arjuna uvāca
sannyāsaḿ karmaṇāḿ kṛṣṇa
punar yogaḿ ca śaḿsasi
yac chreya etayor ekaḿ
tan me brūhi su-niścitam

Translation of Bhagavad Gita 5.1

Arjuna said: O Krishna, first of all You ask me to renounce work, and then again You recommend work with devotion. Now will You kindly tell me definitely which of the two is more beneficial?

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

In this Fifth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, the Lord says that work in devotional service is better than dry mental speculation. Devotional service is easier than the latter because, being transcendental in nature, it frees one from reaction. In the Second Chapter, preliminary knowledge of the soul and its entanglement in the material body were explained. How to get out of this material encagement by buddhi-yoga, or devotional service, was also explained therein. In the Third Chapter, it was explained that a person who is situated on the platform of knowledge no longer has any duties to perform. And in the Fourth Chapter the Lord told Arjuna that all kinds of sacrificial work culminate in knowledge. However, at the end of the Fourth Chapter, the Lord advised Arjuna to wake up and fight, being situated in perfect knowledge. Therefore, by simultaneously stressing the importance of both work in devotion and inaction in knowledge, Krishna has perplexed Arjuna and confused his determination. Arjuna understands that renunciation in knowledge involves cessation of all kinds of work performed as sense activities. But if one performs work in devotional service, then how is work stopped? In other words, he thinks that sannyasa, or renunciation in knowledge, should be altogether free from all kinds of activity, because work and renunciation appear to him to be incompatible. He appears not to have understood that work in full knowledge is nonreactive and is therefore the same as inaction. He inquires, therefore, whether he should cease work altogether or work with full knowledge.

Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

Having spoken of karma as superior to jnana, in order to strengthen this idea in this chapter, jnana is said to be equivalent to karma.

Being worried about the contradiction of the two statements at the end of the previous chapter, he asks a question.

In verse 41 of the last chapter you spoke of renouncing karma by jnana arising from karma yoga (yoga-sannyasta-karmanam) but in verse 42 you again spoke of taking up karma yoga (yogam atisthottistha bharata).

It is not possible to perform both renunciation of action and karma yoga at once because there is essential contradiction of the two as there is contradiction in remaining stationary and moving. Therefore the man of knowledge should either renounce karma or perform karma yoga. As I do not understand your intention, I am asking. Among these two, which one is better? Please tell that definitely to me.

Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:

5.1 Arjuna said — ‘You praise the renunciation of actions, i.e., Jnana Yoga at one time, and next Karma Yoga’. This is what is objected to: In the second chapter, you have said that Karma Yoga alone should be practised first by an aspirant for release; and that the vision of the self should be achieved by means of Jnana Yoga by one whose mind has its blemishes washed away by Karma Yoga. Again, in the third and fourth chapters, you have praised Karma Yoga or devotion to Karma as better than Jnana Yoga even for one who has attained the stage of Jnana Yoga, and that, as a means of attaining the self, it (Karma Yoga) is independent of Jnana Yoga. Therefore, of these two, Jnana Yoga and Karma Yoga — tell me precisely which by itself is superior, i.e., most excellent, being more easy to practise, and quicker to confer the vision of the self.

Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:

In this chapter Lord Krishna is removing all doubts regarding the application of action and the renunciation of action. He is declaring that moksa or liberation from the material existence is attained by the renunciants who has by virtue of their austerities have conquered the influences of the senses. In the previous chapter Lord Krishna instructed to destroy all doubts by the sword of knowledge taking to the path of karma yoga or prescribed Vedic activities. But previous to this Lord Krishna had instructed that renunciation of actions was more appropriate for one following the path of jnana yoga or cultivation of Vedic knowledge. Then again Lord Krishna instructed that the person delighting in their atma or eternal soul needs not to perform either karma yoga or jnana yoga. Now it needs to be determined is it possible for a person to simultaneously perform the renunciation of actions while at the same time performing actions and if not what is the superior path for one to embark upon. All these questions will be answered.

Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:

Hari OM! Because the Supreme Lord Krishna performs such wonderfully phenomenal activities known as lilas or pastimes, He attracts all the worlds. Thus He is know as Krishna the all attractive one. The Kurma Purana states: Oh Lord since You attract all the worlds by your extraordinary activities, enlightened beings who have realised the Brahman or the spiritual substratum pervading all existence call you Krishna the all attracting one.

In this chapter Lord Krishna explains the equanimity of actions further expounding upon the themes from chapter four, verse 24: being content with what has naturally been ordained and chapter four, verse 15: performing actions in renunciation. The word sannnyasa or renunciation is being explained to answer the question if sannyasa is more propitious then the act of war is contrary to renunciation.

Now begins the summation.

Hari OM! In this chapter the attributes of renunciation and performance of actions are delineated. The compound words sannyasyam karmanam meaning renunciation of all actions significantly contains the word nyaasa denoting equanimity. Thus all actions are recommended to be renounced with equanimity inferring that both karma or performance of prescribed Vedic activities and sannyasa or renunciation of the rewards of prescribed Vedic activities can be performed simultaneously and hence the question to Lord Krishna for clarification.

Arjuna was a prince of the highest royal order that ruled India and the entire Earth as well. He was raised meticulously and comprehensively in the science of sanatan dharma or the principles of eternal righteousness as well as all matters regarding governance and diplomacy, war and conciliation. Due to this he was an adhikari or very qualified being. If the divine discourse of the Bhagavad-Gita was meant only for Lord Krishna to remove the lamentation of Arjuna then there world have been no need for Vedavyasa to record it in the Mahabharata. But in chapter four, verse two Lord Krishna reveals that although it was transmitted by parampara or disciplic succession it was lost on the Earth over the millenniums. Therefore Lord Krishna caused Arjuna to have lamentation as a pretext to reveal the Bhagavad-Gita to the world again and He made Arjuna the symbol of the individual consciousness of everyone to achieve knowledge of the ultimate reality on their quest of attaining communion with the ultimate consciousness and thereby realising the ultimate supreme personality.

Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:

Lord Krishna previously presented karma yoga or prescribed Vedic activities without desire of rewards as a pre-eminent discipline but then stated that one in jnana yoga or the cultivation of Vedic knowledge has no need to perform any action and then again He declared that the person who immersed in the atma or soul has no need to perform karma yoga or jnana yoga. In this situation it is difficult for an aspirant of moksa or liberation to determine if karma yoga or jnana yoga is more appropriate or is it possible to simultaneously perform both together. Lord Krishna had stated that one who performs actions as a matter of duty unattached without desire for rewards incurs no sinful reactions. Then again He had instructed that yagna or offerings of worship with spiritual intelligence is superior to yagnas performed with material ingredients because all actions culminate in knowledge. So because the paths appear conflicting and contrary to each other Lord Krishna is being requested to resolve the issue definitively.

Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:

5.1 (O Krsna,) samsasi, You praise, i.e. speak of; sannyasam, renunciation; karmanam, of actions, of performance of various kinds of rites enjoined by the scriptures; punah ca, and again; You praise yogam, yoga, the obligatory performance of those very rites! Therefore I have a doubt as to which is better-Is the performance of actions better, or their rejection? And that which is better should be undertaken. And hence, bruhi, tell; mam, me; suniscitam, for certain, as the one intended by You; tat ekam, that one-one of the two, since performance of the two together by the same person is impossible; yat, which; is sreyah, better, more commendable; etayoh, between these two, between the renunciation of actions and the performance of actions [Ast. reads karma-yoga-anusthana (performance of Karma-yoga) in place of karma-anusthana (performance of actions).-Tr.], by undertaking which you think I shall acquire what is beneficial. While stating His own opinion in order to arrive at a conclusion-

Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:

5.1 Samnyasam etc. Is renunciation superior or Yoga ? this is the question of the doubting person (Arjuna).

Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:

arjuna uvaca
sannyasam karmanam krsna
punar yogam ca samsasi
yac chreya etayor ekam
tan me bruhi su-niscitam

Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:

arjunaḥ uvāca — Arjuna said; sannyāsam — renunciation; karmaṇām — of all activities; kṛṣṇa — O Kṛṣṇa; punaḥ — again; yogam — devotional service; ca — also; śaḿsasi — You are praising; yat — which; śreyaḥ — is more beneficial; etayoḥ — of these two; ekam — one; tat — that; me — unto me; brūhi — please tell; su-niścitam — definitely.