श्लोक 1: Arjun’s Question

When a teacher is good and is in full flow, we always notice that students linger around to ask questions, even after the class is over, as no one wants it to end.

In the same way, at the start of chapter 18, Arjun too doesn’t want Krishna to stop. So, he starts by asking the meanings of  ‘Sanyas’ and ‘Tyaga’ and the distinction between the two. These topics were already covered in chapters 3 and 4 as well.

अर्जुन उवाच |
सन्न्यासस्य महाबाहो तत्त्वमिच्छामि वेदितुम् | 
त्यागस्य च हृषीकेश पृथक्केशिनिषूदन || 1 ||
Arjun said: Hey Krishna, I wish to understand Sanyas and Tyaga. Also, please explain to me the difference between the two in detail.

As we know, we are born here to reap/repay the karma accumulated in past lives. And while doing that, we end up creating new karma which becomes a cause of further births. This way the cycle of life/death called Samsara continues.

If we want to get rid of this circle of life/death, we have to stop creating new Karma while clearing the earlier accumulated karma. 

To achieve that, we can think of two options:

  1. Disown all the accumulated karma, including one we are born with, in this life. OR
  2. Perform the actions as per karma but give up the fruits of those actions.

For the first option, if we disown the karma we are born with, then what activities are we suppose to do in this life? Should we just not do anything?

But can we live without doing anything? Not really, right… 

For survival, we have to breathe, eat, drink, and sleep, right. Wouldn’t we end up creating new karma while doing that?

Also, if we are a householder, can we give up all the responsibilities? Can a parent stop cooking food for children or stop taking care of them? 

In the same way, for the second option, should we go on indulging in all sorts of temptations that life has to offer while trying to give up fruits? What activities are allowed and encouraged, and what we should try to avoid altogether?

So, as we can see, there are many questions for anyone seriously trying to start following the path of Vedanta. And, who better can we get to answer those than Shri Krishna himself, right? 

We should be thankful to Arjun for asking these questions and Ved Vyasa for summarizing them. 

Another thing special about this shloka is Arjun using three names in one shloka to address Krishna, महाबाहो, हृषीकेश, and केशिनिषूदन. 

महाबाहो means someone who has strong arms.
हृषीकेश means someone who has complete control over all senses.
केशिनिषूदन, as Krishna killed demon Keshi.

In next several Shlokas, Krishna gives a detailed answer to Arjun’s question.