Ancient India
Karma

Arjuna

   If devotion is judged by you to be superior to action, then why, Krishna, do you urge me to do this fearful action? You seem, indeed, to confuse my mind by equivocal words. Therefore, declare only one thing with certainty, by which I may attain the highest good.


Krishna

   O sinless one! I have already stated that in this world there is a twofold path: 1 that of the Sankhyas by devotion in the shape of true knowledge; 2 and that of the Yogins 3 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 merely renouncing action. For nobody ever remains even for an instant without performing some action; since the qualities of nature constrain everybody, no-one has free-will in the question of performing or not performing action.

   The deluded man who, restraining the organs of action, 4 continues to think in his mind about objects of sense, is called a hypocrite. But he, Arjuna, who restraining his senses with his mind, and being free from attachments, engages in devotion in the shape of action, with the organs of action, is far superior.

   You should perform action which is required, for action is better than inaction, and the physical 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. 5

   Therefore, Arjuna, do you, casting off attachment, perform action for that purpose. The Creator, having in ancient times created men together with the sacrifice, said:
   "Propagate with this (ie, sacrifice). 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 thieŁ"
   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. 6

   He who in this world does not contribute to the turning of this wheel is living a sinful life and indulging his senses, and, Arjuna, he lives his life 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 peform action, which must be performed, without attachment. 7 For a man, peforming action without attachment attains the Supreme. By action alone did Janaka and other ancient kings work for perfection .

   And in regard also to the keeping of people to their duties. you should perform action. Whatever a great man does, other men do that also. And people follow whatever he receives as authority. There is nothing, Arjuna, for me to do in all the three worlds, 8 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, Arjuna. If I did not perform actions, these worlds would be destroyed, I should be the cause of caste interminglings, and I would ruin all the peoples.

   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 individuality 9 thinks himself the doer of the actions, which, in every way, are done by the qualities of nature. 10 But he, Arjuna, who knows the truth about the difference from qualities and the difference from actions, forms no attachments, believing that qualities deal with objects of the senses.

   But those who are deluded by the qualities of nature form attachments to the actions of the qualities. 11 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 of possessions, and without any mental anguish.

   Even those men who always act on this opinion of mine, full of faith, 12 and without complaining, are released from all actions. But those who complain about my opinion and do not act upon it, know that they lack all judgement, deluded about reality and distant from all knowlede; these men are in essence ruined.

   Even a man of knowledge acts according 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.


Arjuna

    But by whom is man impelled, even though unwilling, and, as it were, constrained by force, to commit sin?


Krishna

   It is desire, 13 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 fetus by the womb, so is knowledge enveloped by desire.

   Knowledge, Arjuna, 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; 14 with these it deludes the embodied self after enveloping knowledge.

   Therefore, Arjuna, first restrain your senses, then cast off this sinful thing which destroys knowledge and experience. It has been said that the senses are great, that the mind is greater than the senses, that the understanding is greater than the mind. The self is greater than understanding. Thus knowing that which is higher than the understanding, and restraining yourself by your self, Arjuna, destroy this unmanageable enemy in the shape of desire.

Translated by Kashinath Trimbak Telano, 1882
Edited and annotated by Richard Hooker



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