Scripture Study: Bhagavad Gita, book four, verses 16-18

Scripture Study: Bhagavad Gita, book four, verses 16-18 June 1, 2017

We are doing a scripture study together: reading along through some scriptures and discussing the passages. Here are all of the posts on the previous verses for the Gita: Bhagavad Gita Study

bhagavad gita nails

From the Winthrop Sargeant translation of The Bhagavad Gita

16. “What is action? What is inaction?”
Thus, even the wise are confused in this matter.
This action I shall explain to you,
Having known which, you shall be released from evil.

17. One must know the nature of action,
The nature of wrong action,
And also the nature of inaction. The way of action is profound.

18. He who perceives inaction in action,
And action in inaction,
Is wise among men’
He is a yogi and performs all actions.

Notes on the Sanskrit

What is karma and what is akarma?

“The wise” is kavayas, which is poets. Sargeant points out that the sages of this era taught in verse so the poets were sages.

“Evil” is ashubhaat: from evil, from viciousness, from the disagreeable.

In verse 17 “know” is boddhavyam: to be known, to be enlightened, to be taught.

“wrong action” is vikarmanas: wrong action or unsuitable action

“profound” is gahanaa: difficult to understand, hard to comprehend, deep, dense, thick, profound

Commentary From the Gurus

In verse 16 Sri Krishna is saying I will teach you what is work and what is non-work, “knowing which yiou will be delivered from ‘evil’ or the empirical life.”

Don’t think that exertion of the body is work while non-work is immobility. “‘Is’ has to be understood after the expression boddhavya used thrice in the verse…’work’ connotes the three–work, bad work and non-work.” He says “the way” means “truth.”

What is the truth about work that has to be known and which the Lord has promised to elucidate?

Any action done is work. Those who can see action in inaction and vice versa are wise. “Action and cessation therefrom depend on the agent. All references to action, its accessories and so forth take place on the plane of nescience before Reality is attained.”

Bhagavad Gita Bhaasya of Sri Shankaracharya

My Thoughts

I’m glad His Holiness specifies that “evil” is the empirical life, as in this illusion around us.

Verse 18 is a classic. At least it is in my family. I’ve heard this verse many times! It’s a challenging one to comprehend. If I understand Sri Shankara correctly, the work of action takes place in the physical world, in the maya, and not in reality. If you can see that you are on your way to enlightenment.

One thing my family and I try to practice is seeing the stillness within the action. There’s always a part of ourselves that is observing the action, that is quiet and still within.

Previous verses:

All verses:


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