Gita 4.16


kim karma kim akarmeti

kavayo ‘py atra mohitah

tat te karma pravaksyami

yaj jnatva moksyase ‘subhat




What is action? What is inaction? As to this, even the wise are confused. Therefore, I will explain to you what action is, by knowing which, you shall be liberated, from its evil effect (i.e.,) worldly bondage.



Arjuna might be thinking that if everyone has to perform actions anyway then he will do it because the Lord advised it so; but he may have doubts about his ability to perform actions in the manner that was performed by the great beings of yore. To clarify this Lord Krishna confirms that even those of discrimination and intelligence are bewildered by the subtleties of action and inaction. The actions performed by an aspirant for moksa or liberation are completely different from those seeking rewards for their actions. Because the intricacies of action and inaction are difficult to comprehend. Lord Krishna now promises to explain it definitively, therefore by knowing and performing actions properly one will be freed from the disease of materialism which binds one tightly to samsara the cycle of birth and death.

An action is determined by the motive by which, it is performed. An action, such as adoration of a goddess, is of the mode of goodness, but if it is undertaken with the motive of fulfilling mundane desires, it becomes a mode of passion. If it is undertaken with the motive of someone’s ruin, the same action is, of the mode of ignorance. In the same way, actions which are performed without attachment, a sense of mine and desire for fruits, are classed as inaction, and these do not bind a man, to the fruit of action. It means that truth about action cannot be determined by outward activity only. In this connection, even wise men, possessing knowledge of the scriptures get confused, i.e., they are, at a Loss to understand the truth. An action is classed, as an action or inaction, or is forbidden, according to the motive with which it is performed. Thus performance or non-performance of actions is inaction, if he has no attachment, while performance or non-performance of actions is classed as action, if he has any attachment. A man, (the soul) is bound by actions, so he would also be liberated, by action. The Lord promises here that, He will declare the reality about actions, so that they may not lead him to bondage and he may be liberated from the bondage of the cycle of birth and death.


Gita 4.17


karmano hy api boddhavyam

boddhavyam ca vikarmanah

akarmanas ca boddhavyam

gahana karmano gatih




The intricacies of action are very hard to understand. Therefore one should know properly what action is, what forbidden action is, and what inaction is.



Actions can be divided, into three groups, according to the motive by which these are performed (i.e.,) action, inaction and forbidden action. An activity undertaken, according to spiritual injunctions with a desire for fruit, is called, action. Action which is performed, being free from the desire for fruit, sense of mine and attachment, for the welfare of others, is classed, as inaction. Even prescribed action, performed with the motive of doing evil to others, or giving pain to them, is classed as, forbidden action. A desire is the root of every action. As the desire intensifies, it results in forbidden actions. Therefore it is said that Vikarma is quite near to karma. Therefore, the Lord has referred to forbidden actions, as wretched, so that men may renounce these, as well as the desire which is their main root.

The actual nature of karma or prescribed Vedic actions performed for attaining moksa or liberation from material existence should be understood. Actions which are ‘nitya’ or regular and actions which are ‘naimittika’ or occasional if done with any sense of enjoyment in mind or if they are done with the desire for material rewards should both be known to be ‘vikarma’ or improper actions.


Gita 4.18


karmany akarma yah pasyed

akarmani ca karma yah

sa buddhiman manusyesu

sa yuktah krtsna-karma-krt




He, who sees inaction in action and action in inaction, is wise among men, he is a Yogi and performs all his duties.



Seeing inaction in action means, to remain untainted during performance or non-performance of actions. It means also that performance or non-performance of actions is not for the self. When a man thinks that he is the doer and so he should reap the fruit of action, he is bound by such actions. If a seeker has no desire for fruit, new attachment does not arise; and old attachment perishes, when actions are performed for the welfare of others. Thus, he becomes, totally dispassionate. This dispassionate nature turns all actions into inaction.

If a person does nothing for himself, and has no desire, he gets detached from all actions and objects etc., because all objects and materials etc., such as the body, senses, mind, intellect and life-breaths are of the world, not one’s own as these have been acquired from the world, so that service may be rendered to the world with these. Therefore when a seeker performs all actions (service, adoration, chant, meditation, etc.) for the welfare of the world, the flow of action is towards the world and the seeker, remains detached and untainted. This is seeing inaction in action.

In the Discipline of Action, there is performance or non-performance of action, for the welfare of the world without attachment, because, while performing actions, one should remain detached and while remaining detached, one should perform actions-these two aspects are the principles of the Gita.


Gita 4.19


yasya sarve samarambhah



tam ahuh panditam budhah



He, whose undertakings are free from Sankalpa and desire and whose actions are burnt up in the fire of wisdom, him the seers, call wise (Pandita).



All actions of a ‘Karmayogi’ are free from resolve and desire. ‘Sankalpa’ and desire are the two seeds of action. If they are no longer there, action becomes inaction, that is to say, actions lose their binding potentiality. In a liberated soul, these two are absent, so actions performed by that are not binding. Even though, he does everything, in order to maintain social order and protect the chain of social obligations, yet he is quite untainted with his actions, whatsoever.

There are four states of a motor car.

1. When a motor car stands still, in the garage, its engine does not function and the wheels don’t move forward.

2. The engine starts functioning, but the wheels do not move forward (it’s all loss and no gain).

3. The engine functions and the wheels move and cover some distance.

4. On a downward slope, the engine is stopped, while the wheels move and cover a distance (it’s all gain and no cost).

Similarly, a man may have four states-

1. Neither desire, nor action.

2. Desire but no action (it’s all loss and no gain).

3. Desire as well as action.

4. Action, but no desire (it’s all gain and no cost).

The best state of a motor car is the fourth one, when the car runs, but no petrol is consumed. Similar, is the case with man.

The best state is when he performs action, without having any desire. Even the wise call such a man a sage.

As a lotus leaf in spite of being born in water and living constantly in touch with it, is not tainted by water, so does a Karmayogi, in spite of being born in a life-of-action (human life) and in spite of living, in this world of actions, while performing actions, does not get attached to these. Detachment from actions is not an easy task. Therefore, the Lord, in the eighteenth verse, has called him wise among men, while here He declares that the wise call him a sage. It means that such a Karmayogi is the wisest among the wise.


Gita 4.20


tyaktva karma-phalasangam

nitya-trpto nirasrayah

karmany abhipravrtto ‘pi

naiva kincit karoti sah



One having abandoned attachment to actions and their fruit, ever content, without any kind of dependence, he does nothing even though fully engaged in action.


If a man thinks, that he is the doer while performing action, regards the body and the senses etc., as his, considers the action as his and for him and expects its fruit, then, he becomes the cause of fruit of action. But an enlightened soul, totally renounces his affinity for the mundane materials and so he is not, in the least, attached to materials for action, to action and to the fruits of action. Thus, he does not become the cause of the fruit of action. Even a king or an emperor, has to depend on circumstances, time, objects and persons etc. But an enlightened soul does not depend on these, because having realized the self or God, he remains satisfied in the self, whether he acquires anything or not.

He, who is attached to the fruit of action, cannot perform actions, scrupulously, because a lot of his energy is wasted, by thinking of the fruit. So long as a man has the sense of doer-ship, during the performance of action or non-performance of action, he remains a doer. But when the sense of doer-ship is wiped out, he does nothing at all or his action or inaction never comes under the category of action at all.

Gita 4.11


ye yatha mam prapadyante

tams tathaiva bhajamy aham

mama vartmanuvartante

manusyah partha sarvasah




O Partha! However, the way devotees worship Me, so do I approach them; for all men ultimately follow My path.



In whatever form one seeks the Lord, He appears in the same form to the devotee. The criticism of Hinduism being pantheistic is proved wrong by this. There is only one God who can be called by any name or conceived in any form; provided the worshipper remembers that He is not limited to that name or form. The Lord who is everywhere, in and out of all being is naturally present also in the particular form in which one thinks of Him. So Krishna affirms that all men follow His path only. If a devotee thinks of Him, as his preceptor, He becomes an excellent preceptor. Similarly, God becomes a worthy father, mother, son, brother, friend or even, an obedient servant, according to the desire of the devotee. If a devotee feels restless without God, He also becomes restless without, His devotee. If a devotee takes one step towards God, God may take hundreds of strides to meet him. The Lord is omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient. Moreover, He is His devotee’s supreme and unselfish friend and true to His resolve. A devotee should use his full power to attain Him, and then the Lord is attained, through His limitless power.

A car gets its power from fuel. The same power can be used to drive the car and reach home safely or drive recklessly and reach a hospital bed with broken bones. This depends on you, the driver. Similarly divine power resides in you, use it wisely. This is what means when the Lord declares “I lend my power to all without any partiality in whatever form they invoke me”.

Egoistic notions and selfishness are the stumbling blocks to devotion for God. When a man loves anyone, without egoism and selfishness, that love automatically flows towards the Lord. It is because of egoism and selfishness, that his love is confined to narrow limits.


Gita 4.12

kanksantah karmanam siddhim

yajanta iha devatah

ksipram hi manuse loke

siddhir bhavati karma-ja




Those who desire the fruit of their actions, worship the gods; because success is quickly attained, by men through action.



It may be questioned that since Lord Krishna is the exclusive awarder of moksa or liberation from the cycle of birth and death; then why is it that most people are obliviously worshipping lesser gods instead of Him? The reason He answers is factual. People worship the lesser gods because they desire material benefits which is what the lesser gods can give. Worshipping lesser gods for wealth, dominion, a beautiful wife, a powerful son, such efforts easily bring quick results and the desired rewards. But moksa or liberation is only achieved as a result of cultivating Vedic knowledge about the Supreme Lord and thus it is hard to attain.

The Lord is like, a father, while the gods are like shopkeepers. We can take a thing from a shopkeeper, only by paying the money but we can take it from the father, free of cost. Similarly, we have to perform rituals according to scriptural methods for gods, in order to obtain fruits from them, while God bestows upon us our necessities, free of cost. Moreover, as a shopkeeper gives even hazardous things, such as, a match box or a knife etc., to a boy on payment, but if the boy wants such things from his father, the latter will not only refuse but take away, the money also. A father gives only beneficial things to a boy. In spite of this fact, the ignorant or dull-witted people, because of their attachment, sense of mine and desire for the perishable materials, worship other gods, as they do not realise the glory, the benevolence and selflessness, friendliness of the Lord.


Gita 4.13


catur-varnyam maya srstam


tasya kartaram api mam

viddhy akartaram avyayam



The four orders of society are created by Me according to the differences in their attitude and actions. Though I am the creator, know me to be a non-agent of action and immutable.




This is one of the most misinterpreted stanzas of the Bhagavad Gita. Antagonists attribute Lord Krishna’s action to the ills of the society that is plaguing these days. Even political parties are divided based on castes in India. Lord Krishna clearly states here that the division is based on their attitudes, mental attributes and work. In Yoga sastra mental temperaments are associated with colour. Sattva is considered white, Rajas is red and Tamas black. Krishna refers this as varna (colour)and people perform actions based on these mental temperaments. However over a period of time, this has been changed to division by birth. And superiority assigned to Brahmans, then Kshatriyas, vaisyas and shudras.

The Brahmins or priestly class have a preponderance of sattva guna or mode of goodness and having their mind and senses under control their duties are to spiritually guide mankind in righteousness. The Kshatriya or royal warrior class possesses some sattva but have a preponderance of rajas guna or mode of passion and their duties are to protect dharma or righteousness from the influence of evil and to protect humanity from demoniac forces. The vaisyas possess some rajas but have a preponderance of tama-guna or mode of ignorance and their duties are farming, agriculture, trade and cow protection. The sudra or lower class possess only a preponderance for tama guna and their duty is to serve the three previous classes to earn their livelihood. So although Lord Krishna is the origin of them all it should be understood that He is not affected by any of them the reason being that He is immutable, imperishable, eternal and transcendental to prakriti or material nature.

The Lord is the creator of everything. Everything is born of Him, everything is sustained by Him, and everything, after annihilation, rests in Him. He is therefore the creator of the four divisions of the social order, beginning with the intelligent class of men, technically called Brahmans due to their being situated in the mode of goodness. Next is the administrative class, technically called the Kshatriyas due to their being situated in the mode of passion. The mercantile men, called the vaisyas, are situated in the mixed modes of passion and ignorance, and the sudras, or labourer class, are situated in the ignorant mode of material nature. In spite of His creating the four divisions of human society, Lord Krishna does not belong to any of these divisions, because He is not one of the conditioned souls, a section of whom forms human society.

In an organization all jobs and positions are important and critical for its success. A sales person is as important as the sales manager and so are the Peon and the President. They should all be complimenting each other and not competing or fighting. Similarly in a society also we need different classes of people with different skill sets and temperament to do different functions. It is almost difficult to say which caste is better than the other as the other caste will not survive without this one.


Gita 4.14


na mam karmani limpanti

na me karma-phale sprha

iti mam yo ‘bhijanati

karmabhir na sa badhyate



Actions do not affect Me nor do I have desire for the fruit of action. The one who knows Me as such is also not bound by actions.



Lord Krishna is declaring that actions do not bind Him as He has no desires to the rewards of any actions. This is not to imply that He does not want the best for creation but only He is equipoise to prakriti or material nature. Even though the Supreme Lord wills the creation into existence and always is the protector of dharma or eternal righteousness and out of His causeless mercy has the best wishes for its development He is not attached to it. This knowledge of this attribute of the Supreme Lord removes one’s own misconceptions of attachment and craving for rewards to the point where one’s desires are not binding by performing prescribed Vedic activities exclusively.

As there are constitutional laws in the material world stating that the king can do no wrong, or that the king is not subject to the state laws, similarly the Lord, although He is the creator of this material world, is not affected by the activities of the material world. He creates and remains aloof from the creation, whereas the living entities are entangled in the fruitive results of material activities because of their propensity for lording it over material resources. For advancement of sense gratification, the living entities are engaged in the work of this world, and they aspire to heavenly happiness after death. The Lord, being full in Himself, has no attraction for so-called heavenly happiness. For example, the rains are not responsible for different types of vegetation that appear on the earth, although without such rains there is no possibility of vegetative growth.


Gita 4.15


evam jnatva krtam karma

purvair api mumuksubhih

kuru karmaiva tasmat tvam

purvaih purvataram krtam




All the liberated souls in ancient times acted with this understanding and so attained liberation. Therefore, as the ancients, you should perform your duty in this divine consciousness.



So Lord Krishna sums up His conclusion for this theme by stating that having known that He is completely free from desire and attachment although performing such magnificent activities like creation of all the worlds He is never implicated by it. But great beings like Manu and Janaka performed actions according to the injunctions of the Vedic scriptures and being free from egoism without desire for rewards also achieved moksa or liberation as such actions are never binding. Therefore Arjuna and anyone else should perform such actions following in their footsteps as they have come down through the ages in parampara or disciplined succession.

It is mentioned in the scriptures, that when desire for liberation is aroused in a seeker, he should abandon actions, because in that case, he becomes eligible to attain knowledge (wisdom), rather than to perform actions. But here, He urges Arjuna, a seeker of liberation, to perform his duty in a disinterested manner, and cites the example of other ancient seekers of liberation. In order to follow the path of Karma yoga the seeker must be very clear as to which actions will lead him to bondage and which will secure release from bondage.

Gita 4.6


ajo ‘pi sann avyayatma

bhutanam isvaro ‘pi san

prakrtim svam adhisthaya

sambhavamy atma-mayaya




Though I am unborn, of imperishable nature, the Lord of all beings, yet, subordinating My nature (prakriti), I manifest Myself, through My Yogamaya (divine potency).




The Supreme Lord Krishna assumes forms suitable to time, place and circumstances in regards to celestial being the demigods and terrestrial being humans. He manifests himself as if He were of their nature according to His desire. Being unborn He yet incarnates in many forms whenever and wherever He chooses whereas for material beings they are forcefully born impelled by their karma or the bondage caused from reactions to past actions. Next the time of manifestation for the avatars or incarnations will be indicated. He incarnates Himself, as Lord Rama or Krishna etc., displays His sports as a child, and an adolescent and then continues to be an adolescent with a healthy and handsome body, without undergoing any change for hundreds of years. He works, as a chariot-driver of Arjuna, and obeys him, yet His Lordliness, over Arjuna and other beings remains intact. That is why, in spite of being a charioteer, He preaches him, the gospel of the Gita. Lord Rama carries out the order of His father, Dasaratha and goes into exile for fourteen years, yet His Lordliness over Dasaratha and other beings, has not suffered, in the least.


Gita 4.7


yada yada hi dharmasya

glanir bhavati bharata

abhyutthanam adharmasya

tadatmanam srjamy aham




Whenever, there is a decline in righteousness and an upsurge in unrighteousness, O Arjuna, I then manifest Myself.




No fixed time schedule has been mandated for Lord Krishna to manifest Himself in His avatar forms or authorised incarnations but he declares beginning with ‘yada yada’ which means that: whenever or wherever dharma or righteousness decreases and unrighteousness increases and becomes dominant, at that time Lord Krishna or any of His authorised incarnations descends and becomes manifest.

When righteous, innocent, weak: pious and spiritual people, are exploited by unrighteous, cruel, strong, wicked and mundane people, and when moral values are lost and immorality prevails-that state, is the state of a decline of righteousness, and upsurge of unrighteousness. Whenever, there is a decline of righteousness and rise of’ unrighteousness, then the Lord manifests Himself for the destruction of unrighteousness and for the establishment of righteousness. When actions are performed with a selfish motive i.e., for reward, there is a decline of righteousness; and when a man, having deviated from his duty performs forbidden action there is rise of unrighteousness. It is desire, which is the root of all unrighteousness, sins and injustice etc. Therefore, God manifests Himself, in order to root out this desire and propagate the principle of the performance of actions, without expectation of any reward.


Gita 4.8


paritranaya sadhunam

vinasaya ca duskrtam


sambhavami yuge yuge



For the protection of the good as for the destruction of the wicked and for the establishment of righteousness, I manifest myself from age to age.




The purpose of incarnation is explained here. When there is dearth of dharma and abundance of adharma the Lord manifests Himself to protect the good and to punish the wicked. God manifests Himself, in order to protect the good, because they destroy unrighteousness and propagate righteousness. Reasons of Lord Krishna’s avatars or incarnations are: 1) for protecting the virtuous 2) for destroying the wicked 3) for re-establishing dharma or eternal righteousness which had become obscured.

Those who, because of many desires, remain absorbed in vices, such as falsehood, fraud, deception and dishonesty etc. Those who exploit the virtuous and good persons; those who remain engaged in doing evil to others; those who do not know what ought to be done and what ought not to be done; and those, who always condemn God and the scriptures, such persons, of demoniac nature, have been called wicked. The Lord manifests Himself for the destruction of such wicked persons.


Gita 4.9


janma karma ca me divyam

evam yo vetti tattvatah

tyaktva deham punar janma

naiti mam eti so ‘rjuna





He who thus knows in reality the true nature of My divine birth and action, and he having abandoned the body, is not reborn; but he comes to Me, O Arjuna.



The Lord is beyond birth and death, He is birth-less and imperishable. His manifestation in human body is not like the birth of common men. He manifests Himself of His own accord in order to stage the drama of human life, for the welfare of beings. It is because of the Lord’s divine nature that He descends to this mortal world, in order to shower His grace upon beings. Those who know this fact become His devotees and then remain absorbed only in His adoration or devotion. This devotion, leads to salvation. Similarly, when a man knows the divine nature of His actions then his actions also become divine viz., pure and then these lead him, as well as others, to God-realization (salvation) as he renounces his affinity for the world. It is the affinity, which is an obstacle to salvation or God-realization.

Carelessness and indolence in the performance of actions and the desire for fruit of actions are the main stumbling blocks to God-realization. If actions are performed without the desire for fruit in rendering service to others, the affinity for actions is renounced and we realize our affinity for God which is naturally eternal.

Gita 4.10



man-maya mam upasritah

bahavo jnana-tapasa

puta mad-bhavam agatah




Being freed from attachment, fear and anger, being fully absorbed in Me and taking refuge in Me, many, many persons in the past became purified by knowledge of Me–and thus they all attained transcendental love for Me.



In the previous verse Lord Krishna declares that those that truly know Him attain Him. Now the question may be raised,  is there any requirements necessary for attaining Him or does it mean that oneness with Him in His abode transpires automatically with knowledge of Him. To clear this up Lord Krishna states: vita-raga-bhaya-krodha meaning completely freed from passion, fear and anger. Passion is attachment to the opposite sex and children and family life. Fear is abhorrence of frightening situations due to lack of faith in God. Anger is a state of mind that blows up when one’s ardent desires are frustrated by obstacles. This clearly indicates that jnana yoga or the cultivation of knowledge is essential for the mind to control the senses.

All three paths of attaining salvation is mentioned here, the path of action, path of knowledge and path of love. All paths are fundamentally meant to purify our mind and make it steady and single pointed.