Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 5 (Part-2) Karma Sannyaasa Yogah: Yoga of Renunciation of Action


Sri Krishna explains the spirit of renunciation and the state of Supreme Being in more details. The Self, Atman, though the primeval cause of all actions, is not at all liable for either the merit or demerit accruing from them. Though the Self enlivens the actions of all beings, it is neither the actor nor the action nor is it responsible for the fruits of action.  Those ignorant of this relationship remain deluded in the world. But he whose ignorance has been removed by knowledge of the Self reaches the Supreme state from where there is no return. Thereafter, he maintains a universal vision of oneness and evenness towards everything he comes across in the world. Having reached that eternal state he has forever transcended the cycle of birth and death.

The Lord advises that renunciation precedes meditation and realization. Sensual enjoyments arising out of external contacts have a diminishing value and they culminate in sorrow. The very sight of sense objects inflames desires in people. Then they lose control and succumb to the lure of the sense objects. The wise understand the ephemeral nature of contact-born enjoyments and prevent any desire from developing into an uncontrollable force of momentum. Instead of indulging in such temporary bouts of sensual pleasure they divert their attention and interest to the Self within. Thus they free themselves gradually from desires, subdue their mind and turn introvert. They begin to revel in the bliss of the Self. When the mind is subdued and relatively peaceful it becomes fit for meditation. This chapter concludes with a few procedural details for practicing meditation and realizing the ultimate Self in oneself.

The Text


sarvakarmaani manasaa sannyasyaaste sukham vashee

navadwaare pure dehee naiva kurvan na kaarayan  // 5.13  //

Mentally renouncing all actions and fully subduing his senses, the embodied soul dwells happily in the city of nine-gates, neither acting nor causing others (body and the senses) to act.

Sanyas is not a mere physical escapism but a mental withdrawal from things which have no real significance.  It is a state of mind and not an external symbol. Therefore one who has brought all his sense cravings under perfect control and renounced all his egocentric and desire prompted actions comes to live in peace, joy and contentment in the city of nine gates. City of nine gates means the body which has nine apertures in its physical form viz. two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, one mouth, the genital and the excretory outlet without which life cannot be sustained. The Self within this physical structure activates the instruments of action and perception governing the life of all of them though by itself it does not perform any actions. Krishna says that such an individual, always identifying with the Self, observes the activities around him unaffected, unattached and without any agitations. Hence he neither acts nor causes others to act.

All actions in life (Karma) can be categorized as under.






  • Nitya Karma – Obligatory duties such as daily prayers.

  • Naimittika Karma – Actions to be performed on special occasions such as on birth of a child.

  • Kamya Karma – Works intended for securing special ends such as for curing illness etc.

  • Nishiddha Karma – Actions forbidden by scriptures like stealing and other crimes.

The enlightened soul refrains from all these actions and lives only for the sake of exhausting the prarabdha karma which has caused his present body. He lives happily established in Self-Knowledge. Unlike the ignorant, he does not identify himself with the body which is termed here as the city of nine gates. He neither acts nor causes others to act means that he is totally free from consciousness of ‘ I’ ‘me’ or ‘mine’ and is free from the idea of acting or causing action. After the exhaustion of prarabdha karma his soul merges in Brahman.


na kartritwam na karmaani lokasya srijati prabhuh

na karmaphala samyogam swabhaavas tu pravartate  // 5.14  //

The Lord creates neither agency nor actions for the world, nor does He bring about the union with the fruits of actions; but it is nature that does all this.

This verse gives a general definition of the concept of God. But the principle stated here is not that described in the ritualistic portion of the Vedas but a description of the relationship between the Self and the not-Self, the Atman and the matter.

The Supreme Self (Prabhuh) neither creates any sense of agency nor does it initiate any action.  It does not match every action with its corresponding fruit.

However when the Self functions through the equipments – physical, mental and causal bodies – It becomes a conditioned Self and gathers to itself all the egocentric attitudes of agency, action and fruits etc.

Thus the beneficiary of the fruits and the performer of actions in us is the ego and not the Atman or the Self.  The Self becomes an actor performing all actions only when it gets conditioned by `Swabhava’– nature or the Divine Maya made up of the three Gunas. The Self comes under the control of maya and regards itself as acting and enjoying the fruits of action. As long as the Self remains identified with maya it is bound. But when it detaches itself from maya it becomes free. Thus such ideas as those of duty, work and the result belong to the relative world. They have no relevance from the standpoint of the Supreme Lord. It is the Prakriti or nature that does everything.

naadatte kasyachit paapam na chaiva sukritam vibhuh

ajnaanenaavritam jnaanam tena muhyanti jantavah  // 5.15 //

Nor does the all-pervading Spirit take on the merit or demerit of any. Knowledge is enveloped in ignorance and hence beings get deluded.

The Supreme who is all-pervading (Vibhu) and underlying in all the lives’ activities cannot be considered to take note of all the activities that are happening in the finite world. From the point of view of the Infinite, the finite does not exist.

When the sun light passes through a plane glass it comes out clearly but if it passes through a prism it emerges as seven colors which are part and parcel of the same sun light. Similarly the Self passing through Knowledge emerges out as the Self which is all-pervading. But when the same Self passes through ignorance i.e. body, mind and intellect it gets itself split up into the unending world of plurality.

As there is neither day or night from the stand point of the sun, so there is neither virtue nor vice from the standpoint of the Supreme whose nature is Existence-Knowledge – Bliss absolute, Sat-Chit-Ananda. Through ignorance man separates himself from the Lord and comes under the spell of ego. Thus he thinks of himself as the agent of various works, good or evil and experiences pleasure and pain accordingly. The law of Karma applies only to the embodied beings in the relative world. When the aspirant becomes free from ignorance and realizes his identity with the Lord, he goes beyond virtue and vice and is not affected by the results of his actions.

Where there is knowledge there is no place for ignorance and where there is ignorance knowledge cannot exist. So the statement that knowledge is enveloped by ignorance means that unveiling of truth is a process of removal of ignorance and not creation of knowledge and therefore it is only a re-discovery.

jnaanena tu tadajnaanam yeshaam naashitamaatmanah

teshaam aadityavajjnaanam prakaashayati tatparam  // 5.16 //

But to those whose ignorance is destroyed by the Knowledge of the Self, that knowledge, like the Sun, reveals the Supreme (Brahman).

In the case of ordinary mortals the Self is screened of by ignorance or Avidya whereas the man of realization is the one in whom the ignorance is removed by Knowledge. Ignorance creates the egocentric concept which thrives in the body, mind and intellect and is the root cause of all sufferings. When this ignorance is destroyed by knowledge of the Self, the ego ends and the Self becomes manifest just as the sun illuminates and reveals all the objects of the physical universe when the clouds surrounding it move away.

Knowledge is the very faculty of knowing. So when the ego re-discovers the Self it becomes the Self. Therefore, the Self is awareness, consciousness or the Atman.


tadbuddhayas tadaatmaanas tannishthaas tatparaayanaah

gacchantyapunaraavrittim jnaana nirdhoota kalmashaah  // 5.17 //

Fixing their minds on Him, at one with Him, abiding in Him, realizing Him alone as the Supreme Goal, they reach a state, from which there is no return, their sins having been destroyed by their Knowledge.

They fix their intellect on the Supreme Self.  They feel and realize their identity with the Self.  By constant meditation they get established in the Self. The whole world of names and forms cease to exist for them. They live in the Self alone.  They have the Self alone as their goal.  They rejoice in the Self alone. They are satisfied in the Self alone.  Such men never return to this world as their sins or impurities (vasanas) are removed by knowledge.

The import of this verse is that Self-Realization is the final experience in the process of evolution whereby the Soul of an illumined person does not return to the relative world to assume a physical body. He does not come again under the sway of maya.


vidyaavinaya sampanne braahmane gavi hastini

shuni chaiva shvapaake cha panditaah samadarshinah  // 5.18 //

The wise see the same in all – whether it be a Brahmana endowed with learning and humility, or a cow, or an elephant or a dog or an outcaste.

The wise see divinities everywhere just like the ocean which does not make any difference between one wave and the other. He finds no distinction in the world of names and forms. The liberated sage has equal vision as he recognizes the Self everywhere.

The Self is not affected by any limiting factors as it is subtle, pure, formless and attributeless just as the sun’s rays fall on the river Ganga, on the ocean and on the dirty canal and yet the sun’s purity and splendor are not spoilt by the quality of water on which its rays fall. The limiting adjuncts do not affect the Supreme Self just as the outer space is not affected by the pot, cloud etc. The Brahmin is Sattwic, the cow is Rajasic, the elephant, the dog and the down trodden are Tamasic. But the wise see in all of them one homogeneous immortal Self that is not affected by any of the three Gunas. This is the quality of equal mindedness of the wise.

ihaiva tairjitah sargo yeshaam saamye sthitam manah

nirdosham hi samam brahma tasmaad brahmani te sthitaah  // 5.19 //

Even here (on earth) the created world is overcome by those whose mind is established in unity. Brahman is flawless and the same in all. Therefore these persons are indeed established in Brahman.

Created or relative world means all bondages of birth, death etc. All possibilities of bondage are destroyed when the mind attains perfect evenness which in other words means becoming Brahman.

Perfection is not an idealism that has to be realized in the heavens only after death. Contrary to this vague expectation, Sri Krishna asserts that the relative existence of bondage can be ended and the imperfect individual can be made to live in the Consciousness of God and can come out of one’s ego sense in this life itself, in this very body and among the very same worldly objects.

The method of achieving this goal is stated in the verse as the one whose mind rests in evenness and gains the Divine tranquility.  Where the thought flow is arrested there the mind ends.  Where the mind ends, which is the instrument through which life expresses itself as ego, the sense of separate existence also ends and the egocentric slavery of samsar ceases. The ego, devoid of samsaric sorrows, rediscovers itself to be none other than the Self Itself.

Such persons who have conquered their minds and live in perfect harmony in all conditions of life and its relationships are indeed aware of their identity with Brahman who is even, ever-perfect and uncontaminated though indwelling in all pure and impure bodies.

Brahman is all pervading and homogeneous.  Everything happens in it and nothing happens to it. Thus the Truth is changeless just as a river-bed remains motionless though water flowing on it is ever changing. The substratum is changeless and remains the same but the superimpositions and manifestations will change by their very nature. An individual with his identification with body, mind and intellect is changing factor but the Substratum, the Self, remains the same.

The Lord says that a mortal who can maintain his equanimity under all conditions is indeed the one who rests in Brahman i.e. aware of Brahman.


na prahrishyet priyam praapya nodwijet praapya chaapriyam

sthirabuddhir asammoodho brahmavid brahmani sthitah  // 5.20 //

Resting in Brahman, with intellect steady and without delusion, the knower of Brahman neither rejoices on obtaining what is pleasant nor grieves on obtaining what is unpleasant.

From this verse onwards the characteristics of a man of perfection are given.

The Lord describes him as having always a balanced intellect because of the absence of egocentric influences. He is never deluded.  He has abandoned all actions as he rests in the Self.

He is neither exhilarated when he gets pleasant objects nor feels disappointed when he obtains unpleasant objects. This does not mean that he has no reactions at all but it means that he remains balanced always with a sense of equipoise which cannot be shattered easily.

baahyasparsheshwasaktaatmaa vindatyaatmani yatsukham

sa brahma yoga yuktaatmaa sukham akshayamashnute  // 5.21 //

With the heart unattached to external contacts he discovers happiness in the Self; with the heart engaged in the meditation of Brahman he attains endless bliss.

The happiness from the enjoyment of outer objects is transitory while the Bliss of Brahman is eternal. When the mind is not attached to the external objects of the senses, when one is deeply and constantly engaged in the contemplation of the Self, one finds eternal peace within.  If one wishes to enjoy the imperishable happiness of the Self within, one has to withdraw the senses from their respective objects and enter in deep meditation on the Self within. It is to be noted that through self-control a void is created in the mind and heart which will have to be filled in with bliss through contemplation of Brahman.

ye hi samsparshajaa bhogaa duhkhayonaya eva te

aadyantavantah kaunteya na teshu ramate budhah  // 5.22 //

The enjoyments that are born of contacts with objects are generators of pain only, for they have a beginning and an end, O Son of Kunti, and the wise do not find delight in them.

Man goes in search of happiness among the external and perishable objects.  He finds no permanent joy in them but receives a load of sorrows instead. One should, therefore, withdraw the senses from the sense objects which are not at all a source of permanent joy. One should fix the mind on the immortal, blissful Self within.  The sense objects have a beginning and an end. The pleasure out of them is therefore momentary and fleeting during the interval between the contact of the senses with the objects and their separation. One who has discrimination or knowledge of the Self will never rejoice in the objects of the senses.


shaknoteehaiva yah sodhum praak shareera vimokshanaat

kaamakrodhodbhavam vegam sa yuktah sa sukhee narah  // 5.23 //

He who is able to withstand the force of lust and anger even before he quits the body – he is a Yogi, a happy man.

Desire (lust) and anger are powerful enemies of peace.  It is extremely difficult to annihilate them.  One has to make strong efforts to destroy these enemies. He who has controlled desire and anger is the happiest man in the world.

Desire is longing for a pleasant and agreeable object which gives pleasure when it is seen, heard or remembered.  Anger is the feeling one gets when he finds obstacles in the way of getting the desired objects. The greater the desire for an object the greater will be the anger against any obstacle that comes between the desirer and the objects desired. Lust and anger create an agitation of mind accompanied by appropriate physical symbols.

A Yogi is the one who controls the impulses of desire and anger, destroys likes and dislikes and attains equanimity of mind by resting in the Self. He is always happy because there is neither desire nor hatred in him.  The implication of what Sri Krishna says is that in this very world and in this very life one can be perfectly happy if one learns to withstand the avalanche of desire and anger.


yo’ntah sukho’ntaraaraamas tathaantarjyotireva yah

sa yogee brahma nirvaanam brahma bhooto’dhigacchati  // 5.24 //

He who is happy within, who rejoices within, who is illumined within, such a Yogi attains absolute freedom or Moksha, himself becoming a Brahman.

It will be seen from the above three verses that the man of perfection does not attain joy in the ordinary sensual objects of the world. Renouncing all these he reaches a state of bliss where there is no place for desire or anger, love or hatred.  The Lord says such a man alone can be said to be happy. Such an individual who lives in the Self is the one who has known Brahman. He becomes a Jivanmukta. The next verse clarifies that this state is not annihilation but the positive one full of knowledge and Self-possession.

labhante brahma nirvaanam rishayah ksheena kalmashaah

chinnadwaidhaa yataatmaanah sarvabhootahite rataah  // 5.25 //

With sins destroyed, doubts dispelled, senses controlled, and devoting themselves to the welfare of all beings, the sages attain freedom in Brahman.

When a man of perfection brings his senses under control, his sinful mental impressions are cleared which were blocking his vision of the Self behind several doubts about the Reality. Knowledge of his real nature comes to dawn on him and he comes to rediscover himself as the Self.

Having thus reached the goal of all evolution his duties till he leaves his mortal body will be to engage himself in the good of all beings. Thus loka-seva becomes his obsession. To overcome the world is not to become other-worldly. It is not to evade social responsibilities. His body, mind and intellect are offered to the sacred fire of activity for the common welfare while remaining at rest with himself and living in an unbroken consciousness of the Divine, the Eternal.

The two sides of religion viz. personal and social are emphasized here.

kaamakrodha viyuktaanaam yateenaam yatachetasaam

abhito brahma nirvaanam vartate viditaatmanaam  // 5.26 //

Released from desire and anger, the mind controlled, the Self realized, absolute freedom exists for such Yogins both here and hereafter.

When the seeker conquers his lust and anger and can face all the threats coming from within and without, he knows the Self and gains the Bliss of Perfection both here and hereafter.

The import of this verse is that those who renounce all actions and do intense Sravana, Manana and Nididhyasana, who are established in the Self and who are steadily devoted to knowledge of the Self, attain liberation instantly (Sankhya Yoga).  But Karma Yoga in which action is performed in complete devotion to The Lord and as dedication to Him, leads to liberation step by step; first  the purification of the mind, then knowledge, then renunciation of all action and lastly liberation.

To enunciate the Dhyana Yoga, which is the nearest and effective means to right knowledge, The Lord teaches the path of meditation in the following two verses.

sparshaan kritwaa bahir baahyaamshchakshus chaivaantare bhruvoh

praanaapaanau samau kritwaa naasaabhyantara chaarinau  // 5.27 //

yatendriya manobuddhir munir mokshaparaayanah

vigatecchaabhayakrodho yah sadaa mukta eva sah  // 5.28 //

Shutting out all external contacts, steadying the gaze of his eyes between the eyebrows, regulating the outward and inward breaths flowing within his nostrils, the senses, mind  and intellect controlled, with Moksha (Liberation) as the supreme goal, freed from desire, fear and anger, such a man of meditation is verily liberated for ever.

In these two verses The Lord has given a pre-view of the next Chapter.  Sri Krishna gives a scheme of practice by which one can gain in himself a complete integration.

The external world of objects by itself cannot bring any disturbances unless one remains in contact with them through body, mind or intellect.  But if we shut out external objects – not physically- but through discreet intellectual detachment at the mental plane, we shall discover in ourselves the necessary tranquility for starting meditation.

Then the gaze should be fixed in between the eye brows so that the eye balls remain steady. This is followed by rhythmical breathing which makes the mind quiet and perfect harmony is developed in the system. These instructions relate to physical adjustments.

The instructions relating to mental and intellectual adjustments are then given. The seeker is asked to be free from desire, fear and anger to attain perfect peace of mind. When the senses, mind and intellect are subjugated by dedicating all his outer and inner activities to achieve the goal of realizing the Self he attains liberation. The mind gets restless because of the agitations caused by desire, fear and anger. When it is desireless, it proceeds towards the Self spontaneously and Liberation becomes one’s highest goal. When an individual follows these steps he can remain in the contemplation of Truth without any distractions. Such a man of meditation comes to experience the freedom of the God-hood before long.

The question as to what a person of balanced mind has to know and on what to meditate upon in the Dhyana Yoga is discussed in the following last verse of this Chapter.

bhoktaaram yajnatapasaam sarvaloka maheshwaram

suhridam sarvabhootaanaam jnaatwaa maam shaantim ricchati // 5.29 //

He who knows Me as the enjoyer of all sacrifices and austerities, the supreme Lord of all the worlds and the friend of all beings, attains peace.

The words `knowing Me’ do not mean Sri Krishna in the bodily figure but indicate knowing that the Self in the individual is the real illuminator behind the ego (Jiva).

Yajna is the dedicated selfless work in any field of activity.  Tapas means all self-denial and practice of self-control which the ego undertakes to seek identity with the eternal. Self is the Lord of all Lords- the Maheshwara. Iswara is the controller of all activities of perception and action -individual faculties illuminating the respective organs. The Self is the Lord of all these individual Lords governing the various fields, Sarva Loka Maheswara.

The gist of this verse is that spiritual experience is to realize that the Self is the one great ruler within, who presides over all the activities within the body-politic and before whom the ego surrenders. Knowing Him to be none other than Sri Krishna, the individual reaches the goal of peace, the eternal Perfection.

om tat sat iti srimad bhagavadgeetaasu upanishatsu brahma vidyaayaam yogashaastre

sri krishnaarjuna samvaade karma sannyaasa yogo naama panchamo’dhyaayah

Thus in the Upanishads of the glorious Bhagavad Gita, the science of the Eternal, the scripture of Yoga, the dialogue between Sri Krishna and Arjuna, ends the  fifth discourse entitled : The Yoga of Renunciation of Action

Concepts and Issues

Sri Krishna explains the spirit of renunciation in more details. Renunciation is not a mere giving up at the body level. Real renunciation comes when one renounces at the mental level also never desiring the thing renounced with the conviction based on discrimination.

The Self unaffected, watches the work done by the various instruments of perception and organs of action in the body. He himself does not do any work. He neither orders the body, mind and intellect to perform their functions nor expects the fruits of actions done by the ego. All actions are done by prakriti, the nature.

The Self does not give or take merit and demerit. It enjoys undisturbed peace. But when it is identified with vasanas it begins to think that it is ego-Jiva-the doer and the experiencer and therefore expects the fruits of actions. But the Pure Infinite Self is not interested in any finite actions or their resultant imperfect joys of the ego. This is the relationship between the Self (Atman) and the ego (Jiva).

Due to ignorance the ordinary man is under the impression that he is the physical body equipped with the mind and intellect. This ignorance disappears at the experience of the knowledge when the ego concept vanishes and we come to live the nature of the Infinite Self in our hearts.

When knowledge dawns one realizes that all are the play of the One Reality. The learned Brahmin, the cow, the elephant, the dog and the outcaste are all manifestations of the same Divinity. When he begins to see others as none other than his own Self he is liberated for ever and enjoys unbroken peace within himself. He neither gets excited in his joys nor gets drowned in his sorrows.

Those who perform selfless actions experience the same Bliss as that enjoyed by those who are absorbed in meditation because both of them do not entertain any ego. The Lord advises Arjuna that he can also attain the same Bliss provided he gets away from the agitations caused by desire and anger.

The Lord explains meditation. There should be a harmonious co-operation among the three aspects of a personality – the body, mind and intellect. The body should detach itself from the external objects which cause endless disturbances in the mind. Insulated thus from external irritants a meditator should calm his mind slowly and steadily by breathing evenly. Sitting with the backbone erect, concentrating on the Infinite Lord, detaching the mind from desire, fear and anger, one should direct the intellect to concentrate on the Supreme Goal. This is the method of meditation where the body and the mind withdraw themselves from their respective functions to help the intellect concentrate effectively upon The Lord, the Great Friend of All. Meditation takes the meditator to the supreme peace and joy.

Live as the Gita Teaches You to Live

This Chapter teaches that renunciation or the detached spirit is the fundamental principle of all Yogas. All beings experience joy in renunciation. In deep sleep all beings feel immense happiness by renouncing all their unnatural superimpositions of personality, whether he is a king or a beggar, because in that state intellect, mind and senses cease to function unconsciously and go towards the Self. When one consciously renounces the activities of the senses, mind and intellect one will surely merge into one’s essential nature of the Supreme Consciousness. Thus renunciation or loss of personality becomes a means to supreme perfection. This is the glory of wisdom of renunciation. The action done with freedom from individuality spontaneously unites one with Universality. Such wise sages see divinity everywhere just like the ocean has no difference of feelings between one wave and the other. He finds no distinction in the world of names and forms.

Points to Ponder

1. Explain the concepts:

  • The Supreme Self (Prabhuh) neither creates any sense of agency nor does it initiate any action.

  • The all-pervading Spirit does not take on the merit or demerit of any.

  • Knowledge is enveloped in ignorance and hence beings get deluded.

2. How does one get established in equanimity?

3. Who attains Brahman?

4. What are the characteristics of an enlightened soul?

5. What are the methods to get oneself liberated?

6. Write short notes on:

  • Samadarshan i.e. equal vision

  • Meditation

  • Lotus leaf on water

  • Enjoying sense-objects and enjoying one’s own Self

Next time we will take up Chapter 6


Harih Om

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