Lord Krishn told Arjun that the knowledge he had discoursed upon was related to the Way of Knowledge. And what is that knowledge except that Arjun ought to fight? If he is a victor he will be rewarded with the most exalted state and, even in defeat, he will have a godly existence in heaven. There is everything in victory, including success, and godhood even in defeat. More or less, in either case there is some gain and absolutely no loss.
Lord Krishn then explained the same knowledge in relation to the Way of Selfless Action, by which Arjun could be completely free from the compulsions of action. He also indicated the characteristic features of the way and stressed the essential precautions that have to be observed in the course of such action. Arjun will be liberated from the fetters of action if he does not desire its fruits and engages in it selflessly, but without any weakening of his dedication to its performance. However, although ultimately there will be absolution, this way-the Way of Selfless Action-is one on which Arjun could not see the continuance of his own individual being.
So he thought the Way of Knowledge easier and more readily accessible than the Way of Selfless Action and wished to know why Sri Krishn was urging him, although he himself believed the Way of Knowledge to be superior to the Way of Selfless Action, to engage in such a dreadful act as killing his own kinsmen. It was a reasonable query. If we really have to go somewhere to which there are two ways, we shall surely try to find which one of the two is less hazardous. If we do not ask this question, we are not true way fares-not true seekers.
So Arjun asks to Lord Krishn:
“O Janardan, if you think knowledge superior to action,
why do you, O Keshav, ask me to engage in fearsome action?”
“Janardan” is one who is merciful to his people. So Arjun is hopeful that Sri Krishn will enlighten him on why he is prompting him to adopt the dreadful way. Arjun finds the way frightening because on this way he has only the right to act, but without entitlement at any time to the rewards of his action. There should also be no loss of dedication and, with constant submission and his eyes fixed on the way, he has to be incessantly engaged in the task.
Has not Lord Krishn promised him that following the Way of Knowledge, he will in the case of victory attain to the Supreme Spirit, whereas even in the event of defeat he will be privileged to lead a godly life?
Moreover, he has to proceed on the way only after a due evaluation of his assets and liabilities. So he finds knowledge easier than selfless action, and he begs of Sri Krishn:
“Since your complex words are so confusing to my mind,
kindly tell me the one way by which
I may attain to the state of blessedness.”
Sri Krishn had, in fact, set out to dispel Arjun’s irresolution, but his words have only added to his doubts. So he requests Lord Krishn to tell him unambiguously the one way by which he may achieve emancipation.
Lord Krishn then speaks to him:
“I told you before, O the sinless (Arjun),
two ways of spiritual discipline,
the Way of Knowledge for sages
and the Way of Selfless Action for men of action.”
“Before” here does not mean a bygone era (yug) like the Golden or Treta Age. It rather refers to the previous references in which Lord Krishn had spoken of the two ways, recommending the Way of Knowledge for men of wisdom and the Way of Selfless Action for those who are actively engaged in the task that will finally make them one with God. In both the ways, action has to be performed. So action is an essential.
Lord Krishn adds:
“Man neither attains to the final state of actionlessness
by desisting from work, nor does he achieve Godlike perfection
by just renunciation of work.”
There is no escape from action. A man cannot achieve the state of actionlessness by not commencing work, nor can he attain to the state of divine perfection by merely giving up an undertaken task. So, whether Arjun prefers, the Way of Knowledge or the Way of Selfless Action, he has to toil alike for each of them.
Usually, at this point, seekers on the way to God begin to look for shortcuts and escapes. We have to be on our guard against the common misconception that we become “selfless doers” just because we do not undertake any work. That is why Lord Krishn emphasizes the point that one does not achieve the state of actionlessness by just not beginning work.
The point where both good and evil deeds cease completely, where alone there is true “actionlessness,”can be reached only through action.
There are the misguided ones, on the other hand, who believe that they are unconcerned with action because they are men of intellect and discernment, and because there is no action as such on their chosen path. But they who renounce action under such an impression are not really men of wisdom. Just renunciation of an undertaken task cannot lead anyone to the attainment of realizing and becoming one with God.
Lord Krishn sings further:
“Since all men have doubtlessly sprung from nature,
no one can at any time live even for a moment without action.”
No man can ever even for a fraction of a second live without action because the three properties of matter born from nature compel him to act. As long as nature and its properties are, no man can be without action.
Lord Krishn teaches that all actions cease to be and dissolve into the most exalted knowledge: the knowledge obtained from meditation on the sublime truths which teach man to be aware of his own Self and how he may be reunited with the Supreme Spirit.
The fire of this knowledge annihilates all action.
What really the Yogeshwar means by this is that action ceases to be when yog has gone beyond the three properties of the material world, and when a clear outcome of the meditative process comes forth in the form of a direct perception of as well as dissolution of the Self in God? But before this completion of the ordained task, action does not end and we are not rid of it. We will see this in next coming verses.
“That deluded man is a dissembler
who apparently restrains his senses by violence
but whose mind continues to be preoccupied
with objects of their gratification.”
Such ignorant men who dwell upon sensual objects while restraining the senses outwardly by hath yog are false men and not men of wisdom at all.
It is evident that such practices were prevalent in the age of Lord Krishn, too. There were some who, instead of practicing what ought to be practiced just restrained their senses by unnatural means and claimed that they were wise and perfect. But according to Lord Krishn such people are cunning liars. Whether our preference is the Way of Discrimination or the Way of Selfless Action, work has to be undertaken for each of them.
Lord Krishn concludes:
“And, O Arjun, that man is meritorious who restrains his senses
with his mind and employs his organs of action
to do selfless work in a spirit of complete detachment.”
He is a superior man who exerts inner (rather than external) control over his senses, so that his mind is freed from passions, and who does his duty in a state of total desirelessness. Now, although we have known that work has to be done, the difficulty is that we do not yet understand the precise nature of this work. That is also Arjun’s problem and Sri Krishn now proceeds to resolve it.
“You ought to do your prescribed action as enjoined by scripture,
for doing work is better than not doing any,
and in the absence of it even the journey of your body may not be completed.”
Arjun is prompted to do prescribed action-the ordained task-which is distinct from all other kinds of work. Performance of this action is preferable to inaction, because if we do it and traverse even a small part of our way, it can rescue us from great fear of birth and death.
Performance of one’s spiritual duty – the ordained action- is, therefore, the better course. By not doing it we cannot even complete journey of our Soul through different bodies. This journey is usually interpreted as “sustenance of the physical body.” But what kind of sustenance is this? Are we a physical body?
This Soul, the embodied Self, that we know by the name of Purush-what else has he been doing except making his physical journey through endless lives?
When clothes are worn out, we change them and put on new ones. Just so, this whole world, from lowest creatures to most highly evolved, from Brahma to its most distant limits, is mutable.
Through births, low and high, this Soul has been making his physical journey since an unknown beginning. Action is something that completes this journey. If there is yet to be another birth, the journey is still incomplete. The seeker is still on his way, travelling through bodies. A journey is complete only when the destination is reached.
After being dissolved in God, Self does not have to travel any further through physical births. The chain of the Self’s rejection of old bodies and assumption of new ones is now broken. So action is something that frees the Self, the Purush, from the necessity of journeying through bodies.
Lord Krishn tells Arjun in Bhagavad Gita:
“By this action you shall be freed from the evil that binds the world.”
So action, as used in the Bhagavad Gita, is something that liberates from the bondage of world which is worshiping of God only.
~Revered Gurudev Swami Adgadanand Jee Paramhans~