Chapter three establishes the fact by various points of view 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. Plus what actions lead to bondage and what actions lead to salvation. All these points relating to duty have been described in great detail. Thus this chapter is entitled: The Eternal Duties of Human Beings.
jyayasi cet karmanas te
mata buddhir janardana
tat kim karmani ghore mam
Arjuna said – If you think that knowledge is superior to action, O Janardhana (Krishna), why then do You make me do a dreadful deed, O Kesava (Krishna)?
Although jnana yoga and karma-yoga have been explained in detail, the relationship between the two has not been established as to which is superior and which is subordinate. Here in this verse Arjuna is thinking that he was blamed earlier in chapter two, verse 11 for lamenting for those who should not be grieved for. He was subsequently tutored in jnana yoga, the path of knowledge to alleviate this error. Now Lord Krishna is presenting a way to alleviate this error from the point of view of karma yoga, the path of actions without attachment. In chapter two, verse thirty-nine he is told he has the right to perform actions but not to desire the fruit of action. In chapter two, verse forty-seven and forty-eight he is instructed not to be attached to inaction and perform duties with equanimity, respectively. Then in chapter two, verse fifty-three he is told how the mind becomes in this state. Then from verse fifty-five until the end of the chapter two Lord Krishna gives the proofs to show the superiority of the cultivation of spiritual knowledge which leads to the ultimate truth in the last verse of this chapter where once one having attained even at a second before death attains liberation from the material existence. But in spite of these instructions Arjuna was still being instructed to arise and fight. These seemingly contradictory instructions caused some confusion in Arjuna mind that he was anxious to have the omniscient and omnipotent supreme Lord Krishna dispel.
buddhim mohayasiva me
tad ekam vada niscitya
yena sreyo ‘ham apnuyam
You seem to confuse me with contradicting statements. Tell me for certain which will fetch me the highest good.
Due to the praising of both jnana yoga and karma yoga in a seemingly equal manner some conflict arises in Arjuna’s mind and he became confused. Although Arjuna was bewildered he could still understand that Lord Krishna valued the cultivation of spiritual knowledge as being superior to activities without attachment and he could also understand that if Lord Krishna was ordering him to fight this must be also for his betterment as well, The Lord did not specify which path Arjuna was qualified for as yet and thus Arjuna was in a dilemma and needed a clear, definitive instruction that would end his confusion. Arjuna is humbly requesting this with the underlying request that the most merciful and compassionate Supreme Lord should not bewilder the mind of one who is His surrendered devotee. Arjuna requests Lord Krishna to tell him decisively, one principle either of action or of knowledge, by which he may attain the highest good or bliss.
Every day in our life, we are offered multiple choices to solve an issue or do something new. Where we reach in our life is based on the choices we make and to make the right choice clarity of thoughts arising out of knowledge and wisdom is a must. Here the Lord is guiding us towards that eternal wisdom.
loke ‘smin dvi-vidha nistha
pura prokta mayanagha
The Blessed Lord said: O sinless Arjuna, I have already explained that there are two classes of men who realize the Self. Some are inclined to understand Him by empirical, philosophical speculation, and others are inclined to know Him by devotional work.
Lord Krishna’s reply begins with O sinless one inferring that Arjuna is fit to be instructed. Lord Krishna states that in this world these are the two paths aspirants can take which lead to moksha or liberation. But they both depend upon qualification as jnana yoga is suitable for one type of human being and karma yoga is suitable for another type. What has been presented in the previous chapter was from the point of view of jnana yoga.
na karmanam anarambhan
naiskarmyam puruso ‘snute
na ca sannyasanad eva
Not by merely abstaining from work can one achieve freedom from reaction, nor by renunciation alone can one attain perfection.
It has been established that activities prescribed in the Vedic scriptures performed without anticipation of rewards are conducive for spiritual development. Without this inner consciousness one is not qualified for jnana yoga or the cultivation of spiritual knowledge. Many may wish for moksha or liberation and attempt to renounce the world prematurely but they do not reach perfection only by such renunciation. So it should be understood that without purity of mind and adequate spiritual knowledge a person even though appearing to be a renunciate actually has not properly qualified themselves for jnana yoga in spite of appearances.
The Gita teaches a man, how to attain spiritual perfection by performing one’s duty. It inspires him to perform actions, rather than to renounce them. So the Lord lays emphasis, on performing actions, in both the Disciplines of Action and Knowledge. It is natural that when a seeker aims at salvation, he gets tired of the worldly affairs and wants to renounce those affairs. Lord guides him to renounce his attachment to them instead of renouncing the performance of actions.
na hi kascit ksanam api
jatu tisthaty akarma-krt
karyate hy avasah karma
sarvah prakrti-jair gunaih
For, no one under any circumstances can remain even for a moment, without undertaking action; everyone is compelled to act, by the modes born of nature.
The renunciation of actions factually means not being attached to them. It does not mean actually giving them up, as that is impossible. If one should steadfastly determine to perform absolutely nothing, still one would be compelled into action by the qualities of the three gunas being sattva or goodness, rajas or passion and tamas or ignorance, all from prakriti, material nature. The effects of these have sprung into existence from one’s past life activities.
Generally, people regard their professions, such as business, service, teaching or nursing children etc., as actions, but they do not consider eating, drinking, sleeping, waking and thinking etc., as actions. So, when they renounce their profession, they think that they are not performing actions. But it is a serious error on their part. All the activities performed by the physical body, for the purpose of earning a living, actions performed by the subtle body like sleeping and thinking and in trance, performed by the causal body, are all regarded as actions. So long as, a man has ego and sense of ‘mineness’ with the body, the activities performed by body are actions as the body is part of nature and nature is never inactive. So, a person having egoism and attachment to the body cannot remain without performing action, in either of the states, either of activity or inactivity.