By Gauranga Darshan Das
Context and Crux of Uddhava-gita
Bhagavad-gita is the great philosophical song by Lord Krsna on the battlefield of Kuruksetra to motivate His bewildered friend Arjuna. There is yet another Gita that Krsna sang in Dvaraka to pacify another of His friends named Uddhava. Famous as Uddhava-gita it forms the longest philosophical section of the magnum opus literature Srimad Bhagavatam.
Lord Krsna’s descent into this world was requested by the devatas headed by Brahma, to reduce the burden of the earth. Having performed various pastimes over 125 years and with nothing more to do on behalf of the devatas, Krsna decided to return back to His supreme abode. Grateful demigods also requested Krsna to return if He so desires but begged Him to continue protecting them, His servants. Krsna told Brahma that He would soon depart from this world after withdrawing the Yadu dynasty.
Understanding Krsna’s imminent departure, Uddhava, the unalloyed devotee and dearest friend of Krsna was overwhelmed with separation anxiety. Pleading with folded hands he requested Krsna to take him along to His spiritual abode.
During His manifest pastimes on earth Krsna had various exchanges with several of His devotees at Vrndavana, Mathura, Dvaraka, Indra-prastha, Hastinapura, Mithila and so on. He also graced heavenly planets with His presence and gave darsana to Aditi and Kasyapa during the parijata tree episode. He had visited the lower planets and met Bali and Yamaraja while there to retrieve Sandipani Muni’s son. He even went to Vaikuntha and met Mahavisnu and others, on the plea of retrieving the son’s of a brahmana in Dvaraka.
One place where Krsna hadn’t personally visited during His earthly sojourn was Badrarikasrama, where great sages like Nara-narayana resided. With His departure due now, Krsna wanted Uddhava to go and enlighten the sages at Badarikasrama on His behalf. Krsna considered Uddhava as good as His own self and thus gave him confidential teachings in the form of Uddhava-gita.
In the Uddhava-gita Krsna spoke about bhakti, jnana and vairagya to teach us through Uddhava. Krsna inspired Uddhava to ask questions that lead to discussions on various topics spanning over twenty-three chapters of the Eleventh Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam (11.7-29).
More elaborate than Bhagavad-gita, Uddhava-gita constitutes a wide range of topics along with deeper details, fitting examples and reference validation to historic incidents. Below is a succinct presentation on this beautiful song – The Uddhava-gita. Readers are requested to taste its full glory from the pages of the Bhagavatam.
Becoming One’s Own Guru: ‘The 24 Gurus’
Krsna begins by explaining that an intelligent person, by use of commonsense, can analyze the worldly situation by perception and logic to rise above sense gratification. Adopting means that are both positive (inculcating certain principles) and negative (avoiding certain activities), one can search out and ultimately attain Me, the Supreme Lord. Therein lies the glory of human life. King Yadu once saw a young avadhuta brahmana (Lord Dattatreya) who appeared learned, wandering about fearlessly. Yadu learnt that the brahmana had taken shelter of twenty-four gurus from unconventional sources including the plants, animals, birds, insects and nature. With his refined intelligence he had learnt the science of the self and developed detachment by carefully studying his guru’s activities, qualities and other natural phenomenon. Yadu worshipped him and developing equal vision himself became free from all material attachments.
The Process of Disentanglement
Krsna: “Taking full shelter in Me through bhakti, without selfish desires, practice varnasrama. Work dutifully without attachment to fruitive results for sense enjoyment. Approach a bona fide guru with faith and affection, and be eager to receive knowledge of God from him. Such pure spiritual knowledge destroys illusion arising from the material modes.”
Krsna Illuminates Uddhava on The Nature of Fruitive Activity
Fruitive workers desire perpetual happiness, but they are unhappy too often and satisfied only occasionally, thus proving that they are not independent and their destinies are under some superior control. Even if people are able to avoid misery, still they cannot avoid death. Happiness, either on earth or in heaven, is polluted by envy, decay and death. So, materialism caters no uninterrupted or natural happiness. Through pious acts one achieves heaven but after brief enjoyment fall back to the mortal plane. Through impious acts one can extract some short-term pleasure but consequently suffer in hell and get an inauspicious body. Evidently, those devoted to material activities and rituals are bewildered & subjected to lamentation.
The Symptoms of Conditioned and Liberated Souls
Krsna further explains that bondage and liberation do not actually exist for the spirit soul. The jiva’s relationship with the material nature arises only due to ignorance. The conditioned soul identifies with the material body like a person who identifies with somebody in a dream. The liberated soul, although situated in the material body, doesn’t identify with it. Such a person is fully awakened to one’s spiritual identity as a soul – servant of God. Just as ether, sun and air are unaffected by things they pervade, such persons maintain equal vision towards everything. Fixing the mind on Krsna, and performing devotional service in association of His devotees, anyone can reach the platform of ultimate liberation – Krsna’s supreme abode.
The True Devotee and Best Devotional Service
A true devotee has 28 qualities: merciful, forgiving, truthful, non-envious, undisturbed, self controlled, peaceful, steady, accepts Krsna as the only shelter and so on. The practice of bhakti includes 64 kinds of activities: seeing, touching, worshiping, serving, glorifying and offering obeisance to the Deity and pure devotees, hearing and chanting about Krsna, meditation on Him, and so on. “Being their ultimate shelter, I remember these devotees who performs such bhakti. If one does not engage in bhakti, which arises usually by associating with My devotees, there is no means of escaping from material existence.”
Krsna Reveals the Power of Devotee Association to Uddhava
“By associating with My pure devotees, one can destroy one’s attachment for all material sense gratification and attain perfection. Such purifying association brings Me under the control of My devotee. Other methods like astanga-yoga, sankhya (analysis of material elements), piety, nonviolence and so on cannot win Me over. Daityas, raksasas, beasts, gandharvas, apsaras, sudras and so on were purified in devotee association. Some examples were Vrtrasura, Prahlada, Vrsaparva, Bali, Vibhisana, Jambavan and so on. These persons did not undergo serious Vedic studies, nor did they execute severe vows or austerities, but simply associated with My devotees. The gopis of Vrndavana are My topmost devotees who are attached to Me in deep love.”
Vedic Processes and Bhakti
Krsna: I manifest in sound vibration of the Vedas and I gave the methods of karma, jnana and bhakti. This tree like universe, consisting of the forces of maya, with its various flowers and fruits of material happiness and distress, can be cut with the axe of knowledge (jnana) and through cultivation of devotional service (bhakti) by surrendering unto a guru. The three modes pertain to material intelligence and not to the soul. By aligning oneself to the items in mode of goodness, which gives rise to knowledge (jnana), one increases that mode and conquer the lower modes. Thus, discarding the material covering of the soul one can realize God.
Uddhava Understands that the Mind’s Misidentification Causes All Miseries
Due to misidentifying oneself with the material body and mind, the conditioned soul develops false knowledge. Once the four Kumaras asked Brahma how to destroy the mutual relationship between the sense objects and the mind. Brahma couldn’t answer it, but fixed his mind on Me. I then appeared as Hamsa, the Swan incarnation, to explain the Sankhya philosophy. The mind and sense objects are merely designations that cover the spirit soul. Their mutual attraction is due to constant sense gratification. Being dedicated to Krsna, one can renounce the material mind, sense objects and the false ego that causes material bondage.
“Bhakti Yoga is the Supreme Process”
Different processes exist because different people have different natures and desires according to the particular modes they are influenced by. With intelligence bewildered by maya one speculates what could be good for others, leading to different theistic or atheistic viewpoints. This proliferation of Vedic formulas indicates only a variety of material illusions and not a variety of ultimate purpose. Such processes only bring temporary fruits with future miseries and such enjoyment is saturated with lamentation. “But fixing their minds upon Me, giving up material desires, they share with Me a happiness which is not possible through sense gratification. A devotee desires neither positions nor pleasure, not even liberation. He desires Me alone, attainable only by loving devotional service – bhakti. Giving up undue attachment to opposite sex, focusing on Me, one should carefully overcome obstacles in bhakti.”
Krsna Explains Astanga-yoga, Siddhis and Vibhutis
Astanga-yoga, the eight limbed process includes asana (sitting postures), pranayama (breathing exercises), pratyahara (bringing the distracted mind back), dharana and dhyana (overall and limb-by-limb meditation on the Lord’s form in the heart) and so on. “Such practices help conquer the senses and by fixing the mind upon Me the yogi attains mystic perfections (siddhis) which are of 18 types. These siddhis are ultimately impediments and distractions for one who practices bhakti.” Krsna then described His material and spiritual opulences (vibhutis) explaining that all power, beauty, fame, humility, charity, fortune, valor, tolerance and wisdom, wherever manifest, are simply expansions of Himself.
The Varnasrama System
“I am the origin of all varnas and asramas (social and spiritual orders). The brahmanas, ksatriyas, vaisyas and sudras appeared from My face, arms, thighs and legs respectively. The brahmacaris, grhasthas, vana-prasthas and sannyasis appeared from My heart, loins, chest and head respectively. The varnas and asramas appear as per the inferior and superior natures of people.” Krsna then describing the qualities of people in different varnas and duties of different asramas says, “One is purified by performing prescribed duties of varnasrama. Such duties when dedicated to Me in loving service, award the supreme perfection of life.”
The Perfection of Spiritual Knowledge
Jnana is the knowledge of 28 elements and ultimately seeing one element within all those. Vijnana is one’s experience when one sees the eternal ultimate cause of the 28 elements — God. Vairagya is detachment from the insubstantial material world and is cultivated from four types of evidences — Vedic knowledge (srutih), direct experience (pratyaksam), traditional wisdom (aitihyam) and logical induction (anumanam). “Bhakti-yoga includes firm faith in Me, My pastimes, constant chanting of My glories, unwavering attachment to My worship and so on.”
Uddhava Learns the universal Aspects of Civilized Life
“Actual Religion (dharma) is that which leads one to pure devotional service to Me. Awareness of My all-pervasiveness and complete disinterest in the sense objects are Jnana (real knowledge) and Vairagya (detachment), while aisvaryam (opulences) are the eight mystic perfections.” Krsna then gave the standard definitions other qualities namely, nonviolence, truthfulness, humility, celibacy, silence, steadiness, forgiveness and so on. Krsna concluded that to see good and bad is in itself a defect, and one has to learn to transcend both.
Pure Bhakti Surpasses Knowledge and Detachment
There are three paths for perfection namely jnana, karma and bhakti. Detachment towards material life, and attachment to material pleasures, are the qualifications for jnana and karma respectively. The qualification for bhakti is balanced attachment and detachment. Until one reaches this stage, one has to act according to the Vedic injunctions and discern between good and bad. Utilizing the human form of life one has to perfect it by performing bhakti. “I destroy all the material desires of a devotee who constantly worships Me. Since bhakti is independent, for a devotee, knowledge and detachment are not the means to achieve the highest perfection. Everything that can be achieved by any other process is easily achieved by My devotee through bhakti unto Me. My unalloyed devotees desire nothing besides Me. They do not even accept liberation even if offered by Me. Material piety and sin cannot exist within them. They attain freedom from illusion and attain My abode.”
The Vedic Path
“Cultivation of insignificant sense enjoyment only continues one’s material existence. The path of spiritual evolution begins from karma-yoga, progresses to jnana-yoga and then to bhakti-yoga. A conditioned soul should not artificially disrupt the natural evolution of his Krsna consciousness by deviating from prescribed duties. Discretion between good and bad is thus prescribed by the Vedas. In order to restrict materialistic activities, I have established in the Vedas proper and improper conduct. Steadiness in one’s own position is piety, and deviation from it is considered impiety. Ultimately, consideration of piety and sin is also circumstantial. In special cases piety become sin, and sin becomes piety. Thus, Vedic knowledge is difficult to comprehend without Me or My devotees. But the actual intention of the Vedas is to eventually refute all material duality and bring one to the stage of God consciousness, bhakti.”
The elements of material creation are counted differently by different philosophers, who spoke different non-contradictory truths. Their conclusions as authoritative and logically established. Material nature (prakrti) and its enjoyer (purusa) are clearly distinct. Prakrti is unconscious and dull, fully dependent on purusa and is subject to transformation. Purusa on the other hand is self sufficient, omniscient and not subject to change. Therefore, prakrti is full of dualities while purusa is one, Absolute.
Reincarnation, Birth and Death
“The mind shaped by fruitive actions goes from one body to another and the soul follows the mind. This is reincarnation. Death is the forgetfulness of one’s identity with old bodies to get absorbed in the pleasures and pains of a new body. Birth is a person’s total identification with new body. A person accepts a body as much as he accepts a dream as reality. Time imperceptibly creates and destroys everything. Yet no one can see Time.”
Being Peaceful in Provoking Situations
One who desires the highest goal in life should use intelligence to keep oneself safe on the spiritual platform, even in difficult situations like being neglected, insulted, ridiculed, envied or agitated by ignorant people. Krsna then described the story of Avanti brahmana who soberly tolerated the insults flared at him, considering them to be the results of his own past deeds, and took shelter of the Supreme Lord. In the maturity of his realization, he sang a song called the Bhiksu-gita.
The bodily conception can be transcended by understanding how the three modes affect a jiva. The jiva attains a particular nature by the association of modes that combine with each other to produce various effects. In human life, through bhakti, one can conquer the modes and thus attain pure love for Me.
Good and Bad Association
“One should avoid bad association of sense gratifiers, and especially undue attachment to the opposite sex. Otherwise, one falls into the deep pit of ignorance. Emperor Pururava exemplified this fall and attachment. Only by taking shelter of Me he was elevated and in his mood of detachment he sang the Aila-gita. One who hankers after the association of opposite sex certainly spoils one’s spiritual progress. One can be saved from such sex attraction by awakened spiritual intelligence through association with saintly devotees.” Krsna then explained the significance of worshiping the deity form of God.
Krsna Concludes – The Glory of Bhakti
“Remembering Me always, with mind and intelligence offered to Me, perform all duties for Me. One who sees Me in all living entities and offers all due respect to everyone, is considered actually wise. Until then, one must continue to worship My Deity form with speech, mind and body. I consider bhakti to be the best possible method of spiritual enlightenment. Since I have personally established it, this process is transcendental, free from any material motivation and certainly there is no loss in its adoption. This is a process of supreme intelligence for by following it one can in this very life attain Me.
Hearing these elaborate teachings, Uddhava offered his prayers to Krsna out of gratitude. Krsna then instructed him to go to Badarikasrama, assuring that he will soon come back to Him. Uddhava circumambulating Krsna, fell at His lotus feet and drenched His feet with his tears. Greatly pained by separation from Krsna, Uddhava, placing Krsna’s slippers upon his head departed for Badarikasrama. Thus Krsna spoke to His devotee this nectarean knowledge of spiritual bliss. One who hears this Uddhava-gita with great faith attains liberation.
Gauranga Darshan Das, a disciple of His Holiness Radhanath Swami, is associate dean of the Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha (www.vidyapitha.in) at ISKCON Govardhan Eco Village (GEV), outside Mumbai. He has written study guides, including Gītā Subodhinī, Bhāgavata Subodhinī, and Caitanya Subodhinī, and teaches sastric courses at several places in India. He also oversees the deity worship at GEV.