yasya sarve samaarambhaahaa kaamasankalpavarjitaaha |
jnyaanagnigdhakarmaanaam tamaahuh panditam budhaaha || 19 ||

One who begins all actions devoid of desire and resolve, and whose actions have been burnt in the fire of knowledge, he is called a sage (even) by the wise.

yasya : one who
sarve : all
samaarambhaahaa : initiates actions
kaama-sankalpa-varjitaaha : devoid of desire and resolve
jnyaan-agnigdha-karmaanaam : actions have been burnt in the fire of knowledge
tam : he is
aahuh : called
panditam : sage
budhaaha : by the wise

In the following six shlokas, Shri Krishna gives us extremely practical guidelines to fully internalize the message of this chapter, which is that only by renouncing the sense of doership and enjoyership can one achieve detachment from action. They are simple, clear, actionable messages.

Imagine that we are about to undertake on a new project that is part of our field of work, our svadharma. It could be a presentation at work, a new job, moving to a new city and so on. At each step of the project, our mind entertains different questions. We can use this series of shlokas as a guide throughout the project.

Initially, our mind is fully focused on executing the project in the spirit of karma yoga. But after a while, it will get distracted and tend to wander towards material objects. This distraction will eventually lead to lack of efficiency in our project. Shri Krishna addresses how to deal with this aspect of the mind.

The common meaning of the word “sankalpa” is decision or resolve. Let’s examine the deeper meaning. Whenever we think about an object, there is a constant labelling going on in our mind on whether the object is “good” or “bad”. After having gone back and forth, we label something as “good”. This labelling is called sankalpa.

Why does this labelling happen? It is because our intellect has been superseded by our mind and senses. For example, a bitter medicine may benefit the body holistically. The intellect knows this. But the sense of taste will not like it. Furthermore, this sankalpa or labelling gives rise to kaama, or desire for that object. And herein lies the seed of selfish action that distracts us from the goal. Sankalpa and kaama are interrelated, any one of them indicates the present of the other, but both give rise to selfish action.

Therefore, Shri Krishna urges us to “burn” our selfish actions with the fire of knowledge. In other words, he wants our intellect to guide us in our svadharma, and stop the mind from labelling objects as good or bad. If something comes to us as part of our svadharma, we must accept it with prasaada buddhi. Like the lotus that remains in the pond and is untouched by the water, we must continually remind ourselves that our eternal essence is different and separate from all actions. Actions are going on by themselves in nature. Therefore, we should remain alert at all times, and should reinstate the supremacy of the intellect over the senses whenever the senses move towards external objects.

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