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Bhagavad-Gita Chapter 3, Verse 1

Chapter 3: Karma-yoga
Verse: 1
arjuna uvaca
jyayasi cet karmanas te
mata buddhir janardana
tat kim karmani ghore mam
niyojayasi kesava

Arjuna said: O Janardana, O Kesava, why do You want to engage me in this ghastly warfare, if You think that intelligence is better than fruitive work?

Previously, in 2.49 Krishna had instructed Arjuna to "keep all abominable activities far distant by buddhi-yoga." Taking the meaning of buddhi as intelligence, Krishna's order would mean that Arjuna, by the use of intelligence, should avoid all abominable activities. Krishna repeatedly emphasizes on intelligence by repeating the word "buddhi" ten times in the last thirty-three verses of the second chapter. Statements like this reinforce Arjuna's mis-understanding that all activities have sinful reactions and the only way to avoid material bondage is to leave the society, give up the prescribed duties and take up penance. Yet in the very next verse (2.50) Krishna had encouraged Arjuna to "strive for the art of work." Arjuna is therefore confused between karma (action) and jnana (inaction) – since he seems them as mutually exclusive.

Arjuna addresses Krishna first as Janardana which means the "maintainer of all living entities." The implicit message here is that why should Krishna, the maintainer of all living entities want to engage Arjuna in such a large scale genocide. Arjuna later addresses Krishna as Kesava which also means "one who controls Brahma and Shiva." (Ka means Brahma, Isa means Shiva and va is vayase means 'you control'). Arjuna is thus expressing his dilemma here – that since Krishna controls even Brahma and Shiva, it is impossible to disobey Him – yet he is not clear what Krishna really wants him to do.

Srila Prabhupada explains about Arjuna position, "In other words, he wanted to skillfully avoid the fighting by using Krishna consciousness as an excuse. But as a sincere student, he placed the matter before his master and questioned Krishna as to his best course of action. In answer, Lord Krishna elaborately explained karma-yoga, or work in Krishna consciousness, in this Third Chapter."

Please read the Sanskrit Verse and the Prabhupada's Purport.

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