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Bhagavad Gita Weekly – Chapter 3 – Karma Yoga, for the Unenlightened Souls – Verses 7 to 10 – Part 20


In the last part of this series, we covered Bhagavad Gita chapter 3, verses 1 to 6. In chapter 3, Sri Krishna explains all about Karma Yoga – the perfect action. This chapter begins with Arjuna asking Sri Krishna (verse 2) that, “my intellect is bewildered by your ambiguous advice. Please tell me decisively the one path by which I may attain the highest good…”

Sri Krishna starts answering Arjuna by talking about the two paths  – Sankhya Yoga – the path of devotion to knowledge and Karma Yoga – the path of devotion to action. According to Sanatana Dharma, these are the two paths laid out to all spiritual seekers. People choose either of these paths according to their gunas. Sankhya yoga is advised to those who are extremely analytical and logical. Such people have this never ending quest for knowledge through reasoning. Whereas, Karma yoga is advised to those who are endlessly active, energetic and cannot stop engaging in various activities even for a second.

We ended the last part with verse 6 where Sri Krishna very bluntly calls, “those who restrain his organs of action, sitting dwelling upon sense objects in the mind, self-deluded, are said to be one of false conduct or called a hypocrite.” Sri Krishna uses such strong words to describe people who pretend to be spiritual but deep down, they cannot stop dwelling up on various objects of pleasure. This was explained beautifully through the story of two brothers, Tavrit and Suvrit

Both Tavrit and Survrit were on their way to the temple to attend Bhagavatam discourse and it started to rain heavily. Tavrit, the elder brother, managed to reach the temple, ignoring the rain and attended the discourse while Suvrit, the younger one sought shelter at a brothel which was on their way. However, Tavrit couldn’t resist himself from constantly thinking about all the beautiful women he saw at the brothel while Suvrit, stuck at the brothel, was longing to be in the temple! When both of them died, Yama deva took Suvrit to heaven and Tavrit to hell. Tavrit was furious and thought Yama deva must have been mistaken. However, Yama deva explains to Tavrit why He was right in taking him to hell. Survrit had indeed remained at the brothel, but he was longing to be at the temple and listen to Bhagavatam. Whereas, Tavrit was at the temple, yet, he was dying to be at the brothel as the discourse was going on, imagining himself enjoying with the women! This story beautifully narrates the conditions of a self-deluded man who pretends to be a sophisticated follower of Dharma!

Let us now continue from verse 7 where Sri Krishna explains what is a perfect action.

Chapter 3, Verse 7

यस्त्विन्द्रियाणि मनसा नियम्यारभतेऽर्जुन।
कर्मेन्द्रियैः कर्मयोगमसक्तः स विशिष्यते।।

yas tvindriyāni manasā niyamyārabhate ’rjuna
karmendriyaih karma-yogam asaktah sa viśhishyate

But those karma yogis who control their senses with their mind, O Arjuna, begin the science of uniting the individual consciousness with the ultimate consciousness, are certainly superior.

But those karma yogis who control their senses with their mind, O Arjuna, begin the science of uniting the individual consciousness with the ultimate consciousness, are certainly superior.

Commentary for Chapter 3, Verse 7

What benefits do true karma yogis get? Sri Krishna explains that in this verse (7) by saying that karma yogis who control their senses with their mind begins the science of uniting their individual consciousness with the ultimate consciousness. Sri Krishna considers such people to be superior than everyone else!

Karma yogis are those who have control over their senses and perform their duties without ever wishing to enjoy or worrying about the results of their actions. They perform their actions as an offering to God, as their service to God. They are definitely superior to those false renunciates mentioned in the previous verse who Sri Krishna calls, hypocrites.

“Karma” is action. “Yoga” is the union with God. Thus, “Karma yoga” can be considered as one’s union with God through his actions. Every action we perform is bound to have repercussions – be it good or bad. We accumulate karma for every action performed as long as it is performed with the intention to enjoy the fruits of our actions. This leads us to go through samsara – the cycle of birth and death – in return, giving us an opportunity to clear all our karmic duties as to purify ourselves and reunite with the Parabrahma, i.e. to attain moksha – the ultimate purpose of human life!

How do we perform actions without wishing for its results for our selfish motives? To do that, Sri Krishna asks us to detach ourselves from the sense objects so that we can redirect our mind and our focus on something higher than us.
Not everyone may think of God or self realisation. However, all of us do think of something higher than us – it could be something beyond us or whatever other names you like to call it. For example, there are people who thrive to achieve self realization and then there are people who don’t think about God at all, instead, they could think about serving their family, their community, their society, their country, etc. Anything beyond our own selfish motives can be attributed to the highest good and for the benefit of the society at large. When we redirect our focus from our own selfishness to selflessness – something higher than us – and do our duties towards fulfilling that selflessness, then we can be sure to have good intentions to back our actions. When actions are performed with such good intentions, the right intentions, a person can be called a Karma Yogi. A person who performs actions selflessly in that manner eventually develops control over their mind and senses and attains a state of mental purity which is required for the highest knowledge – the knowledge of the Self – eventually helping them reunite their consciousness with the Ultimate consciousness – that is self-realization!

Chapter 3, Verse 8

नियतं कुरु कर्म त्वं कर्म ज्यायो ह्यकर्मणः।
शरीरयात्रापि च ते न प्रसिद्ध्येदकर्मणः।।

niyatam kuru karma tvam karma jyāyo hyakarmanah
śharīra-yātrāpi cha te na prasiddhyed akarmanah

You should thus perform your prescribed Vedic duties since the action is superior to inaction. By ceasing activity, even the maintenance of the body would not be possible.

Commentary for Chapter 3, Verse 8

Shri Krishna continues by saying that even the maintenance of our physical body becomes impossible if we resort to inaction. Only if we maintain our physical body, we shall be able to do what we are meant to do in this life, which is to discover the god within.

Karma yoga helps us to achieve purity of mind. An actionless state is possible only for those who have purified their mind through immense control over their senses. Thus, through this verse, Shri Krishna is asking us to perform our swadharma – our prescribed duties or our obligatory actions – which are based on our varna (guna and past karmas) or our ashramas. There are four ashramas – the four stages of life;

  1. Brahmacharya – someone who has control over their senses and is on the path of discovering the God within
  2. Grihastha – someone who leads a married, familial life
  3. Vanaprastha – someone who has retired from the worldly life
  4. Sannyasa – someone who has completely renounced worldly life and is in complete meditation

All of us have various duties and obligations towards our family, our community, our society, our nation and so on depending on our ashramas and gunas. We cannot run away from our obligations and pretend to be a renunciate without first having achieved the control and purity of mind that is required to be a renunciate. If we cannot even cease the activities of our mind and sit in meditation even for a few seconds, we are simply not ready to renounce actions. People who pretend to be a renunciate so that they can run away from their duties are hypocrites, as Sri Krishna bluntly calls them.

To explain the importance of actions, Sri Krishna says in this verse, “Niyatam kuru karma tvam…” – you should perform your obligatory actions or prescribed actions. According to Hinduism, there are basically three types of actions;

  1. Niyatam Karma – These are actions which are obligatory to all human beings and it depends on our varnas, our ashramas and even our circumstances. For example, we have obligations towards our family, our society, our nation, etc. When these actions are performed with the right intentions, it helps us grow, helps us build control over our mind and senses, and purifies our mind. These actions are selfless actions which we perform for others and beyond our selfish motives. There are mainly two types of Niyatam Karmas – Nitya Karmas and Naimityaka Karmas. Nitya karmas are duties which we are required to do on a regular basis whereas Naimityaka karmas are duties that arise at various circumstances. For example, someone met with an accident right in front of our eyes. Being witness to that accident, we have a duty to help the person injured, or call the authorities, etc. Such actions are called naimityaka karma.
  2. Kamya Karma – These are desire driven actions. Unfortunately most of our actions are desire driven. A very simple example could be: we plan to exercise, but our desire to laze around is so strong that we binge on Netflix instead. That action of binging on Netflix is a Kamya karma.
  3. Nishiddha Karma – Prohibited actions. These are simply actions prohibited by our own conscience. Anything that goes against our conscience is a nishiddha karma and must not be carried out. For example, stealing something from someone is a nishiddha karma.

In Arjuna’s case, he was a Kshathriya warrior. It is his obligatory duty – swadharma – to protect dharma by all means. Arjuna had numerous options in front of him to do his duty as a Kshatriya given all that him and his brothers from the Pandavas were subjected to! Duryodhana refused to return Pandavas’ Kingdom, the Indraprastha, which rightfully belonged to the Pandavas, even after serving 13 years of exile! In fact, Duryodhana refused to even provide a single house for the Pandavas to live in! Disrobing of Draupadi alone was enough for Arjuna’s wrath and to fight Kauravas with all vengeance. However, that is not what Sri Krishna wanted his disciple, Arjuna, to do! Sri Krishna wanted him to fight this war to restore Dharma and it must not be done out of anger or rivalry. Arjuna must fight this war with the right intention which is to uphold dharma and not simply because Kauravas did horrible things to the Pandavas. Thus, Arjuna must act as a Karma Yogi!

Through Arjuna, Sri Krishna is asking all of us to perform our Niyatam karmas with the right intention, without ever focusing on the result of such an action or even worrying about what would happen. Instead, we must do those actions because that is our duty. Whenever we perform any actions with the right intention, with all our heart and mind to it, the result will always be in favor of the greater good of you, the society and everything else around us. That is the essence of Karma Yoga.

Chapter 3, Verse 9

यज्ञार्थात्कर्मणोऽन्यत्र लोकोऽयं कर्मबन्धनः।
तदर्थं कर्म कौन्तेय मुक्तसंगः समाचर।।

yajñārthāt karmano ’nyatra loko ’yam karma-bandhanah
tad-arthaṁ karma kaunteya mukta-saṅgah samāchara

This whole world is bound by actions except those actions performed as a yajna, a sacrifice, to the Supreme Lord. Therefore, O son of Kunti, perform your prescribed duties without being attached to the results, but for the satisfaction of God.

Commentary for Chapter 3, Verse 9

Sri Krishna then says how the whole world is bound by various actions because these actions are performed with selfish motives, done with the intention to enjoy certain results. Addressing Arjuna as Kaunteya, showing much love and affection, Sri Krishna asks him to perform his prescribed duties without ever wishing to enjoy or being worried about its result, but as a Yajna, an offering to God, so that he will not be bound by his actions in this material world and create karma.

The use of the word “yajna” here carries great importance! “Yajno vai Vishnuh”, says our Vedas. Yajna is Lord Vishnu himself, thus any actions performed as a yajna is equivalent to worshipping Lord Vishnu. Traditionally Yajna refers to the fire sacrifice, and it is an offering to the God of Fire. It is an important ritual mentioned in our Vedas. During yajna, the God of Fire is invited into the “Kunda” (the fire altar), and various things such as ghee are poured into the fire as offering. It is believed that everything we offer into the Kunda to the God of Fire reaches directly to Parabrahma. Thus when Sri Krishna asks Arjuna and all of us to perform our actions as a yajna, He means that we offer our actions to the God of Fire, just like how ghee is offered into the Kunda, so that it reaches directly at the feet of the God, thus, releasing us from all the karmic bondage an action would have created.

Source: – Vedic Yajna – the fire sacrifice

All our actions, as long as it is not done selflessly and with the right intention, have repercussions and create bondage in this material world. A knife in the hands of a thief is a weapon used to commit crimes, however, the same knife in the hands of a surgeon is an invaluable instrument to save someone’s life. The knife in itself is not the problem, the effect of it is entirely dependent on the way it is being used. Similarly, an action in itself is neither good nor bad so long as it is performed with the right state of mind and intention. For example, when a celebrity spends a portion of their huge wealth for charity only to bring more fame and recognition, so that they can accumulate even more wealth cannot be really considered a charitable action. Do we give because we hope to receive or do we give because we enjoy giving? In both scenarios, the act of “giving” is the same, however, the effect of it is entirely different from each other. This is so beautifully explained by the story of King Raghu, the illustrious ruler from the Ikshvaku dynasty, the ancestor of Lord Rama!

One day, King Raghu decided to give away all his wealth to his people. He then donned a rag of a beggar, holding an earthen pot, and began wandering around for food. While resting under a tree, the king, dressed as a beggar, overheard a group of people praising the king for his charity. King Raghu approached the group and enquired about what they were discussing. They continued to praise King Raghu, not realizing that they were indeed talking to the king himself and told him that there is no one more charitable than their king! However, the king was extremely pained by this praise and retorted, “the king has not given away anything. Did your king bring all this wealth when he came into this world? He came empty handed, didn’t he? Then, what was that which was entirely his possession that he had given away? Nothing!”

This is the true spirit of a Karma Yogi. King Raghu gave away all his wealth simply because he loved giving and he recognized a simple truth of life that none of that wealth is his own! We come to this world empty handed and we all will leave empty handed. Thus Shri Krishna asks Arjuna, “…perform your duties as  yajna, for the satisfaction of God alone, without ever being attached to the result of that action.” Actions performed as such is called Karma Yoga and a Karma yogi is not bound by his actions in this material world!

Chapter 3, Verse 10

सहयज्ञाः प्रजाः सृष्ट्वा पुरोवाच प्रजापतिः।
अनेन प्रसविष्यध्वमेष वोऽस्त्विष्टकामधुक्।।

saha-yajñāh prajāh srishtvā purovācha prajāpatih
anena prasavishyadhvam esha vo ’stvishta-kāma-dhuk

At the beginning of creation, Brahma created humankind along with duties, and said, “Prosper in the performance of these yajnas, for they shall bestow upon you all you wish to achieve.”

Commentary for Chapter 3, Verse 10

When the world was created, Brahma who is the God of creation also created human beings and designated various duties to each of them. Those are our niyatam karma – the obligatory actions.  As long as we perform our niyatam karmas as a yajna, we will be blessed with everything that we need for our survival and excellence in this material world.

Every creation in this beautiful universe is part and parcel of the whole existence.  And every creation and every element in this whole universe has a duty towards the whole existence. Just like how various parts of our body depends on each other and cannot survive on its own, our existence is dependent on various things around us. Imagine if our hands plan to act on its self-interest and decide to severe itself from our body? It cannot survive on its own even for a second. However, the purpose of the hand is also served so long as it acts according to the rest of the body and performs its functions as a yajna – without its selfish interests.

Similarly, when we play our part in the grand scheme of things in this vast universe by performing our niyatam karmas as our yajna towards the whole existence, our own needs are also satiated in the process. In return, we develop control over our senses and purify our minds. As Sri Krishna says in verse 7, such people are definitely superior to anyone else and they develop the spiritual knowledge to reunite with the Ultimate consciousness – the Parabrahma!

Sri Krishna explains how our wishes to excel in this material world and our prosperity would be granted in the next verse, which we will see in the next part of this series.

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!

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