Bhagawad Gita

Karma-Yoga and Karma-Sannyasa

Sri Krishna had clearly expounded the nature of absolute Reality, Samkhya-Buddhi (path of knowledge), and Yoga-Buddhi (path of self-less action) to Arjuna in second chapter; He had also explained that purification of mind is achieved through the path of self-less action which later matures into realization of Self/God. But Arjuna’s ‘still-partly-deluded’ mind mixed up the ideas of knowledge and karma (action, its results) and he asked Krishna: ‘if you believe that knowledge is superior to karma then why are you encouraging me in the terrible karma of war; your words appear contradictory and confusing to me! Please tell me the one thing which will help me achieve the Highest good’.

In the second chapter, the entire essence of Bhagawad-Gita had been briefly expounded and as such the central message was conveyed in nut-shell; but Arjuna – and actually most us that are under the delusion of phenomenon – require a further detail explanation of Reality and modes of approach to It. So from third chapter onward, till the end of Gita in eighteenth chapter (in which Arjuna finally realizes the Truth), we find Sri Krishna explaining various approaches to Truth according to various temperaments of human psyche. To start with the question Arjuna had asked, Sri Krishna explains that there have always been two types of hearts (Buddhi) among humans:

(a) one which is free from all desires and thus is ready for Supreme Knowledge, and
(b) other that wishes for Liberation but is still not fully free of desires and hence requires purification

Human beings with former type of psyche have already developed pure & subtle mind (by spiritual practices performed in previous lives) capable of discriminating between appearance and Reality; whereas others with latter type of psyche require self-less actions to purify their minds. These two divisions mark the two paths of Jnana-Yoga (path of knowledge) and Karma-Yoga (path of self-less action); both paths lead aspirants to the same goal of ‘Liberation from transmigration’. Jnaneshwar Maharaj gives beautiful simile for these two paths: the former is as ‘ready-made cooked food’ whereas the latter is ‘food yet to be cooked’!

Majority of aspirants, as also most human beings, are so constituted by Nature that they can’t remain without work even for a moment; all mental and physical activities go on uninterrupted as propelled by the Nature. In such a scenario if anybody insists that he/she will not perform any work, then it is not only futile and hypocritical but also detrimental to the journey towards the supreme state of नैष्कर्म्य Naishkarmya (freedom from action) i.e. मोक्ष Moksha (Liberation). So long as all the desires of heart are not dissolved, work in some form or other remains and hence spiritual aspirants should follow Karma-Yoga for the purification of heart; the purified heart/mind is then capable for the dawn of supreme Knowledge. Work done for selfish reasons becomes bondage and causes transmigration of soul, whereas work done unselfishly for the benefit of many and with the attitude of surrender to the Divine, purifies mind.

Ø First ‘Me’ then ‘others, world’ and then ‘God’ = selfishness (स्वार्थ swarth)
Ø First ‘others, world’ and then ‘me’ and then ‘God’ = righteousness (धर्म dharma)
Ø First ‘God’ then ‘others, world’ and then ‘me’ = spirituality (अध्यात्म adhyatma)

Sri Krishna also uses the concept of यज्ञ yajna (ritualistic sacrifice that were common in Vedic India) to explain the rational of karma-yoga; the ritualistic idea of yajna is taken here in Gita to mean renunciation, service, surrender to Divine, and ethical behavior based on the understanding of inter-connectedness of cosmos. It also implies that spirituality is not mere theory or philosophy but actual performance of unselfish actions and transformation of consciousness. The inter-connectedness and inter-dependence of entire phenomenon is explained with the concept of yajna (refer the diagram below).

As shown in the adjacent diagram, when we – the components of this cosmic cycle – abide in yajna i.e. in performance of swadharma (one’s present responsibility in life), we are acting as per the Law of the Universe (Tao of existence,Ritam) and so we produce peace within ourselves and harmony for others and Nature. Though Self/God is all-pervading, its manifestation is specifically cognized in yajna i.e. in self-less actions, hence it is said that God is always present in yajna. (Buddha’s teaching of Shunyata i.e. ‘this is because of that and that is because of this’, also shows the interconnectedness and interdependence of phenomenon.)

Those who have the conviction that ‘I am the body’ and ‘world is for my enjoyment’ are verily demons; they are selfishness materialized and are cause of pain to themselves and others. Gita says they are verily thieves and spend their sinful lives in vain! As against these, those who have the conviction that ‘all the world is Lord’s manifestation’ and ‘I am an instrument of God’, follow their swadharma (i.e. perform actions beneficial to themselves and others), and they in due course reach the highest wisdom of Self-Realization. A Self-realized being finds satisfaction, joy, contentment, and fulfillment only in Self, so he/she has no binding to follow any cosmic Law/yajna. He/She has transcended all these and has nothing left to be done or achieved; the worldly transitory

transactions have no use to him/her; yet if such a being is active then those actions are only for the benefit of others and as a moral guide/example for humanity. Sri Krishna says, ‘I have nothing to be achieved or done in the three worlds, yet I continue to be active participant in this world in order to be an example for others to follow’.

All the actions of all beings – including conscious mental activity – is the function of Nature (प्रकृति Prakriti); Nature is not only external observable phenomenon but also our physical, mental systems. The subconscious and unconscious mind – which fully controls and compels conscious mind & ego to function in everyday life – is Prakriti. Hence all actions belong to Nature but human beings say ‘I am the doer’, this is delusion, Maya! Prakriti is composed of three qualities (गुण guna): serenity (सत्व satva), activity (रजस् rajas), and inertia (तमस् tamas). Those who have realized their true Self, transcend the effects of these three gunas; they see that all mental and physical actions as well as all external Nature is the play of three gunas while ‘I am the witness of the play’.

Ø गुणविभाग Gunavibhaga – five phenomenal elements/forces (Space, Air, Fire, Water, Earth), five senses of perception, five senses of action, mind, intellect, memory, ego.
Ø कर्मविभाग Karmavibhaga – interaction between elements of Gunavibhaga

Though knower of Truth realizes the truth about this play of Prakriti and observes others being deluded by these gunas, he/she does not disturb the ignorant suddenly lest the ignorant gets totally confused. Sri Krishna says, a realized being should function in such a way as to gradually guide the ignorant towards ever higher truths. Spiritual aspirants – fit for the path of Karma-Yoga – should perform all actions (mental and physical) by engaging the calm and devoted mind in the ‘inner Krishna’ i.e. the center of Pure Consciousness in heart; also the actions should be performed without any attachment or expectation for results. This makes the heart/mind pure and subtle, which is then able to grasp the real ‘I’ – the birth-less and death-less pure Self. Sri Krishna further warns that those who do not follow this supremely beneficial teaching and natural path offered for Liberation, are deluded in every aspect of knowledge since their minds are polluted by excessive & blind attachment to senses.

Ø प्रकृति Prakriti – bundle of past memory impressions (पूर्व-संस्कार Purva-Samskara)
प्राचीन संस्काराधीन: स्वभाव:   OR   पूर्वकृतधर्माधर्मादिसंस्कार वर्तमानजन्मादौ अभिव्यक्त:

Each being – in mental as well as physical dimension – is a product of Prakriti and has to act out his/her this nature in life; without understanding this fact if mere suppression of tendencies is attempted then it is of no avail, rather it can prove to be harmful. For spiritual progress, sublimation of desires under the guidance of discriminative intelligence and moderation of senses is essential and not their brute or forceful suppression. The senses have natural tendency to run after the pleasures of external sense-objects; this later turns into pain; the cycle of likes and dislikes, based on this condition of senses, molds mind to roam only outward and thus ruins it’s capacity to search ‘within’ for the real and permanent bliss of the Self. Thus not properly moderating the senses causes the aspirant to deviate from the path of self-less service and surrender to God/Self. Hence scriptures and saints rightly describe these attractions and repulsions based on ‘sense-determined-values’ as ‘robbers of wisdom’. Each one has his/her own Dharma (mental setup, dispositions, tendencies etc.); one should understand that and act accordingly. It is always better to follow one’s own Dharma than to emulate someone else’s Dharma; to try to learn from others is fine but blind imitation is no good.

Causes for Sinful and unrighteous behavior

After listening to Sri Krishna’s profound words about Prakriti and Dharma, Arjuna asked following question: ‘What compels human beings to commit sin?’ Human beings are, as it were, forced to walk down wrong path; what is the compelling force for this? Though in second chapter, Sri Krishna had explained the chain of destruction due to delusion and sense-attachment, here Arjuna wishes to know the precise nature of this enemy of righteousness so that it can be located and destroyed. Then Lord (भगवान Bhagawan) Sri Krishna replied: ‘It is desire and anger that are all-powerful and destructive for embodied souls and are great enemies of Knowledge in this world.’

@ भगवान Bhagawan : ऎश्वर्यस्य समग्रस्य धर्मस्य यशस: श्रिय: । उत्पत्ति प्रलयं चैव भूतानामागति गतिम् ।
वैराग्यस्याथ मोक्षस्य षण्णां भग इतीरणा ।। वेत्ति विद्यामविद्यां च स वाच्यो भगवानिति ।।
(विष्णुपुराण ६.५.७४) (विष्णुपुराण ६.५.७८)

यश श्री औदार्य | ज्ञान वैराग्य ऐश्वर्य | हे साही गुणवर्य | वसती जेथ || म्हणौनि तो भगवंतु | (ज्ञानेश्वरी ६.३७-३८)

The desire to seek something outside of ourselves gives rise to anger and other chain of troubles; it destroys peace, serenity, and happiness. The covering of desires on Self could be thin (as if smoke covering fire), medium (as if dust covering mirror), or thick (as if membrane covering fetus) and accordingly the personality is serene (सात्विक satvik), active (राजसिक rajasik), or inert (तामसिक tamasik); these three analogies can also be taken as:

  1. Smoke = ignorance & fire = Knowledge,
  2. Dust = impurities of mind & mirror = mind,
  3. Womb and fetus signifying period of assimilation required for Knowledge to mature; similarly ‘birth of child after a period’ can signify Self-Knowledge bursting forth on maturity!

This being the fact, the knowers of Truth and advanced spiritual aspirants know desires as enemies of knowledge and are always alert about it. Ordinary, deluded human beings consider desire as friend and eagerly enjoy pleasures; later when these pleasures inevitably produce their reaction as pain, human beings realize that desires are enemies and not friends! Spiritual aspirants should be aware of the fact that desires are never quenched by fulfilling them; they are bottomless pits and need to be made ineffective by control of senses based on viveka (spiritual discrimination), sublimation of their force, and finally by Knowledge of Self. Desires are located at or cause infection at: senses, mind and buddhi (intellect/heart); senses are subtler than gross body, mind is subtler than senses and buddhi is subtler than mind. More subtle an entity, vaster and ‘inner’ is its dimension; human energy resources are thus arranged in an increasing order of subtlety, interiority, and immensity. The Self is subtler than buddhi and is the subtlest of all; It is the ever-pure substratum which never gets infected with desires or anger! The experience of duality i.e. ‘I am the enjoyer of the world which is separate from me’ is the basic ignorance and source of all desires and the mechanism through which this force of desires works is: sense-objects -> senses -> mind -> buddhi. Being deluded by ignorance and this ‘desire structure’ for many lives, the embodied soul gets trapped in transmigration. In order to realize the inherent glory, purity, and freedom of the Self, the soul now has to renounce/get rid of the ‘desire structure’ by first controlling the senses and then overcoming the false division of duality. This can be achieved by taking a firm stand on the subtlest, ever-pure, ever-present, infinite Pure-Consciousness-Bliss Self!

Concept of Divine Incarnation

Sri Krishna now introduces the sublime concept of Divine Incarnation. In Upanishads we find the impersonal aspect of Self being stressed but in later scriptural developments in India like Bhagawad-Gita and Puranas, we find the personal aspect of Self – especially manifestation in human form – being stressed; the श्रुति Shruti (i.e. the Upanishads) tends towards ज्ञान Jnana (Knowledge) aspect of Truth while the स्मृति Smruti (i.e. Puranas, History, Tantras) tends towards भक्ती Bhakti (Devotion) aspect.
Now in the beginning of fourth chapter Sri Krishna says that whenever there is decline of Dharma (Universal Law of righteousness) on earth and increase in Adharama (breaking of universal law of righteousness), He manifests Himself in human form though essentially He being nameless and formless infinite Pure Consciousness. This appearance of God/Self in human form is achieved by the power of Consciousness called as माया Maya and we know such personality as Divine Incarnation. While normal souls are bound to take up physical bodies due to result of their previous actions (कर्मफल karmaphala), Divine Incarnations, being free from any karmaphala baggage, take up physical bodies out of their free will in order to guide suffering humanity. Life of an Incarnation is ‘Divine Play’ (लीला lila) for Him/Her but from ordinary human point of view to is real. From ‘Absolute-Truth-perspective’, even Divine Incarnation is as illusory as the other souls and world. The concept of Divine Incarnation is a crucial step in the evolution of Consciousness on earth as is expressed by Swami Vivekananda,

'The theory of incarnation is the first link in the chain of ideas leading to the recognition of the oneness of God and man. God appearing first in one human form, then re-appearing at different times in other human forms, is at last recognized as being in every human form, or in all men. Monistic is the highest stage, monotheistic is a lower stage.’

From the absolute standpoint of the Self, everything and everybody is an incarnation of Self/God and difference between souls is only due to degree of manifestation of consciousness; Swami Vivekananda says:

'The difference between man and man, between angels and man, between man and animals, between animals and plants, between plants and stones is not in kind, because everyone from the highest angel to the lowest particle of matter is but an expression of that one infinite ocean, and the difference is only in degree.’

And also:

'That is what this Jnana-Yoga teaches. It tells man that he is essentially divine. It shows to mankind the real unity of being, and that each one of us is the Lord God Himself, manifested on earth. All of us, from the lowest worm that crawls under our feet to the highest beings to whom we look up with wonder and awe – all are manifestations of the same Lord.’

But from relative standpoint i.e. from human perspective, we find that some souls like Rama, Krishna, Buddha, and Jesus have manifestated tremendous power as compared to ordinary men. These great men, as it were, knew their infinite dimensions and acted from that perspective almost throughout their lives; and hence they are rightly called as ‘Incarnations of God’. In fact Sri Ramakrishna has mentioned four types of जीव jivas (souls) as shown in the adjacent diagram.
Essentially all have the same source of Self as substratum for their personality but the body-mind-complex of Incarnations is highly suitable for manifestation of Pure Consciousness than that of ordinary men. (For a deeper and elaborate discussion on the subject of Divine Incarnation, please refer ‘Sri Ramakrishna and His Divine Play’; the book is available at Ramakrishna Math Chennai and Vedanta Society of Northern California).
The theme of Divine Incarnation and souls achieveing मोक्ष Moksha (Liberation) through worship & love towards an Incarnation, is the characteristic of Bhagawad-Gita and is not found in Upanishads. Devotees try to contemplate the birth, life, and death of their beloved Incarnation, and in this process they understand the mystery of their own birth, life, and death! They free themselves from all worldly attachments, fear, anger etc. and thus purifying themselves finally merge into the ‘Pure-Consciousness-Bliss Self’ which is the source of their existence as well as the source of an Incarnation’s existence; thus they transcend the trans-migratory cycle of birth-life-death.


'क्षिप्रं हि मानुषे लोके...' and 'चातुर्वर्ण्यं मया...' : Human society is geared up for work and its results, hence people seek objects of phenomenon and not God. Among entire humanity, it is India which developed the scientific and rational division of society into four वर्ण Varnas (categorization as per temperament) and four आश्रम Ashramas (categorization as per station in life/phase of life). This wonderful mold for society ensures systematic functioning of 'work-and-its-result' mechanism and it also ensures stability & progress of individual along with society.
The four Varnas and their duties were divided as below:

    गुण Guna (Temperament) कर्म Karma (Duty/Work)
1 ब्राह्मण Brahmana सत्वप्रधान Satvapradhana
Predominance of Serenity
शम, दम, तप, ज्ञान-अर्जन
shama, dama, tapah, jnana-arjan
(control of senses and mind, austerity, seeking wisdom)
2 क्षत्रिय Kshatriya सत्व गौण रज: प्रधान
satvagaun rajapradhan
(less of serenity and more of activity)
शौर्य, तेज, रक्षण
shaurya, teja, rakshan
(chivalry, victory in battles, protection of people)
3 वैश्य Vaishya तम: गौण रज: प्रधान
tamagaun rajapradhan
(less of inertia and more of activity)
कृषि, व्यापार, अर्थार्जन
krushi, vyapar, artharjan
(agriculture, trade, generation of wealth)
4 शुद्र Shudra रज: गौण तम: प्रधान
rajagaun tamapradhan
(less of activity and more of inertia)
शुश्रुषा, सेवा
shushrusha, seva
(physical service and labour)

The above division of society into prominent four types was done according to the temperament (गुण guna) of individuals; the works (कर्म karma) assigned to individuals of these four types were also appropriate to their temperaments. Since gunas obstruct the light of the Self in proportion to their 'thickness/thin-ness', the karma possible for an individual with those gunas is also accordingly assigned. It is obvious that a person of Brahmana/satwa guna (predominance of serenity, inclination towards knowledge) would be most unsuitable for Shudra karma (physical service and labor) and vice versa. Thus वर्णाश्रम Varnashrama system (categrization of society as per temperament and phase of life of individuals) was the best possible mould for any human society; this is pointed out by Swami Vivekananda as:

‘This system of division into different Varnas is the stepping-stone to civilization, making one rise higher and higher in proportion to one's learning and culture.'

The distortion and failure of this system in India was due to its abuse through making of privileges for certain sections and making it hereditary and thus ignoring gunas; says Swami Vivekananda:

‘Now the original idea of Jati was this freedom of the individual to express his nature, his Prakriti, his Jati, his caste; and so it remained for thousands of years. ... The present caste is not the real Jati, but a hindrance to its progress. It really has prevented the free action of Jati, i.e. caste or variation. Any crystallized custom or privilege or hereditary class in any shape really prevents caste (Jati) from having its full sway; and whenever any nation ceases to produce this immense variety, it must die. ... Every frozen aristocracy or privileged class is a blow to caste and is not caste. ... This variety does not mean inequality, nor any special privilege.'

The Shudra Varna was not अस्पृश्य asprushya (untouchable), rather being part of Vedic Jati (caste/variation) system, it was an important and respectable section of society. In Vedic system only the अंत्यज antyaja (one who does not act as per his/her temperament and attempts something for which he/she is unsuitable by temperament) was deprecated.

Various Spiritual Practices as Yajna

Sri Krishna now explains the technique of Karma-Yoga, following which, mind can be made pure. If all actions - mental as well as physical - are performed with no attachment to results and with an attitude of surrender to God or Divine Incarnation, then the heart/mind is purified quickly. A purified heart is the most basic and important prerequisite for Self-realization. By following this practice of Karma-Yoga, spiritual aspirant achieves the skill of performing actions yet remaining detached from them; the aspirant is able to perform actions externally while remaining in touch with the Self internally. Thus the actions and their results do not stick to the aspirant and he/she becomes free of transmigration cycle.

Ø कर्तृत्व kartrutva ('I am the doer of actions' mentality) and भोक्तृत्व bhoktrutva ('I am the enjoyer of the results of actions' mentality) can not be there in insentient body neither can it be in the 'change-less infinite Pure-Consciousness-Bliss' Self; it is the wrong superimposition of these two that gives rise to जीव jiva(transmigrating soul).

Ø सांख्य Samkhya philosophy accepts bhoktrutva in Self but assigns kartrutva to प्रकृति Prakriti (Nature); it says that Self wrongly assumes kartrutva due to It's entanglement in Prakriti and Prakriti has separate existence from पुरुष Purusha (Self). Vedanta does not accept kartrutva or bhoktrutva in the Self; they are superimposition of माया Maya (illusory Nature) and Maya has no separate existence from Self.

Ø In Jnana path, the aspirant tries to dissolve everything - all phenomenon and one's self - in the Self/God while in Bhakti path the aspirant tries to see everything except one's self as God.

Without purification of heart through Karma-Yoga, Self-realization is not possible and without the knowledge of the Self, the deep mystery of Karma, phenomenal existence, and transmigration remains unsolved. Self-realized seers abide in Self all the time and thus though externally they appear to be engaged in actions, really they are never attached to any action or its result.

In third chapter, the ancient concept of यज्ञ yajna was employed by Sri Krishna to explain the interconnectedness and interdependent nature of the universe. Now here in fourth chapter, He again uses the yajna concept to depict various types of spiritual practices adopted by spiritual aspirants in order to attain purified and concentrated mind.

Ø 'गतसंगस्य मुक्तस्य... ... यज्ञायाचरतः...' - all karma as yajna i.e. the consciousness of duality - 'I and world' or 'subject and object' - is offered as an oblation to the fire of 'play of infinite Pure-Consciousness-Bliss'. Thus being merged in Self, there is no 'I and mine' sticking to the seer as also no karma sticking!

Ø 'ब्रह्माग्नावपरे यज्ञं यज्ञेनैवोपजुह्वति' - essentially the transmigrating soul is nothing but infinite Pure-Consciousness reflected on the adjuncts of 'body-mind-complex'. The removal of wrong association by offering the reflection into the original is yajna!

Various yajna types are described in order to highlight the uniqueness and superiority of ज्ञान-यज्ञ Jnana-yajna (sacrifice of Knowledge).
In brief, following types of yajnas are mentioned:

  1. ब्रह्म-यज्ञ brahma-yajna :- the apparent self which appears limited owing to the adjuncts of body-mind is offered in the 'fire of real Self', the infinite Pure Consciousness
  2. दैव-यज्ञ daiva-yajna :- all mental and physical actions are done as an offering to God or chosen deity
  3. इन्द्रिय‍संयम-यज्ञ indriyasamyam-yajna :- controlling senses from sense-objects, thus effectively offering senses into the 'fire of sense-control'; प्रत्याहार pratyahaar as per Yoga-philosophy
  4. विषयहवन-यज्ञ vishayahavan-yajna :- sense objects perceived through senses are regarded as oblations to the 'sense-fire'
  5. आत्मसंयम-यज्ञ atmasamyam-yajna :- all actions of all senses and vital forces are offered into the 'fire of self-control' which is lighted with power of vivek-vijnana (spiritual discrimination).

    Ø In Vedanta, the ultimate union with Self is achieved through बाध-समाधि Baadh-Samadhi i.e. by fixing the mind on the real Self and thus negating the unreal self; while in Yoga, this is achieved by लय-समाधि Laya-Samadhi i.e. by controlling the senses, mind etc. and making them concentrated & equipoise.

  6. द्रव्य-यज्ञ dravya-yajna :- offering material things to deserving people or at deserving places as yajna, and not with the idea of acquiring merit for going to heaven
  7. तपो-यज्ञ tapo-yajna :- observing various mental and physical austerities
  8. योग-यज्ञ yoga-yajna :- following the path of अष्टांग-योग Ashtanga-Yoga (eight-fold path of Patanjal-Yoga)
  9. स्वाध्याय-यज्ञ swadhyaya-yajna :- study and recital of scriptures as per the injunctions of scriptures
  10. ज्ञान-यज्ञ jnana-yajna :- study of scriptures with its meaning with the view to acquire knowledge
  11. संशितव्रता sanshitavrata :- any vow or austerity undertaken is observed so scrupulously, regularly, and with one-pointed concentration that it becomes one's second nature
  12. प्राणायाम-यज्ञ pranayama-yajna :- observing various pranayama techniques (movement and control of vital forces) like पूरक puraka (inhaling), रेचक rechaka (exhaling), कुम्भक kumbhaka (retention) as yajna

    Ø Pranayama helps controlling the mind to some extent as prana and mind are closely related; in fact they both are manifestations of Self.
    त्रिदंड Tridand - punishments for the sins (अपराध aparaadh) of these three: काया kaya (body), वाचा vacha (speech), and मन mana (mind); कायादंड kayadand - fasting, वाचादंड vachadand - silence, मनदंड manadand - pranayama.

  13. प्राणविलीन-यज्ञ pranavilin-yajna :- taking measured food and observing sense-control; successive merging of various layers of psyche into the Self

A spiritual aspirant practicing any type of yajna - i.e. one who is performing sadhana for मुक्ति Mukti (Liberation), gradually purifies his/her mind through these sadhanas and purified mind leads to Self-realization. This is so because purified mind makes the aspirant understand that the Self is devoid of साधन-साध्य saadhan-sadhya (means and goal); the Self is transcendent to all karma (mental, physical actions) and karma-phala (action-results); It is ever-present Reality. Thus sadhanas are useful only to remove the mind-obstacles to this understanding; later the knowledge of the Self directly liberates the aspirant and is not dependent on anything.

After describing all these yajnas, Sri Krishna says that ब्रह्मयज्ञ brahmayajna (the yajna of Self-knowledge) is the best among all these yajnas since it directly deals with Pure Consciousness while others start with limiting adjuncts (body-mind-complex) and then gradually come to the Self. Hence all others यज्ञ yajnas are included in brahmayajna. Knowledge of the Self burns up all ignorance and its products namely all mental and physical karmas. It does not matter how bad or good the karmas are, nor does it matter for how long the ignorance has persisted; once Self-realization has dawned, there is no more delusion and attachment. Hence Sri Krishna says that there is nothing more purifying than Knowledge; while other purifying practices for body and mind are subject to time and space, Self-knowledge is beyond time and space and is irreversible.

@ The analogy of Knowledge burning up all karmas as the fire burns up all the fuel is fine but a better analogy is given by Sri Ramakrishna, 'darkness in a room from thousands of years vanishes instantly as soon as a match-stick is lit in the room'. This is so because body-mind are not something real and concrete; they are dream imaginations of the Self, easy to dispel by turning the light of the Self towards them. The body-mind-complex and external world appear real & concrete only because of the Reality of the Self is superimposed on them.

The basic prerequisites for Self-realization are: control of senses, steady and regular spiritual practice, and श्रद्धा shraddha (dynamic faith). Without faith nothing secular can be achieved what to speak of spiritual. Those who have no idea of the real Self, are devoid of shraddha and have doubting mind; they can neither enjoy this world nor the next and they thus surely perish. One with doubting mind can have no peace and happiness.

The fourth chapter is called ज्ञान-कर्म-संन्यास-योग jñana-karma-sannyasa-yoga i.e. renouncing the ‘doership’ (कर्तृत्वम् kartrutvam) of all karma by Self-Knowledge (आत्मज्ञान atmajñana). This refers to the state of non-dual Pure Consciousness in which a jñani dwells; in that state the illusory duality of कर्ता-कर्म-क्रिया (karta-karma-kriya) is negated by non-dual Self-Knowledge. Since this is a ‘subtlest of subtle Truth’ and average human understanding is gross & ‘form-bound’, many people get confounded between ‘performing actions’ v/s ‘renunciation of actions’. Naturally Arjuna too felt this confusion and asked Sri Krishna, ‘you are praising both karma and jñana. Please tell clearly which among these two is beneficial to me?’

The state of jñani is beyond ‘performing actions’ (karma) as well as ‘renunciation of actions’ (karma-sannyasa); but for an unenlightened, the difference between these two is real and important. For majority of us the proper approach is: performing whatever duties/tasks are in front of us with ‘as far as possible detached manner’ and at the same time deepening our consciousness to take it closer to the real Self; this will lead to primacy of Pure Consciousness and relatively reducing the reality of phenomenal transactions, finally transcending phenomenon totally. In other words Karma-Yoga is the best starting point for majority of humanity, which will give rise to pure mind capable of practicing Jnana-Yoga; else there is a danger of ‘degrading oneself’ in renouncing the world without first purifying heart with Karma-Yoga. Hence Sri Krishna replies, ‘though Karma-Yoga and Jnana-Yoga both are beneficial and ultimately lead to same goal; out of these two Karma-Yoga is better’.

Ø There are two types of सन्न्यास (sannyasa):

  1. फलरुपसन्न्यास (phalarupasannyasa) – for jñani; विद्वत्-सन्न्यास (vidvat-sannyasa); totally devoid of all कर्म (karma) and कर्मफल (karmaphala)
  2. साधनरुपसन्न्यास (sadhanarupasannyasa) – for मुमुक्षु (mumukshu) in order to practice श्रवण-मनन-निदिध्यासन (sravana-manana-nididhyasana) i.e. for ज्ञानाभ्यास (jñanabhyasa); विविदिषा-सन्न्यास (vividisha-sannyasa)

At the end of chapter four, by the word karma-sannyasa, point (1) mentioned above was intended (as Jnana was applied to the word); whereas here at the beginning of fifth chapter, the same word refers to point (2) (devoid of Jnana; renouncing karma without full purification of mind)! This can be understood in the light of explanation given in above paragraph. (For more discussion on the topic please refer Jnana and Karma)

Arjuna seems to repeat the question he had asked at the beginning of third chapter; Sri Krishna had explained the two types of hearts (Buddhi) among humans – one suitable for Jnana-Yoga while other requiring Karma-Yoga to be practiced for purification of psyche. Sri Krishna had also indicated that Arjuna should fight i.e. do his karma in Karma-yoga way since Arjuna’s detachment at that moment was due to delusion of ‘me & my people’ (मोहज-वैराग्य mohaja-vairagya) and not due to proper discrimination (विवेकज-वैराग्य vivekaja-vairagya). Momentary detachment born out of some extraneous factor can never go far on spiritual path and karma cannot be got rid of by renouncing it, rather only by performing it in right spirit (detached attitude and dedication to God) can one rise above it. But Arjuna still seems not to get the message and after hearing from Sri Krishna the great praise of Jnana as well as instructions to do Karma, wonders which he should follow; and hence his question here again at the beginning of fifth chapter. Sri Krishna now puts across the point that both Jnana-Yoga and Karma-Yoga are beneficial and lead to same goal but out of the two, Karma-Yoga is safer and easier. (Please refer figure below showing roughly the way to Jnana through the two types of hearts [Buddhis])

Sri Krishna says, ‘a karma-yogi who is free from likes and dislikes, does not hate anybody, and is free from desires, is always a sannyasi; he/she is easily freed from all bondage. These two paths – Karma-Yoga and Jnana-Yoga – lead to the same goal of Moksha; knowers of Truth declare this fact while those with immature minds say that these two paths lead to different goals! Without purification of heart/mind, true sannyasa is difficult to attain and one who performs his actions in Karma-Yoga way – i.e. without keeping an eye on results and dedicating them to God – very soon attains to true sannyasa.’

Ø समत्‍वबुद्धि (samatvabuddhi) i.e equanimity of mind is the result while कर्मयोग (karmayoga) is the means to it; together they are referred as योग (yoga). And ज्ञान (jñana) is the result while कर्मसन्न्यास (karmasannyasa) is the means to it; together they are referred as सांख्य (samkhya) in Gita.

Ø In the intial stage of वैराग्य (detachment) from the world, spiritual aspirant feels disgust for world/enjoyments due to seeing their evil effects and hence any contact with the world/enjoyments disturbs him (i.e. creates disgust in him/her). But in mature stage of वैराग्य, due to knowledge of Self and unreality of world/enjoyments, this does not happen and equanimity of mind (समत्‍वबुद्धि) is retained.

Ø Performing ordained actions in the spirit of dedication to divine and without expectation of results is Karma-Yoga – the first step for spiritual aspirants. This step itself is not possible without sense-control, what to say of karmasannyasa and jñana. Thus sense control is indispensible for spiritual life.

Ø ब्रह्म परमार्थसंन्न्यासं परमात्मज्ञाननिष्ठालक्षणम् – Always abiding in our real nature (i.e. Supreme Self) is true sannyasa. (Shankarbhashya on Gita 5.6)

In all actions, it is the motive force behind the action that matters; if the sense that ‘I desire something and I am the performer of action, I should get the result of this action etc.’ is strong then it is the desires that are propelling the actions and hence consequently soul is bound to transmigration through various bodies and Peace/Liberation is not attained. While if the sense that ‘I long for nothing except Liberation and I am just an instrument in the hands of Divine’ is maintained then actions are done by duty-conscious mind or as a service to the Lord and hence they cease to bind the soul; even while performing all actions, such a soul perceives all-pervading Self and feels inner freedom. This is the secret of Karma-Yoga. Thus selfish, desire prompted motive binds while unselfish, God-oriented motive liberates; the change in 'orientation of motive' along with intelligent control of body and senses is Karma-yoga, and its result is purification of mind/heart. Purified mind/heart is fit to contemplate Self/God uninterruptedly leading to Moksha.

Ø प्रारब्ध (prarabdha) is to do with the present birth and life-situations arising in it; it is a small part of the ‘total संस्कार (samskara) balance’ that has started fructifying. पुरुषार्थ (purusartha) in human birth is to do with inner handling of samskaras with the help of बुद्धि (buddhi). The prarabdha may go on as it is destined to go on, but there is inner freedom of purusartha which can make tremendous change; it can bind the soul further to transmigration chain or it can lead to loosening from the hold of samskaras and enjoying inner joy of Self!

Ø योगयुक्तो विशुद्धात्मा … - In निर्विकल्प समाधि (nirvikalpa samadhi), the aspirant realizes his/her ‘Infinite Pure Consciousness-Bliss real nature’ which is ‘Witness’ to all apparent ‘world-phenomenon’ and is सर्वभूतात्मभूतात्मा (sarvabhutatmabhutatma) i.e. of the nature as ‘I am the inner Consciousness in all beings’; this is termed as yogayukto, which being वृत्ति-सारुप्य-राहित्य (vrtti-sarupya-rahitya) state i.e. a state which is totally devoid of any mental modification, naturally denotes विशुद्धात्मा (vishuddhatma) - one of purified heart/mind, विजितात्मा (vijitatma) - master of body, and जितेन्द्रियः (jitendriya) - master of senses. This being the case, he/she is ‘un-connected’ to all mental-physical actions done by his/her 'body-mind-complex' (कुर्वन्नपि न लिप्यते kurvannapi na lipyate).

Ø नवद्वारे पुरे देही नैव कुर्वन्न कारयन् - Two contradictory statements, when grasped intuitively and simultaneously reveal the essence of Vedanta; e.g. here in verse 5.13 it is mentioned that ‘the Self neither does anything nor does it make others do’ and in chapter 18 verse 61 it is said that the Lord sits in the hearts of all and makes them do all the things! Similar is the case in 9th chapter verses 4 & 5 and many other places in Vedanta scriptures. This can be understood by the analogy of mirror and reflection of objects seen in mirror; from 'mirror-perspective' it can be said that the mirror remains unaffected and without any reflection always (even when there is reflection of objects seen in it by the onlooker) and yet without mirror no reflections are possible. The Self/God is not affected by appearance and disappearance of the phenomena in It and without Self/God, no phenomenon can come into being or function!
Absolute Self by itself remains always unchanged; all souls and worlds appear, function, and disappear due to the power (शक्ति shakti) of the Self; this power is collectively called Maya (माया) and within an individual as ignorance (अविद्या avidya); this is referred as nature (स्वभाव svabhäva) in verse 5.14. Devi Mahatmya refers to this power as Primordial Power (आद्याशक्ति adyashakti) or Consciousness-Power (चितिशक्ति chitishakti) and Samkhya philosophy as Nature (प्रकृति prakriti) having lower, unconscious (अपरा-प्रकृति apara-prakriti) and higher (परा-प्रकृति para-prakriti) dimentions. Vedanta says if light of Self-Knowledge dawns on a soul then all Maya vanishes.

@ प्रभुः prabhu - स्वयमेव सर्वत्र भाति इति प्रभुः (svayameva sarvatra bhäti iti prabhu) - Self/God alone is manifested as all
- स्वयमेव सर्वम् आभासयति इति प्रभुः (svayameva sarvam äbhäsayati iti prabhu) - Self/God alone reveals all

Ø तद्बुद्धयस्तदत्मानस्तनिष्ठा - Within the heart of a spiritual aspirant, the Self-Knowledge may have matured from indirect (परोक्ष) to direct (अपरोक्ष), but his body-mind-complex may have following three peculiarities:
(1) बुद्धि is sharp, can reject all body-mind transactions in phenomenon (व्यवहार) and hence can be active in world yet
remaining unaffected. (This type of being is difficult to understand from ignorant or spiritual-aspirant point of view)
(2) बुद्धि is medium, desires destroyed by practice of meditation in solitude; life pattern after Self-Knowledge is similar to
earlier practice i.e. meditation in solitude. (This type of being is an ideal example for spiritual aspirants to emulate)
(3) बुद्धि is is not sharp but through faith (श्रद्धा) Self-Knowledge is achieved; transactions in phenomenon (व्यवहार) creates
some problems but they don't affect the Knowledge. (In this case, though direct Self-Knowledge and Liberation is
achieved, practice of abiding in Self [ज्ञाननिष्ठा] is needed)
This verse mentions the necessity of practice of abiding in Self (ज्ञाननिष्ठा), which is definitely needed for spiritual aspirants (मुमुक्षु); realized souls (ज्ञानी) - of the type (3) mentioned above - are also seen to observe it.
Some commentators interpret this verse as:
1. तद्बुद्धय - तत् निश्चय, Firm conviction of Self-Knowledge
2. तदात्मानः - तत् मनः, सङ्कल्पः, mind & resolution related only to तत् (That, Truth)
3. तत् निष्ठाः - तात्पर्यः of scriptures, actions etc. in तत् alone
4. तत् परायणः - तत् आश्रयः, dependence only on तत्
Some other commentators interpret it as:
1. तद्बुद्धय - Firm establishment of परोक्षज्ञान (indirect-Knowledge)
2. तदात्मानः - Becoming doubt-free related to 'means' of Knowledge
3. तत् निष्ठाः - Removing contrary ideas to Knowledge and repeating favorable ideas to it.
4. तत् परायणः - Continuous absorption in Truth
Shankaracharya in his Bhashya, interprets this as:
1. Dawn of Self-Knowledge in heart; this is enough for विदेह-मुक्ति
2. 'I' does not connect spontaneously to body-mind-complex but grasps the real Self.
3. Faithful establishment of heart (निष्ठा, तात्पर्य) only in Self and not in world
4. Best and ultimate goal is ब्रह्म

Sri Krishna had explained the ideal aspirant who abides in Self (ज्ञाननिष्ठ) (verses 5.13, 14) and then later he explains the state of 'ideal Self-realised soul' (ज्ञानी) (verses 5.18, 19) who has matured from 'abiding-in-Self' (ज्ञाननिष्ठा) to Self-Knowledge (ज्ञान). Performing duties with inner awareness of Self gradually leads to more and more absorption in Self and we get an 'ideal Karma-Yogi', further intensification on Self-awareness leads to 'same-sightedness-towards-all' (समदर्शिनः) and Self-Knowledge matures within heart. Such souls always get their joy and light from inner Self and not from outer sense-objects since they know that sense-pleasure has the defect of being always associated with pain (दुःखयोनयः) and is short-lived (आद्यन्तवन्तः); Swami Vivekananda says, 'Happiness presents itself before man, wearing the crown of sorrow on its head. He who welcomes it must also welcome sorrow.' So long as the body lasts, spiritual aspirants should be very careful about the force of desires/ lust (काम),/ attachments and anger (क्रोध) which are bound to rise due to various reasons in life; he/she should be extra cautious and vigilant in this regard as these two are the greatest obstacles on the path to Self-Realization. Sri Krishna says one who is able to withstand these forces throughout life, without succumbing to them, is a true yogi and a happy, contended person. After realizing the Self, an aspirant is liberated (मुक्ति) from the cycle of transmigration and since ब्रह्म is free from any activity - mental or physical - the aspirant attains (ब्रह्मनिर्वाण)

@ अभितः - Always, every moment of life and even after life, the ब्रह्मनिर्वाण which a Self-realized soul attains, is ever-present, eternally.

Sri Krishna thus gives many characteristics of Self-realized souls and explains to Arjuna that work done in detached manner too, ultimately leads to this state. Starting from second chapter onwards till the end of fifth chapter, Sri Krishna explained to Arjuna the two paths for Self/God-Realisation - path of Knowledge and path of selfless-action; and He praised the path of selfless-action, as it was the path best suitable for Arjuna - and in fact is also most suitable for majority of humanity. Swami Saradananda - biographer and monastic direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna - has beautifully summarized the essence of first five chapters of Bhagawad-Gita: 'The goal of first five chapters of Gita is to establish proper relationship and understanding (सामंजस्य) between Work (कर्म) and Knowledge (ज्ञान)'
Having explained the ways to do Karma-Yoga and the purity of mind achieved through it, Sri Krishna now moves on to the internal spiritual practice (अन्तरङ्ग साधन) that comes as a next step - meditation. Meditation is an essential step between Karma-Yoga and Self-Knowledge, so before taking it up fully in sixth chapter, here at the end of fifth chapter a brief introduction to it is given. A yogi should focus his/her mind only on God - the inner light of all beings, the ruler of all, the doer-enjoyer as well as witness of all activities, and the best friend to all - and should ignore the inputs received through sense organs; then he/she is sure to reach the goal of Liberation (मुक्ति) and attainment of ultimate and final Peace (शान्तिः). Thus in the last verse of fifth chapter, Sri Krishna has also brought in the 'Yoga of Devotion (भक्तियोग)' which will be elaborated in further chapters.