In the last few verses, Shri Krishna explained the wheel of action that is nourishing all of us. In this wheel of action, the important component dependent on us is yajña (performance of duty). The whole cosmos suffers if we do not perform our duties. Hence we have to pay back and pay forward by performing the yajñas mentioned previously. A person who does not follow this chakra (wheel of action) reveling in the senses and sense-objects is an embodiment of sin who is living in vain.
There is one exception to performing the obligatory duties and that is for the one who is reveling in Self. That person has nothing to lose or gain from the world and is completely content and independent of the world. He says that Arjuna (and most of us) does not fit in this category. Shri Krishna continues on with further justifications for performing action.
Chapter 3, Verse 20
कर्मणैव हि संसिद्धिमास्थिता जनकादयः ।
लोकसङ्ग्रहमेवापि सम्पश्यन्कर्तुमर्हसि ॥२०॥
karmaṇaiva hi saṁsiddhimāsthitā janakādayaḥ,
lokasaṅgrahamevāpi sampaśyankartumarhasi. (20)
King Janaka and others attained perfection through action alone. You should also perform action for the welfare of the masses.
Great kings like Janaka who were also great philosophers never left their kingdoms and abandoned their duties. They lived nobly fulfilling their duties and attained the highest. These great kings did that for the welfare of the people in order to guide them. They knew that if they abandoned their duties, everyone else would follow them and the community will be disintegrated.
Shri Krishna tells Arjuna that he should also perform his duty for the welfare of the people and that he can attain perfection through action by performing his duties. When there is utter selfishness with no concern about performing duties, the world disintegrates.
Chapter 3, Verse 21
यद्यदाचरति श्रेष्ठस्तत्तदेवेतरो जनः ।
स यत्प्रमाणं कुरुते लोकस्तदनुवर्तते ॥२१॥
yadyadācarati śreṣṭhastattadevetaro janaḥ,
sa yatpramāṇaṁ kurute lokastadanuvartate. (21)
Whatever great people do, the others follow. Whatever standards they set, all the world follows.
Shri Krishna says to Arjuna that he has an extra responsibility for being in the position that he is in. A lot of people consider him to be great and look up to him. If Arjuna is not doing his duties, all the others following him will cease doing their duties and destroy the harmony in society.
Whatever the noble and great people do, that and that alone others in the society implicitly imitate. The admired people in society set a standard causing a change in the behavior of the masses. Therefore the leaders must take the mantle and responsibility to guide the nation/society. There is an extra responsibility on educated people. If educated people’s behavior in society is not good, the entire standard of living decreases. The values of the leaders of the society reflect the values of the people at large. Therefore, we must be diligent in who we select as our leaders.
This doesn’t let any of us off the hook. Every individual is admired by someone or the other, it could be a younger sister/brother or our kids or our friends. If each one of us thus starts feeling responsible and lives a just and moral life, the whole society will be integrated.
Chapter 3, Verse 22
न मे पार्थास्ति कर्तव्यं त्रिषु लोकेषु किञ्चन ।
नानवाप्तमवाप्तव्यं वर्त एव च कर्मणि ॥२२॥
na me pārthāsti kartavyaṁ triṣu lokeṣu kiñcana,
nānavāptamavāptavyaṁ varta eva ca karmaṇi. (22)
There is nothing in all the three worlds, O Partha, that has to be done by me, nor do I have anything to gain or attain which is unattained. Yet, I am engaged in action.
When we explain an ideal to someone who deeply loves and respects us, we tell them to look at how I am doing it. This is to encourage them by demonstrating that the ideal is not something they can’t pursue.
Every activity (physical, mental or intellectual) is an effort by the individual ego in search of more happiness and contentment. An individual who has awakened to his own Self is blissful and totally content with himself. Therefore, he has no obligatory duties (refer to earlier verses).
Partha is another name for Arjuna as he is the son of Pritha (Kunti). Here Krishna tells Arjuna, Hey Partha look at me. I have no obligatory responsibilities and duties in the world because I am established in Self. I am completely content by myself. I have nothing to gain or attain from the world now or in the future. Yet, I am tirelessly engaged in action.
Chapter 3, Verse 23
यदि ह्यहं न वर्तेयं जातु कर्मण्यतन्द्रितः ।
मम वर्त्मानुवर्तन्ते मनुष्याः पार्थ सर्वशः ॥२३॥
yadi hyahaṁ na varteyaṁ jātu karmaṇyatandritaḥ,
mama vartmānuvartante manuṣyāḥ pārtha sarvaśaḥ. (23)
For if I did not tirelessly engage in action, all men would follow My path in all respects.
Shri Krishna continues the dialogue by explaining why he works tirelessly even without any obligatory duties. He says – If I don’t work in the world serving others tirelessly, all people who admire me will follow it in every way. To attain the ultimate reality, one ought to act to purify themselves. Since others implicitly follow whatever I do, I continue to act tirelessly as an ideal for others.
Chapter 3, Verse 24
उत्सीदेयुरिमे लोका न कुर्यां कर्म चेदहम् ।
सङ्करस्य च कर्ता स्यामुपहन्यामिमाः प्रजाः ॥२४
utsīdeyurime lokā na kuryāṁ karma cedaham,
saṅkarasya ca kartā syāmupahanyāmimāḥ prajāḥ. (24)
If I ceased to perform action, these worlds would perish. I would be responsible for the confusion that would prevail, and would destroy these beings.
Shri Krishna explained in the last verse that he works tirelessly as an individual in society so that others can follow him implicitly, serving others in the spirit of yajña.
Shri Krishna is not just an individual who is identified with the body, mind, and intellect equipment like us. He is a realized person who is identified with the higher reality (Consciousness) and hence is the life force in all of us. As the Lord, he has to work continuously, he can’t stop even for a moment or all the coordinated activity will stop. The world which is supported by the activity of all beings and devas as mentioned in the wheel of action (refer to previous verses) will cease to exist without the life force.
Chapter 3, Verse 25
सक्ताः कर्मण्यविद्वांसो यथा कुर्वन्ति भारत ।
saktāḥ karmaṇyavidvāṁso yathā kurvanti bhārata
As ignorant people perform action with attachment, O Bharata, so should the wise act without attachment, wishing the welfare of the world.
Attachment comes from ignorance where one is constantly pursuing the ‘I’ and ‘I want’ stream of thoughts to fulfill ego and ego-centric desires to be happy. People with attachment work dynamically and enthusiastically to fulfill their desires. A wise man performs work with the same enthusiasm and dynamism without attachment, for the welfare of the world.
When one is detached from the work, naturally there is dynamism because the mind is undisturbed and calm. Performing work this way purifies the mind to attain the ultimate reality.
Chapter 3, Verse 26
न बुद्धिभेदं जनयेदज्ञानां कर्मसङ्गिनाम् ।
जोषयेत्सर्वकर्माणि विद्वान्युक्तः समाचरन् ॥२६॥
na buddhibhedaṁ janayedajñānāṁ karmasaṅginām,
joṣayetsarvakarmāṇi vidvānyuktaḥ samācaran. (26)
The wise should not unsettle the minds of ignorant people, who are attached to action. They should inspire the ignorant to engage in action, by performing action themselves in an enlightened way.
Those who are wise should not confuse those who are ignorant by asking them to stop working. You will be unsettling their minds rather than helping. Once they stop working, it is very hard for them to restart. Help them from wherever they are by inspiring and encouraging them to perform any work to the best of their capacity and gently guiding them to work in the yajña spirit.
The wise fulfill their duties cheerfully to the best of their capacity. Slowly ones surrounding the wise will start imitating and eventually, the standard of life in the entire community will increase.