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).
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.
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).
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