SankarAcArya's bhagavad gItA bhAshya - a few preliminary remarks

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Tue Aug 25 02:26:07 CDT 1998

                    || Om namo nArAyaNAya ||
                    || SrI gurubhyo namaH ||

     pArthAya pratibodhitAM bhagavatA nArAyaNena svayaM
         vyAsena grathitAM purANamuninA madhye-mahAbhAratam |
     advaitAmRtavarshiNIM bhagavatIM ashTAdaSAdhyAyinIM
         amba tvAm anusandadhAmi bhagavad-gIte bhavadveshinIm ||

 Taught to pArtha (Arjuna) by the Lord nArAyaNa (Krishna) himself, and
   Collated by the ancient seer, vyAsa, in the middle of the mahAbhArata |
 Oh Goddess, who showers the nectar of advaita, in chapters eighteen,
   I salute you, bhagavad-gItA, enemy of transmigratory existence ||

In the coming months, I will be posting articles based on SankarAcArya's
bhagavad gItA bhAshya, at a frequency of around one or two a week. The
bhagavad gItA is a very important source text for all vedAnta and yoga
schools. Even Abhinavagupta, the Kashmiri Saiva author, wrote a commentary
to the bhagavad gItA.

The gItA is the most important smRti text in the triple canon (prasthAna
trayI) of vedAnta. As it is found in the middle of the classical Indian
itihAsa, the mahAbhArata, it is a very useful text for all people. It is
traditionally considered to contain the distilled essence of the teachings
of the upanishads. The importance of the gItA cannot be overemphasized,
and it is usually called an upanishad in itself. The most widely known
recension of the gItA is the version that is commented upon by
SankarAcArya. It contains about 700 verses, but the Kashmiri recension has
some 40 more verses.

Before beginning the posts based on the bhAshya of SankarAcArya, I would
like to make a few remarks.

1. Regarding the words "sAMkhya" and "yoga" -

These words are used quite often in the text and in the commentary. I
don't know how other commentators and modern interpreters view these two
terms in the gItA. As far as SankarAcArya's commentary is concerned, in
general, the word "sAMkhya" refers to what has come to be called
jnAna-yoga, and the word "yoga" to karma yoga. This interpretation is
based upon chapters two and three of the bhagavad gItA itself. I request
list-members to keep this in mind, so as to avoid confusions like, "but
so-and-so says such-and-such is not what is said in the sAMkhya-kArikAs or
in the yogasUtras." From my reading of the commentary, it seems clear that
the terms sAMkhya and yoga are used in general senses, in addition to
being names of independent schools of thought. This situation is somewhat
akin to the usage of "ideal" and "idealism", or like "real" and
"realism". It is possible for a "realist" to have "ideals," without being
an "idealist." Similarly for the "idealist," who can talk about what is
"real" without being "realist." If we remember that the gItA text itself
and SankarAcArya's commentary use the terms "sAMkhya" and "yoga" in a
broader sense than what is implied under the two schools of thought, much
confusion can be avoided.

2. Format -

In each article, I will post the full text of the gItA verse(s) commented
upon, but not all the text of the commentary. I will limit myself to only
significant excerpts, as the entire commentary is too voluminous. The
verse will be followed with a translation that is based upon the
commentary. Much of the commentary itself is structured so as to
give word for word meanings. The verse translation will be followed by a
translation of the commentary. Finally will come my own notes, explaining
the thrust of the argument, or explaining why I chose a particular
translation. Some postings will combine two or three verses and their
corresponding commentaries, e.g. the chapters which list the various
manifestations of the Lord and the viSvarUpa-darSana. Other postings
may each have only one verse and its commentary. There will also be
instances where one verse and its commentary will run through two or three
separate postings, e.g. the chapter on the kshetra-kshetrajna-yoga, and in
verses which have exceptionally long commentaries.

These postings are meant to serve other purposes too - namely, svAdhyAya,
translation and answers to all the questions that routinely crop up on
this list. svAdhyAya is for my own benefit, so it requires little
justification. However, there are numerous translations of the gItA itself
that are available out there. So, one might ask, why another translation
by an amateur? The answer is, I intend to translate according to the sense
of SankarAcArya's bhAshya on each verse. Each translation is different,
and I won't always quote the earlier translators every time. I will mostly
consult the translations by Sargeant [1], van Buitenen [2] and
Radhakrishnan [3]. There will be occasions when I differ from
one or all of these earlier authors. Besides, my own translation of the
gItA verses will be a part of another project that I've embarked upon - a
translation of SankarAcArya's commentary. In this case, I will consult
the text and translation of the gItA commentary by Krishna Warrier [4]. I
plan to translate in more modern and hopefully, more easily readable
language. I would appreciate comments from list members in this regard. If
something is not clear, please ask me at once, and I will try to explain

3. SankarAcArya provides an introductory chapter to the commentary, which
briefly recounts the traditional lore surrounding the setting of the gItA,
and explains the two paths of pravRtti dharma and nivRtti dharma taught by
Lord Krishna. However, he does not provide explicit comments on the first
chapter, which is called "arjunavishAda-yoga". The other 17 chapters have
extensive commentary. Consequently, I will not post the verses and
translations for the first chapter. Instead, in the next posting, I will
provide a brief synopsis of the epic events that lead to the teaching of
the gItA. This will be followed by the translation of SankarAcArya's
introduction in the second posting after this, and thence to the
commentary proper, which only begins with the second chapter.

4. Transliteration -

I'll be using more or less the same scheme as in the Advaita website. See
<>, or
<>. The only
difference from the scheme mentioned in these webpages is that I will use
"H" for the "visarga" and not the ":" sign. In my own notes, I will slip
into the generally accepted English spellings, especially for proper
names, e.g. "Krishna" instead of "kRshNa."

References -

1. The Bhagavad Gita, translated by Winthrop Sargeant.  Rev. ed. / edited
   by Christopher Chapple; foreword by Swami Samatananda. Albany : State
   University of New York Press [1984].

2. The Bhagavadgita in the Mahabharata: text and translation, J. A. B.
   van Buitenen.  Chicago : University of Chicago Press [1981].

3. The Bhagavadgita, with an introductory essay, Sanskrit text
   [transliterated] English translation and notes by S. Radhakrishnan.
   [1st Harper torchbook ed.].  New York, Harper & Row [1973].

4. Srimad Bhagavad Gita bhasya of Sri Samkaracarya: with text in
   Devanagari & English rendering, and index of first lines of verses /
   translated by A. G. Krishna Warrier. 1st ed. Madras, India: Sri
   Ramakrishna Math [1983].


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