tad viddhi praṇipātena
upadekṣyanti te jñānaḿ
Translation of Bhagavad Gita 4.34
Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.
Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
The path of spiritual realization is undoubtedly difficult. The Lord therefore advises us to approach a bona fide spiritual master in the line of disciplic succession from the Lord Himself. No one can be a bona fide spiritual master without following this principle of disciplic succession. The Lord is the original spiritual master, and a person in the disciplic succession can convey the message of the Lord as it is to his disciple. No one can be spiritually realized by manufacturing his own process, as is the fashion of the foolish pretenders. The Bhagavatam (6.3.19) says, dharmam tu sakshad bhagavat-pranitam: the path of religion is directly enunciated by the Lord. Therefore, mental speculation or dry arguments cannot help lead one to the right path. Nor by independent study of books of knowledge can one progress in spiritual life. One has to approach a bona fide spiritual master to receive the knowledge. Such a spiritual master should be accepted in full surrender, and one should serve the spiritual master like a menial servant, without false prestige. Satisfaction of the self-realized spiritual master is the secret of advancement in spiritual life. 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. Not only should one hear submissively from the spiritual master, but one must also get a clear understanding from him, in submission and service and inquiries. A bona fide spiritual master is by nature very kind toward the disciple. Therefore when the student is submissive and is always ready to render service, the reciprocation of knowledge and inquiries becomes perfect.
Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
This verse speaks of the method for attaining that knowledge. It is attained by offering respects, bowing down to the guru, the instructor; and by asking questions, such as “O master, why am I in this world of misery? How can this world of birth and death be stopped?” And it is attained by service to the guru. This is illustrated in the sruti:
tad vijnanartharh sa gurum evabhigacchet samit-panih srotriyam brahma-nistham
With fuel wood in his hand, the student should approach the guru, knowledgeable of the Vedas and fixed in Brahman, in order to attain knowledge of Brahman. Mundaka Upanisad 1.2.12
Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:
4.34 This is the knowledge concerning the self that has been taught by Me in the verses beginning with ‘Know that to be indestructibe’ (2.17) and ending with ‘this has been given to you’ (2.39). So engaged in appropriate actions, you can learn, according to the maturity of your competence, this wisdom from the wise, who will explain it to you, if you attend on them through prostrating and questioning and by serving them. The wise are those who have immediate apprehension (or vision) of the true nature of the self. Having been honoured by you through prostration etc., and observing your mental disposition characterised by desire for knowledge which you have evinced by your questions, they will teach you this knowledge. Sri Krsna now speaks of the characterisitcs of knowledge concerning the nature of the self, in the form of direct perception.
Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:
The means to acquire atma tattva or soul realisation is being stated here: How is this knowledge to be acquired? Lord Krishna reveals it is by inquiry. Inquire from a self-realised being by falling submissively at his feet just like a stick before him. Questions should be asked like. What is the goal of human existence and how is it possible to attain it? One should render humble and sincere service to this self-realised being because this person has realised the ultimate truth, fully steeped in the knowledge of the Vedic scriptures, of the Brahman or the spiritual substratum pervading all existence and the intuitive potency which manifests along with it. Such a person will magnanimously instruct one in attaining the ultimate truth.
Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:
Although Arjuna is considered a man of wisdom properly raised and educated in the Vedic culture, still illusion has entered his consciousness. This was highlighted in verse sixteen where the words yat jnatva meaning having understood were used to instruct Arjuna.
Now begins the summation.
Since spiritual wisdom will be revealed in detail in later chapters Lord Krishna now begins speaking briefly about the nature of it here.
Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:
As to the answer to the question by what means is this spiritual knowledge available Lord Krishna is revealing how to attain this knowledge which is altogether different from actions that bestow material rewards. He instructs everyone to fall at the feet of a self-realised beings rendering service to them with faith and devotion and inquire from them with a pure heart about the purpose of life, the true nature of a living being and how to revive one’s relationship with the Supreme Being? By these questions and by being pleased by one’s sincere service such a self-realised being will guide and instruct one on matters related to the ultimate truth because they have direct experience and wisdom of this and thus will remove all doubts about: Who am I? Why was I born? What is my purpose in life? The self-realised being will dispel all these questions by proper reasoning and evidences from the Vedic scriptures and practical experience and reveal the nature of the individual consciousness and its relationship with the ultimate consciousness which is the goal of all existence. All actions culminate in knowledge when instructed by a self-realised being but never when instructed by those who are not self-realised. By this verse the ancient scriptural adage of : Let one humbly seek a spiritual master who is well learned in the Vedic scriptures and established in the knowledge of the Brahman or the spiritual substratum pervading all existence. The plural sense of the words jnaninah meaning those expert in the Vedic scriptures and darsinah meaning those who realised the ultimate truth denotes that all self realised being will possess this spiritual knowledge. It also infers that if one approaches a person for enquiry and discovers that this person is not self-realised and cannot give this spiritual knowledge then one may approach a spiritual master who is self-realised to attain this knowledge.
Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:
4.34 Viddhi, know; tat, that, the process by which It is acquired; by approaching teachers pranipatena, through prostration, by lying fully streched on the ground with face downward, with prolonged salutation; pariprasnena, through inquiry, as to how bondage and Liberation come, and what are Knowledge and ignorance; and sevaya, through the service of the guru. (Know it) through these and other (disciplines) [Other disciplines such as control of the mind, body, etc. Sankaracarya’s own words in the Commentary are evamadina, after which Ast. puts a full stop, and agreeing with this, A.G. says that the word viddhi (know) is to be connected with evamadina. Hence this translation. Alternatively, those words have to be taken with prasrayena. Then the meaning will be, ‘Being pleased with such and other forms of humility…’-Tr.]. Being pleased with humility, jnaninah, the wise ones, the teachers; tattva-darsinah, who have realized the Truth; upadeksyanti, will impart, will tell; te, you; jnanam, the Knowledge as described above. Although people may be wise, some of them are apt to know Truth just as it is, while others may not be so. Hence the qualification, ‘who have realized the Truth’. The considered view of the Lord is that Knowledge imparted by those who have full enlightenment becomes effective, not any other. That being so, the next verse also becomes appropriate:
Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:
4.34-35 Tat etc. Yaj=jnatva etc. This : the knowledge. By prostration : by devotion. By inquiry : by the consideration of pros and cons, by good reasoning etc. By service : by practice. You should learn [this], For, those that are endowed with knowledge i.e., your own different sense-organs, that are exceedingly favoured by consciousness, will point out nearby i.e., will lead the truth to you if you remain practising in the said manner. For this, it has been said that they (sense-organs) are capable of showing the truth i.e., they show nothing but the truth. That has been said : ‘The Yoga alone is the teacher of Yoga [practice]’ and ‘On [reaching] that [seeded Yoga] [there arises] an insight, truth-bearing’ (YS, I, 48). If ‘those that are endowed with knowledge’ is interpreted to mean ‘other wise persons’, then it would amount to say that what the Bhagavat Himself had taught is untruth. Or, the purpose of saying in this manner may be to teach a conventional rule : Other persons too should learn from the men of wisdom only by prostration etc., and not by any other means. The [locatives] atmani ‘in your Self’ and mayi ‘in Me’ are in the same-case-relationship, and they mean ‘in your Soul that has attained (realised Its) identity with Me’. Atho is an expletive. In order to established the [total] sameness (identity) of the Absolute with the [individual] Self, a certain characteristic mark [of the two], is mentioned [here]. If the non-sameness (non-identity) [of these two] is intended, then the meanings ‘choice’ etc., [of atho] have no relevance here. Saying that ‘the sin also perishes’ in the first verse [of following two], in order to clarify the earlier statement ‘all actions, leaving no bit, [meet their end in knowledge’ – verse 33 above]; indicating, by ‘all actions’ – in the second verse-that the suggested meaning of ‘leaving no bit (verse 33)’ is ‘not even a bit of mental impression [of actions] survives’; [the Lord] explains-
Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:
tad viddhi pranipatena
upadeksyanti te jñanam
Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:
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.