SRIMAD BHAGAVAD GITA – PART 13, Chapter 3, Verses 21 to 30 – KARMA YOGA

Bhagavan Krishna, through these ten verses, explains the importance of performing actions without desire or attachment to the results. In these verses, Bhagavan Shri Krishna explains the importance of performing actions even by the spiritually awakened in order to set examples for other to follow.  Actions performed in the spirit of sacrifice or Yajna results in the purification of the body, mind and intellect. When the mind is sanctified, one can contemplate on the path of liberation, and all these collectively lead to purification of the Soul (Atma), thus paving the path for liberation. Bhagavan instructs Arjuna to surrendering all his actions works unto Him, with the mind intent on Him, and free from desires for gain, without Doership, Egoism, and lethargy to pick up his weapons and fight.

3.21     Shloka 3.21

यद्यदाचरति श्रेष्ठस्तत्तदेवेतरो जनः।
यत्प्रमाणं कुरुते लोकस्तदनुवर्तते।।3.21।।

Yad yad acarati sresthas tat tad evetaro janah |
Sa yat pramanam kurute lokas tad anuvartate ||3.21||
Meaning:  Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world follows.

The word ‘Sresthah’ means great personality or a leader. Whatever actions a great person performs others will try to emulate them. People look for inspiration and often look up to a role model or a leader and they try to follow them.  A leader cannot ask his or her followers to adopt high standards if they do not lead by example and practice those high standards. Hence, great personalities should always act in an exemplary manner to set the standard for the rest of the people.

An Acharya or a teacher should follow what he preaches to gain credibility, respect and followership. The Guru’s teaching should be based on the principles set out in the scriptures and practiced by other great Gurus.

3.22     Shloka 3.22

मे पार्थास्ति कर्तव्यं त्रिषु लोकेषु किञ्चन।
नानवाप्तमवाप्तव्यं वर्त एव कर्मणि।।3.22।।

Na me parthasti kartavyam trisu lokesu kincana  |
Nanavaptam avaptavyam varta eva ca karmani ||3.22||
Meaning: O’ Son of Prtha, there is no duty prescribed for Me within all the three worlds. Nor am I in want of anything, nor have I need to obtain anything—and yet I am engaged in work.

Bhagavan Shri Krishna is clarifying that, although He is the Supreme Bhagavan Shri of all, there is no activity prescribed for Him, He has no needs as He already possesses everything but He still performs activities to set examples so that all the world will benefit from it.

In the Svetasvatara Upanishad, it says:
tam isvaranam paramam mahesvaram tam devatanam paramam ca daivatam |
patim patinam paramam parastad vidama devam bhuvanesam idyam ||6.7||

tasya karyam karanam ca vidyate na tat-samas cabhyadhikas ca drsyate |
parasya saktir vividhaiva sruyate sva-bhaviki jnana-bala-kriya ca ||6.8||

Meaning: The Supreme Bhagavan Shri is the controller of all controllers, and He is the greatest of all the Devas. Everyone is under His control. All entities are delegated with particular power only by the Supreme Bhagavan Shri; they are not supreme themselves.  He has nothing to achieve for Himself, nor has He any bodily form like that of an ordinary living entity. No one is equal or superior to Him. His great power alone is described in in the Vedas to be of various kinds, and His knowledge, strength and action are described as inherent in Him.

Without any objective whatsoever the Supreme Bhagavan Shri Krishna according to His creative impulse performs all actions perpetually.

3.23     Shloka 3.23

यदि ह्यहं वर्तेयं जातु कर्मण्यतन्द्रितः।
मम वर्त्मानुवर्तन्ते मनुष्याः पार्थ सर्वशः।।3.23।।

Yadi hy aham na varteyam jatu karmany atandritah |
Mama vartmanuvartante manusyah partha sarvasah||3.23||
Meaning:
For, if I did not engage in activities, O Partha, certainly all men would follow My path in all respects.

People cite examples of noble men and leaders to justify their actions as legit. If Bhagavan Shri Krishna, the son of King Vasudeva from the Vrishni dynasty the foremost of the righteous, failed to perform activities then so many others would follow in His footsteps citing Him as an example. Bhagavan Shri Krishna is stating that He would be at fault for leading them in the wrong way if He disengaged from all activities.

3.24     Shloka 3.24

उत्सीदेयुरिमे लोका कुर्यां कर्म चेदहम्।
सङ्करस्य कर्ता स्यामुपहन्यामिमाः प्रजाः।।3.24।।

Utsideyur ime loka na kuryam karma ced aham |
Sankarasya ca karta syam upahanyam imah prajah ||3.24||
Meaning: If I cease to perform My activities, then all the inhabitants of all worlds would ruin. And I would become the cause of an unvirtuous population, and would destroy all living entities.

The word ‘Sankarasya’ means ‘unwanted or not a virtuous population’ and such a populace will disturb the peace and it will eventually lead to chaos in the society. To avoid this decay, duties or dharma is prescribed for everyone which when followed will ensure peaceful and orderly life while creating the path for spiritual progress in life.

The purport is that great harm would come to people if Bhagavan Shri Krishna were to refrain from performing His actions and so He always carries out His actions for the welfare of the world.

When Bhagavan Shri Krishna took birth as the son of the great righteous King Vasudeva, He conducted Himself in a manner befitting his position in the society i.e. as a prince of the Royal Kshatriya or warrior class. If Bhagavan Shri Krishna were to act in any other manner, all of mankind would begin to imitate Him thinking that such actions were virtuous and worthy actions. Bhagavan Shri Krishna is explaining that if He failed to perform activities, everyone would misinterpret this and would try to emulate it or follow His example.  This could lead them down the wrong path causing anarchy and drive them away from the path of Self-realisation.  This would be considered as a serious offence and Bhagavan Shri Krishna would be faulted for setting a wrong example.

The subtle message to Arjuna is that as a great warrior, who is famous for never having been defeated in battle and famed for his righteousness, should not shy away from the battle.  He should fight to protect dharma and lead by example for the other noble Kshatriyas who would be inspired by him and follow him. Thus, it can be understood that for specially qualified people, the prescribed activities become assume greater significance and these must be performed by them as they set the standards for the rest of the world to follow.

3.25     Shloka 3.25

सक्ताः कर्मण्यविद्वांसो यथा कुर्वन्ति भारत।
कुर्याद्विद्वांस्तथासक्तश्िचकीर्षुर्लोकसंग्रहम्।।3.25।।

Saktah karmany avidvamso yatha kurvanti Bharata |
Kuryad vidvams tathasaktas cikirsur loka-sangraham ||3.25||
Meaning: O’ Arjuna, even as the ignorant perform their duties with attachment to results, the learned must act, but without attachment, for the welfare of the world.

A person established in spiritual consciousness should also perform prescribed actions, but without attachment, in order to guide the masses towards the path of virtue. Those devoid of knowledge, work with attachment totally engrossed in their actions. But the person with spiritual wisdom, being able to discriminate between the Atma (Soul) and the physical body, is not perplexed. Such a person should perform the prescribed duties without attachment, in an exemplary manner that inspires the public, as a matter of duty.

3.26     Shloka 3.26

बुद्धिभेदं जनयेदज्ञानां कर्मसङ्गिनाम्।
जोषयेत्सर्वकर्माणि विद्वान् युक्तः समाचरन्।।3.26।।

Na buddhi-bhedam janayed ajnanam karma-sanginam |
Josayet sarva-karmani vidvan yuktah samacaran ||3.26||
Meaning: Let not the wise disrupt the minds of the ignorant who are attached to fruitive action. They should not be encouraged to refrain from work, but to engage in work in the spirit of devotion.

Bhagavan Shri Krishna states that a person of Vedic spiritual wisdom should impart knowledge to other in a simplified manner.  More importantly they should not disturb their routine and confuse them with teachings that might lead them to abandon their duties. The spiritually wise should merely encourage the ignorant to continuously perform their daily activities as a matter of duty but without attachment to results and with full devotion and commitment.

Those who have desires and are attached to performing actions to obtain the fruits of such desires and hence, are unable to master Jnana yoga, that requires rigour and disciplined approach.

For a vast majority of people, following karma yoga as a means to achieve self-realisation (Atma-tattva) is recommended.  Let the wise act and behave like one performing karma yoga and set an example by their actions. In this manner the great souls can inspire the whole society to perform righteous activities so that eventually their minds will become purified and they can advance spiritually and attain Atma-tattva. 

3.27     Shloka 3.27

प्रकृतेः क्रियमाणानि गुणैः कर्माणि सर्वशः।
अहङ्कारविमूढात्मा कर्ताऽहमिति मन्यते।।3.27।।

Prakrteh kriyamanani gunaih karmani sarvasah |
Ahankara-vimudhatma kartaham iti manyate ||3.27||
Meaning: The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature.

The difference between the actions of a person of wisdom and those who are ignorant is explained in this verse. The person of wisdom recognises that the whole material existence is influenced by the three Gunas or the modes of material nature (Sattvic, Rajas or Tamas).  

The one who is ignorant is dominated by the senses assuming that they are the Doer’s and cause of their actions and thus stricken with false ego they perform all actions with attachment and desires. On the other hand, a person of wisdom recognises that all actions are but the result of the interaction of the three Gunas and performs all actions as a matter of duty remaining detached and free from desires.

A question may arise as to why should the spiritually wise perform actions that are usually performed by the ignorant men? What then is the difference between a spiritually awakened soul and an ordinary person?  Bhagavan Shri Krishna clarifies this point with the word ‘prakriteh’ which means that the actions are impelled through the medium of the three Gunas.  One who is perplexed by false ego believes that they are the physical body and that the physical body is the doer of all their actions.  While the spiritual person performs the actions with no attachment to results and with equanimity.

The Vedas explain that the Atma (Soul) is the doer but this is only experienced when Moksha or liberation from material existence is attained. The impressions of the Atma expresses itself through the medium of the physical body in proportion to the purity of the mind. Yet the ignorant perceive their physical body as the doer of all their actions while in actuality all actions are performed by the interaction of material nature, the three Gunas and the false ego. Because of this misconception, the ignorant person believes that they are their physical bodies and hence doer of their actions.

3.28     Shloka 3.28

तत्त्ववित्तु महाबाहो गुणकर्मविभागयोः।
गुणा गुणेषु वर्तन्त इति मत्वा सज्जते।।3.28।।

Tattva-vit tu maha-baho guna-karma-vibhagayoh |
Guna gunesu vartanta iti matva na sajjate  ||3.28||
Meaning: One who is in knowledge of the Absolute Truth, O mighty-armed, does not engage himself in the senses and sense gratification, knowing well the differences between work in devotion and work for fruitive results.

Who is a Tattva-vit?  According to Srimad Bhagavatam, Tattva-vit is one who knows the Absolute Truth. That person of Vedic spiritual wisdom knows the exact distinction between prakriti or material nature and the Gunas along with their agents – the five senses.  Such a person does not get attached or is beguiled into thinking that they are the doer of their actions.

The tattva-vit is competent in discerning in all activities the properties and influences of the three Gunas as they manifest themselves through one’s actions. The one who becomes proficient in discerning the manifestation of the three Gunas in all their actions will not commit the error of assuming that they are the Doer.

3.29     Shloka 3.29

प्रकृतेर्गुणसम्मूढाः सज्जन्ते गुणकर्मसु।
तानकृत्स्नविदो मन्दान्कृत्स्नविन्न विचालयेत्।।3.29।।

Prakrter guna-sammudhah sajjante guna-karmasu |
Tan akrtsna-vido Mandan krtsna-vin na vicalayet ||3.29||
Meaning: Bewildered by the modes of material nature, the ignorant fully engage themselves in material activities and become attached. But the wise should not unsettle them, although these duties are inferior due to the performers’ lack of knowledge.

Bhagavan Shri Krishna says that one should not disturb the minds of the ignorant who are still deluded by Prakriti (Nature) and the spiritually awakened should let them continue to perform their duties.  Although attached to the results of their actions, they are at least doing their daily duties.

One should contemplate and reflect on the Atma and its essential nature which is purely spiritual. The Atma performs no material activity but has association with actions through the Gunas due to its union with Prakriti (Nature). Thus, in its association with Prakriti (Nature), there is doer ship but where the actions are performed without attachment to results and with an attitude of equanimity, there is none.  

The attributes of nature are those that are abducted by the senses thus delusion arises and the conception of false ego enjoying the sense objects impels a reaction. Bhagavan Shri Krishna uses the word ‘Guna-karmasu’ meaning that the reactions from actions influenced by the modes of Sattva (Goodness), Rajas (passion) and Tamas (sloth).  It should be understood that the impulses that come from the sense objects are secondary attributes and they have reactions that bind one to Samsara, the cycle of birth and death.  Such ignorant persons are not qualified for Jnana yoga but are competent for karma yoga or performing their duties. Eventually in the course of their lifetime there will be a glimmer of comprehension of the utter futility for attachment for such actions.

The conclusion is that one situated in Vedic wisdom and is a prominent leading figure in society should also perform prescribed Vedic activities in Karma yoga even though such a person is a knower of Atma-tattva. By acting in this way and performing Vedic activities without attachment lesser men will follow his example and perform in a like manner.

3.30     Shloka 3.30

मयि सर्वाणि कर्माणि संन्यस्याध्यात्मचेतसा।
निराशीर्निर्ममो भूत्वा युध्यस्व विगतज्वरः।।3.30।।

Mayi sarvani karmani sannyasyadhyatma-cetasa |
Nirasir nirmamo bhutva yudhyasva vigata-jvarah ||3.30||
Meaning: Therefore, O Arjuna, surrendering all your works unto Me, with mind intent on Me, and without desire for gain and free from egoism and lethargy, fight.

This verse clearly expresses the purpose of the Bhagavad Gita. In this verse, Bhagavan Shri Krishna orders Arjuna to fight as if He was his Commander.  While Arjuna was also reflecting on how he would be accruing myriads of sins by fighting and slaying all the warriors in the battle. Now he is being instructed by Shri Krishna to cheerfully join the fray and perform his prescribed duties as a “Yagna” or offering in Karma Yoga.

The words ‘adhyatma-cetasa’ means ‘with the mind absorbed in the Atma within the heart’. So dedicate the mind and all activities to the Supreme Being in the heart represented by the eternal atma. The word ‘nirasih’ means one who is free from desires, free from hankering for the rewards of all actions while eschewing all vanity. The word ‘nirmamah’ means without a sense of ego, and by prohibiting all ego constructs of I-ness and my-ness, and relieved from the fever of mental delusion, discharge the duties at once without attachment. Thus, Bhagavan Shri Krishna is instructing the warrior Arjuna on how he get about to fight his enemies.

The person who performs their activities in this ordained manner is automatically exempted from all reactions when performed with dedication but with no attachment.  The Supreme Being accepts such actions as offerings to Him and takes complete responsibility of the surrendered devotee freeing them from bondage. This is the quintessence of Karma Yoga.

In the Svetavatara Upanishad (6.2) it says, It should be known that energy assumes various forms such as  earth,  water, light, air and  ether  at  the  command  of  Him,  who is the master of Gunas and  the maker of time, who is omniscient, who is Pure Consciousness itself , and by whom all this is ever enveloped.

Even the Yagna offered to Him is possible only with His mercy and grace. Devotion to the Supreme is its own reward and bequeaths His mercy and grace perpetually.  With this attitude of performing one’ duties as a service to Him and without any attachment to the results, one is relieved of bondage to actions.

जय श्री कृष्णा – Jai Shri Krishna!

Hari Om Tat Sat

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