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BG 12 (1968)

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His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada



1:     ARJUNA INQUIRED: Of those who are properly engaged in Your devotional service, and those who are engaged by the impersonal Brahman, the unmanifested—which is considered to be the more perfect?


KRISHNA HAS NOW explained about the personal, the impersonal, and the universal, and has described all kinds of devotees and yogis. Generally, the transcendentalists can be divided into two classes. One is the impersonalist, and the other is the personalist. The personalist devotee engages himself with all energy in the service of the Supreme Lord. The impersonalist also engages himself, not directly in the service of Krishna, but in meditation on the impersonal Brahman, the unmanifested.

We find in this chapter that, of the different processes for realization of the Absolute Truth, Bhaktiyoga, devotional service, is the highest. If one at all desires to have the association of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, then he must take to devotional service.

In the Second Chapter of The Bhagavad Gita, it was explained by the Supreme Lord that a living entity is not material—the body; he is a spiritual spark. And the Absolute Truth is the Spiritual Whole. Now, qualitative equality of the Spiritual Whole and the spiritual spark exists. In the Seventh Chapter of The Bhagavad Gita it was said that, if the living entity, being part and parcel of the Supreme Whole, transfers his attention fully and only to the Supreme Whole, Krishna, he is the most perfect of all yogis. Then again, in the Eighth Chapter, it was said that anyone who thinks of Krishna at the time of quitting his body is at once transferred to the spiritual sky, to the Abode of Krishna. And, at the end of the Sixth Chapter, it was clearly said by the Lord that, of all yogis, one who always thinks of Krishna within himself is considered to be the most perfect. So in practically every chapter the conclusion has been that one should be attached to the Personal Form of Krishna; and that is the highest spiritual realization.

Nevertheless, there are those who are not attached to the Personal Form of Krishna. They are so firmly detached that, even in the preparation of commentaries to The Bhagavad Gita, they want to distract other people from Krishna, and transfer all devotion to the impersonal Brahmajyoti. They prefer to meditate on the impersonal Form of the Absolute Truth, which is beyond the reach of the senses and is not manifest.

And so, factually, there are two classes of transcendentalists. Now Arjuna is trying to settle the question of which process is easier, and which of the classes is most perfect. In other words, he is clarifying his own position, because he is attached to the Personal Form of Krishna. He is not attached to the impersonal Brahman. And so he wants to know whether his position is secure. The impersonal manifestation, either in this material world or in the spiritual world of the Supreme Lord, is a problem for meditation. Practically, no one is able to conceive perfectly of the impersonal Feature of the Absolute Truth. Therefore, Arjuna wants to say: What is the use of such a waste of time? By his experience it is said, in the Eleventh Chapter, that to be attached to the Personal Form of Krishna is best; because he could thus understand all other Forms at the same time, and there was no disturbance to his love for Krishna. This important question of Arjuna to Krishna will clarify the distinction between the impersonal and personal conceptions of the Absolute Truth.

2:     The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: He whose mind is fixed on My Personal Form, always engaged in worshiping Me with great and transcendental faith, is considered by Me to be most perfect.

3:     But those who fully worship the unmanifested, that which lies beyond the perception of the senses, all-pervading, inconceivable, fixed, and immovable—the impersonal conception of the Absolute Truth.

4:     By controlling the various senses, and being equally disposed everywhere, such persons, engaged in the welfare of all, at last achieve Me.

5:     For those whose minds are attached to the non-manifested, impersonal Feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that unmanifested discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied.


THE GROUP OF transcendentalists who follow the path of the inconceivable, unmanifested, impersonal Feature of the Supreme Lord are called Jnanayogis; and persons who are in full Krishna consciousness, engaged in devotional service to the Lord, are called Bhaktiyogis. Now, here the difference between Jnanayoga and Bhaktiyoga is definitely expressed: The process of Jnanayoga, although ultimately bringing one to the same goal, is very troublesome; whereas the path of Bhaktiyoga, the process of being in direct service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is easier, and is natural for the embodied soul. The individual soul is embodied since time immemorial. It is very difficult for him to simply theoretically understand that he is not the body. Therefore, the Bhaktiyogi accepts the deity of Krishna as worshipable because there is some bodily conception fixed in the mind, which can thus be applied. Of course, worship of the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His Form within the temple is not idol worship. There is evidence in the Vedic literature that worship may be saguna and nirguna—of the Supreme possessing or not possessing attributes. Worship of the deity in the temple is saguna worship—the Lord represented in the material qualities; but the Form of the Lord even in the material qualities, such as when made of stone, wood, or oil paint, is not actually material. That is the Absolute Nature of the Supreme Lord.

A crude example may be given here: We may find some mailboxes on the street, and if we post our letters in those boxes, they will naturally go to their destination without any difficulty. But any old box, or an imitation, which we may find somewhere, which is not authorized by the post office, will not do the work. Similarly, God has an authorized representation in the deity Form, which is called Archa Vigraha. This Archa Vigraha is an incarnation of the Supreme Lord. God will accept service through that Form. The Lord is omnipotent and all-powerful; therefore, by His incarnation as Archa Vigraha, He can accept the services of the devotee, just to make it convenient for the man in conditioned life.

So, for a devotee, there is no difficulty in approaching the Supreme immediately and directly; whereas, for those who are following the impersonal way to spiritual realization, the path is difficult. They have to understand the non-manifested representation of the Supreme through such Vedic literature as the Upanishads, and they have to learn the language, understand the non-perceptual feelings, and they have to realize all these processes. Not very easy for a common man. A person in Krishna consciousness, engaged in devotional service, simply by the guidance of the bona fide spiritual master, simply by offering regulative obeisances unto this deity, simply by hearing the glories of the Lord, and simply by eating the remnants of foodstuffs offered to the Lord, realizes the Supreme Personality of Godhead very easily. There is no doubt that the impersonalists are unnecessarily taking some troublesome path, with the risk of not realizing the Absolute Truth at the ultimate end. But the personalist, without any risk, trouble, or difficulty, approaches the Supreme Personality directly. A similar passage appears in The Srimad Bhagwatam, where it says that, if ultimately one has to surrender unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead (which surrendering process is called Bhakti), but instead takes the trouble to understand what is Brahman and what is not Brahman, spending his whole life in that way, the result is simply troublesome. Therefore, it is advised here that one should not take up this troublesome path of self-realization, because there is uncertainty in the ultimate result.

A living entity is eternally an individual soul, and if he wants to merge into the Spiritual Whole, he may accomplish the realization of the eternal and knowledgeable aspects of his original nature, but the blissful portion is not realized. By the grace of some devotee, such a transcendentalist, highly learned in the process of Jnanayoga, may come to the point of Bhaktiyoga, or devotional service. At that time, long practice in impersonalism also becomes a source of trouble, because he cannot give up the idea. Therefore, an embodied soul is always in difficulty with the unmanifest: at the time of practice, and at the time of realization. Every living soul is partially independent, and one should know certainly that this non-manifested realization is against the nature of his spiritual, blissful self. One should not take up this process. For every individual living entity the process of Krishna consciousness, being fully engaged in devotional service, is the best way. If one wants to ignore this devotional service, there is the danger of turning into an atheist. In the modern age, when this impersonal philosophy has received so much stress, the people are turning to atheism in great numbers. Therefore, this process of drawing attention to the non-manifested, the inconceivable, which is beyond the approach of the senses, as already expressed in this verse, should never be encouraged at any time—but especially in this age. It is not advised by Lord Krishna.

6-7:     For one who worships Me, giving up all his activities unto Me, and being devoted to Me without deviation, engaged in devotional service and always meditating upon Me; who has fixed his mind upon Me, O son of Pritha—for him I am the swift Deliverer from the ocean of birth and death.

8:     Just fix your mind upon Me, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and engage all your intelligence in Me. Thus you will live in Me always, without any doubt.

9:     My dear Arjuna, O winner of wealth, if you cannot fix your mind upon Me without deviation, then follow the regulated principles of Bhaktiyoga. In this way you will develop a desire to attain to Me.


IN THIS VERSE, two different processes of Bhaktiyoga are indicated. The first refers to one who has actually developed an attachment for Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, by transcendental love. And the other is for one who has not developed an attachment for the Supreme Person by transcendental love. For this second class there are different prescribed rules and regulations, which they can follow ultimately to be elevated to the stage of attachment.

Bhaktiyoga means to purify the senses. At the present moment in material existence the senses are always impure, being engaged in sense gratification. But, by the practice of Bhaktiyoga, these senses can become purified, and in the purified state the senses become directly connected with the Supreme Lord. In this material existence, suppose I am engaged in some service, with some master: But I don't really serve my master; I serve to get some money. And the master also is not in love, but takes service from me and pays me. So there is no question of love. But for spiritual life, we have to be elevated to the pure stage of love. That stage of love can be achieved by practice of devotional service, performed with the present senses.

This love of God is now in a dormant state in everyone's heart. And, there, love of God is manifested in different ways—contaminated by the material association. Now the material association has to be purified, and that dormant, natural love for Krishna has to be revived. That is the whole process.

10:     If you cannot practice the regulations of Bhaktiyoga, then just try to work for Me, because by working for Me you will come to the perfect stage.


ONE WHO IS NOT able even to practice the regulated principles of Bhaktiyoga, under the guidance of a spiritual master, can still be drawn to this perfectional stage by working for the Supreme Lord. How to do this work has already been explained in the fifty-fifth verse of the Eleventh Chapter: One should be sympathetic to the propagation of Krishna consciousness. There are many devotees who are engaged in the propagation of Krishna consciousness, and they require help. So, even if one cannot directly practice the regulated principles of Bhaktiyoga, he can try to help such propaganda work. Every endeavor requires land, capital, organization, and labor. Just as, in business, one requires a place to stay, some capital to use, some labor, and some organization to make propaganda, so the same is required in the service of Krishna. The only difference is that materialism means to work for sense gratification. The same work, however, can be performed for the satisfaction of Krishna: that is spiritual activity. So one, if he has sufficient money, can help in building an office or temple for propagating Krishna consciousness. Or he can help with publication work. There are various fields of activity, and one should be interested in such activities. If one cannot sacrifice the result of such activities, the same person can still sacrifice some percentage to propagate Krishna consciousness. This voluntary service to the cause of Krishna consciousness will help one to rise to a higher state of love for God, whereupon one becomes perfect.

11:     If, however, you are unable to work in Krishna consciousness, then try to act giving up all the results of your work, being self-situated.


IF THERE ARE impediments to accepting Krishna consciousness, one may try to give up the results of his actions. In that respect social service, community service, national service, sacrifice for the country—and there are so many other things—may be accepted, so that someday he may come to the stage of pure devotional service to the Supreme Lord. In The Bhagavad Gita we find it stated that to try to serve the Supreme Cause, although not knowing that it is Krishna Who is the Cause of all causes, will bring one ultimately to the Goal.

12:     If you cannot take to this practice, then engage yourself in the cultivation of knowledge. Better than knowledge, however, is meditation, and better than meditation is renunciation of the fruits of action, for, by such renunciation, one may have peace of mind.


TO REACH THE Supreme Personality of Godhead, the Highest Goal, there are two processes. One is by gradual development, and the other is direct. Devotional service in Krishna consciousness is the direct method, and the other method is to first renounce the result of one's activities, then come to the stage of knowledge, then come to the stage of meditation, then come to the stage of understanding the Supersoul, then come to the stage of knowing the Supreme Person. One may take it step by step, or directly. But the direct process is not possible for everyone, and so the indirect method is also useful. It is better, however, to accept the direct process of chanting the holy Name of Lord Krishna.

13-14:     One who is not envious, but is a kindly friend to all creatures, who does not think himself a proprietor; who is free from false ego, and equal both in happiness and distress, always satisfied, and engaged in devotional service with determination, and who is compact in mind and intelligence with Me—he is very dear to Me.

15:     He for whom no one is put into difficulty, and who is not disturbed by anxiety, steady in happiness and distress—he is very dear to Me.

16:     A devotee who is not dependent on the ordinary course of activities, who is pure, expert, without cares, free from all pains and not striving for some result—he is very dear to Me.

17:     One who does not grasp either pleasure or grief, who neither laments nor desires, and renounces both auspicious and inauspicious things—he is very dear to Me.

18-19:     One who is equal to friends and enemies, in honor and dishonor, in heat and cold, happiness and distress, and who is always free from contamination; who is equal both to infamy and repute, always silent, and satisfied with anything; who doesn't care for any residence, fixed in knowledge and engaged in devotional service—he is very dear to Me.


A DEVOTEE IS free from all bad association. Sometimes one is praised and sometimes defamed: that is the nature of human society. But a devotee is always transcendental to such artificial reputation and defamation, as he is to distress or happiness. He is very patient, and he does not speak except on the topics of Krishna. Therefore, he is called silent. Silent does not mean that one should not speak at all: Silent means one should not speak nonsense. One should speak only of the essential, and the most essential speech for the devotee is to speak for the Supreme Lord. Therefore he is silent. He is happy in all conditions. Sometimes he may get very luxurious foodstuffs, and sometimes he may not get such a thing; but he is satisfied even by the most ordinary food, or the most ordinary residence. He does not care for any residential facility. He may sometimes live underneath a tree, and he may sometimes live in a very palatial building; neither of them has any special attraction for him. He is called fixed because he is fixed in his determination and knowledge. We may find some repetitions of the same words in this description of the qualifications of a devotee. But that is not actually repetition. It is meant to emphasize the fact that a devotee must acquire all these qualities. Without good qualifications one cannot be a pure devotee. And, again, there is no good qualification in a person who is not a devotee. Therefore, one who wants to be recognized as a devotee must develop these things. Of course, he does not extraneously endeavor to acquire each one, but his engagement in Krishna consciousness and devotional service automatically helps him to develop these symptoms.

20:     He who follows this imperishable path of devotional service, and completely engages himself with faith, making Me the Supreme Goal—he is very, very dear to Me.


REGARDING THE QUESTION of who is better—one engaged in the pursuit of the impersonal Brahman, or one engaged in the personal service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead—the Lord replied quite explicitly—saying that there is not doubt about it—that devotional service to the Personality of Godhead is the best of all processes for spiritual realization. The impersonal conception of the Supreme Absolute Truth, as described in this chapter in order to dispel the doubts of Arjuna, is recommended only up to the time when one can surrender himself for self-realization. In other words, so long as one does not have the chance of association with a pure devotee, the impersonal conception may be good.

Thus end the Bhaktivedanta Purports to the Twelfth Chapter of The Srimad Bhagavad Gita, in the matter of Devotional Service.