Gita Series 61. Bhagavad Gita Chapter V. Verses 1 – 3.
Chapter V is known as “karma-sanyasa-yoga” and has 29 verses. Krishna repeatedly highlighted the importance of karma yoga or yoga of actions in the previous chapters. Karma yoga means performing actions without attaching importance to the fruits of actions.
A brief note on ‘sanyasa’: A sanyasi should be beyond religion. But such sanyasis are very rare and probably may not even exist today. In the present day world sanyasis are associated with some religion or other. A true sanyasi should have mastery over the self. He is not controlled by his mind but he controls his mind. There are four types of sanyasis. They are renouncement due to dispassionateness, renouncement for seeking knowledge, renouncement as a result of knowledge gained leading to dispassion and fourth category of those who have opted for renunciation due to worldly experience. The most important factor in renunciation is that one has to consider himself as physically dead. There are many rituals to make a man as a sanyasi. The rituals are so deeply rooted in our system that even for becoming a sanyasi, one has to undergo the process of many rituals. Our minds are so much accustomed to these rituals, as we presume that the movement of our souls largely depend upon the funeral rites to the body. As per eschatology, entry of a soul to other worlds such as heaven and hell is conditional and based on ethical nature of a soul. That is why karmas attain great significance. What Krishna talks here is a true sanyasi and not the one who lives in luxury. Luxury and sanyas are the extreme opposites.
Bhagavad Gita Chapter V opens with a question from Arjuna addressed to the Lord. “You proclaim Sankhya yoga and then karma yoga. Which of these is conducive to my welfare?” Krishna answers. “Both lead to liberation and are conducive to your goodness. Of the two, karma yoga (yoga of action) is superior to sankhya yoga (yoga of knowledge). The karma yogi who neither hates nor aspires should be considered as ‘nitya sanyasi’ (the exact words used by Krishna which means ever renounced) because he is free from dualities and is easily liberated from bondage.”
Arjuna’s doubt appears to be genuine as Krishna advocated both Sankhya yoga and karma yoga. Bhagavad Gita Chapter II dealt with Sankhya yoga or the yoga of knowledge. Krishna dwelt elaborately through 72 verses on knowledge. It is not the ordinary knowledge that Krishna expounded, but the knowledge to realize the Self. This is known as the highest knowledge. Only through the highest form of knowledge, one can realize the Brahman. It is the knowledge that leads one to make an affirmation “I am That” or “Aham Brahmasmi”. Krishna dealt with the difference between soul and body. In Bhagavad Gita chapter III He elaborated on karma yoga through 43 verses. Here He explained about performing one’s prescribed actions. In Bhagwad Gita Chapter IV jnana-karma-sanyasa-yoga, He discussed the combined effects of knowledge and action coupled with renunciation. In Bhagavat Gita Chapter V, He discusses only sanyasi yoga or the yoga of renunciation. Since Krishna explained the yogas one after another, Arjuna a jnani by his merit got confused and seeks clarification from the Lord. Krishna has so far, not advised Arjuna to renounce the world, instead he asked Arjuna to renounce only the fruits of actions. Krishna also made Arjuna to understand the difference between the body and the soul.
Krishna would not have said that both karma yoga and jnana yoga are good for one’s betterment, unless He had known their importance for enlightenment and final liberation of the soul. But between the two, Krishna recommends karma yoga, basically because, the world is sustained only by actions. A karmayogi acts but surrenders the fruits of his actions to God. If ownership of an action is not surrendered to the Brahman, the doer is affected by karmas leading to further cycles of birth and death. Let us take an example. First example is a yogi who sits in a cave attuned with the Brahman forever. The next example is a man performing actions that are necessary for the sustenance of the world and its people and remaining unconcerned with the results of his actions, by surrendering the effects of his actions to the Brahman. The yogi is self centred and because of his actions humanity is not benefited. But in the case of this man, he not only performs actions that benefit the humanity but also teaches spirituality with the sole intention of making the humanity to realize its Creator. He makes an honest attempt to alleviate the sufferings of humanity by providing them with requisite knowledge to avoid future births or at least to reduce their karmic afflictions. If everyone resides either in caves, forests or mountains a situation will arise, where the absence of spiritual masters would be felt. Shirking one’s responsibility is not encouraged by God. At the same time, God wants everybody to stay connected to Him. But our ego plays its spoilsport that makes us to take credit for our actions.
The one who goes on doing his job without getting attached to the results of his actions is called ‘nitya sanyasi’ which means perpetually renounced. He lives his normal worldly life. He has children, he earns money, he teaches others, he works for the welfare of society, but he is not concerned with the results of his actions. He teaches spirituality, but he is not concerned with one's progress. At the same time if someone has doubts, he clarifies. He works for his employer, but not concerned with his promotions. But he will accept promotion when offered. Such a man is not afflicted by dualities or opposites. For every action performed, there can be only two results – favourable and unfavourable. Even if the result is unfavourable to him he is not concerned and continues to do his actions in the name of God. He knows that the cause for his actions is not his body but the Divine will. He becomes egoless. His soul is not reborn to undergo pleasure and pain, but gets liberated eternally to merge with the Brahman. He is the real spiritual master. He need not even teach. If one follows his actions, the follower traverses the path of spirituality in the right direction.