The Yoga of Action
Summary of Third Discourse
In order to remove Moha or attachment, which was the sole cause of Arjuna’s
delusion, Sri Krishna taught him the imperishable nature of the Atman,
the realisation of which would grant him the freedom of the Eternal. A
doubt therefore arises in Arjuna’s mind as to the necessity of engaging
in action even after one has attained this state.
Sri Krishna clears this doubt by telling him that although one has realised
oneness with the Eternal, one has to perform action through the force of
Prakriti or Nature. He emphasises that perfection is attained not by ceasing
to engage in action but by doing all actions as a divine offering, imbued
with a spirit of non-attachment and sacrifice.
The man of God-vision, Sri Krishna explains to Arjuna, need not engage
in action, as he has attained everything that has to be attained. He can
be ever absorbed in the calm and immutable Self. But to perform action
for the good of the world and for the education of the masses is no doubt
superior. Therefore, action is necessary not only for one who has attained
perfection but also for one who is striving for perfection. Sri Krishna
quotes the example of Janaka, the great sage-king of India, who continued
to rule his kingdom even after attaining God-realisation.
Prakriti or Nature is made up of the three qualities—Rajas, Tamas and Sattwa.
The Atman is beyond these three qualities and their functions. Only when
knowledge of this fact dawns in man does he attain perfection.
The Lord tells Arjuna that each one should do his duty according to his
nature, and that doing duty that is suited to one’s nature in the right
spirit of detachment will lead to perfection.
Arjuna raises the question as to why man commits such actions that cloud
his mind and drag him downwards, by force, as it were. Sri Krishna answers
that it is desire that impels man to lose his discrimination and understanding,
and thus commit wrong actions. Desire is the root cause of all evil actions.
If desire is removed, then the divine power manifests in its full glory
and one enjoys peace, bliss, light and freedom.
1. If it be thought by Thee that knowledge is superior to action, O Krishna,
why then, O Kesava, dost Thou ask me to engage in this terrible action?
2. With these apparently perplexing words Thou confusest, as it were, my
understanding; therefore, tell me that one way for certain by which I may
The Blessed Lord said:
3. In this world there is a twofold path, as I said before, O sinless one,—the
path of knowledge of the Sankhyas and the path of action of the Yogis!
4. Not by the non-performance of actions does man reach actionlessness,
nor by mere renunciation does he attain to perfection.
COMMENTARY: Even if a man abandons action, his mind may be active. One
cannot reach perfection or freedom from action or knowledge of the Self,
merely by renouncing action. He must possess knowledge of the Self.
5. Verily none can ever remain for even a moment without performing action;
for, everyone is made to act helplessly indeed by the qualities born of
COMMENTARY: The ignorant man is driven to action helplessly by the actions
of the Gunas—Rajas, Tamas and Sattwa.
6. He who, restraining the organs of action, sits thinking of the sense-objects
in mind, he, of deluded understanding, is called a hypocrite.
7. But whosoever, controlling the senses by the mind, O Arjuna, engages
himself in Karma Yoga with the organs of action, without attachment, he
8. Do thou perform thy bounden duty, for action is superior to inaction
and even the maintenance of the body would not be possible for thee by
9. The world is bound by actions other than those performed for the sake
of sacrifice; do thou, therefore, O son of Kunti, perform action for that
sake (for sacrifice) alone, free from attachment!
COMMENTARY: If anyone does actions for the sake of the Lord, he is not
bound. His heart is purified by performing actions for the sake of the
Lord. Where this spirit of unselfishness does not govern the action, such
actions bind one to worldliness, however good or glorious they may be.
10. The Creator, having in the beginning of creation created mankind together
with sacrifice, said: “By this shall ye propagate; let this be the milch
cow of your desires (the cow which yields the desired objects)”.
11. With this do ye nourish the gods, and may the gods nourish you; thus
nourishing one another, ye shall attain to the highest good.
12. The gods, nourished by the sacrifice, will give you the desired objects.
So, he who enjoys the objects given by the gods without offering (in return)
to them, is verily a thief.
13. The righteous, who eat of the remnants of the sacrifice, are freed
from all sins; but those sinful ones who cook food (only) for their own
sake, verily eat sin.
14. From food come forth beings, and from rain food is produced; from sacrifice
arises rain, and sacrifice is born of action.
15. Know thou that action comes from Brahma, and Brahma proceeds from the
Imperishable. Therefore, the all-pervading (Brahma) ever rests in sacrifice.
16. He who does not follow the wheel thus set revolving, who is of sinful
life, rejoicing in the senses, he lives in vain, O Arjuna!
COMMENTARY: He who does not follow the wheel by studying the Vedas and
performing the sacrifices prescribed therein, but who indulges only in
sensual pleasures, lives in vain. He wastes his life.
17. But for that man who rejoices only in the Self, who is satisfied in
the Self, who is content in the Self alone, verily there is nothing to
18. For him there is no interest whatsoever in what is done or what is
not done; nor does he depend on any being for any object.
COMMENTARY: The sage who rejoices in his own Self does not gain anything
by doing any action. To him no real purpose is served by engaging in any
action. No evil can touch him as a result of inaction. He does not lose
anything by being inactive.
19. Therefore, without attachment, do thou always perform action which
should be done; for, by performing action without attachment man reaches
20. Janaka and others attained perfection verily by action only; even with
a view to the protection of the masses thou shouldst perform action.
21. Whatsoever a great man does, that other men also do; whatever he sets
up as the standard, that the world follows.
22. There is nothing in the three worlds, O Arjuna, that should be done
by Me, nor is there anything unattained that should be attained; yet I
engage Myself in action!
23. For, should I not ever engage Myself in action, unwearied, men would
in every way follow My path, O Arjuna!
24. These worlds would perish if I did not perform action; I should be
the author of confusion of castes and destruction of these beings.
25. As the ignorant men act from attachment to action, O Bharata (Arjuna),
so should the wise act without attachment, wishing the welfare of the world!
26. Let no wise man unsettle the minds of ignorant people who are attached
to action; he should engage them in all actions, himself fulfilling them
27. All actions are wrought in all cases by the qualities of Nature only.
He whose mind is deluded by egoism thinks: “I am the doer”.
COMMENTARY: Prakriti or Nature is that state in which the three Gunas exist
in a state of equilibrium. When this equilibrium is disturbed, creation
begins and the body, senses and mind are formed. The man who is deluded
by egoism identifies the Self with the body, mind, the life-force and the
senses, and ascribes to the Self all the attributes of the body and the
senses. In reality the Gunas of nature perform all actions.
28. But he who knows the truth, O mighty-armed Arjuna, about the divisions
of the qualities and their functions, knowing that the Gunas as senses
move amidst the Gunas as the sense-objects, is not attached.
29. Those deluded by the qualities of Nature are attached to the functions
of the qualities. A man of perfect knowledge should not unsettle the foolish
one of imperfect knowledge.
30. Renouncing all actions in Me, with the mind centred in the Self, free
from hope and egoism, and from (mental) fever, do thou fight.
COMMENTARY: Surrender all actions to Me with the thought: “I perform all
actions for the sake of the Lord only.”
31. Those men who constantly practise this teaching of Mine with faith
and without cavilling, they too are freed from actions.
32. But those who carp at My teaching and do not practise it, deluded in
all knowledge and devoid of discrimination, know them to be doomed to destruction.
33. Even a wise man acts in accordance with his own nature; beings will
follow nature; what can restraint do?
COMMENTARY: Only the ignorant man comes under the sway of his natural propensities.
The seeker after Truth who is endowed with the ‘Four Means’ and who constantly
practises meditation, can easily control Nature if he rises above the sway
of the pairs of opposites, like love and hate, etc.
34. Attachment and aversion for the objects of the senses abide in the
senses; let none come under their sway, for they are his foes.
35. Better is one’s own duty, though devoid of merit, than the duty of
another well discharged. Better is death in one’s own duty; the duty of
another is fraught with fear.
36. But impelled by what does man commit sin, though against his wishes,
O Varshneya (Krishna), constrained, as it were, by force?
The Blessed Lord said:
37. It is desire, it is anger born of the quality of Rajas, all-sinful
and all-devouring; know this as the foe here (in this world).
38. As fire is enveloped by smoke, as a mirror by dust, and as an embryo
by the amnion, so is this enveloped by that.
39. O Arjuna, wisdom is enveloped by this constant enemy of the wise in
the form of desire, which is unappeasable as fire!
40. The senses, mind and intellect are said to be its seat; through these
it deludes the embodied by veiling his wisdom.
41. Therefore, O best of the Bharatas (Arjuna), controlling the senses
first, do thou kill this sinful thing (desire), the destroyer of knowledge
42. They say that the senses are superior (to the body); superior to the
senses is the mind; superior to the mind is the intellect; and one who
is superior even to the intellect is He—the Self.
43. Thus, knowing Him who is superior to the intellect and restraining
the self by the Self, slay thou, O mighty-armed Arjuna, the enemy in the
form of desire, hard to conquer!
COMMENTARY: Restrain the lower self by the higher Self. Subdue the lower
mind by the higher mind. It is difficult to conquer desire because it is
of a highly complex and incomprehensible nature. But a man of discrimination
and dispassion, who does constant and intense Sadhana, can conquer it quite
Thus in the Upanishads of the glorious Bhagavad Gita, the science of the
Eternal, the scripture of Yoga, the dialogue between Sri Krishna and Arjuna,
ends the third discourse entitled:
“The Yoga of Action”