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What is the main message of Bhagavad Gita?
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
14 min
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You cannot run away. Shunning action is not possible. You have to fight. The world is the battlefield. To be born is to be born as a warrior, to be born is to be born with weapons and armour. That is the message: you cannot run away. They are fighting, you too fight. They are fighting from their darkness; you fight from your light.

Bhagavad Gita

यस्त्वात्मरतिरेव स्यादात्मतृप्तश्च मानवः । आत्मन्येव च सन्तुष्टस्तस्य कार्यं न विद्यते ॥

न बुद्धिभेदं जनयेदज्ञानां कर्मसङ्गिनाम । जोषयेत्सर्वकर्माणि विद्वान्युक्तः समाचरन ॥

The man who rejoices only in the Self and is satisfied with the Self, and is contented only in the Self—for him there is no duty to perform.

The wise man established in the Self should not unsettle the mind of the ignorant one attached to action, but should get them to perform all their duties while dually performing his own duties.

—Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 3, Verse 17 and 26

The call for right action

Questioner (Q) : In verse 17, Shri Krishna says that there is no duty to perform for the one who rejoices only in the Self.

However, when we look at the greats like Mahavira, Buddha, or Kabir Sahib, we see that they took huge steps to dispel the darkness of man’s mind, as if they were performing an undeclared duty. What makes a Buddha or a Mahavira do what they do?

Also, in verse 26, Shri Krishna again refers to the wise one, and says that he should get others to perform all their duties while dually performing his own. Is there any contradiction here?

Bonded work is compensation, Free work is compassion

Acharya Prashant (AP) : You see, Shri Krishna is presenting the entirety, the totality of the matter of action here. On one hand, he says that in the highest state of liberation there is no duty, no kartavya left at all. That is point one that you have to understand. At the same time, he says, ‘Look at Me, Pārtha (Arjuna)! Who can bind Me in duty? I have no duty at all, and yet I keep doing everything.’ He presents his own example. You have to look at everything together to get the complete picture.

On one hand, he indeed says that the liberated one has really no obligation upon him to do anything; the liberated one has no obligation to do anything because he is now liberated. And then he says, ‘Look at Me, Pārtha! I keep on doing stuff day in and day out!’ and he devotes a couple of verses elaborating how much he does.

He says, ‘If I do not do things, this entire world will collapse, so I do more than anybody else. People work in their limited ways. Look at Me, Arjuna! I work in an unlimited way. My labour knows no limits. Nobody works harder than I do!’ Arjuna is puzzled. ‘But sir, didn’t You just say that the liberated one has no duties left to perform? Why do You act then?’ Shri Krishna just smiles. ‘If you could understand that much, why would you need the Gita?’

The one in shackles has to bear duties

So, the common person has duties because he is not liberated, and the liberated one puts duties upon himself because he is liberated. That’s the way this is. The one in shackles has to bear kartavya or duties as punishment; you will have to live within your duties because you are not liberated. This is your punishment. And the liberated one loads himself with duties not because he is full of passion towards the world but because he has compassion.

Shri Krishna tells Arjuna: the jñāni , the realized one, should work or rather works in an outwardly way, in a worldly way, just as the ignorant one does. These are very beautiful verses. All the chapters of the Gita are wonderful, but chapter three probably stands the tallest.

He says, ‘The ignorant ones keep working, Arjuna. In a similar way, the realized one should also keep working,’ and he quotes himself as the foremost example of the worker. He says, ‘Look at Me! Here are all the ignorant ones assembled in the field of Kurukshetra to fight. They are working, to fight is their work. And here am I as well. What am I doing in the middle of this idiotic crowd? All fools ready to cut each other to pieces, totally stupid people they are—right on both sides! Do they know why they are fighting? Half of them would be dead before the end of the day! But look at them: how they flex their muscles, how they brandish their weapons, somebody is blowing the conch, somebody is puffing his chest, somebody is threatening the other one. And before the sun sets, half of them will be gone—and gone for nothing! Idiots. And in the middle of this crowd, who is standing as a mere charioteer? Not even a warrior—a charioteer! Me! Me! Doesn’t it occur to you, Arjuna, what I am doing here? After all, I am a realized being, am I not?’ No, Arjuna is not quite sure about it till Krishna displays to him what is commonly known as the virāṭ rūpa (universal form). Krishna is asking, ‘What am I doing here? They are fighting because they are ignorant. I am fighting because I am not ignorant.’

You have to fight. The world is the battlefield.

That is the way the realized one has to live. Outwardly, it will appear as if he is doing all the things that all the ignorant ones are doing. He cannot shun action; he cannot run away. That is the message: you cannot run away. They are fighting, you too fight. They are fighting from their darkness; you fight from your light. You cannot run away. Shunning action is not possible. You have to fight. The world is the battlefield. To be born is to be born as a warrior, to be born is to be born with weapons and armour. What to do?

Now you know why a Buddha, a Mahavira, a Kabir works so hard all his life. Don’t you wonder? What does he have left to achieve? (Pointing at various people in the audience) I mean, he’s working because he wants a new car, he’s working because he wants a new wife, he’s working because he wants a new job. What is it that impels the sage to work so hard? That’s the secret. That’s what made Krishna smile.

‘Arjuna, you will never really know why I work because I work without a why. You work for a reason; I work for no reason. And if you have to have a reason, the reason is compassion. You know, you are a man of words. You need some word to satisfy your shallow inquiry, so I give you a word: the word is “compassion”.’

The realized one just works

If you go to Kabir Sahib, he will say the word is sahajatā (naturalness). The realized one just works. He doesn’t work for a cause, really. Though apparently, he might declare a cause. He will say, ‘You know, I am working for such and such reasons, for such a cause, for such a mission,’ such things. But really, he’s just working—just working. He cannot help it. It has to happen. You cannot go to him and question, ‘But why are you doing it?’

Somebody went to J. Krishnamurti, who was saying one doesn’t need a teacher or a guru and one is sufficient unto himself and such things. And there was this person, he questioned Krishnamurti. He said, ‘But aren’t you teaching as well? You, too, are a de facto guru, and all the time you are railing against gurus!’ Krishnamurti was almost shocked, it is said. You know how he replied? He said, almost as if caught or accused or convicted, ‘But I don’t do it intentionally!’

When the flower blooms, the fragrance spreads

That’s how the realized one acts. He doesn’t do it intentionally. He just acts. He just acts.

Somewhere, if I remember correctly, Krishnamurti also said, ‘When the flower blooms, the fragrance spreads.’ The flower doesn’t really intend to make your day; it just happens. The flower can’t help it. The flower didn’t really plan to entertain your nostrils or your mind; it just happens. That’s the state of the realized one. He can’t help it; he is helpless.

‘Oh! Bad! But we thought he is quite empowered; we thought that if you are realized, then you are all in control of yourself!’ Oh no, not at all. Rather, what you call as realization is about losing all self-control: you just flow—flow not in the way the common man flows.

The common man flows in the dirty stream

The common man flows in the dirty stream of his passions and desires and tendencies. The flow of the realized one is an altogether different thing; it is a different stream. A few years back, I had differentiated between the two streams, calling one stream as accidental and the other as essential.

But, you know, some smart fellow can actually go to Kurukshetra and accost Krishna: ‘Sir, what are you doing here? After all, you are Krishna! Your place is in the jungle! And if not in the jungle, you should be found at some other quiet, secluded place meditating or perfecting your yoga. After all, you are the supreme yogi, aren’t you? How does it behoove a yogi to have the harness in his hand?’

The pinnacle of all spiritual advancement

(Reading the question again) ‘Is there a contradiction here? What makes a Buddha or a Mahavira do what they do?’

No, no contradiction here. And do not ask for a reason. If you are really honest, then you should know that there does not exist a reason. As we said, if you are interested in satisfying your flimsy curiosity, then you could say the reason is the upliftment of the world. As they say in common usage, the sage takes birth to redeem the world, but that is the language of the world. In the sage’s own language, such an expression does not exist. He will not say that he has come to serve the world or redeem the world or do some favour to the world. He just does what he does. This ‘justness’ is the pinnacle of all spiritual advancement, sahajatā .

Even Krishna does not really disclose to Arjuna why he runs the entire world or maintains the prakritik (natural) order. He does not disclose. He just says, ‘I do that, I do that,’ and Arjuna is probably not insouciant enough to insist on an answer, so he lets it go at that.

What is Dharma? That which leads to freedom from your bondages.

Q : Just now, you said that the liberated one doesn’t do anything intentionally, he just does it, whereas the non-liberated one acts with a cause. Is there a reason behind it?

AP : There can be two reasons there. You see, if you are someone who is in bondage, then your actions could be in two directions. The direction of the irreligious action is towards the thickening or deepening of your bondages. Then there is the religious action: that is called kartavya . What is kartavya or Dharma? That which leads to freedom from your bondages.

So, these two courses of action are possible to the one who is not yet liberated. He can act this way, or he can act that way.

Then there is the liberated one. The liberated one really does not need to act for himself because he has no bondages left. He does not need to liberate himself further. He is already liberated, yet he keeps on working—and that’s what the wonder is.

Who is the religious man? Who is the irreligious man?

If the one in shackles acts, then it can be explained: he is acting for the sake of his freedom, liberation. He is in shackles. You can see the chains, the fetters. So, he is working, and it is obvious why he is working. He is a sincere fellow; he is a sensible fellow. He wants freedom. This is the religious man.

Who is the irreligious man? He who is wearing chains and working in a way that will load him with more bondages. This is the irreligious fellow.

The liberated one needs no religion at all

Now, you come to the liberated one. The liberated one needs no religion at all; he has gone beyond religion. In his case, religion has already served its purpose. He needs no religion. Does Krishna follow a religion? No. Krishna is religion itself. He does not follow any religion.

There is no Dharma, no kartavya for Krishna, and yet he is found working so very diligently, so very uninterruptedly. Why? That’s what you need to find out. In trying to find that out, the finder will get lost. That’s the great thing about such an endeavour to find. No finding will really happen, but the one who set out to find will get exhausted.

Liberation is not something that happens to a man

Q : If the liberated one stops doing work because it is not his compulsion to act, will it then leave no difference between the liberated and the non-liberated?

AP : How will he stop doing? Who will force him to stop doing? He does what he does. He is alone to himself. Who can stop him from doing what he must? It is his free will—and only he really has free will. You cannot stop him. You can at most physically kill him—go ahead and do that! But still, you cannot really stop him. He will express himself in some other way. The spirit will remain. One instance of the spirit, one particular body can be killed, but the spirit really cannot be stopped.

Liberation is not something that happens to a man. It is more abstract; there is nothing personal. Therefore, I keep saying that the way we usually talk about enlightenment is all bogus. Enlightenment is a myth.

In order to gain more clarity about the above topic, you can refer to Acharya Prashant's books Bhagavad Gita - Volume1 and Karma: Why Everything You Know About It Is Wrong .

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