Reader Sridhar ji requested a translation of Śrī Baladeva’s commentary on Gītā 2.29. For reference, the verse is below:
āścaryavat paśyati kaścid enam āścaryavad vadati tathaiva cānyaḥ |
āścaryavac cainam anyaḥ śṛṇoti śrutvāpy enaṁ veda na caiva kaścit ||
Someone considers the self as amazing, another speaks of it as amazing, and still another hears of it as amazing, while yet another, even after hearing of it, cannot comprehend it at all.
The thrust of Śrī Baladeva’s tikā, like the really interesting tikā of the Advaitin Śrī Madhusudana Saraswati (which Śrī Baladeva appears to borrow from) is on showing how there are viruddha dharmas, or mutually contradictory qualities in the ātmā. This is why it is called ‘amazing’ in the main verse.
nanu sarvajñena tvayā bahūpadiśyamāno’py ahaṁ śoka-nivārakam ātma-yāthātmyaṁ na budhye kim etad ? iti cet
[If Arjuna asks a question:] Even though I am being instructed by you, the all-knowing one, in so many ways, still, I cannot understand the essential nature of the ātmā, which dispels grief. Why is this?
tatrāha—āścaryavad iti |
Śrī Bhagavān responds with this verse.
[Two meanings are possible depending on what one takes the ‘tat’ to refer to. If we take ‘tat’ to mean tayor madhye (between these two), then the meaning is: ]
Although the ātmā is both vijñāna and ānanda in its svarūpa, it is not the pratiyogi of the bheda between the two.
Here, ‘it is not pratiyogi of the bheda’ means ‘it does not have abhāva of the bheda’, which means ‘it has bheda’. The above translation is incoherent; I actually don’t know what it means. So instead, I think the word ‘tat’ should be taken as ‘tābhyām’ – from these two. Then it would mean:
Although the ātmā is both vijñāna and ānanda in its svarūpa, it is not the pratiyogi of the difference or bheda from these two, meaning, it [also] has difference or bheda from these two, meaning it is different from these two.
So the meaning is that although the ātmā is vijñāna and ānanda, it is also different from vijñāna and ānanda, because it is the possessor of these qualities. This is bheda and abheda between the ātmā and vijñāna and the ātmā and ānanda. Bheda and abheda are mutually contradictory, as abheda is the absence of bheda and bheda is the absence of abheda. He confirms this next:
vijñāna-svarūpatve’pi vijñātṛtayā santaṁ
Although the ātmā is vijñāna (consciousness) in its svarūpa , it exists as the vijñātṛ (the conscious one)
Although it is a paramāṇu, it pervades the body
nānā-kāya-sambandhe’pi tat-tad-vikārair aspṛṣṭam
Although it is related to many bodies, it is untouched by the changes in those bodies
evam ādi bahu-viruddha-dharmatayāścaryavad adbhuta-sādṛśyena sthitam |
In this manner, due to having several opposite dharmas, it is situated as something wonderful (āścaryavad).
enaṁ mad-upadiṣṭaṁ jīvaṁ kaścid eva svadharmānuṣṭhānena satya-tapo-japādinā ca vimṛṣṭa-hṛd-guru-prasāda-labdha-tādṛśa-jñānaḥ paśyati yāthātmyenānubhavati |
This jīva (enam), about whom I have instructed, is seen (paśyati) only by someone, who, by the practice of japa, penance, truthfulness and other methods, has cleansed his heart, and attained this type of knowledge by the grace of the guru. Here, paśyati, ‘sees’, means experiences the essence.
āścaryavad iti kriyā-viśeṣaṇaṁ vā kartṛ-viśeṣaṇaṁ veti vyākhyātāraḥ kaścid enam yat paśyati tad āścaryavat | yaḥ kaścit paśyati so’py āścaryavad ity arthaḥ |
Commentators [maybe he is referring to Śrī Madhusudana Saraswati respectfully in the plural] take the word āścaryavat to be an adverb or an adjective. That someone sees him is āścaryavat or amazing (adverb), and one who sees is also āścaryavat or amazing (adjective). This is the sense.
evam agre’pi | śrutvāpy enam iti kaścit samyag amṛṣṭa-hṛd ity arthaḥ | tathā ca duradhigamaṁ jīvātma-yāthātmyam |
This is how it should be understood for the other uses of āścaryavad as well (adverbially and adjectivally). In the clause ” while yet another, even after hearing of it, cannot comprehend it at all”, ‘yet another’ refers to someone whose heart is not fully clean. And [the clause conveys that] the essential nature of the jīvātmā is very difficult to comprehend. This is also stated in the śruti:
śrutir apy evam āha—
śravaṇāyāpi bahubhir yo na labhyaḥ śṛṇvanto’pi bahavo yaṁ na vidyuḥ |
āścaryo vaktā kuśalo’sya labdhā āścaryo jñātā kuśalānuśiṣṭa || [ka.u. 1.2.7] iti ||29||
He is not available to be heard by many, and not known by many even as they hear. He who speaks about him is a wonder, and one who attains him is skilled. One who knows about him, instructed by the skilled, is a wonder.