Karma as the main way in Gītā : Revisiting Tilak’s contribution to world Philosophy

The central stream of classically looking at The Gītā flows along the banks of Jñāna and Bhakti as initiated by the Advaitins and the Vainavas. Classical commentators have resorted to only one of the ways in interpreting the text. But Geeta also includes Karma as a way toward liberation along with Bhakti and Jñāna. Thus, in modern times, Bal Gangadhar Tilak came up with an interpretation based on the way of Karma. Tilak argues that in the cultural history of India, the period of Jñāna – Bhakti is a very small one. According to him, the Gītā, by and large, inspires a life of activity and engagement. Interpretation based only on Jñāna or Bhakti is not only partial but also misleading at times. There is no doubt that Tilak’s project of bringing Karma to centre was not only an eye-opener but also probably first of its kind in contemporary context. But the answer which I have tried to seek in my paper is – Can we read the Gītā having Karma as the main way and Bhakti and Jñāna as subservient, i.e. Jñānamulaka- bhaktipradhāna-karmayoga  instead of reading it as having Jñāna or Bhakti as the main way with the two others as subservient? Since on one hand, we have ślokas like 5.2 where Karma has been taken up as superior, there are ślokas like 4.38 where it is said that there is nothing greater than Jñāna. Apart from that, there are charges of promoting escapism on Gītā. In the second section, I have tried to evaluate Tilak’s answer to these charges and his contribution to Global Philosophy that he has made by connecting liberation, which has concerned philosophers across the globe in different ways, and action, which is a tool of evolution for every human being.


Shubhra Jyoti Das, PhD Scholar, Centre for Philosophy, JNU, New Delhi 110067