The Bhagavad Gita | Study Guide


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The Bhagavad Gita | Chapter 2 : The Practice of Yoga | Summary



Krishna responds to Arjuna by arguing that such timidity at this moment is "unworthy of a noble mind." Still, Arjuna insists that he cannot bear the thought of killing his kinsmen. In verses 11–17 Krishna explains that Arjuna's "sorrow is sheer delusion" because physical sensations are transitory—just as life and death are transitory. Everything that exists has always existed. Arjuna and his family will simply pass from one body to the next in each life. Krishna urges Arjuna to do his duty in this life because his "Self" is eternal and part of the eternal fabric of the universe. Thus, Arjuna cannot really kill or be killed because it is only the body that can die.

In verse 31 Krishna insists that Arjuna's duty in this life is a warrior's duty. Therefore, Arjuna must live to his highest potential by fulfilling that duty. Krishna warns about the danger of becoming too focused on scripture instead of on meditation to clear the mind of confusion and desire. Action must be done for the sake of action and not for the sake of attachment to the results of that action. This is the way of karma yoga, Krishna explains. When Arjuna asks Krishna to describe the way a wise man moves in the world, Krishna answers that the wise man submerges his mind in meditation and learns to withdraw from the sensory confusion of the world. According to Krishna, sensation is the root cause of desire, which causes suffering and disguises the truth. Individuals must have self-control and self-discipline to achieve a state in which desires can flow through them without affecting them.


There is much conversation, starting in this chapter and continuing throughout the Gita, about the concept of the Self. Krishna's discussion often distinguishes the Self from the "I-sense," or ego. The self is the pure and elevated essence of a being, referred to in Sanskrit as the atman. It is unaffected by the physical world or by birth and death. Krishna provides the image of the Self shucking and changing bodies like clothing. Much of Krishna's advice to Arjuna involves letting go of ego and becoming wise through the understanding of the true Self.

Krishna lectures Arjuna on two types of yogic philosophy over the course of these verses. The first type is knowledge based, and the second is action based. What the translator refers to as "philosophy" in verse 39 is called Sankhya or jnana, Sanskrit words meaning "knowledge." This yoga deals with understanding the Self and existence. It investigates the nature of the Self in relation to the universe. Krishna interweaves Sankhya yogic philosophy in his lecture as he shifts the conversation to include karma yoga, or the yoga of action.

The point of karma yoga, as Krishna explains, is to perform action without attachment to the outcome of that action. In other words, karma yoga is the philosophy of doing right action and duty as opposed to selfish action. In doing right action, individuals do not accrue more karma but instead free themselves from the karmic consequences of their action. Through the practice of karma yoga, or selfless action, a person may move closer to samadhi, or a liberated mind.

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