Srimad Bhagavad-gita Study Group
- Chapter 4 -
The Path of Knowledge
When religion has been corrupted and irreligion prevails in the name of religion and when the saintly are persecuted by the wicked for propagating the path of Divine Love, the Supreme Lord Krishna advents Himself in the mundane world, to protect his devotees, vanquish the demonic and re-establish true religion. Those who are fortunate to realise His advent and His pastimes to be fully Divine are released from the bonds of Maya and are not born again. By acquiring true knowledge of the self and of Godhead, a person becomes purified, his desire to enjoy the world dissolves, his devotion to the Lord is established as he takes absolute shelter of Him and he attains unalloyed spiritual bliss in the plane of Divinity. The Lord reciprocates with His devotee in proportion to the degree of his surrender. Jnana-yoga or the spiritual knowledge of the relationship between the jiva soul and the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna, Reality the Beautiful, brings about freedom from all sins and destroys the pollution of selfish action. This transcendental knowledge is acquired by those who have realised the Absolute Truth by submissive spirit, honest enquiry and obedient temperament. It ends all doubt, prejudice and ignorance and establishes one in the plane of real liberation. There is nothing more holy than transcendental knowledge of the self and the Supreme Lord and this knowledge is the fruit of niskama-karma-yoga. When performed with firm faith, controlled senses and steadfast attachment to Lord Krishna, one ultimately attains to eternal bliss.
Useful Acronym to remember the chapter contents:
Spiritual knowledge is known as sruti – “that which is heard”. In bygone ages, people would hear such knowledge, remember it, assimilate it, and perfectly communicate it to the next person without any adulteration. Chapter Four is entitled “The Path of Knowledge” for it is this knowledge which outlines how one can establish their divine connection with God. The famous Vedic aphorism thus encourages, “Aim to see God through the ears rather than the eyes’.
E Eternal education
A Accurate Understanding
R Removing Reactions
E - Eternal education (Verses 1-10) - Just as every gadget comes with an instruction manual, this entire universe comes with guidelines which enlighten one about its purpose and function. Such guidelines are found in the ancient scriptures, which contain knowledge of divine origin, imparted at the time of creation. Krishna explains how this eternal educational system was originally set up by Him. This system perpetuates in the universe through qualified and saintly persons, who impart spiritual knowledge to the masses in a dynamic, relevant and practical way. Thus, the material creation is essentially a university wherein we rediscover our relationship with God. As the creator and
maintainer, Krishna periodically appears in the world to re-inject spirituality, remove materialistic influences and ensure the smooth functioning of the universe.
A - Accurate Understanding (Verses 11-15) - Most people know something about religion, and something about God, but their understanding can often be quite hazy and confused. However, when transcendental knowledge is received through the eternal educational system one gains an accurate understanding. In three verses, Krishna clears up three common misunderstandings of Eastern spirituality. Verse 11 addresses the misconception that all spiritual paths lead to the same destination – Krishna explains that while there is unity in diversity, there are also different gradations of spiritual elevation. Verse 12 addresses the misconception that Eastern scriptures talk of polytheism and the worship of many “gods” - Krishna re-emphasises the monotheistic stance that there is only one God. Verse 13 addresses the concern that the caste system is unfair and exploitative - Krishna
outlines the true criteria and purpose of such classification.
R – Removing Reactions (Verses 16-24) - While transcendental knowledge helps one to clear up philosophical doubts, it also helps one to clear up their “karmic bank balance”. Karma is a universal law of nature – for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. While “bad karma” is obviously undesirable, Krishna further explains that even “good karma” should be avoided since it also binds one to material existence. Beyond good and bad are activities performed on the spiritual platform, that is, action which yields no material reaction and ultimately frees one from the anxieties and entanglements of this world. Such action is known as akarma.
S – Sacrifice (Verses 25-42) - In order to acquire, understand and realise transcendental knowledge one must make a sacrifice. While material knowledge is dependent on calibre, spiritual knowledge is dependent upon character. Sacrifices help refine one’s character so they become eligible to achieve this knowledge. One of the biggest sacrifices is to relinquish one’s pride by humbly submitting oneself before the bona fide Guru. By faithful service and sincere enquiry within such a relationship, the heart becomes fertile ground for spiritual knowledge to blossom.
Questions on Chapter 4
Chapter 4 slokas to learn:
yadā yadā hi dharmasya glānir bhavati bhārata
abhyutthānam adharmasya tadātmānaṁ sṛjāmy aham 
(he) bhārata–O Arjuna; yadā yadā hi–whenever; glāniḥ–a decline; dharmasya–of religion; (cha)–and; abhyutthānam–an uprising; adharmasya–of irreligion; bhavati–occurs; tadā–then; aham sṛjāmi–I appear, seemingly like a being born in this world—I make My advent; ātmānam–Myself. 
7 O Bhārata, whenever there is a decline of religion and an uprising of irreligion, I personally make My advent.
paritrāṇāya sādhūnāṁ vināśāya cha duṣkṛtām
dharma-saṁsthāpanārthāya sambhavāmi yuge yuge 
paritrāṇāya–For the deliverance; sādhūnām–of saintly devotees; (tathā)–and; vināśāya–for the vanquishing; duṣkṛtām–of miscreants; saṁsthāpana-arthāya cha–and for firmly establishing; dharma–dhyān (meditation), yajana (performance of sacrifice), paricharyā (worship), and saṅkīrtan (congregational chanting of the Holy Names) all centred on Me; (aham)–I; sambhavāmi–appear; yuge yuge–age after age. 
8 I appear age after age to deliver the saintly devotees, vanquish the miscreants, and firmly establish true religion.
janma karma cha me divyam evaṁ yo vetti tattvataḥ
tyaktvā dehaṁ punar janma naiti mām eti so ’rjuna 
(he) arjuna–O Arjuna; yaḥ–one who; vetti–knows; evam–thus; tattvataḥ–the reality; me–of My; divyam–spontaneous, divine; janma karma cha–birth and activities; saḥ–he; tyaktvā–upon giving up; deham–the body; na eti–does not accept; punaḥ janma–rebirth. mam eti–He attains Me. 
9 O Arjuna, one who comes to know thus the truth of My Pastimes of divine birth and activities, does not undergo rebirth. After giving up this body, he attains Me. (My grace is revealed to him as My personal transcendental joyful potency, hlādinī-śakti. His heart is melted in divine love, and he attains My eternal devotional service.)
tad viddhi praṇipātena paripraśnena sevayā
upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ jñāninas tattva-darśinaḥ 
tat–Such knowledge; viddhi–should be known; praṇipātena–by submission, obeisances; paripraśnena–by relevant inquiry; sevayā–and by sincere service. jñāninaḥ–Those learned in the scriptures; tattva-darśinaḥ–endowed with divine revelation of the Supreme Absolute Truth; upadekṣyanti–will impart; jñānam–knowledge; te–to you. 
34 You will be able to attain knowledge by satisfying the divine master with submission, relevant inquiry, and sincere service. The enlightened souls who are learned in scriptural knowledge and endowed with direct realisation of the Supreme Absolute Truth will impart divine knowledge to you.