Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Shankara | Discourse 18 verse 49-55

Perfection in Karma-Yoga leads to absolute Perfection.

It has been said that the perfection reached by means of Karma-Yoga consists in becoming qualified for jñāna- nishṭha, the Path of Wisdom;

and it is with a view to describe, as the fruit thereof, the naiṣkarmya siddhi,—perfection in the form of absolute freedom from action, known as jñāna-nishṭha,

—that the Lord now proceeds to teach as follows:

49. He whose reason is not attached anywhere, whose self is subdued, from whom desire has fled, he by renunciation attains the supreme state of freedom from action.

Shankara's commentary:

He whose reason (buddhi, antaḥ-karaṇa) is free from attachment to sons, wife, and other objects of attachment, whose self (antaḥ-karaṇa) is brought under his own control, from whom desire for the body, for life, and for pleasures has fled,

—a person of this sort who knows the Self attains to the supreme perfection, to absolute freedom from action (naiṣkarmya siddhi), by sannyāsa.

In virtue of his knowledge of the unity of the actionless (niṣ kriyā) Brahman and the Self, all actions have fled from him.

This is known as the state of absolute freedom from action; and it is a siddhi or perfection –Naiṣkarmya siddhi may also mean the attainment (siddhi) of naiṣkarmya, the state in which one remains as the actionless Self.

It is supreme as dis­tinguished from the perfection attainable by Karma-Yoga; it is the state of immediate liberation (sadyo-mukti).

This state is attained by sannyāsa or right knowledge,—or better still, by the renunciation of all actions for which one is prepared by his right knowledge, and so says the Lord in v. 13.

Now, the Lord proceeds to teach how a man who, having attained perfection (as described above in xviii. 46) by performing his duty (as taught above) in the service of the Lord,

has come by the discriminative knowledge of the Self, can attain the perfection known as naiṣkarmya or absolute freedom from action, i. e., a firm unswerving stand in the knowledge of the pure Self.

50. How he who has attained perfection reaches Brahman, that in brief do thou learn from Me, O son of Kuntī,—that supreme consummation of knowledge.

Shankara's commentary:

The perfection he has already attained consists in the body and the senses being prepared for devotion to knowledge, as a result of the Grace of the Lord worshipped through his duty.

Reference to this (perfection) serves as a prelude to what follows.

— What is that perfection to which that reference forms a prelude?

—It is the process of jñāna- nishthā, or devotion to knowledge, by which he attains Brahman, the Supreme Self. That process, the way to the attainment of jñāna-nishthā, do thou understand with certainty from my speech.

— Is it to be described at length?

—No, says the Lord; it will be described only in brief.

Absolute perfection is the consummation of Self-knowledge.

What the attainment of Brahman—referred to in the words “how he reaches Brahman,” is, the Lord proceeds to specify in the words “that supreme consummation of knowledge.”

Consummation (nishthā) means perfection, the final or highest stage.

(Question):—Consummation of what?

(Answer):—Of Brahma-jñāna or knowledge of Brahman.

(Question): — Of what nature is the consummation of Brahma-jñāna?

(Answer):— Of the same nature as Atmajñāna or Self-knowledge.

(Question):— Of what nature is the Self-knowledge?

(Answer):— Of the same nature as the Self.

(Question):— Of what nature is the Self?

(Answer):— Of the nature described by the Lord and in the passages of the Upanishads, and (ascertainable) by nyāya or reasoning (upon the scriptural texts).

Is Self-knowledge possible at all?

(Objection):— Knowledge or cognition (jñāna) is of the form of its object. But it is nowhere admitted that the Self is an object of cognition or has a form.

(Answer):— The Self has a form, as taught in the scrip­tural passages, ‘In colour like the sun’ (Śve. Up. 3-8); ‘Luminous in form’ (Chhā. Up. 3-14-2); ‘Self-luminous’ (Bri. Up. 4-3-9).

(Objection):— No; those passages are intended to remove the idea that the Self is of the nature of darkness (Tamas).

— When the Self is said to be neither of the form of a sub­stance nor of an attribute, it would follow that the Self is of the nature of darkness: and the preventing of this idea is the aim of the descriptions such as ‘In colour like the sun.’

Form is specifically denied, the Self being described as ‘formless’ (Katha-Up. 3-15).

Neither is the Self an object of cognition, as taught in passages like the following: “His form stands not in (our) ken, nor can anyone see Him with the eye(Śve. Up. 4-20); “Without sound and touch” (Katha-Up. 3-15).

Therefore it is wrong to speak of a cognition of the form of the Self.

Such being the case, how can there be cognition of the Self?

Indeed, all cognition, whatever be its object, is of the form of that object. And it has been said that the Self is formless.

If both the Self and the cognition thereof be formless, how is the constant meditation of Self-knowledge or the consummation thereof to be attained?

The Self reveals Himself in Pure Reason.

(Answer) Do not think so; for, it can be shown that the Self is extremely pure, extremely clear, and extremely subtle. And Buddhi (reason) being as pure, etc., as the Self, it can put on the semblance of that aspect of the Self which is manifested as consciousness.

Manas puts on a semblance of Buddhi, the sense-organs put on a semblance of Manas, and the physical body again puts on a semblance of the sense-organs. Wherefore common people look upon the mere physical body as the Self.

And the Lokāyatikas (materialists) who argue that consciousness is a property of the physical body declare that the Purusha or Soul is identical with the physical body endued with con­sciousness.

Similarly, others argue that consciousness is a property of the senses; others again argue that con­sciousness is a property of Buddhi.

There are a few who hold that there is something within even beyond the Buddhi, i.e., the Avyakta (the Unmanifested) also called the Avyākṛta (the Undifferentiated), in the form of Avidya; and they say that the Avyākṛta is the Self.

Everywhere, from Buddhi down to the physical body, the cause of illusory identification of each with the Self is its wearing a semblance of the consciousness of the Self; and it is therefore unnecessary to impart directly knowledge of the Self.

—What then is necessary?

—What is necessary is the mere elimination of the not-Self associated with the Self, —names, forms and the like;

but it is unnecessary to try and teach what the consciousness of the Self is like, inas­much as it is invariably comprehended in association with all objects of perception which are set up by avidya.

Accordingly, the Vijñāna-vādins, the Buddhist Idealists, hold that there is nothing real except ideas, and that these ideas require no external evidence(to prove their existence), inasmuch as it is admitted that they are self-cognized.

Therefore we have only to eliminate what is falsely ascribed to Brahman by avidya; we have to make no more effort to acquire a knowledge of Brahman as He is quite self-evident.

Though thus quite self-evident, easily knowable, quite near, and forming the very Self, Brahman appears

—to the unen­lightened, to those whose reason (Buddhi) is carried away by the differentiated phenomena of names and forms created by avidya

—as unknown, difficult to know, very remote, as though He were a separate thing.

But to those whose reason (Buddhi) has turned away from external phenomena, who have secured the grace of the Guru and attained the serenity of the self (manas), there is nothing, nothing else so blissful, so well-known, so easily knowable, and quite so near as Brahman.

Accordingly, the knowledge of Brah­man is said to be immediately comprehended and unopposed to dharma, (ix. 2.)

Some conceited philosophers hold that reason (Buddhi) cannot grasp the Self, as He is formless, and that there­fore the Devotion of Right Knowledge is impossible of attainment.

True, it is unattainable to those who have not been pro­perly initiated into the traditional knowledge by the Gurus (the Great Ones), who have not learned and studied the (teachings of the) Vedanta,

whose intellect is quite engrossed in the external objects of senses, and who have not been trained in the right sources of knowledge.

But, for those who are differently situated, (i. e., who have been duly initiated, etc.,), it is quite impossible to believe in the reality of the dual—the perceiver and the perceived—of our external perception,

because they perceive no reality other than the consciousness of the Self.

And we have shown in the preceding sections that this—not the reverse— is the truth, and the Lord also has declared the same in ii.69.

Therefore it is only a cessation of the perception of the differentiated forms of the external world that can lead to a firm grasp of the real nature of the Self.

For the Self is not a thing unknown to anybody at any time, is not a thing to be reached or got rid of or acquired. If the Self be quite unknown, all undertakings intended for the benefit of oneself would have no meaning.

It is not, indeed, possible to imagine that they are for the benefit of the physical body or the like which has no consciousness; nor is it possible to imagine that pleasure is for pleasure’s sake and pain is for pain’s sake.

It is, moreover, the Self-knowledge which is the aim of all endeavour.

Therefore, just as there is no need for an external evidence by which to know one’s own body, so there is no need for an external evidence by which to know the Self who is even nearer than the body.

Thus it is clear that, to those who can discriminate, the Ātma-jñāna-nishthā (devotion to Self-knowledge) is easy of attainment.

Cognition and the Cognizer are self-revealed.

Those also who hold that cognition (jñāna) is formless and is not known by immediate perception must admit that, since an object of knowledge is apprehended through cognition, cognition is quite as immediately known as pleasure or the like.

Moreover, it cannot be maintained that cognition is a thing which one seeks to know.

—If cognition were unknown, it would be a thing which has to be sought after just as an object of cognition is sought after.

Just as, for example, a man seeks to reach by cognition the cognisable object such as a pot, so also would he have to seek to reach cognition by means of another cognition. But the fact is otherwise.

Therefore cognition is self-revealed, and therefore, also, is the cognizer self-revealed.

Therefore it is not for the knowledge (of Brahman or the Self) that any effort is needed; it is needed only to prevent us from regarding the not-Self as the Self. Therefore, Devotion to Knowledge (jñāna-nishthā) is easily attain­able.

The Path to Absolute Perfection.

How is this consummation of knowledge to be attained?


51. Endued with a pure reason, controlling the self with firmness, abandoning sound and other objects, and laying aside love and hatred;

Shankara's commentary:

Pure: free from illusion (maya), from doubt and mis­conception. Reason (buddhi): the determining faculty. The Self: the aggregate of the body and the senses.

Abandoning etc.: (as we should understand from the context) all superfluous luxuries, all objects except those only which are necessary for the bare maintenance of the body,

and laying aside love and hatred even for those objects which appear necessary for the maintenance of the body.


52. Resorting to a sequestered spot, eating but little, speech and body and mind subdued, always engaged in meditation and concentration, endued with dispassion;

Shankara's commentary:

Resorting, etc.: ever accustomed to resort to such sequestered spots as a jungle, the sandbank of a river, the mountain-cave. Eating but little: as conducive to the sere­nity of thought by keeping off sleep and such other evils.

This devotee of wisdom should also restrain his speech, body and mind. With all the senses thus quieted, he should always and devoutly practise Dhyāna or meditation upon the nature of the Self, and Yoga or concentration of the mind on the Self.

Always: this implies that he has to do nothing else, no mantrajapa (repetition of chants or mystic formulae), etc. Dispassion: absence of desire for visible and invisible objects. This should be a constant attitude of the mind.


53. Having abandoned egotism, strength, arrog­ance, desire, enmity, property, free from the no­tion of “mine,” and peaceful, he is fit for becom­ing Brahman.

Shankara's commentary:

Egotism: identifying the Self with the body, etc. Strength: that strength which is combined with passion and desire, but not the physical or any other strength: the latter being natural, its abandonment is not possible.

Arrogance: which follows the state of exultation and leads to the transgression of dharma, as said in the smriti:

When a man exults, he becomes arrogant, and when he becomes arrogant, he transgresses dharma ”— (Āpastamba-Dharmasūtra, 1-13-4).

Property: though a man is free from all passions of the mind and the senses, he may own so much of external belongings as is necessary for bodily sustenance and for the observance of his duties (dharma);

 but even this the aspirant abandons; i. e., he becomes a Paramahamsa- Parivrājaka, a sannyāsin of the fourth or highest order. He does not regard even the bodily life as his.

Peaceful: free from exultation and care. Such a devotee of wisdom is fit to become Brahman.

The consummation of Knowledge attained by Devotion.

In this way,

54. Becoming Brahman, of serene self, he neither grieves nor desires, treating all beings alike; he attains supreme devotion to Me.

Shankara's commentary:

He who has reached Brahman and attained self-serenity does not grieve regarding his failure to accomplish an object or regarding his wants.

It is not indeed possible to suppose that he who knows Brahman can have a longing for any object unattained, therefore the words “he neither grieves nor desires” is tantamount to saying that such is the nature of the man who has become Brahman.

—Another reading makes the passage mean “he neither grieves nor exults.”

—Treating all beings alike: he regards the pleasure and pain of all creatures equally with his own, (i. e., that they would affect them just as they affect himself).—It is not meant here that he sees the identity of the Self in all, as this will be mentioned in the next verse.

—Such a devotee to wisdom attains highest devotion to Me, the Supreme Lord,—the fourth or the highest of the four kinds of devotion, — i.e., the Devotion of Knowledge,—spoken of in vii.16.


55. By Devotion he knows Me in truth, what and who I am; then, knowing Me in truth, he forthwith enters into Me.

Shankara's commentary:

By Bhakti, by the Devotion of Knowledge he knows Me as I am in the divers manifestations caused by upādhis.

He knows who I am, he knows that I am devoid of all the differences caused by the upādhis, that I am the Supreme Purusha, that I am like unto ākāśa; he knows Me to be non-dual, the one Consciousness (Chaitanya), pure and simple, unborn, undecaying, undying, fearless, deathless.

Thus knowing Me in truth, he enters into Myself immed­iately after attaining knowledge.

It is not meant here that the act of knowing and the act of entering are two distinct acts.

—What then is the act of entering?

—It is the knowledge itself; for, there is nothing to be effected (by knowledge) other than itself, as the Lord has taught, “Do thou also know Me as Kshetra­jna.” (xiii.2).

(Objection):—The statement that “by the supreme devotion of knowledge he knows Me,” involves a contradiction.


—Thus: when the knowledge of a Certain object arises in the knower, then and then alone the knower knows that object; no devotion to that knowledge, no repe­tition of the knowledge, is necessary.

Therefore, the state­ment that “he knows Me, not by knowledge, but by devotion to knowledge, by a repetition of knowledge,” involves a contradiction.

(Answer):— This objection does not apply here; for, the word “devotion (nishthā)” means that the knowledge aided by all the favourable conditions of its rise and development and freed from obstacles culminates in a firm conviction by one’s own experience.

When the knowledge of the unity of the individual Self (Kshetrajna) and the Supreme Self (Paramātman), generated by the teachings of the Scriptures and the master under conditions favourable to the rise and ripening of that knowledge

i.e., purity of mind, humility and other attributes (xiii. 7, et seq.),—and accompanied with the renunciation of all works which are associated with the idea of distinctions such as the agent and other factors of action,

culminates in a firm conviction by one’s own experience, then the knowledge is said to have attained supreme consummation.

This jñāna-nishthā (Devotion of Knowledge) is referred to as the Supreme or fourth kind of Devotion, Bhakti (vii. 17),—supreme as compared with the remaining three kinds of Devotion, with that of the distressed, etc., (vii. 16).

By this supreme devotion the aspirant knows the Lord as He is, and immediately after­wards all consciousness of difference between the Īśvara and the Kshetrajna disappears altogether.

Thus there is no contradiction involved in the statement that “by the Devo­tion of Knowledge (the aspirant knows) Me.”