But in the mean time, historically, by sacrifice was meant: the lighting of the fire, and constantly to be engaged in offering samidhs, and ghṛtaṁ, and all sweet things to the fire; So, it came to be thought that the law of sacrifice is nothing but a ritualistic sacrifice. So, that was one end of the historical movement that the true teaching of sacrifice was lost, and it came to be misunderstood as a movement in which sacrifice was understood as a havana: a fire to be lighted, fire to be kept alive all the time. There was a system of agnihotṛi, who is supposed to keep fire alive through out, not a minute the fire should be extinguished in the house. Before this fire is about to be extinguished, you put another samidh, by which it is kept alive and continue on, and on, and on. To be engaged in keeping the fire alive, that require an action, and that action was regarded as ‘the sacrifice’.
As a result of this development, there came a time when there was an opposition to it, where the Rishis of the later times pointed out that the real teaching of the Veda is not this ritualistic sacrifice, but Knowledge: the real Veda is Knowledge. Realise that the Divine is all. Therefore, in the time of the Upanishads, there was a re-visiting of the Veda, and re-writing of the Veda, not fully, but in essence. That is why the bulk of the Upanishads is much smaller than the bulk of the Vedas. And during that time, a sharp distinction was made between Knowledge and Action. It was pointed out that all action meant ritualistic action, and all Knowledge meant renunciation of action, and turning to meditation, in which Knowledge is gained. Now, this understanding was not prevalent among all the Rishis. The Rishis who were really mature, they always spoke of the re-consideration of synthesis of Knowledge and Action as we find in Isha Upanishad; it is also Upanishad. There, there is a complete synthesis of Knowledge and Action. But there was a trend in India, in which a sharp division was made between Knowledge and Action. And by the path of Knowledge was meant ‘renunciation of action’…
CASSETTE N°17 SIDE B
…and by action was meant preservation of the continuation of the flame of the fire, and to be engaged as fully as possible in doing all kinds of sacrifices so that the light of the flame of fire is kept alive. This was the understanding, which ruled the minds of people at the time when this teaching was being given.
That is why according to Arjuna, when Sri Krishna speaks of Knowledge, it means in his mind: ‘renunciation of action’. And when Sri Krishna speaks of action, it means: ‘the ritualistic sacrifice’. Now, in this psychology, when Sri Krishna now gives the original teaching, in which Knowledge and Action are not opposed to each other, in which Karma yoga itself implies the Knowledge that the Lord is the doer, and without that Knowledge Karma yoga is not a Karma yoga, therefore Knowledge is a real component of that Karma yoga, when this teaching is given, Arjuna gets baffled. Whenever Sri Krishna refers to the word Knowledge it gives an impression to him that now Sri Krishna speaks of the renunciation of Action.
That is why the 3rd chapter also is the same kind of a complaint: “That now you are praising Karma, but if you think that Buddhi is greater than Karma, then why do you throw me into this horrible action?” And here also yogasaṁnyastaṁkarmaṇāṁ, he omits the word yoga, and saṁnyāsaṁ karmaṇāṁ, he holds upon that idea because, “Now you speak of Sannyasa of Karma, which is the better one out of these two? This renunciation of Action, or Action; out of these two you tell me what is the better one and I will follow that.”
Now Sri Krishna’s answer in the 5th chapter is devoted to this basic question. He clarifies ‘renunciation of action’, and the true meaning of Knowledge, the true meaning of Karma, and the real reconciliation of synthesis of Knowledge and Action.