We are doing a scripture study together: reading along through some scriptures and discussing the passages. Here are all of the posts on the previous verses for the Gita: Bhagavad Gita Study
4. Arjuna spoke:
Your birth was later,
The birth of Vivasvat earlier;
How should I understand this,
That You declared it in the beginning?
5.The Blessed Lord spoke:
Many of My births have passed away,
And also yours, Arjuna.
I know them all;
You do not know them, Arjuna.
6. Although I am birthless and My nature is imperishable,
Although I am the Lord of all beings,
Yet, by controlling My own material nature,
I come into being by My own power.
7. Whenever a decrease of righteousness
And there is a rising up of unrighteousness,
Then I manifest Myself.
Notes on the Sanskrit
later = “later, not earlier, not previous”
“Many of My births have passed away” is more literally translated as “Many of Me passed away.” I think that’s a rather beautiful way of putting it. Many of me have passed away.
“material nature” is prakriti
“by my own power” is by maya! So, the power of magic and/or illusion
“decrease of righteousness” could also be translated as “exhaustion of righteousness (dharma)”
Commentaries From the Gurus
Sri Adi Shankara says that the reason Sri Krishna remembers his past lives while Arjuna does not is that Arjuna’s “powers of cognition” are impeded by sanskara (karma). Sri Krishna is “eternally pure, awake, and free.” But then Arjuna wonders why the Eternal Lord has taken birth at all, if He does not have sanskara. Sri Adi Shankara says that Krishna’s birth is not a regular one. It appears that he is embodied like the rest of us but actually He only appears to become embodied, using the three gunas to “become” into the world.
And what is the purpose of that birth of the Lord? When dharma declines God comes to promote “prosperity and…the emancipation of all.”–Bhagavad Gita Bhaasya of Sri Shankaracharya
It’s so easy to forget that Arjuna did not fully comprehend the nature of his friend yet! I’m not sure if Arjuna knew at this point that Krishna was God. Even if he did, he clearly did not realize that meant Krishna has always been. Here Arjuna is confused because Krishna just told him that Krishna himself shared the Truth with people who lived thousands of years ago!
It’s very interesting to hear about how Sri Krishna’s manifestation in the world is not the same kind of birth that the rest of us have. That makes a lot of sense and clears up some questions that I have had about the difference between a person and an avatar of God (since we also have divinity within us).
I have to wonder when we will see an avatar of God again. I know they say there is only one manifestation of Vishnu yet to arrive: Kalki. And when Kalki comes it is the end of the world (for this cycle anyway). Seeing how much distress and adharma is present in the world today it is hard to believe that there were times it was so much worse that God manifested!
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