Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Ramanuja | Discourse 2 verse 1-17

Chapter 2
Sānkhya Yoga
Communion through Knowledge

sañjaya uvāca
taṁtathākṛpayāviṣṭaṁaśā-pūrṇā-kulekṣaṇam |
viṣīdantam idaṁvākyam uvāca madhusūdanaḥ|| 1 ||

Sanjaya said:

1. To him, who was thus overcome with pity, whose eyes were filled with tears, who was despondent and bewildered, Śrī Krishna spoke these words:

śrībhagavān uvāca
kutas tvākaśmalam idaṁviṣame samupasthitam |
anāryājuṣṭam asvargyam akīrtikaram arjuna || 2 ||

The Blessed Lord said:

2. Whence comes this unworthy weakness in a crisis, O Arjuna? It is unseemly for a noble person, it is disgraceful and obstructive to the attainment of heaven.

klaibyaṁmāsma gamaḥpārtha naitat-tvayyupapadyate |
kṣudraṁhṛdaya daurbalyaṁtyaktvottiṣṭha paraṅtapa || 3 ||

3. Yield not to unmanliness, O Arjuna, it does not become you. Cast off this base faint-heartedness and arise, O scorcher of foes!

arjuna uvāca
kathaṁbhīṣmam ahaṁsaṅkhye droṇaṁca madhusūdana |
iṣubhiḥpratiyotsyāmi pūjārhāv-arisūdana || 4 ||

Arjuna said:

4. O Krishna, O Destroyer of enemies, how can I fight with arrows in battle against Bhishma and Drona who are worthy of reverence?

gurūn ahatvāhi mahānubhāvān śreyo bhoktuṁbhaikṣyam apīha loke |
hatvārtha kāmāṁs tu gurūn ihaiva bhuñjīya bhogān rudhira-pradigdhān || 5 ||

5. It is better even to live on a beggar's fare in this world than to slay these most venerable teachers. If I should slay my teachers, even though they may be degraded by desire for wealth, I would be enjoying only blood-stained pleasures.

na caitad vidmaḥkataran no garīyo yadvājayema yadi vāno jayeyuḥ|
yān eva hatvāna jijīviṣāmas te’vasthitāḥpramukhe dhārtarāṣṭhrāḥ|| 6 ||

6. We do not know, which of the two is better for us— our vanquishing them, the very sons of Dhritarāṣṭra, or their vanquishing us. After slaying them we would not wish to live, even though they are standing in array against us.

kārpaṇya doṣopahata svabhāvaḥ pṛcchāmi tvāṁdharma samūḍha cetasaḥ|
yacchreyaḥsyān niścitaṁbrūhi tan me śiṣyas te śādhi māṁtvāṁprapannam || 7 ||

7. With my heart stricken by the weakness of pity, with my mind perplexed about my duty, I request you to teach me conclusively what is good for me.I am your disciple. Instruct me who have taken refuge in you.

na hi prapaśyāmi mamāpanudyād yacchokam ucchoṣaṇam indriyāṇām |
avāpya bhūmāv-asapatnam-ṛddham rājyaṁsuraṇām api cādhipatyam || 8 ||

8. Even if I should win unchallenged sovereignty of a prosperous earth or even the kingdom or lordship over the Devas, I do not feel that it would dispel the grief that burns up my senses.

sañjaya uvāca
evam uktvāhṛṣīkeśaṁguḍakeśaḥparaṅtapa |
na yotsya iti govindam uktvātūṣṇīṁbabhūva ha || 9 ||

Sanjaya said;

9. Having spoken thus to Śrī Krishna, Arjuna, the conqueror of sleep and the scorcher of foes, said, 'I will not fight' and became silent.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Thus, the Lord, the Supreme Being, introduces the teaching regarding the Self for the sake of Arjuna whose natural courage was lost due to love and misplaced compassion.

Arjuna considered the war to be unrighteous even though it is the greatest duty for warriors (Kṣatriyas). He then took refuge in Śrī Krishna to learn what the correct course of action was.

Śrī Krishna understood that Arjuna's delusion would only be overcome by the knowledge of the real nature of the Self,

and the knowledge that war (action) is an ordained duty [for Kshatriyas] which, when performed without attachment to the fruits thereof is a means for Self-realisation.

tam uvāca hṛṣikeśaḥprasanniva bhārata |
senayor ubhayor madhye viṣīdantaṁidaṁvacaḥ|| 10 ||

10. O King, to him who was thus grieving between the two armies, Śrī Krishna spoke the following words, as if smiling.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

as if smiling,’[by way of ridicule] —Arjuna was speaking about duty (dharma) which was based on the awareness of the concept of the Self being distinct from the body,

but he was torn between contradictory ideas and had suddenly renounced action while standing between the two armies preparing for battle.

Śrī Krishna spoke to Arjuna ‘as if in jest’, the discourse beginning with; —"There never was a time when I did not exist" (2:12),

and ending with "I will release you from all hindrances to self-realisation; grieve not!" (18:66)—which deals with the real nature of the individual Self [jīvātman], of the Supreme Self [Paramātman],

and of the paths of works(Karma), knowledge (Jñāna) and devotion (Bhakti) which constitute the means for attaining the highest spiritual goal.

Śrī Bhagavān uvāca
aśocyān anvaśocas tvaṁprajñāvādāṁśca bhāṣase |
gatāsūn agatāsūṁśca nānuśocanti paṇḍitāḥ|| 11 ||

The Blessed Lord said

11. You grieve for those who should not be grieved for; yet you speak words of apparent wisdom. The wise grieve neither for the dead nor for the living.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

"Your grief is misplaced, and your contrived justification is based on teachings about the nature of the body and the Self such as: —"The ancestors become degraded, deprived of the ritual offerings of food and water"(1:42). —But for those who have truly realised the nature of the body and the Self, there is no reason for such grief.

Those who know the real truth will not grieve for physical bodies from which the life force has departed, or for the Selves from which the principle of life cannot depart.

Hence, you are caught in this dilemma —profound sorrow at the thought of killing the Kaurāvas and at the same time you’re in a quandary about righteousness and unrighteousness, which arises from awareness that the Self is [somewhat] different from the body.

Therefore you do not [really] know the true nature of the body nor of the Self.

Nor do you know about duties (dharma) like warfare etc., or of the fact that this war [which is an incumbent duty in the present context], if fought without any selfish motive for results, is a means for Self-realisation."

na tvevāhaṁjātu nāsaṁna tvaṁ neme janādhipāḥ|
na caiva na bhaviṣyāmaḥsarve vayamataḥparam || 12 ||

12. There never was a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor any of these temporal kings. Nor will there be any time in future when all of us shall cease to be.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

“I, [Krishna] who am, as you know, the eternal Lord of all, was never non-existent, but have always existed.

There never was a time when these Selves (jīvas) like you [and the others], who are subject to My sovereignty, did not exist. You have always existed, and 'all of us' —I and you, shall never cease to be 'in the future'; we shall always exist.

Just as there is certainly no doubt that I, the Supreme Self and Lord of all, am eternal, likewise, you [and all others] who are embodied Jīvas, should never doubt your eternality either.”

The foregoing teaching implies that the difference between the Lord who is the sovereign over all, and the individual jīvas; as also the differences among the individual jīvas themselves, are real.

This has been declared by the Lord Himself because different terms like 'I', 'you', 'these', 'all' and 'we' have been used by the Lord while explaining the truth of eternality in order to remove the misunderstanding of Arjuna who is deluded by ignorance.

As regards the doctrine of Bhāskara [and the Advaitins] that the above mentioned distinctions [between the Lord and jīvas, and between the jīvas themselves] are unreal and due to some limiting condition (Māyā) — it would be highly improper [for the Lord] to make reference to distinctions at the time of imparting the [ultimate] Truth.

If we examine [Bhāskara’s] theory of upādhi (adventitious limitation), which states that the apparent differences among jīvas are due only to the bodies (adventitious limitations),

it must be admitted that discussion of differences is out of place when explaining the ultimate Truth, because according to the theory[of Bhāskara and the Advaitins] there are no such differences in reality.

The inherent differences mentioned by the Lord are taught by the Veda also:—

'Eternal among eternals, the intelligent among the intelligent, the one among many who fulfils desires’ (Sve. Up. 6:13, Ka. Up. 2:2:13).

The meaning of this text is: —‘Among the eternal sentient beings who are countless, He, who is the Supreme Spirit fulfils the desires of all.'

As regards the doctrine of the Advaitins that the perception of difference arises from ignorance (ajñāna or avidya) only, and is not actually real;

[it may be pointed out that] the Supreme Being —whose comprehension must be perfect, free from all ignorance and its effects —must therefore have a direct cognition of the true nature of the ātman; comprised of eternal consciousness, and being without any differentiation and unchangeable.

He therefore cannot possibly be aware of the so-called differences which arise from ignorance.

It is, therefore, unimaginable that He would then engage Himself in activities such as teaching which are based entirely upon such a perception of differences arising from ignorance.

It may be argued that the Supreme Being, though perfectly aware of non-duality, can still be aware of such difference which persists even after sublation.

For example a burnt piece of cloth may continue to look like a cloth, and that such continued [perception] of the nullified does not cause Him bondage.

Such a proposition is invalidated in the light of another analogy of a similar kind, namely, the perception of the mirage. When a mirage is realised to be what it is, one does not then persist in an attempt to fetch water there from.

In the same way, even if the impression of difference persists after it has been nullified by the realisation of non-dualism, it cannot impel one to activities such as teaching; for the person to whom the instruction is to be imparted is discovered to be unreal.

The idea is that just as the discovery of the non-existence of water in a mirage brings an end to all efforts to get water from it, so also when all duality is negated by enlightenment, no activity like teaching disciples etc., could take place.

Nor is it acceptable that the Supreme Lord was at one time ignorant and obtained knowledge of non-duality through the Scriptures, and is still being subject to the continuation of the suppressed experiences.

Such a contention contradicts the Veda (Śruti) and the Smṛti (Canon Law): —

'He, who is all-knowing and all wise' (Mun.Up., 1.1.9);

His supreme power is indeed revealed as varied and inherent, and consists of omniscience, omnipotence and action' (Sve. Up. 6.8);

'I know, Arjuna, all beings of the past, present and future but no one knows Me,' etc. (Gita 7:26).

And again, if the perception of difference and distinction are said to persist even after the non-dual Self has been decisively realised,

the question arises—to whom will the Lord and the succession of teachers of the tradition (Guru Paramparā) impart the knowledge in accordance with their realisation?

The question requires an answer. The realisation of non-duality cannot possibly coexist with the perception of differences.

If the Advaitins reply using the Bimba-Pratibimba (the original and the reflection) argument that teachers give instructions to their own reflections in the form of disciples such as Arjuna, it is absurd.

For, no sane person would attempt to give instructions to his own reflection seen in precious stone, the blade of a sword or a mirror, knowing, as he does, that they are non-different from himself!

The theory of the persistence of the sublated is thus impossible to maintain, because the knowledge of the non-dual Self is supposed to destroy the very ignorance in which differences external to the Self are alleged based.

'The persistence of the sublated' does indeed occur in cases where the cause is the result of some physical defect such as the seeing of two moons, in impaired eyesight known as double-vision (diplopia).

This double vision cannot be nullified by the right understanding that there is only one moon.

Even though the perception of the two moons may continue, it is rendered inconsequential on the strength of strong contrary evidence. For, it will not lead to any activity based upon a real experience.

But in the present context [in the case of Śrī Krishna teaching Arjuna], the concept of difference —where both object and cause are admittedly unreal —is negated by the knowledge of reality. So the 'persistence of the sublated' is impossible.

Thus, if the Supreme Lord and the succession of preceptors (guru-paramparā) have attained the realisation of [a non-dual] reality, their perception of duality [after realisation] and activities such as teaching proceeding from such [non-dual] realisation, are impossible.

If, on the other hand, the perception of difference persists because of the continuation of ignorance and its causes, then these teachers are themselves ignorant of the Truth, and they will be incapable of teaching the Truth.

Moreover, as the preceptor has attained the realisation of the non-dual ātman and thereby overcome the ignorance obscuring Brahman and all the effects of such ignorance, there is no purpose in instructing the disciple.

If it be argued that the preceptor and his teaching are just in the imagination of the disciple, the disciple and his knowledge are similarly the product of the imagination of the preceptor, and as such the ignorance in question cannot be overcome.

If it is maintained that the disciple's knowledge, even though imaginary, overcomes ignorance etc., because it annuls the previous state of non-enlightenment, the same can be asserted of the preceptor's knowledge.

The futility of such teachings is obvious. Enough of these unsound doctrines which have all thus been refuted!

dehino’smin yathādehe kaumāraṁyauvanaṁjarā|
tathādehāntara prāptir dhīras tatra na muhyati || 13 ||

13. Just as the embodied Self passes through childhood, youth and old age [pertaining to that body], so [at death] it passes into another body. A wise man is not confused thereby.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Because of the conviction that the Self is eternal, one does not grieve, when passing through the various physical transformations such as childhood, youth and old age etc., thinking that the Self is changing. Similarly, the wise, do not grieve when the Self passes into another body different from the present one.

The eternal jīvas being conditioned by beginningless Karma become endowed with bodies according to their particular Karmas.

To overcome this bondage [of transmigration caused by Karma], embodied beings should perform their duties like war and other vocations and rites prescribed by the Scripture and which are appropriate to their social circumstances without attachment to the results of those actions.

Even to such aspirants for liberation, contacts with sense-objects give pleasure and pain, arising from cold, heat and all such other things. But these experiences are to be endured as long as the works enjoined by the Scriptures are being performed.

The Lord explains the significance immediately: —

mātrāsparśās tu kaunteya śītoṣṇa sukha-duḥkhadāḥ|
āgamāpāyino’nityās tāṁs titikṣasva bhārata || 14 ||

14. The contact of senses with their objects, O Arjuna, give rise to feelings of cold and heat, pleasure and pain. They come and go, they are impermanent, endure them, O Arjuna.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

As sound, touch, form, taste and smell along with their basis (the sense organs), are the effects of subtle elements [within the mind], they are called Mātras (tanmātras= “measurements”).

The experience of these [objects of the senses] through means of the ears and other senses gives rise to feelings of pleasure and pain, in the form of heat and cold, softness and hardness etc.

You should remain unperturbed by these contrasts while you discharge your prescribed duties [such as warfare]. When the Karmas, which cause bondage, are destroyed, this 'coming and going'(transmigration) will end.

The Lord now explains the purpose of this endurance:

yaṁhi na vyathayantyete puruṣaṁpuruṣarṣabha |
sama duḥkha sukhaṁdhīraṁso’mṛtatvāya kalpate || 15 ||

15. One who is unaffected by these, O chief of men, and to whom pain and pleasure are the same, that steadfast person alone is worthy of immortality.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

That person alone attains liberation, who, considers pain as inevitable as pleasure, and who engages in Duty without attachment to the results, and who is unperturbed by the blows of weapons which may be light or serious.

A person like you, who cannot cope with grief will not obtain liberation. As the jīvas are immortal, what is to be done here, is to transcend the pairs of opposites —this is the meaning.

nāsato vidyate bhāvo nābhāvo vidyate sataḥ|
ubhayor api dṛṣṭo’ntas tvanayos tattva darśibhiḥ|| 16 ||

16. The unreal can never come into being, the real never ceases to be. The conclusion about these two is discerned by the seers of truth.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

'The unreal' (Asat) refers to the physical body which can never be eternal. 'The real' (Sat) refers to the Self (jīva), which can never cease to exist.

The literal meaning of anta is end. Here it means the summation or conclusion of the essential natures of sat and asat. The authoritative conclusion arrived at by elevated sages in this matter is that the nature of the physical body is asat being temporary and that the nature of the spiritual soul is sat being eternal. That which is asat is therefore known by its perishable nature and that which is sat is known by its imperishable nature. Hence it is clear that what is indicated by sattva and asattva are the soul and the body.

[Here follows the justification for describing the body as 'unreal' and as having 'never come into being.' —Ed.]

Non-existence has, indeed, the character of destructibility, and what is Existent (Real) has the character of indestructibility, as Bhagavan Parāśara has said: —

'O Brahmin, apart from consciousness nothing else exists anywhere and at any time. Thus have I taught you what is real existence—how consciousness is real, and all else is unreal' (Viṣṇu Purāṇa .P. 2.12 vs. 43-45).

'The Supreme Reality is considered as imperishable by the wise. There is no doubt that what can be obtained from a perishable substance is also perishable.

'That entity which is never changed or modified by a change in time etc., is real! What is that entity, O King? (It is the jīvātman who retains its knowledge)' (Viṣṇu Purāṇa 2.13.100).

It is seen from the foregoing that this (i.e., perishableness of the body and imperishableness of the jīva) is the reason for designating the jīva as 'existence' (Sattva) and the body as 'non-existence' (asattva).

This verse has no bearing on the doctrine of satkārya-vāda of the Sānkhya philosophy which vaguely states: what is not cannot come to be and what is cannot cease to be.

For in this context the Supreme Lord Krishna is specifically instructing Arjuna to dispel his delusion, due to not correctly understanding the difference between the perishable nature of the body and the imperishable nature of the soul.

It was in order to emphasise this that the previous verse Chapter 2, verse 2 was spoken and it is to further elaborate this subject that the subsequent two verses are revealed.

But how is it that the soul’s imperishable nature is known?

The next verse states this.

avināśi tu tad viddhi yena sarvam idaṁtatam |
vināśam avyayasyāsya na kaścit kartum arhati || 17 ||

17. Know that to be indestructible by which all this [material universe] is pervaded. None can cause the destruction of that —The Immutable.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

It should be understood that the soul is indestructible and is the principle by which the physical body is permeated. The insentient body is completely distinct from the sentient soul.

By reason of its pervasive nature the soul is very subtle, in fact so exceedingly subtle is the soul that it is verily incapable of being destroyed being subatomic in essence.

There is no thing which is of different or of a dissimilar nature from it which in any way is capable of destroying the soul.

For whatever there is existing is pervaded by the soul as well and being pervaded by the soul itself verifies its less gross and most subtle position of all being subatomic.

Such things as weapons, water, fire, air, cold etc. cannot influence or be the agents of destruction for the imperishable soul, being all pervaded by it.

The rationale of a hammer striking an object and disintegrating it is now given:

When a hammer strikes an object with excessive force an extreme vibration produces a molecular disruption which causes the destruction of the object.

But in the case of the soul there is no destruction as when light penetrates a glass jar and is not destroyed when the glass is destroyed; similarly the soul is like unto this in relation to the body.

Thus it can be understood the imperishable nature of the soul.

Now the next verse explains that being perishable is the very nature of the physical body.