Yoga of Liberation & Renunciation: CH18, Verse 1-8 (177)


Lesson 177 solves the vagueness around the word renunciation. What is renunciation? Renounce what? What's the difference between ‘sannyasa' and ‘tyaga'.

Source: Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, Verse 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8


General Intro:

  • CH18 revises the entire teaching emphasising the practical aspects of the Bhagavad Gita vision. Possible types of actions. Essence of non-duality. It also concludes with a happy ending to the drama created by Arjuna’s nervous breakdown amidst the battlefield (life).

Technical Intro:

  • Bhagavad Gita Teaching Order: Big picture (CH2) > Elaborated (CH3-17) > Big picture (CH18).
  • BG covers 9 topics between CH3-17:
    1. sādhana traya vicāra: 3 compulsory disciplines.
      1. Karma Yoga: Purification of mind. CH3-6.
      2. Upāsana Yoga: Integration of mind. CH7-12.
        • 5-kosha agreement.
        • Example of disintegration:
          • Put keys somewhere and later can’t find. Because mind was not with the body at time of placing the keys. Mind was elsewhere.
          • Body sitting in meditation room. But mind in another world.
      3. Jñāna Yoga: Removal of ignorance. CH13-17.
    2. Padatraya vicāra: Analysis of 3 significant words: tat (isvara) tvam (jiva) asi (oneness). Establishes macro/micro identity.
      1. Tvam: CH3-6.
      2. Tat: CH7-12.
      3. Asi: CH13-17.
    3. Ghaṭaka traya vicāra: 3 factors for success.
      1. Prayatna: Individual effort. Acceptance of free-will and proper employment of it. CH3-6.
      2. Prasāda: Grace of Lord’s ever helping hand (only rejected by jīva-sṛṣṭi). CH7-12.
        • Without grace, the individual excludes Self from the Whole. Everything is the Whole, except the individual who is saying “Everything is the Whole”.
      3. Sadguna: Healthy character with objective outlook through eyes of scriptural values. CH13-17.
  • Qualifications for CH18:
    • CH18 is most beneficial if gone through prior chapters, because it’s a revision.
    • If gone through some chapters or no chapters, you’ll be familiarized in CH18.

VERSE 1-12: What is Best Kind of Renunciation for Mokṣa? (sannyāsa & tyāga)

TIMELINE: Arjuna asks a Question

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, Verse 1:

saṃnyāsasya mahā-bāho tattvam icchāmi veditum ।
tyāgasya ca hṛṣīkeśa pṛthak keśi-niṣūdana ॥ 18-1॥
Arjuna asked – Oh mighty-armed Kṛṣṇaḥ, the destroyer of Keśi, I desire to know the true nature of sannyāsa and of Tyāga distinctly.

  • Question of sannyasa & tyāga (renunciation) can only come from a culture that recognizes their purpose.  Reason even kings bow to sages living in simplicity.
    • At the same time, renunciation is one of most misinterpreted words. EG:
      • Is renunciation giving up possessions or sense of possessiveness?
      • Is it giving up the notion of giving up?
  • For this reason, Arjuna wants to know proper definition of sannyasa (renunciation) and tyāga (√tyaj; give up) for 2 reasons:
    • Renunciation is vague.
    • Krishna has seemingly confused Arjuna by giving His own definition of “Sannyasa”.
    • SANNYASA (2 definitions in BGita):
      1. Ashrama-sannyasa (Conventional):
        • Monastic lifestyle by taking vow to become a monk (ochre robe). Leaves home, cuts ties to society, bank-balance. All duties are released so person can focus entirely on shravana, manana, nididhyasana. If attains moskha, should ideally spread the spiritual knowledge.
        • Ashrama-sannyasa is for concentrated-study or teaching.
        • It can only be taken after (a) settling accounts with world (b) mind purification.
      2. Krishna sannyasa-definition (non-conventional):
        • In CH6.1-2, Krishna told the non-conventional definition is the real ‘sannyasa‘, because he saw Arjuna thinking of conventional-sannyasa as means of escaping Kurukshetra (field of action).
        • What is non-conventional definition? Karma-Yoga.
          1. SELFLESS: Duties are devoid of self-centredness. IE: The question of “How can I satisfy my 5-senses right now?” is converted into “What can I give that’ll add to the wellbeing of my personal growth and/or the environment?”.
          2. WIDE-VISION: Duties are no longer seen as “I’m doing this for my parents/spouse/son/daughter”, but, all my actions are going into the TOTAL Kurukshetra (field of action, laws-orders) which is none other then Īśvara.
          3. PRASADA: Consequences received are viewed as isvara-prasada; thus one enjoys a more Intelligent/rational response, rather then mechanical reactions. 
        • REVISION: (a) How can I add __ (b) Person > TOTAL (b) Isvara-prasada.
  • ESSENCE OF VERSE: What's the difference between sannyāsa and tyāga AND proper definition of “renunciation”?

TIMELINE: V2-3: Krishna gives opinion of scholars.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, Verse 2:

kāmyānām karmaṇām nyāsam saṃnyāsam kavayaḥ viduḥ ।
sarva-karma-phala-tyāgam prāhuḥ tyāgam vicakṣaṇāḥ ॥ 18-2॥
The Lord said  – The wise know sannyāsa as renunciation of actions for desired objects; the learned people say renunciation of results of all actions is tyāga.

  • Firstly to understand meaning of sannyasa/tyaga (renunciation), must know, 5 types of actions:
    1. Niyata-karma (also called: nitya, vihita, niṣkāma): Compulsory duties or responsibilities that come unasked for because of your unique status/role/position in life, or because your prarabdha has put you-jiva there.
      • Made up of:
        • Nitya-karma: Daily duties.
        • Upāsanā: Mental actions done to increase our wisdom or empowerment.
    2. Niṣiddha-karma: Actions prohibited by the society, government, or scriptures as they are harmful to us and others.
    3. Kāmya-karma (sakāma): Desire-prompted or selfish actions done for one’s own gain (5-sense satisfaction).
    4. Prāyaścitta-karma: Compensatory or damage-control actions done because of committing prohibited actions, or not doing our duty, or doing it improperly. Dānam is one of best means of Prāyaścitta.
    5. Naimittika-karma: Occasional duties when the situation arises, or duties upon sudden life-stage change.
      • EG: When children come, new duties are born that were absent before. When move up the corporate ladder, duties change instantly.
  • REVISION: Compulsory, Prohibited, Selfish, Damage-control, Occasional (life-stage based).
  • Secondly, let’s see how scholars/philosophers define renunciation…
    • Sannyasa:
      • Group 1: Only giving up Prohibited (Niṣiddha; #2)  and  Selfish (Kāmya; #3) actions.
        • Meaning continue: Compulsory, Damage-control, Occasional.
      • Group 2: Taking to monastic lifestyle. Giving up all, except: Compulsory and Occasional.
    • Tyāga:
      • Giving up insistence that your actions always turn out EXACTLY as expected.  In other words, actions are offered to higher alter, thus unfavorable/favorable consequences are accommodated with increased mental poise.
  • NEXT VERSE: What else do scholars think…

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, Verse 3:

tyājyam doṣavat iti eke karma prāhuḥ manīṣiṇaḥ ।
yajña-dāna-tapaḥ-karma na tyājyam iti ca apare ॥ 18-3॥
Some thinkers say that action, which is (inherently) defective, is to be given up, whereas some others (declare) that activity in the form of devotional-rituals (yajñā), charity (dānam) and austerity (tapas) should not be given up.

  • Group 1: Official sannyasi (ochre-robe) status from monk-order.
    • Some thinker say to take monastic lifestyle. Giving up all, except: Compulsory and Occasional. EG: Ashrama Swami’s are in this category, eg; Some spare time admin work.
  • Group 2:  Turned renunciate by oneself. Switched out of world.
    • Others thinkers consider ALL ACTIONS are binding, since they generate unnecessary thoughts or unwelcoming consequences, thus producing anxiety and take-away from spiritual-study.  
      • EG: Someone may misinterpret your sincere intention, due to their tragic-past.
      • Meaning all actions should be given up (except Compulsory like eating, washing, keeping warm). Abandon gṛhasta (householder), take ocher-robe. 
      • This is closer to the sincere Sadhus in India.
  • Group 3:
    • Others contend it’s impossible to live without action, thereby we should (1) only give up binding-selfish-actions, and (2) minimize harmful effects of all actions.  EG: Only take what you need. Don’t stock up (only to throw away later).
    • For this group, renunciation is a PARTIAL giving up. EG: Gṛhasta that simplifies life to Compulsory, Occasional and Damage-control. Meaning, one does NOT renounce: yajna, tapas, danam.
  • NEXT VERSE:  Krishna comes to rescue by resolving contradictions…

TIMELINE: V4-9: Krishna gives own opinion of sannyasa.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, Verse 4:

niścayam śṛṇu me tatra tyāge bharatasattama ।
tyāgaḥ hi puruṣa-vyāghra trividhaḥ samprakīrtitaḥ ॥ 18-4॥
Oh Arjuna ! Listen to My verdict regarding renunciation. Renunciation is indeed said to be threefold, Oh Arjuna !

  • 2 Points:
    • Krishna’s answer implies there’s no difference between sannyasa/tyāga, as he is not differentiating the terms. Just saying “renunciation” (tatra tyāge trividhaḥ; regarding Renunciation, it’s threefold).
    • Renunciation is 3-fold. So Krishna is taking different approach to scholars.
  • NEXT V5/6: Krishna will point out an important principle before answering…

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, Verse 5:

yajña-dāna-tapaḥ-karma na tyājyam kāryam eva tat ।
yajñaḥ dānam tapaḥ ca eva pāvanāni manīṣiṇām ॥ 18-5॥
Activity in the form of Yajña, charity and austerity should not be given up. It has to be performed necessarily. Yajña, charity and austerity are purifiers to the devout (people).

  • IMPORTANT PRINCIPLE: Scriptures will always give different answer depending on WHO is asking. If don’t know this, scriptures/teacher will seems contradictory. Accordingly, before giving proper definition of “renunciation”, must consider WHO is asking the question.
    • IF PREPARED MIND: Give proper definition.
    • IF UNPREPARED MIND: Don't give proper definition, else taking up ashrama-sannyasa leads to misery.
      • BGita is mostly speaking to minds that are yet to develop qualifications for jñāna-yoga. For this reason, 3 crucial mind purifiers should remain in one’s life:
        1. Yajna: Worship, attitude-of-gratitude and close connection with a personal deity or guru that keeps your mind on the highest.
        2. Dānam: Spirit of voluntary contribution.
        3. Tapas: mindfulness, deliberate spiritual practices such as pratipaksha-bhavana.
          • EG: “THIS” (focus is on 5-kosha defects) I would not see, because he/she is One with Me. One says this to retrain mind to recognize the Self in all beings. But also because to identify with another’s sins/defects is to identify with your own in that moment.
      • Why should these 3 NOT be given up? Because they minimize negative impact of 3 life forces all minds are subject to…
        1. Ādhidaivika: Universal factors we have ZERO control. Like destiny (prarabdha-karma), weather, inherited gene-set suspectable to cancer (which may activate or not manifest in your body).
        2. Ādhibhautika: Situations with LITTLE control. Like your neighborhood environment, nations economy, air quality, family relations, job situation.
        3. Ādhyātmika: Related to our BMI which we have SIGNIFICANT control.
  • Adi Shankara further adds, one can renounce yajna/dānam/tapas after gaining mind qualifications. Then ready to exclusively pursue śravana, manana, nididhyasana.
  • NEXT VERSE: Performing Yajna/danam/tapas with right attitude/approach…

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, Verse 6:

etāni api tu karmāṇi saṅgam tyaktvā phalāni ca ।
kartavyāni iti me pārtha niścitam matam uttamam ॥ 18-6॥
Renouncing attachment and the results, these actions (yajna, danam, tapas) alone are to be performed – This is My considered and the best teaching, Oh Arjuna !

  • Krishna says, recognize yajna/dānam/tapas as MEANS to an END. Meaning don’t turn your prayers, pujas, and charity as the GOAL of life. They’re solely to:
    1. Train the mind to remain in a concentrated state-of-mind.
    2. Reduce impact of unhealthy states such as:  Forgetfulness, holding onto possessions, attached to past beliefs, unable to exit an argument you’re losing, putting personal likes over ethics.
  • Therefore, tyaktvā saṅgam phalāni: Renounce the attachment (expectation) of their results. Implying, they’re NOT the GOAL.
  • NEXT: Krishna speaks of 3 types of renunciation…

TIMELINE: V7-9: 3 Types of Sannyāsa.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, Verse 7:

niyatasya tu saṃnyāsaḥ karmaṇaḥ na upapadyate ।
mohāt tasya parityāgaḥ tāmasaḥ parikīrtitaḥ ॥ 18-7॥
Renunciation of obligatory action (Niyata-karma) is not proper. Renunciation of it, out of delusion, is called tāmasika.

  • Tamasic renunciation is:
    • Giving-up obligatory (niyata-karma) actions which are: yajna, danam, tapas.
    • Giving up one’s duties/activities without thinking, or due to emotional impulsivity, or due to laziness.
      • EG:
        1. Couple or employee/employer get into heated argument, and one of them impulsively ends it as form of punishment/hurt (tama-guna = want to hurt them).
          • Ending anything suddenly without any prior discussion or warning.
        2. Becoming full renunciate to escape household duties. Planting oneself in set of religious beliefs, to avoid confronting the real-world.
        3. Out of frustration to solve a computer puzzle, angrily hits the exit button or walks-away.
        4. Throws the gadget away suddenly because it’s not performing properly.
        5. Giving up your core values for glamour of the moment. Or giving up your culture for glamour of another.
          • EG: Westerner tries to eat with hands around Indians to fit in. And vice-versa.
        6. Giving up spiritual practice half-way, or entirely. Without thinking it through.
  • Why are they given up? Due to delusion (moha); ignorance of their present and future worth/benefits (since they are subtle to a gross mind).
  • NEXT VERSE: Rajas renunciation…

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, Verse 8:

duḥkham iti eva yat karma kāya-kleśa-bhayāt tyajet ।
saḥ kṛtvā rājasam tyāgam na eva tyāga-phalam labhet ॥ 18-8॥
Out of fear of physical strain, one gives up the duty (considering it) to be troublesome. Having taken to Rajasic renunciation, he/she never gets the results of renunciation.

  • Rajasic renunciation is:
    1. Giving up not because want to, but forced to.
      • EG:
        • Smoking for medical reasons.
        • Child is prohibited from speaking in class.
        • Someone threatens they’ll leave if you don’t give up __.
        • Have to give up extra-large toothpaste / backup battery at airport customs.
    2. Giving up to be recognized as “one who has given up life of drugs, crime”. Name-fame. EG: Announcing one is leaving out of secret desire to be missed/remembered.
    3. Giving up because of shame. EG: One stops lying suddenly, because they’ve been caught by one who they tried to impress.
    4. Giving up religion for monetary life.
    5. kāya-kleśa-bhayāt; Gives up due to fear of physical strain.
      • One knows the value of yajna/tapas/danam. Even gives informative discourses, but doesn’t live because bodily-comfort attachments. Hence Meditation/Yoga/Health postures are avoided.
      • So anything that you CAN, but when asked, you don’t want to because it’s considered: painful, difficult, bothersome, or boring. Due to self-centeredness.
        • EG:
          • Woman refuses to bear offspring because it will “spoil her figure”.
          • Religious conversion or technique-seeker or guru-shopper.
  • NEXT: Krishna talks about Sattvic renunciation…

Keywords: prayascitta, prayashcitta, nisiddha, nishiddha, tyaga, kamya


Credit for help in Bhagavad Gita teaching given to Swami Dayananda (Arsha Vidya), Paramarthananda & Chinmaya Mission.

Recorded 2 Aug, 2022


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