The Bhagavad Gita is considered a treatise on yoga. The story is set on a battlefield where two armies are poised to clash. Prince Arjuna, the commander of one of the armies, is reluctant to give the attack order. He is an experienced soldier and a great leader but he has relatives on the other side and so this battle has become personal. Arjuna’s chariot driver is none other than Krishna. And Krishna insists that, family or not, Arjuna must do his duty and fight.
Gandhi, the great champion of peace, has said that the Gita “is the universal mother.” He considered the story to be a teaching of selfless action, of karma yoga. And in the story Krishna teaches Arjuna that doing his duty requires that he let go of his self interests. Krishna tells Arjuna that he is not entitled to the fruits of his work; he is entitled only to the work itself.
The battlefield has seemed an unlikely metaphor for a yoga teaching to me. But the battle can stand for the struggles of life that we cannot opt out of. And we summon the courage of the warrior in doing our duty as we see it, whatever the difficulty. I don’t think that the story is meant to reify service, to make it an end unto itself detached from purpose. Buddha, for example, taught that intent is crucial. Duty itself is empty; and it matters completely to what purpose we give our allegiance and service. We cannot be indifferent to the outcome. We should know well the ends to which our service points. It is the egoistic attachment to those ends which we renounce.