Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Shankara | Discourse 13 verse 3

Bondage and liberation are not real states of the Self.

(Objection):—All dualistic philosophers (Dvaitins) hold that states of bondage and liberation are real conditions of the Self, real in the literal sense of the term.

Since thus there really exist something to be avoided and something to be attained, as also the means thereto, the śāstra has some purpose to serve.

But in the case of the non-dualists (Advaitins), the dual world is unreal; and as the bondage of the Self is caused by avidya, it is also unreal. Thus the śāstra would have no subject to treat of and would therefore serve no purpose.

(Answer):—No; for, the Self cannot (really) exist in differ­ent states.

—If bondage and liberation be states of the Self, they must be either simultaneous or successive.

They can­not be simultaneous states of the Self as they are mutually opposed, just as motion and rest cannot be simultaneous states of one and the same thing.

If successive, they are either caused or uncaused by another.

If uncaused by another, there can be no liberation. If caused by another, they cannot be inherent in the Self and cannot therefore be real. And this is opposed to the hypothesis.

Moreover, if we would determine the order of their occurrence, the state of bondage should come first, without a beginning, but having an end; and this is opposed to all evidence.

Similarly, it has to be admitted that the state of liberation has a beginning and has no end; which is alike opposed to all evidence. Nor is it possible to maintain the eternality of that which passes from one state to another.

Now, if, in order to avoid the objection of non-eternality, it be held that the states of bondage and liberation do not pertain to the Self, then even the dualists cannot avoid the objection that the śāstra has no purpose to serve.

The dualists and the non-dualists being thus similarly situated, the burden of answering the objection does not lie on the non-dualists alone.

Scriptural injunctions concern the unenlightened.

In point of fact, the objection that the śāstra would have no purpose to serve cannot be brought against non-dualism; for, the śāstra is concerned with the ignorant who view things as they present themselves to their consciousness.

— It is, indeed, the ignorant who identify themselves with the cause and the effect, with the not-Self.

But not the wise; for, these latter do not identify themselves with the cause and the effect, since they know that the Self is distinct from the cause and the effect.

Not even the dullest or the most insane person regards water and fire, or light and darkness, as identical; how much less a wise man.

Therefore, the injunctions and prohibitions of the śāstra do not apply to him who knows the Self to be distinct from the cause and the effect.

Of course, when a certain person has been commanded to do an action in the words “Do this, O Devadatta,” no other person, such as Vishṇu-mitra, though standing near and hearing the word of command, thinks that he (Vishṇu- mitra) has been so ordered;

he might, however, think so if he did not understand to whom the injunction has been ad­dressed. So, too, in the case of the cause and the effect here.

(Objection): —Notwithstanding his knowledge that the Self is unconnected with the cause and the effect, it is quite possible for a wise man to regard himself

—in reference to the connection (between the Self and the body, etc.,) once set up by avidya (prakṛti)

—as still bound by the injunc­tions of the śāstra, thinking that he has been enjoined to adopt a certain course of action by which to attain a desir­able end, and to avoid a certain other course of action which leads to an evil;

just as a father and his sons regard every one among themselves as bound by the in­junctions and prohibitions addressed to every other, not­withstanding their knowledge that they are all persons distinct from each other.

(Answer):—No; it is only prior to the knowledge of the Self unconnected with causes and effects that it is possible for one to identify the Self with them;

for, it is only after having duly observed the injunctions and prohibitions of the śāstra—but not before —that a person attains to the knowledge that the Self is quite unconnected with causes and effects.

Hence the conclusion, that the injunctions and prohibitions of the śāstra concern only the ignorant.

(Objection):—Neither those who know that the Self is independent of the body, etc., nor those who regard the mere body as the Self are, (according to non-dualists), concerned with the injunctions such as “He who desires svarga must sacrifice,” “Let none eat kalaja”;

thus, there being no person who would observe scriptural injunctions, the śāstra would have no purpose to serve.

(Answer):—Performance of enjoined acts and abstention from prohibited acts are possible in the case of those who know of the Self only through the Scriptures.

—He who knows Brahman and has realised the identity of the Kshetra­jna with the Lord does not certainly engage in the Vedic rites. Neither does the person who denies the existence of the Self and of the other world engage in such rites.

But, he who derives his idea of the Self only from the scriptural injunctions,

i.e., who believes in the existence of the Self because the teaching of the śāstra enjoining certain actions and prohibiting (certain others) would otherwise be inex­plicable, but who does not directly know the Self in His essential nature,

—cherishes a longing for the results of the Vedic rites and devoutly performs them: a fact which is evident to us all.

Wherefore, it cannot be said that the śāstra would have no purpose to serve.

(Objection):—On seeing the wise not performing Vedic rites, their followers also may not perform them; and thus the śāstra would serve no purpose at all.

(Answer):—No; for, very rare is the person who attains wisdom. It is, indeed, only one among many that attains wisdom, as we now see.

Nor do the ignorant follow the wise men; for, attachment and other evil passions neces­sarily lead to action. We do see people engaging in the practice of Black Magic.

Lastly, action is natural to man, as has been said already, “It is nature that acts” (v.14).

Therefore, saṁsāra is only based on avidya and exists only for the ignorant man who sees the world as it appears to him.

Neither avidya nor its effect pertains to Kshetrajna pure and simple. Nor is illusory knowledge able to affect the Real Thing.

The water of the mirage, for instance, can by no means render the saline soil miry with moisture. So, too, avidya can do nothing to Kshetrajna.

Wherefore it has been said, ‘Do thou also know Me as Kshetrajna’ (xiii. 2); and ‘By unwisdom wisdom is covered’ (v. 15).

Learned but deluded.

(Objection).—How is it that the learned (pandits) also feel: — “I am so and so,” “this is mine,”—like the samsārins?

(Answer):—Listen. Their learning consists in regarding the body itself as their Self!

If, on the other hand, they really see the immutable Kshetrajna, they would desire neither pleasure nor action with the attachment ‘let it be mine’; for, pleasure and action are but changes of state.

Thus, then, it is the ignorant man who, longing for results, engages in action.

The wise man, on the contrary, who sees the immutable Self, cherishes no longing for results and does not therefore engage in action;

and when, as a conse­quence, the activity of the aggregate—of the body and the senses—ceases, we say, only figuratively, that he abstains from action.

There is, again, another sort of learning professed by some other (class of pandits), which may be stated as follows:

— The Lord Himself is Kshetrajna, and Kshetra is quite dist­inct from Kshetrajna who perceives it; but I am a samsārin subject to pleasure and pain.

To bring about the cessation of saṁsāra I should first acquire a discriminative knowledge of Kshetra and Kshetrajna, then attain a direct perception of the Kshetrajna, the Lord, by means of dhyāna or medita­tion of the Lord, and then dwell in the true nature of the Lord.

He who is given to know thus and he who teaches thus, neither of them is the Kshetrajna.

He who holds this view and hopes to make out that the śāstra concerning bondage and liberation has a meaning is the meanest of the learned. He is the slayer of the Self.

Ignorant in himself, he confounds others, devoid as he is of the traditional key (sampradāya) to the teaching of the śāstras.

Ignoring what is directly taught, he suggests what is not taught. Therefore, not being acquainted with the traditional interpretation, he is to be neglected as an ignorant man, though learned in all śāstras.

The relation of the Self to sasāra is a mere illusion.

Now as to the objections that the Īśvara would be a samsārin if He be one with Kshetrajna, and that if Kshetrajnas be one with the Īśvara there can be no saṁsāra because there is no samsārin:

these objections have been met by saying that knowledge and ignorance are distinct in kind and in effects, as admitted by all.

—To explain: The Real Entity (i.e., Īśvara) is not affected by the defect (saṁsāra) attributed to Him through ignorance of that Real Entity. This has also been illustrated by the fact that the water of the mirage does not wet the saline soil.

And the objection raised on the ground that in the absence of a samsārin there can be no saṁsāra has been answered by explaining that the saṁsāra and the samsārin are creatures of avidya.

(Objection):—The very fact that Kshetrajna is possessed of avidya makes Him a samsārin; and the effect thereof— happiness and misery and so on—is directly perceived.

(Answer) —No; for, what is perceived is an attribute of Kshetra (matter); and Kshetrajna, the cognizer, cannot be vitiated by the blemish due to it.

To explain: whatever blemish—not inhering in Kshetrajna—you ascribe to Him, it comes under the cognised, and therefore forms a property of Kshetra, and not a property of Kshetrajna.

Nor is Kshetrajna affected by it, since such intimate association of the cognizer and the cognised is impossible.

If there should be such an association, then that blemish could not be cognised. That is to say, if misery and nescience were properties of the Self, how could they be objects of immediate perception?

Or, how could they ever be regarded as the properties of the Self?

Since it has been determin­ed that all that is knowable is Kshetra (xiii. 5-6) and that Kshetrajna is the knower and none else (xiii. 1), it is noth­ing but sheer ignorance which may lead one to contradict it

by saying that nescience and misery and the like are the attributes and specific properties of Kshetrajna and that they are immediately perceived as such.

The perception of the relation of avidya, etc., to the Self is due to illusion.

Now asks (the opponent):—Whose is this avidya?

[To explain:—This avidya which accounts for the mistaken notion is not an independent entity and should inhere in something else which has an independent existence.

But it cannot inhere in Chit or Consciousness which is vidyā by nature, and there is no independent entity outside Chit. Hence the question.—(A)]

(Reply):—By whomsoever it is seen.

[To explain: Do you ask to know whether avidya inheres as an attribute in something else which is an independent entity, or to know in particular what that entity is wherein it inheres?

In the first case, there is no occasion for the question at all, for, if avidya be cognised, then, since it cannot exist by itself, it must be cognised as inhering in something else.

If, on the other hand, avidyā be not cognised, then how do you know that avidya exists at all?

The opponent perhaps means to ask what that entity is wherein avidya inheres. Hence the question that follows. — (A)]

(Opponent): —By whom is it seen?

(Reply):—As regards this we say: There is no use asking the question, “By whom is avidya seen?” For, if avidya is perceived, you perceive also the one who has that avidya.

When its possessor is perceived, it is not proper to ask, “Whose is it?” When the possessor of cows is seen, there is no occasion for the question “whose are the cows?”

[To explain: Since avidya is an object of cognition, and since the Self wherein it inheres reveals Himself in one’s own consciousness—there is no occasion for the question.—(A)].

(Opponent):—The illustration is not analogous to the case in point.

Since the cows and their possessor are objects of immediate perception, their relation is also an object of immediate perception; and so the question has no meaning.

But not so are avidya and its possessor both objects of immediate perception. If they were, the question would have been meaningless.

(Reply):—If you know to what particular entity, not immediately perceived, avidya is related, of what avail is it to you?

[The meaning is:—Though the possessor of avidya is not immediately perceived, still, you know in what entity avidya inheres. Where is then any occasion for your question?

The opponent does not understand the real drift of the reply and proceeds as follows:—(A)]

(Opponent):—Since avidya is the cause of evil, it is a thing that should be got rid of.

[So, I ask to know whose avidya is.—(A)].

(Reply):—He who has avidya will get rid of it, [and it can be no other—(A).]

(Opponent):—Why, it is I who have avidya, [and I should try and get rid of it—(A.)].

{Reply):— Then you know avidya and the Self, its pos­sessor, [so that your question has no meaning—(A)].

(Opponent):—I know, but not by immediate perception. [Hence my question—(A)].

(Reply):—Then you know the Self by inference.

How can you perceive the relation between the Self and avidya? It is not indeed possible for you to perceive your Self as related to avidya, at the same moment (that your Self cognises avidya); for, the cognizer (the Self) acts at the moment as the percipient of avidya.

Neither can there be a (separate) cognizer of the relation between the cognizer (the Self) and avidya, nor a separate cognition of that (relation); for then you would commit the fallacy of infiniteregress (anavasthā).

—If the relation between the cognizer (the Self) and the cognised could be cognised, another cognizer should be supposed to exist; then another cognizer of that cognizer; then another of that again; and so on; and thus the series would necessarily be endless.

If, on the other hand, avidya—or, for that matter, anything else—is the cognised, then it is ever the cognised only. So also the cognizer is ever the cognizer; he can never become the cognised.

Such being the case, Kshetrajna, the cognizer, is not at all tainted by nescience, misery and the like.

(Objection):—There is in the Self this blemish, i.e., that He is the cognizer of Kshetra or matter which is full of blemishes.

(Answer):—No; for, it is only by a figure of speech that the Self, the immutable Consciousness, is spoken of as the cognizer, just as, in virtue of its heat, fire is said, by a figure, to do the act of heating.

We have shown how here, in ii.19, iii. 27, and v. 15 and other places, the Lord has taught that the Self has in Himself no concern with action or with its accessories or with its results,

that they are imputed to the Self by avidya, and that they are therefore said to belong to the Self only by a figure of speech. And we shall also explain how the same truth is taught in the sequel.

(Objection):—Well! If the Self has in Himself no concern with action or with its accessories or with its results, and if they are ascribed (to the Self) by avidya,

then it would follow that the rituals (karmas) are intended only for the ignorant, not for the wise.

(Answer) Yes, I it does follow, as we shall explain when commenting on xviii. n.

And in the section (xviii. 50, et. seq.) where the teaching of the whole śāstra is summed up, we shall dwell more particularly on this point.

No need here to expatiate further on the subject; so we conclude for the present.

Summary of the Doctrine.

Here follows a verse which forms a summary of the teaching of the Discourse on Kshetra (i.e., thirteenth Dis­course), which is already contained in brief in the verses xiii.1,2;

for, it is but proper to give beforehand a summary of the whole doctrine to be explained at length in the sequel.

3. And what that Kshetra is, and of what nature, and what its changes; and whence is what; and who He is and what His powers; this hear thou briefly from Me.

Shankara's commentary:

That Kshetra' refers to what was spoken of as ‘this body’ (xiii. 1). What that Kshetra is: what it is in itself. Of what nature: what it is in its properties. And whence is what: what effects arise from what causes.

Who He is etc.: Who He is that was spoken of as Kshetrajna and what His powers (prabhāvas, śaktis, such as the power of seeing) are which arise from the upādhis or environments (such as the eye).

Do thou hear My speech describing briefly the true nature of Kshetra and Kshetrajna in all these specific aspects; and on hearing that speech, thou wilt understand the truth.

—The (five) and’s imply that one should under­stand Kshetra and Kshetrajna in all these aspects.