Freedom and desire in the Bhagavad Gītā

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Title: Freedom and desire in the Bhagavad Gītā
Author: Briggs, Ellen Jane, 1972-
Abstract: The Bhagavad Gītā , a classical Sanskrit text , describes a spiritual practice called karma yoga . Central to this practice is niṣkāma karman or action without desire . A number of philosophical issues present themselves in connection with this teaching . First , while the Gītā enjoins action , action seems prima facie problematic in the Gītā in light of metaphysical claims that seem to deny human freedom . Second , Western scholars who hold that desire is necessary for action find the Gītā's desirelessness requirement problematic . Finally , while the sense of karma yoga seems clear enough , the teaching is connected with two notions that are obscure : transcendence of the guṇa -s and surrender of action to Krishna . This dissertation explores and seeks solutions to these problems . Chapter 1 provides an introduction to the Gītā's philosophy and selected classical Indian commentaries . Chapter 2 tackles the assumption by some scholars that the Gītā shares tenets of the determinist metaphysics of classical Sāṃkhya . This assumption is shown false and the argument made that the Gītā , as a yogic text , implies voluntarism . Chapter 2 offers an analysis of the Gītā's concept of guṇa (literally 'strand' ) , and argues that the puruṣa , or self , which is called a 'consenter' exercises agency in consenting . Chapter 3 addresses the worry that niṣkāma karman , or desireless action , is a contradictory notion because desire is necessary for action . Based on examination of the Gītā's theory of action , it is shown that the Gītā does not hold desire necessary for action and that in fact the text articulates four distinct types of niṣkaāma karman . Chapter 4 explores the concepts of transcendence of the guṇa -s and surrender of action to Krishna and develops a definition of karma yoga involving these concepts . The chapter concludes with an argument that karma yoga requires creativity . The dissertation closes with the suggestion that through karma yoga a practitioner might come to enjoy an extraordinary sort of freedom that surpasses the ability to exercise will .
URI: http : / /hdl .handle .net /2152 /3849
Date: 2008-08-29


Freedom and desire in the Bhagavad Gītā. Doctoral dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin. Available electronically from http : / /hdl .handle .net /2152 /3849 .

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