Let us look at Śrī Rāmānujācārya’s commentary for the above sūtra. The interpretations of the three schools of Vedanta differ from one another only in parts where it is not possible to give proof to anyone. Where it is possible to provide proof, they have no objections.
śāsanācca śāstram । śāsanaṃ ca pravartanam । śāstrasya ca pravartakatvaṃ bodha-janana-dvāreṇa । acetanaṃ ca pradhānaṃ na bodhayituṃ śakyam ataḥ śāstrāṇām arthavattvaṃ bhoktuś-cetanasyaiva kartṛtve bhavet ॥
ātmanaḥ akrtṛtve “kuryāt”, “na kuryāt” iti śāstrānarthakyaṃ syāt ॥
svargāpavarga-sādhanānuṣṭhāna-vidhāna-śāstrāṇām arthavattvāya, kartaivātmā । boddhyureva hi śāsanam ॥
Śāsana means ruling. Since śāstra rules us it is given that name. Pravartana is to instruct to act in such and such a way. How does śāstra instruct? “Bodha-janana-dvārena” — by producing knowledge within us. Śāstra provides knowledge and impels us to act or not act in a certain way. What is the use of tutoring a benumbed body that does not have any freedom? “acetanaṃ ca pradhānaṃ na bodhayituṃ śakyam” — there is no use in teaching someone who does not have power that he can use freely. “ataḥ śāstrāṇām arthavattvaṃ bhoktuś-cetanasyaiva bhavet” : śāstras become meaningful when the doer himself consumes the fruit of his actions. If a man has freedom to do or not do a certain karma, then it makes sense to tell him to do or not do it, since he is anyway free to accept or disregard it. If he wants to do it, he does it out of his own volition, just as he disregards it out of his volition as well. Therefore the puṇya or pāpa accrued from his performing or not performing a karma will get attached to him. “ātmanaḥ akartṛtve kuryāt iti śāstrānarthakyaṃ syāt” — if a man does not have freedom in doership, is it not meaningless to instruct him to do it or not do it in a specific way? The person to whom this is being told — if he is not free to either do or not do something, all dharmaśāstra of the form of dos and don’ts will become useless. “Boddhyureva hi śāsanam” : śāstra is only for the one who is eligible for instruction. If he is not eligible for it, the education given to him is akin to educating a rock or a wall. Śāstra should be taught only to the one who has the freedom to follow or transgress it. He will accrue pāpa if he disregards it; he will accrue puṇya if he complies with it. Who then obtains pāpa or puṇya? The one who is free to perform — or in other words, has kriyā-svātantrya. Here, kriyā means the ability to distinguish between dos and don’ts; between dharma and adharma. Śāstra and its dos and don’ts can only be taught to one who has this ability to differentiate. Dharma-śāstras and rules are necessary only because this freedom exists. It is true that the freedom of man is limited. Why is that? It is because of daiva. However, the little freedom he has should be used for differentiating between dos and don’ts.
There are three stages in the lifecycle of any karma — beginning, execution and consequence. Among these three, the last one — consequence — is mostly under the authority of daiva. The other two — beginning and execution — are mainly dependent on human effort. What is the nature of these two stages? The beginning is related to the internal working of the human mind — it belongs to the realm of knowledge. Execution is external — it happens in the domain of doing. Therefore Svāmī expounds upon the realms of jñāna and kriyā now.
jñānaṃ jñeyaṃ parijñātā trividhā karma-codanā ॥
The inspiration for karma happens because of the confluence of three aspects : knowledge, the object to be known and knower. This can also be said “jnātṛ-jñeyaṃ parijñānam”. Let us take an example. Suppose there are some eatables in a covered vessel placed in a suspended basket. This is jñeya, or the thing to be known. A boy comes to know this. He is the knower or jnātṛ. He comes to know this because of the savoury smell. The knowledge of the smell that started from the eatable reached his nose and tempted him. By the commingling of food, nose and mind, there is an urge to steal the laddus from the basket. This urge happens within. Then comes the external work.
karaṇaṃ karma karteti trividhaḥ karma-saṃgrahaḥ ॥
A ladder and other means to reach the basket are karaṇa; karma is putting one’s hand into the box and stuffing the laddu into the mouth; the one who later smacks his lips is the kartā. Thus, there are three parts to a karma.
Inspiration for a karma comes from the triad of jnātṛ, jñāna and jñeya which are internal, the execution of a karma is through the triad of kartā, karaṇa and karma. First, a jīva obtains jñāna. After that, the execution of a karma happens through that jñāna.
jñānaṃ karma ca kartā ca tridhaiva guṇabhedataḥ ॥
Here, guṇa means the guṇa-triad of sattva, rajas and tamas. All our transactions are according to the differences between them. Therefore, the difference in the qualities of the three aspects of karma - jñāna, karma and kartā are explained now.
Let us first look at the three types of jñāna.
sarvabhuteṣu yenaikaṃ bhāvam-avyayam-īkṣate ।
avibhaktaṃ vibhakteṣu taj-jñānaṃ viddhi sāttvikam ॥
“The knowledge of one who has seen that the same energy of the ātmā pervades all beings, and resides fully in different bodies and is sāttvic”.
This is the complete experience of the supreme tattva.
A man who does not understand this all-pervading principle and thinks that all beings are different from one another, is said to have rajasic knowledge.
One who disregards the complete principle and confines the innumerable and multifarious manifestations of the supreme principle seen in the universe to one form is said to have tamasic knowledge.
The sāttvic form of knowledge keeps in view the complete and vast expanse of the supreme tattva.
Now let us look at the three kinds of karma. Sāttvic karma is that which is performed without passion or hatred, ascertained from the śāstras and tradition and one’s own judgement, without a touch of egoism and without any desire for its reward.
niyataṃ saṅga-rahitam arāga-dveṣataḥ kṛtam ।
apala-prepsunā karma yat-tat-sātvikam-ucyate ॥
This verse is the essence of all principles of karma-yoga.
Karma performed with an objective, performed with great difficulty and egoism is rājasic.
Tāmasic karma is that which is performed obstinately and foolishly, without thinking about the pros and cons of the karma, expenditure, or the difficulty to be undergone by others, or an understanding of one’s own capabilities and their limitations.
Thus, the mark of sāttvic karma is to intelligently distinguish between proper and improper and act accordingly.
Now let us look at the three kinds of kartās.
A sāttvic kartā is one who performs karma without attachment or delusion, is not selfish, is stable and enthusiastic and is not altered by victory or defeat.
A rājasic kartā is one who performs karma with a desire for its result, is deluded and passionate, does not mind resorting to violence and other base means, and one who is overjoyed by victory and cowed down by defeat.
A tāmasic kartā is one who is careless, egoistic and hypocritical, forgets propriety and is lazy, wails all the time and procrastinates.
In the context of karma, jñāna, karma and kartā are important. Next, we shall look at the three-fold classification of buddhi (intellect) and dhṛti (constancy) that are important in the execution of karma.
pravṛttiṃ ca nivṛttiṃ ca kāryākārye bhayābhaye ।
bandhaṃ mokṣaṃ ca yo vetti buddhiḥ sā pārtha sāttvikī ॥
The buddhi that knows when and how much to enter into what worldly transaction, and when and how to stop, which work has to be done and which should not, when should one be fearless and when to be fearful, what might bind the ātmā and what can release it — is sāttvic. A hasty intellect that does not examine dharma and adharma, dos and don’ts according to philosophy and misunderstands them is rājasic.
A tāmasic intellect mistakes adharma for dharma and and in its stupor makes sense of everything in a perverted way.
In the beginning, Arjuna had rājasic intellect. The mark of sāttvic intellect is to understand subtle differences between dharma and adharma. Arjuna had to learn this quality of discernment.
Dhṛti is the ability to hold. Both courage and steadiness are consolidated in this word.
Sāttvic dhṛti is the firmness of the mind that keeps the manas, senses and prāṇas in control through continuous practice.
Rājasic dhṛti is that which keeps only the immediate goal in view while performing works of dharma, kāma and artha. The activism that we all showed when Gandhiji was alive is an example of that. It is only concerned with the immediate result.
Tāmasic dhṛti is that which is not ready to give up sleep, groaning, dreaming, wailing or conceit.
To be continued...
The present series is a modern English translation of DVG’s Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award-winning work, Bhagavad-gītā-tātparya or Jīvana-dharma-yoga. The translators wish to express their thanks to Śatāvadhāni R Ganesh for his valuable feedback and to Hari Ravikumar for his astute edits.