Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Shankara | Discourse 2 verse 51-72

Results of Karma-Yoga.

51. For, men of wisdom cast off the fruit of action; possessed of knowledge (and) released from the bond of birth, they go to the place where there is no evil.

Shankara's commentary:

For, men of wisdom, possessing evenness of mind, cast off the fruit of works, i. e., escape from good and bad births. They then attain knowledge.

While still alive, they are released from the bond of birth, and attain the supreme abode of Vishṇu—the state of moksha or liberation—which is free from all turmoil.

Or, the wisdom (buddhi) referred to in the three verses (ii. 49—51) may be the Sānkhya-(not the Yoga-) wisdom, the knowledge of the Absolute Reality, (corresponding to the wide-spread expanse of water), which arises when the mind is purified by Karma-Yoga; for, it is said in ii.50 that wisdom directly brings about the destruction of good and bad deeds.

When that conviction is attained which (it is said) arises as soon as the mind is purified by Karma-Yoga or devo­tion through works?

The answer follows:

52. When thy mind shall cross beyond the mire of delusion, then wilt thou attain to a disgust of what is yet to be heard and what has been heard.

Shankara's commentary:

When your intuition (buddhi) shall cross beyond the mire of delusion, by which the sense of discrimination between the Self and the not-Self is confounded and the mind (antaḥ-kāraṇa) is turned towards the objects of the senses—

i. e., when your reason attains purity—

then will you attain to a disgust of what is yet to be heard and what has already been heard: they will appear to you to be of no use.

You may now ask:

“When shall I attain the true Yoga or conviction of the Supreme Truth, by crossing beyond the mire of delusion and obtaining wisdom by discrimina­tion of the Self?”

Listen:

53. When thy mind, perplexed by what thou hast heard, shall stand firm and steady in the Self, then wilt thou attain Yoga.

Shankara's commentary:

When your intuition (buddhi=antaḥ-kāraṇa) which has been perplexed by what you have heard about the multifarious ends and means in all their relations—

concern­ing the life of activity and the life of retirement

—shall stand firm, without distraction (Vikṣepa=viparyaya) and doubt (vikalpa—saṁśaya), in the Self (Samādhi, i.e., the objective point of your meditation), then you will attain Yoga, samā­dhi, i.e., the knowledge which arises from discrimination.

The characteristic attributes of a perfect Sage.

Having found an occasion for interrogation, Arjuna asks with a desire to know the characteristic marks of one who has attained wisdom in steady contemplation (samādhi- prajñā):

Arjuna said:

54.  What - O Keśava! - is the description of one of steady knowledge, who is constant in con­templation? How does one of steady knowledge speak, how sit, how move?

Shankara's commentary:

How is a man who has a firm conviction that he is the Supreme Brahman, and who is intent on contemplation (samādhi),—how is such a man spoken of by others? How does the man of steady knowledge himself speak? How does he sit? How does he move?

—In this verse Arjuna asks in order to know what the characteristic attributes of a man of steady knowledge (sthitaprajña) are.

From ii.55 to the end of the Discourse (adhyāya), the characteristic attributes of a man of steady knowledge as well as the means of obtaining that knowledge

are taught to him who, having from the very commencement renounced all works, has entered upon a course of Devotion to Know­ledge (jñāna-yoga-nishthā), as well as to him who has reached that stage by means of Devotion to works (Karma- yoga).

For, everywhere in spiritual science (adhyātma- śāstra), the very characteristic attributes of the successful Yogin are taught as the means (of attaining that stage), since they are to be attained by effort.

The Lord now points out those characteristic attributes which, as attain­able by effort, constitute the means as well.

(1) Satisfaction in the Self.

The Lord said:

55. When a man, satisfied in the Self alone by himself, completely casts off all the desires of the mind, then is he said to be one of steady knowledge.

Shankara's commentary:

When a man completely abandons all the various desires that enter the heart and is satisfied with the True Innermost Self (Pratyagātman) in himself, without longing for external possessions,

averse to everything else because of his acquisition of the immortal nectar,—i.e. his realisation of the Supreme Truth,

—then he is said to be a wise man (vidvān), one whose knowledge arising from the discrimination of the Self and the not-Self has been steadied.

[If, on his abandon­ing of all desires, nothing should be found to cause satisfac­tion while the cause of the embodied state still operates, it would follow that his behaviour would be like that of a mad man or a maniac. Hence the words ‘satisfied in the Self’ etc.]

That is to say, he who has abandoned all desires connected with progeny, possessions and the world, who has renounced (all works), who delights in the Self and plays with the Self,—he is the man whose knowledge is steady.

(2) Equanimity in pleasure and pain.

Moreover,

56. He whose heart is not distressed in calamities, from whom all longing for pleasures has departed, who is free from attachment, fear and wrath, he is called a sage, a man of steady knowledge.

Shankara's commentary:

His heart is not distressed in calamities such as may arise from disorder in the body, (ādhyātmika), etc.

Unlike fire, which increases as fuel is added, his longing for pleasures does not increase as more pleasures are attained. He is said to be a man of steady knowledge. He is called a sage, a Sannyāsin, one who has renounced works.

(3) Absence of attachment, delight and aversion.

Moreover,

57. Whoso, without attachment anywhere, on meeting with anything good or bad, neither exults nor hates, his knowledge becomes steady.

Shankara's commentary:

The sage has no attachment even for the life of the body. He does not exult in pleasure, nor is he averse to pain that may befall him. When he is thus free from delight and distress, his knowledge arising from discrimination be­comes steady.

(4) Complete withdrawal of senses from objects.

Moreover,

58. When he completely withdraws the senses from sense-objects, as the tortoise (withdraws) its limbs from all sides, his knowledge is steady.

Shankara's commentary:

He, i. e., the devotee who strives in the path of know­ledge (jñāna-niṣṭhā), withdraws his senses from all objects as the tortoise withdraws its limbs from all sides out of fear.

(Question):—Now, even the senses of a diseased man who is not able to partake of sensuous objects withdraw from sense-objects, but the taste for them ceases not.

How does that cease?

(Answer):—Listen:

59. Objects withdraw from an abstinent man, but not the taste. On seeing the Supreme, his taste, too, ceases.

Shankara's commentary:

The senses,—‘viṣayāḥ,’ meaning literally sense-objects, here stands for the senses,—it is true, withdraw from objects even in the case of an ignorant person who, practising extremest austerity, abstains from all sensuous objects; but the taste or inclination (rasa) for those objects ceases not.

Even that taste, that subtle attachment, vanishes in the case of the devotee who, having seen the Supreme Reality, the Brahman, thinks ‘I am myself That’; that is to say, his perception of sensuous objects becomes seedless (nir-bīja), has lost all germ of evil.

The meaning is this:

In the absence of right knowledge, there can be no annihilation of taste for sensuous objects; wherefore, steadiness of right knowledge (prājña) should be acquired.

Unrestrained senses work mischief.

He who would acquire steadiness of right knowledge (prajñā) should first bring the senses under control. For, if not controlled, they will do harm.

So, the Lord says:

60. The dangerous senses, O son of Kuntī, forcibly carry away the mind of a wise man, even while striving (to control them).

Shankara's commentary:

The senses are dangerous. They agitate the mind of the man who is inclined to sensuous objects. Having thus agitated the mind, they carry it away by force, while the man is wide awake though the mind is possessed of discriminative knowledge.

(5) Devotion to the Lord.

Wherefore,

61. Restraining them all, a man should remain steadfast, intent on Me. His knowledge is steady whose senses are under control.

Shankara's commentary:

He should bring the senses under control and sit calm and intent on Me, Vāsudeva, the Innermost Self of all; i. e., he should sit thinking ‘I am no other than He.’

The knowledge of that devotee is steady who, thus seated, has by practice brought the senses under his own control.

Thought of sense-objects is the source of evil.

Now the Lord proceeds to point- out the source of all evil in the case of the unsuccessful:

62.  When a man thinks of objects, attachment for them arises. From attachment arises desire; from desire arises wrath.

Shankara's commentary:

Attachment for objects arises when a man thinks of them specifically —Wrath arises when desire is frustrated by some cause or other.

63.  From wrath arises delusion; from delusion, failure of memory; from failure of memory, loss of conscience; from loss of conscience he is utterly ruined.

Shankara's commentary:

From wrath arises delusion, a lack of discrimination between right and wrong. Verily, when a wrathful man gets infatuated, he is led to insult even the Guru.

From in­fatuation follows failure of memory. Despite the presence of favourable conditions, no reminiscences arise of things already impressed upon the mind by the teachings of the śāstras and of the teacher (āchārya).

From failure of memory follows loss of conscience (buddhi)—the inability of the inner sense (antaḥ- kāraṇa) to discriminate between right and wrong (kārya and a-kārya). By loss of conscience he is utterly ruined.

Man is man only so long as his antaḥ- kāraṇa is competent to discriminate between right and wrong. When it is unable to do so, the man is utterly ruined. Thus, by loss of conscience (antaḥ- kāraṇa, buddhi) he is ruined, he is debarred from attaining human aspirations.

Sense-control leads to peace and happiness.

The contemplation of sense-objects has been described as the source of all evil. Now the means of deliverance (moksha) is described as follows:

64. He attains peace, who, self-controlled, approaches objects with senses devoid of love and hatred and brought under his own control.

Shankara's commentary:

The natural activity of the senses is characterised by love and hatred.

He who longs for deliverance resorts only to unavoidable objects with senses—-hearing, etc.,—devoid of love and hatred and brought under his own control, his inner sense (ātman = antaḥ- kāraṇa) being made obedient to his own will. Such a man attains peace, tranquillity, self-possession.

(Question):—What will happen when peace is attained?

(Answer):—Listen:

65.  In peace there is an end of all his miseries; for, the reason of the tranquil-minded soon be­comes steady.

Shankara's commentary:

On the attainment of peace there is an end of all the devotee’s miseries such as pertain to the body and the mind.

For, the reason (buddhi) of the pure-minded man soon becomes steady, pervading on all sides like the ākāśa; i. e., it remains steadfast, in the form of the Self.

The sense of the     passage is this: -The man whose heart is pure and whose mind is steady has achieved his object.

Wherefore the devout man should resort only to those sense-objects which are indispensable and not forbidden by the śāstras, with the senses devoid of love and hatred.

Tranquillity is thus extolled:

66.  There is no wisdom to the unsteady, and no meditation to the unsteady, and to the unmeditative no   peace; to the peaceless, how can there be happiness?

Shankara's commentary:

To the unsteady (ayukta = asamāhita), to the man who cannot fix the mind in contemplation, there can be no wisdom (buddhi), no knowledge of the true nature of the Self.

To the unsteady, there can be no meditation, no intense devotion to Self-knowledge. So, to him who is not devoted to Self-knowledge there can be no peace, no tranquillity. To the peaceless man, how can there be happi­ness?

Verily, happiness consists in the freedom of the senses from thirst for sensual enjoyment, not in the thirst (tṛishṇā) for objects. This last is mere misery indeed. While there is thirst, there can be no trace of happiness; we cannot so much as smell it.

Sense-restraint conduces to steady knowledge.

(Question):—Why is there no knowledge for the unsteady?

(Answer):—Listen:

67. For, the mind which yields to the roving senses carries away his knowledge, as the wind (carries away) a ship on water.

Shankara's commentary:

For, the mind which yields to the senses engaged in their respective objects, i. e., the mind which is altogether engrossed in the thought of the various objects of the senses, destroys the devotee’s discriminative knowledge of the Self and the not-Self.

—How?—

As the wind carries away a ship from the intended course of the sailors and drives her astray, so the mind carries away the devotee’s conscious­ness from the Self and turns it towards sense-objects.

Having explained in several ways the proposition enun­ciated in ii. 60—61, the Lord concludes by reaffirming the same proposition:

68. Therefore, O mighty-armed, his knowledge is steady whose senses have been entirely restrain­ed from sense-objects.

Shankara's commentary:

It has been shown that evil arises from the senses pursu­ing sense-objects. Wherefore, that devotee’s knowledge is steady whose senses have been restrained from sense-objects (such as sound) in all forms, subjective and objective.

(6) The Universe, a mere dream to the Sage.

In the case of the man who possesses discriminative knowledge and whose knowledge has become steady, his experience of all matters, temporal and spiritual (laukika and vaidika, sensuous and supersensuous), ceases on the cessation of nescience (avidyā); for, it is the effect of nescience; and nescience ceases because it is opposed to knowledge.

To make this clear, the Lord proceeds:

69. What is night to all beings, therein the self-controlled one is awake. Where all beings are awake, that is the night of the sage who sees.

Shankara's commentary:

To all beings the Supreme Reality is night. Night is by nature tāmasic, and, as such, causes confusion of things. The Reality is accessible only to a man of steady know­ledge.

Just as what is day to others becomes night to night-wanderers, so, to all beings who are ignorant and who correspond to the night-wanderers, the Supreme Reality is dark, is like night; for it is not accessible to those whose minds are not in It.

With reference to that Supreme Rea­lity, the self-restrained Yogin who has subdued the senses, and who has shaken off the sleep of Avidyā (nescience), is fully awake.

When all beings are said to be awake, i. e., when all beings, who in reality sleep in the night of ignorance, imbued with the distinct notions of perceiver and things perceived, are as it were mere dreamers in sleep at night,

—that state is night in the eye of the sage who knows the Supreme Reality; for, it is nescience itself.

Works are not meant of the sage.

Wherefore works are enjoined on the ignorant, not on the wise. Wisdom (Vidyā) arising, nescience (Avidyā) dis­appears as does the darkness of the night at sunrise.

Before the dawn of wisdom, nescience presents itself in various forms—as actions, means and results,—is regard­ed as authoritative, and becomes the source of all action. When it is regarded as of no authority, it cannot induce action.

A man engages in action regarding it as his duty— regarding that action is enjoined by such an authority as the Veda,—but not looking upon all this duality as mere illusion, as though it were night.

When he has learnt to look upon all this dual world as a mere illusion, as though it were night, when he has realised the Self, his duty consists not in the performance of action, but in the renun­ciation of all action.

Our Lord will accordingly show (v. 17 ct seq.) that such a man's duty consists in devotion to wisdom, in jñāna-nishṭha.

(Objection):—In the absence of an injunction (pravartaka pramāṇa = vidhi) one cannot have recourse to that course either.

(Answer):—This objection does not apply; for, the knowledge of Ātman means the knowledge of one’s own Self.

There is indeed no need of an injunction impelling one to devote oneself to one's Ātman, for the very reason that Ātman is one's own very Self. And all organs of knowledge (pramāṇas) are so called because they ultimately lead to knowledge of the Self.

When the knowledge of the true nature of the Self has been attained, neither organs of knowledge nor objects of knowledge present themselves to consciousness any longer.

For, the final authority, (i.e., the Veda), teaches that the Self is in reality no perci­pient of objects, and while so denying, (i. e., as a result of that teaching), the Veda itself ceases to be an authority, just as the dream-perception (ceases to be an authority) in the waking state.

In ordinary experience, too, we do not find any organ of knowledge necessitating further operation (on the part of the knower) when once the thing to be perceived-by that organ has been perceived.

(7) Subjugation of desire and personal self.

The Lord proceeds to teach, by an illustration, that that devotee only who is wise, who has abandoned desires, and whose wisdom is steady, can attain moksha, but not he who, without renouncing, cherishes a desire for objects of pleasure.

70. He attains peace, into whom all desires enter as waters enter the ocean, which, filled from all sides, remains unaltered; but not he who desires objects.

Shankara's commentary:

The ocean is filled with waters flowing from all sides. Its state is unaltered, though waters flow into it from all sides; it remains all the while within its bounds without change.

That sage into whom in this manner desires of all sorts enter from all sides without affecting him—as waters enter into the ocean—even in the presence of objects; in whose Self they are absorbed, and whom they do not enslave; that sage attains peace (moksha), but not the other who has a longing for external objects.

Because it is so, therefore,

71. That man attains peace, who, abandoning all desires, moves about without attachment, with­out selfishness, without vanity.

Shankara's commentary:

That man of renunciation, who, entirely abandoning all desires, goes through life content with the bare neces­sities of life, who has no attachment even for those bare necessities of life,

who regards not as his even those things which are needed for the mere bodily existence, who is not vain of his knowledge,

—such a man of steady knowledge, that man who knows Brahman, attains peace (nirvāṇa) , the end of all the misery of saṁsāra (mundane existence). In short, he becomes the very Brahman.

Knowledge leads to Divine Felicity.

This devotion to knowledge is extolled as follows:

72.  This is the Brāhmic state, O son of Pritha. Attaining to this, none is deluded. Remaining in this state even at the last period of life, one at­tains to the felicity of Brahman.

Shankara's commentary:

This foregoing state - to renounce all and to dwell in Brahman—is the Divine state, the state of Brahman. It pertains to and has its being in Brahman.

On reaching this state, one is no longer deluded. Remaining in this state even at the last period of life, one attains moksha, the felicity of Brahman.

And it needs no saying that he who renounces while yet a student and dwells in Brahman throughout life attains the Felicity of Brahman, the Brahma-Nirvāṇa.