In the third chapter, called "Karma Yoga" or "Action in the light of Yoga", Krishna further examines the two distinct paths of the Sankhya and Yoga systems. He explains that man cannot achieve freedom from action by merely not acting; indeed one cannot be totally inactive as the natural impulse for survival compels some minimal action.
He then points out that action performed as Sacrifice does not make for bondage. With this idea we pass from Sankhya to Nyaya, as the latter embodies the idea of Sacrifice as action which does not entail bondage. Then we are told that God created the Universe by Sacrifice and that in every true sacrifice "the all-pervading Brahma dwells". This provides the link between the Nyaya and Vaiseshika systems of thought as Brahma is the supreme deity of these two systems. Krishna, supreme deity of the Yoga-Vedanta systems, then speaks of Himself as Supreme Actor in the Universe. Thus we are told that action is necessary under all the systems of thought, from Sankhya through Yoga, but must be performed as a Sacrifice if it is to lead to freedom from the bondage of action.
Greater than Action if thou deem,
By these ambiguous words of thine
The Blessed Lord said:
I've said before that in this world
By not performing actions, none
Without performing actions, none
He's said to be a hypocrite,
But he who with his mind restrains
Perform all necessary acts;
Fettered by actions is the world,
By sacrifice Prajapati
Cherish the gods by sacrifice;
Pleased with your sacrifice, the gods
The remnants of the sacrifice
From food do creatures all arise;
And action doth from Brahma rise,
Who does not follow here below
But who's devoted to his soul,
No purpose hath he ever to gain
Therefore, ever unattached,
Janaka and others gained indeed
Whatever doth the best of men,
Nothing have I, O Pritha's son,
If I, indeed, did not engage
These worlds would perish, all, if I
As all attached, O Bharata,
A man of wisdom should not shake
The Gunas born of Prakriti
But he who knows the bond between
The men of knowledge should not shake
Renouncing actions all to me,
The men who follow constantly,
But they who at my teaching carp,
Even a man of knowledge goes
The senses for their objects hold
Better one's own defective Dharma,
By what is ever man impelled
The Blessed Lord said:
It is desire, and it is wrath,
Enveloped as is fire by smoke,
Knowledge enveloped is by this,
The senses, Mind, and Buddhi are
Therefore, O best of Bharata race,
Great are the senses said to be;
Knowing who's more than Buddhi great,
Buddhi is greater than Action: Buddhi here is to be understood in the sense of Knowledge, characteristic of Buddhi or Reason; Arjuna has not grasped the point.
The two paths: The point is made quite clear. The two paths are those of Knowledge and Action, the former related to the Sankhya system, and the latter to Yoga.
Gunas born of Prakriti: This is the idea of the Sankhya and accepted by all systems of thought. Here Krishna explains that, even according to the Sankhya, we must engage in action, impelled by Gunas born of Prakriti, the basis of this system.
Deeds as sacrifice: Action, other than that performed as a Sacrifice, makes for bondage; but action, performed as a Sacrifice, does not bind.
Prajapati and Sacrifice: Prajapati is the supreme Purusha or God in the Brahmanas. Even God creates the whole universe as a Sacrifice, implying that though God acts and creates, he is still free from the bondage of action, because the action is a Sacrifice, performed without self-interest, and for the benefit of all. This idea occurs in the Rigveda and other sacred books.
The good are freed from sin: There is no effect of action or sin when actions are performed as a Sacrifice.
Food and creatures: Food is transformed into blood and that into vital seed. It is, therefore, the basis of the physical energy of life. This energy is closely associated with the soul.
Food and rain: Food is ultimately based on the vegetable kingdom, for even the carnivorous live ultimately on the herbivorous; and the vegetable kingdom depends on water or rain.
Rain and Sacrifice: Sacrifice is to be understood as selfless and beneficent action, not only of man, but in general. In this sense the action which causes rain to fall, being selfless and beneficial, is an act of Sacrifice. It should not be supposed that rain is caused by chanting verses, etc., as is sometimes believed. It is because rain does good to all that it is regarded as a Sacrifice.
Sacrifice and Action: Sacrifice is selfless and beneficent action; and action is to be understood in its widest significance in the Sankhya, as implying change of all kinds.
Action and Brahma: In the Upanishads Brahman is the supreme of Purusha of all systems of thought. Brahma, in the masculine form, however, is the deity of Sankhya, Nyaya, and Vaiseshika, more especially of the latter two. Now these systems enjoin action performed as a Sacrifice; and so Brahma is associated with action.
Janaka: The celebrated father of Sita, the consort of Rama, the Prince of Ayodhya, and the hero of the Ramayana.
Confusion of castes: As the castes are created by the distribution of actions, cessation of action would cause their destruction.
Gunas, Prakrti, Action: Gunas are but an aspect of Prakriti when it functions: and so action is associated with them. Action is to be understood in its widest sense.
The Soul and Action: The Sankhya holds that the soul is actionless, and all actions are performed by the Gunas of Prakriti. The soul, when it associates itself with the objects of life, becomes transformed into Abhimana of Egoism, and in its delusion comes to believe that it is an actor, whereas it has nothing to do with action. Thus says the Sankhya.
Gunas and Action: Krishna here shows that even according to the Sankhya, which holds that all actions are performed by the Gunas of Prakriti, we have to act, but without attachment.
Nature: The word in the text is Prakriti. Even a wise man follows Prakriti. This many mean the Sankhya system too. In that case Krishna would imply that even some men of knowledge follow the Sankhya system, and it seems impossible to restrain them.
Varshneya: Of the Vrishni race; a name of Krishna who belonged to this race.
Desire and Rajas Guna: Desire is associated with the Mind, and so is Rajas, Guna.
The Senses, Mind, Buddhi, and the Soul: This gives us the gradation of the creative energies of life.