Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Shankara | Discourse 14 verse 19-27

Realisation of the Self beyond the Guṇas leads to immortality.

It has been briefly taught in the preceding discourse that the cause of saṁsāra—of the Purusha’s birth in the wombs of high and low creatures—is the attachment

which the Purusha, when under the influence of the illusory know­ledge that leads him to identify himself with Prakriti, has for objects of experience,

i. e., for the guṇas which, assume the forms of pleasure, pain and delusion,—the attachment which makes him feel “I am happy, miserable, deluded.”

The same thing has been described at length here (xiv. 5, et. seq.): the nature of the Guṇas, their functions, how they bind by their functions, the destination of the persons enslaved by the functions of the Guṇas; all about the cause of bondage rooted in illusion.

Now, with a view to teach that moksha accrues from right knowledge, the Lord says:

19. When the seer beholds not an agent other than the Guṇas and knows Him who is higher than the Guṇas, he attains to My being.

Shankara's commentary:

When a man is enlightened and realises that there is no agent other than the Guṇas which transform themselves into the bodies, senses and sense-objects, when he sees that it is the Guṇas that in all their modifications constitute the agent in all actions;

when he sees Him who is distinct from the Guṇas, who is the Witness of the Guṇas and of their functions, then he attains to My being: i. e., seeing that All is Vāsudeva, he becomes Vāsudeva."

Now the Lord proceeds to teach how he attains to it.

20. Having crossed beyond these three Guṇas, which are the source of the body, the embodied one is freed from birth, death, decay and pain, and attains the immortal.

Shankara's commentary:

The wise man crosses, while still alive, beyond the three Guṇas which constitute the upādhi of Māyā and the seed out of which the body is evolved.

He is emancipated, while still alive, from birth, death, decay and pain, and attains to immortality: in this way he attains to My being.

The marks of a liberated soul.

When it was said that (the wise man) crosses beyond the Guṇas and attains to immortality while still alive, Arjuna found an occasion for a question and asked:

Arjuna said:

21. By what marks, O Lord, is he known who has crossed beyond those three Guṇas? What is his conduct, and how does he pass beyond those three Guṇas?

Shankara's commentary:

Having been thus asked by Arjuna as to what are the characteristic marks of one who has crossed beyond the Guṇas and as to the means of crossing the Guṇas, the Lord proceeds to answer the two questions.

First as to the question ‘by what marks is he known who has crossed beyond the Guṇas?’ listen to what follows:

The Blessed Lord said:

22. Light and activity and delusion present, O Pāṇḍava, he hates not, nor longs for them absent.

Shankara's commentary:

Light is the effect of Sattva, activity of Rajas, and delusion of Tamas.

He does not hate these when present, when they clearly present themselves as objects of consciousness.

It is only in the absence of right knowledge that a man hates them thus:

‘I have now a Tāmasic idea by which I am deluded; there has arisen in me the Rājasic activity which is painful, and urged on by this Rajas I have fallen from my true nature, and painful is this fall from my true nature;

and the Sāttvic guṇa, which is luminous, binds me by way of ascribing discrimination to me and causing attachment to happiness.’

But the man who has risen above the guṇas does not thus hate them when they present themselves to his consciousness.

Unlike a man of Sattva (or Rajas or Tamas) who longs for the Sāttvic (or Rājasic or Tāmasic) states which first presented themselves to his consciousness and then disappeared, he who has risen above the guṇas does not long after things which have disappeared.

—This is a mark which others cannot perceive; it serves as a mark for the individual himself, as it can be perceived by himself alone; no man indeed can perceive the hatred or the desire which presents itself to another man’s consciousness.

The conduct in life of the Liberated one.

Now follows the answer to the question, what is his conduct who has risen above the guṇas?

23. He who, seated as a neutral, is not moved by Guṇas; who, thinking that Guṇas act, is firm and moves not;

Moreover,

24. He to whom pain and pleasure are alike, who dwells in the Self, to whom a clod of earth and stone and gold are alike, to whom the dear and the un-dear are alike, who is a man of wisdom, to whom censure and praise are same;

Shankara's commentary:

The Self-knowing sannyāsin, like a neutral man who inclines to neither party, treads firmly the path by which he seeks to rise above the guṇas; he does not swerve from the state of discrimination.

This is made clearer by what follows next: the Guṇas transforming themselves into the body, senses and sense-objects, act and react upon each other. Thus thinking, he remains unshaken, i. e., he remains in his own true nature.

—There is another reading which makes this part mean “thus thinking, he acts.” Who dwells in the Self, who is calm.

Moreover,

25. The same in honour and disgrace, the same towards friends and enemies, abandoning all undertakings,—he is said to have crossed beyond the Guṇas.

Shankara's commentary:

The same: unaffected.

Though neutral from their own standpoint, some appear to others as if they were on the side of friends or on the side of foes; but this man appears to be same to friends and foes.

He renounces all actions, pro­ductive of visible and invisible results, except those which are necessary for the bare maintenance of the body.

Devotion to the Lord leads to liberation.

The attributes described in xiv. 23, 24, 25, form a rule of conduct laid down for the sannyāsin who seeks moksha, so long as they are to be achieved by effort;

but when they are firmly ingrained in his nature, as may be perceived by himself, they form marks indicating that the devotee has risen above the Guṇas.

The Lord proceeds next to answer the question:

‘How does one pass beyond these three Guṇas?’

26. And he who serves. Me with unfailing Devotion of Love, he, crossing beyond those three Guṇas, is fitted for becoming Brahman.

Shankara's commentary:

A sannyāsin (yati), or even a man of works (Karmin), who serves Me—the Īśvara, Nārāyaṇa—dwelling in the heart of all beings, with a never-failing Bhakti-Yoga, in devotion to discriminative knowledge,

—this Bhakti-Yoga being indeed the result of the Grace and Mercy of the Lord,—he crosses beyond the three Guṇas mentioned above and is fit for becoming Brahman, i. e., for moksha.

Unity of Ātman.

How can it be so?

—Listen:

27. For I am the abode of Brahman, the Im­mortal and the Immutable, the Eternal Dharma, and the unfailing Bliss.

Shankara's commentary:

For, in Me, in the Pratyagātman, in the true Inner Self, abides Brahman, the Supreme Self (Paramātman) who is immortal and immutable;

who is the Eternal Dharma, i. e., who is attainable by the Dharma of Jñāna-Yoga or wisdom- devotion; who is the unfailing Bliss, the Supreme Bliss, the Bliss Immortal.

Because I,—the Pratyagātman, the Immortal Self,—am the abode of the Supreme Self, there­fore by Right Knowledge one sees that the Pratyagātman is the very Supreme Self.

It is this truth which has been declared in the preceding verse in the words “he is fitted for becoming Brahman.”

The meaning of the passage may be explained as follows:

It is through His Īśvara-Śaktī,—through the power He has to manifest Himself as Īśvara or the Lord of the uni­verse,—that Brahman shows His grace to His devotees, and so on.

I am only that power or Śaktī in manifestation, and am therefore Brahman Himself; for Śaktī—power, potentiality, energy—cannot be distinct from the one in whom it inheres.

The verse may also be explained as follows:

By ‘Brahman,’ is here meant the Conditioned Brahman, who alone can be spoken of by any such word as ‘Brah­man.’

—I, the Unconditioned and the Unutterable, am the abode of the Conditioned Brahman, who is Immortal and Indestructible. I am also the abode of the Eternal Dharma of Wisdom-Devotion, and the abode of the unfailing Bliss born of that Devotion.