Karma Yoga and Karma SanyAs

Part 2 of 3

Benefits of Detached Action

Krishna instructs Arjuna to perform action, i.e., engage in war and fulfill the obligatory duty. By performing work without attachment, one realizes the Supreme. He gives His example. There is nothing in the world for Him to achieve, yet He engages Himself in action.  For, otherwise all other people would follow Him and the creation will be destroyed.

A person who is content with whatever comes by itself (without desiring for it), who is free from delusion and jealousy, who is equipoise in both success and failure, is not bound by action even by performing actions. The mind is focused on the work. It is a working mind as distinct from thinking and wavering mind. As a result the work becomes skilled.  Attachment to the fruit of action creates impressions on the mind called samskArs which is the cause of cycle of birth and death.  Attachment smacks of selfishness and egoism. Conversely, detachment creates no samskArs and one becomes free from the cycle of birth and death. Detached, karma yogis perform works for purifying the mind, e.g., sacrifice, charity and penance.

A person whose actions are devoid of sense of enjoyments is called wise by knowledgeable people. Such a person is fully engaged in action, yet he is not bound by the fruits or enjoyment of result. Wise person acts out of happiness whereas others act for happiness and enjoyment. A person who has renounced attachment to the fruit of action is ever satisfied since his satisfaction is not dependent on external factors. Furthermore, while he is outwardly engaged in action, internally he is established in inaction.

A person, who does not entertain aversion or attachment for worldly objects, is a constant monk as he is  bondage free. Such a person transcends duality or pair of opposites, namely, sorrow and happiness; evil and virtue; aversion and attachment; life and death.

A person who performs action with total surrender to God is not tainted by sins in the same way as a lotus leaf which remains aloof and unaffected by water. A doer, by giving up attachment to results of action, attains steady peace. Contrarily if he keeps thinking about the results, then he cannot be peaceful because results do not come instantly and they cannot be always as per expectation. Results will come whether they are desired or not; a karma yogi accepts them as blessings of God.

A sAttvik doer performs action without attachment to the result but with resolve and enthusiasm.  While in action, he is free from ego and keeps the mind neutral to success and failure. A rAjsik doer acts with attachments and is anxious of results of actions. He is greedy, violent, and impure. He is overtly joyful in success and acutely miserable in failure. A tAmsik doer does not have steady mind. He is forgetful, obstinate, dishonest, wicked, lazy, disheartened and procrastinating.  Attached to the results of action, a rAjasik doer gets three types of results after death – desirable, un-desirable and mixed.  A sAttvik doer who has abdicated attachment to the results of work is free of such results.

 Karma SanyAs


Karma sanyAs means renunciation of work. It is not renunciation in literal term of abdication of works. Renunciation means absence of the notion of doer-ship. A person deluded by ego thinks, ‘ I am the doer’.

Vedanta has a definite view on ego (aAhankAr). Ego is intimately connected to mind. Verse 3.42 of Gita briefly mentions status of mind in the scheme of human personality.  Organs of senses and action are superior to the gross body; the mind is superior to the organs; the intellect is superior to the mind and the Atma is superior to the intellect. Here superiority also refers to subtlety. The mind receives the information from the outer world through sense organs. It lacks capacity of decision making which is the domain of the intellect. Most of the time, the mind,  due to inbuilt instinct, makes a jumble of the information and reacts through the  organs even before intellect has a chance to play its role. The result is an impulsive reaction instead of a reasoned response.

For the sake of simplicity, mind is taken to include intellect; both are subtle and difference is only in their functions.  We know that we are conscious entity. Not only we know this, we also feel so.  We are also certain that consciousness is different from the gross body. To the question, ‘Is consciousness different from mind?’ one is ordinarily uncertain about the correct answer.  The truth is that consciousness is different from the mind.  It is based on the axiom that subject (observer) is different from object (observed). If the mind is closely watched, then it is revealed that there is an entity which watches or observes the mind. The entity is the observer (sAkshi) and the mind is the observed. The entity is different from the mind. It is consciousness. Is consciousness an object of some other subject? The answer is in negative because consciousness is at the most an object of itself. In other words it is the ultimate subject. It is attribute-free because attributes can be objectified.

Although consciousness and mind are different, they are mixed up in day to day affair since they are close to each other. It is the cardinal mistake and at the root of ignorance and suffering.  As consciousness is attribute-free, it would follow that there is only one, undifferentiated consciousness in the sense that consciousness of a person X is not different from consciousness of other person Y. Many may doubt it because as a conscious entity, X is different from the conscious entity Y. The doubt is unfounded if it is appreciated that consciousness is different from manifested consciousness.  Conscious entity X is consciousness manifested in mind-body X. Manifested consciousness will be different. But the consciousness is same for every conscious entity.  It is like electricity which is same for every gadget but manifested differently.  It is Pure Consciousness to distinguish it from manifested consciousness. If the mind is turned inward towards the sAkshi during meditation, there will be an intuition that the sAkshi is ‘I’.  This is the original ‘I’ or Self (capital S to distinguish it from self). It is infinite (Ananta). There may be many persons in a room but there is one Self.  Closeness of Pure Consciousness and mind leads to super-imposition like a hot iron rod in which there is super-imposition of fire and iron rod.  The mind usurps the original I. In the process ‘I’ lose its infiniteness because the mind is finite. The ‘I’ limited by mind is small ‘i’, the ego. Action is done by the mind- body, not by ‘I’. Due to super-imposition and borrowed I-ness, a false sense of self is derived from the mind. This is the face of ego. It is an illusion, a phantom, so to say created by identification of the Self with the mind.


Who is the doer?

The Self is not the doer; there is absence of agency. ‘I am doer’ is an illusion.  If the Self is not the doer, then who is the doer?  Gita clarifies that action is interplay of the three gunAs, the constituents of prakriti, nature. One combination of gunAs is the cause, another combination is the effect. The mind and the body are in and parts of the prakriti. All actions are play of gunAs among gunAs. The instruments of action, i.e., mind and body, the cause and result of action have three gunAs in varying degrees.  With the help of this knowledge, a wise person abides in the Self while the mind and body is fully engaged in action. This is the idea of inaction in (the midst of) action. Such a person is a wise person. He also sees action in inaction. He is  established in the Self, Pure Consciousness, i.e., he has the abiding knowledge that his real nature is Pure Consciousness, sAkshi, which is not involved in action.  Action is at the level of mind and body. However, no action is possible without Consciousness. Consciousness enables all actions without being involved in it. It is akartA.  In this sense, there is action in inaction.


2 thoughts on “Karma Yoga and Karma SanyAs

  1. I agree! A useful summary of karma yoga.

    Just one point I would like to make in case anyone might be misled. You say “By performing work without attachment, one realizes the Supreme.” This implies that one may gain enlightenment by practising karma yoga. This, of course, is not true. Only Self-knowledge can remove Self-ignorance and give enlightenment. karma yoga helps to prepare the mind for undertaking shravaNa-manana.

    Best wishes,

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