Karma-yoga is better

arjuna uvāca |

sannyāsam karmaṇāṃ krsṇa punaryogam ca śamsasi | yacchreya etayorekam tanme brūhi suniścitam ||5.1||

Arjuna said: Krsna! You praise renunciation of action and also karma-yoga. Tell me definitely that which is the better of the two.

With the last statement of Lord Krsna in the fourth chapter, this teaching seemed to be over, but in Arjuna's mind, it was not. In verse 3.2 he asked Lord Krsna to tell him which one between karma-yoga and jñāna-yoga will lead him to moksa. Again now in verse 5.1 he asked which one of those two is better, even though Lord Krsna told him to take up karma-yoga in verse 4.42. It is understandable that in the beginning he is confused between means of moksa and lifestyle, now after knowing there are two lifestyles one can adopt in one's moksa pursue, he still doubts about which one is better. If knowledge is the ultimate end and once having gained it, karma is given up, is it not more practical for him to seek knowledge straightaway instead of doing karma while seeking knowledge? If renunciation of action is the main emphasis and it has to take place by knowledge, why not take to the lifestyle of sannyāsa that is exclusive for gaining that knowledge alone?

Lord Krsna responded that action as yoga is better than mere renunciation of action, from the stand point of Arjuna.

śrībhagavān uvāca |

sannyāsaḥ karmayogaśca niḥśreyasakarāvubhau |

tayostu karmasannyāsāt karmayogo viśiṣyate ||5.2||

Śrībhagavān said: Both renunciation (of action) and performance of action as yoga lead to liberation. But, of these two, the performance of action as yoga is better than renunciation of action.

Both sannyāsa and karma-yoga are leading to moksa alone, but each lifestyle is having its own advantages and disadvantages depending on the qualification of the person. It also doesn't mean that less qualified person should take up karma-yoga and more qualified person then can take up sannyāsa. When one gained enough qualification from life of karma-yoga, and thereafter gains self-knowledge and be free. Or one can choose to become a sannyāsi (monk) renounces duty formally in order to pursue knowledge exclusively when one's like and dislike are relatively manageable through karma-yoga either in this life or previous life. And from here, one gains self-knowledge and be free. Therefore both lifestyles cultivate to jñāna-karma-sannyāsa (renunciate action through knowledge) alone.

In the case of Arjuna, Lord Krsna said karma-yoga is better for him, due to his duty and qualification.

Next verse, Lord Krsna explained that in which case karma-yoga is better then sannyāsa.

jñeyaḥ sa nityasannyāsī yo na dveṣṭi na kāṅkṣati |

nirdvandvo hi mahābāho sukhaṃ bandhātpramucyate ||5.3||

The person who neither hates nor longs (for anything) should be known as always a renunciate, Arjuna, the mighty armed! One who is free from the opposites (likes and dislikes) is indeed effortlessly released from bondage.

na dveṣṭi na kāṅkṣati - one who neither hates nor longs is the one who is known as renunciate - sa nityasannyāsī. Therefore if one still has a lot of other desires and longing besides pursuing knowledge, or still has a lot of hatred and complain about the world, then this person should adopt karma-yoga lifestyle to work on his/her likes and dislike. As a renunciate, certain extent of likes and dislike management should be there, otherwise he/she would struggle too much then knowledge can not take place. Only one is nirdvandvah - free from pairs of opposite (likes and dislikes = attachment), then sukhaṃ bandhātpramucyate - he/she will be released from bondage effortlessly.

If one is an accomplished karma-yogi and has gained self-knowledge, without being formally taking sannyāsa, he/she is a renunciate himself/herself. Therefore Lord Krsna point out that there are no difference between the two lifestyles in the view point of end result in the next verse.

sāṅkhyayogau pṛthagbālāḥ pravadanti na paṇḍitāḥ |

ekamapyāsthitaḥ samyagubhayorvindate phalam ||5.4||

Children (those who do not know), (but) not the wise, argue that knowledge and karma-yoga are different. The person who follows even one (of the two) properly, gains the result of both.

In this verse sāṅkhya means sannyāsa as lifestyle just like in verse 3.3 when Lord Krsna talked about two lifestyles one is sāṅkhya - life of renunciate and karma-yoga - active lifestyle. Pursing self-knowledge is common for both lifestyles, therefore the result of both are the same alone which is moksa - freedom from the life of becoming.

Next Lord Krsna confirmed about his statement.

yatsāṅ-khyaiḥ prāpyate sthānaṃ tadyogairapi gamyate |

ekaṃ sāṅ-khyaṃ ca yogaṃ ca yaḥ paśyati sa paśyati ||5.5||

The end (moksa) that is gained by the sannyāsins is also reached by the karma-yogins. The one who sees knowledge and karma-yoga as one, that person (alone) sees (the truth).

Next, the necessity of living a life of karma-yoga is explained.

sannyāsastu mahābāho duḥkhamāptumayogataḥ |

yogayukto munirbrahma nacireṇādhigacchati ||5.6||

Renunciation of action, Arjuna, the mighty armed! is difficult to accomplish without karma-yoga. Whereas, one who is committed to a life of karma-yoga and is capable of reasoning, gains Brahman quickly.

yogayukto viśuddhātmā vijitātmā jitendriyaḥ |

sarvabhūtātmabhūtātmā kurvannapi na lipyate ||5.7||

One whose mind is purified by being committed to a life of karma-yoga, who has mastered the body and the sense organs, and who knows oneself to be the self in all being, (such a person) is not affected even while doing (actions).

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