वेदाविनाशिनं नित्यं य एनमजमव्ययम्।
कथं स पुरुषः पार्थ कं घातयति हन्ति कम्।।2.21।।
O Partha, he who knows this One as indestructible, eternal, birthless and undecaying, how and whom does that person kill, or whom does he cause to be killed! [This is not a question but only an emphatic denial.-Tr.]
In the previous verse, Bhagvan established the reasons for the freedom of atman from transformation. And now he concludes the argument in this shloka.
One who knows the atman as imperishable, eternal, unborn and undecaying, he cannot slay nor can he cause to be slain when he fights as a matter of duty. Killing is taken as an example and the crux of Bhagvan’s statement is that all actions are negated for the knower of Self.
Objection: Due to which specific reason has all actions been negated for the vidvaan, knower of Self, atman?
Answer: All actions have been negated for the knower of the Self due to the knowledge that Self is immutable.
Objection: This certainly cannot be the sole reason. This is so because knower of Self is different from the immutable Self. Even if one knows that the post is actionless etc, action is not impossible for him. So there is nothing special in this knowledge of knowing Self as immutable which warrants negation of all karmas for the knower of Self in such a manner.
Answer: Not so. Because Self (=Atman) is the self of even such knower. The state of being a knower (or knowership) does not belong to conglomerate of body, mind etc. Therefore, eliminating all that is non-Self, the Self, which is the knower, remains and certainly all actions have to be negated therefor owing to its changelessness.
Who is a knower? Self alone is the knower. However, this attribution of knowership on Self is due to avidya. Self is thus, erroneously, deemed to be a knower a) of sense objects b) of Self itself. The case a) arises when there is non-discrimination between Self and non-Self. The case b) arises when there is discrimination between Self and non-Self. Both these knowerships are asatya, false from the parmarth drishti, because Self is changeless and actionless in parmarthik drishti.
Based on the teaching of Bhagvan, the conclusion and settled doctrine is that all the Shastra-enjoined karmas are applicable only to the non-knower of Self because for the knower of Self, karma is impossible.
Objection: It is erroneous to state that only karma is enjoined for non-knower of Self. Knowledge (=-vidya) also has been enjoined on them. They should practice both jnana and karma. This is so because if you hold that vidya is enjoined on knower then it is as pointless as grinding the already ground corn. Thus, the statement that karma is enjoined only for non-knower and not for knower is illogical.
Answer: Not so. The distinction is logical with respect to the existence and non-existence of the stuff which is to be accomplished. Only on that person who thinks — ‘I am a doer, I should perform action’—can the karma be enjoined. But if a person has got the knowledge — from understanding ‘न जायते म्रियते वा कदाचिन्नायं भूत्वा भविता वा न भूयः’—that he is not the doer and he understands the real nature of himself, how can any karma be enjoined to him.
In view of this, for both, the one who is a knower of Self i.e. seer of the immutability of Self and the one who is seeking liberation, both are called upon to do sarva-karma-sanyas i.e. giving up of all shastra-enjoined karmas. Bhagvan shows this demarcation repeatedly in Gita and elsewhere.
Objection: Agreed that if one attains the knowledge that he is the non-doer changeless atman, then sarva-karma-sanyas is logical and natural for him. But this knowledge is simply impossible for anyone to get.
Counter-objection by Shankaracharya: But then this will repudiate the teaching of Shastra. If on the basis of teaching of shastra, the knowledge regarding dharma and adharma and the knowledge regarding the relationship of karta with future bodies can arise, then what prevents the arising of knowledge of immutability and non-doership of Atman from the same Shastra?
Reply to counter-objection: Because the Atman is beyond the senses.
Final Conclusion of Shankaracharya: Not so. Because, the Shruti teaches in Brihadaranyaka that the Atman is to be perceived through mind ALONE. The mind, which is purified by the teachings of the Shastra and the Guru, is the SOLE means of the perception of Self. Thus, your objections are invalid.
Another Objection: Then is the knower of Self under any obligation to do something?
Answer: Yes. At many places in Gita, for e.g. 5.13, Bhagvan says:-
सर्वकर्माणि मनसा संन्यस्यास्ते सुखं वशी।
नवद्वारे पुरे देही नैव कुर्वन्न कारयन्।।
The embodied man of self-control, having given up all actions mentally, continues happily in the town of nine gates, without doing or causing (others) to do anything at all.
Thus, Bhagvan prescribes the renunciation of all shastra-enjoined-karmas for a knower of Atman.
Objection: But Bhagvan is talking about renouncing of all mano-vyavhara, mental activities and he has not said anything about activities to be done through body and speech.
Answer: Not so. Because, the actions of body and mind are always preceded by mental activities. And the absence of mental activity would entail the cessation of action through body and speech.
Objection: Then the verse may mean renunciation of all mental activities other than those which are the cause of shastra-enjoined-activities of body and speech.
Answer: Not so. Because Bhagvan has qualifies his statement by ‘he neither performs nor does he cause to perform’.
Objection: This injunction of renunciation of all actions is for one who is about to die. This is not for the one who is living.
Answer: Not so. Because Bhagvan says that he is seated within this nine-gated city. The description will thus not be apt for the one who is about to die.
Objection: The words should not be construed to mean ‘seated in the body’. Rather they should mean as ‘depositing in the body the sense of acting and causing to act’.
Conclusion: Not so. Because it is conclusively held in Gita and Upanishads that Atman is immutable. The act of sitting requires a place like body. The act of renunciation does not require any place.
Therefore, it is ascertained that in Gita, the Atma-jnani is obliged to renounce all shastra-enjoined-karmas. This will further be demonstrated by Bhagvan wherever the issue of Atma-jnana occurs.
However, let us return to the topic of discussion. The topic is the imperishability of Atman. How is it like? (in next shloka).