Jai: Grandma, I am
confused by different terms you used.
Please explain to me clearly what is
the difference between renunciation
(Samnyasa) and selfless work (KarmaYoga)?
Some people think renunciation means
walking away from family, home, possessions,
and living in a cave or the forest or
any other place outside society. But
Lord Krishna defined Samnyasa as giving
up the selfish desire behind all work.
(Gita 6.01, 18.02) In KarmaYoga one
gives up the selfish desire of enjoying
the results of one’s work. Thus
a Samnyasi is an advanced KarmaYogi
who does not do anything for personal
Jai: Does that mean
I can’t do anything for myself
that gives me pleasure?
That depends on what kind of pleasure
you have in mind. Actions such as smoking,
drinking, gambling, and taking drugs
appear enjoyable in the beginning, but
definitely produce harmful results in
the end. Poison may taste delicious
when you drink it, but you know its
deadly results when it is too late.
On the other hand, actions, such as
meditation, worship, and helping the
needy, seem difficult or boring in the
beginning, but give very useful results
in the end. (Gita 5.22, 18.38) A very
good rule to follow is to avoid any
activity that seems pleasurable in the
beginning but causes harmful effects
in the end.
Jai: What kinds of
activities in society are available,
In the ancient Vedic way of living,
activities of human beings were divided
into four universal types of human labor
described by Lord Krishna. (Gita 4.13,
18.41-44) These four divisions --- Brahmana,
Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra --- were
based on the mental, intellectual, and
physical abilities of persons. The worth
of the individual --- not the birth
or social level one was born into ---
was the deciding factor. But these four
orders are often mistaken for the caste
system of modern times in India and
elsewhere. The caste system is based
on birth only.
Those who were interested in
learning, teaching, preaching, and guiding
people in spiritual matters were called
Brahmanas or intellectuals. Those
who could defend the country, establish
law and order, prevent crime, and administer
justice were called Kshatriyas, the
warriors. Those who were good in farming,
cattle-raising, business, trade, finance,
commerce, and industry were known as
Vaishyas or businessmen. Those who were
very good in service and labor work
were classed as Shudras or workers.
People are born with certain abilities
or could develop them through training
and effort. Birth into a family at a
certain social level, whether high or
low, does not decide one’s worth.
The four Varna system was
work assigned according to individual’s
skills and ability. Unfortunately, the
four work classifications became degraded
into hundreds of rigid castes to the
detriment of this great Dharma. Swami
Vivekananda considers modern day caste
system in India as a big blot on the
face of our great way of life (Dharma).
Even some of our educated immigrants
from India are forming caste-based associations
here in the USA!
Jai: How can anybody
living and working in society attain
Work becomes worship when done as a
service to the Lord and without selfish
attachment to the results. If you work
honestly for which you are suited, you
incur no Karmic reaction and attain
If you take on work that was not meant
for you, such work produces stress,
and you will not be very successful.
It is important to find proper work
that best suits your own nature. So
you should know yourself before you
can decide on the job that will be suitable
for you. (Gita 18.47) Then your work
will not produce stress and will encourage
There is no perfect job. Every job
has some faults. (Gita 18.48) You should
not be concerned about such faults in
your duty in life. You can attain God
by doing your duty with devotion to
God and keeping your senses under control
by some spiritual practice.
The following story illustrates
that one can attain Self-realization
by sincerely doing one’s duty.
26. I am no Crane
A holy man named Kaushika had acquired
great spiritual powers. One day, he
sat under a tree meditating. A crane
at the top of the tree soiled his head
with its droppings. Kaushika looked
up at it angrily, and his angry look
killed the bird instantly. The holy
man was pained when he saw the dead
bird lying on the ground.
Some time later, he went as usual to
beg for food and stood before the door
of a house. The housewife was busy serving
her husband with food and seemed to
forget the holy man waiting outside.
After her husband had been fed, she
came out with food, saying, “I
am sorry to have kept you waiting long.
But Kaushika, burning with anger, said:
“Lady, you have made me wait for
a long time. This is not fair.”
“Kindly forgive me,”
said the woman. “I was serving
my sick husband and hence the delay.”
“It is good to attend the husband,”
replied Kaushika, “but you seem
to be an arrogant woman.”
“I kept you waiting only because
I was dutifully serving my sick husband,”
she replied. “Please do not be
angry with me. I am no crane to be killed
by your angry thought. Your anger cannot
harm a woman who devotes herself to
service of her husband and family.”
Kaushika was surprised. He
wondered how she knew of the crane incident.
She continued: “O great one,
you do not know the secret of duty,
or that anger is the greatest enemy
that dwells in human beings. Go to the
village Rampur in Mithila and learn
the secrets of doing one’s duty
with devotion from Vyadha Raj”
Kaushika went to the village and met
the man named Vyadha Raj. He was surprised
to learn he was selling meat at a butcher’s
shop. The butcher got up from his seat
and asked: “Honored sir, are you
well? Did that pure lady send you to
me? I know why you have come. Let us
The butcher took Kaushika to his house
where Kaushika saw a happy family and
was greatly amazed at the love and respect
with which the butcher served his parents.
Kaushika took his lesson from the butcher
on doing one’s duty. Vyadha Raj
did not kill the animals; he never ate
meat. He just carried on his family
business after his father retired.
Afterwards, Kaushika returned to his
house and began to serve his parents,
a duty which he had neglected before.
The moral of this story is
that you can reach spiritual perfection
by honestly doing whatever duty is yours
in life. This is a true worship of God.
Lord Krishna lives within all of us
and guides us to work out our own Karma.
(Gita 18.61) Put forth your best effort,
and gladly accept the results as His
will. This is called surrendering to
God. (Gita 18.66) The gift of spiritual
knowledge is the best gift because the
absence of spiritual knowledge is the
cause of all evil in the world. Spreading
spiritual knowledge is the highest devotional
service to Lord Krishna. (Gita 18.68-69)
Everlasting peace and wealth
are possible only when you do your duty
well and also have the spiritual knowledge
given in the Holy Gita by Lord Krishna.
Chapter 18 summary:
Lord Krishna said that there is no real
difference between a KarmaYogi and Samnyasi.
A KarmaYogi gives up the selfish attachment
to the fruits of work, whereas a Samnyasi
does not work for any personal gain
at all. There are two types of pleasures
--- helpful and harmful. Society has
different work to suit different people.
One should choose work wisely. You can
get God-realization while living in
society by following the three D’s
--- Duty, Discipline and Devotion to