The Difference between Wisdom & Ignorance

Setting the Right Example

Arjuna might ask, “If a spiritual person is self-satisfied and already evolved to purity, why would he take the trouble of doing any actions, even moral and responsible ones?” So Krishna says:

“Whatever leaders do, the masses imitate. Whatever examples they set, the world adopts.  Many kings, like Janaka, attained perfection through the yoga of duty. You should do the same and set the right example for all your citizens and admirers.  [20-21]

“Look at me. I have no emptiness to fill. I have no goal unattained. In all the three worlds I have no debt to repay. Yet still I responsibly perform all my duties with great care. Why? Because if I didn’t, all of humanity would follow suit! I would therefore destroy civilization, cause confusion and create calamity.” [22-24]

Earlier, Arjuna said that if he kills all these soldiers, who are fathers and husbands, he would ruin families, and thus cause mass social confusion and degradation. Here, Krishna says, “Maybe, but also consider this: If you set an example of abandoning your duty when it becomes unpleasant you will cause the same terrible effect.”

The Difference between Wisdom & Ignorance

“Ignorant people work hard, driven by selfish motivations. Wise people also work hard, but for the well-being of the world.  The wise do not confuse the unenlightened, but encourage them to pursue their many desires in a somewhat spiritually progressive way.” [25-26]

Arjuna would ask, “What’s the difference between the worldly deeds of a fool and the worldly deeds of the wise?” So Krishna says:

“The fool thinks, ‘I am doing this.” when in truth everything he does is simply a reaction in the causal chain of the material world.  Wise people understand the relationship between causality and action, knowing that their deeds are a complex series of causes within effects. Thus, unlike fools, they do not become personally wrapped up in their deeds. The knowledge of selfish fools is quite incomplete, and they have very little interest in changing that. Knowing this, the wise do not unnecessarily upset them.” [27-29]

Krishna says that fools act with “ahaṁkāra.” Literally, this word means “I (ahaṁ) act (kāra).” Ahaṁkāra is a foolish sense of being independently powerful. It makes us feel like we are entitled to do anything we want, and that we deserve to enjoy the fruits of our deeds. The wise do not have this misconception. They naturally feel indebted towards all the other entities contributing to their accomplishments, and are therefore disinclined to lay personal claim to the results of their endeavors. Thus the wise are not wrapped up in the web of karma, much like a swan or a lotus does not get soggy, even though it lives in the middle of the water.

Arjuna had previously argued that he should leave the battlefield to set a good example of being able to give up one’s livelihood and possessions for an ideal. But here Krishna points out that practically no one would be able to follow such an example. They would either misunderstand and imitate it, or would simply mock and ridicule it. The best example to set is of being dutiful and responsible “come hell or high water.”

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