Renunciation of Works Redefined By the Gita

The prevailing wisdom of the Gita’s time was that following the path of knowledge required a physical renunciation of works; whereas the path of works was considered to be one of carrying out ritual and rite in order to achieve success in the world. The Gita does not accept either of these premises, however; on the contrary, the Gita develops an entirely new line of understanding that redefines the meaning of renunciation and thus reconciles the path of knowledge with the path of works, in a new, higher and inward sense.

Sri Aurobindo explains: “…it is an error to think that by not engaging in any kind of action this actionless state of the soul can be attained and enjoyed. Mere renunciation of works is not a sufficient, not even quite a proper means for salvation. ‘Not by abstention from works does a man enjoy actionlessness, nor by mere renunciation (of works) does he attain to his perfection,’–to siddhi, the accomplishment of the aims of his self-discipline of Yoga.”

The teacher’s goal here is to take the traditional concepts that are rooted in Arjuna’s mind and reconfigure them in such a way that Arjuna can realize that the Truth is subtle and not easily grasped with the habitual mind focused on outer things. In the Gita’s perspective, action can be actionless; and actionlessness is action–everything depends on the standpoint and attitude of the actor. Simply taking on the robes of the renunciate does not mean that real, inner renunciation has actually taken place in the soul–there may still be lingering attachment to the fruits that are offered by the world. Similarly, someone apparently immersed in action, even the kind of fierce violent action to which Arjuna has been called, may be liberated from attachment to that action or its fruits and enjoy the real inner state of peace, calm and equality that represents the true inner meaning of renunciation.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 11, Works and Sacrifice, pg. 99,

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