Reflections Along The Way

Bhagavad Geeta: Chapter 4, Verses 13-17

Shri Krishna in the previous verses declares himself to be an avatāra and says that one who understands the nature of his birth and the way he performs activities will be free. To create a conducive environment to experience reality, one needs to be free of attachment, fear, and anger and be absorbed in Him. Shri Krishna says that he reciprocates with whatever wishes one approaches him for. Most people seek happiness from the world of objects. Hence they invoke the deities for immediate results through their actions. People seek happiness based on their own thought textures driven by their vāsanās.

Chapter 4, Verse 13

चातुर्वर्ण्यं मया सृष्टं गुणकर्मविभागशः ।
तस्य कर्तारमपि मां विद्ध्यकर्तारमव्ययम् ॥१३॥
cāturvarṇyaṁ mayā sṛṣṭaṁ guṇakarmavibhāgaśaḥ,
tasya kartāramapi māṁ viddhyakartāramavyayam. (13)

The four categories of caste were created by Me according to people’s guna (qualities) and karma (activities). Although I am the creator of this, know Me to be the non-doer and immutable.

Shri Krishna says he created the four varṇas (Brāhmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shūdra). Without understanding this in the full context, this verse has been misinterpreted and misused to create a caste system that has been a significant problem in Indian society for centuries. The next part of the line clearly states that the varnas are classified based on guṇa (qualities) and karma (actions). It is a classification based on natural differences in the color of the minds of human beings, not based on the color of the skin. Varṇa is not determined by birth. The tendencies we have, the thoughts and ideals we keep in mind, and the performance of actions determine the varṇa of any being. A person can move from one varṇa to another based on changes in his mind.

Every person has a mixture of three guṇassattva, tamas, and rajas. sattva is indicative of nobility, creativity, and peace. rajas is indicative of dynamism and desire. tamas is indicative of dullness and inertia.

  • Brahmanās are those who are predominantly sāttvic, secondarily rājasic with little tamas. Eg: Saints and sages
  • Kshatriyas are those who are predominantly rājasic, secondarily sāttvic with little tamas. Eg: Selfless leaders
  • Vaishyas are those who are predominantly rājasic, secondarily tāmasic with little sattva. Eg: Businessmen
  • Shūdras are those who are predominantly tāmasic, secondarily rājasic with little sattva. Eg: Laborers

All four categories are equally important for society to function well. Everyone is required and has a role to play. People having responsibilities based on their mental composition is directly proportional to the success of any organization or society.

Shri Krishna says to Arjuna that despite him being the creator of this entire variety of beings, his true nature is not the creator or the doer. His true nature is pure consciousness which is the changeless substratum for creation.

Chapter 4, Verse 14

न मां कर्माणि लिम्पन्ति न मे कर्मफले स्पृहा ।
इति मां योऽभिजानाति कर्मभिर्न स बध्यते ॥१४॥
na māṁ karmāṇi limpanti na me karmaphale spṛhā,
iti māṁ yo’bhijānāti karmabhirna sa badhyate. (14)

Actions do not taint Me, nor do I desire the fruits of actions. One who knows Me in this way is not bound by his actions.

Shri Krishna says that because of his eternal wisdom, he never thinks he is ‘doing’ or sees himself as the doer/enjoyer. Hence actions don’t taint him. Not only the Lord, anyone who knows himself to be neither the doer nor enjoyer through contemplation remains unbound and free.

Chapter 4, Verse 15

एवं ज्ञात्वा कृतं कर्म पूर्वैरपि मुमुक्षुभिः ।
कुरु कर्मैव तस्मात्त्वं पूर्वैः पूर्वतरं कृतम् ॥१५॥
evaṁ jñātvā kṛtaṁ karma pūrvairapi mumukṣubhiḥ,
kuru karmaiva tasmāttvaṁ pūrvaiḥ pūrvataraṁ kṛtam. (15)

Knowing this, even the ancient seekers of liberation performed actions. Therefore, following those ancient sages, you too should perform actions.

The actions that one engages in are driven by their own vāsanās. Having the knowledge that the Self is neither the doer nor the enjoyer, many seekers have performed actions. Shri Krishna advises Arjuna to act with this knowledge to exhaust his vāsanās like those seekers in the past.

Chapter 4, Verse 16

किं कर्म किमकर्मेति कवयोऽप्यत्र मोहिताः ।
तत्ते कर्म प्रवक्ष्यामि यज्ज्ञात्वा मोक्ष्यसेऽशुभात् ॥१६॥
kiṁ karma kimakarmeti kavayo’pyatra mohitāḥ,
tatte karma pravakṣyāmi yajjñātva mokṣyase’śubhāt. (16)

What is action and what is inaction? Even the wise are confused by this. Now I shall explain to you the nature of action and inaction, knowing which, you may free yourself from bondage.

Shri Krishna says that even wise visionary people are confused in understanding action and inaction. He says that he will explain the nature of action and inaction, knowing that Arjuna can be free from the realm of samsāra.

Chapter 4, Verse 17

कर्मणो ह्यपि बोद्धव्यं बोद्धव्यं च विकर्मणः ।
अकर्मणश्च बोद्धव्यं गहना कर्मणो गतिः ॥१७॥
karmaṇo hyapi boddhavyaṁ boddhavyaṁ ca vikarmaṇaḥ,
akarmaṇaśca boddhavyaṁ gahanā karmaṇo gatiḥ. (17)

You must understand the nature of all three — right action, wrong action, and inaction. The truth about these is profound and challenging to understand.

Actions can be classified into those that are constructive (karma) and those that are destructive (vikarma) for one’s evolution. Karma is of three kinds – nitya karma (everyday duties), naimittika karma(duties on special occasions), and kāmya karma (desire-prompted duties).

One should carefully analyze to perform karma and avoid vikarma. Inaction (akarma) is neither doing nor not doing. The truth about the nature of right action (karma), wrong action (vikarma), and inaction (akarma) are deep and profound. Shri Krishna explains the difference between activity and inactivity in the next verse.

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