Bhagavad Gita- Chap 5 (Part-1) Karma Sannyaasa Yogah- Yoga of Renunciation of Action


Arjuna doubts which of the two  ways - whether renunciation of action or participation in action - is the  nobler and the greater. To Arjuna action meant ritualism and renunciation meant  a total retirement from everything and running away to a place of solitude. Sri  Krishna attempts here to give deeper insights to these oft misunderstood terms.  The Lord propounds the theory of self-development in three stages viz. through  desire-prompted activities, through desireless activities and through pure  meditation.

Having practiced the Yajnas prescribed in the preceding  chapter and gained wisdom, a seeker sheds his vasanas / desires and develops a  dispassion for the world. He enters into a state of renunciation, an essential  pre-requisite for practicing meditation. This chapter elucidates this stage of  development preliminary to meditation and realization.

This Chapter answers the questions:  What is the spirit of renunciation? How the Yoga of renunciation of action can  be practiced? What are its effects on the human personality? Thus this Chapter deals  with both Action and Knowledge and is therefore a link between Karma Yoga and  Pure Meditation.

In the opening verse of the chapter Arjuna asks Krishna  to advise him conclusively as to which is better of the two – the path of  action or the path of renunciation. Krishna clarifies the doubt by explaining  the three distinct stages of spiritual growth. A seeker embarking on his  spiritual journey with vasanas / desires is termed Yogi. Through Karma Yoga,  the path of action, he sheds the bulk of his vasanas. As he does so, he becomes  dispassionate towards the world and becomes an ascetic, a Sanyasi. A Sanyasi following  the path of knowledge practices contemplation and meditation until he reaches the  ultimate state of realization to become a Jnani, an enlightened soul. Both Karma  Yogi and Sanyasi reach the supreme goal. Thus, one takes up either the path of  action or the path of renunciation according to one’s basic nature.

The above three types of individuals (Karma Yogi,  Sanyasi, Jnani) relate differently to action. The enlightened one, the Jnani,  having merged with the Self, realizes that the Self does not act at all. In and  through all actions, external and internal, the Jnani remains a silent witness  while the senses contact the sense objects. The Sanyasi, in his state of  dispassion, dedicates all his actions to Brahman. He acts without any  attachment. Consequently, his actions are not sinful and do not leave a residue  of vasanas / desires. Such a person, like a lotus leaf in water, remains in the  world, but detached from and unaffected by it. The Karma Yogi, the one at the  beginning of the spiritual journey, detaches himself from worldly entanglements  and directs all his physical, mental and intellectual activities towards his  own self purification.

The Text

arjuna uvaacha
    sannyaasam karmanaam krishna punar yogam cha shamsasi
    yacchreya etayorekam tanme broohi sunishchitam // 5.1  //

Arjuna said
    Renunciation of actions, O  Krishna, you praise and again Yoga, performance of actions.  Tell me conclusively that which is better of  the two.

In Chapter IV, verses 18, 19, 21,  22, 24, 32, 33, 37 and 41 The Lord has spoken of the renunciation of all  actions and in the verse 42 He exhorted Arjuna to engage in Yoga, the  performance of action. Owing to the mutual contradiction between these two injunctions,  action or renunciation, as they cannot be followed by the same individual at  the same time, Arjuna  asks Sri Krishna  to indicate decisively that one path which will lead to spiritual welfare.

sri bhagavaan uvaacha
    sannyaasaah karmayogashcha nihshreyasakaraa vubhau
    tayostu karmasannyaasaat karmayogo vishishyate  // 5.2   //

Sri Bhagavan said
    Renunciation of action and  Yoga of action both lead to the Highest Good; but of the two, performance of  action is superior to the renunciation of action.

Man is essentially prone to be  inert and inactive. He prefers to get the maximum benefit from the outside  world with the minimum exertion. From this stage of utter inactivity he goes to  the first stage where he works because of the promptings of his desires; the  second stage of his evolution is from the desire motivated activities to  dedicated activities in the service of others with the least ego. In this stage  when the ego is subordinated his vasanas get exhausted and mind becomes pure.  With the purity of mind he reaches the third stage where he meditates for realizing  the ultimate goal of joy and peace.

Thus the spiritual path of  self-evolution falls into three stages viz. a) desire prompted activities b)  selfless dedicated activities and c) meditation.

The first - Karma Yoga - was  dealt with in Chapters III and IV while the technique of Meditation will be  taken up in Chapter VI.

This Chapter deals with as to how  one can renounce the desire oriented ego-centric actions and take up selfless  dedicated activities. In this Chapter, Yoga means Karmayoga and Sankhya means  the intellectual way with renunciation of works.

The Lord says renunciation of  action (Karma Sanyas) and performance of action (Karma Yoga) both lead to the  liberation or the highest bliss. Yet of these, performance of action is much  better than renunciation of action without the knowledge of the Self. However,  it will be seen later that renunciation of action with the knowledge of the  Self is decidedly superior to performance of action without such knowledge.
    jneyah sa nityasannyaasi yo na dweshti na kaangkshati
    nirdwandwo hi mahaabaaho sukham bandhaat pramuchyate  // 5.3 //

He should be known as a  perpetual Sanyasi (as constantly practicing renunciation) who neither hates nor  desires; for, free from the pairs of opposites, O Mighty Armed, he is easily  set free from bondage.

According to The Lord he is a  true Sanyasi who `neither likes nor dislikes'. Likes and dislikes, gain and  loss, honor and dishonor, praise and censure, success and failure, joy and  sorrow and similar other pairs of opposites are the attitudes of mind by which  it gains life's experiences.

The Karma Yogi, a true worker, is  known as a nitya sanyasi or a true renouncer, for he does his work in a  detached spirit without being influenced by the pairs of opposites. A man does  not become a Sanyasi merely by giving up actions for whatever reason. One need  not take Sanyasa formally; if he has the mental frame of renunciation of egoism  and desires he is a true Sanyasi. Mere physical renunciation of objects is no  renunciation at all.

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