The concept of Karm, Akarm, Vikarm and Nishkaam Karm || Acharya Prashant, on Bhagavad Gita (2020)

Acharya Prashant
6 min readApr 1, 2024

Questioner (Q): What is the exact meaning of ’Gahna Karmo Gati’? There are a lot of sayings about that.

Acharya Prashant (AP): You’ll have to quote the entire shloka (verse); then you’ll understand. Actually, these three words, ‘Gahna Karmo Gati’, have been quoted so variously and so frequently, even by the government of India, that they have lost all perspective. Therefore, you’ll have to go back to Chapter 3 and 4 and look at the entire verse, and then you will know that the way these three words are used frequently, is not the way the shloka intends them to mean.

Q: And in the same chapter Lord Krishna has talked about Karma, Akarma and Vikarma.

AP: In fact, ’Gahna Karmo Gati’ is related to this, this only: Karma, Akarma, and Vikarma.

Karma is when you make a choice in acting. Akarma is when there is no choice available. No choice might be available for two reasons. One, the action might be totally involuntary, prakritik, or because you are so inattentive that stuff is happening without your consent or notice — that is Akarma. So, there is no doership involved there. There is no real choice involved there. Complete conditioning is at play — that is Akarma. So, the fundamental distinction is, first of all, between Karma and Akarma. Karma is when there is an agency making a choice. Akarma is when there is no agency at all making a choice.

Right now, you are nodding your head. Most probably it is Akarma, because you are not making a conscious choice to nod your head. Similarly, the beating of the heart — that is pure Akarma. That is pure Akarma. But the nodding of the head need not be Akarma, yet is Akarma, because it’s happening just on its own in a most conditioned way. So, that’s the distinction between Akarma and Karma.

Now, you come to Karma. Karma has been broadly divided into three categories: Sakaam Karma, Nishkaam Karma, and then there is a very special category called Vikarma.

Nishkaam Karma is when you work directly for the sake of Liberation. “I’m working directly to attain liberation. I do not like my bondages, and I’m in a hurry. I love freedom so much that I cannot wait for it. So, I’m not