aparaṁ bhavato janma
paraṁ janma vivasvataḥ
katham etad vijānīyāṁ
tvam ādau proktavān iti
Translation of Bhagavad Gita 4.4
Arjuna said: The sun-god Vivasvān is senior by birth to You. How am I to understand that in the beginning You instructed this science to him?
Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
Arjuna is an accepted devotee of the Lord, so how could he not believe Krishna’s words? The fact is that Arjuna is not inquiring for himself but for those who do not believe in the Supreme Personality of Godhead or for the demons who do not like the idea that Krishna should be accepted as the Supreme Personality of Godhead; for them only Arjuna inquires on this point, as if he were himself not aware of the Personality of Godhead, or Krishna. As it will be evident from the Tenth Chapter, Arjuna knew perfectly well that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the fountainhead of everything and the last word in transcendence. Of course, Krishna also appeared as the son of Devaki on this earth. How Krishna remained the same Supreme Personality of Godhead, the eternal original person, is very difficult for an ordinary man to understand. Therefore, to clarify this point, Arjuna put this question before Krishna so that He Himself could speak authoritatively. That Krishna is the supreme authority is accepted by the whole world, not only at present but from time immemorial, and the demons alone reject Him. Anyway, since Krishna is the authority accepted by all, Arjuna put this question before Him in order that Krishna would describe Himself without being depicted by the demons, who always try to distort Him in a way understandable to the demons and their followers. It is necessary that everyone, for his own interest, know the science of Krishna. Therefore, when Krishna Himself speaks about Himself, it is auspicious for all the worlds. To the demons, such explanations by Krishna Himself may appear to be strange because the demons always study Krishna from their own standpoint, but those who are devotees heartily welcome the statements of Krishna when they are spoken by Krishna Himself. The devotees will always worship such authoritative statements of Krishna because they are always eager to know more and more about Him. The atheists, who consider Krishna an ordinary man, may in this way come to know that Krishna is superhuman, that He is sac-cid-ananda-vigraha [Bs. 5.1]—the eternal form of bliss and knowledge—that He is transcendental, and that He is above the domination of the modes of material nature and above the influence of time and space. A devotee of Krishna, like Arjuna, is undoubtedly above any misunderstanding of the transcendental position of Krishna. Arjuna’s putting this question before the Lord is simply an attempt by the devotee to defy the atheistic attitude of persons who consider Krishna to be an ordinary human being, subject to the modes of material nature.
Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
In this verse, Arjuna asks about the impossibility of what Krishna has just spoken. “Your birth is recent (aparam) and Vivasvan’s birth is ancient (param). How can I understand that you spoke it to him?”
Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:
4.4 Arjuna said — According to the calculation of time, your birth was indeed later, contemporaneous with our births. And the birth of Vivasvan was at an earlier time, reckoned as twenty-eight cycles of units of four Yugas each. How can I understand as true that you taught it in the beginning? Now, there is no contradiction here, for it was quite possible that He had taught Vivasvan in a former birth. The memory of what was done in former births is quite natural for great men. This should not be taken to mean that Arjuna does not know the son of Vasudeva, the speaker, as the Lord of all. Because he (Arjuna) says later on: ‘You are the Supreme Brahman, the Supreme Light and the Supreme Purifier. All the seers proclaim You as the eternal Divine Purusa, the Primal Lord, unborn and all-pervading. So also proclaim the divine sage Narada, Asita, Devala and Vyasa. You Yourself also are saying this to me’ (10.12-13.) Arjuna had heard repeatedly from Bhisma and others during the Rajasuya sacrifice of Yudhisthira, ‘Krsna alone is the cause of creation and submergence of all the worlds. This universe, consisting of things both animate and inanimate, was created for the sake of Krsna’ (Ma. Bha., 2.38.23) ‘The entire universe is subservient to Krsna’ is the meaning of ‘For the sake of Krnsa’. This apparent contradiction may be explained as follows: Arjuna surely knows the son of Vasudeva as the Bhagavan. Though knowing Him as such, he questions as if he did not know Him. This is his intention. Can the birth of the Lord of all, who is antagonistic to all that is evil and wholly auspicious, omniscient, whose will is always true and whose desires are fulfilled — can the birth of such a Person be of the same nature as that of the gods, men etc., who are subject to Karma? Or can it be false like the illusions of a magical show? Or could it be real? In other words, is the birth of the Supreme Being as the incarnate a real fact or a mere illusory phenomenon produced by a magician’s art? If His birth is real, what is the mode of His birth? What is the nature of His body? What is the manner of His birth? What is the nature of this body of His? What is the casue of His birth? To what end is He born? The way in which Sri Krsna answers Arjuna’s question, justifies the construing of his question in this way.
Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:
Considering the possibility of Visvavan being instructed 120 million years previously by the same Lord Krishna as He is standing before him, Arjuna asks the Lord to explain just how it was that He taught this eternal yoga or the science of the individual consciousness attaining communion with the ultimate consciousness to Visvavan, the demigod of the sun.
Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:
This question is asked in relation to Lord Krishna’s earlier declaration in chapter III.XXX mayi sarvani karmani meaning to offer all activities to Him.
Now begins the summation.
The purpose of inquiry from men of wisdom as given in the Agni Purana has a dual purpose. First is reconfirmation of the knowledge of eternal principles that they already possess. Second is that their explanations offer additional clarification. In this same way these questions asked to Lord Krishna should be understood in this manner. One should be aware that Arjuna was not a novice bereft of Vedic knowledge, he had been to the heavenly planets and had received instuctions from his father Indra the chief of the celestials. He also had never broken his vows and was never defeated in battle. So he was not an ordinary being and was somewhat cognizant of Lord Krishna supreme position.
Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:
Although Arjuna had experienced many wonderful and divine lila’s or pastimes with Lord Krishna still he could understand that it would be difficult for others to fathom the reality of His teaching the demigod of the sun Visvavan 120 million years previous. So Arjuna posed this question for Lord Krishna who is isvara or the Ultimate Controller and Supreme Ruler of all creation, time and action. He alone is the ultimate reality and highest destination who incarnated in the family of Vasudeva in order to remove the speculations of those whose minds were made impure by tendency to sinful activities as well as to eradicate the demoniac elements present who were polluting the Earth. The question was asked so Lord Krishna could confirm the truth Himself regarding His transcendental appearance and supra- mundane phenomenal exploits that the miscreants and non-believers refuse to except as being possible for the Supreme Lord. By answering this question all doubts would be cleared up about Lord Krishna’s supreme position.
Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:
4.4 Bhavatah, Your; janma, was aparam, later, in the abode of Vasudeva; (whereas) the birth vivasvatah, of Visvasvan, the Sun; was param, earlier, in the beginning of creation. Therefore, katham, how; vijanyam, am I to understand; etat, this, as not inconsistent; iti, that; tvam, You, yourself; who proktavan, insturcted this Yoga; adau, in the beginning, are the same person who are now teaching me? By way of demolishing the doubt of fools with regard to Vasudeva, that He has no God-hood and omniscience-to which very purpose was Arjuna’s question-
Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:
4.4 Even though he knows the nature of the Lord, Arjuna asks this question in order to publisize it to the world
Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:
aparaṁ bhavato janma
paraṁ janma vivasvataḥ
katham etad vijānīyāṁ
tvam ādau proktavān iti
Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:
arjunaḥ uvāca — Arjuna said; aparam — junior; bhavataḥ — Your; janma — birth; param — superior; janma — birth; vivasvataḥ — of the sun-god; katham — how; etat — this; vijānīyām — shall I understand; tvam — You; ādau — in the beginning; proktavān — instructed; iti — thus.