Kshetra-Kshetrajna-Vibhaga Yoga

This chapter is concerned with one of the most difficult
problems, one which has puzzled not only philosophers and
psychologists, but also men of affairs. Arjuna puts the
question under three couples of concepts: one pair being
based on the concept of prakrti (nature) of which the
counterpart in the Samkhya (rationalist) philosophy is the
purusha (spirit); another pair is based on the concept of
what is here named kshetra (the field), i. actuality, and the
kshetrajna (one who knows the field), i.e. the perceptual
counterpart of actuality; while the third pair which belongs
more to a subtler philosophical order, jneyam (that which is
to be known) has its counterpart in jnanam (knowledge or

In the first p
lace we find that concepts belonging to
branches of knowledge which are generally considered
widely apart are here seen as brought together for purposes
of general treatment of a special kind in keeping with the
development of the subject-matter of the Gita.
The field and the knower of the field may be said to
belong to the world of action; the concepts of nature and
spirit to the duality implied in Samkhya (rationalist)
philosophy; and that which is to be known to epistemology,
whose problems are not to be mixed up with action or

We have found that whole chapters have already been
devoted to subjects such as Samkhya (Chapter ii), action
(Chapter iii) and wisdom (Chapter iv). When such an
opportunity has been availed of already for dealing with
these subjects in extenso it may be legitimate to ask why
these subjects are now taken again in pairs belonging to
each context for a juxtaposed treatment together, in one


The earlier chapters referred to these subjects only in a
preliminary fashion. The discussion had to be built up step
by step, settling initial doubts and silencing critics. We have
noticed how, in the middle of the work, in Chapters viii, ix
and x, the Gita enunciated and explained its own version of
what is explicitly referred to as adhyatma (pertaining to the
Self, the principle of the Self, i.e. Self-science). The
peculiarty of these central chapters, we have noticed, was
the perfect neutrality as between the transcendental and the
immanent which was maintained in the discussion. The Self
was a central value around which the notion of the Absolute
was developed.

At the end of Chapter x, however, the discussion tended
to lay a certain stress on the objective evidence of the
Absolute; on what was called vibhutis (unique values). These
specific, beneficent, unique values indirectly gave evidence
of the spark of the Absolute represented by each specific
reality in its own category.

By Arjuna's reference in xi, 1 to the fact that he had lost all
his moha (confusion) we should understand that the Gita had
done with theoretical discussions regarding the Absolute.
After that declaration it is natural to assume that he was no
more interested in a merely academic or theoretical
discussion of the science of the Self. At the end of Chapter x
he is not even satisfied with the indirect evidence dispersed
throughout the world of values where he is asked to
recognize the seal of the Absolute.

In Chapter xi he prays for and gets a direct vision which is
more objectified and even terrible. To call it objective is the
same as saying it was more positive. Any vision must
necessarily imply, tacitly or explicitly, the principle of duality
as between the seer and the seen. Thus we find already in Chapter xi a certain duality of treatment necessarily creeping into the style of the Gita. This, however, is not against the scheme in the mind of the author, as we have already pointed out.

This duality of treatment becomes more pronounced as we
travel further away from the symmetrical centre of the work.
In Chapter xii, based on the distinction between the object of
devotion and the devotee, the personified representative of
the Absolute tends to become one distinct pole as against the
devotee himself who constitutes the other pole, and bhakti
(devotion) had to be understood as the establishment of as


intimate a relationship as possible between these poles or

The counterparts having thus become very distinctly
pronounced and inevitable in the treatment thus far, it
has become necessary for the author in this chapter to
explain this duality unitively, so that there might not be
any misunderstanding when more empirical and pragmatical
problems are discussed, as we find in later chapters.
Although the couplements here discussed belong to
different branches of thought, they lend themselves to
comparison to reveal the underlying unitive method which
has always been present throughout the Gita. This is Yoga.
Yoga is the common link running through all the chapters.
The Yoga resulting from the compromises of counterparts
belonging to the necessary aspects of life was the subject of
the earlier chapters which may be looked upon as being
generally negative in character. Now that we have come to
a discussion of more positive spiritual values in life, they
require an "objective" exposition. This is exactly what we
find in the present chapter. It may be said to centre round
jneyam - what is to be known. The relation between jnanam
(wisdom) and jneyam (what is to be known) or the knower
and the known, is one of great philosophical import.

In order to show the relation between the knower and the
known, two other pairs which belong to other branches of
wisdom, are here brought together and dealt with side by
side. That which is to be known is distinct from that which
is knowledge, just in the same way as spirit is to be
distinguished from nature, and the "knower of the field"
from "the field" - or the conceptual from the actual.
All these have a common epistemological principle which
this chapter seeks to expose or clarify. The necessary and
contingent aspects of life should be properly understood.
before we can cancel them one against the other so that
there can be positive spiritual progress towards higher and
higher values by a contemplative wisdom. Such is the aim
of the present chapter The high personal values enumerated
from Verses 7 to 11 inclusive rightly belong to this chapter
because they result from this positive yet unitive wisdom.
This wisdom is made possible by the equation of the aspects
of the Self such as the perceptual and the actual.


Verse 0 (1)
Arjuna uvacha
prakritim purusham chaiva
ksketram kshetrajnam eva cha
etad veditum ichchami
jnanam jneyam cha kesava

Arjuna said:
Nature and spirit; the field and the knower of the
field; knowledge (wisdom) and what is to be known;
these I should like to know, 0 Kesava (Krishna).


As in the last chapter, Arjuna takes the initiative in
putting the composite question. He has already become
theoretically a wise man, but certain positive aspects of
wisdom, as already stated in our preliminary remarks to this
chapter, are still the object of his inquiry. Knowledge itself
as a proper subject requires to be understood as a systematic
whole, as belonging to a definite body of philosophic wisdom.
The word jneyam (what is to be known) shows that knowledge is
here presented not merely subjectively, but more consciously,
positively or objectively.

Sribhagavan uvacha
idam sariram kaunteya
kshetram ity abhidhiyate
etad yo vetti tam prahuh
kshetrajna iti tadvidah

Krishna said:
This body, 0 Kaunteya (Arjuna), is called the field,
and he who knows this, thus they call, who know, the
knower of the field.

(1) With a view to conformity between different editions and
following the example of some other editions, we are not
including this opening verse in the serial numbering, for the
reason that the Gita traditionally is supposed to consist of
700 verses. This verse added would make 701. Inasmuch as
this verse is of the nature of a title only, and could safely be
omitted without interfering with the subject-matter, and as it
could have been added as an afterthought by someone other
than Vyasa himself, its exclusion can perhaps be justified.


There are two definitions here, one of the field and one of
the knower of the field. These are two different aspects of
the same neutral or central Self. But they are being
distinguished, not for emphasizing their distinctness, but
rather to yield a unitive concept of the Self to which both of
them belong. The implicit duality is retained for purposes of
discussion till almost the very end of the work.

Before such a unity could be established however, they
are, as stated here, two distinct concepts. This explains the
expression iti tadvidah (thus they call, who know), for the
reference is evidently to philosophers like the Samkhyas
(rationalists) who recognize this duality between matter and
spirit, actual and perceptual.

The duality of the Samkhya philosophy, however, has
been fully revalued in the Gita, and the two aspects have
been brought together into a unitive concept of the Absolute.
This has been accomplished preliminarily in chapter xi and
will be more fully expressed in the present chapter.
The reference to sariram (body) in its connotation as
employed here, retains a tinge of the dualism which is
tentatively permitted in the present verse but which will be
modified in the next verse. We should not therefore take the
first definition too literally, when it states that the body is
the field, although it could be so taken in a plain non-
revalued Samkhya context. In a more unitively understood
context, the field forms the counterpart of the knower of the
field. There has to be something in common between the
field and the knower of the field, the actual and the perceptual, before they can be interrelated unitively. As understood physiologically, a dead body on a dissection table is very different from a living body. Dr. Alexis Carrell in his work "Man the Unknown" has recognized this distinction. Considered as one of the poles or counterparts in a contemplative situation with which here, in a yoga sastra (textbook on unitive understanding), we are primarily concerned, the living body attains the status of a personal value belonging to the Self.

In the next verse, where the field and the knower of the
field are to be considered more unitively, this revised
concept of the body as a value, when kept in mind, will help
us to avoid many of the doubts such as those raised by a
series of questioners belonging to different sceptical schools
of philosophy in the commentary of Sankara. To take one
example, Sankara has


to answer the charge that the knower of the field, who
corresponds to the purusha (spirit) of the Samkhya school,
would become a samsarin (one tainted with mundane
considerations) if treated as the body. Many such doubts can
be collectively or serially abolished together if we look upon
this sarira (body) not merely as a physical body, but as a
value-factor belonging to a contemplative situation. How
this could be so will become more evident as we proceed.


kshetrajnam chi 'pi mam viddhi
sarvakshetreshu bharata
kshetra kshetrajnayor jnanam
yat taj jnanam matam mama

And also know Me as the knower of the field in all fields,
0 Bharata (Arjuna); that knowledge (which refers to the
knowledge) of the field and the knower of the field, that,
in my opinion, is the knowledge.


This verse contains what is at first sight a sweeping
generalization about the nature of true wisdom. According
to this verse, wisdom consists in rightly understanding the
relation between the field and the knower of the field, or
between the actual and the perceptual. Even modern
philosophers like Betrand Russell have stated that this
relation touches one of the most difficult problems of
philosophy. The relation is a very elusive one, and lack of
understanding of this relation leads to many errors of
judgment in almost every department of intelligent human
life, many of them with grave and disastrous consequences.
In the name of spirituality, people often pamper or torture
their bodies, hoping to get salvation or wisdom. One man
cannot drink medicine for another's ailment. This sounds
simple enough, but many serious religious doctrines, such as
vicarious suffering, for which people are ready to be
martyred, depend upon this same kind of confusion. In
recent years in India itself, we know the case of how the
simple change of name of a certain region (now Pakistan)
led to large-scale genocide. Though communism and
democracy have many principles in common, these names
are used to fan the war mentality between very powerful
nations. That pomp and pride cannot walk hand in hand
with true spirituality, which is derived from a higher
source, is unfortunately not recognized


even by intelligent men who dabble in spiritual values. By
burning a Joan of Arc or crucifying a Christ, the spiritual
value that each of them might have represented is not killed.
When we come to religious and political wars, intelligent
politicians still talk of exterminating races or of wiping
religions out of existence.

The sins of the father cannot be attributed to the son; and
in large-scale warfare there is also large-scale slaughter of
innocent non-combatants, which is also a disaster and
injustice arising out of the same confusion. Here hatred is
misapplied when people suffer from mass war-psychosis.
To expect from Caesar what God alone must grant is
another of the absurdities of common life. Proverbs such as
"a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" refer to the
same common error of wrongly transferring values between
the actual and the perceptual. These instances could be
multiplied from the most commonplace to the gravest in
human existence.

This chapter itself makes reference to some aspects of
this problem in as far as they conduce to the notion of the
Absolute. God must not be said to change or evolve. It is the
field that evolves and not the knower of the field. And over
and above these two aspects there is the notion of the
Absolute untouched by either of these considerations as
explained more completely in Chapter xv.

The Gita throughout employs a parallel or double method
in which the necessary and the contingent are discussed side
by side. There is a subtle interplay and changing over of one
aspect of the necessary with its own contingent counterpart,
and one aspect of the contingent with its own necessary
counterpart, interlocked but running together throughout
the various chapters, with an exchange of subtle factors
giving rise to resultant unitive values of contemplative life.
This makes the Gita, as its name, "song" implies, a veritable
hymn of dialectics.

This is perhaps the most important verse as far as giving
the key to the philosophy of the Gita is concerned. Samkhya
(rationalist) philosophy is here very subtly revalued, without
tampering with its methodological frame of reference and
without discarding its precise scientific terminology. The
subtle revaluation may be located in the words cha'pi (and
also). In this there is an apparent redundancy which we have
noticed already in verses such as vi, 9 and vii, 39 and in
numerous other places. Cha (and) and api (also), whether


together or separately, are expressions used on more
occasions than any other two terms in the whole of the Gita.
Ideologically, the example we have cited earlier of the
double injunction in viii 7 of "think of Me and fight"
reveals the same parallel simultaneous treatment of the
contingent and the necessary.

While the Samkhya (rationalist) philosophers thought of
the kshetra (field) and the kshetrajna (knower of the field)
as distinct entities, here we are asked to think of them more
unitively as belonging to a centralized value. Herein is
contained the revaluation which, if we should miss it, would
mean losing the whole significance of this chapter.
This unitive way is not unfamiliar to us even in the
Upanishads. We have the famous passage in the Isa
Upanishad (11 to 13) where the insistence is very clear on
the understanding of the counterparts (knowledge and non-
knowledge, becoming and non-becoming) conjointly, i.e.

The expression sarvakshetreshu (in all the fields) implies
that delicate paradox which is inevitable to all truly
dialectical forms of reasoning. The knower of the field (the
perceiver), suggests a unity; but when we say he is in every
field, it seems to imply at the same time multiplicity. Thus
unity and multiplicity, the one and the many, are delicately
counterpoised, or set one against the other, in this
statement, as if to cancel out both in favour of a truly
absolutist value. It is because of this emergence of an
absolutist value from the unitive understanding of the two
counterparts that the generalization in the second line
which, though as we have said , it appears sweeping at first
sight, becomes perfectly justified. The Absolute is and
could only be the true subject-matter of wisdom.

This type of dialectical reasoning was known at the time
of Parmenides, and Zeno's paradoxes reveal the same
method. But modern philosophers have tended to discredit
pre-Socratic philosophy in the same way as great intellectual
stalwarts like Sankara (who in their commentaries have
entered into wordy controversy) have missed the delicate
methodology of dialectics. Sankara preferred to employ a
way of reasoning conforming to more mechanistic or
formally logical standards. This has landed him into many
situations bristling with controversy, from whose meshes it
is hardly possible for a reader to extricate himself. While
we agree with his conclusions, most of Sankara's commentary,
with its hair-splitting, thus becomes unreadable. Even the
gentleness of the Socratic method is missing, and the
poor critic (the purva pakshin) often gets scant respect at
the hand of an overpowering polemical giant like Sankara.


tat kshetram yach cha yadrik cha
yadvikari yatas cha yat
sa cha yo yatprabhavas cha
tat samasena me srinu

(That) hear in brief from Me; what the field is, what it is
like, of what it is the modification, and whence, and which
(it is), also what he (the knower of the field) is, and what
is his specialized resulting expression.


Note here in the first place that while this verse refers to
the field specifically - seemingly with a subtle purpose
behind it - there is omission of any direct reference by name
to the kshetrajna (knower of the field). Even in Verse 1 we
noticed that there was already some hesitation in naming
these two counterparts - the field and the knower of the field
- attributing their recognition vaguely or elusively to other
sages or to sages generally. The same sages will be referred
to in Verse 4.

As we study the difference between the two counterparts,
as stated in the verses that follow, we notice also that there
is no direct reference to kshetrajna (the knower of the field)
in Verse 11 although it is meant to be implied by the author
in the more comprehensive term jnana (wisdom) which is
there contrasted with ignorance, thus by-passing the
concept of kshetrajna (the knower of the field) altogether.
Thus the connotation of the term kshetrajna (knower of the
field) in Verse 3 has already shifted its own centre with a
slightly higher value than what it meant in the initial
definition as directly referring to the body. We have already
pointed out how, even there, it could not be the body in the
sense of a carcase, but something that has a value in the
context of contemplation, in however finite terms it might
be thought of.

Here we find the field gains its status more by contrast
with the ignorance mentioned in Verse 11, than with
anything fundamentally its own. When we find in Verse 6
that the field and its transformations include such factors as
intelligence and firmness, the theoretical status that the field
gains becomes more accentuated.


We shall see, however, in Verses 5 and 6, a very striking
difference between the orthodox enumeration of tattvas
(principles) as belonging to prakriti (nature) in the Samkhya
(rationalist) philosophy, and even from the description of
the lower nature of the Absolute as enumerated in vii, 4. We
have to look out for a revalued position here wherein a
greater unity is established between prakriti (nature) and
purusha (spirit), or between kshetra (field) and kshetrajna
(the knower of the field) than was understood hitherto,
whether by the Samkhya or even in the earlier chapters of
the Gita itself.

The unitively superior status that the kshetrajna (knower
of the field) is to gain in this chapter becomes evident from 
Verse 7 onwards. The enumeration of values there ranges
from the simple personal value of humility to wisdom as the
highest of absolutist values. The status of kshetra (the field)
itself (and its modifications) is also seen slightly promoted
in the enumeration of items referring to it in Verses 5 and 6,
beginning from the gross elements, here slightly glorified by
the attribute "great" and ending in the personal quality
dhritih (firmness), which quality is here intended to be
superior to chetana (vital intelligence).

When speaking of the attributes of kshetra (the field) the
term vikari (having modifications, transformations) is used,
while the term prabhava (specialized becoming) is used in
reference to the superior value connected with wisdom,
which corresponds to the knower of the field. Pure
knowledge or wisdom knows no transformations,
transmutations, evolution or change; but the actual,
represented here by the field, being opposed to wisdom,
is subject to necessary change and therefore to various
modifications or evolution. Vikari (modifications) further
has a deprecatory sense suggesting change for the worse.
Yatah (whence) refers to the field, but we find no direct
answer is given, except the indirect suggestion in Verse xi,
that all that is other than wisdom belongs to ignorance.
Hence the field results from ignorance, as Sankara ably
argues in his long comment on Verse 2. Further, Sankara
points out that even avidya (ignorance) is an extraneous
factor to the kshetrajna (knower of the field) who represents,
in his words Isvara (God) who in his terminology he interprets
as being identical with wisdom or the Absolute.

Ignorance, even as an upadhi (conditioning factor) in so
far as it is capable of affecting the ordinary man's notion
of a


pure unconditioned Absolute, must remain, on final analysis,
as a limiting attribute to the Absolute. To lift the
notion of the Absolute too far out of the human context
would tend to make of it a mere abstraction which would be
of no value. It would be a mere philosophical triviality
prejudicial to the cause of wisdom. But if we recognize the
Absolute, not abstractedly, but in the sense of a human
value, however ordinary, this particular form of intellectual
difficulty which Sankara had to face could be easily

To the argument of the opponent that all sastras (revealed
scientific texts) would become useless if the knower of the
field was already beyond samsara (repeated cyclic existence),
Sankara goes as far as to postulate the factor of ignorance
as intervening in some sort of figurative or indirect way
between the pure absolute God and the ordinary man to whom
the sutras (revealed scientific texts) apply, as something
intermediate which would make these texts necessary for him,
almost as in the case of the dvaitins (dualistic philosophers)
who tend to treat kshetrajna (the knower of the field) and
kshetra (the field) more realistically. The introduction of
such a third factor on the part of Sankara is rather artificial,
and to some extent compromises his unitive stand on the
primacy of the pure absolutist Isvara (God). If the notion of
Isvara (God) is conceived, not in terms of a philosophical
abstraction, but rather in terms of value, even as knowledge
would only be as, according to the Taittiriya Upanishad
(11, 4-9 inclusive), the term ananda (bliss, high human value)
suggests then much of the hair-splitting caused by purva
pakshins (anterior sceptics or critics) and the need for
explaining figuratively, or having to give indirect meanings
to the texts, could be avoided.

Regarding the use of the word pra
bhava (specialized
resulting expression) when referring to the kshetrajna
(knower of the field), the term is justified, because the
same pure wisdom-value could have its more ordinary global
and personal expression in common human life.
In the series of such human values enumerated in Verses 7
to 11 we find an implied scale of such values: freedom from
conventional pride constituting the lowest rung of the
ladder; and wisdom itself being implied as the highest. Man's
consciousness is capable of swinging between this wide
amplitude of values, from values of everyday life to those
which are rare and unique held by those who have attained
to wisdom.


The pure dualists such as the followers of Madhva and
those who conceive of the Absolute itself as having superior
human attributes, like the visishtadvaitins (those who treat
non-dualistically even specialized expressions of the
Absolute) of the Ramanuja school, would then have no
room for saying that Sankara finds no use for all the
scriptures. Without degrading the Absolute into the status of
a samsarin (one tainted with mundane considerations) it is
possible to conceive of a wide range of human values, in
whose understanding and adoption the ordinary human being
would find valuable indications in all the valid scriptures
of the world.

rishibhir bahudha gitam
chhandobhir vividhaih prithak
brahmasutrapadais chai 'va
hetumadbhir vinischitaih

Sung by rishis (seers) in many ways, severally and
distinctly in (different) metres, and also in the
aphoristic words of the Brahma-Sutras, replete with
critical reasonings and positively determined.


The object of this verse is to emphasize the subtle nature
of the problem involved in the question of the relation of
kshetra (the field) and kshetrajna (the knower of the field).
It is suggested here that the subject is one which has agitated
the minds of rishis (seers) and other philosophers, even from
the most ancient times. They have advanced their opinions
in the form of ancient chants, not necessarily Vedic. There
have been heterodox seers like Brihaspati, Kapila and others
who have composed verses in exalted mystical style, which
would justify the term gitam (song) used here.

The reference to chhandobhir (through a variety of metres)
is to emphasize the different contexts and styles,
including those of the Rig, Saman and Yajus Vedas which
are known to be in different styles or metres. The
expression vividhaih (various) suggests the large variety of
such literature extant. The expression prithak (severally,
distinctly), indicates that there is no uniform agreement on
this subject between the sages. The Samkhya (rationalist)
philosophers, for example, by their dualistic approach,
differ from the true Upanishadic standpoint.


The compliment is here paid to the precise and well-
reasoned presentation found in the aphorisms of the
Brahma Sutras (sequence of aphorisms dealing with the
wisdom of the Absolute) which is evidently, as most
scholars now agree, that composed by Badarayana, another
name for Vyasa, to whom the Gita itself is attributed.
By the expression rishi i.e. the sages of this verse, there
is a reference back to Verse 1: tadvidah (those who know).
A similar reference is found in iv, 2, where the rajarishis
philosophers) are more specifically alluded to. The
reference there is also to a form of ancient dialectical
wisdom which Krishna deplores has been lost by the great
lapse of time.

We see in the Gita that a high value is attached to a certain
rare kind of wisdom which tends to get lost from time to
time in the history of mankind. The paramam guhyam
(supreme secret) in xi, 1 and the concluding reference in
xviii, 63 to guhyad guhyataram (more secret than all other
secrets), taken together with the high status given to wisdom
in the present verse, is unmistakable, in determining the
teaching of the Gita.

mahabhutany ahamkaro
buddhir avyaktam eva cha
indriyani dasai 'kam cha
pancha che 'ndriyagocharah

ichchha dveshah sukham duhkham
samghatas chetana dhritih
etat kshetram samasena
savikaram udahritam

The great elements, ego-sense, reason, and also the
Unmanifest, the ten senses, and the one (mind) and
the five conceptual aspects of the senses,

wish-dislike, pleasure-pain, the organic
aggregation, vital intelligence, firmness: this in
brief, is the field, with modifications named.


The items of existing entities and derivatives from them
both belonging to the legitimate context of contemplation,
which are enumerated here, reveal a marked difference from
the usual way in which factors of existence of personal
virtue are generally expounded.


If we should try to relate these backwards to the Samkhya
(rationalist) philosophy to which at first sight they reveal
a general kinship, we find that there is no strict agreement
between the factors enumerated. In the first place the order
here has been mixed. Whether such a transposition is due to
requirements of prosody merely is not quite clear.

Moreover, under kshetra (the field), which may be said to
correspond to the prakriti (nature) side of the Samkhya
system, we have in verse 6 a new set of factors like chetana
(vital intelligence) and it is not clear whether they belong
to the orthodox Samkhya system or to the Yoga counterpart of
the same dualistic school.

A reference to a similar series of higher and lower values
was made in iii, 42. Further in v, 4 and 5 a sweeping
abolition of the distinction between Samkhya (rationalist
philosophy) and Yoga (unitive individualist philosophy) was
made. In vii, 8 the principle of the Absolute was said to be
implied in the rasa (taste) of water. Earlier, in Verses 4
and 5 of the same chapter the two aspects of the nature of
the Absolute were similarly mentioned as here, but with a
striking difference in the number of items. Prakriti (nature)
and purusha (spirit) were referred to there as the lower and
higher aspects of the Absolute. When we consider that between
the "Samkhya Karika" (Outline of Rationalist Philosophy) of
Isvarakrishna, attributed to Kapila, and the reputedly earlier
work -mentioned by Max Muller, bearing on the Samkhya system
itself, called the "Tattva Samasa" (Assemblage of Principles
of the Samkhya System) it is not at all easy to determine
with exactitude which items enumerated here would correspond
to the ones enumerated in these works, or anteriorly in the
Gita itself. Without confounding ourselves with such an
inquiry at present, we shall merely see what meaning, in
keeping with the context here, we can extract from these
items as here enumerated.

We find that the series starting with maha-bhutas (great
elements) refers to ontological realities such as the earth,
water, etc. This is but legitimate, because the field has been
primarily designated as the decaying body in Verse 1,
implying all its grossest actualities. The series in Verse 5
ends with the five conceptual aspects of the senses (the
tanmatras of the Samkhya system) - sound, touch, sight,
taste and smell. There depend for their reality on our own
consciousness. The senses themselves represent the windows
of consciousness.

In between these two extremes, the ontological and the
conceptual, are placed factors such as buddhi (intelligence)


ahamkara (individuality), which refer to the personal
consciousness more directly. All the items enumerated in
Verse 5 may be said to represent the field more directly than
their derivatives enumerated in Verse 6. The latter have
some resemblance to the lists of abhibuddhis (apprehensions)
and karmayonis (source of activity) listed in the Tattva Samasa
already mentioned, and some scholars have suggested on the
other hand that chetana (vital intelligence) and dhritih 
(firmness) etc., correspond to avidya (ignorance) and asmita

At very first sight it is evident that the items in Verse 6
are to be taken in pairs, wish with its opposite dislike,
pleasure with pain, while samghatah (organic aggregation) is
capable of being coupled with chetana (vital intelligence),
because organic integration is a counterpart of vital

The last item dhritih (firmness) might be said to mark the
culmination of the integration or the holding-together of
opposing tendencies constituting the individuality in a
human being. Thus unitive firmness is meant to be treated
here as important in human life. This leads to the "firm
justice" referred to in the very last verse of the Gita.


ahimsa kshantir arjavam
acharyopasanam saucham
sthairyam atmavinigrahah

Freedom from conventional pride, unpretentiousness,
non-hurting, non-retaliating forbearance, straightforwardness,
loyal support of the teacher (acharya), purity, steadfastness,
and state of self-withdrawal;


We come to a description of the knower of the field which, as
we have explained, is here indirectly referred to as forming
the essence of jnanam (wisdom).

Verses 7 to 11 form a natural section. Items here range
from such factors as lack of pride to that supreme value
called Wisdom. Some of these are not fundamentally
different from what one might call moral virtues. But in
principle they have nothing in common with such social
values at all.

If, for example, we should take the very first item
mentioned, amanitvam (freedom from conventional pride)
- it is a pure virtue, if it could be so called, belonging to
a source different from that of society. It is the virtue of
a contemplative or mystic.


A man concerned with his emancipation or self-realization
is hardly concerned with what society thinks of him. His moral
norms are within the categorical imperatives of his own true

The second epithet, adambhutvam (unpretentiousness),
implies the same principle of integrity or being true to
oneself. As a corollary to the same self-sufficient attitude,
he never wants to interfere with the happiness of any being
around him. A universal generosity here called ahimsa (non-
hurting) is implied in this kind of self-sufficiency.
Kshanti (non-retaliating forbearance) is also a leave-me-
alone attitude which ignores society. Arjavam
(straightforwardness) implies a certain frankness which
speaks out without fear or favour, and which also shows
independence from popular approbation. Then instead of
having social considerations, he is affiliated to a superior
model of a wise person, here referred to as an acharya
(teacher). Saucham (purity) refers not only to freedom from
actual dirt, but from anything tending to depress or tarnish
the state of the spirit.

Sthairyam (steadfastness or constancy) means he does not
change his way of life in favour of values other than the
contemplative. Atmavinigrahah (state of self-withdrawal)
suggests the stage of pratyaharah (withdrawal) of Patanjali.
Here it is sufficient to give it the simpler meaning that
outgoing tendencies are restrained and directed to the Self.


indriyartheshu vairagyam
anahamkara eva cha
janmamrityu jaravyadhi-

detachment in respect of sense-interests, absence of egoism,
insight regarding the pain and evil of birth, death, old age
and disease:


This verse comes nearest to the description of a samnyasin (renouncer) which Sankara believes is implied in the whole of the description of personal traits taken together.
A pessimistic note implied here might be the heritage of the previous Buddhistic outlook. Although according to vi, 17, and other verses, it would not be in keeping with the general spirit of the Gita to give a stoically exaggerated meaning to the reference to suffering (duhkha) here in of the more positive


and therefore perfected model of a spiritual man that we can
expect to be portrayed in this chapter, Sankara's opinion that
the reference here is to a samnyasin (renouncer) need not be
considered, however, too far off the mark.

The detachment even from wife and home mentioned in the next
verse further confirms that a model of a samnyasin (though
not necessarily the conventional institutional type), is
implied in the description here. The pessimistic note is
clear in the second line of this verse, where there is specific
reference to duhkha (suffering) as the principal thing to be
avoided, coming from birth, death, old age and disease.


asaktir anabhishvangah
putra dara grihadishu
nityam cha samachittatvam

without clinging to, (and) without intensely-involved
attachment to, (relations such as) sons, wives, (and property
such as) houses, and having a constant neutral mental attitude
in respect of desirable and undesirable happenings,


This verse reflects an attitude of general neutrality towards
happenings as well as towards domestic or family relations,
besides not being attracted by common interests such as wealth,
etc. The attitude to wife and children referred to here does
not imply that he is purposely unjust to them or partial either.
He takes an impersonal neutral attitude in the matter, balancing
justly between the two opposing tendencies that might influence
his judgment. He never errs on the side of partiality to his own


mayi cha 'nanyayogena
bhaktir avyabhicharini
viviktadesa sevitvam
aratir janasamsadi

devotion to Me to the exclusion of everything extraneous,
and never straying from the (direct) path, preference to dwell
in a place apart, distaste for crowded living;


Here is a culminating reference to the special kind of bipolar
relation which, we have often said, constitutes one of the
central doctrines of the Gita. It may be called ekantika-
bhakti yoga (the unitive way of lone devotion) which
scholars have distinguished as the characteristic of the
Bhagavata religion of Vasudeva. We have explained already
the import of the word ananyayoga (the unitive way which
excludes everything extraneous).

The bhakta (devotee), moreover, should not deflect from
the path which joins him contemplatively with the Absolute
in a most direct or strictly bipolar fashion. The two other
qualifications of the yogi or samnyasin (renouncer) here
refer to his preference for quiet surroundings with nothing
obtruding into or disturbing his peace. He generally avoids
crowds or living in the market-place. His peace of mind is
further secured by a type of place described here as
viviktadesa (a place apart) where petty rivalries and social
feuds do not interfere. Sankara thinks that the place must be
free from snakes and thieves.


adhyatmajnana nityatvam
tattva jnanartha darsanam
etaj jnanam iti proktam
ajnanam yad ato 'nyatha

everlasting affiliation to the wisdom pertaining to
the Self, insight into the content of philosophical
wisdom - this is declared to be wisdom; whatever is
other than this is ignorance.


In this verse which is added after the culminating reference
in the previous verses, we find that in conformity with xii,
20, a model of a man who does not think in terms of a personal
affiliation to Krishna; but who is merely affiliated to the
supreme wisdom-value, is given ultimate recognition, over and
above the praise given to the personal affiliation to Krishna
referred to in the last verse.

This may be said to mark the culminating model belonging to
the more specific framework of the Gita teaching as part of a
Bhagavata religion. It leaves the door wide open for others
here who are votaries at wisdom's pure altar alone.
The wisdom here refers to the Self as implied in the first
epithet, and at the same time is conceived in positive or
objective terms as implied in the second epithet. The jnanam


(wisdom) referred to in the second line should be taken to be
the true knowledge of Verse 2 and as substituting the notion
of kshetrajna (knower of the field) which has been conveniently
forgotten, as we have pointed out.

This culminating wisdom is a unitive factor covering both the
field and the knower of the field. It is as it were a central
value which may even be said to be implicit in the word
antaram (principle of difference, differential) in the last
verse of this chapter and which, as stated there, is to be
discerned by the jnanachakshushah (eye of wisdom).
Under ajnana (ignorance), similarly, there is to be implied
all those aspects of the field which lead the consciousness
away from higher wisdom-values, including both those that
tend to do so, and those failing outside the scope of
contemplation altogether, such as the decaying aspects of
a dead body, wherein no soul-happiness is any more to be

In reviewing the section covered from Verses 5 to 11 inclusive,
in which both the idea of the field and the knower of the
field were covered in a special and unitive way which we have
tried to explain, we find that beginning from the idea of a body
which was only superior to a mere carcase by a margin of
contemplative principle involved, we have touched in the
knower of the field an all-comprehensive wisdom-value which
is going to be expounded more finally in Verse 12, by way of
rounding up the section, as we shall see.

We further notice that even within the items belonging to the
field there is an implied gradation of values culminating in
the qualification dhritih (firmness) in Verse 6. A vertical
series of values relating to action, somewhat on the same lines
as the series here, is given in xviii, 14.

In the present verse an integrated organism which constitutes
the personal value called the field is the basis where higher
virtues can be cultivated or erected. The vital intelligence leads
to a personal quality called firmness here, which is not
unrelated to the idea of urjitam (vigour) of x, 41. It suggests
both stability and strength and, as a personal quality, marks the
furthermost limit which perfection in the context of the field
can attain. Firmness represents the narrow neck of the hour-
glass structure of the values presented, from the most broad-
based ones of the great elements at the bottom of the lower cone
to this pointedly personal virtue of firmness at the central apex.
Beyond this point we reach up to other personal virtues of a
non-social and individualistic character which are


also of the nature of personal virtues, but which really
belong to the domain of kshetrajna (the knower of the field).
Instead of pravritti (forward-going tendencies) we come
to what is represented by nivritti (inwardly retreating
tendencies). Egoism, for example, is a recognized value
under kshetra (the field) in Verse 5, and has its place, while
the same ahamkara (egoism) is a value to be negated to
constitute a personal virtue of the kshetrajna (knower of the
field) in Verse 8.

Scanning the series we find that the values become more
and more generally applicable in the later verses, as we
ascend the scale or rise into the region of the upper expanse
of the hour-glass, where universal values such as wisdom
are comprehended.

The legitimate doubt that might arise in the reader regarding
the validity of referring to virtues as leading to wisdom, as
they might be mistaken to be, to which Sankara makes allusion,
is explained at least partially, by our analogy of the
hour-glass. Whether universal or particular value-factors are
involved in the scale of values enumerated, it is the person or
the individual who is primarily concerned with them. Thus a
reference to the individual as representing the values which
necessarily have to resemble personal virtues is but legitimate
and natural. All values have to be conceived, at least in the
contemplative context, as personal values, because personal
liberation or self-realization is the end common to all
contemplative disciplines.

The question of Sankara's opponent, raised in connection
with the next verse, of how a virtue can be a means for
wisdom, is only answered in an indirect way by Sankara when
he says that these virtues or qualifications are conducive to
wisdom; or because they are secondary or auxiliary causes of
wisdom, they are treated on a par with wisdom itself. From
the way we have approached the problem by giving primacy to
value rather than to abstract wisdom as such, this indirect
explanation becomes unnecessary. Every item in the series has
an equal status as a value, whether personal or merely

Sankara's other explanation of the charge of his opponent
that the kshetrajna (knower of the field) would either be a
samsarin (one of mundane interests) or there would result
the absence of samsara (the cycle of repeated existences) at
all, depends upon an argument based upon infinite regression,
by which he tries to explain that if attributes of relative
existence are to be applied to Isvara (God) or to the
kshetrajna (knower


of the field), we would thereby be compelled to postulate an
author of consciousness who would be able to see the ego so
tainted as an object or entity outside himself. This would
necessitate a series of egos, one superior to the other; the
more superior one being able to make of the inferior one an
object of its perception, and so on ad infinitum. By the
absurdity implied in such an infinite regression, Sankara
succeeds in establishing, though in a laboured way, the
unconditioned purity implied in the kshetrajna (knower of
the field) which fully represents Isvara (God) or Vishnu as
he specifically says.

Vishnu could only be a supreme value when stripped of
mythological vestures with which in his mind the common
man might clothe the value. Thus conceived as a human
value entering into different levels of human life, this
laboured resort of Sankara to a regression to infinity,
together with his arguments based on indirect or lakshanartha
(figurative meanings), could easily have been by-passed.


jneyam yat tat pravakshyami
yaj jnatva 'mritam asnute
anadimat param brahma
na sat tan na 'sad uchyate

I shall declare that which is to be known, which, being known,
one gains immortality; the beginningless, having Me as its
supreme culminating factor, the Absolute, which is said to
be neither existence nor non-existence.


From this verse onwards we have a complete picture of the
unitive Self or the eternal Absolute or whatever may be
designated by tat (That). It is unmistakable from the
description that it is not an entity which could be definitely
called either matter or spirit. As stated in Verse 19, both
matter and spirit have to be given an equal status as values
and considered as eternal or beginningless. The Absolute implied
here in Verse I2 is neither sat (existence) nor asat
(non-existence), and is of the nature of a paradox, in the
same way as in the Eleatic philosophers, Parmenides and Zeno.
The one and the many adhere together in this notion of the
Absolute, as stated in Verse 30.

When it is said that the Absolute participates in both
existence and non-existence, and the one and the many, it


should not be thought however, that it combines contradictions,
reducing the notion to a mere absurdity. It should be
conceived rather as valid as a datum of reasoning, or better
still as an authentic human value to be intuitively
understood, and not as a mere contradiction in terms as
bhedabheda vadins (difference-non-difference thinkers) would
tend to look upon it.

The reference to immortality in this verse is only to
emphasize the correctness or validity of the revalued,
restated notion of the Absolute implied here. It corresponds
to the "verily, verily" of the New Testament, while the
word pravakshyami (I shall declare) also corresponds to the
"I say unto you" of the same. The latter should be read with
me srinu (hear from Me) of verse 3. These all indicate that
Krishna has something unusually precious to say.
The word jneyam (what is to be known) marks the positive
nature of the notion of the Absolute to be described
in this chapter, giving it a certain amount of philosophical
objectivity. The phrase anadimatparam (beginningless and
having Me as its supreme culminating factor) has been
subjected to differences of interpretation and treatment by
important commentators like Sankara and Ramanuja, the
former taking it as anadimat-param (beginningless,
supreme) and the latter as anadi-matparam (beginningless,
ruled by Me). Both these interpretations have something to
be said in their favour. In the light of the essential
paradoxical nature of the Absolute as we have shown, the
different interpretations are but natural. But it is important
(on whichever the accent is put, on beginningless or on
supreme) that we steer clear of any such duality in
understanding the meaning of the term. In other words we
have to conceive of it as a neutral value as it is clearly
intended to be in the description given in the rest of the


sarvatah panipadam tat
sarvatokshi siromukham
sarvatah srutimal loke
sarvam avritya tishthati

With hands and feet everywhere, with eyes and hands, and
mouths, with hearing everywhere, in the world, That remains,
enveloping all.


Verses 13 to 18 form a new section wherein various
paradoxical statements about the Absolute are included in a
certain order.


In Verse 13, which is the same as that of the Svetasvatara
Upanishad iii, 16, the Vedic picture of a cosmic man is
repeated in the form revalued in the Upanishads. The
paradox is implied in the expression sarvam avritya
(enveloping all). The term, loke (in the world), on the other
hand, would suggest an inside position. The same paradox
is more explicitly stated in Verse 15.


sarvendriya gunabhasam
sarvendriya vivarjitam
asaktam sarvabhrich chai'va
nirgunam gunabhoktri cha

Shining by the specific characters of the senses, devoid
of all sense (attributes); unattached, supporting all;
without qualities, and perceiving qualities.


This verse contains three paradoxical statements. The first
is quite within the range of our own experience, when we
think of dreaming, where things are seen without the help of
eyes, etc. The second paradox is easily understood if we
think of space supporting form. Regarding the third paradox,
we know that the pure Absolute is not subject to the
modalities of the three degrees of specialization in nature
called the gunas (qualities). They act only as conditioning
factors, like Shelley's "dome of many-coloured glass".


bahir antas cha bhutanam
acharam charam eva cha
sukshmatvat tad avijneyam
durastham cha 'ntike cha tat

Without and within beings; immobile and mobile too; because
subtle, That is unknowable; That stands far and near also.


Here again there are three paradoxes to be resolved. They
are quite clear and require no explanation. The Absolute is
referred to as being a subtle principle. This is an initial
attempt to explain the paradoxes and would correspond to
the argument advanced in Verse 32.


avibhaktam cha bhateshu
vibhaktam iva cha sthitam
bhutabhartri cha taj jneyam
grasishnu prabhavisnu cha

And undivided yet remaining divided as it were in beings;
supporter of existence and That which is to be known;
hold back and releasing for expansive becoming.


Again three paradoxes are implied, two explicit and one
hidden. In the first, explicit one, the word iva (as it were)
is meant to relieve the contrast somewhat. The paradox of
the one and the many is meant, although it is expressed in
terms of outward appearances.

The second paradox here has the implied opposition between
the counterparts bhutabhartri (supporter of existence) and
jneyam, (what is to be known) which in this chapter should
be understood as an objective philosophical entity to be
clearly placed in a circle apart, as it were, from jnanam
(wisdom), subjectively considered. The opposition between
the two counterparts is the same as that between existence
and subsistence.

The third pair of paradoxical counterparts is based on the
notion that there is a centrifugal and a centripetal principle
involved in reality, whether cosmic or psychic. Grasishnu
(grasping) refers to the centripetal tendency to hold inwards
and prabhavishnu (releasing expansive becoming) is the
centrifugal tendency.

This verse thus terminates the series of paradoxical
references which are all meant as examples of the principle
of equalization, neutralization or cancelling-out of
counterparts or tendencies into a neutral central value which
is the Absolute. As in mathematics, the operation can be
compared to the cancelling-out of the plus and minus or the
unitive cancellation in vulgar fractions of the numerator
and the denominator. This kind of equalization, which can
also be thought of as peace, harmony or joy, is of the essence
of Yoga. Indeed, Yoga is equalization, even by the Gita
definition, as we have had many occasions to point out.


jyotisham api taj jyotis
tamasah param uchyate
jndnam jneyam jnanagamyam
hridi sarvasya dhishthitam


The Light even of lights, that is said to be beyond darkness;
knowledge, the knowable and what is to be reached through
knowledge; particularly located in the hearts of everyone.


Here instead of reference to two counterparts, we find
three items referring to the Absolute. These must be looked
upon as corresponding to the triputi (tri-basic) aspect of
consciousness. Wisdom and the object of wisdom here
correspond to the subjective and the objective aspects of
knowledge which are counterparts belonging to the same
order as the field and the knower of the field. But the third
factor referred to here, by the phrase jnanagamyam (that
which is to be reached through wisdom), stands neutrally
between subject and object.

Between an onlooker and a lamp there is the neutral value
called light which is neither subjective nor objective, but
is arrived at by virtue of both eye and lamp. It can thus be
compared to a central value. Legitimately, therefore, there
is reference here to the Light of lights which is located
neutrally, as it were, in the hearts of men, as a superior
basic human value.

This kind of light is not the ordinary light which is
opposed to darkness, but light conceived in itself and in a
more absolutist manner, darkness itself being overlooked as
a negation to be negated. The double use of Light of lights
here is justified because of the double negation of darkness
implied. A double assertion replaces a double negation. This
is a subtlety known to mystical theology and methodology in
the writings of Aquinas and Dionysius the Areopagite. This
image is also resorted to in the Upanishads.

We note also in passing that this third factor mentioned in
this verse may possibly refer to the antaram (differential
principle) of Verse 34.


iti kshetram tatha jnanam
jneyam cho 'ktam samasatah
madbhakta etad vijnaya
madbhavayo 'papadyate

Thus the field, and wisdom, and what has to be known, have
been briefly told; My devotee, having known this, attains
to My state of being.


How a man of wisdom who merely knows what has been stated,
could, by that mere fact, as it is said, enter into the being
of the Absolute, is not against the spirit of the dictum
of the Mundaka Upanishad III, ii, 9: "He verily who knows
that supreme Absolute, the Absolute Itself becomes".
Although the more theologically-minded commentators would
hesitate to give full credit to this statement, it holds
good in principle.

Notice in this verse again that a reference to kshetrajna
(knower of the field) is omitted for reasons already explained.


prakritim purusham chai 'va
viddhy anadi ubhav api
vikarams cha gunams chai 'va
viddhi prakritisambhavan

Know you that nature and spirit are both beginningless;
and know you also that modifications and their intrinsic
modalities are born of nature.


After seemingly closing a section with Verse 18 in which
the answers to the three sets of questions of Arjuna were
expressly concluded, we have here another extra section
covering Verses 19 to 22 inclusive, whose object is to bring
out the subtle interrelation that exists between what is here
called prakriti (nature) and purusha (spirit). Verse 21
incidentally makes allusion to the principle that underlies
birth in "good or evil" wombs. The object of this section
is to develop a philosophy by which the human personality
could be understood not only in its general aspects but
also in those particularized aspects which would help us
to distinguish a Peter from a Paul.

The theory of the three modalities in nature, which is to be
discussed in detail in the next chapter under the three gunas
called sattva, rajas and tamas, is to be the basis of the
determination of types of persons. We shall come to a fuller
discussion of the implications of this theory of gunas in its
proper place in the next chapter and elsewhere, and see how
the four social divisions emerge again to view as based on
these gunas, in Chapter xviii, 41 ff.

Here in the present verse we have to notice that matter
and spirit are given an equal status by virtue of the eternity
implicit in - the intrinsic nature of both. If Peter and Paul
are different the difference is due to the guna which enters
into the nature of each of them tending to modify their original
pure nature.


We know that this question of psycho-physical interaction is
full of vague and subtle implications. In other parts of the
Gita this subtle nature of the question has been referred to,
as in xv, 10 and 11. In the unitive treatment of nature and
spirit here we are asked in this section to recognize that
although these two are distinct, it is from their interaction as
equal and opposite eternal factors that various grades, even
within the human species, result.

It would help our later discussion of the fourfold social division
in Chapter xviii to note even here that it is not the spirit but
only nature which is responsible for the inequalities of birth.
The status of man remains therefore untouched by the modalities
of nature, giving all men spiritual equality outside the relativist
domain of nature.


karya karana kartritve
hetuh prakritir uchyate
purushah sukhaduhkhanam
bhoktritve hetur uchyate

In what concerns agency for cause and effect the motivating
factor is said to be nature; in the matter of the experiencer
of pleasure and pain, the motivating factor is spirit.


In getting at the root of the statement in this verse, we
have to examine it from a very matter-of-fact point of view.
The dividing line between the actual and the perceptual
implied here is very thin. Prakriti (nature) and purusha
(spirit) are again referred to here as dual aspects of reality,
the aim being to explain in an empirical or practical way
where mind and matter meet, to result in personal types
referred to in Verse 21.

The values pertaining to the mind are necessarily distinct
from those pertaining to matter. It would be vain to deny
their necessary difference. A stone must hit a mango fruit to
make it fall. Only a magic mango will fall by a magic spell.
In this and many popular proverbial instances, the
distinction between the actual and the perceptual has
prevailed as commonsense wisdom.

We have already done with the philosophical implications
of this wisdom, and the only object that the author has
in referring to nature and spirit here is to reveal that
subtle dividing line which demarcates them.


The first compound word karyakaranakartritve (in what
concerns agency for cause and effect) has another reading
karyakaranakartritve (in what concerns agency for effect and
instruments). In the latter case, the karana (instruments) are
factors producing the effect called the body (i.e. in Samkhya;
the five organs of sensation, the five of activity, mind,
intelligence and egoism). Both these versions have been subjected
to critical examination by Sankara. Without going into the
technical details involved, we can see how this verse is
beautifully conceived by the author to serve the main purpose
of dividing nature and spirit as practical counterparts
in an empirically valid theory on the basis of which personal
types and aptitudes could be discussed. We need not,
therefore enter into the profound philosophical implications
here. The same problem is more closely tackled in the next
verse where the question of rebirth and "good and evil"
wombs is expressly mentioned.

Here we find the two hetus (motivating factors) each given
an almost equal status, the motivating factor of nature and
that of spirit. The motivating factor of nature is behind all
causes and effects that we see in this mechanistic world.
Similarly, in what we know in the everyday world as
pleasure and pain, the motivating factor belongs to one who
can feel such pleasure and pain, here named purusha (spirit).
Thus the thin dividing line that is sought to be explicitly
defined by this verse lies between the conscious spirit which
is capable of feeling, and the inert matter which is within the
domain of causality, and which does not necessarily imply a
selective or aesthetic consciousness.

We should therefore make the distinction between hetuh
(motivating factor) and the karana (cause) associated with
karya (effect). Hetuh (motivating factor) is more unitively
conceived than cause-effect, which depend upon one another
for their meaning as counterparts of a mechanistic situation.
Further, cause and effect can belong to the field of vikriti
(deteriorating effects), while prakriti (nature) as a more
general hetuh (motivating factor) includes both good and
bad effects.


purushah prakritistho hi
bhunkte prakritijan gunan
karanam gunasango 'sya
sad asad yoni janmasu

The spirit, seated in nature, appreciates the modalities
born of nature; association with the modalities is the cause
of births in good or evil wombs.


This verse is an attempted explanation of the process
involved in reincarnation, contributing to the inequality of
status between types of men. The subject is not one that
directly concerns spirituality in the best sense of the word.
But inequality in this world as an expression of injustice
touches on sociology and ethics, and can drastically influence
politics, as it has done in India in the name of caste, which is
a major problem that can hardly be bypassed by an author
such as Vyasa, whose figure may be said to stand at the very
core of Indian spirituality, representing the supreme role of
dialectical revaluation of a superior way of life, individual or
collective In the theorization implied here, Vyasa is not
unlike Plotinus in his graphic description of how the soul
enters matter.

Bergson's theories of matter and spirit follow the same lines.
Even in the Gita the allusion to birth in good or evil wombs
has to be read side by side with xv, 8, and xvi, 19. There is a
slight contradiction to be observed when the implication of
this verse is read with the implication of Verse 31 of this
chapter, where it is said that the Self is not affected though
seated in the body, and though touching the body it is not
tainted by the body.

The same idea is contained in v, 10 that it is possible to keep
the soul from being tainted like the lotus leaf unaffected by
water. The way in which the spirit can taste or enjoy qualities
belonging to nature or matter is thus a paradox, better left
unexplained. However, when we remember that the purusha (spirit)
here, as even Sankara admits in his comment on Verse 20, could
be a samsari (a mundane enjoyer) and in the light ,of the
pragmatic necessity here to explain types of men, as we have
pointed out, the contact between mattter and mind implied in
this verse becomes understandable, though a certain mystery
is still attached to it. Perhaps the author intends it to be
a mystery, as samsara (cyclic repetition of existences) is
a mystery, or as in osmosis in plants, the spirit absorbs
what is good for itself to enjoy, leaving the dross in the

All we need admit for the purposes of the theory here is
something like the law of opposites attracting each other, as
in a magnet, the idea of purusha (spirit) here being reduced
to the status of one of the ambivalent factors. Unlike the
status of the


kshetrajna (knower of the field), which corresponds to
Isvara (God) according to Sankara, and could be absorbed
into wisdom; the purusha (spirit) could be called a samsari
(a mundane enjoyer) still on the relativist side of life.
The reference to sad asad yonih (good and bad wombs)
calls for some comment. In xvii, 26, it is explained that
the word sat (true, existent implies goodness and existence
equally. The good and bad wombs must, therefore, refer to
degrees of perfection or goodness that an individual ego or
self can attain, irrespective of the relative levels within
which the differences of degree lie.

In speaking of the yogabhrasto (the person fallen from 
Yoga) in vi, 41-42, another aspect of the same theory was
alluded to. There it was stated that a person who had
deflected from the path of Yoga would be born in the family
of pure and intelligent people. The reference to papayonah
(wombs of sin) in ix, 32 gives us another indication as to
what might be in the mind of the author when he refers to
bad wombs. Between these two limits of a clean and
intelligent family and persons steeped in necessity like
proletarians (sudras) and others, we have to form a notion
of degrees of difference within whose range a particular
soul can have a choice. Sankara suggests that good wombs
are those of devas (divinities) and bad wombs those of
lower animals, which would imply a still wider range with
a choice possible outside the human context altogether.
Keeping within the limits of what the Gita itself hints at
in the passages cited above, we can safely conjecture that it
is the gradations of the four varnas (colours, aptitudes
divisions) on the one hand and the kind of birth that a yogi
can get on the other hand, that is in the mind of the author.
The difference must be based on some sort of equilibrium
between opposing tendencies of attraction and repulsion in
the field of values. An intellectually lazy or inert spirit gets
involved deeper in a world of necessity like an elephant in a
bog, to borrow an example from the Yoga Vasishtha.
An intellectually alert individual will naturally escape the
clutches of necessity and emerge out of the relativist world
- to some degree at least. An intermediate group might
include men who, by their alertness or activity, can float
half-immersed as it were. Prakriti (nature) and purusha
(spirit) are two opposing tendencies or forces, and the
individual life-expression is a kind of stable equilibrium
arrived at by the simultaneous action upon it of these
opposing forces. In Verse 26 we find this


principle stated in very generalized terms, but we find that
instead of nature and spirit, kshetra (field) and kshetrajna
(knower of the field) are there substituted. There is no harm
in this, because the knower of the field here is not
necessarily meant to have a superior status corresponding to
absolute wisdom. A degree of dualism is admitted here for
the sake of explaining inequality as observed in this world.
We shall have further occasion to enter into the implication
of this in greater detail from xviii, 41 onwards.


upadrashta 'numanta cha
bharta bhokta mahesvarah
paramatme 'ti cha 'py ukto
dehe 'smin purusha parah

Supervisor, and Permitter, Supporter, Experiencer, the Great
Lord, and also called the supreme Self (is) the supreme
Spirit in the body.


The mystery implied in the mode of contact between nature
and spirit which was left vague in the previous verse is
sought to be further clarified here. Within the limits of the
body, the Absolute in its purest implications suffers from
certain conditionings and limitations. The favourite example
in Indian philosophy of a colourless, transparent crystal
placed on red silk, the latter technically named upadhi (the
conditioning factor) explains the contact to some extent. In
chemistry we have the example of catalytic agents which
themselves suffer no change while being necessary for
effecting changes in other chemicals with which they are in
contact. If these two examples still do not explain the
mystery sufficiently, especially in a contemplative context,
we find mentioned here some other functions or qualities of
the supreme Self within the body limits, as its modified
patterns of behaviour or types of personality.

The word upadrashti (supervisor) suggests the role of an
overseer of works. He does not work himself, but his
immediate presence as a man on the spot is necessary for the
work to go on. Sankara suggests the head priest in a Vedic
ritual, under whose supervision the various ritual acts
proceed in a certain order.

Anumanta (Permitter) can be thought of as a selective and
eliminative principle. Certain acts are approved and certain


others disapproved, depending upon an innate principle
derived from the Absolute.

The word bharta (supporter, one who bears the weight)
can in the first place be thought of, not necessarily as
supporting from below, but from above as from a hanging
lamp. The gross and active aspects of the senses, mind, etc.,
which form an aggregate in themselves, depend for their
intelligent, conscious function, on the spirit which is in
contact with them, though indirectly. They are like the
reflection of a flame on a mirror below, which reflection
looks as though the flame were burning downwards, while in
reality it is burning upwards. The reflection depends upon
and may be said to be supported by the actual flame which
represents pure wisdom, although within the limits of the
body there is no harm in calling the same wisdom the

The term bhokta (experiencer) is similarly justified,
although in a strict sense absolute wisdom cannot be called
an enjoyer. Within the limits of the body it is permissible to
refer to the spirit as enjoyer inasmuch as a dead body cannot
enjoy anything at all, and whatever enjoyment or experiencing
there is on the perceptual side, must belong in principle at
least, to the Absolute.

The expression mahesvarah (great lord) is used in approximately
the same sense as in xviii, 61. While here he is within the
limit of the body, there he is further localized in the heart
of man. Within the body limits there is another name for the
same derived from the Absolute principle, named in xv, 14,
as vaisvanarah (universal principle of the vital man) spoken
of more particularly in connection with the important vital
principle of the digestive "fire". It is here called mahesvarah
(great lord) because of its universality, though the sense is
limited here to the human species.

The word paramatma (supreme Self) cancels out any cosmological
or theological coloration implied in the former epithet,
referring it back to psychology.


ya evam vetti purusham
prakritim cha gunaih saha
sarvatad vartamano 'pi
na sa bhuyo 'bhijayate

He who thus knows spirit and nature, together with the
intrinsic modalities, though he may happen to be leading
every kind of life, is not born again.


This verse contains a sweeping assertion. To expect more
knowledge about the difference concerning spirit and nature
to produce the far-reaching effect of annihilating all
bondage of karma (action), as Sankara insists on holding,
may be considered rather too easy a generalization. But in
the light of iv, 37, and the Mundaka Upanishad II, ii, 8, the
statement is quite in keeping with the Gita teaching. Even if
we have to take it in a realistic sense, we have the Verses iv,
36, and ix, 30 and 31, with which the statement here tallies.
The secret of the pure Absolute may be that of a rare
philosopher only, but even a common man, who is able by his
intuition to appreciate the subtle differential principle
given to dialectical reasoning rather than to wisdom as
such, can be said to hold the secret of that rare and neutral
value which the Gita teaching throughout keeps in view.
This latter is not given to buddhi (reason) particularly alone,
but to one who has a dialectical intuition and as such is
called a yogi. This point is brought out in the Gita in vi, 46.
The expression sarvatha vartamano 'pi (though he may
happen to be leading every kind of life) in effect states that
no orthodox mode of life is recognized in the Gita. A man
can be a profligate, a gambler or publican, but if he is wise
he will be saved. To think that a mode of life in keeping with
Vedic orthodoxy alone will lead to the goal implied in the
Gita is wholly discredited by this verse.


dhyanena 'tmani pasyanti
kechid atmanam atmana
anye samkhyenayogena
karmayogena cha 'pare

By meditation some behold the Self in the Self by the Self;
others by Samkhya-Yoga (unitive reasoning) and others by
karma-yoga (action unitively understood).


Three kinds of Self-realization are referred to here. From
chapters ii on Samkhya (rationalist) philosophy, and iii on
karma (action) we had sufficient explanation of what
Samkhya-Yoga (unitive reasoning) and karma-yoga (action
unitively understood) were intended to mean, as here. These
compound terms ought not to be confused with mere
Samkhya (rationalism or mere karma (action).


Yoga implies a certain method of equalization or cancellation
of counterparts which we have tried to explain. It is as
when two factors are cancelled one against the other, that we
come to something which is unitive. Whether in the world of
values that might belong to the field of necessary action, or of
rational life, or of Self-realization - the unitive value which
results from the cancellation of counterparts is the same.
Thus it is stated here that some attain to the supreme value of
the Absolute Self by cancelling the subjective aspect of the
Self against the objective aspect of the same. In other words,
as in Verse 17, there is an all-inclusive wisdom representing
both these aspects.

To cite one verse from the Samkhya (rationalist) philosophical
context which implies the equalizing principle, we refer back
to ii, 48; and for the karma (action) context there is
the famous Verse xv, 18.

Sankara again resorts to his favourite argument of indirect
or figurative meaning in regard to conceding to karma
(action) the status of a yoga leading to Self-realization.
His polemics have always been directed against ritualism, but
understood in the light of Yoga as explained above, and in
terms of a value, independent of any philosophical
superiority, this slur on realization through karma (action)
is unnecessary, though justified to the extent that karma
(action) is very inferior to buddhiyoga (unitive understanding
through reason) as admitted in the Gita in 11,49.


anye tv evam ajanantah
srutva 'nyebhaya upasate
te 'pi cha 'titaranty eva
mrityum srutiparayanah

But others, not knowing as stated (above) worship,having
heard from others; they also cross beyond death, depending
on hearsay.


This verse covers all and sundry aspirants innocent of the
secret of Yoga. Yoga being a counterpart of Samkhya
(rationalist) philosophy implies some philosophical
understanding of tattvas (principles). There is a large
amorphous body of people outside the world of yogis, who
instinctively have a notion of the Absolute by hearsay or
other indirect means. Although they may not attain to
wisdom, they can also get the freedom


of a non-relative kind by their appreciation of other-worldly
values that lie beyond death, values that belong simultaneously
to the here and the hereafter. This verse also tends to abolish
any orthodoxy or patent rights in regard to the secret teaching
of the Gita.


yavat samjayate kimchit
sattvam sthavara jangamam
kshetra kshetrajna samyogat
tad viddhi bharatarshabha

Whatever is produced, the unmoving or the moving, know you,
0 Best of the Bharatas (Arjuna), that to be from the union
of the field and the knower of the field.


We find here a return to the terms field and knower of the
field, with which this chapter started. The discussion
followed unitive philosophical lines, but confronted
problems of empirical and pragmatic import, preferring the
employment of the terms nature and spirit, which are now
made to correspond to the original expressions, field and
knower of the field, after a due explanation of the yogic
methodology implied in Verses 23 and 24.

Sankara sees in this union of field and knower of the field
the basis of mithyajnana (false, mistaken knowledge). True
knowledge according to him would be one-sided, favouring
the kshetrajna (knower of the field). The field and the
knower of the field together, according to him, lead to the
adhyasa (mistaken attribution) of one in the other. Sankara's
preference for wisdom values to ordinary values is quite
legitimate, but need not make the truth of the statement in
this verse invalid. As we have already pointed out under 
Verse 24, yogic understanding is different from mere logical
understanding. Sankara, being still a logician par excellence,
refuses to see the value factor implied in the union of the
field with the knower of the field, even while both are given
the same eternal status. The next verse throws further light
on how, as Values, all beings have the same status. Chapter v,
18, has stated the same equality. If all beings are the same,
such equality cannot depend on the actuality represented by
each object. We see them and deal with them differently, but
the value principle in each is the same. It is of the nature
of a resultant equilibrium between the opposite factors that
is the


point here in this chapter. It is the differential principle
between the two counterparts which is at the basis of the
value called the Absolute present in each object, the
superior entity given to philosophical speculation and
referred to in Verse 12, representing the positive content of
wisdom. This can be spoken of as a high value of a positive
kind, but there are innumerable other values in the world
towards which, as a yogi or dialectician, the wise man is
related, and each of which, as representing an absolute value
in itself, is the same to him.


samam sarveshu bhuteshu
tishthantam paramesvaram
vinasyatsv avinasyantam
yah pasyati sa pasyati

He who sees the supreme Lord abiding (in a state of) equality
in all beings, within the perishing as the non-perishing, he


The word samam (equal), as used here, does not merely imply
a horizontal distributive equality of the high principle
of the Supreme in all entities, which includes animate and
inanimate objects according to the previous verse.
According to what was suggested in respect of the two
opposing factors, the field and the knower of the field, the
word samam (equal) indicates an equilibrium between two
opposing forces, one tending towards the spirit, the other
towards nature.

The entities here have the same status as values each within
its own category. As the non-perishing in the perishing, it is
the Absolute itself which gives a final and equal status to all
entities. Inequality of status in value is not conceivable when
the value implied in all entities is understood to be that of
the Absolute. Each category of entities might have a normative
value belonging to its own frame of reference, but over and.
above all such frames of reference there is the absolute value
equally implied in all of them. The subtlety herein justifies
the expression "he who sees.. he sees".

Sankara here reveals a Samkhya (rationalist) inclination
to raise the status of the Absolute above all its living
expressions into something transcendental corresponding to
a purusha (spirit). The full implication of the word samam
(equal) is missed by him, and the paradox implicit in the


"non-perishing in the perishing" where opposites cancel
each other into a neutrality, resulting in a value that can
be both at once immanent and transcendent, is not clearly
recognized by him. This is because of his use of reason
rather than dialectics in his arguments.


samam pasyan hi sarvatra
samavasthitam isvaram
na hinasty atmana 'tmanam
tato yati param gatim

For he who sees the Lord seated equally everywhere, destroys
not the Self by the Self; and then he attains the supreme goal.


The secret implied in Verse 27 is further elaborated in this
and the next verse. The duality of nature and spirit is
implicit in both verses but in Verse 30, we return again to a
more unitive vision which is elaborated so as to reveal its
full glory in the last four verses. In these last four verses
the dual aspects which it became necessary to resort to for
the sake of dialectical methodology are completely discarded.
In this present verse the counterparts are the Lord on one
side and the Self on the other. These two are really
interchangeable terms. When the idea of an Isvara (Lord) fulfils
the condition of abiding equally in all entities, whether
animate or inanimate, in the sense elaborated in the two
previous verses, it must correspond to the Absolute itself
Hence it is that we are justified in saying that the Self and
the Absolute are interchangeable terms. Brahman (the Absolute)
is a synonym of the Self and of ananda (bliss or the supreme

When the Lord thus understood is equated with the Self, there
is no longer any opposition. This principle by which the
Self as the Lord can unitively merge in the notion of the Self
as the soul or inner spirit, without any implied conflict
between them, is explained in vi, 6.

The expression hinasti (destroys) refers to the alternative
contingency also mentioned in vi, 6, which happens when the
two Selfs here implicitly referred to for purposes of
discussion, are non-unitively or non-contemplatively treated,
contrary to the requirements of a yogic way of life. One who
can treat them unitively easily reaches the highest goal.


prakrityai 'va cha karmani
kriyamanani sarvasah yah
pasyati tatha 'tmanam
akartaram sa pasyati

He who sees that all actions are done by nature alone, and
likewise that the Self is actionless, he (truly) sees.


The spirit of this verse is not fundamentally different from
iv, 18. Necessary action is automatic or could be accomplished
by letting the action develop naturally without the will of
the person concerned interfering with its natural course.
Thus nature may be left to work out its tendencies, the person
being only a neutral witness.

The converse of the same proposition would consist of the
perfect actionlessness of the perceptual side of the
personality. To think that this perceptual side is in any way
involved in the actual accomplishment of acts through the
agency of nature, constitutes a typical case of adhyasa (false
attribution) of agency in action) to the spirit. A great deal
of worry can be avoided if the division between the actual and
perceptual is clear in all its possible implications, whether
in ordinary everyday life or in the spiritual life proper, so
called. Thus attaining to peace, such a person may be said to
see the secret of the way of yoga recommended in the Gita.


yada bhutaprithagbhavam
ekastham anupasyati
tata eva cha vistaram
brahma sampadyate tada

When he perceives the disjunct existence of beings established
in the one, and from whence also their expansion, then he
becomes the Absolute.


By this reference to the subtle dialectical principle of the
one and the many, as in Parmenides, a more comprehensive
and unitive view of the Absolute is regained in the
discussion here. There is also here a reference to the centre
and the periphery being unitively comprehended as in the
case of the one and the many. Becoming the Absolute, instead
of seeing, marks a further degree in the spiritual progress
of the man of wisdom.

This is not out of tune with the teaching of the Upanishads
and what is said elsewhere in the Gita, as we have explained
under Verse 23.


anaditvan nirgunatvat
paramatma 'yam avyayah
sarirastho 'pi kaunteya
na karoti na lipyate

Having no beginning, having no attributes (gunas),this supreme
Self, suffers no decrease though dwelling in the body, 0 Son
of Kunti (Arjuna), it neither acts nor is it tainted.


This begins the series of four verses in which the status of
the Absolute is restored to its full untainted purity and glory
so as to remove any stigma that might attach itself to the
notion of the Absolute, which was subjected to a dualistic
treatment earlier in the chapter.

The word anadvitvam (beginninglessness) refers to the nature
aspect of the Absolute and nirgunatvam (attributelessness),
the state of absence of triple modalities, refers to its
spirit-aspect. Both put together and understood unitively
gives us the neutral value which is actionless though seated
within the living body. These paradoxes have been already



yatha sarvagatam saukshmyad
akasam no 'palipyate
sarvatra 'vasthito dehe
tatha 'tma no 'palipyate

As the all-pervading subtle space-principle (akasa) is
untarnished by reason of its subtlety, so the Self, seated
everywhere in the body, is untarnished.


The specific functions which might be considered sacred
or profane within the body are not so considered by the pure
spirit seated uniformly spread throughout every part of the
body. The experience of the body that the spirit feels is non-
specific and wholesale in character. In its globality and
because of the subtle nature of such a general affective
content, the feeling is merely one of two poles interacting.
To use Sankara's analogy, fire can heat a pot. The heat
belongs to the pot, while the fire is independent of the
specific qualities belonging to the pot.


yatha prakasayaty ekah
kritsnam lokam imam
ravih kshetram kshetri tatha
kritsnam prakasayati bharata

As the one sun illumines this whole world, so does the Lord
of the field, 0 Bharata (Arjuna) illumine all the field.


The illustration gains in universality and subtlety by one
degree. It is well known that the sun shines on good and bad
places indifferently, just revealing its aloofness and
supremacy as a glorious value. By shining on the field it
can even be supposed that the field itself and its visible
existence depends on the unitive sun, which would thus
include without difference the kshetra (field) and the
kshetrajna (knower of the field), fused into one supreme

The individual entities or units that might constitute the
field, as in Verse 3, are overlooked here because "the many"
is treated as the dialectical counterpart of "the one", and
taken collectively to be absorbed unitively in the value that
the knower of the field represents analogously to the sun.


kshetra kshetrajnayor evam
antaram jnanachakshusha
bhutaprakritimoksham cha
ye vidur yanti te param

Those who by the eye of wisdom perceive the difference
between the field and the knower of the field (its bearing on)
elements-nature-emancipation - they go to the Supreme.


In this chapter the most important subject to which the
author wanted our attention to be directed was the
distinction between kshetra (the field) and kshetrajna (the
knower of the field). Summing up the discussion, the author
almost takes the words out of the contents of Verse 2, where
it was stated that knowledge itself only amounted to
understanding the distinction implied between these two
factors. Standing


neutrally between them, linking them into unity, is the
enigmatic hyphen (antaram) which is a great mystery,
requiring the jnanachakshushah (eye of wisdom) to see.
It is further indicated in this verse, by way of a
concluding review, that we have covered incidentally the
other allied questions concerning first the elements which
we know formed the first of the items making up the field;
and secondly how the discussion passed on to active good
and bad modalities implied in nature, also in the domain of
the field, and its dynamic aspect; and finally in the last
section, there was reference to how a person who
understands this subject of the chapter properly would
attain to the Absolute or reach the goal, etc. - all of which
pertain to the subject of moksha (emancipation). Thus the
author wants to direct our attention to the incidental
discussion of these subjects also, while focussing the
attention mainly on the field and the knower of the field.
In this last section on moksha (emancipation) and in the
section on jneyam (what is to be known), the two factors,
the field and the knower of the field, were treated unitively.
But when it was a question of facing problems in nature,
they were treated as distinct counterparts for the purposes
of discussion, without however damaging their essential

The compound word Bhutan-prakriti-moksha (elements-
nature-emancipation) gives equal importance to the three
sections, while referring to them summarily here. Some
translators treat the compound word not as samara-
dvandva (collective dual compound) but as panchami-tat-
purusha (compound in which the members do not lose their
independence) by which the word gains the meaning of
"liberation of beings from nature". The object of this
concluding verse being one of reviewing by way of a final
resumé of the subjects covered in this chapter, we prefer
to treat the compound as a form of samdhara-dvandva.

ity srimad bhagavadgitasupanishatsu brahmavidyayam
yogasastre srikrishnarjunasamvade
kshetrakshetrajnavibhagayogo nama trayodaso 'dhyayah

Thus ends in the Upanishads of the Songs of God, in the
Science of the Wisdom of the Absolute, in the Dialogue
between Sri Krishna and Arjuna, the, Thirteenth Chapter
entitled Unitive Understanding of the Distinction between
the Actual and the Perceptual.