Bhagavan Shri Krishna, in Chapter 2, explained briefly about both Karma Yoga and Jnana Yoga. He elucidated the superiority of a person situated in spiritual transcendence (Jnana Yoga). Understandably, Arjuna is confused and therefore begins Chapter 3 with a question asking Bhagavan to explain which of the two paths will accrue the greatest benefit for him. Also, why is He encouraging him to fight if he thought spiritual knowledge was better than work seeking rewards.
Krishna then explains ‘karma-yoga’, is a way for reaction-free righteous work and it is a necessary first step. When work is performed as a yagna (sacrificial offering) to the Bhagavan, it frees the person from bondage of karmic reaction and leads to purification of mind and the person gains spiritual intelligence. He also explains that everyone must engage in some sort of activity in this material world and even to maintain the body one has to work. But as actions can either bind one to this world if performed without the spirit of sacrifice and hence for liberation one has to perform actions and offer it to Shri Krishna (Sarvam Shri Krishnarpanam Astu).
By performing actions with a spirit of sacrifice to the Supreme, without selfish motives, one can be liberated from the law of karma (action and reaction) and attain transcendental knowledge of the self and the Supreme.
Krishna explains that Arjuna should fight, for avoiding sinful reactions and doing one’s duties is better than attempting to escape reactions though renouncing work (Sanyaasa).
Chapter three firmly establishes the Karma Yoga is a necessary first step for all Grihastas. The performance of prescribed duties is obligatory for everyone. In this Chapter Bhagavan Shri 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.
In these first 10 verses, Bhagavan explains that actions performed without attachment and with a spirit of sacrifice does not cause bondage and frees one from karmic reactions, thus freeing one from the repeated cycles of rebirth.
When one is able to:
- control the senses and the mind,
- offers the work as a yajna to the Lord
- contemplates on the Lord constantly,
- performs actions diligently without attachment to the results/rewards
such a person becomes pure and attains spiritual intelligence leading up to Self-realisation and liberation.
3.1 Shloka 3.1
ज्यायसी चेत्कर्मणस्ते मता बुद्धिर्जनार्दन।
तत्किं कर्मणि घोरे मां नियोजयसि केशव।।3.1।।
Jyayasi cet karmanas te mata buddhir Janardana |
Tat kim karmani ghore mam niyojayasi Kesava ||3.1||
Meaning: Arjuna said: O’ Janardhana, If spiritual intelligence is considered by you to be better than desirous actions, why are you urging me to engage in this ghastly warfare, O’Keshava?
In this verse, Arjuna is expresses his confusion arising from the instruction on the two different paths (Karma and Jnana Yoga while Bhakti was fleetingly mentioned but fully explained in Chapter 7) explained by Shri Krishna in Chapter 2. He is seeking clarity on the most suitable path for him as he was instructed on the merits of both Karma (action) and Jnana (spiritual intelligence). In verse 2.39, Arjuna was instructed that he had the right to perform actions but not be desirous of the fruits of action. This was further emphasised in 2.47 and 2.48 where he was instructed not to be attached to fruits of actions as well as not to resort to inaction. He was advised to perform duties with diligence and accept the fruits as God’s grace with equanimity.
He was further instructed on how to train the mind to attain a state of equanimity in 2.53. The rest of the Chapter 2 explains the process to develop spirituality and the superiority of spiritual knowledge which leads to the realisation of the ultimate truth.
Despite the elaborate instructions on spiritual intelligence, Arjuna was still being instructed to rise up and fight. These seemingly contradictory instructions caused confusion in Arjuna’s mind and he was keen to have the Supreme Lord Keshava to dispel his doubts.
3.2 Shloka 3.2
व्यामिश्रेणेव वाक्येन बुद्धिं मोहयसीव मे।
तदेकं वद निश्िचत्य येन श्रेयोऽहमाप्नुयाम्।।3.2।।
Vyamisreneva vakyena buddhim mohayasiva me |
Tad ekam vada niscitya yena sreyo ‘ham apnuyam ||3.2||
Meaning: My intelligence is bewildered by your equivocal instructions. Therefore, please tell me decisively the path by which I may obtain the greatest benefit.
Arjuna was bewildered with the two set of instructions one explaining the benefits of the Karma Yoga (the path of duty and righteous actions) and another explaining the superiority of Jnana Yoga (the path of spiritual intelligence). Bhagavan did not specify which of these paths are suitable for Arjuna and whether he was qualified for that yet.
Arjuna is seeking a definitive instruction from Shri Krishna as he is confounded by these seemingly conflicting instructions. It was well explained that jnana yoga or the cultivation of spiritual knowledge is the means to accomplish self-realisation of the soul. So Arjuna is seeking clarity on why he is being directed to take up arms and fulfil his duty as a Kshatriya. Arjuna now wants a single, unequivocal instruction to determine for certain exactly what course he should embark to achieve the highest good.
3.3 Shloka 3.3
लोकेऽस्मिन्द्विविधा निष्ठा पुरा प्रोक्ता मयानघ।
ज्ञानयोगेन सांख्यानां कर्मयोगेन योगिनाम्।।3.3।।
Sri Bhagavan Uvaca
Loke ‘smin dvi-vidha nistha pura prokta mayanagha |
Jnana-yogena sankhyanam karma-yogena yoginam ||3.3||
Meaning: Bhagavan Shri Krishna said: O’ sinless one, I had explained this earlier that in this world, there are two kinds of faith. Some yogis are inclined to understand Him by empirical, philosophical and mental contemplation while other yogis seek to realise the ultimate truth through the path of righteous action.
Lord Krishna’s reply begins with O’ sinless one, implying that Arjuna is fit to be instructed. Lord Krishna states that in this world these are the two paths aspirants can take which lead to moksha or liberation. But they both depend upon qualification of the person, as jnana yoga is suitable for some while karma yoga is suitable for others. Bhagavan explains that Sankhya-yoga is the analytical study of the nature of spirit and matter, and is the subject matter for persons who are inclined to contemplate and understand things by philosophical thinking and experiential knowledge. This method promotes spiritual knowledge and hence known as jnana yoga.
Men of action, although some may be possessing spiritual knowledge, because of the predominance of their worldly activities are known as karma yogis.
The word ‘nishta’ means unflinching faith and with proper guidance of a Guru such persons attain liberation.
There is a distinction to be found in this verse, and Bhagavan says that there are yogis who have also cultivated knowledge while performing their activities and realised the soul by sheer dint of their desireless actions. Their minds becoming pure when they perform their actions meditating on the Supreme Lord within their heart without desire for rewards. Only when the mind has become purified and is completely free from all desires by performing karma yoga without any desire for reward does one become qualified.
Lord Krishna is telling Arjuna that he has not clearly understood what has been previously spoken by Him. He clarifies to Arjuna that, in this world abounding in diversity, there are two paths for two types of humans. Not all humans in this world are born with the ambition for moksha or liberation. Neither are all humans able to embark upon the path of knowledge directly. But all of them must engage in actions at all times and they cannot stop these but must perform them without attachment to fruits. Performing actions in this way humans erase their inauspicious qualities lurking in their minds and hearts, and the senses give up their turbulence and become calm and peaceful.
3.4 Shloka 3.4
न कर्मणामनारम्भान्नैष्कर्म्यं पुरुषोऽश्नुते।
न च संन्यसनादेव सिद्धिं समधिगच्छति।।3.4।।
Na karmanam anarambhan naiskarmyam puruso ‘snute |
Na ca sannyasanad eva siddhim samadhigacchati ||3.4||
Meaning: A person can never achieve freedom from reaction by merely abstaining from performing prescribed duties. Nor can one attain perfection by simply renouncing them.
A question arises, if the absence of desire for reward is the means for Moksha, why not give up actions altogether giving no opportunity for the fruits to manifest? In this verse, Bhagavan clarifies by saying ‘na ca sannyasanad eva’ meaning ‘not just by renunciation’. So, it should be understood that not by mere absence of desires or even the absence of actions can liberation be achieved.
If one can attain Moksha merely by abstention of actions or abandonment of all actions, then liberation would be possible for all inanimate things. So, neither by the failing to perform duties nor by renouncing all actions can Moksha be achieved. It can only be achieved by one who is completely free from all desires. Actions when performed as an offering to the Supreme Lord with no desire or expectation for any reward (Nishkaama Karma) leads to perfection. The renounced order of life can be taken up after getting purified by discharging the prescribed form of duties.
As an analogy, when the rain water drops from the cloud, it is pure and uncontaminated, but as soon as it hits the ground it becomes muddy and discoloured. Similarly, we are pure original souls with a pure spirit when we are born, and a part of the Supreme Soul of Shri Krishna. But due to the conditioned life that is engaged in material pursuits, the living entities struggle through life and get contaminated. So, to purify ourselves we have to perform our prescribed duties diligently without any desire for the rewards and develop an attitude of equanimity. This will result in gradually purifying our mind and soul. Without this purification process, it is not possible to attain success merely by renunciation (Sanyaasa). Only one with a pure heart, free from desire and attachment is known as one situated in spiritual knowledge. Therefore, even when one is engaged in activities the mind should be fixated on Him and not waver.
3.5 Shloka 3.5
न हि कश्िचत्क्षणमपि जातु तिष्ठत्यकर्मकृत्।
कार्यते ह्यवशः कर्म सर्वः प्रकृतिजैर्गुणैः ।।3.5।।
Na hi kascit ksanam api jatu tisthaty akarma-krt |
Karyate hy avasah karma sarvah prakrti-jair gunaih ||3.5
Meaning: No one can refrain without engaging in activity at any time, even for a moment; all men are helplessly compelled to act according to the attributes endowed by material nature (Gunas).
No living being in the material existence can remain inactive even for a moment without initiating or pursuing some activity or another. If one should steadfastly determines to perform absolutely nothing, still one would be compelled by the qualities of the three Gunas, namely Sattva (goodness), rajas (passion) and tamas (indolent), all from prakriti, material nature.
It is the nature of the soul to be always active. Without the presence of the spirit soul, the material body cannot move. As such, the spirit soul has to be engaged in good work, otherwise it will be engaged in occupations dictated by the senses.
Thus, by adhering to Karma yoga, the yoga of actions without desires, one’s accumulated sins will gradually dissolve and mastery over the Gunas and prakriti is achieved and the mind becomes pure and one attains spiritual knowledge or jnana yoga. Otherwise as Lord Krishna states anyone attempting to pursue jnana yoga in lieu of this is a charlatan and all their attempts is merely a charade.
3.6 Shloka 3.6
कर्मेन्द्रियाणि संयम्य य आस्ते मनसा स्मरन्।
इन्द्रियार्थान्विमूढात्मा मिथ्याचारः स उच्यते।।3.6।।
Karmendriyani samyamya ya aste manasa smaran |
Indriyarthan vimudhatma mithyacarah sa ucyate ||3.6||
Meaning: One who restrains the senses and organs of action, but whose mind dwells on sense objects, certainly deludes himself and is called a pretender.
He who makes a show of being a yogi, while actually searching for the objects of sense gratification, must be called a charlatan, even though he may sometimes speak of philosophy. Such knowledge has no value because such a person’s mind is always impure, and therefore the yogic meditation acquires no merit whatsoever. A person acting in such a manner is only deceiving himself and surely will never succeed in realising the eternal soul.
One who is able to restrain the body from sense objects, may still find their mind wandering towards sense objects. The mind cannot be free from attachment to sense objects unless there is perfection in karma yoga. It is not possible to gain spiritual knowledge without first gaining mastery over the senses and control over the mind.
3.7 Shloka 3.7
यस्त्विन्द्रियाणि मनसा नियम्यारभतेऽर्जुन।
कर्मेन्द्रियैः कर्मयोगमसक्तः स विशिष्यते।।3.7।।
Yas tv indriyani manasa niyamyarabhate ’rjuna |
Karmendriyaih karma-yogam asaktah sa visisyate ||3.7||
Meaning: But anyone who controls the senses with the mind and engages in performing actions without attachment to the results is far superior.
Lord Krishna previously spoke of the pretensions of the pretenders renouncing all actions with great effort by forcefully subjugating the desires of the mind. Now to show the predominant role of the mind in influencing our thoughts, he uses the word ‘manasa’. Karma yoga, the yoga of actions, is about performing actions without attachment or desires. By diverting the senses from sense objects by controlling the mind one begins the process of contemplation of the self which when unattached to the desire for anything, gradually leads one towards self realisation. So, the discipline of karma yoga, the practice of selfless actions, is essential for spiritual development.
3.8 Shloka 3.8
नियतं कुरु कर्म त्वं कर्म ज्यायो ह्यकर्मणः।
शरीरयात्रापि च ते न प्रसिद्ध्येदकर्मणः।।3.8।।
Niyatam kuru karma tvam karma jyayo hy akarmanah |
Sarira-yatrapi ca te na prasiddhyed akarmanah ||3.8||
Meaning: Perform your prescribed duty, for action is better than inaction. A man cannot even maintain his physical body without work.
One should note that by the use of ‘tvam’ Lord Krishna is asserting that Arjuna should be detached from his actions and perform his duty. Action is superior to inaction because by performing righteous actions one expends ‘prarabdha karma’. Realistically not performing actions is also not practical because without actions one is not able even to maintain the physical body.
3.9 Shloka 3.9
यज्ञार्थात्कर्मणोऽन्यत्र लोकोऽयं कर्मबन्धनः।
तदर्थं कर्म कौन्तेय मुक्तसंगः समाचर।।3.9।।
Yajnarthat karmano ‘nyatra loko ‘yam karma-bandhanah |
Tad-artham karma kaunteya mukta-sangah samacara ||3.9||
Meaning: This whole world is bound by actions except for actions that are offered as a yajna (sacrifice) to the Supreme Lord. Therefore, O’ Son of Kunti, perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and that way you will always remain unattached from karmic reactions and remain free from bondage.
Since, one has to work even for the maintenance of the body, the prescribed duties have to be fulfilled. Yajna means Lord Vishnu, and also sacrificial performances. All sacrificial performances also are meant for the satisfaction of Lord Vishnu – ‘yajno vai Vishnuh’. Any other work done in this material world will be a cause of bondage, for both good and evil work have their reactions, and any reaction binds the performer. Therefore, one has to have a spirit of sacrifice while performing actions and renounce the fruits of their actions.
Lord Krishna uses the word sanga which means attachment will be there when the action is undertaken for self-service but as an offering to the Supreme Lord one is free from such bondage. The Supreme Lord recognising such devotion, will mitigate all the sins and the merits from such offered actions which bind one to receiving punishment or rewards that result in an unending cycle of rebirth and death, and grant salvation.
3.10 Shloka 3.10
सहयज्ञाः प्रजाः सृष्ट्वा पुरोवाच प्रजापतिः।
अनेन प्रसविष्यध्वमेष वोऽस्त्विष्टकामधुक्।।3.10।।
Saha-yajnah prajah srstva purovaca prajapatih |
Anena prasavisyadhvam esa vo ‘stv ista-kama-dhuk ||3.10||
Meaning: In the beginning of Creation, Prajapati (Brahma) after producing all beings by performing a sacrifice for Lord Vishnu, blessed them by saying, ‘May you evolve and prosper by this yajna [sacrifice] and let it bestow upon you all desirable things.’
All living entities within the material creation are conditioned by material nature because of their forgetfulness of their relationship to the Supreme. The Lord says ‘Vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyah’ meaning that the purpose of the Vedas is to understand Him.
In the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Sukadeva Gosvami describes the Lord as pati in so many ways:
Sriyah-patir yajna-patih praja-patir dhiyam patir loka-patir dhara-patih
Patir gatis candhaka-vrsni-satvatam prasidatam me bhagavan satam patih (Srimad Bhagavatam 2.4.20)
Meaning: May the Lord, who is the consort of Lakshmi, who is the object of all Yajns for all devotees, the protector of all and glory of all the Kings like Andhaka and Vṛṣṇi of the Yadu dynasty, the leader of all living entities, the controller of all intelligence, the proprietor of all planets, spiritual and material, and the supreme incarnation on the earth (the Supreme all in all), be merciful upon me.
In Srimad-Bhagavatam a special reference is made to the Sankirtana-yajna:
Krishna-varnam tvisakrsnam sangopangastra-parsadam |
Yajnaih sankirtana-prayair yajanti hi su-medhasah ||BG 11.5.32||
Meaning: In this age of Kali, people who are endowed with sufficient intelligence will worship the Lord, who is accompanied by His associates, by performance of sankirtana-yajna.
In this age of Kali, but the Sankirtana-yajna is easy and sublime for all purposes.
जय श्री कृष्णा – Jai Shri Krishna!
Hari Om Tat Sat