To Work or Not to Work –  Gita Chapter V

The Way of Renunciation

The chapter starts with Arjuna asking Krishna – Tell me clearly, what is better, Work or renunciation of work.  For in the previous discussion, Krishna has advised Arjuna that work is the way to go, Knowledge is the way to freedom and renunciation of action is ultimate . This has again raised question in the minds of Arjuna. Hence is this question.

Action Or Renunciation of Action – Divergent paths with same goal

Way of action and renunciation of action both lead to happiness, they lead to different path in life, but of the two, work is better than renunciation. Both has to be practiced serially, for first Karma yoga clarifies one’s understanding, illuminates intellect and thus paves way for contemplation and meditation through which only the final experience is achieved. Knowledge is possible with action. Right actions help in self-discovery. To renounce first one must experience the world, experience the life. Renouncing without experience would lead to exhaustion. Life of renunciation because of inability to get something, failures or forced is not true renunciation. Thus only mind that has experienced, only one who has performed active work can let go intelligently. It is like been there, seen it, done that and now I am happy, fulfilled and in such a state letting go happens naturally.

Who is a Renunciate

Krishna portraits the picture of renunciate as – the one who is engrossed in effort, with senses controlled, calm and focused mind, victorious in self, understanding self in all and all in self. This is because one who has well developed intellect, who has honed his work, who understands the purpose and process of work, works in desire-less state only is capable of working in controlled and competent way. For him emotions are also under control. For such person work becomes child’s play and meditative state is automatic. Thus having mastered his mind renunciation becomes easy and a natural state.

Work Intelligently

Like how one is not aware of the involuntary acts of the body, when ego is surpassed, all conscious work also becomes instinctive. Despite being engaged in action, one moves with the mind that I am not doing anything. Krishna counsels us to live the life with intelligent detachment. Rather than detaching ourselves completely from work or doer-ship, which is difficult, for is not possible for human mind, the direction here is for one to engage in this world of ours, yet to stay detached from or work in areas not prompted from ones likes and dislikes and desired state. When work is performed thus it is transformed from mere Karma to Karma-Yoga. Thus, having abandoned attachment, the wise man performs work by using body, senses, mind and intellect and purifies himself. Contrary to the one who works, still impelled by mind, intellect, body and senses, attached to results of one’s action, the wise man performs desire less action with detached mindset and having no expectation of fruits of action. He is able to achieve peace,  becomes well poised and unrestricted. He is able to acquire a degree of self control and is happy.

What is Sanyas

Sanyas or renunciation is not just forced withdrawal from actions, a mere physical escapism but mental withdrawal from thing that are unintelligent and wasteful. It is a mental attitude and not a mere external symbol by way of dress, color or dress, hair style, food and the variants of it. it is not running away from life and its challenges.  Sanyas is for one or Sanyasi is one who has his ego and desire under control, performs his duty as per his stage of life intelligently and lives a life of happiness, joy, peaceful and contentment.

Knowledge and Ignorance

Work in outer field intelligently. The world is run by nature. As long as ignorance is there, knowledge has no place and once the veil of ignorance is removed knowledge shines. Ignorance creates egocentricity and with the removal of ignorance egocentric lifestyle is stopped.  And with the end of ego, self becomes aware of its grandeur. One comes to recognize the divinity everywhere, oneness of everything and everyone. That the distinctions in the outer world of names and forms are temporary phenomenon. He understands that Brahman, nature, consciousness, god head whatever name one proposes to call it by is all pervading and homogeneous. Everything happens in it yet nothing happens to it.

Thus, for an individual who is identified with his body, it is changing factor and he comes identified with every passing phenomenon except for the fact that the eternal self, the substratum, the atman remains the same under all circumstances. Thus an individual who comes to be aware of this has sufficient amount of tranquility in him and nothing happening around him can disturb him and is able maintain equi-poise under all conditions. Therefore the man of perfection is neither grieved when unpleasant things happen and nor exuberant when pleasant and favorable circumstances arise. He is not affected by pleasant and unpleasant, holds his intellect steady and in him all delusions have ended. And he comes to “know Brahman” and knowing Braham he becomes Brahman.

Why Equanimity

Krishna also answers the question, what use is this equanimity where one is expected not to rejoice nor to wallow in sorrow. why control or withdraw senses from external objects. To what purpose should one forsake enjoyment.

Pain and pleasure are two sides of the same coin. When one is full of desires, starts any activity, or even in our ordinary course of life, obstacles are bound to arise mid-course. Accidents do happen and all sorts of problems like loss of job, loss of loved one, failures in study do occur. When that arises, ordinary man reacts in anger, fear, despair, dejection and sorrow which then more often is likely to derail him further from his course of action. He has to then come out, calm and compose the mind, collect oneself together again, think intelligently, course correct and start again. If he wins he is happy and rejoices. Thus he alternates from sorrow and joy, moves from activity to activity. Instead if he is able maintain equanimity he reaches an inner calm, peace and joy unaffected by the results of action which is more permanent than temporary. He is able to withdraw himself from outer objects and enjoy the inner bliss laying foundation for contemplation.

Thus work intelligently such that renunciation becomes automatic.