Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 2 (Part- 4)

Saankhya Yogah : Yoga Of Knowledge



Up to the verse 2.38 we have seen the Lord establishing the propriety of Arjuna engaging in the war from the point of view of Sankhya Yoga or the Yoga of Knowledge about the soul and the body as also from the angle of duty of a Kshatriya. In conclusion He advised Arjuna to fight in a spirit of equanimity. Now Bhagavan Krishna advocates the same theme from the point of view of Karma Yoga

The Text


eshaa te’bhihitaa saankhye buddhir yoge twimaam shrinu

buddhyaa yukto yayaa paartha karma bandham prahaasyasi // 2.39 //

What has been declared to you so far is the wisdom of sankhya. Now listen to the wisdom of yoga, armed with which, O son of Pritha, you will break through the bonds of Karma.

Sri Krishna taught knowledge or Jnana to Arjuna till now.  This is called Sankhya Yoga which is the path of Vedantic philosophy by which the true nature of the Self and the methods of attaining Self-Realisation can be comprehended through logic of reasoning.

From this verse onwards the focus of the Gita in this chapter is to explain the technique of Karma Yoga having known which one can break through the bonds of Karma or vasanas.

Let us see what these two yogas mean in the Bhagavad Gita and what is meant by the bondage of karma. Yoga means the technique of attaining knowledge or wisdom.

Sankhya or Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge about the Absolute reality. It teaches discrimination between the Real and unreal and urges the renunciation of the unreal. The knowledge of Reality directly destroys ignorance, which is the cause of birth and death in the relative world and of grief and delusion inevitably associated with it.

Yoga or Karmayoga is the path of action. The follower of this path engages in action without any desire for or attachment to the result of such action. He regards himself as an instrument of God. It is desire and attachment that create the subtle impressions in the mind (vasanas) which are the seeds of future action. Action performed without attachment or care for the result does not create new karma, but leaves the will free to devote itself to the achievement of Self-realization. This is the secret of Karma Yoga. What are the bonds of karma? Merit and demerit, virtue and sin, pain and pleasure and other pairs of opposites constitute the bondage of all actions performed with a motive.

Sankhyayoga or the path of knowledge, which directly reveals the true nature of the self, is meant for very rare seekers, endowed with keen intellect for discrimination and undaunted will-power for renunciation. But the large majority does not belong to this category. Hence they should first of all purify their minds, through the discipline of karmayoga. They will then become fit to follow the path of knowledge. The pure in heart attain Self-knowledge through the grace of God.

Arjuna can qualify for the highest knowledge only through performance of his duty. Krishna all along adduced various arguments from the Upanishadic, materialistic, mundane standpoints to persuade him to perform his duty. Now Krishna describes karmayoga which is the special contribution of the Gita to the philosophy of life, a user’s manual for every day living.


nehaabhikramanaasho’sti pratyavaayo na vidyate

swalpamapyasya dharmasya traayate mahato bhayaat // 2.40 //

In this no effort is ever lost and no harm is ever done. Even very little of this discipline (Dharma) saves a man from the Great Fear.

If a religious ceremony is left incomplete it is a wasted attempt as the performer will not derive any benefit like a house left unroofed. Again in the worship for an object, any imperfection in the process produces positive harm or loss instead of gain as in the case of sickness non-use of right medicines brings about adverse results. But it is not so in the case of Karma Yoga where every action and worship performed without desire brings about immediate purification of heart and protects one from the cycle of birth and death which is termed here as the great fear.


vyavasaayaatmikaa buddhir ekeha kurunandana

bahushaakhaa hyanantaashcha buddhayo’vyavasaayinaam // 2.41 //

O Joy of the Kurus (Arjuna), in this blessed path, there is a concentrated one-pointed determination.  Scattered and endless are the thoughts of the irresolute or the undecided.

In this Karma Yoga, even the highest achievement of Self-realization is possible because the man works with single-pointed determination with concentrated mind. Those who perform actions with endless desires for results get their inner personality disintegrated and dissipated. With the scattered minds they are not able to apply themselves to the tasks involved and therefore their attempts invariably end in failure.

Karma yoga is the path in which the seeker with concentrated resolution strives hard to reach his goal while in the Karma Kanda, the seeker, to satisfy his unending desires, performs various rituals as instructed in the Vedas meditating upon the prescribed Devata. As this process is more desire prompted there is always an inner agitation.


yaam imaam pushpitaam vaacham pravadantyavipashchitah

vedavaadarataah paartha naanyad asteeti vaadinah // 2.42 //

kaamaatmaanah swargaparaa janmakarmaphalaprdaam

kriyaavisheshabahulaam bhogaishwaryagatim prati // 2.43 //

bhogaishwarya prasaktaanaam tayaapahritachetasaam

vyavasaayaatmika buddhih samaadhau na vidheeyate // 2.44 //

Arjuna, those who are obsessed by desires, who look upon heaven as the supreme goal and argue that there is nothing beyond heaven and pleasures and who are devoted to the letter of the Vedas are unwise. They make this type of flowery speeches recommending many acts of various kinds, for the attainment of pleasure and prosperity and with rebirth as their motive. Thos whose minds are carried away by such flowery words (who are attracted by and attached to pleasures and prosperity) are not well-established in the Self (in concentration).

Here the reference is to the Karma Kanda or the ritualistic portion of the Vedas, which lays down specific rules for specific actions for attaining specific results. Those who give too much importance to this section of the Vedas are called as unwise and lacking in discrimination.

These people are highly enamored about such Vedic passages which prescribe ways for attaining heavenly enjoyments.  They say that there is nothing else than the sensual enjoyments and power here and happiness in heaven hereafter which can be achieved by performing the rites of the Karma Kanda of the Vedas. They regard such attainments as the ultimate object of human existence. Hence ordinary individuals are attracted towards their flattering talk. They ignore the philosophical section of the Vedas dealing with the knowledge of the soul and which alone leads to liberation.

Life in heaven is also transitory. After the fruits of one’s good actions have been exhausted, one has to return to this earth-plane and liberation can be attained only through knowledge of the Self.

Although it is stated here that the Karma Kanda of the Vedas cannot give us final liberation and a declaration is made that such persons tossed by desires shall never experience any tranquility in their inner lives, we have to keep in mind that if these rituals when performed without desire for results purify the mind which is also an initial step in the Jnana Yoga. The point to note is that the results of the rites and sacrifices performed with desires are ephemeral for they are limited by time, space and the law of causation.


traigunyavishayaa vedaa nistraigunyo bhavaarjuna

nirdwandwo nityasatwastho niryogakshema aatmavaan // 2.45 //

The Vedas deal with three attributes (of nature); you be above these three attributes, O Arjuna.  Free yourself from the pairs of opposites and ever remain in the quality of sattwa (goodness), freed from all thoughts of acquisition (of what you lack) and preservation (of what you have) and be established in the Self.

After advising Arjuna about the ineffectiveness of the blind obedience to the Karma Kanda, Sri Krishna tells him to transcend himself from the triple Gunas. Guna means attribute or quality.  Nature is made of three Gunas viz., Sattwa – purity, light, harmony; Rajas – passion, restlessness, motion; and Tamas – inertia, and darkness. These three Gunas remain in all the living creatures in varying degrees.  The mind and intellect are constituted with these qualities. Going above these temperaments means going beyond the mind and intellect to re-discover one to be the Supreme Self. How such transportation from imperfection to perfection can take place is explained here.

Pairs of opposites like heat and cold, pleasure and pain, victory and defeat, honor and dishonor, praise and censure etc. are the experiences of man in his life.  To ever remain in the quality of Sattwa means to keep oneself least agitated in one’s perceptions of objects and persons and in the assessment of their true nature.

Every activity in this world is guided by two prime motives viz. acquisition for purposes of possession and preservation of possessions acquired. These two motives in all actions indicate our selfish desire to acquire and hoard. Renouncing these two temperaments implies getting away from the source of restlessness and sorrows in life.

Sri Krishna advises Arjuna the practical method to be free from all the pairs of opposites and from the thought of acquisition and preservation and ever remaining in the quality of Sattwa by establishing himself in the Self by remaining on guard and not yielding to the objects of the senses.  The sorrows of the pairs of the opposites, the temptation to be impure and the desire for acquiring and preserving  all belong to the ego-centre arising out of the Self identifying with not-Self i.e. body, mind and intellect.

To keep ourselves detached from these ego-centric ideas through constant awareness of our pure divine nature is the path shown by The Lord to establish oneself in the Self when the individual ego finds itself free from all anxieties of the world. Necessarily then one will be beyond the three Gunas free from the pairs of opposites remaining always in the Sattwic quality. This attitude implies that one should be balanced and not swayed by either extremes. Sattva enables an aspiring soul to go beyond the Gunas and attain freedom.

Arjuna is asked to follow these injunctions while engaged in the performance of his duty.


yaavaanartha udapaane sarvatah samplutodake

taavaan sarveshu vedeshu braahmanasya vijaanatah // 2.46 //

To the Brahmana who has known the Self, all the Vedas are of as much use as is a reservoir of water in a place where there is a flood.

Only for a sage who has realized the Self or truth concerning Absolute Reality, the Vedas (Karma Kanda) are of no use because he is already in possession of the highest knowledge of the Self. This however does not imply ridiculing or ignoring the Karma Kanda of the Vedas. They are certainly a useful means for achieving the goal by the aspirants who just started their spiritual journey and serve the purpose of the unenlightened. Through the performance of the works prescribed by the Vedas one becomes fit for the path of knowledge.

All the transient pleasures derived from the proper performance of rituals enjoined in the Karma Kanda of the Vedas are comprehended in the Infinite Bliss of Self Knowledge as the utility of a reservoir in a place having floods. All kinds of limited bliss are included in the Infinite Bliss. A knower of the Self does not need t o follow the Vedic injunctions.


karmanyevaadhikaaraste maa phaleshu kadaachana

maa karmaphalahetur bhoor maa te sango’stwakarmani // 2.47 //

Your right is to work only, but never to claim its fruits.  Do not become an instrument for making your actions yield fruit, nor let your attachment be to inaction.

This is one of the most quoted verses of the Gita. This famous verse contains the essential principle of disinterestedness in action. When we do our work we will be sidetracked from disinterestedness if we think of name, fame, income or any such extraneous consideration. Nothing should matter except the willing fulfillment of the purpose of God keeping in mind that success or failure depends upon other forces as well.

Sri Krishna’s advice here is a call to the man not to waste his present time in imaginary fears about the future but to bring out the best in him and live fruitfully every present moment of his life. Thereby the future will take care of itself and provide the Karma Yogins with supreme achievement.

Arjuna is advised that all that is given to him is to act and having known the cause of action to be noble, bring into that activity all that is  the best in him  and immerse himself in the activity. That will be the inspired action and its fruits will be such action itself.

This verse gives the following four guidelines to a Karma Yogin:

  1. his concern is with the action alone

  2. he has no concern with the results

  3. he should not become a tool  for gaining a desired result of a given action since such desired  result oriented action produces bondage and

  4. the above mentioned ideas should not be taken to mean advocating inaction.

The advice is to make the worker release himself from his mental anxieties and make him aware of the divinity through work alone. The work itself is his reward — satisfaction of the job well done is the end in itself.

By performing actions in this manner one gets peace and his vasanas get reduced. Freed from the bondage of expectations he becomes purified for realizing the knowledge of the Self and attain God-Realization or Salvation. Through this knowledge one is freed from the wheel of births and deaths.

Bhagavan, however, warns that one should be careful not to lapse into inaction thinking that there is no use performing actions without expecting any rewards.

Various meanings are attached to the word Karma. The followers of Karma Kanda mean it as rituals and sacrifices. Another meaning is one’s duty as per the caste or station in life. Karma also means action. But a deeper meaning of the word is destiny or the tendencies, impulses, characteristics and habits-Vasanas-which determine his next birth and environment. But Karma in the present verse means action or performing one’s duty.


yogasthah kuru karmani sangam tyaktwaa dhananjaya

siddhyasiddhyoh samo bhootwaa samatwam yoga uchyate // 2.48 //

Perform your actions, O Dhananjaya (Arjuna), being established in or integrated with Yoga, abandoning attachment and remaining even-minded both in success and failure. This Evenness of mind is called Yoga.

From here the technique of Karma Yoga is discussed exhaustively wherein Yoga means evenness of mind through work.  In this path towards progress, a complete erasure of individuality and its false sense of values are essential.

Evenness of mind, tranquility of mental composure in all pairs of opposites, is Yoga. In this context the term Yoga indicates a special condition of mind in which it comes to a neutral equilibrium in all the ups and downs of life’s situations. It is a state of being an instrument in the hand of God, having given up even the desire that through our action we shall please Him. Only thus one can remain unconcerned as to success and failure.

Attachment is the notion that arises when a man regards himself not as an instrument but as a doer of an action. It is necessary for the true worker not only to have equanimity and poise in his behavior but he should reinforce it with a total renunciation of his attachment to the anxieties for the results.  By this way he may transform even his ordinary chores as inspired actions. During the performance of such inspired actions, the performer becomes self-forgetful and would not care for success or failure for his venture. This equilibrium is Yoga.

The attainment of knowledge of the Self through purity of heart obtained by performing actions without the expectation of the fruits is success – Siddhi. Failure is the non-attainment of such knowledge by doing actions with the expectation of fruits.

The secret of karmayoga is complete effacement of one’s individuality and total identification with God’s will. Thus alone does the worker become free from the joy or grief that results from the success or failure of his works; this alone ensures that he enjoys peace while performing his duties.


doorena hyavaram karma buddhiyogaad dhananjaya

buddhau sharanamanwiccha kripanaah phalahetavah // 2.49 //

O Arjuna, far inferior, indeed, is mere action, to action performed with evenness of mind.  Seek refuge in this evenness. Wretched are they who work for results.

Actions performed to gain a result are the cause of future birth and death and hence create bondage. Such actions are referred to here as inferior. The state of not being exalted or depressed by success or failure is called evenness. It is not callousness or indifference but a total devotion of the worker to his duty, whereby he regards himself as an instrument of God. One attains true evenness only as a result of the Knowledge of the Supreme Reality. This Knowledge alone, not any incidental result, should be the goal of work.

They are wretched indeed who busy themselves with calculation of the gains or losses resulting from their actions and thus depart from the world without realizing the Supreme Reality.


buddhiyukto jahaateeha ubhe sukrita dushkrite

tasmaad yogaaya yujyaswa yogah karmasu kaushalam // 2.50 //

Endowed with evenness of mind, one casts off in this very life both good and evil deeds.  Therefore, devote yourself to Yoga (of equanimity); skill in action lies in the practice of this Yoga.

A person, endowed with equanimity becomes free from virtue and vice. In such a state while living in the world, he detaches himself from the trappings of the world and remains untouched by virtue and sin. Virtue and vice accrue to a person when he identifies himself with the body, the unreal. If he does not so identify himself, virtue and vice have no effect on him.

Therefore, Krishna says ‘devote yourself to the yoga of equanimity’ i.e. remain continuously even-minded through realization of God. If a man performs his duties, maintaining this evenness, then his mind rests on God all the while. Work that otherwise enslaves, becomes a means to freedom when performed with evenness of mind. Work becomes worship. Skill in action, therefore, lies in the practice of this equanimity (of yoga) in success and failure. It should be noted that here Krishna does not define Yoga as skill in action but explains the importance of Yoga (equanimity) in action. Otherwise, the action of a thief carried out skillfully also can come within the meaning of the Yoga which will be obviously ridiculous.


karmajam buddhiyuktaa hi phalam tyaktwaa maneeshinah

janmabandha vinirmuktaah padam gacchantyanaamayam // 2.51 //

The wise, possessed of equanimity, having abandoned the fruits of their actions and being freed from the fetters of birth, attain the state that is beyond all evil (reaches the blissful supreme state).

Clinging to the fruits of actions creates vasanas to exhaust which one has to get into the cycle of births and deaths.  If actions are performed as a dedication to the God in fulfillment of his purpose, without desire for the fruits, one is released from the bonds of birth and death and attains bliss. Birth and death is called bondage because it is the result of action in a previous life.

The wise i.e those who know the art of true living undertake all work with evenness of mind (renouncement of ego) and abandoning the anxiety for the fruits of their actions (renouncement of ego-motivated desires). Thereby, they have no occasion to enter into the cycle of birth and death as there are no vasanas left in them for fulfillment.

Such an entity who is called a Karma Yogin will attain bliss i,e, the state which is beyond all evils. As knowledge is superior to action, the implication is that selfless actions purify the mind and prepare the individual for higher meditations through which he ultimately discovers himself as the Self which lies beyond all blemish. This is also called as Buddhi Yoga.


yadaa te mohakalilam buddhir vyatitarishyati

tadaa gantaasi nirvedam shrotavyasya shrutasya cha // 2.52 //

When your mind crosses beyond the mire of delusion, then you shall achieve indifference regarding things already heard and things yet to be heard (about enjoyments of this world or the next).

Delusion is the non-discrimination between the Self and the non-Self or ego and it turns the mind towards the sense objects. This is the state which favors egoism in this body and attachment for the body, family, kinsmen and objects. When the man gets entangled in this slough of delusion, he is perplexed and therefore cannot think properly.

When the intellect crosses over this delusion and attains purity of mind one develops disgust and indifference regarding things heard (enjoyed) and those yet to be heard (to be enjoyed in future). The things known and yet to be known being finite in nature are considered futile. The means to achieve this goal are by discrimination between the real and the unreal and selfless service.

The words `things heard and yet to be heard’ mean all the sense-organs oriented experiences already undergone and those that are yet to be experienced. Logically when the intellect becomes purer, it loses all its infatuation, fascination and attraction for the sense experiences that it had before and that may arise in future.

A question may arise how long this process of attaining freedom will take? The answer is that it is not a question of time. Freedom refers to the experience which can be attained at any moment, the only condition being the desirelessness of the aspirant or absence of attachment to objects attained or attainable.


shrutivipratipannaa te yadaa sthaasyati nishchalaa

samaadhaavachalaa buddhistadaa yogam avaapsyasi // 2.53 //

When your mind, now perplexed by what you have heard, stands firm and steady in the Self, then you will have attained Yoga or Self-Realization.

The mind gets agitated due to the continuous stimuli it receives from the external world through the sense organs. When an individual in spite of such disturbances and agitations of the mind does not lose his cool, inner serenity and equipoise, and remains concentrated in the knowledge of the Self, he is considered as having attained Yoga or Samadhi or Self Realization (God-Consciousness).

Samadhi is not the loss of consciousness but the highest kind of consciousness wherein the object with which the mind is in communion is the Divine Self which is the result of the discrimination between the Self and the Non-Self, the Real and the Unreal.

We must act with equanimity which is more important than the action itself. The question is not what shall we do but how shall we do and with what spirit shall we do? While Karma implies action, Buddhi implies how to act. Buddhiyoga is the method by which we go beyond Vedic Ritualsim and do our duty without any attachment for the results of our actions.

Sri Krishna’s advice made so far reduces the dejection in Arjuna and induces him to seek clarifications from Him as to what are the characteristics of the man who has attained wisdom through Samadhi. This is dealt with next.

Concepts and Issues

The Lord, establishing the propriety of engaging in the fight from the point of view of the path of knowledge and the duty of a Kshatriya, exhorted Arjuna to fight in a spirit of equanimity. Now He establishes the same thing from the point of view of Karma Yoga.

The insight and special merits of karma yoga.

  • Karma yoga leads to the highest good.

  • The use of the Vedas, practice of Vedic rites and their ineffectiveness to liberation.

  • Work without concern for the results

  • Character, outlook on life and conduct of men devoted to action with a selfish motive and the necessity to reject such an attitude. Inferior value of an action performed with a view to the result.

  • If a man has to work without any desire for its results, how, then, should he go about it?

  • Result of performing one’s duty with evenness of mind.

  • How does action lead to liberation?

  • When and how does one attain the true yoga or knowledge of the supreme truth by karma yoga?

Live as the Gita Teaches You to Live

  • Avoid desire ridden actions:

  • Pursue desireless actions:

  • Be free from the endless pairs of opposites that plague this world and rise to the state of sattwa. Act steadfastly towards the goal of Realization without worldly attachments and remain balanced in success or failure. Keep the mind calm and composed while the body acts dynamically towards the higher ideal.

  • The process of pursuing the supreme goal steadfastly with an equanimous mind is Yoga. Continuing on the path of yoga one sheds vasanas / desires and the mind turns introvert. An introverted mind alone can meditate and realize the supreme Self.

  • Free yourself from the mania of acquiring and preserving and instead slowly merge with the Self. Such an enlightened soul remains ever in supreme peace and bliss. In that state one will find even the Vedas as redundant as a pond would be in a flooded village.

Points to Ponder

  • Equanimity of mind

  • Technique of Karma Yoga

  • Action with and without selfish motive

  • Attainment of Supreme Knowledge through Karma Yoga.

Next time we will proceed from the Verse 2.54

Harih Om

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