Bhagavad Gita – Chapter 4, sloka 17, part 2

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Sloka 17


The nature of right action, wrong action and also of inaction should be known. Deep and difficult to understand is the path of action.


***   continuation from last week   ***

Let us now proceed to analyse the meaning of the three words Karma – Vikarma – Akarma. Again, it is important to note that we are dealing with the spiritual science and the path taken by the spiritual seekers. When we use the word “karma”, it applies to all actions according to the scriptures.

Vikarma applies to all actions that are contrary to the scriptures.

Akarma has two meanings. The “Guhya bhasha” or the hidden/implied meaning would be “No feeling of doership” in all actions. The other meaning would be simply “Inaction.” There is a very big difference between the two different meanings.


An introduction to this has already been discussed when dealing with sloka 8, chapter 3. Further analysis will give us the following explanation.

These are the following categories of karma:
a)  Varnashrama dharma
b)  Ashrama dharma
c)  Pancha maha yajnas
d)  Kula dharma
e)  Desha dharma
f)  Atma dharma
The actions pertaining to each of the above classifications is “Karma.”

a)  Varnaashrama dharma has been discussed when dealing with the sloka 13 in this chapter.

b)  Ashrama dharma relates to the duties pertaining to the four principal stages in life:
Brahmacharya: first stage in life involves celibacy as a requirement for studies.
Grihasta: second stage in life starting from graduation and entering into married life.
Vanaprasta: third stage in life starting from the time of retirement from work to the last stage of sanyasa.
Sanyasa the last stage in life dealing with renunciation of worldly life with aspiration for union with the Parabrahman.

c)  Pancha maha yajnas: the duties towards:
Fellow humans
Other forms of life

These five are part of one’s daily duties.

d)  Kula dharma: these are duties/custom peculiar to a family/clan.
e)  Desha dharma: we all have a duty to the nation we belong to.
f)  Atma dharma: these are duties on recognising that we are the servants of the power within and our actions should be considered as the divine duties of the Atman. Total divinity in all thoughts/actions/speech is Atma dharma.

In the spiritual path that is followed by the seeker, all the above actions become “Karma” only when there is no sense of individuality in relation to the actions and when all the results from the actions are offered to the Lord.

The result of such actions is “Peace”.

Vikarma: actions which are contrary to the sastras become “Vikarma.”

Actions with a sense of ego and those with a desire for the fruits of actions are considered as vikarma. It also includes the forbidden duties known as “Nishiddha karmas” which are actions prohibited by the sastras. Many of forbidden duties in spiritual life and secular life are similar. Injury to others, telling a lie, stealing, rape etc fall in this category.

Whereas some of the duties in the section of “Karma” enumerated above are for a particular sect or groups of people, “nishidda karmas” apply to all classes of people in total without exception.

The results of such actions is “Sorrow.”

Akarma: the meaning of this word is “No action or inaction.”

The true meaning of this word has not been grasped clearly by many. Many believe that it involves no actions on the part of the individual. He who works with “Jnana” realises that he cannot escape actions in this life. To burn the existing vasanas he has no other go but to work. The work has to be without the sense of ego and with no desire for fruits of actions.

Sri Ramanujacharya says that Karma and Jnana are complementary to each other and not two separate entities. Realising that we are the servants of the divine who is resident as Atman within and acting for universal welfare is “Akarma” in the truest sense.

Krishna makes it clear that it is difficult to understand the path of karma.

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