In this last chapter, Krishna finally tells us how to achieve ascension, and how to sidestep Karma altogether. This is the longest chapter of the Gita, as it integrates important details about renunciation in action.
The purpose of the Gita is to help us understand the universe and our place in it as a living soul. The goal of physical life is ascension, freedom from death and rebirth, to permanent union with God. This has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with the laws of Nature, Science, Universal Power, life, and death. These laws never change. The Bhagavad Gita is richly symbolic verses in Sanskrit, the ancient language of the Gods. If we open our awareness to it, we suddenly see our modern challenges in a new light. It describes how to be free through ascension techniques from thousands of years before Christ, by which we can eliminate the suffering and limitations of the material world. With each chapter the Gita lessons become more and more profound. Just enjoy and listen with an open mind, as you would hear a story.
Once upon a time, in a faraway land, benevolent Gods ruled the Earth, and all learning took place in the form of stories and sacred verses, that people memorized and passed down with each generation.
The warrior prince Arjuna and his wise charioteer the God Krishna, stand on a vast battlefield, between thousands of warriors on both sides, all determined to fight to the death. Today Arjuna and his brothers must vanquish their evil cousins, even his teacher and childhood friends, who have chosen a selfish path that denies life to the people. Arjuna’s duty now is to conquer them all, but he is horrified at the spectacle before him, and refuses to fight. Krishna, the Blue God patiently explains how to focus his thoughts in Goodness to become invincible in battle, to bring justice to the family line, clear all the evil, and incur no sin in killing them. Arjuna listens carefully, and finally accepts his destiny to fight. This is the bloody war of the Mahabharata. He and his brothers fight valiantly. They finally win a difficult war, the enemy is vanquished, and they change the course of history, although in the end just a few of them are left standing. At the end of their lives, at last they ascend to the heavenly realms.
In this last chapter, Krishna explains the two kinds of Renunciation. He outlines how to completely eliminate Karma from your actions, he describes what is our duty in society, and how to surrender, to offe all your actions to the Supreme God, and transcend the matrix of illusion in the 3D physical world.
To achieve true liberation we need to understand two kinds of renunciation. The first is total renunciation called Sanyas, meaning, absolute rejection of all actions, for example, to formally choose a purely monastic life. Sanyas is a choice to uncompromisingly give up ALL actions, with intense dispassion toward wordly things.
The second concept of renunciation is “Tyaga”, means relinquishing the fruits of action. Here “Tyaga” means “abandonment” of all that hinders the realization of the Self. For example, we perform actions, but we give up all mental attachment to the results. We act without being motivated by desire for reward or achievement. We do our best work but without desire for a specific result. This is an inner mental discipline, a letting go of desire. A “Tyaga” person can live in the world, hold a job, and have a family, with a special internal mental discipline of release. Try it, and see what is your experience.
The squeeze comes because embodied beings can never completely relinquish action. We must still sleep, eat, take care of ourselves, and we want to help others. At the same time, we can relinquish any expectation of reward or results of our actions. Also there are certain cleansing actions, that Krishna says no one should stop, like acts of duty, sacrifice, charity, and penance. So, to repeat the distinction: “Sannyas” is an external renunciation of all action in life. “Tyaga” is an internal dispassion to the fruits of your actions. Anyone can wear sackcloth, dreadlocks and talk like a Indian guru, but this doesn’t make you a renunciate of either kind.
Krishna then explains how to perform actions in order to not create Karma. This is very important!
We always look for a “cause” or an action. And people of little understanding may see themselves as the sole cause or agent of their action. However, rather than pinpoint a single “cause”, Krishna outlines five “elements” or “contributing factors” that must be present for any action. Many people fail to recognize these five factors:
- the body,
- the agent,
- the senses,
- the efforts, and
- the Super soul
Then there are three factors that compel us to act:
These three can be divided according to the three gunas or modes of physical nature. (We learned the three gunas in Chapter 17)
For example: 1) Knowledge in the mode of Goodness or Satva considers all beings as “undivided among many types,” seeimg the ALL as truly ONE single being. There is no idea of being separate. 2) Knowledge that sees the world as separate and disconnected individual beings is in the mode of Passion or Rajas. 3) Knowledge in the mode of ignorance or Tamas doesn’t care about the truth of things.
1) Action in the mode of goodness is right action with pure motivation. 2) Actions in the mode of Passion are to “satisfy desires”, to produce accomplishments or receive praise. However, Krishna specifically warns that “even the most praiseworthy acts / should be done with complete nonattachment.” 3) Actions in the mode of illusion or Tamas come from confusion and lack of care for others.
Next we describe the Agent: 1) In the mode of Goodness, the agent is free from ego and attachment. 2) In the mode of Rajas, the person desires results and is motivated by the ego sense of “I”. 3) The person in the mode of ignorance is lazy and often cruel.
In addition, three more concepts of understanding, will, and happiness are each characterized by the three gunas 1) Happiness “which comes from long practice” for a person with a Nature of goodness is difficult to obtain yet brings serenity. 2) Happiness in the mode of Passion arises from the senses and 3) Happiness in the mode of Ignorance comes from indifference and laziness.
Krishna says happiness a metaphor for poison and nectar. 1) For the mode of Goodness, who practice discipline steadfastly, the effort feels uncomfortable at first, it starts out like a poison, and quickly turns to sweet nectar. 2) In the mode of Passion, happiness through sensory experiences begins as nectar, but quickly turns to poison. 3) Those driven by the mode of ignorance are always in a place of delusion.
Krishna also classifies these three qualities of Intellect, fortitude, and joy, by guna, according to the Goodness, Passion, and Ignorance.
This process seems quite pedantic, but taken step by step is very straightforward, easy to recognize. And that’s the purpose. We need to make these distinctions quickly on the fly every day. In this way, Krishna conclusively proves here that no person and no action can ever be free from the effect of the three gunas or modes of physics. If we see ourselves as the only cause of our work, we are mistaken. However, with purified intellect, the wise can see they are neither the DOER, nor the ENJOYER of their actions. They are detached from the results. (!) Hence, they are free from karmic results of their actions. This is the secret teaching of the Gita.
Vedic society consists of four main castes: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras. Brahmans are Priests and Scholars, Kshatriyas are rulers & warriors, Vaishyas are Merchants and agriculturalists, Shudras are laborers and service people.
Caste or “varna” in Sanskrit means “to count, classify, or choose”. The Gita says these distinctions were never intended to be set by birth, but rather, to distribute duties by a person’s native inborn qualities. We have already said these spring from the three gunas and personal karma. Thus, what occupation is best suited to a person, can be determined by one’s own nature, not by wealth or birth family.
Ancient texts of the Manu Smriti and Dharma Shastras set out the Varna principles, based on personal qualities, not birth lineages. In ancient India, this open Varna classification led to rich variety and excellence in literature, medicine, astronomy, music, and more. Culture suffers when people look down upon other groups. A spiritual path and the goal of ascension is open to all, never restricted to a certain group. The scriptures say when we all perform our duties as a play of the Gunas without ego, attachment, or expectation, THEN we can attain spiritual perfection in society.
To conclude, Shree Krishna reveals to Arjuna that the most secret knowledge is to surrender one’s life and actions to God. He says: “Surrender, Give your life in service to the Supreme God and Absolute Truth. Seek the Highest God, Take refuge in God, submit all actions and enjoyment to the greatest Power. This will enable you to transcend the matrix of illusion in the 3D physical world in which you are trapped. Through God’s grace, you will break through in your spiritual journey. He warns Arjuna to share this secret knowledge only with the most devoted, as others may misinterpret and misuse it.
After having received 18 chapters of rich, divine knowledge, the warrior prince Arjuna tells Krishna that all his doubts and illusions are dispelled, and he is now ready to accept his duty to fight according to his duty. Sanjay, the royal clairvoyant servant who has been remotely observing this sacred dialogue, declares that he is amazed, and his hair is standing on end with wonder. Sanjay expresses deep joy and bliss to see the Supreme God today in his divine cosmic form. Here the Bhagavad Gita, The Divine Song of God ends, with the profound conviction that victory, goodness, opulence, and freedom will always rest on the side of God. And the light of Absolute Truth will defeat the darkness of falsehood and unrighteousness.
As you listen to the verses of Chapter 18, I invite you to ponder these questions:
- Can you describe the path of “Sanyas”, or total renunciation. How does one live?
- What is the path of renunciation called “Tyaga”? What is renounced and how does one live?
- How would you describe the three types of Actions according to the three gunas? Goodness, Passion, and Ignorance?
- What is Krishna’s secret path of action in which you accumulate no Karma?
- What are your favorite quotes from this chapter to remember for life lessons?
- What parallel events in the modern world illustrate these concepts?
Now let’s listen to the Verses of Chapter 18.
Bhagavad Gita 18.1
Arjun said: O mighty-armed Krishna, I wish to understand the ways of renunciation. What is sanyās (renunciation of all actions) and tyāg (renunciation of desire for the fruits of actions). I wish to know the distinction between the two, O killer of demons.
Bhagavad Gita 18.2
The Supreme Lord said, To give up the results of all activities is an inner renunciation, called “tyaga” by the wise. And the outward fully renounced way of life is called “sannyas”.
Bhagavad Gita 18.3
Some learned people declare that all kinds of actions should be given up as evil, while others maintain that acts of sacrifice, charity, and penance should never be abandoned.
Bhagavad Gita 18.4
O best of the Bharatas, hear from Me now about renunciation. O tiger among men, there are three kinds of renunciation declared in the scriptures.
Bhagavad Gita 18.5
Actions based upon sacrifice, charity, and penance should never be abandoned. They must certainly be performed. Indeed, acts of sacrifice, charity, and penance are purifying even for the wise.
Bhagavad Gita 18.6
These activities must be performed without attachment and expectation for rewards. They should be performed as a matter of duty, O son of Prtha. That is My final word.
Bhagavad Gita 18.7
These prescribed duties should never be renounced. Such deluded renunciation is said to be in the mode of ignorance.
Bhagavad Gita 18.8
To give up prescribed duties because they are troublesome or cause body discomfort is renunciation in the mode of passion. Such renunciation is never beneficial or uplifting.
Bhagavad Gita 18.9
When actions are taken out of duty because they should be done, Arjun, and when one relinquishes attachment to any reward, this is considered renunciation in the nature of goodness.
Bhagavad Gita 18.10
Those who neither avoid disagreeable work nor seek work because it is agreeable are persons of true renunciation. They are endowed with the quality of the mode of goodness and have no doubts about work.
Bhagavad Gita 18.11
For the embodied being, it is impossible to give up all activities entirely. But those who relinquish the fruits of their actions are said to be truly renounced.
Bhagavad Gita 18.12
The three-fold fruits of actions—pleasant, unpleasant, and mixed—accrue even after death to those who are attached to personal reward. But, those who renounce the fruits of their actions, have no such results to suffer or enjoy in the here or hereafter.
Bhagavad Gita 18.13
O Arjun, now learn from Me about the five factors which bring about the accomplishment of all actions. This doctrine of Sānkhya explains how to stop karmic reactions.
Bhagavad Gita 18.14
The five factors are: the body, the doer, the senses, the efforts, and the Supersoul—these are the five factors of action.
Bhagavad Gita 18.15
These five are the contributing factors for any action, whether right or wrong, performed with body, speech, or mind.
Bhagavad Gita 18.16
Therefore one who thinks himself to be the only doer, not considering these five factors, is certainly of impure intelligence and cannot see things as they are.
Bhagavad Gita 18.17
Those who are free from the ego of being the doer, and whose intellect is unentangled, even though they may slay living beings, they neither kill nor are they bound by their actions.
Bhagavad Gita 18.18
Knowledge, the object of knowledge, and the knower—these are the three factors that induce action. The instrument of action, the act itself, and the doer—these are the three constituents of action.
Bhagavad Gita 18.19
In the Sānkhya philosophy, knowledge, action, and the doer are declared to be of three types distinguished by the three guns or modes of material nature. Listen, and I will explain their distinctions to you.
Bhagavad Gita 18.20
Understand that knowledge in the mode of goodness is that in which a person sees one undivided, imperishable spiritual nature within all diverse living beings.
Bhagavad Gita 18.21
Knowledge in the mode of passion is that by which one sees many living beings in diverse bodies as being individual and unconnected.
Bhagavad Gita 18.22
Knowledge in the mode of ignorance is that in which one is engrossed or attached in a single, fragmental concept of work as if it encompasses the whole, and which is not grounded in reason or based on truth.
Bhagavad Gita 18.23
Action that is in accordance with duty, by the scriptures, done without attachment, love or hate, and which is done without desire for rewards, is in the mode of goodness.
Bhagavad Gita 18.24
But action performed with great effort by one seeking to gratify personal desires, and prompted by selfish desire, is called action in the mode of passion.
Bhagavad Gita 18.25
Action in the mode of ignorance, which is begun from delusion, without considering future Karmic bondage or consequences, which inflicts injury and is impractical, is said to be action in the mode of ignorance.
Bhagavad Gita 18.26
The worker who is free from all material attachments and ego desire, who is enthusiastic and resolute and who is indifferent to success or failure, is a worker in the mode of goodness.
Bhagavad Gita 18.27
But that worker who is attached to the results of his labor and who passionately wants to enjoy them, who is greedy, envious, impure and motivated by happiness and distress, is a worker in the mode of passion.
Bhagavad Gita 18.28
A worker in the mode of ignorance is always engaged in work against the scriptures. This is someone who is materialistic, stubborn, cheating, expert in insulting others, lazy, negative, and procrastinating.
Bhagavad Gita 18.29
Hear now, O Arjun, of the distinctions of intellect and determination, distinguished by the three gunas or modes of material nature. I now describe them in detail.
Bhagavad Gita 18.30
The intellect is said to be in the nature of goodness, O Parth, when it understands what is right and wrong action, what is duty and what is non-duty, what is to be feared and what is not to be feared, what is binding and what is liberating.
Bhagavad Gita 18.31
The intellect is considered in the mode of passion when it is confused between righteousness and unrighteous action, and cannot distinguish between right and wrong conduct.
Bhagavad Gita 18.32
That intellect which is shrouded under a spell of illusion and darkness, strives in the wrong direction, imagines non-religion to be religion, and sees lies to be the truth, is of the nature of ignorance.
Bhagavad Gita 18.33
The steadfast will that is developed through discipline, which sustains the activities of the mind, the life-giving prana, and sensory actions, is said to be determination in the mode of goodness.
Bhagavad Gita 18.34
The steadfast will by which one holds to duty, pleasures, and wealth, out of attachment, sense gratification, and desire for rewards, is determination in the mode of passion.
Bhagavad Gita 18.35
Determination which cannot go beyond dreaming, fearfulness, lamentation, negativity, and illusion, and conceit, such unintelligent determination is in the mode of darkness.
Bhagavad Gita 18.36
And now hear from Me, O Arjun, of the three kinds of happiness in which the embodied soul rejoices, by which one can even reach the end of all distress and suffering.
Bhagavad Gita 18.37
That which seems like poison at first, but tastes like nectar in the end, by which one awakens one to self-realization, is said to be happiness in the mode of goodness.
Bhagavad Gita 18.38
Happiness is said to be in the mode of passion when it is derived from the contact of the senses with their sensory objects. Such happiness is like nectar at first but poison at the end.
Bhagavad Gita 18.39
Happiness which is completely blind to self-realization, which is delusion from beginning to end, which arises from sleep, laziness and illusion is said to be of the nature of ignorance.
Bhagavad Gita 18.40
There is no being existing, either on earth, in the celestial realms, or in the higher planetary systems, which is free from the influence of the gunas, the three modes of physical nature.
Bhagavad Gita 18.41
The duties of the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras—are distinguished by their natural inborn qualities, in accordance with their guṇas / modes of physical nature (and not by birth).
Bhagavad Gita 18.42
Tranquility, restraint, austerity, purity, patience, integrity, knowledge, wisdom, and belief in a hereafter—these are the intrinsic qualities of work for Brahmins.
Bhagavad Gita 18.43
Heroic valor, strength, fortitude, skill in weaponry, resolve never to retreat from battle, large-heartedness in charity, and leadership abilities, these are the natural qualities of work for Kshatriyas.
Bhagavad Gita 18.44
Agriculture, dairy farming, trade, and business are the natural works for those with the qualities of Vaishyas. Serving through work is the natural duty for those with the qualities of Shudras.
Bhagavad Gita 18.45
By fulfilling their natural innate born duties, every human being can attain perfection. Now hear Me how one can become perfect by performing one’s prescribed duties.
Bhagavad Gita 18.46
By performing one’s natural occupation, one worships the Creator from whom all living beings come into being, and by whom the whole universe is infused. Through discharging this duty, a person easily attains perfection.
Bhagavad Gita 18.47
It is better to do one’s own destined path or dharma, although imperfectly, than to do another’s occupation perfectly. By doing one’s natural innate duties, a person incurs no sin.
Bhagavad Gita 18.48
Every earthly endeavor is veiled by some evil, just as fire is covered by smoke. Therefore, one should not abandon the work of one’s inborn nature, O son of Kunti, even if such work is full of defects
Bhagavad Gita 18.49
Those whose intellect is unattached everywhere, who have mastered the mind, and are free from desires by the practice of renunciation, attain the highest perfection of freedom from action.
Bhagavad Gita 18.50
Hear from Me briefly, O Arjun. Now I shall explain how one who has attained perfection of renunciation, can also attain Brahman being firmly fixed in transcendental knowledge.
Bhagavad Gita 18.51
One becomes fit to attain Brahman when he or she possesses a purified intellect and firmly restrains the senses, abandoning sound and other objects of the senses, casting aside attraction and aversion.
Bhagavad Gita 18.52
Such a person enjoys solitude, eats lightly, controls body, mind, and speech, practices dispassion, and ever engaged in meditation.
Bhagavad Gita 18.53
Free from egotism, violence, arrogance, desire, material possessiveness, and selfishness, such a person, situated in tranquility, such a person is certainly elevated to the position of self-realization.
Bhagavad Gita 18.54
One situated in the transcendental Brahman realization becomes mentally serene, neither grieving nor desiring. Being equally disposed toward all living beings, such a disciplined yogi attains supreme devotion unto me.
Bhagavad Gita 18.55
Only by loving devotion al service to Me does one come to know who I am in truth. Then, having come to know Me, my devotee enters into full consciousness of Me, and enters the kingdom of God.
Bhagavad Gita 18.56
Though engaged in all kinds of actions, My devotees, under My protection, reach the eternal and imperishable abode by My grace.
Bhagavad Gita 18.57
Dedicate your every activity to Me, making Me your supreme goal. Taking shelter of the discipline of the mind, keep your consciousness absorbed in Me always.
Bhagavad Gita 18.58
If you remember Me always, by my grace you will overcome all obstacles and difficulties. But if, due to pride you do not hear my advice, you will be lost.
Bhagavad Gita 18.59
If you do not follow My direction, If, motivated by pride, you think “I shall not fight,” your decision will be in vain. Your own physical nature (Kshatriya) will compel you to fight.
Bhagavad Gita 18.60
O Arjun, under illusion you are now declining to act according to My direction. But, you will be driven to fight by your own inclination, by your inborn physical nature.
Bhagavad Gita 18.61
The Supreme God dwells in the hearts of all living beings, O Arjun. According to their karmas, the Supreme God directs the wanderings of all souls, who are seated as on a machine, made of the gunas, the modes of physical energy.
Bhagavad Gita 18.62
O scion of Bharata, surrender your whole being unto Him. By His grace you will attain transcendental peace and the supreme and eternal abode.
Bhagavad Gita 18.63
Thus, I have explained to you this knowledge that is more secret than all secrets. Ponder over it deeply, and then do as you wish.
Bhagavad Gita 18.64
Because you are My very dear friend, I am speaking to you the most confidential of all knowledge. Hear this from Me, for it is for your benefit.
Bhagavad Gita 18.65
Always think of Me, be devoted to Me, worship Me, and offer obeisance to Me. Doing so, you will certainly come to Me. This is my pledge to you, for you are My very dear friend.
Bhagavad Gita 18.66
Abandon all varieties of other paths and dharmas and simply surrender unto Me alone. I shall liberate you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.
Bhagavad Gita 18.67
This instruction should never be explained to those who are not austere or not devoted. It should also not be spoken to those who are averse to listening, nor to those who envy Me.
Bhagavad Gita 18.68
Those beings who teach this most supreme secret to My devotees, perform the greatest act of love. They are guaranteed to come to Me without doubt.
Bhagavad Gita 18.69
No human being does more loving service to Me than they, and there shall never be anyone on this earth more dear to Me.
Bhagavad Gita 18.70
And I declare that they who study this sacred conversation worship Me by their intelligence, through the sacrifice of knowledge. This is My view.
Bhagavad Gita 18.71
Anyone who listens with faith and without envy will become free from sinful reaction and attain the planetary abodes where the pious dwell.
Bhagavad Gita 18.72
O Arjun, conqueror of wealth, have you heard me with a concentrated mind? Have your ignorance and delusion been destroyed?
Bhagavad Gita 18.73
Arjun Said: O infallible one, by Your grace my illusion has been dispelled, and I am situated in knowledge. I am now free from doubts, and I am ready to act according to Your instructions.
Bhagavad Gita 18.74
Sanjay said: Thus, have I heard this wonderful conversation between Shree Krishna, the son of Vasudev, and Arjun, the noble-hearted son of Pritha. So thrilling is the message that my hair is standing on end.
Bhagavad Gita 18.75
By the grace of Veda Vyas, I have heard this supreme and most secret Path from the Lord of Yoga, Shree Krishna himself.
Bhagavad Gita 18.76
As I repeatedly recall this astonishing and wonderful dialogue between the Supreme Lord Shree Krishna and Arjun, O King, I rejoice again and again.
Bhagavad Gita 18.77
And remembering that most astonishing and wonderful cosmic form of Lord Krishna, great is my astonishment, and I am thrilled with joy over and over again.
Bhagavad Gita 18.78
Wherever there is Shree Krishna, the Lord of all Paths, and wherever there is Arjun, the supreme archer, there will also certainly be unending opulence, victory, prosperity, and righteousness. Of this, I am certain.