Krishna says that he explained yoga to the sun-god, who then told the first human, Manu, who told his son and passed it down to royal sages until humans lost their knowledge of it. However, Arjuna gets to learn the ancient yoga because he is Krishna’s devotee and friend.
Krishna again suggests that his powers are far greater than what meets the eye. He also reveals his motivations for intervening in human affairs: he wants to give people the wisdom they have forgotten, which the Bhagavad Gita preserves and transmits.
Arjuna asks how Krishna told the sun-god, who was purportedly born earlier, but Krishna insists that he has had many births, bringing himself into being through his own “creative force” whenever dharma is lacking. He strives to fix dharma, saving the good and punishing the evil—when souls who are acquainted with the divine graduate from their human lives, they go to Krishna, as they have purified themselves through wisdom and discipline, abandoning vices like greed, fear, and anger. Krishna dedicates his efforts to those who first dedicate themselves to him through sacrifice. He created the castes, meting out the gunas through his act of creation, although he is nevertheless “the Imperishable One / who does not act.” Krishna, and those who know him, are not adulterated by desire or constrained by action.
The loss of ancient wisdom, it seems, has led to a decline in dharma, which the feud between the Pandavas and Kauravas may reflect. Indeed, if even Arjuna, the most heroic of all men, cannot act wisely, then the world truly needs divine intervention. Krishna’s immense power seems to create some paradoxes: he can create himself, and indeed he creates much without acting. Once Arjuna eventually discovers that all being consists in fragments of Krishna’s absolute being, this begins to make sense: Krishna is immaterial, but he births all material things.
Yet, by acting with insight, the ancients sought freedom, as Krishna implores Arjuna to do now. While some poets are confused by the difference between action and non-action, Krishna believes people can nevertheless achieve knowledge through “watchful insight” into action and inaction. This leads them to see “non-action in action, / and action in non-action.” These people relinquish all attachment to action’s results, restraining the mind and acting with the body, doing no evil and surpassing dualities. For these sacrificial sages, sacrificial action “dissolves altogether.”
Krishna makes it clear that humanity has already fallen into ignorance, relative to the sages who came before. The wise can see that the true self does not act when the material self does (“non-action in action”), but also that inaction is itself a deliberate act of the gunas (“action in non-action”). In this way, their ability to surpass dualities hinges on their understanding of the difference between the higher and lower selves. Again, Krishna reiterates that inaction cannot resolve the pitfalls of action, but only an indifference to all action yet willingness to perform it out of sacrifice.
Krishna declares that Brahman offers Brahman to Brahman and thereby attains Brahman. While some sacrifice to specific gods, others sacrifice in this way, to Brahman. In yoga, some people sacrifice their senses to the “fires / of restraint” and others indulge in them, sacrificing to the “fires / of the senses.” Ascetics (people who practice extreme discipline and deny themselves worldly pleasures) can sacrifice in a variety of ways, from knowledge and relinquishing material things to focusing on breath control and fasting. These people who sacrifice can be reunited with Brahman, but this sacrifice is an action.
Krishna introduces the crucial difference between the absolute God and the particular gods many people worship: the former includes people and the eternal self, but the latter is conceived as separate and providential. This explains Krishna’s mysterious declaration about Brahman: as aspects of a unified whole, individuals sacrifice to Krishna (who is that absolute whole) in order to unify themselves with him by transcending the cycle of reincarnation (samsara).
Yet since knowledge contains all action, the sacrifice of knowledge is better than that of material things; surrendering and questioning can lead one to wisdom, and through such discourse, Arjuna can learn to see “all beings” in himself and in Krishna. Even the most evil people can be cured through wisdom, for “the fire of wisdom / makes all actions / into ashes.” Wisdom purifies and perfects the self, leading it “to the highest peace.” Without it, “the doubting self / is destroyed” and ceases to find pleasure in any world. However, the wise person is not bound by action—like a knife, wisdom severs doubt. Krishna tells Arjuna to “stand up, / and dwell in yoga!”
Arjuna submitted to Krishna’s wisdom at the beginning of the Bhagavad Gita by admitting his ignorance and asking for guidance; this may explain Krishna’s partiality to Arjuna and serves as a model for the devoted reader. Wisdom turns actions “into ashes” by convincing people to invest less in their outcomes and severs doubt through the promise of unity with Brahman.