Ch. 3 Yoga of One’s Own Dharma (Part 1)

This article is part 29 of 43 in the series Jīvana-dharma-yoga

naranahudu hariyumahuda-
ccariyahudu rahasyamahudu rasikanaliptaṃ


He is human and also Hari,
He is wonderful, a secret, a rasika who is unattached,
He is an expert too in the matters of the world
He (Kṛṣṇa) is the glowing mirror to a complete human life.


guruvātaṃ dharmadhuraṃ-
dharanātaṃ rājyataṃtri raṇajayiyātaṃ


He is the Guru, holding up the burden
of dharma, the statesman, victor in wars
He is all of the four puruṣārthas,
named Hari, he is the soul of all beings and still beyond everything.



sannihitaṃ lokakarmadoḻagadu hitamo | 

saṃnyāsade baṃdhapari-
cchinname hitakaramo vihitamāvudu kṛṣṇā ||

Association with puṇya and pāpa
is common for karma in this world. 
With saṃnyāsa, ties are cut off. 
Which of these is beneficial, O Kṛṣṇa? 



In a sense, karma has not spared anyone. When we say karma here, only the actions that we perform after due deliberation are to be considered and not natural bodily functions such as breathing. In such actions where a person exerts himself, there is a possibility of pāpa. What is its root cause? Karma is inanimate. Any quality – good or bad – that is attributed to it, is from the doer. A sword is just a lifeless form of iron. Merit or demerit from the sword is accrued because of the mindset of the person who wields it. 

Water acquires the colour, smell, and taste of the land on which it flows. Like water, karma is independent, without colour or quality. It is a part of the universal mechanism of life. The more elevated the doer becomes, the purer his karma becomes. Based on who the doer is, the same karma could be virtuous or sinful; or it could be beyond these two, being just a sport of the Self.  


Chapter 3 / Section 4

The Yoga of One’s Own Dharma (Svadharma-yoga) or Karma-yoga

This chapter deals with the following six topics -

  1. Unavoidability of karma
  2. Cooperation amongst all beings
  3. Karma without attachment
  4. Distinction between karma of the wise and that of an ordinary person
  5. Relationship between jñāna and karma
  6. Necessity of performing one’s own dharma

Arjuna’s heart mainly harboured these feelings:

  1. Love for his kinsmen
  2. Fear of sin
  3. Indifference for his own self-interests
  4. Reflection on dharma

We feel that these are virtues to be found in good people, not vices. However, ŚrīKṛṣṇa derided Arjuna’s words as base, ignoble, and indicative of his weakness. The reason for this acerbic statement was that Arjuna’s argument was prajñāvāda – mere words of wisdom. Kṛṣṇa’s objection to it was that Arjuna was parroting the words of the wise and not substantiating them by applying his own intellect to any philosophical reasoning. What, then, is the basis for philosophical reflection? For all deliberation about dharma and adharma, the fundamental concept is the study of the ātmā. Therefore it is imperative to understand the true nature of the ātmā. Thinking along those lines, ātmā is indestructible; whereas the body is going to definitely perish. Therefore, Kṛṣṇa said “O Arjuna, what is destroyed if you fight? Only that for which destruction is a natural end. You should not bemoan that. If you ask why you have to fight – fight for kingdom, glory, enjoyment and for a place in svarga. If you feel that you don’t need them, fight for dharma. Take part in this fight for dharma with the spiritual view that it is your sacred duty. Karma that is performed without desire for its fruit and with the attitude of a yogi who has transcended both virtue and vice, will not shackle you”. Hearing Bhagavān speak thus, Arjuna asked “Who is a spiritual yogi? How does he behave in this world?” Bhagavān then described the signs of a sthitaprajña – the calm and equanimous yogi. The sthitaprajña has mastered his sense organs. He is beyond the dualities of love and hate, happiness and sorrow. He does not hanker for anything and is unselfish; his mind is placid – thus Lord Kṛṣṇa described the brāhmī-sthiti – the state of where the mind is firmly established in Brahma

Then Arjuna said – “Well, Kṛṣṇa, you said that the means to attain brāhmī-sthiti is true knowledge of the Self. If the yoga of the intellect, sāṅkhya-yoga can itself gain me that excellent state, can I not follow that path? Why are dharma and karma required?” The answer to this question is given in the third and fourth chapters.

At this point, it is necessary to clearly understand the meaning of karma. Karma means work. Words in Indian languages such as karma, kārya, kṛti, kṛtya, kartavya, karaṇa, kāraṇa, kriyā, ākāra, vikāra, and prakāra - all spring from the same root. Of these words, the word karma is more prevalent in the terminology of the śāstras. The meanings of this word are many. Let us examine those meanings that are of interest to us.

Firstly, karma is of two kinds: 1. Prākṛta (involuntary or natural) and 2. Svakṛta (voluntary or wilful)

Prākṛta karma is unknowingly performed by an animal without it expending any effort: breathing, blinking, yawning, burping, hunger, sleep, excreting and egesting waste from the body – these bodily functions are natural. Even a jñāni has to go through them. Together, they can be called prāṇa-kriyās, or bodily actions essential to sustain life.

Svakṛta karmas are those that humans perform knowingly. They are of two types – 1. sat-karma (good karma) and 2.duṣ-karma (bad karma). We shall see their detailed descriptions later, in the next sections. For now, let us just have this in mind: karma that uplifts the jīva is satkarma, karma that pushes it down is duṣkarma.

All karma can be classified into three kinds. 

1.Karma – Performing what is prescribed 

2.Akarma – Not performing what is prescribed, or performing it and behaving as if one has not performed it.

3.Vikarma – Performing what is prescribed in a way it is not supposed to be done. 

This classification can be seen in prākṛta karmas also; breathing through the mouth instead of the nose, for instance. But they are not because of human volition.


To be continued...

The present series is a modern English translation of DVG’s Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award-winning work, Bhagavad-gītā-tātparya or Jīvana-dharma-yoga. The translators wish to express their thanks to Śatāvadhāni R Ganesh for his valuable feedback and to Hari Ravikumar for his astute edits.



Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.



Engineer. Lapsed blogger. Abiding interest in Sanskrit, religion, and philosophy. A wannabe jack-of-all.


Mother of two. Engineer. Worshiper of Indian music, poetry, and art.

Prekshaa Publications

The Mahābhārata is the greatest epic in the world both in magnitude and profundity. A veritable cultural compendium of Bhārata-varṣa, it is a product of the creative genius of Maharṣi Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vyāsa. The epic captures the experiential wisdom of our civilization and all subsequent literary, artistic, and philosophical creations are indebted to it. To read the Mahābhārata is to...

Shiva Rama Krishna

சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
சிவன் தனிமனித அடையாளமாக அமைகிறான்....

ऋतुभिः सह कवयः सदैव सम्बद्धाः। विशिष्य संस्कृतकवयः। यथा हि ऋतवः प्रतिसंवत्सरं प्रतिनवतामावहन्ति मानवेषु तथैव ऋतुवर्णनान्यपि काव्यरसिकेषु कामपि विच्छित्तिमातन्वते। ऋतुकल्याणं हि सत्यमिदमेव हृदि कृत्वा प्रवृत्तम्। नगरजीवनस्य यान्त्रिकतां मान्त्रिकतां च ध्वनदिदं चम्पूकाव्यं गद्यपद्यमिश्रितमिति सुव्यक्तमेव। ऐदम्पूर्वतया प्रायः पुरीपरिसरप्रसृतानाम् ऋतूनां विलासोऽत्र प्रपञ्चितः। बेङ्गलूरुनामके...

The Art and Science of Avadhānam in Sanskrit is a definitive work on Sāhityāvadhānam, a form of Indian classical art based on multitasking, lateral thinking, and extempore versification. Dotted throughout with tasteful examples, it expounds in great detail on the theory and practice of this unique performing art. It is as much a handbook of performance as it is an anthology of well-turned...

This anthology is a revised edition of the author's 1978 classic. This series of essays, containing his original research in various fields, throws light on the socio-cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu spanning several centuries. These compelling episodes will appeal to scholars and laymen alike.
“When superstitious mediaevalists mislead the country about its judicial past, we have to...

The cultural history of a nation, unlike the customary mainstream history, has a larger time-frame and encompasses the timeless ethos of a society undergirding the course of events and vicissitudes. A major key to the understanding of a society’s unique character is an appreciation of the far-reaching contributions by outstanding personalities of certain periods – especially in the realms of...

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective...


इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...