Ch. 3 Yoga of One’s Own Dharma (Part 2)

This article is part 30 of 52 in the series Jīvana-dharma-yoga

Sat-karma itself is dharma. It is of three kinds:

  1. Laukika (pertaining to the world)
  2. Vaidika (pertaining to the Vedas)
  3. Pāramārthika (pertaining to the ultimate truth)

Laukika dharma is what we commonly follow in the world – bhūtadayā (compassion towards all creatures), sadācāra (virtuous conduct), satya(truth), ahiṃsā(nonviolence), śauca(purity), kṣamā(mercy), dīnavātsalya (tenderness towards the wretched), para-hita-cintana (thinking of others’ well-being), paura-rāṣṭraka-kartavyas (the duties of citizenry) – all these virtuous behaviours and noble qualities are expected of all and accepted by all. 

Vaidika dharma is mainly of two types: one is in the form of saṃskāras and the other is in the form of sādhana (performing actions). Saṃskāra refers to rituals such as jātakarma (rituals performed soon after birth), nāmakarana (naming ceremony), upanayana (the ritual that marks the entry into student-hood), vedādhyayana (the study of the Vedas), vivāha (wedding), etc. They purify the jīva by means of mantras and rites sanctioned by the śāstras. Bathing in holy rivers and going on pilgrimages belong in this category.

The Gītā says that sādhana rituals are of three kinds – yajña, dāna, and tapas. All meritorious undertakings can be added here. Under yajña, we can include actions such as worship of deities, devoted service to gurus and elders, and studying the śāstras. In the Gītā, there is the mention of yajñas like dravya-yajña (yajña performed by offering āhuti into the sacred fire), jñāna-yajña (learning something deeply), svādhyāya-yajña (studying something deeply by oneself), dhyāna-yajña (meditation) and so on. Yajña is worship. All work that we do to make others happy is yajña

Dāna is giving away something that belongs to us to someone who is deserving. There are many kinds of dāna. Before dāna, there should be a feeling of belongingness about the asset that is going to be given away. Later, when the object is given away willingly, when we say “na mama – not mine”, then it is dāna.

Tapas means penance or intense meditation. Being moderate with respect to food and enjoyment; to control the mind and the senses by prayer and study of sacred texts; to teach the mind to understand and practise profound topics: to repeatedly remember, meditate upon and practise a great ideal, a great quality, a great virtue; to constantly strive towards a noble cause – all this is tapas. 

Thus, yajña, dāna, and tapas – all three are the instruments to attain something higher. The aforementioned saṃskāras and these instruments follow tradition, according to śāstras. Believers follow the rules laid out for them by their religious sanctions. Fasting during Ramzan for Muslims, penance during Lent for Christians – all these are duties stipulated by their scriptures. Followers of the Veda believe that they yield benefit not only in this world and this life but in other births and other worlds. Indeed, for many acts of worship, the benefit obtained is more in the other world than in this world.

The third is pāramārthika karma. Both laukika and vaidika karmas have associated fruits. Pāramārthika karma does not desire fruit. It is performed without any hunger for reward, with the single view that it is one’s duty, the duty performed to please Paramātmā. Pāramārthika karma is dhārmika and is beyond it as well. From the point of view of usefulness to the world, it is dharma. From the point of view of the doer, it is beyond dharma. Therefore it can be called ‘adhi-dharma’ – something that is over and above and beyond dharma. When Bhagavān said ‘nis-trai-guṇyo bhavārjuna’ this is what he meant. This is how an equanimous person behaves in this world. He performs his dhārmika duties without expecting any reward. Ordinary people perform virtuous deeds out of a desire for worldly pleasures and wealth, or dread of naraka, or longing to attain a place in svarga. In contrast, a pāramārthika person, without any desire or fear or longing, conducts himself with everyone mindful that he is one with the entire universe – ātmaupamyena sarvatra. Sat-karma is natural to him – just as perfume is natural to sandalwood or coolness is natural to the moon. It does not need any effort or exertion; this is the best of best states – the Brāhmī state.

Karma in common parlance can also mean ’the fruit of karma.’ When we say: “He is experiencing his karma,” we imply that he is experiencing the good and bad results of his deeds. Prācīna, prārabdha, prāpti – all these are synonyms for the karma of the past. In the fourth, seventh, and fourteenth chapters, the word karma is used to mean prior deeds, including actions performed during previous births. We shall analyse this interpretation later, as we look at those contexts. The meaning of karma as the fruit of prior deeds is not relevant to us for now. 

Arjuna had his doubts. Kṛṣṇa once advised him thus – ’Yuddhāya yujyasva’ – engage in battle for the sake of battle, ’Karmaṇy-evādhikāras-te’ – your right is only to perform karma and ’Kuru karmāṇi’ – perform your karmas. Again he said ’Avaraṃ karma’ – karma is inferior, ’Buddhau śaraṇamanviccha’ – find refuge in buddhi, ’Yogāya yujyasva – be engaged in yoga’. Thus Kṛṣṇa’s instruction was a mixture of two seemingly mutually exclusive things; it looked absurd. Arjuna’s mind was therefore perplexed. He asked Krishna – ”Karma and jñāna – which of these two should I pursue? Please tell me with certainty.” 

Kṛṣṇa says: Arjuna, jñāna and karma are not contradictory to each other, they complement each other. Initially, karma is the means for knowledge. Once knowledge is acquired, karma becomes its result. Karma is, anyway, ever present. The jīva cannot escape the stain of karma by only giving up action. Just assuming the state of an ascetic does not bring you knowledge. Then what is meant by “leaving karma”? 

na hi kaścit kṣaṇamapi jātu tiṣṭhatyakarmakṛt

kāryate hyavaśaḥ karma sarvaḥ prakṛtijairguṇaiḥ॥ BG 3.5

“No one can exist for even a second without performing any kind of karma. Nature herself pushes intrinsic qualities out into the world, holds our hands, and gets work done. When senses are being rankled by worldly objects and are inflaming the mind, hiding this agony inside and showing off a stiff exterior is just hypocrisy. On the contrary, one who controls his senses and makes his limbs perform karma only for the sake of dharma, without caring for any benefit for himself, is a Karma-yogi.” 

karmendriyāṇi saṃyamya ya āste manasā smaran

indriyārthān vimūḍhātmā mithyācāraḥ sa ucyate॥ BG 3.6

One who subdues his outward senses but dwells on carnal pleasures in his mind is a hypocrite. He does not know what has to be purified. There is no use of restraining external organs and giving up karma. Bhagavān says:

niyataṃ kuru karma tvaṃ karma jyāyo hyakarmaṇaḥ। BG 3.8

“Perform the karma that is designated for you (niyata-karma). Do whatever has to be done. Performing such karma is better than giving it up altogether.”

Here, the distinction between niyata-karma and aniyata-karma (designated and undesignated karma) is the key. Suppose a family member, old or young, is bedridden at home. Then, suppose there is a bhajan programme in the neighbour’s house, is it niyatam–designated–karma to go and ensconce oneself there? A lot of good deeds are seen in this world. Are they all prescribed for everyone and appropriate for everyone? Is India’s dash to Korea or elsewhere to resolve a dispute justified when the Chinese are marching against us? No. Is there anything to be achieved in your neighbourhood? Where does your responsibility lie? Reflect upon that. It is essential to fulfil duties enjoined by the śāstras after careful thought.


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...