Arjuna uvaacha:
sannyaasam karmanaam krishna punaryogam cha shansasi |
yachchshreya etayorekam tanme broohi sunishchitam || 1 ||

First you speak about yoga, then you praise renunciation of action, O Krishna. Of the two, tell me which one, most assuredly, is beneficial for me.

sannyaasam : renunciation
karmanaam : action
krishna : O Krishna
punah : then
yogam : yoga
cha : and
shansasi : praise
yat : that
shreya : which is beneficial
etayoha : of the two
ekam : one
tat : which
me : for me
broohi : tell
sunishchitam : most assuredly

As he was concluding the previous chapter, Shri Krishna spoke about the renunciation of action through yoga in the second-last shloka. He was quite clear that renunciation of action does not mean running away from action. It means renouncing the agency, or the sense of doership behind the action.

Now, Arjuna still retained a desire to run away from the war against his relatives. So even though Shri Krishna was quite clear that one cannot run away from action, Arjuna was still looking for a way to quit fighting the war. So he interpreted the word “renunciation” to mean what most people think renunciation means: going away to a remote ashram, becoming a monk, and then contemplating upon the eternal essence, casting aside any other worldly responsibilities.

With this interpretation in mind, he wanted to know whether renunciation of action was better than karmayoga. If that were the case, he could run away from the war to a place of contemplation, and gain self-realization following that path. He wanted an unambiguous answer from Shri Krishna because he had already asked this question at the beginning of the third chapter.

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