Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Ramanuja | Discourse 18 verse 12-28

aniṣṭam iṣṭaṃmiśraṃca trividhaṃkarmaṇaḥphalam |
bhavaty-atyāgināṃpretya na tu saṃnyāsināṃkvacit || 12 ||

12. Undesirable, desirable and mixed — thus threefold is the result of work that accrues after death to those who have not renounced; but to those who have renounced, there is none whatsoever.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

There are three types of rewards that a jīva or embodied being accepts after death as a result of actions:

They are aniṣṭam or hellish rewards in nāraka the hellish planets, iṣṭaṃ or godly rewards in svarga, the heavenly realms and miśraṃ or human rewards in the material worlds.

These results only bind those who have not renounced the desire for rewards for their actions expecting remuneration.

The three types of renunciation to be abandoned are:

the rewards of the actions, the attachment to the actions for the reward and the sense of authorship as the doer. If these three are relinquished then there is no bondage to any action.

The word pretya means after death when in the next life the appropriate rewards will be reaped

but it does not preclude that some results cannot be experienced even before death, such as having a son or being exposed and that as such renunciation may still be applied even while receiving the results in life.

But the emphasis is on renouncing the desires to receive rewards for one's actions.

Anyway even if there is some desire for rewards one should never, under any circumstances, perform any activity inimical to the Vedic scriptures, the Supreme Lord Krishna or His devotees the Vaiṣṇavas.

It is undeniably true that prescribed Vedic activities are obligatory for everyone according to varṇāśrama or rank and status in life.

This is confirmed by the fact that one is born automatically in a certain family, in a certain society, country, continent, planet, etc. based on the hankering for rewards in the previous life by which karma or reactions to actions were incurred awarding the results of one's past life activities.

Yet the very same prescribed activities performed without desire for rewards bestows completely different results. This is known as known as viniyogah prithaktva nyāya and is the justification of dispensation by appropriate application.

The aspirant for Mokṣa or liberation from material existence who does not desire any rewards is awarded something different then the furtive hankerer.

As declared previously, by study of the Vedic scriptures, by yajña or ritual propitiation and worship, by tapaḥ or austerities and by dānaṁ or charity the Vaiṣṇava Brahmins seek to commune with the Supreme Lord.

Hence the sannyāsa or renunciation that is revealed in the Vedic scriptures is non-different from tyāga the renunciation of the desire for rewards, both which include absence of authorship and ego sense and no attachment.

In this way prescribed Vedic activities and obligatory activities can be performed without reactions, proving the reality that the cessation of all activity is not necessary neither is it feasible or even practical.

The manner of divesting from oneself conceptions of authorship, thinking of oneself as the doer is to be situated in sattva guṇa the mode of goodness and assign authorship of all actions which conform to Vedic scriptures over to the Supreme Lord.

From this correct determination arises the feeling of selflessness while performing actions and an absence of desire in actions performed.

The Supreme Lord controls everything external through His agency of prakṛti or the material substratum pervading physical existence and its triplicate agency of the three guṇas or modes of material nature,

which impels all jīvas or embodied beings to follow the impulses of the Prāṇas or life airs and the natural propensities of the body they inhabit, based upon karma or reactions to actions due to desire for rewards in previous lifetimes.

Hence even the gratification of the senses such as appeasing one's appetites and all activities which natures demands necessitates all belong to the Supreme Lord and not the individual.

Surrendering all actions solely unto the Supreme Lord is the understanding aspirants are imbued with.

pañcaitāni mahābāho kāraṇāni nibodha me |
sāṅkhye kṛtānte proktāni siddhaye sarva karmaṇām || 13 ||

13. Learn from Me, O Arjuna, these five causes which that are considered in reasoned deliberation (sāṅkhye kṛtānte) to be responsible for the accomplishment of all works.

adhiṣṭhānaṃtathākartākaraṇaṃca pṛthag vidham |
vividhāśca pṛthak-ceṣṭādaivaṃcaivātra pañcamam || 14 ||

14. The seat of action (the body) and likewise the agent, the various organs, the different and distinctive functions of Prāṇa (vital force) and also the presiding deity is the fifth among these.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The word Sānkhya means rational, analytical reasoning and refers to the Sānkhya philosophy established by Lord Krishna's incarnation of Kapila Deva.

The word kṛtānte means deriving the perfect conclusion of the categorical and essential nature of all things based upon the tenets, ordinances and injunctions of the Vedic scriptures.

The five causes Lord Krishna will reveal are component factors combining to manifest individual acts.

The word nibodha meaning “comprehend” denotes that they must be contemplated and reflected upon.

The absolute conclusion of the Vedic scriptures verily regards Lord Krishna's expansion as paramātma, the Supreme Soul, existing simultaneously in the etheric heart of all living entities as the sole author of all acts.

The body, the Prāṇa or life airs, the ego, the senses, these are the four instruments of the ātma or individual soul which is powered by paramātma the Supreme Soul.

Evidence confirming this is found in the Taittirīya Upaniṣad II.III.I beginning Prāṇa deva anu Prāṇanti meaning:

“That which is within the body is the Prāṇa and that which is seated within the body is the ātma and that which rules the immortal ātma is paramātma.”

śarīra vāṅg-manobhir yat karma prārabhate naraḥ|
nyāyyaṃvāviparītaṃvāpañcaite tasya hetavaḥ|| 15 ||

15. For whatever work one undertakes by body, speech and mind, whether right or wrong, these five are its basis.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The actions enacted by mind, speech and body which are righteous and meritorious are those that are sanctioned by the Vedic scriptures.

Those actions which are unrighteous and unmeritorious are those that are prohibited and those not prescribed in the Vedic scriptures.

In all actions of any nature whether pertaining to mind, speech or body the following are the five-fold cause:

1) Adhistathanam the physical body comprising the five elements of material creation.

2) Karta the jīva or embodied being endowed with the properties of intelligence and action giving the ability to think and act accordingly.

3) Kāraṇam are the various organs such as eyes, ears etc. along with those of locomotion such as feet, hands, etc. endowed with functions of combining to produce actions.

4) Prāṇas is the vital airs which in the form of automatically breathing sustains life

5) Paramātma the Supreme Soul exists simultaneously within all jives as the witness and monitor and includes the ātma or individual immortal soul.

That the jīvas ability to perform activities is dependent upon paramātma but not influenced by Him is confirmed in Vedanta Sutra II.III.XXXX beginning krita prayatnapek shastu vihita prati siddha meaning:

“The Supreme Lord impels the jīvas according to their nature and tendencies from previous activities and does not interfere in the freewill or invalidate the injunctions or ordinances of the Vedic scriptures in any way.”

It might be speculated with an objection that if the jīva performance of action is dependent upon and is a consequence of paramātma then there is no need to be concerned about karma or reactions from actions.

But this is an erroneous conception and not harmonious with the injunctions and interdictions of the Vedic scriptures.

Paramātma grants the jīva a physical body and its organs to function by the powers inherent in them. All jīvas are empowered by and dependent upon paramātma without exception.

The jīvas thus equipped to function are factually dependent upon paramātma although they have been bequeathed freewill which is above instinctual animal behaviour

and if they choose to utilise it, they have the ability to determine and choose their actions and execute the appropriate effort for such to manifest.

Internally, within the etheric heart, paramātma unbeknownst to the jīva is monitoring all thoughts and actions, sanctioning them silently by not interfering in the freewill of any jīva.

The jīva in this sense is the secondary doer because of freewill and thus is subject to the mandatory results of karma or reactions to actions.

Just as a heavy boulder requires the combined efforts of many people to move it, yet the person for whom it is effected for derives the benefit or detriment of its removable.

In the same manner the effort to accomplish an action although comprised of different elements, bestows the positive or negative results to the jīva who enacted the effort.

tatraivaṃsati kartāram ātmānaṃkevalaṃtuyaḥ|
paśyat yat kṛta buddhitvān na sa paśyati durmatiḥ|| 16 ||

16. Now such being the case, the fool who sees only the Self as the agent on account of undeveloped intellect —does not see at all.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

So because verily the jīva or embodied being is subject to the sanction of paramātma, the Supreme Soul, one should never consider themselves as independent nor think of themselves as the doer of anything.

Lord Krishna states that one who erroneously does so will be durmatiḥ, one whose intelligence is perverted and deluded and thus bewildered is oblivious that other elements are the essential factors in manifesting all activities.

yasya nāhaṅkṛto bhāvo buddhir yasya na lipyate |
hatvāpi sa imāṃ-llokān na hanti na nibadhyate || 17 ||

17. He who is free from the egoistic notion and whose understanding is not tainted —though he slays all these men, he slays not, nor is he bound.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The word ahaṅkāraḥ means the ego and refers to one who thinks themselves the doer of actions.

It is an erroneous figment of the mind that illusorily attaches itself to one's own self the conviction that: I myself am doing such and such action.

This false notion arises out of identification with the false ego and infatuation to a bodily conception. Such notion and conceptions are completely absent in those of spiritual intelligence who have surrendered themselves to the Supreme Lord.

The words na lipyate means not attached to the rewards of actions.

Since one of spiritual intelligence understands that they are never independent, they realise that the rewards from their actions is not of their concern. Hence they do not consider themselves the doer and are solely dependent upon the Supreme Lord.

Whose intelligence has been refined in this manner is known to be purified and untainted.

The inference is that although one may perform innumerable activities they perform them not because they are bereft of considering themselves the doer, they are not subject to be a recipient to receive the consequent merits or demerits resulting from any action.

This highly evolved consciousness of being fully dependent upon the Supreme Lord and never considering oneself as the doer of any action arises out of a jīva or embodied being prevalence of sattva guṇa the mode of goodness. Therefore it is a virtuous trait and worthy of acquisition to be cultured and implemented.

Next the differentiation of actions resulting from interaction and influences of the three guṇas or modes of material nature will be examined by Lord Krishna in detail to illustrate from where the inducement and incentive to perform actions arises.

jñānaṃjñeyaṃpari-jñātātrividhākarma codanā|
karaṇaṃkarma karteti trividhaḥkarma saṅgrahaḥ|| 18 ||

18. Knowing, the knowable and the knower are the threefold stimulus to action. The instrument, the act and the agent are the threefold basis of action.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The threefold activities that are the motivating force of all actions are itemised now.

1) Jñānam means knowledge of the activity.

2) Jñeyaṃ means knowing how the activity is to be accomplished.

3) Parijñātā means the knower who performs the activity.

These three activities are prerequisite and are the impetus which impels one to perform prescribed Vedic activities for the satisfaction of the Supreme Lord Krishna. Contrarily they are also the impetus to enact mundane activities for personal gratification.

Among these three activities jñeyaṃ is comprised of three subdivisions and explained in context of the Vedas are:

1) karaṇam how the activity becomes reality such as by donations of wealth or materials.

2) karma or engagement in the act itself such as yajña or ritualistic propitiation.

3) Kartā the agent who performs the action or initiates the action to be performed.

jñānaṃkarma ca kartāca tridhaiva guṇa-bhedataḥ|
procyate guṇa saṅkhyāne yathāvac-chṛṇu tāny-api || 19 ||

19. Knowledge, act and actor are declared, according to the Doctrine of the Guṇas (Sānkhya philosophy) to be of three kinds, according to the Modal Differences. Listen to a description of them as they really are.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Knowledge is understanding the action to be performed. The effort is the means and method to perform the action and included with the agent as the performer of the action.

The phrase guṇa-Sānkhya refers to the Sānkhya philosophy of analytical deduction by Lord Krishna's incarnation of Kapila- deva,

which describes the characteristics of the three guṇas or modes of material nature and their relationship to knowledge and agent as described in the next three verses.

The Threefold Division of Knowledge

sarva-bhūteṣu yenaikaṃbhāvam avyayam īkṣate |
avibhaktaṃvibhakteṣu taj-jñānaṃviddhi sātvikam || 20 ||

20. That knowledge which reveals one immutable reality in all beings, and not as separate in the different bodies —know that knowledge to be Sāttvic.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

In varṇa-āśrama or the divisions of society the Brahmins comprise the spiritual hierarchy, the kṣatriyas the royal and warrior class, the Vaiṣyas the farmer and mercantile class and the śūdra the worker class serving the previous three.

The other four divisions are brahmacāri, or celibate student life, grihastha or married householder life, Vānaprastha or separation from wife and family and sannyāsa or complete renunciation from society and exclusive devotion to the Supreme Lord Krishna or any of His authorised incarnations as revealed in Vedic scriptures.

There are all variances in appearance within these eight divisions such as tall, strong, attractive, delicate, etc.

Yet one who sees the one undivided, spiritual reality of the ātma or immortal souls existing equally within all jīvas or embodied beings and perceives that they are all inconceivably indivisible although manifesting individually sharing collectively in eternality, is firmly situated in sattva guṇa the mode of goodness.

One who sees the ātma as indestructible and unchangeable within the destructible and changeable physical body

and who, although performing variegated prescribed activities in any capacity, has comprehended that they are not the actual doer and also have no interest in the rewards of actions is situated in sattva guṇa.

pṛthaktvena tu yaj-jñānaṃnānābhāvān pṛthag-vidhān |
vetti sarveṣu bhūteṣu taj-jñānaṃviddhi rājasam || 21 ||

21. But that knowledge which sees various and distinctive (spiritual) entities in all the separate (physical) beings —know that knowledge to be Rājasic.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The word pṛthaktvena means separate individuality alluding to differences in appearance between jīvas or embodied beings.

The words nānā bhāvān refers to plurality of substance in falsely surmising that the ātma varies in quality or quantity with the variance of the physical body inhabited by the jīva or to wrongly conclude that the ātma varies in size and potency according to the body it is in.

This mentality is indicative of those situated in raja guṇa, the mode of passion and includes those desirous of receiving rewards for their actions.

yat tu kṛtsnavad ekasmin kārye saktam ahaitukam |
atattvārthavad alpaṃca tat tāmasam udāhṛtam || 22 ||

22. But that which adheres to one single act as if it were the whole, which is not founded on reason, and which is untrue and trivial —that knowledge is declared to be Tāmasic.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

One who clings to a single activity in a stagnant and obstinate manner, such as the worship of an impersonal conception of God and considers that such an insignificant activity has the highest perfection in existence to the exclusion of all other possibilities

and not considering any other conception as tenable and in stagnation ceases to develop and grow, is the epitome of one shackled in tama guṇa.

The word ahaitukam means irrational, without reason, imagining that which gives meagre results to give great results.

The words atattva arthavad means devoid of reality, without substantiation of the Vedic scriptures.

The word alpaṃ means limited in scope and relates to foolish, trivial pagan acts such as worshiping ghosts and spirits for material power.

So thus showing how the three guṇas or modes of material nature have a direct effect on the knowledge possessed by the performer of any action; Lord Krishna will next expound their direct influence upon actions themselves.

The Threefold Division of Acts

niyataṃsaṅga rahitam arāga-dveṣataḥkṛtam |
aphala prepsunākarma tat tat sātvikam ucyate || 23 ||

23. That obligatory work which is done without attachment, without desire or aversion, by one who desires no reward is said to be Sāttvic

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Lord Krishna uses the word niyataṃ, meaning consistency, and refers to the regulated performance of prescribed Vedic activities as a matter of duty, according to varṇāśrama the position and status one is situated in society.

The words saṅga rahitam means free from attachment and egoism that one is the doer. The words arāga- dveṣataḥ mean devoid of attraction to fame, power and an enjoying nature as well as void of aversion for defeat, failure and obscurity.

Acts performed without a mentality of attraction and aversion are without vanity and ego and bereft of desire for phala or rewards and are firmly situated in sattva guṇa, the mode of goodness.

yat tu kāmepsunākarma sāhaṅkāreṇa vāpunaḥ|
kriyate bahulāyāsaṃtad rājasam-udāhṛtam || 24 ||

24. But that act which is performed with great effort by one who longs to gratify desires and prompted by self-interest; is said to be Rājasic.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Continuing Lord Krishna affirms that actions done to acquire rewards and which are escorted with conceit and attended by ahaṅkāreṇa or egoism,

thinking that one is the actual doer and desirous of everyone to know, and which is accomplished only after great endeavour and expenditure of effort, is of the nature of raja guṇa the mode of passion.

anubandhaṃkṣayaṃhiṃsām anavekṣya ca pauruṣam |
mohād ārabhyate karma yat tat tāmasam ucyate || 25||

25. That task which is undertaken through delusion, disregarding the consequences, loss, injury and one's own capacity is said to be Tāmasic

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The word mohād means in illusion, deluded. The word kṣaya means loss, referring to loss of time, energy and expenditure.

The word anubandhaṃ, meaning consequences, is not considering the consequences of one's actions and pauruṣam, meaning capacity, denotes oblivious to whether or not one has the capability to complete it.

The word hiṁsā, meaning violence, denotes causing injury to others.

Lord Krishna reiterates that such endeavours engaged in foolish delusion are locked in tama guṇa the mode of ignorance.

The Threefold Division of Agents

mukta saṅgo’nahaṃvādīdhṛty-utsāha-samanvitaḥ|
siddhy-asiddhyor nirvikāraḥkartāsātvika ucyate || 26 ||

26. An agent who is free from attachment, and self-acclaim, who is endowed with perseverance and enthusiasm and is unaffected by success and failure, is said to be Sāttvic.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Now Lord Krishna describes the threefold effects of the three guṇas or modes of material nature on a performer of activity beginning with sattva guṇa the mode of goodness:

1) mukta- saṅga is free from attachment and exempt from desires for results.

2) anahaṃvādī is free from egoism as the doer and hence devoid of pride.

3) dhṛtiḥ is fortitude and determination in surmounting all odds for accomplishment.

4) utsāha is enthusiasm and zeal in undertaking prescribed Vedic activities.

The words siddhy-asiddhyor nirvikāraḥ means equipoise in success or failure of all activities, realising that all results are under the auspices of karma or reactions to actions and the ultimate will of the Supreme Lord.

Such consciousness is situated in sattva guṇa.

rāgīkarma phala prepsur-lubdho hiṃsātmako’śuciḥ|
harṣa śokānvitaḥkartārājasaḥparikīrtitaḥ|| 27 ||

27. That agent is known as Rājasic who is swayed by desire and motivated by gain, stingy, cruel, impure and overwhelmed by delight and grief.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Now Lord Krishna describes the nature of one performing activities in raja guṇa the mode of passion.

One who is rāgī, zealously ambitious, in seeking fame, power, wealth, etc.

One who is prepsu, always hankering for recompense and reward.

One who is aśuciḥ or impure and greedy, envious and unrighteous causing injury to others by mental and physical cruelty.

Such a one who is never in equipoise, who rejoices at success but is depressed by failure is indisputably known to be situated in raja guṇa.

ayuktaḥprākṛtaḥstabdhaḥ śaṭho naiṣkṛtiko’lasaḥ|
viṣādīdīrgha-sūtrīca kartātāmasa ucyate || 28 ||

28. That agent who is unqualified, vulgar, obstinate, unscrupulous, dishonest, lazy, morose and a procrastinator is said to be Tāmasic

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

One who is unqualified not having the requisite competence to perform prescribed Vedic activities.

Who is prākṛtaḥ or mundane and hence vulgar, vile and unrefined.

Who is stabdhaḥ, indolent, lethargic and unmotivated to engage in spiritual activities.

Who is śaṭha or wicked, having a predilection for evil and sorcery.

Who is lazy, morose and deceitful. Who is dīrgha-sūtrī, rancorously insulting of others from envy and harbouring deep, dark vengeance against them.

- Such a one is unremittingly situated in tama guṇa, the mode of passion.