Scripture Study: Bhagavad Gita, book two verses 47-51

Scripture Study: Bhagavad Gita, book two verses 47-51 April 14, 2015

We are doing a scripture study together: reading along through some scriptures and discussing the passages.

From the Winthrop Sargeant translation of The Gita

47. Your right is to action alone;
Never to its fruits at any time.
Never should the fruits of action be your motive;
Never let there be attachment to inaction in you.

48. Fixed in yoga, perform actions,
Having abandoned attachment, Arjuna,,
And having become indifferent to success or failure.
It is said that evenness of mind is yoga.

49. Action is inferior by far
To the yoga of wisdom, Arjuna.
Seek refuge in wisdom!
Despicable are those whose motives are based on the fruit of action.

50. He whose wisdom is established
Casts off, here in the world, both good and evil actions;
Therefore devote yourself to yoga!
Yoga is skill in action.

51. Those who are established in wisdom,
The wise ones, who have abandoned the fruit born of action,
And are freed from the bondage of rebirth,
Go to the place that is free from pain.

Notes on the Sanskrit

There is a footnote in the book for verse 47. It speaks about how this verse is one of the most constant teachings of the Gita. “It refers to ‘disinteresed action,’ which is not to be confused with irresponsible or careless action. According to the law of karma an individual is responsible for his actions throughout eternity, or until he achieves [samadhi].”

“Indifferent” is samatvam, which is also translated as equanimity and equableness (which I’ve never heard of, but I assume means equal-ness).

The “wisdom” of verse 49 is actually buddhau (i.e., buddhi) which is intellect, insight, mental discernment.

Commentaries of Gurus

An aspirant of the highest knowledge must know that to hanker or yearn for reward for one’s actions is the cause of bondage in the material existence…Then on the other hand although fruitive actions are binding be not attached and not devoted from fear of this bondage to inaction. –Sridhara Swami’s Commentary

What should one do? Lord Krishna states here to remain balanced and equipoised. Discard the mentality of being attached. Be balanced in either victory or defeat and perform your duties. Karmani refers to duties the plural usage of duties indicates various obligatory and occasional duties; but the optional duty is not to be included among these as they are not required. Otherwise there would be contradiction between the former and the latter statements. Yoga is explained by Lord Krishna Himself as being in the state of equanimity.
Kesava Kasmiri’s Commentary

…those who are impelled and motivated by desire have only misery and wretchedness. –Sridhara Swami’s Commentary

One performing actions with the thought of receiving rewards gets the desired resultant. This appears positive but it is repeatedly denounced. Why? Because actions performed due to selfish motives are inferior to actions performed due to selfless motives. Selfless motives are balanced in equanimity. Equanimity possesses a determinate consciousness. Because of this reality one should seek the shelter of evenness of mind in equanimity. –Kesava Kasmiri’s Commentary

Those whose activities are inherently protected under the secure guidance of spiritual intelligence are released from the bondage of continuous rebirth in the material existence. Hence one should undeviatingly remain steadfast in spiritual intelligence. Although cultivating spiritual intelligence indeed takes enormous effort to achieve, once attained is not difficult to maintain. All actions performed from the platform of spiritual intelligence are not binding and the mind is preserved in a perfectly equipoised state which can be compared to a state of a blissful a genius sometimes experiences which is very wonderful. –Ramanuja’s Commentary

My Thoughts

These lines are probably the most famous in the Gita.

We were just talking about this section of the Gita at our discussion group and the conclusion that we reached was: People are responsible for their actions, but not for the results. Here God says, your job is to act and do what is in front of you and the result is my job.

We can become paralyzed by the fear of what we should do,endlessly projecting possible results and the Gita urges us to act in the way that our heart says is right or that our job and duty puts us in the position to do and then trust in the outcome.

It also means that we should try to do right because it is right and not because someone will praise us, we’ll win an award, we’ll get a raise, etc.

At the same time, inaction is also discouraged. Don’t be attached to the fruit of your action or to inaction. That is the primary lesson of the Gita.


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  • J N

    Each and every being in this world, including those of the mineral and vegetable kingdom, is moving in accordance with the definite predetermined laws of nature. As long as man is incompetent and mentally and physically weak, he is also subject to the laws of destiny. But as he develops greater awareness, he gradually transcends the dictates of destiny and karma and is able to create a new law and order for himself. When a being incarnates as a human, he brings with him a higher form of awareness called gyanam, which no other being is endowed with. Gyanam is the awareness of one’s own existence in relation to time and space. ‘I know I am; I know that I know I am’, this is gyanam.