yas tv indriyāṇi manasā
niyamyārabhate ‘rjuna
karmendriyaiḥ karma-yogam
asaktaḥ sa viśiṣyate

Translation of Bhagavad Gita 3.8

Perform your prescribed duty, for doing so is better than not working. One cannot even maintain one’s physical body without work.

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

There are many pseudo meditators who misrepresent themselves as belonging to high parentage, and great professional men who falsely pose that they have sacrificed everything for the sake of advancement in spiritual life. Lord Krishna did not want Arjuna to become a pretender. Rather, the Lord desired that Arjuna perform his prescribed duties as set forth for kshatriyas. Arjuna was a householder and a military general, and therefore it was better for him to remain as such and perform his religious duties as prescribed for the householder kshatriya. Such activities gradually cleanse the heart of a mundane man and free him from material contamination. So-called renunciation for the purpose of maintenance is never approved by the Lord, nor by any religious scripture. After all, one has to maintain one’s body and soul together by some work. Work should not be given up capriciously, without purification of materialistic propensities. Anyone who is in the material world is certainly possessed of the impure propensity for lording it over material nature, or, in other words, for sense gratification. Such polluted propensities have to be cleared. Without doing so, through prescribed duties, one should never attempt to become a so-called transcendentalist, renouncing work and living at the cost of others.

Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

Therefore you should engage in daily obligatory activities such as sandhya vandana (niyatam karma). This is better that renunciation of these actions (karma sannyasa). By renunciation of all actions you will not even be able to maintain your body.

Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:

3.8 ‘Obligatory’ (Niyatam) means ‘concomitant’ (Vyaptam); for action is concomitant with that which is conjoined with Prakrti or the body. The contact with Prakrti has arisen from beginingless subtle impressions (Vasanas). You must perform work, because the performance of action is easy and may not cause accidents by reason of its being obligatory. Action is superior to non-action, i.e., even to the devotee of Jnana. Because of the instruction at the beginning (of this context), ‘No man experiences freedom from activity’ (3.4), devotion to Jnana alone is indicated by the word, ‘Non-action’ (Akarma). Even in the case of one qualified for devotion to Jnana, devotion to Karma indeed is better because Jnana-nistha is difficult to perform and liable to accidents, as it has not been practised previoulsy and as it does not come to one naturally. Subsequently it will be described how, one with the knowledge of the true nature of the self can carry on actions along with that knowledge. Consequently, we should take the meaning here to be that, because knowledge of the self too is included in Karma Yoga, this kind of Yoga is superior. This statement on the superiority of activity (Karma Yoga) over Jnana Yoga is valid even when there is competency for one to adopt Jnana Yoga. For, if you abandon all activities to qualify yourself for Jnana Yoga, then, for you, who is thus inactive while following Jnana Yoga, even the nourishment of the body, which is necessary even for Jnana-nistha, will not be achieved. The body has to be necessarily sustained until the means are executed to the full. Performing ‘great sacrifices’ with the help of honestly earned wealth, the body should be sustained by consuming the remainders left after such sacrifices. This is made clear from scriptural texts like, ‘When the food is pure, the Sattva (mind or inner organ) becomes pure; when the Sattva is pure, then the remembrance (meditation) will be steady’ (Cha. U., 7.26.2). Sri Krsna himself will declare: ‘The sinful ones who cook food for their own sake eat sin (3.13). Consequently,even the sustenance of the body will not be possible in the case of one who practises Jnana-nistha, and does not act. In other ways also Karma Yoga is superior to Jnana Yoga even in respect of one who is qualified for Jnana-nistha; for, obligatory and occasional rites like the ‘great sacrifices’ must be carried out by one who follows Jnana Yoga too, as he has to sustain the body until he attains perfection. Besides, the understanding of the true nature of the self is incorporated in Karma Yoga, as it involves the contemplation of the self as being a non-agent. It is also in line with the nature of life (Prakrti). Karma Yoga, is for these reasons easier and it is free from danger of downfall. Therefore, you must perform Karma Yoga only. This is the purport of the verse. If it is contended that any action such as earning money implies ‘I-ness’, ‘My-ness’ etc., and will therefore be disturbing to the senses, and that such a person devoted often to works will be in bondage through subtle impressions of his acts, Sri Krsna says:

Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:

One should perform the duties prescribed in the Vedic scriptures appropriate for ones stage in life. The daily duties like praying, meditating and worshipping are being referred to by Lord Krishna. Action is superior to inaction for by abstention from action none of these activities can be accomplished. What to say of those, if one fails to take actions even the maintenance of their physical body will not be possible.

Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:

One should perform the actions that are appropriate to one’s varna or status and ashram or stage in life. In Vedic culture there are four varnas: brahmin the priestly class, kshatriya the royalty and warrior class, vaishya the farmers and businesss classes and sudra the workers and servants of the previous three classes. In Vedic culture there are also four ashrams: bramacharya which is celibate student life, grihasta which is married family life, vanaprastha which is semi-retired householder life and sannyasa which is complete renunciation of worldy life for meditation on God. Due to changing times and the unseemly mixture of different varnas people no longer adhere exclusively to the natural duties of their ashram as prescribed by the Vedas. This was even happening over 5000 years ago at the end Dvarpara yuga. In the Mahabharata we see King Yudhisthira noting that it was becoming exceedingly difficult to determine the varna of people due to the mixture of different classes. Therefore it is only by conduct and attributes that one can judge what class one belongs to and not simply by what varna one was born into and this conduct is determined by actions. Unless and until the impulse arises for one to surrender themselves in full service and devotion to the Supreme Lord Krishna then both varna and ashram apply in society. But after surrendering in devotion varnashram is no longer applicable or required.

Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:

One should note that by the use of tvam Lord Krishna is asserting that Arjuna should be detached from his actions and perform his duty. Action is superior to inaction because by performing actions prescribed in the Vedic scriptures according to one’s occupation and stage in life because accumalated sins are destroyed that one has acquired in past lives. Realistically not performing actions is also not practical because without actions one is not able even to maintain the physical body. The particle api means even and refers to what else more should be clarified.

Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:

3.8 Tvam, you, O Arjuna; kuru, perform; niyatam, the obligatory; karma, duties, those daily obligatory duties (nitya-karmas) or which one is competent (according to the scriptures), and which are not heard of [although no result of daily obligatory duties is mentioned in the scriptures, still Sankaracarya holds that it is either heaven or purification of the heart, because something done must have its consequence.-Tr.] as productive of any result; hi, for, from the point of view of result; karma, action; is jyayah, superior; akarmanah, to inaction, to non-performance (of duties). Why? Ca, and; akarmanah, through inaction; api, even; te sarira-yatra, the maintenance of your body; na prasiddhyet, will not be possible. Therefore, the distinction between action and in action is abvious in this world. ‘And as regards your ideea that action should not be udnertaken because it leads to bondage-that too is wrong.’ How?

Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:

3.8 Niyatam etc. you must perform action which has been enjoined i.e., prescribed in the scriptures. For, even the just subsistence of body depends on action. Because –

Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:

niyatam kuru karma tvam
karma jyayo hy akarmanah
sarira-yatrapi ca te
na prasiddhyed akarmanah

Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:

yaḥ — one who; tu — but; indriyāṇi — the senses; manasā — by the mind; niyamya — regulating; ārabhate — begins; arjuna — O Arjuna; karma-indriyaiḥ — by the active sense organs; karma-yogam — devotion; asaktaḥ — without attachment; saḥ — he; viśiṣyate — is by far the better.