Nowadays, everyone wants to develop their skills. We all constantly strive to learn something new and progress. We continually endeavour to attain expertise or success. Someone may want to become a good scientist, someone a good manager, and someone a good musician – everyone has some dream in their heart. To fulfil these dreams, we take advice and strive in many ways. The Bhagavad Gitã also gives us clear guidance in this direction. The fourth adhyay of the Gitã describes a definite method to attain our dreams. The context may be completely spiritual – aimed at fulfilling the greatest dream, but the steps shown can be universally applied to all aspects of life. We will look at this in this article.
Shri Krishna Bhagwan says, ‘तद् विद्धि प्रणिपातेन परिप्रश्नेन सेवया। उपदेक्ष्यन्ति ते ज्ञानं ज्ञानिनस्तत्त्वदाशनः॥’ – ‘Tad viddhi pranipãtena pariprashnena sevayã. Upadekshyanti te gnãnam gnãninastattvadarshinaha’ – ‘Know that by bowing, enquiring and serving; the wise realized gurus will teach you that knowledge’ (Gitã 4.34).
तद् विद्धि – Attain the Knowledge of Paramãtmã
The shloka starts with the two words ‘tad’ and ‘viddhi’. ‘Tad’ means ‘that’, referring to and hence continuing the previous matter. Prior to this, words like ‘Sambhavãmi yuge yuge’(Gitã 4.8) and ‘Janma karma cha me divyam’(Gitã 4.8), conveyed the message of properly knowing the form of Paramãtmã manifest in human form. ‘Viddhi’ means ‘attain knowledge’. Thus the words mean ‘O Arjuna, attain the knowledge of the form of Paramãtmã.’ Here, Krishna does not advise Arjuna to attain knowledge of Paramãtmã, but commands him to do so.
Moreover, the knowledge that Krishna is talking of here is not mere information, but realization. Mere information cannot impart experience. And without experience, there is no peace. To attain knowledge of Paramãtmã’s divinity means to experience that divinity. Experience is realization. One who experiences such realized knowledge of the form of Paramãtmã obtains the fruits mentioned previously, such as, ‘Tyaktvã deham punarjanma naiti mãmeti so’rjuna’ – ‘Does not, upon leaving the body, take birth again in this material world, but attains my eternal abode’ (Gita 4.9).
Surrender to the Wise, Realized Guru
Explaining that anyone who wants to attain such knowledge must go to a guru, Shri Krishna says, ‘उपदेक्ष्यन्ति ते ज्ञानं ज्ञानिनस्तत्त्वदाशनः’ – ‘Upadekshyanti te gnãnam gnãninastattvadarshinaha’ – ‘Wise and realized men will teach you that knowledge’ (Gitã 4.34).
To experience Paramãtmã, surrendering to a guru is essential – this is the first crucial message of these words. Furthermore, that this guru should be experienced, i.e. God-realized, is the second message.
The Gitã has described such an experienced guru as having two qualities: first, jnãni and second, tattvadarshi. Both of these words describe the attributes of the guru. Jnãni means experienced, and tattvadarshi means seeing things as they really are. In a way, the gist of both of these words is the same, but people often regard someone with a lot of information to be a jnãni, so the word tattvadarshi has been included to prevent this misconception here. Information can be obtained from anywhere. It is even possible for an atheist to teach beliefs on God well, and for the students to also feel that they have understood everything well; but that is all information. It does not necessarily mean that either the teacher or the students are experienced. The jnãn spoken of in the Gitã is about realization. For realization, it is not fruitful to go to those with merely an abundance of information. For realization, it is necessary to go to a realized guru. The word tattvadarshi expresses that principle.
The Bhagavad Gitã’s teaching of surrendering to the guru echoes the principle of the Upanishads. For example, in the Mundaka Upanishad, showing the means to realize brahmavidya, it says, ‘तद् विज्ञानार्थं स गुरुमेवाभिगत्व्छेत् समित्पाणिः श्रोत्रियं ब्रह्म निष्ठम्’ – ‘Tad vigñãnãrtham sa gurumevãbhigacchet samitpãnihi shrotriyam brahma nishtham’ – ‘To realize brahmavidyã, one must surrender to the guru who knows the essence of all the shastras, is Aksharbrahman himself and has firm conviction in Paramãtmã’ (Mundaka Upanishad 1.2.12).
Thus, the words ‘gnãninaha’ and ‘tattvadarshinaha’ tell us to go to a guru who is realized.
Attributes of the Disciple
It is indeed a great accomplishment to surrender to a jnãni and tattvadarshi guru. It is a great comfort to have found a true guru. But to surrender to a true guru does not mean that the work is done. Surrendering is the beginning of the spiritual journey. After surrendering, the disciple has certain responsibilities. If the disciple can fulfil these properly he will attain the state of realization. In this shloka, in the same manner in which Shri Krishna has explained the attributes of the guru, he has also explained the attributes of the disciple. Let us take a look at them.
प्रणिपातेन – Bow
Pranipãta means to bow. Know, but first bow. It is a wonderful sight when someone thirsting for knowledge bows with folded hands in front of the guru. This is the original method of education in Indian culture. The classes on knowledge start with bowing. Bowing is the doorway to progress. To bow to someone is not helplessness or weakness. There is great power in bowing. Bowing brings knowledge at full speed.
Things that hinder us in attaining knowledge most are our arrogance, vanity and stubbornness. The arrogant are well aware of their ignorance, but their ego does not let them bow anywhere, it does not let them become anyone’s disciple. Vanity and stubbornness are also forms of ego. Sometimes, we boast ‘I know everything’, and become so overbearing that no one would dare even to try to make us aware of the truth in a conversation; not even the guru. Stubbornness means to resolutely adhere to one’s own opinions. Everyone has different opinions, but to unreasonably stick to them is stubbornness. By adopting humility, one will be freed from these obstacles, because once one bows one will receive knowledge from all directions.
When we bow, we become humble. To become humble means to become receptive. A humble person has a much greater capacity to grasp knowledge than others. If someone is thirsty for knowledge and humble, then they will have a great capacity to become jnãni.
What it really means to bow and become humble must also be understood. To bow is not something merely physical. It is not just outward formality or manners. It is not a way to fool the guru. Bowing is not merely in the action, but also in the mind. The thought first arises in the mind and is then reflected in one’s actions. To become humble means to become receptive, receptive from within, to jettison our arrogance, to dismiss our vanity. Humility in thoughts means to drop the stubbornness for our own ideas. To bow to the guru means to relinquish all our own concepts at the guru’s feet, to abandon one’s own conceptions. If we can drop anything that affects our decisions, beliefs and opinions, then we are ready to attain knowledge. Without this, there is no benefit from merely bowing physically. The extent to which we can let go of our ideas is the extent to which we can be said to have bowed. Otherwise, if our body bows, but not our mind, then we will not attain what we were to attain from the guru. Our knowledge will not develop, and we remain unchanged. Our thoughts and experiences are all conceited/meddlesome; they obstruct us from obtaining knowledge from the guru. Thus, by mentally bowing, put them aside. A dialogue that commences with a humble bow by the disciple opens the doors to the infinite knowledge possessed by the guru.
Since humility is the first step to attaining knowledge, it has been mentioned first with the word ‘pranipãta’. Now let us look at the second step.