jñānaḿ jñeyaḿ parijñātā
tri-vidhā karma-codanā
karaṇaḿ karma karteti
tri-vidhaḥ karma-sańgrahaḥ

Translation of Bhagavad Gita 18.18

Knowledge, the object of knowledge, and the knower are the three factors that motivate action; the senses, the work and the doer are the three constituents of action.

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

There are three kinds of impetus for daily work: knowledge, the object of knowledge, and the knower. The instruments of work, the work itself and the worker are called the constituents of work. Any work done by any human being has these elements. Before one acts, there is some impetus, which is called inspiration. Any solution arrived at before work is actualized is a subtle form of work. Then work takes the form of action. First one has to undergo the psychological processes of thinking, feeling and willing, and that is called impetus. The inspiration to work is the same if it comes from the scripture or from the instruction of the spiritual master. When the inspiration is there and the worker is there, then actual activity takes place by the help of the senses, including the mind, which is the center of all the senses. The sum total of all the constituents of an activity are called the accumulation of work.

Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

The sattvika tyaga or sannyasa just described and approved by the Lord is for the jnanis. The bhaktas however reject karma yoga by its very nature. In the eleventh canto of Bhagavatam it is said:

ajnayaiva gunan dosan mayadistan api svakan
dharman santyajya yah sarvan mam bhajet sa ca sattamah

He perfectly understands that the ordinary religious duties prescribed by Me in various Vedic scriptures possess favorable qualities that purify the performer, and he knows that neglect of such duties constitutes a discrepancy in one’s life. Having taken complete shelter at My lotus feet, however, a saintly person ultimately renounces such ordinary religious duties and worships Me alone. He is thus considered to be the best among all living entities. SB 11.11.32

Sridhara Svami has explained the meaning of the Bhagavatam verse as follows.

“He who giving up his duties prescribed by me in the form of the Vedas and worships me, is the best. Is not such a person ignorant or an atheist? No, though knowing that following the principles of dharma has good qualities like purification, and on the other hand, knowing the sin of not following dharma, he gives up these practices with the firm conviction that just by being my devotee all will be accomplished, as these other things cause distraction to meditation upon me.”

“Giving up dharma” in the verse does not mean mere giving up the results of those practices. It should be understood that there is no loss at all in giving up the results of those practices.

The meaning is this. Understanding of the statements of Bhagavatam and the explanations of the commentators requires purity of the consciousness. In proportion to the degree of purification of the heart by niskama karma, there will be an awakening of knowledge. There is no other way. Therefore for attaining the awakening of knowledge even the sannyasis must perform karma yoga. However, such karma is no longer necessary for those who have attained purification of the heart completely by such karma. It is said:

aruruksor muner yogam karma karanam ucyate
yogarudhasya tasaiva samah karanam ucyate

For one who is a neophyte in the eightfold yoga system, work is said to be the means; and for one who is already elevated in yoga, cessation of all material activities is said to be the means. BG6.3

yas tv atma-ratir eva syad atma-trptas ca manavah
atmany eva ca santustas tasya karyam na vidyate

But for one who takes pleasure in the self, whose human life is one of self-realization, and who is satisfied in the self only, fully satiated—for him there is no duty. BG 3.17

But bhakti, being independent, supreme and most powerful, does not rely on purification of the heart.

It is said:

vikriditam vraja-vadhubhir idam ca visnoh
sraddhanvito yah srnuyad atha varnayed yah
bhaktim param bhagavati parilabhya kamam
hrd-rogam asv apahinoty acirena dhirah

Anyone who faithfully hears or describes the Lord’s playful affairs with the young gopis of Vrndavana will attain the Lord’s pure devotional service. Thus he will quickly become sober and conquer lust, the disease of the heart.     SB 10.33.39

Supreme bhakti enters from the beginning of practice into a person afflicted with material disease, which causes suffering, and removes lust and other impurities.

pravistah karna-randhrena svanam bhava-saroruham
dhunoti samalam krsnah salilasya yatha sarat

The sound incarnation of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Soul [i.e. Srimad-Bhagavatam], enters into the heart, sits on the lotus flower of his loving relationship, and thus cleanses the dust of material association, such as lust, anger and hankering. Thus it acts like autumnal rains upon pools of muddy water. SB 2.8.5

Thus, if bhakti alone can purify the heart in such a way, why should the devotees perform prescribed duties?

Now let us get back to the text at hand. The process of knowledge means to do acts with understanding that one is different from his body, (jnanam). The object of knowledge (jneyam) is the whole subject of atma (for the jnani this would be brahman). The shelter of such knowledge is a jnani (parijnata). But this is not all. These three are related to action. Thus these should be understood by the sannyasi. The verse explains this.

The word codana means “rule.” The learned say that codana means teaching or rule. The first half of the verse is explained in the second half. Knowledge (jnana) is the means of action or instrumental case (karana), since knowledge literally means “that by which something is known.” What is to be known (jneyam), jivatma tattva, is the object of action (knowing) or the accusative case (karma). The knower (parijnata) is the subject (karta) or nominative case. These – the instrumental, the accusative, and the nominative – are the three factors in bringing about action (trividham). These three are accepted in the performance of niskama karma (karma samgrahah). Karma samgraha therefore acts as an explanation of karma codana. Thus, the process of knowledge, the object of knowledge and the knower act as a base for performance of niskama karma.

Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:

18.18 (i) ‘Knowledge’ means this knowledge about the acts which ought to be performed. (ii) The ‘object of knowledge’ is the act which ought to be performed. (iii) ‘The knower’ is the person who knows that act. The meaning is that the injunction to do acts, like Jyotistoma etc., is a combination of knowledge, object of knowledge, and the knower. Among these, action itself, which is the object of knowledge, is briefly described as threefold — these being the instrument, action and the agent. The instrument forms the materials etc., which are the means. The action consists of the sacrifice etc. The agent is the performer.

Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:

By revealing the threefold impulses that manifest action and the threefold agents that forms the basis of actions; Lord Krishna establishes the point that the atma or immortal soul which is of an exclusively spiritual nature without material qualities and attributes has absolutely no connection with the cause, the basis and the rewards of actions which are all by products of the three gunas or modes of material nature. Knowledge is the cognizance to obtain a desired result. The knowable is the effort that achieves the result. The knower is the one possessing such knowledge and the means to achieve it. If one translates the word codana to mean impetus then these threefold impulses are the impetus by which all actions are enacted. If the word codana is interpreted to mean scriptural injunctions as the 8th century philosopher Kumarilla Bhatta has given, then the meaning would be that all injunctions in respect to actions are enacted dependent upon the threefold basis which is derived from the three gunas. In chapter two, verse 45 Lord Krishna has already stated that the Vedic scriptures proscribe subjects that are of the three gunas. So it should be understood that the basis of actions are the instrument which is the best means for effecting knowledge, the action that achieves the goal and the agent who performs the action. The words karma sangrahah mean that which epitomises action. In other words the triad consisting of the instrument, the action and the agent form the basis of action. Knowledge, the knowable and the knower are the subsidiary factors which support the basis of action indirectly.

Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:

It is clarified that for those who understand the purport of this verse the desire for expectation and reward would not arise due to not seeing themselves as the doer and performer. Having described the primary threefold impetus as the basis of actions, the Supreme Lord Krishna explains the consequential threefold subsequent actions. Here the word sangrahah meaning foundation infers the consequential results that accumulated from the basis of actions. This also confirms with the Rig Veda statements: Relying on knowledge, the act of knowing and the knower all scriptural injunctions and ordinances become established. The cause, the performance and the performer factually constitute what is action. Even by the non-performance of action one becomes eligible to be qualified by hearing instructions from the Vaisnava spiritual master, by study of the Vedic scriptures and by the mercy bequeathed by devotion to the Supreme Lord. Thus the intention of bhakti exclusive loving devotion to the Supreme Lord following the ordinances of the Vedic scriptures and the instructions of the Vaisnava spiritual master is the ultimate action for as one intends even so it is performed by the Supreme Lords grace. Thus actions that are dedicated to the Spreme Lord are bhakti and such performance factually becomes nimitta a procedure. Yet even in normal circumstances no one is actually the doer and it is only due to the misconceptions of bodily identification and egoism that one erroneously assumes that they are the performer. Since humans are endowed with freewill and self determination and have more independence then all other living entities on the Earth; humans alone are eligible and capable to reflect and appropriately act upon the injunctions, ordinances and prohibitions of the Vedic scriptures. Since this reality is established by experience no additional proofs are adduced to here.

Now begins the summation.

The Supreme Lord energises the entire creation and all jivas or embodied beings by His Supreme omniscient consciousness. The jivas respective to their manifested form assume the attributes of knower, knowing and knowledge similar to the Supreme Lord. As all jivas possess an atma or immortal soul which is eternal this is the similarity to the Supreme Lord which gives them eternality. But the jiva will not be able to access this eternality and achieve moksa or liberation from material existence until they have achieved realisation of the atma existing within the etheric heart. Failing this they will not become free from samsara the perpetual cycle of birth and death and must reincarnate perpetually in variegated material forms according to each jiva’s individual karma or reactions to actions enacted in the previous lifetime. So in such situations there is no concluding finality.

Yet who is there in the world who does not experience that attitude of: I have done this, I have achieved that? Therefore without such conceptions how can we know that we exist? So how can there be any difference in the concepts of: I know and I exist? The answer is that when one perceives the eternal quality of the atma as distinctly different from the physical body the forms of different bodies ceases to be consequential and the essence of the atma is understood as the essential part. The words karma sangraha meaning foundation of actions refers to the fivefold factors constituting all action. The Supreme Lord by His omnipotence, by His omniscience, by His omnipresence and by His independence controls all creation through the threefold manner described. The jiva performs actions due to the influence of previous karma that determines the attributes, characteristics and form one incarnates into.

Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:

Lord Krishna reaffirms that one who is free from egoism and the notions of I did this and I did that is not bound by actions and there consequent reactions. The state of egolessness is the result of a preponderance of sattva guna the mode of goodness and such affinity is the doorway leading to spiritual knowledge. So in order to present the threefold types of action and their performance He speaks of knowledge infering about the action, the object of knowledge, the qualified agent, the prescribed procedure, the knower of the ritual to the Supreme Lord and the perfomer thereof. These threefold factors of knowledge, the knowable and the knower form the basis that motivates all actions in the form of initiating actions, instructing actions and directing actions, etc. It has been declared by the 8th century pandit Kumarila Bhatta who was responsible for defeating innumerable propounders of impersonalistic conceptions of the Supreme Lord: That directing, instructing and enjoining are all of the same idea. The action as the object of knowledge is also threefold. As mantras or sacred incantations are the most effacious means for invoking and propitaiating the Supreme Lord, ass the hands are the most effective instruments for offering oblations to the Supreme Lord and as the sruk or ladle is the most effective instrument for pouring ghees or clarified butter in the sacred fire. In the same way the Vedic ritual is accomplished by the actions of the performer of the action who is merely an instrument alsol and not the actual doer as the previously explained factors factually constitute all actions.

Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:

18.18 Jnanam, knowledge (-being derived in the sense of ‘that through which something is known’, jnana means knowledge concerning all things in general-): so also jneyam, the object of knowledge (-that also is a reference to all objects in general-); similarly, parijnata, the knower, the experiencer, a product of ignorance, who partakes of the nature of the limiting adjuncts;-thus, this tripartite group formed by these is the trividha, threefold; karma-codana, inducement ot action, inducer of all actions in general. For, it is when the three, viz knowledge etc., combine that commencement of all actions meant either for acceptance or rejection [Acceptance, rejection or indifference.] are possible. After that, what are initiated by the five, viz locus etc., and are grouped in three ways according to the differences of their being based on speech, mind and body become comprehended under the three, viz instrument etc. This is what is being stated: Karma-sangrahah, the comprehension [It is well know that actions are based on the three-instrument etc.] of actions; iti, comes under; trividhah, three heads, three classes; viz karanam, the instrument (-derived in the sense of that through which anything is done-), i.e. the external (organs) (ear etc.) and the internal (organs) (intellect etc.); karma, the object (-derivatively meaning that which is most cherished by the subject and is achieved through an act-); and karta, the subject (agent), who employs the instrument etc., who partakes of the nature of the limiting adjuncts. Sangrahah is derived thus: that in which something is comprehended. The comprehension of action (karma) is karma-sangrahah. Indeed, action becomes included in these three. Hence is this ‘threefold comprehension of action’. Now then, since action, instrument and result are all constituted by the gunas, it becomes necessary to state the three fold variety in them based on the differences among the gunas, viz sattva, rajas and tamas. Hence it is begun:

Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:

18.18 Jnanam etc. Prompting-in-action : the will to exert. At that time those things which – because they exist in one’s thought alone – are referable by the terms knowledge, obect-of-knowledge and knowing-subject; at the time of that will (to exert) taking the form ‘I shall enjoy it; for it is caused by me’ as well as at the time of executing th act, the very same things-because they are fully absorbed [in desire for fruits] – get the names instrument, object and agent. Therefore, because there is no such absorption [in desire for fruits] in the case of the men of Yoga, there is no room in their action for the expressions instrument etc.; rather they exist only as knowledge etc. This is the purport here. Now [the Lord] speaks to explain, in brief, the classification of all these six items, basing on the classification of the Strands :-

Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:

jñanam jñeyam parijñata
tri-vidha karma-codana
karanam karma karteti
tri-vidhah karma-sangrahah

Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:

jñānam — knowledge; jñeyam — the objective of knowledge; parijñātā — the knower; tri-vidhā — of three kinds; karma — of work; codanā — the impetus; karaṇam — the senses; karma — the work; kartā — the doer; iti — thus; tri-vidhaḥ — of three kinds; karma — of work; sańgrahaḥ — the accumulation.