arjuna uvāca
sannyāsasya mahā-bāho
tattvam icchāmi veditum
tyāgasya ca hṛṣīkeśa
pṛthak keśi-niṣūdana

Translation of Bhagavad Gita 18.1

Arjuna said: O mighty-armed one, I wish to understand the purpose of renunciation [tyaga] and of the renounced order of life [sannyasa], O killer of the Keshi demon, master of the senses.

Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

Actually the Bhagavad-gita is finished in seventeen chapters. The Eighteenth Chapter is a supplementary summarization of the topics discussed before. In every chapter of Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna stresses that devotional service unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the ultimate goal of life. This same point is summarized in the Eighteenth Chapter as the most confidential path of knowledge. In the first six chapters, stress was given to devotional service: yoginam api sarvesam. .. “Of all yogis or transcendentalists, one who always thinks of Me within himself is best.” In the next six chapters, pure devotional service and its nature and activity were discussed. In the third six chapters, knowledge, renunciation, the activities of material nature and transcendental nature, and devotional service were described. It was concluded that all acts should be performed in conjunction with the Supreme Lord, represented by the words om tat sat, which indicate Vishnu, the Supreme Person. The third part of Bhagavad-gita has shown that devotional service, and nothing else, is the ultimate purpose of life. This has been established by citing past acaryas and the Brahma-sutra, the Vedanta-sutra. Certain impersonalists consider themselves to have a monopoly on the knowledge of Vedanta-sutra, but actually the Vedanta-sutra is meant for understanding devotional service, for the Lord Himself is the composer of the Vedanta-sutra and He is its knower. That is described in the Fifteenth Chapter. In every scripture, every Veda, devotional service is the objective. That is explained in Bhagavad-gita.

As in the Second Chapter a synopsis of the whole subject matter was described, in the Eighteenth Chapter also the summary of all instruction is given. The purpose of life is indicated to be renunciation and attainment of the transcendental position above the three material modes of nature. Arjuna wants to clarify the two distinct subject matters of Bhagavad-gita, namely renunciation (tyaga) and the renounced order of life (sannyasa). Thus he is asking the meaning of these two words.

Two words used in this verse to address the Supreme Lord—Hrishikesha and Keshi-nisudana—are significant. Hrishikesha is Krishna, the master of all senses, who can always help us attain mental serenity. Arjuna requests Him to summarize everything in such a way that he can remain equipoised. Yet he has some doubts, and doubts are always compared to demons. He therefore addresses Krishna as Keshi-nisudana. Keshi was a most formidable demon who was killed by the Lord; now Arjuna is expecting Krishna to kill the demon of doubt.

Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

The eighteenth chapter speaks of the three types of sannyasa, jnana and karma, defines liberation and indicates bhakti as the highest secret of all.

“You stated in the previous chapter ‘Uttering the word tat, without seeking results, sacrifices, austerities and charities are performed by those with desire for liberation from the atat material world.’ Those with a desire for liberation are sannyasis. But there seems to be others who are detached from all the results of their work, as mentioned by you when you said sarva-karma-phala-tydgam tatah kuru yatatmavan: give up all the result of your work with great attention. (BG 12.11) What is the tyaga of these others?” Wanting to know the distinction, Arjuna asks a question in this verse.

“If the words sannyasa and tydga have different meanings I desire to know the distinct essence of these two. But if they mean the same thing, in your opinion or others’ opinion, I desire to know what is that one meaning as well.

“O controller of the senses (hrsikesa), you have made this doubt arise in me since you are the instigator of my intelligence. O killer of Kesi (kesi nisudana), you kill this doubt of mine just as you killed Kesi. O Mighty-armed one (maha baho), you have great strength in your arms, and I have insignificant strength in my arms. You have become friendly with such an expansion as me, rather than with your other expansions with vast knowledge. Therefore I am not afraid to ask this question, since you have become somewhat friendly with me.”

Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:

18.1 Arjuna said — Both Sannyasa and Tyaga as a means for release are enjoined in such Srutis: ‘Not by rituals, nor by progeny, nor by rituals, nor by progeny, nor by wealth but by Tyaga alone do some attain immortality …’ (Ma. Na., 5.14). Ascertaining the truth about the Supreme Reality from a knowledge of Vedanta, and becoming purified in mind by the means of Sannyasa Yoga, these Yatis (ascetics), at the dissolution of their bodies, attain the Lord who is higher than the freed selves and become liberated from bondage’ (Man. U., 3.2.6). I want to know separately the truth, viz., whether Tyaga and Sannyasa are synonymous or not. The import is this. Do these two terms Sannyasa and Tyaga have different meanings or do they signify the same thing? If they signify different things, I want to know their different natures. If they are synonymous, their identical nature should be elucidated. Then, in order to prove that the nature of both is identical and that it is such and such, the Lord explains, showing the disagreements among some disputants:

Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:

In order to ascertain exactly what is the final conclusion of all the teachings and instructions that have been imparted up until now; the Supreme Lord Krishna concisely summarises the entire Bhagavad-Gita in this concluding chapter by clearly distinguishing the difference between renunciation of actions caused by the impulses of desire and renunciation of the desire for rewards for one’s actions. In previous chapters Lord Krishna has elaborated on the mental renunciation of all actions in chapter 5, verse 13 as well as renunciation of actions through yoga or the individual consciousness attaining communion with the ultimate consciousness in chapter 9, verse 28. He has also explained renouncing attachment to actions while renouncing their rewards in chapter 4, verse 20 and likewise explained the renunciation of the rewards resulting from actions in chapter 12, verse 11. It should be understood that the infinitely merciful and totally omniscient Supreme Lord Krishna never teaches or exemplifies contradictory knowledge. Whatever and wherever His divine lila or pastimes are manifesting they are always perfection and the epitome of dharma or eternal righteousness. Everything He does or expounds upon whether instructional or by example is always fully harmonious with the Vedas and in completely complimentary to the conclusions of all the Vedic scriptures. So to distinctly know the difference between renunciation of performing actions and to reconcile it harmoniously with renunciation for the results of actions is the poignant and penetrating question requested to be answered here.

Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:

Hari OM! In this final chapter the Supreme Lord Krishna summarises in brief all of the perennial principles and eternal truths that were presented in the previous 17 chapters and establishes the collective conclusion to all of them.

Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:

This is the final chapter of Srimad Bhagavad-Gita and in it the Supreme Lord Krishna gives a concise synopsis of all the subjects presented in the previous 17 chapters. This He does in order to impress upon our memories the topics elaborated upon earlier and to clearly delineate how all conceptions harmoniously unite in the marvellous sublime beauty of the final conclusion. At the end of the last chapter it was explained that actions were only declared righteous if they were performed for the exclusive satisfaction of the Supreme Lord Krishna or any of His authorised incarnations revealed in Vedic scriptures. Such actions exclusively dedicated in chapter 17, verse 27 for His satisfaction alone are known as SAT and clearly denote that the desire for rewards is what is to be abandoned and not the activity. This was also confirmed earlier in chapter 12, verse 11 where Lord Krishna advises that controlling the mind one should relinquish the desire for the rewards of actions. Even earlier in chapter 5, verse 13 Lord Krishna had advised mentally renouncing all actions.

Why then do these two instructions seem contradictory and what is the correct understanding regarding the renunciation of all actions and the renunciation of desire for the receiving the rewards of actions? The true nature of abandonment of actions and the abandonment of the desire for rewards and the distinction between the two is what Lord Krishna will address. In this context it must be taken into consideration whether or not sannyasa or renunciation and tyaja or abandonment are actually different. The Mundaka Upanisad III.II.VI beginning veda tat vijnano sunisch meaning: Those who have purified themselves through renunciation and have ascertained and comprehended the Vedic scriptures will achieve moksa or liberation from material existence. Neither through actions, nor wealth, nor progeny but only by renunciation is immortality gained.

The evocatives mahabaho meaning mighty armed denotes Lord Krishna’s indomitable might and kesinisudana refers to His destroying a mighty demon. So He is requested to by His supreme power to destroy the misunderstanding of renunciation along with destroying the enemies on the battlefield. The evocative Hrsikesa acknowledges that Lord Krishna is the inner monitor of the mind and that only He can remove all doubts.

Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:

18.1 O mighty-armed Hrsikesa, kesi-nisudana, O slayer of (the demon) Kesi; icchami, I want; veditum, to know; prthak, severally, through their mutual distinctions; tattvam, the truth, the intrinsic nature, i.e. the real meaning; sannyasasya, of sannyasa, i.e. the meaning of the word sannyasa, ca, as also; tyagasya, of tyaga, i.e. the meaning of the word tyaga. Kesi was a demon who had assumed the form of a horse, and Lord Vasudeva had killed him. Hence He is addressed by that name (Kesi-nisudana) by Arjuna. The word sannyasa and tyaga, used in various places in the preceding chapters, are not explicit in their implications. Therefore, in order to determine them for Arjuna who had put the question,-

Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:

18.1 Samnyasaya etc. It has been delcared earlier that ‘He [alone] is a man of relinquishment and is also a man of wisdom’ (II, 50); and ‘He [alone] is a man of renunciation and a man of Yoga; but not he who remains without his fires (VI, 1)’, and so on. Thus, becuase a man of relinquishment and a man of renunciation are both found mentioned, now arises this question from a person (Arjuna) who is desirous of understanding their difference. Now [by giving] the answer –

Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:

arjuna uvaca
sannyasasya maha-baho
tattvam icchami veditum
tyagasya ca hrsikesa
prthak kesi-nisudana

Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:

arjunaḥ uvāca — Arjuna said; sannyāsasya — of renunciation; mahā-bāho — O mighty-armed one; tattvam — the truth; icchāmi — I wish; veditum — to understand; tyāgasya — of renunciation; ca — also; hṛṣīkeśa — O master of the senses; pṛthak — differently; keśi-niṣūdana — O killer of the Keśī demon.