A Wider View of Meditation: The Bhagavad Gita Chapter Six

The practice of meditation is most effective if we see all of life as a progressive learning experience. Sometimes a life dedicated to the inner enquiry is called ‘being a yogi’, and re-organising our lives to give the inner search first priority is called ‘becoming a renunciate’. This is the subject of the first verse of the Bhagavad Gita chapter six:

One who does what needs to be done, without depending on the results of the action, is a renunciate and a yogi, not one who avoids action. [6: 1]

Here the Gita is saying that the kind of renunciation—letting go —that will help us, does not consist in withdrawing from active life in the world. And being a yogi—a dedicated seeker—does not mean doing things like exercises and rituals. The verse says that the basis of being both a renunciate and a yogi is to do what needs to be done, to fulfil our tasks and responsibilities, yet without the feeling that our well-being and happiness depend on the outcome of the actions. Verse two says:

Know that yoga is what they call renunciation. No-one becomes a yogi without renouncing the desire for results. [6: 2]

Again, it is emphasised that being a yogi does not mean exchanging one way of life for another, putting on a robe or taking part in ceremonies of any kind. To be a yogi is to practise giving up attachment to the results of our actions, which is a much more meaningful letting go than any offering into a fire or a collection bowl.

So far then it has been made clear that yoga and renunciation, rightly understood, are one and the same. This has been spelt out because there is another view which says that they are not the same. According to this view, renunciation means giving up worldly actions as far as possible in order to free oneself from the whole process of cause and effect, while yoga means doing actions in order to get results, and however good the results may be, they inevitably bind us to the process of cause and effect. According to this view, yoga and renunciation must be different paths which cannot be practised at the same time and therefore must be for different types of aspirant, or for people at different stages of inner development.

From the time the Gita was written, down to our own day, there have been some who advise withdrawing from the world and joining a community of renunciates as the way to freedom from bondage. And there are others who offer forms of yoga which promise worldly results, like health, prosperity and even special powers. Such ideas about renunciation and yoga tend to reinforce the conclusion that they are separate and incompatible. The outcome has been much uncertainty and confusion about the way to freedom and Truth-realisation.

In answer to all this the Gita explains that renunciation is not withdrawing from the world, because this is impossible; it is just exchanging one mode of life for another. Renunciation means freeing ourselves from the bonds of cause and effect by giving up attachment to the results of our actions. And yoga is not doing actions like rituals or exercises in the hope of getting worldly advantages or special powers. Yoga means doing right actions without attachment to the results because this leads to purity of mind, and it is purity of mind that makes possible Self-realisation. And so we find that in practice, true renunciation and true yoga come to the same thing: doing what needs to be done without depending on the outcome, and offering up the results.

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This article is from the Summer 2018 issue of Self-Knowledge Journal.