karmaṇaḥ sukṛtasyāhuḥ
sāttvikaḿ nirmalaḿ phalam
rajasas tu phalaḿ duḥkham
ajñānaḿ tamasaḥ phalam

Translation of Bhagavad Gita 14.16

The result of pious action is pure and is said to be in the mode of goodness. But action done in the mode of passion results in misery, and action performed in the mode of ignorance results in foolishness.

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

The result of pious activities in the mode of goodness is pure. Therefore the sages, who are free from all illusion, are situated in happiness. But activities in the mode of passion are simply miserable. Any activity for material happiness is bound to be defeated. If, for example, one wants to have a skyscraper, so much human misery has to be undergone before a big skyscraper can be built. The financier has to take much trouble to earn a mass of wealth, and those who are slaving to construct the building have to render physical toil. The miseries are there. Thus Bhagavad-gita says that in any activity performed under the spell of the mode of passion, there is definitely great misery. There may be a little so-called mental happiness—“I have this house or this money”—but this is not actual happiness.

As far as the mode of ignorance is concerned, the performer is without knowledge, and therefore all his activities result in present misery, and afterwards he will go on toward animal life. Animal life is always miserable, although, under the spell of the illusory energy, maya, the animals do not understand this. Slaughtering poor animals is also due to the mode of ignorance. The animal killers do not know that in the future the animal will have a body suitable to kill them. That is the law of nature. In human society, if one kills a man he has to be hanged. That is the law of the state. Because of ignorance, people do not perceive that there is a complete state controlled by the Supreme Lord. Every living creature is a son of the Supreme Lord, and He does not tolerate even an ant’s being killed. One has to pay for it. So indulgence in animal killing for the taste of the tongue is the grossest kind of ignorance. A human being has no need to kill animals, because God has supplied so many nice things.

If one indulges in meat-eating anyway, it is to be understood that he is acting in ignorance and is making his future very dark. Of all kinds of animal killing, the killing of cows is most vicious because the cow gives us all kinds of pleasure by supplying milk. Cow slaughter is an act of the grossest type of ignorance. In the Vedic literature (Rig Veda 9.4.64) the words gobhih prinita-matsaram indicate that one who, being fully satisfied by milk, is desirous of killing the cow is in the grossest ignorance. There is also a prayer in the Vedic literature that states:

namo brahmanya-devaya
go-brahmana-hitaya ca
jagad-dhitaya krishnaya
govindaya namo namah

“My Lord, You are the well-wisher of the cows and the brahmanas, and You are the well-wisher of the entire human society and world.” (Vishnu Purana 1.19.65) The purport is that special mention is given in that prayer for the protection of the cows and the brahmanas. Brahmanas are the symbol of spiritual education, and cows are the symbol of the most valuable food; these two living creatures, the brahmanas and the cows, must be given all protection—that is real advancement of civilization. In modern human society, spiritual knowledge is neglected, and cow killing is encouraged. It is to be understood, then, that human society is advancing in the wrong direction and is clearing the path to its own condemnation. A civilization which guides the citizens to become animals in their next lives is certainly not a human civilization. The present human civilization is, of course, grossly misled by the modes of passion and ignorance. It is a very dangerous age, and all nations should take care to provide the easiest process, Krishna consciousness, to save humanity from the greatest danger.

Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

The result of sattvika (sukrtrsya) work is purity without distress (nirmalam). The result of rajas work is sorrow. The result of tamasic work is senselessness or unconsciousness (ajnanam).

Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:

14.16 Thus, the ‘fruit of a good deed,’ namely, disinterested work in the form of My worship, performed by one who dies when Sattva prevails — is birth in the family of those who know the self. There he acquires more Sattva than before and the self becomes more pure, namely, devoid of the slightest vestige of suffering. So say those who know about the development of Sattva. But the ‘fruit of Rajas,’ dominating at the time of death, is ‘suffering in Samsara.’ In consists in successive births in families attached to actions for the sake of fruits. Rebirth of this type increases Rajas further, resulting in actions for gaining their fruits. So say those who know about the developments of this Guna. ‘Ignorance’ is the result of Tamas. The fruit of Tamas dominating at the time of death, is successive conditions of ignorance. What are the results derived from Sattva etc.? To this, He answers:

Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:

Here Lord Krishna describes how the characteristic actions of the three gunas or modes of material nature produce different results. According to Kapila deva the liberated avatara or divine incarnation, the results of being situated in sattva guna or the mode of goodness is purity, virtue and happiness. The results of being situated in raja guna or the mode of passion is desires, activity and attachment. The results of being situated in tama guna or the mode of ignorance is stupefication,pain and misery. Further characteristics of the three gunas from another perspective will be elaborated on in chapter 18 beginning at verse 23.

Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:

The result of raja guna or the mode of passion does not categorically mean only pain but denotes pleasure mixed with the pain. Actions are known to be in rajas. The Shabda Nirnaya states: In the word duhkha, the dhu denotes pain and the kha denotes pleasure.. The Sharakarakshya text states: Rajas verily manifests in small measures of pain and pleasure . Along with pleasure must also come pain; therfore such persons are known as both happy and unhappy. Unhappy due to the pain from the effort and happy due to the pleasure of enjoying the result. Otherwise without such joy the excessive pain caused by rajas would be the same as the pain caused by tamas which has an extremely limited scope for fulfilling desires. The Skanda Purana states that tamas or darkness is caused by ignorance and always results in continuous pain.

Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:

Now Lord Krishna speaks of the different results one receives and the consequences of being in one or the other of three gunas or modes of material nature. The avatar or divine incarnation Kapila deva has confirmed that the result characterised by sattva guna or the mode of goodness is purity, happiness and wisdom. The result of raja guna or the mode of passion is characterised by pleasure and pain due to the combination of merit and sin in the activities committed. The result of tama guna or the mode of ignorance is inertia, nescience and delusion.

Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:

14.16 Ahuh, they, the wise persons, say; that phalam, the result; sukrtasya, of good; karmanah, work, i.e. acts having the sattva quality; is verily nirmalam, pure; and is sattvikam, born of sattva. Tu, but; phalam, the result; rajasah, of rajas, i.e. of acts that have the qualitty of rajas-for the topic relates to actions; is duhkham, sorrow. In accordance with its cause, the result too is indeed sorrow, a product of rajas. So also ajnanam, ignorance; is, as before, (the result) tamasah, of tamas, of unrighteous acts that have the quality of tamas. What else results from the qualities?

Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:

14.16-20 Karmanah etc. upto asnute. Here, there are certain unconnected verses that have been concocted. They are of the nature of repetition, and hence they have to be necessarily rejected. A mode of life transcending these Strands turn to be nothing but emancipation.

Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:

karmanah sukrtasyahuh
sattvikam nirmalam phalam
rajasas tu phalam duhkham
ajñanam tamasah phalam

Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:

karmaṇaḥ — of work; su-kṛtasya — pious; āhuḥ — is said; sāttvikam — in the mode of goodness; nirmalam — purified; phalam — the result; rajasaḥ — of the mode of passion; tu — but; phalam — the result; duḥkham — misery; ajñānam — nonsense; tamasaḥ — of the mode of ignorance; phalam — the result.