Category Archives: The Yogas of the Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita (A Comprehensive Study)

The Bhagavad Gita remains, to this day, one of the most influential books of the Hindu religion, estimated to originate as far back as roughly the third or fourth century BC (Davis 6).  The Gita, or Song of the Blessed One or Lord is a long dialogue between Krishna (a Supreme Deity) and a warrior, Arjuna (Edgerton 105).  The event takes place on the battle field of Kurukshetra, during a war between two rival families, finding the warrior-Prince Arjuna steeped in doubt and dejection (Edgerton 105).  Through the dialogue, Krishna teaches and reveals the mysteries of existence to Arjuna, convincing him to perform his sacred duty and fight the impending war (Edgerton 105, Stoler-Miller).  The Bhagavad Gita’s malleability has survived the ages and continues to have a profound effect on those who read it (Davis).  This essay will examine the content of the Gita, in addition to various commentary of both individual chapters, and the work as a whole.  In addition, this paper will supply further context of specific passages, and provide a moderate history of the book to substantiate its existence and importance in regard to Hindu tradition.

To begin, the actual content of The Bhagavad Gita shall be examined chapter by chapter.  In the initial chapter of the Gita, Sanjaya, an overseer, or chorus of sorts, reports the setting to the blind King Dhritarashtra, which is made apparent by listing the warriors assembled on the “Kuru Field” (Edgerton 3).  Near the end, we find Arjuna slumped in his chariot between the two sides, steeped in misery at the thought of going to war against his kinsmen, riddled with a lowness of spirit, physically crippled, in the presence of the imminent war before him.  He foresees in the war “… omens of chaos” (Stoler-Miller 25), finding “…no good in killing [his] kinsmen” (Stoler-Miller 25).  This chapter is known as Arjuna’s Dejection (Stoler-Miller 21) or Discipline of Arjuna’s Despondency (Edgerton 8).

Commentary from the viewpoint of the average Hindu, as provided in this paper by Eknath Easwaran, titles this chapter “The War Within”, and points out the first detail the reader must pick up in order to understand the actual purpose of the text – this is not Krishna’s fight, it is Arjuna’s own internal battle (Easwaran 47).  The author points out some interesting insights here about the significance of the setting of the Gita, that may explain the seeming paradox of the lessons Krishna is trying to deliver in the context of a war.  As the incarnation of the Lord Vishnu, Krishna is sworn to be noncombatant and impartial, and as Arjuna’s charioteer in the middle of a battlefield, this role becomes possible (Easwaran 47).  Easwaran also explains some of the other people mentioned in the opening chapter, giving more context to the non-Hindu reader.  The blind king, Dhritarashtra, is Arjuna’s uncle, and has been blind since birth (48).  He was never actually supposed to rule, but ended up assuming power when his brother, Pandu, whom he co-ruled with, died (Easwaran 48).  Dhritarashtra tried to eventually install Duryodhana, his own son, as King.  However, the grown up son of Pandu, Yudhishthira, is the rightful heir, thus leading to the war and its imminency (Easwaran 48-49).  Other people worth mentioning according to Easwaran are Drona, a brahmin-turned warrior specialist, who taught all the warriors including Arjuna, who was his prized student (Easwaran 49).  Bhisma, “the grandsire”, a respected elder statesman, is also Dhritarashtra’s advisor, and worth mentioning according to the translator (Easwaran 49).  Easwaran also discusses the two main viewpoints about the setting of war as a backdrop for the Gita.  Firstly, there is the orthodox Hindu view that “…condones war for the warrior” (Easwaran 50), claiming war for a warrior is simply dharma playing out.  War is tragic and honorable at the same time, and is an evil that simply cannot be avoided.  War is in accordance with divine will to the orthodox viewpoint (Easwaran 50).  The second view of this setting is the mystic standpoint, which claims an allegory of cosmic struggle between good and evil (Easwaran 50).  Gandhi famously said by placing too much stock in the setting of the Gita “…gives importance only to its opening – its preface – ignoring the scripture itself” (Easwaran 50).  Chapter one of the Bhagavad Gita “…bridges a rather perilous bridge between the warrior’s world,…and the really important part of the Gita – Sri Krishna’s revelations of spiritual truth” (Easwaran 51).

The second chapter, known as Philosophy and Spiritual Discipline (Stoler-Miller 29) or Discipline of Reason Method (Edgerton 17), lets the colloquial discourse of Krishna begin.  Arjuna is so beside himself, his “…eyes [are] blurred by tears” (Stoler-Miller 29).  Krishna urges Arjuna to rise to the occasion of his sacred duty, even though to Arjuna  is clearly torn between “…conflicting sacred duties” (Stoler-Miller 30).  Which is better?  To not fight and be silent?  Or to go into battle, and surely have to slay kinsmen?  In this moment of the dialogue, Arjuna has settled on stepping aside from the fight that confronts him.  Krishna begins with telling him that you “…[cannot] grieve for those beyond grief” and that “learned men do not grieve for the dead or the living” (Stoler-Miller 31).  The deity is speaking of rebirth and reincarnation of spirit, beyond the realm of the human body.  Krishna also reminds Arjuna that the senses are fleeting, the human body is impermanent, and that the embodied self is indestructible and immeasurable, and when one finds the infinite spirit within, one is freed from delusion (Stoler-Miller 34-39).   The analogy used is of changing of clothing and the body, in that the cycle of life is inevitable. Arjuna questions what defines a man deep in contemplation and Krishna informs him that he has to give up desires, and be content with oneself.  One must also free himself from attachment and desire.  This chapter lays the foundation for further understanding of Krishna’s teachings to Arjuna, confirming he has no cause to grieve, since through self control and discipline, one finds serenity (Stoler-Miller 32-39).

According to Easwaran’s commentary, “The Illumined Man” is the title of the following chapter, chapter two of the Gita.  Krishna’s task as Arjuna’s spiritual teacher is set out, to raise him out of despair and put him on his way to salvation (57).  He points out that Arjuna has always been a man of action, and has not given much thought to spirituality at this point of his life, but as Krishna points out, active life alone is not enough (Easwaran 57-59).  Thus Arjuna asks the perennial questions to give the Gita its purpose and mandate – Is there a soul?, What happens to the soul after death?, and Is there a deeper reality? (Easwaran 57-60).  Interestingly, as the author points out, Krishna begins with an “ultimate premise”  of the atman to answer his students principal questions (Easwaran 58), rather than leading Arjuna stage by stage. The main point is that the immortal soul is more important than the passing world (Easwaran 57-60).  Out of his comprehension, Arjuna knows he needs Krishna as his Guru (in Hindu thought, one needs an experienced teacher to seek spiritual enlightenment) (Easwaran 57-60).  This chapter also introduces the concept of samsara, and seeing past the dualities that exist in life (Easwaran 57-60).  Also touched upon in this overview chapter are the different types of yoga and their importance for spirituality (Easwaran 57-60).  One of the Gita’s most cited and famous quotes is found in this portion when Krishna answers Arjuna’s question about what difference spiritual wisdom makes in everyday life (Easwaran 59).  The warning of sense objects, yet shying from austerity is also introduced (Easwaran 57-60).

The third teaching in the Gita expands on the notion of discipline regarding action.  It is known as Discipline of Action (Stoler-Miller 41) or Discipline of Knowledge (Egderton 27).  This chapter focuses on disciplined knowledge of the discipline of men themselves when in action.  Arjuna questions whether understanding is more powerful than action and queries his mentor to”…speak one certain truth” (Stoler-Miller 41).  His mentor replies by first explaining that one cannot escape the force of action, neither by abstaining by it or acting for fruits (Stoler-Miller 41-45).  Krishna reaffirms that performing necessary action is far more powerful than inaction, and that actions must be performed without attachment, uttering words spoken by Prajapati (Stoler-Miller 42).  Prajapati said “By sacrifice will you procreate!  Let it be your wish-granting cow!” (Stoler-Miller 42).  Perhaps the most important point in this section is when Krishna declares that “Your own action  done imperfectly is better than doing someone else’s duty perfectly” (Stoler-Miller 46).

The third section of the scripture is called “Selfless Service” according to Easwaran.  He explains the meaning of “karma yoga”, which translates in Sanskrit as “the way of action”, and this takes a sharp turn away from the previous chapter (Easwaran 71).  While Krishna begins to try and teach his student, Arjuna can only find himself concerned with his immediate predicament (Easwaran 71).  Krishna explains: we must all act selflessly and out of a sense of duty, doing our part in the grand scheme of things, which cannot be avoided (Easwaran 71-72).  Here, the Doctrine of Karma comes to the forefront as Krishna tries to convince Arjuna to fight his battle, which is one of the most basic Hindu teachings (Easwaran 71-72).  Put quite simply by Krishna, actions determine destiny, reminding him not to avoid work, but to perform them without selfish attachment (Easwaran 72).  Arjuna’s next question deals with what binds us to our selfish ways, and his teacher answers that is the qualities of anger and selfish desire (Easwaran 73).  The Gita refers to the Sankhya philosophy of the three gunas: sattva, rajas, and tamas, warning of the pitfalls of the latter two (Easwaran 72-73).  An example of a noble king by the name of Janaka is given as an example of how to conduct oneself to Arjuna (Easwaran 73).

Knowledge (Stoler-Miller 49) or Discipline of Renunciation of Actions (Edgerton 31) are the titles of the fourth teaching.  Perhaps in this part of the Gita Arjuna better understands his sacred duty of action as a result of how Krishna clarifies true knowledge.  The deity explains that when sacred duty decays and chaos prevails, he must then re-create himself to restore order, much the way sacrifice in the world of man (ie: Arjuna’s sacred duty to fight) is equivalent to action, even though action can easily be obscured (ie: wrong action, inaction) (Stoler-Miller 50-52).  In other words, existence must keep going, and we must do our duty, even when it may not be desirable or ideal (Stoler-Miller 50-52).  When one has true knowledge, which is the mastery of oneself, the totality of all action emanates in it, and if one recognizes this, one can never descend into delusion (Stoler-Miller 52-52).  “The fire of knowledge reduces all actions to ashes (Stoler-Miller 54).

Chapter four, in reference to Easwaran’s treatise of the Gita is referred to as “Wisdom in Action”.  Arjuna is informed he will be privy to “secret teachings” (Easwaran 81).  The process of re-birth is again raised, and Krishna’s greatness is implied when he informs Arjuna he can recall his past lives unlike mortal men (Easwaran 81).  Roots of the Sanskrit words avatar (avatara=descent) and krish (“to draw a plow”, “to draw to oneself”) are also explained by this author (Easwaran 82-83), which gives some insight into the Hindu thought about God.  The latter part of this chapter turns back again to Arjuna’s problem, and Krishna makes a new point in the final verses, in that wisdom is the end of selfless action, knowing is the fruit of doing (Easwaran 83).

Chapter five is called Renunciation of Action (Stoler-Miller 57) or Discipline of Meditation (Edgerton 37), and focuses on which is superior: renunciation of action or discipline.  Krishna teaches discipline in action is better, and that by mastery of one correctly, one will find the fruit of both, and that renunciation is impossible without discipline (Stoler-Miller 57).  He further explains that undisciplined men are in bondage, attached to the fruit of desire (Stoler-Miller 58).  Through “…exist[ing] in the infinite spirit, [men will find] flawless equilibrium” (Stoler-Miller 59).

The fifth chapter, according to lay Hindus, is titled “Renounce and Rejoice”, and contrasts complete renunciation (sannyasa) and detachment in the working world (Easwaran 91).  Siddhartha Gautama’s quest, for example, is a prime illustration of trying to maintain balance yet avoiding austerity through a middle way (Easwaran 91).  The translator points out that the word “yoga” presents difficulties in the Gita, as it means different things at different times (Easwaran 92).  Generally speaking, it is fair to say that yoga=practice and sankhya=theory (Easwaran 92).  The Gita could indeed be the first Hindu scripture to combine karma yoga and the pursuit of self knowledge together (Easwaran 92).  The true goal of action is knowledge of the self, and in that the example of the lotus flower is given – it spends its life floating in water, yet is waterproof (Easwaran 92).  Krishna’s point is that a life of work cannot be fulfilling without self knowledge, also known as the knowledge of Brahman (Easwaran 93).  The last three verses, as the author points out, deal with Samadhi, and how once established, can come and go, yet always be resilient (Easwaran 93-94).

The Man of Discipline (Stoler-Miller 63) or Discipline of Meditation (Edgerton 41), the name of the sixth teaching of Krishna to Arjuna, outlines what proper discipline in living is.  Declaring that discipline is renunciation, only one who is mature in this has tranquility as a means (Stoler-Miller 63).  For Krishna, discipline is equal to renouncing and detaching from all intentions, sense objects and actions being renounced and detached from (Stoler-Miller 63-69).  Men need to “elevate not degrade oneself” (Stoler-Miller 63).  The self is both ones best friend and worst foe, and a man without self-mastery is in internal war (Stoler-Miller 64) and by controlling the mind, diet, breath, demeanor, senses, sleepfulness, desires and cravings, the disciplined man is “…unmoved, even by deep suffering” (Stoler-Miller 66).  The man who’s self is in God and who “…acts with honor, cannot go the wrong way” (Stoler-Miller 68).

The sixth chapter, according to Easwaran, is called “The Practice of Meditation”, and is one of the most interesting chapters of the Gita according to this author.  Krishna delivers a detailed explanation of meditation for the layperson very simply (Easwaran 99).  Easwaran points out how the western notion of a yogi is inconsistent, in that what a true yogi is is a person who does his or her job without attachment to rewards (100).  Great depth is gone into by Krishna in his explanation of the practice of meditation, and he uses a mountain top analogy to explain to Arjuna that his spiritual path will not be easy, but a constant struggle right to the top (Easwaran 100-101).  A famous verse in this chapter has Krishna comparing the mind to a flame, while Arjuna says his mind is more like the wind (Easwaran 101).  The teacher reinforces to the student that through practice, the mind can be trained, in the proper mindfulness, in the proper way physically (Easwaran 101-103).  Arjuna questions what happens to a person who is spiritual but does not pursue this goal.  Krishna reaffirms that any practice will not got to waste, and that spiritual enlightenment can take as many lives as it needs to (Easwaran  102-103).

The seventh teaching in the Gita is entitled Knowledge and Judgment (Stoler-Miller 71) or Discipline of the Theoretical and Practical Knowledge (Edgerton 45).  Arjuna’s teacher tells him that by practicing discipline in God’s protection, one can know God without doubt (Stoler-Miller 72).  God teaches the totality of knowledge and judgment, and that nothing else needs to be known (Stoler-Miller 71-72).  In both versions, Krishna clearly states God’s lower and higher natures.  The lower  natures are eight-fold and include earth, water, fire, wind, space, mind, understanding, and individuality, and the higher nature of God is the “…life force that sustains the universe” (Stoler-Miller 72).  Nature’s triad of qualities, spoken further of in the fourteenth teaching, lucidity, passion and dark inertia also come from God (Stoler-Miller 72), and in turn produce four types of virtuous men devoted to God: the tormented, the seeker of wisdom, the suppliant and the sage (Stoler-Miller 73).  Krishna reminds Arjuna that “unwaivering faith [maybe granted] to any devoted man to worship in any form”  (Stoler-Miller 73).  The overwhelming tone of this teaching is devotion to God and the love one will endure in return.

Easwaran explains, in the seventh chapter, the problems with the translations of certain words from Sanskrit, such as jnana (wisdom, roughly) and vijnana (realization, roughly) (Easwaran 111).  These words can be left up to interpretation, and can mean many different things.  This chapter follows several trails, sometimes losing a unifying theme – which as Easwaran points out is knowledge of the supreme reality underlying nature (111).  Two natures, important to the Sankhya school of Hindu philosophy, are discussed in this section, which are prakriti (mind and matter) and purusha (pure spirit) (Easwaran 112).  The word “maya” (from the Rig Veda) also appears here as the three gunas are brought forth, swirling within maya, hiding Krishna’s true nature (113-114).  Moha (delusions) are contrasted with jnana and vijnana (113-114).

The eighth teaching, perhaps one of the most difficult chapters in the Gita to decipher, is entitled The Infinite Spirit (Stoler-Miller 77) or Discipline of the Imperishable Brahman (Edgerton 45), begins with a question from Arjuna concerning what the infinite spirit is, what its inner self is, what its inner being is, and what its inner divinity is (Stoler-Miller 77).  Krishna answers respectively with that the inner spirit is eternal and supreme, its action or creative force is the inherent being, and its divinity is man’s spirit (Stoler-Miller 77).  There is an overall focus on God and how man will always be one with him.

“The Eternal Godhead” is the title of the eighth chapter by Easwaran, and alludes to several important concepts presented more fully in the Upanishads (119).  The very ancient ideas discussed and taught by Krishna in chapter eight explain the soul’s journey after death, and how to die (Easwaran 12-13, 119).  Arjuna questions how God can be known at the hour of death.  Krishna replies that anyone who remembers God will, since the mind directs the soul (Easwaran 119-120).  First, consciousness is withdrawn from the senses, and then the mind is placed (locked up) in the heart (chakra), at which time the mind can go north (released from karma) or south (not, and reborn) (Easwaran 120-122).  This chapter also alludes to the “days and nights of Brahma”, which is strikingly similar to modern expand and collapse theories of the universe, yet Hindu thought believes in a higher state of being (Vishnu), or avyakta (the unmanifest) (Easwaran 124).

The Sublime Mystery (Stoler-Miller 83) or Discipline of Royal Knowledge and Royal Mystery (Edgerton 49) is the title of the ninth chapter.  Krishna divulges to Arjuna “…the deepest mystery” “…since he finds no fault and will realize it with knowledge and judgment” (Stoler-Miller 83).  The deep mystery is that God is everything, yet does not exist within men, and that any man devoted is not lost (Stoler-Miller 84-85).  If men act in resolve through sacred duty, they are one with God, regardless of what they do. (Stoler-Miller 86).

Chapter nine of the Gita is called “The Royal Path”, in average viewpoints, and praises Krishna as the supreme being, while exalted nature is stressed, and warning is given to those who think God is limited or to be underestimated (Easwaran 129).  This would definitely speak to the average follower about the importance of loyalty to God.  A lot of this chapter is dedicated to bhakti, or real love and devotion to God, reassuring God’s impartiality toward all living things (Easwaran 129-131

The tenth teaching, called Fragments of Divine Power (Stoler-Miller 89) or Discipline of Supernal Manifestations (Edgerton 54), has Krishna trying to explain that regardless of diverse attitudes about God among men, God is the source of everything, and everything proceeds from God (Stoler-Miller 89-90).  Arjuna asks him to recount his divine powers.  The deity explains that he is the beginning, middle and end, a number of Gods including Vishnu, Indra, and Shiva, he is the great mountain of Gods, Meru, he is OM, the great Himalayas, the sacred fig tree, chief of divine sages, the immortal stallion, the king, etc., sustaining the world with a fragment of his being (Stoler-Miller 90-95).  The purpose of this teaching is a segway of demonstration of Krishna’s greatness into the next chapter that includes the actual vision of Arjuna.

“Divine Splendor” is the title of chapter ten according to Easwaran’s explanation, and goes deeper into revelation of the divine being of Krishna, the source from which all comes, encompassing all dualities, and incomprehensible beyond thought (Easwaran 137-138).  The author points out that this can be a difficult chapter for non-Hindu reader, for there are many unfamiliar names.

The vision teaching, or eleventh chapter titled The Vision of Krishna’s Totality (Stoler-Miller 97) or Discipline of the Vision of the Universal Form (Edgerton 61), is perhaps the climax of the Gita itself, and it is explained by the outside voice of Sanjaya.  After Arjuna asks Krishna to “…reveal himself…”(Stoler-Miller 97), the great vision of God’s totality begins, intense and foreign.  Arjuna is so affected by this that he has a clearly written physical reaction to the intensity of his experience.

“The Cosmic Vision” in Easwaran’s version is claimed to be the most exalted chapter of the Gita.  Arjuna sees the divine vision of Krishna as his full nature as God himself (Easwaran 147).  Some critics have questioned why the vision is granted to Arjuna, and the reasoning probably is because in the Mahabarata, the two have been companions for many years.  The rest of the chapter describes Arjuna’s Samadhi, a word used by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra (Easwaran 147-148).  For Arjuna, there are two forms of Samadhi experienced during his vision, savikalpa (God in human form), and nirvikalpa (all forms disappearing into God, supernatural fire consuming the entire phenomenal world) (Easwaran 148).  It is here, and has been described by many mystics as “a thousand suns” (Easwaran 148).    There is definite entertainment value for the lay follower in this chapter.

The twelfth section of the Gita is called Devotion (Stoler-Miller 111) or Discipline of Devotion (Edgerton 64).  Arjuna questions who best knows discipline.  Krishna answers that men who worship, with true faith, the imperishable, the ineffable and the un-manifest.  He explains that men are bound by bodies, and therefore the un-manifest becomes hard to comprehend (Stoler-Miller 111).  Therefore, meditating with singular discipline, and attaining knowledge gives one faith in devotion (Stoler-Miller 111-113).

Easwaran refers to this chapter as “The Way of Love” (159).  It is brief and focuses on the supreme importance of devotion and faith in spiritual development (Easwaran 159).  As the author points out, all world religions would probably agree with the Gita at this point, as it stresses a way of devotion, and stresses the efficacy of devotion (Easwaran 159).  The approach found in this text is one of incomprehensibility of everything, and faith from love, as love is a sure path to God, and can be cultivated through practice (Easwaran 159-160).

Knowing the Field (Stoler-Miller 115) or Discipline of Distinction of Field and Field Knower (Edgerton 68) names the thirteenth teaching.  Krishna first explains what “The Field” is, being the great elements: individuality, understanding, un-manifest nature, the eleven senses, and five sense realms (Stoler-Miller 115).  He continues by clarifying that dispassion toward sense objects, an absence of individuality, and seeing the defects in birth, death, old age and suffering will help a man attain the infinite spirit (Stoler-Miller 116).  The self is not an actor, and everything is born from the field and its knower (Stoler-Miller 117-118).  “Just as the sun illuminates the world, so too does the master illuminate the entire field” (Stoler-Miller 119).

“The Field and the Knower”, according to Easwaran, is the title of chapter thirteen, and gives the reader two sweeping categories: the field (the body and mind, all components of prakriti – mass, time, energy, space and strata of mind) and the knower (the Self that resides within) (Easwaran 165).  This section focuses in on the dualities (prakriti and purusha) of all things (Sankhya philosophy), and how the “field of karma” defines the whole of existence.  The interesting comparison of akasha (space itself as an element) is used as an analogy (Easwaran 168).

The fourteenth teaching in the Gita is entitled The Triad of Nature’s Qualities (Stoler-Miller 121) or Discipline of Distinction of the Three Strands (Edgerton 72).  Krishna tells Arjuna he will teach him “…the farthest knowledge one can know” (Stoler-Miller 121).  The triad of nature’s qualities are lucidity, passion and dark inertia, which all bind the self in the body (Stoler-Miller 121).  Lucidity binds one to joy, passion to craving and attachment, and dark inertia to ignorance and delusion (Stoler-Miller 122).  Arjuna proceeds to have Krishna explain these aspects and how they work for and against men.  Arjuna questions what distinguishes a transcendent man from others, and Krishna explains that no desire, disinterest, knowing qualities of nature, being self-reliant, impartial and resolute serves God faithfully and becomes the basis for perfect joy (Stoler-Miller 124-125).

Easwaran titles chapter fourteen “The Forces of Evolution”, and contends it deals greatly with the nature of prakriti, the basis of the world of mind and matter in which we exist (175).  The gunas, do not translate perfectly from Sanskrit, but are likely to be present, and constantly shifting, in all people, as they are thought of as the “mix that colors our experience” (Easwaran 175-176).  Krishna tells Arjuna that all three must be transcended for the soul to attain peace.

Chapter fifteen, or The True Spirit of Man (Stoler-Miller 127) or Discipline of the Highest Spirit (Edgerton 75), gives an analogy of the tree of life: unchanging, nourished by nature’s qualities, budding with sense objects, we must take an ax, sharp like attachment, and free man to return to the original spirit (Stoler-Miller 127-128).  The seer of truth though knowledge will see God and in turn conquer self-mastery (Stoler-Miller 128-131).

An average Hindu would probably call this section “The Supreme Self”, and recognize it is a fairly difficult section of the Gita – essentially, it deals with questions of theology (Easwaran 181).  The nature of God and that which transcends everything including Atman and the world of matter is explained to Arjuna, even though a paradox is found here: Krishna says he is Atman yet transcends it (Easwaran 182).  An upside down Pipal tree is given as an analogy to Arjuna this time (Easwaran 182).  This section also speaks of Krishna’s abode of light: avyayam padam (pada=foot or step), in reference to how Vishnu took three steps to measure out the cosmos (Easwaran 182-183).  Krishna is the prana or breath or vitality, which refers to ancient scripture of the five pranas, the Gita dealing with the two most prominent: breath and digestion of food (Easwaran 182-183).

The sixteenth teaching of Krishna to Arjuna, called The Divine and the Demonic Man (Stoler-Miller 133) or Discipline of Distinction between Divine and Demonic Lots (Edgerton 78), lists the different traits of both a divine man and a demonic man.  Demonic traits led to bondage and divine traits lead to freedom put simply (Stoler-Miller 133-135).  While all creatures are one or the other, demonic men cannot comprehend activity and rest, have no clarity, morality or truth residing within them, landing them in the three gates of hell, desire, anger and greed (Stoler-Miller 135).

Easwaran refers to this chapter as the “Two Paths” (187).  It is a most unusual chapter, as it departs from the view of human nature and describes two tendencies among men: the higher or divine and the lower or demonic, and describes in great depth the differenecs between a desirable man and the opposite (Easwaran 187).  This section also mentions the three doors to hell: lust, greed and anger.  Demon and divine are not to be taken too literally, as they more imply the battle between good and evil (Easwaran 189).

The second last chapter of the Gita, before the dialogue concludes, called The Three Aspects of Faith (Stoler-Miller 137) or Discipline of Distinction of Three Kinds of Faith (Edgerton 82), finds Arjuna questioning Krishna about which quality “…men who ignore tradition, but sacrifice in full faith…”(Stoler –Miller 137) have.  The deity explains that a man’s faith depends on lucidity of mind, giving examples to Arjuna, such as food choices of men (Stoler-Miller 138).  He says that one must not violate norms, one must practice bodily, mental and verbal penance, and one must also practice proper acts of charity (Stoler-Miller 138-140).  Krishna also expands on the notion of OM TAT SAT in this section.

Commentary by Easwaran also addresses the question about what happens to those who do not follow orthodoxy.  According to him, Krishna goes into greater detail of the gunas and stresses the importance of shradda (faith, or the sum of all that’s held in the heart) (Easwaran 193).  According to Krishna there are different kinds of faith depending on the gunas present and potency.  Om Tat Sat is also mentioned in this chapter, which means “only the good really exists”, and Krishna explains how evil is transient and therefore does not actually exist (Easwaran 194-195).

The final and concluding chapter of the great discussion between Krishna and Arjuna entitled The Wondrous Dialogue Concludes (Stoler-Miller 143) or Discipline of Renunciation unto Salvation (Edgerton 91), answers the student’s question about the “…real essence of renunciation”(Stoler-Miller 143).  This can be achieved, according to the deity, by giving up actions based on desire and relinquishing all fruits of action, through the three kinds of relinquishment: action in sacrifice, charity, and penance (Stoler-Miller 143-145).  However, he clarifies that renunciation of prescribed action is inappropriate and becomes a way of dark inertia (Stoler-Miller 144).  Krishna further explains five causes for success for all actions, including the material basis, the agent, different instruments, the various behaviors, and fate (Stoler-Miller 145).  The dialogue concludes with a basic over view of Krishna’s lessons, about sacred duties, relinquishment and detachment, the infinite spirit and our own intrinsic being and our bounding to it (Stoler-Miller 146-153).  Krishna enforces with Arjuna, to “…keep his mind on God”(Stoler-Miller 152), and the conversation ends with a small commentary from Sanjaya.

The closing chapter in the text is titled “Freedom and Renunciation” according to Easwaran’s viewpoint, and it roams over many subjects.  The Gita is aimed at those who “live in the world”, yet desire fulfillment, and therefore Krishna recommends the path of tyaga over the path of sannyasa, a middle route to enlightenment (Easwaran 201).  Moksa (liberation) comes from renunciation of the gunas, Krishna tells Arjuna, since in life you can never be sure things will turn out as planned (Easwaran 202).  The Gita offers a more practical application of some of the Sankhya teachings, such as the three kinds of happiness (Easwaran 202).  Krishna explains caste in this conclusion, and points out it is better to do one’s own work imperfectly than to do another’s perfectly (Easwaran 202), but the returns to his favorite topic: devotion and faith in God, to wrap up the diologue, giving the analogy of a toy mounted on a machine (Easwaran 202-203).  Arjuna is asked if he understands and he confirms, attending to his divine duty.

The Gita is problematic to translate perfectly from its initial writing in Sanskrit to other languages, as demonstrated by Easwaran.  This contributes to the subjectivity in interpretations already available in individual passages, chapters, and work as an aggregate.  In order to demonstrate the partisanship that one can interpret from The Bhagavad Gita, a comparison of several versions of the text regarding “…two verses with unmistakable resonance for modern society” could provide further evidence (Davis 172).  In Richard H. Davis’s biography of the Gita, he provides comparison of “…four distinct approaches to the task of translating [it]” (172).  This paper will summarize one of those in comparison with several others from my research.

The two notable and descriptive passages that easily expose the subjectivity of the translations are in the eleventh teaching, during Arjuna’s grand vision, when Krishna describes himself and the greatness of God to the warrior prince (Davis 172).  As Davis recounts, “on July 16, 1945, J. Robert Oppenheimer (a brilliant physicist and gifted amateur student of Sanskrit) watched the first human-controlled atomic explosion at Los Alamos, New Mexico…[he] later recalled [this] passage from the Bhagavad Gita…” (172):

If the radiance of a thousand suns

Were to burst at once into the sky,

That would be like the splendor

Of the Mighty One…

I am become Death

The shatterer of worlds. (173).

 

It is not surprising that Oppenheimer compared the intensity and God-like force of an atomic bomb to these passages, and the description Krishna gives as God himself (Davis 173).  Drawing from the two more poetic and easy reading versions I came across during my own research of the Gita, it can be demonstrated how these passages can be delivered more gently, and taken in a completely different context.

In Barbara Stoler-Miller’s translation, the passages read:

 

If the light of a thousand suns

were to rise in the sky at once,

it would be like the light

of that great spirit…

I am time grown old

creating world destruction (pp. 99, 11:12, pp. 103, 11:32).

 

And in Stephen Mitchell’s interpretation of the translation, the matching segments announce:

If a thousand suns were to rise

and stand in the noon sky, blazing,

such brilliance would be like the fierce

brilliance of that mighty Self…

I am death, shatterer of worlds

annihilating all things. (pp. 134, 11:12, pp. 138, 11:32).

 

These two translations clearly show, when juxtaposed against Oppenheimer’s version,  the poetics that can be drawn from the text.  It can be made more gentle, with milder words – especially in the latter passage speaking about the inevitable fate of death and destruction in the human world.

Interpretation of the passages according to both a lay/average Hindu viewpoint, and a consecrated Hindu Guru will also greatly expose the variability available in the Gita.  Swami Prabhupada, who “…established a following of Krishna consciousness” (Davis 7), interpreted these passages this way:

 

If hundreds of thousands of suns rose at once into the sky,

they might resemble the effulgence of the Supreme Person in that universal               form…

Time I am, the destroyer of the worlds, and I have come to engage all people.      (pp. 181, 11:12, pp. 183, 11:32)

 

Obviously, from this explanation, one can draw out words such as “effulgence” and “engage”, to see how the passage is being used as an instrument of piety.  In contrast to Swami Prabhupada, an average interpretation of these sections by Eknath Easwaran read:

 

If a thousand suns were to rise in the heavens

at the same time, the blaze of their light

would resemble the splendor of that supreme

spirit…

I am time, the destroyer of all; I have come

To consume the world. (pp. 151, 11:12, pp. 154, 11:32).

 

The lay read of this section is much more toned down and simple, expressing the greatness and incomprehensibility of God, without any distinct push in the direction of piousness whatsoever.  By comparison of several versions of specific passages in the translation of The Bhagavad Gita, it is easy to realize the extreme subjectivity and personal sway that can be placed on the text for individual purposes.

To further demonstrate this, it is advantageous to now turn to The Bhagavad Gita’s biography and historical background, with regard to the work as a whole.  The physical place of the believed setting of The Bhagavad Gita, was in “Kurukshetra,…[which is] both a particular field of battle and perpetual field of dharma, as Dhritarashtra’s opening question suggests” (Davis 4), found near the town of Jyotisar, India (Davis 4).  This being said, most researchers agree that the text was written in northern India, sometime during the classical period between the reign of the Mauryan king Ashoka (r. 269-232 BCE) and Gupta dynasty (320-547 CE), as part of a much larger opus, the epic poem Mahabharata (Davis 6).  The Mahabharata, which was originally composed in ancient Sanskrit, tells the legend of a devastating enmity between two clans of the ruling class for control of a kingdom in India (Davis 10).  From an early date, the Gita circulated as an independent piece, and found itself as a “…self standing work of religious philosophy”, giving it a binary identity (Davis 11).  But in order to appreciate its full “…rhetorical power” (Davis 11), the story found within the Gita is better understood in the full context of the larger epic in which it is found, the Mahabharata.  The background of the two rivaling sides of cousins is explained more clearly in the complete epic, and the point at which we find Krishna and Arjuna in the beginning of the Gita seems more fitting, than to a reader who may just be exposed to the Gita alone.

Krishna’s battlefield teachings addressed two of the main causes of philosophical distresses being discussed by religions at the time of the Gita’s composition, moral questions and psychological insight (Davis 15).  Rebirth, or samsara, was a widely accepted premise in classical India (Davis 16).  The Gita took on a more liberal note of practice of religion during its time of emergence as well, in that anyone could engage in yoga while still being active in worldly affairs, which was very attractive and more practical for the everyday masses (Davis 20).  The Gita discusses two important systems of thought, Samkhya (dualist approach) and Vedanta (monistic approach) (Davis 22).  Thus, one of the appeals of the script may be its “…heuristic validity”, with either path seen as correct (Davis 22).  The path of devotion, or bhakti, is new in Sanskrit literature, and makes its debut in the Gita to religious audiences (Davis 22-23).

Krishna’s teachings are widely speculated to provide a convincing justification for Arjuna to fight, and the Mahabharata does not shy away from the calamitous consequences of that choice (Davis 33).  The Gita embraces the message of the greater epic as a whole (Davis 33).  The war, as found in the Mahabharata, is not sensationalized as it is in the Gita, ending with very few survivors of the warrior class, extreme grief and ethical failure (Davis 33-34), better supporting the eschatological belief of “Indian cyclic time, [and great dissolution followed by new creation]” (Davis 35).  “Later Indian tradition uses the Mahabharata as transition from one era to another…[taking us from the Dvapara era to the Kali-yuga era]” (Davis 35).

The belief of the authorship of the Gita is especially fascinating, proclaimed by both a “divine authorship of God” (Davis 36), and Vyasa, the physical author of the work (Davis 36).  Vyasa was a brahmin sage, and appears as a character within the Mahabharata, playing a pivotal role, who was actually a genetic grandfather to the Pandava and Kaurava fraternities (Davis 36).  While it is believed that Vyasa was the author of the Mahabharata, “…few historians accept a single genius as an author”,  and was probably complied over a lot of time (Davis 39).  The great poet Jnanadeva “…composed a lengthy new work that translated and expanded on the Sanskrit Gita in Marathi language” (Davis 44).  During this time, Gitas of other deities were also produced with The Bhagavad Gita as a model in the writing of these,  and while Krishna’s significance was always recognized, rivalry always wanted to oust him, indicating the characteristics of medieval theistic Hinduism (Davis 53).

There were also many commentators of the Gita in classical India, “…seek[ing] to determine the true meaning of [the] difficult text” (Davis 54-55).  Shankara was among them, but not the first or the last, claiming “…[the] concentrated essence of the Veda [within the Gita itself]…”, giving it a permanent and universal meaning (Davis 54, 59).  In contrast, another commentator of the same time period, by the name of Ramanuja, who disagreed with Shankara, demanded “…[the] path of knowledge alone will not suffice for higher ends” (Davis 63).   He also maintained that Krishna came to the battlefield to “…reveal the new path [of devotion]”, bhakti, a new concept found in the Gita (Davis 63-64).   These two views reveal only the tip of the iceberg of commentary in classical India and beyond that the Gita received in its early days.

In 1866, the transatlantic under-sea cable was laid under the Atlantic Ocean, linking the North American and European continents in an unprecedented way, and in 1869, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific rail lines joined, forming a transcontinental railway, linking homeland North America in the same fashion, and the French Suez Canal, linking the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean (Davis 72).   With the new and rapid form of communications taking place in their infancy stages to what we know today, inevitably the movement of information suddenly became faster and more efficient across oceans, formerly a huge obstacle to such flow of ideas (Davis 72).  Just before this, the Gita would see its first translation to English  by an British man and employee of the East India Company, by the name of Charles Wilkins, in 1785 (Davis 75-76).  His translation of this,  the first Sanskrit text, fascinated European erudite circles, helping along a demand for a new influx of eastern literature (Davis 76).  This version also saw the Gita’s first notable political use – vis a vis British control in colonial India (Davis 76).  The success that the Gita would find among this new audience would be exponential, especially in the midst of the Romantic movement (Davis 83-84).  From the late eighteenth century onward through the early nineteenth century, those who read or interpreted the Gita “…did so in a political context” (Davis 93).  While certain attitudes and approaches, such as those of Governor General Hastings, “…advocated for [a better] understanding [of Indian] culture, others such as James Mill used the Gita to “…criticize and judge…” the history of India (Davis 96).  Mill used the rhetorical value available to the apt purveyor in the Gita to his full advantage, portraying the Indian civilization as problematically primordial, further calling for radical change (Davis 96-99).  During the latter half of the nineteenth century, new versions of the Gita began to appear, with scholars in Germany wanting to “…get to the bottom of the Indian antiquity…”(Davis 100), with the most popular and perhaps notable by Edwin Arnold called “The Song Celestial” (Davis 104).

Along with the new wave of antiquity texts flowing into Europe and North America, the first Hindu sannyasin, Swami Vivekanada, would also find his way to America in 1893, to speak to the World Parliament in an impromptu manner, that would both introduce Western thought to a living breathing knower of Eastern faith, and fascinate many more (Davis 105-112).  Perhaps the most famous reader and commentator of the Bhagavad Gita was Gandhi, the Mahatma (Davis 136).  First read by the young Gandhi, in London around 1888-1889, he called it a “…spiritual reference book” (Davis 136).  What set his interpretation aside from all others up to this point was that he “…approached the Gita as not specifically Hindu…”, but as universal knowledge and truth for all (Davis 137).  Throughout Gandhi’s career, the text was “…made a constant point of reference” (Davis 137).  Another way in which Gandhi’s interpretation of the Gita differed from others before him was that he was indifferent to any historical context, placing more importance in allegory, in that the war in the book represents “…[the] battle within all…”(Davis 139).  He was well educated and able to effectively argue skewed views of the text by both past and contemporary commentators, promoting ahimsa over violence (Davis 141).  The Gita was last in Gandhi’s discussion three days before his death in 1948, killed by an assassin who ironically was also an avid reader of the text (Davis 138-143).  Prayers are still held at Gandhi’s ashram in India daily, with the recitation of the Gita practiced daily (Davis 181-185).

In 1923, Jayadayal Goyandka opened The Gita Press in northern India, publishing “…expansive editions with Hindi translations” (Davis 154), making the Gita widely available.  After the Holy Bible, the Gita is the most frequently translated religious work to this day (Davis 155), and as of 1982, there were 1891 versions of the text circulating in 75 languages around the world, giving context to the importance of the book (Davis 155).  Just as it is believed that the Gita was originally delivered through an oral performance, the text finds itself in contemporary acts as well (Davis 177).  Nowadays, audio incarnations are available through multi-media, a sixties rock group named themselves The Bhagavad Gita respectively, and Jimmy Hendrix’s album cover “Axis” featured a picture of Krishna and Arjuna (Davis 180)     Just as the Gita speaks of existence being nothing more than a mere changing of our clothes as we change bodies during reincarnation, the book itself has undergone much the same process (Davis 156).  The text remains, to this day, one of the most significant books of the Hindu religion, and is repeatedly politically and ideologically contorted to suit.  The Bhagavad Gita’s variability and flexibility has survived the ages and continues to have a profound and philosophical effect on those who read it.

 

Works Cited

Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, A.C. (1968). Bhagavad Gita as it is. Los Angeles, CA: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.

Davis, R.H. (2015). The Bhagavad Gita: A biography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton  University Press.

Easwaran, E. (1985). The Bhagavad Gita. Tomales, CA: The Blue Mountain Center of Meditation/Nilgiri Press.

Edgerton, F. (1972). The Bhagavad Gita. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Mitchell, S. (2000). Bhagavad Gita: A new translation. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.

Stoler-Miller, B. (1986). The Bhagavad Gita: Krishna’s counsel in time of war. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

 

Article written by Laura Gunn (2015), who is solely responsible for it content.

Bhakti Yoga as Described by the Bhagavad Gita

One of the fundamental aspects of Hinduism revolves around the spiritual paths one must take in order to reach a state of Moksa or enlightenment. As Moksha is the ultimate goal for any practitioner of the Hindu tradition, it is obvious that concerns over the correct way to achieve this end are approached in a wide variety of ways. Bhakti Yoga is one such path to achieving enlightenment within orthodox Hindu teachings. Bhakti Yoga, also commonly known as the Path of Devotion, teaches that Moksha is achieved by means of selfless and utter devotion, love, and trust towards a particular deity. Those on the Path of Devotion often listen to stories about God, sing devotional hymns, recite mantras, worship at temples and shrines at the home, and undergo pilgrimages in hopes of becoming closer to God. The word bhakti is made up of two parts, the root bhaj, meaning service and the suffix ktr, which means love. However, bhakti is a very flexible word which also means to be attached to, to be devoted to, or to resort to (Michael 250). Bhakti Yoga is a multi-faceted practice which requires both a commitment to God as well as a commitment to loving fellowship of those around oneself in order to succeed. In order to achieve Moksha following this pathway, one must have a pure devotion to God, as having other desires leaves one incapable of fully devoting themselves to God. Bhakti is additionally dualistic in that the term may describe both the path by which one realizes enlightenment, as well as the ultimate goal of enlightenment itself (Michael 250).

The Bhagavad Gita is a part found within the epic the Mahabharata that introduces the concept of the Yogas [spiritual paths that worshippers may take in order to reach a state of salvation or unification with God]. The Bhagavad Gita takes place during the middle of the Mahabharata, when the third Pandava Arjuna is filled with doubt when forced to fight blood relatives in the war of Kurukshetra. Through the course of numerous philosophical and theological discussions between Prince Arjuna and Krsna, the concepts and application of the Yogas are introduced. Despite the very influential nature and important contents of the Bhagavad Gita, it is not considered Sruti [divine in origin], but as Smrti [remembered verses], as it is a part of the Mahabharata. As the introduction of the Yogas is a foundational aspect of many varying sects of Hinduism, the Bhagavad Gita is still seen as one of the more important Smrti in the Hindu tradition. These spiritual paths have become significantly prominent aspects of the Hindu tradition and in many ways serve to define many of the different sects of Hinduism in the modern day.

The concept of Yoga that was introduced in the Bhagavad Gita specifically refers to the primary ways in which practitioners of Hinduism may achieve unification between themselves and God. There are three main paths that are described within the Bhagavad Gita as ways to achieve enlightenment. The first is Karma Yoga, also known as the Path of Action. This Yoga consists of proper and selfless action, the control or suppression of selfish desires, and providing selfless services to those who require it. The successful completion of these deeds are thought to be transformed into worship. This is best characterized by the saying of Yogaswami of Sri Lanka “All work must be done with the aim of reaching God” (Veylanswami 10). The second path is Jnana Yoga, otherwise known as the Path of Knowledge. This path is based on the attainment of philosophical knowledge and discrimination between what is real and unreal (Veylanswami 10). To attain this knowledge, a combination of listening to scripture, thinking or reflecting upon that scripture, and then deep, meaningful meditation is often the course of action of followers belonging to this path. The ultimate goal of this path is to determine the differences between the real and the unreal, giving one an understanding of their true identity within true reality. Bhakti Yoga is the third path that is seen as a means to salvation, by committing yourself entirely to the love and devotion of a specific deity. [Krsna and Siva are two of the more commonly worshipped deities within the Path of Devotion]. Bhakti Yoga is brought to light in the Bhagavad Gita when Krsna explains to Arjuna that those who manage to remain concentrated on him, worship him with unfaltering faith, are rescued from the cycle of life and death. This escape from the struggle of life and death that Lord Krsna refers to is commonly known as Moksha or enlightenment. A more recently conceived spiritual path that has been gaining significant following in recent history is known as Raja Yoga or the Path of Meditation. The inception of Raja Yoga is not considered to be from the Bhagavad Gita, but from the Yoga Sutras credited to Patanjali. Raja Yoga follows an eight tiered system that focuses on ethical restraint, religious observance, proper posture, breathing control, withdrawal, meditation, and a sense of oneness (Veylanswami 10). These eight features are practiced in hopes of concentrating one’s mental awareness, which is deemed essential to the tradition.

The Yogas that are spoken of in the Bhagavad Gita are in many ways interconnected. A commonly practiced approach to the Yogas is to choose one primary path to follow, while still observing the practices of the other Yogas in a secondary manner. While those who seek Moksha shall undoubtedly lean towards one particular path, true knowledge cannot be attained without at least a fundamental understanding of the remaining paths (Veylanswami 11). An approach to the Yogas that has gained traction recently is undertaking Bhakti, Karma, or Raja Yoga prior to taking Jnana Yoga to ensure that one has a real understanding of what it is that they learn and speak of along the Path of Knowledge. This concept is best illustrated by the words of Swami Vishnudevananda: “Before practicing jnana yoga, the aspirant needs to have integrated the lessons of the other yogic paths—for without selflessness and love of God, strength of body and mind, the search for Self Realization can become mere idle speculation” (Veylanswami 11).

While there is a strong degree of interconnectivity between the varying Yoga pathways, there are a number of fundamental differences between each practice, which inevitably leads to strong differences between the practitioners of each yogic path. The way in which the personality of an individual meshes with the fundamental principles of each path are a strong determinant as to which path an individual will choose. For those who are emotional, Bhakti Yoga is commonly recommended, for the physically active Karma Yoga is frequently suggested, while Raja Yoga is considered most appealing to meditative personalities, and Jnana yoga is deemed best suited for a more intellectual individual (Veylanswami 10). In addition to differences in general doctrine and follower personality, the selection of each Yoga path is also strongly related to the deity that an individual worships. Those who are affiliated with Krsna worship will have different views and affinities towards one path than those who worship Siva. [Vaishnava sects tend to promote Bhakti Yoga for their followers, while some Vedantic sects promote Jnana Yoga as the dominant means of salvation] (Veylanswami 11).

There are many ways in which the Bhakti Yoga path may be followed, with a near infinite number of ways to devote oneself to, unconditionally love, and otherwise worship a deity. Some may choose frequent temple worship as a primary means of connecting with God, while others may feel that the utterance of sacred mantra is the ideal way to worship. As there are many differences between practitioners of Bhakti yoga, naturally there is a large degree of variation within Bhakti yoga itself. These variations may be the result of regional variability, the plethora of deities that are available for worship, or even socioeconomic and social differences that exemplify the traditional caste (jati) and class (Varna) system of Hinduism. These differences are not static, but instead dynamic, changing over time and space. The methodology and frequency of forms of worship change continuously over time.

There are very notable differences when comparing varying sects of bhakti worship. In Bengali Shakta Bhakti yogic rituals are designed to bridle the uncontrolled passion and emotion that followers. The yogic rituals performed are meant to provide appropriate times and places for practitioners to have encounters and experiences with the goddess. In Gaudiya Vaisnava Bhakti, yogic rituals in which worshippers relive mythical and historical occurrences of great emotion are performed in order to increase devotion and provide understanding of the worshipper role that each person has to Krsna or Radha (McDaniel 54). While both of these sects follow the Path of Devotion, they perform different rituals for different purposes. Each of these traditions provides worship to their deity uniquely, in large part to the personality type of those who follow each tradition. Within the Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition, members are taught and perform different ways of serving god. It may be entertaining guests, collecting water, or frequent prayer at a home shrine. A guru is often consulted to teach members what acts they can do to best serve their God, however once these methods have been learned and ultimately perfected over time, innumerable variations may be made to individualize the act of worship (Haberman 133). Thus, we can see variation not only between traditions but within traditions.

While many differences between bhakti traditions are relatively minor, there are occasions where practices can differ wildly from one group to the next; this can best be seen when comparing the diminishing practice of Sahajiya bhakti and the rituals of the Bauls with mainstream Gaudiya Vaisnava traditions. The Sahajiya believe that Krsna and Radha may come down from the heavens and enter the bodies of worshippers. As a result, the Sahajiya perform a sexual ritual so that members may experience the “love” of their deities. The Bauls, a group of wandering singers seek the love of Krsna and Radha and perform rituals involving the ingestion of taboo substances. By making the impure substance pure through the act of the ritual, members hope to become rasika (those who are able to see divine presences) (McDaniel 54). Both the Sahajiya and Baul traditions are subcultures of the Gaudiya Vaisnava bhakti, however the rituals, members, and ideals of the groups are in many ways opposed to one another. Historically, Bhakti Yoga became a popular choice for people to follow due to the open nature of the path. Any who felt that they could devote themselves to God were capable of following the path. This can be seen in the members of the bhakti movement previously in history; the heads of bhakti sects were not just Brahmin males as was custom for other paths, but those of high or low castes, male or female. The language used for bhakti literature such as doctrines and poetry were written not just in Sanskrit but in vernacular languages as well (Rinehart 51). This literature showed a great degree of variability between writers as well as regions; some wrote of gods not only reverently but negatively at times as well, while some questioned the appearances of the gods or their manner of speech (Rinehart 52). The large degree of differences found between traditions of various regions and sub cultures, both modern and historical serves to demonstrate the significant number of different manners in which Bhakti Yoga may be performed. Given the broad backgrounds from which members arise, the large amount of deities that are worshipped, and the incredibly broad manner in which an individual may choose to express his or her devotion to God. It is little wonder that the Bhakti Yoga tradition has become such a broad and encompassing division of Hindu tradition.

 

References and Further Recommended Reading

Bodhinatha Veylanswami, Satguru (2012) “Which Yoga Should I Follow?” Hinduism Today (Jul-Sep): 10-11.

Haberman, David (1988) Acting as a way of Salvation: A Study of Rāgānugā Bhakti Sādhana. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

McDaniel, June (2012) The Role of Yoga in Some Bengali Bhakti Traditions: Shaktism, Gaudiya Vaisnavism, Baul, and Sahajiya Dharma. College of Charleston.

Mehta, Varun (2011) “The Need for Balance in Faith” Hinduism Today (Jan-Mar): 9.

Michael, Pavulraj (2011) Bhakti Yoga in the Bhagavad Gita — An Easy Way for all to Search and find the Will of God. Rome: Pontificia Universita Gregoriana.

Rinehart, Robin (2004) Contemporary Hinduism: Ritual, Culture, and Practice. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Rosen, Steven (2010) Krishna’s other song: a new look at the Uddhava Gita. Santa Barbara: Praeger.

Kumar, Shashiprabha (2005) Self ,society, and value: reflections on Indian philosophical thought. Delhi: Vidyanidhi Prakashan.

 

Related Topics for Investigation

Jnana Yoga

Karma Yoga

Samadhi in Yoga

Dharana in Yoga

Krsna/Krishna and Arjuna

Cuntarar/Sundarar

The Bhagavata Purans

The Nayanars/Nayanmars

Ramprasad Sen

Campantar/Sambandar

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to Topic

www.bhagavad-gita.us/chapter-summaries-of-the-bhagavad-gita/

http://www.hinduwebsite.com/devotion.asp

http://www.krishna.com/karma-jnana-and-bhakti-yoga

http://www.indianetzone.com/1/bhakti_yoga.htm

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2002-12-14/edit-page/27319455_1_astanga-bhakti-yoga-yogic

 

Article written by: Andrew Gunderson (March 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

Jnana Yoga

Jnana Yoga is one of the methods for attaining liberation and union with God, prescribed by the incarnate god Krsna to his friend and disciple Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita. Jnana Yoga literally means “the path of union through knowledge (Prabhavananda 124).

The Bhagavad Gita (often shortened to the “Gita”) is a highly influential text embedded in the Mahabharata epic. It begins with the armies of the Pandavas and the Kauruvas assembled and ready for battle. The Pandava warrior Arjuna asks his friend and charioteer Krsna to drive between the armies so that he may survey his enemies before the battle commences. Arjuna sees among the rival army his friends, teachers, and other kin and is faced with a severe crisis, caught between his dharma (duty) as a ksatriya to fight and his wish to not harm his those he cares for (Theodore 27). Krsna chastises Arjuna, reminding him of his duty, and telling him that he should not grieve for those who will die, since only the body dies, not the soul which is eternal (Theodore 30). Arjuna remains uncertain and asks Krsna to become his guru and instruct him on how he should properly act (Theodore 29). What follows is a conversation between Krsna and Arjuna on such spiritual topics as the nature of the soul, reality, God, and the attainment of moksa (liberation), which occupies the remainder of the Gita.

During the course of the discussion, Jnana Yoga is described as a method for attaining spiritual liberation, along with Karma Yoga (the path of action), Bhakti Yoga (the path of devotion or love), as well as Raja Yoga (the path of meditation) (Prabhavananda 124). Jnana Yoga emphasizes focused contemplation, the object of which is the Divine (Theodore 106). The Jnana Yoga practitioner (jnani) must become adept at discriminating between the real and unreal. Our experiences and perceptions are impermanent and fleeting, having both beginning and end. The only abiding reality is that of Brahman (Absolute Reality), which is equated with the Atman, the Supreme Self (Prabhavananda 125). Krsna discusses what he terms “the Field” and “the Knower of the Field”. The “Field” includes the body, senses, and mind/ego. The knower of the field is the true Self, the Atman (Theodore 104). The jnani learns the true self through relentlessly analyzing, separating and distinguishing the elements that make up reality (Torwesten 90). Jnana Yoga is fundamentally the practise of proclaiming neti, neti (not this, not this), a concept seen in the Upanisads: the jnani comes to realize the true Self by defining what it is not, specifically the body, mind, senses, and any object or experience (“the Field”) (Prabhavananda 125).

As the jnani strips away these false notions of self, through self discipline he should restrain his senses and withdraw from the sensual world, likened to a tortoise withdrawing its limbs into its shell (Theodore 37). Having so withdrawn, the desire for sensual pleasures will remain; however, once the jnani attains a vision of the Supreme, this desire will disappear (Theodore 37). The jnani should become detached and indifferent to the world. Krsna describes the ideal sage as such:

One not agitated despite all kinds of distress, whose apsiration for happiness is gone, and who is devoid of pass, fear and anger…He who is not attracted to anything, and having attained this or that, good or bad, does not rejoice but is not averse either – his wisdom is firmly established (Bhagavad Gita 2.55-57).

Thus the jnani must strive to become indifferent to good and evil deeds, to all desires, to pleasure and pain. Instead, he attains the greatest happiness in the Self (Prabhavananda 125).

The end goal of all of the Yogas is the attainment of moksa, or liberation. Moksa is freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth, samsara (Theodore 3). When the yogi has realized Brahman and is fully absorbed in it, meditating on Brahman at the time of his death, he will be liberated from the endless cycle of samsara:

He who leaves the body while pronouncing the single syllable which is Brahman, the Om, while meditating on me, reaches the supreme goal. O Partha, I am easily reached by the yogi who always remembers me, is constantly and fully absorbed in me, and is thus ever yoked. Having come to me, these great souls do not undergo rebirth into that transient abode of misery, as they have attained the highest perfection (Bhagavad Gita 8.13-15).

Despite its emphasis of renunciation, practising Jnana Yoga does not necessarily mean withdrawing from all actions in life. Krsna advocates employing the methods of Karma Yoga even as one follows the Jnana path (Theodore 42). Under Karma Yoga, actions adhering to dharma (rituals, sacrifice, etc) are still performed, but are done without attachment to the fruits of their outcomes (Theodore 34). Indeed, Krsna repeatedly proclaims that while both Jnana and Karma Yoga lead to liberation, Karma Yoga is the preferable path: “Both relinquishing activity and yogic activity lead to the highest good, but of the two, karma yoga or yogic action exceeds renouncing altogether” (Bhagavad Gita 5.2). This is because the renunciation of worldly existence in Jnana Yoga is difficult to achieve without the support of Karma Yoga, as it requires the maintenance of a negative attitude of aversion which actually keeps the mind focused on the world (Theodore 55). This can lead to increased attachment to the world, hindering the development of true indifference (Theodore 55). Instead, through practising selfless action devoted only to Brahman, the yogi develops a sense of inner satisfaction which makes the attainment of true detachment much easier (Theodore 57). Furthermore, while the jnani should practise asceticism, extreme austerities are to be avoided according to Krsna:

The hearts of those who practise dreadful austerities not ordained by the scriptures, are filled with hypocrisy and egotism as they are motivated by lust and attachment. Those fools, who torture the aggregate of elements in their bodies as well as me, who dwell therein, know them to have a demonic resolution (Bhagavad Gita 17.5-6).

Instead, moderation in sleep, drinking, eating, and recreational activities is advocated in pursuit of the Jnana Yoga path (Prabhavananda 128).

Most of the ideas in the Gita and the practises of Jnana Yoga are substantially similar to those found in other Hindu schools of thought. Many of the verses about Jnana Yoga are taken directly from some of the middle and later Upanisads, including the Mundaka, Katha, and Svetasvartara Upanisad (Torwesten 89). The concepts of Brahman, the Atman, and the attainment of moksa are rooted in the Upanisadic tradition (Prahavananda 55). The Upanisads say that in order to realize Brahman/Atman and attain moksa, one must first renounce all selfish desires, with all thoughts of the individual self snuffed out by the oneness of Brahman, the same as the detachment advocated in the Gita (Prahavananda 65).

Elements from the Sankhya philosophy are also used extensively for the division and analysis of reality featured in Jnana Yoga. The Sankhya dualism of Purusa and Prakriti, supreme consciousness and material nature, are mirrored in the Gita conception of “The Field” and “The Knower of the Field” (Torwesten 90). The Gita also discusses at length the three gunas which make up Prakriti, specifically tamas (darkness, dullness, inertia), rajas (ego-driven activity), and sattva (lumosity, purity) (Torwesten 91).

Advaita Vedanta, one of the major schools of Hindu philosophy, advocates the practise of Jnana Yoga in order to achieve moksa (Deutsch 104). Advaita Vedanta outlines four general qualifications to be fulfilled by one seeking liberation, as well as three stages they must pass through: first, the aspirant must be able to discern what is real from what is only apparently real. Second, he requires a complete disregard and indifference toward sensual pleasure and petty desires, willingly giving up all that which distracts him and prevents his attainment of self-knowledge. Third, he must cultivate self-control (dama), endurance (titiksa), dispassion (uparati), mental tranquility (sama), intentness of mind (samadhana), and faith (sraddha). Fourth, he requires complete dedication to his quest for true understanding, focusing all his desire upon it alone (Deutsch 105).

The first general stage for the Advaita jnani is known as sravana (“hearing”), which involves the study of advaitic texts, listening to sages, studying the mahavakyas (great sayings) of the Vedas and thinking on their true meaning. This stage provides a framework which can be used for interpretation of the aspiring jnani’s own experiences (Deutsch 106). The next stage is known as manana (“thinking”), which involves prolonged self reflection, incorporating the advaita philosophical principals into himself. Facilitated by a guru, the jnani aspirant learns about the nature of Brahman, and how to discriminate between the different levels of reality (Deutsch 107). He must analyze the ways in which his knowledge of the world and of himself is constituted, realizing how he has falsely identified himself with mere partial expressions of his self (Deutsch 106-107). The final stage is nididhyasana (“constant meditation”). In this stage the jnani actively pursues self-realization, maintaining intense concentration upon his own self as Brahman (Deutsch 108). Detached from all egoism and distractions, he cuts away all lower level experiences and false identifications standing between him and the true Self (Deutsch 109-110). Upon the true realization that he is Brahman and Brahman is everything, the jnani achieves moksa, becoming a jivanmukta, one who is liberated while living (Deutsch 110).

A notable practitioner of Jnana Yoga was Ramana Maharsi (1879-1950). Born to a Brahmin family in South India, he was initially educated in Madurai, where he showed little interest in his studies or inclination toward spirituality (Sivaraman 362). A major transformation occurred when at seventeen he was suddenly struck with a petrifying fear of death. Rather than seek help, he decided to try and solve the problem himself: laying down and making himself stiff as a corpse, he contemplated his mortality. He realized that death only applied to the body and not the “I” within. Ramana lost all fear of death then and became engrossed in contemplation of the Self (Sivaraman 363). Subsequently a major change in Ramana’s behaviour was noticed by his brother: he had become totally indifferent to the world as a renouncer would (Sivaraman 363). Following his realization he left his home and travelled to Tiruvannamalai, taking residence in a cave on the sacred hill Arunachala where he remained for 16 years (Rodrigues 250). Ramana is considered to have achieved a state of sahaja-samadhi (effortless absorption) in the Self (Sivaraman 363). Being acquainted with neither the teachings of the Upanisads or Advaita, he was nonetheless able to independently attain the highest goal of those traditions (Sivaraman 364).

Ramana believed reality to be one and non-dual, regardless of the term used (eg. Brahman, Atman, etc). He used the Tamil term ullatu (“that which is”) to describe this singular principle of reality (Sivaraman 365). The perception of reality as a plurality of entities (eg God, man, and the world) was due to action of the mind or ego. When the ego ceases to function, the oneness of reality becomes evident (Sivaraman 366). Ramana advocated self-inquiry as the most direct means to ceasing the action of the mind/ego, relentlessly asking “Who am I?”, leading one to the source of the “I”, revealing the true Self (Sivaraman 371-72). This approach is different from introspection, where one takes stock of the contents of the mind, nor is it psychoanalysis, wherein the consciousness and unconsciousness are examined. The goal is instead to transcend the mind and discover its source (Sivaraman 374).

While Ramana thought self-inquiry was the most direct path to liberation, he acknowledged other methods as valid as well. Realizing that the same method may not work for everyone, he advocated paths such as Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, or Raja Yoga (Sivaraman 375). Ramana also did not think that living as a renouncer required giving up all of the activities of life. Rather, if these activities are performed with detachment, he believed that a householder could be considered a renouncer (Sivaraman 375). By following the path to enlightenment, Ramana believed that realization of the Self and liberation can be achieved here and now in life. Further, he believed the path of liberation is open to all, regardless of caste, class, race, or sex (Sivaraman 377).

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Bhaktivedanta, Swami (1968) The Bhagavad Gita As It Is. New York: The Macmillan Company.

Deutsch, Eliot (1969) Advaita Vedanta: A Philosophical Reconstruction. Honolulu: East-West Center Press.

Prabhavananda, Swami (1979) The Spiritual Heritage of India. Hollywood: Vedanta Press.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism – The E-book. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online, Ltd.

Sivaraman, Krishna (1989) Hindu Spirituality: Vedas through Vedanta. New York: The     Crossroad Publishing Company.

Theodore, Ithalmar (2010) Exploring the Bhagavad Gita: Philosophy, Structure, and Meaning.     Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited

Torwesten, Hans (1991) Vedanta: Heart of Hinduism. New York: Grove Press Inc.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Karma Yoga

Bhakti Yoga

Raja Yoga

The Bhagavad Gita

The Mahabharata

Moksa

Samsara

Krsna

Visnu

Arjuna

Advaita Vedanta

The Upanisads

Atman

Brahman

Samnyasa

Sankhya

Ramana Maharsi

Swami Vivekananda

Sankara

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jnana_yoga

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advaita_Vedanta

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhagavad_Gita

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoga

http://www.sivananda.org/teachings/fourpaths.html#jnana

http://www.dlshq.org/teachings/jnanayoga.htm

http://www.bhagavad-gita.org/index-english.html

http://www.bhagavad-gita.us/

http://www.asitis.com/

http://www.vedantaadvaita.org/

 

Article written by: Gordon Logie (April 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.

Karma Yoga

Karma Yoga is the path of action. It is a means of preparing oneself for the attainment of moska, self-realization, which is the final goal of life in Hindu tradition (Rao 45). The concept of Karma Yoga has long been acknowledged in Hinduism, but it was not until the emergence of the Bhagavad Gita, a text dealing with the concepts of religion within one’s daily life, that it was viewed as a path toward self-realization. The Bhagavad Gita is based upon a scene in the epic Mahabharata, in which Arjuna is faced with the dilemma of obeying his dharmic duty to fight his cousins, the Kauravas, for rulership of the kingdom, or to ignore dharma, and renounce into a peaceful life, in which he may strive for moksa. Krsna, who identifies himself as the manifestation of god, advises Arjuna to enter battle (see Rodrigues 227-236). Traditionally, moksa was cultivated in the final stages of life, in which one renounces their life within society, to live as a forrest-dweller and samnyasin (see Rodrigues 148-159). This conflict, to choose between a life within a society or a life in which one may become liberated, is resolved in the Gita. The Gita teaches of there being more than one path to reaching the Absolute, the God-head, to attaining moksa (Sivaraman 188). Krsna teaches Arjuna of three paths to liberation: Jnana Yoga, the path of trancedental knowledge, Bhakti Yoga, the path of loving devotion, and Karma Yoga, the path of action. These paths may be undertaken by a person at any stage in life; therefore the Gita teaches of cultivating a renouncer attitude, without being a renouncer. Transforming the notions of karma and yoga, the Bhagavad Gita presents the notion of niskama karma, acting without interest or desire in the results of one’s actions, and applies it to yoga as a path of spiritual development, preparing an individual for pursuing moksa (Rao 48). The teachings of Karma Yoga are inspirational to ways of life. One exemplifier of such inspiration is Mahatma Gandhi, a political activist responsible for transforming both Indian and African societies (see Rodrigues 252-253). Karma Yoga is more than a path preparing one for moksa, it is a way of life both for individuals, as well as society.

Karma, in its original sense, is the “law” of cause and effect (Sivaraman 181). It is the notion that every action that one takes in the world, both of physical (act) or mental (thoughts, feelings) nature, leaves an impression on both the cosmic and human realms of the world and thus bears a consequence or result (Sivaraman 181). Karmic consequences, good or bad, are attached to the individual, and therefore determine their current, and future conditions (Sivaraman 181). Therefore, karma refers to the performance of deeds, which include specific caste duties, sacrifices and rituals that maintain the order of the world. The Hindu concept of spiritual re-birth lies within karma, as those who possess good karma may be subjected to a better rebirth, which includes being re-born into a higher caste (Sivaraman 181). Therefore, the original concept of karma suggests that human beings are attached to life in the world, and so, should act in a manner reflective of their desire to live a content life, and improve their place of re-birth (Sivaraman 181).

The notion of karma was reformed through the Bhagavad Gita. Karma refers to the performance of actions as a result of a motive, which is either egoistic or nonegoistic. Such actions do not bear consequences on the individual, as the result of any action is determined, and produced by god, and thus should be attributed to god (Singr 56). According to the Gita, it matters not what results come of any action, what matters is the motive behind each action (Sighr 71). Niskama karma, acting in the world disinterested in the results of such actions, and without desire for certain outcomes, is the reformed karma of the Bhagavad Gita (Rao 48). Embracing niskama karma in life while examining the motives behind each action one takes constitutes Karma Yoga (Singr 71).

Hindu philosohpy, specifically Sankhya philosphy, speaks of the dualistic nature of reality. Reality is composed of two entities: Purusa (the self) and Prakrti (the non-self) (see Rodrigues). Purusa is the soul within beings, and represents truth. Prakrti, on the other hand, is a force, it is our nature. Prakrti manifests as the buddhi (intellect), ahankara (ego) and manas (inner feelings of the heart and mind) of a being. According to the Gita, Prakrti is responsible for all action, while Purusa is unaffected by all that takes place (Singr 46). Ignorance is said to be the cause of all sorrow, and its force is bestowed upon a being when they identify themselves as the doer of action. Attaching actions, and results to the self feeds the ego self, motivating future actions and causes suffering when results of an action are un-agreeable (Edgerton 165). Ignorance binds the soul to the physical being, and blinds a person from seeing truth, from discriminating between Prakrti and Purusa. Moksa is thus, unattainable while in a state of ignorance (Singr 118). Karma Yoga allows a person to overcome ignorance through the purification of the mind (Rao 46).

Karma Yoga is the “discipline of detached activity” (Singr 71). Action is seen as inescapable, it is in the nature (prakrti) of beings to act helplessly, but it is in their power to control such actions (Deutsch 39). Prakrti is composed of three gunas (elements): rajas (passion), sattva (illuminous) and tammas (obstruction). The gunas are the controlling force over all action. Rajas, as the Gita teaches, is the “enemy”, as passion is thought to masque knowledge. Manas and buddhi, the mind and the understanding of a being, are impacted by rajas, as passion becomes internalized and seen as stemming from the self (Deutsch 39). In the epic, Mahabharata, Krsna teaches Arjuna that the mind is greater than the senses, reason is greater than the mind, and it is the being himself who is greater than reason (Deutsch 39). Through the practice of Karma Yoga, a person becomes able to examine and conceptualize the nature of action, non-action and wrong action, beginning to work at understanding the “way of action” (Deutsch 39). A being is seen as detached when they are able to truly discriminate the soul from the gunas of prakrti, understanding its separation from action (Singr 66).

The path of Karma Yoga is followed physically through detached action within the world, and mentally through the conditioning of the mind, appreciating the nature of action and the power within oneself to control the forces of prakrti. Yajna (sacrifice), is the technique used within Karma Yoga to lead one towards self-realization (Deutsch 163). The followers of Karma Yoga give up their lower self, their ego self containing desires and attachments, in light of their higher, spiritual self, their soul (Deutsch 164). The being is sacrificed for the soul. When a person chooses to follow the path of action they must concentrate their attention on the divine, their actions are expressions of the divine power that lies within their being. The actions a person takes should be selfless, having no underlying desire, not even the desire to achieve moska (Singr 103). Yajna is performed by taking selfless actions within the world, sacrificing the ego-self, as a being redirects involvement in its actions away from the results and toward their spirit (Singr 103).

The path of Karma Yoga leads a being through four stages of karma. Initially, karma influences the actions one takes for selfish reasons, such as desires and attachments. The actions begin to be motivated from the being’s enlightened desire to know their true self. Next, as one discovers the power of their own being, actions are determined by their personal dharmic law. Finally, actions are taken for the goodness of the action, they are disinterested and are the essence of a being’s true self (Singr 74). The stages of karma are steps in cultivating the essence of Karma Yoga. Through Karma Yoga, a being purifies their mind, and prepares itself to enter the path of knowledge (Rao 50).

Acting for the social good is an essential characteristic of Karma Yoga. The emergence of the path of action has led to the development of many social programs such as Rama krishna mission hospitals, as well revolutions within society (see Rodrigues 251-252). Mahatma Gandhi was a political activist who encompassed the essence of Karma Yoga. Gandhi’s life was characterized by detached action, for the benefit of others and for society. As the reality of social injustice came to his awareness, Gandhi set out on a journey to evoke change. Basing his life on the notion of niskama karma, and karma yoga, Gandhi created the concept of satyagraha (holding fast to the truth), and applied this to political activism (Cherian 86). Mahatma Gandhi reformed societies of South Africa and India through the concept of Karma Yoga, taking action for just causes without being concerned of the consequences such action might relay on an individual. It is through Gandhi’s active, non-violent resistance to social injustice that such societies began to change (Cherian 86).

The path of action purifies the mind of a being, and in so prepares it for attaining the transcendental knowledge characteristic of moksa (Rao 50). Karma Yoga can be adopted at any stage in life, and with so, can be viewed as a lifelong journey toward spiritual development, and ultimately the journey toward moksa. To embrace the path of Karma Yoga, one must take actions in the world, despite their results, and examine these actions with respect to their underlying motive and their nature, attributing the results of such actions as determined by god (Singr 63). To practice this path of action, one must sacrifice their ego-self, and focus their involvement in action on their true-self (Singr 73). Complete detachment from the results of action is the goal of Karma Yoga (Rao 49).

References and Further Recommended Readings

______ (1944) The Bhagavad Gita. Trans. Franklin Edgerton. Ed. Walter E. Clark. New York: Harvard UP.

______ (1968) The Bhagavad Gita. Trans. Elliot Deutsch. Canada: Holt, Rinehart and Winston of Canada Limited.

_______ (2003) Hindu Spirituality: Volume Two. Ed. K.R. Sundararajan and Brithika Mukerji. India: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Ltd.

Cherian, Kenneth M (1984) The Life of Mahatma Gandhi: Book Review. Journal of Religious Thought 40.2: 86-90.

Rao, P (1992) The place of Morality in Karma Yoga. Darshana International 32.4: 45-50.

Rodriques, Hillary (2006) Hinduism: The e-Book. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books Ltd.

Singh, Balbir (1981) Karma-Yoga. New Jersey: Humanities Press Inc.

Sivaraman, Krishna (1989) Hindu Spirituality. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company.

Related Research Topics

Karma

Yoga

Bhakti Yoga

Jnana Yoga

Mahatma Gandhi

Dharma, Dharmic Duties

The Bhagavad Gita

The Mahabharata

Yajna Rituals

Sankya Philosophy

The Stages and Goals of Life in Hinduism

Moksa

Krsna

Websites Related to Topic

http://www.sanatansociety.org/yoga_and_meditation/karma_yoga.htm

http://hinduism.iskcon.com/practice/index.htm

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/index.htm

http://infotree.library.ohiou.edu/byform:general/humanities/religion/hinduism/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karma_Yoga

http://www.ciolek.com/WWWVLPages/BuddhPages/OtherRelig.html

Article written by Patricia Eyolfson (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Yogas of The Bhagavad Gita

The practice of Yoga is a spiritual tradition in which millions of people worldwide have studied for many years. The word “Yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit root “yuj” meaning “to join” or “to yoke” (McCartney 2). Modern Yoga which is practiced in the West is mainly thought of as postures and exercises aimed at keeping the body fit. This type of Yoga, also known as Hatha Yoga, involves proper breathing and meditation. Besides Hatha Yoga, many other types exist not only to keep the body fit but also to keep the mind fit spiritually. This includes a variety of actions devoted to each individual practice of Yoga involving techniques such as meditation and concentration to train the mind. The concept of meditation involves a method by which a person is able to stop all the turnings (vrtti) of thought (citta) one has. By detaching oneself from all thoughts, there is a shift from an external focus of attention to an inner one (Feuerstein 1991:187). Orthodox Hinduism holds that Yoga is more than just postures and exercise; its real power is said to be in training the mind to achieve moksa. Moksa can be understood as spiritual liberation or an ultimate state of realization (Singh 150). With knowledge of the transcendental Reality, we can answer some basic questions of human existence: Who am I? Where do I go? Why am I here? What must I do? Hinduism ideals suggest that without answers to these questions, one is merely adrift (Feuerstein 2003:15). Through proper practice one is believed to be closer to God and knowledgeable of the true nature of reality.

The Bhagavad-Gita or “Song of God,” a sacred text of Hindu philosophy, seems to have a large influence on Yoga. Included in The Bhagavad Gita is a conversation that took place between Krsna and Arjuna on the battlefield in the epic The Mahabharata. There, Arjuna struggles over killing his family and friends. Krsna, being a great friend and mentor, consoles Arjuna with his transcendental teachings on human nature and the purpose of life. Among these teachings, Krsna outlines three Yogic paths. These are Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Bhakti Yoga.

Karma Yoga

Karma Yoga is the Yoga of action. This Yoga focuses on self-less deeds or sacrifice undertaken for the sake of the Supreme and to purify the heart. According to a famous practitioner, Sri Chinmoy, Karma Yoga does not focus on the result of actions or the thought of gain by performing particular actions (Sri Chinmoy 382). With this immunity to the reactive and negative consequences of actions, it is believed that one can better manage mental associations. In this sense, one is thought to be unselfish and can therefore achieve moksa. It is commonly stated that being a Karma Yogi is not an easy endeavour. The process of working without a sense of attachment is a difficult task. But it seems that with patience and determination, it becomes easier and more pleasant to do.

Karma itself teaches that nothing happens by accident. It is said that it is either the outcome of a previous cause or it is the cause of a later effect. This is also why Karma Yoga is sometimes referred to as “cause and effect” Yoga (McCartney 114). Humans are free to act as they like, but it is the responsibility the way in which they act that is theirs (Singh 73). It is within the laws of Karma that states that nothing happens to a man/woman except insofar as it is the result of his/her own deed (Singh 73). We can also see Karma Yoga being practiced whenever the action being performed is for the benefit of others. Therefore, performing any task that is not for your benefit, such as cleaning up in a temple, is believed to be a part of Karma Yoga. “He whose understanding is unattached everywhere, who has subdued his self and from whom desire has fled — he comes through renunciation to the supreme state transcending all work” (Radhakrishnan and Moore 161). For the Karma Yogi, work is primarily for service and not for means of economic survival or psychic gratification (Feuerstein 1991:81). It is commonly understood that Karma Yogis work to protect and nurture everyone, including nonhuman beings. It has been said that a Karma Yogi does not succumb to failure, nor does he/she gloat on success. Karma Yogis do not forget or ignore the world but rather live for the world. In this view, one can be understood to have an ongoing sense of worldly struggles, but is never totally overcome by them. Everyone is forced to act in some way by Nature, but he who can do this selflessly and without attachment can attain inner wholeness and be a true Karma Yogi (Feuerstein 1996:20).

It is believed that selfless action comes before both Bhakti Yoga (love) and Jnana Yoga (knowledge) (Feuerstein 1991:82). In this sense, it seems logical for anyone who is interested in practicing and learning ancient techniques of Yoga, to start with Karma Yoga so as to learn self-realization first.

Jnana Yoga

Jnana Yoga is the Yoga of Knowledge. This knowledge is of the Self, the Nature of God, the Universe and their mutual relationships (McCartney 191). It is thought that with this knowledge, the true realization of Brahman can be achieved. The Jnana Yogi feels that it is through the mind that this goal will be attained. Yogic martyrs claim that fulfillment of the mind is of supreme importance. As McCartney recalls, a person can stand on a cliff and see blue waves rolling up the beach and hear large waves breaking upon the sands and be filled with pure exhilaration by the experience. We would also be able to see the same pictures through a camera, or hear the same sounds from a microphone. It is the presence of exhilaration that would be missing from the latter experience. This means that something exists in humans which is absent in mechanical processes (cameras and microphones).

It is commonly stated that Jnana Yoga is the abolition of the concept dualism, which eventually leads to ones realization of the unity of the individual self with the Supreme Self (Sri Swami Sivananda 137). It is the process that converts the simple acts of seeing and hearing into an experience that is “I,” or the absolute true self and knowledge. Jnana Yoga has been thought of as being the “shortest and steepest” path to God, and also the most difficult one (McCartney 193). The process of discrimination between real & unreal and eternal & temporal is not easy. It is a long and difficult path, but can be very rewarding. One example in discriminating between reality and illusions would be to look at a piece of cloth. Cloth is made of thread. In the beginning the piece of cloth was thread and in the end, all that would be left of the cloth is thread. So in the end, a Jnana Yogi would see cloth as an illusion and only the thread as being real. Jnana Yogis do not want to escape life or death because they know that there is no such escape. It seems there is only escape of such ignorance into Knowledge and Light (Sri Chinmoy 383). Before practicing and mastering Jnana Yoga one must be involved in the lessons of other Yogic paths. This is beneficial because the acts of selflessness and strength of body and mind should be achieved before Jnana Yoga can be understood.

One modern Hindu sage, Ramana Maharsi, demonstrates the Jnana Yoga path. He taught a certain form of self-inquiry, of self-pondering inquiry, where one focuses on the I-thought and its source. This technique of inquiry is also known as vicara. This an adamant search in pursuit of the question “Who am I?”

Bhakti Yoga

Bhakti Yoga is simply service in Love and Devotion to God. It is the practice of Karma Yoga that will lead a person directly to Bhakti Yoga. It is known as the Yoga of Love and Devotion because of ones surrender completely to God. The Bhakti worshipper (Bhakta) worships a personal God. There is no concern of the “Absolute” or Brahman as in the other Yogas discussed thus far. Bhakti Yoga is monotheistic in that one believes in one, single, universal, all-encompassing God. Mainly, this has been devoted to the worship of Siva or Visnu (McCartney 150). The Bhagavad Gita was the first Hindu text to depict the Bhakti Yoga path. Depicted in the Bhagavad Gita, Krsna is seen as the object of love and devotion, hence the rise of Bhakti Yoga.

In Bhakti Yoga, one practices meditation by imagining his/her God being right there with them and by sharing their deepest thoughts and feelings one can be brought closer to their God. The Bhakta has a large commitment because through prayer, worship and rituals, one is being surrendered solely to God. This can be seen by an outsider as devotion and love to one’s parent or lover. “Through all his senses he realizes it as if it were a sensuous delight; with his heart and soul he feels it as a spiritual intoxication of joy.” (Feuerstein 1996:22). There are many aspects which illustrate the Yoga of Devotion. The true devotee is passionate, patient, self-controlled, determined and treats friends and foes the same. This is a person who is dear to their God (Radhakrishnan and Moore 144).

Bhakti Yoga can be traced as far back as 300 B.C. and seen as one of the oldest forms of Yoga (McCartney 150). One assumption for its presence can be based on its simplicity and because of this, its attraction from “commoners” who may be untutored (McCartney 149). It is believed that Bhakti Yoga does not require a lot of intellectual skills or great amount of knowledge. All it requires is emotion as a loving state of mind and the urge to worship. Bhakta Yogis believe that meditation is of great importance. It is thought that through meditation one can “graduate” the stages of devotion to God. There are two stages. First, an elementary stage which is the love for and worship of a personal God (such as love existing in a relationship between parent and child). Second, is a pure devoted love that comes to exist. God is now worshipped as the all-knowing Absolute (McCartney 160). As a Bhakta, every act performed everyday is one of devotion, regardless of getting anything in return. This love is believed to be demonstrated in action. One can spend a life time thinking about loving thoughts, but if these thoughts are never expressed, it is thought that one will have never loved at all (Feuerstein 1991:86). Bhakti Yogis believe that love is not a temporary high that comes and goes, but one that needs to be nourished as an ongoing spiritual disposition (Feuerstein 1991:85). Even when one is sad, hurt, angry or bored, love needs to exist. It is in these moments of doubt when love is needed the most.

One well known spiritual teacher, Sri Swami Sivananda, stated that each Yoga is a fulfillment of the preceding one (Sri Swami Sivananda 1). Karma Yoga leads to Bhakti Yoga which brings Jnana Yoga (knowledge). So to understand Jnana Yoga, one must first be experienced with Bhakti Yoga and Jnana Yoga. It is thought that any practice or belief that is sincere will go straight to the Source. If you sincerely believe in something and practice it with good intentions, you will be rewarded.

Yoga is an extremely old and popular spiritual tradition. From a broad perspective, all types of Yoga seem to have the same purpose. This is for one to become less focused on the self and more focused on a “higher” Reality (Feuerstein 1996: 1). It is possible for anyone to practice Yoga regardless of age, sex, race or religious beliefs. Yoga is commonly known as a discipline rather than a therapy. Therapy is for those who are sick and unhealthy, discipline is needed even when one is healthy (Osho 21). Yoga has been said to be helpful in many ways including spiritual, physical and psychological. It is believed that by understanding and having total faith in what you practice be it Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga or Bhakti Yoga, one can be more in tune with oneself and the world around them.

REFERENCES

Feuerstein, Georg (1991) Sacred Paths: Essays on Wisdom, Love and Mystical Realization. Burdett, NY: Larson Publications.

Feuerstein, Georg (1996) The Shambala Guide to Yoga. Boston: Shambhala Publications.

Feuerstein, Georg (2003) The Deeper Dimension of Yoga. Boston: Shambhala Publications.

McCartney, James (1969) Yoga: The Key to Life. Johannesburg: Rider & Company.

Osho (1976) The Path of Yoga: Commentaries of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. MS, India: Thomson Press.

Radhakrishnan, S., and C.A. Moore (eds.) (1989) A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Singh, Balbir (1981) Karma Yoga: The Discipline of Action. New Jersey: Humanities Press.

Sri Chinmoy (2000) The Wisdom of Sri Chinmoy. San Diego: The Blue Dove Foundation.

Sri Swami Sivananda (no date) Science of Yoga (vol.5). Pondicherry, India: Swami Krishnananda.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Yoga

Hatha Yoga

Moksa

Samdhi

Krsna

Arjuna

Bhagavad-Gita

The Mahabharata

Brahman

Patanjali

Yoga Sutras

Jnana Yoga

Karma Yoga

Bhakti Yoga

Raja Yoga

Siva

Visnu

Citta

Vrtti

Vicara

Ramana Maharsi

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhagavad_Gita

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoga

http://www.bhagavad-gita.org/Gita/intro.html

http://www.yogavision.net/yv/satyoga/karmayoga.htm

http://www.abc-of-yoga.com/

http://www.experiencefestival.com/a/The_Yoga/id/23119

http://www.hinduism.co.za/bhakti1.htm

http://www.hinduism.co.za/karma.htm

http://www.hinduism.co.za/jnana.htm

Article written by Andrea Werewka (April 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.