Ch. 5 Yoga of Harmony of Karma and Jñāna (Part 1)

This article is part 48 of 106 in the series Jīvana-dharma-yoga

Prologue to Chapter 5

ಬೋಧಿಸಿದೆ ಕರ್ಮಯೋಗವ
ಬೋಧಿಸಿದಿದಯ್ ಸಂನ್ಯಸನವನುಮನಾ ದ್ವಿಕದೊಳ್ ।
ಸಾಧನ ಮೇಲೆನಗಾವುದೊ
ಆದೇಶಿಪುದೆಂದು ಬೇಡಿದಂ ಕೌಂತೇಯಂ ।। ೧

Bodhisidĕ karma-yogava
bodhisiday saṃnyasana-vanumanā dvikadadoḷ
sādhana melĕnagāvudŏ
ādeśipudĕṃdu beḍidaṃ kauṃteyaṃ
।। 1

The son of Kunti implored,
“You taught me the Yoga of action.
You taught me renunciation.
Which of the two paths is better for me?
Please instruct me”


ನಿರ್ಮಲತೆಯ ಕಾವ ಭಾವಕೌಶಲನಯದಾ ।
ಧರ್ಮಾಶ್ರಯ ಕೃಷ್ಣನೀಗಳುಪದೇಶಿಸುವಂ ।। ೨

nirmalatėya kāva bhāvakauśalanayadā

dharmāśraya kṛṣṇanīgaḻupadeśisuvaṃ
।। 2

Kṛṣṇa, who is the refuge of dharma,
will now teach the art of Yoga without attachment,
that is a skillful method of protecting the purity of the self
even after performing action.


The Essence

Having performed karma, the jñānī (the knower) gives up its result.

When might a planter of a coconut palm see its fruit? Whoever plants the tree is different from one who takes care of it. Yet another is he who enjoys its fruits. The planter plants the tree for the good of the people. Just as the seed of pāpa is in one’s nature, so is the seed of puṇya. The Gītā’s message is to amplify this virtuous aspect.

Internal equanimity and an external sense of distinction are the two parts of the maxim for world welfare. The care a mother provides at home depends on the age and health of her children. If she insists upon external equality and gives food meant for a sixteen-year old to a sixteen-month old, it would not cause well-being but quite the opposite of it. Those politicians who shout, “Equality, Equality” till their throats go hoarse would do well to remember that there is an appropriate place for the principle of distinction in our lives.


Chapter 5 / Section 6

Yoga of Harmony of Action and Wisdom (Karma-jñāna-sāmarasya-yoga) or Saṃnyāsa-yoga

This is a small chapter but distills the essence of the Gītā. It deals mainly with the following five topics –

  1. Synergy between steadfastness in action and steadfastness in knowledge
  2. The state of mind needed for action
  3. The inactivity of the Self
  4. Practising the presence of the Self everywhere
  5. A yogi’s adherence to welfare of the world

Arjuna saw an inconsistency in Bhagavān’s words in the fourth chapter. “Kṛṣṇa, you once extolled the renunciation of action. Then you praised the yoga of action. (This is an indication of mutual opposition between yoga and renunciation).

śreyān dravya-mayād-yajñāt-jñāna-yajñaḥ parantapa
sarvaṃ karmākhilaṃ pārtha jñāne parisamāpyate
(BG 4.33)

(More excellent than the yajña of material objects is the yajña of knowledge. All this action, O Pārtha, finds fulfillment in knowledge)

You said on one occasion, “All action concludes in the knowledge of the Self. On another occasion, you said,

tasmād-ajñāna-sambhūtaṃ hṛtsthaṃ jñānāsinātmanaḥ
chittvainaṃ saṃśayaṃ yogam-ātiṣṭhottiṣṭha bhārata
(BG 4.42)

(Therefore, having rent asunder the doubt arisen out of ignorance with the sword of knowledge, attain yoga, O Bhārata)

This was said earlier – “Be steady in the yoga of action; arise for battle!”

Both of these are your own statements. What is your conclusion in this matter? If the knowledge of reality is the supreme benefit of action and actions have to be performed to attain this knowledge, is it not established that there is no need for action after attaining knowledge? In other words, renunciates do not have to perform any action, right? Saṃnyāsa or renunciation is without karma or action. Karma-yoga has karma in it. So which one is greater – karma or saṃnyāsa?” This was the question to which the fifth chapter proceeded as an answer.

saṃnyāsaḥ karma-yogaś-ca niḥśreyasakarāvubhau
tayostu karma-saṃnyāsāt-karma-yogo viśiṣyate
(BG 5.2)

(Both karma-yoga and saṃnyāsa yield supreme welfare. Of them, however, the yoga of action is superior to the renunciation of action)

This was Bhagavān’s answer: “Both the yoga of renunciation and the yoga of action yield the best of benefits. However, the yoga of action is special.”

Saṃnyāsa is renunciation or giving up. Yoga is joining one object to another. What does it mean to give up action? What does the “joining” or the “yoga” of giving up mean? It is clear from the word-meanings that both do not refer to the same thing. Bhagavān clarifies that saṃnyāsa is different from yoga not just by sound, but even by meaning – “karma-yogo viśiṣyate”. The uniqueness of karma-yoga is that it is a prerequisite to sāṅkhya or the knowledge of reality, which is the ultimate goal of saṃnyāsa as well.

saṃnyāsas-tu mahābāho duḥkham-āptum-ayogataḥ
yoga-yukto munir-brahma na cireṇādhigacchati
(BG 5.6)

Here yoga refers to karma-yoga. Without karma-yoga, it is nigh impossible to attain renunciation. O strong-armed one! With karma-yoga, however, it will not take long for the seeker to attain the knowledge of Brahman.

Who is a Saṃnyāsin?

Are all those who wear saffron robes, shave their heads, and give up rituals saṃnyāsins? It has been said earlier (3.6) that it is not so. If one renounces out of haste, not only does one become ineligible to perform action but will also not automatically qualify for knowledge.

na karmaṇām-anārambhān-naiṣkarmyaṃ puruṣo’śnute
na ca saṃnyasanād-eva siddhiṃ samadhigacchati
(BG 3.4)

The same is repeated later as well.

….saṃnyāsī….na niragnirna cākriyaḥ

(One does not become a saṃnyāsī just by giving up agnihotra and other rituals).

The characteristic of a true saṃnyāsī is this

jñeyaḥ sa nitya-saṃnyāsī yo na dveṣṭi na kāňkṣati (BG 5.3)

“He, who neither hates nor desires, is known always as a saṃnyāsī”. The feeling of indifference that is implied in the phrase – “na dveṣṭi na kāňkṣati’’ is not one of mere co-existence. Consider a couple of bus or train passengers who do not know each other. Their mutual co-existence is indicative of  “na dveṣṭi na kāňkṣati” – a negative feeling. Bhagavān shows how to add a positive dimension to it of the root form ‘as.’

labhante brahma-nirvāṇam-ṛṣayaḥ kṣīṇa-kalmaṣāḥ
chinna-dvaidhā yatātmānaḥ sarva-bhūta-hite ratāḥ
(BG 5.25)

The ṛṣis, being cleansed of all impurities, having extinguished all doubts, and endowed with definite knowledge, are engaged in the welfare of all beings.

To be continued...

The present series is a modern English translation of DVG’s Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award-winning work, Bhagavad-gītā-tātparya or Jīvana-dharma-yoga. The translators wish to express their thanks to Śatāvadhāni R Ganesh for his valuable feedback and to Hari Ravikumar for his astute edits.



Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.



Engineer. Lapsed blogger. Abiding interest in Sanskrit, religion, and philosophy. A wannabe jack-of-all.


Mother of two. Engineer. Worshiper of Indian music, poetry, and art.

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