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 regarding two key concepts: “I wish to know the truth of sannyasa and of tyaga, separately” (18:1).
Sannyasa literally means total [san] throwing away [as], absolute rejection. In contemporary usage, sannyasa always means formal renunciation–i.e., 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 not have a job and 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 it will not be a step up.
Now Krishna begins the answer to Arjuna’s query: “The relinquishment of actions prompted by desire the sages understand as sannyasa. The relinquishment of the fruit 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 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 result comes, it does not matter. It is the simple doing that matters. (Of course, even then, there is a result from having acting 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 action is to be abandoned and is full of evil, and others say that acts of sacrifice, charity, and tapasya are not to be abandoned. Hear My conclusion in this matter concerning tyaga. Tyaga is declared to be of three kinds [or: gunas]. Acts of sacrifice, charity, and tapasya are not to be abandoned, bur rather to be performed. Sacrifice, charity, and tapasya are purifiers of those who are wise” (18:3-5).
This is so reasonable that it seems impossible that anyone could see it otherwise. But it is not so. Yogis and monks that engage in social service and spiritual education are definitely 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 fools 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.” SHAME! 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?
Anyway, we who are not fools need to ensure that we follow the ideals expressed by Krishna, otherwise there will be no realization for us. For holy and merciful deeds purify the heart supremely. Read the life of Swami Sivananda and the lives of the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna and see how real yogis uplift the world on all levels, not just abstract philosophy and talk.
“These actions, however, are to be performed abandoning attachment to the fruits. This is My definite and highest belief” (18:6). The yogi must engage in these sacred actions without letting them become an occasion of egotism and selfish desire. His actions must all be expressions of sannyasa and tyaga.
Threefold renunciation (sannyasa)
Not surprisingly, Krishna says that renunciation can be tamasic, rajasic, or sattwic.
“But renunciation of obligatory action is not proper; the abandonment of it through delusion [moha] is proclaimed to be tamasic” (18:7). Moha means mistaken attachment or aversion.
“He who abandons action merely because it is difficult [dukham], or because of fear of bodily suffering, performs rajasic renunciation. He does not obtain the fruit of that renunciation” (18:8). Dukham means stressful or unpleasant. The final clause literally means: “Having performed rajasic tyaga, he cannot attain to (real) fruit-renouncing tyaga.”
“When action is done because it is a duty [karyam], and abandoning attachment to the fruit, such renunciation is considered sattwic” (18:9).
Karyam means “to-be-done.”
“The man of renunciation [the tyagi], the wise man whose doubt is cut away, filled with sattwa, does not hate disagreeable action, nor is he attached to agreeable action. Indeed, embodied beings are not able to abandon actions entirely. He, then, who abandons the fruit of action, is called a man of renunciation [a tyagi]” (18:10, 11).
Three kinds of fruit
“The fruit of action for those who have not renounced when they depart [die] is threefold: undesirable, desirable, and mixed. But for the renouncers [sannyasis] 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 sentence 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
Bhagavad Gita for Awakening links:
- The Battlefield of the Mind
- On the Field of Dharma
- Taking Stock
- The Smile of Krishna
- Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
- Experiencing the Unreal
- The Unreal and the Real
- The Body and the Spirit
- Know the Atman!
- Practical Self-Knowledge
- Perspective on Birth and Death
- The Wonder of the Atman
- The Indestructible Self
- “Happy the Warrior”
- Buddhi Yoga
- Religiosity Versus Religion
- Perspective on Scriptures
- How Not To Act
- How To Act
- Right Perspective
- Wisdom About the Wise
- Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
- The Way of Peace
- Calming the Storm
- First Steps in Karma Yoga
- From the Beginning to the End
- The Real “Doers”
- Our Spiritual Marching Orders
- Freedom From Karma
- In the Grip of the Monster
- Devotee and Friend
- The Eternal Being
- The Path
- Caste and Karma
- Action–Divine and Human
- The Mystery of Action and Inaction
- The Wise in Action
- Sacrificial Offerings
- The Worship of Brahman
- Action–Renounced and Performed
- Freedom (Moksha)
- The Brahman-Knower
- The Goal of Karma Yoga
- Getting There
- The Yogi’s Retreat
- The Yogi’s Inner and Outer Life
- Union With Brahman
- The Yogi’s Future
- Success in Yoga
- The Net and Its Weaver
- Those Who Seek God
- Those Who Worship God and the Gods
- The Veil in the Mind
- The Big Picture
- The Sure Way To Realize God
- Day, Night, and the Two Paths
- The Supreme Knowledge
- Universal Being
- Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers
- Worshipping the One
- Going To God
- Wisdom and Knowing
- Going To The Source
- From Hearing To Seeing
- The Wisdom of Devotion
- Right Conduct
- The Field and Its Knower
- Interaction of Purusha and Prakriti
- Seeing the One Within the All
- The Three Gunas
- The Cosmic Tree
- The All-pervading Reality
- The Divine and the Demonic
- Faith and the Three Gunas
- Food and the Three Gunas
- Religion and the Three Gunas
- Tapasya and the Three Gunas
- Charity and the Three Gunas
- Sannyasa and Tyaga
- Deeper Insights On Action
- Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas
- The Three Gunas: Intellect and Firmness
- The Three Kinds of Happiness
- The Great Devotee
- The Final Words
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