kleśo ’dhika-taras teṣām
avyaktā hi gatir duḥkhaḿ
dehavadbhir avāpyate

Translation of Bhagavad Gita 12.5

For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied.

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

The group of transcendentalists who follow the path of the inconceivable, unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme Lord are called jnana-yogis, and persons who are in full Krishna consciousness, engaged in devotional service to the Lord, are called bhakti-yogis. Now, here the difference between jnana-yoga and bhakti-yoga is definitely expressed. The process of jnana-yoga, although ultimately bringing one to the same goal, is very troublesome, whereas the path of bhakti-yoga, the process of being in direct service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is easier and is natural for the embodied soul. The individual soul is embodied since time immemorial. It is very difficult for him to simply theoretically understand that he is not the body.

Therefore, the bhakti-yogi accepts the Deity of Krishna as worshipable because there is some bodily conception fixed in the mind, which can thus be applied. Of course, worship of the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His form within the temple is not idol worship. There is evidence in the Vedic literature that worship may be saguna and nirguna—of the Supreme possessing or not possessing attributes. Worship of the Deity in the temple is saguna worship, for the Lord is represented by material qualities. But the form of the Lord, though represented by material qualities such as stone, wood or oil paint, is not actually material. That is the absolute nature of the Supreme Lord.

A crude example may be given here. We may find some mailboxes on the street, and if we post our letters in those boxes, they will naturally go to their destination without difficulty. But any old box, or an imitation which we may find somewhere but which is not authorized by the post office, will not do the work. Similarly, God has an authorized representation in the Deity form, which is called arca-vigraha. This arca-vigraha is an incarnation of the Supreme Lord. God will accept service through that form. The Lord is omnipotent, all-powerful; therefore, by His incarnation as arca-vigraha He can accept the services of the devotee, just to make it convenient for the man in conditioned life.

So for a devotee there is no difficulty in approaching the Supreme immediately and directly, but for those who are following the impersonal way to spiritual realization the path is difficult. They have to understand the unmanifested representation of the Supreme through such Vedic literatures as the Upanishads, and they have to learn the language, understand the nonperceptual feelings, and realize all these processes. This is not very easy for a common man. A person in Krishna consciousness, engaged in devotional service, simply by the guidance of the bona fide spiritual master, simply by offering regulative obeisances unto the Deity, simply by hearing the glories of the Lord, and simply by eating the remnants of foodstuffs offered to the Lord, realizes the Supreme Personality of Godhead very easily. There is no doubt that the impersonalists are unnecessarily taking a troublesome path with the risk of not realizing the Absolute Truth at the ultimate end. But the personalist, without any risk, trouble or difficulty, approaches the Supreme Personality directly. A similar passage appears in Srimad-Bhagavatam. It is stated there that if one ultimately has to surrender unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead (this surrendering process is called bhakti), but instead takes the trouble to understand what is Brahman and what is not Brahman and spends his whole life in that way, the result is simply troublesome. Therefore it is advised here that one should not take up this troublesome path of self-realization, because there is uncertainty in the ultimate result.

A living entity is eternally an individual soul, and if he wants to merge into the spiritual whole, he may accomplish the realization of the eternal and knowledgeable aspects of his original nature, but the blissful portion is not realized. By the grace of some devotee, such a transcendentalist, highly learned in the process of jnana-yoga, may come to the point of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. At that time, long practice in impersonalism also becomes a source of trouble, because he cannot give up the idea. Therefore an embodied soul is always in difficulty with the unmanifest, both at the time of practice and at the time of realization. Every living soul is partially independent, and one should know for certain that this unmanifested realization is against the nature of his spiritual blissful self. One should not take up this process. For every individual living entity the process of Krishna consciousness, which entails full engagement in devotional service, is the best way. If one wants to ignore this devotional service, there is the danger of turning to atheism. Thus the process of centering attention on the unmanifested, the inconceivable, which is beyond the approach of the senses, as already expressed in this verse, should never be encouraged at any time, especially in this age. It is not advised by Lord Krishna.

Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

This verse describes a little of their inferior position. Those who are attracted to only brahman (avyakta asakta cetasam), who desire only realization of brahman, receive excessive difficulties in attaining it, because (hi) by what means at all can something without qualities be made manifest? That goal is attained by the jivas with bodies (dehavadbhih) in such a way that there is suffering (duhkham). The senses have the power for particular knowledge such as sound, nor for something other than particularity. Therefore, stopping of the senses is necessary for those who desire knowledge of the impersonal without particulars (nirvisesa). But stopping senses is like stopping rivers. Stopping the senses is difficult. Sanat Kumara says:

yat-pada-pankaja-palasa-vilasa-bhaktya karmasayam grathitam udgrathayanti santah tadvan na rikta-matayo yatayo’ pi ruddha-sroto-ganas tam aranam bhaja vasudevam

The devotees, who are always engaged in the service of the toes of the lotus feet of the Lord, can very easily overcome hard-knotted desires for fruitive activities. Because this is very difficult, the non-devotees—the jnanis and yogis—although trying to stop the waves of sense gratification, cannot do so. Therefore you are advised to engage in the devotional service of Krishna, the son of Vasudeva. SB 4.22.39

krcchro mahan iha bhavarnavam aplavesam sad-varga-nakram asukhena titirsanti tat tvam harer bhagavato bhajaniyam anghrim krtvodupam vyasanam uttara dustararnam

The ocean of nescience is very difficult to cross because it is infested with many dangerous sharks. Although those who are non-devotees undergo severe austerities and penances to cross that ocean, we recommend that you simply take shelter of the lotus feet of the Lord, which are like boats for crossing the ocean. Although the ocean is difficult to cross, by taking shelter of His lotus feet you will overcome all dangers. SB 4.22.40

Even that goal which is attained by such suffering is attained only by having a mixture with bhakti. Without bhakti to the Lord, the worshippers of the impersonal brahman obtain only suffering, and not brahman. Brahma says:

tesam asau klesala eva sisyate nanyad yatha sthula-tusavaghatinam

As a person who beats an empty husk of wheat cannot get grain, one who simply speculates cannot achieve self-realization. His only gain is trouble. SB 10.14.4

Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:

12.3 – 12.5 The individual self meditated upon by those who follow the path of the ‘Aksara’ (the Imperishable) is thus described: It cannot be ‘defined’ in terms indicated by expressions like gods and men etc., for It is different from the body; It is ‘imperceptible’ through the senses such as eyes; It is ‘omnipresent and unthinkable,’ for though It exists everywhere in bodies such as those of gods and others, It cannot be conceived in terms of those bodies, as It is an entity of an altogether different kind; It is ‘common to all beings’ i.e., alike in all beings but different from the bodily forms distinguishing them; It is ‘immovable’ as It does not move out of Its unique nature, being unmodifiable, and therefore eternal. Such aspirants are further described as those who, ‘subduing their senses’ like the eye from their natural operations, look upon all beings of different forms as ‘equal’ by virtue of their knowledge of the sameness of the nature of the selves as knowers in all. Therefore they are not given ‘to take pleasure in the misfortune of others,’ as such feelings proceed from one’s identification with one’s own special bodily form. Those who meditate on the Imperishable Principle (individual self) in this way, even they come to Me. It means that they also realise their essential self, which, in respect of freedom from Samsara, is like My own Self. So Sri Krsna will declare later on: ‘Partaking of My nature’ (14.2). Also the Sruti says: ‘Untainted, he attains supreme equality’ (Mun. U., 3.1.3). Likewise He will declare the Supreme Brahman as being distinct from the freed self which is without modification and is denoted by the term ‘Imperishable’ (Aksara), and is described as unchanging (Kutastha). ‘The Highest Person is other than this Imperishable’ (15.16 – 17). But in the teaching in Aksara-vidya ‘Now that higher science by which that Aksara is known’ (Mun. U., 1.5) the entity that is designated by the term Aksara is Supreme Brahman Himself; for He is the source of all beings, etc. Greater is the difficulty of those whose minds are attached to the unmanifest. The path of the unmanifest is a psychosis of the mind with the unmanifest as its object. It is accomplished with difficulty by embodied beings, who have misconceived the body as the self. For, embodied beings mistake the body for the self. The superiority of those who adore the Supreme Being is now stated clearly:

Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:

4 One may interject that if the followers of the abstract, impersonal and imperishable brahman also attain the Supreme Lord anyway then what is the superiority of personal loving devotion to Lord Krishna. Here the distinction is given that worshipping the abstract unmanifest, impersonal brahman is very difficult and requires excessive tribulation. This is because one who only contemplates something abstract and unmanifest can never envision what they are unable to perceive and thus the mind is not able to realise it and is only rarely achieved with great difficulty in a very complex way because for those identifying with the mind, body and senses, internal introspection which is required for atma-tattva or self-realisation is exceedingly difficult.

Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:

The original question at the commencement of this chapter was whether it was better to directly worship the Supreme Lord by bhakti or excluisve loving devotion or to worship the impersonal, unmanifest brahman or spiritual substratum pervading all existence. Herein Lord Krishna explains the difficulties of worshipping the impersonal, unmanifest brahman.

The path to reaching the unmanifest brahman is covered with difficulties. The word gati means the path or the way. The path adopted by the worshipers of the unmanifest brahman is very difficult. They must perform intense meditation, rigid restraint of the senses, compassion for all living entities, consistent purity in thought and actions, equanimity to the dualities such as censure and praise, joy and grief, pain and pleasure, etc; but to be successful it is essential that the grace of the Supreme Lord is betsowed. But without the grace of His sakti or spiritual feminine potency who is known as Sri Laxsmi and is represented by the unmanifest the grace of the Supreme Lord can not be possible and propitiation to her alone without Him displeases her and bequeaths no chance for realising the Supreme Lord and likewise no opportunity for moksa. This is true even if she is opulently worshipped. The worship of the unmanifest brahman does not focus on a personal form of the Supreme Lord possessing qulaities and attributes and by whose grace is required to receive the grace of Sri Laxsmi who in turn blesses the aspirant and bestows perception of the infinite unmanifest. This is why this path is so difficult. Yet and still if someone, somehow or other are graced by Sri Laxsmi due to association with or service to one of the Supreme Lords devotees, then facilitation to realisation of the Supreme Lord would immediately take effect and this is the most conducive means to achieve this. Thereafter those who exert effort in propitiating the unmanifest brahman will have the insight to properly propitiate the Supreme Lord as well and directly receive the desired result.

In the case of propitiating Sri Laxsmi, if there is any deficiency in the worship of her or defect in the aspirant such as rigid control of the senses, then she may not be pleased and will not bestow her grace. But regarding the Supreme Lord if anyone approaches Him directly through the spiritual master from one of the four authorised sampradaya’s or lines of disciplic succession then He being pleased provides His devotees with all conveniences and assistance required by His own initiative for facilitating their advancement to Him. In all other cases and situations the difficulties are unrelenting and increase. This is evidenced here by the words kleso’dhikaratas tesam meaning for them tribulations are much more.

The Sama Veda states in the Madhuchucanda section: That those who have bhakti or exclusive loving devotion for Lord Krishna have control of the mind, restraint of the senses, purity of behaviour, equanimity towards all living entities, compassion and humility. To them alone is Sri Laksmi elevated position as the eternal sakti of Lord Krishna realised and not by others. Being thus realised Sri Laksmi will grace these devotees of Lord Krishna and the devotees of any of His avatars or incarnations and expansions by meticulously removing all obstacles on their path of bhakti for Lord Krishna. Subsequently their performance of bhakti quickly attains fruit and without any hindrances they quickly attain communion with Him and by His grace attain eternal association with Him in the immortal spiritual worlds.

Similarly the Sama Veda states in the Ayasya section: That it is beneficial to propitiate the Supreme Lord by propitiating the grace of Sri Laksmi which bestows the grace of the Supreme Lord as well. It is not sufficient to propitiate Sri Laxsmi separate from the Supreme Lord as then neither of them are pleased and it is by the satisfaction of the Supreme Lord only that she and every other living being becomes eternally pleased so the proper etiquette must be observed. Following the proper etiquette even if there was some defect or laxity in such propitiation one would not fail to achieve success because Lord Krishna is the sole giver of moksa or liberation from material existence and by performing actions for His satisfaction everything else because exalted which is not possible by the strictest worship of the impersonal, unmanifest, brahman.

The Moksa Dharma quotes a conversation between Lord Krishna and Sri Laksmi where she states: Those who are enthusiastic for moksa will be devoted to worship of the Supreme Lord and that she is always established in those who are devoted to the sanatan dharma or the perrennial principles of righteousness, devoted to atma tattva or realisation of the soul, to those who have perceived the brahman and to those who are truthful, humble and charitable.

Superior to prakiti the material substratum underlying physical existence is the brahman the spiritual substratum pervading all existence and superior to the brahman is atma tattva and superior to atma tattva is communion with the Supreme Lord Krishna Himself. The Agnivesya section has clarified the same stating: Without beginning and without end is the brahman etrnally existing and the Supreme Lord is superior to even the brahman. Vedavyasa the author of Brahma Sutra has explained there that knowledge of the Supreme Lord alone is the only way to achieve moksa.

Now begins the commentary.

Although Vedavyasa has established the truth concerning the position of prakriti in Mahabharata He has rejected the ideas given in the Sankhya philosophy that the existence of prakriti is independent and He has proven by Vedic statements that prakriti is totally dependent upon the Supreme Lord. Similarly the Saukarayani scripture states: The one with form Sri Laxsmi is dearmost to the transcendental Supreme Lord and the cause of the existence of the worlds. By propitiating Sri Laxsmi always in adjunct to the Supreme Lord she becomes very pleased and bestows opulence and grandeur upon the propitiator much more expediently than the Supreme Lord Himself who is not so inclined to give these things. In the subsidary section of the Rig Veda it states: Knowing Sri Laxsmi of golden hue with lotus flowers in hands as the Supreme diety presiding over material nature enveloping everything one should propitiate her as the sakti of the Supreme Lord. By doing so she will grant the sincere and knowledgeable aspirant splendour and wealth that would not to be given by the Supreme Lord Himself,

Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:

It could be surmised that if the worshippers of the avyakta or the unmanifest impersonal brahman being the spiritual substratum pervading all creation are also able to reach the Supreme Lord then why are the worshippers of the Supreme Lord considered superior and in what way do they differ from the others? Lord Krishna explains that asakta or attachment to seeking brahman gives benefits only with great difficulty and trail and tribulation because it is exceedingly difficult to imagine what to focus upon when it can not be perceived by the mind and senses. Also for one who is in the bodily conception of life bewildered by the ego and deluded by thinking they are the physical body it is impossible to ever realise the brahman or achieve pure devotion to the atma or eternal soul.

Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:

12.5 Tesam, for them; avyakta-asakta-cetasam, who have their minds attached to the Unmanifest; klesah,the struggle; is adhika-tarah, greater. Although the trouble is certainly great for those who are engaged in works etc. for Me, still owing to the need of giving up self-identification with the body, it is greater in the case of those who accept the Immutable as the Self and who kept in view the supreme Reality. Hi, for; avyakta gatih, the Goal which is the Unmanifest-(the goal) which stands in the form of the Immutable; that is avapyate, attained; duhkham, with difficulty; dehavadbhih, by the embodied ones, by those who identify themselves with the body. Hence the struggle is greater. We shall speak later of the conduct of those who meditate on the Unmanifest.

Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:

12.3-5 Ye tu etc. upto avapyate. On the other hand, those, who contemplate on the Self as the motionless Brahman – by them also all the attributes of Absolute Lord are superimposed on the Self – the attributes that are indicated by the adjectives ‘omni-present’ etc. Therefore even the contemplators of the [attributeless] Brahman reach nothing but Me, of course. However, the trouble they undergo, is much more. For, they [first] superimposed on the Self the actonary of attributes like absence-of-sin etc., and then comtemplate on It. Thus, while without any effort [on the part of the contemplator] the Lord is readily available with the greatness due to the host of self-accomplished attributes, these persons undergo two-fold trouble.

Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:

kleso ’dhika-taras tesam
avyakta hi gatir duhkham
dehavadbhir avapyate

Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:

kleśaḥ — trouble; adhika-taraḥ — very much; teṣām — of them; avyakta — to the unmanifested; āsakta — attached; cetasām — of those whose minds; avyaktā — toward the unmanifested; hi — certainly; gatiḥ — progress; duḥkham — with trouble; deha-vadbhiḥ — by the embodied; avāpyate — is achieved.