Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Shankara | Discourse 4 verse 25-42

Sacrifices effected by action.

After representing the right knowledge as a sacrifice, the Lord proceeds to enumerate other kinds of sacrifice with a view to extol the right knowledge:

25. Other yogins resort to sacrifices to Gods; in the fire of Brahman others offer the Self by the Self.

Shankara's commentary:

Some yogins, devotees to action, perform only sacrificial rites in devotion to the Gods, while others who know Brahman, the Absolute, sacrifice the Self by the Self in the fire of Brahman.

The oblation (āhuti) in this latter sacrifice is yajña, the Self,

—for ‘yajña,’ is enumerated among the terms synonymous with ‘ātman ’

—who is in reality one with Brahman, but who is conditioned by the upādhis (such as buddhi) with all their attributes superimposed upon Him.

This oblation of the Self is poured by the Self into Brahman,—here termed fire, the place into which that oblation is poured,

—as described in the following texts:

Brahman is the Real, Consciousness, the Infinite.” (Tait. Up. 2-1).

Brahman who is Consciousness and Bliss.” (Bri. Up. 3-9-28).

Brahman who is immediately cognised by all, and who is the Innermost Self of all.” (Bri. Up. 3-2-1).

Brahman is devoid of all characteristics of mundane exis­tence (saṁsāra) such as hunger and thirst, inconceivable in any particular form or aspect, as taught by the Scripture in the terms, “It is not this, it is not that.” (Bri. Up. 4-4-22).

To know the conditioned Self as identical with the un­conditioned Brahman is to sacrifice the Self in Brahman.

This is the sacrifice which is performed by those who, hav­ing renounced all action, are ever steady in their knowledge of the identity of the Self with Brahman.

This Wisdom-Sacrifice (described in iv. 24) is here enumerated along with the Gods-Sacrifice (Daiva-yajña) and others, with a view to extol it (iv. 33).

26.  Others offer hearing and other senses in the fires of restraint; others offer sound and other objects in the fires of the senses.

Shankara's commentary:

Some yogins offer hearing and other senses in the fires of restraint (saṁyama);—the plural ‘fires’ is used because the restraint differs with each sense;

—they are ever engrossed in restraining their senses; while others sacrifice the objects of senses in the fires of the several senses, i. e., they regard it as a sacrifice to direct their senses only to the unforbidden objects of senses.

27.  And others sacrifice all the functions of the senses and the functions of the vitality in the wisdom-kindled fire of the Yoga of Self-restraint.

Shankara's commentary:

Wisdom-kindled: kindled by discriminative wisdom, as a lamp is kindled by oil.

The functions of prāṇa, the vital air in the individual’s body, are expansion, contraction, etc. The functions of the senses and of the vital air are com­pletely dissolved while the yogin concentrates the mind on the Self.

28.  Others are sacrificers by their wealth, sacrificers by austerity, sacrificers by Yogas, sacri­ficers by reading and knowledge, ascetics of rigid vows.

Shankara's commentary:

Of others, some sacrifice by way of giving away their wealth to the deserving; some by austerity; some by Yoga, comprising such practices as Prāṇāyāma (restraint of vital airs) and Pratyāhāra (withdrawal of the mind from external objects);

some by way of repeating Vedic texts such as the Ṛig-Veda according to prescribed rules; some by way of studying the contents of the Scriptures (śāstra).

29.  Others offer prāa (outgoing breath) in apāna (incoming breath), and apāna in prāṇa, restraining the passages of prāṇa and apāna, absorb­ed in prāṇāyāma (restraint of breath).

Shankara's commentary:

Some practise the kind of prāṇāyāma called Pūraka (filling in); some practise the kind of Prāṇāyāma called Rechaka (emptying);

some are engaged, in the practice of Prāṇāyāma called Kumbhaka by impeding the outward passage of the air through nostrils and the mouth, and by impeding the inward passage of the air in the opposite direction.


30.  Others, with regulated food, offer life-breaths in life-breaths. All these are knowers of sacrifice, whose sins are destroyed by sacrifice.

Shankara's commentary:

Regulated: limited. Whatever life-breath has been con­trolled, into it they sacrifice all other life-breaths; these latter become, as it were, merged in the former.

31.  Eating of ambrosia, the remnant of the sacrifice, they go to Eternal Brahman. This world is not for the non-sacrificer; whence the other? —O best of Kurus.

Shankara's commentary:

Performing the sacrifices mentioned above, they eat, at intervals, of prescribed food in a prescribed manner. Food so eaten is called ambrosia, amrita (immortal).

If they wish for moksha, they go to Brahman in course of time, not at once, as we should understand for consistency’s sake.

Even this world, which is common to all beings, is not for one who performs none of the sacrifices mentioned above. How can there be to him another world which can be secured only by superior means?

32. Thus manifold sacrifices are spread at the mouth of Brahman. Know them all as born of action. Thus knowing, thou shalt be liberated.

Shankara's commentary:

Thus various sacrifices, such as those mentioned above, are spread at the mouth of Brahman, i.e., are known from the Vedas through such passages as the following:  “We sacrifice prāṇa in speech.”

Know that they are all born of the not-Self,—of action in deed, speech and thought,—for the Self is actionless.

If you realise that “these are not my actions, I am actionless, I am unconcerned,” you will be released, by this right knowledge, from evil, from the bond of saṁsāra.

Wisdom - sacrifice is superior to other sacrifices.

Right knowledge has been represented as a sacrifice in iv. 24. Then several sacrifices were taught. Knowledge is now extolled as compared with these latter kinds of sacrifices which are all means of attaining the several objects of hu­man pursuit.

33.  Superior is wisdom-sacrifice to the sacrifice with objects, O harasser of thy foes. All action, without exception, O son of Pritha, is compre­hended in wisdom.

Shankara's commentary:

The sacrifice performed with material objects produces material effects, whereas wisdom-sacrifice does not.

Where­fore wisdom-sacrifice is superior to the sacrifice performed with material objects. For, wisdom, which is the means to moksha, comprehends all action.

So says the śruti:

Just as (in the game of four dice) the three dice are comprehended in the fourth termed kṛita, so whatever good people do, all that reaches him. Any other man who knows that which he knew (obtains the same result.)— (Chha. Up. 4-1-4).

How and where one should seek wisdom.

By what means is this grand wisdom to be obtained?

34. Know this: by long prostration, by enquiry, by service, those men of wisdom who have realis­ed the truth will teach thee wisdom.

Shankara's commentary:

Know thou by what process it is obtained. Go to the teachers (Āchāryas) and humbly prostrate thyself before them.

Ask them what is the cause of bondage (bandha) and what the means of deliverance; what is wisdom (vidyā) and what nescience (avidya). Do service to the Guru.

Won over by these and other marks of respect, the teachers who, knowing the truth as well as realising it themselves, will impart to thee their wisdom,—that wisdom which has been described above.

Some only, but not all, know as well as realise the truth.—By this the Lord means to say that that knowledge alone which is imparted by those who have realised the truth—and no other knowledge—can prove effective.

Then alone the following statement will hold good:

35.  Knowing which, thou shalt not again thus fall into error, O Pāṇḍava; and by which, thou wilt see all beings in thy Self and also in Me.

Shankara's commentary:

Having-obtained the wisdom imparted by them, you will not be again subject to confusion as you now are. By this wisdom you will also immediately perceive all beings, from Brahma (the Creator) down to grass, in your own Self.

You will then realise that “these beings exist in Me.”

You will also see them all in Me, Vāsudeva, thus: “And these beings exist in the Supreme Lord;” i.e., you will realise that unity of the individual Soul (Kshetrajna) and the Īśvara which is so clearly taught in all the Upanishads.

Wisdom, a consumer of all sins and actions.

Moreover, see how excellent knowledge is:

36.  Even should thou be the most sinful of all the sinful, thou shalt verily cross all sin by the bark of wisdom.

Shankara's commentary:

With the boat of this knowledge, verily, you can cross the ocean of sin. For one who seeks liberation, even dharma proves to be a sin.

How does wisdom destroy sin?

—Here is an example:

37. As kindled fire reduces fuel to ashes, O Arjuna, so does wisdom-fire reduce all actions to ashes.

Shankara's commentary:

Just as a well-kindled fire reduces fuel to ashes, so does the fire of wisdom reduce all actions to ashes, i.e., it renders them impotent.

The fire of wisdom cannot indeed literally reduce actions to ashes as fire reduces fuel to ashes. Accord­ingly we should understand that right knowledge is the cause which renders all actions impotent.

But the actions by which this body has been brought into existence will come to an end only when their effects will have been fully work­ed out; for, those actions have already commenced their effects.

Thus wisdom can destroy only such actions as have not yet begun to produce their effects, whether they are actions done in this birth before the rise of knowledge and along with knowledge, or those done in the many previous births.


38. Verily, there exists here no purifier equal to wisdom. He who is perfected by Yoga finds it in time in himself by himself.

Shankara's commentary:

The seeker of moksha who has perfected and regenerated himself by Yoga—by Karma-Yoga and by Samadhi-Yoga— will after a long practice, himself find spiritual wisdom in himself.

The surest means to wisdom.

The surest means of acquiring wisdom is taught as follows:

39. He obtains wisdom who is full of faith, who is devoted to it, and who has subdued the senses. Having obtained wisdom, he ere long attains to the Supreme Peace.

Shankara's commentary:

A man full of faith obtains wisdom. But he may be slow; whence it is enjoined that he should ever be intently devoted to the means of obtaining wisdom, such as constant attendance on the Teachers (Gurus).

A man of faith and devotion may not have mastery over the senses; whence it is also enjoined that he should withdraw his senses away from their engrossment in objects.

Such a man of faith, devotion and self-control is sure to obtain wisdom.

Mere external acts (iv.34), such as long prostration before the Guru, may fail to produce the required effect, since they may be tinged with hypocrisy. But hypocrisy is impossible when a man is full of faith and so on.

Whence these are the certain means of acquiring wisdom.—What is the result of this acquisition of wisdom?

—The answer follows: Having obtained wisdom, he swiftly attains the Supreme Peace, called Moksha. That the right knowledge quickly leads to moksha is an established truth clearly taught by all śāstras as well as reason.

Wisdom the killer of doubt.

Thou shalt not doubt this, for doubt is most sinful.

— How?


40. The ignorant, the faithless, and one of doubting self, is ruined. There is neither this world, nor the other, nor happiness, for one of doubting self.

Shankara's commentary:

The man who knows not the Self is ruined, as also the man who has no faith in the teachings and the words of his Guru, and the man whose mind is full of doubts.

No doubt the ignorant and the faithless are ruined, but not to the same extent as a man of doubting mind. He is the most sinful of all.


—Even this world which is common to all men is not won by a sceptic, nor the other world, nor happiness; for, even these things come within the sweep of his doubt. Wherefore thou shalt not doubt.



41.  Him who has renounced actions by Yoga, whose doubts have been cloven asunder by wis­dom, who is self-possessed, actions bind not, O Dhananjaya.

Shankara's commentary:

He who sees the Supreme Being renounces all actions — dharma and a-dharma—by virtue of Yoga or knowledge of the Supreme Being. He attains this stage when his doubt has been cloven asunder by the realisation of the oneness of the Self with the Īśvara.

As he traces all actions to the interactions of the energies (guṇas), actions do not bind him; they do not produce any effects (good or bad) in the case of him who, in virtue of his Yoga, has renounced all actions and is ever watchful over his self.

Since that man who, in virtue of the practice of karma- yoga, has all his doubts cut asunder by knowledge which arises as a result of all impurity having been washed away, is not bound by actions because they have been consumed in the fire of wisdom, and since that man is ruined who entertains doubts as to the practice of karma and knowledge,

42. Therefore with the sword of wisdom cleave asunder this doubt of the Self lying in the heart and born of ignorance, and resort to Yoga. Arise, O Bharata.

Shankara's commentary:

Doubt is most sinful. It is born of ignorance and lies in the buddhi. Kill it by wisdom, by right knowledge of the Self.

[The word “ātmanaḥ” means ‘of the Self,’ ‘concerning the Self,’ but not ‘cherished by thyself.’ Arjuna’s doubt here is about the Self.

If Arjuna could ever think that one man’s doubt is ever to be cut by another, then the Lord might say ‘ kill thy doubt ’ as opposed to another's doubt. Even if Arjuna has been asked to kill the doubt concerning the Self, it implies also that the doubt is one cherished by Arjuna.]

Knowledge is destructive of all evil, such as grief, folly, and the like.

Having thus slain doubt, the cause of thy ruin, apply thyself to Karma-Yoga, the means of acquiring right knowledge.

Now arise and fight, O descendant of Bhārata.