catur-vidhā bhajante māḿ
janāḥ su-kṛtino ’rjuna
ārto jijñāsur arthārthī
jñānī ca bharatarṣabha

Translation of Bhagavad Gita 7.16

O best among the Bharatas, four kinds of pious men begin to render devotional service unto Me—the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.

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

Unlike the miscreants, these are adherents of the regulative principles of the scriptures, and they are called sukritinah, or those who obey the rules and regulations of scriptures, the moral and social laws, and are, more or less, devoted to the Supreme Lord. Out of these there are four classes of men—those who are sometimes distressed, those who are in need of money, those who are sometimes inquisitive, and those who are sometimes searching after knowledge of the Absolute Truth. These persons come to the Supreme Lord for devotional service under different conditions. These are not pure devotees, because they have some aspiration to fulfill in exchange for devotional service. Pure devotional service is without aspiration and without desire for material profit. The Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu (1.1.11) defines pure devotion thus:

anukulyena krishnanu-
silanam bhaktir uttama

[Madhya 19.167]

“One should render transcendental loving service to the Supreme Lord Krishna favorably and without desire for material profit or gain through fruitive activities or philosophical speculation. That is called pure devotional service.”

When these four kinds of persons come to the Supreme Lord for devotional service and are completely purified by the association of a pure devotee, they also become pure devotees. As far as the miscreants are concerned, for them devotional service is very difficult because their lives are selfish, irregular and without spiritual goals. But even some of them, by chance, when they come in contact with a pure devotee, also become pure devotees.

Those who are always busy with fruitive activities come to the Lord in material distress and at that time associate with pure devotees and become, in their distress, devotees of the Lord. Those who are simply frustrated also come sometimes to associate with the pure devotees and become inquisitive to know about God. Similarly, when the dry philosophers are frustrated in every field of knowledge, they sometimes want to learn of God, and they come to the Supreme Lord to render devotional service and thus transcend knowledge of the impersonal Brahman and the localized Paramatma and come to the personal conception of Godhead by the grace of the Supreme Lord or His pure devotee. On the whole, when the distressed, the inquisitive, the seekers of knowledge, and those who are in need of money are free from all material desires, and when they fully understand that material remuneration has nothing to do with spiritual improvement, they become pure devotees. As long as such a purified stage is not attained, devotees in transcendental service to the Lord are tainted with fruitive activities, the search for mundane knowledge, etc. So one has to transcend all this before one can come to the stage of pure devotional service.

Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

“Then, who worships you?”

Four types worship me. Those who follow the rules of varnasrama (sukrtinah), worship me. Among them some desire relief from affliction, from calamities like sickness; some desire knowledge of atma or desire knowledge of scriptures with grammar; and some desire enjoyment in this life and the next with land, elephants, horses, women, gold and other such things. These worship me. These three are sakama grhasthas. The fourth type, the jnani, a sannyasi with pure heart, is niskama.

These four types, qualified for pradhani bhuta bhakti (in which bhakti is the principle component), have been enumerated. The first three have karma misra bhakti. The fourth has jnana misra bhakti. Later in the book, yoga misra bhakti will also be described in verse like sarva dvarani samyamya (BG 8.12). But kevala bhakti, unmixed with karma, was also described in the beginning of this chapter with the words mayyasakta manah partha (BG 7.1). Kevala bhakti will also be described in the eighth chapter with ananya cetah satatam (BG 8.14), in the ninth with mahatmanas tu mam partha (BG 9.13) and with ananyas cintayanto mam (BG 9.22). The Lord describes these two types of bhakti, pradhani bhuta and kevala bhakti, in the middle six chapters of the Gita.

A third type of bhakti, guru bhuta bhakti (processes in which bhakti is subsidiary) is seen in the karmis, jnanis and yogis, who predominantly  desire results for their actions (bhukti  and mukti). Because of the lack of predominance of bhakti, and instead with a predominance of karma, jnana or yoga, it is not classed as bhakti. As things should be classed by predominance of quality, these are classed as karma, jnana and yoga, and the practitioners are not classed as bhaktas, but as karmis, jnanis or yogis.

And the result of sakama karma is svarga, the result of niskama karma is jnana yoga, and the result of jnana and astanga yoga is nirvana moksa, impersonal liberation. The results of the two types of bhakti should also be stated.  Among the  types of pradhani bhuta bhakti, the first three are karma misra bhakti. They are sakama bhakti. The result of this bhakti is attainment of the respective desires (deliverance from suffering, attainment of scriptural knowledge, gain of material benefits). And after that, because the superior nature of their object of worship (the Lord), those devotees attain liberation in the form of salokya (attaining the same planet) with predominance of happiness and powers.   And there is no fall down as in the case of exhausting enjoyment in svarga as a result of karma. It will be said, “Those who worship me come to me.” BG 9.25

The result of jnana misra bhakti, which is superior to the others, is santa rati (bhava), as in the case of Sanaka and others. Sometimes, because of exceptional mercy of the Lord and his devotee, the result of jnana misra bhakti is the supreme position of prema, as in the case of Sukadeva.

If sakama bhakti (the first three types) becomes niskama, without desires, the result is jnana misra bhakti, and the result of that jnana misra bhakti is as stated above (santa rati). Sometimes, those who have jnana or karma misra bhakti attain prema in dasya and higher rasas on their own, because of influence of association with devotees in previous lives. However, that prema is predominated by a mood of reverence (aisvarya).

The result of pure bhakti unmixed with jnana, karma or yoga, called ananya bhakti akincana bhakti or uttama bhakti, which has many types, is that one becomes an associate of the Lord with dasya, sakhya, vatsalya or madhurya prema. This is explained elaborately in the commentaries on the Bhagavatam. As it is a matter related to the topic at hand, the distinctions in Perfected bhakti have been briefly discussed.

Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:

7.16 ‘Men of good deeds,’ i.e., those who have meritorious Karmas to their credit, and who resort to Me and worship Me alone — they too are divided into four types according to the degrees of their good deeds, each subsequent type being better than the preceding, because of the greatness of their good deeds and gradation in respect of their knowledge. (i) The ‘distressed’ is one who has lost his position in life and his wealth, and who wishes to regain them (ii) He who ‘aspires for wealth’ is one who desires for wealth which he has not till then attained. Between them the difference is very little, as both of them seek wealth. (iii) He ‘who seeks after knowledge’ is one who wishes to realise the real nature of the self (in Its pure state) as an entity different from the Prakrti. He is called ‘one who seeks to secure knowledge,’ because knowledge alone is the essential nature of the self. (iv) And the ‘man of knowledge’ is he who knows that, it is the essential nature of the self to find happiness only as the Sesa (subsidiary or liege) of the Lord, as taught in the text beginning with, ‘But know that which is other than this (lower nature) to be the higher Prakrti’ (7.5). Without stopping with the knowledge of the self as different from the Prakrti, he desires to attain the Lord. He thinks that the Lord alone is the highest aim to reach.

Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:

Only those who are virtuous and righteous have the qualification for devotion to the Supreme Lord. There are four categories of such qualified beings according to differences in their virtue. Those who performed virtuous deeds in previous lives worship Lord Krishna and fall into four categories: 1) artto are those distressed such as persecuted by disease. If they performed virtuous activities in past lives then they will have the opportunity to worship Lord Krishna otherwise they will be limited to worshipping minor gods and formless illusionary gods. 2) atharthi are the seekers of wealth who desire to have full facility for enjoyment in this life and their next. If they performed virtuous deeds in their past lives then they too will have the opportunity to worship Lord Krishna. 3) jijnasuh are those who desire self realisation to end the cycle of birth and death. If they performed virtuous actions in their past lives they will also have the opportunity to worship Lord Krishna. 4) jnanis are those who have achieved atma tattva or realisation of the soul and know the Supreme Lord. If they have performed virtuous activities in their past lives then they will have the opportunity of advancing further and worshipping Lord Krishna.

It should be understood that aspirants in all four categories will be forced to experience endless reincarnation until one finally evolves to attainment of devotion to Lord Krishna.

Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:

Sri Madhvacharya did not comment on this sloka.

Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:

The righteous and virtuous worship the Supreme Lord with faith and devotion. What Lord Krishna is saying is that four types of virtuous humans who have accumulated merit from righteous deeds from previous lives worship Him according to the gradation of the merits.

1) artto are those afflicted by problems such as disease or enemies. If one has enough accumulated merit then they will have the opportunity to worship the Supreme Lord to alleviate their distress. Examples of this from Vedic scriptures were the many pious kings imprisoned by King Jarasandha who prayed to the Supreme Lord to be delivered and Lord Krishna rescued them. Also Queen Draupadi prayed to Lord Krishna for succour when she was being disrobed at the Kaurava assembly hall under the insistence of Duryodhana and Lord Krishna protected her honor. The elephant king Gajendra was seized by a terrible crocodile and just before succumbing he prayed to the Supreme Lord for aid and was saved and last but not least when Shiva gave the head exploding benediction to the demon Vkra who immediately began pursuing him to test it then Shiva took shelter of Lord Krishna who terminated the demons life. All these are examples of those whose previous merit qualified them to pray to the Supreme Lord. Otherwise not having sufficient merit they would only be able to pray to Rudra or Ganesh or Kali or even some impersonal phantasm god. 2) jijnasur or liberation seekers like Videha, Mucukunda and King Yadu also had enough acquired merit from prvious lives to qualify for worship of the Supreme Lord. 3) artharthi or the seekers of wealth who desire to regain the rulership, position of power and enjoyments from which they had before and became deprived. Examples of these from Vedic scriptures are Dhruva, Sugriva and Vibhisana. The worship of these three is tinged with selfish motivations but as soon as their wishes were fulfilled they achieved moksa or liberatiion from material existence and overcame the cycle of birth and death. 4) jnani’s or those of spiritual wisdom who have no selfish motives are endowed with discriminative intelligence from ascertaining the reality of the atma or soul and its relationship as an eternal portion of the Supreme Lord. They also achieve moksa but they continue on to worship the Supreme Lord joining Him in His eternal pastimes. Great beings of this calibre are the Kumaras, Narada Muni, Sukadeva, Bhishma and Uddhava.

Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:

7.16 Again, O Arjuna, foremost of the Bharata dynasty, caturvidhah, four classes; of janah, people; who are eminent among human beings and are pious in actions, and are sukrtinah, of virtuous deeds; bhajante, adore; mam, Me; artah, the afflicted-one who is overcome by sorrow, who is in distress, [‘One who, being in distress and seeking to be saved from it, takes refuge (in Me).’] being over-whelmed by thieves, tigers, disease, etc.; jijnasuh, the seeker of Knowledge, who wants to know the reality of the Lord; artharthi, the seeker of wealth; and jnani, the man of Knowledge, [i.e. one who, already having intellectual knowledge, aspires for Liberation.] who knows the reality of Visnu.

Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:

7.16-19 Caturvidhah etc., upto sudurlabhah. Those who worship Me are men of good action. They are of four types. All these are noble ones. For, other persons, mean-minded as they are, beg a cure of their affliction, and money etc., from persons who have hands, feet, stomach, body and intelligence (or bodily strength) that are equal to their (the beggers) own, or even from those who are very much inferior. But, by comparison with the man of wisdom, [the other three under question] are of inferior intelligence. For, they entertain, at that sage too, a sense of duality. Becuase, a sense of duality ‘I seek this from the Bhagavat’ is clearly discernible in them. On the other hand, the man of wisdom hangs on Me alone with a sense of identity [of him with Me]. Hence, I am verily indentical with him. It is I alone, and not [any other] gain, that is dear to him. That is why he is having a mind purified by the firm conviction ‘All is nothing but Vasudeva’.

Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:

catur-vidha bhajante mam
janah su-krtino ’rjuna
arto jijñasur artharthi
jñani ca bharatarsabha

Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:

catuḥ-vidhāḥ — four kinds of; bhajante — render services; mām — unto Me; janāḥ — persons; su-kṛtinaḥ — those who are pious; arjuna — O Arjuna; ārtaḥ — the distressed; jijñāsuḥ — the inquisitive; artha-arthī — one who desires material gain; jñānī — one who knows things as they are; ca — also; bharata-ṛṣabha — O great one amongst the descendants of Bharata.