Why are there so many commentaries on the Gita?
From Vinayak P
Transcribed and Edited by- Keshav Gopal Das
Question- Why are there so many commentaries on Bhagavad-gita (BG)?
- There are many commentaries on BG because it is a very important book. It is a human tendency to use such books to broadcast their own opinions and views.
- BG’s message is quite unambiguous regarding its goal (Krishna) and how to achieve that goal (bhakti).
- If a commentary on BG presents a different goal and means then it should be rejected, however reputed and intelligent the author may be.
Answer (long)- It is because BG is a very important book.
BG is studied by many different people from different backgrounds. It is human tendency to try to use whatever is authoritative for boosting one’s own authority. That is why many people in India has commented on BG because they wanted to increase the authoritativeness of their own presentation.
Many commentaries to BG are actually a tribute to Gita’s wide appeal. People from wide spectrum of life have commented on BG such as politicians, professionals, philosophers, etc. They all found something meaningful in the Gita. Many times, their circle of interest intersected with the circle of knowledge in BG and they used such instances as an opportunity to write a commentary on the Gita. Such authors used BG to broadcast their own message and tried to impose their own message on BG. They try to highlight only that part of the BG where Krishna is speaking things which they want to highlight. For example there have been people who have written nationalistic commentaries on BG. During India’s independence struggle, there have been many prominent Indian leaders, mainly from Indian National Congress (INC), who wrote commentaries on BG verses like – dharma samsthapnarthaya (BG 4.8). They commented that now it is INC who as incarnation of Krishna has come to destroy the rakshasa of British government. This is trying to impose one’s own political agenda of independence on the Gita, which actually is not its message. There is another example where one commentator said that it is because Indians did not follow BG, they could not regain back Pakistan. If the Indians would have followed BG, they would have attacked Pakistan and within 48 hours would have won it back after losing it in the partition.
So people find some small intersection with the message of BG, and base on that they project their own views, which is a big mistake. Such people who make such commentaries on BG may be respected people in their own fields – politics, business, professionals, philosophers etc. However, this does not mean that they are qualified to write commentaries on BG. The way we can avoid reading such authors is by checking if the author’s personal life is consummate with the BG’s message. If not, then we should be cautious in reading their commentaries. By reading such commentaries we will mistakenly enter into author’s own message rather than BG’s message. That is why Srila Prabhupada said that if you want to broadcast your views, write a separate book and do not present as a commentary on the BG. If you are commenting on BG, then tell the message of BG and not your own message.
In general, BG’s message is quite unambiguous. BG 18.66 – sarva dharman parityajya maamekam sharanam vraja (Surrender unto Me), and BG 10.12- param bhrahma param dhama (O Krishna, You are the Supreme), are two verses which gives us a very clear understanding about the saadhan (means) and saadhya (end goal) of BG. Arjuna, the student of BG, after hearing it, tells Krishna that You are the Absolute Truth (BG 10.12). So saadhya of BG is Krishna. Krishna in the end tells Arjuna that you can come to Me by the process of surrender (BG 18.66), so saadhan is surrender or bhakti. If a commentary conforms to these two standards, then there is a possibility that the commentary is faithful to the message of BG, otherwise the commentary will not honestly reflect the message of BG. Therefore, it is best to study BG under the guidance of those who are in parampara, and who are also following the BG’s saadhan and saadhya in their own lives.