Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Shankara | Discourse 18 verse 66c

The Paths of Knowledge and Works are meant for distinct classes of aspirants.

So, knowledge alone can cause total destruction of good or evil deeds caused by avidya—not the performance of the nitya-karma. For, avidya and kāma (nescience and desire) constitute the seed of all action.

Accordingly it has been declared that Karma-Yoga pertains to the ignorant and that Jñāna-nishthā or knowledge-devotion accom­panied with renunciation of all works pertains to the wise. Vide ii.19, 21; iii.3, 26, 28; v. 8, 13; vii.18; ix.21, 22; x.10.

From the last verse here quoted it should be inferred that ignorant men who are devoted to action can­not approach the Lord.

And therefore, notwithstanding that ignorant men, who are followers of works, are most de­vout, rendering service to the Lord, they resort only to one of the several paths mentioned (xii. 6-11) in their descending order, the lowest of them being that which consists in abandoning the fruits of action.

But as regards those who are devoted to the Undefinable and the Indestructible, the attributes, they cultivate are mentioned in xii. 13-20;

and their path of knowledge is also described in the three dis­courses commencing with the (thirteenth) discourse on the Kshetra.

The triple result of action —such as the evil, good and mixed fruit,—(xviii. 12) does not accrue to those

who have renounced all works generated by the five causes such as the body (xviii. 14), who know that the Self is one and non-agent, who are engaged in the higher devotion of knowledge, who have known the true nature of the Lord,

— to the Paramahamsa-Parivrājakas (i. e., the sannyāsins of the fourth or highest order) who have obtained refuge in the unity of the Self and the Divine Being.

But it does accrue to others who are ignorant, who follow the path of works, who are not sannyāsins.

Thus should we assign the paths of duty taught in the Gītā-śāstra.

Action is a creature of Avidya.

(Objection):— It cannot be proved that all action is caused by avidya.

(Answer):— No; it can be proved, as in the case of Brāhmiṇicide (Brahmāhatyā).—The nitya-karma is no doubt taught in the śāstra; but it concerns the ignorant alone.

Just as the act of Brāhmiṇicide, which, as prohibited in the śāstra, is known to be a source of evil, is committed only by him who is ignorant and influenced by passion and other evil tendencies,—his concern in it being otherwise inexplicable

—so also, all nitya, naimittika, and kāmya karmas, i. e., all works comprising the constant and occasional duties as well as all interested sacrificial rites, concern only him who is ignorant (of the Self).

(Objection):—So long as it is not known that the Self is distinct from the body, it is not likely that any man would undertake to perform the nitya-karma, etc.

(Answer):—Not so; for, we see that a man engages in an act thinking “I do” the act, which, being of the nature of motion, is really done by the agency of the not-Self, (of the body, etc.).

(Objection) The regarding of the aggregate of the body, etc., as the Self is only a gauṇa-pratyaya or a figuratively expressed notion; it is not an illusion (mithyā).

(Answer):—Not so; for, then its effects, too, must be gauṇa, must have been figuratively spoken of.

(To explain the objection):

—When we speak of the aggregate of the body, etc.,—which are things belonging to the Self,— as the Self, our words should be understood in a figurative sense,

as when, for instance, addressing the father the śruti says “thyself art he who is spoken of as thy son.’’ In common parlance, too, we say “this cow is my very life.”

In the present case there is certainly no mithyā- pratyaya or illusory notion. It is only when the distinction between the two is not perceived,—as when a pillar is mis­taken for a man, that we have an instance of illusion.

(To explain the answer):

—Not so. A gauṇa-pratyaya can­not lead to a real effect; for, a figurative expression,—the sign of similarity being understood,—is merely intended to extol the subject.

For example, such expressions as “Devadatta is a lion” and “the student is fire” are intended merely to extol the subjects, Devadatta and the student, because of their respective resemblance to the lion and fire in point of fierceness and yellowishness;

but no effect of the existence of a real lion or of a real fire is accomplished in virtue of that figurative expression or idea. On the other hand, one actually experiences the evil effects of an illusory notion.

Furthermore, one knows what the subject in reality is when it is figuratively spoken of as some other thing; one knows that Devadatta is no lion and that the student is no fire.

So also, if the bodily aggregate be figuratively spoken of as the Self, the act done by the bodily aggregate would not be regarded as an act done in reality by the Self, by the real subject of the notion “I”.

Indeed, no act done by a gauṇa (figurative) lion or fire can become an act done by a real lion or fire. Neither is any purpose whatever of an actual lion or fire served by fierceness or yellowishness, it being merely intended to extol (the subject).

Moreover, he who is thus praised knows that he is not a lion, that he is not fire; he never regards an act of a lion or of fire as his.

So, (if, in the present case, the bodily aggre­gate were figuratively spoken of as the Self), one would think rather that the act of the (bodily) aggregate “is not mine,” i. e., not the real Self’s, than that “I am the agent, mine is the action.”

And as regards the theory that the Self actually does an act, — his memory, desire and effort forming causes of action,—we say that such is not the case, because they proceed from illusion.

In fact, memory, desire and effort proceed from impressions produced by the experience of desirable and undesirable effects of actions set up by illu­sion.

Just as in this birth dharma and a-dharma and the experience of their fruits are due to the identifying of the Self with the aggregate of the body, etc., to affection and aversion and so on, so also in the last previous birth and in the birth previous to that, and so on.

Thus we are to infer that saṁsāra, past and future, is caused by avidya and is with­out a beginning.

Therefore it follows that the final cessation of saṁsāra is attained through devotion to knowledge accompanied with renunciation of all works.

Because attachment to the body is an aspect of avidya, therefore, when avidya ceases, the body also must cease to be, and then saṁsāra necessarily ceases.

—The identifying of the Self with the aggregate of the body, etc., is an aspect of avidya; for, nobody in the world who knows that he is distinct from a cow, etc., and that the cow, etc., are distinct from him, regards them as himself.

Only an ignorant man identifies the Self with the aggregate of the body, etc., for want of discrimination, in the same way that one mistakes the branchless trunk of a tree for a man;—but not he who knows the truth by discrimination.

As to the son being spoken of as the father himself in the śruti, “thyself art he who is spoken of as thy son,” it is a gauṇa-pratyaya, a figuratively expressed notion, because of their relation as the generator and the offspring.

By what is only figuratively spoken of as the Self, no real purposes of the true Self can be accomplished, any more than the son can eat for the father.

No real purposes, for instance, of a real lion and a real fire can be achieved by what are only figur­atively spoken of as a lion and fire.

(Objection):—Since the scriptural ordinances are of undis­puted authority in the transcendental matters, the purposes of the Self can certainly be achieved by what are figuratively spoken of as the Self —i.e., the body, the senses, and so on.

(Answer):—No; for, they are selfs set up by avidya. The body and the senses and the like are not figuratively spoken of as the Self.

On the other hand, being really not-Self, they are regarded as selfs by illusion; for, they are regarded as the Self so long as there is illusion, and they cease to be regarded as the Self when illusion disappears.

It is only children, the ignorant people, who, for want of knowledge, think, “I am tall, I am yellowish,” and thus regard the aggregate of the body, etc., as the Self.

On the other hand, those who can discriminate and understand that “I am distinct from the aggregate of the body, etc., do not identify themselves with the aggregate of the body, etc.

This notion of identity is therefore—because it does not exist in the absence of illusion—caused by illusion; and it is not a gauṇa-pratyaya.

It is only when similarity and difference are distinctly seen between two things—as between a lion and Devadatta, or between a student and fire,—that those two things may be figuratively spoken of in word as identical or so regarded in thought, but not when similarity and difference are not perceived.

And as regards the appeal made to the authority of śruti, we say that no such appeal should be made, inas­much as śruti is an authority in transcendental matters, in matters lying beyond the bounds of human knowledge.

Śruti is an authority only in matters not perceived by means of ordinary instruments of knowledge, such as pratyakṣa or immediate perception;

i.e., it is an authority as to the mutual relation of things as means to ends, but not in matters lying within the range of pratyakṣa; indeed, śruti is intended as an authority only for knowing what lies beyond the range of human knowledge.

Therefore it is not possible to suppose that the notion of “I” which arises in connection with the aggregate of the body, etc., and which is evidently due to illusion, is only a figurative idea.

A hundred śruti may declare that fire is cold or that it is dark; still they possess no authority in the matter.

If śruti should at all declare that fire is cold or that it is dark, we would still suppose that it intends quite a different mean­ing from the apparent one;

for, its authority cannot otherwise be maintained; we should in no way attach to śruti a meaning which is opposed to other authorities or to its own declaration.

The theory of Avidya does not militate against the authority of Karma-Kānḍa.

(Objection):— As a man does an action only when he is subject to illusion, it would follow that when he ceases to be an agent the śruti (which treats of works) would prove false.

(Answer): No; for, śruti is still true in the matter of Brahma-vidyā.

(Objection):—If the śruti which treats of works should be no authority, the śruti which teaches Brahmāvidyā, too, can be no authority.

(Answer):—Not so; for, there can arise no notion that can remove (Brahmāvidyā).

—The notion that the Self is identi­cal with the aggregate of the body, etc., is removed when the true nature of the Self is known from the śruti which teaches Brahmāvidyā;

but not so can this knowledge of the true Self be ever removed in any way by anything whatso­ever: for, knowledge of the Self is necessarily associated with its result(i.e., the absence of avidya)like the knowledge that fire is hot and luminous.

Our theory, moreover, does not drive us to the conclusion that the śruti teaching works proves useless;

for, by restraining the first natural activities one by one and there­by gradually inducing fresh and higher activities, it serves to create an aspiration to reach the Innermost Self.

Though the means is mithyā or illusory, still it is true, because the end is true, as in the case of the Arthavādas or explanatory statements subsidiary to a main injunction.

And even in ordinary affairs, when we have to induce a child or a lunatic to drink milk or the like, we have to tell him that thereby his hair will grow, and so on.

—Or, we may even argue that the śruti treating of works is an authority in itself under other circumstances (i. e., before the attain­ment of Self-knowledge),

just as pratyakṣa or sense-perception caused by attachment to the body is held to be authori­tative prior to (the attainment of) Self-knowledge.

Refutation of the theory of the Self’s agency by mere presence.

Another theory runs as follows:—Though not directly engaged in action, the Self does act by mere presence. This by itself constitutes the real agency of the Self.

A king, for instance, though himself not acting, is said to fight when his soldiers fight, in virtue of his mere presence, and he is said to be victorious or defeated.

Similarly the commander of an army acts by mere word. And we find that the kin" and the commander are connected with the results of the act.

To take another example: the acts of the Rittviks or officiating priests are supposed to belong to the Yajamāna or sacrificer. So the acts of the body, etc., we may hold, are done by the Self, inasmuch as their results accrue to the Self.

To take yet another example: since the loadstone or magnet makes a piece of iron revolve, real agency may rest with what is not actually engaged in an act. And so also in the case of the Self.

(We reply):—It is not right to say so; for it would be tantamount to saying that that which does not act is a kāraka or an agent.

(The opponent says):—Yes, kāraka or agency may be of various kinds.

(We reply):—No; for, we find that the king, etc., (as in­stanced above), are direct agents also.

In the first place, the king may be personally engaged in fighting. He is a direct agent as causing others to fight, as paying them wages, and also as reaping the fruits accruing from success and defeat.

The sacrificer, too, is a real agent as offering the main oblation and as giving presents.

Therefore, we should understand that to speak, by courtesy, of a man as an agent when he is not actually engaged, amounts to a figure of speech.

If real agency, which consists in one be­ing actually engaged in the act, were not found in the case of such agents as the king and the sacrificer, then we might suppose that even agency by mere presence constitutes real agency, as in the case of a magnet causing a piece of iron to revolve.

On the contrary, we do find the king and the sacrificer actually engaged in some acts. Wherefore agency by mere presence is merely a gauṇa or figurative agency.

Such being the case, even the connection with results can only be gauṇa or unreal.

By a gauṇa or figurative agent no real action is performed. Therefore it is quite unreason­able to say that the activity of the body, etc., makes the actionless Self a real doer and enjoyer.

The theory of Avidya concluded.

But all this becomes explicable when traced to illusion as its cause, as in the case of dreams and the juggler’s art (māyā).

And no agency or enjoyership or any other evil of the sort is experienced in sleep, samādhi and similar states in which there is a break in the continuity of the illusory notions identifying the Self with the body, etc.

Therefore the illusion of saṁsāra is due solely to an illusory notion and is not absolutely real.

Therefore we conclude that Right Knowledge conduces to absolute cessation of saṁsāra.