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.
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.
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.
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.
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.