Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Shankara | Discourse 18 verse 10-18

From renunciation in works to renunciation of all works.

When the man who is qualified for (Karma-Yoga) performs obligatory works without attachment and without a longing for results,

his inner sense (antaḥ-karaṇa), unsoiled by desire for results and regenerated by (the performance of) obligatory works, becomes pure. When pure and tranquil, the inner sense is fit for contemplation of the Self.

Now, with a view to teach how the man whose inner sense has been purified by the performance of obligatory works and who is prepared to acquire the Self-knowledge, may gradually attain to jñāna-nishṭha or devotion in knowledge, the Lord proceeds as follows;

10. He hates not evil action, nor is he attached to a good one,—he who has abandoned, pervaded by Sattva and possessed of wisdom, his doubts cut asunder.

Shankara's commentary:

Evil action: the Kāmya-karma, the interested action, which becomes the cause of saṁsāra by producing a body. He does not hate evil action, thinking “of what avail is it?”

Good one: nitya-karma, obligatory action. He cherishes no attachment for it by way of thinking that it leads to moksha by purifying the heart and thereby conducing to knowledge and to devotion in knowledge.

—Of whom is this said?

—Of him who has abandoned attachment and desire, and who, having abandoned attachment to action and desire for its fruit, performs obligatory works (nitya- karma).

—When does he hate no evil action? When is he not attached to a good one?

—When he is permeated with Sattva, which causes a discriminative knowledge of the Self and the not-Self. As he is permeated with Sattva, he becomes gifted with wisdom, with knowledge of Self.

As he becomes possessed of wisdom, his doubt caused by avidya is cut asunder by the conviction that to abide in the true nature of the Self is alone the means of attaining the Highest Bliss, and that there is no other means.

That is to say, when a man who is qualified (for Karma- Yoga) practises Karma-Yoga in the manner described above and thereby becomes gradually refined in the self (antaḥ- karaṇa),

then he knows himself to be that Self who, as devoid of birth or any other change of condition, is immut­able; he renounces all action in thought; he remains with­out acting or causing to act; he attains devotion in wisdom, i. e., he attains freedom from action.

Thus, the purpose of the Karma-Yoga described above has been taught in this verse.

Renunciation of fruits is alone possible for the ignorant.

For the unenlightened man, on the other hand, who wears a body by way of identifying himself with it, who, not yet disabused of the notion that the Self is the agent of action, firmly believes that he is himself the agent,

—for him who is thus qualified for Karma-Yoga, abandonment of all works is impossible, so that his duty lies only in perform­ing prescribed works by abandoning their fruits,—not in abandoning those works.

To impress this point, the Lord proceeds thus:

11. Verily, it is not possible for an embodied - being to abandon actions completely; he who abandons the fruits of actions is verily said to be an abandoner.

Shankara's commentary:

An embodied being: a body-wearer, i. e., he who identifies himself with the body.

No man of discrimination can be called a body-wearer, for it has been pointed out (ii.21, etc.) that such a man does not concern himself (in actions) as their agent.

So, the meaning is: it is not possible for an ignorant man to abandon actions completely.

When an ignorant man who is qualified for action performs obligatory works, abandoning merely the desire for the fruits of his actions, he is said to be an abandoner (tyāgin) though he is a performer of works.

This—the title “abandoner,”—is applied to him for courtesy’s sake.

Accordingly, the abandonment of all actions is possible for him alone who, realising the Supreme Reality, is not a ‘body-wearer,’ i.e., does not regard the body as the Self.

Effects of the two renunciations after death.

Now, what is the benefit which accrues from the abandonment of all actions?

—The Lord says:

12. The threefold fruit of action,—evil, good, and mixed,—accrues after death to non-abandoners, but never to abandoners.

Shankara's commentary:

Fruit: brought forth by the operation of various external factors. It is a doing of avidya;

it is like the glamour cast by a juggler’s art, very delusive, inhering, to all appearance, in the Innermost Self; by its very etymology, the word ‘phala,’ fruit, implies something that vanishes, some­thing unsubstantial.

Action (karma): Dharma and A- dharma. Evil: such as hell (nāraka), the animal kingdom, etc. Good: such as the Devas. Mixed: Good and evil mixed together in one; the humanity.

These three sorts of fruits accrue after death to non-abandoners, to the unenlightened, to the followers of Karma-yoga, to the abandoners (sannyāsins) not strictly so called

but never to the real sannyāsins, engaged exclusively in the path of knowledge(jñāna-nishthā) and belonging to the highest order of sannyāsins, the Paramahamsa-Parivrājakas.

Indeed, exclusive devotion to Right Knowledge cannot but destroy avidya and other seeds of saṁsāra.

Accordingly, a complete abandonment of all works is possible for him alone who has attained to Right Know­ledge, inasmuch as he sees that action and its accessories and its results are all ascribed to the Self by avidya;

but, for the unenlightened man identifying himself with the body, etc., which constitute action, its agent and acces­sories, complete abandonment of action is not possible.

This truth, the Lord proceeds to teach in the following verses:

Factors in the production of an act.

13. These five factors in the accomplishment of all action, know thou from Me, O mighty-armed, as taught in the Sānkhya which is the end of action.

Shankara's commentary:

These: which are going to be mentioned.

Learn: this exhortation is intended to secure steady attention on the part of the hearer to what follows, as well as to indicate the difference (in the view which is going to be presented) as to the nature of those things.

In the words “taught in the Sānkhya,” the Lord praises them, as they are things that ought to be known. Sānkhya: the Vedānta (the Upanishads) in which all the things that have to be known are expound­ed.

It is qualified by the epithet “kṛita-anta”, the end of action, that which puts an end to all action (karma).

The verses ii.46 and iv.33 teach that all action ceases when the knowledge of the Self arises; so that the Vedānta, which imparts Self-knowledge, is ‘the end of action.’

14. The seat and actor and the various organs, and the several functions of various sorts, and the Divinity also, the fifth among these;

Shankara's commentary:

The seat: the body which is the seat of desire, hatred, happiness, misery, knowledge and the like; i. e., the seat of their manifestation. Actor: the enjoyer, partaking of the character of the upādhi with which it may be associated.

The various organs: such as the sense of hearing, by which to perceive sound, etc. Functions: of the air (vāyu), such as out-breathing and inbreathing.

Of various sorts: twelve in number. Divinity: such as the Āditya and other Gods by whose aid the eye and other organs discharge their functions.

15. Whatever action a man does by the body, speech and mind, right or the opposite, these five are its causes.

Shankara's commentary:

Right: not opposed to dharma, taught in the śāstra. The opposite: what is opposed to dharma and opposed to śāstra.

Even those actions,—the act of twinkling and the like, — which are the necessary conditions of life are denoted by the expression “the right or the opposite”, since they are but the effects of the past dharma and a-dharma.

Its causes: the causes of every action.

(Objection):— The body, etc. (xviii. 14), are necessary factors in every action. Why do you speak of (a distinction in actions) in the words “whatever action a man does by the body, speech or mind?”

(Answer):—This objection cannot be urged against us.

In the performance of every action, whether enjoined or forbidden, one of the three—body, speech or mind—has a more prominent share than the rest,

while seeing, hearing, and other activities, which form mere concomitants of life, are subordinate to the activity of that one.

All actions are thus classed into three groups and are spoken of as per­formed by body, or speech, or mind.

Even at the time of fruition, the fruit of an action is enjoyed through the instrumentality of body, speech and mind, one of them being more prominent than the rest.

Hence no gainsaying of the assertion that all the five are the causes of action (xviii. 14).

The agency of the Self is an illusion.

16. Now, such being the case, verily, he who, as untrained in understanding, looks on the pure Self as the agent, that man of perverted intelli­gence sees not.

Shankara's commentary:

Now: with reference to what we are speaking of. Such being the case: every action being accomplished by the five causes described above. Now…case: this shows the reason why the person here referred to is said to be a man of perverted intelligence.

The unenlightened one, in virtue of his ignorance, identifies the Self with the five causes and looks upon the pure Self as the agent of the action, which is really accomplished by those five causes.

—Why does he regard them so?

—For, his understanding (buddhi) has not been trained in the Vedānta, has not been trained by a master’s teaching, has not been trained in the principles of reasoning.

Even he who, while maintaining the existence of the disembodied Self, looks upon the pure Self as the agent, is a man of untrained understanding; he does not therefore see the truth about the Self and action.

He is therefore a man of perverted intelligence,—his intelligence takes a wrong direction, is vicious, continually leading to birth and death.

Though seeing, yet he does not see (the truth), like a man whose timira-affected eye sees many moons or like one who regards that the moon moves when the clouds are in motion, or like a man who, seated in a vehicle, regards himself as running when it is the others (the bearers) that run.

Realisation of the non-agency of the Self leads to absolution from the effects of all works.

Who then is the wise man that sees rightly?

—The answer follows:

17. He who is free from egotistic notion, whose mind is not tainted, though he kills these creatures, he kills not, he is not bound.

Shankara's commentary:

He whose mind has been well trained in the scriptures, well trained by a master’s instructions, and well-trained in the sound principles of reasoning, is free from the egotistic notion that 'I am the agent.'

He thinks thus:

It is these five - the body, etc. ascribed to the Self through Avidyā – that are the causes of all action, not I.

I am the witness of their actions, I am “without breath, without mind, pure, higher than the Indestructible, which is Supreme” (Muṇḍ. Up. 2-1-2) I am pure and immutable.

He whose antaḥ-karaṇa (buddhi), which is an upādhi of the Self, is not tainted, does not repent thus: “I have done this; thereby I shall go to nāraka (hell).”

He is wise; he sees rightly: though he kills all those living creatures, he commits no act of killing, nor is he bound by the fruit of a-dharma as an effect of that act.

(Objection): Even supposing that this is intended as a mere praise, the statement that “though he kills all those creatures, he doesn’t kill” involves self-contradiction.

(Answer): This objection cannot stand, for, the statement can be explained by distinguishing the two standpoints of worldly conception and Absolute truth.

From the standpoint of worldly conception, which consists in thinking: “I am the killer” by identifying the Self with the physical body, i.e. the Lord says: “though he kills,” and from the standpoint of Absolute truth explained above, He says: “He kills not, he is not bound.”

Thus both are quite explicable.

(Objection): The Self does act in conjunction with the body, i.e. as implied by the use of the word ‘pure’ in “he who looks on the pure Self as an agent.”

(Answer): This contention is untenable, for the Self being by nature immutable; we cannot conceive Him to act in conjunction with the body etc.

What is subject of change can alone conjoin with others and thus conjoined can become the agent. But there can be no conjunction of the immutable Self with anything whatsoever, and He cannot therefore act in conjunction with another.

Thus, the isolated condition being natural to the Self, the word ‘pure’ simply refers to that natural condition.

And His immutability is quite evident to all as taught by the śruti, smriti and reason.

In the Gītā itself, for instance, it has been over and over again taught in the words “He is unchangeable”, “though dwelling in the body he acts not”.

And the same thing is also taught in the passages of the śruti such as “It meditates as it were. It moves as it were.”(Bri. Up.)

By reasoning also we may establish the same thus:

That the Self is an entity without parts, is not dependant on another and is immutable, is the royal road (i. e. is undisputed).

Even if it be admitted that the Self is subject to change, He should only be subject to a change of His own; the actions of the body, etc., can never be attributed to the agency of the Self.

Indeed, the action of one cannot go to another that has not done it.

And what is attributed to the Self by avidya can­not really pertain to Him, in the same way that the mother- of-pearl cannot become silver, or (to take another illustra­tion) in the same way that surface and dirt ascribed by children through ignorance to ākāśa cannot really pertain to ākāśa.

Accordingly, any changes that may take place in the body, etc., belong to them only, not to the Self. There­fore, it is but right to say that in the absence of egotism and of all taint in the mind, the wise man neither kills nor is bound.

Having started this proposition in the words “he slays not, nor is he slain” (ii. 19), having stated in ii. 20 as the reason therefore the immutability of the Self,

having in the beginning of the śāstra (ii. 21) briefly taught that to a wise man there is no need for works, and having introduced the subject here and there in the middle and expatiated upon it,

the Lord now concludes it in the words that the wise man “kills not, nor is he bound,” with a view to sum up the teaching of the śāstra.

Thus in the absence of the egotistic feeling of embodied existence, the sannyāsins renounce all avidya-generated action,

and it is therefore right to say that the threefold fruit of action “evil, good and mixed” (xviii. 12), does not accrue to the sannyāsins; and the further conclusion also is inevitable that quite the reverse is the lot of others.

This teaching of the Gītā- śāstra has been concluded here.

To show that this essence of the whole Vedic Teaching should be investigated and understood by wise men of trained intelligence, it has been expounded by us here and there in several sections in accordance with the Scripture (śāstra) and reason.

The impulses to action.

Now will be mentioned the impulses to action:

18. Knowledge, the object known, the knower, (form) the threefold impulse to action; the organ, the end, the agent, form the threefold basis of action.

Shankara's commentary:

Knowledge: any knowledge, knowledge in general. Similarly the object known refers to objects in general, to all objects of knowledge. The knower: the experiencer, partaking of the nature of the upādhi, a creature of avidya.

This triad forms the threefold impulse to all action, to action in general.

Indeed, performance of action with a view to avoid a thing or to obtain another and so on is possible only when there is a conjunction of the three,—knowledge, etc.

The actions accomplished by the five (causes of action),—by the body, etc.,—and grouped into three classes according to their respective seats—speech, mind, body, —are all traceable to the interplay of the organ, etc.; and this is taught in the second part of the verse.

The organ: that by which something is done; the external organs being the organ of hearing, etc., and the internal organs being buddhi (intelligence), etc. The end: that which is sought for, that which is reached through action by the agent. The agent: he who sets the organs going, partaking of the nature of the upādhi (in which he works).

In these three all action inheres, and they are therefore said to form the threefold basis of action.