na hi kaścit kṣaṇam api
jātu tiṣṭhaty akarma-kṛt
kāryate hy avaśaḥ karma
sarvaḥ prakṛti-jair guṇaiḥ

Translation of Bhagavad Gita 3.5

Everyone is forced to act helplessly according to the qualities he has acquired from the modes of material nature; therefore no one can refrain from doing something, not even for a moment.

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

It is not a question of embodied life, but it is the nature of the soul to be always active. Without the presence of the spirit soul, the material body cannot move. The body is only a dead vehicle to be worked by the spirit soul, which is always active and cannot stop even for a moment. As such, the spirit soul has to be engaged in the good work of Krishna consciousness, otherwise it will be engaged in occupations dictated by illusory energy. In contact with material energy, the spirit soul acquires material modes, and to purify the soul from such affinities it is necessary to engage in the prescribed duties enjoined in the shastras. But if the soul is engaged in his natural function of Krishna consciousness, whatever he is able to do is good for him. The Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.5.17) affirms this:

tyaktva sva-dharmam caranambujam harer
bhajann apakvo ’tha patet tato yadi
yatra kva vabhadram abhud amusya kim
ko vartha apto ’bhajatam sva-dharmatah

“If someone takes to Krishna consciousness, even though he may not follow the prescribed duties in the shastras or execute the devotional service properly, and even though he may fall down from the standard, there is no loss or evil for him. But if he carries out all the injunctions for purification in the shastras, what does it avail him if he is not Krishna conscious?” So the purificatory process is necessary for reaching this point of Krishna consciousness. Therefore, sannyasa, or any purificatory process, is to help reach the ultimate goal of becoming Krishna conscious, without which everything is considered a failure.

Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

Rather, the person of impure heart who gives up scriptural activities becomes engrossed in material actions. That is explained in this verse.

“But sannyasa, renunciation of activities, means a negation of all tendencies for both Vedic and material activities, does it not?”

“Beyond one’s will (avasah), one will engage in action anyway.”

Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:

3.5 In this world, no man can rest without doing work; for every person, even though he may have determined, ‘I will not do anything,’ is caused to act, i.e., is compelled to act according to the Gunas born of Prakrti. The Gunas are Sattva, Rajas and Tamas which increase in accordance with his old Karma. Consequently, Jnana Yoga can be attained only by means of a purified inner organ after annulling the old accumulation of sins by means of Karma Yoga of the aforesaid characteristics and bringing Sattva and other Gunas under control. Otherwise, one who engages oneself in Jnana Yoga becomes a hypocrite:

Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:

The renunciation of actions factually means not being attached to them. It does not mean actually giving them up, as that is impossible. Nobody neither a wise man or a fool under any circumstances can refrain from actions for a moment. The reason Lord Krishna is stating is that all are compelled to act forced by one’s likes and dislikes influenced by one’s attachments and aversions arising out of prakriti, material nature and designated by one’s past life activities.

Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:

That it is impossible to renounce every single action one makes is what’s being clarified here

Now begins the summation.

Actions are spoken of as two-fold in the Paingi scripture. Actions that are dependent upon a cause and and actions which are independent of any cause. The actions that are dependent upon a cause are due to the influence of prakriti, material nature. Independent actions are only manifesting from the Supreme Lord. Therefore the words karyate he avasah means to perform activities fully dependent, this dependence is on the Supreme Lord Krishna. The scriptures also further clarify that ah means the all pervasive Brahman.

Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:

It should not be speculated that one is entitled to the fruits of one’s actions simply because it is impossibe to fully renounce all actions. To empasise this point Lord Krishna states vimudh-atma meaning one ignorant of the soul. A fool or a wise person can appear inactive without engaging in worldly affairs or Vedic activities. So the sense here is that prakriti, material nature is propelling one to act based on the effects of one’s past actions which are attached to the root of the physical and subtle body. Therefore the conclusion is that one should first purify themselves by performing karma yoga which is actions without desires as prescribed in the Vedas which destroys sins which hinder spiritual development before embarking on the path of jnana yoga the cultivation of spiritual knowledge.

Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:

3.5 Hi, because; na kascit, no one; jatu, ever; tisthati, remains; api, even; for so much time as a ksanam, moment; akarma-krt, without doing work. Why? Hi, for; sarvah, all creatures; karyate karma, are made to work; verily avasah, under compulsion; gunaih, by the gunas-sattva (goodness); rajas (activity), and tamas (mental darkness); prakrti-jaih, born of Nature. The word ‘unenlightened’ has to be added to the sentence, since the men of realzation have been spoken of separately in, ‘who is not distracted by the three gunas (qualities)’ (14.23). For Karma-yoga is meant only for the unenlightened, nor for the men of Knowledge. Karma-yoga, on the other hand, is not pertinent for the men of Knowledge who, because of their not moving away from their own Self, are not shaken by the gunas. This has been explained similarly in, ‘he who has known this One as indestructible’ (2.21). But, if one who is not a knower of the self does not perform prescribed action, then this is certainly bad. Hence the Lord says:

Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:

3.4-5 Na karmanam etc Na hi etc. Knowledge, deserted by action, does not exist; and the action, combined with dexterity does not exist, [if it is] deserted by knowledge. Therefore knowledge and action constitute one and the same thing. Hence it has been delclared : ‘Knowledge is not deserted by action and action is not deserted by knowledge. [Hence] a teacher who is well accomplished in knowledge and action, is the cutter of the fetters of the fettered’. Therefore the action that is included within the knowledge cannot be avoided. For, the body, the organ of speech and the mind are, by nature, in a perpetual motion; and hence an individual, being simply under the control of other than himself, necessarily performs one action or the other. For, the body, the speech-organ and the mind are of the nature of throbing.

Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:

na hi kascit ksanam api
jatu tisthaty akarma-krt
karyate hy avasah karma
sarvah prakrti-jair gunaih

Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:

na — nor; hi — certainly; kaścit — anyone; kṣaṇam — a moment; api — also; jātu — at any time; tiṣṭhati — remains; akarma-kṛt — without doing something; kāryate — is forced to do; hi — certainly; avaśaḥ — helplessly; karma — work; sarvaḥ — all; prakṛti-jaiḥ — born of the modes of material nature; guṇaiḥ — by the qualities.