Bhagavad-gita’s Ultimate Purpose
Compiled by Stephen Knapp
The Bhagavad-gita is the essence of all Vedic philosophy and is composed of 700 verses and explains such topics as the nature of the soul, God, the material universe, the nature of activities and karma, reincarnation, the process of yoga, the purpose of life, and more. Within the Bhagavad-gita we can find the teachings for such additional topics as how to have a peaceful life, how to gain stability of mind, how to understand the workings of material nature, or even get insights into principles of management. When we really analyze it, there are so many different levels of understanding that can be found within it. Nonetheless, in the Bhagavad-gita we find a recurring theme which puts emphasis on what Lord Krishna taught and expected of Arjuna, and all readers of it, for what we really need to accomplish, and the real purpose of it. Out of all of the teachings we find within, Bhagavan Sri Krishna continues to emphasize the need to end our karma, to stop the cycle of birth and death in this material existence, and to ultimately reach the spiritual world, His abode, where we belong.
These verses form what can be called part of the foundation of the bhakti movement in emphasizing devotion to Krishna as the Supreme Being, which also provides the means to free ourselves from samsara, repeated birth and death in this material creation, and attain the highest spiritual destination. This would also place attention on Kurukshetra, the Dharma-dhama, since this is the place where Lord Krishna taught this most crucial of information, as found in the Bhagavad-gita. Therefore, the land of Kurukshetra should be considered one of the most important places for not only the bhakti movement, but also as the historical place of origination for these most essential teachings on Vedic Dharma, and where these teachings were most effectively put into action with the battle of Kurukshetra. What follows are a number of the verses which explain this most essential recurring theme as emphasized by Lord Sri Krishna.
Starting in Chapter 2, Content of the Gita Summarized, after Bhagavan Sri Krishna begins to teach the essential aspects of understanding the soul, He says in verse 72 the real purpose of this knowledge, which is how to follow this path to lead a life that will bring a person to the highest destination possible, "That is the way of the spiritual and godly life, after attaining which a man is not bewildered. Being so situated, even at the hour of death, one can enter into the kingdom of God." This is the beginning of recognizing that Lord Krishna wants Arjuna and all of us to ultimately attain the spiritual realm. This is the real purpose of His teachings in Bhagavad-gita.
Then in Chapter 4, Sri Krishna continues to clarify this in the explanations of what is Transcendental Knowledge and how to begin to comprehend Krishna as the Absolute Truth. In verse 9 He says, "One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna."
In this way, understanding the truth and characteristics of Bhagavan Sri Krishna is one method that can bring a person to the spiritual world. But attaining the spiritual world is the main point.
Then in verses 23- 24 of the same chapter, Lord Krishna again emphasizes that, "The work of a man who is unattached to the modes of material nature, and who is fully situated in transcendental knowledge, merges entirely into transcendence. A person who is fully absorbed in Krishna consciousness is sure to attain the spiritual kingdom because of his full contribution to spiritual activities, in which the consummation is absolute and that which is offered is of the same spiritual nature."
In other words, by engaging in bhakti-yoga, or the devotional service to the Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna, such activities are on the spiritual platform, cutting one off from material activities and their reactions, and spiritualizes one’s consciousness, which is the goal, for that is the process for perceiving and then entering the spiritual abode.
Then in verse 30 of the same chapter, Lord Krishna makes it even more clear by explaining that when a person attains an attraction to performing loving devotional activities to Him, that attraction overcomes any material desires and takes one to the spiritual realm. As He says, "All these performers who know the meaning of sacrifice become cleansed of sinful reaction [meaning freedom from karma], and, having tasted the nectar of the remnants of such sacrifice [meaning to attain the attraction to performing spiritual activities], they go to the supreme eternal abode."
In verse 32 we find that He elaborates by saying, "All these different types of sacrifice are approved by the Vedas, and all of them are born of different types of work [meaning physical, mental, or intellectual]. Knowing them as such [to bring you above the bodily platform], you will become liberated."
In Chapter 5, when Krishna explains the process of Karma-yoga–Action in Krishna Consciousness, verses 24-26, Krishna again explains the spiritual goal of all such activities, which is the purpose of Karma-yoga, "One whose happiness is within, who is active within, who rejoices within and is illumined within, is actually the perfect mystic. He is liberated in the Supreme, and ultimately he attains the Supreme. One who is beyond duality and doubt, whose mind is engaged within, who is always busy working for the welfare of all sentient beings, and who is free from all sins, achieves liberation in the Supreme. Those who are free from anger and all material desires, who are self-realized, self-disciplined and constantly endeavoring for perfection, are assured of liberation in the Supreme in the very near future."
Here again the purpose of focusing all of our actions on the transcendental nature of who we are, and the means to free ourselves from all karma, is to ultimately attain liberation or freedom from the continuation of any more material existence.
Then in Chapter 7, Knowledge of the Absolute, Bhagavan Sri Krishna explains His different energies and to which energy the individual soul belongs. However, in verse 18, Lord Krishna emphasizes the central purpose of being His devotee, and how to most favorably reach the supreme goal: "All these devotees are undoubtedly magnanimous souls, but he who is situated in knowledge of Me I consider verily to dwell in Me. Being engaged in My transcendental service, he attains Me."
To elaborate further, in Chapter 8, Attaining the Supreme, verses 5-8, Lord Krishna clearly expresses the purpose of meditation and the ultimate goal for which we should practice through all the phases of our life. "And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt. Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail. Therefore, Arjuna, you should always think of Me in the form of Krishna and at the same time carry out your prescribed duty of fighting. With your activities dedicated to Me and your mind and intelligence fixed on Me, you will attain Me without doubt. He who meditates on the Supreme Personality of Godhead, his mind constantly engaged in remembering Me, undeviated from the path, he, O Partha [Arjuna], is sure to reach Me."
Again Lord Krishna further explains in Chapter 8, verses 13-14, the ultimate way to prepare for leaving this body so we can attain the highest destination after this life: "After being situated in this yoga practice and vibrating the sacred syllable om, the supreme combination of letters, if one thinks of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and quits his body, he will certainly reach the spiritual planets. For one who remembers Me without deviation, I am easy to obtain, O son of Partha, because of his constant engagement in devotional service [bhakti-yoga]."
Lord Krishna makes the ultimate purpose of all of His instructions in the Bhagavad-gita very clear by again, in Chapter 8, verse 21, explaining that He expects us to ultimately attain His spiritual abode: "That supreme abode is called unmanifested and infallible, and it is the supreme destination. When one goes there, he never comes back. That is My supreme abode."
Therefore, in Chapter 9, The Most Confidential Knowledge, verse 25, Lord Krishna relates the destination of those who meditate on other objects of worship, while the real goal is to reach the spiritual realm of Lord Krishna. "Those who worship the demigods will take birth among the demigods; those who worship ghosts and spirits will take birth among such beings; those who worship ancestors go to the ancestors; and those who worship Me will live with Me."
Then in the same chapter, verse 28, Lord Krishna points us in what He considers the right direction to attain the highest goal, when He says, "In this way you will be freed from all reactions to good and evil deeds, and by this principle of renunciation you will be liberated and come to Me."
However, Lord Krishna is not yet finished in emphasizing the ultimate purpose of these instructions of Bhagavad-gita. He reiterates in verse 34, "Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, offer obeisances and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me."
In this way, He explains the real objective, as He again points out in Chapter 13, verse 24, when speaking about Nature, the Enjoyer, and Consciousness, "One who understands this philosophy concerning material nature, the living entity and the interaction of the modes of nature is sure to attain liberation. He will not take birth here again, regardless of his present position."
Later in verse 35 of the same chapter, Lord Krishna points out that by perceiving the difference between the body and the person who resides in the body, the soul, leads us to becoming free from bodily existence. He says, "One who knowingly sees this difference between the body and the owner of the body and can understand the process of liberation from this bondage, also attains to the supreme goal."
This is the process of becoming free from illusion, in which Arjuna was temporarily entrapped by his confusion about what he should do. So to provide the whole purpose for attaining freedom from illusion and such misconceptions, Lord Sri Krishna instructs in Chapter 15, The Yoga of the Supreme Person, in verses 5-6, "One who is free from illusion, false prestige, and false association, who understands the eternal, who is done with material lust and is freed from the duality of happiness and distress, and who knows how to surrender unto the Supreme Person, attains to that eternal kingdom. That abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by electricity. One who reaches it never returns to this material world."
Finally, after explaining the whole Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna, Lord Krishna reaches the culmination of all such Upanishadic knowledge by summarizing the ultimate goal of any devotee, when He says in Chapter 18, Conclusion–The Perfection of Renunciation, verses 55-56: "One can understand the Supreme Personality as He is only by devotional service [bhakti-yoga]. And when one is in full consciousness of the Supreme Lord by such devotion, he can enter into the kingdom of God. Though engaged in all kinds of activities, My devotee, under My protection, reaches the eternal and imperishable abode by My grace."
Therefore, the ultimate position of any transcendentalist or yogi is to attain the grace of the Lord if we want to enter the spiritual world or kingdom of God. And to do this most effectively, Lord Krishna clearly says, again in Chapter 18, verses 65-66: "Always think of Me and become My devotee. Worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend. Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear."
Herein is the final conclusion of the purpose of all spiritual activities, without which, we have still not quite attained or understood the goal. And for those who help illuminate this, Lord Krishna says in Chapter 18, verses 68-69, that such a person can certainly attain the goal of the teachings of Bhagavad-gita, "For one who explains this supreme secret to the devotees, devotional service is guaranteed, and at the end he will come back to Me. There is no servant in this world more dear to Me than he, nor will there ever be one more dear." So, in other words, teaching this knowledge is itself devotional service or bhakti-yoga, which is the basis for spiritualizing our consciousness, and which is the method for entering the spiritual abode of Lord Krishna.
In addition to this, simply by studying the Bhagavad-gita will lead to great achievements on our path of spiritual progress, as Lord Krishna explains in Chapter 18, verses 70-71: "And I declare that he who studies this sacred conversation worships Me by his intelligence. And one who listens with faith and without envy becomes free from sinful reaction and attains to the planets where the pious dwell."
It can’t get more easy than that.
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To conclude, all of these verses quoted above, and many others from the Bhagavad-gita indicate the ultimate purpose of its teachings, and, quite honestly, the ultimate purpose behind all of Vedic knowledge. We are not really a product of this material creation, nor is it our real home, nor will we ever be able to stay here forever. So Lord Krishna emphasizes the real goal of life within this recurring theme in the Bhagavad-gita, which is to reach freedom from any further existence in this material world and attain Bhagavan Sri Krishna’s supreme spiritual abode. That is our ultimate destination where we can attain the real nature of the soul, which reveals our true identity, and where we can finally be truly happy and blissful.
The Bhagavad-gita As it Is, translated by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, New York/Los Angeles, 1972.