So, Sri Krishna constantly underlines the superiority of Knowledge over Action; but with regard to Action He constantly says that Karma is preferable. Why preferable? Because Karma gives you the fulfilment. If we understand this relationship, the problem actually ceases.
But in spite of all that Sri Krishna has said so far, this question still remains in the mind of Arjuna. And that is because in the time of Arjuna, there had come about a great emphasis on the word ‘sannyāsa’; and ‘sannyāsa’ was a word associated with the word ‘Knowledge’. And it was said that sannyāsa is far superior to anything else in the world. That is why Arjuna under the influence of the ideas, which were prevalent at that time, has built up a psychological reverence for sannyāsa, and wherever there is an emphasis on jñāna, he feels there is an emphasis on sannyāsa. And he feels that the mood, in which that he is now gripped, of going away from the battlefield, is also sannyāsa. And when he says, “I will go away from the battlefield and not fight”, he is actually following a greater path of sannyāsa, and Sri Krishna seems to be saying something contrary to it, and yet in answering He constantly praises jñāna, constantly praises sannyāsa. So, this is a confusion, which requires to be straightened.
And in the chapter n°5 & 6, it is this which is straightened, you might say once for all; but actually in the mind of Arjuna, it still remains. Even in the last chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna comes again to sannyāsa, and tyāga; we shall come to that later on, but at the moment we are still at this point where this question has to be straightened.
So, let us see the question that is put at the very beginning of chapter n°5:
saṁnyāsaṁ karmaṇāṁ kṛṣṇa punar yogaṁ ca śaṁsasi |
yacchreya etayor ekaṁ tan me brūhi suniścitam ||1|| (V)
“O Krishna, you are praising the renunciation of action, and again you are praising performance of action; between the two, etayor, between the two, yacchreya, what is better; tan me brūhi, that you tell me; suniścitam, with definiteness.”
Again, he is complaining that, “You are talking a language, which is bewildering, perplexing, ambiguously, therefore: suniścitam; you just tell me with definiteness, which one of them between the two is better: renunciation of action or performance of action, which is better?”
Now, Sri Krishna answers this question, and He says:
saṁnyāsaḥ karmayogaśca niḥśreyasakarāv ubhau | (V, 2)
“The renunciation of action and performance of action, both of them lead you to the supreme welfare: niḥśreyasakarāv ubhau, both of them lead you to the supreme welfare; tayos tu, however, between the two, karmasaṁnyāsāt karmayogo viśiṣyate which is definiteness now: between the two, karmayogo viśiṣyate performance of action is superior.”
Now, this superiority is not in the sense in which Knowledge is superior to Action. This is because in terms of fulfilment, Karma yoga is superior; Karma yoga is also superior because it is much easier of pursuit. If you want to renounce action, then, the process of renunciation of action is much more difficult than performance of action. From both these points of view, karmayogo viśiṣyate that which fulfils, and that which is easier to follow. Now, why is it easier to follow Karma yoga? Because karmasaṁnyāsāt: if you want to give up action altogether, it is very difficult. Because even for the maintenance of the body you have to do action: breathing itself is an action. So, if you want to renounce action altogether, you might say in a sense it is impossible. The real ‘Karma Sannyasa’ is basically impossible unless you leave the body altogether. But so long that you are caught up in the body, even if you want to renounce action, it is not possible.
Therefore, all those who follow the process of renunciation of action, even they concede that you should do action but do minimum action. Even those people who want to renounce action their prescription is that since you cannot give up all actions, you simply reduce your action to the minimum: that which sustains your body. And then, they say that you do only certain kinds of Karma. So, there is a whole theory of what kinds of Karma you should do of the minimum amount. So, even those who want to renounce action, even they propose some actions at least, although minimum, and certain important actions. That being the case, it is better and much easier to accept the fact that performance of action itself can be used for your highest welfare; so, it is much easier. And also if you do that, you arrive at a greater fulfilment: therefore, karmayogo viśiṣyate.
Now, Sri Krishna however brings out, what is called ‘identity of the process of Knowledge and the process of Action’. Here of course He says that karmayogo viśiṣyate ‘it is much better’. But now, Sri Krishna goes once step farther, and He says that, actually speaking, Sankhya, which is the process of Knowledge, and Yoga, which is the process of Action are basically one and the same thing. Why is it so? Because He says: “Look at the ‘heart’ of the matter”. What is the heart of Sankhya? And what is the heart of Karma yoga?
Karma yoga certainly prescribes that you should perform action; but performance of action is not the heart of Karma yoga. As I said earlier, the Karma yoga of the Gita is not a Karma yoga of ‘duty’. In the Karma yoga, which simply says, “you do your duty”, performance of action is the very heart of duty. But, the Karma yoga that Sri Krishna gives here is a Karma yoga in which Knowledge is superior to Action: that is the very basis of this Karma yoga. And Sri Krishna says that you cannot really be a Karmayogi unless you do Karma with Knowledge: you don’t do merely action for the sake of duty, for performance of duty, but you do your action with Knowledge.
And what Knowledge? Knowledge of yajña; and this Knowledge of yajña, is a Knowledge of the whole universe, and where you perceive that the whole world is nothing but a sacrifice. In that sacrifice you come to know who is the sacrificer, what is the real fire, and who is the receiver of the fire, of the oblation that you made. In other words, without the Knowledge of the Supreme, without the knowledge that the Supreme is the doer of all actions, without your putting yourself into the hands of the Divine, and realising that Divine Himself is performing action through you, unless all this Knowledge is born in you, you are not a Karmayogi. So, the heart of Karma yoga is all this great Knowledge. So, since Knowledge is the very heart of Karma yoga, and the very heart of Jnana yoga is Knowledge, since both of them impose upon you a true Knowledge, both are one and the same.