Chapter 3

In the preceding chapter, Sri Krishna expressed his deep appreciation for the path of knowledge, but at the same time, told Arjuna of the great necessity of action. This throws Arjuna into a sea of confusion. His mind was overcast with heavy clouds, and he pined for true enlightenment. And so he asked Sri Krishna, ?If you consider knowledge superior to action, why urge me to do this dreadful action?? (3.1)

Sri Krishna says, ?Two paths, Arjuna, are there, as I have already told you – the path of knowledge and the path of action. Through the divine art of contemplation, the aspirant follows the path of knowledge. Through the dynamic urge of selfless work, the seeker follows the path of action.? (3.3)

Arjuna wants freedom from action, which Sri Krishna says is nothing short of impossibility. Krishna explains, ?Not by abstention from work does a man attain freedom from action; nor by mere renunciation does he attain to his perfection. No one can remain even for a moment without doing work; every one is made to act helplessly by the impulses born of nature. Action is done not only by the body, but also in the body by the mind. Action binds us only when we bind action with our likes and dislikes. But he who controls the senses by the mind, O Arjuna, and without attachment engages the organs of action in the path of work, he is superior and attains the highest. But if, in action, sacrifice looms large, or if action is done in a spirit of sacrifice, then action is liberation i.e. freedom from all attachment. Man is the result of a divine sacrifice. The Supreme Being wanted sacrifice from both human beings and the gods for their reciprocal benefit. A man of true satisfaction is a man of consecrated offering. Sin can stand nowhere near him. The existence of humanity as a whole demands attention first; the individual existence next.?

Sri Krishna sites the example of Janaka to Arjuna. (Janaka was the king of Mithila and the father of Sita, the wife of Rama.) Sri Krishna disclosed to Arjuna the secret of Janak’s attainment to self-realisation and salvation. Janaka acted with detachment. He acted for the sake of humanity. Indeed, this is the path of the noble. Sri Krishna wanted Arjuna to tread this path, so that the world would follow him. Whatever a great man does, the same is done by others as well. Whatever standard he sets, the world follows. In order to further convince Arjuna, Krishna gave the example of Himself: ?Nothing have I to do in the three worlds, nor is there anything worth attaining, unattained by me; yet do I perpetually work, I ever have my existence in action. If I do not work, the worlds will perish.? (3.22-24)

Sri Krishna wanted Arjuna to be freed from the fetters of ignorance. The only way Arjuna could do it was to act without attachment. Sri Krishna revealed to Arjuna: ?Dedicate all action to Me, with your mind fixed on Me, the Self in all. Those men, too, who, full of faith and free from cavil, constantly follow this teaching of Mine are released from the bondage of works.? (3.30-31)

Sri Krishna also explains to Arjuna about one’s nature and one’s duties. All beings must follow their nature. One must know what one’s duty is. Once duty is known, it is to be performed to the last. Regarding one’s individual duty Sri Krishna say’s: ?Better always one’s own duty, be it ever so humble, than that of another, however tempting. Even death brings in blessedness itself in the performance of one’s own duty; doomed to peril will he be if he performs the duty enjoined on another.? (3.35)

Arjuna asks Sri Krishna, ?Impelled by what, O Krishna, does a man commit sin despite himself?? (3.36)

Sri Krishna answers, ?desire and anger – these are the hostile enemies of man.? (3.37)

Sri Chinmoy explains:

?Desire is insatiable. Once desire is born, it knows not how to die. Desire unfulfilled gives birth to anger. Anger is the mad elephant in man.

Desire satisfied, life grows into a bed of thorns. Desire conquered, life grows into a bed of roses. Desire transformed into aspiration, life flies into the highest liberation, life dines with the supreme salvation.?


(The following English translation is taken from ‘A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy’ Edited by S. Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore. 1957 Princeton University Press)

Chapter 3: Karma-Yoga or the Method of Work

Why then work at all?

Arjuna said:

1. If thou deemest that the path of understanding is more excellent than the path of action, 0 Janardana (Krsna), why then dost thou urge me to do this savage deed, 0 Kesava (Krsna)?

2. With an apparently confused utterance thou seemest to bewilder my intelligence. Tell me, then, decisively the one thing by which I can attain to the highest good.

Life is work; unconcern for results is needful

The Blessed Lord said:
3. 0 blameless One, in this world a twofold way of life has been taught of yore by Me, the path of knowledge for men of contemplation and that of works for men of action.

4. Not by abstention from work does a man attain freedom from action; nor by mere renunciation does he attain to his perfection.

5. For no one can remain even for a moment without doing work; every one is made to act helplessly by the impulses born of nature.

6. He who restrains his organs of action but continues in his mind to brood over the objects of sense, whose nature is deluded, is said to be a hypocrite [a man of false conduct].

7. But he who controls the senses by the mind, 0 Arjuna, and without attachment engages the organs of action in the path of work, he is superior.

The importance of sacrifice

8. Do thou thine allotted work, for action is better than inaction; even the maintenance of thy physical life cannot be effected without action.

9. Save work done as and for a sacrifice* this world is in bondage to work. Therefore, 0 son of Kunti (Arjuna), do thy work as a sacrifice, becoming free from all attachment.

10. In ancient days the Lord of creatures created men along with sacrifice, and said, ?By this shall ye bring forth and this shall be unto you that which will yield the milk of your desires.?

11. By this foster ye the gods and let the gods foster you; thus fostering each other you shall attain to the supreme good.

12. Fostered by sacrifice, the gods will give the enjoyments you desire. He who enjoys these gifts without giving to them in return is verily a thief.

13. The good people who eat what is left from the sacrifice are released from all sins, but those wicked people who prepare food for their own sake-verily they eat their sin.

14. From food creatures come into being; from rain is the birth of food; from sacrifice rain comes into being, and sacrifice is born of work.

15. Know the origin of karma [of the nature of sacrifices] to be in Brahman [the Veda], and the Brahman springs from the Imperishable. Therefore the Brahman, which comprehends all, ever centres round the sacrifice.

16. He who does not, in this world, turn the wheel thus set in motion, is evil in his nature, sensual in his delight, and he, 0 Partha (Arjuna), lives in vain.

Be satisfied in the Self

17. But the man whose delight is in the Self alone, who is content with the Self, who is satisfied with the Self-for him there exists no work that needs to be done.

18. Similarly, in this world he has no interest whatever to gain by the actions that he has done and none to be gained by the actions that he has not done. He does not depend on all these beings for any interest of his.

19. Therefore, without attachment, perform always the work that has to be done, for man attains to the highest by doing work without attachment.

Set an example to others

20. It was even by works that Janaka** and others attained to perfection. Thou shouldst do works also with a view to the maintenance of the world***.

21. Whatsoever a great man does, the same is done by others as well. Whatever standard he sets, the world follows.

22. There is not for me, 0 Partha (Arjuna), any work in the three worlds which has to be done or anything to be obtained which has not been obtained; yet I am engaged in work.

23. For, if ever I did not engage in work unwearied, 0 Partha (Arjuna), men would in every way follow my path.

24. If I should cease to work, these worlds would fall in ruin, and I should be the creator of disordered life and destroy these people.

25. As the unlearned act from attachment to their work, so should the learned also act, 0 Bharata (Arjuna), but without any attachment, with the desire to maintain the world-order.

26. Let him not unsettle the minds of the ignorant who are attached to action. The enlightened man doing all works in a spirit of yoga should set others to act (as well).

The Self is no doer

27. While all kinds of work are done by the modes of nature (gunas), he whose soul is bewildered by the self-sense thinks, ?I am the doer.?

28. But he who knows the true character of the distinction of the soul from the modes of nature and their works, 0 Mighty-armed (Arjuna), understanding that it is the modes which are acting on the modes themselves, does not get attached.

29. Those who are misled by the modes of nature get attached to the works produced by them. But let no one who knows the whole unsettle the minds of the ignorant who know only a part.

30. Resigning all thy works to Me, with thy consciousness fixed in the Self, being free from desire and egoism, fight, delivered from thy fever.

31. Those men, too, who, full of faith and free from cavil, constantly follow this teaching of Mine are released from the bondage of works.

32. But those who slight My teaching and do not follow it, know them to be blind to all wisdom, lost and senseless.

Nature and duty

33. Even the man of knowledge acts in accordance with his own nature. Beings follow their nature. What can repression accomplish?

34. For every sense-attachment and [every] aversion are fixed in regard to the objects of that sense. Let no one come under their sway, for they are his two enemies.

35. Better is one’s own law though imperfectly carried out than the law of another carried out perfectly. Better is death in the fulfilment of one’s own law, for to follow another’s law is perilous.

The enemy is desire and anger

Arjuna said:
36. But by what is a man impelled to commit sin, as if by force, even against his will, 0 Varsneya (Krsna)?

The Blessed Lord said:
37. This is craving, this is wrath, born of the mode of passion, all devouring and most sinful. Know this to be the enemy here.

38. As fire is covered by smoke, as a mirror by dust, as an embryo is enveloped by the womb, so is this covered by that [passion].

39. Enveloped is wisdom, 0 Son of Kunti (Arjuna), by this insatiable fire of desire, which is the constant foe of the wise.

40. The senses, the mind, and the intelligence are said to be its seat. Veiling wisdom by these, it deludes the embodied soul.

41. Therefore, 0 Best of Bharatas (Arjuna), control thy senses from the beginning and slay this sinful destroyer of wisdom and discrimination.

42. The senses, they say, are great; greater than the senses is the mind; greater than the mind is the intelligence; but greater than the intelligence is he [the self].

43. Thus knowing him who is beyond the intelligence, steadying the [lower] self by the Self, smite, 0 Mighty-armed (Arjuna), the enemy in the form of desire, so hard to get at.

This is the third chapter, entitled ?The Yoga of Works.?

* All work is to be done in a spirit of sacrifice, for the sake of the Divine.

** Janaka was the king of Mithila and the father of Sita, the wife of Rama. Janaka ruled, giving up his personal sense of being the worker.

*** ?The maintenance of the world? (1okasamgraha) stands for the unity of the world, the interconnectedness of society. If the world is not to sink into a condition of physical misery and moral degradation, if the common life is to be decent and dignified, religious ethics must control social action.