Reflections Along The Way

Bhagavad Geeta: Chapter 4, Verses 18-23

In the previous verses, Shri Krishna says even though he is the creator of all four varnas, we should know him to be the non-doer, the changeless imperishable reality. He is untainted by actions and has no desire for the fruits of the actions. Shri Krishna then indicates the importance of understanding the nature of action and inaction. He says that even the wisest are confused by this.

Chapter 4, Verse 18

कर्मण्यकर्म यः पश्येदकर्मणि च कर्म यः ।
स बुद्धिमान्मनुष्येषु स युक्तः कृत्स्नकर्मकृत् ॥१८॥
karmaṇyakarma yaḥ paśyedakarmaṇi ca karma yaḥ,
sa buddhimānmanuṣyeṣu sa yuktaḥ kṛtsnakarmakṛt. (18)

Those who see action in inaction and inaction in action are truly wise among men. They are yogis and true performers of all actions.

Life itself is action (right action and wrong action) and inaction. A wise person can see that even with physical inaction, there can be intense mental and intellectual activity. And even while doing intense actions (physical or mental), one can revel in inaction by being an observer.

Physical activity is not a criterion for determining whether a person is active or inactive. For example, an unintelligent person may assume that a saint sitting under a tree with closed eyes is not doing any activity. In reality, the saint’s contemplative mind is functioning at a high capacity in quietude.

When one performs actions in the attitude of karma yoga as described by Shri Krishna in the previous chapter, one develops an equipoise necessary to practice meditation. Even meditation is an action. Inaction is when you witness the actions happening with complete detachment in the midst of all action. Those who have the capacity to stand apart and witness activity (physical or mental) conclude that the observer is inactive.

Those who can observe activity in inaction and inactivity in action are not preoccupied with selfish desires and life’s ever-changing situations. These people are close to realizing the Self and being free from the vicissitudes of life.

Chapter 4, Verse 19

यस्य सर्वे समारम्भाः कामसङ्कल्पवर्जिताः ।
ज्ञानाग्निदग्धकर्माणं तमाहुः पण्डितं बुधाः ॥१९॥
yasya sarve samārambhāḥ kāmasaṅkalpavarjitāḥ,
jñānāgnidagdhakarmāṇaṁ tamāhuḥ paṇḍitaṁ budhāḥ. (19)

The sages call those persons wise, whose undertakings are free from desires and purposes and who have burnt the actions in the fire of knowledge.

Those who realize the inaction in action and action in inaction have the true knowledge of the Self. They know themselves to be non-doer (akarta). When one is a non-doer, then he is also a non-enjoyer (bhokta), so the results of the actions do not affect him.

If a prisoner scheduled to be put to death dies before his execution date, he can’t be executed on the planned day of execution. Similarly, if a person doesn’t perceive himself to be the doer, no action can affect him/her. All his undertakings are free from desire or expectation of any results. Those who are inwardly content do not perform actions to fulfill desires, they perform actions from fulfillment for the welfare of society. They are the real pundits.

Chapter 4, Verse 20

त्यक्त्वा कर्मफलासङ्गं नित्यतृप्तो निराश्रयः ।
कर्मण्यभिप्रवृत्तोऽपि नैव किञ्चित्करोति सः ॥२०॥
tyaktvā karmaphalāsaṅgaṁ nityatṛpto nirāśrayaḥ,
karmaṇyabhipravṛtto’pi naiva kiñcitkaroti saḥ. (20)

Having given up attachment to the fruits of their actions, ever satisfied and without dependence on anything, they do not do anything, despite engaging in activities.

Those people give up attachment to actions and the results of actions because they are ever satisfied in the Self. They are not dependent on anything externally.

A man of perfection does not think of himself to be the body, mind, and intellect. He is engaged in intense action being a non-doer (and non-enjoyer). So he doesn’t accumulate any new vāsanās and his work is an expression of infinite love for everyone in the world.

Chapter 4, Verse 21

निराशीर्यतचित्तात्मा त्यक्तसर्वपरिग्रहः ।
शारीरं केवलं कर्म कुर्वन्नाप्नोति किल्बिषम् ॥२१॥
nirāśīryatacittātmā tyaktasarvaparigrahaḥ,
śārīraṁ kevalaṁ karma kurvannāpnoti kilbiṣam. (21)

Having abandoned all sense of ownership, free from expectations, with the mind and intellect fully controlled, they incur no sin by merely performing bodily actions.

Such a person doesn’t need any objects of the world for his happiness and hence has no sense of ownership of any objects of the world, just as a grown-up person gives up his childhood toys, stamp collections, etc. An individual who has no expectations from the future, who has abandoned all sense of ownership, and who has his mind fully controlled can work outside in the world without incurring any sins (accumulating any vāsanās).

Chapter 4, Verse 22

यदृच्छालाभसन्तुष्टो द्वन्द्वातीतो विमत्सरः ।
समः सिद्धावसिद्धौ च कृत्वापि न निबध्यते ॥२२॥
yadṛcchālābhasantuṣṭo dvandvātīto vimatsaraḥ,
samaḥ siddhāvasiddhau ca kṛtvāpi na nibadhyate. (22)

Content with whatever comes of its own accord, free from envy and dualities of life, being equipoised in success and failure, though acting they are not bound.

Such an individual is completely content with whatever comes his way unasked. There is no question of him being envious because he is totally fulfilled and doesn’t need anything. The results of any action make no difference to him be it a failure or success since he doesn’t see himself as the doer/enjoyer. No new vāsanās are created when he performs actions. He has transcended the dualities of life. Equipoised at all times, he is unbound and untainted by activities.

Chapter 4, Verse 23

गतसङ्गस्य मुक्तस्य ज्ञानावस्थितचेतसः ।
यज्ञायाचरतः कर्म समग्रं प्रविलीयते ॥२३॥
gatasaṅgasya muktasya jñānāvasthitacetasaḥ,
yajñāyācarataḥ karma samagraṁ pravilīyate. (23)

Those who are free from material attachments, who are liberated, whose intellect is established in knowledge, and who perform actions as a sacrifice, are freed from all karmic reactions.

A person who is free of all attachments (with no more ego-centric desires), who is liberated from the entanglements of the body, mind, and intellect, who is established in the knowledge of Self, performs actions for the benefit of the world in a cooperative spirit with all his karmas nullified as he is neither the doer nor the enjoyer.

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