When Marshal Arjuna was unable to solve the problem posed to him by the impending battle of Kurukṣetra, he surrendered himself as a disciple to Śrī Kṛṣṇa in all submissiveness to hear his problem's solution. At the outset, the Personality of Godhead talked with Arjuna just as a friend talks with a friend. But such friendly discussions generally end in friendly—and fruitless—debate. Thus, Marshal Arjuna surrendered himself as the disciple of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, for a disciple cannot disobey the orders of his spiritual master. That is the relationship between a disciple and his master.
Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Personality of Godhead, imparted to Marshal Arjuna the vitally important teachings of Bhagavad-gītā only when He saw that Arjuna had surrendered to Him without any vanity regarding his own erudition, and without any other reservation. It is very common for us, like Arjuna, to try to dissipate our disillusionments by our own devices, culled from our own mundane experience. This attempt to remove our daily bodily and mental difficulties is always misdirected. Unless one tries to solve his problems from the perspective of eternal varities, there cannot be any peace whatsoever, either in this life or in the life after death. That is the supreme teaching of Bhagavad-gītā.
This spiritual subject matter, which is transcendental to the hankerings of the material body and mind, is our supreme need. Unless we reach this transcendental plane of activities, we cannot achieve real peace. This spiritual, transcendental plane is the plane of eternal life, without which the material body and mind would have no existence. However, at present we do not possess any information of this eternal life, although we have much pride, even vanity, about our material knowledge.
We are more or less absorbed in the external material designations, the external dresses that now cover the eternally living soul. And because we have absorbed ourselves in these external designations of the spirit soul, we encounter so much disunity and turmoil. When we are free from such designations—when our real nature will be uncovered—then and only then will we attain our dream of real happiness and peace. Our present attempts to remove the difficulties of the material world—through the pretensions of erudite scientists, great statesmen, and mahātmās—do not reach the spiritual, transcendental plane, but simply garb the body and mind with various colorful dresses. And thus these attempts will be always frustrated. That is the intrinsic instruction of Bhagavad-gītā.
Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Personality of Godhead, rebuked Marshal Arjuna, so to say, when Arjuna surrendered unto Him as a disciple, being unable to solve the problems that always confront us in our material existence. Lord Kṛṣṇa said, "Arjuna, I see that you are talking like a learned man, but you may know that you have very little knowledge—because I see that you are lamenting over something for which no one would lament if he were truly learned."
A learned man never laments over a subject which appears and disappears as a matter of course. The material body, which we get from the womb of our mother, becomes transformed after some time into ashes, earth, or stool, as the case may be. And the subtle mental body, which is also material and composed of false ego and intelligence, likewise vanishes when the soul is lixberated. Therefore, those who are truly learned do not give much importance to this material body and mind, or to the happiness and distress that pertain only to the material body and mind.
On the other hand, such learned men do give much stress to the happiness and distress of the soul proper, which is spirit and transcends the existence of the body and the mind. When we enter into such culture of knowledge, it is called transcendental knowledge. Marshal Arjuna portrayed himself as a materialistic fool, without any transcendental knowledge, just to teach us, who are cent-percent materialistic fools. For His part, the Personality of Godhead imparted the transcendental knowledge of Bhagavad-gītā, because He found Marshal Arjuna the most deserving person to hear it.
Just like Marshal Arjuna, the prime minister for Nawab Hussain Shah of Bengal—namely Sākara Mallika, who was later known as Sanātana Gosvāmī, one of the chief disciples of Lord Caitanya—represented himself as a materialistic fool before Lord Caitanya, when he met the Lord at Benares. He presented his case before Lord Caitanya as follows: "Ordinary persons, those who have no knowledge of transcendence, address me as a great leader, a great scholar, a mahātmā, a paramahaṁsa, and so on. But I am doubtful whether I am really so; they may be insulting me indirectly by calling me something that I am not. I know that I have no knowledge about myself as I am, but still, some of the materialistic fools address me as learned. This is undoubtedly a joke and an insult."
With these words, Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī presented his case. In fact, he really was learned in transcendental knowledge, but he pretended to be a materialistic fool like us. Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī refused to let himself be called a great leader or erudite scholar, since he had no transcendental knowledge. Indirectly, he asserted that there is no greater materialistic fool than one who advertises himself and collects the cheap votes of similar fools to gain fame as a great scholar, great leader, great philosopher, great mahātmā, or great paramahaṁsa, all without any knowledge of his real self, the spirit soul, and without doing any benefit to the soul proper—simply wasting time in the matter of the happiness and distress of the temporary material body and mind. Sanātana means "eternal." Thus, Sanātana Gosvāmī was interested in the eternal happiness of the living entities more than just the temporary happiness of their temporary body and mind. When one thus becomes interested in the permanent happiness of the permanent soul, he becomes a disciple of Sanātana Gosvāmī, or a real "sanātanist," that is, a transcendentalist.