Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Ramanuja | Discourse 5 verse 1-14

Chapter 5
Karma  Sannyāsa  Yogaḥ
Communion through Renunciation

arjuna uvāca
saṃnyāsaṃkarmaṇāṃkṛṣṇa punar-yogaṃca śaṃsasi |
yac-chreya etayor-ekaṃtan-me brūhi suniścitam || 1 ||

Arjuna said:

1. You commend, O Krishna, the renunciation of actions and then again commend Karma Yoga. Tell me conclusively that which is the better of the two.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

In the fourth chapter karma yoga or the performance of prescribed Vedic activities was delineated by Lord Krishna with special emphasis of it containing spiritual intelligence.

In the third chapter it was shown that even for those who follow the path of jñāna yoga or the cultivation of Vedic knowledge the karma yoga when performed as a matter of duty without attachment was preferable.

This is because in jñāna yoga the level of ātma tattva or soul realisation contained within each action determines individual success; whereas karma yoga is easy to perform and does not depend on ātma tattva for success.

In this chapter karma yoga is examined in its efficacy of expeditiousness in achieving ātma tattva in comparison to jñāna yoga.

Also will be illustrated how this should be performed and the eliminating the conception that one is the performer along with how jñāna yoga is perceived from this standpoint.

Renunciation and the cultivation of Vedic knowledge is jñāna yoga.

The performance of prescribed Vedic activities is karma yoga.

In chapter two Lord Krishna declared that karma yoga was worthy to be followed by those seeking mokṣa or liberation from the cycle of birth and death in the material existence

and as the mind was subsequently purified of all dross then jñāna yoga would naturally be embarked upon bringing about ātma tattva.

But in chapters three and four Lord Krishna explained that karma yoga was preferable to even for one qualified to perform jñāna yoga and furthermore that karma yoga was sufficient in and of itself to achieve ātma tattva without the help of jñāna yoga.

So the conclusion to be given is which of the two is absolutely superior and the best means to achieve ātma tattva.

śrībhagavān uvāca
saṃnyāsaḥkarma yogaśca niḥśreyasakarāv-ubhau |
tayos-tu karma saṃnyāsāt karma-yogo viśiṣyate || 2 ||

The Blessed Lord said:

2. Renunciation of actions and Karma Yoga, both lead to the highest beatitude. But, of these two, Karma Yoga is superior to the renunciation of actions.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The word sannyāsa means renunciation denoting renunciation of the rewards of actions as well and therefore refers to jñāna yoga or the cultivation of Vedic knowledge.

Both jñāna yoga and karma yoga or performing prescribed Vedic activities are competent to award ātma tattva; but between the two karma yoga is the easier to perform and can in fact be performed with renunciation receiving benefits from both.

This is Lord Krishna's meaning.

jñeyaḥsa nitya saṃnyāsīyo na dveṣṭi na kāṅkṣati |
nir-dvandvo hi mahābāho sukhaṃbandhāt-pramucyate || 3 ||

3. One who neither resents nor desires is to be known as a perpetual renunciate: verily one who is free from the pairs of opposites is easily liberated from bondage, O Mighty-Armed (Arjuna).

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

One who is following karma yoga or prescribed Vedic activities and has achieved ātma tattva or realisation of the soul will not desire anything else other than the bliss of the ātma or soul.

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.

Such a person is known to be constantly situated in jñāna yoga or the cultivation of Vedic knowledge by every activity and is incessantly experiencing the bliss of the ātma.

Lord Krishna confirms that such a person easily performs karma yoga without effort and transcends samsara or the cycle of birth and death.

That both karma yoga and the renunciation of the rewards of actions which is included in jñāna yoga are both competent to give ātma tattva is shown next.

sāṅkhya-yogau pṛthag-bālāḥpravadanti na paṇḍitāḥ|
ekam-apy-āsthitaḥsamyag-ubhayor-vindate phalam || 4 ||

4. Children, not the learned, speak of Sānkhya (Jñana Yoga) and Yoga (Karma Yoga) as distinct; one who is firmly established in either, attains the fruit of both.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

They are misinformed and not conversant with Vedic scriptures who think that karma yoga or prescribed Vedic activities and jñāna yoga the renunciation of rewards of actions by the cultivation of Vedic knowledge give different results and do not both award ātma tattva or realisation of the soul.

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

This is further expanded by Lord Krishna in the next verse.

yat-sāṅkhyaiḥprāpyate sthānaṃtad-yogair-api gamyate |
ekaṃsāṅkhyaṃca yogaṃca yaḥpaśyati sa paśyati || 5 ||

5. That state which is attained by the Sānkhyas [Jñana Yogis], is also attained by the Yogins, [Karma Yogins]. He alone is wise who sees that the Sānkhya and the Yoga are really one.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The renunciates are followers of jñāna yoga or the cultivation of Vedic knowledge but the same goal is achieved by them upon realisation as the goal achieved by the followers of karma yoga or prescribed Vedic activities upon realisation.

Lord Krishna is stating that one who comprehends that either of the methods leads to the same result is one who is in correct knowledge and such a person has spiritual intelligence.

saṃnyāsas-tu mahābāho duḥkham-āptum-ayogataḥ|
yoga-yukto munir -brahma na cireṇādhigacchati || 6 ||

6. But renunciation, O Mighty-Armed, is hard to achieve without [Karma] Yoga. The contemplating sage who follows [Karma] Yoga reaches Brahman (the Self or ātman) soon.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Lord Krishna affirms that the aspirant who performs renunciation of the rewards of actions and the aspirant who practices jñāna yoga or the cultivation of Vedic knowledge,

for both of them ātma tattva or realisation of the soul is difficult to achieve without the help of karma yoga or performing prescribed Vedic activities without desire for rewards.

The compound words yoga-yuktah is one who has achieved communion with the ultimate consciousness by karma yoga or performing prescribed Vedic activities without attachment.

The word munir or sagacious is one who is focused on meditating on the ātma or soul:

Such a muni easily traverses the path of karma yoga receiving ātma tattva or realisation of the soul as well as realisation of the Brahman or the spiritual substratum pervading all existence.

But the person who is inclined to perform jñāna yoga or the cultivation of Vedic knowledge finds this path extremely difficult and hard to maintain. Because of this it takes an exceptionally long time to attain the ātma by this discipline.

yoga-yukto viśuddh-ātmāvijitātmājitendriyaḥ|
sarva-bhūtātmābhūtātmākurvann-api na lipyate || 7 ||

7. One who is devoted to the path of Action and is pure of mind, who is self-controlled, has conquered the senses and has realized identity with all beings, even while acting, remains untainted.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

One who performs karma yoga or prescribed Vedic activities without desire for rewards is the one who factually fulfils the sacred canons of the Vedic scriptures which are actually the method of worshipping the Supreme Lord.

By such worship one becomes viśuddh-ātmā or of purified intelligence and is vijitātmā or of controlled mind being absorbed in such worship and by this absorption one is jitendriyaḥ or of restrained senses.

Such a person is sarva-bhūtātmā or one who realising their own ātma or soul and perceiving the ātma in all beings as being the same ātma existing within 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 ātma 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 actions although performing activities and in a relatively short time achieves ātma tattva or realisation of the soul.

As karma yoga has been declared to be easy to perform and soon to reach fulfilment, the means required to enable one to accomplish it Lord Krishna describes next.

naiva kiñcit karomīti yukto manyeta tattva-vit |
paśyaṅ-śṛṇvan spṛśan jighrann-aśnan gacchan svapaṅ-śvasan || 8 ||

8. "I do nothing at all" —this would be the attitude of a focussed knower of the truth, even while seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, moving, sleeping, breathing;

pralapan visṛjan gṛhṇann-unimiṣan nimiṣann-api |
indriyāṇīndriyārtheṣu vartanta iti dhārayan || 9 ||

9. Speaking, releasing, grasping, opening, closing the eyes etc., always aware that the senses operate among sense-objects.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

One who has realised the nature of the ātma or soul knows the true nature of 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 prāṇas or life breaths, the physical body functions with all its corresponding objects;

but factually I am separate as an individual consciousness from all these activities and virtually do not do any of these actions.

The conception of doership is derived from contact with the senses which a living entity is coerced to accept from time immemorial due to past actions in past lives.

But this doership is not an essential attribute of the ātma and thus it is not necessary to accept. So I shall not accept it as being my essential nature.

Thus does one situated in ātma tattva or soul realisation reflect.

brahmaṇyādāya karmāṇi saṅgaṃtyaktvākaroti yaḥ|
lipyate na sa pāpena padma-patram ivāmbhasā|| 10 ||

10. One who acts without attachment, reposing all action on Brahman (Nature), is not tainted by unskilful deeds, as a lotus leaf by water.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The word brahman used here is referring to the Supreme Lord who is the antithesis to material matter.

One who performs all activities reflecting that they relate to the functions of the body and senses and pertain exclusively to material matter and who knows that in reality the individual consciousness has nothing to do with it

remains unaffected and uncontaminated from sinful reactions arising from misconceptions of the physical body being the ātma or soul and the subsequent erroneous mentality that causes bondage to samsara or the endless cycle of birth and death in the material existence.

kāyena manasābuddhyākevalair-indriyair-api |
yoginaḥkarma kurvanti saṅgaṃtyaktvā’tma śuddhaye || 11 ||

11. By means of the body, the mind, the intellect and the senses, do Yogins, renouncing attachment, perform actions —merely for self-purification.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Completely devoid of all cravings for the rewards of one's actions and endeavours even up to desiring entry to svargaloka or the heavenly spheres.

Those who have indeed become accomplished in karma yoga or prescribed Vedic activities without desiring rewards simply let their body, mind and senses perform their natural functions as instruments to effect ātma-śuddhi or self-purification which breaks the bonds of the past deeds which bind the ātma to samsara or the cycle of birth and death.

Karma yoga should be performed solely for this purpose and not for obtaining heavenly enjoyments in svargaloka.

yuktaḥkarma phalaṃtyaktvā śāntim-āpnoti naiṣṭhikīm |
ayuktaḥkāma-kāreṇa phale sakto nibadhyate || 12 ||

12. The centred-one, renouncing the fruits of actions, attains everlasting peace. But the unsteady one who is attached to the results of actions, being impelled by desire is subject to bondage.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The word yuktah means united with renunciation.

It can also denote not wanting any reward other than realisation of the ātma or soul, both are meritorious and distinguished performance of actions.

Such a person relinquishes the desire for rewards for actions and instead utilises all actions for the purpose of self-purification soon attaining ātma tattva or realisation of the soul and the eternal beatitude of mokṣa or liberation from the material existence.

The word ayuktah means not united with renunciation and is unmeritorious and degraded. It can also denote desiring mundane material rewards not connected to the ātma.

Incited by cravings one lustfully desires the rewards of all actions. The actions of such a person perpetually binds them to captivity in samsara or the cycle of birth and death in material existence.

Hence that person who is completely weaned from all attachment to the rewards of their actions is able to delegate all their actions as a product of material nature manifesting itself in form of the senses and their sense objects.

This discernment facilitates the ātma's deliverance and redemption from material bondage.

Next Lord Krishna will show how the agency of action can be designated to the physical body as an aggregate of matter.

sarva karmāṇi manasāsaṃnyasyāste sukhaṃvaśī|
nava-dvāre pure dehīnaiva kurvan-na kārayan || 13 ||

13. Mentally renouncing all actions and self-controlled, the embodied ātman, dwells happily in the city of nine gates (i.e., the body), neither acting nor causing the body to act.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Discerning in the mind that all authorship of any action resides within the physical body and is the cause by which the ātma or soul within is compromised due to the reactions from past life activities.

One can distinguish that authorship of actions are not an essential attribute of the ātma and thus the embodied ātma shall assign all actions to the authority of the physical body.

Then remaining content, independent from the body one performs no action as a consequence of being a passenger residing within the body ceases to cause the body to act.

The exact, true nature of the independent ātma Lord Krishna reveals next.

na kartṛtvaṃna karmāṇi lokasya sṛjati prabhuḥ|
na karma phala saṃyogaṃsvabhāvastu pravartate || 14 ||

14. The master [of the body—the ātman] does not initiate agency, nor actions, nor union with the fruits of actions in relation to the world (of embodied beings); it is the inherent tendencies alone that function.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The word prabhu means master or ruler and the ātma or soul representing an eternal portion of the Supreme Lord is the ruler of each physical body.

By its eternal nature it is beyond the influence of actions and reactions and resides impervious to them in its own nature.

This ātma being the individual soul is not the originator in the material creation of the four categories of living entities: the gods, human beings, the fauna or animal kingdoms and the flora or plant kingdom.

The ātma is also not subject to any activities of authorship emanating from these four categories, nor any connection to the resultant reactions of any activity such as descending into the animal species or ascending to the heavenly spheres and becoming a demi-god.

What is it then that accomplishes all these activities? It is the very nature inherent within all beings which is the cause of all designations.

By nature it is meant the saṁskāras or impressions from past lifetimes formatted by the reactions from the chain of activities generated since time immemorial.

By nature it is also meant the illusion of authorship and the terminal habit of regarding the temporary physical body as a constitute of the eternal ātma.

Thus it can be clearly discerned that the essential nature of the ātma being eternal has no interconnection to the authorship of actions or the doership of actions which are temporary and the products of association with material matter.