The Gita Favors the Yoga of Works Over Renunciation of Action

The Gita addressed the strong inclination toward renunciation, sannyasa, that was prevalent at the time, and remains a strong force in the spiritual life of India even today. The dual action of knowledge and the yoga of works (as defined by the Gita, rather than narrowly framed as ritual action at the time), brings the Gita to a different, embracing solution that takes up action and transforms it through knowledge, so that it is no longer seen as an obstacle to spiritual realisation.

The Gita states: “As a fire kindled turns to ashes its fuel, so the fire of knowledge turns all works to ashes.” This statement of course is subject to the interpretation that renouncing works is the way of knowledge. But Sri Aurobindo clarifies: “By this it is not at all meant that when knowledge is complete, there is cessation from works. What is meant is made clear by the Gita when it says that he who has destroyed all doubt by knowledge and has by Yoga given up all works and is in possession of the Self is not bound by his works…., and that he whose self has become the self of all existences, acts and yet is not affected by his works, is not caught in them, receives from them no soul-ensnaring reaction…. Therefore it says, the Yoga of works is better than the physical renunciation of works, because, while Sannyasa is difficult for embodied beings who must do works so long as they are in the body, Yoga of works is entirely sufficient and it rapidly and easily brings the soul to Brahman.”

The practitioner of the yoga of works, when he gains knowledge, recognizes that neither the fruit of the work belongs to him, nor even the work itself, which is done by the Divine through him as a pure instrument. “The Divine then takes the burden of works from him; the Supreme becomes the doer and the act and the result.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 20, Equality and Knowledge, pp. 191-192