Chapter 4 – Jñāna-yoga (The Yoga of Knowledge)

In Chapter 4 – Jñāna Yoga (The Yoga of Knowledge) of Swami B.G. Narasingha’s Bhagavad-gītā, Kṛṣṇa explains to Arjuna about the process to attain Transcendental knowledge.

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श्रीभगवानुवाच ।
इमं विवस्वते योगं प्रोक्तवानहमव्ययम् ।
विवस्वान्मनवे प्राह मनुरिक्ष्वाकवेऽब्रवीत् ॥१॥

śrī bhagavān uvāca –
imaṁ vivasvate yogaṁ proktavān aham avyayam
vivasvān manave prāha manur ikṣvākave’bravīt

Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa said: I disclosed this imperishable knowledge of yoga unto Vivasvān, the sun-god. He then taught it to Vaivasvata Manu, who then instructed the same knowledge to Ikṣvāku.

एवं परम्पराप्राप्तमिमं राजर्षयो विदुः ।
स कालेनेह महता योगो नष्टः परन्तप ॥२॥

evaṁ paramparā prāptam imaṁ rājarṣayo viduḥ
sa kāleneha mahatā yogo naṣṭaḥ parantapa

In this way, O conqueror of the enemy, the pious rulers understood this path of knowledge through the disciplic succession. However, this knowledge of yoga has been lost due to the influence of time.

स एवायं मया तेऽद्य योगः प्रोक्तः पुरातनः ।
भक्तोऽसि मे सखा चेति रहस्यं ह्येतदुत्तमम् ॥३॥

sa evāyaṁ mayā te’dya yogaḥ proktaḥ purātanaḥ
bhakto’si me sakhā ceti rahasyaṁ hy-etad uttamam

I am again teaching this ancient science of yoga to you. Because you are My dear friend and devotee you can understand the transcendental mystery of which I speak.

अर्जुन उवाच
अपरं भवतो जन्म परं जन्म विवस्वतः ।
कथमेतद्विजानीयां त्वमादौ प्रोक्तवानिति ॥४॥

arjuna uvāca –
aparaṁ bhavato janma paraṁ janma vivasvataḥ
katham etad vijānīyāṁ tvam ādau proktavān iti

Arjuna said: You were born only recently and the sun-god appeared long ago. So how am I to understand that in ancient times You had taught him the science of yoga?


According to the above statement of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Bhagavad-gītā is a very ancient text. Kṛṣṇa says that previously He had spoken this knowledge of yoga to Vivasvān, the predominating deity of the sun planet, and in turn Vivasvān passed on this knowledge to other universal leaders and great kings. This flow of knowledge from one to another is called paramparā or disciplic succession. But in time, the knowledge of yoga was lost and therefore Kṛṣṇa was again speaking Bhagavad-gītā to Arjuna.

The qualifications to properly understand Bhagavad-gītā are stated here. One should be a devotee of Kṛṣṇa and one should understand that Kṛṣṇa is suhdam-sarva-bhūtānām, the friend of all living beings. In bhakti-yoga one does not fear God because Kṛṣṇa is not a wrathful God. Kṛṣṇa is our dear-most friend and our ever well-wisher. Kṛṣṇa is the highest subject of love, adoration and affection. Kṛṣṇa also has deep feelings of love for His devotees.

From these verses we can also understand that the knowledge of yoga is not simply meant for studio lessons. The knowledge of yoga is actually the most important branch of knowledge in the world and as such, it should be studied by every discerning person – from the heads of government to the individual citizen. Everyone should have the opportunity to study and practice yoga, by which one easily approaches the perfection of life.

The question naturally arises in Arjuna’s mind that how could Kṛṣṇa have spoken Bhagavad-gītā to Vivasvān when Vivasvān appeared in the universe millions of years ago and Kṛṣṇa only appeared recently?

श्रीभगवानुवाच ।
बहूनि मे व्यतीतानि जन्मानि तव चार्जुन ।
तान्यहं वेद सर्वाणि न त्वं वेत्थ परन्तप ॥५॥

śrī bhagavān uvāca –
bahūni me vyatītāni janmāni tava cārjuna
tāny-ahaṁ veda sarvāṇi na tvaṁ vettha parantapa

Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa said: O conqueror of the enemy, both you and I have passed through many births. I know all of them but you do not.

अजोऽपि सन्नव्ययात्मा भूतानामीश्वरोऽपि सन् ।
प्रकृतिं स्वामधिष्ठाय सम्भवाम्यात्ममायया ॥६॥

ajo’pi sannavyayātmā bhūtānām-īśvaro’pi san
prakṛtiṁ svām-adhiṣṭhāya saṁbhavāmy-ātmamāyayā

Though I am unborn and My form is imperishable, and though I am the Controller of all things, I still remain in control of My material energy and manifest through My own potency.

यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भवति भारत ।
अभ्युत्थानमधर्मस्य तदात्मानं सृजाम्यहम् ॥७॥

yadā yadā hi dharmasya glānir bhavati bhārata
abhyutthānam adharmasya tadātmānaṁ sṛjāmyaham

O descendant of Bharata, whenever there is a decline in dharma and a rise of adharma, I personally appear.

परित्राणाय साधूनां विनाशाय च दुष्कृताम् ।
धर्मसंस्थापनार्थाय सम्भवामि युगे युगे ॥८॥

paritrāṇāya sādhūnāṁ vināśāya ca duṣkṛtām
dharma-saṁsthāpanārthāya saṁbhavāmi yuge yuge

To protect the pious living beings and to put an end to malevolence, I appear in every age to establish dharma.

जन्म कर्म च मे दिव्यमेवं यो वेत्ति तत्त्वतः ।
त्यक्त्वा देहं पुनर्जन्म नैति मामेति सोऽर्जुन ॥९॥

janma karma ca me divyam evaṁ yo vetti tattvataḥ
tyaktvā dehaṁ punar-janma naiti māmeti so’rjuna

One who understands My divine appearance and activities never takes birth again after giving up this material body. He comes to Me, O Arjuna.


To understand Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s appearance and activities is indeed to become situated beyond the cycle of birth and death. In material life all living beings are in a perpetual state of transmigration from one birth to the next. Only when one attains pure spiritual consciousness does sasāra, or transmigration, cease. Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna that both of them have passed through many births that Arjuna has forgotten, but Kṛṣṇa remembers them all.

Because the living beings change bodies at the time of death, they also forget their previous lives. Kṛṣṇa is the Absolute Truth and thus He does not change His body or transmigrate to another body at any time. Because He does not undergo a change of body He does not forget. Kṛṣṇa is non-different from His body, whereas living beings in material life are units of consciousness that are embodied by material elements. The bodies of all living beings in the material world are made of the basic elements of earth, water, fire, air, space, mind, intelligence and false ego. Kṛṣṇa is sac-cid-ānanda – eternity, knowledge and bliss. Kṛṣṇa’s body is also sac-cid-ānanda, thus Kṛṣṇa and Kṛṣṇa’s body are non-different. They are transcendental, spiritual substances.

Śrī Kṛṣṇa not only remembers all His previous births, but He remembers all of Arjuna’s previous births also. This is the characteristic of the Absolute Truth who is fully omniscient.

The knowledge of yoga being lost naturally results in a decline in dharma and a rise of adharma (false dharma). Malevolence arises out of adharma. When this occurs, Kṛṣṇa says that He appears in the world to re-establish the principles of dharma. Dharma is understood as duties, activities and practices that will sustain the living beings in a state of prosperity and enable them to realise their constitutional position as conscious parts and parcels of the Absolute Truth, Kṛṣṇa. As such, dharma should not be confused with the mundane religions of this world.

In verse 8 Kṛṣṇa says that He appears in every age (yuge yuge) to establish the yuga-dharma. In Satya-yuga, Kṛṣṇa appeared as Haṁsa, Matsya, Kūrma, Varāha and Narasiṁha avatāras. In Treta-yuga, He appeared as Vāmana, Paraśurāma and Rāmacandra avatāras. In Dvāpara-yuga, He appeared as Śrī Kṛṣṇa and in Kali-yuga, He has appeared as Buddha and Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. There is one more avatāra yet to appear at the end of Kali-yuga, some 427,000 years from now, and that is Kalki.

When Kṛṣṇa was speaking Bhagavad-gītā, it was at the end of Dvāpara-yuga – an age of considerable piety where open degradation such as establishments for the consumption of alcohol, illicit sex, political corruption, drug abuse and the organised slaughter of animals were completely unheard of. Now, five thousand years on, we are in the midst of the age known as Kali-yuga where the unheard of vices in Dvāpara-yuga are the norm of the day.

Similarly, as Kṛṣṇa had appeared at the end of Dvāpara-yuga, He again appeared after the first 4,576 years of Kali-yuga had passed as the avatāra, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu is also known as the Kali-yuga avatāra, or the yugāvatāra. As the yugāvatāra, Kṛṣṇa taught the dharma of nāma-sakīrtana, the chanting of the mahā-mantra as not only the most important process of self-realisation, but as the only recommended process of self-realisation in Kali-yuga. Conclusively, the Bhan-Nāradīya Purāṇa (38.126) says:

harer-nāma harer-nāma harer-nāma eva kevalam
kalau nāsty-eva nāsty-eva nāsty-eva gatir anyathā

In the age of Kali there is no other way, there is no other way, there is no other way except for the chanting of the names of Kṛṣṇa.

When the mahā-mantra is chanted congregationally in a loud tone, it is called kīrtana or sakīrtana. When the mahā-mantra is chanted softly and the repetition is counted on a string of one hundred-and eight beads, it is called japa.

Since the advent of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and the sakīrtana movement, many great and learned scholars, philosophers and yogīs such as Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya and Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī have put aside other systems of yoga, Vedānta and philosophy in favour of becoming fully absorbed in the chanting of the holy names of Kṛṣṇa. According to great self-realised personalities, the chanting of the mahā-mantra is the surest path to spiritual perfection in this age. Śrīmad Bhāgavatam states as follows:

kaler doṣa nidhe rājann asti hy eko mahān guṇaḥ
kīrtanād eva kṛṣṇasya mukta-saṅgaḥ paraṁ vrajet

Although Kali-yuga is an ocean of faults where people are short-lived, slow and always disturbed, still there is one great quality about this age – simply by chanting the name of Kṛṣṇa, one can be delivered from material bondage and attain the supreme destination. (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 12.3.51)

kṛte yad dhyāyato viṣṇuṁ tretāyāṁ yajato makhaiḥ
dvāpare paricaryāyāṁ kalau taddhari-kīrtanāt

Whatever results were gained in Satya-yuga by meditating upon Viṣṇu, in Treta-yuga by performing elaborate sacrifices and in Dvāpara-yuga by Deity worship can be obtained in Kali-yuga simply by chanting the names of Kṛṣṇa. (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 12.3.52)

The chanting of the mahā-mantra advances one in self-realisation because it purifies the heart of material influences and eliminates the false conceptions of life, thus terminating the cycle of birth and death. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu has composed a verse wherein the benefits of sakīrtana, chanting the mahā-mantra, have been described as follows:

ceto-darpaṇa-mārjanaṁ bhava mahā-dāvāgni nirvāpaṇaṁ
śreyaḥ -kairava-candrikā-vitaraṇaṁ vidyā-vadhū-jīvanam
ānandāmbudhi-vardhanaṁ prati-padaṁ pūrṇāmṛtāsvādanaṁ
sarvātma-snapanaṁ paraṁ vijayate śrī kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtanam

The holy name of Kṛṣṇa cleanses the mirror of the heart and extinguishes the fire of misery in the forest of birth and death. Just as the evening lotus blooms in the moon’s cooling rays, the heart begins to blossom in the nectar of Kṛṣṇa’s name. And at last the ātmā awakens to its real inner treasure – a life of love with Kṛṣṇa. Again and again tasting nectar, the ātmā dives and surfaces in the ever-increasing ocean of ecstatic joy. All phases of the self of which we may conceive are fully satisfied and purified, and at last conquered by the all-auspicious influence of the holy name of Kṛṣṇa. (Śikṣāṣṭaka 1)

Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu taught the chanting of the mahā-mantra and a complete system of philosophy known as acintya-bhedābheda-tattva that has encompassed all the great philosophical systems of India that preceded Him, such as Ādi Śaṅkara’s advaita, Viṣṇu Svāmī’s śuddhādvaita, Nimbārka’s dvaitādvaita, Rāmānuja’s viśiṣṭhādvaita and Madhva’s dvaita. The acintya-bhedābheda-tattva philosophy is essentially the philosophy of simultaneous oneness and difference in the Absolute Truth, culminating in prema-bhakti or divine love. As such, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu has revealed the greatest philosophy of spiritual perfection in this world.

To accompany the chanting of the mahā-mantra the process of Deity worship that was prominent in Dvāpara-yuga is still in vogue today. The Deity is the arca-vigraha representation of Śrī Kṛṣṇa that is manifest before the aspirant so that one can perform arcana (worship) and fix the mind and senses on the form of the Supreme Person. When the authorised arca-vigraha is present, such worship should not be confused with the worship of lifeless and unauthorised idols. Current in the communities of bhakti-yoga are the worship of the arca-vigrahas of Śrī Kṛṣṇa such as Jagannātha, Pañca-tattva, Gaura-Nitāi, Gaura-Gadādhara, Śrī Narasiṁha and Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa.

वीतरागभयक्रोधा मन्मया मामुपाश्रिताः ।
बहवो ज्ञानतपसा पूता मद्भावमागताः ॥१०॥

vīta-rāga-bhaya-krodhā man-mayā mām-upāśritāḥ
bahavo jñāna-tapasā pūtā mad-bhāvam āgatāḥ

Freed from mundane attachment, fear and anger, and absorbed in thinking of Me, many people have taken refuge in Me and become purified by the knowledge of austerity and attained love for Me.

ये यथा मां प्रपद्यन्ते तांस्तथैव भजाम्यहम् ।
मम वर्त्मानुवर्तन्ते मनुष्याः पार्थ सर्वशः ॥११॥

ye yathā māṁ prapadyante tāṁs-tathaiva bhajāmy-aham
mama vartmānuvartante manuṣyāḥ pārtha sarvaśaḥ

In whatever way people surrender unto Me, I reward them accordingly. O Pārtha, all men follow My path.

काङ्क्षन्तः कर्मणां सिद्धिं यजन्त इह देवताः ।
क्षिप्रं हि मानुषे लोके सिद्धिर्भवति कर्मजा ॥१२॥

kāṅkṣantaḥ karmaṇāṁ siddhiṁ yajanta iha devatāḥ
kṣipraṁ hi mānuṣe loke siddhir bhavati karmajā

In this world, those that desire material success worship the demigods, since in human society success from such activities is quick to manifest.

चातुर्वर्ण्यं मया सृष्टं गुणकर्मविभागशः ।
तस्य कर्तारमपि मां विद्ध्यकर्तारमव्ययम् ॥१३॥

cātur-varṇyaṁ mayā sṛṣṭaṁ guṇa-karma-vibhāgaśaḥ
tasya kartāram api māṁ viddhy-akartāram avyayam

I have created the four social divisions that are determined by the influence of the modes of material nature and their parallel activities. Although I have created this arrangement, know that in reality I am the non-doer and that I am unchangeable.

न मां कर्माणि लिम्पन्ति न मे कर्मफले स्पृहा ।
इति मां योऽभिजानाति कर्मभिर्न स बध्यते ॥१४॥

na māṁ karmāṇi limpanti na me karma-phale spṛhā
iti māṁ yo’bhijānāti karmabhir na sa badhyate

There is no activity that affects Me, neither do I desire the results of material activities. One who understands this is never bound by karma.

एवं ज्ञात्वा कृतं कर्म पूर्वैरपि मुमुक्षुभिः ।
कुरु कर्मैव तस्मात्त्वं पूर्वैः पूर्वतरं कृतम् ॥१५॥

evaṁ jñātvā kṛtaṁ karma pūrvair api mumukṣubhiḥ
kuru karmaiva tasmāt tvaṁ pūrvaiḥ pūrvataraṁ kṛtam

Knowing this, in ancient times, those that desired liberation also performed action. Thus, you should also adopt the path of action as they did in the past.


In verse 10 Śrī Kṛṣṇa alludes to the topmost stage of self-realisation by the use of the word bhāva. Bhāva is the stage of deep affection just before one reaches the stage of purest love, prema. Rūpa Gosvāmī, the foremost disciple of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, explains this in great detail in his book, Bhakti-rasāmta-sindhu (1.4.15-16).

ādau śraddhā tataḥ sādhu-saṅgo‘tha bhajana-kriyā
tato’nartha-nivṛttiḥ syāt tato niṣṭhā rucis tataḥ
athāsaktis tato bhāvas-tataḥ premābhyudañcati
sādhakānām ayaṁ premṇaḥ prādurbhāve bhavet kramaḥ

The development of transcendental love begins with śraddhā or faith. Śraddhā leads one to associate with spiritually advanced persons, sādhu-saga. In the association of sādhus one receives śika, or instructions on how to approach the Absolute Truth, and gradually one is initiated into this process. This is called bhajana-kriyā. When the heart is cleared of contamination, one reaches the stage of being pure-hearted (anartha-nivtti). By the cultivation of spiritual practices after achieving anartha-nivtti, one becomes steady (niṣṭha), and achieves the state of ruci, wherein one begins to taste the pure sweetness of realisation in the Absolute Truth. This ruci develops further to become āsakti, or great attachment for the Absolute. Great attachment for the Absolute gradually manifests as great feelings of affection for Śrī Kṛṣṇa. This is called bhāva. And the mature stage of those feelings of affection are known as prema, or the sentiments of transcendental love for Kṛṣṇa.

It is interesting to note that Kṛṣṇa hints at this ultimate perfection early on in Bhagavad-gītā, not too overtly but slightly covertly – for love, after all, is the greatest of all secrets.

In subsequent verses, Kṛṣṇa continues to encourage Arjuna not to adopt the path of inaction. Kṛṣṇa assures Arjuna that He is transcendental to all types of karma and that those who take refuge in Him also become liberated from the reactions of material activities.

Kṛṣṇa wants Arjuna to follow the example of previously liberated persons – to follow in their footsteps, mahājano yena gata sa panthāḥ. In ancient times there were many great personalities known as mahājanas and they all achieved liberation from birth and death by taking shelter of Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa wants Arjuna to follow these mahājanas.

Śrī Kṛṣṇa is awarding all living beings accordingly as they approach Him. Knowingly or unknowingly everyone is searching for Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa is the reservoir of pleasure and the primeval cause of everything. In Brahma-sahitā, Śrī Kṛṣṇa is described as sarva-kāraa-kāraam, the cause of all causes. Kṛṣṇa is also known as Govinda, or one who gives pleasure to the senses. But due to being under the illusion of bodily consciousness, the living beings are not aware of what is actually in their best interest, therefore they do not approach Kṛṣṇa directly. Instead, the bewildered living beings worship demigods for the fulfilment of their desires, or as in modern society, they simply work hard to earn money and purchase whatever they want.

In material existence, the living beings are wandering throughout the universe in different species of life, experiencing happiness and distress according to their karma.

brahmāṇḍa bhramite kona bhāgyavān jīva
guru-kṛṣṇa-prasāde pāya bhakti-latā-bīja

Out of millions of wandering living beings, one who is most fortunate gets an opportunity to associate with a liberated person (guru) by the grace of Kṛṣṇa. By the mercy of Kṛṣṇa and the guru, such a person receives the seed of the creeper of bhakti. (Caitanya-caritāmta, Madhya-līlā 19.151)

The world is old – much older than many of us realise and many things have changed over the ages. Yet the basic principles of spiritual advancement and putting an end to the problems of birth, death, old age and disease remain the same. The advancement of modern civilisation has actually done very little to solve the real problems of life. We are given so-called higher education and better standards of living, yet the basic problems remain – birth, death, old age and disease. Now the real solution is at hand and Śrī Kṛṣṇa wants Arjuna to accept it.

To facilitate social harmony, efficiency and advancement in spiritual life, Kṛṣṇa has created the four social orders in society called varas. According to one’s sukti, or spiritual merits derived from previous lifetimes, one comes to the human form of life with certain innate qualities. This is a natural system of order in the universe and it is perceivable in all civilised societies. These human tendencies are grouped into four basic classifications: the intellectual, martial, mercantile and labourer classes. The Vedic terms for these are brāhmaas, katriyas, vaiśyas and śūdras. According to Śrī Kṛṣṇa these varas are determined by one’s qualities and actions (gua-karma) and not simply by birth. One may be born in the family of workmen but show extraordinary intellectual prowess and so forth. As such, one is to be heartily welcomed into the intellectual community. Similarly, one may be born to a wealthy mercantile family but show great promise as a military leader. Thus one is encouraged to follow that line of work.

When one performs the work prescribed to him according to his qualities, and devotees that work to please the Supreme Person Kṛṣṇa, then such a person achieves the highest perfection. This is confirmed as follows:

ataḥ pumbhir dvija-śreṣṭhā varṇāśrama-vibhāgaśaḥ
svanuṣṭhitasya dharmasya saṁsiddhir hari-toṣaṇam

It is concluded that the highest perfection one can achieve by discharging one’s occupational duties according to the vara and āśrama orders of life is to please Kṛṣṇa. (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 1.2.13)

Unfortunately, in modern times some persons have given a wrong interpretation to the eligibility of the varas by placing all emphasis on one’s birth in a particular family. This has been invented to create a sense of social superiority wherein elite members of Vedic society who are born as brāhmaas and katriyas are given special privileges, while others who are born as vaiśyas and śūdras are not. This system has created havoc in India for more than one thousand years and is known as the caste system. The caste system however is a total misrepresentation of the system of varas created by Kṛṣṇa.

किं कर्म किमकर्मेति कवयोऽप्यत्र मोहिताः ।
तत्ते कर्म प्रवक्ष्यामि यज्ज्ञात्वा मोक्ष्यसेऽशुभात् ॥१६॥

kiṁ karma kim akarmeti kavayo’pyatra mohitāḥ
tat te karma pravakṣyāmi yaj-jñātvā mokṣyase’śubhāt

What is action? What is inaction? – this subject bewilders even wise men. Therefore, I shall explain to you what is action, knowing which you will become liberated and attain all auspiciousness.

कर्मणो ह्यपि बोद्धव्यं बोद्धव्यं च विकर्मणः ।
अकर्मणश्च बोद्धव्यं गहना कर्मणो गतिः ॥१७॥

karmaṇo hy-api boddhavyaṁ boddhavyaṁ ca vikarmaṇaḥ
akarmaṇaś ca boddhavyaṁ gahanā karmaṇo gatiḥ

One should understand what is prescribed action (karma), what is forbidden action (vikarma) and what is the renunciation of action (akarma). The path of action is most difficult to comprehend.

कर्मण्यकर्म यः पश्येदकर्मणि च कर्म यः ।
स बुद्धिमान्मनुष्येषु स युक्तः कृत्स्नकर्मकृत् ॥१८॥

karmaṇy-akarma yaḥ paśyed akarmaṇi ca karma yaḥ
sa buddhimān manuṣyeṣu sa yuktaḥ kṛtsna-karma-kṛt

One who can see inaction in action and action within inaction is certainly wise amongst men. Indeed, he is a yogī and a performer of all actions.

यस्य सर्वे समारम्भाः कामसङ्कल्पवर्जिताः ।
ज्ञानाग्निदग्धकर्माणं तमाहुः पण्डितं बुधाः ॥१९॥

yasya sarve samārambhāḥ kāma-saṅkalpa-varjitāḥ
jñānāgni-dagdha-karmāṇaṁ tam āhuḥ paṇḍitaṁ budhāḥ

One whose every action is free from selfish desires and who burns all his actions in the fire of knowledge is described by the learned as a wise man.

त्यक्त्वा कर्मफलासङ्गं नित्यतृप्तो निराश्रयः ।
कर्मण्यभिप्रवृत्तोऽपि नैव किञ्चित्करोति सः ॥२०॥

tyaktvā karma-phalāsaṅgaṁ nitya-tṛpto nirāśrayaḥ
karmaṇy-abhipravṛtto’pi naiva kiñcit karoti saḥ

A person who has rejected the desire to enjoy the results of his actions, who does not depend upon others and who is always content, even while engaged in action, does nothing at all.

निराशीर्यतचित्तात्मा त्यक्तसर्वपरिग्रहः ।
शारीरं केवलं कर्म कुर्वन्नाप्नोति किल्बिषम् ॥२१॥

nirāśīr yata cittātmā tyakta-sarva-parigrahaḥ
śārīraṁ kevalaṁ karma kurvan nāpnoti kilbiṣam

Having no desires, controlling the mind and body, having no sense of possessiveness, such a person does not incur any wrongdoing although they may perform actions in order to maintain the body.

यदृच्छालाभसन्तुष्टो द्वन्द्वातीतो विमत्सरः ।
समः सिद्धावसिद्धौ च कृत्वापि न निबध्यते ॥२२॥

yadṛcchā-lābha-santuṣṭo dvandvātīto vimatsaraḥ
samaḥ siddhāv-asiddhau ca kṛtvāpi na nibadhyate

One who is content with those things that come of their own accord, who is beyond duality, devoid of enviousness, and equal in success and failure – such a person is not bound by karma, although he may perform actions.

गतसङ्गस्य मुक्तस्य ज्ञानावस्थितचेतसः ।
यज्ञायाचरतः कर्म समग्रं प्रविलीयते ॥२३॥

gata-saṅgasya muktasya jñānāvasthita-cetasaḥ
yajñāyācharataḥ karma samagraṁ pravilīyate

All karma is completely dissolved for one who is detached, liberated, situated in knowledge and performs action only in sacrifice.


We have already discussed previously the different types of action such as karma (prescribed duties), vikarma (forbidden actions) and akarma (spiritual activities). Nonetheless it is sometimes difficult to understand the different types of action, and especially to see inaction in action and action within inaction. Indeed, this seems quite contradictory. In contemporary society, especially in various yoga communities, karma is often spoken of without a clear understanding of what it actually is or how it is incurred.

The point Śrī Kṛṣṇa wants to make clear is that actions performed for His satisfaction do not have any reaction in the sphere of karma or vikarma. Actions performed for Kṛṣṇa are in the category of akarma, producing only spiritual benefit – no good or bad material effect. Good and bad karma are both material and as such they must be shaken off before one can become spiritually liberated.

Generally we want good karma, but good karma means we will have to take birth again and enjoy its good effects. Bad karma, of course, is commonly understood as something undesirable or to be avoided because it causes suffering, pain and distress. This is certainly true, but bad karma is simply the flip side of good karma and vice versa. This is called the karmic entanglement of material life – sometimes enjoying and sometimes suffering.

Akarma leads to liberation from all material entanglement and takes one to the plane of eternal blissful life in full knowledge of everything. While engaging in yoga, a serious student should, as far as possible, lead a simple life beyond duality by minimizing material hankerings, controlling the mind and body and giving up possessiveness. Being content with that which comes of its own accord, one should remain steadfast in the practice of yoga.

ब्रह्मार्पणं ब्रह्म हविर्ब्रह्माग्नौ ब्रह्मणा हुतम् ।
ब्रह्मैव तेन गन्तव्यं ब्रह्मकर्मसमाधिना ॥२४॥

brahmārpaṇaṁ brahma havir brahmāgnau brahmaṇā hutam
brahmaiva tena gantavyaṁ brahma-karma-samādhinā

The utensils used for sacrifice are the Absolute, the sacred fire is the Absolute and the offering made is the Absolute. One whose consciousness is always absorbed in thoughts of the Absolute attains the Absolute.

दैवमेवापरे यज्ञं योगिनः पर्युपासते ।
ब्रह्माग्नावपरे यज्ञं यज्ञेनैवोपजुह्वति ॥२५॥

daivam evāpare yajñaṁ yoginaḥ paryupāsate
brahmāgnāv-apare yajñaṁ yajñenaivopajuhvati

Some yogīs perform sacrifices to the demigods. Others offer themselves into the fire of the Absolute.

श्रोत्रादीनीन्द्रियाण्यन्ये संयमाग्निषु जुह्वति ।
शब्दादीन्विषयानन्य इन्द्रियाग्निषु जुह्वति ॥२६॥

śrotrādīnīndriyāṇy-anye saṁyamāgniṣu juhvati
śabdādīn viṣayān anya indriyāgniṣu juhvati

Some offer the senses of hearing, seeing, touching, smelling and tasting into the fire of self-control. Others offer the sense-objects – sound, form, taste, touch and smell – into the fire of the senses.

सर्वाणीन्द्रियकर्माणि प्राणकर्माणि चापरे ।
आत्मसंयमयोगाग्नौ जुह्वति ज्ञानदीपिते ॥२७॥

sarvāṇīndriya-karmāṇi prāṇa-karmāṇi cāpare
ātma-saṁyama-yogāgnau juhvati jñāna-dīpite

Some offer all the functions of the senses and the functions of the life-airs into the fire of self-purification, which is ignited by knowledge.

द्रव्ययज्ञास्तपोयज्ञा योगयज्ञास्तथापरे ।
स्वाध्यायज्ञानयज्ञाश्च यतयः संशितव्रताः ॥२८॥

dravya-yajñās tapo-yajñā yoga-yajñās tathāpare
svādhyāya jñāna-yajñāś ca yatayaḥ saṁśita-vratāḥ

Some yogīs sacrifice their possessions through penances or through the practice of yoga. Some undertake severe vows and strictly sacrifice through knowledge by studying the Vedas.

अपाने जुह्वति प्राणं प्राणेऽपानं तथापरे ।
प्राणापानगती रुद्ध्वा प्राणायामपरायणाः ।
अपरे नियताहाराः प्राणान्प्राणेषु जुह्वति ॥२९॥

apāne juhvati prāṇaṁ prāṇe’pānaṁ tathāpare
prāṇāpāna-gatī ruddhvā prāṇāyāma-parāyaṇāḥ
apare niyatāhārāḥ prāṇān prāṇeṣu juhvati

Others practice control of the life-airs by offering the in-going breath into the out-going breath and out-going breath into the in-going breath, and thus restrain both. Others offer their life-airs by controlling the intake of food.

VERSE 30-31
सर्वेऽप्येते यज्ञविदो यज्ञक्षपितकल्मषाः ।
यज्ञशिष्टामृत भुजो यान्ति ब्रह्मा सनातनम् ॥३०॥
नायं लोकोऽस्त्ययज्ञस्य कुतोऽन्यः कुरुसत्तम ॥३१॥

sarve’py-ete yajña-vido yajña-kṣapita-kalmaṣāḥ
yajña-śiṣṭāmṛta-bhujo yānti brahma sanātanam
nāyaṁ loko’sty-ayajñasya kuto’nyaḥ kuru-sattama

All of them are conversant with the principles of sacrifice. They have purged themselves of impiety by their performance of sacrifice. They are satisfied with the remnants of sacrifice and thus they attain the eternal Absolute Truth. O best of the Kuru Dynasty, for one that never performs sacrifice, even the pleasures of this world are denied – then what to say of the next life?

एवं बहुविधा यज्ञा वितता ब्रह्मणो मुखे ।
कर्मजान्विद्धि तान्सर्वानेवं ज्ञात्वा विमोक्ष्यसे ॥३२॥

evaṁ bahu-vidhā yajñā vitatā brahmaṇo mukhe
karma-jān-viddhi tān sarvān evaṁ jñātvā vimokṣyase

In this way, many varieties of sacrifices have been explained in the Vedas. You should understand that all of them are born of action. Knowing this, you shall be liberated.


The above verses principally deal with sacrifice and sacrifices of different types. However, it should be mentioned at the outset that Śrī Kṛṣṇa does not recommend animal sacrifices. The very word ‘sacrifice’ conjures up images of bloodshed – and rightfully so. In the history of religions throughout the world, from antiquity to modernity, the sacrifice of both animals and humans has been a common practice. Most progressive thinkers however now view human and animal sacrifice as totally repugnant and certainly Śrī Kṛṣṇa would be in complete agreement.

The sacrifices mentioned here by Kṛṣṇa mainly concern the performance of austerities, breath control, study of the Vedas, purification of knowledge, renunciation, observing vows etc. The purpose of all such sacrifices is to advance in realisation of the Absolute Truth.

It is often said that, “God is one” or that, “It is all one”. This is true, but there is a need to qualify such statements. God is the Absolute Truth, one without a second, but this does not mean that all living beings are God. The Bhagavad-gītā is straightforward on the point that all living beings are eternally individual and never become God at any time. Similarly, God is always the Absolute Truth and nothing less.

It is said in verse 24 that the utensils of sacrifice are Absolute, the sacred fire is Absolute, the priest or performer of sacrifice is Absolute and one who is always absorbed in thoughts of the Absolute attains the Absolute. This is not to say that the individuality of any of these is lost in the Absolute. Everything that comes in contact with the Absolute Truth acquires the qualities of the Absolute by association, but the individuality of each is maintained.

The point is also made that practically everything in life depends on sacrifice, even worldly pleasures. Without sacrifice one cannot enjoy in this life or in the next. The knowledge of performing sacrifice is essential for the students of yoga. Knowing this one becomes liberated.

श्रेयान्द्रव्यमयाद्यज्ञाज्ज्ञानयज्ञः परन्तप ।
सर्वं कर्माखिलं पार्थ ज्ञाने परिसमाप्यते ॥३३॥

śreyān dravyamayād yajñāj jñāna-yajñaḥ parantapa
sarvaṁ karmākhilaṁ pārtha jñāne parisamāpyate

O conqueror of the enemy, the sacrifice involving knowledge is higher than the sacrifice of material ingredients. All actions culminate in knowledge, O Pārtha.

तद्विद्धि प्रणिपातेन परिप्रश्नेन सेवया ।
उपदेक्ष्यन्ति ते ज्ञानं ज्ञानिनस्तत्त्वदर्शिनः ॥३४॥

tad viddhi praṇipātena paripraśnena sevayā
upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ jñāninas tattva-darśinaḥ

Just try to understand this knowledge by approaching a self-realised person who has seen the truth. Make submissive inquiry and render service unto him. The tattva-darśī, the seer of the truth, will instruct you and give you initiation into this sacred path.

यज्ज्ञात्वा न पुनर्मोहमेवं यास्यसि पाण्डव ।
येन भूतान्यशेषेण द्रक्ष्यस्यात्मन्यथो मयि ॥३५॥

yaj-jñātvā na punar moham evaṁ yāsyasi pāṇḍava
yena bhūtāny-aśeṣāṇi drakṣyasy-ātmany-atho mayi

O son of Pāṇḍu, understanding this knowledge you will never be subject to illusion again. Through this knowledge you will see the spiritual nature of all living beings and that they are all situated within Me.

अपि चेदसि पापेभ्यः सर्वेभ्यः पापकृत्तमः ।
सर्वं ज्ञानप्लवेनैव वृजिनं सन्तरिष्यसि ॥३६॥

api ced asi pāpebhyaḥ sarvebhyaḥ pāpa-kṛttamaḥ
sarvaṁ jñāna-plavenaiva vṛjinaṁ santariṣyasi

Even if you are most impious, you can cross over the ocean of all vices by boarding the boat of wisdom.

यथैधांसि समिद्धोऽग्निर्भस्मसात्कुरुतेऽर्जुन ।
ज्ञानाग्निः सर्वकर्माणि भस्मसात्कुरुते तथा ॥३७॥

yathaidhāṁsi samiddho’gnir bhasmasāt kurute’rjuna
jñānāgniḥ sarva-karmāṇi bhasmasāt kurute tathā

As a blazing fire turns wood into ashes, similarly the fire of wisdom renders all karma to cinders, O Arjuna.

न हि ज्ञानेन सदृशं पवित्रमिह विद्यते ।
तत्स्वयं योगसंसिद्धः कालेनात्मनि विन्दति ॥३८॥

na hi jñānena sadṛśaṁ pavitram iha vidyate
tat svayaṁ yoga-saṁsiddhaḥ kālenātmani vindati

There is nothing as pure as knowledge in this world. In due course, one who is perfect in yoga realises this.


As per the understanding of advanced students and masters of Bhagavad-gītā, Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s instruction in verse 34 is that one should try to understand the truth by approaching a tattva-darśī, one who has seen the truth, with an attitude of submissive inquiry (paripraśna) and service (sevā). Being satisfied by such submissive inquiry and service, the tattva-darśī will instruct and initiate the disciple in the sacred science of yoga. In other words, Kṛṣṇa is telling Arjuna that to know the truth he must approach a spiritual master (guru) and become his disciple.

guru-pādāśrayas-tasmāt kṛṣṇa-dīkṣādi-śikṣaṇam
viśrambheṇa guroḥ sevā sādhu-vartmānu-vartanam

Firstly one must surrender at the feet of the guru, receive training from him by accepting spiritual initiation and instructions regarding Śrī Kṛṣṇa, serve the guru with affection and follow in the footsteps of the sādhus. (Bhakti-rasāmta-sindhu 1.2.74)

As the representative of Kṛṣṇa, the instruction of the guru, or ācārya, should be heeded. The genuine guru is a representative of Kṛṣṇa (Paramātmā) and is of two types – dīkṣā and śikṣā. The dīkṣāguru gives initiation and accepts the student or disciple as a member of the paramparā. Such initiations are not secret and are held in plain view of the public, but at the initiation ceremony the disciple receives the mahā-mantra and gāyatrī-mantras for meditation. The śikṣā-guru is one who imparts practical instructions to the disciple for the progressive advancement in self-realisation. The function of dīkṣā and śikṣā may be performed by the same guru, or by different gurus, but in any case both the dīkṣā and śikṣā gurus must be representatives of Kṛṣṇa. Thus, one should see the guru as non-different from Kṛṣṇa and should offer him all respect. Kṛṣṇa confirms this in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam as follows:

ācāryaṁ māṁ vijānīyān nāvamanyeta karhicit
na martya-buddhyāsūyeta sarva-deva-mayo guruḥ

One should consider the ācārya (guru) as non-different from Myself and never show any disrespect towards him. One should not envy him, nor consider him to be an ordinary person as he is the representative of all the demigods. (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 11.17.27)

This is the guru-disciple relationship that has been accepted since time immemorial. However, the question arises as to who is a guru? What are the qualifications of a guru? It is clear that the disciple’s mood should be one of eagerness to know the truth accompanied by submissive inquiry and service. But what of the guru – what are his qualifications?

The Bhagavad-gītā says that the guru must be one who has seen the truth (a tattva-darśī) and who knows the science of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. This presupposes that the guru is himself a disciple of the previous guru. This is known as the guru-paramparā or the guru-disciple succession. Bhagavad-gītā sets the standards to acquire entrance into knowledge of the Absolute Truth and what that Truth is. Kṛṣṇa is the principle speaker of the Bhagavad-gītā and therefore the guru must necessarily be in the paramparā of Kṛṣṇa.

The first qualification of the guru is that he must be in an authentic paramparā and he must teach his disciple the principles and conclusions of Bhagavad-gītā. There are four paramparās and one should learn the philosophy of Bhagavad-gītā from one of those paramparās. Śrī Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa has mentioned these four paramparās in his book Prameya-ratnāvalī:

sampradāya vihīnā ye mantrās te niṣphalā matāḥ
ataḥ kalau bhaviṣyanti catvāraḥ sampradāyinaḥ
śrī brahma rudra sanakāḥ vaiṣṇavāḥ kṣiti-pāvanāḥ
catvāras te kalau bhāvyā hy-utkale puruṣottamāt
rāmānujaṁ śrīḥ svīcakre madhvācāryaṁ catur-mukhaḥ
śrī viṣṇu-svāminaṁ rudro nimbādityaṁ catuḥsanaḥ

That mantra that is not received in a disciplic succession does not produce any result. Thus, in Kali-yuga there are four sampradāyas (paramparās). They are the Śrī, Brahmā, Rudra and Sanaka sampradāyas. Rāmānuja is the ācārya of the Śrī sampradāya, Madhva is the ācārya of the Brahmā sampradāya, Viṣṇu Svāmī is the ācārya of the Rudra sampradāya and Nimbāditya is the ācārya of the Sanaka sampradāya. (Prameya-ratnāvalī 1.5-7)

The Vedas conclude that Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the Absolute Truth and all living beings are His parts and parcels. The Kaha Upaniad states:

nityo’nityānāṁ cetanaś cetanānām
eko bahūnāṁ yo vidadhāti kāmān

He is the Prime Eternal amongst all eternals. He is the Supreme Conscious Being amongst conscious beings, and He alone is maintaining all life. (Kaha Upaniad 2.2.13)

However, despite this, unscrupulous persons still attempt to make a trade with Kṛṣṇa’s words in Bhagavad-gītā and instead of declaring Kṛṣṇa to be the Supreme Conscious Being, they put themselves forward as being Kṛṣṇa or God incarnate. Such so-called gurus are actually not gurus, but cheaters. This is explained by Śiva in Padma Purāṇa:

guravo bahavaḥ santi śiṣya-vittāpa hārakāḥ
durlabhaḥ sad-gurur devī śiṣya-santāpa hārakaḥ

There are many gurus who will take the wealth of their disciples, but it is rare to find a true guru who will remove the ignorance and miseries of a disciple.

The cheaters make a big show of spiritual advancement but in reality they are spiritually bankrupt. Only a genuine representative of Kṛṣṇa can be guru or a teacher of the Bhagavad-gītā. This is the conclusion of all tattva-darśīs.

श्रद्धावाँल्लभते ज्ञानं तत्परः संयतेन्द्रियः ।
ज्ञानं लब्ध्वा परां शान्तिमचिरेणाधिगच्छति ॥३९॥

śraddhāvāl labhate jñānaṁ tat-paraḥ saṁyatendriyaḥ
jñānaṁ labdhvā parāṁ śāntim acireṇādhigacchati

Those imbued with faith and who are devoted to controlling their senses attain this knowledge very swiftly. Thus they attain supreme peace.

अज्ञश्चाश्रद्दधानश्च संशयात्मा विनश्यति ।
नायं लोकोऽस्ति न परो न सुखं संशयात्मनः ॥४०॥

ajñaś cāśraddadhānaś ca saṁśayātmā vinaśyati
nāyaṁ loko’sti na paro na sukhaṁ saṁśayātmanaḥ

Those who are deluded, without faith and full of doubt are ruined. Such faithless people find no happiness in this world or the next.

योगसंन्यस्तकर्माणं ज्ञानसञ्छिन्नसंशयम् ।
आत्मवन्तं न कर्माणि निबध्नन्ति धनञ्जय ॥४१॥

yoga-sannyasta-karmāṇaṁ jñāna-sañchinna-saṁśayam
ātma-vantaṁ na karmāṇi nibadhnanti dhanañjaya

O Dhanañjaya, karma cannot bind one who has renounced action through the process of yoga. His doubts are overcome by knowledge and he has thus realised the nature of the self.

तस्मादज्ञानसम्भूतं हृत्स्थं ज्ञानासिनात्मनः ।
छित्त्वैनं संशयं योगमातिष्ठोत्तिष्ठ भारत ॥४२॥

tasmād ajñāna sambhūtaṁ hṛt-sthaṁ jñānāsinātmanaḥ
chittvainaṁ saṁśayaṁ yogam ātiṣṭhottiṣṭha bhārata

Therefore, O Bhārata, with the sword of knowledge slash these doubts of yours that have arisen out of ignorance within your heart. Taking shelter of the process of yoga, stand and fight!

ॐ तत्सदिति श्रीमहाभारते शतसाहस्रयां संहितायां
वैयासिक्यां भीष्मपर्वणि
श्रीमद्भगवदीतासूपनिषत्सु ब्रह्मविद्यायं योगशास्त्रे श्रीकृष्णार्जुनसंवादे
ज्ञानयोगो नाम चतुर्थोऽध्यायः।।

oṁ tat saditi śrī-mahābhārate-śata-sāhasryāṁ saṁhitāyāṁ vaiyāsikyāṁ bhīṣma-parvāṇi
śrīmad bhagavad-gītāsūpaniṣatsu
brahma-vidyāyāṁ yoga-śāstre śrī kṛṣṇārjuna-saṁvāde
jñāna-yogo nāma caturtho’dhyāyaḥ

OṀ TAT SAT – Thus ends Chapter Four entitledāna Yoga from the conversation between Śrī Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna in the Upaniad known as Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā, the yoga-śāstra of divine knowledge, from the Bhīṣma-parva of Mahābhārata, the literature revealed by Vyāsa in one hundred thousand verses.