The journey from the first chapter to the fourth chapter is one of higher and higher levels of integrating or tuning our personality. In the first chapter, we are at the level of selfish action, where we see gain and loss in everything we do. As we move into the second and third chapters, we are introduced to the notion of “nishkaam karma” or desire-less action. Here, we slowly give up attachment to the result of our action by dedicating it to a higher ideal.
In this chapter titled “Jnyaana Karma Sanyaasa Yoga”, we move one level higher from desire-less action to agency-less action. What does agency-less action mean? As the key shloka in this chapter indicates, it is the ability to see inaction in action and action in inaction. When we are operating at the level of a karmayogi, we express our desires through performing actions, but we diminish our sense of “mine-ness” or enjoyership by dedicating all the results to Ishvara.
But as we progress on this path, we begin to realize that all actions happen through Maaya, also known as prakriti or nature. Even actions like the surgeon conducting surgery happen through Maaya, upon closer inspection. We realize that the I, the eternal essence, is just the witness. The I does not do anything. This is agency-less action. Our sense of doership or “I-ness” begins to diminish as well.
Ultimately everything is yajnya in brahman. This is a very deep and subtle means of looking at the world. To help us practice developing this vision, Shri Krishna gives us simpler yajnyas such as restraining our senses, worship of a deity and so on. But the end goal is jnaana yagnya or the sacrifice of knowledge. The next chapter goes into more detail about the characteristics that we have to develop in order to be able to realize this very subtle and deep vision.
This chapter also gives us a glimpse of Ishvara, the cosmic power and intelligence that controls this universe. Although beyond birth and imperishable, that power manifests itself whenever there is an extreme disharmony in the universe, restores harmony and becomes unmanifest again.