Bhagavad Gita, Chapter Three
“The Yoga of Action”
Verses 1 to 3
Arjuna is rattled at this apparent contradiction of Krishna’s and addresses him as Agitator of Men, and in the same breath tries to mend his own agitation with a compliment calling him Handsome Haired One! Clever boy. But his question is a good one, for in chapter two, verses 38 and 39, Krishna extolls buddhi*, which we have mostly read as ‘knowledge’ or ‘wisdom’, yet He urges Arjuna to act. Arjuna is still confused about all this, so with his next breath he says to Krishna, Just tell me what to do!
If you consider knowledge to be superior to action, O Agitator of Men, why do you urge me to terrible action, O Handsome Haired One?
With speech that seems equivocal you confuse my mind. This one thing tell me for certain: By which shall I attain the highest good.
* Buddhi is the ability to form and retain concepts, ideas, etc. It translates as knowledge, wisdom, intellect, reason, discernment, discrimination, judgement, mind, opinion, perception, thought, belief, and so on, depending upon its usage in the text.
The Blessed Lord spoke:
In this world there are two paths taught previously by me, Blameless One: the Knowledge Yoga of the followers of Sankhya*, and the Karma Yoga of the Yogis.
* Sankhya means 'taking into account all that can be known'. Sankhya is one of the divisions of Hindu philosophy. The followers of Sankhya are said to be knowledge-oriented.
“Blameless One” Oh, good. Krishna has exonerated Arjuna’s angst, so we too, can relax.
Krishna previously addressed Knowledge Yoga and Action Yoga in chapter two, but by attempting to discover which is better, it appears that Arjuna has not understood that both are valid paths to the same end. It is not a question of one being better than the other, but that Arjuna’s personal orientation is best suited to Action Yoga.
“The Knowledge Yoga of the followers of Sankhya”
The word for knowledge, jñāna ( ज्ञान ), refers to ‘knowing’, not just knowing by learning from an external source, but the knowing that is gained through meditation. In meditation, one comes to ‘know’ without the aid of the senses and the mind, and though one might not be able to prove the veracity of what gets ‘known’ to anyone else, it is proved to the meditator with certainty. This kind of knowledge is very different from the knowledge gained through conventional sources. It is in this sense that followers of Sankhya refer to Knowledge Yoga, knowledge (jnana) gained through union (yoga).
“The Action Yoga of the Yogis”
The word for action is karma ( कर्म ). Karma and yoga are practically synonymous terms, for one cannot have yoga (union) without action—the action of uniting one thing with another. Where the follower of Knowledge Yoga has knowledge as his focus, a yogi’s focus is on the action that delivers it.
Beyond this enlightenment, the yogi also seeks liberation from rebirth, which can only be attained when both the credits and debts of previous actions are settled. To this end, the yogi seeks the realization of non-doership and considers all actions as not his own.
It is generally taught that there are three paths—Knowledge, Action and Devotion. These three are said to reflect the different natures of people and their personal orientations: mentally-oriented, action-oriented, and feeling-oriented. So why are only Knowledge and Action mentioned in this verse?
Devotion, or bhakti, is necessary for Knowledge Yoga and Action Yoga to be effective, so it is automatically included in both. Some take the path of Devotion solely, believing that it alone is sufficient. It is conceivable that Devotion is enough, for when practiced comprehensively it will inevitably lead one to knowledge and action as well, as these two are inevitable for the serious seeker.
Knowledge Yoga – Jnana Yoga
Karma Yoga – Action Yoga
Bhakti Yoga – Devotional Yoga
Self-reference: To which are you most inclined? Throughout your day, whenever you think of it, see if you can determine which motivates your own actions the most. Are you mostly knowledge oriented, action oriented, of feeling oriented? Which one appeals to you, inspires you, and motivates you the most? Which is strongest for you?
Ultimately, whatever one’s personal orientation, after a time, sadhana (spiritual practices) will lead to all three, and one will be no stronger or weaker than the other.
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