Chapter 4: Jñāna Karm Sanyās Yog

The Yog of Knowledge and the Disciplines of Action

To strengthen Arjun’s faith in the knowledge He is imparting, Shree Krishna reveals its pristine origin in this chapter. He says, “Arjun, as you are my devotee and a dear friend, I am revealing this supreme science of yog to you. It is the same eternal science that I taught to the Sun God at the beginning of time. And in a continuous tradition, the same knowledge; was passed to the saintly kings.” Arjun wonders how someone who is almost his age could exist so many eons ago. He asks Shree Krishna how is it possible that you gave this knowledge to the Sun God and the others so many years back in time.

Shree Krishna clarifies Arjun’s doubts and discloses the divine mystery of His descension. He says that although God is unborn and eternal, it is to establish dharma (the path of righteousness) that He descends on this earth by His Yogmaya power. His birth and activities are divine and cannot get tainted by material imperfections. Once a devotee knows this secret and engages in devotion with great faith, he attains God and does not take birth in this world again.

Then Shree Krishna goes back to karm yog, the subject from the previous chapter. He continues to explain the nature of work and its three principles: action, in-action, and forbidden action. He elaborates that the karm yogis, even while performing the most engaging task, are in the state of inaction and do not get entangled in the karmic reactions of such action. Knowing this: the ancient sages performed all their work as an act of sacrifice for the pleasure of God. They were not affected by happiness, distress, success, or failure. He explains that when sacrifice is suitably dedicated, performed with proper knowledge and pure sentiments, then its remnants become like nectar. And by partaking such nectar, the devotees are cleansed of all impurities. Even the biggest sinner can cross over the ocean of material miseries by boarding this boat of eternal knowledge.

Shree Krishna says that such knowledge should be acquired only from a genuine spiritual master, who himself is God-realized. Being his Guru, Shree Krishna instructs Arjun to cut apart all doubts that have arisen in his heart with this sword of knowledge. He asks Arjun to now get up and perform his duty as a warrior.

The Supreme Lord Shree Krishna said: I taught this eternal science of Yog to the Sun-god, Vivasvan, who passed it on to Manu; and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikshvaku.

O subduer of enemies, the saintly kings thus received this science of Yog in a continuous tradition. But with the long passage of time, it was lost to the world.

The same ancient knowledge of Yog, which is the supreme secret, I am today revealing unto you, because you are my friend as well as my devotee, who can understand this transcendental wisdom.

Arjun said: You were born much after Vivasvan. How am I to understand that in the beginning you instructed this science to him?

The Supreme Lord said: Both you and I have had many births, O Arjun. You have forgotten them, while I remember them all, O Parantapa.

Although I am unborn, the Lord of all living entities, and have an imperishable nature, yet I appear in this world by virtue of Yogmaya, my divine power.

Whenever there is a decline in righteousness and an increase in unrighteousness, O Arjun, at that time I manifest myself on earth.

To protect the righteous, to annihilate the wicked, and to reestablish the principles of dharma I appear on this earth, age after age.

Those who understand the divine nature of my birth and activities, O Arjun, upon leaving the body, do not have to take birth again, but come to my eternal abode.

Being freed from attachment, fear, and anger, becoming fully absorbed in me, and taking refuge in me, many persons in the past became purified by knowledge of me, and thus they attained my divine love.

In whatever way people surrender unto me, I reciprocate with them accordingly. Everyone follows my path, knowingly or unknowingly, O son of Pritha.

In this world, those desiring success in material activities worship the celestial gods, since material rewards manifest quickly.

The four categories of occupations were created by me according to people’s qualities and activities. Although I am the creator of this system, know me to be the non-doer and eternal.

Activities do not taint me, nor do I desire the fruits of action. One who knows me in this way is never bound by the karmic reactions of work.

Knowing this truth, even seekers of liberation in ancient times performed actions. Therefore, following the footsteps of those ancient sages, you too should perform your duty.

What is action and what is inaction? Even the wise are confused in determining this. Now I shall explain to you the secret of action, by knowing which, you may free yourself from material bondage.

You must understand the nature of all three—recommended action, wrong action, and inaction. The truth about these is profound and difficult to understand.

Those who see action in inaction and inaction in action are truly wise amongst humans. Although performing all kinds of actions, they are yogis and masters of all their actions.

The enlightened sages call those persons wise, whose every action is free from the desire for material pleasures and who have burnt the reactions of work in the fire of divine knowledge.

Such people, having given up attachment to the fruits of their actions, are always satisfied and not dependent on external things. Despite engaging in activities, they do not do anything at all.

Free from expectations and the sense of ownership, with mind and intellect fully controlled, they incur no sin, even though performing actions by one’s body.

Content with whatever gain comes of its own accord, and free from envy, they are beyond the dualities of life. Being equipoised in success and failure, they are not bound by their actions, even while performing all kinds of activities.

They are released from the bondage of material attachments and their intellect is established in divine knowledge. Since they perform all actions as a sacrifice (to God), they are freed from all karmic reactions.

For those who are completely absorbed in God-consciousness, the oblation is Brahman, the ladle with which it is offered is Brahman, the act of offering is Brahman, and the sacrificial fire is also Brahman. Such persons, who view everything as God, easily attain him.

Some yogis worship the celestial gods with material offerings unto them. Others worship perfectly who offer the self as sacrifice in the fire of the Supreme Truth.

Others offer hearing and other senses in the sacrificial fire of restraint. Still others offer sound and other objects of the senses as sacrifice in the fire of the senses.

Some, inspired by knowledge, offer the functions of all their senses and their life energy in the fire of the controlled mind.

Some offer their wealth as sacrifice, while others offer severe austerities as sacrifice. Some practice the eight-fold path of yogic practices, and yet others study the scriptures and cultivate knowledge as sacrifice, while observing strict vows.

Still others offer as sacrifice the outgoing breath in the incoming breath, while some offer the incoming breath into the outgoing breath. Some arduously practice prāṇāyām and restrain the incoming and outgoing breaths, purely absorbed in the regulation of the life-energy. Yet others curtail their food intake and offer the breath into the life-energy as sacrifice. All these knowers of sacrifice are cleansed of their impurities as a result of such performances.

Those who know the secret of sacrifice, and engaging in it, partake of its remnants that are like nectar, advance toward the Absolute Truth. O best of the Kurus, those who perform no sacrifice find no happiness either in this world or the next.

All these different kinds of sacrifice have been described in the Vedas. Know them as originating from different types of work; this understanding cuts the knots of material bondage.

O subduer of enemies, sacrifice performed in knowledge is superior to any mechanical material sacrifice. After all, O Parth, all sacrifices of work culminate in knowledge.

Learn the Truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him with reverence and render service unto him. Such an enlightened Saint can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the Truth.

Following this path and having achieved enlightenment from a Guru, O Arjun, you will no longer fall into delusion. In the light of that knowledge, you will see that all living beings are but parts of the Supreme, and are within me.

Even those who are considered the most immoral of all sinners can cross over this ocean of material existence by seating themselves in the boat of divine knowledge.

As a kindled fire reduces wood to ashes, O Arjun, so does the fire of knowledge burn to ashes all reactions from material activities.

In this world, there is nothing as purifying as divine knowledge. One who has attained purity of mind through prolonged practice of Yog, receives such knowledge within the heart, in due course of time.

Those whose faith is deep and who have practiced controlling their mind and senses attain divine knowledge. Through such transcendental knowledge, they quickly attain everlasting supreme peace.

But persons who possess neither faith nor knowledge, and who are of a doubting nature, suffer a downfall. For the skeptical souls, there is no happiness either in this world or the next.

O Arjun, actions do not bind those who have renounced karm in the fire of Yog, whose doubts have been dispelled by knowledge, and who are situated in knowledge of the self.

Therefore, with the sword of knowledge, cut asunder the doubts that have arisen in your heart. O scion of Bharat, establish yourself in karm yog. Arise, stand up, and take action!