Monkey Versus Man

Chapter III, Verse 3

Sri Nerode’s Translation:


Krishna said:

O sinless one! There are two paths shown to the world; the path of wisdom and pure reason for the meditative, and the path of action for the active.

Helpful Translation:

Krishna, as the Lord who responds to concentration, states, “It is through no fault of your own that you are confused. Ignorance is confusion. Humans are alternately attracted to contemplation and to action. The fastest way to wisdom is a combination of these natural inclinations.”


“Earth to Ed,” my personal trainer said to get my attention. “I know you hear me because you’re doing the exercises I ask you to do, but I don’t know where your mind is. You’re clearly distant. Bring your attention here and you’ll get more out of your exercises.”

Contemplating some other issue while performing an unrelated worldly task, is an example of the deeper meaning of this verse. It’s like me exercising with my trainer, in that moment when I was mentally distracted while performing my exercises, I was an example of the negative conflict between contemplation and action.

Most who have written commentaries on the Gita interpret this verse in the terms of their own practices. Sankhya philosophy (the goal of happiness through wisdom) and Yoga philosophy (the goal of complete union through action) are interpreted in terms of specific dogma and dictates. “The action Krishna recommends is the instruction that I give!” proclaims the teacher.

Personally, I find those commentaries to be self-serving and limited. Without disrespect to any “master” or “guru”, I consider this verse to be much larger than any one path. The grounds for my interpretation is born out by the more specific information offered in the verses coming up in this chapter.

The person limited to either wisdom or action, may be described by phrases like the following. First for the person of wisdom:

  • “He has great ideas, but they will never work.”
  • “Very smart but extremely impractical.”
  • “Unfortunately, intelligence is not a measure for common sense.”

And for the person of action:

  • “He’ll get the job done, but you may not like the result.”
  • “His work is like a house built on the sand.”
  • “Three out of five stars. The work was completed on time but it was nothing special.”

However, the broader meaning of this verse is that a wise person lives in the moment successfully by combining wisdom (Jnana Yoga) with action (Karma Yoga). There are not two separate paths. The Sanskrit has been changed or lost from the ancient original. “Dvividha” does not refer to “two-fold” path but rather to the difference between the “monkey mind” one that is unfocused and the “wise mind” one that is concentrated on a single thought in the current moment.

In other words, when I perform my exercises without applying my concentration, the appearance of completing each movement is an illusion. To be truly successful, I need to put my entire attention into each movement, as my trainer admonishes me to do.

Easter Eggs:

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

AnaghaOne Purified by the Positive Quality (Sattwa Guna).

The positive quality binds one through attachment to worldly happiness and to intellectual knowledge. When the binding qualities give way to non-attachment, the higher qualities of Bliss and Intuitive Wisdom manifest.

BhagavanAdorable One.

Bhagavan is the aspect of the Godhead that receives unselfish devotion (or bhakti).

Jnana Yogi – follows the Sankhya philosophy for liberation through intuitive wisdom.

Karma Yogi – achieves liberation through action, with systematic meditation typically considered to be the highest “action” a devotee can perform.

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Ancient History

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