Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Ramanuja | Discourse 4 verse 23-42

gata-saṅgasya muktasya jñānāvasthita cetasaḥ|
yajñāyā-carataḥkarma samagraṃpravilīyate || 23 ||

23. The Karma of one who is free from attachments, who is liberated, whose mind is established in wisdom, who acts only for sacrifice, is entirely dissolved.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

By one's mind being entirely engrossed in ātma tattva or soul realisation the attachment to worldly things has naturally been withdrawn.

So automatically conceptions of ownership proprietorship are abandoned and realising the reality of the Supreme Being and the importance of propitiation to Him

one lives their life in such a way that every action they perform is a yajña or worship and offering to the Supreme Lord Krishna.

All past accumulated reactions resulting from previous actions which bind one so terribly to the material existence are completely evaporated without any residue.

The spiritual intelligence of performing all actions in the perspective of the ātma or soul rather than from the perspective of being immersed within the sense gardens of material nature has been explained.

The next verse reveals the even higher perspective of comprehending that spirit behind all activities and their factors of performance is the Supreme Spirit the Supreme Lord.

brahmārpaṇaṃbrahma-havir brahm-āgnau brahmaṇāhutam |
brahmaiva tena gantavyaṃbrahma karma samādhinā|| 24 ||

24. Brahman is the instrument, Brahman is the oblation; by Brahman is the oblation offered into the fire of Brahman; Brahman alone is to be reached by one who meditates on Brahman in one's works.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Here the word brahmārpaṇaṃ means the paraphernalia used to offer oblations in yajña or offering of worship to propitiate the Supreme Lord.

All the accessories used in yajña are also considered to be Brahman or the spiritual substratum pervading all existence, along with the offerings of ghee and grain seeds, the fire they are offered through as well as the performer of the offering.

Lord Krishna is explaining that everything used in yajña can be considered as part of the Brahman.

One who realises that the Brahman or the spiritual substratum pervading all existence is actually abiding in all actions reaches the Brahman which is becoming cognisant of the spiritual substratum of reality underlying and pervading all existence.

This is the consciousness of the actions from an aspirant for mokṣa or liberation where the ātma or soul is understood to be non-different from the Brahman.

Consequently actions performed in this consciousness are all known to be spiritual and thus realised is in itself a means for achieving ātma tattva or soul realisation thus precluding any further need to practice jñāna yoga or cultivation of Vedic knowledge.

daivam-evāpare yajñāṃyoginaḥparyupāsate |
brahmāgnāv-apare yajñāṃyajñenaivopa-juhvati || 25 ||

25. Some Yogins resort only to sacrificing to the gods. Others offer sacrifice into the fire of Brahman solely by means of sacrifice.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Lord Krishna begins with the word daivam meaning devas.

Karma yogis or those following the path of prescribed Vedic activities being on a lower platform devotedly worship devas such as Indra for rainfall and Surya for sunlight and derive the desired results sought.

While the jñāna yogis those following the path of cultivating knowledge offer all their oblations such as ghee or clarified butter and food grains exclusively into the fire

as offerings to the Brahman or spiritual substratum pervading all existence and this is their yajña or worship to the Supreme.

śrotrādīn-indriyāṇy-anye saṃyamāgniṣu juhvati |
śabdādīn-viṣayān-anya indriyāgniṣu juhvati || 26 ||

26. Others offer hearing and the other senses into the fires of restraint. Others offer as oblations the objects of the senses, such as sound and the rest, into the fires of their senses.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Those practising celibacy offer all their senses such as hearing and seeing into the fire of their controlled mind and this is their yajña or worship to the Supreme Lord Krishna.

The yajña that the grihasthas or married householders perform is to symbolically offer the sense objects they enjoy into the fire of the senses that enjoy them in an attempt to appease their appetites for gratifying themselves in enjoyment.

sarvāṇ-īndriyāṇi prāṇa karmāṇi cāpare |
ātma-saṃyama yogāgnau juhvati jñāna-dīpite || 27 ||

27. Some again offer as oblation the functions of the senses and the activity of the vital energy (prāṇa) into the fire of the Yoga of restraint of the mind kindled by knowledge.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Others offer all the functions of the senses and all the functions of the prāṇa or life breath along with the vital energy of the body in the fire of the purified soul ignited by knowledge.

By this Lord Krishna means that such persons direct their efforts in disciplining the mind to refrain from its pursuit of sensual activities.

dravya yajñās-tapo yajñāyoga yajñās-tathā’pare |
svādhyāya-jñāna yajñāśca yatayaḥsaṃśita vratāḥ|| 28 ||

28. Others again offer material objects, Tapas and Yoga as sacrifice, while others being self-restrained and of rigid vows offer their scriptural study and knowledge as sacrifice

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

There are some who perform especially wealthy and opulent yajñas or offerings and worship known as artha yajñas. By this method they earn money honesty and donate it for temple worship and for articles of worship.

Others feed the poor or bear the expenses of feeding everyone at festivals of the Supreme Lord and His incarnations. Brahmins perform Yajñas and Homas or special ceremonies for birth and weddings and death.

All these are known as artha yajñas.

Others betake themselves to tapasyā yajñas or expiatory penances and strict austerities such as fasting.

Still others resort to yoga yajñas or the communion of the individual consciousness with the ultimate consciousness following the prescribed Vedic injunctions.

The communion referred to here is the individual communing by pilgrimage to holy places such as Kurukṣettra, to holy rivers like the Ganges, to holy Tirthas like Jagannātha Puri, to holy birthplaces like Lord Krishna's in Mathura.

This is what is meant by yoga yajñas.

Others exclusively perform svādhyāya yajña or the study of the Vedic scriptures. Others practice jñāna yoga or the cultivation of Vedic knowledge and contemplate and reflect on the purport of the Vedic scriptures to better understand them.

The word yatayaḥ means diligent and refers to yatis or renunciates who assiduously persevere to accomplish all that they vow to spiritually undertake.

The compound word saṃśita vratāḥ means they who have firm resolve and fixed determination and refers to the yatis.

apāne juhvati prāṇaṃprāṇe’pānaṃtathā’pare |
prāṇāpāna-gatīruddhvāprāṇāyāma parāyaṇāḥ|| 29 ||

29. Some sacrifice exhalation into inhalation. Similarly others sacrifice the inspiration into expiration. Some others, holding their breath sacrifice both the inspiration and expiration.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Lord Krishna states that other yogis or those practising the science of the individual consciousness attaining communion with the ultimate consciousness devote themselves to pranayama or breath control –

consisting of three parts called rechaka or exhalation for 16 beats, Pūraka or inhaling for 32 beats and kumbhaka or cessation of breath for 64 beats.

For every breath the prāṇa or outgoing breath is offered as yajña or worship into the apāna or incoming breath and the apāna is offered into the prāṇa.

These yogis require light diets and follow strict regimens of practice.

apare niyatāhārāḥprāṇān prāṇeṣu juhvati |
sarve’pyete yajñā-vido yajñākṣapita kalmaṣāḥ|| 30 ||

30. Others, with regulated diet, are devoted to the practice of breath-control (prāṇāyāma). All these [yogins] know the meaning of sacrifices and through sacrifices are absolved of their transgressions.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Commencing with artha-yajñas or offering of donations for worship and propitiation of the Supreme Lord up to the yajña of prāṇāyāma or breath control,

different varieties of karma yoga or prescribed Vedic activities are given that are engaged in by persons according to qualification.

Clearly comprehending the purport of chapter 3, verse 10 that all beings are blessed and benefited by yajña; these practitioners have dedicated their lives to the performance of yajña and yet they do not neglect the regular daily duties as well as the occasional duties as prescribed in the Vedic injunctions.

Thus they have acted for their ultimate welfare and destroyed all of their sinful reactions from past actions.

Maintaining their existence by partaking exclusively only of the sanctified food offered in yajña these practitioners of karma yoga eventually realise the ātma or soul within their etheric heart and perceive the eternal Brahman or the spiritual substratum pervading all existence which leads to the Supreme Lord.

yajñā-śiṣṭāmṛta bhujo yānti brahmāsanātanam |
nāyaṃloko’sty-ayajñāsya kuto’nyaḥkurusattama || 31 ||

31. Those who subsist on the ambrosial remnants of sacrifice, go to the eternal Brahman. This world is not for one who makes no sacrifice, how then the other, O Kurusattama (Arjuna)?

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Those Karma Yogins who sustain their bodies only on the remains of sacrifice which is like ambrosia, will go to the eternal Brahman. 'Go to Brahman' here means attaining the realisation of the Self of which Brahman is the 'Over-Self'.

'One who makes no sacrifices’, is one who is not devoted to any obligatory and periodic rites etc.,

One will be unable to achieve the material goals of human existence known as right living (Dharma), prosperity (Artha) and pleasure (Kāma); how then can the Supreme goal —liberation (Mokṣa) be attained?

As Mokṣa has been mentioned as the ultimate goal, the other three objectives are indicated by 'this world' that is, the material realm in which they are accomplished.

evaṃbahu vidhāyajña vitatābrahmaṇo mukhe |
karmajān viddhi tān sarvān evaṃjñātvāvimokṣyase || 32 ||

32. Thus many forms of sacrifices have been laid down as means of reaching Brahman. Know them all to be based on the (daily) rites. Knowing this, you shall be liberated.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Lord Krishna has described the 12 different performances of yajña or offerings of worship in propitiation to the Supreme Lord that are the means of attaining ātma tattva or soul realisation performed in karma yoga or prescribed Vedic activities.

It should be clearly understood that all yajñas manifest from activity of the mind, the speech or the body and involve the performance of regular daily duties and occasional special duties.

Understanding this wisdom and practically applying this knowledge one shall by their own efforts dissolve all their sins and become free from samsāra or bondage from the cycle of birth and death in the material existence.

The wisdom aspect of karma has been explained by showing how jñāna yoga or the cultivation of Vedic knowledge is involved in karma yoga.

Next the importance of wisdom in jñāna yoga will be elucidated.

śreyān dravyamayād yajñāj-jñāna yājñāḥparaṅtapa |
sarvaṃkarmākhilaṃpārtha jñāne parisamāpyate || 33 ||

33. The sacrifice of wisdom is superior to material sacrifice, O Parantapa (Arjuna), all actions and everything else culminate in wisdom.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Karma or actions has two aspects. The action of using the paraphernalia and ingredients to perform it is one aspect and the spiritual intelligence to perform it properly is the second aspect.

The second aspect of spiritual knowledge is superior to the first aspect consisting of material ingredients. All activities culminate in wisdom. Any action performed without directed intelligence is meaningless.

Hence all activities should be performed with wisdom involved being that spiritual knowledge is the goal that is desired to be reached by every means possible until by constant endeavour one attains the final attainment.

tad viddhi praṇipātena paripraśnena sevayā|
upadekṣayanti te jñānaṃjñāninas-tattva-darśinaḥ|| 34 ||

34. Know that by full prostration, by extensive questioning and by service, the wise, who have realised the truth, will instruct you in [that] teaching.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

One should know that this spiritual knowledge relative to the ātma or soul propounded by Lord Krishna to be imperishable.

One should learn this well and advance themselves along the path by diligently acquiring wisdom and more by submissively approaching realised beings who have realised the ultimate truth.

One should render sincere, dedicated service to them with veneration and humility asking relevant questions about the ultimate truth.

These being so advanced in ātma tattva or soul realisation have experienced the ultimate reality and being pleased by one's humble demeanour and reverent questions will bless one with divine knowledge which they possess and will impart the transcendental knowledge one is so eager and enthusiastic to learn.

If one has not practically realised there ātma which is an act of actual perception and situates one in their true nature then such talk about it is merely a hypothesis.

yaj-jñātvāna punar-moham eva yāsyasi pāṇḍava |
yena bhūtāny-aśeṣeṇa drakṣyasy-ātman-yatho mayi || 35 ||

35. Knowing that, O Pāṇḍava (Arjuna), you will not again become deluded thus — by that knowledge you will see all beings, without exception in your Self and then in Me.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

By learning this spiritual knowledge one will never be deluded again by māyā or illusion which causes one to have the misconception that the ātma or soul is the physical body and the notion of the ego consciousness of I- ness and my-ness that is produced thereby.

Not by illusion but by the realisation of one's ātma within and the consciousness that all beings in variegated forms all over creation possess this self-same soul equally

once they are divested from their individual designations and all souls are of a purely spiritual nature once they are disassociated from matter and all are a part of the Supreme Being which is identical to Lord Krishna.

The nature of the ātma is the essence and is equally the same in all beings as well as being equal with the nature of the Supreme Being. Thus when disassociated from matter one ātma is non-different from another and possesses the attributes of the Supreme.

api ced-asi pāpebhyaḥsarvebhyaḥpāpa-kṛtamaḥ|
sarvaṃjñāna plavenaiva vṛjinaṃsantariṣyasi || 36 ||

36. Even if you are the most culpable of all criminals, you will cross over all wrong-doing by the raft of knowledge alone.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

To emphasise the power of spiritual knowledge Lord Krishna specifically states in this verse that even the most incorrigible sinner is redeemed if changing their ways acquires and applies spiritual knowledge in their consciousness.

yathaidhāṃsi samiddho’gnir-bhasmāt kurute’rjuna |
jñānāgniḥsarva karmāṇi bhasmasāt kurute yathā|| 37 ||

37. Just as blazing fire turns fuel to ashes, O Arjuna, so does the fire of knowledge turn all Karma to ashes.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Lord Krishna uses this illustration citing the complete eradication of all sins and their destruction to further emphasise the potency of spiritual knowledge,

na hi jñānena sadṛśaṃpavitram iha vidyate |
tat-svayaṃyoga saṃsiddhiḥkālenātmani vindati || 38 ||

38. Verily, there is no purifier in this world equal to knowledge; one that is perfected in Karma Yoga discovers this (knowledge) spontaneously, in oneself in due time.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

As in this world and all over the material creation there is nothing more purifying and sanctifying then the spiritual knowledge of ātma tattva or soul realisation it is the destructive of all sin.

Perfecting oneself by the easy practice of karma yoga or the following of prescribed Vedic activities in the manner instructed by the self-realised spiritual master one will naturally attain ātma tattva as well in due course of time.

śraddhāvāllabhate jñānaṃtatparaḥsaṃyatendriyaḥ|
jñānaṃlabdhvāparāṃ śāntim acireṇādhigacchati || 39 ||

39. One who has faith, who is dedicated to it, and who has controlled the senses, attains enlightenment. Having attained enlightenment, one obtains Supreme Peace.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Receiving knowledge by instructions of the spiritual master becoming more and more devoted and evolved as the process develops

and becoming more and more detached from external affairs away from where the sense objects are exerting their influence, one will invariably reach the pinnacle of wisdom and attain mokṣa or liberation from the material existence.

ajñāś-cāśraddhānaśca saṃśayātmāvinaśyati |
nāyaṃloko’sti na paro na sukhaṃsaṃśayātmanaḥ|| 40 ||

40. The ignorant, the faithless and the cynic perish; for the cynic there is neither this world, nor that beyond, nor happiness.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The word ajñā means fool or one who is uninstructed in Vedic wisdom.

The word aśraddadhahanah means one who has no faith even after being instructed.

The sceptic is one who doubts the knowledge one has already received. One of this disposition perishes for one who doubts the veracity of the ātma or soul and the validity of the teaching taught by the spiritual master has no hope in this world or in the heavenly spheres.

That is because sacrificing the three goals of human existence being dharma or righteousness, artha or wealth and kāma or pleasure - what chance will one have for the fourth being mokṣa or liberation?

For all the ambitions of humans are accomplished by performing some prescribed duty in the Vedic scriptures and fulfilment of any desire is dependent on the conviction that the ātma or soul is eternal and the ātma is distinct from the physical body.

Whoever doubts the existence of the ātma or soul or is not sure that it is eternal cannot receive even the smallest percentage of spiritual bliss.

yoga-saṃnyasta karmāṇaṃjñāna saṃcchinna saṃśayam |
ātmavantaṃna karmāṇi nibadhnanti dhanañjaya || 41 ||

41. O Dhananjaya (Arjuna), actions do not bind one who has renounce them through Karma Yoga and whose doubts are dispelled by knowledge, and who therefore possesses a steady mind.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Lord Krishna explains that the performance of karma yoga or prescribed Vedic activities is the mode of action in the ways He indicated above.

Dedication and renunciation means that actions are performed in jñāna yoga or the cultivation of Vedic knowledge.

When performed in this way the binding power of actions becomes neutralised. Also by this method any doubts concerning the ātma or soul are dispelled by knowledge of the ātma.

The compound word ātmavantaṃ means one who is self-satisfied. One whose mind is unassailable and unapproachable by any type of doubt.

Such a person has achieved an unshakeable certitude about the reality and eternality of the soul from the teachings received from the spiritual master. No actions performed for oneself or for others in the present or the future can ever bind such a person.

tasmād-ajñāna saṃbhūtaṃhṛtsthaṃjñānāsinātmanaḥ|
cchittvainaṃsaṃśayaṃyogam-ātiṣṭhottiṣṭha bhārata || 42 ||

42. Therefore, with the sword of knowledge, cut asunder this doubt present in your heart, arising from ignorance concerning the Self. Arise and practice this [Karma] Yoga, O Bharata (Arjuna).

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The sword of knowledge that Lord Krishna is referring to is ātma tattva or soul realisation

and the yoga or the science of the individual consciousness attaining communion with the ultimate consciousness, He is indicating, is karma yoga or the performance of prescribed Vedic activities according to one's rank and station in life.

hariḥ oṃ tatsat
iti śrīmad bhagavadgītāsupaniṣatsu
brahmavidyāyāṃ yogaśāstre śrīkṛṣṇārjuna saṃvāde
jñāna-vibhāga yoga nāma

Thus in the Upanishad of the Glorious Bhagavad Gita
The science of the Eternal, the Scripture of Yoga
The dialogue between Śrī Krishna and Arjuna
Ends the fourth discourse entitled
Communion through Wisdom