Chapter 5 – Karma-Sannyāsa Yoga
(The Yoga of the Renunciation of Action)
Listen to this chapter:
संन्यासं कर्मणां कृष्ण पुनर्योगं च शंससि ।
यच्छ्रेय एतयोरेकं तन्मे ब्रूहि सुनिश्चितम् ॥१॥
arjuna uvāca –
sannyāsaṁ karmaṇāṁ kṛṣṇa punar yogaṁ ca śaṁsasi
yacchreya etayor ekaṁ tan me brūhi suniśchitam
Arjuna said: O Kṛṣṇa, You talk of the renunciation of action (sannyāsa) but then again, You also speak of karma-yoga (the way of selfless action). Please tell me clearly, which of the two is best?
संन्यासः कर्मयोगश्च निःश्रेयसकरावुभौ ।
तयोस्तु कर्मसंन्यासात्कर्मयोगो विशिष्यते ॥२॥
śrī bhagavān uvāca –
sannyāsaḥ karma-yogaś ca niḥśreyasa karāv-ubhau
tayos tu karma-sannyāsāt karma-yogo viśiṣyate
Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa replied: Both renunciation of action (sannyāsa) and the performance of selfless action (karma-yoga) give the highest benefit. Yet, of the two, the path of selfless action is higher than the renunciation of action.
ज्ञेयः स नित्यसंन्यासी यो न द्वेष्टि न काङ्क्षति ।
निर्द्वन्द्वो हि महाबाहो सुखं बन्धात्प्रमुच्यते ॥३॥
jñeyaḥ sa nitya-sannyāsī yo na dveṣṭi na kāṅkṣati
nirdvandvo hi mahā-bāho sukhaṁ bandhāt pramucyate
O mighty-armed one, you should understand that one who is free of hatred and material desires is a true renunciate (sannyāsī). He is beyond duality and is easily liberated from material bondage.
सांख्ययोगौ पृथग्बालाः प्रवदन्ति न पण्डिताः ।
एकमप्यास्थितः सम्यगुभयोर्विन्दते फलम् ॥४॥
sāṅkhya-yogau pṛthag bālāḥ pravadanti na paṇḍitāḥ
ekam apy-āsthitaḥ samyag ubhayor vindate phalam
Those who are immature and devoid of knowledge state that the path of renunciation and the path of karma-yoga are different. However, one who follows either of these paths perfectly achieves the results of both.
यत्सांख्यैः प्राप्यते स्थानं तद्योगैरपि गम्यते ।
एकं सांख्यं च योगं च यः पश्यति स पश्यति ॥५॥
yat sāṅkhyaiḥ prāpyate sthānaṁ tad yogair api gamyate
ekaṁ sāṅkhyaṁ ca yogaṁ ca yaḥ paśyati sa paśyati
That state which is achieved by renunciation is also attained by karma-yoga. One who sees these two systems as one and the same actually sees things as they are.
The Vedic system recommends four spiritual orders of life called āśrāmas. These are brahmacārī, gṛhastha, vānaprastha and sannyāsa. Brahmacārīs are the celibate students. Gṛhasthas are the family units, vānaprasthas are the retired members of society and sannyāsīs are the completely renounced persons who live a life of sacrifice, austerity and cultivation of knowledge. Sannyāsīs are considered to be at the crest of all social and spiritual orders of life.
Vedic scholars sometimes debate whether sannyāsa-yoga (complete renunciation of activities) or karma-yoga (actions performed selflessly) is better. Śrī Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad-gītā that both sannyāsa-yoga and karma-yoga are favourable for liberation. Both paths ultimately lead to the same goal, but of the two, the path of karma-yoga is preferable. This subject is controversial among some scholars because, according to their understanding, karma-yoga is the performance of philanthropic works that are beneficial to the downtrodden section of society such as the poor and the hungry. Such welfare work is indeed noble, but one should understand that when Kṛṣṇa speaks of karma-yoga in the Gītā, He is specifically speaking about activities that are performed for His satisfaction and pleasure. Such activities are also known as karma-yoga or bhakti-yoga because the result of action is offered to Kṛṣṇa. In other words, noble philanthropic activities are ‘good karma’ but not karma-yoga, unless they are offered to Kṛṣṇa and performed on His behalf.
When karma-yoga is established as bhakti-yoga then its superior advantage over sannyāsa-yoga is immediately understood. Sannyāsa-yoga is very, very difficult to execute. One has to strictly control the senses and renounce even the simplest comforts of life such as a warm bath, comfortable sleeping place etc. One has to live in the forest, fast regularly and observe other austerities such as sexual abstinence. For most people, this is very difficult, if not impossible.
Karma-yoga (bhakti-yoga) on the other hand, is easily adoptable by anyone at any stage and leads quickly to the ultimate goal of life. In karma-yoga one performs devotional activities and follows basic principles of purity such as no intoxication, no illicit sex, no gambling and no eating of meat, fish or eggs. These principles can be easily adopted by anyone. Similarly, the devotional activity of chanting the mahā-mantra (hare kṛṣṇa hare kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa hare hare, hare rāma hare rāma rāma rāma hare hare) is also easily taken up along with meditation on the form of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Mantra meditation is the recommended process of worshipping Kṛṣṇa in Kali-yuga. Therefore karma-yoga is given first preference in Bhagavad-gītā.
However, when sannyāsa-yoga is dovetailed with karma-yoga and the sannyāsī performs any and all sacrifices, austerities and shares the knowledge of Bhagavad-gītā with others, according to the desires of Kṛṣṇa, then such a sannyāsī becomes most perfect and is naturally accepted as the guru or teacher of both paths.
संन्यासस्तु महाबाहो दुःखमाप्तुमयोगतः ।
योगयुक्तो मुनिर्ब्रह्म नचिरेणाधिगच्छति ॥६॥
sannyāsas tu mahā-bāho duḥkham āptum ayogataḥ
yoga-yukto munir brahma na cireṇādhigacchati
O mighty-armed one, without karma-yoga, renunciation is a cause for misery. However, that wise man that performs karma-yoga quickly attains the Absolute Truth.
योगयुक्तो विशुद्धात्मा विजितात्मा जितेन्द्रियः ।
सर्वभूतात्मभूतात्मा कुर्वन्नपि न लिप्यते ॥७॥
yoga-yukto viśuddhātmā vijitātmā jitendriyaḥ
sarva-bhūtātmabhūtātmā kurvann-api na lipyate
One who is pure engages in karma-yoga and controls the mind and senses. Although he engages in action, he is never contaminated and he is filled with love for all living beings.
नैव किञ्चित्करोमीति युक्तो मन्येत तत्त्ववित् ।
इन्द्रियाणीन्द्रियार्थेषु वर्तन्त इति धारयन् ॥९॥
naiva kiñcit karomīti yukto manyeta tattva-vit
paśyañ śṛṇvan spṛśañ jighrann aśnan gacchan svapan śvasan
pralapan visṛjan gṛhṇann unmiṣan nimiṣann api
indriyāṇīndriyārtheṣu vartanta iti dhārayan
One who is a knower of the truth, although he is engaged in seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, moving, sleeping, breathing, talking, evacuating, accepting objects and blinking the eyes, realises that all his sense-functions are interacting with the respective sense-objects. Therefore, he thinks, “I am not doing anything.”
ब्रह्मण्याधाय कर्माणि सङ्गं त्यक्त्वा करोति यः ।
लिप्यते न स पापेन पद्मपत्रमिवाम्भसा ॥१०॥
brahmaṇy-ādhāya karmāṇi saṅgaṁ tyaktvā karoti yaḥ
lipyate na sa pāpena padma-patram ivāmbhasā
One who gives up all attachments and acts by offering all his actions unto the Supreme is never contaminated by any impiety, just as a lotus leaf is never touched by water.
कायेन मनसा बुद्ध्या केवलैरिन्द्रियैरपि ।
योगिनः कर्म कुर्वन्ति सङ्गं त्यक्त्वात्मशुद्धये ॥११॥
kāyena manasā buddhyā kevalair indriyair api
yoginaḥ karma kurvanti saṅgaṁ tyaktvātma śuddhaye
By giving up all attachments, the karma-yogī performs actions through the medium of the body, mind, intelligence and senses simply for the purpose of self-purification.
युक्तः कर्मफलं त्यक्त्वा शान्तिमाप्नोति नैष्ठिकीम् ।
अयुक्तः कामकारेण फले सक्तो निबध्यते ॥१२॥
yuktaḥ karma-phalaṁ tyaktvā śāntim āpnoti naiṣṭhikīm
ayuktaḥ kāma-kāreṇa phale sakto nibadhyate
The karma-yogī, giving up the results of his actions, attains everlasting peace. However, the selfish worker being attached, desires the results of his actions and therefore becomes ensnared.
सर्वकर्माणि मनसा संन्यस्यास्ते सुखं वशी ।
नवद्वारे पुरे देही नैव कुर्वन्न कारयन् ॥१३॥
sarva-karmāṇi manasā sannyasyāste sukhaṁ vaśī
nava-dvāre pure dehī naiva kurvan na kārayan
By mentally renouncing all actions, a sense-controlled living being can happily reside within the material body, neither acting nor causing others to act.
न कर्तृत्वं न कर्माणि लोकस्य सृजति प्रभुः ।
न कर्मफलसंयोगं स्वभावस्तु प्रवर्तते ॥१४॥
na kartṛtvaṁ na karmāṇi lokasya sṛjati prabhuḥ
na karma-phala-saṁyogaṁ svabhāvas tu pravartate
The Absolute Truth does not create anyone’s sense of proprietorship, one’s actions or the result of those actions. All this is enacted by the modes of material nature.
नादत्ते कस्यचित्पापं न चैव सुकृतं विभुः ।
अज्ञानेनावृतं ज्ञानं तेन मुह्यन्ति जन्तवः ॥१५॥
nādatte kasyacit pāpaṁ na caiva sukṛtaṁ vibhuḥ
ajñānenāvṛtaṁ jñānaṁ tena muhyanti jantavaḥ
The Super Consciousness does not accept anyone’s pious deeds or their impious deeds. Living beings are bewildered because their knowledge is covered by ignorance.
ज्ञानेन तु तदज्ञानं येषां नाशितमात्मनः ।
तेषामादित्यवज्ज्ञानं प्रकाशयति तत्परम् ॥१६॥
jñānena tu tad ajñānaṁ yeṣāṁ nāśitam ātmanaḥ
teṣām ādityavaj jñānaṁ prakāśayati tat param
Yet for those whose ignorance has been destroyed by knowledge of the self, their knowledge, like the rising sun, reveals the Supreme Truth.
गच्छन्त्यपुनरावृत्तिं ज्ञाननिर्धूतकल्मषाः ॥१७॥
tad buddhayas tad-ātmānas tan-niṣṭhās tat-parāyaṇāḥ
Those whose ignorance has been removed by knowledge, whose intelligence is absorbed in the Supreme, who contemplate the Supreme, who are fixed in Him alone and who sing His glories, never take birth again.
विद्याविनयसम्पन्ने ब्राह्मणे गवि हस्तिनि ।
शुनि चैव श्वपाके च पण्डिताः समदर्शिनः ॥१८॥
vidyā-vinaya-sampanne brāhmaṇe gavi hastini
śuni caiva śvapāke ca paṇḍitāḥ sama-darśinaḥ
A wise man sees a learned and humble brāhmaṇa, a cow, an elephant, a dog, a lowborn person and all other living beings as equal.
इहैव तैर्जितः सर्गो येषां साम्ये स्थितं मनः ।
निर्दोषं हि समं ब्रह्म तस्माद् ब्रह्मणि ते स्थिताः ॥१९॥
ihaiva tair jitaḥ sargo yeṣāṁ sāmye sthitaṁ manaḥ
nirdoṣaṁ hi samaṁ brahma tasmād brahmaṇi te sthitāḥ
The cycle of birth and death has been conquered by those whose minds are fixed in meditating on the Absolute Truth, even while living in this world. Being faultless and possessing divine equanimity, they are situated in the Supreme.
न प्रहृष्येत्प्रियं प्राप्य नोद्विजेत्प्राप्य चाप्रियम् ।
स्थिरबुद्धिरसम्मूढो ब्रह्मविद् ब्रह्मणि स्थितः ॥२०॥
na prahṛṣyet priyaṁ prāpya nodvijet prāpya cāpriyam
sthira-buddhir asammūḍho brahma-vid brahmaṇi sthitaḥ
Being situated in the Absolute Truth, having fixed intelligence and being devoid of ignorance, one who knows the Supreme never rejoices when he attains pleasant things, nor laments upon obtaining unpleasant things.
In verse 15 the word vibhu has been translated as Supreme Spirit. Vibhu literally means ‘omnipresent’ and this refers to Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Conscious Being. When consciousness is omnipresent the conclusion is that it is omniscient also. Omniscience and omnipresence denote Kṛṣṇa. Arjuna however, and other living beings of his status, are called anu or finite. Kṛṣṇa, the Absolute Truth, is infinite and the living beings are finite.
It is sometimes thought that God, somehow or other, dies for the sins of the world. This is not a very intelligent idea, nor is it consistent with the spiritual science found in Bhagavad-gītā. Kṛṣṇa says that He does not cause anyone to perform pious or impious activities nor does he accept the reaction of anyone’s actions. The idea that God dies for our sins is rejected. God is eternal; therefore He cannot and does not die. The living beings are also eternal, but because they are under the bodily concept of life, when the body dies they also experience death – although they actually do not die. Both the Absolute Truth and His parts and parcels are eternal, beyond death.
In verse 18 the relative vision of equality is expressed for one who is situated in transcendental knowledge. The wise man (paṇḍita) sees all living beings equally, as units of eternal consciousness. The distinction between various bodies is only an apparent difference between living beings. According to the Bṛhad-Viṣṇu Purāṇa, there are 8,400,000 different species of material bodies:
jalajā nava-lakṣāṇi sthāvarā lakṣa-viṁśatiḥ
kṛmayo rudra-saṅkhyakāḥ pakṣināṁ daśa-lakṣakam
triṁśal-lakṣāṇi paśavaś-catur-lakṣāṇi mānuṣāḥ
There are 900,000 aquatic species and 2,000,000 non-moving species such as trees and plants. There are 1,100,000 species of insects and reptiles and 1,000,000 species of birds. There are 3,000,000 varieties of quadrupeds and 400,000 species of human beings.
The unit of individual consciousness, the ātmā, transmigrates through these various species from one to the other until it eventually reaches the human form of life. This process is known as transmigration, or reincarnation. It is similar to the theory of evolution, but distinctly different at the same time. In the Vedic concept the species of life are not evolving one into the other (though change within species is accepted), rather it is the ātmā that is evolving in consciousness while transmigrating from one species to the next. In the human form of life, consciousness reaches its completeness through the process of yoga.
Therefore, a wise man does not discriminate between one person and another based on bodily differences. The wise see the ātmā present in all forms of life and not just in human life.
बाह्यस्पर्शेष्वसक्तात्मा विन्दत्यात्मनि यत्सुखम् ।
स ब्रह्मयोगयुक्तात्मा सुखमक्षयमश्नुते ॥२१॥
bāhya-sparśeṣv-asaktātmā vindaty-ātmani yat sukham
sa brahma-yoga-yuktātmā sukham akṣayam aśnute
One whose mind is detached from external pleasures experiences the happiness found in the self. Connecting himself with the Absolute, he attains unlimited bliss.
ये हि संस्पर्शजा भोगा दुःखयोनय एव ते ।
आद्यन्तवन्तः कौन्तेय न तेषु रमते बुधः ॥२२॥
ye hi saṁsparśajā bhogā duḥkha-yonaya eva te
ādy-antavantaḥ kaunteya na teṣu ramate budhaḥ
Those pleasures that are born in connection with the sense-objects give rise to misery. They have a beginning and an end. Therefore, O son of Kuntī, a wise man finds no satisfaction in the senses and sense-objects.
शक्नोतीहैव यः सोढुं प्राक्शरीरविमोक्षणात् ।
कामक्रोधोद्भवं वेगं स युक्तः स सुखी नरः ॥२३॥
śaknotīhaiva yaḥ soḍhuṁ prāk śarīra-vimokṣaṇāt
kāma-krodhodbhavaṁ vegaṁ sa yuktaḥ sa sukhī naraḥ
Before giving up this present body, if one is able to control the senses and the impulses that arise from lust and anger, one becomes self-satisfied. Such a person is a true yogī.
योऽन्तःसुखोऽन्तरारामस्तथान्तर्ज्योतिरेव यः ।
स योगी ब्रह्मनिर्वाणं ब्रह्मभूतोऽधिगच्छति ॥२४॥
yo’ntaḥ-sukho’ntarārāmas tathāntar jyotireva yaḥ
sa yogī brahma-nirvāṇaṁ brahma-bhūto’dhigacchati
One who finds happiness and bliss within and who is enlightened within is a perfect yogī. He attains the transcendental platform and achieves liberation.
लभन्ते ब्रह्मनिर्वाणमृषयः क्षीणकल्मषाः ।
छिन्नद्वैधा यतात्मानः सर्वभूतहिते रताः ॥२५॥
labhante brahma-nirvāṇam ṛṣayaḥ kṣīṇa-kalmaṣāḥ
chinna-dvaidhā yatātmānaḥ sarva-bhūta-hite ratāḥ
Yogīs who are free from vice, self-controlled, whose doubts have been removed and who are engaged in welfare work for all living beings, attain liberation in the Supreme.
कामक्रोधविमुक्तानां यतीनां यतचेतसाम् ।
अभितो ब्रह्मनिर्वाणं वर्तते विदितात्मनाम् ॥२६॥
kāma-krodha-vimuktānāṁ yatīnāṁ yata-cetasām
abhito brahma-nirvāṇaṁ vartate viditātmanām
Those sannyāsīs who constantly endeavour for perfection, who have controlled their minds, who are self-realised and who are free from lust and anger, soon achieve liberation in the Supreme.
स्पर्शान्कृत्वा बहिर्बाह्यांश्चक्षुश्चैवान्तरे भ्रुवोः ।
प्राणापानौ समौ कृत्वा नासाभ्यन्तरचारिणौ ॥२७॥
विगतेच्छाभयक्रोधो यः सदा मुक्त एव सः ॥२८॥
sparśān kṛtvā bahir bāhyāṁś cakṣuś caivāntare bhruvoḥ
prāṇāpānau samau kṛtvā nāsābhyantara-cāriṇau
yatendriya-mano-buddhir munir mokṣa-parāyaṇaḥ
vigatecchā-bhaya-krodho yaḥ sadā mukta eva saḥ
The yogī who shuts out the external sense-objects and fixes his concentration between the eyebrows, stabilising the inward and outward breaths that flow through the nostrils and thus controls the senses, the mind and intelligence, is dedicated to the attainment of liberation. He is never bound by desires stemming from lust, fear and anger and is certainly always liberated.
भोक्तारं यज्ञतपसां सर्वलोकमहेश्वरम् ।
सुहृदं सर्वभूतानां ज्ञात्वा मां शान्तिमृच्छति ॥२९॥
bhoktāraṁ yajña-tapasāṁ sarva-loka-maheśvaram
suhṛdaṁ sarva-bhūtānāṁ jñātvā māṁ śāntim ṛcchati
One attains peace by knowing Me to be the original enjoyer of all sacrifices and austerities, the Supreme Controller of all the planets, and the benefactor and friend of all living beings.
In the last verse of this chapter Śrī Kṛṣṇa declares that He is bhoktāraṁ yajña-tapasāṁ, the ultimate enjoyer and receiver of all sacrifice and austerities. Kṛṣṇa then says that He is sarva-loka-maheśvaram, the Controller of all planets.
Some modern systems of yoga recommend that one meditate by thinking of oneself to be controlling and moving the planets. This is completely absurd. When one is unable to control the affairs of the world that surrounds him, how then is he able to control the movements of the planets? This is not actually meditation – it is self-deception.
Śrī Kṛṣṇa concludes by saying that He is suhṛdaṁ sarva-bhūtānāṁ, the true friend of all living beings. By far, the Kṛṣṇa conception of the Absolute Truth is the broadest, most complete, in-depth and convincing idea of God known to human society. There are many conceptions of the ultimate source of life being the all-powerful creator and controller of the universe, but the Kṛṣṇa conception is the only concept of ultimate reality that embraces a love affair with God as a dear-most friend. This is exclusive to the Kṛṣṇa conception, therefore it is considered as the topmost theology, or topmost yoga system.
Kṛṣṇa says, jñātvā māṁ śāntim ṛcchati – knowing this, one attains peace. If ever there were something that was elusive in this world then certainly it is peace. Peace is talked about everywhere but it is rare, if not impossible to find. Bhagavad-gītā gives us a key to peace. Peace is not found in becoming rich and famous, in being saved or even liberated from birth and death – real peace comes from knowing that Śrī Kṛṣṇa is our dear-most friend. This is the message of Bhagavad-gītā.
ॐ तत्सदिति श्रीमहाभारते शतसाहस्रयां संहितायां
श्रीमद्भगवदीतासूपनिषत्सु ब्रह्मविद्यायं योगशास्त्रे श्रीकृष्णार्जुनसंवादे
कर्मसन्न्यासयोगो नाम पञ्चमोऽध्यायः।।
oṁ tat saditi śrī-mahābhārate-śata-sāhasryāṁ saṁhitāyāṁ vaiyāsikyāṁ bhīṣma-parvāṇi
brahma-vidyāyāṁ yoga-śāstre śrī kṛṣṇārjuna-saṁvāde
karma-sannyāsa-yogo nāma pañcamo’dhyāyaḥ
OṀ TAT SAT – Thus ends Chapter Five entitled Karma-Sannyāsa Yoga from the conversation between Śrī Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna in the Upaniṣad known as Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā, the yoga-śāstra of divine knowledge, from the Bhīṣma-parva of Mahābhārata, the literature revealed by Vyāsa in one hundred thousand verses.