akīrtiḿ cāpi bhūtāni
kathayiṣyanti te ‘vyayām
Translation of Bhagavad Gita 2.34
People will always speak of your infamy, and for a respectable person, dishonor is worse than death.
Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
Both as friend and philosopher to Arjuna, Lord Krishna now gives His final judgment regarding Arjuna’s refusal to fight. The Lord says, “Arjuna, if you leave the battlefield before the battle even begins, people will call you a coward. And if you think that people may call you bad names but that you will save your life by fleeing the battlefield, then My advice is that you’d do better to die in the battle. For a respectable man like you, ill fame is worse than death. So, you should not flee for fear of your life; better to die in the battle. That will save you from the ill fame of misusing My friendship and from losing your prestige in society.”
So, the final judgment of the Lord was for Arjuna to die in the battle and not withdraw.
Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
Avyayam means “continually.” Sambhavitasya means “of great position.”
Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:
2.34 You will then incur not merely the loss of all happiness and honour but will be the object of disrespect by all people, the qualifies and even the unqualified, for all time. They will ridicule you saying, ‘When the battle began, Arjuna ran away.’ It it be asked, ‘What if it be so?”, the reply is: ‘To one who is honoured by all for courage, prowess, valour, etc., this kind of dishonour arising from the reverse of these attributes, is worse than death? The meaning is that itself would be better for you than this kind of dishonour. If it is said, ‘How could dishonour accrue to me, who am a hero, but have withdrawn from the battle only out of love and compassion for my relatives?’ the reply is as follows:
Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:
The consequences of Arjuna acting contrary to his duty as a ksatriya are given in this verse.
Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:
Sri Madhvacharya did not comment on this sloka.
Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:
By abandoning this war for righteousness not only would Arjuna lose his excellent reputation but great misfortune would arise as well. This is the gist of using the word akirtim meaning infamy. Instead of being the valiant warrior, Arjuna the weilder of the intrepid Gandiva bow has become timid and fled the battlefield. Such undying infamy would spread by word of mouth throughout the world in many countries by those who witnessed it. But not only ksatriya warriors would speak ill of Arjuna but also demi-gods, sages, merchants and even low class sudras. It might be put forth that isn’t infamy better than death? And that one should bear it instead of dying. In the Mahabharata it is stated that one should try to defeat the enemy by: negotiation, bribery, open attack, etc. but should not fight if success is not guaranteed. In that case war should be avoided. To this Lord Krishna is responding that this infamy is more painful than death? Arjuna has never been defeated in battle, he is the son of the king of the demi-gods Indra, he is the dear friend of Lord Krishna, he possess unrivaled valor, possessing extremely praiseworthy virtues with this understanding infamy is much more painful than death.
Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:
2.34 Not only will there be the giving up of your duty and fame, but bhutani, people; ca api, also; kathayisyanti, will speak; te, of your; avyayam, unending, perpetual; akrtim, infamy. Ca, and; sambhavitasya, to an honoured person, to a person honoured with such epithets as ‘virtuous’, ‘heroic’, etc.; akirtih, infamy; atiricyate, is worse than; maranat, death. The meaning is that, to an honoured person death is perferable to infamy.
Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:
2.33 See Comment under 2.37
Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:
akirtim capi bhutani
kathayisyanti te ‘vyayam
Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:
akīrtim — infamy; ca — also; api — over and above; bhūtāni — all people; kathayiṣyanti — will speak; te — of you; avyayām — forever; sambhāvitasya — for a respectable man; ca — also; akīrtiḥ — ill fame; maraṇāt — than death; atiricyate — becomes more.