Ch. 4 Yoga of Unattached Karma (Part 2)

This article is part 39 of 43 in the series Jīvana-dharma-yoga

The Antiquity of Karma-vidyā

“Arjuna, what I am explaining to you now is not something new and contemporary. It is something that I had explained to the sun named Vivasvān at the beginning of creation. He, in turn, taught this to Manu, the progenitor of the human race. Manu then gave the same upadeśa to Ikṣvāku, the foremost among kings. Thus, this knowledge of karma has been passed on through many generations. Earlier, many king-sages like Janaka and others followed the tenets of this knowledge and became accomplished."

Why did Bhagavān thus speak of an unbroken guru-śiṣya tradition? Did he intend that since it was ancient, it had to be accepted? Kālidāsa says,

purāṇam-ity-eva na sādhu sarvaṃ
na cāpi kāvyaṃ navam-ity-avadyam

santaḥ parīkṣyānyatarad-bhajante… (Mālavikāgnimitram Act 1)

All that is ancient is not great because of its antiquity; all that is new is not bad because of its newness. The guṇa or doṣa of something can be determined only after careful reasoning. Nothing should be accepted with blind faith. Still, the fact that many people over hundreds of generations accepted it is proof enough of the probity of the knowledge of karma. We find similar testimony of widespread acceptance by people spanning aeons even with regard to the Vedas. Therefore, the fact that a great many people have accepted the principle of karma is evidence of its efficacy.

This is why Bhagavān praised antiquity and tradition. The people of our times should study this principle carefully. Human history should, like the flow of a mighty river, be unbroken. Only then does it acquire prominence. Otherwise, if it is broken here and there, torn asunder by flaws, inconsistent and incoherent, and absurd, it becomes a meaningless travail. It becomes like the lokāyata refrain "aparaspara-saṃbhūtam" (BG 16.8) (born and existing independent of one another). This is why all our social reformers have always averred that they are the followers of their elders. This is the tradition in all countries. If a reformer wants his work to be sustained in future, he always says that he is only reiterating and demonstrating what is already expressed in previous works. Jesus Christ also did the same. He did not claim that he founded a new religion, but that his was an ancient creed that disappeared over time and he was only resurrecting it. Scholars of commerce, law, and other subjects also say that they are only taking naturally established philosophies forward and not creating them anew. The seers of the Vedas said,

"iti śuśruma dhīrāṇāṃ ye nas-tad-vicacakṣire" — "This we heard from the wise, who explained it to us." (Īśāvāsya Upaniṣad 10)

"idam-āhur-anūcānāḥ" — "thus said the ancients..." (Kumārasambhava 6.15)

"tadeṣābhyuktā" — "this was declared..." (Taittirīya-upaniṣad 2.1)

"atraite ślokā bhavanti" — "these are the verses here..." (Maitrāyaṇy-upaniṣad)

etc., and remembered their ancient masters.

This is not just an act of courtesy. Those who strive for the progress of humankind follow the method of home builders. The very first layer is the foundation, then comes a line of bricks, and then a line above that and so on. A storey is built using the lower storey as support. Thus, it is important that all the levels from the foundation to the topmost floor are connected. A building that has stood strong for a long time itself is proof that it can withstand the impact of rain and sun and wind, and also the thumps and thwacks of people living in it. A religion or custom is venerated because it is time-tested. This is tradition. The plight of a civilisation without tradition is similar to that of a cotton strand that is flitting aimlessly as the wind takes it.

Tradition is not mindless parroting of customs and rules. ‘Traditional’ does not amount to mere repetition. Saying and doing the same thing over and over again is not progress. True progress blends older aspects of societal life with the new — just as old trunk and roots of a peepal tree coexist with and nurture new branches and leaves. The same pattern of progress holds true for human history also. The old should form the basis for the new. Only then does newness gain acceptability and strength. Such continuity from old to new is the sign of a healthy society. Śrīkṛṣṇa demonstrated that such continuity existed in his instruction and therefore it was worthy of following. It was accepted by many people across many generations, and therefore it was authoritative. He said, "My good man, this instruction is suited for all times. Don’t think that you, Arjuna, are the first among the world’s intelligent people! There were many wise people before you who followed this path. I am only telling you what has been established firmly, by virtue of being accepted across generations by many people. Therefore it is fit to be accepted."

Why did something that was well-established even in ancient times go missing?

evaṃ paramparā-prāptam-imaṃ rājarṣayo viduḥ
sa kāleneha mahatā yogo naṣṭaḥ parantapa॥ (BG 4.2)

(This science that was passed on in an uninterrupted manner, studied by sages among kings, was lost).

"As aeons passed, the conditions of the world changed and this knowledge was lost.’’

Coming to think of it, it is not surprising at all. We see many streams of knowledge dying out in front of our eyes.

Divine Avatāras

Arjuna was surprised on hearing Bhagavān praise long-lost ancestors. He said, "Wait a moment, my dear fellow! When was Vivasvān born and when were you born? How were you, my contemporary, able to instruct someone who existed long, long ago?"

This question of Arjuna’s gave an opportunity to Bhagavān to demonstrate his firm attachment towards his dharma. He said, "Arjuna, you and I do not belong to this era alone; we have always existed. You and I differ in two aspects. Firstly, you have forgotten your previous births; I remember them. Secondly, your births were caused because of your deeds — good and bad. My avatāras are for the protection of dharma.”

yadā yadā hi dharmasya glānirbhavati bhārata
abhyutthānam adharmasya tadātmānaṃ sṛjāmyaham

paritrāṇāya sādhūnāṃ vināśāya ca duṣkṛtāṃ
dharmasaṃśthāpanārthāya sambavāmi yuge yuge
॥ (BG 4.7, 4.8)

(Whenever dharma declines and adharma ascends, I manifest myself.
To protect the virtuous, to destroy the evil and to establish dharma, I am born in every age).

To be continued...

The present series is a modern English translation of DVG’s Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award-winning work, Bhagavad-gītā-tātparya or Jīvana-dharma-yoga. The translators wish to express their thanks to Śatāvadhāni R Ganesh for his valuable feedback and to Hari Ravikumar for his astute edits.



Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.



Engineer. Lapsed blogger. Abiding interest in Sanskrit, religion, and philosophy. A wannabe jack-of-all.


Mother of two. Engineer. Worshiper of Indian music, poetry, and art.

Prekshaa Publications

The Mahābhārata is the greatest epic in the world both in magnitude and profundity. A veritable cultural compendium of Bhārata-varṣa, it is a product of the creative genius of Maharṣi Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vyāsa. The epic captures the experiential wisdom of our civilization and all subsequent literary, artistic, and philosophical creations are indebted to it. To read the Mahābhārata is to...

Shiva Rama Krishna

சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
சிவன் தனிமனித அடையாளமாக அமைகிறான்....

ऋतुभिः सह कवयः सदैव सम्बद्धाः। विशिष्य संस्कृतकवयः। यथा हि ऋतवः प्रतिसंवत्सरं प्रतिनवतामावहन्ति मानवेषु तथैव ऋतुवर्णनान्यपि काव्यरसिकेषु कामपि विच्छित्तिमातन्वते। ऋतुकल्याणं हि सत्यमिदमेव हृदि कृत्वा प्रवृत्तम्। नगरजीवनस्य यान्त्रिकतां मान्त्रिकतां च ध्वनदिदं चम्पूकाव्यं गद्यपद्यमिश्रितमिति सुव्यक्तमेव। ऐदम्पूर्वतया प्रायः पुरीपरिसरप्रसृतानाम् ऋतूनां विलासोऽत्र प्रपञ्चितः। बेङ्गलूरुनामके...

The Art and Science of Avadhānam in Sanskrit is a definitive work on Sāhityāvadhānam, a form of Indian classical art based on multitasking, lateral thinking, and extempore versification. Dotted throughout with tasteful examples, it expounds in great detail on the theory and practice of this unique performing art. It is as much a handbook of performance as it is an anthology of well-turned...

This anthology is a revised edition of the author's 1978 classic. This series of essays, containing his original research in various fields, throws light on the socio-cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu spanning several centuries. These compelling episodes will appeal to scholars and laymen alike.
“When superstitious mediaevalists mislead the country about its judicial past, we have to...

The cultural history of a nation, unlike the customary mainstream history, has a larger time-frame and encompasses the timeless ethos of a society undergirding the course of events and vicissitudes. A major key to the understanding of a society’s unique character is an appreciation of the far-reaching contributions by outstanding personalities of certain periods – especially in the realms of...

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective...


इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...