THE MEANING OF THE GITA
How truth is realised through bhakti.
The Temple of Ranganath in Sri Rangam
Once upon a time, there was a Vaisnava brahman living in Sri Rangam. Every day, he would come to the Temple of Ranganath and recite all eighteen chapters of Srimad Bhagavad-gita. He was not well educated, however, and he pronounced the verses improperly.
People visiting the Temple used to joke about him. Some people laughed at him, and some people criticised him.
He didn’t mind this at all. Intent upon the text, he would recite the Gita with joy in his heart. As he read, he would sometimes become overcome with spiritual emotion: his hair would stand on end, and he would cry, tremble, and perspire.
When Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu visited Sri Rangam, He met this brahman at the Temple. Noticing both his pronunciation of the Gita and his intensity of feeling, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was delighted.
Mahaprabhu approached him and said, “O great soul, what is this meaning of the Gita you have understood which brings you such joy?”
The brahman replied, “I am not very well-educated, and I do not know the meaning of the Gita’s words. Be it properly or improperly, I simply recite the Gita following the instruction I received from my Guru to do this.
“In the Gita, Lord Krishna acts as Arjuna’s charioteer. He appears most beautiful as He sits on Arjuna’s chariot holding a driving rod and offers Arjuna His best advice.
“When I read the Gita, I see Krishna in my heart in this way as the loving guardian of His beloved devotee. That’s why I can’t stop reciting the Gita.”
Mahaprabhu replied, “You are qualified to recite the Gita. You have understood the essence of the Gita’s meaning.”
Mahaprabhu embraced him.
After receiving Mahaprabhu’s divine embrace, the brahman bowed at His feet and began to cry. He said, “Upon seeing You here today, the happiness I feel when I see Krishna as I read the Gita has doubled. So, I feel in my heart that You are Krishna Himself.”
The brahman’s heart had been purified by Krishna’s presence from within, and as a result he could now recognise that Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was Krishna Himself in the garb of a devotee.
Mahaprabhu acknowledged the brahman’s realisation but requested him, “Please do not disclose this to anyone.”
From that day, the brahman became a great devotee of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and never left Mahaprabhu’s company during the four months that Mahaprabhu resided in Sri Rangam.
Spiritual truth is realised through bhakti, and not through mere scholarship or intellect. Although the brahman lacked academic knowledge of the Gita, unlike so many scholars, he realised within his heart the most essential truth the Gita teaches: that Lord Krishna’s love for His devotees and His devotees’ love for Him are the essence of all wisdom—the essence of life. Feeling the depth of the compassion and love with which Lord Krishna shelters and cares for the souls surrendered unto Him, the brahman was moved by divine emotions.
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu favoured the brahman in this story to teach this essential conclusion to the world. Because of the brahman’s devotion, cultivated faithfully according to the instructions of his Guru, the brahman was blessed by the Lord with revelation of His divine presence both within his heart and in person before him.
This Pastime is recorded in Sri Chaitanya-charitamrta, Madhya-lila, Chapter Nine, Verses 93–107.
In his commentary on the text, Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur cites the following verses:
bhaktya bhagavatam grahyam na buddhya na cha tikaya
(Sri Chaitanya-charitamrta: Madhya-lila, 24.314)
“The Bhagavatam [the Gita, and all other scriptures] can be understood only by bhakti, not by intelligence and not by commentary.”
gitadhita cha yenapi bhakti-bhavena chetasa
veda-sastra-puranani tenadhitani sarvasah
(Sri Vaisnaviya-tantra-sara: Srimad Bhagavad-gita-mahatmyam, 23)
“One who studies the Gita with devotion studies the Vedas, Puranas, and other scriptures in all respects.”
yasya deve para bhaktir yatha deve tatha gurau
tasyaite kathita hy arthah prakasante mahatmanah
“The purports (of the scriptures) are revealed to the great souls who have unwavering devotion to the Supreme Lord and so also to Sri Guru.”