yasya nāhańkṛto bhāvo
buddhir yasya na lipyate
hatvāpi sa imāḻ lokān
na hanti na nibadhyat
Translation of Bhagavad Gita 18.17
One who is not motivated by false ego, whose intelligence is not entangled, though he kills men in this world, does not kill. Nor is he bound by his actions.
Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
In this verse the Lord informs Arjuna that the desire not to fight arises from false ego. Arjuna thought himself to be the doer of action, but he did not consider the supreme sanction within and without. If one does not know that a supersanction is there, why should he act? But one who knows the instruments of work, himself as the worker, and the Supreme Lord as the supreme sanctioner is perfect in doing everything. Such a person is never in illusion. Personal activity and responsibility arise from false ego and godlessness, or a lack of Krishna consciousness. Anyone who is acting in Krishna consciousness under the direction of the Supersoul or the Supreme Personality of Godhead, even though killing, does not kill. Nor is he ever affected by the reaction of such killing. When a soldier kills under the command of a superior officer, he is not subject to be judged. But if a soldier kills on his own personal account, then he is certainly judged by a court of law.
Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
Who then is intelligent with good eyes? One who does not have the nature of ahankara (ahankrto bhavah), who is not thinking himself the doer, who is not attached to actions by thinking the action will give good or bad results (yasya buddhir na lipyate), does not obtain reactions of karma. What else can be said? Though he may do pious or sinful acts, he does not do them. Though it may appear from ordinary vision that he has killed all these living beings, he does not kill, from his own vision, because he has no motive for the action. Therefore he is not bound. He does not receive the reactions of karma.
Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:
18.17 He who, through the contemplation of the agency of the Supreme Being, is free from the self-conceit, ‘I alone do everything’; he whose understanding is not therefore tainted, and has come to be informed by the understanding; ‘As I am not the agent of this work, its fruit is not connected with me; so this work does not belong to me’ — such a person, though he slays all these men, not merely Bhisma, etc., does not slay them. Therefore, he is not bound by the actions known as battle. The meaning is that the fruits of such actions do not accrue to him. Sri Krsna now teaches how action is induced. For this he differentiates actions generated by Sattva and the other Gunas. The object is to inculcate the desirability of the Sattvika type. For, only meditation on the self not being the agent, brings about the growth of Sattva.
Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:
Now the question which may arise in the minds of the spiritually intelligent is that being appraised of the pervasive scope of actions who is the sagacious person who cannot be tainted by actions? Lord Krishna addresses this question by stating that one who is free from the notion of I is free from the conception of I am the doer. In other words free from ideas of egoism which regard the body as the self and considers the self as the controller due to the performance of actions within the physical body one is untainted by all actions. Therefore one whose understanding is refined due to not being polluted by attachment to any action and without considering any action as agreeable or disagreeable is never tainted or influenced by any action. Such an evolved jiva or embodied being has realised that the atma or immortal soul as distinctly different from the physical body and immersed in this consciousness of relating solely to the atma thus perceives within themselves as performing no action; neither is such a jiva bound to any karma or reactions from any actions. Therefore due to internal purification of consciousness and intuitive realisation that perceives all activities of the mind, speech and body in relationship to the transcendental atma one is not bound by the restrictions of material nature. What to say of one who dedicates their mind, speech and body to the Supreme Lord. It has been confirmed by Lord Krishna long before in chapter 5, verse 10 that one who offers all there actions unto the Supreme Lord are not tainted by pious or sinful reactions.
Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:
One who by knowledge has determined that they are not the actual performer of any action are not bound by the karma or reactions to any action. Only one who thinks that they are the physical body and the performer of actions are bound to the karma of actions.
Now begins the summation.
Realising that the Supreme Lord Krishna only is independent and it is He upon whom all others depend upon and that the jiva or embodied being is never independent under any circumstances in any stage of existence are aware that all jivas according to tartamya or gradation from Brahma the secondary creator who is the most evolved being in material creation down to an insignificant ant are perishable along with material existence itself. Whereas those who are unaware of their total dependence upon the Supreme Lord Krishna for their very existence come to possess the characteristics of demons born to perpetrate destruction. They are never receptive to the ultimate truth of the Vedic scriptures, neither are they performers of righteousness, nor are they ever entitled to moksa or freedom from material existence and samsara the perpetual cycle of birth and death. One who is conscious that they are fully dependent upon the Supreme Lord will not be affected by any defects for they will not possess the attitude that they are the doer of anything. This is the special dispensation that such consciousness bequeaths. Whose intellect is not polluted refers to those cognisant who fully dependent upon the Supreme Lord perform actions without attachment according to their prescribed duty in varnasrama the Vedic social structure of society. Those who imagine themselves independent of the Supreme Lord even if performing prescribed duties cannot be considered fully righteous due to their ignorance of Him. Hence there will be some defects and demerits accrued in their activities.
Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:
Thus after describing that the indiscrimate and unfortunate jiva or embodied being who think of themselves merely as a material body and erroneously believe they are the independent doer of actions are ignorant and of perverse, distorted understanding that pollutes their mentality. Whereas a person bereft of egoism possessed of proper understanding is not tainted with the evil consequence of karma which binds one so perniciously to samsara the perpetual cycle of birth and death. One whose mind has been purified through association with the Vaisnvas and instructions from the Vedic scriptures from hearing the words of the Vaisnava spiritual master no longer consider themselves the doer of actions nor are they ever attached to the desire of rewards for their actions. Such evolved beings have resolved that everything is completely dependent upon the Supreme Lord who is sustaining and energising everything and is the sole isvara the controller of all existence. Thus one has no conceptions of I will do or this is mine or I will achieve, etc. and so forth. One who has achieved the true nature of the atma the immortal soul automatically realises their eternal connection to the Supreme Lord Krishna. Such a blessd one is not affected by material activities or influenced by worldly conceptions. If a situation arises on its own accord where such a one must perform actions they never think of themselves as the doer but consider that the Supreme Lord is the doer of everything. Thus they are not fettered to actions and subsequently are not coerced to accept the resultant karma which forces one to experience the merits or demerits of actions.
Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:
18.17 Yasya, he who, the person whose intellect is refined by the instructions of the scriptures and the teachers, and reason; who has na, not; ahankrtah bhavah, the feeling of egoism, in whom does not occur the notion in the form, ‘I am the agent’; i.e., he who sees thus: ‘These five, viz locus etc. (14), imagined in the Self through ignorance, are verily the agents of all actions; not I. But I am the absolute, unchanging witness of their functions, ‘Without vita force, without mind, pure, superior to the (other) superior immutable (Maya)” (Mu. 2.1.1)’; yasya, whose; buddhih, intellect, the internal organ, which is the limiting adunct of the Self; is na, not; lipyate, tainted, does not become regretful thinking, ‘I have done this; as a result, I shall enter into hell’; whose intellect does not become thus tainted, he has a good intellect and he perceives (rightly). Api, even; hatva, by killing; iman, these; lokan, creatures, i.e. all living beings; sah he; does not hanti, kill-he does not perform the act of killing; nor does he nibadhyate, become bound, nor even does he become connected with its result, the fruit of an unrighteous action. Objection: Even if this be a eulogy, is it not contradictory to say, ‘even by killing he does not kill’? Reply: This defect does not arise; for this becomes logical from the ordinary and the enlightened points of view. By adopting the empirical point of view (which consists in thinking), ‘I am the slayer’, by identifying the body with the Self, the Lord says, ‘even by killing’; and, by taking His stand on the supreme Truth as explained above (the Lord says), ‘he does not kill, nor does he become bound’. Thus both these surely become reasonable. Objection; Is it not that the Self certainly does act in combination with the locus etc., which conclusion follows from the use of the word kevala (absolute) in the text, ‘the absolute Self as the agent’ (16)? Reply: There is not such fault, because, the Self being changeless by nature, there is no possiblity of Its becoming united with the locus etc. For it is only a changeful entity that can possibly be united with another, or come to have agentship through combination. But, for the changeless Self there can be no combination with anything whatsoever. Hence, agentship through combination is not logical. Therefore, the absoluteness of the Self being natural, the word kevalam is merely a reiteration of an established fact. And the changelessness of the Self is well known from the Upanisads, the Smrtis and logic. As to that, in the Gita itself this has been established more than once in such texts as, ‘It is said that…This is unchangeable’ (2.25), ‘Actions are being done by the gunas themselves’ (see 3.27), ‘this …supreme Self does not act…although existing in the body’ (13.31), and in the Upanisads also in such texts as, ‘It thinks, as it were, and shakes, as it were’ (Br. 4.3.7). And from the standpoint of reason also, the royal path is to hold that the true nature of the Self is that It is partless, independent of others and changeless. Even if mutability (of the Self) be accepted, It should have a change that is Its own. The functions of the locus etc. cannot be attributed to the agency of the Self. Indeed, an action done by someone else cannot be imputed to another by whom it has not been done! As for what is imputed (on somebody) through ignorance, that is not his. As the quality of silver is not of nacre, or as surface or dirt attributed through ignorance to the sky by foolish people is not of the sky, similarly, the changes in the locus etc. also are verily their own, and not of the Self. Hence it has been well said that the enlightened person ‘does not kill, nor is he bound’, becuase of the absence of his being tainted by the idea that actions are done by himself. [Some translate this portion thus: ‘…because of the absence of the thought ‘I am doing’, and also due to the taintlessness of the mind’; or, ‘…in the absence of egotism and of all taint in the mind’.-Tr.] After having declared, ‘This One does not kill, nor is It killed’ (2.19); having stated the immutability of the Self through such texts as, ‘Never is this One born’ (2.20) , etc., which adduce the reason for this; having briefly stated at the commencement of the Scripture-in, ‘he who knows this One as indestructible’ (2.21)-that the enlightened man has no eligibility for rites and duties; and having deliberated in various places on that (cessation) which has been mooted in the middle (of the Scripture), the Lord, by way of summarizing the purport of the Scripture, concludes here by saying that the enlightened person ‘does not kill, nor does he become bound.’ If this be so, then it becomes established that the three kinds of results of actions, viz the undesirable etc., do not accrue to the monks, since it is reasonable that, because of the illogicality of their entertaining the idea of being embodied, all actions resulting from ignorance become abandoned (by them). And hence, as a consequence of a reversal of this, it becomes inevitable that the results do accrue to others. Thus, this is how the purport of the scripture Gita has been summed up. In order that this which is the essence of the teachings of all the Vedas should be. understood after deliberation by the learned ones possessing a sharp intellect, it has been explained by us in accordance with the scriptures and reasoning, in various places by dealing with it topically. Thereafter, now is being stated what promts actions:
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:
yasya nahankrto bhavo
buddhir yasya na lipyate
hatvapi sa imaḻ lokan
na hanti na nibadhyate
Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:
yasya — one whose; na — never; ahańkṛtaḥ — of false ego; bhāvaḥ — nature; buddhiḥ — intelligence; yasya — one whose; na — never; lipyate — is attached; hatvā — killing; api — even; saḥ — he; imān — this; lokān — world; na — never; hanti — kills; na — never; nibadhyate — becomes entangled.