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Adhyaya 3 : KarmaY§ga


The second AdhyŃya lays down the foundation of DnyŃnYoga, i.e., the metaphysical discipline of discrimination between real and the apparent in a very condensed form leaving the scope of expansion to future AdhyŃyas. This basic knowledge was essential to dispel Arjuna’s delusion that arose out of his ignorance about the self and his false notion of calling a just war unjust. The Lord also assured him that this knowledge results into making one’s intellect steady that enables him to reach self- realisation. To gain this self-knowledge one needs to have utmost purity of heart that exclusively depends on desireless and non-attached actions performed by the individual. Prompted by Arjuna’s pointed question Lord Krishna, now commences teaching how the path of non-attached Karma leads to self realisation.

Verses 1 to 9

Arjuna wanted to know why he should indulge in any action at all and particularly action involving terrible deeds of killings when Lord himself considers steady wisdom superior to any kind of actions. Frankly admitting his confusion in understanding the real meaning of knowledge and action he requests the Lord to tell him one definite way of attaining the highest good.

The Lord explains that he propounded two different paths; one of knowledge for the contemplative and the other of selfless action for the active. Both lead to the same goal, though one is speedy as a bird and the other is slow like an ant. Their adoption depends on one’s degree of ability. To say that to act or not to act depends on one’s will is meaningless. Freedom from action , the NaishKarma is never achieved by abstaining from action. Nobody can reach perfection by merely ceasing to act. Similarly in bodily existence it is impossible to rest from activity even for a moment because Guna-dominated natural forces forming the tendencies would force him to act even against his will.

He is a hypocrite who renounces his physical actions but still allows his mind to hover upon the objects of sensual desires. Whereas the truly admired person, controlling his senses by his mental power acts disinterestedly with his heart fixed on Atman.

Arjuna is extolled to act with self-control since activity is better than non-action and laziness can not even sustain one’s own body. In this action - bound world activity offered as worship of God is superior; hence Arjuna must perform activity with non attached mind.

Verses 10 to 16

In this section the Lord lifts every duty - bound action to sacrifice level calling it Yadnya because when Lord Brahma - the creator created all beings he appointed each one to his duty following which they were to prosper. Yadnya in its true spirit is pulling together of everybody’s efforts and resources for collective well being, But he who desires every thing for his own enjoyment is a thief.

Here Lord Krishna emphasises the importance of socially committed duties and their complementary nature and derides those sinful ones who leaving their God-appointed duty become the slaves of the senses and live for their own greed.

The Lord describes the universal cycle of sacrifice in the form of collective efforts. Pleased with this sacrifice the heaven sends down rainfall, that in turn make the food that ultimately sustains the living beings. The sacrifice results from actions and actions spring from the Brahman, the Ultimate Reality. This is how the All-pervading Reality is present in every dutiful action.

Lord Krishna elevated every duty - bound activity to divine level, condemning the man who does not play his role in this divinely moving cycle of selfless activity. His lustful, sense - oriented living is evil and life of such a human being is good for nothing.

Verses 17 to 25

The Lord admiringly praises the man who has found delight, contentment and tranquillity in his Atman only and therefore has no obligation to perform any duty. He has nothing to gain in this world neither by performing action nor by refraining from it He has no self interest whatsoever.

Arjuna is advised to do his duty always without attachment since such a human being having no anxiety for fruits reaches the ultimate truth. The Lord glorifies this thought by citing the examples of great men like king Janaka who reached perfection simply because they did their duty in a non-attached way.


Arjuna might think that the action is to be performed because it is inevitable and also purposeless. Hence the Lord adds special significance to such selfless actions. He plants a very high motive to these actions. They set others on the path of duty by following such grand examples. Because whatever a great man does ordinary people imitate it calling it a Dharma, a right action. The Lord quotes his own example by saying that as the Supreme Godhead, he is neither bound by any duty nor he has to acquire anything, still he ceaselessly works. If he stops working that would lead to confusion, universal disorder and destruction of the creatures. It is therefore the duty of the wise not to create bewilderment in the minds of the ignorant who are hungry for actions but to encourage them to do their holy and divinely useful work by imitating his examples.


Verses 27 to 35

The question arises how to distinguish between the work done by the illuminated soul and that of the ignorant people. The Lord starts analysing the mechanics of action and also deals with its metaphysical aspects.

All actions really are performed by the Gunas, well known three modes of natural forces functioning in the material world. But the man getting deluded by egoism thinks, "I am the doer." The wise having insight into the operation of the Gunas and their various functions knows that the relationship between the senses and their objects is merely an interplay of the Gunas . Therefore he remains detached from the action.

But the ignorant under the delusion of the Gunas of the nature fall in love with the senses and their activities. Such people need guidance. Therefore the Wise should not confuse them by refraining from work but direct their activities by showing the right way of doing it.

The Lord has made a clear distinction between the Atman and the Prakriti. The Prakriti is the doer and the Atman is merely a seer, a witness. The ignorant one identifies the Atman with Prakriti. The Lord therefore urges Arjuna to surrender his actions to the Lord with full self-knowledge. Without expecting any worldly rewards and getting free from the sense of ego he should go forward and fight.

Those who follow this teaching with faith are released from the bondage of their Karma and the fools who do not observe it are lost.

The Lord proclaims the truth by saying, "All living creatures including the wise among them follow the tendencies of their own nature hence any external restraints become useless. The attraction or aversion which senses feel for different objects are natural. That being the stumbling blocks in the way one should not get overpowered by them."

It is good that the actions are to be performed in a selfless and a detached manner. But then why should one indulge in a violent and terrible act of war? Why should not he adopt the harmless productive work like agriculture, trade, etc. Lord Krishna sensing this doubt clarifies his standpoint by emphasising:

" It is better to do your own duty however imperfectly than to assume the duties of another person. Prefer to die doing your own duty. The duty of another will put you into great fear."

Every individual is endowed with certain qualities and is best suited for a particular job. No duty or profession is high or low. Better to follow one’s own innate nature to give best results which in turn will keep the cycle of the universe moving in right direction.

Verses 36 to 43

Arjuna got puzzled over the powerful nature of human tendencies and therefore he asked the Lord a very poignant question.

"O Krishna, what is it that compels a man to do evil even against his own will as if forced by someone?"

The Lord explains drawing the realistic picture of human pitfalls. The rajo Guna, the tendency indicative of passion, restlessness and aggressive activity produces rage and lust. They are the most ravenous and deadly enemies. They envelop the wisdom, the knowledge of Atman as the smoke smothers fire, as dust covers a mirror and the womb hides the embryo. The wise treats this lust as his persistent foe that envelopes his wisdom and which is almost like an implacable fire that destroys the judgement Senses, mind and intellect, are its working place where they mislead the self by hiding knowledge.

So the Lord cautions Arjuna to kill this evil by controlling the senses first because they destroy spiritual as well as material knowledge. In the end the Lord explains the hierarchical order of the instruments of knowledge so that Arjuna may select the right one.

" The senses are higher than the sense-objects. The mind is higher than the senses. The intellect is higher than the mind but ‘that’ (Atman) is higher than the intellect."

So Arjuna has to realise Atman, which is above the intellect. Controlling the mind through spiritual discrimination Arjuna has to kill the strong enemy that appears in the form of lust.

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