Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Shankara | Discourse 6 verse 1-3



Dhyāna-yoga is incompatible with works.

At the close of the next preceding Discourse, Dhyāna - Yoga—Yoga by meditation,—which is the proximate means to right knowledge has been taught in a few aphoristic verses (v. 27-29).

Here commences the Sixth Discourse which occupies the position of a commentary thereon.

Now, action, (karma) is an external aid to Dhyāna-Yoga; and a gri­hastha, (householder) on whom action is enjoined, should perform it till he is able to attain to Dhyāna-yoga; and bearing this in mind, the Lord extols action in vi.1.

(Objection):— Now, since action which is enjoined should be performed throughout life, what is the meaning of the limitation, ‘till he is able to attain to Dhyāna-Yoga’?

(Answer):—This objection does not apply here, because of the specification that, ‘for the sage who wishes to attain to Yoga, action is the means’ (vi. 3); and because it is also said that he who has attained Yoga has only to resort to renunciation (sama).

If it were meant that each of them— he who wishes to attain to Yoga as well as he who has attained to Yoga—should resort to both action and renun­ciation,

then it would be useless to specify that action and renunciation are respectively intended for him who wishes to attain Yoga and for him who has attained Yoga, or to divide them into two distinct classes.

(The opponent):—Among religious devotees (āśramins=grihasthas), one class comprises persons who wish to attain Yoga, another class comprises persons who have already attained Yoga, while the rest are those who neither wish to attain Yoga nor have attained Yoga;

and it is but right that the first two classes should be specified and shown separately as distinguished from the third.

(Answer).—No; the words ‘for the same devotee’ (in vi. 3) and the repetition of ‘yoga’ in the clause ‘when he has attained to Yoga’ imply this,

that the same person who at first wished to attain to Yoga has only to renounce action when he has attained Yoga, this renunciation leading to the fruition of Yoga.

Thus, no action forms a necessary duty throughout life.

Failures in Yoga are also spoken of here (vi. 37, 38).

If, in the Sixth Discourse, Yoga were meant for a grihastha, then there could be no occasion for the supposition of his ruin, inasmuch as he, though a failure in Yoga, may obtain the fruit of Karma.

An action done, whether interested (kāmya), or obligatory and disinterested (nitya), must produce its effect;—(it cannot of course produce) moksha, which, being eternal, cannot be produced by an action.

We have also said f that the obligatory duty (nitya-karma), as taught by so great an authority as the Veda, must produce a result of its own, since, otherwise, the Veda would serve no purpose.

Neither would it be proper to speak of a grihastha as a failure in both ways; for he would still perform Karma and there would therefore be no occasion for a failure therein.

(The opponent):—The Karma which has been done has been offered to the Lord; wherefore, such Karma can bring in no result to the author.

(Answer):—No; for, the offering of Karma to the Lord must lead to still greater results.

(The opponent):—It leads only to moksha.

—The offering of all actions to the Lord, when conjoined with Yoga, leads to moksha and to no other result; but, since he has failed in Yoga, it is but right to suppose that such a man will be ruined.

(Answer):—No; for, the verses vi. 10,14, enjoin renun­ciation of action.

It is not possible to think of any kind of wife’s aid at the time of Dhyāna; if it were possible, then it might be argued that loneliness is enjoined (vi. 10) with a view to prohibit that aid.

And what is taught in vi. 10—“without desire, without property”—is not compat­ible with the life of a grihastha. The question (vi. 38), too, regarding him who may prove a failure in both ways would not arise.

(The opponent):—In vi. 1, a man of action (Karmin) is said to be both a Sannyāsin and a Yogin, and it is further said that he who does no action or keeps no fire cannot be a Yogin or a Sannyāsin.

(Answer):—No; vi. 1, merely extols the abandonment of attachment for results of actions, performance of which forms an external aid (bahiraṅga) to Dhyāna-Yoga, (i. e. which leads one to Dhyāna-Yoga in due course).

It is not he alone who is without fire and without action that is both a Sannyāsin and a Yogin, but also one devoted to action, who, abandoning attachment for the results of actions, per­forms them for the purification of the mind (sattva-śuddhi).

Thus by way of praise the latter is said to be a Sannyāsin and a Yogin. It is, moreover, not proper to hold that one and the same proposition, both praises the abandonment of attachment for results of actions and forbids the fourth order.

Further, the Lord cannot contradict the śruti, the smriti, the Purāṇas, the Itihāsa and the Yoga-śāstras, which clearly teach that a man who is without fire and without action—i.e. who is literally a sannyāsin —is a Sannyāsin and a Yogin.

To forbid the fourth order would contradict what the Lord Himself teaches in iv.13, xii. 16, 19, ii.71.

Therefore, for the sage who wishes to attain Yoga and has already entered on the career of a grihastha, action (such as the Agnihotra) performed without a desire for its fruit becomes, by way of purifying the mind, a means to Dhyāna-Yoga.

On this ground he is said to be a Sannyāsin and a Yogin by way of praise.

Renunciation in action

The Blessed Lord said:

1. He who, without depending on the fruits of action, performs his bounden duty, he is a Sannyāsin and a Yogin: not he who is without fire and without action.

Shankara's commentary:

He who desires the fruits of actions is dependent thereon; but different from him is the man in question; he is not de­pendent on the fruits of actions.

He who is thus free from a desire for the fruits of actions and performs action, such as the Agnihotra or fire-sacrifice as a bounden duty (nitya-karma),

—not as a kāmya-karma or action done with a motive, as a means of attaining some immediate specific end in view,

—he who performs actions thus is superior to those who perform actions in a different spirit. With a view to impress this truth, the Lord says that he is a Sannyāsin and a Yogin.

He should be regarded as possessing both the attributes, the attributes of renun­ciation (sannyāsa) and steadfastness of mind (Yoga).

Not he alone should be regarded as a Sannyāsin and a Yogin who is without fire and without action, who neither lights sacrificial fires nor engages in other actions, such as austeri­ties and the like which require no help of sacrificial fires.

(Objection):—In the śruti, in the smriti, and in the yoga- śāstras, it is plainly taught that a Sannyāsin or a Yogin is one who is without fire and without action.

How is it that the Lord teaches here a strange doctrine that he who lights fire and performs actions is a Sannyāsin and a Yogin?

(Answer):—This is not to be regarded as a fault; for, it is intended to represent a devotee to action as a Sannyāsin and a Yogin in a secondary sense of the two terms:

He is regarded as a Sannyāsin because of his renunciation of the thoughts concerning the fruits of action;

and he is regarded as a Yogin because he performs action as a means of attaining to Yoga or because he abandons thoughts con­cerning the fruits of actions as causing unsteadiness of mind.

Thus, it is only in a secondary sense that the two terms are applied to him. It is not, on the other hand, meant that he is in reality a Sannyāsin and a Yogin.

The Lord, accordingly, says:

2. Do thou, O Pāṇḍava, know Yoga to be that which they call renunciation; no one, verily, becomes a Yogin who has not renounced thoughts.

Shankara's commentary:

Do thou understand that the Yoga, which consists in performance of action, is that which those who are versed in the śruti and the smriti declare to be sannyāsa, the true renunciation which consists in the abandonment of all action as well as its fruit.

(Question):—On what point of similarity between Karma- Yoga which consists in the performance of action (pravṛtti) and the pure Sannyāsa which consists in abstaining from action (nivṛtti) is the representation of identity of the former with the latter based?

(Answer):—There is of course a certain amount of simi­larity between Karma-Yoga and pure sannyāsa so far as the agent is concerned:

For, he who is a pure Sannyāsin, who has renounced all actions as well as their accessories, abandons thoughts (saṁkalpa) concerning all actions and their fruits,—-those thoughts causing the desires which impel one to action.

A follower of Karma-Yoga, too, renounces thoughts of results, while he performs actions.

This the Lord teaches in the following words:

No devotee to action who has not given up the thought of reward can be a Yogin, a man of steadfastness; for, the thought of reward causes unsteadiness of mind.

That is to say, that devotee to action who has given up all thoughts of reward will become a Yogin, a man of steadfastness, a steady-minded man, inas­much as all thought of reward which is the cause of unsteadiness has been given up.

Action is a stepping-stone to Dhyāna-Yoga.

Thus, having regard to the likeness between pure Sannyāsa and Karma-Yoga in so far as the devotee in either case renounces (the thoughts concerning the fruit of action), Karma-Yoga has been represented in vi. 2. as Sannyāsa with a view to extol it.

And the Lord extols it because the Karma-Yoga, practised without regard to the fruit of action, forms an external aid (bahiraṅga) to Dhyāna-Yoga, i. e., leads the devotee to Dhyāna-Yoga (in due course).

He now proceeds to show how Karma-Yoga is a means to Dhyāna-Yoga.

3. For a devotee who wishes to attain to Yoga, action is said to be the means. For the same (de­votee), when he has attained to Yoga, quiescence (sama) is said to be the means.

Shankara's commentary:

For a devotee (muni) who has given up the fruit of action, and who wishes to attain to Yoga,—i. e. who has not already risen to it, who is unable to remain steady in Dhyāna- Yoga,—action (karma) is said to be the means of attaining his end.

For the same devotee, on the other hand, when he has attained to Yoga, quiescence—i.e., the abstaining from all action—is said to be the means (of attaining his end).

The more thoroughly does he abstain from action, the more free he is from trouble, the more the senses are controlled, and the more steadfast his mind remains.

Then he be­comes a Yogārūḍha, one who has attained to Yoga.

Ac­cordingly it is said in the Mahābhārata:

For a Brāhmaṇa there is no wealth equal to this, i.e.,:

(knowledge of) oneness and homogeneity (of Brahman in all creatures), truthfulness, character, steadiness, harmlessness, straightforwardness, and re­nunciation of the several actions.”— (Śāntiparva, 175-38).