Chapter 3

Karma Yoga

(The Path of Action)

1. Arjuna asked: "O Janardana, if Discrimination/ Wisdom is superior to Action, why then, O Kesava, dost Thou urge me to this terrible act (battle)?

2. "Thy words confuse me and seem like a puzzle. Therefore, indicate clearly that one path by which I may, without doubt, attain the highest good."

3. Bhagavan Krishna replied: "O sinless one, I have in the past laid out before the world two paths of spiritual discipline, the path of Wisdom and Discrimination (Sankhya Yoga) for the discerning, and the path of Action ( Karma Yoga ) for the one who engages in action.

4. "Freedom from action is the culmination of Karma Yoga and that freedom does not come without first entering upon action; nor can one reach perfection - the culmination of Sankhya Yoga - merely by refusing or ceasing to act.

5. "Indeed, none can ever remain inactive even for a moment; for everyone is relentlessly and helplessly driven to action by one's intrinsic nature 6 .

6. "He who restrains his organs of action , but continues to dwell in his mind on the objects of the senses, deludes himself and is called a hypocrite.

7. "But he who restrains his senses with his mind and engages in selfless action 7 , with no feeling of attachment - he, O Arjuna, is indeed superior.

8. "Therefore, do thy duty as prescribed; for duty-bound action is superior to inaction. Forget not that even to maintain the body, action is required.

9. "Actions normally fetter the human being but not when they are performed as acts of sacrifice. Therefore, O Kaunteya, act and perform thy duty without attachment and in a spirit of sacrifice.

10. "At the time of Creation, the Creator said to mankind: 'Through sacrifice thou shall prosper and propagate. This shall be the milch cow of thy desires.

11. 'Worship is a form of sacrifice. Worship the powers of Nature 8 , and they in return will nourish thee. Through this synergy, thou canst attain the highest good.

12. 'Fostered by sacrifice, the deities of Nature will, unasked, bestow on thee all the enjoyment thou couldst possibly desire. But he who enjoys the gifts of the gods without offering sacrifice in return, is verily a thief'.

13. "The virtuous who partake of food that remains after the sacrifice is offered are freed from all sin; but the selfish who eat alone [without sharing their food with others] verily eat sin.

14. "Material bodies of all beings subsist on food, food is nourished by rain and rain ensues from sacrifice; and sacrifice is born of action.

15. "Know that all action originates from the Supreme One who is Imperishable and All-pervading. And in sacrificial action, this Supreme Spirit is consciously present.

16. "O Partha, one who does not revolve with the wheel of sacrifice but seeks instead mundane pleasures through the gratification of the senses, lives in vain.

17. "On the other hand, for the one who meditates on the Self, who is content to serve the Self and rests happily within It, there is nothing more to accomplish nor any prescribed duty.

18. "In this world, that great soul has nothing to gain either by the performance of action or its non-performance. His welfare is totally independent of other earthly creatures.

19. "Therefore, constantly perform thou thy duty sincerely, and without either attachment or an eye on the results; for, through such desireless action, man attains the Supreme.

20. "It is through desireless action that Emperor Janaka and several other Wise men attained perfection. Thou perforce must act, for through thy actions thou wouldst be enlightening the world.

21. "For whatever a great man does, that very thing lesser mortals follow; whatever he sets up as a standard, to that others try to rise.

22. "O Partha, there is nothing at all in the three worlds that I am required or obliged to do, nor is there anything for Me to attain; and yet, l am constantly engaged in action.

23. "If I should cease to act, men would blindly copy Me and a great havoc would result.

24. "Indeed, if I cease to act, these worlds would perish. Nay, I would prove to be the cause of confusion and possibly even the destruction of humanity.

25. "O Bharata, even as the unwise act with attachment, so should the Wise One, seeking the welfare of the world, act without attachment.

26. "At the same time, a Wise man established in the Self should not perturb the minds of the ignorant who are attached to action 9 ; instead, concentrating on Me, he should perform his duties in the right spirit, inspiring all others to do the same.

27. "Action is the product of Gunas inherent in Prakriti . It is only the ignorant person who, deluded by egotism, thinks: 'I am the doer'.

28. "But, O Mahabahu, he who clearly understands the relationship between the Gunas and Prakriti , does not get attached to action. Rather, he wisely perceives action and as merely a play of the Gunas.

29. "But the ignorant, deluded by the Gunas of Prakriti , remain attached to their actions [thereby facing also the consequences of the actions]. Nevertheless, the Wise One should not unsettle the minds of those unknowing fools.

30. "Therefore, surrendering all actions to Me, thy thoughts concentrated on Me the Absolute and the Self of all, free from selfishness and without anticipation of any reward, with mind in a perfectly calm mood, begin thou to fight.

31. "Those who always act in accordance with My precepts, firm in faith and uncaviling, they too are freed from the bondage of action.

32. "But they who ridicule My word and do not follow it, are ignorant and blind to all wisdom; they seek their own destruction.

33. "All living creatures act in accordance with their natural tendencies, and this includes the Wise also. You may wonder: 'If everyone is so driven, then of what use is restraint or sense control?'

34. "Lust and hate are aroused by sense objects. Man should not allow himself to be swayed by them because they are his two principal enemies standing in the way of his redemption.

35. "One's own duty, though seemingly devoid of merit, is superior to that of another, even if well performed. It is preferable and honorable to die doing one's duty; undertaking another's duty is fraught with danger."

36. Arjuna asked: "Krishna, what is it that drives a man to sin, sometimes even against his will and as if by compulsion?"

37. Bhagavan replied: "It is desire and anger begotten of Rajoguna. Desire is all-devouring, and corrupts everything. It is thy greatest enemy.

38. "As a flame is covered by smoke, as a mirror by dust, as an embryo by amnion, so is Knowledge shrouded by desire.

39. "Enveloped is Wisdom , O Kaunteya, by the insatiable fire of desire, which is the Wise man's eternal foe.

40. "Senses, the mind and the intellect, they say, are its lurking places. Through these, it (desire) smothers Wisdom and deludes the embodied soul.

41. "Therefore, O Bharatarishabha, restrain thy senses at the outset and curb this source of sin, which obstructs Knowledge and destroys Wisdom .

42. "Exalted are the senses, or so they say; but higher than the senses is the mind; greater than the mind is the intelligence; but far beyond all these is He 10 .

43. "Thus knowing Him as superior to the intelligence, restraining the self by the Self, slay, O Mahabahu, thine enemy, who comes in the guise of desire and is hard to overcome".

Thus in the Bhagavad Gita, the Essence of the Upanishads, the Science of Brahman , the Scripture of Yoga, the Dialogue between Sri Krishna and Arjuna, ends the third chapter, entitled:



7Organs of action - hands, feet, vocal organ, and the organs of generation and evacuation.
8The minor deities.
9i.e., perform action rooted in desire.
10The Self