In the preceding chapter, Sri Krishna expressed his deep appreciation for the path of knowledge, but at the same time, told Arjuna of the great necessity of action. This throws Arjuna into a sea of confusion. His mind was overcast with heavy clouds, and he pined for true enlightenment. And so he asked Sri Krishna, If you consider knowledge superior to action, why urge me to do this dreadful action?
Sri Krishna says, Two paths, Arjuna, are there, as I have already told you – the path of knowledge and the path of action. Through the divine art of contemplation, the aspirant follows the path of knowledge. Through the dynamic urge of selfless work, the seeker follows the path of action.
Arjuna wants freedom from action, which Sri Krishna says is nothing short of impossibility. Krishna explains, Not by abstention from work does a man attain freedom from action; nor by mere renunciation does he attain to his perfection. No one can remain even for a moment without doing work; every one is made to act helplessly by the impulses born of nature. Action is done not only by the body, but also in the body by the mind. Action binds us only when we bind action with our likes and dislikes. But he who controls the senses by the mind, O Arjuna, and without attachment engages the organs of action in the path of work, he is superior and attains the highest. But if, in action, sacrifice looms large, or if action is done in a spirit of sacrifice, then action is liberation i.e. freedom from all attachment. Man is the result of a divine sacrifice. The Supreme Being wanted sacrifice from both human beings and the gods for their reciprocal benefit. A man of true satisfaction is a man of consecrated offering. Sin can stand nowhere near him. The existence of humanity as a whole demands attention first; the individual existence next.
Sri Krishna sites the example of Janaka to Arjuna. (Janaka was the king of Mithila and the father of Sita, the wife of Rama.) Sri Krishna disclosed to Arjuna the secret of Janak’s attainment to self-realisation and salvation. Janaka acted with detachment. He acted for the sake of humanity. Indeed, this is the path of the noble. Sri Krishna wanted Arjuna to tread this path, so that the world would follow him. Whatever a great man does, the same is done by others as well. Whatever standard he sets, the world follows. In order to further convince Arjuna, Krishna gave the example of Himself: Nothing have I to do in the three worlds, nor is there anything worth attaining, unattained by me; yet do I perpetually work, I ever have my existence in action. If I do not work, the worlds will perish.
Sri Krishna wanted Arjuna to be freed from the fetters of ignorance. The only way Arjuna could do it was to act without attachment. Sri Krishna revealed to Arjuna: Dedicate all action to Me, with your mind fixed on Me, the Self in all. Those men, too, who, full of faith and free from cavil, constantly follow this teaching of Mine are released from the bondage of works. (3.30-31)
Sri Krishna also explains to Arjuna about one’s nature and one’s duties. All beings must follow their nature. One must know what one’s duty is. Once duty is known, it is to be performed to the last. Regarding one’s individual duty Sri Krishna say’s: Better always one’s own duty, be it ever so humble, than that of another, however tempting. Even death brings in blessedness itself in the performance of one’s own duty; doomed to peril will he be if he performs the duty enjoined on another. (3.35)
Arjuna asks Sri Krishna, Impelled by what, O Krishna, does a man commit sin despite himself? (3.36)
Sri Krishna answers, desire and anger – these are the hostile enemies of man. (3.37)
Sri Chinmoy explains:
Desire is insatiable. Once desire is born, it knows not how to die. Desire unfulfilled gives birth to anger. Anger is the mad elephant in man.
Desire satisfied, life grows into a bed of thorns. Desire conquered, life grows into a bed of roses. Desire transformed into aspiration, life flies into the highest liberation, life dines with the supreme salvation.
Chapter 3: Karma-Yoga or the Method of Work
The Blessed Lord said:
0 blameless One,
in this world a twofold way of life has been taught of yore by Me,
the path of knowledge for men of contemplation
and that of works for men of action.
Not by abstention from work does a man attain freedom from action;
nor by mere renunciation does he attain to his perfection.
For no one can remain even for a moment without doing work;
every one is made to act helplessly
by the impulses born of nature.
But he who controls the senses by the mind,
0 Arjuna, and without attachment
engages the organs of action in the path of work,
he is superior.
The Bhagavad Gita
(This translation is taken from ‘A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy’ Edited by S. Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore. 1957 Princeton University Press) (excerpt)