karmaṇaiva hi saḿsiddhim
sampaśyan kartum arhasi
Translation of Bhagavad Gita 3.20
Kings such as Janaka attained perfection solely by performance of prescribed duties. Therefore, just for the sake of educating the people in general, you should perform your work.
Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
Kings like Janaka were all self-realized souls; consequently they had no obligation to perform the prescribed duties in the Vedas. Nonetheless they performed all prescribed activities just to set examples for the people in general. Janaka was the father of Sita and father-in-law of Lord Sri Rama. Being a great devotee of the Lord, he was transcendentally situated, but because he was the king of Mithila (a subdivision of Bihar province in India), he had to teach his subjects how to perform prescribed duties. Lord Krishna and Arjuna, the Lord’s eternal friend, had no need to fight in the Battle of Kurukshetra, but they fought to teach people in general that violence is also necessary in a situation where good arguments fail. Before the Battle of Kurukshetra, every effort was made to avoid the war, even by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but the other party was determined to fight. So for such a right cause, there is a necessity for fighting. Although one who is situated in Krishna consciousness may not have any interest in the world, he still works to teach the public how to live and how to act. Experienced persons in Krishna consciousness can act in such a way that others will follow, and this is explained in the following verse.
Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
He gives proof of such actions in the first part of the verse. In the second part of the verse he says that if you think that you are qualified for jnana, even then, you should perform action it order to teach the people.
Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:
3.20 It is also declared that Karma Yoga alone Janaka and others reached perfection. Because, Karma Yoga is the best means for securing the vision of the self even for a person who is qualified for Jnana Yoga, royal sages like Janaka and others, who are foremost among the Jnanins, preferred Karma Yoga as the means for attaining perfection. Thus, having first declared previously that Karma Yoga must be practised by an aspirant for release who is qualified for Karma Yoga alone, as he is unfit for Jnana Yoga, it was next stated with reasons that, even for one who is qualified for Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga is better than Jnana Yoga Now it is going to be declared (in verses 20-26) that Karma Yoga must be performed in every way by one who is virtuous. At least for the guidance of the world, you should do work even if there is no need of it for yourself.
Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:
Here Lord Krishna follows the approved adage of citing previous historical examples such as King Janaka the father of Sita who was Rama’s wife. King Janaka by prescribed Vedic activities purified his mind and consciousness and achieved perfection; but after becoming situated in atma-tattva or soul realisation still King Janaka performed prescribed Vedic activities for the purification of the world and felt bliss. So one should not think that after realisation it is not worthy to purify others for the welfare of all created beings as it is still beneficial. Also people seeing such a great king as Janaka performing sacred actions also became inspired to follow his example. To the contrary those wallowing in material nature in the mode of ignorance fail to perform Vedic actions are ruined in this life and the next.
Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:
For further emphasis to the previous verse Lord Krishna now gives historical references of men of actions who attained atma-tattva or soul realisation while performing actions. It also infers that by performing prescribed actions of the Vedic scriptures in an unattached manner one gains wisdom. It should not be assumed that actions alone are sufficient without possessing wisdom. King Janaka was reknown throughout Bharata now known as India as a king of great wisdom. He and others were very well established in spiritual intelligence.
Even in other instances there exists no disparity for the path of atma- tattva. Wherever it has been stated that for liberation visits to sacred rivers and holy tirthas or by leaving one’ body in Prayag or by taking bath at Kuruksetra during the solar eclipse. When these places are praised the liberation referred to is solely for the absolution of one’s sins and demerits only. Because whenever any of these famous places are mentioned then atma-tattva must be mentioned as well because it is the primary basis for liberation. Without atma-tattva the state of moksa or liberation from the cycle of birth and death is not possible. Liberation in places like Prayag is recommended because a holy place can greatly assist one in achieving the ultimate attainment; but still the foundation of spiritual wisdom is essential. So the statements eulogising the Ganges and other holy rivers and places are not in any way contradictory to the reality required of achieving atma-tattva for the attainment of moksa. This information has also been confirmed by Vedavyasa in the Narada Purana where it is written that visits to sacred rivers and holy places for the performance of rituals is for the simple minded people and also to attract those who are bewildered; but liberation is possible only by realising the Supreme Lord as Paramatma the supersoul within and not otherwise, there is no other path. Therefore atma-tattva or soul realisation is the only path to moksa and there is no other way possible.
Now begins the summation.
King Janaka and other great men renowned for their wisdom performed countless prescribed Vedic activities according to their status in society yet still reached perfection in atma-tattva and attained moksa in their lives. Even after attaining moksa they performed Vedic activities for the benefit and welfare of the world and to inspire others to also perform prescribed Vedic actions for the balance and maintenance of the world. For one who is not a person of wisdom such activities performed leads to purification and for one who is a person of wisdom such activities lead to the bliss of pleasing the Supreme Lord and the fulfillment of the bliss of moksa.
Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:
If the counterpoint is posed to the previous verse that desireless unattachment should be performed for the purity of the mind and that when spiritual knowledge arises one may abandon prescribed Vedic activities; because otherwise there will be no chance for liberation to one always engaged in actions as stated in the Mundakaya Upanisad I.II.XII: One will be bound by the very actions they perform.
In anticipation of such a counterpoint Lord Krishna confirms the authority of previous examples. By referring to King Janaka and by using in the instrumental case the words karmana eva meaning solely by performing actions as given in Panini I:II:LXV it clearly indicates that it is through actions and not by abandoning actions that King Janaka and others like Asvapati achieved the highest goal of moksa or liberation. So one who is knowledgeable of these things must perform their duties to achieve the goal.
If another counterpoint is posed that a person devoted to spiritual knowledge duly purifies their mind and then attaining atma-tattva or soul realisation is free from rebirth and is liberated; so what is the necessity to perform further prescribed Vedic injunctions. Lord Krishna anticipating this point replies that one should consider the welfare of the people in general and perform prescribed actions to protect and inspire them as well as for the maintenance of world order and the preservation of creation. That is why one should still perform prescribed Vedic activities.
Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:
3.20 Hi, for; in the olden days, the leaned Ksatriyas, janakadayah, Janaka and others such as Asvapati; asthitah, strove to attain; samsiddim, Liberation; karmana eva, through action itself. If it be that they were possessed of the fullest realization, then the meaning is that they remained established in Liberation whlile continuing, because of past momentum, to be associated with action itself-without renouncing it-with a veiw to preventing mankind from going astray. Again, if (it be that) Janaka and others had not attained fullest realization, then, they gradually became established in Liberation through action which is a means for the purification of the mind. The verse is to be explained thus. On the other hand, if you think, ‘Obligatory duty was performed even by Janaka and others of olden days who were surely unenlightened. [Ajanadbhih: This is also translated as, ‘surely because they were unenlightened’.-Tr.] There by it does not follow that action has to be undertaken by somebody else who has the fullest enlightenment and has reached his Goal’, nevertheless, tvam, you, who are under the influence of past actions; arhasi, ought; kartum, to perform (your duties); sampasyan api, keeping also in view; loka-sangraham, [V.S.A gives the meanings of the phrase as ‘the welfare of the world’, and ‘propitiation of mankind’.-Tr. ] the prevention of mankind from going astray; even that purpose. By whom, and how, is mankind to be prevented from going astray? That is being stated: [In Ast. this introductory sentence is as follows:loka-samgrahah kimartham kartavyam iti ucyate.-Tr.]
Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:
3.20 Karman=aiva etc. Therefore, janaka and others are examples for the fact that emancipation is even for those who perform action.
Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:
karmanaiva hi samsiddhim
sampasyan kartum arhasi
Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:
karmaṇā — by work; eva — even; hi — certainly; saḿsiddhim — in perfection; āsthitāḥ — situated; janaka-ādayaḥ — Janaka and other kings; loka-sańgraham — the people in general; eva api — also; sampaśyan — considering; kartum — to act; arhasi — you deserve.