SRIMAD BHAGAVAD GITA – PART 19 Chapter 5, Verses 1 to 10 – KARMA VAIRAGYA YOGA

In Chapter 5, Bhagavan Shri Krishna will explain the Karma Vairagya Yoga.  Bhagavan explained Karma Yoga in Chapter 3 while in this Chapter He talks about Karma Vairagya Yoga i.e. Renunciation of actions.  In essence Bhagavan is emphasising the need to renounce the results of fruitive actions.  In these ten verses, He explains how this can be achieved but starts with the postulate that both paths i.e. Karma Yoga and Jnana Yoga leads to self-realisation and Moksha. Arjuna is naturally perplexed and asks Shri Krishna to explain clearly as to which of these two paths is superior.  Bhagavan said, the renunciation of work and work in devotion are both good for liberation. But, of the two, work in devotional service is better than renunciation of work. One who neither hates nor desires the fruits of his activities is known to be always as a renounced. Such a person, liberated from all dualities, easily overcomes material bondage and is completely liberated, O mighty-armed Arjuna.

One can attain liberation by means of renunciation while in devotional service and therefore a person in devotional service views the path of Karma Yoga and the path of renunciation (Sanyasa) as one and the same.  Unless one is engaged in the devotional service of the Lord, a mere renunciation of activities cannot make one happy nor result in spiritual advancement. The sages, purified by works of devotion, achieved the Supreme without delay.

The person who works in devotion, who is a pure soul, and who has complete control over his mind and senses, who is equipoised, is dear to everyone, and everyone is dear to him. Though always working, such a man is never entangled as he is engaged in the divine consciousness.  Although seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, moving about, sleeping, and breathing, always knows within himself that he actually does nothing at all as all his acts are dedicated to the Supreme; such a person has no attachment, has no doer-ship, is equipoised and is therefore not affected by sin, just as a lotus leaf remains untouched by water.

5.1      Shloka 5.1

अर्जुन उवाच
संन्यासं कर्मणां कृष्ण पुनर्योगं शंससि।
यच्छ्रेय एतयोरेकं तन्मे ब्रूहि सुनिश्िचतम्।।5.1।।

Arjuna Uvaca
Sannyasam karmanam Krishna punar yogam ca samsasi  |
Yac chreya etayor ekam tan me bruhi su-niscitam ||5.1||
Meaning: Arjuna said, O’ Krishna, You asked me to renounce work, and now You are recommending to work with devotion. Now please tell me definitively which of the two is superior?

The words ‘sannyasyam karmanam’ means ‘renunciation of all actions’ and this contains the word ‘nyasa’ that denotes equanimity. Thus, all actions are recommended to be renounced with equanimity inferring that both Karma (performance of activities) and Sanyasa (renunciation of activities) are being recommended to be performed simultaneously.

Bhagavan had previously explained that actions performed without desire of rewards (Karma yoga) as a pre-eminent discipline.  He also stated that one in Jnana yoga need not perform any action. He further declared that the person who is immersed in ‘Atma or Soul’ has no need to perform Karma Yoga or Jnana Yoga. All these propositions appear to be conflicting, hence, Arjuna is confused and asks Bhagavan Krishna explain it clearly and definitively.

It is difficult for an aspirant of Moksha or liberation to determine if Karma Yoga or Jnana Yoga is more appropriate or is it possible to simultaneously perform both together.

Renunciation and the cultivation of knowledge is Jnana yoga. The performance of prescribed activities is Karma yoga. Bhagavan Krishna declared that Karma yoga was worthy to be followed by those seeking Moksha or liberation from the cycle of birth and death in Chapter 2.  Constant engagement in Karma Yoga will lead to purification of the mind and rid it off all dross. As the mind becomes pure, Jnana yoga would naturally set in leading to knowledge about atma tattva. In Chapter 3, Bhagavan says Karma Yoga alone is enough for attaining Moksha.  Hence, Arjuna is now seeking clarity on which of these paths is superior.

5.2      Shloka 5.2

श्री भगवानुवाच
संन्यासः कर्मयोगश्च निःश्रेयसकरावुभौ।
तयोस्तु कर्मसंन्यासात्कर्मयोगो विशिष्यते।।5.2।।

Sri Bhagavan Uvaca
Sannyasah karma-yogas ca nihsreyasa-karav ubhau |
Tayos tu karma-sannyasat karma-yogo visisyate ||5.2||
Meaning: Bhagavan said: The renunciation of work and work in devotion are both good for liberation. But, of the two, work in devotional service is better than renunciation of work.

A person can perform Karma yoga and renunciation of actions; but of the two, Karma yoga is preferable. While both are equally effective performing one’s duties with full devotion and faith and without the desire of rewards for those actions, it becomes superior.  It ultimately leads to self-realisation.

5.3      Shloka 5.3

ज्ञेयः नित्यसंन्यासी यो द्वेष्टि काङ्क्षति।
निर्द्वन्द्वो हि महाबाहो सुखं बन्धात्प्रमुच्यते।।5.3।।

Jneyah sa nitya-sannyasi yo na dvesti na kanksati   |
Nirdvandvo hi maha-baho sukham bandhat pramucyate ||5.3||
Meaning: One who neither hates nor desires the fruits of his activities is known to be always renounced. Such a person, liberated from all dualities, easily overcomes material bondage and is completely liberated, O mighty-armed Arjuna.

The attributes of Sanyasa are being described in this verse.  A person who is equipoised and free from aversion or attraction and free from all dualities is said to be a Sanyasi. The complete cessation of desire for the rewards of action as well as complete renunciation of the influence of all dualities such as happiness and distress, pain and pleasure etc. will lead to liberation.  In this position one is almost oblivious of the external world and has no urge to crave or hate anything and thus is also able to endure the dualities seeing them all as the same. Shri Krishna confirms that such a person easily performs karma yoga without effort and transcends Samsara or the cycle of birth and death.

5.4      Shloka 5.4

सांख्ययोगौ पृथग्बालाः प्रवदन्ति पण्डिताः।
एकमप्यास्थितः सम्यगुभयोर्विन्दते फलम्।।5.4।।

Sankhya-yogau prthag balah pravadanti na panditah   |
Ekam apy asthitah samyag ubhayor vindate phalam ||5.4||
Meaning: Only the ignorant speak of karma-yoga and devotional service as being different from Sankhya yoga, analytical study of the material world. Those who are learned say that anyone who applies himself to either of these paths achieves the results of both.

It is impossible to gain wisdom without renunciation of fruits of action and the relinquishment of enjoyment of the sense objects. Bhagavan Shri Krishna explains that both are inherent in each other and not contradictory. One who observes yajna or offerings of worship to propitiate the Supreme Lord is not sanctified due to its being performed for desires of the rewards upon its completion. But for the same yajna when performed without desires but solely for the propitiation of the Supreme Lord is considered the highest wisdom.

The renunciation can apply to the yogi who follows Sankhya Yoga as well. The ignorant and uninformed mistakenly see these two paths as separate and yielding divergent results; but this is not the case and is well understood by those who are self-realised.

Although karma yoga may go through the path of Jnana yoga it may also independently achieve atma tattva by its own merit. So as long as an aspirant firmly adopts either path with determination they are assured of success.

5.5      Shloka 5.5

यत्सांख्यैः प्राप्यते स्थानं तद्योगैरपि गम्यते।
एकं सांख्यं योगं यः पश्यति पश्यति।।5.5।।

Yat sankhyaih prapyate sthanam tad yogair api gamyate |
Ekam sankhyam ca yogam ca yah pasyati sa pasyati ||5.5||
Meaning: One who knows that the position reached by means of renunciation can also be attained in devotional service and therefore views the path of karma and the path of renunciation as one and the same.

Both paths lead to the same result as a person performing actions diligently gains spiritual intelligence and achieves Atma tattvas (self-realisation). Grihastas (householders) should aim to perform activities without any desire for rewards. The continuous practice of renunciation of rewards will eventually lead one towards attaining spiritual knowledge.

By meditating on the ‘pranava’ or the primordial mantra AUM (OM), a seeker is assured of achieving liberation when they perform their duties with devotion and without any desire for rewards. But even among these there is a heightened bliss for those who perform actions in the service of  the Supreme Lord Shri Krishna or any of His incarnations.

Actions performed by the one who has renounced the rewards are called Karma that does not add to one’s baggage as these actions based on spiritual intelligence.  ‘Kar’ is understood as action and ‘ma’ is understood as wisdom. Thus, one doesn’t need to take ‘Sanyaas’ for gaining spiritual knowledge.  Even householders with family responsibilities can perform actions in renunciation, if they possess this wisdom or spiritual intelligence.  Hence, there is no difference between renunciation (Sanyasa) and Karma Yoga if the actions are performed as a matter of duty with no desire for the rewards from those actions

The renounced are followers of Jnana yoga or seekers of Vedic knowledge but the goal achieved by them is similar to the one achieved by the followers of Karma.

5.6      Shloka 5.6 

संन्यासस्तु महाबाहो दुःखमाप्तुमयोगतः।
योगयुक्तो मुनिर्ब्रह्म नचिरेणाधिगच्छति।।5.6।।

 Sannyasas tu maha-baho duhkham aptum ayogatah |
Yoga-yukto munir brahma na cirenadhigacchati ||5.6||
Meaning: Unless one is engaged in the devotional service of the Lord, mere renunciation of activities cannot make one happy. The sages, purified by works of devotion achieve the Supreme without delay.

The means to Moksha is attain the state of equanimity and it is achieved through renunciation. The best form of renunciation is to dedicate the actions and rewards always as an offering to the Supreme Lord for His pleasure is true renunciation.  In the Agni Purana it is stated that without renouncing the desire of rewards for one’s actions whatever one might offer unto the Supreme Lord has no merit. Hence, renunciation is truly achieved with equanimity.

In the Nirvana Shatakam, Sri Adi Shankaracharya explains the attributes of the Pure Consciousness (Atma).  An excerpt from that on equanimity is given below:

Na Me Dvesha Raagau Na Me Lobha Mohau, Mado Naiva Me Naiva Maatsarya Bhaavah |
Na Dharmo Na Chaartho Na Kaamo Na Moksha, Chidaananda Rupah Shivoham Shivoham ||
Meaning: I have no hatred or dislike, nor affiliation or liking, nor greed, nor delusion, nor pride or haughtiness, nor feelings of envy or jealousy. I have no duty (dharma), nor any money, nor any desire (kama), nor even liberation (moksha). I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss i.e. “Pure Consciousness”.

This raises a question then why not circumvent the path of Karma by straightaway renouncing all actions right from the beginning. Bhagavan Shri Krishna says that without karma yoga it is impossible to achieve purity of mind and in the absence of a pure mind it is very difficult and even perilous as the chance of disturbance and agitation are highly likely. Whereas the purified mind of the Sage endowed with equanimity who practices karma yoga, soon perceives the Brahman or realisation of the soul.

5.7      Shloka 5.7

योगयुक्तो विशुद्धात्मा विजितात्मा जितेन्द्रियः।
सर्वभूतात्मभूतात्मा कुर्वन्नपि लिप्यते।।5.7।।

 Yoga-yukto vishuddhatma vijitatma jitendriyah  |
Sarva-bhutatma-bhutatma kurvann api na lipyate ||5.7||
Meaning:  One who works in devotion, who is a pure soul, and who controls his mind and senses, is dear to everyone, and everyone is dear to him. Though always working, such a man is never entangled.

By such worship one becomes ‘Visuddhatma’  meaning ‘purified intelligence’ and ‘Vijitatma’ meaning ‘of controlled mind being absorbed in such worship’ and by this absorption one is ‘Jitendriyah’ meaning ‘acquires control over senses’. Such a person is ‘Sarva-bhutama’ meaning ‘one who realise their own atma and perceive the same atma is in all beings in unlimited variegated forms. Such a person views all beings not by the manifest forms they exhibit in their lifetime; but rather the intrinsic nature of the eternal atma within which is the essential nature of all embodied beings. A person situated in this consciousness is never infatuated or deluded by the erroneous idea of thinking that a temporary material substance can ever by equated to the eternal soul. Such a person due to this understanding is never bound by the actions although performing activities and in a relatively short time achieves atma tattva or realisation of the soul. 

The first step is for a person to contemplate on the Supreme Lord Shri Krishna as the indwelling consciousness within the hearts of all beings as the primary form to achieve equanimity.  And knowing that all beings are under the Supreme Lord’s control is knowing Him as the Supreme Being. In the Agni Purana it states that one who knows the Supreme Lord is present as the indwelling consciousness in all beings, that one achieves purification of mind and realisation of the Atma.

If the Brahman is all pervading and omnipresent and transcends the Prakriti (5 element), then how is a person made of Prakriti possess those attributes of the Consciousness?   Lord Krishna answers this by affirming that those who practice Yoga (the science of the individual consciousness attaining communion with the ultimate consciousness) while being engaged in actions with a pure mind, with control over senses and body, and realising that the Atma exists equally in all beings, and is a well-wisher of all beings; such a Yogi having overcome the duality of activity and inertia is not bound by his actions. Having attained the Brahman, peaceful in mind, neither grieving nor desiring, and equipoised in all situations and to all beings, such a one obtains love of the Supreme.

5.8      Shloka 5.8

नैव किंचित्करोमीति युक्तो मन्येत तत्त्ववित्।
पश्यन् श्रृणवन्स्पृशञ्जिघ्रन्नश्नन्गच्छन्स्वपन् श्वसन्।।5.8।।

Naiva kincit karomiti yukto manyeta tattva-vit |
Pasyan srnvan sprsan jighrann asnan gacchan svapan svasan ||5.8||
Meaning: A person in the divine consciousness, although engaged in seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, moving about, sleeping, and breathing, always knows within himself that he actually does nothing at all.

This verse explains how practicing renunciation leads to achieving equanimity. Energised solely by the all-pervading energy of the Supreme, a person’s mind and body become active. The knowledge that every being is ever dependent on the Supreme Lord is an essential, eternal and absolute truth.

Thus, one is not subject to conceptions of doership, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching which are the functions of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body. Moving is the function of the legs, speaking is that of the mouth, hearing that of ears and so forth. Breathing is a function of the vital force and includes all others as it sustains the entire body.

The purport is that one should live their life free from the ego of ‘I-ness’ and ‘my-ness’ and conceptions of doership, knowing that all actions are the functions of the organs and senses and are independent from the individual consciousness.

One who has realised this nature of the atma knows the reality. Such a person reflects that through the senses of perception such as eyes and ears, the senses of action such as the voice, the pranas or life breaths, the physical body functions with all its corresponding objects; but factually is separate as an individual consciousness from all these activities and virtually do not do any of these actions.

5.9      Shloka 5.9

प्रलपन्विसृजन्गृह्णन्नुन्मिषन्निमिषन्नपि
इन्द्रियाणीन्द्रियार्थेषु वर्तन्त इति धारयन् ।।5.9।।

Pralapan visrjan grhnann unmisan nimisann api
Indriyanindriyarthesu vartanta iti dharayan ||5.9||
Meaning: Because while speaking, evacuating, grasping, involuntary opening and closing of the eyelids, he always knows that it is only the material senses that are engaged with their objects and never does he think that he is doing any of them.

The conception of doer-ship is derived from contact with the senses which a living entity is coerced to accept due to actions from past lives. But this doer-ship is not an essential attribute of the Atma and thus it is not necessary to accept that all acts done by the sense organs are performed by the person. Thus, in this way by shunning the doer-ship one is situated in atma tattva or self-realisation.

5.10      Shloka 5.10

ब्रह्मण्याधाय कर्माणि सङ्गं त्यक्त्वा करोति यः।
लिप्यते पापेन पद्मपत्रमिवाम्भसा।।5.10।।

Brahmany adhaya karmani sangam tyaktva karoti yah |
Lipyate na sa papena padma-patram ivambhasa ||5.10||
Meaning: One who acts by dedicating all activities to the Supreme, giving up attachment; such a person is not affected by sin, just as a lotus leaf untouched by water.

Whosoever is properly situated in the state of equanimity is not affected by reactions due to karma yoga as one does not desire the rewards of their actions but instead dutifully offer the results of all their actions unto the Supreme Lord. The renunciation of rewards of actions is repeatedly emphasised by Shri Krishna as the method of performing spiritual practice which is the means to gain spiritual knowledge and self-realisation.

The desire for rewards of actions is the fundamental reason for all ego conceptions of being the physical body and also the root cause of bondage in Samsara resulting in the repeated cycle of birth and death. So to make spiritual progress, the desire for rewards should be immediately given up so that one does not get tainted with sinful reactions.

जय श्री कृष्णा – Jai Shri Krishna!

Hari Om Tat Sat