puruṣaḥ prakṛti-stho hi
bhuńkte prakṛti-jān guṇān
kāraṇaḿ guṇa-sańgo ’sya
Translation of Bhagavad Gita 13.22
The living entity in material nature thus follows the ways of life, enjoying the three modes of nature. This is due to his association with that material nature. Thus he meets with good and evil among various species.
Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
This verse is very important for an understanding of how the living entities transmigrate from one body to another. It is explained in the Second Chapter that the living entity is transmigrating from one body to another just as one changes dress. This change of dress is due to his attachment to material existence. As long as he is captivated by this false manifestation, he has to continue transmigrating from one body to another. Due to his desire to lord it over material nature, he is put into such undesirable circumstances. Under the influence of material desire, the entity is born sometimes as a demigod, sometimes as a man, sometimes as a beast, as a bird, as a worm, as an aquatic, as a saintly man, as a bug. This is going on. And in all cases the living entity thinks himself to be the master of his circumstances, yet he is under the influence of material nature.
How he is put into such different bodies is explained here. It is due to association with the different modes of nature.
One has to rise, therefore, above the three material modes and become situated in the transcendental position. That is called Krishna consciousness. Unless one is situated in Krishna consciousness, his material consciousness will oblige him to transfer from one body to another because he has material desires since time immemorial. But he has to change that conception. That change can be effected only by hearing from authoritative sources. The best example is here: Arjuna is hearing the science of God from Krishna. The living entity, if he submits to this hearing process, will lose his long-cherished desire to dominate material nature, and gradually and proportionately, as he reduces his long desire to dominate, he comes to enjoy spiritual happiness. In a Vedic mantra it is said that as he becomes learned in association with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he proportionately relishes his eternal blissful life.
Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
But the jiva, just by misidentification caused by beginningless ignorance, thinks that his capacity for action and enjoyment are his very nature, though they are just the nature of things related to him (body, senses). From this, he takes repeated birth. Situated in the body produced from prakrti and identifying with it (prakrti sthah), the jiva enjoys and suffers by identifying as his own (bhunkte) the lamentation, illusion, happiness and distress (gunan) which are qualities of his mind (prakrti jan). The cause is the contact of the soul (asya) with the body, made of gunas (guna sangah). Though the soul does not actually contact the body, the contact is fabricated through ignorance. Where does the jiva enjoy? In repeated births in life forms like devatas (sad yoni) or animals (asad yoni), produced by his pious or sinful actions.
Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:
13.22 The self, settled in a series of bodies of divinities, men etc., which are modifications of Prakrti, becomes attached to happiness, pain etc., resulting from the Sattva and other qualities associated with the respective wombs, and hence engages Itself in virtuous and sinful deeds, constituting the means for happiness, misery etc. In order to experience the fruits of those good and evil deeds, It is born again in good and evil wombs. Then It becomes active and consequently is born again as a result of Its activities. As long as It does not cultivate qualities like modesty etc., which are the means for realising the self, so long Its entanglement in Samsara continues like this. Thus, it has been declared here that attachment causes births in good and evil wombs.
Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:
Even though this is such how is it possible for the immortal and changeless Purusa which is paramatma the supreme soul and is the localised manifestation of the Supreme Lord, experience anything? This is being answered here. For the Purusa residing within prakriti the effect being the physical body is identified with it and through the medium of this body the symptoms of joy and misery produced by the actions of the body are experienced. The cause of the Purusa’s entrapment within a jiva or embodied being in a higher source like that of a demigod or a lower source like that of an animal is merely due to attachments accepted by the mind and senses which induce the body to perform good and evil actions which facilitates karma or reactions to ones actions and activates samsara the perpetual cycle of birth and death.
Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:
Here the word Purusa should be understood to refer to the jiva or embodied living entities. In previous verses both the Supreme Lord and the jivas have been referred to as Purusa. Hence this clarification is required to understand this verse in the proper context. Thus the jiva enjoys the attributes of prakriti or the material substratum pervading physical existence. This statement by the Supreme Lord Krishna effectively eradicates the arguments of those whose conjecture is that the relationship of the physical body and its organs of the senses interacting with sense objects as instruments of action are illusory. The word hi meaning certainly is used to emphasise that the conjecture of illusion in this case is contrary to actual experience. It has never been observed by the greatest of minds that internal experiences knowledge and ignorance, pleasure and pain are the products of delusion. That these are illusory is unacceptable to both the spiritual mind and the rational mind. Only those minds which are preoccupied with the external concerns of the physical body are susceptible to illusion; but never those who are devoted to atma tattva or knowledge of the immortal soul and the divine internal spiritual experience. It should be pointed out that even external conceptions should only be considered illusory when discrimination is accurately used in verification. If it ever were established that the internal consciousness perfectly perceived by those who are self-realised as eternal are illusory then all that has been collaborated and confirmed by the imperishable Vedic scriptures would also have to be considered illusory and that is impossible as they are the only authorised and verifiable proof in all of creation and anything whatsoever contrary to the Vedic scriptures is absolutely illusory. It must be understood that illusion is only present in the empirical world of material existence. Thus any proof that could be given must also be empirical and thus determining whether anything is illusory in absence of any contrary evidence must be determined exclusively by the conclusions of the Vedic scriptures.
Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:
The supposition that the atma or immortal soul is said to be the cause of experiencing pleasure and pain is erroneous and untenable because the atma is completely spiritual and the epitome of knowledge. Although the intrinsic nature of the atma is immutable and eternally blissful, Lord Krishna clarifies here that when the jiva or embodied being is engrossed in experiencing objects of material nature from the three gunas being the modes of goodness, passion and ignorance; then various modification arise due to the karma or reactions to the actions which are performed and is the definitive cause of the jiva being born in exalted or degraded wombs in any of the 8 million 400 thousand different species that exist throughout the material creation. The exalted wombs such as those born of the demi-gods are attuned in the mode of goodness. The degraded wombs such as those born of the demons are attuned to the qualities of ignorance. The mixed wombs of exalted and degraded such as those born of humans are attuned to the qualities of activity and passion. The higher being the Vaisnava’s and Brahmanas and the lower being the sudras the lower class and below them the degraded are the mleechas or the meateaters and the candalas or the uncleansed. The animals regardless of intelligence are attuned to the instincts of their species in the mode of nescience. The consequence of experiencing any of these wombs is due solely to the jiva continuously attempting to exploit and enjoy material nature and the subsequent karma derived from such activities. The most powerful cause is the mental attachment anticipating the pleasure of enjoying the sense objects of touch and taste and form etc. and the incessant manoeuvres for achieving such desires. Thus the atma residing within the jiva who is bewildered and beguiled by material nature is subjected to transmigration perpetually in the wombs of higher and lower species performing activities which accrues karma and is incessantly born and reborn indefinitely. The conclusion is that the atma experiences a demotion by the cycles of birth and death and until renunciation and detachment arises and the desire for material enjoyment is abandoned and the heart is made pure by bhakti or pure, exclusive devotion to the Supreme Lord Krishna or any of his Vedically authorised incarnations, the atma will not be able to be realised by the jiva and achieve freedom from samsara the perpetual cycle of birth and death.
Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:
13.22 Hi, since; purusah, the soul, the experiencer; is prakrtisthah, seated in Nature, which is characterized as ignorance and gets transformed into body and organs, i.e., (since the soul) has become identified with Nature; therefore, bhunkte, [Bhunkte, lit. enjoys, here means ‘experiences’.-Tr.] it enjoys, i.e. experiences; gunan, the qualities-manifest as happiness, sorrow and delusion; prakrtijan, born of Nature, thinking thus, ‘I am happy, sorrowful, deluded, learned.’ Even though ignorance continues as a cause, still the main cause of worldly existence, of birth, is the contact, the self-identification, with the qualities-happiness,sorrow, and delusion-when they are experienced, as is affirmed by the Upanisadic text, ‘What it desires, it resolves’ (Br. 4.4.5) [See Sankaracarya’s Comm. on this.-Tr.]. That very fact is stated here: Gunasangah, contact with the qualities; is karanam, the cause; asya, of its, the soul’s, the experiencer’s; sad-asad-yoni-janmasu, births in good and evil wombs. Self-identification with the qualities is the cause of the experience of births in good and evil wombs. Or the meaning is, ‘Self-identification with the qualities is the cause or its worldly existence through birth in good and evil wombs,’ where the words ‘of worldly existence’ have to be supplied. The good wombs are he wombs of gods and others; evil wombs are the wombs of gods and others; evil wombs are the wombs of beasts etc. From the force of the context it is to be understood that there is no contradiction in including even human wombs among ‘good and evil wombs’. It amounts to saying that ignorance-called ‘being seated in Nature’-and the contact with. i.e. the desire for, the qualities are the causes of worldly existence. And this is said so that they can be avoided. And in the scripture Gita it is a well-known fact that knowledge and dispassion, accompanied with renunciation, are the causes of removing this (ignorance and self-identification with the qualities). That knowledge about the field and the Knower of the field, too, has been presented earlier. This has also been said in, ‘…by realizing which one attains Immortality’ (12), etc., through the process of refutation of elements alien (to the Self) and superimposition of qualities belonging to others (that are not the Self). [Verse 12 deals with the refutation of alien elements, and vere 13 with the superimposition of qualities belonging to others.] A direct presentation is again being made of that (knowledge) itself:
Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:
13.20-23 Prakrtim etc. upto parah. The Material Cause also is beginningless, because it has no other casue. Modifications : the cloth and the like. What is known as Material Cause is the basis for the process of cause-and-effect. But, the Soul, because of Its importance, constitutes the enjoyer. [Thus] the Material Cause and the Soul have verily an existence of interdependence just as that of the lame and the blind. Hence, the nature of the Soul is described by the authors of the scriptures by nomenclatures having different forms such as ‘the Spectator’ and so on. The meaning, intended here is this : The Material Cause, Its modifications, the fourteen types of creation and also the Soul – this is all beginningless and perennial as it is completely illuminated by the category Brahman and is identical with it. Hence [the Bhagavat] said :
Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:
purusah prakrti-stho hi
bhunkte prakrti-jan gunan
karanam guna-sango ’sya
Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:
puruṣaḥ — the living entity; prakṛti-sthaḥ — being situated in the material energy; hi — certainly; bhuńkte — enjoys; prakṛti-jān — produced by the material nature; guṇān — the modes of nature; kāraṇam — the cause; guṇa-sańgaḥ — the association with the modes of nature; asya — of the living entity; sat-asat — in good and bad; yoni — species of life; janmasu — in births.