III:1-3 Arjuna’s Angst

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!

Arjuna spoke:
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.

Three Paths

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.

Namaste (I bow to the Divine One that You really are),
Durga Ma

Get Chapter Two Complete
144 pages
Download it to your computer for $10

Shaktipat & Surrender Meditation — Put God in the driver’s seat. Let Shakti do all the work for you, and kundalini will awaken naturally and safely. Shaktipat Intensives.

Remote Shaktipat — Free distance shaktipat with weekly Roundtable.

PRACTICAL MEDITATION — This link will take you to nine progressive courses in authentic meditation for both beginning and experienced meditators. I have designed these courses to provide basic essentials for anyone on any path (or no path), and so that the meditation that is most natural and comfortable for you becomes apparent to you.

7 thoughts on “III:1-3 Arjuna’s Angst

  1. For some years I really did not know which of the three paths was my primary focus or interest or that which came most naturally to me. I was attracted to and dabbled in reading and studying scripture and also found devotion to come naturally especially in meditation. Action seemed less attractive, but still important, so there was a dilemma which I thought needed resolving. However, as I continued to meditate, infrequent as it was sometimes, it became clear that there was more and more devotion as surrender increased and there were more devotional experiences in meditation. In daily life as well as yog, deep contemplation on examples of what I considered to be “perfect” divine love, devotion and surrender such as St. Teresa of Avila had for Jesus, Rumi had for Shams of Tabriz, St. Seraphim of Serov for Jesus and others occurred more and more often and I realized that was where my heart and primary interest was and still is. Perfect surrender, perfect love is absolutely devoid of ego, its focus is ‘that’ and there is no separation. One (myself) melts at the very thought of such divinity! And so resolution happened naturally as I continued to meditate; I did not need to be concerned any longer. I trust that the longing I’ve had in my life to be more jnani-like and knowledge oriented will happen in God’s time and when this one is ready.

    Just a little more about how perfect love and surrender are for me: along with ‘feeling’ and experiencing the complete, total, absolute devotion and love of one (Teresa) for another (Jesus) and the absence of sense of self in any way evokes that in myself as well. And as I experienced that in myself I also noticed that that – divine love – is what I actually am. And “I am That” which Jesus uttered made some sense to me. And, really, there is a certain amount of ‘knowledge’ that comes with devotional experience, so what’s to worry about anyway? Love is all there is.


      1. Thank you so much, Durga Ma!
        What I forgot to mention is that another one whose divine love shines so clearly is that of Jnaneshwar! There is one difficulty I have and that is that while I get in his writing that he is both knowledge and devotion oriented and his outpouring of love is totally obvious, I cannot really understand his symbolism or metaphors and so I haven’t actually read all of the Janeshwari. It would be so splendid if you could teach that as well as all the other things you are doing. I know it is just a matter of my gleaning the meanings as my sadhana grows, yet it would be so nice to get it directly from you.
        Much love,


        1. Dear Ritam,

          The Jnaneshwari is a jewel, isn’t it? Anyone wanting to sink their teeth into the Bhagavad Gita would benefit from reading it. I think his expansion on the Gita shows him to also be a Karmi. I am trying to remember where it is that he talks about the transformation process. That is something that would be known to a karmi…a very advanced karmi. But I think by the time this becomes clear, one would already be past being stronger in one or the other of the three.

          Maybe we will have the opportunity to study the Jananeshwari together some day. I would like that very much. This is how one’s sadhana grows. Our ability to understand meanings grows with study, causing the sadhana to grow more quickly and giving us better understanding of what we study. It’s a nice cycle.

          I will not be doing any commenting on the Janeshwari, at least not for a very long time. I have been given my marching orders to complete the WHOLE Bhagavad Gita, and considering it took a year to do the first two chapters, it will be another eight years before I have finished, assuming I live that long. I am going to be putting more time into this and less time trying to figure out how to pay the rent, so send up a few prayers please.

          Durga Ma


          1. Dear Durga Ma,

            Love your wonderful reply! I am gleaning the truth of what you say that one’s sadhana grows with study and that understanding scripture grows from sadhana also. Reading your comments on the BhG. is helping me open up to deeper interpretations and that is reflected in my sadhana. Blessings! And thanks.

            I’m a bit sad to learn that you will not be able to teach the Jnaneshwari for a long time, but I understand completely that you will be putting more time into continuing work on the Gita. I’m guessing that if I read and study Jnaneshwari myself and have a specific question, you may be available to answer. However, I’m not quite ready to do that yet either.

            Thanks for taking the time to answer my comments, questions, etc.. All and every one is much appreciated.

            Love and pranams,

            Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s