Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Shankara | Discourse 13 verse 19-23

Prakriti and Purusha are eternal.

In the seventh discourse were described two Prakritis, the superior and the inferior, corresponding to Kshetra and Kshetrajna; and it was said that they are the womb of all creatures (vii. 6).

—It may now be asked, how can it be said that the two Prakritis, Kshetra and Kshetrajna, are the womb of all beings?

—This question will now be answered:

19. Know thou that Prakriti as well as Purusha are both beginningless; and know thou also that all forms and qualities are born of Prakriti.

Shankara's commentary:

Prakriti and Purusha, Matter and Spirit, are the two Prakritis of the Īśvara, the Lord.

These two, Prakriti and Purusha—you should know—have no beginning. As the Īśvara is the eternal Lord, it is but right that His Prakritis also should be eternal.

The Lordship of the Īśvara consists indeed in His possession of the two Prakritis by which He causes the origin, preservation and dissolution of the universe. The two Prakritis are beginningless, and they are therefore the cause of saṁsāra.

Some construe the passage so as to mean that the two Prakritis are not primeval. It is by such an interpretation, they hold, that the causality of the Īśvara can be established.

If, on the other hand, Prakriti and Purusha were eternal, it would follow that they are the cause of the universe, and that the Īśvara is not the creator of the universe.

It is wrong to say so; for the Īśvara would then be no Īśvara, inasmuch as there would be nothing for Him to rule over prior to the birth of Prakriti and Purusha.

Moreover, if saṁsāra had no cause (other than Īśvara), there could be no cessation thereof; and thus the śāstra (the scripture) would have no purpose to serve. Likewise, there could be neither bondage nor salvation.

Prakriti and Purusha as the Cause of samsāra.

If, on the other hand, the Prakritis of the Īśvara be eternal, all this can be explained.


—Know thou that all forms, all emanations (vikāras) from buddhi down to the physical body, and all qualities (guṇas) such as those which manifest themselves as pleasure, pain, delusion and other mental states to be described hereafter,

spring from Prakriti, Māyā, composed of the three guṇas, that Energy of the Īśvara which constitutes the cause of (all) emanat­ions. Know thou that they are all modifications of Prakriti.

What then are those forms and qualities which are said to be born of Prakriti?

—Says the Lord:

20. As the producer of the effect and the instruments, Prakriti is said to be the cause; as experi­encing pleasure and pain, Purusha is said to be the cause.

Shankara's commentary:

The effect (kārya) is the physical body, and the instruments (karaṇas) are the thirteen located in the body.

The five elements (bhūtas) which build up the body, and the five sense-objects which are the emanations of Prakriti as mentioned above, are included under the term ‘effect’;

and all qualities, such as pleasure, pain and delusion, which are born of Prakriti, are included under the term ‘instru­ments,’ since those qualities are seated in the instruments, the senses.

In the production of the physical body, of the senses and their sensations, Prakriti is said to be the cause, for, it generates them all. Thus, as producing the physical body and the senses, Prakriti is the cause of saṁsāra.

In the place of ‘karaṇa’ which means instrument, some read ‘kāraṇa’ which means cause.—

Whatever is a modifica­tion of another is the effect or emanation (vikāra) of that other; and that from which it emanates is the cause (kāraṇa).

Prakriti is the source of the cause and the effect, which comprise the same things (that were denoted by the terms ‘the effect and the instruments’).

Or, it may be that the sixteen vikāras or emanations are here spoken of as the effect; and the seven which are at once prakṛti and vikṛti, cause and effect, and which are there­fore called Prakriti-Vikritis, are spoken of as the cause.

In the production of these, the cause is Prakriti, as generat­ing them all.

And now will be shown how Purusha is the cause of saṁsāra. ‘Purusha,' ‘Jīva’, ‘Kshetrajna,' ‘Bhoktṛ’ (Enjoyer) are all synonymous terms. Purusha is said to be the cause, as perceiving pleasure, pain, and other objects of experience.

(Objection):—Why should Prakriti and Purusha be regarded as the cause of saṁsāra by way of generating causes and effects and experiencing pleasure and pain?

(Answer):—How could there be saṁsāra at all without Prakriti transforming itself as causes and effects, as the body and the senses, as pleasure and pain, and without the conscious Purusha experiencing them?

When, on the other hand, there is a conjunction—in the form of avidya or nescience—of Purusha, the experiencer, with Prakriti, the opposite, the object of experience, in all its transformations as the body and the senses, as pleasure and pain, as causes and effects, then only is saṁsāra possi­ble.

Wherefore it is but right to say that Prakriti and Purusha are the cause of saṁsāra; the one generating the body and the senses, the other experiencing pleasures and pains.

(Objection):—What, then, is this saṁsāra?

(Answer):—Saṁsāra is the experience of pleasure and pain; and Purusha is the samsārin, as the experiencer of pleasure and pain.

Avidya and Kama are the cause of rebirths.

It has been said that Purusha is the samsārin as experi­encing pleasure and pain. What is this (experiencing of pleasure and pain) due to?

—The Lord says:

21. Purusha, when seated in Prakriti, experiences the qualities born of Prakriti. Attachment to the qualities is the cause of his birth in good and evil wombs.

Shankara's commentary:

Because Purusha, the experiencer, is seated in Prakriti, in avidya or nescience,

—that is to say, because he identi­fies himself with the body and the senses which are emanations of Prakriti,

—he experiences the qualities born of Prakriti, manifesting themselves as pleasure, pain and delusion; he thinks, “I am happy, I am miserable, I am deluded, I am wise.”

Over and above avidyā (the cause of birth), His attachment to (i.e., identification of Himself with) what He experiences,—namely, the qualities of pleasure, pain and delusion, — forms the main cause of Purusha’s birth.

The śruti says:

As is his desire, so is his will.” (Bri. Up. 4-4-5.)

Accordingly the Lord says here:

—The experiencer’s attachment for qualities leads him to births in good and evil wombs.

Or, the second half of the verse may be construed, by supplying the word ‘saṁsāra,’ so as to mean: Attachment for qualities is the cause of His saṁsāra through births in good and evil wombs.           

Good wombs are those of Devas and the like; evil wombs are those of lower animals. We may also add, as implied here—being opposed to no teaching,—the wombs of men which are (partly) good and (partly) evil.

The sense of the passage maybe explained as follows:

Avidya, — spoken of as (Purusha’s) being ‘seated in Prakriti,’—and Kāma or attachment for qualities, together constitute the cause of saṁsāra.

SeIf-knowledge removes the cause of sasāra.

This twofold cause has been taught here for avoidance, (i.e., in order that we may try to remove it).

The means of bringing about the removal of the (twofold) cause are Jñāna and Vairāgya, i.e., knowledge and indifference con­joined with sannyāsa or renunciation as has been clearly taught in the Gītā-śāstra.

This knowledge, the knowledge of Kshetra and Kshetrajna, has been imparted in the begin­ning of this discourse. And it has also been imparted in xiii.12, et. seq., both by eliminating foreign elements (xiii. 12) and by attributing alien properties (xiii.13,et. seq.)

Now again the Lord proceeds to teach directly what that knowledge is:

22. Spectator and Permitter, Supporter, Enjoyer, the Great Lord, and also spoken of as the Supreme Self, (is) the Purusha Supreme in this body.

Shankara's commentary:

Spectator (Upadrashṭṛi): a bystander and a witness, Him­self not acting.

When priests and the sacrificer are engaged in a sacrificial act, there is another, an expert in sacri­ficial matters, sitting by their side, not taking part in the act, and discerning what is good and what is bad in the acts of the sacrificer and of the priests;

just so, not taking part in the activities of the body and the senses, the Self is distinct from them, a near witness of the body and the senses and all their acts.

—Or, it may be also explained thus:

The body, the sense of sight, Manas, Buddhi, and the Self are the seers. Of these, the body is the most external seer; and viewed from the body inwards, the Self is the innermost and nearest seer, and beyond Him there is no seer in the interior.

Thus, being the nearest seer, He is spoken of as ‘Upadrashṭṛi.’ Or, the Self is Upadrashṭṛi because, like the Upadrashṭṛi in the sacrificial rite, He watches all.

He is also the Permitter (Anumantṛi), expressing approbation or satisfaction concerning the acts of those who are engaged in action.

—Or, though Himself not engaged in ac­tion while the body and senses are active, He seems to be active in co-operation with them.

—Or, being their mere witness, He never stands in the way of those that are engaged in their respective activities.

Supporter (Bhrātṛi): The Self is called the Supporter, because the body, the senses, Manas and Buddhi—which aggregate together to serve the purposes of someone else, i.e., the Intelligent Self,

and which are, or which convey, mere reflections of the Intelligence—are what they are, only as made by that Intelligent Self.

Enjoyer (Bhoktṛ): The Self is the enjoyer because by the Self who is ‘nitya-chaitanya- svarūpa’, i. e., whose inherent nature is eternal intelli­gence,

just as heat is the inherent nature of fire, are clearly perceived, in their mutual relations, all states of mind (buddheḥ-pratyayāḥ), constituted of pleasure, pain and delu­sion, which, as they come into being, are permeated as it were by the intelligent Self.

The Great Lord: As one with the whole universe and independent of all, He is the Great One as well as the Lord.

The Supreme Self (Paramātman): the Self who has been defined as the Spectator, etc., is Supreme, because He is superior to all those things—from the physical body up to the Avyakta—which are through ignorance mistaken for the Inner Self.

Whence He is spoken of as ‘Paramātman’ in the śruti also.

—Where is He?

—Purusha, who transcends the Avyakta, as will be described hereafter in xv. 17, is here in this body.

The Self treated of in xiii. 2 has been described at length, and the subject has been concluded. As to him who knows the Self thus described:

23. He who thus knows Purusha and Prakriti together with qualities whatever his conduct, he is not born again.

Shankara's commentary:

He who knows Purusha in the manner mentioned above, i.e., he who directly perceives Him as his very Self, ‘This I am,’ he who knows Prakriti or Avidya described above with all its modifications,

i. e., he who knows the Prakriti as resolved into nothing (abhāva) by vidyā or knowledge,

— whatever life he may lead, (i. e., whether he is engaged in the prescribed duties or forbidden acts), he is not born again;

that is, he will not have to put on another body on the death of this, i. e., at the end of the birth in which he has attained wisdom. How much more so the wise man who stands firm in the path of duty.

(Objection):—What acts are neutralised by knowledge?

— Absence of rebirth subsequent to the attainment of know­ledge has indeed been taught here.

But, inasmuch as it is not right (to suppose) the annihilation, before producing their respective effects, of those acts

- which were done (in the present birth) before the attainment of knowledge or of those acts which may be done thereafter, or of those which had been done in the many past births,

there should be at least three (more) births; for it is not right to suppose the annihilation of these acts any more than to suppose the annihilation of the deeds whose fruits are being reaped in the present birth.

And we see no distinction between (these two groups of) acts.

Accordingly, the three classes of acts will give rise to three births; or all of them combining together will give rise to a single birth.

Otherwise, the possibility of annihilation of what has been done would lead to uncertainty everywhere, and the śāstra (all scriptural injunctions) would become useless.

Therefore it is not right to say that ‘he is not born again.’

(Answer):—No, (it is right), as the following passages of the śruti show:

His deeds perish.’— (Muṇd. Up. 2-2-8.)

He who knows Brahman, becomes Brahman It­self.’— (Ibid., 3-2-9).

For him there is only delay so long as he is not delivered (from the present body).—(Chhānd. Up. 6-14-2).

As the soft fibres of the ishikā reed are burnt in the fire, so all his actions are burnt.’—(Ibid., 5-24-3).

Consumption of all acts has been taught here also in iv. 37 and will be taught also hereafter.

And this also stands to reason; for, only those acts which spring from avidya (nescience), from desire (kāma) and such other affections, which are the seeds f of all evil, can cause future births;

and it has also been stated by the Lord here and there in the Gītā that those actions which are accompanied with egotism and desire—but not other actions—are productive of results.

It is also said elsewhere,

As the fire-burnt seeds do not sprout again, so the body cannot be formed again by wisdom-burnt affec­tions.

(Objection):—Granted that knowledge consumes acts done subsequently to the attainment of knowledge, inasmuch as they are accompanied with knowledge;

but it is not possi­ble to explain how it can consume acts done in this life before the attainment of knowledge, and those done in the several past births.

(Answer):—Do not say so, because of the qualification ‘all acts’ (iv. 37).

(Objection):—It may mean all those acts only which are done subsequently to the attainment of knowledge.

(Answer):—No, for, there is no reason for the limitation.

Now as regards the contention that just as the actions which have begun their effects by way of bringing about the present birth do not perish in spite of knowledge,

so also even those acts which have not yet begun to produce their effects cannot perish, (we say) it is wrong.


—For, the former have, like an arrow discharged, begun their effects.

Just as an arrow once discharged from a bow at an aim does not, even after piercing through the aim, cease to act till it drops down on the exhaustion of the whole force with which it was propelled,”

so also, though the purpose of the bodily existence has been gained, the effects of actions which have produced the body continue as before till the exhaustion of their inherent energy.

(On the other hand), just as the same arrow when not yet propelled with the energy which is the cause of its activity, i. e., when not discharged, can be withdrawn, though already fixed in the bow,

so also, the acts which have not yet begun their effects, which only abide in their own seat, can be neutra­lised by the knowledge of truth.

Thus it is but right to say that when the body of a wise man perishes ‘he is not born again’.