Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Ramanuja | Discourse 18 verse 29-44

buddher bhedaṃdhṛteścaiva guṇatas trividhaṃ śṛṇu |
procyamānam aśeṣeṇa pṛthaktvena dhanañjaya || 29 ||

29. Hear now, the threefold division of Buddhi (rationalism) and Dhṛti (fortitude), according to the Guṇas, O Arjuna, as I declare them completely and distinctly.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The threefold characteristics have been described by the knowledge of the action to be done, by the method of the action to be done and by the performer of the action done.

Next the threefold nature of buddhi or intelligence and dhṛiti or determination which are the essential factors for ascertaining what is truth and what is reality.

Buddhi is the intelligent function of intellect that ascertains existence.

Dhriti is the steadfast resolve that stands for righteousness in accomplishing the objective.

Next Lord Krishna will illustrate the three guṇas or modes of material natures influence upon them both.

pravṛtiṃca nivṛttiṃca kāryākārye bhayābhaye |
bandhaṃmokṣaṃca yāvetti buddhiḥsāpārtha sātvakī|| 30 ||

30. That Rationalism is considered to be Sāttvic O Arjuna, which discerns extroversion and introversion, what ought to be done and what ought not to be done, fear and freedom from fear, bondage and liberation.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

1) pravṛtiṃca is actions performed under the auspices of dharma or righteousness

2) nivṛttiṃca is refraining from actions opposed to dharma which gives liberation

3) kārya-akārye is knowing what is appropriate according to time, place and circumstance whether adhering to pravṛtiṃca or nivṛttiṃca

4) bhaya-abhaye is fear, stemming from not adhering to the injunctions of the Vedic scriptures and fearlessness is by observing the ordinances of the Vedic scriptures

5) bandha is samsāra or enslavement in the perpetual cycle of birth and death

6) Mokṣa is liberation from material existence and release from samsāra.

Lord Krishna is affirming the essentials of those whose buddhi or intellect is situated in sattva guṇa the mode of goodness as only they have the ability to realise these points.

yayādharmam adharmaṃca kāryaṃcākāryam eva ca |
ayathāvat prajānāti buddhiḥsāpārtha rājasī|| 31 ||

31. The Rationalism which produces a mistaken conception of Dharma and Adharma and also of what ought to be done and what ought not to be done, O Arjuna, is Rājasic.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Here Lord Krishna explains that the buddhi or intellect of those situated in raja guṇa the mode of passion are unable to discern between the two types of dharma or righteousness, given in the previous verse, or their opposite of adharma or unrighteousness which subjects one to inappropriate actions according to time, place and circumstances.

adharmaṃdharmam iti yāmanyate tamasāvṛtā|
sarvārthān viparītāṃśca buddhiḥsāpārtha tāmasī|| 32 ||

32. That Rationalism, O Arjuna, which, enveloped in darkness, regards Adharma as Dharma and which reverses every value, is Tāmasic.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Now Lord Krishna states that the buddhi or intellect of those in tama guṇa or mode of ignorance is enveloped in the darkness of consciousness.

What they perceive is a distortion of reality.

They think what is worthy is worthless and what is worthless is worthy, what is fact is fiction and what is fiction is fact what is inferior is superior and what is superior they consider inferior.

They are easily led astray having no grasp of truth and no scope for what is real and what is unreal and thus endlessly they revolve in samsāra the perpetual cycle of birth and death..

dhṛtyāyayādhārayate manaḥprāṇendriya kriyāḥ|
yogenāvyabhicāriṇyādhṛtiḥsāpārtha sātvikī|| 33 ||

33. That perseverance by which one, through steady application, maintains the consistent functioning of the mind and metabolism and the work of these sense-organs —that perseverance is of the nature of Sattva.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The potency of unwavering meditation and Prāṇāyāma or breath control by which one enables and directs all the energies of the mind and controls the senses is an auxiliary of yoga, and is the only means of Mokṣa or liberation from material existence.

Bhakti yoga is exclusive loving devotion to the Supreme Lord Krishna or any of authorised avatars or incarnations as revealed in Vedic scriptures.

This is absolutely the only way one may be freed from the enslavement of samsāra, the perpetual cycle of birth and death. There is no other alternative.

Bhakti is glorious and sanctified, bestowing beatific bliss upon the performer and blessings upon all creation and is the only means for attaining the ultimate goal of all existence.

One who has cast all other conceptions and designations far away and exclusively engages in bhakti yoga to the Supreme Lord with their mind, senses and body has their dhṛiti or determination situated fully in sattva guṇa, the mode of goodness.

yayātu dharma kāmārthān dhṛtyādhārayate’rjuna |
prasaṅgena phalākāṅkṣīdhṛtiḥsāpārtha rājasī|| 34 ||

34. That perseverance, O Arjuna, by which, on account of attachment and desire for rewards, one adheres to [the pursuit of] Dharma, Kāma and Artha is Rājasic.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The dhṛta or determination that is influenced by raja guṇa, the mode of passion is motivated by desire for rewards and desires for kāma or enjoyment and artha or wealth and hopes for dharma or righteousness keeps the impetus activated.

For these are the means by which one interacts in life using the mind, senses and physical body; but the rewards that are reaped are only material and temporary.

Mokṣa or liberation form material existence can never be achieved if one is motivated for rewards for their actions.

So Lord Krishna has confirmed that activities which engage the mind, senses and body for the purpose of recompense and rewards is situated totally in raja guṇa and although may achieve kāma, artha and dharma such activities can never bestow Mokṣa.

yayāsvapnaṃbhayaṃ śokaṃviṣādaṃmadam eva ca |
na vimuñcati durmedhādhṛtiḥsāpārtha tāmasī|| 35 ||

35. That perseverance by which a foolish person does not give up sleep, fear, grief, depression and passion, O Arjuna, is of the nature of Tamas.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The word svapnaṃ means slumber, inferring slothfulness. Madam is the delusion of enjoying sense objects.

The durmedhā or unintelligent fools do not oppose their mind from allowing their senses to buffet then hither and thither in pursuit of sense gratification. They even sanction such treatment to satisfy their desires.

The terms bhayam or dread, śokaṃ or grief and viṣādaṃ or dejection are the by-products of this delusion, and those who waste their time and energy and waste their invaluable human life as such, Lord Krishna confirms are indispensably situated in tama guṇa.

The Threefold Division of Happiness

sukhaṃtvidānīṃtrividhaṃ śṛṇu me bharatarṣabha |
abhyāsād ramate yatra duḥkhāntaṃca nigacchati || 36 ||

36. Now hear from Me, O Arjuna, the threefold division of happiness, in which one enjoys by continued practice and by which one is surely freed from suffering;

yat tad agre viṣam iva pariṇāme’mṛtopamam |
tat sukhaṃsātvikaṃproktam ātma buddhi prasādajam || 37 ||

37. That joy which is like poison at first but eventually becomes like ambrosia, arising from the serene state of the mind focusing on the Ātman —such joys said to be Sāttvic.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The aforementioned descriptions of knowledge, action, performer, etc. are all utilised for the purpose and intention of obtaining happiness as influenced by the three guṇas or modes of material nature.

Now Lord Krishna reveals that the sukham or happiness that one becomes habituated to by constant endeavour gradually deriving exquisite pleasure at the cessation of misery with the termination of samsāra the perpetual cycle of birth and death.

Such sukham is achieved by industrious effort right from its very commencement with the yoga of meditation and Prāṇāyāma breathing exercises which bring the mind and senses under control.

The singular, unique nature of such sukham never having been experienced seems to be like venom in the beginning, but in the end, after a lifetime of devotional practice, its unique, sublime nature becomes just like nectar. Such happiness arises solely from ātma tattva or realisation of the immortal soul.

The consciousness of one which is absorbed in the ātma is one who can realise the ātma.

The bliss of tranquillity and serenity is experienced within after all conceptions and designations have been renounced except the ātma.

It is by such renunciation that the ātma is perceived and its ānanda or bliss experienced and it is this ānanda that awards the highest happiness and such sukham is like nectar and situated in sattva guṇa the mode of goodness.

viṣayendriya saṃyogād yat tad agre’mṛtopamam |
pariṇāme viṣam iva tat sukhaṃrājasaṃsmṛtam || 38 ||

38. That pleasure which arises from contact of the sense organs with their objects, which at first is like ambrosia but in the end like poison —that is declared to be Rājasic.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The sukham or happiness of those who enjoy the objects of the senses and take great pleasure in sense gratification, Lord Krishna states,

which seems like nectar in the beginning but which in the end after incessant repetition and habitual engagement,

seems to be just like a portion of poison when detected too late that such activities are a guaranteed premium paid reservation for samsāra, the perpetual cycle of birth and death, is situated in raja guṇa the mode of passion.

yad agre cānubandhe ca sukhaṃmohanam ātmanaḥ|
nidrālasya pramādotthaṃtat tāmasam udāhṛtam || 39 ||

39. That pleasure which is characterised by self-delusion, both in the beginning and the sequel, arising from sleep, indolence and negligence is declared to be Tāmasic.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

That sukham or happiness which enthrals the jīva or embodied being both at the beginning and as well at the end, even after the habitual, repetitive experience exhibits its true nature of enslavement and bondage to samsāra, the perpetual cycle of birth and death, is affirmed by Lord Krishna as tama guṇa the mode of ignorance.

The word mohanam means delusion and is the obscuration of the true nature of reality.

Nidrā or slumber denotes unconsciousness which can transpire even while engaging in an act of enjoyment.

Alasya is slothfulness, the lassitude which comes from habitually dulled senses and which certainly contributes to dullness of mind.

Pramāda is inattention to what is required and is connected to dullness of mind.

So the delusive nature of nidrā, alasya and pramāda are all situated firmly in tama guṇa and along with the characteristics of raja guṇa are very detrimental to the aspiring jīva.

na tad asti pṛthivyāṃvādivi deveṣu vāpunaḥ|
sattvaṃprakṛtair muktaṃyad ebhiḥsyāt tribhir guṇaiḥ|| 40 ||

40. There is no being on earth or even among the gods in heaven, which is free from [the influence of] these three Guṇas arising from Prakṛti.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Now Sri Krishna, proceeds to teach about the vocations of the various social classes —the Brāhmaṇas (Intellectuals), Kṣatriyas (administrators), Vaiśyas and Śūdras (workers) based upon their previous Karmas; all of which He classifies according to the Guṇas.

He declares that all such activities when performed in the spirit of renunciation and as acts of worship are a means to final Liberation which is the attainment of the Supreme Being.

brāhmaṇa kṣatriya viśāṃ śūdrāṇāṃca paraṅtapa |
karmāṇi pravibhaktāni svabhāva prabhavair guṇaiḥ|| 41 ||

41. The duties of the Brāhmaṇas, Kṣatriyas; Vaiṣyas and the Śūdras O Arjuna, are distinctly divided according to their inherent dispositions.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The word svabhāva means one's inherent nature. This inherent nature arises from saṁskāras or past impressions and karma or reactions from past actions and is the root cause of determining birth as a Brahmin.

The three guṇas or modes of material nature arising from prakṛti or the material substratum pervading all existence are determined by karma and samskaras as well.

The predominating attribute of the Brahmins or spiritual class is sattva guṇa the mode of goodness.

The predominating characteristic of the kṣatriya or administrative class is raja guṇa the mode of passion.

The predominating characteristic of the Vaiṣyas or mercantile class is tama guṇa mixed with raja guṇa and the predominating characteristic of the Śūdras is only tama guṇa.

Duties and responsibilities vary according to position and status in society as assigned by the Vedic scriptures.

It is the Vedic scriptures which defines what qualities are possessed by Brahmins and what are the duties proper to their status as well as what occupations they may engage in. This Vedic directive applies to the other orders in society as well.

śamo damas tapaḥ śaucaṃkṣāntir ārjavam eva ca |
jñānaṃvijñānam āstikyaṃbrahmam-karma svabhāvajam || 42 ||

42. Serenity and restraint, self-discipline, purity, forbearance, integrity, wisdom, insight and faith in the Vedas — all these constitute the functions of the Brāhmaṇas based on their inherent disposition

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The natural duties appropriate for the Brahmins, the priestly class, are the following:

1) śama is control of the inner sense the mind. 2) Dama is restraint of the external senses. 3) Tapas is austerity of the body as prescribed in Vedic scriptures like fasting.

4) Śaucaṃ is purity, sanctifying oneself to perform Vedic ordained duties. 5) Kṣānti is forbearance, maintaining composure from provocation of others. 6) Ārjavam is uprightness, expressing to others what one thinks without duplicity.

7) Jñānam is knowledge of the Vedic scriptures. 8) Vijñānam is realising the conclusions of the Vedic scriptures.

9) Āstika is absolute, irreversible faith the veracity of the Vedic scriptures which is impervious to any attempt to dissuade it.

Such a resolute conviction is aware that:

A) the Supreme Lord Krishna is the ultimate creator, maintainer and sustainer of all creation and that He is localised within every living being throughout all existence as Paramātma the omnipresent, supreme soul

and that His all-pervasive impersonal aspect is the Brahman the spiritual substratum pervading all existence and that His personal sound frequency is the transcendental sound vibration OM.

B) The Supreme Lord Krishna and any of His authorised incarnations as revealed in Vedic scriptures is the indomitable antithesis to all that is evil and unrighteous.

C) The Supreme Lord Krishna and His incarnations possess unlimited, glorious attributes and resplendent qualities such as omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, full power, full beauty, full cognizance, full renunciation, full opulence etc. which are eternal and transcendental.

D) The Supreme Lord Krishna is the sole object to be known in Vedic scriptures.

E) He is the sole cause of all creation.

F) He is the sole foundation of all creation.

G) He is the Supreme controller of all creation.

H) All prescribed Vedic activities enjoined to perform are variations of His worship

I) Worshipped as such He confers blessings on humans according to their deeds.

This reality has already been evidenced in verses throughout Śrīmad Bhagavad-Gita like:

In chapter 5, verse 29: “One who understands that Lord Krishna is the supreme controller of all achieves liberation”.

In chapter 7, verse 6: “Lord Krishna is the sole cause of creation and destruction of all existence” and in verse 7: “There is nothing superior to Lord Krishna. All creation is dependent upon Him.”

In chapter 10 verse 3: “One who knows Lord Krishna is the supreme controller of all the worlds is not deluded among mortals” and in verse 8: “The wise know that Lord Krishna is the source of both the material and the spiritual worlds.”

In chapter 15 verse 15: “Lord Krishna is the supreme soul within the heart of all living entities by the Vedas alone He is to be known”

and coming in chapter 18 verse 46: “As everything is pervaded by Him, one attains perfection from performing prescribed Vedic activities to Lord Krishna”.

In this way this topic has been well evidenced.

śauryaṃtejo dhṛtir dākṣyaṃyuddhe cāpyapalāyanam |
dānam īśvara-bhāvaśca kṣātraṃkarma svabhāvajam || 43 ||

43. Valour, power, determination, proficiency and courage in battle, generosity and leadership are the inherent characteristics of the Kṣatriyas.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Lord Krishna describes the natural duties of kṣatriya the royal governing warrior class:

1) śauryaṃ is bravery, valour and intrepidness in conflict without hesitation.

2) tejo is courageous, fiery nature that does not back down.

3) dhṛiti is endurance to persevere in an endeavour despite difficulties.

4) dākṣyaṃ is adroitness, dexterity the ability to adjust in execution of duties.

5) apalāyanam is absence of cowardice even in the case of life or death.

6) dānaṁ is benevolence, generosity to others in need.

7) Īśvara-bhāva the capacity to lead and govern dependents.

kṛṣi go-rakṣya vāṇijyaṃvaiśya-karma svabhāvajam |
paricaryātmakaṃkarma śūdrasyāpi svabhāvajam || 44 ||

44. Agriculture, cattle-breeding and trade are the innate vocations of Vaiśyas, and the duty of the Śūdras is service, arising from their innate dispositions.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The natural duties allocated to the Vaiṣyas or agricultural, mercantile class are:

1) kṛṣi or farming. 2) go- rakṣya or cow raising and cow protecting 3) vāṇijyaṃ or acts of commerce and trade endorsed by the Vedic scriptures.

The natural duties of Śūdras or worker class are amenable service to the upper 3 classes.

Thus by defining the duties of the four classes in Vedic culture, the necessary performance of prescribed Vedic activities and the appropriate participation of each of the four classes is implied.

For example in yajña or ritualistic performance of propitiation and worship the Brahmins will perform the ceremony, the kṣatriya will donate wealth, the Vaiṣyas will supply the ingredients such as ghee or clarified butter and cow products, the Śūdras will serve the kṣatriyas and Vaiṣyas.

The Brahmins being naturally endowed with sattva guṇa the mode of goodness are allotted with samah or self-control of the mind which bestows the purity required to perform Vedic rituals and ceremonies.

Although qualified for initiation, this was not allocated to kṣatriya and Vaiṣyas due to them having a preponderance of raja guṇa mode of passion and tama guṇa mode of ignorance which is not compatible with samah.

The Brahmins exemplify by example the teachings of the Vedic scriptures instructing others the proper way to live a human existence according to the status of life they are in.

The kṣatriyas duty is to righteously govern and protect the citizens of the country. The Vaiṣyas duty is cow protection and cultivating food for the population.

The Śūdras duty is to do all the menial services for a fair compensation, necessary for the upper three classes to discharge their duties expediently and efficiently.