Ch 4 VERSE 34

तद्विद्धि प्रणिपातेन परिप्रश्नेन सेवया

उपदेक्ष्यन्ति ते ज्ञानं ज्ञानिनस्तत्त्वदर्शिनः ॥३४॥


tad viddhi praṇipātena

paripraśnena sevayā

upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ

jñāninas tattva-darśinaḥ


tat—that knowledge of different sacrifices; viddhi—try to understand; praṇipātena—by approaching a spiritual master; paripraśnena—by submissive inquiries; sevayā—by the rendering of service; upadekṣyanti—they will initiate; te—you; jñānam—into knowledge; jñāninaḥ—the self-realized; tattva—of the truth; darśinaḥ—seers.


Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.

tad viddhi praṇipātena

paripraśnena sevayā

upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ

jñāninas tattva-darśinaḥ


“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.”

This is probably one of the most important verses, or slokas, in the whole Bhagavad-gita, and it deals with a principle that is central to spiritual life. It is central to the idea of liberation from material entanglement, the attainment of full self-realization and God realization. And this principle alone is pivotal, and it deals with the acquisition of knowledge.

And when we say knowledge here, we are not speaking of the knowledge that one acquires from book learning, as it were, or mundane subjects, to know about something. We are speaking about knowing the truth, the highest or absolute truth, and not knowing about it, but actually knowing it, the process of spiritual realization. When Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad began to teach in the Western world, this is where he actually began in his classes from the—or on the Bhagavad-gita; and one can understand the reason for beginning from this point is to stress the most central importance of the principle of having a spiritual guide, a teacher, a spiritual master, guru, how this was central, fundamental and essential to the spiritual journey.

Up until this point in the Bhagavad-gita, in the preceding chapter (which we didn’t deal very much with, but which is very important) Krishna spoke to Arjuna about the science of karma yoga, of the active engagement, sometimes referred to also as kriya, kriya yoga, the active engagement of the body, the mind, the senses, in works of devotion that are dovetailed with the Supreme, where one learns how to make an offering of their life. And the result of such undertaking is also explained.

And beginning with this fourth chapter, Lord Krishna speaks of the different types of undertakings different spiritualists, or transcendentalists, performed since time immemorial, in order to gain the mercy of the Lord, that one would come to the platform of spiritual realization. And then after speaking in some length of these different types of, I’ll refer to them as sacrificial undertakings, because—

You’ll see in, just in life in general, if you want to acquire something, for instance you want to become successful in a particular career or something, it is required that you perform sacrifice. You make a sacrifice of your time and your energy. You undertake learning in a particular field. Then you go through a period of applied learning, the practicum, the applied learning, and you actually see that knowledge that you have now, how it is applied in a practical manner, towards a certain result, and one acquires experience, and now applies that in a very focused way.

So, with very few exceptions, this is what people need to do to succeed in this world, unless one has the extraordinary karma of being born into a very wealthy family, or suddenly coming upon great wealth without practically having—

I mean, I always remember that story, the biggest gold nugget, which was, I think it was over five kilos. I may have that wrong. It may be more, quite a bit more, but like, it was over five kilos, and it was uncovered in Australia. And it was discovered by somebody who tripped over it. It looked—because it was covered with dirt, it just looked like a dirty rock. And having tripped over it, and looking at it, one learns that it was actually a gold nugget.

And so that’s also a metaphor for the bounty of so-called good karma, that someone may suddenly come across something. But even that is always going to be a product, or result, of enormous sacrifice and undertaking from a previous life that has resulted in this outcome. So in all endeavours and undertaking, different types of sacrifice are necessary, and so it is also with spiritual life.

And so Krishna explains the different ways in which different transcendentalists made great sacrifices, sacrificial offerings of different parts of their life, or with different undertakings, even the drilling of the breath, pranayama, the different forms of meditation that one might try to utilize, etc. So having spoken of all of that, the fruit of all of that undertaking, of all of that sacrifice was what was broadly referred to as atma tattva—tattva means the truth, or the essential principle of something, and atma tattva means knowledge, or the truth, of the atma. And it’s not just knowledge about the atma, or the self, but actually awakening to the self, to my actual spiritual existence of self-realization.

So having spoken about that at some length Krishna begins this verse with tat, tat referring to the knowledge of the different sacrificial undertakings to attain atma tattva.

Then looking at the synonyms here, the first one I will draw your attention to is the word here as praṇipātena, or the actual root of that, pranipate. This term has been translated here as “by approaching a spiritual master,” and that is factually what is being referred to, but this is a very profound word. It has very deep meaning. It speaks of not just approaching, but also how one should approach. So when you look at the Sanskrit dictionary it means “falling at a person’s feet,” to fall at their feet. This means in a mode of tremendous surrender, the offering up of one’s heart, of one’s will, in a mood of great surrender. It can also mean “prostration, or humble submission to, or salutation, or great reverence, or obeisance.” So this word has actually tremendous importance in this verse, and we will get to it as we go forward.

The next word paripraśnenawhen they have “ena” on the end it is the genitive (I think it is called) case meaning, by or through, or with. So praśnena, it means inquiry, to inquire to—and since it’s following this other word praṇipāten], it means with great humility, and with great submission, to make inquiry.

And then we have this word seva, sevayā. Seva means to serve—the rendering of service in the utmost humility.

And then we’ll just jump to the last couple of words, tattvadarśinaḥ. Tattva is, again, being translated here, rightfully, as truth. The darśinaḥ is interesting, because it references the seer. So when we see these words together we are speaking of the great seers of truth. Seers of truth doesn’t mean, “Oh, I have my truth, and you have your truth,” which are all products of one’s mind, and one’s interests, and, you know… The state of one’s consciousness is affecting these. And this word gives us the appreciation of an absolute truth that is not perceived through sensory perception or with the mind, but one who has actual transcendental realization of this truth.

So before going forward let’s just revisit the verse one more time.

“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.”

So this raises then the question of who to approach. How do we know who is such a person or personality? And we have referenced previously how Arjuna is asking Krishna that, when a person is in a state of transcendence, when they are self-realized and God-realized, what—how do you recognize them? What is their—how do they sit, walk, speak? How do you fundamentally recognize them?

So we have within the Vedas what was actually common knowledge previously, about what are the qualities and characteristics of a transcendentalist. And it was essential and important to actually cultivate this understanding, because if you do not cultivate this understanding there is always the grave danger that one will approach someone who is actually not qualified, and who will then mislead an innocent person.

One of the very essential pieces of—or one of the most essential qualifications, I mean a “must have” for a spiritual master, was previously spoken of in the very beginning of this chapter, in the second sloka of this chapter, where Krishna was speaking, and I mentioned this in the introduction.

Krishna was speaking to Arjuna about the history of transcendental knowledge, and in speaking about it, in this particular sloka, beginning with “evaṁ paramparā-prāptam imaṁ” this—here Krishna speaks about this term parampara. This is a critical term. It speaks of what may be referred to it in English as a disciplic succession, meaning a succession of spiritual teachers, or spiritual masters and disciples, their sisa, and that sisa having perfectly heard and perfectly learned from a perfect spiritual teacher, themself become perfect in their application and realization, and therefore now are able to pass down this empowered knowledge to suitable and qualified candidates.

So the English translation of this verse:

“This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and saintly kings understood it in that way. But in course of time the succession was broken, therefore the science as it is appears to be lost.”

So He was referencing—Lord Krishna was speaking in the context of a succession, a spiritual succession of teachers that was amongst the saintly kings, the raja rishis, and that particular chain had become lost. And so Krishna was now speaking the same science to Arjuna.

This principle of parampara, it is being referred to and likened—there is the example, Vedic example given, that when people would pick mangoes from a tree, like harvesting all the mangoes from a huge mango tree, they would—a number of people would climb into the tree, and you would have one person at the top going out and picking the mangoes from the outer branches, and then passing them down carefully to the person below them. And then that person receiving it would then pass it to the next person, so on all the way down through the tree, and so that the mango finally arrives at the ground level not damaged in any way, and placed in a wicker basket, bamboo basket. And this passing, this analogy was used for how the highest spiritual truth is passed down. And that system, this word, parampara, means literally passing from one to the other.

The particular lineages that manifest over time become known as sampradaya, and so the lineage to which I belong, it is called the Brahma Madhva Gaudiya Vaisnava sampradaya. These words indicate the significant personalities, from the Supreme Lord all the way down to the current time, the significant personalities in this particular lineage. And this system for passing the knowledge through the lineage was this parampara, this system.

So this was one of the criteria for knowing whether somebody was an authentic, or bona fide, spiritual teacher: What lineage did they belong to? If there is no lineage—I mean you’ll find there have been so many instances of people who want to pose as guru, but their lineage, some of them have no lineage. They acquire something from this person, and that person, somebody else, and then they invent their own system, or their own truth. There are a huge number of examples of this type of thing. Or somebody just tries to tell others, “Oh, I was suddenly just given enlightenment, and saw the truth, and now I’m here to teach you.” This is not taught in the Vedas. This is not the Vedic system. The Vedic system was one of these authentic and empowered lineages, sampradaya, through which parampara the teachings were passed and perfectly handed on from one self-realized spiritual master to another. And these lineages are all traced back directly to the personality of Godhead.

So in speaking about this verse we are reminded just once again that there are two paths, or two categories of paths in spiritual life, which we’ve previously mentioned: The aroha-pantha which is the ascending process where I am going to try and scale the mountain. I’m going to do it by my qualification, by my ability, by my worthiness. I’m going to climb my way to the top. But that is understood as being impractical, not just from the point of view of the difficulty, but we are not dealing with something that is impersonal or unconscious, like a mountain. We are dealing with consciousness, with will; and one cannot, as a small jiva atma, one cannot impose their will on that which is almighty, and that which is all-powerful. It’s not even a possibility.

And so this other alternate process is understood to be the actual spiritual process for success, which is called the avaroha-pantha, or the descending process, descending meaning that I understand that I am in need of blessing, I am in need of grace. It is also referred to as the path of revelation, because that transcendental knowledge and experience, transcendental vision, is revealed to a worthy candidate. It is a path that requires tremendous humility.

And so, when we look at the words again, in this verse, it’s telling us there are two requirements in the big picture. If I am to approach an actual seer of truth in order to also acquire the highest transcendental knowledge, then there are two things that are asked of me. One of them is, I must approach with enormous surrender, and in that state of submission and surrender there are two things I must do. One is to make inquiry, and the second is to engage in service to that personality. And both of these things are necessary for me to gain the mercy of such a transcendentalist, who will then gladly bestow this highest spiritual knowledge upon me.

The bestowing of knowledge—I would just make the point also, there’s all kinds of stories that circulate, like how—they have this term which is so misapplied, shaktipat, where a disciple approaches his guru, and the guru touches him on the forehead or whatever, and suddenly he’s like hit by lightning, and may even go unconscious, and then when he comes to, he’s filled with spiritual realization. This is simply a fantasy. When things are presented in this way, they are not reflective of the truth, and how spiritual realization occurs, and what is needed.

So firstly, one must approach a bona fide, or empowered, authentic spiritual teacher. There is a wonderful verse in the Bhagavat Purana speaking about this subject, and it states:

“Therefore any person who seriously desires real happiness must seek a bona fide spiritual master and take shelter of him by initiation. The qualification of the bona fide guru is that he has realized the conclusions of the scriptures by deliberation and is able to convince others of these conclusions. Such great personalities who have taken shelter of the Supreme Godhead, leaving aside all material considerations should be understood to be bona fide spiritual masters.”

So this is a confirmation of what we have been speaking about. One of the ancient commentators that I’ve referenced before, Sri Sridhara Swami, from the Vishnu Swami, or Rudra sampradaya, in his erudite commentary on the Bhagavad-gita, he has stated:

“The means to acquire atma tattva, or soul-realization, is being stated here: How is this knowledge to be acquired? Lord Krishna reveals it is by inquiry, inquiry from a self-realized being, by falling submissively at his feet just like a stick before him…. [This] is the goal of human existence, and how is it possible to attain it?”

So his reference to falling like a stick, since the most ancient of times there was a term to describe this falling down like a stick. In Sanskrit it’s called danda. Danda means like a rod or a stick, and when one prostrates himself at the feet of a great enlightened soul, as if they were like a rod on the ground this is—this act is known as a dandavat or dandavat pranam, the respectful offering fully prostrated obeisance, and it is a term that really should be a central guiding principle in one’s spiritual journey, in one’s spiritual life.

When one finds such a qualified and bona fide, spiritually potent, a spiritual master, then one should actually dedicate their life. Not that you go and learn something for some time, and say, “Thank you,” and then leave. One becomes eternally bound to their spiritual master in the deepest sense of gratitude, and seeing the spiritual master as the external manifestation of the Supreme Lord. It is by the Supreme Lord’s mercy that one gains a spiritual master of such a calibre, and one dedicates their life and feels eternally grateful to such a spiritual personality, and is eternally bound in a mood of reverential service and loving service to such a transcendentalist.

Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, in his commentary on this verse in the Bhagavad-gita, he states:

“Inquiries and submission constitute the proper combination for spiritual understanding. Unless there is submission and service, inquiries from the learned spiritual master will not be effective. One must be able to pass the test of the spiritual master, and when he sees the genuine desire of the disciple, he automatically blesses the disciple with genuine spiritual understanding. In this verse, both blind following and absurd inquiries are condemned.”

I would just make the point that in the Vedic system one of the most important things that you could do in teaching any child is to teach them how to question. The idea of blind acceptance is condemned within the Vedas. It is considered very dangerous, I mean if you just luck out, as it were, and become connected to somebody who is a genuine representative of God, then it’s fundamentally just out of luck. But if one is engaged in blind acceptance then there is always this grave danger of being misled or not being able to actually receive the truth fully.

Submissive inquiry means that. It is the mode of inquiring. Submissive means that I understand that I am not in possession of the highest truth. I want to know what is the purpose of life; what I should be doing; why am I here? what is this world for? These things I badly need to know.

If I approach a spiritual teacher and ask a question, and then I’m going to judge, “Oh, has he got it right or not?” this is a big mistake, because it is not a form of submissive inquiry. We see what is fashionable in this period of time, that people develop their own ideas of what is truth; and if they find some teacher who strokes their false ego, or supports their own conclusions, especially when they are wrong, or presents an idea that resonates with them, then they embrace that person as a teacher. But if that teacher says something that I don’t like to hear, and it may be contrary to what I’m holding on to as being true, then my tendency is to become critical and to reject.

Submissive inquiry means that I ask the question from the platform of appreciating that I don’t actually know the answer—I think I do. I may think I have an answer—and I accept, after spending the time to ascertain whether this is a bona fide and empowered spiritual teacher, I listen to what they have to say, and then I need to go away and reflect on that, not just once, or twice, but in my life, and see if I come to actually understand and appreciate that truth.

As I engage in the process of sadhana, the process of spiritual purification, and this—a big part of that is to engage in the service of the spiritual master, because that activity begins to awaken the eternal nature of the soul itself. My consciousness becomes increasingly purified. My eternal spiritual nature is gradually being awakened, and the truth that has been spoken of becomes gradually revealed to me, and it’s like the sun rising over a valley that is full of mist in the morning. In the middle of the valley in the middle of the mist I can’t see anything. I can barely see my hand in front of my face. But as the sun beats down the mist gradually begins to dissipate, and I can begin to see the forms of trees and other things around me. And gradually that mist entirely lifts, and I’m able to see the sun in its full glory and feel the rays of warmth and light beating down upon me.

This is what it means to experience revealed truth, when my own consciousness gradually becomes purified, and I become lifted out of the mist, or the fog of ignorance, and begin to see things with clarity. And so when I make inquiry it should be submissive. I know I don’t know the truth. When I hear an answer maybe I don’t get it immediately, maybe I don’t fully appreciate it, may even be contrary to something that I’ve come to believe or hold as being the truth, but if this person is an actual empowered—a seer of the truth, tattva-darśinaḥ, an actual seer of the truth, then they will lead me out of this fog into the light.

Thank you very much.