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Ethics of the Bhagavad Gita

Ethics of the Bhagavad Gita

  • The ethics of Gita is anti-hedonistic. The Gita condemns the Carvaka hedonism. According to the Gita moral life consists in the regulation of base emotions and instincts. Hence, one must strive to conquer these.
  • Literally ‘Bhagavad Gita’ means ‘The Lord’s song’, that is, the discourse of Lord Krishna to persuade the reluctant Arjuna to perform his dharma. It is contained in the Bhishma­-Parva of the Mahabharata.
  • The Gita represents a unique synthesis of action, devotion and knowledge. It teaches karmayoga (the path of action), gyan yoga (the path of knowledge) and bhakti yoga (the path of devotion). These three paths are the means to realize the Highest Ideal of life.
  • The literal meaning of yoga is ‘union’, that is, the union of the individual with the Ideal. It also means equanimity of mind and excellence of action, which come through detachment.
  • An Ideal yogi (Sthita-pragya) is one who is able to regulate passions and remains calm in pleasant as well as adverse conditions. One is like a flame which does not flicker in a windless condition, since one in unmoved by the winds of joys and sorrows.                              Ethics of the Bhagavad Gita
  • The ethics of Gita resembles Kant’s rationalism, but it differs from Kant’s ethics in a significant way. In the ethics of Gita, duties ought to be performed for the attainment of the Ideal, but in Kant, duty ought to be performed for the sake of it.
  • The Gita enjoins the performance of duties for the welfare of humanity (lokasamgraha). The ideal aspirant has to work for the humanity in the spirit of perfect detachment, with no desire to reap the fruit. Just as a liberated ‘cave-dweller’ in Plato goes back into the cave to free others.
  • Kant’s conception of the ‘kingdom of ends’ comes close to this. However, while Kant’s ethics is deontological the ethics of Gita is teleological. Again, Kant enjoins the renunciation of all feelings and emotions.                                                  Ethics of the Bhagavad Gita
  • But the Gita talks about renunciation of only base emotions and passions. It does not negate love and compassion for the creatures. Selfishness shall be renunciated but selfless humanism ought to be cultivated.
  • The Gita’s classification of the specific duties in accordance with one’s capability and aptitude comes close to Plato’s classification of duties for the different classes of men in an Ideal Republic.                                                                Ethics of the Bhagavad Gita
  • According to some critics, absolutely disinterested action is a psychological impossibility. But, essentially the Gita recommends not the annihilation of all desires but the merging of all desires in one profound supreme desire- the attainment of self-realization or the Ideal.
  • Some critics argue that the Gita propagates a ‘cult of violence/murder’. However, the basic teachings of the Gita suggest that it is the duty of an individual to rise above selfish consideration and to perform one’s duty without getting moved by base emotions and passions. Also, one shall be working for the welfare of humanity and shall have the determination to fight against all forms of evil.



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