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Bhagavad-Gita Chapter 11, Verse 54

Chapter 11: The Universal Form
Verse: 54
bhaktya tv ananyaya sakya
aham evam-vidho 'rjuna
jnatum drastum ca tattvena
pravestum ca parantapa

My dear Arjuna, only by undivided devotional service can I be understood as I am, standing before you, and can thus be seen directly. Only in this way can you enter into the mysteries of My understanding.

In the previous verse Krishna had glorified devotional service indirectly, by stating that all other paths of karma, jnana or tapa are insufficient to attain Him. In this verse He directly states that He can only be understood by the path of ananya or "undivided devotional service," that is service that is not influenced with karma, janan or tapa. However, this does not negate the need of these activities. Rather they should be done in as an offering to Krishna. Study of the Vedas should mean study of scriptures that glorify the Lord – scriptures like the Bhagavad-gita, Srimad Bhagavatam and Gopala Tapani Upanishad. Austerities are those performed for the pleasure of the Lord, like fasting on Ekadasi, Janmashtami and other auspicious days. Charity means giving to the devotees or temple of the Lord so as to better serve Him. Worship means worshipping the deity form of the Lord. In this way when all activities are used to nourish the primary activity of bhakti.

This verse is often mis-interpreted to establish the supremacy of the impersonal. Srila Prabhupada emphatically states that this is incorrect. He comments, "The personal forms of Krishna, the two-handed form and the four-handed, are completely different from the temporary universal form shown to Arjuna. The four-handed form of Narayana and the two-handed form of Krishna are eternal and transcendental, whereas the universal form exhibited to Arjuna is temporary. The very word sudurdarsham, meaning "difficult to see," suggests that no one had seen that universal form. It also suggests that amongst the devotees there was no necessity of showing it. That form was exhibited by Krishna at the request of Arjuna so that in the future, when one represents himself as an incarnation of God, people can ask to see his universal form."

Arjuna is an eternal companion of Krishna. It is stated that when Krishna appeared as Nara-Narayana Rishi, Nara is non different from Arjuna. Thus one can understand that Arjuna has spiritual eyes and was attached to the personal form of Krishna. While Krishna allowed him to see His universal form, he was not very attached to it and immediately requested to be able to see the original form of the Lord.

Please read the Sanskrit Verse and the Prabhupada's Purport.

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