Except where otherwise stated, the reference to a Gītā verse is in fact to Śaṅkara’s commentary on that verse.
There are many cases where Śaṅkara comments on a verse from a distance; in other words, in his commentary to another verse, not necessarily nearby, or previous. For instance, an important anticipatory comment to VII.16–18 appears already under IV.11.
The present appendix is not a study, but a collection of a few texts to illustrate some central points of Gītā practice as Śaṅkara sees it.
1 Translation of Śaṅkara’s Introduction to the Gītā
Nārāyaṇa is beyond the Unmanifest;
From the Unmanifest the cosmic Egg comes to be.
And within the Egg are the cosmic regions,
And the earth of seven continents.
Having thus projected the world (jagat), to stabilize it the Lord first projected Marīci and others as lords of creation, and directed them to what the Veda calls the Right Course (dharma) of Engagement-in-action.
Then he brought forth others like Sanaka and Sanandana, and directed them to the Right Course of Cessation-from-action, consisting of Knowledge (jñāna) and Detachment (vairāgya).
Thus the Vedic Course is two-fold: Engagement-in-action, and Cessation-from-action.
The stability of the world is based on this two-fold Course, which directly produces for its beings relative prosperity and Absolute Good respectively. It is practised by those of the Brahmin and other classes, in their various stages of life, who seek their good.
But over a long time, with the rise of desire in the practisers, the Right Course became overcome by the Wrong Course which flourished by reducing their discrimination and knowledge. Then to restore the world order, the First Creator Viṣṇu, here called Nārāyaṇa, to preserve the immanence of Brahman-on-earth, cast a ray of himself through Vasudeva into Devakī, and came to be the child Kṛṣṇa.
For by preservation of the Brahmin spirit of truth, the whole divine Course would be preserved, from which the classes and stages of life are derived.
So the Lord, of eternal omniscience, supremacy, potentiality (śakti), power, energy, and glory directed his own divine (vaiṣṇava) trick-of-illusion (māyā), of three guṇa-elements, which is called root-Nature (mūla-prakṛti). And though himself unborn, unchanging, and ever pure, aware, and free, by his own māyā-illusion He is taken to be a body-wearer as it were, born as it were, giving to the world his grace as it were.
With no purpose of his own to serve but solely for the sake of living beings, he taught the holy two-fold Course to Arjuna, then sunk in a sea of grief and delusion. For a Course will spread when accepted and practised by those of outstanding character.
The Course thus taught by the Lord was set out by the omniscient sage Vyāsa, compiler of the Veda-s, in seven hundred verses, famous as the Gītā. It is however difficult to realize how this Gītā scripture is the whole essence of the Veda teaching.
Though there have been some who have tried to make it clear by analysing the make-up and sense of the individual words and sentences, I have found that it has been taken in absolutely opposite ways by people at large. So I propose to make a brief commentary (vivaraṇa) to determine the meaning accurately.
Briefly, the purport of this Gītā scripture is, the Supreme Good (niḥśreyasa), and the means to it – namely absolute cessation of the world-flow (saṃsāra) and its cause. This comes about through following the Course of Establishment-in-Knowledge (jñāna-niṣṭhā) as following on the casting off (saṃnyāsa) of all action (karma).
This very Course, the purport of the Gītā, has been taught by the Lord in the words of the Anu-Gītā verses:
This Course (dharma) easily suffices for realization of Brahman’ (Mahābh.Aśva.16.12)
‘neither righteous nor sinful, neither good nor bad’ (ibid. 19.7)
‘who sits alone and silent, in one posture, thinking nothing’ (ibid. 19.1)
‘knowledge with saṃnyāsa’ (ibid. 4.3.25).
In the present Gītā too Arjuna is told:
‘Having given up all action, resort to Me alone’ (XVIII.66).
Though the Course which looks for relative good, namely Engage-ment-in-Action with its classes and stages of life, has also been taught as a means to attain such things as heavenly realms, still when performed as an offering to the Lord, it comes to be for purification-of-essence (sattva-śuddhi), no longer bound to results. A pure essence also acts as a means to the Highest Good by way of attaining the capacity for Establishment-in-Knowledge (jñāna-niṣṭhā), and by causing the first rise of that Knowledge. And so it will be said: ‘Consigning all actions to Brahman’ (V.10) and ‘The yogins do actions without attachment to purify themselves’ (V.11).
The Gītā scripture has for its subject: the two-fold Course with the Highest Good (niḥśreyasa) as its purpose, and the transcendental truth known as Vāsudeva. It explains them in detail in terms of definite subject-matter, a purpose, and the connection between them. To realize it is to fulfil the whole purpose of man, and this is why I now undertake the task of composing a commentary (vivaraṇa) on it.
2 Jñāna-Yoga Path for Sāṅkhya-s (=Knowers) from Śaṅkara Gītā Commentary
II.21 The Knower (jñānin) has nothing to do with action.
(Question) What then has he to do?
(Answer) This is answered in III.3: ‘The Sāṅkhya-s should resort to jñāna-yoga.’
For the Knower and seeker of Liberation, who sees that the Self is actionless, there is qualification for renunciation-of-all-action alone (avikriyātma-darśino viduṣo mumukṣo ca sarva-karma- saṃnyāse eva adhikāra).
II.55 The Knower (vidvat), having renounced, makes efforts in jñāna-niṣṭhā.
The above quotations illustrate the path of Knowledge-yoga (jñāna-yoga). It begins with the rise of Knowledge, which distinguishes the Sāṅkhya. The path consists of (1) renunciation-of-action (saṃnyāsa): this renunciation is not necessarily of things, but is characterized as freedom from the notion ‘I do’; (2) establishment-in-Knowledge (jñāna-niṣṭhā), sustained meditations to throw off disturbances, by memory-illusions, of the naturally continuing current of Knowledge. When jñāna-niṣṭhā reaches its end (avasāna) in being-Brahman (anubhava), it is Freedom (mokṣa).
Here follow a few passages to illustrate Śaṅkara’s scheme. He does not spell out all the stages each time: for instance, saṃnyāsa may include jñāna-niṣṭhā.
|Rise of Knowledge||Samnyasa||Jnana-nistha||Moksa|
|21||seer of Self (atma-darsin)||samnyasa|
by mind (5.13)
|III .4||rise of Knowledge||jnana-nistha|
|13||paramartha-darsin; vidvat||mental samnyasa||rests happy|
|VII.16-18||jnanin||samadhi on||comes to Me|
|I am Vasudeva|
|comes to Me|
|‘Lord as Self’|
(= jnana-nistha, S on 18.66)
|XII.4||jnanin||samnyasin||meditation||one with Me|
|13/14||jnanin (of 7.17) mumuksu (12.19)||samnyasa||jnana-nistha||immortality|
|23-25||atma-vid -Sankhya (3.5)||samnyasin||mumuksu|
|perceives no pain|
‘I do nothing’
|49||jnana||mind-samnyasa||jnana-nistha = naiskarmyasiddhi||moksa|
Śaṅkara’s doctrine of liberation in the Gītā is set out briefly in his introduction: the Highest good … is from the Course (dharma) of Estab- lishment-in-Knowledge-of-Self (ātma-jñāna-niṣṭhā), preceded by completely casting off all action (sarva-karma-saṃnyāsa). He presents it at length at the end, in the commentary to XVIII.50, 54, and 55, in the following extracts:
That supreme establishment-in-Knowledge (niṣṭhā jñānasya yā parā niṣṭhā) is its final resting-place (pary-avasāna), its culmination (pari-samāpti)
That is the supreme culmination of Knowledge of Brahman (brahma-jñānasya yā parā parisamāpti).
XVIII. 54 (extract)
Such a man of jñāna-niṣṭhā (establishment-in-Knowledge), My devotee (bhakta) worshipping Me the supreme Lord, has attained the fourth, the highest, devotion (bhakti), that which has Knowledge. As it was said
(VII.18) The fourth class (the class of Knowers) worship Me. So by that bhakti of Knowledge –
XVIII. 55 (extract)
By devotion he knows Me, how great and who I am in truth:
Then having known Me in truth, he thereupon enters.
(Śaṅkara) Then having known Me in truth, he thereupon enters into Me. It is not meant by this that there are two separate actions – an entering apart from Knowledge. Having known, he thereupon enters means Knowledge alone with no further result. So it was said: Know me as the Knower of the field (XIII.2).
(Opponent) It is a contradiction to what was said previously (XVIII.50) that what is highest is Establishment (niṣṭhā) of Knowledge, and by that he knows Me. To explain the contradiction: when the Knowledge of something simply arises in a Knower, then the Knower is said to know that thing. He does not look to some establishment, some going over again, of the knowledge. So the contradiction is, that it was said previously that it is not by knowledge but by Establishment-of-Knowledge (jñāna-niṣṭhā), by going over it again that one knows.
(Answer) There is no contradiction, for the force of the word Establishment (niṣṭhā) is, the definite coming-to-rest (avasānatva) in Self-being (ātma-anubhava) of a Knowledge that has met the conditions for its own rise (utpatti) and maturing (paripāka), (namely) absence of obstacles. That is its Establishment (niṣṭhā).
The concomitant conditions for the rise (utpatti) and maturing (paripāka) of the Knowledge from scripture and instruction of a teacher are: purity of buddhi and so on, the (twenty) qualities beginning with humility (XIII.7–11). When from them arises the Knowledge that the Field-Knower (kṣetra-jña) and the highest Self (paramātman) are one, and there is also renunciation of all actions tied up with notions of differences of agent, instruments and so on – when there is thus definite being-the-Self (svātma-anubhava) – that state is what is meant by the highest Establishment-of-Knowledge (jñāna-niṣṭhā).
As against the other three types of devotion (bhakti) given in VII. 16, namely of those in danger, those seeking Knowledge, or those seeking success in the world, this jñāna-niṣṭhā is called the fourth kind of devotion, the highest. By that highest devotion he knows the Lord in truth. Thereupon, the idea (buddhi) of any difference between the Lord and the Knower of the field, completely ceases. So what is being said is: ‘he knows Me in truth by the devotion (bhakti) which is Establishment-in-Knowledge (jñāna-niṣṭhā), and there is no contradiction.
(There follow citations of texts showing that giving up all sense of ‘I do’ must come before and along with jñāna-niṣṭhā.)
jñāna-niṣṭhā is unremitting persistence (abhiniveṣa) in the idea- stream of the Self Apart. Bhakti-yoga of serving the Lord by one’s proper action has for its perfection this result: becoming capable of jñāna-niṣṭhā. Thus the yoga of bhakti brings about jñāna-niṣṭhā, which has mokṣa as its final resting-place (avasāna). The Lord goes on to praise that yoga in verse 56.
In this short summarizing passage, XVIII.55, Śaṅkara twice distinguishes between the rise (utpatti) of Knowledge and its mature (paripãka) state. Elsewhere he similarly distinguishes Right Vision when it has just arisen (utpanna-samyag-darśana) from its established state (samyag-darśana- niṣṭhā).
The notion of maturing (paripāka) involves time, though not a fixed time. Another key word in the passage is avasāna, which has the sense of a final goal or stage. There is an association with unharnessing horses, or a river finding its bourn in the ocean. He twice refers to the final goal (avasāna) of Knowledge as anubhava. (A separate note on these terms follows.)
As he says in his commentary to V.12, the final stages are (1) sattva-śuddhi (purity of essence), (2) jñāna-prāpti (obtaining Knowledge), (3) saṃnyāsa giving up ‘I do’ (V.8, and V.13 which is often cited by Śaṅkara in the Gītā commentary on giving up action), (4) jñāna-niṣṭhā, and (5) mokṣa. He calls the whole process krama, meaning a step-by-step progress.
The process of jñāna-niṣṭhā is in fact jñāna-yoga, beginning with Knowledge: it is outlined briefly in XVIII 50–55. Exceptions to the rule of physical renunciation are allowed to ksatriya Knowers (kṣaṭriyāḥ vidvāṃsāḥ) and others. They are listed in the section called Exceptions.
Iñāna-niṣṭhā is described in the Gītā itself in several places. Śaṅkara gives as main ones:
It is also described shortly in many places. It is concerned not with reinforcing Knowledge, which needs no reinforcement, but with removing obstructions. Such normally arise from prārabdha karma. The instruction to jñāna-niṣṭhā would correspond to an instruction to keep a flowing stream clear, as distinct from creating, or reinforcing, the stream. It is removing any branches that might fall into it, but not pushing the water along, or pouring more in. Normally, some disturbances from prārabdha are to be expected, but there might be none. In some places Śaṅkara gives the brief statement: ‘jñāna is the means to mokṣa.’ For instance there should be no prārabdha left at the hour of death: it will have come to an end. Knowledge attained at that time has its fruit instantly: it will have no need to ‘mature’. So the final hour (as the Gītā and Śaṅkara mention) is specifically favourable.
4 Three Terms
Paripāka (Maturing, Ripening)
Paripāka, having the sense of completion by maturing or ripening, is a feature of Śaṅkara’s Gītā presentation. The meaning is that similar, intense saṃskāra-s repeatedly laid down, finally come to dominate the causal or unmanifest basis of the mind. The word ‘maturing’ implies some passage of time, though it may be very short.
11.49 Have recourse to the karma-yoga buddhi, or to the Sānkhya buddhi which is bom when that is mature (tat-paripāka-jāyām).
The Sānkhya-buddhi is only the rise of Knowledge. The Knowledge itself has to mature:
VII.19 The Knower who has attained mature Knowledge (prāpta-paripāka-jñānam).
Both detachment and meditation have also a process of maturing:
XVIII.37 The happiness born of the maturing of Knowledge, detachment, meditation and samādhi… is of sattva (jñāna-vairāgya-dhyāna-samādhi-paripāka-jam sukham … sāttvikam).
Another account of the rise of Knowledge is given in XIII. 11, in the commentary to the twentieth and final quality of those leading to Knowledge, namely tattva-jñāna-artha-darśanam, or Seeing-the-goal-of- Knowledge-of-truth, which goal is mokṣa.
XIII.11 Knowledge of truth (tattva-jñāna) results from maturity of creative meditation (bhāvanā-paripāka-nimitta) on Humility (amānitva) and the others (ādi) of the group up to the penultimate one, Constancy in Self-Knowledge (adhyātma-jñāna-nityatvam).
Elsewhere the process is referred to by different terms. In the comment on ‘strength of yoga’ (yoga-bala) under VIII.10, Śaṅkara says:
the strength of yoga is the fixity of mind arising from accumulation of samskāra-s produced by samādhi (samādhi-ja-saṁskāra- pracaya-janita-citta-sthairya-lakṣaṇa).
(It is noteworthy that Bhāskara, perhaps a near contemporary, who in places of his own Gītā commentary reproduces Śaṅkara, gives this same phrase but without the word samādhi. It is an example of how he avoided the terms of Yoga which Śaṅkara used so plentifully.)
Avasāna (Destination, Resting-Place)
Śaṅkara often uses it to mean the truth into which the illusory appearance is finally resolved.
VIII.3, is a reply to questions by Arjuna, one of which is ‘what is adhy-ātma?’ The term has been used in III.30, where Arjuna is told to perform actions ‘with mind on the self’ (adhyātma-cetasā). At that time he does not know of the Self-as-Brahman, and Śaṅkara there interprets it as the individual self, to be thought of as a servant. Here the Lord explains the term adhyātma as sva-bhāva, individual selfhood, to be further mentioned in XVII.2. But Śaṅkara adds:
That self which, overseeing a body, sets out as its inner self, and truly comes to rest (avasāna) as the highest Brahman, is the svabhāva selfhood which is to be called adhy-ātman Selfhood. (Ātmānam deham adhirkṛtya pratyag-ātmatayā pravṛttam paramārtha-Brahmāvasānam vastu svabhāva adhyātmam ucyate).
In IX.10 he says:
‘I am in pain’, ‘I will do this’, ‘I will know that’ – is all based on knowledge (avagati-niṣṭhā), (and) comes down to knowledge (avagaty-avasāna).
In the Gītā commentary this means roughly being (bhava) in-accord- ance-with (anu) what truly is. The sense comes out clearly in III.41 and IX.1, where the Gītā has the pair jñāna-vijñāna. (This is translated by Edgerton as theoretical and practical knowledge.) In this pairing, jñāna is taken by Śaṅkara not in the usual way as Right Vision (samyag- darsana), but as theoretical ideas (avabodha) of the Self and so on as taught by scripture and the teacher. Vijñāna in contrast is practical realization of the ideas – anubhava.
Similarly in IX. 1 vijñāna as anubhava is distinguished from jñāna. But he also treats the pair together as samyagdarsana, ‘the direct means to mokṣa’.
The Three Terms: Paripāka, Avasāna, Anubhava
The three terms – paripāka, avasāna, anubhava – came together (each twice) in XVIII.55. They also appear under XVIII.36 and 37.
The Gītā and Śaṅkara both treat the teaching-point here as most important: Kṛṣṇa introduces it with Hear!, which Śaṅkara glosses as: Be Concentrated (samādhānam kuru).
XVIII.36 Hear from me about the three-fold happiness.
What with practice one delights in, where pain comes to an end,
XVIII.37 Which at the beginning seems like poison but with maturity is like honey
That is said to be the happiness of light (sattva),
Arising from the peace of a mind-resting-on-Self (ātmabuddhi).
‘with practice’ means by application and facility; ‘delight’ means happi- ness-realization (sukha-anubhava). He does not use anubhava for the momentary experience of false happiness of excitement or the deluded happiness of sloth.
Śaṅkara explains that at the beginning, when jñāna, vairāgya, dhyāna and samādhi are first tackled head-on, they are nothing but effort; in this preliminary stage, they seem against natural well-being – poison as it were. But when the jñāna, vairāgya, dhyāna and samādhi are mature (paripāka) the happiness is comparable to honey of immortality.
The terms yoga and karma-yoga are occasionally used interchangeably by Śaṅkara, especially contrasted with the jñāna-yoga of Sāṅkhya. He defines Yoga in II.39.
Yoga, the means to that (Knowledge), is (1) first, distancing oneself (reading prahāna with Ānandagirl and not prahanana ‘killing’) from the pairs-of-opposites (dvandva); (2) undertaking actions as karma-yoga, namely as worship (ārādhana) of God; (3) samādhi-yoga.
In IV.38, ‘purified by yoga’ is glossed as purified by karma-yoga and samādhi-yoga. The accompanying word mumukṣu presumably would cover dvandva-prahāna.
In XII.12 and elsewhere, karma-yoga is used as yoga, to include other elements besides action:
Yoga is said to be samādhi – concentration on the Lord (Īśvare cetah-samādhāna), and a performance for the Lord’s sake of actions, and so on. It rests on seeing difference between Self (ātman) and the Lord (ātmeṣvara bheda āsritya)…. It is not compatible with Right Vision (samyag-darśana-ananvita)…. It relies on an Īśvara apart. So jñāna-yoga, which knows the Lord to be the Self, is not practicable for a karma-yogin…. Conversely, the jñāna-yogin, who sees no difference between them, would have no incentive to rely on a supposedly purely external Lord.
Nevertheless, though (as Śaṅkara points out) the Lord directs Arjuna (in IV. 15) to karma-yoga, this is after his first teaching of jñāna, in chapter II, has had no effect. jñāna yoga has been taught to Arjuna, but he could not then follow it.
In X.19 the Lord specifically consents to Arjuna’s request, by declaring: ‘I will tell you of my glories’, For constant meditation (nitya dhyeya) says Śaṅkara, and adds: ‘Listen!’ The first of these glories is: T am the Self (aham ātmā) in every living being,’ which is a statement of jñāna . Then, for one who cannot meditate on the Lord as Self (tad-asakta), the glories of the Lord immanent in Māyā are given.
Later in X.37 it is even more direct: ‘I am Dhanañjaya’ (Arjuna), but Arjuna fails to take it in (though for a moment he thinks he has). So in fact instruction in jñāna is given, but while Arjuna’s basic feeling is that of karma-yoga, he cannot be rightly said to be on the jñāna-yoga path.
To enter the order of saṃnyāsa was to leave home and property and wander forth, sustained by semi-automatic actions of body-mind like begging and lying down to sleep and so on. Śaṅkara cites three times in his Gītā commentary the Bṛhad. Up. III.5.1: ‘Having known (viditvā) that Self, they wander forth as mendicants.’
Śaṅkara, like the Gītā itself, is against physical renunciations while there is inner longing for objects: in his lead-in to Gītā III.6 he says: ‘For one who does not know the Self, it is not-right (asat) that he should not undertake his required duty.’
For the Self-knower (Sāṅkhya, jnānin, tattva-vid, samyag-darsin, etc.) on the other hand, voluntarily initiated actions will tend to drop away, with the desires that cause them. saṃnyāsa will tend to follow naturally upon Knowledge. Nevertheless Śaṅkara very frequently enjoins it as a necessary accessory to Knowledge: it then leads to Estab- lishment-in-Knowledge (jñāna-niṣṭhā) and finally Liberation (mokṣa). In the Gītā commentary he makes the essence of saṃnyāsa to be: giving up the notion (pratyaya) of ‘I do.’
In places he describes saṃnyāsa as being in fact jñāna-niṣṭhā. For instance, under XVIII. 12 he calls the highest saṃnyāsin, the paramahaṣsa parivrājaka, kevala-jñāna-niṣṭhā and kevala-samyag-darśana- niṣṭha). He often uses the term saṃnyāsa to include both. The samṇyāsa order was usually spoken of in relation to Brahmins, but in XVIII.45 and 46 he states that all classes can qualify themselves for jñāna-niṣṭhā by carrying out their proper duty with devotion.
In the Gītā commentary, Śaṅkara refers to five kinds of saṃnyāsa:
- saṃnyāsa as outer show. In this the property and home are renounced, but no attempt is made at inner renunciation. In India, sometimes a well-off man expecting to die would, just before the end, give away everything in order to get merit in the future. (But sometimes he embarrassingly recovered.) See also the opening of the Katha Upaniṣad. Others took to the anonymous wandering life to escape family, creditors, or police. All this is condemned by the Gītā (e.g.III.6).
- Partial saṃnyāsa, where only some actions and things are renounced. This renouncer still feels T do’, and is still affected by the results of his actions. He simply reduces them. Śaṅkara refers to this without approval (intro, to V), and remarks that it is ‘difficult’, as needing great self-control.
- Honorary saṃnyāsa, where things and actions are not given up, but only attachment to them and their fruits. The agent still feels ‘I do.’ This is a main element of karma yoga.
- saṃnyāsa by Mind, which is renunciation by a Truth-knower (tattva- vid, samyag-darśin, etc.). The Gītā directs him to constant meditation with concentrated mind (samāhita citta) on ‘I do nothing’, though undertakings continue to be carried out by the body and mind. Onlookers suppose they are performed by an individual as before.
- preme (paramārtha) renunciation. Its essential quality is the meditation ‘I do nothing’, but this is now reflected outwardly in physical withdrawal into the order of paramahaṃarivrājaka, wandering mendicants.
7 Exceptions to Formal Saṃyāsa
In Gītā III.20 and IV. 15 it is said that Janaka and other ancient worthies sought perfection through action alone. Śaṅkara, with his emphasis on Liberation (perfection) through Knowledge alone, has to meet objections based on these texts. Commenting on Gītā II.11, where the teachings begin, he says:
Those of them who were Knowers of truth (tattva-vid) had sought their perfection by Knowledge alone and had now reached the stage of formal saṃnyāsa: but as Kṣatriya kings they would have been already involved in actions. So realizing ‘it is guṇa-s acting on guṇa-s’, they continued in action for the sake of the other people (loka-saṅgraha), to fulfil their past karmic involvement (prārabdhatvāt), though they were seeking perfection of Liberation through their Knowledge alone.
Those of them who were not yet Knowers sought perfection through action for self-purification and (then) rise of Knowledge.
His account under III.20 is nearly the same, except that here (as in other places) he makes it clear that this is no mere theoretical knowledge: he calls them now samyag-darsana-prāpta and a-prāpta. Samyag-dar- śana (Right Vision) is his strongest term for Knowledge-as-experience. He describes these ksatriya Knowers (vidvāṃsāh) as engaged in going to Liberation (mokṣam gantum pravṛittāh) without abandoning action, thus fulfilling their past karmic involvement (prārabdha-karmatvāt).
The explanations under IV. 14 and 15 are similar: the Self-knowers (ātma-jna) or truth-knowers (tattva-vid) are seekers of Liberation (mumuksu) but may continue in activity for the sake of the world.
Additional reasons why Knowers may continue in active involvement with the world are given here and there. Under III.21–25, Kṛṣṇa recommends vigorous action as an example to people at large.
Related to this may be ‘to avoid the displeasure of the learned’ (śiṣṭha-vigarhaṇāparijihīrṣā) under IV.20. This is probably a reference to Manu, who allows pursuit of Knowledge at any stage of life, but forbids pursuit of Liberation till the ‘debts’ to ancestors, etc. have been discharged through a householder’s life.
There are blanket phrases like kutas nimitta and kutascit nimitta ‘(from) some cause’ in the commentary to IV.22: ‘… finding that for some reason it is impossible to abandon action.
Again, in VI.31 and XIII.23 there is the phrase about the Knower: ‘however he may behave’ (sarvathā vartamāno ‘pi); and in V.7 ‘though doing, he is not tainted’ (kurvann api na lipyate). In these and other cases Śaṅkara cites prārabdha-karma, and/or lokasangraha.
There are borderline cases. The instruction to fight ‘as an instrument’ is implemented at the end of the Gītā in the consciousness, according to Śaṅkara, ‘There is nothing for me to do’ (na mama kartavyam asti).
It is noteworthy that in his commentary, when enjoining renunciation of actions on a Knower, Śaṅkara frequently quotes V.13. In line- for-line translation it would be:
Renouncing all actions by the mind, he sits happily in control,
The embodied in the citadel of nine gates, neither at all acting nor causing to act.
He cites this (sometimes the second line) in his commentary to II.21, III.1, V.19, VI.l, XVIII.10, 48 (twice), and 66.
He explains that an appearance of action remains as a result of unspent karma. He could easily have quoted from the Gītā texts on outer renunciation as a reflection of inner renunciation, for instance XII.19: ’silent, content with anything, homeless….’ But he chose this V.13 text, on renunciation by distinguishing mentally between action and non-action, and not necessarily entailing as corollary a physical renunciation. This is an indication of Śaṅkara’s recognition that the Gītā is mainly a text for those who begin yoga when already heavily implicated in obligations in the world. They are not to be loaded with impracticable injunctions to renounce all physically.
© Trevor Leggett