The Bhagavad Gita and the Way of Action

1.      The Epic and Classical Periods (400 B.C.E. to 600 C.E.)

a.       Indo-Aryan settlement into towns and cities on Gangetic plains

                                                   i.      Absorbing indigenous religions

b.      Mahabharata (and Bhagavad-Gita) (between 400 B.C.E. and 400 C.E.)

c.       Ramayana (Between 200 B.C.E. and 200 C.E.)

d.      Dharmashastras (treatises on dharma) – order, stability, refinement of society

                                                   i.      Laws of Manu (manavadharmashastra)

1.      Ashramadharma – ashrama (life stages) + dharma (duties, appropriate behavaiors)

2.      The Hindu epics and Dharma

·        Vishnu the preserver, protector of dharma: Rama, Krishna

·        Warrior Kings and sacred dharma: sacrifice, heroism, penance, devotion.

·        Their foes and adharma, chaos – spiritual victory over evil

3.      Mahabharata:

·        Yudhisthira loses in dice – 13 years in exile.

·        Return to claim kingdom, Duryodhana refuses – battle.  Kurukshetra

·        Sanjaya (divine eye from Vyasa) and Dhritarashtra

·        Arjuna rides out onto battlefield, unable to act

4.      The Problem: Arjuna’s dilemma

·        Conflicts of dharma, karmic effects of life in the world

·        Must we abandon our worldly work to attain liberation?

·        Arjuna’s mind is confused

5.      Krishna’s response:

·        Allows Arjuna to distinguish between his limited realm of personal and social concerns/larger, universal order of things

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

·        Arjuna should focus on the self when he goes into battle?

·        Why act at all? [action is necessary, sacrifice is important]

·        How then shall I act? How to avoid karma?  Niskamakarma, or Karmamarga

·        How is devotion important to attaining liberation?

6.      Summary:

·        Arjuna should purge his mind of attachments and dedicate the fruits of his actions to Krishna.  This way he can continue to act in a world of pain without suffering despair.  The core of devotion to Krishna is discipline (yoga), which enables the warrior to control his passions and become a man of discipline (yogi).

·        The duties of life can be performed in a new spirit that prevents the acquisition of karma and makes them a means of liberation rather than bondage. 

·        Selfish desire, not the action itself, binds us to acts and their impurity. Perform your duties as required and as a service to God, with no desire for personal gain: no karma, no ties deepened, no rebirth.

·        Metaphysics and philosophy of the Upanishads adapted to the religious needs of a civil society.



1.      Bhagavad Gita

2.      Nishkamakarma

3.      Dharmashastras

4.      Mahabharata

5.      Karmamarga

6.      Arjuna