Karma Yoga – Chapter 3 – Slokas 3.01-3.43

Arjuna said, “O Janārdana, if it be Your opinion that Wisdom that is Yoga of Wisdom which is equanimity practised along with Yoga of Knowledge with the single-pointed conviction of the Supreme Goal is superior to karmanah or action then, why O Kesava, do You urge me to do this horrible and cruel karmani, action that will cause injury to another?


O Lord, though, Your speech and utterance is lucid, still, to me who is of dull understanding, it appears conflicting. You bewilder my understanding as it were with this conflicting statement. You have surely undertaken this speech to dispel my ignorance and dullness and confusion arising from this grave situation and yet I am confused. Tell me for certain, from which and through which namely Knowledge or action, may I attain the Highest Good.


The Blessed Lord said, “O unblemished One, O sinless One, there are two kinds of nisthā or steadfastness and persistence in what is undertaken in this world, for the people of the three castes who are qualified for following the scriptures and were spoken of by Me, the Omniscient God, who had revealed for them the traditional teachings of the Vedas which are the means of securing prosperity and the highest Goal in the days of yore and at the beginning of creation. Jnānayogena, through the Yoga of Knowledge where Knowledge itself being the Yoga for the men of realization whose single-pointed conviction of the Supreme Goal namely Me remains steadfast and undeterred throughout their existence wherein even after realizing the Supreme Goal that is Me in its entirety, they continue to live till the physical frame drops off as a Jeevanmukta. The other being karma-yogena, through Yoga of action as stated for the yogis where every action and fruits of the action is surrendered to Me as they have only the right to action and not to the fruits of the action or the cause for the production of the actions. Here, they adore Me in every action, inaction, word and thought surrendering to Me practising righteousness.


A person does not attain naiskarmyam, that is freedom from action, that is to be steadfast in the Yoga of Knowledge by abiding in one’s own Self at all times by abstaining from karmanām, from actions that is non-performance of actions and duty and nor does he attain fulfilment that is steadfastness in the Yoga of Knowledge characterized by freedom from action merely through renunciation.


Because, no one ever remains without doing some work or action even for a moment. For, all the creatures born in this Nature, prakriti-jaih, are made to work under the compulsion of the gunas of sattvarajas and tamas


One who after withdrawing the organs of action, karma-indriyani, sits mentally recollecting and thinking about the objects of the senses, indriya-arthān, that one of deluded mind is called a hypocrite and a sinful person.


But, on the other hand, O Arjuna, one who is unenlightened and who is eligible for action and right to perform his ordained duty, engages in Karma Yoga. He engages in Karma Yoga with the organs of action, karma-indriyaih controlling the sense-organs, indriyāni with the mind, manasā and becomes unattached, excelling the other one as he is ever-aware and mindful of the Supreme Goal.


You, O Arjuna, perform the obligatory duties as ordained and those that you are competent to do, for action and performance of duty is superior to inaction and non-performance of ordained and customary duties. Why, through inaction and non-performance of customary actions, even the maintenance of your body will not be possible.


This man, the one who is eligible for action  becomes bound by actions, karmabandhanah – the person who has karma as his bondage becomes bound by actions other than that action karmanah meant for God. Therefore, muktasangah, without being attached and being free from the attachment to the results of actions, O son of Kunti, you perform karma, actions for Him, for God.


In the days of yore, in the beginning of creation, having created the beings, together with the sacrifices, Prajāpati said, “By this sacrifice, you multiply. Let this sacrifice be your yielder of coveted objects of desire and particular results as desired”.


“You nourish the gods, Indra and others with this sacrifice. Let those gods nourish you. By nourishing one another, you shall attain the Supreme Good”.


Being nourished by sacrifices, the gods will indeed bestow upon you the coveted enjoyments. He is certainly a thief and a stealer of the wealth of gods and others who gratifies only his own body and organs with what enjoyable things have been bestowed by the gods without offering any to them thereby not repaying the debt to them.


Those who are partakers of the remnants of sacrifices, who, after making offering to the gods, eat the remnants of those offerings, called nectar, become freed from all sins. But the unholy selfish persons, who cook only for themselves, incur sin.


It is a matter of understanding that from the food that is eaten, creatures are born. The origin of food is from rainfall and rainfall originates from sacrifice and sacrifice has action karmasamudbhavah as its origin.


Know that karma, action is brahmadbhavam has Brahma and the Veda as its origin and further Brahma that is aksarasamudbhavam, has aksara, the Immutable, Brahman, the Supreme Self as its source. Since the Veda has its origin in aksara, the Immutable Supreme Self, it becomes the revealer of everything and all-pervading, sarvagatam. Even though all-pervading, the Veda is eternal and immortal based on sacrifice because the injunctions about sacrifices predominate in it.


O Pārtha, he lives in vain, who, though competent for action and executing the ordained and customary duties, does not follow here, the wheel of the world that is set in motion and whose life is sinful and who indulges in the senses and who only wants to enjoy the objects through the senses.


But that man has no duty to perform, who is a sannyāsin – the man of Knowledge and steadfast in the knowledge of the Self, ātmaratih syāt – who rejoices only in the Self and ātmatrptah – who is satisfied only with the Self and is contented only in the Self.


Moreover for him, who rejoices in the Supreme Self, there is neither any concern or interest at all in performing action nor is there any concern or interest in non-performance of action. Moreover, for him, there is no dependence on any object, from Brahmā to an unmoving thing that will serve any purpose.


Therefore, remaining unattached, always perform the obligatory, customary and ordained duties for by performing one’s duty karma without attachment doing the assigned work as dedication to God, the person attains the Supreme or the Highest Liberation.


For in the olden days, Janaka and other learned beings, strove to attain samsiddhim, Liberation, through action itself. You should perform your ordained and assigned duties keeping also in view, the prevention of mankind from going astray and failing to do their assigned work and duties.


Whatever action a superior person or a leader does, another person follows him and does that very action. Further, whatever the superior person upholds as authority, an ordinary person follows that very thing.


na me parthasti kartavyam
trisu lokesu kincana
nanavaptam avaptavyam
varta eva ca karmani 
– O Pārtha, there is no duty whatsoever for Me to fulfil in all the three worlds; there is nothing that remains unachieved nor to be achieved and still I continue to do karmani, action.


yadi hy aham na varteyam
jatu karmany atandritah
mama vartmanuvartante
manusyah partha sarvasah 
– For O Pārtha, if at any time, I do not continue in action tirelessly, then men will follow My path in every way.


utsideyur ime loka
na kuryam karma ced aham
sankarasya ca karta syam
upahanyam imah prajah
– If I do not perform karma, action, then all these worlds will be ruined owing to the absence of assigned and required work that is customary and obligatory for the maintenance of the worlds. Further, I shall become an agent, kartā, of intermingling and confusion among beings and consequently I shall be destroying these beings. 


O scion of the Bharata dynasty, as some unenlightened people act with attachment to work, so should the enlightened person, knower of the Self act without attachment being aware and conscious of preventing people from going astray.


The enlightened man should not create buddhibhedam, disturbance in the beliefs of the ignorant and the non-discriminating ones and karmasanginām, who are attached to work but instead, he should continue performing the customary, obligatory and assigned work and duties of the ignorant while encouraging them and making the ignorant do all those duties. 


While karmāni kriyamānāni, customary and obligatory actions as ordained are being done in every way by the gunas of Nature, one who is deluded by egoism thinks that “I am the doer”.


But, O mighty-armed one, the one who is a knower of facts, tattvavit, about the qualities of the gunas and the according diversity of actions does not become attached, thinking thus: “The gunas act on the objects of the gunas namely the organs and senses”.


Those who are wholly deluded by the gunas of Nature become attached, gunakarmasu, to the activities of the gunas. The knower of All and one who is the knower of the Self, Krtsnavit, should not disturb those who are attached to actions who are of dull intellect, who do not know the Supreme All, akrtsnavidah.


mayi sarvani karmani
nirasir nirmamo bhutva
yudhyasva vigata-jvarah
Devoid of the fever of conscience that is being free from repentance and without remorse, engage in battle, by dedicating all actions to Me, who am the Omniscient Supreme Lord, the Supreme Self, with your mind intent on the Self becoming free from expectations and results and egoism.


Those men who eternally follow this teaching of Mine performing their ordained and obligatory duties dedicating it to Me with faith and without cavil, will also become freed from actions.


But those, who ignore and criticize this instruction of Mine and do not follow My teaching are to be known as deluded in various ways with respect to all knowledge and are devoid of discrimination and have gone to ruin.


Even a jnānavān, a man of wisdom behaves according to his own nature. Therefore, all the created beings follow their prescribed nature. What can restraint do?


Attraction and repulsion are accorded to the objects of all organs. Therefore, one should not come under the sway of these two with extreme reactions of love and hate or like and dislike because they are his adversaries.


To do one’s own duty however blemished and deficient it might be is more commendable than doing another’s duty skillfully. Even death is better while engaged in one’s own duty as compared to being alive while engaged in somebody else’s duty which is fraught with fear.”


Arjuna said, “O scion of the Vrisni dynasty, being impelled by what that acts as a cause, makes a man commit a sin even against his wish, being constrained by a force as it were?”


The Blessed Lord said, “kama esa krodha esa
mahasano maha-papma
viddhy enam iha vairinam
– This desire, this anger that is born of the quality of rajas is the great devourer and a great sinner. Know this desire to be the enemy here in this world.


As fire which is naturally bright is enveloped by smoke, which is born concomitantly with fire and is naturally dark, or as a mirror is covered by dirt, and, as a foetus remains enclosed in the womb, so is this shrouded by that.


O son of Kunti, Knowledge is covered by this constant enemy of the wise in the form of desire, kāmarupena which is an insatiable fire, duspurena analena.


The organs, the mind and the intellect are said to be its abode. This one desire diversely deludes the embodied being by veiling Knowledge with the help of these.


So therefore, O scion of the Bharata dynasty, after first controlling the organs being ever-aware and intent on the Supreme Goal, renounce this one enemy under consideration which is sinful and a destroyer of learning and wisdom, jnānavijnānanāsanam.


The learned ones say that the organs are superior to the external gross body; the mind is superior to the organs; the intellect is superior to the mind. However, the one who is innermost and superior to the intellect is He, the Supreme Self who is a witness of the intellect.


evam buddheh param buddhva
samstabhyatmanam atmana
jahi satrum maha-baho
kama-rupam durasadam
Understanding the Self as thus superior to the intellect and completely establishing the mind in the Self in absolute immersion and absorption, O mighty-armed one, vanquish this enemy in the form of desire, kāmarupam, that is difficult to subdue.


[Chapter 3, Slokas 3.01 – 3.43]


Lord Krishna clearly states the Yoga of Knowledge and the Yoga of action as the appropriate path for the various beings as per the parameters of their own creation and existence. The single-pointed conviction of the Supreme Goal is to see the Self existing equally within, outside and all-pervading and as existing equally in all the beings so that the Self will not injure the Self and thereby attain the Supreme Goal. Hence, the prescribed paths of Yoga of Knowledge and Yoga of action by Lord Krishna will lead to immersion and absorption into the Supreme Self.


Lord Krishna elaborates on the concept of Karma Yoga and the importance to execute the ordained and customary duties without being attached to the results or being concerned with the cause for the production of the results. By being ever-aware and mindful of the importance of righteousness in every action and the Supreme Goal, one must attempt to withdraw the senses into the Self and be unconcerned about the vacillations of the mind and the sensory organs that indulge in sorrow, happiness, failure, success, cold, heat and etc.


Lord Krishna further explains the meaning of sacrifice and importance to follow and execute one’s ordained and customary duties as no one can remain even for a second in this nature without indulging in action. Since action and karma is undoubtedly, the inherent nature of all creation. Lord Krishna, thus advises one to do their assigned duty and tasks but renounce the fruits of the action and karma and the cause for the production of actions, karma and fruits of actions and karma.


Lord Krishna in the above slokas continues to describe the state of one who is ever-aware and content in the Self drinking the nectar of the Self and seeing only the Self everywhere. What duty will such a great being have who has no need for anything and finds no purpose in anything? He is indeed a blessed one who remains ever content in the Self.


Lord Krishna advises Arjuna not to stray and do his assigned and ordained duty because he will be committing a grave mistake by failing to abide by his duty. Instead the customary and obligatory duties must be undertaken as a service and dedication to the Supreme remaining unattached.


These above verses by Lord Krishna stresses on the importance of leading by example and the importance of abiding by the instructions given by Lord Krishna in both the second chapter and this. The importance of Yoga of Knowledge practised with equanimity and the single-pointed conviction and absolute dedication and adoration of Lord will be the key for one to become a Jeevanmukta, a person who is liberated and knower of the Self who has no purpose or action to perform in his remaining existence till the mortal frame falls down.


And yet, he continues with the duties to guide the seekers of the Self and encourage them to follow the path of action and Knowledge keeping the Supreme Goal at all times as the single focus.


Lord Krishna continues to engage Arjuna and encourage him to give up his troubled mind and conscience that is bearing the burden of remorse and repentance and guilt and instead to engage in his rightful ordained duty of a kshatriya and to fight in the battle by dedicating both the rightful duty and the fruits of that action to Him and to be steadfast and intent on the Self.

It is also necessary to note the importance of these above verses because one who fails to do his ordained and assigned duty, will be failing to understand the ways of Nature and more importantly, failing to obey the most important instruction of Lord Krishna.


Lord Krishna yet again lays emphasis on engaging in one’s own rightful duty and to do it however deficient it might be. He also stresses on the importance of being ever intent and content in the Self to save oneself from coming under the influence of extreme reactions and feelings of love and hate, like and dislike and attraction and repulsion that are all sensory perceptions.

As these sensory perceptions give rise to desire, anger, lust, greed, pride and prejudice known as the six enemies, it is imperative to engage in one’s duty adoring Him at all times and to stay focussed on the single-point conviction of the Supreme Goal.


Lord Krishna instructs Arjuna to understand that the Self is superior to the organs, mind and intellect that are the residences of desire. This desire that also gives rise to anger which is the destroyer of one is an occurrence of the gunas of Nature. Hence, Lord Krishna advises Arjuna not to come under the sway of extreme reactions of attraction and repulsion that only incites desire and anger.

And instead to remain ever-aware and intent on the Supreme Goal by completely immersing and absorbing this intellect into the Self and engage in duty adoring Him at all times and thereby, overcome this great enemy namely desire.

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