Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Shankara | Discourse 18 verse 1-9



‘Sannyāsa’ and ‘Tyāga’ distinguished.

In the present discourse the Lord proceeds to teach, by way of summing up, the doctrine of the whole of the Gītā- Śāstra, as also the whole of the Vedic Doctrine. Verily, the whole of the doctrine taught in the preceding discourses is to be found in this discourse.

Arjuna, however, asks to know only the distinction in meaning between ‘sannyāsa' and ‘tyāga'.

Arjuna said:
1. Of ‘sannyāsa’ O Mighty-armed, I desire to know the truth, O Hrishīkesa, as also of ‘tyāga', severally, O Slayer of Kesin.

Shankara's commentary:

Sannyāsa: the connotation of the term ‘sannyāsa.' Tyāga: the connotation of the term ‘tyāga’. Severally: as distin­guished from each other.

Kesin was an Asura whom the Lord, the son of Vāsudeva, slew, and the Lord is therefore addressed as ‘Kesi-nishūdana,’ the Slayer of Kesin.

The words ‘sannyāsa’ and ‘tyāga’ have been used here and there in the preceding discourses, their connotations, however, not being clearly distinguished.

Therefore, with a view to determining them, the Lord addresses Arjuna, who desired to know of them, as follows:

The Blessed Lord said:
2. Sages understand ‘sannyāsa’ to be the re­nouncement of interested works; the abandonment of the fruits of all works, the learned declare, is ‘tyāga’.

Shankara's commentary:

A few sages understand by ‘sannyāsa’ the abandonment of kāmya-karmāṇi, of works (such as the Aśvamedha, Horse- sacrifice) accompanied with a desire for fruits.

The learned declare that ‘tyāga’ means abandonment of the fruits of all the works that are performed,—nitya and naimittika, ordinary and extra-ordinary duties,—i. e., of the fruits that may accrue to the performer.

The abandonment of interested works and the abandon­ment of fruits (of works) being intended to be expressed (by the two words),

the meaning of the words ‘sannyāsa’ and ‘tyāga’ is in any way one and the same so far as the general idea is concerned, namely, abandonment. They are not quite so distinct in meaning as the words ‘jar’ and ‘cloth’

(Objection):— The nitya and naimittika works, ordinary and extra-ordinary duties, are said to produce no fruits. How is it that the abandoning of their fruits is here spoken of? It is like speaking of the abandoning of a barren woman's son.

(Answer):— No such objection may be raised here, since, in the opinion of the Lord, ordinary and occasional duties produce their own fruits, as He will show in xviii. 12,

where, indeed, while teaching that sannyāsins alone (those alone who have renounced all desire for the fruits of works) have no connection whatever with those fruits,

the Lord teaches also that those who are not sannyāsins will have to reap the fruits of the ordinary works which they are bound to perform.

Should the ignorant perform works or not?

3. That action should be abandoned as an evil, some philosophers declare; while others (declare) that acts of sacrifice, gift and austerity should not be given up.

Shankara's commentary:

Some philosophers, following the doctrine of the Sānkhyas, etc., declare that all action should be given up as an evil, even by those who are fit for Karma-Yoga.

As an evil: this may be interpreted to mean either that all Karma should be given up as involving evil since it is the cause of bondage; or that it should be given up like passion and other such evil tendencies.

With regard to the same class of persons (i.e., those who are fit for Karma-Yoga), others say that the acts of sacrifice, gift and austerity ought not to be abandoned.

It is the Karma-Yogins that form the subject of discussion here; and it is with reference to them that these divergent views are held, but not with reference to the jñāna-nishṭhas (wisdom-devotees), the sannyāsins who have risen (above all worldly concerns).

Those persons who have been raised above the path of Karma in iii.3 are not spoken of in this connection.

(Objection):— Just as the persons who are qualified for works form the subject of discussion here—in the section where the whole doctrine of the śāstra is summed up,— though their path has already been specified in iii. 3,

so also the Sānkhyas, the devotees of wisdom, may also form the subject of discussion here,

(Answer):— No, because of the inconceivability of their abandoning of duty from delusion or on account of pain.

(To explain): The Sānkhyas (men of knowledge) perceive in the Self no pain whatever arising from bodily trouble, since desire, pain, etc., are said to be the attributes of Kshetra or matter.

Therefore they do not abandon action for fear of bodily trouble and pain. Neither do they perceive action in the Self.

If they could ever perceive action in the Self, then it would be possible to imagine their abandoning of obligatory works from delusion. In fact, they abandon works because they see that action pertains to guṇas and think ‘I do nothing at all’ (v. 8).

How those men who know the truth renounce works has been described in v. 13, etc.

Therefore it is only the other class of persons who are ignorant of the true nature of the Self and are qualified for works, and in whose case the supposition of the abandon­ing of duty from delusion or for fear of bodily trouble is possible,

—it is only these that are censured as Tāmasic and Rājasic relinquishers (tyāgins) in order to praise the abandoning of the fruits of action resorted to by the follow­ers of works who do not know the Self.

And the sannyāsin proper has been distinguished—by the Lord, when defining the man who has transcended guṇas—as one “renouncing all undertakings...who is silent, content with anything, homeless, steady-minded,” (xii. 16—18).

And the Lord will hereafter describe (his devotion) as “that supreme consummation of knowledge” (xviii. 50).

Thus, it is not the sannyāsins, who are the devotees of wisdom, that are referred to here.

It is only the abandoning of the fruits of works that, by reason of its being Sāttvic, is spoken of as sannyāsa in contradistinction to the Tāmasic and Rājasic (abandoning of works); but not the sannyāsa proper, that pre-eminent renunciation of all works.

(Objection):—Since xviii.11 states the reason why renunciation of all action is an impossibility, it is only the sannyāsa proper that is spoken of in this connection.

(Answer):— No, because the passage referred to as a statement of the reason is only intended to praise (some­thing else enjoined).

Just as the passage “on abandonment peace closely follows” (xii. 12) is only a praise of the aban­donment of the fruits of works,

since it is addressed to Arjuna who is ignorant of the Self and who could not therefore follow the several paths previously spoken of, so also, the passage here referred to goes to praise the aban­donment of the fruits of action.

It is not possible for anyone to point out an exception to the proposition “Re­nouncing all actions by thought, and self-controlled, the embodied one rests happily in the nine-gated city, neither at all acting nor causing to act.” (v. 13).

Therefore these alternative views regarding sannyāsa and tyāga concern those persons only for whom works are intended.

On the other hand, the Sānkhyas, those who see the Supreme Reality, have only to follow the path of knowledge, accompanied with the renunciation of all works;

and they have nothing else to do, and do not therefore form the subject of the alternative views set forth here. And so we established this proposition while commenting on ii.21 and at the commencement of the third discourse.

The Lord’s decree is that the ignorant should perform works.

Now, as to these divergent views,

4. Learn from Me the truth about this aban­donment, O best of the Bhāratas; abandonment, verily, O best of men, has been declared to be of three kinds.

Shankara's commentary:

Do thou learn from My words the truth as to the alternatives of abandonment and renunciation referred to.

Abandonment (tyāga): the Lord has used this single word here, implying that the meaning of ‘tyāga’ and ‘sannyāsa’ is one and the same.

Of three kinds: Tāmasic, etc. Declared: in the śāstras.

Because it is hard to know the fact that the threefold (Tāmasic, etc.) abandonment denoted by the words ‘tyāga’ and ‘sannyāsa’ is possible in the case of him alone who does not know the Self and for whom works are intended,

—not in the case of him who sees the Supreme Reality,

—therefore no one, other than Myself, is able to teach the real truth about the subject. Wherefore, learn from Me what My—the Lord’s—decree is as to the real teaching of the śāstra.

—What is the decree then?

—The Lord says;

5. Practice of worship, gift, and austerity should not be given up; it is quite necessary; worship, gift and austerity are the purifiers of the wise.

Shankara's commentary:

The three sorts of action should be performed; for, they cause purity in the wise, i. e., in those who have no desire for fruits.

The obligatory works should be performed without attachment.

6. But even those actions should be performed, setting aside attachment and the fruits; this, O son of Pritha, is My firm and highest belief.

Shankara's commentary:

Those actions, etc.: the acts of worship, gift and austerity, which have been said to be purifiers, should be performed, setting aside attachment for them and abandoning their fruits.

A proposition was started in the words, ‘Learn from Me the truth about this’ (xviii. 4); and as a reason for it, it has been stated that worship, etc., are the purifiers;

so that the words “even those actions should be performed this is My firm and highest belief” form a mere conclusion of the proposition started in xviii.4.

Even those actions should be performed” cannot be a fresh proposition; for, it is better to construe the passage as related to the immediate subject of the present section.

The word “even” implies that these actions should be performed by a seeker of liberation, though they form the cause of bondage in the case of one who has an attachment for the actions and a desire for their fruits.

The words ‘even those’ cannot certainly refer to actions other (than the acts of worship, etc.).

But others explain:

Since obligatory (nitya) actions bear no fruits, it is not right to speak of “setting aside attach­ment and the fruits.”

Therefore in the words “even those actions” etc., the Lord teaches that even those works

which are intended to secure objects of desire—i. e., even kāmya or interested works, as opposed to nitya or obligatory works—should be performed; how much more then the obligatory acts of worship, gift and austerity.

It is wrong to say so; for, it has been declared here that even obligatory actions are productive of fruits, in the words “worship, gift and austerity are the purifiers of the wise” (xviii. 5).

To a seeker of liberation who would give up even the obligatory works, looking upon them as the cause of bondage, where is an occasion to engage in interested works?

Even these actions” cannot refer to interested (kāmya) works, inasmuch as these have been despised as constituting an inferior path (ii. 49) and decisively declared to be the cause of bondage (iii. 9, ii. 45, ix. 20, 21), and are too far removed from the present section.

Tāmasic and Rājasic renunciations of works.

Therefore for a seeker of liberation who is ignorant and is (therefore) bound to perform works,

7. Verily, the abandonment of an obligatory duty is not proper; the abandonment thereof from ignorance is declared to be Tāmasic.

Shankara's commentary:

Not proper: since it is admitted to be a purifier in the case of an ignorant man.

To hold that a duty is obligatory and then to abandon it involves a self-contradiction. Therefore, this sort of abandonment is due to ignorance and is said to be Tāmasic, inasmuch as ignorance is Tamas.


8. Whatever act one may abandon because it is painful, from fear of bodily trouble, he practises Rājasic abandonment, and he shall obtain no fruit whatever of abandonment.

Shankara's commentary:

He does not obtain moksha, which is the fruit of the renunciation of all actions accompanied with wisdom.

Renunciation in works is Sāttvic.

What then is the Sāttvic abandonment?

—The Lord says:

9. Whatever obligatory work is done, O Arjuna, merely because it ought to be done, abandoning attachment and also the fruit, that abandonment is deemed to be Sāttvic.

Shankara's commentary:

Abandoning etc.: These words of the Lord form, as we have said, the authority which declares that obligatory (nitya) works produce fruits.

Or thus:

—An ignorant man may even suppose that, though the fruits of obligatory works are not declared in the Scripture, the obligatory works, when performed, do produce their fruits for the doer in the form of self-regenera­tion, or by way of warding off pratyavāya or the sin of non-performance.

But even this supposition is prevented by the words “abandoning the fruits.” Hence the appropriateness of the words “abandoning attachment and the fruits.”

That abandonment: the abandoning of all attachment for, and of the fruits of, obligatory works.

(Objection):—It is the threefold abandonment of works— referred to as ‘sannyāsa’ (xviii. 7)—that forms the subject of the present section (xviii. 4, etc.).

Out of the three, the Rājasic and Tāmasic (sorts of abandonment of works) have been treated. How is it that the abandonment of attachment and of the fruits of works is spoken of as the third?

It is something like saying, “Three brāhmaṇas have come; two of them are proficient in shaḍangas or the six auxiliary sciences, and the third is a Kshatriya.”

(Answer):—No such objection can be raised here; for, the object of this section is to praise (the abandonment of the fruits of works, as compared with the abandonment of works, i.e., by comparing the two abandonments), both being alike abandonments.

In fact the abandonment of works and the abandonment of desire for the fruits do agree in so far as they alike imply abandonment.

Accordingly, by despising the two sorts of the abandonment of works, as Rājasic and Tāmasic abandonments, the abandonment of desire for the fruits of the works is praised as being the Sāttvic abandonment in the words ‘that abandonment is deemed to be Sāttvic.’