Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Shankara | Discourse 3 verse 34-43

Scope for man’s personal exertion.

(Objection):—If every being acts according to its own nature only,—and there is none that has no nature of its own,—then, there being possibly no scope for personal exertion, (puruṣakāra), the Teaching (śāstra) would be quite purposeless.

(Answer):—The Lord replies as follows:

34. Love and hate lie towards the object of each sense; let none become subject to these two; for, they are his enemies.

Shankara's commentary:

As regards all sense-objects, such as sounds, there neces­sarily arises in each sense love for an agreeable object, and aversion for a disagreeable object.

Now I shall tell you where lies the scope for personal exertion and for the Tea­ching (śāstra). He who would follow the Teaching should at the very commencement rise above the sway of affection and aversion.

For, what we speak of as the nature (prakṛti) of a person draws him to its course only through love and aversion. He then neglects his own duties and sets about doing those of others.

When, on the other hand, a person restrains these feelings by means of their enemy, then he will become mindful of the Teaching only, no longer sub­ject to his own nature.

Wherefore, let none come under the sway of these two; for, they are his adversaries, obstacles to his progress in the right path, like thieves on the road.

Now, the man who is led by love and aversion may mis­understand the Teaching; he may think that one man may follow the duty (dharma) of another because the latter is also a duty.

But it is not right to think so:

35. Better one’s own duty, though devoid of merit, than the duty of another well discharged. Better is death in one’s own duty; the duty of another is productive of danger.

Shankara's commentary:

For a man to die doing his own duty though devoid of merit is better than for him to live doing the duty of another though perfectly performed. For, the duty of another leads to danger, such as hell (nāraka).

Desire is the enemy, of man.

Though the source of evil has been pointed out in ii.62, etc., and in iii.34, yet with a view to elicit a concise and clear statement of what was but desultorily and vaguely expressed,

—for, the exact cause being known, he might exert himself to exterminate it,

—Arjuna asks:

Arjuna said:

36. But by what dragged on, O Vārsheya, does a man, though reluctant, commit sin, as if constrained by force?

Shankara's commentary:

Dragged on and constrained: as a servant by the king. Vārshṇeya: one born in the family of the Vṛishṇis.

The Lord says:

Listen, I shall tell you who that enemy is, of whom you ask,—who the source of all evil is:

[Vāsudeva is here called the Lord ( Bhāgavat), because He is one in whom the six attributes of unimpeded domi­nion, etc., ever abide collectively and in perfection, and who possesses a complete knowledge of the origin of the uni­verse etc.

Says the Vishṇu-Purāṇa:

“‘Bhaga’ means the six attributes—perfect dominion, might, glory, splendour, dispassion and salvation.” (vi.5-74).

“He is called the Lord (Bhāgavat), who knows the origin and the end, the coming and going of beings, what is wisdom and what is ignorance.” (vi. 5-78.)]

The Blessed Lord said:

37.  It is Desire, it is Wrath, born of the energy of Rajas, all-devouring, all-sinful; that, know thou, is the foe here.

Shankara's commentary:

The enemy of the whole world is desire, from which all the evil comes to living beings. When obstructed by some cause, desire is transformed into wrath. Whence wrath is desire itself. It is born of the energy of Rajas.

—Or, desire itself is the cause of the energy of Rajas; for, when desire arises, it rouses the Rajas and urges the person to action.

We often hear the cry of miserable persons who are engaged in servitude, etc., under the impulse of the Rajas,—saying ‘I have been led to act so by desire.’

It is very sinful; for it is only when urged by desire that a man commits sin. Wherefore, know that this desire is man’s foe here in saṁsāra.

Desire enshrouds wisdom.

He now illustrates how it is our foe:

38. As fire is surrounded by smoke, as a mirror by rust, as the foetus is enclosed in the womb, so is this covered by it.

Shankara's commentary:

As a bright fire is surrounded by dark smoke co-existent with it so this is covered with desire.

What is the thing referred to by ‘this’ and which is covered with desire?

—The answer follows:

39. Covered, O son of Kuntī, is wisdom by this constant enemy of the wise, in the form of desire, which is greedy and insatiable.

Shankara's commentary:

The wise man knows even before suffering the conse­quence that he has been led by desire to evil ways, and therefore he feels ever miserable.

Whence desire is a constant enemy of the wise, not of the ignorant. For, the latter regards desire as a friend at the time he thirsts for objects, and it is only when suffering results from it,—but not be­fore,—that he learns the truth that he has been rendered miserable by desire.

Wherefore it is a constant enemy of the wise alone, It is insatiable and greedy; it never has enough, i.e., it finds nothing enough for itself, i.e., , there is no limit to its consuming power.

The seat of desire.

He now tells us where is seated desire, which, by enveloping wisdom, forms the enemy of the whole world. The seat of the enemy being known, it is easy to kill it.

40. The senses, mind, and reason are said to be its seat; veiling wisdom through these, it deludes the embodied.

Shankara's commentary:

Its seat: the seat of desire. These: the senses, mind (manas), and reason (buddhi).

How to kill out desire.


41. Therefore, O lord of the Bhāratas, restrain the senses first, do thou cast off this sinful thing which is destructive of knowledge and wisdom.

Shankara's commentary:

Jñāna is the knowledge of the Self and other things acquired from the śāstra (scripture) and from a teacher (Āchārya) Vi-jñāna is the personal experience of the things so taught. Do thou cast off from you the destroyer of jñāna and vijñāna which lead to the highest good.

It has been taught: "first master the senses, and cast off desire, thy enemy.” Now it may be asked,—Where should one take one’s stand and cast off desire?

The answer follows:

42. They say that the senses are superior: superior to the senses is mind: superior to mind is reason: one who is even superior to reason is He.

Shankara's commentary:

The senses are five, the sense of hearing, etc.

When compared with the physical body, which is gross, external, and limited, the senses are superior as they are comparative­ly more subtle and internal, and have a more extensive sphere of action. So say the wise.

Superior to the senses is mind (manas, the impulsive nature) which is composed of thoughts and desires, of errors and doubts, (sankalpa and vikalpa).

Superior to mind is reason (buddhi) characterized by determination (niṣchāyā).

So, He who is behind all things visible, inclusive of reason, the Dweller in the body, whom— it has been said—desire, seated in the senses and other quarters, bewilders by enveloping wisdom,

—He, the Self, the witness of reason, is superior to reason.

43. Thus knowing Him who is superior to reason, subduing the self by the self, slay thou, O mighty-armed, the enemy in the form of desire, hard to conquer.

Shankara's commentary:

Thus understanding the Self who is superior to reason and subduing the self by the self, i. e., steadily composing the self by means of the self, do thou slay desire.

It is difficult to conquer desire, on account of its complex and incomprehensible nature.