Gita Series – 160: Bhagavad Gita Chapter XVIII. Verse 1 – 6

The eighteenth chapter is the concluding chapter of Bhagavad Gita and is known as ‘mokṣasanyāsayogaḥ’ (Moksha Sanyasa Yoga) and has 78 verses. Mokṣhas means liberation and sanyāsa means renunciation. When a soul gets itself relieved from transmigration, it is called liberation. This chapter, more or less appears to be the essence of the previous chapters. This Bhagavad gita chapter emphasises the importance of remaining unselfish and unattached to attain liberation.

Arjuna said, “Kṛṣṇa! I want to understand the essence of renunciation and relinquishment and the difference between the two.”

Kṛṣṇa replied, “Sages say that giving up materialistic desires is called renunciation or sanyāsa. Some wise men say that giving up fruits of actions is called relinquishment or tyāga. Yet others say that all actions have inherent sins and therefore should be given up. Others say that activities like sacrifice, charity and austerities should never be given up. Arjuna, understand from me the truth about relinquishment or tyāga which is of three kinds. Sacrifice, charity and austerity should not be given up and must be performed as they purify even the wise. But, either these activities or other activities should be performed without attachment to the fruits of these actions. This is my considered opinion, Arjuna.”

Kṛṣṇa begins to answer Arjuna’s question that arises in the minds of many spiritual seekers. There are certain acts prescribed by scriptures such as nurturing a family, acquiring wealth for sustaining his family, etc. These actions are not obligatory, but are only optional. The only obligatory act is nourishing one’s gross body, mainly because it encases the soul within. This is what true sanyāsi-s do. They eat not to satiate their taste buds or appetite, but to keep the encasement of the soul in a perfect condition. Rest of the actions are all desire oriented. If one develops desire for materialistic way of life, one desire always leads to another with no end to desires in sight. Such persons cannot pursue a true spiritual path, as they will have many mental distractions. The end to spiritual life is attained only through mind.

There is no major difference between renunciation and relinquishment as both are devoid of selfishness. But, it is often interpreted that renunciation is discarding materialistic way of life. Only materialistic life causes the multiplicity of desires. When the mind is bombarded with desires, it loses its ability to focus and concentrate, the fundamental requirements of spiritual life. There are also views that involving in any type of action is sinful as it is said that every action has its inherent sin. Based upon this theory, many advocate that one should refrain from all types of actions, as performing an action increases one’s karma. Practically, this theory is not feasible as one cannot sustain oneself without action, as it tantamount to inertia or darkness. Darkness is the source for ignorance, the major negative factor for spirituality. Scriptures prescribe certain sacrificial rites as one’s duties. If one stays away from these duties, it tantamount to discarding the precepts of Scriptures. Hence learned men are of the view that one should perform the rites prescribed by the scriptures and should never be given up.

Kṛṣṇa says that renunciation is of three kinds, sattva, rajas and tamas, and under no circumstances one should keep away from sacrifice, charity and austerity, as they purify the mind. These are the opportunities made available to test one’s capacity to renounce. All the actions should be performed without any intent on the end result of actions. This is how the process of renunciation and relinquishment begins, which ultimately leads to purification of mind and consequent realisation.

Further Readings:

Bhagavad Gita Chapter XVII. 23 - 28

Bhagavad Gita Chapter XVIII. 7 - 11

Bhagavad Gita Chapter XVIII. 12 - 16