Commentary on the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

Discourse 37: The Twelfth Chapter Concludes – The Supreme Devotee of God

The highest devotee has certain qualities. He may be a jnani, he may be a yogi, he may be a bhakta, he may be a karmaphala-tyagi—whatever he is, finally he is devoted to God. What are the characteristics of the supreme devotee of God? The verses that follow are considered to be a scripture by themselves—eight verses that pour nectar into our ears. People have translated these eight verses into Hindi poetry, and they sing it. There was a very learned man, a great mathematician from Bihar, who sang this during Gurudev’s time in beautiful Hindi poesy, calling it Amritashataka—the eight nectarine streams flowing from the teachings of God.

Who is this great devotee? What are his qualities and characteristics? The qualities of the devotee have also been mentioned elsewhere in the Bhagavadgita—for instance, at the end of the Second Chapter when the sthitaprajna lakshana was explained. A sthitaprajna is one who is established in superior understanding. He is also a devotee of the jnani type. And the qualities of a yogi were also mentioned towards the end of the Sixth Chapter. To some extent, we also have the description of the devotee of God towards the end of the Eleventh Chapter. And in the Thirteenth Chapter there is once again a description of a sage and saint who has transcended the gunas of prakriti, who is called gunatita, as we will see. So there are varieties of descriptions of the sage and the saint, according to the way in which he approaches the Almighty. The descriptions of a devotee given herein and in different places of the Gita actually correspond to the characteristics of a jnani, bhakta, karma yogi and yogi proper in the ashtanga yoga sense.

Here, in these eight verses, there is a summing up of the qualities of a devotee—not in one sense only, but in every sense. Whether he is a jnanin or a yogin or a bhakta or a karma yogin, whatever be his nature, how would he behave, what are his special qualities, how would we recognise him, and what kind of behaviour would we expect from him? The details of the wondrous, beautiful, charming behaviour of a lover of God are described in the coming verses.

The nature of those who seek God, either as a Supreme Person or as an Impersonal Universal, has been described in the beginning of the Twelfth Chapter of the Bhagavadgita. These great geniuses of the spirit, whether they are devotees of the Almighty and visualise Him as a Supreme Person or as a Transcendent Eternal, have a characteristic in common. Their behaviour is of a uniform nature, though their internal methodology of attunement with the Supreme Spirit slightly varies because of the distinction that we are obliged to make between the personality of God and the universality of God. The common features among all these great saints and sages are now delineated in the coming verses, from the thirteenth onwards.

Adveṣṭā sarvabhūtānāṁ maitraḥ karuṇa eva ca, nirmamo nirahaṁkāraḥ samaduḥkhasukhaḥ kṣamī (12.13): Eternally free from hatred towards any living being, they extend love and compassion to all creatures. Dislike and hatred, in any manner whatsoever, is unknown to them. That characteristic is here mentioned in the word ‘adveṣṭā’. Sarvabhūtānāṁ: It is not absence of hatred only towards some; it is absence of dislike and hatred towards anyone. That is the universal compassionate outlook of these great spiritual heroes.

Maitraḥ: They are very friendly with persons of any category whatsoever, whether high or low. Karuṇa eva ca: They are compassionate at all times. They have no sense of ‘I’-ness and ‘mine’-ness. They never believe that they exist independently outside the supreme beatitude of God. Neither the devotee of the Supreme Person nor the devotee of the Universal Being ever considers himself or herself as existing independent of God. In either case, it is an abolition of personality—either by self-surrender or by inner communion of spirit with Spirit. That is nirahaṁkāraḥ: No sense of ‘I’-ness. ‘I’ does not exist, because there is only one ‘I’ that can exist—the Supreme ‘I’—and, therefore, nothing belongs to me. Nirmamaḥ: Neither have they any sense of existing independently by themselves, nor have they a sense of possession of any article whatsoever in this world. They are free from ‘I’-ness and ‘mine’-ness: nirmamo nirahaṁkāraḥ.

Samaduḥkhasukhaḥ: Whether pleasure comes or pain comes, they accept both with equanimity. Mātrāsparśās tu kaunteya śītoṣṇasukhaduḥkhadāḥ, āgamāpāyino’nityās tāṁs titikṣasva bhārata (2.14) was said in the Second Chapter. Pleasures and pains are due to the reactions set up by the qualities of the elements in respect of the constitution of our body. Knowing that pleasures and pains are only reactions to certain prevailing conditions, one is not perturbed either when there is a pleasurable sensation or when there is a sensation which is contrary. Samaduḥkhasukhaḥ: Pleasure and pain are equal. Kṣamī: They are quick to forgive, and never get irritated or angry.

Yadṛcchālābhasaṁtuṣaḥ (4.22): They are always contented with whatever comes. If something comes, fine; if nothing comes, fine. Saṁtuṣṭaḥ: Always in a contented state, they are never greedy, and never ask for anything. ‘All is well’ is their motto. Santuṣṭaḥ satataṁ yogī yatātmā (12.14): Always contented, they are yogis whose self is united with God. Dṛḍhaniścayaḥ: Determined to realise God in this birth, they take a vow that “In this birth itself I shall realise the Almighty.” That determination counts very much in actually attaining success. If we are diffident—“I may not even pass, so where is the question of attaining first class?”—if this kind of feeling is there in the beginning itself, nothing is going to be attained. We must have a determination: “I shall be first.” Then we will be at least second. Here is the determination of the spirit of the seeker: “Everything is well with me. I am not doing anything wrong. My technique of meditation is perfectly all right. I shall attain God in this birth itself.” This determination, or dṛḍhaniścayaḥ, is what characterises all yogis. Mayy arpitamanobuddhiḥ: As already mentioned, their mind and intellect are dedicated to the Supreme Being. Madbhaktaḥ: They are the supreme devotees. They are dear to God.

Yasmān nodvijate loko lokān nodvijate ca yaḥ, harṣāmarṣabhayodvegair mukto yaḥ sa ca me priyaḥ (12.15): They do not shrink from anything, nor do they behave in such a way that the world will shrink away from them. It is possible that we may not shrink away from anything, but how can we expect the world not to shrink away from us? This is a difficult thing. We may have no dislike or disgust towards anything in the world, but the point is that the world should behave towards us in a similar manner. This is possible in heightened forms of self-expansion. When the moods of love and compassion rise to a sufficiently high pedestal, the aura of this great yogi touches everything in the atmosphere around, and the world will behave in respect of that person in a similar manner as the person behaves in respect of the world. That is to say, our behaviour towards the world largely conditions its behaviour towards us. So if we do not shy away from the world, the world will not shy away from us. That is the meaning of yasmān nodvijate loko lokān nodvijate ca yaḥ.

Free from exhilaration, free from anger, free from fear, and free from agitation of any kind—such a person is harṣāmarṣabhayodvegair mukto. Harṣāmarṣa means getting exhilarated when something pleasant comes and becoming angry when something unpleasant comes, bhaya is the fear that something may come and hinder our path of pleasure, and udvega is agitation caused when all these are present. One who is free from harsha, amarsha, bhaya and udvega is dear to God: sa ca me priyaḥ.

Anapekṣaḥ (12.16): Wanting nothing at all, and expecting nothing even for tomorrow. If something comes today, okay; tomorrow will take care of itself. Śuciḥ: Inwardly and outwardly contented, free from any kind of expectation and desire. Therefore, he is pure, inwardly and outwardly. Dakṣa: Very able in the performance of his duties. Whether they are spiritual duties in the form of meditation or external duties in the form of relations with society, he is expert, adroit and very precise in his behaviour, and he will not bungle in his attitude. But he looks like an uninterested person. He does not talk much. He does not take any initiative, and keeps quiet as if he is not interested in anything in this world. Yet he is very able, a very great expert, and when he starts doing a thing, he will do it in a more expert manner than anybody else. But mostly he will not interfere with things; that is the meaning of udāsīna.

Gatavyathaḥ: Free from grief of every kind. He has no sorrow, no grief, no feeling that something has come which he does not want, or something that he wants has not come. This grief does not touch him because there is nothing that he wants, and there is nothing that he does not want.

Sarvārambhaparityāgī: He does not take initiative. If something happens, he acts in accordance with that happening. If nothing happens, he keeps quiet. He does not plan what he will do tomorrow or the day after that. He remains quiet, as if nothing is happening and the world itself does not exist. But if occasions arise when he has to take a step in a given direction, he does it in a most expert manner. Otherwise, he does not take initiative in any direction. Yo madbhaktaḥ sa me priyaḥ: Such a devotee is dear to God.

Yo na hṛṣyati na dveṣṭi na śocati na kāṅkṣati, śubhāśubhaparityāgī bhaktimān yaḥ sa me priyaḥ (12.17): “Who is dear to Me? He who is neither happy nor unhappy, neither likes nor dislikes, neither wants nor does not want, asks neither for pleasant things nor unpleasant things, and does not even make a distinction between good and bad—such a person is the true devotee of God.”

Samaḥ śatrau ca mitre ca tathā mānāpamānayoḥ (12.18): He is equal in attitude towards friend and enemy. It does not mean that he hugs the friend and hates the enemy. His internal spirit that has communed itself with the Universal Spirit sees the same light scintillating in both of what are called friend and enemy. Whether he is praised or insulted, it makes no difference because for him, words are only vibrations in the air and they make no sense. Only if we make sense of the vibrations, they seem to affect us. But vibration is vibration—and if we let them go, they vanish into thin air. Hence, neither praise nor insults make any difference to him. He is totally unaware of anything happening at all. They are empty words, with no sense or meaning for him.

Śītoṣṇasukhaduḥkheṣu samaḥ saṅgavivarjitaḥ: Heat and cold, hunger and thirst are the usual concomitants of a human being embodied in a physical sheath. They have to be borne somehow or the other. We cannot ask why there should be hunger, why there should be thirst, why there should be heat and cold. They are natural, and have to be borne with fortitude as long as the physical body continues. Saṅgavivarjitaḥ: He does that. He is attached to nothing.

Tulyanindāstuti (2.19): The same thing is again repeated. Ninda and stuti mean the same thing to him. “You are the worst of fellows”—okay, all right. “There is nobody like you in the whole world”—that is also good, fine. He takes both of them as prasad. Tulyanindāstutir maunī: Talking not, saying nothing. Santuṣṭo yena kenacit: Whatever comes, he is satisfied with it. Aniketah: Having no abode of his own. He stays here and there; any place is equally good for him. He does not have an attachment to any particular land and property. He has no particular homestead, no location, and feels that all is well at any place. Sthiramatiḥ: He is not agitated, and is established in understanding. Such a devotee is the beloved of God.

Whoever listens to this advice is also dear to God. Whoever devotedly hears this glory of the devotee of God is also a devotee of God.

“I consider all of them as very, very dear to Me who devotedly, intently, with concentration, listen to these glories of the great Masters of the spirit—which are like nectar for the ears—full of faith and intent on Me only. I consider them as most dear to Me”: tetīva me priyāḥ (12.20). With these words, we conclude the Twelfth Chapter of the Bhagavadgita.