This Chapter analyses from various points of view and establishes that the performance of prescribed duties is obligatory for everyone. Here Lord Krishna categorically and comprehensively explains how it is the duty of each and every member of society to carry out their functions and responsibilities in their respective stage of life according to the rules and regulations of the society in which one lives. Further the Lord explains why such duties must be performed, what benefit is gained by performing them, what harm is caused by not performing them, what actions lead to bondage and what actions lead to salvation. All these points relating to duty have been described in great detail. Hence this chapter is entitled “Karma Yogah: Yoga Of Action”.
In the previous Chapter Bhagavan advised that Arjuna's duty was to work without pre-occupying himself with its result and at the same time suggested that he should not be attached to inaction. He concluded His advice with the advocacy of the path of attaining the state of steady wisdom and Brahmi state by knowledge and renunciation.
Arjuna feels confused by the Lord’s praise of righteous war (2.31-38) and the Buddhi Yoga i.e. equanimity of mind (2.49 & 50) as also about the man of steady wisdom in conclusion. These apparently conflicting views seem to have perplexed Arjuna as to which path he has to adopt for his self-development i.e. whether it is knowledge or action or either together or total renunciation of both. The advice of The Lord here is that selfless action performed in a spirit of dedication and surrender and with pure motive is the right path.
WHY THEN WORK AT ALL?
jyaayasee chet karmanaste mataa buddhir janaardana
tat kim karmani ghore maam niyojayasi keshava // 3.1 //
If you think that knowledge is superior to action, O Janardana, why then do you ask me to engage in this terrible action, O Kesava?
vyaamishreneva vaakyena buddhim mohayaseeva me
tadekam vada nishchitya yena shreyo'ham aapnuyaam // 3.2 //
With these apparently perplexing words you confuse my understanding, as it were; therefore, tell me definitely that one thing by which I may attain the Highest Goal.
Arjuna misunderstands the teaching that work for reward is less excellent than work without attachment and desire and believes that Sri Krishna is of the view that knowledge without action is better than work. If Sankhya method of gaining wisdom is superior, then action is an irrelevance. In this confusion he asks Sri Krishna as to which of the paths he has to follow for his self-development since he still believed that to fight against his people was a terrible action. Hence, Arjuna requests Sri Krishna to teach him for certain either of the two – knowledge or action - in accordance with the state and power of his understanding by which he could attain the highest good i.e. complete eradication of grief and infatuation and attainment of that imperishable.
The confusion is only seeming. It is not the intention of the Lord to confuse Arjuna but yet Arjuna is confused.
LIFE IS WORK BUT THE NEED IS UNCONCERN FOR RESULTS
sri bhagavaan uvaacha
loke'smin dwividha nishthaa puraa proktaa mayaanagha
jnaanayogena saankhyaanaam karmayogena yoginaam // 3.3 //
Sri Bhagavan said
In this world there is a two-fold path, as I said before, O blameless One (Arjuna), the path of knowledge for men of contemplation and the path of work for men of action.
The words ’As I said before’ indicate the beginning of the created world. Even at the very beginning of the cycle of time, two classes of people, those with contemplative and those with active temperaments, were in existence.
Those of contemplative mind are born with a clear knowledge of the Self and the non-Self. They easily renounce the world even at the early age of their lives and concentrate their thoughts on Brahman always. For them the path of knowledge is prescribed so that their ideas can mature and blend with Brahman.
The understanding of those who believe in external action as a means of self-unfoldment is still colored by the stain of duality. The performance of unselfish action purifies their souls and enables them to practice knowledge and contemplation.
The path of knowledge (Gnana Yoga) was described by The Lord in verses 11-38 and the path of action (Karma Yoga) in verses 40-53 of the Second Chapter which created confusion in the mind of Arjuna although never intended by The Lord.
To consider the path of action and the path of knowledge as competitive is to understand neither of them, they being complementary. Selfless activity enables the mind to exhaust many of its existing mental impressions and the mind thus purified prepares the one for the reception of knowledge of the Absolute through meditation or contemplation. There cannot be any knowledge of Brahman unless the mind is pure.
The Lord distinguishes two main types of seekers viz., the active and the contemplative. Because temperamentally these two categories are so wide apart that a common technique for spiritual development cannot yield results. So Sri Krishna explains the two-fold path of Self-development. Viz. Path of knowledge for the introverts whose natural tendency is to explore the inner life of the Spirit and the Path of action for the extroverts who have a natural bias for work in the outer world.
Those who are endowed with discrimination, dispassion, six-fold virtues, and longing for liberation and who have a sharp, subtle intellect and bold understanding are fit for Gnana Yoga or the Path of Knowledge. The six-fold virtues are control of the mind, control of the senses, fortitude, turning away from the objects of the world; faith and tranquility. Those who have tendency for work are fit for Karma Yoga or the Path of Action.
But this distinction cannot be the ultimate because all men are in different degrees both introverts and extroverts. For the Gita, the path of action is a means of liberation as efficient as that of knowledge and these are intended for two types of people. The practice of a particular spiritual discipline is determined by the competence of the aspirant. Both the active and the contemplative have one goal viz. the realization of Brahman. The path of action, however, does not directly lead to the realization.