Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Shankara | Discourse 5 verse 6-14

Karma-Yoga is a means to Sannyāsa.

How is it that the aim of the Karma-Yoga is that (true Yoga or Sannyāsa)?


6. But renunciation, O mighty-armed, is hard to attain except by Yoga; a sage equipped with Yoga ere long reaches Brahman.

Shankara's commentary:

Renunciation (Sannyāsa) here spoken of is the true (pāramārthika) Sannyāsa; and Yoga is the Vedic Karma- Yoga (performance of Vedic ritual) dedicated to the Īśvara and entirely free from motives.

A sage (muni) is so called because of his meditation (manana) on the form of the Īśvara.

‘Brahman’ here means renunciation (sannyāsa, which is now being spoken of), because renunciation consists in the knowledge of the Highest Self (Paramātman); and the śruti says:

What is called “Nyāsa” is Brahman; and Brahman is verily the Great.(Tait. Up. 4.78).

A sage equipped with Yoga soon reaches Brahman, the true renunciation, which consists in steady devotion to right knowledge. Therefore, I have said that Karma-Yoga is better.

A sage's actions do not affect him.

When the devotee resorts to Yoga, as a means of attain­ing right knowledge:

7. He who is equipped with Yoga, whose mind is quite pure, by whom the self has been conquered, whose senses have been subdued, whose Self has become the Self of all beings,—though doing, he is not tainted.

Shankara's commentary:

He who is equipped with Yoga, whose mind (ātman, sattva) has been purified, who has conquered the body (ātman, the self) and the senses, who sees rightly, whose Inner Consciousness, the Self, has formed the Self of all beings from Brahma down to a clump of grass,

—he will not be tainted, i.e., he will not be bound by actions, though he may continue to perform them for the protection of the masses, i. e., with a view to set an example to the masses.

A sage's actions are really no actions.

Neither does he really do anything. Wherefore,

8—9. ‘I do nothing at all'; thus should the truth- knower think, steadfast,

—though seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, going, sleeping, breath­ing, speaking, letting go, seizing, opening and closing the eyes,

—remembering that the senses move among sense-objects.

Shankara's commentary:

The truth-knower is he who knows the true nature of the Self, who sees the Supreme Reality.

—When and how should he think so, ever intent on the truth?

—The answer is given thus: ‘though seeing, etc.’

The duty of the man who, thus knowing the truth and thinking rightly, sees only inaction in actions—in all the movements of the body and the senses—consists in renounc­ing all actions; for, he sees the absence of action.

The man, for instance, who thinks of quenching his thirst in a mirage, mistaking it for water, wall not, even after knowing that it is no water, resort to the same place for the purpose of quenching his thirst.

Karma-Yogin is untainted by the results of his action.

But as to the man who is not a truth-knower and is engag­ed in action:

10. He who does actions, offering them to Brahman, abandoning attachment, is not tainted by sin, as a lotus leaf by water.

Shankara's commentary:

He offers all actions to the Īśvara, in the faith that ‘I act for His sake’, as a servant acts for the sake of the master. He has no attachment for the result, even for moksha. The result of actions so done is only purity of the mind, and nothing else.


11. By the body, by the mind, by the intellect, by mere senses also, Yogins perform action, without attachment, for the purification of the self.

Shankara's commentary:

Mere -free from egotism, resolute in the faith that ‘I act only for the sake of the Lord, not for my benefit.’ ‘Mere’ should be construed along with ‘body’ etc., with each one of them separately.

Yogins are those who are devoted to works, free from egotism in all their acts, without attachment for their results. They act only for the purification of the mind, (sattva).

Wherefore, as thy duty lies only there, do thou only perform action.

Also because,

12. The steady-minded one, abandoning the fruit of action, attains the peace born of devotion. The unsteady one, attached to the fruit through the action of desire, is firmly bound.

Shankara's commentary:

The steady-minded man who, resolved that “I do actions for the sake of the Lord, not for my benefit,” abandons the fruit of action attains the peace called moksha, as the result of devotion, through the following stages:

first, purity of the mind; then, attainment of knowledge; then, renunciation of all actions; and lastly, devotion to knowledge.

But he who is unsteady is led by desire and is attached to the fruit, thinking ‘I do this act for my benefit.’ He is firmly bound.

Therefore, be thou steady-minded.

The blissful embodied life of a sage.

But as to the man who sees the Supreme Being,

13. Renouncing all actions by thought, and ' Self-controlled, the embodied one rests happily in the nine-gated city, neither at all acting nor causing to act.

Shankara's commentary:

Actions are either the obligatory duties (nitya-karmāṇi), or those arising on the occurrence of some special events (naimittika- karmāṇi), or those intended for securing some special ends, and which are only optional (Kāmya- karmāṇi), or those which are forbidden (pratishiddha- karmāṇi).

The man who has subdued the senses, renounces all actions in speech, thought, and deed, by discrimination, by seeing inaction in action, and rests happily.

He rests happily because he has given up all action in speech, thought and deed, because he is without worry, because his mind is calm, because, excepting the Self, all interests (foreign to the Self) have departed from his mind.-

Where and how does he rest?

— In the body which has nine openings: seven in the head, be­ing the organs of sensation; two nether ones for the passage of the urine and the dung.

As having these nine open­ings, the body is said to be a nine-gated city. It is like a city, with the Self for its Monarch, inhabited by the citizens of the senses, mind, intellect, as well as their objects,

—all working for the sole benefit of their Lord and producing consciousness of various objects.

In such a nine-gated city the embodied one rests, having renounced all action.

(Objection):—Of what use is the qualification “he rests in the body”? Every man, be he a sannyāsin or not, rests in the body only. So, the qualification is meaningless.

(Answer):—He that is ignorant identifies himself with the mere aggregate of the body and the senses, and thinks: “I rest in a house, on the ground, on a seat.”

Such a man, regarding the mere body as himself, cannot indeed cherish the idea that he rests in the body as in a house.

But in the case of a man who regards the Self as distinct from the aggregate of the body, etc., the idea that he rests in the body is quite possible.

And it is also right that he should renounce by thought—by knowledge, by discriminative wisdom—the action attributed to the Self through ignorance, but which really pertains to the not-Self.

Though a man has attain­ed discriminative wisdom (i. e., has realised his true Self as distinguished from the not-Self) and has renounced all con­cern with action,

still, it may be said that he rests in the nine-gated city of the body as in a house, inasmuch as his personal consciousness (of resting) arises only with reference to the body in virtue of the traces of the unspent portion of the prārabdha-karma—the karma which brought the present body into existence—still continuing to be felt.

Thus the qualification ‘he rests in the body’ has a meaning, as pointing to a distinction between the respective standpoints of the wise and the ignorant.

(Objection):—It is true that he renounces the actions of the body and of the senses attributed falsely to the Self through ignorance;

still, the power of acting and of causing to act may be inherent in the Self and may remain in him who has renounced actions.

(Answer):—The Lord says: He neither acts himself, nor causes the body and the senses to act.

(Question):—Do you mean that the power of acting and of causing to act is inherent in the Self and that it ceases by renunciation, like the motion of a moving person; or that the power is not inherent in the Self?

(Answer):—The power of acting or of causing to act is not inherent in the Self; for, the Lord has taught that the Self is unchangeable (ii. 25), and “though seated in the body, he acts not, nor is he tainted” (xiii. 31).

The śruti says, “It thinks as it were and moves as it were.” (Bri. Up. 4-3-7).

Nature is the source of activity.


14. Neither agency nor objects does the Lord create for the world, nor union with the fruits of actions. But it is the nature that acts.

Shankara's commentary:

The Self, the Lord (of the body), does not create agency i. e.t does not of Himself urge anyone to action, ‘do this.’

Neither does the Self create cars, jars, mansions, and other objects of desire. Nor does the Self unite him who makes a car or the like with the fruit of the act.

(Question).—If the Self in the body does not Himself act nor cause others to act, what then is it that acts and causes others to act?

(Answer) Listen. It is Nature, Svabhāva, Prakriti, Māyā, ‘the Divine Māyā made up of guṇas’ (vii. 14).