SankarAcArya's bhagavad gItA bhAshya: 2. 11 - Part III.

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Sat Nov 7 16:24:19 CST 1998

Continued from part II, which was posted on November 3, 1998. SankarAcArya
continues his discussion of why jnAna and karma are not combined, by
reference to the context of the gItA and the questions posed by Arjuna.



Translation -

Also, if a combination of knowledge and action is taught to everybody,
such a combination would apply to Arjuna also. How would it be appropriate
for him to have asked, as if he were asking about something quite
unrelated, "Of these two, tell me for certain, which is superior?" (yac
chreyam etayor ekaM tan me brUhi suniScitam - 5. 11). When a doctor
prescribes a food that is sweet and cooling, in order to cure a patient's
problem with bile, there is no need to ask, "tell me about something else
that will cure bile, and that is neither sweet nor cooling." One may think
that Arjuna's question about that which is superior is prompted by his not
having understood properly the combination taught by the Lord. In that
case, the Lord should have answered with another question, "I have
specified the combination of knowledge and action. Why are you so
confused in regard to it?" (If combination were the purport of the Lord'
teaching, it would also not have been appropriate for Him to have said
elsewhere, "two courses have been taught by Me, in ancient times" (dve
nishThe mayA purA prokte - 3. 3).

Nor is it possible to limit the combination of knowledge and action to
that which is taught in the smRtis. [1] Besides, Arjuna knew very well
that his own dharma, as taught in the smRti for a kshatriya, is one of
waging war. In which case, it is not seemly for him to ask, "why do you
command me to embark upon this horrible action?" (tat kiM karmaNi ghore
mAM niyojayasi? - 3. 1). Therefore, it is not possible for anybody to
demonstrate that there is the smallest iota of a teaching to combine
knowledge and action in the SAstra of the gItA.

Notes -

[1]. This is a response to those who argue that action, as enjoined in the
Sruti, is not to be combined with knowledge, but action and knowledge
taught in the smRti should be combined. SankarAcArya rejects such an
argument here.

Having shown how the combination view is untenable, the commentator
proceeds to give the correct view of what it is that the gItA teaches.

Translation -

However, a person may proceed to act, due to ignorance or due to faults
like passion etc. During the course of such action, by means of the
sacrifice (yajna), donation of gifts (dAna) or austerities (tapas), his
intellect may get purified, and knowledge can arise, in the form, "all
this is One alone, Brahman, a non-doer" (ekam eva idaM sarvaM brahma
akartR ca). He continues to act, as of old, for the welfare of the world,
even though he has really withdrawn from action and its motive. However,
this is not action that is to be combined with knowledge. For example, the
Lord, vAsudeva, carried on the kshatra-dharma (the law of action of the
warrior), but this is not taught to be combined with knowledge, for the
sake of liberation. The Self-knower is like this too, because he has no
connection with egoism and the expectation of results of action. The
Self-knower does not think, "I do" (ahaM karomi), nor does he desire the
fruits of actions. [2] For example, an AhitAgni (a householder who
maintains the ritual fires), who desires heaven and other such results,
begins the agnihotra or other sacrifice, to attain his desires. In the
course of performing the sacrifice, even if his desire is destroyed, he
continues performing the sacrifice according to rule, but this action is
no longer motivated by desire. Similarly, the Lord shows, "Though acting,
he is not stained" (kurvann api na lipyate - 5. 7), "he does not act, and
does not get stained" (na karoti na lipyate - 13. 31), and so on.

Notes -

[2]. The bhAshya reads, "tattvavit tu na aham karomi iti manyate na ca
tatphalam abhisandhatte." Sri Krishna Warrier (see publication details in
the introductory post) translates, "the knower of the Truth maintains: 'I
act not'; and he does not seek the fruits of his actions." I translate
differently, as "The Self-knower does not think, 'I do." To my mind, the
difference is somewhat significant. To say, "I act not" leaves the
possibility that there is an "I" that thinks, but does not act, so that
the I-sense remains. On the contrary, what is meant here is the absence of
the I-sense. Also, in the sentence just before this one, SankarAcArya
mentions ahaMkAra-abhAva, which is the reason behind my translation.


To be continued ...

"bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam"
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