Third Chapter of Bhagavad Gita- Principles of Karma yoga


In the previous chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna preaches to Arjuna about the importance of Sankhyayog. This yoga deals with understanding the Self and existence. Arjuna thought of this as retiring from active life and practicing penances in a secluded place. But Krishna also insists him fighting the battle. So Arjuna starts this chapter by putting forward this confusion to Krishna. In the third chapter of Bhagavad Gita Lord Krishna clears this confusion. This chapter explains sin, Yajna, sacrifice, constructive engagement, and Karma yoga.

Importance and Principles of Karma yoga

In this article we will learn about the few most important shlokas of third chapter of Bhagavad Gita, which bring out the importance of Karma yoga in everyone's life.

8th shloka

नियतं कुरु कर्म त्वं कर्म ज्यायो ह्यकर्मण: |

शरीरयात्रापि च ते न प्रसिद्ध्येदकर्मण: || 8||

niyatam kuru karma tvam karma jyaayo hyakarmanah

sharera-yaatrapi cha te na prasiddhyed akarmanah


You should perform your duties stipulated by Vedas and shastras, since doing work is always superior to not-doing. By not doing any activity or sitting idle, you will be unable to accomplish even your day-to-day upkeep deeds for maintenance.

Explanation and Importance:

One will have to do his prescribed duties in life so that the mind and senses remain disciplined for attaining spiritual success. By remaining idle, he cannot even earn his daily necessities like food, shelter, and clothing. Doing actions means only those works prescribed under the shastras/ Vedas like- lawful and moral duties towards family, society, religion, country, or such actions which are beneficial to mankind. On the other hand, It is better to remain idle or a non-doer than to indulge in unlawful activities like theft, violence, quarrel, speaking lies, and other illegal tasks.

Thus, through Arjuna, lord Krishna has given a lesson to everyone to become a karma yogi.

One must realize that Work is his most reliable friend. Even the necessary activities, known as Nitya karma like eating, bathing, dressing up, and maintaining proper health require work. One cannot survive if he neglects this obligatory work. For the progress of our soul, we should embrace the duties that help elevate and purify our mind and intellect.

14th & 15th shlokas

अन्नाद्भवन्ति भूतानि पर्जन्यादन्नसम्भव: |

यज्ञाद्भवति पर्जन्यो यज्ञ: कर्मसमुद्भव:||14||

कर्म ब्रह्मोद्भवं विद्धि ब्रह्माक्षरसमुद्भवम् |

तस्मात्सर्वगतं ब्रह्म नित्यं यज्ञे प्रतिष्ठितम् ||15 ||

Annaad bhavanti bhutaani parjanyaad anna-sambhavah|

Yajnaad bhavati parjanyo yajnah karma-samudbhavah
||14 ||

Karma brahmodbhavam viddhi brahmaakshara-samudbhavam

Tasmaat sarva-gatam brahma nityam yajne pratishthitam
||15 ||


All living beings endure on food, and food is produced by rains. Rains occur by serving Yajna, and Yajna is conceded by carrying out the prescribed duties.

The duties of human beings are significantly revealed in the Vedas, and the Vedas are created by God himself. Therefore, the all mighty Lord is existing in the Yajna forever.

Explanation and Importance:

There are four types of living beings created by god, namely – 

1. Jarayujj (जरायुज)- humans, animals;

2. Udbhijj (उद्भिज)- based on seeds-Trees, plants, etc;

3. Andajj (अण्डज)- based on eggs- birds, snakes, aunt, etc and

4. swedajj (स्वेदज)- based on sweat or perspiration- louse, etc.

All the lives survive on the food or grain they eat. Here food includes any item which on being eaten, creates and nourishes the body. Even if it is soil eaten by insects, it is the food for insects. All the food items are yielded by rainwater.

Here, I would like to mention a very beautiful narrative prescribed in Upanishads.

After creating the demons, gods (Deities), and humans, Lord Brahma preached the letter 'D' to all the three creatures. The deities had a lot of enjoyment material, so they understood it to mean 'Daman (दमन)’ or suppress. There is a tendency for hoarding by human beings, they understood it to be 'Daan (दान)’ or Donate. Next, there is the spirit of violence among the Asuras, they took it as 'Daya (दया)’ or Have the mercy.

At the time of rains, the clouds create a peculiar sound of Dh-Dh-Dh, which reminds the three parties of doing their prescribed duties-Daman, Daan, and Daya. Thus doing own karmas (duties) is known as Yagnas. As per the Karmyoga theory of Gita, the meaning of the word ‘YAGNYA’ is concerned with performing selfless services and duties.

There are the four eternal Vedas, namely: Ṛig, Yajur, Saama, and Atharva— originated by the Supreme Satchidananda/Divine himself. Apart from these four, the Vedas include Smriti, Puran, Ramayan, Mahabharat, and many other holy scriptures by different acharyas of various sects. In these Vedas, the karmas of humans have been laid down by the creator himself through the commentary of mantras, hymns, and prayers. He, who performs those duties or rituals, performs the Yajna. Thus Yagnas are said to be born from Vedas. Yajna has been mentioned as one of the various prime and sacred duties of human beings.

This ultimately motivates and appeases the heavenly gods to perform their duties, who then trigger rains. Rains bring the Grains, living beings are nourished by eating grains and converted into blood. From blood, semen is created which is the seed for generating a human body. In this way, the world cycle goes on. Here we find how splendidly Lord Krishna has co-related the duties of human beings and Nature—using chain reaction.

21st Shloka

यद्यदाचरति श्रेष्ठस्तत्तदेवेतरो जन:|

स यत्प्रमाणं कुरुते लोकस्तदनुवर्तते ||21

Yadyadacharati shreshthas tat tadevetaro janah

Sa yat pramanam kurute lokas tad anuvartate


The general public adheres to the deeds or actions done by an illustrious or eminent person in society. The entire world follows those yardsticks set by them.

Explanation and Importance:

Civilization is inspired by the principles set in the lives of great people and celebrities. Society leaders thus have a moral responsibility to establish admirable, noble examples for inspiring the general public by their kathni and karni (words, deeds, and character). There must not be the slightest deviation from this principle. They must involve in doing selfless service to society even at the expense of all their stuff (body, mind, and wealth). Society then will naturally be enhanced in morality, honesty, selflessness, and spiritual strength.

The reverse would be the case when there is an absence or deviation of such practices. Then society is bound to tumble into selfishness, moral insolvency, and lack of concern for spirituality. With the spirit of 'giving', unity and love arise in the society whereas conflict arises with the spirit of 'taking’. The feeling of 'taking' arises only by believing the body as 'I,' 'mine' and 'for me'. By considering no relation with the body, the feeling of ‘taking’ would not arise in the mind and thus every action will be advantageous to society.

If a great leader of society becomes a karma sanyasi and renounces work, it sets a sinful instance for others. Others in society may follow them as an excuse and renounce worldly duties. Instead, if a great leader is a karma yogi, society will follow his karma and dutifully perform the responsibilities. Hence, to present an example for society to follow, Shree Krishna advises Arjuna to practice karma yog and become a karma yogi.

35th shloka

श्रेयान्स्वधर्मो विगुण: परधर्मात्स्वनुष्ठितात् |

स्वधर्मे निधनं श्रेय: परधर्मो भयावह: || 35||

Shreyaan swa-dharmo vigunah para-dharmaat sv-anushthitaat|

Swa-dharme nidhanam shreyah para-dharmo bhayaavahah
|| 35||


It is much better to perform or follow one’s duties (karmas) specified by Shastras. Although it might be tinted with imperfections. Never follow a path or duties prescribed by someone else which might be looking perfect without any blemishes on its surface. It is more desirable to die during faithfully discharging one’s duties than to follow the path of another, the future of which is loaded with menace.

Explanation and Importance:

Why are many people attracted to follow others’ Dharma (duty)?

It might be that the dharma (duty) of others looks full of virtues or attractive from its surface. For instance, one might gain enough wealth, glory, happiness, and respect by following it.


However, ultimately it instigates fear and sorrow. They conflict with our nature creating resentment and unrest in our consciousness and will impede our growth on the spiritual path.

On the contrary, stick to following self-dharma (duty) under one's varna, ashram, etc. which may from the surface look trailing in virtues, one might face difficulties in maintaining it, and might gain less or no wealth or glory or happiness or respect.

Self-dharma or duty is the only one that ultimately brings wellbeing, happiness, and prosperity. Therefore a man should not give up on his duties( karmas) under any circumstance. It is better to die in the execution of one’s dedicated, functions than doing bizarre duties of any different dharma.

38th shloka

धूमेनाव्रियते वह्निर्यथादर्शो मलेन च |

यथोल्बेनावृतो गर्भस्तथा तेनेदमावृतम् || 38||

Dhumenaavriyate vahnir yathaadarsho malena cha|

Yatholbenaavrito garbhas tathaa tenedam aavritam
|| 38||


Just as the fire is concealed by smoke, a mirror is invisible by dirt, and an embryo is masked by the womb, similarly, one’s wisdom /knowledge gets cloaked by desire/ craving.

Explanation and Importance:

First of all, everyone needs to know What is ‘Craving/Desire’.

“I must get whatever I want or wish”. In other words, “to accomplish the unrealized is called desire/ craving or 'Kaamna(कामना)'.

The attachment to happiness, desire for the accumulation of worldly things– such as wealth, property, honor, fame, sound health, women, children- all these longings are known as desire or ‘Kamna’. All the sins are conceived by this ‘desire for perishable worldly gadgets. It is not alone. It is accompanied by greed, anguish, sorrow, anger, fear, endearment, and all such negative emotions. Therefore, one should keep his wisdom and awareness conscious and try not to allow desire to arise.

Great people have rightly said that an enemy could be calmed using offerings or worship or persuasion, but this desire is such an enemy which could never be pacified by anyone, any means. As soon as one is fulfilled, another new wish is created. Say, once we get 1000 rupees, a new wish arises to earn 10000 rupees and so on. Desire is the cause of all sins.

How to control a desire?

Wisdom (विवेक) or awareness is a virtue specially revealed in the human body as compared to other living beings, but it does not operate due to desires. When desire arises, wisdom fades away, and ethics dwindles. When a mirror is covered with dirt, one cannot see his image. When an embryo is masked by the womb, one cannot know the gender of the child. Similarly, when the pace of desire increases, the knowledge of duty and non-duty vanishes, and the downfall of man begins.

The presence of smoke proves that there is a fire because without fire there would be no smoke. So, just as the knowledge of fire is known even when covered with smoke, one knows of the existence of an embryo even after being masked by the womb. Similarly, everyone has the presence of wisdom or knowledge, even though obscured by desires. Conscience remains in everyone, but due to desire, it does not function. Once desire is abolished, all the blemishes are wiped away and knowledge or awareness appears.

The senses, mind, and intellect are said to be the locations where resides the desire. Through them, it fogs one’s knowledge and wisdom and captivates man‘s embodied soul ( Shloka 40)

Man has a conscience, and it is from this conscience that he knows what is sin and what is a virtue. He doesn't want to sin. The desire not to sin is not without conscience. But this desire covers his conscience. That’s why lord Krishna has advised mankind to destroy this formidable enemy appearing in the form of desire the moment it is produced. 
( जहि शत्रुं महाबाहो कामरूपं दुरासदम् 
Jahi shatrum mahaa baaho kaamrupam durasagam) (Shlok 43)

Then the question arises, should we stop desiring? In that case, how will a person move forward? How will you progress in life?

The answer is – your desire should be limited to the quantity that would be sufficient for your daily life maintenance. You need not require to beg or ask any more from the world and if you get more, then distribute it among the needy. Do not accumulate and then see the result. The desires would never breed, never manifest in your mind.

The three examples positioned in Shloka are very significant in a person’s life. Adjust and control the smoke properly to get the fire burning distinctly, remove the dust from the mirror and you will be able to see your face clearly, the last one signifies the state of helplessness because the fetus in the womb is not free to even move here and there. For that have faith and wait for the right time to come.

Chant the holy name of Krishna, help the needy, and do your duty selflessly.

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