Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 4 (Part-1) Jnaana Karma Sanyaasa Yogah : Yoga of Renunciation of Action in Knowledge

Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 4 (Part-1)

Jnaana Karma Sanyaasa Yogah :

Yoga of Renunciation of Action in Knowledge



In the previous Chapter Sri Krishna advocated the path of Karma Yoga as a method to realize the Self.  For fear that Arjuna may misunderstand this advice as the only way for the self-development Lord Krishna reveals in this chapter how spiritual knowledge is received by successive disciples and the reason and nature of His descent into the material worlds. He also explains the paths of action and knowledge as well as the wisdom regarding the supreme knowledge which results at the culmination of the two paths. Thus this chapter dealing with the paths of action and knowledge is entitled: ‘The Yoga of Renunciation of Action in Knowledge’. In a way this Chapter can be considered as an Appendix to the Third Chapter.

In this Chapter we can observe Sri Krishna talking to Arjuna not as his friend or charioteer but as an omnipotent and omniscient God probably to instill in his mind the necessary reverence and respect for Him and His teachings.

The Text


sri bhagavaan uvaacha

imam vivaswate yogam proktavan aham avyayam

vivaswaan manave praaha manur ikshwaakave’braveet // 4.1 //

Sri Bhagavan said

I taught this eternal Yoga to Vivasvan; he taught it to Manu and Manu proclaimed it to Ikshvaku.

This eternal yoga means the yoga taught in the Second and Third Chapters. The fruit of this yoga is liberation, which transcends time, space and causality. Hence it is eternal. Vivasvan is the Sun-God. Manu is the ancient law-giver. Ikshvaku is the ancestor of Kshatriyas whose lineage goes back to the Sun-God.

Jnaana Yoga, discussed in the 2nd and 3rd Chapters, is based on renunciation and is attained through the performance of duty. Thus it comprehends both the life of activity (pravritti) and the life of retirement (nivritti) as taught in the Vedas. The path of knowledge has been described throught the Gita as leading directly to liberation. Therefore, it is extolled here by pointing out its antiquity.

evam paramparaa praaptam imam raajarshayo viduh

sa kaaleneha mahataa yogo nashtah parantapa // 4.2 //

This knowledge, handed down thus in regular succession, the royal sages knew.  This yoga by long lapse of time has been lost to the world, O Parantapa (Arjuna).

The royal sages – men like Rama and Janaka who were kings and at the same time sages also because of their austerities and wisdom knew this Yoga. If the leaders of a country possess the knowledge of Yoga i.e. moral values of life, they will percolate down the line into the entire society.

The teachings of this yoga were lost by falling into the hands of selfish and unrighteous people. It is the intention of the Lord to revive it through the Gita.

sa evaayam mayaa te’dya yogah proktah puraatanah

bhakto’si me sakhaa cheti rahasyam hyetad uttamam // 4.3 //

That same ancient yoga has been taught to you by Me today, for you are My devotee and My friend and it is a supreme secret

The yoga mentioned here is considered secret because it is not commonly known to everybody and that it should be revealed only to those who are worthy to receive it.


arjuna uvaacha

aparam bhavato janma param janma vivaswatah

katham etadvijaaneeyaam twam aadau proktavaan iti // 4.4 //

Arjuna said

Later was your birth and earlier was the birth of Vivasvan; how, then, am I to understand that you taught this Yoga in the beginning?

The birth of Sri Krishna was later than that of The Sun. Arjuna wants to know how he should believe that the former taught this yoga to the latter.


sri bhagavaan uvaacha

bahooni me vyateetaani janmaani tava chaarjuna

taanyaham veda sarvaani na twam vettha parantapa // 4.5 //

Sri Bhagavan said

Many births of mine have passed as well as of yours, O Arjuna ; I know them all but you know them not ,O Parantapa .

Arjuna with a limited knowledge thinks that Sri Krishna is an ordinary man and not the omnipotent and omniscient Lord. This doubt is cleared here. Sri Krishna knows the past and future because He is the Lord Himself. He is unobstructed in His power of vision.


ajo’pi sannavyayaatmaa bhootaanaam eeshwaro’pi san

prakritim swaam adhishthaaya sambhavaamyaatmamaayayaa // 4.6 //

Though I am unborn, and eternal by nature, and though I am the Lord of all beings, yet subjugating my own nature, I come into being by my own Maya.

The Lord is eternal by nature because Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, which forms His nature, is eternal and changeless. ‘My own nature’ means His inherent power of Maya. Maya inheres in Brahman, but Brahman remains unaffected by it in the same way as the poison of a cobra which is in the cobra but cannot injure it. This power of Maya which is made up of the three Gunas, deludes the embodied being from recognizing the Lord who is his true Self. ‘I come into being by my own Maya’ means that it is through Maya the Lord appears to be born. His embodiment is not real as are the embodiments of other beings.

The embodiments of human beings (birth in the human form) are not voluntary. Driven by nature or prakriti, through ignorance, they are born again and again. The Lord controls nature and assumes embodiment through His own free will. The ordinary birth of creatures is determined by the force of nature while The Lord takes birth through His own power. He uses His nature in such a way which is free from subjection to karma. Yogamaya refers to the free will of God, His incomprehensible power.

To put it differently, the embodiment of the Lord is only an appearance. A created being is under the control of Maya but the Lord is the controller of Maya. The birth and death of the Lord depends upon His own will. But the birth and death of an embodied being are due to the law of Karma. This is the difference between an embodied being and the incarnate Lord.


yadaa yadaa hi dharmasya glaanir bhavati bhaarata

abhyutthaanam adharmasya tadaa’tmaanam srijaamyaham // 4.7 //

Whenever there is a decline of dharma (righteousness), O Bharata , and rise of adharma (unrighteousness), then I manifest myself.


paritraanaaya saadhoonaam vinaashaaya cha dushkritam

dharma samsthaapanaarthaaya sambhavaami yuge yuge // 4.8 //

For the protection of the good, for the destruction of the wicked and for the establishment of righteousness, I am born in every age.

Whenever there is a serious tension in life, when the all-pervasive materialism invades the hearts of human souls, to preserve the equilibrium, a responsive manifestation of wisdom and righteousness is essential. The Supreme, though unborn and undying, becomes manifest in human embodiment to overthrow the forces of ignorance and selfishness.

Avatara means descent, one who has descended. The Divine comes down to the earthly plane to raise it to a higher status. The purpose of Avatar is to inaugurate a new world, a new Dharma. By His teaching and example, He shows how a human being can raise himself to a higher grade of life.

The issue between right and wrong is the most crucial one. The Lord works on the side of the right. Love and mercy are more powerful than hatred and cruelty.

Dharma will conquer Adharma, truth wins over falsehood and power behind death will be overthrown by the Reality, Sat Chit Ananda – Being, Intelligence and Bliss.

Dharma means the mode of the being. It is the essential nature of a being that determines its mode of behavior. So long as our conduct is in conformity with our essential nature, we are acting in the right way. Adharma is nonconformity to our nature. Harmony of the world is on account of conformity of all beings to their respective natures; disharmony of the world is due to their nonconformity.

When the freedom given to humans is abused causing disequilibrium The Lord does not merely stand aside and allow the things to drift. He, through His manifestation, sets the matter on the right track and lets it jog along by itself while His loving hand is steering it all the time.

Sri Krishna says that His manifestations in this world in every age are for the following purposes:

  • for the protection of the good: To protect those who lead a life of truth and righteousness, who utilize their bodies in the service  of the community, who are free from selfishness, anger,  hatred, lust and greed and who devote their life to  divine contemplation.

  • for the destruction of the evil-doers: For the elimination of wrong tendencies in those who lead a life of  unrighteousness, who break the laws of the society, who are vain, dishonest and greedy, who injure others, who take possession of other’s property by force and who commit all sorts of crimes  and

  • for the establishment of dharma: When dharma is protected and wickedness destroyed, society lives according to dharma and affords opportunities to its members to lead a spiritual life. It connotes cosmic and moral order.

janma karma cha me divyam evam yo vetti tattwatah

tyaktwaa deham punarjanma naiti maameti so’rjuna // 4.9 //

He who thus knows in true light My divine birth and action, will not be born again when he leaves his body: he will attain Me, O Arjuna.

After explaining the reasons for His incarnations in this world Sri Krishna declares that he, who knows the great truth that the Lord though apparently born is ever beyond birth and death, though apparently active in the cause of righteousness, is ever beyond all action – becomes illumined with Self-knowledge, has realized the ultimate truth. Thus he transcends birth and death in the relative world and attains Brahman.

veetaraagabhayakrodhaa manmayaa maam upaashritaah

bahavo jnaana tapasaa pootaa madbhaavamaagataah  // 4.10 //

Freed from attachment, fear and anger, absorbed in Me, taking refuge in Me, purified by the fire of knowledge, many have attained my being.

The purpose of incarnation is not merely to uphold the world order but to help the human beings to become perfected in their nature.

The steps required to be undertaken by beings in this regard are:

  • renouncing attachments to sense objects

  • becoming desireless

  • getting free from selfishness

  • realizing that he is constant, indestructible, eternal Self and that change is merely a quality of the body.

When an individual has reached this stage of self-development he becomes fearless and sees the Self everywhere and in such a state anger cannot arise in him. He is absorbed in Him and becomes fully devoted to Him. He thus takes absolute refuge in The Lord after getting purified with the fire of this knowledge.

The wisdom is referred to here as fire. Just as fire burns everything the wisdom burns down or completely removes all latent tendencies, impressions, cravings etc in an individual and thus makes him pure.


ye yathaa maam prapadyante taamstathaiva bhajaamyaham

mama vartmaanuvartante manushyaah paartha sarvashah // 4.11 //

In whatever way men worship Me, in the same way I reward them; It is my path, that men follow in all things, O Son of Pritha.

This verse brings out the wide catholicity of the Gita religion. God meets every aspirant with favor and grants to each his heart’s desire. He does not extinguish the hope of any but helps all hopes to grow according to their nature. The Lord bestows pleasure to those who seek pleasure, rewards those who aim liberation, and rescues them from distresses who pray to Him, and so on. In whatever form man worships the Lord, the Lord appears to him in that form. The various deities and cosmic forces, the angels, the prophets, the incarnations, are only different manifestations of the Lord Himself.

As there are innumerable ideals cherished by men, so there are innumerable forms of the Lord corresponding to those ideals. It is to Him alone that man offers worship under different names and forms, through different symbols and rites. Likewise, from Him alone comes the fulfillment of all desires, whether they are secular or spiritual. As the Self within He brings to fruition all wishes when the necessary conditions are fulfilled. The Atharva Veda says “ekam jyoti bahudha vibhati’ – the one light manifests itself in various forms. (XIII.3.17)

“The spiritually immature are unwilling to recognize other Gods than their own. Their attachment to their creed makes them blind to the larger unity of Godhead. This is the result of egotism in the religious ideas.  The Gita on the other hand affirms though beliefs and practices may be many and varied, spiritual realization to which these are the means is one”. Dr.S.Radhakrishnan.


kaangkshantah karmanaam siddhim yajanta iha devataah

kshipram hi maanushe loke siddhirbhavati karmajaa // 4.12 //

Those who long for success in action in this world worship the Gods, because success is quickly attained by men through action.

Men worship God in this world because they want immediate fruits in terms of pleasures from their activities.  Worldly success is much easier of attainment than Self-knowledge which demands perfect renunciation.


chaaturvarnyam mayaa srishtam gunakarma vibhaagashah

tasya kartaaram api maam viddhyakartaaram avyayam // 4.13 //

The fourfold caste has been created by Me according to the differentiation of Guna and Karma; though I am the author thereof know Me as non-doer and changeless.

This verse explains the diversity of human temperaments and tendencies.  All men are not of the same nature because of the preponderance of the different Gunas in them. The caste system was originally meant to make the growth of human society perfect. But this principle later on came to be abused and misused by the society which gave it a totally wrong meaning based on the accident of birth.

On the basis of the temperamental distinctions and the quality of thoughts entertained by the individuals, the entire mankind has been, for the purpose of spiritual study, classified as the four castes or Varnas just as people are divided as professionals, merchants, agriculturists and laborers etc on the basis of activities or vocation pursued by them. For the well being of the society in general each class of people is as important and essential as the other.

Accordingly the four castes are:

  • Brahmana – where Sattwa (purity, goodness etc.) predominates in thoughts and action.

  • Kshatriya – where Rajas (courage, valor etc.) predominates in thoughts and deeds.

  • Vaishya – where Rajas and Tamas (indolence, ignorance etc.) predominate

  • Sudra     – where Tamas alone predominates.

The Lord is the Creator of the four castes only from the standpoint of maya. Maya is the immediate cause of everything that happens in the relative world. But since maya has no existence independent of the Lord, He is said to be the Creator.

The Lord with reference to the mind and intellect is the creator of the temperaments although in His essential nature He is not the Doer or the Creator because He is the changeless and all-pervading irrespective of what happens in the creation.


na maam karmaani limpanti na me karmaphale sprihaa

iti maam yo’bhijaanaati karmabhir na sa badhyate   // 4.14 //

Actions do not taint Me, nor have I a desire for the fruits of actions.  He who knows Me thus is not bound by actions.

Actions do not taint the Lord because He is totally free from egoism. Since He is unselfish, He is not taking rebirths as men to reap the fruit of His actions. Anyone who knows his own inmost Self to be the Lord, unattached to action and its result, is not bound by action and will not be reborn in the world of maya.

Taint and desire can come only to an Ego which is the Self functioning through a given state of mind and intellect. The one who has renounced his identification with his limited ego and rediscovered himself as none other than the Self is no more affected by his actions in the outer world.

evam jnaatwaa kritam karma poorvair api mumukshubhih

kuru karmaiva tasmaat twam poorvaih poorvataram kritam // 4.15 //

Having known this, the ancient seekers after liberation performed action; therefore, you too perform action, as did the ancients in the olden times.

Knowing that the Self can have no desire for the fruits of actions and cannot be tainted or soiled by them and knowing that no one can be tainted if he works without egoism, attachment and expectation of fruits, Arjuna is called upon to do his duty as the ancients like King Janaka and others did in the days of yore. The idea is that the ignorant perform action for self purification, and the wise perform action for the maintenance of the world.


kim karma kim akarmeti kavayo’pyatra mohitaah

tat te karma pravakshyaami yajjnaatwaa mokshyase’shubhaat // 4.16 //

What is action? What is inaction? As to this even the wise are perplexed. Therefore, I shall tell you what action is by knowing which you shall be freed from the evil (of Samsara – the wheel of birth and death).

The Lord thus instructed Arjuna to perform action in a disinterested spirit. But one cannot duly perform one’s duty without knowing in reality what constitutes action and what inaction is. Therefore the Lord promises to reveal to Arjuna the truth about action showing its intricate nature and the value of its knowledge in order that Arjuna may really understand the truth about transcendent actions, which are free from the feeling of possession, the sense of doership, attachment and the desire for fruit. Thus the mystery of action is extremely difficult to unravel.

karmano hyapi boddhavyam boddhavyam cha vikarmanah

akarmanashcha boddhavyam gahanaa karmano gatih // 4.17 //

One has to understand what action really is and likewise one has to understand what is forbidden action and also what inaction is. Indeed hard to understand is the way of action.

One must not oversimplify action and inaction by thinking that the former means the activity of the body and the latter its idleness. The definition of these three terms is as under:

  • Action: That which is prescribed in the scriptures and not merely approved by men.

  • Forbidden action: That which is forbidden by the scriptures.

  • Inaction: Renunciation of action.

Activity is the very essence of life. The great Seers of ancient days evaluated the life on the basis of the quality of activities. This is explained in the following chart.






(Actions to be done)





Life is constituted of moments of activity and inactivity. Through inactivity neither progress nor deterioration is ever possible. Periods of activity alone create man. Such creation of man depends upon what type of activity he undertakes. Activity or Karma need not imply only ritualism but it encompasses all dedicated actions. It is known to all that action means movement of the body etc., and inaction means absence of such movements or to sit quiet. But these two terms imply much more than these familiar ideas.

Activity can be broadly classified as constructive and destructive. Constructive activities are termed here as Karma (i.e. actions to be done) which contribute towards the evolution of an individual. Destructive activities are those which debase the individual and hence totally condemned by the Sastras; these are referred to here as Vikarma (actions to be avoided).

Karma (Constructive activity) can be of three types:

  • Nitya Karma: constant duties

  • Naimittika Karma: special duties on special occasions and

  • Kamya Karma: duties done expecting rewards.

Sri Krishna advises Arjuna to avoid prohibited actions (Vikarma) and to pursue the constructive and creative activities of self-development (Karma) and to totally reject inactivity (Akarma). It is essential that a true seeker should know the triple classification of activities constituting life. Sri Bhagavan admits that it is not easy to understand these concepts of activities implying that for evaluating actions one should go beyond the actions as such and look into the motive or desire or intention behind such actions. If motives are pure actions will be noble and if motives are impure so also actions will be mean.

karmanyakarma yah pashyed akarmani cha karma yah

sa buddhimaan manushyeshu sa yuktah kritsnakarmakrit // 4.18 //

He who recognizes inaction in action and action in inaction is wise among men; he is a Yogi and a true performer of all actions.

This verse conveys the central theme of this Chapter. Sri Krishna describes the nature of action and inaction by introducing the concepts of seeing inaction in action and action in inaction. Bhagavan asserts that he who so recognizes is a wise person, a Yogi and is deemed to have preformed all actions.

Although these terms are common and familiar they are used in the Gita with special meaning and implications. They are examined hereunder.

Inaction in action:

It is only the ignorant that regard the Self as active. But the wise person regards the Self as actionless even when he himself is engaged in action. Activity belongs to the senses, the body and the mind. It is a function of the Gunas.

Action in inaction:

The body, the senses and the mind, regarded by the ignorant as actionless, are perceived by the wise to be active. Hence he sees action in what the ignorant think to be inaction.

Performed all actions:

A wise person devoid of the idea of agency is really a free soul, though he participates in action. Action does not bind him.

The terms ‘action’ and ‘inaction’ are not rightly understood; the one is mistaken for the other. The Lord tries to remove this misunderstanding. The Self of man is actionless. Action pertains to the physical body, the senses and the mind. But an ignorant person falsely attributes action to the Self and says to himself that ‘I am the doer, mine is the action, and by me is the fruit of action reaped’ and so on.

Similarly, he falsely imputes to the Self the cessation of activity, which really pertains to the body, the senses and the mind. So he says to himself ‘I shall be quiet, I may be free from work and worry and be happy’ and so on.

Through right knowledge a man sees inaction in action; he sees that action commonly associated with the Self really belongs to the body, the senses and the mind and that the Self is actionless. Likewise, a man with right knowledge sees action in inaction; he knows that inaction is also a kind of action. Inaction is a correlative of action and pertains to the body. The Self is beyond action and inaction.

Sankara explains that in atman there is no action; in the body, however, there is no rest, even when there seems to be rest.

He who knows the meaning of action and inaction as explained above is wise among men; he is a Yogi. He does all action without being bound; he is free from the evil result of action. He has achieved everything.

yasya sarve samaarambhaah kaamasankalpa varjitaah

jnaanaagni dagdhakarmaanam tam aahuh panditam budhaah // 4.19 //

Whose undertakings are all devoid of desires and self-will and whose actions have been burnt by the Fire of Knowledge, the wise will call him the sage.

Realization of `inaction in action’ and `action in inaction’ is praised here. Sri Krishna says that he is a perfect sage whose actions in the outside world are without desires or the thoughts which cause such desires. Such actions performed are mere movements without any attachment for the actions and for their results because of the absence of any selfish purpose.

They are undertaken for preventing people from going astray or merely for the maintenance of the body or to set an example to others. When a sage performs these actions in the community such a learned person really does no action and his action is equivalent to inaction since all his actions are consumed by the fire of wisdom in having known the truth about action and inaction through the knowledge of Self.

The Self knowledge is a spiritual fire which consumes the results of all kinds of actions, good or bad, making the enlightened sage free from the bonds of action. Even when such a saint works in the world outside he is only expressing the will of the Divine and not his own desires and therefore, it is said that his actions are burnt by the fire of knowledge.

tyaktwaa karmaphalaasangam nityatripto niraashrayah

karmany abhipravritto’pi naiva kinchit karoti sah // 4.20 //

Giving up attachment to the fruits of actions, ever content, depending upon nothing, he does not do anything though engaged in actions.

A man of wisdom is described here. He who has abandoned all concern for actions and has also renounced all his attachments for their fruits is a perfect worker. This, however, does not mean that the Path of Action is to act without an eye upon the fruits of activities. It only means that we should avoid our mental dependence and intellectual attachment to the desired or expected results of our activities. Only when one gets pre-occupied with the expected fruits of actions, he gets worried and anxious and thereby becomes ineffective.  Hence we are advised to work for the happiness and welfare of the society by forsaking (Tyaktwaa) our clinging (Sangam) to the fruits of action (Karma phalam).

If an attitude of non-attachment to fruits of actions is developed one becomes anxiety-free and his intellect can have no more desires because anxiety is the direct result of desires. He thus becomes ever content (Nitya-Tripta) in his experience of the Self acting in the world not seeking any fulfillment for himself.

An ordinary man lives entirely depending on the fruits of his actions and derives joy out of such fruits.  In the case of a sage, he expects no fruits of his activities and his very actions are by themselves a reward for him.  Hence he depends on nothing (Niraashraya).

The weaknesses of anxiety for the fruits of action, a sense of discontentment and a feeling of dependency on things and beings of the world, belong to the Ego. When the seeker ends his ego and realized his identity with the Self, he though seemingly engaged in activity does not do anything. He is an emancipated soul who sees inaction in action and action in inaction.

niraasheer yatachittaatmaa tyaktasarvaparigrahah

shaareeram kevalam karma kurvannaapnoti kilbisham // 4.21 //

Free from desire, with the body and the mind controlled, and surrendering all possessions he incurs no sin through mere bodily activity.

A knower of Brahman is always absorbed in his communion with the Absolute and no outside activity is possible for him. However, actions for the bare maintenance of the body are done by him without any real identification with the body. The question whether such a person commits any sin accruing from failure to perform one’s prescribed duties is answered now.

When an individual

  • completely renounces desire

  • brings his body and mind under perfect control and

  • relinquishes all possessions, his ego ends.

When the ego has ended his actions do not leave any impressions on his mind and intellect and hence they are not capable of bringing about any consequences.

Such a saint’s activities do not bind him since he is not the performer of actions but the actions merely flow through him. He is not a doer of actions but only an instrument for the Lord’s will to express itself. The human soul becomes the pure channel of Divine power.

yadricchaalaabhasantushto dwandwaateeto vimatsarah

samah siddhaavasiddhau cha kritwaapi na nibadhyate // 4.22 //

Content with what comes to him without any  effort on his part, free from the pairs of opposites and envy, even minded in success and failure, though acting he is not bound.

An individual who has gone beyond ego cannot perform any desire-prompted and result-motivated activity. So he will be happy with whatever gain spontaneously accrues to him out of his actions. This is called ‘without any effort’.

The state of egolessness indicates perfect victory over mind and intellect and so the pairs of opposites – heat and cold, success and failure, good and bad, joy and sorrow, gain and loss etc., cannot affect him because they are only the interpretation of the world of objects by the mind. Such an individual who has conquered his egocentric misconceptions about himself, though acting is not bound by the consequences of the actions performed (Karma-Phalam) because he realizes that the gunas act upon the gunas and is ever steady in the true knowledge of the Self. From the standpoint of the world such a man may appear to be working or engaged in action, but from his own point of view he is not the agent of any action. The egoistic motive of action has been consumed, in his case, in the fire of knowledge.

The Cosmos is a manifestation of the Supreme and what binds is not the act but the selfish attitude to action, born of ignorance which makes us imagine that we are many separate individuals with our likes and dislikes.

In the following verses Sri Krishna proceeds to point out how the actor, the act and the action are all different manifestations of the one Supreme and action offered as a sacrifice to the Supreme does not bind.


gatasangasya muktasya jnaanaavasthitachetasah

yajnaayaacharatah karma samagram pravileeyate  // 4.23 //

For the one who is devoid of attachment, who is liberated, whose mind is established in knowledge, who acts for the sake of sacrifice alone, the whole action dissolves away.

The qualities of a man of wisdom are enumerated in this verse which explains the path to perfection.

They are:

Devoid of attachment – Divinity attained by man is not something that is newly acquired by him but it is only a rediscovery of perfection already existing in him which is veiled from him because of his attachment to the finite world of objects. The wise man is he for whom attachment with the world of objects has ceased.

Liberated – Bondages created around the personality of a man are his own creation due to his attachments with things. His ego feels fulfilled only through the material world of objects and it develops a sense of clinging to these objects. Thus his  body gets itself attached to the world of sense-objects, his mind gets itself enslaved in the world of emotions and his intellect gets entangled in its own ideas and he feels bound and fettered. It is only when one goes beyond these attachments and hand-cuffs he becomes liberated.

Mind established in knowledge – Perfect detachment and complete liberation can be accomplished only when the seeker’s mind gets focused on the discriminative knowledge of knowing the difference between the permanent and impermanent. Mind’s attachment to the worldly objects is because of its delusion.  If, however, the mind were to concentrate on the discriminative knowledge with the support of the intellect all the false attachments will drop off.

Acting for the sake of sacrifice (Yagna) – `Yagna’ does not mean only the rituals performed in an attitude of Dedication to God for achieving freedom from the cycle of mortal existence ; it means all actions  performed without ego and without the motivation of egocentric desires in a spirit of service.

When a man of perfect wisdom with the qualities as stated above performs actions in a spirit of sacrifice (Yagna), such actions dissolve away of themselves i.e. they do not leave any impressions upon his mind and cannot produce any reaction of newly formed vasanas.

Yagna ritual, the holiest act known to man, is used in the following verses as a symbol standing for the outlook of an illumined man on all his work. It is interpreted in a larger spiritual way.

brahmaarpanam brahmahavirbrahmaagnau brahmanaa hutam

brahmaiva tena gantavyam brahmakarmasamaadhinaa  // 4.24 //

Brahman is the act of offering ; Brahman is the clarified butter etc. constituting the offerings ; by Brahman it is offered into the fire of Brahman ; Brahman is that which is to be reached by him who always sees Brahman in all his works.

This is a famous verse which is generally recited before taking daily food. This verse is a capsule of the entire Vedanta.

Brahman is the Infinite Reality which is changeless substratum behind the changing phenomenal world in contrast with that aspect of Brahman which functions in and through a body termed as the Atman.

When the waves of the ocean dash against each other nothing new happens because all waves are nothing but the ocean and by their act of dashing against each other the ocean rises over the ocean itself and become one with the ocean.  Similarly when a Yagna is performed by a sage for whom there is no plurality of the world, Brahman the Truth is the performer offering Brahman, the material to the sacred fire, which is nothing but Brahman, invoking Brahman only.

In the previous verse it was stated that performing actions for the sake of sacrifice, Yagna, alone melts away all his actions. It is explained here that after attaining the true knowledge the seeker’s whole life becomes one act of Yagna, in which the process of offering, the objects offered , the fire, the doer of the sacrifice, the work itself and the goal are all Brahman.

After attaining the Knowledge of Brahman, a man sees Brahman in everything. He sees Brahman in every part of the action: the instrument, the doer, the result and the action itself. These have no existence apart from Brahman just as the mirage has no existence apart from the desert. What appears to be water to the ignorant is nothing but the desert. Likewise, what appears to the unenlightened as the instrument of action, the doer, and so on, is realized by one who is endowed with the knowledge of Brahman as Brahman Itself. To him everything is Brahman.

Thus the action performed by the knower of Brahman to set an example to the world is in reality no action, since all the accessories of action are consumed, as it were, in the fire of Brahman. The knowledge of Brahman removes all duality. Therefore action performed by a knower of Brahman melts away with its result and cannot bind its performer.

The significance of reciting this verse before taking food is that eating food is an unavoidable necessity for existence.  When one is hungry he enjoys any type of food that comes to him. Even at this moment of enjoyment he should not forget the truth that it is Brahman eating Brahman, and that during meals he is offering to Brahman the food that is Brahman invoking nothing but the grace of Brahman.

Concepts and Issues

After stating the details of Karma Yoga to be practiced in daily life, Sri Krishna says that He taught this immortal Yoga to the Sun which was handed down to the Solar Dynasty.  The Royal sages practiced and preached this Yoga to the humanity but later due to lack of such great exponents this Yoga fell into disuse in public life. Arjuna raises a doubt as to how could Sri Krishna who is living now teach this Yoga to the Sun who was born in the beginning of creation and to others who were born long ago. The Lord replies that He and Arjuna have undergone many lives but He knows them all whereas Arjuna does not know about it.  Again Arjuna asks The Lord as to why he has taken birth at all when He is not bound by bondages caused by the Vasanas and when He is proficient in the knowledge of the Self.

It is here that Sri Krishna reveals that He is God Himself, the Infinite, the Eternal and the Imperishable. He tells him that out of His free will He incarnates Himself whenever righteousness (Dharma) declines and un-righteousness (adharma) gets an upper hand, to restore the balance – to protect the Good and to destroy the wicked. Any one who understands the secret of His incarnation will attain liberation.

He responds to His devotees with impartiality as per their attitudes and prayers if they approach Him through knowledge and devotion. In the process of evolution, the desires of humanity differ according to the grades of their temperaments.  Sri Krishna reveals how He has divided the society onto four varnas or groups or castes based upon the nature and vocation of the people depending on their temperaments.

One who possesses self-restraint, purity, straightforwardness, serenity, knowledge of scriptures as also teaches others is called a Brahmana in whom Sattva predominates. One who possesses prowess, splendor, firmness in action, dexterity, generosity, ruling capacity, predominated by Rajas, is called a Kshatriya. One who does agriculture and trade, has predominating Rajas but with a subordinated Tamas is called a Vaishya. He in whom Tamas predominates and Rajas is in subordination, does service to the other three categories is called a Sudra.

Sri Krishna says anyone according to his temperament can perform duty without expectation of result and reach Him i.e. God-realization. Caste is not determined by the accident of birth.

Sri Krishna says that this is not a novel theory and the secret was understood by the ancient seekers who pursued the path of selfless service utterly indifferent to rewards. He advises Arjuna to do the same and not try to renounce his duty through attachment or fear.

Sri Krishna says that it is very difficult to decide one’s own duty.  To perform one’s duty one should know what to do, what not do and how to do. The question of action has three aspects

  • Performance of right action (Karma),

  • Abstention from all actions (Akarma)

  • Performance of forbidden actions (Vikarma).

Akarma or abstention from any action is not the subject here because there cannot be any life without any action. Performance of forbidden action (Vikarma) is destructive and produces sorrow and restlessness in the one who performs them.

That man is the wisest who while performing actions is not really doing them at all. Here one must know action in inaction and inaction in action.

Action means activities performed by body, mind, intellect and the senses. Inaction means renouncing all activities of the body. If action is performed according to rule and one’s own order in the society without expecting result, without attachment, without the feeling of possession and egoism, then it is considered as inaction in action.

If one sits quiet without performing any bodily action but thinks about all actions in his mind he is still considered as doing actions i.e. there is action in inaction. He who knows this secret will not renounce duties pertaining to his order in society and stage in life.

One who does inner contemplation on the Supreme Self and acts for the good of the society without any selfish motive or expectation of reward is the knower of inaction in action, a sage. Through this all his sins will get burnt up and one will become free from bondage.  He never expects anything from the world and is happy always.  He takes things as they come.  He is the performer of all sacrifices prescribed in the scriptures.  He is the knower of Knowledge or Brahman. One who feels the presence of Brahman in every action will feel that Brahman is the actor, action and also the result of action.  This is called knowledge sacrifice.

Live as the Gita Teaches You to Live

The doctrine of action and inaction is the keynote of this section. The important advice to the humanity is how to understand inaction in action and how to tune our lives towards that goal. It is emphasized that action offered as a sacrifice to the Supreme (action performed with the Yagna spirit) does not bind. Yagna spirit means all actions performed without ego and without the motivation of egocentric desires in a spirit of service.

Points to Ponder

  1. Who are those blessed souls who attain liberation from the cycle of births and deaths?

  2. Explain fully the fourfold caste system?

  3. How can we be free from reactions when we perform actions?

  4. What is the nature of true action; how does a Karma Yogi perform action?

Next time we will proceed from the Verse 4.25

Harih Om

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