Here is the opening passages from this chapter, we will post others as we move along.  Feel free to post other translations for comparison.   Please add your questions and comments.  All for one and One for all.

“At one time, O Krishna, thou praisest the renunciation of action, and yet again its right performance. Tell me with certainty which of the two is better.”
“Renunciation of action and devotion through action are both means of final emancipation, but of these two devotion through action is better than renunciation. He is considered to be an ascetic  who seeks nothing and nothing rejects, being free from the influence of the ‘pairs of opposites,’  O thou of mighty arms; without trouble he is released from the bonds forged by action. Children only and not the wise speak of renunciation of action  and of right performance of action  as being different. He who perfectly practices the one receives the fruits of both, and the place  which is gained by the renouncer of action is also attained by him who is devoted in action. That man seeth with clear sight who seeth that the Sankhya and the Yoga doctrines are identical. But to attain to true renunciation of action without devotion through action is difficult, O thou of mighty arms; while the devotee who is engaged in the right practice of his duties approacheth the Supreme Spirit in no long time. The man of purified heart, having his body fully controlled, his senses restrained, and for whom the only self is the Self of all creatures, is not tainted although performing actions.

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Could someone please define "renunciation of action" and "devotion through action"?


From what I understand, "Renunciation of Action" speaks to the dissolution of "person-hood" in regards to the motivations of action. This then ties into Devotion, or the focus being on Deity/God/ Spirit/ Source as the sole motivator for ALL action. 

Such practices aim on removing the grip of the conditioned mind, so as to allow the pure experience of awareness alone to dominate our experience. 



Could you explain what you mean by the dissolution of person-hood?


What I mean is the doing away of lower ego motivations. Person-hood insinuates individuality, separation, and scarcity. To renounce action for the sake of person-hood and give all efforts over to God is to dissolve person-hood and embrace the Divine Unity. 


Gerry: Could someone please define "renunciation of action" and "devotion through action"?


Renunciation is normally associated with Sannyasa, which is the sanskrit term used in the text.  The Gita is a Hindu text so it might be helpful to explore the definition of Sannyasa in the light of the four stages of life (four ashramas) that are outlined in Hinduism. 

Brahmacharya - The Celibate Student: studies the scriptures under a teacher preparing for duties of life and profession.

Grihasta - the Householder: takes on the responsibilities of a family, profession, support for and upholding the dharma.

Vanaprastha -  the Hermit or Forest Dweller: when family, social and professional duties have been completed the individual begins to detach themselves from all of these and pursues a life of asceticism and yoga practice (e.g. meditation).

Sannyasa - the homeless Mendicant:  leaves the hermitage and wanders from place to place begging for food dependent on the ‘grace’ of the Divine Principle alone: having renounced all possessions and ties to individuals, the sannyasi’s mind is fixed on the Supreme Self.

Where does Arjuna fit into the above?  We are told he is a Kshaitriya, a member of the Warrior class of the Hindu caste system; a system which Krishna says originally came from Him.  This places Arujna in the Grihasta stage and this is what we see of his role in the Gita, where, as a result of his duty to his family and to upholding the Dharma, we find him on the field of battle facing the opposing army.

In Chapter One of the Gita we hear of Arjuna’s despondency with regards to this battle.  He doesn’t want to engage in the fight, he would rather withdraw, turn away from it all and give up all claims to winning empires, to worldly possessions and pleasures.  It sounds very much like Arjuna would like to quit the world and become a sannyasi when he states:

 “. . . I desire neither victory nor empire nor any pleasure.  O Govinda, of what avail to us is empire, of what avail are enjoyments and even of life itself?”  (Ch.1:  31-32)

In response, Krishna rebukes Arjuna, telling him that he must perform his current duty, which is to fight and uphold the Dharma.  Krishna then goes on to tell him about the eternal nature of the Self and of Karma Yoga (i.e. how to perform his duties with wisdom in relation to the real nature of the Self, the nature of action being that of the gunas, and equanimity with regards to the results of action).

Perhaps we should keep in mind the Hindu context of the Gita and the four ashramas when we look at the advice that Krishna gives to Arjuna in terms of ‘action’ (Karma Yoga) and ‘renunciation’ (sannyasa).  For Krishna is not giving his teaching to Arjuna the Brahmachari, to Arjuna the Vanaprasthi or to Arjuna the Sannyasi.  The teaching is giving to Arjuna the Grihasti.  In the four stage system all stages lead to Moksha (liberation) eventually.  However depending on what stage a person finds him/herself, the advice given to her/him by Krishna may well be different even though the universal truths apply to all beings.

Could this be why Krishna tells Arjuna that both Renunciation and Karma Yoga lead to the highest good but of the two Karma Yoga is better than Renunciation?


Very well said Peter. Thank you for bringing in greater context here. I think your statement that "depending on what stage a person finds him/herself, the advice given to her/him by Krishna may well be different even though the universal truths apply to all beings" is right on the money. Seems an important idea to keep in mind when studying the Gita, or when referring to any teacher's advice. We see this emphasized in the Buddha's teaching methods in the suttas: his teaching is always customized to the inquirer, and usually taught by using the inquirer's own questions to reveal the lesson they need at that time and stage of their journey.

It would seem to me that while in the overall story of the Mahabharata, Arjuna remains a Grihasta through the battle at Kurukshetra, we yet find the Gita drawing us through the four stages: first Arjuna as the student first getting in touch with his Krishna-nature (and not really knowing what that nature is), then bringing us through the lessons needed for the Grihasta life (karma-yoga teachings), then in middle-later chapters bringing us into the renunciant stage (geared more towards inner meditation, coming to know our Krishna-nature first-hand), and finally by the end, if we've followed inwardly the Gita's teachings, we might come to the Sanyassin stage, which would seem to me to indicate the student and (inner) master becoming one. This is a bit of a generalized view of the progression of the Gita, but it does seem to hold roughly true.


Jon and Peter:

Might either of you give us an illustration or example of what you mean by:

""I think your statement that "depending on what stage a person finds him/herself, the advice given to her/him by Krishna may well be different even though the universal truths apply to all beings" is right on the money.""


Peter thank you for all of that.

This Jewel in the Lotus selection for this week seems relevant to the concept of renunciation as a kind of emptying of oneself (lesser self) (material self) (personal self).

Human nature became God, for God assumed the pure human nature and not the human person. So if you want to be this same Christ in God, empty yourself of everything which the eternal Word did not assume. The eternal Word did not assume a human being, so empty yourself of everything which is purely personal and peculiarly you and assume human nature purely……. For your human nature and that of the divine Word are no different — it is one and the same.

— Meister Eckhart


2 Next Section:


The devotee who knows the divine truth thinketh ‘I am doing nothing’ in seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, moving, sleeping, breathing; even when speaking, letting go or taking, opening or closing his eyes, he sayeth, ‘the senses and organs move by natural impulse to their appropriate objects.’ Whoever in acting dedicates his actions to the Supreme Spirit and puts aside all selfish interest in their result is untouched by sin, even as the leaf of the lotus is unaffected by the waters. The truly devoted, for the purification of the heart, perform actions with their bodies, their minds, their understanding, and their senses, putting away all self-interest. The man who is devoted and not attached to the fruit of his actions obtains tranquillity; whilst he who through desire has attachment for the fruit of action is bound down thereby.6 The self-restrained sage having with his heart renounced all actions, dwells at rest in the ‘nine gate city of his abode,’7 neither acting nor causing to act.


Could we say that this paragraph is describing how life would look from the perspective of the immortal soul?


Whoever in acting dedicates his actions to the Supreme Spirit and puts aside all selfish interest in their result is untouched by sin, even as the leaf of the lotus is unaffected by the waters.

This really speaks to me. 

A recognition that "I do nothing without the Father" is imperative in moving towards true devotion to spirit. God in ALL things in ALL ways. 

"Not a blade of grass moves without my consent" - Krishna

Aligning with the Divine Will. 



How does one align with Divine Will?  Is that possible as long as we identify with our bodies, our personality, our circumstances?  How can we align ourselves with Divine Will and avoid fooling ourselves about universal patterns that we hardly understand little less perceive?   This seems to be a danger to me.  It seems to me that Renunciation must occur gradually and incrementally over time.  Little true sacrifices one after the other from moment to moment.

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Permalink Reply by Peter on April 8, 2014 at 7:08am

The traditional title for this Chapter is 'The Yoga of Renunciation'  (Sannyasa-Yoga).  As Judge uses the term 'devotion' rather than 'yoga', the title of the two paths referred to would then be:

'Devotion through Renunciation and Devotion through Action.'

I can't remember if someone has already mentioned this - in the Vivekacudamani of Sankara, he defines devotion as follows:

31: Among all the means to liberation, devotion is supreme.  Continuous contemplation of one's own essential nature is said to be devotion.

32. Others maintain that devotion is the continuous contemplation of the Truth of one's own self.

(Trans.  Grimes)

Do the above verses throw any light on sannyasa - devotion through renunciation?

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on April 9, 2014 at 11:29pm

I have noticed that Mr. Judge will sometimes use the terms Yoga and Devotion interchangeably.  I think it is interesting that each of these ideas throws an important light on the other. Yoga, albeit a discipline of different orders is rooted in a kind of spiritual devotion.  Spiritual devotion does not mean much if it does not include some form of spiritual discipline (yoga).

Permalink Reply by Grace Cunningham on April 12, 2014 at 6:46pm

I suppose we must ask ourselves what blocks devotion? What gets in its way?

Permalink Reply by ModeratorTN on April 9, 2014 at 10:53pm

Next Section:

“The Lord of the world creates neither the faculty of acting, nor actions, nor the connection between action and its fruits; but nature prevaileth in these. The Lord receives no man’s deeds, be they sinful or full of merit.9 The truth is obscured by that which is not true, and therefore all creatures are led astray. But in those for whom knowledge of the true Self has dispersed ignorance, the Supreme, as if lighted by the sun, is revealed. Those whose souls are in the Spirit, whose asylum is in it, who are intent on it and purified by knowledge from all sins, go to that place from which there is no return.

Permalink Reply by ModeratorTN on April 18, 2014 at 10:40am

Next Section:

“The illuminated sage regards with equal mind an illuminated, selfless Brahmin, a cow, an elephant, a dog, and even an outcaste who eats the flesh of dogs. Those who thus preserve an equal mind gain heaven even in this life, for the Supreme is free from sin and equal-minded; therefore they rest in the Supreme Spirit. The man who knoweth the Supreme Spirit, who is not deluded, and who is fixed on him, doth not rejoice at obtaining what is pleasant, nor grieve when meeting what is unpleasant. He whose heart is not attached to objects of sense finds pleasure within himself, and, through devotion, united with the Supreme, enjoys imperishable bliss. For those enjoyments which arise through the contact of the senses with external objects are wombs of pain, since they have a beginning and an end; O son of Kunti, the wise man delighteth not in these. He who, while living in this world and before the liberation of the soul from the body, can resist the impulse arising from desire and anger is a devotee and blessed. The man who is happy within himself, who is illuminated within, is a devotee, and partaking of the nature of the Supreme Spirit, he is merged in it. Such illuminated sages whose sins are exhausted, who are free from delusion, who have their senses and organs under control, and devoted to the good of all creatures, obtain assimilation with the Supreme Spirit.10 Assimilation with the Supreme Spirit is on both sides of death for those who are free from desire and anger, temperate, of thoughts restrained; and who are acquainted with the true Self.

Permalink Reply by Grace Cunningham on April 19, 2014 at 10:42am

Is attempting to live a life on the basis of universal principles a form of reununciation?

Permalink Reply by Tamiko Yamada on April 19, 2014 at 3:31pm

If a person were to live such a life it would require them to renounce all there personal desires.

Not an easy task.  But you could say that to "live for and as the SELF of all creatures" and to live by universal principles is really one and the same thing.

Permalink Reply by ModeratorTN on April 23, 2014 at 11:44am

Closing paragraph of Chapter 5

“The anchorite who shutteth his placid soul away from all sense of touch, with gaze fixed between his brows; who maketh the breath to pass through both his nostrils with evenness alike in inspiration and expiration, whose senses and organs together with his heart and understanding are under control, and who hath set his heart upon liberation and is ever free from desire and anger, is emancipated from birth and death even in this life. Knowing that I, the great Lord of all worlds, am the enjoyer of all sacrifices and penances and the friend of all creatures, he shall obtain me and be blessed.”

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on April 25, 2014 at 11:52pm

Could we correlate this with the notion in the SD of paralyzing the personal nature?

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on April 27, 2014 at 4:57pm

What is the relationship between gratitude and renunciation?