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Gita for the Beginners: Part 5
Karma Yoga: Chapter 3

The third chapter entitled "Karma Yoga" contains 43 verses. It opens up with an interesting question by Arjuna. He is perturbed to listen to the two currents to seek higher knowledge in life, one the path of knowledge, and the other, the path of selfless action. Arjuna feels that Sri Krishna is suggesting him to follow the path of knowledge, the better of the two.

Therefore, intrigued Arjuna asks, "O Keshava, if you consider knowledge as superior to actions, why then do you urge me to engage in this dreadful action (of fighting war)?" Arjuna further clarifies, "Krishna, you are puzzling my mind, therefore, tell me definitely the one discipline by which I may obtain the highest good!" 3/1-2

Still in the heart of the heart, Arjuna felt that Sri Krishna would relent and accept the plea of Arjuna to the ways of renunciation so that he could escape from involvement in the war. Sensing the weakness and perplexity in the mind of his disciple to escape from the difficult duty that involved hard decisions and unpalatable actions, Sri Krishna answers,
"Man does not attain freedom from action without entering upon action, nor does he reach perfection (enlightenment) merely by renunciation of action." "The very birth as human drives the soul to action by nature-born qualities. Surely none can remain inactive even for a moment." 3/4-5

Just by outward restraint of senses or giving up of sense activities the man just deludes his intellect and becomes a hypocrite. On the other hand, one who engages in selfless actions, truly understanding the Yoga of Action, actually gets clarity and concentration of mind that is known as purification of mind. This purified mind clears the reason and allows the aspirant to intuitively realize higher truth.

"Therefore, O Arjuna, you perform your allotted duty; for action is superior to inaction. Desisting from action, you cannot even maintain your body." 3/8

Only those karmas bound the man in their shackle as are performed with the desire to gain something out of them. On the other hand, when one performs the work as yajna - sacrifice - dedicating all the fruits and results to the Lord, then in fact he becomes free from attachment and turns towards the path of Yoga. Therefore, 'O Arjuna, perform the allotted duty most efficiently and only in the spirit of sacrifice unto Me'.

In the subsequent verses of third chapter (verses 9 to 15) the Lord explains the necessity for an average person to go through the 'wheel of creation' for becoming selfless bit by bit. Sri Krishna posits two kinds of people, one virtuous and the other sinful. It is also explained how the 'journey of evolution' takes the person to final destiny. Thus, it is expected of every person to give something he possesses to others, e.g. his food to others. He should not enjoy without offering some part of his wealth to God as an act of sacrifice.

Thus, every person is bound by individual and collective obligations, which we call as duties. He cannot avoid them without harming himself and the society. Then is there no escape from the tortuous wheel of samsara? How can one rise above this grinding wheel of birth, duty and death! To this Sri Krishna says,

"O Arjuna, he who takes delight in the Self alone and is gratified with the Self, and is contented in the Self that person has no duty." "That great person has no use whatsoever for things done, nor for things not done; nor has he selfish dependence of any kind on any creature." 3/17-18

Then why work? The question repeatedly haunts us. Why should we not take non-attachment as freedom from duty/work? The reasons the Lord gives are:

1) Doing work without attachment leads to Supreme Goal, for efficiency in work itself is Yoga,
2) Having an eye to maintenance of world order, too, one should take to action,
3) Whatsoever a great man does that very thing other men also do, whatever standard he sets up the generality of them follow the same,
4) Arjuna, as the unwise act with attachment, so should the wise men seeking maintenance of world order act without attachment. 3/25

In this insistence on duty, one should not confuse others, nor is there any need to force our thoughts on others. It is not proper to unsettle the mind of ignorant attached to action; what is required is efficient performance of our duty surrendering to the wishes of the Lord. To become better instrument through which the Lord would work! Therefore, the Lord advises Arjuna to dedicate all his actions to me with mind fixed on Me (the Self of all -Paramatman), freed from egoism and cured of mental weaknesses.

Then Arjuna asks, "O Krishna, impelled by what, does this human being commit sin even involuntarily, as though driven by force?" 3/36 And the Lord answers, "All beings follow their nature, even the wise man behaves in conformity with his nature. The three gunas - sattva, rajas, and tamas - in themselves are responsible for all actions including thoughts and desires. Therefore, just restraining the senses is not enough. It is necessary to follow our own nature and duty, which is an easy way to subdue the mind. Although it may appear that the others are well placed and are free from anxiety and worries, it may not be suitable for you!"

Moreover, as every flame is enveloped by smoke, so also knowledge is covered smoke of desires. This insatiable desire - vasana - is the great enemy of man. "The senses, the mind, and the intellect are said to be its seat; enveloping knowledge through these, the desire deludes the person." Therefore, the Lord forcefully and clearly says, "O Arjuna, first control the senses and kill this wicked desire, which obscures Jnana (knowledge). The order of control should be senses, mind, and then intellect, thereby making way to transcend them to reach the Highest Self."

The essence of Karma Yoga is the creation of this ability through non-attachment of overcoming desires. This process is known as purification of mind.

End of chapter 3
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