Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Shankara | Discourse 12 verse 1-9



Who are superior—the worshippers of Īśvara, or the worshippers of Akṣara?

Now Arjuna is supposed to have addressed the Lord thus:

—In the discourses beginning with the second and ending with the tenth which treats of Divine Glories, Thou hast taught the worship of the Supreme Self, the Imperishable (Akṣara) Brahman, devoid of all upādhis (conditions);

and Thou hast also taught here and there worship of Thyself as the Lord of the Universe, associated with the upādhi (condition) of that energy (sattva) which has the power of carrying on all evolutionary process and of knowing everything.

And in the (eleventh) Discourse treating of the Universal Form, Thy Primal Form as Īśvara manifest­ing itself as the whole Universe has also been shown by Thee for the same purpose of worship.

And having shown that Form, Thou hast exhorted me to do works for Thy sake only (xi. 55), and so on. Wherefore, I ask of Thee with a desire to know which of these two ways is the better.

Arjuna said:
1. Those devotees who, always devout, thus contemplate Thee, and those also who (contem­plate) the Imperishable, the Unmanifest,—which of them are better versed in Yoga?

Shankara's commentary:

Thus: referring to what was said in the last preceding verse, ‘He who does works for Me’ (xi. 55 ) and so on.

Always devout: engaged without intermission in works for the Lord’s sake and in doing other things taught before, steadfast in mind. These devotees, seeking nobody else for their refuge, meditate on Thee in the Universal Form just manifested.

There are others who, having abandoned all desires and renounced all actions meditate on the imperishable (akṣara)Brahman –also described above

– who is unmanifest (avyakta, i.e. incomprehensible to the senses) as devoid of all upādhis or conditions. – That indeed is said to be manifested (vyakta)which is visible to the senses; but this – Imperishable – is not so.

– These others meditate on the Imperishable, Unmanifested, as defined by other attributes to be enumerated below.

Of the two cases who are better versed in Yoga?

The worshippers of Īśvara.

The Lord says: As to the worshippers of the Imperishable (Akṣara) who have abandoned desires, we shall say later on what has to be said regarding them, but as regards the others:

The blessed Lord says:

2. Those who fixing their thought on Me, contemplate Me, always devoted, endowed with supreme faith, these on my opinion are the best yogis.

Shankara's commentary:

Those devotees (bhaktas) who fix their mind on Me in the Universal Form, the Supreme Lord, and worship Me as the Governing Lord of all Masters of Yoga, who is omnipresent, whose vision is free from attachment and other evil passions

 – they who always contemplate Me steadfastly (in the manner described in the closing verse of the preceding discourse), endowed with supreme faith,

—these, I think, are the best Yogins. Indeed, they pass their days and nights in incessant thought of Me. Wherefore it is but proper to speak of them as the best Yogins.

The worshippers of Akṣara.

Are not the others, then, the best Yogins?

—Stop; hear thou what I have to say regarding them:

3—4. Those who ever contemplate the Im­perishable, the Indefinable, the Unmanifest, the Omnipresent and the Unthinkable, the Unchange­able, the Immutable, the Eternal,—having restrain­ed all the senses, always equanimous, intent on the welfare of all beings,—they reach Myself.

Shankara's commentary:

Because the Imperishable (Akṣara) is unmanifest, He is not accessible to words and cannot therefore be defined. He is unmanifest, not manifest to any of the organs of knowledge. They contemplate the Imperishable everywhere all round.

—Contemplation (Upāsanā) consists in approach­ing the object of worship by way of meditating it accord­ing to the Teaching (śāstra) and dwelling for a long time steadily in the current of same thought (continuous) like a thread of descending oil.

—The Imperishable who is the object of contemplation is thus qualified:

He is omnipresent, pervading all like the ākāśa. He is unthinkable, because He is unmanifest.

Whatever is visible to the senses can be thought of by the mind also; but the Akṣara is invisible to the senses and is therefore unthinkable.

He is unchange­able (Kūṭasthā)—‘Kūṭa’ means a thing which is good to all appearance but evil within.

Accordingly it refers here to that seed of saṁsāra—including avidya (nescience) and other things,—which is full of evil within, designated by various terms such as Māyā, Avyākṛta (undifferentiated), as in Śvetāśvatara Upanishad (iv. 10) and in the Gītā (vii. 14.)

‘Kūṭasthā’ means He who is seated in Māyā as Its Witness, as Its Lord.—Or, ‘Kūṭasthā’ may mean ‘remaining like a heap.’ Hence He is immutable and eternal.

They who contemplate the Imperishable, curbing all their senses, and always equanimous whether they come by the desirable or the undesirable,—they come to Myself.

—It needs indeed no saying that they come to Me: for, it has been said that ‘the wise man is deemed My very Self’ (vii. 18). Neither is it necessary to say that they are the best Yogins,—seeing that they are one with the Lord Himself.


5. Greater is their trouble whose thoughts are set on the Unmanifest: for, the Goal, the Un­manifest, is very hard for the embodied to reach.

Shankara's commentary:

Great indeed is the trouble of those who are engaged in doing works for My sake, and so on;

but greater still is the trouble of those who identify themselves with the Imperish­able and contemplate the Supreme Reality,—the trouble arising from the necessity of having to abandon their at­tachment for the body.

The Goal, the Imperishable, is very hard for the embodied to reach, for those who are attached to their bodies. Therefore their trouble is greater.

Salvation by worship of Īśvara.

Later on we shall describe the conduct in life of the worshippers of the Imperishable (Akṣara-Upāsakas),

6—7. But those who worship Me, renouncing all actions in Me, regarding Me Supreme, meditat­ing on Me with exclusive devotion (yoga);

for them whose thought is fixed on Me, I become ere long, O son of Pritha, the deliverer out of the ocean of the mortal sasāra.

Shankara's commentary:

Me: the Īśvara, the Lord. Exclusive: having no other object of worship except Myself, God in the Universal Form. Devotion (Yoga): samādhi or steadfastness of mind.

Those who are engaged in contemplating Me exclusively, I, the Lord, will lift up from the ocean of mortal saṁsāra, since their thoughts are fixed on Me in the Universal Form.

— Saṁsāra is an ocean, because it is very hard to cross beyond it.

Because it is so, therefore,

8. Fix thy mind in Me exclusively apply thy reason to Me. Thou shalt no doubt live in Me alone hereafter.

Shankara's commentary:

Fix thy mind (manas)—thy purposes and thoughts—in Me, the Lord in the Universal Form. Fix in Me thy reason (buddhi) also which resolves and determines.

—What will be the result?

—Listen: Thou shalt without fail abide in Me as Myself, on the death of this body. Thou shalt not doubt it.


9. If thou art unable to fix thy thought steadily on Me, then by yoga of constant practice do thou seek to reach Me, O Dhananjaya.

Shankara's commentary:

If you cannot fix your thought on Me steadily in the manner I have mentioned, then seek thou to reach Me in the Universal Form, by yoga of constant practice (abhyāsa- yoga).

Practice (abhyāsa) consists in withdrawing thought from all quarters and fixing it again and again on one particular object.

‘Abhyāsa-yoga’ means samādhāna or steadfastness of mind acquired by such practice.