Śrīmad-bhagavad-gītā – chapter 4 (jñāna-karma-sannyāsa-yoga)

Acknowledgement.

School of Yoga is profoundly grateful to Saṃskṛta scholars and academics Pijus Kanti Pal (pal.pijuskanti@gmail.com) and Dolon Chanpa Mondal for their support in Saṃskṛta transliteration and quality control.

School of Yoga explains Śrīmad-bhagavad-gītā, chapter 4āna-karma-sannyāsa-yoga (yoga of knowledge of renunciation of action)

Introduction.
  • What is jñāna? Jñāna means “knowledge of the Self”. Here, jñāna-yoga means that knowledge which yokes a person’s awareness of the Self to brahman.
  • What is karma? Karma means action. In this chapter, ŚKṛṣṇa explains how action can be performed without accruing debt (ṛṇa).
  • What is sannyāsa? Sannyāsa means renunciation.
Synopsis.
  • We have seen in chapter 1, Arjuna experiences deep melancholy at having to fight his kinsmen.
  • Śrī Kṛṣṇa, after chiding him, tells him that his logic is incorrect and explains the philosophy of living in chapter 2 (sākhya-yoga).
  • Following this, in chapter 3, Ś Kṛṣṇa explains karma-yoga or the attitude with which action must be performed, so that no debt is accrued.
  • In this chapter, Ś Kṛṣṇa starts by speaking about his own origin and role in creation. Then, he delves into the qualities of action (karma) and sacrifice (yajña).
  • The central message, as depicted in the heading is, that action should be performed for merger (yoga) of the Self with the Brahman (jñāna) and this is possible only with an attitude of renunciation (sannyāsa) when performing action as a sacrifice (yajña).
  • Therefore, the chapter 4 covers knowledge of karma and its renunciation through sacrifice of one’s action (yajña).

School of Yoga explains Śrīmad-bhagavad-gītā, chapter 4Arjuna’s doubt (verse 1 – 15).

Ś Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna that he taught yoga to the Sun. Arjuna, sceptical, counters that this would not be possible because the Sun came before him, Ś Kṛṣṇa. Ś Kṛṣṇa explains many things about himself, and moves away from the image of a person he had projected himself to be and shows himself to be different.

What is Ś Kṛṣṇa saying about himself in this chapter?

In this chapter, Ś Kṛṣṇa reveals himself and these need to be understood.

  • I taught yoga to the Sun who taught it to the world. I existed before everything (verse 1-4).
  • “I can control prakti and creation”. So, Ś Kṛṣṇa is indicating that he has reached a state where he can control prakti. However, it is unclear what he means by calling himself Lord of all beings and his relationship to Brahman (Ch 4 verse 6).
  • When natural state (dharma) decays and there is increase in chaos (adharma), I embody myself. For protection of the virtuous and destruction of wicked and for re-establishment of natural balance I take birth in every era. This is borne out by the ten avatāras of Viṣṇu in dasa-avatāra (verse 7-8).
  • “In whatever way people approach me, I reward those people who follow my path only”. Ś Kṛṣṇa asserts in verse 14 and verse 35 that submission to him is akin to submission to Brahman (verse 11).
  • “Four categories of people are created by me based on their orientation to action (gua-karma-vibhāgaśa), also know that though I am also the initiator, I am not engaged and imperishable”. This is a confusing verse – are the categories (vara) created by him, people or both. This also separates him from the motility aspect of Brahman (verse 13).
  • “Actions do not taint me, nor do I desire the fruits of action, thus those that know me are not bound by actions”. Ś Kṛṣṇa says that like him, that anyone merging with Brahman becomes Brahman (verse 14).
  • Not knowing this one will commit to delusion repeatedly, by this all beings see in their Self me also. Ś Kṛṣṇa reinforces the message that when the practitioner merges with Brahman, there is no difference between him and the practitioner. Clearly, ŚKṛṣṇa is saying that he has merged with Brahman (verse 35).

Conclusion: Ś Kṛṣṇa in the Śrīmad-bhagavad-gītā cannot be viewed as a person. He has to be looked upon as a yogī who has reached the highest levels of Yoga. Also, it is dangerous to view Ś Kṛṣṇa as a role model for modern living, because throughout Mahabharata he is engaged in destroying a society that has been built on a particular tradition with a capability that is out of the envelope of normal existence.

Hence, it is advisable for one to extract lessons from the Śrīmad-bhagavad-gītā and find his or her own solutions to achieving perfection in yoga. 

School of Yoga explains Śrīmad-bhagavad-gītā, Chapter 4 (verse 16 – 22).

When performing, one should be cognisant of prohibited action and be aware of action in inaction. He who perceives action in inaction and inaction in action is wise among men and in complete union in all action. 

Start all undertakings without desire or expectation and abandon fruits of effort. Also, be ever content and not dependent on anything when engaged in action. 

That person who acts with an integrated consciousness and sense of self-worth (asmita), abandons all commission (ahaṅkāra), using only the body for performing action, gets no injustice. Such a person is content with whatever profit come spontaneously, is free from opposites, unselfish, always balanced in success and failure and not bound by actions.

School of Yoga explains Śrīmad-bhagavad-gītā, Chapter 4 – āna-karma-sannyāsa-yoga – (verse 19-23).

  • Action (karma) occurs everywhere, even when one thinks that they are not acting.
  • There are three types of action, approved action (karma), inaction (akarma) and prohibited action (vikarma). Approved action is that which is in conformance with dharma (natural state), inaction is that which occurs when we think we are not acting and prohibited action is that which causes chaos (adharma).
  • Hence, to understand action and transcend it (jñāna-karma-yoga), one must act with awareness of the self (prajñā) when engaged in action (karma).
  • These include;
    • performing action as a sacrifice
    • abandoning fruits of action and commissions
    • being content with whatever outcome occurs, balanced in success and failure
    • acting without expectations, not being attached to outcome
    • being free from opposites, unselfish
    • integrating consciousness (citta) with Self (ātman).

School of Yoga explains Śrīmad-bhagavad-gītā, chapter 4āna-karma-sannyāsa-yoga  dharma.

  • The key factors for achieving jñāna-karma-yoga are; acting according to dharma, avoiding duality in action, remaining in equanimity during and after action and having no attachments to the outcome.
  • The starting point of approved action (karma) is practice of dharma in action. But, what is dharma?
  • We are at peace in certain situations but become agitated in other situations. The contributing factors which underpin our ability to be in a natural state of peace is our dharma. These factors will vary for each individual or entity.
  • Whenever we get stimulus that is congruent to this natural state, we remain in our natural state (dharma) and respond peacefully/ in harmony. Conversely, when we get stimulus that is out of congruence with our natural state, our balance gets disturbed and we go into a state of agitation or chaos (adharma). 
  • Thus, dharma, which can also be referred to as natural state or conditioning, and is the basis on which we decide whether we like or dislike something, and also the basis of our response (karma).
  • Hence, we can say that dharma (conditioning) is that core aspect of our personality which drives decision-making as well as our responses or action (karma) and consequently our sense of self-worth (asmita).
  • Importantly embedded in dharma are other decision-factors such as, avoiding duality in action, remaining in equanimity during and after action and having no attachments to the outcome.
  • This is the importance of dharma and acting in accordance with that deep internal harmony.

School of Yoga explains Śrīmad-bhagavad-gītā, chapter 4, āna-karma-sannyāsa-yoga  dharma concept.

Let us look at dharma in detail, how we develop our natural state and what makes each of us different!

  • We are like computers! First, we get our DNA from our parents. When we are born, we only know how to cry, eat, sleep and perform basic body functions.
  • Next, our parents load us with values and ability to live in society, this becomes our operating systems and forms the basis of our decision parameters. Also, schools augment our values with knowledge, while society help us integrate into a network that is fundamentally hierarchical.
  • So, our Identity and approach to life becomes defined by a personalised and unique decision-making framework. We judge everything and everyone based on this conditioning.
  • This conditioning or value system is our natural state of balance, where we are at peace and is called dharma.

School of Yoga explains Śrīmad-bhagavad-gītā, chapter 4 āna-karma-sannyāsa-yoga dharma at multiple levels.

  • Generic natural state or sāmānya-dharma.

Generic natural state or sāmānya-dharma can be defined as those characteristics which are common to any family of entities.

For example: Gold has specific characteristics which are different from lead or silver. However, all of them come under a common category of metals. All metals have a common natural state and this is called sāmānya-dharma.

Similarly, metals as a category, exhibit characteristics which are different from animals, trees, fishes or humans. This specific defining character which defines each category, family or genus is called sāmānya-dharma. 

  • Specific natural state or viśea-dharma.

Specific natural state or viśea-dharma is the natural state of individual entities within a family of entities.

For example: Within metals, gold is different from copper, silver or iron. In wood, teak is different from oak or rubber. The family of wood will conform to a generic or sāmānya-dharma. However, the unique natural state (viśeṣa-dharma) of teak will be different from oak, elm or rosewood.

This logic can be expanded in multiple directions. For instance, the unique natural state (viśeṣa-dharma) of a table will be different from that of a chair or sofa, even though they may both be made from the same tree. Thus, all tables will exhibit a unique natural state, regardless of the material used to make them.

In fact, this concept is applicable to all entities. A heart has a unique natural state, regardless of the body. It cannot do the job of the stomach, even though both may be in the same body. 

  • Individual natural state or sva-dharma.

Each of us behaves differently. This is on account of conditioning brought about by DNA, family, upbringing, societal norms, diet and habits. Consequently, this allows individuals to select information, analyse and process it in a unique manner and behave in the way they do.

This specific characteristics of capability at an individual level is called svadharma (sva = self + dharma = conditioning).

  • Universal natural state or sanātana-dharma.

Dharma covers all animate and inanimate entities, including planets, galaxies and nations. Everything can be classified under generic (sāmānya), unique (viśea) or personal (svadharma) natural state. This concept is universal in its applicability; hence it is called universal-natural-state or sanātana-dharma.

For example – the natural state of the earth is position, shape, atmosphere and ability to sustain life. In the case of a nation, its dharma can possibly be its constitution, flag, states, people etc.

Now, the important question – what is the relationship between dharma and jñāna-karma?

All our actions (karma) are determined by conditioning (dharma)! Let’s look at some examples,

  • As humans, we exhibit certain characteristics that make us humans.
  • As individuals, we behave uniquely because we have unique DNA and are brought up in a certain way, therefore exhibit specific responses to stimuli.
  • Similarly, everything we do, including how we drink water, eat food or choose and drive a car are unique to us and exhibit specific capabilities, characteristics and responses.

Why is this important? this means that almost all that we do, think or say comes from being conditioned (dharma), so to achieve jñāna-karma, we will first need to transcend our notions of right-wrong, good-bad, like-dislike and get comfortable with a state of treating everything without prior judgement. It is aso important to recognise that unless all three aspects of generic (sāmānya), unique (viśea) or personal (svadharma) are in their natural state, there can be no peace.

For all entities, this means that all must institute an intrinsic process of dumping baggage that is no longer relevant in order to ensure that responses are relevant to the current stimulus. So, memory is not always an asset and must be purged regularly.

The question is, can we transcend dharma? When conditioning drives so much of our comfort levels, do we have any free will to change?

Ś Kṛṣṇa say that this is possible through sacrifice (yajña).

School of Yoga explains Śrīmad-bhagavad-gītā, chapter 4āna-karma-sannyāsa-yoga (verse 24 – 42).

What is sacrifice (yajña)? 

Brahman sacrifices to Brahman, the offering is to the fire of the Brahman, the offering is made only by Brahman, the end result is achieved by effort of one who is absorbed in meditation of Brahman. Some sacrifice to their deities, yogīs worship the fire of Brahman, others offer sacrifice as a sacrifice. Organ of hearing and other senses in the fire of self-restraint are sacrificed, sources of sound and others are sacrificed in the fire of the senses.

Yet others sacrifice all functions of the senses and movements of vital air (prāṇa), and others sacrifice restraint of the Self in the fire of yoga. People also sacrifice materials, self-restraint, yoga as a sacrifice, yet others sacrifice knowledge gained by self-study, as do ascetics and people who practice great vows. 

In the outgoing breath people sacrifice incoming breath, yet others sacrifice incoming breath in the outgoing breath controlling the speed of incoming and outgoing breath, restraining it becomes the principal focus. Others regulate food intake or sacrifice vital air in the incoming breath also all these that know sacrifice get their impurities destroyed by sacrifice.

There are many forms of sacrifice spread across the spectrum of Brahman which are produced by action. Superior to sacrifice of materials is sacrifice of knowledge, all action culminates in knowledge (jñāna).

This subtle knowledge can be achieved by prostration, by questioning and by service. Then wise people will teach you the knowledge of reaching the Truth. Not knowing this one will commit to delusion repeatedly, but by this, all beings see me in their Self also. 

Just as a blazing fire reduces fuel to ashes, the fire of knowledge reduces all actions to ashes. Verily, nothing is as pure as wisdom in this world and this has been discovered over time by yogīs who have achieved total perfection.

Those that are sincere and dedicated obtain wisdom when they are totally, eagerly engaged subduing the senses have obtained wisdom, they obtain supreme peace quickly.

The sacrifice (yajña) process.

What is sacrifice (yajña)? Sacrifice is the willingness to give a part of oneself for a purpose without expectation of return.

From first principles: 

  • All sacrifice comes from Brahman.
  • First, from Brahman, purua (primordial Identity or Self) and prakti (primordial manifestation or energy) emerge. 
  • Next, purua tries to project its own Identity or self-worth (asmitā).  Additionally, this projection is in the form of an awareness called citta (consciousness).
  • Furthermore, citta (consciousness) is a medium, a carrier of experience. It is inert and is the carrier of motility (prāṇa) as well as sentiment (bhāva). Sentiment is an expression of purua.
  • Lastly, the motility and sentiment (bhāva) element are provided by prakti in the form of gua (attributes). So, purua (experiencer) is the static element and prakti is the dynamic element.
  • Purua and prakti weave with each other, this weave is called tantra and the outcome is called karma.
  • All actions (karma) result in imbalance between the entities (ātman) and this results in debt (ṛṇa) which needs to be reconciled.
  • Since the Self (ātman) is holding the debt, the only way to escape rebirth (sasāra) is to remove the Self from the action and this is done by sacrifice (yajña).
  • It is important to realise the sacrifice is also an action (karma), except that it is a regression action on the Self, as sacrifice results in the Self becoming less dependent on the environment for supporting its self-worth (asmitā).
  • But, to what extent is sacrifice possible? What is the span and extent of our free-will? To what extent do we control the process of acting and sacrifice, considering the impact of dharma?

Free-will – what is it, does it exist and to what extent does it impact us?

  • If everything is dictated by prior debt that has come for reconciliation (prārabdha-karma), then do we control the outcome of anything?
  • Also, Ś Kṛṣṇa says that even if we do not act, prakti will force action to preserve itself. So, do we have control over creation of karma and debt (ṛṇa)?
  • Firstly, this means that any action which is driven by conscious or unconscious impact of dharma is not free-will or ability to act on self-will.
  • Importantly, this includes most of our daily activities such as…
    • Natural actions, which includes breathing, eating, sleeping etc.
    • Major relationships, such as with parents, siblings, offspring, friends, colleagues and situations that occur on account of prārabdha-karma and occur due to the need for reconciliation of debt (ṛṇa).
    • Our own reactions to stimuli that are driven by DNA, familial and societal conditioning.
    • This can also be extended to include actions of societies, nations and the earth.

So, does this mean that our normal actions are not governed by free-will? This is because we do not act, but react. So, does free-will exist? If it does, what is free-will?

  • First, let us hypothesise free-will to be any action where a person responds to stimulus solely on the strength of his or her own individuality (svatantra) and that there is no influence of any kind on the person during the act.
  • Importantly, if free-will does not exist, then how are we to implement anything that Śrī Kṛṣṇa recommends in the Śrīmad-bhagavad-gītā?
  • Going by Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s assertion, let us assume that free-will exists somewhere, that we need to find it and understand its power in order to be able to initiate the sacrifice process.
Let us go back to first principles.
  • The creation of anything comes from nothing. This is the Brahman.
  • Next, the only logical starting point of anything is nothing because even if we were to consider an argument of “God” having started the process, “God” is also something, we then need to figure out where “God” came from and how that “God” got the ability to generate materiality.
  • This state where something can come from can only be nothing. Next, nothing can exist in two forms – as null or as infinity, both states are the same, only the experience is different.
  • Then Brahman experiences an atemporal vibration called spandana and becomes aware of its own existence (prajñā). This is not free-will because if free will existed, Brahman could have stopped spandana from manifesting.
  • Can Brahman stop spandana from manifesting? Brahman cannot stop atemporal vibration (spandana) from occurring, because it occurs without stimulus, from a primordial need for self-expression. We know that self-expression (bhāva) occurs spontaneously, without stimulus. The entity that emerges is purua (Identity).
  • Manifestation results in awareness of three experiences by purua – (1) excitement at the awareness of its own existence (2) anxiety as to what this awareness is and (3) anxiety also because it does not want to lose this new awareness. 
  • This insecurity forces purua to manifest in order to experience its awareness of itself and confirm its existence. 
  • From Brahman, emerges prakti (manifestation in the form of gua or attributes) and it weaves with purua (Primordial Identity or experiencer). This leads to the formation of materiality, Universe etc. This is not free-will, but a result of the weave of purua and prakti which is tantra.

For example, a body will remain in a state of rest unless acted upon by an external force. The state of rest is tamas, the external force is rajas and the point when the ball achieves a balance between tamas and rajas is sattva or harmony. The state of inertia or tamas is a state of no-action, passion (rajas) is action propelled by desire and harmonic (sattva) is the state of approved action. None of these states are free-will.

Free-will also conforms to quantum mechanics.

When a ball is in a state of rest, the interatomic/ intermolecular bonds are in a particular state, acted upon only by gravity, which slowly alters the state of the ball itself. This change in state is not within the control of the ball, but the inter and intra-atomic/ molecular bonds refuse to release their relationships and resist. This resistance to change in current state is free-will because the entities experience a primordial fear of loss of Identity.

  • However, it is important to note that Brahman, while providing the base for motility is intrinsically inert. Brahman does not participate in the weave of purua and prakti, the creation of matter and energy, which is māyā (illusion). 
  • So, the fundamental foundation of nothingness (state of peace) which is Brahman and an awareness of that state (prajñā) does not change.

Consequently, we can establish that free-will state exists only in the pure state of Brahman because everything else is derived or comes from fear of loss of Identity.  

  • All matter else is an outcome of karma, which also means that all materiality (māyā) is a zone where there is no free-will.
  • So, why is there no free-will outside of Brahman?
    • We have seen that purua, prakti and karma come out of a fear of loss of existence or relevance.
    • From karma comes conditioning (dharma).
    • So, whenever we act, it is generally in conformance to conditioning (dharma).
    • Also, when we move out of conditioning (dharma), we experience anxiety of loss of sense of existence or anxiety to self-worth (asmitā).
    • This generally forces us back into our zone of comfort (dharma).
Let us look at some examples.
  • UK was a superpower. In fact, there was a time when UK controlled almost everything controllable by humans on Earth. Would they have let control go voluntarily? Of course not! Then what happened? How were they unable to exercise their will and continue to be a world-power?
  • If free-will existed, there would be no disease, decay and death. After all, who will die willingly?
  • Also, why do we fight death and try to stay alive? Why do we not succeed?
  • Try this experiment – sit comfortably and breathe normally. Just observe the breath and ensure that there is no change in flow, breakages or agitation. You will quickly find out that maintaining this quality of breath is impossible for more than a minute.
  • Experiment 2 – when walking, breath-in for 4-steps, hold for 2-steps, exhale for 4-steps and retain for 2-steps. You will notice that it is impossible to maintain a sustained breath control. Why is it so difficult to exercise free-will?
To what extent can we control actions and affect outcome?
  • The starting point is a realisation comes that free-will is a mirage and control over outcome and self are difficult. So, the scope of free-will is confined to reducing impact on self-worth when performing action (karma).
  • When response is in the form of sacrifice (yajña) or action without expectation of return, then awareness of self-worth (jñāna) increases. This reduces fear of loss of identity (asmitā) and increases tranquillity (Brahman).
  • How should one be able to activate free will? It won’t be easy because the scope is so limited…
    • Start by not reacting, let go the moment and be selective in the responses.
    • Then, start sacrificing things that don’t matter much and slowly,
    • Try to implement all the sacrifices that Śrī Kṛṣṇa.
How to increase free-will through sacrifice (yajña).
  • Śrī Kṛṣṇa says that all sacrifice (yajña) comes from Brahman.
  • Since the source of sacrifice is Brahman, any and everything can be sacrificed. So, there are infinite opportunity for sacrifice.
  • This also means that all action (karma) can also be sacrificed.
  • The only question that remains, do we have the ability to sacrifice and to what extent do we control the process?
  • Obviously, each of us has some ability to give up material and other aspects, and this might be a good starting point. Start by sacrificing anything that generates least anxiety. Sacrifice that baggage.
  • Importantly, once the easy ones are sacrificed, be alert that the ones that were sacrificed don’t creep back on you.
  • The interesting thing about sacrificing low hanging fruit, relationship and power related entities is that it prepares one mentally for more sacrifices.
  • But, sacrificing also gets harder as one begins pushing the limits of conditioning (dharma).
  • Sacrifice of things that we are attached to impact our self-esteem (asmitā), this fear of loss of self-esteem brings out severe reactions of anxiety and passion. This makes jettisoning of baggage harder.
  • Sacrifice is also required for acquisition of knowledge, because from knowledge comes discrimination (viveka) and dispassion (vairāgya), which helps in subduing one’s self-worth (asmitā).
  • This is also possible at the feet of gurus who have the knowledge, experience and expertise to help the practitioner in understanding sacrifice (yajña).
  • With sacrifice, all action becoming non-personal resulting in;
    • Destruction of the self (ātman) and consequently debt (prārabdha-karma or previous debt), because debt is attached to the Self and if the Self is destroyed, there is no place where debt may be accrued.
    • Consequently, there is disruption of cycle of rebirth.
    • Increased dispassion (vairāgya) makes the person become less afraid of consequences of action, less judgemental of outcome,
    • The person also accepts change with less resistance and consequently becomes more tranquil.

School of Yoga explains some contradictions to accepted positions. 

Do we have free will? This is the intrinsic question that this chapter raises. We would like to think that we have the ability to make a choice, but is that a reality? The answer to this vexing question is probably “Yes, if we do not react to stimulus”.

Lessons from Śrīmad-bhagavad-gītā, chapter 4ñāna-karma-sannyāsa-yoga.

The business of material life is all about understanding action (karma). Also, the practice of sustainable and responsible living is woven into the Indian ethos.

School of Yoga explains yajña or sacrifice and Bhārat’s culture.

Yajña in deeply woven into the psyche of Bhārat or India – one of the yajñas performed ritually in Bhārat is called pañca-mahāyajñas (five major sacrifices) which a person is supposed to follow every day. These comprise deva-yajña (sacrifice to one’s deity), i-yajña (sacrifice to the seers, those that gave Bhārat her civilisation), pityajña (sacrifice to one’s ancestors), bhūta-yajña (sacrifice to all beings), manuya-yajña (sacrifice to other humans). 

What is manuya-yajña or sacrifice to other humans? It is participating in their welfare and this includes their journey through life, such as marriage, birth, celebrations, reversals, deaths etc. in a manner that gives them pleasure, peace and happiness but without expectation of return. This participation, since it is a sacrifice must be centred on the other person and include respecting their privacy. Manuya-yajña generally follows various rites as given below.

The transliteration and translation of Śrīmad-bhagavad-gītā, Chapter 4āna-karma-sannyāsa-yoga follows.

The Sanskrit words are in red italics.

श्रीभगवानुवाच ।

इमं विवस्वते योगं प्रोक्तवानहमव्ययम् ।

विवस्वान्मनवे प्राह मनुरिक्ष्वाकवेऽब्रवीत् ॥ ४-१॥

एवं परम्पराप्राप्तमिमं राजर्षयो विदुः ।

स कालेनेह महता योगो नष्टः परन्तप ॥ ४-२॥

स एवायं मया तेऽद्य योगः प्रोक्तः पुरातनः ।

भक्तोऽसि मे सखा चेति रहस्यं ह्येतदुत्तमम् ॥ ४-३॥

(1-3) Śrī Kṛṣṇa said – I taught this imperishable yoga to the Sun who taught it to Manu, who taught it to īkṣvāku (imaṃ vivasvate yogaṃ proktavānahamavyayam । vivasvānmanave prāha manurikṣvākave’bravīt ॥ 4-1॥). Thus, this was handed down through the generations of royal seers who knew it but over time and long period this yoga has been lost (evaṃ paramparāprāptamimaṃ rājarṣayo viduḥ । sa kāleneha mahatā yogo naṣṭaḥ parantapa ॥ 4-2॥). This yoga also, that I teach you today, has been known since ancient times to devotees and since you are my friend, so I am revealing this supreme secret to you (sa evāyaṃ mayā te’dya yogaḥ proktaḥ purātanaḥ । bhakto’si me sakhā ceti rahasyaṃ hyetaduttamam ॥ 4-3॥).

 अर्जुन उवाच ।

अपरं भवतो जन्म परं जन्म विवस्वतः ।

कथमेतद्विजानीयां त्वमादौ प्रोक्तवानिति ॥ ४-४॥

(4) Arjuna asked – You were born after the Sun. How am I to comprehend that you taught this in the beginning of times? (aparaṃ bhavato janma paraṃ janma vivasvataḥ । kathametadvijānīyāṃ tvamādau proktavāniti ॥ 4-4॥).

श्रीभगवानुवाच ।

बहूनि मे व्यतीतानि जन्मानि तव चार्जुन ।

तान्यहं वेद सर्वाणि न त्वं वेत्थ परन्तप ॥ ४-५॥

अजोऽपि सन्नव्ययात्मा भूतानामीश्वरोऽपि सन् ।

प्रकृतिं स्वामधिष्ठाय सम्भवाम्यात्ममायया ॥ ४-६॥

(5-6) Śrī Kṛṣṇa said – I have taken many births just like you but unlike you, remember them all (bahūni me vyatītāni janmāni tava cārjuna । tānyahaṃ veda sarvāṇi na tvaṃ vettha parantapa ॥ 4-5॥). I am an imperishable soul, the Lord of all beings also, since I control the emergence of prakti, I can create the illusion of my own existence (ajo’pi sannavyayātmā bhūtānāmīśvaro’pi san । prakṛtiṃ svāmadhiṣṭhāya sambhavāmyātmamāyayā ॥ 4-6॥). 

यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भवति भारत ।

अभ्युत्थानमधर्मस्य तदात्मानं सृजाम्यहम् ॥ ४-७॥

परित्राणाय साधूनां विनाशाय च दुष्कृताम् ।

धर्मसंस्थापनार्थाय सम्भवामि युगे युगे ॥ ४-८॥

(7-8) When natural state decays and there is increase in chaos, I embody myself (yadā yadā hi dharmasya glānirbhavati bhārata । abhyutthānamadharmasya tadātmānaṃ sṛjāmyaham ॥ 4-7॥). For protection of the virtuous and destruction of wicked and for re-establishment of natural balance, I take birth in every era (paritrāṇāya sādhūnāṃ vināśāya ca duṣkṛtām । dharmasaṃsthāpanārthāya sambhavāmi yuge yuge ॥ 4-8॥).

जन्म कर्म च मे दिव्यमेवं यो वेत्ति तत्त्वतः ।

त्यक्त्वा देहं पुनर्जन्म नैति मामेति सोऽर्जुन ॥ ४-९॥

वीतरागभयक्रोधा मन्मया मामुपाश्रिताः ।

बहवो ज्ञानतपसा पूता मद्भावमागताः ॥ ४-१०॥

(9-10) He who understands my divine activities in its subtleties, when he abandons his body stops having further births and comes to me (janma karma ca me divyamevaṃ yo vetti tattvataḥ । tyaktvā dehaṃ punarjanma naiti māmeti so’rjuna ॥ 4-9॥). Freed from attachment, fear, anger, absorbed in me and taking refuge in me, many who have sacrificed their knowledge of the Self have attained my state (vītarāgabhayakrodhā manmayā māmupāśritāḥ । bahavo jñānatapasā pūtā madbhāvamāgatāḥ ॥ 4-10॥).

ये यथा मां प्रपद्यन्ते तांस्तथैव भजाम्यहम् ।

मम वर्त्मानुवर्तन्ते मनुष्याः पार्थ सर्वशः ॥ ४-११॥

काङ्क्षन्तः कर्मणां सिद्धिं यजन्त इह देवताः ।

क्षिप्रं हि मानुषे लोके सिद्धिर्भवति कर्मजा ॥ ४-१२॥

(11-12) In whatever way people approach me, I reward those people who follow my path only (ye yathā māṃ prapadyante tāṃstathaiva bhajāmyaham । mama vartmānuvartante manuṣyāḥ pārtha sarvaśaḥ ॥ 4-11॥). Sacrifice longing for success in action to the deivas quickly, because in this human world, success is achieved when there is action (kāṅkṣantaḥ karmaṇāṃ siddhiṃ yajanta iha devatāḥ । kṣipraṃ hi mānuṣe loke siddhirbhavati karmajā ॥ 4-12॥).

चातुर्वर्ण्यं मया सृष्टं गुणकर्मविभागशः ।

तस्य कर्तारमपि मां विद्ध्यकर्तारमव्ययम् ॥ ४-१३॥

न मां कर्माणि लिम्पन्ति न मे कर्मफले स्पृहा ।

इति मां योऽभिजानाति कर्मभिर्न स बध्यते ॥ ४-१४॥

एवं ज्ञात्वा कृतं कर्म पूर्वैरपि मुमुक्षुभिः ।

कुरु कर्मैव तस्मात्त्वं पूर्वैः पूर्वतरं कृतम् ॥ ४-१५॥

(13-15) The are four categories of people are created by me based on their orientation to action (guṇakarmavibhāgaśaḥ), also know that though I am also the initiator, I am not engaged and imperishable (cāturvarṇyaṃ mayā sṛṣṭaṃ guṇakarmavibhāgaśaḥ । tasya kartāramapi māṃ viddhyakartāramavyayam ॥ 4-13॥), Actions do not taint me, nor do I desire the fruits of action, thus those that know me are not bound by actions (na māṃ karmāṇi limpanti na me karmaphale spṛhā । iti māṃ yo’bhijānāti karmabhirna sa badhyate ॥ 4-14॥). Thus, having known how fervent ancient seekers of the Truth performed karma, perform karma as the ancients did (evaṃ jñātvā kṛtaṃ karma pūrvairapi mumukṣubhiḥ । kuru karmaiva tasmāttvaṃ pūrvaiḥ pūrvataraṃ kṛtam ॥ 4-15॥).

किं कर्म किमकर्मेति कवयोऽप्यत्र मोहिताः ।

तत्ते कर्म प्रवक्ष्यामि यज्ज्ञात्वा मोक्ष्यसेऽशुभात् ॥ ४-१६॥

कर्मणो ह्यपि बोद्धव्यं बोद्धव्यं च विकर्मणः ।

अकर्मणश्च बोद्धव्यं गहना कर्मणो गतिः ॥ ४-१७॥

कर्मण्यकर्म यः पश्येदकर्मणि च कर्म यः ।

स बुद्धिमान्मनुष्येषु स युक्तः कृत्स्नकर्मकृत् ॥ ४-१८॥

(16 – 18) What is action, what is inaction, which deludes even the poets? I shall teach you, knowing which you can achieve liberation from that which is inappropriate (kiṃ karma kimakarmeti kavayo’pyatra mohitāḥ । tatte karma pravakṣyāmi yajjñātvā mokṣyase’śubhāt ॥ 4-16॥). Also, should be known of action, as should be known prohibited action and knowledge of inaction, because action is deep (karmaṇo hyapi boddhavyaṃ boddhavyaṃ ca vikarmaṇaḥ । akarmaṇaśca boddhavyaṃ gahanā karmaṇo gatiḥ ॥ 4-17॥). He who perceives action in inaction and inaction in action is wise among men and in complete union in all action (karmaṇyakarma yaḥ paśyedakarmaṇi ca karma yaḥ । sa buddhimānmanuṣyeṣu sa yuktaḥ kṛtsnakarmakṛt ॥ 4-18॥).

यस्य सर्वे समारम्भाः कामसङ्कल्पवर्जिताः ।

ज्ञानाग्निदग्धकर्माणं तमाहुः पण्डितं बुधाः ॥ ४-१९॥

त्यक्त्वा कर्मफलासङ्गं नित्यतृप्तो निराश्रयः ।

कर्मण्यभिप्रवृत्तोऽपि नैव किञ्चित्करोति सः ॥ ४-२०॥

(19-20) He who starts all undertakings without desire or expectation, whose action have been tempered in the fire of knowledge is called a wise scholar (yasya sarve samārambhāḥ kāmasaṅkalpavarjitāḥ । jñānāgnidagdhakarmāṇaṃ tamāhuḥ paṇḍitaṃ budhāḥ ॥ 4-19॥). He who has abandoned fruits of effort, is ever content and not dependent on anything when engaged in action, truly he does nothing (tyaktvā karmaphalāsaṅgaṃ nityatṛpto nirāśrayaḥ । karmaṇyabhipravṛtto’pi naiva kiñcitkaroti saḥ ॥ 4-20॥).

निराशीर्यतचित्तात्मा त्यक्तसर्वपरिग्रहः ।

शारीरं केवलं कर्म कुर्वन्नाप्नोति किल्बिषम् ॥ ४-२१॥

यदृच्छालाभसन्तुष्टो द्वन्द्वातीतो विमत्सरः ।

समः सिद्धावसिद्धौ च कृत्वापि न निबध्यते ॥ ४-२२॥

गतसङ्गस्य मुक्तस्य ज्ञानावस्थितचेतसः ।

यज्ञायाचरतः कर्म समग्रं प्रविलीयते ॥ ४-२३॥

(21-23) Without expectation, with an integrated consciousness and Self, abandoning all commission using only the body for performing action, that person gets no injustice (nirāśīryatacittātmā tyaktasarvaparigrahaḥ । śārīraṃ kevalaṃ karma kurvannāpnoti kilbiṣam ॥ 4-21॥). The words parigraha and kilbiṣa are key words and have no appropriate English equivalent. Content with whatever profit come spontaneously free from opposites, unselfish, always balanced in success and failure and not bound by actions (yadṛcchālābhasantuṣṭo dvandvātīto vimatsaraḥ । samaḥ siddhāvasiddhau ca kṛtvāpi na nibadhyate ॥ 4-22॥). One who is devoid of attachment, liberated with conscious knowledge like Vasishta, performing action for sacrifice ceases to exist (gatasaṅgasya muktasya jñānāvasthitacetasaḥ । yajñāyācarataḥ karma samagraṃ pravilīyate ॥ 4-23॥). Here, pravilīyate means dissolved, but we have translated it as ceases to exist.

ब्रह्मार्पणं ब्रह्म हविर्ब्रह्माग्नौ ब्रह्मणा हुतम् ।

ब्रह्मैव तेन गन्तव्यं ब्रह्मकर्मसमाधिना ॥ ४-२४॥

दैवमेवापरे यज्ञं योगिनः पर्युपासते ।

ब्रह्माग्नावपरे यज्ञं यज्ञेनैवोपजुह्वति ॥ ४-२५॥

श्रोत्रादीनीन्द्रियाण्यन्ये संयमाग्निषु जुह्वति ।

शब्दादीन्विषयानन्य इन्द्रियाग्निषु जुह्वति ॥ ४-२६॥

(24-26) Brahman sacrifices to the Brahman, the offering is to the fire of the Brahman, the offering is made only by the Brahman the end result is achieved by effort of one who is absorbed in meditation of the Brahman (brahmārpaṇaṃ brahma havirbrahmāgnau brahmaṇā hutam । brahmaiva tena gantavyaṃ brahmakarmasamādhinā ॥ 4-24॥). Some sacrifice only to the deities, yogīs worship the fire of Brahman, others sacrifice, sacrifice as a sacrifice (daivamevāpare yajñaṃ yoginaḥ paryupāsate । brahmāgnāvapare yajñaṃ yajñenaivopajuhvati ॥ 4-25॥). Organ of hearing and other senses in the fire of self-restraint are sacrificed, sources of sound and others are sacrificed in the fire of the senses (śrotrādīnīndriyāṇyanye saṃyamāgniṣu juhvati । śabdādīnviṣayānanya indriyāgniṣu juhvati ॥ 4-26॥).

सर्वाणीन्द्रियकर्माणि प्राणकर्माणि चापरे ।

आत्मसंयमयोगाग्नौ जुह्वति ज्ञानदीपिते ॥ ४-२७॥

द्रव्ययज्ञास्तपोयज्ञा योगयज्ञास्तथापरे ।

स्वाध्यायज्ञानयज्ञाश्च यतयः संशितव्रताः ॥ ४-२८॥

(27-28) Yet others sacrifice all functions of the senses and movements of vital air and others, when restrained together within the Self in the fire of yoga that has been kindled by the light knowledge (sarvāṇīndriyakarmāṇi prāṇakarmāṇi cāpare । ātmasaṃyamayogāgnau juhvati jñānadīpite ॥ 4-27॥). People also sacrifice materials, self-restraint, Yoga as a sacrifice, yet others sacrifice knowledge gained by self-study as do ascetics and people who practice great vows (dravyayajñāstapoyajñā yogayajñāstathāpare । svādhyāyajñānayajñāśca yatayaḥ saṃśitavratāḥ ॥ 4-28॥).

अपाने जुह्वति प्राणं प्राणेऽपानं तथापरे ।

प्राणापानगती रुद्ध्वा प्राणायामपरायणाः ॥ ४-२९॥

अपरे नियताहाराः प्राणान्प्राणेषु जुह्वति ।

सर्वेऽप्येते यज्ञविदो यज्ञक्षपितकल्मषाः ॥ ४-३०॥

(29-30) In the outgoing breath people sacrifice incoming breath, yet others sacrifice incoming breath in the outgoing breath (apāne juhvati prāṇaṃ prāṇe’pānaṃ tathāpare ।) controlling the speed of incoming and outgoing breath and restraining it becomes the principal focus (prāṇāpānagatī ruddhvā prāṇāyāmaparāyaṇāḥ ॥ 4-29॥). Others regulate food intake or sacrifice vital air in the incoming breath (apare niyatāhārāḥ prāṇānprāṇeṣu juhvati ।), also all these that know sacrifice get their impurities destroyed by sacrifice (sarve’pyete yajñavido yajñakṣapitakalmaṣāḥ ॥ 4-30॥).

यज्ञशिष्टामृतभुजो यान्ति ब्रह्म सनातनम् ।

नायं लोकोऽस्त्ययज्ञस्य कुतोऽन्यः कुरुसत्तम ॥ ४-३१॥

एवं बहुविधा यज्ञा वितता ब्रह्मणो मुखे ।

कर्मजान्विद्धि तान्सर्वानेवं ज्ञात्वा विमोक्ष्यसे ॥ ४-३२॥

श्रेयान्द्रव्यमयाद्यज्ञाज्ज्ञानयज्ञः परन्तप ।

सर्वं कर्माखिलं पार्थ ज्ञाने परिसमाप्यते ॥ ४-३३॥

(31-33) Those that consume the nectar of sacrifice go to eternal Brahman (yajñaśiṣṭāmṛtabhujo yānti brahma sanātanam ।), There is no place in the world for the non-sacrificer, how can he find a place in any other (nāyaṃ loko’styayajñasya kuto’nyaḥ kurusattama ॥ 4-31॥). Thus, there are many forms of sacrifice spread across the spectrum of brahman which are produced by action, know them all, thus having known them one can find liberation (evaṃ bahuvidhā yajñā vitatā brahmaṇo mukhe । karmajānviddhi tānsarvānevaṃ jñātvā vimokṣyase ॥ 4-32॥). Superior to sacrifice of materials is sacrifice of knowledge, all action culminates in knowledge (śreyāndravyamayādyajñājjñānayajñaḥ parantapa । sarvaṃ karmākhilaṃ pārtha jñāne parisamāpyate ॥ 4-33॥). 

तद्विद्धि प्रणिपातेन परिप्रश्नेन सेवया ।

उपदेक्ष्यन्ति ते ज्ञानं ज्ञानिनस्तत्त्वदर्शिनः ॥ ४-३४॥

यज्ज्ञात्वा न पुनर्मोहमेवं यास्यसि पाण्डव ।

येन भूतान्यशेषेण द्रक्ष्यस्यात्मन्यथो मयि ॥ ४-३५॥  var  अशेषाणि

अपि चेदसि पापेभ्यः सर्वेभ्यः पापकृत्तमः ।

सर्वं ज्ञानप्लवेनैव वृजिनं सन्तरिष्यसि ॥ ४-३६॥

(34 – 36) This subtle knowledge can be achieved by prostration, by questioning and by service (tadviddhi praṇipātena paripraśnena sevayā ।), then wise people will teach you the knowledge of reaching the Truth (upadekṣyanti te jñānaṃ jñāninastattvadarśinaḥ ॥ 4-34॥). Not knowing this one will commit to delusion repeatedly, by this all beings see in their Self me also (yajjñātvā na punarmohamevaṃ yāsyasi pāṇḍava । yena bhūtānyaśeṣeṇa drakṣyasyātmanyatho mayi ॥ 4-35॥). Even if you are more wretched than the all-other wretched people, you will be saved from wickedness by floating on this knowledge (api cedasi pāpebhyaḥ sarvebhyaḥ pāpakṛttamaḥ । sarvaṃ jñānaplavenaiva vṛjinaṃ santariṣyasi ॥ 4-36॥).

यथैधांसि समिद्धोऽग्निर्भस्मसात्कुरुतेऽर्जुन ।

ज्ञानाग्निः सर्वकर्माणि भस्मसात्कुरुते तथा ॥ ४-३७॥

न हि ज्ञानेन सदृशं पवित्रमिह विद्यते ।

तत्स्वयं योगसंसिद्धः कालेनात्मनि विन्दति ॥ ४-३८॥

(37-38) Just as a blazing fire reduces fuel to ashes, the fire of knowledge reduces all actions to ashes (yathaidhāṃsi samiddho’gnirbhasmasātkurute’rjuna । jñānāgniḥ sarvakarmāṇi bhasmasātkurute tathā ॥ 4-37॥). Verily, nothing is as pure as wisdom in this world and this has been discovered over time by yogīs who have achieved total perfection (na hi jñānena sadṛśaṃ pavitramiha vidyate । tatsvayaṃ yogasaṃsiddhaḥ kālenātmani vindati ॥ 4-38॥).

श्रद्धावाँल्लभते ज्ञानं तत्परः संयतेन्द्रियः ।

ज्ञानं लब्ध्वा परां शान्तिमचिरेणाधिगच्छति ॥ ४-३९॥

अज्ञश्चाश्रद्दधानश्च संशयात्मा विनश्यति ।

नायं लोकोऽस्ति न परो न सुखं संशयात्मनः ॥ ४-४०॥

(39-40) Those that are sincere and dedicated obtain wisdom when they are totally and eagerly engaged subduing the senses (śraddhāvā~llabhate jñānaṃ tatparaḥ saṃyatendriyaḥ ।) have obtained wisdom they obtain supreme peace quickly (jñānaṃ labdhvā parāṃ śāntimacireṇādhigacchati ॥ 4-39॥). Ignorant people and those without sincerity and dedication doubting souls will destroy themselves (ajñaścāśraddadhānaśca saṃśayātmā vinaśyati ।), in fact, doubting souls find happiness eluding them in this world and next (nāyaṃ loko’sti na paro na sukhaṃ saṃśayātmanaḥ ॥ 4-40॥).

योगसंन्यस्तकर्माणं ज्ञानसञ्छिन्नसंशयम् ।

आत्मवन्तं न कर्माणि निबध्नन्ति धनञ्जय ॥ ४-४१॥

तस्मादज्ञानसम्भूतं हृत्स्थं ज्ञानासिनात्मनः ।

छित्त्वैनं संशयं योगमातिष्ठोत्तिष्ठ भारत ॥ ४-४२॥

(41-42) However, when a person practices yoga where action is renounced, doubts are removed (yogasaṃnyastakarmāṇaṃ jñānasañchinnasaṃśayam ।), the Self becomes steadied without the binding of karma (ātmavantaṃ na karmāṇi nibadhnanti dhanañjaya ॥ 4-41॥). Therefore, cut this doubt that is born out of ignorance and residing in the heart by the Self that has the sword of knowledge (tasmādajñānasambhūtaṃ hṛtsthaṃ jñānāsinātmanaḥ ।), discard your doubts, take refuge in Yoga and rise (chittvainaṃ saṃśayaṃ yogamātiṣṭhottiṣṭha bhārata ॥ 4-42॥). 

Editor at School Of Yoga
School Of Yoga is a single point resource for all aspects of Classical Yoga practise. We try to achieve this by placing Yoga's traditional methodology in front of the reader and eliciting his or her experience. We value everyone's Yoga experience and would like you to share and enrich other practitioners so that everyone benefits.
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