The theme of the 2nd chapter is sāṅkhya-yoga. Sāṅkhya means the Upanishadic wisdom. It is to be imparted and imbibed with a keen intelligence by those who are engaged constantly in sublimating the mind and its functions. Sāṅkhya is so called because it is to be learnt repeatedly and well (samyak khyāyate), by constant reflection and rumination, by those who want to free themselves from the hold of kāma (desire and passion) and krodha (hate and enmity) and gain purity. Purity means redemption from kāma and krodha. Sāṅkhya has the singular effect of eliminating impurity and cultivating the excellence based on wisdom.
Sāṅkhya wisdom revolves around the pivotal concept of the Soul, the immortal content in the mortal body. This Soul creates the body by virtue of its own power. It is the same Soul that has similarly shaped the entire universe. In bringing about the illusion of transitoriness the Soul displays its own power, supremacy and imperishability. The mind given to the Sāṅkhya pursuit will inevitably become pure and stable. The intelligence too will likewise become resolute. The depth of vision, unassailability, sense of sufficiency and completeness – in short the sense of wholesome fulfilment – it brings to the seeker are exemplary. Sāṅkhya introspection is meant to eliminate all kinds of dvandva notions from the seeker. It rules out birth and death, and also frees one from the holds of sukha and duhkha. The Soul-reflection is the sole redress for all problems and afflictions of worldly life. The seeker taking to sāṅkhya pursuit very soon becomes a sthita-prajna, and then subsequently grows into a sthita-dhi, the model Knower described by Krishna.
The sthita-dhi does not resent or grumble about interactions with the world. In fact, his readiness and skill to take up any challenge in life becomes intensified by the sāṅkhya vision and depth. All constrictions of the common mind vanish in the sthita-dhi and the expanse and loftiness that fill him make him a totally different person – free, joyful and wise. Instead of feeling mentally tired or afflicted by activity, he feels enriched and enlightened by whatever comes his way. The world is a complement to the Soul, and interactions with it act as a beautiful ornament to the Knower.
Krishna’s enunciation, in a way, has concluded with the words “Eshā brāhmi sthitih pārtha (2.72)” (this is the expansional braahmic state, as different from the absorptional ātmic state). Normally the dialogue could have ended here and Arjuna would have proceeded to act on Krishna’s instructions. But Arjuna’s mind still yearned for clarity on a crucial point. He expresses his doubt and thus we enter the 3rd chapter of Bhagavadgitā:
तत्किं कर्मणि घोरे मां नियोजयसि केशव ।।
व्यामिश्रेणेव वाक्येन बुद्धिं मोहयसीव मे ।
तदेकं वद निश्चित्य येन श्रेयोऽहमाप्नुयाम् ।।
If sāṅkhya buddhi is considered by you as superior to karmayoga, why do you exhort me to do the most fierce act of fighting this war? By making seemingly contradictory propositions, you are as though confusing my mind. Tell me therefore precisely what I should do so that I may attain everlasting good.
Krishna has clearly explained that the Soul never dies, nor can it ever be killed. It is ever existing, present everywhere, unchanging, birthless and deathless. Where is then any scope for grief due to any one’s death? Armed with this wisdom about the Soul, Arjuna should proceed to do whatever he had resolved to do. The doubts and resistance of the buddhi and mind must have their resolution in the clarity that the Soul-wisdom bestows. “Tasmāt yudhyasva bhārata” (Therefore, do fight, O Bhārata!), exhorted Krishna again and again. For the buddhi, which was in doubt, Krishna revealed the body-different Soul and how to view one’s life in its light and for the mind, which often puts up its emotional resistance, he provides sufficient inspiration from various angles of vision.
But because of the strange delusion working in the mind of man, the Soul-concept does not become easily graspable. Doubts naturally arise.
Sāṅkhya buddhi is the one insight Krishna exposed and explained throughout the 2nd chapter. In sthita-prajnatā it gets actualized. Following sthita-prajnatā the sādhaka will rise to be a sthitadhi. The sthita-dhi can live and move about freely in the world, doing whatever necessary, enriching himself and the world by such interactions. But in between, there must be a clear spell of withdrawal from activity to get absorbed into the Self within. The first task then for any one seeking the Soul wisdom is to resort to and facilitate this spell of withdrawal. This means shunning activity.
If this is the course of sāṅkhya pursuit, why does Krishna exhort Arjuna to fight? Is not the fierce activity of fighting an outward pursuit? The effort to gain sthita-prajnatā is obviously an inward one. How can there be any blending of the two? Arjuna’s doubt is thus quite relevant and grave too.
But in expressing it, he is very careful and humble this time. Whatever pride and self-evaluation he had earlier, when he lifted his Gāndiva and commanded his ‘charioteer’ Krishna to drive, had subsided and in its place is a sense of surrender and sublimity. Krishna’s words, says Arjuna, are seemingly confusing. But, he does not assert that they are so. He only submits that they appear to be so. Therefore he wants Krishna to instruct him in unambiguous terms the right course of action – be it withdrawal from activity or intense involvement in it. But the course advised, he insists, must bring him sreyas, everlasting welfare. This is the manner in which a disciple or a seeker should present his doubts before the Teacher. With the Teacher it is not a discussion, as between friends and equals. Instead, it is always a submission – may be about one’s seeking, yearning or doubt. Such an attitude makes the seeker receptive and sensitive to what is advised. Pride or prestige is always an obstruction in the path of wisdom and enlightenment.
ज्ञानयोगेन साङ्ख्यानां कर्मयोगेन योगिनाम् ।।
Right in the beginning, had been enunciated by me the twofold discipline (nishthā) for gaining the supreme felicity (sreyas). For the knowledge-oriented sāṅkhya seekers, it is jnāna-yoga and for the yogis it is karma-yoga.
Arjuna’s apprehension that the sāṅkhya pursuit is opposed to karma pursuit is out of place, says Krishna. Man’s nature, its compulsions and the right method to honour these have been extensively studied by the Wise of this land, and the best conclusions arrived at, not now, but long ago. Thus, the right message and instructions were evolved in this country ages back, says Krishna. Spiritual pursuit does not allow any kind of conflict with human nature or its timely needs.
Thus, says Krishna, the spiritual discipline (nishthā) aimed at achieving sreyas is two-fold. He uses the singular number: nishthā dvividhā. The pursuit is just one, but it has two stages or phases or levels. It is like a river flowing on. Everywhere in its course, it is the same river. To begin with, it is narrow; later it becomes wider and deeper. Everywhere and every time it flows on and on to meet the sea and sea alone, to merge with it. The river may pass through many regions, joining tributaries on the way. Yet the river and its destination remain the same. When one chooses to become a seeker, he takes up the spiritual pursuit and his aim is always sreyas. His pursuit may take him through different progressive stages, but neither his seeking nor his goal changes ever.
The two stages or phases in the nishthā, explains Krishna, are the jnāna-yoga and karma-yoga. It is associated with karma, external activity, to begin with. Subsequently, as the seeking gains maturity and refinement, the same nishthā becomes knowledge-attuned. Like the body growing gradually from childhood to middle age through youth, the seeker too has to grow from one level to the other. In this process, external activity does not become either an obstruction or a disharmony. The actionless Soul inhabits the actionful body. Is there any conflict in the process? Likewise, pursuing one’s nishthā associated with external activity is more a matter of need than any option or choice. And to divest the nishthā of external activity will also be a sheer need and harmony at another time. Both depend upon the seeker, his level and maturity.
So Krishna categorically puts forward the assessment that getting involved in activity, while seeking the supreme good (sreyas) is not at all disharmonious. It is not to be worried about. Instead, Arjuna needs sufficient insight to evaluate matters properly and understand the relevance of external activity in the context of spiritual sādhanā. Krishna then leads the discussion to a deeper level, exposing concepts like anārambha, naishkarmya and siddhi. The next verse thus becomes paramount in the whole 3rd chapter:
By refusing to take up activity, one does not attain Actionlessness (naiṣkarmya). Nor again by abandoning what is being done, can one think of attaining spiritual perfection (siddhi).
Generally karma follows kāma, desire. In the Knower, there is no scope for any desire at all. His innate self-fullness wipes out all desires and the mind becomes transparent and cheerful. As is the Soul actionless and still, so also does he become. This naiṣkarmya is the highest form of spiritual attainment.
But anārambha (non-beginning) of karma implies keeping away from karma considering it to be troublesome and binding. “Are actions binding? In that case, I will not take up activity at all.” Thinking thus, any one trying to escape active involvement, is regarded as resorting to anārambha. Ārambha means beginning, and anārambha implies its negation. Considering active involvement to be troublesome and antagonistic to naiṣkarmya, if one avoids actions right from the beginning, that by itself does not pave the way for actionlessness.
Naiṣkarmya means the state of Actionlessness. But this does not imply the physical negation of or escape from activity. As the ego that “I am the doer, I am the enjoyer, I am the sufferer” persists in one, the enlightenment that “I am not a doer, not an enjoyer nor a sufferer” will also dawn. Such dawning, such enlightenment, alone will put a stop to doership and enjoyership or sufferership. It is jñāna fruition. The path leading to it is enlightenment. It is not physically stopping any activity.
Then comes the next point of abandoning actions. This refers to instances like Arjuna’s. He had already made the beginning of the Kurukshetra war by preparing for it, reaching the battlefield and even blowing the conch signalling the commencement of the battle. At this stage, with the action already initiated, Arjuna says he would leave the scene and embrace non-active ascetic life. Krishna describes such a step as abandonment of action, active life. Such a sudden abandonment will not lead to spiritual perfection (siddhi). So, do not think of these steps – either non-beginning or abandonment – says Krishna.
Naiṣkarmya is the goal of spiritual life, no doubt. It implies reaching the mental and intellectual sublimity, by which the seeker does not cling to any activity meant to bring any specific gain. Such a one declares: “Neither do I have anything to gain in this world or the other world, nor do I have anything to lose. I have to possess nothing, nor do I have to dispossess anything.”
Generally, an effort proceeds from desire, hatred or fear. In naiṣkarmya, one outlives the very need for doing karma; his mind and intelligence retire fully to the immovable Soul. Parīkṣit’s is one such typical instance. For seven days in succession, he sat in a place and ceaselessly listened to áukadeva, absorbing whatever the great Saint narrated. His only activity was listening. Every word that he heard drove his mind and intelligence to the Soul. At the end of the seventh day, expressing his gratitude, he took leave of the Sage. Steeped in absorption, becoming unconscious of the surroundings as well as his own body, he got lost in the depth of his being, the precincts of the Soul within.
But are all seekers and Knowers given to such naiṣkarmya? Krishna himself is a unique illustration for active spiritual wisdom. He had been a brahmacārin in Sandeepani Maharshi’s Ashram. Later, as a householderking, he did go to the mountains to plunge himself in full-fledged austerities. In spite of all this, we still find him immensely active everywhere. So, all spiritual seekers need not and should not be given to physical naiṣkarmya.
Vasiṣṭhadeva is another instance of a renowned Knower, who remained active with loka-saṅgraha till the last. He advised the Ayodhya kings in the matter of their righteous rule, and when so needed, he was there to instruct young Rāma and redress his dejection by timely spiritual enlightenment. He never resorted to actionlessness in the sense of an inactive life.
Although Self-knowledge is the same, the Self-knowers are various. Their ways, intensity, the extent and nature of loka-saṅgraha involvement they have, vary. Krishna’s stand is that neither by resorting to anārambha nor by abandoning suddenly whatever involvement is already there, the cause of spiritual perfection is going to be served. On the other hand, it may be affected adversely.
(From the Series Essential Concepts In Bhagavad Gita)