Krishna, if you think that understanding is superior to action,
why then do you keep on urging me to engage in this savage act? (1)
You are bewildering my mind by these seemingly inconsistent teaching.
Tell me definitely what I must do to arrive at the highest good. (2)
In this world are two main paths of spiritual discipline:
the yoga of understanding (sankhya yoga) for contemplative people,
and for those who are active, the yoga of action (karma yoga). (3)
Abstaining from action is not the way to gain freedom from activity.
Nor can one achieve perfection by merely ceasing to act. (4)
This verse makes a distinction between activity, inactivity and non-activity.
Freedom from activity does not mean inactivity, but the absence of a sense of personal doership.
Deliberate inactivity simply means activity in the negative sense and is at the same level as positive deliberate activity. When activity happens, because the energy within the mind-body organism will not permit the organism to remain idle for any length of time, then such activity that is without the sense of personal doership may be called non-action, whereas both deliberate action and deliberate inaction include the sense of personal doership. The lack of personal doership leads to perfection, and not the activity or inactivity as such.
The non-action of a wise person is not inaction. It is not studied or shaken by anything. The sage is quiet because she is not moved, not because she will to be quiet. The heart of a wise person is tranquil. In other words, from the stillness of a sage comes their non-action, which is indeed effective action because there is no ego involved in such non-action.
Actually, not even for a moment can one can remain free of activity
(including mental activity, both conscious and subconscious).
Everyone is compelled to action, however unwilling,
driven by the three strands of nature, called gunas, or qualities. (5)
This verse provides the answer to the usual objections raised against the injunction to act without expectation and wanting the fruits of action, namely that such an injunction will lead to a 'fatalistic' attitude, and a person will have no reason to act at all. In other words, you may want to desist from such action if you cannot have the fruits of your action. However, the fruits of the action depend upon the destiny of the organism, whereas the energy within the body-mind organism will continue to produce activity in accordance with the natural characteristics with which the organism was conceived and created. These natural characteristics depend on the genes, the DNA or the organism and the conditioning that the organism has received from the environment in which the organism was born.
The person who outwardly renounces certain physical actions,
yet lets his mind dwell on the objects of his senses,
is deluding themself and can only be called a hypocrite,
and is spoiling his search for the deeper truth. (6)
It is not very difficult to restrain oneself from doing certain actions. But it is far more difficult to restrain the mind from thinking of the very activities which one has forcibly deprived oneself. Continued practice of such an attitude is self-delusion and such a person is soon known as a hypocrite. In fact a hypocrite cannot help exposing himself because the mind that cannot keep out sensuous pleasures naturally assumes a tendency towards such actions and very soon the individual finds himself engaging in the very activities which he was trying forcibly to avoid.
On the other hand,
the person, who controlling his/her senses and actions
by the power of his/her will,
with no attachment to results
engages and excels in the yoga of action. (7)
Therefore, perform your allotted duty,
for action is better than inaction.
Even the maintainence of you body
depends upon necessary actions. (8)
The entire world becomes a slave to its own activity, Arjuna.
If you want to be truly free,
perform all actions selflessly,
unattached, and as worship. (9)
Having created humankind
together with the spirit of worship
at the beginning of creation,
the Creator said,
"You will prosper and always be fruitful by worship;
and your wishes will be fulfilled. (10)
Nourish the gods through this worship
and the gods will graciously nourish you in return.
By nourishing each other,
you will assure the wellbeing of all. (11)
Nourished by your worship,
the gods will surely bestow on you,
all your desired enjoyments."
But he who enjoys the gifts bestowed by them,
without giving back in return,
is undoubtedly a thief. (12)
Good men who partake in food offered in worship,
are absolved from all their sins.
However the wicked devour their own evil
when they cook for the sake of nourishing their body alone. (13)
All beings are evolved from food;
production of food is dependent upon rain;
rain ensues from worship,
and worship is rooted in ritual action.
Ritual action has its origin in the Vedas,
and the Vedas proceed from the deathless Self.
Thus the all-pervading Infinite is always present in worship. (14-15)
Arjuna, those who fail to turn the wheel of creation
thus set in motion for the working of this world
(i.e. does not perform his duties),
is wayward and sensual, and lives in vain.
He has wasted his life. (16)
A person is no longer obliged to perform any kind of action
once her has learned to find his delight, satisfaction and peace
in the Atman, or Self. (17)
For such a person
there is nothing to gain in this world by any kind of action,
nor does he have anything to lose by refraining from action.
He is independent of anybody and anything. (18)
To one who has transcended their ego, the routine work during the day is no longer required as self-discipline, but is a natural fulfilment of their self-realisation. Such a person of wisdom does not need to work in order to get their material requirements, which continue to increase for an ordinary person. He is perfectly content in the very divine nature that provides eternal satisfaction for him. Where contentment has finally arrived in the very self-realisation, desires cannot arise, and in the absence of involvement in the desires there is no question of any action to satisfy the desires; nor is there any obligatory duties for such a self-realised person because such duties concern only the person who has desires. Whatever work such a person does, just happens, without any trace of doership.
Such a self-realised person, rooted in the experience of the Self, does not have to depend for his/her satisfaction on any object or person because s/he is centred in the eternal subject.
Without concern for results,
perform the necessary action.
Surrendering all attachments,
accomplish life's highest good. (19)
It is only through selfless action
that Janaka and other wise kings govern,
and thus assure the well-being of the world. (20)
For whatever a great man does,
ordinary people will also do,
whatever standard he sets,
everyone else will follow. (21)
Arjuna, in all three worlds
there is nothing I need to do,
nor is there anything I need to attain,
and yet I continue to engage in action. (22)
Should I not engage in my tireless, continual action,
humankind will follow my example,
and would also not act
resulting in great harm to the world. (23)
If I cease to act,
these worlds would plunge into ruin;
chaos and confusion would overpower all beings;
humankind would be destroyed. (24)
Though the unwise cling to their actions,
watching for results,
the wise are free from attachments
and act for the wellbeing of the whole world. (25)
The wise, established in the Self
does not unsettle the mind of the ignorant
who are attached to action.
Quietly acting in the spirit of yoga,
he inspires them to do the same. (26)
It is the working of prakruti (primordial matter)
within the body-mind organism
that produces actions
according to the natural characteristics of the organism.
The fool whose mind is deluded by his egoism
imagines "I am the doer." (27)
But the one who has true insight
into the respective spheres of the gunas (modes of Prakruti)
and their actions,
knows that it is the result of the gunas (in the shape of the senses, mind etc.),
acting on the gunas (respective objects of perception)
does not get attached to them. (28)
What an ordinary person considers 'his' actions are really reactions produced by the brain in response to the senses when they meet their respective objects. Thus when the eye sees something or the ear hears something, the brain reacts to this event according to the natural characteristics of the body-mind organism, and produces a reaction. It is this natural reaction to the event which the ordinary person mistakenly considers 'his' action. On the other hand, the wise person who knows reality and understands what really happens, does not involve himself in what happens. In other words, considering all events as divine actions, does not judge them as 'good' or 'bad'.
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa gave his disciples this simple advice: "Be absolutely convinced that you are merely a machine which is operated upon by God, and then you may do whatever you want."
Those who are completely deluded by the gunas (modes of Prakruti)
remain attached to those gunas' actions.
The wise should not unsettle the mind of these fools. (29)
Performing all actions for my sake,
desireless, absorbed in the indwelling consciousness,
indifferent to "I" and "mine",
let go of your grief, and fight. (30)
Even those who constantly practice this teaching of Mine,
who trust it with all their heart,
are freed from the bondage of actions. (31)
But those, however, who, mistrustful,
half-hearted, fail to practice this teaching,
wander in the darkness,
lost, stupefied by delusion. (32)
All living creatures follow their natural tendencies,
and even the wise act in accordance with their own nature.
What good can repression do? (33)
The attraction and aversion of the senses
for their respective objects are natural.
Do not fall prey to these two,
because they are the principal blocks in your path. (34)
This verse makes it perfectly clear that the body-mind organism produces physical, mental, emotional actions strictly according to the natural character of that organism, and these actions depend upon the destiny of that organism. Once this is clearly understood, it will be realised that whether Self-realisation has happened in the organism or not, the body-mind organism will react to an outside impulse, a thought, or something seen, heard, smelt or touched, and the reaction will be strictly according to the natural characteristics of that organism. The only difference between the realised person and the unrealised one lies in the reaction to that reaction. Whilst the latter will get involved in the natural reaction, the realised person will not: both the event and the reaction will be merely witnessed without any personal involvement.
It is better to do your own duty
than to assume the duties of another,
You are safer from harm
when you do what you should be doing.
The duty of someone else
will bring you into great spiritual danger. (35)
The Sanskrit word 'dharma' has several meanings, and the correct meaning has to be understood in context. Here the words 'one's own duty' mean the duty that is relevant to one's own natural characteristics. The duty, the dharma of a flower is to bloom and emit its fragrance. While most of nature does its duty without any problem, a human being's mind play tricks on him and wants him to decide which dharma he will follow. If a person's natural characteristics are for that person to be an accountant, it would be suicidal to try to be a doctor or lawyer for other reasons.
The verse addressed to Arjuna, says to him: in effect you are born to be a warrior; you are trained to be a warrior; your dharma is to fight, whether you win or lose, even if you die in doing your duty. Arjuna is hereby warned that is he tries to live the prayerful and meditative life of a priest, that will be a great spiritual danger.
Krishna, what is it that drives a person to an evil action,
even against his will, as though driven by some force? (36)
The force is desire,
arising from the guna called rajas, which appears as anger;
it is insatiable, all-devouring and deadly.
This is the enemy here. (37)
As a fire is covered by smoke,
mirror by dust
and the embryo by the amnion,
so is wisdom obscured by desire. (38)
Wisdom is destroyed
by the constant enemy of the wise,
which, flaring up as desire,
blazes with insatiable flames. (39)
The sense, the mind and the intellect
are declared to be the seat of desire,
which screening the light of Truth,
obscures wisdom and perplexes the embodied Self. (40)
Therefore, Arjuna, you must first control your senses,
and then destroy this evil
which obstructs you from knowing the truth
(i.e. jnana (knowledge of the Absolute or nirguna Brahman,
and vijnana knowledge of the manifested divinity). (41)
The senses are said to be stronger than the body,
but stronger than the senses is the mind.
Greater than the mind is the intellect;
and what is strongest is the in-dwelling consciousness. (42)
Thus, Arjuna, knowing the Self,
and sustaining the self by the self,
kill this desire
which is your difficult-to-overcome enemy. (43)