Karmayoga (Chapter III)

Publisher’s Note: The translation of the Gita presented here was compiled mainly from Sri Aurobindo’s “Essays on the Gita”. It first appeared in “The Message of the Gita”, edited by Anilbaran Roy, in 1938. Sri Aurobindo approved this book for publication; however, he made it clear in one of his letters that the translations in the Essays were “more explanatory than textually precise or cast in a literary style”. Many of them are paraphrases rather than strict translations.

Sri Aurobindo also wrote that he did not wish extracts from the Essays “to go out as my translation of the Gita”. This should be borne in mind by the reader as he makes use of this translation, which has been provided as a bridge between the Gita and Sri Aurobindo’s Essays.

1. Arjuna said: If thou boldest the intelligence to be greater than works, O Janardana, why then dost thou, O Keshava, appoint me to a terrible work?

2. Thou seemest to bewilder my intelligence with a confused and mingled speech; tell me then decisively that one thing by which I may attain to my soul’s weal.

3. The Blessed Lord said: In this world twofold is the self-application of the soul (by which it enters into the Brahmic condition), as I before said, O sinless one: that of the Sankhyas by the Yoga of knowledge, that of the Yogins by the Yoga of works.

4. Not by abstention from works does a man enjoy actionlessness, nor by mere renunciation (of works) does he attain to his perfection (to siddhi, the accomplishment of the aims of his self-discipline by Yoga).

5. For none stands even for a moment not doing work, everyone is made to do action helplessly by the modes born of Prakriti.

6. Who controls the organs of action, but continues in his mind to remember and dwell upon the objects of sense, such a man has bewildered himself with false notions of self-discipline.

7. He who controlling the senses by the mind, O Arjuna, without attachment engages with the organs of action in Yoga of action, he excels.

8. Do thou do controlled action. For action is greater than inaction; even the maintenance of thy physical life cannot be effected without action.

9. By doing works otherwise than for sacrifice, this world of men is in bondage to works; for sacrifice practise works, O son of Kunti, becoming free from all attachment.

10. With sacrifice the Lord of creatures of old created creatures and said: By this shall you bring forth (fruits or offspring), let this be your milker of desires.

11. Foster by this the gods and let the gods foster you; fostering each other, you shall attain to the supreme good.

12. Fostered by sacrifice the gods shall give you desired enjoyments: who enjoys their given enjoyments and has not given to them, he is a thief.

13. The good who eat what is left from the sacrifice, are released from all sin; but evil are they and enjoy sin who cook (the food) for their own sake.

14-15. From food creatures come into being, from rain is the birth of food, from sacrifice comes into being the rain, sacrifice is born of work; work know to be born of Brahman, Brahman is born of the Immutable; therefore is the all-pervading Brahman established in the sacrifice.

16. He who follows not here the wheel thus set in movement, evil is his being, sensual is his delight, in vain, O Partha, that man lives.

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

18. He has no object here to be gained by action done and none to be gained by action undone; he has no dependence on all these existences for any object to be gained.

19. Therefore without attachment perform ever the work that is to be done (done for the sake of the world, lokasangraha, as is made clear immediately afterward); for by doing work without attachment man attains to the highest.

20. It was even by works that Janaka and the rest attained to perfection. Thou shouldst do works regarding also the holding together of the peoples.

21. Whatsoever the Best doeth, that the lower kind of man puts into practice; the standard he creates, the people follow.

22. O Son of Pritha, I have no work that I need to do in all the three worlds, I have nothing that I have not gained and have yet to gain, and I abide verily in the paths of action (varta eva cha karmani, – eva implying, I abide in it and do not leave it as the sannyasin thinks himself bound to abandon works).

23-24. For if I did not abide sleeplessly in the paths of action, men follow in every way my path, these peoples would sink to destruction if I did not work and I should be the creator of confusion and slay these creatures.

25. As those who know not act with attachment to the action, he who knows should act without attachment, having for his motive to hold together the peoples.

26. He should not create a division of their understanding in the ignorant who are attached to their works, he should set them to all actions, doing them himself with knowledge and in Yoga.

27. While the actions are being entirely done by the modes of Nature, he whose self is bewildered by egoism thinks that it is his “I” which is doing them.

28. But one, O mighty-armed, who knows the true principles of the divisions of the modes and of works, realises that it is the modes which are acting and reacting on each other and is not caught in them by attachment.

29. Those who are bewildered by the modes, not knowers of the whole, let not the knower of the whole disturb in their mental standpoint.

30. Giving up thy works to Me, with thy consciousness founded in the Self, free from desire and egoism, fight delivered from the fever of thy soul.

31-32. Who, having faith and not trusting to the critical intelligence, constantly follow this teaching of mine, they too are released from (the bondage of) works. But those who find fault with my teaching and act not thereon, know them to be of unripe mind, bewildered in all knowledge and fated to be destroyed.

33. All existences follow their nature and what shall coercing it avail? Even the man of knowledge acts according to his own nature.

34. In the object of this or that sense, liking and disliking are set in ambush; fall not into their power, for they are the besetters of the soul in its path.

35. Better is one’s own law of works, swadharma, though in itself faulty than an alien law well wrought out; death in one’s own law of being is better, perilous is it to follow an alien law.

36. Arjuna said: But (if there is no fault in following our Nature) what is this in us that drives a man to sin, as if by force, even against his own struggling will, O Varshneya?

37. The Lord said: This is desire and its companion wrath, children of rajas, all-devouring, all-polluting, know thou this as the soul’s great enemy (which has to be slain).

38. As a fire is covered over by smoke, as a mirror by dust, as an embryo is wrapped by the amnion, so this (knowledge) is enveloped by it.

39. Enveloped is knowledge, O Kaunteya, by this eternal enemy of knowledge in the form of desire which is an insatiable fire.

40. The senses, mind and intellect are its seat; enveloping knowledge by these it bewilders the embodied soul.

41. Therefore, O Best of the Bharatas, controlling first the senses, do thou slay this thing of sin destructive of knowledge (in order to live in the calm, clear, luminous truth of the Spirit).

42. Supreme, they say, (beyond their objects) are the senses, supreme over the senses the mind, supreme over the mind the intelligent will: that which is supreme over the intelligent will, is he (the Purusha).

43. Thus awakening by the understandings to the Highest which is beyond even the discerning mind, putting force on the self by the self to make it firm and still, slay thou, O mighty-armed, this enemy in the form of desire, who is so hard to assail.

as translated by
Sri Aurobindo

in: SABCL, volume 13 “Essays on the Gita, with Sanskrit Text and Translation of the Gita”
pages 606-615
published by Sri Aurobindo Ashram – Pondicherry