Srimad Bhagavad-gita Study Group
- Chapter 18 -
The Path of Liberation
This chapter begins with a question by Arjuna as to the difference between the principles of Sannyas (renunciation) and Tyaga (detachment). The Supreme Lord replies that Sannyas is the disinterested performance of all duties, setting aside all fruitive and selfish actions, while Tyaga consists in ignoring the results of all fruitive actions. In Sannyas all selfish actions together with all fruitive actions must be abandoned but in Tyaga one should not refrain from doing all these duities but one should work without seeking to enjoy the fruits thereof. The Lord then proceeds to mention three kinds of Tyaga: Sattvika, Rajasa and Tamasa and their characteristic features. Then He comes to the five causes of accomplishment of actions without which no activity can be done. He who possesses real insight and is with pure intention is not bound by the consequences of his actions either good or bad. There are three kinds of incentives to action; knowledge, the knowable and the knower, and there are three basic instruments of action; the senses, the deeds and the performer. Then the Lord explains three kinds of knowledge (jnana), action (karma) and performers of actions (karta), three kinds of intelligence, three kinds of determination and three kinds of happiness—all of which are governed by yhte three modes of material nature. Neither the human beings of this plane or the gods of the heavenly planes are actually free from these threefold Mayic qualities. However, whosoever surrenders unconditionally to the Lord can alone easily cross over the insurmountable illusion. The Lord then describes the respective duties of the Brahmins (intellectual or priestly), Ksatriyas (warriors or administrators) and Vaisyas (farmers or traders) and Sudras (labourers) according to their innate qualities and natures. Lord Krishna explains that real success in life is to consecrate all actions based on one’s inborn nature along with their concomitant fruits at the Lotus Feet of the Supreme Lord. It is far better to perform one’s ordained duty imperfectly than to perform that which is assigned to another even if that is done perfectly. The Lord then explains how a jivasoul can attain to the Absolute by the performance of his actions dedicated to the Lord and He describes the qualities of such a person. Krishna then states that such a soul attains divine love by the path of pure devotion. He then tells Arjuna that because he is so dear to Him, He will again tell the most confidential of all teachings, the Hidden Treasure of the Sweet Absolute. He unashamedly exhorts Arjuna (and us all) to always think of Him, give his heart to Him, worship Him and bow down to Him. The result of this, He explains will be that he (we) will surely come to Him united always in Love. This Krishna promises with the greatest affection. He then issues His clarion call to all souls, “Give up whatever you conceive of as your duty, your religion, your obligations of this world and just surrender exclusively to Me. Have no fear, I will absolve you of everything.” This is the ultimate conclusion of the Bhagavad-gita—unconditional surrender or Saranagati which is the very keynote of Prema-Bhakti.
Useful Acronym to remember the chapter contents:
Chapter Eighteen is essentially a final summary of the Bhagavad-gita. After systematically outlining various spiritual truths, Krishna offers
His paramam vacah – His supreme advice; one should take up bhaktiyoga, the most essential spiritual practice outlined in every chapter of this conversation. Thus, one is offered the opportunity of permanent happiness and fulfilment by the achievement of Krishna consciousness, considered the perfection of renunciation. In such consciousness, an individual can smile in the face of all situations and circumstances, confident that the smiling Krishna is his constant companion and eternal friend.
S Summary of Karma-yoga
M Modes of nature
I Ideal Worker
L Love of God
E End Result
S - Summary of Karma-yoga (Verses 1-18) - The Eighteenth chapter begins by addressing the “frequently asked question” that seems to pop up again and again. If working in this world seems to attract karmic reaction and implicates us in a web of worldly complexity, is it not safer that we give up work altogether? Krishna disagrees and reiterates that activity is not bad per se. The root of entanglement is the false ego with which we perform the activity, thinking ourselves the controller and enjoyer. In reality, there are five causes which bring success to any activity – the individual soul, the body, the senses, the endeavour, and ultimately the Supersoul. Since we are only one of the five we should never have an over-valued estimation of ourselves. Thus, by working
in a spirit of detachment, offering the fruits of labour towards a transcendental goal, one can function in this world and simultaneously remain completely aloof.
M – Modes of nature (Verses 19-40) – Looking around us, the reality is that most people are deeply engrossed within this material world. Krishna pins this down to the modes of material nature that entangle each person according to their individual mentality. He explains how the modes influence our knowledge, our actions, our understanding, our determination and ultimately our sense of happiness.
I – Ideal Worker (Verses 41-55) - So what is the solution? On one hand we are expected to be aloof and unattached workers but in reality we have a conditioned nature influenced by the modes, which implicates us in worldly life. Krishna therefore explains the system of varnasrama, where one engages their inherent nature in different types of work. Four divisions are outlined – the brahmana (intelligent class), ksatriya (martial class), vaisya (mercantile class) and sudra (labourer class). One need not artificially imitate another man’s duty, but rather embrace what is natural and inborn. By engaging our nature and discharging work in a spirit of God consciousness, we purify ourselves of material propensities and live a happy and peaceful life.
L – Love of God (Verses 56-66) - In conclusion, all the activities, practices and elements of spirituality, are ultimately aimed at achieving pure love of God. The highest realisation in transcendental knowledge is to re-establish one’s eternal loving relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Srila AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj Prabhupad wonderfully sums this up in his commentary to verse 18.65: “The most confidential part of knowledge is that one should become a pure devotee of Krishna and always think of Him and act for Him. One should not become an official meditator. Life should be so moulded that one will always have the chance to think of Krishna. One should always act in such a way that all his daily activities are in connection with Krishna. He should arrange his life in such a way that throughout the twenty-four hours he cannot help but think of Krishna. And the Lord’s promise is that anyone who is in such pure Krishna consciousness will certainly return to the abode of Krishna, where he will be engaged in the association of Krishna face to face.”
E - End Result (Verses 67-78) – Knowledge and understanding of the Bhagavad-gita is dependent upon one’s consciousness. Only one who approaches these sacred teachings with proper mood and lifestyle will be able to fully comprehend the deep and profound meanings. By hearing and studying this conversation with such favourable temperament, one perceives the spiritual dimension as a tangible reality and his life becomes exciting and wondrous at every step. Thus, to share this wisdom with society at large constitutes the greatest welfare work in the entire universe.
Questions on Chapter 18
Chapter 18 slokas to learn:
bhaktyā mām abhijānāti yāvān yaś chāsmi tattvataḥ
tato māṁ tattvato jñātvā viśate tad-anantaram 
bhaktyā–Through devotion; (saḥ)–he; abhijānāti–can well know; mām–Me; tattvataḥ–in reality; yāvān–as far as being the Master of all opulences; yaḥ cha (aham) asmi–and that which I am. jñātvā–Thus knowing Me; tattvataḥ–in truth; (saḥ)–he; tat-anantaram–thereafter; tataḥ–by the potency of that devotion; viśate–enters; mām–My eternal Pastimes (nitya-līlā), non-different from Me. 
55 Through devotion, he realises that I am the Lord of all potencies and the Sweet Absolute. Then, realising his divine relationship with Me, he enters the company of My intimate associates who are non-different from My very self.
sarva-karmāṇy api sadā kurvāṇo mad-vyapāśrayaḥ
mat-prasādād avāpnoti śāśvataṁ padam avyayam 
api–Although; sadā–ever; kurvāṇaḥ–active; sarva-karmāṇi–in all duties; mat-vyapāśrayaḥ–My surrendered souls; avāpnoti–attain; śāśvataṁ–the eternal; avyayam–immutable (flourishing); padam–plane (of service); mat-prasādāt–by My grace. 
56 Although ever active in all duties, those who have taken refuge in Me attain, by My grace, the eternal, indestructible plane (of service).
man-manā bhava mad-bhakto mad-yājī māṁ namaskuru
mām evaiṣyasi satyaṁ te pratijāne priyo ’si me 
bhava–Be; mat-manāḥ–of mind dedicated to Me; mat-bhaktaḥ–devoted to Me; mat-yājī–be My worshipper; namaskuru–and offer obeisance—offer yourself; mām–to Me; (tarhi)–then; eva–certainly; eṣyasi–you will come; mām–to Me. satyam–Truly; pratijāne–I promise this; te–to you; (yataḥ tvam)–as you; asi–are; priyaḥ–dear; me–to Me. 
65 Think of Me always, devote yourself to Me, worship Me, and bow to Me, and surely you will come to Me. I promise you this, because you are dear to Me.
sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja
ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śuchaḥ 
parityajya–Totally rejecting; sarva-dharmān–all kinds of religion; śaraṇam vraja–take shelter; mām–of Me; ekam–alone. aham–I; mokṣayiṣyāmi–will liberate; tvām–you; sarva-pāpebhyaḥ–from all kinds of sins. mā śuchaḥ–Do not despair. 
66 Give up all kinds of religion and surrender to Me alone. I will liberate you from all sins. Do not despair.