Arjuna’s Confusion Regarding Sankhya and Yoga

Arjuna is clearly confused by Sri Krishna’s attempt to bring about an integration at a higher level of Sankhya and Yoga. On their surface, they seem like quite different philosophical directions, one based on knowledge and analysis, the other based on works. We see similar confusion today in some of the religions which have one group within that religion focusing on faith and following the religious guidelines and rituals, while another group emphasizes focus on doing “good works”.

Sri Aurobindo highlights Arjuna’s confusion: “If thou holdest the intelligence to be greater than works, why then dost thou appoint me to a terrible work? Thou seemest to bewilder my intelligence with a confused and mingled speech; tell me then decisively that one thing by which I may attain to my soul’s weal.”

For people involved in the world of action, there is a pressure to have things laid out clearly and in a “black and white” style. Such individuals do not want to have to unravel the subtleties of obscure philosophy in order to know “what to do”. In this regard, Arjuna is speaking for most of us in his objection to the discussion thus far.

The traditional path of Sankhya was a path of “renunciation”, a path that focused on distinguishing knowledge from illusion, and focusing on achieving liberation from works in the world due to their lesser reality than the Eternal, One, Unchanging, Unmoving reality that Sankhya recognized.

On the other hand, “…Yoga held to be quite sufficient the inner renunciation of desire, the purification of the subjective principle which leads to action and the turning of works Godwards, towards the divine existence and towards liberation.”

Both paths aimed for “…the transcendence of birth and of this terrestrial existence and the union of the human soul with the Highest.”

Arjuna asks “which is better”. Sri Krishna does not intend to go there, but to develop a new methodology which incorporates elements of each into a more puissant formula for life.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 9, Sankhya, Yoga and Vedanta, pp. 75-76,