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41. Renunciation and Karmayoga:

Sri Krishna has mainly advocated two important principles: controlling one's personal weakness like desire and anger, and performance of one's duties in a spirit of dedication to God. That is the substance of the teaching so far. But Arjuna is eager to know which is the better of the two. If eradicating desire and anger is better, why not practise that alone and escape from the entanglement of war which is a hotbed of both desire and anger. One and the same person cannot practise both. Renunciation is prescribed to the mendicant and performance of action is enjoined on the family man. Arjuna is anxious to know which he should choose between the mutually conflicting ways of renunciation and karmayoga.

The Lord replies: Renunciation and action are not mutually contradictory but mutually complementary. The words "sanyasa" and "karmayoga" do not really denote the duties and responsibilities of the mendicant and the family man: renunciation is nothing but giving up human weaknesses like desire, hatred and attachment which are embedded in the mind. That is preliminary to karmayoga. If one does not sow the seeds of holy actions after rooting out desire and hatred, would not all the work hitherto done, go to waste? Even if you take out the weeds and prepare the ground but do not farm, the efforts are in vain. The renunciation preached in the Gita is nothing but an instrument for the cultivation of the heart, by discarding desire and hatred.
}ey> s inTys<NyasI yae n Öeiò n ka']it,

jñeya× sa nityasanny˜sŸ yo na dveÿ÷i na k˜ðakÿati
-- V-3
tyaeStu kmRs<NyasaTkmRyaegae iviz:yte.

tayostu karmasanny˜s˜tkarmayogo viþiÿyate
-- V-2

He is a true sanyasi who treats pleasure and pain alike and who is not influenced either by affection or aversion. The ochre dress and monastic staff do not make a sanyasi. All can strive to cultivate an attitude of renunciation even in the thick of family life or society. We should not regard the eradication of the weakness of the mind or heart alone can reach us to the goal. We need also to bear in mind that this is only preliminary to the final divine pursuit. In fact the renunciation spoken of here is good only for cleansing the heart and there is a total development only if we continue to do our duties in a spirit of dedication to God. Thus as sanyasa and karmayoga are mutually complementary, one should not be content with merely discarding feelings like desire, etc.; we should bring fullness to our effort by performing actions in a spirit of dedication. In the stanza
tyaeStu kmRs<NyasaTkmRyaegae iviz:yte.

tayostu karmasanny˜s˜tkarmayogo viþiÿyate
-- V-2
there is greater importance given to karmayoga than sanyasa. By failing to grasp the full significance of these two words, 'renunciation' and 'action', many commentators have become victims of confusion. They have tried to explain the statement in a complicated way. Their problem was: If jnana is superior to action, and if jnanayoga is attained by performing desireless action and if jnanayoga is synonymous with sanyasa, then sanyasa should be superior to karmayoga. How then could karmayoga be superior to sanyasa? Karma sanyasa (renunciation of action) does not mean the stage of knowledge which surpasses karmayoga; nor does it mean the path, where knowledge is predominant, followed by the great rishis like Sanaka. In neither is there any scope for renunciation of action. In fact till the final release there is need for right action. Thus, at any stage, there is no room for abandoning action. What has been emphasised here is the abandonment of attachment and hatred as a prelude to rightful action. Karmayoga is superior to the act of renunciation of attachment and desire, which but forms a background for the karmayoga; there is no scope for any confusion when we understand that our efforts should not merely end at the achievement of renunciation of attachment but continue till the ultimate consummation. Sri Madhvacharya thus does not allow any room for complication and has explained the simple meaning and the real import of the Gita.

Sri Sankaracharya argues: "Renunciation is abandonment of all action. Abandonment of action and performance of action however desireless it may be (as in karmayoga) are both contradictory. Both can never coexist. As soon as true knowledge is acquired, the illusory world dissolves away and a jnani does not have any world of action. Where then is the scope for such a man to perform any action in this world? Thus, for the jnani, there is scope only for the renunciation of action and karmayoga has no relevance for him; there is no sense, as far as he is concerned, in calling karmayoga superior to renunciation. We can choose between the two only if we are given the choice and call one superior and the other inferior. When for a jnani there is no relevance of action, it is not proper to tell him that karmayoga is better than renunciation. Hence the reference here must be to the person who has not yet acquired true knowledge. For him action should be better than renunciation, says the Gita."

Sri Sankaracharya, one is afraid, has attempted to twist the Gita to serve his own point of view. When the teaching of the Gita is applicable to all persons, it is wrong to restrict it to the ignorant alone. As there is no irrelevance of karmayoga to the jnanis so also there is no relevance of renunciation of action for the jnanis and no renunciation for the ajnanis. All action is to be performed by the ajnanis only and all renunciation is to be practised by jnanis only, and hence the question as to which is better, action or renunciation, does not arise at all and the stanza in the Gita appears to be redundant. Therefore the simple and straightforward meaning explained by Sri Madhvacharya is more appropriate. Renunciation and performance of action are not contradictory terms; both can coexist and should be practised by one and the same person. Renunciation does not mean abandonment of action. Abandonment of desire is the essence of renunciation as seen from the following quotations.
}ey> s inTys<NyasI yae n Öeiò n ka']it,

jñeya× sa nityasanny˜sŸ yo na dveÿ÷i na k˜ðakÿati
-- V-3
kaMyana< kmR[a< Nyas< s<Nyas< kvyae ivÊ>,

k˜my˜n˜Õ karmaõ˜Õ ny˜saÕ sanny˜saÕ kavayo vidu×
-- XVIII-2
(Those who know understand that renunciation is the abandonment of desire-prompted actions.)

Also, in the sixth chapter it has been clearly explained that renunciation and action can coexist.
s s<NyasI c yaegI c
... ... ... ,
sa sanny˜sŸ ca yogŸ ca ... ... ... -- VI-1
(He himself is the sanyasi and the karmayogi.)

In the light of this explanation, it becomes clear that abandonment of desire and performance of action in a spirit of dedicated service are the prerequisites for the attainment of true knowledge. In fact the two together constitute the karmayoga. Since the abandonment of attachment forms the first half and dedication to God, the latter half, and the harmonisation of the two alone makes for an integral karmayoga, the question as to which is better does not arise at all. For a house both the foundation and the superstructure are necessary and the house is not complete if either is missing.
s<yasStu mhabahae Ê>omaPtumyaegt>,

saÕy˜sastu mah˜b˜ho du×kham˜ptumayogata×
-- V-6
(It is very difficult to achieve renunciation, Oh, the brave one, without karmayoga.)

Renunciation of desire and anger is a very difficult exercise like erecting the pillars of a bridge. Performance of action thereafter is like putting the bridge on these pillars. If rightful action is not continued after renunciation, it will be as futile as erecting the pillars without constructing the bridge. Mere renunciation without action is like a barren garden without trees and plants. Hence out of the two the latter part namely the dedication of action has been considered as more important than renunciation. Mere renunciation without action is like a body without head and it is not only incomplete but a source of misery.

42. Knowledge and Action are not contrary:

Here a question arises how renunciation of attachment and anger, and performance of action could coexist and form one composite spiritual exercise. One supports knowledge, and the other, opposes it. Renunciation of worldly desire leads to true knowledge. So long as there is attachment to worldly desire in a person, all attempts to preach him divine knowledge are useless. It is like trying to set fire to wet fuel. Therefore renunciation of worldly desire is the first stage in the spiritual exercise of acquiring true knowledge. But in our religious literature such as the Upanishads and the Bhagavata we find statements that performance of action is harmful to the acquisition of true knowledge. People engaged in the performance of yajnas are ridiculed as 'Agnimugdha' (fondly attached to the yajna), 'Dhumatanta' (afflicted by the smoke of the yajna) and 'Dhumaratmas' (with the conscious covered by smoke from the yajnas). If that is so, how can action be Superior to renunciation? This has been explained in the Gita:
s<OyyaegaE p&wGbala> àvdiNt n pi{fta>,

saðkhyayogau p®thagb˜l˜× pravadanti na paõýit˜×
-- V-4
(The ignorant (bala>), and not those who know, alone say that the path of knowledge is different from the path of action.)

What has been ridiculed by the Bhagavata and the Upanishads is not the desireless action preached by the Gita but only the desire-prompted action which is performed by the people. The Gita also condemns such desire-prompted action. Desireless action preached by the Gita is the highest type of Bhagavata Dharma and cannot but lead to spiritual knowledge. It purifies the mind and kindles spiritual knowledge and leads us to the supreme and final liberation. Hence there is no impropriety in putting renunciation and desireless action together. Some hold that sanyasis are jnanayogis and they need not perform any action; similarly, householders are karmayogis and they have no right to practise sankhya or jnanayoga. But they are mistaken. The two cannot be separated into mutually exclusive compartments:
@k< sa<Oy< c yaeg< c y> pZyit s pZyit.

ekaÕ s˜ðkhyaÕ ca yogaÕ ca ya× paþyati sa paþyati
-- V-5
(One who sees jnanayoga and karmayoga as identical alone sees rightly.)

In a spiritual aspirant both knowledge and action coexist. But there may be a difference in proportion only, in which these two ingredients are combined. In a jnanayogi there is preponderance of jnana, and in the karma-yogi there is a preponderance of karma. Both are essential for attaining liberation. Spiritual knowledge and desireless action both have the same goal:
@kmPyaiSwt> sMygu-yaeivRNdte )lm!,

ekamapy˜sthita× samyagubhayorvindate phalam
-- V-4
(If one is settled in either way gets the fruit of both.)

Even if one has to devote oneself entirely to one path, one has to achieve the final fruit through a synthesis of both. Thus, in all spiritual exercises both renunciation and desireless action are essential and inseparable constituents.

43. The Non-attachment of a Karmayogi:

The karmayogi no doubt carries on his usual worldly activities like all others but with this distinction that he has renounced attachment and anger and none of his actions is prompted by any desire. In addition, he does all these actions as a service dedicated to God. At no moment of action does he presume to think that he is the doer. He is aware every moment that he is only an instrument in the hands of God and all his actions are governed by God's will.

His life is permeated by this attitude even while he is engaged in the day-to-day activities. Hence, even while he is entangled in family affairs he is said to be detached. Since there is in him the purity of intention and philosophic attitude, he is not contaminated by even an iota of sin caused by the worldly activities:

-- V-10
(He is untainted by sin like the lotus leaf by water.)

Even when the lotus is in the very midst of ample water and is seeded and grown in water itself, its leaf is not wetted by water. When dipped in water, a piece of cloth becomes wet and the wetness spreads throughout; even if you dip a lotus leaf into water, not a drop sticks to it. This great secret is hidden in desireless action. One can participate in the affairs of the world without being tainted by sin.

There was a king who was a karmayogi. A friend visited him and out of curiosity asked him how he was called a karmayogi in the midst of all temptations and worldly pleasures. The king replied: "I shall tell you the secret leisurely. Meanwhile you please go round my palace, see every nook and corner and have a look at all my art treasures. The place is dark. You take a wick lamp in your hand but be careful that the light is not put out." The friend did likewise, and on his return the king enquired of him as to what he saw and how the works of art were. The friend replied: "Oh king, because you asked me to take care of the light, all my attention was concentrated on that alone. Since all my mind was focused on the light only, even if I saw the palace, I have as good as not seen it at all." The king replied: "Oh friend, this is the secret of my life. Even though I am immersed in the worldly pleasures and daily politics, I take care to see that the spiritual light within me is not put out. My attention is always riveted on the inner light. So even if I perform all my daily duties I remain as if I have not done anything. This detachment and this interior spiritual alertness is at the basis of my success in life." The karmayogi's life is vividly illustrated by this tiny and effective story.

44. A jnani is not averse to the world:

svRkmaRi[ mnsa sÛySyaSte suo< vzI,
sarvakarm˜õi manas˜ sannyasy˜ste sukhaÕ vaþŸ
-- V-13
(The self-controlled yogi is always happy dedicating all actions to God.)

Some are of the opinion that a jnanayogi has no truck with action. They say "karmayoga is but an aspirant's preparatory phase while jnanayoga is, the ultimate one; both cannot be in him simultaneously. His action, its relation to the fruit of action and the world which is a ground of either are all illusory. As the delusive romance of the kingdom of dream vanishes in a second from a person who has woken up from sleep, so also to the one who has attained jnana this world is but a dream. In dim light a traveler might mistake a rope for a snake but the moment he realises that it is a rope and not a snake, he will not see the snake again. Similarly the world appears to be what it is because of Maya and when true wisdom dawns, the Maya or the illusory world disappears. How then could he perform any actions?" From this, it follows that yajnas are meant for only those who are struggling in ignorance. The one who has attained the knowledge of Brahma has the sanction only for knowledge and renunciation of action. He performs only those actions which are necessary to keep his body and soul together. All other actions, social and religious, are a taboo to him, according to Sankaracharya and his followers.
svRkmaRi[ mnsa sÛySyaSte suo< vzI,

sarvakarm˜õi manas˜ sannyasy˜ste sukhaÕ vaþŸ
-- V-13
(The self-controlled man is in bliss by dedicating all his actions to God.)
n kt&RTv< n kmaRi[

na kart®tvaÕ na karm˜õi
-- V-14
(No doership and no doing.)
nEv k…vRÚ karyn!,

naiva kurvanna k˜rayan
-- V-13
(Not doing and getting done.)
zarIr< kevl< kmR

þ˜rŸraÕ kevalaÕ karma
-- IV-21
(Actions merely by the body.)

They quote the above stanzas in support of their thesis. But when we examine these slokas it becomes clear to us that renunciation of action is not what is preached by the Gita. What is preached is only the 'mental renunciation and not the physical renunciation of actual action.' The real import of the statement sarvakarm˜õi manas˜ sannyasya (svRkmaRi[ mnsa sÛySy) is that we should not have in our mind a desire for the fruits of action, and there should not be any assumption in our mind of any utterly free and independent action. The word is very significant.

-- V-8

-- V-9
(The karmayogi who knows God never thinks that he is independently doing anything even while he is seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, moving, breathing, sleeping, crying, leaving, talking, functioning with his breath etc.)

It lays down the performance of actions for the jnani. Since he does all his actions in a spirit of dedication to God and with an unfailing sense of His supremely independent power of action, it is clear that the Gita does not propose the rejection of bodily action. The 'mental giving up of action' only means 'the abandoning of egoism and the desire for fruit.' Giving up desire-prompted actions is true renunciation; giving up worldly rewards is true sacrifice, and this is explained in the eighteenth chapter of the Gita. If this world does not exist for a true jnani, how can he engage himself in day-to-day activities essential to keep himself alive? Even his body and articles of food should disappear with the world. So we have to presume that foodstuff alone is real in so far as it keeps him alive where as the rest of the world is illusory. This is absurd. Besides it is meaningless to restrict his activities only to the daily round of routine. It is nothing but debasing the jnani if we set aside the vast and excellent duties like uplifting the world and self-enrichment and restrict his activities to the necessitous activity of filling his belly. To say that a Brahmajnani, with all nobility and infinite capacity, sees only his body and its activities in the world and the rest of the world as non-existent, is an absurd statement. By saying that a Brahmajnani does not see the world because it is illusory, one is cutting off the very link between the world and the realm of spirit. But we have seen that many saints who had a vision of God have appeared in this world from time to time and have shown us the path of God. If the world does not exist for a jnani, how can he preach religion. Saints and the messiahs are the link between God and man. If we deny their existence on this earth, then our scriptures which contain the sacred thoughts of Rishis must be considered as but the babble of the ignorant. The Gita preaches unequivocally that both the jnanis and ajnanis have to perform duties relevant to their status and position in life.
äü{yaxay kmaRi[ s¼< TyKTva kraeit y>,

brahmaõy˜dh˜ya karm˜õi saðgaÕ tyaktv˜ karoti ya×
-- V-10
(One who performs actions with detachment and dedicating them to the Lord.)

The above stanza states that we should realise that jnanis perform action but they do it without any attachment and as a dedication to God, and we too should try to follow in their footsteps.

45. The Jnani's Identical Vision:

The jnanis who are able to see the hand of God behind every activity of the world are capable of experiencing divine joy even in the perception of the things of the world. They see God in each and every object and hence their contact with the world. They can see the divine principle underlying the learned and cultured as well as the uncultured and the wicked alike. Even if this world is full of internal difference and diversity the indwelling and controlling power that is full of God, is one and the same. He who sees this principle in his everyday life, is not disturbed by the sight of the ups and downs, chaos and order in the external world. The yogi who sees the blissful and sentient God and the marvelous sport of His power everywhere experience joy in every object of the world. When Sri Madhvacharya was leaving his house to embrace sanyasa, he bowed to all the trees and fields and the relatives around wondered at the strange behaviour and asked him about it. He asked them back how he could desist from bowing down to the beloved object he saw everywhere. Thus the jnanis who see His auspicious presence everywhere and experience endless bliss every moment are not scared by the world which is terrible, disgusting and ridden with contraries.

The spirit of God flows through all objects in this world. Just as even when electricity flows alike everywhere the light emitted by each bulb depends upon its candle power so also the selfsame God manifests Himself differently according to the medium, the intrinsic worthiness of the objects or persons. The spark of divinity in the wicked is not normally seen by the ordinary people as it gets covered by their cruelty and egoism; but a jnani has the great privilege of seeing the oneness of God in both good and bad persons alike. Even if God permeates alike in all, the division into the good and the wicked is based on the individual nature and fundamental inclinations. Just because God happens to be in both the good and the bad we cannot say that they are similar and travesty the meaning of the word 'similar' or 'same.'
pi{fta> smdizRn>

paõýit˜× samadarþina×
-- V-18
(The jnanis perceive sameness.)

There have been attempts to twist the above statement. If every person gets honour and recognition in society according to the services rendered by him, then the society will develop along healthy lines. No one desires the 'equality' that treats good and evil forces alike. Only when the learned and the ignorant, the dynamic and the lazy, the good and the evil, each is given honour and recognition in society according to his merit, it can be real equality. If children and adults are given food in the same quantity, it is not equality. Real impartiality lies in differentiating individuals according to their wisdom, character and nobility. If we pay wages to workers according to their skill and industry none can charge us with partiality. If both a clever student and an idiot get the same percentage of marks in the examination, it can really be described as partiality and discrimination. Even in the political field there will be utter chaos in law and order if no sifting is made between the good and the wicked, We should. interpret the word 'equality' taking all these into consideration. The spark of divinity runs, no doubt, through all, the good and the bad. Even though the same electricity flows through all the machines, their performance depends upon the nature and shape of the machine. Similarly the distinctions in this world, based on the peculiarities of each individual, are inevitable. Even God who is immanent in all objects does not alter the activities which arise out of their inherent nature.
Sv-avStu àvtRte

svabh˜vastu pravartate
-- V-14
(Move according to nature - God alone acts independently.)

Since for all activities in this world both God as well as the individual nature of the object are responsible, we cannot complain against the individual peculiarities of behaviour in a world created by the impartial God.
tÇtÇiSwtaeiv:[u StÄCDKtI> àvaexyn!,

tatratatrasthitoviÿõu stattacchaktŸ× pravodhayan
-- Sutra Bhashya
(Subsisting in each object Vishnu stimulates the powers of each.)

God's plan is only to activate whatever capacity lies latent within each object according to its nature. With the same care, manuring and watering, if different seeds of the same fruit give rise to fruits of different tastes, can we hold the gardener responsible for it? Similarly, in this world we observe diverse objects with diverse natures and all these arise because of the inherent difference in their natures. We cannot blame God for the diversity of things.
nadÄe kSyicTpap< n cEv suk«t< iv-u>,

n˜datte kasyacitp˜paÕ na caiva suk®taÕ vibhu× -- V-15
(The Lord is not tainted by merit or demerit.)

Since the omniscient and omnipresent almighty God activates the world according to a certain principle he cannot be charged with partiality. He is also not touched by the results arising out of their good and evil deeds. The results of these good and evil deeds do not affect in the least the purity and the greatness of the God within. Even though divinity may be manifest in diverse ways depending upon the individual nature of the object, God is not in the least affected by being in contact with these objects. Hence the Upanishads describe Him as As<g (asaðga).
iv;me:vipjIve;u smaeiv:[u> sdEvtu,

viÿameÿvapijŸveÿu samoviÿõu× sadaivatu
-- Gita Tatparya
(Vishnu is the selfsame within the diversity of beings.)

In this diverse world of animate and inanimate objects there runs one transcendent Spirit which is immutable and changeless and which is all-powerful and full of auspicious qualities. That Spirit is called God or Parabrahma. He who realises this immutable supreme principle enjoys incomparable bliss. This happiness, acquired by overcoming the cycle of birth and death, is unlimited and irreducible.

46. Excellence of Spiritual Happiness:

The divine joy that we get from self-realisation is greater and purer than any other we may get from other things in the life. The joy we get from the renunciation of sensuous things is far greater than the scanty joy we derive from the enjoyment of the things of the world. The taste of the joy derived from renunciation is sweeter than that we get from enjoyment. We no doubt derive pleasure by enjoying things which belong to us. It is the usual material joy which ordinary beings get. The joy that one gets from robbing other's of their things is diabolic or tamasic. But the joy which we get by suppressing our desires and giving our favourite things to others is the most sophisticated pure joy. Sri Madhvacharya says that we experience the original dynamic bliss itself in the bliss of renunciation.

But even if such a bliss is enjoyed by renunciation of sensuous joys and subtle desires, it can be stabilised in us only if it is accompanied by a deep devotion to God. Even if we may get pure joy by renunciation, we get a steady and endless joy only by the habit of concentrating our mind in the practice of meditation (Xyanyaeg).

There is a gulf of difference between worldly happiness and spiritual happiness. The former generates selfishness and attachment; the mind craves for it and soon gets fed up with it. It may give momentary happiness as by scratching an ulcer; but ultimately it leads to misery. Likewise, the enjoyment of sensuous delights, despite its apparent or immediate happiness, finally leads to wretchedness.
k{fªynenkryaeirv Ê>o Ê>om!,

kaõý¨yanenakarayoriva du×kha du×kham
-- Bhagavata
(It is wretched like the scratching of an inflammation.)

The spiritual happiness is quite different. To achieve it one has to go through a very difficult exercise of renunciation and meditation but the happiness and contentment are incomparable. Before this bliss all worldly enjoyments are contemptible and artificial. Our life's main aim should be to make efforts to attain the spiritual perfection by which we reach, though beginning in toil and reluctance, ultimately the experience of fullness.
baýSpzeR:vsKtaTma ivNdTyaTmin yTsuom!,
s äüyaegyuKtaTma suom]ymZnute.

b˜hyasparþeÿvasakt˜tm˜ vindaty˜tmani yatsukham
sa brahmayogayukt˜tm˜ sukhamakÿayamaþnute
-- V-21
(The yogi who is not engaged in the objects of the senses and seeks joy within himself, enjoys imperishable bliss, united to God through dhyana.)
ye ih s<SpzRja -aega Ê>oyaeny @v te,

ye hi saÕsparþaj˜ bhog˜ du×khayonaya eva te
-- V-22
(The pleasures of the sense arc only originative of misery.)

Thus in this fifth chapter of the Gita it is preached that man should attain spiritual happiness by imbibing renunciation and karmayoga and following the path of meditation.

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This page prepared by  Ramadas
Created March 02, 2000; last modified March 08, 2000