Bhagavad Gita- Chapter 3 (Part 1) Karma Yogah- Yoga of Action


na karmanaam anaarambhaan naishkarmyam  purusho’shnute
    na cha sannyaasanaad eva siddhim  samadhigacchati // 3.4 //

Not  by abstention from work does a man reach actionlessness, nor by mere  renunciation does he attain to perfection.

Action  as it is generally understood is the outcome of want and desire. Actionlessness  does not mean mere idling or abandoning of all actions. Although one can while  away his time doing nothing, his mind will be full of thoughts scheming,  speculating and planning over several matters. Desires generate thoughts at the  mental level which when expressed in the outer world become actions. Thus  thought is the real action. If one is free from thoughts, wishes, likes and  dislikes and has knowledge of the Self he can be said to have reached the state  of actionlessness. 

The  one who has reached such a state of actionlessness has neither the necessity  nor the desire for action as a means to the end. He has a perfect satisfaction  in the Self. Thus actionlessness and perfection are synonymous terms meaning,  becoming one with the Infinite and free from all ideas of want and desire.

Mere  renunciation or abandonment of action or running away from life does not lead  to perfection.  Through selfless  dedicated action, purification of mind is achieved and the purified mind helps  in attaining the Knowledge of the Self which is the ultimate Bliss. The natural  law is that every action has its reaction and hence the result of the action is  a source of bondage preventing the man from his union with the Supreme. What is  needed is not renunciation of works but renunciation of selfish desires. This  is naishkarmya, a state where one is unaffected by work.


na hi kashchit kshanamapi jaatu  tishthatyakarmakrit
    kaaryate hyavashah karma sarvah  prakritjair gunaih  // 3.5 //

Verily  none can ever remain even for a moment without performing action; for everyone  is made to act by the Gunas or qualities born of prakriti (nature), in spite of  himself.

Man  is always under the influence of triple tendencies of inactivity- based on his  Sattwic quality, activity- based on Rajasic quality, inactivity- based on  Tamasic quality. Even for a single moment nobody can ever remain without any activity;  even if one remains inactive physically his mind and intellect will always be  active. Sattwic actions help a man to attain liberation.  Rajasic and Tamasic actions bind a man to  worldliness.

So  long as we lead embodied lives we remain under the influence of these three  Gunas or mental tendencies and we cannot escape from action. Without work life  cannot be sustained. . But these Gunas cannot affect a man who has the  knowledge of the Self, for he has gone beyond them.  He has become a Gunatita - one who has  transcended the qualities of nature and for him the work ceases. The man who  has no knowledge of the Self who is called un-illumined, will be swayed by  ignorance and will be driven to action by the Gunas.

While  life remains, action is inevitable. Thinking is an act. Living is an act.  These acts cause many effects.  To be free from desire, from the illusion of  personal interest, is the true renunciation and not the physical abstention  from activity.

When  it is said that work ceases for a man who is liberated, all that it means is  that he has no further personal necessity for work which however does not mean that  he goes into masterly inactivity. He woks, but without egoism or any binding  necessity. Even in performing work he is not involved. When his egoism is  removed, his actions are governed by the Supreme Self seated in his heart. Free  from desire and attachment, one with all beings, he is released from the  bondage of actions. Such actions do not bear fruit in the same way as a roasted  or boiled seed loses its potency to sprout.

karmendriyaani samyamya ya aaste manasaa  smaran
    indriyaarthaan vimoodhaatma  mithyaachaarah sa uchyate  // 3.6 //

He  who restrains his organs of action, but continues to dwell in his mind on the  objects of the senses, deludes himself and is called a hypocrite.

The  five organs of action - the Karma Indriyas - are the organs of speech, hands,  feet, genitals and anus. They are born of the Rajasic portion of the subtle  elements viz. organ of speech is born of ether element, hands of air, feet of  fire, genitals of water and anus of earth. Despite restraining these organs if  one sits revolving in his mind the thoughts regarding the objects of these  sense organs in order to give an impression that he is meditating on God, he is  called a self-deluded hypocrite and a man of sinful conduct.

True  renunciation is not just the control of the organs of action or abstention from  physical movement. It is the control of the mind and the organs of perception.  It is the absence of longing for the activity. An active mind and an action  less body do not indicate the life of sanyasa. We may control outwardly  our activities but if we do not restrain the desires which impel them, we have  failed to grasp the true meaning of restraint.

yastwindriyaani manasaa  niyamyaarabhate'rjuna
    karmendriyaih karmayogam  asaktah sa vishishyate  // 3.7 //

But  he who restrains his senses with his mind and directs his organs of action to  work, with no feeling of attachment - he, O Arjuna, is indeed superior.

The  science of right action and the art of right living are explained in this  verse. Mind gets its inputs through five organs of perception which are also  called sense-organs or organs of knowledge (Gnana Indriyas) from the outer  world of sense objects. These five sense organs are the eye (sense of sight),  ear (sense of hearing), nose (sense of smell), skin (sense of touch), and  tongue (sense of taste). Mind perceives the sense objects by interacting with  the sense organs and if that interaction is absent perception of objects by the  mind is not possible even though the objects might be within the range of the  sense organs. This verse asks the seeker to control the sense organs by the  mind.  This implies substitution of sense  objects by nobler and diviner alternatives for the mind to dwell upon.

When  the sense organs are thus controlled, a huge quantity of energy gets stored up  which unless properly directed will disturb the inner equilibrium of an  individual.  This verse says that the  pent up energies must be spent by directing the seeker's organs of action (explained  in the previous verse) to the appropriate fields of activities. Even when so  acting it is advised not to have attachment arising out of doership and enjoyership  so that instead of gathering new mental impressions one may use such activities  for exhausting the existing vasanas. Thus the very field of activity becomes a  ground for liberation. In the previous verse mere outer renunciation is  condemned and in this verse true spirit of inward detachment is commended.


niyatam kuru karma twam karma jyaayo  hyakarmanah
    shareerayaatraa pi cha te  na prasiddhyed akarmanah  // 3.8 //

Do  your allotted work; for action is superior to inaction.  Even the bare maintenance of the body would  not be possible if you remain inactive.

Allotted  action is one’s own duty as laid down in the scriptures to different persons in  accordance with their inherited tendencies, the stage in life and the order in  society. Non-performance of such bounden duties would mean inaction. The very  fact of living involves several natural and unavoidable actions which have to  be performed by all. Even bodily existence in health is just not possible if  one has to live in complete inertia and inaction.


yajnaarthaat karmano'nyatra loko’yam  karmabandhanah
    tadartham karma kaunteya muktasangah  samaachara  // 3.9 //

The  world is in bondage to work unless they are performed for the sake of Yajna  (sacrifice). Therefore, O Son of Kunti, give up attachment and do your work as  a sacrifice.

All work is to be done in a spirit of sacrifice, for  the sake of the Divine. Yajna here means any unselfish action done with a pure  motive. It is a self-sacrificing work undertaken in a spirit of self-dedication  for the good of all. Such actions cannot be self-serving but self-liberating  and do not bind the performer. An action which is not governed by the spirit of  unselfishness binds one to worldliness, however glorious it may be.

Receive Site Updates