By Visakha Devi Dasi

After hearing what seem to be contradictory instructions, Arjuna asks Lord Krsna for clarification. 

In Chapter Three of the Bhagavad-gita, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krishna, explains karma-yoga to Arjuna. Karma-yoga is work (karma) that’s done with God consciousness (yoga). When we work with this attitude—that is, when we’re dutiful and unattached to the results of our work and dedicate our work to Krishna—we become free from the good and bad results our acts. In this way (as explained later in the Gita) we gradually come to the point of acting only for Krishna’s pleasure, which is known as bhakti-yoga, or pure devotional service on the spiritual platform.

In chapter three Krishna also discusses our desire for sense gratification and how it’s the greatest obstacle to our spiritual progress.

Arjuna is confused. Krishna has told him to control his senses and become detached, perhaps indicating that Krishna consciousness means inaction. Yet the Lord also said that Arjuna should fight. As a sincere student, Arjuna asks for clarification: “O Krishna, why do You want to engage me in this ghastly warfare, if You think that intelligence is better than fruitive work?”

One cannot even maintain one’s physical body without work. But work done for sense gratification has a reaction, either good or bad, and any reaction binds the performer.

“Therefore, O Arjuna,” Krishna says, “perform your prescribed duties for My satisfaction, and in that way always remain free from bondage.”

To attain this exalted stage, Arjuna should act as a matter of duty, without being attached to the fruits of his activities; he should fight in the battle for the interest of Krishna because Krishna wants him to fight. Arjuna’s idea to be a good or nonviolent man is a personal attachment, but for him to act on behalf of the Supreme is to act without attachment to the result. That is perfect action, recommended by the Supreme Lord Krishna, and it is transcendental to all reactions.

“Whatever action a great person performs, common people follow. And whatever standards that person sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.

“As the ignorant perform their duties with attachment to results, the learned person may similarly act, but without attachment, for the sake of leading people on the right path.

“Therefore, O Arjuna, surrendering all your works unto Me, with full knowledge of Me, without desires for profit, with no claims to proprietorship, and free from lethargy, fight.”

Krishna has several times asked Arjuna to be dutiful and detached, but here for the first time He asks Arjuna to fight with devotion. He then describes the result of acting in this way.

“Persons who execute their duties according to My injunctions and who follow this teaching faithfully, without envy, become free from the bondage of fruitive actions. But those who, out of envy, disregard these teachings and do not follow them are bereft of all knowledge, befooled, and ruined in their endeavors for perfection.”

The simple qualification of firm faith in the eternal injunctions of the Lord, even by a beginner who’s unable to execute such injunctions, qualifies one to become liberated from karma. In the beginning of Krishna consciousness, one may not fully discharge the injunctions of the Lord, but because one is not resentful of this principle and works sincerely, without consideration of defeat and hopelessness, one will surely be promoted to the stage of pure Krishna consciousness. Krishna doesn’t want Arjuna to give up his duties abruptly, but to remain in his position and try to become God conscious. In this way he will gradually become detached from all kinds of sensual activities.

Arjuna: “O Krishna, by what is one impelled to sinful acts, even unwillingly, as if engaged by force?”

The Supreme Lord: “It is lust only, Arjuna, which is born of contact with the material mode of passion and later transformed into wrath, and which is the all-devouring sinful enemy of this world. The wise living entity’s pure consciousness becomes covered by his eternal enemy in the form of lust, which is never satisfied and which burns like fire.” When living entities come in contact with the material creation, their eternal love for Krishna is transformed into lust. When lust is unsatisfied, it turns into wrath; wrath is transformed into illusion, and illusion continues the material existence. Therefore, lust is the greatest enemy of the living entity, and it is lust only that induces the pure living entity to remain entangled in this material world.

“The senses, mind, and intelligence are the sitting places of this lust. Through these, lust covers the real knowledge of the living entities and bewilders them. Therefore, in the very beginning curb this great symbol of sin, lust, by regulating the senses, and slay this destroyer of knowledge and self-realization.” When love of God deteriorates into lust, it’s very difficult to return to the normal, God conscious condition; but it is possible by devotional service to the Supreme Lord, in which the soul is directly engaged with the Supreme. Then the soul’s subordinates—the intelligence, mind, and senses—will be similarly engaged.

“Thus knowing oneself to be transcendental to the material senses, mind, and intelligence, O mighty—armed Arjuna, one should steady the mind by deliberate spiritual intelligence and thus—by spiritual strength—conquer this insatiable enemy known as lust.” If lust is transformed into love for the Supreme, or transformed into Krishna consciousness—in other words, desiring everything for Krishna—then lust can be spiritualized and thus conquered.

In summary, Arjuna’s desire for sense gratification is his greatest enemy, but by dedicating his work to Krishna (karma-yoga), he could control his senses, mind, and intelligence and thus gradually become transcendentally situated.

This article was adapted from Bhagavad-gita: A Photographic Essay, which won a bronze medal in the inspirational/spiritual category at the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards (USA). The book is a summary study of Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is, from which the verse translations and the commentary were drawn, either verbatim or paraphrased, with permission from the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.