The Infamy of Leadership


Chapter II, Verse 34

Sri Nerode’s Translation:


Posterity will forever sing thy infamy from age to age. Such infamy is worse than death to those who are held in high esteem.

Helpful Translation:

A member of the Kshatriya caste who fails to fulfill his duty by refusing to overcome ignorant attachments with intuitive Wisdom, will be remembered for his failure. While members of each of the castes suffer when they turn against their position in life, because the Kshatriya plays a public leadership role, he is spoken poorly of and ignored by the masses when he turns against his purpose.


Every Kshatriya, who makes any effort to act, will fail a number of times before being able to achieve and maintain material success and higher states of consciousness consistently. Strength comes from sincerity of effort and integrity in all actions.

On the surface Krishna is appealing to the naïve and worldly Kshatriya, one who has not advanced spiritually but who finds himself in a leadership role. Action is what “separates the men from the boys.” Without action there is no success only failure. Without action there is negligible personal advancement.

When the Kshatriya leader chooses to ignore his duty, history will often remember his failure. The echoes of failure through non-action impact the soul throughout time.

Consider a personal example. At some point, we’ve all had a friend to whom we have made a commitment to help and protect. And we have all had at least one friend whom we have failed to help and protect when facing challenges or threats from others. Failure to fulfill a personal obligation may result in the loss of a friendship and in the recurring memory of that failure.

For a leader, failing to act according to one’s intuition and conscience, is worse than the outcome of the action. If I die trying to defend your life, then you will admire me more than if I had walked away and left you victim to a certain death.

No one is a coward for making a mistake. Cowards are those who fail to take action.

Honor is granted by man. Any leader must act according to his own intuition in order to lead. Cemeteries are filled with the bodies of individuals who never made a positive impact on even one other individual. When a Kshatriya is stripped of honor that public shame restricts his ability to lead. So in this sense a feeling “worse than death” is being in an environment where one cannot fulfill his duty.

 The memories of higher states of consciousness and of joy always call to the devotee. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER does any devotee find all of his refined happiness dead within him.

Everything cycles and fluctuates. The devotee stabilizes his ever-increasing, ever-new joy over many lifetimes of meditation. It is never lost. And he will always long for higher states. Longing does not have to be a negative thing. If one is making daily effort and striving through introspection and contemplation and self-disciplined effort to improve, then he should feel that he is progressing.

 The purpose of yogic meditation is to teach devotees equanimity in all circumstances – even if the situation appears negative by worldly standards. When your intuitive wisdom develops sufficiently, you will know why you must play the role presented to you. Surrender to intuitive wisdom and you will learn why at the right time. In the meantime, be active. Choose the most positive option when confronted with a choice. Never seek to play an evil role.

The Bhagavad Gita is a scripture of the highest wisdom, expressed in the world as the greatest love. On the surface, the Gita offers general guidance for all of humanity. Just beneath the surface is specific advice for the guidance of the Kshatriya caste in their twenty-two defined states of consciousness. Finally, in the deepest recesses of the Bhagavad Gita is a primer for the ancient tool of Sanskrit mantras.

If you read something that bothers (or inspires) you in the Bhagavad Gita text or in any commentary like this one, contemplate the point of friction. Meditate upon why you react to those words. Work until your understanding becomes intuitive.

Easter Eggs:

Easter Eggs (hidden references to deeper meanings) in the original version of this this verse include:

Akirtim/akirtis – “the absence of glory”

Often translated as “disgrace” or “infamy” but in this circumstance it should be translated as “the absence of glory”. Disgrace and infamy require an active role by one’s peers. The absence of glory is like a light bulb that has been turned off or a candle that has not been lit. Moths are attracted to a flame or to a light, but when the candle is not lit or the light is turned off the moths pass by. While a Kshatriya who fails to answer the battle call may be actively criticized by others, he’s more likely to just be passed over. Failure to act is a missed opportunity of unrealized success. Disgrace and infamy require actions that lack integrity.

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Ancient History

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