Chapter 2. Wisdom and Action

1To him, who was thus in despair,
overcome by pity, and in tears,
Krishna spoke these words:

2How can you lose heart
in this hour of crisis?

This is disgraceful, ignoble, and
unworthy of higher realms.

3Don’t be a coward, Arjuna;
that’s not right for you!

Arise, awake, and abandon your timidity,
O destroyer of enemies!

4How can I battle Bhishma and Drona?
How can I shower arrows on them?
They are worthy of my reverence.

5If I kill these noble elders
for the sake of worldly gains,
my pleasures will be stained with their blood;
instead, I would rather beg for food.

6Dhritarashtra’s men are standing in front of us;
I don’t wish to live at the cost of killing them.

Should we conquer them?
Should they conquer us?
I don’t know which is better.

7I have become very sentimental.
I am totally confused about
what is right and what is wrong.
I surrender at your feet as your disciple.
Please show me the right path and
tell me for certain what is good for me.

8I don’t see how
gaining absolute control
over this prosperous earth or
even lordship over the heavens
will drive away this grief,
which dampens my spirit.

9Having said this to Krishna,
Arjuna – the destroyer of enemies – declared:
“I shall not fight!”
and became silent.

10In the midst of the two armies,
Krishna, with a smile,
spoke these words
to the grief-stricken one:

11You grieve for that which you should not,
yet you seem to speak words of wisdom.
The wise neither grieve for the dead
nor for the living.

12There was never a time when
I or you or these kings did not exist.
There will never be a time when we cease to exist.
Here, ‘we’ refers to the soul. Krishna goes on to explain how the soul is eternal and immortal.

13The soul that lives in the body
passes through childhood, youth, and old age;
similarly, it passes through different bodies.
A wise person is not disturbed by these changes.
Here, ‘it’ refers to the soul.

14When senses come in contact with sensates
we experience cold and heat, pleasure and pain.
These sensations come and go,
for they are not permanent.
Patiently endure them, Arjuna.
Senses (or sense organs) are ears, eyes, nose, tongue, and skin. Sensates are sound, sight, smell, taste, and texture. Sensations are what we experience when senses come in contact with sensates.

15One who is not affected by sensations
remains calm in pain and pleasure.
He is firm in his resolve and
he is ready for immortality.
By disconnecting oneself from materials and by subduing lower instincts, one gets in touch with the immortal self.

16The Unreal doesn’t exist.
The Real never ceases to be.
Those who know the ultimate truth
have indeed realized the nature of both.
Krishna refers to the soul as ‘real’ since it is imperishable; he refers to the body as ‘unreal’ because it is perishable.
Indeed, the body is also real, but it appears unreal in the face of a higher level of reality, the soul.

17The imperishable pervades everything
and no one can destroy the imperishable.
‘Imperishable’ refers to the soul.

18The body is perishable,
whereas the soul seated within
is eternal, indestructible, and infinite.
Therefore fight, O descendant of Bharata!
Arjuna was a descendant of King Bharata, the founder of the ancient Indian empire. Krishna invokes the name of Arjuna’s famous ancestor perhaps as a reminder that one’s character survives long after one is gone.

19One who considers it as the killer
and one who thinks it is killed –
both of them do not know,
for it neither kills nor is it killed.
In this verse and in the following few verses, ‘it’ refers to the soul.

20It is never born; it never dies.

It never came into being,
nor will it ever come into being.

Unborn, eternal, changeless and primeval,
it is not killed when the body is killed.
The soul is always there – it is not bound by space or time.
The idea of ‘birth’ and ‘death’ is only for the body.

21One who knows that the soul is
indestructible, infinite, eternal, and unborn,
how can he kill or incite another to kill?

22Just as one discards old clothes
and puts on new ones,
the soul discards old bodies
and takes on new ones.

23Weapons do not cleave it,
fire does not burn it,
water does not wet it, and
the wind does not wither it.

24It cannot be cut or burnt
or drenched or dried.
It is everlasting, all-pervading,
stable, immovable, and primordial.

25It is beyond form, thought, or change.
Having understood it thus,
why should you grieve?
The soul is free from birth and death, growth and decay,
existence and non-existence.

26Even if you believe that the soul is
perpetually subject to birth and death,
why should you grieve?

27Death is certain for those who are born.
Birth is certain for those who have died.
Why worry about the inevitable?
We go through cycles of birth and death until the soul is redeemed.

28Beings are formless in their beginnings,
they are formless in their ends, and
they acquire a form only in between.
What is there to lament in this?
Before birth and after death, beings are a part of the infinite. It is only during bodily life that beings can be perceived by the senses.

29One sees it as a wonder,
another speaks of it as a wonder,
yet another hears of it as a wonder
and even having heard it all,
no one really knows.

30The soul in everyone’s body
is eternal and imperishable.
Thus, you should not grieve
for any living being.

31Even from the point of view of
your own duty as a warrior
you should not hesitate to fight.
There is nothing superior for a warrior
than a war fought for preserving dharma.
Here, dharma refers to righteousness. The Pandavas fought the war for the larger good and not merely for their honor or for self-defense.

32Fortunate are the warriors
who encounter a battle such as this
which comes of its own accord.
Indeed, it is an open door to heaven.
According to Hindu belief, ‘heaven’ is a transient place where people are rewarded for their good deeds; they stay till they receive the full course of rewards.

33Now if you don’t fight in this
battle sanctioned by dharma,
you will be making the mistake of
ignoring your own duty and reputation.

34People will forever talk
about your dishonorable act
and for an honorable person,
disgrace is worse than death.

35The great warriors will think that
you have run away from battle out of fear;
many who held you in high esteem
will no longer respect you.

36Your enemies will ridicule your ability
and speak lowly of you.
What can be more painful than this?
Krishna tries to persuade Arjuna by presenting various perspectives on the issue. Earlier he spoke about how Arjuna’s fundamental assumptions were wrong and here he speaks about the obvious problems of retreating from war.

37If you are killed, then you will attain heaven.
If you are victorious, then you will rule over the kingdom.
Therefore arise, Arjuna, with a firm resolve to fight.

38Gain and loss, victory and defeat,
comfort and discomfort –
treat them in the same spirit and fight;
then you will not incur any guilt.

39So far, I revealed to you the way of sankhya.
Now, understand the practice of yoga.
The way of sankhya is an approach based on reasoning.
‘Practice of yoga’ refers to karma yoga: doing work without getting attached to it.

With this insight, you will break free
from the bondage of action.
Bondage of action refers to attachment to the results of an action.

40In this path, no effort is wasted
nor is there any bad outcome.
Even a little effort in this direction
will save you from misery.

41Those who follow this path
attain single-pointed focus.
But for those who are hesitant,
their decisions are multifold and endless.

42Those who lack proper insight
delight in the letter (and not spirit) of the Vedas;
they proclaim in flowery words:
“there is nothing else other than this”.
The Vedas are the foremost revealed scriptures in Hinduism.

43They are full of desires and
reaching heaven is their supreme goal.
They perform many elaborate rituals
to attain pleasure and power.
Their actions eventually result in rebirth.

See 2:49 and 9:20-21.

44Those attached to pleasure and power
are led astray by that flowery language.
They never attain the firm intellect of a
contemplative mind.

45The Vedas deal with the three gunas;
free yourself from the influence of the gunas.
Guna refers to inherent tendencies of a human being.
The three gunas are: sattva (saintly goodness), rajas (restless activity), and tamas (deluded lethargy).

Go beyond the dualities and
give up the desire to acquire or hoard.
‘Dualities’ are relative opposites like hot and cold, happy and sad, winning and losing, me and other, etc.
‘Acquire’ refers to pursuing what is yet to be attained.
‘Hoard’ refers to clinging on to what has already been attained.

Be a master of yourself and
be established in the eternal truth.

46What is the use of a well when there is a flood
and water is flowing freely everywhere?
What is the use of all the Vedas
when one has realized the ultimate truth?

47You have control only over your actions
but never over their results.
The expected results should not be
the motivation for action.
Also, don’t shirk away from your work.
One is never in complete control over the outcome of an action.
See 18:13-16.

It is pointless to worry about something that one cannot control. Focus on work without fear of failure or greed for success.
At the same time, don’t be lazy.

48Work with a balanced mind
having given up all attachments;
such equanimity is called karma yoga.

49Action guided by selfish interests
is far inferior to action guided by wisdom.
Seek refuge in that wisdom.
Pitiable are those who have their eye on the result.
‘Wisdom’ refers to working with a balanced mind without attachments.

50Endowed with that wisdom,
one remains unaffected by
both good and bad outcomes in this life.

Thus, act in the spirit of karma yoga,
which is a smart approach to work.

51With a balanced mind,
the wise renounce
their interest in the results;
freed from the bondage of birth,
they reach a faultless state.
‘Bondage of birth’ refers to being caught in the cycle of birth and death.

52When your intellect transcends
the thickets of delusion,
you will go beyond what has been heard
and what is to be heard.
When the intellect becomes free of delusion, it is able to view things objectively and hence is not perturbed by external influences.

53Unmoved by confusing things
that you may hear,
when your intellect stands still
and is firmly fixed in meditation,
you shall attain yoga.
In this context, yoga is ‘union with the supreme’.

54How do you describe a man of steady insight?
How does a man of steady intellect speak?
How does he sit?
How does he go about leading his life?

55When one abandons all selfish desires
and is satisfied within the true self,
he is said to be of steady intellect.

56One whose mind is not agitated by adversity,
who does not crave pleasure,
who is free from
passion, fear, and anger,
is a sage of steady intellect.

57He is detached in all matters, and
he neither rejoices nor hates
the pleasant and unpleasant situations
that he encounters;
his intellect stands firm.

58When he completely withdraws
the senses from the sensates,
just as a tortoise withdraws its limbs,
his intellect stands firm.

59When he abstains from feeding the senses
by turning away from the sensates,
the cravings for sensations still remain.

Even the cravings leave him
once he has realized the supreme.

60The turbulent senses
forcibly distract the mind
even of a wise person
who is sincerely striving
to control them.

61Having restrained the senses,
one should sit steady
seeking the supreme.

When senses are under control
one attains a steady intellect.

62When one is preoccupied
with sensations,
he easily gets attached to them.
From such attachment,
a desire to attain them is born.
Unfulfilled desires
lead to frustration.
63Frustration leads to confusion;
confusion impairs discretion.
Lack of discretion destroys reasoning.
Without the power of reasoning,
he is doomed!

64But a self-disciplined person,
who has subdued his senses and
is devoid of attraction or aversion,
remains peaceful even as
he encounters sensates.

65In that eternal peace,
all his pains are destroyed
for the intellect of the serene one
soon becomes firmly established in the Self.

66One who is not disciplined
lacks wisdom and focus.
Without focus,
one cannot attain peace.
Without peace,
how can one be happy?

67When the mind is led astray
by wandering senses,
then it carries away one’s wisdom
just as the wind carries away a ship
off its chartered course.

68Therefore, he is of steady intellect,
whose senses are completely restrained
from the influence of sensates.

69The self-restrained person is awake
to which all other beings are asleep.
The seer-sage is asleep
to which all other beings are awake.
The self-restrained person is awake to the ultimate truth and
the seer-sage is asleep to mundane experiences encountered by sense organs.

70Just as rivers flow into the ocean
which gets filled up and yet remains still,
so also, all desires merge in him
and yet he attains peace,
unlike the one who is driven by desires.

71He attains peace
once he overcomes all desires,
lives without cravings and
is free from ego
or any sense of ownership.

72This is indeed the state of brahman.
He who attains it is never deluded.
Being established in that state,
even barely at the hour of death,
he becomes one with the supreme.

<< Chapter 1. Arjuna's Despair


  1. Please help me understand this: When Krishna reasons with Arjuna, why does he speak of honor, esteem and that the enemies will ridicule him? Are these important? Are they not the end result?
    How do you tell what your duty or dharma is?

  2. @Concerned, Confused but Learning:
    Krishna presents his case from different perspectives. He starts off by saying that Arjuna's sentimentality is misplaced and that he is grieving for things he should not. Then he talks about how Arjuna's emotions are uncalled for when faced with the higher reality of the soul. Then Krishna talks about the obvious, real-world implications of running away from war.

    There is a thin line between being unfocussed on the result and being heedless to the possible consequences of one's actions -- the former leads to peace and the latter to destruction.

    Your dharma is your state of mind, your natural way of being. You can tell that by going deeper into yourself. The larger dharma of course is laid out by the scriptures, which have been composed by great seers based on their experience.


  3. Loving it. Nice work.

  4. Thanks for your nice words!