Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Ramanuja | Discourse 13 verse 4-13

tat kṣetraṃyacca yādṛk ca yad vikāri yataśca yat |
sa ca yo yat prabhāvaśca tat samāsena me śṛṇu || 4 ||

4. Learn briefly from Me what the Field is, and what it is like, what its modifications are, what purpose it serves, what it's [nature] is; and what the Self is and what its potencies are.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Now Lord Krishna is more explicitly explaining details about the tat kṣetra or field of activity:

Its yādṛk ca or its substantial nature regarding its use and function and its purpose.

Also its yad vikāri or transformations and modifications along with its yatas or from whence it came meaning its origin and how it was created and for whose use. Yat refers to its attributes and qualities.

Also He is inferring that knowledge about the intrinsic nature of the Kṣetrajña as the knower of the kṣetra which is the ātma or eternal soul will be revealed as well along with its inherent potencies which is confirmed by the word prabhāvas ca meaning virtues, potency and powers.

Lord Krishna will give a summary of all these things.

ṛṣibhir bahudhāgītaṃchandobhir vividhaiḥpṛthak |
brahma-sūtrapadaiścaiva hetumadbhir viniścitaiḥ|| 5 ||

5. It has been lauded by the sages in various ways, in various distinctive hymns of the Vedas, and also in the sound logic and conclusive arguments of the Brahma-sutras.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The tattva or conclusive truth regarding the kṣetra or field of activity being matter and the Kṣetrajña being the knower or witness within the field of activity have been variously described by the Ṛṣis or holy sages such as Parāśara and Vasistha.

In the Viṣṇu Purāṇa II.XIII. verse LIXX we find:

“I and you and others O King, are composed of the elements; and the elements following the stream of the Guṇas, assume a physical shape,

But the Guṇas such as Sattva and the rest, O ruler of the earth, are dependent on Karma; and Karma, accumulated by nescience [which mistakes the non-self for the Self], influences the condition of all beings without exception.

The Self is [essentially] pure, imperishable, tranquil, transcends the Guṇas and is pre-eminent over Prakṛti” (V.P 2.13.69-71)

Yet in verse LXXI beginning ātma suddho we find revealed: That the immortal soul is purely spiritual, imperishable, sublime, devoid of material qualities and distinctly different from prakṛti or the material substratum pervading all physical existence.

Similarly the Viṣṇu Purāṇa II.XIII.IXC beginning pindah prithag meaning:

“The body, characterised by head, hands, feet and the like is different from Puruṣa. ”Which of these O King should I designate by the name "I"?” (Ibid., 2.13.89)

“Are you the head or chest, or else the belly? Are you indeed the feet and other limbs or do they belong to you, O King? You are distinct in your nature from all your bodily parts, O King, become intelligent and consider —"Who am I"“. (Ibid., 1, 3.102-3)

Both these examples postulate that matter, the physical body, and the spirit, soul, are distinctly different from each other.

Vāsudeva meaning the Supreme Lord Krishna is eulogised in innumerable Vedic scriptures.

In the Viṣṇu Sahasranāma verse CXXXVII beginning indiyani mano meaning:

“The senses, the manas, buddhi, ego, health, strength and spirit are all ensouled by Vāsudeva, both the kṣetra and Kṣetrajña.”

Distinctly by various mantras of the Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sāma Veda and Atharva Veda the distinctions between the bodily nature and the spiritual soul nature are sublimely sung.

An example is found in the Taittirīya Upaniṣad II.I.II beginning tasmad eva etasmadātmana akasah sambhutah meaning:

“From the ātma or eternal soul verily ākāśa or space has manifested, from space ether has manifested, from ether has come air, from air has come fire, from fire has come water, from water has come earth, from earth has come plants, from plants has come food, from food comes all embodied species headed by the human species”.

Thus the nature of the physical body has been stated. As well the subtle principle of prāṇas or life airs and the even subtler principle of manas or the mind and intellect have been stated in conclusion.

More than the principle of the manas is the supra-subtle principle of the vijñāna-māyā or the conscious soul and the source of all of the above is the Supreme Lord

in His localised form as paramātma, the Supreme Soul within all sentient beings,

and even more supra-subtle than even this is His transcendental body as the composite form of all ātmas in all living entities known as ānanda- māyā, as given in the Taittirīya Upaniṣad II.V.II beginning: tasyaisha eva sharira ātma which is “the witness and monitor of living entities”.

Categorically as well the distinct characteristics by which the kṣetra and Kṣetrajña exist and their manifestation by the Brāhman or spiritual substratum pervading all existence is revealed in many places in the Rig Veda and the Atharva Veda.

Also the Vedānta Sutra verses reveal in its sublimely concise aphorisms the nature of the Brāhman and its relationship with the Supreme Lord. It is also called the Sariraka Sutras because of its conclusive authoritative judgement on these esoteric topics.

For example in Vedanta Sutra II.III.I beginning no viyadasruteh meaning:

“The akasha or space is eternal because there is no Vedic evidence contrary to this” and thus all decisions regarding the nature of the kṣetra are formulated also in this way.

Another example is seen in II.III.XVIII beginning utcrantigatyagatinam meaning:

“The jīva or embodied soul is infinitesimal because the Vedic scriptures state that it goes out of an old body and returns to a new body”. The ātma or eternal soul is superlatively conscious and such a reality formulates decisions regarding the Kṣetrajña.

But in verse II.III.XXXX beginning kritaprayatnapekshastu vihita pratisiddha meaning:

“The Supreme Lord impels all jīvas to act in accordance with the nature and tendency of their own self enacted previous actions and effects”.

Everything is under the complete control and total dominion of the Supreme Lord but He does not interfere with the free will of the jīva although He is certainly the supreme soul of living entities.

So the evidence of the kṣetra and Kṣetrajña have been copiously expounded in various Vedic scriptures in numerous ways but now Lord Krishna will describe the same in a lucid and concise manner.

mahā-bhūtāny-ahaṅkāro buddhir-avyaktam eva ca |
indriyāṇi daśaikaṃca pañca cendriya gocarāḥ|| 6 ||

6. The principle elements, the Ahaṁkāra, the Buddhi, the Avyakta, the ten senses and the one besides, and the five objects of the senses;

icchādveṣaḥsukhaṃduḥkhaṃsaṅghātaścetanādhṛtiḥ|
etat kṣetraṃsamāsena savikāram udāhṛtam || 7 ||

7. …attraction, aversion, pleasure and pain —thus the component elements of the Field, which is the basis of consciousness have been recounted along with its modifications.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The mahā-bhūtāni which are the fundamental elements of creation being earth, water, fire, air and ether

along with the ahaṁkāra or false ego, the buddhi or intellect and the avyaktam the primordial root which in essence is prakṛti or the material substratum pervading physical existence

and from whom the afore mentioned emanate as the germinating foundations of the Kṣetra in different manifestations and modifications of an evolving process.

The five perceptual senses being the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and touch corresponding respectively with their five objects being the visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory and tactual;

along with the five senses of activity being the vocal, the prehensile, the hands, the locomotive, the legs, procreative, the generative organs and the excretory organ for evacuation.

The one known as the internal sense is the mind.

Desire, aversion, joy and affliction are considered modifications of the Kṣetra as they are solely products of the mind influenced by moods and affections.

The words saṅghāta cetanā dhṛtiḥ means the perceptual faculties of the mind and includes the physical body.

The words cetanā dhṛtiḥ denotes adritah inferring adharah which means the basis, the medium for fundamental ingredients.

The word saṅghāta meaning the physical body is the aggregate expression of the collocated ingredients that are utilised:

The ultimate purpose is to utilise the physical body to interact harmoniously with the mind and intellect to realise the eternal principle inside the heart in the form of the ātma or immortal soul and the path to the Supreme Lord.

Otherwise one will misuse their precious human form of existence to procure material happiness on Earth while experiencing joy and grief in doing so and take another birth in usually a lower species of life;

or to perform activities in an attempt to procure entrance into the heavenly planets to enjoy celestial delights as a demigod for an allotted time period but which may or may not guarantee success and one has to be born again;

or to strive for Mokṣa or liberation from the cycle of birth and death to achieve an impersonal beatitude but if failing in this is forced to take birth again in one of the 8,400,000 some species in the material existence as well.

This is what is available in the Kṣetra.

All of its characteristics and attributes are manifested out of prakṛti the material substratum pervading physical existence and is the foundation of the mind and all the senses.

It is the compound which gives rise to the change of temperament such as desire and aversion, happiness and misery and the medium by which the Jīva or embodied being experiences pleasure, pain, joy and grief, etc.

This concludes Lord Krishna’s concise exposition on the Kṣetra with its variations and modifications.

Next the virtues and attributes that will enable one to obtain ātma-tattva or knowledge of the immortal soul which is connected to the Kṣetrajña will be enumerated by Lord Krishna.

amānitvam adambhitvam ahiṃsākṣāntir ārjavam |
ācāryopāsanaṃ śaucaṃsthairyam ātma-vinigrahaḥ|| 8 ||

8. Humility, absence of ostentation, non-injury, forbearance, integrity, service of the preceptor, purity, resoluteness and self-restraint;

indriyārtheṣu vairāgyam anahaṅkāra eva ca |
janma-mṛtyu-jarā-vyādhi duḥkha doṣānudarśanam || 9 ||

9. Dispassion for sense-gratification and also absence of self-affirmative ideation, perception of balefulness in birth, death, old age, disease and sorrow;

asaktir anabhiṣvaṅgaḥputra-dāra-gṛhādiṣu |
nityaṃca sama-cittatvam iṣṭān-iṣṭopapattiṣu || 10 ||

10. Non-attachment, absence of clinging to progeny, spouse, home and the like, and constant equanimity of mind in all desirable and undesirable events;

mayi cānanya-yogena bhaktir-avyabhicāriṇī|
vivikta deśa-sevitvam aratir jana-saṃsadi || 11 ||

11. Consistent devotion directed to Me alone, unadulterated, resorting to solitary places and dislike for crowds:

adhyātmajñāna nityatvaṃtattva-jñānārtha darśanam |
etajjñānam iti proktam ajñānaṃyadato’nyathā|| 12 ||

12. Constant reflection on the knowledge of the Self, contemplation directed at the attainment of realisation of the Truth — all this is declared to be wisdom-practice (jñānam), and what is contrary to it is ignorance (ajñānam).

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Amānitvam is absence of desire for honour due to reverence and humility.

Adambhitvam is lack of pride due to simplicity and absence of duplicity.

Ahimsa is non-violence to others by thought, word or action.

Kṣānti is tolerance, forbearance even when antagonised.

Ārjava is sincerity and straightforwardness even to those duplicitous.

Ācāryopāsana is unmotivated devotion to the guru who imparts spiritual knowledge.

Śaucaṃ is purity in thought, word and action to enable to qualify for spiritual knowledge.

Sthairya is unwavering faith in the spiritual masters teachings from the Vedic scriptures.

Ātma-vinigrahaḥ is self-control by withdrawing the mind from pursuits other than spiritual.

Vairāgyam is renunciation of activities unrelated to the soul.

Anahaṅkāra is absence of false ego or misidentification of the physical body as the self.

Ānudarśanam is reflecting on the evils of birth and inevitable old age, disease and death.

Aśakti is detachment from over-attraction to wife, sons and family members.

Anabhiṣvaṅgaḥ is neutrality in both happiness and distress.

Sama-citta is equipoise of mind in both favourable and unfavourable circumstances.

Bhaktiḥ is rendering exclusive loving devotion to the Supreme Lord Krishna.

Vivikta deśa-sevitvam is fondness for solitary places out in nature for inhabiting.

Adhyātma jñāna nityatvaṃ is to be permanently established in knowledge of the soul.

Tattva-jñāna darśanam is contemplating the spiritual teachings of the Vedas to gain insight. Jñāna refers to that knowledge where one can achieve ātma tattva or realisation of the soul.

The cultivation of the group of above mentioned virtues, beginning with humility etc., are those that are favourable for developing realisation of the Self in the embodied state.

Ignorance comprises of all those attributes of the Field, which are different from the ones mentioned above, because they are a hindrance to Self-realisation.

Next the nature of the Kṣetrajña or knower of the field will be delineated by Lord Krishna as was alluded to in chapter 10, verse 3 where He states: “One who knows Me”.

jñeyaṃyattat pravakṣyāmi yajjñātvāmṛtam aśnute |
anādi mat-paraṃbrahma na sattannāsad ucyate || 13 ||

13. I shall declare that which has to be known, knowing which, one attains immortality —It is beginningless Brahman, to which I am superior; it is said to be neither being nor non-being.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Lord Krishna is declaring that which is most worthy to be known is that which is most worthy to strive for and be gained and that is realisation of the ātma or immortal soul.

This realisation is attained by cultivating the 20 attributes mentioned previously.

Here the word amṛtam meaning nectar denotes the nectar of immortality and refers directly the immortal soul exempt from the pangs of birth, decrepitude and death.

Anādi means that which has no beginning for as the ātma has no birth it has no ending and is eternal.

The Katha Upaniṣad states:

“The intelligent Self is not born, nor dies” (Kat. Up, 2.18).

The compound mat-paraṃ clarifies that the ātma is both a part of the Supreme Lord who is present within as paramātma the Supreme Soul and always subordinate to Him.

Verily, it has been said earlier:—

“Know that My Superior Nature is different. It is the life-principle [Jīva-bhūta], by which this universe is sustained.” (7.5).

“By virtue of being pervaded by the Lord, the individual Self naturally finds joy in being completely dependent upon Him”. (See Br.Up. Madh., 5.7.22, Sve. Up., 6.9 & 16)

The Brāhman or spiritual substratum pervading all existence is great because the ātma which is a separate entity from the physical body is part of it.

Brahman is derived from the root word Bṛh which means becoming great. So it is included as part of Kṣetrajña. The Brāhman is infinite and the ātma is infinite as well.

The Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad V.IX states sachan anthyaya kalpate meaning:

“The ātma is infinite”.

The ātma's seemingly limitation in a physical body is due to karma or reactions from past actions; but once a Jīva or embodied being achieves Mokṣa or liberation then the actual infinite and limitless nature of the ātma is perceived.

The Brāhman is neither sat existence nor asat - non-existence because it never undergoes any modifications or transformations due to its being beyond the influence of cause and effect.

The term Brāhman can also be used to refer to the ātma as will be seen later in chapter 14, verse 26 and chapter 18 verse 54.

When the ātma assumes names and forms sat becomes applicable and when the ātma is bereft of names and forms it is asat. Thus it is factually beyond both.

This is also revealed in the Taittirīya Upaniṣad II.VII.IX and the Rig Veda VIII.VII.XVII which states: “All was asat in the beginning and from it sat arose”.

So everything was first unmanifest and then was made manifest into names and forms through successive transformations of cause and effect

and such modifications surrounding the ātma are due to its karma of having to accept embodiment brought on by avidya or ignorance and is not inherent in the actual nature of the ātma itself.

Thus the nature of the ātma is undefinable by any and all conceptions of sat and asat.

If it is argued [by the Advaitins] that the passage —“In the beginning, verily, this (Brahman) was non-existence” (Tait. Up., 2.7.1), is describing the Supreme Brahman in the state of cause —

even then, it can be pointed out that the Supreme Brahman in its causal condition is still accompanied by the sentient and insentient entities in a subtle [latent] state as its corporeal manifestation —but undifferentiated by names and forms!

In this way the description is still valid.

According to the same principle therefore, the nature of Kṣetra (body) and Kṣetrajña (individual Self) in the state of cause can also be expressed by the term 'non-being'.

But this condition of the individual Self has occurred due to Karma —in its original immaculate state the Self cannot be signified by the terms 'being' and ‘non-being'.