Nuggets from the Gita : Chapter 3 (The Scripture of Mankind by Swami Tapasyananda)

This is an attempt to awaken your curiosity to read the holy Gita. I am sharing a few nuggets verbatim from each of the chapters of the book, with the hope that this gets you started at your own pace. There are many commentaries on The Gita. This version is based on “The Scripture of Mankind” Translation by Swami Tapasyananda.


This is an overview of the 3rd chapter titled “Karma Yoga” (Communion Through Action).

The Context : Arjuna’s confusion increases. Lord Krishna instead of answering his question directly has given him a long lecture on varied topics – Atman, death from a worldly point of view, has criticised Vedic rituals, talked about control of senses to develop a state of Sthithapragna (The self satisfied state of a man of steady wisdom). He has also briefly mentioned Karma Yoga.

All this seems to be irrelevant and confusing to Arjuna.

Chapter 3 starts with Arjuna framing his question ” If discriminative insight is superior to action, why do you ask me to engage in this terrible war. Your conflicting words are confusing me”.

Lord accepts his criticism. His first discourse was preliminary. He has put forth many issues. A clarification is called for. Lord Krishna then explains 

  • Two ways of spiritual fulfilment have been revealed by Me – Sankhya ( the path of knowledge) and Yoga ( the path of devotion cum action) . I will now focus on the path of Action
  • Abstaining from action you do not gain the unperturbed ideal state of Sthithapragna. You will lapse into idleness
  • Man is a part of nature, and nature is always active he is therefore compelled to act. So sitting quiet and thinking that one has attained the unperturbed state is rank hypocrisy, because such a persons mind will be busy thinking of the objects to which he is attached.
  • The way to Spiritual development is in action without attachment under proper regulation of the senses. Perform your duties for action is superior to inaction. If you are totally inactive even the survival of the body becomes impossible.

The Law of Yagna

  • Lord created man with the law of Yagna as the means for his worldly prosperity and Spiritual evolution. Yagna means Self Sacrifice.
  • Yagna at the lowest level is one of give and take – what we commonly refer to as reciprocity. 
  • Man lives in a community which can thrive only by the exchange of commodities and services amongst its members. One who fails to do his part of work but insists on getting his share is an exploiter, a thief. He violates the law of Yagna and gets morally degraded.
  • The Vedic fire sacrifice where thanksgiving offerings were made to the Devas for the benefits bestowed on them by Nature is symbolic of this great law of life.
  • Anyone who gives up Action will be abandoning Yagna too, thus violating the basic commandment of the Creator. Vain is the life of that sinful and self indulgent person who fails to fulfil his obligations in this cycle of mutual inter – dependence and service.
  • Pure, unselfish Action without any thought of return or obligation is the highest aspect of the law of Yagna. 
  • The distinction between the work of the worldly minded man and the enlightened Karma Yogi is clearly explained. The former is self centred while the latter has overcome self centredness and still works for the good of all.
  • Enlightened souls should also work, else they set a bad example for their followers. Janaka and great Rajarishis continued to be in their field of action even after becoming enlightened souls.
  • Look at Ishwara himself ” In all the 3 worlds there is nothing that is binding on Me as a duty. Neither is there anything I have to gain. Still I am always engaged in work“. He continues by saying ” If I did not continue in my Action unwearied, men all around would have followed My way. If I did not work all the world would have perished. I would have been the cause of confusion among men leading to their destruction“.
  • Initially Karma Yoga was described as work without attachment and without desire for the fruits of the action. A more complete view of Karma Yoga is later given where it is taught that all actions should be resigned to the Lord. “Offering all your Actions to Me, your mind in unison with the Spirit and free of desire & ego you fight without the slightest touch of hatred or excitement
  • Whoever follows this teaching of mine with their minds full of faith and free from disparagement, they are released from the bondage of  Karma. 
  • Ones own Dharma (duty) even though not glamorous is better than any duty alien to ones growth (Para Dharma) however well performed. For even death in doing ones duty leads to ones good, while a duty alien to ones growth is burdened with fear of downfall.

Wisdom is not to be confused with Inactivity

  • Someone immersed in the Spirit (Self) there is no obligatory duty to discharge. But even the noble self realised soul immerses himself in Action. Otherwise they will set a bad example for their followers
  • In all the 3 worlds there is nothing that is binding on me as a duty. Neither is there anything for me to gain, nor anything that I cannot gain. Still I am always engaged in work.

What is SIN

  • Having heard patiently Arjuna voices the next question “What is that prompted by which a man is forced to indulge in Sin even against his will”.
  • To which the Lord replies ” It is Lust, it is Anger, born of Rajo Guna, insatiable and prompting man to great sin. Know this to be the enemy in man’s Spiritual life.
  • As fire is enveloped by smoke, mirror by dirt and the embryo by the placenta, so is knowledge overcast by Lust. The Senses are the seat of Lust. Hence control your senses, slay this enemy – the destroyer of all knowledge and realisation
  • Senses are great they say, superior to the Senses is the Mind, Superior to the Mind is Intellect and superior to Intellect is the Atman.

Additional Notes 

  •  What can Nigraha (Control or repression) do – Nigraha may be equated with the modern psychological concept of repression. It means to forcefully suppress a desire or try to eliminate it. In either case the desire or the tendency is not eliminated but only driven under ground from where it will wreak havoc on the body and mind of man.
  • Non attachment can never arise until the mind is able to hold the attitude of the witness and not of one seeking enjoyment.
  • Svadharma & Paradharma – Svadharma for the vast majority of men is a life of action. Arjuna is being exhorted to adopt Karma Yoga as his way of Spiritual development. Because a life of activity is the Dharma or way of life born of his own nature. For him Sankhya or workless contemplation will be paradharma. While Paradharma may look attractive and one may to a certain extent succeed in pursuing it, in the long run one is sure to breakdown. Workless contemplation will soon degenerate into sheer idleness and result in Spiritual ruin. Karma Yoga may not be glamorous , but it is safe and will be found contributing to ones ultimate good.
  • The Senses, Mind, Intellect and the Spirit are the 4 layers of human personality.The Spirit which is the ultimate foundation of the man is pure consciousness and the uninvolved witness of the modification of these 3 layers. He alone is the conscious entity, and the 3 layers associated with Him are inert in themselves but become living and conscious when His light of consciousness percolates through them. These appendages of the Atman form the instruments of perception and the storage space for the memories of experiences.

To be continued ……..

Reference for previous chapters 

Nuggets from the Gita – Introduction

Chapter – 2 : Sankhya Yoga (Communion through Knowledge) 

Chapter – 4 : Gyan Karma Yoga (Renunciation of Action in Knowledge)


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