Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Shankara | Discourse 13 verse 12-14

Brahman, the Knowable.

What is it that has to be known by this knowledge?

—In answer to this question the Lord proceeds with xiii.12, etc.

(Objection):—Humility and the like are only forms of self-control (yama and niyama); by them cannot be perceived the Knowable.

Never indeed have we found humility and other attributes (mentioned above) serving to determine the nature of anything.

And in all cases, it is only the knowledge or consciousness of an object that has been found to deter­mine the nature of that object of knowledge.

And, certainly, no object can be determined through the knowledge of another object, any more than fire can be perceived through the knowledge of a pot.

(Answer):—This objection does not apply here; for, we have said that humility and the like are spoken of as know­ledge because they conduce to knowledge, or because they are secondary or auxiliary causes of knowledge.

12. That which has to be known I shall des­cribe; knowing which one attains the Immortal. Beginningless is the Supreme Brahman. It is not said to be ‘sat’ or ‘asat.’

Shankara's commentary:

That which has to be known, I shall fully describe as It is.

—The Lord then goes on to describe what the result of that knowledge will be, in order to call the hearer’s atten­tion by way of creating in him a desire to know of It.

—It, the unsurpassed One, the Brahman, just spoken of as ‘That which has to be known,’ has no beginning.

With a view to avoid tautology some split the express­ion ‘anādimatparam’ into ‘anādi matparam', and explain it differently; thus: Brahman is beginningless, and I am Its Para-Śaktī, the Supreme Energy called Vāsudeva.

(But we say):—True, tautology might thus be avoided, provided the given interpretation were possible.

But the interpretation does not hold good, for it is intended here to expound the nature of Brahman by denying all specific attributes.

It is a self-contradiction to speak of Brahman as possessed of a particular kind of energy and at the same time as devoid of all specific attributes.

Therefore tautology should be explained as due to the exigencies of the metre.

Brahman is beyond speech and thought.

After saying that He is going to speak of what, as leading to immortality, is worth knowing, and after having thus called the hearer’s attention by creating a desire for the knowledge, the Lord says:

It is not said to be ‘sat (existent)’ or ‘asat (non-existent).’

(Objection):—After proclaiming very loudly that He is going to speak of the Knowable, it does not become the Lord to describe It as neither ‘sat’ nor ‘asat.’

(Answer):—No; it is quite the right thing that has been said.


—Thus: being inaccessible to speech, Brah­man, the Knowable, is defined in all Upanishads only by a denial of all specialities,—‘Not thus’ (Bn. Up, 2-3-6) and ‘not gross, not subtle(Ibid, 3-8-8)—in the terms “It is not this.” 

(Objection): —That thing (alone) exists which can be spoken of as existing. If the Knowable cannot be spoken of as existing, then It cannot exist. And it is a contradic­tion in terms to say that It is knowable and that It cannot be spoken of as existing.

(Answer):—Neither is It non-existent, since It is not an object of the consciousness of non-existence.

(Objection):—Every state of consciousness involves either the consciousness of existence or that of non-existence.

Such being the case, the Knowable should be comprehended either by a state of consciousness accompanied with the conscious­ness of existence, or by a state of consciousness accom­panied with the consciousness of non-existence.

(Answer):—No; for, being beyond the reach of the senses, It is not an object of consciousness accompanied with the idea of either (existence or non-existence).

That thing, indeed, which can be perceived by the senses, such as a pot, can be an object of consciousness accompanied with the idea of existence, or an object of consciousness accompanied with the idea of non-existence.

Since, on the other hand, the Knowable is beyond the reach of the senses and as such can be known solely through that instrument of knowledge which is called ‘Śabda’ (the Word, i.e., Revelation),

It cannot be, like a pot, etc., an object of con­sciousness accompanied with the idea of either (existence or non-existence) and is therefore not said to be ‘sat’ or ‘asat’.

Now, as regards the allegation that it is a self-contradic­tion in terms to say that the Knowable is not said to be ‘sat’ or ‘asat’, (we say that) there is no contradiction; for, the śruti says,

It is other than the known and above the unknown.’— (Kena-Up.2-3.)

(Objection):—Even the passage of the śruti just quoted is self-contradictory, just as the śruti is self-contradictory when, after putting up the hall for the sacrifice, it says

(who knows) there exists (any good) in the next world?” (Taittirīya-Saṁhitā, 6-1-1).

(Answer):—No; the passage which says that “It is other than the known and above the unknown”, teaches, by itself, something which should be accepted as true,

whereas the passage quoted by the opponent—“who knows if there exist any good in the next world?”

—is a mere artha-vāda, a statement which, to be understood in its full import, should be read along with the injunction to which it is subsidiary.

Moreover, it stands to reason to say that Brahman cannot be expressed in words such as ‘sat’; for, every word employed to denote a thing denotes that thing

—when heard by another—as associated with a certain genus, or a certain act, or a certain quality, or a certain mode of relation.

Thus: cow and horse imply genera, cook and teacher imply acts, white and black imply qualities, wealthy and cattle-owner imply possession.

But Brahman belongs to no genus wherefore It cannot be denoted by such words as ‘sat (existent)’.

Being devoid of attributes, It possesses no qualities. If It were possessed of qualities, then It could be denoted by a word implying a quality. Being actionless, It cannot be indicated by a word implying an act.

The Śruti says:

It is without parts, actionless and tranquil.” (Śvet. Up. 6-19).

It is not related to anything else; for It is one, It is with­out a second, It is no object (of any sense), It is the very Self.

Wherefore, it is but right to say that It can be denoted by no word at all; and the passages of the śruti like the following point to the same thing:

Whence (i.e., away from Brahman, unable to approach Brahman) all words return.”— (Tait. Up. 2-4-1.)

Brahman is the source of all activity.

When it is said that Brahman the Knowable is not accessible to the word or thought of ‘sat’ (existent), one may perhaps suppose It to be ‘asat’ or non-existent.

To prevent this supposition the Lord proceeds to declare Its existence as manifested through the upādhis, through the senses of all living beings.

[To explain: Since nothing is found which is devoid of all conditions and quite beyond all speech and thought,— nay, since everything we experience is of a contrary nature,—one may suppose that Brahman as described above must be a void or non-entity (śūnya).

To prevent this supposition, the Lord proceeds to teach that Brahman exists:

(1) as the Inner Self (Pratyak), (2) as the source of all activity of the senses and the like, (3) as the source whence arises our consciousness of existence with reference to all duality which is imaginary, (4) as Īśvara or the Lord of the universe.

First of all, here, the Lord proves, by way of inference, the existence of Brahman as the Inner Self-consciousness:

there must be some self-conscious principle (pratyak-chetanā) behind insentient principles in activity, such as the physical body; for, we invariably find self-consciousness lying behind all insentient objects in activity, such as a carriage in motion.—(A)]

13. With hands and feet everywhere, with eyes and heads and mouths everywhere, with hearing everywhere, That exists enveloping all.

Shankara's commentary:

The Knowable has hands and feet everywhere. The existence of Kshetrajna is indicated by the upādhis of the sense-organs of all living beings.

Kshetrajna (the self-­conscious principle lying behind the sense-organs) is so- called because of the upādhi of Kshetra; and this Kshetra is of various forms, such as hands, feet, etc.

All the variety caused in Kshetrajna by the variety in the upādhis of Kshetra is but illusory, and it has therefore been said—in the words “It is not said to be ‘sat’ or ‘asat’”—that It should be known as devoid of all variety.

Though what is caused (in Kshetrajna) by upādhis is illusory, still it is spoken of—in the words that ‘It has hands and feet every­where’—as though it were an attribute of the Knowable, only with a view to indicate Its existence.

Accordingly there is the saying of the sampradāya-vids—of those who know the right traditional method of teaching—which run as follows:

That which is devoid of all duality is describ­ed by adhyāropa and apavāda,” i.e., by superimposition and negation, by attribution and denial.

Hands, feet and the like, constituting the limbs of all bodies in all places, derive their activity from the Energy inherent in the Knowable, and as such they are mere marks of Its existence and are spoken of as belonging to It only by a figure of speech.

—All the rest should be similarly interpreted.

—It (Brahman) exists in the world, in the whole animal creation, pervading all.

Brahman is unconditioned.

The purpose of this verse is to prevent the supposition that the Knowable is (really) possessed of the upādhis—the sense-organs such as hands, feet, and the like,—which are merely superimposed (upon It).

14. Shining by the functions of all the senses, (yet) without the senses, unattached, yet support­ing all; devoid of qualities; yet enjoying, qualities.

Shankara's commentary:

All the senses: the buddhi-iṅdriyas and karma-iṅdriyas, the organs of knowledge and the organs of action.

The inner senses,—manas and buddhi,—which alike form the upādhis of the Knowable, are included in the term ‘all the senses’. Moreover, even hearing and other senses form upādhis only through the upādhi of the antaḥ-kāraṇa, the in­ner sense.

Thus, we should understand that Brahman mani­fests Itself through the upādhis of external and internal senses through the functions of all the senses, i.e., determination, purposes and thoughts, hearing, speech and the like.

That is to say, the Knowable functions, as it were, through the functions of all the senses.

The śruti says:

It meditates as it were, It moves as it were.” (Bri. Up. 4-3-7)

- Why should it not mean that It actually functions?

— Says the Lord:

It is not possessed of any of the senses. Wherefore, the Knowable does not actually function when the senses are functioning.

And as regards the verse,

“Without hands and feet He is swift, He grasps;

He sees without the eye, He hears without the ear.”

(Śvet. Up. 3-19).

there, the śruti implies that the Knowable has the power to accommodate Itself to the varying functions of all the senses which are Its upādhis, but not that It actually possesses swift motion and such other activities.

The verse should be interpreted like the passage “The blind one saw the gem.” (Taitt. Āraṇyaka, 1.11). Because It is devoid of the senses, therefore It is unattached, devoid of all attachments.

Brahman, the basic Reality in all illusory phenomena.

Though It is so, yet It supports all. Indeed, everything is based on the ‘sat,’ the Existent; for everywhere the idea of ‘sat’ is present. Not even the mirage and the like exist without a basis. Hence it is said that It supports all.