guṇaiḥ karmāṇi sarvaśaḥ
kartāham iti manyate
Translation of Bhagavad Gita 3.27
Te spirit soul bewildered by the influence of false ego thinks himself the doer of activities that are in actuality carried out by the three modes of material nature.
Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
Two persons, one in Krishna consciousness and the other in material consciousness, working on the same level, may appear to be working on the same platform, but there is a wide gulf of difference in their respective positions. The person in material consciousness is convinced by false ego that he is the doer of everything. He does not know that the mechanism of the body is produced by material nature, which works under the supervision of the Supreme Lord. The materialistic person has no knowledge that ultimately he is under the control of Krishna. The person in false ego takes all credit for doing everything independently, and that is the symptom of his nescience. He does not know that this gross and subtle body is the creation of material nature, under the order of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and as such his bodily and mental activities should be engaged in the service of Krishna, in Krishna consciousness. The ignorant man forgets that the Supreme Personality of Godhead is known as Hrishikesha, or the master of the senses of the material body, for due to his long misuse of the senses in sense gratification, he is factually bewildered by the false ego, which makes him forget his eternal relationship with Krishna.
Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
The doubt may arise: how to distinguish the person in knowledge (vidvan) from the ignorant person, if the man in knowledge also performs actions. Two verses explain the difference. The ignorant person thinks that he is the performer of all the actions, which are actually performed completely by the material senses, which in turn are the products of the gunas (prakrteh gunaih).
Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:
3.27 It is the Gunas of Prakrti like Sattva, Rajas etc., that perform all the activities appropriate to them. But the man, whose nature is deluded by his Ahankara, thinks, ‘I am the doer of all these actions.’ Ahankara is the mistaken conception of ‘I’ applied to the workings of Prakrti which is not the ‘I’. The meaning is that it is because of this (Ahankara), that one who is ignorant of the real nature of the self, thinks, ‘I am the doer’ with regard to the activities that are really being done by the Gunas of Prakrti.
Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:
An argument may be put forth that if the person situated in knowledge of the Vedas also has to perform actions then what is the difference between the ignorant and the wise? Lord Krishna apprehending such a doubt explains the difference between the two in this verse and the next. All actions are impelled by prakriti or material nature through the gunas being the three modes of sattva or goodness, rajas or passion and tamas or nescience and these are experienced by the mind when the senses make contact with sense objects. Thus the ignorant person believes that they are the doer of the actions because the false ego has accepted the physical body as the self and deluded by this egoism has superimposed the senses over the self in illusion.
Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:
The difference between the actions of a person of wisdom and those who are ignorant is explained now. The person of wisdom recognises that the whole material existence is operating under the auspices of the three gunas or the modes of material nature being goodness, passion and nescience. From gunas comes the word gunataih which indicates one who is influenced by their senses. This is the symptom of one who is in ignorance is that they are controlled by their senses. The sense are on a lower platform then prakriti or material nature and are influenced by the three gunas. The one who is in ignorance is dominated by the senses assuming that they are doer and cause of their actions and thus stricken with false ego they perform all actions with desires and attachment. That person of wisdom recognises that all actions are but the result of the interaction of the three gunas and material nature and remaining free of desires and attachment performs all actions as a matter of duty. This is what Lord Krishna conveys here.
Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:
A question may be raised that the spiritually wise may sometimes perform actions that are also performed by the ignorant then what is the difference? Lord Krishna clarifies this point with the word prakriteh meaning the material nature which is impelling actions through the medium of the three gunas being the modes of prakriti known as sattva or goodness, rajas or passion and tamas or nescience. One who is perplexed by false ego believes that they are the physical body and that the physical body is the doer of all their actions.
On the scriptural authority of the Vedas the atma or soul is the doer but this is fully experienced only when moksa or liberation from material existence is attained. The impressions of the atma filter through the medium of the physical body in proportion to the purity of the mind. In Brahma Sutra II.III.XXXIII we see in the verse that the atma is the doer. Yet because the knowledge of a person in ignorance is limited the filtering process is negligible and they perceive their physical body as the doer of all their actions when in actuality all actions are performed by the interaction of material nature, the three gunas and the false ego. Because of this the ignorant whose minds are completely bewildered by false ego believe falsely that they are their bodies and that they are the doer of their actions.
Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:
3.27 Karmani kriyamanani, while actions, secular and scriptural, are being done; sarvasah, in ever way; gunaih, by the gunas, (i.e.) by the modifications in the form of body and organs; (born) prakrteh, of Nature-Nature, (otherwise known as) Pradhana [Pradhana, Maya, the Power of God.], being the state of equilibrium of the three qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas; ahankara-vimudha-atma, one who is deluded by egoism; manyate, thinks; iti, thus; ‘Aham karta, I am the doer.’ Ahankara is self-identification with the aggregate of body and organs. He whose atma, mind, is vimudham, diluded in diverse ways, by that (ahankara) is ahankara-vimudha-atma. He who imagines the characteristics of the body and organs to be his own, who has self-identification with the body and the organs, and who, through ignorance, believes the activities to be his own-, he thinks, ‘I am the doer of those diverse activities.’
Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:
3.27 Prakreh etc. Indeed the actions are performed by the Strands, Sattva etc., belonging to the Prakrti. But the fool unnecessarily binds himself by wrongly comprehending ‘I’ am the doer’.
Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:
gunaih karmani sarvasah
kartaham iti manyate
Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:
prakṛteḥ — of material nature; kriyamāṇāni — being done; guṇaiḥ — by the modes; karmāṇi — activities; sarvaśaḥ — all kinds of; ahańkāra-vimūḍha — bewildered by false ego; ātmā — the spirit soul; kartā — doer; aham — I; iti — thus; manyate — he thinks.