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Bhagavad Gita Weekly – Chapter 3 – Karma Yoga, Arjuna’s Confusion – Verses 1 to 6 – Part 19

Shri Krishna and Deluded Arjuna


I hope all of you’re taking good care of yourself during this trying time of COVID-19. Please follow good hygiene and stay healthy. Most importantly, please follow the guidelines issued by local authorities who are trying really hard to keep all of us safe!

In the last 18 parts of the Bhagavad Gita Weekly series, we looked at chapter 1 and chapter 2 of the holy Gita!

We will now move on to Chapter 3 in this part onwards. I hope you have enjoyed reading all the previous parts in this series and would continue to support me through this chapter.

As I mentioned when I first started this series, it gives me immense motivation to re-read the Gita and share my thoughts here! Being born in India, I was lucky enough to grow up hearing about the Gita and various stories from the Mahabharata, Ramayana and our various other ancient texts. However, sadly, none of us really make an effort to learn more about our rich culture and an ocean of ancient knowledge available to all of us.

My first attempt at learning the Gita was through Chinmaya Mission in Chennai. That was a time when I was fighting depression and suicidal tendencies. I had the blissful experience of listening to the discourses on chapter 2 of the Gita conducted at the mission when I was about 16 and it completely transformed my life!

I cannot stress this enough, but please do read the Gita and take inspiration from this vast ocean of knowledge which will help us tap into your own inner powers and talents! If you are someone like me who always wondered where to begin learning about Sanatana Dharma / Hinduism, Gita can be one of the best books to start with as it is considered to contain the essence of all vedantic teachings!

Let us now begin chapter 3 of the Gita.

Om vasudeva sutam devam
kamsa cānūramardanam |
devakī paramānandam
krishnam vande jagadgurum ||

Om Santi Santi Santi ||

I offer my obeisance to Lord Krishna, the beloved son of Vasudeva, who killed the great demons Kamsa and Chaanura, who is the source of great joy to Mother Devaki; and who is indeed a world teacher and spiritual master of the Universe.

Om Peace Peace Peace!

Jump to the Commentary for Chapter 3, verses 1 to 6

Chapter 3, Verse 1

अर्जुन उवाच
ज्यायसी चेत्कर्मणस्ते मता बुद्धिर्जनार्दन।
तत्किं कर्मणि घोरे मां नियोजयसि केशव।।

arjuna uvāca
jyāyasī cet karmanas te
matā buddhir janārdana
tat kith karmani ghore māth
niyojayasi kesava

Arjuna said: O Krishna, if you consider knowledge to be superior to action, why do you then ask me to perform this terrible action (war)?

Chapter 3, Verse 2

व्यामिश्रेणेव वाक्येन बुद्धिं मोहयसीव मे।
तदेकं वद निश्िचत्य येन श्रेयोऽहमाप्नुयाम्।।

vyāmisreṇeva vākyena
buddhim mohayasīva me
tad ekam vada niscitya
yena sreyo ’ham āpnuyām

My intellect is bewildered by your ambiguous advice. Please tell me decisively the one path by which I may attain the highest good.

Chapter 3, Verse 3

श्री भगवानुवाच
लोकेऽस्मिन्द्विविधा निष्ठा पुरा प्रोक्ता मयानघ।
ज्ञानयोगेन सांख्यानां कर्मयोगेन योगिनाम्।।

sri-bhagavān uvāca
loke ’smin dvi-vidhā nisthā
purā proktā mayānagha
jnāna-yogena sānkhyānām
karma-yogena yoginām

Shri Krishna said, “O sinless one, the two paths leading to enlightenment were previously explained by me: Sankhya Yoga – the path of devotion to knowledge and Karma Yoga – the path of devotion to action.”

Chapter 3, Verse 4

न कर्मणामनारम्भान्नैष्कर्म्यं पुरुषोऽश्नुते।
न च संन्यसनादेव सिद्धिं समधिगच्छति।।

na karmanām anārambhān
naiskarmyam puruso ’snute
na ca sannyasanād eva
siddhim samadhigacchati

Not by merely abstaining from work can one achieve freedom from karmic reaction, nor by renunciation alone can one attain perfection.

Chapter 3, Verse 5

न हि कश्िचत्क्षणमपि जातु तिष्ठत्यकर्मकृत्।
कार्यते ह्यवशः कर्म सर्वः प्रकृतिजैर्गुणैः।।

na hi kascit ksanam api
jātu tisthaty akarma-krt
kāryate hy avasah karmat
sarvah prakrti-jair gunaih

There is no one who can remain without engaging in any activity even for a moment. Indeed, all beings are compelled to act by their qualities born of material nature (the three guṇas).

Chapter 3, Verse 6

कर्मेन्द्रियाणि संयम्य य आस्ते मनसा स्मरन्।
इन्द्रियार्थान्विमूढात्मा मिथ्याचारः स उच्यते।।

karmendriyāṇi sanyamya ya āste manasā smaran
indriyārthān vimūḍhātmā mithyāchāraḥ sa uchyate

Those who restrain his organs of action, sitting dwelling upon sense objects in the mind, self-deluded, is said to be one of false conduct or called a hypocrite.

Commentary for Chapter 3, verses 1 to 6

In chapter 1 of the Gita, Arjuna Vishada Yoga,  Sanjaya was giving a detailed account of what is happening at the Kurukshetra battlefield to King Dritharashtra using his miraculous power of distant vision which was bestowed upon him by Sage Ved Vyasa. Sanjaya explained the reasons for Arjuna’s grief and his delusion which arose from the sight of his grandfather, Bhishma, who gave up the entire kingdom for which both the Pandavas and the Kauravas are now fighting. Apart from Bhishma, there were others like his gurus, kith and kin, all gathered at the battlefield to fight each other. This scene eventually became the apparent reason for Shri Krishna to deliver this beautiful words of wisdom, the Bhagavad Gita, to his beloved disciple, Arjuna!

Following which, in chapter 2, Sankhya Yoga, Arjuna requests Shri Krishna to be his spiritual guru by imparting knowledge that would take Arjuna out of his miserable condition that he is in after seeing all the venerable people gathered at the battlefield.

Through 72 verses in the chapter 2, Shri Krishna teaches Arjuna the nature of a Sthita Prajna (the enlightened soul), the knowledge of atma, the differences between the atma and the physical body, and ways to cultivate spiritual intelligence by restraining his senses and eventually attaining moksha.

In chapter 2, verse 11, Shri Krishna says, “while speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor for the dead”, drawing clear differences between the physical body which is perishable and atma which is eternal and cannot be destroyed even by gods! Throughout chapter 2, especially from verses 55 till 72, Shri Krishna talks about the importance of cultivating spiritual intelligence in order to have control over the senses and to attain perfect knowledge which is the knowledge of the self. Shri Krishna also spoke in detail about the need to perform one’s own actions (swadharma) and why it must be performed without ever having an intention to enjoy the results of those actions, but to perform those actions as a selfless service and as an offering to the Lord himself!

Throughout chapter 2, Shri Krishna spoke all about Sankhya Yoga (Jnana Yoga) – the path of knowledge – and Karma Yoga – the path of action. On one hand, Shri Krishna explains the reasons why one must perform his actions without ever wishing to enjoy the results of those actions, while on the other, He gives all the reasons as to why one must refrain from all sense objects and spend their life to attain the knowledge of the self/atma.

gita chapter 2 - arjuna's delusion
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Having heard these seemingly contradicting views, Arjuna is confused and asks Shri Krishna in chapter 3, verse 1, “O Krishna, if you consider knowledge to be superior to action, why do you then ask me to perform this terrible action (of waging war)?” and in verse 2, “my intellect is bewildered by your ambiguous advice. Please tell me decisively the one path by which I may attain the highest good.”

By saying “ekam vada niscitya yena sreyo ’ham āpnuyām” (Please tell me decisively the one path by which I may attain the highest good – verse 2), Arjuna may sound as if he wants Shri Krishna, his guru, to make the decisions for him, like how we all tend to do. Because when someone else makes the decisions and we fail, we can always put the blame on the other person who gave us the advice than us!

However, we must not forget that Arjuna is not any random kind of a disciple, he is called Gudakesa, the one who has conquered sleep/ignorance/darkness and is ever awake (as in spiritually awake)! By asking these questions, Arjuna did not mean to say that Shri Krishna’s teaching was confusing, rather it shows his ever curious mind to learn from his beloved guru by addressing Him as Janardhana – the one who is worshiped by everyone!

As we can see clearly through the Gita, at no point, Shri Krishna makes decisions for Arjuna, instead, all He does is to impart the true knowledge which would eventually help Arjuna create his own destiny. That is why Shri Krishna tells Arjuna in chapter 18, verse 63, “Thus, I have explained to you this knowledge which is more secret than all secrets. Ponder over it deeply, and then do as you wish.”

Isn’t this so beautiful! Where else would you ever hear God himself telling his disciple to do whatever he wishes after imparting such beautiful knowledge other than in Sanatana Dharma?!

Though Shri Krishna explained it in detail about both Jnana Yoga (the path of knowledge) and Karma Yoga (the path of action) throughout chapter 2 of the Gita, nowhere does He says that one must give up actions altogether, instead, Shri Krishna emphasises on giving up all our attachments to the fruits of our actions and performing our actions as an offering to God himself – that is what Karma Yoga is all about!

Karma Yoga explains all about the differences between selfish actions and unselfish actions. As the very venerable, 15th century Advaita Vedanta philosopher Madhusudana Sarasvati explained, through the practice of Karma Yoga, one’s mind is purified. From that purity of mind, one achieves the four-fold qualifications required for the learning of vedantic teachings. The four-fold qualifications mentioned are;

  1. Viveka – discernment between the eternal and non-eternal
  2. Vairagya – dispassion for the non-eternal
  3. Shatsampatti – the six-fold discipline or six-fold treasures, namely;
    • Shama – control of the mind / calmness of the mind
    • Dama – control of the senses / self-control
    • Shraddhā – spiritual fortitude or complete trust or faith
    • Titikshā – equanimity or the inner strength
    • Uparati – withdrawal from sense enjoyments / ability to rise above anything without fear
    • Samādhāna – inner focus or the ability to remain focused on one’s goal
  4. Mumukshutva – the desire for moksha / enlightenment

These four-fold qualifications are necessary in order to study vedanta and attain enlightenment. Through Karma Yoga, one achieves such purity of mind which is required for vedantic teachings, and that wisdom of vedanta awakens in such a pure mind, attaining the spiritual knowledge and the ability to recognise the ultimate truth that aham brahmasmi, that I am brahman.

To answer Arjuna’s question on why he is being asked to commit this terrible action (war) and to teach him decisively just one path which would yield the highest good, Shri Krishna spoke thus in verse 3, “O sinless one, the two paths leading to enlightenment were previously explained by me: Sankhya Yoga – the path of devotion to knowledge and Karma Yoga – the path of devotion to action” and in verse 4, “not by merely abstaining from work can one achieve freedom from reaction, nor by renunciation alone can one attain perfection.”

These are beautiful verses where Shri Krishna emphasises multiple paths for individuals to attain moksha and ultimately unite with the Paramatma from where we have all come to this world! While every other religion we know seems to be advocating a single path to God, Sanatana Dharma has always recognised the need for multiple paths to attain moksha as all of us are unique individuals with unique temperament. Thus Shri Krishna says, there are indeed two paths to enlightenment and they are Sankhya Yoga and Karma Yoga.

Sankhya Yoga (Jnana Yoga / Gyana Yoga)  is for people who are logical and need logical reasoning for every single thing they pursue. Whereas, Karma Yoga is for people who are eternally engaged in activity. These are two different paths but they both lead us to the same destination which is the ultimate goal of God Realization! Neither of these are superior or subordinate to each other, but they are merely different paths suitable for each aspirant who are on the path of self-discovery and we follow either of those paths based on our own temperament.

Sankhya Yoga is for people with a philosophical bend of mind where they have a constant quest to acquire more knowledge through reasoning, logical thinking and intellectual analysis. These are people who can withdraw their senses like how a tortoise would withdraw its limbs into its shell, as very beautifully spoken by Shri Krishna in chapter 2, verse 58. Such people are established in perfect consciousness and attain God Realization through the pursuit of knowledge.

However, a vast majority of people are the ones who cannot stop doing something or the other and are always engaged in various kinds of activities. Most of us belong to this category of people who are forever restless and are unable to sit quietly not even for a second with absolute control over our mind and senses. Our mind wanders even though our physical body remains in one space, and our senses are after all the pleasures of the world, even when we make an attempt at meditation! All of these are considered activities even though they are not really physical activities.

Karma Yoga is recommended for people with such a nature as to focus on our own duties and to offer all our work as an offering to God himself without ever wishing for the results of our actions. These kinds of selfless actions purify our mind and the eternal knowledge naturally awakens in such purified minds, leading to enlightenment.

Shri Krihsna establishes this fact in the following verse (verse 5), “there is no one who can remain without engaging in any activity even for a moment. Indeed, all beings are compelled to act by their qualities born of material nature (the three guṇas).”

Each of us are guided by three gunas in various proportions and it is determined by our Sanskaras – our tendencies and inclinations – which are accumulated through past lives. The three gunas are Sattva (the mode of goodness), Rajas (the mode of passion), and Tamas (the mode of ignorance). All of us are compelled to engage in various activities based on these gunas. Those with predominant sattvic gunas are more spiritually inclined, have purity of mind and would engage in noble activities and are neither swayed by praise nor let down by criticism. Those with more rajasic gunas tend to be driven by passion, energy and activities. They tend to crave for satisfaction and desires. Whereas those with tamasic gunas tend to be lazy, ignorant and dull. People with predominant tamasic gunas tend to crave for sensual pleasures and may engage in unethical practices for power and name.

All these three gunas are present in all of us in varying proportions. The predominant guna tends to take over most part of our life. As Shri Krishna points out in this verse, everyone is ultimately driven by activities of various kinds based on these gunas.

“There is no one who can remain without engaging in any activity even for a moment. Indeed, all beings are compelled to act by their qualities born of material nature!”

Gita, Chapter 3, Verse 5

Performing activities do not merely refer to our professions alone, but everything we do with our body, mind, speech, etc. are all considered various activities performed by each individual. Even if we want to sit quietly, our mind wanders around and that is also considered an activity. It is nearly impossible for human beings to remain inactive even for a second without having purity of mind. The aim of Karma Yoga is to help us purify our mind so that we develop the power of concentration and power of discrimination.

Shri Krishna continues in the next verse (verse 6), “those who restrain his organs of action, sitting dwelling upon sense objects in the mind, self-deluded, is said to be one of false conduct or called a hypocrite.”

This is a beautiful verse where Shri Krishna addresses all those people with an impure mind – an unqualified renunciate – who give up their professions, families and run away from their duties and go on a spiritual quest. Shri Krishna calls such people hypocrites.

Only one who has absolute control over all their senses could manage to cease all actions and be a renunciant. Here, Shri Krishna is talking about the vast majority of people like us who have no control over our senses and mind even for a moment, trying to give up our duties to escape from the worldly affairs and pretend to be a renunciant.

In this day and age where spirituality has become a whole new business model, we come across so many people who runs away from their duties, giving up their families, commitments, and everything else and grows dreadlocks, smears themselves in the sacred ashes and adorn themselves with ochre robes in the pretence of sanyas – the life of a renunciant. But their mind lusts over desires and they engage in unethical practices. Every action, even this spiritual quest they are after, is with an intention to satisfy themselves, for easy money, name and fame. Shri Krishna calls such people hypocrites because only those who have purity of mind can remain detached from all their actions. Thus, it is better to struggle through this world as a karma yogi than to be a false ascetic. Because, through Karma Yoga – the selfless actions as a service to god without any intention to enjoy the results of one’s actions and done simply because it is one’s duty to perform swadharma – one’s mind is purified.

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There is a story of two brothers that beautifully narrates the point Shri Krishna explains in this verse. There were two brothers named Tavrit and Suvrit. One day, they were walking to the temple to attend the discourse on Shrimad Bhagavatam. It started to rain heavily on their way to the temple, forcing both of them to run to the nearest shelter, only to find out that it was a brothel which they ran into, and women were dancing to entertain their guests. Tavrit, the older one, was appalled by this and quickly walked out of the brothel and started walking to the temple, completely ignoring the rain.

Suvrit, the younger one, felt no harm at all and remained at the brothel. However, he felt extremely sorry for himself for having to miss the discourse and his mind kept wandering around that beautiful temple and the Shrimad Bhagavatam discourse which he just missed…He even thought with so much admiration that how holy his brother was and how his brother must be soaking himself in the knowledge of Shrimad Bhagavadam. All these thoughts kept Suvrit filled with devotion and he even completely forgot the fact that he was at a brothel!

At the same time, Tavrit reached the temple and attended the discourse. However, his mind was still painting beautiful images of the women at the brothel. He even thought how his brother, Suvrit, would be having loads of fun with the beautiful women! He wished how nice it would have been if he too stayed back at the brothel and enjoyed himself out there with Suvrit.

When rain stopped Suvrit left the brothel and started walking towards the temple. When they both met each other on the way, suddenly a lightning struck them and killed both of them. Yama deva, the god of death, took Tavrit to hell and Suvrit to heaven. Tavrit felt furious and told Yama deva that he must have mistaken and that it was him who ignored the rain and walked to the temple to attend Shrimad Bhagavatam discourse while Suvrit remained at the brothel. However, Yama deva replied saying, “No, I am not mistaken, Tavrit. Survrit had indeed remained at the brothel, but he was longing to be at the temple to listen to the Bhagavatam. Whereas, you were indeed at the temple and while the discourse was going on, you were dying to be at the brothel, imagining yourself enjoying with the women.”

This is exactly what Shri Krishna speaks of in verse 6, about the kind of people who externally renounce everything but internally long for all kinds of material objects of pleasure because they lack control over their senses. Only through purifying our mind, we shall attain the spiritual maturity to renounce attachments to material pleasures and be on a path of self-discovery.
In the next verse, Shri Krishna explains about the proper kind of renunciation which we will see in the next part.

ॐ पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पुर्णमुदच्यते
पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते ॥
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥

Om Puurnnam-Adah Puurnnam-Idam Puurnnaat-Purnnam-Udacyate
Puurnnasya Puurnnam-Aadaaya Puurnnam-Eva-Avashissyate ||
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||

My Pranams to you!

Thank you.