In the third chapter, emphasis has been laid on the performance (discharge) of duty, while in the fourth chapter there is an emphasis on knowing the truth, about Karma yoga. The reason is that action can be performed scrupulously, only when reality is known about it. Moreover, if the truth about actions is known, such actions, which bind a man, can liberate him from bondage. Therefore, in this chapter, the Lord has laid special emphasis on, knowing the truth about actions.
Lord Krishna confirms that the same eternal yoga or science of the individual consciousness attaining communion with the ultimate consciousness that was imparted aeons before to Vivasvan (Sun God) is now being instructed to His friend Arjuna and no one else. Why no one else? Because Arjuna was qualified to receive this yoga and because he was Lord Krishna’s surrendered disciple. As this yoga is highly confidential it should not be revealed to those who have no faith or to those who are unqualified. The secret, which is not disclosed even to a comrade, is revealed to a disciple, who surrenders himself to his preceptor. Arjuna also says to Lord Krishna, “I am Thy disciple, teach me, who have taken refuge in Thee.” Therefore, the Lord reveals His secret to him.
The Lord says that He taught this karma yoga to the Sun. This means, there could not be a better example of a karma yogi than the Sun. He shines to all and stands as a witness to everything that happens, good or bad and is not affected by anything. He goes on doing his duty as ordained by the Lord. In ancient days, the kings who knew Karma yoga administered the affairs of state smoothly, without being attached to royal pleasures. They had a natural inclination for the welfare of the subjects. The great Sanskrit poet Kalidasa writes about the kings of solar dynasty: – “Those kings levied a tax on their subjects in the same way, as the sun sucks water from the earth, in order to supply it to the earth in the form of rain, a thousand times more.” It means, that the tax realized from the subjects by kings, was all used for public welfare. In order to, provide for their household expenses, they followed occupations, like farming.
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. 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. 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.
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.
“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. Lord Krishna clearly states here that the division is based on their attitudes, mental attributes and work.
An action is determined by the motive by which, it is performed. A soldier killing an enemy for the protection of the motherland is not murder, nor a surgeon using the scalpel to remove cancer, attacking with knife. 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. 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. As the desire intensifies, it results in forbidden actions. 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 calls him wise among men and a sage.
Envy is a subtle evil. A Karma yogi is very cautious, lest he should be envious of any being, because all his actions are performed for the welfare of the world. A Karma yogi transcends the pairs of opposites, such as profit and loss, honour and dishonour, praise and blame, pleasure and pain, and desirable and undesirable circumstances. So, he has a balanced state of mind, free from attachment and aversion etc.
Cultured people, recite this verse while having meals, so that this activity can be changed into a sacrifice (Yajna).
“brahmarpanam brahma havir, brahmagnau brahmana hutam
brahmaiva tena gantavyam, brahma-karma-samadhina”
When we view everything, as nothing other than God, we attain Him. When a seeker has his meal, he beholds God, in the following way:-
(i) The hand, with which the food is put into the mouth, is God.
(ii) The food is God.
(iii) He who eats the food is also God.
(iv) The fire, that abides in the stomach, and by which food is digested, is also God.
(v) The action of offering food, to the fire, which abides in the stomach, is also God.
(vi) The fruit of eating, the remnants, (residual food) of the sacrifice, is also God.
A Yogi is one who is always trying, through all available means, to raise himself from the state of physical, mental and intellectual imperfections.