yadi hyaham na varteyam jaatu karmanyatandritaha |
mama vartamaanuvartante manushyaaha paartha sarvashaha || 23 ||
For, if I were not to perform my duties alertly, people from everywhere will follow my path, O Paartha.
yadi : of
hi : for
aham : I
na : do not
varteyam : perform
jaatu : when
karmani : duties
mama : my
vartama : path
anuvartante : follow
manushyaaha : people
paartha : O Paartha
sarvashaha : from everywhere
To better understand this shloka, and make it more relatable, let us examine the life of a individual from our time who dedicated his life to the service of others – Baba Amte.
In his early years, he acted as a defense lawyer for freedom fighters imprisoned by British authorities in the 1942 Quit India movement. Later, Amte founded three ashrams for treatment and rehabilitation of leprosy patients, disabled people, and people from marginalized sections of the society in India. Today, the largest ashram named Anandwan has a university, an orphanage, and schools for the blind and the deaf, housing over 5,000 residents.
Now, imagine if someone like Baba Amte were to one day say “I think I am going to stop all my work and take it easy”. What would be the impact on the general population? People would start saying “If even Baba Amte does not work, why should I do so?”
Therefore, Shri Krishna urged Arjuna to always perform action and not give in to the tendency of the human body to become lazy. If not for Arjuna’s own sake, at least for the sake of others who considered him as a role model. And similarly, he urges us also to become role models by continually performing selfless actions, with complete attention and alertness.