Bhagavad Gita- Chapter 3 (Part 1) Karma Yogah- Yoga of Action


This Chapter analyses from various points of view and  establishes that the performance  of prescribed duties is obligatory for everyone. Here Lord Krishna  categorically and comprehensively explains how it is the duty of each and every  member of society to carry out their functions and responsibilities in their  respective stage of life according to the rules and regulations of the society  in which one lives. Further the Lord explains why such duties must be performed, what benefit is gained  by performing them, what harm is caused by not performing them, what actions  lead to bondage and what actions lead to salvation. All these points relating  to duty have been described in great detail. Hence this chapter is entitled  “Karma Yogah: Yoga Of Action”.

In the previous Chapter Bhagavan advised that Arjuna's  duty was to work without pre-occupying himself with its result and at the same  time suggested that he should not be attached to inaction. He concluded His  advice with the advocacy of the path of attaining the state of steady wisdom  and Brahmi state by knowledge and renunciation.

Arjuna feels confused by the Lord’s praise of  righteous war (2.31-38) and the Buddhi Yoga i.e. equanimity of mind (2.49 &  50) as also about the man of steady wisdom in conclusion. These apparently  conflicting views seem to have perplexed Arjuna as to which path he has to  adopt for his self-development i.e. whether it is knowledge or action or either  together or total renunciation of both. The advice of The Lord here is that  selfless action performed in a spirit of dedication and surrender and with pure  motive is the right path.

The Text


arjuna uvaacha

jyaayasee chet karmanaste mataa buddhir janaardana

tat kim karmani ghore maam niyojayasi keshava  // 3.1 //

Arjuna  said

If you think that knowledge is superior to action, O  Janardana, why then do you ask me to engage in this terrible action, O Kesava?

vyaamishreneva vaakyena  buddhim mohayaseeva me
    tadekam vada nishchitya  yena shreyo'ham aapnuyaam  // 3.2 //

With  these apparently perplexing words you confuse my understanding, as it were;  therefore, tell me definitely that one thing by which I may attain the Highest  Goal.

Arjuna  misunderstands the teaching that work for reward is less excellent than work  without attachment and desire and believes that Sri Krishna is of the view that  knowledge without action is better than work. If Sankhya method of gaining  wisdom is superior, then action is an irrelevance. In this confusion he asks  Sri Krishna as to which of the paths he has to follow for his self-development  since he still believed that to fight against his people was a terrible action.  Hence, Arjuna requests Sri Krishna to teach him for certain either of the two –  knowledge or action - in accordance with the state and power of his  understanding by which he could attain the highest good i.e. complete  eradication of grief and infatuation and attainment of that imperishable.

The  confusion is only seeming. It is not the intention of the Lord to confuse  Arjuna but yet Arjuna is confused.


sri bhagavaan uvaacha
    loke'smin dwividha nishthaa puraa  proktaa mayaanagha
    jnaanayogena saankhyaanaam karmayogena  yoginaam  // 3.3 //

Sri  Bhagavan said

In this world there is a two-fold path, as I said  before, O blameless One (Arjuna), the path of knowledge for men of  contemplation and the path of work for men of action.

The words ’As I said before’ indicate the beginning  of the created world. Even at the very beginning of the cycle of time, two  classes of people, those with contemplative and those with active temperaments,  were in existence.

Those of contemplative mind are born with a clear  knowledge of the Self and the non-Self. They easily renounce the world even at  the early age of their lives and concentrate their thoughts on Brahman always.  For them the path of knowledge is prescribed so that their ideas can mature and  blend with Brahman.

The understanding of those who believe in external  action as a means of self-unfoldment is still colored by the stain of duality.  The performance of unselfish action purifies their souls and enables them to  practice knowledge and contemplation.

The path of knowledge (Gnana Yoga) was described by  The Lord in verses 11-38 and the path of action (Karma Yoga) in verses 40-53 of  the Second Chapter which created confusion in the mind of Arjuna although never  intended by The Lord.

To consider the path of action and the path of  knowledge as competitive is to understand neither of them, they being  complementary. Selfless activity enables the mind to exhaust many of its  existing mental impressions and the mind thus purified prepares the one for the  reception of knowledge of the Absolute through meditation or contemplation. There  cannot be any knowledge of Brahman unless the mind is pure.

The Lord distinguishes two main types of seekers  viz., the active and the contemplative. Because temperamentally these two  categories are so wide apart that a common technique for spiritual development  cannot yield results. So Sri Krishna explains the two-fold path of  Self-development. Viz. Path of knowledge for the introverts whose natural  tendency is to explore the inner life of the Spirit and the Path of action for  the extroverts who have a natural bias for work in the outer world.

Those who are endowed with discrimination,  dispassion, six-fold virtues, and longing for liberation and who have a sharp,  subtle intellect and bold understanding are fit for Gnana Yoga or the Path of  Knowledge. The six-fold virtues are control of the mind, control of the senses,  fortitude, turning away from the objects of the world; faith and tranquility.  Those who have tendency for work are fit for  Karma Yoga or the Path of Action.

But this distinction cannot be the ultimate because  all men are in different degrees both introverts and extroverts. For the Gita,  the path of action is a means of liberation as efficient as that of knowledge  and these are intended for two types of people. The practice of a particular  spiritual discipline is determined by the competence of the aspirant. Both the  active and the contemplative have one goal viz. the realization of Brahman. The  path of action, however, does not directly lead to the realization.

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