As the Lord speaks to the disciple.
Sreejit Datta teaches English and Cultural Studies at the Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham University in Mysore. Variously trained in comparative literature, Hindustani music and statistics; Sreejit happens to be an acclaimed vocalist who has been regularly performing across multiple Indian and non-Indian genres. He can be reached at:
Said Arjun: If, O Janardan, in your opinion Right Understanding
Is greater than action; why, O Keshav, do you then
Urge me to massacre – in battle, to perform such terrible action?
You seem to have confused me by your seemingly ambiguous words –
Pray, tell me that one thing, which will surely make me prosper!
So God said: Blameless soul, in this realm there are two main ways –
Of which I have had taught in the good old days;
One is the way of Knowledge, meant for the men of Discipline,
And the other the way of action, duly prescribed for the yogin.
No man can get rid of actions without starting to act,
Nor is renunciation enough to reach perfection – that too is a fact.
For no one can remain without action even for a moment,
All men are compelled to act by nature’s component.
Shutting off the organs of action, if one thinks
Of sense-objects inwardly, such a deluded soul
Is termed a hypocrite. But he, who with his mind control
His sense-organs, and through them performs the yoga of action,
Staying detached all the while, superior is he, O Arjun!
You must always act, for action surpasses inaction;
And even this body cannot be kept without performing actions.
Actions bind men to their fruits, except when ‘tis done for sacrifice,
You must therefore act, O Kaunteya, without attachment to such vice.
In ancient days the Lord of creatures – the Creator – had made all beings,
As well as sacrifice, and said: By this you’ll bring forth all things.
Let this sacrifice be the one device which fulfils all your wish,
Let this help you please your gods, and in turn gods make you flourish.
Thus fulfilling one another, may you both find the Highest Good!
And since the gods must please you, partaking their sacrificial food;
He, who consumes divine bestowal, without giving due oblation,
Is but a thief! Sages consume the leftover meal after godly benefaction
And thus get rid of all sins. But those who cook just for themselves –
Such sinners swallow suffering. From food all life evolves,
Clouds bring food, sacrifice brings clouds, and sacrifice comes thro’ action.
Know that actions stem from Brahman, and Brahman from the Indelible.
Thus the all-pervading Brahman resides in sacrifice, ever stable.
Vain is that man’s life, Partha, who follows not the cycle which thus turns,
And in this realm he lives by sin; serving his sense-organs he burns.
But the man who: in the Self rejoicing, in the Self dwelling,
In the Self fulfilled, ever is, he has no performable action remaining.
In this realm he neither has any need of performing actions,
Nor by not performing them does he suffer any reduction;
And he doesn’t depend on any being to fulfil his needs –
Therefore you must be detached while performing your deeds,
For man attains his highest station through detachment, indeed!
The likes of Janak had attained the highest seat through action;
And you must act even for the sake of these masses’ preservation.
Whatsoever the best one does, the others follow suit,
His conduct is taken as standard – of that there’s no dispute.
O son of Pritha, nowhere throughout the three worlds have I any duty,
Nor is there anything that I haven’t gained or have to gain; yet I’m in activity.
For if I did not engage myself in work, unceasingly,
Then all men, O Partha, would follow suit, undoubtedly.
If I didn’t work, these realms would have gone to the dogs,
I would be a bringer of chaos, of genocide I would be the cause.
O Scion of Bharat! To act from attachment is the way of the unwise,
While acting with detachment, to protect the masses, is that of the wise.
Without causing confusion in the minds of the ignorant,
Let the wise do his work in yoga, making every act pleasant.
All actions are set in motion by the three qualities of nature,
Whereas the deluded egotist thinks to himself: “I am the doer.”
But O strong-armed one! He who knows the essence of qualities, and of actions too,
“Qualities act on themselves”: knowing thus he clings not to the untrue.
Thro’ Nature’s delusive forces, men get attached to qualities and actions,
So let not the wise in any way disturb these half-wits’ foolish factions.
By your whole consciousness fixed on the Self, devote to Me all your actions!
Being free from expectations, being selfless – fight! Shake off delirium!
Those that follow this teaching of Mine in complete faith and devotion –
Without rest and without envy – they too break free from the shackles of action.
But those who, out of envy, My teaching do not follow,
Know that their learning is lost, they’re senseless and hollow.
Even the wise man is compelled to act according to his nature only;
Repression is futile – for all beings obey their nature, invariably!
Every sense has its fixed set of attractions and aversions;
Don’t be swayed by them, since for this Way they are contradictions.
‘Tis better to go on performing one’s own humble dharma,
Than being perfect in carrying out another man’s dharma.
Far better it is, Arjun, to perish while discharging svadharma;
Whereas peril is all one invites when they seek others’ dharma.
Said Arjun: O Scion of Vrishni! What is it, then, that forces a man,
To act in sin even against his will – as if his power is overran?
God replied: ‘Tis desire, ‘tis wrath, all springing from passion’s strand;
Great devourers, highly sinful, know them to be your foes grand.
As the fire gets veiled by smoke and the mirror by dust overcome,
Or as the foetus by the womb – so all beings are veiled by them.
Even the Supreme Knowledge of the wise is shrouded by these,
Eternal foes of wisdom they are, like the wildfire they never cease.
‘Tis said that the senses, the mind and the intellect are their seats,
Obscuring knowledge through these, the embodied is what it defeats.
Therefore, O best of Emperor Bharat’s clan, at the very outset
Put a leash on your sense organs and neutralise this threat;
Finish off this sinful destroyer of learning and experience – don’t be upset!
‘Tis said the mind is superior to senses, and the senses greater than body,
The intellect is greater than mind, but far superior to intellect is He.
O strong-armed one! Know Him thus, who beyond intellect transpires,
And steady yourself by the strength of that Self, which never retires.
Vanquish this formidable enemy which takes the form of desires!
Thus spoke Krishna, to Arjun who was his disciple and trusted friend,
They spoke for a long, long time, until it seemed the talk would never end.
Time seemed to stop on that hallowed ground where warriors raged,
When on the battlefield in a conversation these two engaged.
It was a marvellous discourse, the most brilliant Upanishadic take;
The exchange of a most secret knowledge, of which only the pious could partake,
In which the Blessed Lord spoke on the Way of Action at length
And thus continued to provide Arjun the necessary moral strength.