Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 3, Verse 9

यज्ञार्थात्कर्मणोऽन्यत्र लोकोऽयं कर्मबन्धन: |
तदर्थं कर्म कौन्तेय मुक्तसङ्ग: समाचर || 9||

yajñārthāt karmaṇo ’nyatra loko ’yaṁ karma-bandhanaḥ
tad-arthaṁ karma kaunteya mukta-saṅgaḥ samāchara

yajña-arthātfor the sake of sacrifice; karmaṇaḥthan action; anyatraelse; lokaḥmaterial world; ayamthis; karma-bandhanaḥbondage through one’s work; tatof him; arthamfor the sake of; karmaaction; kaunteyaArjun, the son of Kunti; mukta-saṅgaḥfree from attachment; samācharaperform properly


BG 3.9: Work must be done as a yajña (sacrifice) to the Supreme Lord; otherwise, work causes bondage in this material world. Therefore, O son of Kunti, perform your prescribed duties, without being attached to the results, for the satisfaction of God.


A knife in the hands of a robber is a weapon for intimidation or committing murder, but in the hands of a surgeon is an invaluable instrument used for saving people’s lives. The knife in itself is neither murderous nor benedictory—its effect is determined by how it is used. As Shakespeare said: “For there is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Similarly, work in itself is neither good nor bad. Depending upon the state of the mind, it can be either binding or elevating. Work done for the enjoyment of one’s senses and the gratification of one’s pride is the cause of bondage in the material world, while work performed as yajña (sacrifice) for the pleasure of the Supreme Lord liberates one from the bonds of Maya and attracts divine grace. Since it is our nature to perform actions, we are forced to work in one of the two modes. We cannot remain without working for even a moment as our mind cannot remain still.

If we do not perform actions as a sacrifice to God, we will be forced to work to gratify our mind and senses. Instead, when we perform work as a sacrifice, we then look upon the whole world and everything in it as belonging to God, and therefore, meant for utilization in his service. A beautiful ideal for this was established by King Raghu, the ancestor of Lord Ram. Raghu performed the Viśhwajit sacrifice, which requires donating all of one’s possessions in charity.

sa viśhwajitam ājahre yajñaṁ sarvasva dakṣhiṇam

ādānaṁ hi visargāya satāṁ vārimuchām iva (Raghuvanśh 4.86)[v5]

“Raghu performed the Viśhwajit yajña with the thought that just as clouds gather water from the Earth, not for their enjoyment, but to shower it back upon the Earth, similarly, all he possessed as a king had been gathered from the public in taxes, not for his pleasure, but for the pleasure of God. So he decided to use his wealth to please God by serving his citizens with it.” After the yajña, Raghu donated all his possessions to his citizens. Then, donning the rags of a beggar and holding an earthen pot, he went out to beg for his meal.

While resting under a tree, he heard a group of people discussing, “Our king is so benevolent. He has given away everything in charity.” Raghu was pained on hearing his praise and spoke out, “What are you discussing?” They answered, “We are praising our king. There is nobody in the world as charitable as him.” Raghu retorted, “Do not ever say that again. Raghu has given nothing.” They said, “What kind of person are you who are criticizing our king? Everyone knows that Raghu has donated everything he owned.” Raghu replied, “Go and ask your king that when he came into this world did he possess anything? He was born empty-handed, is it not? Then what was his that he has given away?”

This is the spirit of karm yog, in which we see the whole world as belonging to God, and hence meant for the satisfaction of God. We then perform our duties not for gratifying our mind and senses, but for the pleasure of God. Lord Vishnu instructed the Prachetas in this fashion:

gṛiheṣhv āviśhatāṁ chāpi puṁsāṁ kuśhala-karmaṇām

mad-vārtā-yāta-yāmānāṁ na bandhāya gṛihā matāḥ (Bhāgavatam 4.30.19)[v6]

“The perfect karm yogis, even while fulfilling their household duties, perform all their works as yajña to me, knowing me to be the Enjoyer of all activities. They spend whatever free time they have in hearing and chanting my glories. Such people, though living in the world, never get bound by their actions.”