evaḿ pravartitaḿ cakraḿ
nānuvartayatīha yaḥ
aghāyur indriyārāmo
moghaḿ pārtha sa jīvati

Translation of Bhagavad Gita 3.16

My dear Arjuna, one who does not follow in human life the cycle of sacrifice thus established by the Vedas certainly leads a life full of sin. Living only for the satisfaction of the senses, such a person lives in vain.

Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

The mammonist philosophy of “work very hard and enjoy sense gratification” is condemned herein by the Lord. Therefore, for those who want to enjoy this material world, the above-mentioned cycle of performing yajnas is absolutely necessary. One who does not follow such regulations is living a very risky life, being condemned more and more. By nature’s law, this human form of life is specifically meant for self-realization, in either of the three ways—namely karma-yoga, jnana-yoga, or bhakti-yoga. There is no necessity of rigidly following the performances of the prescribed yajnas for the transcendentalists who are above vice and virtue; but those who are engaged in sense gratification require purification by the above mentioned cycle of yajna performances. There are different kinds of activities. Those who are not Krishna conscious are certainly engaged in sensory consciousness; therefore they need to execute pious work. The yajna system is planned in such a way that sensory conscious persons may satisfy their desires without becoming entangled in the reaction of sense-gratificatory work. The prosperity of the world depends not on our own efforts but on the background arrangement of the Supreme Lord, directly carried out by the demigods. Therefore, the yajnas are directly aimed at the particular demigods mentioned in the Vedas. Indirectly, it is the practice of Krishna consciousness, because when one masters the performance of yajnas one is sure to become Krishna conscious. But if by performing yajnas one does not become Krishna conscious, such principles are counted as only moral codes. One should not, therefore, limit his progress only to the point of moral codes, but should transcend them, to attain Krishna consciousness.

Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

This verse speaks of the sin involved in not performing the sacrifice. He who does not partake in the instituted cycle moving from beginning to end—from yajna to rain; from rain to food; from food to nourishment of men; from men to performance of yajna; from yajna to rain—with performance of yajna—leads a life full of sin. Who will not sink to hell?

Foot Note: The cycle is as follows: Supreme Lord, Vedas, action, sacrifice, rain, food, and production of living entities. The new living entities then study the Vedas arising from the Lord, perform action, and sacrifice (with the Lord present within) again. At the same time as fulfilling ones material needs by sacrifice one can attain the Lord. Ramanuja takes brahman as the body and aksara as the soul, which is necessary for the body to function. Then the cycle is: soul in the body, action, sacrifice, rain, food, nourishment of the body with a soul bhutani); then action, sacrifice etc. Madhva takes brahman as the Lord and aksara as the Vedas. Vedas reveal the Lord, the Lord inspires prescribed action, then sacrifice, rain, food, nourishment of bodies, study of Vedas, revelation of the Lord, inspiration to action etc.

 Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:

3.16 Thus this wheel is set in motion by the Supreme Person: From food arise embodied selves which are denoted by the word ‘beings’: from rain food; from sacrifice rain; sacrifice from activities which constitute the exercise of an agent; and activity from the embodied self; and again the body endowed with life from food. In this manner there is a sequence which revolves like a wheel through the mutual relations of cause and effect. Hence, He who is engaged in spiritual practice — whether one is qualified for Karma Yoga or Jnana Yoga — if he does not follow, i.e., does not keep in motion the wheel which revolves in a circle through mutual relation of cause and effect — that person by not maintaining his bodily subsistence by means of the ‘remainder of sacrifice,’ lives in sin. His life begins in sin or develops in sin, or is of both these kinds; he lives the life of sin. Thus he is a reveller in his senses and not in his self. The senses become the pleasure-gardens of one whose mind and body are not nourished by the ‘remainders of sacrifices.’ Rajas and Tamas preponderate in his body. Being thus turned away from the vision of the self, he rejoices only in the enjoyment of the senses. Therefore, even if he were to attempt for the vision of the self, it will be fruitless. So he lives in vain, O Arjuna. Sri Krsna now says that there is no need for the performance of the ‘great sacrifices’ etc., according to his station and stage of life, only in respect of a liberated person whose vision of the self does not depend on any external means.

Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:

Therefore as it is the Supreme Lord, Himself who originally emanated the eternal Vedas and set in motion the cycle of prescribed actions to allow living beings the opportunity to attain the highest benefit from yagna or worship. If human beings do not make the effort to perform and adhere to yagna then their whole human life is in vain. This is what Lord Krishna is conveying here. The Vedas are the actual words of the Supreme Lord, by understanding and following the Vedic scriptures one can begin to understand and follow the Supreme Lord. From the breath of the Supreme Lord comes the Vedas, from the Vedas the predilection of humans to perform actions, from yagna these actions are accomplished, from accomplishment comes rains, from rains food, from food human beings are born from semen and eggs and thus again the cycle begins again with the predelection of humans to perform actions. One who does not keep this covenant and follow this cycle of yagna which is revolving eternally in the material existence, set themselves apart from the spiritual reality and are living a sinful life daily from morning to night. For such persons rejoice solely in their senses and sense objects alone and not in actions performed in worshipping the one from whom they originated from, the Supreme Lord. Therefore the meaning is uselessly they live their lives in vain.

Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:

For being the cause of vegetation growing clouds are known as parjanya or rain bringers . Actions are performed due to yagna or worship and all actions flow from and towards the Supreme as Lord Krishna is omniscient and omnipresent. Even though He is eternal He can be known by his aksara potency known as the Vedic scriptures. Yagna is performed by sound, sound vibration is an attribute of all creatures who in turn eat food that was produced by rains falling from clouds manifested by the power of the sun. This is the cycle of yagna that the Supreme Lord is eternally established in. This cycle was set in motion at the dawn of creation by the grandsire Brahma. Whoever does not maintain and perpetuate this cycle which is beneficial to all created beings becomes sinful and degraded and performs activities counter productive to the perseverance of all life and must suffer in the darkest regions of the hellish planets as described in Canto V of the Bhagavat Purana.

Now begins the summation.

For renunciants yagna or worship may be performed by the recitation and repetition of mantras. For those living as forest recluses the austerities endured are themselves the yagna. For householders the performance of all recommended activities as prescribes in the Vedic scriptures. For brahmacaris the study of the Vedas, celibacy, introspection and service to guru. Fearlessness, charity and the development of atma-tattva or knowledge of the eternal soul are applicable to all of the above. For forest dwellers charity is sharing of food being roots and fruits and wild vegetables to those in need. For the householder charity is donating wealth to worthy recipients in need. But all these actions should be extremely austere and frugal. In the Narada Purana the three activities known as yagna, charity and austerities are prescribed for everyone.

The words Brahman denoting the fundamental spiritual substratum pervading all existence and aksara meaning Vedas should be understood to be distinct from each other with the Vedas revealing knowledge of both. having a separate but connected function.

Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:

What is to be determined by this verse? What should be understood is that in the beginning of creation Lord Krishna Himself entered into each and every living entity as the imperishable atma or soul to monitor the evolution of all living beings and to accomplish the goals of the freewill exercised by every individual soul who previously had been merged within his internal potency. Thus by inspiring Brahma to project them into the material manifestation they were created into innumerable names and forms and expressions. The Brahmins were manifested from the head of the Supreme Brahman and thus they were able to perform actions these actions were performance of yagna or worship and then rains, food and living beings arose. All human beings have the right to perform spiritual activities according to qualification; but those who instead choose to shun this responsibility and disrespect all of creation which provides all necessities, by not performing yagna has verily disconnected themselves from the spiritual reality that the Supreme Lord Himself established for the benefit of all living beings. Thus day by day such a living entity is increasing their sins by being deluded into thinking they are independent and do not need to satisfy the chance guest, the ancestors, the demigods and the Supreme Brahman. Thus by daily feeding one’s body food which was not consecrated by being offered in yagna that unfortunate person human life is in vain. The purport is that even death is better than living for such a person as this.

Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:

3.16 O Partha, sah, he; jivati, lives; mogham, in vain; yah, who, though competent for action; na anuvartayati, does not follow; iha, here, in the world; cakram, the wheel of the world; evam, thus; pravartitam, set in motion, by God, on the basis of the Vedas and the sacrifices; aghayuh, whose life (ayuh) is sinful (agham), i.e. whose life is vile; and indriya-aramah, who indulges in the senses-who has his arama, sport, enjoyment, with objects, indriyaih, through the senses. Therefore, the gist of the topic under discussion is that action must be undertaken by one who is qualified (for action) but is unenlightened. In the verses beginning from, ‘(A person does not attain freedom from action by adstaining from action’ (4) and ending with, ‘You perform the obligatory duties…And, through inaction, even the maintenance of your body will not be possible’ (8), it has been proved that before one attains fitness for steadfastness in the knowledge of the Self, it is the bounden duty of a person who is qualified for action, but is not enlightened, to undertake Karma-yoga for that purpose. And then, also in the verses commencing from ‘(This man becomes bound) by actions other than that action meant for God’ (9) and ending with ‘O Partha, he lives in vain,’ many reasons [Such as, that it pleases God, secures the affection of the gods, and so on.] have been incidentally stated as to why a competent person has to undertake actions; and the evils arising from their non-performance have also been emphatically declared. Such being the conclusion, the question arises whether the wheel thus set in motion should be followed by all, or only by one who is ignorant of the Self and has not attained to the steadfastness which is fit to be practised by the Sankhyas, the knowers of the Self, through the Yoga of Knowledge only, and which is acquired by one ignorant of the Self through the means of the practice of Karma-yoga mentioned above? Either anticipating Arjuna’s question to this effect, or in order to make the meaning of the scripture (Gita) clearly understood, the Lord, revealing out of His own accord that the following substance of the Upanisads-Becoming freed from false knowledge by knowing this very Self, the Brahmanas renounce what is a compulsory duty for those having false knoweldge, viz, desire for sons, etc., and then lead a mendicant life just for the purpose of maintaining the body; they have no duty to perform other than steadfastness in the knowledge of the Self (cf. Br. 3.5.1)-has been presented here in the Gita, says:

Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:

3.16 Evam etc. On the other hand, he, who does not accept as stated above, is full of sins. For, he enjoys only in the sense-organs and not in the Self.

Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:

evam pravartitam cakram
nanuvartayatiha yah
aghayur indriyaramo
mogham partha sa jivati

Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:

evam — thus; pravartitam — established by the Vedas; cakram — cycle; na — does not; anuvartayati — adopt; iha — in this life; yaḥ — one who; agha-āyuḥ — whose life is full of sins; indriya-ārāmaḥ — satisfied in sense gratification; mogham — uselessly; pārtha — O son of Pṛthā (Arjuna); saḥ — he; jīvati — lives.