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Summary of Topic I (verses 1-3) of Chapter III (Yoga of Action)

Mahesh Ursekar

The chapter starts with a question by Arjuna. Being supremely despondent, he has not fully grasped the
Lord’s chaste philosophy expounded so far. The question too seems to indicate this. He suggests that
the Lord considers knowledge to be superior to action i.e. Jnana Yoga is superior to Karma Yoga.
However, if one reviews the breakup of logical topics of what the Lord said (in Chapter II), only topic II
(verses 11-30) discuss Jnana Yoga, while topics III (verses 31-40), topic IV (versus 41-44) and topic V
(versus 45-53) relate to action in some way, while topic V relates to Karma Yoga specifically. In fact, in
topic V, the Lord makes is explicitly clear that one can reach the ultimate goal of Self-realization through
Karma Yoga, so there should be no reason to consider it subsidiary to Jnana Yoga. The last topic VI
(verses 54-72) is the Lord’s exposition on a Self-realized person, which may be said to contain aspects of
both the afore-mentioned Yogas in some degree.

In the next verse, Arjuna betrays his confusion by asking the Lord to tell him categorically what he
should do. Being a kshatriya, he is accustomed to clear directives rather than intellectual statements and
thus requests the Lord to tell him in clear terms as to what he should do to ‘attain the highest’. This
seems to be a ‘spill-over’ question from the one he asked in the previous chapter, where we wanted to
know how a person of Self-realization acts.

The Lord then talks about the two-fold path he had placed before humanity in the days of yore. The
preceding half of the path is for the extroverts, or those with a large number of desires, and the latter
for introverts, or those with few desires. The former he calls the path of action for the yogis and the
latter, the path of knowledge for the sankhyas. Both halves of the path involve the yogas of Jnana,
Bhakti and Karma, though practiced in different manners – the yogis acting so that they reduce their
desires and the sankhyas acting with the aim of Self-Realization.

An alternate reading of verse 3 could be that the word pura, meaning ‘before’, is really a reference to
verse 39 of chapter II where he describes two separate paths. Adi Sankara translates nistha as
steadfastness, rather than path, so then dvividah nistha can be read as ‘two kinds of steadfastness’,
making the spirit of this verse the same as that of the aforesaid verse of Chapter II.