कर्मण्यकर्म यः पश्येदकर्मणि च कर्म यः |
स बुद्धिमान्मनुष्येषु स युक्तः कृत्स्नकर्मकृत् ||४-१८||


karmaṇyakarma yaḥ paśyedakarmaṇi ca karma yaḥ .
sa buddhimānmanuṣyeṣu sa yuktaḥ kṛtsnakarmakṛt ||4-18||



4.18. He, who finds non-action in the action, and action in the non-action, is an intelligent one, among men and is said to be a performer or destroyer of all actions.

Shri Purohit Swami

4.18 He who can see inaction in action, and action in inaction, is the wisest among men. He is a saint, even though he still acts.

Sri Abhinav Gupta

4.18 Karmani etc : He who finds the actions, [seemingly] of his own, to be non-actions [of his], on account of his being non-performer [of any action], because of his state of total tranility; and he who recognises the non-actions [of his] i.e., the actions performed by others, as actions being performed by himself (or who recognises the non-actions undertaken by others as being undertaken by himself), because of his intrinsic nature of the fully risen state; that person alone is a man of intelligence in the midst of all; and he [alone] performs action fully i.e., in its entirity. Therefore what fruit should be borne for him by what action ? This is at the stage of rising. But, at the stage of total tranility he injures, or cuts all actions. Thus he performs all action or performs no action. This is the secret and sacred knowledge, got by sitting near (by serving) the feet of the preceptors. Therefore -

Sri Ramanuja

4.18 Here by the term ’non-action’, the knowledge of the self, which is distinct from action and which forms the subject under consideration, is meant. ‘He who sees non-action in action and also action in non-action,’ denotes him who can perceive knowledge of the self even while action is being performed and who can also perceive action while engaged in non-action, i.e., knowledge of the self. What is the import of this saying? What is taught here is this: One can perceive, by constant contemplation on the truth about the self, that the action that is being performed in itself is a form of knowledge. One can also perceive that this knowledge is also of the form of Karma because of its being contained in Karma Yoga. Both these (i.e., action in the form of knowledge and knowledge in the form of actions) are accomplished by contemplation on the true nature of the self, even while work is being performed. Thus, he who can see actions as included in contemplation on the reality of the self, is wise, i.e., he knows the full meaning of the Sastras; he is fit among men, i.e., fit to attain release. He alone has fulfilled all actions, i.e., carried out the entire purpose of the Sastras. [The purport is that no contradiction between knowledge and action is felt by one who knows the philosophy of the self].

How is the form of knowledge accomplished through works which are obviously activities that are being performed? Sri Krsna explains:

Sri Shankaracharya

4.18 Since engagement and non-engagement (in action) depend on an agent, therefore, yah, he who; pasyet, ie. pasyati, finds; akarma, inaction, absence of action; karmani, in action-karma means whatever is done, action in general; in tha action-; and yah, who; finds karma, action; akarmani, in inaction, in the absence of action; sah, he; is buddhiman, a wise one; manusyesu, among men. All dealings involving an act, accessories, etc. exist certainly on the plane of ignorance, [Both engagement and non-engagement presuppose agentship and an act of some kind. This, however, holds good on the plane of ignorance, but not on that of Self-realization.] only so long as one has not attained to the Reality. He is a yogi, yuktah, engaged in yoga; and a krtsna-karma-krt, performer of all actions. One who discriminates between action and actions. One who discriminates between action and inaction is praised thus. Objection: Well, what is meant by this contradictory statement, ‘He who finds inaction in action’, and ‘action in inaction’? For action cannot become inaction, nor inaction action. That being so, how can a witness have (such) an incongruous perception? Vedantin: Is it not that [Ast. reads na in place of nanu.-Tr.] to an ordinary foolsih observer, that which is reality is inaction appears as action, and similarly, action itself as inaction? That being so, in order to show things as they are the Lord says, ‘He who finds inaction in action’, etc. Therefore there is no incongruity. Besides, the alifications such as ‘intelligent’ etc. (thus) become logical. And by saying, ’there is something to be known’, is implied the perception of things as they are. Moreover, freedom from evil cannot follow from an erroneous perception; whereas it has been said, ‘by knowing which you will become free from evil’. Therefore, one account of action and inaction being perceived contrarily by the creatures, the Lord’s utterance, ‘he who finds inaction in action,’ etc. is for dispelling their contrary perception. Not that in the empirical plane inaction has action as its receptacle, like a plum in a bowl! Nor even has action inaction as its receptacle, because inaction is a negation of action. Therefore, action and inaction are actually perceived contrarily by the ordinary persons-like seeing water in a mirage, or silver in nacre. Objection: Is it not that to every one action is action itself? Never is there an exception to this. Vedantin: That is not so, becuase when a boat is moving, motionless trees on the bank appear to move in the opposite direction to a man on the boat; an absence of motion is noticed in distant moving things which are not near one’s eyes. Similarly, here also occurs the contrary perceptions, viz seeing action in inaction under the idea, ‘I am doing’, [Ast. omits ‘aham karomi iti, under the idea, “I am doing”’.-Tr.] and seeing, inaction in acion,-because of which it is said, ‘He who finds inaction in action,’ etc. in order to eliminate them. As such, although this answer has been given more than once, still a man becomes repeatedly deluded under the influence of a totally opposite perception. And forgetting the truth that has been heard again and again, he repeatedly raises false issues and estions! And therefore, observing that the subject is difficult to understand, the Lord gives His answer again and again. The absence of action in the Self-well-known from the Vedas, Smrtis and logic, as stated in, ‘(It is said that) This is unmanifest; This is inconceivable’ (2.25), ‘Never is this One born, and never does It die’ (2.20; Ka. 1.2.18), etc.-has been and will be spoken of. The contrary perception of action in that actionless Self, i.e. in inaction, is very deep-rooted, owing to which ’even the intelligent are confounded as to what is action and what is inaction.’ And as a conseence of the superimposition of aciton pertaining to the body etc. on the Self, there arises such ideas as, ‘I am an agent; this is my action; its result is to be enjoyed by me.’ Similarly, with the idea, ‘I shall remain iet, whery I shall be free from exertion, free from activity, and happy’, and superimposing on the Self the cessation of activities pertaining to the body and organs and the resulting happiness, a man imagines, ‘I shall not do anything; I shall sit ietly and happily.’ That being so, the Lord says, ‘he who finds inaction in action,’ etc. with a view to removing this contrary understanding of man. And here in this world, though action belonging to the body and organs continues to be action, still it is superimposed by everyone on the acitonless, unchanging Self, as a result of which even a learned person things, ‘I act.’ Therefore, in action (karmani), which is universally considered by all people to be inherent in the Self, like the perception of motion in the (stationary) trees on the bank of a river-(in that action) he who contrariwise finds the fact of inaction, like perceiving absence of motion in those trees-. And, in inaction (akarmani) in the cessation of the activities pertaining to the body and organs and ascribed to the Self in the same way that actions are ascribed-, in that action, he who sees action because of egoism being implicit in the idea, ‘I am happily seated ietly, without doing anything’-; he who knows thus the distinction between action and inaction, is wise, is learned among men; he is engaged in yoga, he is a yogi, and a performer of all actions. And he, freed from evil, attains fulfilment. This is the meaning. This verse is interpreted by some in another way. How? (Thus:) ‘Since the daily obligatory duties (nityakarmas) certainly have no results when performed as a dedication to God, therefore, in a secondary sense, they are said to be inaction. Again, the non-performance of these (nitya-karmas) is inaction; since this produces an evil result, therefore it is called action, verily in a figurative sense. That being so, he who sees inaction in the daily obligatory duties (nitya-karmas) owing to the obsence of their results-in the same way as a cow that does not yield milk is said to be not a cow, though in reality it is so-so also, in the non-performance of the daily obligatory duties, i.e. in inaction, he who sees action since that yields results such as hell etc৷৷.’ This explanation is not logical, because freedom from evil as a result of such knowledge is unreasonable, and the utterance of the Lord in the sentence, ‘৷৷.by knowing which you will become freed from evil’, will be contradicted. How? Even if it be that liberation from evil follows from the performance of nitya-karmas, it cannot, however, follow from the knowledge of the absence of their results. For it has not been enjoined (anywhere) that knowledge of the nityakarmas (themselves), leads to the result of freedom from evil. Nor has this been stated here by the Lord Himself. Hery is refuted the ‘seeing of action in inaction’ [As explained by others.-Tr.], for (according to the opponent) ‘seeing of action in inaction’ has not been enjoined here [Here, in the present verse.] as a duty, but (what has been enjoined is) merely that performance of the nityakarmas is obligatory. Moreover, no result can accrue from the knowledge that evil arises from non-performance of nityakramas. Nor even has non-performance of nityakarmas. been enjoined as something that should be known. Besides, such results as freedom from evil, wisdom, engagement in yoga, and being a performer of all actions cannot reasonably follow from a false perception of action as inaction. Nor is this a eulogy of false perception. [The stated results accrue from correct knowledge, not from false perception; and correct knowledge alone is praise-worthy.] Indeed, false perception is itself an abvious form of evil! How can it bring about liberation from another evil? Surely, darkness does not become the remover of darkness! Opponent: Well, the seeing of inaction in action, or the seeing of action in inaction-that is not a false perception. Vadantin: What then? Opponent: It is a figurative statement based on the existence or the non-existence of results. Vedantin: Not so, because there is no such scriptural statement that something results from knowing action as inaction and inaction as action, even in a figurative sense. Besides, nothing particular is gained by rejecting what is heard of (in the scriptures) and imagining something that is not. Further, it was possible (for the Lord) to express in His own words that there is no result from the nityakarmas, and that by their non-performance one would have to go to hell. Under such circumstances, what was the need of the ambiguous statement, ‘He who sees inaction in action,’ etc., which is misleading to others? This being the case, such an explanation by anyone will be clearly tantamount to imagining that statement of the Lord as meant for deluding people. Moreover, this subject-matter (performance of nityakarmas) is not something to be protected with mystifying words. It is not even logical to say that the subject-matter will become easy for comprehension if it is stated again and again through different words. For, the subject-matter that was stated more clearly in, ‘Your right is for action alone’ (2.47), does not need any repetition. And everwhere it is said that whatever is good and ought to be practised deserves to be understood; anything purposeloss does not deserve to be known. Besides, neither is false knowledge worth aciring nor is the semblance of an object presented by it worth knowing. Nor even can any evil, which is an entity, arise from the non-performance of nityakarmas, which is a non-entity, for there is the statement, ‘Of the unreal there is no being’ (2.16), and (in the Upanisad) it has been pointed out, ‘How can existence originate from nonexistence?’ (Ch. 4.2.2). Since emergence of the existent from the nonexistent has been denied, therefore anyone’s assertion that the existent originates from the nonexistent will amount to saying that a non-entity becomes an entity, and an entity becomes a non-entity! And that is not rational because it runs counter to all the means of valid knowledge. Further, the scriptures cannot enjoin fruitless actions, they being naturally painful; and it is illogical that what is painful should be done intentionally. Also, if it is admitted that falling into hell results from their non-performance (i.e. of the nityakarmas), then that too is surely a source of evil. In either case, whether one undertakes them or not, the scriptures will be imagined to be useless. And there will be a contradiction with your own standpoint when, after holding that the nityakarmas are fruitless, you assert that they lead to Liberation. Therefore, the meaning of ‘He who finds inaction in action,’ etc. is just what stands out literally. And the verse has been explained by us accordingly. The aforesaid perception of ‘inaction in action,’ etc. is being praised:

Swami Adidevananda

4.18 He who sees non-action in action and also action in non-action is wise among men. He is fit for release and has carried out all actions.

Swami Gambirananda

4.18 He who finds inaction in action, and action in inaction, he is the wise one [Possessed of the knowledge of Brahman] among men; he is engaged in yoga and is a performer of all actions!

Swami Sivananda

4.18 He who seeth inaction in action and action in inaction, he is wise among men; he is a Yogi and performer of all actions.


Swami Sivananda

4.18 कर्मणि in action? अकर्म inaction? यः who? पश्येत् would see? अकर्मणि in inaction? च and? कर्म action? यः who? सः he? बुद्धिमान् wise? मनुष्येषु among men? सः he? युक्तः Yogi? कृत्स्नकर्मकृत् performer of all actions.Commentary In common parlance action means movement of the body? movement of the hands and feet? and inaction means to sit iet.It is the idea of agency? the idea I am the doer that binds man to Samsara. If this idea vanishes? action is no action at all. It will not bind one to Samsara. This is inaction in action. If you stand as s spectator or silent witness of Natures activities? feeling Nature does everything I am nondoer (Akarta)? if you identify yourself with the actionless Self? no matter what work or how much of it is done? action is no action at all. This is inaction in action. By such a practice and feeling? action loses its binding nature.A man may sit ietly. He may not do anything. But if he has the idea of agency or doership? or if he thinks that he is the doer? he is every doing action? though he is sitting ietly. This is action in inaction. The restless mind will ever be doing actions even though one sits ietly. Actions of the mind are real actions. Nor can anyone even for one moment remain really actionless? for helplessly is everyone driven to action by the alities of Nature. (Chapter III.5)Inaction also induces the feeling of egoism. The inactive man says? I sit ietly I do nothing. Inaction? like action? is wrongly attributed to the Self.He is the performer of all actions who knows this truth. He has attained the end of all actions? i.e.? freedom or knowledge or perfection.When a steamer moves? the trees on the shore which are motionless? appear to move in the opposite direction to a man who is in the steamer. Moving objects that are very far away appear to be stationary or motionless. Even so in the case of the Self inaction is mistaken for action and,action for inaction.The Self is actionless (Akarta or nondoer? Nishkriya or without work). The body and the senses perform action. The actions of the body and the senses are falsely and wrongly attributed by the ignorant to the actionless Self. Therefore the ignorant man thinks? I act. He thinks that the Self is the doer or the agent of the action. This is a mistake. This is ignorance.Just as motion does not really belong to the trees on the shore which appear to move in the opposite direction to a man on board the ship? so also action does not really pertain to the Self.This ignorance which is the cause of birth and death vanishes when you attain Selfrealisaion.