Bhagavad-Gita-Rasika-ranjanaBhagavad-gita - Chapter Two
Bhagavad-Gita-Rasika-ranjanaBhagavad-gita - Chapter Four

Karma Yogaḥ
(The Yoga of Action)

With the Rasika-Rañjana Commentary by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura

(translated by Swami B.V. Giri)

arjuna uvāca
jyāyasī cetkarmaṇaste matā buddhir janārdana
tat kiṁ karmaṇi ghore māṁ niyojayasi keśava

Arjuna said: O Janārdana! O Keśava, if it is Your opinion that resolute intelligence beyond the modes of nature which fosters bhakti is superior to karma etc., then why do you encourage me to engage in this terrible war?

vyāmiśreṇeva vākyena buddhiṁ mohayasīva me
tad ekaṁ vada niścitya yena śreyo’ham āpnuyām

After hearing all the instructions that You have given me, they seem to contradict each other. In some places You give advice concerning nirguṇa-bhakti which is attained by the mercy of the devotees, and then again, in other places, You discuss my eligibility to perform karma and order me to engage in that. My point is that sāttvika-karma are superior to rājasika-karma, and jñāna is superior to that. Jñāna is an exceptional activity which is sāttvika. If I do not have the eligibility to attain nirguṇa-bhakti, then give me sāttvika-karma, in other words, give me teachings about jñāna, so that through such jñāna I can become freed from the bondage of saṁsāra. It is better to give instructions on karma to one who is qualified to perform karma. Therefore, please teach me with clear instructions.

śrī-bhagavān uvāca
loke’smin dvividhā niṣṭhā purā proktā mayānagha
jñāna-yogena sāṅkhyānāṁ karma-yogena yoginām

Bhagavān said: From what I discussed previously, I did not teach you that sāṅkhya-yoga and karma-yoga are independent processes for attaining mokṣa. There is no method of attaining mokṣa save and except for bhaktiyoga. There are two processes for becoming steady in bhakti-yoga – those persons who are of pure consciousness that are at the stage of knowledge, are presently steady in the wisdom of sāṅkhya. They have no reverence towards adherence to karma-yoga in order to purify their consciousness. Through their commitment to sāṅkhya-yoga they ascend to bhakti-yoga. Those who are not yet purified engage in niṣkāma-karma-yoga by offering their results to Bhagavān, and rising to the platform of knowledge they eventually obtain mokṣa through bhakti. Actually, there is only one staircase to ascend to the platform of bhakti. According to the status of those ascending it, it appears to be two.

na karmaṇām anārambhān naiṣkarmyaṁ puruṣo’śnute
na ca sannyasanād eva siddhiṁ samadhigacchati

If action is not performed according to śāstra, then knowledge in the form of naiṣkarma (selfless activities) cannot be obtained. How can a person of impure consciousness attain perfection if he rejects actions enjoined by the śāstra?

na hi kaścit kṣaṇam api jātu tiṣṭhaty-akarma-kṛt
kāryate hy-avaśaḥ karma sarvaḥ prakṛti-jair-guṇaiḥ

If a person of impure consciousness renounces such activities recommended by śāstra, he will continue to engage in work affected by the modes of nature. Therefore, they should not reject those activities prescribed by śāstra which are meant for purifying their consciousness.

karmendriyāṇi saṁyamya ya āste manasā smaran
indriyārthān vimūḍhātmā mithyācāraḥ sa ucyate

What if one restrains the karmendriyas (working senses) but maintains an impure consciousness? Such a person disciplines the karmendriyas, but internally he is constantly thinking about gratifying the senses. Thus, such a fool is known as a mithyācārī (a hypocrite).

yas tv-indriyāṇi manasā niyamyārabhate’rjuna
karmendriyaiḥ karma-yogam asaktaḥ sa viśiṣyate

One who controls the senses through the mind and begins performing karma-yoga while engaging his karmendriyas in gṛhasthadharma (duties as a householder), even if he is weak in doing so, is superior to a mithyācārī. This is because even though he may be weak, gradually he will give up the desire for the results of his work by engaging in karma-yoga.

niyataṁ kuru karma tvaṁ karma jyāyo hy-akarmaṇaḥ
śarīra-yātrāpi ca te na prasiddhyed akarmaṇaḥ

For an unqualified person, it is better to engage in activities rather than renouncing them. If by your renunciation of action you cannot maintain your life, then how is it possible to renounce action? Thus, one should renounce kāmyakarma and engage in nityakarma such as sandhyā-upāsana (worship during the three daily junctures) etc., and by so doing one’s consciousness will become purified and one will traverse to the platform of jñāna until one attains nirguṇabhakti (pure unalloyed bhakti).

yajñārthāt karmaṇo’nyatra loko’yaṁ karma-bandhanaḥ
tad arthaṁ karma kaunteya mukta-saṅgaḥ samācara

Niṣkāma-dharma (selfless duty) offered to Bhagavān is called yajña. Apart from activities that are done for the purpose of yajña, all other actions are karma-bandhana (activities that bind one to reactions). You should only engage in activities for the sake of yajña. Activities that are performed with material desires, even if they are offered to Bhagavān, result in material bondage. Therefore offer your activities to Bhagavān without the desire to enjoy the results of those actions. In this way, by becoming a sādhaka of bhaktiyoga, one will attain bhagavat-tattva-jñāna (knowledge about the reality of the Supreme) and nirguṇa-bhakti.

saha yajñāḥ prajāḥ sṛṣṭvā purovāca prajāpatiḥ
anena prasaviṣyadhvam eṣa vo’stv iṣṭa-kāma-dhuk

It is the duty of those with impure consciousness to engage in niṣkāma-karma, as it is not beneficial for them to follow karma-sannyāsa (the abandonment of activities). If one is not strong enough to engage in niṣkāma-karma, he should follow the process of offering his activities to Bhagavān even if he still maintains material desires. By no means should one renounce action and engage in akarma and vikarma. Brahmā created progeny along with yajña, and in this way he instructed them, “You should take refuge of dharma through this yajña and gradually you will prosper. This yajña will fulfil all your desires.”

devān bhāvayatānena te devā bhāvayantu vaḥ
parasparaṁ bhāvayantaḥ śreyaḥ param avāpsyatha

May all the Devas be pleased with you through the performance of this yajña. Being satisfied in this way, the Devas will award you your desired results.


iṣṭān bhogān hi vo devā dāsyante yajña-bhāvitāḥ
tair dattān apradāyaibhyo yo bhuṅkte stena eva saḥ

Those who enjoy grains which grow due to rain, without offering them to the Devas through the performance of the pañca-mahā-yajña (five great yajñas), are guilty of theft.

yajñaśiṣṭāśinaḥ santo mucyante sarva-kilbiṣaiḥ
bhuñjate te tv-aghaṁ pāpā ye pacanty ātma kāraṇāt

Those who accept food remnants offered in yajña are certainly freed from all the inevitable reactions to pāpa. Those who are selfish and simply enjoy food incur a reaction and eat only pāpa.

annād bhavanti bhūtāni parjanyād anna sambhavaḥ
yajñād bhavati parjanyo yajñaḥ karma-samudbhavaḥ

All living beings are born from food grains; Grains are produced from rain; rain appears due to by the performance of yajña; yajña is born of action.

karma brahmodbhavaṁ viddhi brahmākṣara-samudbhavam
tasmāt sarva-gataṁ brahma nityaṁ yajñe pratiṣṭhitam

Action originates from Brahman; Brahman, in other words, the Veda emanates from the indestructible Acyuta (the infallible One). Therefore, it is the solemn duty of those who are qualified to perform yajña which is the cause of the jagat-cakra (the perpetual cycle of the universe). The Supreme is always present in all such circumstances.

evaṁ pravartitaṁ cakraṁ nānuvartayatīha yaḥ
aghāyur indriyārāmo moghaṁ pārtha sa jīvati

O Pārtha, amongst those persons inclined towards kāmya-karma who do not engage in yajña which is meant to promote this jagat-cakra, lives a futile life as an impious servant of the senses. The meaning is that niṣkāma-karma-yoga offered to Bhagavān is not entitled to either pāpa or puṇya. This is because that method is mentioned in śāstra to be broad path to attain nirguṇa-bhakti. Persons who follow that path, which destroys anomalies, can easily achieve purification of their consciousness. All those persons who have not obtained the qualification to perform niṣkāma-karma-yoga and offer the results of their actions to Bhagavān are constantly brimming with material desires and a thirst to gratify their senses. They are under that spell and are therefore engaged in impious works. The only way to curb their impious tendencies is for them to engage in puṇya.

When pāpa is present, atonement is necessary. The system of yajña is dharma or puṇyakarma. That which is performed for the auspiciousness of all jīvas and for the smooth continuance of the jagatcakra is puṇya. By engaging in puṇya, unavoidable pāpa such as the pañca-sūṇa (the five kinds of inevitable violence) is eradicated. The person who engages in this may only accept as much happiness and sense-pleasure for himself in order to safeguard the auspiciousness of the world. This yajñāṅga (division of yajña) is also counted within puṇya.

The Devatās, who are specifically born from the potency of Bhagavān, provide all the imperceptible laws by which auspiciousness is created for the world. No pāpa is incurred by pleasing these administrative Devatās and receiving their mercy. This is known as the karma-cakra (the cycle of karma). Such activities as a method of worshiping the Devatās is considered as kāmya-karma in order to please Bhagavān. Those who engage in activities, considering all these laws (presided over by the Devatās) to be merely principles of mundane nature, are not moral executors who offer their actions to Viṣṇu. Therefore, instead of engaging in such, it is more beneficial for the jīva to perform kāmya-karma and offer the results to Bhagavān

yas tv ātma-ratir eva syād ātma-tṛptaś ca mānavaḥ
ātmany eva ca santuṣṭas tasya kāryaṁ na vidyate

Within this karma-cakra, the jīvas perform all their activities as a matter of duty. But one who has ātma-rati (takes delight in the ātmā), in other words, one who is capable of distinguishing between anātma and ātmatattva (the principle of what is ātmā and what isn’t), is devoted to that which is related to the ātmā, and finds satisfaction and bliss in the ātmā and all things in connection with it. He does not engage in activities as a matter of duty, He seeks solace from the karma-cakra by working only for the sake of maintaining the physical body. Thus, despite all his activities, he does not perform nityakarma or kāmyakarma. For this reason, his activities cannot be termed as ‘karma.’ All his actions can be called either jñāna or bhakti depending on his situation.

naiva tasya kṛtenārtho nākṛteneha kaścana
na cāsya sarva-bhūteṣu kaścid artha-vyapāśrayaḥ

It is not possible for a self-satisfied person to engage in puṇya for the sake of duty, or to attain pāpa for not engaging in activities. He does not take shelter in any other living entity, beginning with Brahmā. Being fully satisfied with ātma-rati, pāpa and puṇya has no purpose for him. Naturally, whatever he does or does not do, everything is auspicious.

tasmād asaktaḥ satataṁ kāryaṁ karma samācara
asakto hy ācaran karma param āpnoti pūruṣaḥ

You should continue to engage in karma while being detached from its results, because by cultivating a mood of detachment to work, a jīva attains liberation. Liberation is nothing more than parama-bhakti which is the stage of the highest type of karma.

karmanaiva hi samsiddhim āsthitā janakādayaḥ
loka-sangraham evāpi sampaśyan kartum arhasi

Wise persons such as Janaka etc. attained perfection in the form of bhakti by engaging in karma. Therefore you should engage in your karma in order to teach others.

yad yad ācarati śreṣṭhas tat tad evetaro janaḥ
sa yat pramāṇam kurute
lokas tad anuvartate

Inferior persons imitate the conduct of superior persons. Whatever they accept as pramāṇa (evidence), the general people will follow.

na me pārthāsti kartavyam triṣu lokeṣu kiñcana
nānavāptam avāptavyam
varta eva ca karmani

O Pārtha, I, the Supreme Controller, have no duty within the three worlds. However, I still engage in activities.

yadi hy aham na varteyam jātu karmany atandritah
mama vartmānuvartante manuṣyāḥ pārtha sarvaśaḥ

O Pārtha, if I abandon activities, then all men will follow me and abandon their work.

utsideyur ime lokā na kuryām karma ced aham
saṅkarasya ca kartā syām upahanyām imāḥ prajāḥ

If I did not perform any action, everyone will abandon their karma and be ruined. Through My actions, a race of persons that follow no regulations will arise and all progeny will be destroyed.

saktāḥ karmaṇy avidvāṁso yathā kurvanti bhārata
kuryād vidvāṁs tathāsaktaś cikīrșur loka-sangraham

Therefore, in order to teach people, those that are wise should perform their duties with detachment, just as ignorant people perform work with attachment. Thus, the actions of the wise and the ignorant are not different – the only difference is in relation to their degree of detachment and attachment. You should understand this.

na buddhi-bhedam janayed ajñānāṁ karma-saṅginām
joşayet sarva-karmāṇi vidvān yuktaḥ samācaran

One who does not know that the purpose of karma is to bring one to the stage of jñāna, and then to bhakti, is ignorant. Due to the influence of such ignorance, he accepts the irrelevant results of his actions in order to fulfil his desires, thus he becomes a karma-saṅgī (one who is attached to his activities). If one explains knowledge of the Supreme Reality to persons who are ignorant or karma-saṅgīs, they show neither interest or śraddhā. Therefore, instead of instructing such persons to abandon their work, a wise man will tell them to engage in niṣkāma-karma-yoga in order to purify their consciousness. If he prematurely attempts to create another type of mindset, it will not be beneficial. You should understand that this is my instruction to the wise. This instruction is not for those who teach bhakti. This is because in relation to bhakti, one need not wait to purify the internal senses. I will discuss this in detail later.

prakṛteḥ kriyamāṇāni gunaiḥ karmāņi sarvasah
ahankāra-vimūdhātmā kartāham iti manyate

Listen to the difference between the wise and the ignorant. Through ignorance and being bound by matter, the jīva is influenced by mundane ahaṅkāra and thinks “I am the doer’ although all activities are actually carried out by the three modes of nature. This is his misconception. This is a characteristic of ignorance.

tattva-vit tu mahā-bāho guṇa-karma-vibhāgayoh
guṇā guṇeșu vartanta iti matvā na sajjate

O mighty-armed one, a wise man who understands spiritual truths does not associate with material qualities and activities, knowing them to be separate from the ātmā. They think, “I am different. Somehow I have become bound by matter and am now acting under the influence of modes of nature.”

prakṛter guņa-sammūḍhāḥ sajjante guṇa-karmasu
tān akṛtsna-vido mandān kṛtsna-vin na vicālayet

Foolish persons are devoid of such intelligence, considering themselves as products of material nature. They dedicate themselves to the modes of nature and those activities connected to them. Persons who understand spiritual truth should not unduly disturb people who are dull and less intelligent. He should gradually make them qualified and bestow tattvajñāna (knowledge of the Absolute) which is the highest state.

mayi sarvāṇi karmāņi sannyasyādhyātma-cetasā
nirāsīr nirmamo bhūtvā yudhyasva vigata-jvaraḥ

Therefore, O Arjuna, situate your mind in spirituality with knowledge of the Supreme, and rejecting mundane ahaṅkāra and the desire to enjoy the results of your activities, offer the results of all your work to Me. Give up your mental distress and doubts, and follow your inherent nature by fighting in this war.

ye me matam idam nityam anutiṣṭhanti mānavāh
śraddhāvanto’nasūyanto mucyante te ‘pi karmabhiḥ

One who constantly engages in niṣkāma-karma-yoga, and offers the results to Bhagavān, who is without envy and has śraddhā in Me, is freed from the bondage of karma and achieves liberation.

ye tv etad abhyasūyanto nānutiṣṭhanti me matam
sarva-jñāna-vimūḍhāṁs tān
viddhi naṣṭān acetasaḥ

Those who exhibit envy and do not follow My instructions are deprived of all knowledge, become ruined and are considered to be foolish.

sadṛśaṁ ceṣṭate svasyāḥ prakṛter jñānavān api
prakṛtiṁ yānti bhūtāni nigrahaḥ kiṁ kariṣyati

Do not think that if a learned person, who is able to discriminate between the ātmā and non-ātmā, will attain auspiciousness by renouncing material qualities and activities by taking shelter of sannyāsa-dharma. Even if he becomes wise, a bound jīva will attempt to imitate due to being connected with matter for a very long time. One cannot abandon matter by following premature detachment. All conditioned jīvas easily act according to their innate natures which they have engaged in for a very long time. The method to renounce that nature is to remain within it and work with caution accordingly. As long as renunciation as a symptom of bhakti-yoga does not appear in the heart, it is more beneficial to follow the path of niṣkāma-karma-yoga and offer the results to Bhagavān. This is because it is possible to achieve the results of observing one’s svadharma and becoming purified by it. By abandoning one’s sva-dharma, the highest result will be lost. However, except for those whose hearts are devoted to bhakti-yoga, having attained My mercy or the mercy of a devotee, all others will benefit by accepting the great path of niṣkāma-karma-yoga and offering the results unto Me. This niṣkāma-karma-yoga is most beneficial for all.

indriyasyendriyasyārthe rāga-dveṣau vyavasthitau
tayor na vaśam āgacchet tau hy asya paripanthinau

If you say that by accepting sense-objects for sense gratification, the jīva becomes more ensnared in matter and it is not possible for him to be liberated from the bondage of karma, then listen! It is not that all material objects are antagonistic to the jīva. The greatest enemy of the jīva is attachment and aversion towards sense-objects. Therefore, when accepting sense-objects, one should control attachment and aversion. In this way, in accepting the objects of the senses, one does not become bound by them. As long as one possesses a physical body, one must accept the objects of the senses. However, one will become detached from the sense-objects when attachment and aversion, which is caused by considering the body as the self, decreases. Eventually you will gradually achieve detachment from sense-enjoyment. I am not saying that you must subdue attachment to sense-objects in relation to bhakti, nor am I saying that you must relinquish aversion to sense-objects that are hinderances to bhakti. However, I am only advising you to subdue attachment and aversion in regards to your own material sense enjoyment.

śreyān sva-dharmo viguṇaḥ para-dharmāt sv-anuşṭhitāt
sva-dharme nidhanam sreyah
para-dharmo bhayāvahaḥ

Therefore, according to the consideration of niṣkāma-karma-yoga wherein one offers the results to Me, it is better for the bound jīvas to perform their own sva-dharma even if it is faulty. It is not good to perform another’s dharma, even if it is executed perfectly. It is more auspicious to die while engaged in following one’s svadharma even if one does not attain a higher status, because by engaging in another’s dharma, one will not achieve the platform of fearlessness. However, when one arrives at the stage of nirguṇabhakti, then there is no objection if one abandons his svadharma. This is because the eternal dharma of the jīva manifests as their svadharma, then their designated svadharma becomes the dharma of other persons.

arjuna uvāca
atha kena prayukto’yam
pāpaṁ carati pūruṣaḥ
anicchann api vārṣneya balād iva niyojitaḥ

Hearing this, Arjuna asked: O Vārṣneya, what forces a jīva to engage in pāpa, even though it may be against his will? You have said that the jīva is eternal pure consciousness, completely distinct from matter and those things related to matter. Thus, in the material world, it is not the inherent nature (svabhāva) of the jīva to engage in pāpa. But it is observed that the jīvas are always performing pāpa. Therefore, tell me clearly, what forces the jīva to engage in pāpa?

śrī-bhagavān uvāca
kāma eṣa krodha eṣa rajo-guṇa-samudbhavaḥ
mahāśano mahā-pāpmā viddhy enam iha vairiņam

Upon hearing this question, Bhagavān said: Arjuna, it is kāma (desire) born from rajoguṇa which induces a man to engage in pāpa. Kāma refers to the desire for sense-enjoyment. According to the circumstances, kāma transforms into krodha (anger). Kāma is produced under the shelter of rajoguṇa, and when there is an obstruction in fulfilling one’s desires, then one takes shelter of tamoguṇa and becomes krodha. Kāma is extremely fierce and all-devouring. You should know that kāma is the main enemy of the jīva.

dhūmenāvriyate vahnir yathādarśo malena ca
yatholbenāvṛto garbhas tathā tenedam āvṛtam

That kāma covers this world – in some places less, in some places more and in some places the covering is extreme. Listen, I will give an example. Just as a fire is covered by smoke, since the consciousness of the jīva is comparatively covered by kāma, he can engage in activities to remember Bhagavān. This is the state of the jīvas who have mukulita-cetana (budding consciousness) that perform niṣkāmakarmayoga. Just like a mirror covered by dust, the jīva’s consciousness is extremely covered by kāma and he cannot remember the Supreme Lord even if he has a human body. In this regard, those jīvas who are extreme moralists and atheistic are in the state of saṅkocita-cetana (shrunken consciousness). They are like beasts and birds. Just like an embryo covered by the womb, the jīva’s consciousness is densely covered by kāma. In this state, they have ācchādita-cetana (completely covered consciousness) like that of trees etc.

āvṛtam jñānam etena jñānino nitya-vairiņā
kāma-rūpena kaunteya
duṣpūrenānalena ca

This lust is the ignorance of the jīva and it is the jīva’s eternal enemy. It envelops the jīva’s consciousness like a raging fire. Just as I, Bhagavān, am spiritual by nature, so also the jīva is spiritual by nature. The inherent difference between Myself and the jīvas is that I am complete and the possessor of all potencies. The jīva has finite consciousness and are only capable of performing actions due to the power I have imbued within them. They are my eternal servants and this is their eternal dharma. This is known as prema or niṣkāma jaiva-dharma (the selfless dharma of the jīva). Only the element of consciousness is naturally independent. The pure jīvas are also naturally independent, thus by their own free will they are My eternal servants. That which we refer to as kāma or avidyā (ignorance) is the degradation of that pure independent desire. All those jīvas who do not voluntarily commit themselves to My servitude simply accept kāma, being misguided from the pure absolute truth. As a result, they gradually attain the stage of ācchādita-cetana, becoming covered by matter. This is referred to as the jīva’s karma-bandha (bondage to karma) or saṁsāra-yatna (endeavours within the cycle of birth and death).

indriyāni mano buddhir asyadhişthānam ucyate
etair vimohayaty eșa jñānam āvstya dehinam

When the jīva, who has a form of pure spiritual knowledge, accepts a physical form, he is known as ‘dehī.’ When kāma resides within the senses, mind and intelligence, it eclipses that knowledge of the jīva. The jīva has finite consciousness and a pure ego, yet the subtle element of kāma as avidyā initially awards him with a material ego and establishes itself within his material intelligence which is the first covering. After that, when the material ego matures, it covers the mind which is the second covering. The mind then turns towards the objects of the senses, which is the third covering. By taking shelter in these three coverings, kāma forces the jīvas to surrender to material sense objects. (Regarding the jīva), by his own independent will, when he turns his face away from Me, that is known as avidyā.

tasmāt tvam indriyāny ādau niyamya bharatarṣabha
pāpmānam prajahi hy enam jñāna-vijñāna-nāśanam

Therefore, O Bharataṣabha, you must first control the senses and conquer pāpa in the form of kāma, which destroys one’s knowledge and realisation. In other words, you should eliminate this perverse mood and bring it back to its original inherent constitution by engaging the self in loving service. The primary duty of the jīvas who are bound to matter is to engage in yuktavairāgya and execute their svadharma. Gradually one will perform sādhana-bhakti and then eventually he will execute prema-bhakti sādhana. That nirapekṣa-bhakti (selfless bhakti), which is achieved through My grace or the grace of a devotee, is extremely rare, and in some circumstances, it arises spontaneously.

indriyāņi parāny ahur indriyebhyah paraṁ manaḥ
manasas tu para buddhir yo buddheḥ paratas tu saḥ

In short, you are a jīva and this is the fact regarding yourself. At present, being bound by matter, you have accepted the senses, mind, and intelligence to be the self. This is an illusion caused by avidyā. All the senses are subtle and superior to matter, the mind is even more subtle and is superior to the senses, and the intelligence is even more subtle and superior to the mind. The jīva, or the ātmā, is superior to the intelligence.

evaṁ buddheh paraṁ buddhvā saṁstabhyātmānam ātmanā
jahi śatruṁ mahā-bāho kāma-rūpaṁ durāsadam

in this way, realising your self as aprākṛta-tattva (transcendental reality), understand that you are an element which is similar to Bhagavān – superior to all mundane characteristics and impersonal thoughts. Become steadfast through the potency of the cit-śakti, and by following that path one will eventually destroy this indomitable kāma.

In this chapter, the process of niṣkāma-karma and it’s goal of achieving jñāna through that has been explained. Thus ends Chapter Three.

Bhagavad-Gita-Rasika-ranjanaBhagavad-gita - Chapter Two
Bhagavad-Gita-Rasika-ranjanaBhagavad-gita - Chapter Four

Share this chapter!