Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 3 (Part-1)

Karma Yogah : Yoga Of Action



This Chapter analyses from various points of view and establishes the fact that the         performance of prescribed duties is obligatory for everyone. Here Lord Krishna categorically and comprehensively explains how it is the duty of each and every member of society to carry out their functions and responsibilities in their respective stage of life according to the rules and regulations of the society in which one lives. Further the          Lord explains why such duties must be performed, what benefit is gained by performing them, what harm is caused by not performing them, what actions lead to bondage and what actions lead to salvation. All these points relating to duty have been described in great detail. Hence this chapter is entitled “Karma Yogah : Yoga Of Action”.

In the previous Chapter Bhagavan advised that Arjuna’s duty was to work without pre-occupying himself with its result and at the same time suggested that he should not be attached to inaction. He concluded His advice with the advocacy of the path of attaining the state of steady wisdom and Brahmi state by knowledge and renunciation.

Arjuna feels confused by the Lord’s praise of righteous war (2.31-38) and the Buddhi Yoga i.e. equanimity of mind (2.49 & 50) as also about the man of steady wisdom in conclusion. These apparently conflicting views seem to have perplexed Arjuna as to which path he has to adopt for his self-development i.e. whether it is knowledge or action or either together or total renunciation of both. The advice of The Lord here is that selfless action performed in a spirit of dedication and surrender and with pure motive is the right path.

The Text


arjuna uvaacha

jyaayasee chet karmanaste mataa buddhir janaardana

tat kim karmani ghore maam niyojayasi keshava  // 3.1 //

Arjuna said If you think that knowledge is superior to action, O Janardana, why then do you ask me to engage in this terrible action, O Kesava?

vyaamishreneva vaakyena  buddhim mohayaseeva me

tadekam vada nishchitya  yena shreyo’ham aapnuyaam  // 3.2 //

With these apparently perplexing words you confuse my understanding, as it were; therefore, tell me definitely that one thing by which I may attain the Highest Goal. Arjuna misunderstands the teaching that work for reward is less excellent than work without attachment and desire and believes that Sri Krishna is of the view that knowledge without action is better than work. If Sankhya method of gaining wisdom is superior, then action is an irrelevance. In this confusion he asks Sri Krishna as to which of the paths he has to follow for his self-development since he still believed that to fight against his people was a terrible action. Hence, Arjuna requests Sri Krishna to teach him for certain either of the two – knowledge or action – in accordance with the state and power of his understanding by which he could attain the highest good i.e. complete eradication of grief and infatuation and attainment of that imperishable.

The confusion is only seeming. It is not the intention of the Lord to confuse Arjuna but yet Arjuna is confused.


sri bhagavaan uvaacha

loke’smin dwividha nishthaa puraa proktaa mayaanagha

jnaanayogena saankhyaanaam karmayogena yoginaam  // 3.3 //

Sri Bhagavan said In this world there is a two-fold path, as I said before, O blameless One (Arjuna), the path of knowledge for men of contemplation and the path of work for men of action. The words ’As I said before’ indicate the beginning of the created world. Even at the very beginning of the cycle of time, two classes of people, those with contemplative and those with active temperaments, were in existence.

Those of contemplative mind are born with a clear knowledge of the Self and the non-Self. They easily renounce the world even at the early age of their lives and concentrate their thoughts on Brahman always. For them the path of knowledge is prescribed so that their ideas can mature and blend with Brahman.

The understanding of those who believe in external action as a means of self-unfoldment is still colored by the stain of duality. The performance of unselfish action purifies their souls and enables them to practice knowledge and contemplation.

The path of knowledge (Gnana Yoga) was described by The Lord in verses 11-38 and the path of action (Karma Yoga) in verses 40-53 of the Second Chapter which created confusion in the mind of Arjuna although never intended by The Lord.  To consider the path of action and the path of knowledge as competitive is to understand neither of them, they being complementary. Selfless activity enables the mind to exhaust many of its existing mental impressions and the mind thus purified prepares the one for the reception of knowledge of the Absolute through meditation or contemplation. There cannot be any knowledge of Brahman unless the mind is pure.

The Lord distinguishes two main types of seekers viz., the active and the contemplative. Because temperamentally these two categories are so wide apart that a common technique for spiritual development cannot yield results. So Sri Krishna explains the two-fold path of Self-development. Viz. Path of knowledge for the introverts whose natural tendency is to explore the inner life of the Spirit and the Path of action for the extroverts who have a natural bias for work in the outer world.  Those who are endowed with discrimination, dispassion, six-fold virtues, and longing for liberation and who have a sharp, subtle intellect and bold understanding are fit for Gnana Yoga or the Path of Knowledge. The six-fold virtues are control of the mind, control of the senses, fortitude, turning away from the objects of the world; faith and tranquility.  Those who have tendency for work are fit for Karma Yoga or the Path of Action.

But this distinction cannot be the ultimate because all men are in different degrees both introverts and extroverts. For the Gita, the path of action is a means of liberation as efficient as that of knowledge and these are intended for two types of people. The practice of a particular spiritual discipline is determined by the competence of the aspirant. Both the active and the contemplative have one goal viz. the realization of Brahman. The path of action, however, does not directly lead to the realization.


na karmanaam anaarambhaan naishkarmyam purusho’shnute

na cha sannyaasanaad eva siddhim samadhigacchati // 3.4 //

Not by abstention from work does a man reach actionlessness, nor by mere renunciation does he attain to perfection. Action as it is generally understood is the outcome of want and desire. Actionlessness does not mean mere idling or abandoning of all actions. Although one can while away his time doing nothing, his mind will be full of thoughts scheming, speculating and planning over several matters. Desires generate thoughts at the mental level which when expressed in the outer world become actions. Thus thought is the real action. If one is free from thoughts, wishes, likes and dislikes and has knowledge of the Self he can be said to have reached the state of actionlessness.    The one who has reached such a state of actionlessness has neither the necessity nor the desire for action as a means to the end. He has a perfect satisfaction in the Self. Thus actionlessness and perfection are synonymous terms meaning, becoming one with the Infinite and free from all ideas of want and desire.   Mere renunciation or abandonment of action or running away from life does not lead to perfection.  Through selfless dedicated action, purification of mind is achieved and the purified mind helps in attaining the Knowledge of the Self which is the ultimate Bliss. The natural law is that every action has its reaction and hence the result of the action is a source of bondage preventing the man from his union with the Supreme. What is needed is not renunciation of works but renunciation of selfish desires. This is naishkarmya, a state where one is unaffected by work.


na hi kashchit kshanamapi jaatu tishthatyakarmakrit

kaaryate hyavashah karma sarvah prakritjair gunaih  // 3.5 //

Verily none can ever remain even for a moment without performing action; for everyone is made to act by the Gunas or qualities born of prakriti (nature), in spite of himself.

Man is always under the influence of triple tendencies of unactivity- based on his Sattwic quality, activity- based on Rajasic quality, inactivity- based on Tamasic quality. Even for a single moment nobody can ever remain without any activity; even if one remains inactive physically his mind and intellect will always be active. Sattwic actions help a man to attain liberation.  Rajasic and Tamasic actions bind a man to worldliness.  So long as we lead embodied lives we remain under the influence of these three Gunas or mental tendencies and we cannot escape from action. Without work life cannot be sustained. . But these Gunas cannot affect a man who has the knowledge of the Self, for he has gone beyond them.  He has become a Gunatita – one who has transcended the qualities of nature and for him the work ceases. The man who has no knowledge of the Self who is called un-illumined, will be swayed by ignorance and will be driven to action by the Gunas.  While life remains, action is inevitable. Thinking is an act. Living is an act.  These acts cause many effects.  To be free from desire, from the illusion of personal interest, is the true renunciation and not the physical abstention from activity.

When it is said that work ceases for a man who is liberated, all that it means is that he has no further personal necessity for work which however does not mean that he goes into masterly inactivity. He woks, but without egoism or any binding necessity. Even in performing work he is not involved. When his egoism is removed, his actions are governed by the Supreme Self seated in his heart. Free from desire and attachment, one with all beings, he is released from the bondage of actions. Such actions do not bear fruit in the same way as a roasted or boiled seed loses its potency to sprout.

karmendriyaani samyamya ya aaste manasaa smaran

indriyaarthaan vimoodhaatma  mithyaachaarah sa uchyate  // 3.6 //

He who restrains his organs of action, but continues to dwell in his mind on the objects of the senses, deludes himself and is called a hypocrite. The five organs of action – the Karma Indriyas – are the organs of speech, hands, feet, genitals and anus. They are born of the Rajasic portion of the subtle elements viz. organ of speech is born of ether element, hands of air, feet of fire, genitals of water and anus of earth. Despite restraining these organs if one sits revolving in his mind the thoughts regarding the objects of these sense organs in order to give an impression that he is meditating on God, he is called a self-deluded hypocrite and a man of sinful conduct.

True renunciation is not just the control of the organs of action or abstention from physical movement. It is the control of the mind and the organs of perception. It is the absence of longing for the activity. An active mind and an actionless body do not indicate the life of sanyasa. We may control outwardly our activities but if we do not restrain the desires which impel them, we have failed to grasp the true meaning of restraint.

yastwindriyaani manasaa niyamyaarabhate’rjuna

karmendriyaih karmayogam  asaktah sa vishishyate  // 3.7 //

But he who restrains his senses with his mind and directs his organs of action to work, with no feeling of attachment – he, O Arjuna, is indeed superior. The science of right action and the art of right living are explained in this verse. Mind gets its inputs through five organs of perception which are also called sense-organs or organs of knowledge (Gnana Indriyas) from the outer world of sense objects. These five sense organs are the eye (sense of sight), ear (sense of hearing), nose (sense of smell), skin (sense of touch), and tongue (sense of taste). Mind perceives the sense objects by interacting with the sense organs and if that interaction is absent perception of objects by the mind is not possible even though the objects might be within the range of the sense organs. This verse asks the seeker to control the sense organs by the mind.  This implies substitution of sense objects by nobler and diviner alternatives for the mind to dwell upon.  When the sense organs are thus controlled, a huge quantity of energy gets stored up which unless properly directed will disturb the inner equilibrium of an individual.  This verse says that the pent up energies must be spent by directing the seeker’s organs of action (explained in the previous verse) to the appropriate fields of activities. Even when so acting it is advised not to have attachment arising out of doership and enjoyership so that instead of gathering new mental impressions one may use such activities for exhausting the existing vasanas. Thus the very field of activity becomes a ground for liberation. In the previous verse mere outer renunciation is condemned and in this verse true spirit of inward detachment is commended.

IMPORTANCE OF PERFORMING ALLOTTED DUTY niyatam kuru karma twam karma jyaayo hyakarmanah

shareerayaatraa pi cha te  na prasiddhyed akarmanah  // 3.8 //

Do your allotted work; for action is superior to inaction.  Even the bare maintenance of the body would not be possible if you remain inactive. Allotted action is one’s own duty as laid down in the scriptures to different persons in accordance with their inherited tendencies, the stage in life and the order in society. Non-performance of such bounden duties would mean inaction. The very fact of living involves several natural and unavoidable actions which have to be performed by all. Even bodily existence in health is just not possible if one has to live in complete inertia and inaction.


yajnaarthaat karmano’nyatra loko’yam karmabandhanah

tadartham karma kaunteya muktasangah samaachara  // 3.9 //

The world is in bondage to work unless they are performed for the sake of Yajna (sacrifice). Therefore, O Son of Kunti, give up attachment and do your work as a sacrifice.

All work is to be done in a spirit of sacrifice, for the sake of the Divine. Yajna here means any unselfish action done with a pure motive. It is a self-sacrificing work undertaken in a spirit of self-dedication for the good of all. Such actions cannot be self-serving but self-liberating and do not bind the performer. An action which is not governed by the spirit of unselfishness binds one to worldliness, however glorious it may be.


sahayajnaah prajaah srishtwaa  purovaacha prajaapatih

anena prasavishyadhwam  esha vo’stvishtakaamadhuk  // 3.10 //

The creator (Prajapati ), having in the beginning created mankind together with Yajna, said ‘by this you multiply’; this shall be the milch cow of your desires’. When the Universe was created by the Creator – Prajapati – he simultaneously created Yajna also, the spirit of self-dedicated activities which is seen everywhere, e.g. shining of the sun and the moon, flowing of rivers, tolerance of the Earth etc.,  All these activities show the spirit of sacrifice without any selfish motives. The second part of the verse means that no achievement is impossible for man if he knows how to act in the spirit of self-effacement and self-sacrifice with the required amount of non-attachment.


devaan bhaavayataanena te devaa bhaavayantu vah

parasparam bhaavayantah shreyah param avaapsyatha  // 3.11 //

Cherish the Devas with this and may those Devas cherish you, thus cherishing one another you shall gain the highest good. ishtaan bhogaan hi vo devaa  daasyante yajnabhaavitaah

tair dattaan apradaayaibhyo  yo bhungkte stena eva sah  // 3.12 //

Devas, cherished by the sacrifice, will give you the desired objects.  Indeed, he who enjoys objects given by the Devas without offering in return to them is verily a thief. By performing actions as Yajna, as dedication to the Self, recognize and express your sense of appreciation and gratitude to all the Devas, the presiding functionaries of natural laws such as wind, fire etc.

By worshipping the various Devas in a spirit of sacrifice, by being grateful to all the presiding deities of the unchanging laws of nature, you recognize the Self behind all the Devas, behind all the laws of nature and natural phenomenon in this creation. Thus, through the Yajnam- by propitiating the Devas, you propitiate the Self itself.

In any sacrifice or ceremonial ritual we propitiate the Devas by offering oblations to them. It is simply a way of expressing our deep sense of appreciation and gratitude to them for the parts that they play in this creation. Whether one is grateful or not, the sun rises, the rain rains and the wind blows. But by recognizing their functions in this creation, and by expressing one’s deep appreciation and gratitude to them, one recognizes the true nature of one’s own function in this creation, one becomes an active participant in this creation, and one progressively identifies oneself with the creation and the creator – The Self, Brahman.

When you express your appreciation and gratitude to the Devas, what do they do to you? Having been properly propitiated, the Devas will protect you; nourish you by their functions. Thus, may all the laws of nature – by their own natural functions, uplift you by being an asset to you in your endeavors for gaining your overriding goal of life, namely liberation.

By doing every work as a work of sacrifice totally dedicated to the Self, everything in this creation becomes an asset to you for your own upliftment in life, for your own true progress in life, for a life of non-binding, everlasting prosperity, success and happiness, leading ultimately to Shreyas, total Fulfillment in life. Therefore, mutually interacting with each other, may you reap the supreme good, may you gain moksha.

What about the person who never says a prayer, who has no sense of gratitude, but only wants to enjoy whatever he, can get out of this world? The one who enjoys all the blessings of daily life without even a sincere expression of gratitude to the Self (Devas) who made all such enjoyments possible, is indeed a thief.

Thus in the Vedic view, every human being is meant for action as a participant in this creation. Every one’s destination is the same, namely shreyas, moksha. One reaches this destination by doing one’s Karma with the attitude of Karma Yoga – as an act of sacrifice dedicated to the Self.

In this relative world man and Devas are interdependent. They are nourished by one another. Men offer oblations to the gods; gods in return ensure men’s welfare by sending rain and other gifts. Thus a chain of mutual obligation binds together all created beings.


yajnashishtaashinah santo muchyante sarva kilbishaih

bhunjate te twagham paapaa  ye pachantyaatma kaaranaat  // 3.13 //

The righteous who eat the remnants of the sacrifice are freed from all sins; but those sinful ones who cook food only for their own sake, verily eat sin. Sins of the past are the cause for the present pains and the present sins are the cause for future sorrows. All the causes for the sorrows in social life can be removed if the members of the community find happiness in enjoying the results of their efforts performed in true Yajna spirit.  As a contrast to this it is pointed out that those who cook for themselves only meaning those who perform actions only with selfish motives are eating nothing but sin. By doing the work in yajna spirit, the selfish life is transformed into an unselfish one and the individual becomes aware of the interdependence of all beings.


annaad bhavanti bhootani  parjanyaad anna sambhavah

yajnaad bhavati parjanyo  yajnah karma samudbhavah  // 3.14 //

From food all creatures are born; from rain food is produced; from sacrifice comes rain; sacrifice is born of action. karma brahmodbhavam viddhi   brahmaakshara samudbhavam

tasmaat sarvagatam brahma  nityam yajne pratishthitam  // 3.15 //

Know that action arises from the Vedas, and the Vedas from the Imperishable. Therefore, the all pervading Vedas ever rest in sacrifice.

The cosmic wheel of co-operative action is painted here. The living creatures are born out of food and nourished by food.  The mineral wealth of the world becomes assimilable food because of the action of the rain upon it. Rain is the cause for the conversion of mineral raw material into nutritive food in life.  Similarly, in all fields of activity profit can be gathered only when the field comes under conditions favorable for it to produce those profits.  Self-dedicated activity – Yajna – when performed in any field of endeavor will create conditions-rains- for the field to yield profit – Annam- enjoyable by the society.  This wheel of action is connected with and includes the Supreme.  The principle of right action has come out of the Creator himself who is none other than the Imperishable Supreme Reality expressed through the Vedas. Therefore, the all pervading Supreme is ever centered in all efforts undertaken with an honest spirit of self-dedication for the common good.  He who lives in unison with this wheel of action is contributing to the harmony of life. evam pravartitam chakram naanuvartayateeha yah

aghaayur indriyaaraamo  mogham paartha sa jeevati  // 3.16 //

He who does not follow the wheel thus set-in motion, but takes delight in the senses, he lives in vain, O Arjuna. Every member of the Universe follows the principle of Yajna and contributes to the smooth running of the Universal Wheel of Action. But among all the living creatures only man has been endowed with the option of freedom of action – to contribute to the harmonious working of the cosmic mechanism or strike a discordant note.    While a majority of the people live abiding in the Law of Harmony, there are some who do not believe in this Eternal Law and revolt against it. During such dark periods nobody works with the spirit of Yajna without which no favorable circumstances can be created (rain) for the productive potential to manifest.  Such seekers of selfish pleasures bring about discordance in the Wheel of Action.  They are considered to be living in sin and that too in vain by the Gita.  In these verses (10 to 16) the Vedic conception of sacrifice as an inter-link between God and man is set in the larger context of the interdependence of beings in the cosmos. He who works for himself alone lives in vain. TO THE ONE WHO REMAINS SATISFIED IN THE SELF, THERE IS NOTHING TO WORK FOR

yastwaatmaratir eva syaad aatmatriptashcha maanavah

aatmanyeva cha santushtas tasya kaaryam na vidyate  // 3.17 //

But for that man who rejoices only in the Self, who is satisfied in the Self, who is content in the Self alone, verily there is nothing to do. The motivation for any human action in the outer world is to achieve better satisfaction and contentment.  The man of perfection does not depend on external objects for his happiness. He finds his joy, bliss and contentment in his own Divine experience. When he has already achieved satisfaction and contentment, no more desires arise in him.  Where there are no desires there is no action. Such a realized man is a person endowed with Self-Knowledge. He has no worldly duties to perform. He is the knower of Brahman.

naiva tasya kritenaartho naakriteneha kashchana

na chaasya sarvabhooteshu  kashchidartha vyapaashrayah  //3.18 //

He has nothing to gain by what he does in this world, nor anything to lose by what he leaves undone; nor is there anyone, among all beings, on whom he need to depend for any thing. An ordinary man is required to act for earning profit or avoiding loss. But for a man who discovered eternal satisfaction in his own Self and reached perfect contentment therein no purpose is served by engaging himself in any action because there is neither anticipation of gain nor fear of loss for him.  Such a person depends upon nothing for his joy, neither on any being from the Creator, Brahma to a blade of grass nor on any object.


tasmaad asaktah satatam  kaaryam karma samaachara

asakto hyaacharan karma param aapnoti poorushah  // 3.19 //

Therefore, always do without attachment the work you have to do; for by performing action without attachment a man reaches the Supreme. After explaining the wheel of action Sri Krishna concludes His dissertation by asking Arjuna to perform actions which are obligatory on his part in his present status in life. Even here The Lord warns him to keep his mind away from the pitfalls of attachments.   Though the liberated man has nothing to gain by action or non-action and is perfectly happy in the enjoyment of the Self, there is such a thing called desireless action which he undertakes for the welfare of the world. The work done without attachment is superior to the work done in a spirit of sacrifice which is itself higher than work done with selfish aims. While this verse says that the man reaches the Supreme performing actions without attachment, Sankara holds that karma yoga helps us to attain purity of mind which leads to salvation. It takes us to perfection indirectly through the attainment of purity of mind. EXAMPLES SET BY THE WISE

karmanaiva hi samsiddhim aasthitaa janakaadayah

lokasangraham evaapi sampashyan kartum arhasi  // 3.20 //

Janaka and others attained perfection verily by action only; even with a view to the protection of the masses you should perform action.

Ancient kings like Janaka and others attained perfection or liberation – samsiddhi – by the path of action, performing right actions in a spirit of detachment and self-dedication. They set an example to the world by their lives of service and achievement. They attained purity of mind through the performance of duty and then realized Brahman.

Sri Krishna means Arjuna too, belonging to a princely class, who has the responsibility to protect his people, should act diligently and perform his kshatriya duties without running away from the battle as he intended earlier.  We can notice the modern leadership principle here.  Born as a king Arjuna has got a greater commitment towards his subjects. He is a leader of men and a lot depends on him and his activities. Therefore, it is his bounden obligation to keep his post and discharge his duties diligently, risking all dangers and fighting enemies for achieving Lokasangraha. Lokasangraha stands for the unity of the world, the inter connectedness of society, protection and maintenance by each other. If the world is not to sink into physical misery and moral degradation, if the common life is to be decent and dignified, religious ethics must control social action. The aim of religion is to spiritualize everyday life for establishing universal brotherhood on earth and maintenance of the world order.


yad yad aacharati shreshthas tattadevetaro janah

sa yat pramaanam kurute lokas tad anuvartate  // 3. 21 //

Whatever a great man does, that, others follow; whatever he sets up as the standard, that, the world follows. Common people are more influenced by the living examples of great men than by the abstract teaching of the scriptures. Man is a social animal.  He is also an imitating animal. He takes his ideas of right and wrong from those whom he considers his superiors. The examples set by the leaders are implemented by the followers. As is the quality of leaders, so will be the quality of the followers. Whatever the persons in authority do, the subordinates imitate.

Sri Krishna implies that if Arjuna were to abandon his duty to act, then the entire community will follow the low standard of retreating from action set up by him which will lead to general social decadence. The Lord cites Himself as an example for Arjuna to act.

na me paarthaasti kartavyam  trishu lokeshu kinchana

naanavaaptam avaaptavyam  varta eva cha karmani  // 3.22 //

There is nothing in the three worlds, O Partha, that has to be done by me, or is there anything unattained that should be attained by me, yet, I continue to engage myself in work. Being a Perfect man and a Yogi, Sri Krishna had nothing to gain in this world. His entire life is an example of a perfect life of complete detachment. Even though He had nothing that He did not gain nor had anything further to gain, He was engaging Himself constantly in activity.

Here Krishna speaks of Himself as the Godhead. Though He transcends all claims of duty, yet He acts according to the scriptural injunctions to set an example to others.

yadi hyaham na varteyam jaatu karmanyatandritah

mama vartmaanuvartante manushyaah paartha sarvashah // 3.23 //

For, should I not ever engage in action, without relaxation, men would in every way follow my path, O Son of Pritha.

If The Lord remains inactive the people also will imitate Him and sink themselves in inertia and unproductive existence and great harm will come in the world. The entire Universe survives and sustains itself by activity alone.  In these verses the word `I’ implies Atman or the Self-realized man of perfection. The God principle serves the pluralistic phenomenal world as a substratum for its existence.

utseedeyur ime lokaa na kuryaam karma ched aham

sankarasya cha kartaa syaamupahanyaam imaah prajaah  // 3.24 //

If I should cease to work, these worlds would perish.  I should then be the cause of confusion and destruction of these people.

If The Lord does not work it will not be conducive to the progress of the Universe. The Universe is not chaos but a cosmos. Nowhere chaotic conditions are observed in the working of the cosmic forces. Movement of planets                                                                                                                    , occurring of seasons, laws of the oceans, various social orders and disiplines etc., always obey the law of nature or God.

The Lord represents not only the law governing the outer world of things but also the law that governs the inner world of thoughts and emotions. Human society is divided into four castes on the basis of individual mental temperaments. In case the law governing the inner temperaments does not function there will be confusion in behavior and instability in the character of people bringing about their own destruction.

Concepts and Issues

Arjuna is confused about the relative importance of knowledge and work. If the man of knowledge is superior to the man of action, then why is he being asked to pursue the path of action and undertake such a terrible act like a fratricidal war?

Sri Krishna replies that there are two types of people viz. the purely intellectual and the physically active.  The path of knowledge is prescribed for the intellectual, whereas the path of action is the best for the physically dynamic.  But it should be born in mind that dedicated action by itself cannot be the end. It is only the means to achieve the final goal of Realization of the Self. On the other hand, the path of wisdom takes one directly to the final goal.

The path of knowledge is not the proper one for Arjuna as he, being a Kshatriya, does not belong to the meditative and intellectual type. His natural aptitude is for action and he can purify himself only through action.  So he has to discharge his duties in a selfless spirit of pure devotion without expecting any fruits of such action.. If one understands the art of performance of actions without selfishness, one is already in the path of knowledge as these two paths are not contradictory but complementary.

An action performed without any concern for the fruits thereof is not inaction because such action never produces any psychological reaction and gains wonderful results while inaction i.e. running away from action, produces nothing but idleness.

All beings always remain active.  Inaction is against the law of nature.  Inaction by external withdrawal of sense organs from the sense objects while the mind remaining preoccupied with the thinking about those objects is hypocrisy or escapism and self deception. A real seeker of wisdom is the one, who conquers his organs of perception by his mind but employs his organs of action in the selfless discharge of his duty.  Performance of one’s duty is, in all respects, preferable to utter inaction. One cannot live even the everyday ordinary life without doing anything.

Only those actions which are prompted by desires entail bondages of vasanas but not those performed in the discharge of one’s duty with no expectation of the result and meant only as an offering at the feet of The Lord.  It is called performing of actions in the spirit of Yagna i.e. sacrificing our selfish interests for the welfare of the humanity at large.  Here the word Yagna which means Vedic ritualism includes all self-less co-operative activities.

In the beginning the Creator created all living beings with a capacity of yagna in everybody i.e. to work with a selfless attitude, in a spirit of dedication for the common welfare. The spirit of co-operation between the high and the low, the rich and the poor, the wise and the dull, the spirit of give and take and many more such noble and divine values of harmonious living in society are meant by the word Yagna. He only commits stealing who is only ready to take but not to give. People used to propitiate God by sacrifice who in turn bestowed them with plenty and prosperity through rains, fertility of the soil to yield nourishing food.

Mother Nature provides many examples of the spirit of constant sacrifice like the Sun giving light, the Earth satisfying all human requirements and the Fire giving heat etc. Thus sacrifice is an unselfish action.  Prosperity and plenty are the direct results of such dedicated actions.

The capacity to do well in us has been given by the Creator, the Supreme, manifested through its own creative urge. What we are bound to do in our station in life we must do well for our own good and for the good of the entire community. Wherever such a noble work is undertaken in a spirit of co-operation (Yagna) there is God, the Highest. Those who have reached the highest state of eternal contentment need not pursue this path because they have nothing to gain by actions as the individuality in them created by ego has already ended and they do not depend upon anyone for anything.

Sri Krishna advises Arjuna that he still being a seeker of Knowledge should discharge his duty in a spirit of dedication as an offering to The Lord citing examples of King Janaka and others of Perfect Wisdom who attained Perfection through selfless discharge of their duties. The Lord gives His own example of engaging Himself in activities continuously although it is immaterial for Him whether He acts or not.

The reason for this is that the common people with limited intelligence imitate the great and so if The Lord has to remain inactive, they will also remain idle leading to indiscipline

Live as the Gita Teaches You to Live

  • Action one must perform; but it should be performed in the spirit of Yajna. The aim is Lokasangraha, the benefit at large.

  • Interdependence of beings in the cosmos should not be forgotten. He who works for himself alone lives in vain.

  • Leadership qualities are stressed. Set an example to others in right living.

Points to Ponder

  1. What was Arjuna’s doubt in the beginning of the Chapter and what was Sri Krishna’s clarification to it?
  2. How does a man bound by action?
  3. Who is a hypocrite?
  4. What is the philosophy of action?
  5. How can one be free from action?
  6. What is the cosmic wheel of co-operation?
  7. What is meant by Lokasangraha?
  8. What is the difference between the activities of the wise and the ignorant?
  9. Why it is important for the wise man to set an example to others in rightful living?

Next time we will proceed from the Verse 3.25

Harih Om

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