Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Shankara | Discourse 13 verse 24-34

The four paths to Self-knowledge.

Now, there are several paths to Self-knowledge, and they are mentioned here as follows:

24. By meditation some behold the Self in the self by the self, others by Sānkhya-Yoga, and others by Karma-Yoga.

Shankara's commentary:

Meditation (Dhyāna) consists in withdrawing by con­centration hearing and other senses into the Manas away from sound and other sense-objects, then withdrawing Manas into the Inner Intelligence, and then contemplating (that Inner Intelligence).

Hence the comparison, “the crane meditates as it were; the earth meditates as it were… the mountains meditate as it were” (Chhā. Up. 7-6-1)

Dhyāna is a continuous and unbroken thought like a line of flowing oil. By meditation the Yogins behold the Self, the Inner Intelligence, in the self (Buddhi) by the self, by their own intelligence, i. e., by the antaḥ-karaṇa refined by Dhyāna.

—Sānkhya consists in thinking thus:

‘these, Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, are Guṇas, Ātman is the witness of their acts, eternal, and distinct from the Guṇas.’ By Sānkhya- Yoga some behold the Self in the self by the self.

— Karma is Yoga (i.e., that Karma or action which is per­formed in the service of the Lord (Īśvara). Such a course of action is Yoga—only by a figure of speech—inasmuch as it leads to Yoga.

Some behold the Self by this Yoga of action, which, causing purity of the mind (sattva), gives rise to knowledge.

25. Yet others, not knowing thus, worship, having heard from others; they, too, cross beyond death, adhering to what they heard.

Shankara's commentary:

But there are yet others, who, not able to know the Self described above by any one of the several methods already pointed out,

learn from others, from ācāryas or teachers who tell them “Do thou thus meditate upon this”; they then engage in worship, i. e., they contemplate the idea in full faith.

Even they cross beyond death, i. e., beyond saṁsāra which is associated with death even they whose best equipment when commencing to tread the path of moksha consists in what they have heard,

i. e., who solely depend upon the authority of other’s instructions and are themselves ignorant. How much more so, then, those who can independently appreciate evidence and discriminate.

Nothing exists outside the Self.

The knowledge of the identity of Kshetrajna with the Īśvara—of the individual soul with the Lord—as taught in xiii.2 has been spoken of in xiii.12 as the means to moksha.

—For what reason is it so?

—The Lord proceeds to explain the reason.


26. Whatever being is born, the unmoving or the moving, know thou, O best of the Bhāratas, that to be owing to the union of Kshetra and Kshetrajna.

Shankara's commentary:

(Objection):—Of what sort is this union of Kshetra and Kshetrajna meant to be?

The union of Kshetrajna with Kshetra cannot certainly be a relation through contact (saṁyoga) of each other’s parts, as between a rope and a vessel, inasmuch as Kshetrajna is, like the ākāśa, without parts.

Nor can it be of the nature of samavāya or insepar­able inherence, inasmuch as it cannot be admitted that Kshetra and Kshetrajna are related to each other as cause and effect.

(Answer):—The union between Kshetra and Kshetrajna, between the object and the subject, which are opposed to each other in nature, is of the nature of mutual adhyāsa;

i.e., it consists in confounding them as well as their attributes with each other owing to the absence of discrimination between the nature of Kshetra and that of Kshetrajna,

like the union of a rope and a mother-of-pearl respectively with a snake and silver when they are mistaken the one for the other owing to the absence of discrimination.

The union of Kshetra and Kshetrajna which is of the nature of adhyāsa—which consists in confounding the one with the other—is a sort of illusion (mithyājñāna);

and this illusion vanishes—because of its opposition to the right knowledge

—when a man attains to a knowledge of the distinction between Kshetra and Kshetrajna as defined in the śāstra, when he is able to separate Kshetrajna from Kshetra like the ishikā reed from the muñja-grass

and to realise that Brahman, the Knowable, which is devoid of all upādhis as described in the words “It is not said to be existent or non-existent” (xiii. 12) is his own Self,

when he is convinced that, like the elephants and palaces projected by a juggler’s art, or like a thing seen in a dream, or like a gandharva- nāgara (an imaginary city in the sky),

Kshetra is non-­existent and only appears to be existent.

As the cause of birth has vanished in the case of such a man, it stands to reason that the wise man is not born again (xiii. 23).

The one Self in all.

It has been said (xiii.23) that the effect of right know­ledge is the cessation of births through the removal of avidya (nescience) and the like which form the seed of saṁsāra.

It has also been said that the cause of birth is the union of Kshetra and Kshetrajna caused by avidya.

Therefore, the right knowledge which alone can remove avidya, though already described, will again be described in other words as follows:

27. He sees, who sees the Supreme Lord, remaining the same in all beings, the undying in the dying.

Shankara's commentary:

The Supreme Lord exists, without any difference, in all living beings, from Brahma down to the unmoving object (sthāvara).

He is the Lord Supreme as compared with the body, senses, Manas, Buddhi, the Avyakta (the unmanifest­ed, i. e., the causal body, the kāraṇa-śarīra, avidya) and the individual soul (Ātman, Jīva).

All living beings are perish­able while the Supreme Lord is imperishable. Thus there is a great disparity between the Supreme Lord and the created beings.

For, of all changing states of a being (bhāva-vikāras), the change of state called birth is the root; all the other changes ending with destruction occur subse­quently to birth.

There can be no change of state subse­quent to destruction, since the object itself does not exist. Attributes can exist only when the substance exists.

Where­fore, the denial of the final change of state comprehends the denial of all the preceding changes as well as their effects.

Thus it may be seen that the Supreme Lord is quite unlike all beings and that He is one and immutable in all. He sees (rightly) who sees the Supreme Lord as now described.

(Objection):—The whole world sees; why this one in particular?

(Answer):—True, the world sees; but it sees erroneously. Hence the particularisation ‘he alone sees.’

A man whose eye is affected with timira sees more moons than one; and with reference to him, he who sees one moon may be specified thus, ‘he alone sees.’

Similarly here, he who sees the one undivided Self as described above is distinguished— from those who erroneously see many distinct selves—in the words ‘he alone sees.’

Others, though seeing, yet do not see, inasmuch as they see erroneously like those who see more moons than one.

Knowledge of the one Self leads to moksha.

To praise the Right Knowledge described above by way of stating its results the Lord proceeds as follows:

28. Because he who sees the Lord, seated the same everywhere, destroys not the self by the self, therefore he reaches the Supreme Goal.

Shankara's commentary:

He who realises that the Īśvara described in the last preced­ing verse is the same—i. e., he who sees that He dwells in all creatures alike—destroys not his own self by himself. Because he does not destroy the self, he reaches the Supreme Goal, he attains moksha.

(Objection):—No living being whatever destroys itself by itself.

Where then is the necessity for the denial: “He destroys not the self by the self,” any more than for the prohibition: “fire should be consecrated not on earth, not in the sky, not in heaven” (Tait. Saṁ. 5-2-7)?

(Answer):—This objection does not apply here; for, the necessity may be explained on the ground that ignorant men are guilty of ignoring the Self.

An ignorant man ignores the Self who is quite manifest to all, self-manifested, and directly visible, and he regards the not-Self (physical body, etc.) as himself.

Having performed good and evil works (dharma and a-dharma), he kills even this self (the physical body, etc.) which he had accepted and accepts another new self; he kills this again and accepts another, and so on; thus he goes on killing every new self that he has accepted.

An ignorant man is, accordingly, a slayer of the self. Even the real Self is always killed by avidya, inasmuch as there is no perceptible effect of His existence. Thus, all ignorant men are but the slayers of the self.

He who, on the other hand, sees the Self as described above, kills not self by self in either of the ways shown above. Wherefore, he reaches the supreme goal; he reaps the fruit spoken of above.

Prakriti acts, not the Self.

It has been said that he who sees the Lord (the Self) remaining the same in every being destroys not the self by the self.

This may be objected to on the ground that there are many selfs, differentiated by differences in their respective deeds (karma) and qualities.

To remove this objection the Lord says:

29. He sees, who sees all actions performed by Prakriti alone and the Self not acting.

Shankara's commentary:

Prakriti is the Lord’s Māyā composed of the three guṇas. So the Mantra reads,

Let him know that Māyā is the Prakriti and that the Great Lord is the possessor of Māyā.—(Śvetāśvatara-Up. 4-10.)

By Prakriti,

—i. e., Māyā, the Śaktī or inherent energy of the Lord, not the other, i. e., not the (Pradhāna, the self-existent) Prakriti (of the Sānkhyas) described as trans­forming Itself into causes and effects such as the Mahat,

— are done all sorts of actions, whether done in speech, thought, or deed.

He sees, who realises this truth and also the truth that the Self (Kshetrajna) is devoid of all upādhis or conditions; —i. e., he sees the supreme truth.

There is no evidence to show that there is any variety in Him who is non-agent, unconditioned, and free from all specialities, just as there is no variety in the ākāśa.

The Self is the source and the abode of all.

The same Right Knowledge is again expounded in other words:

30. When a man realises the whole variety of beings as resting in the One, and as an evolution from that (One) alone, then he becomes Brahman.

Shankara's commentary:

When, in accordance with the teachings of the śāstra and of the teacher, he sees that all the various classes of beings abide in the One, in the Self,

i. e., when he intuitively I realises that all that we perceive is only the Self, and when he further sees that the origin, the evolution, (of all) is from that One, the Self,

—as stated in the passage: “From the Self is life, from the Self is desire, from the Self is love, from the Self is ākāśa, from the Self is light, from the Self are waters, from the Self is manifestation and disappearance, from the Self is food.” (Chhā. Up. 7-26-1)

—then he becomes Brahman indeed.

The Self is unaffected by the fruits of acts.

If the one Self be the Self in all the bodies, then He must be necessarily affected by their defects.

To avoid this conclusion it is said:

31. Having no beginning, having no qualities, this Supreme Self, imperishable, though dwelling in the body, O son of Kuntī, neither acts nor is tainted.

Shankara's commentary:

The Self has no beginning, no cause. That which has a cause perishes by itself, whereas This(Self) does not perish, because, as having no cause, He is without parts.

Further, He does not perish because He is without qualities; for that which has qualities perishes by loss of qualities; whereas the Self does not perish, because He is devoid of qualities.

Thus the Supreme Self is imperishable. He suffers no destruction.

Therefore, though dwelling in the body,—the Self is said to dwell in the body because the Self is manifested in the body,—yet He does not act. Because He does not act, He is not affected by the results of acts.

The meaning is this:

—He that is an agent is affected by the fruit of the act; but this (the Self) is a non­-agent and is therefore not tainted by the fruit of action.

(Objection):—Who, then, in the bodies acts and is tainted?

If, on the one hand, an embodied self, distinct from the Supreme Self, acts and is tainted, then the identi­ty of Kshetrajna with the Īśvara spoken of in such places as xiii.2 would be inexplicable.

If, on the other hand, there be no embodied self distinct from the Īśvara, then tell me who acts and is tainted: or say that the Īśvara is not Supreme.

On the ground that the doctrine of the Upanishads taught by the Lord is thus in every way diffi­cult to understand and difficult to explain, it has been abandoned by the Vaiśeṣikās, as well as by the Sānkhyas, the Arhats, and the Buddhists.

(Answer):—As regards this objection, the following answer I has been afforded by the Lord Himself.—“It is Nature that acts”(xiii.2).

The idea that there is one who acts and is tainted is a mere illusion (avidya) and nothing else. Action does not really exist in the Supreme Self.

It has, for this very reason, been pointed out by the Lord here and there that there is no necessity of performing works (karma) for those devotees of Wisdom,

for the order of Paramahamsa-Parivrājakas, who adhere to this doctrine of Supreme Truth ( Paramārtha-Sānkhya-darśana) and have risen above avidya and vyavahāra, nescience and all experience (due to avidya).

Like what does He not act, like what is he not tainted?

— Here follows the illustration:

32. As the all-pervading ākāśa is, from its subtlety, never soiled, so the Self seated in the body everywhere is not soiled.

 The Self illumines all.


33. As the one sun illumines all this world, so does the embodied One, O Bhārata, illumine all bodies.

Shankara's commentary:

The embodied one (Kshetrin), the Supreme Self (Paramātman), is one and illumines all bodies, the whole material being (Kshetra),

from the Avyakta (the unmanifest­ed material cause of the universe) down to the unmoving objects, from the ‘Great Elements’ down to ‘firmness’ (xiii. 3-6).

—The illustration by means of the sun serves here a double purpose with reference to the Self,—showing that, like the sun, the Self is One only in all bodies, and that like the sun, He is unsoiled.

The doctrine summed up.

The teaching of the whole discourse is concluded as follows:

34. They who by the eye of wisdom perceive the distinction between Kshetra and Kshetrajna, and the dissolution of the Cause of beings,—they go to the Supreme.

Shankara's commentary:

They who in this manner perceive the exact distinction, now pointed out, between Kshetra and Kshetrajna,

by the eye of wisdom, by means of that knowledge of the Self which has been generated by the teachings of the śāstra and the master (āchārya), and who also perceive the non­existence of Prakriti, Avidya, Avyakta, the material cause, of beings,

—they reach Brahman, the Real, the Supreme Self, and assume no more bodies.