Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Shankara | Discourse 16

SIXTEENTH DISCOURSE.

SPIRITUALITY AND MATERIALISM.

Spiritual disposition.

In the ninth discourse were indicated three kinds of nature (prakṛti) belonging to sentient beings, namely, the nature of the Gods, that of the Asuras, and that of the Rākṣasas. The sixteenth discourse proceeds to describe them at length.

Of these the nature of the Gods (Daivī Prakriti) leads to liberation from saṁsāra, and those of the Asuras and the Rākṣasas lead to bondage.

Accordingly the nature of the Gods will be described with a view to its acceptance, and the other two with a view to their rejection.

The Blessed Lord said:
1. Fearlessness, purity of heart, steadfastness in knowledge and Yoga; alms-giving, self-restraint and worship, study of one’s own (scriptures), austerity, uprightness;

Shankara's commentary:

Purity of heart: purity of the antaḥ-karaṇa (sattva), i. e., abandonment of deception, dissimulation, falsehood and the like, in all transactions; that is to say, transacting business in perfect honesty.

Knowledge consists in under­standing the nature of things, such as the Self, as taught in the Scripture (śāstra) and by the Teacher (Āchāryā).

Yoga consists in making what has been thus learnt an object of one’s own direct perception, by concentration (one- pointedness) through the subjugation of the senses.

This— i.e., fearlessness, purity of heart, and steadfastness in knowledge and Yoga—forms the Daivī or Sāttvic nature by pre-eminence.

Whatever attributes among those (men­tioned in xvi. i—3) can possibly pertain to the disciples treading a particular path, they constitute the Sāttvic nature of the disciples in that particular path.

Alms-giving: distributing food and the like as far as lies in one’s power.

Self-control: the subjugation of external senses; that of the antaḥ-karaṇa (internal sense, manas) being mentioned in the next verse.

Worship: including the fire-worship (agni­hotra) and the like enjoined in the śruti, as also the worship of the Gods (Deva-yajña) and the like enjoined in the smriti.

Study, etc.: study of the Ṛig-Veda and the like with a view to some unseen results (adṛṣṭa). Austerity: bodily mortifi­cation and other penances, which will be mentioned in the sequel. Uprightness: this should be a constant attitude.

Moreover,

2. Harmlessness, truth, absence of anger, renunciation, serenity, absence of calumny, compassion to creatures, un-covetousness, gentleness, modesty, absence of fickleness;

Shankara's commentary:

Harmlessness: abstaining from injury to sentient beings. Truth: speaking of things as they are, without giving utter­ance to what is unpleasant or what is false. Absence of anger: suppression of anger arising when beaten or reviled.

Renunciation: ‘tyāga’ (lit., giving up) is thus explained, since ‘alms-giving’ has already been mentioned. Serenity', tran­quillity of mind (antaḥ-karaṇa).

Compassion to creatures', to those in suffering. Un-covetousness: unaffectedness of the senses when in contact with their objects. Absence of fickle­ness: not to speak or move hands and legs in vain.

Moreover,

3. Energy, forgiveness, fortitude, purity, absence of hatred, absence of pride; these belong to one born for a divine lot, O Bhārata.

Shankara's commentary:

Tejas' means energy, not brightness of the skin.

Forgiveness: unaffectedness when beaten or reviled. We have explained ‘absence of anger’ to mean suppression of anger when it arises. Thus ‘forgiveness’ and ‘absence of anger’ should be distinguished from each other.

Fortitude: 'that state of mind (antaḥ-karaṇa) which removes the exhaustion of the body and senses when they droop down, and upheld by which the body and senses no longer get dejected.

Purity: of the two sorts, the external and the internal; the one being accomplished by means of earths and water, the other consisting in the taintlessness of mind and heart, in freedom from impurities such as deception and passion.

Absence of hatred: absence of a desire to injure others. Pride: consists in supposing oneself worthy of a high honour.

These —from ‘fearlessness’ to ‘absence of pride’—are found in one who is born for a divine lot, i.e., who is worthy of the powers of the Devas, i.e., for whom there is happiness in store.

Materialistic disposition.

Here follows a description of the demoniac (āsuric) nature:

4. Ostentation, arrogance and self-conceit, anger as also insolence, and ignorance, belong to one who is born, O Pārtha, for a demoniac lot.

Shankara's commentary:

Ostentation: pretending to be righteous. Arrogance: pride of learning, wealth, high connection, etc.

Insolence: in speech; e. g. to speak of the blind as having eyes, of the ugly as handsome, of a man of low birth as one of high birth, and so on. Ignorance: misconception of duties and the like.

Results of the two dispositions.

The effects of the two natures are spoken of as follows:

5. The divine nature is deemed for liberation, the demoniac for bondage. Grieve not, O Pāṇḍava; thou art born for a divine lot.

Shankara's commentary:

Liberation: from the bondage of saṁsāra. The demoniac (āsuric) nature leads to an unfailing bondage, and so does the fiendish (Rākṣasic) nature.

—Now, seeing some such question as “Am I possessed of demoniac nature, or of divine nature?” occur in the mind of Arjuna on hearing what has been said, the Lord again says: grieve not; thou art born for a divine lot; i.e., thou hast happiness in prospect.

The materialists.

6. There are two creations of beings in this world, the divine and the demoniac. The divine has been described at length; hear from Me, O Pārtha, of the demoniac.

Shankara's commentary:

Creation', means what is created. The men who are created with the two kinds of nature, the divine and the demoniac, are here spoken of as the ‘two creations.’ It is said in the śruti,

Verily there are two classes of Prajāpati’s creatures, Devas and Asuras.’ (Bri. Up. 1-3-1)-

Every being in this world is included in the one or the other of the two creations, the divine and the demoniac.

The purpose of repeating again what has been already said is stated thus:

—The divine has been declared at length, beginning with xvi.1, but not the demoniac; therefore, do thou hear and understand the demoniac nature to be described at length by Me in the sequel here in order that you may avoid it.

The demoniac nature will be described,—to the very end of the discourse —as an attribute of some living men; for, only when it is recognised in the visible, its avoidance is possible.

7. Neither action nor inaction do the demoniac men know; neither purity nor good conduct nor truth is found in them.

Shankara's commentary:

They do not know what acts they should perform to achieve the end of man, nor from what acts they should abstain to avert evil. Not only do they not know ‘action and inaction,’ there is neither purity nor good conduct nor truth in them.

Indeed, the demons are persons who are wanting in purity and good conduct, who are hypocrites and liars

The materialist’s view of the world.

Moreover,

8. They say, “the universe is unreal, without a basis, without a Lord, born of mutual union, brought about by lust; what else?”

Shankara's commentary:

These demons of men say, “As we are unreal, so this whole universe is unreal. Neither are dharma and a-dharma its basis. There exists no Īśvara ruling the universe accord­ing to dharma and a-dharma.

Universe is, therefore, they say, without a Lord. The whole universe is, moreover, caused by the mutual union of man and woman under the impulse of lust. It is brought about only by lust.

What else can be the cause of the universe? There is no other cause whatever, no invisible cause, of the universe, no such thing as karma.”

This is the view of the materialists (Lokāyatikas), that sexual passion is the sole cause of all living creatures.

Men’s life as guided by materialism.

9. Holding this view, these ruined souls of small intellect, of fierce deeds, rise as the enemies of the world for its destruction.

Shankara's commentary:

Ruined souls: having lost all chances of going to the higher worlds. Their intellect is small, as it concerns itself only with sense-objects. Of fierce deeds: intent on injuring others.

10. Filled with insatiable desires, full of hypo­crisy, pride and arrogance, holding unwholesome views through delusion, they work with unholy resolve;

11. Beset with immense cares ending only with death, sensual enjoyment their highest aim, assured that that is all;

Shankara's commentary:

They give themselves up to care. Sensual enjoyment: Enjoyment of sense-objects such as sound. They are convinced that this sensual enjoyment is the highest end of man.

12. Bound by hundreds of bands of hope, given over to lust and wrath, they strive to secure by unjust means hoards of wealth for sensual enjoy­ment.

Shankara's commentary:

They are attracted here and there, bound by a hundred bands of false hopes. They secure wealth for sensual enjoyment, not for (performing acts of) dharma. By unjust means: by robbing other men’s wealth.

The materialist’s aspirations.

Their aspiration is expressed as follows:

13. This today has been gained by me; this desire I shall attain; this is mine, and this wealth also shall be mine in future.

Shankara's commentary:

In future: in the coming year this wealth also shall be mine, and thereby I shall be known to be a man of wealth.

14. “That enemy has been slain by me, and others also shall I slay. I am a lord, I enjoy, I am successful, strong and healthy.

Shankara's commentary:

That unconquerable enemy, say Devadatta by name, has been slain by me, and others also shall I slay. What can these poor men do? There is none equal to me in any respect.

—How?

—I am a lord, I enjoy, I am successful in every way, blessed with children and grandchildren; I am no ordinary man, I am alone strong and healthy.

15. “I am rich and well-born. Who else is equal to me? I will sacrifice, I will give, I will rejoice." Thus deluded by unwisdom,

16. Bewildered by many a fancy, entangled in the snare of delusion, addicted to the gratification of lust, they fall into a foul hell.

Shankara's commentary:

Well-born: born in a family learned in the scriptures for seven generations. Even in this respect none is equal to me. I will surpass others even in respect of sacrificial rites. I will give (money) to actors and obtain a high delight.

Many a fancy: such as those described above. Delusion is a snare, as it is of the nature of an enclosure or envelope. They are addicted to sensual gratification; and with sins thus accumulated they fall into a foul hell, such as Vaitaraṇī.

The materialist’s sacrificial rites.

17. Self-honoured, stubborn, filled with the pride and intoxication of wealth, they perform sacrifices in name with hypocrisy, without regard to ordinance.

Shankara's commentary:

Self-honoured: Esteeming themselves as possessed of all good qualities; they are not esteemed as such by the righteous. They perform sacrifices without regard to the several parts and obligations enjoined in the scriptural ordinances.

The materialist’s neglect of Divine Commandments.

18. Given over to egotism, power, haughtiness, lust, and anger, these malicious people hate Me in their own and other's bodies.

Shankara's commentary:

Egotism: they esteem themselves very high for qualities which they really possess and for those which they falsely attribute to themselves. This egotism is what is called avidya; and it is the hardest thing (to overcome), the source of all perversities (doshas), of all evil acts.

Power: accom­panied with lust and passion, and seeking to humiliate others. Haughtiness: when this arises one transgresses the path of virtue; it is a peculiar vice seated in the antaḥ- karaṇa.

Lust: sexual passion, and the like. Anger: at something unpleasant.

They are given over to these and other great vices.

Moreover, they hate Me, the Īśvara, abiding in their own and other bodies as the Witness of their thoughts and actions. To hate Me is to transgress My commands. They are malicious, jealous of the virtue of those who tread the right path.

The materialist’s fall.

19. These cruel haters, worst of men, I hurl these evil-doers for ever in the worlds into the wombs of the demons only.

Shankara's commentary:

These: the enemies of the right path and haters of the righteous. Worst: because they are guilty of unrighteous deeds (a-dharma).

Worlds: paths of saṁsāra passing through many a hell. Wombs of the demons: wombs of the most cruel beings such as tigers, lions and the like.

20. Entering into demoniac wombs, the de­luded ones, in birth after birth, without ever reaching Me, O son of Kuntī, pass into a condi­tion still lower than that.

Shankara's commentary:

These deluded creatures are born, birth after birth, only in Tāmasic wombs and pass into lower and lower states. Without ever reaching Me, the Īśvara, they fall into a condi­tion which is still lower (than they are in at present).

Without reaching Me: Certainly there is no room whatever even for the supposition that they will ever reach Me. The meaning, therefore, is, ‘without ever attaining to the right path taught by Me.’

The three Gates of Hell to be avoided.

Here follows a summary of the whole demoniac (āsuric) nature in which, in its three forms, the whole variety of āsuric nature, though endless, is comprehended; which be­ing avoided, the whole āsuric nature becomes avoided, and which is the source of all evil.

21. Triple is this, the gate to hell, destructive of the self: lust, wrath, and greed. Therefore, these three, one should abandon.

Shankara's commentary:

The gate to hell: the gate leading to hell (nāraka). By merely entering at the gate, the self is ruined, i, e., is fit for no human end whatever. Since this gate is ruinous to the self, let everyone abandon these three: lust, wrath and greed.

Here follows the praise of this abandonment:

22. A man who is released from these, the three gates to darkness, O son of Kuntī, does good to the self, and thereby reaches the Supreme Goal.

Shankara's commentary:

Gates to darkness: leading to hell (nāraka) which is full of pain and delusion.

He who is released from lust, wrath and greed will act for the good of the self, because of the absence of that by which obstructed he has not hitherto so acted. By so doing he even attains moksha.

Let the Law guide thy life.

The scripture (śāstra) is the authority on which all this renunciation of āsuric nature, and the observance of what is good, are based. One would engage in these only on the authority of the scriptures (śāstra), not otherwise.

There­fore,

23. He who, neglecting the scriptural ordin­ance, acts under the impulse of desire, attains not perfection, nor happiness, nor the Supreme Goal.

Shankara's commentary:

Scriptural ordinance: the command of the Veda in the form of injunctions and prohibitions, giving us to know what ought to be done and what ought not to be done.

Perfection: fitness for attaining the end of man. Happiness: in this world. Supreme Goal: Svarga or Moksha, (as the case may be).

24. Therefore, the scripture is thy authority in ' deciding as to what ought to be done and what ought not to be done. Now, thou oughtest to know and perform thy duty laid down in the scripture-law.

Shankara's commentary:

Authority, source of knowledge. Scripture-Law: The scripture itself is the Law, which says “thou shalt act so and so, thou shalt not act so and so.” Now: referring to the stage where the disciple is fit for Karma-Yoga.