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August 07, 2006

Bhagavad-gita Chapter 4


Transcendental knowledge about Krsna (4.1-10)
As mentioned in text 30 of the previous chapter, to perform the highest level of karma-yoga - surrendering all works to Krsna - one must know who Krsna is. The fourth chapter gives that knowledge.

Main theme:
Krsna is the Absolute Truth, Supreme Personality of Godhead, who comes to the world to protect eternal dharma. One who knows this is factually liberated.

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Sub points:
A. The presentation of the Gita's history is a precursor to Krsna's revelation of His
transcendental nature.
1. Learning the tradition of this knowledge will give Arjuna faith in what he is hearing.
2. Additionally, Krsna's claim to be the original proponent of knowledge that is more
than two million years old sparks a conversation that allows Krsna to reveal His
supreme transcendental position (4.1-2,4)
B. Transcendental knowledge is timeless and is transmitted through disciplic succession. This
knowledge is accessible only to one who has the proper qualifications (4.1-4).
1. The knowledge that is spoken by Sri Krsna is apauruseya, beyond the four defects
of conditioned beings. One who teaches the Gita need not add anything to it, but
simply has to present it purely. Thus, Krsna has established that the Gita is to be
passed down in disciplic succession (4.1-2).
2. The qualifications for understanding the knowledge of Bhagavad-gita are
friendship and devotion to Krsna. Bhagavad-gita reveals Krsna as the Supreme
Personality of Godhead. As much as one desires Krsna's position for themselves, they
will envy Krsna and thus not be able accept the Bhagavad-gita directly (4.3).
C. Lord Krsna's form is transcendental (4.5-6).
1. The Lord does not change His body each time that He comes to the world. He
always comes in the same supreme form. The Lord is non-different from His body, which is sat-cit-ananda-vigraha. The living being's body is a temporary machine that changes with each birth. Thus, as their machine is lost at death, so also is the data regarding that particular machine. But the Lord is different. He always
remembers His activities because everything about Him is spiritual and eternal.
2. The living entity is forced to take birth by their karma, while the Lord comes by His
own will, His own mercy (atma-mayaya).
D. After explaining the nature of His appearance, the Lord explains why he appears: He
comes to re-establish the principles of dharma. Krsna explains how he does this: by
uplifting the saintly and annihilating the miscreants (4.7-8).
1. Dharma is meant to gradually purify the living entities enjoying spirit. When the
goal of dharma is forgotten, or its methods are tampered with, the Lord comes or
sends a representative to rectify the situation.
2. The Lord protects dharma by uplifting its adherents, the pious (parityanaya
sadhunam) and by annihilating its destroyers, the miscreants (vinasaya ca
3. Pleasing the devotees (sadhus) is the primary reason for the Lord's personal
appearance. Destroying the miscreants is secondary. It does not require His
personal endeavor, as Krsna could vanquish the miscreants easily through His
material energies.
E. Liberation is attained by realization of transcendental knowledge (4.9-10).
1. Simply by understanding the transcendental nature of the Lord's activities and
appearance, one becomes liberated (4.9).
a) In the preceding texts, Krsna's appearance and activities have been explained. By contemplation one can thus understand and appreciate the
difference between Him and all others.
b) One thus comes to realize, "Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead
and I am His servant."

c) By acting in this constitutional position, one becomes liberated.

2. While text nine explains that one can attain liberation by transcendental
knowledge, text ten goes deeper. It explains the ultimate fruit of this knowledge as
bhava, transcendental love for Krsna.
3. Transcendental love for Krsna is attainable only after one is freed from raga
(attachment), bhaya (fear) and krodha (anger).

a) Raga: This indicates attachment to the bodily concept of life. "Generally, people who are attached to the bodily conception of life are so absorbed in materialism that it is almost impossible for them to understand how the Supreme can be a person." (p. 233) Due to intense identification with the material body, when they hear of the Lord's transcendental form they
assume it must be like their awkward material body, and thus they dismiss
it out of hand. Transcendental personality seems like a contradiction to
them, as they equate all personality with their experience in the mundane

b) Bhaya: Much like attachment, fear is a conception of spiritual life, which is based on one's experience in the material world. But it is a more acutely developed phase, as it is borne of the pain and desperation that one feels due to material misery. People influenced by bhaya conclude that
conscious existence leads to suffering and all relationships breed pain.
Thus, when they hear of relationships in transcendence, "they become
afraid of becoming persons again, and so they naturally prefer a kind of
merging into the impersonal void." (p. 233). Such people simply wish to
annihilate existence and end the pain they equate with personal identity.

c) Krodha When one comes to the stage of inquiry into life's goal, one looks into different philosophies and religions of the world. He may become
bewildered and frustrated after viewing the myriad of contrasting
speculative ideas about life. In anguish, he turns away from all of them,
and adopts a nihilistic attitude of voidism.
4. Srila Prabhupada explains that these three impediments to full absorption in
spiritual life are removed by the cultivation of Krsna consciousness under a bona fide spiritual master.

Applying transcendental knowledge to work (4.11-15)
Krsna elaborates on how He is the ultimate goal of knowledge, continuing to explain His Supreme position.

Main theme:
Actions are transcendental when executed in full knowledge of Krsna as the supreme goal of all paths and He who awards the results of all work.

Sub points:
A. Krsna is the ultimate goal of all paths, and He is revealed or covered according to the
desires of the follower (4.11-12).
1. Previously, the Lord explained the result of taking shelter of Him in full
knowledge. Now He will answer the question, "What of those who take shelter of
some spiritual process without full knowledge?"
a) People on different paths are not realizing different things. They all realize
different degrees and aspects of Krsna.
b) The Lord reciprocates and reveals Himself according to the consciousness
of those who approach Him. He rewards the desires of karmis by fulflling
their cravings for the results of their activities, and jnanis by letting them
merge into His effulgence. He fully reveals Himself only to one fully
dedicated to Him (4.11).
2. If Krsna is supreme, as this chapter repeatedly establishes, why do many people
avoid direct worship of Krsna and instead worship the demigods?
a) Those desirous to satisfy their material desires are content to worship
some powerful material personality to achieve immediate boons.

b) According to the Lord's system, they do get such boons by sacrifice to
demigods. As explained in the Second Chapter, such people cannot
develop the resolute determination necessary to worship the Lord
directly (4.12).
B. What is the process of purifcation for one whose material desire inhibits them from directly
approaching Krsna? The varnasrama system (4.13-15).
1. By following the duties prescribed for their particular modes, the practitioner of
varnasrama gradually gets purifed, coming closer to knowledge of Krsna. When
they attain knowledge of Krsna, they transcend varnasrama dharma.
2. Krsna describes that the varnasrama system is set up according to guna and karma,
quality and work (4.13)
a) One's prescribed duties are given according to one's particular modes of
nature and the type of work one is attracted to.
b) Srila Prabhupada would often quote this to defeat the modern "caste"
idea, which states that one's birth is the only qualifcation for his
position in the social structure.
3. Although He creates this system and appears to be a member of it, Krsna
is above the varnasrama system because He is above the plane of material
action/reaction. He is the "nondoer."
a) Even though the Lord creates the material world, He is not personally responsible for what goes on within it. The world was created due to the desire of the living entities; the Lord only fulfills their desire according to their qualification. Therefore the living entities are responsible for the happiness and distress they achieve in material life.
4. Understanding the position of the Lord leads one to surrender to him, engage in activities on the platform of the soul, and thus become liberated.

Understanding karma on the platform of jnana (4.16-24)
After explaining His transcendental position, the Lord describes how to perform activities on the transcendental plane. It is necessary to explain this because of the common misconception that all work is material, and spiritual life is limited to stereotypical renunciation. The misconception is brought about because practically all work in the world is initiated by selfish desire, which brings karmic reaction. By introducing bhakti yoga, Krsna delineates a method of action free from selfishness. Acting in bhakti yoga one remains uninfluenced by karmic reaction.

Main theme:
Acting in pure devotional service is akarma, free from reactions. This is because karmic reaction is a result of fruitive consciousness and not of activity itself.

Sub points:
A. To learn the art of proper activity, and to distinguish it from improper action, one must
follow those who have mastered the art themselves. One cannot concoct a method to
achieve liberation from karma (4.16-17).
B. Understanding (1) inaction in action, and (2) action in inaction (4.18).
1. Krsna consciousness is the synthesis of action and inaction -there is activity
(karma), but due to lack of fruitive mentality there is no reaction (akarma).
2. Arjuna had the idea that he could free himself from sinful reaction by refraining from activity. But because his desire to refrain from activity was based heavily on fruitive desire and material attachment to family, his inactivity (akarma) would actually bring karmic reaction (karma).
C. Karma is a reaction to material consciousness, not just activity. One can live freely and confidently by acting in awareness of his eternal servitorship to the Lord.
D. Transcendental knowledge is like a fire that permeates one's activities and burns their reactions to ash. Krsna describes the characteristics of one who works in transcendental knowledge. The main characteristic is that His actions are not impelled by desires for sense gratifcation. Other symptoms (4.19-22):
1. Detachment from the fruits of labor.

2. Self-satisfaction.
3. Self control.
4. Desire for only the necessities of life.
5. Freedom from proprietorship.
6. Freedom from duality.
7. Freedom from envy.
8. Steadiness in both success and failure.
E. Acting in a devotional mood with freedom from the desire for sense gratification uncovers
the spiritual nature. In this way, acts of sacrifice connect one with transcendence (4.23-24).
1. How sacrifice uncovers the spiritual nature.
a) Maya (illusion) is that which covers spirit.
b) The desire for sense gratification invokes maya.
c) Detachment from sense gratification dissolves maya and thus reveals spirit
2. Constitutionally, everyone and everything is meant for the pleasure and enjoyment
of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Therefore it is not possible to fulfill the
desire for personal enjoyment separate from God. But, to afford the living entities
with a sense of satisfaction, Krsna allows them to have the illusion (maya) that
things are separate from the Lord and thus available for their own enjoyment (p. 251).
3. When one sacrifices they compromise their enjoying spirit and thus uncover
Brahman. One can realize spiritual existence to the extent one sacrifices their own
self-interest for the Supreme.

Sacrifices lead to transcendental knowledge (4.25-33)
Having explained that sacrifice uncovers Brahman, Krsna now lists different types of sacrifice.

Main theme:
There are different sacrifices prescribed according to one's level of realization which elevate the
consciousness toward transcendental knowledge.

Sub points:
A. There are two divisions of sacrifice: sacrifice of possessions, and sacrifice in knowledge (4.25,33).
1. Sacrifice of worldly possessions: to forgo some material pleasure in the attempt to
attain more and better enjoyment at a later date (like demigod worship).
2. Sacrifice in knowledge: to sacrifice sense gratification in pursuit of transcendental
knowledge. The ultimate level of such sacrifice is the performance of pure
devotional service.
B. The common aim of all sacrifice is to control the senses. Such sensual control purifies one
of sinful reactions and makes one happy by spiritual advancement. Only by sacrifice can
one be happy, because both material boons and spiritual restoration come from sacrifice (4.30-31).

Conclusion - Summary of transcendental knowledge (4.34-42)
Krsna delineated many different sacrifices. One must take shelter of a spiritual master to understand which sacrifice is appropriate for one's unique situation. Through proper inquiry and devotional service to the spiritual master, one becomes a suitable candidate for knowledge of Krsna, knowledge that frees one from material bondage.

Main Theme:
Transcendental knowledge, and its resultant liberation, is only possible by faithful, sincere inquiry and service at the feet of a spiritual master.

Sub points:
A. Since transcendental knowledge is obtained from the descending process, it is essential that one approaches a spiritual master for instruction. One must approach guru with submissive inquiry and service. In this way, the disciple shows themself to be sincere and is blessed by the spiritual master with genuine spiritual understanding (4.34).
B. The realization one gains from guru: That all people and things are part and parcel of the Supreme. Seeing the world in this way, one never loses sight of Krsna, and thus never again falls into the illusion of separation from Him (4.35).

C. Regardless of one's previous sinful nature, the transcendental knowledge received from guru burns away karma and carries one over the ocean of material misery (4.36-38).
1. Transcendental knowledge destroys sinful reactions by destroying their original
cause: ignorance of our eternal position as Krsna's servitor.
2. Thus devotional service is both the seed and fruit of all mystic knowledge.
D. Qualifications for, and symptoms of transcendental knowledge (4.39-41):
1. Qualifications: faith and sense control.
2. Symptoms: one can be fully detached and unbound by their activities.