Chapter 4

Krishna tells Arjuna that the eternal Yoga that he was teaching him, was revealed by him to Vivasvan (the Sun-God). Vivasvan offered it to his son Manu, and Manu imparted it to his son Iksvaku; from him it was handed down to the royal rishis. This declaration of Krishna, confuses Arjuna because Vivasvan lived hundreds of years before Krishna was born. At this Krishna reveals to Arjuna the mystery of reincarnation. Says Krishna: ?Arjuna, you and I have passed through countless births. I know them all; your memory fails you. Although I am birthless and deathless and the Supreme Lord of all beings, I manifest Myself in the physical universe through My own Maya, keeping My Prakrti [nature] under control.? (4.5-6)

Arjuna knew Sri Krishna as his cousin, friend, and spiritual Teacher. Now he comes to know Sri Krishna as the Supreme Lord of the world. Krishna says, ?Whenever there is a decline of righteousness and rise of unrighteousness, I body Myself forth. For the protection of the good, for the destruction of the wicked, and for the establishment of righteousness, I manifest Myself from age to age.? (4.7-8) Now Sri Krishna has declared Himself as an Avatar. An Avatar is the direct descent of God who embodies the Infinite. He also explains to Arjuna that people who are free from passion, fear, & anger, and take refuge in Him attain to His state of being. Then Krishna goes on to say, ?As men approach me so do I accept them? . (4.11) Sri Chinmoy explains this verse in the following manner:

“If we accept Krishna with faith, He illumines our doubting mind. If we accept Krishna with love, He purifies our tormenting vital. If we accept Krishna with devotion, He transforms the ignorance-night of our life into the knowledge-sun of His eternal life.?

Krishna says he is the one who created the fourfold order of the caste system according to the aptitudes and deeds of each caste. Krishna also throws light on action, inaction and wrong action. Krishna explains that action is to abandon attachment. Action is to bring the senses under control. Inaction is to throw oneself into ceaseless activities while keeping the conscious mind in a state of tranquility. Krishna defines who a true yogi is, ?He who in action sees inaction and action in inaction – he is wise among men, he is a yogin, and he has accomplished all his work.? (4.18)

Krishna describes the various forms of sacrifices and explains that all these sacrifices are born of work and this world is not for him who offers no sacrifice. Then Krishna speaks about the importance of wisdom. He says, ?There is nothing on earth equal in purity to wisdom. He who becomes perfected by yoga finds this himself, in his self (atman) in course of time.? (4.38)

This chapter ends with Krishna speaking about faith and doubt. Krishna says, ?The possessor of doubt perishes. For the doubting man, neither is this world of ours, nor is the world beyond, no nor even happiness.? (4.40)


(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 4: The Way of Knowledge

The tradition of jnana (knowledge) -yoga

The Blessed Lord said:
1. I proclaimed this imperishable yoga to Vivasvan; Vivasvan told it to Manu; and Manu spoke it to Isvaku.

2. Thus handed down from one to another, the royal sages knew it till that yoga was lost to the world through long lapse of time, 0 Oppressor of the foe (Arjuna).

3. This same ancient yoga has been today declared to thee by Me; for thou art My devotee and My friend; and this is the supreme secret.

Arjuna said:
4. Later was Thy birth and earlier was the birth of Vivasvat. How, then, am I to understand that thou didst declare it to him in the beginning?

The theory of avatars

The Blessed Lord said:
5. Many are My lives that are past, and thine also, 0 Arjuna; all of them I know but thou knowest not, 0 Scourge of the foe (Arjuna).

6. Though I am unborn, and My self is imperishable, though I am the lord of all creatures, yet, establishing Myself in My own nature, I come into [empiric] being through My power (maya).

7. Whenever there is a decline of righteousness and rise of unrighteousness, 0 Bharata (Arjuna), then I send forth [create incarnate] Myself.

8. For the protection of the good, for the destruction of the wicked, and for the establishment of righteousness, I come into being from age to age.

9. He who knows thus in its true nature My divine birth and works is not born again, when he leaves his body but comes to Me, 0 Arjuna.

10. Delivered from passion, fear, and anger, absorbed in Me, taking refuge in Me, many purified by the austerity of wisdom have attained to My state of being.

11. As men approach me so do I accept them: men on all sides follow my path, 0 Partha (Arjuna).

12. Those who desire the fruition of their works on earth offer sacrifices to the gods [the various forms of the one Godhead], for the fruition of works in this world of men is very quick.

The desireless nature of God’s work

13. The fourfold order* was created by Me according to the divisions of quality and work. Though I am its creator, know Me to be incapable of action or change.

Action without attachment does not lead to bondage

14. Works do not defile Me; nor do I have yearning for their fruit. He who knows Me thus is not bound by works.

15. So knowing was work done also by the men of old who sought liberation. Therefore do thou also work as the ancients did in former times.

Action and inaction

16. What is action? What is inaction?-as to this even the wise are bewildered. I will declare to thee what action is, knowing which thou shalt be delivered from evil.

17. One has to understand what action is, and likewise one has to understand what is wrong action, and one has to understand about inaction. Hard to understand is the way of work.

18. He who in action sees inaction and action in inaction-he is wise among men, he is a yogin, and he has accomplished all his work.

19. He whose undertakings are all free from the will of desire, whose works are burned up in the fire of wisdom-him the wise call a man of learning.

20. Having abandoned attachment to the fruit of works, ever content, without any kind of dependence, he does nothing though he is ever engaged in work.

21. Having no desires, with his heart and self under control, giving up all possessions, performing action by the body alone, he commits no wrong.

22. He who is satisfied with whatever comes by chance, who has passed beyond the dualities (of pleasure and pain), who is free from jealousy, who remains the same in success and failure-even when he acts, he is not bound.

Sacrifice and its symbolic value

23. The work of a man whose attachments are sundered, who is liberated, whose mind is firmly founded in wisdom, who does work as a sacrifice, is dissolved** entirely.

24. For him the act of offering is God; the oblation is God. By God is it offered into the fire of God. God is that which is to be attained by him who realizes God in his works.

25. Some yogins offer sacrifices to the gods, while others offer sacrifice by the sacrifice itself into the fire of the Supreme.

26. Some offer hearing and the other senses into the fires of restraint; others offer sound and the other objects of sense into the fires of sense.

27. Some again offer all the works of their senses and the works of the vital force into the fire of the yoga of self-control, kindled by knowledge.

28. Some likewise offer as sacrifice their material possessions, or their austerities, or their spiritual exercises, while others of subdued minds and severe vows offer their learning and knowledge.

29. Others again who are devoted to breath control, having restrained the paths of prana (the outgoing breath) and apana (the incoming breath), pour as sacrifice prana into apana and apana into prana.

30. While others, restricting their food, pour as sacrifice their life breaths into life breaths***. All these are knowers of sacrifice [know what sacrifice is] and by sacrifice have their sins destroyed.

31. Those who cat the sacred food that remains after a sacrifice attain to the eternal Absolute; this world is not for him who offers no sacrifice; how, then, any other world, 0 Best of the Kurus (Arjuna) ?

32. Thus many forms of sacrifice are spread out in the face of Brahman [i.e., set forth as the means of reaching the Absolute]. Know thou that all these are born of work, and so knowing thou shalt be freed.

Wisdom and work

33. Knowledge as a sacrifice is greater than any material sacrifice, 0 scourge of the foe (Arjuna), for all works without any exception culminate in wisdom.

34. Learn that by humble reverence, by inquiry, and by service. The men of wisdom who have seen the truth will instruct thee in knowledge.

In praise of wisdom

35. When thou hast known it, thou shalt not fall again into this confusion, 0 Pandava (Arjuna), for by this thou shalt see all existences without exception in the Self, then in Me.

36. Even if thou shouldst be the most sinful of all sinners, thou shalt cross over all evil by the boat of wisdom alone.

37. As the fire which is kindled turns its fuel to ashes, 0 Arjuna, even so does the fire of wisdom turn to ashes all work.

38. There is nothing on earth equal in purity to wisdom. He who becomes perfected by yoga finds this of himself, in his self [atman] in course of time.

Faith is necessary for wisdom

39. He who has faith, who is absorbed in it [i.e., wisdom], and who has subdued his senses, gains wisdom, and having gained wisdom he attains quickly the supreme peace.

40. But the man who is ignorant, who has no faith, who is of a doubting nature, perishes. For the doubting soul [atman] there is neither this world nor the world beyond, nor any happiness.

41. Works do not bind him who has renounced all works by yoga, who has destroyed all doubt by wisdom, and who ever possesses his soul, 0 winner of wealth (Arjuna).

42. Therefore, having cut asunder with the sword of wisdom this doubt in thy heart that is born of ignorance, resort to yoga and stand up, 0 Bharata (Arjuna).


This is the fourth chapter, entitled ?The Yoga of [Divine] Knowledge.?

* The fourfold order is the caste system. The emphasis is on guna (aptitude) and karma (function), and not jati (birth). The varna, or the order to which we belong, is independent of sex, birth, and breeding.

** That is, his action does not bind him to cosmic existence.

*** That is, some practice control of breath.