The Conclusion of the Bhagavad Gita
In Krishna’s final chapter of the Bhagavad Gita there are a number of places where Vaishnava commentators consider the book could have ended. After the first of his possible endings, Krishna wants to make sure Arjuna—and we readers—have understood his hope for all souls. Thus he summarizes his ultimate instruction, as the powerful conclusion. The idea that his book—it is “his” book after all!—of perennial wisdom has a conclusion is often surprising to the casual reader looking for generic spiritual wisdom to add to their lives or personal agenda. We conditioned souls have a very ego-centric view of the world and any information or knowledge we come into contact with. Sometimes people like the Gita because they think it recommends many paths and one can choose one that appeals to them according to their personal criterion.
Jiva Goswami (one of the famous six Goswami disciples of Shri Chaitanya) also speaks of the thought current even during his time (over 500 years ago) that the Gita was a book recommending many paths. He refutes this theory by stating that Krishna brings up many paths as a way to contrast them to his ultimate recommendation of bhakti or pure devotion. At the end of the sixth chapter we are told to be a yogi, who is better than a person of knowledge or an ordinary worker, yet the best yogi is one who is devoted to Krishna and always remembers him. This is point is continually revisited. However, we can only hear the Gita’s consistent voice when we don’t have preconceived idea or tinted lenses through which we “hear” its message.
Being an Indologist or academic scholar won’t qualify us for entering into the mystery of the Bhagavad Gita. Only by following the path of Arjuna can we understand Krishna’s simple message. Arjuna surrendered to Krishna as a disciple, was his friend and not envious, and understood Krishna’s divinity. One doesn’t learn this in universities, but through the practice of bhakti. The feeling of love and devotion for Krishna epitomized by bhakti is gained primarily from those who have it. Thus it is often said in the bhakti tradition, that bhakti only comes from bhakti—and not from jnana (knowledge), austerities (tapa) or fruitive work (karma).
Without bhakti, scholars and many people like to make spiritual knowledge obtuse and incomprehensible. This mentality causes them to miss Krishna’s recommendations and conclusion. We are advised to use our intelligence for understanding Krishna, but not to be overly intelligent and explain away Krishna as do some commentators. This is why the Gita recommends all sincere students find a qualified guru who lives and teaches by the tenets of this great scripture and others that support it.
When my spiritual master Shrila Prabhupada would hear that a guest had read the Bhagavad Gita, he would often ask them, “What was the conclusion?” The guest’s inevitable response was that he or she didn’t know it had a conclusion. The general thinking is that the Gita is the kind of book you could just turn to a page and find an answer to some question. Although one might do this and be satisfied with the answer, this isn’t really the proper use of this special book spoken by God or Krishna himself. One of the teachings of the Gita and other Vedic texts is that the Absolute Truth or our Source has an agenda—and we are on it. Although in this world we think we are the subject and all things and people are objects for us to use as we please, from the spiritual perspective Krishna is the super-subject and we are his objects. He is the center, and we are points on the circle surrounding him, meant to give our energy and love to him. This is our real self interest. Many miss this point of the Gita.
So after Prabhupada asked the guest what the conclusion of the Gita was, and received his vague answer, he would refer to the concluding verses which provide us the secret to understanding the whole book and to our life. These are verses 65 and 66 of the eighteenth and last chapter.
In verse 65 are told four things. We are reminded that we should become his devotee or bhakta, which entails always remembering Krishna, worshiping him, and offering him our praise—it really means to give him our love and very self. Then in verse 66, which is one of most frequently quoted of the Gita’s over 700 verses, we are informed that we should give up any materially motivated religions or dharma, and we should surrender to or take full shelter of Krishna. Interestingly the conclusion to surrender to Krishna is really the beginning of spiritual life, not the apex. The beginning of the great scripture Shrimad Bhagavatam begins from this concluding verse of the Gita.