We are doing a scripture study together: reading along through some scriptures and discussing the passages.
42. The ignorant ones proclaim
This flowery discourse, Arjuna,
Delighting in the letter of the Veda
And saying, “There is nothing else.”
43. Full of desires, intent on heaven,
They offer rebirth as the fruit of action,
And are addicted to many specific rites
Aimed at the goal of enjoyment and power.
44. To those (the ignorant ones) attached to the enjoyment and power,
Whose thought is stolen away by this kind of talk,
Resolute insight in meditation is not granted.
45. The Vedas are such that their scope is confined to the three qualities;
Be free from those three qualities, Arjuna,
Indifferent toward the pairs of opposites, eternally fixed in truth,
Free from thoughts of acquisition and comfort, and possessed of the Self.
46. As much value as there is in a well
When water is flooding on every side,
So much is the value in all the Vedas
For a brahman who knows.
Notes on the Sanskrit
avipashcitas is “the ignorant ones.” Monier-Williams Sanskrit dictionary gives the definition as “unwise” or “ignorant” so that seems pretty straight-forward.
svarga is “heaven.” (as in “intent on heaven”). The dictionary has additional definitions of “abode of light and home of the Gods.”
Fruit of action as a phrase is quite literal in its translation.
kriya is “rites.” There are a lot of definitions for this word surrounding work, creation, ceremony, worship, ritual, investigation, etc.
“Indifferent towards the pairs of opposites” is a weird phrase. This is often translated as “Indifferent to heat and cold; pain, and pleasure.” The implication seems to be that those fixed in truth weather any storm. They are steady through the changes of the world.
Commentaries of Gurus
“…they are dull witted of limited understanding who consider heaven as the highest attainment.” –Sridhara Swami’s Commentary
“But these living entities are ignorant and not actual scholars of Vedanta because they are only devoted to those parts of the Vedas which help them secure material opulence in this life and the next. ” –Kesava Kasmiri’s Commentary“they perform every actions for the attainment of these goals believing they can be attained independent of the mercy of the Supreme Lord”-Sridhara Swami’s Commentary
Ramanuja believes that the Vedas are giving instructions for how to have a happy life depending on which of the three gunas is prevalent in one’s nature, but ideally one rises above that and strives for a Sattva only existence, letting go of Rajasic and Tamasic influences.
It may be submitted that if heaven and enjoyment of heavenly realms is not the highest goal, why do the Vedic scriptures prescribes duties and rites as a means of attaining them ? The answer to this is being given in this verse that the Vedas mainly deal with those aspirants who influenced by fruitive desires are controlled by the three modes of material nature. This means that aspirants are given the incentive of reward by adhering to specific activities for a specific period of time to get a specific result. But Arjuna is being instructed by the Supreme Lord to be above the three modes of material existence and free from desires remain beyond the dualities of happiness and misery, pleasure and pain and the rest by enduring them. –Sridhara Swami’s Commentary
One should never do activities against the injunctions of the Vedic scriptures but according to qualification and circumstances one must follow what is prescribed in the Vedas. For example certain rituals such as the agnihotra are prescribed to be performed in the Vedas; but they are prescribed for married householders. They are not to be performed by sannyasis. Also celibacy is prescribed in the Vedic scriptures but it is prescribed for brahmacaris and sannyasis. It is not prescribed for married householders. So it is not that everything in the Vedas is to be followed by everyone although all the four orders must certainly follow the Vedas but according to ones ashram. This is the discrimination regarding this matter.-Kesava Kasmiri’s Commentary
I’m not sure that I agree that what is missing is the “mercy” of God. I think Sri Krishna is about to go into more detail about what is needed to attain enlightenment besides adherence to ritual. I’ll be curious to see whether he gives his own mercy as a requirement.
It’s interesting that Krishna chastises those who are too rigid about ritual and Vedas. He urges us to let go of the confinement of adhering strictly to the Vedas.
The Vedas are still important but we have to know how to access their wisdom. It’s not as simple as it seems.
I’ve always felt that it’s important to think beyond rules and to remember why we do rituals, not let them be the ends in and of themselves. Love for God and love for human beings comes before rules.