Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Ramanuja | Discourse 4 verse 12-22

kāṅkṣantaḥkarmaṇāṃsiddhiṃyajanta iha devatāḥ|
kṣipraṃhi mānuṣe loke siddhir-bhavati karmajā|| 12 ||

12. Those who hanker for success in action in this world, sacrifice to the gods; for in this human world, success is quickly attained by religious rites.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

For the most part persons who desire the material fruits of their actions never worship the Supreme Lord Krishna who is the super soul existing within all living beings and who is the ultimate recipient of all worship and offerings as confirmed in the previous verse.

It is very rarely seen that the materialists are inclined to His worship. Instead they worship the demi-gods and other lesser entities.

Why is this so?

It is because by worshipping them the seekers of material possessions such as wealth, power and dominion find quick results in the fulfilment of their material desires.

mānuṣe loke means in the mortal worlds. This includes all material worlds everywhere in creation.

Such persons in these worlds oblivious to the true purpose of human existence due to a vast accumulation of sinful reactions that have not been exhausted from time immemorial, desire immediate results for their actions causing them to get more and more reactions.

Such people worship that which gives temporary material rewards and foolishly pursue transient material objectives even foolishly attempting to gain immortality in their corporeal physical body.

Only such a rare being who fearful of samsāra or transmigration from physical body to physical body in the endless cycle of birth and death, who aspires for mokṣa or liberation from the cycle of birth and death,

only this rare being would engage themselves in karma yoga or the performance of prescribed Vedic activities as propitiation to the Supreme Lord Krishna.

The next verse reveals how to release oneself from sin which obscures one's perception from realising the need to engage in karma yoga.

cātur-varṇyaṃmayāsṛṣṭaṃguṇa karma vibhāgaśaḥ|
tasya kartāram api māṃviddhy-akartāram avyayam || 13 ||

13. The [social] system of four castes was generated by Me according to division of Gunas and Karma. Though I am the generator, know Me as a non-agent and immutable.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The entire material manifestation from Brahma down to a blade of grass has been divided by Lord Krishna into the four-fold divisions in accordance to their natural dispositions and qualities.

For humans they are brāhmin or the priestly class, kshatriya the royal warrior class, Vaiṣya the farmer and trading class and śūdra the servant class.

This is in conformance with their material natures being in goodness, passion or nescience which subsequently qualifies them for the type of occupation they engage in their life.

Creation implies all the universes where He sustains and maintains as well causing them to manifest and unmanifest.

Although He is the origin of all these activities He should be known as not being the doer. This is because the wondrous activities to be found in creation although originated from Lord Krishna do not bind him as He is not the doer.

The wonderful variety of creation from demigods, humans, animal etc. are beings created by the effects of their own karma or present reactions to previous actions either by merits or demerits.

In as much as one's own activities determines their karma activating what reward or punishment one will receive; then this is totally determined by each individual themselves and thus Lord Krishna is no way answerable to the reactions living entities bring upon themselves by their actions.

There is another reason Lord Krishna is not the doer as well and that is all the embodied being assuming various and diverse forms get endowed with limbs and senses to enjoy material objects being interested in the rewards of their actions.

Consequently pursuing this they trap themselves in samsāra or the cycle of birth and death in the material existence. It is all of their own doing and Lord Krishna is not responsible for the desires the living entities choose to pursue.

In the Vedānta Sūtras which are aphorisms exegetic of the 108 Upaniṣads by Veda Vyāsa it states that:

“No partiality or cruelty exists in God on account of the inequalities of creation being dependant on the Karma of jīvas" (Brahma Sutras., 2.1.34).

In the act of manifesting the creation Lord Krishna is the original source but the instrumental cause is prakṛti or material nature itself and the determining factor for all beings is that they come into their various existences as a result of their own karma.

Except for the will from the original source of Lord Krishna no other cause is needed to manifest myriad's of marvellous creations represented by unlimited and diverse variegated beings.

This is because all embodied beings accept a form in accordance to the inherent primal force of their past karma.

na māṃkarmāṇi limpanti na me karma phale spṛhā|
iti māṃyo’bhijānāti karmabhir-na sa badhyate || 14 ||

14. Actions do not taint Me, nor do I have a desire for the fruits of actions. One who understands Me thus, is not bound by karma.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Whosoever understands Lord Krishna as being the origin of all as well as being transcendental to all will cease to entangle themselves with desires and attachments to rewards which results in acquiring karma or reactions to actions which binds one to samsāra or the cycle of birth and death.

It is from past karmas that one exists in their present lifetime position. Such a person possessing such knowledge and acting upon it appropriately as described in these verses will no longer be bound by karma.

evaṃjñātvākṛtaṃkarma pūrvair-api mumukṣubhiḥ|
kurukarmaiva tasmāt tvaṃpūrvaiḥpūrvataraṃkṛtam || 15 ||

15. Having known this, the ancient seekers for liberation also performed action, therefore you also should engage in action alone, as the ancients did in days of yore.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Understanding Lord Krishna as delineated in the previous verses did the ancient seers and sages perform Vedic activities dedicated to Him and thus achieved mokṣa or liberation from material existence.

He is encouraging Arjuna to perform karma yoga or prescribed Vedic activities as the ancients such as Vivasvān and Manu performed it in knowledge of Him.

kiṃkarma kim akarmeti kavayo’py-atra mohitāḥ|
tatte karma pravakṣyāmi yaj-jñātvāmokṣyase’śubhāt || 16 ||

16. What is action? What is inaction? Even the wise are confused in this respect. I shall declare to you that kind of action by knowing which, you will be freed from suffering.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Exactly what is the nature of karma or action as performed by the aspirants treading the path to mokṣa or liberation from material existence and what also is akarma or inaction?

By the term akarma is inferred true knowledge relating to the doer which is the ātma or soul.

What is the action which needs to be performed and what is the wisdom of inaction that is involved in such an action?

Even persons of discrimination and knowledge are bewildered in this matter and confused do not understand this differences properly. Lord Krishna now promises to dispel all delusion in the intricacies of this subject.

What is the purpose of performing actions as a matter of duty? The satisfaction consists in the knowledge of knowing why the duty is to be discharged.

The knower is the person who performs works aspiring for mokṣa. The ignorant is one who performs work for sense gratification:

The former performs work without egoism while the latter performs works full of egoism. The former is eligible for liberation the latter is eligible for bondage.

Why this is so difficult to understand is explained in the next verse.

karmaṇo hyapi boddhavyaṃboddhavyaṃca vikarmaṇaḥ|
akarmaṇaśca boddhavyaṃgahanākarmaṇo-gatiḥ|| 17 ||

17. For verily one must understand the nature of action (karma), and the nature of diversified action (vikarma) as also the nature of non-action (akarma) —profound indeed is the way of action.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The actual nature of karma or prescribed Vedic actions performed for attaining mokṣa or liberation from material existence should be understood:

Actions which are nitya or regular and actions which are naimittika or occasional if done with any sense of enjoyment in mind or if they are done with the desire for material rewards should both be known to be vikarma or improper actions.

The absence of action known as akarma which sometimes can be considered action as well should also be comprehended. Therefore the path of karma is not easily discernible for one seeking mokṣa.

The reason why regular and occasional activities should be clearly assimilated for an aspirant for mokṣa is because the rewards for each are varied

but one should look at them all with equipoise and realising that they all have one uniform purpose and that is the fulfilment of the goal which is the attainment of mokṣa.

Without proper teaching and understanding of the Vedic scriptures one will not perceive this critical conclusion but this is the Vedic conception as revealed by Lord Krishna already and thus it is not necessary to expatiate upon the subject further here.

karmaṇya karma yaḥpaśyed akarmaṇi ca karma yaḥ|
sa buddhimān manuṣyeṣu sa yuktaḥkṛtsna karma-kṛt || 18 ||

18. He who sees non-action in action and also action in non-action is wise among people. He is fit for liberation and has concluded all actions.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Action is karma and inaction is akarma.

Actions concerning the ātma or soul which is the essential subject to be known in human existence is also considered akarma. How this is to be understood Lord Krishna is explaining here:

There are two categories to be considered:

1) The person who performs actions while continuously contemplating the ātma

2) The person who immersed within the ātma perceives the ātma performs all actions

One who by contemplating the true nature of the ātma while performing all activities is in the first category.

One who conceives the nature of all activities as actually the doings of the ātma is in the second category.

By actually performing prescribed Vedic activities with one's body and at the same time meditating upon it within one's mind, the objective as well the subjective realisations are achieved and the true nature of the ātma is perceived.

Whoever sees that karma is within akarma in regards to ātma tattva or knowledge of the soul, such a person is considered to be situated in wisdom and conversant with the ultimate purport of the Vedic scriptures.

Such a spiritually intelligent person has realised the essence of all Vedic teachings and has qualified themselves for mokṣa or liberation from material existence.

yasya sarve samārambhāḥkāma saṅkalpa varjitāḥ|
jñānāgni dagdha karmāṇāṃtam āhuḥpaṇḍitaṃbudhāḥ|| 19 ||

19. He whose every undertaking is free from desire for personal gain and the delusive identification [of the body with the Self], whose karmas are burnt up in the fire of knowledge —him the wise describe as a sage.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The person performing karma or actions accrues reactions by attachment to desires and hankering for rewards. This is delusion as desires are imagined and fantasised before enactment. Thus it is merely a false idea or wrong notion of the mind.

The fantasising alluded to here consists of the mentality which erroneously identifies the ātma or soul with prakṛti or material nature along with the three gunas being the modes of goodness, passion and ignorance and mistakenly conceives of them as all being one principle.

But to that person seeking mokṣa or liberation all acts regular and occasional performed by them and necessitated by bodily maintenance are not subject to reactions being devoid of desire.

Further exemption is guaranteed as the aspirant for mokṣa is not living in a world of imagination or fantasy because such a person performs every action while being cognisant of the eternal ātma.

Whoever performs karma in this manner while meditating on the ātma is one of spiritual intelligence situated in ātma tattva or soul realisation and all reactions to a myriad of past actions have been eradicated by the fire of knowledge.

Thus Lord Krishna is praising the person who performs prescribed Vedic activities in ātma tattva as being highly laudable. This is in sharp contrast to the karmī or one who performs actions for fruitive rewards being forced to accept reactions.

tyaktvākarma phalā-saṅgaṃnityatṛpto nirāśrayaḥ|
karmaṇy-abhi-pravṛtto’pi naiva kiñcit karoti saḥ|| 20 ||

20. Having renounced attachment to the fruits of one’s actions, ever contented with the eternal (Self), and dependent on none, one does not verily act, even though engaged in activity.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Whoever has completely given up all desires and attachments to rewards for actions, who is also nitya-trypto or totally content immersed in the ātma or soul, whoever is self-satisfied, never depending on anything from prakṛti or material existence –

such a person although seen to be intently performing various prescribed actions, in reality performs inaction meaning no action that has any binding effect.

Because although externally such a person might appear as if performing activities but internally that person is actually cultivating spiritual knowledge and meditating on the ātma and thus exempt from any binding effect.

Lord Krishna gives the spiritual intelligence aspect of actions next.

nirāśīr yatacitt-ātmātyakta sarva parigrahaḥ|
śarīraṃkevalaṃkarma kurvan-nāpnoti kilbiṣam || 21 ||

21. Free from expectation, with the mind controlled, relinquishing all notions of possessiveness, and merely doing physical activity, one does not incur blame.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Here Lord Krishna uses the word nirāśīr means bereft of expectancy or devoid of all desires for rewards.

The words yata-cittātmā means to control the mind by the power of the ātma or soul, keeping the mind tranquil and equipoised, free from agitation.

The words tyakta-sarva-parigrahah means abandoning all cravings for sense objects and sense pleasures.

As long as one has life one should perform all actions as a matter of duty merely as a function of their body; in this way there are no reactions to actions and no disease is incurred. One will be free of this. The disease is samsāra or repetitive bondage of birth and death in the material existence.

If karma yoga or prescribed Vedic activities are performed in this way by those seeking mokṣa or liberation from samsāra this in itself is sufficient enough to lead one to ātma tattva or realisation of the soul,

eliminating the necessity of having to engage in the intermediate step of performing jñāna yoga or the cultivation of Vedic knowledge by strictly controlling the senses and the cessation of actions.

yadṛcchālābha santuṣṭo dvandvātito vimatsaraḥ|
samaḥsiddhāvasiddhau ca kṛtvāpi na nibadhyate || 22 ||

22. Content with what comes without effort, transcending the pairs of opposites, free from ill-will, balanced in success and failure, though acting, one is not bound.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

One who is tranquil and content with whatever spontaneously comes to one of its own accord to maintain one's existence is the being who has gone beyond the dualities of material existence.

This means that such a being patiently endures pleasure and pain, acceptance and rejection, sadness and happiness and the rest of the opposites which inevitably all mortals must face until one attains the goal of their endeavours which is ātma tattva or soul realisation.

The word vimatsaraḥ means free from malice.

One who comprehends that only due to one's previous activities are present activities manifesting, such a one does not hold malice against others and blaming them others for any negative reactions one may experience.

The compound words siddhau-asiddhau samah which means one who keeps their mind balanced and equipoised in success or failure while performing their duties.

The essence of what Lord Krishna is saying is that if a person has this mentality while performing activities they will not be bound to samsāra or the cycle of birth and death in material existence

even though they are not fully following the path of jñāna yoga or the cultivation of Vedic knowledge.