Bhagavadgita

Chapter 3 !

Karma Yoga

||om tat sat||


||om tat sat||
अर्जुन उवाच:
ज्यायसी चेत् करमणस्ते मता बुद्धिर् जनार्दन।
तत्किं कर्मणि घोरेमां नियोजयसि केशव॥

' Oh! Janardana! if it is your opinion that knowledge is superior to action, why then do you urge me to this horrible action.'

||Salutations to Sri Krishna||
Bh agavad-Gita
Karma Yoga
Chapter 3

'नहि कश्चित् क्षणमपि' - 'Not for one moment' can one be without performing action, is part of the refrain of this chapter.

Thus, this chapter is full of thoughts related to Karma or action. The thoughts are about 'why' Karma. 'what' type of Karma, 'why not' dissociate from Karma, and 'why' is it that one forces himself to do undesirable Karma knowing very well that it is undesirable etc.

Because the chapter is full of these thoughts related to Karma the chapter is known as Karma yoga!

The very first line leads off with a question from Arjuna .

'अर्जुन उवाच:
ज्यायसी चेत् कर्मणस्ते मताबुद्धिर्जनार्दन ।
तत्किं कर्मणि घोरे मां नियोजसि केशव ॥ 1 ||'

'Oh Krishna! if you think Buddhi Yoga is better than Karma yoga' -'बुद्धिः कर्मणा ज्यायसी चेत्'-, then why are you deploying me in to this terrible action (battle)?

The reason for this question is what Krishna said in Samkhya yoga about Karma yoga and Gnyan yoga!

In Samkhya yoga first having explained the concept of Atman and yoga of intellect, Krishna explained the Nishkama karma in glorious terms. Then again he explained about 'Sthita pragnya' the one who is of steady mind unaffected by anything and is in control of sensory organs. Then he explained attaining the state of Brahman using Yoga of intellect. The elaborations on Sthitapragnya, control of sensory organs using intellect and attaining the state of Brahman may lead one to believe that the yoga of Intellect is indeed superior to Karma yoga. But saying, ' कर्मण्येवाधिकारः ते' - 'your concern shall be with action alone' and adding 'Let your attachment be not with no action' , he told Arjuna in no uncertain terms where Arjuna's action should be. Preaching Samkhya or the path of intellect as the way for liberation to devotees, but telling Arjuna to take the seemingly uncertain path of action troubles Arjuna's mind.

Hence with that troubled mind Arjuna asks the question that if yoga of intellect is a better way then why should he fight the war which is action or Karma oriented.

Arjuna adds one more caveat!
He says
'तदेकम् वद'. 'Tell me only one'!
Which one?
'The one which is definitely beneficial to me, tell me only that'.
Arjuna is always asking for a definite answer for his predicament not multiple choices!

Then Krishna elaborates:
श्रीभगवानुवाच:
लोकेस्मिन् द्विविधा निष्ठा पुरा प्रोक्ता मयानघ ।
ज्ञानयोगेन सांख्यानां कर्मयोगेन योगिनाम् ॥

' Oh Arjuna ! Long time ago two processes have been detailed by me. One is the way of intellect for those who want to travel the path of knowledge. The second one is the way of action for those who go on the path of action'.

So, there are two paths.
Two different paths.

This is also an important point to note.

Because in the philosophical enquiries there are those who argue that Karma Yoga and Gnyana Yoga together only provide a path for liberation. Though the destination is same both the paths, namely the path of action and the path of intellect, are specified as independent paths leading to liberation. Krishna elaborates on the separate paths.

Some are interested in the philosophical enquiry. They are knowledge seekers. They follow the path of intellect.
Some are focused on action. They can be called as the followers of the yoga of action.
So, there is no single path of pursuit.

In the path of action too, there could be actions with desire, actions without desire.
The actions with desire are not the desirable actions.
The actions without desire lead to cleansing of mind and could be classified as the good actions!

Thinking that action is at the root of all undesirable actions, thinking that non-action results in his having not done any undesirable actions, one may think of not doing any action. Thus, a thought of renunciation of all forms of action itself may arise as a way to be free. This is negated by Krishna.

Krishna in elaborating on Karma yoga, makes it very clear that by mere renunciation of action one will not achieve liberation. One will attain liberation only by following path of action with renunciation of results. Thus, Krishna rules out unambiguously the thought of renunciation of action as a valid path (3.04).

Then continuing further Krishna affirms that even for a moment (न हि कश्चित् क्षणम् अपि) no one can ever remain without performing action because of the qualities born of one's own Prakruti. These are the Rajo, Tamas and Sothic gunas. One, who is able to control the sensory organs, and who is able to perform action without any desire, is the one who excels! (3.07)

Krishna adds - 'Performing action is better than the renunciation of action. Without karma mind, will not be purified. Without mind being purified one may not acquire knowledge to follow the path of intellect. Without following path of intellect one may not attain Moksha'.
.
Even normal progress of the body requires karma
Hence Karma is to be performed.

So, what kind of Karma?
- "नियतं कुरु कर्म त्वं"-
The Karma that is ordained according to scriptures or laws.
What is that ordained action?
That is the action which is for the benefit of the community or action that pleases the Paramatman or your own higher self or the noble instincts. In simpler terms the recommended karma is the selfless actions that benefit the group or community.

In the parlance of our ancestors such Karma is also a Yagnya or Sacrifice.
Such karma is to be done without aspiring for the fruits

The act of worship of the Lord itself is the Yagnya.
The acts of worship performed with focus on the gaining heaven etc. as results to be acquired by such worship may be erroneously called Yagnya. Such Yagnyas bind that person to this world. So, they are not Yagnyas, though they may be erroneously called so.

Talking about Yagnya, Krishna elaborates further. "As part of creation Brahma also ordained Yagnya as a mechanism for growth, and said 'let this be the cow of plenty' ('Kamadhenu'). Performing Yagnya the people please Gods who in turn please the people. Together they become better. (3.10,11)

Why perform sacrifice or perform Yagnya in the first place? Relating why yagnya has been proposed as the main Karma in the olden days Krishna says the following:

श्रीभगवानुवाच:
" अन्नाद्भवन्ति भूतानि पर्जन्यात् अन्नसंभवः ।
यज्ञात् भवति पर्जन्यो यज्ञः कर्मसमुद्भवः"॥(3.14)

" Beings are born from food; Food is produced from rain; Rain is produced from Yagnya; Yagnya happens through action ". He further adds that action emanates from Brahman. So, the action which drives yagnya that action emanates from Brahman. Making the sacrifice itself imbued with Brahman. The sacrifice or Yagnya proposed in this cycle is worship of the Brahman without focus on any personal results. This is a cycle of the nature. The one who performs sacrifice focused on results is the one who does not follow this cycle. The life of one who does not follow this cycle meaning the one who continues to perform sacrifices with focus on results is indeed a wasted life (3.16)

Does everybody need to perform action or Karma?
Who is freed from the duty of having to perform Karma for liberation?

Those who have attained the knowledge of 'Self' as well as those who having understood 'Self' and are travelling the path of intellect, such people have no need for action. For such people, having realized Self, have no interest in what is done or what is not done. Nor do they have any need to approach any one for any object or gain (3.18).

It also means that for those who have not attained Self or those who do not follow the path of intellect, the path to be followed is that of yoga of Karma or action.

That path to be followed in Karma yoga is also clear.
The Karma is to be performed without desire for the fruits of the action. Following that path of Nishkama Karma, they may attain Moksha (3.19).

When one proposes a plan of action to achieve a goal, one would wonder if there is a prior case of success! So, natural corollary would be "Are there people who attained moksha following this path of Nishkama Karma?"

Krishna clarifies this too by saying that King Janaka and others attained Moksha by performing Nishkama karma! One may not know who this King Janaka and others are. If they were men of right knowledge, then they continued on the path of action to set an example for others to follow. If they were seen as not men who attained the knowledge of 'Self' etc. then they continued the path of selfless action to attain purity of mind and moved on to achieve liberation. (3.20). They are to be seen as examples of achievement.

Here Krishna brings up yet another reason for following the path of 'Selfless action' or Nishkama karma. One ought to follow the path of self-less action for the sake of the welfare of all.

How does welfare of all concern me could be a legitimate query.
Krishna answers that too.
'Whatever a great man does that the others follow. Whatever he sets up as the standard that rest follow'(3.21) He does not leave it at that.
He brings up his own role in action.

"न मे पार्था अस्ति कर्तव्यं त्रिषु लोकेषु किंचन"(3.22)

"O Paratha! there is no action that needs to be performed by me in the three worlds".
But then he is always involved in action why?

"मम वर्त्म अनुवर्तन्ते मनुष्याः पार्थ सर्वशः"(3.23)
"O Partha people follow the path I follow!"

That means Krishna is referring to the old adage 'यथा राजा तथा प्रजा', which is to say -'As is the King so are his people'

If those in power do not act as required and but expect others to follow a process that is not correct. It is for the leader to set the path so that followers follow the same. Here Krishna tells a truth which even many of the present-day managers forget.

That need to set a path for others to follow is the reason that Krishna is involved in action though there is no need for action for him.

"यद्यदाचरति श्रेष्ठः तत्तदेवेतरो जनाः" (3.21)
"The way the best perform is the way people want to follow"

Krishna reaffirms the need to act without attachment by saying, 'Just as an ignorant man acts with attachment for results, the wise man shall act without attachment'. (3.25)

The theme of leading by example is continued and Krishna makes yet another point.

It is that you do not stop those involved in fruit oriented Karma and enjoying the fruits of that Karma and preach them the importance of Nishkama karma. The learned one will set an example by himself performing Nishkama karma and letting them learn by observing him (3.26). If they follow the path of Nishkama karma on their own by seeing the example of the leaders there is nothing like it.

Granted that the path of action is prescribed for those without the knowledge of Self or those without knowledge namely the ignorant. How are they to perform action to follow this path. Krishna answers that by saying that all actions are due to the nature modified by the three Gunas 'Sattva' 'Rajo' and 'Tamas'. These three Gunas ingrained in all drive actions of all. The ignorant one performs the action thinking that 'he' is the owner of those actions (3.27). The wise one keeps himself away from the Gunas away from actions driven by Gunas (3.28).

The question of how they should perform action remains
By saying 'they' here we are talking about the ignorant ones.
The answer to that is that they perform action be dedicating it to the Lord (3.30).

Thus, having elaborated on the path of action for the ignorant, Krishna drives home the point of action for Arjuna.
Krishna tells Arjuna:
"निराशीः निर्ममो भूत्वा युद्ध्यस्व विगतज्वरः|| (3.30)

Meaning that -"Without desire, or feeling of ownership and being free from mental fever be ready for the battle".

That is precisely the mental make-up necessary for us to do the battle of daily life.
Proceed without desire, or feeling of ownership and perform the actions needed.

To give the top place for Nishkama karma Krishna declares it as his philosophy
श्रीभगवानुवाच:
"ये मॆ मतम् इदं नित्यं अनुतिष्ठन्ति मानवाः।
श्रद्धावन्तो अनसूयन्तो मुच्यंते ते अपि कर्मभिः "॥3.31||

" The people who always follow this, my philosophy, diligently and without aversion such people will be released from the bonds of the karma performed.

In performing action following one's own duty is better than following somebody else's duty.

श्रीभगवानुवाच:
श्रेयान् स्वधर्मो विगुणः परधर्मात्स्वनुष्ठितात्
स्वधर्मे निधनं श्रेयः परधर्मो भयावहः ॥3.35||

' Better to follow one's own duty though devoid of merit, than the duty of another well discharged. Better is death in one's own duty. The duty of another is productive of danger'.

The Karma yoga is easy to understand and even to follow. But yet everybody is not able to follow the path even after knowing everything. More importantly people knowingly follow the path of sin. Why do they do that? That is a question that would boggle the minds of most.

Arjuna asks the same question:
'अथकेन प्रयुक्तो अयं पापं चरति पूरुषः'
'Why are people pushed to committing sin?'(3.36)
That too 'अनिच्चन्नपि', even though he is not interested in committing sin.
Not only that 'बलादिव नियोजितः', it is as though some body is forcefully making him do that.

Krishna then elaborates why people get pushed to commit sin
एषः रजोगुण समुद्भवः काम:
- The reason for that is the "desire" born out of greed of people
एषः क्रोधः
- This desire becomes anger.
एनं इह वैरिणम् विद्धि-
Know this (the desire) as the enemy of the liberation (3.37)

Being unable to suppress the desire people commit sin.
Krishna tells how one may control the desire which is at the root of the evil.

इन्द्रियाणि पराणि
- The sensory organs are of higher level of awareness than the body
इन्द्रियेभ्यः परं मनः
- Mind is at a higher level than the sensory organs.
मनसस्तु परा बुद्धिः
- Intellect is at higher plane than the mind
बुद्धेः परतः सः
- At a higher plane than intellect is the Self or Atman.

Realizing that Self is the greatest of all, and through the Self controlling the mind and sensory organs, one is able to defeat the enemy namely the desire!

जहि शतृम् महबाहॊ कामरूपं दुरासदम् ।
Oh, Mahabaho! defeat the enemy in the form of desire! (3.43)

Thus, Krishna ends the teaching of Karma yoga to Arjuna

What does Karma yoga tell us?

The sum and substance of karma yoga is that both the path of intellect and the path of karma are both established paths of liberation. For a man of the world lost in the vagaries of the world or even the ignorant, it is not as though there is no path for Moksha. The path of self-less action is the way.

That path of karma yoga requires us to bring an element of equanimity and detachment into our lives. Even the daily activities we perform are also performed with detachment about the results. Then we are not caught in the web of karma. Otherwise we will be on the age-old path of acquiring merits and demerits and the resultant continuing cycle of life and death drifting away from the path of liberation.

If we redirect the sensory organs to look inward from the ever outward looking tendency, then the desire is controlled and the sensory organs too are under control.

The mind should be diverted from the ever-changing visible diversions to the thoughts on self and a stable platform of equanimity and detachment as to the results.

The ego centric thoughts that we are the doer, should be discarded and all actions must be seen as the result of the power of God with us and offer the results of all actions to God.

The question Arjuna asked as to why a man commits sin, is a question that will be on everybody's mind. Thief knows that he should not commit theft but goes on committing thefts.

That is because of the desires which he is unable to overcome and to fulfil those desires the theft is committed. This tendency is because of the three Gunas namely Rajo, Tamas and Sattva that form basic part of human condition. The dominance of Rajo guna leads to an over powering dominance of desire. Does it mean that if these are part of human condition one cannot overcome the same? The Karma yoga tells us that is not so. With the discriminating intellect one should recognize the preponderance of undesirable thoughts and actions and choose to come out of that condition with his own will power. Even if discriminating intellect is not there to pinpoint the erroneous tendencies one ought to take counsel of elders and work on correcting one's path.

Those who make an effort will always have allies.
It is as though God is on their side!

|| om tat sat ||

एवं बुद्धेः पर बुद्ध्वा संस्तभ्यात्मानमात्मना। जहि शत्रुं महाबाहो कामरूपं दुरासदम्॥
'Thus understanding the self to be superior to intellect, and completely establishing the self in spiritual absorption, oh Arjuna ! vanquish the enemy in the form of desire which is difficult to subdue with the help of mind'.

ओम्
इति भगवद्गीता सूपानिषत्सु
ब्रह्म विद्यायाम् योग शास्त्रे
श्रीकृष्णार्जुन सं वादे कर्मयोगोनाम
तृतीयोध्यायः ।

॥ओम् तत् सत् ॥