The human body is required to act. First, it is motivated by essential needs in order to live. After, action is motivated by feelings of desire or fear. The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna’s Counsel in Time of War, translated by Barbara Stoler Miller, discusses this topic, how action is binding, and how it relates to knowledge and discipline. The main figure, Krishna, focuses on the importance of developing the ability to perform proper action, nothing drastic and only what is required, a perfect middle. The Daodejing of Laozi follows a similar idea that you must follow and understand the dao, also known as the Way, in order to achieve harmony. Both religious texts uphold the importance of harmony and peace, but The Bhagavad-Gita centers around action whereas The Daodejing of Laozi is more about internal thought and ideas.
Krishna, from The Bhagavad-Gita, and the dao share the idea that people should live life without distinguishing the good and the bad and to not care for a materialistic lifestyle. Krishna mentors Arjuna from the Gita teaches him that he should follow his duties in battle as a warrior and not to worry about whether what he was doing was good or bad (Miller 45). Making distinctions between things is against the dao. A Daoist should not set things apart from each other, as values of objects are subjective and man made. These man made values disrupts the balance in the world. To maintain balance and peace, everyone and everything is equal (Ivanhoe 69). No one is more powerful than another and that belief in itself gives one power. In other words, knowledge that one is not stronger or weaker than another is power, so therefore knowledge is power. Krishna explains to Arjuna that “the wise say a man is learned when his plans lack constructs of desire, when his actions are burned by the fire of knowledge” and further emphasizes the importance of knowledge when Krishna says “faithful, intent, his sense subdued, he gains knowledge; gaining knowledge, he soon finds perfect peace” (Miller 53, 56). Essentially, the idea is that knowledge will bring enlightenment and help an individual come to terms with themselves about who they are. In that, it becomes less about the individual and more about others, the individual’s peers. Both religions also promote the idea of losing one’s ego and become more selfless (Miller 45).
In The Bhagavad-Gita, if one does not care about the good or the bad, they are not fazed by what modern society would consider a misfortune or become jealous of another person’s fortune. These things cause people pain due to ego. Instead, they are consistently at peace with their own well-being at all times. The only time there is necessary concern for others’ business is when on must commit a sacrifice, since it is considered selfless. In the Daodejing, everyone is equal and hold the same amount of value. People are people just people. Following this idea, if someone were to strive to be “perfect,” they already fail to be perfect just by striving to be something they are not. This is considerably a selfish act. The Daodejing supports this: “Heaven is able to be long lasting and Earth is able to endure, because they do not live for themselves…Is it not because they have no thought of themselves, that they are able to perfect themselves?” (Ivanhoe 7). The authenticity of caring more about others and less about one’s self gives meaning of perfection and keeps things in harmony. Letting go of one’s ego makes them perfect in other words.
Krishna mentors Arjuna around the idea of action, while the Daodejing is more of an idea that really only affects an individual mentally. The Gita is about how everyone is imprisoned by action because “no one exists for even an instant without performing action; however unwilling, every being is forced to act by qualities of nature” (Miller 43). In other words, in order to live one must act. Eating, sleeping, moving, breathing are all requirements. Actions also have consequences though. Pending consequences lead people to feel extreme desire, fear, and anger. For example, the desire for a student to earn an exemplary grade on an exam may convince the student they must stay up all night studying and causing them to lose a significant amount of sleep. The desire for the good grade stems from the desire for a good grade in the class in order to gain a higher GPA at the end of the semester, which is used to get a job/internship recruiter to hire that individual. In addition, the job is desired so the individual can earn money and provide income for the certain lifestyle they desire to have. This is a common, modern example of imprisonment by action. Krishna tells Arjuna that faith in the religion will set him free from this imprisonment, but faith means detachment and discipline. Krishna specifies when he says, “always perform with detachment any action you must do; performing action with detachment, one achieves supreme good” and “when a man disciplines his diet and diversions, his physical actions, his sleeping and waking, discipline destroys his sorrow” (Miller 45, 67). In order to follow his faith, Arjuna must have extreme control over his senses, mind and understanding to fight any feeling of desire, fear and anger, and in return, Arjuna will find freedom from action, more peace, and less distress (Miller 63). If Arjuna fully commits, Krishna claims his life will change for the better and only good things will come to him. One’s life will also change for the better if they follow the dao, except action and discipline is not involved. The difference is simply just changing how one values things and people in their mind. The idea is to simply accept what is natural and to avoid disrupting harmony (Ivanhoe 1). The Daodejing does not specifically discuss action and war, but rather believing everyone and everything is equal.
The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna’s Counsel in Time of War and The Daodejing of Laozi share ideas that are not popularized in modern society.