Bhagavan Shri Krishna in these ten verses explains the intricacies of various kinds of actions and inaction together with their implications.
Bhagavan says that He rewards everyone in accordance with their actions. As the ultimate dispenser of all rewards, He bestows rewards on everyone regardless of who they offer their homage to; although the rewards are in proportion to the intensity of their worship. He further explains that who seek material rewards, worship the demigods and get their temporary rewards as these manifest quickly. Only a rare being aspires to attain Moksha and is situated in spiritual intelligence to get free from the cycle of Samsara and achieves liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Lord Krishna says that even persons with discriminative intellect and knowledge are bewildered in determining the righteous actions and get confused.
If one is seeking liberation from material bondage, one has to understand the distinctions between action, inaction and forbidden actions. He explains that One who has mastered renunciation in action, and action in renunciation of activities, is spiritually intelligent among men.
Such a person is transcendentally situated and is a perfect performer of all actions. Such a person is understood to be in perfect knowledge, whose every act is devoid of desire for sense gratification. Such a person’s fruitive action is burned up by the fire of perfect knowledge and they are free from bondage of karma.
The nature of spiritual intelligence is to be always tranquil and ever content state. By acting in this way, one assumes the qualities of one in eternal equi-poise and in infinite bliss.
4.11 Shloka 4.11
ये यथा मां प्रपद्यन्ते तांस्तथैव भजाम्यहम्।
मम वर्त्मानुवर्तन्ते मनुष्याः पार्थ सर्वशः।।4.11।।
Ye yatha mam prapadyante tams tathaiva bhajamy aham |
Mama vartma anuvartante manusyah Partha sarvasah ||4.11||
Meaning: All those who surrender unto Me in whatever way, I reward them accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O son of Partha.
In Srimad Bhagavatam (2.3.10) it says:
Akamah sarva-kamo va moksa-kama udaradhih
Tivrena bhakti-yogena yajeta purusam param
Meaning: Whether one is without desire (Dharma), or is desirous of all fruitive results (Artha, Kama), or is after liberation (Mumukshu), one should, with all efforts, worship the Supreme Lord.
“Tathaiva bhajamy” means in accordance with their intensity of faith and devotion. Lord Krishna reciprocates rewards to all in proportion of their intensity of devotion. It would appear unfair, if Lord Krishna bestowed His benedictions only upon those who worship Him but not to those who are seeking material rewards. To dispel this notion, Bhagavan Krishna states in this verse that whoever approaches Him, whether with desires or without desires, direct or indirect, He rewards them accordingly.
Lord Krishna is the ultimate dispenser of all rewards to everyone, regardless of who they offer their homage to; although the rewards are in proportion to the intensity of their worship.
Lord Krishna’s divine nature is such that even realised saints and yogis find His sublime nature transcendental; yet for all those who are situated in righteousness worshiping any God of their choice, He manifests the way to receive their mode of worship while maintaining their faith.
4.12 Shloka 4.12
काङ्क्षन्तः कर्मणां सिद्धिं यजन्त इह देवताः।
क्षिप्रं हि मानुषे लोके सिद्धिर्भवति कर्मजा।।4.12।।
Kanksantah karmanam siddhim yajanta iha devatah |
Kshipram hi manuse loke siddhir bhavati karma-ja ||4.12||
Meaning: In this world, those who desire success in fruitive activities worship the various Devas, and they get results since it manifests very quickly.
Bhagavan explains that those who seek material rewards, worship the demigods and get their temporary rewards as these manifest quickly. Only a rare being aspires to attain Moksha and is situated in spiritual intelligence to get free from the cycle of Samsara and achieves liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Only such a rare being would engage in Karma yoga or the performance of prescribed activities as a propitiation to the Supreme Being.
Sriman Narayana is the Moksha dhaata and hence those seeking the higher goal of Moksha worship Him.
“Manuse Loke” means the mortal world and persons in the mortal world are oblivious of the true purpose of human existence i.e. Moksha. Due to a vast accumulation of sinful reactions that have not been exhausted from previous births, they continue to desire immediate results for their actions causing them to accumulate more such reactions. Such people worship demigods for temporary material rewards and foolishly pursue transient material objectives.
In the Katha Upanishad 2.2.13, it says:
Nityo nityanam cetanas cetananam |
Eko bahunam yo vidadhati Kaman ||
Meaning: The Supreme Lord is eternal, and the living beings are eternal. The Supreme Lord is cognizant, and the living beings are cognizant. The difference is that the Supreme Lord is supplying all the necessities of life for the many other living entities.
The Supreme God is one and the demigods are delegated with powers to manage this material world. These demigods are all living entities (nityanam) with different grades of material power. They cannot be equal to the Supreme God—Narayana, Vishnu, or Bhagavan Shri Krishna.
“Iha devatah” means a powerful demigod while Lord Narayana, Vishnu, Rama or Krishna, are transcendental to material creation.
So, by worshipping the demigods, they get the results, but do not know that the results so obtained are temporary. This verse indicates that people are rarely interested in Moksha and seek mostly material enjoyment, and therefore they worship some other demigod.
Lord Krishna explains that most people perform myriads of actions as they seek material results from their efforts. These material benefits are beseeched in the forms of wealth, power, good health and such other things. But for Moksha or liberation, the results do not come easy as this knowledge must be refined and perfected through many lifetimes. The purport is that most people worship various other entities because in their present life they have no knowledge and/or no intrinsic interest in Moksha.
4.13 Shloka 4.13
चातुर्वर्ण्यं मया सृष्टं गुणकर्मविभागशः।
तस्य कर्तारमपि मां विद्ध्यकर्तारमव्ययम्।।4.13।।
Catur-varnyam maya srstam guna-karma-vibhagasah |
Tasya kartaram api mam viddhy akartaram avyayam ||4.13||
Meaning: The four divisions of human society were created by Me according to differences in the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them. And, although I am the creator of this system, know Me as the non-doer, being Immutable.
The Lord is the creator of everything. Everything is born of Him, everything is sustained by Him, and everything, after annihilation, rests in Him. He is therefore the creator of the four divisions of the social order.
The four orders result from a combination of the three Gunas viz. Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Those with predominantly Sattva Guna (piety and noble) possess tranquillity and self- control. As Sattva decreases one’s ability and capacity to be righteous declines and they move further away to Rajas (Passion) and Tamas Guna (Sloth). Thus, these four divisions arise naturally due to the combination of these three Gunas and defines a person’s character and disposition.
The verse refers to the four social orders viz. the Brahmins – the priest and knowledge seekers and disseminators, the Kshatriyas – the Royal class, protector and warriors, the Vaishyas – trading class and merchants, and finally the Shudras – the working class. These were created according to the natural qualities of their prenatal disposition and classified initially accordingly to birth. Through subsequent actions one can redefine oneself.
The determining factor for all beings is that they come into their various existences as a result of their own Karma. This is because all embodied beings accept a form in accordance to the inherent primal force of their past Karma. However, one is not defined by birth alone and one’s present Karma can define them to be different.
While Bhagavan is the origin of all creation but He also reveals that He is a non-Doer, meaning its one’s own Karma that defines what they become. He also says that He is not originated from any source. He is independent in Himself and not created from anything.
4.14 Shloka 4.14
न मां कर्माणि लिम्पन्ति न मे कर्मफले स्पृहा।
इति मां योऽभिजानाति कर्मभिर्न स बध्यते।।4.14।।
Na mam karmani limpanti na me karma-phale sprha |
Iti mam yo ‘bhijanati karmabhir na sa badhyate ||4.14||
Meaning: There is no work that implicates Me; nor do I aspire for the fruits of action. One who understands this truth about Me, such a person does not get entangled in the fruitive reactions of work.
Bhagavan Shri Krishna uses the words ‘mam karmani’ meaning ‘actions do not bind Me’ and further emphasises with ‘mam abhijanati’ meaning ‘One who knows this truth about Me’, does not get entangled.
A question arises as to how is it possible for Bhagavan Shri Krishna to be not implicated by any of the actions and that none of the reactions to His actions are applicable to Him? We can draw a parallel by looking at this analogy. Although fruits, grains or pulses are undoubtedly supported by rain showers, the rain has no attachment not has any desire for tasting and enjoying the fruits. Similarly, in the Creation of various beings, possessing good and evil propensities, performing righteous or unrighteous actions and receiving the bestowal of their reactions, it is the Bhagavan Shri Krishna who sanctions these rewards without any of it implicating Him.
But there is no partiality or injustice coming from Him. Every human being creates their own karma or reactions to actions as defined by the actions they have been performing in life after life since time immemorial.
Lord Krishna confirms here that even those who know Him as the origin of Creation, know that He is not implicated by any activity being transcendental to prakriti or material nature; such individuals also are not bound by their actions having abandoned the fruits of their actions.
The following verse reaffirms it:
Nimitta-matram evasau srjyanam sarga-karmani |
Pradhana-karani-bhuta yato vai srjya-saktayah ||
Meaning: In the material creations, the Lord is only the Supreme Cause. The immediate Cause is the material nature by which the cosmic manifestation is visible. The created beings are of many varieties and all of them are subject to the reactions of their past good or bad activities. The Lord only gives them the proper faculties for performing their activities but He is never responsible for their past and present activities.
4.15 Shloka 4.15
एवं ज्ञात्वा कृतं कर्म पूर्वैरपि मुमुक्षुभिः।
कुरु कर्मैव तस्मात्त्वं पूर्वैः पूर्वतरं कृतम्।।4.15।।
Evam jnatva krtam karma purvair api mumuksubhih |
Kuru karmaiva tasmat tvam purvaih purvataram krtam ||4.15||
Meaning: All the liberated souls in ancient times acted with this understanding and attained liberation. Therefore, you should adopt the actions performed by the ancient authorities.
Bhagavan says that ancient Seers understood that He was completely delineated although performing such magnificent activities as Creation of all Beings. They performed their activities free from desire and attachment and thus attained Moksha or liberation.
Bhagavan is encouraging Arjuna to perform Karma Yoga just like the ancient seers such as Vivasvan. Therefore, He recommends that Arjuna act like the Sun-God, who learned this art from the Lord.
4.16 Shloka 4.16
किं कर्म किमकर्मेति कवयोऽप्यत्र मोहिताः।
तत्ते कर्म प्रवक्ष्यामि यज्ज्ञात्वा मोक्ष्यसेऽशुभात्।।4.16।।
Kim karma kim akarmeti kavayo ‘py atra mohitah |
Tat te karma pravaksyami yaj jnatva moksyase ‘subhat ||4.16||
Meaning: Even the intelligent are bewildered in determining what action is and what inaction is. Now I shall explain to you what action is, knowing which you shall be liberated from all sins.
Bhagavan says that even persons with discriminative intellect and knowledge are bewildered in determining the righteous actions and get confused. Bhagavan Shri Krishna now promises to dispel all delusion in the intricacies of this subject.
What is the purpose of performing actions as a matter of duty? The satisfaction consists in the knowledge of knowing why the duty is to be discharged. The knower is the person who performs works aspiring for Moksha. The one who performs work for sense gratification is ignorant (or Baddha Jiva).
4.17 Shloka 4.17
कर्मणो ह्यपि बोद्धव्यं बोद्धव्यं च विकर्मणः।
अकर्मणश्च बोद्धव्यं गहना कर्मणो गतिः।।4.17।।
Karmano hy api boddhavyam boddhavyam ca vikarmanah |
Akarmanas ca boddhavyam gahana karmano gatih ||4.17||
Meaning: The intricacies of action are to be understood and the actions that are forbidden should also be understood. The subject of renunciation of action is even harder to comprehend. Therefore, one should know properly understand the intricacies of action, forbidden action and inaction.
The nature of karma or prescribed actions performed for attaining Moksha or liberation from material existence should be understood. Actions which are ‘nitya’ (regular) are to be performed without any attachment or desire. Actions that are ‘naimittika’ (occasional) that are performed for sense enjoyment and/or with a desire for material rewards is known as ‘vikarma’ or ‘improper actions’. The absence of action known as ‘akarma’ (inaction) is also not an option and this should also be comprehended.
Therefore, the path of Karma is not easily discernible for those seeking Moksha. As the rewards are varied for each type of action, it should be clearly understood by an aspirant of Moksha. It is important to perform actions with an attitude of renunciation while maintain discipline, equipoise and dispassion. It is also important to abstain from certain actions and knowing when to act and when to abstain in critical.
4.18 Shloka 4.18
कर्मण्यकर्म यः पश्येदकर्मणि च कर्म यः।
स बुद्धिमान् मनुष्येषु स युक्तः कृत्स्नकर्मकृत्।।4.18।।
Karmany akarma yah pasyed akarmani ca karma yah |
Sa buddhiman manusyesu sa yuktah krtsna-karma-krt ||4.18||
Meaning: One who has mastered renunciation in action, and action in renunciation of activities, is spiritually intelligent among men. Such a person is transcendentally situated and is a perfect performer of all actions.
There are two categories of persons:
- The person who performs actions while continuously contemplating on the Atma – this is a stage where one is seeking realisation of the Self
- The person who immersed within the Atma and perceives the Atma to be performing all actions taking on the role of an Observer – this is a person who has attained Self-Realisation (a Jnani or a Jeevan Mukt)
No one can escape performing actions. In Chapter 3 Verse 22, Bhagavan says there is no prescribed for Him and yet He is engaged in actions to set the right examples for others to follow.
So, it is important to understand what the righteous actions are and how they are to be performed. Having a dispassionate attitude while performing actions is like ‘Inaction in Action’. Similarly, in certain circumstances abstaining from an action is a conscious choice, for e.g. Observing fast on auspicious days is like ‘Action in Inaction’. One who practices the above achieves Self-realisation and becomes liberated.
In Narada Purana, it states that the Supreme Lord Krishna is never bound by Cause and Effect as all His actions are to be understood as inaction.
All material actions are visible to the living beings, but what is not visible is the karma or reactions that come with the actions. This results in repeated performance of such actions which keeps them in worldly bondage. Out of compassion, Lord Krishna states the truth of action, inaction and prohibited actions.
4.19 Shloka 4.19
यस्य सर्वे समारम्भाः कामसङ्कल्पवर्जिताः।
ज्ञानाग्निदग्धकर्माणं तमाहुः पण्डितं बुधाः।।4.19।।
Yasya sarve samarambhah kama-sankalpa-varjitah |
Jnanagni-dagdha-karmanam tam ahuh panditam budhah ||4.19||
Meaning: One is understood to be in full knowledge whose every act is devoid of desire for sense gratification. The Sages say that such a worker’s fruitive action is burned up by the fire of perfect knowledge.
The person performing karma or actions accrues reactions by his attachment to the results and hankering for rewards. This is delusional as desires are imagined and fantasised even before enactment. Lord Krishna explains that the spiritually intelligent person approaches action and inaction with a sense of dispassion and equipoise. Their actions are free from desires and hankering for rewards, and hence their actions are incapable of sprouting reactions. Such fruitive actions are purified by the fire of perfect knowledge. And only a person in perfect knowledge can understand that eternal service of the Lord can burn the effects of such fruitive results.
Whoever performs Karma in this manner while constantly contemplating and meditating on the Self, is a person of spiritual intelligence situated in Atma tattva or Self-realisation. For such a person all reactions to their myriads of past actions are singed by the fire of knowledge.
4.20 Shloka 4.20
त्यक्त्वा कर्मफलासङ्गं नित्यतृप्तो निराश्रयः ।
कर्मण्यभिप्रवृत्तोऽपि नैव किञ्चित्करोति सः।।4.20।।
Tyaktva karma-phalasangam nitya-trpto nirasrayah |
Karmany abhipravrtto ‘pi naiva kincit karoti sah ||4.20||
Meaning: Abandoning all attachment to the results of his activities, ever satisfied and independent, he performs no fruitive action, although engaged in all kinds of undertakings.
Whoever has completely given up all desires and attachments for rewards of actions, and is also ‘nitya-trypto’ or ‘totally content and immersed’ in the Atma or Soul, self-satisfied with no dependence on anything for material existence, such a person although seen to be intently performing various prescribed actions is in reality performing no action (inaction in action) that has any binding effect. Such a person might appear to be performing various activities externally but internally that person is cultivating spiritual knowledge, thus is exempt from any binding effect from results.
The nature of spiritual intelligence is to be always tranquil and ever-content state. By acting in this way, one assumes the qualities of the eternally equipoised and enjoys infinite bliss.
जय श्री कृष्णा – Jai Shri Krishna!
Hari Om Tat Sat