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SAMNYASA FOR MODERN TIMES
by
Dr. Ramananda Prasad, American/International Gita Society, Fremont, California, USA

Arjuna asked: O Krishna, You praise the path of renunciation (transcendental knowledge or Samnyasa) and also the path of performance of selfless service (KarmaYoga, Tyaga). Tell me, definitely, which one is the better of the two paths. (Gita 5.01) I also wish to know the nature of Samnyasa and Tyaga, and the difference between the two, O Lord Krishna. (Gita 18.01)

Renunciation means complete renouncement of doership, ownership, and selfish motive behind an action; and not the renunciation of work, or the worldly objects such as wealth, family, and residence. Renunciation comes only after the dawn of Self-knowledge. Therefore, words renunciation and Self-knowledge (Jnana) are used interchangeably in the Gita. Renunciation is considered the goal of life. Selfless service (Seva, KarmaYoga) and Self-knowledge are the necessary means to achieve the goal. True renunciation is attaching all action and possession - including body, mind, and thought - to the service of the Supreme Lord Krishna. Thus Samnyasa cannot be given (by a Guru), or taken as an alms in old age as commonly practiced; it is the most advanced state of mind that has to be achieved by sincere Sadhana.

Lord Krishna said: Verily, there is no purifier in this world like Jnana, the true knowledge of the Supreme Being (ParaBrahma). One who becomes purified by Karma-yoga discovers this knowledge within, naturally, in course of time. (4.38)

Whatever goal a Samnyasi reaches, a KarmaYogi also reaches the same goal. Therefore, the one who sees the path of renunciation and the path of unselfish work as the same really sees. (5.05)

But, true renunciation, O Arjuna, is difficult to attain without KarmaYoga. A sage equipped with KarmaYoga quickly attains Nirvana. (5.06)

Selfless service (KarmaYoga) provides preparation, discipline, and purification necessary for renunciation. Self-knowledge is the upper limit of KarmaYoga; and Samnyasa is the upper limit of Self-knowledge (Jnana).

One who performs the prescribed duty without seeking its fruit for personal enjoyment is a Samnyasi and a KarmaYogi. One does not become a Samnyasi merely by not lighting the fire, and one does not become a yogi merely by abstaining from work. (6.01)

O Arjuna, renunciation (Samnyasa) is same as KarmaYoga. Because, no one becomes a KarmaYogi who has not renounced the selfish motive (sarva samkalpa samnyasi, Gita verse 6.04) behind an action. (6.02)

The sages define renunciation as abstaining from all work for personal gain. The wise define sacrifice as the sacrifice of, and the freedom from, the selfish attachment to the fruits of all work. (18.02)

We have used the word 'renunciation' for Samnyasa, and 'sacrifice' for Tyaga in this rendering. A renunciant (Samnyasi) does not own anything. A true renunciant works for others, and lives for ¾ and not on ¾ others. Samnyasa means complete renunciation of doership, ownership, and personal selfish motive behind an action, whereas Tyaga means renunciation of the selfish attachment to the fruits of all work, or just working for God. A person who does sacrificial services (Seva) for God is called Tyagi, or a KarmaYogi. A Tyagi who thinks that he or she is doing all works just to please God will always remember Him. Bhakti is defined as work done with love to please God. Thus NishkaamaKarma or Akarma --- work done just to please God --- is nothing but Bhakti. Therefore, it is mentioned in the following verse that Tyaga, NKY, or the path of selfless service to humanity is the best spiritual practice for persons living and working in the modern society.

The knowledge of scriptures is better than mere ritualistic practice; meditation is better than scriptural knowledge; Tyaga, or renunciation of (the selfish attachment to) the fruits of work is better than meditation; peace immediately follows Tyaga. (12.12)

The words Samnyasa and Tyaga have been used interchangeably in the Gita, because there is no real difference between the two (See verses 5.05, 5.06, 6.01, and 6.02). According to the Gita, Samnyasa does not mean living in the forest, or any secluded place outside the society. Samnyasa is a state of freedom from selfish greed and attachment.

Everybody desires peace of mind that is only possible for the one who works for God ¾ without being attached to results ¾ and offers the results of one's work to God. This is not necessarily the same as offering one's all material wealth and possessions to one's guru as propagated by some sects.

Obligatory work performed as duty, renouncing selfish attachment to the fruit, is alone regarded to be sacrifice in the mode of goodness, O Arjuna. (18.09)

Renunciation of attachment to the sensual pleasures is the real sacrifice (Tyaga). The perfection of Tyaga comes after a person becomes free from the clutches of attachments and aversions and in no other way (Mahabharata 12.162.17). One cannot become happy without Tyaga, one cannot become fearless without Tyaga, and one cannot attain God without Tyaga (Mahabharata 12.176.22). Even the bliss of trance should not be enjoyed just for the sake of enjoyment. The Gita recommends renunciation while living in the world, and not the renunciation of the world as commonly misinterpreted.

Give up attachment, and attain perfection by renunciation is the message of the Vedas and the Upanishads. Lord Rama gave up His kingdom, and even His wife for the establishment of righteousness (Dharma). Selfless service or "Tyaga" is the essence of the Gita as given in the last chapter of the Gita. A person who is Tyagi cannot commit sin and is released from the cycles of transmigration. One can cross the ocean of transmigration and reach the shores of salvation in this very life by the boat of Tyaga only.

One may practice any one of the Nine Types of Renunciation (Navadha Tyaga) leading to salvation, based on the teachings of the Gita: (1) Renunciation of actions forbidden by the scriptures (Gita 16.23-24). (2) Renunciation of lust, anger, greed, fear, likes and dislikes, and jealousy (3.34, 16.21). (3) Spurning of procrastination in the search of Truth (12.09). (4) Giving up the feeling of pride of possession of knowledge, detachment, devotion, wealth, and charitable deeds (15.05, 16.01-04). (5) Rejection of selfish motives, and attachment to the fruits of all works (2.51, 3.09, 4.20, 6.10). (6) Renunciation of the feeling of doership in all undertakings (12.13, 18.53). (7) Giving up the thoughts of using the Lord to fulfill selfish material desires (2.43, 7.16). (8) Spurning of the attachments to material objects such as a house, wealth, position, and power (12.19, 13.09), and (9) Sacrifice of wealth, prestige, and even life for a noble cause, or for the protection and propagation of Dharma.(2.32, 4.28).

The one who neither hates a disagreeable work, nor is attached to an agreeable work, is considered a Tyagi, imbued with the mode of goodness, intelligent, and free from all doubts about the Supreme Being. (18.10)

Human beings cannot completely abstain from work. Therefore, the one who completely renounces the selfish attachment to the fruits of all works is considered a renunciant. (18.11)

Thus true Samnyasa, according to the Gita is the same as NishkaamaKarmaYoga (NKY). One does not have to leave anything but the Doshas such as Kaama, Krodha, Moha, selfish attachments, jealousy, ungratefulness etc. Samnyasa, Tyaga, detachment, NKY, or any progress in spiritual life is not possible if one thinks oneself as the owner or the doer. Thus, the best Sadhana is to practice to think: He is all and He does all; we are just His instruments (Gita 11.33). This is also known as the process of surrendering as mentioned below:

Setting aside all meritorious deeds (Dharma), just surrender completely to My will (with firm faith and loving contemplation). I shall liberate you from all sins (or the bonds of Karma). Do not grieve. (18.66)

The Bhagavad-Gita is the true ancient scripture for the modern times and the scripture of all scriptures --- Truly a Scripture for the Future. Daily reading of even few verses of the Holy Gita will recharge you both physically and spiritually.

The one who shall propagate this supreme secret philosophy (or the transcendental knowledge of the Gita) amongst My devotees, shall be performing the highest devotional service to Me, and shall certainly (attain Parama-dhama and) come to Me. (18.68) No other person shall do a more pleasing service to Me, and no one on the earth shall be more dear to Me. (18.69)

Ignorance is the mother of all sins. The giving of the gift of knowledge is the best charity. It is equivalent to giving the whole world in charity (Mahabharata 12.209.113). The ignorance of metaphysical knowledge is humanity's greatest predicament. The best welfare is to help others discover their real nature that is the source of everlasting peace and happiness rather than provide material goods and comforts for temporary happiness. The Bible also says: Whoever obeys the law, and teaches others to do the same, will be great in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5.19). Happiness is not attained through wealth and self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy cause (Helen Keller).

OM TAT SAT