karma prārabhate naraḥ
nyāyyaḿ vā viparītaḿ vā
pañcaite tasya hetavaḥ
Translation of Bhagavad Gita 18.15
Whatever right or wrong action a man performs by body, mind or speech is caused by these five factors.
Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
The words “right” and “wrong” are very significant in this verse. Right work is work done in terms of the prescribed directions in the scriptures, and wrong work is work done against the principles of the scriptural injunctions. But whatever is done requires these five factors for its complete performance.
Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
Actions are of three types: physical, vocal and mental. These are all of two types: following dharma (nyayam) or not following dharma (viparitam). The five are causes of all these actions.
Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:
18.14 – 18.15 For all actions, performed through body, words or mind, whether they be authorized by the Sastras or not, the causes are these five. (1) The body, which is a conglomeration of the ‘great elements,’ is known as the seat, since it is governed by the individual self. (2) The agent is the individual self. That this individual self is the knower and the agent is established in the Vedanta-Sutras: ‘For this reason, (the individual self) is the knower’ (2.3.18) and ‘The agent, on account of the scripture having a purport’ (2.3.33.). (3) The organs of various kinds are the five motor organs like that of speech, hands, feet etc., along with the mind. They are of various kinds, viz., they have different functions in completing an action. (4) The different and distinctive functions of vital air — here the expression ‘functions’ (Cesta) means several functions. Distinctive are the functions of this fivefold vital air which sustains the body and senses through its divisions of Prana, Apana etc. (5) Divinity is the fifth among these causes. The purport is this: Among these, which constitute the conglomeration of causes of work the Divinity is the fifth. It is the Supreme Self, the Inner Ruler, who is the main cause in completing the action. It has been already affirmed: ‘I am seated in the hearts of all. From Me are memory, knowledge and their removal also’ (15.15), and He will say further: ‘The Lord, O Arjuna, lives in the heart of every being casuing them to spin round and round by His power as if set on a wheel’ (18.61). The agency of the individual self is dependent on the Supreme Self as established in the aphorism: ‘But from the Supreme, because the scripture says so’ (B. S., 2.3.41). Now an objection may be raised in this way: If the agency of the individual self is dependent on the Supreme Self and the individual self cannot be charged with moral responsibility, then the scriptures containing injunctions and prohibitions become useless, as the individual self cannot be enjoined to act in regard to any action. The objection is disposed off by the author of the Vedanta-Sutras in the aphorism: ‘But with a view to the effects made on account of the purposelessness of injunctions and prohibitions’ (2.3.42). The purport is this: By means of his senses, body etc., granted by the Supreme Self — having Him for their support, empowered by Him, and thus deriving power from Him — the individual self begins, of his own free will, the effort for directing the senses etc., for the purpose of performing actions conditioned by his body and organs. The individual self Itself, of Its own free will, is responsible for activity, since the Supreme Self, abiding within, causes It to act only by granting His permission, just as works such as moving heavy stones and timber are collectively the labour of many persons and they are together responsible for the effect. But each one of them (severally) also is responsible for it. In the same way each individual is answerable to Nature’s law in the form of positive and negative commandments.
Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:
The five causes heretofore enumerated are solely responsible for all actions. This includes everything done by the mind, speech and body. This is proven by the fact that all activities are either physical, audible or mental. So Lord Krishna confirms that whatever action one performs whether virtuous or sinful these five causes are responsible.
Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:
Sri Madhvacharya did not comment on this sloka.
Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:
The five factors being the physical body, the life airs, the ego, the senses and the soul are invariably the cause of all actions. Lord Krishna now specifies that all actions performed by the mind, speech or body whether righteous as prescribed by the Vedic scriptures or unrighteous which are prohibited in the Vedic scriptures are caused by these five factors.
Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:
18.15 Yat, whatever; karma, action; narah, a man; prarabhate, performs; with these three-sarira-van-manobhih, with the body, speech and mind; be it nyayyam, just, rigtheous, conforming to the scriptures; va, or; viparitam, its reverse, not conforming to the scriptures, unrighteous; and even such activities like closing the eyes etc. whch are consequent on the fact of living (i.e. instinctive acts)-they also are certainly the result of righteous and unrighteous acts done in earlier lives, and hence they are understood by the very, use of the words ‘just and its reverse’-; tasya, of it, of all activities without exception; ete, these; panca, five, as mentioned; are the hetavah, causes. Objection: Well, are not the locus etc. the cause of all actions? Why is it said, ‘…performs with the body, speech and mind’? Reply: This fault does not arise. All actions described as ‘enjoined’ or ‘prohibited’ are mainly based on the three, body etc. Seeing, hearing, etc., which are characteristics of life and are subsidiaries to these (body etc.) [Seeing etc. are accomplished by the eye etc., which are part and parcel of the body etc.] , are divided into three groups and spoken of in, ‘performs with the body,’ etc. Even at the time of reaping the fruits (of actions), they are experienced mainly through these (three). Hence, there is no contradiction with the assertion that the five are the causes.
Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:
18.13-17 Panca etc. upto na nibadhyate Conclusion : the established end, because here a decision is arrived at. Basis : the material object Destiny : the good and bad result [of actions] previously accumulated. These five viz., the basis etc., constitute the entire assembly of factors and hence they are the causes for each action. But other [commentators give an etymology of] adhisthana ‘basis’ to mean ‘That by which all actions are governed’; and on that ground they believe that it denotes that action which exists in the intellect; which comes ot be due to the Rajas, and is being prone to transform itself into the pentad of (the mental dispositions viz.) the content, the faith, the happiness, the desire to know and the aversion to know; which is referable by the term karma-yoga (that which yokes man into activity); and which is described at times by the term prayatna ‘effort’. Agent : the ascertainer characterised by the intellect. Instrument : [the personal instruments viz.] the mind, the eye etc., and also the external ones like sword etc. Activity : the activity of upper life-breath, nether life-breath etc. The effects of the righteous and unrighteous acts are indicated by the term Destiny. All the dispositions located in the intellect are indicated by these two. Still other commentators, however, take Basis to be the Absolute Lord. Due to his imperfect intellect : because of his having indecisive knowledge. But he, who performs actions with the stability due to disappearance of th I-sense (limited) and [a stability] refined by hundreds of reasoning, as detailed earlier – he does not get the fetter, because he is a man of perfect intellect. This is what is intended [in the passage under study].
Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:
karma prarabhate narah
nyayyam va viparitam va
pañcaite tasya hetavah
Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:
śarīra — by the body; vāk — speech; manobhiḥ — and mind; yat — which; karma — work; prārabhate — begins; naraḥ — a person; nyāyyam — right; vā — or; viparītam — the opposite; vā — or; pañca — ﬁve; ete — all these; tasya — its; hetavaḥ — causes.