Karma Yoga and Karma SanyAs

Part 3 of 3

Renunciation and its benefits

The knowledge that the Self is akartA is Karma SanyAs.  Renunciation of work refers to giving up the sense of doer-ship. There is a simple and effective method to get over the notion of doer-ship. Krishna advises Arjuna to dedicate all works to the Him while abiding in the Self. It enables one to get rid of the sense of doer-ship and to remain detached, i.e., no expectations and no desires.  Selfish action creates mental disturbances called vritties which again propels rAjasik action. Action dedicated to the Lord is ego-free. Ego-free action arrests creation of vritties.

Knowledge of the Self is the medicine for the most sinful of all sinners.  With this knowledge, a person can cross the ocean of sin. One essential aspect of the knowledge is the realization that my true nature is Pure Consciousness and as Pure Consciousness, I am not a doer.  Action is done by psycho-somatic entity. The Self is devoid of action. It does not cause any action. Action is in the prakritti (nature). The Self is beyond nature. As the Self is not responsible for action, It is not effected by the results of action, good or bad.  The concept of evil and virtuous actions and results thereof operates in the empirical world. The pure consciousness is akArta.  While being engaged in action, always be aware that I am not the doer.  Doing is by mind-body and I am not mind-body. The fire of knowledge reduces all (bonds of) actions to ashes. It may be noted that all samskArs are burnt except prArabdha.  PrArabdha binds the mind- body. The mind-body of a realized person has also to suffer what is ordained by prArabdha.  But he remains unaffected because he has the firm conviction that he is not mind-body. He is essentially Pure Consciousness.  He who practices yoga of knowledge, in due course of time, realizes his true nature as Pure Consciousness. Self-knowledge is abiding in Pure Consciousness moment to moment. How can one abide in Pure Consciousness? It is a common problem because while doing action, the knowledge that one’s true nature is Pure Consciousness gives a slip. VedAnta prescribes shrawan (to listen), manan (to contemplate) and nidhidhyAsana (to meditate) to stabilize the knowledge.

Krishna says to Arjuna that when a person is not deluded by ego and does not entertain the sense of doer-ship, even if he slays all, he is neither a killer nor is he bound by the act of killing. Though it seems contradictory, it is not so. Such person performs the act of killing as his duty. He is not attached to the result of his action.   His intellect is untainted, the thought: ‘I do this’ does not cling to him.  No sin is attached to him by killing.

When a person performs all actions taking refuge in the Lord, then such person is blessed with eternal abode.  Taking refuge in the Lord removes sense of agency, doer-ship.  The Lord asks Arjuna to mentally renounce and surrender all deeds to Him.  This will enable him to sail through. Finally the Lord prescribes a sure shot solution, namely, forget all methods, dharma of mind body and intellect, and surrender to Him alone. He will liberate him from all the sins.

A person of controlled mind by mentally renouncing doer-ship of action, resides inside the city of nine gates happily. Then the Self rests as It is- pristine. Gate means place from where anything can come inside and go outside. Nine gates of body are two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, mouth, organ of procreation and organ of excretion. Seven gates are in the head by which cognitive knowledge is gained and the two are below. This body is called city because in this city the Self is the King and the city is inhabited by different organs and senses, mind, and intellect. Then the Self rests as It is-pristine.

 Which is better, Karma Yoga or Karma SanyAs?

Arjuna seeks clarification from Krishna.  If krishna praises knowledge then why is He asking Arjuna to engage in the horrible work of fighting.  The Lord clarifies.  In this world there are two kinds of paths, the path of knowledge for philosophers, and the path of action for yogis. There are two kinds of people, one is SankhyA, the people who are more inclined towards intellectual understanding first and then they behave according to that understanding. For them path of renunciation or knowledge is suitable. There is other type of people who keep working in the world according to their duties. They are karma yogis. They too attain peace and freedom by engaging in action without being attached to the fruits of action.

Note: SankhyA does not refer to SamkhyA philosophy. It refers to knowledge.

To the question which path is better, Krishna clarifies that both the path of renunciation and the path of karma yoga are good. However, of the two, the path of Karma yoga is better than the path of renouncing action.  A doubt arises as to why Krishna says that path of action is better than the path of renunciation. To recapitulate, path of action means performing action without being attached to the fruit of action whereas path of  renunciation or knowledge means performing action without  clinging to thought that I am  doer, i.e., ego-free. Because of the inbuilt human tendencies and nature, to remain ego-free is difficult in as much as though action is performed by mind and body, there persists the feeling that ‘I am mind and body’ resulting in the thought that ‘I am the doer’. Secondly, it is to be borne in mind that the scene is the battlefield.  Arjuna wants  to escape from fighting. For a person in such a mental dilemma, action is suitable. Most of us are in the ‘Arjuna-state’. As such karma yoga-the path of action- is suitable to start with. Gradually it leads to karma sanyAs which is the essence of path of knowledge. Thus both the paths are good and effective depending upon where the individual stands on the spiritual ladder. Therefore ignorant and unwise consider the path of renunciation and the path of karma-yoga as different. If a person leads even one path properly, he is benefited. Therefore he, who sees renunciation and karma yoga as same, really sees. Having said so, in verse 5.6 Krishna emphasizes that it is difficult to become successful on the path of renunciation without practicing Karma Yoga. Sages have shown that goal of renunciation (of doer-ship) is achieved through abandonment of moment to moment clinging to the fruits of action.


 Similarities and Dissimilarities


(i) Bhagwad Gita authorizes both;

(ii) There is renunciation in both;

(ii) Both are important stages in spiritual pursuit;

(iv)  Mind has a pivotal role in both;

(v) Action is advocated by both;

(vi)  Neither gives importance to result of action;

(vii) Both highlight the role of samskArs;

(viii) There is no creation of samskArs in both;

(ix) Both remove bondage and suffering.



(i) Karma yoga emphasizes renunciation of fruits of action; karma sanyAs emphasizes renunciation of notion of doer-ship;

(ii) Karma yoga is suitable for persons who believes in action; karma sanyAs is suitable for persons of intellectual pursuits;

(iii) Karma yoga is action based; karma sanyAs is knowledge based;

(iv) Karma sanyAs is linked to Self-knowledge, i.e., our true nature is Pure Consciousness; karma yoga  is not so linked;

(v) Karma yoga is a stepping stone for karma sanyAs; not vice-versa.









4 thoughts on “Karma Yoga and Karma SanyAs

  1. Hi Bimal,

    Thanks for another nice post.

    > One essential aspect of the knowledge “is” the realization that my true nature “is” Pure Consciousness and “as” Pure Consciousness

    Very nice. Glad that you mention Self-Knowledge is nothing but Self-Realization and they are not different.

    > Self-knowledge is abiding in Pure Consciousness moment to moment.

    Yes. After some practice this becomes effortless.

    > VedAnta prescribes shrawan (to listen), manan (to contemplate) and nidhidhyAsana (to meditate) to stabilize the knowledge.

    Glad that you are mentioning all the three and not stopping at Shravana itself to obtain Self-Knowledge.


  2. Hi Bimal,

    A very interesting analysis – thank you! Do you have any specific references for the way in which you have interpreted? (It is becoming more and more apparent that a seeker cannot ‘trust’ what a teacher says unless backed up by quotations from ‘reputable’ sources; ideally prasthAna traya or Shankara bhAShya; subsidiary from a post-Shankara, saMpradAya teacher. This is reasonable, since there is so much contradiction and confusion when one gets down to subtle distinctions.)

    Incidentally, you say that “The Self is devoid of action. It does not cause any action.” and of course this is true in a literal sense. But then the body-mind is inert and can do nothing without the ‘enabling action’ of the Self.

    Best wishes,

  3. Hi Dennis,
    ‘It does not cause any action’ is prone to confusion. The word ‘do’ in place of ’cause’ is more appropriate. As regards specific references, the analysis of karma yoga and karma sanyAs is essentially drawn from Bhagwad Gita. The article is also a refection of my understanding of Self, Ego on the basis of vedanta, not necessarily flawless. ‘Similarities and Dissimilarities’ is not sourced from any reference. It is self-sourced!
    Best wishes,

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