Why does the Gita consider karma-yoga better than jnana-yoga when jnana-yoga is higher in the yoga ladder?

by Chaitanya CharanJanuary 12, 2020

Answer Podcast

Transcriber: Keshavgopal Das

Question: Why does the Gita consider karma-yoga better than jnana-yoga when jnana-yoga is higher in the yoga ladder?

Answer: As per popular conception, action (karma) in this world is a source of bondage and disconnection (sannyasa) from this world is a source of liberation. This was the same paradigm based on which Arjuna’s question begin in the Gita. He thinks that if he fights the war, he will be bound. On the contrary, if he does not fight the war, he will be liberated. Krishna in the Gita challenges these fundamental conceptions. He says, “Yes, action leads to bondage and renunciation leads to liberation. But things are not so simple. Action, if done with renounced spirit, can also lead to liberation. Also, renunciation, if done without purification, can also lead to bondage. Spiritual growth is a matter of changing our intention.”
The whole principal of the yoga-ladder is based on gradual elevation of our intention.

Initially, the intention is, “I want to enjoy the world”. This is basically karma-kanda mindset. This intention then elevates to “I want to live in this world so that I do not suffer.” This is karma-yoga mindset. Next, the intention elevates to, “This world is a place of trouble, I want to stay away from the trouble, so let me stay away from this world.” These are jnana-yoga and ashtanga-yoga intentions.

Largely, all these yoga processes (karma, jnana, ashtanga) are “I” centric – whether I am enjoying, or staying away from trouble. Bhakti-yoga focusses on Krishna – How can I best serve Krishna? The mindset of a bhakti-yogi is – “If I can serve Krishna by acting in this world, I will act. If I can serve Krishna by renouncing this world, I will renounce.”
In the bhakti perspective, it is possible to have a person connected in this world having a purer intention to serve Krishna than a person who has renounced the world. The person who has renounced the world from material perspective is less entangled in this world. However, the person is still entangled in self-obsession (I do not want to suffer in this world). Therefore, Bhagavad-gita gives a normal hierarchy – action (karma) > renunciation (jnana, dhyana, ashtanga) > devotion (bhakti).

The normal hierarchy that has been talked in Bhagavad-gita is described from 18.47-55. In 18.47-48, Krishna talks about daivi-varnashrama (svakarmana tam abhyarcha, by your work worship him). Then from 18.49-53 Krishna talks about jnana-yoga, renouncing the world (sannyasam upashritaha). Then in 18.54-55, Krishna talks about those who have attained brahman realization (brahma bhuta prasannatma) will attain my bhakti (mad bhaktim labhate param). Therefore, the hierarchy is – karma > jnana > bhakti.

Then in 18.56, Krishna says, “You do not have to go through all this.” (sarva-karmany api sada kurvano mad-vyapashrayah – whatever level you are located at, you start practicing bhakti you will be liberated).

Therefore, one hierarchy is action>renunciation>devotion, but if the action itself is done with devotional intention, then the person is higher than the person who has renounced the world.
So, when, Krishna says, that karma is higher than jnana or ashtanga yoga, he is not simply saying karma as action, but he is saying karma done with yogic (or devotional) intention. Action done with devotional intention is higher than renunciation of the world without devotional intention.

If we see devotion as the criteria for spiritual advancement, then the normal hierarchy can be suspended or rearranged.

End of transcription.

About The Author
Chaitanya Charan

Leave a Response