Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Shankara | Discourse 18 verse 48

One ought not to abandon one’s own duty.

It has been said that he who does the duty ordained according to his nature incurs no sin like a worm born in poison, that the duty of another brings on fear, and that he who does not know the Self cannot indeed remain even for a moment without doing action.


48. The duty born with oneself, O son of Kuntī, though faulty, one ought not to abandon; for, all undertakings are surrounded with evil, as fire with smoke.

Shankara's commentary:

Born with oneself: born with the very birth of man. Faulty: as everything is composed of the three guṇas.

All undertakings: whatever the duties are; by context, one’s own as well as other’s duties; for, the reason here assigned is that they are all made up of the three guṇas.

Though a man may perform another’s duty, abandoning what is called his own duty, the duty born with himself, he is not free from fault; and another’s duty brings on fear.

And since it is not possible for any man who does not know the Self to give up action entirely, therefore he ought not to abandon action (karma).

Is entire renunciation of action possible?

(Now, let us enquire): Is it because of the impossibility of entire abandonment of action that no one ought to re­nounce one’s own (nature-born) duty, or is it because some sin accrues from the abandoning of the duty born with oneself?

(Question):—Now, of what good is this enquiry?

(Answer):—In the first place, if the duty born with one­self ought not to be abandoned (merely) because of the impossibility of renouncing action entirely, then it would follow that there can be nothing but merit in renouncing it entirely.

The Sānkhya, Buddhist and Vaiśeṣika theories.

(Objection):—Yes; but an entire renunciation is not possible.

—Is the soul (Purusha) always mobile like the guṇas of the Sānkhyas? Or, is action itself the actor (soul), like the five Skandhas of the Buddhists, undergoing destruction every moment?

In either case, an entire renun­ciation of action is impossible.

Now there is also a third theory:

—When the thing (soul) acts, then it is active; when it does not act, then it is actionless. Such being the case, it is possible to renounce action entirely.

And there is this peculiarity in this theory:

neither is the thing (soul) ever mobile, nor is action itself the actor (the soul); but it is a permanent fixed substance,

wherein action which was non-existent before arises, and wherein action which has been existent ceases while the substance remains pure (actionless), with the potentiality (of the activity) in it, and as such forms the actor.

—Thus say the followers of Kaṇada. What objection is there to this theory?

Refutation of the Vaiśeṣika theory.

(Answer):—There is certainly this objection, that it is contrary to the Lord’s teaching.

—How do you know?

— For, the Lord has said ‘there can be no existence of the non-existent’ (ii. 16) and so on.

But according to the followers of Kaṇada, the non-existent comes into existence, and the existent becomes non-existent. Wherefore their theory is contrary to the Lord’s teaching.

(Objection):— How can it be objected to if it agrees with reason, though it may be opposed to the Lord’s teaching?

(Answer):— We reply:

This view is certainly objectionable, because it is opposed to all evidence.


—If a dvyaṇuka (an aggregate of two atoms) or other substance is absolutely non-existent before its production, and if, remaining for a time after production, it again becomes non-existent,

then it follows that what was non-existent becomes existent, and what is existent will become non-existent; that non-entity becomes an entity and an entity becomes non-entity.

In that case it must be that a non-entity (abhāva) which is to become an entity (bhāva) is like a rabbit’s horn before becoming an entity,

and that it becomes an entity by the action of the threefold cause,—of the material, the non-material or acci­dental, and the efficient causes, (samavāya –asamavāya -nimitta -kāraṇas).

Now, it is not possible to hold (in the present case) that a non-entity is born and needs a cause; for, it does not apply to other non-entities, such as a rabbit’s horn.

If a pot or the like, which is to be produced (as an effect), be of the nature of an entity, then we can understand that when it is to be produced as an effect, it needs a cause so far merely as regards its manifestation.

Moreover, if the non-existent should become existent and the existent should become non-existent, then nobody can be certain as to anything whatsoever in matters of evidence and things ascertainable by evidence,

inasmuch as there can be no certainty that the existent will continue to be existent and the non-existent will continue to be non-­existent.

Moreover, when they (the followers of Kaṇada) say that a dvyaṇuka or such other substance is produced as an effect, they speak of it as connected with its cause and as existent.

Having been non-existent before production, it becomes, in virtue of the operation of its cause, connected with that cause—the ultimate atoms—and with existence, by the rela­tion known as samavāya, i. e., intimate or inseparable rela­tion.

When (thus) related, i.e., when it is inseparably connect­ed with the cause, it becomes existent.

Here they may be asked to explain how the non-existent can have a cause of its own. We cannot indeed think of a thing which can cause the birth of a barren woman’s son or his relation to anything else.

(Objection):—The Vaiśeṣikas do not hold that the non-­existent is related to anything. It is substances, such as dvyaṇukas, that are said to be intimately related to their causes.

(Answer):—No; because they are not supposed to exist prior to this relation.

—The Vaiśeṣikas do not argue that a pot or the like exists prior to the action of the potter, the potter’s stick and wheel. Neither do they hold that clay assumes by itself the form of a pot.

Therefore, as the only other alternative, they have to admit that the non-existent (pot) becomes related (to the cause).

(Objection):—It is not opposed to reason to hold that, though non-existent, it may be related by samavāya or intimate relation (to the cause).

(Answer):—Not so; for, no such thing can be admitted in the case of a barren woman’s son.

—If we are to hold that the antecedent non-existence (prāgabhāva) of a pot or the like becomes related to the cause, but not the barren woman’s son,

notwithstanding that both are alike non­entities (abhāva), it is necessary to show how one non-entity can be distinguished from the other.

Non-existence of one, non-existence of two, non-existence of all, antecedent non­existence (prāgabhāva), non-existence after destruction (pradhvaṁsābhāva), mutual non-existence (anyonyābhāva) absolute non-existence (atyantābhāva),

—nobody can point out any definite distinction among these in themselves.

In the absence of a distinction, it is unreasonable to hold that only the antecedent non-existence of a pot becomes a pot through the action of a potter, etc.,

that it becomes related to a cause of its own, i.e., the pot-shreds which are exist­ent, that when thus related it can very well be spoken of as being produced and so on,

but that such is not the case with regard to the non-existence after destruction (pradhvaṁsābhāva) of the same pot, though both alike are non-existent.

It is unreasonable to hold that other non­-existences (abhāvas), such as non-existence after destruc­tion, can never become (an existent effect) and so on,

whereas antecedent non-existence alone, such as that of dvyaṇuka and the like substances, can become (an existent effect) and so on, though it is an abhāva or non-existent quite as much as non-existence after destruction or absolute non-existence.

(Objection):—We do not hold that the non-existent be­comes the existent.

(Answer):—Then the existent becomes existent,—for instance, a pot becomes a pot, a cloth becomes a cloth. This, too, is opposed to all evidence, like the theory that non-existent becomes existent.

Refutation of the Pariṇāma-Vāda.

As the Pariṇāma (transformation) theory of the Sānkhyas, even that theory does not differ from the theory of the Vaiśeṣikas, inasmuch as it postulates the production of properties non-existent before, as well as their destruction.

Even admitting their explanation that by manifestation or disappearance (an effect is said to come into existence or undergo destruction),

the theory is all the same opposed to evidence, as may be found if we enquire whether the manifestation and disappearance are previously existent or non-existent.

For the same reason, we have to condemn that theory also which says that production, etc., of an effect, are only different states of the cause itself.

The Lord’s theory of illusion.

As the only other alternative, there remains this theory, that the One Existence, the sole Reality, is, by avidya, imagined variously, as so many things undergoing production, destruction and the like changes, like an actor on the stage.

This doctrine of the Lord has been stated in ii.16; the consciousness of the existent (sat) being constant and the consciousness of all the rest being inconstant.

The enlightened alone can renounce action entirely.

(Objection):—Then, the Self being immutable, where is the impossibility of renouncing all action entirely?

(Answer):—Action is the property or attribute of the guṇas, be they regarded as real things, or as things set up by avidya.

It is ascribed to the Self through avidya, and it has therefore been said that no ignorant man (avidvān) can renounce action entirely even for a moment (iii. 5).

On the other hand, he who knows the Self is able to renounce action entirely, inasmuch as avidya has been expelled by vidyā or wisdom; for, there can be no residue left of what is ascribed by avidya.

Indeed, no residue is left of the second moon created by the false vision of the timira-affected eye, even after the removal of timira. Such being the case, the statements contained in v. 13, xviii. 45, 46 are quite reasonable.