What Do You Mean "As It Is"?

By Jayadvaita Swami

IN THE INTRODUCTION to Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Srila Prabhupada writes: "We must accept Bhagavad-gita without interpretation, without deletion, and without our own whimsical participation in the matter."

A reader has asked what Srila Prabhupada means by "without interpretation." After all, the reader says, "I must seek to learn the knowledge of the Gita only from a guru, and this involves some interpretation of the text by the guru for my benefit." And "direct meanings may not apply since the actual circumstances of the Gita do not (necessarily) match those of my daily life."

The idea of "without interpretation" is that the commentator should stick to the straightforward meaning of the text. Where the meaning is clear, the commentator should not obscure it with his own speculations.

But as it is said, nasav rsir yasya matam na bhinnam: "Once can't be a philosopher unless he comes up with a different idea." And so we see literally hundreds of English editions of the Gita, nearly every one of them giving a different set of speculative interpretations.

For example, Bhagavad-gita speaks of Kuruksetra and the Pandavas. So one commentator proposes that Kuruksetra symbolizes the human body and that the Pandavas represent the five physical senses.

That, clearly, is an interpretation, not the direct meaning of the text. And the interpretation is needless, because the meaning of "Pandavas" and "Kuruksetra" is already clear. As we learn from Mahabharata, the Pandavas were the five sons of King Pandu. And Kuruksetra is a specific place in the present Indian state of Haryana (I've seen it with my own eyes).

Our readeris right, of course, in saying that the circumstances of the Gita may differ from our own, and so some adjustment is required. But here again, the adjustment should be made without needless twisting of the text. For example, Lord Krsna tells Arjuna, "Think of Me and fight." Assuming you're not a warrior, a reasonable adjustment is that as Arjuna thought of Krsna and performed his duty of fighting, you should think of Krsna and perform whatever your duty happens to be.

In contrast, there's a commentator who tells us that it's not Krsna we have to think of, but something else that Krsna supposedly represents. That is an example of a needless interpretation. It is such interpretations Srila Prabhupada suggests we avoid.

The Gita attracts us becauseof its reputation as a source of knowledge, as a doorway to "the perennial wisdom," as supreme reality itself, incarnate in sound.

Speculators and innovators who add their own fallible human ideas are just pouring gunk into the waters of immortality.

BTG(Nov/Dec 1994)