Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Shankara | Discourse 13 verse 1-2



The main subject of the discourse.

In the Seventh Discourse two Prakritis (Natures) of the Supreme Lord were shown,—the one composed of the three guṇas and divided eightfold,

forming the inferior (aparā) Prakriti, because of its being the cause of saṁsāra or mun­dane life; and the other, the superior (para) Prakriti, form­ing the very life (jīva), the Kshetrajna or ‘the Knower of Matter', being essentially one with the Lord Himself.

And through these two Prakritis, the Lord becomes the cause of the origin, sustenance and dissolution of the Universe.

Now this discourse on Kshetra (Matter) is com­menced with a view—by way of describing the two Prakritis of Kshetra and Kshetrajna—to determine the essential nature of their possessor, the Lord (Īśvara).

Again, in the last preceding discourse, from verse 13 to the end, the path of the sannyāsins who possess the know­ledge of Truth,—i.e., what sort of life they lead,—has been described.

Now arises the question:

Possessed of what sort of knowledge of truth do they become dear to the Lord by following the rule of life set forth above?

—The present discourse is also intended as an answer to this question.

The body and the soul.

That Prakriti which is composed of the three guṇas transforms itself into all objective forms, such as the bodies (kārya), the senses (kāraṇa), and sense-objects (viṣaya), and is combined into various aggregates of the body and the senses, to subserve the two ends of Purusha or Spirit, i.e., enjoyment and liberation. Such an aggregate is this, our body.

In reference to this body, the Lord says:        

The Blessed Lord said:
1. This, the body, O son of Kunt
ī, is called Kshetra; him who knows it, they who know of them call Kshetrajna.

Shankara's commentary:

In the words ‘the body’ the Lord specifies the thing referred to by the pronoun ‘this.’

Kshetra—the field, the body, matter—is so-called because it is shielded from injury, or because it is destructible, or because it is liable to decay, or because the fruits of actions are reaped in it as in a field.

This body is designated as ‘Kshetra,’ ‘the field’ ‘matter.’

He who knows this Kshetra, i. e., he who comprehends it in understanding from head to foot, He who perceives it as distinct from himself by knowledge, natural or imparted by others,

—him they designate as Kshetrajna, ‘the knower of the field,’ ‘the comprehender of matter’,  — they who know of Kshetra and Kshetrajna.

Identity of the soul with the Lord.

Thus Kshetra and Kshetrajna have been described.

— Is this all the knowledge that one has to acquire about them?

—No. Listen:

2. And do thou also know Me as Kshetrajna in all Kshetras, O Bhārata. The knowledge of Kshetra and Kshetrajna is deemed by Me as the knowledge.

Shankara's commentary:

Do thou also know the Kshetrajna, described above, to be Myself, to be the Supreme Lord, not a being of the world (saṁsāra).

The meaning is this:

—The Kshetrajna, who is in all Kshetras, and who is differentiated by the manifold upādhis or Kshetras, from Brahma down to a clump of grass,

is, you should understand, really devoid of all the various upādhis (conditions) and is inaccessible to any such word or thought as ‘sat’ or ‘asat’, existent or non-existent.

As nothing else remains to be known apart from the true nature of Kshetra, Kshetrajna and the Īśvara,

that knowledge by which the two objects of knowledge, Kshetra and Kshetrajna, are known is considered by Me—the Lord, Vishṇu—to be the right knowledge.

The soul is subject to evil only through ignorance.

(Objection):—If only one Being, namely, Īśvara, exists in all Kshetras, if there exists no being, no other enjoyer, distinct from Him,

it would follow either that the Īśvara is a samsārin; or that there is no saṁsāra because there is no samsārin, none else apart from the Īśvara.

Neither conclusion is acceptable; for, then, it would follow that the scriptures which treat of bondage and liberation and their- respective causes would have no purpose to serve.

Moreover, the conclusion is opposed to all evidence, includ­ing sensuous perception (pratyakṣa).

In the first place, pleasure and pain and their causes, which together consti­tute the saṁsāra, are known to us by immediate perception.

And from our perception of variety in the world may also be inferred the existence of saṁsāra arising from dharma and a-dharma.

All this would be inexplicable if the Ātman and the Īśvara, the Self and the Lord, be identical.

(Answer):—No; for, that can be explained as due to a distinction between jñāna and ajñāna, between knowledge and ignorance.

It has been said:

These, what is known as wisdom and what is known as unwisdom, are quite distinct and lead to different goals.”— (Katha-Up. ii. 4.)

And so also a distinction through effect between vidyā and avidya, wisdom and unwisdom, as producing quite opposite results,—the right and the sweet,

—is pointed out (in the same Upanishad and in the same context), wisdom leading to the right, while the sweet is the effect of unwisdom.

Accordingly, Vyāsa says:

Then there are these two paths, etc.’—(Moksha- dharma, 24-6.)

There are only these two paths,’ etc.

Here (in the Gītā) also two paths have been spoken of.

Now, we learn from the śruti, smriti and reasoning, that unwisdom with its effect should be got rid of.

As to the śruti, the following passages may be quoted:

If in this world a person knows (the Self), then the true end is gained; if a person in this world does not know (the Self), then there will be a great calamity.”— (Kena-Upanishad, 2-5).

He who knows Him (the Supreme Self) thus be­comes immortal here; there is no other way to reach the Goal.’— (Purusha-Sūkta.)

The wise man is afraid of nothing ’—(Taittirīya- Upanishad, 2-4).

As regards the ignorant person: —

But to him there is the fear (of saṁsāra).’— (Ibid. 2-7.)

Those who live in the midst of avidya or ignorance … go round and with an erring step, deluded as blind people led by the blind!’— (Katha-Upanishad. 2-5).

He who knows Brahman is Brahman Itself.’— (Muṇḍaka-Up. 3-2-9).

Whoever worships another Deity, thinking ‘He is another, another am I,’ “he does not know; for, he is like a beast for the Gods.”— (Brihadāraṇyaka-Up. 1-4-10).

As to him who knows the Self,

He becomes all this.’— (Ibid. 1-4-10).

When men can roll up the sky like leather, then (only, not till then) can the end of sorrow be, without men knowing God” (Śveta .Up. 6-20).

And passages from the smriti — the Bhagavad-Gita v. 15, 19, and xiii.28,—may also be quoted.

By reasoning (nyāya) also we come to the same conclusion.

It is said:

Men avoid by knowledge serpents, thorns and wells; by ignorance some fall into them; see how estimable the effect of knowledge is.’— (Mokshadharma, 201-16)

Thus we see that an ignorant man regards the physical body, etc., as the Self, is impelled by attachment and hatred and the like, performs righteous and unrighteous deeds (Dharma and A-dharma), and is born and dead,

while those are liberated who, knowing the Self to be distinct from the body and the like, give up attachment and hatred, and no longer engage in righteous or unrighteous deeds to which those passions may lead.

This nobody can deny by argu­ment. Such being the case, the Kshetrajna, who is the Īśvara Himself, appears to be a samsārin owing to a distinction in the upādhis set up by avidya,

in the same way that the Ātman or individual Self appears (by avidyā) to be identical with the physical body, etc.

It is a well-ascertained truth that that notion of identity of the individual Self with the not-Self,—with the physical body and the  like,—which is common to all mortal creatures is caused by avidyā,

just as a pillar (in darkness) is mistaken (through avidya) for a human being. But thereby no essential quality of the man is actually transferred to the pillar, nor is any essential quality of the pillar actually transferred to the man.

Similarly, consciousness never actually pertains to the body; neither can it be that any attributes of the body—such as pleasure, pain and dullness—actually pertain to Conscious­ness, to the Self;

for, like decay and death, such attributes are ascribed to the Self through avidya.

Kshetrajna is really unaffected by sasāra.

[Objection):—No, the two cases are dissimilar.

The pillar and the man are both objects of cognition (i.e., exter­nal to the Self) and are as such mistaken one for the other by the cognizer through avidya,

whereas you say that the body and the Self, which are respectively the cognised and the cognizer, are mistaken one for the other.

Thus the illus­tration differs from what has to be illustrated. Wherefore the attribute of the body, though an object of cognition, actually pertains to the Self, the cognizer.

[Answer):—No; for, then the Self would also become unconscious, etc.

If the attributes—such as pleasure, pain, delusion, desire,-hatred—of the body, etc., i. e. of Kshetra (Matter) which is an object of cognition, could ever pertain to the Self, the cognizer,

then it would be necessary to state a reason for the difference,

i. e., to explain why a few attributes only of Kshetra (an object of cognition) which are ascribed to the Self by avidya actually pertain to the Self, while others such as decay and death do not.

On the other hand, we are led to infer that those qualities of Kshetra do not actually pertain to the Self, because, like decay and death, they also are attributed to the Self by avidya; as also because they are objects shunned or sought for, and so on.

Such being the case,

—inasmuch as saṁsāra which consists in doing and enjoying, and which has its root in the cognized, is only attributed to the cognizer by avidya,

—the cognizer is not thereby affected, just as the ākāśa or ether is not affected by the attributes of dirtiness and concavity which are ascribed to it by children through ignorance.

Thus, it cannot be imagined that the Kshetrajna, the Lord, though existing in all Kshetras, can ever so much as smell of the nature of a samsārin.

Nowhere in our ex­perience have we found anything improved or spoiled by a quality being falsely attributed through avidya.

As to the contention that the illustration is not quite analogous, we reply that it is wrong to say so.


— For, the intended point of agreement between the illustra­tion and the thing illustrated consists in something being falsely attributed through ignorance.

In this respect, both agree.

But as to the contention that no false attribution of the qualities of the object to the subject is ever experi­enced, it has been shown that even this contention fails in the case of decay and death.

Avidya inheres in the organ, not in the Self.

(Objection):—As possessed of avidya, Kshetrajna is a , samsārin.

(Answer):—No; for avidya is born of Tamas.

As partak­ing of the nature of a veil, avidya—whether causing percep­tion of what is quite the contrary of truth, or causing doubt, or causing nescience or non-perception of a truth

—is a Tāmasic notion, i e., a notion born of Tamas; for, on the dawn of the light of discrimination, it disappears;

and (for instance) we find the same three modes of avidya— such as non-perception, etc.,—arising also from timira (an eye-disease causing dimness of sight), which is Tāmasic, as partaking of the nature of a veil.

(Objection):—Then avidya is an inherent property (dharma) of the cognizer.

(Answer):—No; for, we see that it is the organ of sight that is affected with the disease of timira.

[To explain):—You (the opponent) say:

Avidya is an inherent property of the cognizer. As possessed of this avidya, Kshetrajna is a samsārin. It is therefore unjust to say that Kshetrajna is the Īśvara Himself and not a samsārin.

We reply:

It is not right to say so; for, we see that such diseases as lead to the perception of what is contrary to truth, and so on, pertain to the eye, to the organ.

Neither the perception of what is contrary to truth, nor the cause thereof (i.e., the disease of timira), pertains to the perci­pient;

for, when timira is removed by the treatment of the eye, the percipient is no longer subject to such perception, which is therefore not a property of the percipient.

Similarly, non-perception, false perception, and doubt, as well as their cause, properly pertain the instrument, to one or another sense-organ, but not to the Kshetrajna, the cognizer.

Moreover, they are all objects of cognition and cannot therefore form the properties of the cognizer, any more than the light of a lamp.

And because they are cognisable, it follows also that they can be cognised only through some organ which is distinct from the cognizer;

and no philosoph­er admits that, in the state of liberation wherein all the sense-organs are absent, there is any such evil as avidya.

If they (false perception, etc.) were essential properties of the Self, of the Kshetrajna, as the heat is an essential property of fire, there could be no getting rid of them at any time;

and it is impossible for the immutable and formless Self, all- pervading like the ākāśa, to unite or part with anything whatsoever. Wherefore we conclude that the Kshetrajna is ever identical with Īśvara.

The Lord also says, “Being beginningless and without qualities.” (xiii.31).

Scriptural injunctions apply only to the state of bondage.

(Objection):—Then, in the absence of saṁsāra and samsārins, the conclusion is inevitable that the śāstra or scripture serves no purpose, and so on.

(Answer):—No; for, it is admitted by all.

The burden of explaining an objectionable point admitted into their systems by all those philosophers who argue the existence of Ātman does not lie on only one of them

—In what way do all classes of philosophers admit into their systems this objectionable point?

—All philosophers who admit the exis­tence of a Self agree that liberated Selfs are not conscious of saṁsāra or of the state of being bound to saṁsāra; still, it is not believed that their systems are open to the objection that the śāstra serves no purpose.

So, according to our view, when the Kshetrajnas become one with the Lord, then let the Śāstra serve no purpose. It has, however, a purpose to serve where there is avidya.

Just as, with the dualists (dvaitins) of all classes, the śāstra has a purpose to serve only in the state of bondage, but not in the state of liberation, so with us also.