dhumenavriyate vahnir
yathadarso malena ca
yatholbenavr?to garbhas
tatha tenedam avr?tam

Translation of Bhagavad Gita 3.38

As fire is covered by smoke, as a mirror is covered by dust, or as the embryo is covered by the womb, the living entity is similarly covered by different degrees of this lust.

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

There are three degrees of covering of the living entity by which his pure consciousness is obscured. This covering is but lust under different manifestations like smoke in the fire, dust on the mirror, and the womb about the embryo. When lust is compared to smoke, it is understood that the fire of the living spark can be a little perceived. In other words, when the living entity exhibits his Krishna consciousness slightly, he may be likened to the fire covered by smoke. Although fire is necessary where there is smoke, there is no overt manifestation of fire in the early stage. This stage is like the beginning of Krishna consciousness. The dust on the mirror refers to a cleansing process of the mirror of the mind by so many spiritual methods. The best process is to chant the holy names of the Lord. The embryo covered by the womb is an analogy illustrating a helpless position, for the child in the womb is so helpless that he cannot even move. This stage of living condition can be compared to that of the trees. The trees are also living entities, but they have been put in such a condition of life by such a great exhibition of lust that they are almost void of all consciousness. The covered mirror is compared to the birds and beasts, and the smoke-covered fire is compared to the human being. In the form of a human being, the living entity may revive a little Krishna consciousness, and, if he makes further development, the fire of spiritual life can be kindled in the human form of life. By careful handling of the smoke in the fire, fire can be made to blaze. Therefore the human form of life is a chance for the living entity to escape the entanglement of material existence. In the human form of life, one can conquer the enemy, lust, by cultivation of Krishna consciousness under able guidance.

Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

Lust is not just an enemy for some, but an enemy for all. This is explained with examples. The example illustrates various; degrees of lust: shallow, deep and very deep. The fire, though covered by smoke, still performs its function of burning. Because of the disappearance of its natural clarity, the mirror covered by dust does not carry out its function of reflecting images properly, though it is known as a mirror by its form (in spite of the dust covering it). The fetus covered by the womb cannot perform its functions of stretching it hands and feet. Its true form cannot be understood within that covering. When lust is shallow, it is possible to remember the spiritual goals. When lust is deep, it is not possible. When it is very deep, one becomes unconscious.

In this way, the universe (idam) is covered by lust.

Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:

3.38 As a fire is enveloped by smoke, as a mirror by dust and as an embryo by the membrance, so are the embodied beings covered by this desire. Sri Krsna teaches the mode of this envelopement:

Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:

The inimical nature of kama or lust is being illustrated here by Lord Krishna giving three clear examples, concluding that spiritual knowledge is completely covered by kama as well.

Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:

The atma or soul is not perceivable by a human being. Why is this so? It is because the atma is enveloped within and when the senses are excited kama or lust manifests itself explosively completely covering the atma and that is why kama is such a formidable adversary. Kama so thickly covers the atma that it cannot be perceived and Lord Krishna gives three examples to emphasise this.

Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:

Lord Krishna being more explicit here affirms that spiritual knowledge relating to one’s best interests is neutralised by this eternal, insatiable enemy known as kama or lust.

Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:

3.38 Yatha, as; vahnih, fire, which is naturally bright; avriyate, is enveloped; dhumena, by smoke, which is born concomitantly (with fire) and is naturally dark; or as adarsah, a mirror; is covered malena, by dirt; ca, and; garbhah, a foetus; is avrtah, enclosed; ulbena, in the womb by the amnion; tatha, so; is idam, this; avrtam, shrouded; tena, by that. Again, what is that which is indicated by the word idam (this), and which is covered by desire? The answer is:

Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:

3.38 Dhumena etc. [The foe’s tripple nature viz.] being a mischivous appendage, himself creating mischieves, and being an object of disgust, is explained by the triad of these similes. He : the Self.

Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:

dhumenavriyate vahnir
yathadarso malena ca
yatholbenavrto garbhas
tatha tenedam avrtam

Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:

dhumena — by smoke; avriyate — is covered; vahnih? — fire; yatha — just as; adarsah? — mirror; malena — by dust; ca — also; yatha — just as; ulbena — by the womb; avr?tah? — is covered; garbhah? — embryo; tatha — so; tena — by that lust; idam — this; avr?tam — is covered.