śreyo hi jñānam abhyāsāj
jñānād dhyānaḿ viśiṣyate
dhyānāt karma-phala-tyāgas
tyāgāc chāntir anantaram

Translation of Bhagavad Gita 12.12

If you cannot take to this practice, then engage yourself in the cultivation of knowledge. Better than knowledge, however, is meditation, and better than meditation is renunciation of the fruits of action, for by such renunciation one can attain peace of mind.

Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

As mentioned in the previous verses, there are two kinds of devotional service: the way of regulative principles and the way of full attachment in love to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. For those who are actually not able to follow the principles of Krishna consciousness it is better to cultivate knowledge, because by knowledge one can be able to understand his real position. Gradually knowledge will develop to the point of meditation. By meditation one can be able to understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead by a gradual process. There are processes which make one understand that one himself is the Supreme, and that sort of meditation is preferred if one is unable to engage in devotional service. If one is not able to meditate in such a way, then there are prescribed duties, as enjoined in the Vedic literature, for the brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas and shudras, which we shall find in the last chapter of Bhagavad-gita. But in all cases, one should give up the result or fruits of labor; this means to employ the result of karma for some good cause.

In summary, to reach the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the highest goal, there are two processes: one process is by gradual development, and the other process is direct. Devotional service in Krishna consciousness is the direct method, and the other method involves renouncing the fruits of one’s activities. Then one can come to the stage of knowledge, then to the stage of meditation, then to the stage of understanding the Supersoul, and then to the stage of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. One may take either the step-by-step process or the direct path. The direct process is not possible for everyone; therefore the indirect process is also good. It is, however, to be understood that the indirect process is not recommended for Arjuna, because he is already at the stage of loving devotional service to the Supreme Lord. It is for others, who are not at this stage; for them the gradual process of renunciation, knowledge, meditation and realization of the Supersoul and Brahman should be followed. But as far as Bhagavad-gita is concerned, it is the direct method that is stressed. Everyone is advised to take to the direct method and surrender unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna.

Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

In this verse, the Lord makes clear the successive superiority of abhyasa, manana and smarana spoken of previously.

Better than practice is fixing the intelligence in me (jnanam or mananam). By performing practice alone it is difficult to achieve meditation. By performing manana, easily one can come to meditation. But meditation (mayi mana adhatsva, or smarana) is better than jnana or manana. Why? From meditation one becomes devoid of desire for fruits of sakama karma in the form of svarga, and the fruits of niskama karma in the form of liberation. Even though these are attained without his endeavor, the devotee is indifferent to them. Before the devotee reaches steady meditation, when he has not yet attained rati (bhava), he has just a desire to give up liberation. But one who is fixed in meditation (at bhava stage) is repelled by moksa. He takes liberation as insignificant. That meditation is the cause for indifference to moksa. This is stated in Bhakti Rasamrta Sindhu, where bhakti is glorified with six qualities:

klesa-ghni subhada moksa-laghutakrt sudurlabha
sandrananda-visesatma sri-krsnakarsani ca sa

Bhakti is characterized by destruction of suffering, bestowal of good qualities, disregard for liberation, rarity, intense spiritual bliss and attracting even Krishna. Bhakti Rasamrta Sindhu 1.1.17

na paramesthyam na mahendra-dhisnyam
na sarvabhaumam na rasadhipatyam
na yoga-siddhir apunar-bhavam va
mayy arpitatmecchati mad vinanyat

The devotee who has offered his soul to Me does not want anything if it is separate from Me – not the position of the supreme demigod of the universe, Brahma, nor that of Lord Indra, nor kingship over the entire earth or over the lower planetary systems, nor the mystic perfections of yoga, nor even freedom from the cycle of rebirth. SB 11.14.14

In that verse, the phrase mayy arpita atma means “fixed in meditation on me.”

After developing distaste for the fruits of action, one then attains peace in the form of stopping the senses from dwelling on all objects except my form and qualities. This explanation directly links the succession of stages from the two words sreyah and visisyate in the first line to anantaram in the second line. No other explanation can be considered.

Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:

12.12 More than the practice of remembrance (of the Lord), which is difficult in the absence of love for the Lord, the direct knowledge of the self, arising from the contemplation of the imperishable self (Aksara), is conducive to the well-being of the self. Better than the imperfect knowledge of the self, is perfect meditation on the self, as it is more conducive to the well-being of the self. More conducive than imperfect meditation (i.e., meditation unaccompanied with renunciation), is the activity performed with renunciation of the fruits. It is only after the annihilation of sins, through the performance of works accompanied by renounciation of fruits, that peace of mind is attained. When the mind is at peace, perfect meditation on the self is possible. From meditation results the direct realisation of the self. From the direct realisation of the self results supreme devotion. It is in this way that Atmanistha or devotion to the individual self becomes useful for a person who is incapable of practising loving devotion to the Supreme Being. And for one practising the discipline for attaining the self (Jnana Yoga) without acquisition of perfect tranquillity of mind, disinterested activity (Karma Yoga), including in it meditation on the self, is the better path for the knowledge of the self. [Thus the steps are performance of works without desire for fruits, equanimity of mind, meditation on the self, self-realisation, and devotion to the Lord.] Now Sri Krsna enumerates the attributes required of one intent on performance of disinterested activity:

Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:

The renunciation of the rewards of actions is being praised. Knowledge based on Vedic teachings coupled with guidance by guru gives direct realisation of the Supreme Lord Krishna and is superior to even great endeavour without realisation of Him. Meditation based on realisation of Lord Krishna is superior to knowledge of Him. The Mukunda Upanisad III.I.VIII states: Through meditation on the Supreme Lord one realises the absolute. Such a state of meditation naturally leads to lack of desire and renunciation of the rewards of actions which continually practised bestows by Lord Krishna’s grace moksa or liberation from samsara or the perpetual cycle of birth and death in the material existence.

Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:

Knowledge is superior to performance of an activity without proper knowledge. Still better is meditation with divine knowledge rather than mere knowledge by itself. In the Abhimlan section of the Sama Veda is stated: Better is divine knowledge then mere meditation. Better is the meditation associated with divine knowledge rather then mere knowledge alone because from this comes atma tattva or realization of the soul and the Supreme peace. Along with meditation karma-phala-tyagas or renunciation of the rewards of actions, is also praised and is essential to spiritual success otherwise one would not be qualified. So divine knowledge also associated with renunciation is also recommended. But superior to even renunciation of the rewards of actions is complete equanimity to all actions. So wisdom is the determining factor for the method implemented and is naturally based on qualification and level of development. Renunciation has been expounded upon in previous chapters but now it is being elucidated as an adjunct with meditation. The Gaupavana section states: Superior to meditation without renunciation is meditation with renunciation. It is logical that the importance of renunciation should be deemed worthy of application to meditation for superior to meditation with knowledge is meditation with knowledge exhibiting renunciation of the rewards of meditation for this leads to complete equanimity regarding all actions. Otherwise it could never be possible to achieve peace of mind if one failed to renounce the desire for results and was always hankering for rewards and this is what is being affirmed by Lord Krishna. The Kashayana section states: Superior to meditation with knowledge is non-attachment to performing actions for rewards and the renunciation of the rewards of actions coupled with bhakti or exclusive devotion to the Supreme Lord. Not by renunciation alone is moksa or liberation from material existence possible neither is it possible by meditation with renunciation. It only manifests when they both are in association with bhakti to the Supreme Lord Krishna through the medium of the spiritual master from one of the four authorised sampradayas or empowered channels of disciplic succession as revealed in Vedic scriptures. Otherwise it would be like praising renunciation and meditation by themselves and that is not correct for the reality is that only by bhakti is success guaranteed. An example is that in battle soldiers fight for the kingdom and win the war but the success is deemed attributed to the efforts of the king alone, bhakti is like this.

Now begins the summation.

One who exclusively propitiates the Supreme Lord Krishna considering all other gods as merely aspects of His potencies and thus subservient to Him are known as undeviated and undistracted. Lord Krishna has already confirmed that the rewards solicited from all other gods are only temporary and not eternal because they themselves are not on the eternal platform. Here a query might arise regarding the worship of Sri Laxsmi because she is so inseparable from the Supreme Lord and now this doubt will be specially clarified. When one offers bhakti or exclusive loving devotion to the Supreme Lord by japa or chanting His holy names or by prayers, or by worship or by singing and praising His glories etc. Then it should be understood that these activities are initiated from within by Sri Laxsmi for the satisfaction of the Supreme Lord. When one firsts worships other gods and then worships the Supreme Lord it should be understood that there is an acute lack of bhakti and while pleasing to other gods is not acceptable by Sri Laxsmi for it was not performed for the satisfaction of the Supreme Lord even if one offers the Supreme Lord the complete rewards received for worshipping the demigods. The activity may be big or small but the Supreme Lord only accepts it if the intention is 100% for His exclusive satisfaction alone. So in conclusion all one’s activities should be intended as an offering to the Supreme Lord because from such activities realization dawns and renunciation of the rewards of action arises and liberation from material existence manifests and the Supreme peace is attained.

Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:

If those seeking moksa or liberation from material existence would wish to develop bhakti or exclusive loving devotion to Lord Krishna which is characterised by completely focusing the mind and the intellect in meditation upon Him alone which is the essential prerequisite for attaining the Supreme Lord. Yet if there is ineligibility in this regard Lord Krishna has compassionately given in descending order alternate methods each succeeding one easier than the preceding one such as continuous practice of thinking exclusively of Him, perform regularly actions of devotion and at least relinquish the desire for the rewards of one’s actions. Now we see that He extols and praises renunciation of rewards because it bestows purity of mind and combined with bhakti leads one directly to the Supreme Lord. Superior is knowledge of Vedic scriptures acquired from the teachings at the feet of the spiritual master. Atma tattva or soul realisation is superior to meditation and the Svetasvatara Upanisad I.III states: After passing through abstraction and meditation those who achieved atma tattva perceived the innate power of the Supreme Lord concealed within His own qualities. Atma tattva is not achieved by meditation upon the abstract; but by meditation upon the Supreme Lord combined with renunciation for the rewards of actions atma tattva is certainly achieved and the best means to enhance one’s spiritual development. This is because by renouncing the desire for reward for one’s activities one no longer is forced to accept the reactions for one’s actions and sins are no longer accrued. Thus one achieves the Supreme peace. Lord Krishna has already explained in chapter two, verse 55 that the renunciation of all desires and cravings of the mind bestows the highest bliss and that one who has achieved this is considered to be sthita-prajna or self realised because one’s satisfaction comes from the bliss of the atma or eternal soul within. The Katha Upanisad VI.XIV states: When all the desires lodged in one’s heart have been given up and released then a mortal being becomes immortal and realises the brahman or the spiritual substratum pervading all existence.

Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:

12.12 Jnanam, knowledge; [Firm conviction about the Self arrived at through Vedic texts and reasoning.] is hi, surely; sreyah, superior; -to what?-abhyasat, to practice [Practice-repeated effort to ascertain the true meaning of Vedic texts, in order to acquire knowledge.] which is not preceded by discrimination. Dhyanam, meditation, undertaken along with knowledge; visisyate, surpasses even jnanat, that knowledge. Karma-phala-tyagah, renunciation of the results of works; excels even dhyanat, meditation associated with knowledge. (‘Excels’ has to be supplied.) Tyagat, from this renunciation of the results of actions, in the way described before; [By dedicating all actions to God with the idea, ‘May God be pleased.’] santih, Peace, the cessation of transmigratory existence together with its cause; follows anantaram, immediately; not that it awaits another accasion. Should the unenlightened person engaged in works be unable to practise the disciplines enjoined earlier, then, for him has been enjoined renunciation of the results of all works as a means to Liberation. But this has not been done at the very beginning. And for this reason renunciation of the results of all works has been praised in, ‘Knowledge is surely superior to practice,’ etc. by teaching about the successive excellence. For it has been taught as being fit to be adopted by one in case he is unable to practise the disciplines already presented [Presented from verse 3 onwards.] Objection: From what similarly does the eulogy follow? Reply: In the verse, ‘When all desires clinging to one’s heart fall off’ (Ka, 2.3.14), it has been stated that Immortality results from the rejection of all desires. That is well known. And ‘all desires’ means the ‘result of all rites and duties enjoined in the Vedas and Smrtis’. From the renunciation of these, Peace surely comes immediately to the enlightened man who is steadfast in Knowledge. There is a similarity between renunciation of all desires and renunciation of the results of actions by an unenlightened person. Hence, on account of that similarity this eulogy of renunciation of the results of all actions is meant for rousing interest. As for instance, by saying that the sea was drunk up by the Brahmana Agastya, the Brahmanas of the present day are also praised owing to the similarity of Brahminhood. In this way it was been said that Karma-yoga becomes a means for Liberation,since it involves renunciaton of the rewards of works. Here, again, the Yoga consisting in the concentration of mind on God as the Cosmic Person, as also the performance of actions etc. for God, have been spoken of by assuming a difference between God and Self. In, ‘If you are unable to do even this’ (11) since it has been hinted that it (Karma-yoga) is an effect of ignorance, therefore the Lord is pointing out that Karma-yoga is not suitable for the meditator on the Immutable, who is aware of idenity (of the Self with God). The Lord is similarly pointing out the impossibility of a karma-yogin’s meditation on the Immutable. In (the verse), ‘they…attain Me alone’ (4), having declared that those who meditate on the Immutable are independent so far as the attainment of Liberation is concerned, the Lord has shown in, ‘…I become the Deliverer’ (7), that others have no independence; they are dependent on God. For, if they (the former) be considered to have become identified with God, they would be the same as the Immutable on account of (their) having realized non-difference. Consequently, speaking of them as objects of the act of deliverance will become inappropriate! And, since the Lord in surely the greatest well-wisher of Arjuna, He imparts instructions only about Karma-yoga, which involves perception of duality and is not associated with full Illumination. Also, no one who has realized his Self as God through valid means of knowledge would like subordination to another, since it involves a contradiction. Therefore, with the idea, ‘I shall speak of the group of virtues (as stated in), “He hwo is not hateful towards any creature,” etc. which are the direct means to Immortality, to those monks who meditate on the Immutable,who are steadfast in full enlightenment and have given up all desires,’ the Lord proceeds:

Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:

12.12 Sreyah etc. Knowledge in the form of entering into [the Lord] is superior to practice; for practice bears that result. Due to the entering into the Lord, the meditation i.e., getting absorbed in the Bhagavat, becomes pre-eminent i.e., attains superiority, because of the achievement of what is desired. When meditation i.e., getting absorbed in the Bhagavat is accomplished, then it is possible to renounce fruits of actions. Otherwise how can there be a renunciation in what is unknown ? When renunciation of fruits of actions is achieved, there arises an uninterrupted peace. Therefore, being the root of all [these], the knowledge a’one, in the form of fixing the mind in the Lord is important.

Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:

sreyo hi jñanam abhyasaj
jñanad dhyanam visisyate
dhyanat karma-phala-tyagas
tyagac chantir anantaram

Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:

śreyaḥ — better; hi — certainly; jñānam — knowledge; abhyāsāt — than practice; jñānāt — than knowledge; dhyānam — meditation; viśiṣyate — is considered better; dhyānāt — than meditation; karma-phala-tyāgaḥ — renunciation of the results of fruitive action; tyāgāt — by such renunciation; śāntiḥ — peace; anantaram — thereafter.