Namaskaar. In this Part 12 of our ongoing series “introduction to Bhagavad Gita”, Pujya Swamiji explains a very important topic — the types of dialogues; which are good and useful, and which are to be avoided. This is most important and a very practical teaching for us because in our daily lives we always come across these situations. Some people arguing for the sake of it, some arguing with a one sided opinion, and only a select few who debate for sake of understanding and clarifying their doubts. These are people who have an open mid and are willing to consider opinions other than their own. This is an excellent opportunity for us all to learn these definitions which are beautifully explained in the Gita and Pujya Swamiji’s lucid commentary.


There are different types of dialogues. One is a discussion involving two or more people who are interested in finding out the facts about a certain subject matter. They are all exploring. In this type of discussion, there is no teacher-student relationship. Each person is equally placed, even though one person may know a little more than the others about the subject matter. They are all interested in understanding. This kind of discussion among equals, any collective study among students, for example, is called vada and is naturally healthy and is traditionally an important component of study. It is said that a student gains a quarter of his knowledge by such discussion.

There are also two unhealthy types of dialogue that we should be aware of. One is the dialogue that takes place between two people who are already committed to different beliefs. Such a discussion, called jalpa, is governed purely by each person’s wit. Any discussion between two fanatics falls into this category. Each of them is convinced that the other person is totally wrong and tries to win the other over to his or her particular belief, although there is no basis for the discussion.

Suppose you have a belief and I have another belief. Your belief may be right and mine may be wrong. On the other hand, my belief may be right and yours may be wrong. Or both of us may be wrong! Both of us may be right also! How, then, can either of us insist that ‘I alone am right’? The difference between a believer and a fanatic becomes obvious here.

The difference between a scientist and a believer is also worthy of notice. One may adhere to a belief, but everyone must necessarily have a mind, which is open to explore and know. That open, inquiring mind, the mind of a scientist, is an entirely different mind from that of a believer.

We can and must respect the beliefs of others, but we cannot have a discussion based on such beliefs. Both of us may be wrong. A discussion between two people, both of whom are committed to certain beliefs, is purely a dialogue between two missionaries. It is better to respect the other person’s belief and have a simple human relationship. Discussions are useless. All you can do is ask, ‘What is your belief?’ Some people are curious. If you are curious, you can ask, but I myself would not ask because the other person is acceptable to me, along with his or her beliefs. I need not know what they are. This is a healthy attitude to have towards a person. But any discussion, jalpa, based on beliefs, is useless. No one wins and no one loses. Each person always comes back with better arguments. Jalpa-discussions, therefore, are useless; they have no value.

There is another type of discussion called vitanda, wherein one person makes a statement with which the other person always disagrees. Why? Merely because the other person said it. Due to jealousy or some other reason, one person always tries to prove the other wrong. Such a discussion is also useless.

A fourth type of discussion, one that concerns us here, is called samvada, a discussion between a teacher and a student, guru-sisya-samvada. In the teacher-student relationship, the student has already accepted the other person as a teacher and therefore looks up to him or her. Although there is a dialogue between them, the attitude is entirely different, the discussion being based on the student’s acceptance that ‘I am a student and this person is my teacher.’ This attitude prevails until or unless the person thought to be a teacher proves to be otherwise. The moment you discover the person has nothing to teach, you can become friends. However, when you have to learn from someone, you look up to that person. If you do not understand what the teacher is saying, you give the benefit of the doubt to the teacher, even though he or she may sometimes appear to be contradictory, seeming to have said something previously that is not in harmony with what is being said now, as we will see in the Gita.

In a guru-sisya-samvada, the subject matter can be anything. Here, in the Gita, the subject matter is brahma-vidya and yoga-sastra – in one word, Vedanta. The guru is Bhagavan Krsna, referred to as Vasudeva‘s son, and the student is Arjuna, called Partha here because he is Prtha‘s son. He is also called Kaunteya, the son of Kunti. Arjuna has a number of other names – Dhananjaya, Savyasaci, GudakeSa, and so on, but Arjuna is his popular name.

Between Arjuna, the student, and Lord Krsna, the teacher, there is a discussion and Gita is the body of knowledge being taught. Therefore, the Gita is called a samvada.

If it looks as though the teacher is being contradictory, the student gives the benefit of the doubt to the teacher. This is what is expected of a student. As a student, one need not take the blame upon oneself.

The teacher can be asked a question – ‘Previously such and such was said and now this is being said. Why is this difference?’ You said Brahman is without qualities, nirguna and now you say it is with qualities, saguna. How can Brahman be saguna? You say it is beyond the mind, and that it is not available as an object for the mind. At the same time, you say, one sees oneself, the atma with the mind (manasa pamyati). How can one see the atma with the mind? And how is one going to know that one is seeing the atma? It looks as though the shruti herself is contradictory. To say that Brahman cannot be objectified by the mind but has to be recognised by the mind seems to be a contradiction. But it is not a contradiction; it is perfect. If it looks like a contradiction to the student, then he or she can ask a question, a prasna and when the student waits for the right time to ask a question, it is called a pariprasna, based on his or her faith, Sraddha, in the teacher.

As a teacher, one cannot contradict oneself. A teacher who contradicts himself or herself does not know the subject matter. Nor can a teacher simply learn along with a student and teach, since this creates situations wherein both the teacher and the student may suddenly discover a new fact never known to either of them before, a fact that contradicts everything they knew thus far. This is not why one goes to a teacher. Teaching is not meant to be exploratory. Therefore the teacher should know exactly what he or she is talking about and not be contradictory.

The attitude implied by the term guru-sisya-samvada is especially relevant here. Since the entire teaching is itself a means of knowledge, it is not a philosophical speculation. Moreover we are not attracted to this kind of learning out of a simple academic interest. The teaching has a value and the value is myself alone. The teaching is about myself. I have a value for freedom and this value makes me want to know. As a person, I want to be free and I want to learn for no other purpose than to be free. Since there is a value there, and the teaching itself is a means of knowledge, there must necessarily be a certain attitude on my part towards this teaching and the teacher.

That the teaching has to come from a teacher in the form of a dialogue is because it is something to be understood – something to be followed, not swallowed. In a belief, there is nothing to follow, only something to swallow, something to accept totally, without question. Any questioning that may take place is meant only to establish what the belief is, which is not really questioning at all. This is why there are so many attempts to establish historical proofs that a certain person existed. Whether someone existed or not is not the issue. The teaching is the issue.

Therefore, if you look into the teaching, if you are interested in what is being taught, your whole attitude and approach will be different. Here, a dialogue implies a teaching that is received from a teacher, meaning that this knowledge has to be received from a teacher and the subject matter has to be understood.


To be continued on Part 13 …….
Link to previous parts 1-11 in Menu section under ‘Bhagavad Gita’ – Introduction
Pranaam from Kamal Kothari