kāmyānāḿ karmaṇāḿ nyāsaḿ
sannyāsaḿ kavayo viduḥ
prāhus tyāgaḿ vicakṣaṇāḥ
Translation of Bhagavad Gita 18.2
The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: The giving up of activities that are based on material desire is what great learned men call the renounced order of life [sannyasa]. And giving up the results of all activities is what the wise call renunciation [tyaga].
Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
The performance of activities for results has to be given up. This is the instruction of Bhagavad-gita. But activities leading to advanced spiritual knowledge are not to be given up. This will be made clear in the next verses. In the Vedic literature there are many prescriptions of methods for performing sacrifice for some particular purpose. There are certain sacrifices to perform to attain a good son or to attain elevation to the higher planets, but sacrifices prompted by desires should be stopped. However, sacrifice for the purification of one’s heart or for advancement in the spiritual science should not be given up.
Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
Taking up the former idea first, the Lord explains the different derivations of the two words. To renounce (nyasa) at the very root activities performed for fulfilling personal desires (kamyanam karmanam) is called sannyasa. Personal desires are indicated in such statements as the following:
putra-kamo yajeta, svarga-kamo yajeta
One with a desire for a son should worship. One with desire for svarga should worship. Apastambha Srauta Sutra 3.9.4,19.10.14
This does not mean that one should reject daily obligatory activities (nitya karma) such as sandhya worship.
Tyaga means that one should give the results of all activities in performance of actions with personal desire (kamya karma) or obligatory actions (nitya karma), rather than to give up those activities completely.
For the srutis also promise results for the obligatory actions (nitya karma).
By the obligatory actions one goes to pitr loka. Brhad Aranyaka Upanisad 1.5
dharmena papam apanudati
By following dharma, one eradicates sin. Mahanarayana Upanisad 15.7
Therefore, in tyaga, one should perform all kamya and nitya karmas without seeking results, whereas in sannyasa one performs only obligatory duties (nitya karma) without the desire for results, and completely rejects rituals for personal gratification (kamya karma). This is the distinction of the two words sannyasa and tyaga.
Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:
18.2 The Lord said — Some scholars understand that Sannyasa is complete relinquishment of desire-prompted acts. Some other wise men say that the meaning of the term Tyaga, according to the Sastras dealing with release, is relinquishment of the fruits not only of all desiderative (Kamya), but also of obligatory and occasional, duties . Here, the problem is, whether the Tyaga taught in the Sastras concern desiderative acts themselves, or fruits of all acts. Sri Krsna has used the terms Sannyasa in one place and Tyaga elsewhere. From this it is understood that Sri Krsna uses the terms Tyaga and Sannyasa as synonyms. Likewise, the decisive teaching is about Tyaga alone in the statement: ‘Hear My decision, O Arjuna, about Tyaga’ (18.4). That the terms are synonymously used to denote the same sense, is conclusively established from such passages as: ‘But the renunciation (Sannyasa) of obligatory work is not proper. Abandonment (Tyaga) of it through delusion is declared to be Tamasika’ (18.7); and ‘To those who have not renounced the fruits of actions, threefold are the consequences after death — undesirable, desriable and mixed. But to those who have renounced, none whatsoever’ (18.12).
Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:
The Supreme Lord Krishna replied: Sages and those proficient in learning understand that renouncing and abandoning actions that fulfil desires found in the Vedic scriptures such as prescribed procedures for getting a son, or prescribed rituals for entering the heavenly planets is known as sannyasa and this includes renouncing all actions as well as their rewards. The spiritually enlightened declare that renouncing and relinquishing the desire for rewards of actions although performing daily and occasional prescribed duties and not renouncing the actions themselves is known as tyaja.
The question may arise that since no rewards are mentioned for regular and occasional prescribed duties how can there be renunciation of rewards that do not exist. It is as if a barren woman could give up her child. The answer to such a query is that although no specific rewards are declared in the Vedic scriptures, ordinances and injunctions such as: The sandhya vrata which is the chanting of sacred incantations three times daily must always duly be performed by initiated Vaisnava Brahmins and the Ekadasi vrata which is fasting from all grains and beans on the 11th day of the waxing and waning moon must always be observed by all human beings. Although ordinances and injunctions cannot inspire a undiscerning person to perform an activity which seems to have no purpose; yet if they are omitted or ignored it will be a cause for sinfulness and demerit. So according to the rule of parallel opposites it is understood that some merit must also be present in performing prescribed Vedic activities. It would not be reasonable to follow Prabhakara’s opinion that the injunction itself is self-sufficient and requires no result because that would be contrary to the law of karma or that of there is an equal reaction comprised from every action. Further more Vedic scriptures such as the Chandogya Upanisad II.XXIII.I beginning trayo dharma skandha yagno confirms that: Those who perform sacred Vedic rites attain to immortality. The Brihadaranyaka Upanisad I.V.XVI beginning atha trayo vai a loka confirms that: By performing Vedic rituals and knowledge the higher realms are gained and the Maha Narayana Upanidad XXII.I declares that: By performance of Vedic rituals one is absolved from sins. This is why the spiritually evolved agree that the abandoning of the desire for rewards of actions is renunciation known as tyaja.
But then an argument could be raised that if one were to relinquish the desire for any reward there would be no inclination to perform the action. But this thinking is faulty and not accurate because all Vedic activities are for the general evolution of society and are meant to gradually produce the impulse for atma tattva or self-realisation. The Brhadaranyaka Upanisad IV.IV.XXII beginning sa va esa mahanaja atma states: Vaisnava brahmanas realise the atma or immortal soul by study of the Vedic scriptures, through ritualistic propitiation and worship and by austerities which is renunciation of the objects of sense enjoyment. Hence it has been clarified that renunciation for the desires of rewards is what is to be abandoned as they keep one revolving in samsara the perpetual cycle of birth and death and thus it is possible to perform all actions in such a renounced state and achieve moksa or liberation from material existence. Moksa may also be considered a desire but it is the internal desire of the intellect for a spiritual result and not the mundane desire for a material reward. Moksa is achieved by inclination of the intellect, by inspired faith, by reflection, introspection and meditation, by the cessation of identifying with the physical body, by discrimination between matter and spirit. Until one has reached this point, the relegation of prescribed duties for purification of the mind which are not antagonistic to devotion to the Supreme Lord while relinquishing the desire for rewards is essential and not the actual abandonment of actions. The Iso Upanisad verse II beginning kurvan neve ha karmani states: By performing Vedic activities one should not mind to live 100 years. That is because during this time the cessation of activities without the desire for rewards will manifest automatically as a natural process due to the internal inclination of the purified intellect which dissolves all impurities as the spring rain clouds depart after fulfilling their purpose. Lord Krishna has stated earlier in chapter 3, verse 17 that: One who delights in the atma, who is satisfied with the atma, who is content in the atma has no need to perform any duties. The great sage Vasisitha has explained that: The enlightened make no effort to renounce actions yet actions renounce them for the root of all actions is desire and desire is non-existent in the enlightened ones. One may also renounce actions due to the fact that actions impede and hinder the practice of meditation.
One should perform mundane actions until one develops distaste and then disgust for them. In the Srimad Bhagavatam XI.XIV.XXVIII beginning tasmad aswad abbhidhyanam Lord Krishna Himself explains that: One should give up all material processes for elevation which are like the meanderings of a dream and purify themselves by focusing the mind completely in the Supreme Lord. The precise reason for this instruction was given by Lord Krishna earlier in Srimad Bhagavatam XI.XIV.XXII beginning dharmah satya-dayopeto means: Righteous and spiritual activities performed sincerely as well as esoteric knowledge obtained by prodigious austerities cannot completely purify the consciousness if they are not endowed with devotion to the Supreme Lord. In this light even moksa is insignificant and never pursued or even thought about by the surrendered devotees of the Supreme Lord Krishna or any of His authorised incarnations and expansions as revealed in Vedic scriptures. So we have presented various examples from diverse angles of vision to answer this question adequately.
Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:
Lord Krishna explains that the absence of prescribed Vedic actions which hold even a miniscule residue for rewards is renunciation known as sannyasa or relinquishing of actions. Tyaja is renunciation by abandoning the desire for rewards and not the prescribed actions themselves. Both sannyasa and tyaja are considered renunciation.
Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:
Lord Krishna explains that some learned men of knowledge propound renunciation as sannyasa or abandoning all activities prescribed or otherwise motivated by desire for rewards. While other men of wisdom maintain that renunciation is tyaja or abandoning the desire for rewards and not relinquishing the prescribed Vedic activitiy.
Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:
18.2 Some kavayah, learned ones; viduh, know; sannyasam, sannyasa, the meaning of the word sannyasa, the non-performance of what comes as a duty; to be the nyasam, giving up; karmanam, of actions; kamyanam, done with a desire for reward, e.g. Horse-sacrifice etc. Sarva-karma-phala-tyagah, abandonment of the results of all actions, means the giving up of the results accruing to oneself from all actions- the daily obligatory and the occasional (nitya and naimittika) that are performed. Vicaksanah, the adepts, the learned ones; prahuh, call, speak of that; as tyagam, tyaga, as the meaning of the word tyaga. Even if ‘the giving up of actions for desired results’ or ‘the abandonment of results’ be the intended meaning, in either case the one meaning of the words sannyasa and tyaga amounts only to tyaga (giving up); they do not imply distinct categories as do the words ‘pot’ and ‘cloth’. Objection: Well, is it not that they say the daily obligatory (nitya) and the occasional (naimittika) rites and duties have no results at all? How is the giving up of their results spoken of-like the abandoning of a son of a barren woman?! Reply: This defect does not desire. It is the intention of the Lord that the nitya-karmas (daily obligatory duties) also have results; for the Lord will say, ‘The threefold results of actions-the undesirable, the desirable and the mixed-accrue after death to those who do not resort to tyaga’, and also, ‘but never to those who resort to sannyasa (monks)’ (12). Indeed, by showing that, it is only in the case of sannyasins (monks) alone that there is no connection with the results of actions, the Lord asserts in, ‘…accrue after death to those who do not resort to tyaga (renunciation)’ (abid.), that the result of daily obligatory (nitya) duties accrue to those who are not sannyasins (monks).
Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:
18.2 Kamyanam etc. The desire-motivated actions : the Agnistoma (sacrifce) etc. All actions etc. : The relinquishment is the relinquishment of fruits, even while performing all actions tha are to be performed daily or occasionally. Whatever remains to be spoken in this chapter had been examined in detail even by the previous commentators like the revered Bhatta Bhaskara and others. Hence why should we take the trouble of repeating. For, our main concern is to fulfil the promise to show only the hidden purport of this [work]. Therefore now [the Bhagavat] relates different views in order to determine the best in this regard –
Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:
kamyanam karmanam nyasam
sannyasam kavayo viduh
prahus tyagam vicaksanah
Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:
śrī-bhagavān uvāca — the Supreme Personality of Godhead said; kāmyānām — with desire; karmaṇām — of activities; nyāsam — renunciation; sannyāsam — the renounced order of life; kavayaḥ — the learned; viduḥ — know; sarva — of all; karma — activities; phala — of results; tyāgam — renunciation; prāhuḥ — call; tyāgam — renunciation; vicakṣaṇāḥ — the experienced.