nirāśīr yata-cittātmā
śārīraḿ kevalaḿ karma
kurvan nāpnoti kilbiṣam

Translation of Bhagavad Gita 4.21

Such a man of understanding acts with mind and intelligence perfectly controlled, gives up all sense of proprietorship over his possessions, and acts only for the bare necessities of life. Thus working, he is not affected by sinful reactions.

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

A Krishna conscious person does not expect good or bad results in his activities. His mind and intelligence are fully controlled. He knows that because he is part and parcel of the Supreme, the part played by him, as a part and parcel of the whole, is not his own activity but is only being done through him by the Supreme. When the hand moves, it does not move out of its own accord, but by the endeavor of the whole body. A Krishna conscious person is always dovetailed with the supreme desire, for he has no desire for personal sense gratification. He moves exactly like a part of a machine. As a machine part requires oiling and cleaning for maintenance, so a Krishna conscious man maintains himself by his work just to remain fit for action in the transcendental loving service of the Lord. He is therefore immune to all the reactions of his endeavors. Like an animal, he has no proprietorship even over his own body. A cruel proprietor of an animal sometimes kills the animal in his possession, yet the animal does not protest. Nor does it have any real independence. A Krishna conscious person, fully engaged in self-realization, has very little time to falsely possess any material object. For maintaining body and soul, he does not require unfair means of accumulating money. He does not, therefore, become contaminated by such material sins. He is free from all reactions to his actions.

Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

He is controlled in mind (cit) and gross body (atma). For the purpose of maintaining his body he may accept even from sinful persons, but does not incur sin. This is an extended explanation of the statement “one must understand the truth concerning vikarma.”

Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:

4.21 ‘Free from desire’ means having no attachment to the fruits of actions. ‘His intellect and mind controlled’ means one whose intellect and mind are under control. ‘Giving up all possessions’ means one who, on account of his having the self as his primary objective, is devoid of the sense of ownership in relation to Prakrti and its derivatives. One who is thus engaged in bodily work alone as long as he lives, does not incur any sin, i.e., does not get engrossed in Samsara. He gets the vision of the self by Karma Yoga of this kind itself, and need not resort to any exlusive practice of Jnana Yoga in between liberation and the practice of Karma Yoga of the alone description.

Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:

Lord Krishna continuing this theme now explains that one who is completely free from desire does not become tainted by the disease of materialism while performing the natural functions that occur automatically to insure bodily maintenance. Another interpretation of this verse for one who is already situated in jnana yoga or the cultivation of knowledge and is free from desires to enjoy and hankering for rewards and has relinquished all possessions as well. Such a person who performs natural activities for a renunciate like biksa or begging alms from householders at meal times to maintain their existence or prescribed activities such as fasting from all grains on Ekadasi which is the 11th day of the waxing and waning moon. Such a person is not implicated by the disease of materialism by what they perform.

Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:

Lord Krishna now gives the method of renouncing desires. Restraining one’s mind and body by the conscious of the atma or soul which is referred to here denotes not being dependent. By renunciation of the senses one becomes devoid of pride. One who is convinced that the Supreme Lord performs all actions and that they do not perform any actions is free from all reactions.

Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:

On who has so renounced desire and hankerings and has controlled senses as well, even if they perform some activity to maintain natural bodily management they are exempt from being implicated into pious and sinful reactions. This is Lord Krishna’s meaning.

Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:

4.21 Nirasih, one who is without solicitation-one from whom asisah [Asih is a kind of desire that can be classed under prayer. (Some translate it as desire, hope.-Tr.)], solicitations, have departed; yata-citta-atma, who has the mind and organs under control-one by whom have been controlled (yatau) both the internal organ (citta) and the external aggregate of body and organs (atma); (and) is tyakta-sarva-parigrahah, [ Parigraha: receiving, accepting, possessions, belongings.-V.S.A] totally without possessions- one by whom have been renounced (tyaktah) all (sarvah) possessions (parigrahah); na apnoti, he does not incur; kilbisam, sin, in the form of evil as also rigtheousness-to one aspiring for Liberation, even righteousness is surely an evil because it brings bondage-; [Here Ast. adds tasmat tabhyam mukto bhavati samsarat mukto bhavati ityarthah, therefore, he becomes free from both of them, i.e. he becomes liberated from transmigration.-Tr.] kurvan, by performing; karma, actions; kevalam, merely; sariram, for the purpose of maintaining the body-without the idea of agenship even with regard to these (actions). Further, in the expression, ‘kevalam sariram karma’, do the words sariram karma mean ‘actions done by the body’ or ‘actions merely for the purpose of maintaining the body? Again, what does it matter if by (the words) sariram karma is meant ‘actions done by the body’ or ‘actions merely for the purpose of maintaning the body? The answer is: If by sariram karma is meant actions done by the body, then it will amount to a contradiction [Contradiction of the scriptures.] when the Lord says, ‘one does not incur sin by doing with his body any action meant for seen or unseen purposes, even though it be prohibited.’ Even if the Lord were to say that ‘one does not incur sin by doing with his body some scripturally sanctioned action intended to secure a seen or an unseen end’, then there arises the contingency of His denying something (some evil) that has not come into being! (Further,) from the specification, sariram karma kurvan (by doing actions with the body), and from the use of the word kevala (only), it will amount to saying that one incurs sin by performing actions, called righteous and unrighteous, which can be accomplished with the mind and speech and which come within the purview of injunction and prohibition. Even there, the statement that one incurs sin by performing enjoined actions through the mind and speech will involve a contradiction; even in the case of doing what is prohibited, it will amount to a mere purposeless restatement of a known fact. On the other hand, when the sense conveyed by sariram karma is taken as acctions merely for the purpose of maintaining the body, then the implication will be that he does not do any other work as can be accomplished physically, orally, or mentally, which are known from injunctions and prohibitions (of the scriptures) and which have in view seen or unseen results; while he appears to people to be working with those very body (speech) etc. merely for the purpose of maintaining the body, yet he does not incur sin by merely making movements of the body etc., because from the use of the word kevala, (merely) it follows that he is devoid of the sense of agentship implicit in the idea, ‘I do.’ Since there is no possibility of a person who has reached such a state incurring evil as suggest by the word sin, therefore he does not become subject to the evil of transmigration. That is to say, he certainly becomes free without any obstacle since he has all his actions burnt away by the fire of wisdom. This verse is only a reiteration of the result of full illumination stated earlier. It becomes faultless by accepting the interpretation of sariram karma thus. In the case of the monk who has renounced all possessions, since owning food etc. meant for the bare sustenance of the body is absent, therefore it becomes imperative to beg for alms etc. for the upkeep of the body. Under this circumstance, by way of pointing out the means of obtaining food etc. for the maintenance of the body of a monk as permitted by the text, ‘What comes unasked for, without forethought and spontaneously…’ [Unasked for: what comes before the monk gets ready for going out for alms; without forethought: alms that are not given with abuses, and have not fallen on the ground, but collected from five or seven houses without any plan; spontaneously: alms brought to one spontaneously by devoted people.] (Bo. Sm. 21. 8. 12) etc., the Lord says:

Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:

4.21 Tyaktva etc. Nirasih etc. Even though he sets upon : Even though he is directly exerting in. Bodily action : the action which is in the form of activity of the organs for simply maintaining the body, and which is not coloured (desired) so much by the mind and intellect.

Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:

nirasir yata-cittatma
sariram kevalam karma
kurvan napnoti kilbisam

Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:

nirasih — without desire for the result; yata — controlled; citta-atma — mind and intelligence; tyakta — giving up; sarva — all; parigrahah — sense of proprietorship over possessions; sariram — in keeping body and soul together; kevalam — only; karma — work; kurvan — doing; na — never; apnoti — does acquire; kilbisam — sinful reactions.