na veda-yajñādhyayanair na dānair
na ca kriyābhir na tapobhir ugraiḥ
evaḿ-rūpaḥ śakya ahaḿ nṛ-loke
draṣṭuḿ tvad anyena kuru-pravīra
Translation of Bhagavad Gita 11.48
O best of the Kuru warriors, no one before you has ever seen this universal form of Mine, for neither by studying the Vedas, nor by performing sacrifices, nor by charity, nor by pious activities, nor by severe penances can I be seen in this form in the material world.
Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
The divine vision in this connection should be clearly understood. Who can have divine vision? Divine means godly. Unless one attains the status of divinity as a demigod, he cannot have divine vision. And what is a demigod? It is stated in the Vedic scriptures that those who are devotees of Lord Vishnu are demigods (vishnu-bhaktah smrta devah). Those who are atheistic, i.e., who do not believe in Vishnu, or who recognize only the impersonal part of Krishna as the Supreme, cannot have the divine vision. It is not possible to decry Krishna and at the same time have the divine vision. One cannot have the divine vision without becoming divine. In other words, those who have divine vision can also see like Arjuna.
The Bhagavad-gita gives the description of the universal form. Although this description was unknown to everyone before Arjuna, now one can have some idea of the vishva-rupa after this incident. Those who are actually divine can see the universal form of the Lord. But one cannot be divine without being a pure devotee of Krishna. The devotees, however, who are actually in the divine nature and who have divine vision, are not very much interested in seeing the universal form of the Lord. As described in the previous verse, Arjuna desired to see the four-handed form of Lord Krishna as Vishnu, and he was actually afraid of the universal form.
In this verse there are some significant words, just like veda-yajnadhyayanaih, which refers to studying Vedic literature and the subject matter of sacrificial regulations. Veda refers to all kinds of Vedic literature, such as the four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva) and the eighteen Puranas, the Upanishads and the Vedanta-sutra. One can study these at home or anywhere else. Similarly, there are sutras—Kalpa-sutras and Mimamsa-sutras—for studying the method of sacrifice. Danaih refers to charity which is offered to a suitable party, such as those who are engaged in the transcendental loving service of the Lord—the brahmanas and the Vaishnavas. Similarly, “pious activities” refers to the agni-hotra and the prescribed duties of the different castes. And the voluntary acceptance of some bodily pains is called tapasya. So one can perform all these—can accept bodily penances, give charity, study the Vedas, etc.—but unless he is a devotee like Arjuna, it is not possible to see that universal form. Those who are impersonalists are also imagining that they are seeing the universal form of the Lord, but from Bhagavad-gita we understand that the impersonalists are not devotees. Therefore they are unable to see the universal form of the Lord.
There are many persons who create incarnations. They falsely claim an ordinary human to be an incarnation, but this is all foolishness. We should follow the principles of Bhagavad-gita, otherwise there is no possibility of attaining perfect spiritual knowledge. Although Bhagavad-gita is considered the preliminary study of the science of God, still it is so perfect that it enables one to distinguish what is what. The followers of a pseudo incarnation may say that they have also seen the transcendental incarnation of God, the universal form, but that is unacceptable because it is clearly stated here that unless one becomes a devotee of Krishna one cannot see the universal form of God. So one first of all has to become a pure devotee of Krishna; then he can claim that he can show the universal form of what he has seen. A devotee of Krishna cannot accept false incarnations or followers of false incarnations.
Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
This form which I have shown to you is rarely seen even by those who study the Vedas and follow other processes. I cannot be seen in this form (evam rupah) by anyone except you. The absence of visarga and consequent samdhi to form sakyo’ ham instead of sakya aham in this verse is poetic license.
Therefore considering this, that you have attained something which is not attainable, fix your mind on this form, difficult to see for everyone, which is certainly the Lord. Having seen that form, you should forget about the human form you again desire to see.
Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:
11.48 In this form, which represents My real nature, I cannot be realised by such means as study of the Vedas, sacrifices etc., by anyone who is bereft of exclusive Bhakti towards Me or by any one other than yourself who has complete devotion towards Me.
Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:
Having seen Lord Krishna’s visvarupa or divine universal form whose vision was first beheld by Arjuna in the material worlds and very difficult to behold. Arjuna was blest as no one else on the battlefield was capable of seeing the visvarupa. The words veda-yajna refers to books on rituals for propitiating the Supreme Lord such as the Kalpa Sutras. Therefore Lord Krishna is declaring that neither study of the Vedas and books on rituals and ceremonies such as Agnihotra or offering ghee daily into the sacred fire, nor by giving profusely in charity or undergoing extreme penances like Chandrayana which is increasing and decreasing the food intake each day according to the bright and dark fortnights of the moon cycle which goes from one mouthful of food a day to 15 mouthfuls of food each day and back down again in one month. By none of these methods singularly or all together can one qualify themselves in order to see His visvarupa. It was only by the grace of Lord Krishna that Arjuna alone was able to see it on the battlefield. Sanjaya who was blest to see everything that transpired on the battlefield by the avatara or incarnation Vedavyasa, saw the visvarupa in his mind at the palace of the blind King Dhritarastra and thus he could describe it to him.
Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:
Even by devout and diligent study of the Vedic scriptures and their ancillaries it is not possible to witness Lord Krishna’s visvarupa or divine universal form. Only due to Arjuna’s unflinching devotion and friendship to the Supreme Lord Krishna throughout his life was it possible him to be graced to see this form, those without devotion can never qualify to see it.
Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:
As it is impossible to behold the visvarupa or divine universal form without the blessings of Lord Krishna, by His grace Arjuna was able to see it and thus was fotunate. This Lord Krishna is affirming this with statements like na veda yagnadhyayanair meaning not by study of the Vedas or the performance of Vedic rituals. No living entity in the material worlds of mortals can see the visvarupa without Lord Krishna’s grace. Even if one studies and learns the complete Vedas, and even if one perfects and executes the Vedic rituals such as the Agni Hotra regularly, and even if one gives in charity to worthy persons such as land, daughters in marriage, food for the hungry, and even if one performs austere penance such as the soma vrata or lunar vow which is eating mouthfuls of food, one each day up to 15 each day and back down again to one a day for one month. All these activities even though performed perfectly will not qualify one to see His visvarupa and Lord Krishna uses the particle na meaning not, four separate times to emphasise the point that without His grace it is impossible to ever behold His visvarupa. The Katha Upanisad I.II.VII states: The Supreme Lord is He whom even when hearing about is known not. Also in verse I.II.XXIII of the Katha Upanisad it states: The atma or soul is not to be realised by the intellect, nor by learning, nor by instruction. The atma is to be realised only by one whom the soul itself selects due to possessing pure bhakti or exclusive loving devotion to the Supreme Lord. To such a great evolved being does the atma reveals itself.
Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:
11.48 Na veda-yajna-adhyayanaih, not by the study of the Vedas and sacrifices, (i.e.) not by the methodical study of even the four Vedas and the study of the sacrifices-since the study of the sacrifices is achieved by the very study of the Vedas, the separate mention of the study of sacrifices is for suggesting detailed knowledge of sacrifices; [This separate mention of the study of sacrifices is necessary because the ancients understood the study of Vedas to mean learing them by rote.] so also, na danaih, not by gifts-in such forms as distributing wealth equal to the weight of the giver; na ca kriyabhih, not even by rituals-by Vedic and other rituals like Agnihotra etc.; nor even ugraih tapobhih, by severe austerities such a Candrayana [A religious observance or expiatory penance regulated by the moon’s phases. In it the daily quantity of food, which consists of fifteen mouthfuls at the full-moon, is curtailed by one mouthful during the dark fornight till it is reduced to nothing at the new moon; and it is increased in a like manner during the bright fortnight.-V.S.A.] etc. which are frightful; sakyah aham, can I; evam rupam, in this form-possessing the Cosmic form as was shown; drastum, be perceived; nrloke, in the human world; tvad-anyena, by anyone other than you; kuru-pravira, O most valiant among the Kurus.
Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:
11.48 Sri Abhinavagupta did not comment upon this sloka.
Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:
na veda-yajñadhyayanair na danair
na ca kriyabhir na tapobhir ugraih
evam-rupah sakya aham nr-loke
drastum tvad anyena kuru-pravira
Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:
na — never; veda-yajña — by sacriﬁce; adhyayanaiḥ — or Vedic study; na — never; dānaiḥ — by charity; na — never; ca — also; kriyābhiḥ — by pious activities; na — never; tapobhiḥ — by serious penances; ugraiḥ — severe; evam-rūpaḥ — in this form; śakyaḥ — can; aham — I; nṛ-loke — in this material world; draṣṭum — be seen; tvat — than you; anyena — by another; kuru-pravīra — O best among the Kuru warriors.