Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Ramanuja | Discourse 4 verse 1-11

Chapter 4
Jñāna Vibhāga Yogaḥ
Communion through Wisdom

Summary of the Teaching

In the third chapter Lord Krishna explained that only karma yoga or the performance of prescribed Vedic activities was suitable for the materialistic person aspiring for mokṣa or liberation from the cycle of birth and death and that such an aspirant was not competent to follow the path of jñāna yoga or the cultivation of Vedic knowledge.

It was also shown that even for jñāna yoga practitioners that karma yoga when performed as a matter of duty without attachment was preferable.

It was further illustrated that for leaders of prominence in society it is an important necessity to perform karma yoga in order that the public is guided and inspired in a righteous manner.

The objective of this fourth chapter is to further emphasise the worthiness of karma yoga by giving evidence that it was taught to great personalities at the beginning of this Manvantara or cyclic appearance of one type of divine incarnations as verified in Vedic scriptures over a period of time comprising approximately every 350 million years.

Also it will be shown in this chapter how karma yoga partakes of the nature of jñāna yoga by reason of spiritual intentions underlying all prescribed Vedic activities.

Chapter four finishes up by explaining the nature and varieties of karma yoga and the importance of spiritual awareness connected to performing every action.

śrī-bhagavān uvāca
imaṃvivasvate yogaṃproktavān aham avyayam |
vivasvān manave prāha manur-ikṣvākave’bravīt || 1 ||

The Blessed Lord said:

1. I taught this imperishable Yoga to Vivasvān; Vivasvān taught it to Manu; Manu declared it to Ikshvāku.

evaṃparamparāprāptam imaṃrāja-rṣayo viduḥ|
sa kāleneha mahatāyogo naṣṭaḥparaṅtapa || 2 ||

2. Thus handed down in succession, the royal sages knew this (Karma Yoga). But with long lapses of time, O Arjuna, this Yoga was lost to the world.

sa evāyaṃmayāte’dya yogaḥproktaḥpurātanaḥ|
bhakto’si me sakhāceti rahasyaṃhyetad-uttamam || 3 ||

3. It is that same ancient Yoga which I now teach to you, as you are My devotee and My friend; it is indeed the highest mystery.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Lord Krishna is suggesting that it should not be presumed that the yoga or knowledge of the individual consciousness in communion with the Ultimate Consciousness being given by him is just a persuasive speech intended to prompt one to do their duty;

for He now reveals that He also instructed it to Vivasvān, the deity controlling the sun, as a way of attaining mokṣa or liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

A method intended for the salvation of all the universes and a measure designed to benefit all of creation, truly being the sublime goal of humans.

Vivasvān taught it to Manu who instructed it to Ikshvāku and so on successively until it was transmitted to the saintly kings from the mouths of their spiritual masters. But due to the passage of time and dull understanding of humanity this knowledge was lost and forgotten.

But the very same yoga, pure and pristine is being revealed in all its entirety and details by Lord Krishna because Arjuna has taken full shelter in Him in loving devotion as the only refuge.

No one other then the Supreme Lord Krishna is able to originally explain the Bhagavad-Gita as it is the essence of the sublime wisdom of all the Vedas and encapsulates the mysteries of Vedanta.

arjuna uvāca
aparaṃbhavato janma paraṃjanma vivasvataḥ|
katham etad vijānīyāṃtvam ādau proktavān iti || 4 ||

Arjuna said:

4. Your birth was recent, and the birth of Vivasvān long ago. How then am I to understand that you taught it in the beginning?

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The sun-god Vivasvān had duly received the Bhagavad-Gita from Lord Krishna 120 million years previously; yet he was Arjuna's contemporary; so an explanation of this anomalous anachronism is being requested.

One may question - what is the purpose to ask this from one who is aware of Lord Krishna's supreme position for it is known that even saintly and noble souls remember events from previous incarnations.

Also before, when the Pāṇḍava king Yudhisṭhīra performed the Rājasūya ceremony, the grandsire Bhīshma was heard to say that Lord Krishna alone is the origin of all created beings and the beginning and the end of all movable and immovable beings.

So the reason Arjuna asked such a question was to get clarification presented in an exposition on the meaning of avatars or Lord Krishna's authorised incarnations in the Vedic scriptures and answer these questions:

1) Are avatars real or illusory?

2) Under what circumstances do avatars manifest?

3) What is the nature of the body the avatar assumes?

4) Are all the avatars expanding from Lord Krishna?

5) Are all the avatars omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent?

6) Are all avatars transcendental to the cycle of birth and death?

7) Are all avatars able to fulfil all desires?

8) What is the time schedule which avatars manifest themselves?

This was the purpose of this question so Lord Krishna would give an expose on these topics.

śrī-bhagavān uvāca
bahūni me vyatītāni janmāni tava cārjuna |
tānyahaṃveda sarvāṇi na tvaṃvettha parantapa || 5 ||

The Blessed Lord said:

5. Many births of Mine have passed, O Arjuna, and so is it with you also. I know them all, but you do not know them.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Lord Krishna declaration of: many births have past for you and for Me is a definite affirmation of the reality of reincarnation for Arjuna and confirmation of the avatars or incarnations of the Supreme Lord Krishna.

What He is confirming is that His present incarnation is as real as Arjuna's present life reincarnation and that the ones from the past are real as well, subtly implying that there is a fundamental difference between them.

The nature of the avatars, how they manifest and their purpose for incarnating is given next.

ajo’pi sann-avyayātmābhūtānām īśvaro’pi san |
prakṛtiṃsvām-adhiṣṭhāya saṃbhavāmy-ātma māyayā|| 6 ||

6. Though I am unborn and immutable by nature, and though I am the Lord of all beings, yet by employing My own Nature (Prakṛti) I am born by My own free will.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Lord Krishna affirms that although He enters prakṛti or material nature which is under His complete control, by His own sweet will through His internal potency known as Yogamāyā,

He is never divested of His supreme transcendental attributes and imperishable potencies as Sovereign Lord of all creation even though His external from appears human.

The forms and places where the Supreme Lord resides as described in the Vedic scriptures:

1) He the spirit who luminously resides in the interior of the sun 2) He the spirit who luminously resides in the etheric region of the heart 3) He who is immortal and eternal

4) He who manifested all the demigods and humans 5) He who is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent 6) He who is resplendent and all pervasive

7) He who is transcendental to prakṛti or material nature. 8) He who by His omniscience knows the actions and qualities of all beings.

The [real] character of Śrī Krishna’s own Nature is established from the following Scriptural texts: —

“He who is of sun-like colour, beyond darkness (Tamas)” (Sve. Up., 3.8)

“He who abides beyond Rajas (active matter)” (Taitt. Sam 2:2:12:5; 17:1:4:2);

“This Golden Person who is within the sun” (Cha. Up. 1:6:6);

“Within the heart, there is the Person consisting of mind, immortal and golden” (Taitt. Up. 1.6.1);

“All mortal creatures have come from the self-luminous Person” (Yaj., 32.2);

“Whose form is light, whose will is truth, who is the Self of ethereal space, who contains all

Actions, contains all desires, contains all odours, contains all tastes” (Cha. Up., 3.14.2);

“Like a raiment of golden colour” (Br. Up., 4.3.6).

Ātma-Māyāyā means “by my own Māyā”. Here the term Māyā is a synonym for wisdom as stated in the lexicon (nirukta 3;9) of Yaska:—”Māyā is wisdom, knowledge”.

Further there is the usage of authorities:—

“Through Māyā, He knows the good and bad of his creatures.”

The phrase “by My own knowledge” means “by My will”, in other words —

"without compromising My essential attributes as the Lord of the Universe, such as being immaculate, having auspicious attributes etc., I incarnate by creating a form similar to the configuration of gods, humans etc., ".

The Veda teaches the same thing:—

“He who is not subjected to birth, is manifest in various forms” (Taitt. Arany, 3.12.7).

The meaning is that His birth is quite unlike that of ordinary beings. The dissimilarity consists in His “choosing” to be born —unlike ordinary beings whose birth is necessitated by their karma.

Thus construed, there is no contradiction either between the earlier teaching and what is taught later in the statements:

—“Many births of Mine have passed, O Arjuna and similarly yours also. I know them all” (4.5);

- “I incarnate Myself” (4. 7); and “He who thus knows in truth your birth and pastimes” (4.9).

The Supreme Lord Krishna assumes forms suitable to time, place and circumstances in regards to celestial being the gods and terrestrial being humans.

He manifests himself as if He were of their nature according to His desire.

Being unborn He yet incarnates in many forms whenever and wherever He chooses whereas for material beings they are forcefully born impelled by their karma or the bondage caused from reactions to past actions.

Next the time of manifestation for the avatars or incarnations will be indicated.

yadāyadāhi dharmasya glānir-bhavati bhārata |
abhyutthānam-adharmasya tadā’tmānaṃsṛjāmy-aham || 7 ||

7. Whenever there is a decline of Dharma, O Arjuna, and an increase of Adharma, then I incarnate Myself.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

No fixed time schedule has been mandated for Lord Krishna to manifest Himself in His avatar forms or authorised incarnations but he declares beginning with yada yada which means that:

whenever or wherever dharma or righteousness as ordained by the Vedic scriptures under varṇāśrama or the four stages and position in Vedic culture become degraded and unrighteousness increases and becomes dominant at that time Lord Krishna or any of His authorised incarnations descends and becomes manifest.

It should be noted that all the names of His avatars or incarnations are recorded in the Bhāgavat Purāṇa and in the Vedic scriptures with additional details so that it can be proven when His divine incarnation has manifested.

paritrāṇāya sādhūnāṃvināśāya ca duṣkṛtām |
dharma saṃsthāpan-ārthāya saṃbhavāmi yuge yuge || 8 ||

8. For the protection of the good and for the destruction of the wicked, for the establishment of Dharma, I advent myself from age to age.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The word sādhūnāṃ meaning virtuous refers to the sadhus or the saintly devotees, the eminent Vaiṣṇavas who diligently seek refuge in Lord Krishna in everything they think and do.

These persons feel that without seeing and perceiving the Supreme Lord, without chanting His names, without continuously reminiscing over His phenomenal pastimes and without meditating on Him that their lives are devoid and empty and they find it difficult to even carry on their existence.

There are even those with whom a single moment of absence from the Lord is like a lifetime.

For the protection of these virtuous and holy beings, lest they in their agony of separation from me expire from this world,

Lord Krishna bequeaths upon them the privilege of being able to perceive His confidential appearances and pastimes and partake in communion with Him.

So in summary the following reasons of Lord Krishna's avatars or incarnations is:

1) for protecting the virtuous 2) for destroying the wicked 3) for re-establishing dharma or eternal righteousness which had become obscured.

As dharma to all beings is factually the primary mode of worship for the Supreme Lord Krishna and His authorised avatars in order to attain mokṣa or salvation from the cycle of birth and death in the material existence; it should be known as the highest good for all beings.

The words yuge yuge meaning from millennium to millennium is to indicate that the Supreme Lords incarnations may appear at any time not being limited to a particular yuga.

janma karma ca me divyam evaṃyo vetti tattvataḥ|
tyaktvādehaṃpunar-janma naiti māmeti so’rjuna || 9 ||

9. Whosoever thus knows in truth My divine birth and deeds O Arjuna, is not reborn again, and after leaving the body comes to Me.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Whosoever is able to verily realise the divine, spiritual and uniquely phenomenal nature of the Supreme Lord Krishna's incarnations and transcendental pastimes,

which are exclusively manifested for the benefit of all those who take refuge in Him solely and which are intended for the protection of the righteous who understand the real tattva or truth concerning His appearances.

The word divyam in this verse meaning divine confirms that Lord Krishna appearance is not the same as the compulsory births of the conditioned embodied entities as a consequent reaction to their past life activities arising from their timeless interaction with prakṛti or material nature.

So in conclusion whoever understands that all avatars or incarnations emanate from Lord Krishna who is eternally possessed with all glorious qualities and wonderful attributes,

such a person is not subject to rebirth once they leave their present body, but attains the eternal spiritual abode with the Supreme Lord.

Put more succinctly such a person possessing accurate discriminative knowledge from disciplic succession regarding Lord Krishna's incarnations and divine pastimes becomes free from all sins which stand in the way of coming to Him.

Such a person in their present birth will attain Him by placing implicit reliance and full faith in Him in the manner described in previous verses

and by making Him the be all and end all of their lives makes themselves extremely dear to the Lord which qualifies their existence for attaining Him.

Next will be described the superb godly qualities of the these saintly persons.

vīta rāga-bhaya-krodhāman mayāmām upāśritāḥ|
bahavo jñāna tapasāpūtāmad-bhāvam āgatāḥ|| 10 ||

10. Freed from desire, fear and anger, absorbed in Me, taking refuge in Me, purified by the austerity of knowledge, many have attained My state.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

What Lord Krishna is confirming is that legions of human beings over the ages have attained true realisation of His avatar forms or incarnations and His Līlas or divine pastimes

through jñāna yoga or the cultivation of Vedic knowledge and purifying themselves attained mokṣa or liberation and entered the abode of the Supreme Lord.

The spiritually advanced in Vedic wisdom know something of the truth about the Supreme Lord’s appearances and pastimes.

But it is only the Vaiṣṇava devotees of the Supreme Lord, who desire Him alone and who serve Him with love and devotion,

only they can truly comprehend the sublime transcendental mystery of His divine appearances, pastimes, forms, abode and nature.

ye yathāmāṃprapadyante tāṃs-tathaiva bhajāmy-aham |
mama vartmānuvartante manuṣyāḥpārtha sarvaśaḥ|| 11 ||

11. Whosoever takes refuge in Me in any manner whatsoever, in the same manner do I favour them; beings experience Me alone in different ways, O Arjuna.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Not only in His unlimited avatar or incarnation forms in the Vedic pantheon such as Rāma or Buddha is Lord Krishna approachable to those who seek refuge in Him as the saviour and maintainer of all creation;

but He is also the saviour and maintainer of all those outside of the Vedic culture who seek refuge and redemption from any other religion or denomination as well.

By whatever conception the righteous choose to seek god, Lord Krishna manifests Himself in that same manner so that He is always available for them to approach Him in the manner in which they have chosen.

The word bhajāmy literally means - I give service to them. Here it means that the Supreme Lord is available to reciprocate with them.

Although Lord Krishna's divine nature is such that even realised saints and yogis find His sublime nature transcendental to speech and even thought;

yet for all those who are situated in righteousness even in other religions and denominations He manifests the way to receive their mode of worship maintaining their faith.

This manifestation is not only apparent by their faith but also by their ability to reciprocate with Him by all their senses in as many variegated and diverse ways as they are capable of.

Bringing now to a close the subject of avatars, the discourse on karma yoga or the performance of prescribed Vedic activities is resumed.

Before presenting the jñāna-yoga or cultivation of Vedic knowledge aspect of karma yoga or the performance of prescribed Vedic activities, Lord Krishna first explains how rare the person who performs this type of karma yoga is.