The Fourth Teaching
Knowledge in Action
I taught this undying discipline to the shining sun, first of mortals, who told it to Manu, the progenitor to man; Manu told it to the solar kings. Royal sages knew this discipline, which the tradition handed down; but over the course of time it has decayed, Arjuna. This is the ancient discipline that I have taught to you today; you are my devotee and my friend, and this is the deepest mystery.
But you were born countless years later than the birth of the sun god; how is it possible that you taught this doctrine to him?
I have passed through many births and so have you; I recall all those lives, but you recall only this one, Arjuna. I am unborn, deathless, the infinite lord of all beings, and I come into finite form through my own magic. Whenever righteousness decays and chaos threatens to prevail, I manifest myself on earth, Arjuna. In order to protect good and destroy evil, to ensure the victory of Dharma I am born in every age.
Whoever knows my divine presence on earth is not reborn when he leaves the body he comes to me. Free from greed, fear and anger, absorbed in me, purified by the practice of wisdom, many come into my presence. In whichever way men try to reach me, I devote myself to them; Arjuna, men retrace my path in every way, it leads to me in the end. Wishing success in their actions, men worship gods; such action brings success quickly in the world of men.
I created the four-caste system, different in their Gunas, qualities; although I did this know that I am the actor who never acts! I desire no fruit of actions, so actions do not defile me; all those who understand it would not be bound by actions. This is how the ancient seekers of freedom did action. Follow their example: act surrendering the fruit of action.
What is action? What is inaction? This confuses even the wise men: so I shall teach you and free you from misfortune. You must realize what action is; understand wrong action, and inaction too. The true nature action is obscure and profound. He who sees inaction in the midst of action, and action in the midst of inaction, is wise and can act in the disciplined of yoga.
The wise man has no desire for success, no anxiety about failure; indifferent to results he burns up his actions in the fire of wisdom. Abandoning attachment to the outcome, unperturbed, independent, he does nothing at all, even when fully engaged in action. He expects nothing, fears nothing. Serene, abandoning possessions, untainted he acts with his body alone. Content with whatever happens, beyond pleasure or pain, success or failure, he acts but is not bound by his action.
When a man is unattached, when his mind is rooted in knowledge, everything he does is worship and all his actions dissolve. God is the suffering; God is the offering, poured into infinite fire. Those who see God in every action attain God.
Some men of discipline pray to the gods; others sacrifice with oblation in the fire of infinite spirit. Some offer senses such as hearing in the fires of self-abnegation. Others offer senses’ objects in the fires of the senses. Others offer all actions of the senses and of the breath in the fire of wisdom of the yoga of self-mastery.
Some offer wealth, austerities, practice of yoga; Ascetics offer study of the scriptures, and wisdom itself; others intent on control of their vital breath offer their practice of breath control. Others while fasting offer their in-breath into their vital breath; all these understand worship; by worship they are cleansed of their sins.
Partaking the essence of worship, forever they are freed of themselves; but non-worshippers cannot be happy in this world or any other. Many forms of worship may lead to freedom. All these are born of action. Arjuna, when you know this you will be free.
Better than any ritual is the worship achieved through wisdom; wisdom is the final goal of any action, Arjuna. Find a wise teacher, honor him, ask him your questions, serve him; someone who has seen the truth will guide you on the path to wisdom. When you realized this, you will not descend into delusion again; knowing this you will see all beings in yourself, and yourself in me.
Even if you are the most evil of all evildoers, wisdom is the raft that will carry you across the sea of all sins. Just as firewood reduces to ashes in the flames of a fire, all actions reduce to ashes in wisdom’s refining flames. No purifier equals wisdom and in time you will find this wisdom within yourself. Resolute, restraining his senses the man of faith becomes wise; once he attains true wisdom, he soon attains perfect peace.
Ignorant men without faith are mired in self-doubt; they can never be truly happy in this world or the next. Actions do not bind a man who renounces action through yoga discipline, who concentrates on Self, and whose doubt is cut off by wisdom. So with the sword of wisdom cut off the doubt in your heart; follow the path of selfless action: Arise, Arjuna!
As I Understand It:
Arjuna wants to get out of the battle that would end in nothing but ruin for all. Yet, Krishna is keen on giving him counsel. This does not register in Arjuna’s consciousness. His divinity is veiled from him.
Krishna wants Arjuna to understand his inner Self-the divine in all beings. He says that whatever action we take our Self remains unsullied. Those who know it and practice it, live in freedom.
Whereas Krishna knows that he is the infinite Vishnu who has descended upon the earth in the human form as Krishna. He has appeared to protect the good and destroy evil. When the welfare of the world is in danger, when Dharma declines Vishnu takes on a human form and descends on earth. As Krishna he has founded the world based on four castes that are differentiated through Gunas. Krishna tells Arjuna to act wisely, with detachment. He says that those who give their best in fortunate as well as unfortunate times alike, who are not selfishly attached to the fruit of their labor live in freedom.
Union with God is possible through worship and devotion. Through complete surrender to god, Krishna says, one stirs divine love within and is able to see God in every creature and himself in God. It requires some kind of self-sacrifice on the part of a devotee (of material goods or wisdom or meditation or action) to find real home in the world.
The path of spiritual wisdom, Jnana Yoga is an alternate path to the path of action, Karma Yoga. For Arjuna the right path is that of action. Krishna wants him to cut off the doubt that stifles his heart.
Arjuna, however, has not yet accepted Krishna’s words of counsel. But Krishna does not give up.
The Bhagavad Gita, Translated for the Modern Reader with general introduction by Eknath Easwaran, chapter introductions by Diana Morrison. Nilgiri Press, Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, California.1996 (1st Pub. 1985).
The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna Counsel in Time of War, Translation and Introduction by Barbara Stoler Miller. Bantam Doubleday Dell Group, Inc. New York. Bantam Books, 1986.
Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation, Stephen Mitchell, Three Rivers Press, New York, 2000.