Srimad Bhagavad-gita Study Group

- Chapter 3 -


The Path of Action

Chapter Summary

Everyone is born for a life of activity, actions done for the pleasure of Vishnu, the Supreme Lord, without any selfish motive do not bind a person to the world. For those who are self-contented and self- controlled, no action is necessary but for those who are still striving to master their mind and senses then action is unavoidable. In this case one should practice selfless action. Deluded by the ego and under the influence of Maya or illusion, the bound soul considers himself the doer of actions which are in reality carried out by the three-fold qualities of nature (satva, rajas and tamas or goodness, passion and ignorance). In this deluded consciousness one is attached to the fruits of action considering they are his due. But when one dedicates all of his actions to the Lotus Feet of the Supreme Lord without desiring any fruit thereof, he attains perfection. This is also known as Niskama-karma-yoga. Such a state of pure consciousness is not attainable by those who are driven by sensual desire. Either love or hatred of any sense perception is a great obstacle to realising the self and God. Sensual experience must be tempered by Yukta-vairagya or properly adjusted application of everything and person towards the service of the Supreme Lord with no self-serving motive. Desire is manifest through the senses but the mind is superior to the senses and superior to the mind is the intelligence or reasoning faculty. Superior to the intelligence is the soul and superior to the soul is the Supersoul. Knowing this one should learn to control his mind with the help of pure intelligence and conquer his sensual desires using the sword of transcendental knowledge. Lust is the most dangerous and subtle enemy of man. To defeat this enemy one should be well-armed with sambanda-jnana or the transcendental knowledge of the self, of Godhead and of Maya or illusion and their inter-relationship. The greatest and most precious gift given by God to the soul (jivatma) is free will. The proper use of free will grants us the opportunity of becoming free from the world and attaining our ultimate liberation while misuse of our free will is the cause of our bondage and ultimate descent into the misery of a hellish consciousness.


Useful Acronym to remember the chapter contents:


A tree produces many fruits, but selflessly offers them to others. All year round, the tree dutifully offers shade and shelter regardless of mistreatment by man or animal. Even when a tree is cut, it grows back with determination and strength, ready to serve the world again. The life and qualities of a tree give us profound insight into the art of living in this world while simultaneously remaining completely aloof. Chapter Three defines the practice of karma-yoga — the technique of achieving spiritual connection with God through our daily work. Describing the life of a true karma-yogi, the Bible also affirms, “Be in the world but not of the world”

T Tyaga (Renunciation)

R Rungs (on the Yoga Ladder)

E Exemplary

E Enemy of the soul

T – Tyaga (Renunciation) (Verses 1-9) – At first, Arjuna displays the typical confusion of an immature spiritualist. He thinks spirituality means retirement from active life and the adoption of asceticism in strict seclusion. Often, the easiest response in times of difficulty is one of escapism. Worldly life entails awkward dealings with money, possessions, people and career to name but a few. How can such a lifestyle be compatible with spiritual goals? Krishna explains that true renunciation does not entail a mere abandonment of worldly duties. True renunciation is to give up the mentality that one is the “controller” and “enjoyer” of all his deeds. Thus, by offering the results of one’s daily work (money, knowledge, influence etc.) to God, knowing God to be the ultimate enjoyer and controller, one achieves a real state of renunciation.

R – Rungs (on the Yoga Ladder) (Verses 10-16) – To work without any selfish motivation whatsoever is undoubtedly an advanced stage of spiritual realisation. Thus, Krishna explains how to progress to such a level. He describes a “yoga ladder” with different rungs which represent progressively higher levels of understanding. On the lowest level an individual is solely interested in materialistic enjoyment and has no spiritual inclination. One stage higher is karma-kanda, where one still desires materialistic enjoyment but now tries to achieve it via religious observances. When one realises the futility of material enjoyment they progress to sakama-karma-yoga, where one begins to offer a portion of his results to God but still maintains some selfish motivation. At the next stage of niskama-karma-yoga one accepts whatever necessities he requires to maintain himself and offers everything else to God. Those who progress to this level of spirituality break free from all karmic implication and become peaceful and liberated.

E – Exemplary (Verses 17-35) - Thus, karma-yoga is outlined as the practical process by which one overcomes his material attachments through working in the world. So what about one who has achieved perfection through karma-yoga? Do they need to continue working? Can they retire and simply meditate on God now that they are free of all selfish motivation? Krishna explains how perfected spiritualists continue working in the world for the sole purpose of setting the proper example for others to follow and be inspired by.

E – Enemy of the soul (Verses 36-43) - After hearing about this practical and logical process, the natural reaction is an enthusiastic resolve to dedicate oneself to it. But Arjuna asks Krishna, “In life, even though I know the best course of action, what is it that impels me time and time again to act improperly and against my good intelligence?” Krishna then explains the root cause of this phenomenon is the eternal enemy of the aspiring spiritualist - lust! The inherent quality of the soul is to love; to selflessly serve without any personal agenda. However, when the soul descends to this world that pure love perverts into lust, and one ceaselessly tries to enjoy in a self-centred way without proper regard for others. The way of lust impels one to seek immediate gratification and abandon activities that actually benefit them. In this way, lust cheats one of a progressive and happy life and offers only meagre, instantaneous and temporary gratification in return.

Questions on Chapter 3


Chapter 3 slokas to learn:

tasmād asaktaḥ satataṁ kāryaṁ karma samāchara

asakto hy ācharan karma param āpnoti pūruṣaḥ [19]

tasmāt–Therefore; asaktaḥ (san)–being unattached to the fruits of your actions; satatam–always; samāchara–perfectly perform; kāryam karma–prescribed duties; hi–since; karma ācharan–by performing these duties; asaktaḥ–without attachment; pūruṣaḥ–a person; āpnoti–attains; param–liberation, param-bhakti—pure devotion. [19]

19 So perform your prescribed duties without attachment. By selflessly executing one’s duties a person attains liberation. (True liberation is the state of pure devotion, attained in the maturity of selfless action.)

prakṛteḥ kriyamāṇāni guṇaiḥ karmāṇi sarvaśaḥ

ahaṅkāra-vimūḍhātmā kartāham iti manyate [27]

karmāṇi–Actions; kriyamāṇāni–are effected; sarvaśaḥ–in all ways; guṇaiḥ–(by the senses, impelled) by the modes; prakṛteḥ–of material nature; (tu)–but; ahaṅkāra-vimūḍha-ātmā–one deluded by bodily ego; manyate iti–thinks thus; aham kartā–“I am the doer.” [27]

27 All actions in the world are in every respect effected by the modes of material nature (which impel the senses). But a man deluded by bodily identification thinks, “I alone am accomplishing this work.”

śrī-bhagavān uvācha

kāma eṣa krodha eṣa rajoguṇa-samudbhavaḥ

mahāśano mahā-pāpmā viddhy enam iha vairiṇam [37]

śrī-bhagavān uvācha–The Supreme Lord said: eṣaḥ kāmaḥ–It is this desire to enjoy the mundane; eṣaḥ krodhaḥ–transformed into anger. rajo-guṇa-samudbhavaḥ–It arises from the mode of passion, and from that desire, blind anger is born. viddhi enam–Know such desire to be; mahā-aśanaḥ–never satisfied; mahā-pāpmā–greatly wrathful; vairiṇam–and the worst enemy of the living being; iha–in this world. [37]

37 The Supreme Lord replied: It is the desire to enjoy the mundane that induces a person to commit sin, and in different situations it produces anger. It is utterly insatiable, extremely malicious, and the worst enemy of the living being in this world.