The Bhagavad Gita – Chapter 3

The Bhagavad Gita translated by Antonio T. De Nicolas

The Bhagavad Gita – Chapter 3

The Yoga of Action


Arjuna said:
1. If to your mind (the discipline of) understanding
is superior to (the discipline of) action, O Janārdana,
Then why, O Késava (Krsna), do you enjoin me
to the dreadful deed?

2. You are bewildering my understanding
with these apparently confused propositions.
Therefore, tell me unequivocally
The one way by which I may gain what is good .

The Blessed One said:
3. Long ago, Blameless-One, I proclaimed a two-fold path of (living in) this world;
The path of knowledge (jnānayoga) for men of discrimination (sāmkhya)
And the path of action (karmayoga) for men of action (yogins).

4. No man attains freedom from the bondage of action (naiskarmya
Simply by not undertaking actions: 
Nor by mere renunciation does one attain perfection.

5. For no one can remain absolutely inactive even for a moment.
Everyone is made to engage in action, however unwillingly, 
By way of the gunas born of prakrti.

6. He who controls his powers of action,
but continues to remember sense objects with his mind, 
Is deluded and is to be called a hypocrite.

7. But he who controls his senses by his mind, O Arjuna, 
And, without attachment,
engages the action-senses in karmayoga
He excels.

8. Do your allotted action, 
For action is superior to inaction. 
Even the maintenance of your body cannot be accomplished
without action.

9. Except for the action engaged in as sacrifice,
This world is subject to the bondage of action.
For the sake of that, Son of Kuntl,
Perform action free from attachment as a sacrifice.

10. Long ago, Prajāpati created creatures
together with sacrifice, and said: 
By this shall you prosper, 
Let this be the milch-cow for your desires.

11. By this, nourish the gods,
and may the gods nourish you; 
Thus nourishing each other,
you will attain to the supreme good.

12. For the gods, nourished by the sacrifice, 
Will give you the enjoyments you desire. 
He who enjoys their gifts without giving to them in return, 
Is nothing but a thief.

13. Good men, eating of the remains of the sacrifice, 
Are free from all sins, 
But wicked men who prepare food for their own sake alone, 
Eat sin.

14. Beings arise from food; 
Food is produced from rain; 
Rain arises from the sacrifice, 
And sacrifice is born of action.

15. Know that action has its origin in Brahman (the Veda),
And the Brahman has its origin in the imperishable.
Therefore, Brahman, the all-pervading,
Is always grounded in sacrifice.

16. He who on earth does not contribute
To the continued movement of the wheel
Thus set in motion, is evil, O Son of Prthā;
Delighting in the senses, he lives in vain.

17. The man, however, who can be delighted in his self alone, 
Who is pleased with the self and content only with the self, 
For him there is no work to be done.

18. He has no interest in this world 
To gain by what is done or by what is not done. 
He is not dependent on any of these beings for any advantage.

19. Therefore, perform the action that has to be done, 
Continually free from attachment, 
For by performing action without attachment, 
A man reaches the supreme.

20. For by action alone, it was, 
That Janaka and others ascended to perfection. 
And also you must act, 
Attending to no less than the holding together of the world.

21. For whatever the superior man does, 
That other people also do. 
He sets the standard which the world follows.

22. For me, O Son of Prthā,
There is no work whatever to be done in the three worlds,
Nothing unobtained which is to be obtained;
Yet without fail, I continue in action.

23. For if I were not ever unweariedly engaged in action, Son of Prthā, 
Men everywhere would follow my path.

24. These worlds would be destroyed if I did not perform action 
And I would be the author of confusion, 
And would destroy these people.

25. As those who are ignorant (avidyā) act from attachment to action; 
The wise should also act, O Bhārata, 
But without attachment, 
Desiring to act so as to hold the world together.

26. Let no wise man shake the minds
Of the ignorant who are attached to action; 
Acting with yoga-wisdom (buddhi-yoga),
let the wise make all action attractive.

27. Actions are engaged in by way of the gunas of prakrti alone; 
Yet he who is deluded by the sense of I thinks “I am the doer.”

28. But O Strong-Armed, he who knows the truth 
About the differentiation from gunas and action, thinks (and knows that): 
Gunas act upon gunas, 
He is not attached.

29. Those who are deluded by the gunas of prakrti
Are attached to the workings of the gunas.
But let not him who knows the whole,
Unsettle the sluggish, who know only a part.

30. With your mind on the supreme self, 
Surrendering all action to me, 
And being free of desire and selfishness, 
 Your (mental) fever vanished, fight.

31. Men who constantly follow out this teaching of mine,
Uncomplaining and full of faith, 
They too are released from (the bondage of) their actions.

32. But those who murmur against my teaching, 
Who do not follow it out, 
Know those mindless ones, deluded in all understanding, 
To be lost.

33. Even the wise man functions in conformity with prakrti
Beings follow prakrti
What will suppression accomplish?

34. Attraction and repulsion for the objects of sense 
Are seated in the senses.
Let no one come under the control of these two; 
They are his worse enemies.

35. One’s own dharma, even when not done perfectly, 
Is better than someone else’s dharma, even though well performed; 
Indeed, death in one’s own dharma is better, 
For another’s is perilous.

Arjuna said:
36. Then what, O Descendant of Vrsni, 
Is that by which a man who performs evil, is bidden, 
Even against his will, Impelled so-to-speak by force?

The Blessed One said:
37. Desire it is, anger it is, 
Produced from the guna of passion (rajas), 
All-consuming and greatly sinful. 
Know this to be the enemy here.

38. For just as fire is concealed by smoke, 
A mirror by dust, and an embryo by the womb, 
So is this (knowledge) concealed by that (passion).

39. Knowledge, O Son of Kuntī, 
Is concealed by that constant enemy of the wise, 
That insatiable flame of desire.

40. The senses, the mind (manas), the buddhi
Are said to be its seat. 
Having concealed knowledge through these, 
It deludes the embodied one.

41. Therefore, having controlled the senses to begin with, O Best of the Bhāratas, 
Slay this evil which brings loss of knowledge and understanding.

42. The senses are great, they say; 
But the mind is above the senses, and buddhi above mind. 
And above buddhi is He.

43. Thus having become aware of that which is greater than buddhi,
Having strengthened yourself through yourself,
Slay the enemy, Strong-Armed, which is so hard to get at,
And has the form of desire.

This is the end of the third chapter, entitled
“The Yoga of Action”

About Sunday morning

Sunday Morning Contemplation is informed by Eastern and Western contemplative traditions. The first, lectio divina has its origins in 6th century Europe. It unfolds in four steps or stages: reading (lectio), reflecting (meditatio), responding (oratio), and silent abiding (contemplatio). Our Eastern inspiration come from the Indian Upanishads (800-200 BCE), where contemplative practice consists of three steps or stages: listening (śravana), reflecting (manana), and meditating (nididhyāsana or dhyāna). Our contemplative practice on Sundays embraces both approaches, and each contemplation will be based on a reading from either tradition.

The texts and teachers I have chosen played a significant role in my life and I believe have much to offer. I will read presellected texts, slowly, with pauses between verses or quotes. The readings will be accompanied by soothing background music. To lessen distraction, I suggest participants close their eyes and listen. However, the screen will display the text so that people can choose to read along or mute the sound and read on their own. If there is time remaining after the contemplative period, participants can choose to either leave or stay for a short discussion.

As a preface to the reading, I will provide a 10-15 minute introduction to the text. When relevant, I’ll review facts about the author/teacher’s life. I will also present a brief explanation of the terms and language encountered in the reading.

Finally, when the contemplation is over, all texts read will be available online to read and/or download at any time on the website.

What I mean by
The Symbolic Life

This website makes liberal use of classical Indian visual art and refers mostly to traditional Indian texts (for example, the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras) in the courses, seminars, and discussions on offer. However, I am not presenting lessons in Hinduism; in fact, teaching mainstream Hinduism is neither my area of interest nor expertise. Rather, my interest in Yoga and Tantra is grounded in the concrete situation in which we find ourselves, in the places where we arrive and from which we depart. Beginning in the here and now, we will explore the underlying meaning of the symbols, stories, images, philosophies, and techniques found in Indian philosophical texts and practice, in light of our world and our current circumstance. We will excavate the meaning of the aphorisms and teaching stories; the symbolic figures of gods, people, and nature; and the sometimes terse, sometimes poetic, philosophy of the texts. Thus, in referring to the Symbolic Life of Yoga and Tantra, I mean not just the symbols themselves, but the rich explication of life that the symbols represent.

Our lived, concrete situation is wonderfully captured in the Sanskrit word loka, whose ancient meaning is “the world.”  The root meaning of both the Sanskrit loka and the English locate (and local, locale, and location) is identical. In the ancient Indian mind, the world is where we are located, in our current circumstance. Thus, the meaning of the symbols of Yoga and Tantra can occur only in the now, in the places where we find ourselves, and not in any imagined ancient and/or foreign world.

To emphasize our place of origin and return, I use the terms “archetypal” and “symbolic” quite frequently. Archetypal meaning is associated with the universal and collective aspects of human experience—what we intimately share with all others regardless of culture or era or epoch—while symbolic language forms a bridge between the realms of the universal with the culturally specific and local. Symbols are the scaffolding upon which human beings build a world and imbue it with meaning.

Think for a moment of pain and pleasure, sorrow and joy, hatred and love, and greed and generosity—universal experiences that ancient Indian thinkers called the dvandva-s. This Sanskrit term is a combination of two words, or rather, one word spoken twice: the word dva (meaning the same as the English “two”) duplicated. Dvandva is commonly translated as “the pair of opposites” or literally “the two-twos” (dvadva). The ancients who coined this compact symbol gave voice to an archetypal human experience that can be further unpacked to reveal deep insights into the human condition. Once we gain an understanding of the various symbols of Yoga and Tantra, we can further excavate their meaning and the archetypes they convey, and thus gain access to, in a practical and meaningful way, the vision of life experienced by the sages. These insights are available to us and are still relevant today, as are the resilient and adaptable techniques and forms of practice that can help us lead richer and more fulfilling lives