jyaayasee chetkarmanaste mataa buddhirjanaardana |
tatkim karmani ghore maam niyojayasi keshava || 1 ||

If knowledge is superior to action in your opinion, O Janaardana, why do you want me to perform this horrible action, O Keshava?

jyaayasee : superior
chet : if
karmanaha : action
te : you
mataa : opinion
buddhih : knowledge
janaardana : O Janaardana
tat : then
kim : why
karmani : action
ghore : horrible
maam : me
niyojayasi : perform
keshava : O Keshava

We begin the third chapter with a question from Arjuna. It is wonderful to see the give-and-take between a student and a disciple come up several times in the Gita, making it more accessible and human. Let us dig deeper into Arjuna’s question.

In the last chapter, Shri Krishna introduced the topic of karma yoga, where one performs selfless action. But later, he spoke about the knowledge of the eternal essence. Arjuna interpreted this as a statement that knowledge is superior to wisdom, and wanted to clarify whether it was so.

As an analogy, I remember the experience of learning music. In most cases, new students of music gave more importance to performing a popular song on stage, than to endure the rigour and discipline of daily finger drills that could get repetitive and boring. Similarly, Arjuna thought that knowledge was superior in action.

Arjuna also referred to his fighting in the war as a “horrible” action. This word speaks a lot about his mental state. Shri Krishna had taught him that one should maintain equanimity in pleasant and unpleasant situations. But Arjuna had not internalized and assimilated the teaching.

This is not uncommon. Our experience will usually indicate that a one-time hearing or “shravana” of any teaching will not be enough. We also need to reflect on the teaching, which is also known as “manana”. And finally, we have to internalize it so that it becomes part of our personality – “nidhidhyaasana”.

In the next shloka, Arjuna completes his question to Shri Krishna.