If, O Ganārdana! devotion is deemed by you to be superior to action, then why, O Kesava! do you prompt me to (this) fearful action? You seem, indeed, to confuse my mind by equivocal words. Therefore, declare one thing determinately, by which I may attain the highest good.
The Deity said:
O sinless one! I have already declared, that in this world there is a twofold path--that of the Sāṅkhyas by devotion in the shape of (true) knowledge; and that of the Yogins by devotion in the shape of action. A man does not attain freedom from action merely by not engaging in action; nor does he attain perfection by mere renunciation. For nobody ever remains even for an instant without performing some action; since the qualities of nature constrain everybody, not having free-will (in the matter), to some action. The deluded man who, restraining the organs of action, continues to think in his mind about objects of sense, is called a hypocrite. But he, O Arjuna! who restraining his senses by his mind. and being free from attachments, engages in devotion (in the shape) of action, with the organs of action, is far superior. Do you perform prescribed action, for action is better than inaction, and the support of your body, too, cannot be accomplished with inaction. This world is fettered by all action other than action for the purpose of the sacrifice. Therefore, O son of Kuntī! do you, casting off attachment, perform action for that purpose. The Creator, having in olden times created men together with the sacrifice, said: 'Propagate with this. May it be the giver to you of the things you desire. Please the gods with this, and may those gods please you. Pleasing each other, you will attain the highest good. For pleased with the sacrifices, the gods will give you the enjoyments you desire. And he who enjoys himself without giving them what they have given, is, indeed, a thief.' The good, who eat the leavings of a sacrifice, are released from all sins. But the unrighteous ones, who prepare food for themselves only, incur sin. From food are born (all) creatures; from rain is the production of food; rain is produced by sacrifices; sacrifices are the result of action; know that action has its source in the Vedas; the Vedas come from the Indestructible. Therefore the all-comprehending Vedas are always concerned with sacrifices. He who in this world does not turn round the wheel revolving thus, is of sinful life, indulging his senses, and, O son of Pṛthā! he lives in vain. But the man who is attached to his self only, who is contented in his self, and is pleased with his self, has nothing to do. He has no interest at all in what is done, and none whatever in what is not done, in this world; nor is any interest of his dependent on any being. Therefore always perform action, which must be performed, without attachment. For a man, performing action without attachment, attains the Supreme. By action alone, did Janaka and the rest work for perfection. And having regard also to the keeping of people (to their duties) you should perform action. Whatever a great man does, that other men also do. And people follow whatever he receives as authority. There is nothing, O son of Pṛthā! for me to do in (all) the three worlds, nothing to acquire which has not been acquired. Still I do engage in action. For should I at any time not engage without sloth in action, men would follow in my path from all sides, O son of Pṛthā! If I did not perform actions, these worlds would be destroyed, I should be the cause of caste interminglings; and I should be ruining these people. As the ignorant act, O descendant of Bharata! with attachment to action, so should a wise man act without attachment, wishing to keep the people (to their duties). A wise man should not shake the convictions of the ignorant who are attached to action, but acting with devotion (himself ) should make them apply themselves to all action. He whose mind is deluded by egoism thinks himself the doer of the actions, which, in every way, are done by the qualities of nature. But he, O you of mighty arms! who knows the truth about the difference from qualities and the difference from actions, forms no attachments, believing that qualities deal with qualities. But those who are deluded by the qualities of nature form attachments to the actions of the qualities. A man of perfect knowledge should not shake these men of imperfect knowledge (in their convictions). Dedicating all actions to me with a mind knowing the relation of the supreme and individual self, engage in battle without desire, without (any feeling that this or that is) mine, and without any mental trouble. Even those men who always act on this opinion of mine, full of faith, and without carping, are released from all actions. But those who carp at my opinion and do not act upon it, know them to be devoid of discrimination, deluded as regards all knowledge, and ruined. Even a man of knowledge acts consonantly to his own nature. All beings follow nature. What will restraint effect? Every sense has its affections and aversions towards its objects fixed. One should not become subject to them, for they are one's opponents. One's own duty, though defective, is better than another's duty well performed. Death in (performing) one's own duty is preferable; the (performance of the) duty of others is dangerous.
But by whom, O descendant of Vṛṣṇi! is man impelled, even though unwilling, and, as it were, constrained by force, to commit sin?
It is desire, it is wrath, born from the quality of passion; it is very ravenous, very sinful. Know that that is the foe in this world. As fire is enveloped by smoke, a mirror by dust, the fœtus by the womb, so is this enveloped by desire. Knowledge, O son of Kuntī! is enveloped by this constant foe of the man of knowledge, in the shape of desire, which is like a fire and insatiable. The senses, the mind, and the understanding are said to be its seat; with these it deludes the embodied (self) after enveloping knowledge. Therefore, O chief of the descendants of Bharata! first restrain your senses, then cast off this sinful thing which destroys knowledge and experience. It has been said, Great are the senses, greater than the senses is the mind, greater than the mind is the understanding. What is greater than the understanding is that. Thus knowing that which is higher than the understanding, and restraining (your)self by (your)self, O you of mighty arms! destroy this unmanageable enemy in the shape of desire.
Footnotes and references:
Supra, p. 47.
I. e., according to Śaṅkara, identification of oneself with Brahman.
I. e. not coupled with knowledge and purity of heart.
Cf. infra, pp. 122-128.
Hands, feet, &c.
By means of true discrimination keeping the senses from attachments to worldly objects, which lead to sin and evil.
Cf. infra, pp. 60, 61. Probably the 'sacrifices' spoken of in that passage must be taken to be the same as those referred to in the Creator's injunction mentioned in this passage.
Cf. Maitrī-upaniṣad, p. 143
The commentators explain this to mean that though the Vedas elucidate all matters, their principal subject is the sacrifice.
The distinctions here are rather nice,--an ordinary man is 'attached' to worldly objects, is 'contented' with goods &c., and is pleased' with special gains.
No good or evil accrues to him from anything he does or omits to do.
Śrīdhara says that Arjuna is here told to perform action, as freedom from it is only for the man of true knowledge, which Arjuna is not as yet.
I. e. final emancipation; cf. p. 59 infra, and Īśopaniṣad, p. 6.
The active principle is nature, the aggregate of the three qualities; the soul is only the looker-on;, cf. inter alia, p. 104 infra.
Scil. the difference of the soul from the collection of qualities, viz. the body, senses. &c., and from the actions of which they are the authors.
Qualities (i. e. senses) deal with qualities, i. e. objects of sense.
I. e. all mundane affairs.
About the consequences of your actions.
Of actions, or of the Brahman in its various forms.
Which is the result of the virtues and vices of a preceding life. The sequence of ideas here is as follows:--The true view stated here about the 'difference from qualities and actions' is disregarded by some, owing to their nature' as now explained. Then the question is, if nature is so potent, what is the good of the Śāstras? The answer is, Nature only acts through our likes and dislikes. Withstand them and then you can follow the Śāstras. It is under the influence of these likes and dislikes, that some may say, we shall practise duties prescribed for others (our own being bad ones) as they are equally prescribed by the Śāstras. That, as stated in the last sentence here, is wrong.
Cf. Sutta Nipāta, p. 101, as to 'likings and dislikings.'
Vide p. 50 supra.
I. e. knowledge, mentioned in the next sentence, for which construction p. 71 and p. 98 may be compared.
Which becomes more powerful the more it is fed.
The mind is that which ponders over things as such or such the understanding is that which finally determines (cf. Lewes' History of Philosophy, II, 463-465). These and the senses are the 'seat' of desire, because the perception of an object by the sense, the pondering over it by the mind, and the determination about it by the understanding are the preliminaries to the awakening of the desire; supra, p. 50.
Knowledge is from books or teachers, experience is the result of personal perception.
Kaṭhopaniṣad, p. 114; and see also pp. 148, 149.
I. e. the supreme Being, as in the Kaṭhopaniṣad.