Commentary on the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

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Discourse 45: The Sixteenth Chapter Concludes – What is Proper and What is Improper in Our Life

anekacittavibhrāntā mohajālasamāvṛtāḥ
prasaktāḥ kāmabhogeṣu patanti narake’śucau
ātmasaṁbhāvitāḥ stabdhā dhanamānamadānvitāḥ
yajante nāmayajñais te dambhenāvidhipūrvakam
ahaṅkāraṁ balaṁ darpaṁ kāmaṁ krodhaṁ ca saṁśritāḥ
mām ātmaparadeheṣu pradviṣanto’bhyasūyakāḥ
tān ahaṁ dviṣataḥ krurān saṁsāreṣu narādhamān
kṣipāmyajasram aśubhān āsurīṣveva yoniṣu (16.19)
āsurīṁ yonim āpannā mūḍhā janmani janmani
mām aprāpyaiva kaunteya tato yāntyadhamāṁ gatim (16.20)
trividhaṁ narakasyedaṁ dvāraṁ nāśanam ātmanaḥ
kāmaḥ krodhas tathā lobhas tasmād tat trayaṁ tyajet (16.21)

In the context of the description of the divine and undivine qualities characterising human beings, a lot has been said by the Lord about these tendencies in people which, on the one hand, enable them to gravitate towards the centre of the universe and, on the other hand, deflect their attention in the direction of the periphery of the universe. The undivine elements are those forces in nature, as well as in individuals, which tend towards externals, and go to the extreme of involvement in space, time and objects. The other category of persons differ entirely from the first mentioned, in the sense that they tend inward into the very centre or the Selfhood of the universe, which is the opposite of the objects which attract demoniacal natures.

While there is joy in entering into one’s own Self in the case of those who are qualified with divine characters, there is sorrow in an inward contemplation in the case of people who wish to run about in an external direction towards more and more contact with sense objects. On account of intense egoism, ahamkaram, balam, darpam, etc.—with egoism, with pride, with vanity, with anger, with insatiable desire for indulgence of senses—they consider themselves as all-in-all in the power that they appear to be wielding, and are despotic in their conduct and cruel in their attitude towards other people. Such ones are endangering not only the lives of other people, but the lives of themselves also.

Those who are trying to harm others are inadvertently trying to harm themselves also—a harm that may come upon them today or tomorrow. This is because as we mete out to others, we will be meted out in the same way. The world is an organic involvement of perfection and a balance of forces, so that any kind of interference of one part with another part, or rather, the interference of one part with the whole to which it belongs, would set up such a reaction that the interference will be paid in its own coin.

Many a time, evil appears to survive and thrive more gloriously than goodness in this world, but when the mills of God begin to grind powerfully, the evil forces will receive their due—though slowly, but very finely. So the indication as to the consequences that follow from utter egoism and evil-doing is here in these verses.

Such persons who are dangerous to themselves as well as to others, and are injurious in their attitude towards things, go to lower regions. They take birth in inferior species of living entities, which, on the one hand, obliterates the consciousness which human beings are supposed to be endowed with and, on the other hand, they suffer like insects, like reptiles, like animals who have only body consciousness, and there is no consciousness of Self. Subhuman creatures do not have the prerogative of inferring the existence of that which is above humanity, above themselves. The animal can think only its own region, its own realm, its own body, its own instincts. It does not have the capacity to infer, to consider the pros and cons and draw conclusions. It is human reason that has the capacity not only to understand what is happening now, but also to draw conclusions by inference from the occurrences and the experiences at present. These prerogatives of humanity will be wiped out due to the preponderance of rajasic and tamasic qualities, which people sometimes adopt due to intense egoism in their nature—behaving arrogantly, tyrannically, selfishly, which will lead them to lower yonis, or species of births. They may even go to hell, which is the lowest of regions.

Ᾱsurīṁ yonim āpannā (16.20): These unfortunate souls that enter into the wombs of asuras—that is to say, totally undivine characters—may run into cycles of transmigratory life again and again, endlessly, as it were, and may lose hope of redemption for an endless period of time.

As we know very well, the way to hell, the gate to hell, is mentioned here as threefold, as reference to it was made in the Third Chapter. Kāma eṣa krodha eṣa rajoguṇa samudbhavaḥ, mahāśano mahāpāpmā viddhyenam iha vairiṇam (3.37): If you have any enemy in this world, your enemy is your instinct to like and dislike, passion and anger. Trividhaṁ narakasyedaṁ dvāraṁ nāśanam ātmanaḥ (16.21): The self-destructive ways to hell, the gates to hell, are kama, krodha and lobha: greed, insatiable desire, and anger. The one automatically leads to the other. When there is desire, the other two automatically follow.

The tendency to grab appurtenances from the world as much as possible, and never being satisfied with any kind of possession or any amount of possession, is greed. Anger, of course, is retaliation in respect of any hindrance to the fulfilment of desires. And desire is well known to us. Etat trayaṁ tyajet: Therefore, we must very meticulously avoid these three traits—kama, krodha and lobha—in human nature, because these are the gateways to hell. Dvāraṁ nāśanam ātmanaḥ: They destroy the self, as it were, and hurl the individual into subhuman realms.

Etair vimuktaḥ kaunteya tamodvārais tribhir naraḥ, ācaratyātmanaḥ śreyas tato yāti parāṁ gatim (16.22): Freed from these three kinds of traits—kama, krodha and lobha—one works for one’s own welfare with proper understanding of the way of conducting oneself in life for attaining the spiritual goal. One begins to realise and keep in mind what is actually one’s welfare. Most people do not know what is good for them. They have a blindfolded vision of things, a distorted vision of things, which makes them believe in things which are really not enduring, and doubt the existence of things which are really there. But here a person who is free from these qualities of kama, krodha and lobha will be automatically purified in nature, and this purified mind will reflect within itself the aspiration necessary for the attainment of the great goal of life. Tato yati param gatim: Automatically one reaches the Supreme State.

Vartate kāmakārataḥ (16.23): One should not act according to one’s own whim and fancy. We should not do things merely because they occur to us. There are certain norms that have been set forth by ancient Masters, who recorded their experiences and their impressions in texts called Shastras—such as the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Gita, the Smrtis. These Shastras give us a norm of conduct and behaviour prescribed in the light of the ultimate aim of life. Shastras, or scriptures, lay down the necessity to place oneself in a harmonious state of affairs in the context of dharma, artha, kama and moksha.

Very few people have even heard of these names: dharma, artha, kama, moksha. These are the four feet, as it were, of the structure of human life. Ordinarily, from one’s own reasoning, these ideas will not normally arise. The normal way of looking at things, the vision of things based on our independent thinking, is materially construed, sensorially oriented, and desire-filled. Thus, the necessity to consult and work according to the injunctions of the Shastras is considered here as imperative.

The necessity for material amenities is something well known to people. We require certain physical comforts, but we cannot have so much of it as would deprive others of an equal share of it in this world. If there is a specific quantum of physical facility in this world, we may proportionately divide it among people according to their needs, according to their status, and according to the relation that obtains between them and other people. But being contrary to the acceptance that others also have a need for similar appurtenances, disregarding the existence of other people and their welfare, would also be detrimental to one’s own welfare. This is because a person who asks for too much may lose everything—like the person who wanted a golden axe and lost the iron axe also.

Therefore, dharma is supposed to be a restraining order, a principle of limitations set on the desires even for material need, and kama is the need for fulfilment of emotional requirements. Dharma puts a limit on our asking for things in this world, whether material or emotional, in the light of the ultimate aim of all beings, the liberation of the spirit, which is moksha. Hence, there is an internal organic connection among this four-faceted aspiration called purusharthas—dharma, artha, kama, moksha. This is something that can only be known from scriptures. We cannot think these things independently.

Yaḥ śāstravidhim utsṛjya vartate kāmakārataḥ, na sa siddhim avāpnoti na sukhaṁ na parāṁ gatim: We will not attain perfection if we reject the scriptures completely, and try to work according to our own whim and fancy and predilections that change from moment to moment, according to the weakness of our rationality. Na sukhaṁ na parāṁ gatim: Such a person cannot be happy. A person who is totally independent in his behaviour, who cares not for the welfare of others, and who has no consideration for the injunctions of the great scriptures that are intended for the welfare of everybody, such a person will not reap success in this world, nor will it be possible for him to be happy in this world—na sa siddhim avāpnoti na sukhaṁ na parāṁ gatim.

“Therefore, O Arjuna, scripture is your final authority in matters of doubt.” The Manusmrti says that the Veda is the ultimate authority whenever we have any kind of dharma-sankata, or doubt in regard to a decision of what is proper and improper in our life. But if it is difficult to find an answer in the Vedas for the little difficulties that we have got in our life, what should we do? We must go to the Smritis, such as the Manu Smriti, Yajnavalkya Smriti, Parasara Smriti, etc., which go into greater details about the difficulties of human nature in a larger dimension than the Veda Samhitas. If we do not find a solution even there because these days there are some peculiar difficulties which Manu, Yajnavalkya and Parasara may not have thought of, what should we do? We should consider how great people, saints and sages, lived in this world. Like us, they must have also passed through tribulations and turmoils. We should look at the experiences of great saints and sages—Vaishnavas, Saivas, Saktas, or whoever they be—and see how they conducted themselves when they were confronted with problems of various kinds. That will be a solution for us. “What did that great saint do when he had this kind of difficulty? Oh! I see. I should behave like this.”

But suppose we have such a peculiar, fantastic difficulty whose solution cannot be found in the Vedas or in the Smritis, and even saints had not passed through that experience, then we should go to our Guru. If we do not have a Guru, we should close our eyes and ask the Atman, “What is good for me?” If we are honest and sincere and repentant, the light within will tell us what is good for us. However, mainly a Shastra is considered as a guide. See how illuminating the Bhagavadgita is! We like to read it again and again. We do not throw it away and say that we know everything. Nobody says that. What do we know? We cannot know anything which is not before our eyes. But realities are those which are invisible to the eyes. The real is invisible; and the visible cannot be regarded as real.

Hence, a Shastra is considered as a great pramana, an authority for us in matters of doubt concerning what is proper and improper. Kāryākāryavyavasthitau jñātvā śāstravidhānoktaṁ (16.24): The authority is Shastra. Karma kartum ihārhasi: “Knowing that there is a great guide for you in the form of a scripture, a Shastra, do what is proper, and engage yourself in right action.” This is the conclusion of the Sixteenth Chapter, called the Daiva Asura Sampad Vibhaga Yoga.