Who is Bhagavan?

Swami B. G. Narasingha

Bhagavad-gita truly begins from the second chapter. Bhagavad-gita literally means the ‘Song of Bhagavan’ and Bhagavan means the Absolute Truth. Here for the first time in Bhagavad-gita, Shri Krishna is addressed as Bhagavan. According to Vedic scholars such as Parasara Muni, Bhagavan means one who possesses all wealth, strength, fame, beauty, knowledge and renunciation.  

     aishvaryasya samagrasya viryasya yashasah shriyah 
jnana vairagyayos caiva shannah bhaga itingana

He that possesses the attributes of sovereignty, potency, fame, wealth, knowledge and renunciation in full is known as Bhagavan. (Vishnu Purana 6.5.47)  

Additionally, Jiva Gosvami, the 16th century Vaishnava philosopher, says that Bhagavan is bhajaniya guna ca ananta ca nityah – He that possesses all adorable qualities and whose all-attractive nature is such that He attracts our feelings of affection and adoration. 

In contemporary society there is much debate as to whether God exists or not. First it is necessary to define what we mean by ‘God’ before His existence can be determined or dismissed. Accordingly, the seers of the truth in ancient India have concluded that if there is a God, then God must necessarily be the owner and proprietor of everything; He must be all powerful, the most famous, the most beautiful, the possessor of all knowledge and at the same time, detached or renounced. After careful analysis, those seers of truth concluded that only Shri Krishna could be and is the ultimate fountainhead of Reality, the Absolute Truth. These findings have been corroborated by many sages through the ages (from before 10,000 BCE) and are dealt with extensively throughout Vedic literatures such as the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Vedanta-sutra, Shrimad Bhagavatam and Brahma-samhita etc.  

ishvarah paramah krishnah sac-cid-ananda vigrahah 
anadir adir govindah sarva-karana-karanam    

Krishna is the Supreme Controller. His form is made of bliss, knowledge and eternity. He is the origin of all. He is the Master of the cows and the senses. He has no other origin and He is the primeval cause of all causes. (Brahma-samhita 5.1)     

ete camsha kalah pumsah krishnas tu bhagavan svayam 
indrari vyakulam lokam mridayanti yuge yuge    

The various avataras are either plenary expansions or parts of plenary expansions. But Krishna is the original source of all avataras. When impious elements disturb His devotees, He manifests age after age in    order to protect them. (Shrimad Bhagavatam 1.3.28)  

harir eva sadaradhyam sarva-deveshvareshvaram 
itare brahma-rudradya navaj-eyam kadacana    

Only Shri Hari (Krishna) should be worshiped as the Master of the entire universe. Brahma, Shiva and all other demigods never violate this principle at any time. (Padma Purana)        

yatravatirnam krishnakhyam 
param brahma narakritim    

When the Supreme Person descends in His human like form, He is Krishna, the Supreme Brahman. (Vishnu Purana 4.11.2)  

tasmat krishna eva paro devas tam dhyayet
tam raset tam bhajet tam yajet    

Thus Krishna is the Supreme Person. One should meditate on Him. One should delight in Him. One should worship Him and make offerings to Him. (Gopala-tapani Upanishad 1.54)

krishir bhu-vacakah shabdo nash ca nirvritti-vacakah 
tayor aikyam param brahma krishna ityabhidhiyate    

The syllable krish refers to the all-attractive quality of Krishna, and the syllable na refers to His spiritual bliss. When the verb krish is added to the affix na, it becomes the word Krishna, indicating the Supreme Truth. (Mahabharata, Udyoga-parva 71.4)  

Arjuna has become overwhelmed with compassion for those who are about to die on the battlefield. In fact, such is his grief that he himself is prepared to die rather than kill his enemies. But Arjuna is a warrior and from a noble family, therefore Krishna advises Arjuna against his weakness of heart. If one is a warrior it is one’s duty to face the enemy and not cower away. Fighting is indeed a nasty business, but when duty calls, such fighting may be unavoidable. In ancient times, acts of aggression were abhorred and strictly forbidden in society and between nations. When such aggression did occur, retaliation and war were acceptable. According to the great sage Vasishtha, there are six types of aggressors and according to Manu-samhita these aggressors are to be met with lethal response.  

agnido garadash caiva shastra-panir dhanapahah 
kshetra-darapahari ca shad ete hyatatayinah    

The arsonist who sets fire to one’s house, one who administers poison, one who attacks with deadly weapons, one who usurps a nations resources, one who invades and occupies a sovereign country and one who kidnaps one’s family members - all should be considered as aggressors. (Vasishtha-smriti 3.19) 

atatayinam ayantam hanyad evavicarayan 
natatayi-vadhe dosho hantur bhavati kashcana    

Without hesitation a warrior should destroy aggressors, as there is no bad reaction in slaying them. (Manu-samhita 8.350)    

These verses are according to the rules given in the artha-shastra (laws of society). Yet the dharma-shastra (laws of dharma), which are superior to the artha-shastra, state that one should never inflict harm on any living being (ma himsyat sarva-bhutani) – what to say of one’s family members and superiors? This was Arjuna’s dilemma. Being a softhearted devotee of Shri Krishna, Arjuna was disinclined to take up arms against his family members, but being a warrior he had to face his destiny. In this state of bewilderment, Arjuna decided to put aside his casual relationship with Krishna as a friend and accept Shri Krishna as his guru (spiritual master). Thus Krishna accepted Arjuna as a disciple. 

According to Vedic knowledge there are numerous planets and parallel universes wherein life can be found. Some of these planets and universes have higher standards of living than we experience on earth and some are lower. If one performs one’s prescribed duties in this life then accordingly, one is elevated to higher planets. However, if one neglects his duty then only infamy and descending to lower planets awaits one in the next life. 

Krishna has used the word anarya meaning ‘non-aryan’ to describe Arjuna’s disinclination to follow his prescribed Vedic duties. For centuries there has been much controversy about who is aryan and where the aryans came from. For the most part, all such considerations have been based upon bodily designations in order to establish one race of people as superior to another. But in Bhagavad-gita, according to the words of Shri Krishna, the aryans are those who carry out their duties in accordance with the Vedic injunctions. Thus it is understood that the word aryan does not pertain to a particular race of people, but to a conception of life and a way of living. 

Knowledge of the eternal existence of infinite consciousness (Krishna) and the finite individual unit of consciousness (atma or the self) is the key to all Vedic wisdom. This will be the central theme of Krishna’s instruction to Arjuna in this chapter.