the Second Chapter of Bhagavad-gītā, the Supreme Lord explained that a living entity is not the material body; he is a spiritual spark. And the Absolute Truth is the spiritual whole. In the Seventh Chapter He spoke of the living entity as being part and parcel of the supreme whole and recommended that he transfer his attention fully to the whole. Then again in the Eighth Chapter it was said that anyone who thinks of Kṛṣṇa at the time of quitting his body is at once transferred to the spiritual sky, to the abode of Kṛṣṇa. And at the end of the Sixth Chapter the Lord clearly said that of all yogīs, one who always thinks of Kṛṣṇa within himself is considered the most perfect. So in practically every chapter the conclusion has been that one should be attached to the personal form of Kṛṣṇa, for that is the highest spiritual realization.
Now Prabhupāda addresses a complaint that perhaps the 12th Chapter is interpolated into the original Gita? Or perhaps Kṛṣṇa’s answer here that impersonalism is substandard below personalism might be just a random, unusual statement and therefore can be somewhat overlooked. Prabhupāda’s address to these doubts is that the answer Kṛṣṇa gives in the 12th chapter – that bhakti and personalism is the supreme yoga – is the answer that he has always given throughout the entire Gita.
In particular the statement at the conclusion of the 6th chapter is quite convincing and profound:
yoginam api sarvesam mad-gatenantar-atmana
sraddhavan bhajate yo mam sa me yuktatamo matah
“Of all yogīs, one who always thinks of Kṛṣṇa within himself is considered the most perfect.”
Nevertheless, there are those who are not attached to the personal form of Kṛṣṇa. They are so firmly detached that even in the preparation of commentaries to Bhagavad-gītā they want to distract other people from Kṛṣṇa and transfer all devotion to the impersonal brahmajyoti. They prefer to meditate on the impersonal form of the Absolute Truth, which is beyond the reach of the senses and is not manifest.
Prabhupāda here says that the superiority of a personal conception of the divine, and the personal path to link with that divine, bhakti yoga are simple and clear conclusions repeated throughout the Bhagavad Gita – but still some people don’t get it.
Some people are so blind that they will even teach the Bhagavad Gita, translate it, and give commentaries on it in blatant denial of these direct and clear questions and answers all throughout the Gita indicating that personalism and bhakti is the supreme yoga.
In fact, we have to be careful of this ourselves. The truth is that we can only see what we are open to seeing. Our brains simply do not process information that they have pre-determined they are not willing to comprehend. That is why we can look at something straight in the face and not see it. Many times I have been so passionate about some point I think is right that I will ignore every sign, every statement, every lesson to the contrary, even though they are staring me right In the face.
This is why humility is the first manifestation of knowledge. Humility means openness and receptivity to the truth. Persons who use the Bhagavad Gita as a tool to get their own point across (not much different than persons hand-picking Prabhupāda quotes to get their own personal agendas across) are not open to the simple truths in Bhagavad Gita. Therefore they make a big confusion of the book by presenting their self-serving translations and commentaries.
And so, factually, there are two classes of transcendentalists. Now Arjuna is trying to settle the question of which process is easier and which of the classes is most perfect.
Prabhupāda returns to the original point.
In other words, he is clarifying his own position because he is attached to the personal form of Kṛṣṇa. He is not attached to the impersonal Brahman. He wants to know whether his position is secure.
Here is a better glimpse into the emotional reality behind what is going on at this point in Bhagavad Gita. Arjuna is a bhakta. He is a personalist and is linked to the divine by loving personalism. But he has just heard many statements from Kṛṣṇa glorifying the impersonal nature of the divine, and he as just finished witnessing the very unfriendly Universal Form. So his feeling of being a bhakta has some slight tremor, some doubt. “Maybe Kṛṣṇa’s impersonal or universal aspects are equally or more important?” So for his own emotional edification he’s asking Kṛṣṇa to clearly and simply state for sure once again if it is better to be a bhakta like himself or if he should transfer his attentions to the impersonal or universal form of the divine.
The impersonal manifestation, either in this material world or in the spiritual world of the Supreme Lord, is a problem for meditation. Actually, one cannot perfectly conceive of the impersonal feature of the Absolute Truth. Therefore Arjuna wants to say, “What is the use of such a waste of time?”
Now a clarification is made that of the original three facets of divinity – personal, impersonal and universal. Both the impersonal and universal are types of impersonalism.
Now, the path to realize the impersonal is to meditate. In his commentary on this verse Śrī Vishvanath Charavarti quotes Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad’s description of what the impersonalist must meditate on:
etad vai tad aksaram gargi brahmana abhivadanty asthulam ananv ahrasvam
“What we mean by the inperceptible divinity is that which is not wide, not narrow, not tall not short, etc.”
To meditate upon this is extremely difficult, if not impossible. The thing which is meditating is the mind. The mind only has access to sensory impressions – which all convey information about height, weight, distance, size, etc. There is no way for the mind to comprehend something which is free from all such sensory delimitations. It is literally next to impossible to perform impersonal meditation, for this reason.
Prabhupāda paraphrases Arjuna, saying, “Arjuna wants to say, ‘what is the use of such a waste of time.’”
It is far more easy, far, far, far, far, far more easy and pleasant. To meditate on the form of the personality of Godhead. His complexion is brilliantly black, etc.
Arjuna experienced in the Eleventh Chapter that to be attached to the personal form of Kṛṣṇa is best because he could thus understand all other forms at the same time and there was no disturbance to his love for Kṛṣṇa.
Here is a big clue as to why the personal divine is “superior” to the impersonal divine. Because the personal divine includes the impersonal and universal divine! The universal divine does not include the impersonal divine. The impersonal divine includes the universal divine, but not the personal divine. Only the personal divine includes all aspects of the divine, inclusively.
Arjuna personally realized this because he saw the personal divine Kṛṣṇa manifest the beginning and end of all souls (Brahman) and then manifest the Universal Form, in Chapter 11. Therefore he personally and tangibly realized that the personal form of Godhead is inclusive of all other aspects of Godhead.
This important question asked of Kṛṣṇa by Arjuna will clarify the distinction between the impersonal and personal conceptions of the Absolute Truth.
Unfortunately what will happen most of the time is what usually happens with everything. Most people will ignore Arjuna’s question and Kṛṣṇa’s answer because they have already invested too much into believing something different that what the answer states.
Still, there are some who have not yet made up their minds. To them this twelfth chapter will be extremely important and helpful. They are humble and open to knowledge, they have not yet clamped their minds around an opinion of things. Therefore they can benefit from this chapter.
Those who have already embraced the personalist yoga of bhakti do not necessarily need to hear this chapter – but they will be thrilled to. And, like Arjuna, it will help eradicate any doubts or lack of clarity that they have regarding their spiritual path.