Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Shankara | Introduction

Śrī Śaṅkarācārya’s  Commentary.


Nārāyaṇa is beyond the Avyakta;
From the Avyakta the Mundane Egg is born;
Within the Mundane Egg, verily, are these worlds
And the Earth made up of the seven Dvīpas.


[This is a purāṇic verse speaking of the Antaryāmin, the Inner Guide and Regulator of all souls.

It is quoted here by the commentator in order that he may begin his important work, after the orthodox fashion, with the con­templation of his favourite God (Ishta-Devatā), namely, Nārāyaṇa,

and further with a view to show that the Purāṇa (archaic history), the Itihāsa (ancient tradition) and the Gītā teach one and the same doctrine.

Nārāyaṇa is, in the popular conception, the Creator who was brooding over the waters just before the beginning of Creation.

According to a subtler conception, Nārāyaṇa is the Antaryāmin, the Divine Being in whom all embodied souls have their being.

He is not a creature of the Avyakta, but far transcends it.

It is the Avyakta, the Avyākṛta, Māyā, the undifferentiated matter, out of which, when in apparent union with Īśvara, is evolved the principle of Hiraṇyagarbha, here spoken of as Ada or the Mundane Egg, which is composed of the five simple rudimental elements of matter.

An intermingling of the five rudimental elements of matter gives rise to the principle of the Virāj, of which are formed the Earth and all- the other lokas or inhabited regions. (Ānandagiri).

The seven Dvīpas or insular continents are Jambū, Plakṣa, Kuśa, Krauṇcha, Sāka, Śālmala and Puṣkara.]

The twofold Vedic Religion

The Lord created the Universe and wishing to secure order there He first created the Prajāpatis (Lords of creatures) such as Marīchi and caused them to adopt the Pravritti-Dharma, the Religion of Works. .

He then created others such as Sanaka and Sanandana and caused them to adopt the Nivritti-Dharma, the Religion of Renunciation, characterised by knowledge and indifference to worldly objects.

It is the twofold Vedic Religion of Works and Renunciation that maintains order in the universe.

This Religion which directly leads to liberation and worldly prosperity has long been practised by all castes and religious orders (varṇāśrama)—from the brāhmaṇas downwards,—who sought welfare.

The Purpose of the Divine Incarnation

When, owing to the ascendancy of lust in its votaries, religion was overpowered by irreligion caused by the vanishing faculty of discrimination, and irreligion was advancing,

it was then that the original Creator (Ādi-kartṛ), Viṣṇu, known as Nārāyaṇa, wishing to maintain order in the universe, incarnated Himself as Krishna, begotten in Devakī by Vāsudeva, for the preservation of the ‘earthly Brahman,’ of spiritual life (Brāhmaṇatva) on the earth.

For it was by the preservation of spiritual life that the Vedic Religion could be preserved, since thereon depend all distinctions of caste and religious order.

The Lord, always possessed as He is of (infinite) knowledge, supre­macy, power, strength, might and vigour, controls the Māyā,—belonging to Him as Viṣṇu,—the Mūlaprakṛtiḥ, the First Cause, composed of three Guṇas or energies,

and He appears to the world as though He is born and embodied and helping the world at large; whereas really He is unborn and indestructible, is the Lord of creatures, and is by nature Eternal, Pure, Intelligent and Free.

[The special stress laid here on Māyā as belonging to and being under the control of the Īśvara is chiefly intended to impress the idea that Māyā does not exist or act independently of Brahman, the Īśvara.

He is quite independent of Māyā, unlike the individual souls who are subject to its influence.

The followers of the historical school of the Sānkhya darśana hold, on the other hand, that Matter and Spirit, Prakriti and Purusha, are two distinct principles, the former being as real as the latter and acting in unison with it.—(Ānandagiri.) ]

Without any interest of His own, but with the sole intention of helping His creatures, He taught to Arjuna, who was deeply plunged in the ocean of grief and delusion, the twofold Vedic Religion, evidently thinking that the Religion would widely spread when accepted and practised by men of high character.

The Gītā and the Commentary.

It is this Religion which was taught by the Lord that the omniscient and adorable Veda-Vyāsa (the arranger of the Vedas) embodied in the seven hundred verses called Gītās.

This famous Gītā-Śāstra is an epitome of the essentials - of the whole Vedic teaching; and its meaning is very difficult to understand.

Though, to afford a clear view of its teaching, it has been explained word by word and sentence by sentence, and its import critically examined by several commentators,

still I have found that to the laity it appears to teach diverse and quite contradictory doctrines. I propose, therefore, to write a brief commentary with a view to determine its precise meaning.

Jñāna-Yoga is the means to the Supreme Bliss.

The aim of this famous Gitā Śāstra is, briefly, the Supreme Bliss, a complete cessation of saṁsāra or trans­migratory life and of its cause.

This accrues from that Religion (Dharma) which consists in a steady devotion to the knowledge of the Self, preceded by the renunciation of all works.

So, with reference to this Religion, the doctrine of the Gītā, the Lord says in the Anu-Gītā as follows:

“That religion, indeed, is quite sufficient for the realisation of the state of Brahman, the Absolute.” (Asv. Parva xvi. 12.)

In the same place it is also said:

“He is without merit and without sin, without weal and woe,—he who is absorbed in the one seat, silent and thinking nothing.”

And He also says:  

“Knowledge is characterised by renunciation.”

(Ibid. xliii, 26.)

Here also at the end Arjuna is thus exhorted:

“Abandoning all dharmas, come to Me alone for shelter.” (xviii. 66).

How Karma-Yoga is a means to the Supreme Bliss.

Though the Religion of Works,—which, as a means of attaining worldly prosperity, is enjoined on the several castes and religious orders,—leads the devotee to the region of the Devas and the like,

still, when practised in a spirit of complete devotion to the Lord and without regard to the (immediate) results, it conduces to the purity of the mind (sattva-śuddhi).

The man whose mind is pure is competent to tread the path of knowledge, and to him comes knowledge; and thus (indirectly) the Religion of Works forms also a means to the Supreme Bliss.

Accordingly, with this very idea in mind, the Lord says:

 “He who does actions, placing them in Brahman,”

 “Yogins perform actions, without attachment, for the purification of the self.” (v. 10, n).

The specific subject and object of the Gita - Śāstra.

The Gita Śāstra expounds this twofold Religion, whose aim is the Supreme Bliss.

It expounds specially the nature of the Supreme Being and Reality known as Vāsudeva, the Parabrahman, who forms the subject of the discourse.

Thus the Gita-Śāstra treats of a specific subject with a specific object and bears a specific relation (to the subject and object). A knowledge of its teaching leads to the realisation of all human aspirations. Hence my attempt to explain it.