bhaktyā tv ananyayā śakya
aham evaḿ-vidho ’rjuna
jñātuḿ draṣṭuḿ ca tattvena
praveṣṭuḿ ca paran-tapa

Translation of Bhagavad Gita 11.54

My dear Arjuna, only by undivided devotional service can I be understood as I am, standing before you, and can thus be seen directly. Only in this way can you enter into the mysteries of My understanding.

Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

Krishna can be understood only by the process of undivided devotional service. He explicitly explains this in this verse so that unauthorized commentators, who try to understand Bhagavad-gita by the speculative process, will know that they are simply wasting their time. No one can understand Krishna or how He came from parents in a four-handed form and at once changed Himself into a two-handed form. These things are very difficult to understand by study of the Vedas or by philosophical speculation. Therefore it is clearly stated here that no one can see Him or enter into understanding of these matters. Those who, however, are very experienced students of Vedic literature can learn about Him from the Vedic literature in so many ways. There are so many rules and regulations, and if one at all wants to understand Krishna, he must follow the regulative principles described in the authoritative literature. One can perform penance in accordance with those principles. For example, to undergo serious penances one may observe fasting on Janmastami, the day on which Krishna appeared, and on the two days of Ekadasi (the eleventh day after the new moon and the eleventh day after the full moon). As far as charity is concerned, it is plain that charity should be given to the devotees of Krishna who are engaged in His devotional service to spread the Krishna philosophy, or Krishna consciousness, throughout the world. Krishna consciousness is a benediction to humanity. Lord Caitanya was appreciated by Rupa Gosvami as the most munificent man of charity because love of Krishna, which is very difficult to achieve, was distributed freely by Him. So if one gives some amount of his money to persons involved in distributing Krishna consciousness, that charity, given to spread Krishna consciousness, is the greatest charity in the world. And if one worships as prescribed in the temple (in the temples in India there is always some statue, usually of Vishnu or Krishna), that is a chance to progress by offering worship and respect to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. For the beginners in devotional service to the Lord, temple worship is essential, and this is confirmed in the Vedic literature (Shvetasvatara Upanishad 6.23):

yasya deve para bhaktir
yatha deve tatha gurau
tasyaite kathita hy arthah
prakasante mahatmanah 

yasya deve para bhaktir
yatha deve tatha gurau
tasyaite kathita hy arthah
prakasante mahatmanah

“Unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master, all the imports of Vedic knowledge are automatically revealed.” (Shvetasvatara Upanishad 6.23)

atah sri-krishna-namadi
na bhaved grahyam indriyaih
sevonmukhe hi jihvadau
svayam eva sphuraty adah 

“No one can understand Krishna as He is by the blunt material senses. But He reveals Himself to the devotees, being pleased with them for their transcendental loving service unto Him.” (Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu 1.2.234)

bhaktya mam abhijanati
yavan yas casmi tattvatah
tato mam tattvato jnatva
visate tad-anantaram 

“One can understand the Supreme Personality as He is only by devotional service. And when one is in full consciousness of the Supreme Lord by such devotion, he can enter into the kingdom of God.” (Bg. 18.55)

These are Vedic instructions. One must have full faith in the words of the spiritual master and similar faith in the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Then the real knowledge of atma and Paramatma and the distinction between matter and spirit will be automatically revealed. This atma-tattva, or spiritual knowledge, will be revealed within the core of a devotee’s heart because of his having taken shelter of the lotus feet of a mahajana such as Prahlada Maharaja.6.23]

One who has unflinching devotion for the Supreme Lord and is directed by the spiritual master, in whom he has similar unflinching faith, can see the Supreme Personality of Godhead by revelation. One cannot understand Krishna by mental speculation. For one who does not take personal training under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master, it is impossible to even begin to understand Krishna. The word tu is specifically used here to indicate that no other process can be used, can be recommended, or can be successful in understanding Krishna.

The personal forms of Krishna, the two-handed form and the four-handed, are completely different from the temporary universal form shown to Arjuna. The four-handed form of Narayana and the two-handed form of Krishna are eternal and transcendental, whereas the universal form exhibited to Arjuna is temporary. The very word sudurdarsham, meaning “difficult to see,” suggests that no one had seen that universal form. It also suggests that amongst the devotees there was no necessity of showing it. That form was exhibited by Krishna at the request of Arjuna so that in the future, when one represents himself as an incarnation of God, people can ask to see his universal form.

The word na, used repeatedly in the previous verse, indicates that one should not be very much proud of such credentials as an academic education in Vedic literature. One must take to the devotional service of Krishna. Only then can one attempt to write commentaries on Bhagavad-gita.

Krishna changes from the universal form to the four-handed form of Narayana and then to His own natural form of two hands. This indicates that the four-handed forms and other forms mentioned in Vedic literature are all emanations of the original two-handed Krishna. He is the origin of all emanations. Krishna is distinct even from these forms, what to speak of the impersonal conception. As far as the four-handed forms of Krishna are concerned, it is stated clearly that even the most identical four-handed form of Krishna (which is known as Maha-Vishnu, who is lying on the cosmic ocean and from whose breathing so many innumerable universes are passing out and entering) is also an expansion of the Supreme Lord. As stated in the Brahma-samhita (5.48),

yasyaika-nisvasita-kalam athavalambya
jivanti loma-vila-ja jagad-anda-nathah
vishnur mahan sa iha yasya kala-viseso
govindam adi-purusham tam aham bhajami 

“The Maha-Vishnu, into whom all the innumerable universes enter and from whom they come forth again simply by His breathing process, is a plenary expansion of Krishna. Therefore I worship Govinda, Krishna, the cause of all causes.” Therefore one should conclusively worship the personal form of Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead who has eternal bliss and knowledge. He is the source of all forms of Vishnu, He is the source of all forms of incarnation, and He is the original Supreme Personality, as confirmed in Bhagavad-gita.

In the Vedic literature (Gopala-tapani Upanishad 1.1) the following statement appears:

namo vedanta-vedyaya
gurave buddhi-saksine 

“I offer my respectful obeisances unto Krishna, who has a transcendental form of bliss, eternity and knowledge. I offer my respect to Him, because understanding Him means understanding the Vedas and He is therefore the supreme spiritual master.” Then it is said, krsno vai paramam daivatam: “Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (Gopala-tapani Upanishad 1.3) Eko vasi sarva-gah krishna idyah: “That one Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and He is worshipable.” Eko ’pi san bahudha yo ’vabhati: “Krishna is one, but He is manifested in unlimited forms and expanded incarnations.” (Gopala-tapani Upanishad 1.21)
The Brahma-samhita (5.1) says,

ishvarah paramah krishnah
anadir adir govindah

“The Supreme Personality of Godhead is Krishna, who has a body of eternity, knowledge and bliss. He has no beginning, for He is the beginning of everything. He is the cause of all causes.”

Elsewhere it is said, yatravatirnam krishnakhyam param brahma narakriti: “The Supreme Absolute Truth is a person, His name is Krishna, and He sometimes descends on this earth.” Similarly, in the Srimad-Bhagavatam we find a description of all kinds of incarnations of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and in this list the name of Krishna also appears. But then it is said that this Krishna is not an incarnation of God but is the original Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself (ete camsa-kalah pumsah krishnas tu bhagavan svayam).

Similarly, in Bhagavad-gita the Lord says, mattah parataram nanyat: “There is nothing superior to My form as the Personality of Godhead Krishna.” He also says elsewhere in Bhagavad-gita, aham adir hi devanam: “I am the origin of all the demigods.” And after understanding Bhagavad-gita from Krishna, Arjuna also confirms this in the following words: param brahma param dhama pavitram-paramam bhavan, “I now fully understand that You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the Absolute Truth, and that You are the refuge of everything.” Therefore the universal form which Krishna showed to Arjuna is not the original form of God. The original is the Krishna form. The universal form, with its thousands and thousands of heads and hands, is manifest just to draw the attention of those who have no love for God. It is not God’s original form.

The universal form is not attractive for pure devotees, who are in love with the Lord in different transcendental relationships. The Supreme Godhead exchanges transcendental love in His original form of Krishna.

Therefore to Arjuna, who was so intimately related with Krishna in friendship, this form of the universal manifestation was not pleasing; rather, it was fearful.

Arjuna, who was a constant companion of Krishna’s, must have had transcendental eyes; he was not an ordinary man. Therefore he was not captivated by the universal form. This form may seem wonderful to persons who are involved in elevating themselves by fruitive activities, but to persons who are engaged in devotional service the two-handed form of Krishna is the most dear.

Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

Then by what practice can this form be attained? By bhakti I can be known and seen. The dropping of visarga (h) without samdhi to form sakyo’ ham, the normal form, instead of sakya aham in the present text, is poetic license. Even if one desires nirvana moksa, then one can merge with the brahman (tattvena pravestum) only by ananya bhakti and not by other processes. The gum bhuta bhakti of the jnanis remains as a small amount of ananya bhakti after the renunciation of jnana at the time of death. By that they attain sayujya mukti. I will substantiate that point later with the verse tato mam tattvato jnatva visate tad anantaram. (BG 18.55) Knowing me as brahman, they then enter me.

Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:

11.53 – 11.54 Sri Krsna says — By Vedas, i.e., by mere study, teaching etc., of these sacred texts, it is not possible to know Me truly. It is also not possible through meditation, sacrifices, gifts and austerities, destitute of devotion towards Me. But by single-minded devotion i.e., by devotion characterised by extreme ardour and intensity, it is possible to know Me in reality through scriptures, to behold Me directly in reality, and enter into Me in reality. So describes a Sruti passage: ‘This Self cannot be obtained by instruction, nor by intellect nor by much hearing. Whomsoever He chooses, by him alone is He obtained. To such a one He reveals His own form’ (Ka. U., 2.2.23) and (Mun. U., 3.2.3).

Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:

Now Lord Krishna reveals the only way and means that one who is initiated by His devotee may see His original two armed human like form which is pure spiritual sat-cid-ananda or eternal existence, unlimited cognizance and endless bliss and enter into communion with Him. The only way and means He states as bhaktya te ananyaya meaning exclusive loving devotion unto Him. Only by undivided, uninterrupted, one-pointed loving devotion to the Supreme Lord Krishna can entrance into His divine transcendental pastimes be attained and one knows Him in reality through the spiritual preceptor who is His devotee and by His teachings of the Vedic scriptures only is it possible for Lord Krishna to be perceived and realised by direct cognition and attain eternal communion with Him in the spiritual worlds. By no other means, method, technique or ritual is in any way possible to achieve this.

Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:

Sri Madhvacharya did not comment on this sloka.

Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:

If by the previous methods of Vedic study and rituals one can not witness the human form of Lord Krishna then how is it possible to see Him? Lord Krishna declares that one can have communion with Him only by bhaktya or loving devotion; but only if it is ananyaya or exclusive, meaning not divided or shared with anything else. In this way only can He be jnatum or known in reality. The particle tu meaning but between bhaktya and ananyaya confirms that exclusive loving devotion is superior to all other means. Janaka Pandit explains that consciousness is the higher power of the Supreme Lord and that unconsciousness is His lower power. The Vishnu Purana VII.V states: Consciousness is the higher principle of the Supreme Lord whereas unconscious is the lower principle. Those who are unconscious lack devotion to the Supreme Lord Krishna and are from His lower principle and thus are not able to perceive Him even by Vedic study and rituals.

Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:

11.54 Tu, but, O Arjuna; bhaktya, by devotion-. Of what kind? To this the Lord says: Ananyaya, by (that devotion which is ) single-minded. That is called single-minded devotion which does not turn to anything else other than the Lord, and owing to which nothing else but Vasudeva is perceived by all the organs. With that devotion, aham sakyah, am I able; evamvidhah, in this form-in the aspect of the Cosmic form; jnatum, to to known-from the scriptures; not merely to be known from the scriptures, but also drastum, to be seen , to be realized directly; tattvena, in reality; and also pravestum, to be entered into-for attaining Liberation; parantapa, O destroyer of foes. Now the essential purport of the whole scripture, the Gita, which is meant for Liberation, is being stated by summing it up so that it may be practised:

Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:

11.54-55 Bhaktya etc. Mat-karma etc. Those, whose devotion, charming by the absence of any other object in it, bursts forth-to the field of realisation of those persons descends the Vasudea – tattva, the Absolute being, without any effort (on their part) just on account of their appreciation of the advice given earlier as ‘Having the realisation that Vasudeva is all, one takes refuge in Me. etc.’

Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:

bhaktya tv ananyaya sakya
aham evam-vidho ’rjuna
jñatum drastum ca tattvena
pravestum ca paran-tapa

Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:

bhaktyā — by devotional service; tu — but; ananyayā — without being mixed with fruitive activities or speculative knowledge; śakyaḥ — possible; aham — I; evam-vidhaḥ — like this; arjuna — O Arjuna; jñātum — to know; draṣṭum — to see; ca — and; tattvena — in fact; praveṣṭum — to enter into; ca — also; param-tapa — O subduer of the enemy.