Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Shankara | Discourse 18 verse 66b
What is the means to the Highest Bliss, — Knowledge or Works?
What has been determined in this Gītā-śāstra as the means of attaining the Highest Bliss (niṣ-sreyasa)? Is it Knowledge (Jñāna), or Works (Karma), or both together?
Whence this doubt?
It has been said: “Knowing which one attains the Immortal” (xiii. 12), and “Then knowing Me in truth, he forthwith enters into Me” (xiii. 55): these and other passages teach that the Highest Bliss is attained by mere knowledge.
Such passages again as “Thy concern is with action alone” (ii. 47), and “Do thou also perform action,” (iv. 15), teach that performance of works is quite obligatory.
Since it has been taught that both knowledge and works are obligatory, there may arise a doubt as to whether also the two conjoined may not constitute the means to the Highest Bliss.
What is the good of this enquiry at all?
It is this, i.e., to determine which one of them forms the means to the Highest Bliss. Wherefore, the subject is very wide and is worth investigating.
Self - Knowledge alone is the means to the Highest Bliss.
Pure Self-knowledge alone is the means to the Highest Bliss; for, as removing the notion of variety, it culminates in liberation (kaivalya).
Avidya is the perception of variety involving actions, factors of action, and the ends of actions. It is always present in the Self. “Mine is action; I am the agent; I do this act for such and such a result”: in this form, avidya has been active in time without a beginning.
The remover of this avidya is the knowledge of the Self arising in the following form, “Here I am, free, a non-agent, actionless, devoid of results”; for such a knowledge removes the notion of variety which causes one to engage in action.
—The word “alone” (in the opening line of this paragraph) is intended to exclude the two other alternatives: neither by works alone, nor by works and knowledge conjoined together, is the Highest Bliss attained.
Since, moreover, the Highest Bliss is not an effect to be accomplished by action, works cannot be the means to it. Indeed, the Eternal Reality is not produced either by knowledge or by works.
(Objection):—Then, even the pure knowledge serves no purpose!
(Answer):—Not so; for, by removing avidya, it culminates in emancipation, which is a visible result.
—We know from experience that knowledge which removes the darkness of avidya culminates in emancipation as its result;
for instance, in the case of a rope (mistaken for a serpent), as soon as the light of the lamp removes the darkness which caused the error, the rope is no longer mistaken for a serpent.
The result of illumination culminates indeed in the emancipation of the rope, in freeing the rope from the various mistaken notions of serpent, etc., which then cease altogether. So, too, as regards the Self-knowledge.
Knowledge cannot be conjoined with Works.
Now, when the agent and other factors of action are operating in the act of cutting or in the act of churning fire, —each act producing a visible result,
—they cannot (at the same time) operate in another act productive of another result different from severance or the kindling of a fire;
so also when the agent and other factors of action are concerned in the act of knowledge-devotion (jñāna-nishthā),— whereof alike the result is visible,
—they cannot at the same time operate to bring about another act productive of a result other than the emancipation of the Self.
Therefore, the Devotion of Knowledge cannot be conjoined with works.
(Objection):—They may be conjoined, just as the act of eating and the acts of fire-worship (agnihotra), etc., are conjoined.
(Answer):—No; for, emancipation being the result of knowledge, (the devotee of knowledge) cannot desire the result of works.
—When there is an all-spreading flood of water close by nobody would ever think of constructing wells and tanks to any purpose.
So also when knowledge leading to emancipation as its result has been attained, nobody would ever desire any other result or seek to do an act by which to obtain that other result.
He who is engaged in an act by which he hopes to acquire a whole kingdom will not certainly engage in an act which can at best secure for him a piece of land, nor will he cherish a desire for it.
Therefore works are not the means to the Highest Bliss.
Neither is a conjunction of knowledge and works possible. Nor can it be held that knowledge which leads to emancipation requires the aid of works; for, as removing avidya, knowledge is opposed to works.
Indeed, darkness cannot remove darkness. Therefore, knowledge alone is the means to the Highest Bliss.
Refutation of the theory that salvation is attained by works alone.
(Objection):—No. For, by neglect of nitya or obligatory works one incurs sin (pratyavāya); and kaivalya or emancipation is eternal.
(To explain):—It is wrong to say that emancipation is attained by knowledge alone; for, by neglect of the nitya-karma or obligatory works enjoined in the śruti, a man incurs sin which leads him to hell, etc.
(Counter-objection):—Thus, then, since moksha is not to be attained by works, there can be no hope of attaining moksha at all.
(Rejoinder):—There is no room for any such objection, inasmuch as moksha is eternal.
The sin of omission (pratyavāya) is avoided by the observance of the nitya-karma or obligatory works; by avoiding the prohibited acts, no obnoxious bodies are generated; by avoiding the kāmya-karma or interested acts no desirable body either is generated;
and when the present body perishes on the exhaustion of the fruits of the works which have given rise to the body, no more causes then exist which can generate another body;
and when attachment and other passions are expunged from the heart, the emancipation of the Self—i. e., the realisation by the Self of His own true nature—is attained without any effort.
(Counter-objection):—Those of the acts done in the past innumerable births, which have not yet begun their effects, and of which some lead to heaven and others to hell, and so on, have not been extinguished, because their effects have not been enjoyed.
(Rejoinder):—No; for we argue that the fruits of those works are reaped in the form of the trouble and pain involved in the performance of the nitya-karma. Or, the nitya-karma may, like the Prāyaśchitta or expiatory act, serve to destroy past sins.
The works which have begun their effects being exhausted by the enjoyment of their fruits, and no new works being undertaken, it follows that emancipation is attained without any effort.
(Answer) No; for the śruti says that there exists no other road to moksha than knowledge:
“Knowing Him alone, one crosses beyond death; there exists no other road to the Abode” (Śvet. Up. 3-8).
The Śruti says, further, that moksha is as impossible for the unwise man as it is impossible for men to compress the ākāśa like leather (Ibid. 6—20). And the Purāṇic tradition also says that ‘one attains emancipation by knowledge.’
Moreover, the good deeds (puṇya-karma) which have not yet begun their effects cannot be said to have been exhausted.
Just as the existence of sins which have not begun their effects is possible, so also the existence of good (puṇya) deeds which have not yet begun their effects is possible; and as these cannot be exhausted without generating another body, moksha is not possible.
Neither is it possible to generate no new merit and demerit (dharma and adharma in this body), inasmuch as destruction of love and hatred and delusion which lead to acts of merit and demerit cannot be effected except by means of Self-knowledge.
Because the śruti says that the nitya-karma produces merit (puṇya) as its result, and because the smriti says that, by performing their proper duties, the several castes and orders attain to a high immeasurable happiness, the exhaustion of works is not possible.
Refutation of the theory that the Nitya-Karma leads to no future births.
Now, as to the contention:
As painful in itself, the nitya- karma is itself the fruit of sinful deeds committed in the past;
apart from itself, the nitya-karma bears no distinct fruit, because the śruti speaks nowhere of its fruits, the mere circumstance of a man being alive forming a sufficient ground for its necessary performance.
We say, no; for, it is impossible for those deeds to yield their fruits which have not yet begun to work out their effects. Neither can there be any variety in the pain (involved in the performance of the nitya-karma).
(To explain):—It is wrong to say that the fruits of the sinful deeds committed in the past births are reaped in the form of the trouble and pain involved in the performance of the nitya-karma.
We cannot indeed understand how the fruit of the deeds which did not sprout up for fruition at the time of death can be reaped in the birth caused by another set of deeds.
Otherwise, there would be nothing unreasonable in the supposition that infernal suffering is possible in the very birth that has been generated by Agnihotra (fire- sacrifice) for the enjoyment of the fruit thereof i.e., for the enjoyment of heaven (svarga).
Moreover, the pain involved in the performance of the nitya-karma cannot answer to that variety of suffering (which should result from the variety) of acts of sin.
While many acts of sin productive of as many distinct kinds of suffering may possibly exist, to suppose that their effects consist in the mere trouble and pain involved in the observance of the nitya-karma would lead to the further supposition—which it is impossible to hold
—that the suffering inflicted by the pairs of opposites, diseases and the like, has no cause of its own, and that the trouble and pain involved in the observance of the nitya-karma is alone the effect of past sins, but not the pain of carrying stones on the head or the like.
Besides, it is irrelevant to say that the trouble and pain involved in the observance of the nitya-karma constitutes the result of the sinful deeds done in the past.
—It has been urged that no extinction of the past sin which has not begun to bear fruit is possible;
whereas you say that the fruit of the deed which has begun to bear fruit—not the fruit of the deed which has not begun to bear fruit—is reaped in the form of the trouble and pain involved in the observance of the nitya-karma.
If, on the other hand, you mean that the whole sin committed in the past has begun to bear fruit, then there is no ground for the specification
that the mere trouble and pain involved in the observance of the nitya- karma are the fruits (of those sinful deeds which have not begun to produce their effects).
It would then also follow that the enjoining of the nitya-karma has no purpose to serve; for, the sinful deeds which have begun their effects can be extinguished by merely undergoing the effects so produced.
Moreover, if pain be the result of the nitya-karma enjoined in the śruti, that pain may arise from the trouble involved in the observance of the nitya-karma itself as from any other active exercise: it is therefore unreasonable to suppose that it is the result of another action.
Again, as enjoined on a man on the mere ground of his being alive, the nitya-karma cannot be, any more than a Prāyaśchitta or expiatory act, the effect of sins committed in the past.
An expiatory act, enjoined by reason of a certain act of sin having been committed, is not the fruit of that sinful act.
If, on the other hand, the pain of the expiatory act be the effect of the very sinful act which forms its occasion, then, it would follow that the trouble and pain involved in the performance of the nitya-karma occasioned by the man’s being alive, etc., is the effect of that very state of being alive which has occasioned the necessity; the nitya-karma and Prāyaśchitta being alike necessitated by the particular occasions respectively.
Moreover, the trouble and pain involved in the performance of a nitya-agnihotra (fire-worship done as a duty) and a kāmya-agnihotra (fire-worship done with a motive) being equal,
and no special reason being found as to why the trouble and pain involved in the performance of the nitya-karma alone should constitute the result of sins committed in the past, but not the trouble and pain involved in the performance of the kāmya-karma, it would follow that the latter also is the result of sins committed in the past.
Such being the case, it is wrong to infer, on the ground of consistency (arthāpatti), that because no mention is made in the śruti of the nitya-karma’s results and because the injunction thereof is otherwise inexplicable,
the trouble and pain involved in the performance of the nitya-karma is the result of sins committed in the past.
The injunction being otherwise inexplicable, we should even infer that the nitya-karma is productive of results distinct from the pain and trouble involved in its performance.
The opponent is also guilty of inconsistency:
When is once admitted that through the performance of the nitya karma the fruit of another deed is reaped, this reaping forms itself the fruit of the nitya-karma, and it is therefore inconsistent to hold at the same time that the nitya-karma produces no fruits of its own.
Moreover, when the kāmya-agnihotra is performed, the nitya-agnihotra is also said to have been performed simultaneously, as included in that self-same act;
and therefore the fruit of the kāmya-agnihotra should become exhausted with the trouble and pain involved in the nitya-agnihotra, in as much as the kāmya-agnihotra is not a distinct act from the nitya-agnihotra.
If, on the other hand, the effect of the kāmya-agnihotra be something distinct, such as svarga, then it would follow that the trouble and pain of its performance must also be distinct; but it is not so, for it is opposed to facts.
In point of fact, the trouble and pain involved in the performance of the nitya-karma is not distinct from that of the kāmya-karma.
Furthermore, an action which is neither enjoined nor prohibited (in the śruti) is productive of immediate results; but an act which is enjoined or prohibited by the śāstra cannot be productive of immediate result.
If this latter were productive of immediate results, then no effort would be made with a view to attain an unseen result, even though it be svarga or the like,
so long as it is held that in the case of agnihotra or the like—despite the absence of all distinction in the nature of the act—the fruits of the act when performed as a nitya-karma are reaped in the form of the mere trouble and pain involved in its performance,
whereas when performed as a kāmya-karma the self-same act produces a superior result—such as svarga—merely because there is a longing for its results,
although the latter act is not superior to the former in any of the subsidiary parts or in the mode of performance.
Therefore it is in no way reasonable to contend that the nitya-karma does not lead to results in the unseen future.