Saturday, September 25, 2010

Gita-Chapter 3: Karma Yoga

So far Shri Krishna vehemently argued against Arjuna's decision not to fight but to renounce the glory of success and retire to the quietude of the jungle to live there the life of a monk seeking the Divine. In his arguments, at one moment, the Lord advised that Arjuna's duty was to work without getting himself preoccupied with its result. Krishna had also warned him, 'LET NOT THY ATTACHMENT BE TOWARD INACTION." Later on, the chapter concluded (II-55 to 72) with the inspired advocacy of the Path of Knowledge. Naturally, like any sincere student, Arjuna felt confused as to which of the paths he was to follow for his self-development.

The Vedantic philosophy of India is taught to the student during an intimate and free discussion between the teacher and the taught. In no other religion in the world do we find so much freedom allowed to the disciple --- to ask freely and openly, to contradict and to argue with his teachers.

Vedanta being a complete and exhaustive Science of Religion, the great Rishis never by-passed the intellect of their disciples by appealing to their blind faith or insisting upon their abject devotion. The Masters of Old encouraged doubts and invited discussions. It is during these discussions that the student wrestled with the teacher in the arena of the intellect, and in this exercise he became spiritually stronger and perfectly agile in all the other layers of his personality. This Upanishadic style has been beautifully preserved and artistically employed by the great poet-Philosopher Vyasa, in his Gita.

Any student, sincerely following up the second chapter with an irresistible appetite to live and enjoy the perfections pointed out, must necessarily entertain such a doubt as Arjuna expresses at the opening of this chapter. In fact, the arguments raised by Krishna in his discourse create in us a grave doubt as to what exactly is that path which will take a seeker easily to the realisation of the Absolute in Him. Is it: (a) Knowledge, or (b) Action, or (c) both together practised in a synthesis, or lastly, (d) is it through a total renunciation of both? Such a doubt can come, as I have already said, only to a seeker who has the enthusiasm to live the life indicated earlier. According to Shankara, action and renunciation are advised in the Vedas, for a seeker to pursue SERIALLY. Ordinarily, no doubt, no living creature endowed with a mind and intellect can remain, even for a moment of his wakeful conscious existence, without doing some work or the other. Cessation of all activities is the signature of death upon insentient matter. Therefore, act we must, from birth to death.

Instinctively, in our inborn ignorance, we act, motivated by our ego and ego-centric desires. An uncultivated man acts, thoughtlessly, propelled by his own wrong tendencies, ordering for himself ever a new lease of sorrowful existence. Entertaining these sensuous desires, he acts in the world seeking joy and earning for himself fleeting happiness, endless sorrows and inexhaustible mental impressions (vasanas). These vasanas invite new fields for exhaustion through their free expressions in action.

Naturally, the way out from this non-stop vicious circle of ego-motivated action which creates vasanas (and they demand more fields to exhaust themselves, wherein the individual again fattens his ego and comes to entertain fresh sets of desires) is the Path of Right Action. God-dedicated selfless actions performed in a spirit of devotion and self-surrender exhaust the existing vasanas and do not create, of their own accord, any more fresh tragic impressions, which in their turn would order fresh fields of activities.

In the limited concept of life in the Vedic period, work (Karma) meant only the ritualistic sacrifices. These activities, pursued for a sufficiently long period of time, purified the heart; meaning, integrated the personality and brought about a single-pointedness of mind in the individual. It is obvious that such a conditioned and steadied mind alone could successfully apply itself on the Path of Self-enquiry, and come to rediscover the Self, the Divine Soul.

The Gita was written as an answer to an urgent demand in the time of Vyasa. The old traditional thoughts became stereotyped and lifeless. Dead phrases and cliches cannot nourish a culture. Thus, through the Gita, Krishna is made to give out a reinterpretation of the Vedic Truths in the context of His time, and in the language of the world in which He Himself happened to live. Arjuna, a warrior in the battlefield, is facing an army which is championing a cause, at once immoral and foul. At this moment, for his spiritual evolution --- which no doubt has been fully accepted as the goal of existence --- it is not possible for him to indulge in ritualism, unless he deserts his post of duty.

If ritualism alone was the Path, all people, at all times, would never be able to employ themselves for the Highest Goal of life. In the Gita, therefore, we have an expansion of the idea indicated in the Vedas. Krishna, in His Divine declaration, gives the sanction that ANY ACTION can be a glorious "sacrifice," if only it is undertaken with the required purity of motive, with a spirit of surrender, and with the deep emotion of love.

Apart from the glory of the Gita, as a book of original contribution inaugurating a development upon the Vedic technique, this chapter, with its opening query from Arjuna, vividly pictures his psychological confusion. We have noticed the psychosis into which Arjuna had sunk. Defining a patient of psychosis, modern psychology says: "The psychotic person loses his contact with reality. He may live in a dream-world, perhaps unaware of his identity or surroundings, or he may be unable to control his behaviour. He may have fantastic ideas (delusions); he may misinterpret what he sees or hears (illusions); he may see, hear, feel, taste or smell things that are not there (hallucinations)."

Even though the patient, Arjuna, a victim of his own delusions, illusions and hallucinations, had completely surrendered to the Divine Wisdom of his friend, Lord Krishna, the words of his Charioteer were not fully appreciated by him, all at once. His mind was so much overwhelmed by sorrow that he could not decide upon the right line of action. He had, at first, resolved not to fight the mean fratricidal war and had vigorously marshalled a set of seemingly impressive arguments in support of his decision. Therefore, Arjuna is still, and naturally too, partial to his own decision. All through the second chapter, Arjuna's intellect was trying to follow closely, the arguments of Krishna, mainly to find fault with them, if he could, or at least to seek in them some support for his own decisions.

Krishna's arguments seemed, to the pre-occupied intellect of his friend, equivocal and vague. To Arjuna, in his consummate prejudice against everything that came as a challenge to his own decisions, Krishna's discourse was not clear. At one place the Lord indicated that Karma was inferior to Buddhi; but in the same discourse in its conclusion there was a vehement support of the Path of Renunciation!

Arjuna was all the time seeking a confirmation that his cowardice was a noble emotion to be applauded and appreciated, commended and supported, by his friend and philosopher, Krishna. But unfortunately, he could not discover in the Lord's words any direct declaration supporting his own viewpoint. But, there was, however, some indirect circumstantial evidence indicating that Arjuna's decision to desert his post of duty was noble and glorious! Did not the Lord elaborate upon the glory of the Man-of-Steady-Wisdom? Arjuna means to say, "This is exactly what I wanted." But at the same time, in the same discourse, Arjuna had been pushed to the front, commissioning him to face the enemies, to take up arms and fight the bloody war. Under these circumstances, it is but natural that Arjuna should confront his Charioteer with this direct question as to why He confuses him with self-contradictory advice.


  1. Thank you for this lucid interpretation of this somewhat puzzling text.

  2. Thank you for giving me a new insight into Vedantic philosophy of India. I found it very interesting that open debate and discussion was encourage rather than frowned upon. To be open to doubt is an important part of any seekers path. To be able to discuss, debate, question and resolve doubt is part of the challenge of the journey itself.

    Thank you for such and interesting post.


  3. @ nothingprofound...hope,you were able to understand the interpretation of this great text. This text has very deep meanings, and needs to be read again and again.. in order to understand it completely

    @Nick.. I am glad you liked the post. Gita contains the entire vedantic philosophy. Hence I am giving the concise interpretation of the chapters, instead of the whole book. Please visit again, to learn about the teachings of the next chapters :)