pratyavāyo na vidyate
sv-alpam apy asya dharmasya
trāyate mahato bhayāt
Translation of Bhagavad Gita 2.40
In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear.
Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
Activity in Krishna consciousness, or acting for the benefit of Krishna without expectation of sense gratification, is the highest transcendental quality of work. Even a small beginning of such activity finds no impediment, nor can that small beginning be lost at any stage. Any work begun on the material plane has to be completed, otherwise the whole attempt becomes a failure. But any work begun in Krishna consciousness has a permanent effect, even though not finished. The performer of such work is therefore not at a loss even if his work in Krishna consciousness is incomplete. One percent done in Krishna consciousness bears permanent results, so that the next beginning is from the point of two percent, whereas in material activity without a hundred percent success there is no profit. Ajamila performed his duty in some percentage of Krishna consciousness, but the result he enjoyed at the end was a hundred percent, by the grace of the Lord. There is a nice verse in this connection in Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.5.17):
tyaktva sva-dharmam caranambujam harer
bhajann apakvo ’tha patet tato yadi
yatra kva vabhadram abhud amusya kim
ko vartha apto ’bhajatam sva-dharmatah
“If someone gives up his occupational duties and works in Krishna consciousness and then falls down on account of not completing his work, what loss is there on his part? And what can one gain if one performs his material activities perfectly?” Or, as the Christians say, “What profiteth a man if he gain the whole world yet suffers the loss of his eternal soul?”
Material activities and their results end with the body. But work in Krishna consciousness carries a person again to Krishna consciousness, even after the loss of the body. At least one is sure to have a chance in the next life of being born again as a human being, either in the family of a great cultured brahmana or in a rich aristocratic family that will give one a further chance for elevation. That is the unique quality of work done in Krishna consciousness.
Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
There are two types of yoga explained in this section of the chapter: in the form of bhakti, including hearing chanting and other such activities; and in the form of activities offered to the Lord without personal desire (niskama karma yoga), which is expressed starting with the verse karmany evadhikaras te (BG 2.47). Before that, however, bhakti is discussed. Because bhakti alone, and no other process, is beyond the three modes, a person transcends the modes only by performing bhakti yoga. Thus the statement nistraigunyo bhava to Arjuna (BG 2.45) indicates that this section is about bhakti. The nirguna nature of bhakti is also well supported by the statements of the eleventh canto of Bhagavatam. Jnana and karma cannot be said to be nistraigunya because of the presence of sattva in jnana, and rajas in karma.
And the bhakti found in karma yoga in the form of offering to the Lord is present there just makes karma lose its uselessness and bear material fruits. This process of karma yoga does not have the designation of bhakti proper because predominance of bhakti is absent. If one considers karma offered to the Lord to be bhakti, then what would the designation karma refer to? If one says that it refers to karma not offered to the Lord, that cannot be, for Narada says,
naiskarmyam apy acyuta-bhava-varjitam na sobhate jnanam alam niranjanam kutah punah sasvad abhadram isvare na carpitam karma yad apy akaranam
Knowledge of self-realization, even though free from all material affinity, does not look well if devoid of a conception of the Infallible [God]. What, then, is the use of fruitive activities, which are naturally painful from the very beginning and transient by nature, if they are not utilized for the devotional service of the Lord? SB 1.5.12
This statement indicates that karma devoid of the Lord is completely useless.
Therefore, in this verse and in the verses till 45, bhakti, characterized only by hearing, chanting, and other devotional acts, practiced only to attain the sweetness of the Lord’s lotus feet, is being defined.
Of course, niskama karma yoga will also be defined. Both of these are indicated by the word buddhi yoga mentioned in verse 39. In the phrase dadami buddhi yogam tarn yena mam upayanti te (BG10.10), the word buddhi yoga indicates bhakti yoga. In the phrase durena hy avaram karma buddhi yogad dhananjaya (BG 2.49), the word buddhi yoga indicates niskama karma yoga.
Thus, this present verse is a glorification of the process of bhakti with hearing and chanting, which is beyond the modes of nature. In bhakti yoga there is no destruction (nasah), and there is also no sin incurred (pratyavaya), if the practice has just begun (abhikrama) and then stopped. If karma yoga, however, is begun and then stopped, there is both destruction of the fruits of karma yoga and sinful reaction as well.
“But then, by non-performance of bhakti which he is supposed to do, the aspiring practitioner also should not get any results.”
“Whatever little bhakti was there by the initial practice (svalpam apy asya dharmasya) will certainly deliver him from the bondage of samsara (mahato bhayat).”
This is understood from such verses as the following:
yan-nama sakrcchravanat pukkaso ‘pi vimucyate sarhsarad
Merely by hearing the holy name of Your Lordship only once, even candalas, men of the lowest class, are freed from all material contamination. SB 6.16.44
And it is also seen in the example of Ajamila and others.
One can see that the following statement by the Lord has the same meaning:
hy angopakrame dhvamso mad-dharmasyoddhavanv api maya vyavasitah samyan nirgunatvad anasisah
My dear Uddhava, because I have personally established it, this process of devotional service unto Me is transcendental and free from any material motivation. Certainly a devotee never suffers even the slightest loss by adopting this process. SB 11.29.20
In the Bhagavatam verse quoted above, Krishna also shows the cause of indestructibility of bhakti. As it is beyond the gunas, it never can be destroyed. That can be seen even in the verse under discussion. One cannot say however that niskama karma yoga, even by being offered to the Lord, is beyond the modes of nature, for it is said:
mad-arpanam nisphalam va sattvikam nija-karma tat
Work performed as an offering to Me, without consideration of the fruit, is considered to be in the mode of goodness. SB 11.25.23
This verse indicates that niskama karma yoga, even offered to the Lord, is in the material mode of sattva (and therefore subject to destruction).
Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:
2.40 Here, in Karma Yoga, there is no loss of ‘Abhikrama’ or of effort that has been put in; ‘loss’ means the loss of efficacy to bring about the fruits. In Karma Yoga if work is begun and left unfinished, and the continuity is broken in the middle, it does not remain fruitless, as in the case of works undertaken for their fruits. No evil result is acquired if the continuity of work is broken. Even a little of this Dharma known as Karma Yoga or Niskama Karma (unselfish action without desire for any reward) gives protection from the great fear, i.e., the fear of transmigratory existence. The same purport is explained later thus: ‘Neither in this world nor the next, O Arjuna, there is annihilation for him’ (6.40). But in works, Vedic and secular, when there is interruption in the middle, not only do they not yield fruits, but also there is accrual of evil. Now, Sri Krsna distinguishes the Buddhi or mental disposition concerned with those acts which constitute a means for attaining release from those which are concerned with the acts meant for gaining the desired objects:
Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:
It may be put forth that activities such as farming sometimes fails to produce results due to natural phenomena such as variations in weather, drought, flooding etc. Also it may be submitted that there are chances of incurring reactions in the performance of spiritual rituals if the mantras are spoken improperly or if there are any defects performing the prescribed Vedic ceremony. So there may be some doubt regarding how bondage from actions can be effectively neutralised by karma yoga or the science of the individual consciousness attaining the Ultimate consciousness by performing actions as a matter of duty. These doubts are now being alleviated in this verse where it states that by the path of karma yoga, being free from fruitive desires there is no loss or diminution from any endeavour which is undertaken in righteousness nor is any effort wasted as is the case with actions having fruitive desires. In this there is no possibility of incurring any sin or reaction from such actions as these actions performed in righteousness are surrendered to the Supreme Lord and completely free from the desire of fruitive results. Moreover even the smallest amount of effort on this path of righteousness saves a living entity from the great danger of transmigration of being born again and again in the material existence endlessly.
Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:
In the Agni Purana it is stated:
That pseudo devotion, inconsistant devotion and defective devotion due to insufficient knowledge or deviation from the Vedic injunctions renders any chance for reciprocation with the Supreme Lord as futile and in vain.
Keeping in mind the preceding words it can be seen that even without any intention whatsoever of propitiating the Supreme Lord; by the performance of righteous actions without any desire for reward or recognition, whether complete or incomplete righteousness is most certainly accrued to the followers of the Supreme Lord regardless. This eternal truth was initiated in the Satya Yuga for the benefit of the worlds in the Vedic scriptures. Except by the mercy of the Supreme Lord pleasure neither a drop of rain may fall; nor a blade of grass may grow. A spiritually intelligent living entity should always be a humble servant of the transcendental Supreme Lord Krishna serving Him with loving devotion without any desires. A living entity reading this material should understand it completely should never have any reservation that there is anything equal to or superior to Him. One should understand that according to revealed scriptures everything in existence has been created by Him and everything in existence is subordinate to Him. Accordingly even the gradation of His eternal and phenomenal incarnations and expansions is determined. These eternal truths initiated by the Supreme Lord Himself are fruitful in Treta Yuga, especially fruitful in Dvarapa Yuga and most especially fruitful in kali yaga. Therefore it should be clearly understood that the blessing of salvation can only be bestowed upon those who by spiritual knowledge have factually attained actual communion with the Supreme Lord Krishna.
The Vedic scriptures are eternal and are instruments of superior knowledge. Righteousness or dharma is also superior and of much more import than the propitiation of various demigods. Even better than all is having factual knowledge of the Supreme Lord is the best of all attributes. Whatever is offerred at the summation of yagna, that verily is for the Supreme Lord. Those knowers of the Vedas return to earth again after enjoying the celestial spheres and again performing meritorious service to the Supreme Lord they again go to the celestial spheres. Awareness of the status and gradation of the various demigods and performing actions which are beneficial to them brings with it similar results in the material existence. However without having comprehensive knowledge according to the Vedic scriptures of the paramount position of the Supreme Lord Krishna, as the Supreme Lord over all there is, all ones prayers, penance and longing for heavenly realms will be in vain; for without relinquishing attachment to the senses and without constant remembrance of the Supreme Lord Krishna even knowledge of the Vedas is in vain. But still due to having some piety they gradually are redeemed by the Supreme Lord at the end when they have realised that surrendering all actions unto the Supreme Lord according to the Vedic injunctions after living many lives performing meritorious actions.
One who has not realised the Supreme Lord Krishna’s paramount position over all there is, even if they perform all the rituals enjoined in the Vedas cannot be spoken of as a real knower of Vedanta. The word vada means speech. One who speaks about the Supreme Lord Krishna who is the Ultimate goal of the Vedas without factually understanding His Supreme position is merely theoretical. One should not be engrossed in debative arguments about the Vedas with living entities of no piety or to those who purposely perform sinful activities or to those who are incorrigible. These unfortunate living entities descend to the worlds of obscurity and darkness perpetually and which are without a beginning and an end. In the Vedic scriptures these worlds are known as vavra meaning from whence there is no return and were dwell living entities languishing in nescience.
Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:
In the normal course of events actions and merits have a finish at the end of ones lifetime. The actions have a conclusion in this world and the merits have a conclusion in the next world. It is likened as to a farmer tilling his crops, by industrious action the merits of an abundant harvest are assured. But if he is to omit any of the steps such as watering or pruning within the process the harvest is put into jeopardy. Similarly the demerit of non-comittance by Arjuna is also possible if any action of his duty is not performed. In this regard then by only acting without fruitive desires does not guarantee freedom from the shackles of bondage in the material existence. But here Lord Krishna explains in bhakti-yoga which is His exclusive loving devotional service there is an exemption to the aforementioned rule and that there is never any loss or dimunition to those who are fortunate enough to perform bhakti-yoga in this lifetime or any lifetime. Unlike the cultivation of farming which is always beset by problems of weather, drought, blight and numerous unexpected difficulties. In bhakti-yoga there is no chance of contrary results or fear of demerits in committance or non-committance when carrying out devotional service for the ultimate satisfaction of the Supreme Lord. Hence even the slightest effort in the cultivation of bhakti-yoga which is without fruitive desires and which is also known as acting selflessly assures one complete protection and inevitably saves one from transmigration and the endless cycle of birth and death in the material existence.
Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:
2.40 Moreover, iha, here, in the path to Liberation, viz the Yoga of Action (rites and duties); na, there is no; abhikrama-nasah, waste of an attempt, of a beginning, unlike as in agriculture etc. The meaning is that the result of any attempt in the case of Yoga is not uncertain. Besides, unlike as in medical care, na vidyate, nor is there, nor does there arises; any pratyavayah, harm. But, svalpam api, even a little; asya, of this; dharmasya, righteousness in the form of Yoga (of Action); when pracised, trayate, saves (one); mahato bhayat, from great fear, of mundance existence characterized by death, birth, etc.
Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:
2.40 Neha etc. Here in this determinate knowledge there arises no loss through transgression, an offence due to negligence; because negligence is [itself] absent there. And just as a burning oil in the boiler get cooled soon, due to a limited quantity of sandal (put in it), in the same way due to this knowledge of Yoga-eventhough it is very little-the great danger in the form of the cycle of birth-and-death perishes completely. And this knowledge is not introduced as a new thing. Then what ?
Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:
pratyavayo na vidyate
svalpam apy asya dharmasya
trayate mahato bhayat
Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:
na — there is not; iha — in this yoga; abhikrama — in endeavoring; nāśaḥ — loss; asti — there is; pratyavāyaḥ — diminution; na — never; vidyate — there is; su-alpam — a little; api — although; asya — of this; dharmasya — occupation; trāyate — releases; mahataḥ — from very great; bhayāt — danger.