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Sannyasa and Tyaga

Part 82 of the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

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Although the Gita covers all aspects of the spiritual aspirant, it is primarily psychological, showing us the states of mind needed for the successful pursuit of Brahmanirvana, the realization of God. Now in this closing chapter Krishna will be enunciating truths that are indispensable to the sadhaka. First, Arjuna himself asks about two key concepts:

Arjuna said: I desire to know separately the essential nature of sannyasa and tyaga (18:1).

Dictionary definition

Sannyasa literally means total [san] throwing away [as], absolute rejection. In contemporary usage, sannyasa always means formal renunciation, formal monastic life. But in the Gita it is the mental state of thoroughgoing renunciation, of uncompromising abandonment of all that is unfit and unworthy, of intense dispassion toward the things of the world, both internal and external.

Tyaga literally means “abandonment,” the turning from all that hinders the realization of the Self. In the Gita, tyaga means renunciation in the sense of the relinquishment of the fruit of action. Sri Ramakrishna said “What is the message of the Gita? It is what happens when you repeat it ten times. If Gita is repeated ten times it comes to sound like tagi [tyagi–one who renounces]. This is the teaching of the Gita–‘Oh man, try to realize God by giving up everything.’ Be he a holy man [sadhu] or a worldly man, he has to give up all attachment from the mind.” Again we see that this is primarily psychological. One of the saddest sights in India are the many men who thought that they need only wander around in gerua clothes to be sannyasis–tyagis. Now they have found it is not so, but are trapped and go here and there intent on nothing but food and shelter, becoming daily more and more materialistically minded. What their next life will be, who can say? But this one will likely not be a step up.

Philosophical definition

Now Krishna begins the answer to Arjuna’s query:

The Holy Lord said: The renunciation of actions arising from desire the sages understand as sannyasa. The abandonment of the fruits of all action the wise declare to be tyaga (18:2).

Sannyasa in this chapter, then, simply means the giving up of all action motivated by kama, by egocentric desire or emotion (passion). Other actions are permitted the seeker, as are other kinds of desire. For example, mumukshutwa, which is intense desire or yearning for liberation (moksha), is permitted, for it arises from the Self, not the ego. Action which maintains the body, such as eating or taking medicine with the desire for continued life and good health, is also acceptable, if life and health are desired so sadhana can be continued. So also is any action based on a desire to help others. It is important to understand this, because many unripe aspirants get the mistaken idea that any desire whatsoever is detrimental, and that monks or dedicated yogis cannot engage in any action–something that is impossible for the living.

Sannyasa, then, is external, even though based on internal disposition. Tyaga, however, is completely mental, a state of both thought and attitude. It is perfect dispassion toward the results of any action–not from disinterest or indifference, but because all actions engaged in are “to be done” in and of themselves. Even if no overt result comes, it does not matter. It is the simple doing that matters. Of course, even then there is a positive result from having acted in consonance with the cosmic order: Ritam.

Vyasa presents these two to us because total consistency is necessary for success in spiritual pursuit. As Jesus said in aphorism twenty-two of the Gospel of Thomas: “When you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below,… then will you enter the kingdom.”

Making it practical

Now we come to a section that cannot be ignored if we would intelligently and effectively lead the yoga life. Let us be sure to now have the “ears to hear” of which Jesus so emphatically spoke.

Some men of wisdom declare that all action should be abandoned as an evil, while others declare that sacrifice, gift and tapasya should not be abandoned. Hear from me the conclusion regarding tyaga. Tyaga has been designated to be of three kinds. Acts of sacrifice, gift and tapasya should not be abandoned, but should be done. Sacrifice, gift and tapasya are purifiers of the wise (18:3-5).

This is so reasonable that it seems impossible that anyone could see it otherwise. But it is not so. In India yogis and monks that engage in social service and spiritual education are usually looked upon as second-rate, if not downright deluded or hypocritical. I cannot count the number of times I have heard that my beloved Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh was “not a real sadhu, just a karma yogi.” His overflowing love and solicitude, his mammoth caring heart, caused many to say: “Oh, he is not a sannyasi, he is more like someone’s grandfather!” The nobly sacrificing sadhus of Ramakrishna Mission, because they have hospitals in which they care for the sick and dying, are contemptuously referred to as “bedpan swamis.”

A nurse once saw a man severely injured and lying in a busy road. When she tried to pull him to safety, she found he was too heavy for her to manage. Two sadhus were sitting nearby on a bridge watching unconcernedly. She begged them to help her, and got the answer: “We are sadhus; we can’t do things like that.” But Krishna makes it clear that no one is exempted from doing what is right and good. After all, what else does God do eternally? Who is above God?

Not surprisingly, Krishna says that renunciation can be tamasic, rajasic, or sattwic.

But renunciation of obligatory action is not proper. Abandonment of these from delusion is declared to be tamasic. (18:7).

Moha (delusion) means mistaken attachment or aversion.

He who abandons action from fear of trouble or of pain, does not obtain the fruit of that renunciation; he performs rajasic renunciation (18:8).

Dukham (pain) means stressful or unpleasant. The final clause literally means: “Having performed rajasic tyaga, he cannot attain to (real) fruit-renouncing tyaga.”

When work is done because it is a duty (ought to be done), disciplined, having abandoned attachment and the fruit as well, that renunciation is considered sattwic (18:9).

Perfect attitude

The man of renunciation, wise, filled with sattwa, with doubt eliminated, does not dislike disagreeable work, nor is he attached to agreeable work. Truly, embodied beings are not able to give up actions entirely; but he who relinquishes the fruit of action is called a man of renunciation (18:10-11).

Three kinds of fruit

For those who have not renounced, the fruit of action is threefold when they depart this world: undesired, desired and mixed; but for the renouncers there is none whatever (18:12).

“Undesirable” and “desirable” are of course according to the non-renouncer’s ego, binding him even more by his evaluation/reaction to them.

This second clause is a powerful truth: It is possible to act and accrue no karma whatsoever. It is a matter of consciousness.

Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: Deeper Insights On Action

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Introduction to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Preface to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Bhagavad Gita for Awakening links:

  1. The Battlefield of the Mind
  2. On the Field of Dharma
  3. Taking Stock
  4. The Smile of Krishna
  5. Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
  6. Experiencing the Unreal
  7. The Unreal and the Real
  8. The Body and the Spirit
  9. Know the Atman!
  10. Practical Self-Knowledge
  11. Perspective on Birth and Death
  12. The Wonder of the Atman
  13. The Indestructible Self
  14. “Happy the Warrior”
  15. Buddhi Yoga
  16. Religiosity Versus Religion
  17. Perspective on Scriptures
  18. How Not To Act
  19. How To Act
  20. Right Perspective
  21. Wisdom About the Wise
  22. Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
  23. The Way of Peace
  24. Calming the Storm
  25. First Steps in Karma Yoga
  26. From the Beginning to the End
  27. The Real “Doers”
  28. Our Spiritual Marching Orders
  29. Freedom From Karma
  30. “Nature”
  31. Swadharma
  32. In the Grip of the Monster
  33. Devotee and Friend
  34. The Eternal Being
  35. The Path
  36. Caste and Karma
  37. Action–Divine and Human
  38. The Mystery of Action and Inaction
  39. The Wise in Action
  40. Sacrificial Offerings
  41. The Worship of Brahman
  42. Action–Renounced and Performed
  43. Freedom (Moksha)
  44. The Brahman-Knower
  45. The Goal of Karma Yoga
  46. Getting There
  47. The Yogi’s Retreat
  48. The Yogi’s Inner and Outer Life
  49. Union With Brahman
  50. The Yogi’s Future
  51. Success in Yoga
  52. The Net and Its Weaver
  53. Those Who Seek God
  54. Those Who Worship God and the Gods
  55. The Veil in the Mind
  56. The Big Picture
  57. The Sure Way To Realize God
  58. Day, Night, and the Two Paths
  59. The Supreme Knowledge
  60. Universal Being
  61. Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers
  62. Worshipping the One
  63. Going To God
  64. Wisdom and Knowing
  65. Going To The Source
  66. From Hearing To Seeing
  67. The Wisdom of Devotion
  68. Right Conduct
  69. The Field and Its Knower
  70. Interaction of Purusha and Prakriti
  71. Seeing the One Within the All
  72. The Three Gunas
  73. The Cosmic Tree
  74. Freedom
  75. The All-pervading Reality
  76. The Divine and the Demonic
  77. Faith and the Three Gunas
  78. Food and the Three Gunas
  79. Religion and the Three Gunas
  80. Tapasya and the Three Gunas
  81. Charity and the Three Gunas
  82. Sannyasa and Tyaga
  83. Deeper Insights On Action
  84. Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas
  85. The Three Gunas: Intellect and Firmness
  86. The Three Kinds of Happiness
  87. Freedom
  88. The Great Devotee
  89. The Final Words
  90. Glossary

Visit our e-library page for Free Downloads of this and other ebooks in various formats.

Read the Maharshi Gita, an arrangement of verses of the Bhagavad Gita made by Sri Ramana Maharshi that gives an overview of the essential message of the Gita.

Read The Bhagavad Gita (arranged in verses for singing) by Abbot George Burke (Swami Nirmalananda Giri).

Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary

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