Karmayoga and the Vexed Moral Agent
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Among the Mahābhārata’s abundant treasure trove of stories are three relatively insignificant ones: the dāsī, the pativratā, and the vyādha – the slave, the devoted wife, and the butcher. The stories share some commonalities: they each endorse attitudes of karmayogic equanimity; they involve characters who are subaltern in some sense; these characters spout the core wisdom of the text; and in each case, they conclude by enlightening others in materially more privileged positions than their own. In this chapter, I examine some of the complexities emerging from these episodes, particularly as they involve their central doctrine, karmayoga. In my investigation, I find that the doctrine of karmayoga, uplifting and sublime as a soteriology, is morally vexing when transposed into the mundane world, assuming contours and shades that are inimical and troubling to modern ethics.