Reflections Along The Way

Bhagavad Geeta: Chapter 2, Verses 39-44

In the previous verses, Sri Krishna has put forth different points of view (from a spiritual, ethical, and intellectual standpoint) for why Arjuna should do his duty and fight the war. He also explains with what attitude Arjuna should fight the war.

Even after all this knowledge given to Arjuna, it is not his experience yet. Arjuna would have thanked Sri Krishna and fought the war if this was his direct experience, but that is not the case. The second half of chapter 2 talks about the means for experiencing this knowledge through Karma yoga or buddhi yoga – what action to perform and with which attitude.

Karma yoga is termed buddhi yoga as karma (action) is performed with certain buddhi (attitude). The practice of karma yoga is the means for spiritual progress and knowledge. As suggested by Sri Krishna in verse 38 of chapter 2, being equanimous in all situations is the secret to achieving mental purity, and this is possible only when action is detached from the ego.

Chapter 2, Verse 39

एषा तेऽभिहिता साङ्ख्ये बुद्धिर्योगे त्विमांश्रुणु ।
बुद्ध्या युक्तो यया पार्थ कर्मबन्धं प्रहास्यसि ॥३९॥
eṣā te’bhihitā sāṅkhye buddhiryoge tvimāṁ śṛṇu,
buddhyā yukto yayā pārtha karmabandhaṁ prahāsyasi. (39)

This, which I have explained to you is wisdom concerning Sānkhya (analytical knowledge), regarding the nature of the Self. Now listen, O Parth (Arjuna), as I reveal the wisdom of Buddhi Yoga or the Yoga of Intellect. Understanding which, you will be freed from the bondage of action.

Action can create bondage. It gives rise to future embodiments. The change in attitude while acting makes the same action capable of destroying bondage. Krishna says to Arjuna that he has shared the knowledge of Self so far, and now he wants him to listen as he explains the means to experience this knowledge by practicing karma yoga.

When the means of knowledge is perfect, it becomes direct experience (aparoksha jñāna). Knowledge pending experience is called paroksha jñana. Shri Krishna realizes that Arjuna has paroksha jñāna as Arjuna’s mind is agitated. 

Impurity in mind is of two types –

  1. Agitation, restlessness, not able to focus, not alert
  2. Negative thoughts in the mind which destroy mental peace; kāma (desire), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), moha (delusion), Madha (pride), and mātsarya (jealousy).

When these kinds of impurity are there in the mind and intellect, knowledge cannot be an experience. And for that to happen, he needs to perfect his mind and intellect. The method of purifying the mind is karma yoga

Chapter 2, Verse 40

नेहाभिक्रमनाशोऽस्ति प्रत्यवायो न विद्यते ।
स्वल्पमप्यस्य धर्मस्य त्रायते महतो भयात् ॥४०॥
nehābhikramanāśo’sti pratyavāyo na vidyate,
svalpamapyasya dharmasya trāyate mahato bhayāt. (40)

Working in this state of consciousness, there is no loss of effort or harm of contrary results. Even a little practice (of karma yoga) saves one from great danger.

When we practice karma yoga, there is no loss of effort. That is because actions are performed with a sense of duty and not for selfish results. The merit that is accrued, is not spent on momentary satisfaction of fleeting sensual pleasures. So there is no loss of effort.

Since the action is performed egolessly without expectations, there is no ‘sufferer’ even if the act remains incomplete for some reason. So there is no harm of any contrary results. This practice saves us from a sense of limitedness one experiences with the pursuit of worldly pleasures. Even a little bit of practice of karma yoga brings about the purification of the mind/intellect.

Chapter 2, Verse 41

व्यवसायात्मिका बुद्धिरेकेह कुरुनन्दन ।
बहुशाखा ह्यनन्ताश्च बुद्धयोऽव्यवसायिनाम् ॥४१॥
vyavasāyātmikā buddhirekeha kurunandana,
bahuśākhā hyanantāśca buddhayo’vyavasāyinām. (41)

O descendent of the Kurus, the intellect of those who are on this path is determined with a single-pointed aim. But the intellect of those who are irresolute is many-branched.

The mind will not be carried away with desires when one is on this path of practicing karma yoga. There is complete focus on the work as there will not be an issue of mental turbulence. Duty as worship without expectations and acceptance of any result is karma yoga

When the attitude is that way, the mind is resolute and determined with a single-pointed focus on the goal. For those people who are not resolute, there are many pleasure-seeking thoughts like the many branches of a tree. These many thoughts agitate the mind making them fail in their endeavors.

Chapter 2, Verses 42, 43 and 44

यामिमां पुष्पितां वाचं प्रवदन्त्यविपश्चितः ।
वेदवादरताः पार्थ नान्यदस्तीति वादिनः ॥४२॥
yāmimāṁ puṣpitāṁ vācaṁ pravadantyavipaścitaḥ,
vedavādaratāḥ pārtha nānyadastīti vādinaḥ. (42)

Those with limited understanding, get attracted to the flowery words of the Vedas and presume no higher principle is described in them.

कामात्मानः स्वर्गपरा जन्मकर्मफलप्रदाम् ।
क्रियाविशेषबहुलां भोगैश्वर्यगतिं प्रति ॥४३॥
kāmātmānaḥ svargaparā janmakarmaphalapradām,
kriyāviśeṣabahulāṁ bhogaiśvaryagatiṁ prati. (43)

Full of desires for elevation to the celestial abodes, they glorify only those portions of the Vedas that please their senses and perform pompous ritualistic ceremonies for attaining high birth, opulence, sensual enjoyment, and elevation to the heavenly planets.

भोगैश्वर्यप्रसक्तानां तयापहृतचेतसाम् ।
व्यवसायात्मिका बुद्धिः समाधौ न विधीयते ॥४४॥
bhogaiśvaryaprasaktānāṁ tayāpahṛtacetasām,
vyavasāyātmikā buddhiḥ samādhau na vidhīyate. (44)

With their minds deeply attached to worldly pleasures and their intellects bewildered by such things, they are unable to possess the resolute determination for steady meditation and samādhi.

The people who have not found the true essence of Vedas are carried away by the results of the rituals which take them to higher abodes. Because of their attachment to worldly pleasures, their focus is occupied on those things and they are unable to have the determination to meditate and go beyond to experience Self-realisation. So they are stuck in the cycle of samsāraKarma yoga is possible only for people who realize the limitedness of living life selfishly.

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