akṣaraḿ brahma paramaḿ
svabhāvo ’dhyātmam ucyate
Translation of Bhagavad Gita 8.3
The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: The indestructible, transcendental living entity is called Brahman, and his eternal nature is called adhyatma, the self. Action pertaining to the development of the material bodies of the living entities is called karma, or fruitive activities.
Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
Brahman is indestructible and eternally existing, and its constitution is not changed at any time. But beyond Brahman there is Parabrahman. Brahman refers to the living entity, and Parabrahman refers to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The constitutional position of the living entity is different from the position he takes in the material world. In material consciousness his nature is to try to be the lord of matter, but in spiritual consciousness, Krishna consciousness, his position is to serve the Supreme. When the living entity is in material consciousness, he has to take on various bodies in the material world. That is called karma, or varied creation by the force of material consciousness.
In Vedic literature the living entity is called jivatma and Brahman, but he is never called Parabrahman. The living entity (jivatma) takes different positions—sometimes he merges into the dark material nature and identifies himself with matter, and sometimes he identifies himself with the superior, spiritual nature. Therefore he is called the Supreme Lord’s marginal energy. According to his identification with material or spiritual nature, he receives a material or spiritual body. In material nature he may take a body from any of the 8,400,000 species of life, but in spiritual nature he has only one body. In material nature he is manifested sometimes as a man, demigod, animal, beast, bird, etc., according to his karma. To attain material heavenly planets and enjoy their facilities, he sometimes performs sacrifices (yajna), but when his merit is exhausted he returns to earth again in the form of a man. This process is called karma.
The Chandogya Upanishad describes the Vedic sacrificial process. On the sacrificial altar, five kinds of offerings are made into five kinds of fire. The five kinds of fire are conceived of as the heavenly planets, clouds, the earth, man and woman, and the five kinds of sacrificial offerings are faith, the enjoyer on the moon, rain, grains and semen.
In the process of sacrifice, the living entity makes specific sacrifices to attain specific heavenly planets and consequently reaches them. When the merit of sacrifice is exhausted, the living entity descends to earth in the form of rain, then takes on the form of grains, and the grains are eaten by man and transformed into semen, which impregnates a woman, and thus the living entity once again attains the human form to perform sacrifice and so repeat the same cycle. In this way, the living entity perpetually comes and goes on the material path. The Krishna conscious person, however, avoids such sacrifices. He takes directly to Krishna consciousness and thereby prepares himself to return to Godhead.
Impersonalist commentators on the Bhagavad-gita unreasonably assume that Brahman takes the form of jiva in the material world, and to substantiate this they refer to Chapter Fifteen, verse 7, of the Gita. But in this verse the Lord also speaks of the living entity as “an eternal fragment of Myself.” The fragment of God, the living entity, may fall down into the material world, but the Supreme Lord (Acyuta) never falls down. Therefore this assumption that the Supreme Brahman assumes the form of jiva is not acceptable. It is important to remember that in Vedic literature Brahman (the living entity) is distinguished from Parabrahman (the Supreme Lord).
Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
The Lord answers. What is supreme and does not get destroyed, what is eternal is called brahman. The sruti says etad vai tad aksaram gargi brahmana abhivadanti: the knowers of brahman call that Brahman, the indestructible (aksaram). (Brhad Aranyaka Upanisad 3.8.8)
Svabhava means “that which produces one’s self (svam bhavayati), from imposition of a body.” In other words, it means the jiva, since it creates the body. The jiva is called adhyatma. Or the meaning of svabhdva can be “that which causes one to attain the paramatma (svam meaning the Lord in this case). In this case, adhyatma refers to the purified jiva.
The word karma refers to transmigration (visarga) of the jiva, the creation of bodies (bhava) through the material elements (bhuta). It is called karma because it is produced from actions.
Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:
8.3 The Lord said — That which is the Supreme Imperishable (Aksara) has been named ‘that brahman’ The Aksara is that which cannot be destroyed and forms the totality of all individual selves. The Srutis say to this effect: ‘The Avyakta is dissolved into the Aksara, the Aksara is dissolved into Tamas’ (Su. U., 2). The supreme Aksara is the essential form of the self, separated from Prakrti. One’s own material nature (the body) is spoken of as Adhyatma or that which dwells with the self. This material nature (Svabhava) is Prakrti. It does not form the self but attaches itself to the self in the form of subtle elements, impressions etc. This has been taught in the Vidya of Five Fires (Cha. U., 5). Both these (the Aksara and the Adhyatma) should be known by the aspirants for liberation (Kaivalya) — the former as what should be attained and the latter as what should be relinquished. Karma is that force which produces the origination of mundane beings. ‘Beings’ here means beings such as the human beings. The creative force which produces their origination is contact with woman. It has been described in the Sruti passage thus: ‘The waters sacrificed in the fifth oblations become those who are named Purusas’ (Cha. U., 5.3.3). That creative force is called Karma. All the acts associated with that should be considered by aspirants after release as calling for abstention. This abstention will also be inculcated immediately in the text, ‘Desiring which they practise the vow of continence’ (8.11).
Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:
In response to the questions inquired about in the previous two verses, Lord Krishna answers them in the order in which they were asked in this verse an the next two beginning with the words aksaram paramam brahma meaning the supreme, imperishable ultimate truth. That which is immutable, which is constant, which is indestructible. The indestructible principle is the highest because it is eternal, it is the primal cause of all creation and is known as the brahman or the spiritual substratum pervading all existence. In the Brihad-aranyaka Upanisad III.VIII.VIII we find: The knowers of the brahman state that the immutable brahman is that which is to be known. This immutable brahman manifests itself within the atma or individual soul residing within all sentient beings and is called as svabhava. The same principle existing as the monitor presiding over the physical body is designated by the term adhyatma which is the origin of all created beings and their development as well as their evolution from one lifetime to the next lifetime. The Manu Samhita III.LXXVI states: The oblations of ghee or clarified butter offered into the sacred fire ascend up and reach Surya, the sun god in full, from which results in rains, from rains grow grains and from grains beings. That yagna or offerings in propitiation consisting of putting ghee and havi or sanctified seed grains into the sacred fire with sanctified Vedic mantras to propitiate the demigods causing the development and benefit of all beings is known as karma or actions. This includes by implication all ritualistic Vedic activities.
Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:
Hari Om! The renunciation of action and the focused concentration of the mind at the time of death is discussed in this chapter. The supreme absolute and immutable truth is the brahman or spiritual substratum pervading all existence and without changing its svabhavah or the nature which causes development and evolution which also manifests as the atma or soul. Thus to remove any doubts about the paramount importance of the Vedic scriptures it is sometimes referred to as adhyatman or that which elevates the atma or soul, also that by which the atma is revealed. Similarly the jivas or embodied beings are also potentially svabhavah by helping oneself to elevate themselves. Therefore the jiva that which is made up of its innate nature. Since the attitude of the jiva is always to evolve the innate nature it is very beneficial. Associated with internal organs the word bhavah indicating gross material elements is used; but since the internal organs do not all respond similarly in the same manner another interpretation of bhava could be not connected to gross material elements and that would fits with the word svabhavo which refers to the eternally pure atma or soul and connotes our eternal relationship with the Supreme Lord Krishna. The potency of the Supreme Lord which manifests the creation of gross material elements and the living entities to be elevated is known as visargah and is the special creative activity of the Supreme Lord.
Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:
In answer to these questions the Supreme Lord Krishna replies in three verses. He answers three of the questions with the words aksaram paramam meaning the supreme indestructible reality which is imperishable and never is destroyed and is the essence in totality of all atmas or souls of all embodied beings. The Brhadaranyaka Upanisad IV.V.XIV states that the atma is eternal and verily indestructible. The jiva or embodied being is in a perpetual state of bondage and is explained in the Subala Upanisad as such: The unmanifest descends into the embodied soul and the embodied soul sinks into the darkness of nescience. But in this verse the word paramam meaning supreme qualifies the term aksaram and so its imperishable nature refers to the atma not associated with or disconnected from primordial matter and as such the only perception manifesting is realisation of the atma and one becomes omniscient. Although in scriptural passages such as Brhadaranyaka Upanisad IV.IV.XXII stating O`Garga the brahman or spirirtual substratum pervading all existence is verily indestructible. In this case it refers to the ultimate reality; but not here because Lord Krishna Himself will speak later in chapter 15, verse 16 and 17of this indestructible as being different from the two types of created beings those who are perishable and those who are imperishable as He is exalted and being distinctly different from both is designated as the Supreme Being and Supreme Personality. So here akarsam refers to the individual atma and when matter merges with it then it becomes embodied and is referred to as adhyatma which is a combination of matter, senses, intelligence and subtle elements surrounding enveloping the atma. Both the atma and matter should be well comprehended by those aspirants for moksa or liberation from material existence in order to know what in life should be accepted and what in life should be rejected. Also one should be clear as to the discharge of one’s daily duties and yagna or worship in propitiation and whether such propitiation should be offered to demigods like Indra the celestial chief of Surya the sungod or exclusively to the Supreme Lord. All actions of various types offered to anything other than the Supreme Lord have a reaction attached to them and are known as karma or reactions to actions and by these actions all types of movable and immovable beings are coming into existence. The Manu Samhita III. LXXVI states that the oblations of ghee or clarified butter and havi or seed grains reach unto the sun where results in rain and from rain grows food and from food human beings. This should be understood by the aspirants for moksa with discrimination as one of the Vedic rituals not required for them to accept.
Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:
8.3 Aksaram means that which does not perish (na ksarati), the supreme Self. This agrees with the Upanisadic text, ‘Under the mighty rule of this Immutable, O Gargi…’ (Br. 3.8.9). And (the letter) Om is not accept here [as the meaning of aksara (lit. letter)], because of its being mentioned (as a letter) later on in, ‘The single letter Om, which is Brahman’ (13). Besides, the adjective ‘supreme’ is more apporpriate with regard to the absolute, immutable Brahman. By svabhava, self-hood, is meant the eixtence of that very supreme Brahman in every body as the indwelling Self. Svabhavah ucyate, self-hood is said to be, is referred to by the word; adhyatmam, the entity which, as the indwelling Self, exists in the body (atma) by making it its habitat (adhikrtya), and which in the ultimate analysis is the supreme Brahman. Visargah, the offerings, the giving away to gods of things like porridge [Caru: An oblations of rice, barley and pulse boiled-together to be offered to gods.], cake, etc.; bhuta-bhava-udbhava-karah, which bring about the origin of the existence of things; is karma-sanjnitah, meant by action. This sacrifice consisting in pouring of oblations is called action. The existence (bhava) of (moving and nonmoving) things (bhuta) is bhuta-bhava. The coming into being (udbhava) of that (existence) is bhuta-bhava-udbhavah. That which causes (karoti) this is bhuta-bhava-udbhava-karah, i.e. the originator of existing things. It is needed from this source that all bengs, moving and non-moving, originate thorugh the successive processes of railfall etc. (see 3.14-15).
Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:
8.3 Aksaram etc. the Supreme is [called] Brahman because It is big and causes everything to grow [in It]. On the same ground, what is termed ‘as the Lord-of-self’ is that thing which bears the name Consciousness which never ceases to be in It (Brahman) and which is nothing but the Brahman (svah bhavah). This Brahman, which is nothing but Consciousness, embraces the Power of [creating] the universe because of Its unlimited aspect of being external; and on account of Its freedom in the form of supremacy there arises the emitting (i.e. creative) activity [in it] in the form of manifesting Itself as the external inanimate beings and also as various external animate ones. [These two aspects of] this activity cause respectively the birth of the inanimate beings – i.e. the insentient beings, and the animate ones i.e. the sentient beings like Brahman etc. [In other words], It manifests as varigated insentient and sentient beings. Again this activity bestows on what is real, its intrinsic nature i.e. creates a reality for the one from which all that is false is excluded. this emitting activity is what is known as ‘action’.
Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:
aksaram brahma paramam
svabhavo ’dhyatmam ucyate
Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:
śrī-bhagavān uvāca — the Supreme Personality of Godhead said; akṣaram — indestructible; brahma — Brahman; paramam — transcendental; svabhāvaḥ — eternal nature; adhyātmam — the self; ucyate — is called; bhūta-bhāva-udbhava-karaḥ — producing the material bodies of the living entities; visargaḥ — creation; karma — fruitive activities; saḿjñitaḥ — is called.