When jnana and karma are different philosophies, how can they both give the same result, as the Gita’s sixth chapter states?
Transcriber: Sharan Shetty
Edited by: Keshavgopal Das
Question: When jnana and karma are different philosophies, how can they both give the same result, as the Gita’s sixth chapter states?
Answer: When Krishna is using the words karma and jnana, he is not necessarily using the words to refer to whole philosophical systems. Arjuna and Krishna are not discussing broad philosophical treatises, they are discussing courses of action, that is why, karma in that context refers to the path of action and jnana refers to the path of inaction or the path of renunciation based on contemplation. There are some connections between the sankhya (which is being talked over there) and the sankhya (which is a philosophy) but they are not exactly the same because words have contextual meaning and context-independent meaning. Here, in the context, Krishna says to Arjuna , in Gita 5.2, nihsreyasa-karav ubhau. This means both will lead to long term benefit, but both will not lead to the exact same benefit. Krishna is not specifying any identical ultimate goal, he is broadly saying that both will lead to nihsreyasa or long term benefit. Therefore, in that context, both are similar.
When Krishna is using the word karma, he is not using it to refer to karma-kanda, he is actually using it to refer to karma yoga because in the context of karma-kanda, Krishna has already told in Gita 2.47, karmaṇy evādhikāras te mā phaleṣu kadācana (You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action). The progression from karma-kanda to karma yoga has already happened before Chapter Three. Krishna is talking here about karma yoga which does not mean romanticizing and enjoying the world. Krishna explains karma yoga as working with detachment. There are various places where Krishna is saying asaktah – work with detachment. Among the path of detached action and contemplative knowledge, karma yoga is better, although both will lead to long term benefit.
The yoga ladder, in itself, is an overall truth in which jnana yoga is placed above karma yoga. However, in the Gita’s context, there are very few verses which are actually speaking positively about the jnana yoga, path of inaction. Krishna wants Arjuna to act and so he always stresses on action, not on renunciation. The very fact that Arjuna wanted to renounce the world indicates that he considered renunciation to be higher than action and from a broad cultural understanding; renunciants are respected even by the kings. Renunciation being respectable is a broad Vedic understanding and Krishna is not challenging it. Renunciation of the world for the contemplation of higher reality is considered higher than engagement in the world for the purpose of enjoying the world. So, in the Gita, the hierarchy of renunciation being higher than action, in principle, is already accepted. However, in the context of Arjuna, inaction is not preferable. For him, the path of detached action is preferable. That is why, Krishna is speaking in general principle that both will lead to long term well-being but for Arjuna (and in general, people who are not very detached or not in sattva-guna) the path of detached action is better than path of renounced contemplation. This is the principle which Krishna is explaining in that context.
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