Nishkamakarma
in the Bhagavadgita

1.    The Baghvadgita is a story that synthesizes action and non-action in the world; also catalyzed a transition to devotional (bhakti) Hinduism. The story is referred to as Krishna’s Counsel in Time of War. How to live in civil society without accruing karma but still practicing dharma.

2.    There is a large conflict between the many members of Pandava/Korava family; ends up with Arjuna being driven by a charioteer so he can be the one to blow the conch to commence the war.

A)  Arjuna looks around and sees the faces of aunts, uncles, cousins, etc and collapses in grief. He is confused, upset, and pained because he is having a conflict of dharmas; he does not want to commence the slaughter of his family.

i.              Family dharma vs. War Time dharma

ii.            Arjuna considers renouncing the world so he doesn’t have to participate

B)  Krishna reveals himself as the charioteer and begins to hear out Arjuna and council him in this painful time. Krishna initially states that world renunciation is not the answer because action of some kind is necessary in life; therefore, Arjuna must perform his dharma.

i.              Arjuna should do his dharma as a warrior, to give up dharma is to incur sin”

ii.            Action refers to dharma focused traditions; world maintenance, ritual sacrifice, completion of dharmas.

iii.          Gita does not reject action or non-action; is instead a synthesis

C)  Arjuna isn’t quite sold on this, he continues to plead with Krishna and asks why he must act

i.              Krishna states that Arjuna is acting in a cowardly, limited and ethereal manner because he is only focusing on his transient grief and pain.

D)  Krishna’s response to Arjuna is to focus on the self (atman); if Arjuna can focus on the fact that no human (including his family members) will truly die and are a part of the eternal essence (Brahman). Even though their mortal bodies cease to function, their atman continues to exist.

i.              Arjuna asks why he should focus on the self and how he should act (atman)

ii.            Krishna answers this by saying that since Brahman is atman, focusing on atman is also focusing on Brahman (Krishna)

E)           Krishna’s response to Arjuna is that when he goes into battle, he should focus on the self as well as dedicate the fruits of his actions to Lord Krishna (nishkamakarma)

i.              Arjuna should act without selfish attachments and desires because it is not the action itself that accrues karma but it is the mindset behind it

ii.            If Arjuna acts without attachment to the consequences of his actions and dedicates the results to Krishna, then he will not accumulate karma. It is better to act with this disciplined, unperturbed mind-set than to renounce the world.

iii.          “As the ignorant act with attachment to actions, Arjuna, so wise men should act with detachment to preserve the world” (pp. 46; 3:25)

3.    Krishna’s message is to synthesize paths of action and non-action; this counsel addresses practical, human issues that occur in civil society.

A)  Arjuna should purge his mind of attachments (non-action) and dedicate the results of his actions to Lord Krishna so that he may live without suffering

B)  Perform dharma as required in the spirit of a sacrifice to Brahman

i.              No ties, no karma, therefore, no rebirth! Liberation is attained.

C)  The duties of life can performed in a new spirit that prevents bondage (thus, karma) and allows for liberation.