In Chapter Three, Arjuna is asking Krishna very plainly, “why should I fight?” Arjuna is a warrior, it’s his duty to fight. However, Krishna just got through with telling him that intelligence is better than such a ghastly activity as warfare. Krishna explains that you can’t automatically achieve perfection simply by renouncing work and certainly not by renouncing your duty. One must also control the mind (a subject dealt with very specifically in the Sixth Chapter). He explains that one should work without attachment to the fruits of his activities. And one should always perform their duty.
This verse, the 30th, sums up the teachings so far. Krishna, a few verses down the road, brings it all home, telling Arjuna that it is better to do your duty, even if it’s flawed, than to engage in another’s duty. As Srila Prabhupada translates it: “to follow another’s path is dangerous.”
So here is Bhagavad-gita 3.30…
mayi sarvani karmani
nrasir nirmamo bhutva
Therefore, O Arjuna, surrendering all your works unto Me, with mind intent on Me, and without desire for gain and free from egoism and lethargy, fight.
Offering all of one’s actions unto me in knowledge of the indwelling Supersoul, free from desire, selfishness, and grief, fight!
With your mind fixed in the self and offering all your activities to Me, being reed from desire, possessiveness and lamentation, fight.
-Narayana MaharajaRenouncing all actions in me, with one's thought on the 'principle of self', Without longings, without a sense of 'mine'- fight, with grief cast off. -Garuda dasa (Graham M. Schweig)
Srila Prabhupada starts off his verse with “Therefore, O Arjuna,” a phrase that isn’t actually in the sanskrit. None of our other translators do this. While the meaning is there in all of these translations, Srila Prabhupada seemed to be poking us with the point that “this is the logical conclusion to Chapter Three!” When someone says “therefore,” usually they’ve laid out a logical argument before you. And as described before the verse, Krishna did that for Arjuna.
The verse actually begins with the idea of “surrendering all your works unto Me,” as Srila Prabhupada translated it. Tripurari Swami, his disciple, puts it “Offering ones actions unto me.” Narayana Maharaja, translates “actions” or “works” as “activities,” while Garuda translates “surrendering” or “offering” as “renouncing.”
There is a bit of difference here. It’s no big surprise that the word “karmani” is translated as “actions” or “works” or “activities.” Karma actually means “works.” These words are interchangeable, as far as we’re concerned.
While Srila Prabhupada chose “surrendering,” both Tripuari Swami and Narayana Maharama chose “offering.” Garuda dasa, oddly, chose “renouncing.” There is a bit of difference in all of these. The sanskrit word is sannyasaya. The first three translations have word-for-word sections. In that, all three translate it as “giving up completely” (or some variation close to that). Garuda’s has no such word-for-word, but seeing as how “renouncing” is the same as “giving up completely,” it makes a bit of sense where he was coming from.
When we, as devotees, surrender, renounce or give something up, we do it for Krishna. This verse explains that. All of the translations, in one way or another, convey that. Garuda uses what almost appears to be a Biblical expression “Renouncing all actions in me.” Means the same thing, but it’s an odd way of saying it.
Another thing to note is the use and lack of use of the capitalized “M” in “me,” meaning Krishna, God. Traditionally, any pronouns dealing with divinity are capitalized. Lately, the scholarly trend is to not do that. Tripuari Swami’s and Garuda dasa’s follow this new rule, while Srila Prabhupada’s and Narayana Maharaja’s do not. I personally don’t like this new rule, though don’t believe that either Tripurari Swami or Garuda dasa are trying to subtly say that Krishna is not God. Both of their versions drive that point home again and again, just like the two that capitalize.
How the word adhyatma is translated and placed. In his verse, Srila Prabhupada says, “with mind intent on Me.” Tripurari Swami uses, “in knowledge of the indwelling Supersoul.” “With mind fixed in the self,” is how Narayana Maharaja translates it. Garuda dasa puts it: “with one’s thought on / the ‘principle of self’.” He uses “principle of” quite a lot in his translation.
So is our mind supposed to be fixed in “the self” or on the “indwelling Supersoul” (or “Me,” meaning Krishna)? What’s the difference between “the self” and Krishna? In his purport, Tripurari Swami indicates that it is both. We must surrender in the knowledge of both the self and of Krishna. We must understand our position, that we are not “the enjoyer,” but rather God is. Our action is carried out by material nature.
Another Gaudia-Vaisnava, B.R. Sridhara Deva Goswami, translates adhytma-cetasa as “with the understanding, ‘All my actions are under the control of the indwelling Lord.’” And that about sums it up.
I’ve seen all of the translators use “the self” in different places and it’s not always clear what it mean (to my mind anyway). But this does shed some light upon it. “The self” is the soul. Not only the soul, but everything the soul actually needs. Visvanatha Chakravarti Thakura comments, “Do not let your mind dwell on the sense objects, and give up any sense of possessiveness towards them.”
Moving now to the second stanza of the verse, Krishna instructs Arjuna (and in doing so, instructs us) to do our duty without selfishness.
Our translators use a handful of different words to convey this. Srila Prabhupada picked “without desire for gain,” “free from egoism and lethargy.” Tripuari Swami quickly sums it up, “free from desire, selfishness, and grief.” Narayana Maharaja has it as “being freed from desire, possessiveness and lamentation.” Garuda dasa, as he is writing a poetical representation of Bhagavad-gita, arranges it as it was in Sanskrit, but uses, “Without longings,” “without a sense of ‘mine’,” and “with grief cast off.”
Only Srila Prabhupada describes which desires we should be free from. We should not desire to gain.
“Egoism,” “selfishness,” “possessiveness,” and “without a sense of ‘mine’” all describe the same nasty quality the whole world could very well do without. While each translator uses a different word with slightly different meaning and implication, it’s nice to put them all together to get a feel for how awful that selfish desire is and what all it can encompass.
The sanskrit term vigata-jvarah means “without lamentation, without grief.” That is a difficult one to conquer. It should be. Grieving is a sign of kindness. None of our commentators address this lamentation. But in the chapter prior to this one, in Bhagavad-gita 2.11, though using a different Sanskrit word for “lament,” it instructs us that the “wise lament neither for the living nor the dead.” The next verse explains there was never a time when God and we did not exist, and in the future never will any of us cease to be.”
That is the lamentation we should be free from.
Krishna’s last instruction to Arjuna, in this verse, is “Fight!” as Tripurari Swami puts it. Srila Prabhupada and Narayana Maharaja simply say, “fight.” with a very somber and serious period. Personally, I like Tripurari Swami’s excited “Fight!”
However, in a very literal translation, Garuda dasa comes closest to the original Sanskrit poetry, “fight, with grief cast off.”
The message, of course, is one. While it is “fight” for Arjuna the great warrior, it is “do your duty” whatever that may be, for the rest of us. We do our duty, without all the baggage and hangups, as an offering to God. This is the whole purpose of the Bhagavad-gita.