bhartā bhoktā maheśvaraḥ
paramātmeti cāpy ukto
dehe ’smin puruṣaḥ paraḥ
Translation of Bhagavad Gita 13.23
Yet in this body there is another, a transcendental enjoyer, who is the Lord, the supreme proprietor, who exists as the overseer and permitter, and who is known as the Supersoul.
Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
It is stated here that the Supersoul, who is always with the individual soul, is the representation of the Supreme Lord. He is not an ordinary living entity. Because the monist philosophers take the knower of the body to be one, they think that there is no difference between the Supersoul and the individual soul. To clarify this, the Lord says that He is represented as the Paramatma in every body. He is different from the individual soul; He is para, transcendental. The individual soul enjoys the activities of a particular field, but the Supersoul is present not as finite enjoyer nor as one taking part in bodily activities, but as the witness, overseer, permitter and supreme enjoyer. His name is Paramatma, not atma, and He is transcendental. It is distinctly clear that the atma and Paramatma are different. The Supersoul, the Paramatma, has legs and hands everywhere, but the individual soul does not. And because the Paramatma is the Supreme Lord, He is present within to sanction the individual soul’s desiring material enjoyment. Without the sanction of the Supreme Soul, the individual soul cannot do anything. The individual is bhukta, or the sustained, and the Lord is bhokta, or the maintainer. There are innumerable living entities, and He is staying in them as a friend.
The fact is that every individual living entity is eternally part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, and both of them are very intimately related as friends. But the living entity has the tendency to reject the sanction of the Supreme Lord and act independently in an attempt to dominate nature, and because he has this tendency he is called the marginal energy of the Supreme Lord. The living entity can be situated either in the material energy or in the spiritual energy. As long as he is conditioned by the material energy, the Supreme Lord, as his friend, the Supersoul, stays with him just to get him to return to the spiritual energy. The Lord is always eager to take him back to the spiritual energy, but due to his minute independence the individual entity is continually rejecting the association of spiritual light. This misuse of independence is the cause of his material strife in the conditioned nature. The Lord, therefore, is always giving instruction from within and from without. From without He gives instructions as stated in Bhagavad-gita, and from within He tries to convince the living entity that his activities in the material field are not conducive to real happiness. “Just give it up and turn your faith toward Me. Then you will be happy,” He says. Thus the intelligent person who places his faith in the Paramatma or the Supreme Personality of Godhead begins to advance toward a blissful eternal life of knowledge.
Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
Having spoken of the jiva, the Lord now speaks about the paramatma. Though the Lord already described paramatma in general and in detail from verses thirteen to eighteen, it should be understood that the present statement is made in order to clearly show that the paramatma is situated in all bodies along with the jiva, but different from the jiva.
In this body, there is another, supreme purusa, the great Lord, called the paramatma (paramatma iti ca api uktah). The word parama in paramatma indicates personal expansion of Lord (svamsa), distinct from the jiva, in order to defeat those who propound the theory of one soul only. He is the witness (drasta) situated close to (upa) each jiva, but separate from him. He is the bestower of favors (anumanta), showing mercy just by his closeness to the jiva. The sruti says saksi cetah kevalo nirgunas ca: He is the witness, the consciousness, pure, beyond the material gunas. (Gopala Tapani Upanisad 2.96) He is the supporter (bharta) and the protector (bhokta).
Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:
13.23 The self existing in the body becomes the ‘spectator and approver’ of this body by means of the will in consonance with the functioning of the body. Likewise, It is the ‘supporter’ of the body, Similarly, It becomes ‘experiencer’ of the pleasure and pain resulting from the activities of the body. Thus, by virtue of ruling and supporting the body and by making the body completely subservient, It becomes ‘the great lord’ (Mahesvara) in relation to the body, the senses and the mind. Sri Krsna will further declare: ‘When the lord acquires the body, and when he leaves it and goes on his way, he takes these as the wind carries scents from their places’ (15.8). In the body, It is said to be the ‘supreme self’ in relation to the body, the senses and the mind. The word ‘self’ (Atman) is applied to the body and the mind subsequently. It is said afterwards: ‘Some perceive the self by means of the self through meditation’ (13.24). The particle ‘also’ (api) indicates that the self is the ‘supreme lord’? in relation to the body just as It is the supreme self. The supremacy of the self has been described in the text beginning with ‘It is the beginningless brahman having Me for the Highest’ (13.12). It is true that the self (in Its emancipated state) has limitless power knowledge. But It becomes the great lord and the supreme self only in relation to the body. Such lordship and supremacy is the result of attachment to the Gunas arising from the beginningless conjunction with Prakrti.
Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:
The transmigratory existence of the Purusa or manifestation of the Supreme Lord as paramatma or the Supreme soul is not of itself but is due to lack of discrimination and knowledge by the jiva or embodied being regarding their relationship to prakriti or the material substratum pervading physical existence. To illuminate this point Lord Krishna proceeds to describe the essential nature of the Purusa. The words purusah parah means the Supreme Lords localised expansion of paramatma the supreme immortal soul within the etheric heart of all living entities. Although residing in the physical body which is a part of prakriti; yet the Purusa is distinctly different and not associated with the attributes and qualities of prakriti being beyond physical existence and transcendental to the material manifestation. The reasons for this Lord Krishna gives by revealing that the Purusa is upadrsta the witness, anumanta the ordainer, bhartta the sustainer and bhokta the nourisher, all which confirm the Purusa as a distinctly independent entity. This Svetasvatara Upanisad VI.XI beginning eko devah sarvabhutesu states: The Supreme Lord free from all mundane and material qualities is the indwelling monitor of all living entities, it is He who ordains all actions for all living entities and it is He who is the ultimate ruler of all. The Supreme Lord Krishna is the ruler of even Brahma and Shiva and is revealed in the Vedic scriptures as Parabrahma the Supreme Being and Paramatma the Supreme Soul. The Brihadaranyaka Upanisad IV.IV.XXII beginning sa va mahanaja atma means: The Supreme Lord is the supreme ruler of all beings, the Lord of all beings and the protector of all beings. He is the sole catalyst that keeps all creations, dimensions, universes and worlds calibrated and in synch with each other. Lord Krishna confirms this with the word mahesvarah meaning the supreme controller.
Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:
Here the Supreme Lord Krishna is revealing the predominant characteristics of the purusa. The word upadrasta the intimate witness, the monitor. The word anumanta means the ordainer, the one who impartially sanctions. For the jiva or embodied being to be subjected to birth in elevated and degraded wombs is only due to its attraction to associate with the attributes of elevated and degraded actions. But the independent cause is ultimately the Supreme Lord who as the monitor perceives all thoughts and actions and sanctions the jivas to exercise their minute independence. Because the Supreme Lord is within the heart of all living beings, the overseer of all living entities, the monitor of all actions, He is referred to as the witness. Although the jivas are minutely able to exercise their independence according to their own volition and development within the material existence. It is the Supreme Lord who empowers the consciousness and energises their minds to accomplish this and so He is referred to as the sanctioner. The Supreme Lord Krishna is the omnipotent ruler and controller of all creation. All of His authorised incarnations as verified in Vedic scriptures share these qualities with Him in various degrees. So the Supreme Lord declaring that He abides within all fields signifies that He abides within every living being, within all aspects, within all dimensions and within all manifestations of creation. This confirms that He and He alone is anumanta.
Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:
Now Lord Krishna reveals the distinct difference between paramatma the omnipresent and omniscient Supreme Soul which exists within the heart of all living beings next to the atma or localised, immortal soul located within each and every living entity. What then is paramatma’s real nature. He describes it by the word upadrasta or impartial witness and as the witness monitors the different stages and transformations of the mind and body. He describes it as well by the word anumanta meaning the sanctioner who approves and accepts the qualities of the mind and the functions of the body. He again describes it by the word bharta or the supporter because for a jiva to progress in material existence the mind and body must be sustained and protected. Although paramatma resides within the etheric heart of the physical body next to the atma, they are both purely spiritual being distinct from the physical body and transcendent to material existence. He describes it also as being mahesvarah bor the supreme controller because it also monitors, sanctions, supports and controls all the demigods who are responsible for universal maintenance throughout creation.
The essence is that the jiva or embodied being is the ksetra-jna or knower of the field of activity is referred to as the highest self because factually it the best part of the body, mind and senses and most important because it is connected to the atma the innermost self which can comprehend and realise all things. This is confirmed in the Taittiriya Upanisad II.IV.I beginning yato vacho nivartante which reveals: The Supreme Lord is the innermost witness residing in the etheric heart of every jiva.
Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:
13.23 He who is the upadrasta, Witness, who while staying nearby does not Himself become involved: As when the priests and the performer of a sacrifice remain engaged in duties connected with the sacrifice, there is another (called Brahma) remaining nearby who is unengaged, is versed in the science of sacrifices and witnesses the merit or demerit of the activities of the priest and the performer of the sacrifice, similarly, He who is not engaged in the activities of and is different from the body and organs, who has characteristics other than theirs, and is the proximate (upa) observer (drasta) of the body and organs engaged in their duties, is the upa-drasta. Or: The observers are the body, eyes, mind, intellect and the soul. Of them the body is the external observer. Proceeding inwards from that (body), the Self is the inmost as also the proximate observer, compared with which there is no other higher and inner observer. The Self, because of being the most proximate observer, is the upadrasta. Or, It is the upadrasta since, like the non-looker of a sarifice, It witness everything. And He is the anu-manta, Permitter: Anumananam, approval, means satisfaction with those performers (viz body and organs) as also their perfomances. The agent of that (approval) is the anumanta. Or, He is the anumanta since, even though Himself not engaged in the activities of the body and organs, He appears to be favourably disposed towards and engaged in them. Or, He is the anumanta because, when the body and organs are engaged in their own functions, He remains as a witness and never dissuades them. It is the bharta, Sustainer: Bharanam means the continuance in their own state of the body, organs, mind and intellect, which reflect consciousness and have become aggregated owing to the need of serving the purpose [Viz enjoyment, or Liberation.-Tr.] of some other entity, viz the conscious Self. And that (continuance) is verily due to the consciousness that is the Self. In this sense the Self is said to be the Sustainer. It is the bhokta, Experiencer: As heat is by fire, similarly, the experiences of the intellect-in the form of happiness, sorrow and delusion in relation to all objects-, when born as though permeated by the consciousness that is the Self, are manifested differently by the Self which is of the nature of eternal Consciousness. In this sense the Self is said to be the Experiencer. He is maheswarah, the great God, because, as the Self of all and independent, He is the great Ruler. He is paramatma, the transcendental Self, because He is the Self which has the characteristics of being the supreme Witness etc. of (all) those-beginning from the body and ending with the intellect-which are imagined through ignorance to be the indwelling Self. He is api ca, also; uktah, spoken of, referred to, in the Upanisads; iti, as, with the words; ‘He is the indwelling One, the paramatma, the transcendental Self.’ [Ast reads atah in place of antah. So the translation of the sentence will be: Therefore He is also referred to as the transcendental Self in the Upanisads.-Tr.] Where is He? The parah, suprem; purusah, Person, who is higher than the Unmanifest and who will be spoken of in, ‘But different is the supreme Person who is spoken of as the transcendental Self’ (15.17); is asmin, in this; dehe, body. What has been presented in, ‘…also understand Me to be the Knower of the field’ (2), has been explained and conclude.
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:
bharta bhokta mahesvarah
paramatmeti capy ukto
dehe ’smin purusah parah
Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:
upadraṣṭā — overseer; anumantā — permitter; ca — also; bhartā — master; bhoktā — supreme enjoyer; mahā-īśvaraḥ — the Supreme Lord; parama-ātmā — the Supersoul; iti — also; ca — and; api — indeed; uktaḥ — is said; dehe — in the body; asmin — this; puruṣaḥ — enjoyer; paraḥ — transcendental.