The Third Teaching
If you think understanding is superior to action,
Why, Krishna, do you urge me to engage in this horrific action?
You confuse me with inconsistent words.
Tell me, what I must do to achieve the highest good?
In this world there are two main paths to do good:
for philosophers, the yoga of understanding (jnana);
for active people, the yoga of action (karma).
A man cannot avoid action by abstaining from action;
Neither does he attain success by renunciation.
No one exists for even an instant without acting;
However unwilling, every being is compelled to act by the three qualities of nature, gunas.
He who controls his actions but cannot control sense-objects is deluded. His search for the deepest truth is bound to be unsuccessful.
But the superior man is he whose mind can control the senses. He is not attached to the result of his action.
Do the necessary action you must do; it is more powerful than inaction;
Even your body depends on necessary actions.
The whole world is imprisoned in its own activity; Arjuna, if you want freedom from attachment, perform your actions as a form of worship!
Prajapati created living beings together with worship and said:
“By worship you will procreate and it will become your wish-granting cow!”
By worship you will foster the gods and they will foster you in turn;
by nourishing one another, all will foster.
Enriched by worship, the gods will grant you whatever you desire;
he who enjoys their gifts without returning a thing, is a thief.
Good men, eating the remnants of sacrifice, are free of any guilt,
But evil men only cook for themselves, thus they eat the food of sin.
Creatures depend on food, food comes from rain, rain depends on worship and worship comes from ritual action.
Ritual action comes from God:
God from the imperishable Self;
Thus, the all-pervading God requires the worship of mankind.
He who fails to keep turning the wheel thus set in motion damages the working of the worked and has wasted his life in sin, Arjuna.
But the man who delights in the Self, who feels perfect peace and pure contentment in the Self for him there is nothing to be done.
He has nothing to do or not do,
nor does he depend on any person outside himself.
He performs all necessary action with detachment;
Surrendering all attachment, achieve life’s supreme good.
Janaka and other ancient kings attained perfection by selfless action alone;
Thus they assured the well being of the world.
Whatever a great man does, ordinary people also do.
Whatever standard he sets, ordinary people will follow.
In all the three worlds there is nothing I must do,
Nothing unattained yet I engage in action.
What if I refrain from relentless action?
Mankind will follow my example and will not act, Arjuna.
If I refrain from action the world would collapse;
Chaos would empower the society; living beings would be destroyed.
The unwise are attached to their actions, watching for the results;
Arjuna, the wise are detached and act for the well-being of the whole world.
The wise man does not disturb the minds of the ignorant men attached to the fruit of action; Quietly acting in the spirit of yoga, he inspires them to do the same.
Actions are performed by the workings of the three qualities (gunas) of nature;
But the man deluded by the I-sense thinks, “I am the doer.”
The wise man knows that when objects act on the senses, it is merely gunas acting on the gunas. Thus he is detached.
Deluded by the gunas men grow attached to guna actions;
A wise man should not upset the minds of these ignorant men.
Do your actions for my sake, desireless, absorbed in the Self.
Without paying attention to “I” and “mine” let go of your grief and fight!
Men who always follow my teaching and trust it with all their heart are freed from bondage of their actions.
But those who are mistrustful, half hearted, who fail to practice my teaching, wander in the darkness, lost stupefied by delusion.
Even the wise man acts in accord with his nature;
All creatures follow their nature, what good does repression do?
Craving and hatred arise when the senses encounter sense-objects. A man must not fall prey to these two bandits lurking on his path.
It is better to do your own duty imperfectly, than to do another’s perfectly.
You are safe doing what you should be doing.
Krishna, what drives a man do evil action even against his will, as if compelled by some force?
That force is desire and anger, arising from the guna called rajas; deadly and voracious, it is the very evil!
As fire is obscured by smoke and a mirror by dirt,
As a fetus is wrapped in its membrane, so is wisdom obscured by desire.
Wisdom is obscured, Arjuna, by the eternal enemy of the wise, which taking form as desire, blazes with insatiable fire.
Desire dwells in the senses, the mind and the understanding;
desire obscures wisdom and perplexes the embodied Self.
Therefore, you most first control your senses, Arjuna: the evil that ruins understanding and blunts judgment.
Men say that the senses are superior, but the mind is superior to the senses, understanding is superior to the mind; higher than understanding is the Self-the strongest of them all.
Knowing the Self, sustaining the self by the Self,
Oh great warrior, kill the difficult-to-conquer-enemy in the form of desire.
As I Understand It:
This chapter explains the Hindu path of Karma Yoga, “The Way of Action.” Arjuna continues to worry about the predicament he is faced with and is confused about what Krishna wants him to do. Does Krishna want him to take the path of wisdom (jnana yoga) or the path of action (karma yoga) and wage war with his kith and kin?
The doctrine of karma is one of the basic Hindu teachings. The Sanskrit word karma means deed or action. Karma includes both cause and effect and is commonly known as the law of karma. It means that all our actions, however great or small, good or not so good determine our destiny. If something good happens to us that is because we have done something good. In other words, we reap what we sow.
Through years, however, the idea in Hinduism developed that action in itself is cause of human bondage. In his desire for the fruit of action an individual ties himself tighter and tighter to the worldly life forgetting his spiritual dimension. So how does one stay out of the law of karma while performing actions? By doing one’s job without attachment to its outcome.
Selfish desire and anger are our greatest enemies, Krishna says, they compel us to move from real purpose to despair and self-delusion. Selfless action purifies consciousness because there is no trace of ego involvement for the fruit of action. Like a true artist, who does not worry so much about the income his artwork is going to bring but is focused on and derives pleasure from the act of creation. He must remain detached otherwise he will be caught in the emotional storms of activity and energy (rajas) that dominate the mind or the quagmires of ignorance and darkness (tamas) that dominates the body.
Selfless work does not produce new karma. The mind simply works out the karma it has already accumulated thus lessening the debt. When one is free from all the bonds of past action one can achieve life’s ultimate goal, moksha, freedom from bondage.
Krishna tells Arjuna that the path of wisdom (jnana yoga) is not for him. His path is that of action (karma yoga). He advises him to perform the duty of a great warrior. His decision not to fight would be selfish. It is essential to act the way one is supposed to. Performing his duty is not only for his benefit but also for the benefit of the mankind. There is no way to avoid one’s dharma.
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.