Shrimad Bhagvad Gita

Shankar Bhashya on Gita- One shloka a day- 4.21

Gita 4.21

निराशीर्यतचित्तात्मा त्यक्तसर्वपरिग्रहः।
शारीरं केवलं कर्म कुर्वन्नाप्नोति किल्बिषम्।।4.21।।

One who is devoid of expectations, who has his body and mind under control, who has renounced all possessions and who does karma only to sustain his body does not incur sin. 

One from whom expectations have departed is called Nirashi.

One whose chitta i.e. antah-karana and atman i.e. external complex of karya and karana i.e. body and senses are under control is called yata-chitta-atma.

One who has renounced all possessions is called tyakta-sarva-parigrahah.

Such a Nirashi, yata-chitta-atma and tyakta-sarva-parigraha person does only those karma which are required for sustaining the body without any abhimana in those karma and by doing such karma, he does not incur any undesirable stuff either in the form of dharma ( = punya) or papa.

Why dharma is stated as undesirable?

Because for a mumukshu, even dharma is also sin as it causes bondage.

Therefore he becomes free from both of them i.e. papa and dharma. The meaning is that he becomes liberated from samsara.

In the shloka, the words used are ‘shaariram kevalam karma’. What exactly is meant here by ‘shariram karma’? The karmas done by body? Or the karmas done merely for sustaining the body?

Question: Why is it important to know as to what exactly is the meaning?


(i) If it is held the the shloka refers to karmas done by the body, then it amounts to saying that one does not incur sin even when one performs prohibited karmas by the body having drishta or adrishta purposes. This verily amounts to contradiction in Bhagavan’s words.

(ii) If it is held that one does shastra-enjoined karmas by body having drishta and adrishta purposes and does not incur sin, then it amounts to negating a fault that is not present. (No sin is stated to accrue by performing shastra-enjoined karma, so it is pointless to say that one who does shastra-enjoined karma would not incur sin).

(iii) Further, the usage of adjective ‘shariram karma kurvan’ and ‘kevalam’ in shloka indicates that one accrues sin by performing karma by vak ( =speech) and manas ( =mind) which is having the subject of injunction and prohibition and which has the meaning of dharma or adharma [See P.S. and Gita 18.15. Karmas are done by sharir, vak and manas]. Even there would arise the contradiction  by the statement of incurrence of sin while performing shastra-enjoined karma by vak and manas. And as regards incurrence of sin by performing shastra-prohibited karma by vak and manas, it would amount to meaningless restatement of a well known fact.

(iv) Siddhanta 

However, if the meaning of ‘shariram karma’ is taken as the karma done for merely sustaining the body, then it indicates that he does not do any other karma which can be done by body, vak or manas, which are subject matter of injunction and prohibition having drishta and adrishta purposes. The usage of the word ‘kevalam’ indicates that he is devoid of abhimana in as in the case of ‘I do’. Thus while appearing to the world as if acting through these very body etc (vak and manas), he does not incur sin by making movements of body etc. Therefore, due to kilbish i.e. papa being impossible for such a person, he does not attain kilbish samsara. Thus, this verse is a mere reiteration of what has been said in 4.18 as the fala of samyak-darshan whereby one is freed without any obstacle due to burning of all karmas in the fire of jnana.

Such meaning of ‘shariram kevalam karma’ is faultless.

Now since such a yati is devoid of all possessions, then it is natural for him to resort to begging etc for maintaining the body.

Why so?

Because he would be devoid of possession of grains etc which are required for sustaining the body.

In order to prescribe the means of obtaining grains etc for maintaining the body which is permitted by Smriti, Bhagvan initiates the following shloka.

Question: What exactly is permitted in Smriti as a means to obtain grains etc?

Answer: ‘What comes by chance, without begging in a spontaneous manner’ [Anugita]

Question: How exactly Bhagvan prescribes it?

Answer: Here it is said (in next shloka):-


The central dispute in this verse is to fix the meaning of ‘shariram karma’. Acharya states that the meaning has to be taken as karma done for maintaining the body. He shows that there would be contradiction if the meaning is taken to be the (any) karma done by the body. He explains that karma would be either shastra-prescribed or shastra-prohibited. If it is shastra-prohibited and yet no sin is accrued as stated in shloka, then it is a contradiction. If it is shastra-enjoined, then anyway there is no question of sin. So why would Bhagvan make pointless statements. Further, the words ‘shariram karma’ are conjoined with ‘kevalam’. Now karmas are done by sharir, vak and manas [Refer Gita 18.15]. Since the word conjoined is ‘kevalam’, the shloka indicates that karmas done by vak and manas are sins since karmas done by sharir alone ‘kevalam’ have been stated to incur no sin.

This also would result into contradiction. Because karma done by vak and manas would also be either shastra-enjoined or shastra-prohibited. If shastra-enjoined karma done by vak and manas result into sin then it is a contradiction. And incurrence of sin by doing shastra-prohibited karma by vak and manas is mere reiteration and futile.

Thus, Acharya shows that ‘shariram kevalam karma’ refers to karma done only for sustaining the body without any sense of abhimana in those karmas. Such person does not do any other karma required to be done through sharir, vak and manas which are subject matter of injunction and prohibition by shastra.

That is the crux of this verse.


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