ishtaanbhogaanhi vo devaa daasyante yajnabhaavitaah |
tairdattaanapradaayaibhyo yo bhumgte stena eva sah || 12 ||

The deities, nourished by yajna, will also provide you the objects you desire. One who consumes these objects without offering them to others, he is a thief.

ishtaan : desired
bhogaan : objects
hi : also
vah : your
devaah : deities
daasyante : give you
yajna-bhaavitaah : nourished by yajna
taih : they
dattaan : objects
apradaaya : without offering to them
ebhyah : to others
yah : one who
bhumgte : consumes
stenah : thief
eva : is
sah : he

So far, Shri Krishna spoke about the need for karmayoga, the actions to perform under karmayoga, and the attitude with which those actions should be performed. He also emphasized the notion of yajna or selfless dedication. Now Shri Krishna gives three levels of action that a person can operate under.

In this shloka, Shri Krishna points out the lowest level of action. This is when an individual consumes objects without making any contribution whatsoever. Shri Krishna uses a strong word to describe such an individual : a “thief”. Such a selfish person does not care about anyone but himself due to his large ego.

An obvious example is someone who is part of a project team. He does not do any work in team but claims all the credit. In today’s language we would call such a person a freeloader. Such people are never held in good standing by anyone.

In traditions all over the world, we see evidence that we are encouraged to give back something each time we take something. In Indian culture, it is customary that before one eats a meal, one offers it to the less fortunate, the wise and learned, and to animals. In most cultures, when you cut down a tree, you are encouraged to plant few more. Even in the corporate world, when a company earns profits, it invests a portion back into the business before handing out the dividends.

Therefore, taking without giving back is the lowest level of action. The next shloka illustrates the two higher levels of action. We need to gauge which level we belong to, so that we can start moving to the highest level of selflessness.