Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Shankara | Discourse 15 verse 7-20

Jīva is a ray of the Lord.

It has been said ‘to which having gone none return.’ But, as everybody knows, going ultimately leads to returning, union to disunion. How can it he said that there is no returning of those who have reached that Abode?

—Listen; how that may be is thus explained:

7. A ray of Myself, the eternal Jīva in the world of Jīvas, attracts the senses, with manas the sixth, abiding in Prakriti.

Shankara's commentary:

An integral portion of Myself —of the Supreme Self, of Nārāyaṇa,—is the eternal Jīva (individual soul) in saṁsāra, manifesting himself in every one as the doer and enjoyer.

He is like the sun reflected in water; the reflected sun is but a portion of the real sun; and on the removal of water the reflected sun returns to the original sun and remains as that very sun.

—Or, it is like the ākāśa (space) in the jar, which is limited by the upādhi of the. jar.

This ākāśa of the jar is but a portion of the infinite ākāśa and becomes one with the latter on the destruction of the jar which is the cause of limitation; then it returns no more.

Thus the statement “to which having gone none return” is quite explicable.

(Objection):—How can there be a portion of the Supreme Self who has no parts? If He has parts, He would be liable to destruction on the separation of parts.

(Answer):— Our theory is not open to this objection; for, it is only a portion limited by the upādhi set up by avidya; it is a portion as it were, an imaginary portion. This truth was established at length in the thirteenth discourse.

How Jīva dwells in the body and departs from it.

How does the Jīva or individual Soul, who is only an imaginary portion of Myself, live in the world? Or how does he leave it?

—Listen:

He draws round himself the (five) senses, such as hearing, with the manas, the sixth sense— those six senses which abide in the Prakriti, i. e., in their respective seats such as the orifice of the ear.

When (does he draw them round himself)?

8. When the Lord acquires a body, and when He leaves it, He takes these and goes, as the wind takes scents from their seats.

Shankara's commentary:

When the Jīva, the lord of the aggregate of the body and the rest, is to leave the body, then (he draws round himself the senses and the manas).

When he leaves a former body and enters another, he does so, taking these—the (five) senses with the manas the sixth—with him as the wind takes with it the scents of flowers.

What then are those (senses)?

9. The ear, the eye and the touch, the taste and the smell, using these and the manas, he enjoys the sense-objects.

Shankara's commentary:

Using the manas along with each sense separately, the Dweller in the body enjoys the sense-objects such as sound.

The Self is visible only to the eye of knowledge.

10. Him who departs, stays and enjoys, who is conjoined with guṇas, the deluded perceive not; they see, who possess the eye of knowledge.

Shankara's commentary:

Him who thus dwells in the body, who leaves the body once acquired, who stays in the body, who perceives sound and other objects, who is always in association with guṇas,

i. e., whom all dispositions of mind—such as pleasure, pain delusion—invariably accompany, the deluded do not recognise.

They do not see Him, though in this way He comes quite within the range of their vision, because they are deluded in various ways, their minds being forcibly attracted by the enjoyment of objects seen and unseen.

Ah! Such is human perversity.—Thus does the Lord regret.

—But those whose wisdom-eye has been opened by an authoritative source of knowledge, i.e., who possess the power of dis­crimination, do recognise Him.

No self-knowledge without Yoga.

A few, however,

11. Those who strive, endued with Yoga, perceive Him dwelling in the self; though striving, those of unrefined self, devoid of wisdom, perceive Him not.

Shankara's commentary:

Those who strive, well balanced in their mind, behold Him, the Self, dwelling in their own mind (buddhi): they recognise Him, “This I am.”

But though striving to know Him by means of proper authorities such as the scriptures (śāstra), men of unrefined self

—whose self (mind) has not been regenerated by austerity (tapas) and subju­gation of the senses, who have not abandoned their evil ways, whose pride has not been subdued,

—behold Him not.

Immanence of the Lord,

(i) as the all-illumining Light of Consciousness.

That Goal (the Supreme Self) which even such luminaries as fire and sun, the illuminators of all, do not illumine; which having reached, the seekers of moksha never return towards saṁsāra;

of which the Jīvas (individual souls) are only parts manifesting themselves in conformity to the upādhis, as the akasa (space) in a jar is but a portion of the all-pervading ākāśa,

—with a view to show that that Goal is the essence of all and the real basis (i. e., object) of all experience, the Lord proceeds in the next four verses to give a brief summary of His manifestations.

12. That light which residing in the sun illu­mines the whole world, that which is in the moon and in the fire, that light do thou know to be Mine.

Shankara's commentary:

Light: splendour. Mine: Vishnu’s.

Or, ‘light’ may be understood to mean the light of consciousness (chaitanya).

(Objection):— The light of consciousness exists in all alike, in the moving and unmoving objects: then why this qualification of light as ‘residing in the sun,’ etc.?

(Answer):— This objection does not apply here; for, the qualification may be explained on the ground that the better manifestation (of consciousness in the sun, etc.) is due to a higher proportion of Sattva.

In the sun and other bodies (mentioned here) the Sattva is very brilliant and luminous; wherefore it is in them that the light of conscious­ness is better manifested.

Hence the qualification; not that the light is a specific attribute of those bodies only.

To illustrate it by an example from ordinary experience:

A man’s face is not reflected in a wall, in a piece of wood or the like; but the same face is reflected in a mirror in a greater or less degree of clearness, according as the mirror is more or less transparent.

(2) As the all-sustaining Life.

Moreover,

13. Penetrating the earth I support all beings by (My) Energy; and having become the watery moon I nourish all herbs.

Shankara's commentary:

Energy (ojas): the energy of the Īśvara. It is devoid of desires and passions. It permeates the earth for support­ing the world. Held by that energy, the massive earth does not fall down and is not shattered to pieces.

So it is chanted as follows:

—“Whereby the vast heaven and the earth are firmly held.” “He held the earth firm.”—(Taittirīya Samhitā, 4-1-8).

Thus do I, penetrating the Earth, support the moving and unmoving objects.

Moreover, becoming the savoury moon, I nourish all the herbs germinating on the Earth, such as rice and wheat, and make them savoury.

Soma (the moon) is the repository of all savours. It is indeed the savoury moon that nourishes all herbs by infusing savours into them.

(3) As the Digestive Fire in all living organisms.

Moreover,

14. Abiding in the body of living beings as Vaiśvānara, associated with Prāṇa and Apāna, I digest the four-fold food.

Shankara's commentary:

Vaiśvānara: the fire abiding in the stomach, as said in the śruti:

This fire is Vaiśvānara, which is within man and by which this food is digested.”— (Bri. Up. 5-9-1.)

Fourfold food: the food which has to be eaten by mastica­tion, that which has to be sucked out, the food which has to be eaten by devouring, and that which is eaten by licking.

He who regards that the eater is the Vaiśvānara Fire, that the food eaten by Fire is the Soma (moon), and that thus the two together form Fire-Soma (Agṇi-shomau), is free from all taint of impurity in food.

(4) As the Self in the hearts of all.

Moreover,

15. And I am seated in the hearts of all: from Me are memory, knowledge, as well as their loss; it is I who am to be known by all the Vedas, I am indeed the author of the Vedānta as well as the knower of the Vedas.

Shankara's commentary:

I dwell in the hearts (buddhi) of all sentient beings as their Self. Wherefore from Me, the Self of all sentient beings, are memory, knowledge, as well as their loss.

Just as knowledge and memory occur in righteous persons as a result of their good deeds (puṇyakarmāṇi), so, as a result of their sins, loss of memory and knowledge occurs in the sinful.

I, the Supreme Self, am to be known in all the Vedas. It is I who cause the Teaching of the Vedanta (Upanishads) to be handed down in regular succession, and It is I who know the Vedic Teaching.

The Lord beyond the perishable and the imperishable universe.

From xv.12, et seq a summary has been given of the glories of Nārāyaṇa, the Blessed Lord, as manifested through superior upādhis.

Now, in the following verses, the Lord proceeds to determine the true nature of the same (Blessed Lord), who is pure and unlimited, being quite distinct from all perishable (kṣara) and imperishable (akṣara) upādhis.

First, then, the Lord arranges all that is taught in the preceding as well as in the succeeding discourses in three groups and says:

16. There are these two beings in the world, the perishable and the imperishable: the perishable comprises all creatures; the immutable is called the imperishable.

Shankara's commentary:

In saṁsāra, there are two categories, we see, arranged in two separate groups of beings, spoken of as ‘puruṣas ’:

The one group consists of the perishable (kṣara); and the other is the imperishable (akṣara)—the contrary of the first —

i.e., the Māyā-Śaktī, the Illusion-Power of the Lord, the germ from which the perishable being takes its birth, the seat of all the latent impressions (saṁskāras) of desires, actions, etc., pertaining to the numerous mortal creatures.

As to what the two beings (Puruṣas) comprise, the Lord Himself says:

The perishable comprises the whole uni­verse of changing forms; the imperishable is what is known as immutable (Kūṭasthā)—that which remains immovable like a heap.

Or, ‘kūṭa’ means illusion, and ‘Kūṭasthā’ means that which manifests itself in various forms of illusion and deception. As the seed of saṁsāra is endless, it is said to be imperishable.

Distinct from these two,—the perishable and the imperish­able,—and untainted by the evils of the two upādhis of the perishable and imperishable, eternal, pure, intelligent and free by nature is the Highest Spirit.

17. But distinct is the Highest Spirit spoken of as the Supreme Self, the indestructible Lord who penetrates and sustains the three worlds.

Shankara's commentary:

But the Highest Spirit is quite distinct from the two. He is the Supreme Self.

He is Supreme as compared with the other selves set up by avidya, such as the physical body; and He is the Self as constituting the unfailing Inner Consciousness of all beings.

He is therefore known as the Supreme Self in the Vedāntas (Upanishads). The Highest Spirit is further specified thus:

He is the Eternal Omni­scient Lord, Nārāyaṇa, who penetrates by His Vital Energy (Bala-Śaktī) the three worlds—the Earth (Bhūḥ), the Mid-region (Bhuvaḥ) and Heaven (Suva)—and supports them by His mere existence in them.

‘Puruṣottama,’ the Highest Spirit, is a well-known name of the Lord described above.

Now the Lord, while show­ing, by a declaration of the etymology of the word, that the name is significant, shows what He really is, “I am the unsurpassed Lord.”

18. Because I transcend the perishable and am even higher than the imperishable, therefore am I known in the world and in the Veda as ‘Puruṣottama,’ the Highest Spirit.

Shankara's commentary:

Because I transcend the perishable, the Tree of illusory saṁsāra called Aśvattha, because I am higher than even the imperishable which constitutes the seed of that Tree of the illusory saṁsāra, because I am thus superior to the perishable and the imperishable,

I am known in the world and in the Veda as the Highest Spirit: devotees know Me as such, and the poets, too, incorporate this name in their poems and other works.

The Glory of Self-knowledge.

Now the Lord speaks of the fruit accruing to him who realises the Self as described above:

19. He who, undeluded, thus knows Me, the Highest Spirit, he, knowing all, worships Me with his whole being, O Bhārata.

Shankara's commentary:

Me: the Lord as above specified. Knows:  ‘that I am He.’ With his whole being: with his whole thought devoted exclusively to the Self of all.

Knowledge of the true nature of the Lord having been imparted in this discourse,—a knowledge which leads to moksha,—it is now extolled as follows:

20. Thus, this most Secret Science has been taught by Me, O sinless one; on knowing this, (a man) becomes wise, O Bhārata and all his duties are accomplished.

Shankara's commentary:

'Though the whole of the Gītā is called Science (Śāstra), yet from the context it appears that the fifteenth discourse alone is here spoken of as the Science, for the purpose of extolling it.

In fact the whole teaching of the Gītā-Śāstra has been summed up in this discourse.

Not the teaching of the Gītā-Śāstra only, but the whole teaching of the Veda is here embodied;

and it has been said that ‘he who knows it (the Aśvattha) knows the Veda (xii. 1), and that ‘It is I who am to be known by all the Vedas’ (xv. 15). On knowing this science as taught above — but not other­wise—a man becomes wise. He has accomplished all duties.

Whatever duty a brāhmaṇa of superior birth has to do, all that duty has been done when the real truth about the Lord is known; that is to say, by no other means can a man’s duty have been accomplished.

And it has been said: “All actions, without exception, O son of Pritha, are comprehended in wisdom” (iv. 33).

And here is the saying of Manu:

This is the fulfilment of the birth, especially for a brāhmaṇa; for, by attaining to this does the twice-born become the accomplisher of all duties, and not other­wise” (xii. 93).

Since you have heard from Me this truth about the Supreme Being, you are a happy man, O Bhārata.