Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Shankara | Discourse 4 verse 1-13



Tradition of Jñāna-Yoga.

This Yoga of Devotion to knowledge taught in the last two Discourses, accompanied with renunciation and attained by means of Karma-Yoga,

—this Yoga in which the Vedic teaching regarding the life of activity and retirement (Pravṛtti and Nivritti) is comprehended,

—it is this Yoga which forms the subject of the Lord’s teaching throughout the Gītā.

Thinking, therefore, that the Vedic Doctrine has been concluded, He extols it by relating its pedigree.

The Blessed Lord said:

1. I taught this imperishable Yoga to Vivasvat; Vivasvat taught it to Manu; Manu taught it to Ikshvāku.

Shankara's commentary:

This Yoga, treated of in the two preceding Discourses, I taught to the Sun (Vivasvat) at the commencement of Evolution in order to infuse strength into the kṣatriyas, the rulers of the world.

It is only when possessed of the strength of this Yoga, that they can protect the brāhmaṇas, the spiritual class. And when the spiritual and ruling classes are well maintained, it is possible to maintain the world.

That Yoga is imperishable, because of its imperishable results. Indeed, Moksha, the fruit of this Yoga of complete devotion to right knowledge, never perishes. Vivasvat taught it to Manu; and Manu taught it to his son Ikshvāku the first-ruler.

2. This, handed down thus in succession, the King-sages learnt. This Yoga, by long lapse of time, has been lost here, O harasser of foes.

Shankara's commentary:

This Yoga, thus handed down in regular succession among the kṣatriyas, the king-sages—men who were at once kings and sages—learnt.

The tradition of this Yoga has now for a long time been broken here, O Arjuna, who harassest thy foes, like the sun, by the heat of thy prowess.

Seeing that the Yoga has been lost by falling into the hands of the weak who could not control their senses, and seeing also that the people have not been able to attain the object of life,

3.  That same ancient Yoga has been today taught to thee by Me, seeing that thou art My devotee and friend; for, this is the Supreme Secret.

Shankara's commentary:

This knowledge, this Yoga, is the Supreme Secret.

Divine Incarnations.

In order not to leave in anybody’s mind an impression that an inconsistent statement has been made by the Lord, and with a view to avoid that impression, Arjuna asks as though he were to raise an objection:

4.  Later is Thy birth, and prior the birth of Vivasvat; how am I to understand that Thou taught this Yoga in the beginning?

Shankara's commentary:

Thy birth is later, in the house of Vāsudeva; Vivasvat’s (Āditya’s) birth is prior, in the beginning of evolution; how, then, am I to reconcile the statements that Thou taught this Yoga in the beginning (to Vivasvat), and that Thou, the self-same person, hast now taught it to me?

To remove—as was the aim of Arjuna’s question—from the ignorant the impression that Vāsudeva was not the Omnipotent and the Omniscient, the Blessed Lord says:

The Blessed Lord said:

5.  Many births of Mine have passed, as well as of thine, O Arjuna; all these I know, thou know­est not, O harasser of foes.

Shankara's commentary:

Thou knowest not, because thy power of vision is obstruct­ed by thy past action, good and bad (dharma and a-dharma). I, on the other hand, know them, because I am by nature eternal, pure, wise, unbound, and My power of vision is unobstructed.

How, then, canst Thou, the eternal Lord, have a birth, in the absence of dharma and a-dharma?


6.  Though I am unborn, of imperishable nature, and though I am the Lord of all beings, yet ruling over My own nature, I am born by My own Māyā.

Shankara's commentary:

Though I am unborn, though by nature my power of vision (jñāna-śakti) is undecaying, though I am by nature the Lord of all creatures from Brahma down to grass,

yet ruling over My Nature—the Prakriti, the Māyā of Vishṇu, which is made up of the three energies of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, to which this whole universe is subject, and by which deluded the whole world knows not Vāsudeva, its own Self,

—I appear to be born and embodied, through my own Māyā, but not in reality, unlike others.

The purpose of Divine Incarnation.

When and for what purpose is He so born?

—The answer follows:

7.  Whenever there is a decay of religion, O Bhārata, and an ascendency of irreligion, then I manifest Myself.

Shankara's commentary:

Religion: Dharma as embodied in the institution of castes (varṇa) and religious orders (āśrama) which are the means of attaining worldly prosperity and salvation.

Whenever there is a decay of religion (Dharma},... I manifest Myself through Māyā.

For what purpose?

8.  For the protection of the good, for the des­truction of evil-doers, for the firm establishment of religion, I am born in every age.

Shankara's commentary:

The good: those who are in the right path.

9.  Whoso knows thus My divine birth and action in truth is not born again on leaving this body; he comes to Me, O Arjuna.

Shankara's commentary:

My birth is an illusion (Māyā). It is Divine, peculiar to Īśvara, not of ordinary nature (aprākṛta). He comes to Me: he is liberated.

Jñāna-Yoga is the sole means to moksha.

This path of salvation is not recent, but it was in vogue even in ancient times:

10.  Free from passion, fear and anger, absorbed in Me, taking refuge in Me, purified by the fire (tapas) of wisdom, many have reached My being.

Shankara's commentary:

Absorbed in Me: knowing Brahman, i. e., seeing their identity with Īśvara. Taking refuge in Me, Parameśvara, the Supreme Lord, i. e., firmly devoted to wisdom only.

Jñāna- tapas: religious austerity (tapas) in the form of jñāna or knowledge of the Highest Self, Paramātman.—This com­pound indicates that Devotion to knowledge is quite inde­pendent of all other austerities (tapases).

—Having attained to highest purity by means of this fire of austerity (tapas), many have attained moksha.

Divine dispensation of worldly benefits and salvation.

Then, Thou cherish the feelings of affection and aver­sion, since Thou award moksha, Thy Being (identity with Thy Self), to a few only, not to all?

—The answer follows:

11. Howsoever men approach Me, even so do I reward them; My path do men follow in all things, O son of Pritha.

Shankara's commentary:

I reward men by granting them the things they desire, just in accordance with the way in which they seek Me and the motive with which they seek Me; for, they do not seek for moksha.

One cannot indeed pursue pleasure and at the same time seek for moksha.

Wherefore, I reward seekers of fruits by securing to them their selfish ends; I reward the unselfish, who do their prescribed duties and seek for moksha, by granting them knowledge;

I reward men of knowledge who have renounced the world and seek for moksha, by granting them moksha; similarly, I reward men in distress by relieving them from distress.

Thus do I reward all, just in the way they seek Me. But never do I reward any from affection or aversion, or from delusion.

In all things, men follow My path, the path of the Īśvara who exists in all forms."

[Here ‘men’ stands for all those I who are engaged in works prescribed according to their respective ends.]

(Question):—If Thou, Īśvara, art free from affection and other evil passions, then, since Thou art gracious to all creatures alike and able to grant every desire,

why do they not all desire moksha and seek Thee, with the knowledge that Vāsudeva is all?

(Answer):—Listen why it is so:

12. They who long after success in actions sacrifice here to the Gods; for, soon in this world of man accrues success from action.

Shankara's commentary:

They who long after success in action sacrifice to the Gods, such as Indra and Agni. The śruti says:

“He who, on the other hand, worships a separate God, thinking, ‘He is separate from me and I am separate from Him’—he knows not. He is to the Devas as cattle (to men).” (Bri. Up. 1-4-10).

For quickly is the fruit of action reaped in this world of men by those who, with selfish ends in view, sacrifice to external Gods, performing the works enjoined on them according to their caste (varṇa) and order (āśrama).

It is for this world of men that Vedic injunctions are meant.

—By the expression “soon in this world of man” the Lord implies that even in other worlds actions produce results: the only difference being that it is only to this world of men that injunctions based upon castes and religious orders apply.

Caste as a divinely ordered human institution.

What is the foundation of the law that the respective duties of the several castes and religious orders obtain only in this world of men, but not in other worlds?

—Or the question may be put thus:

It has been said that men, split up into the communities of several castes and orders (varṇas and āśramas), should follow Thy path in all things, Why should they necessarily follow Thy path only, but not that of any other?

—The answer follows:

13. The fourfold caste has been created by Me according to the distribution of energies and ac­tions; though I am the author thereof, know Me as non-agent and immutable.

Shankara's commentary:

The four castes (varṇas, lit., colours) have been created by Me, Īśvara, according to the distribution of energies (guṇas) and of actions. The energies are Sattva (goodness), Rajas (foulness, activity), and Tamas (darkness).

The actions of a brāhmaṇa (priest), in whom Sattva predominates, are serenity, self-restraint, austerity, etc., (xviii.42).

The actions of a Kshatriya (warrior), in whom Rajas predominates and Sattva is subordinate to Rajas, are prowess, daring, etc., (xviii. 43).

The actions of a Vaiṣya (merchant), in whom Rajas predominates and Tamas is subordinate to Rajas, are agriculture, etc. (xviii.44).

The action of a śūdra (servant), in whom Tamas predominates and Rajas is subordinate to Tamas, is only servitude.

Thus have been created the four castes according to the distribution of energies and actions. This fourfold caste does not exist in other worlds. Hence the limitation “in this world of man.” (iv.12).

(Objection):—Oh! Then Thou art the author of the act of creating the four castes, and as such Thou art bound by its effects; wherefore, Thou art neither the eternal Lord nor the eternally unbound.

(Answer):—Though I am the author of this act when viewed from the standpoint of Māyā, still, know thou that I am in reality no agent and therefore not subject to saṁsāra.