This chapter deals with Karma-Yoga (unitive way of action).
Lest readers should treat the problem casually, without
knowing what the final doctrine of the Gita is, mixing up
the necessary character of action with the contingent
character of wisdom, to which confusion the reference to
karma (action) in the previous chapter might have
contributed, Arjuna here, in Verse 1, is made to put the
question in a very pointed manner, even going to the extent
of suggesting that Krishna was purposely trying to confuse
him regarding the relative superiority of action or wisdom.
samkhya (rationalism), yoga (unitive discipline) and
samnyasa (renunciation) are all brought into the discussion,
and each has to be understood in relation to the context.
Yoga is not implied in samkhya as ordinarily understood.
Nor is reason brought under a unitive method in Yoga
schools anterior to the Gita. Karma and Yoga go more
naturally together as they refer to actual discipline as in
Patanjali. But as we have seen, the Yoga of the Gita does
not confine itself to Patanjali Yoga merely. Both Samkhya
and Yoga (with reference to karma implied in each of them)
are revalued and restated by the Gita in this chapter.
Samnyasa (renunciation) and siddhis (attainments) are
introduced incidentally as products of one or the other of
these disciplines. But all such culminate unitively, as
indicated in the last verse of this chapter, in a man who is
able to restrain the Self by the Self, while letting the
necessary forces of life spend themselves out, taking them
as counterparts of life, like the inevitable smoke that
surrounds a lamp, as suggested in III, 38. What cannot be
cured must be endured. The necessary has to be permitted,
and whether permitted or not, acts like breathing have to
continue with everybody. The more fundamental the
actions are, the less is the choice left.


The main teaching here is not the omission of the necessary
or the inevitable, but the confronting of one's own necessities
or inclinations unitively.

It would be a capital error to think that, because of its title,
this chapter preaches any doctrine of action or "energism"(1) .
Such an error could only be due to the promiscuous mixing-
up by wishful thinking of the necessary and the contingent
aspects of action, which this very chapter intends to clarify.
Such a view would be no less absurd than if a man should
say that the Gita teaches a doctrine of healthy breathing, or
made breathing an obligatory law, instead of it teaching that
good breathing was necessary for living, as being just
healthy and natural. The Gita only permits action as a
necessary evil.

The distinction is delicate but of vital importance for the
right understanding of the doctrine of the Gita, if the Gita is
not to be misused by interested parties, whether dictators or


Arjuna uvacha
jyayasi chet karmanas te
mata buddhir janardana
tat kim karmani ghore
mam niyojayasi kesava

Arjuna said:
if' you are of the opinion, 0 Janardana (Krishna),
that reason is superior to action, why then in an
action that is ghastly do you enjoin me, 0 Kesava
(Krishna) ?

vyamisrene 'va vakyena
buddhim mohayasi 'va me
tad ekam vada nischitya
yena sryo 'ham apnuyam

By words that appear to be mixed up you seem to
confound my reasoning: Tell me after taking a
decision of that one (way) by which I may obtain


(1) We borrow this word from Bal Gangadhar Tilak's "Gita
Rahasya or Karma Yoga Sastra", trans. by B. S. Sukthankar,
1935, from which we extract the following: "In short it is
perfectly clear that the proper preaching in this place would
be Energism (pravritti) and that, as all other things are only
supporting Energism, that is as they are all auxiliary, the
purport of the Gita religion must also be to support
Energism; that is, to support Action." (Vol. 1, pp. 37-8).


Waging war is referred to as ghora (terrible, harsh,
ghastly). Life has its supple and tender aspects as well as
certain aspects which are like the horns or nails of a beast.
The horny aspects are extraneous to life. Warfare refers to
a zone of action in human life where the worst cruelty
becomes fair. This harshness applies to action generally,
perhaps in forms milder than in the case of war.

Competitive life in society is a kind of survival of the fittest
which leaves its trail of cruelty somewhere in the form of
poverty which constitutes the "scum" of any society
anywhere. The poor are the "have-nots" who could not do
better. All forms of karma (action), including religious
ritualism in the usual sense as belonging to the necessary
side of life, are condemned in the Gita, and especially in
this chapter, in Verses 38-39, where it is referred to as the
eternal enemy of the wise.

In the light of the above, it is almost ironical to note that
quite the contrary interpretation, that the Gita teaches the
obligatory duty of killing for a kshatriya (warrior), is


Even to say that the Gita enjoins the parallel practice of wisdom and action (jnana-karma-samuchchhaya) has been sufficiently and effectively refuted by Sankara in his Gita Bhashya.

If we could grasp the simple difference between
permissive and necessary action, though considered as evil,
on the one hand, and the absence of any obligation and the
contingent nature of a wisdom that is free, which could
have nothing mandatory about it, on the other hand, then
the subtle difference intended in this chapter and implicit
in many other chapters, between jnana (wisdom) and karma
(action), would be understood.

Krishna has no real answer to Arjuna's question, except
by underlining that war is an evil that can hardly be

The word sreyas (spiritually superior) indicates that
Arjuna is speaking more as an aspirant or disciple than as a
perplexed warrior.

In the Gita we should note as we proceed, at least till
Chapter ix. that the realistic devices employed in earlier
chapters are shed one after another. Even the enemy in this
chapter is


not an army of men, but merely one in the form of desire,
difficult to overcome without the positive attitude of a
fighter. (see iii, 43).

In Verse 2 Arjuna insists on one final opinion and not
many doctrines or solutions as even some learned people
think the Gita teaches. It has become a trite saying or a
fashion to say that a man can extract whatever teaching he
likes from it, as if this was a compliment to this work which
claims to be a sastra (an exact science) at the end of each
chapter. That would be like treating the scientific textbook
as if it were a book of omens to be used for purposes of
fortune-telling. Arjuna insists on precise teaching and even
seems to blame Krishna for vagueness, which justifies later
the reference to mistrust attributed there in turn to Arjuna in
ix, 1.


sribhagavan uvacha
loke 'smin dvividha nishta
pura prokta maya'nagha
jnanayogena samkhyanam
karmayogena yoginam

Krishna said:
There are two kinds of disciplines in this world as declared
in ancient times by me, 0 Sinless One (Arjuna) by the unitive
way of wisdom (jnana-yoga) of the samkhyas by the unitive way
of action (karma-yoga) of the yogis.


Much vain discussion has accumulated round the meaning
and the implications of this verse which speaks of jnana
(wisdom) and karma (action). Most commentators,
however, miss noticing one small point. It is not wisdom
and action that are contrasted here; it is Yoga giving primacy
to wisdom that is compared with Yoga giving primacy to
action. These two hoary and respectable traditions have
existed side by side, implicitly or explicitly, from the most
ancient times. Even the Upanishads refer to the samkhya
(e.g., Svetasvatara Upanishad, VI, 13), and Prof. Max
Muller rightly points out that Brihaspati, author of two of
the early Vedic hymns (X, 71-72) - belonged to a rationalistic
school that resembled the samkhya unmistakably, as its parent,
thus taking the whole tradition


of samkhya back to its remote antiquity (1). He also traces the
samkhya to its early formulation in the Tattva-samasa (2)
which is much anterior to even Kapila's Sutras. Ritualism
likewise can be said to be far older than Jaimini's Purva
Mimamsa Sutras.

When Krishna says maya (by Me) with reference to these
ancient schools of thought, what is meant is that such
tendencies are natural to man and must be viewed from the
standpoint of the Eternal or the Absolute, as belonging to
human nature as such.

The conscious yogic method or treatment employed in
the Gita is a revaluation of the two currents of samkhya and
Yoga that have existed side by side. Their distinctness tends
to blend one with the other in this chapter, until all
distinction is abolished in V, 4-5, both in a methodological
and doctrinal sense. The unitive way of Yoga is applied, not
only to each of the component parts of jnana (wisdom) and
karma (action), but also to both taken together. This is a
peculiarity of the method of treatment which we have
referred to already in Chapter xi. Samkhya and Yoga were
subjected to the same treatment there as jnana and karma
are treated in this chapter.

Krishna is not speaking as a historical personage but as a
representative of the timeless Absolute, and this point is
further clarified in the beginning of Chapter iv, 4-5. To treat
Krishna as a historical avatar (god-incarnation) of a certain
epoch, as many people do, is contrary to the spirit of the
Gita, as we shall see under iv, 7-8. This historical approach
has been the fecund cause of confusion in understanding
the Gita. To strain its symbolic implications is also another
error equally to be avoided.


na karmanam anarambhan
naishkarmyam purusho'snute
na cha samnyasanad eva
siddhim samadhigachchhati

By refraining from initiating activities a person does not come
to have (the attainment of) transcending action (naishkarmya)
nor can one by renunciation alone come to perfection.


(1)1 pp. 93 et seq. Vol. 1, "The Six Systems of Indian
Philosophy" by Max Muller (Susil Gupta, Calcutta, 1952).
(2) pp. 10-1 I and 28 et seq. Vol. iii, ibid.


Two concepts which seem new are suddenly sprung on the
reader here, namely, samnyasa (renunciation) and siddhi
(attainment). We are familiar with siddhis in the context of
Yoga and of samnyasa in the context of ritualistic works.
Naishkarmya (transcendence of works) is also familiar to us
as a siddhi (attainment) of a samnyasin (a renouncer). There
is a peculiar interlocking of ends and means in this verse,
whose heads and tails have to be disentangled before this
verse can make any clear meaning. Avoidance of works is
the end and renunciation the means in one pair here, while
attainments are the end and action the means in the other

Whether in the context of Yoga or samkhya, man wishes
to transcend the bondage of necessity, and the verse wants
to tell us that means distinct from the end or end from the
means, looked at dualistically, leads nowhere. Ends and
means have to be related organically or unitively through an
intuitive or living method or discipline. A certain dedication
to the Absolute is common to all disciplines, as the Gita will

Mere relinquishment of works could be from obstinacy
and mere shaven-headed samnyasa could be barren like the
fig-tree in the Bible, devoid of any human value. The word
asnute (enjoys) suggests that it is a human value which is
under reference here. The word siddhi (attainment) must
also be understood in the same way. Barren wisdom leads
nowhere. The subtle implications of this verse will become
clearer when we come to the same subject as discussed at
the beginning of Chapter xviii, 4-12.

Spiritual progress is not to be conceived in vacuo, or with
disparity as between ends and means.


na hi kaschit kshanam api
jatu tishthaty akarmakrit
karyate hy avasah karma
sarvah prakritijair gunaih

Not even for a single instant can one ever remain engaged
in no action at all. By virtue of modalities (gunas) born
from nature, all are made to engage in action helplessly.


Here the necessary character of action is referred to. It is
sufficiently clear and calls for no comment except to note


that the motive force of action is the natural propensity
(guna) of each type of person, as further elaborated in
chapter xviii under three modes.


karmendriyani samyamya
ya aste manasa smaran
indrayarthan vimudhatma
mithyacharah sa uchyate

He who sits controlling the organs of activity while
ruminating mentally over items of sensuous interest, such
a lost soul is said to be one of spurious conduct.

yas tv indriyani manasa
niyamya 'rabhate'rjuna
karmendriyaih karmaYogam
asaktah sa visishyate

He, on the other hand, who keeps the senses under control
by means of the mind, and then commences unitive activity
(karma-yoga) while still unattached, he excels.


These two verses are complementary. The urge of necessity
cannot be stifled. Giving such necessity its due place,
without trying to put the cart before the horse, is what
is recommended.

The mithyacharah, (one of unreal, spurious conduct), too
strongly translated "hypocrite", is here just anybody who
falls into the error of trying to abolish necessary activity.
Instead of doing this, one should attempt to give necessary
activity a new or spiritual orientation. The method of doing
this is indicated in Verse 7.

The mind, which is deeper-seated than the organs of
action, and where all action may be said to reside in a
potential form of flux before taking rigid shape, has to be
used as the instrument for controlling the sense organs first
and turning them inwards. Such a reorientation still leaves
room for and gives full scope to a new set of activities,
ranging from the instinctive to the most sublime form of
self-consciousness, till the Self rests on itself without
activity. This last is the state of a perfected contemplative.
The word arabhate (commences) indicates how a new set
of actions is initiated. Controlling the senses is not the
same as


suppressing all activity. Actions have to be sublimated in
the light of contemplation, and not repressed. The organs of
action have to be used in a revised manner in keeping with
the discipline of Yoga as understood in this chapter.
The word niyamya (having controlled) is to show clearly
that the inner brakes are applied first and not after the
momentum of action has been initiated. The flow of
impulses shows a reversal in its order, and not a stoppage
or suppression, as also indicated already in ii, 64 and ii,70.
The yogi is active inwardly, through bhavana (creative
intuition) as mentioned in ii, 66, and his introverted nature
is made further clear in ii. 69.


niyatam kuru karma tvam
karma jyayo hy akarmanah
sarirayatra 'pi cha te
na prasidhyed akarmanah

Do engage yourself in action that is necessary: activity is
indeed better than non-activity and even the bodily life
of yours would not progress satisfactorily through non-action.


Here the necessity and inevitability of action, even
physiologically understood, is further referred to. In the
first line, however, we should note that action is said to be
jyayah (superior) to inaction only, and not to wisdom,
which was its counterpart in Verse 3. To make the mistake
of thinking that inaction here refers to a wise man and that
the sense of the teaching of the Gita deprecates wisdom, is
a form of error into which many people fall. A progressive
scale of activities leading to wisdom is what is
recommended, instead of the mere vacuity of inaction.
The word niyatam (necessarily binding by its nature)
refers to actions where no option is possible, and not to any
elaborate ramifications of scriptural injunctions (as
understood in ii, 43) as so often wrongly supposed. Even
scriptural injunctions, to the extent that they are inevitable
however, are natural and to be performed, the fact of being
mentioned in the scriptures being itself no disqualification
to their being put into practice.

Even bodily metabolism depends on some kind of action.
It is in the most comprehensive sense that action is to be
understood here.


The student of the Gita should have a precise notion about
karma (action) as employed in Verses 9-17 here. These
verses bring the subject of karma (action) as understood in
the ritualistic context of the agnihotra (burnt offering) into
close scrutiny. Karma (action) primarily suggests to the
Indian mind ritualist action, whether worship of the ancestors
or the gods (devas). Worship of the ancestors, as it
constitutes now normally the purva-paksha (the side of the
anterior sceptic) of the Gita revaluation, was referred to
already by Arjuna the disciple and condemned indirectly as
being non-Aryan in ii, 2. Aryan ritualism proper is
concerned with the pleasing or propitiation of Indra and
other gods (devas) through burnt offerings. Although the
word karma covers all activity, the attention is focussed here
more particularly on sacrificial ritualism. This is but normal.
(Karma also refers to the question of how a man's past
actions affect his future or destiny. This "doctrine" of
karma or action refers to this relation between the past and
the future in individual life and the theory of reincarnation
comes in as a corollary of the doctrine of karma, all of
which should be differentiated and not confused with the
ritualistic karma referred to here).

Even while this section deals with ritualistic action, it
does so, it should be noted, side by side with, and in
contradistinction to, necessary and obligatory or even
biological aspects of karma (action). The subject of
nishkama-karma (dispassionate action) has already been
covered in the previous comments on samkhya, and it is not
raised here, as dispassionate action refers to the
individualistic treatment of ends and means, which is a
theoretical subject. In this chapter we face actuality more

Karma yoga (unitive action) is too easily looked upon by
many writers, wrongly, as being synonymous with the
doctrine of nishkama-karma (dispassionate action).
Moreover, items of social service or duty which have an
obligatory character fall outside the scope of karma yoga
(unitive action) as understood in this chapter. All ishta-
purta-karmah (action involving religious duty or pious acts,
from the studying of scriptures to the planting of trees, etc.)
also falls outside the scope of karma yoga (unitive action) as
properly understood in Vedanta.

The Gita being essentially a Vedantic text does not
primarily concern itself with social duties, even in the form
of service


to sections of the population. Action is taken in its most
comprehensive sense as binding the whole of humanity.
The Ashvattha tree (xv, 1-3) has shoots that spread upwards
and downwards in this human world, and is described as
having karmanubandhini (a binding consequence through
action). Necessary action binds the whole of humanity.
Free or contingent action should be distinguished first from
this general mass of human action taken as a whole. This is
what is attempted in Verse 9 here. Free action conforms to
the pattern to be known under the category of a yajna
(sacrifice) as indicated in Verse 10 here. There are other
possible varieties of action mentioned in iv, 16-18. The
karma yoga (unitive action) of this chapter consists of
treating necessary and contingent aspects of action in such
a manner as to eliminate any residue of sin or evil, so that
there is an equalization or harmony.

Pure, free or contingent action arises out of merely
necessary action in the form of worship which naturally
belongs to the context of ritualistic sacrifice in the Indian
mind, and hence the graded references to (1) Prajapati (the
Lord of Progeny) in Verse 10 here, and to (2) devas (gods)
in Verse 11, to (3) burnt sacrifice in Verse 13, to (4) Brahma
in Verse 15, to (5) the cosmological and psychological
wheel in Verse 16, all with a certain ascending order of
value or superiority, culminating in the reference to "the
Self content in the Self" in Verse 17.

These follow a graded sequence consistent with the
cosmology and epistemology of the Vedanta, ranging from
creation to Self-realization. This series of verses implies a
secret mystical doctrine which has been the fecund cause of
differences between Vedantins such as Sankara, Ramanuja
and Madhva, the duality between prajah (progeny) and
yajnah (sacrifice) being resolved in different ways by these
three great acharyas (teachers).

By giving primacy to the concept of the Self, in Verse 17
here the Gita in fact solves this question of duality by a
final appeal to psychology, although the discussion begins
cosmologically with an implicit duality which is inevitable.
Each acharya (teacher), according as he is more interested
in theology or religion than in Self-realization as such, is
left free to derive his own doctrine from whatever stage of
the discussion between the extremes indicated in this series
in Verses 9-17 - as may be most convenient for his purposes.
The concept of an Ishvara (Lord) who is still beyond
maya (relativist principle), or the concept of an Ishvara
subject to maya, or even an Ishvara who has nothing to do


relativism at all, could all be legitimately related
organically to the development of the subject matter of this
section, as has actually been done by Sankara, Ramanuja
and Madhva.


yajnarthat karmano 'nyatra
loko 'yam karma bandhanah
tadartham karma kaunteya
mukta sangah samachara

Outside of activity with a sacrificial purpose, this
world is bound by action. Even with such a purpose,
do engage in work, 0 Kaunteya (Arjuna), freed of all


There are two kinds of action to be distinguished in this
verse: first, that necessary or binding action with which the
whole world could be said to be bound; secondly, that kind
of action which is done with the motive of a sacrifice, the
sacrifice itself being a second interest or end and which,
taken together with the action itself, determines its

This second category comes nearest to the kind of action
which is done for its own sake, which is an end in itself, not
utilitarian at all, but rather to be idealistically understood.
As we have said already, the duality between ends and means
is here abolished. This latter kind of action is what is
recommended in the verses that follow, taking one yajnartha
(end of sacrifice) after another in a certain graded
order as indicated above. The sacrifice in the Gita is
unitively conceived with no duality between ends and means
as so finally formulated in the verse so often repeated
of iv. 24. In Verse 17 here, however, instead of the concept
of Brahman (the Absolute), the concept of Self serves the
same purpose.

The word muktasangah (abandoning attachment) does not mean
that one has no goal at all. Such an interpretation would
come into conflict with tadartham (for the sake of that).
One has to be attached to a goal pertaining to the
particular contemplative context in each case and discard
the extraneous or third factors which may be called
"horizontal"values that interfere with the "vertical"
bipolarity, unitively conceived as between ends and means.


sahayajnah prajah srishtva
puro'vacha prajapatih
anena prasavishyadhvam
esha vo 'stv ishta kamadhuk

In ancient times, having created the peoples with sacrifice
as pertaining to them (necessarily), Prajapati (the Lord of
the peoples) said: "By this shall you grow and multiply:
let this be to you the milch-cow of all desires."


Here the milk of ishta kamadhuk (the cow answering to
every desire) covers the whole range of possible human
values from the most ordinary to the highest. These values
result as a synthesis between the various yajnah or pure acts
or sacrifices performed by the prajah or people at large.
The presiding factor involved in the whole situation or
primordial pattern under reference here is the pati or Lord
of all prajah or peoples. Prajapati (Lord of the peoples) is
the Absolute understood in the context of human progeny
as such grows or multiplies like the sands of the seashore or
the stars of the sky. The verse wants to state the law of all
life as one to be conceived in a bi-polar fashion. Pure action
has its counterpart in its pure ends and progeny has its
counterpart in its pati (Lord). Prajah (peoples or progeny)
and pati (Lord) together constitute the Absolute Being who
may be said to ordain everything. Between yajna (the pure
or sacrificial act) and the praja or offspring, all possible
benefits accrue to man, by virtue of pure action as between
man and the Absolute.

Note that yajnah (sacrifices) do not refer to any single
form of ritualistic sacrifice, but to all pure acts properly
pertaining to individuals, whether in the Brahmanical or any
other religious context. Each man, according to his own
background, has his own pure act of sacrifice belonging to
his own natural background.


devan bhavayata 'nena
te deva bhavayantu vah
parasparam bhavayantah
sreyah param avapsyatha

With this do you gratify the gods (devas) and they the gods
gratify you; thus gratifying reciprocally you shall reach
to supreme merit.


The duality between prajah (peoples) and yajnah (sacrifices)
treated as counterparts in Verse 10, is further
clarified here, where the counterparts are devas (the
shining gods) and vah (you, plural). Prajapati is still
speaking, and the ambivalent bi-polar relationship stated as
between the counterparts, which are properly brought side
by side.

The supreme good results from the synthesis or interaction
between the gods and the peoples treated in the plural.
No blemish of polytheism, however, is here to be
understood; the two counterparts being meant merely to be
cancelled-out in terms of the resultant param (supreme)
good which is the Absolute unitive value. Brahman (the
Absolute) is primarily a value and not a monotheistic nor
even a monistic entity, as often understood by professors and
theologians of the Christian world who wish, generously
perhaps, to concede to pagan writers this respectable status
which, according to them, belongs only to civilized religions
or cultures, as they understand them. But Vedanta is meant
to be free from all doctrinal "isms" of any kind.

The word parasparam (each the other) is a remarkable
statement in its implications. Gods are as helpless as
men. There is the remarkable passage in the Brihadaranyaka
Upanishad (1, iv, 10):
"Verily, indeed, as many animals would be of service to a man,
even so each single person is of service to the gods. If even
one animal is taken away, it is not pleasant. What then, if
many? Therefore it is not pleasing to those (gods) that men
should know this (i.e., that "I am the Absolute")".

Or, as the Kural of the Tamils would put it, the gods would
perish if there was no rain, because there would be no food
with which to worship them. (Tiru-k-kural, 18).


ishtan bhogan hi vo deva
dasyante yajna bhavitah
tair dattan apradayai
'bhyo yo bhunkte stena eva sah

Those gods shall bestow on you all gratifications you desire:
one who eats what is given to them without giving in turn to
them, he is a thief indeed.


Prajapati is still speaking, and the multiplicity of gods
referred to in this verse are only incidental extra characters


brought in for purposes of discussion only. This verse
elaborates the same sentiment as the last verse but adds that
he is a "thief "who is one-sided in his conduct, not
recognizing the bipolarity implicit in the situation. He is
called aghayur (one who is sinful in his life) in iii,16.
When a man thinks of himself alone without a second
counterpart of any kind elsewhere, he resembles a lame
man hopping on one leg. One has to live for another, or for
others generally. When fortune smiles one has to balance it
with an equalizing generosity. Such is the simple lesson to
be derived from this verse. The question of gods being
pleased, etc., is of the nature of a literary flourish to the


yajna sishtasinah santo
muchyante sarva kilbishaih
bhunjate te tv agham papa
ye pachany atma karanat

The good man who eats of the remnants of a sacrifice is
absolved of all faults: they, however, eat of evil (itself)
the sinners who cook with themselves (alone) for motive.

Here, instead of the direct words of Prajapati, we have the
same subject continued in general terms. This verse accentuates
the evil of one-sidedness of the last verse. The recognition
of the principle of sacrifice is the corrective.

Sinners become santah (the good) by such recognition of
the second pole of human interest represented by sacrifice
here. The good man cooks for himself and at least for
another. What he enjoys as an individual is the remainder of
what has been unitively enjoyed by both the counterparts of
a sacrificial situation together, already. It is in this sense that
the word sishta (remainder) is to be understood. His
selfishness, if any, is to be satisfied with what is left over
from what has been offered to another, or the general good,
or God, or the Absolute.

Conversely, the verse goes on to say that one-sided enjoyment
or "eating" of sin itself, which means only something
that is not good - is to be understood as a kind of spiritual
poison, according to the subtle dialectics of the Gita. There
is an interplay of opposite values here which should not be
missed by the reader.


annad bhavanti bhutani
parjanyad annasambhavah
yajnad bhavati parjanyo
yajnah karma samudbhavah

Food is the cause of beings, and from rain food is produced;
sacrifice has its effect in rain and sacrifice has its origin
in action.


Sacrifice itself as understood in the last verse is a link in a
chain which has its own cyclic succession and which is kept
moving by an invisible wheel referred to in Verse 16. It is to
be expected that the modern mind would feel very unconvinced
by the picture of phenomenal and psychological factors that
freely enter here to maintain the cyclic succession of causes
and effects fancifully described in this verse.Sacrifice is
spoken of as a rain-making principle. Again sacrifice is
supposed to arise from action.

Thus rain becomes related to action indirectly. Except for
the link between sacrifice and rain, all else is fairly evident.
Sacrifice here is the central concept in the whole discussion
and if we rid the idea of sacrifice of all that is extraneous to
it, such as the gods on one side and the prajah (peoples) on
the other, and remove the scaffolding of a Prajapati who, as
we said, is used for literary requirements, what remains is a
numinous factor in the sense that sacrifice itself is the
principle of the Absolute. As such it is the medium of
occasionalism as understood in Cartesian philosophy.

Anything good that happens to man comes from the interaction
of opposing factors which together constitute what is
called the numinous. Sacrifice is thus a link between the here
and the hereafter. Our necessary actions in this world, when
they become ever purer motivated, reach to a value that is
beyond, when they are translated into terms of human benefit
and goodness, reaching down to us in the form of benefits
such as rainfall, on which we and all life thrive.

These two movements taken together result in a central
chance-value which represents Brahman (the Absolute) as
sacrifice. This will be clarified further in the next verse.



karma brahmodbhavam viddhi
brahma 'kshara samudbhavam
tasmat sarvagatam brahma
nityam yajne pratishthitam

Know that action arises from Brahma (god of creation) and
that Brahma traces his being to the Imperishable (akshara).
Therefore the all-pervasive Absolute (Brahman) is eternally
bound up with sacrifice.


This verse deals with action, not cosmologically, but
rather in terms of psychology. Action arises from Brahma,
(god of creation) who, as a god or demiurge, has his origin
in what is here called the Imperishable, which is another
word for what generally distinguishes para-Brahman (the
higher Absolute). The sarvagatam-Brahma (all-pervading
god of creation) here is neither positive nor negative and,
like the pure act of sacrifice, is to be regarded as
representing the Absolute in its neutrality.

This verse and Verse 14 have necessarily a certain amount
of vagueness which can only be clarified in the light of the
Upanishads such as the Chandogya and the Brihadaranyaka,
especially the latter, where ritualistic sacrifices are
revalued in terms of unitive wisdom. How the soul reaches
the moon and comes back through the sun's rays and, washed
by the rains, nourishes the herbs, thus making for fecundity
in man or woman, is a rather delicately-woven mystical
language into whose intricacies we cannot enter here.

All that we want to say by way of summing-up is that eternal
human values in the domain of necessary action are spoken
of as conditioning human life generally, and that these
values form an organically inter-related whole, whether
they are taken to be cosmological or psychological.
The word nityam (eternal) here suggests that there is a
nitya-sambandha (eternal relation) between the phenomenal
factors mentioned in Verse 14 and the numinous factors
mentioned here. The relation between rain and sacrifice is
not a causal one, but only implies that one is not without the
other in the context of action, which is the subject for
revaluation in this chapter.


evam pravartitam chakram
ni 'nuvartayati 'ha
yah aghayur indriyaramo
mogham partha sa jivati

He who fails to lead a life here under that does not conform
to the rotation of such a wheel, such a man of vicious life-time
lives, 0 Partha (Arjuna), in vain (indeed).


The Upanishadic way of life is what the Gita wants to uphold.
When ritualistic actions are subjected to the revalua­tion implied
in the Upanishads, life according to the Gita becomes worthwhile
once again, and not one-sided. Life has to be lived in tune with
the cosmology and psychology of the Absolute before Self-realization,
as implied in Verse 17 can be properly established, where action
is finally transcended.

The word iha (here) brings us back to the world of action in the
here and now, although still conceived in the light of the
Eternal Life otherwise becomes worthless or empty as suggested
by the word mogham (vain).


yas tv atmaratir eva syad
atmatriptas cha manavah
atmany  eva cha samtushtas
tasya karyam na vidyate

But for him who happens to be attached to the Self alone, who
finds full satisfaction in the Self, for such a man who is happy
in the Self as such, too, there is nothing that he should do.


By this verse the possibility of a man who can do altogether
without ritualistic sacrifice is recognized. A pure samkhya
philosopher, for example; who happens to be directly established
in Self-knowledge, who is innocent of Vedism and all the ritual
it implies, is here absolved from obligation to perform any rituals,
however exalted they might be in the scale of revalued ritualism
here expounded.


nai'va tasya kritena 'rtho
na' kritene'ha kaschana
na cha'sya sarvabhuteshu
kaschid' arthavyapasrayah

Neither is there anything indeed for him resulting from work done
nor any from work omitted here nor is there either far him any
dependence in respect of anything derivable from any being


This and the previous verse seem to fall outside the scope
of karma Yoga (unitive action) by extolling a man who has
no need for any activity whatsoever. The Gita is only too
glad to recognize the superior spiritual status of a man who
can successfully transcend action merely through Self-


tasmad asaktah satatam
karyam kama samachara
asakto hy acharan karma
param apnoti purushah

Therefore always remaining detached, engage yourself in
actions that are necessary; indeed performing actions with
detachment man attains to the supreme.


The use of the word tasmad here cannot be fully justified
inasmuch as the two previous verses refer to a man who
need not act. Its use here can be justified only on the
assumption that the two previous verses refer to exceptions
to the rule by way of digression.

The pressure of necessity is still active even when a man
is established in Self-knowledge. Non-ritualistic necessary
actions persist in his life. How to deal with them is the
subject of the verses that follow. Non-attachment is the key
for transcending all actions as suggested here.

The word karyam (what should be done) points to the necessary
character of the action involved and does not refer to any
religious duty as often imagined.


karmanai 'va hi samsiddhim
asthita janakadayah
loka samgraham eva'pi
sampasyan kartum arhasi

Janaka and such others reached perfection even performing
acts. Again, having due regard for the integration of the
world too, you have to act.

yad-yad acharati sreshthas
tad-tad eve'taro janah
sa yat pramanam kurute
lokas tad anuvartate

Whichever may be the way of life that a superior man may
adopt, that very one is by other people too (followed).
What he might make his guiding principle, the world too
behaves even according to the same.


Here action is regarded from a different angle. It is to be
done with a view to set a good example to others. The ideal
of a wise man who has transcended the need for being active
is, according to the Gita, likely to be misunderstood, thus
encouraging mere laziness, and so constituting a menace to
world order. The rajarishi (King-Seer) Janaka is cited as an
example of a wise man who continues to function as a king.
His wisdom makes him free while he continues as if bound
to normal or necessary duties. As the carving on a bedstead
has nothing to do with the nature of the sleep of the man on
the bed, so the necessary side of life does not interfere with
wisdom. It is optional for a wise man to adhere or not to
necessary activity. Such adherence is always permissively
understood. Janaka's wisdom suffered no whit because of his
kingship, hence his case is mentioned.

The word lokasamgraham (keeping the world together) does not
imply any social service or uplift work of closed groups or
communities. It refers to human interest or welfare in a
globally comprehensive sense. The reference in Verse 21
to the need for setting a good example to others less
advanced is a commonsense argument on a par with reference
to good repute in 11, 34-36, and can be justified as in
keeping with the realism implicit in rationalism there
and pragmatism here.


na me partha 'sti kartavyam
trishu lokeshu kimchana
na 'navaptam avaptavyam
varta eva cha karmani

There is nothing in the three worlds that I am obliged
to do, 0 Partha (Arjuna), nor anything unaccomplished
to be accomplished, while still I remain active
(in principle).


yadi hy aham na varteyam
jatu karmany atandritah
mama vartma 'nuvartante
manushyah partha sarvasah

If I should not remain active (in principle) never
relaxing, men in every walk of life, 0 Partha (Arjuna),
would take to my way.

utsideyur ime loki
na kuryam karma ched aham
samkarasya cha karta syam
upahanyam imah prajah

These (various) worlds (value systems) would fall into ruin
should I refrain from activity and I would become the agent
of evolutive confusion (samkara) killing in effect the


These verses point out that even as representing the
Absolute principle, Krishna is potent in his own way in
human affairs. The Absolute has nothing to gain but still
exerts, as it were, a kind of pressure which has the effect
of shaping human affairs in a certain direction.

Note the word varte (I exist) in Verse 22, which does not
mean that the Absolute principle is actually active but
merely that its potency is felt. The same word is repeated in
Verse 23. Here again the meaning is that the Absolute has a
certain share in shaping human affairs. Direct action is not
suggested. What is meant might not be different from the
effect of a catalytic agent in chemistry. In iv, 11 the same
second line of Verse 23 here finds repetition, though in a
converse sense. Here the danger of men taking to his wrong
example is referred to, if Krishna as Absolute should remain

The nature of the danger implied here is made more explicit
in Verse 24. The absence of the pressure exerted by
the Absolute in human affairs would lead to the danger here
referred to as samkara (confusion). This does not refer to
varna-samkara (colour-mixing) particularly, but to evolutive
- involutive factors known in the Samkhya philosophy, which
confusion would spell disaster to humanity as a whole. It is
the active principle implied in the Absolute which ever
reconciles opposites, bringing them together in accordance,
resolving counterparts into unity. The process or flux
of becoming thus goes on without a break. Any gap or
vacuum would be disastrous for the whole of creation and
would destroy humanity.


That such a unique and wholesale activity is here implied
is clear from passages in the Gita such as ix, 9-10, where it
is explicitly stated that the Absolute is merely a passive
witness to action.

According to the Samkhya, creation itself is due to the
meeting or reconciliation of reciprocal factors as between
prakriti (nature) and purusha (spirit). When dealt with
unitively these two factors yield normal life. Treated
disjunctly they bring death. The former method is dynamic,
the latter static. The Absolute is thus the dynamic principle
supporting unitive life and in this consists the unique and
wholesale "activity" of the Absolute. This should not be
confused with being active in the usual sense. It is merely a
potential principle exerting a certain direct pressure making
life flow normally.

The doctrine of samkarshana (natural attraction) in the
Ramanuja school evidently is a culmination of the theory
outlined above derived from Samkhya and traceable backwards
even to the times of the Tattva-Samasa or even earlier.
Samkarshana (natural attraction) results in the emergence of
individual life. The word karshati (draws) is used in the Gita
(xv, 7) in more or less the same sense when it deals with the
individual soul drawing to itself the senses. The dualistic
philosophy of the Samkhya uses the term samkara (mixture) in a
sense repugnant to Vedanta. The result of samkara
(evolutive- involutive factors), according to anterior views, is a
form of vikara (change) as when milk turns sour. This
presupposes an inert matter which is soulless and alone
subject to transformation of this kind, without the
transcendental principle having anything to do with its make-
up. Here, however, the spirit and matter are more unitively

The Vedanta introduces the idea of the eternal soul without
duality, not subject to change, and in conformity with the
Absolute. It is in this revalued sense that Krishna, as
representing the Absolute principle, speaks of the ruin of the
worlds and destruction of the people. Mere intermarriages
between differently coloured men and women would not
produce so disastrous an effect as the destruction of all the
worlds, even by a stretch of the imagination. To find support
here for the "caste system" of India would therefore detract
from the grandeur of the teaching of the Gita.


saktah karmany avidvamso
yatha kurvanti bharata
kuryad vidvams tatha'saktas
chikirshur loka samgraham

In the same manner as people uninstructed would take to
activity with attachment to work, 0 Bharata (Arjuna), the
instructed man likewise should act without attachment,
interested (merely) in world order.


Starting from Verse 20 it should be noted that the rest of
this chapter rambles over a variety of topics: such as setting
a good example to the public; not disrupting the opinion of
others, with references interspersed here and there to the
pure doctrine of Krishna himself; how it is important to
adopt it without carping and how, finally, kama-krodha
(desire-anger) or ragadveshau (affection-aversion) are the
twin enemies of contemplation; and recommending a certain
state of immobility, rigidity or steadiness (as implied in the
word samstabhya of Verse 43 of this chapter) attaining
which, Arjuna is called upon to slay - not an actual enemy in
front of him - but the internal enemy in the form of desire.
How all these topics which fall outside the scope of
individual discipline itself, could all come under the Yoga of
karma or action, which covers, as we have already seen,
even ritualistic actions, becomes next to impossible to
understand in the light of orthodox notions of Yoga. The
Yoga intended here cannot therefore be the mere chitta-vritti-
nirodha (inhibition of the fluctuations of the mind) of
Patanjali, or samatvam (equanimity), or kaushalam (creative
or intuitive understanding). It can only refer to a generous,
liberal and conciliatory attitude of mind involving a larger
vision and a bolder outlook. Conflicting factors, whether in
public or private life, have to be harmoniously co-related or
co-ordinated - samanjasa (accordance) and samanvaya (co-
ordination) being the corresponding ideas in Sanskrit. That
the Gita permits still further generosity of interpretation
of the meaning of Yoga is indicated in vi, 23, where
Yoga is defined even negatively as dukha-samyoga-viyogam
(disconnection from union with pain). In the light of all
such definitions it might be permissible for us to add that
Yoga as intended in the Gita covers all applications of
dialectical reasoning, not only to personal life but in the
domain of historical necessity, and to the revaluation and
restatement of religious doctrines.


by which nothing is destroyed but everything fulfilled, as
Jesus said.

Such through the ages has always been the way of dialectical
revaluation understood in the history of religious and
philosophic thought. The Gita teacher is no exception to
this rule. Without breaking with the past and avoiding all
abrupt interference, such teachers have a way of fulfilment
conducive to the happiness of humanity. Insofar as the
revaluation is dialectical it comes under the definition of
Yoga. Therefore the karma-Yoga (unitive action) of this
chapter covers the whole range of necessity, personal or
historical, and the permissive acceptance of action revalued in
the light of the Absolute - which is greater than reason as the
last verse states - is the subject of the chapter.

Verse 25 has to be understood as being based on the idea
of fulfilment as against destruction explained above. The
inaction of a wise man might set up wrong precedents in the
social world. This is to be avoided.

See Verse 20 for our remarks on loka samgraham
(keeping the world together).


ajnanam karma janayed
ajnanam karma sanginam
joshayet sarva karmani
vidvan yuktah samacharan

The person who is wise should not give room for
disruption in the way of thinking of those who have
not attained to wisdom but by behaving unitively
he should render every kind of action enjoyable.


The same subject is continued. The yogi avoids forming an
opposite camp to karma sanginah (those attached to action).
His is a method of fulfilment, non-disruptive, in the
name of dialectical revaluation, which is the method proper
to Yoga generally.

The word joshayet (make likeable) further clarifies the
yogi's attitude. This clearly says that the yogi does not
acquiesce to the wrong methods of others, but only uses a
gentler and more understanding method of weaning people
from their wrong ways. Abrupt or shock treatments, as in
neurotherapy, are not favoured by the true yogi.


prakriteh kriyamanani
gunaih karmani sarvasah
ahamkara vimudhatma
karta 'ham iti manyate

Irrespective of the occasion, it is nature that through
the gunas (three modalities) accomplishes every act.
One possessed of egoism, however, thinks himself as the


Here and in the next two verses it is explained how the
individual self is not really, and is incapable of being, an
active agent in any item of action that it might accomplish
at a given moment or place. All sense of disjunct agency is
discredited. It is nature that acts on itself. The same
doctrine is treated more completely in xviii, 14-16.


tattvavit tu mahabaho
guna karma vibhagayoh
guna guneshu vartanta
iti matva na sajjate

On the other hand, 0 Mighty Armed (Arjuna), the one who
knows the principle underlying guna (nature mode) as
distinct from karma (its functional counterpart) holding
the view that (subjective) modes inhere in (their
corresponding) objective modes, is not affected.


Even nature itself is shown to have two aspects which
interact without the agency of the actor who is reduced to
the status of a witness. He just watches the guna (mode) of
one aspect of nature acting in accordance with its
corresponding functional aspect. Subjective nature (natura
naturans) accords with obective nature (natura naturata) as
Spinoza understood it. This is how guna and guna (mode
and mode) are stated to be inhering or existing in one
another here.

This agreement between innate mode with its corresponding
functional aspect is the basis of chaturvarnya (fourfold
division of society) mentioned in xv, 13, which we shall
examine there. The person who knows all these long-
forgotten principles is called here a tattvavit (a knower
of true principles, or of reality as such - a philosopher).
The Gita here wishes to bring such


philosophy into vogue again in order to offer a solution of
all conflicts that might arise in the domain of action.


prakriter guna sammudhah
sajjante guna karmasu
tan akritsnavido mandan
kritsnavin na vichalayet

Those confounded by the modalities (gunas) of nature become
attached to objective modalities existing in works. Such men
who are not all-wise and are dull should not be unsettled
by those who are all-wise.


This verse repeats the idea of Verse 26 in a more
philosophical fashion. It takes account of all contingent
modes, objective and subjective. Ordinary persons eke out
their livelihood by stabilizing themselves in some fixed
social station or kind of occupation in life. Such occupations
are endless in variety. Dislodging them from their settled ways,
even through the teaching of purer or truer doctrines, might
have the effect of uprooting them without establishing them
again in stability, which would result in psychological or
sociological maladjustments. A little knowledge in such
matters is dangerous. It would be safe to leave common
people unsophisticated in such matters. The evil resulting
from such interference is sufficiently clear from the turn
that caste doctrines have taken in India.

Dislodgement through philosophy results in the large number
of religious misfits that we find everywhere, especially in
India. The implication of this verse has to be understood
side by side with Verse 35, which refers to svadharma
(conduct according to one's own nature). If politically
displaced persons constitute an international problem,
religious, philosophical or psychic misfits constitute
perhaps an even more serious problem for the world.
Proper coordination and orientation in such matters is
of great importance.


mayi sarvani karmani
samnyasva 'dhyatmachetasa
nirasir nirmamo bhutva
yudhyasva vigatajvarah

Renouncing in Me (the Absolute) all works, coming to be
without expectations or possessiveness, with a full awareness
about the Self, do fight with fever gone.


In all these matters of fulfilment and non-interference
which we have referred to, a certain neutrality has to be
maintained, combined with generosity. Such would be
guaranteed only if the Absolute was kept in mind. The
mental fever is cured when the spirit is in tune with the
Absolute. The yogic state thus becomes accomplished when
necessary actions are permitted to go on unhindered all the

The word yudhyasva (fight) should be interpreted as
permissive and not mandatory, as we have explained
already. The Absolute is here both Brahman (Absolute
principle) and atma (Self) without distinction. The nature of
the fever referred to here must be because of its origin in
kama (desire) which is an extraneous or third factor and the
enemy of contemplation, as already indicated.

ye me matam idam nityam
anutishthanti manavah
sraddhavanto 'nasuyanto
muchyante te 'pi karmabhih

They too, who ever adhere to this doctrine of mine,men
full of faith and free from any mistrust in respect of
it, they gain release from works.

ye tv etad abhyasuyanto
na 'nutishthanti me matam
sarvajnana vimudhams tan
viddhi nashtan achetasah

On the other hand, those soulless ones who look upon
this my doctrine with mistrust and adhere not to it;
know them as shut away from all knowledge and as lost.


These verses indicate that Krishna's teaching had some
strangeness even in the days of Vyasa's composition. People
questioned his revaluation of ritualist and of action. Krishna
here affirms his strong stand on his revalued teaching.
The word anasayantah (those who do not envy, cavil or
disadopt) of Verse 31 pleads for a sympathetic hearing of the


new doctrine. The same attitude of asuya repeated in Verse
32 condemns disadoption of the teaching more vehemently.
In effect it calls disadopters utter fools, even fated to be
destroyed. It is reminiscent of "ye generation of vipers" in
the Bible. No teaching of any profound doctrine is possible
when there is disadoption between the teacher and the


sadrisam cheshtate svasyah
prakriter jnanavan api
prakritim yanti bhutani
nigrahah kim karishyati

Even a man of wisdom behaves in conformity with his own
nature. All creation goes on subject to nature. Of what
avail is control?


At first it seems as if self-control is of no avail.
Everything is in the hands of nature. Even a wise man is a
tool in its hands.

True, there is an imperative urge in one's own nature
which is categorical and overpowering. But to say there is
nothing to control at all is to misunderstand the import of
this verse; an import often missed when torn from its context
when it then seems to support licentiousness. But taken with
the next verse such a misinterpretation is precluded.
In fact there are two sets of urges in human nature; a
deep-seated volume of tendencies surging upwards for
expressive translation into action at every moment, and an
urge which is secondary in its nature and far less
categorically imperative, and which is capable of being
subjected to intelligent control.

The latter tendency, which may be said to have its being
and action on the horizontal plane, has the form of attraction
-repulsion referred to in Verse 34. This form is always
dvandva (relativistically double) like heat and cold, pleasure
and pain.

The former is a steady pressure of the élan vital (vital
spirit) of Bergson, of pure life itself which alone is beyond
our control, unlike the former. This pressure is shared in
common with all life, as the word bhutani (beings) indicates.


indriyasye 'ndriyasya 'rthe
raga dveshauvyavasthitau
tayor na vasam agachchhet
tau hy asya paripanthinau

Attraction-repulsion abide mutually as between the senses and
their sense-objects. One should never come under their
(double) sway. They indeed are one's (twin) path-hindering


The double specific reference to (1) the subjective indriya
(sense) and (2) to the particularized object indriyasyarthe (a
specified sense-object) is significant, enabling the proper
contrast between the two sets of tendencies, one general and
the other of a lower mechanistic order, implied in the last
verse and here in this verse respectively, to be made
unmistakably clear. Here it is a partial attachment, not a
wholesale one, as in the previous verse where the whole nervous
system is involved in the urge of pure nature. The relation
might be brought out by the analogy of an electric current
and the secondary magnetic field that goes with it.

Attachment of the second order here is relativistic and has its
opposite, while the former, referring to the pure life urge,
belongs to the order of the categorical imperative of Kant,
which is a pure absolutist notion, where opposing pairs such
as attachment and repulsion mentioned here are not present.

All pairs of relative opposites are covered by the dual
case ending of the word paripanthinau ("twin" obstructors
of the path). Transcending duality is the task of the yogi and
not the stifling or repression of life itself which, in the
previous verse, is stated to be futile. Life must be given its
free scope to stabilize itself naturally in the environment
that already goes with it. This leads us naturally to the much
misunderstood subject of svadharma (one's own proper activity)
of the next verse.


sreyan svadharmo vigunah
paradharmat svanushthitat
svadharme nidhanam
sreyah paradharmo bhayavahah

Better is activity rightly conforming to one's own nature
though lacking in superior quality than activity foreign to
one's own nature although it may be well done (otherwise).
(Even) death by the performance of what fits one properly
has merit. Activity foreign to oneself is fraught with danger.


The famous doctrine of svadharma (conduct proper to one's
nature), which is too easily interpreted by interested
people as supporting a strict adherence to the artificial
divisions of caste, has to be understood properly as
intended, as a doctrine in keeping with the rest of the Gita.
We have referred to Aristotle's "Nichomachean Ethics",
where the foundation of virtue consists in conforming to the
specific or unique qualities of each individual kind of life.
The virtue of a coconut tree is judged by the nuts it yields. It
should not, and cannot, try to yield, say, mangoes. In the
human context the same law of svadharma (conduct proper
to one's own nature) holds true in the sense that one man's
meat is another man's poison. In needs and capacity each
man is unique and this unique specific quality is to be
respected. Taking Arjuna's own case as the clearest possible
example, if he should shave his head and become a
samnyisin (renouncer) as he hinted to Krishna, that would
constitute a deflection from his path of svadharma. One
animal cannot be fed on the food of another kind of animal
when its own inside revolts against it. An artificial role that
a man might play, if incompatible with his own background,
would be fraught with danger. If a country yokel pretended
to be a traffic policeman at Charing Cross without proper
training and uniform, we can imagine the disastrous
consequences. Such is the danger referred to in the phrase
paradharmo bhayavahah (another's duty is fraught with
danger). It does not mean that a carpenter's son should never
aspire to become a lawyer, just because he has inherited the
tools of the carpenter. In fact such or similar interpretations
are read into this verse by ingenious persons.

The phrase paradharmat svanushthitat (another's duty
well-performed) calls for explanation. A tonic can be good
if there is the corresponding weakness in the man who uses
it, but even a good tonic might do harm when it does not
agree with the history of the case. A woman's broad-
brimmed summer hat might not suit a short stout lady,
although it seems wonderful to her when seen in the shop by
itself. Or a man unhappily married might be said to be worse
off than one unmarried.

A unitive treatment of the past and the future of an individual
conducive to organic development of the personality is
therefore the theory implied in this phrase.


The words svadharme nidhanam sreyah (death in one's own way
of life is superior in merit) contain an idea too drastic
when we think of ordinary occupations in life. One has to
be truthful to oneself if spirituality is to accrue in one's
favour. One cannot then be false to any man. This is a law of
life known to Shakespeare. The inner truthfulness of a man
has to correspond to his outer truthfulness; otherwise a
conflict would develop which would stultify his spiritual
progress, finally blocking it altogether. This would amount
to spiritual death; much more serious than just physical
death, which would affect only the present life. One has to
avoid by all means entering into conflict with oneself. Each
man has to work out his own salvation, according to his own
intelligence or capacity. While another man can carry a
physical burden, vicarious suffering cannot be applied to the
domain of precious inner values. Truth to oneself can never
result in madness which would be worse than death.

To return to Arjuna's own case: he himself tried experiments
in the life of a samnyasin (renunciator) or recluse
wandering in the forest, the failure of which was known to
Krishna, Arjuna having married Subhadra, Krishna's sister.
Truth is not a question of experiment. Dedication to truth
has to be complete, involving a fervour which looks upon
death as a triviality. Absolute truth knows no compromise.

Svadharma (conduct proper to one's own nature) here refers
to the whole of life as explained under Verse 34, and
not the partial attachment to a vocation. Tragic heroes and
martyrs, though possibly sometimes perverted, at least took
certain life-values seriously. Free from perversions, they
would be of the stuff of true heroism. Contemplation has its
heroes too in a more thorough or absolute sense. The
keenness of the life-long torture of paradharma (a way of
living strange to one's proper nature) would be worse than
sudden death by lightning.


Beginning with a fresh question by Arjuna, the remaining
verses are meant to sum up, as it were, the findings of this

Orthodox notions of karmayoga (unitive action), as popularly
understood and much talked-about, are strangely enough


outside the scope of this chapter altogether. All wilful
popular demagogues are too easily called karma-yogis
(contemplatives in action). But as long as there could be the
possibility of rivalry between such karma-yogis they should
not be considered yogis at all. The lokasamgraham (keeping
the world together) of Verse 20 is quite the opposite of
loyalty to closed or static patriotisms or ideologies,
pertaining to countries or particular traditions. Action itself
as it is derived from rajoguna (quality of passion) is
something to be ashamed of, having desire as its direct and
anger as its indirect products, as stated in Verses 38 and 39.
Verse 40 states that the seat of such action, which is to be
avoided, is in the senses, the mind and reason, as understood
in Chapter xi. Transcending such a thing of sin is recommended
in Verse 41.

But then, it might be asked, what about svadharma (conduct
proper to one's own nature) held to be so precious in this
chapter? Such conduct does not lie in the same plane or axis
in which the three, the senses, mind and reason,lie. It lives
and moves on another plane or axis altogether, as we have
indicated under Verse 34 of this chapter.

The subtle instruction regarding the right method of
transcending the lure of the senses and establishing oneself
in Yoga has been indicated in iii, 7. The same subject is
continued in Verse 42.

The afferent tendencies of the indriyas (senses) have a
new orientation facing inwards. The senses thus attain a
new status and, starting with them as instruments, the final
triumph of karma-yoga (unitive action) is indicated in
Verses 42 and 43.


Arjuna uvacha
atha kena prayukto 'yam
papam charati purushah
anichchhann api varshshneya
balad iva niyojitah

Arjuna said:
Then impelled by what does man lead such a life of sin even
against his will, 0 Varshneya (Krishna), as if forcibly enjoined?


The word annichchhann (not wanting to) shows there is in nature
itself a penchant to do evil. Such an inclination is not


different from theological concupiscence mentioned under
ii, 67. This is to indicate the necessity for actively
countering evil. Contemplation is a form of ascent of Mount
Carmel, as St. John of the Cross would call it.


sribhagavan uvacha
kama esha krodha esha
rajoguna samudbhavah
mahasano mahapapma
viddhy enam iha vairinam

Krishna said:
Such is desire, such is anger, born out of the modality
(guna) called active, affective (rajas), all-devouring,
all-vitiating; know this to be the enemy here.


The reference here to rajoguna (modality of passion) has to
be understood in relation to action which is the subject of
this chapter. Rajas (passion) is always known as kriyatmika
(having the character of activity). That aspect of outgoing
activity or energy which fixes its attention on particular
desirable objects as referred to in Verse 34 is here to be
distinguished from life activity in general which moves on
another plane altogether, and which perforce must work
itself out, just because it is beyond control.

The horizontal tendencies to activity taken as a whole are
under reference here - hence the epithets mahasano (all-
devouring) and mahapapma (all-unholy or all-sinful) are
justified. Such tendencies continue to characterise our life
here throughout and their propensity as a whole has to be
effectively countered.

Kama (desire) and krodha (anger) are interrelated as mentioned
under xi, 62. Note here that tamas (modality of darkness) and
sattva (modality of purity or truth) are not taken as active
enemies of contemplation.


dhumena 'vriyate vahnir
yatha 'darso malena cha
yatho 'lbena 'vrito garbhas
tatha tene 'dam avritam

As smoke shrouds fire, as a mirror (is beclouded) by dirt,
as the foetus is enclose in the amnion, likewise by such
is This surrounded.


Note that kama (desire), krodha (anger) and rajas (modality
of passion) are treated as if they were interchangeable
terms the first two originating in the third. The horizontal
tendencies that each of these three stands for in life are here
treated as together constituting a factor which is negative in
character, hindering the contemplative life, which is the
good life of the Gita. The examples of smoke, dust and the
amnion are all meant to show the subtle inter-relationship
between the two sets of life-activities, i.e., those which must
be left free and those which are to be suppressed.

Idam (this) here refers to the spirit of man which seeks
freedom. Note that the fire analogy of the last verse is not
applied here to desire but to the pure spirit. This points to
the subtle bi-polar relationship we have referred to "This"
here, which is the spirit of man, has two aspects, one of
which is here its own enemy.


Avritam jnanam etena
kamarupena kaunteya
dushpurena 'nalena cha

Wisdom is enveloped by this which is the eternal enemy of
the wise, remaining in the form of desire, 0 Kaunteya
(Arjuna), which is a fire too that is difficult to satiate.


The word nityavairina (ever-present enemy) points to the
problem of evil, which in a certain sense is also eternal.
Desire is the root where evil is located finally in most
generalized terms. We cannot fight individual desires but
we can oppose all desires together by a reorientation of the


The force of the word cha (and) which, as we have said
before, is very important for the dialectical treatment of the
subject, and a peculiarity of the style of the Gita, is missed
by most translators.

There is a fire of desire and there is a fire of life, of the
spirit or soul. Both these fires have to be brought together
for purposes of true dialectical contemplation. The opposites
cancel themselves in the neutrality which is of the essence
of Yoga. This verse is meant to give equal and opposite
status to this eternal enemy by the side of the Self who is
one's own friend as referred to in VI, 5 and 6. When we
realise that the


fire of desire is ever-present and is never to be one-sidedly
satisfied, then the discussion attains the status of a Yoga as
understood throughout the Gita - this Yoga being a neutrality
between opposites.

How the whole chapter comes under the subject of Yoga
is finally justified and rounded-off in this verse where
necessary action is represented by one fire and contingent
action by the other fire, and both considered eternal. Thus
viewed, the definition of Yoga of ii, 48 - samatvam
(equanimity) - applies to this chapter, in spite of the
rambling character of the latter half.


indriyani mano buddhir
asya 'dhishthanam uchyate
etair vimohayaty esha
jnanam avritya dehinam

This is said to be lodged in the senses, mind and in reason.
By means of these this (desire) bewilders the embodied one
by veiling his wisdom.


The word adhishthanam (seat) here is related to the same
word used in xviii, 14, and is a technical term of the
Samkhya philosophy. The intelligent principle that the
purusha (spirit) represents in Samkhya is foreign to this
adhishthanam (seat) which is on the side of prakriti
(nature). Here, however, we note that buddhi (reasoning) is
put on the side of nature. This lower reason is to be
transcended if the absolutist Self is to be attained, as shown
in Verse 43. The Gita accepts Samkhya epistemology and
builds on it the notion of the unitive Absolute as its own
contribution. The epistemological framework is retained
untouched. Bewilderment continues and duality is retained
only until the unitive Self becomes established.


tasmat tvam indriyany idau
niyamya bharatarshabha
papmanam prajahi hy enam
jnana vijnana nasanam

Therefore, 0 best of Bharatas (Arjuna), mastering first the
senses, slay this which is of sin which can destroy both
pure and practical wisdom.


The subject of controlling the senses is again discussed.
Just as it is easier to close a door by the handle than on the
part where it is hinged, the senses lend themselves more
easily to control than desire or activity taken as a whole. In
other words we can turn the senses away from their objects
voluntarily. We cannot stifle desire as a whole, hence the
technical advice given here to start adau (first) with
controlling the senses. The same method has been
recommended once before (see iii, 7).

Desire has to be split up into its elementary components
in the senses before its disastrous effects could be stemmed.
Desire compromises jnana (pure wisdom) and vijnana
(practical wisdom), the latter comprising the savoir faire of
the former. Yoga is both pure and practical. The same pair
is referred to again in vi, 8, ix, 1, and xviii, 42. The Gita
does not treat merely of pure philosophy as academically
understood in the West, nor does it leave out practical
indications pertaining to spiritual life which form so
integral a part of Yoga, as a non-academic discipline.
The confusion in the minds of both Westerners and Indians
regarding the class of literature to which the Gita properly
belongs is due to this treatment of jnana (pure wisdom) and
vijnana (practical wisdom) together throughout this sastra
(textbook). The scene of the battlefield is expressly chosen
by Vyasa to lend itself to such a parallel treatment of pure
and practical aspects of wisdom. The slightest affiliation
to sense objects jeopardises both aspects of wisdom by
confusing the mind, as described in ii, 67.


indriyani parany ahur
indriyebhyah param manah
manasas tu para buddhir
yo buddheh paratas tu sah

It is taught (in ancient tradition) that the senses are
beyond (transcendental); beyond the senses is the mind,
beyond the mind is reason and beyond reason is He
(the Absolute).


Here those factors conducive to contemplation are
enuniciated in an ascending order without omitting even
the senses which are also qualified by the epithet parani
(great or superior). After being spiritually reoriented they
attain this superior status.


The word ahuh (they say) evidently refers to the immemorial
undercurrent of tradition which is the basis of the Kapila
system proper to which the unitive treatment of purusha
(spirit) and prakriti (nature) in terms of the Absolute
is not altogether strange. Sah (He), which corresponds to
the purusha (spirit) of the Samkhya, brings the subject of
contemplation as near as possible to the Absolute Self
implicit in the next verse, where even the purusha (spirit) of
this verse may be said to be, in principle, transcended.
The duality between purusha (spirit) and prakriti (nature)
implied in the Samkhya system of Kapila is here glided over,
and a steady and progressive gradation maintained between
the various factors, giving no room to the processes of
samkara (evolution) and pratisamkara (involution) which
should have been implied if Samkhya duality had been
accepted by the Gita. Purusha (spirit) is no more a lame man
depending on the help of a blind man with proper limbs,
which is the usual metaphor of the Samkhya philosophers to
describe the relation between spirit and nature (see Ishvara
Krishna's Samkhya Karika, 2 1,


"For the spirit's contemplation of nature and for its final                                       separation the union of both takes place, as of the lame and the blind man.          

By that union a creation is formed."

Purusha (spirit) is now the unitive representative of the
Absolute. Herein lies the revaluation of the Gita.


evam buddheh param buddhva
samstabhya 'tmanam atmana
jahi satrum mahabaho
kamarupam durasadam

Thus knowing Him to be beyond reason, immobilizing the
Self by the Self, 0 Mighty-Armed (Arjuna), kill that enemy
in the form of desire (so) difficult to encounter.


Here the battlefield itself as also the actual exterior enemy
is forgotten, and as if with the closed eyes of introspection,
the call to Arjuna here merely consists of conquering the
Self by the Self with a certain immobility, as implied in the
word jamstabhya explained already under Verse 25.
Desire which tends to flow outwards is to be made to flow
in the reverse, as implied in ii, 70.


Karma-Yoga (unitive action) in popular Vedanta literature,
lapses into a trite picture of a man who is offering all
actions prayerfully to the lotus feet of the Lord.
In the light of the contents of this chapter which we have
examined in all its critical and philosophical implications,
such a pious and holy version of karma-yoga is, to say the
least, puerile. Much eloquence is often wasted by religious
enthusiasts in the cause of such piety. God does not eat the
fruits offered to him. It is the priest or the worshipper
himself who finally gobbles them up, and to speak of
offering to God the fruits of action which seems to follow
close on this imagery, does not make any meaning at all.
The whole purport of the Gita as a critical study, full of
precise definitions and enumerations belonging to an exact
or positive science, and not to a sentimental theism, would
be completely and sadly compromised.


ity srimad bhagavadgitasupanishatsu brahmavidyayam
Yogasastre srikrishnarjunasamvade
karmayogo nama tritiyo 'dhyayah


Thus ends in the Upanishads of the Songs of God,
in the Science of the Wisdom of the Absolute, in
the Dialogue between Sri Krishna and Arjuna, the
third Chapter, entitled Unitive Action.