Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 3 verse 1: Arjuna asks: If understanding is superior to action, why do you spur me to this terrible deed [of killing]?’ 

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 3 verse 2:  Arjuna continues: With these  opposed statements you confuse me. Tell me decisively the one way [either understanding or action] by which I may reach the highest good?

The yoga of understanding (from the previous chapter) has awakened Arjuna’s intellect. He no longer slumps on the seat of his chariot, head in hand. He glimpses possibilities. He’s gained confidence in Krishna and his ability to communicate with Him. He edges into taking responsibility and realizes he has to do something. Yet, he’s still confused on the relative merits of intellectual understanding and of taking action to ‘reach the highest good.’

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 3 verse 3: Lord Krishna responds: As set forth by me since time immoral, there are two paths: the Yoga of understanding for men of contemplation and the Yoga of action for men of action.

According to long-held tradition both ‘men of contemplation and ‘men of action’ find liberation through Yoga. The man of contemplation is a gyan yogi and the man of action is a karma yogi. Gyan and karma yogis turn attention in opposite directions. Consequently, they take different paths.Regardless, they achieve the same goals: ‘cast away the binding influence of action’ (2.39), union of bounded lower self within unbounded higher Self (2.45), fulfillment (2.46), and intellect established in Self (2.47 , 2.48).

Principle differences between paths of contemplation and action, and a final convergence:

* Attention: Through contemplation the man of thought aims his attention inward towards the subtle powers of Divine Nature. The man of action aims his attention outward towards performing actions to serve others.

* Renunciation: The man of contemplation renounces desire by living the life of a recluse, distant from society and its ever-present temptations. The man of action innocently renounces desire by serving others’ desires.

* Dharma: Aided by his dharma, the man of contemplation turns his attention inward away from worldly activities that would otherwise draw his attention outward. Having renounced desire through action, the man of action’s attention is turned inward by the ever-prevalent force of his dharma to seek happiness, contentment and the highest levels of spiritual and material wellbeing.

* Transcendence: The man of contemplation having turned his attention inward achieves the state of least action by engaging his intellect on the interface between potential and manifest, where Divine Nature first stirs. While engaged in action, the man of action transcends quieter levels of awareness and achieves least action through steady intellect.

* Self — The Finish Line: In the end they both identify (through the intellect and ego) with the unbounded contentment of Self in Cosmic Consciousness soon dawning on God Consciousness.


It’s the intellect’s job to discern what is real and true. Having achieved least action and steady intellect along different paths, men of contemplation and men of action realize the same ultimate reality and truth through the ego, the most refined quality of intellect: I am unbounded contentment of Self.


Unbounded Self contains everything, including lower bounded self. Having realized one’s Self, lower self unites within it and union is achieved (2.45).

Along respective paths, practitioners become increasingly familiar with Self’s eternal contentment; in time they ‘cast away the binding influence of action’ to seek contentment outside themselves. The intellect becomes established in Self (2.66 — 2.68 for men of action); eternal union and liberation from action are gained along both paths . In this way, the gyan yogi and karma yogi achieve the same state of nonaction. One’s Self is experienced as separate from desires and actions.

Krishna reinforces the need to take one path or the other to achieve nonaction and perfection.

copyright Keith R Parker 2021