kair lińgais trīn guṇān etān
atīto bhavati prabho
kim-ācāraḥ kathaḿ caitāḿs
trīn guṇān ativartate
Translation of Bhagavad Gita 14.21
Arjuna inquired: O my dear Lord, by which symptoms is one known who is transcendental to these three modes? What is his behavior? And how does he transcend the modes of nature?
Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
In this verse, Arjuna’s questions are very appropriate. He wants to know the symptoms of a person who has already transcended the material modes. He first inquires of the symptoms of such a transcendental person. How can one understand that he has already transcended the influence of the modes of material nature? The second question asks how he lives and what his activities are. Are they regulated or nonregulated? Then Arjuna inquires of the means by which he can attain the transcendental nature. That is very important. Unless one knows the direct means by which one can be situated always transcendentally, there is no possibility of showing the symptoms. So all these questions put by Arjuna are very important, and the Lord answers them.
Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
This is the same question asked in chapter two: sthita prajnasya ka bhasa (please describe the sthita prajna). However out of extreme desire to know, Arjuna asks again. One question is “By what symptoms one should understand a person is beyond the gunas?” (kair lingaih) The second question is “What is his behavior?” (kim acarah) The third question is “What is the means of attaining transcendence of the gunas?” (katham ca etan)
When Arjuna asked his question in chapter two, he did not ask how a person could transcend the gunas. But now, knowing this, he asks this question. That is the difference.
Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:
14.21 Arjuna said — By what signs, namely, distinguishing features, is a man who has crossed beyond these three Gunas, Sattva and the rest, characterised? What is his behaviour? With what kind of behaviour is he associated and how does it serve as a sign for knowing his state? Such is the meaning. How does he, i.e., by what means does he cross beyond the three Gunas, the Sattva and the rest?
Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:
Excited from hearing Lord Krishna reveal that by transcending the three gunas or modes of material nature one attains immortality; many questions arose in the mind of Arjuna. With a view to more comprehensively understand the characteristics and conduct of such a great being and also to learn the direct means they used to achieve immortality he humbly requests Lord Krishna to reveal it. By what characteristics means what distinguishes such a one and by what symptoms can such a one be perceived? By what conduct is meant how does such a one live and how does such a one behave? Then in conclusion he asks by what means is such phenomenal feat possible.
Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:
Sri Madhvacharya did not comment on this sloka.
Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:
Having heard Lord Krishna declare that those who transcend the three gunas or modes of material nature attain immortality amazes Arjuna and he is exhilarated to know about the characteristics and conduct of such great beings as well as by what means they were able to achieve this. Specifically he asks Lord Krishna to reveal by what symptoms can such a one be recognised? What is their behavior and by what method they were able to attain this.
Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:
14.21 Prabho, O Lord; kaih, by what; lingaih, signs; bhavati, is one (known); atitah, who has gone beyond; etan, these; trin, three; gunan, qualities that have been explained? Kim, what; is his acarah, behaviour; ca, and; katham, how, in what way; ativartate, does he transcend; [Ast. adds here, ‘atitya vartate, (in what way) does he exist after transcending (the three qualities)?’-Tr.] etan, these; trin, three; gunan, qualities? In this verse the signs of one who has gone beyond the qualities, and the means of transcending them have been asked by Arjuna. By way of replying to the two questions, the Lord said: ‘As for the question, ‘With what sings does one who has gone beyond the qualities become endowed with?”, listen to them:’
Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:
14.21 Kaih etc. But, if he has a body then how could he have transcended the Strands ? He lives certainly in one way or other with some mental modification, which is necessarily one a among the three Strands, With this intention Arjuna raises the question. Now [by way of giving] answer –
Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:
kair lingais trin gunan etan
atito bhavati prabho
kim-acarah katham caitams
trin gunan ativartate
Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:
arjunaḥ uvāca — Arjuna said; kaiḥ — by which; lińgaiḥ — symptoms; trīn — three; guṇān — qualities; etān — all these; atītaḥ — having transcended; bhavati — is; prabho — O my Lord; kim — what; ācāraḥ — behavior; katham — how; ca — also; etān — these; trīn — three; guṇān — qualities; ativartate — transcends.