Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Shankara | Discourse 2 verse 1-10



Arjuna’s weakness condemned by the Lord.

1. To him who was thus overcome with pity and afflicted, and whose eyes were full of tears and agitated, the destroyer of Madhu spoke as follows:

The Lord said:

2.  Whence in (this perilous strait has come upon thee this weakness cherished by the unwor­thy, debarring from heaven and causing disgrace, O Arjuna?

3.  Yield not to unmanliness, O son of Pritha. It does not become thee. Cast off this base weak­ness of heart and arise. O tormentor of foes.

Arjuna seeks instruction from the Lord.

Arjuna said:

4.  O slayer of Madhu, how shall I assail in battle with arrows Bhīshma and Droa, who are worthy of worship, O slayer of enemies.

5.  Better indeed in this world to live even upon alms than to slay the teachers of high honour. But, were I to slay these teachers. I should only in this world enjoy the pleasures of wealth, delights stained with blood.

6. And we know not which is the better alternative for us; nor do we know whether we shall conquer them or they will conquer us. Even the sons of Dhritarāshtra, after killing whom we do not wish to live, stand arrayed against us.

7.  My heart contaminated by the taint of help­lessness, my mind confounded about Dharma, I ask Thee:

Tell me what is absolutely good. I am Thy pupil. Instruct me, who have sought Thy grace.

8.  I do not indeed see what can dispel the grief which burns up my senses, even after attaining unrivalled and prosperous dominion on earth or even lordship over gods.

Samjaya said:

9.  Having spoken thus to Hrishīkesa, Gudākesa, the tormenter of foes, said to Govinda,

‘I will not fight,’ and verily remained silent.

10.  To him who was grieving in the midst of the two armies, O descendant of Bharata, Hrishīkesa, as if smiling, spoke these words:

Shankara's Commentary:

Self-knowledge alone eradicates misery.

Now, the portion from i. 2 to ii. 9 should be interpreted as showing whence arise those evils of grief, delusion, etc., which in sentient creatures cause the misery of samsāra.

—To explain: In ii. 4 et seq. Arjuna displayed grief and delusion caused by his attachment for, and the sense of separation from, dominion, the elders, sons, friends, well- wishers, kinsmen, near and remote relations,—all this arising from his notion that “I am theirs and they are mine.”

It was when discrimination was overpowered by grief and delusion that Arjuna, who had of himself been engaged in battle as the duty of the warrior caste, abstain­ed from fighting and proposed to lead a mendicant’s life, which was the duty of a different caste.

Accordingly, all creatures whose intelligence is swayed by grief and delusion and other evil influences naturally abandon their proper duties and resort to those which are prohibited.

Even if they are engaged in their duties, their conduct in speech, thought and deed is egoistic and is prompted by a longing for reward.

In their case, then, owing to an accumulation of merit and demerit, of dharma and a-dharma, the saṁsāra, which consists in passing through good and bad births, hap­piness and misery, becomes incessant.

Grief and delusion are thus the cause of saṁsāra.

And seeing that their cessa­tion could not be brought about except by Self-knowledge added to renunciation of all works.  Lord Vāsudeva wished to teach that knowledge for the benefit of the whole world through Arjuna and began His teaching with ii. 11.

The doctrine that knowledge should be conjoined with works.

Against the foregoing view some say:

—Moksha cannot at all be attained by mere Atmajñāna-nishṭha, by mere devotion to Self-knowledge preceded by the renuncia­tion of all works.

—By what then?

—Absolute freedom can be attained by knowledge conjoined with works, such as the Agnihotra, prescribed in the Śruti and the smriti.

This is the conclusive teaching of the whole Gita.

As support­ing this view may be cited—they say—the verses ii. 33, ii. 47, iv. 15, etc.

It should not be supposed that the Vedic ritual is sinful because it involves cruelty, etc.—


— For, our Lord says that, since fighting which is the profes­sion of the warrior caste is the proper duty (of the caste), it is not sinful though it involves cruelty to elders, brothers, sons and the like and is therefore very horrible;

and He further says that, in the case of a neglect of this duty, “abandoning thy duty and fame thou shalt incur sin.” (ii. 33).

This is clearly tantamount to asserting that those rites which are enjoined as life-long duties by the Vedas are sinless though they involve cruelty to animals.

Sānkhya and Yoga distinguished.

This is wrong, since the Lord has made a distinction between Jñāna -nishṭha and Karma- nishṭha, between the devotion of knowledge and the devotion of works, as based respectively upon two distinct standpoints.

—The real nature of the Self as expounded here in ii. 11—30 by the Lord is called Sānkhya; an intellectual conviction of the truth produced by a study of that section,

—that the Self is no doer, owing to the absence in Him of such changes as birth— forms the Sānkhya standpoint (Sānkhya-buddhi); and the en­lightened who hold this view are called Sānkhyas.

Yoga consists in the performance—before the rise of the foregoing conviction—of works as a means to moksha, requiring a knowledge of virtue and sin, and presupposing that the Self is distinct from the body and is the doer and the enjoyer.

Such conviction forms the Yoga standpoint (Yoga-buddhi), and the performers of works who hold this view are Yogins.

Accordingly two distinct standpoints are referred to by the Lord in ii. 39.

Of these, He will assign to the Sānkhyas the Jñāna-yoga, or devotion to knowledge, based upon the Sānkhya standpoint;

and so also He will assign to the Yogins the path of Karma-yoga, or devotion to works, based upon the Yoga standpoint (iii. 3).

Thus with reference to the Sānkhya and the Yoga standpoints two distinct paths have been shown by the Lord,

seeing the impossibility of Jñāna and Karma being conjoined in one and the same person simultaneously, the one being based upon the idea of non­-agency and unity, and the other on the idea of agency and multiplicity.

The distinction made here is also referred to in the Śatapatha-Brāhmaṇa.

—Having enjoined renuncia­tion of all works in the words,

The brāhmaas who, having no worldly attachments, wish only for this region of the Self, should give up all worldly concerns, ”

the Brāhmaṇa continues thus in explanation of the said injunction :

What have we to do with progeny,—we who live in this region, this Self?

(Brihadāraṇyaka-Upanishad, iv. 4, 22).

In the same Brāhmaṇa (ibid, i. 4, 17) we are told that, before marriage and after completing the investigation into the nature of the Dharma or Vedic injunctions,

the man of the world ‘desired’ to acquire the means of attaining to the three regions (of man, of Pitris, and of Devas), namely, a son and the twofold wealth,—the one kind of wealth being called “human” (manusha), consisting of works and leading to the region of Pitris, and the other kind of wealth being called “godly” (daiva), consisting in wisdom (vidyā, upāsanā) and leading to the region of Devas.

Thus the Vedic rites are intended for him only who has desires and has no knowledge of the Self. The renunciation of these is enjoined on him who seeks only the region of the Self and is free from desire.

This assigning of the two paths to two distinct classes of people would be unjustifiable if the Lord had intended a simultaneous conjunction of knowledge and Vedic rites.

Conjunction inconsistent with the sequel.

Neither could Arjuna’s question with which the Third Discourse opens be satisfactory explained (on that theory).

How might Arjuna falsely impute to the Lord – as he did – that which is alleged (by the opponent) to have not been taught before by the Lord and to have not been heard by Arjuna, namely – the impossibility of both knowledge and works being followed by one and the same person, as well as the superiority of knowledge to works?

Moreover, if conjunction of knowledge and works be intended for all – it must be intended for Arjuna as well. In that case how might Arjuna ask about only one of the two:

Tell me conclusively that which is the better of the two.

If a physician has prescribed a mixture composed of both sweet and cooling articles for a man who wishes  to reduce bilious heat (in the system), there cannot arise the question, which one alone of the two ingredients can alleviate bilious heat.

Arjuna’s question, it might be alleged on the other side, was due to his not having understood aright the teaching of the Lord.

Even then, the reply of the Lord should have been given in accordance with the question and in the following form:

“I meant a conjunction of knowledge and works; why are you thus mistaken?”

It would not, on the other hand, be proper to answer in the words “A twofold path was taught by Me ” (iii. 3),—an answer which is not in accordance with the question and is altogether beside it.

If it be held that knowledge is to be conjoined with such works only as are enjoined in the smriti, even then the assigning of the two paths to two distinct classes of people respectively and other statements in that connection would be equally inexplicable.

Moreover, Arjuna’s blame of the Lord as conveyed by his words “why dost Thou command me to do this horrible deed?” (iii, 1) would be inexplicable, since he knew that fighting was enjoined in the smriti as a kshatriya’s duty.

It is not, therefore, possible for anybody to show that the Gītā-Śāstra teaches a conjunction of knowledge with any work whatever, enjoined in the śruti or in the smriti.

Some cases of apparent conjunction explained.

Now a person who, having been first engaged in works owing to ignorance and worldly attachment and other evil tendencies, and having since attained purity of mind by sacrificial rites, gifts, austerity, etc.,

arrives at the knowledge of the grand truth that “all this is one, the Brahman, the Absolute, the non-agent,” may continue performing works in the same manner as before with a view to set an example to the masses, though neither works nor their results attract him any longer.

This semblance of active life on his part cannot constitute that course of action with which knowledge is sought to be conjoined as a means of attaining moksha,

any more than Lord Vāsudeva’s activity in His discharge of the duty of the military caste can constitute the action that is to be conjoined with His knowledge as a means to moksha,

or that conduces to the attainment of any specific end of His; egotism and hope of reward being absent in both alike.

He who knows the truth does not think ‘I act, ’ nor does he long for the results.

Or to take another example:

suppose a man seeking svarga or other such objects of desire goes through the ceremony of the Agni-ādhāna as a preliminary to the per­formance of sacrificial rites such as the Agnihotra whereby to attain his desire,

and then commences the Agnihotra, which has thus became a Kāmya (interested) rite; and suppose further that the desire vanishes when the sacrifice is half completed, but that the man goes on with it all the same: the Agnihotra can no longer be regarded as an inter­ested rite.

Accordingly our Lord says “though doing, he is not tainted,” (v. 7), and “The Self neither acts nor is tainted.” (xiii. 31).

Now as regards the passages, “Do thou also perform action as did the ancients in the olden time” (iv. 15), and “By action alone, indeed, did Janaka and others aim at perfection” (iii. 20), we must distinguish two cases and interpret the passages thus:

First, suppose that Janaka and the rest were engaged in works though they knew the truth. Then, they did so lest people at large might go astray; whereas they were sincerely convinced that ‘the senses’—but not the Self—were engaged in the objects (iii. 28).

Thus they reached perfection by knowledge alone.

Though the stage of renunciation had been reached, they attained perfection without abandoning works; that is to say, they did not formally renounce works.

Secondly, suppose that they had not known the truth. Then the passages should be interpreted thus:

—By means of works dedicated to Īśvara, Janaka and the rest attained perfection,—‘perfection’ meaning here either ‘purity of mind’ or ‘the dawn of true knowledge.’

It is to this doctrine that the Lord refers when he says “The Yogin performs action for the purification of the self.” (v. II).

Elsewhere, after having said that ‘man attains perfection by worshipping Him with his own duty’ (xviii. 46), the Lord again recommends the path of knowledge, to him who has attained perfection, in the following words:

How he who has attained perfection reaches Brahman, that do thou learn from Me.’’ (xviii. 50).

The conclusion, therefore, of the Bhagavad-Gītā, is that salvation is attained by knowledge alone, not by knowledge conjoined with works. That such is the teaching of the Gītā we shall show here and there in the following sections according to the context.