Chapter III, Verse 17
Sri Nerode’s Translation:
But the man who is devoted to the bidding of his Inner Self and is content in his Inner Self, for him verily there is nothing that is selfish to do.
The wise man who is fully concentrated on his soul and is free from any attachment may perform his duty without becoming bound by creation.
I like Sri Nerode’s translation of this verse. His translation as well as my “helpful” one are not in the mainstream of thought regarding the meaning here.
Commonly accepted translations and interpretations of this verse make statements about the enlightened sage like “the need to act does not exist” or “for him no duty exists” or “even dutiful karma does not remain”.
Every enlightened sage obeys laws the laws of creation. Every consciousness that assumes form is bound by the laws of that form. Even if one’s human body appears like a hair on the head of consciousness, that hair still abides by present rules.
In yogic philosophy there is a concept that a soul, once freed from attachments, may choose to reincarnate and retain absolute freedom while in form. The freed soul who reincarnates is called an “Avatar”. It is said that the Avatar is not bound by any rules. I do not agree with this idea.
There is no historical example of an Avatar who changed the underlying laws of creation. No yogi has altered Brahman, for example. Jesus is arguably an Avatar by any account, yet he stated:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” – Matthew 5:17
Instead, the avatar is able to maximize the existing laws of creation. The ignorant man who is unable to identify even the most basic of material laws is the one who believes in the “miraculous” incarnation of an avatar. Why would a liberated soul declare himself to be an Avatar? Because the concept provides hope to the imprisoned mind of the unenlightened person.
The free soul may not personally “need” to act once in form, but the form that the soul inhabits is still bound by the laws of creation. The freedom lies in the non-attachment and not in the functionality.
Easter Eggs (hidden references to deeper meanings) in the original version of this this verse include:
The organization of this verse requires close scrutiny to arrive at the correct meaning. When I return to the Gita to use it as a Sanskrit primer, I will break it out and explain why most common translations miss the mark.
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