The Eighteenth Teaching
The Eighteenth Teaching
Renunciation and Freedom
Krishna I want to know what it means to renounce and what it means to relinquish and the difference between the two.
Giving up actions based on desire, the poets know as “renunciation;” relinquishing all fruit of action, learned men call “relinquishment.”
Some wise men say all action is flawed and must be relinquished; others say action in sacrifice, charity and penance must not be relinquished.
Arjuna, hear my decision about relinquishment; it is rightly declared to be of three kinds.
Action in worship, charity, and penance is to be performed, not relinquished-for wise men they are acts of sanctity.
But even these actions should be done by relinquishing to me-attachment and the fruit of action-this is my decisive idea.
Renunciation of prescribed action is inappropriate when it is relinquished in delusion; it is a way of dark inertia.
When one passionately relinquishes difficult action from fear of bodily harm, he cannot win the fruit of relinquishment.
But if one performs prescribed action because it must be done, relinquishing attachment and the fruit, his relinquishment is a lucid act.
He does not disdain unskilled action nor cling to skilled action; in his lucidity the relinquisher is wise and his doubts are cut away.
A man burdened by his body cannot completely relinquish actions, but a relinquisher is defined as one who can relinquish the fruits.
The fruit of action haunts men in death if they fail to relinquish all forms, unwanted, wanted, and mixed-but not if men renounce them.
Arjuna, learn from me the five causes for the success of all actions as explained by philosophers.
They are the physical body, the agent, the different sense organs, various kinds of behavior and finally fate as the fifth.
Whatever action one initiates through body, speech, and mind, be it proper or perverse, these five causes are present.
This being so, when a man of limited understanding and misjudgment sees himself as sole agent, he is not seeing the truth.
When one is free from I-sense and is untainted, even if he kills these warriors, he does not kill, nor is he bound by his actions.
Knowledge, its knower and the known are the triple stimulus of action; instrument, action and agent are the three constituents of action.
Knowledge, action, agent are threefold, differentiated by qualities of nature, hear how I will explain these distinctions.
Knowledge that sees in all things a single, imperishable being, undivided within its divisions-this kind of knowledge is lucid.
Knowledge that sees multiplicity of beings, each one existing separately by itself-this kind of knowledge is of passion.
Knowledge that clings to a single thing as if it was the whole, and has no concern for the true cause and essence of things-this kind of knowledge is of dark inertia.
Lucid action is necessary, free of attachment, performed without attraction or hatred by one who seeks no fruit.
Passionate action is performed with a wish to satisfy desires, and with an excessive effort.
Action defined by dark inertia is undertaken in delusion, without concern for its consequences that it may cause harm to oneself or others.
An agent who is free from attachment or ego-sense, resolute and energetic unmoved by failure or success is of sattvic guna.
An agent who is anxious to obtain the fruit of action, greedy, violent, impure, and subject to excitement and grief is of Rajasi guna.
An agent defined by dark inertia is undisciplined, vulgar, stubborn, depressed, and slow to act.
Listen as I describe the three kinds of understanding and three kinds of will, according to their guna nature.
The understanding that knows what to do and what not to, safety and danger, bondage and freedom, this understanding is lucid.
The understanding that fails to discern right from wrong, what should or should not be done, this understanding is passionate.
The understanding when it imagines wrong is right, covered in darkness when it sees the world upside down, this understanding is darkly inert.
The unswerving will that controls the functions of mind, breath, and senses by the discipline of meditation-this kind is sattvic.
The will that attaches to duty, sensual pleasures, power and wealth with anxiety and constant craving for fruit-this kind is passionate.
The will of a stupid man clings to fear and grief, to depression, intoxication, and conceit-this kind is darkly inert.
Arjuna, now hear about joy, the three ways of finding delight through practice that brings an end to suffering.
The joy of lucidity at first seems like poison but is in the end like ambrosia, from the calm of self-understanding.
The joy that is passionate at first seems like ambrosia when senses encounter sense objects, but in the end it is like poison,
The joy arising from sleep, laziness, and negligence, self-deluding from beginning to end is said to be darkly inert.
No being on earth, Arjuna, or among the gods in heaven is free from the conditioning of triad of these Nature-born qualities.
The duties of priests, warriors, commoners, and servants are apportioned by qualities arise from their inborn nature.
Tranquility, control, austerity, purity, patience and honesty, knowledge, judgment, and piety are intrinsic to the duties of priests.
Heroism, fiery energy, resolve, skill, refusal to retreat in battle, charity, and majesty in conduct are intrinsic to the duties of warriors.
Farming, herding cattle, and commerce are intrinsic to the action of a commoner; action that is essentially service is intrinsic to the servant.
Each one achieves success by focusing on his own action; hear how one finds success by focusing on one’s own action,
A man finds success by worshipping with his own right actions the One from whom all actions arise and by whom the world is pervaded.
Better to do one’s own duty imperfectly than to do another man’s well; doing one’s own duty you are free from the guilt.
Arjuna, a man should not relinquish his duty even if it is flawed, flaws mar all actions, as fire is enveloped by smoke.
His understanding everywhere detached, the self mastered, longing gone, one finds through renunciation the supreme success beyond action.
Understand in summary from me how when he achieves success one attains the infinite spirit, the highest state of knowledge,
Armed with this purified understanding, fully mastering himself, relinquishing sensuous objects, released from aversions and cravings,
observing solitude, eating lightly, controlling speech, body, and mind, absorbed in deep meditation, at all times calm impartial,
freeing from the “I” and “mine” from aggression, arrogance and greed, desire and he is fit for the state of infinite freedom.
Being at one with the infinite spirit, serene in himself, he does not grieve or crave, impartial toward all creatures, he attains supreme devotion to me.
Through devotion he discerns me, just who and how vast I really am; and knowing me in reality, he enters into my being.
Always performing all actions, taking refuge in me, he attains through my grace the eternal place beyond change.
Renounce all actions to me, love me above all others; relying on the discipline keep your mind focused on me alone.
Focus on me at all times you will transcend all dangers; but if you cling to the I-sense then you will be lost.
Your resolve is futile if a sense of individuality makes you think, “I shall not fight”-nature will compel you to.
You are bound by your own action, intrinsic to your being, Arjuna; even against your will you must do what delusion now makes you refuse.
Arjuna, the lord resides in the heart of all creatures, making them reel magically, as if a machine moved them.
With your whole being, Arjuna, take refuge in him alone-from his grace you will attain the state of imperishable peace.
Thus I have taught you the secret of secrets, the utmost knowledge; meditate deeply upon it, and then act as you think best.
Listen to my profound words, the deepest mystery of all, for you are precious to me and I tell you for your good,
Keep your mind on me be my devotee, sacrificing, bow to me-you will come to me, I promise, for you are dear to me.
Relinquishing all sacred duties to me, make me your only refuge; do not grieve, for I shall free you from evils of birth and death.
You must not speak of these teachings to one who is without self-control or piety, or whose hearts are closed to my words.
He who teaches this primal secret to those who love me has acted with the greatest love and will come to me without doubt.
No mortal can perform service for me that I value more, and no other man on earth will be more dear to me than he is.
I consider the man who studies this dialogue of ours as the one who has worshiped and loved me with the yoga of knowledge.
The one who listens with faith and open mind, is released to go to the joyous heaven of the virtuous.
Arjuna, have you listened to me with faith and open mind? Has my teaching entered your heart? Have my words destroyed your ignorance and delusion?
Krishna, my delusion is destroyed, and by your grace I have no more doubts; I will act according to your command.
As I heard this wondrous dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna, the man of great soul, the hair bristled on my flesh,
By grace of the epic poet Vyasa, I heard the most secret doctrine recounted by Krishna himself, the lord of yoga.
O King, the more I remember this wondrous and holy dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna, the more I shudder with joy.
I recall again and again Krishna’s vast, wondrous form, each time I am amazed each time I shudder with joy.
Where Krishna is lord of yoga and Arjuna the archer, there, surely, I think, is splendor, virtue and spiritual abundance.
As I Understand It:
In this concluding chapter of the Bhagavad Gita Arjuna asks Krishna about the meaning of withdrawing from or abandoning life. Krishna replies that we cannot really withdraw from life. As long as we live we have to work just to maintain our body. Besides giving up is copping out.
Krishna’s teaching is primarily aimed at people who go about taking care of their worldly responsibilities and yet desire genuine spiritual fulfillment. He does not recommend sannyasa or tyaga but teaches renouncing the fruit of action. We have control over our work and actions but we have no control over the results.
He repeatedly emphasizes that freedom comes from renunciation of the fruit of action. If one is driven to take an action by selfish desire it usually ends in disappointment. We can never be sure that things will turn out as planned. To expect any kind of reward stunts full spiritual development.
Krishna teaches that we must dedicate ourselves to whatever work we are responsible for. It is better to do our own work imperfectly than to try to take on someone else’s work. Through dedication and devotion we can attain perfection. The person who attains perfection in the spiritual life unites with Brahman.
As Brahman incarnated on earth Krishna holds dear not only Arjuna but also dwells in the hearts of all beings. Arjuna finally finds his way by surrendering to Krishna.
The concluding teaching of the Gita warns that its spiritual instruction must not be taken lightly. The profound truth expounded in the “Song of the Lord” must not be told to anyone who is not yet ready or who lacks self-control or dedicated devotion.
The Bhagavad Gita, Introduced and Translated by Eknath Easwaran, Nilgiri Press, Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, California. Second Edition, 2008 (1st Pub. 1985).
The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna Counsel in Time of War, Translation and Introduction by Barbara Stoler Miller. Bantam Doubleday Dell Group, Inc. New York. Bantam Books, 1986.
Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation, Stephen Mitchell, Three Rivers Press, New York, 2000.