Chapter 18

Arjuna wishes to learn the nature of abstaining from action, the nature of renouncing the results of action and also the difference between the two.

Sri Krishna, tells Arjuna that samnyasa is abstention from desire-prompted action. Tyaga is the renunciation of the fruits of action. Acts of sacrifice (yajna), self-giving (dana), and penance (tapas) must not be shunned, for yajna, dana and tapas are the true purifiers. But even these actions must be performed without the slightest attachment.

Sri Chinmoy says:

?Right action is good. Desireless action is verily the best. This dedication is called the true tyaga. He is a man of true renunciation who neither hates a disagreeable action when duty demands it, nor is eager to perform only good and agreeable action. When desire is totally rejected and personal gain is sincerely not wanted by a seeker, then only perfect freedom shines within and without him.?

Sri Krishna says that renunciation of any duty that ought to be performed or not doing ones duty because it is painful and causes physical suffering, is not right. Moreover it is impossible to renounce all action for an embodied soul. Those who have not given up the desires of the fruits of action, get after death the threefold fruits of action pleasant, unpleasant and mixed.

Sri Krishna explains to Arjuna about knowledge and action; the three kinds of knowledge, the three kinds of work, the three kinds of doer, the three kinds of understanding, the three kinds of steadiness, the three kinds of happiness, and finally about perfection and Brahman. After imparting all this wisdom to Arjuna, Sri Krishna says, ?Arjuna, having reflected on wisdom fully, do as you like.?

In his final appeal to Arjuna, Sri Krishna states, ?Arjuna, My supreme Word, My inmost secret of all, I tell you. To you I unfold My Heart?s secret, for dear to Me you always are. Offer your love to Me. Devote yourself to Me. Bow to Me. Give Me your heart. You will without fail come to Me. Surrender all earthly duties to Me. Seek your sole haven in Me. Fear not, grieve not, I shall liberate you from all sins.?

Sri Krishna cautions Arjuna that the Truth that Arjuna has learned from Him is not to be offered to man with no faith, no devotion, no self-discipline and not even to a man whose life is tinged with mockery and blasphemy.

In the end Sri Krishna wants to know if Arjuna has understood Him, His revelation. He also wants to know if Arjuna is freed from the grip of delusion and the snares of ignorance.

Arjuna says, ?O Krishna by your Grace my delusion is gone, my illusion is destroyed and I have received Wisdom. I am free from doubts and am ready to act and follow your commands.?

(The following English translation is taken from ?A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy? Edited by S. Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore. 1957 Princeton University Press)

Renunciation is to be practised not towards work but to the fruits of work

Arjuna said:
1. I desire, 0 Mighty-armed (Krsna), to know the true nature of renunciation and of relinquishment, 0 Hrsikesa (Krsna), severally 0 Kesinisudana (Krsna).

The Blessed Lord said:
2. The wise understand by “renunciation” the giving up of works prompted by desire: the abandonment of the fruits of all works, the learned declare, is relinquishment.

3. “Action should be given up as an evil,” say some learned men others declare that “acts of sacrifice, gift, and penance are not to be given up.”

4. Hear now from Me, 0 Best of the Bharatas (Arjuna), the truth about relinquishment: relinquishment, 0 Best of men (Arjuna), has been explained as threefold.

5. Acts of sacrifice, gift, and penance are not to be relinquished but should be performed. For sacrifice, gift, and penance are purifiers of the wise.

6. But even these works ought to be performed, giving up attachment and desire for fruits. This, 0 Partha (Arjuna), is my decided and final view.

7. Verily the renunciation of any duty that ought to be done is not right. The abandonment of it through ignorance is declared to be of the nature of “dullness.”

8. He who gives up a duty because it is painful or from fear of physical suffering performs only the relinquishment of the “passionate” kind and does not gain the reward of relinquishment.

9. But he who performs a prescribed duty as a thing that ought to be done, renouncing all attachment and also the fruit-his relinquishment is regarded as one of “goodness.”

10. The wise man, who renounces, whose doubts are dispelled, whose nature is of goodness, has no aversion to disagreeable action and no attachment to agreeable action.

11. It is indeed impossible for any embodied being to abstain from work altogether. But he who gives up the fruit of action-he is said to be the relinquisher.

12. Pleasant, unpleasant, and mixed-threefold is the fruit of action accruing after death to those who have not relinquished: there is none whatever for those who have renounced.

13. 0 Mighty-armed (Arjuna), learn of Me, these five factors for the accomplishment of all actions, as stated in the Samkhya doctrine:

14. The seat of action* and likewise the agent, the instruments of various sorts, the many kinds of efforts, and providence being the fifth.

15. Whatever action a man undertakes by his body, speech, or mind, whether it is right or wrong, these five are its factors.

16. Such being the case, the man of perverse mind who, on account of his untrained understanding, looks upon himself as the sole agent -he does not see truly.

17. He who is free from self-sense, whose understanding is not sullied, though he slay these people-he slays not nor is he bound [by his actions].

Knowledge and action

18. Knowledge, the object of knowledge, and the knowing subject, are the threefold incitement to action: the instrument, the action, and the agent are the threefold composite of action.

19. Knowledge, action, and the agent are said, in the science of modes, to be of three kinds only, according to difference in the modes**. Hear thou duly of these also.

Three kinds of knowledge

20. The knowledge by which the one Imperishable Being is seen in all existences, undivided in the divided-know that that knowledge is of “goodness.”

21. The knowledge which sees multiplicity of beings in the different creatures, by reason of their separateness-know that that knowledge is of the nature of “passion.”

22. But that which clings to one single effect as if it were the whole, without concern for the cause, without grasping the real, and narrow is declared to be of the nature of ” dullness.”

Three kinds of work

23. An action which is obligatory, which is performed without attachment, without love or hate by one undesirous of fruit-that is said to be of the nature of “goodness.”

24. But that action which is done in great strain by one who seeks to gratify his desires or is impelled by self-sense is said to be of the nature of “passion.”

25. The action which is undertaken through ignorance, without regard to consequences or to loss and injury and without regard to one’s human capacity-that is said to be of the nature of “dullness.”

Three kinds of doer

26. The doer who is free from attachment, who has no speech of egotism, full of resolution and zeal, and who is unmoved by success or failure-he is said to be of the nature of “goodness.”

27. The doer who is swayed by passion, who eagerly seeks the fruit of his works, who is greedy, of violent nature, impure, who is moved by joy and sorrow-he is said to be of “passionate” nature.

28. The doer who is unbalanced, vulgar, obstinate, deceitful, malicious, indolent, despondent, and procrastinating-he is said to be of the nature of “dullness.”

Three kinds of understanding

29. Hear now the threefold distinction of understanding as also of steadiness, 0 Winner of wealth (Arjuna), according to the modes, to be set forth fully and separately.

30. The understanding which knows action and non-action, what ought to be done and what ought not to be done, what is to be feared and what is not to be feared, what binds and what frees the soul-that understanding, 0 Partha (Arjuna), is of the nature of “goodness.”

3 1. That by which one knows in a mistaken way the right and the wrong, what ought to be done and what ought not to be done-that understanding, 0 Partha (Arjuna), is of the nature of “passion.”

32. That which, enveloped in darkness, conceives as right what is wrong and sees all things in a perverted way [contrary to the truth] – that understanding, 0 Partha (Arjuna), is of the nature of “dullness.”

Three kinds of steadiness

33. The unwavering steadiness by which, through concentration, one controls the activities of the mind, the life breaths, and the senses-that, 0 Partha (Arjuna), is of the nature of “goodness.”

34. The steadiness by which one holds fast to duty, pleasure, and wealth, desiring the fruit of each on its occasion-that, 0 Partha (Arjuna), is of the nature of “passion.”

35. That steadiness by which a fool does not give up sleep, fear, grief, depression, and arrogance-that, 0 Partha (Arjuna), is of the nature of “dullness.”

Three kinds of happiness

36. And now hear from Me, 0 Best of the Bharatas (Arjuna), the three kinds of happiness: That in which a man comes to rejoice by long practice and in which he reaches the end of his sorrow,

37. That happiness which is like poison at first and like nectar at the end, which springs from a clear understanding of the Self, is said to be of the nature of “goodness.”

38. That happiness which arises from the contact of the senses and their objects and which is like nectar at first but like poison at the end-such happiness is recorded to be “passionate.”

39. That happiness which deludes the soul both at the beginning and at the end, and which arises from sleep, sloth, and negligence – that is declared to be of the nature of “dullness.”

Various duties determined by one’s nature (svabhava)
and station (svadharma)

40. There is no creature either on earth or, again, among the gods in heaven which is free from the three modes born of nature.

41. Of brahmins, of ksatriyas, and vaisyas, as also of sudras, 0 Conqueror of the foe (Arjuna), the activities are distinguished, in accordance with the qualities born of their nature.

42. Serenity, self-control, austerity, purity, forbearance and uprightness, wisdom, knowledge, and faith in religion-these are the duties of the brahmin, born of his nature.

43. Heroism, vigour, steadiness, resourcefulness, not fleeing even in a battle, generosity, and leadership-these are the duties of a ksatriya, born of his nature.

44, Agriculture, tending cattle, and trade are the duties of a vaisya, born of his nature; work of the character of service is the duty of a sudra, born of his nature.

45. Devoted each to his own duty man attains perfection. How one devoted to one’s own duty attains perfection, that do thou hear.

46. He from whom all beings arise and by whom all this is pervaded-by worshipping Him through the performance of his own duty does man attain perfection.

47. Better is one’s own law though imperfectly carried out than the law of another carried out perfectly. One does not incur sin when one does the duty ordained by one’s own nature.

48. One should not give up the work suited to one’s nature, 0 Son of Kunti (Arjuna), though it may be defective, for all enterprises are clouded by defects as fire by smoke.

Karma-yoga and absolute perfection

49. He whose understanding is unattached everywhere, who has subdued his self and from whom desire has fled-he comes through renunciation to the supreme state transcending all work.

Perfection and Brahman

50. Hear from me in brief, 0 Son of Kunti (Arjuna), how, having attained perfection, he attains to the Brahman, that supreme consummation of wisdom.

51. Endowed with a pure understanding, firmly restraining oneself, turning away from sound and other objects of sense and casting aside attraction, and aversion,

52. Dwelling in solitude, eating but little, controlling speech, body, and mind, and ever engaged in meditation and concentration and taking refuge in dispassion,

53. And casting aside self-sense, force, arrogance, desire, anger, possession, egoless, and tranquil in mind, he becomes worthy of becoming one with Brahman.

The highest devotion

54. Having become one with Brahman, and being tranquil in spirit, he neither grieves nor desires. Regarding all beings as alike he attains supreme devotion to Me.

55. Through devotion he comes to know Me, what My measure is and who I am in truth; then, having known Me in truth, he forthwith enters into Me.

Application of the teaching to Arjuna’s case

56. Doing continually all actions whatsoever, taking refuge in Me, he reaches by My grace the eternal, undying abode.

57. Surrendering in thought all actions to Me, regarding Me as the Supreme, and resorting to steadfastness in understanding, do thou fix thy thought constantly on Me.

58. Fixing thy thought on Me, thou shalt, by My grace, cross over all difficulties; but if, from self-conceit, thou wilt not listen [to Me], thou shalt perish.

59. If indulging in self-conceit, thou thinkest, “I will not fight,” vain is this, thy resolve. Nature will compel thee.

60. That which, through delusion, thou wishest not to do, 0 Son of Kunti (Arjuna), that thou shalt do even against thy will, fettered by thy own acts, born of thy nature.

61. The Lord abides in the hearts of all beings, 0 Arjuna, causing them to turn round by His power as if they were mounted on a machine.

62. Flee unto Him for shelter with all thy being, 0 Bharata (Arjuna). By His grace shalt thou obtain supreme peace and eternal abode.

63. Thus has wisdom more secret than all secrets been declared to thee by Me. Reflect on it fully and do as thou choosest.

Final appeal

64. Listen again to My supreme word, the most secret of all. Well beloved art thou of Me, therefore I shall tell thee what is good for thee.

65. Fix thy mind on Me; be devoted to Me; sacrifice to Me; prostrate thyself before Me; so shalt thou come to Me. I promise thee truly, for thou art dear to Me.

66. Abandoning all duties, come to Me alone for shelter. Be not grieved, for I shall release thee from all evils.

The reward of following the doctrine

67. Never is this to be spoken by thee to one who is not austere in life or who has no devotion in him or who is not obedient or who speaks ill of Me.

68. He who teaches this supreme secret to My devotees, showing the highest devotion to Me, shall doubtless come to Me.

69. There is none among men who does dearer service to Me than he; nor shall there be another dearer to Me in the world.

70. And he who studies this sacred dialogue of ours, by him I would be worshipped through the sacrifice of knowledge, so I hold.

71. And the man who listens to it with faith and without scoffing, even he, being liberated, shall attain to the happy worlds of the righteous.

72. 0 Partha (Arjuna), has this been heard by thee with thy thought fixed to one point? 0 Winner of wealth (Arjuna), has thy distraction of thought caused by ignorance been dispelled?


Arjuna said:
73. Destroyed is my delusion, and recognition has been gained by me through Thy grace, 0 Acyuta (Krsna). I stand firm with my doubts dispelled. I shall act according to Thy word.

Samjaya said:
74. Thus have I heard this wonderful dialogue between Vasudeva (Krsna) and the high-souled Partha (Arjuna) causing my hair to stand on end.

75. By the grace of Vyasa, I heard this supreme secret, this yoga taught by Krsna himself, the Lord of yoga, in person.

76. 0 King, as I recall again and again this dialogue, wondrous and holy, of Kesava (Krsna) and Arjuna, I thrill with joy again and again.

77. And as often as I recall that most wondrous form of Hari (Krsna), great is my astonishment, 0 King, and I thrill with joy again and again.

78. Wherever there is Krsna, the lord of yoga, and Partha (Arjuna), the archer, I think, there will surely be fortune, victory, welfare, and morality.

This is the eighteenth chapter, entitled “The Yoga of Release by Renunciation.”

Here the Bhagavad-gita-Upanisad ends***.

* The “seat” refers to the physical body.

** The Sariikhya system is referred to and it is authoritative in some matters though not in regard to the highest truth.

*** The Bhagavad-gita and the Brahma Sutra have the same status as the Upanisads; for this reason the Gita may be called Bhagavad-gita-Upanisad.