Chapter 4—The Path of Divine Knowledge
1. The Supreme Lord said: Previously, I imparted to Surya this changeless path of knowledge, which is achieved by selfless action. Surya, the presiding deity of the sun, delivered it to his son Vaivasvata Manu, exactly as he had heard it from Me. Thereafter, Manu instructed the same knowledge to his son Iksvaku.
2. O conqueror of the enemy, in this way, the saintly kings such as Nimi, Janaka, and others, learned this path of knowledge through the divine succession. Presently, after the passage of a long period of time, this teaching has been almost completely lost.
3. Now, I shall deliver that eternal teaching to you. Because you are My devotee and friend, this supreme, hidden path is today revealed by Me to you.
4. Arjuna said: Vivasvan, the Sungod, was born in ancient times, and You were born only recently. Therefore, how is it to be believed, that You previously instructed these teachings to him?
5. The Supreme Lord said: O Arjuna, chastiser of the enemy, both you and I have passed through many births previously. Due to My position as the supreme controller, I am able to remember all those births, whereas you, a living being of finite consciousness, cannot.
6. Although My eternal form is transcendental to birth and death, and I am the controller of all beings, I appear within the world in My original form, by My own sweet will, extending My internal potency of yoga-maya.
7. O Bharata, whenever there is a decline of religion and an uprising of irreligion, I personally appear, like a being born in this world.
8. I appear in every age to deliver the saintly devotees, to vanquish sinful miscreants, and to firmly establish true religion.
9. O Arjuna, one who actually perceives My supramundane birth and activities enacted by My sweet will, does not undergo rebirth. After giving up his present body, he attains Me. Having become subservient to My divine pleasure (hladini-sakti) in the form of My revealed divine potency, such a soul achieves eternal devotional service unto Me.
10. Freed from worldly infatuation, fear, and anger, many persons have taken refuge in Me, absorbing their hearts in hearing about Me, singing My divine glories, and remembering Me. Having become thoroughly purified by knowledge of Me and by penance endured for My sake, they attained divine love for Me.
11. As a person takes refuge in Me, I accordingly respond to him. Being the ultimate goal of all philosophies and doctrines, I am the objective to be attained by all. Certainly, O Partha, all men follow My various paths.
12. Worldly persons desiring easy success in material life worship Indra and other demigods. Such worship quickly yields the fruit of its endeavor in this world, such as the attainment of heaven.
13. I alone have created in human society the fourfold divisions of varna (brahmana etc.) according to the appropriate gradation to material qualities (goodness, etc.) and duties (sense control, etc.) In the entire world, there is no other creator apart from Me. Nonetheless, although I am the creator of the natural gradation of human society (varna-dharma), you should know Me as the nondoer since I am aloof, transcendental to the modes of material nature, and unchangable.
14. I am never implicated by the law of karma which I have created to fulfill the destinies of the living beings, nor do I ever aspire for the results of action. (Since I am the Supreme Lord replete with all six opulences in full, the paltry fruits of worldly actions are totally insignificant to Me.) One who appreciates this conception of My singular independence from the actions of the beings of this world, and who can thus understand My unchangable existence such a person is never bound by any action. By practicing pure devotional service, he surely comes to Me.
15. Knowing this basic principle, liberationists of previous times renounced all fruitive action, and without provincial interest performed all their activities as an offering unto Me. Likewise, you should adopt this yoga path of selfless action as did the great saintly persons of yore.
16. Even very learned men are baffled in ascertaining the nature of action and inaction. Some cannot comprehend action, while others cannot comprehend inaction. Hence, I shall now teach you about such action and inaction, knowing which you will attain liberation from the evil world.
17. Action prescribed by the Vedas, action prohibited by the scriptures, and the renunciation of action should be understood. The performance of duties is known as action (karma); the performance of prohibited actions is sinful (vikarma); and the nonperformance of action, or renunciation of action, is known as inaction (akarma). It is extremely difficult to realize the internal principle of karma, vikarma, and akarma.
18. One who realizes that the selfless action performed by the man of pure knowledge is never subject to bondage and is therefore in fact inaction whereas the abnegation practiced by renunciate of impure heart is the ill-fated cause of bondage he is, among men, the intelligent yogi and factual executor of all works.
19. One whose every action is devoid of fruitive desire, and who burns all prescribed and prohibited actions in the fire of pure knowledge, is described by the conscientious as a man of true wisdom.
20. Giving up attachment to the fruits of action, fully content in the eternal bliss within, and indifferent to the security of mundane acquisition and preservation such a person does not do anything at all, although he is fully engaged. That is, he is never bound by the fruits of his actions.
21. Having renounced all aspirations for fruitive enjoyment and all excessive endeavors for mundane acquisition, keeping his mind and body subjugated by the (developed) intelligence, if such a person even engages in spurious action for his minimal bodily sustenance, no sinful or pious reaction whatsoever is incurred by him.
22. Content with whatever is readily available, and never overwhelmed by duality based on pleasure and pain or attachment and hatred, such a person wards off envy. He is equipoised, being neither elated nor dejected in success or failure. Therefore, he is never bound by any action.
23. All actions are perfectly dissipated when performed in the spirit of sacrifice by the detached, liberated, and enlightened soul. (The actions of the worker on the path of selfless action do not lead to the consequence of apurva as postulated by the karma-mimamsaka section.)
24. According to the basic principles of sacrifice, the sacrificial spoon, ladle, and other paraphernalia, the various offerings with clarified butter, the sacrificial fire, the priest who performs the sacrifice, and the act of offering the sacrifice and its reward all are of the nature of Brahman, the Absolute. A person who, with this understanding is constantly absorbed in divine action with one-pointed attention, certainly attains to the divine plane of the Absolute.
25. Other karma-yogis perform sacrifice in the worship of demigods such as Indra and Varuna. Other jñana-yogis, simply by vibrating the pranava mantra, Omkara, offer the individual soul (as the sacrificial clarified butter) unto the Supersoul (as the sacrificial fire).
26. Strict celibates offers their senses of hearing, touching, seeing, tasting, and smelling into the sacrificial fire of mental control. Householders engaged in their natural duties (svadharma) offer for sacrifice the sense objects of sound, touch, form, taste, and smell into the fire of the senses.
27. The monist yogis (headed by the Patanjala school) who aspire to attain to the state of withdrawal of the soul from sense objects (pratyagatma), offer all the senses and their functions of hearing, seeing, etc., as well as all ten vital life-currents and their functions into the fire of self-purification ignited by knowledge.
28. Some persons are inclined to perform sacrifice by giving articles in charity, some by strict penances headed by candrayana, some by adopting the eightfold mystic yoga practice, and yet others, through recitation and study of the Vedic scriptures. All of these persons are very diligent in their practices and adopt strict vows.
29. Others practice breath-control. Stopping the right nostril and inhaling through the left, they bring the ascending air into union with the descending; closing the left nostril and exhaling through the right, they similarly offer the descending air into the ascending; and lastly, stopping both nostrils, they check both ascending and descending airs. Yet other aspirants of sense-control offer all the senses into the life-air by reducing their food intake.
30. All these persons know well the principles of sacrifice. Having purified themselves from sins by their performance of sacrifice, they enjoy its remnants in the form of sense pleasure, wealth, and yogic perfections. And in the end they reach the aforementioned eternal plane of the Absolute.
31. O Arjuna, foremost of the Kurus, a person who never performs sacrifice cannot even attain the meager pleasures of this world; how then will it be possible for him to attain to other worlds, such as heaven?
32. All these varieties of sacrifice are mentioned either in the Vedas or allied scriptures. They all arise from vocal, mental, and bodily actions, and therefore their origin is action. When you can conceive of the principle of action (karma) in this way you will be able to attain liberation from its bondage.
33. O Arjuna, subduer of the enemy, of those various sacrifices, the sacrifice of knowledge as mentioned, brahmagnav apare … is far superior to the sacrifice of various articles, indicated by brahmarpanam brahma havih …, because all action ultimately culminates in knowledge.
34. You will be able to attain all this knowledge by satisfying the enlightened spiritual master with prostrate obeisances, relevant inquiry, and sincere service. Great souls who are most expert in scriptural knowledge and endowed with direct realization of the Supreme Absolute Truth will teach you that divine knowledge.
35. O Pandava, after receiving that knowledge of the truth as imparted by the guru, you will no longer be deluded. You will be able to realize that all species of life, whether man, bird, or beast, are common in their individual identities of spirit soul, or jivatma. Their comparative mundane gradations are only due to external attributes, and they are all situated within Me as effect, Myself being the supreme cause.
36. Even if you have led the most abominable sinful life, you will cross the ocean of all miseries by boarding the ship of knowledge.
37. As a blazing fire reduces the wood and everything else within it to ashes, O Arjuna, so also does the fire of knowledge burn up all action.
38. Among the aforementioned practices of sacrifice, austerity, and yoga, there is nothing as pure as divine knowledge. After a long time, a person who has achieved perfection in his practice on the path of selfless action realizes such knowledge spontaneously within his heart.
39. After internal purification through nonfruitive action, genuine knowledge arises. Such knowledge is attained by the intelligent, sense-controlled theist who accepts this scriptural purport, and who with sublime faith remains devoted to the path of selfless action. He swiftly attains the profound tranquillity of eradicating the vicious cycle of recurring birth and death.
40. One who is a fool devoid of scriptural knowledge, just like an ignorant animal; or who, in spite of possessing knowledge of the scriptures is devoid of faith in their substance, due to being distracted by many diverse philosophies; or who possesses some faith, yet thinks, “Will I succeed or not?” any person whose heart is seized by doubt in this way can never achieve actual good fortune. Such a doubting soul does not attain happiness either in this life or the next, since the anxiety of uncertainty vanquishes his peace.
41. O Dhananjaya, after renouncing all actions by following the path of selfless action, one who destroys all doubts by following the path of divine knowledge and realizes his internal divine nature, can certainly never be implicated by any action.
42. Therefore, O Bharata, with the sword of divine knowledge, slash to shreds all these doubts in your heart, which are born of ignorance alone. Take refuge in selfless duty, and arise for battle.