Renunciation of Action Is Not Possible

Traditional spiritual teachings, including the path of knowledge from ancient India as well as teachings in other parts of the world draw a strict dichotomy between “life in the world” and “spiritual life”. The spiritual aspirant withdraws to a cave, or the desert or forest, some isolated location to reduce the calls of the world and thus enable a concentrated, quiet focus on the spiritual consciousness. Other traditions try to accomplish a similar result with the cloister or monastery.

What the Gita has pointed out clearly is that renunciation of action is in fact not possible, even if we try, as spiritual aspirants have tried, to reduce our interaction with the world. There are two major points here: first, as most spiritual practitioners find out, simple withdrawal or suppression of outward actions does not remove the inner linkage of the consciousness to the “things of the world”. Second, all life, whether secluded, isolated and quiet, or active and participating in all the actions of the world, is a form of “action” and thus, there is no escape from action.

The real solution, as proposed by the Gita, is then both more realistic and more effective than the futile attempt to achieve liberation through suppress of outward acts. The Gita in effect states that the true renunciation is the separation of the intelligent will from attachment to action and its fruits, regardless of the form of action.

Sri Aurobindo sums it up: “Man embodied in the natural world cannot cease from action, not for a moment, not for a second; his very existence here is an action; the whole universe is an act of God, mere living even is His movement.”

The Isha Upanishad provides similar insight: “All this is for habitation of the Lord; whatsoever is individual universe of movement in the universal motion.” (Isha Upanishad, verse 1)

The Gita’s solution rests upon the oneness of all existence. It relies on a movement in consciousness rather than an act of physical renunciation that is illusory in its value or reality. Not only is renunciation of action not possible, but it fails to take into account the significance of the Divine Existence in manifestation of which each living entity is a part.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 11, Works and Sacrifice, pp. 99-100,

and Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, pg. 19

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