bhūmir āpo ’nalo vāyuḥ
khaḿ mano buddhir eva ca
ahańkāra itīyaḿ me
bhinnā prakṛtir aṣṭadhā
Translation of Bhagavad Gita 7.4
Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego—all together these eight constitute My separated material energies.
Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
The science of God analyzes the constitutional position of God and His diverse energies. Material nature is called prakriti, or the energy of the Lord in His different purusha incarnations (expansions) as described in the
visnos tu trini rupani
purushakhyany atho viduh
ekam tu mahatah srastr
dvitiyam tv anda-samsthitam
tani jnatva vimucyate
“For material creation, Lord Krishna’s plenary expansion assumes three Vishnus. The first one, Maha-Vishnu, creates the total material energy, known as the mahat-tattva. The second, Garbhodakashayi Vishnu, enters into all the universes to create diversities in each of them. The third, Kshirodakashayi Vishnu, is diffused as the all-pervading Supersoul in all the universes and is known as Paramatma. He is present even within the atoms. Anyone who knows these three Vishnus can be liberated from material entanglement.”
This material world is a temporary manifestation of one of the energies of the Lord. All the activities of the material world are directed by these three Vishnu expansions of Lord Krishna. These purushas are called incarnations. Generally one who does not know the science of God (Krishna) assumes that this material world is for the enjoyment of the living entities and that the living entities are the purushas—the causes, controllers and enjoyers of the material energy. According to Bhagavad-gita this atheistic conclusion is false. In the verse under discussion it is stated that Krishna is the original cause of the material manifestation. Srimad-Bhagavatam also confirms this. The ingredients of the material manifestation are separated energies of the Lord. Even the brahmajyoti, which is the ultimate goal of the impersonalists, is a spiritual energy manifested in the spiritual sky. There are no spiritual diversities in the brahmajyoti as there are in the Vaikunthalokas, and the impersonalist accepts this brahmajyoti as the ultimate eternal goal. The Paramatma manifestation is also a temporary all-pervasive aspect of the Kshirodakashayi Vishnu. The Paramatma manifestation is not eternal in the spiritual world. Therefore the factual Absolute Truth is the Supreme Personality of Godhead Krishna. He is the complete energetic person, and He possesses different separated and internal energies.
In the material energy, the principal manifestations are eight, as above mentioned. Out of these, the first five manifestations, namely earth, water, fire, air and sky, are called the five gigantic creations or the gross creations, within which the five sense objects are included. They are the manifestations of physical sound, touch, form, taste and smell. Material science comprises these ten items and nothing more. But the other three items, namely mind, intelligence and false ego, are neglected by the materialists. Philosophers who deal with mental activities are also not perfect in knowledge because they do not know the ultimate source, Krishna. The false ego—“I am,” and “It is mine, which constitute the basic principle of material existence—includes ten sense organs for material activities. Intelligence refers to the total material creation, called the mahat-tattva. Therefore from the eight separated energies of the Lord are manifest the twenty-four elements of the material world, which are the subject matter of Sankhya atheistic philosophy; they are originally offshoots from Krishna’s energies and are separated from Him, but atheistic Sankhya philosophers with a poor fund of knowledge do not know Krishna as the cause of all causes. The subject matter for discussion in the Sankhya philosophy is only the manifestation of the external energy of Krishna, as it is described in the Bhagavad-gita.
Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
And, knowledge (jnana) in relation to bhakti means knowledge of the Lord’s powers, not knowledge of the atma being separate from the body. In defining knowledge of the Lord’s powers, the Lord speaks of his two energies (prakrti), superior and inferior, in two verses. By the listing of the five gross elements beginning with earth, the subtle elements, known as the sense objects such as smell, taste, form, touch and sound, are understood as well. By the word false ego, the ten senses, which arise from it, and the mahat tattva, its cause are also understood. Mind and intellect are listed separately to show their greater importance among all the elements.
Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:
7.4 Know that Prakrti, the material cause of this universe, which consists of endless varieties of objects and means of enjoyment and places of enjoyment, is divided into eightfold substances — earth, water, fire, air and ether, having smell, taste etc., as their attributes, and Manas along with kindred sense organs and the categories Mahat and ego-sense — all belonging to Me.
Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:
After having enticed the listeners interest, next in order to delineate the nature of Isvara the Supreme controller, introduced as the origin of all creation, etc. through the agency of prakriti the material substatum. Prakriti has a dual nature differentiated by higher and lower properties. Lord Krishna defines the lower properties in this verse beginning with the word bhumir meaning Earth. It should be understood that Earth includes the five elementary essences being sight, taste, hearing, smell and touch. By the word manah meaning the mind, its cause ahankarah meaning ego is denoted. By the word ahankaryah or egoism, its cause avidya or ignorance the absence of knowledge is denoted. By the word buddhih meaning the intellect, its cause the mahat being cosmic intelligence is denoted. This is Lord Krishna’s lower nature divided into eight categories. Another interpretation of this verse is that earth means the five gross elements together with the five subtle elements. The word egoism means together with its by products being the five senses. Intellect means the cosmic intelligence. By mind is meant the pradhana or the unmanifest which has no form that has been manifested and which can only be inferred by the mind. So this is Lord Krihna’s prakriti otherwise known as maya-sakti or illusory potency in eight categories. Although prakriti is usually divided into twenty-four categories because the other sixteen are included within these eight it is said here to be divided into eight categories. Later in chapter thirteen, verses six and seven concerning ksetra or the body this very same prakriti will be described in full as having twenty-four categories being the five gross elements, egoism, intellect, the unmanifest, the ten sense organs, the mind and the five objects of the senses.
Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:
The eight categories of Lord Krishna’s include the five elements and the mind concluding with the mahat denoting intellect and ahankara denoting false ego. The ahankara of the living entities is different from the ego sense of the incarnation Ksiradaksayi Vishnu who while meditating upon Himself in the casual ocean merely thinks I Am and universal creation begins to manifest as unlimited universes from the pores of His spiritual body.
Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:
In order to continue the previous verse Lord Krishna presents prakriti the material substratum in eight categories representing His lower material energy comprised of earth, water, fire, air and ether and they stand for their respective elements in their subtle state being seeing, smelling, hearing, touching and tasting which are in their modified state and thus cannot be considered as constituents of nature. Manas or mind which stands for its cause being the intellect and ahankarah being false ego which stands for cosmic intelligence as well as the individual ego which stands for maya the illusory deluding energy which is the cause of cosmic intelligence. All this is the potency of Lord Krishna and the material cause of creation consisting of sixteen movable and immovable modifications in the form of five subtle elements, five organs with five senses and the mind all from His lower nature divided into eight categories.
Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:
7.4 Iyam, this; prakrtih, Prakrti, [Prakrti here does not mean the Pradhana of the Sankhyas.] the divine power called Maya; me, of Mine, as described; bhinna, is divided; astadha, eight-forl; iti, thus: bhumih, earth-not the gross earth but the subtle element called earth, this being understood from the statement, ‘Prakrti (of Mine) is divided eight-fold’. Similarly, the subtle elements alone are referred to even by the words water etc. Apah, water; analah, fire; vayuh, air; kham, space; manah, mind. By ‘mind’ is meant its source, egoism. By buddhih, intellect, is meant the principle called mahat [Mahat means Hiranyagarbha, or Cosmic Intelligence.] which is the source of egoism. By ahankarah, egoism, is meant the Unmanifest, associated [Associated, i.e. of the nature of.] with (Cosmic) ignorance. As food mixed with position is called poison, similarly the Unmainfest, which is the primordial Cause, is called egoism since it is imbued with the impressions resulting from egoism; and egoism is the impelling force (of all). It is indeed seen in the world that egoism is the impelling cause behind all endeavour.
Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:
7.4-5 Bhumih etc. Apard etc. [The demonstrative] ‘this’ denotes what is being perceived [as objects] through sense-organs by all men at the stage of mundane life. This is only one and at the same time is divided eigth-fold. Therefore the universe is one and unitary, because it is made of one single material cause. By this statement, monism is demonstrated even while following the Prakrti theory. The selfsame Prakrti has become the living one i.e., the personal Soul. Hence it is superior [to what has become eight-fold]. It also belongs to Me alone and not to anybody else. This Prakrti is [thus] two-fold and varied in the form of the universe consisting of the knowables and the knower. That is why this Prakrti (the basic material nature), being the substratum of all beings reflected on the surface of the clean mirror, viz., the Self , is nothing but Self’s own nature and [hence] never leaves Him. This world : the Earth etc. [mentioned in the 4th verse].
Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:
bhumir apo ’nalo vayuh
kham mano buddhir eva ca
ahankara itiyam me
bhinna prakrtir astadha
Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:
bhūmiḥ — earth; āpaḥ — water; analaḥ — ﬁre; vāyuḥ — air; kham — ether; manaḥ — mind; buddhiḥ — intelligence; eva — certainly; ca — and; ahańkāraḥ — false ego; iti — thus; iyam — all these; me — My; bhinnā — separated; prakṛtiḥ — energies; aṣṭadhā — eightfold.