bahūnāḿ janmanām ante
jñānavān māḿ prapadyate
vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti
sa mahātmā su-durlabhaḥ

Translation of Bhagavad Gita 7.20

Those whose intelligence has been stolen by material desires surrender unto demigods and follow the particular rules and regulations of worship according to their own natures.

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

Those who are freed from all material contaminations surrender unto the Supreme Lord and engage in His devotional service. As long as the material contamination is not completely washed off, they are by nature nondevotees. But even those who have material desires and who resort to the Supreme Lord are not so much attracted by external nature; because of approaching the right goal, they soon become free from all material lust. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam it is recommended that whether one is a pure devotee and is free from all material desires, or is full of material desires, or desires liberation from material contamination, he should in all cases surrender to Vasudeva and worship Him. As stated in the Bhagavatam (2.3.10):

akamah sarva-kamo va
moksha-kama udara-dhih
tivrena bhakti-yogena
yajeta purusham param

Less intelligent people who have lost their spiritual sense take shelter of demigods for immediate fulfillment of material desires. Generally, such people do not go to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, because they are in the lower modes of nature (ignorance and passion) and therefore worship various demigods. Following the rules and regulations of worship, they are satisfied. The worshipers of demigods are motivated by small desires and do not know how to reach the supreme goal, but a devotee of the Supreme Lord is not misguided. Because in Vedic literature there are recommendations for worshiping different gods for different purposes (e.g., a diseased man is recommended to worship the sun), those who are not devotees of the Lord think that for certain purposes demigods are better than the Supreme Lord. But a pure devotee knows that the Supreme Lord Krishna is the master of all. In the Caitanya-caritamrita (Adi 5.142) it is said, ekale ishvara krishna, ara saba bhritya: only the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, is master, and all others are servants. Therefore a pure devotee never goes to demigods for satisfaction of his material needs. He depends on the Supreme Lord. And the pure devotee is satisfied with whatever He gives.

Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

“It is understood from what you have said that the sakama bhaktas, worshipping you, the Lord, who responds to them become somewhat successful. But what happens to those who have desires and worship other devatas with the desire to remove their suffering or gain material pleasure?”

Four verses answer this question. These people, having no intelligence (hrta jnana), think that the devatas like Surya immediately will give relief from afflictions like sickness, whereas Visnu will not. They therefore surrender to the devatas. They are under the control of their natures (prakrtya niyata svaya), which are evil, adverse to surrender to me.

Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:

7.20 All men of this world are ‘controlled’, i.e., constantly accompanied by their own nature consisting in the Vasanas (subtle impressions) resulting from relation with the objects formed of the Gunas. Their knowledge about My essential nature is robbed by various Karmas, i.e., by objects of desire corresponding to their Vasanas (subtle impressions) born of their Karmas and constituted of Gunas. In order to fulfil these various kinds of desires they take refuge in, i.e., seek and worship, other divinities who are regarded as different from Me, such as Indra and others, observing various disciplines, i.e., practising rituals which are specially meant to propitiate only these divinities.

Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:

It has been previously confirmed that the virtuous who still possess desires and worship the Supreme Lord for the fulfilment of these desires get them and eventually they gradually attain moksa or liberation from material existence. But those who are not devoted to Lord Krishna are overtly in raja guna or the mode of passion as well as those who are situated in tama guna or modes of ignorance being overwhelmed by their expectations to gratify their desires, they give homage to the minor demigods such as Surya or Kali and worship them to obtain the fulfilment of their material desires. What do they do to accomplish this? They worship the demigods by fasts, hymns of praise, celebrating the demigods special days etc. Thus they remain in bondage continuously revolving in samsara or the endless cycle of birth and death. This is what is being stated in this verse and the next three. Dismally lacking in discrimination due to overpowering desires regarding wealth, power, fame, victory and the like; such persons eagerly worship inferior non-eternal beings for their desired material goals and these types have even been known to give their allegiance to ghosts, spirits and horrendous demons to receive coveted material goals. What do these types do to acquire this? They engage in abominable activities like sacrifices of animals and even humans. They allow themselves to be possessed by demoniac spirits and they perform evil magic etc. All these inclinations are the result of internal impressions from the subtle body due to latent tendencies derived from innumerable habits in past life activities.

Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:

The compound word hrta-jnanah means one whose spiritual intelligence has been diverted by distortion. This is due to their inherent natures, innate attributes and over attraction to sense gratification. Being enslaved by cravings they choose a path away from Lord Krishna which looks most likely to grants them their material desires and they ingratiate themselves unto the demigod of their choice. The Supreme Lord is not averse to those who worship the demigods but He makes a distinction between worship to Him and worship to others. The results of worshipping all other gods is temporary and fleeting because the inherent power invested in them has limitations being only applicable to the material worlds; but the results of worshipping the Supreme Lord are permanent and eternal because unlimited power is possessed by Him.

Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:

So previously Lord Krishna revealed just how rare and difficult it is to meet an enlightened jnani or knower of God among the four virtuous types of beings. He also deliberated on the other three types being artto the afflicted, jijnasur the seekers of liberation and artharthi the seekers of wealth and how when gradually becoming free from desire and attachment they also attain moksa or liberation from samsara or the cycle of birth and death. Now Lord Krishna speaks of those who are not devoted to Him but are attracted to the various demigods such as Surya or Kali due to being in raja guna the mode of passion or the worship of vague impersonal conceptions of god without even a name, form or qualities being in tama guna the mode of ignorance. All those rooted in both raja and tama guna have their minds bound and chained by uncountable mundane desires from innumerable previous lifetimes and they remain trapped and caught in samsara or the endless cycle of birth and death. In this verse Lord Krishna is showing the superiority of His devotees by stating hrta janah meaning those whose intelligence is stolen by being deviated away from devotion to the Supreme Lord and diverted to lesser gods with inferior conceptions for the fulfilment of material desires like wealth, power, dominion. Such persons in tama guna worship demoniac and nefarious beings with the help of incantations and magic formulas for hypnotising, stupefying, subjugating and even killing an enemy or troublesome adversary who is an obstacle to accomplishing their desires. Those in raja guna choose to offer hymns of adulation and service of adoration to the demigods for quick gratification for their trivial desires. Both engage in initiation, recitations of prayers and declarations from the texts of such sects, vows and rituals. All these activities are governed by one’s individual nature in the form of tendencies conscripted from desires entertained in previous births from time immemorial.

Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:

7.20 People, hrta-jnanah, deprived of their wisdom, deprived of their discriminating knowledge; taih taih kamaih, by desires for various objects, such as progeny, cattle, heaven, etc.; and niyatah, guided, compelled; svaya prakrtya, by their own nature, by particular tendencies gathered in the past lives; prapadyante, resort; anya-devatah, to other deities, who are different from Vasudeva, the Self; asthaya, following taking the help of; tam tam niyamam,the relevant methods-those processes that are well known for the adoration of the concerned deities.

Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:

7.20-23 Kamaih etc. upto man api. On the other hand, those persons, whose minds are conditioned by a variety of their own respective desires for the best and so on (or the desires that may be classified as the best and so on) – they have thier thinking faculty carried away by their desires, and worship a particular deity who possesses nothing but My intermediate body that suits only to those devotees’ desires. Hence, they obtain their desired result from Me alone. But, that result has an end of its own, because it is limited by the mental impressions of their own. Therefore those who perform sacrifice etc., with the aim of becming Indra etc., (or of attaining the houses of Indra etc.) gain their desired fruit accordingly. On the other hand, those whose chief aim is to attain Me, they gain Me alone. But, while the Absolute-being is immanent in all, how is it that the fruit achieved by the worshippers of other deities is limited ? The answer is given as :

Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:

kamais tais tair hrta-jñanah
prapadyante ’nya-devatah
tam tam niyamam asthaya
prakrtya niyatah svaya

Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:

kāmaiḥ — by desires; taiḥ taiḥ — various; hṛta — deprived of; jñānāḥ — knowledge; prapadyante — surrender; anya — to other; devatāḥ — demigods; tam tam — corresponding; niyamam — regulations; āsthāya — following; prakṛtyā — by nature; niyatāḥ — controlled; svayā — by their own.