Scripture Study: Bhagavad Gita, book three verses 5-8

Scripture Study: Bhagavad Gita, book three verses 5-8 June 23, 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

5.Indeed, no one, even in the twinkling of an eye,
Ever exists without performing action;
Everyone is forced to perform action,
even action which is against his will,
By the qualities which originate in material nature.

6. He who sits, restraining his organs of action,
While in his mind brooding over
The objects of the senses, with a deluded mind,
Is said to be a hypocrite.

7. But he who undertakes the control
of the senses by the mind, Arjuna,
and, without attachment, engages the organs of action
in the yoga of action, is superior.

8. Perform your duty,
For action is indeed better than nonaction,
And even the mere maintenance of your body
Could not be accomplished without action.

Notes on the Sanskrit

The end of verse 5, “by the qualities which originate in material nature” appears to mean those who are born in the way of nature. Which is all of us, of course!

“Engaging the organs of action” in verse 7, the word is Karma Yoga. The yoga, or discipline, of action.

Commentaries of Gurus (all of these are Vaishnava perspectives)

“The renunciation of actions factually means not being attached to them. It does not mean actually giving them up, as that is impossible.” –Sridhara Swami’s Commentary

“The unqualified renunciate who in ignorance attempts to perform jnana yoga the cultivation of spiritual knowledge is being censored now. In a strong sense Lord Krishna states: that fool who by forcefully restraining the senses under the pretext of meditation but is inwardly reflecting on the objects of the senses is a cheat and a charlatan. Being impure the mind of such an impostor lacks the tranquillity and lucidity to practice such meditation.” –Sridhara Swami’s Commentary

“Lord Krishna previously spoke of the pretensions of the pretenders renouncing all actions with great effort by forcefully subjugating the desires of the mind. Now to show the predominant role of the mind in influencing our thoughts He uses the word manasa remembering in mind. Karma yoga the yoga of actions is suitable according to the stage of development one is in. One should not think that karma yoga is only for the grihastas or householders because by the word manasa it is asserting that karma yoga can also be used by renunciates as well.” –Madhvacarya’s Commentary

“Further it will be shown that even one who is liberated by atma- tattva realisation of the eternal soul; still may be involved in so many activities, performing actions without attachment or as a matter of duty. Thus even atma-tattva can be connected to material activities transforming them to spiritual activities. ” –Ramanuja’s Commentary

My Thoughts

This is such an important section for me. I definitely default to non-action. I struggle a lot to see what the correct action is, so I refrain from any. Here Lord Krishna says it is a mistake for me to justify such non-action as the spiritual way. I’m not being spiritual, I’m being cowardly.

It’s not as though I, or anyone else, can ever refrain from all action, nor should that be the goal, even for those practicing jnana yoga (the path of knowledge and spiritual study).

We all must take action.


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  • Wow – I just posted a quote by Eknarth Easwaran in my group today on the exact same thing and talked about how so many Spiritual people talk about “waiting for the perfect time,” “allowing and receiving” and waiting for messages from their Guides or the Universe, when in fact it is just an excuse due to fear of action.

    I was wondering if there was a Gita quote on that, so this is perfect. 🙂