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Gita in a Nutshell #1: Live & Act with Love & Purpose.

November 10, 2010

(Complete contents at
Gita in a NutshellBig Ideas and Best Quotations.
For notice of each weekly blog,
please join our Facebook group.)

It’s a great revelation to read the Gita by major theme instead of in the order it’s written.  Today let’s talk about the first major theme:


The Gita contains many powerful passages on this theme, but they are scattered throughout the text.  When you read them all together, as below, the main ideas jump off the page with crystalline clarity.

Read though these stanzas slowly and thoughtfully, jotting down your reactions as you go.  Share your comments and questions, and we’ll get some conversation going:

Self-possessed, resolute, act
without any thought of results,
open to success or failure.
This is equanimity is yoga.  (BG 2.48)

The wise man lets go of all
results, whether good or bad,
and is focused on the action alone.
Yoga is skill in actions.  (BG 2.50)

The superior man is he
whose mind can control his senses;
with no attachment to results,
he engages in the yoga of action.  (BG 3.7)

Without concern for results,
perform the necessary action;
surrendering all attachments,
accomplish life’s highest good.  (BG 3.19)

Though the unwise cling to their actions,
watching for results, the wise
are free of attachments, and act
for the well-being of the whole world.
(BG 3.25)

Performing all actions for my sake,
desireless, absorbed in the Self,
indifferent to “I” and “mine”,
let go of your grief, and fight!  (BG 3.30)


He who can see inaction
in the midst of action, and action
in the midst of inaction, is wise
and can act in the spirit of yoga.

With no desire for success,
no anxiety about failure,
indifferent to results, he burns up
his actions in the fire of wisdom.

Surrendering all thoughts of outcome,
unperturbed, self-reliant,
he does nothing at all, even
when fully engaged in actions.

There is nothing he expects,
nothing that he fears. Serene,
free from possessions, untainted,
acting with the body alone.

content with whatever happens,
unattached to pleasure or pain,
success or failure, he acts
and is never bound by his action.

When a man has let go of attachments,
when his mind is rooted in wisdom,
everything he does is worship
and his actions all melt away.

God is the offering, God
is the offered, poured out by God;
God is attained by all those
who see God in every action.
(BG 4.18-24)


The man of yoga who is able
to overcome, here on earth,
the turmoil of desire and anger—
that man is truly happy.

He who finds peace and joy
and radiance within himself,
that man becomes one with God
and vanishes into God’s bliss.
(BG 5.23-25)


He who performs his duty
with no concern for results
is the true man of yoga—not
he who refrains from action.

Know that right action itself
is renunciation, Arjuna;
in the yoga of action, you first
renounce your own selfish will.

For the man who wishes to mature,
the yoga of action is the path;
for the man already mature,
serenity is the path.

When a man has become unattached
to sense-objects or to actions,
renouncing his own selfish will,
then he is mature in yoga.  (BG  6.1-4)


…when a man is released
from dualities, he can act
purely, without attachment,
and can serve me with all his heart.  (BG 7.28)

He who acts for my sake,
loving me, free of attachment,
with benevolence toward all beings,
will come to me in the end.
(BG 11.55)


He who has let go of hatred,
who treats all beings with kindness
and compassion, who is always serene,
unmoved by pain and pleasure,

free of the “I” and “mine,”
self-controlled, firm and patient,
his whole mind focused on me—
that man is the one I love the best.  (BG 12.13-14)


Free of the “I” and “mine,”
from aggression, arrogance, greed,
desire, and anger, he is fit
for the state of absolute freedom.
(BG 18.53)

#2: Experience Infinite Wonder in All Things

(Complete contents at
Gita in a NutshellBig Ideas and Best Quotations.
For notice of each weekly blog,
please join our Facebook group.)

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  1. As someone who is unemployed in this current economy, the words "open to success or failure" really speak to me. It is comforting to know I do not always have to act with a specific goal in mind – acting with purpose is enough, whatever the outcome may be. If more people approached careers this way, maybe we'd have less people concerned about being "underemployed."

  2. Ronnie McCarthy permalink

    I feel fortunate that nearly every day, no matter what, I know everything will be o.k., as long as I do what I know is right. In retrospect, the times in my life when I felt hopeless, or panicked, bad choices followed as a result of my fear.

  3. Not "left of the field" at all, yogi tobye. I love the Gita because it helps me with my daily life, not just because I admire it as an ancient text!

    Bob W.

  4. monkeywithglasses permalink

    For me, focusing on a small aspect for a long time allows me to get it to "stick" in my life more successfully. These lines resonate with me right now: "He who has let go of hatred, who treats all beings with kindness and compassion, who is always serene, unmoved by pain and pleasure". This is where I've been for awhile…trying – sometimes easily, sometimes with difficulty – to just let things be, focus on kindness and compassion, trust the path and just go with the flow. I know that life is endless subtle choices and if I can be in a good place mentally, the decisions I make often work out for the best.

  5. The final stanza,

    "Free of the “I” and “mine,”
    from aggression, arrogance, greed,
    desire, and anger, he is fit
    for the state of absolute freedom." (BG 18.53)

    That really strikes a chord. Focus on our egos and posessions becomes a form of slavery. It blocks our appreciation of the infinite wonder and the unversal truths. The more we can clear our minds of this baggage, the better we can let the continual wonder of the moment liberate us. The feeling of freedom in those moments is profound.

  6. Good thoughts, Vern. One of the wonders of the Gita is that it allows for the full range of concepts of God, from a personal God to the "ineffable life force of the universe" and everything in between.

    This subject is so important we'll have a whole blog devoted to it later on. You can see it now in the outline under:
    The Gita embraces all Gods and all paths. Yoga is universal truth.
    Highlights (Gita Talk #4): under the heading “What is God to You?”.

    Bob W.

    • Yes! I struggled a little with how to describe it. "Ineffable life force of the universe" works very well for me also!

  7. Padma Kadag permalink

    Bob…That last stanza…What does that mean to you? If we were to achieve "absolute freedom" how do you think we would percieve? Do you think that the path leading up to an absolute freedom, with the" I" diminishing,, would lessen our attachments and desires? Do we think that just maybe as our "I" diminishes that perception will become less judgemental and less concerned with subject/ object. It is the awareness of the frailty of the world which gives it beauty as the "I" begins to fall away giving birth to Love and Compassion. Nothingness has no place. We do not lessen our attachments and desires because we need to or someone has told us to or we read about it in a book. What would "memory" become in "absolute freedom"? In absolute freedom why would the thought of "shooting your neighbor in the head" arise?

  8. zeer permalink

    i am new to the Gita, and I love it, but I need to comprehend "action" better.
    "The wise man lets go of all
    results, whether good or bad,
    and is focused on the action alone"
    In simple terms, what is the action?

    any perspectives ?

    • I am new to but for me it means an activity to help, inspire and advocate for positive change.It is not getting the results we want It is knowing that at least were trying to make a difference and we will never give up trying

  9. Martha R Gray permalink

    The sattvic mood of equanimity cannot always be achieved but is something to be strived for. The same teaching is found in the Buddhist tradtions, however without the specific presence God. I have a lot to learn from Buddhism, however I am touched by the teaching that mindfulness to God brings us closer to God (God is attained by all those who see God in every action. (BG 4.18-24) . Surrender to, dedication to God, of all the fruits of our labors, ishvaripranidhana, is an aim of yoga as set out by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. The Gita is a mystical text that discusses union with the Divine in terms that have stirred the hearts of readers for millennia. I do find it odd that atheists are also attracted to its teachings, when it speaks in such loving terms of God in the hearts of humankind. Nevertheless, I see now that the Gita has the power to reach almost anyone receptive to its teachings.

  10. Hi, Pamela. You might notice that the Gita isn't telling us not to have goals or to stop striving for those goals. It's telling us after all the goal setting and striving, accept the results with detachment, and be content either way.

    To me this is a critical distinction, and separates the Gita from many other spiritual systems where the very idea of striving and achieving is called into question. The protagonist in the Gita, Arjuna, is a warrior being urged to follow his duty and fight the war.

    Whether metaphorical or not, no one can fight a war without goals, striving, and passion. These are all good things in our lives, as we don't get overly attached to the results.

    Does this make sense?

    Bob W.

    • Pamela permalink

      Yes, it does make sense. I like it.

      I might find it hard to practice. There is a certain confidence in this approach. To strive towards some expression of the best of yourself – you need a great deal of confidence in what you are doing to not be bothered by the results.

      "unperturbed, self- reliant" , these are states of being which we can aspire to be, but I don't think in my personal experience are a starting point.

      Interestingly I feel like some of the passages I understand and accept immediately and others just look distant.

      • Let's see if some of the passages that seem distant become more meaningful over time. But we're very open to discussing specific passages if you have an interest, as several other people have already done here. Thanks for being here.

        Bob W.

  11. I agree it is about what is happening today taking time to enjoy each moment

  12. as a writer I totally agree I always say If I can help and inspire one person then I am meeting my goal and purpose

  13. zeer permalink

    Thank you for the insight ! that does help indeed. so in the case of this passage:

    "When a man has let go of attachments,
    when his mind is rooted in wisdom,
    everything he does is worship
    and his actions all melt away."

    Bob, action in this case, do you think it is referring to wrong action? like action out of ego, etc..?

    i can look at some one like Ghandi and clearly see that he was in complete purpose and action without attachment, living and walking in complete purpose. but the for the average shmo like me, i am trying to figure out what action is in my day to day life.
    everyone who has input, it is greatly appreciated and helpful!!!

  14. As usual, I find myself getting caught up in the word "God"–a word, which, yeah, can be defined in countless ways, including "mystery" and "love" as well as the rather clearly defined and not particularly nice father figures who punish people for masturbating. Some people see this variety as a basis for universalism–since, seen that way, as a guy named Bob Weisenberg puts it, just about everybody believes in God. I see it as more an argument against universalism–since peoples' ideas of God are so drastically different that it's clear that what one person calls God often has absolutely nothing to do with–and is in fact antithetical to–what countless others call God. Thus, it's like saying "the whole world agrees that things that are good are good" as if it doesn't matter that the infinite disagreements about what's good make that agreement utterly meaningless.

  15. zeer permalink

    Very helpful! Thank you so much. I am really getting a better understanding. The sacred wisdom the Gita has in it is truly touching me in a wonderful and profound way.


  16. Hey M, I'm sure you have bigger things on your mind right now 🙂 Fun to run into you here. Always my best to you!

  17. Very much right so, just look at friendships between the same sex, where there is no sexual drive or intention but it is the whole, food, clothing, car, watch, jewelry, housing… the lot all results of desire, usualy drivenbythe strongest – the sex drive.

    Oh'dear… many, many are caught in this desireand painful web of longing and it is prone to failure fromthe beginning becuse of false intentions!

    Well observed – Live isthe best Guru!

  18. Agreed!

    It's what the Gita is all about a praise of "Sri Krshna", a personalized form of the One, like the Vedas, the Puranas, the univers's desire, the desire of men in particular, of all animate and inanimate to create, to explain, to explore, to express itself over and over again, the whole, the allpervading, the omniscient, the brahman, allinoneness… name it and there will be a fault, it can't be named, it can't be put into any form, cause it is without form, without shape and without name, it is it all!

    From A-Z from A to Ω from A to M – AUM!

    -hari om tat sat-

  19. Hi, Yogabird. These are all great questions. I have some strong ideas about this, but, if it's ok with you, I'm going to hold back for awhile and let some other people respond to you before I do. After we let that happen, I'll share my thoughts with you.

    I'd like to invite everyone else to take a crack at yogabird's interesting questions above.

    Bob W.

  20. Hey Birdie,
    my understanding is this:
    When we are attached to *anything* we inevitably become motivated by ego – because we will either be disappointed by the apparent 'failure' of our efforts, or the opposite (satisfied at our success) – and either way we end up feeling self-important, thus creating more karma, more ego, more attachment.
    The whole of the BG is about this one thing (to me): letting go of attachment, and just doing what we feel is right. There is no contradiction. When we act from our heart, without letting the head (ego) get in the way, our actions are fuelled by love rather than attachment. Then, no matter what happens, we continue to feel love, live in love, and act from love… and we realize that whether the outcome of our actions is as we expected, or otherwise, all is exactly as it is meant to be.
    We let go of our attachments and begin to see the bigger picture.
    In love, Ben

  21. I second what you said It is not about the results It is the effort fueled by passion that doesnt allow us to give up
    Being a woman with disabilities I faced lots of discrimination and Obstancles in my life if I let those incindents stop me I wouldnt be where I am today

  22. Hi Birdie
    being a newbie and free spirited I read and take in on how it implies in my own life
    It is interesting to see the different discussion and gain a new understanding

  23. timful permalink

    If we become too attached to the results of our actions, we stop experience what is actually happening and begin to see only whether it is as we wished. Yet, we can only wish for what we already know. And, so our world grows smaller, like a dog chasing its tail.

    • integralhack permalink

      Good point, timful! As some others have already pointed out here, the recession blues have reminded many of us that chasing material possessions, career goals and other brass rings of American materialism can end abruptly. Hard to grab at the brass ring if you can't get on the merry-go-round!

      I don't want to idealize "having less" because poverty is very real for some folks, but for those who can still eat and lead healthy lives in light of less prosperity, they may find a silver lining in simplicity. Home mortgages and luxury vehicle payments can cast a big shadow in your life–so much so that such "things" can begin to take over your world. When forced to put these dubious "fruits of labor" aside, our world can sometimes open up to broader expression.

    • Colleen permalink

      Agreed! Reminded me of a recent (facebook) convo I had with a few friends. We all practice ashtanga, and one woman mentioned that a teacher said she would never be able to get into a certain posture, that her anatomy just won't allow it. Another friend replied, in effect, that this practice constantly pushes us past where we thought we were capable of.

      I value the reminder that it's about the experience, not the result.

  24. candicegarrett permalink

    yes Boep! Exactly what I was thinking!

  25. Just one quick clarification, then I hope we'll hear from others. It's certainly not just "Bob's reading of the Gita", but the reading of the majority of Gita scholars and Yoga practitioners, both here and in India down through the ages, and most relevantly, the reading of Whitman's philosophical mentor Emerson and their Gita-clasping woods-dwelling colleague Thoreau.

  26. zeer permalink

    oh sa frank! i love how you articulated that! i just totally got a huge burst of inspiration and deeper understanding!! amazing

  27. vtyog permalink

    With no desire for success,
    no anxiety about failure,
    indifferent to results, he burns up
    his actions in the fire of wisdom.

    This is very timely for me. I am about to embark on a yoga training next weekend. I have tried this before,,, but became riddled with anxiety that I could never "BE" a yoga teacher, that I shouldn't be doing this etc.
    I have been excited for this one, until this week when the anxiety of failure started to rear its ugly head..
    after reading this I am changing how I look at this.
    This time I am signed up with "no expectations". I am doing it for the sake of doing it and learning. IF it leads me to teach or do something else with it great, if it doesn't that is fine too.

  28. Ummm…Bob, y'know that charioteer, Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita?
    Apparently, according to some scholars, he's a personification of Brahman/God.
    I hope this clarifies things.

    • Oh, Krishna. Now you tell me!

      Jay, Krishna and all other Gods are explicitly and conclusively declared, in the text itself, to be just symbols and metaphors for the infinite unfathomable universe. In fact, this is the origin of the word "avatar".

      Chapters 10 and 11, the climax of the Gita, are almost entirely dedicated to establishing this. It's mainstream Yoga philosophy. Krishna is no more a real being than Ganesh the elephant-headed God is. We'll be quoting a lot from these two chapters in future blogs.

      I'm enjoying this exchange with you, and I hope it's helpful to our readers as well.

      Bob W.

  29. Hi, Blue Lotus. I actually even know what a concordance is! But I didn't before we had Graham Schweig as a guest for Gita Talk (Gita Talk #8: Very Special Guest Graham Schweig), and he explained that he was working on one for the GIta.

    For those new to the term it's an alphabetical index of all the words in a text or corpus of texts, showing every contextual occurrence of each word. As you can imagine, that's quite a job!

    Thanks for writing. Glad you like this approach.

    Bob W.

  30. In response to the God discussion personally I like to say spirituality or angels over the the term god
    I think god is universal meaning something different to each person . In my opinion I feel there are
    angels watching over and I use prayer and meditation to connect with for strength, guidence and support.

  31. yogabird permalink

    Wow! Thank you to everyone who responded. I love to hear everyone's analysis and look forward to hearing more as we move through the Gita talks!

  32. Colleen permalink

    Thank you for a great comment. To me, drives home the point that all you can do is try your best.

  33. Colleen permalink

    I really like this one:

    He who performs his duty
    with no concern for results
    is the true man of yoga—not
    he who refrains from action.

    To me, it drives home the point that sitting back and doing nothing is unacceptable. It would be the easy way out – no consequences from which to detach! But the word "duty" is an important one to me, because we do have a true duty to improve ourselves and the world around us.

    • great analysis totally agree we must always be true to ourselves and others

  34. Sue Murphy permalink

    Hi Bob,
    Nice to talk with you on another website!
    I find I struggle with some of the stanzas. "with no desire for success, no anxiety about failure, indifferent to results, he burns up his actions in the fire of wisdom." In today's society, it's hard to act without thought of success. We strive to add to our 402k's and have enough to keep up with all the new things coming out. I don't know, maybe it's the "Christmas craze" of getting what's in Santa's list for the 3 little one or the fact that we are about to gut our kitchen and dining room, but I can't help being concerned about the all might dollar. But all of that is surface stuff…
    The stanza hat I love is "He who finds peace and joy and and radiance within himself, that man becomes one with God and vanishes into God's bliss." I truly love that. I'm working thru some old issues and the presence of God in my life has been tremendously healing. Thank you for including that one.
    Sue (suedon0527)

    • s_t_r_e_t_c_h permalink

      Sue I like your response. It can feel at times that the Gita is asking too much of us. No desires, no anxiety, no plans for the future. At times, sure, this can be extremely discouraging.

      Thich Nhat Hanh once asked a simple question, "Why do we do the dishes?"
      We don't do the dishes so that they become clean, he said, "We do the dishes to do the dishes." In other words, we do the dishes to be present in what we are doing.

      With this, try shopping this holiday season purely to shop. Do it with purpose, awareness, and genuine encounter. This may help some of that surface stuff matter less and less.

    • Hi, Sue. Sorry I didn't respond to this earlier. I must have misplaced the e-mail notice. It's great to have you here.

      We'll be talking further about this whole question of emotion and the Gita in Gita in a Nutshell #7: Is the Gita Asking Us to Repress Our Emotions? “Witness” Consciousness.

      Bob W.
      Yoga Editor

  35. The wise man lets go of all
    results, whether good or bad,
    and is focused on the action alone.
    Yoga is skill in actions. (BG 2.50)

    Yes but it's the positive results that keep us going… give us fuel to continue to keep going… and as seen in my own kids, without looking at where you've come from…. how do you know where to go from here? As an adult, I see how I need to work on this… but truly this is yoga off the mat… and it's damn hard sometimes.

    • Hi, Melissa.

      In my interpretation the Gita doesn't ask us to not experience results, or even enjoy them, simply to not get too attached to them.

      The example I always like is how could Arjuna fight the battle without being passionate about winning and experiencing the results?


      • It is so hard not to want the end result, but in the end, if we are enlightened the end result is already there. Non-attachment in itself is a goal…Here I am, showing up for another lesson, day after day…

  36. My yoga practice cultivates and nurture my passion and purpose drawing love and strength from my heart and the universe to guide through my work as a yogini activist specializing in disability rights. I practice mindfulness daily to ensure that each word and action is motivated by love and is from the heart. As lI keep love in my heart I will always know and see the truth that is before me that unfolds my pathway.

  37. Becky permalink

    With no desire for success,
    no anxiety about failure,
    indifferent to results, he burns up
    his actions in the fire of wisdom.

    I like being indifferent to results.

    • Hi, Becky. I like the sports analogy.

      I love trying hard to win when I play tennis. But I enjoy it a lot more and even play better when my ego is not all wrapped up in whether I do.

      Interestingly enough. This is the basis of most sports psychology.

      It's not coincidental. The seminal book "The Inner Game of Tennis" was written by a Harvard varsity tennis player who also happened to be a Yoga philosophy enthusiast.

      Bob W. Editor
      Yoga Demystified
      Facebook Twitter

  38. karlsaliter permalink

    This is a beautiful compilation, Bob. Thank you. It is amazing how quickly I can forget the lessons of the Gita. This is assuming I ever "learned" them.

    Surrendering all thoughts of outcome,
    unperturbed, self-reliant,
    he does nothing at all, even
    when fully engaged in actions.

    I'm taking this one into the studio today, and will weld free of mental slag.

    • Thanks for your comment, Karl. It's great to have you here, and I'm so pleased that you have your own page on elephant now. We love your writing.

      Bob W.

  39. karlsaliter permalink

    Do you think the difference hinges on level of attachment?

    • In a nutshell, yes: the difference hinges on levels of attachment—a "really wise person" (as I said above) is, in my understanding, one who knows the science of attachment/detachment.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Fun Yoga Book Club Discussion Groups, Twitter Yoga Community | The Daily Downward Dog
  2. Gita a Nutshell: Big Ideas and Best Quotations | elephant journal
  3. Welcome to "Gita in a Nutshell": A New Discussion Series | elephant journal
  4. Gita in a Nutshell #2: Experience Infinite Wonder in All Things | elephant journal
  5. Gita in a Nutshell #4: Each of Us is Already Infinitely Wondrous (Divine if you prefer) | elephant journal
  6. Gita in a Nutshell #3: Focus the Mind | elephant journal
  7. Downward Facing Dog | elephant journal
  8. Patanjali is my Homeboy. Part 1. | elephant journal
  9. The Bhagavad Gita is Sublimely Simple, Profound and Liveable. (Gita Talk 5) | elephant journal

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