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Gita Lesson - 2003: Mental Renunciation

Bhagavad Gita
Unit - 20
Lesson - 2003: Mental Renunciation
By Raja Subramaniyan

After explaining the concept of renunciation, Lord Krishna declares that the fact is all human beings actually are leading a life of renunciation but they do not know this fact. True renunciation means giving up all actions and results of actions in the mind. This is the fact because human beings are neither the doers nor the enjoyers. Due to ignorance, people are assuming the roles of 'doer' and 'enjoyer'. This is bondage. Liberation from this bondage can come about if we understand our real nature.

We are engaged in various activities. To do such activities we depend on five factors, namely, our Physical Body, Subtle Body, Causal Body, God and Atman. If we analyze the role of each of these five factors, we will realize the above truth.

Description of Three bodies

We have three bodies, namely, Physical, Subtle and Causal.

Our physical body comprises of all the internal and external organs.

Our subtle body comprises of 19 components, which are not physical. They are five sense organs, five action organs, five life forces, four modes of mind.

Five Sense Organs: Eyes, Ears, Nose, Tasting tongue and Skin

Five Action Organs: Hands, Legs, digestive organs, reproductive organs and Speaking tongue

Five Life Forces: Prana, Apana, Vyana, Udhana and Samana

Four modes of mind: Mind, Intelligence, Ego and Memory

Our causal body comprises of our impressions. The causal body is like a seed, which give rise to subtle body at the time of creation of the universe.

Description of God
God is material cause and intelligence cause of the creation.

Description of Atman

Atman is the only reality on which God projects this illusory universe.

Role of Physical Body in our activities

Physical body is the basis or foundation through which any action is possible. It is the locus of action.
Role of Subtle Body in our activities

Mind is behind all the actions. It is an internal instrument which is essential for doing any action. Mind needs the external instruments, sense organs and action organs for doing action. Finally, all our actions are possible only through the energy provided by our five Life Forces, pranas.

Thus, our subtle body is the instrument through which all actions are done.

Role of God and our Causal Body in our activities

God is the indweller of all the living beings and causes all the actions. The variation that is seen among living beings is due to the composition of the causal body. While God can be called as a common cause of action, our casual body is the special cause of action as detailed below.

Example: The sunshine and rain are common causes that enable all the plants to grow. The difference in the nature of plant and time taken to grow depends on the seed.

Causal body is the seed that give rise to physical body in line with the accumulated impressions. The variations in the physical bodies cause all the variations in the world.

The variations in the subtle body, namely Preferences and Knowledge are due to continuous actions.

Example: The math teacher teaches the subject to all the students in a classroom. Some of the students understand the teaching at much faster pace compared to the others. Some do not understand at all.

This is so because the intelligence and aptitude to learn mathematics differ among the students. This variation becomes more pronounced.

Thus, all the actions happen due to the interaction of God, as the common cause and the causal body as a special cause.

Role of Atman in our activities

Atman does not have any role in our activities. It is a mere witness which remains unaffected by the activities. It does not do anything directly nor induce any of the above four factors to function.


Through the above analysis of the role of the five factors in our activities, we see that Atman is not responsible for anything. Since the real meaning of the word 'I' is Atman, we do not do any action.


Renunciation is the recognition of this fact that we are not the doer. We are controlled by our accumulated preferences and impressions on one side and God on the other side. We are powerless and cannot do anything. We are neither affected by action/inaction nor positive/negative results.

We need to understand this scenario and surrender our ego to God completely. We are relieved of all our roles and responsibilities. We will continue to perform all the actions as if we are the tools in the hands of God.

For every rule, there is an exception. This is a rule and God is the exception to this rule. God takes care of creation, sustenance (which includes all the actions by all the human beings) and dissolution of the universe without any flaw. Everything that is happening happens because He is the intelligent cause.

The material cause is also the very same God and therefore, all our three bodies constitute a part of the all-pervasive God.

There is nothing but God. Since we are not independent entities that live separate from the rest of the universe, there is nothing for us to do. This understanding results in mental renunciation, which is Joyful Living.

One is no longer worried about the future and does not have any anxieties. Just as a child, one enjoys the present.

Need for action

With respect to all the subjects in the world, one needs to apply or use the knowledge for gaining the results. For example, the knowledge on how to cook will not feed us. We need to apply the knowledge so that we get the benefit. However, with respect to self-knowledge, there is nothing more to do after gaining the knowledge. Once we know that God is responsible for all our actions, we are relieved of any worry/ anxiety over the future and we are free of any feeling of guilt about the past.

If we do not understand, we need to follow the prescriptions to make our mind matured so that we gain this knowledge. The ultimate knowledge liberates without doing any action. However, to gain such knowledge, one may have to be involved in the action. Such actions are done as Karma Yoga so that the mind is ready to perform Jnana Yoga.

On completion of Jnana Yoga, one realizes that the God is the only doer and surrenders to God completely. This complete surrender is the result of complete knowledge. It is not possible to give up all the actions and claim that God controls everything in our life if we do not have the complete knowledge of self and God.

Partial knowledge will lead to partial surrender. Vedanta and Gita contain the ultimate truth. However, people understand the same according to their level of intelligence and mental maturity accumulated over the countless previous births. Many do not get an opportunity to learn the contents of the Holy Scriptures because they are busy dealing with the world. Their action will enable them to learn that they need to read the user manual provided by God so that they get what they seek, namely, happiness. When they start reading their understanding will be limited as it happens when one attempts to learn any new subject. When they partially understand the validity of the contents, they will surrender to a competent teacher. This partial surrender will lead to complete renunciation. They will completely surrender all the actions to God and will commence Joyful Living.

Right vision

Atman does not have any role to play in the multitude of activities seen in the world. It is changeless and does not prompt any action. A person who either kills or prompts another to kill is guilty of a crime. A witness is a person who is not involved in the crime in anyway except that the event has happened in his presence. Similarly, Atman is the witness to all our actions and it is not associated with the action in any way.

Those who see Atman as the doer are ignorant and they do not see the world in the correct perspective. It takes time and effort to get this right vision. The process of gaining this knowledge is called Jnana Yoga. Once the right vision is gained, one is enlightened.

Effect of the right vision

Until one gain steady knowledge revealed in the Gita, one will continue to have the distorted vision of the world. When the correct vision is gained, one is enlightened and following are the results.

1. I am not the doer. Enlightened people know correctly that they are not the doers and therefore there is no feeling of guilt. There is no desire in them to prompt them into action.

2. I am not the enjoyer. It is the nature of creation to be in action all the time. A part of these actions is seen as enjoyment. For example, when one eats food, one set of inert object (food) goes to nourish another inert object (enjoyer). There is no feeling of inadequacy driving towards fulfillment.

When it is realized that one is neither the doer nor the enjoyer, one reaches the true renunciation. Renunciation is seeing the world as it is without superimposing false notion.

Role of self-awareness and ego

Animals do not have self-awareness. Human beings are not only aware of themselves but they develop a strong ego. This ego leads them to assume that they are independent entities separate from the world. Both are wrong. The whole creation is a single entity and all the human beings are inseparably attached to it. They cannot do anything on their own and both pleasure and pain are mere mental projections. True renunciation happens when we see the reality that just as animals we are also bound. Therefore, true renunciation is not a physical action but mental acceptance of the reality.

Physical renunciation is the method or practice that leads to mental renunciation. After mental renunciation, one may abandon physical renunciation. It is quite possible to rule the world, become the richest person in the world and entertain unlimited friends and relatives, while remaining the state of mental renunciation.

Mental renunciation is not a state of meditation. It is being aware of the reality all the time so that one is not attached to anything that is ephemeral.

Chapter 18: Science of liberation [Verses: 13 - 17]

18.13-14 Oh Arjuna, learn from Me, the five factors which bring about the accomplishment of all actions. These are declared in the Vedanta to be the body, five-fold Energy, the twelve instruments, the doer, and ultimately the divinity.

18.15 Whatever right or wrong action a man performed by body, mind or speech is caused by these five factors.

18.16 Therefore, one who thinks that the connectionless atman as the doer due to lack of a refined intellect does not see. He has a distorted vision.

18.17 One who knows that he is not the doer and whose intelligence is not entangled, though he kills every living being in this world, is not the slayer. Nor is he bound by his actions.

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