Bhagavadgita: 3. The Yoga of Action

Krishna and Arjuna in the Bhagavadgita

Translated by Jayaram V

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Summary: This chapter is on Karma Yoga. It explains how desire ridden actions lead to karma and rebirth, the role of the gunas and the senses, and the importance of performing selfless actions and obligatory duties without desire for the fruit of their actions to achieve liberation.


Karma Yoga

1. Said Arjuna,  O Janardhana, if you consider that intelligence is better than actions, then why are you asking me to perform this ghastly action?

2. My mind is confused with your contradictory statements. Please tell me clearly the one path by following which I may gain the real benefit.

3. Said the Lord Supreme, O Sinless one, I declared two kinds of worship in the world before. One is the path of knowledge pursued by the Sankhyas and the other, the path of action meant for men of action.

4. One cannot achieve freedom from action by merely abstaining from actions , nor one can attain samadhi simply by renouncing all actions.

5. Surely none can remain inactive even for a moment. All those who are born here with the qualities of nature are forced to act helplessly according to their nature.

6. Any one who tries to control the five senses superficially, recollecting at the same time in his mind the sense-objects, is nothing but a deluded soul and worshipper of falsehood.

7. But O Arjuna, he is better who, regulating his senses by his mind, unattached, begins karma yoga with his organs of action.

8. Therefore do your prescribed work, for doing some work is better than doing no work at all. Without work it is not possible to even maintain the physical body.

9. Works in this world can cause bondage unless done with a sense of sacrifice. Therefore, O son of Kunti, perform your actions for the sake of sacrifice only, free from attachment.

10. In the beginning, at the time of creation, Brahma created people along with sacrifice and declared that by performing sacrifices they would become more prosperous and also that sacrifice would be their wish fulfilling Kamadhenu (the divine cow of Indra that gives fulfills the wishes and gives boons.)

11.Therefore please the gods through sacrifice, and they in turn will please you (by granting you boons). Thus appeasing each other mutually you will be able to achieve supreme welfare for all.

12. The gods will reward you with the luxuries of life pleased with your performance of sacrifices. But he certainly is a thief who accepts such gifts from gods without offering them sacrifices.

13. The saintly persons get relief from all kinds of sins by partaking the food that has been first offered to gods as sacrifice. But those who prepare food for their selfish ends eat but only sins.

14.All beings come into existence from food. Food comes from rains. Rains originate from the performance of sacrifices. And sacrifice is born out of doing prescribed duties.

15. Know that action originated from Brahma and Brahma originated directly from the Supreme Brahman. Therefore the all pervading Brahma is eternally situated in all acts of sacrifice.

16. O Partha, he who does not follow the wheel of sacrifice in this life lives a sinful life, engaging himself uselessly in sense gratification.

17. But he who takes delight in the self, satisfied with the self and is inwardly happy and contended, for him there is no duty.

18. Neither in the performance of duty nor in the non-performance of duty he has any interest. Nor does he have any need to depend upon any one for any thing.

19. Therefore always perform your duties without any interest. By performing his duties without attachment a man certainly attains the Supreme.

20. It was through detached actions only, kings like Janaka and others were able to achieve spiritual perfection in their lives. Therefore for the welfare of the world, you should also perform your duty.

21. Whatever the best person does, that alone the common men follow. And whatever example he sets all the world adopts.

22. O Partha, there is nothing in the three worlds that I have to do. There is nothing here that I want or yet to gain. Still I am doing my work.

23. If I do not engage myself in performing actions with great care, O Partha, certainly people would follow Me in all respects and would do not do any work.

24. The worlds would perish if I do not perform my actions. I would become responsible for the creation of great confusion of castes and thereby destruction of all the people.

25. Just as the ignorant ones perform their actions with attachment, O Bharata, the wise must perform their actions without attachment in the interest of the general welfare of the world.

26. The wise man should not cause mental conflict among the ignorant who perform their actions with attachment. He should rather encourage them to do their works by performing actions himself dispassionately without any attachment.

27. All types of actions are actually performed by the gunas (triple qualities of nature), but the egoistic deluded soul believes,' I am the doer.'

28. But, O mighty armed, the man of knowledge knowing well the truth about the division of the gunas and actions, realizing that the senses impelled by the gunas move amidst the gunas of the sense objects, is never attached to actions.

29. Deluded by the gunas, the ignorant indulge in actions that are driven by the gunas. But the wise, who know the truth, should not disturb them who are lazy to know and whose knowledge is incomplete.

30. Surrendering all your actions to Me, with your mind centered in your inner self, free from expectations and attachment, without any feeling of ownership, freed from mental agitation, you should fight.

31. Those men who follow my doctrines regularly with utmost faith and without envy are liberated from the bondage of actions.

32. But those who, out of envy, do not follow my preaching, know them as completely ignorant of all knowledge. They are completely unconscious and ruined.

33. Even a very knowledgeable person acts according to his own nature. All living beings follow their respective natures in performing actions. What then can restraint do in such circumstances?

34. Attachment to and aversion from the sense objects are located in the senses. No one should come under their influence for they are certainly stumbling blocks on the path.

35. Better is one's own duty though devoid of qualities than another's duty (however) perfectly situated. To die while performing one's duty is better. To follow another's duty is inviting the great fear (of bondage.)

36. Said Arjuna, But induced by what , O Krishna, a man commits sin even unintentionally, as if he is under some compelling force?

37. Lord Supreme said, Know that it is desire only, O Arjuna, arising from the quality of rajas, that becomes eventually anger, the all devouring, deeply sinful, and the most intense of all the enemies in the world.

38. As fire is enveloped by smoke, mirror by dust, as embryo is surrounded from all sides by the womb, so does all this is covered by lust.

39. All consciousness is enveloped by this eternal enemy of the wise, the inexhaustible fire, in the form of lust, O son of Kunti.

40. The senses, the mind and the intelligence are said to be its established seats of action. With the help of these it covers all the knowledge of the embodied and deludes him.

41. Therefore, O best of the Bharatas, control the senses from the very beginning and slay this great personification of sin, destroyer of knowledge and intelligence.

42. The senses are said to be superior, superior to the senses is the mind, superior to the mind is intelligence, and superior to the intelligence is He (the Self).

43. Thus, knowing Him who is beyond intelligence, and establishing the self in the self, O mighty armed, conquer this formidable enemy who is in the form of lust.

Thus ends the third chapter named Yoga of Action in the Upanishad of the divine Bhagavad-Gita , the knowledge of the Absolute, the yogic scripture, and the debate between Arjuna and Lord Krishna.

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