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Comparing translation bias in the Gita 5.14

Gita 5.14 is a good verse to contrast different schools of translations:

na kartṛtvaṃ na karmāṇi lōkasya sṛjati prabhuḥ /
na karmaphalasaṃyōgaṃ svabhāvastu pravartatē /5.14/

The two words, “prabhu” (lit. lord or master) and “svabhāva” (lit. innate nature) can be interpreted in two and three ways respectively:

  1. Prabhu can mean either the individual self (lord of the body) or the Supreme Master (lord of the world).

  2. Svabhāva can refer to the nature of the individual self (as in, one’s vāsanas and karmic baggage), or the material nature (prakṛti and its guṇas), or the quality of the Supreme Lord (as the ultimate cause of everything).

Let’s see who interprets in what manner! The notes in brackets are extracted from respective commentaries, notes, etc.

Authentic paramparā

Advaita, Ādi-Ṡankara Bhagavatpāda:

The (embodied) Self does not create agentship or any objects (of desire) for anyone; nor association with the results of actions. But it is one’s own Nature (ignorance or māyā) that acts.

Viṡīṣṭādvaita, Bhagavad Rāmanuja:

The lord of the body (the self i.e., the jīva) does not create agency, nor actions, nor union with the fruits of actions in relation to the world of selves. It is only the inherent tendencies (subtle impressions or vāsanās, originating from Prakṛti’s association with karmic jīva) that function.

Dvaita, Ṡrīman Madhvācārya (Nagesh Sonde’s and Subbu Rau’s translation):

Neither the agency for actions nor the actions nor even the inter-relation between actions and the (corresponding) fruits are initiated by the living entity (jīva). It is one’s natural potency (ultimately Lord Viṣṇu = svabhāva) that prevails.

Acintya bhēdābheda, Ṡrīla Prabhupāda (ISKCON):

The embodied spirit, master of the city of his body, does not create activities, nor does he induce people to act, nor does he create the fruits of action. All this is enacted by the modes of material nature.

Kripāluji sampradāya, Swāmi Mukundānanda:

Neither the sense of doership nor the nature of actions comes from Bhagavān; nor does He create the fruits of actions. All this is enacted by the modes of material nature (guṇas).

Indian expositors

Saguṇa-nirākarā-brahmavāda, Gita Press Sādhaka-San̄jīvanī, Swami Ramsukhdas translated by S.C.Vaishya, R.N.Kaul & Keshoram Aggarwal:

Neither the sense of doership nor the nature of actions does the Lord determine for the mankind, not does He link actions with their fruits. But it is the personal nature alone that impacts.

Neo-Advaita, Dr.S.Radhakrishnan:

The Sovereign Self does not create for the people agency, nor does He act. Nor does He connect works with their fruits. It is the nature that works out (these).

Prabhuḥ is the Sovereign Self of the knower, the Real Self which is one with all that is. (Advaitic Brahman where Supreme Self = individual Self = the one Real Self).

Integral Yoga, Sri Aurobindo:

The Lord (āntarātma or the all-pervading Impersonal Soul) neither creates the works of the world nor the state of the doer nor to joining of the works to the fruit; nature (prakṛti) works out these things.

C.Rajagopalachari (1941 edition, Chapter 7, “Inherited Propensities”):

The soul (jīvātma) does not exercise any agency or perform action, nor is it concerned with the fruits of action. It is the qualities of material nature (guṇas of prakṛti) that carry on.

An earlier edition (1935) stated that prabhu means the liberated soul:

The soul when blessed with enlightenment knows that it does not exercise any agency or perform action or attain the fruits of action. It is the qualities of material nature that carry on.

Karmayoga-ṡāstra, Bal Gangadhar Tilak:

The prabhu (that is, the Ātman or the Paramēṡvara) does not create either the capacity of men for Action, nor their Actions, nor the attendant Fruit of Action (accruing to the doers). Inherent nature, (that is, prakṛti) performs (everything).

Gospel of Selfless Action, Mahatma M.K. Gandhi:

The Lord (God) creates neither agency nor action for the world; neither does he connect action with its fruit. It is nature (inexorable law of karma) that is at work.

Western interpreters

International Gita Society (U.S.A) “Silver book”:

The Lord neither creates the urge for action, nor the feeling of doership, nor the attachment to the result of action in people. The power of Material Nature does all this.

Eknath Easwaran:

Neither the sense of acting, nor actions, nor the connection of cause and effect comes from the Lord of this world. These three arise from nature.

Franklin Edgerton:

Neither agency nor actions
 Of the (people of the) world does the Lord (soul) instigate,
Nor the conjunction of actions with their fruits;
 But inherent nature operates (in all this).

J.A.B. van Buitenen:

The Lord has not created into people either authorship of acts themselves, or the concatenation of act and fruit: that is the doing of Nature.

NOTE: Nature (svabhāva): its use is rather ambiguous, for, though on the one hand it is nature in general (prakṛti, see 2.21) that initiates acts, on the other it can also be one’s own (i.e., individual/personal) nature.


Neither agency nor worldly works does [the body’s] lord engender, nor yet the bond that works to the fruit conjoins: it is inherent Nature that initiates action.

“Exploring the Bhagavad Gita”, Theodor Ithamar:

The lord of the body (the soul) is not the cause of action, neither of the relation of action to its fruits; these are all set in motion by his own nature.


IITK Gita Supersite, Yugal Sarkar Gita, ISKCON Gita, comparative Gita, Sri Aurobindo