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The Bhagavad Gita—Chapter 3: The Yoga of Action

Arjuna said:
If you believe that knowledge is
Better than action, Keshava,
Then how is it you urge me to
Engage in terrible action? (1)

With speech that seems equivocal
You confuse my intelligence.
Tell me surely this one thing: How
Should I attain the highest good? (2)

The Holy Lord said:
In this world there is a two-fold
Basis taught by Me long ago:
Knowledge: the yoga of Sankhyas,And action: yoga of yogins. (3)

Not by abstention from actions
Does a man pass beyond action,
And not by renunciation
Alone approach to perfection. (4)

No one for even a moment
Exists without doing action;
Each is forced to perform action–
E’en against his will–by gunas.1 (5)

He who restrains action’s organs
While yet revolving in his mind
Thoughts of objects of the senses,
Is deluded, a hypocrite. (6)

He who by the mind controls the
Senses, and yet is unattached
While engaging action’s organs
In action, is superior. (7)

Perform your duty, for action
Is far better than non-action.
Even maintaining your body
Cannot be done without action. (8)

The world is bound by the actions
Not done for sake of sacrifice;
Hence for sacrifice, Arjuna,
You should act without attachment. (9)

In the beginning with mankind
Prajapati2 made3 sacrifice,
Said: “By this shall you multiply:
This shall be granter of desires. (10)

“May you foster the gods by this,
And may the gods then foster you;
Then, each the others fostering,
You shall attain highest welfare. (11)

“The gods, fostered by sacrifice,
Will give you desired enjoyments;
But he who enjoys the gods’ gifts
Without offering is a thief.” (12)

Eating sacrificial remains,
The good are freed from all evils;4
The wicked eat their own evil
Who cook food only for themselves. (13)

From food all beings are produced:
And from rain all food is produced:
From sacrifice there comes down rain;
From action is born sacrifice. (14)

Action arises from Brahma,5
Brahma from th’ Imperishable.
Hence the all-pervading Brahma
Is established in sacrifice.6 (15)

He who here on the earth does not
Set in motion, O Arjuna,
This wheel, lives full of sense delights,
Maliciously and uselessly. (16)

He who is content in the Self,
Who is satisfied in the Self,
Who is pleased only in the Self:
For him there is no need to act. (17)

He has nothing to gain by acts;
Nothing to gain by inaction;
And no need of any being
For any purpose soever. (18)

Therefore, constantly unattached
Perform that which is your duty.
Indeed by unattached action
Man surely attains the Supreme. (19)

Indeed, perfection was attained
Through action by King Janaka.
For the maintenance of the world,
As an example you should act. (20)

Whatever the best of men does–
This and that–thus other men do;
Whate’er the standard that he sets–
That is what the world shall follow. (21)

I have no duty, Pritha’s son,
Whatsoever in the three worlds,
Nor anything that must be gained–
Yet still I continue to act. (22)

Indeed, if I should not engage–
Tirelessly–at all in action,
Then all mankind would, everywhere,
Follow the path set forth by Me. (23)

Yea, these worlds would perish if I
Should fail to engage in action,
I would be confusion’s maker,
And I would destroy these people. (24)

As the unwise ones act, attached,
O Descendant of Bharata,
So the wise should act, unattached,
For maintaining the world’s welfare. (25)

One should not unsettle the minds
Of the unwise attached to works;
The wise should cause them to enjoy
All acts–himself showing the way. (26)

All actions, in all instances,
Are done by Prakriti’s gunas;
Those with ego-deluded mind
Imagine: “I am the doer.” (27)

And yet, the man who knows the truth
About the gunas’ actions thinks:
“The gunas act in the gunas,”7
And thinking thus is not attached. (28)

Those deluded by the gunas
Of prakriti become attached
To their actions. Let not the wise
Upset these of partial knowledge. (29)

Entrusting all actions to Me,
Intent on the Supreme Spirit,
Free from desire and selfishness,
With your fever8 departed, fight! (30)

Those men who constantly practice
This teaching of Mine, full of faith,
Not contemning, they are released
From the bondage of their actions. (31)

But those despising My teaching,
Who thus refuse to practice it,
Turn wisdom into confusion.
Know them to be lost and mindless. (32)

Even the wise acts according
To his own nature: prakriti.
All follow their own prakriti;
So what will restraint accomplish? (33)

Attraction and aversion rule
When senses contact sense-objects.
One should not come under their pow’r,
They are indeed his enemies. (34)

One’s own dharma, though imperfect,
Is better than another’s done
To perfection. For the dharma
Of another invites danger. (35)

Arjuna said:
Then by what is a man impelled
To commit evil, Varshneya,9
Seemingly against his own will,
As if urged thereunto by force? (36)

The Holy Lord said:
It is desire, it is anger,
That’s born of the rajo-guna:
Of great craving, and of great sin;
Know that to be the enemy. (37)

As fire is enveloped by smoke,
As mirrors are obscured by dust;
As wombs cover the embryos,
So is it enveloped by that. (38)

And knowledge is covered by this,
The constant foe of all the wise,
O son of Kunti, know it as
Desire’s unappeasable fire. (39)

The senses, mind, and intellect
Are said to here be its abode:
These things delude the embodied
By veiling his innate wisdom. (40)

Therefore, controlling the senses
At the outset, O Bharata,
Kill it–the sinful, destroyer
Of knowledge and realization. (41)

Above the body are senses;
Above the senses is the mind;
Above the mind is intellect;
Above the intellect: the self. (42)

Thus, knowing Him Who is above
The intellect, and restraining
The self by the Self, then destroy
That enemy, that foe: desire. (43)

Om Tat Sat
Thus in the Upanishads of the glorious Bhagavad Gita, the science of the Eternal, the scripture of Yoga, the dialogue between Sri Krishna and Arjuna, ends the third discourse entitled: The Yoga of Action.

Read the next Chapter of the Bhagavad Gita: The Yoga of Wisdom


1) “By the gunas born of prakriti.” Prakriti: Causal matter; the fundamental power (shakti) of God from which the entire cosmos is formed; the root base of all elements; undifferentiated matter; the material cause of the world. Also known as Pradhana. [Go back]

2) Prajapati: Progenitor; the Creator; a title of Brahma the Creator. [Go back]

3) i.e., created [Go back]

4) i.e., wrongdoings. [Go back]

5) Brahma: The Creator (Prajapati) of the three worlds of men, angels, and archangels (Bhur, Bhuwah, and Swah); the first of the created beings; Hiranyagarbha or cosmic intelligence. [Go back]

6) Many translators feel that “Brahma” in this verse can legitimately be rendered “Veda”–Veda in the sense of divine wisdom, Vidya. On the other hand, it is positively believed by all Hindus that Brahma attained his position specifically through the performance of sacrifice (yajna). So “Brahma” is quite logical here. [Go back]

7) That is, the gunas as the senses move among and act within the gunas manifesting as the sense-objects. [Go back]

8) The “fever” of delusion and grief. [Go back]

9) Clansman of the Vrishnis–Krishna [Go back]

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Text of the Bhagavad Gita for Singing:

  1. The Bhagavad Gita—Chapter 1: The Yoga of the Despondency of Arjuna
  2. The Bhagavad Gita—Chapter 2: Sankhya Yoga
  3. The Bhagavad Gita—Chapter 3: The Yoga of Action
  4. The Bhagavad Gita—Chapter 4: The Yoga of Wisdom
  5. The Bhagavad Gita—Chapter 5: The Yoga of Renunciation of Action
  6. The Bhagavad Gita—Chapter 6: The Yoga of Meditation
  7. The Bhagavad Gita—Chapter 7: The Yoga of Wisdom and Realization
  8. The Bhagavad Gita—Chapter 8: The Yoga of Imperishable Brahman
  9. The Bhagavad Gita—Chapter 9: The Yoga of the Kingly Science and Kingly Secret
  10. The Bhagavad Gita—Chapter 10: The Yoga of Divine Glories
  11. The Bhagavad Gita—Chapter 11: The Yoga of the Vision of the Cosmic Form
  12. The Bhagavad Gita—Chapter 12: The Yoga of Devotion
  13. The Bhagavad Gita—Chapter 13: The Yoga of the Distinction Between the Field and the Knower of the Field
  14. The Bhagavad Gita—Chapter 14: The Yoga of the Division of the Three Gunas
  15. The Bhagavad Gita—Chapter 15: The Yoga of the Supreme Spirit
  16. The Bhagavad Gita—Chapter 16: The Yoga of the Division between the Divine and the Demoniacal
  17. The Bhagavad Gita—Chapter 17: The Yoga of the Division of Threefold Faith
  18. The Bhagavad Gita—Chapter 18: The Yoga of Liberation by Renunciation

The Bhagavad Gita—The Song of God A new Translation by Abbot George Burke

  1. Bhagavad Gita Chapter One: The Yoga of the Despondency of Arjuna
  2. Bhagavad Gita Chapter Two: Sankhya Yoga
  3. Bhagavad Gita Chapter Three: The Yoga of Action
  4. Bhagavad Gita Chapter Four: The Yoga of Wisdom
  5. Bhagavad Gita Chapter Five: The Yoga of Renunciation of Action
  6. Bhagavad Gita Chapter Six: The Yoga of Meditation
  7. Bhagavad Gita Chapter Seven: The Yoga of Wisdom and Realization
  8. Bhagavad Gita Chapter Eight: The Yoga of Imperishable Brahman
  9. Bhagavad Gita Chapter Nine: The Yoga of the Royal Science and Royal Secret
  10. Bhagavad Gita Chapter Ten: The Yoga of Divine Glories
  11. Bhagavad Gita Chapter Eleven: The Yoga of the Vision of the Cosmic Form
  12. Bhagavad Gita Chapter Twelve: The Yoga of Devotion
  13. Bhagavad Gita Chapter Thirteen: The Yoga of the Distinction Between the Field and the Knower of the Field
  14. Bhagavad Gita Chapter Fourteen: The Yoga of the Division of the Three Gunas
  15. Bhagavad Gita Chapter Fifteen: The Yoga of the Supreme Spirit
  16. Bhagavad Gita Chapter Sixteen: The Yoga of the Division between the Divine and the Demonic
  17. Bhagavad Gita Chapter Seventeen: The Yoga of the Division of Threefold Faith
  18. Bhagavad Gita Chapter Eighteen: The Yoga of Liberation by Renunciation

Read the Maharshi Gita, an arrangement of verses of the Bhagavad Gita made by Sri Ramana Maharshi that gives an overview of the essential message of the Gita.

Read the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening, a full commentary on the Bhagavad Gita by Abbot George Burke (Swami Nirmalananda Giri).

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