Reflections on the Bhagwat-Geeta – Chapter III


Chapter II of the Bhagwat Geeta ends with the discussion on Stable Buddhi and the behavior of people who achieve it. This is the largest section of Chapter II and follows Section 4 on Karma-Yog.

Unfortunately, it sounds a little confusing because it is not clear from Chapter II whether achievement of Stable Buddhi is more important or whether the need for Action without desire is more important.

This is what Arjun feels and so he asks Shree Krishna at the beginning of Chapter III:

  • Verse 1 – If you think Stable Buddhi is more important than Action, then O Keshav, why do you ask to me participate in this (कर्मणि घोरे) terrible Action (of War)?

Arjun follows up with a direct question:

  • Verse 2 – My Buddhi is confused with this dual mandate. So please give me one clear instruction (तद एकं वद निश्चित्य) with which I will obtain fulfillment (येन श्रेय अहम् आप्नुयाम).

The answer of Shree Krishna takes both Chapter III & Chapter IV. 

Shree Krishna begins by saying that earlier (in Chapter II), “I told you about the Dnyaan-Yog of the Sankhya Doctrine and Karma-Yog of the Yogi”. He elaborates in the next couple of verses that everyone is required to perform their duties. Then he renders his judgment that कर्मयोग असक्तः स विशिष्यते or “one who performs Karma-Yog without attachment is special”.

This theme is discussed in more detail with examples like that of the Great King Janak who achieved the Brahmee State (see last verse of Chapter II, Section 5 ) or Siddhi. Then in Verse 22, Shree Krishna gives his own example:

  • Verse 22 – O Son of Prutha, there is nothing in all the three worlds that I need to achieve or obtain, yet I perform my Actions (वर्त एव च कर्मणि)  .

Shree Krishna uses his own example to explain how the Stable Buddhi Achiever should provide an example to society by demonstrating the performance of Action without desire. Such Action does not attach itself to the performer of the Action.

Then Shree Krishna provides a direct, unequivocal instruction to Arjun in Verse 30:

            मयि सर्वाणि  कर्माणि संन्यस्त्य
            Mayi Sarvaani SamNyasya
            By Offering Unto Me all Actions

            अध्यात्म चेतसा निर-आशीर निर-ममो भूत्वा
            Adhyaatma Chetsaa Nir-Aasheer Nir-Mamo Bhutva
            By becoming of focused mind and without hope (or desire), without fondness

            युध्यस्व विगत ज्वरः
            Yudhyasva Vigat Jwarah
            Perform War without any (mental) affliction

It is important to notice in every Chapter and in virtually every Section, Shree Krishna exhorts Arjun to wage War. This is why there is no question in our mind that the ultimate goal of Shree Krishna was to remove the doubts from Arjun’s mind and make him ready to perform the Mahaa-Bhaarat war.

The next few verses elaborate on the difference between the people who perform Actions according to teachings and those who don’t. The most famous line of this Chapter comes next in Verse 35:

            स्व-धर्मे निधनं श्रेयः पर-धर्मो भयावहः
            Sva-Dharme Nidhanam Shreya Par-Dharmo Bhayavah 
            It is more fulfilling (better) to die performing one’s own Dharma
             (Succumbing to) Another’s Dharma is Frightening

The concept of Sva-Dharma has been interpreted in many ways through out history. The two most common are as below:

  1. One interpretation of Sva-Dharma is one’s own religion. In this context, this line has been interpreted to warn against conversion to another religion.  Many, many brave Indians have chosen death in this manner through out history rather than accept the orders of foreign invaders to convert to the foreign religion.
  2. Another interpretation of Sva-Dharma is one’s chosen path. This interpretation distinguishes between Dharma, the framework of Religion & Philosophy, and Sva-Dharma or one’s own chosen set of duties. The well known example of this interpretation is Chief Justice Ram-Shaastree Prabhune of the Maraathaa Empire. When he found Peshva or Prime Minister Madhav-Rao (a Braahman) spending an extraordinary amount of time in Pooja (as a Braahman should do), Ram-Shaastree used this Verse to instruct Madhav-Rao that his chosen Dharma as a Prime Minister was of a Warrior and that he should practice the Warrior’s Dharma rather than spend time in Pooja. Madhav-Rao accepted this instruction. From that day, all Pooja ceased in the Prime Minister’s official section.

This second interpretation clearly embodies the first as well. We tend to favor this second interpretation.

With this we conclude our discussion of Chapter III. The dialog between Shree Krishna & Arjun about Karma-Yog continues in Chapter IV. We shall take it up in the next article.

Thus Endeth Chapter III named Karma-Yog ( कर्म योग) of Shree Bhagwat Geeta, of the Upa-Nisad (उप-निसदत्सु) , of the Yog-Shaastra (योग शास्त्र) of Brahma-Vidyaa (ब्रह्म विद्या), of the dialog (संवाद) between Shree Krishna & Arjun.


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